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(en) anarcha-feminism in sweden

From "kurt svensson" <ksvensson@hotmail.com>
Date Sat, 18 Jul 1998 03:41:46 PDT


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An anarcha-feminists' subjective perspective of anarcha-feminism

Because anarchism is purported to oppose all usage of power and forms of 
oppression the term anarcha-feminsim should actually be unnecessary. All 
anarchists should, if they really meant what they said about being 
against all forms of oppression, work against, or at least not support, 
the oppression of women. That's theoretically. However, our reality is 
that we are all products of our societal surroundings. It is also a fact 
that those who find themselves in a hierarchical position of power have 
a hard time accepting that a hierarchy even exists! Men do not recognise 
the oppression of women to the same extent or to the same degree that 
women do. Those who have power and privilege are in addition, often 
unwilling to relinquish these. Because of these reasons, many male 
anarchists have not activated themselves in the struggle against the 
oppression of women and, for these same reasons, it has become necessary 
for female anarchists to denote themselves as anarcha-feminists.

Anarcha-feminist theory
Feminists can be divided into two types, essentialists (difference) or 
constructionalists (equality). On the one side, essentialist feminists 
propose that the differences between men and women are based upon the 
occurrences of nature. On the other side, constructionalist feminists 
propose that the differences between men and women are a result of 
societal socialisation. Anarcha-feminists are constructionalists. The 
norms controlling in which ways men and women should present themselves 
or how they should interact with each other are regarded as social 
constructions. In order to change these power-related relationships 
between the sexes it is therefore, to a large degree, necessary for 
people to change themselves. This is the logical conclusion of examining 
how we as individuals are affected by the societal demands placed upon 
us as men or women. In this perspective, this socialisation pertains to 
matters ranging from ones choice of profession and clothing to sexual 
partners. In regards to sexuality we are socialised into 
heterosexuality, and this is one of feminism's most complex aspects. 

Women, as a social group, interact with men, as a social group, in a 
completely different manner than, for example, in which the working 
class interacts towards the upper class. This is because many women have 
intimate relationships with men. During the 1970's, many radical 
feminists spent a great deal of time and energy on analysing 
heterosexuality's meaning for the oppression of women and many came to 
the conclusion that women should choose to live as lesbians as a method 
of revolt against patriarchy. This is a strategy that perceives people 
as tools used to achieve different goals and does not pay a great deal 
of attention to individual feelings or situations. However, these 
analyses have meant a great deal for the development of feminist theory. 
They concern how we regard heterosexuality's penetration of society and 
how this affects relationships between people. Heterosexuality is posed 
as the "natural" order of things and takes support from such sources as 
the Bible and Darwinism. If heterosexuality is so "natural", why the 
need for all this propaganda?

The radical feminists who supported lesbianism as a political strategy 
used strongly authoritarian arguments. They took upon themselves the 
role of telling other women how they should regard heterosexual 
relationships and what they should do with their lives. An 
anarcha-feminist should contemplate upon these insights in regards to 
heterosexuality as a societal phenomenon and hopefully reach their own 
conclusions, such as a libertarian method of struggling against the 
heterosexual norm without condemning the free choice of individuals. We 
should always question the idea that heterosexuality is something 
self-evident and natural and attempt to make truly conscious choices 
concerning our lives. We should also attempt to focus attention upon 
homosexuality and bisexuality and struggle against the violence and 
oppression that these individuals are exposed to. 

Another aspect of the reality that women live under today is that of 
ideal beauty. Everyday we are exposed to pictures of thin women, women 
without hair on their legs, women who have perfect skin, women who are 
made-up and women who wear the latest fashions. This ideal, which is 
represented by tall, thin photo-models and participants in beauty 
pageants, is far removed from the actual appearance of the majority of 
the female population. This results with the larger portion of the 
female population feeling unsatisfied with their own appearance. More 
and more women suffer from eating disturbances today, and this is not a 
reference made only to those who starve themselves or force themselves 
to regurgitate their food. These extreme examples are of course eating 
disturbances and should be treated as such but, many women are held in 
the constant stranglehold of dieting and this is regarded as normal. It 
is nearly considered to be more atrocious to not be concerned about ones 
weight and eat a bit less just before the swimsuit season than not. 
Eating disturbances have become a more or less normalised female 
behaviour.

If we are to change this society we must examine our own lives. 
Anarcha-feminists attempt to free ourselves from these norms and ideals 
which we have been exposed to. Through the power of our own example, 
which is a conscious strategy, we want to prove that it is possible to 
change ones life. We discuss in affinity groups, we organise lectures 
and cafés and we hold courses in self-defence. And we do this in an 
attempt to become those women we want to be and not those women who are 
expected of us. But, this must be done as a collective force because as 
individuals we can never free ourselves, for an injury to one is an 
injury to all.

Organising
The majority of the radical feminists of the 1960's and 1970's were 
organised in small groups without leaders. They put anarchistic and 
anti-authoritarian ideas into practice without realising that this is 
what they had done. Professed anarcha-feminists have since then 
continued to organise themselves in this fashion, sometimes with radical 
feminists, sometimes separately. To organise separatistically, in this 
case in groups of women only, is a strategy that originally comes from 
the black civil rights movement in the united states. This strategy has 
been, and is currently, practised by many different groups, such as 
homosexuals, the crippled, immigrants as well as many others. Separatism 
can reach different extremes. With our reference point in an 
all-encompassing anarchistic perspective we choose to work parallel 
with, and sometimes together with, other movements.

Radical feminists and anarcha-feminists often organise themselves in 
affinity groups that work with conscious raising activities. This means 
that through sharing and discussion the group participants help each 
other to expose structural oppression and recognise that different 
oppressive occurrences haven't just happened to them. In an affinity 
group participants can discuss a wide variety of topics such as how they 
relate to the beauty ideal, how their relationships work as well as much 
else. Other women's groups may function as study groups or commandos.  

An organisational problem that may be specific for Stockholm, as well as 
other large cities, is the fact that the radical political scene is 
concentrated in the inner city. This is where we have our spaces, our 
cafés and where we often organise demonstrations. This is besides the 
fact that many of us live in the outlying suburbs. Some of these suburbs 
have as many immigrants as an entire small town. The conclusion being 
that if we were to organise ourselves locally we would more than likely 
be able to reach a larger number of interested individuals; especially 
women with children who do not have the opportunity to travel to the 
inner city to attend meetings. A decentralising of our political scene 
could be of great importance.

Analysis of Power
A consciousness of how all of societies many hierarchies work together 
and reinforce each other has been around quite awhile. Just as the 
conclusion that these hierarchies must be fought in parallel. At a 
women's conference organised in 1975 by the New American Movement, one 
parole was; "We are united in the understanding that all oppression, 
whether directed towards class, sex or sexual preference, has a mutual 
interaction and likewise, all struggle for freedom from oppression must 
occur in unison and in co-operation." Much later, autonome activists in 
Germany coined the term "triple oppression" which is an attempt to 
explain how racism, sexism and class oppression work in unison. This 
phrase was first presented in an article written by the imprisoned 
German anti-imperialist Klaus Viehmann. Using an example, Viehmann 
explains his view upon how all forms of oppression, not just the three 
named above, interact:
"It's not a bad idea to conceive of supremacy as a sort of net. The 
meshes can be bigger (metropoles) or smaller (Third World). The threads 
can be older (patriarchy) or newer (capitalism), more stable (Germany) 
or weaker (Central America). The threads are knotted in different ways 
(racisms are connected to capitalism differently than patriarchy is, for 
example), and the net is constantly being repaired and renewed by many 
different forces (capital, state, whites, men) so as to catch others in 
it (women, blacks, workers), and these tear it as best they can."

Anarchists in Sweden have further developed these ideas and coined the 
expression "co-operation of oppressions" (förtryckssamverkan). Partly to 
have a Swedish term for the phenomenon and partly to make clear the fact 
that it is not only racism, sexism and class oppression which are 
important oppressions to struggle against. With this in the ideological 
baggage it is has become quite important to employ forms of struggle in 
which no form of oppression is supported or upheld. An example when this 
can go awry is when feminists, in an attempt to expose family abuse, 
state that the most dangerous place for a woman is in her own home. This 
statement supports the idea that most women either live with men or have 
men as guest in their homes. This is of course true for many women, but 
highlighting the fact that many women do not live with men does not 
lessen the seriousness in that which is being said concerning abuse.

It may seem a contradiction to use separatism on the one hand and 
struggle against all forms of oppression the other, but it is this 
complex perspective that is the core of our strength. We can choose to 
work with a specific question or a specific group but the complexity of 
today's situation is always in our consciousness. Although many 
anarcha-feminists work mainly within the feminist struggle, we are 
continually conscious of other oppressions such as racism and homophobia 
and that consciousness is carried over into the feminist struggle. It 
may involve attempting to recruit women with different ethnic 
backgrounds or to expose the situation of lesbians. I certain questions 
we may decide to co-operate with other groups, while in others we may 
decide to work completely separatistic. It is also important to 
acknowledge that many of us are members or different oppressed groups 
and it may not be so clear that we should work in just one specific 
group, but decide to work parallel in many groups. Personally as a woman 
and lesbian I work in two different groups. I many different groups all 
of the societal hierarchies are more or less represented. In our 
anarchistic groups there are people with different class backgrounds, 
there are crippled individuals, immigrants and Swedes, homosexual and 
heterosexual, both youths and older people and so on and so on. This 
means that we are forced to struggle against these hierarchies within 
our own groups. 

Our political practice
Anarcha-feminists in Sweden today work with the following methods; 
affinity groups, lecture cafés, courses in self-defence, demonstrations 
and direct action against for example Hennes & Mauritz and pornographic 
boutiques. Direct action is one of our main strategies. It is an 
extension of the anarchistic tradition of acting without representatives 
in questions that directly affect oneself. Instead of voting for 
politicians who we want to do certain things we do them ourselves. We 
directly confront the problem.

Our struggle has come to focus upon questions such as pornography and 
objectification and violence against women. Other, more classic 
anarchistic, struggles have fallen by the wayside. This has much to do 
with the fact that we have been heavily influenced by radical feminists 
who work with these above-mentioned problems.  It also has partly to do 
with the fact that sexualised oppression is so massive that it feels 
like a much more acute and actual problem than capitalism or the 
parliamentary system. However, it is safe to say that anarcha-feminists 
work with these questions in a very different way than radical feminists 
do. We use direct action and do not believe in using the judicial system 
as a way of guaranteeing freedom by, for example, forbidding 
pornography.

A question of increasing interest is how we relate to questions of work 
and unemployment. What is the situation of women in the workforce today? 
How would we like it to be? Many political activists are relatively 
young and many are unemployed.  It is relieving not to have to wonder 
about finding a job which is both worthwhile and which doesn't stride 
against ones political beliefs. Living on social welfare and working 
with politics or studying full-time is quite alright, but for how long, 
and what happens with us when we become older and still can't find a job 
- or only a demeaning "shit job"? In the long run anarchists want to 
reorganise the entire societal economy and remove wage slavery, but how 
do we achieve this?

Anarcha-feminism is the result of many different influences and we 
co-exist with many different tendencies in the political arena. We do 
not strive for the creation of a mass movement but to be everywhere 
within society. We spread our ideas and strategies in order to increase 
democracy and equality on every level wherever we are.

by Sofia Hildsdotter
translated by ks

References:
Anarkafeminism, edited by Pia Laskar 1992, Federativs förlag, Stockholm
Clash, Newspaper of Resistance in Europe, nr 3/91, Amsterdam


               -för revolution i vĺr livstid-               
                    ksvensson@hotmail.com


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