Feminists far more theoretically sophisticated and politically engaged than I have addressed the questions you have posed, or variations of them, over the past few decades. My answers can be only a pale echo of what they have to say. The particular strains of feminism that have motivated me have not sought simple economic, and perhaps social, parity with males in society because that leaves open the possibility of simply passing along women’s unequal burdens to those who are of a lower class and economic status –or even to other countries where the wage base is lower. Instead, feminism has consistently demanded a broad reorganization of society so that wealth and privilege are not the determinants of who reaps society’s rewards, on the one side, and who must take up its least desirable or lowest paid tasks, on the other.
Which political role can feminism play in the contemporary world?
Which strategies of solidarity between women of different social, national, and ethnic backgrounds are possible today?
Or is it better to shift our focus from the differences between men and women in order to address different universal features, such as political power-relations or social class?
Feminism insists on the importance of a series of social “becomings” or processes of transformation rather than simply an improved status for women. Feminism, it is true, has already potentiated the recognition of previously “invisible” subjectivities and subject positions, a process that, in turn, has gone beyond the crucial questions of gender to also allow for post-colonial recognitions of the Other. The necessary solidarity of women in the face of patriarchy, thus, is only part of the story, in the face of growing income disparities in every area of the globe and the rapid pace of neo-imperialist “globalization” of labor, including the increase in sexual slavery that sends women and children across borders to the developed North and West from the former East Bloc and the so-called Third World of the global South. Feminists have traditionally included demands that affect poorer women (and children) as part of their agenda, providing a place for those women and children to voice their own concerns and provide testimony and make demands. This is the feminist solidarity that I recognize, not a reductively universalizing one. At the same time, I believe enough in universal human rights to insist that social practices in “traditional” societies (or social sectors) other than my own that damage women, such as genital cutting and mutilation, or purdah, bride burning, child marriage, and other horrors, should not be treated as local customs worthy of silent respect but rather should be investigated as onerous customs that impede women in those societies. Unlike religious missionaries and arrogant “civilizers”, what is required here is a respect for the opinions of indigenous women as well as their suggested solutions, and a long-term commitment to working with them for change.
Do you feel that qualities like “vulnerability” will die out as unnecessary capacities?
Or is it possible to engage in a certain revolutionary politics of vulnerability?
How can feminism convince human beings of both genders of the need for emancipation and of the benefits of real freedom?
My brief and perhaps superficial observation in post-Soviet Russia was that women were, by and large, allowed or forced by the Soviet State into the production process but not allowed to develop political, social and cultural power. Similarly, the productivist state was blind to the elements of “private life” that were in effect women’s domain, including not only social tasks but also the biological processes particular to women. The need to attract sexual partners or mates on the basis of appearance led to a pent-up demand for the cosmetics, clothing, and behavior that were long a part of the women’s masquerade in the West. The withholding of good information about sex and birth control seems to have preserved the prudery and folk beliefs of the general population and led to a yearning for the apparent freeing of the body from the purview of the state–its apparent “depoliticization.” The symbolic value of the naked form as one purged of the demands of citizenship helped fuel the wholesale adoption of pornographic representations of women by the male consumers of that pornography and also provided ideals for women to aim to achieve (especially since Western women’s magazines and cosmetic manufacturers posed essentially the same solutions as the pornographic ones). It was long a truism of the Left that Rockefeller (read: the richest of the rich) is as much a prisoner of class inequality as the poorest person in a capitalist society because of the inability of the individual to express his human powers fully. Women soon pointed out the same about men in a gender-riven society, namely, that the demands of “manhood” require the suppression of many human qualities and behavior–cooperation, empathy, even the ability to grieve, for example–that enhance individual lives and enrich society. In other words, strict gender differentiation with rigid (and hierarchical) models privileges one model and leads to the identification of social power with the role that successfully exhibits the requisite trait suppression. Women need to be the ones to remind society that the commodification of everything damages not only women’s identities and cripples their productive potential but also poisons the well of all forms of creativity. The price paid by all of society is the complete demotion, in favour of popular culture, of the artistic and literary forms that seemed to sustain so much of the human element of Soviet society during the depths of Stalinism and beyond. If young women see nothing that energetically challenges the mindless television and journalistic insistence on women’s hierarchical inferiority and parasitical relation to men, they will not be empowered to seek economic as well as political and cultural equality.
Does love have any political potential in your opinion?
Do you think that there is anything specific in the feminine experience of love?
Big discourses about the transformative potential of “love” can in my opinion cater too much to the mystical New Age tendencies that Russia has historically (and more recently) exhibited (Russia is already too proud of its hypostatized “soul,” too reliant on it to explain national character or individual talents.) Although Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara famously remarked that “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me point out that the true revolutionary is motivated by love,” it is risky to assume that anyone would understand that this notion is necessarily different from the theological, mystical, or sexual/romantic versions of love. Nevertheless, women and girls – and man and boys – should be encouraged to be value the caring and empathic behavior that contributes to romantic love and to the care and maintenance of children and families, and most importantly, to be unafraid to exhibit it. This does not mean that you have to be a sucker!
Women acting energetically together and making consistent demands for all kinds of social rectification–acting beyond traditional feminine demands and in favor of enlargement of the public sphere–Is necessary. A requisite accompaniment, of course, is the cultivation of lectures, press, and publications that applaud and support this kind of behavior without identifying activist or self-determining women as “masculinized” or unattractive, thus moving the discussion away from Being toward Becoming, away from “condition” toward action. This appears to be a necessary way forward.