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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?
I don’t think that it makes much sense to supply a universal answer to the quesiton of whether to give a priority to feminine solidarity or to any other kind of status-solidarity. I feel that solidarity “pulsates” in dependance of the social problems at hand. I immediately experience solidarity when women are prohibited from singing on a stage in some country because of their sex, when I hear people legitimizing rape, when I find out that a schoolteacher announces that girls are – by nature – less intelligent than boys, when girls are deprived of the chance for higher education some place in Central Asia… However, other contexts will activate other aspects of identity, leading to the solidarity of class, age etc.
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.
Are there any chances for feminine solidarity in contemporary Russia? I don’t think so. As paradoxical as it may sound, such possibilities were far more frequent during the Soviet period. In any case, even if the woman was a secondary part of society, the universalizing model of the homo sovieticus was still in effect as something she could share with men. Today, business (i.e. finance) serves as the symbolic model for reaching equality. Some say that during the post-Perestroika period, women received their independence, along with the right to self-determination and the right to display their own inventiveness. All of this may be true. However, if one examines the sources of the start-up capital in the feminine business-world, one sees that this capital was probably a gift, and what’s more, a gift presented by a man to a woman on the strength of her sexual characteristics and not her qualities as a business partner. To put it differently, woman’s business in Russia is still highly eroticized. In professional life, women are likely to exaggerate their feminine qualities, viewing other women as competitors. In this situation, there can hardly be any talk of solidarity as far as women are concerned.
Do I believe that women can work together for social change and that solidarity and political and social alliances are possible? Certainly, but like any coalition, such co-operation relies on mutual respect and trust, which patriarchy and women who believe that the current political and social arrangements are the best (ie neo-liberal consumer capitalism) do not value. Without trust and mutual respect between women, regardless of their background, education, age, sexual orientation, etc, women will be unable to work together for any form of change. Is gender enough to form such coalition? For me, this depends on the problem and the skills in organising a campaign or a movement for social change. Women collectively have supported so many political and social movements as strong factions: as abolitionists, Cuban rebels, in nationalist liberation struggles, in many civil rights movements. Women have hoped these movements would free them but they have always been bitterly disappointed by the low regard in which their male colleagues held them and their constant complaint that the “larger” struggle was the only goal and women’s liberation or demands constituted a minor issue to be resolved after the revolution.
Searching for strategies of solidarity is an extensive and continual process. It takes place within the framework of international organizations and through the exchange of information between social and political groups of women all over the world. This exchange uses the resources of big international institutions. An especially striking example of this kind of solidarity can be found in the anti-war organization “Women in Black”. Aside from regularly www protests, its members support one another in different countries such as Israel and Palestine, or Serbia and Croatia etc.
The discourse of the “Other” has been very harmful in all of its variants, be they synthetic-deconstructivist or rehabilitational. The Other does not exist. What we need today is a reassertion of the subject’s universal heroism, not as androgyny, but as something abstracted from gender (and ethnos). This abstraction DOES NOT mean any coincidence with “masculinity”. People who identify themselves as to whether they are women or men fail to understand that this status is no more important that than a congenital illness like asthma or stuttering: it simply conditions the bounds of our possibilities; it is something to be taken into account, but little more. Solidarity between women of different social or ethnic backgrounds is possible and necessary in the same measure as solidarity is necessary between the ill. Incidentally, there is no place better suited toward solidarity than a hospital.
Respect and creative dialogue between women of different backgrounds is the key. All individual characteristics and peculiar wisdom of different social backgrounds should be cherished. 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? People should talk to one another with a focus on learning more about life. Man and woman working together is the ideal.