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?
I start from my political perspective as a Western socialist feminist, for whom feminism is a resource and a source of strength. Feminism is not irrelevant to any form of political, social or cultural question today – especially as a form of critical and creative thinking about women’s position in the world to enable women’s perspectives to be heard. Women are 52% of the world. They possess intelligence, wit, untold capacity for endurance, invention, creativity and patience but what they frequently lack are opportunities, advanced forms of education and material resources (including money) to realise their ambitions. What women can produce in the world is still an unknown. It is impossible to specify what a feminine side of anything really is, only to realise that the feminine is usually the rubbish-dump for everything that masculinity does not value. Would social organisation be different if women’s imagination ordered the world – we don’t know. Plenty of women have written of their aspirations for social change and their utopian hopes for revolution on a macrocosmic and microcosmic level. Yet, the women leaders we have had in the world have suprisingly come largely from the right of politics, and their role has been to maintain and expand a social order which they did not invent, and this they have done with passion and conviction and very negative consequences. 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. The point is that women must also free themselves, morally, emotionally, socially as well as politically.
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?
Is feminism only about striving for equality? And equality in whose terms and in what social order?
There is an illusion that the following “human rights” if extended to all will automatically bring to women equality: the right to vote (alongside the political freedom to express one’s views), the right to education, equal pay for equal work, the right to medical care, to shelter, to security and safety (ie. freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse) and to freedom of movement. These United Nations-style human rights should be defended by everyone in the world for all their citizens. Yet is women’s claim to be “full citizens” in the world which remains in doubt in many countries where women’s access to political participation as representatives, to education, to safety, security or shelter, to travel and even to health care are controlled or specifically limited by either the state or their husbands, fathers or male members of their families. In the West, women’s secondary status as citizens in relation to such rights was the impetus for the women’s movement (which is not over yet) and for campaigns for women to gain access to the different opportunities in the job market, to have control of their person, to live a secure and safe life free from abuse and exploitation (sexually, financially or emotionally). In the East, while Soviet administration enshrined certain rights for women in its social apparatus, women constantly complained of experiencing the “double burden” of a full day’s work and the sole responsibility of domestic work and childcare at home. The illusion of a matriarchal home life (where women controlled domestic politics) was matched by the Soviet machismo worlds of culture and politics. Maybe this was no different from life in many other Western countries (e.g. Spain where machismo and matriarchial domesticity also co-exist) although many more opportunities appear to have existed in Soviet times for women’s employment, participation in the political process and for their general education and training. Is the privatisation and confinement of women to the “home” in post-Communist regimes, a liberation or a trap? Does it represent a refusal of women’s responsibility to be “full citizens” of the world or just a temporary concentration on consumerist, private pleasures in their lives to the maintenance of their home and families (for consumer capitalism). Vulnerability and dependency in the home are not qualities on which freedom and emancipation can be organised, in spite of the fact that freedom and emancipation is premised on moving from a position of weakness to one of strength and full participation in a democracy. If you are truly aware of the politics which inform your domestic life and in your neighbourhood and your city, then maybe this is the basis from which to become politically motivated and act. The desire for autonomy, the ability to make informed choices and to negotiate the circumstances in which you have opportunities, these are the pre-requisites of freedom.
Does love have any political potential in your opinion?
Do you think that there is anything specific in the feminine experience of love?
To think of love as an energy for revolution is so romantic. When we talk of love we usually reserve it for one kind of love: the sexual love for an adult partner. This kind of love is unpredictable, explosive, all-consuming, fleeting, dramatic and powerful: we “fall”, we “are”, we “have” and behave as if no one else in the world ever felt or had love before. Everyone would like to see love as the solution to their problems. Sexual love is a joy but it is a private quest between two people and its most pleasurable moments are experienced as such: however illicitly or secretly obtained. Sexual love has social consequences:- marriage, divorce, separation, the birth of children, social approval and disapproval, social sanctions and taboos. It leads to the reinforcement of some of the most oppressive social codes of behaviour in both public and private life: where control of sex and/or reproduction is attempted. But love itself is so perverse. Think of the terrible consequences of certain kinds of “love”; sado-masochistic love as a struggle for power (in fantasy or reality); unrequited, ending or embittered love where it produces murder, violence against the ‘loved one’ and/or physical, sexual or verbal abuse; or even that patriotic form of love for one’s country (in the excesses of nationalism and war). We are encouraged to think that finding (sexual) love would mean the end of loneliness, the end of desparation, the end of despair. Women are taught to think that this form of love is their salvation whereas it may ultimately be just a form of torture, producing long-lasting and unwanted suffering. Maybe this conception of sexual love is just too limited but for me it does not provide a basis for emancipation. Possibly what we need more is emancipation from the idea that this kind of love is the only goal – if we want a better society and not just more forms of personal pleasure. Maybe we need to invest less in this form of love between two people and more in other forms of love (social, collective, familial) and think more carefully about love not just in terms of ‘having’ or ‘not having’ but giving as well as receiving. What about the love in friendship or the value of love within and from our families, the love of life, the love for building and changing our environment, investing in a love of nature? We cannot forget that there is always in our society the love of money, the love invested in consumer materialism, in “having” the best of everything – even if this produces an incredible poverty of thought and imagination or spiritual well-being. And then there’s the love of knowledge, the love of books, of ideas, of thought processes, of knowing that there are other incredible people out there in the world who made and wrote and produced the most marvellous and the most terrible things before we were born and who have lived or now live in cultures which we are not familiar. Perhaps this is a love of knowledge which is worth investing in if we want to build respect for all citizens of the world and thereby change the world.