#4 International Now-Here


 

2. Solidarity between women of different backgrounds? Or universal solidarity, based on class?

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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?

 

Elena Zdravomyslova
Activist//Petersburg

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.

 

Martha Rosler
Artist//New York

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.

 

Keti Chukhrov
Philosopher//Moscow

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.

 

Katy Deepwell
Editor, critic//London

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.

 

Olga Lipovskaya
Activist//Petersburg

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.

 

Ekaterina Degot
Critic, curator//Moscow

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.

 

Love Corporation
Artist group//Iceland

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.

 

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Question 5 /// Is international style the only relevant possibility for addressing the local problematique?

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The Soviet experience is a unique example of how internationalism was perverted and discredited, as Stalin’s projected realization of “socialism in one country” reduced internationalism to the idea of party-loyalty. Among other things, this doctrine also formed the conception of art “national in form, socialist in content”. This lies in stark contrast to contemporary art in the age of globalization, which has developed the converse ideological recipe for the artwork, executed in a unified style but referring to the parameters of the local situation.

Is international style the only relevant possibility for addressing the local problematique? Is there any space left for creative misunderstandings, lost in translation, experiences that are both subjective and local? 

Which experiences have you made in highlighting the uniqueness of a local cultural context as something of general relevance?

 

Gia Rigvava
Artist//Stuttgart-Moscow

Internationalism was perverted, but not discredited. The Soviet experience was a unique, valuable lesson. It taught us how and what to do, and what not to do. As to for art that is “national in form and socialist in content”, I don’t see anything wrong with it: it was a good formula for that place and time. Here, language was also already being unified in painting and sculpture, combining the genre basics of early European 19th century modernism with the elements of classicism. The style itself differed depending on national aesthetic preferences. I would say that nowadays we have the same situation. Of course, there is one big difference – there is no socialist content. But then again, there is no content at all. Just as socialist politics were trying to fill the work of art with a particular content, capitalist politics drain artworks of any content. All productions of meaning are constantly aborted. The world is cluttered with individualities, whereas presence is not tolerated as an identity.  Here, I don’t mean paper-controlled identity, but authentic identity, an identity which has something to say. If people could ultimately tell themselves “I am the one who…” instead of humbly occupying their places in the existing order, it would anticipate a different social climate and we could actually expect something to change.

I myself work on a particular ground – on the territory of a deterritorialized subject. The material I work with is my localized experience. I believe it is generally relevant. What I am doing can be asked anywhere, whenever the discourse of deterritorialization or adjacent discourses are brought into focus. I would say that I am committed to “highlighting” the experiences spotlighted by my identity. I guess I am not too far from the issue of “highlighting the uniqueness of a local cultural context as something of general relevance” which I think is not a wrong idea, it can work when things are done elaborately. But the question is how can any work be done elaborately on the peripheries? There are so many things missing there that unfortunately, usually, one ends up with no more than painful frustration.

 

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Editorial Questions

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Historically, feminism is closely linked to anarchism and socialism. It was feminism that produced such brilliant figures as Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, or Emma Goldman, to name just a few. In the final analysis, one can see the politics of woman’s emancipation after the October Revolution of 1917 as this movement’s main success. In the West, many feminist thinkers have understood the struggle for gender-equality as the most consequent strategy for reaching social equality, considering feminism as the most radical form of struggle to come from the Left.


By today, the political struggle of women’s liberation has successfully activated a broad spectrum of “gender identities” and played a decisive role in redefining how we consider subjectivity and the notion of the Other. Many varieties of feminism have become an integral part of the dominant neo-liberal ideology. At the same time, the universal strategy of solidarity between all women in resisting patriarchy has been called into question on a fundamental level. There is good reason to doubt the traditional feminist solidarity, which arguably ignores a great many differences between women all over the world.


For an example, in post-Communist Russia, any reworking of both feminism and socialism seems nearly impossible. At present, both forms of resistance to exploitation have been marginalized from political and social discourse, as Russian society voices its reactionary demand for the “law and order”. Women are attributed with the status of a “leisure class”, as their lack of economic and political independence becomes the norm. The liberalization of the economy has given rise to new, especially inhuman models of sexploitation. All of this demonstrates the pressing need for a critical re-examination of feminist politics both in Russia and in the West.


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 strives for equality. But when a woman attempts to reach equality in the contemporary world, she will often adopt a male model of behaviour, becoming forceful, aggressive and conceited. Suddenly, a great number of important human qualities such as patience and the ability to understand the Other appear irrelevant. They are displaced onto the periphery and hidden in privacy; society is apt to experience them as completely unwanted forms of weakness. If this is subjectivity, then many women would prefer not to become subjects. In Russia today, we can clearly see in how far women have been successful in developing their own manipulative practices in order to reach their goals by playing with their “weaknesses” and their vulnerabilities. And men? Even they are hardly free in all their machismo. Real emancipation must free both sexes!


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?


In the contemporary world, there is much sex and much sentiment, but very little love. All too often, love is defined as a form of uncomplicated romantic relationship, welcomed as a brief interruption in professional and social life. In this case, love is a part of the machine of consumption, an example of how people are unable to deal with their own freedom and how they are incapable of truly accepting the freedom of the Other. On the other hand, love is often experienced as a traumatic addiction, requiring liberation or therapy, since it robs the human being of her-his independance. Is this something we should accept? Or can we search for love as a revolutionary possibility for freeing one another?


The act of love offers a possibility for stepping into a relationship of solidarity and becoming a part of a network of resistance to the capitalist order. Love has always been the fundamental means of breaking the illusion of existential loneliness. Today, it becomes the most relevant way of countering a notion of privacy that is trapped in autistic consumption. In this sense, the notion of love can hardly be confined to the bounds of the couple or the family; once it is opened toward the world at large, love can create communes of resistance and desire.


At the same time, love is a “ordinary” experience of the relation between human beings, men and women alike. This “ordinary” experience is only possible because it can be repeated again and again in the act of giving and liberation, withstanding the urge toward exploitation and consumption. Everyone knows this experience of stepping out to meet the Other. Now, it is time to bring this experience to the politics that define the life of our society.


Does love have any political potential in your opinion?
Do you think that there is anything specific in the feminine experience of love?

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Olga Lipovskaya, Petersburg

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Which political role can feminism play in the contemporary world?


Seen from the vantage of contemporary thought from the West, feminism’s goal can be summarized as follows: the discovery, recognition and preservation of the multiplicity of feminine identities, in all of their socio-political aspects and their variation of identity. Racial, ethical, religious or cultural differences are just as important as individual aspects: differences of the body, of psychology, or of sexuality and so on. However, it is also feminism’s aim to search for common goals for women in struggling with the dominant culture of patriarchy. The results is a continual process of mediation between two tendencies that would seem to contradict one another.


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?


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.


Do you feel that qualities like “vulnerability” will die out as unnecessary capacities?


The quality of “weakness” is no more than a part of patriarchal ideology as far as women are concerned. Opposed to dominance and aggression, qualities that are self-evident in people of both sexes, weakness is part of a gender-dichotomy that facilitates different paths of forming these qualities in boys and girls. To simplify, the boy’s aggression is condoned and even encouraged as self-realization, while the little girl’s aggression is repressed. I agree that emancipation should concern both sexes; as a process, it is indeed taking place in developed regions or countries like Scandinavia or Germany , where the social-democratic or liberal models of society have been realized. As a result, we know many examples of how men are more actively involved in caring for their loved ones or their children, and of how women are represented in society’s power structures. I am convinced that this is one of the factors that determined the successful socio-economic of these countries to date.


Or is it possible to engage in a certain revolutionary politics of vulnerability?


Rather than talk about “the politics of weakness”, I would prefer to operate with the notions of universal goodness and justice, notions that feminist thinking extends to women as a class. I do not think that it is necessary to reinvent the bicycle: these ideas are essential to Christianity, Buddhism and many other philosophical schools. Thank god we have a choice: some might prefer Confucianism, while I feel better about Buddhism, for an example, about its ideas of non-violence, “edited and enhanced” by feminist theory.


How can feminism convince human beings of both genders of the need for emancipation and of the benefits of real freedom?


Again, feminism has not thought of anything new; it has only spread general liberal ideas in relation to women. On the whole, feminist theorists have made a great effort to deconstruct the mechanisms of patriarchy as a culture that keeps the woman in a subordinate role on all levels of existence. These effort have been undertaken with a great deal of success for the last 50 years, producing a great number of new tendencies and directions in the liberal arts. More importantly, their praxis has shown that the equality of human beings is beneficial to society as a whole. Is it really necessary to give examples of how gender-equality results in a better quality of life? Compare Afghanistan or Tadzhikistan to Sweden or Norway . Or maybe we should look at the reaction of Russian women, when someone wants to introduce polygamy to Russia ? It may be that our women have not yet realized how advantageous independence and autonomy really are, but do they really become the second or the third wife?


Does love have any political potential in your opinion?
Do you think that there is anything specific in the feminine experience of love?


I think that there is a specific kind of heterosexual relationship in which one can probably identify characteristics such “feminine” or “masculine” love, but even in this case, this specificity will change in parallel to the relationship in society as a whole. To simplify, if we separate sexuality, reproduction and love into different “conceptual clusters”, slowly cutting down heterosexism, all of our notions of love will inevitably change. In my bright future, the choice of partner will be free from all sides; virginity will lose its sacrality (or its obligation), reproduction will become considerably more conscious, sexuality will be more free, and love will define itself through the individual qualities of its participant subjects, rather than through romantic or mythologized factors, regulated by society and culture.

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Katy Deepwell, London

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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.

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Elena Petrovskaya, Moscow

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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?


I must note that feminism has never paved its way under the aegis of universalism. Quite on the contrary, feminism has always emphasized the multiplicity of differences. As an event, universalism is an idea that stems from an alternate interpretation of difference and its role in political struggle. To be concise, one could express this as follows: why should we strive for difference if it already exists, if we encounter such a great variety of genders, ethnic identities, faiths etc.? As strange as it may seem, the truth is what is never given in advance, which is why it demands universality. Yet this universality does not come first but last: universality demands nothing more and nothing less than a change – a liberation, if you will – of subjectivity itself.


However, I do not think that it is feminism’s contemporary vocation to fulfill universal goals: instead, local problems usually take center-stage. In our country, for an example, even traditional forms of feminism are still extremely marginal. I would even say that they are unwanted. As ever, one must bear the burden of the elementary discrimination against women, which is but poorly camouflaged on all layers of social life. This means that women themselves will need to play no small role if they are ever to face the purely practical side of these issues.


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?


It makes little sense to oppose weakness and strength to another. By doing so, we involuntarily substantiate weakness, transforming it into a variety of presence (in the philosophical sense). But weakness is actually related to a different situation, namely to a situation in which objectification fails to take place, where there is only a redistribution of power. In philosophical jargon, we call this the situation of immanence. Weakness is good in that, in failing to become political (i.e. a figure for power), it present a challenge to the hierarchies that social language calls ‘success’. Weakness is a way of life that circumvents the powers-that-be, which include the much-cited bounding of gender-roles. Weakness does belong to femininity, especially if one understands the latter as a quality color-coded by gender. Non-violence is a well-known variety of weakness; furthermore, it is weakness recast politically. But on the other hand, the politics of non-violence are highly questionable, because they – and more broadly, weakness – do not contain any form of teleology. Weakness means the positive absence of goals, of goal-acquisition, and of the pretence to power. In this sense, weakness is not simply a form of “defenselessness” in the face of “masculine” aggression.


Does love have any political potential in your opinion?
Do you think that there is anything specific in the feminine experience of love?


I doubt that everyone knows the experience of love. Love does not only consist in stepping out to meet the Other; it also means that you are permanently ready to become an Other yourself. The experience of love is the experience of becoming. In this sense, it contradicts love’s existing institutions. For an example, marriage’s socio-economic components are quite concrete, setting the boundary for love’s anti-social aspects. And love really is anti-social. Yet we all indulge in love’s culturally illuminations and in its psychological experiences. To understand its liminality, its anti-sociality is an impossible undertaking. More often than not, our experiences of love are as pre-scripted as contracts. This even applies to love’s more odious guises. But if these experiences were not predetermined, they would not be experiences. This brings us back to vulnerability. To be unafraid of losing, to love with any guarantee, without any certainty that this will ever happen again, to love at full risk… Is this what makes up the specificity of “feminine” love? It may well be.

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Martha Rosler, New York

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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.

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