Next Meeting: 7pm-9pm, Tuesday 11th June 2013
We will be meeting at our new venue and shared premises!
Unit E (press the buzzer), 5 Pundersons Gardens, E2 9QG. (Nearest tube Bethnal Green)
A discussion article
Across Europe in recent years, the abortion question is back up for public debate. In Spain, the new Government wants to revert to the stricter abortion laws overturned by its predecessor. In Greece, slashed funding to the healthcare system is threatening women’s access to safe and free abortions. In France, they have actually liberalised abortion law. But in the UK we have seen various attacks on different fronts that re-configure the sphere of reproduction, of which women are disproportionately involved in. That this is happening during a time of capitalist crisis is no coincidence. In this article we want to explore an apparent paradox: some states are promoting an ideology of ‘the family’ and making it harder for women to access abortions at a time of high unemployment and a surplus population (i.e. a population surplus to the needs of capital), at the same time as implementing policies that makes childrearing much harder.
How can we analyse this contradiction and the implications? We suggest that this reflects a contradiction within capitalism itself, namely that on the one hand, from the capitalist point of view, the costs of reproduction of total population are always too high, so it makes sense to keep the population small and allow as many abortions as possible. On the other hand, surplus population fulfills some crucial functions (pressure on wages, effective demand, reserve of labour in times of expansion) and politicians constantly complain about a lack of (“qualified”) labour in Western Europe. So, the fundamental contradiction here is that capitalism relies on (the exploitation of) labour (which requires the birth of more babies), but at the same time it will do its best to keep the conditions of reproduction (which does not produce commodities and therefore exchange value) as low as possible (which means less babies). We could conclude that this contradiction will always lead to paradoxes regarding the question of abortion and reproduction more widely.
In times of crisis, this contradiction becomes acutely apparent. In the UK we can see this in the form of various contradictory policies, for example through valorising the ‘hard-working family’ and (financially) responsible (i.e. middle-class) motherhood while at the same time, the government is making us shoulder more of the burden of reproducing ourselves through the politics of austerity and the Big Society. Abortion is being stigmatised and women pushed into (unpaid) reproductive roles, while at the same time, women are pushed to go back to work sooner after having children and being penalised through the benefits system for even having children, especially as a single mother.
In the UK we can trace a number of policy initiatives affecting ‘reproductive rights’. There have been two attempts to reduce the time limit for abortion; once in 2006 from 24 to 21 weeks and again in 2008, from 24 to 20 weeks. While this was primarily a crusade by one MP, Nadine Dorries, it did gain parliamentary support (as well as from anti-choice organisations). While Dorries was defeated, her proposals were deemed politically plausible. Abortion was once again ‘up for negotiation’ ¡ª symptomatic of overt ‘pro-natalist’ agitation.
There has also been an attempt to enforce ‘independent’ abortion counselling for all women wanting an abortion; abortion providers would no longer be allowed to provide counselling themselves. So-called ‘independent’ counsellors would have opened the door to anti-abortion and religious groups as ‘providers’. This proposal failed, but while the ‘financial incentive’ argument is used by the Conservatives to suggest conflict of interest with abortion providers providing counselling this same argument isn’t used when private companies contract to provide other healthcare services in the NHS. This stark double standard single outs and undermines abortion provision.
In 2011, the Health Minister ordered an investigation into the working practices of abortion clinics; it seemed to be a political move with no basis other than creating an atmosphere of mistrust about abortion services.
Privatisation opens the door for organisations with an implicit anti-abortion agenda to deliver services to women. We’ve seen this with the public funding of pregnancy crisis centres such as Care Confidential that offers biased advice to women.
Also in 2011, pro-abstinence and anti-choice organisations were invited to become members of the Sex and Relationships Education Council (an advisory group to the Government) as well as to their Sexual Health forum. This cements an ideological framework in which decisions are being made. In May 2011 Nadine Dorries attempted to introduce abstinence-only sex education (but only for girls!) in schools. Thankfully though, she failed.
While we could view these attacks on abortion and reproductive services as ‘pro-natalist’ (in the sense that the consequences make an increase in the birth rate more likely), it is not true that the state just ‘wants more babies’ as the state is also cutting its ‘social wage’ responsibilities. More accurate to say that a particular class of child (future labour force) needs to be produced: the child that can financially support itself, is educated, and disciplined. And how will the selection of the ‘right sort of mothers’ for capital be made? Here, the motivations behind the increasing demonisation of single, young mothers and benefit ‘scroungers’ by the state and media become clearer. The idea of ‘good’ and ‘productive’ reproduction is promoted via ideologically-imposed policy changes. For example, tax breaks for married couples, and the new configurations of state benefits where single mothers receive far less money and are forced to find work after a certain amount of time or do workfare programmes. Meanwhile childcare costs are soaring, housing benefit is being capped, the state is cutting childcare support, more than 400 Sure Start children’s centres have closed down,  statutory maternity pay is facing a real terms cut. The bedroom tax will disproportionately affect single parents. And the government’s ‘Big Society’ agenda is an attempt to shrink the state’s role in the provision of public services. The overall effects? Firstly, the responsibility to carry out the work arising from “individual reproductive choices” falls on the individual (usually) woman. Secondly, the ‘choice’ to have children (those who feel inclined and are able to afford childcare and other costs) will diversify more along class lines. A certain class of mother is being encouraged to pro-create, reflecting the type of labour (and consumer, ‘citizen’ and worker) that is needed by capital in this current phase.
That all of this occurs in a period of pressure on jobs and wages leads to other considerations. For example, women’s unemployment is at a 25-year high, especially as public sector workers, the majority of whom are women, are being targeted for job cuts. The state/capital has to ‘do’ something with these unemployed women in the short-term without creating any further ‘burdens’ on the state. One answer is to promote motherhood that removes them from the labour market in the short term and then puts them back into it in worse-paid, part-time work later. These jobs are often more precarious, with fewer employment protections. Such conditions will also lead to new chains of exploitation as care jobs invariably fall to lower stratas of class society, such as illegal and migrant women who receive lower wages and have lower bargaining power and make it possible for middle-class, professional women to continue their ‘double burden’ of work.
Within this terrain of conflicting pressures however, in the UK, the birth rate has fallen for middle-class, professional women and risen amongst working class women, an inversion of what is expected and happening in other parts of Europe. How can we account for this? Perhaps middle class women delay having children until they are in a more financially secure position, making it more difficult to conceive (which also explains the recent relaxation of rules around IVF for older women). Rising birth rates for poorer women could be seen as an expression of a ‘retreat into the family’ when the alternative is working long hours for a wages that does not lift you out of poverty. The retreat to ‘family’ and ‘motherhood’ in times of economic crisis is in some ways a reaction to the increasing precarity of employment, even a resistance against the further commodification of labour and marketisation of social relations.
However, in the rest of Europe especially Greece, Ireland and Spain, fertility rates are falling. This is a more expected response to crisis and unemployment, but it also undermines the idea of ‘individual choice’. The commonly used language and ideology of defending women’s ‘choice’ over their ‘own/individual’ bodies by many pro-choice campaigners is therefore politically limited. It fails to address the material conditions under which such choices are made. Liberal and legalistic language of ‘choice’ disguises the influences and structural constraints in a capitalist society that determine and limit it. And a bourgeois society cannot solve the contradiction between individual freedom and social constraints. Our only alternative is to maintain ‘formal individual freedom’ but at the same time build collective material conditions and power, which makes a real choice possible.
Whether such a contradictory raft of policies will successfully develop capital’s ideal worker/citizen/mother is unlikely, not least due to realities of class struggle. Fundamentally though, the state will always have an interest in control on women’s bodies, because one of the main cumulative affects limiting women’s reproductive ‘choices’ will be to reproduce a hierarchical gender divide. The bigger the gender divide, the more women can be exploited by capital, both from their unpaid reproductive labour and in the wage-relation. Stronger controls over women’s reproductive capacities strengthens divisions between men and women by making more explicit their different roles within the division of labour. Maintaining women in their ‘naturalised’ role as childbearers maintains the category of ‘woman’. It exacerbates class divisions both between proletarian men and women as well as between different groups of women.
The puzzle of the contradiction i.e. that of restricting abortion at a time of surplus population, remains unsolved. Maybe it’s just a knee-jerk response by sections of the state, instinctively trying to rescue the family, even if that contradicts the slump in demand for labour. Or perhaps at times of rising unemployment, women are sacrificed first from the labour market, also because gender ideology enforces the idea of a ‘viable’/’natural’ alternative towards which they can be routed: motherhood. Why not just leave them unemployed? Because this way they are less of a social threat. Ensuring that people stay locked into nuclear family structures reduces the risk they pose to existing social structures. Restrictions to abortion do not just impact on women and their supposed autonomy. These policies point to a social relation that seeks to weaken our abilities to fight back against the inevitable (at least, within capitalism) decline of the quality of our lives. Defending our reproductive rights also means imagining what kind of future we want to raise children in, and seeking to collectively destroy the systemic (capitalist) limitations that will impede us from doing so.
Feminist Fightback Xmas Holiday Social
7pm Wednesday 19th Dec at London Action Resource Centre (LARC), Fieldgate Street, (nearest tube Aldgate East or Whitechapel).
Join us for mince pies, mulled wine, gefilte fish balls, music, dancing and two great short films.
‘Mothers’ Strike’: A film about a hunger strike for housing by single mothers in Poland (2008)
‘People for Tomorrow’: A film by Selma James about reproductive labour and equal pay (1970)
Feminist Fightback will be hosting AK-Feminismus, a feminist group from Berlin, from 29th March-4th April, following the visit of a group of us to Berlin earlier this year. More info on the group is at the bottom of this email.
While they are here, we are hoping that they can meet lots of other anti-capitalist feminist groups and individuals to allow them to get a bit of an idea of what people in London are working on at the moment and to discuss some points of intersection.
“We are a work group of the naturfreundejugend berlin. since our first meeting 2008 we have discussed theories and political strategies that link feminist and queer issues and struggles with critics of capitalism and related struggles. Starting from Marx, Engels and some of the first marxist feminists like Clara Zetkin, we have taken a closer look to later feminist movements and theories that followed a materialistic approach. For instance we discussed feminist struggles and demands during the 70s in Germany which focused on reproductive labour and ‘housework’ (Hausarbeit). We discussed and questioned their demand for paid housework and their attempts to find other definitions of Marx’s critical terms as productive and unproductive work, reproduction and exportation in order to politicise domination and exploration at home. This included the idea of unavailing emotional and affective labour of women which is usually invisible and unpaid – also when part of wage labour. In this regard we have been talking about utopian ideas of a better organisation of work/labour and
society. It seemed to us that – from a feminist point of view – socialist utopia and ideas on possible future modes of labour and production have been rather blind to gender issues e.g. by using a very narrow notions of exploitation (exclusively in ‘productive’ labour).
Apart from our discussions on labour in order to intersect feminist, queer and anti-capitalist struggles and debates, we also tried to figure out common epistemological and ontological groundings of marxist and feminist theories and analyses of history, capitalist societies, and gender oppression. We read and discussed some newer materialist and post-postmodernist feminist philosophical writing on epistemological and ontological ideas e.g. from Donna Haraway and Karen Baret.
Looking more to the developments and massive political changes on the labour marked and elsewhere since the 70s, we have tried to consider
changing modes of labour and working conditions for women. Especially regarding a growing sector of care work and a tendency of the inclusion of emotional and affective skills of the work force in the post-fordist era.
Since 2010 we wanted to have a wider attention and started thinking about getting more connected to different feminist and anti-capitalist struggles. We started working on and carrying out a militant research about the question of being constantly overloaded. Especially as women due to expectations and necessities to do additional care and affective work in your workspace as well as in your family, social context and relationships. Apart from the very different living and working conditions and experience of women of with different racial or class backgrounds and identities, we thought that this might be a common experience and as so a good common point of departure for a more unified feminist and anti-capitalist struggle against different
kinds of domination deeply interlinked with systems of sex-gender domination and acted out though different ways of exploitation and power over the labour force of others.
At the moment we are planning a poster campaign, that can be seen as an amplification to the former project and has the goal to unveil reproductive and unpaid work. The campaign aims for the recognition and against the denial of invisible labour which is often done by women. The campaign is also planned as a means to fight together and collective rather than individualising the problem. By pointing outexperience of overload is not a singular or personal one, but results from certain structural problems, division of labour and the capitalist mode of production, which cannot be solved individually but only collectively. We also want to point out that people are affected differently by neoliberal invocations – depending on “gender“, “race”, “class” and other structure categories.”
The Commoner Edition 15 – on-line now
Massimo De Angelis — Preface: Care Work and the Commons
Camille Barbagallo and Silvia Federici — Introduction
Mariarosa Dalla Costa (1972) –Women and the Subversion of the Community
Mariarosa Dalla Costa (1974) –On The General Strike
Silvia Federici (1974) — Wages Against Housework
Silvia Federici (1975) — On Sexuality as Work
Mariarosa Dalla Costa (1977) — Reproduction and Emigration
Camille Barbagallo and Nicholas Beuret — Starting From the Social Wage
Silvia Federici — The Unfinished Feminist Revolution
Mariarosa Dalla Costa — Women’s Autonomy & Renumeration of Care Work
Silvia Federici — On Elder Care
Laura Agustín — Sex as Work & Sex Work
Viviane Gonik — Is Housework Soluble in Love?
Pascale Molinier — Of Feminists and Their Cleaning Ladies
Todos Somos Japon — Nuclear Housework
Ariel Salleh — Fukushima: A Call for Female Leadership
Kolya Abramsky — Energy and Social Reproduction
– Domestic Workers United
– Interview with Priscilla Gonzalez
– A Male Domestic Worker
– The Regeneration Manifesto
– The Triumph of the Domestic Workers
– Servicio Domestíco Activo
– Interview with Liliana Caballero Velasquez
– Interview with Victoria Mamani
– Socialist Feminist Collective
– Interview with Ana Rosario Adrián Vargas
Tower Hamlets Council recently voted to introduce £30 million cuts this year followed by a further £70 million over the next 3 years. At least 39 jobs in Sure Start Centres will be axed. Some Sure Start Centres have indicated that they are going to have to start charging for services or face closure. Either way, there will be a reduction in services they can provide across the borough.
Feminist Fightback is against all the government’s cuts to public services, which we think will hit women particular hard. When the state stops paying for services such as childcare and elder care it is generally women who end up having to do this work for free. We believe good quality affordable childcare is vital for everybody in our community.
Last year we were involved in the successful fight against cuts to Hackney nurseries and now we want to make links with nursery workers and service users in Tower Hamlets. If you have a story to share, want to tell us about how cuts will affect you, or want to help design the newsletter please get in touch! Email email@example.com or call 07890 209479.
Report back from workshop at ‘Women At the Cutting Edge’ regarding how public sector cuts relate to feminism.
Overview of the cuts
Ideological attacks on none nuclear families, while the reality is that more than ever “families” need two adults just to survive.
Legal Aid cuts compound difficulties that people face with the benefits system. Home repossession will be a big feature of the next period.
Employers will use whatever leverage they can against low paid and public sector workers (=women workers). They will attack wages (including pensions) but also be bullies. Use of sickness records. Disciplining workers and giving them the boot just before retirement. Voluntary redundancy process will be used to bully people.
Moreover, there seems to be a lot of bullying going on in many areas. E.g. at the when people are “signing on”. Vulnerable people are going to feel most under attack (disabled, long-term sick, people with caring responsibilities). There may be a return to the assumption that a man is the “head of household” is the breadwinner. The bullying is compounded by the contradiction that it is going to be increasingly difficult to “go back to work”. It is difficult to see how the government/state is going to manage this contradiction. There are big implications for how we struggle against public sector cuts.
The intersectional exploitation of people – race, gender, class, sexuality, disability, nationality etc…
The role of the family unit in reproducing capitalism.
Cuts will mean that women will not only loose their jobs (given they make up the majority of as precarious workers & public sectors workers) but that a reduction in reproductive and welfare services will place greater burdens on women in terms of their unpaid work.
How does the law help us? Equality legislation only obliges Local Authority to do an assessment on the gender impact – we not have to do anything beyond that…
We are stronger than we think. We genuinely are, all in it together. They are packaging cuts, we can do “packaging” too.
Changes are structural. They are creating new divisions or revamping old ones e.g. between the deserving and undeserving poor. They are now talking about benefits as a privelege, not a means to help out vulnerable in society.
Cuts and privatisation are piecemeal. We need to get a grip on the areas and points at which we can mount a challenge.
The Arbout, 100 Shandy Street, E1 4ST
(nearest tube Stepney Green)
On 20 October the ConDem government’s “Spending Review” will detail enormous cuts in public services. We are already feeling the impact of earlier cuts many effected by Labour; nurseries and libraries are closing, jobs are being lost. As the government “austerity drive” steps up, the reality is that cuts will hit the lives of all but the wealthiest. In many cases women will be hit the hardest with recent reports estimating that women will suffer 72% of the tax and benefit cuts.
Whether you’re a feminist, an activist, a trade unionist, someone affected by the cuts, or involved in fighting the cuts in your college, community or workplace, or just interested in how the landscape of the welfare state is changing, Feminist Figtback invites you to join a day of discussions and networking. We want to put these cuts in a political context, link up, and share ideas and skills as we plan to fight them together.
Free creche available. Open to people of all genders
For more information or to book a stall at the event or a place in the creche please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Laura on 07971 842027.
Participatory workshops on:
What’s going on? Mapping cuts and campaigns
Friends of Hackney Nurseries will be meeting outside the Town Hall, Mare St, E8, Wednesday 21st July 2010 at 6pm, to hand in our petition to the council.
We have invited Rita Krishna, member of Cabinet with responsibility for Children and Young People (and member of the board of the Learning Trust), to receive the petition from us before the Full Council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m.
Thanks to vigorous campaigning by Friends of Hackney Nurseries, some of the 13 nurseries who had their commissioning grants arbitrarily removed in April have had most of their money restored. However, several have not, and have had to cut wages, number of childcare places, and are still in danger of closure.
There are still many unanswered questions about the future of our nurseries, especially in the light of proposed cuts to all public services. And the Learning Trust is still not making itself transparent and accountable to the people of Hackney.
Everyone who cares about nurseries, and indeed all the children of our borough, is welcome to join us – come and show the council and the Learning Trust that we will not be fobbed off.
In April a number of Hackney’s nurseries had serious and immediate cuts forced upon them without any explanation or prior consultation. Nursery workers, parents and community activists have already begun to organise against the cuts, coming together as Friends of Hackney Nurseries. Although people of all genders have contributed, so far the vast majority of those involved have been women. There are good reasons why the struggle for better childcare might be led by women – childcare workers and primary carers are still predominantly female, and women in general are still the ones responsible for ‘picking up the tab’ when it comes to all forms of reproductive labour. Whether we like it or not, it will be us as women who are most adversely affected by these cuts and our campaign for quality affordable childcare will have our interests as women at the centre of it.
We want to make sure, however, that saving Hackney’s nurseries doesn’t become just another job for the girls. Attacks on childcare provision are everybody’s problem, and they need to be actively resisted by the entirety of our movement – ‘single’ people as well as parents, men as well as women. These nursery cuts are part of wider attacks on our public services, designed to take back even the small gains fought hard for by working people over the last century. We think that struggles around childcare and other forms of domestic labour have for too long been considered outside the realm of the political. We are calling on the male-dominated Left to take this campaign seriously, and to join us today and in the future – not just to defend existing and unsatisfactory public services but to fight for a better way to organise our society and our lives.
At the end of April at least 8 community nurseries in Hackney were informed of immediate cuts in their budget of up to 60%, or about £50,000. This will mean the serious threat of nursery closures, and hardship and distress for parents, workers and children. The Learning Trust and Hackney Council are denying that there is a programme of cuts to nursery provision, so…
After previous successful fights against cuts to nurseries, Friends of Hackney Nurseries has re-activated to fight against cuts, and to fight for even more and better childcare provision locally. We are a group of parents, nursery workers, local residents and community activists who believe that quality childcare should be affordable and accessible to all. Childcare is a basic need for families – especially women. We need to provide childcare as a community – not isolated in our own homes. We need accessible, quality nurseries for all.
In 1970, 560 women came together at Ruskin College, Oxford for the first UK women’s liberation conference. The activist network Feminist Fightback met in London on 2nd May to look at how far we have come 40 years on, inviting all genders to “consider what feminism looks like today, how the struggle continues, and put the battles women fight today in the context of the history of the women’s movement.”
To aid comparisons of the women’s movement then and now the programme included two films: A Woman’s Place (Journeyman Pictures, 1970) and an episode of the BBC series on women, Activists (broadcast, March, 2010). Post introductions, the Feminist Fightback meeting continued with screening the 1970 film, which included footage of the Ruskin conference and The International Women’s Day March held in London in 1971.
A great sense of urgency surrounded the Ruskin conference. Many more women than the organisers expected showed up for the event. Whilst women across the class spectrum were enlivened by each other’s speeches and debate men were presiding over a crèche in the wings. Even long dead men honourably remembered by other men with head and shoulder busts in their image were not privy, women having covered them with shawls and scarves.
All aspects of women’s lives were considered in the context of British society in 1970 – Women in prison, trade unions, housework, childrearing, for instances. One woman spoke of the need for “our children to be liberated from us”, implying a suffocating atmosphere presided over family living, women isolated and confined by the mother role. Women questioned whether the so-called “maternal instinct” was a real or imposed thing. They talked of possible alternative family structures where other adults and not the mother alone have childcare responsibilities such as communes. One middle-aged working class woman, wholly unused to speaking before a large audience, grew in confidence as she spoke of her life as a housewife and mother of four children as a life of missed opportunities. Another woman said she would like not to be thought a freak because she had no interest in children whatsoever. Women discussed the thorough injustice of their economic dependence on men, their work as mothers going unacknowledged and unpaid and the political implications of that – reproducing a workforce for capitalism whilst simultaneously being disenfranchised by that system.
Some months later 4,000 women took to the streets of London for the International Women’s Day March with placards and banners demanding these basic rights. They presented their petition in writing to 10 Downing Street. The seriousness of their demands to tackle the inequalities imposed on them by virtue of their biology did not stop these women’s enjoyment of the march. There was a carnival atmosphere. A needlework dummy bound to a crucifix was held aloft by some women while others dance-exercised ironically to Eddie Cantor’s ‘Keep young and beautiful, its your duty to be beautiful’. One woman mocked beauty pageants, her sash reading, ‘Ms Stress’. Clearly the Ruskin conference had been a resounding success, women politicised and adamantly seeking immediate changes to an unjust system.
So how are things looking in 2010?
The sad answer is, not very good at all. In spite of the Equal Pay Act implemented in 1970 and the various adjustments made to it since women are still lagging behind men in financial status. They are far more likely than men to work in part-time employment as they are more usually the primary carers of either children and/or disabled or elderly relatives. Part-time work such as care-work or cleaning is given low status and is extremely poorly paid. The model of ‘superwoman’ is held as the ideal. Women are urged ‘to have it all’ – both the children and the career. This can effectively mean that you either pay – usually another woman – a low wage for childcare, or if lowly paid yourself, childcare will take up a disproportionate amount of your income.
Feminist Fightback are currently involved in a campaign to save Hackney nurseries, “cuts … being handed out in a piecemeal fashion, with no warning to nurseries all over Hackney.” Thus nursery fees go up and living standards go down making rubbish of Labour’s insistence that they were fighting to reduce child poverty. And Britain with a Tory prime minister is sure to make matters far worse, a part of the Tory/Liberal pact being to immediately put into operation Tory’s plans to severely cut funds to all public services so to appease the IMF (America’s chief say-so).
And so to the BBC4 documentary, where the feminist activists concentrated on made all these social conditions notable by not mentioning any of them. Finn Mackay is the founder of the London Feminist Network and Co-founder of the Feminist Coalition Against Prostitution and it was these movements that the documentary wholly centred around. Mackay is described on her blog, “She is a well-practiced public speaker with particular emphasis on violence against women, prostitution and feminism in the UK.” Indeed, she appeared a charismatic leader in the film as with a raised fist she delivered her speech at The London Feminist Network’s Conference to an all women audience, many of whom were in floods of tears.
The interviewer asked woman after woman what her chief concerns were regarding feminism. Cited were just these: male violence against women, prostitution, pornography and sexual objectification. There was much belittling of these women by the programme makers. They were mostly young, middle-class women living at home with their parents. Parents were also interviewed and rather geed along when showing prejudice against their daughter’s activism, one mother saying she could not understand her daughter’s penchant for dressing up while protesting against objectification.
Feminist Fightback rightly cut a huge swathe from this film that concentrated on food preparation for the LFN conference – veganism read as joyless Puritanism by the film-maker, and the viewer impelled to think likewise. Campaigns by LFN include Reclaim The Night, ‘Bin the Bunny’ (referring to the cynical use of the Playboy bunny emblazoned across children’s clothes etc.) One woman spoke of the horrific event that had made her become an activist in the movement: recounting that after her daughter’s friend had been gang raped, the police later made charges against her saying that she had perverted the course of justice, citing mobile phone footage her attackers had filmed. They eventually succeeded in getting the charges dropped but were further shocked to learn that there were no rape crisis centres in the whole of London.
There was some extremely disturbing footage of women from the LFN shouting “shame, shame” at people entering a lap-dancing club. They were shouting this as much at the female employees as at the male audience, creating divisions between those women and themselves.
After the film showings the mostly women crowd present at the Feminist Fightback event came together to discuss the films, make comparisons and consider the feminist movement today. In the lively discussion, personal experiences were used as much as the historical perspectives raised by the films.
Much noted was the absolute absence of considerations surrounding class or indeed any other political analysis in the BBC4 film. Women spoke of their concerns about others considering feminism an outmoded if not dirty word. There was consensus that we should openly and unashamedly say that we are feminists to other women and men. How this consciousness raising is exercised was another problem discussed – not wanting to come across preachy, for instance.
We discussed the issue of objectification so concentrated upon by the women from LFN. Participants articulated the belief that the media perpetuated women’s concern with their bodies by constantly documenting this apparent all consuming concern, anorexia, for instance, being a favourite topic of documentary makers. We discussed society placing such high value on being in a couple. One woman quoted a bride’s speech, “I was nothing till I met you”, “now I am complete”. People expressed concern over feeling that you had to do your best to feign interest in wedding preparations – cooing over the dress for instance, women feeling that they would otherwise endanger friendships, though they are not allowed the space to say, “this is shit”.
Many considered that LFN’s demand to have porn banned by the state was not a progressive argument, and indeed a simplification of matters, particularly demeaning porn being a symptom that needs to be attacked via its root causes and likewise the LFN’s attitude to prostitution; Feminist Fightback are demanding that sex-workers be decriminalised.
There was consensus that the BBC4 programme was horribly malicious and a farcical comparison with the 1970 Journeyman film. And what of women’s own sexuality and their enjoyment of sex, should this not be talked about?
Many other subjects were touched upon at this meeting. In fact all of the grass-root feminist concerns the women from the 1970 Ruskin conference were talking about then are still very much the concern of Feminist Fightback now. It is a terrible shame that the media present body image and objectification issues above all else as grass-roots feminism, when you only need to watch A Woman’s Place to know that that is absolutely not the case. Feminism must be bound with political activism.
by Sharon Borthwick
In 1970 hundreds of women gathered for a free conference at Ruskin College that would launch the Second Wave of feminism. As men provided the childcare, women discussed and debated ideas and experiences, and identified what the aims of the Women’s Liberation Movement as they saw it, should be.
Feminist Fightback invite you to an afternoon of film showings and discussions as we think about how far we have come, what feminism looks like today, how the struggle continues, and put the battles women fight today in the context of the history of the Women’s Liberation Movement.
Films will include:
Journeyman Picture’s A Woman’s Place (1970)
Excerpts from the BBC’s Women series (2010)
What: An evening of making trouble, sharing ideas and planning ways for women to fight back against the crisis, hosted by Feminist Fightback.
When: Tuesday 30th June, 5pm, and 6.30pm
Where: Paying a visit to Harriet Harman, Southwark Townhall (5pm), followed by film showing (6.30pm) at Studio 96, The Galleria, Pennack Road, SE16 6PW
All genders welcome!
This is a fundraiser for Lambeth Women’s Project www.lambethwomen.wordpress.com
Harriet Harman, Minister for Women, thinks that a ‘feminist’ response to the recession would be to place more women in top city jobs, putting them ‘in charge of the banks’. Meanwhile Harman supports the Welfare Reform Bill, which proposes to introduce US-style ‘workfare’ practices, forcing mothers of young children into minimum wage jobs or risk losing their benefits.
Harriet Harman likes to talk up her feminist credentials, but what kind of feminist only looks out for the interests of rich women during times of economic crisis? In fact, Harman has a long track record of selling out the majority of women she claims to represent – most recently playing a key role in blocking a Bill to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland. If this is how the Minister for Women is going to act on our behalf, then we can do without her!
Fortunately, Harriet Harman’s feminism isn’t the only kind on offer. Many women in London are organising to resist the iniquities of capitalism – from the parents occupying Lewisham Bridge Primary School to protest against its privatisation; to hostel residents demanding decent housing in Hackney; to the Visteon workers who occupied their factory and finally won their redundancy.
Feminist Fightback has also been organising grass roots resistance to some of Harman’s biggest sell-outs during her time as Minister for Women – occupying the Department for Work and Pensions in protest against the Welfare Reform Bill, and taking direct action in solidarity with Northern Irish women who continue to be denied the right to control their own bodies.
Feminist Fightback invites you to join us outside Southwark Town Hall to show Harriet Harman that women have been fighting back in ways very different to those she proposes. We’ll be ‘decorating’ the Town Hall, sending messages to Ms Harman in a variety of ‘creative’ ways, and inviting our Minister for Women to come out and take a look!
This will be followed by a film showing introducing a number of women-led struggles taking place at the moment. We want this to be an opportunity to find out what’s going on in London; to make links with other women’s groups; and to find inspiration for how we can act collectively to take control of our workplaces, our communities and our lives.
Discussing and organising our fight for women’s liberation – open to all those who want to learn, think and plan for grassroots feminist activism… Join us for workshops which identify the interconnections between oppressions and our struggles against them. Work together with other feminists to find ways to actually change the material conditions of women’s lives.
Workshops include: learning from feminist history/ sex workers’ rights/ challenging domestic violence/ international solidarity/ a woman’s place is in her union?/ reproductive freedoms/ rape and asylum/ community organising/ queer and trans politics/ prison abolition/ self-defence workshop/ feminists and the capitalist crisis/ films, stalls and campaign planning
Organised by a coalition of groups and individuals. Groups involved so far include: Anarcha-Fem Kollective, All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, English Collective of Prostitutes, Education Not for Sale Women, Feminist Activist Forum, Feminist Fightback, Left Women’s Network, London Coalition Against Poverty, Permanent Revolution, RMT Women’s Committee, Women Asylum Seekers Together, Women Against Rape, Workers’ Liberty.
Today, we march alongside women on the Million Women Rise March with solidarity and respect. We are energised and excited to be a part of a rising tide of feminist activism. We are here to march and to show our resistance to the continued oppression and exploitation that the majority of women the world over continue to experience. We therefore think it is more important than ever to build a movement and develop a feminist politics that can fight for liberation and equality. Because of this, we think it is crucial for us to think hard about the kind of feminism that we want to work for…
We are feminists who want to link our fight for women rights with other movements for social justice and all struggles against capitalism and exploitation. We think as feminists it is crucial that we build alliances between these different struggles and to focus on the ways in which they interconnect. We do not think it is useful to prioritise one form of oppression over another, or to focus simply on women’s rights as separate from a wider system of exploitation. The privileging of gender (above race, sexuality or class) leads to the idea of women as eternal victims; to an ahistorical and static concept of patriarchy or male power; and to fruitless competition over who is ‘more oppressed’ according to different identity categories. This approach has been heavily criticised for taking the experience of white middle class women as standard and ignoring the experience of BME and working class women.
We understand all oppressions to be rooted within capitalism and the racist and patriarchal ideologies it produces. For this reason we do not think that real liberation for women can be achieved without also fighting capitalism. By capitalism we mean a system of power and control, which relies upon the exploitation of the working class and that puts profit before the needs people and the planet.
Violence and exploitation take many forms. It is of course crucial to oppose rape and sexual abuse but equally it must be understood that violence is not just perpetrated by individuals, but also by the state and in the name of big business. Immigration controls, sweatshop labour, poverty, police brutality, military imperialism and the denial of reproductive freedom are all forms of violence and must be named as such and opposed by all.
We support all women organising in their workplaces and against their bosses, be they sex workers, sweatshop workers or supermarket workers, teachers or train drivers, and we stand in solidarity with all women fighting for their rights- wherever they are in the world. For this reason we oppose the Million Women’s Rise definition of prostitution which links domestic abuse, rape and commercial sexual exploitation. For the thousands of women who work in the sex industry this demand is not only offensive but dangerous. To deny women the ability to choose to work in the sex industry is to deny their fight for better wages and working conditions. The demand to criminalise sex workers and the sex industry only serves to further the marginalisation and exploitation that sex workers currently face.
We want our campaigns and politics to empower women to fight their own exploitation rather than to depend on others for protection. We do not think a feminist movement should look to charitable organisations or ‘experts’ to bestow our rights upon us, but that we should build a movement involving as many women and men as possible to bring about liberation from below.
Feminist Fightback 2007, 20 October, University of East London