Professional pounder of the patriarchy.

Posts tagged ‘revolutionaries’

Women and the Left

Alternative title: I’ve Got Tits And I’m In Your Trade Union.

I saw a comic earlier on Facebook, by an artist called Suzy X, which perfectly encapsulated something I’ve been pondering for a while.

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If you’re a fan of Vice or its sister site Broadly, you might have seen the article they published on the “brocialism” phenomenon (x). Essentially, a brocialist is a man with right-on leftist politics but a dodgy set of morals when it comes to women. It might sound silly and, to be fair, I laughed at the article while reading it.

I stopped laughing when I realised that it was all too familiar. It’s often difficult for people who are fighting a cause – such as resisting class-based oppression – to recognise oppressive actions in themselves and their activism. As they focus on one area of privilege, they may lose sight of others. We see this in “white feminism”, which erases the nuanced experiences of women of colour and fails to address intersectionality. If you bring up issues of intersectionality in certain circles, you may be accused of pandering to “identity politics”. In this same way, leftists who also happen to be feminists, like myself, get a lot of flack for “dividing” the movement.

Obviously class is an important indicator of social privilege – I’m not suggesting that we should abandon it altogether – but women and DFAB people have an important role to play within the left. In fact, I’m of the opinion that class should be incorporated more into feminism. Women’s experiences, particularly if they are wives and mothers with families to support, are intimately connected with working-class issues or disadvantages associated with a low income background. For example, as shown in a study by UNESCO in Ethiopia and others by UNICEF in Eastern and Southern Africa, poverty is the main barrier to girls’ and women’s education. Girls are traditionally entrusted with domestic tasks such as fetching water. If the only source of water is far away and requires a time-consuming journey, this results in more girls being late to or absent from school. There is also a stark lack of “gender-sensitive” teaching; therefore, girls grow into women who don’t know how to protect themselves from STDs. UNICEF have stated: “Educated girls can better protect themselves against HIV, trafficking and abuse. Educating a girl also means that as a woman, she is empowered and more likely to participate in development efforts and in political and economic decision-making. Women who went to school usually manage to increase the household income.” When women are educated and empowered, it holds benefits for their families and even for whole communities.

An example closer to home (at least for me!) is the impact de-industrialisation has had on family life for working-class people, right here in the UK. Historically, men from predominantly working-class have participated in “skilled” work, i.e. they learned a trade or took on a job manufacturing a specific material/product. In my area, our main industry throughout the nineteenth century and much of the early twentieth century was chain-making. However, in the latter part of the 20th century, our industries and the communities that had grown around them suffered. There are lots of reasons for this, but the actions of Margaret Thatcher and the war her government waged on trade unions were primarily responsible. For people outside the UK, you probably won’t be aware of the major turmoil that occurred during Thatcher’s stint as Prime Minister, when thousands of miners (mining being a job rooted in the working class) participated in strikes during the 70s and 80s. In an article for New Statesman, Owen Jones specifically linked de-industrialisation with the changing status of masculinity in our society: “…what it means to be a man is in a state of flux. Deindustrialisation, undoubtedly, is a fundamental reason. Britain’s economy has been increasingly emptied of skilled industrial jobs. Take manufacturing: while 5.6 million people worked in the sector in 1982, only 2.6 million did last year.” When men lost their jobs as a result of mass de-industrialisation under Thatcher and the legacy of privatisation that followed her, it placed greater pressure on women to provide for their families, and areas of England, Scotland and Wales remain poverty-stricken. You’ll find that the poorest areas are those that historically thrived due to industry.

Women are not just passive victims in class war. Our foremothers have fought to find a voice and a platform within the left, which is why it angers me so much that we should have to reaffirm our place in the movement. In 1930s Spain, the anarchist organisation Las Mujeres Libres fought to empower working-class women.  The women of the Spanish anarchist movement felt marginalised. They were laughed at when they tried to contribute during meetings and this made women hesitant to speak up. This angered Mujeres Libres because the movement was supposed to oppose and ultimately abolish all forms of oppression and social hierarchy. They put an emphasis on a “double struggle”, in which they could pursue both women’s liberation and social revolution. In order to give working-class women the best opportunities to participate, they organised childcare services and schools. They also developed literacy courses, social studies classes and medical training. I love the story of Mujeres Libres, purely because of how brilliant they were at meeting the specific needs of the working women they supported. The scenario was similar for Clara Zetkin, a German socialist activist and an advocate for women’s rights. She too held the opinion that women were not allowed to participate equally within the left. She presided over the Women’s Office of the Social Democratic party from 1907 onwards and she founded International Women’s Day in 1911, although she had been involved with the women’s movement in Germany since 1874. Becoming a cultural icon in the former German Democratic Republic, streets and parks bearing her name can still be found there.

And the women of the left are still fighting. Even within feminism, there are leftist movements: socialist feminism, Marxist feminism, labor/labour feminism. There is even a movement called transnational feminism, exploring how capitalism and the patriarchy intersect in order to exploit women.

I refer to The Left a lot in this article, although I don’t mean to suggest that everyone with a left-wing viewpoint is part of some homogeneous mass. What I generally mean when I use the term The Left is leftist activism and the platforms where this takes place. When I say “women struggle to find a platform in the left”, I mean that very few of today’s prominent socialist thinkers are women. That’s a problem. We’re not lacking in vocal socialist women because women don’t understand politics, nor is it because women are politically apathetic. In fact, we’re not lacking socialist women at all. Speaking as a feminist, I know what it’s like to get shouted down, on the internet and in real life. Therefore, I can confidently say that the issue is that so many men continue to exclude women from conversations about class or refuse to acknowledge sexist bias in their own actions.

This is not to suggest that we are somehow worse than the right (FYI: that’s not the case). But it is more hypocritical of us if we’re seeking equality of the classes whilst remaining blind to other struggles.

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Corbyn and the Coup: A Socialist Fairytale

Once upon a time, there was a far-away kingdom, alone on an island.

The kingdom’s rulers did not care much for their people and theirs was a world of bloodshed and betrayal, so the people relied upon a court of mages for guidance, led by an old wizard chosen by the people. He and the king sought to restore balance between them. (This is a magical democracy, children. Now shut tf up and listen.)

Of late, the kingdom had isolated itself further still. Their former king had abdicated. He was not the best king, but the alternative was much worse… and now it had come to pass. The king’s courtiers bickered and quarreled over who would take the throne, and the people looked to their royal wizards for comfort.

However, it seemed that the wizards had forgotten their code of magical honour. All of them, except for that wise old wizard. Although he was the people’s choice (Which? Magazine winner), the courtiers and other wizards had long mocked him for his unkempt beard and tattered robes. The truth was, the wise old wizard found no pleasure in expensive wands and fine garments. What he loved was good magic, done for the benefit of his people. He wanted to protect them and to ensure everyone got their share.

But their mockery was deeper and darker than that. The other wizards feared the new and different magic that the wise old wizard had, and they had only one solution: to overthrow him.

You’ve probably guessed by now, but I’m not actually talking about an old sorcerer, an absentee king and a wizardly code of honour.

I’m talking, of course, about the EU referendum and its consequences, namely the underhand, unfair campaign against the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. I won’t pretend this “coup” – if you can call it that – is anything new. Ever since he became leader, there have been detractors and naysayers within the party itself. It’s been brewing in the cauldrons of the centre left (and if you think Corbyn is too far left, you probably shouldn’t be in the Labour Party) for quite some time; it’s just that the country is in convenient turmoil at present. Our prime minister has resigned, our government are battling it out for the top job, and nobody knows where to look for leadership or guidance. Those in the Labour Party who want Corbyn out have made their opinions known – opinions which have been ad hominem at best, downright character assassination at worst. This was an opportune moment to do so.

That’s what politics is about in this country at the moment: opportunity. That’s what we are to most politicians – us peasants, the serfs on their land – we are opportunities. They’re vultures, picking at the carcass of this country and squabbling over the last scraps of meat that remain. Jeremy Corbyn’s only crime was to see us for what we are. We are people who have already been taken advantage of. We are people who do not need any more cuts, any more austerity, any more lies.

Jeremy Corbyn is not, to the best of my knowledge, a liar. That’s the key difference between him and many other politicians I’ve seen. He does not mince his words, he does not avoid the question. He does not hide behind flashy cars and sharp suits and an Etonian education. He cycles, appeared on television in 1984 in a jumper knitted by his mother, and is the son of a maths teacher and an engineer. He has fought all his life to make the world a better place, often at great personal cost regarding his career. This is a man who has won awards for his human rights activism and he has openly opposed the Labour whip on several occasions. Precisely when kindness and compassion became radical qualities, I don’t know, but these are the things that have made him so popular among young people. He sticks it to the man, sure, but he does it in a way that is fair and just.

We should be ashamed of the bullying that has been perpetrated against Corbyn. He has been subjected to the most inane, the most insulting media depiction of recent times. He’s been a victim of biased media. We have all been victims of that same biased media. It’s unfair for people to label him uncharismatic or unelectable, when they’re the same people who would never give him a chance and gave him so little room to manouevre. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.

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Even his side-eye does not discriminate. It sees all.

He is honourable. He is decent. He is principled.

Of course I’m a little predisposed to like him. His politics align very closely with my own, and he is the kind of person for whom I have always had the utmost respect. Regardless, I have been proud to call him our Leader of the Opposition, and I hope I can continue to refer to him as such.

Thank you, Jez. Whatever may happen in the coming months, thank you.

And to the wise old wizard on the lonely island: your good magic is strong enough. Keep the faith.

Well Done, Sister Suffragette!

“We’re in every home; we’re half the human race. You can’t stop us all.”

– Maud Watts, “Suffragette”

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Suffragette was released this month, and I went to see it last Friday. It’s definitely one to see with female friends/relatives, as it’s very much a story of women who inspire other women to participate in the fight for suffrage. (That said, there were several husbands in the audience!) I went with my mum and I’m not ashamed to say we both cried – but they were happy tears, I promise!

The cast are amazing; Carey Mulligan is just exceptional. Helena Bonham Carter, the Notorious HBC, forever my woman crush, is as fabulous as ever. Also, I couldn’t have chosen a better Emmeline Pankhurst myself – Meryl was born to play her (although I say that of every role she plays). She has a beautiful speech in the film, in front of a crowd of women and men, at which point I promptly burst into tears. I hardly ever cry at films – except The Lion King, that shit is brutal – but this moved me in so many ways and for so many reasons. It’s a powerful testament to the strength of the women who came before us, those early feminists living in desperate times.

The film is enabling more and more conversations about feminism. In fact, the best moment of the evening came after the film, when I was discussing it in the car on the way home. My mum told me how proud she was of the presentations I did at school on International Women’s Day last year – not that she hadn’t said so previously! – and that she knew it was “a personal battle” for me. (We then proceeded to cry a bit more.) It made me so immensely proud to carry the torch and to continue the fight for equality. I’d urge you to take your daughters and your nieces to see it, especially if they are young feminists who are struggling with the bad press that the movement receives. It will restore their faith tenfold.

Thumbs up, five stars, 10/10, would recommend. 😉

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“The Ascent of Woman”

Just a quick recommendation for a fantastic documentary series on BBC2, hosted by Dr Amanda Foreman! You can find it on BBC iPlayer; there are three episodes currently up there (but only for the next month). Check it out here: (x). In it, Dr Foreman investigates and examines the role of women throughout history. Our story has not been a simple progression from bad to good, from dark to light. As empires have risen, fallen and expanded, the status of women has fluctuated. Beginning with the earliest civilisations and progressing to the power struggle of the Middle Ages, she asks us to consider how far we have come – and how far we still need to go.

(I particularly enjoyed the section on Empress Wu in the second episode (“Separation”). I think you’ll like her too.)

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5 Female-led Rebellions

I know this is a day late, but my prom was on Friday 3rd July and the weekend was a whirl! I hope you all saw the note in the sidebar though! Sorry, Clara…

We celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March every year, but Clara Zetkin – the German woman who first launched it in 1911 – is an unknown name for many people. She was a Marxist theorist and an activist for women’s rights, advocating for women’s suffrage and encouraging them to participate in the socialist movement. She acknowledged that women made up much of the workforce – why should they not reap the benefits of revolution?

She was born on 5th July 1857 and died on 20th June 1933, so it’s Clara’s 158th birthday today. In honour of her, this article is about five instances in which women led a revolution or a rebellion. I think Clara would approve of these ladies!

  1. The Women’s March on Versailles

France, 5th October 1789. The Bastille prison has been successfully stormed only three months earlier and the stirrings of revolution are in the minds of France’s poorest citizens. The price of bread has rocketed and the women of Paris can barely afford to feed their families. How do they choose to rectify this? They start a demonstration in the marketplace, gather their allies, ransack the city armoury and proceed to the Palace of Versailles, where the crowd of 7,000 women besiege the home of King Louis XVI and confront him.

Good plan, nicely executed (that’s a shameful pun, Louis, and I’m deeply sorry).

The March on Versailles is often considered to be a defining moment in the French Revolution. It was relatively early on – Louis wasn’t executed until 1793 and the period of upheaval didn’t end until 1799 – but it demonstrated the strength of the common people to the aristocracy. My favourite part of the story is that the infuriated women were encouraged to march by “a young woman (striking) a marching drum.” We may never know her name, but she was the catalyst and we know her legacy.

  1. Las Mujeres Libres

“Las Mujeres Libres” (or, in English, “The Free Women”) were a Spanish anarchist movement that fought for women’s liberation and social revolution. They considered both issues equally important and were angry that anarchist men marginalised their female counterparts. The organisation, with approximately 30,000 members, was created in 1936 by Lucía Sánchez Saornil, Mercedes Comaposada and Amparo Poch y Gascón. Lucía was a writer and poet; Mercedes had been raised in a socialist household and was frustrated with how the movement treated her and her fellow women. They joined forces with Amparo, who wanted greater sexual freedom for women and aimed to challenge the sexist double standard surrounding monogamy.

What ensued was nothing short of awesome.

They raised awareness through radio transmissions, travelling libraries and by forming a network of female activists. They saw that women were unprepared for leadership roles due to lack of education, so they created literacy courses, trained women as nurses and helped them to gain confidence through women-only social groups.

  1. Mother Lu’s Revolt

Mother Lu is known for being the first female rebel leader in Chinese history. She came from Haiqu County, an area now called Rizhao. In 14ACE, her son, a county constable, was executed – under the harsh Xin Dynasty regime – for not punishing peasants who couldn’t pay their taxes. According to The Book of the Later Han (the previous dynasty), her family was very wealthy, so she gathered her peasant supporters and armed them, leading them to storm the capital. The population had already become dissatisfied with Wang Mang, who had usurped the throne and declared himself emperor of the Xin Dynasty (“Xin” meaning “renewed”). She captured the county minister who had sentenced her son to death, then she beheaded him at her son’s tomb as an act of vengeance.

Thanks, Mom.

Her revolt inspired several later rebellions, but Mother Lu herself died in 18ACE, only four years after her uprising. She reportedly died of an illness; however, we know very little about her – we don’t even know how old she was when she died. Her followers went on to join other rebel causes, continuing her legacy.

  1. Boudica’s Uprising

Sometimes called Boadicea – or Boudicca, or Bunduca, or even Buddug – she was the queen of the Iceni tribe, located in Norfolk, England. Her husband Prasutagus, an ally of the Roman Empire, died and left his lands jointly to his family and to Rome. The Romans ignored his will; Boudica was flogged and her daughters were raped. Justifiably furious, Boudica led her armies in an uprising against the Roman occupation, destroying Camulodunum (Colchester) and burning down Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St Albans). Her revolt culminated in the Battle of Watling Street, which the Romans won, despite being outnumbered by Boudica and her band of Britons.

It is said that either she fell ill and died or that she poisoned herself to evade capture. Regardless, she went out with a bang. She’s now an iconic figure and a symbol of Britain, due to her efforts in attempting to hold off the Roman invasion. You can watch an epic musical retelling of her story here (x). The song starts at 2:47. It’s slanted for copyright reasons (it’s getting ridiculously hard to find the Horrible Histories songs online!).

  1. 2011 Peaceful Protests in Cote d’Ivoire

From 2010 to 2011, there was a crisis in Cote d’Ivoire. The dictator Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after losing the election to Alassane Ouattara and it was alleged that the government had been sending taxpayers’ money out of the country as part of their own personal wealth.

In the midst of the crisis, the peace activist Aya Virginie Toure organised her fellow women in nonviolent protests against Gbagbo. Every protest she led was intended to be peaceful, but they were often met with hostility and violence. On at least one occasion, the security forces opened fire on the women. On 8th March 2011 – International Women’s Day – Toure mobilised 45,000 women in peaceful protests across the country. By 30th March, the UN had demanded that Gbagbo step down and allow the internationally-recognised president Ouattara to take on the role. Toure is now the President of the Rally of Republican Women in Cote d’Ivoire. Several issues remained; Ouattara undertook investigations into human rights violations during the conflict and Gbagbo was arrested in April 2011. You can read more about it here (x).

I hope you enjoyed the article! I encourage you to do a little research about Clara – she, like all the women on this list, was a fascinating human being. As always, please share this on Facebook/Twitter/Google+ if you liked it! Also consider following my blog if you haven’t already; I do follow back!

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