Intersectionality and international perspective of feminist movement, Tatiana Montella – Youth Camp 2017
Intersectionality and international perspective of feminist movement
Tatiana Montella – Youth Camp 2017
We could start with a claim: a true international women movement is what has invaded the political scene during the last year, in the shapes and methods that characterize the women movements.
In order to understand if we are talking about a new feminist wave, we have just to wait to check the possible future evidences. What is undeniable is that this movement has been the most interesting phenomenon to analyze during the recent political phase. It has started with the Spanish pro-choice movement Io Decido and it has spread in many other countries feeding the protests in Poland and Argentina, reaching also the oceanic demonstrations rose post Trump election.
It has had, of course, also a great importance in Italy and in other countries. It has surely occupied the global political scene. The difference with the feminisms of the past are various: as first there is the tendency to put at the center one’s own political and theorical though; as second there is the existing twine between the critique to the capitalism and the gender, race and sexual oppressions. The struggle against gender violence has been the sparkle and the meeting point of this movement that has denounce the structural nature of the phenomenon – nor sporadic or private – and that has generated a reading of the patriarchal violence intending it as something not detached from the material live condition of women.
An example can be seen in what is called “femonationalism”: it is evident in the display of pseudo-feminist ideas by nationalist and right parties and by neoliberal governments – that moves war against a supposed Islamic patriarchy and to the migrants from the south of the world.
The exploitation of the concept of women equality by nationalist and xenophobic parties and by neoliberal government represents one of the most important aspects characterizing the current political conjunction, particularly in Europe.
The most recent discourses on migrants integration – especially if Muslims – have been focused on making migrants adapt to the western values and culture. Moreover, all these values are presented as homogeneous and shared while, on the contrary, they are just supposed. Gender equality has, of course, a main role. We can see it when LePen defends women and white homosexuals against the dangers that could treat them in the Banlieu; we can see it in the continuous attacks against migrants moved by the Italian party Lega Nord; we can see it in the judgments of the European Court when it affirms that forbidding the veil is not a form of discrimination. This mobilitation of the rights and nationalisms – and of bourgeoisie parties too – has divided, in the past, the intellectual feminist from the activists leading to a significant breaking. Some feminists – like the German Alice Schwarzer, the French Elisabeth Badinter, the Italian Giuliana Sgrena and many others – has acquired the idea that Islam is basically chauvinist because it affirms the subordinate role of women in society making a rigid control of their sexualities. Islam would be against women emancipation and, as a consequence, Islamic women are supposed to be all oppressed. Other feminists such as the French Christine Delphy and the Italian Annamaria Rivera, has criticized this position considering it an unfair and potentially racist generalization and, for that, they have preferred put the emphasis on the necessity of stand for Muslim women, their initiatives for their own self-determination.
This movement has been marked by a change in the referee theories while the heritage of the previous legacies have been on a second level. In order to develop this feminist movement on a global scale, for people like us, that act in a revolutionary perspective, a theory able to keep together Marxism and feminism, actualized at our historical time, is what is essential - moreover it is what is necessary to analyze gender oppression in relation to the current status of capitalism and thus the effects of the capitalistic globalization on women, bodies and life. We need to start from a specific politic point of view able to catch the dangerous relation among capitalism, sexism, racism and gender oppression, in order to deepen our critics and our intervention as Marxist feminists. In the past, sex based division of the work, social reproduction needed by capitalism, and the way patriarchal ideology and capitalist accumulation dynamic link together have not been analyzed particularly. The fact of not having considered these elements has lead to a lack of comprehension of the reality and a lack of conflictual interventions.
We must not commit the same mistake, especially in a moment like this in which the processes of feminization is extended from work to migration. For feminilization we mean the extension to the entire population, men included, of the subordination, exploitation and oppression condition. Conditions that in a previous phase have been assigned typically to women. Moreover it is necessary go beyond the mainstream view of the past feminist theories, that have sacrificed to a universal sisterhood, the class relationships, making difficult the develop of different alliances and struggles, producing, to feminist, greater difficulties in effecting reality. On the relationship among gender, class and race exists different theoric perspective: one of this is the intersectionality. The concept of intersectionality, conied in 1989 by Kimberlè Crenshaw, is born from the American antiracist and feminist struggles and it stress the way in which subjects are positioned simultaneously in society and its power hierarchies – for instance in being at the same time a black working class migrant lesbian woman. Intersectionality refers to the existing interaction among different positions depending on different aspects such as gender, class, ethnicity, culture and race, all differences present in individual lives and in society. The concept of intersectionality and contemporaneity has been useful in contrasting the idea of multiple oppressions – that simply are added one to each other in the hierarchy of the oppression. The recognition of the intersection among gender, class and race make useless the question “which oppression, for a woman, come as first ?”. This concept has complicated the definition of diversity proposing a vision of the difference as a relationship based simultaneously on similar points and different ones. Basically, “intersectionality take in doubt the possibility of talking about “culture” without talking also about “religion” and “class”. The central and common element in the intersectional theories consists in the critique to the so-called white feminism, accused of having created an abstraction: the woman, intended as universal, without any recognition of specific subjectivities. Instead, the concept of class, inside the concept of intersectionality, has been, in a first moment, absent in the theoric reflections appearing just in a second moment or as one of the different form of oppression or as one of the various identity which twine contributes to the formation of subjectivities. Reflections on the bond between intersectionality and class were present, instead, in the afroamerican feminism: we can find its trace also in the black feminist thought of the year 20, 30 and 40. In the next decades the concept have always been linked to Marxism.
During the Sixties and the Seventies, was fundamental the contribution, practical and theoretical, of Angela Davis. In her famous and beautiful book Women Race and Class, Davis analyses the policies made since the slavery times on black women bodies putting them in relation with the white women and with the purpose to analyze the divergence that – in a certain moment – have divided the white feminists from the black ones, unveil the power dynamics.
After the abolition of slavery, the struggle against the male control on births and our bodies have produced two claims, specular and opposed: the white women were struggling for their abortion right, the black ones for their right of having children, against the forced sterilization that they were obliged to suffer because of the racist policies made by white people and made in order to avoid the birth of black children, considered inferior. The discussion on intersectionality becomes, during the Seventies, a public debate and, in particular, with the publication in 1977 of the Comahee River Collective Manifesto – a black women feminist collective. They affirmed that the politics of sexes was pervasive in black women’s lives as much as race and class, affirming the contemporarity of the oppressions. For example, the rape of a black woman perpetuated by a white man is not only an act of sexual violence but also an act of political repression. Inside the text was explained the relationship with Marxism but, at the same time, the necessity of elaborating a critique to the Marxist political economy, refreshing it making it applicable also for the specific condition of black women. During the Nineties, the debate, that has reached also the universities and the gender studies departments, considered as protagonists not only black women but also those coming from ex-colonized territories, from migratory situations and diasporas. In this period a postcolonial feminism starts to be affirmed, a kind of feminism able to denounce as first the way in which colonialism had worked on certain categories such as, again, gender, class and race for being sure of its own power, and, as second, the colonial modalities used by the western feminism. What all these texts have in common is the idea that there no exists the universal and abstract woman subject because the oppression forms changes depending on the collocation of women in class and race. The limit of the abstract universals, as it has been underlined by the Marxist feminists, stays in the making universal what, instead, is particular, such as the white woman. These theories and approaches, however, must not be use just in a descriptive way; the running risk is to balkanize single identities. Theories about intersectionality speak about divided groups without analyzing the background dynamics that create the structural relation between gender oppression and capital; on the contrary is very much emphasized the matter of the subjectivities, or, in other words, on the analysis of the way in which intersection among different oppressions determine specific experiences never attributable to one.
Even are not missing reflections on the intersections among racism, sexism and work market, what has been omitted has been an explanation on the systemic causes of this interconnection and on the role played by the capitalistic accumulation in determining the current racial and gender oppression. The various oppressions are explained in terms of identity and in this conceptual schema class is described as an identity that interact with the other giving life to specific experiences. At the same time is necessary signaling the limit of the feminist Marxism in integrating the issue of the racial division of the work with the racism of their own reflections. With the purpose to go beyond these limits and with the purpose to elaborate new categories, some feminist Marxist scholars – such as the Italian Cinzia Arruzza - are deepen and articulating the concept of social reproduction. Social reproduction is read in close relation with the unitary theory with whom the academic American feminism tries to put together the fragment of the social conflict, indicating the suggested direction: the capitalist accumulation dynamic that produce, reproduce and transform power relationships. With the notion of social re production is meant the group of all that activities necessary to generate and grow up children, taking care of friends, relatives and social relationships; is meant the range of behaviors and emotions necessary to maintain the daily life, starting from the preparation of the food, to education, from the home demanding to sexuality. This notion is born as a description of the relationship between oppression, gender and capitalism, description that until the Sixties and Seventies had been analyzed mostly in economic terms.
This notion (?) is needed to avoid both readings in terms of dualism – meaning the existence of two different and separated systems, on the one hand the patriarchy production system, on the other hand the capitalistic one – and to avoid to give an economical interpretation of the functioning mechanism of the capitalist societies. With the notion of Social Reproduction we insist underlining the fact that the capitalist way of production (?) e the class structure determine the horizon within reproduction processes and life caring take place. As Arruzza says “the way in which social reproduction is organized in a determined social formation is strictly connected to the way in which production and reproduction of society is organized as a whole, therefore in a strong connection with class relationship”.
The purpose of Marxist theories about social reproduction is to comprehend and conceive this relationships, not as mere and casual interactions and intersections, but as an articulated unity (?) governed by an organizing logic. The kind of work required by social reproduction is mental, physical and affective all together and the forms of its organization and distribution are variable, and can be managed by the woman herself within the family structure, or can be managed by public authority if it is the case of State organized welfare, or even by migrant women or service companies in the case of commodified (commercialized) reproductive work. The non-only-physical component of this kind of work explains also why commodified (commercialized) reproductive work – that is managed principally by migrant women in favor to western women emancipation – escapes mechanization processes in a higher rate than other works, and also why migrant women are chosen the most. The increasing participation in western countries of women in the “productive” economy, the dramatic reduction of birthrate and the increase of elderly population – in association to the erosion, the inefficiency or simply the lack of public care services – have given the result of a commercialization of the so called “reproductive” work, carried out by migrant women for the most.
Domestic work and care work is probably the “most genderized work” in existence, given that social and cultural constructions about femininity have been connected to it for a long time, thus being fundamental elements in the formation of its skills, of its job culture and of the formation of its protagonist identity. Domestic and care work doesn’t simply represent another work market, it isn’t simply a job, but it is the main activity in building gender. The outsourcing of this kind of work, outsourced to “another woman”, is broadly approved because it follows and fuels the gender representation logic, in agreement with the institutionalized gender constructions. This is demonstrated by the intimate nature of the context in which this work is performed – household environment – and by the highly emotive nature of the given tasks.
This “highly emotional nature” of domestic and care work is also the reason why it is so difficult to mechanize it. One of the consequences of this resistance to mechanization is that we refer to one of the sector in which the Marxian analysis of the reserve army of labor – meaning by this the part of the population being unemployed although being aged enough to work – cannot be applied so easily. Labor power surplus creation theory is strictly connected to the Marxian analysis of capital systematic composition and to the capitalist accumulation tendency, encouraging the increase of the means of production despite of “living labor” used in the productive process – the variable capital. In fact, a crucial element in order to reduce the variable capital is the possibility of technological development and mechanization, elements that – together with other factors – lead to the ejection of a certain number of workers from productive processes, thus creating the reserve army of labor. Nevertheless, domestic and care work resistance to mechanization means that only a little part of this work could be replaced by the development of the means of production. It has to be done by “living labor”. As a consequence, domestic and care work demand is increasing constantly, also because the outsourcing and commodification (commercialization) of reproduction tasks.
These premises tell us that to rethink class struggle it’s necessary to consider reproduction as a sphere of class struggle itself and of production.