Tag Archive - feminism

"Nobody cared! Nobody helped! Nobody did anything!"

On February 14, demonstrations commemorating hundreds of missing Indigenous women will take place in cities across Canada. In this article, activist Audrey Huntley reflects on the shameful reality of the way in which violence against Indigenous women is normalized in our society, and describes movement-building being spearheaded by organizations and coalitions across Canada, with a focus on the Toronto-based No More Silence -- NSW

By Audrey Huntley

Islamophobia in Canada: A Primer

By Fathima Cader and Sumayya Kassamali

The high-profile Shafia quadruple-murder trial and the media coverage of the trial and its verdict make this article very timely. They only confirm the authors' argument that the Islamophobic outlook sees Muslims as uniquely sexist and violent. -- NSW

Why socialists need feminism

By David Camfield

The relationship between socialism and feminism has been getting more attention in online discussions recently. This is both for good reasons -- such as the article by Sharon Smith of the International Socialist Organization in the US that looks critically at how the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, which greatly influenced the ISO's politics, has dealt with feminism -- and bad, above all the current crisis in the SWP set off by the disgraceful way that allegations of rape by a leading member were handled.

The idea that socialists should be feminists too is uncontroversial to many revolutionary socialists. But why socialism needs feminism is still worth spelling out.

Every society in the world today is shaped by the oppression of women on the basis of their gender (patriarchy/sexism). There are, of course, importance differences in what form this oppression takes because gender relations are always interwoven with class, race, sexuality and other social relations, which vary (for example, patriarchy in Canada isn't identical to patriarchy in Cuba).

Around the world, women taking action to challenge sexism commonly (thought not always) identify themselves as feminists. If we define feminism in its widest sense as opposition to sexism -- which is what it means in everyday speech today -- it should be obvious why socialists should be feminists.

However, some socialists who are dedicated supporters of women's liberation don't consider themselves feminists. As Smith notes, some Marxists including some in her own political current haven't "understood the need to defend feminism, and to appreciate the enormous accomplishments of the women's movement, even after the 1960s era gave way to the backlash" against feminism and other movements of oppressed people.

But some socialists who have defended and appreciated feminism and been active in struggles against gender oppression have still insisted that socialism doesn't need feminism and so they're not feminists (this is what I was taught in my early years as a socialist, in the late 1980s as a member of the International Socialists -- some of whose members had the kind of really sectarian anti-feminist stance that Smith criticizes). Why?

The best case for this position is that revolutionary socialist politics are deeply committed to liberation from all forms of oppression, including gender oppression, and therefore don't need feminism. This often goes along with the belief that socialist-feminism is flawed because it advocates both united working-class struggle against exploitation and all forms of oppression (seen as the correct orientation) and autonomous (women-only) organizing against patriarchy. Women-only organizing is seen as undermining working-class politics because it allegedly means cross-class politics that don't recognize that the interests of working-class women aren't the same as those of middle-class or ruling-class women.

But even at its best this "socialist, not feminist" approach won't do. Its claim that because socialism is about universal human emancipation it doesn't need feminism evades a real problem: actually-existing socialist organizing and politics aren't the ideal that these socialists talk about. They exist within patriarchal societies. As a result, the actions and thinking of socialists will inevitably be limited and deformed by the patriarchal gender relations that we're committed to uprooting. So socialists need to develop our politics by learning from the actually-existing struggle against patriarchy (as well as learning from history). To do this we need feminism.

It's feminists who are shedding light on how women are oppressed and grappling with how to challenge various manifestations of oppression, from violence against women including sexual assault to eating disorders to how families, workplaces, schools and other institutions pressure women to conduct themselves in particular ways to sexism in contemporary science and many more. Not all feminists equally, of course. Feminist politics range from revolutionary socialist-feminism all the way to pro-imperialist liberalism, and there are lively debates within feminism.

But it's feminists who are on the cutting edge of whatever progress is being made in understanding and fighting patriarchy. Socialists should be part of that action. Socialists need to learn from the best feminisms (both socialist-feminism and others) to deepen our understanding of oppression and how to fight for liberation. The "socialist, not feminist" approach is a barrier to doing this.

"Socialist, not feminist" politics downplay the reality that patriarchy has its own dynamics. These aren't separate from capitalism and class, but they can't be reduced to them either. Marx's theory of capitalism has been developed by Marxist-feminism to explain why specific features of the system perpetuate gender oppression.This is extremely important. However, it doesn't fully explain patriarchy. To do that we also need to draw on -- and develop -- feminist theory in a historical and materialist way.

Socialist opposition to combining mixed-gender and autonomous women's organizing is a mistake. Far from detracting from united working-class struggles, women-only organizing can be an effective tactic for making them possible. In patriarchal societies, mixed-gender organizing is never a level playing field for women. Organizing independently can help women to identify and tackle sexism in mixed-gender activism and make mixed-gender organizing more anti-sexist. It can be a way for women to take initiatives without having to wait for men to catch up with them. And there's no reason that it inevitably sacrifices the interests of working-class women to those of middle-class or ruling-class women.

Another problem with the "socialist, not feminist" approach is that it tends to promote a culture among socialists in which sexism isn't challenged as vigorously as it needs to be. To the extent that it insulates socialists from feminism, it makes it easier for socialist men to avoid dealing with tough questions about our own behaviour. Insulation from feminism can also make it harder for socialist women to challenge sexism among socialists.

Socialists worthy of the name are committed to universal human emancipation. But there's a big difference between proclaiming a commitment and making it real. To make our politics more truly what we say we want them to be, socialists need feminism. We should be feminist socialists, and proud of it.

David Camfield is one of the editors of New Socialist Webzine.


Why the BC Missing Women's Commission of Inquiry Fails

By Harsha Walia

The very same grassroots community of women who have been advocating for a public inquiry into the deaths and disappearances of women in the Downtown Eastside for over two decades are now denouncing the BC Missing Women's Commission of Inquiry as an insult to the women of this Vancouver community.

Beyond the Double Standard: Towards a Real Liberation Politics

By Cinzia Arruzza

A few months ago on the New York subway I saw the most incredible poster, a picture of a crying baby of colour with the words, "Got a good job? I cost thousands of dollars each year". While I was still recovering from the shock, I saw a similar poster of a little Black girl: "Honestly Mom… chances are he won't stay with you. What happens to me?"

Caught in the Whirlwind: US Working-Class Families Face the Economic Crisis

By Johanna Brenner

The Great Recession has no doubt punctured US celebration of the unregulated market, generated anger at wealth disparities and shock at the loss of the American Dream. Yet three decades of conservative dominance and political drift to the right have taken their toll.

Indigenous Feminism Without Apology

By Andrea Smith

"...Allegiance to 'America' or 'Canada' legitimizes the genocide and colonization of Native peoples upon which these nation-states are founded. By making anti-colonial struggle central to feminist politics, Native women place in question the appropriate form of governance for the world in general." Andrea Smith, New Socialist, 2006

In the fall of 2012, four women - Sylvia McAdam, Sheelah McLean, Jessica Gordon, and Nina Wilson, began discussing the implications of the Harper government's omnibus Bill C-45 for Indigenous rights and the environment. That discussion gave rise to an "Idle No More" Facebook page, followed by teach-ins and rallies in Saskatoon and Regina in November. A national solidarity day on December 10 was the catalyst for a movement that spread across the continent and provoked international expressions of solidarity. Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat First Nation declared a hunger strike the following day, further raising the profile of the movement.

Criminalization of Indigenous People Part II - Decriminalizing Sex Work, Saving Lives

by Maurganne Mooney

Toronto's Indigenous Sovereignty and Solidarity Network organized a series of events during Indigenous Sovereignty Weeklast November, including a panel on The Criminalization of Indigenous People. We're bringing you a series of three contributions adapted from presentations by Jules Koostachin, Maurganne Mooney, and Christa Big Canoe. This is the second article in the series. The article by Jules Koostachin can be found here.

Many people don't really understand the current state of law with regards to sex work. I use the term sex work, not prostitution, because I view it as work. It's a type of labour, and people engaged in that labour deserve as safe working conditions as anybody else.

Currently in Ontario it is legal to work in prostitution or in sex work. But until recently, the practices for staying safe were criminalized. It was a violation of basic human rights here in Canada.

Criminalization of Indigenous People Part I - A Foreign System: Incarceration of Indigenous Women

by Jules Koostachin

Toronto's Indigenous Sovereignty and Solidarity Network organized a series of events during Indigenous Sovereignty Week last November, including a panel on The Criminalization of Indigenous People. We're bringing you a series of three contributions adapted from presentations by Jules Koostachin, Maurganne Mooney, and Christa Big Canoe. The article by Maurganne Mooney can be found here.

In my work with the Elizabeth Fry Toronto, I oversee the volunteer program court service at the College Park provincial court. This program has volunteer court workers that assist clients through the court experience. We provide information and referrals to community resources. We provide clarification of the court process, and we also give referrals to lawyers, assistance with applying for legal aid.

It's a preventative program using a restorative justice approach to ensure that clients do not get a criminal record for minor offences while making amends for their criminal behavior. This will most likely change with Bill C-10, which will effectively lead to more criminalization of women.

Girls, Sex, Markets and Feminism

By Susan Ferguson

This article could begin pretty much anywhere, describing any number of contemporary fads that work to reproduce and reinforce our deeply (hetero)sexist Western norms and behaviours. Girls Gone Wild videos. Toddlers in Tiaras. Playboy bunny-stamped snowboards and cellphone covers. Sex bracelets that signal which sex acts the (inevitably female) wearer is willing to perform. Kiddie-thongs. Thongs.

Economic Crisis and Austerity: The Stranglehold on Canada's Families

By Adrie Naylor

The claim that economic crises and austerity have an uneven impact on the working class -- with the greatest effects being felt by women and children -- is one we hear often on the Left. However, with some important exceptions, this claim is all too often just an aside or a footnote.

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