This article first appeared in The Anvil Vol 8 No 2, published 14 March 2019.
The makeup of workers’ organisations is an indication of their strength. Unless women are present, along with other oppressed groups, capitalism will not be defeated.
Recent campaigns of transgender women and intersex people have clarified the gender issues at stake for feminist women. All women and intersex people demand the freedom to depart from gender stereotypes. All those who identify as women, whether they have a uterus or not, join in struggle with other women workers in their rallies and their campaigns. The women’s movement has become more gender diverse.
Feminist movements such as #metoo have been effective in claiming the right of all women to respect and equal opportunity. They have suffered backlash from men as expressed in the #notallmen campaign. #notallmen arises from the indignation of sexist men who take women’s demands for justice and equality as personal attacks on themselves. They decry the most notorious abusers and the most heinous murders, but in a way which diverts attention from the more mundane misbehaviour which is far more widespread but creates the environment in which the worst crimes are possible.
In this climate of #notallmen backlash, there has been sensitivity about women’s right to organise as women, even as they demand equality. Is women’s organising for women an attack on men? Is it sexist to allow only women to participate, as might be the case if only men attended a particular rally? Does organising specifically for women workers weaken the workers movement as a whole? Certainly a large part of the workers’ movement answers yes to all these questions. For example, for some years cis men have taken part in Melbourne IWD rallies.
But no, women’s particular history has made it imperative that organisations specifically for women are available to encourage and strengthen women. While they welcome the support of men, and acknowledge the contribution of pro-feminist men to advances in the feminist cause, women have the right to organise autonomously. They have the right to women-only spaces, both as organisations and events.
The ongoing struggle of working women has put them in a place where they may need encouragement to experience themselves as effective and powerful, to experience other women as powerful and supportive, to unlearn deference to men, and to step up to roles of responsibility and leadership. While the decision as to whether to organise solely with other women or together with men is a judgment call to make based on the particular circumstances, to deny women workers the right to organise as women is to deny them their own paths to resistance.
Organising for women does not discriminate against men, nor does it attack them, except insofar as they defend patriarchal social structures. Women’s organising is to support women in their struggle, by allowing women to have their own voice and to set their own priorities. In fact, for campaigns such as for safety and against killing of women by men in the domestic sphere, the participation of men in solidarity actions is vital, and expected.
Unless women have access to their own organisations, workers will only ever achieve surface uniformity, not unity. This uniformity is achieved by silencing oppressed groups within the working class. This unity maintains existing divisions within the working class and repels many who are not white, cis men.
Women have the right to organise as women within the wider working class movement and within anarchist organisations. It is the responsibility of the whole working class to fight sexism (along with racism and all other oppressions), but this does not deny the right of oppressed groups to organise autonomously. For the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group, this right does not need any special dispensation, but rather rises from Anarchist theory and its commitment to autonomy and consistent federalism. Within the diverse working class, it is only when each perspective is represented that common goals can be identified. That is when unity will be achieved, on the basis of: