Forgotten Radicals: The Anarcha-Feminists of Women’s Voice

One of the depressing features of historic anarchist movements is insufficient attention being given to women’s emancipation. When attention was given, it often came in the form of not very good articles or pamphlets written about women’s emancipation by men, instead of by women. For example, a 1901 article published in ‘The Rebel’ states that “Woman should be free, completely free—to think, to work and to love, but always sheltered and safeguarded by man.” (Suriano 2010, p95) This often went alongside the view that the main role for women as revolutionaries was to be a radical housewife. Their task was to ensure that the home was a “coveted paradise of love, the charm of our ideals” and that children were taught to hate religion, nationalism, and the state and thereby prepared to be the revolutionaries of the future. (Ibid, p96) The patriarchal gendered division of labour remained, albeit in service to radical rather than bourgeois ends. While in theory anarchists were opposed to patriarchy, marriage, and the nuclear family, in practice such ideals were postponed till after the revolution. In the meantime, women were expected to accept their fate as victims of male domination.

Several women, unsurprisingly, reacted angrily to the sexism within the anarchist movement. One of the best examples is the Argentinian newspaper called ‘women’s voice’. The paper, which was written explicitly by and for women, held that women were the most oppressed in contemporary society because they faced the dual oppression of capitalism and patriarchy. The first issue of women’s voice was published January 8th, 1896. The newspaper ran for a year, released nine issues, and printed between 1,000 and 2,000 copies per issue. (Molyneux 1986, p132, 124, 130)

Women’s voice first editorial read,

fed up as we are with so many tears and so much misery; fed up with  the never ending drudgery of children (dear though they are); fed up with asking and begging; of being a plaything  for our infamous exploiters  or vile husbands, we have decided  to raise our voices in the concert of society and demand, yes, demand our bit of pleasure in the banquet of life. (Molyneux 1986, p126)

The response by the anarchist movement to the first issue ranged from praise, to silence, to hostility. (Molyneux 1986, p126). In the second issue, the editors of women’s voice responded to men critical of their paper in no uncertain terms. They wrote,

When we women, unworthy and ignorant as we are, took the initiative and published women’s voice, we should have known, Oh modern rogues, how you would respond with your old mechanistic philosophy to our initiative. You should have realized that we stupid women have initiative and that is the product of thought. You know-we also think . . . The first number of women’s voice appeared and of course, all hell broke loose: “Emancipate women?  For what?” “Emancipate women?  Not on your nelly!” . . . “Let our emancipation come first, and then, when we men are emancipated and free, we shall see about yours.” (Molyneux 1986, p128)

The writers of women’s voice proceeded to label sexist men who opposed women’s liberation as “false anarchists” who only wanted to have a “submissive compañera” at their side to raise their children, cook their food, and do their laundry. “To you,” they said, “a woman is nothing more than a pretty piece of furniture”. Such men “better understand once and for all that our mission is not reducible to raising your children and washing your clothes and that we also have a right to emancipate ourselves and to be free from all kinds of tutelage, whether economic or marital.” Perhaps best of all, the angry anarcha-feminists of women’s voice threatened to go to the homes of sexist anarchist men and reveal to their wife and family that they were “all a bunch of chickens and crabs who talk about freedom but only want it for themselves.” (Suriano 2010, p95)

This opposition to patriarchy, both within the movement and society at large, stemmed from the anti-authoritarianism of these women. As issue 4 of women’s voice phrases it, “We hate authority because we aspire to be human beings and not machines directed by the will of ‘another,’ be this authority, religion, or any other name.” A supporter of women’s voice aptly labelled authority by any other name when she signed herself, “No God, No Boss, No Husband.” (Molyneux 1986, p129)

Bibliography

Molyneux, Maxine. 1986. No God, No Boss, No Husband: Anarchist Feminism in Nineteenth-Century Argentina. Latin American Perspectives, Issue 48, Vol.13, No.1, p119-145 (for summary see)

Suriano, Juan. 2010. Paradoxes of Utopia: Anarchist Culture and Politics in Buenos Aires, 1890-1910. AK Press.

 

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