Anarcha-Feminism: To Destroy Domination in All its Forms

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In Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included some anarcha-feminist selections from the 1970s by Peggy Kornegger and Carol Ehrlich. I’ve posted more stuff on my blog, including Kytha Kurin’s 1980 article on anarcha-feminism from the Open Road anarchist newsjournal. Here I reproduce a brief excerpt from “To Destroy Domination in All Its Forms: Anarcha-Feminist Theory, Organization and Action 1970-1978,” by Julia Tanenbaum. The complete article is in the current issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory. Tanenbaum does an excellent job describing the emergence and development of anarcha-feminism in the US during the 1970s.

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To Destroy Domination in All its Forms

Anarcha-feminism was at first created and defined by women who saw radical feminism itself as anarchistic. In 1970, during the rapid growth of small leaderless consciousness raising (CR) groups around the country, and a corresponding theory of radical feminism that opposed domination, some feminists, usually after discovering anarchism through the writings of Emma Goldman, observed the “intuitive anarchism” of the women’s liberation movement. Radical feminism emphasized the personal as political, what we would now call prefigurative politics, and a dedication to ending hierarchy and domination, both in theory and practice.

CR groups functioned as the central organizational form of the radical feminist movement, and by extension the early anarcha-feminist movement.  Members shared their feelings and experiences and realized that their problems were political. The theories of patriarchy they developed explained what women initially saw as personal failures. Consciousness raising was not therapy, as liberal feminists and politicos frequently claimed; its purpose was social transformation not self-transformation.

Radical feminist and anarchist theory and practice share remarkable similarities. In a 1972 article critiquing Rita Mae Brown’s calls for a lesbian party, anarchist working-class lesbian feminist Su Katz described how her anarchism came “directly out of” her feminism, and meant decentralization, teaching women to take care of one another, and smashing power relations, all of which were feminist values. Radical feminism attributed domination to the nuclear family structure, which they claimed treats children and women as property and teaches them to obey authority in all aspects of life, and to patriarchal hierarchical thought patterns that encouraged relationships of dominance and submission.

To radical feminists and anarcha-feminists, the alternative to domination was sisterhood, which would replace hierarchy and the nuclear family with relationships based on autonomy and equality. A chant that appeared in a 1970 issue of a feminist newspaper read “We learn the joys of equality/Of relationships without dominance/Among sisters/We destroy domination in all its forms.” These relationships, structured around sisterhood, trust, and friendship, were of particular importance to the radical feminist vision of abolishing hierarchy. As radical feminist theologian Mary Daly wrote in 1973, “The development of sisterhood is a unique threat, for it is directed against the basic social and psychic model of hierarchy and domination.” Radical feminists opposed the “male domineering attitude” and “male hierarchical thought patterns,” and attempted to act as equals in relationships deeper than male friendships.

To feminists familiar with anarchism, the connections between both radical feminist and anarchist theory and practice were obvious. Anarchist feminism was essentially a step in self-conscious theoretical development, and anarcha-feminists believed that an explicit anarchist analysis, and knowledge of the history of anarchists who faced similar structural and theoretical obstacles, would help women overcome the coercion of elites and create groups structured to be accountable to their members but not hierarchical. They built an independent women’s movement and a feminist critique of anarchism, along with an anarchist critique of feminism.

To anarcha-feminists, the women’s movement represented a new potential for anarchist revolution, for a movement to confront forms of domination and hierarchy, personal and political. Unlike Goldman, Voltaraine De Cleyre, the members of Mujeres Libres, and countless other female anarchists concerned with the status of women in the 19th and early 20th century, they became feminists before they became anarchists. Anarcha-feminists eventually merged into the anti-nuclear movement by the end of 1978, but not before contributing to crucial movement debates among both anarchists and feminists, building egalitarian, leaderless, and empowering alternative institutions, and altering US anarchism in theory and practice…

Julia Tanenbaum

anarcho-feminism

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