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Book Review: Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution

Book Review_ Abolitionist Socialist Feminism

Book Review: Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution

H. Bradford

6/27/19

An edited version of this post appears in Socialist Action news:

https://socialistaction.org/2019/06/21/books-abolitionist-socialist-feminism/


Zillah Eisenstein, “Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution” (New York, Monthly Review Press: 2019), pp. 160


An astonishing three to five million people participated in the 2017 Women’s March in the United States and this year, 600,000-700,000 people are believed to have participated.  Yet, the Women’s March and in the feminist movement in general has been critiqued for ignoring racism and how the experiences of women of color differ from those of white women. Although women of color were leaders in organizing the Women’s March, the march has been criticized for failing to address racism in signs, leaders, and demands.  Another critique, such as from Alicia Brown a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, was that those who attended the march had neither spoke against nor shown up to protest the racist nature of mass incarceration, unemployment, police violence, and homelessness. The feminist movement today is often criticized as “white feminism” or a movement which fights for middle or upper class white women, only giving lip service to racial issues when it furthers their own goals or image.  A similar critique is sometimes launched at socialists, who are at times accused of sidelining race and gender issues in the interest of class struggle. The substance and meaning of Bernie Sander’s version of socialism is debatable, but he has been accused of color blindness and avoiding of racial issues. For those who associate Sander’s with socialism, it sends the message that race is not important to socialists. Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution by Zillah Eistenstein seeks to remedy of the problem of “white feminism” and color blind socialism by connecting anti-racism, feminism, and socialism.


One important way that the book addresses racism is by centering itself around the voices of people of color.  Although author Zillah Eisenstein is white, she highlights the insights of a large number of antiracist thinkers and activists such as Kimberly Crenshaw, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Frantz Fanon.  Centering the voices and experiences of people of color is important to anti-racist movement building and Eisenstein models this throughout the text. The book itself ceners upon examining multiple oppressions in ways that are inspired from Kimberly Crenshaw’s intersectionality as well as the Black feminist thinking that preceeding it, such as the work of the Combahee River Collective.  The Combahee River Collective argued that “sexism, racism, heterosexism, and capitalism are interlocking systems of oppression that necessitate revolutionary action (p. 57).”  Thus, as the name suggests, Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution (2019), takes a multifaceted approach to feminism and socialism and is a tool for building a movement which fights against racism, while fighting for workers, women, and other oppressed groups.  The book begins by posing a series of questions meant to provoke deeper thinking about the interconnectedness of racial, class, and gender oppression. These questions are explored throughout the book, though the big idea is that socialism and feminism must be anti-racist, anti-racism needs socialism and feminism, feminism must be socalist, and socialism must be feminist.


While the book offers many insights, there are a few which are particularly important.  Again addressing the issue of white feminism, the book vigorously pursues the important point that white women have been complicit in maintaining white supremacy.  A largely white female jury determined that George Zimmerman was not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. White women historically supported the lynching and castration of Black males.  They also obtained social standing by controlling slaves. Eistenstein also argues that white women helped to get Trump elected, as 53% if white women voted for Trump (with the caveat that half of eligible voters did not vote at all.)  She posits that white women voted for racism and sexism when voting for Trump, who represents misogynoir, a term coined by Paula Moya. Misogynoir is a term to add to the vocabulary of multiple oppressions and is used several times in the book to describe the intersection of sexism and racism.


Another important point made in the book is that the working class is not white and male, nor has the global working class ever been predominantly white and male.  The struggles of workers of color are spotlighted in the book, such as the example of the 2014 fast food strikes, which were led by women of color and the largest to occur in the history of the industry.  Around the world, women engage in paid and unpaid labor and while laboring, have been the victims of rape and murder, such as in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo where women have been killed while gathering wood.  This connection between labor and vulnerability to sexual assault is an important observation, as women are often victim blamed when they are assaulted at work, especially if they are sex workers or work at bars, alone, or on night shifts.  Labor and sexual assault warrants more attention in feminist and socialist circles. While there are many differences in women around the world, labor and experiences of violence is a common experiential thread that binds many of the world’s women.  This leads to another important point, which is that feminism is often predicated upon an imagined “we” of female experience. Eisenstein makes the point that women are both presidents of nations and die in the hundreds of thousands in childbirth. Women are not a heterogeneous group, but do share some similarities, most markedly in their experiences of sexual violence and for many, their expanded role as part of the proletariat.  A third important point is that Black women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population. The prison system itself is a continuation of slavery, and the point is made that Sandra Bland had no more rights than she would have had as a slave. Because of the racist nature of the criminal justice system, the answer to crime against women is not punishment but restorative justice.


Despite the many strengths of the book, there are some weaknesses.  For one, the book does not say enough about the solution to prisons.  While it is established that the United States’ criminal justice system violently upholds white supremacy, the question of prisons is not given full attention.  The word “abolition” in the title may suggest prison abolition, though prison abolition, reform, and restorative justice are giving passing attention. Instead, the title of the book refers to the author’s conception of a more revolutionary version of intersectionality.  Abolition as described in the book means “the abolition of white supremacist misogyny and its capitalist nexus alongside the racist misogyny of everyday practices (p. 99)” Abolition is further described as interlocking, revolutionary, radically inclusive, and multilayered.  It challenges white dominance by redistributing white wealth through taxes and reparations, ending white privilege, and calling upon white people to no longer act as deputies of the carceral state. A more revolutionary version of interlocking oppressions is a welcome development, especially when Eisenstein states early on that comrade is a better term than ally or accomplice, which imply distance from a struggle.  However, the book would have been strengthened by offering a bit more on the “what is to be done?” aspect of criminal justice, especially when carceral feminism is the dominant solution to issues of justice for women.


Abolitionism is the theoretical backbone of the text, but the book would be strengthened by expanding the this concept by answering some important questions about the nature of multiple oppressions.  Socialist feminists should have no qualms with the notion that oppressions are interconnected, as Eisenstein posits. She does not believe that these oppressions are bifurcated, or can be examined without examining each.  And, there should be no argument with Eisenstein that these oppressions are a part of capitalism. Yet, the nature of oppression is never quite expanded upon. Yes, it is interconnected, but by what mechanisms, by what origin, and to what end?  Social Reproduction Theory seeks to connect oppression back to the functioning of capitalism and thus would fortify the arguments of the book. A full examination of the topic of social reproduction and intersectionality is beyond the scope of this book review, but a glimpse of what the theory has to offer is made in an article by David McNally and Susan Ferguson (2015) entitled Social Reproduction Beyond Intersectionality.  David McNally and Susan Ferguson argue racism, sexism, homophobia, and other “isms” serve capitalist accumulation and dispossession but not evenly, neatly, or with crude economic determinism.  They state that the ways in which labor power is produced and reproduced exists in a social world that is bound and differentiated by race, nationality, gender, sexuality, age, and so on. These differences serve as determinants for the conditions of production and reproduction.  For instance, McNally and Ferguson use the example of migrants. In the interest of higher profits, labor power is often sourced from outside of wealthier countries such as the United States, where there are higher wages and often better conditions. Some work is less mobile, such as childcare for American families or work within the service industries of the U.S.  Migrants are a cheap labor source to fill this need, but are also vulnerable because they are not afforded the same legal or labor rights. The oppression of migrant workers can be connected to their precarious position within capitalism and the differentiated status that keeps them vulnerable. Thus, the oppression of immigrants intersects race, gender, and class and this oppression can be understood through the mechanism of extracting labor power, their role in social reproduction, and their place in a social world which renders them vulnerable.  Capitalism contains contradictions, unevenness, struggle, and agency, but it fundamentally divides workers from the means of their sustenance (social reproduction) and in doing so, is the totality in which oppressions exist.


A more significant shortcoming is the book’s contradictory message regarding elections.  For example, the book begins with some biographical information about Eisenstein, who has been engaged in anti-racist activism since her childhood in a communist family.  Her family’s principled stance against racism invited hardship in their lives. For instance, she could not buy a prom dress because of a boycott of the segregated department stores in Atlanta and she missed out on visiting a pool because it was unwelcoming to Blacks.  Unfortunately, these immutable principles did not prevent her from voting for Hilary Clinton, which was a disappointing conclusion to an otherwise compelling introductory chapter. Eisenstein correctly describes Hilary Clinton as a neoliberal feminist, beholden to corporate interests, and implicated in her husband’s racist, carceral state.  More could have been said about her role in the State Department. While this critique correctly recognizes Clinton as an accomplice to capitalism and white supremacy, she is still framed as the lesser evil and it is puzzled over why white women voted for Trump over Clinton. The two-party system, like so many things in the lives of women, is a choiceless choice.  Trump is overtly sexist and racist, while Clinton is perhaps less overtly either, but still an agent of U.S. imperialism, which relies on racism and sexism to function. Eisenstein describes how lynching became the electric chair and how the electoral college privileges slave states. She describes how Barack Obama sided with the rule of law in Fergusson after the death of Michael Brown.  She even calls for the formation of a third party and working towards revolution, but, she is unfortunately unable to break from Democrats entirely.


Part of Eistenstein’s unwillingness to break with the Democratic party is perhaps due to Trump exceptionalism.  Trump exceptionalism is the narrative that Donald Trump is uniquely horrible and therefore, voting for the most abhorrent Democrat is preferable to Trump’s unique brand of racist misogyny.   Every Republican is framed as the next worst thing, as it seems like just yesterday when George Bush Jr. was the worst president for being a warmongering, civil liberty defying dolt. Now, he is looked upon favorably by some who critiqued him before.  Understandably, the 2016 election is a central focus on the text. This is an important focus as many of the readers may have been recently radicalized by the election of Trump. The book reasonably tries to make sense of this election. While Trump is no doubt racist and sexist and unique in his crude comments and unabashed narcissism, it seems a bit far to say that Trump is America’s “first white supremacist misogynistic president (p.91).”  It is hard to imagine that Trump’s policies are worse than Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act and the fact that at least twelve presidents owned slaves. All presidents have been racist to varying degrees, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s internment of Japanese Americans to Bill Clinton’s crime bill. While Trump certainly seems exceptional in his sexist language and behaviors, Nixon was accused of domestic violence, Bill Clinton has been accused of multiple sexual assaults,  Grover Clevland sexually assaulted a woman who later had his child and had her committed to an asylum, and Thomas Jefferson had a family with his slave, Sally Hemings. Trump is terrible and must absolutely be challenged for his racist misogyny, but in the long view of American history, Trump fits right in among the slave holders, war makers, overseers of genocide that have been U.S. presidents. To consider him exceptional gives too much credit to the presidents who came before.  All U.S. presidents serve U.S. power and capital. The two party system is a two headed monster. One head is not better than the other, as both are attached to the body of imperialism. Revolution is possible only with the decapitation of both.


The electoral shortcoming aside, the book is powerfully written and a short, accessible, and important text for socialist, feminist, and anti-racist activists.   Eistenstein makes a vibrant and energizing call for building a revolutionary movement that takes on racism, sexism, and capitalism, but also tackles climate change, environmental racism, LGBTQ rights, Islamophobia, and war.  She boldly states that “resistance is not enough. Reform is not enough. Civil rights are not enough. Women’s rights are not enough. In other words: liberalism and liberal feminism do not work for this moment and never did (p. 127).” Despite the mixed messages about Democrats, she even states that voting is not enough.  She calls upon activists to move beyond moderation and employ a variety of tactics such as building connections between movements, workplace actions, internationalizing movements, mass actions, and visible civil disobedience. Building connections between movements or creating a movement of movements is central to her prescription for social change.  One of her more profound connections is towards the end of the book when she quoted Frantz Fanon, who said: “We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe (p.129).” She connects this to Eric Garner who said “I can’t breathe,” eleven times before he died. The point is well taken. Activists are called upon to fight relentlessly and courageously, with real solidarity, for a world wherein everyone can catch their breath, be it from police violence, polluted air, or the other suffocating miseries of capitalism.


 

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Heather Bradford, 2020 VP Socialist Action

socialistaction2


 

The following is an interview that I did with a blog entitled Third Party Second Bananas, about running for Vice President of the United States in the 2020 election as the candidate for Socialist Action.  Jeff Mackler is our presidential candidate.  This is reprinted from the blog and the link can be found here: https://thirdpartysecondbananas.blogspot.com/2019/06/heather-bradford-2020-vp-social-action.html

 

Heather Bradford, 2020 VP Socialist Action

Heather Bradford is the Vice-Presidential running mate with Jeff Mackler on the Socialist Action ticket for 2020.

The following is from the Socialist Action webpage:

“Heather Bradford, a member of Socialist Action’s National Committee, will be the party’s vice presidential candidate. Bradford is the organizer of Socialist Action’s branch in Duluth, Minn., and Superior, Wis., in the Lake Superior region. Bradford works full time as a women’s advocate at a domestic violence shelter and part time at an abortion clinic and as a substitute public school teacher. She is the secretary of AFSCME Local 3558, a delegate to the Duluth Central Labor body, and a union steward.

She is a founder of the Feminist Justice League, a Duluth-based feminist organization formed in response to the anti-abortion “40 Days for Life” group and an active member of H.O.T.D.I.S.H. Militia, an abortion fundraising group. Bradford has been a long-time activist and participant in the LGBT, environmental, and antiwar movements.”

https://socialistaction.org/2019/05/11/socialist-action-launches-2020-presidential-campaign/

Q: How did you arrive at becoming a member of Socialist Action?

When I was in my early 20s and attending college, my major was International Studies. Through my coursework, I quickly learned that much of the world was impoverished and lacked access to such basic things as food, medicine and clean water. I also learned that global suffering was connected to the policies of organizations such as the IMF, World Trade Organization, and World Bank, which played a role in perpetuating colonial relationships based upon economic exploitation. I also recognized that the United States has played a sinister role in destabilizing countries through war, support of dictatorships, economic coercion, and overthrowing democratically elected governments that leaned towards socialism. The more I learned about the state of the world, the more I saw patterns that indicated a systemic problem and the more I began to identify with socialism. At the time, I believed that socialism had gone extinct as a movement. I believed it was something that must have died off decades ago. But, to my surprise, I found that Duluth had its own socialist group! I sought out the only socialist group in my city, which was Socialist Action, and I have been a member since.

Q: And how did you happen to become the Vice-Presidential nominee?

In February, I was contacted by Jeff Mackler, who is the National Secretary of Socialist Action and our presidential candidate. He asked me if I would be interested in being his running mate in the 2020 election. I took some time to think this over and agreed. His recommendation was then discussed and approved by the Political Committee and later, the National Committee, both of which are the governing bodies of Socialist Action between conventions.

Q: Socialist Action has been described as Trotskyist. Could you explain to us how that makes SA different than other political parties on the Left?

That’s a great question with a lengthy answer! One difference between Socialist Action and some other socialist parties is that we do not provide any support to candidates of the Democratic Party. We call on workers to break with the Democratic Party as we believe it is fundamentally and inevitably a party of the ruling class. As such, it will always promote U.S. imperialism and the immiseration of workers around the world. Our staunch refusal to support the Democratic Party (or any capitalist party, such as the Green Party) differentiates us from some other socialist groups. Though, it is important to note that from time to time, we support the candidates of like minded socialist parties and would support the formation of a Labor Party within the U.S. At the same time, we believe in the right to self-determination for oppressed groups. Therefore, we believe in the right of oppressed groups such as women, LGBT, oppressed racial minorities and nationalies to form autonomous movements to fight for their interests. We believe that the liberation of these oppressed groups is an essential component of working towards socialist revolution, which is itself an important component of our core ideology. We are revolutionary socialists whose aim is the overthrow of capitalism. While working towards the goal of revolution, we support reforms that challenge the structures of oppression inherent to capitalism. Revolution must be international, worker led, and socialist in nature (rather than in stages or in one country). Some socialists agree on some of these principles and not on others or interpret them differently. This is a short answer to what is otherwise a long and complex question.

Q: According to the SA membership handbook, belonging to this party has some pretty strict requirements compared to other political organizations. It looks like in order to sign up you really really must be dedicated and invest some serious time. Does that make it difficult to recruit new members?

We consider ourselves a vanguard party, so we want to recruit people who are dedicated to the goal of socialist revolution and able to adhere to the level of political discipline necessary to function as a united and effective group. I often attend over one hundred and fifty political events or meetings a year and compared to my comrades, I feel like a slacker! We try to recruit people who we meet through our engagement in social movements, so those who enter our orbit are usually already politically active. Dedication is not an issue as much as convincing new contacts of our political platform. In my experience, a major barrier to recruitment for new contacts is our position of class independence from capitalist parties. Lesser evilism is a prevalent narrative that seduces socialists towards the Democratic Party during elections.

Q: Throughout American history I observe progressive groups are presented with an infinity of directions since they are political pioneers (abolitionists, suffragists, socialists, etc.) and as such they have intense disagreements over which direction to go and method to use. I mention this because as I was looking at the background of Socialist Action it seems your party is not immune from this historical pattern, receiving more criticism from the Left than from the Right. What do you think it would take to unite the Leftist political parties?

Leftist political parties can and often do work together in mass movements. Socialist Action believes in forming United Fronts, which allows us to converge with other leftists on issues we can agree upon. Because the two party capitalist electoral system is rigged against us, we don’t think that elections are really where socialists are going to be the most effective. We can make the most impact by building independent movements that put pressure on the political system or economy. Movements for immigrant rights, anti-war, women’s rights, LGBT rights, better wages and working conditions, housing, prison reform or abolition, and so on are arenas were leftists can work together. Of course, leftists come together with their unique histories, rivalries, and perspectives, which can hinder cooperation and movement building. Sometimes fighting also stems from the fatigue and demoralization of the long haul fight against capitalism. But, movement work can bring us together. The formation of a Labor Party would also be a vehicle for smaller socialist parties to collaborate. The militant labor struggle required for the creation of such a party would hopefully draw socialists together.

Q: What do you make of a segment of the working class being dazzled by Trump with what some would call an almost cult-like fervor?

Around 43% of American did not vote in 2016, so, there is a large swath of the U.S. population that was not enamored enough by Trump or Clinton to bother voting. According to Gallup, Trump’s approval rating is 40%, which is lower than the average approval rating of 53% for presidents since 1935. Trump certainly appeals to a segment of the population, which represents the failure of the left to effectively organize workers and offer them a meaningful alternative to voting for racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Trump seemed like an outsider and anti-establishment to some voters. I think it is also important to note that racial minorities overwhelmingly did not vote for Trump. The American working class is often imagined as white and male, but racial minorities, women (when including racial minority women), and people with incomes under $50,000 a year did not vote for Trump. The task of socialists is to continue to support the interests and liberation of the most oppressed segments of the working class (women, racial minorities, sexual/gender minorities, etc.), offer real solutions to workers who have been duped by Trump, and fight real and terrifying elements of racism and reaction that have been emboldened by Trump.

Q: The Republican playbook for 2020 appears to be painting the Democrats as “socialist.” I gather from the SA website that even Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are considered as servants of the ruling class rather than the working class?

I think we are entering an age wherein socialism has lost its teeth as an insult. Republicans may have to change the language of their putdowns as socialism becomes increasingly popular. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party has done nothing to earn the honor of being called socialist. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez muddy the water a bit by invoking the language of socialism, without really clarifying what precisely this means. As you recall, I became a socialist through internationalism. Socialism means standing against imperialism, which is characterized by the international dominance of monopoly and financial capitalism of a few powerful countries. It is the duty of socialists to stand against U.S. power as an expression of imperialism. At the same time, socialism should be international. How could any socialist, which is a movement based upon the power and liberation of workers, tolerate wars or foreign policies which harm other workers? Yet, Bernie Sanders has supported U.S. foreign policy, stated that he wants a strong military, has approved U.S. military spending, and supports U.S. wars, such as in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Both Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez sent mixed messages about U.S. intervention in Venezuela. Even if they clarified what they meant by socialism into a cohesive ideology that seeks to end capitalism, the Democratic Party is not the vehicle to accomplish socialism. It is a party that supports U.S. power around the world and ultimately harms workers here and abroad by supporting militarism, financial institutions, corporate interests, and the maintenance of private capital. These things should be anathema to socialists.

Q: Socialist Action has been around for awhile but it was only in 2016, as far as I can tell, that a foray was made into Presidential election politics. Why did it take so long?

Our main strategy and theoretical grounding is to magnify our organizational power by participating in social movements and the labor movement. So, elections are not where we see ourselves making the most impact in society. We are a small party, elections are time consuming and expensive, and not where change is made. However, we recognize that elections are a way to meet new people, expose others to our ideas, and point out contradictions and failures in the political system. Perhaps as our party grows or gains new experiences, we can avail ourselves in elections more often, but this will never be the center of our political work.

Q: How do you plan to conduct your 2020 campaign?

We plan to have a speaking tour through several cities in the East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast, which we hope is a way to meet new people and express our views. Jeff Mackler will be speaking on some panels and to the media and I will try to do some media work myself. We also hope to collect a list of endorsers and regularly publish the list in our newspaper, Socialist Action. Our campaign also includes a social media presence on Facebook and hopefully other platforms as well as literature, stickers, buttons, and other materials. We have a campaign team that is actively strategizing how to get our message out.

Q: In 2016 the SA ticket was not actually on any ballots from I can see. Will that change in 2020? Will there be Socialist Action candidates for other offices?

Our campaign team is looking into this. It would be great to have ballot status in some states. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, the region where I am from, this requires around 2,000 signatures. We’ll see what we can do!

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in this campaign and how will you measure your success?

Simply having a campaign at all is a success for me, as it is an opportunity to meet people and discuss socialist politics. Anything that increases the scant attention and understanding of revolutionary socialism in society is a step in the right direction.

Q: I know it is early in the 2020 election season, but has your VP nomination impacted your daily life in any way?

I am a busy person. I work at a domestic violence shelter, often averaging over 40 hours a week. I have had over time on every paycheck since January. I also work at an abortion clinic and as a substitute teacher. In April, I was also a costumed Easter Bunny. So, I am 100% a worker and in addition to this, I am 100% engaged in social movement work. I am especially active in the reproductive rights movement. Running for Vice President adds a large item to my already full plate. It involves conference calls, seeking endorsers, increasing my participation in the party at a national level, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I can be a shy and reserved person, so I am finding that I have to quickly grow in ways I haven’t before. But, I hope this experience develops my leadership skills and my abilities as a revolutionary. I also hope it is a springboard for running for office in more modest and local, but realistic political races. Winning the U.S. presidential election is in no ways a real possibility, of course, but as socialists we believe a better world is possible and are committed to doing everything in our capacity to bring a better world about. I will never be Vice President, but I hope I can play a small role in working towards a world without such things as war, poverty, homelessness, mass incarceration, homophobia, sexism, racism, early death, exploitative work, and climate crisis. To that end, socialism is our best and only solution.

Q: Thank you Heather for participating in this VP project.

I don’t believe in Hell

i don't believe in hell

I don’t believe in Hell

H. Bradford

6/7/19

This is a poem about abortion rights.

 

I don’t believe in hell,

but I’ve got an idea of what it might be.

Languishing orphans in a Romanian cage,

sitting in urine,

dying of AIDS.

The panopticon gaze on missed menses,

missed work,

miscarriages,

or visitor in the night,

his secretary,

his sister,

his kindly wife.

 

Every anomaly  is an invitation

for incarceration.

 

Hell is the body

under siege,

prone and pried open for all to see.

It is emergency room corpses,

sepsis, and secrets.

Deadly exorcisms of rape and incest.

 

Hell is hot like Alabama

or cold like the hands of a priest,

clutching the wealth of genocide gold

and clasping tradition like a rosary of bones.

 

Hell is a landscape where a thousand wombs bloom,

sprouting babies, soldiers, and beggars

each doomed to die ravaged and poor

Because life is a weapon

of wealth and

of war.

 

 

Care is a Wall

Care is a Wall

Care is a Wall

H. Bradford

6/5/19

I work at a domestic violence shelter, so much of my work involves care work.  Sometimes this is exhausting and demoralizing- especially the large amount of bodily fluids that appear around the shelter.  So, this is a poem I wrote about the not so wonderful aspects of care work.


Care is a wall,

A car crash for careers

And a barrier more than a connection.

It is blood in the halls

Leaky diapers on laps

And urine soaked sheets.

It is a thousand unmet needs

Needs that ooze biohazards and suffering

from the places quarantined by the state.

Care is the work of women

Women with accents and darker complexions.

Care is the everyday Chernobyl

Of tending to capitalism’s toxic leftovers

With no evacuation in sight.

Care is a wall

To fight, storm, or surrender.

To die hopelessly against.

New Anti-Abortion Laws: How Should We Respond?

A modified version of this article appears in Socialist Action news and can be accessed here: https://socialistaction.org/2019/05/27/new-anti-abortion-laws-how-should-we-respond/

New Anti-abortion Laws and the Struggle for Reproductive Rights

New Anti-Abortion Laws: How Should We Respond?

H. Bradford

5/28/19


On May 15th, 2019, the most restrictive abortion law in the United States was signed into law in Alabama by Governor Kay Ivey.  The Alabama Human Life Protection Act, which passed the Alabama Senate 25-6, makes abortion illegal at all stages of pregnancy and makes no exception for rape or incest.  The bill seeks to make abortion illegal in Alabama in all cases but health threat to the mother, fatal fetal anomalies, and ectopic pregnancies. Under the law, abortion providers could face up to 99 years in prison.  This draconian law follows a wave of anti-abortion legislation across the United States which is aimed at overturning Roe v. Wade.   In 2019, Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, and Mississippi have passed “heartbeat bills” which outlaw abortion at six to eight weeks and at the time of writing, six week abortion bans are moving forward in the respective legislative bodies of South Carolina, West Virginia, and Louisiana.  Many abortion seekers may not be aware that they are pregnant at six weeks and would have little time to make an appointment or raise the funds to obtain an abortion. In this sense, heartbeat bills functionally outlaw abortion. “Heartbeat” itself is a misnomer as at this stage of development, an embryo has not developed a cardiovascular system.  Rather, a group of cells generates rhythmic electrical pulses which is more technically known as fetal pole cardiac activity. Of course, a tactic of the anti-choice movement has long been to warp fetal development to infanticize embryos and fetuses. Thus far, about 30 abortion laws have been passed in the United States this year.


Attacks on abortion access are nothing new, but the latest abortion restrictions are bolder and represent a concerted effort to use the court system to overturn or at least chip away Roe v. Wade.  Since 1973, over 1,900 abortion restrictions have been passed.  About ⅓ of these have been passed since 2011. These restrictions have included mandatory waiting periods, restrictions on state funding, no requirement for insurance to cover abortion, state mandated counseling, parental consent laws, gestational limits, and hospital requirements.  The barrage of laws against abortion access has been accompanied by the proliferation of crisis pregnancy centers which pose as health clinics and are designed to confuse and outright lie to abortion seekers by providing false information and pro-life propaganda. There are 2,300-3,500 crisis pregnancy centers spread across the United States, but only 1,800 abortion clinics.  In 2018, the Supreme Court upheld the right of these fake clinics to provide false information and false advertising when it ruled that California’s Freedom, Accountability, Care and Transparency Act (FACT) violated the first amendment. At the same time, there has been an effort to defund Planned Parenthood by blocking Title X funds that have assisted low income patients obtain contraceptives and other reproductive health services since 1970s.   The decades of attacks on abortion access was heralded by the Hyde Amendment, which was passed in 1976 with bipartisan support and barred the use of federal funds for abortion services. The truth of the matter is that the pro-choice movement has been fighting a losing battle for over forty years.


There have been a number of responses in reaction to the recent restrictions on abortion.   Some activists have called for an economic boycott the state of Alabama and other states with strict abortion restrictions.  A disturbing sentiment that sometimes accompanies the call for a boycott is that the people of Alabama are backwards, uneducated, and even incestuous.  While boycotting can be an effective tactic, it is important to remember that many people in Alabama are not supportive of the new abortion law. In a 2018 survey of likely Alabama voters, Planned Parenthood found that 65% of respondents felt abortion should be legal in cases of rape and incest.  The law does not represent the sentiments of many Alabama voters, even those who are pro-life. Marches against the bill were held in Montgomery, Birmingham, Muscle Shoals, and Huntsville. Rather than boycotting the state of Alabama or denigrating the state as backwards, the efforts of pro-choice organizers should be recognized and the potential for conservative populace of the state to be brought around to the issue acknowledged.  A quarter of the children in Alabama live in poverty, the state has the second highest infant mortality rate in the country, and is the 6th poorest state in the country. It is ranked 50th in education, 46th in healthcare, and 45th in crime and corrections. The people of Alabama need solidarity, not shame. Rather than boycott the state which already lacks in infrastructure and is marked by racism and poverty, it would be more useful to boycott corporations that actively support or donate to the pro-life movement such as My Pillow, Hobby Lobby, Curves, Gold’s Gym, and Electric Mirror.


Another reaction to the recent ban is to wait for the courts to overturn the restrictions.  Activists are reminded that abortion remains legal, all three of Alabama’s abortion clinics plan to stay open, and that these new laws will be tied up in litigation before they can be enacted.  The narrative goes that the Supreme Court is not eager to overturn Roe v. Wade outright and that other restrictive abortion laws have been struck down elsewhere.   For instance, a 2013 heartbeat bill in North Dakota was struck down as unconstitutional.  Six week bans were also struck down in Iowa and Kentucky. There are a number of flaws with this perspective.  Firstly, it is disempowering and a difficult to build a movement around waiting for court decisions. Secondly, this perspective grants legitimacy to the court system.  The presidential nomination of and lifetime tenure of Supreme Court justices and Federal judges is fundamentally undemocratic. The feudal nature of these courts should be questioned and challenged.  This has lent itself to a cultish following of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is viewed as a liberatory figure who must never retire or die, lest abortion rights be overturned once and for all. The centrist justice is celebrated for her support of women’s rights, but her critique of Kaepernick’s taking a knee (which she apologized for), ruling against paying overtime to Amazon workers, support of warrantless searches in Samson v. California, and failure to condemn solitary confinement within the prison system in Davis v. Ayala mar her record.  Finally, it is important to remember that Roe v. Wade was passed on the premise that abortion is a matter of privacy.  The courts have never framed abortion rights as fundamental to ending the oppression of women or gender minorities.  Abortion legality has always had a shaky foundation.


Some activists look to the Democratic Party to protect abortion rights, framing this as a matter of electing more Democrats into office.  Already, potential presidential nominees have issued statements about abortion ranging from Kamala Harris’ remarks in a February 2019 interview that abortion should be a decision between a woman, physician, priest, and spouse or Bernie Sander’s statement that abortion is healthcare and would be covered by his plan for Medicare for All.  Yet, the track record of Democrats on the issue of abortion is part of the reason why we find ourselves with so many restrictions today. Of the 24 candidates vying for the presidency, only 11 mention prioritizing reproductive rights on their websites. It was Bill Clinton who said that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare in 1992, which was echoed by Hillary Clinton who used rare in her 2008 election campaign.  Abortion has become “rare” as access has been curtailed in a legislative death by 1,000 cuts. Joe Biden voted in favor of partial birth abortion bans in 1999 and 2003 and against federal funding for abortion. Like “heartbeat” bans, partial birth abortion is an anti-choice construction as the medical term is intact dilation and extraction. In 2017, Bernie Sanders unapologetically campaigned for Heath Mello, an Omaha Nebraska mayoral candidate and anti-choice Democrat.  Some Democrats, such as Louisiana Gov. John Bel are anti-choice. Bob Casey Jr., Joe Donnelly, and Joe Manchin are pro-life Democrat senators who voted for abortion bans at 20 weeks. While abortion has become increasingly partisan since the late 1980s, voting for Democrats is no guarantee of abortion access. Between 2007 and 2009, Democrats controlled the House and Senate and in 1993-1995 controlled the House, Senate, and Presidency. These eclipses of liberal power have done nothing to roll back anti-abortion laws or overturn the Hyde Amendment.  Democrats have consistently supported the Hyde Amendment. Even Barack Obama stated in a 2009 health reform debate that although he is pro-choice, he did not feel that financing abortions should be part of government funded healthcare. In the Machiavellian shell game between the two parties of capitalism, electability trumps values and it is ultimately the power of social movements and organized workers that sways the opinions of politicians. Recently some Democratic candidates have vowed to repeal the Hyde Amendment or defend abortion rights, but this is a function of the success of social movements rather than a sign of courage or conviction.


Boycotting anti-abortion states, depending upon courts, or voting for Democrats will not secure abortion rights.   The way forward for the abortion rights movement is to take cues from mass movements elsewhere in the world. In October 2016, thousands of women in over 140 cities in Poland protested against legislation that would have punished anyone who terminates a pregnancy with five years in prison and investigate women who had miscarried.  In March of 2017, Polish women protested wearing black, boycotted classes, and went on strike against the proposed new law and the restrictive abortion laws passed in 1993. This mass mobilization shifted abortion discourse in Poland and forced politicians to quickly retreat from new restrictions. In March 2018, thousands of demonstrators marched against a renewed effort to pass more restrictive abortion laws.  Ireland’s movement, Repeal the 8th, likewise mobilized against Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion. Inspired by Poland’s Black Protests, activists in Ireland marched and went on strike on March 8th, 2017 in cities across Ireland. 66.4% of Irish voters voted to legalize abortion in a referendum held on May 25th, 2018. Abortion is now legal and free in Ireland due to a movement that catalyzed by the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died in 2012 because she was denied an abortion while experiencing a miscarriage.  The vote to legalize abortion was shocking to some, as Ireland had been a bastion of conservatism regarding abortion and like Poland, had strict anti-abortion laws. Social attitudes can change quickly, which should offer some hope to those who dismiss the southern United States as impossibly reactionary. Despite the efforts of the hundreds of thousands of participants in the Ni Una Menos movement that has sought to legalize abortion and end gender based violence, a bill to legalize abortion in Argentina failed by two senate votes in August, 2018. Even in the face of defeat, the protests and strikes continue as well as efforts to build a feminist international.  Recently, activists involved in the movement for abortion rights in Argentina protested on the red carpet at the Cannes Film festival at the premiere of ‘Let it be Law,’ a film about their struggle. A glimpse of the capacity to build such a movement in the United States happened on May 21st with a day of protest actions called Stop the Bans. Thousands mobilized in a day of action that consisted of over 400 protests spread across all 50 states.


The feminist movement must build upon the successful mobilization for the Stop the Bans day of action and continue to show up in mass to put pressure on politicians to support abortion rights.  Based upon recent feminist organizing that culminated in the International Women’s Strike, a framework for building a global feminist movement was put forth by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser in“Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto.”  Key ideas from the manifesto include tactics such as mass action and strikes against the conditions of paid and unpaid labor.  The feminist movement must abandon liberal feminist vision of equality under the law and instead fight capitalism head on, including fights against imperialism, mass incarceration, environmental destruction, and austerity.   Social Reproduction theory grounds the tasks of building a global anti-capitalist feminist movement. Understanding social reproduction theory (SRT) is vital to combating anti-abortion laws in the context of capitalism. SRT posits that capitalism does not reproduce the labor power required to perpetuate itself.  In other words, capitalism produces goods and services, but doesn’t in itself produce workers and due to profit motive (wherein profit is derived from surplus value of labor), capitalism does little to provide for the upkeep of workers. Thus, women are tasked with supporting the continuation of capitalism through biological reproduction, the care of non-laborers such as children, elderly, or people with illnesses, and unpaid household labor such as cooking and cleaning.  When women can control their biological reproduction through birth control or abortion, they are denying capitalism the reproduction of a future labor force. Lack of bodily autonomy enforces the traditional family and gender roles, thereby further enforcing social reproduction. At the same time, the drive for profit always works to erode or deny social provisioning such as paid maternity leave, free daycare, socialized health care, or other social benefits which the United States lacks, but encourages or supports reproduction.  This creates a contradiction wherein birth is mandated but not supported. It is little wonder that the war against abortion access has intensified in the last decade, following the world economic crisis that erupted in 2008. Abortion became legal in the United States in the same era as our waning hegemony and the accompanying age of neoliberalism that promotes austerity and the movement of industrial production to the low wage “developing” world. Women’s bodies are punished into ameliorating the crisis of capitalism.


The United States was founded upon the subjugation and destruction of bodies through slavery and genocide.  Reproduction is controlled in the name of national interests, which is itself a guise for the overarching interest of amassing wealth for an elite few.   At times, this has meant the forced sterilization of Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, Blacks, low income women, and women with disabilities. In the interest of population control, birth control was first tested on women with mental illness without their consent and later Puerto Rican women.  Today, the rhetoric of walls and criminal immigrants is used to control some populations while the limits on abortion access are used to control another. A part of this continuum of control is violence and oppression of trans and non-binary people, whose existence challenges the gender binary and traditional family structures that have so long been the cornerstone of social reproduction.  Trans and non-binary people are denied reproductive rights along with women, as not all abortion seekers are women. The struggle for abortion access, as part of the larger movement for a feminism for the 99% must also be a struggle against racism, transphobia, ableism, and for the liberation of all bodies long subjugated by capitalism.


 

Why I Fundraise for Abortion Access

Why I Fundraise for Abortion Access

Why I Fundraise for Abortion Access

H. Bradford

4/9/19


It’s that time of year again.  This is the third year that I have spent February, March, and April trying to fundraise for abortion access.  I am not that good at fundraising, but I try.  I try to organize a team, promote the fundraiser, get some donations, and help with the organizing of the event through H.O.T.D.I.S.H Militia.   My contribution to the event is not as much as the contributions of others, but it is important to me.  For the past few years, H.O.T.D.I.S.H Militia, a local abortion fundraising group has attempted to raise $10,000 through a national fundraiser called “Bowl-a-thon” which is organized through the National Network of Abortion Fund’s (NNAF).   We have successfully met our fundraising goal each of the last three years that I have participated.  There are many reasons why I participate in this event, which I will outline so that readers have a better understanding of how the fund is used and why it is necessary.

This image was created by Betsy Hunt for H.O.T.D.I.S.H 2019


Abortion is Expensive:


Expensive is relative, as all medical expenses tend to be costly to those who cannot afford them.  But, considering that 40% of Americans cannot cover an unexpected $400 expense, abortion or ANY unexpected medical cost is expensive (Bahney, 2018).  At our local clinic, the basic cost of an abortion is $700, which goes up in price depending upon how far along the pregnancy is and if the patient requires a Rhogam injection.   The $700 cost is pretty similar to the cost at the other four Minnesota clinics listed on NNAF’s website.  This $700 cost is expensive for someone who was not intending to become pregnant, who only has a short time to raise the funds (less than 14.5 weeks at our local clinic),  who will see the cost increase the longer it takes to raise the funds, who must take the day off of work (since abortions are only provided locally on weekdays), must pay for transportation and perhaps day care or a baby sitter, and other costs.   75% of abortion patients in Minnesota were economically disadvantaged (State Facts About Abortion Minnesota, 2018).  I have recently had some unexpected medical expenses and it is extraordinarily stressful!  In my case, these are expenses that I can pay over time.  Unfortunately, at our local clinic, the payment is due in full at the time of the procedure.  There is no method to pay in installments.  $700 is therefore an enormous barrier for patients seeking an abortion.  H.O.T.D.I.S.H. provides supplemental funding to patients who might otherwise be unable to afford the full amount.


Insurance Often Doesn’t Cover Abortion:


In my observation, most patients with employer provider insurance must pay for the in full as the procedure is not covered by the insurance (some parts may be, such as an ultrasound, but patients are still responsible for the cost at the time of their appointment).  Many patients who seek abortion have not yet met their deductible or their out of pocket maximum.  Thus, it seems uncommon that insurance picks up the tab for the costs.  The H.O.T.D.I.S.H fund helps working people with insurance cover this unexpected expense.  It seems pretty unjust that abortion is segregated from regular health care, so that even those with insurance find that they must pay.  This punishes women and serves to stigmatize abortion as something frivolous or unnecessary.   In Minnesota, Medical Assistance covers the cost of abortion, but many patients do not have active M.A. because they have moved, did not submit paperwork, forgot to renew it, or any number of reasons.  Those who do must pay an $8 co-pay, but even this can be a barrier to someone experiencing domestic violence, homelessness, unemployment, or extreme poverty.  H.O.T.D.I.S.H funds are sometimes used to cover the co-pay or any additional expenses that Medical Assistance (Medicaid) might not cover.  It is also important to note that because of the Hyde Amendment, not all states fund abortion through Medicaid.  The Hyde Amendment prevents the use of federal funds to cover the cost of abortion.  States can elect to use their own funds to cover abortion, but only seventeen states have chosen to do this.  Minnesota is one of them, but patients from out of state may find that their Medical Assistance does not cover the cost.   For instance, Wisconsin only extends coverage in the cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment (Hyde, n.d.).  Finally, while Medical Assistance (Medicaid) covers abortion in Minnesota, Medicare does not cover elective abortion.  Therefore, individuals with disabilities who receive insurance through Medicare are unable to access abortion through that program.  As a caveat, I want to make clear that I am not well versed in the world of insurance, but in my observation at the clinic, insurance is rarely a guarantee of coverage.  H.O.T.D.I.S.H funds are regularly used to supplement employment health insurance coverage, MA copays, and to support Wisconsin residents on Badgercare.   Because 30% of Black women and 24% of Hispanic women receive Medicaid, as compared to 14% of white women, the national restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion disproportionately impacts women of color (Hyde, n.d).  The abortion restrictions through Medicare is ableist.  All of this is symptomatic of our need to repeal the Hyde Amendment, fight for universal and free health care for all, and demand that abortion be treated as ordinary health care.


Abortion Intersects with Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault:


I work extremely part time checking in patients at our local clinic.  My short shift at the clinic is usually preceded by a night shift at a domestic violence shelter.  While I must maintain confidentiality at both places because of HIPAA and VAWA, I will say that I sometimes recognize patients from my other full time employment at the shelter.  I am usually familiar with at least one name from the patient list.  To me, it is extremely sad and angering that society portrays abortion seekers as selfish, irresponsible women.  This ignores the violence, control, and coercion that women experience in their relationships and how pregnancy is a tool of patriarchal dominance.  Pregnancy is a tool of patriarchal dominance in violent relationships, but also in everyday ordinary relationships wherein women must negotiate consent, birth control, their sexual desires or lack thereof as unequal partners on account of sexism, racism, economic subordination, heterosexism, ableism, and other forms of oppression that compound together within patriarchy and capitalism.   Providing abortion funding may help a patient escape from an abuser, begin to rebuild their life after sexual assault, and use their limited funds to leave a shelter for a housing opportunity rather than use that money to pay for an abortion.   It disgusts me that patients are met with a gauntlet of protesters who shame and abuse them for their choice with little concern or pause for the trauma that some patients have endured.   It also disgusts me that we live in a society where women can be forced to be pregnant simply because they cannot afford to terminate a pregnancy.   Funding abortion helps survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.


  Abortion Access is Always Under Attack:


Abortion is always under attack.   Each year, there are always new regulations and new schemes to limit abortion access.  In Minnesota, patients must receive mandatory information from a doctor 24 hours prior to their appointment.  If the patient does not receive this phone call, they are unable to have the procedure.  Minors must bring what seems like a mountain of paperwork documenting their identity, their parents’ identity, and acknowledgement of both biological parents that the minor is having an abortion.   In the absence of both biological parents acknowledging the abortion, the minor must appear before a judge, who will determine if they can have the abortion.   These current restrictions are fairly tame compared to the aggressive movement to further restrict abortion across the country.   This year, fetal heartbeat bans or six week abortion bans have been enacted, passed, or are in the process of passing in Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee.  This year, governors in Arkansas and Utah also approved bans on abortion at 18 weeks.  The Minnesota Senate Health and Human Services Committee is currently reviewing a 20 week abortion ban in the interest of fetal pain, even though less than 2% of abortions performed in the state occur after 20 weeks and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists posts that it is not until at least 24 weeks of gestation that a fetus possesses the brain structures necessary process pain signals (Ferguson, 2019).  In the face of challenges to abortion access, many activists often frame it as a matter of how many Democrats are in power or that these bans will be overturned by the court system.  The fact of the matter is that the pro-choice movement has been losing the battle for abortion for over forty years.  This battle cannot take place in the arena of electoral politics, which has failed to prevent the avalanche of over 1,000 restrictions on abortion since 1973.  This has to occur by strengthening independent social movements capable of fundamentally transforming and challenging state power and while radically altering mass consciousness and discourse regarding the oppression of women.   Fundraising can be a supplemental stop gap measure in such a movement.  Fundraising should be used while putting demands upon the state and drawing attention to the systemic failures.  At the minimum, fundraising is a hands-on activity that could be used to connect pro-choicers to one another and the community.   At best, it needs to contribute to a fierce, strategic, and unwavering social movement that takes to the streets in protest and strike.  Power must be reclaimed by the masses, rather than consigned to courts and politicians.

This image was taken from NNAF for Bowl-a-thon purposes


Abortion isn’t Abnormal:


Abortion is always treated as a taboo.  It can’t be mentioned or is too controversial to bring up in polite conversation.  Yet, 1 in 4 women have had an abortion before the age of 45.  It isn’t abnormal.  It is ancient.  It is common.  By fundraising, abortion becomes more normal.  At least once a week, I remind people that I am fundraising for abortion on Facebook.   The actual fundraiser is fun.  We go bowling.  The bowling alley chooses to host an abortion fundraiser.  Bowling alleys are not typically considered enclaves of the feminist movement.  Last year, almost 100 people participated at the bowl-a-thon event.  This year, there are over a dozen teams and we expect a similar turn out.  The bowl-a-thon is a public way to be pro-choice and normal.  We are having fun fundraising.  The event has prizes and a party like atmosphere.  This isn’t about death, morals, taboos, secrets, and all of the dark ways that abortion is discussed in society.  This is about raising money and trying to have some fun while doing it.  Of course, it is also about all of the serious things that I outlined above.  But, part of this struggle has to be about making abortion less scary to talk about.  Asking strangers to donate- then having fun while doing it- dispels the the stigma around it.

Image may contain: 13 people, people smiling, people standing

 


Conclusion:


This year we have already met our goal of raising $10,000.  That sounds like a lot of money!  It is, but really, it doesn’t stretch that far.  Over a year, we can provide about $833 of support a month with those funds.  Remember, a single abortion procedure costs $700.  Thus, despite our best efforts and all of the people involved, we can really only pay for a little over 14 abortions a year!  Of course, the money is not used to pay for an entire abortion.  It is doled out more sparingly, typically with $100-$200 grants given to a couple of patients each month.  That really isn’t much at all!  It makes a difference to those patients, but $500 is still a large amount of money to come up with.  The amount we raise is small compared to the actual need.  Perhaps in the future, we will increase our fundraising capacity and be able to do more.  Better yet, it would be great if we could somehow change our society in such as way that we don’t have to fundraise at all.  Abortion would be available on demand, for free.  It would be wonderful if patients didn’t have to drive several hours to the nearest clinic or that everyone had guaranteed sick/personal leave so that missing work wasn’t an economic stressor.  Unfortunately, we have society as it exists now.  In this moment, the fundraising is both critical and inadequate.   There are still a few days left to donate to this year’s Bowl-a-thon.  The donation makes a difference locally, and hopefully I have illustrated a few reasons why!

To donate:

https://bowl.nnaf.org/fundraiser/1903989

https://bowl.nnaf.org/team/214270

Sources:

Bahney, A. (2018, May 22). 40% of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency expense. Retrieved from https://money.cnn.com/2018/05/22/pf/emergency-expenses-household-finances/index.html

Ferguson, D. (2019, March 29). 20-week abortion ban bill advances in MN Senate. Retrieved from https://www.twincities.com/2019/03/29/20-week-abortion-ban-bill-advances-in-mn-senate/

Hyde Amendment. (n.d.). Retrieved April 9, 2019, from https://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/issues/abortion/hyde-amendment

State Facts About Abortion Minnesota (Rep.). (2018). Guttmacher Institute.

Capitalism and Self Care

capitalism

Capitalism and Self Care

H. Bradford

3/27/19


Whenever I hear the word self-care, I feel a little skeptical.  It seems like one of those feel good notions that activists and “helping” professionals ritualistically throw around to pay homage to burn out, compassion fatigue, or just the very human need for food, sleep, and health.  The Marxist in me always feels a bit cynical about the whole thing. To me, self care seems self-evident. A world in which me must pause, consider our needs, and carve out some extra space and time to meet these needs seems extraordinarily exploitative.  The concept itself seems atomizing, as the inability of capitalist society to meet human needs is placed upon the individual, who is tasked with adequately caring for themselves. At worst, it seems like a hedonistic excuse to retreat from society or struggle.  Self-care seems like the chore of maintaining oneself just enough to continue to be miserable. Some of this pessimism regarding self-care is founded, but some of it is not. Indeed, self-care has radical roots which should be reclaimed to push back against the crisis of care created by capitalism.


Capitalism and the Crisis of Care


To begin, it is useful to examine care more generally and how “care” connects to capitalism.  Care is often an invisible, expected, and taken for granted role for women in society. Women have long been associated with care, as in the care for children or care for families, but capitalism created the conditions wherein economic production and social reproduction separated into two distinct categories.  In other words, capitalism created a dichotomy between waged work and “care” (Arruza, Bhattacharya, and Fraser, 2019).  Economic production became something that happened inside of offices or factories, where it was remunerated with a wage (Leonard and Fraser, 2016). “Care” became the sentimentalized labor that women often do as a matter of love than for pay, and as such, it is not as valued or recognized in society (Arruza, Bhattacharya, and Fraser, 2019).


According to a 2015 report, 1.9 billion children under the age of 15 and 200 million older adults are in need of care.  This number is expected reach 2.3 billion by the year 2030. Globally, among 64 countries studied, 16.4 billion hours per day are spent performing unpaid care work.  76.2% of this is done by women (Women do 4 times more unpaid care work than men in Asia and the Pacific, 2017). Around the world, women complete more unpaid labor in the home than men, wit the largest differences found in Asian countries such as Japan, China, India, and South Korea.  Women also spend less time each day engaged in leisure activities. For instance, in the United States, women spend about 262 minutes eat day on leisure activities, whereas men spend about 305 minutes. In Greece, women enjoy 318 minutes of leisure, whereas men have 393 minutes each day.  In Portugal, women have 200 minutes of leisure each day and men, 289 minutes (Taei, 2019). Among OECD countries, women complete 4.5 hours of unpaid labor each day or 271 minutes. In comparison, men average around 2.5 hours each day, or 137 minutes (Berman, 2017). The gender gap in unpaid labor starts young, as according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teenage girls perform 38 minutes of chores each day, whereas teenage boys do 24 minutes of chores each day (Gollayan, 2019).

Image result for unpaid work around the world


The lack of leisure time and large amounts of unpaid household care work, certainly create the conditions wherein women need self-care.  Beyond unpaid labor preparing food, washing clothes, cleaning homes, caring for children, or tending to the sick, women are often relegated to exhausting, low paid, undervalued “caring” professions.  97.5% of kindergarten and preschool teachers are women, 94.4% of childcare workers, 94% of nurse practitioners, 89.9% of maids and housekeepers, 89% of teaching assistants, and 84.5% of personal care aids are women.  Women make up the majority of the service industry, as they make up 80% of restaurant hosts, 72% of cashiers, 71% of non-restaurant food servers, 70% of waiters, and 66% of hotel front desk workers (Rocheleau, 2018). Thus, when women are not at home caring for children, workers, and retirees, they often find themselves thrust into paid care work, wherein they care for children, serve food,  provide medical care, or care for the elderly. Cashiers, waitresses, personal care attendants, and hostesses each have an average income of under $22,000 a year, at least according to 2013 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among teachers, those who serve younger ages make less. For instance, Kindergarten teachers average $52,800 a year, whereas secondary education teachers average $58,300 a year (Wile, 2015).   Thus, those who engage in care work often face a wage penalty.

Image result for female cashier

Image taken from: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-03/a-female-cashier-works-in-a-supermarket/6276318


One way that the amount of care work that women engage in can be explained is through Social Reproduction Theory.  According to Social Reproduction theory, capitalism charges women with the upkeep of capitalism. Social Reproduction posits that in order to perpetuate itself, capitalism needs both a future generation of workers and the upkeep of current workers, retired workers, and non-workers.  Thus, historically women have been tasked with having children, raising children, caring for the elderly or people who cannot work, cooking, cleaning, other household chores, and all of the other, mostly unpaid labor that goes into ensuring that capitalism can continue. Much of this labor occurs within the family, but some social reproduction may be provided for by the state or private sector (Arruza, 2016).  When the state engages in social reproduction, it can be said that the care work has been socialized. On the other hand, when the private sector engages in care work, it means it is commodified (Leonard and Fraser, 2016). For instance, when countries provide state funded day care centers or nursing homes, the state is engaged in the social reproduction of capitalism. However, as it will be argued later, many of the paid employees in such institutions are women.  As a whole, women are often engaged in what is generally called “care work” which is paid and unpaid labor that involves the care of people, but can also include care for animals, communities, or environments. While care work is not a specifically Marxist term or a phenomenon that is unique to capitalism, care work is an essential component to capitalism’s continuation. Capitalism is contradictory as it does not provide for its own upkeep. It requires workers, yet the profit motive drives capitalism to lower wages and lessened working conditions  The drive for profits also results in austerity, or cuts to social programs and the privatization of public institutions which provide care. This results in a crisis of care, in which women find that they have trouble balancing paid labor with reproductive labor (Arruza, Bhattacharya, and Fraser, 2019).


The Crisis of Care is a profound insight to the nature of capitalism and may offer why self-care is so popular and necessary.  During the 20th century, many advanced capitalist societies expanded the state’s role in social reproduction. The global south did not experience this, as they were predated upon by imperialist powers of the north.  A strong labor movement pushed for social reforms that shortened the work day, banned child labor, provided some social welfare programs, and ensured a family wage. However, racism within more advanced capitalist countries such as the United States meant that not all workers enjoyed these benefits equally and access to the “family wage” was predicated upon heteronormative monogamous relationships (Leonard and Fraser, 2016).  Yet, in the last forty years in order to eke out profits in an increasingly competitive global economy, the gains of workers have been attacked in many ways. Following the post World War II boom, the United States began to lose its place in the world economically in the 1960s and 1970s as Japan and Europe rebuilt their economies. The United States also began to de-industrialize, as industrial union jobs went to more profitable, low wage, non-union places elsewhere in the world.  The loss of these higher paying jobs put pressure upon women to enter the workforce as a single family wage was no longer adequate, though the feminist movement also pushed to break down barriers to entry into the paid economy as a matter of equality, freedom, and self-determination. Between 1970 and 2003, 60% of new jobs created went to women, yet at the same time wages have been stagnant. For the first time, white women began to engage in paid labor as much as Black women (who historically have not enjoyed the privilege of working only in one arena of the economy).  Of course, much of this growth was in the service industry, though there was also growth in finance, real estate, and insurance industries (Eisenstein, 2005). These areas are interesting, because they are associated with what Marxist call fictitious capital, or a more unstable economic area where capitalists go when they’ve run out of space to invest elsewhere, so this sort of job growth is also indicative of the crisis of capitalism. While the United States was de-industrializing, there has also been a global push towards austerity and privatization (Eisenstein, 2005).   It is little wonder then that in the face of attacks at work in the form of depressed wages, longer hours, less stability and also the loss of social benefits, that the crisis in care has driven women towards self-care to restore stability, wellness, and balance in their lives.  Self-care offers a reprieve from the ravages of capitalism.

Image result for u.s. real wages over time

Just an image of Real Wages over time


The Commodification of Self Care


The economic conditions of capitalism limits the ability of workers to take care of themselves.  Self-care may resonate with some women because they are stretched thin between paid and unpaid labor.  It is little wonder then that in recent years, there has been increased interest in self-care. In 2017, there was an uptick in the self-care activities with a 17% increase in therapy, 34% increase in yoga, 16% increase in meditation, and 19% increase in daily walks (Daniels, 2018).  There are over five million posts about self care on Instagram (Lieberman, 2018). Self-care became more mainstream after the 2016 election and was googled twice as much as in year following it (Aisha, 2017). The popularity of self-care related topics on social media contributes to differences in who engages in self-care.  For instance, millenials spend twice as much as boomers on self-care. This younger demographic is more internet savvy, which allows them to search for self care ideas and get exposure to self care through social media (Silva, 2017). Problematically, self-care within capitalism is commodified and individualized. It also reflects of disparities in ability, rage, class, sexuality, gender, and other areas of oppression.  For example, the beauty industry is quick to appropriate “self care” as a means to sell products. Ofra Cosmetics used the slogan “Turn Your Skin Care Routine Into A Self-Care Ritual,” to turn using skin care products into an act of self-care (Boyne, 2018). By 2024, the skincare industry is estimated to grow to $180 billion and even congress member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shared her skincare routine on Instagram, divulging that she keeps makeup wipes by her bed to allow her skin to breathe.  Healthy skin is seen as virtuous, rather than a signifier of wealth (Hill, 2019).

Image result for self care skin care

An advertisement for Mad Peaches Med Spa- http://madpeachesmedspa.com/skin-care-is-self-care/


One of the more obvious examples of the commodification of self-care is, Gwyneth Paltrow, who made $250 million by selling wellness products under her brand Goop.  The company sells such things as emotional detox bath soaps and vaginal steams (Daniels, 2018). These products fleece women of their money in the interest of classist and gendered notion of what it means to care for oneself.  Self-care could be a $10 tube of Goop toothpaste, an $85 medicine bag containing several crystals, or a $3500 gold sex toy (K., 2018). In 2017, the self-care industry was estimated to be worth $4.2 trillion globally. Over the past two years, the industry has a growth rate of 6.4%, which is twice the growth rate of the entire global economy.  The largest component is anti-aging, skin care, and beauty, which makes up $1.08 trillion. Another area of growth in the self-care industry is food, of which, foods categorized as keto, plant based, probiotic, low sugar, paleo, vegetarian, flexitarian, and gut healthy are the top food trends in 2019. Athletic wear, cannabis, and low cost gyms are also areas of growth within the self-care industry (Low, 2018).

Self-Care for the Cubicle-Bound

“Self Care for the Cubicle Bound”- From Goop- https://goop.com/beauty/makeup/self-care-cubicle-bound/


Self-care often gets mashed together with self-improvement and might be viewed as a modern iteration of this long standing theme in Western culture.  For instance, Socrates advised that young men should not enter political leadership until they have worked on themselves. Foucault observed that cultivating the soul and self was part of the thinking of Seneca, Epictetus, and many early Christian thinkers.  In U.S. history, the concept of self-care was used towards racist ends, as Samuel Cartwright justified slavery because slaves were unable to care for themselves on account of their inferior race. Scholar, Matthew Frye Jacobson used a similar argument against immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, as he claimed they were unable to care for themselves.  The argument was also used to justify denying women the right to vote (Kisner, 2017). Within the self-care industry, the self-improvement industry is worth $11 billion. Mindfulness meditation, which seems like something that could be done for free, is a $1 billion industry (Lieberman, 2018). This aspect of self-care is dangerous for several reasons. Firstly, it does not challenge the notion that a person’s worth is predicated upon their efforts towards self-improvement.  As illustrated earlier, hierarchies of better or more capable selves and lesser capable selves, was twisted into arguments against immigration, women’s suffrage, and for slavery. Self-care is racialized inasmuch as wellness is often depicted as a pastime for white women. The arena of self care is often a white space designed for white women and wherein other white women profit (Daniels, 2018). Self-care naturalizes wellness as white while rendering the outcomes of self-care as virtuous (healthy skin, fit bodies, physical ability).  Secondly, because self-improvement costs money, it creates a divide between who can improve and who cannot. Wellness is reserved for the wealthy who can afford the time and money for such things as expensive fitness classes, skin products, or foods. Because self-care is an individual endeavour, it does not address or contextualize social problems such as poverty (Daniels, 2018). Finally, it is simply stressful and laborious to improve oneself, especially when people are already overburdened with paid and unpaid labor. In a UK study of 200 women who used fitness trackers, 79% felt guilty if they did not meet their daily goals, 59% felt controlled by the device, and 30% felt like it was the enemy (Lieberman, 2018).


This newest, commodified version of self-care is a new capitalistic incarnation of the concept, but it has meant different things throughout history.  The Civil Rights movement and feminist movement engaged in self-care as a political act as a reaction to the failures of white, patriarchal society to care for their needs.  Part of the early movement for self-care entailed setting up women’s health clinics to address the health needs of women as an alternative to medical institutions which many women experienced as sexist and hostile to women’s health.  Self-care was also a component of The Black Panther Party’s orgazing. The Black Panthers sought to address community needs that had been unmet by the state. As such, they set up clinics to address the needs of black people, such as testing for sickle cell anemia or lead poisoning (Aisha, 2017).  The Black Panthers established thirteen free clinics around the the country and connected poor health as an outcome of poverty (Bassett, 2016). Today’s concept of self-care, which focuses on the individual and is far less political and community based. Another understanding of self care is the medical term employed in high stress jobs such as social workers, therapists, and EMTs, who recognized the need for self-care to avoid burn-out or compassion fatigue.  This use of the term is certainly not as radical as the Black Panther or feminist movement concept of community building, but at the very least recognizes that work can be a source of personal strain. During the 1980s and 1990s, self-care became disassociated from its political roots and more connected to commercialized fitness and wellness trends that appealed to middle class white people. Fitness clubs and yoga classes are the types of ways that self care has manifested since then.  In recent years, feminists and activists in the black community have shown renewed interest in self-care as well (Aisha, 2017).  After the mass shooting in Orlando, LGBTQ people around the world used the hashtag #queerselflove to post selfies and Jace Harr, a trans man, created a popular online questionnaire entitled, “You Feel Like Shit: An Interactive Self-Care guide” which asks users if they have drank water, feel disassociated, feel triggered, and other self-care questions.  Devin-Norelle, a trans black man, posted about self care after the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, saying “Healing is self-care is self-love, self-indulgence, and self-preservation, because sometimes we need to be reminded that #BlackIsBeautiful (Kisner, 2018).” Devin-Norelle’s post echoes a quote from Audre Lorde, who wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare (Boyle, ND).”  Similarly, Evette Dione wrote in Bitch Magazine that many people are poor, working themselves to early graves, and that self-care means pushing against society by asserting one’s own needs and existence (Kisner, 2018).

Image result for Black panther clinic

An image depicting the Black Panther’s Free Food Program- one of several social programs including clinics, food distribution, children’s breakfast program, and free ambulance.  From: https://atlantablackstar.com/2015/03/26/8-black-panther-party-programs-that-were-more-empowering-than-federal-government-programs/


Conclusion:


Care often falls upon the shoulders of women.  Women are often tasked with caring for children, elderly, those who are ill, their communities, and the environment.  This is done in both the paid and unpaid economy.   The strain of this physical and emotional labor leaves little time for self-care, but a strong need for it.  Capitalism commodifies self-care, turning it into something that requires time, effort, and money and bestowing virtues upon those who can accomplish balance, health, beauty and fitness.  While self-care could be liberating, in this economic context, it is another trap. It is time to return to the roots of self-care. Today’s society needs the militant, collective self-care.   Pressure should be put on the state and our workplaces for parental leave, paid sick time, healthy environments, socialized health care, free and expanded public transportation, living wages, affordable housing, reproductive justice, and all of the other things that are needed to live full and healthy lives.  Self-care must connect the self to the social struggle and build up people together as communities. We must care for another, while empowering each other to fight for the structural changes necessary to end sexism, racism, heterosexism, poverty, ableism, and all other forms of oppression once and for all. Chocolates, bubble baths, and yoga are alright, but self-care should be enjoyed with a revolutionary consciousness that seeks to end the child slavery that produces the chocolate,  the cultural appropriation that decontextualizes yoga among white people, and fights for access to clean water for all!  I suppose this sort of self-care is pretty exhausting, since it isn’t self-care as much as it is struggle. But, perhaps we can do self-care together, caring for each other along the way, so that we have strength and energy in each other. Finally, I think there is an important self-care tactic within the International Women’s Strike movement.  This is the tactic of striking, which is withdrawing labor. Self-care can mean withdrawing unpaid and paid labor to demand better conditions and a better world. The ultimate way we can take care of ourselves is to work towards a world wherein we don’t have to work with such effort, little pay, lack of control, and uncertainty.


Sources:

Arruzza, C. (2016). Functionalist, determinist, reductionist: Social reproduction feminism and its critics. Science & Society, 80(1), 9-30.

Arruzza, C.,  Bhattacharya, T., and Fraser F. (2019). FEMINISM FOR THE 99%. New York: VERSO.

Bassett M. T. (2016). Beyond Berets: The Black Panthers as Health Activists. American journal of public health, 106(10), 1741-3.

Berman, J. (2018, April 15). Women’s unpaid work is the backbone of the American economy. Retrieved from https://www.marketwatch.com/story/this-is-how-much-more-unpaid-work-women-do-than-men-2017-03-07

Boyle, S. (n.d.). Remembering the Origins of the Self-Care Movement. Retrieved from https://bust.com/feminism/194895-history-of-self-care-movement.html

Boyne, I. (2018, November 15). Self-care must separate itself from beauty industry. Retrieved from http://miscellanynews.org/2018/11/14/opinions/self-care-must-separate-itself-from-beauty-industry

Daniels, J. (2018, December 05). Opinion | This Holiday Season, Resist The Unbearable Whiteness Of Wellness. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-wellness-holidays-trump-gwyneth-paltrow-goop_us_5c07e65de4b0fc23611249c6

Eisenstein, H. (2005). A dangerous liaison? Feminism and corporate globalization. Science & Society, 69(3), 487-518.

Hill, J. (2019, March 19). Self-Care And Skin Care. Retrieved from https://the1a.org/shows/2019-03-19/self-care-and-skin-care

K., S. (2018, September 11). How Self-Care Became a $250 Million Business. Retrieved from https://www.couturesquemag.com/single-post/goop-self-care-politics-and-profit

Kisner, J. (2017, June 19). The Politics of Conspicuous Displays of Self-Care. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-politics-of-selfcare

Leonard, S., & Fraser, N. (2016, Fall). Capitalism’s Crisis of Care. Retrieved from https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/nancy-fraser-interview-capitalism-crisis-of-care

Low, E. (2019, January 28). Self Care Wellness Trends: Beauty, Fitness, Cannabis Fuel $4 Trillion Market. Retrieved from https://www.investors.com/news/self-care-wellness-trends-beauty-fitness-cannabis-market/

Gollayan, C. (2019, March 05). Teenage girls do more homework and household chores than boys: Study. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2019/03/05/teenage-girls-do-more-homework-and-household-chores-than-boys-study/

Harris, A. (2017, April 05). How “Self-Care” Went From Radical to Frou-Frou to Radical Once Again. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2017/04/the_history_of_self_care.html

Lieberman, C. (2018, August 10). How Self-Care Became So Much Work. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/08/how-self-care-became-so-much-work

Rocheleau, M. (2017, March 07). Chart: The percentage of women and men in each profession – The Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/03/06/chart-the-percentage-women-and-men-each-profession/GBX22YsWl0XaeHghwXfE4H/story.html

Silva, C. (2017, June 04). The Millennial Obsession With Self-Care. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2017/06/04/531051473/the-millennial-obsession-with-self-care

Taei, P. (2019, March 08). Visualizing Women’s Unpaid Work Across the Globe (A Special Chart). Retrieved from https://towardsdatascience.com/visualizing-womens-unpaid-work-across-the-globe-a-special-chart-9f2595fafaaa

Wilding, M., & Wilding, M. (2018, August 15). When Self-Care Turns into Self-Sabotage – Great Escape – Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/s/greatescape/when-self-care-turns-into-self-sabotage-489cef9859e5

Wile, R. (2015, June 13). This epic chart shows the average wage for almost every job in America. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/the-average-wage-for-almost-every-job-in-america-2015-6

Women do 4 times more unpaid care work than men in Asia and the Pacific. (2018, June 27). Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/asia/media-centre/news/WCMS_633284/lang–en/index.htm

Intentional Living Grows Through the Bullets of a Journal

journal

Intentional Living Grows Through the Bullets of a Journal?

Capitalism and the Organized Life

H. Bradford

12/3/18

Mao Zedong once wrote that political power grows through the barrel of a gun.  I am no Maoist, but there seems to be a cult growing around the bullet journal.  It is enough to make me wonder if intentional living grows through the bullets of a journal.  It started earlier this year, when I noticed that my coworkers had very elaborate planner books.  I have kept a yearly planner and separate goal book for a few years now, but these books were always utilitarian.  In the books, I very plainly record my schedule and goals throughout the year.  These books were used to track my progress or organize my life.  I never considered the aesthetics of keeping a schedule.  Then, suddenly, it seemed that everyone had fancy books with stickers and colorful pens, in which they tracked the minutiae  of daily living.   It seemed like a lot of work…and a lot of cost…as these planners cost $80, plus various accessories.  Generally, I had been paying less than $10 for my planning supplies.  However, the siren call of stickers, pens, lists, and schedules called me to Michael’s, where I had a 50% off coupon.  I bought my own fancy schedule book, albeit a cheaper version.

Image result for bullet journal

Image stolen from internet.


First of all, I was surprised to find an entire aisle of the store devoted to planner books.  When did this happen?  I only noticed the trend this year, when suddenly everyone had these books.  And now, boom…a whole aisle!   According to the Star Tribune, the first official bullet journal was launched in 2014 by Ryder Carol and today over 281,000 people follow @bulletjournal on Instagram.  The goal of these journals, planners, or notebooks is to live more intentionally (Pearson, 2018).    Bullet journals are particularly popular among millennials,  who on average spend $60-80 on purchases at Appointed, an online store that specializes in paper products such as journals and calendars.  A London based psychologist named Dr. Perpetua Neo (whose name seems like a character from the Matrix or a diabolical machine) posits that millenials like these planners because it gives them a sense of control (something they don’t have much of in the face of wars, unstable economy, debt, etc.) (Babur, 2018).  That is an interesting theory.  Sure, I want control in my own life.  But, what is the end goal?  Why be in control and what must one be in control of?  Common categories for the planning products include finance, goals, health, and spirituality.  For me, I want to be more productive.  In this sense, bullet planners are something akin to Pinterest meets the scientific management of the personal life.  I imagine that if somehow I squeezed out just a little more time from my day, I would be a better person.  It is about control, but it is also about productivity and the self as a project.


Scientific management was method of management developed by Frederick Winslow Taylor in his 1911 book “Principles of Scientific Management.”   The book was based upon lessons learned when he tried to increase the productivity of workers at Bethlehem Steel.  Scientific management involved such things as timing the workers, controlling their movements to improve efficiency, and paying them on the basis of their productive output (Mihm, 2018).  Taylorism is alive and well in workplaces today.  For instance, each time a work place does a time study to increase efficiency, it is following this century old method of increasing worker productivity by cutting superfluous worker activity and establishing benchmarks or output goals.  Amazon warehouse workers have been made to wear bracelets that track how long it takes to fetch items, which they must do each nine seconds (Salame, 2018).    From a Marxist perspective, capitalists try to increase the productivity of workers to increase their profits.  Workers generate profit for capitalists because there is a gap between the wage they are paid and the value of their production, which is called surplus value.  If workers were paid the exact value of their production, there would be no profit.  For instance, at one of my jobs I take photographs of Santa Claus.  This  generates $1000-$2000 of sales each day.  In order to make a profit, the photo company must make sure that wages paid to Santa, the photographer, and the managers is less than $1000-$2000 per day.  Of course, there are other costs as well, such as photo paper, the camera, costumes and uniforms, receipt paper, etc.  These are considered constant capital, that is, they do not generate profit and therefore, while these costs can be cut (such as wasting less photo paper) they are mostly money sinks.  On the other hand, labor is variable capital.  A lot can be done to manipulate variable capital in order to generate more profit.  Wages can be cut, productivity increased, work day lengthened, breaks shortened, staffing deceased, etc.  The matter of profit making is complicated by the fact that things such as competition, the replacement of workers with machines, and the need to invest in new technologies tends to cause profits to decline with time.  That means that inevitably, labor costs have to be cut and the exploitation of workers must be increased to remain profitable.  Scientific management was a way to increase profits by squeezing more productivity from workers.


What does all of this mean for personal lives or have anything to do with planners?  No one profits from how many books I read in a year, how many days a week I work out at the gym, or any number of things I might track in my journal.  However, I believe that the rise of bullet journaling serves capitalism in a number of ways.  For one, it seems that some aspects of bullet journaling apply scientific management to the personal life.  That is, if a person tracks their goals, daily habits, spending, fitness, or other facets of their life in an intentional manner, a person can eke out more productivity.   Productivity is viewed as a virtue in our society.  It is rare to be shamed for being productive or sad because your day was exceptionally productive.  Max Weber argued that the virtue of hard work associated with Protestantism (frugality, discipline, and hard work) were important in fostering the growth of capitalism.  While Marxists look to material conditions and would view these values as a part of the superstructure of a society, these sorts of values certainly play a role in the functioning of an economic system.  Capitalism functions a lot better if the workforce generally values productivity and hard work.  On the other hand, because we are overworked, we have little time for leisure and personal pursuits.  Our free time has to be regimented because it IS in limited supply.   My time sheet for two weeks of work at ONE job was 116 hrs this week.  I have two other part time jobs in addition to this.   My coworkers who lovingly fill out their journals also work multiple jobs.   There is no way for me to read 30 books, see 50 new species of birds, or attend 150 political events a year without some radical scheduling.  My desire for productivity in my personal life is a desire to live as something more than a worker.  My desire to work is the desire to sustain myself and have some extra for living (hobbies, travel, experiences).  The sad thing is that about 8 million Americans have multiple jobs.  Pretty planners might be a way to beautify the prison of work that we find ourselves in until retirement or death removes us from the labor market. No automatic alt text available.

I drew a volcano in my book.


Another aspect of this trend is gender.  These planners are marketed to women.  I was frustrated that the designs for the books, stickers, and other accessories were SO extremely feminine. The planner was full of floral prints, rainbows, unicorns, pastels, You Go Girl, Girl Boss, vapid inspirational words or quotes about being a free spirit or following your dreams, and other traditional gender tripe.  Why can’t planners have skulls, fossils, bats, moths, dark colors, swear words, quotes from revolutionaries, glow in the dark, scratch and sniff, etc.  I want a planner that says I will work until I die or that suicide is always an option.  I don’t need the “Happy Planner” (the brand I bought) since I think “The Scarred by Depression Planner” is a more accurate description of my way of life.  Why do women have to be happy?  What if someone wants “The Angry Planner” wherein you write your goals into little flaming piles of shit?  Anyway, I am sure if these planners remain popular, these products will start to appear (if they haven’t already) to draw more consumers into the market.  However, right now the planners are very traditionally feminine (which isn’t terrible, but just seems narrow and to me, indicates that these planners appeal to white, middle class women with semi-conventional tastes. .  The fact that these planners are marketed to women also indicates some things about society.  One, women don’t have a lot of time!  Planners are a way to manage time, which many women lack due to responsibilities as paid workers and unpaid workers who take care of children, elderly, or adult men by cooking, cleaning, and managing homes.   It also represents the ways in which women feel pressured to view their bodies and selves as an unfinished project.  Tracking diets, exercise, hobbies, goals, etc. are a way to become an ideal woman.

No automatic alt text available.

  I drew a bird.  But will it really be …my year?


Anyway, I bought myself a planner.  I chose one with a travel theme.  I like travel and I want 2019 to be a great year.  I enjoy tracking things and I will admit that I view myself and my life as an unfinished project.  I am never enough.  I will never be enough.  I doubt that a planner will help me feel like a enough, but it might help me squeeze more productivity out of each day.  Or, perhaps it will serve as a memory book of all the things I did or tried to do in 2019.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with creating fun schedule books.  I just think this trend represents a certain way of existing within capitalism and patriarchy.  In previous societies, such a thing might be unthinkable because days, hours, and even linear time are concepts that discipline us into workers…and there was a time long ago when we weren’t workers or at least not the wage workers we are today.    I don’t think bullet journals are some kind of capitalist conspiracy to oppress us.  For people with ADHD it may help organize life in a useful way.  For others, it may be a fun, relaxing, hobby akin to scrap booking or more traditional journaling.  However, I do think that if a person is going to live intentionally, this should also mean intentionally questioning why we must be so productive in the first place and who profits from our sense that we are not enough!  Certainly the companies that make these books profit if they are charging $80 for them!  Health and fitness industries, travel industries, cosmetic industries, magazines, etc. all survive by the insecurities of women who feel they are not enough.  I am not above this.   I am not enough.  And because of that, capitalism will always be able to squeeze just a little more from me at work and at leisure…. No automatic alt text available.


Sources:

Babur, O. (2018, October 22). Bullet journaling is everywhere now. Our love of planners is about our desire for control. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/10/22/17996604/bullet-journal-control-planners-bando-appointed

Mihm, S. (2018, February 23). Amazon’s Labor Tracking Wrist Bands Have a Long History. Retrieved December 3, 2018, from https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-02-23/amazon-s-labor-tracking-wristband-has-a-rich-history-behind-it

Pearson, E. (2018, November 06). Bullet journals go mainstream as more people strive for an ‘intentional life’. Retrieved December 3, 2018, from http://www.startribune.com/bullet-journalists-jot-down-tasks-goals-and-memories-in-hopes-of-planning-a-more-intentional-life/499841641/

Salame, R. (2018, February 20). The New Taylorism. Retrieved from https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/02/amazon-wristband-surveillance-scientific-management

Lessons from World War I

lessons

Lessons from World War I

H. Bradford

11/12/18


November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.  This is a momentous anniversary since our world is still deeply influenced by the outcome of World War I.  Yet, in the United States, World War I is not a popular war to learn about. It is not a war that American students love to learn about in the same way the they love World War II, with its villains and seemingly black and white struggle against fascism.  Despite its impact on world history, it does not lend itself as many movies and documentaries. When it does, for instance in the popular Wonder Woman film released in 2017, it is warped to resemble World War II to make itself more interesting to American audiences.  Of course, World War I is important in its own right and offers important historical lessons. As an activist, it is useful to examine the struggle against World War I, as it was a crucible that tested the ideological mettle of revolutionaries and activists.


World War I- An Introduction


World War I is significant for its brutality, industrialized warfare, and for reshaping the globe.  The brutality of the war is massive stain on the blood soaked histories of all imperialist nations. As a low estimate, over 8.5 million combatants died in the war with 21 million wounded and up to 13 million civilian casualties.  The nations that went to war were criminal in their barbaric sacrifice of millions of soldiers. For instance, the Russian Empire sent troops into battle armed only with axes, no wire cutters, and without boots. Early in the war, of an army corps of 25,000 soldiers, only one returned to Russia, as the rest were either killed or taken prisoner.  In the first month of the war alone, 310,000 Russians were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. On several occasions, British soldiers were ordered to advance against German trenches, which only resulted in massive bloodshed as they faced machine gun fire and tangled miles of barbed wire fences. When forced to march against the trenches at Loos, 8,000 of 10,000 British soldiers were killed for a gain of less than two miles of occupied territory.  In the first two years of the war, Britain had 250,000 dead soldiers for the gain of eight square miles. At the Battle of Verdun, 90,000 British soldiers perished in six weeks. At the Battle of Somme, 57,000 British troops perished in one day and 19,000 in one hour alone. The fighting continued even after the Armistice was signed on 11/11/18, as it was signed at 5 am, but did not go into effect until 11 am. In the twilight between war and peace, 2,738 soldiers died and 8,000 were wounded.  The scope of this senseless bloodshed seems unfathomable. The scale of human suffering was magnified by industrial methods of war. World War I saw new weapons, such as tanks, airplanes, giant guns mounted on trains, machine guns (which had been used in previous conflicts such as the Boer war), aerial bombings from zeppelins, submarines, and poison gas. Barbed wire was also a recent invention, which secured the defensive lines of both sides, ensuring a bloody stalemate. The conflict itself resulted in the collapse of empires and the division of colonial spoils (Hochschild, 2011).  

 


Almost everyone who has taken a history class remembers the tired narrative that World War I began in June 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his pregnant wife, Sofia in Sarajevo by the Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip.  This unleashed a chain of events wherein Russia vowed to protect Serbia against an Austro-Hungarian invasion. In turn, Austro-Hungary sought to ally itself with Germany against Russia and France vowed to ally itself with Russia against Germany.  Britain justified entering the war on behalf of poor, innocent, neutral, little Belgium (which just years prior was neither poor, innocent, or neutral in King Leopold II’s genocidal rubber extraction from the Congo Free State), a strategic passage for German troops invading France.  The narrative goes that World War I was born from the anarchy of alliances. Of course, the causes of the war are far more profound than upkeeping treaties and national friendships. This method of framing the war as a domino of effect treaties renders the possibility of resisting the war invisible.  It also ignores that these treaties themselves were the outcome of imperialist countries volleying for power.


For historical context, there were massive changes in Europe during the 1800s.  On one hand, the 1800s saw the accelerating decline of the Ottoman Empire, which had been considered the sickman of Europe in terms of empires since it lost at the Battle of Vienna in 1683.  Wars and independence movements of the 1800s shrank Ottoman territory as countries such as Greece, Serbia, Egypt, Bulgaria, and later Albania, became independent. The Ottoman Empire was strained by internal debate over modernizing or harkening back to bygone times.  The century saw the disbanding of the Janissaries, defeat in the Russo-Turkish war, and the revolt of the Young Turks. The Russo-Turkish War saw the establishment of independent Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria. The Treaty of Berlin awarded Bosnia to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which upset Serbians and inspired the formation of the Black Hand, which fought for reunification with Bosnia as well as unification with other areas populated by Serbians.  The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire created territorial concerns as newly emerging countries such as Serbia, Bulgaria, and Albania sought to establish boundaries at the expense of one another. The Balkan Wars fought just prior to the start of WWI came out of these territorial disputes. Thus, the Ottoman entry into WWI on the side of Germany and Austro-Hungary was largely in the interest of retaking lost territories. Likewise, Bulgaria joined the conflict on the side of the Central Powers with the hope of regaining territory lost in the 1913 Balkan War, namely southern Macedonia and Greece (Jankowski, 2013).


While Ottomans were in decline, Germany and Russia were struggling for ascendancy.  The 1800s saw the formation of the German state, an outcome of the 1866 war between Prussia and Austro-Hungary and the Germanification of people within this territory under Kaiser Wilhelm II.  The 1800s also saw Germany’s entry into the imperialist conquest of the world as it sought to colonize places such as modern day Namibia, Botswana, Cameroon, Rwanda, Burundi, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands, etc (Jankowski, 2013).  It should also be noted that Germany was 50% larger than its present size with one of Europe’s strongest economies (Hochschild, 2011). The Russian Empire saw its own economy growing with the expansion of railroads and a population twice the size of Germany’s (Hochschild, 2011).  Although Russia was hobbled in the 19th century by serfdom and slow industrialization, it won the Russo-Turkish War only to see its gains reversed by the Treaty of Berlin. It was further humiliated by the loss of a 1905 war against Japan and held on to brutal Tsarist autocracy at the cost of hundreds of lives in the face of protests for bread and labor reforms that same year.  The 1800s was also a time of Russian imperial expansion into Central Asia and the Caucasus, with interest in expansion as far as India, much to the chagrin of Britain. After losing the 1905 war with Japan, Russia began to expand and modernize its military, which led to Germany doing the same for fear of being eclipsed (Jankowski, 2013). This drive for global conquest and for gobbling up the shrinking territories is again related to imperialism.


German colonies at the turn of the century


Prior to the outbreak of World War I, European powers expected that war was inevitable.  British and French officials were expecting Germany to go to war with Russia after Russia’s 1905 uprising.  In 1894, France and Russia entered an alliance with one another that if one was attacked by Germany, the other would declare war on Germany to ensure a war on two fronts.  France had lost territory (Alsace and Lorraine) in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, so there was a strong desire for revenge among nationalists who wanted to go to war with Germany to reclaim lost land (Tuchman, 1990).  Between 1908 and 1913, the arms expenses of the six largest countries of Europe increased by 50% and 5-6% of national budgets were devoted to military spending (Hochschild, 2011). For nine years, Britain and France strategized what a German attack would look like and duly prepared.  Belgian had been created as a neutral state in 1830 with Britain a strong proponent of neutrality to secure itself from invasion. In 1913, Germans helped to reorganize the Ottoman Army, which upset Russia. France and Germany had each developed their own war plans, such as France’s Plan 17 and Germany’s Schlieffen Plan (Tuchman, 1990).  Even in popular culture in the years leading up to the war, German invasion became a fiction genre. For example, the Daily Mail ran a novel called The Invasion of 1910, which depicted a German invasion of the East coast of England (Hochschild, 2011).   

     

 

WWI and Imperialism


From a Marxist perspective, the primary cause of World War I was imperialism.  Imperialism was the linchpin of the anti-war socialist analysis of World War I, a topic which we be explored in greater detail in the next section.  The main proponent of this perspective was Vladimir Lenin, who drew his analysis of imperialism from the writings of Rosa Luxemburg, who wrote The Accumulation of Capital and Nikolai Bukharin, who wrote Imperialism and the World Economy.  Lenin also developed his theory based upon economist John Hobson’s Imperialism: A Study and Marxist economist Rudolf Hilferding’s Financial Capital (Nation, 1989).  According to Lenin, imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism, characterized by such things as monopoly capital, a monopoly of large banks and financial institutions, the territorial partition of the world, the economic partition of the world by cartels, and the control of raw materials by trusts and the financial oligarchy.  Lenin characterized imperialism resulting from a trend towards the concentration of productive power. That is, imperialism features fewer companies with larger worker forces and greater production. To him, the movement towards the monopolization of capital occurred following a series of economic crises in capitalism in 1873 and 1900 (2005)  The fusion of capital into larger blocs was an important characteristic of capitalism observed by Karl Marx.   It occurred when larger capitalists destroying smaller ones and through the union of smaller capital into larger ones, a process mediated by banks and stock markets. Once there were fewer firms on the playing field, they often united into cartels or agreements to limit competition and divide the market.  Banks also became concentrated into fewer powerful banks, which melded with industrial capital and the state (Patniak, 2014). On one hand, imperialism provided the advantage that it increased economic organization, planning, and efficiency, which were economic characteristics that Lenin theorized might serve a transition to socialism. On the other hand, imperialism also resulted in less innovation, stagnation, and an unevenness in concentrations of capital.  This unevenness created contradictions in the development of cities versus rural areas, heavy versus light industry, gaps between rich and poor, and gaps between colonies and colonizers. These contradictions created systemic instability in the long run, which cartels could only temporarily stave off (Nation, 1989).


Imperialism resulted in increased competition of state supported monopolies for markets and raw materials.  World War I was the result of partitioning the world. In this context, workers were given the choice between fighting for their own national monopolies or making revolution.  Lenin believed that workers should turn imperialist war into a civil war against capitalism. This was in contrast to social democrats who wanted workers to fight for their nations or Kautsky who felt workers should defend their nations, but not fight on the offensive.  Kautsky had postulated that the world was in a state of ultra imperialism, which would actually result in greater peace and stability as the stakes of war were higher. Rosa Luxemburg believed that capitalism had not yet reached every corner of the globe, so revolution was not yet possible.  Thus, there was debate over the nature of imperialism within the socialist movement. To Lenin, imperialism allowed the prospect of revolution in both advanced and colonized countries, since colonized countries were brought into imperialist wars as soldiers (Nation, 1989). For instance, 400,000 African forced laborers died in the war for Great Britain.  The first use of poison gas in the war was in April 1915 and the first victims were French troops from North Africa who observed the greenish yellow mist of chlorine, then succumbed to coughing blood and suffocation. Although the horror of zeppelin bombs fell on Britain in May 1915, the first use of zeppelin bombings was actually by Spain and France before the war, to punish Moroccans for uprising.  And while Britain justified the war as a matter of self-determination for Belgium, they crushed self-determination for Ireland when 1,750 Irish nationalists rose up in 1916 for independence. Britain sent troops there, eventually out numbering the nationalists 20 to 1. Fifteen of leaders of the uprising were shot, including James Connolly who was already wounded when executed and had to be tied to a chair to be shot (Hochschild, 2011).  Further, while the European arena is given more historical attention, battles were fought in colonies as well. In 1916 in south-west Tanzania, Germany fought the the British with an army of about 15,000. Of this number, 12,000 were Africans- who fought other Africans fighting on behalf of the British. Because the borders were created by Europeans and did not represent cultural, historical, or tribal lands, these African soldiers sometimes had to fight members of their family.  More than one million East Africans died in World War I (Masebo, 2015). France enlisted 200,000 West Africans to fight on their behalf in the war, calling them Senegalese tirailleurs, even though they came from various West African countries. These soldiers were forcibly recruited, then promised benefits that they were later denied (AFP, 2018). Colonies were inextricably linked, economically and militarily, to imperialist war efforts. Thus, in addition to blaming imperialism for the outbreak of World War I, Lenin postulated that the national struggle of oppressed nationalities was part of the larger struggle against imperialism.     

From Forgotten African Battlefields of WWI, CNN


Lenin noted that by 1900, 90% of African territory was controlled by European powers, in contrast to just over 10% in 1876.  Polynesia was 98% controlled by European powers compared to 56% in 1876. As of 1900, the world was almost entirely divided between major European powers with the only possibility of redivision.  Between 1884 and 1900, France, Britain, Belgium, Portugal, and Germany saw accelerated expansion of their overseas territories. He quoted Cecil Rhode, who saw imperialism as necessary for creating markets for goods and opportunities for surplus British population (Lenin, 2005).  By the time World War I began, the banqueting table of capitalists was full. World War I was a means to redistribute these imperialist spoils. Germany sought to test its power against that of Britain and France. To Lenin, one side or the other had to relinquish colonies (Lenin, War and Revolution, 2005).  Indeed, World War I resulted in a re-division of the world. The war saw the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, whose territories were divided among the victors. For instance, Syria and Lebanon became French protectorates and Britain took control of Mesopotamia, most of the Arabian peninsula, and Palestine. The United States, a latecomer to the war, cemented its position as a world power.  The defeat of Germany resulted in the redistribution of German colonies, such as German East Africa to Britain, part of Mozambique to Portugal, the division of Cameroon between British and French, and the formation of Ghana and Togo under British and French control, respectively. Even New Zealand and Australia gained control of German Pacific island territories German Samoa, German New Guinea, and Nauru.  Various states came out of the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire, including Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, The Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and the Kingdom of Romania.  Of course, revolution destroyed the Russian Empire before the conclusion of the war, resulting in the independence of Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. Poland was constructed of territories lost by Russian, German, and Austro-Hungarian Empires.        


Socialist Resistance to World War I


Like all wars, there was resistance to World War I.  A group that would have been well positioned to resist the outbreak of the war was the socialist movement.  However, in August 1914, various socialists in Britain, France, Germany, and Austro-Hungary sided with their national governments in participating in World War I (Partington, 2013).  For some context, the Second International was a loose federation of socialist groups which arose out of the collapse of the First International in 1876 over debates related to anarchy led by Bukharin.  Between its founding in 1889 to the outbreak of World War I, the Second International saw success in terms of rising standards of living for workers, mass popularity, and electoral success that brought socialists into various governments.  One the eve of the war, there were three million socialist party members in Germany, one million in France, and a half million in Great Britain and Austria-Hungary respectively (Nation, 1989). The German Socialist Party was the largest party in the the German legislature.  Even in the United States, where socialism was less popular, socialist candidate Eugene Debs garnered 900,000 votes in his 1912 presidential bid (Hochschild, 2011). During this time period, socialists of the Second International certainly had opportunities to debate war, as there was the Balkan Wars, Boer Wars, Italy’s invasion of Libya, and war between Russia and Japan.  However, the international failed to develop a cohesive anti-war strategy. As World War I approached, socialists made some efforts to organize against it. For instance, in July 1914 socialists organized modest anti-war protests and there were strikes in St. Petersburg (Nation, 1989) and strikes involving over a million workers in Russia earlier in the year. In July 1914, socialist leaders such as Kerrie Hardie, the working class Scottish socialist parliamentarian from Great Britain, Jean Jaures, the French historian and parliamentarian from the French Section of the Workers International, and Rosa Luxemburg, the Jewish Polish Marxist theorist from the German Socialist Party (SPD), met in Brussels for a Socialist Conference to discuss the impending war.  Hardie vowed to call for a general strike should Britain enter a war. Jaures spoke before 7,000 Belgian workers calling for a war on war. Unfortunately, Jaures was assassinated in Paris shortly after this meeting by a nationalist zealot. Nevertheless, there were trade union and leftist organized marches in Trafalgar Square in London against the war, where Hardie again called for a general strike against war (Hochschild, 2011). Despite these agitational efforts, the fate of the international was sealed when on August 4th the German SPD voted for emergency war allocations. Socialists in other European countries followed suit, adopted a “defensist” position in which they opted to suspend class struggle in the interest of defending their nations (Nation, 1989).  Only 14 of 111 SPD deputies voted against war allocations (Hoschild, 2011). The fact that the majority of socialists supported the war shattered The Second International, which over the course of the war saw the decline of socialist party membership. For instance, Germany’s SPD lost 63% of its membership between 1914-1916 (Nation, 1989). With millions of members in all of the belligerent countries, positions of political power, and union support, socialists had the power to stop the war.  Putting nationalism before internationalism was one of the greatest failures of socialists.

Rosa Luxemburg


Not all socialists agreed with the defensist position and during the course of the war they formed an small opposition within the Second International, a segment of which would eventually became the Third International and Communist Party.  This opposition had diverse views, ranging from the Menshevik position that socialists should call for neither victory nor defeat of imperialist powers to Lenin’s position of revolutionary defeatism. As her SPD counterparts were calling for war allocations, Rosa Luxemburg called a meeting at her apartment to oppose the war and strategize how to shore up an anti-war opposition within the party.  After this meeting, Karl Liebknecht campaigned around Europe with the slogans that “The Main Enemy is at Home”, “Civil War Not Civil Truce” and echoing Jaures, a call to “Wage War Against War.” They shared a further left position in the party that the only way to end the war was to make revolution. However, both Luxemburg and Liebknecht were arrested in February 1915 (Nation, 1989).

  

Another early mobilization of socialists against the war was a Women’s International Conference first proposed by Inessa Armand, representing the left faction of the anti-war socialists and organized by Clara Zetkin, who was a centrist within the anti-defensist opposition.  Zetkin’s centrist anti-defensist position emphasized peace over making revolution (Nation, 1989). After writing An appeal to Socialist Women of All Countries, Zetkin organized the March 1915 Women’s International Conference in neutral Berne, Switzerland for anti-war socialist women.  Although she was not as quick to place blame on the socialists for supporting their governments nor emphasize the need for revolution, Clara Zetkin had a long history of  anti-war credentials. She was the secretary of the Women’s Socialist International and which she founded in 1907. She was also one of the founders of International Women’s Day.  She was a vocal opponent of British war against Boers in South Africa, articulating this position on a May Day speech in 1900. Later, she was an opponent of the First Balkan War and warned that it could develop into a war between greater European powers (Partington, 2013).  

Clara Zetkin


The Women’s International Conference was attended by 28 delegates from 8 countries, who developed resolutions on such things as an immediate end to the war, peace without humiliating conditions on any nation, and reparations for Belgium.  A manifesto based upon the conference was published later in June. Again, slogans such as “war on war” and “peace without conquest or annexations” were called for. The role of financial interests such as the arms industry was spotlighted as well as how capitalists used patriotism to dupe workers into fighting in the war and weakening socialism.  Russian delegates voted to amend this resolution to clearly blame socialists who had collaborated with capitalist governments and called for women to join illegal revolutionary association to advance the overthrow of capitalism. This amendment was rejected as it was viewed as divisive and called for illegal activity. The British delegation added a amendment that condemned price increases and wage decreases during the war and which welcomed other anti-war activists to join them in struggle.  The second part of this resolution was not passed (Partington, 2013). The conference was significant because it was the first anti-war conference attended by representatives from belligerent nations. The conference also set the stage for the Zimmerwald conference, which sought to better organize the opposition within the Second International towards ending the war, reforming the international, or abandoning it (Nation, 1989).

     

The Zimmerwald Conference began on September 11, 1915 in a small swiss village of Zimmerwald under the auspices that it was the meeting of an Ornithological Society.  The conference was attended by 38 individuals from 11 countries. The conference is more famous for its male attendees such as Trotsky, Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek, and Martov.  However, several women attended including Henriette Roland-Holst a poet and Social Democratic Party member from the Netherlands, Angelica Balanoff of the Italian Socialist Party, Bertha Thalheimer and Minna Reichert of the SPD in Germany.  Henriette Roland-Holst went on to oversee the creation of Der Verbote, a journal which served as a mouthpiece for the ideas of the conference. Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg were in prison at the time.  The conference manifesto blamed the cause of the war on imperialism, demanded an immediate end to the war, peace without annexations, and the restoration of Belgium.  Clara Zetkin was actually against the conference because she viewed it as sectarian. A point of contention at the conference was the nature of self-determination. Lenin and the Bolsheviks supported self-determination for oppressed nationalities.  Rosa Luxemburg, not in attendance, felt that this was a distraction and that national liberation was impossible under imperialism. Lenin argued that national struggle complimented socialist struggle. Another point of contention was whether or not to break with the Second International.  Since defenism was still the majority position among socialists, most members of the opposition feared breaking with the international as it would mean being part of a smaller, less viable organization. Rosa Luxemburg disagreed that it was a matter that the organization should decide from within, but should be a worker initiative (Nation, 1989).


The socialist movement continued to debate strategies and the nature of the war throughout the war.  As the war continued, anti-war actions increased. For instance, in July 1916, 60,000 soldiers died in a single day at the Battle of Somme.  In the first six months of 1916 alone, here were one million war casualties. It is unsurprising that in May 1916, 10,000 people protested in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin.  The protest was organized by Rosa Luxemburg’s socialist organization, The Spartacist League. There were also strikes and demonstrations in Leipzig that year (Nation, 1989).  In 1916, 200,000 people signed a petition for peace in Britain (Hochschild, 2011). Of course, the most dramatic event was the strike of workers at the Putilov Arms factory on the 3rd of March, 1917.  This spiraled into a general strike in Petrograd, the mutiny of the army, and the abdication of the throne after three hundred years of Romanov rule. The February Revolution in Russia resulted in a Provisional Government.  In the months that followed, there were mutinies in France and Germany, general strikes and protests across Europe (Nation, 1989). Following the February revolution, 12,000 Londoners rallied in solidarity with the Russians and activists began organizing soviets.  In April 1917, there were mutinies in France, wherein soldiers waved red flags, sang the international, and in one case, soldiers hijacked a train and went back to Paris. French troops were diverted from the front to French cities to quell rebellion. At least 30 French army division created soviets.  In Russia, the army fell apart as a million soldiers deserted (Hochschild, 2011). The February revolution strengthened the Bolshevik position within the Zimmerwald left, but it took a second revolution, with the Bolsheviks assumption of power to end the war, as the Provisional Government lacked the political will to exit the war (Nation, 1989).  

February Revolution in Petrograd


The new Bolshevik government announced an armistice on December 15, 1918 and sent a delegation to meet the Germans at Brest-Litovsk fortress.  The delegation consisted of a woman, soldier, sailor, peasant, worker, and at least two Jewish men, all chosen to represent the new society in Russia.  The peasant in the delegation, Stashkov, was pulled from the street randomly, but happened to be a leftist.  He had never had wine before the meeting and had the unfortunate habit of calling his fellow delegates “barin” or master. The female delegate, Anastasia Bitsenko, made the German delegates, all from the higher echelons of German society, uneasy, as she had just returned from Siberia after a seven year imprisonment for assassinating the Russian Minister of War.  Together, these enemies in terms of class, ideology, and war feasted uneasily in honor of the Russian exit from the conflict (Hochschild, 2011). The terms of this exit were settled by a peace treaty in March 1918, which set the conditions of Russia’s exited the World War I at the cost of territorial concessions to Germany. The armistice between the countries antagonized Russia’s allies (Nation, 1989).  Russia’s end to the war meant that Germany could devote an addition half million soldiers to the Western Front. It also resulted in more unrest in the warring countries as activists were emboldened by the Russian revolution and immiserated by the ongoing war. Throughout the war, Germany was blockaded by the Allies, which led to food shortages. German troops were reduced to eating turnips and horse meat and civilians ate dogs and cats.  Real wages in Germany declined by half during the war. In turn, German submarines downed over 5,000 allied merchant ships, sending 47,000 tons of meat to the bottom of the sea in the first half of 1917 alone. By 1918, war cost made up 70% of Britain’s GDP. 100,000 workers protested in Manchester against food shortages. In July, rail workers in Britain went on strike. Even the police went on strike for two days, as 12,000 London police walked off the job (Hochschild, 2011).  


Lenin had pinned his hopes on revolution spreading across the world.  Considering the mutinies, desertions, strikes, and protests in 1918, this does not seem entirely far fetched.  British military officials even considered making peace with Germany as a way to contain the threat of the Russian spreading revolution elsewhere.  March 1918 saw the founding congress of the Communist Party and the Third International, the final break from the Second International. That same year, there were soviets formed in Germany and a sailor mutiny wherein the sailors raised the red flag. 400,000 Berlin workers went on strike in January 1918 demanding peace, a people’s republic, and workers rights (Hochschild, 2011).  Revolutions were attempted in Bavaria, Hungary, Braunschweig, and Berlin. Revolutionaries captured the Kaiser’s palace in Berlin and declared a socialist republic. The Berlin Revolution led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnecht’s Spartacist League was crushed by Social Democratic Party of Germany in alliance with the German Supreme Command (Nation, 1989). Both revolutionaries were captured, tortured, and executed. The SPD, which had led the member parties of the Second International to side with their belligerent governments, went on to crush other uprisings across Germany, taking its place in the Weimar Republic that followed.  Suffice to say, the chasm in the socialist movement that began in 1914 had become an irreparable trench of millions dead and the graves of revolutionaries.


Other Resistance to World War I:   


The debates and division within the the socialist movement is certainly an interesting aspect of how war was resisted or failed to be resisted.  However, there were many other groups involved in resisting World War One. Another natural source of resistance against World War I might have been anarchists, however, like the socialist movement, the anarchist movement split over how to react to the war.  A number of leading anarchists, including Peter Kropotkin, signed the Manifesto of the Sixteen in 1916, which argued that victory over the Central Powers was necessary. The manifesto encouraged anarchists to support the Allies.  Kropotkin’s support of the Allies may have been the result of a desire to defend France as a progressive country with a revolutionary tradition.  To him, defense of France was a defense of the French Revolution. His approach to the war was pragmatic. He felt that any uprising against the war would be small and easily crushed and that there was a responsibility to defend the country from aggression.  He viewed Germany as particularly militaristic. The year that the Manifesto of the Sixteen was written was particularly brutal and saw the beginning of British conscription (Adams and Kinna, 2017).


Not all anarchists were as lost on the issue of war as Kropotkin, for instance, Emma Goldman believed that the state had no right to wage war, drafts were illegimate and coercive, and wars were fought by capitalists at the expense of workers.  As the United States moved towards war in 1916, she began using her magazine, Mother Earth, to espouse anti-war ideas.  Once the United States entered the war, she launched the No-Conscription League.  Subsequently, her magazine was banned and she was arrested on June 15, 1917 along with her comrade, Alexander Berkman (War Resistance, Anti-Militarism, and Deportation, 1917-1919, n.d.).  Before she was arrested, Goldman had planned on curtailing anti-conscription speeches, as speakers and attendees of her meetings were harassed by soldiers and police. She was arrested for violating the Selective Service Act, which was passed five days before her arrest.  The New York Times covered her arrest and trial, blaming her for two riots that had occurred at her meetings.  However, the reports of riots were overblown, as the meetings themselves were peaceful until disrupted by police and soldiers who demanded to see draft registration cards from attendees. Goldman did her best to use the trial as a platform for her ideas, arguing that she didn’t actually tell men not to register for the draft, as according to her anarchist beliefs she supported the right of individuals to make their own choices.  She also framed her organizing as part of an American tradition of protest and that democracy should not fear frank debate. Despite her efforts of defending herself and ideas, she was sentenced to the maximum sentence of two years (Kennedy, 1999). Upon serving her sentence at Missouri State Penitentiary, she was deported in December 1919 along with other radicals (War Resistance, Anti-Militarism, and Deportation, 1917-1919, n.d.).  Interestingly, Goldman had gained U.S. citizenship when she married Jacob Kershner in 1887, but he had his citizenship revoked in 1909. According to the laws at the time, a wife’s citizenship was contingent on the husband’s. Thus, she was deported based upon the citizenship of her dead husband.

Emma Goldman


European anarcho-syndicalists experienced the same split socialists did, as many came out in support of defensism (Nation, 1989).  In the United States, The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was the target of propaganda from the Wilson administration, which claimed that they were agents of the kaiser who were trying to sabotage the U.S. war effort (Richard, 2012).  The IWW is an international union with ties to both the socialist and anarchist movements. While not specifically anacho-syndicalist, the IWW was founded several anarcho-syndicalists such as Lucy Parsons and William Trautman. Because the IWW was trying to organize industries important to the war such as mining, lumber, and rubber, they were targeted with Red Scare tactics.  To avoid persecution, the leadership of the IWW refrained from taking a public stance against the war, but members were free to critique the war. This tactic did not work and in September 1917, the Department of Justice raided 48 IWW halls and arrested 165 members, some of whom had not been active for years (Richard, 2012). One of the members who was arrested as Loiuse Olivereau, who at the time was an anarchist IWW secretary.  After the raid of an IWW office that she worked at, she went to the Department of Justice to have some of her property returned. Among this property were anti-war fliers, which were a violation of the Espionage Act. Like Goldman, she went to trial and tried to make a political defense. She defended herself and her ideas, arguing that wartime repression and zealous nationalism were not “American” values. She appealed to plurality and nationalism based upon internationalism.  In her pamphlets, she had emphasized that men who avoided war were not cowards, but brave for living by their convictions. The media gave little attention to her arguments, instead portraying her as a radical foreigner with dangerous ideas, as Goldman had been portrayed (Kennedy, 1999). IWW members who were not arrested faced vigilante justice from lynch mobs. For instance, Frank Little was disfigured and hung from a railroad trestle in Butte, Montana. In 1919, Wesley Everest was turned over to a mob by prison guards in Centralia, Washington.  He had his teeth knocked out with a rifle butt, was lynched three times, and shot. The coroner deemed the death a suicide (Richard, 2012).


In addition to anarchists and socialists, suffragists were another group of activists with an interest in anti-war organizing.  In addition to the March 1915 socialist women’s conference, there was a much larger women’s gathering at The Hague in the Netherlands.  April 1915 conference brought over 1300 delegates together and was organized by suffragists under the leadership of Jane Addams. It was mostly attended by middle class, professionals though representatives from trade unions and the Hungarian Agrarian union was also in attendance.  Like the socialist movement, the suffragist movement was divided between those who supported their governments and those who were anti-war. For instance, the International Suffrage Alliance did not support the Hague conference. Invitations to the conference put forth the position that the war should be ended peacefully and that women should be given the right to vote.  Attendance was difficult, since it meant crossing war torn countries or asking for travel documents, which was often denied (Blasco and Magallon, 2015). Attending the conference was itself illegal and all 28 delegates from Germany were arrested upon their return. 17 of the 20 British delegates were refused passage by ship when they tried to leave Britain (Hochschild, 2011).  Like the socialist conference, the The Hague conference made a resolution that territorial gains or conquests should not be recognized, though it put the onus of ending the war on neutral countries rather than working people. There was no call for a “war on war” but for mediation, justice, and diplomacy through a Society of Nations. Some of the points of this resolution were adopted by Woodrow Wilson in his 14 Points (Blasco and Magallon, 2015).


The sentiment of The Hague Conference, which focused on progressive internationalism, was echoed by the Women’s Peace Party before the war.  In 1914, 1,500 women marched against World War I in New York. Fannie Garrison Villard, Crystal Eastman, and Madeleine Z Doty organized the first all-female peace organization, The Women’s Peace Party.  After the end of the war, the Women’s Peace Party became the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (Jensen, 2014). Despite the peaceful orientation, the WPP also promised to defend America from foreign enemies and worked to get Woodrow Wilson elected in 1916.  They also framed their peace work as a matter of maternal duty as nurturers. Irrespective of their patriotic politics, they were critiqued for being too nurturing or feminine, as this was viewed by men as having a negative and weakening effect on the public sphere (Kennedy, 1999).  At the same time, it seems contradictory that a peace party would support national defense. However, supporting the U.S. war effort might be viewed as an extension of the interest of middle class white women in finding increased state power through voting. The war sharpened the differences between radical and reformist suffragists.  The New York State Suffragist Party argued that the Silent Sentinels protest outside of the White House was harassing the government during a time of national stress (Women’s Suffrage and WWI, n.d). Even before the United States entered the war, The National American Woman Suffrage Association wrote a letter to Woodrow Wilson pledging the services of two million suffragists.  The letter appeared in the New York Times and promised that the suffragists would remain loyal to the war effort by encouraging women to volunteer in industries left vacant by men at war and collect medical supplies and rations (The History Engine, n.d.). The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) engaged in patriotic volunteering, but they did not abandon organizing for the vote.  NAWSA’s president, Carrie Chapman Catt was a pacifist, but supported the war effort by promoting Liberty Loans, Red Cross drives, and War Savings Stamps. Around the country, suffragists supported the war effort by planting victory gardens, food conservation, Red Cross and volunteering. The National Women’s Party took a more radical approach, and during the war 200 of them picketed the White House and were arrested, went on hunger strikes, and were forcibly fed.  In the United States, women finally won the right to vote in 1920, but this mostly impacted white women as Native American women were not U.S. citizens until 1924 and first generation Asian women were not granted the right to vote until after World War II (Jensen, 2014).

         

Silent Sentinels who protested outside the White House during WWI


The divide in the suffragist movement is illustrated in the Pankhurst family.  Sylvia Pankhurst, was a British suffragist who with her mother Emmaline and sisters, Christabel and Adela, founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) (Miles and McGregor, 1993). Emmaline Pankhurst, the matriarch of the family, became engaged in politics after working with poor women to collect data on illegitimate births. She noted that many of these births were caused by rape and also took issue with the fact that female teachers in Manchester made less than their male counterparts.  Thus, sexual assault and the wage gap have a long been observed as social problems by feminists. The WPSU did not allow male members, though they infiltrated meetings of the Liberal Party to demand voting rights. The WSPU eventually split over the issue of whether or not they should support candidates. Emmaline Pankhurst was against this, as all of the candidates at the time were male. Charlotte Despards, a novelist, charitable organizer, Poor Law Board member, and proponent of Indian and Irish independence, was for supporting candidates, as she was a supporter of the Independent Labor Party.  Despards went on to found the Women’s Freedom League (Hochschild, 2011). Again, male membership and supporting male candidates are still issues that modern feminist groups consider.


The WSPU was the most radical of the British suffragist groups and it engaged in arson, window breaking, and bomb attacks (Miles and McGregor, 1993).  The WSPU burned the orchid house at Kew Gardens, smashed a jewel case at the Tower of London, burned a church, and carved out “No Votes, No Golf” on a golf green (Hochschild, 2011).  Due to these activities, suffragists were imprisoned and Sylvia herself was arrested nine times between 1913 and 1914. To protest imprisonment, they went on hunger strikes and had to be forcibly fed.  Sylvia was expelled from the WSPU for socialist beliefs and founded the East London Federation of Suffragists. Despite their extreme tactics, Emmaline and Christabel became less radical at the outbreak of World War I and ceased their radical tactics, instead supporting the war and handing out white feathers to shame men to who didn’t enlist to fight (Miles and McGregor, 1993).  The eldest sister, Christabel traveled to the United States to drum up support for the war. Most British suffragists supported the war effort, which may seem surprising as many had earlier denounced war, gender essentializing it as a masculine endeavor. This turn towards national defense over voting rights was strategic, as it did offer mainstream legitimacy to suffragists who had otherwise been arrested and persecuted.  Even the author Rudyard Kipling had expressed concern that the women’s suffrage movement weakened Britain, making it less prepared for war. The WSPU organized a march of 60,000 women, though not against war. The march was to encourage women to buy shells. Perhaps due to their compliance in the war and part because the Russian revolution had granted universal suffrage, women were granted the right to vote in Britain in 1919 (Hochschild, 2011).  


As for Sylvia, one of the few anti-war suffragists, she organized ELFS to set of free clinics to mothers and children, a free day care, a Cost Price restaurant, and a toy factory for fundraising.  She supported strikes against conscription, the Defense of the Realm Act, protested the execution of James Connolly, and her group was the only British suffragist organization which continued to organize for the vote during the war (Miles and McGregor, 1993).  She had even suggested that an anti-war march of 1,000 women should occur in the no man’s land between enemy lines. Throughout the war, she documented the suffering of women, noting that women were forced out of hospital beds to make room for soldiers or struggle to survive on the military pay of their husbands.  The wives of deserters received no pension from the government and women were subjected to curfews to avoid cheating and faced imprisonment if they had a venereal disease and had sex with a soldier (Hochschild, 2011).

Sylvia Pankhurst


In 1916, the organization changed its name to the Workers Suffrage Federation and in 1918 to the Workers Socialist Federation.  It was the first British organization to affiliate with the Third International and she herself articulated that while women could win the vote under capitalism, they could achieve liberation.  She was arrested for sedition in 1920 for urging British sailors to mutiny over poor conditions and for dock workers to resist loading arms to be used by Russian counterrevolutionaries. While in prison, the Workers Socialist Federation joined the Communist Party.  She never joined the Communist Party herself and was critical of the New Economic Program (Miles and McGregor, 1993). Sylvia never joined the party, but paid a visit to the Soviet Union, which impressed her. She continued her activism throughout her life, warning about the rise of fascism and drawing attention to Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia.  She eventually moved to Ethiopia, where she died at the age of 74.


Conclusion:


Resistance to World War I in many ways seems like a series of stunning betrayals.  The socialists, which had the power to stop the war, sided with their national governments at the cost of millions of lives.  The hardships of war created the conditions for unrest in many countries, but it was only in Russia where revolution was successful (at a high cost and with lasting consequences to the shape the new society).  Suffragists, like socialists, sided with their national governments. This Faustian deal, in some ways, secured the right to vote. Today, women can vote to send women to kill other women in war, just as socialists voted for the money to arm workers to fight other workers.  Anarchists were also fractured by the war, when this group seemed the most ideologically unlikely to side with government war mongering! At the same time, activists of all of these groups made hard choices. Anti-war socialists found themselves unable to organize workers early in the war due to their small numbers and the swell of nationalism and prejudices.  Any activist organizing against the war faced imprisonment in beligerant countries, and Emma Goldman, Clara Zetkin, and Rosa Luxemburg among many more were arrested. Some activists faced mob justice and death. Still, there are some lessons to be drawn from all of this. A major lesson is the importance of unwavering internationalism. Another lesson is to take a long, principled view of power.  Suffragists abandoned their organizing in the interest of legitimacy and national power. In doing so, they made powerful allies, but they also took their place in the state apparatus that oppresses of women. So too, socialists, who enjoyed popularity and a share of state power, crushed other socialists and supported the violent, senseless slaughter of workers to maintain their place in capitalism.  Activists should always stand against imperialism and in solidarity with all of the oppressed people of the world.  Doing this may mean standing in the minority or at the margins of history making, but it may also mean keeping alive the idea that a better world is possible and the ideas with the power to build movements that make this happen.


Sources:

 

Adams, Matthew S., and Ruth Kinna. (2017) Anarchism, 1914-18: Internationalism, Anti-Militarism and War. Manchester University Press.   

 

AFP. (2018, November 6). France addresses painful history of African WWI troops. Retrieved November 12, 2018, from https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/africa/2018-11-06-france-addresses-painful-history-of-african-wwi-troops/

 

Blasco, S., & Magallón, C. (2015, April 28). Retrieved October 25, 2018, from http://noglory.org/index.php/articles/445-the-first-international-congress-of-women

 

Hochschild, A. (2011). To end all wars: A story of loyalty and rebellion, 1914-1918. United Kingdom: Macmillan.

 

Jankowski, T., 2013. Eastern Europe! – Everything You Need to Know about the History (and More). New Europe Books.

 

Kennedy, K. (1999). Disloyal mothers and scurrilous citizens: Women and subversion during World War I. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

 

Miles, L., & McGregor, S. (1993, January 01). Suffragette who opposed World War One. Retrieved October 25, 2018, from http://socialistreview.org.uk/395/suffragette-who-opposed-world-war-one

 

Jensen, K. (2014, October 8). Women’s Mobilization for War (USA). Retrieved November 7, 2018, from https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/womens_mobilization_for_war_usa#Suffrage_Movement

 

Lenin, V. (2005). Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Retrieved October 23, 2018, from https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/  

 

Lenin, V.I. Lenin: War and Revolution, 2005, http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/may/14.htm.

 

Masebo, O. (2015, July 03). The African soldiers dragged into Europe’s war. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33329661

 

Nation, R. (1989). War on War: Lenin, the Zimmerwald Left, and the Origins of Communist Internationalism. Haymarket Books.

 

Partington, J. S. (2013). Clara Zetkin: National and international contexts. London: Socialist History Society.

 

Patnaik, P. (2014). Lenin, Imperialism, and the First World War. Social Scientist, 42(7/8), 29-46. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24372919

 

Richard, J. (2012, November). The Legacy of the IWW. Retrieved November 12, 2018, from https://isreview.org/issue/86/legacy-iww

 

The History Engine. (n.d.). Retrieved November 7, 2018, from https://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/5322

 

Tuchman, Barbara Wertheim. The Guns of August. Ballantine Books, 1990.

 

War Resistance, Anti-Militarism, and Deportation, 1917-1919. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2018, from http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/goldman/MeetEmmaGoldman/warresistance-antimilitarism-deportation1917-1919.html

 

Women’s Suffrage and WWI (U.S. National Park Service). (n.d.). Retrieved November 7, 2018, from https://www.nps.gov/articles/womens-suffrage-wwi.htm

 

The Gender Question: My Pronouns

The Gender Question_ Unpacking my Pronouns

The Gender Question: Unpacking

My Pronouns

H. Bradford

10/21/18

Wednesday October 17th was the first International Gender Pronouns Day.  The goal of the day is to raise awareness of gender pronouns, including referring to people by their preferred pronouns and normalizing asking about the pronouns.  In activist circles, this is increasingly becoming commonplace.  Recently, both of my workplaces asked me for my preferred gender pronouns.  But, I can remember just a few years ago when I was asked for the first time to publicly announce my pronouns.  This is a reflection of how I felt and my own gender journey.

Image result for they them their name tag


The first meeting that I was asked to use my preferred gender pronouns caught me off guard.  I felt afraid and unsure of what to say.  I knew what the expected answer was…she/her/hers….and I felt afraid to say anything but the pronouns that would match my outward appearance.  I didn’t answer at all.  Meeting after meeting, I didn’t answer.  I dreaded when it was my turn to share.  I would simply say my name and something else (for instance what group I was in or why I was there), avoiding the question or trying to bury the question in other information.  Only a few times was I called out.  “Oh, you forgot to share your pronouns!”  I wanted the question to go away.  It seemed like some hokey, liberal trend to be inclusive- but really, it felt like an interrogation into the walled up parts of myself.   I have wrestled with gender identity, but came to no conclusions or worse, no plan of action.  Thus, I have slid through life avoiding the question and relegating it to some condemned, musty, walled off part of myself that could be attended to when I had the time, courage, or emotional safety.  The “gender question” asked at activist meetings forced it out of the dark corner that I had been avoiding.  I resented that.  No one shines a light in my haunted house! Image result for haunted house

Mn State Fair Haunted House


For some context, I have felt alienated by my femaleness.  It started sometime around the 5th grade.  I didn’t want to grow up to be female…or the “w” word.  I didn’t want breasts or a period.  I didn’t want curves or for people to see me as a woman.  I didn’t want to become…such an alien thing.  It is a feeling that has hung around.  I could provide more details or examples, as often creating a narrative of lifelong questioning is necessary for legitimacy.  But, I don’t care to and legitimacy does not have to be rooted in history and long stories.  In any event, despite feeling un-female, I wondered what alternative existed for me.  What else could I be and how could I become it?   Despite these feelings, I have generally presented myself in a feminine way (to some degree), with makeup, shaved body, and long hair.  Thus, to question or feel disgusted by and alien from my body and biological/social lot seemed disingenuous.   Worse, when I have talked to some people close to me over the years, the reactions have been that I must be mentally ill or just trying to be trendy….because gender dysphoria is cool.   This left me feeling a bit lost and defeated.  By my 30s I tried not to think too deeply about it.  That is…until that pesky question kept coming up!


I started to test out answers.  Mostly, when it came up, I said I go by she/her/hers and they/them/theirs.  No one cared.  The question moved on to the next person.  This was nice and gave me more confidence.  No one stopped the whole thing and said, “Wait!  You are NOT they, them, theirs…. you are just trying to be trendy here!  Call the gender police.”  Or, “They, them, theirs is for MORE androgynous looking people.  Clearly you wear makeup and have long hair.  You are not constructing gender properly.”  In the few instances where I felt that I needed to give an explanation, I said that I was gender questioning.  By cautiously answering…but being met with zero reaction or questioning, I began to feel more comfortable.   These questions felt invasive and loaded at first, but it turned out it was not an inquisition. Image result for gender police


What am I?  I feel weird calling myself a woman.  It just seemed so…not me.  It seems like a special title reserved for some other people.  I didn’t ask for this body.  There are parts of it I would be happy to be rid of.  At the same time, I think she/her/hers is appropriate for me.  Despite how I might feel about myself, the world sees me as female.  I am treated like a woman.  Each time I fear for my safety or am treated as “less than” a man, I am living a female experience in a female body (I don’t mean this to reify biological gender, but as a shared experience of oppression).  I feel safer in female spaces than in spaces dominated by men and I feel like I do not behave or present in a fashion that is gender queer enough for trans or non-binary spaces.  I present myself in a “feminine” way.  I have been subjected to and subjugated by female gender norms.  I fear aging.  I fear becoming too ugly or too fat.  My presentation of self is still very much governed by patriarchal gender norms for women.   At the same time, gender is socially constructed.  There is no feminine.  Long hair and makeup can be masculine, androgynous, feminine, or really anything or nothing at all.  Despite the arbitrary nature of these rules, my presentation has social meaning that is associated with femaleness.  I could reject this, but there is no real way to reject this as reconstructing gender usually hinges upon gender tropes.  Binary gender is such a part of our cognitive landscape that it is hard to escape.  Inevitably, it depends upon rejecting what is viewed as masculine, feminine, mixing up these characteristics, or inventing something androgynous (which is often stereotyped as thin and skewed towards masculine).  She/her/hers is also useful in showing solidarity with women.  I am a feminist.  Maybe I don’t always feel like a woman, but I live in this world perceived and treated as one.  I experience oppression as a woman and she/her/hers can be useful gender shorthand for these experiences and my solidarity with those who also experience this.


Although I am she/her/hers….I am also not these things.  It feels like gender is Schroedinger’s cat, which both IS and ISN’T.  Both things exist in the box that is myself.  I am female in body and experience, but also not these things, both because there is no female body and universal female experience and because I feel alien from the female parts of me (whatever those may be).   This is hard to explain.  To address the first aspect of my non-femaleness, well, femaleness does not really exist.  What is female?  Breasts, certain hormones, certain chromosomes, vaginas, or other biological characteristics?  Some females have some of these characteristics and not others, have all of these to varying degrees, or have some of these in some parts of life and not in others.   I have some biological markers of being female, but I do not necessarily want them, and being female is more than just biological rules and boundaries (which are themselves socially determined).   I would be happy to not have breasts, for instance.  I have always hated them.  I am actually really happy that mine are small, since I really don’t want these female associated appendages hanging off my body.  They serve no purpose in my life.  I have no intention of breast feeding, which seems like a body horror, nor enjoy their utility in sexual attraction.  Yes, I called it a body horror.  I feel that chest feeding can be wonderful and nourishing for OTHERS who are not alienated by their bodies, but to me existing in this body, the very thought of it seems like a torturous humiliation.  In this sense, and others that I won’t share, I am very much not a woman.


Femaleness is also related to gender roles, expected behaviors, and social position.   Where do I fit in to that?  Sure, I think that I am “feminine”, but I think that this is one facet of who I am and more or less just a part of the full constellation of human traits that everyone shares to varying degrees.  I am not “feminine” in some ways, in that I don’t necessarily follow female gender roles.  I am not particularly nurturing, not at all motherly or maternal, am emotionally reserved, not much for traditional roles of care giving and cleaning, independent and self-reliant, not romantic, generally more rational and scientific than spiritual or emotional, etc.  Once again, these are characteristics that get divied up between masculine and feminine, but are not inherently either.  Still, I think that bodily, emotionally, and socially, I have traits that I feel are masculine, feminine, and androgynous.  I don’t feel a close affinity with my femaleness, but I don’t entirely reject it either.  Thus, I really like they, them, their as gender pronouns.  I also like to go by H. as well as Heather, since I think it represents my non-binary self.   Heather is very feminine in our society.  I used to hate my name because of it.  However, I am trying to accept that Heather is just a plant.  It is a flower that grows in rocky, boggy conditions- with no innate femininity, masculinity, or androgyny.  The sound of the word Heather is not feminine, as people in other countries have similar sounding names which are pegged as masculine- such as Hadir in Arabic speaking countries.  I can be Heather and not necessarily be feminine.  But, I do enjoy when friends call me H.

Image result for heather plant


Gender is complicated.  I don’t have the answers.  I consider myself gender questioning because I haven’t arrived at my final destination.  I don’t know that I will.  There may be times in my life that I embrace my femaleness more.  Other times, it may be a source of pain and humiliation.  I haven’t always enjoyed getting asked what my pronouns are, but at the very least, I am starting to feel more confident.  At this point, I feel confident enough to say that yes, there is a they, them, their part of myself.  It doesn’t matter if I don’t look or behave in a non-binary way or reject gender enough.  I don’t need to be legitimate in anyone else’s eyes.  It is gender that is illegitimate, not me.  Even if my feelings ARE the result of being trendy or mentally ill, why stigmatize either? Traditional concepts of gender (and sex) benefit no one but those at the top of our patriarchal, capitalist economic system.   As my life progresses, perhaps I will feel bolder and ask to be H. or they, them, their more often.  Perhaps not.  For now, this is where I am at.  Thanks for asking.

 

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