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Intersectionality: Implications for Anarcha-Feminism

Credited to Kimberle Crenshaw in the late 1980s, intersectionality is the current buzzword of the mainstream feminist movement. It quite rightly recognises that all oppressions – from sexism and racism to classism and ableism – are merely categorisations of human identities, ranked against each other through social constructs that serve only to create layers of oppressions within society. Anarchists have long recognised the need to fight oppressions on all fronts, yet we have been ineffective in linking our discourses with mainstream feminist dialogue.

The inaugural F Conference held in Sydney in April of 2010 was a melting pot of feminism, where feminists across a broad spectrum of ages, ethnicities, sexualities, gender identities and political creeds came together to discuss and learn from each other’s struggles. It seemed that on almost every panel, in all the workshops and at most bookstalls the references to intersectionality were front and centre.

It allowed the feminist community to recognise the broad range of inequalities that women-identifiers are struggling against, and the varying, multi-faceted approaches to these struggles. Although all activists cannot dedicate an equitable amount of time to all movements, we can at least be aware and supportive of our disparate social battles, and where possible and practicable, incorporate them into our actions and campaigns. In particular, we can be careful not to unconsciously perpetuate other social inequalities in a single-minded pursuit of our own causes.

Yet anarcha-feminists have been blowing this very same horn for a century. At the turn of the century, anarcha-feminists like Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre fought fiercely against not only capitalism and the state, but also the shackles of marriage, gender roles, the futility of the suffragettes’ campaigns and racism within American society. Indeed, de Cleyre referred to herself as “an anarchist without labels”, demonstrating her commitment to fighting oppressions of all persuasions.

This initial move by anarcha-feminists to separate themselves from the popular feminist movement at the time (that of the suffragettes in vying for the rights of middle-class white women with citizenship rights in the U.S.A. to vote), exemplifies the distance between anarchist and mainstream definitions of intersectionality. On the one hand, second wave feminism approaches intersectionality from the perspective of an individual’s identity as part of society under the state. It is the markers of their identity (for example their age, gender, sexuality, and employment) that determine how they are placed on society’s ladder. The campaign is then how to adjust the rules and attitudes of the state to neutralise this unequal treatment of individuals of a particular status.

Anarcha-feminists on the other hand would approach intersectionality from a slightly different direction – what are the hierarchies that lead to this domination of one group in society over another? How can we eliminate this hierarchy without creating another group of disenfranchised people? In essence, it is a viewpoint that does not include the state as a vital component of society. Instead, it attempts to create space within society where we can have equal, yet not identical, opportunities to flourish – an interpretation based on autonomy and mutual aid.

Murray Bookchin is often credited with placing social hierarchy back at the centre of anarchist struggles, after decades of anarcho-syndicalist material positioned class struggle as the one and only mechanism of revolution. Through his experiences of Marxism between the 1930s and 1960s (including the Spanish Civil War), Bookchin reinterpreted the purely economic definitions of capitalism and redefined capitalism. In 1991, as an admonishment to the current generation of anti-capitalists, he wrote “that capitalism today has become a society, not only an economy”.

In books, pamphlets and speeches, Bookchin reasoned that no matter how full a Marxist revolution might be, there would be a range of hierarchies, and their subsequent dominations, that would remain. What we need is not merely a world free from the exploitations of capitalism, but a social revolution that will address and eliminate social inequalities at their root.

Unfortunately, such a revolution is complex, requiring immense self-reflection and personal responsibility. How do we take politics out of it’s separate box, as an external cause to which we dedicate ourselves, and instead live an expression of non-hierarchical theory, whilst not falling into the trap of “lifestylism”? The answers are yet to present themselves.

Intersectionality recognises that all of our struggles are interconnected, just like anarcha-feminism. Intersectionality recognises that it is impossible to determine who is most oppressed between a queer black man and a diff-abilitied white woman, just like anarcha-feminism. But up until now, anarcha-feminism has been unable to engage in effective dialogue with mainstream feminist movements to clearly define the root cause of our oppressions – hierarchy. This dialogue is sorely needed to consolidate our efforts in over-turning the tyranny of the state.

Our fights against autocratic dictators, exploitative bosses, environmental vandals and sexist pigs are not mutually exclusive. They are our attempts to overturn expressions of hierarchy and domination in capitalist
society.

Until we are all free..