The violations started small. I was 12, fairly tall with brand new boobs. My mother wouldn’t let me buy “real bras” for a long time. It didn’t occur to me that was weird until boys in my class started advising me to “stop wearing sports bras” because I was looking a little “saggy.”
It was a…
Once the veil is lifted, once relations between the sexes are seen as power relations, it becomes impossible to see as simply unintended, well-intentioned, or innocent the actions through which women are told every day what is expected and when they have crossed some line
- Catherine MacKinnon
Women In Uniform In La Havana
I am always stunned when I hear young activists romanticize the need for (largely Marxist forms of) communism in the United States. My astonishment of this wide-spread obsession with communism is not because I believe that nation-states should maintain or move towards neo-liberalism or capitalism; rather, it’s because I have yet to see an example of communism that creates global peace without domination or the continuous subjugation of women.
There is a tendency for young activists (at least in New York City) to wear trendy red shirts with images of Che in support of communism without understanding the political, social, economic and gendered implications behind the communist movement. I admit, before I stepped foot in Cuba I was one of those people. However once I saw the realities of a nation whose people live in fear to speak negatively about their leader (at the time, Fidel), where women still remain unprotected by the effects of domestic violence and sexual harassment, and where wide-spread access to abortion remains an issue, I locked up my infatuation with communism and put it in a box with the capitalism.*
In theory, communism sounds like paradise for anyone who supports equality and equal access to resources (without a gender or race lens). Communism is most simply understood as a classless, and stateless social order in which everyone has common ownership of production. However, in a world that is highly divided not only by class, but also on the bases of gender, race and ethnicity, the benefits of communism can be limited.
Within societies exist hierarchies that have subordinated women and people of color to such an extent that their oppression is perceived as natural. Communism’s neglect in mentioning or addressing women and people of color’s preexisting oppressions in relation to class oppression makes it a system that continues to not only subjugate women and people of color, but ignores the process of their creation as subalterns.
MacKinnon claims “[m]ens forms of dominance over women have been accomplished socially as well as economically, prior to the operation of law, without express state acts, often in intimate contexts, as everyday life” (p. 161). Likewise, despite the attempts to create an egalitarian society by communist leaders and its ‘fans,’ communism remains a system that is structured and maintained by male dominance and patriarchal visions of utopia. Unless we acknowledge how systems of domination have been created to place women and people of color in subordinate positions, communism remains just as harmful to oppressed groups as capitalism, neo-liberalism, and democracy.
Mackinnon, Catherine (1989). Toward A Feminist Theory of the State. Cambridge, Massachusetts Harvard.
*I do not assume that capitalism or communism are the same, rather that they are both systems of governance that fail to critique the systems of patriarchy.
“You can’t build peace by leaving half the people out.” Resolution 1325.
Fighting for justice can be a lonely experience.
I have found myself to be very much conflicted by my decision to attend a peace university. When I applied to this institution, I was naive and believed that everyone would believe in the same peace that I fought for - the only peace that I thought existed - equality and justice. What I have learned is that the notion of peace is different for everyone, and it does not always mean peace for the entire world or fighting for what you fully believe is right.
Students at peace institutions around the world at taught that peace means compromise. While this is certainly an important lesson to learn for daily situations, compromise isn’t enough when there are power imbalances… and we live in a society that is full of that.
Here, I find myself walking the halls, smiling gently at people studying peace who do not believe that I can be a lesbian, let alone create a family with someone of the same sex. I sit next to students who have harassed my friends and colleagues and I go into meeting with counselors who believe that being a gender major means being a “man hater” and activists who seek justice are “troublemakers.”
Perhaps the most difficult reality to swallow are the women and men who know that things must change, but who sit quietly because they don’t have the time, or the desire or the knowledge of how to create change.
I admit that I am incredibly selfish; Speaking out and shaking things up for the sake of equality is a life that I chose and not everyone has to or will be on board. It is a lonely experience, and I know that it will certainly not make you a lot of friends (I imagine it is a lot easier to say nothing… and sometimes I wish I didn’t see inequalities). And yet, despite this knowledge - or perhaps with it - I feel an overwhelming amount of despair.
I am used to being classified into a box with the titles of manhater, sinful, radical, hippy and the like slapped onto my forehead, but when I applied to this institution, I honestly thought that I would be bored. I thought that everyone would agree with everyone and that my thoughts would not be nearly as radical as everyone else’s.
I was wrong. Even at peace institutions there exists sexism, homophobia, violence, harassment, and racism. Apparently, our job as activists and feminists is not even close to being done yet.
On the positive side, there are many other activists out there who are supporting you even when you can’t see it. Check out this post: On the lonely job of progressive activism. http://bit.ly/xbV1Va