. Beautiful Transgressions A radical feminism for our times | Ceasefire Magazine

Beautiful Transgressions A radical feminism for our times

On international women’s day, Ceasefire columnist Sara Motta offers some reflections on why we urgently need a radical feminism for our movements of resistance.

Beautiful Transgressions, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Tuesday, March 8, 2011 0:00 - 53 Comments

By Sara Motta

On international women’s day it seems apt to reflect on why we urgently need a radical feminism for our movements of resistance.

Several weeks ago I participated in a meeting organised by my University College Union (UCU) about the impending HE sector cuts and reforms. University representatives were there, including academic and administrative staff, UCU and student representatives as well as representatives from FE and college sectors.

The turnout was relatively low and few academic members of staff participated. A number of times participants expressed dissatisfaction and disappointment as to why people couldn’t be bothered to participate and why they seemed not to care about the crisis in education despite the clarity of the arguments against the cuts. The energies of the space were tired and dispersed, criss-crossed with disillusionment.

Implicit within the discussion was a notion that resistance and the motivation to resist are bound to intellectual understanding and knowledge -that once people have heard the arguments then they should be resisting and that their lack of action by not participating in the meeting and planned march was a cause for disappointment and anger.

Furthermore it was a sign of weakness, an indication of a lack of political action and even selfishness. Perhaps we need to look at the problematics of fragmentation, non-participation in traditional forms of politics and of apparent political silence in another way; a way that opens up possibilities for understanding, dialogue and the co-construction of the communities of resistance that we so desire. Traditions of radical feminism offer us a powerful and productive way to do this.

Radical feminists would make different assumptions and ask other questions when faced with the problematics at our meeting. They do not, as so often happens in our movements, understand resistance to be motivated and articulated around merely conceptual and theoretical knowledges and manifested in direct action. They do not understand power to be merely ‘out there’ in the form of state policies, police, and multinational companies.

Rather a radical feminism suggests that the violence of (neoliberal) capitalism is intensely subjective, affective, embodied, intellectual, physical and spiritual. It thus opens up a perspective about political resistance that goes beyond theoretical knowledge as motivator of resistance and direct action as the manifestation of that resistance.

Radical feminist scholar-activists from the Marxist, socialist, anarchist, indigenous and post-structuralist traditions have long recognised that capitalism reproduces itself through our social relationships and in the construction of particular forms of subjectivity. It recognises that capitalism is premised upon the construction of particular separations between mind/body, public/private, emotion/intellectual, man/women which attempt to construct us as one dimensional ‘men’.

According to this logic some of us are thinkers/producers of knowledge others of us are doers/feelers, receivers of knowledge; some of us (depending on our gender) are in the ‘private’ domestic sphere others in the public sphere of politics. Power and alienation are reproduced through these divisions and separations.

When faced with the problematics of organising communities of resistance a radical feminist would first ask how has neoliberal capitalism worked itself through our subjectivities and our relationships? In what ways has it attempted to reproduce one-dimensionality and separations?

Neoliberalism extends the logics of commodification to all spheres of social life. It is premised and constituted by a radical de-collectivisation of community, commons and subjectivity. It is a violence -the material, affective and embodied violence of poverty and exclusion of a single mother trying to feed and clothe her children; the physiological and emotional violence of community breakdown and disintegration caused by unemployment and police beatings; the collective violence of the erasure of histories and cultures of resistance through media and educational invisbilisation and the closing of community spaces; the subjective violence of ranking and competition, of disciplining of self and others within the public sector. All these multiple forms of violence create the grounds for the reproduction of particular forms of separation and division within ourselves and our communities in and outside of the workplace.

The collective wounds caused by these processes in our psyche, history, bodies and minds have resulted in a silenced subject filled with fears and a sense of limitation. Such silencing of ‘otherness’ in thought, practice and creativity results in the breakdown of everyday forms of collectivity. This in many ways has removed and undercut a desire and belief in transcendence, that things could be other than they are now. The commodification and individualisation of everyday social relationships and of our very desires reproduces this lonely neoliberal subject.

If the violence of neoliberal capitalism is so intensely subjective, if it works through the separation and commodification of the multiple elements of our being and humanity then it suggests that our resistance can be/is on multiple planes- the intellectual, affective, embodied, cultural, historical and spiritual. Thus we need to look beyond participation in a march or a meeting to see resistance, dignity and attempts to (re) constitute collectivity, commons and subjectivity.

The other ways of seeing and thinking about power, resistance and politics that are opened up by these understandings of radical feminism suggest that we can find resistance, dignity and political subjectivity in many unexpected places, situations, acts and emotions. We can find it when we listen and speak to each other in the corridor at work, when we offer support when a colleague has problems with childcare or money. We find it when we create spaces of otherness such as when we cook and eat together and share our histories and desires over a bottle of wine.

We find it when we use work resources for things other than work, when we take a sickie because we want to spend the day with our lover, when we create an allotment together and share what we grow. We find it when a group of parents sew the clothes and make the props for community theatre in which their children perform. If and when we can learn to embrace and engage these acts of dignity, these cracks in capitalism, we open up the possibilities of re-imagining and re-building collectivity, political subjectivity and solidarity.

When we see, feel and think in these other ways then this will help us to realise our desires for the re-constitution of communities of resistance.

Let us return for a moment to our meeting, to the disillusionment and sadness expressed and those feelings of loneliness and exhaustion that we so often feel and were palpable in that space. Perhaps we can also think of the construction of political communities of resistance in other ways; ways in which our feelings of tiredness, betrayal and silencing can be transformed into courage, affirmation and understanding.

The construction of other subjectivities, and other ways of relating, feeling, thinking and creating community can, and do already, happen in a multiplicity of places and ways. So in classrooms when we break down the hierarchies of teacher and student, between thinkers and passive receivers of knowledge ,we are creating spaces of collective knowledge creation. These spaces transgress the dualisms between emotion and intellect and thinkers and doers upon which (neoliberal) capitalism rests. When in the corridor when we see tears in the eyes of our colleague – an expression of the exhaustion caused by increasing psychological violence of performance demands – we stop, we ask if we can support in any way. Here we create affective relationships with others to begin to rebuild our communities at work and recognition of each other.

When we break out of our own subjectivities- breath the passion of our desire in the anesthetised spaces of work and community- dance, laugh- we create limit spaces of uncomfortableness that rupture the normalness of soulless, individualised and commodified interactions. In this way we can relativise the power of order and control through the counter power of uncontrollable laughter. And fundamentally those of us who are educators when we open up spaces to think and be together in and outside of the confines of the university, we rupture those capitalist divisions between public and private, between thinking and feeling, between life and politics.

Asking questions together through dialogue not monologue is when we learn to create the road by walking and to re-build communities of resistance. We may sometimes attend meetings, sometimes undertake direct action but it also means recognition that the dignity of resistance is and will transgress any fixed understandings of what that resistance should look like. Like this we can overcome the monologue of isolation, disappointment and silence and construct dialogues of understanding, voice and solidarity.

A radical feminism for our times opens up possibilities to think, feel and create politics in other ways. It suggests that as there are multiple forms of neoliberal capitalist violence that are intensely subjective and reproduced in the everyday and that therefore there are also multiple forms of resistance. Learning to see and engage with these often invisible and de-valued forms of solidarity, creation of collectivity and political subjectivity is perhaps essential if we want to be able to re-build communities of resistance, and in the act of re-building perhaps transform the nature of resistance, our society and ourselves.

Sara Motta is a mother, radical educator and writer.


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