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There is only so much sexism an anarchist can take

Tracey Fletcher | 03.05.2009 21:09 | Analysis | Gender

When I saw that the Anarchist Movement Conference 2009 is being promoted with the image of a woman, I couldn’t help thinking of the irony. As with national states, the female body is again used as the symbol of some desired unity. However, what that image has made me think of is the persistence and entrenchment of sexist practices among anarchists, an important contributing factor to their actual lack of unity.

Some time ago I joined a few long-term active anarchists during a specific campaign, a couple of them probably now involved in the organisation of this conference. My experience left me wondering how much some of those active in the anarchist movement have actually learnt from years of feminist thought and experience. These are just a few examples: I was constantly talked to and reminded of my lack of experience, without anyone ever questioning what my experience actually was and whether I might have something to teach them too. I was just approached for some humorous comment but never to have a serious adult conversation. When with my partner, a man, some of them would only address him while I was left in the background wondering if I had suddenly become invisible – even though I was the one doing the politics with them. On a couple of painful occasions, I was even shouted at after making some naïve comments (I knew he would have never dared to do the same to another man). And then, of course, their class essentialism: they never realised that I don’t actually need to come from a working class background to know how it feels to be discriminated against, ignored, talked down, patronised and treated like a little child with no mind of her own. I know it just too well. I had to giggle to myself when one of my co-campaigners accused another group of just paying lip service to anti-authoritarianism. It seems the connection between patriarchy and authority had been completely lost on him (an otherwise rather intelligent person).

Probably my middle-classness and university education, as well as years of self—reflection after coming into contact with feminist theory, meant my self-esteem came out from this experience with just a few bruises. I just wonder how many women from less privilege backgrounds have been left to believe in their own inferiority after having their opinions dismissed and their hard work appropriated without recognition by men who call themselves anarchists. The low self-esteem that results from it means these women, their abilities and passion, are lost to the anti-authoritarian movement, some of it, I’m afraid, anti-authoritarian just in name. There is a lesson I learnt some time ago that could be perfectly applicable to this situation: you don’t suddenly stop being racist just because you’ve decided to. It has taken me years of active learning and self-reflection to reduce the racism engrained in me. A great deal of it involved identifying and deconstructing the category of ‘whiteness’. I don’t see that active learning and self-reflection is actually happening among men who consider themselves prominent in the anarchist movement. The will is just not there (and I’m talking racism as well as sexism here). Contemporary feminist analysis seems to have identified the reason why sexism is still so engrained among most men: ‘masculinity’, what it means, how it is expressed and how it relates to the category of ‘feminity’, is almost never on the table for discussion among men. They are just too busy talking about capitalism or the end of it. In the meantime, women like myself who have a strong desire to be politically active, find themselves questioning whether there is any hope for positive change when people who are supposed to be caring, compassionate and respectful insist on treating others as some kind of second class type of human being.

Tracey Fletcher


here is the image in question (I think)

04.05.2009 22:58

Anarchist Movement Conference 2009 leaflet
Anarchist Movement Conference 2009 leaflet

Is this the image that is the problem? It's the only one I can find on the Anarchist Movement Conference 2009 website

It's not even clear to me that it is a woman, looks like it could be a man or a woman to me. Have I got the wrong image (it would have been helpful to include the actual image with this article!) or have they just changed the image? Or is this post a subtle troll?

Maybe I'm missing the point but I can't really see the problem. If a man's image was chosen couldn't that equally be seen as sexist?


Why Anarchafeminism?

05.05.2009 00:53

"Feminism is the movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression." bell hooks, Feminism Is For Everybody.
Anarchism also seeks to end exploitation, all forms of exploitation and hierarchy, including sexism and patriarchy. Anarchism is intrinsically feminist.
However, patriarchy is a system of domination and exploitation that is as old as humans are and unfortunatlely is one that seems very hard to get rid of. Patriarchy priveleges men and exploits women.
It seems to me that many poeple in the uk see feminism as unnecessary and unimportant, and feminists as some sort of joke. Sexism is not funny and people that think feminism is no longer needed and that men and women are equal, have no real idea of the reality of most womens experience around the world.
Women are getting fuck*d over all the time. Across the globe women do two thirds of the work, yet receive only tenth of the worlds income. Women own 1% of the world's property. Women account for two thirds of the 1.2 billion people classed as living in poverty by the UN. Nowhere in the world do women earn equal wages to men. In Europe the pay gap between men and women for like for like work is 25%. 70% of those not education are female. Male violence is the leading cause of death for women across the globe, over even cancer, maleria, war. Every week 2 women die in the UK at the hands of a male partner. 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence, and around the world 1 in 5 women will experience rape or attempted rape at some point in their life.
As a white working class straight woman, the sexism I experience daily ranges from casual disrespect from men and discrimination through to street harrassment and sexual harrassment. For many women it is worse.
Its not about playing the victim, or anything like that, its about speaking out.
Unfortunately sexism is so prevalent and so ingrained, that it will take generations for it to be unlearned. And although we may as anarchists know about feminism and sexism and swear that we're not sexist, most of us are. And unfortunately, just like it does in most communities, groups, settings, patriarchy is replicated and perpetuated in the anarchist movement. I must have been to a million meetings, and have been involved in so many groups etc and every time i see the same old power dynamics at play. Its not just theory; gender, race, class, sexuality, ability, age, etc all become obvious and are used to hierarchise and even in anarchist organising, its everywhere.
If there was no sexism in the anarchist movement, then why do we as women who are anarchists identify as anarchafeminists and seek out women-only or explicitly feminist spaces. Its because we need it, and although we dont blame you explicitly for the sexism you perpetrate, we do expect you to start listening to women and think about what we are saying. Just because you as a man dont experience sexism, doesnt mean that it doesnt exist.
Could I suggest people read "Going to places that scare me" by Chris Crass, which is a great piece written by a male anarchist coming to terms with his own sexism

london anarchafeminist


Hide the following 33 comments

Wise words, but sad to hear...

03.05.2009 22:01

Thanks for posting up this piece Tracey, i find it an issue of great concern, that a movement so entrenched in solidarity and unity in ideal, can become quite unaware of it's own prejudices, especially when they are taken off the agenda of discussion. I totally agree with your opinions on changing entrenched and ingrained belief structures, you can't just switch overnight, you have to consciously think about things over a long period before you start to break down habitual behaviour, and it all starts by seriously looking inside yourself at the root of your prejudices.
It is always valuable to discuss whose being listened to, who has a say and who holds the power withing groups, but i feel in our action charged movement, meetings often come under fire for endlessly talking and not acting, and the imbalance is a fine point to make, but not to the detriment of reasoned thinking and conscious introspection. All groups, be it society as a whole, or small affinity action groups, should be constantly self critical, in a constructive progressive sense.

As a random aside, i kind of felt the figure on the conference leaflet was rather non gender specific, nothing about them made me think it was particularly a man or a woman...

We should all be asking those important questions, all the time: who isn't present, who isn't being heard, who isn't involved, and why not?


mail e-mail:

Don't wallow in victimhood (ooh, is that too authoritarian?)

03.05.2009 22:09

Well, as a female who is politically active and doesn't sound particularly middle class (to southerners having a northern accent seems to equate with being working class), I find this post really patronising. Suggesting that women who are not middle class or university educated are sadly ignorant of male oppression is fatuous. I think, Tracey, you need to stop wallowing in your victimhood and enjoy your life as a person rather than whingeing about your life as a woman. Anyway, perhaps people are not listening to you because you're talking a load of bollocks. I don't share your experiences or your views, I'm glad to say.

Germaine Smear

hear hear Tracey

03.05.2009 22:28

...though you'll be howled down and derided rather than listened to. The anarchist movement appears overwhelmingly male and white and, despite what people spout - decidedly NOT working class.


Some people are just arseholes

03.05.2009 22:50

It's nothing to do with anti-capitalism, Tracey, it's just that some blokes are arseholes, regardless of the ideology they are following.


Whinge, moan, complain, moan a little more

03.05.2009 22:52

Oh for goodness sake is this for real? No wonder the public don't give a damn about the left any more, we've become mired in victimhood and a blame culture.

You need to stop blaming every little thing in the world and maybe do a little growing up.

A women embarassed to be associated with you

A word of promise and intelligence

03.05.2009 23:22

left autonomous movement, which is flexible, cool and sexy, fuck the borders, liberate! If some girl wants to show her tits with tattooed anarchy, let her do that I mean honestly, I won't interfere! Sexism is when u take an advantage of weak aspect of male or female hormone induced sex characteristics to hurt. what some fools write on this indymedia is beyond comprehension why, what for and wtf? i think this one should be considered ideological police agent , actually doing great job to mess around peoples anyway weak understanding.

Ratamahatta wild east

valid criticism is not whinging

04.05.2009 00:01

> I think, Tracey, you need to stop wallowing in your victimhood and enjoy
> your life as a person rather than whingeing about your life as a woman.

Someone just raised important criticisms of sexism in the movement, backed up with specific examples and your response is to belittle and ridicule them? FFS.



04.05.2009 03:37

"When I saw that the Anarchist Movement Conference 2009 is being promoted with the image of a woman"

If this has sparked your critique of those involved in the conference it is a weak one. i can equally say of you that you have stereotyped those involved - you mention the image of a women to promote the conference as a negative thing, when as no doubt if it was a man you will again denounce the male dominance of the movement. Either way, it is not the leaflet or the conference you take issue with but the existence of sexism amongst anarchists you have. You then though alledge that it is the same men that ignore you at previous encounters that are involved in the conference! With that association you are infact calling me sexist or saying that I am demeaning to a persons based solely on the reason they are a women. As someone involved in the conference i take great offence to it, as this is not who I am or want to be.


- Homepage:

Mysogyny from men.. nothing new here :(

04.05.2009 08:10

"A women embarassed to be associated with you"

Why do I doubt that is a comment from a 'women' [sic] at all?

One only has to see the abuse that women regularly experience by men even on left-leaning blogs to see just how much of a problem this is. Despite being united by the same wars against capitalism, by globalisation, etc. sometimes I have seen some appalling mysogyny from fellow male anarchists and left-wing activists - this is creating a marginalisation of women's voices within the anarchist movement. A lot of male anarchists and activists seriously need to do fucking Feminism 101.

What's even more sad, is that some men refuse to even acknowledge their male privilege and to engage with women and feminists to change those fails, as I think the post above from the organiser of the conference just shows *sigh*


First time I've commented on indymedia, couldn't help myself...

04.05.2009 08:24

"Someone just raised important criticisms of sexism in the movement, backed up with specific examples and your response is to belittle and ridicule them? FFS"

- it is very very unhealthy to take one persons criticisms as gospel truth (and the 'specific examples' are very weak ones at that, 'people would talk to my partner before me' - well they may have just known him better than her, he may have been more approachable etc.)
a good way to gauge whether these are indeed 'important criticisms' would be to see if anyone else has ever encountered this kind of sexism or discrimination.. I certainly haven't, infact despite the fact that my boyfriend has alot more experience and knowledge of/in anti-authoritarian issues and direct action than me, I have never been made to feel that my opinion is any less relevant than his or that we are anything other than equal.

So honestly and seriously, anybody else at all felt belittled for their gender by anarchists? Am I just fortunate to have a wonderful partner, and somehow by freak coincidence seemed to have escaped these "persistant sexists" at every turn? Or could it be that this person is either unfortunate in her personal encounters or is misconceiving situations where people just aren't interested in her for whatever reason as 'sexism'.. (because to be brutally honest, if you go around spouting things like "Probably my middle-classness and university education, as well as years of self—reflection after coming into contact with feminist theory, meant my self-esteem came out from this experience with just a few bruises." and "Contemporary feminist analysis" and the fact that it took you years of 'self reflection and active learning' to NOT be a racist, I'd probably shout at you too, or at least not want to engage in 'adult conversation' with you, and I'm not a man, it just makes you sound more than a little sheltered, ignorant, naive and concieted.. Not the kind of person who captures my attention in a positive way.)

If you have a strong desire to be politically active, perhaps you should just stop being such a martyr and BE politically active. I find it sexist and detrimental to your argument that your whole post just smacks of undertones of "I need a mans approval before I get off my backside and do anything other than bitch and moan about how men don't approve of me."

I also think your classism is just as distasteful as any sexism, your automatic assumption that anyone who hasn't come from a middle-class background or went to uni would crumble in the face of negative situations is bloody disgusting if you ask me.

I am however always happy to be proved wrong (despite a lack of middle-classness and university education..), if other people would come forwards and confirm further examples of sexism amongst anarchists then perhaps I'm just fortunate to have missed it and we do have a problem that needs to be addressed?


Please not back to late 70's

04.05.2009 09:11

Please let's not get back to the late 1970's where there was a long spate of Fashist Feminist vibes about.

It was ridiculas then, you couldn't do anything with out being classed a Sexist.
Man hateing was the order of the day.

There was a Great Alternative newspaper called ' International Times ' ( IT).
IT went on for years ( from 1966 ) . was an important alternative info source.

The Feminist movement of the time Closed it down with bullying tactics all because on the
International Times banner, it included a femle picture ( The picture was of a 1920's IT girl. ) sorry cant remember the name of the 20s' actress.

So please lets not get back to the late 1970's early 80's.

Cold Stomper

I’m glad my post is getting so many comments.

04.05.2009 09:54

A discussion is always healthy:

@ Germaine Smear:
➢ I find this post really patronising. Suggesting that women who are not middle class or university educated are sadly ignorant of male oppression is fatuous.”

That’s not exactly what I meant to say. Women in general are very aware of male oppression. What I meant to say is that, sadly, in this society, having an university education plays well with your self-esteem (the one concerned with your intellect not other types of self-esteem), so you don’t give up so easily on engaging in discussion and voicing your ideas when others dismiss you. I also think that getting to know what other women have written and said about gender divisions and male oppression does also play very well with your self-esteem, as you probably already know.

➢ I think, Tracey, you need to stop wallowing in your victimhood and enjoy your life as a person rather than whingeing about your life as a woman.

Thanks for the constructive advice. I’m very much enjoying my life as a person. I have a lovely partner and great male friends who treat me like an equal all the time. There is hope out there Germaine …

I wonder if you’d be giving me the same advice if I was a black person and was complaining of racism among anarchists… (many non-whites will also tell you that having a university education helps to mitigate the low self-esteem produced by racism. Equal access to education for all would help much more, of course).

@ a
> i can equally say of you that you have stereotyped those involved [in the conference]”

No, I haven’t. I just said that probably some of those men who have treated me with sexism are involved with the conference. That’s not stereotyping everyone involved in the conference. I’m very aware not every anarchist man is sexist.

@ Steph

➢ because to be brutally honest, if you go around spouting things like "Probably my middle-classness and university education, as well as years of self—reflection after coming into contact with feminist theory, meant my self-esteem came out from this experience with just a few bruises." and "Contemporary feminist analysis" and the fact that it took you years of 'self reflection and active learning' to NOT be a racist, I'd probably shout at you too, or at least not want to engage in 'adult conversation' with you, and I'm not a man, it just makes you sound more than a little sheltered, ignorant, naive and concieted..”

That’s interesting … I would like to hear further, why would you shout at me and not engage in ‘adult conversation’ exactly?

➢ So honestly and seriously, anybody else at all felt belittled for their gender by anarchists? Am I just fortunate to have a wonderful partner, and somehow by freak coincidence seemed to have escaped these "persistant sexists" at every turn?”

So there are not sexist anarchists. Wonderful! I’m glad I got it all wrong. Carry on as you are then.

Tracey Fletcher

Back to the future

04.05.2009 11:00

I think a return to the values of the early eighties is desirable. Back then there was more anarchists and more anarchist activity. Thanks to Crass and the Poison Girls that was also a time when if you weren't an aspiring feminist then you weren't considered an anarchist. Society in general was less sexist then.

My impression is the reason that changed is that society in general became more reactionary and more demeaning of women from the late 80's to the early 90's. For a long time anarchist groups seemed to be islands of sanity in an increasingly macho world.

I think the most pernicous effect has been on women themselves, obviously externally but more importantly internally. Some of the young female feminists I've met have a poor grasp on what feminism means, compared to early 80's anarchists presumably because there was a generation gap due '85 - '90. They are also facing extra problems. For instance you never had any mysoginist female activists back then, and you do now. There weren't active male mysoginist male groups back then, and there are now. One of the 'anti-mysandrist' groups posts here, and have admitted by email to sometimes posting pretending to be feminist hating females so do take some of the earlier posts with a pinch of salt.

If you are a young feminist and you want to strengthen yourself then here is my best advice. Make yourself a Poison Girls t shirt, buy one if you have to. The first woman who is at least twice your age who comments favourably on your t shit, grab onto to her and suck out her brain. You will gain her powers.


lets not pretend there isn't sexism in the anarchist movement...

04.05.2009 11:28

...equally, lets not go over the top and accuse everyone of it.

There is indeed a certain amount of sexism among anarchists, notably in the form presuming the female members have no interest (or ability) in talking politics, and I too have been utterly blanked my certain members when they have the choice to speak to someone male - however from my experience this is no more so than with any other group. To me it seems a lot of anarchists are quite confident and opinionated so people who are less loud tend to get pushed to the side lines - not just women, though in general women are quieter, they're socialised to be so, even if you personally are a loud woman it doesn't change the fact that the whole of society is telling women to shut up and be nice, and that's going to get ingrained in a lot of people and needs to be accounted for. Obviously don't baby them, it just needs to be bared in mind. I would say it also happens to quieter men and particularly people who don't speak english as their first language. Though obviously that is just my experience.

Of course, there are some people who call themselves anarchists who are just arseholes, just as there are such people in any group. I'm not saying that because they exist everywhere that they should be tolerated, but try not to mark a whole group of people with it. As you said, it takes a lot of work to get rid of prejudice, I'm sure you at times are still a bit racist, not maliciously, but it sneaks in. I know I've presumed a guy in the group could answer my politics related question without even considering asking one of the girls - and I am a girl. And I get really annoyed when other people do that. I would suggest sitting down with whoever it was and having a chat with them. If they carry on then they're just an arsehole, in which case, gladly rip them a new face.

Incidentally, whilst I do agree that there is a problem, I didn't see the picture as sexist. I thought when I googled it I was going to find something off the front cover of Nuts or something but it's just a woman (possibly) holding a flag, I really don't see the problem with it. Except that it's creepy as it has no face.


Never said image from Anarchist Conference was sexist

04.05.2009 13:16

What I said was that it is ironic that the image of a woman is being used to symbolise the unity of the movement when it has actually been the experience of sexism what has alienated me from it. Images of women as symbols of unity during struggles have been very commonly used before: i.e. the image of liberty during the French Revolution and the subsequent statue of liberty in the USA; patriotic references to the 'mother-land' during wars of independence, images of working class women during the Russian Revolution, etc. Using the image of a woman to represent a political aspiration is not sexist, but it is not feminist either. It's just a very common thing that mainly men do for some reason.

I'm not saying that the whole anarchist movement is sexist or that sexism is just an 'anarchist' problem. Far from it. It is because I hold anarchist principles that I wanted to initiate this discussion so sexism can be eradicated from the politics we do as anarchists.

Tracey Fletcher

you're actually surprised at this?

04.05.2009 17:09

Hang on. You're hanging out with people who think that the Taleban are a right on resistance movement and you're surprised that they're sexist?

cliche monger

believe in yourself, not others insecurities

05.05.2009 00:08

I empathise with the above post, but what you are probably coming across are peoples insecurities, their sense or lack of status, male or female, I agree females can be more sexist, again insecurities, you can be who you are wherever, the anarchist movement is not a church/cult or the be and end all, but yet also needs to be challenged if it truely wants to be inclusive and open. There is a whole world out there, believe in yourself and your convictions and you will find yours.



05.05.2009 12:51

"I was constantly talked to and reminded of my lack of experience"

How is that sexist? you were simply unexperienced.

"engrained racism". Are you having a laugh?

Yes, I've come across sexism in anarchist circles. Is it widespread? Certainly not.

To be honest you come across as a whiny middle-class type who just rubs everyone up the wrong way (men, women and probably animals too). We've all met them at meetings, and they are disliked due to the way they speak/act rather than their gender.

"Probably my middle-classness and university education" oh la-de-da - look at you with your educashion! "
"years of 'self reflection and active learning' to NOT be a racist" - I mean, how on earth does it take you years not to be a racist?

The sexism that is present needs to be tackled, properly.


@ trans anarchist

05.05.2009 14:09

"The sexism that is present needs to be tackled, properly."

We'll leave it in your hands then. You seem to be a sensible person.

Yes mate, it takes years of learning and self-reflection to understand either racism or sexism. I can see from your post you have a long time to go ... I suggest you start reading the article recommended by london anarchafeminist:

You might also want to give a go to your class hatred and find out how to turn it into something a bit more positive ...



05.05.2009 14:38

I'm not sure how to respond to, though I want to. To declare interests, I'm white, working class, University-educated, male. And skinny, and not exactly loud spoken. Dark hair, Short-sighted glasses wearer. The problem with identity politics is working out which aspects of identity are relevant in a particular discussion. The Anarchists I work with appear to avoid patronising women as far as I can tell. Certainly some men are quite dismissive of women's views, but frankly they tend to get sidelined in discussions because of that attitude. Recent actions organised have ended up with an "organising group" where women outnumbered men 5 to 1. If women are sidelined in discussions etc, then it should be pointed out. Go arounds and other meeting techniques exist to give everyone a space to input, use them. People also get sidelined because they are naturally quiet, or don't like speaking out in groups. Sorry if this all sounds touchy-feely and PC, but why not use techniques that have been developed through the years in "movements" to counter the way in which certain individuals (of whatever identity) tend to dominate things, even unintentionally. Hope this helps.


Important stuff

05.05.2009 16:59

Hey, I don't have anything that useful to contribute, I just thought it was worth saying something supportive - this is really important stuff, since anarchism's either against all forms of oppression or it's totally fucking worthless, and it's really saddening how many people just dismiss what you're saying out-of-hand. So thanks for contributing your thoughts and don't get discouraged, the movement needs people like you, even if what you're saying is uncomfortable. FWIW, and without wanting to big up my own group too much, the Anarchist Federation's currently in the process of initiating a women's caucus - which obviously wouldn't be necessary if there were no problems, and is a really welcome sign that (some) people in the movement are beginning to discuss this kind of thing.


Self-questioning important

06.05.2009 09:03

Thanks for posting this Tracey.
I personally love the poster image and was glad it suggested a strong female. When I went along to a 'Why aren't ethnic minority groups getting involved with Climate Camp' meeting a couple of years ago, we noticed that much of the environmental litterature out there showed white people in their illustrations.
But I too have come across casual sexism among some anarchists, though not in my own friendship group. Some of the negative comments on here are unfair. Just because they personally haven't experienced sexism, (or haven't recognised it), doesn't make your/our experiences less valid. After all, I've never suffered racism but I'm still disgusted that others do and stand up against that when I see it

I feel the same way about ageism. I'm in my 40's and as everyone knows, a female anarchist in her 40's can't possibly have courage, good ideas, strength, determination and cunning! Part of being an anarchist is questioning ALL the crap we've been brought up to believe.


not a feminist but

06.05.2009 09:10

The anarchist movement is sexist. Yes, there is not doubt. There are very few women involved in the higher levels of the anarchist hierarchy in London, and before anyone shouts it is quite obvious that such a hierarchy exists.

There is also a huge tendency to put down everybody who is not hyper confident, arrogant, sure of themselves and loud mouthed enough to defend themselves. Or anyone that does not accept the politics of the latest right-on ideologically pure vanguard. Or has a different way of doing things than the upper echilons of the anarchist movement.

Both women and men suffer from this, but those sections of society who tend to have a lower self esteem suffer most. This includes women, but also includes working class people of both genders. Such people often tire of being patronised and ignored quite quickly, so fuck off thinking that anarchists are just a bunch of tossers. They could have a point.

A movement with a greater degree of support for women would have a greater degree of support for everyone, male or female. A more positive stance on initiatives that people take forward. A greater willingness to support grassroots projects rather than be hung up on ideological purity.

sexism is on the increase

An inclusive anarchist politics requires listening to every voice

07.05.2009 02:54

I'm quite confused about the theme in many of these comments which tries to argue that sexism is a) not present among anarchists, or b) not "widespread" among anarchists.
Unless we're playing some majoritarian political game, isnt it important to listen to that voice that expresses an experience of oppression, even if it is only one voice? If what Tracey was articulating was a personal experience with and impression of sexism - why is this not valid and worth addressing in itself?

If anarchist politics is also and very much about the revolution of everyday life, that starts right now, and doesnt wait for *the* Revolution, then one comrade's experience of oppression is by definition significant for all of us.

I was also born with a vagina, and feel the affects of patriarchal society in my life everyday. If we are to really engage with the world around us, we must recognize the colonizing affects of that patriarchy on our personal lives, as much as we struggle against it. That struggle needs to begin with and constantly involve space for discussions that pay careful and critical attention to the power dynamics and informal hierarchies that emerge among us. We do not live in little bubbles, and it is most definitely a personal experience of mine that many meetings are dominated by male bodies and male voices. This does not need to mean that anarchists are sexist, or even that some anarchists are sexist. It could also mean that we live in a world dominated by logics of hierarchy, exclusion, violence, and oppression, which include those based on sex.

Recognizing this does not mean that I've made myself a perpetual victim, or that I'm blaming all those born with penises. It isnt only those with penises who propogate and benefit from sexism, and sexism affects affects different women differently (and often through the relationships between sex, class, race, education, etc). I guess that's part of the point. That we cannot throw words like "patriarchy" and "sexism" around in ways that homogenize "men" or "women." And at the same time, if one person experiences oppression and exclusion, that voice needs to be heard and that discussion needs to start - involving all interested persons, regardless of what's between their legs.



07.05.2009 22:37

How not to raise an issue in a political debate:
"When I saw that the Anarchist Movement Conference 2009 is being promoted with the image of a woman, I couldn’t help thinking of the irony. As with national states, the female body is again used as the symbol of some desired unity."

I'm sorry, but you may have a point to make, but starting off with such patent nonsense will automatically turn people against you. It's not provocative, it's not stimulating, it's just bollix.

To imply (you might not have said it directly, but you definitely imply it) that to use any image of a woman is sexist is ridiculous. This is not an exploitative image, it's a strong graphical representation of resistance. Of course images of strong women are common in radical imagery - for two main reasons: 1. Radical groups want to reflect the fact that they have strong women in their group, that they are opposed to sexism and traditional imagery of passive women. 2. They are designed to contrast with the imagery of the right, which is usually dominated by strong men.

Your opening paragraph is exactly the kind of thinking and argument that troubles me about anarchists who define themselves as feminist. I think it's divisive. Anarchism is opposed to patriarchy, to inequality, to exploitation of all. The ideas of feminism are covered. Sexism is wrong and has no place in anarchism - the fact that there are still sexist idiots who consider themselves anarchists is not a flaw within anarchism any more than Proudhon's anti-Semitism was. People are people and they have their problems, their prejudices and their issues.

Women should not need to organise themselves around a more limited idea - feminism - within the big idea of anarchism. If they do - as part of a movement that has Emma Goldman as one of its shining lights - then we should all just pack it in.

That's not to say that men shouldn't be aware of how they relate to women, how they talk to them and how they can easily fall into a patronising and unsupportive position. As a lay trade union organiser with many years experience, I've learnt to be very aware of my own behaviour.

I've also spent a lot of time working with female colleagues who had been socialised into thinking they shouldn't stand up, that they couldn't argue with the boss, that the wouldn't be able to engage in intense negotiation. Working with my female colleagues, supporting them, drawing them out of that attitude in an unpatronising way to the stage where they are ready and willing to take a stand is something I've done quite a lot.

There are issues that need to be challenged and addressed in the way individuals within the anarchist movement relate to each other - this is one of the main reasons for holding the Anarchist Movement Conference. Sexism, sectarianism, sheer bloody-mindedness, all exist and they all play a part in dividing us and preventing us from being the major force in society we should be. However, the answer is not to retreat into an exaggerated feminist position that sees sexism where it doesn't exist - like in the flyer for the Conference.

PS. I am involved in organising the conference.

Donnacha DeLong
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@ DeLong

08.05.2009 08:18

"the fact that there are still sexist idiots who consider themselves anarchists is not a flaw within anarchism any more than Proudhon's anti-Semitism was."

With all my respects but you show you've got very little understanding of sexism. The case is, I don't think the reason why those men treated me with sexism is because they are idiots. Actually, a couple of them are quite intelligent, good-hearted people I'd love to carry on doing politics with. If I bring up these issues is because I want to do politics alongside men as an equal. It is a flaw of anarchism not dealing with the problem of sexism and just carry on pretending is just the problem of a few idiots.

P.S.: the right (extreme or not) has always used images of 'strong' women in their imagery. I can give you thousands of examples from Germany, Italy, Spain and other regions if you ask. But again, I've never said it was 'sexist' to do so. It'll be great if people just stop being so defensive.



08.05.2009 09:21

"With all my respects but you show you've got very little understanding of sexism."

I don't want to get into a pissing contest, but that's not true. As a trade unionist, I am particularly aware of sexism in the workplace and in my trade union and have worked against it for years. I've been the man to whom the boss answered when my colleague asked a question. I've seen the dismissive attitude of some union colleagues to women activists. I've supported a friend and colleague through a major, and clearly sexist, bullying situation.

"The case is, I don't think the reason why those men treated me with sexism is because they are idiots. Actually, a couple of them are quite intelligent, good-hearted people I'd love to carry on doing politics with."

I don't care how book-smart they are, if their behaviour is preventing you, and probably others, from engaging, then they are idiots. A sexist anarchist is a contradiction in terms and it is idiotic to be both and not be aware of it. It is possible to be intelligent and good-hearted and still be an idiot.

You can't have it both ways. If you think they're nice people, then I assume you don't think they're actively and deliberately discriminating against you. Therefore, they're acting out of unconscious and unaware modes of behaviour they need to unlearn and change. A failure to recognise this and to do something about it from their part is idiotic.

This is the movement of Emma Goldman, Louise Michel, Mujeres Libres and sexism has no place in it.

"But again, I've never said it was 'sexist' to do so. It'll be great if people just stop being so defensive. "

You clearly implied it, sorry, but with a headline like that and starting out criticising the flyer, it seems clear what you meant.

Donnacha DeLong
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Emma Goldman

08.05.2009 12:06

Emma goldman has been mentioned above. Emma Goldman was an anarchist but she was also a feminist. She spoke directly about the oppression of women, when none of her male peers were.
This is still how it is. I have not heard many men, speak, campaign or organise around some of the issues women face in this capitalist patriarchal nightmare. It is women that are speaking out about domestic violence, rape, discrimination in the workplace, the objectification of women, the commodification of womens bodies, decent cheap or free childcare, the casual disrespect we face daily etc.
White people speak out and organise against racism, middle-class people organise against classism, able bodied people speak out against ableism, but how many men really speak out about sexism and challenge it when they see it. Thats not to say that there arent men who are feminist, I am fortunate to know many, but in my personal experience whenever there is a discussion on sexism, men get very defensive, just like what has happened over this article.
There is a feminist mens group in London, many of the men who are in it are anarchist. Its web address is
It would be great if instead of slagging off feminists and feminism, more people started identifying as feminists and embraced it wholeheartedly. We still have a long way to go and until all are free, none of us are.

london anarchafeminist

Emma Goldman II

09.05.2009 17:23

"Emma Goldman was an anarchist but she was also a feminist."

Eh - tell me when Emma Goldman ever defined herself as a feminist. She was an anarchist and one who played a massively important part in redefining anarchism to include definitions of equality that weren't included before.

"She spoke directly about the oppression of women, when none of her male peers were."

Exactly - she, as an anarchist, spoke specifically about the oppression of women (and also gay people) within the context of being one of the world's most prominent anarchists and as part advocating general revolution.

The issue is not that there isn't sexism or that there aren't reasons for women and men to organise to tackle the issue, the issue is that feminism can be divisive as its reductionist. It's about a group of people organising around part of what is anarchism, rather than the whole thing. And, btw, I have similar concerns about the entire range of single-issue type politics and this is an issue that's part of the conference. Is anarchism actually a movement?

Donnacha DeLong
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@ Donnacha

13.05.2009 19:49

As an anarchist i am concerned with all oppression and hierarchies and seek to overturn them all. I do not just organise around one issue (sexism) and all the anarchafeminists i know actively organise around a lot of issues. Because we are involved in lots of anarchist groups, it is with certainty that we can say that sexism (whether deliberate or not) exists in the anarchist movement.
You might think that feminism is reductionist and can be divisive, well sexism is always divisive.
I am part of this so called anarchist "movement", I am telling you that sexism is occuring in the movement, just like its occuring in the comments on this article.
Instead of rolling out the usual anti-feminist backlash arguments, why dont you accept what myself and the author of this article and many of those who have commented on this article have stated, that sexism exists in anarchist organising.
Why not even have gender as one of the themes for discussion at the conference or have an open discussion about whether people feel there is sexism in the movement, and see what people have to say? if you really care about making a movement, then lets see sexism addressed at this conference.

london anarchafeminist

Not reconising sexism in the anarchist movement is devisive!

14.05.2009 06:53

A good call from the London Anarchafeminist. From my own experience in organising with anarchists and reading the comments here it seems unquestionable that sexism is far too frequent within the anarchist momement. I am extremely disapointed with all the comments from those involved in the confrence who are so quick to dismiss and deny the existance of sexism.
Yes I agree the word anarchist should in its very definition mean that those that call themselves anarchists are not sexist and actively fight against the oppression of women, but the fact is that it doesn't.

The organisers of this confrence should listen to the opinions of women within the anarchist movement who have experienced sexism. If it is aknowleded rather than denied then we can begin to deal with it. That starts with listening to rather than arguing with those who are trying to point out that a problem exists. Lets see sexism as a discussion item at the confrence rather than creating a rift between anarchists and anarchafeminists. If we truely want a unified movement there are many issues that need to be dealt which, of which this is just one.............

another anarchafeminist

We are still waiting

21.05.2009 00:50

It is now over a week since two of my sisters requested very politely that the organisers of the Anarchist Conference should incorporate discussion of gender politics. Why has nobody responded to this? Well before Tracy posted her initial remarks which started this discussion, I scanned the proposed programme for the conference, and was very disappointed, but not surprised that I did not see any workshops relevant to feminism. Maybe we should stop asking politely, and take some appropriately anarchist direct action to remedy this situation?

I would like to point out that, far from being divisive, when a workshop was organised at the Anarchist Bookfair in 2007 on Men and Feminism (by a man), the room was packed out with about 80 people, about three-quarters women, and surprise, surprise, everyone said it was a very positive and harmonious experience. The pro-feminist men's group and the all-gender discussion group emerged out of this workshop, and again, surprise, surprise, people of all genders have been able to work together undefensively.

Yetta Nother Anarchafeminist

this is a great piece

29.11.2012 23:43

who is tracey fletcher? this is a great piece that still resonates with me.
at the above mentioned conference this happened: www.nopretence
the anarchist movement still has these same problems

london anarcha

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