Monday, 6 February 2012

Why I call myself a socialist feminist

I had a sort of argument in the pub the other night, with a lovely and clever lady whom I really like. The conversation turned to the different waves and varieties of feminism. We discussed some of the problematic aspects of second-wave feminism, and the problem with Louise Mensch calling herself a 'blue feminist'.

I describe myself as a socialist feminist because I believe that capitalism is the root cause of oppression, and that overthrowing this system is the only way to end it. I reject the idea that reform and tinkering about with neo-liberal policies is the key to liberation.

When I said this, the response was "But if you're a socialist you are, by definition, also a feminist." Apparently the way I define my feminism is tautological.

Now, my glib response to this would usually be, "Well, you can't have spent much time in the company of socialist men, then." Hur hur hur. But, just for once, I've decided not to be a Snarky Susan.

Why is it important for me to define as a 'socialist feminist'? Why do I not agree that I should, even linguistically, keep these two parts of my political identity separate?

Firstly, because I feel that it's necessary for me to indicate that I'm a 'capitalism-hating feminist' rather than a 'seeking equal bonuses for women bankers' type of feminist. When people like Sarah Palin and the aforementioned Louise Mensch are calling themselves feminists, I need people to know that I don't hold the same views as them.

Secondly, because I don't think that patriarchy is soley to blame for women's oppression. The power structures involved are more complex than this explanation implies. For instance, socialist feminism helps me to recognise my own privilege as a white, cis, able-bodied, middle class woman. Women are just one of many groups who experience oppression in our society; socialist feminism links women's struggle to other liberation struggles in a way that I don't feel patriarchy-based models do.

And this is the important part for me. I don't see our struggle as isolated, and socialism gives me the tools for understanding how various forms of oppression are linked, as well as helping to unite our struggles. Socialist feminists campaign against human rights abuses, against spending cuts, against racism and fascism, against illegal wars and occupations and an endless amount of other bullshit that capitalism throws at us every day.

Lots of other sorts of feminists are involved in these campaigns too. And I'm glad there is a plurality of feminist voices because the moment we stop critiquing our movement, it gets stuck, becomes irrelevant, and dies. It's important for us to be able to come together on issues that unite us, and talk constructively about what divides us ideologically.

But socialism is what gives meaning to my feminism. It helps me to understand where we're at, and where we need to get to. I'm not blue, liberal, anarcha or anything else. I'm a socialist feminist, however unfashionable and scary that may be, and I'm not willing to drop either one.

1 comment:

  1. Well said. I consider myself a Socialist Feminist and will continue doing so.