“Feminism is a collective adventure, for women, men and everyone else. A revolution, well under way. A worldview. A choice.”
Only a few months ago, on her most recent trip to Barcelona, the legendary activist and philosopher Angela Davis said that this is a great moment for feminism. And she is quite right. According to Davis herself, it can be said that 2018 was a year of feminist awakening. The purple wave movement extended from Spain to the global stage on March 8, with hundreds of thousands of people attending demonstrations, in addition to the thousands of women who supported the strikes called on that day by different unions and social movements. In Latin America, the movement’s color was green to support Argentine women’s right to abortion. These are good times for feminism, or, at least, one may conclude that a change has begun to occur in our way of positioning ourselves before the world.
Simultaneously, however, while the most optimistic voices have begun to talk of “fourth wave” feminism, we are bemusedly witnessing the resurgence of a truly disconcerting opposing discourse. The ability of hegmonic power arrangements to reuse the same exclusionary and persecutory strategies is incredible; strategies that have allowed them to discriminate against others are now being gobbled up to define that side as scapegoats of a social demand. When the tradition of the oppressed, as indicated by Walter Benjamin, raises its voice, the enemy begins to fret. Accusations of “radicalness,” “gender dictatorship,” and “feminist totalitarianism,” should not be overlooked or taken lightly, not only because of their symbolic potential to modify the perception of social struggles and the conquest of civil rights, but also because they begin to come up in political debates and public discourse, to become normalized, constituting a true threat to the bases of democratic society.
Moreover, if 2018 marked a before and after with regard to feminist demands, the horizon of equality continues to be a chimera in many fields. We cannot forget that the greatest victims of the last financial crisis, of which we are still suffering the consequences, were and continue to be women. We also should also not overlook the increased instability and social vulnerability that has affected the sectors in which women have played the main role: unemployment, low wages, lack of opportunity, and part-time work are only a few of the situations of inequality and injustice affecting thousands of women in Spain. The imbalance is evident and we must remain alert against the fallacious discourses aimed at combating the small bit of progress we’ve made toward equality. Today women continue to work in positions in which they are paid less than men; their wages continue to be lower than their male colleagues; women continue to be the main providers of care and house work; and the glass ceiling for many working women affects both the public and private sectors, with limited representation in politics, academia, and the executive committees of large companies. Moreover, gender violence, with its numerous faces and modalities, obscenely persists as one of the leading causes of physical, moral, and psychological harm for many women. The gender impact of the crisis is undeniable, an impact that is reflected and translated into a real and symbolic, systemic and structural violence against women.
As a result, it is urgent and necessary to review the concepts, go to the sources and their authors, take on the not-always-simple task of decoding what is feminism and to what do its vindications correspond? Since, as Nuria Varela states, any time we mention its name or identify ourselves as feminists, something in the face of our interlocutor changes, contracts, indicating some annoyance or discomfort. According to Varela, this is due to the impertinence that has always characterized feminism. It is also likely to be because in said insolence lies its ability to criticize and question the status quo.
Defining what feminism is, as stated previously, not an easy task, not just given the complexity of a political movement that has been able to combine theory and praxis, philosophy and social claims, academia and the public, but also, given its history, its richness, the range of authors, positions, and trends, many of them radically disparate and distinct. Perhaps because of this, we should not talk about one feminism, but rather of “feminisms,” as it has many sides and encompasses many different voices, as well as different cross-disciplinary subjects that have joined in the fight for equality. Moreover, as stated previously, feminism is one of the few philosophical and political doctrines that has been able to captivate the public, to come out of the ivory tower into the real world, to recover the agora and social debate. Its habitat is the street and activism, and not academia and classrooms. From the suffragist movement to the first protests to demand women’s rights or the most recent movements like Ni una menos, Femen, and #MeToo, we find that the feminist space has always been in the real world and its objective has never been anything other than social transformation.
Returning to Davis, we might define feminism as she does: the radical notion that women are people. The author’s irony aside, Davis does in a certain way combine various feminist traditions in her definition. In this phrase resound the voices of the first enlightened feminist theories that set the movement in motion, condemning the exclusion of women from public spaces and by extension from the political community. Authors like Marie de Gournay, Olympe de Gouges, and Mary Wollstonecraft were the first to bring the contradictions and paradoxes of the concept of citizenship to light. This concept, outlined by liberal theorists and converted by said theorists into a cornerstone of bourgeois revolutions, had nevertheless been created based on strictly male presuppositions. Women were thus left out of the definition of citizen and relegated as a result of their weak condition to private spaces, not constituents of political subjectivity.
The fight for equality, however, has grown over the last few centuries and feminism has included different demands and cross-disciplinary criticism. The articulation of discourses around class, race, social and cultural identity, sex, and sexual orientation, as well as questioning the heteropatriarchy as a hierarchical and exclusionary system inherent to capitalism are some of the most productive debates that have arisen within feminist movements. Women with immigrant backgrounds, low social status, lesbians, trans women, undocumented workers, and women with precarious working conditions, as is the case with domestic workers, prostitutes, etc., are some of the auxiliary voices of feminism that have ensured that we see the social transformation does not occur exclusively with demands for equality from white, upper middle class women with a certain education. We must assume that talking about feminism means talking not only about gender oppression, but also about exploitation, classism, and racism. And that true equality will only occur when we are able to question our own privilege as hegemonic subjects.
Now more than ever we need to work toward more just, egalitarian, and democratic societies with space for the different voices and auxiliary characters. Taking responsibility in the situations of scarcity, vulnerability, lack of legal protection, and exclusion that many women suffer is a task we must all undertake, involving different social, political, and corporate actors. If this is indeed a great moment for feminism, we must assume that commitment gender equality is necessarily a commitment to democracy. Only from within these parameters will we be able to create inclusive and more just communities.