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Women in the struggle

May 10, 2009


Just as our previous discussion on the “hip-hop generation” and political consciousness was sparked by one of our prison readers, a contribution by Comrade Spider of the White Panther Organization inspired this exploration of roles and challenges of women in the struggle. In Issue 11 of 4struggle, we printed “Free the Wimyn,” in which Spider presented a strong argument that women’s liberation is nowhere near complete, and that women “not only ha[ve] to deal with the crushing weight of capitalist exploitation, but also the double weight of gender oppression.”

Our editor, anti-imperialist political prisoner Jaan Laaman, liked the article and wanted to expand the discussion:“A young man who I’ve known for over a year – recent college grad and radical activist – was just telling me about his concerns about the level and widespreadness of sexist attitudes and practices in the activist communities,” Jaan wrote. “I guess I shouldn’t be, but I was kind of surprised and of course disappointed to hear this. Some of what he was describing sounded similar to shit that was real and also largely resolved in a progressive-revolutionary way like 30 years ago. Society itself is still so sexist, so I guess things have gone backwards in radical circles too.”

As Spider pointed out, despite the victories and concessions of the women’s liberation movements of the 1920s and 1960s (as well as LGBT movements), traditional gender roles for women and men are still very much embedded in mainstream societies. And our social justice movements unintentionally continue to replicate these patterns of repression in many cases. The common misconception that sexism in our movements is no longer an issue is as dangerous as the idea that racism is no longer an issue in contemporary society. It needs to be confronted head-on by men and women alike.

At 4strugglemag, we are committed to not only providing a space for these debates, but also reprinting important references to aid in education and dialogue. In the print edition of this section on women in the struggle, we are running two reflections on the subject from the history of the Black Panther Party and the Chicano/Chicana movement, as well as a more contemporary piece on the continued prevalence of sexism in anarchist and radical activist groups. We hope that our readers who are not in prison will seek these excellent books out too.

We know that many of you use 4strugglemag in your study groups. We hope that you will explore these rich and complex readings in detail, and that you will begin or renew discussions on how men can challenge their own sexism and build stronger movements based on comradely respect and love. We are also interested in hearing about the ways in which gender identities/dynamics manifest themselves in prisons, where people are segregated by gender. We encourage you to share your responses with us in Issue 13, so that we can expand this “classroom” to include people who don’t have study groups in their institutions.

As for our female readers, we hope that you will raise your voices in this discussion and share your experiences and opinions with us. And that you will encourage others to join in as well!

These articles do not provide definitive answers, but we offer them as a starting place for this essential process of understanding that class struggle, anti-racist and anti-sexist work must be integrally united in any successful movement towards liberation. As Spider put it, “Not only do wimyn need revolution, but the revolution needs wimyn.”

“Chicana Feminism” by Anna Nietogomez. From Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings. Edited by Alma M. Garcia. Routledge, 1997.

“’No One Ever Asks What a Man’s Role in the Revolution Is’: Gender Politics and Leadership in the Black Panther Party, 1966-71″ by Tracye A. Matthews. From Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights – Black Power Movement. Edited by Bettye Collier-Thomas and V.P. Franklin. New York: NYU Press, 2001.

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