Is the F-word Necessary?

by Sonita Sarker

6086057524_dee8243a23_z.jpg
Flickr/ruminatrix

Is the F-word necessary any more?  And why should democratic socialism be anywhere near it?

This is the Democratic Socialists of America site!  What does the F-word (feminism) have to do with it?  Well, to me, socialism is not only about class in/equities, as is most commonly understood.  It is, yes, in this era of rampant neoliberal capitalism that spreads like an amoeba across the world, also about the exposing of hegemonies.  It always has been.  I promise not to use any more –isms, the three used so far should suffice, and I’ll quickly offer my understanding of ‘hegemonies’ before moving on.

Hegemony, as Antonio Gramsci in his Prison Notebooks (1928-1935) used it, indicated not only the “dominant system” but also the overwhelming power such a system exercised by appearing to be the norm, the normal, the normative.  And he was addressing Mussolini’s dictatorship. 

Capitalism and class stratification not only appear to be the norm, but are even normalized so as to seem natural and invisible. The fear and anxiety of political conservatives all over the world about socialism and feminism are not because economic power or social power will be redistributed, but because they expose how capitalism justifies economic inequality and patriarchy justifies social inequality. 

Feminism is most commonly understood to be about gendered and sexualized in/equities.  Feminism is an F-word in areas of the world where it is read as a white, upper-middle-class woman’s experience; elsewhere, it is a fight for the equality of women…across all classes.  To me, its main impact is in naming what once appeared to be normal and invisible—“patriarchy.”  While the root of the term lies in the gendered word “father,” I use it to indicate a system of inequities today that are normalized through practice by all gender identities, not just male-bodied individuals.  Across the world, those who have accepted unequal gender and sexual relations as normal, and/or do not accept that this has negative consequences see patriarchy as a hegemonic structure and process—normal.  Those who see feminism as “just stirring up trouble,” like socialism, will use it like an F-word at the same time as they will advocate for equality. 

Those who think “women’s” battles have been fought, have been won or lost, and have, on the whole, been done with, will hastily dismiss the F-word as being no longer relevant or necessary.  Let alone inequities, the tangible evidence, everywhere, of rising numbers of abuses and exploitations of those who are vulnerable that are normalized as “human nature” or even “aberrations” should be cause for pause.  The intangible, or rather unquantifiable, toll that exploitations and abuses have taken remains to be considered.  Check out the writings of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Emma Goldman, Selma James, and Nellie Wong.

What feminisms, in the plural, have brought are understandings of identities within structures.  What is visible and articulated in the DSA mission is the review and exposure of structures.  What remains invisible and unspoken in the DSA banner, in the intertwined missions of democracy and socialism, and all the focus on structures, is the specificity of the people.  Us. 

Who are we?  Feminisms, across the last centuries, have been bringing to us the idea that race, sexuality, nationality, religion, dis/ability, are simultaneous with gender and class, in each of our identities.  These are not all equal aspects—some create advantages and others do not.  It depends on how we are positioned and perceived in our individual contexts. For instance, how I am racialized may provide me with socioeconomic capital (pun intended) whereas how I am gendered may not.  Moreover, in and through these inequalities, you and I are connected, and our identities are defined in relation to each other. 

I’m not only offering an analogy between feminism and democratic socialism that emphasizes that they have common goals but are parallel movements.  I’m saying that if we recognize this commonality, socialism today cannot be defined without the F-word.

DSA member Sonita Sarker is professor of  women’s, gender and sexuality studies and English at Macalester College. She writes and teaches about feminist and literary theories; cultural globalization as it intersects with nationalism, democracy and imperialism; and “minoritarized” literatures, with a transnational comparative basis in Western Europe and South Asia.


Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

 

Feminist Working Group

December 14, 2016
· 49 rsvps

People of all genders are welcome to join this call to discuss DSA's work on women's and LGBTQ issues, especially in light of the new political reality that we face after the election.  9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Turning Members into Leaders

December 28, 2016
· 19 rsvps

Are you starting a new group? Or have you been doing most of the work for your longtime group? Has it been hard to keep new people involved or get them to take responsibility? But suddenly everybody wants to jump in at the same time! Learn how to mentor new leaders and make sure they have all the information and tools they need to succeed.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

NOTE: This training is at 9:00pm Eastern (8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6pm Pacific). Please RSVP.

Instructor:

  • Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy.

In Leadership Development you will learn:

The proven steps to developing the leadership skills and commitment of more members:

  • identifying potential leaders
  • recognizing what each one brings to the group
  • asking people to volunteer
  • giving them specific tasks
  • supporting them in their efforts
  • creating opportunities for new leadership
  • following up.

Training Details

  • This workshop is for local leaders who will lead campaigns in their chapters.
  • If you have a computer with microphone, speakers and good internet access, you can join via internet for free.
  • If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt talt@igc.org 607-280-7649.
  • If you think you can't do it by computer, contact Tony Schmitt schmittaj@gmail.com 608-355-6568.
  • You can participate in every workshop or just attend once in a while.
  • Workshops will generally be on a weekends or evenings.
  • Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance -- by midnight Monday.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

January 19, 2017
· 57 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  8:30 PM ET; 7:30 PM CT; 6:30 PM MT; 5:30 PM PT.

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 10 rsvps
The Price We Pay blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance — the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, tax havens - and what we need to do to stop this.  DSA member Bill Barclay, who has a cameo role in the film, will facilitate the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.