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.

 

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

April 30, 2017
· 82 rsvps

Join Philadelphia DSA veteran activist Michele Rossi to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 4-5:30pm ET, 3-4:30pm CT, 2-3:30pm MT, 1-2:30pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Talking About Socialism

May 02, 2017
· 47 rsvps

Practice talking about socialism in plain language. Create your own short rap. Prepare for those conversations about socialism that happen when you table in public.

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

This training is at 9:00pm Eastern, 8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6:00pm Pacific, 5:00pm Alaska, and 3:00pm Hawaii Time. Please RSVP.

Instructor:

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

In Talking About Socialism you will learn to:

  • Have a quick response ready to go next time someone asks you about democratic socialism.
  • Create your own elevator pitch about democratic socialism and DSA.
  • Use your personal experience and story to explain democratic socialism.
  • Think through the most important ideas you want to convey about democratic socialism.
  • Have a concise explanation of what DSA does, for your next DSA table, event or coalition meeting.

Training Details

  • This workshop is for those who have already had an introduction to democratic socialism, whether from DSA's webinar or from other sources.
  • 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 have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt <schmittaj@gmail.com> 608-335-6568.
  • Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance, by midnight Sunday.

 

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 19 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.