The following text is a translation of several articles by Mireia Redondo, anarchist and feminist author and organiser from the territory under the Spanish state. The first text, included here as the preface, deals with the relationship between fascism and the patriarchy and acts as a call to action to fight both. The rest are the three parts of the series “In Defence of Self-defence” that explore the topic of feminist self-defence, why is an useful and valid tool for confronting abuse and sexism in our communities and the many ways we fail to do so currently. LAFA publishes these texts to contribute to the ongoing conversation in the antifascist community about how we deal with abusers in our spaces and our neighbourhoods. We hope they spark conversation, reflection and action.
LAFA North is also putting these ideas into practice now by organising feminist self-defence classes in their area. Get involved, support it and start your own self-defence group in your neighbourhood.
Thanks to Mireia for allowing us to translate these articles and to everyone who helped with the translation and proof-reading.
(CW: Abuse, sexist violence, rape)
Preface: Sexism and Fascism, Two Twins to be Destroyed
None of the arguments we are hearing and reading recently about the wickedness of women and our lack of credibility are new, not a single one. What is horrifying and disgusting is that we already know where they come from and where they lead.
Who hasn’t been made to think about the men of God proclaiming from the pulpit that women lead men to ruin since the time of Eve and Lilith?
Who hasn’t been reminded of the memory of republican women, leftist and rebellious, shaved, defiled and raped for being whores, bitches and shameless?
I was! I’ve spent hours digesting the horrible things said in the case of Arandina1, the same that were said in the case of La Manada2. And yes! They are the same things that are said when they commit abuse and domestic violence in their own houses. I’ve been thinking what to say, but we have already said so much, we have spoken a lot and it’s enough. For me there’s no more space for polite texts, neither technical nor educational. What we need to do is to take a good look at the situation and see how things are: the seeds of fascism and sexism that never went away continue to walk hand in hand. And this becomes obvious when we talk about and look into what is happening.
What would fascism be without trying to domesticate women, sexuality and the family? What would fascism be without the sensible and silent breeders of soldiers and patriotic workers? What would fascism be without the women who behave themselves and the supremacy of the patriarchy? What would fascism be without the controlling and sanctioning daddy State? What would be of the well-being of the paters without the domestication of the feminine sections? How much does it hurt for the Vox3 macho-man when a woman spits in his face and makes him swallow his own words? It’s not new for them to say the things they say, to fear us, to insult us, to degrade us. We know it because our great-grandmas suffered it and they confronted them even with rifles. What will we do?
Yes, fascism feeds on sexism; sexism feeds on fascism. They are two twins to be destroyed! Anywhere and by whatever means necessary! No excuses, no caveats, no “poor one”! If we think we won’t pay it dearly if we allow them to pass in the face of every sexist attack, it means we have learnt nothing! Never can we allow them to pass without facing opposition! Not even once! Because they would never have mercy on us. And anyway, they can shove whatever mercy they may have up their asses.
We are tired, disgusted, angry and it has been growing for centuries. We won’t debate! We won’t argue! We only have to destroy them! Make them fear our fear and anger!
This text has three parts. The first one includes an intro and the analysis. The following ones will talk about the concept of self-defence/direct action, which is not to be confused with retribution (self-management, self-organisation, action against the system, building spaces, what we understand as education…); the tools we have (the limitations of protocols, the collectivisation of responsibility, the creation of prevention and education, ways of acting against the bureaucratization…); notes about the limits of non-violent language, of concepts such as sisterhood and empathy, the pointing out of bad feminists…
I wanted to start by saying “for some time now we have a dangerous – I won’t say deliberate, because I hope it’s not, confusion between self-defence and retribution”, but the “for some time now” is not really accurate. As far as I can remember, the sexism we suffer within social movements, and how to deal with it, is a recurring debate. The method of denouncing it and the way of dealing with it (if it’s dealt with at all) within our spaces is a central discussion. Let’s stop. Let’s read the last line again. If you haven’t noticed the sadness it contains, it means that we still have a lot to do. The debate is STILL about the method of denouncing the abuse that happens in our spaces and not the fact that there’s still abuse and silencing.
A lot of negative energy is being put towards questioning the methods. This is not new and it happens every so often, every so often that one or several cases of abuse come to the forefront and stay there (and are not fully resolved). Maybe someone will say that an aggressive or violent response to a case of abuse is behaving like the patriarchy behaves. This seems very essentialist to me: to pose that the use of violence is a tool exclusive to the patriarchy when precisely this response is what perpetuates the system we oppose. For example, that women don’t use violence is a straight-up lie – we only have to look through the history of working women, antifascist women or the autonomous feminists to know this. It is precisely the heteropatriarchal system, the one which expropriates from us many of our tools, among them the use of violence; it tells us that women must be and are pacifist, inactive, submissive, educators, patient, endurers, etc. I therefore understand that to continue saying that feminism means using methods that are non-violent, pacifist and educative is to continue to perpetuate a series of stereotypes that we are supposed to be questioning.
Following from this, I understand that we feminists do not only have one tool, but a multitude of them, and every tool is just that, a tool, not an objective. We don’t focus exclusively on education and in fact when we talk about education we could ask ourselves who exactly we need to and want to educate. That is, on whom do we want to waste more energy in pursuit of our ultimate objective, which – all differences aside – I understand that it would be our own liberation, said quick and dirty. Will we educate ourselves? Other women in a similar situation (working class women in precarious situations?) Our male compas4 in all-gender spaces? How much energy would we give to each place?
Some will say that after so much time proposing public call-outs and direct action or collectivisation, if it hasn’t worked yet, maybe we need to change something. This argument fails by its own logic by the simple fact that these methods have almost never been put in practice and because the short-comings are deeper, older and universal. And that’s exactly what we need to tackle (it may sound simple but ending oppression is the only way of avoiding the use of any measure).
Lastly, let’s think about what it means for the abused to coexist with the abusers. Or what it means for many to know that this person or that person are creeps, sexists, etc and that they remain in our spaces. Everytime I go to the neighborhood of Sants, I worry that being there will trigger my PTSD. Do you think this is a feminist sacrifice I should make to avoid damaging the abuser or the collectives? Anxiety for the cause, amazing, very innovative, no? I think we talk about “self-care” a lot, but then we don’t put it in practice, or we use it as a weapon to directly justify the lack of collective responsibility in the way we work.
Some will say that we need to build infrastructure and that for that reason the public call-outs and not accepting abusers in our spaces is very bad, that it’s retribution. To keep sexists and sexism in our spaces doesn’t change a single thing nor does it change the state of the world or make the pillars of the system tremble. It’s more of the same. Saying that, maybe the issue is in the eye of the beholder: to not accept sexists or sexism in our spaces DOESN’T COME FROM THE PHILOSOPHY OF PUNISHMENT BUT FROM THE NEED OF CREATING SAFE SPACES FOR ALL OF US. That is, we can either put the focus on the one who is always more important, him, and lament that he’s being asked to leave. Or we can change the focus, innovate for once and lament that one or more compañeras are feeling bad. Let’s see, how do we look? Who do we look at? I think it’s much more healthy to handle it, or rather to confront it, collectively and I think that much more revered tools, like the protocols, foment retributivism more. Why do I think it is more healthy?
Because the group actually works on it, and by working on it we can advance towards prevention and awareness. The objective is not the protocol or the self-education workshop, the objective is zero abuse.
With all of this, in the end I’ve gotten in the mood for writing and this rant is only the first part. Before I continue I just want to say that although it’s true that we have progressed, that in some cases we have faced issues with a lot of dignity and honesty, the general consensus remains the same, a great collective resistance to using methods that are neither legalistic or educational (I understand education as silence and sacrifice). And at the same time, inevitably you have a lot of women living in terrible discomfort, women living in fear of doing anything public – because they already know that they will be criticised for having made it public. Houston, we have a problem.
ANALYSIS. GENDER VIOLENCE, SAFE SPACES, SHORTCOMINGS
When we come up with ways of collectively confronting the abuse and sexism within our spaces it’s because we are assuming we are in spaces that are special. They are supposed to be spaces of safety and trust. Let’s think for a second what assembly or movement means emotionally for us. They are a big part of our identity. They are a part of our identity because it’s an emotional space, with strong relationships. It’s a way of life, it’s what we are and how we are. It’s like that because we want to create oases and seeds of transformation. But also – even if only implicitly, they are spaces that by definition must not have anything to do with the hostile world that surrounds us. We have realised we are not beings of pure light (have we realised it?) and that they are not spaces free of abuse. But this doesn’t mean we have to let abuse happen or that we have to allow ourselves to reproduce the same dynamics as the hostile world. They are spaces that belong to us deeply in which, let’s not kid ourselves, we expect them to be trustworthy, sage and where we’ll find support. An expectation that given what we preach to the outside, we should be able to demand internally. That’s why when sexist abuse happens it’s especially painful for the abused and for many of us in the space. And even more when automatically all the methods of denial, judgement, doubt, etc that will lead to not believing the abused, not listening to how she wants to respond to the abuse, not taking any measures or taking disciplinary measures against those who disturb the “social peace”.
I also know that it is painful – when an abuser is asked to leave the space, a space which holds the same importance for all of us, a space that is often our lives, it is painful for him and his environment. That’s why they always come up with the typical “poor thing, he’ll be excluded from a space he loves, what will he do?” Ah, but that’s exactly what will happen to the abused person, but we won’t make the same fuss about it. We simply assume that she will bear with it or that in the end women will leave. Because since we’ve grown up in sexist environments and we don’t exactly know how to confront anything and it turns out we are not sure HE has to leave, SHE will disappear in the end. But of course it doesn’t hurt us as much when she leaves because we didn’t have to ask her to, it doesn’t come as a shock in the same way because we lie to ourselves thinking it wasn’t part of any decision. But it was part of a decision, of a position. That of not taking action or making a stand, all in detriment of the abused person. Who is painfully expendable in order to keep the social peace. We didn’t have to take responsibility, we didn’t face it (neither us nor the group).
In the end his feelings and his environment are what matters and her feelings are the problem. Her emotional response is perversely policed, and is not welcomed since it damages his. And we again have to stop and reflect on who we are putting the weight of responsibility on, on who we are being permissive with, and then we’ll see that we perhaps aren’t innovating that much. There’s a perverse policing of emotionality, and I say policing because it’s not just a matter of the abuser being the first to cause harm and the abused simply responding like she considers necessary. The question is who has committed abuse and is not in a position to demand lots of understanding… Making the emotions of the abuser the focus of attention after the public announcement/response while the emotions of the abused person are disregarded is an imposition. We continue to posit that the abused person is questionable and the abuser is in need of care. And that doesn’t mean that there’s not short-comings in, for example, how we care for people who are close with the abuser or sexist and who love him, and who have to go through some tough times. But these short-comings can only lead us to think, how can we address them to completely collectivise this? And in no way should it lead us to stop using all the methods we have available, including direct action.
I think it’s pretty bold for people to say that we don’t do enough education and I think it is one more self-delusion. Here we have to be very serious because it’s been long enough to be able to evaluate globally all the talks, workshops, therapy sessions, performances, expositions, documentaries, film showings, lectures, websites, books, articles, conferences, explanations and I don’t even know what else. We have never stopped doing or organising to deal with sexism. We have and still do every kind of thing. And that some do more of a kind than another is not contradictory, in the same way we can’t force everyone to take action or expose themselves, we cannot do the opposite. And if we have to relearn how to cohabitate, then we learn it. And by the way, after so much education, even knowing we have advanced, the problem is still there. What happens is that it’s a big and understandably difficult job to look inward.
This thing that happens where we are much more worried about what will happen to the abuser when he leaves, much more than what will happen to the abused, it’s not something exclusive to the social movements. It happens everywhere. We can’t analyse it as though we can disentangle it from all the dynamics that take place every time a sexist behaviour or an abuser is pointed out. If we look at it like an isolated case that only happens to us, we’ll be emptying it out of all its context. It’s more kind and comfortable, but it won’t help us with the issue we are supposed to be solving.
First of all, let’s remember that sexist violence within emotional and/or sexual relationships is uniquely perverse because they happen in spaces and moments of intimacy and trust. That’s why it is more normalised and invisibilized, why it is so dangerous and harder to confront. Not only the space/moment of complete trust is broken to commit the abuse, but the fact that it happens during a time that is generally intimate makes us get into the mess of “different versions”. I will expand on it later, but I will only point out that thinking in terms of versions is thinking in terms of bourgeois justice, and doubting what the abused says is acting like the entire system acts. Talking about mediation when there’s abuse or aggression means putting at the same level and consideration the abused and abuser, and this is also what the entire system does. Again we are not innovating.
But in addition to this, when it happens in our space of activism or militancy it is two relationships of trust that are broken. If the space doesn’t respond the break up is devastating. Two pillars of your life, the person you trusted and the space you trusted, not only are they no longer places you can rely on when you need them, they’ve also crossed your boundaries and haven’t supported you. That’s not restorative justice at all. Where is the restorative justice if there’s not a space of trust? Where is the restorative justice if the space is the one making demands from you? Maybe the pain of the group will be the one restored, but if we haven’t yet understood that the pain of the group is not the only objective and we forget to apply restorative justice for what she went through, it means we have to reflect a lot about what restorative justice means. And restorative justice is one of the fundamental pillars, but it doesn’t exclude Direct Action.
The mechanisms that take place in relationships of gender violence, the mechanisms that permeate our aptitude during long, short, casual or any kind of relationship, must be observed and taken into consideration when we face an accusation of abuse inside our spaces. If not, we will be failing in the same places as always. Obviously if we failed it’s because at least we tried, which is something. Someone will say that precisely because of this we have to focus on internal education. But precisely because we know we fail, that we are not beings of pure light, we have to understand first, long before putting pressure on a compa that makes too much noise, that we are not free from abusers or sexism, nor are we free from the fear of facing conflicts, and neither are we free from the fear that makes us conform so the collective doesn’t makes us a pariah. What we could free ourselves of is constantly questioning the compas who use Direct Action and public call-outs, in social media, all-genders spaces… And it’s not because we can’t make criticisms or contributions, it’s because criticising precisely the women who take action and do call-outs is putting them in the firing line and we know it. Human errors cannot always be the shield behind which we hide and point fingers at the bad feminists, the noisy ones. And they cannot be a positive or feminist strategy. Later on I’ll expand on the mechanism collectives use to avoid taking responsibility and that end up being weapons against the noisy feminists.
We’ve been working on this issue for years sadly, side by side with many through their resignation, fear and silence, and others through complete public exposure. And this should make us reflect: there’s still abuse and abusers. The abused ones leave, get sick, there’s literature and experience to confront abuse that has barely been read or explained, we see clearly what they do in other places (the Zapatistas or the Kurds) but we don’t apply it to ourselves. I’m sure there’s been bad communication, exhaustion and abandonment and too much pain to keep talking about the same things for years. We also know they are topics and literature that are hard to discuss collectively. We have the same dead topics: make public yes or no, anonymously yes or not (and notice that is not the same thing if they name of the abuser is made public that if the abused’s one is, if she doesn’t give her name her credibility is questioned, if his name is made public the poor thing will have his life ruined, let’s be careful because we have to think what happens thoroughly) call-in or call-out…but the cases keep appearing. We confuse kicking them out with being the police, doubting the abused with taking care of the abuser and the group. We confuse emotional manipulation with sisterhood and maintaining the integrity of the group. We confuse tools with objectives. And so on. And there’s nothing wrong with being confused as long as it doesn’t become permanent to avoid the conflict. In fact the conflict already exists, the question is facing it without excuses.
Every confusion, pain or short-coming has a solution and can be fixed, but no solution must question self-defence and safe spaces.
I finished the first part saying that abandoning Direct Action is a mistake. I believe that in the arguments opposing the collective confrontation of abuse there tends to be a confusion with concepts like Direct Action and Feminist Self-defense. And this what the second part is about. Before continuing I have to say that this also happens in other struggles, not only in the feminist struggle, but I believe in this one the desire to confuse seems greater and the resistance against using all the tools we have available and the resistance against making conscientious collective changes, seems greater too. And the situation appears to have no end in sight.
I understand Feminist Self-Defence (FSD) like a equal and concrete reflection of Direct Action (DA). And I understand DA as the whole range of actions and strategies that are taken in a self-organised way by the people who suffer under a situation of discrimination/oppression and want to change it. DA can be individual and/or collective and it intends to respond to the immediate aggressions but also to create better circumstances that have a transformative nature in the short, medium and long term. In this way, FSD is precisely this: to respond to concrete sexist aggressions (of whatever type or intensity they may be) and to change the system too. I want to mention in this first point that, if we consider FSD to be punitive, we would also be accusing DA of being punitive. And that makes me think that this would mean taking away the capacity to respond and transform our own conditions. And that in practice means going against our interests.
The feminist struggle already has a tradition of using FSF/DA, especially among the autonomous, anticapitalist and anarchist groups. This tradition is profoundly radical and necessary in the sense that it posits FSD as a method, as a strategy, as a way of organising and as way of blowing up the system, since it’s based on questioning all types of authority. But what gives it more importance is that it is the way, the tool, to give us back what has been taken from us: the capacity of using every tool necessary to change our reality, starting from what (and how) we want/desire/need it. And here I want to mention something else: to pressure for FSF/DA to be discarded as a practice, method or philosophy, by accusing it of punitivism is, again, going against our interests. Since by doing this we are blocking the possibility of recovering our own capacity to change, and our political, social, historical and personal agency.
From my perspective FSD has a lot to say and is closely related with that whole topic of “how do we deal with abuse in our spaces”, simply by definition. Just by looking at how FSF and DA work we’ll understand it.
The first pillar is SELF-ORGANISATION. One of the fundamentals is that the people who suffer oppression or abuse are the ones who organise among themselves in an horizontal manner. From that point of view it’s not unreasonable for women-only groups to exist. Or the existence of tools and strategies designed from the point of view of the survivors/oppressed to confront abuse. It’s clear, very clear. I know some people will say that men are also harmed by the patriarchy and that the system affects us all. But what we are arguing about is not that, which is obvious, but the possibility and necessity for the people mainly and obviously affected by the heteropatriarchal system to be the subjects of the struggle and become self-organised. This is not the same as saying we should burn down all-gender spaces, or that we should all participate in women-only spaces. Statements like that I see in arguments against feminism and I think they are pure demagogy that no one suggested in the first place. What those statements also do is to put on the firing line a lot of compañeras and women-only spaces.
Returning to the matter at hand, Self-organisation puts under scrutiny the need for delegation, representation, tutelage or mediation. And this is important because for centuries we have endured being subjected to constant guardianship. Self-organisation reconnects us with our own self and our revolutionary potential because:
It gives us back our capacity to say loudly and clearly, to others and to ourselves, what happens to us, what harms us and how we want to respond.
We are given meaning and credibility without asking for permission or endorsement.
It gives us back our capacity of not having to be under guardianship. No one who is considered socially more credible has to endorse what we say or filter it. We already know it and know how to do it.
It gives us back our capacity of choosing the necessary tools to escape the role of quiet victims and be active. This gives us the capacity to discard the obligatory and constant use of tools that we are assigned by social mandate as the only ones possible: patience, education and pacifism.
It’s not that we don’t have all these capacities, it’s that they have been plundered from us. We need to not abandon them and to fight for them. And to practice them.
All of this leads to the second pillar: SELF-MANAGEMENT5. Applied to the question of responding to abuse, it is directly related to NOT encouraging the use of tools given by the system, either because they are malicious or limited. The question is to stop responding to abuse like it is an isolated occurrence, we also have to start building the base for other ways of being and relating to each other. Therefore, without collective work there’s no steps forward, neither without confronting it collectively nor without prevention. Regretfully there are tools and procedures belonging to the system that are given and proposed in our spaces and which remind us that we are not untouched by the system nor are we so exceptional. For example:
To propose mediations in cases of abuse. Never in case of abuse can we apply a mediation as this presupposes that both parties are the same. In abuse there’s never equality.
To subject the abused person to proto-judicial protocols or interrogations fitting of any bourgeois court of justice.
To assume that we must operate, again as the bourgeois justice, by seeing it as conflicting versions, thus making the abuser and the abused person equal.
To doubt the abused person. I don’t know if you have noticed that it just so happens that in our spaces they’re always the ones who exaggerate or lie. If you stop to think about it, doesn’t it remind you a little of the typical talking point about false abuse reports?
When the abused person maintains her anonymity she’s criticised but, at the same time, if the name of the abuser is made public it’s a huge scandal. He, poor thing, her, suspicious. I have to say, this is…not very innovative.
To make the abused person endure eternal processes.
To simply do nothing.
To focus on the emotional state of the abuser after he has been accused. But never thinking that when he committed the abuse he wasn’t in a bad frame of mind. And like that the emotional state of the abuser is made more important than that of the abused person, thus excusing the abuse or trying to boycott the accusation process.
To criticise Self-management in the case of abuse, which is to say the least curious, when it’s done from self-managed spaces.
To ask for forensic evidence and legal accusation to believe the abused person.
And many more.
Obviously Self-management doesn’t apply only to the way we confront abuse, it’s also a concept that encompasses all aspects of our lives. But I’ve focused on this one because of the nature of the text. For social movements to argue that Self-management oppresses and divides the collectives, besides being a curiosity worthy of being investigated, it again sounds like going against our own interests.
We have already mentioned the concept of Education. FSD and therefore DA are pure education precisely for what it implies to learn to self-organise. It’s to learn by doing, creating and discovering. But there’s more. For reasons I don’t understand, there’s a tendency when speaking of feminist action to present FSD and education as if they were in opposition and mutually exclusive. Nothing is further from reality. When we talk about FSD/DA we talk about much more than propaganda of the deed and punches. What we are talking about is the use of all possible tools for radical change, from education (if we understand it as explaining) to the punch. The range of options is huge and not incompatible, presenting it as incompatible is playing with fire. On the other hand I don’t understand the rejection of the propaganda of the deed, the kick or the shove, and I find little interest in the essentialist arguments that say that women have never done this nor should they do it. But this topic would be enough to write another text. I just want to say that when we publicly distinguish between education and non-education (categories frequently malicious and subjective) pointing out the bad feminists who don’t educate, the only thing we accomplish is to put them in the firing line and create a bad precedent (also towards future abuses: silence is encouraged). This is once again going against our own interests.
Since education arouses so much interest (rhetorically, since in practice few are so interested in learning) we must highlight that FSD uses it constantly:
For our own selves by exploring, rebuilding, destroying, proposing and creating.
For our peers by sharing, explaining and supporting.
For everyone in the outside world.
That being said, because I know the issue is about how we address our compañeros I would like to invite you to make a list of all the talks, film nights, workshops, pub conversations, etc that we have organised. Of how many you have assisted, how many reading recommendations have you read, when have you practiced active listening… Because this is the issue: education is good and effective when there’s feedback and active listening. If the person in front of you, or besides you, doesn’t want to listen then this is not education. I call this situation banging your head against a wall, although I’m sure there’s another name for it. The question in the end is that we have to choose where we spend our energy, in banging our heads or in other matters? And we are not obligated to break our heads against the wall.
The systemic tendency to posit that FSD is not constructive means destroying, first of all, our history (as women, as workers as anticapitalists and antifascists). And secondly it’s destroying our chances of social change. It’s shooting ourselves in the foot and some of us have no reason to participate. In fact we argue that it is a necessity that we don’t use a single type of tool.
Since we are talking about tools I would like to talk a bit about protocols. They can be a good tool and the fact we are talking about them and that protocols are made is a good step forward. But they have some limits. In my own view they are one more tool among a more complete range of proposals or lines of actions. For me it’s more interesting to collectivise rather than to protocolise , as we can fall in the trap of thinking that the protocols saves us from abuses and no, the protocol responds to abuses, it doesn’t prevent them. It also makes me think that, if they are too rigid, they can make the abused person go through an extremely stressful process. Or they can create a total separation in the group and therefore give it little or no chance for reflection. Therefore protocols are not the objective, the objective is to end abuse and for this we need reflection, awareness-raising, prevention, self-defence and a thousand more tools that should be offered horizontally in conjunction with the protocol. We also have to be very careful because the use of protocols can lead to bureaucracy and punitivism. And as such it can be a way of stopping a direct response and FSD and we don’t want to dig our own grave. Let’s create methods to take action and gather tools.
Here ends the second part, soon I will take on the third and last one.
I want to finish this defence of self-defence by saying that it is essential to continue and reinforce this philosophy since doubting it, sadly, is also doubting self-defence in other struggles. Self-criticism and criticism is essential and we’ve been practicing it for years. But I will say it again: let’s not allow everything we lack to shoot us in the foot.
I now begin the last part of this defence of Self-defence where I address everything relating to the mechanisms, tools and dynamics that we use or that we could put in practice and that I haven’t explored yet.
One of the pillars of DA/FSD would be Mutual Aid/Sisterhood and I think it should be the first tool we put in practice where we receive news of abuse. I understand this to be unquestionable like I understand it is concrete and real Aid in cases of, for example, sackings, strikes, evictions, etc. Why do I have to question the abused person, deny her my support or pay only lip-service and never publicly? Can we shut down the misogynistic mechanisms that awake in us every time a new case comes out and give it the attention and diffusion that is required?
It is my understanding that Sisterhood is a completely political concept and its meaning doesn’t change if I get along with the abused person or not. It doesn’t even depend on if I would have done things in a different way. We must practice Aid, because without that it’s impossible to build anything new. Can anyone really think that we can build something new that doesn’t involve abused people, without giving them the aid they need? Is it constructive or innovative to give them aid on the condition that they “behave well”? It’s neither constructive nor does it contribute anything new. In fact, it doesn’t escape the rules that have been imposed on us. There’s only a few cases where we don’t give aid and they are very basic ones like not aiding fascists, classists, racists, transphobes, exploiters and every person who is not our equal and who wants a vertical society. This is so because Mutual Aid and Sisterhood must happen among equals and it must never be used to excuse those who abuse or exploit. Other than that we must practice Aid and if you don’t do it you are simply stating your position…by omission. Sisterhood is not romantic, it’s not about being friends and mainly it’s not an excuse to avoid confronting abuse collectively. And we continue to have issues with this.
The first issue, recently pretty common and justified with theoretical arguments, is questioning women who publicly denounce abuse by using tired old arguments. No matter how many beautiful and good-sounding words we use, publicly pointing fingers at the women who call-out abuse is reinforcing the well-known “don’t air your dirty laundry in public” or “better to say nothing for the good of the family and to keep appearances”. Not only this has nothing to do with sisterhood but also it has a big repressive component as an example: if you make the abuse public the group will isolate or defame you or a counter-campaign against you will be launched. And this naturally is both a punishment for someone who went public and dissuades those who may be thinking of publishing something or show their unconditional support.
If punishment is punitive, let’s make things clear now why this word has become so popular. Is the mechanism of punishment when an abuse is made public news? No. Is it a show of support? No. It’s one more way of blocking and nullifying any initiative to confront the abuse that is not the one the collective wants. And in the cases where the abused person is pressured, what the collective wants is her silence and to make sure the abuser is well. Not only do we give priority to the emotional state of the aggressor after the call-out, not only does the group not work on it collectively, what is worrying is that the group sees the abused person as the issue, not the abuser. It’s not seen as a problem that we haven’t given the abused person Aid and security. And instead of stopping this behaviour, she’s the one being punished.
Every time I read articles, statements, and thesis pointing fingers at compas who choose to make a public call-out (something that should make us reflect about how many compas suffer in silence because of the fear of what would happen if they went public) I think this is a slaughter and the slaughter doesn’t build anything, it destroys. It destroys because far from creating debates where we could share (not impose or unify) strategies, what it does is to invalidate those that are uncomfortable. It destroys because it’s very competitive and pro-system to place oneself as a good feminist that doesn’t challenge the dynamics. In fact it destroys because it uses the same patriarchal and Christian language of good and bad women. And doing this publicly can be used, let’s hope it’s not, to be the vanguard of whatever movement this becomes.
If feminism exists to change from the root, let’s make it real. It’s obvious that sisterhood is not about stopping uncomfortable debates in collectives because of the fear of me being questioned too. And it’s obvious sisterhood is not about avoiding strategic debates but I think that proposing debates shouldn’t be synonymous with exposing others or stepping over them. And even less to renounce principles like Mutual Aid or Direct Action in all their variety. Debates are done to create networks, not to step on others or prop oneself up.
To continue, I would like to talk about the already-mythical “self-care” and non-violent language among ourselves. I think they are two great concepts, but I also think they are constantly used as an alibi to avoid confronting debates and even to justify abuses and to abuse. Self-care doesn’t mean being the slave that spreads lots of empathy and understanding without considering your limits. Self-care doesn’t mean not saying what bothers me. Self-care doesn’t mean to endure and it doesn’t mean silence. Unless we agree with what the advertisements of corporations say. If we can never debate about abuse or say who abuses because the collective suffers, then we aren’t practising self-care, we are accumulating wounds. If you don’t want to understand and respect my limits, then you have a huge problem. And if as a group we are not scandalised it means we enable small dictators instead of creating safe spaces and opening important debates.
Self-care means fighting and making noise because saying nothing and doing nothing is to remain without moving in the place where we are. And to take care of ourselves sometimes you have to be brave and make a stand.
Do we have to search for the best way of doing things? No doubt about that. That this shouldn’t mean stop taking care of abused people or giving up on the most basic principles? That too. When what they propose is not taking care of abused people and not making our spaces safe, we are giving up on everything. Even on putting life at the centre. As far as I know, as feminists the first thing we should give up on is on enduring things because of social imposition, especially if it’s with Christian patience until falling ill. Because it makes no sense to have to endure giving up on our principles in our own house. To ask us for forgiveness and to share spaces with some individuals, that is truly divine punishment.
And what can we say about the policing of how we talk. Very little except the basics:
There are passive methods well-known by us to abuse with total impunity in private and to make the other to be “the crazy one”. They are the same methods that can be applied to any statement or text well-written and full of nice words and technicalities to end up doing the same as always: to block and defame any response to abuse. You can use emotional manipulation, pressure, gas-lighting, put-downs, threats of suicide and many more that use nice language. And this is just Violence 101. So yes, let’s take care of ourselves and speak well, but let’s not let anybody fool us. A good and timely response in whatever tone will save us months and years of sickness.
When they use concepts that scare our libertarian and feminist principles (of wanting to change the world and educate), that can be impressive at first, but once the initial surprise wears off, we can think them through better. This is the case with the word punitivism, which they say is here to stay. So let’s welcome it. What is punitivism?
Let’s start a list. Punitivism is:
To punish the abused person for publicly denouncing it
To play the “two sides” game
To subject the abused person and their support group to a trial worthy of the punitivist bourgeois justice.
To deny the abuse and, since we are at it, shame the abused person to isolate them from the group
To deny the possibility of self-management in the case of abuse
To deny all the education we have been doing for years and present the FSD as the enemy
And we could continue, to be honest. Using the word punitivism to describe DA is not only confusing, it’s also deliberately inaccurate and we would surely not allow it, not even a little, in any other struggle. Basically because we rarely confront them and because not welcoming abusers and abuse is an essential minimum, and really minimum at that. Since when do we take these minimums and call them punitivism? That’s news for me.
I don’t want to go on for much longer because in the previous two parts I have already talked in length about many aspects of the topic of abuse. I only want to insist on the idea that leaving aside the only tool we have, DA/FSD, is pure revisionism and it leaves us naked and exposed. Therefore more than a proposal, it is a death sentence. To have debates under the premise that the issue is with the response and not the abuse, it’s more of the same. To take advantage of abuses and mistaken responses to go against FSD has a name you’ll surely be able to guess. The concrete proposals about how we confront our short-comings are as necessary as not making our fight a simple performance, a slogan or a vanguardist fight. We have opened many debates and we have gone from, for example, talking about consent to also bringing up the topic of desire without having to give up a single inch or renounce anything. Therefore all the other topics we can face them in the same way, without giving a inch of the basic stuff. And this is exactly the core of the debate.
All the text in defence of FSD is a concrete proposal, therefore repeating the same would be tiresome. I’ve gone over not needing to tolerate the presence of abusers in our spaces, over how to use protocols or how to analyse the mechanisms we use. To be more concrete on an individual level when there’s many of us who speak, debate and practice it would be unrealistic. I hope this text is one more tool among many that exist and not a source of debate. But above everything, I hope that in the same way many of us have learnt about and continued to support DA and FSD, many of you will do too, more every time, walking together to destroy capitalism and the heteropatriarchy by any means possible and necessary!!
Against all authority, Direct Action and Feminist Self Defence!!
- A court case in Spain where three former football players were accused of raping a 15 years old minor. They were initially sentenced to 38 years in jail but after numerous protests against the sentence, one of them was acquitted and the other had their sentences commuted to 4 and 3 years. The court justified this by mentioning the proximity of age between the abusers and the victim and by questioning the credibility of the victim.
- A court case in Spain where five men, including a member of the Civil Guard and another of the Spanish Army from Seville, filmed themselves gang-raping an 18 years old woman. They were not initially convicted of rape due to Spain’s legal definition of rape. But after popular uproar, the case was revised and they were found guilty of rape.
- Spanish Far-right political party that has gained notoriety and some electoral success in recent years
- Translator’s note: in the original text “compañeros” is used, the meaning of which would most closely be associated with the way we use “comrades” in English-speaking radical spaces. But in Spanish-speaking anarchist and anti-authoritarian spaces, using the literal translation of comrades (“camaradas”) is avoided because of the association with authoritarian communists, preferring instead “compañeros/compañeras/compañeres”. I therefore decided to use “compas”, popularised in English by the Zapatistas, as gender-neutral term and compañeros/compañeras for the male and feminine terms respectively to maintain the original meaning while avoiding the communist association.
- Translator’s note: within the Spanish-speaking anarchist tradition, Autogestión, translated here as self-management, is the capacity of a community to address its basic needs by its own means, radically undermining its dependence on capitalism and the state. To expand and develop this capacity, anarchists have used many different strategies, particularly by means of squatting spaces to satisfy different necessities such as: housing, education, food distribution, cultural activities, etc. The concept is similar to that of Autonomy used in English-speaking spaces, but given its own particular history and tradition, it has been given a new separate translation.