It feels like a century has passed since the first March 8 demonstrators took to the streets and occupied the squares, when we first saw women wearing yellow mimosas in support on TV talk shows, and from the first interviews speculating endlessly about the significance of the recurrence of this event. In truth, just a few years have passed since Oct. 19, 2006, the day when the members of the Ni Una Menos movement and other Argentinian organizations called for a one-hour strike; and even less time since March 8, 2017, when the first International Women’s Strike took place in more than 50 countries around the world.
Since then, the Non Una Di Meno network has been working tirelessly in Italy each year to organize the “global feminist strike” on the same date, as an answer, they write in their nationwide appeal, “to all forms of violence that systematically affect the lives of women, in the workplace, on the streets, in hospitals, in schools, inside and outside national borders.” There is no need to go through the long list of reasons that are driving women to protest—femicides, rapes, harassment, wage discrimination, unfair extra workload, attacks on women’s right to choose, the resurgence of “traditional” values regarding the home, family, race, etc.—to understand that the idea of a “strike” as a union initiative is being used here in a profoundly different form. The slogan “A day without us” shows the revolutionary meaning of this initiative against a patriarchal and capitalist system which has constructed privilege, injustice and every form of exploitation on the basic notion of the sexual division of labor and the confinement of women to the role of wife and mother, in charge of procreation and excluded as such from the public sphere.
Indeed, if women stopped their everyday domestic care, housework, child care, care for the elderly, the sick and also for those in perfect health, if they refused the condition of being a body at the disposal of others, “the earth would still be swamp and jungle,” as Virginia Woolf wrote a century ago.
The merit of ‘70s feminism is that of bringing attention to what is happening inside the home, to the relations of power that are present even in the most intimate of experiences, such as motherhood and sexuality, and of recognizing, in the dispossession of women of their own bodies, a material presence of exploitation that is irreducible to mere economic categories.
But it is only now, after the boundary between private and public has dissolved, that violence against women can be seen in all its forms, invisible and manifest, and in all its manifold relationships with all the other types of discrimination that have existed throughout history: classism, racism, nationalism, colonization, authoritarian regimes, etc.
It is hardly surprising that Non Una Di Meno’s appeal includes, in an intersectional manner, together with the call to a women’s strike, a call to the unions “to proclaim a general strike for the day of March 8, and to support the women delegates and workers who want to join it.” They also demand redistributing the burden of care work, the rejection of the proposed Pillon Law (the Lega-led project to reform divorce law and child support), and the rejection of the Salvini security decree, seen as an attack on the self-determination of women and migrants. Sexism and racism are revealed today as having a common foundation in the power of the construct of gender, which, by reducing the body of the Other—whether the woman, the Jew, the migrant or the foreigner— to “bare life,” has already sealed their fate, eliminating or restricting their freedom—which includes exploiting them as part of the labor force.
A rather obvious point of convergence between these forms of oppression is the one that links the attack on the right of abortion—threatening to eliminate it where it has become law, or make it de facto unobtainable in practice—with the nationalist right-wing policies aiming to safeguard the “integrity of the Italic breed” against the risk of contamination from other cultures. Violence against women, in its transversal nature, thus opens up another realm of “social conflict”—as pointed out by Veronica Gago, an Argentinian feminist, in her interview with Maura Brighenti and Paola Rudan—and, for this reason, it is necessary to “make connections,” invent a language that is apart from the one used for demands, in order “to say what this radical transformation means politically.”
However, if by “connections” we mean more than just making alliances, we must ask ourselves what it means to look for these in the realm of subjectivity, in the experience that each woman has of her way of being, at the same time belonging to a sex, a gender, a class, a particular ethnicity or culture. This “multiple positioning,” as seen through the lens of personal experiences, is more complex and contradictory than it appears from a sociological analysis. We may find that the awareness of having suffered one type of violence or injustice is often accompanied by overlooking another. In my own case, as the daughter of very poor peasants, sexuality-based oppression came first, and the awareness of class only came later, in Milan, when I encountered the non-authoritarian movements of ‘68.
To keep all these aspects together and understand how they intersect—the convergences that exist among various forms of exploitation—has been difficult to achieve, including on a political level, since the ‘70s, when feminism first tried to question and redefine class conflict on the basis of the specific nature of the relationship between the sexes: the body, sexuality, motherhood, emotions, family relations, family care and domestic labor.
While Marx must be credited with exposing the repressed economic form of oppression—i.e. profit—and Freud with exposing the form of repression manifest in the bourgeois family—i.e. sexuality—feminism must be acknowledged as the author of the leap in historical consciousness which unveiled the political nature of the personal, i.e. of all the experiences, the most universal ones of humanity, that had been paradoxically considered to be “private” and merely “natural.”
It is no accident that the practice of gaining self-consciousness and awareness of the unconscious has first focused not on manifest outward violence, but on the “invisible violence,” i.e. the internalization of a male-gendered representation of the world by women themselves. Today the slogan “changing yourself is changing the world” speaks about a utopia that we can consider a practically achievable one, as long as we don’t again lose sight of the “self” as the place to which we must always return and to which we must give a voice, even when we are dealing with social problems of such complexity as those of today.
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