Not long ago I read an editorial in a major newspaper about whether feminism is still relevant in today’s society. The conclusion (with which I agree) was that it is, but the thing that struck me as unusual was that the majority of the article was based on how many women were in politics, or the list of top earners, or were in high corporate positions.
The reason I found this unusual was that in most conversations I have about this same topic, or in things I read, which usually come from an anarcha-feminist position, the focus is on the everyday lives and relationships of women, and the power dynamics within. These stats are never brought up. And why would they be? How much difference does anybody think it really makes to the life of the average woman whether we have a female prime minister or not?
Which is not to say that the male domination of the political and corporate worlds isn’t a manifestation of patriarchy. But as with anything that focuses on the elite of our society and the problems within, the question remains: what can we, as everyday individuals, do about it?
It’s very rare in the things that I write that I use the word “anarchism”. This is often a conscious decision. One reason for this is the things many people associate with the term, whether accurate or not. For many people, “anarchism” means acts of terrorism; nihilism; or the common misconception that “anarchy” and “chaos” are synonymous, and that anarchism is then the fetishism of either chaos or extreme individualism. Or even if people have more contact with anarchism outside of the stereotypes, it’s still possible that for them the term can represent people obsessed with books written 150 years ago, or events in Spain in the 1930’s.
Even beyond that, any discussion about the merits of anarchism will usually start with the question of how society could function without government or laws. These are worthwhile questions to think about, but it’s not really true that this is where anarchy begins. Because the word “anarchy” doesn’t actually mean “without government” (and it definitely doesn’t mean “without order”). What it means is without rulers – without power by force. But even that’s a bit misleading. The most literal way to define it (given it uses the same root greek word) is “without hierarchy”.
So the starting point for anarchy isn’t the abolition of government, or of private property. Given how improbable that is in our context, that would leave us with an ideology pretty irrelevant to everyday life. The starting point for anarchy is to try to abolish all levels of hierarchy. Which means first and foremost, examining the power dynamics at work in our own life, and working to erase them.
How do we hold power over others? Is it through money and the way we use it or produce it? Is it through privilege? What does it actually mean to be a white, educated male, and how does it compare to others who aren’t? To bring us back to the anecdote I started with, how do we relate to women? Do we treat them with equality? Do we hold assumptions based on assigned gender roles? Who created these roles? Who holds power over us, and how can we break those shackles?
I think one of the strengths of an anarchist politic is that by de-legitimising the power of the elite in our society, you bring the power (and responsibility) for change back to each individual person. That means you and me.
Of course, and I need to say this, to actually create social change more than just personal change is required. So there is a need to work towards reform, and eventually (hopefully) the abolition of all power structures. But at the same time, an anarchist system of beliefs says that it is us that will create that change – everyday people working together to create a more just world.
It’s just the way it’s worked out that though I wrote this a week ago, I’m only getting around to posting it today, when the news is dominated by the Labor leadership struggle. It’s a good day to be an anarchist, because I don’t feel any obligation to defend the pathetic self-obsessed power games that go on in the name of “democracy”. But while it’s pretty obvious the flaws in our current system, the reaction of most people is to grumble but not talk about potential alternatives.
While I have little faith in those in positions of power to do what is right for the majority, I also refuse to accept that the world they have given us is the way we have to live. Which leaves me with the conclusion that we can create a better world, if we take personal responsibility for the changes we wish to see.