[Breakingthesilence] help needed for a text about patriarchy, masculine (de)construction and anticapitalist activism

nicolu at chutelibre.org nicolu at chutelibre.org
Mer 14 Avr 07:52:06 CEST 2004

Hi dear breakingthesilencers, with the help of my friend jules, I've tried
to translate the text « thoughts on masculine (de)construction and
anticapitalist activism », that I had written after leiden conference and
antipatriarchal experiments inside the sans-titre network. It has been
since distributed as a small booklet in french and  I've just added a
small annex in the end   more specifically about men-only groups, thinking
that both could be usefull in the debates we're trying to create.
Unfortunately my english is not so good and I can't really send it like
that on the list (without someone with a better english reading it again).
Fin was OK, a few weeks ago to correct my english, but I don't know if she
still has time now. If you (fin) or anyone else (maybe kevin ?) on this
list feels like giving a second reading and correcting bad english maybe I
could then send it to the priocess-list or trying to use it with others
texts that you've sent gfor the preparation meeting.
Ok thanx anyway for any support with helping me to do something with that
and soory for all the bad heavy sentences and repetitions.
bisous / nicolu

Thoughts on masculine (de)construction and anticapitalist activism.

This text was first written in the context of the euopean Peolple's Global
Action conference, late august 2002 in Leiden. During one week a few
hundred of anticapitalist activists from all over europe met. Patriarchy
was supposed to be a transversal issue and therefore more or less adressed
in every debate. Finally, it turned out to be mostly absent. This text was
first aimed at men involved in anti-authoritarian and anticapitalists
spaces and struggles. I hope that it can be of interest for others. This
text refers to a « we » in which I include myself, and if it questions
sometimes vigorously, it's primarily aimed at questionning myself. It's
inspired from various discussions in mixed and non-mixed groups inside the
sans-titre non-network (a french anticapitalist and anti-authoritarian
experiment). I hope that it won't be understood as a moralist diatribe,
but as an hopefull invitation to question and ourselves and react.
« Prealable » : to those who believe that patriarchal oppression in our
society is a thing of the past (others can skip directly to the next
paragraph):During the past century in « rich » countries, capitalism has grudgingly
allowed women (up until then virtually slaves) to have access to the
so-called freedoms of working salary and consumerism.Apart from that,we can acknowledge several undeniable changes in women's
condition over the course of the past few centuries, the result of years
of underground resistance and collective feminist struggles for more
freedom and autonomy : the right to financial autonomy, birth control, the
recognition of the right to have a fullfilling sexuality, the inceasement
of women's participation in social and political life, the beginning of
men's contribution to household tasks.These gains and therotical changes of status remain few and
insufficient.The fundamental structures of patriarchal domination and
gender differentiation remain largely unchanged :-  household chores are still considered mainly as a woman's
responsibility, and the « double day » of job + housekeeping is the common
reality in a majority of families.- inside the public sphere (be it in workplaces, leftist collectives,
companies or poltical institutions) organisationnal and decision-making
roles are attributed mainly to men.- women are still generally considered and educated as weak creatures,
short-sighted, irrationnal and determined by their feelings and emotions,
as opposed to men , who are rationnal creatures with power to reason and
change the world (with their technical capacities)- men are still viewed as the norm and women negatively as its difference.
Men are free to choose for themselves whereas women are stuck in « natural
determinations »- since the beginning of courtship and the construction of western culture
in the 12th century, man must prove his valor by accomplishing feats,
while women's role is generally restricted to being passively seduced and
appearing by the men's side like a trophy- women are depicted as objects of sexual consumption, selling points,
before even being gifted with speech and reason- women are still the first victims of rape, sexual harassment, conjugal
violences, intimidations, threats, fear of going out alone and of all the
fear and traumas which it all implies.- the right to derive pleasure from their bodies is often contested, or
accepted so long as it comes from submission to men's sexuality.- women still, under social pressure, must obey to alienating beauty norms.

Allright...I'll stop the list...This isn't the purpose of this
text.Thankfully, exceptions to this norm are more and more frequent in
certain contexts; nonetheless they still remain facts.For statistics, infos, precisions and analysis, a small bibliography can
be found at the end of this text.
Patriarchy and the capitalist system within us

Let's start with two definitions to understand the meanings of these words
in the text. These are fairly personnal since i find the dictionnaryquite patriarchal and capitalist regarding such matters.

Economical, political, social, sexual and legal  system historically
founded on the authority of the father from the private (family) sphere to
the public sphere., and characterized by men's domination over women. (see
illustrations above)

Economical, political and social system founded on the private property of
means of production and exchanges. In the capitalist system, the primary
dynamic is the search for profit and competition between companies.
According to marxist theory, capitalism is ruled by the search for profit
derived from exploitation of workers by those who detain the means of
production and exchange.I might add that the distinction between these two classes is not always
as simple as one might think. More generally capitalism implies the
domination of the most powerfull over the less powerfull at every level of
the social ladder.
The aim of this text is not to merge patriarchy and capitalism into one
problem, but to link certain aspects of both. Theorically we could imagine
a large number of women taking back values and priviledges today in
posesssion of men and specific to capitalism, which would mean a
hypothetical capitalist society in which gender based oppression would be
much less present.We could also imagine capitalism to disappear and patriarchal oppression
to remain just as present, as it might have been the case, to my
knowledge, in social organisations that came before us. Nevertheless,
today it seems to me that these two systems of oppression often rest on a
set of complementary and common values.A huge difference is that in patriarchy, men are for the most part
oppressors and beneficiaries, whereas a majority of both men and women are
victims in the capitalist system.... This doesn't mean that all women are
victims of patriarchy to the same extent, nor that all men are on the same
level of oppression.There are also of course men who are oppressed because they don't want to
/ can not correspond to masculine values :"shy", unsure of themselves,
"weak", "sweet", "gentle"...The specificity of women in regard to these oppressions is that these
diverse traits are automatically attributed to them as belonging to a
category, and considered as natural, which makes it harder for them to
escape from.
The patriarchal culture which characterises our societies for the past few
milleniums is a culture based on competition, power and domination. In
this society , educationnal and structural capacities are first given to
men to be competitive, to gain power and to dominate others, starting with
women. These values of power and domination are promoted to the rank
positive values and judgement criteria. These are deeply rooted within
each of us and define our self-esteem, our sensitivity and our
relationships, wether sexual, friendly, inside the family or at work...
They are driving forces of capitalist and state social relations :
economical and political competitions between corporations and parties,
competition at every level of the social ladder between individuals, the
will to accumulate and centralise power and riches. We could also
underline the parallel between economical and practical dependency of
women inside the traditionnal family structure, and the growing dependency
of a large part of the population towards the elite's technological
knowledge and tools. Both of thses systems, the former rooted in the
private sphere, the latter in the public sphere, are complementary and
reinforce each other mutually. Logically, a coherent critical analysis of
one can help us to better understand and criticize the other. It may even
be vain to want to change the values of ony one theses spheres if we
continue to accept them in the other. This doesn't necessarily condemn the
legitimacy and/or the strategic interest of steps in specific struggles in
one or the other of these issues.
We could also point to various cases in which capitalist society has
constituted itself and still relies on patriarchal structures:- free maintenance of salaried production tools (housekeeping, food, child
care, emotional support);- creation of a category of under-paid workers ;
- separation of indiduals into families instead of collective or
communitarian structures potentially harder to submise ;- use of sexual frustrations and using women as objects to create and
maintain buying impulses.
These few examples show us that by confronting patriarchy, we have a
chance of undermining a few of the structural basis of capitalism. The
problem of anticapitalist critique is that it constantly targets external
power structures. The interest of feminist critique, more centred on the
individual, is that it offers the tools necessary to understand the
mechanisms of oppression from inside and the way we integrate and
personally reproduce these values of power and domination in our social,
intimate and daily relations - which ranges from the manner in which we
express ourselves to our relation to technology...This doesn't exclude the
accuracy of class analysis (men/women or proletariat/bourgeois) but
enriches it by an indispensible self-questionning (a process that we still
have great difficulties to accept and which surely explains, at least in
part, systematic anger rushes caused by feminist theories). The ennemy
which we usually try to confront in the street is in fact also inside of
everyone of us. Without confronting patriarchal culture, we can destroy as
many G8, world bank, corporations and state summits as we want, we'll
surely end up by creating all over again exactly the same types of social
relations. You can't change society without changing the individual, just
as you can't start a revolution wiythout having already experienced
different ways of life.
An emancipation of men ?

The problem of patriarchy doesn't only relate to women's oppression and
anticapitalist struggles. As men we can also analyse how much patriarchal
culture can also make us suffer and is opposed to our emancipation and to
the building of different social relationships. We're obviously
actors/agent but also often victims of constantly needing to stay
competitive, strong, of feeling the need to dominate others even in our
own « alternative » spaces and collectives. But we're usually afraid to
question these attitudes as they constitute ourselves and give us roles of
power... We also suffer from a sexual culture that guarantee masculine
domination and is more generally a safeguard for couples/family/state
complementary structures.To do so, this culture base our sexuality on violence, frustration,
extremely restrictive norms, and repression. To this regard, Reich and his
book « sexual revolution » can still has some relevance. On this
particular issue, he shows that a deconstruction of masculinity could
bring a great potential to destroy  capitalist society
An activism for men

Many of us, european activists, involved in various collectives, are 
white heterosexual middle-class men. We've been educated to feel strong,
self-confident with our ideas and analyses, to be able to speak loud and
to fight to show that we're better than others. It makes us good « meeting
warriors ». We have capacities in various well valued areas and specific
technical fields as building, repairing, computer work... Other people and
especially women generally suffer from a culture and education – even
sometimes in left middle-class intellectual families... - which prevent
them from acquiring these nice patriarchal tools. Some often feel
disempowered in the activist culture and it's ways of doing things that
are suposed to be so different. Many of them are quickly sick of it ,
others have great difficulties to assert themselves inside it.
Let's only give a few examples of this patriarchal activism :

- in our actions and the mythology that we build around, we keep on
glorifying mostly  the most spectacular/confrontationnal aspects and the
situations in which male heroes can rise on the stage of activism. To take
a common example, we'll pay a lot more attention to the one who has
dropped the banner than to anyone who painted it. More care to the stones
thrown at cops than to the time spent talking about new repressive laws
with people in the street (which doesn't mean that we shouldn't drop
banner or throw more stones at cops, men and women together... it's
another debate)- in many situations, we can feel a constant pressure to show how
courageous we are, how much we dont give a shit about repression and are
ready to revenge eye for eye, teeth for teeth. I'm  pro-direct action and
I'm not against various violent strategies but not when it turns in a
contest of testosterone, that sometimes strategically blind us, and can
also quickly exclude many.- even if some types of efficiency are usefull (if taken as reaching our
goal with positive and equalitarian political methods and without
alienating collectives and individuals), we should also be conscious that
a typically masculine understanding of efficiency (taken as having things
done as fast as possible by those who know the best how to do it)
disempowers and excludes many, especially women. We could say the same of
our tendencies to compile as many spectacular events as we can instead of
giving time for long-term and sometimes more efficient campaigns ;- the great justifications that we always have to keep on doing things
instead of others (« it will be less tiring, safer, better done.. ») often
hide old sexist gallantry ;- be it in activist or more personnal environnements, we often give
priority to technical discussions and fellowship between specialists
without much helping others to take part (but rather to stay spectators).
We're constantly developping relations of the type « I know better, I do
better... » where we mostly try to show that we are more radical,
stronger, that we're right or that we were there, that we've been listened
to, that we're involved since a long time, that we gave a lot for the
cause...- regarding the relationships in the anticapitalist radical scene, I often
wonder whether we're happy to see people doing goog things and changing
the world together through various ways, or if we're in fact sometimes
secretly or openly eager to see other groups or collective stagnate or
have difficulties... Do we sincerely want other people to do cool things
and help them to do so, or do we want to be seen as the most prestigious.
We sometimes end up reproducing party type politics (« I agree with him
because he's my friend ») hiding important and needed political debates
(often pushed by oppressed minorities) for the sake of unity.The feelings
described here could seem quite mean but many situations show how much
they can paralyse our movements on a large scale.
The pseudo-importance of gender questions in our collectives

We have all experienced meetings in which premises of debates end with
this sad joke « yes, gender issues are really important, but let's reach a
decision first, organise this debate / action. We'll take care about it
next time... » Efficiency is always a good excuse. It's an example among
many others of the ways, generally not assumed, in which we give priority
to certain struggles and wait for the day of revolution and the end of
capitalism to deal seriously with patriarchy (or power structures in our
collectives, or incoherences betweeen our ideas and practices...)We always consider ourselves as antisexist, but how much time do we truly
take to work on the issue of patriarchy ? When we adress this issue in a
mixed context, it's generally restrained to what's happening far from us,
or to a depressing list of the type « men do / don't do this; women do
/don't do that » (see the first paragraph of this text) without more
analysis and/or real potential to go towards concrete changes. If we only
count on the initiatives taken by straight/hetero men, anti-sexism, in the
radical anticapitalis movements, mainly appears to be a superficial
folklore. We sometimes debate but let women take real initiatives on the
issue. And the women who do it are often judged and condemned, as some
think they act in too confrontationnal a way (when they disturb the great
consensus of masculine fellowship, or point to the inconsistencies between
theory and individual practices... just think about the extremely tense
reactions that arise when non-mixed spaces or meetings are suggested
during ùeetings, debates, actions camps...). The result is that many women
who have a will to struggle against patriarchal society end up by giving
up actions, collectives and mixed movements such as PGA.
Changing...a few specific ideas.

Gender issues should be a major focus in every one of our collectives and
every action : why is this action generally organised by whithe
middle-class men ? What we can we do on a concrete level to change this
situation and to create a confortable frame for others ? are we ready to
take time for all this ?Here are a few ideas :
- spend time and space for non-mixed meetings between men and between
women inside each collective ;- interevene every time we perceive the habitual division between tasks
taken care of by women or men in our collectives, places, meetings and
activities ;-  diverse people judge that clearly formalised structures for meetings
(for example by way of handsigns/gestures, clear agendas, turns of speech,
clear reports, moderators, a fluid decision-making process to reach
consensus, giving priority to people who don't usually express themselves,
etc.) help at the very least to feel at ease during meetings, and to break
the monopoly of big mouths ;- often, women who take care of children must reduce the time they might
want to spend on militant activities. Political groups should take
concrete measures to collectively take care of children at times when
their mothers wish to do something else (an example : at the PGA
conference, london activists claimed to have occupied a nursery that was
on the verge of closing down because of a privatisation process.These people tried to self-manage the nursery and turned it into a social
centre for the neighborhood with baby-sitting services) ;- one should also take time to think about ostentatious pro-feminist
attitudes that can easily hide a superficial strategy of acknowledgement,
seduction, maybe even paternalist attitudes and reappropriation of
feminist struggles. To my mind, this doesn't mean that one shouldn't
discuss patriarchal themes with women, but rather   that we should
question a minimum our reasons and ways of doing it.

If you know how to make a bomb...

Other basic and funny strategies to subvert patriarchal culture starting
with ourselves and ultimately to end up with (why not ?) the whole world.We assume that most of the differences between men and women are neither
essential, nor permanent, neither rooted in any natural or religious
transcendental order. For  the most, these differences are the result of
our socialization and of cultural and economical stakes throughout
history.It is still possible for us to intervene freely on these
differences and to modfy them as we please (even if it's hard work that
can take generations...).  I modestly try here to offer a paradigm for
this process of change. A paradigm that can be freely recycled, changed or
1) Ingredients and goals

Our first task is to try to define and analyse methodically what, in our
patriarchal culture, is more often attributed to men on one side, and to
women on the other. We should then attempt to perceive the various ways in
which these differences are used by some to dominate others. We can assume
that there are presently good and bad things, to keep or to reject, in
both masculine and feminine specific social attributes. Therefore, a
potential aim would be to build a society in which, what we believe as
fulfilling could be equally shared on an egalitarian basis : be it
self-confidence, technical/practical capacities, the care given to others,
communication abilities, creating beautiful things, pratical things,
cooking, growing vegetables, repairing a computer or building a wall...
2) Pastry-making theory and recomposition of the ingredients

A second step would be to evaluate our various capacities, what they can
offer us  in both positive and negative aspects, what we would like to
keep and transform for a society that would be less ugly. None of these
qualities are intrinsically good or wrong. It all depends on our use of
it, and of our capacities to transform it : for example, masculine
self-confidence as it is presently expressed often oppresses others. But
it also potentially offers fulfilling potentials to individuals. It can
initiate huge dynamics, the will to surpass oneself and to change things.
.. This step should bring us many theoritical questions, both instructive
and deeply moving as : how to keep the will to change things without
competition, how to keep sexual desire without domination, the capacity to
talk and to argue without predominantly using it to win people over...
Pastry theory is a process that needs to be constantly renewed.
3) practice and pastry mix
We should then develop practices through which men and women could acquire
positive social benefits of each gender. Aiming at exchanging knowledges
(know-hows), slowing the pace of what we usually do and taking the time to
explain it to others. incrasing the value of some things that are usually
discredited (house cleaning for example) and exploring new things.We
mainly define our social role, even in the activist world, by our
activites (be it cooking, flyer writing, meeting, cleaning, painting,
communicating with others..). We are more than often too afraid to give up
this rôle. We are afraid to loose some of the privileges it gives us. We
are also often afraid to try do something new when there's already someone
that does it in a really good way.We should nevertheless take time to get
out of our shell, to do things that we aren't used to, and to offer space
for others in the activities that we usually monopolise (which can take
time before working efficiently). This process should be guided by the
will to get away from our usual focuses in order to feel things in new
ways, to find new beautiful things... An important tool for this can be to
have spaces at our disposal which are protected enough to feel confortable
to experiment. It seems important to me for these spaces (like some
squats, autonomous places, collective housings) to be not only spaces of
public activities but also of collective daily life : living spaces !
4) Incorporating exotic ingredients

Getting out of patriarchal culture means starting with what we have,
redistributing and recreating our old gender habits, but it also means
doing something new :- creating new words, because our language structures our relationship to
the world (I've used in this text, in quite a paradoxical  way, a certain
amount of typically manly and warlike language concepts in order to
subvert others)- inventing new feelings, new couples or non-couples
relationships,inventing qualities and smiles that don't exist yet, spaces
and actions that make us live differently. All the stories, pictures,
movies, situations that we have lived with, espacially as kids, have built
little by little our sensitivity, our ways of having sex,  what we find as
beautiful, exciting, what make us cry or make us stronger. We have all
felt how difficult it could be to bring together new learnt things and
theoritical ideas with our sensitivity.Renewed debates and thoughts, rationnal will to change our feelings toward
things can help us, little by little, to make sensitivity change.
Nevertheless, it's often difficult, as pictures and fictions constantly
push us back to a standardized sensitivity. Moreover, even if we change
individually or in communities, these pictures and fictions will continue
to shape the desires and frustrations of the generations that will follow
us. Sensitivity needs to be fed on dreams and stories, our theoritical
ideas need a new imaginary world. A struggle aimed at deconstructing
masculinity should therefore spend time building a new subversive culture
(be it through books, music, painting, theater, movies) which would give
us pictures and feelings of degendered society and of the necessary
struggles and tensions to reach it.
Beware !
The repetition of these operations could make us compose a new world where
everybody could be free to live diverse and fulfillings feelings,
practices and sexualities, without having one's desires and potentials
determined by being born male or female. So...

PS : This text predominantly proposes ideas and actions for men in the
frame of mind to question patriarchy and masculinity.However, in the last part « how to make a bomb... », I've considered mixed
dynamics as I state only really general ideas. But I have to say that i
find it really problematic, profiting on many regard from this oppressive
system, to give my opinion on whatever women should or should not do. The
fact that this text is adressed to men doesn't implie that men are the
only actors of this system and the only one who have to question and
change. Patriarchy, as every oppressive system, is often accepted and
maintained from both sides, so initiatives and a will  to  emancipate
ourselves are needed from both sides.But to start with, many women have struggled for ages with these issues
without much support. Moreover, as a man, it seems to me really
counter-productive and dangerous to focus on what women should or should
not do, what they do well or wrong. We'll never act instead of them and
should never wish to do so... So instead of taking the rôle of external
judges, let's first take care of what we can do ourselves. As oppressors,
it could even be easier for us, in many regards, to break this system,
with a little bit of good will.
Nicolu - dijon -janvier 03 - nicolu at chutelibre.org – with the great help
of juules and others for the still unsatisfaying english translation
To be read :... As most of my documentations was in french, I'll have to
find english ressources and you'll have to wait a little bit for that.

A few more reflections on the usefullness of men-only groups  as a tool to
struggle against patriarchy and oppressive masculinity.
The idea of women-only and men-only groups, practices and actions is often
rejected and badly mistaken as a segregationist strategy or a way to
reproduce gender differences.Most of the anti-authoritarian feminist groups I know, in european
countries at least, use women only groups as one of the best way they have
to understand the oppressions they suffer from, and to emancipate and
empower themselves.Most of these feminist, as far as I know, don't do it
on seperationist basis and still developp mixed lives, activities and
discussions. All throughout history, groups of oppressed people (be it
proletarians, slaves, black people, colonised people, indiginous people,
gays and lesbians...) took the choice to have some times and spaces
between themselves to organise against their oppressions and oppressors.
Even if many men and anarchist, feeling threaten, just criticize it, and
often don't take much time to try to understand the positive things behind
women's groups, it's women's perfectly legitimate choice to do so.It's not really to me to explain it more and I'd rather focus and
something deeply different  to many regards but that I've experienced as
really usefull and one great tool to positively and collectively confront
masculinity : men-only groups.- let's make it clear that I don't see men-only group as an aim in
itself.It's for me a way to help building the mixed and degendered society
that we can dream of. I would also add that, in my experiences, men-only
groups didn't look like a popular tribunal/court, puritan confessional or
collective therapy where men would have to judge themselves or to compete
for the best pro-feminist. They're on the contrary aimed at being a place
where men share a common goal of feeling confortable to talk and to change
themselves and help others. We were also taking care not to end by just
reinforcing the usual masculine solidarity against women (some men-only
movements espacially in the US are just conservative, essentialists and
pro-masculinists and have nothing to do with what we fight for).- antipatriarchal men groups do not work by the fact it's a men-only
group. Society is full of men-only discussions and spaces (bars, sport
clubs, groups of friends, some collectives) that often just reflects
patriarchal and virile relationships between men. Antipatriarchal men
groups work, when some men choose to do something that rarely happen :
taking some formal and organised time to discuss and struggle against
patriarchy.- if we seriously want to confront masculinity, we need deep and serious
talks about a lot of personnal, intimate and difficult issues. We can
consider ourselves antisexist and struggle on it since years, our mixed
collectives discussions and groups will still sometimes reflect a lot of
oppression,  focus on seduction, fears, frustrations, angers that doesn't
help us to disclose ourselves and put ourselves at risk on every issues.
Non-mixed groups give the possibility to go out of the usual competitive
arena. I've seen myself and many other men adressing personnal issues that
they would never have talked about (at lleast before) in mixed groups and
debates.- one of the basic reasons for it to work sometimes so efficiently is that
a discussion is always easier when you share a common experience with
people around, and can be sometimes unconfortable when you have to speak
of something that doesn't necessarily give you the role of the good guy at
the front of people who could feel oppressed of this situation. It's good
to go beyond this, but men-only groups offer a way to question ourselves,
perceive that we share problems and feelings with others, and feel more
confident to change. It can help to develop, step by step, more sincere
and productive discussions in mixed groups.- in my experience we usually collectively don't take much times and
initiatives as men to speak about patriarchy. We often follow feminists
and at the best say they're right. They're are a lot of «uneasy issues »
that we usually skip in informal situations. Men groups are a way to do
our part of the job as men and to try to change ourselves while women use
women groups to do so... It can help us reach better relations and
understandings of oppressions when we go back to our mixed groups,
discussions and lives.- our relations between men are, to me at least, really frustrating : 
with constant competitions and pressures to be the strongest, smartest,
funniest, the one who knows, do and speak the best. Knowing that those who
are not good at it can just shut up and listen. These relationships are
often enclosed inside rigid norms that prevent us from  many great
feelings, discussions, physical exchanges. Changing our relations to women
is therefore only part of the job, changing our relations to other men is
one of the most important things that we can start doing through men-only

Plus d'informations sur la liste de diffusion Breakingthesilence