Lip Service: The Anti-Globalization Movement on Gender Politics

By Rebick, Judy | Herizons, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Lip Service: The Anti-Globalization Movement on Gender Politics


Rebick, Judy, Herizons


A couple of years ago, I asked Gloria Steinem whether she was concerned that young women seemed more attracted to the anti-globalization movement than to the women's movement. Her reply was, "The anti-globalization movement is the women's movement."

There is no question that women are among the leaders of the anti-globalization movement. In Canada, the first names that come to mind are Naomi Klein and Council of Canadians chair Maude Barlow. Internationally, we can add Vandana Shiva, Susan George and Starhawk to the list. In a world with so few visible women leaders, this is no small accomplishment.

Among young anti-globalization activists, feminist critiques of power and patriarchy have had a profound impact on the methods of organization. In the South, as well as in the North, women play a major role at a grassroots level. In addition, the impact of globalization on women has been documented by women's groups and feminist authors.

However, there is a very real risk that specific issues of concern to women such as male violence and reproductive rights are getting lost in the agenda of the anti-globalization movement. And perhaps more importantly, the critique of patriarchy and capitalism that was developed over many difficult years by second-wave socialist feminists.

According to Klein, "There is a sophisticated and complex understanding of the role that gender and race play in corporate globalization. But women's issues that fall outside that analysis get lost. There is a profound critique of patriarchy as it relates to power."

In fact, the anti-corporate globalization movement has taken its critique of power from the early second-wave women's movement. So much so that some of the same mistakes made by feminists who abandoned organized structures in a bid to equalize their movement are being made again. An article written in 1972 by Jo Freeman called "The Tyranny of Structurelessness" observed that unspoken power within collectives or among anarchists is still relevant. She wrote:

"During the years in which the women's liberation movement has been taking shape, a great emphasis has been placed on what are called leaderless, structureless groups as the main -- if not sole -- organizational form of the movement. The source of this idea was a natural reaction against the over-structured society in which most of us found ourselves, and the inevitable control this gave others over our lives, and the continual elitism of the Left and similar groups among those who were supposedly fighting this overstructuredness. The idea of `structurelessness,' however, has moved from a healthy counter to those tendencies to becoming a goddess in its own right.... A `laissez-faire' group is about as realistic as a `laissez-faire' society; the idea becomes a smokescreen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony over others...."

Thirty years later, the young anarchist scene tends to criticize traditional leadership traits such as public speaking, media interviews and writing. In some circles, observes Klein, "You are not allowed to admit that you value these things, so there is no training for them. Still, someone has to do it and, by default, those who already have the skills do it and mostly that means men."

As a result, some women in the movement are thinking long and hard about their involvement. In a recent article in rabble.ca, activist Krystalline Kraus described her experience with the Black Bloc, a militant anarchist group that marches in demonstrations in masks and dressed all in black.

"`Blocking up' to become the Black Bloc is a great equalizer. With everyone looking the same -- everyone's hair tucked away, our faces obscured by masks, I'm nothing less and nothing more than one entity moving with the whole...," she writes.

"It's once the mask comes off, the problems begin. And it's no surprise that in public debates around violence/non-violence it's always two men yelling their heads at each other, while women can't get a word in edge-wise.

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