The Wagga Feminist Manifesto was an explicitly draft manifesto published earlier this year – the intent clearly being to foster public and other discussion amongst feminists. This is my contribution, and I hope my critiques help a collective nutting out of what a radical manifesto could contain.
To begin: it is not awful that a woman would write this kind of ‘manifesto’; its points are mostly fine, and thinking this way is a common-enough starting point for many white feminists. But its popularity demonstrates some concerning realities about the lack of political depth or understanding in gender-critical feminist networks. I am publishing this here purely because of the draft’s circulation so far.
A. This takes an extremely liberal approach, focussing on ‘truths’ and desired laws rather than on which class forces are inherently oppressive, and which are inherently liberatory; which powerful social institutions are inherently anti-woman.
‘Manifestos’ can sometimes omit these explicit points while still being useful, but they need to at least be there implicitly – to make a point to women and any of our proletarian allies that we view us as being our liberators – and they’re not here.
A manifesto which implicitly steers women towards the current bourgeois ‘solutions’ will keep us moving in circles.
B. This list omits the biggest current attack on women in many countries – that on abortion access. With that conveniently omitted, notice how many of its points will be agreed with by conservatives/reactionaries? Ok, technically these types are in favour of gender, but they are fine with not always saying as much. Duplicitously agreeing on vague catch-alls while pursuing their real agenda for women of compulsory heterosexuality, motherhood and domestic-industrial servitude is very much their style.
C. “Women are oppressed because of our sex and reproductive function” – well, omitting the agent here seems to have aided in the omission of the ‘why’. Yes, the ‘how’ we are selected for oppression is correctly identified, but without the ‘why’ and ‘who’, we go astray. Male sex-right, father-right – male and capitalist resource extraction/appropriation – they get a miss. Shouldn’t a manifesto be identifying these things in order to proclaim our intention to eradicate them? This one, probably unwittingly, nearly suggests instead that female oppression is timeless.
Points 6 and 7 about the sex-class functions of pornography and prostitution are ok in themselves, but why omit the economic system that drives them? Is moral condemnation of phenomena that capitalism will continue to support the “radical” way now? Notice how there’s no mention of the neoliberal austerity drive of the last nearly 50 years, that’s been responsible for so many women being coerced into prostitution. Nor of the collapse of the communist bloc, that did the same. There’s a startling omission here of the economic system that would allow us very easily to outlaw these and other industries which profiteer from others’ labour-power, and to sex-traffick under guise of other activities. The economic system with a proven track-record in ensuring women less demeaning and actually fulfilling jobs.
Point 8 is nice rhetoric, but I’m feeling at this point that something beyond smug pronouncements like this could be a little more helpful. Especially to the women on below-poverty-level “welfare” who can’t buy anything, and know it.This point seems to skate over one problem – that poverty really is oppressive – with another, which is that consumerism and obsessive purchasing are pushed on workers and women especially in a manner that’s wrapped up in socially created unhappiness, via capitalism pushing the “retail ensures happiness” line on us.
Unless our political strategy is to admonish the corporate PR peeps fashioning the latest ’empowerment’ slogan into being properly feminist (how would that look?), I don’t think this slogan “works” unless attached to a point about viewing community organising with other proletarian women as the way forwards. Most women already know that “retail therapy” is more harm than hurt, but a manifesto that points to an alternative is what we need.
“Against other non-females”? If this is supposed to refer to problems experienced by gender-dysphoric males, I think it would be better to state this clearly. There certainly is a very sexist expectation, especially by more liberal- and left-leaning men, that it be women who service these males. However, it might also mean that opposing racism, for instance, isn’t feminism’s problem. Since this ‘manifesto’ doesn’t bother mentioning racism, one can’t exclude that interpretation. We must be clear: Combatting racism is very much feminism’s problem. And a manifesto which ignores the reality that most women are not white, and that racialisation continues to prop up imperialist exploitation of the Global South, simply does not orientate to most women’s needs.
Feminists cannot afford the grand, white-centric bourgeois pronouncements of “All humans deserve basic human rights” which ignore such realities as:
- “human rights” as a concept is constructed to support male interests
- needs which are unspelled out are, in this system especially, ignored needs
Feminists tend to know this implicitly from male-centric hijacking of social media commentary about women’s safety from MVAW being derailed by “everyone needs safety”. The vague-grandiloquent is, in the context of political demands, reactionary in effect if often not in intent.
How would a proletarian-feminist manifesto read? I look forward to women’s thoughts.