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The Verso Book of Feminism on International Women's Day

Niunamenos-

Throughout written history and across the world, women have protested the restrictions of gender and the violence and limitations placed on women’s bodies and women’s lives. People—of any and no gender—have protested and theorized, penned manifestos and written poetry and songs, gone on strike and fomented revolution, quietly demanded that there is an “I” and loudly proclaimed that there is a “we.”

Later this year (October 2020) we publish the The Verso Book of Feminism: Revolutionary Words from Four Millennia of Rebellion, an unprecedented collection of feminist voices from four millenia of global history.

To mark International Women's Day 2020, we bring you a selection of entries: voices that should be heard far wide, a rallying cry to our ongoing feminist movements.

Proverb from the Cheyenne people

A nation is not conquered until

the hearts of its women

are on the ground.

Then it is done, no matter

how brave its warriors

nor how strong their weapons.

This proverb is from the native Tsétsėhéstȧhese peoples of the Great Plains of North America, commonly known as the Cheyenne. [1]

***

Moderata Fonte, 'The Worth of Women', 1600 

Do you really believe . . . that everything historians tell us about men––or about women––is actually true? You ought to consider the fact that these histories have been written by men, who never tell the truth except by accident.

Born in Venice in 1555, Moderata Fonte built her reputation as a writer before marrying at twenty-seven. In The Worth of Women, Fonte argued for women's superiority to men based on their intelligence. Fonte died in childbirth at thirty-seven; her tomb's epitaph declares Fonte "a very learned woman." [2]

***

Flora Tristan, 'The Emancipation of Woman, or the Testament of the Pariah', 1843

The most oppressed man finds a being to oppress, his wife: she is the proletarian of the proletarian.

French-Peruvian socialist Flora Tristan, grandmother of Paul Gauguin, published her call for the self-emancipation of the working class, The Workers' Union, one year before her death in 1844. She was among the first to argue that the liberation of women and the proletariat were mutual preconditions. This selection is taken from a collection of her writings and research notes published after her death. [3]

***

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, 'We Are All Bound Up Together', 1866

I feel I am something of a novice upon this platform. Born of a race whose inheritance has been outrage and wrong, most of my life had been spent in battling against those wrongs. But I did not feel as keenly as others, that I had these rights, in common with other women, which are now demanded....

We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul. You tried that in the case of the negro. You pressed him down for two centuries; and in so doing you crippled the moral strength and paralyzed the spiritual energies of the white men of the country....

You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs. I, as a colored woman, have had in this country an education which has made me feel as if I were in the situation of Ishmael, my hand against every man and every man's hand against me....

Talk of giving women the ballot-box? Go on. It is a normal school, and the white women of this country need it. While there exists this brutal element in society which tramples upon the feeble and treads down the weak, I tell you that if there is any class of people who need to be lifted out of their niry nothing and selfishness, it is the white women of America.

One of the most prominent black lyric poets in nineteenth-century American letters, Harper's exquisite poems mirrored her commitments to black women's experiences of slavery, freedom, and capitalism. This speech, delivered at the Eleventh Annual Women's Rights Convention in New York in 1866, marked both Harper's commitment to feminist causes and her critique of the white supremacy of much of the suffrage movement, prefacing the work of black feminism, women of color feminism, and intersectionality in the next two centuries. [4]

***

Clara Zetkin, 'Only in Conjunction With the Proletarian Woman Will Socialism be Victorious', 1896

The proletarian woman has become enmeshed in the mechanism of the economic life of our period and has been driven into the workshop and to the machines. She went out into economic life in order to aid her husband in making a living, but the capitalist mode of production transformed her into an unfair competitor. She wanted to bring prosperity to her family, but instead misery descended upon it. The proletarian woman obtained her own employment because she wanted to create a more sunny and pleasant life for her children, but instead she became almost entirely separated from them....

Therefore the liberation struggle of the proletarian woman cannot be similar to the struggle that the bourgeois woman wages against the male of her class. On the contrary, it must be a joint struggle with the male of her class against the entire class of capitalists.... Her rights as wife and mother need to be restored and permanently secured. Her final aim is not free competition with the man, but the achievement of the political rule of the proletariat …. She also agrees with the demands of the bourgeois women’s movement, but she regards the fulfillment of these demands simply as a means to enable that movement to enter the battle, equipped with the same weapons, alongside the proletariat.

A close friend of Rosa Luxemburg, Zetkin founded the first international women’s day on May 8, 1911. She was a co-founder of the Sparticist League, which evolved into the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). For thirteen years she represented the KPD in the Reichstag, and in 1932, as the chairwoman of the Reichstag, she called on Germans to resist the Nazis. The next year Hitler’s party banned the KPD, and Zetkin died in exile in the Soviet Union. Here, she delineates the revolutionary communist approach to women’s emancipation from feminist movements that focused mainly on suffrage and political rights. It is this distinction that explains why many communist women in these decades, though passionate fighters for women’s liberation, refused to call themselves feminists. [5]

***

He-Yin Zhen, 'Feminist Manifesto', 1907

In sum, men and women are both human. By [saying] "men" (nanxing) and "women" (nüxing) we are not speaking of "nature," as each is but the outcome of differing social customs and education. If sons and daughters are treated equally, raised and educated in the same manner, then the responsibilities assumed by men and women will surely become equal. When that happens, the nouns "men" and "women" would no longer be necessary. This is ultimately the "equality of men and women" of which we speak. People in China have recently come to believe that for women to reach this goal, they must apply themselves to herald--even ahead of men--racial, political, economic, and other revolutions; they must not allow themselves to lag behind men again. According to their view, the revolution between men and women should proceed side by side with racial, political, and economic revolutions. [They believe] if they succeeded, women could establish the first real regime of "women's rights" in the world. If they failed, women would perish with men, never to be subjugated by them again. I think this is a narrow-minded view. Whether people agree with me or condemn me is not my concern here.

He-Yin Zhen was one of the most influential radical theorists in modern Chinese history, founding the Society for the Restoration of Women's Rights and the journal Natural Justice (Tianyi) which spread Marxist, feminist, anarchist, and socialist ideas through late Qing-dynasty China and East Asia. [6]

***

Ding Ling, 'Thoughts on March 8', 1942

[T]he pretext for divorce is invariably the wife's political backwardness.... Before marrying, they were inspired by the desire to soar in the heavenly heights and lead a life of bitter struggle. They got married partly because of physiological necessity and partly as a response to sweet talk about "mutual help." Thereupon they are forced to toil away and become "Noras returned home." Afraid of being thought "backward," those who are a bit more daring rush around begging nurseries to take their children. They ask for abortions and risk punishment and even death by secretly swallowing potions to produce abortions. But the answer comes back: "Isn't giving birth to children also work? You're just after an easy life; you want to be in the limelight. After all, what indispensable political work have you performed? Since you are so frightened of having children and are not willing to take responsibility once you have had them, why did you get married in the first place? No one forced you to." Under these conditions, it is impossible for women to escape this destiny of "backwardness."... It should be self-evident that they are in a tragic situation. But whereas in the old society they would probably have been pitied and considered unfortunate, nowadays their tragedy is seen as something self-inflicted, as their just desserts.

Written for International Women's Day, this essay by Chinese writer and Communist Party activist Ding Ling—the pen name for Jiang Lhingzi—was highly controversial, for it offers biting critique of the revolutionary left for sidelining women's emancipation, and for papering over sexism with professions of revolutionary purity. Though she remained loyal to the Party through the Chinese Revolution in 1949, her feminist views ultimately led to imprisonment and expulsion from the party. [7]

***

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, 'Campaign Slogan', 1968

I will take my seat and fight for your rights.

In 1969, at the age of twenty-one, Irish Catholic Bernadette Devlin McAliskey was elected to Parliament to represent Northern Ireland. She took her seat with this memorable phrase, and devoted her career as a politician and activist to fighting for self-determination and freedom for Northern Ireland. [8]

***

Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), Transvestite-Transexual Action Organization (TACO) and Fems Against Sexism (FAS), 'Transvestite and Transsexual Liberation', 1970

Demands:

1. Abolishment of all crossdressing laws and restrictions of adornment.

2. An end to exploitation and discrimination within the gay world,

3. An end to exploitative practices of doctors and psychiatrists who work in the fields of transvestism and transsexualism. Hormone treatment and transsexual surgery should be provided free upon demand by the state.

4. Transsexual assistance centers should be created in all cities of over one million inhabitants, under the direction of postoperative transsexuals.

5. Transvestites and transsexuals should be granted full and equal rights on all levels of society and a full voice in the struggle for the liberation of all oppressed people.

6. Transvestites who exist as members of the opposite anatomical gender should be able to obtain full identification as members of the opposite gender. Transsexuals should be able to obtain such identification commensurate to their new gender with no difficulty, and not be required to carry special identification as transsexuals. There should be no special licensing requirements of transvestites or transsexuals who work in the entertainment field.

7. Immediate release of all persons in mental hospitals or prison for transvestism or transsexualism.

We share in the oppression of gays and we share in the oppression of women.

Trans Lib includes transvestites, transsexuals and hermaphrodites of any sexual manifestation and of all sexes—heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and asexual. It is becoming a separate movement as the great majority of transvestites are heterosexual, and many transsexuals (postoperative) are also heterosexual, and because the oppression directed towards us is due to our transvestism and transsexualism and for no other reason. We unite around our oppression as all oppressed groups unite around their particular oppression. All power to trans liberation.

Alongside the rise of radical feminism and the gay liberation movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s was the emergence of a Trans Liberation movement, dedicated to combatting oppression and stigma in the broader world as well as within the activist movements of which they were already a part. This statement was written by activists from New York and Los Angeles. [9]

***

Mariarosa Dalla Costa, 'A General Strike', 1974

We all do housework; it is the only thing all women have in common, it is the only base on which we can gather our power, the power of millions of women.

It is no accident that reformists of every stripe have always carefully avoided the idea of our organising on the basis of housework. They have always refused to recognise housework as work, precisely because it is the only work that we all have in common. It is one thing to confront two or three hundred women workers in a shoe factory, and quite another to confront millions of housewives. And since all women factory workers are housewives, it is still another matter to confront these two or three hundred factory workers united with millions of housewives....

For us, therefore, the demand for Wages for Housework is a direct demand for power, because housework is what millions of women have in common.

Marxism had long offered working people—women and men alike—a theory of their own political and economic power, an understanding of social oppression, and a vision of revolution. In the 1970s, feminists influenced by Marxism yet critical of its focus on mostly male "wage labor" began redefining labor to include women's unpaid domestic work, and arguing that it played a key role in the function of capitalism—and thus could be capitalism's undoing. In this speech given on International Women's Day, Italian feminist Mariarosa Dalla Costa advocates for women to go on strike from housework and demand pay, holidays, and shorter hours. [10]

***

Swazi Wedding Song, 'Song Seven', ca. 1990 

I got married young.

I do not have any energy left.

All my energy got wasted in marriage.

All my energy, all my strength is gone, oh my Lord.

I got married young.

All my strength is gone.

Marriage has defeated me.

All my energy is gone.

Marriage has defeated me.

Recorded in the early 1990s in Swaziland, a series of communal Swazi wedding songs describes the ways women are expected to conform to often oppressive conditions of marriage. [11]

***

Catrina Felton and Liz Flanagan, 'A Tidda’s Manifesto', 1993

The elevated status that White women have enables them to secure the resources to control feminism... Generally speaking White feminists have not recognised or challenged the implications of racism or the historical and political discrimination that Koori women face... That is why many Koori tiddas view feminism as simply another White politically controlled institution, established to benefit White women, first and foremost.

This manifesto from Australian Aboriginal "tiddas"—sisters—charges white Australian feminism with racism, a legacy of the country's settler colonial history. [12]

***

Hito Steyerl, 'Future Perfect', 2013

But what could be more unexpected and stunning than to find out that we will have been taking our future into our own hands? And that we will have wrestled it back from the control of capitalist realism, which for so long has told us that we could imagine everything but a future that is different from our present? That has left us with endless choices but no options?

Multimedia artist Hito Steyerl's work explores the divisions between art, philosophy, and politics, asking us to envision radically different futures and ways of seeing. [13]

***

Ni Una Menos, 'Call to the International Women's Strike', 2017

This March 8 the earth trembles. The women of the world unite and organize a measure of strength and a common cry: International Women's Strike. We stand. We strike, we organize and we find ourselves in one another. We enact the world we want to live in.... We organize in all places: in our homes, in the streets, in the workplace, in schools, in markets, in neighborhoods. The strength of our movement lies in the links we make with each other.

We organize to change everything.

Ni Una Menos (Not One Less), Argentina, is a grassroots feminist movement that campaigns against gender violence. The campaign was started by a collective of Argentine women artists, journalists, and scholars after the femicides of Daiana Garcia, 19, and Chiara Paez, 14, in 2015. It soon spread into a mass movement, not only in Argentina, but to other Latin American countries and around the world. For International Women's Day on March 8, 2017, Ni Una Menos called for a global women's strike. [14]

***

- Entries taken from the forthcoming Verso Book of Feminism (October 2020). See all our International Women's Day reading here.

1 Cheyenne Proverb. Quoted in Mary Crow Dog, Lakota Woman, Harper Perennial, 1990.

2 Moderata Fonte. The Worth of Women: Wherein is Clearly Revealed Their Nobility and Their Superiority to Men, transl. Virginia Cox, University of Chicago Press, 1997.

3 Flora Tristan. “The Emancipation of Women or, The Tsetament of the Pariah.” Éliphas Lévi, ed. 1846.

4 Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. A Brighter Coming Day: Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Reader, ed. by Frances Smith Foster, The Feminist Press, 1993.

5 Clara Zetkin. Selected Writings, ed. Philip Foner, trans. Kai Schoenhals, International Publishers, 1984.

6 He-Yin Zhen, from The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory, ed. by Lydia Liu, Rebecca E Karl, and Dorothy Ko. Copyright © 2013 Columbia University Books. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

7 Ding Ling. Quoted in In I Myself Am a Woman: Selected Writings of Ding Ling, Tani E. Barlow and Gary J. Bjorge, eds., Beacon, 1989. Translated by Gregor Benton.

8 Bernadette Devlin McAliskey. Quoted in The Price of My Soul, Knopf, 1969.

9 STAR, TACO, FAS. “Transvestite and Transsexual Liberation,” The Gay Dealer, October 1970. Collected in Michelle O’Brien, ed., Revolutionary Feminisms, Communist Research Cluster, 2016.

10 Mariarosa dalla Costa. Collected in All Work and No Pay: Women, Housework, and the Wages Due. eds. Wendy Edmond and Suzie Fleming, Power of Women Collective and the Falling Wall Press, 1975. Used with permission from the author.

11 Swazi Wedding Song. Transcribed in Women Writing Africa: The Southern Region, ed. Margaret J. Daymond et al, The Feminist Press, 2003. Translated by Thulisile Motsa Dladla.

12 Catrina Felton and Liz Flanagan. “Institutionalised Feminism: A Tidda's Perspective," Lilith 8, Summer 1993. Used with permission from Lilith.

13 Hito Steyerl. The Way of the Shovel: On the Archaeological Imaginary in Art, University of Chicago Press, 2013. Used with permission from the author.

14 Ni Una Menos. “Call to the International Women’s Strike,” blogs.lse.ac.uk/gender/2017/03/08/call-to-the-international-womens-strike-march-8-2017.