Theses on the Feminist Revolution
A leader of Latin America’s powerful new women’s movement rethinks the meaning of feminist politics.
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In this excerpt from Feminist International, Verónica Gago develops theses on her concept of the "feminist strike." Throughout the book, Gago deploys the women’s strike as both a concept and a collective experience. At once a political analysis and a theoretically charged manifesto, Feminist International draws on the author’s experience with radical movements to comment on key debates: from social reproduction and domestic work to the intertwining of financial and gender violence, as well as controversies surrounding the neo-extractivist model of development, the possibilities and limits of left populism, and the ever-vexed nexus of gender-race-class.
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1. The feminist strike is a tool that maps new forms of the exploitation of bodies and territories, with the aim of making such an exploitation visible and insubordination to it formidable. The strike reveals the diverse composition of labor in a feminist register, by recognizing historically disregarded tasks, by showing its current imbrication with generalized precarious conditions, and by appropriating a traditional tool of struggle to reinvent what it means to strike.
The international strike opened up a feminist perspective on labor. Because the feminist perspective recognizes territorial, domestic, reproductive, and migrant labor, it broadens the very notion of the working class, from below. It starts from the recognition that 40 percent of the workers in our country are involved in diverse modes of the so-called informal economy, vindicated as the popular economy. Because it makes visible and values work that has historically been ignored and devalued, it affirms that #AllWomenAreWorkers.
We could take this further and say that the strike opens up a whole program for collective research. What do we call labor from the perspective of the living and working experiences of women, lesbians, trans people, and travestis? When our movement faces the question of what it means to go on strike from reproductive labor, we are, in a practical way, mapping the multiplicity of tasks we take on, the intensive and extensive working days that are not paid, or are badly paid, or are remunerated in a way that always expresses the hierarchy of the sexual division of labor. Some of those tasks have gone almost unrecognized as work; others have been called names that only belittle them.
The feminist strike is strengthened because of its impossibility: it is comprised of the women who cannot strike but desire to do so; of those who cannot stop working for even one day and want to rebel against that exhaustion; of those who believed that it would be impossible to strike with the union leadership’s authorization, and yet called the strike anyway; and of those who were audacious enough to imagine a strike against forces as nebulous as agrotoxins and finance. All of those women pushed the frontiers of the strike. From the conjunction between impossibility and desire, a radical imaginary emerges about the multiple forms of the feminist strike, taking our movement to unsuspected places, prying it open in order to include vital experiences, and reinventing it based on bodies that are disobedient to what is recognized as labor.
With the strike, we made visible the differential of exploitation that characterizes feminized labor: that is, the specific subordination involved in community, neighborhood, migrant, and reproductive labor. We showed how its subordination is an integral and necessary part of all forms of work. We also indicated that there is a concrete place where the stratification of labor starts: in the reproduction of life, from its meticulous and constant organization, which is exploited by capital at the cost of it being obligatory, free, or poorly paid. But we went even further and found that when we take seriously the work of reproduction, and its ties to domestication and colonization, it becomes possible to rethink waged labor, which is itself traversed by ever-greater levels of precarization.
With this way of connecting all the modes of value produc- tion (and exploitation and extraction), we also mapped the concrete imbrication between patriarchal, colonial, and capitalist violence. This made clear, yet again, that the feminist movement is not something external to the question of class and working-class politics, even if it is often presented as such. Nor can it be separated from the question of race. There is no possibility of isolating feminism from those terrains where the combat against renewed forms of exploitation, extraction, oppression, and domination is situated. The feminist movement exhibits the historical character of a class marked by the systematic exclusion of all of those not considered to be white waged workers. Thus, this feminism also shows that there can be no class without understanding its racialization. In this way, the feminist movement makes clear the extent to which the historical narratives and organizational formulas of the labor movement were modes of systematic subordination of feminized and migrant labor and, as such, the cornerstone of the sexual and racial division of labor.
2. With the strike, we produced a new understanding of violence: we escaped the silo of domestic-violence activism by connecting it to economic, labor, institutional, police, racist, and colonial violence. In this way, the organic relationship between sexist and femicidal violence and the current form of capital accumulation becomes clear. The anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, and anti-patriarchal character of the feminist movement comes from the establishment and dissemination of that analysis through our political practice.
The strike produces a perspective simultaneously based on resistance to expropriation, insubordination to labor, and financial disobedience. This creates a unique lens for investigating the relationship between territorial struggles against neo-extractive initiatives and sexual violence; the nexus between harassment and power relations in workplaces; the articulation between the exploitation of migrant and feminized labor and the extraction of value by finance; the plundering of public infrastructure in neighborhoods and (formal and informal) real estate speculation; and the clandestine condition of abortion and the criminalization of Indigenous and Black communities. All of these forms of violence take feminized bodies as spoils of war. The strike not only connects gender-based violence to the violence of dispossession in an analytical way, but through a collective practice that seeks to understand the relations of subordination and exploitation in which femicides are made intelligible, and to chart a strategy of organization and self-defense. Through the assemblies, strikes, encuentros, and demonstrations, the feminist movement practices a popular pedagogy that connects violence and oppression, and does so based on a contempt for both. Its capacity to escape from the totalizing narrative of victimization is what enables the diagnostic of violence to avoid translation into a language of pacification or pure mourning and lament. It is also rejects the institutional responses that reinforce the isolation of the problem and that seek to resolve it through a new government agency or program. These institutional instruments can be important, as long as they are not part of a regime of guardianship that codifies victimization and encloses violence as exclusively domestic. The strike has made it possible to diagnose the intersectionality of violence, and to construct and expand another place of enunciation and organizational horizon of the movement. This broad map widens our view and goes to the roots of the connection between patriarchy, capitalism, and colonialism, building a new shared common sense.
3. The current feminist movement is at once massive and radical. It achieves this rare conjunction because it builds bridges between very different struggles and, in this way, invents and cultivates a mode of political transversality.
Feminism makes explicit something that is not always obvious: that nobody lacks a territory. Thus, it disproves the metaphysical illusion of the isolated individual. Since we are all situated someplace, we can also think of the body not as something isolated and hermetically sealed, but instead as a body-territory. Following this analysis, feminism is no longer an external practice or thought in relation to “others.” Rather, feminism becomes an interpretive key for understanding the conflict in each territory (domestic, affective, labor, migrant, artistic, campesino, urban, popular, community, and so on). This enables the unfurling of an intergenerational mass feminism, because it is taken up as their own by the most diverse spaces and experiences.
How is this transversal composition of movements produced? We start from the interconnection of diverse struggles. This is neither spontaneous nor natural. To the contrary, in relation to feminism, the opposite was true for a long time: it was understood in its institutional and/or academic variants, but historically dissociated from processes of popular confluence. There are fundamental genealogical lines that have made the current expansion possible. We can point to four such lines in Argentina: the history of the human rights struggle since the 1970s, led by the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo; the more than three decades of the Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres (now the Encuentro Plurinacional de Mujeres, Lesbianas, Trans, Travestis, y No Binaries); the emergence of the piquetero movement, which also had a feminized protagonism when it came to confronting the social crisis at the beginning of the century; and a long history of the movement of sexual dissidences, ranging from the legacy of the Frente de Liberación Homosexual (Homosexual liberation front) of the 1970s, to lesbian militancy for autonomous access to abortion, to trans, travesti, and intersex activism that revolutionized the bodies and subjectivities of feminism against biologicist limits.
The form of the strike’s organization produces transversality. In so doing, it updates those historical lines of struggle and projects them onto a feminism of the masses. This feminism is rooted in concrete struggles of popular economy workers, migrants, cooperative workers, precarious workers, women defending their territories, new generations of sexual dissidents, housewives who refuse enclosure, those fighting for the right to abortion in a broad struggle for bodily autonomy, mobilized students, women denouncing agrotoxins, and sex workers, among others. In organizational terms, it creates a common horizon that functions as a practical catalyst.
By weaving together this multiplicity of different conflicts, each rooted in particular relationships of domination and exploitation, the meaning of mass politics is redefined. Now, it is based on practices and struggles that have historically been defined as “minoritarian,” and therefore as anathema to mass politics. The confluence of struggles undoes the presumed opposition between the “minoritarian” and the “majoritarian”: the “minoritarian” takes up the mass scale as a vector of radicalization within a composition that is ever expanding. Therefore, it challenges the neoliberal machinery of minority recognition (as an isolated identity politics) and the pacification of difference (in the register of multicultural neoliberalism).
This political transversality is nourished by the diverse territories of conflict, and it constructs a common affect concerning problems that tend to be experienced as individual, as well as a political diagnosis of the various forms of violence that tend to be encapsulated as “domestic.” This complicates a certain idea of solidarity: that which supposes a level of exteriority that confirms distance in respect to others, refers to forms of political activism via a paternalistic premise, and thus avoids problematizing its own situation while reinforcing a savior logic. Transversality, in contrast, prioritizes a politics of the construction of proximity and alliances, without ignoring the differences of intensity between conflicts.
4. The feminist movement has launched a new critique of political economy. It includes a radical denunciation of the contemporary operations of capitalism, and, in turn, it furnishes an updated concept of exploitation. Crucially, it does all this by broadening what is usually understood as “the economy.”
In Argentina, the intersection of a new branch of feminist economics and the explosion of popular economies has provided us with a new critique of the contemporary conditions of capitalist valorization. The material fabric of these economies is composed of cartoneros (informal trash pickers) and sewing workers, market vendors and care workers, cooks and community health practitioners, cleaners and small agrarian producers, all of whom emerged from social mobilizations at different moments of crisis. Popular economies, as reproductive and productive webs, express an accumulation of struggles that opens up the imagination of the feminist strike. That is why in Argentina the feminist strike manages to deploy, problematize, and valorize a multiplicity of tasks based on a map of work in a feminist register, since it is connected to a piquetero genealogy and its problematization of waged labor and forms of “inclusion.” It is these experiences that are at the origin of popular economies and that persist as an insurgent element that is summoned once again by popular feminisms.
Two processes take place in popular economies with the organization of the feminist strikes. On one hand, there is a politicization of reproductive spheres beyond the home, which become the concrete spaces for expanding the definition of labor that is recognized and valued by the strike. On the other hand, a feminist perspective highlights the patriarchal and colonial mandates that naturalize those tasks as “women’s work,” enabling them to be exploited and value to be extracted from them.
By defying the inscription and enclosure of reproductive tasks in the family, the feminist strikes challenge the permanent moral augmentation imposed by social welfare benefits. This creates an intersection between feminist economics and the popular economy that radicalizes both experiences. Through the strike, the feminist movement also produces figures of subjectivation (be they vital trajectories, forms of cooperation, or modes of life) that escape the neoliberal binary that opposes victims to entrepreneurs of the self (even using the pseudo-language of “gender liberation” that speaks of entrepreneurial “empowerment”). In this sense, feminisms are anti-neoliberal because they take on the task of collective organization against individual suffering, and because they denounce systematic policies of dispossession.
The current feminist movement puts forth a precise characterization of neoliberalism and, therefore, expands the horizon of what we call anti-neoliberal politics. Due to the types of conflicts that it maps, visibilizes, and mobilizes, a complex notion of neoliberalism unfolds that cannot be reduced to the binary of “the state versus the market.” On the contrary, its struggles point to the connection between the extractive logic of capital and its imbrication with state policies, determining why value is exploited and extracted from certain body-territories. The perspective of feminist economics is therefore anti-capitalist.