Why is it urgent to reconnect with humanist feminism ?

By Deborah Liebart. First appeared on DisputatioMagistrorum. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.3576363
Licensed under the CreativeCommons4.0 BY-NC-SA

  Today, to celebrate the first anniversary of the Yellow Vests movement, I would like to focus on these anonymous women who daily fight in the name of ancestral solidarity forgotten in recent decades1. The feminine sociological composition of the Yellow Vest troops challenges the observer, as it sticks to historical realities of peaceful revolutionary struggles of women : not just to defend their individual rights, their own bodies, according to the feminist slogan of the « second wave », from the 1960s and 1970s, but much more to a universal feminism fighting for human rights, against all types of oppression, not for their own body but for the entire social body. It is to these pioneers of care that I want to pay tribute today, to those forgotten in History, overshadowed by some contemporary figures erasing the essence of past feminist struggles, in the name of a certain individualism reducing to gender principles.

  Seeing these women in demonstrations and strikes, gather around roundabouts, hearing them talking about their daily lives with a smile, using humor against the incertainty of the end of the month, the uncertain future of their children, the breakdown of systems of solidarity… In all this, we see the contours of an ancestral feminism redrawn, in which the figure of woman regains all its nobility. It is the story of the utopians who devoted their lives to the fight for the abolition of privileges of all kinds, to the abolition of the exploitation of the working masses, to the improvement of the living conditions of the most precarious during long and daily fights. This is the story of Jeanne Deroin, mocked by Proudhon, who fought her whole life for the rights of women, a fight she describes, during her candidacy in the legislative elections of 1849, as intimately linked to the cause of the people, by examining the issues of the abolition of birth privileges, the improvement of the daily life of the working class, the transformation of private property, the issue of professional and social education… All her life she fought peacefully for the underprivileged, the precarious, the emancipation of the workers and the emancipation of women as an oppressed minority… Behind the speech, beyond words, is the implementation of practical measures. She created a school for poor children. Then, it was the development of community dispensaries in neighborhoods, carried by women fighting against poverty and social ills : malnutrition, exhaustion of the bodies, illiteracy, educational gaps… a whole spectrum of ills, managed by women who, since immemorial time, have been the primary caregivers, responsible and accountable for families, caring for children, helping the elderly… This feminism, which does not oppose men against women, far from seeking to assert the superiority of women over men, puts women at the heart of society, offering them all the nobility of being, in themselves, the social link.

  The constant involvement of women in social movements around the world, more than highlighting that they are the first witnesses and the first victims of anti-social measures, (because it is women who have always fed their families and managed family budgets), brings to light this image of guardian of solidarity, a powerful image that has always made the boldest political authorities think twice. So, how did we go from humanist feminism to a much more individualistic feminism ? The answer is undoubtedly to be sought in the diffusion of feminist ideas of the « second wave », in the years 1960-1970, from the United States, in the context of the contestation of the Vietnam War, but also later with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Eastern bloc. Feminist movements then no longer aimed at women’s equality nor at the acquisition of widely acquired social rights, but rather aimed at the liberation of women, led by the « Mouvement de libération de la femme« .

  Exclusively reserved for women, “these groups are characterized by the asserted refusal of any structure, bureaucracy, leadership, they advocate power sharing, decentralization, informal meetings. They carry out symbolic actions like, for example, the deposit at the Arc de Triomphe of a funeral commemorative wreath to the unknown wife of the unknown soldier2« . By breaking with the previous feminist tradition, the “muses” of the “second wave movement”, focusing their fight on the questions of sexual liberation, patriarchy to be cut down and male domination, have ousted the social question, the question of the segregation of minorities, the issue of fundamental rights… and they have increased the development of liberalism and neoliberalism developing at the time when women entered the labor market. Liberalism and feminism fighting against the same structural, social, family and state frameworks have nurture questionnable connections, for the benefit of companies finding a way to lower wages, due to this new competition from women on the labor market, but also because of the contemporary feminist ideology itself, defending an individualism generally carried by the movements of the 1960s and following. An individualism becoming a goal, an end in itself, a social recognition of the self at the expense of the questions originally carried by women such as Flora Tristan or Louise Michel fighting for a fairer world and engaging in socialism in the most utopian socialism, alongside Fourier in France or Owen in England. Women fighters, supported by men, working with them, without asking the question of gender.

  What do we gain by prioritizing fights, prioritizing suffering, worthy and unworthy causes ? The feminists of 1848 included all these causes under the banner of social struggles, exactly as yellow vests women do, today, connecting the issue of the end of the month and the question of the end of the world, the social question and the ecological question.

  Beyond “#MeToo”, one can wonder where the feminist movements have gone in the great social struggles? Where are they to denounce the fact that 700 children daily sleep on the streets in Paris, the growing impoverishment of populations across Europe ? Where are they, to denounce the colossal lack of resources of the European hospital3, inequalities at school4, the planned end of the welfare state in Europe, contemporary migration policies and the transformation of the Mediterranean into a cemetery ? The disappearance of 30,000 isolated minors during their migratory trek5 ? Child suicide attempts in migrant camps6 ?… It is quite sure that neither Jeanne Deroin, nor Flora Tristan, nor Louise Michel, would have remained silent facing these dramas and these social injustices. Each, in their own way, peacefully or on the barricades, they would have seized these questions, and would have put all their energy, all their expertise to fight these evil. Second wave feminism has generally abandoned the criticism of the economic and social system at the moment when neoliberalism imposed itself as the dominant doctrine and swept away by discrediting them, all the alternatives, all the minority discourses opposing it, making this new feminist movement an accomplice to the system that all of the previous feminist ideology had fought against at high cost. At the same time, part of feminist currents criticized social protection, in particular family policies, in the name of the discrimination existing between « paid work » and « unpaid work », putting their finger on the burden of care devolved to women, critics who opened the way more to the restructuring of the care and social protection system to the detriment of the population in general, and of women themselves, in particular, than in the recognition and consideration of female alienation from household tasks…

  By listening and defending the same causes as liberalism and neoliberalism, the feminist movement has destabilized the social balance of the three forces involved : neoliberalism, emancipatory movements and social protection. Utopian feminists were already defending the idea of a basic income7, the recognition of care as a pillar of society, because caring precarious, fragile people, (child, elderly, poor workers, unfortunates…), was an original feminist struggle, not because they are women, but because, just like mothers walking on Versailles denouncing starvation, utopians saw in it a major social struggle to create more just and more humane societies, but also peaceful and perennial societies. As G. Apoliniaire wrote, « il est grand temps de rallumer les étoiles », it is high time to rekindle the stars…  

2 Mosconi Nicole, « Mai 68 : le féminisme de la « deuxième vague » et l’analyse du sexisme en éducation », Les Sciences de l’éducation – Pour l’Ère nouvelle, 2008/3 (Vol. 41), p. 117-140. DOI : 10.3917/lsdle.413.0117. URL : https://www.cairn.info/revue-les-sciences-de-l-education-pour-l-ere-nouvelle-2008-3-page-117.htm

7Cf., Liébart D., Manca M., La finance et le soin, gouvernance, systèmes mutualistes et répartition du risque. https://zenodo.org/record/1066858#.Xe9fIPfjI5k