Which Feminism for YES?

It is an exciting and demanding time for the YES Feminist Network:  the Summer Camp ended less than two months ago, new projects are about to start in cooperation with PES women and FEPS, and we are all looking forward to the upcoming YES -IUSY Feminist Network Seminar – which will take place in Germany in early November (…register!).

Due to the intrinsic feature of feminism, its cross essence, every topic that we deal with as socialists needs to take into account the gender perspective on it. Gender equality is, as we stated several times, and we recently declared also in the Summer Camp final document, a fundamental part of our struggle for social justice.

The article that follows was written by an activist who attended the Summer Camp and it questions our way of being feminists. I welcome it as an incitement to question ourselves, in order to work every day with fresh motivation for our goal: a society where all genders are considered and treated equally.  I also welcome it as a follow up of the Summer Camp. We decided there to “stay basic”, considering feminism as an inclusive movement, and the activities started indeed with a 101 feminism workshop, where our aim had been to provide to our activists the means for spreading a stronger feminist awareness in their organizations. In fact feminism is not ranked at the same position in all of our MOs’ list of political priorities, it is not a secret. Nor it is a problem, unless we give up as Young European Socialists to talk about the differences in our MOs, finding out the reasons why gender politics has the status it does and try then to answer them. We are not giving up, and that’s why I would warmly welcome a debate in our organization on the topics raised in the following article. Starting from the upcoming Seminar (register by the 30th of October!), where we will build our campaign for the 25th of November – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women*, we will talk about the refugee crisis from a gender perspective, we will investigate and learn the importance of the trust team concept and we will have a whole, long,  weekend to talk about feminism: see you there!

Elisa Gambardella, YES Feminist Coordinator 

Which Feminism for YES?

A few weeks after the YES summer camp 2015, I am reflecting back on the discussions, workshops, and interactions I’ve had and I’m surprised by a somewhat uneasy feeling about the state of feminism. Sure, when the glorified parole on equality between men and women is announced, no one disagrees. No one, naming themselves socialist, even disagrees on most other, more refined issues around the mysterious but oh so obvious topic of feminism.  I will shortly explain my view on a personal, organizational, and theoretical level, as I consider it important to reemphasize feminism within YES.

We go to workshops on feminism as we go to any other workshop and often our thoughts drift off right after the conversation has ended. This is problematic, not because the ‘topic’ of feminism has any greater objective value than other issues, but because it’s more. More meaning everything. Gender inequalities, discrimination and different forms of violence are deeply embedded in our social structures. At the policy level as much as in bedrooms.  In our conversations as much as in the way we sit, walk, talk, etc. The omnipresence of gender dynamics makes the issue so pivotal. After recognizing some of these every day and everywhere inequalities, one can become a feminist and one may start to feel the equivalent of a poke in a boxing match and fight back. Rough shadowboxing. My point is that in order to fight sexism and gender inequalities effectively, we need to carefully reconsider our own understanding of feminism.

On the YES website one of the goals stated is “To promote and contribute to the socialist and social democratic values”, maybe coming closest to a feminist goal within the organization, even though feminism and socialism haven’t and don’t necessarily include each other. More precise aims, however, were laid out in the Summer Camp declaration; the opposition to a gender binary or an awareness of privilege, for example. And while bits and pieces of feminist thought, such as equality in education, the gender pay gap, or violence against women are touched upon, the lack of a clearly defined feminism leads to a disorientation and confusion that shows when the necessity of quotas is questioned or ‘blurred lines’ is played at the party later at night.

In attempting to answer the question, ‘Which Feminism for YES?’ I will not pick a feminist theory and suggest imposing it on YES. Rather, in accordance with my understanding of feminism, theory should evolve from within, in a bottom-up democratic harmony. We thus need a fundamental debate on a European level which includes not only a determination of our feminism, but also a reflection on European socialist feminism in a global context in which self-identification is created through a feedback loop.

Young European Socialists combines in its name a demographic, a local/cultural, and an economic component. ‘European’ has a white and wealthy connotation. In fact, Europe is white and wealthy compared to the rest of the world. Both skin color and economic income are (unfortunately) indicators for how much privilege one has or has not and thus need to be recognized. So far, the prevalent feminism in Europe has been a feminism which promotes a few white women in the upper class to ‘make it’ as far up in the system as their male capitalist counterparts while at the same time having kids and a perfect family life. Giving a place on the supervisory board to a woman isn’t enough. The ‘gracious gesture’ is often used to overshadow other feminist fights, for example for equal pay or bodily autonomy, which are ‘pushing it too far’ for those interested in keeping their position of power. The British feminist Laurie Penny called this capitalist patriarchal gender liberation. This is where the ‘Socialist’ part comes in. Sexism as well as racism, both ingrained in Europe’s culture need to be tackled simultaneously with capitalism. Socialist feminism sees the oppression of women intrinsically linked to economic injustices within a patriarchal society.  Combining the fight for decent work and possibly alternative economic models with the awareness of Europe’s diversity might be one way forward. I believe it is within the responsibility of European socialist feminists to include all kinds of people in the struggle that affects everyone. Women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, people of color, immigrants, the poor, the disabled etc. and intersections of these. An endless list of identities that don’t quite fit into Europe’s success story, so perfectly portrayed on billboards in countries in the Global South.

A greater focus on identity politics is necessary as globalization opens up new forums for a wider range of civil society actors as well as opportunities for structural change on many different levels. We develop new forms of communications with greater gender awareness both in form and content, for example in our languages, the way we speak and listen, sit and organize discussions. I kept wondering if the popular format of the panel (even if balanced) isn’t very hierarchical and therefore not feminist in my understanding.

After seeing Europe’s diversity and recognizing privilege, the inevitable and complicated question arises how we, as European socialist feminist, are supposed to deal with the situation. A few attempts: increased awareness of diversity, changes of structures explicitly (e.g. institutional restructuring through quotas, low hierarchies, etc.) and implicitly (e.g. speaking behavior). Find new ways of protest (one might think about revolutionary music, theatre, literature, sports, etc. that make the unseen visible), and form solidarity networks. It is not the responsibility of the socially privileged to ‘empower and give voice to’ but to recognize the power of the oppressed and make white male capitalists shut up in order for the diversity of voices break through.

Finally, all of this is nothing new. It’s also not meant to be a guideline. Only an invitation to rethink Young European Socialist feminism on a fundamental level again, as it requires full engagement, a constant self-reflection and active discourse starting within YES. I would also like to appreciate the efforts and hard work of the current YES Feminist network coordination which leaves me optimistic about our future. I welcome any discussion and hope we can together put feminism high up on the agenda.


By Sonja Shah, YES Activist

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