Free Speech, Understanding, and Growth: Anarchism and Feminism


I finished two books today. The first was The ABC of Anarchism by Alexander Berkman, which I’ve referenced in a few of my recent posts – well worth reading if you want to understand anarchist (specifically communist anarchism) ideas. The second, which was half the size and a much quicker read – hence finishing it within a few hours of the day – was Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto by Jessa Crispin. The title intrigued me, and rightfully so – it was also fascinating, although I admit it threw me in the deep end on feminist writing and thought. Both books had some rather similar suggestions and themes, which I thought were worth discussing.

A quick note. Crispin’s book, while much shorter and easier to read, was more challenging in one respect – I am a man. There was nothing in there that I did not understand, and I am no stranger to the feminist movement necessarily, but there is a lot of writing on the subject that I am not familiar with. Other authors and activists were mentioned, battles between different variants and types of feminists were described, obviously from the perspective of someone engaged in it for decades. It is, of course, worth the read, regardless of your gender or opinion on feminism, but I would recommend acquainting yourself with some other works, as I will endeavour to do when I can.

So, onto the purpose of this piece.

Freedom of speech and expression is paramount. Berkman and Crispin have very different contexts, but the reasoning and conclusions they use and come to are essentially the same. No matter the content or intent, to deny someone the right to speech is not only a form of oppression, but it completely eliminates the chances for a cure to whatever offense they committed. This is not the same as condoning or agreeing with the sentiments proposed by the offender, merely recognising that such views – opposing views – exist and must be allowed to be brought to public light and scrutiny.

Berkman refers to those who oppose or question the social revolution he believed would bring about anarchism. Anarchism’s rejection of authority, by default, objects to preventing such ideas being openly spoken about. Even those who resort to violence or militaristic avenues to combat anarchism that are apprehended are to be treated as though they are one of us, for imprisoning them or, worse, executing them, goes against the entire philosophy. It is much better to listen to and understand their reasoning, allowing discussion and letting them experience what it is they have denounced.

Should their reasons or criticisms be valid, are they not worth considering and putting into practice? Anarchism, as Chomsky has stated, has no real end goal. The “perfect” society may never exist, and the fight against authority is one that will undoubtedly continue for all of human existence, however long that is. But what if their discontent is misguided or malicious? Education is the clear answer. By mistreating them, particularly in a way that doesn’t reflect anarchist values, you only foster greater hatred and give other dissenters more ammunition.

Let them join your ranks, experience the society firsthand, and try explaining to them the flaws in their logic or understanding. Surely such an approach would convince any rational person of your point of view? If they are not rational, then so long as they do not cause harm to others or try to impede your liberties, then I suppose they must find their own path.

Crispin has few kind words to say about “political correctness”, the idea that people mustn’t say certain things out of fear that someone will be offended. She, like Berkman, believes that openness and discussion is more beneficial than suppressing the thoughts and ideas that others may have. Suppress someone’s misogyny and all you are left with is a segment of the population who internalise their hatred, hide their true nature, and harbour resentment towards those who they believe force them to keep quiet.

If such misogyny is revealed, Crispin rejects the notion of outrage culture, in which a single comment, regardless of context, can destroy the career of they who said it. “Their action should start a conversation.” It isn’t good enough to tear down one person – it will not change them (except perhaps for the worse), more will take their place, and it does nothing to tear down the root causes. I love this phrase from one of the praise reviews on the back cover: “Forget busting glass ceilings. Crispin has taken a wrecking ball to the whole structure.”

This, to her, doesn’t mean rallying behind politicians (she does refer to Hillary Clinton specifically) simply because they are female. It doesn’t mean trying to achieve “equality” by becoming a part of the institutions built by patriarchal powers, nor does it mean looking at one’s value using the metrics of those systems, like wealth. Having an equal number of women CEOs does nothing to the hundreds, thousands, millions of people – men, women, and children – who are exploited or downtrodden by capitalist industry. Having a female President won’t inherently help women, just like having a black President did nothing to alleviate the suffering of poor black communities.

I read nothing in Crispin’s book that suggested any particular political philosophy, but the abolition of patriarchal authority to the extent of overthrowing and rebuilding the very fundamentals of our society as humans – men and women, together as equals – to me very much falls in line with anarchist ideals. Berkman focussed on economic liberties, and while he did on occasion mention women and other races, mostly he referred to men, and specifically those in the US and Europe. He appeared to reject any kind of racism, sexism, or bigotry by default, but never explicitly detailed these battles (at least, not in The ABC of Anarchism).

As such, although the economics of systemic upheaval is an underlying aspect of all oppression, regardless of race, sex, creed, sexuality, etc., etc., it is vitally important to include the voices and struggles of all peoples. On a general level, there are countless united fronts to be a part of, but Crispin stresses that oppression is different for everyone. Similarities will exist, but the voice of one or even many cannot speak for the whole. Autonomy and agency are absolutely necessary, and as a result there’ll undoubtedly be differences and disagreements. These need to be discussed openly and understood so that we can all learn and grow together.

Another area where these two authors collide is on independence and community. Individual liberties are a given, but these cannot exist in isolation. Crispin believes that there are many instances where patriarchal structures, like the “traditional” family, have been discarded without creating new structures of support. The male dominated families and communities of old are better done away with by replacing them with structures based on voluntary participation, equal standing and support, and greater empathy.

Berkman, likewise, insists on the independence and liberties of the individual, the worker. But no individual, no craft, industry, nation, can survive on its own. Communities rely on each other and other communities, and it is voluntary participation in global interconnectedness, the support structures provided by a highly organised and free society, that define anarchism. Similarly, although I would need to read into it more, I imagine the same applies to race, sexuality, and any other group. The oppressive systems of colonialism and white supremacy, and of heterosexuality (such as the religion in that instance), need to be rebuilt into something fairer and more just – a system that works for all.

As a final note, I would like to express my delight in Crispin’s address to “any men who might be reading this book.” in the chapter “Men Are Not Our Problem”. As a straight white male, I quite enjoyed the bluntness of the stance. “I don’t give a fuck about your response to this book.” Ironically, this piece (and especially this last paragraph) is a response of sorts to the book, and I wholeheartedly endorse the right to disregard the fuck out of it if one so chooses – not that it needed my endorsement.

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