Five years ago, the first transnational feminist strike took place. The strike triggered a process of politicization that irreversibly changed the expectations of millions of women and LGBTQ+ people, who gathered around the struggle against male violence as a common project of social subversion. On the occasion of the transnational mobilization against male violence against women on November 27th, we bet that those expectations are still alive and smoldering beneath the desolating dust of the current reality.
Those who inflamed feminist struggles have been pushed back by the pandemic, which has intensified the extremely harsh social coercion to productive and reproductive labor, either waged or not. Women are struggling along the transnational chains of work and care in essential services, homes, factories, and schools; they are fighting not to be fired, not to fall into poverty, not to lose their residence permits, and not to surrender to everyday harassments. Male violence has increased everywhere. In Italy, almost a hundred women have been killed by men since the beginning of the year. Violence against LGBTQ+ people have risen as well, and the rejection of the “Zan bill” against homotransphobia has given that violence institutional legitimacy. For these reasons, the urgency of the mobilization called by NON UNA DI MENO in Italy is evident. In Bologna, a large national assembly called a day of mobilization on November 27th to be organized in connection with the Trans Freedom March on November 20th. This mobilization must give a large collective strength to every woman who refuses to live under the constant threat of male violence; to every worker who wants to shout out her rejection of both domestic and waged exploitation; to every migrant who refuses to be confined by her husband or master who controls her documents; to anyone who wants to practice their sexual freedom without being criminalized or punished. The feminist movement has not displayed its mass force in big transnational mobilizations for some time now; nonetheless, we know that the tide is there not only when it is high and hits as a continuous and violent storm, but also when it retracts. The tide is still alive anytime there is a specific struggle as well as anytime women collectively take to the streets – as in Poland, where women are demanding the freedom to have an abortion so as not to die of a law-enforced maternity. Therefore, we must keep alive the possibility of the feminist and transfeminist strike by nourishing its claim to interrupt the patriarchal and racist reproduction of neoliberal society.
The pandemic social effects made this path more difficult, by worsening both living and working conditions and, consequently, the possibility of a collective organization. At the same time, we must oppose some discourses and political assumptions which explicitly work against the tide. For too long we tolerated the visibility of trans-exclusionary feminism. In Italy, it recently came to the fore around the “Zan bill” debate, and it manifested its unacceptable international alliances with reactionary right-wingers and their anti-gender policies. What we need today is a feminist discourse capable of building political connections against the patriarchal social order. For there is no feminism in a discourse that justifies violence against LGBTQ+ people in order to protect sexual difference from an “imaginary siege”; nor if it ignores a multitude of individuals who want to practice sexual freedom without being beaten, insulted, or mocked; nor if it denies that sexual freedom is not a private matter nowadays, but a public and collective claim against the patriarchal command that attempts to assign legitimate behaviors and gender roles to each sex. There is no feminism in erasing sexual freedom’s antiauthoritarian power. This trans-exclusionary sectarian minority harms women precisely by identifying them with the procreative functions to which patriarchy dooms them. However, we should avoid countering this position by saying either that heterosexuality is a privilege for all women or that to identify oneself as a woman is to accept patriarchal behaviors and gender roles. A heterosexual, or cisgender, migrant woman challenging the border system to escape poverty and male violence is not a privileged woman because of her sexuality or gender identity; likewise, a precarious worker who ekes out a living or who strikes for work shifts that allow her to take care of her daughter is not obedient to the patriarchal order just because she has chosen to be a mother. Taking feminism out of the hands of TERFs means rejecting both identities opposition and hierarchies of privilege and oppression. It means asserting a political difference that does not express an identity – and thus it is not exclusionary – but produces connections by claiming a stand against the patriarchal order of society. We must keep alive this process of political communication triggered by the feminist and transfeminist strike by reaffirming that the struggle against male violence must simultaneously attack the social conditions in which it is exercised and challenged.
Rejecting identity oppositions is even more urgent when they are becoming a tool for the patriarchal government of post-pandemic reconstruction. From Texas to Hungary, from Turkey to Italy, anti-gender policies are joined with anti-abortion ones to re-establish the “natural order” of social relations which should not be challenged. However, it would be a mistake to organize our political initiative imagining that we are facing a homogeneous repressive or ultra-conservative attack. In Texas, the reactionary attack on abortion freedom takes place in the context of a “progressive” presidential mandate. The federal government is made up of people of different sexual orientations, genders, and ethnicities who play their legitimacy, which is based on their identities, by applying neoliberal policies of public spending and border control. Hungary is part of the European Union, which makes gender equality its flag. Nonetheless, while declaring itself a LGBTQ+ people’s supporter and harshly reprimanding its Eastern states for their repressive policies on gender issue, the EU eventually suspends its judgment when those same states are needed to contain women’s and migrants’ movement. Though justified as necessary for the protection of women as wives and mothers, LGBTQ+ people’s criminalization in Eastern Europe is the way through which consolidating the family as the only legitimate channel for accessing to minimum services and social benefits. On the other hand, neoliberal policies based on quotas concern not only a category-organized political representation – and as such resistant to any hypothesis of political intersection – but also the distribution of poor portions of welfare destined to specific social groups coded as “minorities”. In any case, the sexual division of labor that women, workers, precarious workers, and migrants daily contest by challenging exploitation organized along racist and sexist lines, is eventually strengthened. What is happening on both the reactionary and the “progressive” fronts is the juridical formalization or criminalization of positions and behaviors as “identities” in order to repress or govern sexual freedom and manage social benefits through fragmentation. To move politically within this horizon means countering the fragmentation produced through identity politics by reaffirming the ability to connect different positions. The point of departure cannot be but the rejection of male violence, as the transnational mobilization on July 1st organized by the EAST network showed.
A delicate game is played on this ground. The battles for rights, for conquering shares of social wealth, for obtaining protection against the precariousness intensified by the pandemic or resources to support the pathways out of violence, are unescapable. It is necessary to amplify these battles without stifling the political imagination by reducing the movement’s horizon to the level of institutional mediation. The recognition of rights does not complete the subjective claims that the feminist and transfeminist strike has put into motion. The same struggle for the “Zan bill” in Italy went beyond parliamentary procedures. Next to the demand for immediate measures to curb violence against LGBTQ+ people, the debate around that bill expressed the urgency of maintaining unequivocally the illegitimacy of homotransphobic violence as a punitive practice towards those who do not conform to the social order of sex-based genders that patriarchy tries to impose. This antagonist aspiration must be supported in every way in order to keep open that political process capable of matching the anger of millions of women who risk to be rejected in the private sphere because they are not available to be exploited full-time, being busy with their “natural” role as women, mothers, or wives; to create the conditions of political visibility for hundreds of thousands of migrants employed in care, sanitation or agriculture, who fight every day against the isolation and silence imposed by the coercion of the residence permit; to amplify the anti-authoritarian force of sexual freedom struggles – which simultaneously question the family, the sexual division of labor, and the patriarchal hierarchy of genders – as a ground on which women and LGBTQ+ people can stand together. All of this is as necessary as ever to challenge the authoritarianism that underpins the racist and patriarchal planning of post-pandemic reconstruction, to produce alliances capable of empowering any particular struggles without reducing them to their singular identity.
In order to do so, we must stubbornly continue to practice the transnational perspective that characterized the tide in recent years. There is not a more advanced practice of struggle to apply as a universally valid model – no avant-gardism that imagines running forward while leaving millions of women in the antechamber of history. Right now, in Afghanistan, it is a mortal risk to practice and publicly display any form of sexual freedom which challenges the imperative to reproduce an obedient species. While the resources of the Recovery Plans are being managed to pave the way for a new ecological regime of capital accumulation, national and gendered hierarchies of wages and welfare are being reshaped to work for the invisible transnational chains of value and care. Hundreds of thousands of migrants are pushing along the Eastern and Southern borders of Europe, where rape and violence continue to be ordinary practices of thwarting their freedom of movement. The message of this male and racist violence is not containable, for it consists of a global patriarchal injunction to submission. This is the materially and symbolically essential condition for the reproduction of an authority that claims to be unquestionable for everyone. In order to challenge this authority, we must fight by putting the struggle against male violence back at the center as an unquestionable necessity of our freedom. We can’t say, today, whether the feminist and transfeminist tide will rise again in a big transnational strike on March 8th. But March 8th will not be a ritual if we manage to keep the strike process open by bringing together the different voices against patriarchal violence into a single collective cry of revolt, with the propulsive force of the NON UNA DI MENO assembly, from November 27th and beyond.