Feminism, here is its basic definition according to a famous online encyclopedia:
“Set of movements and philosophic ideas that share a common aim: to define, promote and reach politic, economic, cultural, social and judicial equality between women and men”. A large-scale international work in the long term, if any!
We won’t go here into the details of the progress of each category of this definition. We will limit ourselves to an overview and an inventory of the women’s situation in the Covid-19 sanitary crisis to then point out the intrinsic links between women emancipation and ecosocialism.
If today equality appears in the texts, it should still be greatly improved in the facts. Yet, the causes are well known. A limited evolution of women in their professional career due to the contingencies of the daily activity inside the family unit, which is the consequence of a still widely patriarchal society, i.e. “a form of a social and judicial organization” based on the authority detained by men”, may they be fathers, teachers, or husbands.
Nonetheless, women’s involvement in the struggle for their rights is increasingly massive. In her book, “the Second Sex”, Simone de Beauvoir wrote in 1949 this famous quote : “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”. She does not spare women as she puts forward that women have sometimes internalized their submission. However, it is not easy to free oneself from these invisible chains while growing up in a society whose rules have been written by men for the men, defining the social and cultural collective references leading to maintain this masculine prominence.
The pregnancy thus places women in a position that has been a straightjacket for too long, making these biologic features carry over a predefined social role. Annie Ernaux, in her book, “The event”, published in 2000, makes reference to feminist struggles for the right over their own bodies. Decades of struggle have been necessary in France for women to free themselves from the injunction to give birth, thanks to contraception and the right to abortion (17 January 1975, Veil law in France). Abortion, nonetheless, remains a deep psychological pain for many women.
Today, the struggle has been engaged against obstetrical violence. It is now possible for women to choose where to deliver: at home with the attendance of a midwife, who is part of the woman’s project all along the pregnancy, in a swimming-pool, but also in a hospital structures that respects the women’s and couple’s will. (e.g. choice of the position in childbirth, a musical background, …etc).
Other times, conversely, women face the closures of local maternity units following the breakage of our public health system imposed by neoliberal policies that push our social achievements backward and induce alarming childbirth situations. Will we arrive on time at the maternity ward several dozens of kilometers faraway? What will happen if the childbirth happens before arriving at the hospital, and some urgency care is needed?
Last year, in 2019, 151 feminicides were officially recorded. This year, on the 28th of April 2020, after a month and a half of lockdown , 31 women are dead, killed at the hands of their spouse or ex-spouse. The lockdown increases the sexist or sexual violence made to women and children. Blows, insults and rapes are legion. Green telephone numbers have been made available but this system is largely insufficient. The Senate has proposed to provide the paltry amount of 1.5 million euros against family violence during the lockdown but the government refused. That refusal cannot be understood and is unacceptable due to the urgent need to address this problem.
To that adds the management of children all along the day: meals, occupations, learning exercises and online teachings. So many complex and stress generating situations that will be managed with large disparities according to the social class. The most precarious families, with very low income, are on the front line of a lockdown that leads to collateral damages with heavy consequences and key financial difficulties.
When they are not confined at home, women at work are on the front line, at the front of that “war” that has been declared by Emmanuel Macron with big hits of neoliberal acceleration. Women are the soldiers, often at partial time, in cleaning companies, in supermarkets, in at home personal aid jobs and also in the institutions for elderly people where, to cope with the illness, working hours have literally exploded. Exhaustion is there more visible each worked day and night, in disgraceful conditions, both for the personnel and our seniors. We can refer to the poignant testimony of Caroline Fiat, a “France Insoumise” deputy who has returned to her service in the heavily struck region of the great East.
One of the teachings of the feminist struggle is the importance of the presence on the ground via collectives, associations and unions where the women’s presence takes the battle of ideas out in the open as it gathers women around their mutual interest. The work of “Dare the feminism” (Osez le féminisme) and “We all” (Nous toutes), for example, shows that the women’s struggle intersects with other forms of domination, such as wage inequalities, support to maids strikes, struggles against authoritarianism, racism and sexist and sexual violence made to women and the LGBT community, …etc.Trainings organized by these organizations allow to mobilize more women but also men who are aware they have a part to play to end the patriarchy and towards a new society of equality.
The involvement of women in the national unions is another challenge ahead of the current internal discriminations. The presence of women’s collectives in the demonstrations against the retirement reform or in support of public services recall also that even if austerity reforms affect all of the population, women are at the forefront of vulnerability. And it is also by their creativity that they stand out, as for example with the “Because of Macron” (A cause de Macron) choreography performed wearing overalls and household gloves, joined by the Insoumises deputies Manon Aubry and Clémentine Autain to denounce the precariousness of women’s jobs.
More than ever this crisis reveals the deadly links between the patriarchy and capitalism. As capitalism exploited the under-qualified manpower to increase its profits, the patriarchy historically gave it a low-cost social organization that sacrificed women on the altar of productivity. Even once having conquered the right to vote, the right to have control over their own bodies and numerous rights at work, the patriarchy is still alive and well, may it be in salary inequalities, the non-acknowledgement of domestic work as a paid work, in the sexual violence that persists, but also in the continuity of toxic masculinity and its cultural warrior-like references that make the human and political relations deteriorate.
For a long time, feminist struggles had to keep up with class struggles within the revolutionary movements, considered as secondary or even disruptive. It was to forget the vanguard role women have always had in revolutions. And it is to dismiss the great force of mobilization that women’s struggles represent around the world.
Like ecology, feminism offers the possibility to deeply redefine the organization of the society. Well beyond women’s rights, it is also the place of men that should be rethought. To end the patriarchy is to rethink production, consumption, and reproduction through the prism of equality between individuals. These are as many themes to deepen and challenges to take in the ecosocialist revolution to which we are preparing.
Sandrine Coquerie and Florence Poznanski