In recent years, in Turkey, a lot is being said, and in fact many things are being done on behalf of and in the name of women. Many women’s groups have mobilized for causes such as the empowerment of women against domestic violence, the denouncement and punishment of honor crimes, the improvement of women’s employment, and for making participation in schooling attainable for women, through various modifications strengthening women’s status in the constitution and laws, which enhance women’s position.
Undoubtedly, some of these undertakings generate satisfactory results for women. The state and various capitalist circles also seem to be adopting some of these causes and taking notice of women’s demands either out of their own needs, or as to be in accordance with EU politics; or in the case of the government, due to the pressure of demands coming from the women’s front. These developments make it easier for women’s movement to raise its voice.
Yet, this active environment is also a chaotic one. The feminist word is perhaps becoming prevalent within the women’s movement; however, as it spreads, it carries the potential of transforming into its opposite and becoming alienated to its own purpose. For instance, naming men’s violence towards women “violence within the family” detaches the male subject from the act. Certain policies targeting at an increase in women’s employment that fail to take into account the unpaid domestic and care labor of women, disguise the ways in which neo-liberal policies bring about the feminization of poverty. In the meantime, certain women’s groups that position themselves as advocators of “modernity” over against the rise of religious conservatism stir interest within the movement. Yet, the discourse of modernity that is easily called upon in issues such as education, forced marriages, contraception, and honor crimes is indeed intertwined with nationalism and militarism. For instance, the denouncement of honor crimes is often instrumentalized for nationalist and racist purposes against Kurds. Furthermore, there are women that see no inconvenience in referring to a militarist discourse, a discourse that exposes women to all forms of violence. On the other hand, political Islam is encompassing all areas of social life with conservatism and strengthening patriarchal values and the traditional roles of women through religious references.
Policies intended for women have long been in the spotlight throughout the world. Particular women’s sections and platforms founded within institutions such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and the European Union continually generate policies about women. In fact, under the concept of “gender”, women are increasingly occupying a place within the mainstream politics of these institutions. However, in the meantime, the content of the notion has become weakened. “Gender,” as a concept, has retreated to a position of a regulatory societal principle. It has almost lost its initial meaning as “the social groups that constitute the conflicting sides of male domination”. In other words, “gender” is detached from its historical and political meaning.
Certainly, one reason for the attention directed to women is globalization. Capitalism is in need of integrating women into world economics, exploiting women’s paid and unpaid labor in various ways and mobilizing women in the struggle against poverty. Along with this concern, a more egalitarian approach towards women in the areas of education, jurisprudence and employment is consolidating, and violence towards women is becoming more visible and subject to legal regulation. However, it is clear that these policies do not have a concrete impact in the lives of many women.
In this political environment, there is a compelling need for a feminism that is independent vis-à-vis men, the state and capital; a feminism that is able to develop and propagate its own political agenda. This feminism asserts that we do not concede to women being doomed to the domination of men, that we will not settle for the boundaries drawn by current politics. It points out to a set of demands that lead beyond the patriarchal-capitalist system. Concretizing further our goal of liberation, we can shed some light on why we think that reformations within the system are insufficient for our purposes: We demand that women’s unpaid domestic labor and the vicious circle of paid/unpaid labor be abolished; we demand that both men and women participate in social production and domestic and care labor, and share this work both at home and in the public sphere; that gender divided social production be abolished; that the form of sexuality defined by women’s reproductive role and by male sexuality be transcended. We think that all this and surmounting heterosexism require a lot more than equality before the law, international agreements, or employment packages. Women’s liberation can only be achieved by a revolutionary transformation, a total overturn in the areas of labor/production, sexuality/body and the family.
We believe that since mid-2007, as feminists we have been able to carry out various campaigns and to organize various demonstrations, which consolidated our political line and were coherent with our concept of liberation. Among them were: the “Purple Needle” campaign that we resumed years later; our solidarity campaign with two licensed women (ex-prostitutes) who were parliamentary candidates in the July 22 General Elections; yet another solidarity campaign with women resisting against the lay-offs at Novamed; and our collective construction of a feminist policy backed up by various demonstrations, during the discussions on the new Social Security and General Health Insurance (SSGSS) law. However, what we lacked was a solid organization to keep women who participated in these campaigns together; an organization to transform the established relationships to a political coalescence. Yet we know that feminism does not mean doing politics on behalf of women; it is the ideology and politics of constructing ourselves as a political collective subject. This is why we need to form organizations that will allow us to grow collectively.
Although a distinctive feature of feminism is politicizing the private sphere, in the recent past this motto has been reduced to almost a mere rhetoric. No doubt, the unpaid labor of women and violence against women in the private sphere have always constituted a crucial dimension of our policies. However, we are also well aware that becoming a feminist is a whole subjective adventure. In a feminist mode of existence that is reduced to campaigns and street demonstrations, it is almost impossible to find the opportunity for consciousness raising, which will develop mutual trust and create an environment of sharing and solidarity and transform our lives. Therefore, it is important to form perpetual structures that provide a continuum, also for the transference and sharing of the experiences of the feminist tradition.
Why Socialist Feminism and How?
The reasons we have stated above for the need for feminists to organize and form permanent structures, are equally valid for socialist feminists. On the other hand, the differences among feminists with regard to our perspectives of liberation, the repercussions of these differences on everyday politics, the practical difficulty for all anti-systemic feminist groups and individuals to form an all inclusive organization and the questionability of such an attempt in view of the fragmented nature of the feminist movement, have led us to organize as socialist feminists.
Patriarchy leads its current existence in articulation with capitalism. Capitalism, as a mode of production, is historically built upon its collaboration with patriarchy. Through this collaboration, capitalism and patriarchy shape each other. Therefore, a feminism that is able to induce concrete changes in women’s lives and which has a liberationist perspective has to be anti-capitalist. Within this framework of the articulation of patriarchy and capitalism, which we call “patriarchal capitalism”, the concrete consequences of neo-liberal policies for women are particularly striking today. As neo-liberal capitalism makes new expansions, it benefits from the opportunities provided by patriarchy, while reproducing it in the meantime. The collapse of the welfare state simultaneously increases the unpaid domestic labor of women and decreases the possibilities of employment for them. The new social (in)security policies corroborate women’s dependency on their husbands and the family. Deregulation and flexibility of production, together with the prevalence of part time insecure jobs make women’s paid labor vulnerable and more exposed to patriarchal oppression. Neither the wages nor the working conditions of women, who are drawn into various informal forms of work such as family centered production, paid housework and care work, allow them be even relatively independent from the family. On the other hand, women who work in free trade zones, at the lowest echelons of the service sector or in the prostitution sector organized at the international level, become independent from the family only at the expense of finding themselves under insecure, violent and humiliating conditions. In short, for most women, the neo-liberal policies of capitalism imply more violence, more unpaid domestic labor and care work, and more dependency on the husband and the family.
In this context, it is vital for feminism, as an ideology and a political path that will render the political subject position of women possible, to develop an oppositional stance against capitalism. At this point, to us, socialist feminism seems to us to be necessary and inevitable, if feminism is not to be merely a movement of resistance and rebellion, but to offer a perspective of future for women.
We want a society where there is no paid-unpaid labor antagonism; where housework and care work are shared between men and women equally; where female sexuality is not determined by women’s reproductive capacity, male sexuality and heterosexism; where the children and the elderly are taken care of through various communal and public arrangements, and where the nuclear family is not the only way of living. Such a society can only be a socialist society where there is no private property over means of production; where resources are distributed according to needs and not to profit maximization; where disadvantaged layers and social groups have a say in the collective decision making processes of resource distribution and the regulation of society; and hence where women too can raise their needs and become a constitutive element of the social organization as a collective political subject.
That we regard socialism as the ground upon which the liberation of all women can actualize, constitutes a dimension of our perspective; but socialism is neither the objective nor the priority of our feminist organization. Seeing socialism as a prerequisite for women’s liberation implies, from the point of view of our current policies, an emphasis on the need to build bridges between contemporary politics and the future.
Capitalism and patriarchy are two non-contradictory, indeed often intertwined systems that continuously reproduce each other and therefore cannot be considered in abstraction from one another. Male domination is historically prior to capitalism and it possesses its specific dynamics. It nonetheless acquires a specific form when articulated with capitalism. On the other hand, those who oppress women in the patriarchal capitalist system are the subjects who occupy a certain position within social relations: men. Men constitute the dominant social group; they appropriate and control women’s labor, identity and body. In other words, men, as members of the dominant social group, acquire various and vastly material and concrete benefits from this domination.
We are aware that our path to women’s liberation is long. While walking together we believe in the need for a political approach that will keep the way open for the objective of women’s liberation without having to give up our demands arising from today’s needs. We believe that such an approach will reduce the antagonisms between women and that it will offer opportunities for women to construct themselves as a collective political subject.
To sum up: The sole guarantee for us to reach towards our liberation, both today and in our vision of a future society, is our political feminist organization. The motive which unites us as socialist feminists is our understanding of feminism and our feminist concerns. Therefore, we regard being independent not only from the state, from capital and men, but also from socialist organizations as an absolute condition, even when and if our visions of future overlap. Thus we have come together in the struggle for women’s liberation, as socialist feminists who do not express themselves within the organizational form –and the internal regulations and hierarchies that follow- of any socialist party/organization/circle in their struggle for women’s liberation. We define our internal pluralism not on the basis of our understandings of socialism, but with respect to our differences regarding the agenda of women’s struggle.
Within this collectivity we form as socialist feminists, we have a critical stance towards the process of “NGOization” which has evidently been deployed in women’s movement and which goes hand in hand with the process of cutting back and/or elimination of acquired social rights. Although to be recognized as a third party by the state and capital, and to bring services to women through projects/funds occasionally empower some women, it restricts the horizon of a feminism which claims to adopt the perspective of liberation . Needless to say, working for projects and with funds, where some women imbued with certain capabilities deliver services, education, consciousness and support to women whose number are limited as a matter of definition, for a limited time enabled by a fund, does have some positive outcomes. Still, the search for and the very practice of projects/funds obliterate and limit feminism’s perspective of women’s liberation, with their working conduct, language and the relations they involve. In the socialist feminist collective, we plan to stay outside of this quite widely shared tendency within the women’s movement and see this as one of the defining dimensions of our notion of feminism.
Likewise, our approach to “identities” is another defining aspect of our feminism: We subscribe to a notion of feminism which does not crystallize the differences and antagonisms between women at the level of “identities”, but which considers “identities” as being related to the forms of femininity constructed by patriarchy, capitalism and other relations of domination. We perceive such differences of class, ethnicity, nation, religion, sect and sexual orientation among women as relations of oppression and inequality. In the politics we aim to put forth, we hope to develop a perspective whose objective is not fetishising differences but transcending these inequalities.
We see socialist feminism as a component of anti-systemic feminism. As such, we believe that socialist feminists, with their organization, with their politics and with their distinctive activities that will not constitute a hindrance to feminism and the pluralism of feminist struggle, will enhance anti-systemic feminism too. The ground upon which our organization is built is our feminist principles: We take off for an organization which never forgets that the private sphere is political, perceives women’s solidarity as central, fights against all forms of power and hierarchy within and outside, puts forth participatory principles in all decision making and implementing processes, and which defends pluralism on a feminist basis without making compromises on the absolute musts which hold us together.
Socialist Feminist Collective