El feminismo como teoría de la solidaridad: una propuesta de Judith Butler

[Transcripción de una conferencia dictada para la Cátedra Alfonso Reyes del Tecnológico de Monterrey el 10 de marzo de 2021] [Disculpas por los errores de transcripción que pueda haber cometido: it’s a labour of love].

I though today I might talk to you briefly about feminism, about the feminist movement for our times. And perhaps I should start with the simple fact that I believe we are lucky to find ways to stay in communication with each other, and our worlds, through platforms such as this. That our current isolation is not our permanent state. It is rather a new point of departure for thinking about our relations with one another: the social form that we are building as we expand networks of care, the world we will be repairing and the world that we are now tasked with imagining or reimagining. I think indeed we know that care has always been associated with women, with women’s work, but now in recent months or perhaps the entirety of the last year we see that networks of care move us out of the household, move us out of the family into de neighborhood, into de city, into de region, that our action in one part of the world affects people’s lives in another part of the world. So perhaps what this pandemic has to offer us is a more expansive sense of our interdependency, an interdependency not just between nations between or between cities or between households, but an interdependency that belongs to us by virtue as our status as living beings, embodied and living beings: what air do we breathe?,we share the air; what surfaces do we share? all of the surfaces; how do we each depend on the Earth and the survival and persistence of the Earth. So much is now our common responsibility, perhaps our global responsibility, that we have to think again about how to imagine ourselves as belonging to the same world, to a common world, and how that world is related to the Earth upon which we depend and the stoping of climate change and the destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity. I know that you know about this in Mexico even more acutely and knowledgeably that I do.

At the same time that I think there is a chance to think about a new form of relationality, an interdependency that exceeds internationalism, that can not be properly described by internationalism alone, I am very aware that in the last years the attacks on feminism have become quite public and quite intense. On the one hand this is a continuation of the misogyny that has been with patriarchal cultures for the longest time; on the other hand, I think there is something very contemporary about the attacks on feminism, they are attacks as well to LGTBIQ+ and trans people in particular, and the attacks on feminism have I think been a response to our success to the various ways we have fought against sexual violence. We ha fought for equal wages, we have fought to give women reproductive freedom; we have also fought for trans rights and for the rights of all people no matter how gender conforming or gender non conforming to walk on the street, to breathe easily in their worlds without fear of violence, without fear of stigmatization, without fear of discrimination.

So when people ask me ‘Oh, why be a feminist these days?’ Hasn’t everything been accomplished, that what feminism wants to achieve?’. I always, of course, say no. It can not be denied that women are disproportionally expose to violence and hunger. Than women are much more likely to be illiterate than men and to suffer with the thread and reality of sexual violence agains them more than most men do, not all men but most men. Similarly some have criticize the ecological movement, the movement against ecological destruction, the movement against extractivism as anti-market or as exaggerated or perhaps as naive. And yet the various movements that seek to save our planet from environmental destruction, especially those driven by youth have become indisputably urgent. If we can not save the Earth from destruction, then we loose the conditions we required to live, to love, to struggle for justice, freedom and equality. So I bring up the environmental movement because I believe that all social movements, including feminism, depends upon the movement to combat climate change and the destruction of habitats an ecosystems throughout the world. If we can not be sustained by the planet, if we can not sustain the planet, we will not have our struggles for justice, for equality and for freedom. 

And of course feminism is a strong movement, it’s an incredible movement. But I think we also have to ask: Is it a movement that is just for women? Or is it a movement to change the landscape of our gendered world, that is, to battle all forms of gender discrimination, including the discrimination against women? And I say this because it’s very important to remember that feminism has always been involved in thinking about gender as a political category and as an historical category. In other words, what it meant to be a women in 1910 is very different from what it means to be a woman now and that depends on time and place, culture and language. But we track the shifts in the meaning of what it is to become or to be a woman. We are aware that women were not suitable for academic life at one point in time, and yet they are now exactly suitable and in fact in leadership positions everywhere. What has happened? The social category, the historical category of woman has change so did it permits different meanings than what it permitted in the past. 

So we have depended on gender being an open category, subject to redefinition, which is why trans women are also women, they belong to the category of women, they must belong. And those who have assumed that women are only those assigned female at birth, who live out their social and historical life as women, that they are the only women I thing they close the category instead of opening it into something that might be hospitable, generous, capacious, open to the future meanings of what gender can be

I want also to say this, that, perhaps as we think about interdependency, we think about the open and historical shifting character of the category of women, that we also ask ourselves what kind of idea of solidarity is implied by the concept of feminism. For instance, we say and we are right to say that feminism is a social movement and feminist theory is an academic inquiry: the two are linked but not exactly the same. But when we talk about feminism that of course includes the insistence that the women’s lives have dignity and that trans lives bear dignity. That violence on the streets or in the home, from internet men o strangers or even from women or the police is a radical injustice and must be opposed. 

Feminism is, in my view, not just a movement for women but for all those who wants to live in a world of radical equality, where we saver the interdependent character of our lives. And that means changing life in the family, the workplace, the street, the factory, the field and the square. Although we are told by some that the feminist movement will destroy civilization or the family or culture as we know it, we know that is not a fair conclusion. To demand the transformation of all these sites of living, the house, the street, the place of employment, to demand that change so that all of these sites, these institutions, embodied principles of radical equality, to do that we need to seek to support a wide number of social movement and to show them that it is in their interest to accept the equality of women, the openness of gender and the interdependency of our lives.

So here I would just want to say that academic work is also important, as we think about these concepts. When we say we are against violence, we also need to be able to say what is violence, where do we find it, what form does it takes, is it always physical, can it be symbolic, can it be linguistic. When we say we are for gender justice, do we have a concept of justice from what texts from what social movements from what histories do we derive our idea of justice. And when we think about equality, are we thinking about the equality of every individual to one another or are we perhaps saying that we are equally dependent upon each other, that we are equally interdependent. That we are in fact characterized by our dependency of a wide range of life systems, environments and ecologies without which our live would not be possible. Perhaps now is the time of rethink equality in terms of these fundamental relations. What does it means not to have access to food or air, good air, or health conditions that are livable and that support people specially in times of pandemic. We’ve seen how social inequality works to distribute the fundamentals of live unequally. But what that tells us is that we are all equally dependen on those requirements for life and that we need to think about ourselves not as abstract individuals but as embodied creatures who require each other and to flourish most clearly under a conditions of equality.

So to my critics or my skeptics who say why still feminism, why feminism now. Well, as we know, the struggle is not over. Literacy, I mentioned; violence, discrimination, poverty, right to health care, political rights including reproductive freedom… In order for us to struggle we must ask ourselves what kind of power do we wield, what kind of power do we want. Well, I would suggest perhaps reflecting briefly on the work of Ni una menos, the work of Veronica Gago in particular, on the concept of feminist potenciaPotencia in Spanish is not the same as potential in English. It is a difficult word to translate. It is movement, it is force, it is collectivity, and when we speak about potential we are dealing with a form of power, or perhaps a form of counter-power, that is a process, one that does not come to and end, through a specific realization of its aims in a time o place; it is an open ending process and as an open ended process it is also, potencia, of form of desire. A form of desire, yes, but also a form of thought that is linked to the body, to desire, to bodies in the colectivity. One could say, ‘oh, it is a life force’. But maybe it is a force that emerges between bodies or in the middle of collectivities, as we act together. We might think ‘oh, we need to have a force in order to act. We need to have power in order to act’. But sometimes in the very a process of collective action we fin our force or we produce it for one another. It is created by bodies as they act together. This is why Gago writes that desire is a force and already a form of power, one that is generally not included in the typologies of power that we learn in political science classes, but that can change. That can change.

I want also to suggest that what many Latin American feminist movement have taught the north, and taught Europe and other countries as we watch you, and your powerful, powerful movements, is that a feminist movement needs to be linked to the struggle against colonialism and continuing colonial power. It needs to be linked to the struggle against old and new forms of dispossession including colonial extractivism, the displacement of indigenous people and the extraction of minerals for the marketplace at the expense of the Earth. So I would suggest that we also, as a feminist movement, must be concerned about labour unions or to have our place in those unions or to produce forms of solidarity and collectivity that can struggle to make sure women are protected on the jobs that they have rights and entitlements including the pension and that their health is protected and that they themselves are paid equally to men. And of course that both men and women make a livable wage. It won’t do to be paid equally to men if nobody is making a good wage. It must be a livable wage.

I want to suggest maybe that as feminism becomes involved in the critique of neoliberalism, the long and violent history of colonial dispossession, patriarchy forms of state terrorism, the present industrial complex, as feminism seeks to care for precarious workers and the indigenous, that all of these means that feminism is a way of linking with other groups or showing that those links and those relationships are essential to what it is. It’s not that feminism is over here and then there is labour rights, and then there is the critique and opposition of continuing colonial violence, it is rather that the links between among all of those movements is feminism. FEMINISM IS A THEORY OF SOLIDARITY AND I WOULD SUGGEST ALONG WITH NI UNA MENOS A PRACTICE OF SOLIDARITY.

Now of course we don’t say the entire left is feminism, and yet feminism must be part of the left for the left to be legitimate. The left that rejects feminism is not legitimate. Feminism must be there. How must if be there? Just represented as a single identity category or group among groups or is it a movement that has the power to illuminate our interdependency and formulate a practice of solidarity among groups? So this is where I believe that the concept of interdependency can lead to an understanding of feminism as a theory and practice of solidarity and can also brings us to understand how feminism works throughout the left.

Finally, I would just say that, you know, it has always been the task of women to mourn. After war, women mourn; after the horrible dictatorships and the terrible killing, women mourn; as far back as Greek tragedy it is women who are mourning. But I don’t believe that it is the natural task of women to mourn. I think that we all, all of us, regardless of gender, must learn to practice a certain kind of mourning. In the United States when the Black Lives Matter movement became so visible and so powerful, over the summer months, we saw that everyone on the street was mourning, because black lives should not be destroyed so quickly and so brutally by the police. We also saw that all of those who were mourning were also demanding justice. So then the question for us, for feminist, for feminist theory, is what is the relation between mourning and justice. How is it that when we know what we have lost, and we know that we are not to have lost it, that is was unjust that it was lost, that our ideas of justice can move from there, can emerge from there, because, why, because a just world would be a world in which all lives will be considered equally valuable, the lost of any life through police violence would be absolutely unacceptable and that that radical equality of the living will be expressed both in our mourning and in our calls to justice.

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