Dearth of Revolutionary Feminists in the Congress Movement

Challenge for the ANC Led Allaince

A friend posted a comment on his Facebook page questioning the seeming disappearance of feminists “in our movement” which I assume to mean the Congress movement. Accompanying his comment was a picture of young half naked girls wearing ANC Youth League T-shirts washing cars, I guess, as part of some campaign. I was touched and felt compelled to echo his question in marvel; where are the feminists in the Congress movement?

During campaigns it is not uncommon to see young girls in ANC attire being paraded in flashy vehicles in an attempt to woo votes towards the ANC. What this says, in essence, is that – though I pray not – the glorious movement of the people whose revolutionary morality has more than better life to offer but also ‘flowers of the revolution’.

There are cynics who would be heard saying, “But women have the real power: bottom power.” (An expression for a woman who uses her sexuality to get things from men.) It can’t be that this glorious Congress movement is following this backward thinking. The salient message, in this society where violence against women and girls has reached epidemic proportions, is that we value women more for their bodies and less for their human capacity.

Let’s be clear, the argument is not about the way they dress as one holds the view that there is nothing wrong with women choosing to dress however they please! The issue of contention is parading these ‘flowers of the revolution’ – a term of endearment coined by the late Oliver Reginald Tambo in reference to women of uMkhonto weSizwe – without political content and ONLY to parade their bodies.

Bottom power is not power at all, because the woman with bottom power is actually not powerful; she just has a good route to tap another person’s power.

This is a problem that must be challenged before it gets out of hand!

In doing so, I think we need to start by challenging the common understanding of what feminists want as commonly understood in this day and age. Feminists seek to “define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women.” Obviously, this minimalistic view, as we should recognize, may have achieved its minimum goals; it has not ended sexism.

Or maybe the problem is in the nuances around feminism arising out of patriarchal stereotypes where women are socialized to know that their ‘place is in the kitchen’ or in reproduction. These women tell girls that they should never call themselves ‘feminist’, since feminists are women who are unhappy because they cannot find husbands.

Sometimes, as Chamamanda Ngozi Adichie puts it, they are told that ‘feminism’ is not our culture, that feminism was “un-African” and they would only call themselves feminists because they had been “influenced by western books”.
Consistently on the lips of comrades in our movement are the words of Frederick Douglass, “Where there is oppression, there is resistance.” This formulation helps us to understand that the motive force of our society, the oppressed working class, will free humanity from the bowels of capitalism.

Our movement, objectively, has fallen short in fully developing this correct analysis. This is most glaring in the failure to grasp the essence of the oppression of women, as workers and as women. Much lip service has been given to the triple oppression of women by both our movement and the feminist movement. Attend a meeting on the question of women and you will find a woman on the programme. She will have been encouraged to speak to some concrete examples of her triple oppression. This process is duplicated among the feminists.

Our failure to grasp the advanced character of women’s oppression is telling by the lack of theoretical work done on this question. Our moral approach to the question of sexism flows from our failure to grasp the material basis of sexism. The result of this has been to hold back our movement and parade them as symbols during campaigns and not to see anything wrong with it.

Within the movement, we are faced with two approaches to the woman question: a moral approach or a materialist approach.

A moral approach to the woman’s question is not based on an objective analysis of the conditions that woman are faced with in society. It is based on a shallow and narrow perception of women as an oppressed sector of society, who are confronted with sexism and discrimination.

Therefore, while we recognize that a moral approach has educated a sector of our movement on the human and social position of women i.e. discrimination at the workplace, lack of social services, and the social and psychological effects of male chauvinism, etc.; we must also recognize that this approach has also diverted our movement from grasping the essence and material basis of women’s oppression.

As a movement we must agree that we are all revolutionary feminists, first and foremost. This will lay the concrete basis and will be key to the defeat of bourgeois feminism. We must then approach the question of women’s oppression from its material basis. The day to day experiences lends clarity to the oppressive and exploitative conditions women are in today. However, the exposure of the hidden basis for this oppression is our task.

We must recognize that parading half naked girls feeds into this chauvinistic and backward agenda. We must place the question of women’s oppression high on the agenda of priorities at all times. Related to this is that the theoretical work around women must be taken up and sharpened.

Finally, we must view the struggle against sexism as part of the struggle to develop revolutionary morality. We need to stress the importance of developing principled political and personal relationships between all members, minority and white, women and men.

Cde Chris Maxon is a member of the ANC – Newlands East Branch (Ward 11), KwaZulu-Natal.

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