Combating Authoritarianism--Don't Forget Gender Oppression and Abortion Politics
by Jessica Benjamin
I write this with great appreciation for Leo Casey’s clear and cogent theses on the need for us to support and further the development of a broad-based struggle against the authoritarian Right. I fully endorse Comrade Leo’s analysis of the danger of ultra-leftist rejection of working within and around the Democratic Party, as a surrender of that arena to the often ineffectual center—although mercifully other left progressive organizations have continued their important work.
But there is an interesting lacuna in the elucidation of political state struggle (Thesis 4) and civil society (Thesis 5). The latter section is particularly helpful, in my view, because it addresses not only civil society institutions as part of struggles for hegemony but also the all-important way that ideology is implemented by the Right.
But this makes it all the more important to draw attention to the missing issues, one that has clearly been a major source of activity and resistance on the electoral front this year: abortion. That is, the unpopularity of anti-abortion legislation and the recent SCOTUS decision that supports it. While stressing the way that the attack on sexual identities and rights have been instrumentalized in the area of education and ideology, this is arguably the most significant development in political and social struggle this year, meriting further reflection on its part in our larger struggle against authoritarianism.
In noting this absence I am not weighing precedence but simply point to how inclusion of the struggle for women’s bodily autonomy and resistance to exploitation is part of a larger struggle against the PATRIARCHAL side of the authoritarian Right and its White Christian propagation. It is not only that the electoral import of abortion rights was obvious this year, or even that control over one’s own body and sexuality has a particular political implication in a society so ideologically focused on individual rights. It is also that the pointed effort to deny women control over reproduction over indeed their very lives, entails not only legal rights but social rights. The issue of reproduction is not only linked to the question of forced versus free childbearing but also to the need for social safety, the conditions that make childbearing and rearing possible.
AS Leo points out in his discussion of the DeSantis strategy regarding education, the Right is stirring up tremendous anxiety, revealing how attacking sexual rights and non-heterosexual identities is vital to the success of authoritarian right ideology. Whipping up trans hatred goes with whipping up White Supremacy, attacking LGBQT tolerance in education goes together with the assault on teaching about racism.
I suggest that demands for recognition of racial injustice and sexual difference that are often lumped as identity politics in liberal ideology have different import for a radical critique. Just as racism was and continues to be inherently driven by the aim of exploiting human labor, sexual politics are a continuation of the long historical effort to control women’s bodies as the source of life, amplified by fear of women’s power as the source of life.. We are stepping into territory saturated with primal emotions that drive not only ideology but violence; fears that inform the psychology of masculinity and racism that authoritarianism especially ala Trump has learned to exploit, rendering service to the power that defines, controls and exploits sexual bodies, reproductive bodies and laboring bodies. This image of manhood is now yoked to domination and exploitation of nature: strong men use fossil fuels.
Resisting that exploitation and service is materially connected to the right to be juridical, socially recognized individuals. For women, this means independence of male family members, the rights and material requirements needed to be free of male control. And these rights are thus connected to the matter of social safety. I am wondering if “social safety” might be is a good concept to link the idea of women’s rights with the health and social needs of women as those who potentially bear children, and most often serve as child-raisers and caregivers. There is a matrix here with regard to general health safety, the economic safety of children, that includes the provision of all that is necessary for the economic security of home or family, as well as early childhood daycare and all ages education and community support. Each of these matters of health, education, etc is saturated with ideology as well as involving socially organized labor (caregivers, health providers, teachers, social workers etc).
To fight the Right on this front the Left must directly address the ideological and practical competition between visions of community security through universal public economic support and equity and protected rights versus religious community private provision that promotes women’s subordination and state neglect. Women’s autonomy, the protection of nature, and the primal emotionally charged issue of protection of the vulnerable are linked. The Left needs to counter the drummed up fear of killing the fetus with the real story of infant and maternal mortality, illness, neglect, deprivation, unsafety that affects millions.
The ideologically coherent emphasis on democracy, freedom, and human needs underpins our struggle against authoritarian ideologies regarding gender, sexuality, the role of government, and of course capital exploitation. In knitting together economic, sexual and emotional safety issues that are essential to a participatory democratic society we can work with diverse groups who embrace different aspects of this struggle notwithstanding the inevitable contradictions of race and class. In supporting the struggle for the right of bodily sovereignty against exploitation while insisting on the material basis for such freedom—that is social safety—we show how patriarchy and racial capitalism are yoked.
 Here’s link to a short piece on the implications of the anti-abortion movement as part of a larger historical project of male domination, domination of nature, and exploitation of labor. It emphasizes how the attempt to control the mother and her body represents both denial of dependency and the split off defense of the vulnerable self projected into the symbol of the fetus. The refusal to accept the knowledge one’s own harming, colonial-racist exploitation, is perversely bolstered by putting the onus of harming onto the other. https://doi.org/10.24135/ppi.v20i1and2.05
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
North Star caucus members
antiracismdsa (blog of Duane Campbell)
Hatuey's Ashes (blog of José G. Pérez)
Authory and Substack of Max Sawicky
Online University of the Left
In These Times
The American Prospect
Black Agenda Report
Dollars and Sense
Working Families Party
Poor People's Campaign
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
Progressive Democrats of America
Democracy for America
Black Lives Matter
Movement for Black Lives
The Women's March
Jewish Voice for Peace
National Abortion Rights Action League
National Organization for Women
National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights