Dr Manuel Cervera-Marzal, the author of a book chapter – “Ordinary Resistance to Masculine Domination in a Civil Disobedience Movement” – very kindly sent me a copy of his work. It’s … really good, and everyone doing activist work should read it. It escapes that most common of academic-studying-activists traps, the uncritical puff-piece extolling the ‘grassroots/blockadia’. In fact, it doesn’t just escape this trap, but shows how a critical reading of the rhetoric-reality gaps can be done. It is based on participant observation and interviews he did in a French civil disobedience group “Les Refuseurs.” It’s pretty painful reading (men will wince, women will seethe).
The article is clearly written, and clearly argued. While it might be possible to quibble over some interpretations, the big picture is surely indisputable.
“While the comments collected through the interviews present activist work as shared out in an egalitarian fashion, observation in the field reveals the gendered character of this distribution. The Refuseurs continue to assign traditionally female tasks – domestic and affective – and positions – subaltern, devalued and invisibilised – to women…. Buying materials, preparing and serving meals, tidying and washing up are carried out by women in the vast majority of situations…. Some of these domestic tasks are subaltern tasks. This is true of cleaning the premises, which a woman does by herself for an entire day because the leader of the group asked her to. Most tasks involving implementation fall to women while the men monopolise decision-making functions. The latter determine the collective’s agenda themselves (which actions? on what subject? with what demands?) and its political line (management of the Facebook page, supervision of the pamphlets and books edited by the collective).”
There’s also good stuff the resistance of the women – which mostly involves (in the short term) work-to-rules, strategic deafness and in the longer term, voting with their feet… And the (male) leadership are (wilfully?) blind to this –
“Among the Refuseurs, the disengagement (Fillieule, 2005; Bennani-Chraibi, 2009) of women is always individual, intentional and, almost always, silent. The female activists from the hard core leave without warning, without explanation and without a trace.”
Reading it I was constantly thinking of two things
a) Robin Morgan‘s seminal essay of January 1970, when women took over the New York underground/alternative newspaper ‘Rat’. She wrote ‘Goodbye to All That’, naming names about the sexist Male Left.
b) The essay, from the same year, by Jo Freeman – “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” for its understanding that power is more supple than we give it credit for
c) The importance of this topic within the ‘Climate Citizenship’ programme that Climate Emergency Manchester is embarking on.
There’s lots of intriguing looking references, mostly to French literature (one exception is Parlee M. 1989, “Conversational Politics”. In Feminist Frontiers II, New York: McGraw-Hill)
“Activist organisations do not just welcome people in as they are; they are themselves places of socialisation “(Bargel, 2008) that fashion their members’ habitus through the political training they offer them (Ethan, 2003) or, in a more informal way, through activist sociability (Yon, 2005).
Bargel, J. 2008, Aux Avant-postes. La socialisation au métier politique dans deux organisations de jeunesse de partis. Jeunes populaires (UMP) et Mouvement des jeunes socialistes (PS), PhD in political science, Université Paris-I-Panthéon-Sorbonne
Ethuin N. 2003, “De l’idéologisation de l’engagement communiste. Fragments d’une enquête sur les écoles du PCF (1970-1990)”. In Politix, 63: 145-168
collective reflexivity and “gender awareness” (Varikas, 1991; Achin & Naudier, 2010)
Achin C., Naudier D. 2010, “Trajectoires de femmes ‘ordinaires’ dans les années 1970. La fabrique de la puissance d’agir féministe”. In Sociologie, 1: 77-93
Varikas E. 1991, “Subjectivité et identité de genre. L’univers de l’éducation féminine dans la Grèce au XIXe siècle”. In Genèses, 6: 29-51
“As the author of a research dissertation on the political sociology of activism, Thierry knows Daniel Gaxie’s famous article. He knows that devotion to a cause is generally not enough to maintain activist engagement. Engagement is even better able to strengthen itself to the extent that it provides those who engage with individual rewards, both material and symbolic (Gaxie, 1977).”
Gaxie D. 1977, “Economie des partis et rétributions du militantisme”. In Revue Française de Science Politique, 27/1: 123-154
Leave a Reply