Thursday, June 20, 2013

Part II: Political Friction/Fiction

[Annotated text of Talk at the Left Forum on Women and Class:  continued] 

5)  the neglect of structural analysis in the rather catastrophic failures of “socialist” societies – such analyses concentrating instead on what is claimed as “revisionist” interpretation of ideology.  Not much attention has been paid to how “socialist” societies have been organized, whether class hierarchy has been replaced by a hierarchy of privilege, and where women are located – socially, economically and politically speaking – in the new hierarchy;   plus of course whether such a new hierarchy eventually leads to the (re) institutionalization of  exploitation, marginalization and dominance, all in the name of preserving the socialist state. 

6)  and this is the last;  a great deal of feminist thought revolves around intersections of oppression.  The question of course is whether a class-based analysis or system of thought can encompass intersectionality,  or whether, dialectics notwithstanding, whether such will remain linear and cognizant of only one system of oppression.   (If we were to reduce this difference to a set of contrasting images, class analysis would be represented by a stack of taijitu,  seemingly different but remaining the same, property vs propertyless;  one set of contradictions rises to become “principal” as it moves toward maturity and others become “secondary” but the basic one is the same;   on the other hand, feminist analysis would be a pinwheel of interlocking taijitu, spinning not only through social space but also social time;  all sprouting from the central node of women’s oppression.) 

There are other sources of friction, not the least being the ahistoricity and lack of context in dealing with women’s political language.  The most common critique against feminism is the supposedly bourgeois character of the call for equality, the assumption being that any and all calls for gender equality is based on equality within the status quo.  If I may cite Gloria Steinem, than whom there’s no more liberal feminist, she said it is not a merely a matter of  getting a larger share of the pie but rather of baking a whole new pie altogether.   In any case, there’s certainly a huge difference between the Facebook CEO calling for equality and a woman in India demanding equality.  History and context and structural matrix all seem to fly out the window where women’s political language is concerned. 

I have only two more points: 

a)  the traditional view of the separation of work and the rest of a human being’s existence – his/her familial, social and political life removed from his/her engagement in production – has had a devastating consequence for 250 million transnational labor.   These migrant workers have had their existence effectively divided;  thus, their socio-political life remains linked to a supposedly home country from which they are absent;  while their economic lives are spent in a country where they have absolutely no social existence.  (A World Bank apologist wrote that this was no different from commuting to the office from the suburbs.)   This is part of imperialism’s narrative of globalization, the creation of an international homeless population – or a population that has a “virtual” home, via photographs, memorabilia, letters, phone calls…  This is an international reserved pool of labor, subject to the most extreme exploitation and the most onerous of oppressions. 

b)  the recent implementation of a Venezuelan law, passed by Chavez, granting pensions to full-time mothers --  i.e., those who have not engaged as it were in “production” – points to a different way of viewing the contradiction between private and public spheres, a way of integrating them and a way of returning to the pre-class motive for social organizations.  That pre-class motive was very simply the preservation and continuation of the species. 

I shall end here and perhaps our discussion will bring forth even more ideas.  Thank you.  #


One significant point brought up by a member of the audience was the issue of the autonomy of women’s progressive organizations and the friction caused when social transformation movements insist on using women’s organizations as an auxiliary force for the advance of general radical change but refuse to aid such organizations in the furtherance of changes needed for their collective liberation.   One “reason” for such an “arrangement” underlies the oft-repeated question:  “are women liberated by people’s liberation and conversely, can women’s liberation liberate the people?’  Regarding the first clause, one can only cite the recent issuance of the All-China Women’s Federation which advised “leftover women” to focus less on their career so as to have a better chance at getting married.  Granted that the party that governs the All-China Women’s Federation has gone off its ideological rocker, the incident underscores the risks in being an auxiliary force.  So people’s liberation might liberate women along one axis but if its framework is masculinist or even non-cognizant of male privilege, such a women’s liberation will remain along one axis and not spill over to other systems of oppression.  On the converse clause, one can only point to the transformational character of women’s activism and organizing, and their long-term impact on society.  For instance, labor unions in the US were NOT admitting women workers and workers of color until women workers organized and went on an all-women strike.  After that unions opened its doors to both women workers and workers of color.  Mathematically, one might add that if one liberated half or more than half of the population, wouldn’t that suffice to create a profound transformation? 

Saturday, June 15, 2013


(Part I of the annotated text of my presentation for the panel "Socialism is Feminist" at the Left Forum, June 8th, Pace University, New York)

The theme of our panel is from Hugo Chavez’s 2009 declaration at the Via Campesina conference in Brazil.  (Audience member said this was actually at the World Social Forum;  I checked and it was but the event was sponsored by the Via Campesina.) “True socialism,” he said,  “is feminist.” Three other Latin American presidents stood beside him:  from Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay.  It was President Rafael Correa of Ecuador who amplified the Chavez declaration, by saying that unlike traditional socialism, 21st century socialism includes gender justice, ethnic justice and inter-generational justice.  These issues are often considered “soft issues” by those who perceive class as the main or predominant system of oppression/exploitation in society. 

 Despite this unequivocal declaration, those of us who work at the organizing of and advocacy for women continue to be at the receiving end of catcalls, continue to experience friction with other political groups and continue to be required to defend the ideological and political position we have taken.  These compel us to periodically examine the issue of intersectionality and why this concept is so difficult to integrate into the binary view of class conflict.  Several core or pivotal reasons come to the fore immediately: 

 1)  the continued refusal to accept women’s historical scholarship and its findings that the reification of women’s knowledge, labor and bodies antedated the institutionalization of private property;  that in truth, such reification was integral to the creation of private property and that indeed, women comprised the first form of private property

 2)  the insistence – and we can only call it a patriarchal insistence – on separating the category “women” from the category “people,” such that women’s liberation is often juxtaposed, contrasted, counter-poised, deemed secondary to people’s liberation.  In this view, women’s liberation is often reduced to a thin tissue of gender relations, rather than viewed as a comprehensive resolution of a complex set of contradictions affecting women, contradictions which, taken as a whole, actually condemn class society and demand its transformation. 

 3)  the dismissal or under-valuation of the dynamic between production and re-production –  the non-integration of the latter in the social structural analysis, following the separation, during the Industrial Revolution, of home and workplace.  Ironically, this is a capitalist narrative, truly, that compartmentalizes human social existence, the better to inflict a higher rate of exploitation upon an atomized labor force.   In this narrative, only work is divorced and separated as a special human activity done under the aegis of capital;  only wage labor is recognized as work;  hence the oft-repeated and rather ludicrous prescription for women “to engage in production” in order to liberate themselves – ignoring the historical truth that women have always been engaged in production since the beginning of human history.

4)  the under-valuation of either or both generational and daily replenishment of labor in the cycle of production and reproduction of goods and services.  The cost of such replenishment has been borne by women, largely;  it is estimated that the global unpaid household labor of women annually amounts to $1 trillion – an unprecedented theft casually ignored in the Left’s creation of its laundry lists of demands. 

(Part II next week)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Stop the Spam Please

If your comment contains a link to a webpage, we shall delete.  Thanks. 

Monday, February 04, 2013

from The Synchrony Tree

[Copyright;  all rights reserved.]
This opens the novel. 
It was a firefly – dropped onto the palm of her left hand, her fingers curling at once into a warm cage of flesh.

It was not a firefly.

It was a tear, fallen lightly, and perched moistly in the center of the palm of her left hand.

It was not a tear.

It was a demand;  a demand of a promise of a Return, dropped like a warm sea pebble into the salty moist cage of her fingers.

It was not a demand.  It was anticipation of a Return, a small light flashing with little shrieks of joy, warming the already warm cage the fingers of her hand made. 

It was in her mind now, as she skirted snow dunes at two in the morning, shivering in her gray thrift-shop overcoat, black rubber galoshes crunching ice crystals underfoot.  She was in departure, in flight actually, and that was why Return was in her mind, the heat of it, this arctic morning before dawn. 

 She wished she were a penguin, though she'd never seen one.  Because it was so very very cold and walking was difficult, with a swollen backpack pulling her shoulders back, against her torso’s compulsion to fold into itself against the unbearable winter.  As a penguin, she could slide on her belly and ignore the ice.  She had never felt as vulnerable.   Nor as strong, because running away also meant returning. 

Her mind had circled back, to Ylang-Ylang, standing in the middle of the lobby of the airport terminal, giving her a firefly, a tear, a demand, an anticipation. 

Beside Ylang-Ylang stood a nut-brown ten-year-old girl of fine features and fingers so long, so slim, each nail perfect, that one knew immediately this was a pianist, had always been a pianist and will be a great one.  In her chocolate-brown eyes, the music danced, flashing like a firefly call.

Flordeliz’s heart had halved, one section falling with an unheard thud to the cold airport gray floor.  Because she loved her family – Ylang-Ylang and the daughter she’d borne when she was only 17 and had named Scheherazade, after the woman in the stories her only male lover had used to read to her and which name got shortened conveniently to She – because she loved this family, she had to leave them. 

And because she loved them still, even in her and their absence, she was now running, on possibly the coldest night of winter in Warren, New Jersey, throwing herself down to her knees behind a glittering snow dune, to avoid being spotted by a police car one intersection away, its own lights staining the snow with intermittent red and blue. 

 She feared her employers had called the police, had accused her of stealing.  Not;  she had only taken $200 from the kitchen money, what was due her.  But she could be accused of anything:  stealing, drugs, assault, rape, murder, etc, because she had committed the worst crime of all, the very worst.  She had allowed her tourist visa to lapse, after two three month extensions, and she was now undocumented.  No greater crime could there be.  -- #

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Short-Short Story

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) had the national hero, Jose Rizal, who created the malevolent character Fr. Damaso in the book Noli Me Tangere, exhumed, propped up in the middle of Luneta Park, and shot by firing squad all over again. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Legend of Mayang Makiling as told by Ylang-Ylang

From the novel:  Synchrony Tree 
The aliens took the most common name and called her that, to make her an everyday thing but her true name was Mayang Makiling, avatar of the mountain looming over the emerald land which would later be called Laguna, its name and hers lost from racial memory.  Contrary to the way they described her, she was neither lissome nor fair nor wore a long skirt;  rather, she was stocky and not too tall, how else would the shrubs have been able to hide her?  But this was the way our old stories were revised to fit a slave mindset that made it amenable to conquest.  Mayang Makiling was brown-skinned, of that color we call kissed by the sun:  golden ochre, as it were.  All she wore was a tapis, a cloth wrapped around the hips, ends knotted, a skirt that never loosened, never needed fixing no matter how much she moved and it was made of the gold hair of the sun and the silver hair of the moon, gathered from twigs and branches where they had gotten entangled, and with the red of hibiscus and the green of ferns running through it so that when Mayang Makiling was still, she could not be discerned against the forest that was her home.  She wore a sickle-moon necklace glittering against her naked breasts;  gold bangles from wrist to elbow and around her ankles.  Her little fingers and little toes were tattooed with encircling tiny vines of fern.  She was born with those tattoos   -- and all her followers, the wind readers, carried the same mark from birth.  One other thing they never say about Mayang Makiling:  her breath misted, like the morning fog gathered at the mountain crest at dawn.  When she spoke, her breath was a slight mist, hard to discern in the full strength of the noon sun but visible in the morning and late afternoon, a breath perfumed by wild jasmine flowers.  A retinue of wild animals followed her:  the civet, now extinct;  the wild water buffalo called the tamaraw, now driven from its old haunts, the gold-headed eagle, now extinct, and a dazzling wild rooster called the labuyo, which was expropriated by the aliens and turned into a familiar of a male saint and a favorite of cockpit gamblers.  The tamaraw carried her weapons of war on her back:  the machete whose edge never dulled, the spear with its poisoned iron tip, the shield with its runes and cabalistic signs.  The labuyo and the eagle were her scouts – one on the ground, the other in the air;  the civet was her comrade-in-arms. Where her bare feet touched the soil, plants sprouted and bloomed in frenzy;  and she had but to touch a tree trunk to make the whole tree shiver with delight and put forth leaves, flowers, fruits…  This was why she was revered and tribal people left her such delicacies as she couldn’t make herself, sweet rice cakes like the sapin-sapin, kalamay, suman and sometimes, in a bamboo tube, ginger tea.  She had a rule about reciprocity and always gave back, occasionally not what the supplicant asked for but what was fair for everyone – her way of teaching her people that even desire had to be considered within the matrix of the tribe.  Her home mountain was not desecrated, until the aliens came and laid waste to its thousand-year-old mahogany and teak for their homes, their ships, for tables and chairs and church pews – which, being dead anyway, brought no joy and eventually rotted away in more ways than one.  When Mayang Makiling lost her animals, she wept for a hundred years but the river of tears did not lessen her grief and she could think of no recourse except to curl up in a cave, to sleep, vowing to awaken only at the call of the civet, the tamaraw, the eagle and the labuyo.  In her sleep, she weeps and torrents run down the mountain side, flooding rivers and towns, overflowing the lake.  Don’t let them tell you it was all about a perfidious young man and romance.  Her heart was broken by home’s destruction.  We lost her and we will never see one like her again and only the sea will come to take back her home and her broken heart.  -- #