Barcelona: The Barcafems

Barcelona has a long and proud feminist tradition.  In the Spanish Civil War, the Mujeres Libres were established to fight for a liberatory society prioritising the liberation of women.    Although they worked closely with other aspects of the autonomous movement and the struggle against fascism the Mujeres Libres demanded autonomy within the movement to promote revolutionary activity from a specifically woman based perspective.

We are not fighting men, do not pretend to replace male domination with female domination. We must work and fight together for the social revolution. But we need our own organization to fight it for us.

Mujeres Libres Statement (1936)

The demands of the Mujeres Libres incorporated the requirement for communal cooking and childcare to enable womens’ economic participation; free love to free women from ownership within marriage; support for women in prostitution and an end to prosecution until the conditions were in place for the practice to die out; libertarian pedagogy to eliminate the capitalist ideology promoted in state schools and sex education, specifically including contraception and abortion.  In addition to promoting and advocating for women’s liberation, they also undertook practical tasks  - collectivising kitchens and nurseries to enable greater women’s participation and also encouraged women militias, recruiting women for the front line.

Its now just over a year since the Indignato movement, kicked off on the 15th May 2011.  Emerging from the “Real Democracy Now” movement a call went out in 58 cities in the state of Spain to take to the streets, one of them being Barcelona. When the call  was made, the feminists of Barcelona grouped together to form the feminist indignatos.  They wished to participate in the movement but do so from an explicitly feminist position.   From an initial meeting of established feminists, the movement has grown to incorporate others who would not have initially participated. The indignatos movement was the forerunner of “Occupy”.  Occupy has faced enormous problems with misogyny and sexism within the movement, which is well documented.  In Glasgow, a gang-rape and the horrific response to it, exposed the level of misogyny within the movement, while all across the US Occupy camps have run into similar issues.  The same level of hostility and woman-hating does not appear to have manifested itself within the indignatos.

Speaking with some of the feminist indignatos, they spoke of the difficulties that they had experienced within the movement.  Initially a banner that they had created reading “The Revolution will be feminist or it will not be” was taken down by some men, claiming that it was “divisive” and – as with practically everywhere else – there were issues with men taking up disproportionate amounts of speaking space.  Like many other autonomous movements, hand signals are used in meetings to indicate agreement, question something or interject with a technical point etc. without disrupting the meeting.  The feminist indignatos have now coined a new symbol for sexism (banging closed fists together, sided by side) to raise issues of women’s participation and inclusion without disrupting the meeting and allowing the speaker an opportunity to become aware of  and address the sexism s/he is perpetuating.   In addition to participating within the mainstream Indignatos movement, the feminist Indignato meet weekly within a very strong feminist current which runs through Barcelona and can be seen in the levels of participation of women in almost all radical events, not only as attendees but as organisers, speakers and documenters.

One thing which particularly surprised me was that in Barcelona, the feminist movement is comprised of “Women, Lesbians and Trans”.  The Barcafems were very proud of that definition, which they described as “very Barcelona”.  At the same time as I was talking to the Barcafems, all hell was breaking loose in the UK over RadFem12, which has a policy of only welcoming “women born women living as women” (ie ciswomen).  In that context it is particularly interesting that the Barcafems make a distinction not only between “women” and “trans”, but also “women” and “lesbians”. There is a school of French feminism (and Catalonia does of course border France) which considers “women” to be defined by their relationship to men, and lesbianism as a challenge not only to heteronormativity, but also to the whole concept of “woman”.

Its an interesting juxtaposition to create “lesbians” and “trans” as seperate from the category of “woman”.  Within the second wave of feminism, although massively discriminated against in the “real world” lesbians tended to occupy a privilaged position within the movement, with het-women on occasions seen as part of the problem for continuing to sleep with the enemy.  The woman identified woman not only promoted women within her life, but also in her bed. Trans on the other hand, has traditionally had a subordinate position in the movement, with some feminists claiming that non-ciswomen are not really women at all, but simply men pretending to be women for sexual gratification.

Putting both lesbians and trans outwith the category of “woman”, is an interested way to look at the intersection of gender and sexuality with biology.  When I asked about the status of transmen within the movement (for the definition is not …and transwomen, but …and trans), I got a rather vague reponse, which seemed to indicate that anyone trans was welcome within the feminist movement, but that some trans people would not consider it appropriate to consider themselves feminists.

Both in their history, their current engagement with the radical currents sweeping through the world and in the debates which will shape the future of feminism, it would seem that the Barcafems have much to teach us.

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