Interview with the Valeries by Jeremy Kay
This article is an edited interview from December 2012. It follows on from a set of interviews (published in the last edition of Mutiny) which discussed Spain’s economic crisis, massive social movements (such as ’15M’), and anarchistic politics. This interview focusses on anarcha-feminist organising and perspectives. The Valeries are two radical anarcha-feminist squatters living in Madrid. The interview was conducted in Spanish – I apologise for any errors I may have made due to misunderstandings or poor translation. – Jeremy.
|Sexism kills: kill sexism|
We’ll start with a story that illustrates the sort of thing anarcha-feminists regularly deal with within the anarchist movement in Spain.
It happened at Casa Blanca – a squatted, self-managed social centre in central Madrid. It was a very big building with lots of space, and had more-or-less anarchist politics. It was squatted in early 2010 and evicted in September 2012. Hundreds of different collectives participated in the space.
Sometime towards the beginning of the occupation, a group of womyn asked the general assembly of the building for a womyn’s autonomous space. [This article uses the term 'autonomous' as is common among English-speaking activists, but the term used in Spanish is literally 'non-mixed'.] The assembly said yes to this request, and the womyn started fixing up the space – cleaning and putting in lights etc.
During this time, we put up a poster on the door of the space that said ‘autonomous space – no machistas’ [ie 'no patriarchs / macho arseholes']. Someone wrote on the poster underneath ‘nor feminazis.’ That was a sign of things to come.
There were some changes in the collective and time passed, and then a group of us started to prepare the space to be used for some new things like a gym and workshops on self-managed health.
We sent an email to the main group to ask for a key so that we could enter at will. All the collectives had their own key. They responded that we had to go to an assembly to ask for the space. We flipped out a bit at this, since we didn’t think it was necessary, as the space was autonomous, and that process had already happened anyway. But we said OK, fine.
But the ‘assembly’ was a joke. There were only two guys from the social centre – it wasn’t a full assembly, but rather a ‘welcoming committee’. Other people brought proposals, and the two guys said what they thought. It wasn’t a very horizontal way of making decisions! All the other proposals were accepted. We were last. The two guys didn’t understand what an autonomous space was, and didn’t know that the space had already been designated as such. They also didn’t know about the work that we had already done. So we explained (yet again – as we’ve been doing since the 1960s!) the reasoning behind autonomous spaces. They said they couldn’t decide on the spot, and maybe another group wanted the space. We said that we knew no-one else wanted it because we’d been there a lot, using it. But they said that they would pass the proposal to the assembly and that in a week there would be a response.
Well, we waited a week, then two weeks, three weeks, one month, and still there was no response. So we sent an email asking if they remembered us and if they’d made a decision. They didn’t respond. But one of us was on the internal email list for the social centre and saw an email that said the space was going to be used for a different group, a non-autonomous group. We were pretty pissed at that!
From then on we didn’t send emails obviously. Instead we wrote a communique to the internal group of the social centre. We also did some small posters to put up in the social centre in which we explained briefly what had happened and that we considered Casa Blanca to be a patriarchal space with a lack of understanding of gender politics. We went to put up the posters on the day of the 2 year anniversary when it was full of people. Many people looked at us in a malicious way, but didn’t ask us anything when we put the posters up. One womyn started insulting us, and two others asked what was happening. We told them the story, and they said they would talk with the guys from the welcoming committee, who then said to them (not us) that it had been a mistake, and so we should take down the posters. We found out later that those two guys from the welcoming committee had never passed on our proposal, they had just ignored it. According to them, they had forgotten.
Later we received emails with insults that we were sabotaging the social centre and ‘fragmenting the movement’, and that we should get lost.
On anarchism and machismo
|We carry on the struggle! Workers of all genders... it's our moment. Strike until we win!|
The didactic role that we are required to play is one of the paradoxes. Because one of the roles you have to assume as a womyn is to be sweet, patient, calm, understanding and caring. As this is a role created by patriarchy, we have to fight against it. This doesn’t mean that I’ll never be caring, just not all the time. But when anarchists around me don’t understand feminist ideas, they expect me to be caring and lovely and explain things to them. But I get angry – since the ideas of feminism aren’t exactly new, and if they’re anarchists, they should have some idea of them! For me it’s a problem here that as soon as a person squats and wears a hoodie and dumpster-dives, they consider themselves an anarchist. If that’s all anarchism means to you, then you don’t feel like you need to develop any deeper political ideas. If those who call themselves ‘anarchist’ truly opposed all hierarchies, we wouldn’t need to call ourselves ‘radical anarcha-feminists’, just ‘anarchists’. But because the term ‘anarchism’ is used poorly, and just as a fashion, it loses its meaning.
There’s also a perspective among some anarchists here, that separates anarchism and feminism. They see feminism as an institutionalised, reformist fight. They don’t see the strands within feminism. We think this perspective is just an excuse to avoid working on any feminist actions.
On the anarcha-feminist movement in Spain
In general, the anarcha-feminist movement in Spain is quite well connected. We put on talks and workshops about issues such as gendered violence and aggression, gender roles and authoritarianism. Proposals and actions often arise out of these events, although distance is a problem for us. We have a loose network across the Iberian peninsula of people who have a good perspective on gender.
One idea that we’ve been discussing a lot is about how to move on beyond self-defense. So much of our energy is directed at men. And this includes having to explain feminist ideas to them all the time. Sure, we want to include male comrades in the struggle, but not at the cost of ourselves. They also have to take steps and realise how to act, how to educate themselves, how to critique themselves. This isn’t our responsibility. We need to employ our time and energy on ourselves, for ourselves. If not, we can’t advance. We don’t want to spend our whole time justifying and legitimising ourselves. This affects us – it affects our ability to believe in ourselves.
It’s important to spend some time in womyn’s autonomous groups. It helps to be able to come back to mixed groups and see them in a new way, to see the gendered constructions. A strong network of womyn’s autonomous spaces exists in Madrid and other parts of Spain. We’ve spent time working just with womyn, and time working with men – either way we get called ‘feminazis’! This is one reason why we need autonomous groups – to be away from this sort of machismo.
We also want the term ‘feminist’ to include the trans reality. Feminism is advancing all the time and nowadays the concept of ‘woman’ doesn’t fit so well – it doesn’t include the ideas of lesbianism or trans. Trans-womyn are included in our autonomous spaces.
We also attempt to use language in ways that challenge patriarchy. For example we use the feminine form when speaking in the plural (instead of the masculine form which is normally used in Spanish). [In this article, the spelling 'womyn' is used as an imperfect way to reflect some of the feminist linguistic actions used by the Valeries in Spanish.]
We call ourselves ‘radical anarcha-feminists’ because many people here call themselves ‘anarcha-feminists’ without really having the critique of patriarchy. We feel we’ve done a lot of work and personal reflection to develop our critique of the construction of patriachal values. We also consider patriarchy to be one of the roots of the problem – and for this reason we like the term ‘radical’, which originally comes from the word for ‘root’.
We think a radical anarcha-feminist posture is good, because it’s about making change now. Others say ‘it’s not the time’. But radical anarcha-feminists reply that that we’re not waiting until the world understands – we have to act now, whether they understand or not. We have to avoid being victims.
On the reformist feminist movement
Within the broad 15M movement, there exists the group ‘Feminista Sol’. It’s an assembly and nominally the feminist part of 15M. On one hand we like it,
Similarly, we think the demand to legalise abortion is very problematic. [In Spain abortion has been legal since 2010 – with some procedural restrictions. Before that it was decriminalised but not legal and womyn had to prove 'serious risk to physical or mental health'.] Some anarcha-feminists have participated in campaigning for the legalisation of abortion, as well as feminists who are not anarchists of course. But we think it is dangerous to ask for more laws which end up delegating more of our own power to the State. Control over our own bodies is a responsibility that we need to assume ourselves.