December 21, 2014 | Sunday
Recently, besides the success that the ‘Take back the night’ campaign against sexual harassment has had, the campaign has also brought another aspect to the surface, such as feedback and resistance expressed in different directions. Criticism was diverse, but it was mainly expressed in forms that aimed at downplaying the importance of the issue and the campaign, its mode of organization, voices that hold this form radical or unbecoming. I have said in an article that the quest for gender equality is often perceived as a quest for domination. Recent reactions have illustrated that position. Then, other voices say sexual harassment is not a priority issue or only perceive it as a derivative of economic or political systems rather than as a completely patriarchal derivative.
As rightly said several times, capitalism has exploited women in different ways, but, on the other hand, the attempt to minimize feministic efforts under the umbrella of a social equality, with the idea that the latter enhances women rights automatically, is unfounded. Or better to say, it is not that simple. Rather, it is much more complicated. I believe that the best way to begin this argument is with a sentence by Latinka Perovic, who asked: ‘Proletarians of the world, who is washing your socks?’ (Conference of Feminists, 1978, Beograd).
Who was washing the socks of the proletarians’? Who is washing the socks of the trumpeters of social equality now? Which job are we talking about? Yet, let’s start from the beginning …
In the second wave of feminism, feminists like Juliet Mitchel (1966), Michel Barret (1980), etc. have explained the women situation within a socialist framework. Mitchel says it is not socialism that has toppled patriarchalism, but, rather, patriarchalism was reproduced in every system. Hence, conditioning or prioritization relying on the belief that there will be equality between genders should there be economic equality is totally meaningless. This is certainly a starting point, but the war does not end here, and it is feminists who push the present discussion and activism forward. As Heidi Hartman argues, capitalism is overdue and the arrival of this system has found the patriarchalism well-established in the society and, in this system, division of labor was gender-based (Hartman, 1976). Inequality begins in the family, with a gender-based division of tasks. Men call the division of housework or the discussion about it ‘dealing with small things’, and this indicates that it is tasks that have been carried out by women traditionally that stand for the ‘small thing’. Had housework been done by men, it would have become a crucial job and an analytical category automatically. Thus, here’s a job that has been rejected for discussion, as it does not pay off.
Hashtag – #RikthejeVendinePunës, then #RikthejeNatën, is of the same resistance, in the air somehow. Why ‘then’? Which job should I get back to? Another issue besides the division of labour, and that I want to relate to this oversimplification and that relates to the hashtag, is the aspect of distribution. We are saying that women are getting jobs, but the problem does not end here. Rather, unjust distribution continues. In the beginning, it should be noted that women have a permanent unpaid and unappreciated job and that is the housework, and then another job outside the house that, again, does not automatically imply social equality. For the same job, women are paid less than men, but even when they receive their salaries, they are not always the ones who do the spending. This may well mean servitude. My experience in activism and academy may prove that women who work outside the house benefit nothing from the salaries that they get in terms of their development, save satisfaction of the basic need for nutrition. A man employed by one of Kosovo’s municipalities was showing me his wife’s bank-card. He keeps it. Thus, he is the one who controls the entire family finance, including her salary. In one of women shelters in Kosovo, a woman says her husband takes every cent of her salary and it is he who decides how and where that money is spent. He even decides when she can buy her underwear. Each and every working day, she doesn’t have a single cent in her pocket. And these are not isolated cases, but cases behind statistics and figures that we refer to. Even women who hold senior positions in public or private sectors are among victims of domestic violence. And, for the sake of further explanation, they have jobs, and salaries. Accordingly, finding a job does not imply equality a priori, because it is a matter of distribution, which is adjusted to the patriarchal norms as to what belongs to whom.
There is no doubt that financial autonomy helps a lot, so the present argument should not be misunderstood. Financial autonomy is one of the conditions. What I would like to bring into surface is the fact that financial autonomy is not always a guarantor of women’s social security, because, as I said, it operates within a patriarchal system in which man’s welfare is a priority. Another aspect that I cannot understand is why the Take Back the Night campaign is experienced as a minimization of other equally important issues? Why should there be a ranking or a competition between matters that this society has to deal with? If this campaign will continue over the next four years, is can never be said, at any point whatsoever, that it rules out the other forms of activism for social equality. Why should there be any such division as ‘we and you’, when, in reality, a system that is prejudicial to a party is automatically prejudicial to another one. At the end of the day, gender is unstable as a category, and women and men should not be seen as homogenous and separate groups.
Why should there be ‘then’ instead of ‘both…alike’?!!!
Author is a PhD candidate on Social Anthropology and History, University of Graz