Some awesome folks from Gender Equality Caucus of Decolonize/Occupy Seattle put together a International Womyn’s Day event yesterday. They invited me to share some thoughts around gender and labor. Here is the speech:
International womyn’s day is about unity. But we can’t have unity unless we address the existing divisions. and we can’t address the divisions except through struggle, because the system we live in, the capitalist system, is based on divisions.
We live in the international division of labor, where we are divided by race, gender, and disabilities. we are divided alongside these categories — we are made to believe that oh, this is woman’s work, oh, this is men’s work; oh, this is peope of color work, this is white people work, or, this is work for people w disabilities — This system we live in teaches us to value, or devalue one another, based on the roles that we think each other fit under this division of labor. How does it do that? It does it by making it seem that it’s natural for some people to do certain kinds of work. Natural for white men to govern, natural for women of color to be silent, natural for immigrants to work long hours with little pay. When it’s natural for someone to be a servant, to be hardworking, to be overworked, then you don’t have to pay them for the work that they actually do. Then you don’t have to recognize and value the labor.
But the point of so much of this, is to make us internalize a lack of self worth. It is to hide the fact that we have power. We do not know our power and no one dares to tell us. In fact, everything tries to deny us that. How many of us have worked in jobs where we know that we are key to running the workplace, but are constantly told by the bosses that they dont need us? How many of us have been fired from jobs simply because we stuck up for ourselves, and been told that we have “attitude” or are “non compliant”?
For women and queer people, this devaluing of our self worth is taken a notch deeper. For many of us, it extends beyond our workplaces, into our homes, into our relationships and sex lives. We are told not only in our workplaces that we are dispensable, many of us are also told in our homes, or our relationships, that we aren’t good enough, aren’t light skinned enough, aren’t skinny enough, aren’t straight enough, that we deserve the violence, that we deserve the shame, the gossip. Our dignity and self confidence are open ground, for the haters to stomp on.
This system invests so much in our self denigration because if recognized our worth, we would take over. Who wouldn’t? Who would wanna live in poverty, under constant threat of police violence, economic oppression, under increasing threats of global warming caused by industrial pollution? We have so much collective intelligence, so much creativity, street smarts and knowledge, that if we had the time and freedom to pool all of that together and to develop ourselves, we would be unbeatable.
In my memory, in the best days of Occupy, when we had the camp here, we saw glimpses of that solidarity, unity and collective intelligence.
It’s not just work that receives a wage that keeps this world running. It is also the unwaged labor, the work that our parents and family do to raise us, to reproduce this society for a next generation of workers. This unwaged work is never paid for. It’s the extra work after the paid work. This work in particular, is gendered. It is feminized, and it is also racialized. Historically in the US, it is women of color who have reproduced this society in these invisible ways.
So when we talk about the unity we need for International Womyn’s Day, we include among us the varied ways in which women and queer warriors have resisted the exploitation of their labor. Including those that are waged and unwaged. We include among us sexworkers in the Tenderloin who fought for their dignity, against transphobia and police harassment in the Compton cafe riot in 1966, before Stonewall. We include among us the women of color who defended themselves against the sexualized violence of slave masters and bosses, women who have insisted on giving birth to their children under the pressures of forced sterilization, women who have fought for reproductive justice, women workers in the maquiladoras and factories around the globe who resist everyday in and out of the shopfloor. Everyday, internally and externally, we resist this system that devalues, exploits and beats us down. This system that wants us to reproduce it everyday in submission and in silence. We honor this strength because it does not come easily. It will only be through common struggle, where we put into practice the idea that an injury to one is an injury to all, across race, sexuality, gender expression, that we will have a shot at reproducing a different kind of world.