Monday, October 12, 2009

A Conversation about the Global Financial Crisis

Island 116 Autumn 2009, pp. 8-17.



Over this past summer, Ariel Salleh and Susan Hawthorne have been discussing political frameworks, themes and concerns that are current in feminist, ecological, and socialist movements. Ideas which, they lament, are largely absent in mainstream political analysis. The outcome is that Australian politics and policy rarely step outside 'the box'. This myopia is obvious in global warming and biodiversity policy, in the business-as-usual response to the global economic meltdown. They conclude by asking if alternatives for Australia can be found in indigenous ways of 'being in country'.
Susan Hawthorne is an activist, a publisher, a poet and an aerialist. She came to environmental awareness on her parents' farm in the Riverina district where tree planting and water allocation were part of everyday life economics. But her main political focus is the feminist movement, in which she has been active for more than thirty-five years. In 1991, together with Renate Klein, she founded Spinifex Press, a publishing house that specialises in feminist writing and is dedicated to having indigenous women's voices heard. She has also worked on creating a political model drawing on the theoretical depth of radical feminism encountered over her years of activism. The results of this work appeared in her 2002 book, Wild Politics.
Ariel Salleh is also an activist of long standing. She and Marilyn Lake called Tasmania's first feminist gathering at Ariel’s Battery Point digs in 1971. Moving to Sydney a few years later, she co-convened the Movement Against Uranium Mining; spent the summer of 1982 on the Franklin; got into serious ecofeminist debate with deep ecologists; and helped form the Glebe Greens. In the early nineties she worked on the Earth Summit with the Women's Environment and Development Organisation in New York and Rio, returning home to a protracted catchment struggle on the NSW South Coast. Her current focus is on gene technology and en-gendering eco-socialist thought within the World Social Forum process.

SUSAN HAWTHORNE: You know, Ariel, I hear the news and think, well of course this has happened – the financial crisis, for example, or climate change. Why is it that governments, corporates, even mainstream NGOs, don't seem to have read any of the work that ecological thinkers, feminists, anti-globalisation activists and other critics of the system have written these past thirty years?

ARIEL SALLEH: The media has a lot to account for in the way it scatters and defuses political developments – hedge funds, the Murray River, football injuries, our Nicole, Sorry Day, and nanotech – everything equal to everything else. There's a very wide gap between this and the kind of contextualising you do, or say, my own efforts in Eco-Sufficiency and Global Justice to bring sex-gender literacy into disciplines like political ecology. We are drawing lines between things not usually connected. But the small L-liberal tendency to keep treating social questions as separate issues is very pervasive, even in some smaller more freewheeling media publications. To take a case in point: in a time of global warming, it's crucial to spell out the links between ecology and women, North and South. Social science research from the European Union reveals that men's consumption choices in transport, electronics and recreation are far more heavily implicated in the causes of global warming than are women's activities. So too, the global North and South are interconnected when it comes to political decisions on climate. Australian commitments under the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism may cause Indonesian women to lose their communal livelihood as forests are turned into externally financed carbon sinks. This kind of policy is neocolonial and regressive. It shifts the cost of our high-energy Australian lifestyle on to the backs of others. One-dimensional environmentalism leaves the big picture in the box.

SUSAN: That European study on men's consumption choices causing more global warming than women's, reminds me of very fine US research by Pat Hynes in which she found that when men spend, they buy luxuries – cigarettes, alcohol, petrol, pornography and women's bodies for their individual use. Whereas when women spend they buy survival goods – food, shelter, medicines and schooling for themselves, their children and others who depend on them, including male partners. There is a serious gap in economic research, one which feminists have been filling in over the last

couple of decades. But it seems that only feminists get to read this! Feminism is not only about wages being unequal, the impact of sex-gendered consumption patterns is highly relevant to unpacking what is happening in the global financial world, and the way in which climate is changing. I started having worries about the Kyoto Protocol around 2001 when I discovered that Toyota was investing in genetically engineered plantation trees to absorb carbon. These trees apparently are meant to grow at double the rate. But it’s a con, because all it does is create in the shape of trees a forest that will inevitably 'crash'. Such trees are like the fast growing market we’ve seen in recent years where there is no regulation and no attempt to think about growth as a process that has collapsibility rules. As Barney Foran notes: 'By saving the economic system that has propelled us to this point, we could lose the climate. We can’t grow and shrink at the same time. It’s not physically possible.'

ARIEL: Yes, the idea of genetically engineered trees as a panacea to climate change is truly shocking, and it too is a result of single-issue thinking. Feminists interested in the sociology of knowledge point to this linear logic as a particularly masculinist invention. It represents 'the master's' concept of his own line of intention or purpose in dominating and reorganising the world. Housewives know, and indigenous peoples know, that ecological and social relations are too complex and multilayered to be fully controlled by human beings. The precautionary principle is taken for granted by people who work hands-on with natural cycles. But the Western 'man of reason' does not concede to his own limitations. When his intention misses its target, it gets passed off as an unanticipated consequence or so-called ‘collateral damage’. A whole new academic field called risk science now papers over this unknown space between human cause and natural effect. The practice of genetic engineering demonstrates this at every phase of the industry. The corporation takes aim for profit from the new commodity – what this product is, or what it does is immaterial to the accountant. The scientist takes aim to break research ground, marking the name of his institute or firm on a patent. The government takes aim to be seen as up there with cutting-edge science – and all the while, keeping the pharmaceutical dollar in the party donation book. The end result in Australia has been a corner-cutting gene technology regulatory process, achieving precious little in terms of environmental or health protection. The irony is that even scientists do not agree among themselves on what a gene actually does, and the determinist single gene

models of molecular biology are already giving way to an understanding of reproduction as a complex 'epigenetic' interaction between multiple unknown forces in the cellular environment.

SUSAN: In relation to genetic engineering, if the global North is facing a financial crisis, ordinary people in Africa, Asia, Latin America and other poor communities are facing a food crisis through the loss of farmlands to World Bank-sponsored cash crop programs, so turning agriculture into an investment rather than a necessity of life. Think of export roses grown in Kenya and lilies in the Philippines; think of the biotechnology baskets offered by the financial brokers – with the adoption of genetically engineered crops food becomes just another 'product'. These moves in the name of development result in a cascading disconnection of economic reality from life processes. And the result is that it is mostly rural women and children who starve, while men in the global South take their chance in the cities. I wonder do the Australian government's gene technology deliberations weigh up the overseas impacts of its home-grown industry?
I like the idea that Julie Nelson puts forward in her book Economics for Humans. She proposes that policy advisers ditch the inexorable metaphor of society as machine and replace it with the metaphor of the beating heart. Economics concerns itself with circulation, so if the flow of essentials such as goods and money cease, then the economy is in danger of 'heart failure'. The recent global meltdown suggests that the recovery from myocardial infarction is going to take some time. Most importantly, the heart metaphor brings emotion into economics because the heart is the centre of love, of courage, care and respect. Nelson says that 'The image of the economy as a beating heart not only brings together body and soul, but points us toward action regarding the heartaches of poverty, hunger, injustice, empty consumerism, and ecological destruction.' More than this, Nelson's model reminds us that in fact the whole economy depends on human trust. When talking about finance, trust is a capital-T Trust, but as with most commercially appropriated language, this is a terrible distortion of the true sense of the word. When the banks began to wobble, as Barbara Rockefeller points out, they 'lost trust in one another'. Trust is, she says, something you can’t force. Which brings me back to the forced growth of genetically engineered trees, free markets, and unregulated derivatives.

ARIEL: Your image of forced-growth eucalypts, multiple piglets, and swollen udders as mirroring the economy of infinite loans and unregulated derivatives is stunning. And as you say, the whole thing is totally out of touch with real life needs. Moreover, every government's response to the financial meltdown has been single-issue and linear – more of the same – print more money, lend and spend, till the economy grows back again. Global elite decision makers don't seem to see that liquidity is not the same thing as solvency. Under neoliberalism, the divide of root from branch is total.
Looking at climate change, the failure of politicians to respond appropriately is frightening. What will the new dream team in Washington come up with, I wonder? I read a brilliant blog piece recently by Sharon Astyk, a critical exposé of the standard Al Gore formula. Gore's Obama List is likely to include: Congressional incentives for reduced deforestation; solar, wind, and geothermal spots in the deserts of the US south-west; construction of a national low-loss underground grid; plug-in hybrid cars; retrofitted buildings; household conservation advice; and replacement of the Kyoto Protocol at Copenhagen in 2009 with a treaty that caps carbon emissions ready for trade. A wish list like this is thoroughly masculinist in the way it relies on the tech fix and deflects attention from lived social and, indeed, natural thermodynamic realities. The capitalist economy dependent on permanent consumption remains unquestioned, as long as there is a conversion to green product. The trouble is that the construction of Gore's new high-tech cities in the US south-west, for example, will consume vast amounts of front-end fuels – in welding turbines and grids, road making, water supply, component manufacture for housing, air conditioning for supermarkets and schools. What is being offered is yet another mortgage – borrow now, pay later. Beyond this are the direct ecological costs of resettling Americans to the dry interior and south. Then there are the psychological costs of mass resettlement. Moreover, the new urbanisation will mean a loss of farmland, possibly replaced by agricultural leases in the Third World. And how then will the displaced peasants, presumably in Central America, feed themselves? And what global warming pollution will be generated by the long haulage of food back to the USA? UN development experts talk about 'capacity building' for the global South to train non-industrialised communities for the modernised world. I would argue that capacity building is actually needed for the global North – and the skill that is desperately wanted in societies such as ours is the ability to connect the dots.

SUSAN: The problem is that these so-called new ideas like Gore's contain the old entrepreneurial logic – the popular phrase ‘natural capitalism’ concedes as much! I see our capitalist society rather like an overgrown onion – the outside layer just gets bigger and bigger and less and less nutritious. An economy should reflect how nature operates. Some people may say this is corny, but what is the universe if not about pattern? And our existence arises out of particular kinds of patterning. You can see it when you look at a fractal. You can see it in the growth rings of trees. You can see it in the pattern of an economic crisis. Is it even possible to fund self-sustaining systems without supporting the polluters? I mean, carbon trading schemes can become all out green-washing machines. My alternative proposal would be a biodiversity tax – and within the term biodiversity I include cultural and social diversity. The tax would work in the following way. If a taxpayer – individual, organisation, or corporation – engaged in activities that enhanced biodiversity then they would gain credits on their tax. If they engaged in activities that reduce biodiversity they would pay tax. The activities that destroy biodiversity and cultural diversity would accrue the highest taxes. Gore's desert cities of the US south-west wouldn’t even get off the ground, precisely because the ecological and social costs are so high. Or to take the Australian example of Gunns' proposed pulp mill in Tasmania, the kind of forestry that is carried out for this wouldn’t get on to the drawing board. Furthermore, those who engaged in military action or corporate biotechnology and the like would be hit with massive taxes. Toyota could not use engineered trees to get carbon credits because gene technology is a homogenising process, reducing biodiversity. For a change, under my system of progressive taxation, artists, social activists, women who support communities, those involved in caring for children, the infirm and disabled, indigenous people maintaining land and culture would be recognised for the work they carry out and provided with support to allow them to continue – without ghettoising and entrenching such activities.

ARIEL: Well, your idea of biodiversity and cultural credits is a big improvement on the idea of carbon credits! Although, like the basic income scheme favoured by the UK Green Party, all such payments rely on the existence of a democratic state that is hardy enough to face down pressures from the corporate sector. Right now, the ubiquitous bail-out response to financial meltdown on the part of the industrialised democracies shows that most governments are simply looking after the interests of suits-as-usual and

keeping the revolving door turning. Even Anglican bishops in the UK have pointed to how the bail-outs repeat the same inconsequential reasoning as brought the system down a few months earlier. I like the sound of what you say, but then again, allocating taxes and credits depends on how much you think you can reform the capitalist state. Do you believe that a socially transparent capitalist system is really possible? And even if capitalism were made socially responsible, isn't an economy based on commodifying nature inherently anti-ecological?

SUSAN: In making such a suggestion, I agree that we need a wholesale transformation of the current system, overdetermined by the profit motive as it is. A biodiversity tax could only work where there was a general desire to get beyond commodification. I guess there is a need for transitional practices that help to shift public values, and such a tax would be that kind of intervention. As for spelling out the exact steps from Here to There, I'll leave that to the angels! Lilla Watson is interesting here, when she explains how for indigenous people the future extends as far forward as the past goes back – this means a 40,000-year plan. In Wild Politics I took this insight as a way of imagining a world in which politicians, economists, people running businesses, might begin to think about doing things differently. If you want to create societies that last, you don’t just have a three- or five- or even ten-year plan. You need to think about how to create stable and responsive practices. Stable – because risk, profit and all the capitalist paraphernalia are extremely unstable. Responsive – because people change; political, economic and ecological conditions change.
I really want to be part of a thought experiment. How far can we imagine? What are the most inventive ideas we can come up with? Imaginative inventiveness does not come from the mainstream. I am amazed and thrilled to see writers of fiction and poetry writing about economics: Kate Jennings’s essay 'American Revolution', for example, or Margaret Atwood, whose latest book, Payback, is about debt, economics, value, the environment and justice. It's time to be guided by something other than the textbooks for engineering, MBAs, corporate law and biotechnology!

ARIEL: This idea that the protection of biodiversity and cultural diversity are interrelated political objectives is fascinating – and thanks are due here to Vandana Shiva for her path-breaking ecofeminist book Staying Alive. Cultural diversity has become very salient now with the rise of the alternative

globalisation movement and its World Social Forum events. The movement brings together urban workers, peasants, environmentalists, women, indigenous peoples, as one great movement of movements questioning corporate globalisation. And in this multistranded unity, indigenous voices are offering a new kind of leadership on the environment – one that challenges the all too accommodationist politics of many big NGOs. For instance, I've been horrified to find that the Friends of the Earth moratorium on genetic engineering was converted by FOE International into an emphasis on product labelling and regulation – 'because that is where the game is at'. Whereas indigenous peoples are bringing a new awareness to the global North by modelling congruity between their cultural, economic, and ecological practices. There's a beautiful essay on this kind of 'meta-industrial' rationality by anthropologist Debbie Rose. Called 'Fitting into Country', it describes Deb's lessons in economic provisioning under her Aboriginal mentor Jessie Wirrpa of Victoria River country. I recommend this to anyone who cares about where Australia is going. I think the Ngarrindjeri women are also spelling out an alternative ecology for Murray country, no?

SUSAN: Yes, the Ngarrindjeri women of South Australia, are clear about what they want for the future. As Rita Lindsay, Ellen Trevorrow, Alice Abdulla, and Margaret Dodd emphasise: 'We want our young people to be educated so they can be part of managing our lands and waters, so they will have employment, so land and waters will be cared for according to Ngarrindjeri laws, for future generations'. Intergenerational sustainability and responsibility are what they are talking about, and Lilla Watson too. I don’t think there is any other way forward.

ARIEL: Big-picture thinking, I agree, outside the box; a way of seeing in which the ecosystem, laws of nature, are the bottom line – not profit. There was a time when feminism and ecology were converging around this – before so much environmentalism turned corporate, and worker's and women's movements got side-tracked into fighting for equality in corrupt and unsustainable institutions...

SUSAN: That history is a sad one, and it is important. We have seen all the radical movements co-opted, or at least split apart and weakened by co-option. But at risk of sounding naively optimistic, I still think there is cause for hope with the generational change that is taking place. It’s a wait-and-see

time. Can the behemoth of Bush’s and Howard’s ideology be moved on? Will Obama and Rudd live up to their 'can do' rhetoric? Now is a good time to stand our ground and regroup with all our political luggage (not baggage) around us. Time again for cutting-edge thinking, direct action, maybe even poetry will find a place in political activism again.

ARIEL: Yes, you are right about regrouping. My hope is that a deeper politics will emerge from the fusion of women's, ecological, worker and indigenous movements – but this leaves open the question of sharing that radical alternative with a bland mass media saturated public. Your emphasis on poetry, drama, and direct action may well be critical to breaking through. Like most activists we are in there for the long haul – and optimism is our kind of 'capital'!

Hawthorne, Susan, Wild Politics, Spinifex, 2002.
Salleh, Ariel (ed), Eco-Sufficiency and Global Justice, Spinifex, 2009.
Salleh, Ariel, 'Is Australia's Climate Policy Gender Literate?', Insight Magazine, June 2008.
Hynes, H Patricia, ‘Consumption: North American Perspectives' in Jael Silliman and Ynestra King (eds), Dangerous Intersections: Feminist Perspectives on Population, Environment and Development, South End Press, 1999.
Foran, Barney, 'Now or Never: Correspondence', Quarterly Essay, 2008, No 32, p 120.
Salleh, Ariel, 'Organised Irresponsibility: Contradictions in the Australian Government's Strategy for GM Regulation', Environmental Politics, 2006, Vol 15, No 2, 388-416.
On Africa: Dani Nabudere, 'The Global Crisis of Capitalism and its Impact', Pambazuka News, No 412: On Asia: Farida Akhter, 'Seeds in Women’s Hands: The Fundamental Issue of Food Security' in Seeds of Movements. Dhaka: Narigrantha Prabartana, 2007, pp 231-246. Also see Wild Politics, 2002, pp 340-345.
Nelson, Julie, Economics for Humans, University of Chicago Press, 2006, p 60.
Rockefeller, Barbara, cited in Kate Jennings, 'American Revolution: The Fall of Wall Street and the Rise of Barack Obama', Quarterly Essay, 2008, No 32, p 63.
Astyk, Sharon, 'A New Deal or a War Footing? Thinking through Our Response to Climate Change', Ruminations for a New Future: Casaubon's Book, 11 November 2008.
Jennings, Kate, op. cit.
Atwood, Margaret Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, Bloomsbury, 2008.
Shiva, Vandana, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development, Zed Books, 1989.
Rose, Deborah Bird, 'Fitting into Country', Capitalism Nature Socialism, 2008, Vol 19, No 3, 117-21.
Trevorrow, Ellen, Abdulla, Alice, and Dodd, Margaret, in Diane Bell (ed), Listen to Ngarrindjeri Women Speaking: Kungun Ngarrindjeri Miminar Yunnan, Spinifex Press, p 15.

SUSAN HAWTHORNE is the author of Wild Politics (2002), and Earth’s Breath (2009) and forthcoming in 2010 Economies of Dissent (essays). A contributor to Ariel Salleh's anthology Eco-sufficiency and Global Justice (2009), she co-edited September 11, 2001: Feminist Perspectives (2002) with Bronwyn Winter. She is a Research Associate at Victoria University, Melbourne.

ARIEL SALLEH is a researcher in Political Economy at the University of Sydney. Former Associate Professor in Social Inquiry at UWS and co-editor of the journal Capitalism Nature Socialism, her publications include: Ecofeminism as Politics, Eco-Sufficiency and Global Justice and many articles:

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gender mainstreaming

When I wrote this piece in 2004, I had been worrying for time about how the concept of gender mainstreaming, supported with many good intentions by many feminists, was paralysing the women's movement. I'm putting this up on my blog because it expands what I have said about climate change. An Emissions Trading Scheme is the Gender Mainstreaming of the environmental movement.

The political uses of obscurantism: Gender mainstreaming and intersectionality

Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in any area and at all levels. It is a strategy for making the concerns and experiences of women as well as of men an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres, so that women and men benefit equally, and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal of mainstreaming is to achieve gender equality (ECOSOC, quoted in Young and Hoppe 2003:39)

Gender mainstreaming and intersectionality have become buzz words among women and men who work primarily as bureaucrats in the large national and international organisations that have become so powerful in the last decade or so. Both words continue the path of obscurantism that began with postmodernism in the 1980s. The problem posed by the use of postmodern theory is not just one of access and intellectual elitism, it has also been a process of depoliticisation. Postmodernism has rendered many silent, many speechless, including those whom the theorists claim to defend, namely, the dispossessed, the marginalised, the poverty stricken and the politically powerless.

Before I expand on the difficulties I have with both these words and their political uses, I want to say a few words about gender. The word gender is hugely overused. It is used in contexts where it means women: ‘the gendered dimension’; it is used in contexts where the word sex should be used: ‘the gender of the baby’; it is used to unmark the marked differences between women and men, to whitewash and hide: ‘transgender’; it is used when the word feminist is considered too threatening: ‘the gender debate’ or ‘gender activists’; it is used for appearances, to suggest that women are included when they are not: ‘bringing gender into the discussion’, or it is used as a way of pretending that men are included when they are included only as an afterthought. In ECOSOC’s definition of gender mainstreaming in the quotation that heads this article, note how the use of language and context is so broad in this definition that it has become meaninglessly inclusive.

The word gender is deeply depoliticising. It is a word that is favoured by marketing departments, politicians, human resources practitioners, and institutions. It is one of the words that Don Watson could have written about in Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language (2003). I suspect that the reason he doesn’t is because he is male and he reads the word gender as irrelevant to him. This, I believe, says something very significant about the danger of using ‘gender’ (Barry 1996:188–192).

Gender is such a soft word. It is a word that asks permission to exist. It is a word without demands. Without political clout. Without power. To use a word such as gender might let us sneak past the guards at the door of the boys’ cubby house, but it will not get us to the table where the decisions are being made. And, in the unlikely event that it does, no one will hear the woman who speaks of gender because it applies only to her. Not to the real business of life, or politics, of war, or profit.

In the case above where gender is used of babies, it cannot be usefully applied because gender is learned. A baby has not been around long enough for it (one can use the neutral pronoun for babies) to know anything about the gender differences between women and men.

One of the most disturbing uses of gender is in the acronym GBSV. GBSV stands for gender-based sexual violence. Rape is a perfectly useful word and should be used whenever GBSV is encountered. Every rape, even when the protagonists are not male or the violated ones are not female is based on the idea that men rape women: subject verb object. It is an instance of power over by the powerful and no amount of obscuring will change that. All it results in is a deadening of language.

When gender is teamed with mainstreaming the effect is pervasively deadening. Gender does not and cannot belong in the mainstream. Gender is girls’ stuff; the mainstream is where the boys swim. Gender drowns in the mainstream. Or perhaps is pushed under, held down, and drowned.

Gender is the word that pretends that women can be just like men. But listen to men talk. How many men do you know who talk regularly about gender? If they do, have they been gender trained?

Gender mainstreaming as assimilation
In the 1950s and 1960s it was considered progressive to support the policy of racial assimilation. In Australia assimilation required that the people — Black people, Indigenous people, Asians, Europeans from a non-English speaking background — should be very happy to ‘fit in’, ‘to blend’ and be invisible within the local Anglo-centric white culture.

Among the processes used to support assimilation were stealing children — especially those who may have had a white parent — from mothers and extended families. Children and adults from non-English speaking backgrounds were actively discouraged and often forced to ignore their mother tongue and their culture. Gender mainstreaming operates in a similar way along the continuum of culture. Based on a liberal view of the world, in which differences are smoothed out and diversity is denied, gender mainstreaming suggests that feminist demands be toned down so that the men who benefit from the institutions and power structures of patriarchy do not really have to change, do not have to give up their privilege. Gender mainstreaming encourages feminist projects to have the same aims as projects that benefit men. Gender mainstreaming asks feminists not to rock the boat, not to go too far, not to demand anything other than equality of treatment in a badly skewed system, rather than equality of outcomes.

For example, a gender mainstreaming position is used to argue that Australian men are victimised by the federal government’s Child Support Scheme. Such claims are used to fuel demands that men — including violent men — should be given continuing access to children. These arguments cannot be sustained, and the Chief Justice of the Family Court, Alastair Nicholson, has been reported as saying: ‘I must have been somewhere else. Those cases (when men were victims of family violence) missed me. The number of cases in which there have been serious allegations against women I think I could count on the fingers of one hand’ (Munro 2003:5). Gender mainstreaming fosters the view that everyone should have the same access to social systems, even though it is patently obvious that there are vastly different circumstances and levels of power between those whose lives come under the jurisdiction of such courts. Gender mainstreaming does not allow for context sensitivity, instead it goes for a one-size-fits-all approach which actually only fits the person deemed of a standard size, the norm (Hawthorne 2002:87–109).

Racial assimilation had seriously negative effects on the people subjected to it, and continues to do so. Gender mainstreaming is likely to have similarly deleterious effects on women’s lives over the next 30 years, as we try at some time in the future to disentangle ourselves from it. Most progressive people these days can see the shortcomings of racial assimilation. It is time to acknowledge that the same shortcomings will manifest out of the practice of gender mainstreaming.

Gender mainstreaming in Women’s Studies
There have been two competing forces in the theorising of Women’s Studies since its inception. On the one hand there are those who wish to ‘transform the curriculum’ and incorporate Women’s Studies into other disciplines and be prepared to shift naming conventions as it becomes expedient (Friedman et al. 1996). On the other hand, there are those who have fought for the establishment and continuation of Women’s Studies as an autonomous discipline (Bowles and Duelli-Klein 1983; Bowles 2009).

Those who have fought for the first option have had some achievements, but the curriculum has not exactly been transformed. Were it transformed it would have had the effect of challenging the structures in which such courses are taught. We would also be now seeing social change occurring in which hatred of women and violence against women was reduced. Such changes have not occurred indeed, hatred and violence are on the increase.

Those engaged in the project of transformation have not appeared to be too worried about calling Women’s Studies and Feminist Studies, Gender Studies or Cultural Studies or indeed subsuming what was once Women’s Studies into courses on Politics, Sociology, History or any other discipline (Robinson and Richardson 1996:179–187). However interesting such courses may be, they are not courses in Women’s Studies. Gender Studies and Cultural Studies are widely available, and many of them encourage students to read postmodern theorists whose work is not informed by feminism or by the discipline of Women’s Studies. Again, however interesting this is to particular students, it does not constitute Women’s Studies (see Bell and Klein 1996:279–417).

By watering down the content of what used to be Women’s Studies, students are no longer inspired by feminism and by the prospect of feminist activism and research.

Those who argued for Women’s Studies as a separate and independent discipline have attempted to make courses challenging, women-centred and inspired by feminist research methodologies and feminist pedagogy or gynagogy (Klein 1986). Where Women’s Studies has successfully maintained an autonomous existence, students and teachers speak of the energy of courses, of the ways in which their lives are transformed by reading, discussion, writing and research (Ås 1996:535–545). Gender mainstreaming has led to the demise of many autonomous Women’s Studies programs, or the invisibilising of the research of feminists whose work has disappeared from the curriculum in less than a couple of decades. The result of this will be the need for the next generation to reinvent the wheel.

Gender mainstreaming and queer politics
Lesbians have been at the forefront of the movement for women’s liberation, for feminist activism, and for making it possible for lesbians to live lives against the grain. Lesbians have challenged the discourse of heterosexuality more thoroughly than any other group. But in the new era of global and social homogenisation, ‘queer’ is disappearing lesbians. The argument usually runs that queer is the word of choice for the younger generation (‘young’ is unspecified, it appears to extend from about 20 to 40 years of age). What is said is that young lesbians who call themselves queer socialise more with young gay men. The outcome of this is that many young lesbians no longer know their lesbian cultural history. Queer has become so inclusive that it doesn’t allow the space for lesbians to exist (Jeffreys 1993:79–98; Wilkinson and Kitzinger 1996:359–382; Jeffreys 2003).

At a conference in 2003, in a discussion about queer, one academic noted that queer was useful politically in universities and that if she didn’t really want to be noticed she would use the term ‘queer’ to describe herself rather than the more confronting term ‘lesbian’.

In the last few years another term — full of inclusivity — has come into use: LGBTI. LGBTI is short for lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/intersex. There are more arguments between the members of these groups than there are commonalities, and lesbians — even though they head up the list — can be quickly forgotten. More usual these days is GLBTI.

We also find the term (and what a ragged term it is) ‘same-sex-attracted’. My immediate response is to wonder what this might mean. Is it enough to be “attracted”? Its usefulness as an inclusive term is too limited to whatever the hearer or reader can imagine. How many readers read same-sex as gay men? How many read it to mean lesbian? How many are so confused that neither image occurs to them.

Where is the celebration of culture that one finds in the word ‘lesbian’ and its offshoots in various European languages? Where is the poetry? Where is music and song? The joy and outrageousness? The wild and passionate? The language of the twenty-first century is making lesbians retreat; it is clouding, obfuscating, euphemising lesbians out of the world.

How much nicer say the government departments, the fearful politicians to hear the term ‘same-sex-attracted’. ‘Same-sex attracted’ reduces lesbians to a mechanics of robotified sexuality. It is formalin-covered sex. It is sex without fun, without emotion, without joy, without even the vagaries of distrust and betrayal. It is a clinical term stripped of feeling that does nothing for lesbian politics and cultures (Hawthorne 2003a).

The process of mainstreaming in queer politics has led to a depoliticisation of lesbian politics. It also assists in the continuation of violence against lesbians through torture and in contributing to making lesbians invisible and non-existent yet again (Hawthorne 2006).

Gender mainstreaming and international politics
Gender mainstreaming has found a comfortable home in bureaucratic structures such as the United Nations and the European Union, as well as in national and state governments. Gender mainstreaming is put forward as an aim in such institutions and this makes it appear that something is happening to bring more women and more women’s issues into the centres of power. What happens instead, is that gender units are under-funded, short-staffed and not prioritised as central commitments by governments and institutions.

It is not dissimilar to the way in which the language of multilateral trade agreements appropriates the language of social justice with talk of equal treatment, when in fact the field is not equal and the subsidies given to the main players means that they continue to win the game. What it actually enables is that the big boys and little boys do things the same way and the big boys just keep winning and doing what they have always done.

Gender mainstreaming allows the bureaucracies to appropriate feminist language, to insert feminist language into official ‘gender’ documents and then do nothing. In the process the vibrancy of feminist language is lost. Lesbians become same-sex attracted; a concern with diversity is turned into the ‘diversity position’, where one person has the task of catering to the manifold needs of ‘clients’; and benefits to poor women (who could certainly do with them) are broadened out so that everyone — women and men — can share the benefit equally.

Gender mainstreaming allows institutions to appropriate feminist research and use it to water down and undermine feminist projects. In the area of development, it is being used to pull women into the global economy. Women have been quite resistant to this because women’s work is so often unpaid or underpaid, and their consumption patterns reflect not avid consumerism for luxury goods, but survival goods for their children, elderly relatives and themselves (Hynes 1999:189–201). But globalisation demands that every person not yet included in the global consumer and producer market should be, and so women are led into microcredit schemes, sometimes producing goods that have perhaps a small place in the market, but never one that allows them to truly flourish. It tends instead to keep them in poverty (Hawthorne 2002:262–309). It is not dissimilar from the Indigenous forest people of Indonesia of whom Michael Dove writes (1993:17–24). He points out that the forest people are allowed access to global markets only through goods that do not have high value in the global marketplace, and should that change, those things are then declared public or wild and appropriated by large corporations. This has been the pattern for intellectual property rights over medicinal plants across the world. It is an area in which women are frequently the major custodians of knowledge. But it is not the women who are making the profits.

At the same time women begin to be bombarded by advertising for consumer goods for which their need is minimal, and the pressure from their children to participate in the global culture is overwhelming. So Coca-Cola and McDonald’s find a foothold in markets around the world, undermining the traditional diets of people and also undermining the health of people. Diabetes begins to flourish, along with alcoholism, petrol sniffing and many other preventable modern-day social ills.

Gender mainstreaming
Gender mainstreaming is used as a sop to feminist demands, but it does not meet the demands and it does not improve the lot of women around the world. Instead it entrenches a neo-liberal view of the world that allows the global institutions to more effectively pull women into the global economy, both as producers and consumers.

In the process, the original ideas are watered down to a point where they are no longer recognisable as political demands for social justice. They are simply mechanisms for keeping rowdy people — especially women — quiet.

Gender mainstreaming sounds like a good idea, but it ignores the context of women’s lives, and it ignores the realities of men’s violence and hatred. Like globalisation, it is hazardous for women. Women who are passionate about their concerns need a grassroots approach and an approach that is women-centred. That is, it begins from the experience of women and does not attempt to fit women’s needs and demands into frameworks that work for men. This is not new, Virginia Woolf (1938) warned of the hazards of joining the processions of educated men, that is of becoming part of the system, in her remarkable book, Three Guineas.

Intersectionality is a more hopeful term than gender mainstreaming. This is because it is at least an attempt to take account of the diverse situations of women in the real world. It is an attempt to consider issues of class, of race, of ethnicity and religion, of geography and migration, and of mobility or immobility, as well as of sexual orientation. It takes account of simultaneous multiple oppressions. This is a good beginning.

But the trouble is — like the term ‘gender’ or the term ‘queer’ — it includes so much that it is very easy for parts of what it does include to disappear. In one context — let’s say that religion is a defining factor — religion then becomes the axis along which people think. Class, race, sexuality, disability, age can easily be lost as the main focus tends to obliterate those issues not seen as important. In another context, where class is all important, it can focus, say, on white working-class people and ignore the fact that Indigenous people are often left out in discussions of class.

Intersectionality is an ‘end’ term, one that can be useful as a way of discussing how oppressions manifest in multiple ways, that none of us lives a uni-dimensional life, although some aspects may be more important than others in determining our life paths.

In discussing the ways in which we can come to understand the intersections and interplays, I suggest playing the Dominant Culture Stupidities game. The game involves looking at several axes simultaneously, for instance, class, race and mobility. If a person is from a middle- or upper-class position, chances are that they will not be as sensitive to issues of poverty as those who experience it as a daily struggle of making ends meet, of putting food on the table, paying the medical bills or not being able to afford the school outings for their children. Likewise, a white person — unless s/he happens to be a minority in their social context — will not notice the small vilifications those from a despised or even barely tolerated social group will experience. Often this is tied to poverty, but if poverty is not a factor, race will still emerge as a significant factor in that person’s life. The able-bodied person barely notices the step from the road to the footpath, nor the stairs to the workplace or public building. But to a person in a wheelchair or suffering an illness that imposes mobility difficulties, such small steps can be major barriers (Hawthorne 2002:45–50).

Making an analogy to sex and gender, it becomes clear just why it is that gender is so irrelevant to so many men. It simply does not hit their radar. Such games can and have been played to great effect (the blue eye/brown eye game, for example), but until those in the dominant culture — whatever it is — have played it along the many possible axes, it can be easy to ignore those which are irrelevant in daily life. Such games are useful ways of exploring intersectionality.

The other problem with intersectionality is its intentional neutrality. It stirs no emotion, it is yet another depoliticised word and runs the risk of becoming further eroded over time. Another term which may have some usefulness, at least for a time is the ‘diversity matrix’. The diversity matrix names the political alliances that people make across their differences — of experience, priorities and political demands (Hawthorne 2002:383). It shares the criss-crossing aspect of intersectionality, but puts up-front the issue of political position and of political alliance. I suspect over time, it too will lose its gloss, but, nevertheless, the incorporation of politics into the term is one of its strengths.

Language has its political uses and obscure language is always helpful to those with power. Orwell named this in his novels 1984 and Animal Farm, referring to the need to confuse others either by applying contradictory terminology or by using terms that are so vague as to be rendered meaningless. Politicians and bureaucrats revel in obscurantism and one of the powerful challenges to this is sheer clarity of language. Obscurantism leads to political passivity and social fatalism. Feminists need always to be awake to such strategies and the use of clear, context specific and direct language is the first step in truly transforming society.


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This is an updated version of an essay first published in 2004: Development Bulletin. No. 89. pp. 87-91.