After gathering in Derby Square, in downtown Recife, SlutWalk went on to take Conde da Boa Vista Avenue, one of the most important streets in the Pernambuco state capital. The Union of the Socialist Youth (União da Juventude Socialista, UJS) were there and took posters, slogans and pamphlets with them. I was able to overhear someone, behind me, asking, perplexed, “What is UJS doing here?”
It was appropriate. UJS, linked to the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB) — basically a branch of the dominant party in the country, the Workers’ Party (PT) — hasn’t been the most consistent organization when it comes to the defense of the rights and freedoms of women. That’s understandable when we take into account that sometimes their need of defending the government and the status quo come before any other considerations.
Nonetheless, they did show up and they exchanged pamphlets with us. Our libertarian group, Coletivo Nabuco, distributed pamphlets with the essay “Seduzidas e desonradas” (“Seduced and dishonored”), by Brazilian anarchist individualist and feminist Maria Lacerda de Moura. UJS’s had an article against the World Cup and ended with an appeal, probably to appease the feminist crowd present, “For more women in spaces of power!”
They printed the same slogan on their largest banner. When we went to talk to the people who were in the walk, we immediately inverted it: “For less spaces of power to oppress women!”
UJS’s slogan betrays a misconception about what characterizes the fight for female emancipation. According to it, women’s issues are little more than representation problems, which can be alleviated with the presence of a higher percentage of women in the state and its decision-making instances. It’s as if we should allot quotas to each group in society: if women are 50% of the population, they should make up 50% of government.
It’s also an idea that keeps intact all the power structures in society that guarantee that women continue to be oppressed. Not only by the iron fist of the state, but also by the dominant patriarchal culture — which dictates which behaviors, clothes, jobs, studies, hobbies, gestures, and sexual activities are appropriate to women.
Representation in government is not a proxy for real and significant political authority. An analogy with racism can make this problem clearer. Around 7.6% of the Brazilian population is black. If government destined 7.6% of its offices to black people, what would change in their political situation? Little. The very number of people who describe themselves as blacks in demographic surveys is artificially low because of the racist culture in which we’re inserted. Proportional representation in the state, thus, doesn’t solve the bigger problem — racism (as well as sexism) feeds back into the power structure the state is a part of.
For the same reasons, reserving of placement quotas for black students in public universities means very little, for public universities themselves are excluding spaces that are unable to respond to the needs of the black population. They can only ever serve the needs of a small (and generally already privileged) minority, so a “progressive” ethnic composition of students doesn’t break the system of privilege. It’s just makeup.
Thus, we don’t need representation in spaces of power, because power is inexorably force and oppression. The power structure we have nowadays is sustained by the intersectional oppression of several minorities (affecting them differently in kind, if not in intensity), combined with the systematic oppression, though less manifested, of the people as a whole.
Women in power should be seen not as forces of change, but as results of change. Social and cultural changes open the doors of previously closed off spaces to women, but their representation in power shouldn’t be conflated with empowerment.
We don’t need more diversity in power, we need less power.
Oppression is the raison d’être of power. It doesn’t matter what its gender composition is.