Yet we were feminists

Translation of Pourtant nous étions féministes:

March 31, 2020 - the precision of dates is important during the confinement - it has been said everywhere on TV and in the press that last year was “feminist”; but suddenly all this is forgotten… We see on the screen only doctors, military and politicians, white men coming back to the forefront to explain to us how to be in solidarity with the Nation, to avoid the spread of the virus, to flatten the curve altogether, and to stay at home. We have now clearly understood that this speech was addressed only to the privileged part of the population; the others either have no home, or a dangerous one, or must continue to care for people and serve society, or do not have the means or social protection that allow them to stop, we do not see them since they have had no choice for a long time now but to go to the ghetto or to jail.
Capitalism is unveiled, some say, it will not survive the crisis, we will organize another world. But the last bursts of the beast are the most violent and we see the establishment of a police state without historical precedent, a complete separation of bodies, and a social racism that borders on the direct elimination of a large part of society without going through the prison cell.

However, it now seems that this situation is being denounced in some of the media, which are feeling sorry for the fate of the most destitute or sanctifying our saviors in the health sector. Suddenly the cashiers, cleaners and nurses have become heroes. Yet the few spaces they are given to talk are mostly used to victimize them, without giving them the opportunity to formulate an opinion, to make an analysis (they don’t have time anyway since they have to work) and even less access to decision-making. Moreover, even in the most activist groups, demands are limited to the bare minimum, minimum security at work and financial recognition. Activists talk about the organization of state control, Canguilhem, Foucault, and Gorz, or Latour’s non-humans, but they don’t remember Judith Butler’s thoughts on the control of bodies, the intersectional analysis of Françoise Vergès, Luce Irigaray or Mona Chollet’s liberating texts, or the decade-long struggles of midwives for the right to practice, or the queer and trans practices that intimately deny the control of bodies.

There is a common thread that runs through all of us: we all agree that caregivers do this work because they are dedicated and that society needs them, we thank them, we recognize their dedication, we make them heroes; we can’t fathom they could stop[1], or even simply do this work because they have no other choice, children to feed or bosses who could fire them. This hypocritical situation does not in any way allow us to question the existing system and move towards a different distribution of care practices that would make it a fundamental value of social organization, care practices being at the heart of a community’s organization, a shared space where it would be good to be and where everyone would like to find a place. Caring for others is the most honorable and valuable profession from all perspectives, but isn’t it time to formulate the situation differently towards a society that would allow us to take care of each other, where the organization of the care and health systems would no longer be devolved to decision-makers in white coats and business suits who have put us in an unacceptable situation to the point where all hackerspaces are self-organizing to produce the material that hospitals would have needed a month ago.

How did we get to this point, a few thoughts on coronassed science, by observing things with a relatively outside eye and without any particular scientific knowledge it is possible to recognize familiar patterns in the way the scientific community has organized itself at the heart of this crisis.

  • Scientific research knows only borders: whether in terms of funding, validation of research, health choices, access to care, the borders are amplified in a crisis – every person for herself, the army for all.[2]
  • Crisis response is carried out in the most anxiety-provoking way possible, on the basis of figures constantly reported in the media, without anyone bothering to explain their context and report their existence at sensitive reference points.
  • Respect for patents and private property is greater than the vital need of people, we will not break existing monopolies of production to share our capacities for care.
  • Science knows for remedy only the separation of bodies rather than the organization of solidarity and the sharing of knowledge.

Finally, all the information we have and all the means we use come from a system whose very foundations we criticize, a system that we know has proceeded to the systematic destruction of living beings and human organizations. It has been apparent from the outset that the importance attached to this pandemic evades the question of the hundreds of thousands of deaths that are direct victims of our production system, of the exploitation of life, of our borders or simply ignored by science because it does not represent a sufficient market. Only once again in the West, without taking the necessary distance to compensate for a privilege, the omnipresent discourse of the inevitable fall of humanity often presents itself as a point of no return.

Achille Mbembe in his latest book published in February 2020 contrasts occidental social crisis with the experience of “many peoples who have endured the emergency before us”, reminding us that the African continent is the laboratory of planetary changes, where the triangular trade in the de-linking of bodies leading to states of exception is practiced, What we are experiencing, he says, is only the “process of Africanization of the world”, it only extends to the West what others are experiencing as a consequence of the existing system, “the living is undergoing a process of carbonation”. Mbembe proposes to the African continent and to others to go and draw from the richness of the relational system, from the strength of the spiritual materialization of the world, from the burnt desert left by the existing system, he proposes “a vibratory act, which straddles and exceeds the given and its constraints”. He poses the question of how to make “a current of thought that falls on desolate ground and strives to capture the rays of light in order to exist in a hostile environment” unfold, how should it grow its roots, where should it place its visible flowers or its hidden bonds? These are the questions of our resistance movements. It is no more a question today than yesterday of asking for a return to normality of a destructive system, it is a question of living elsewhere and with others, and of building another reality; to do this we must look beyond the scientific discourse centered on a panicking West, and find the millenary resources around which our relations and our spiritualities are built, so that together with the rest of the world we can put an end to the “manufacture of superfluous lives” set up by capitalism.

Source: Achille Mbembe, Brutalisme, La découverte Paris Feb 2020


  1. https://www.gmb-southern.org.uk/news/cleaners-walk-out-lewisham-hospital-contractor-fails-pay-wages ↩︎

  2. https://www.repubblica.it/cronaca/2020/03/19/news/coronavirus_tamponi_da_brescia_a_stati_uniti-251735473/ ↩︎

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