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Emma Goldman en feminisme

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Emma Goldman en feminisme

Berichtdoor Tiresias » do 19 apr , 2007 22:46

Van op: ... /emma.html

Author's Note

Emma Goldman is an activist who has been often overlooked in American History. Hence, I decided to dedicate this web page to her. Below is an essay I wrote about Emma Goldman and her convictions for a Women's History course at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Since the essay is written for the context of the course I was taking, it does assume some prior knowledge about the women's sufferage movement in the USA and Victorian-era society. For more information I would suggest the links at the bottom of this page, or looking up Emma Goldman, Women's Sufferage, and Women in Victorian Society at your local library.

Aside from being a anarchist activist, Emma Goldman was a devoted dancer. Actually, the story goes that one day Emma Goldman was talking about her dancing when another male anarchist said to her that dancing was much too frivolous an activity for an anarchist and that she would be better off devoting her attention to more serious affairs. Emma Goldman replied, "If I can not dance, I want no part in your revolution."


May 22, 1995

HIST 218 Document Study

Week 10: Women and the Revolutionary Left

Emma Goldman and her Discontent with the Bourgeois Women's Movement

Emma Goldman, an anarchist revolutionary active during the turn of the century, was a feminist by many definitions. She strongly believed in the equality of women with men, and refused to allow herself to be limited because of her sex. She worked as a midwife to assist women in the ghetto and helped to organise women into trade unions. Goldman readily spoke out against the state, family, and church as the perpetuators of women's oppression. Despite this activism, Emma Goldman refused to identify herself as a feminist and denounced the women's movement of her time. She saw the movement as bourgeois and exclusive of the real victims of society -- the working-class. In Goldman's opinion, the feminists were arrogant in their claim of moral superiority to men and their activism only perpetuated the institutions that kept them in chains. The attitude of middle-class women towards the lower classes infuriated Goldman, since many of the laws supported by the women's movement were directly detrimental to working-class women. Consequently, Goldman felt isolated from having a part in the women's movement despite her own feminist ideology and activism.

Emma Goldman was born into a Jewish family in Russia during the June of 1869. Throughout her childhood, Goldman was a witness to wives and children beaten, peasants whipped, pregnant girls outcast and Jews isolated -- all of which alerted her to the evils of society at a young age (2). Emma herself was often subject to the violence of her father's frequent tantrums. At the age of 13, Emma moved with her family to a section of the St. Petersburg ghetto. It was in St. Petersburg that Emma began to read the writings of the revolutionaries and question the values of the society in which she lived (2). She fled to America with her sister in 1886 expecting to find the country of golden opportunity, but instead finding a land of repression. It was soon apparent to Goldman that the factory life of Rochester, New York was not dissimilar to the ghetto life of St. Petersburg (2). At the age of 20, Goldman moved to New York City to join the anarchist revolutionaries who centred their activities there.

Goldman soon after became one of the greatest and most audible revolutionary voices, gaining such titles as ‘Red Emma' and ‘Queen of the Anarchists' (2). She was viewed by many as an enemy of society and served three prison sentences as a result of her activities. The charges included allegedly inciting workers to riot, instructing a large audience in the use of contraceptives, and conspiring to obstruct the draft (2). According to historian Alix Kates Shulman, Goldman "was arrested so often that she never spoke in public without taking along a book to read in jail" (2). In 1901, after the assassination of President McKinley by another anarchist, public wrath forced Goldman to go underground for several years. She returned in 1906 to begin the publication of her radical monthly, Mother Earth. Her famous book, and the study of this paper, Anarchism and Other Essays, was published in the year 1910.

During 1917, Emma Goldman was forcibly deported from the United States, along with her lover and fellow anarchist Alexander Berkman, after their arrest for conspiracy to obstruct the draft (2). They returned to Russia with high hopes, but quickly became disillusioned with the new state of the country, and eventually settled in separate places in Europe. Goldman continued to lecture and write, despite the lack of attention received by her writings. Emma Goldman died of a stroke in 1940 in Canada while trying to raise funds to assist the leftist parties in the Spanish revolution (2).

Emma Goldman was extremely aware of the oppression of women in society, yet refused to consider herself a feminist. Because of her working-class background, it was difficult for Goldman to identify with the middle-class women involved in the women's movement of her time. Goldman saw their plight to extend their roles as mothers and wives to be hypocritical. To Goldman, it was obvious that it was those exact positions that restricted women to an oppressed position in society. She felt that middle-class feminists ignored the real problems in society and supported the continued suppression of women by church, family and state. The two selections, "Woman Suffrage" and "The Traffic in Women" from her book Anarchism and Other Essays, directly attack the strong feminist issues of the era, clearly showing her discontent with the movement.

Goldman opposed the women's suffrage movement as a deceptive means to continue the persecution of women. She claimed that suffragists, in their argument that the vote would make women better Christians, wives, and citizens, were inadvertently seeking a means to strengthen their own oppression. Goldman points out that the nature of religion banishes women to a position of inferiority, but despite this, women have continued to devoutly support the church (1). Likewise, the state sends the sons and brothers of women off to be killed in wars, yet women remain patriotic. The home also remains a prison for women, but women continued to defend their position in the family. Goldman felt that the feminists of the era must be blind to support the institutions that so obviously enslaved women to a lowly position in society. She writes:

"It may be said that because woman recognizes the awful toll she is made to pay to the Church, State and the home, she wants suffrage to set herself free....the majority of suffragists repudiate utterly such blasphemy....Thus suffrage is only a means of strengthening the omnipotence of the very Gods that woman has served from time immemorial" (1).

Goldman had become a revolutionary in order to more effectively oppose the repressive actions of the Church, State and Society and a suffrage movement that proposed to continue those institutions was against her moral beliefs.

Goldman's associations with the working-class and her activities as a revolutionary had revealed to her the injustices inherent within the political system. She understood that simply achieving the vote would not bring about any substantial change in the workings of society. Goldman argues that the vote, in all ages, has been a deceptive way to allow people to think they have risen above their condition when their vote has done nothing to actually influence the politics to their favour. Goldman notes "...that suffrage is an evil, that it has only helped to enslave people, that it has closed their eyes that they may not see how craftily they were made to submit" (1). Goldman asks the suffragist to examine the countries where women have already been granted the vote and notice that it has done nothing to assist the plight of women and children in those countries (1). The suffragists were falling into a deceptive trap, one that they were even aware of themselves. But the suffragists claimed the ability to ‘purify' such wrong-doings in politics.

From Goldman's point of view, the purification of polices was impossible. The anarchist perspective maintained that government is by nature corrupt, repressive and immoral. Goldman believed that "To assume...that [woman] would succeed in purifying something which is not susceptible of purification is to credit her with supernatural powers" (1). To claim to have such powers just adds to the self oppression unknowingly practised by the middle-class feminists. According to Goldman, only though stressing an equality to men would the women's's movement begin to change the system. To proclaim a natural difference between the sexes, with the women equivalent to angels by their ability to purify that which is innately impure, the feminist movement provides their opponents with a reason for continued sex stratification. Goldman notes, "[woman's] true salvation lies in being placed on earth, namely in being considered human, and therefore subject to all human follies and mistakes" (1). If women cannot purify politics (the impossible), they must then be subject to mistake and therefore will just add to the myriad of mistakes already present in politics. Goldman seems to think that a demand of equal rights to men would be a much more logical and reasonable argument for the vote.

This puritanical argument set forth by the feminist suffragettes further isolated Goldman from their cause. Goldman very strongly believed that women and men are essentially equal. She found the claim of middle-class feminists that women are the moral superior to men as a claim based on snobbery and arrogance. She despised the fact that feminists used this puritanical stance to condemn and penalize their working-class sisters. As Goldman explains in her essay "The Traffic in Women," the women's movement often supported laws that directly hurt working-class women. One example of this is the prohibition of alcohol, which actually helped the alcohol trade to generate more profit than when it was legal (1). Similarly, anti-prostitution laws, eagerly pushed by morally-correct feminists, encouraged the corruption of the police force who would accept sexual favours or bribes to keep prostitutes out of jail. Goldman writes, "...One can readily see the tremendous revenue the police department derives from the blood money of its victims, whom it will not even protect" (1). So in effect, the laws that the women's movement had enacted in order to purify society simply aggravated any immoral behaviour.

Whether this short-sightedness was the result of arrogance or ignorance, it exposed a major flaw of the bourgeois women's movement in its inability to sympathize with the plight of working-class women. Goldman's writings expose the hypocrisy of middle-class women to adopt a ‘holier-than-thou' attitude from the comfort of their plush lives, when they themselves have never experienced the horrors of poverty. In their elitism, the women of the bourgeoisie neglected to realise that their position is quite similar to that of a prostitute. In marriage, especially marriage for economic reasons, the woman provides her labour and will in return for the comforts of a middle-class life (1). In fact, the prostitute may be at an advantage over a wife because she can "retain her freedom and personal rights" (1). The middle-class purists also failed to recognise the fact that prostitution allows for the immoral to remain outside the home, providing a service which preserves the purity of the middle-class home (1).

Goldman was disturbed by the notion held by many feminists that prostitutes are criminals rather than victims of economy and society. She notes that the majority of prostitutes are working-class women compelled into the profession because it provides a means to increase their income (1). These women "were driven into prostitution by American conditions, by the thoroughly American custom for excessive display of finery and clothes, which ...necessitates money...."(1). Many women also find themselves in the profession as a result of the social stigma forced upon them with the loss of innocence. Goldman describes the girl who finds herself outcast because of a pre-marital sex experience:

"The meanest, most depraved and decrepit man still considers himself too good to take as his wife the woman whose grace he was quite willing to buy, even though he might thereby save her from a life of horror. Nor can she turn to her own sister for help. In her stupidity the latter deems herself too pure and chaste, not realising that her own position is in many respects even more deplorable than her sister's of the street" (1).

The young girl can easily fall into this trap in the confusion that results from a society that raises her as a sex object with the sole purpose of bearing children, but keeps her completely uneducated in the matter of sexual relations (1). Goldman realised the importance of economics and societal pressures in leading women to prostitution, and resented the middle-class women's movement which continually demanded the increased criminalisation of prostitutes.

Emma Goldman strongly believed in an equality between men and women but refused to become a part of a women's movement that claimed themselves morally superior, rejected the working-class, and supported the institutions that were the source of their oppression. Goldman saw the feminists of her time as blind to their enslavement, "not so much by man, as by her own silly notions and traditions" (1). Goldman maintained that women would achieve equality not through the ballot, or through the purification of society, but by taking responsibility for her lowly position and acting to change it. For women to become self dependent, they must rebel against the social restraints placed upon them by the church, family and state (1). Women must also begin to take control of their own bodies and sexuality. Most of all, Goldman believed that women must begin to grasp the meaning of life for themselves, rather than accepting the values taught to them by society. As long as the bourgeois women of the movement refused to participate in an active revolution of society, Goldman would remain opposed to their politics.


1. Goldman, Emma, Anarchism and Other Essays (New York 1969), pp. 177-211.

2. Shulman, Alix Kates, "Emma Goldman: ‘Anarchist Queen'" in Feminist Theorists, Dale Spender, ed. (London 1983), pp. 218-228.
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Berichtdoor els » vr 20 apr , 2007 10:52

Bedankt voor het stuk, Tiresias. Ik zal me eens meer in haar verdiepen, ook vanwege wat ze zegt over godsdienst en het onderwerpen van vrouwen, en atheïsme.

Ze zegt wel veel waar ik het mee eens ben, maar ze lijkt me ook wel wat radicaal. Ik ben het bijvoorbeeld mee eens dat je aan stemrecht op zich niet veel hebt als er niet ook iets wordt gedaan aan de heersende opvattingen en machtsverhoudingen. Stemrecht is dan inderdaad alleen maar een afleidingsmanoeuvre. Maar om die reden het stemrecht afwijzen zou ik niet doen, ik zou het toch zien als een kleine vorm van erkenning, ook al heeft het in de praktijk misschien niets om het lijf. Het lijkt mij toch een stapje op weg.
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Berichtdoor Zunrita » do 27 maart , 2008 17:33

Ha die Els! Nog steed lekker atheistisch en verlicht neem ik aan? Met mij gaat het ook uitstekend. Maar het ei dat ik even kwijt wil is dit:

Even @Teiresias:
'If I can't dance I don't want to be part of your revolution.' - is een apocriefe uitspraak. Dus een uitspraak die toegeschreven wordt aan Emma Goldman maar die niet te vinden is in historsche stukken.

Emma Goldman stierf vijf jaar voor mijn geboorte (in de echtelijke sponde van mijn ouders en onder het portret van F. Domela Nieuwenhuijs). Zij is een van de mensen die ik bewonder om haar politieke keuze & moed en de vrijgevochtenheid in haar persoonlijk leven door o.a. de vrije liefde voor te staan. Daarbij had ze niet veel op met de bourgeois damesfeministen. Als anarcho-feministische arbeidersdochter (en grassroot communistenkind) heb ik daar begrip voor. Dat Emma zich daarentegen uiterst begripvol uitliet over de bourgeois achtergrond van een mannelijke anarchistische revolutionair en schrijver als Ba Jin (zie hieronder) valt me dan weer van haar tegen. Althans vraag ik mij in af waarom damesfeministen niet minstens zo mild beoordeeld werden. Misschien dat de revolutionaire inborst toch net iets zwaarder woog voor haar dan de feministische?

In a letter to Emma Goldman, Ba Jin once wrote of his feelings of inferiority among others in the movement whose class background seemed more appropriate to their goals than his own "feudal or bourgeois origin". Goldman compassionately assured Ba Jin of his value to the cause:
The bourgeois class very often produced active revolutionists. As a matter of fact, in our movement the greatest number of intellectual leaders come from that class. They have noticed social problems not because they themselves had a difficult life, but because they could not sit and watch the sufferings of the masses. Moreover, it is not your fault that you were born in a capitalist family. We cannot choose the place where we are to be born, but we decide ourselves about our life afterwards. I see you have honesty and enthusiasm, which every young rebel should have. I like this very much.*

*Quoted in Olga Lang, Pa Kin and His Writings, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA: 1967), 94-5. The original excerpt is taken from Ba Jin's Memoirs (Yi), Cultural Life Publishers (Shanghai: 1938), 113-14.

Voor echte archiefstukken en gedegen achtergrondinformatie:

Een zeker zo interessante en belangrijke feministische tijdgenoot van Emma G., is Alexandra Kollontai. Zij was een Russische, communistische revolutionaire en de eerste Sovjet- EN de eerste vrouwelijke diplomaat (standplaats Finland). Ook zij hing de vrije liefde aan. (Zoals vrijwel alle revolutionaire vrouwen.) Wegens haar feministische kritiek op het Sovjetsyteem werd haar de terugkeer naar USSR praktisch onmogelijk gemaakt, waarmee ze aan politieke vervolging ontsnapte. Zeer veel van haar vooruitstrevende texten zijn te vinden op:
Andere marxistische (en feministische) vrouwen ook:

Ik geloof dat alleen in het suffe Nederland (waar alles 50 jaar later gebeurt of helemaal niet) wordt geloofd dat feminisme achterhaald is en dat vrouwenemancipatie een voldongen feit is. Nergens in de ons omringende landen denkt men zo truttig en mutsig..
In dat opzicht ook interessant:
Emma Goldmankliniek
Laatst bijgewerkt door Zunrita op wo 02 apr , 2008 21:29, in totaal 1 keer bewerkt.
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Berichtdoor els » do 27 maart , 2008 20:34

Hai Zunrita, nog altijd hardcore atheistisch hoor. Of ik ook verlicht ben is wat anders, dat weet ik niet.
Hoop dat alles met jou en je katten etc. ook goed gaat. :knipoog:

Bedankt voor de update over Emma Goldman. heeft ook een nederlandse afdeling, ik zag daar een artikel van Alexandra Kollontai, over de internationale vrouwendag. Jammer genoeg kan ik niet veel vinden over wat zij schreef over seksuele vrijheid, dat interesseert me eigenlijk ook heel erg. ... lontai.htm

Ik geloof dat alleen in het suffe Nederland (waar alles 50 jaar later gebeurt of helemaal niet) wordt geloofd dat feminisme achterhaald is en dat vrouwenemancipatie een voldongen feit is. Nergens in de ons omringende landen denkt men zo truttig en mutsig.

Volgens mij heeft hier de opvatting gewonnen die denkt dat het uiteindelijke doel van het feminisme was dat de vrouw kan 'kiezen'. Vrouwen kunnen nu 'kiezen' voor een leven als huismoeder of werkende vrouw, en dat was waar het allemaal om draaide in het feminisme.

Dat is natuurlijk kletsica. Deze mythe van de keuze van de vrouw is in werkelijkheid het bakzeil van de conservatieven. Toen duidelijk werd dat de vrouwelijke autonomie niet meer te stuiten was, kwamen christelijke conservatieven met dit verhaal over de 'vrijheid' van de vrouw te kunnen kiezen voor een onbezoldigd en afhankelijk bestaan. Opeens werd het huisvrouwenbestaan verkocht als 'feministische keuze'. Toen was opeens de vrouw die geen opleiding ging doen en financieel afhankelijk was even feministisch als de vrouwen die de barricaden opgingen en op de werkvloer de beeldvorming probeerden te overwinnen.

Van mij mogen vrouwen kiezen voor een onbetaald slavenbestaan en zichzelf onderdompelen in de illusie van liefde en trouw. Maar het is niet feministisch, en ook niet het 'doel' van het feminisme.

Maar ja, in Nederland is het ook wel makkelijk om alle tegenstand te vermijden. Het land is zo 'vrij' dat het net is of er geen probleem bestaat.

Ik keek net naar een video van een Amerikaanse neurologe die een hersenbloeding heeft gehad en over haar ervaring sprak. Zij wist zo goed uit te leggen hoe onze hersens werken, en ons bewustzijn tot stand komt. Ik vond haar fantastisch, maar tegelijk dacht ik: hebben wij in Nederland wel zulke vrouwen? Ik ken er werkelijk geen. Misschien zijn ze er wel, maar krijg je ze gewoon niet te zien.
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Berichtdoor Zunrita » do 27 maart , 2008 23:11

Nee Els, mijn poezen zijn allebei dood*. En ik wou maar 's een paar jaar zonder gedierte door 't leven. Ik ben lekker bezig met gedichten en proza, dat laatste o.a. in de Gelderse Schrijfkamer en op mijn Opera weblog en ik ben met vooronderzoek (archieven, contacten met oude kamp- en clubgenoten en kampleiding e.d.) bezig voor een min of meer historisch boek over kamp Zonneschijn** en het grassroot communisme, ofwel de beruchte 'Red Diapers' die Jolande Withuis zo haat; zij heeft zelf in Rooie Luiers gelegen maar heeft er een enorme woede tegen communistische ouders aan overgehouden. Ik niet, ik heb alleen last gehad van die schijnheilige, passief-agressieve samenleving om ons heen. (Ik heb al haar boeken trouwens 2ehands gekocht + gelezen. Vooral over de NVB is heel belangrijk en herkenbaar.)


Oja en lees dit effe: ... uwengezant

PS Als ik weer 's in Amsterdam ben voor het IISG kunnen we misschien 's wat drinken samen..

Groeten, Zunrita, Kaat.. et all
Berichten: 219
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Berichtdoor els » wo 02 apr , 2008 17:19

Hai Zunrita, ik las net het stukje over kamp Zonneschijn. Dat ziet er al leuk uit. Ik vind het ook leuk dat ouderen hun jeugdherinneringen meedelen, want niet veel mensen staan er tegenwoordig nog bij stil hoe mensen van een vorige generatie leefden, en vanuit wat voor idealen onze huidige maatschappij is ontstaan. Iedereen schijnt te denken dat het geluk aan de bomen groeit, maar je moet wel een 'visie' hebben over wat goed is en waar het naar toe moet. Jammer dat het zo makkelijk weer wordt verkwanseld omdat mensen niet beseffen wat ze hebben, en omdat ze ook niet begrijpen dat zij er zelf voor moeten zorgen dat het in stand blijft.

Mijn familie hier in Amsterdam ging vroeger ook naar zomerkampen. Ik zal eens vragen hoe zij dat vonden.

Jolande Withuis kan inderdaad wel eens flink anti-links zemelen, maar in dit boek deed ze dat gelukkig niet, want dat zuigt bij mij altijd energie weg. Haar insteek is zelfs dezelfde als de mijne, dus ik was erg blij een keer een gelijkgestemde tegen te komen.

En als je nog eens in Amsterdam komt, laat dat dan maar weten.
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