When we started thinking about the main theme – pouvoir - for this issue of Scum grrrls magazine, our discussions and thinking were embedded in French language. The French word ‘POUVOIR’ inhabiting the meanings of both ‘power’ and ‘being able to’, ‘can’ – also touching the issues of permission, probability and capacity.
In order to imagine resistance and deconstruction of current systems and relationships of domination, the concept of power is central to many of us, and how power is supposed to be understood from a feminist perspective ? Is power at all interesting for feminists, or should we, having experienced and continuing to experience abuses of power, reject it ? Does power have to be associated with hierarchy and centralisation ? Or can power be diffused, like a virus or a web ?
Male BIG thinkers on women’s power
Although women/gender/sex generally have received very little attention in the BIG theories on society and the storytelling around it, some well known male thinkers have actually been active in trying to explain women’s inferiority (to men if any one doubted) - and most often also to find arguments and motivate the continuous subordination of women.
Many of these known thinkers explained the realities of oppression and inequalities as a cause of nature and/or biology that determines our positions and roles in society (Aristotle, Rousseau and heaps of them). Variations of these biological/nature perspectives have also been key in racist and colonial ideologies of all time. Others, such as J S Mills, Engels, and a whole tradition of both liberal and socialist thinkers, explained inequalities as a cause of the social situation created by industrial capitalism, and its relationship to the family and reproduction.
Feminists activists and thinkers - complicating things !
Feminist activists and thinkers have been – and are - quite intrigued by the issue of power…maybe since ‘power’ has been used against women, has been denied women, and the way power is constructed in gendered terms can give some clues as to why and how society can be transformed ? Some have focused on political power, others on economic power, and yet others on the more intangible ‘social and cultural’ domination that has given (white) men a position of legitimacy and granting them a norm giving position through centuries of domination in all arenas. Feminists have also (increasingly) been trying to explore how different power relationships and axis of oppression are interlinked, looking at racism, class, hetero sexism, etc.
Amy Allen, an American feminist academic, sees that feminist would have at least three reasons to look closer into the concept and practices of power : in order to understand the domination that women are subordinated/ subjected to ; in order to develop the kind of power women exercise in self transformative dynamics (empowerment) ; and finally in order to enhance women’s capacity to exercise power when acting collectively.
Another angle is presented by Hannah Arendt who is maybe not explicitly a feminist thinker, but extensively read and interpreted by feminists. She pulls us away from the power-over notion towards the power it can bring if we are being able to/have the capacity to act together ‘in concert’ (power to) . Susan Moller Okin, Simone de Beauvoir, and also many less well-known feminist thinkers have approached power and feminist understandings of power from yet another set of angles.
If we look at political power it brings us to certain conclusions, if we look at economic power others and if we look at social and cultural positioning yet another angle and understanding appears. To complicate things, one must add that if it is difficult to imagine or think of power outside our own notions, relationship, interests, and position of power. Moreover, power is constructed differently in different contexts, and one model of domination does not necessarily explain and even less enable deconstructing power-imbalances in another context. Given these complexities it is not surprising that the approaches of feminists vary immensely – from the many different strategies to access power to the de(con)struction, doing away with power and hierarchies all together !
But enough about the validated Thinkers. In this issue of Scum grrrls we approach power - pouvoir from different angles springing from our collective discussions. This collection of texts is of course everything but all-comprising, but it does offer some perceptions on power from feminist perspectives and in different settings ! We also look closer at the different feminist activists’ practices, giving us another and more complex, shifting and changing (and even contradictory ?) idea on feminists’ relationship with ‘power’. Hopefully also giving some inspiration on what feminists are ‘being able/have the capacity’ to do – collectively and individually to transform society !