Being a woman organizer isn’t easy

| Filed under For discussion

LaborMarch was International Women’s Day and the IWW celebrated it with a special issue of the Industrial Worker. It’s worth reading the whole thing via the Industrial Worker here and you can get a subscription via this link if you want to support it and see more writings like that. Much of the time discussions around organizing center on what keeps us from winning or building the union up to those fights. There’s less discussion around things that prevent workers from becoming their own radical agents, particularly in gendered terms. The article we’re running today comes from Miami, Florida and was published in the Industrial Worker. It’s a personal account of one organizer’s journey to becoming a committed IWW, and how she has seen race and gender play a role in her life. Though only one snapshot of these big issues, contributions like this give us a window into deep forces at play in our work and neighborhood lives, and are things we hope IWWs can continue thinking around and fighting for an alternative. 

from Luz Sierra

This past year I became politically active. I went from being completely unaware of the existence of radical politics to doing organizing work in Miami with an anarchist perspective. It has been both a rewarding and difficult journey, yet gender seems to haunt me wherever I go. I am probably not the first woman to experience this, but I believe that I should demonstrate how this is a real issue and provide my personal insight for other women to have a reference point for their own struggles.

Being raised by Nicaraguan parents and growing up in Miami’s Latin community, I have firsthand experience with the sexist culture in South Florida. Many families that migrated from South and Central America and the Caribbean arrived to the United States carrying traditions from the 1970s and 1980s. Daughters are raised by women who were taught that their goal in life is to be an obedient wife and to devote their time to raising children and making their husbands happy. Latin women are supposed to be modest, self-reserved, have the ability to fulfill domestic roles and be overall submissive. Some Hispanic families might not follow this social construction, but there are still a large number of them who insert this moral into their households. For instance, this social construct is apparent in the previous three generations of my father’s and mother’s families. My great grandmothers, grandmothers, mother and aunts never completed their education and spend the majority of their life taking care of their husbands and children. Meanwhile, various male members of my current and extended family had the opportunity to finish their education, some even received college degrees, and went on to become dominant figures in their households. The male family members also had the chance to do as they pleased for they left all household and childcare responsibilities to their wives. As the cycle continued, my mother and grandmothers attempted to socialize me to fulfill my expected female role. I was taught not to engage in masculine activities such as sports, academia, politics, and other fields where men are present. Unfortunately for them, I refused to obey their standards of femininity. I have played sports since I was 10 years old; I grew a deep interest in history, sociology and political science; and I am currently part of three political projects. Such behavior has frustrated my parents to the point that I am insulted daily. My mother will claim that I am manly, selfish for devoting more time to organizing and promiscuous because the political groups I am involved with consist mostly of men. My father will state that I am senseless for wasting my time in politics and should devote more time in preparing myself to become a decent wife and mother.

Throughout my 20 years residing in Miami, I met women from various countries. In school, at work as a certified nursing assistant, and in politics, I have met women from Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Jamaica, Nepal and the Philippines who share similar stories. Each one of them revealed how they are oppressed at home. They are forced to conform to gender roles and follow traditional standards of being a woman. Some have tried to deviate from those roles, yet the pressure from their loved ones is so powerful that they often compromise with their families to not be disowned. There are some who are able to fight against the current, but consequentially, they are insulted, stigmatized and can sometimes go on to develop depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. I myself have experienced such emotional meltdowns and still do. I recovered from depression in 2013 after receiving therapy for over six months, and I am currently battling with social anxiety and low self-esteem. Nevertheless, I still manage to maintain my integrity and will continue to do so to keep fighting.

Hearing the stories and witnessing the sorrow of all the women who are blatant victims of patriarchy has inspired me to keep moving forward as an organizer. Watching my mother be passive with my father, witnessing my sisters being forced to display undesirable traits, and watching the tears women have shed after sharing their unfortunate stories of living under the oppressive rule of male figures has allowed me to turn anger into energy devoted to creating a society where women are no longer oppressed. I am tired of having to face gender inequality and watching women fall into its traps. We cannot continue to neglect this issue and endure these obstacles alone. As revolutionary women, we must take these matters seriously and find strategies and solutions to overcome them.

One way to start facing this struggle is by sharing our personal experience with one another and recognizing the problems we deal with today. We cannot keep denying and repressing our frustration of gender inequality. It needs to be released. How can we expect to create a social revolution when we rarely lay our personal tribulations on the table? I know it is hard to discuss the issues we face at home, at work or within political circles. It is even difficult for me to write this article, but we need to stop letting barriers obstruct us. I remember I was petrified when I initially spoke about my personal problems with a comrade. I thought she would not understand me and would think I was annoying her, but after exposing my story, I soon realized she faced the same hardships and abuse too and was sympathetic to my situation. This really transformed my life because I thought I always had to wait to talk to my therapist about these dilemmas, but I was completely wrong. There are people out there who are willing to listen and provide support; it is up to us to reach out to them. I came to understand that gender issues still exist and that my hardships are real. Through simple actions like talking and building relationships, I believe we can form a collective of people willing to create tactics to abolish such oppression. This is how Mujeres Libres formed and created a tendency within the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo and Federación Anarquista Ibérica that faced gender inequality. They were able to grow in numbers and seize the power to fight in the forefront of the Spanish Revolution. This could be achieved today if we place our hearts and minds to it. Many of us might say that our current social setting and capacity will make that impossible, but how would we know if we have not tried yet? This is why I encourage all revolutionary women to stop secondguessing themselves and fight. Let’s end the silence now and begin to form the solidarity that is needed.

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