Ferguson explores anarchy in feminism
Published: Friday, September 28, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 28, 2012 00:09
Highlighting little-known feminists from the late nineteenth century, Dr. Kathy Ferguson demonstrated how the first movement of feminists ties in with the anarchist movement.
“By considering female anarchists as feminists, the history of the first wave of feminism becomes much more broad,” said Ferguson.
The presentation was sponsored by the Women’s Center, which has worked on the project since the summer. In addition to holding a Ph.D. in political science and being a Fulbright scholar, Ferguson has published many books and now teaches at the University of Hawaii.
Ferguson began the presentation with an excerpt from her latest book, “Emma Goldman: Political Thinking in the Streets.” She addressed the misapprehensions frequently thought about anarchism, which include the notions that anarchists are mostly male and that they are isolated, violent and unproductive.
However, Ferguson explained how these feminists and anarchists produced journals and created a network of schools. She divided the first wave of anarchists into two stories: the old and the new. The old story of feminist anarchists consisted of immigrants and nonimmigrants to the United States. Some women like Maria Barbieri bordered on the side of Marxism, while others like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Louise Olivereau were more moderate, opposing World War I drafts.
Ferguson said these women were “considered dirty because they were disruptive, with unfathomable motives and considered always up to no good.”
The new story of anarchists focused on members in coalitions that believed speech should be free and no one should be arrested for talking. These members included Frances Perkins and Helen Keller. But feminist anarchist also included men like Roger Baldwin, co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union,
“I’m focusing on women not because the men are less important but because the presence of their gender was less expected and therefore more disruptive,” said Ferguson.
She then went into the importance of birth control in the anarchist movement. Margaret Sanger and Ethel Byrne were some of the first women to distribute contraceptives and instructions to create contraceptives for women who could not afford birth control. Explaining how the rich would give birth to only a couple of children while the poor usually had several, Ferguson told the audience why this was the case. By controlling the reproduction of poor workers, the rich were able to control the population of the working class, ensure a work force, ensure a supply of soldiers and control women’s rights of choice. When Sanger and Bryne opened a clinic, over 400 women came over the course of nine days.
After her presentation, Ferguson answered questions from the audience, which included a discussion about Occupy and how she considered that an anarchist movement.