A review of Quiet Rumours: An Anarcha-Feminist Reader, by the Dark Star Collective

When I received this book, I was quite excited, as it is something that was missing in my library. An international anarcha-feminist congress is planned for 2014, and to make it happen and make it as good as it can be, we need to publish and read this kind of anthologies. The texts chosen are of varying relevance and quality, to be honest, and I get the impression that, in the successive reeditions of this book, members of the Collective were more inclined to add to it than maybe drop or replace articles, the politics of which can be sometimes slightly cringe-worthy: Peggy Kornegger’s “Anarchism: The Feminist Connection” presents a vision of Spain 36 and France 68 that fails to show any criticism (even about talking about the maintenance of wages and money) which belongs more to enthusiastic propaganda than to anarchist theory. She also writes gems like:

“As women, we are particularly well-suited for participation in this process. Underground for ages, we have learnt to be covert, subtle, sly, silent, tenacious, acutely sensitive, and expert at communication skills.”

I must have missed that memo about the women’s underground training-sessions, because I must say I lack some of these qualities. And uniting feminism and anarchism is a necessary undertaking, but one which can also lead to statements about “structure (in the old male up/down sense of the word)” if not careful. Fortunately, human groups, even males, even in olden days, have been able to think up and establish horizontal social relationships. This article does present some interesting points, but maybe would require a more hands-on approach to editing, with some disclaimer/introduction, so that people do not associate anarcha-feminism with these rather anecdotic quotes which stand out from the article by their sheer weirdness. However, I also understand the point of view that people who would pick on this to strawman anarcha-feminism as a whole are probably not the kind of people we should be spending much time and effort into taking on board to develop any kind of theory. However, when you compare it to Queering Anarchism, which has a lot in parallel to this anthology, it is hard not to feel underwhelmed by such discordant ‘details’ (but then I would say that I found the first half of Queering Anarchism suspiciously homogeneous, so you can’t win with me…)

It is not a matter of ‘dropping the old texts’ at all, as some of the oldest contributions are among the best, in my humble opinion. Emma Goldmann got many things right (as a side note, for fans of Emma Goldmann, she makes an appearance in J. Edgar, an otherwise quite boring movie).

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Women-friendly movies (1980-2012)

Film showing is one of the easiest events to organise. However, films available to us, even political films and films about political events, are very much the reflection of the world we live in when it comes to patriarchy, which means the place given to women in them and the number of them made by women are often underwhelming. During an occupation, you can end up watching quite a few movies, and be left with an impression that the revolution is a thing for men, sometimes featuring mothers, wives and love interests (but there’s that woman in Land and Freedom… SHUT UP). Different discussions led me to compose this short list of films which should give revolutionaries something to talk about and feature women in significant roles (sometimes even made by women). All these films pass the Bechdel test unless specified. Please add your own!

Lawrence Anyways (2012) by Xavier Dolan

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwDzRzqFaIE

This tells the story of Laurence, a 30 year-old teacher, in Québec in the late eighties, who decides to transition to a woman, and her girlfriend, who despite many reservations decides to support her. It also features an abortion. Laurence’s relationship’s with her mother and her girlfriend’s lesbian sister and other female characters are also central to the movie.

Noise and Resistance (2011) by Francesca Araiza Andrade and Julia Ostertag

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGyBVrSk7sY

This documentary, made by women, looks at some of the international DIY music scene “attacked politically on all sides: the right sees them simply as criminals out to destroy the existing structures of society; the left sees them as hopeless utopians, deviationists (…); as for the authorities, they don’t like anarchists in general because they’re unpredictable, you can never tell how they are going to react to a given political situation”. After a quick introduction to CRASS, it moves on to the contemporary movement, questioning non-consumerist attitudes to music through concert footage and interviews of musicians and other members of the movement.

Guerilla (2011) by Nasiruddin Yousuf Bachchu

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrwGUTazC2w

This Bengladeshi movie centres around female characters enrolled in the resistance in the war of independence against Pakistan. It is very much a state film around issues of national liberation, featuring Marx alongside Che, Castro and Mao. The portrayal of women in it is not unproblematic, however, the choice to focus on a female character makes it quite refreshing.

Bye Bye Blondie (2011) by Virginie Despentes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0FllrQgB-Y

A film about two young punk women who fall in love in a mental hospital in the 1980s. They start a relationship again in contemporary Paris, when one is still punk and unemployed, whereas the other is a TV journalist living with a gay ‘husband’.

Tomboy (2011) by Céline Sciamma

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=JvfdCI4MArQ

 

Three Veils (2011) by Rolla Selbak

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgj2Fl7kpZw

 

You Should Meet My Son! (2010) by Keith Hartman

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=once8DOo71A

This gay comedy centres around two homophobic straight middle-aged women who are trying to find a wife for the son of one of them. They discover that he is gay, and after some thought, decide to meet gay men to find him a husband. However, the son decides to get engaged to “cure” his homosexuality and gets engaged to the daughter of a very conservative family.

 

Never Let Me Go (2010) by Mark Romanek

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXiRZhDEo8A

Based on the alternative-past novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, a moving, horrific story.

Precious (2009) by Lee Daniels

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rx-3jYJkUWQ

Highly-mediatised movie adaptation of the novel Push, by Sapphire about a young woman victim of abuse, helped by a couple of political Black lesbians.

The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008), by Uli Edel

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IVKAAsqcrI

A film about the RAF.

Louise Michel (2008) by Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FHUqqp8Ne0

This film has little to do with the famous Louise Michel. A comedy about women from a factory which was shut down pulling together to hire a hitman to kill their former boss.

XXY (2007) by Lucia Puenzo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWcyZDMm1rE

A movie about a young XXY person.

 

Persepolis (2007) by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZ22VyjJ6n8

Adapted from Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel, it tells the story of a young Iranian woman.

 

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) by Cristian Mungiu

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCPlewKTsNQ

A young woman tries to get an abortion under Ceaucescu’s Socialist regime.

Ethel MacDonald: An Anarchist’s Story (2006) by Mark Littlewood

Documentary about the Glasgow anarchist Ethel MacDonald and her participation in the Spanish revolution.

Water (2005) by Deepa Mehta

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RewNn2r2P3g

The story of an Indian child widow.

Moolade (2004) by Ousmane Sembene

An African film about female genital mutilation.

Iron-Jawed Angels (2004) by Katja von Garnier

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGyB3tV9kU0

The story of a group of women fighting for suffrage.

 

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things (2004) by Asia Argento

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqEW9qtcO1Q

The story of a young boy and his mother with drug problems. Quite similar to (but less surreal than) Terry Gilliam’s Tideland which has a female protagonist and definitely does pass the Bechdel’s test.

Bechdel test: Can’t remember.

 

Anatomy of Hell (2004) by Catherine Breillat

A film about a woman’s sexuality, and male fear of it (represented by a gay second character).

Bechdel test: It fails, as there is only one female character.

The Raspberry Reich (2004) by Bruce LaBruce

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCcRu5OsdXw

A gay porn movie about the RAF.

 

What to Do in Case of Fire (2002) by Gregor Schnitzler

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDlke-U0UOs

A comedy about the former members of an anarchist collective in Berlin who must reunite years later when an old incendiary device they had planted in an unoccupied property is set off 15 years later than planned.

 

Dirty Pretty Things (2002) by Stephen Frears

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7pb2IClEys

In London, illegal immigrants are groomed by organ traffickers and try to fight them.

Bechdel test: it does pass but not brilliantly.

 

The Gleaners and I (2000) by Agnès Varda

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKgjjEJvMbM

A documentary about gleaning, containing cats and some beautiful people who pick up other people’s trash for whatever reason. Beautiful, poetic, personal.

 

I shot Andy Warhol (1996) by Mary Harron

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAQRCcQlXXE

A film about Valerie Solanas’ assassination attempt on Andy Warhol.

Tank Girl (1995) by Rachel Talalay

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mTl4KPRXJ8

Tank Girl lives in one of the last communes which steal water from Water & Power, the company which rules over the post-apocalyptic world. But she soon has no choice but to fight them.

Heavenly Creatures (1994) by Peter Jackson

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-vUl-1FJ9E

Based on a famous murder case, tells the story of two young women ready to do anything for their love, in a society that tries to keep them apart.

Europa Europa (1990) by Agnieszka Holland

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OZjiH8A304

Directed by a woman, it tells the story of a Jewish boy during the Third Reich, from his time in the Communist Youth, to the German army and the Hitler Youth. Female characters are only secondary though.

Bechdel test: There are quite a few female characters, the protagonist, Leni and her mother have a conversation which could maybe count.

De Toda La Vida (1986) by Lisa Berger and Carol Mazer

Titled after Pepita Carpeña’s Memoirs, joins the CNT at age 14 and joins Mujeres Libres during the Spanish revolution. She is interviewed along with other women anarchists of revolutionary Spain.

The Little Drummer Girl (1984) by George Roy Hill

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQpFBehAUZc

This adaptation of John Le Carré’s eponymous spy-novel tells the story of the young lefty actress (played by Diane Keaton) cast to take part in the operation against a PLO terrorist. It features Klaus Kinski however, recently accused by his daughter of sexual abuse.

Bechdel test: it does pass, but not by much, as there are very few women in this film, which is pretty much about a central female character being used by men.

Playing For Time (1980) by Daniel Mann and Joseph Sargent

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpdBTLxV3iY

Based on Fania Fénelon’s autobiography, it tells her story of being deported and performing classical music for the SS in the camp.