The Unity of All Women: Horizontal Feminism
“It was a true sisterhood. What bound us together was the spirit within, the spirit of the feminine. Equals.”
We were walking together on the grounds of the Complutense University in Madrid when my mentor and former profesora spoke those words to me. We were discussing the feminist movement of the last years of the Spanish Republic, known as “feminismo.” Feminismo gave rise to the Mujeres Libres, the Free Women of the Civil War.
“The Americans are crazy, Maureen. They will replace the Patriarchy of men with a Patriarchy of women. Who speaks for the poor or for the Moors(her word for African)? No one. It is a vertical feminism, and it will oppress and marginalise in the name of liberation, and I tell you Chica that no greater abomination exists than women denying their spirit of sisterhood and instead becoming the oppressor. They will, you watch.” Her lesson of the day to me had begun.
The feminism of 1930's Spain had its roots in Existentialism and in Humanism. It was pro-active rather than reactive. Women advocated for each other and on behalf of each other. It was not exclusive to any class or race, or even sex; its nature would not permit that. “You find the feminine within all willing to recognise it, Maureen. Some people more than others, for they have been taught to shut it away or that it is weakness rather than strength.”
It was a horizontal feminism, as she expained to me, rather than a vertical feminism. Vertical implies a power structure, horizontal implies equality. Sisterhood demands equality and therefore a horizontal feminism was the trademark of the Feminismo and the later Anarcho-Feminism of the Civil War and the Mujeres Libres.
Horizontal feminism was born eight thousand years before Christ, two thousand years before the beginning of the chrolology of the Bible. It began in rooms of women sifting grain or weaving, and was given voice by the singing of the women and by their drumming, using the grain seives. Women lent their skills and time to each other for the benefit of all.
As a sisterhood, horizontal feminism demands responsibility for the welfare of all of the members of the community. That which women have in common, the divine feminine which marks us as sisters, is precious and is to be nurtured and cherished whatever the form it takes and in whomsover it appears. By its nature defining us as women, it would therefore be that force which brings our sisters of unique journeys such as our trans sisters to the table of the Espirit Feminine.
Horizontal, not vertical. Therefore there is no superior position, no special priviledge recognised. No racial preference, no class distinction. Women function as a family, as a community and by consensus.
During the Civil War, with the disappearance of services and resources, Femisimo and horizontal feminism was put to its most practical test. Communities of women created schools, hospitals, established militias and brigades, raised each other's children as a communal family, worked as doctors, soldiers, teachers, engineers, writiers, nursemaids cooks, and succeeded in sustaining an idea of equality while under attack from the Falanagist/Franquistas/Nationalists and the Luftwaffe. The women, Las Mujeres, yeilded to no control but their own.
Horizontal feminism reaches across all lines and distinctions. It is not exclusory, it thrives by inclusion and what each sister brings into it. The sisters of the community are defined by a force within, a flame that each member, each sister, each woman has an obligation to nuture, cherish and to protect in one another.
The Lesbian must bear responsibility for, cherish and nurture the feminine spirit within her straight sister, her trans sister, her “moorish” sister, her poor sister, her Islamic sister; in short, the totality of womankind. The others are moved from within to do the same.
“We are one or we will be none, Maureen” she told me in English to emphasise the point with the alliterative accents.
Equality merely begins with horizontal feminism; a first step if you will, but without this step there is no possibilility of equality at all.