Mikhail Bakunin opposed patriarchy and the way the law "[subjected women] to the absolute domination of the man." He argued that "[e]qual rights must belong to men and women" so that women could "become independent and be free to forge their own way of life." Bakunin foresaw the end of "the authoritarian juridical family" and "the full sexual freedom of women." (Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 396 and p. 397). Proudhon, on the other hand, viewed the family as the most basic unit of society and of his morality and believed that women had the responsibility of fulfilling a traditional role within the family.
Since the 1860s, anarchism's radical critique of capitalism and the state has been combined with a critique of patriarchy. Anarcha-feminists thus start from the precept that modern society is dominated by men. Authoritarian traits and values—domination, exploitation, aggression, competition, etc.—are integral to hierarchical civilizations and are seen as "masculine." In contrast, non-authoritarian traits and values—cooperation, sharing, compassion, sensitivity—are regarded as "feminine," and devalued. Anarcha-feminists have thus espoused creation of a non-authoritarian, anarchist society. They refer to the creation of a society, based on cooperation, sharing, mutual aid, etc. as the "feminization of society."
Anarcha-feminism began with late 19th and early 20th century authors and theorists such as anarchist feminists Emma Goldman, Voltairine de Cleyre and Lucy Parsons. In the Spanish Civil War, an anarcha-feminist group, Mujeres Libres ("Free Women"), linked to the Federación Anarquista Ibérica, organized to defend both anarchist and feminist ideas. Stirnerist Nietzschean feminist Federica Montseny held that the "emancipation of women would lead to a quicker realization of the social revolution" and that "the revolution against sexism would have to come from intellectual and militant 'future-women.'" According to this Nietzschean concept of Federica Montseny's, women could "realize through art and literature the need to revise their own roles." In China, the anarcho-feminist He Zhen argued that without women's liberation, society could not be liberated.
In Argentina, Virginia Bolten is responsible for the publication of a newspaper called La Voz de la Mujer (English: The Woman's Voice), which was published nine times in Rosario between January 8, 1896 and January 1, 1897, and was briefly revived in 1901. A similar paper with the same name was reportedly published later in Montevideo, which suggests that Bolten may also have founded and edited it after her deportation. "La Voz de la Mujer" described itself as “dedicated to the advancement of Communist Anarchism.” Its central theme was the multiple natures of women’s oppression. An editorial asserted, “We believe that in present-day society, nothing and nobody has a more wretched situation than unfortunate women.” They said that women were doubly oppressed by both bourgeois society and men. Its beliefs can be seen from its attack on marriage and upon male power over women. Its contributors, like anarchist feminists elsewhere, developed a concept of oppression that focused on gender. They saw marriage as a bourgeois institution which restricted women’s freedom, including their sexual freedom. Marriages entered into without love, fidelity maintained through fear rather than desire, and oppression of women by men they hated were all seen as symptomatic of the coercion implied by the marriage contract. It was this alienation of the individual’s will that the anarchist feminists deplored and sought to remedy, initially through free love, and then more thoroughly through social revolution.
An important topic within individualist anarchism is free love. Free love advocates sometimes traced their roots back to Josiah Warren and to experimental communities, which viewed sexual freedom as a clear, direct expression of an individual's self-ownership. Free love particularly stressed women's rights since most sexual laws discriminated against women, such as marriage laws and anti-birth control measures. The most important American free love journal was Lucifer the Lightbearer (1883–1907), edited by Moses Harman and Lois Waisbrooker. Ezra and Angela Heywood's The Word was also published from 1872–1890 and in 1892–1893. M. E. Lazarus was also an important American individualist anarchist who promoted free love. In Europe, the main propagandist of free love within individualist anarchism was Émile Armand. He proposed the concept of la camaraderie amoureuse - to speak of free love as the possibility of voluntary sexual encounter between consenting adults. He was also a consistent proponent of polyamory. In France there was also feminist activity inside French individualist anarchism as promoted by individualist feminists Marie Küge, Anna Mahé, Rirette Maîtrejean, and Sophia Zaïkovska.
Brazilian individualist anarchist Maria Lacerda de Moura lectured on topics such as education, women's rights, free love, and antimilitarism. Her writings and essays landed her attention not only in Brazil, but also in Argentina and Uruguay. In February 1923 she launched Renascença, a periodical linked with the anarchist, progressive, and freethinking circles of the period. Her thought was mainly influenced by individualist anarchists such as Han Ryner and Émile Armand.
Voltairine de Cleyre (November 17, 1866 – June 20, 1912) was an American anarchist writer and feminist. She was a prolific writer and speaker, opposing the state, marriage, and the domination of religion in sexuality and women's lives. She began her activist career in the freethought movement. De Cleyre was initially drawn to individualist anarchism but evolved through mutualism to an "anarchism without adjectives." She was a colleague of Emma Goldman, with whom she respectfully disagreed with on many issues. Many of her essays were in the Collected Works of Voltairine de Cleyre, published posthumously by Mother Earth in 1914. In her 1895 lecture entitled Sex Slavery, de Cleyre condemns ideals of beauty that encourage women to distort their bodies and child socialization practices that create unnatural gender roles. The title of the essay refers not to traffic in women for purposes of prostitution, although that is also mentioned, but rather to marriage laws that allow men to rape their wives without consequences. Such laws make "every married woman what she is, a bonded slave, who takes her master's name, her master's bread, her master's commands, and serves her master's passions."
Although she was hostile to first-wave feminism and its suffragist goals, Emma Goldman advocated passionately for the rights of women, and is today heralded as a founder of anarcha-feminism. In 1897 she wrote: "I demand the independence of woman, her right to support herself; to live for herself; to love whomever she pleases, or as many as she pleases. I demand freedom for both sexes, freedom of action, freedom in love and freedom in motherhood."
In 1906, Goldman wrote a piece entitled “The Tragedy of Woman’s Emancipation” in which she argued that traditional suffragists and first-wave feminists were achieving only a superficial good for women by pursuing the vote and a movement from the home sphere. In it she writes that in the ideal world women would be free to pursue their own destinies, yet “emancipation of woman, as interpreted and practically applied today, has failed to reach that great end.” She pointed to the “so-called independence” of the modern woman whose true nature—her love and mother instincts—were rebuked and stifled by the suffragist and early feminist movements. Goldman’s arguments in this text are arguably much more in line with the ideals of modern third-wave feminism than with the feminism of her time, especially given her emphasis on allowing women to pursue marriage and motherhood if they so desired. In Goldman’s eyes, the early twentieth century idea of the emancipated woman had a “tragic effect upon the inner life of woman” by restricting her from fully fulfilling her nature and having a well-rounded life with a companion in marriage.
A nurse by training, Goldman was an early advocate for educating women about birth control. Like many contemporary feminists, she saw abortion as a tragic consequence of social conditions, and birth control as a positive alternative. Goldman was also an advocate of free love, and a strong critic of marriage. She saw early feminists as confined in their scope and bounded by social forces of Puritanism and capitalism. She wrote: "We are in need of unhampered growth out of old traditions and habits. The movement for women's emancipation has so far made but the first step in that direction." When Margaret Sanger, an advocate of access to birth control, coined the term "birth control" and disseminated information about various methods in the June 1914 issue of her magazine The Woman Rebel, she received aggressive support from Goldman. Sanger was arrested in August under the Comstock laws, which prohibited the dissemination of "obscene, lewd, or lascivious articles"—including information relating to birth control. Although they later split from Sanger over charges of insufficient support, Goldman and Reitman distributed copies of Sanger's pamphlet Family Limitation (along with a similar essay of Reitman's). In 1915, Goldman conducted a nationwide speaking tour in part to raise awareness about contraception options. Although the nation's attitude toward the topic seemed to be liberalizing, Goldman was arrested in February 1916 and charged with violation of the Comstock Law. Refusing to pay a $100 fine, she spent two weeks in a prison workhouse, which she saw as an "opportunity" to reconnect with those rejected by society.
Goldman was also an outspoken critic of prejudice against homosexuals. Her belief that social liberation should extend to gay men and lesbians was virtually unheard of at the time, even among anarchists. As Magnus Hirschfeld wrote, "she was the first and only woman, indeed the first and only American, to take up the defense of homosexual love before the general public." In numerous speeches and letters, she defended the right of gay men and lesbians to love as they pleased and condemned the fear and stigma associated with homosexuality. As Goldman wrote in a letter to Hirschfeld, "It is a tragedy, I feel, that people of a different sexual type are caught in a world which shows so little understanding for homosexuals and is so crassly indifferent to the various gradations and variations of gender and their great significance in life."
Milly Witkop was a Ukrainian-born Jewish anarcho-syndicalist, feminist writer and activist. She was the common-law wife of Rudolf Rocker. In November 1918, Witkop and Rocker moved to Berlin; Rocker had been invited by Free Association of German Trade Unions (FVdG) chairman Fritz Kater to join him in building up what would become the Free Workers' Union of Germany (FAUD), an anarcho-syndicalist trade union. Both Rocker and Witkop became members of the FAUD. After its founding in early 1919, a discussion about the role of girls and women in the union started. The male-dominated organization had at first ignored gender issues, but soon women started founding their own unions, which were organized parallel to the regular unions, but still formed part of the FAUD. Witkop was one of the leading founders of the Women's Union in Berlin in 1920. On October 15, 1921, the women's unions held a national congress in Düsseldorf and the Syndicalist Women's Union (SFB) was founded on a national level. Shortly thereafter, Witkop drafted Was will der Syndikalistische Frauenbund? (What Does the Syndicalist Women's Union Want?) as a platform for the SFB. From 1921, the Frauenbund was published as a supplement to the FAUD organ Der Syndikalist, Witkop was one of its primary writers.
Witkop reasoned that proletarian women were exploited not only by capitalism like male workers, but also by their male counterparts. She contended therefore that women must actively fight for their rights, much like workers must fight capitalism for theirs. She also insisted on the necessity of women taking part in class struggle. Housewives could use boycotts to support this struggle. From this, she concluded the necessity of an autonomous women's organization in the FAUD. Witkop also held that domestic work should be deemed equally valuable to wage labor.
Mujeres Libres (English: Free Women) was an anarchist women's organization in Spain that aimed to empower working class women. It was founded in 1936 by Lucía Sánchez Saornil, Mercedes Comaposada and Amparo Poch y Gascón and had approximately 30,000 members. The organization was based on the idea of a "double struggle" for women's liberation and social revolution and argued that the two objectives were equally important and should be pursued in parallel. In order to gain mutual support, they created networks of women anarchists. Flying day-care centres were set up in efforts to involve more women in union activities.
The organization also produced propaganda through radio, traveling libraries and propaganda tours, in order to promote their cause. Organizers and activists traveled through rural parts of Spain to set up rural collectives and support for women. To prepare women for leadership roles in the anarchist movement, they organized schools, women-only social groups and a women-only newspaper to help women gain self-esteem and confidence in their abilities and network with one another to develop their political consciousness. Many of the female workers in Spain were illiterate and the Mujeres Libres sought to educate them through literacy programs, technically oriented classes, and social studies classes. Schools were also created for train nurses to help injured in emergency medical clinics. Medical classes also provided women with information on sexual health and pre and post-natal care. The Mujeres Libres also created a woman run magazine to keep all of its members informed. The first monthly issue of Mujeres Libres was published on May 20, 1936 (ack 100). However the magazine only had 14 issues. The last issue was still being printed when the civil war battlefront reached Barcelona, and no copies survived. The magazine addressed working class women and focused on “awakening the female conscience toward libertarian ideas.”
Lucía Sánchez Saornil (December 13, 1895 – June 2, 1970), was a Spanish poet, militant anarchist and feminist. She is best known as one of the founders of Mujeres Libres. She served in the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and Solidaridad Internacional Antifascista (SIA). By 1919, she had been published in a variety of journals, including Los Quijotes, Tableros, Plural, Manantial and La Gaceta Literaria. Working under a male pen name, she was able to explore lesbian themes at a time when homosexuality was criminalized and subject to censorship and punishment. Writing in anarchist publications such as Earth and Freedom, the White Magazine and Workers' Solidarity, Lucía outlined her perspective as a feminist. Although quiet on the subject of birth control, she attacked the essentialism of gender roles in Spanish society. In this way, Lucía established herself as one of the most radical of voices among anarchist women, rejecting the ideal of female domesticity which remained largely unquestioned. In a series of articles for Workers' Solidarity, she boldly refuted Gregorio Marañón's identification of motherhood as the nucleus of female identity.
An important aspect of anarcha-feminism is its opposition to traditional concepts of family, education and gender roles. The institution of marriage is one of the most widely opposed. De Cleyre argued that marriage stifled individual growth, and Goldman argued that it "is primarily an economic arrangement... [woman] pays for it with her name, her privacy, her self-respect, her very life." Anarcha-feminists have also argued for non-hierarchical family and educational structures, and had a prominent role in the creation of the Modern School in New York City, based on the ideas of Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia.
"The Fine Art of Labeling: The Convergence of Anarchism, Feminism, and Bisexuality", by Lucy Friedland and Liz Highleyman, is a piece in Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out (1991), an anthology edited by Loraine Hutchins and Lani Ka'ahumanu which is one of the seminal books in the history of the modern bisexual rights movement.
In English-speaking anarcha-feminist circles in the United States, the term "manarchist" emerged as a pejorative label for male anarchists who are dismissive of feminist concerns, who are overtly antifeminist, or who behave in ways regarded as patriarchal and misogynistic. The term was used in the 2001 article "Stick it To The Manarchy" by the Rock Bloc Collective in the Onward Newspaper and later in a 2001 questionnaire, "Are You a Manarchist?".
Contemporary anarcha-feminism has been noted for its heavy influence on ecofeminism."Ecofeminists rightly note that except for anarcha-feminist, no feminist perspective has recognized the importance of healing the nature/culture division."
Current anarcha-feminist groups include Bolivia's Mujeres Creando, radical cheerleaders, the Spanish anarcha-feminist squat La Eskalera Karakola, and the annual La Rivolta! conference in Boston.
Contemporary anarcha-feminist writers/theorists include Maria Mies, Peggy Kornegger, L. Susan Brown, the eco-feminist Starhawk and the post-left anarchist and anarcho-primitivist Lilith.
In the past decades two films have been produced about anarcha-feminism. Libertarias is a historical drama made in 1996 about the Spanish anarcha-feminist organization Mujeres Libres. In 2010 the argentinian film Ni dios, ni patrón, ni marido was released which is centered on the story of anarcha-feminist Virginia Bolten and her publishing of the newspaper La Voz de la Mujer (English: The Woman's Voice).