Gender at work

Contact Us

Gender and Sexuality Studies Institute
6 East 16th Street, Room 1019
New York, NY 10003

Co-Directors
McKenzie Wark
Panteá Farvid
Rose Réjouis

For general inquiries about GSSI contact:
genderstudies@newschool.edu

For inquiries about our undergraduate program contact:
genderstudiesminor@newschool.edu

For inquiries about our graduate program contact:
GSS@newschool.edu
(Photo: Analía Cid)
(Photo: Analía Cid)

Feminisms as the Desire to Change Everything and the Ultra-Right Backlash

An interview with Verónica Gago by Chiara Bottici

CB: Let’s start with a basic question: do you consider yourself a feminist? When and how did you become a feminist?

VG: I consider myself a militant feminist involved in a movement that has become massive in recent years. In other words, I also became a feminist thanks to a collective process, where I learned what it means to live a feminist life. I come from a family of political activists, so I have been interested in politics since I was very young, but the role of women in political history has always caught my attention in a particularly striking way. This is because in Argentina a fundamental reference for many generations are the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, who began a struggle during the dictatorship against the disappearance of their children and have not stopped since. Through them we learned how to do feminist politics even without using that term. The history of Latin American struggles, in which those of us who began to be active in school and university were formed, is a source of rebellious, anti-colonial histories, from which we have been nourished to become feminists.

CB: What is feminism for you?

VG: It is a collective desire to change everything. It is a struggle against the injustices that are experienced every day, the desire not to normalize them or to accommodate them in the neoliberal, racist and patriarchal machinery. That’s why feminism is about sustaining rage and organizing it. And to do so in ways that are uncomfortable but are also festive, occupying the streets, intervening in relationships and institutions. I prefer to talk about feminisms, as a pluralist movement, which has multiple genealogies, histories, and strategies. But above all, I am interested in thinking about it in terms of the alliances that it proposes, of the extensions of this desire for transformation, because as bell hook says, feminism is “for everyone,” since it is a force for liberation.

CB: What do you think are the most important modes of feminist transmission? We often hear people say “we are there now,” referring to feminist conquests that seem unshakable. However, as the case of abortion in the United States shows, nothing can be taken for granted. How can we ensure that once we conquest some freedoms, they will remain there?

VG: Angela Davis has that wise and well-known phrase: “Freedom is a constant struggle.” There is nothing we can take for granted. We need to abandon the naïve idea of history as a linear progress. Every victory or conquest we achieve is met with a counter-offensive, a counter-movement of reaction. This is what we see today in the ultra-right, which targets the feminist and LGBTQ+ movements. In Argentina, the anti-abortion reaction (the so-called “Movement for Two Lives”) is not only a response to the struggle for the legalization of abortion, but it also mimics our methods, in an attempt to reappropriate them: it uses headscarves, it disputes the word life, it mobilizes in the street in the same way we did.

CB: One of the keys of the success of the Ni una menos movement is that you have been able to add a feminist lens to all and every social issue at stake: from debt to inflation and ecology, not less than traditional feminist issues such as abortion and care work. How to build bridges and solidarities across the left?

VG: It has been an enormous political task, through assemblies, the organization of feminist strikes, cultivating organizational links and sustaining them on a series of mobilization dates, but also with the capacity to intervene in the current conjuncture. I believe that this work of building bridges and composition is also possible because feminism in Argentina has been built in and from social organizations, in trade unions, in popular movements, in universities, in migrant groups, in peasant movements. I mean: feminism is not a sector, but a vector of transversal politicization that can function in a pre-existing network of popular organizations. Moreover, there is a tradition of organizing women’s meetings that goes back more than three decades, as well as historical LGBTQ and abortion rights organizations that are a key accumulation. Of course, in the heat of these dynamics, many new spaces have also been formed.

CB: In your Feminist International (2020) you suggest that feminism implies a desire to change everything. How important are elections for the feminist cause?

VG: These elections were the most important since the return to democracy (40 years) in Argentina because there has never been a formula like that of Javier Milei-Victoria Villarruel that includes in its program the vindication of state terrorism, the declaration of feminism as the enemy and the proposal of a complete privatization of public services. It is necessary to underline that the economic crisis has had a fundamental impact on the results: the feeling of being fed up with the present situation has been successfully channeled by the proposals of the right and the ultra-right. The “rejection” vote was against impoverishment. Thus, we are witnessing the paradox that makes us militants feel suffocated: an exponent of the financial world with serious connections to investment funds, defender of the global institutions of concentrated capital, is the one who is in charge of putting words to a world of daily experiences of those from below that oscillate between calculation, frustration and speculation. This proposal to radicalize the financial government of our lives (the speculation to which everyone who has to deal with when precariousness is forced) is combined at the same time with a reactionary, misogynist and patriarchal discourse.

CB: What is the role of feminism in the recent Argentinian elections?

VG: It was very important: it activated an emergency brake against the danger of collective destruction, a sense of alert, following the result of the compulsory primaries (13 August), in which Milei came out on top. Feminism contains the possibility of activating forms of knowledge that can be translated into concrete struggles. The process of activation that rallied votes, took the streets, and burst into the public conversation had at least three axes.
The first issue is the proposal of allowing people to carry weapons and femicides. Milei’s proposition is a model of a war of all against all, in order to capitalize on citizen concerns about insecurity. However, his suggestion that children go to school with guns, which he expected to ignite like gunpowder, is instead rejected by mothers, generating a great deal of blowback against him. Furthermore, Milei’s denial of the existence of femicides ignited a sense of alarm among women who, since 2015, have made this issue a central tenet of their organizing. The response to Milei’s position came from mothers and women across social classes, too many of whom have borne witness to the horror of femicides. This is an example of how the politicization of domestic violence can lead to results in the ballot box.
The second issue is responsibility for paternity and child support. One of Milei’s deputies proposed a bill that would “notify” fathers once a woman get pregnant in order to give them the option of acknowledging paternity. This, too, generated a wave of outrage that permeated the conversation in many quarters. What delicate reflex was activated here? How was it trained by a feminist politicization composed of situated militancy in organizations, discussions, and assemblies but also through public policies? The process of politicizing motherhood is rooted in the activism of many collectives against non-compliance with child support, which is a de facto way of rejecting paternity. It is also rooted in the struggle against extreme indebtedness of those who work without pay combined with low-paying jobs. Women go into debt in order to live and to support their families, which is why they become impoverished and overworked. Last year, the Ministry of Women, Gender Policies and Sexual Diversity of the Province of Buenos Aires presented an initial measurement that showed shocking data, including that almost seven out of ten fathers fail to pay child support, or do so in an irregular manner. The National Institute of Statistics and Census has recently begun to incorporate a “Parenting Index,” a measurement of the cost of care work, as a social and legal tool to show how and why poverty is feminized. This is a vocabulary that comes out of feminist struggle, and which has made more explicit the ways in which precariousness is linked to a moral regime and the gender mandates forced upon women. Questioning why motherhood is penalized with poverty is one way of posing another idea of freedom: the freedom to be a mother without being poor. It is a rejection of patriarchal freedom, which instead allows fathers to take no responsibility for raising and supporting their children.
The third issue is connected to care work. Milei has denied the gendered wage gap in several public statements. This gendered gap is also evident when it comes to renting a house, getting a job, running a soup kitchen, or taking care of sick family members. During the pandemic, the amount of care work took on dramatic proportions. This impacted so-called frontline work, but also a range of duties the feminist movement had been drawing attention to for years, allowing for the creation of a new kind of common sense around care work.

CB: When looking at Argentinian politics from the outside one is struck by the concomitant growth and success of the feminist movement and the sudden rise of macho right-wing populist such as Javier Gerardo Milei. Are the two related?

VG: Of course. Javier Milei is Argentina’s vernacular representative in the planetary saga of far-right politics. It is enough to see the campaign carried out in his support by Tucker Carlson, Donald Trump’s favorite journalist, and Milei’s love affair with the Bolsonaro family. Also his connections with VOX. There are two issues that give the Argentine faction of the transnational ultra-right a singular terrain in which to move. On the one hand, is the importance of a transversal and mass feminist movement, which is active inside and outside of social and political organizations as well as in the streets and ballot boxes. On the other, is an economic crisis marked by a disastrous combination of IMF debt and inflation (140% annual). These two key aspects of Argentine reality have given ground to the ultra-right, in response to current Peronism that has been considered the cause of all current economic troubles. Milei’s alliance with former President Macri (2015-2019) allowed the right-wing vote to be allied with the ultra-right: all the votes that candidate Patricia Bullrich (Juntos por el Cambio) had in the general elections went to Milei. His government proposal is a combination of the economic policies of the military dictatorship and the neoliberal privatizations of the 1990s, at the height of the Washington Consensus, with a new extractivist impetus. He evokes the moment of convertibility (one peso equals one dollar) as a glorious moment of neoliberalism and as equivalent to the polarization he proposes to carry out now. The uncertainty of what he will be able to do and how that will respond to the demands of his voters is enormous, but Argentina has a long history of resistance and that it is also a component of the present.


Verónica Gago is Professor of Sociology at the Instituto de Altos Estudios, Universidad Nacional de San Martín (UNSAM) and a prominent member of the Argentinian Ni Una Menos movement. She is the author of many publications, including Feminist International: How to Change Everything (Verso, 2020) and Neoliberalism from Below: Popular Pragmatics and Baroque Economies (Duke University Press, 2017).

Take The Next Step

Submit your application

Undergraduate

To apply to any of our Bachelor's programs (Except the Bachelor's Program for Adult Transfer Students) complete and submit the Common App online.

Graduates and Adult Learners

To apply to any of our Master's, Doctural, Professional Studies Diploma, Graduates Certificate, or Associate's programs, or to apply to the Bachelor's Program for Adult and Transfer Students, complete and submit the New School Online Application.

Close