WHEN AMERICANS THINK of Russell Brand, they’re most likely to see him, in their mind’s eye, straddling an elephant on an Indian beach in the marriage ceremony that made him pop star Katy Perry’s husband. This image would probably be hard to reconcile, then, with that of a neo-revolutionary writing a book to dismiss this kind of decadence, admitting the stark economic inequality in India and the sterility of celebrity life made him deeply uncomfortable. Revolution was launched last month by Brand at the site of on-going Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City. In this manifesto, he calls for collective civil disobedience and the replacement of current governing systems with participatory, representative democracy through decentralized autonomous communities. To develop this proposal, Brand looks back through history at past uprisings and settles on the Spanish revolution of 1936 as closest to his ideal. He quotes from George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia to describe how that revolution brought about equality:
“I’d never heard of this Revolution. The reason for this is, of course, that it’s so [f**king] inspiring,” he writes, “No one, absolutely no one, will tell you that an alternative is possible, and the ways and means are strewn all about us.”
About two weeks ago, something very similar to what Brand was calling for took place in Barcelona, Spain: a feminist-led uprising under the name of Vaga de Totes (“Everything Strike” in Catalan, one of Barcelona’s spoken languages) that numbered in thousands and shut down the center of the city on October 22nd. The protest was fueled partly by statements made by CEO and member of the Circle of Entrepreneurs, Monica Oriol, who remarked that she would not employ women aged between 25 and 45, as she wants to avoid dealing with women’s potential pregnancies. Understandably outraged, protestors sought to include those who might otherwise be left out of protests for social change, bringing attention to unpaid work, such as childcare, house work, and reproductive labor — all of which are primarily performed by women — in a general strike. “We live in very productivist and capitalist societies,” explained one female protestors interviewed, “in which what’s really important isn’t valued — which is that all of us have the minimum we need so we can take care if each other. There is labor primarily realized by women that’s invisibilized, not recognized, and without which we could not survive.” “Who takes care of women?” was one phrase repeated by those marching, echoing the argument that feminist concerns — such as the division of domestic unpaid labor — are too often ignored, and when strikes and protests happen, even more of this work falls on women, making it so that oftentimes women can’t even join because they’re too busy.
Spain isn’t the only place where these issues are rearing their ugly heads. Last week, The Toast published a piece by a woman in the US who was denied the maternity leave she believed she had secured prior to giving birth. Her conclusion from her experience was that, “employers in the U.S. do not care about mothers of young children at all, unless we’re consumers of their products. It might be more accurate to say that they view us as horrible useless burdens who need to be ushered back to full-time work as swiftly as possible.”
The same week, ClickHole, a sister site to satirical news site The Onion, published “7 Female CEOs Who Inspire Us All To Be Cogs In The Capitalist Machine” with descriptions like: “PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi is living proof of the fact that when we are complicit in an economic system that rewards the wealthy and further impoverishes the poor, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish!” As usual the satirical site got it right — uncomfortably so. In the US the feminist movement, in large part, seems to have settled on seeing that more women climb to the top of the current system, rather than overthrowing the system that rewards only those at the top. Monica Oriol is an example of how female CEOs cannot be trusted to fulfill our feminist goals.
Reading about the 1930s Spanish Revolution in Brand’s book, I wanted to know what the women concerned with social equality were doing back then. A little research revealed that they had formed the group Mujeres Libres (Free Women), one that sought to make women’s liberation central to the revolution and do away with the sexism of the men involved in the movement. Although this was not a “feminist” group as such, they believed equality of the sexes to be an essential part of any struggle for social equality. They organized a day care system for the women’s children so that all could be involved in protests and meetings. They insisted on the group being an autonomous, but parallel revolutionary, force.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Brand was asked about criticism that he has a long history of sexist words and actions that don’t match up to his bid for social equality. Feminists have come forward to complain of his “brocialist” and “manarchist” ways. He responded that he hoped to evolve and live up to feminist standards. Of course, time will tell, but I for one think we should be open to the idea that a person can change – it’s an idea that’s actually the basis of the “the personal is political” narrative of his book. And Brand himself admitting in the acknowledgements section of his book that long-time assistant, hair and make up stylist, and friend Nicola Schuller provided him with the domestic and care support required for him to write Revolution is a step in the right direction. He writes, “Thank you for feeding me, running with me, caffeinating me, and encouraging me, taking care of me, and forcing me to write.” She is recognized, and paid, for her support of Brand’s own Revolution.
Not to be confused with the revolution that Brand is calling for in his manifesto. He repeatedly states that he has no intention or desire to be the leader of an uprising – in fact, he asks, “What are we going to do about it?” Rather than wasting time waiting on Brand to catch up on gender inequality, why don’t feminists take inspiration from the Spanish Revolution (past and present) and form our own autonomous, but parallel, movement?