Woman Is Not Anonymous by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente


Vanessa Rivera Virginia Woolf

Lately I have been reflecting on this quote of Virginia Woolf: “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” Here she points out the deliberate invisibilization of women’s contribution in all areas of human endeavors.

Patriarchy always takes these contributions for granted. For centuries, domestic labor has been invisible and not considered work. It has put beauty over intelligence, even with women of outstanding intelligence. And in terms of knowledge and intellectual production, patriarchy has appropriated women’s ideas and in presenting them as “anonymous,” presents them as it’s own.

Thanks to the feminist reclaiming of history, and proving the accuracy of the premise that “Anonymous is woman,” we have learned of the long list of inventions that were made possible due to women’s ideas who were kept invisible, unnamed, unquoted,  and erased;  after all, she was “just” a “woman.”

There’s a patriarchal commandment that prevents women from asking for recognition. Women are told that “good women” don’t promote themselves, but are discreet and act with a generous spirit; that to aspire to be visible is vanity, and that our creative ventures should be regarded merely as hobby. We should feel guilty of our success and apologize to the world for having achievements; if we are somehow praised we have to make clear we do everything for others and we are not important. It doesn’t matter if we are anonymous, because what is relevant is the benefit that our knowledge will live on in society…

Thus, being fed such nicely framed manure, we are shaped into the practice of not giving value to our own talents and their expressions.

Patriarchy exploits women at intellectual level with slogans like “Ideas do not belong to anyone.” But this is in fact a lie. Ideas have owners, they come from someone, but we women have been denied the right to claim ownership over them and been socialized to waive such claims for fear of being accused of being “egocentric and selfish.”

If this is already outrageous, when this dynamic appears in feminist spaces aimed at empowering women, it is even more egregious. In my work as a community educator, I hear colleagues and women’s right defenders complaining about the preying and abuse of their knowledge and skills by high profile feminists, gender studies scholars, or women’s rights bureaucrats.

Activists report that they are often asked by  feminists doctoral students to share their experiences and empirical knowledge, which is then presented as “results of a research” in which their names are absent. Social workers state that they are asked to create educational material in which they can’t appear as authors,which is then used by other people as their own. Feminist bloggers, meanwhile, say their ideas are reproduced without reference to their blogs as the sources or, quite simply, their articles are copied and pasted, with some quotes here and there, and submitted as academic papers to scholarly journals by others.

These practices are abusive, unethical and patriarchal. When they occur in feminist spaces, they are also a violent and cruel exercise of privilege by women against women, because most of the times, those affected are not in the front line of power and intellectual production; they don’t belong to the academic elite, or have the back up of a big publishing house, or a position of authority in the government, etc.

If we like the ideas of a feminist comrade or an activist, why are we reluctant to give credit to her? Would it be the same with a famous activist? Would it be the same with a man writer? With a thesis supported by a university? Are ideas only recognized based on the privileges and status of those who think them? What’s the point of working to empower women if we resist naming those women? What is the idea of “giving voice” to women who later are left invisible?

Appropriating the ideas of another woman is not only dishonest but also dehumanizing as only people have the right to individuality, to a name and to be named; objects are serialized, generic, anonymous. The damage is not only at professional or intellectual level, but also spiritual and psychic, affecting one’s self-esteem and self-worth.

The democratization of knowledge must include the struggle for greater visibility of women’s intellectual contributions. It demands that feminists redefine what “knowledge” is and analyze critically the privileges and mechanism of power that what we understand as such enables. In the process of democratization of knowledge, no woman should be anonymous and those who are relegated to the backstage of feminist work should come forward.

As women we fight to make our ideas respected and we put effort, dedication, and energy into intellectual and creative work. This deserves to be recognized. It is not something minor; patriarchy could ad must also be dismantled in the small things, because it is the micro reproduction of oppression that holds a larger network of exploitation.

Feminisms are praxis, actual and living, and if not, they are merely propaganda. Transformation of this social world begins with embodying feminism as a counter-culture practice on a daily basis. There is no point in reading all the theories and quoting all the authors if when we have to act, we do not choose an anti-patriarchal action that reflects a political choice for women.

Always, without doubt, we must claim loudly our right to be named. It is not selfishness or excessive ambition. “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman,” and we won’t take it anymore. We live in a misogynistic civilization, organized to silence us and wipe us out: Making us visible to one another is a way to resist.

Vanessa Rivera de la FuenteVanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a Writer, Mentor and Community Educator in Capacity Building for Grass Roots Female Leaders and Advocates. A Feminist who is an Independent Researcher of Gender and Islam on Feminist Hermeneutics, Muslim Women Representations, Queer Identities and Movement Building. She blogs in Spanish at Mezquita de Mujeres, a site dedicated to explore the links between Gender, Religion and Feminism as well to Women from the Global South as Change Makers in their communities. 

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Categories: Activism, Ethics, Feminism

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13 replies

  1. Good point. I am reminded that Mary Daly credited conversations with friends and students in her work. A few others followed suit, but most did not. Probably because the expectations are to credit published sources. Organic Inquiry is a method for working with others that credits them as “co-researchers.” http://www.atpweb.org/jtparchive/trps-36-04-01-026.pdf

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    • Agree. This fits in well with this series of discussions on self-promotion. There is a certain snobbishness to citing a “personal communication” from a Name, especially if you’re not someone who is known.

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  2. Although Woolf was speaking specifically about literature, many thanks for opening Anonymous up to other fields of endeavor. Not only do women now sign their true names instead of writing under male pen names, but we also insist on receiving credit for other work we do.

    I keep wondering if Watson and Crick will ever acknowledge the work of Rosalind Franklin in the discovery of DNA. She was there before they were.

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    • Yeah, in patriarchal societies where women are objects and named massively as “Women”, “Chicks”, “Babies” of by the role we supply, to be able to name yourself as individual through your contribution is something that I consider very important.

      Recently in one of my workshops I asked my students to recall a woman from their daily life that have impacted their lives. One of them, a woman in her 60s, talked about her grandmother and she said: “I don´t remember her name, she was just granny”. The next session she told the class. “Her name was Agatha” and I could see the glow of pride in ther eyes.

      Another thing we discussed is about why I name myself with two last names. I said because the second one is for my mother and everytime I name myself I make an statement to visibilize her. From that day all my student asked to the government that when they end the course, their Diplomas must include their second last name, the last name of their mothers.

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  3. On the question of not asking for recognition, I actually do some work online anonymously and love it. It frees me up my creatively if I can let go of the ego. That’s just my psyche, however, it might be the opposite for someone else.

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    • This is exactly what this article adresses: The socialization of women by patriarchy to banalize and accuse the claim for visibilization as a merely matter of the ego and how women are agents of misogyny in pointing other women about. So: “women want to be visible because they are egocentric”. No, this is not about ego. We could discuss longer about how a pretending humbleness can evidence a more twisted way of being egocentric and attention catcher: “I am humble, I am a good woman, I don´t look for recognizition.But I love to tell this around so people can praise me for”, but is not my area of expertise

      This article is about politics and how Patriarchy manipulate women to make women feel guilty for claiming visibility. This article is about how in a systematic, accumulative and oppresive way, patriarchy takes advantage of the work on women that remain invisibible and how to name women and their contributions is a step towards empowerment, especially in a misogynyst civilization when many kinds of violence against women remain unnoticed because normalization make them invisible

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  4. Sometimes anonymity is a great way of doing things your way. Some people might disagree to this but, it holds true for me at least.

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    • You can do things anonymously or not. Your choice. Still women will need visibility as politic estrategy to make their oppression and contribution to freedom noticed. May in the future we can share a broader view on this, beyond “My ego/your ego” little scope

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      • I think I’ve already commented on the room in the Nova Scotia museum labelled “these men contributed to the cultural development of Nova Scotia”. When I asked why women’s quilts were not represented, the reply was that they weren’t signed, and one of the criteria for making a cultural contribution is that the museum know who you are.

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  5. One of your best yet sister.

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  6. This post is very enlightening. I can’t imagine the thought of remaining anonymous after providing such phenomenal contributions to society, yet, this was unfortunately the fate of many women throughout history. Even more unfortunate, this is still a commonality today among the various examples expressed by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente. Though women are far more pronounced in society than we once were, the concept that until today women are hidden and their work is not showcased with the publicity it deserves is alarming and offensive. Women in this position should fight to ensure that this does not happen to them.

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