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Welcome to my blog.  I’ve learned about all I can, easily, from Facebook.  The security there concerns me, and it’s time to step up to the world of blogs, anyway.  Half of my Facebook posts were Notes.  I look forward to real feminist discussion!

‘Forest’ refers to my view that the devastation of the Earth is primary, selfishly because we require the planet for our existence, and simply because we don’t have the right to view all other life as subordinate to our kinds’ continuation.  Please understand this:  The survival of the Earth is primary — because without our beloved, life-supporting planet, there is no ‘us’ or ‘ours.’  This is a basic premise at Forest Green Feminism.

Comments that are not related to the post at hand will not be published.  I work hard to make my thoughts and views concise and carefully-constructed.  If you can’t address what I said (or what the commenter above you said), it’s disrespectful.

I should probably add that here feminism is by, about and for women, which means those born female — and not those who have chosen to appropriate all that is us.  Pro-feminist responses will probably be posted if they don’t involve men/non-women telling women how to be feminists (our oppression so the consequences accrue to us).  Trolls will be dealt with appropriately, and I get to define appropriate, with my sisters’ input.

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The Decline of Oppression Theory for Discussing Racism, Part Two

Back when I was first becoming involved with feminist activists as a collective group, I met a white woman who, by all accounts, was respected in the local First Nations communities.  When I asked her what worked, she said, “White people come in wanting to lead, wanting to fix things, sure they know just what to do.  But we don’t.  We aren’t the experts, they are.  And whatever the consequences are to an action?  They face them, not us.  So I just do what they need me to do, follow their lead, and use my white skin privilege to open doors, get what they can’t.”  Others added that she had spent years at this, gaining trust and proving she was worthy of it.  She was committed to helping First Nations people, and when she was needed she showed up.  Every time.  She was aware of the different strains of politics among those she used her privilege for, and she stayed out of the political battles.

I thought she was pretty wise back then.  In the next few years I would come across innumerable authors, feminists of Color, who said the same basic things.  Yeah, she was really wise.

Across my life as a feminist I saw men claiming to be our allies stepping into the same entitlements as did white women working with — really for — people of Color.  I have seen white men (and men of Color, too) come into feminist groups and be allies:  most only for a short while, a few for a long time, and a very small few still worthy of the title at this writing.  Male privilege is just too comfortable to let it go.  I suspect it’s similar for white feminists who work to be allies to people of Color — most of us succumb to the comforts of privilege after a while, and maybe we can be hauled out of our cozy recliner-lined den of entitlement, and maybe we can’t.  But if we’re honest we know it’s always there and accessible to us, with a big sign on the door that says Whites Only.

My friend, the one in Part One who had loosely formed an anti-racism group, thought that there were many men who got the man/woman question, as she put it, quite well.  I’ve spent a great deal of my activist life in groups where women led because the issues were women’s.  I’ve watched men as they wrangled with feminism, with just how empowered women can be and still keep men comfortable — with just how much of a challenge to sex roles and hierarchical “gender” traditions men will actually allow!  That’s not feminism.  That’s not at all ‘getting’ the man/woman question.  It’s expanding the territory women may roam while making sure men still own the perimeter fence.  And the electricity that arms it.  And the right to keep women within it.  Most men fail feminism.  (And still try to claim it; see The Illustrative Value of ‘Pro-Feminist’ here.)

I suspect most whites fail anti-racism.  At least on the first 30 serious tries.  How many of us will persevere to get it and be useful to people of Color?  And how much of the giving up will be because we never found anywhere we fit well enough to try more?  I understand both sides here.  The neophyte comes in with unchecked attitude, unconscious familial biases and a vocabulary to match, and the desire to do good.  Three things.  The marginalized see the first two, and react to those; survival, and certainly self-respect, have depended on seeing these things.  The privileged see the last of the three and react to that.

We had a vocabulary, once, to work through all this.  It’s going away:  I defend ‘privilege’ even as other feminists roll their eyes and whisper asides to one another.  We need this word!  And we need to expand it back to where it once was, including its unearned benefits, the things we cannot help (while skin, being of the male sex, born into money), plus those behaviors that show we expect to earn better treatment:  our entitled words and actions.

We need the words whose definitions were hashed out in late night meetings between activists who considered the ramifications of every slant, who solidified meanings so that they framed (before framing was a concept) the issue in the necessary way for the richest political meaning.  I came in at the end of this era, but participated in some of it.  By the 80s when the culturally-comfortable ones wanted to hold onto that comfort, reversals came into play:  “reverse sexism,” “reverse racism.”  A lot of us — understanding these are themes on a hierarchy and therefore can’t be reversed with any logic to them — opted for re-phrasings:  male supremacy, white supremacy.

What is beyond belief to me is that we now have to fight for the word “woman.”  If I say woman = adult + human + female I am more likely to be told I am a “hater” than to find agreement.  And we now have to fight to show that women-as-women actually matter.  We once objected to the phrasing “battered woman” because it passively obfuscated the perpetrator, invariably a man, and focused blame onto the woman who was the victim.  Now the mainstream phrase is “domestic violence” and women have become simply “people.”  We have lost so much ground.

I recently discovered that in my state, ‘gender’ has erased protections formerly based on who you love, on being Lesbian or gay.  Somehow the duo of “sex/gender” is supposed to cover what’s commonly called sexual orientation (het/bi/Lesbian — but we all know it only comes up if it’s judged deviantly not-het!).  Lesbian is now somehow subsumed under sex/gender.  So, really, which is it, a sex? a gender?  Good grief!  This is a literal erasure of Lesbians!

Another thing I learned from feminists is that good allies, solid allies, matter.  It’s tough to fight the battle alone, even for a short time.  Sisters (and sometimes brothers) in the struggle make it bearable, even when you’re being pushed back.  Having others to laugh with and share activist irony with is indispensable.  Laughter is vital.  Finding others who share bonds with you, and who share feelings of responsibility to the group and to each other and to honor, itself, is important.

In this era, the unfortunate label Social Justice Warrior (or SJW) sums it up too well:  this is someone who doesn’t necessarily believe what is being defended, has absolutely no depth of argument — although the depth of the indignance makes up for it — but rather is signalling his or her virtue to like-minds.  Or hive-minds.  Critical thought, and the ability to listen to opposing viewpoints, once the hallmarks of a liberal-arts education and of a thriving community, are entirely lost at the university level now.  I have even seen activists my (advanced) age advocate for the firing of people who hold opposing views.  Job termination for dissent!  IF the belief means they cannot do their job appropriately (say a Buddhist as a Baptist minister) or IF they hold that people lower than they are on the hierarchy are acceptable targets for mayhem and murder, that’s different.  Please realize that plenty of people in the US Midwest believe that those who practice Wicca should be fired, or worse (and Jews are questionable, too) — this is not a good bandwagon to be chasing.

Unfortunately this era is one of deepening hate, permission to hate and even hurt those who can be Otherized, especially those down the hierarchy.  Especially those who are visible to white oppressors like Black people so often are.  (And, actually, women:  the man behind the Montreal Massacre of 1989 was angry at feminists, and shot women, almost exclusively.)  Unlike massacres, though, the mayhem and murder of Black people often goes unreported unless Black people provide video and force the issue.  No wonder the police don’t want their actions videotaped, and in many places, including my state, it’s been made illegal to film cops.  Which brings up another activist point.

What are we willing to risk?  The one time in my life I ever thought about a life that could do more than my own, I realized that there are people — and issues — for which I’d step in front, risk my life to save theirs.  The one in question is a friend, a young Black man I got to meet in person at a conference on the East coast.  We’d been part of an activist assemblage on the Internet for several years.  I mentioned this to him in passing, because it surprised me, too:  his future was so incredibly important that I would have stepped in front of him to protect him from an assassin’s bullet to the best of my ability.

While it might be extreme, here, I have a history of stepping in to aid or shield, of quietly hurting bullies in childhood, of stepping into the middle of fists when smaller and female people were getting pounded in adulthood.  I don’t necessarily think in these situations, I just do.  I don’t want someone to die because I stood by, helpless and ineffectual and afraid.  I don’t think I could live with myself.  With one young-teen child in the car and someone else driving, I moved to the seat beside her, becoming a human shield to protect her as we were forced to pass a burning vehicle on a busy freeway.  I didn’t think of it, I just moved.  But I do this with my permission, too.  I evaluate later, and I can accept my actions.

What might we risk?  At one extreme there is the bullet, or the explosion from a car fire.  At the other is uncertainty, not knowing quite How To Get It Right.  In between are lesser penalties — going to court for filming police brutality enacted on Black bodies, plus personal failure and looking absurd.  I think we can map out the process, prove good intentions over time, and ask for understanding as we work — hard! — to try to understand that which we really can’t but still should try to get.  I suspect that part of ‘good intentions’ is talking about risk, and the courage to take it.  I can draw a good portion of the map for male supremacy.  I can’t for white supremacy.  All I can do is work to unlearn the entitlement and unpack the ancestral baggage I bring in with me.  And prove beyond any doubt that I do care.

But, honestly, what I need to communicate is a vocabulary that speaks truths and listens before judgment.  Can we find this, share this, and even if it means more hammering, can WE be the activists who create the framing this time through?  Please understand it will only work if me and mine aren’t made invisible.  Or maybe worse, irrelevant.

(All links here accessed October 2, 2017.)

 

The Decline of Oppression Theory for Discussing Racism, Part One

I asked a sister activist about the local anti-racism group she had loosely brought together, since I hadn’t heard from her in a couple of weeks.  Given my immersion in radical feminism, I was surprised when in the course of conversation my friend said ‘the man/woman question’ is well-covered; it’s racism that we aren’t allowed to talk about.  But progress is simply not linear, and feminism or women’s liberation, names for ‘the man/woman question,’ has faced repeated resistance, repression.  And of course we can’t talk about racism — there I agree!  And yet ….

In every surge of movement toward female liberation there has been strong backlash.  With the recent death of Playboy empire founder Hugh Hefner, feminists brought out his direct attack on feminism, which was making gains against unfettered male entitlement to women’s bodies, by turning burgeoning female bodily freedom into subordination.  And he succeeded — he made submission to male sexual standards the norm.  He wrote, “These chicks [feminists] are our natural enemy. It is time to do battle with them,” in a leaked memo.  Further, as Gail Dines has explained in detail, he brought pornography out into the mainstream and made it seem acceptable, normal, and necessary for masculinity, for men.  Following the announcement of his death, she wrote: “He was the first major pimp who brought porn out of the backstreets onto main street. We will never be able to measure the damage he did by turning porn into a corporate commodity that legitimized and normalized the buying and selling of women’s bodies. He hated women, referred to them as dogs, and made porn ‘respectable’ by surrounding porn images with interviews and articles by well known literary figures.”

Currently feminists are faced with the invisibilizing of women.  A book released this summer, called Female Erasure, further details this era’s backlash.  From the introduction on the book’s website:  “Through researched articles, essays, first-hand experience, story telling, and verse, these voices ignite the national conversation about the politics of gender identity as a backlash to feminist goals of liberation from gender stereotypes, oppression and sexual violence.”

I recently asked friends on social media to consider an article on “domestic violence,” overwhelmingly male on female violence (85 percent female victims to 15 percent male).  In it, the first and most detailed case was of a man abused by a woman.  Of course it happens, and of course it’s wrong.  What concerned me was taking a woman-endangering epidemic and making it about men, first, and people, more generally.  My friends on social media understood quickly.  When I complained to a local friend, she immediately mentioned, and talked at length about, a man she knew who was abused by his wife, another nod to focusing on the exception, female violence against men.  We are simply not allowed to name male violence as male violence, as violence perpetrated by men against women (and children and men, too) — but BY men:  MALE VIOLENCE.  What is it about those two words together that is so threatening, including to self-described feminists?

We live under a hierarchy of many sets of rungs, and one of the most dangerous is that of sex, male above female.  Men kill women; cases of women killing men are rare, and generally mitigated by dire circumstances.  Surely it comes, at least partially, from the territory:  men are praised for being aggressive, taking charge, pushing others to do what they want (the football adage:  “there’s no greater feeling than to be able to move a man from Point A to Point B against his will”), and for being inherently “better” than women — stronger, smarter in matters that count, braver, bolder, natural-born leaders — all of the stereotypes showing that ‘masculinity,’ the male gender role, is hierarchically “above” all the traits foisted onto females as ‘femininity.’  We may argue details, but we live in a patriarchal culture, and even the arguers give themselves away eventually.  What isn’t said in the debates, amid the ire and the hilarity, is that men kill generally, and women generally do not.  (See also, The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football, accessed October 1, 2017.)

And yet women’s sympathy for men, the oppressor caste, pushes women, the oppressed caste, to pander to men, even to the point of putting them first.  No, I don’t think the man/woman question is at all settled.  In fact it’s more than unsettled.  Definitions have been torqued into meaninglessness, with those that activists hammered out through long discussions on tactics and subtexts replaced by frivolous framings making damning too easy.  Take the concept of identity politics.  Back in the 60s and 70s, feminism — also called the women’s movement or women’s liberation, and Civil Rights, or Black liberation, and the American Indian Movement, were all acknowledged as identity politics.  People who were of a specific group, and who — most importantly — were marginalized by the dominant culture for their membership in such a group which had been identified by the white/ male/ powerful, came together to resist that oppression and fight, unified, for liberation.  Identity meant being identified by the power structure and targeted for oppression.  I believe it was Combahee that coined the phrase identity politics.

Consider what identity politics has become:  an individualistic claim with no basis in fact necessary.  Of course it’s easy to slam the concept — it’s fakery, buffoonery, false.  Lesbians can have penises, some people are identifying out of sex (male/ female) and claiming to be one of a variety of genders — or none at all.  Except that Lesbians are women, adult + human + female, who love women, and gender, the societal role assigned by sex, is itself a hierarchy of masculine over feminine.  It doesn’t matter how creatively “genders” can be made to multiply, the hierarchy — and the artificiality — remains.  To eliminate the problems with gender, again, societal roles, abolish those roles.  Abolish gender.  Let people wear whatever they wish, and do whatever they wish in life, so long as it doesn’t transgress the boundaries of others.  But that is an unfortunate facet of gender as it’s framed these days — the whole purpose is transgression of specifically female boundaries, either to get into female spaces (bepenised people) or opt out of female oppression (vulva-possessing people).  The problem with THIS version of identity politics is that existing people, women, or adult + human + female people, are being shoved out of female spaces.  And we can’t talk about that.  Lately those who try lose jobs and can’t get their research approved.

But it goes beyond mere changes to definitions.  There is huge money behind the whole “trans” movement, and there were laws passed quietly that I suspect most people don’t know exist.  (Transcript.)

And we still can’t talk about racism.  Not really talk.

In the discussion on the anti-racism group, I relayed a situation where I had invited a local, a leader and effective organizer, and a truly solid citizen gentleman of Color to a meeting downtown.  When he walked in, this powerful, effective, solid citizen looked terribly uncomfortable — as though he felt unsafe.  I spoke with him immediately, welcomed him, and he settled in at the margins, but only there.  My friend was moved, and uncomfortable, by the retelling.  (Good; we need to know, and only the uncomfortable change things.)  When I worked for a fairly large company in the Pacific Northwest I invited a coworker to play on their volleyball league in a nearby public park.  But ‘nearby’ to me was north of downtown to her — and no one of her ancestry ventured (safely) north of downtown.  She was gracious to explain it; she didn’t owe me that at all.  Not surprisingly, I’ve never forgotten it.

We still don’t talk about racism.  And we don’t talk about a lot of things that fall into the general category of oppression theory which, when taken together accomplish two valid goals.  They allow us to see commonalities enough to form, at least, coalitions, making we who are oppressed the vast majority.  And they allow us to see ourselves honestly, as oppressed, yes, but also as oppressor — in other situations.

Black men are horribly oppressed, just look at prisons and the number of men shot by police who get away with it — and still have male privilege, can still act as oppressor against ALL women, to at least some extent.  White women are deeply oppressed by men within patriarchy — from the sexual assaults most of us have endured to sex trafficking, and being beaten or killed within relationships of legitimized “love” — and yet also have very real and very brutal power over Black men.  So often these two groups hold onto how they are oppressed, and what we really can’t talk about is how they/ we also function as oppressors.  If we can see ourselves as both it gives us common ground for listening without immediate defense (#NOTALLMEN, #NOTALLWHITEWOMEN).  And it allows for both groups to evade demand for the loyalty of Black women, a situation that hasn’t changed a great deal across history.

Privilege is decent treatment compared to a logical reference group.  There are too many ways to be privileged, and to have been soothingly sold into believing the rightness of the decent treatment, for any of us to have no culturally-endowed and somewhat internalized urge to oppress another group.  Yes, that’s a long sentence; read it again if it isn’t clear.  In short, we’re all in both camps:  oppressed, yes, for being seen as having membership in marginalized groups, and also oppressor.  Privileged for some things, group membership characteristics, marginalized for others.  All conformity to the elite’s standards equals privileging.  Any self-comfort within that conformity leads to normalizing that privileging and to the inability to see its effect on those down the hierarchy.

When I spoke of privilege, my friend challenged me on making it about personal issues, where I’d previously said that privilege is based on group membership — as determined by the dominants.  For decades feminism has held that the personal is political.  Until very recently no one has ever claimed that the personal is the whole of politics.  Keeping the focus on identity as ‘out-group membership bestowed by the power structure’ should help, here.

Another landmine is in wanting to see everyone as ‘just people,’ making differences more palatable to the privileged.  Where we have privilege we really need to sort it out ourselves, with checks back to the marginalized to be sure we’re not derailing our own education.  Difference is usually sacred, valued by the marginalized group.  I speak at a local conference every year, and while the room is generally packed, only one or two people who know me come to hear what I have to say.  Only one friend, advanced-degreed and a deeply political thinker, has come to hear and support me; she’s never missed a talk.  Never has a conference organizer sat in on my presentation.  Not once in four years.  Every year I speak about how differences are valued by the marginalized.  Not only am I working class, I’m actively challenging the comforts of privilege within the existing hierarchy.

We want change.  We just don’t want to have to talk about it.  And we’d rather not have to do the work, to be challenged, to take risks and actually sometimes fail — and look stupid, and be humiliated, and all of that.  I agree it’s not fun!  But it’s so very necessary to the creation of change.  It still has to be done.  We have to be willing to do the work.

Part of doing the work is to be willing to go beyond talk of unearned privilege, things we can’t change, and dig into our own privileged behavior.  We discussed perfection, and we agreed that perfect is the enemy of progress.  Sometimes it feels like there is a really tight line we must walk as activists, and if we misspeak we will be hammered for it.  I understand this; I also understand that we privileged are often used to being right, and to having extensive freedoms — to use and even to appropriate.  So when we say a word, or worse, claim a word, that we shouldn’t, the response can feel intense beyond reason.  I would ask that we look at it from our experience of the other side, of having someone simply ooze privilege out into the conversation where we look to our own, wondering who the hell has to clean that up.  And someone does, and because that stinks so badly and has such dangerous implications if left untreated, the response is also a warning:  DON’T go there again!

My love, in an anti-racism discussion, used “Voodoo” as a negative, and was immediately called on it by the leader of the group.  Gently and with some adamance.  Having lived with political-me for decades, he was accepting of the correction, and took the education as valuable.  (Notice I’m telling on someone else’s privilege misstep, not my own?  We always have to be able to take what we give; I’m working on it!)  I was impressed with the scenario as it played out.  Yes, there were small gasps in the audience, and spines suddenly straightened, preparation for the battle between the tall, elegant Black man and the big, working-class white man that would ensue.  And didn’t.  Modeling of how to call and respond given, I think, beautifully.  Bravely, on the part of the leader of the group — the room held many white people, including working-class men who are presumed to be the enemy of anti-racism, and here were seriously untested.  And honorably on the part of the white folks who stiffened for the likely battle before them — but neither escalated the situation nor stepped in to align sides.

Can we reside here for a while — can we really talk about white supremacy?  Can we talk without demanding either perfection or tolerance of the inexcusable?

This is already too long.  In the next post I will cover what I understand to be the basics of oppression theory, things I learned through reading hundreds of books, primarily by Lesbians of Color, during the harassment days I endured in the mid-80s.  Your ideas on oppression theory basics are welcome!

(All above links accessed September 30, 2017, unless otherwise noted.)

City Meeting

Yes, Lesley, I remember you.

The meeting is beginning, the room is almost full, and someone slides in front of me and sits between my acquaintance, a retired professor from the college, and me.  I smell a touch of perfume, enough to make me lean away.  I see the large, bright fuchsia purse slide past my face, and the clutch of notebooks and a phone.  I see butt-length waved black hair that looks like a wig, brown skin, and when the clever sweater of the dress ensemble is shed, the biceps of testosterone fueling.

I’d been warned that my longtime acquaintance, Lesley, seen last at the Black Lives Matter march in mid-summer, was now appearing everywhere in drag –- heavy makeup, wigs, heels, and always –- that marker delineating the women from the boys, clear proof of XX status –- skirts.  I’m joking.  No, really I’m trying to cover rage.  Because the other thing I’d heard was there’s a beloved “transgender” considering getting into politics.  I never made the connection to the young, obviously gay man who was so great a volunteer, and so good with those who depended on him.

Why rage?  Because the two left-wing political men in that room, the professor who’d run for local government and the one currently running for a top city position, greeted Lesley with bright smiles I’d never seen them give to a woman candidate.  And they wouldn’t; this is different:  this is a comrade who gets them major brownie points, a “transgender”!  And a “transgender” who looks like a pretty, young Black woman.  Sort of.  Double bonus points!  And eye candy, to boot.  How can I explain this without being completely crude?  They were both, these white men, fairly giddy.

And they will never understand my side of it.  They are, after all, supporting a WOMAN!  But they’re not.  They’re supporting an appropriator, and an attention-seeker, too.  Female, woman, girl, she, her, these are my words.  These are the only words I have to name my sex, and my sex is the basis for my oppression, so they are the very language of my naming and explaining my oppression, OUR oppression, girls’ and women’s oppression.  Steal those words, and our oppression is obliterated, completely.  Hand our oppression to someone who has NOT lived as a girl, has NOT been molested and raped as a girl and as a young woman, who has not been chased down a dark country road by drunken teenage boys knowing their bodies are stronger and running away is the only defense … and it erases the hells we have endured.

This “woman,” with his fake hair tossed and fluffed and then grabbed to maintain its attachment, repeatedly, and with his knuckles cracked every several minutes throughout the meeting, and his cutesy little sweater off then on then off, always with a polite “Excuse me,” and his fussing in his purse for phone and notebooks and pen, purse up, purse down, is not a woman.  But he is definitely satisfied with remaining the center of attention.  In quieter moments he clears his throat –- a somber low tone not at all like his pitched speaking voice.

And I could abide the attention-seeking behavior, the noises, the movement , if this were someone not appropriating my sex, my oppression, and not staking the terrain of my eventual divide with the shallow-thinking political men who pride themselves in pushing this new-found oppression, women be damned, with his heels and mascara.  These are the markers of femininity, not womanhood.  I AM a woman, clearly so, as I sit there as my real self, short hair, button down shirt and jeans, flat shoes, and as always, makeup free.  These are the markers of this authentic woman.  But they don’t flatter liberal men, and they don’t titillate –- there is nothing in here that suggests sexual availability or feeds male fantasy, and yet ….

No, I mean this seriously!  What does a short skirt say?  Possibly access?  What effect do high heels have on how someone walks?  They cause a sway of the hips –- that is their actual purpose!  To be noticed, to distract, to re-focus the male mind.  Signalling sexual accessibility –- skin exposure, vulnerability and lack of any real ability to resist — and seeking male attention and approval is femininity.

For a decade I adored this young man, talked him up to others, reveled in his awards and accomplishments.  For a decade I never guessed we’d be on the opposite side of the “transgender” issue –- never guessed he’d seek to mutilate his perfectly functional gay-boy and gay-man body, and never guessed the liberal men I knew would applaud his conversion to privileged normality:  female-seeks-male instead of remaining gay.  (Or is ‘privileged normality’ redundant?)

So as I’m readying to leave he turns to me and says something about, “I wasn’t sure you remembered me.”  With the closest thing to a poker face that I can find, I tell him calmly that yes, I remember him.  And I leave.

And I’m away from the building, alone, before I begin to swear aloud:  JFC, I saw you no more than seven months ago!  And while at the podium to address the city government you gave your name.  Of course I remember you.  I simply want to find the way to say, I liked you better before you appropriated my sex, my oppression, and pondered butchering your healthy body.  I suspect your attention-seeking behaviors are clues you’re not really that happy, or perhaps you’re just a narcissist.  Either way you’ve drawn a line, drawn me on the other side, in support of the war against women that is “gender.”  I can’t wish you anything more than a return to sanity; you’ll always know that I believe your life matters.  White privilege means you don’t have to worry about mine, but that male privilege is something else, and it doesn’t go away when you don a skirt, mascara and heels. ….

Well, hell: the 2016 Election, Part 2

People still discussing the 2016 US election cycle five days later are deeply divided.  It isn’t simply division by sex, because so many (white, heterosexual) women voted for Trump. And it isn’t simply division by a belief that women matter, because I am still arguing with male colleagues on the left, whom I truly believe care about women and women’s issues (just how much is the debate point, because the male left and the male right sound too much alike).  The divide might best be framed as one between those who are female and who believe that all women’s lives matter, and those who can’t claim both.

That debate point:  how ready are men in the US to see women as equals in status and worth?  The logical conclusion from this election, for so very many women, is that men hate us even more than we suspected, and if we are multiply-oppressed (via race, class, being Lesbian, etc.) we are likely even more damned and despised.  I used to think “women’s equality” was a low bar, and now I’m looking at it from the underside.

I saw equality as a low bar of achievement because I’d understood it to mean “equality with men” or being “as good as men, LIKE men.”  Given the rapes and molestations and other sexualized and non-sexualized violence, and the love of hierarchy enacted the world over by men, equality didn’t appear much of a goal.  It seemed even a step or two downward.

But this “equality” is maybe better framed as men seeing women as equals, since men hold the power under patriarchy. And they simply do not. This “equality” is a plea: the low bar I once derided is not even within our reach; we must beg for access.  This is not what we felt a week ago, some relative autonomy giving way to shock over the horrifying possibilities of our futures.  Instead, our country voted for the candidate who bragged about being a sexual predator, and somehow both women and men found him an acceptable candidate.

Seriously, we are positioned under patriarchy to have to beg men for levelness.  Whereas we were set to at least have a woman as president, whatever her flaws, and to use populist pressure to shift her to the left, we found ourselves enduring brutal abuses of her, of other women, of girls, and of men of Color and of marginalized ethnicities and religions.  And it increased throughout the campaign.  Still, we thought, this country is not going to accept the misogyny and racism and hate outright — we’ve come too far, and have too much in place already, right?

One word:  pornography.  Pornography set the stage for women being seen as incompatible with leadership. Over the last decades our culture’s view of women has become one of utility (fuckable/ not fuckable) to men, rather than as individual beings in their own right or a collective and marginalized sex-caste.  We feel this occasionally (or often) as we pass groups of men or overhear their banter, but many of us have been able to keep it on the periphery of our lives.  Unless we’ve recently been raped or sexually harassed, of course.  And now pornography has brought us a “First Lady” that a number of American men have seen naked, enjoyed seeing naked.  We know because they have begun to brag about it on social media.  Her oiled-body nude photos have made the rounds recently on Facebook, and men who are generally respectful of women have stepped aside in their support and cracked brotherly jokes about those photos.  We have a new standard for American women, and it is one of objectification and subjugation — in short, hell.

And so we have women who understood that Hillary at least meant holding off the descent into hell, and who are now terrified for their lives.  Because eating and shelter are not optional, because marginalization has gone from dangerous to deadly.  And we have women who are traumatized by her opponent’s flagrant abuses played over and over in the media, and legitimized by the vote — women who have sobbed for days and who show all the classic PTSD signs, and if functional, only barely.  We haven’t even admitted to ourselves the likely increase in the rape rate, in intimate violence against women and girls — except the rare cases where it has hit the news and social media.

stalker

Have we admitted to ourselves the likely increase in violence against women and girls as an outcome of the 2016 election?

Maybe the saddest thing of all is watching women on the left claim there was never any real difference between the candidates, or that it’s acceptable to hold Hillary to an absolutely impossible standard when no man has ever — EVER! — been held to the same.   And yes, I would say that women who are still Hillary-bashing do not fit my side of the divide, where women’s lives truly matter.  They refuse to see the damage that is possible.  Worse, they appear to refuse to care.

Some of this is the baggage of racism, of classism, but some of it, I think, is borne of privilege, of the need to feel better-than in the face of despair.  I want to help nurture discussion and deeper communication between women, especially, and leftists, overall.  But we will have to face the issues honestly as we work to lessen the damage to the most-marginalized.  Here I do mean poverty-class women, Lesbians, race- and ethnicity-marginalized women, and disabled women first.

We can set the agenda on the issues later.  Right now we need to heal ourselves, become aware of those things we need that we are most likely to lose, and then settle ourselves for the long conversations.  At least that’s what I see.

Well, hell: the 2016 Election, Part 1

I’ve successfully moved from next-day depression to a sort of numbness on Thursday, to anger with resolve starting the Friday after the travesty that is the 2016 election. I’m interested in hearing how other women are doing, especially those of us in the US, but also women in countries that will be impacted by this presidency. Which seems to be most other countries, given US behavior.

I know of many, many women and no small number of men, who cried all day Wednesday, some of whom were still tearful on Thursday. And Friday. We grieve, we work to heal all that is broken. And there is so much broken. From here:

2016wwomen

Trust. Young Black women look at me in daylight much the same way that women look at men on deserted streets at night, and this alone breaks my very soul to pieces. Gray-headed white het-married woman sans college degree, very much working class, the demographic of hate, among women.

The future. Parts of Canada are thirty degrees warmer now in November, setting records 20 degrees (Fahrenheit, thankfully, and not Celsius) above the previous records.

The gains of social justice. From Black and women’s voting rights to rights to bodily sovereignty also called abortion rights to Lesbian and gay marriage to Title-freaking-IX to something nearer to decency for desperate immigrants, rights we’ve fought so damned hard for are up in the air.

How can we grieve all of this at once?

How can we come together to heal our communities? How do we give to those communities, and more specifically to one another, and still nourish and nurture ourselves? If we can’t function then activism is over. So — how do we heal ourselves? What steps do we take? For ourselves, and then for the most-marginalized, and for all who are marginalized, among us?

Motherhood Privilege

I wanted to entitle this piece “Privilege in Oppression Theory: Privilege in Feminism (Or: What You Want to Believe Doesn’t Exist, or is Too Complicated, is Merely Your Denying Your Actual Privilege; No, Really)”.

I’m exceedingly frustrated — as you can probably tell from the snarky, wanted-to title. But for good reason. Male privilege? Sure, feminists get that, even as they also (mostly) get that Black men are incarcerated at an absolutely unjust rate. Men have privilege merely for being male, but it isn’t always luxurious. White privilege? No problem, here, either. Whites have relative ease, and … if nothing else, think about the rate of Black incarceration. Privileging of motherhood? No way! It’s all about MY mother, or MY life — or MY wife — and how horrible the culture is to her.

No one white whines, “My dad died from job-related cancer at his factory job, SO THERE IS NO WHITE PRIVILEGE! And there’s no whining because we’ve mostly stopped saying aloud that Those Jobs, the dangerous working-class ones, should go to Black and brown men. In part, this is because those jobs, often the remaining union ones, pay a near-living wage. Now women and men alike are clamoring for them, in a culture that has produced only service-sector (burger-flipping) jobs, or otherwise-menial jobs requiring multiple degrees.

No feminist, or pro-feminist male, whines, “My brother couldn’t get a job because they kept hiring females instead!” Partly this is because when a job classification has a preponderance of females, it loses status. And for men in western culture, it’s all about status, masculinity, about being seen as ‘not like women.’

In these two areas, most people understand that privilege doesn’t mean A Life of Luxury. Privilege simply means better treatment compared with a reference group. Men are treated better than women; maleness is higher on the hierarchy than is femaleness. Whites are treated better than are people of Color; whiteness is at the top of the racial hierarchy. Privilege simply means better treatment than that other, related group — related via race, sex, etc. This holds, consistently, uniformly, and really, really well until … motherhood. And I really, really want to know why.

I suspect that part of it is that women are still seen as being ‘designed for motherhood.’ Species continuation, as if too few humans were an immediate issue. Still, no matter our politics, motherhood often just feels natural. And right. And personally important — because without motherhood WE, personally, would not be here. Our very lives have depended on motherhood. To question any of it means to question the rightness of our own, very personal, existence! I suspect another part of it is that we are, when we think of humans as a group, still quite lesbophobic. Sure, Some of Our Best Friends Are, but we still don’t think of Them as equal. Or superior! As having excellent, inherent answers to pressing cultural concerns. Like too many people, like female support for patriarchy, like maintenance of the exiting hierarchy of female subordination and all it entails — including the maintenance of femininity. Heterosexuality is complicity. Seeing that is painful, too big a reach for most hets, and too hard to grasp without turning self and beliefs inside out and upside down. Nope, no real questioning of that is going to happen for the vast majority of far-leftists, even radical feminist activists.

Well, tough shit. Some of us are brave in this area, and would like to see others catch up. I remember the feminism of the 70s, where EVERYTHING was questioned. Women were far braver then than the backlash faux-feminists of this era ever dreamed of being. Which is also tough to deal with, for some. Too many women believe the New! Improved! claims of advertising somehow apply to feminism. Coziness, comfort, navel-gazing, a belief that If It Feels Good It Can’t Be Questioned, came into politics in the 80s and settled deeply in the 90s. Single issue ‘activism’ became normalized. Women could unite, never mind worrying about the messiness of race. Fat people could come together, never mind the messiness of hierarchies of sex, sexuality and actual love, race, class, and the rest. ‘Park your differences at the door’ bled from feminism into fat activism and elsewhere, and those of us who were never single issue activists were stunned. (All three of us.) Clearly I’m still pissed. And not likely to get over it. (OK, there are more than three, but not enough more, who get it.)

Part of it, which needs saying, is that it’s cultural, sub-cultural, even racial: for minority groups, and for people of Color, women not reproducing can feel like genocide. So outgroup women and women of Color have a sacred obligation to continue their people, their race(s). Conservatives distraught at the impending white minority classification, and the rise of outgroups, certainly reinforce it, and the world sure doesn’t need more first world, entitled whites. But women as obligatory Breeders of the People is a problem, a feminist problem, a huge problem for proponents of social justice. No one can be used against their own interests for the betterment of the group without damaging the group. In fact, no one who is legitimately marginalized can be claimed as a part of a group without their permission. (Lizard Man and T-Culters don’t qualify as ‘legitimate’ within radical feminism.)

Another issue is that lesbians capitulated to the cult of motherhood in the 80s. I was one of them, a fact that deeply shames me now. But it’s done and what I can do now, all I can do, is support more-marginalized women and call out the truth as best I see it. And that truth, here, is that motherhood is decidedly and clearly privileged.

Elite-caste characteristics are privileged: maleness and whiteness are two good examples of immutable characteristics, decidedly privileged. Another is white patriarchy’s consensus on physical attractiveness, the characteristics of which are rarely amenable to any lasting change. Think weight and body shape and size, coloration, physical features, and especially the smallness, weakness, and general paleness associated with ‘feminine beauty.’

Any conformity to the power-maintenance needs and the power-reinforcing wants of the elite is also privileged. These conformities CAN be changed. They are acceptances of the status quo, demanded by white supremacist patriarchy. Institutionalized inequity in the additional forms of heterosexuality over lesbianism and gay maleness, classism (economic AND subcultural/ worldview-based), and motherhood, fit into this category.

So can we start talking about it, with the understanding that privilege means better treatment compared with a reference group? And that your mother’s awful life, or your own, aren’t the point? And that if you cannot imagine how your mother’s life would have been different had she been lesbian AND resisted the baby-making mandate, or how your own or your wife’s life would have been different, you are denying privilege. No, really.

Link

None of my arguments seemed to be registering, and what I was receiving in response sounded like part of some other conversation, not the one I was trying to have. In exasperation I said it felt like I was discussing nutrition and others were talking about dinner, recipes, some specific meal, rather than looking at the what and why of eating.

I had said that suicide is selfish. What I was hearing in response was personalized. Focus on individuals’ pain and how wrong I was to judge others, along with certainty that I must never have felt serious depression myself. And platitudes — that we can never know anyone else’s pain. And that mental disorders are shrouded in a mystique that leaves them beyond discussion.

What I see is culture, father culture (to correct Daniel Quinn’s error). The culture of the fathers is brutally hierarchical, competitive, devaluing and unforgiving, and judgmental in a way that I am not. But I don’t blame others for missing the difference — there is no other way to judge, according to culture! Steeping in the culture, commonly called childhood, leaves us all full of soul holes, traumas endured, physical and psychological violations experienced, and no way to frame it all except on the given hierarchy. Soul holes are filled by taking shots down the hierarchy; that’s all we are allowed.

We face traumas individually, yes, but one of the most healing things is to realize at a gut level that you are one among many others who faced the same kind of thing — it isn’t you, it’s them. And they were wrong.

I can remember the 70s (and before) and feminists’ budding awareness that a huge number of women were on anti-depressants. We began to understand that depression came from oppression, significantly if not entirely. We also learned to consider that depression just might be anger turned inward: when women could not lash back at their tormentors, or find other effective outlets, their rage would be expressed in self-hate and self-harm.

And then came the 80s, and feminist insights were usurped for more profitable endeavors. One example of this is the psychologization of disordered eating. Whereas women were beginning to recognize culture’s cruelty in forcing women to be a specific size (thin) and shape (buxom, long-legged), along came the psych industry to profit from women’s pain. That huge numbers of women entered the medicalized and psychologized disordered eating professions made little difference; the framing was patriarchal. Culturally women’s coerced appearance obsession was backed by the porn industry, something liberal feminism refused to challenge.

There is a too thin and a too fat within disordered eating standards. All women are expected to be able to conform to a thin ideal. This is one area where diversity is expressly forbidden. Any woman who does not conform is seen as having a defect in her eating — by definition. And the industry controls the definitions involving weight, while the populace believes them. Women do not strive to be whole and happy within their natural bodies, no; women strive to appear correct. (There is nothing healthy in being controlled by an external aesthetic standard whether its medicalized aesthetics or pornography’s.)

In fact it is the attempt to adhere to unnatural standards that creates the disorders to begin with! For all, anorexics and bulimics alike, the disorder starts with self-semi-starvation. Anorexics continue it; bulimics hold to a cycle that is inevitably starve-binge-purge — the starving comes first, and purge is merely another form of it, a form of underfeeding.

So what does make people healthy, including psychologically healthy?

We are taught to look toward acquisition, power and prestige, and control over our and others’ lives, to find our fulfillment as human beings. Things and admiration are the stated goals. Yet these do not work for us.

In essence, meeting others’ legitimate needs is what gives our lives fulfillment. It is the human connection that is fostered by the gift economy, by meeting needs, that fills soul holes. (See Genevieve Vaughan’s book gifted on-line called For-Giving, linked below; see also the link to the talk by Charles Eisenstein, below.) But without a hierarchal culture, our capitalist patriarchy, there would be no soul holes. We have plenty.

My children’s generation, those who attended Gymboree and who were told incessantly that they were special, often have an overt entitlement. Whatever they do is supposed to be enough to rate praise and positive attention. They may be worse than other ages, but tell anyone, warmly, that they are among the common people, or that they are average, and watch the response! To some extent we are all programmed to see ourselves as exceptional. Older generations have the cult of the rugged individualist to live up to. But of course not everyone can be exceptional, above average, positively uncommon. And within this programming there is much manipulation (see the documentary film, The Century of the Self, linked below).

http://www.gift-economy.com/womenand/women_gift_part_one.pdf

http://charleseisenstein.net/sacred-economics-money-the-gift-and-society-in-the-age-of-transition/

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-century-of-the-self/

We really aren’t isolated selves, or rugged individuals, or even beings who are happiest when in conflict and competition with our peers. We are happiest in connected interaction with others. We are not islands, and no one is likely to be the only one ever to have gone through something — there was always someone else before who endured it — and usually thousands of such someones! If we aren’t exceptional, if we are part of a caste of humans who have been made to endure atrocities or at least significant pain, then we can pull together to resist. This should be good news!

Even as a child of the 70s, I’m aware that oppression isn’t necessarily the sole or inevitable cause of serious depression. I think it’s significant, but people are complex, and one size rarely fits most all. There are physiological origins, too. And selfish isn’t always wrong, to use a term of judgment. Sometimes being ‘self’-ish is necessary, especially in a capitalist patriarchy. Women often have no one else who will put them first. And sometimes being selfish is simply the last option. All I’m saying is that as a beginning point, it’s not conducive to filling soul holes or to making people want to continue to exist.

All people have some privilege available to them in their lives, and that privilege could be used — in the only useful way for privilege to be used — to aid those without it. For every horribly pained but privileged white man, there are women and children whose lives are atrociously oppressed, and who could benefit from his sharing what he’s been given, unearned. For every horribly pained but privileged white woman, there are other women, marginalized women, and girlchildren whose lives are infinitely more oppressed.

Now do privileged people have an obligation to use it to benefit those without? In the knee-jerk individualist stance, no, of course not. But is that the best way of looking at it? Same answer.

When we live as isolated beings in competition with one another, we lose. Generally we know this. So then why do we defend it as inevitable? The simple answer is that we have been groomed to see things in terms of rights. Our rights end where another’s begins. In this framing, we are inherently separate and in conflict with one another, practicing survival of the fittest. In reality though, cooperation is more the norm of Nature than is competition. And separation doesn’t make us happier. So what we know is in conflict with what we defend.

Because of this, I think some of the anger at my attempts to de-mythologize suicide (and to some extent psychology) aren’t necessarily aimed at me but are frustration from inherent contradictions.

When we live as beings within a connected, sane, and life-serving community, then we win. Those of us who have looked at studies on tribal people pre-civilization or separate from civilization have seen this valid form of ‘winning.’ More suspect it. In a community where lives are valued, intertwined and fulfilled, wouldn’t you expect to see some responsibility to others beyond individual rights?

Two incredible sources that have pulled me into this kind of reframing beyond Gen Vaughan’s words of community and connection are Barbara Alice Mann’s talk on WINGS, and David Abram’s books, The Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal. They’re worth some perusal, I think.

http://wings.org/ftp/WINGS%20shows%202009%20series/hi-bitrate%20wings34-09Mann2009-28_41-192kbps.mp3

http://www.humansandnature.org/david-abram-people-72.php

I have been called judgmental for my views. I would answer this criticism by saying thank you. Our human world seems to currently lack critical thinking, and judgment is a part of that. I would rather think critically than perpetuate the bland non-judgmentalness that has so many thinking they’re each one exceptional and better than the rest.

I have been called a traitor to the ideals of community. Again, we get nowhere with all-accepting kindness — it simply reinforces the status quo, maintaining the hierarchy and its brutalities.

And I have been called unkind, even heartless. I do care — about individuals and their very personal stories, about a culture that leaves gaping soul holes. AND I am adamant about not excusing the privileged as they minimize their very real abilities to alleviate at least some of the oppression of others. There is responsibility to be found in being given something you didn’t earn, and truly don’t deserve over and above those without who have done nothing but be chosen for oppression. There is a duty.

Robin Williams was a white man with an excess of privilege and of power; he had resources beyond most people’s imaginings. I have been said to be equating money with happiness, which is absurd. I am talking about privilege, which often includes wealth; clearly privilege does not buy happiness, either. But sharing it actually might — it is through meeting the legitimate needs of others that humans find real fulfillment. It is through community and the connections created within it that humans thrive.

Suicide is selfish. To squander luxuries, and the chance to equalize them into the provision of basic necessities, is entitled. To wallow internally in pains known when the breadth and depth of others’ pains, external, are not known, is entitled. To not try, when trying could mean so very much, is entitled. To be embedded in the role of Victim, to individualize depression as Victim, to never even begin to examine one’s privilege as well or to take responsibility for it — to be the perpetual Victim — is a sign of our times, our culture, our adamant isolation. And a block to trying for change.

But that is all I ask — to try. To not squander what others don’t receive. To hear above one’s own pain to understand those of others. Again, selfish isn’t always wrong. But dishonest selfishness probably is. I would prefer that we be honest about what we do know, including that there is a mystique shielding mental illness so that its inhabitants are above reproach. Recently someone told me about a rapist, but partially excused him because he didn’t take his medication!

Another thing we don’t allow ourselves to readily know in this culture is that sometimes damage is too much to survive whole. Those who deal with childhood sexual assault do know this, and often try to tell it: girls who were sexually abused long and early may never, ever possess a healthy normal sexuality. They may always see themselves as Objects meant to please the masters, and may be proactive (probably grasping at the only sense of control available to them), seemingly seductive, making the first moves in an inevitable ritual.

There are other ways to be damaged beyond healing, and it may be kindness to not resist the end of such suffering. I don’t actually want the ominous responsibility of deciding this. I am willing to take on the burden of calling out the bullshit when privileged people are given passes, for whatever reasons. What I want is discussion beyond the platitudes, the accusations, and the personalizing of what needs to be a genuine discussion on how we view humankind in community and as individuals. I care deeply about individuals who have been hurt in this discussion; if it’s too much then ignore it, but if possible let’s walk through it. I want to change the framing, not you.

I’m not an outsider in this discussion. My childhood was hell; I was emotionally abandoned at 18 moths of age — after molestation, “damaged goods” was the explanation — then poisoned and starved, and left out to die (porch, door locked behind me, trike, concrete steps, broken ribs and a nose that bled for 48 hours as recorded in my baby book). There was more, but that’s enough. I have chop mark scars on my arms from when I practiced with a knife, hoping that bleeding would release some of the agony and angst, or at least teach me to do better, more, next time. I have hours lost on bridges when homeless and young; I took risks that should have been seen as practice as well. I don’t know why I survived, why I found other frames, why I moved onto more solid ground. I do know the words that came to me, unbidden, were: “and suicide is silence, the ultimate family loyalty.”

I don’t face depression to any great degree these days, but when I do I take it as a sign my body (or psyche) is trying to heal. I am aware that there is much out there that I don’t have to endure (and some I do). I have cut all ties to my family of origin. And I have decades of activism past, and ongoing, with moments of sheer joy in the sharing of the work. Those do help sustain me. So does being old — knowing I AM going to die and it won’t be my choice when, most likely, since I am resisting oppression and wanting to eke out all the living I can to do so.

I’ve listed and refuted the accusations against me. If you can’t find new ones, don’t respond. Better yet, if you can find framings that don’t absolve the privileged of responsibility, let’s talk.