MRAs Attacking Radical Feminists (Yet Again)

There have been a number of screenshots captured by self-proclaimed Men’s Rights Advocates (more like Male Reactionary A-holes, or Men-as Rapists Advocates, but anyway …) infiltrating private feminist spaces.  We need to get some serious … stuff … clear from the get-go.

Women ARE OPPRESSED.  Men, in relation to women who are otherwise similar — who are of the same class or caste, or race, or ethnicity, or sexual orientation, or what-the-hell-ever — are NOT oppressed BY WOMEN.  They might be oppressed by other men; so take it up with the men.  Yes, there are subtleties and nuances and the fact that the True Elite can play less-privileged men and any women or woman against one another; it’s a perk of elite power.  Of course.  But we sure seem to be talking white men here, so let’s keep it on the real:  men oppress women; white men oppress women of all races, and may add white supremacy to the oppression mix, and often do.

What women say in venting situations, where they believe they are talking to allies in private, and not to spies who are Men Raping-women Advocates who gleefully go public, is going to be at least somewhat different than what gets advocated by such women in public, for real.  All oppressions breed resentment, and the fact that resentment rages into unkind postulations should not be a surprise to the oppressors, in this case men.  Oppressions also foster feelings of powerlessness, and to some extent, say the extent that Male Reactionary Abusers work to demonstrate for women, to women, that kind of powerlessness, it does appear relatively real.  Tough to fight.  And with women so divided by coerced loyalties to the oppressor caste (men who do often hold very real powers of life, death, working, eating, and any continued comforts), it’s quite the uphill struggle.

Trust me:  privately we who speak up say in hushed tones, or bellows of rage, much worse than anything so far in print.  And if you are offended, then stop oppressing.  More on this later.

One of the topics broached by a feminist in private was initiating sex selection for female offspring by diminishing the capacity for Y-chromosomes to compete. Via tilting the food acid/alkaline balance in favor of X-chromosomed sperm, for example.  Or possibly via the competing Y’s destruction, again with a food or chemical source (remember this was a private fantasy-speculation, not a planning session).  This speculating has been decried as “eugenics.”  Fine; it’s still NOTHING like the forced sterilization — the surgical slicing up of the reproductive organs, the internal violation — of so terribly many Black and Native American women, in the US, and others here and elsewhere, at the hands of demented, white-supremacist, male-supremacist doctors.  And it’s still NOTHING compared to the killing of infant girls the world over, specifically because they are girlchildren, and not the desired males.  Girls killed outright though they are alive, viable and already breathing on their own.

Every man needs to take a stand — to stand with feminists, as a person who opposes every oppression of females, or he needs to out himself as The Enemy, an MRA, a painted target.  *This* needs to stop being about radical feminists and start being about men either standing up for, or proving themselves too dangerous to live alongside, women.  Derrick Jensen writes over and again about men giving their unconditional loyalty to women, of men making “their allegiance to women absolute”*; it’s just not that difficult to do.

I happen to be one of the ones who has faith in men, more faith than many of them do, themselves — that rape is not inherent to maleness, that maleness does not pose an ever-present threat to females.  But I have a long memory, and a deep well of fury when my trust and my faith are broken.

I do not advocate harming existing men — except as punishment for their harming existing females.  But we know that an overabundance of male humans IS a problem:  we know from cultures which have experienced it that it does lead to greater warrishness and violence.

This might be a painful discussion, but the questions arising from it are real.  Given how terribly males, who are in power virtually the world over, and most certainly in power in westernized nations, have harmed the planet and all beings on it, they are valid questions about the future of the planet, and the future of our species provided the planet does survive.  MRAs are abusive, gleeful oppressors, not neutral reporters of this kind of story — they are the abusers, the violators, within this very context.  And if women’s reactions appall men, it is men who have the power to stop those abuses and violations.  We women do not, and for now we may speculate in our private spaces about fantasy solutions to end our oppressions — for now.  The responsibility for the next step belongs to men.  How will men give up their power over women, and, really, how will men reverse the destruction of the very planet on which all beings’ survival resides?  How will men make their allegiance to women absolute, as Derrick asks?  Or will the MRAs be allowed to continue to speak for the elite, the western male’s view of women’s radical feminism?

(*URL used January 22, 2012:  http://deepgreenresistance.org/faq/protection/ )

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Femininity, Butch, and Feminism – 1

Part 1.  Lesbian Feminism in the 70s and 80s

Spokane, WA:  When I was 13, I watched a talk show on television featuring a panel of Lesbians.  The women were varied in appearance; all were articulate and self-confident, reasonable and interesting.  With the experience of decades, I now understand that these shows exist within a scripted framework to either positively or negatively — in the extreme — offer up the panel and its identity to the audience.  Challenges and contradictions hide behind the glow of approval, or become the focus, proof of wrongness, in the case of disapproval.  But this was an excellent representation in many aspects, especially race as I recall, and for 1969 or ’70 it was phenomenal.  And I absorbed it all with the utter fascination of a very young teen who had lived her early years in an economically-impoverished, multicultural neighborhood.  So when my mother came home from shopping, I explained all I had seen and heard to her as we put away the groceries.  My enthusiasm made her uncomfortable, but, I reasoned, she hadn’t seen the show.  What could her experiences with Lesbians have been, anyway?  She must simply be uneducated, I decided.

As she kicked me out of her house, six years later, I learned her understanding of Lesbianism.  She had worked with a couple in an office setting, a very feminine woman and a very masculine woman, and apparently they fought all the time.  Since her first husband had raped her (perfectly legal) and had beaten her (fortunately not legal), and she had remarried twice more, she was capable of avoiding group-blame based on the actions of a few.  That generosity did not extend to Lesbians.  She wrote me a cold good-bye note shortly afterward that included a warning on how I would surely become a middle-aged Lesbian hunting young girls if I stayed on my chosen path.  To her credit, she saw it as a choice; sadly, I could never communicate adequately to convince her how wonderful a choice it was.  Goddess knows — and very much to her horror — I tried!

Pullman, WA:  The Lesbian world was truly wonderful.  Before the fateful eviction, I had just completed my freshman year of college in a town with another college across the state line a few miles distant:  two state schools with their usual complement of Lesbians, all so very close!  There were sports rivalries between the institutions, followed by completely amicable parties, some of which I was allowed to attend.  I continued absorbing the culture, and its histories, and its norms.

In the mid-70s, in the area where I lived, Lesbians had adopted a certain dress and specific symbols for identification.  But it was much more than a style, it was a defiant stand against the prescriptions of heterosexual womanhood.  We were dykes then.  We dressed in that neutral zone, comfortable and easily mobile, tomboyish, athletic — whether we really were or not.  Rings, necklaces, and the occasional earrings were, if anything, symbolic — the labrys, star and crescent (via the Greek Diana), interlocking women’s symbols, and the occasional lambda were icons I was carefully taught to recognize as Lesbian, or Lesbian-inclusive.

Seattle, WA:  Without money, education became an impossible dream; I moved to the largest city in the state.  Carolyn Heilbrun’s Toward a Recognition of Androgyny was published, and the concept of androgyny batted about, and yet there was something uncomfortable in it.  Didn’t disavowing the feminine also serve to marginalize women?  We could be who we were, daring to defy, but expecting this of all females seemed particularly demanding, anti-choice, even misogynistic.  On one hand, what was fair?  And on the other, how would we truly value females without succumbing to reverence for man-made artificiality?  How could we tell the difference?  And, despite our concern for equity, why did it seem that non-Lesbian women weren’t even trying?  Overlaying this daring, tangled, honorable Lesbian uncertainty were the concepts of butch and femme.  These were framed as old-fashioned roles played out by Lesbians who did not understand themselves separately from the heterosexual world; they were unfortunate caricatures of a past that feminism helped us all to transcend.

The large company where I worked held annual dress-up days.  They called it Western Days, and held a company-wide ‘western’ cookout in one of the large parking lots adjacent to the main four-story structure.  Some of us used it as an opportunity to make political statements.  The sharp and funny temporary worker in the personnel department who came costumed as a Southern belle was summarily let go (she was Black).  I showed up to work attired in varied costumes over those many summer events, but the most memorable was the year another company Lesbian and I came as caricatures of heterosexuality, as ‘Butch and (f)Emmy.’  We found a top hat, beard, pocket watch and coat-tailed suit jacket for my friend, and I wore a ragged dress, bonnet, bruises, and baby-doll stuffed apron, and walked with my head down several steps behind her, barefoot, of course.  (It’s eerie how perfectly the greens and browns of conventional eye shadow mimic bruises.)  The executive secretaries, primarily women in their 40s and 50s and all notably heterosexual, roared with laughter as we entered the gathering space.  All others seemed bewildered.  We one-lined to anyone who persisted in questioning us that we were parodying heterosexuals’ roles, not ours.

It was true enough, compared with hets.  But the egalitarianism, the comfortable levelness between women within Lesbianism, while true in some senses, was terribly incomplete.  Not only did Lesbianism not always address its white members’ racism, its more-elite members’ classism and its fat oppression, the claim to a status levelness between simply-dykey women would be challenged, too — but from pressure outside the movement rather than from within.  Our distance from heterosexual norms was a pendulum swing, not a lasting change.

By the early 1980s, a variety of backlashes had quieted the initial deep feminisms of the dyke community I knew and loved.  Teresa Trull had released an album with her heavily made-up face on its cover, the advent of the lipstick lesbian for some of us.  And the already-uneasy alliance with gay men was further strained by their demand that Lesbians accept and defend their subculture’s sadomasochism and pornography.  True to the pattern Sheila Jeffreys explains so well in her books, patriarchy’s sexologists came in and remade the overt Lesbian image to better mesh with the boys’ world.  The community meetings and open discussion groups, from those associated with local colleges right down to open raps at the Lesbian Resource Center, became recruitment zones for the new malequeer agenda.  The femininity question was evaded, as was exploitation, and the guidelines simplified:  if it led to orgasm, it was righteous.  The masculinist hedonism of the 60s, transcended by feminism through the early 80s, returned with a vengeance as the potential of feminism was — and has continued to be — co-opted by the fun-first factions.  Read Sheila Jeffreys (try The Spinster and Her Enemies, 1986, for an excellent starting point, from 1800 to 1930); this is our history over and again.

Femininity, Butch, and Feminism – 2

Part 2.  Finding and Forging Alliances

Bremerton, WA:  So what do you do when your community implodes?  What happens when every effort to return beloved spaces back to sanity fails?  What happens when you find you cannot control any part of your surroundings, and you’re left with the agony of unquelled frustration?  You move.  You turn inward, to save yourself as best you can.  Your salvation becomes your entire identity, and others either validate it … or they undermine your very being.  So it seems.  I became vegetarian in the very early 80s, and would continue to be so, until my health undeniably began to fail a decade later.  Much in my life changed in that decade, though never my commitment to the community of women, or my belief that Lesbianism held the potential for a deeper feminism.  I just hadn’t found that space.  Vegetarianism had messed me up terribly.  I was moodily unstable, paralyzed with panic attacks, and these were exacerbated by a very hostile work environment.  I’ve wondered, when people have chided me for leaving Lesbians behind, would you have wished me on a sister?

The Midwest:  I was still in an uneasy truce between my body’s nutritional needs and my political compassions when I became interested in local foods and joined a farm group on-line.  I had mentioned vegetarianism positively, and another member gently pointed me toward the work of Weston Price.  I read until all hours of the night, and into the next days, alternately fascinated with his findings and appalled at his cruelty toward those he considered misshapen, defective; he was most assuredly condemning of fat people, as well.  I hated hated him; I found his research to be invaluable.

Still searching for a politics that fit, and which would allow for the inclusion of fat activism and an unwavering belief in the potential for Lesbianism to shape femalehood positively, I found the writings of deep ecologist Derrick Jensen, and his sometimes-publicist, Lierre Keith.  Lierre wrote The Vegetarian Myth.  It was in defending Lierre from those applauding the cayenne-laced ‘pie’ attack in March of 2010 that I came to meet, in print, another author named Bev Jo.  And it was through further correspondence with Bev Jo that I came to understand an entirely different conceptualization of ‘Butch.’

Imagine a girlchild, growing up aware enough of herself to never take on the role, the trappings of femininity.  To never succumb to the demand to be remade a girl, or woman, in the unlevel gaze of the surrounding patriarchy.  Into this hierarchy she is born, but never conforms, never capitulates, never succumbs.  She is Butch.  Butch is how we females can be, would be, without the overwriting of patriarchy upon our souls and bodies and minds.  It takes tremendous courage to defy the patriarchal pressure to show sex-role conformity.  Acknowledging this courage does not diminish the fact that other females do succumb for varied reasons, including logical and honorable reasons, including sheer survival.  Acknowledging the special resilience and determination required to maintain one’s identity as Butch does not lessen the value of other females; it only serves to point out that some are incredibly brave, and that bravery has value for all of us — that courage is inspiration for all of us.  She may shine, the courageous Butch, and it doesn’t diminish our braveries in other areas; we can honor hers.

So what do we do?  Societally, we mock her as masculine, as an imitation of men, plural, rather than a vibrant demonstration of woman, singular.  Of woman, untainted.  We ascribe to her all the characteristics considered male, for if she isn’t demonstrably female, she must be male.  Within feminism, we have still never managed to carve out serious space that might be androgyny — that might be heteropatriarchally role-free.  And it is this failure of feminism that concerns me.  We have never made ourselves address what really is ‘femininity.’

I started to read dictionary definitions, and the sociology and psychology literature on “gender identity,” which is where ‘femininity’ resides in the view of the dominant culture.  It was terribly depressing.  Take this, for example, published in the Encyclopedia of Sociology, Revised Edition:

Burke and Tully’s (1977) work found that children with cross-sex identities (boys who thought of themselves in ways similar to the way most girls thought of themselves and vice versa) were more likely than children with gender-appropriate identities: 1) to have engaged in gender-inappropriate behavior, 2) to have been warned about engaging in gender-inappropriate behavior, and 3) to have been called names like “tomboy,” “sissy” or “homo.” Not surprisingly, boys and girls with cross-sex gender identities were more likely to have low self-esteem.  (http://wat2146.ucr.edu/Papers/00b.pdf)

In Cordelia Fine’s  A Mind of Its Own, a book on brains and bias, she offers studies that show that “gender non-conforming” women often have their work sabotaged by their conformist cohorts.  (Page 192; Norton:  2006.)

In the last decade or so, our culture has allowed the sexologists of Jeffreys’ writings (see Unpacking Queer Politics, 2003) to create the definitions by which too many of us live.  Sex, now renamed gender, has become something we play with, take on or leave off, or change daily like the equally-trivial socks or underwear, without regard to the overarching hierarchy on which sex, renamed gender, is established.  Too often within feminism, it is the sacred thing of which we do not speak, still giving credence to the sexology view, since we are in no grand way fighting it.  Porn, violence against women, other misogynies?  Sure we fight back.  But asking ourselves about what femininity means, pondering the widespread acceptance of our culturally-appropriate female role (in appearance:  shaving legs and armpits, wearing make-up, coloring and curling and otherwise coifing our hair, and wearing crippling footwear and fragile fabrics in styles to enhance — or just show — curves and skin; in behaviors:  carefully considering male feelings foremost, deference, passivity, unshakeable friendliness, helping others, easily hurt, weaker) — these questions are disallowed.  Even within feminism.  These are labeled divisive, and we are urged not to go here!

Now I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the self-righteous, with those who are certain they have the entire picture.  And I don’t particularly care where they are on the hierarchy; to claim to have a better picture due to firsthand experience is logical, but to claim to own the whole view is foolish.  Yes, women are encouraged to hem and haw, to make tentative assertions rather than certain, assured statements.  And yet for anything but a person’s own experience, I often find these statements overdone.  What if others have a different but ultimately useful view?  What if others become silenced by this overstatement?  Those more-marginalized, by race or class or other oppressions, are less likely to speak across the assurance of those they perceive as more-elite, as oppressors, true.  But it’s also likely when people aren’t all that far apart on the hierarchy.  What I’m searching for is a gentler feminism that begins from a position of care, whose demands begin from there, from an expectation that we are in this together.

And since so many of us have never fully examined our own beliefs — or have even allowed the sexologists of Jeffreys’ writings to frame our view — the discussion of femininity becomes convoluted — and sensitive and contradictory.  The majority idea seems to be that Butches are aggressive, masculine and dominant, and therefore should be cast in the role duality as privileged.  Bev makes the case quite well that the privilege belongs to those who are more-conforming, and since women’s patriarchally-proper role is to be the feminine offsetting the masculine of sex duality, it is Femmes who fare better, culturally.  While femininity insures the low to his higher, the frivolous to his importance, it is also the rewarded way of being, in relation to his ability to reward.

Femininity, Butch, and Feminism – 3

Part 3.  Feminism, Femininity and Butch

The question of how we each feel most comfortable is readily answered, I’ve found.  But why so?  That question seems to bring about defensiveness, a deep discomfort, and accusations along all of the old, unsatisfactory lines:  we already decided this, we moved past this whole Butch/Femme thing when Lesbianism found feminism, no one has the right to question what another woman chooses to wear (it’s not political, it’s personal), and this is just more policing for non-conformity by those who don’t admit they’re conformists!

Is it decided?  I don’t think we’ve begun to explore it!  Yes, butch and femme, as olden-days roles, are not something we need to return to, but that doesn’t address the tremendous courage to be found in Butch — or the lack of scrutiny for anything less, which seems to be forgotten.  Feminism taught us all that the personal really is political, and while it’s often uncomfortable to root around in the foundational beliefs of our own minds, it’s still not necessarily a bad thing to consider doing — there is no change, no growth, without discomfort.  And so yes, framed one way, the whole discussion becomes a matter of conformity or not — but there are other ways to view it all, I think.

What I’m searching for is a better, further truth, where challenges are essential but done in a way to ensure dialog and discussion.  This ‘femininity’ topic seems an area especially sensitive to identity, and thus deep and sometimes contradictory feelings.  I doubt we need to solve it in a single session, nor could it be done that quickly.  But we can do certain things, on purpose.  We can walk through it slowly enough, if it’s interesting to us, so that we don’t drop others behind us.  We can start out with honoring those who really are more oppressed in all this — honoring Butches, for example.  And we can begin to unwind the complexities of our own complicities, for they are not simple.

I have also noticed a trend lately of sticking to victim politics, rather than being willing to look at how one’s life is a complicated mix of oppressions and privileges, or disprivilege ameliorated by the ability to feel oneself as being normal — by the ability to oppress.  In order to step back from this tendency, maybe we could first consider what femininity means to us, about ourselves.  Possibly we can begin to de-layer it, de-laminate it from our senses of self and of identity, to look at it anew.  And separately.  Only later on do we need to move to how femininity relates to women in general, and to feminism specifically.

I can look at myself with at least two sets of eyes, two oppositional standards.  I can see the woman of my culture, where I have been known to wear the ceremonial trappings of womanhood, especially long dresses and skirts, and slightly less practical shoes in female-only styles.  Sometimes when I see photos of myself, I find I look like a female impersonator, like I am trying to be something I am not.  I don’t know if this has to do with my build and my facial features, my age, the growth patterns and texture of my hair, or if those are irrelevant.  I am thick — fat and muscled, broad-hipped, bulky through the upper arms and thighs.  My facial features are also thick: nose, cheeks, chin, though my lips are narrow and my eyes made small behind thick, concave lenses.  These characteristics do not lend themselves to traditional womanliness — swathed in delicate fabrics, tottering on heels, shining metal and stones adorning my exposed (and wrinkling) skin, I feel vaguely mis-dressed, cross-dressed, almost undressed!

And I can see the way I look most normal, most myself, and definitely the most comfortable.  Clad in khakis, or in other sturdy clothes that drape my bulk with a firmer grasp, I feel balanced, more myself.  I have wide feet; I wear men’s shoes primarily because they tend to be stocked in a width that fits me.  I might wear fisherman’s sandals or sturdy Birkenstocks, but I am equally at home in work boots, tennis shoes, dressier men’s oxfords or heavier Doc Marten’s — at least when the weather isn’t horribly hot.  My problem arises in dress-up situations in the summertime, when only women’s more-feminine clothing allows for skin baring and breathability.  I wonder if this isn’t how they keep us cooperative:  they sometimes allow us greater freedoms compared with men’s greater rigidity — in emotion and dress.  I have an old pair of thin-strapped (women’s) Birkenstocks that I wear in hot, humid weather because they allow maximum skin exposure and minimal contact.  I tend to buy men’s pants and jeans because they are designed more for comfort than to show off sex-specific body parts.  Women’s pants are curve-hugging, but they look absurd on my old fat woman’s body; their inherent uncomfortableness is, I suppose, ameliorated somewhat by adding spandex to the fabric.  I much prefer natural fibers, which I can find easily in men’s pants, but rarely in women’s.  Men’s pants are almost always made sturdier — and far more uniform, dependably sized.  I own women’s looser-fitting tailored shirts, and men’s, and it always astounds me how the buttons are on the opposite side for the “wrong” sex’s attire, just to be sure you know when you’ve transgressed.

Femininity, Butch, and Feminism – 4

Part 4.  Other Women, and Feminism

I was discussing politics more generally with my daughter, 23, when she commented that she refrained from expressing her more radical views so that she could actually have friends.  I reminded her of this conversation to play off her views on her sex-role conformity; we managed to negotiate this potential minefield fairly easily.  They are pretty similar.  She wears makeup because it is required at her workplace (I worked for the same outfit and got away with not wearing any, but only because my coloring is far darker — and I wore other trappings of acquiescence, like oversized earrings and rings, and feminine footwear).  But she also enjoys playing with makeup, creating different effects.  She understands, of course, that the allowed ‘different effects’ are still within a prescribed range of looks and emphases:  large and child-like eyes painted higher at the outside edges to appear friendly, full lips, cheekbones widened to lessen (feminize) the chin line, eyebrows arched inquisitively — never low, which would show judgment or adamancy.

She is, in some ways at least, a chameleon.  She can play at the role required when the performance is demanded, which it usually is in her life; she can easily relax into herself, unpainted and otherwise un-femmed, when it’s not.  She tends to go out in public with her persona wrapped carefully around her, but occasionally ventures unencumbered.  She does enough to seem acceptable to the range of friends she has, most of whom are the politically extreme end of normal here, and to be acceptable at work.  Often she’s worn her hair long.  I’m not even sure she’s aware of how much attention she receives for it:  thick, straight, shiny coppered-blondish, light auburn.  Which she and I henna’ed to a deeper redbrown.  Which she’s ignoring, the grow-out now inches in length.  She pushes the edges, but they are decidedly conventional bounds; she blends without necessarily being wholly of the group.  And her judgments are reserved primarily for hypocrites and liars.

She, like I, never had the fortitude to flout the standards in any way completely.

I’ve found quite a bit of discussion on Lesbian blogs lately, especially from Valerie at We Won’t Submit, and with Bev at the blog Bev Jo – radical Lesbian writing.

From Valerie:

Femininity is privileged over Butchness, which is simply what all women would be if they didn’t learn to practice femininity for reward from an early age. If you practice it for too long, you can never completely rid yourself of it. But that doesn’t make it natural.

Like white or het privilege, the thing to do when confronted with one’s femininity privilege is to learn how to not wield it over Butches – the ones who spent their lives staying true to raw, real femaleness – and to notice how femininity is worshipped and perpetuated at Butches’ expense in the exact same way as other oppressions.

(From here:  https://wewillnot.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/to-the-person-who-asked-me-if-sixtysomething-was-too-old-to-come-out/#comment-3398)

And a collaborative post from Bev Jo and Valerie reads:

A Butch is a Lesbian who has, from an early age, rejected femininity and its trappings; who has refused to be socialized as a fuck-object for men, and does not dress or carry herself in a way that presents ‘woman’ as what men think women should be. A fem can dress Butch in order to reject male-dominance, but cannot erase a lifetime of internalizing those values, and so her fem-ness will always be apparent. While she can, and should, present herself as much as possible in solidarity with Butches, calling herself Butch when it is little more than a fashion choice for her (albeit a positive one) is an appropriation.

A Butch is simply what all women would be in the absence of patriarchy. They are the epitome of natural women, whose character and presence is not defined by the male standard but by their Lesbian-ness. Butches are the most womanly and the most Lesbionic of us all.  They are the opposite of masculine.

(From here:  http://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/please-stop-butch-hatred-critique-of-the-lesbian-butch-hope-of-the-planet-by-carolyn-gage/#comment-333)

I’m wondering, can you see this as clearly as I can?

If you see it differently, then how so?

Is this ability to be more real, less confined to femininity, a product of Lesbian existence, and normally near-impossible within heterosexuality?  I can’t agree that it’s totally impossible.  I’m decidedly het-privileged, I sport a near-crewcut, have not shaved my armpits for decades (much to the horror of my summer paint crew coworkers, apparently), nor my legs except for when I worked where the other women were upset if I didn’t, and the dress code allowed knee-length summer shorts.  Make-up is a Hallowe’en thing, although for a while a decade back and to celebrate menopause, I wore the dull-blood red lipstick that older women in Seattle seemed to favor.

What conformities (if any) do you and those around you participate in?  If this question makes you uncomfortable, is it necessarily the question that is wrong?  (And you are under no obligation to answer it or anything else publicly.)

What non-conformities do you engage in?  Are there consequences for not conforming, and if so, what are they?

I like it when my feet look big — they seem more stable, and I wish my hands were larger since I use them for a living; I’m a custodian, now.  I was the first woman hired in the Engineering department of the utility company where I did drafting for eleven years, a union job.  I was the first woman hired as a carpenter at the union cabinet shop where I worked until 9/11 crashed the northwest’s building trades economy.  I’ve never exactly been traditional.  I have been presumed Lesbian any number of times since I left that community, an honor if inaccurate.  And yet I can see the vast differences — and respect them deeply — between myself and a woman who has lived Butch her entire life, who has remained unchanged by the patriarchy to which my daughter and I, and countless other women, have acquiesced.  This simply is, to me — undeniable fact.  Fine, and fact.  I don’t hate myself for it, nor do I denounce other women for being like me, complicit.  For those who have never succumbed, I am grateful; through them I am inspired.  I can’t be Butch; I can most certainly appreciate the courage of those who are.  And I can work to help diminish Butch oppression in the world I inhabit.

But Which Females First?

An article, linked below, was sent as a reply to one of my posts.  I don’t think it fits, so I’ve discarded it as a response.  But the article itself is interesting, and possibly a space for establishing common ground.  I invite the author, Cathy Brennan, to engage with me here.

The article.

An excerpt:

The last thing Females want to be called is “Feminist” – because that might mean “Man Hating.” That’s bad for Straight Ladies, because then someone might think them Lesbian. Even though Lesbians don’t want to couple with Males, Lesbians are “supposed” to be socially available to them and not “Man Haters.” (I know I‘ve been called “Man Hater” before!) So heaven forfend if you’re Feminist!

Yes, heaven forfend!  I certainly agree that there is a great deal of feminist-baiting — and -hating! — in this culture.  And, yes, Lesbians not willing to avail themselves to every man must be “man haters” in that same-old view.  I love the old Lesbian duo comedy skit where some guy in the audience heckles them for being ‘man-haters.’  One of the duo stops, looks shocked then skeptical, and asks, “So *you’re* the alternative?”  I love it, not because I see Lesbians as alternatives-to-the-norm, but because it bolsters the framing of Lesbianism as a logical, sensible choice.  Hate?  Maybe, but not always, because even that level of energy and attention to men puts other women last.  Nope; ignoring the fools, and then shaming them if necessary to back them off is fine.  Or, if you need a stand-in man-hater, send me.  I volunteer.

I also agree that patriarchy socializes us to distrust one another.  And to devalue our own.  And so, yes, feminism is full of male-apologists.  (There’ve been times I wanted to propose that mixed-sex conferences ostensibly about feminism have dual name tags for het couples:  Her Name, and Her Name’s Nigel; I wondered if that’d get men to not dominate ‘feminist’ discussions quite so much.)  And son-enablers.  And men-firsters or patriarchal apologists (which is what the lines, ‘What about the men?” and “But women do it, too!” seem to mean).  I agree, as a het woman, partnered, that to give energy to males beyond what is received in return is too much.  Way too much.  We can do an even share in this human exchange of my participation — and know my extra energy goes to women and to female children.  In part because way too much extra energy is being demanded by boys and men.  Way too much is given.

Because of our socialization, Females resist coming together, or even identifying, as a class. Accordingly, Females are the most dissolved, invisible ingredient in the Great American Melting Pot. We hear of White, Gay, Black, or Poor People. When discussing Poor People, nobody asks whether they are Male or Females (even though – as a class – the Poor are Female and the Rich are Male). Only when discussing Females do concern trolls come calling to ensure you discuss Poor Females, Brown Females, Vegan Females, Gay Females, and (fill in the blank) Females. That’s no coincidence. Patriarchy places these filters in front of Females to prevent us from perceiving each other as members of the same oppressed class. These obstacles destroy the need for further derails by Patriarchy because Females don’t talk to each other as members of the same class. It divides Females.

I even agree that it is important for us as women to see ourselves as a class, the sex class ‘female.’  I simply disagree on how this vision is to come about.  I don’t believe that we can mandate that those we oppress just shush and join us, because we claim we’re all the same, we’re all just women.  Some of us are not just women.  Some of us are Lesbians, Radical Lesbians, even proud and honorable Lifetime Lesbians … and this complexity of womanness brings its own rich and textured history, its values and ideals, a depth of love for women that is boundless and without equal.  To lose this in the flattened het-washing of the dominant culture would be devastating.  Some of us are Latinas, with gorgeous, proud and colorful cultural traditions that we would never wish to lose, in the bland whitewashing of the dominant culture.  Some of us grew up working class or working poor, and before we’d shed our directness and plain speech, our integrity, our ability to laugh at the ironies around us, and our roots in the warmth of community, we would fight to retain these proud markers of this part of our identity.  To simply name us all women denies the rich tapestry of female existence we weave when we connect with one another as we are.

Actually none of us is ‘just a woman.’  We are women, individually, in a complex weave of privileges and dispriveges — lived oppressions and the lived ability to actively oppress other women.  And so I concur, then, that the poor we need most to concern ourselves with are the female poor.  There are poor men; there are oppressed men.  And yet in most cases it is the females of the group who are overlooked.  Females first:  here I do agree!

And yet, is this what divides females, really?  Obstacles of ‘difference’ thrown down by patriarchy?  Isn’t it actually done by other women — isn’t it the insistence that we ignore the characteristics that mark us as different from class-privileged, white, het, moneyed, college-educated, comfortably “normal” women?  Isn’t it the expectation that we will behave by their standards, speak and write and negotiate by their standards, and meet their standards in our appearance as well, when we are together?  Isn’t it the expectation that we wish to be like them, that we could, if only we tried appropriately hard, be just as awesome as they are?  And isn’t it the expectation that the issues of multiply-oppressed women are not really women’s issues, unless they also impact white, privileged women?

So why the need to demean us with the label “concern trolls”?  We are your sisters; we’re not trolls, and connection, building community, is a hallmark of women’s ways of being.  Concern is not a bad thing.

Cathy, I don’t feel arrogance from you in this writing.  But I would say that this is the cost to those parts of my identity not privileged, when I buy into this argument:  I find arrogance and entitlement and abuse, put-downs and dismissals.  I am not welcomed in as ‘female-and-whole’ but rather as ‘female — conditional (and please try to speak unemotionally, and please dress conservatively so as not to offend the more middle-of-the-road women we seek as members).’  I can be a movement workhorse, I can be passionate and full of activist joy; I can be persistent and persuasive.  What I cannot be is anything other than my whole, complicated self.  I’m not ‘female-but-‘ … as in ‘female-but-working-class.’  I am ‘female-AND-working-class,’ and in being so, I think I bring a depth to feminist perspectives that is lacking without this ‘difference.’  It is certainly lacking in welcome for women like me!  Ditto for feminists who are also Black, also Latina, also Lesbian, and so on:  we are oppressed as women, yes, but our oppression is not at all identical to women who are not-Black, or not-Latina, or not-Lesbian or any combination of these and others, legitimate others.

I don’t feel arrogance from you, but rather a longing for a strong sisterhood, a feminism united and moving forward.  I share this longing.  I agree that this is a noble goal.  I even agree that identity groups are more safety-ensuring than change-making.  In the long run.  But don’t we need to ask ourselves why women who are marginalized still form into identity groups first, and repeatedly?  Don’t we have an obligation toward creating safety before we demand coalition?  And it’s in the long run — forever forward — that I want radical feminism to endure, to thrive.  The only way I see to get to there is to build comfort enough here so that we can build that coalition, and move us — together, equal, and as we are, whole — forward.  We still retain our full identities — and we can work together within an atmosphere of acceptance of these differences.  I cannot see a future for feminism unless we honor each woman as the whole, wondrous being that she is.