The Journaling Group

There is a group I’d love to attend, on some levels, and so I went to the introductory session with the following thoughts in mind.  The journaling group is based on the ideas of its creator, combined with the wisdoms to be found in Dr. Estes’s popular book, Women Who Run With the Wolves.  My first comments are my hope of finding other women who want to help women become re-empowered locally, something I share with a dear friend who received the original email notice for the group.  Later I refer to the introductory flyer.

We old women have the time, energy, and relative freedom to make effective, lasting change that young women, as well as the middle-aged among us, often do not.  We may even have acquired wisdom – especially if we have been marginalized in some way AND have engaged in analyses of our oppressions via existing writings on the topics and in discussions with other women, or people who share those marginalizations.

I want to find the boat-rockers.  I want to find women who already have some depth of analysis and who want to strike out against what is wrong based on that deeper understanding of HOW things are wrong.  And then, together, I want to work on helping to empower other adult human females so that we can wreak havoc on wrongness, as an effective and caring coalition of women.  A sisterhood would be awesome, but that needs to be earned; coalition is good enough for now, I think.  You can be who you are, that’s fine.  I’m a radical feminist.  My political analysis is based on the hierarchies of the castes assigned to people under the existing system.  Those are hierarchies by sex, race, class analysis beyond the 1 vs 99% view, and more.  Radical means getting to the root of any issue, and one of my strongest motivations is the empowering of all human females so that we can create an effective, and level, counter to the inequities that rule our lives.

Maiden – Mother – Wisewoman (Crone) has issues beyond what the added ‘Prostitute’ brings in.  This is age-related, so why not just use Crone?  Ageism is inherent, though, if wisdom is solely seen as being gained with age.  Even age doesn’t guarantee it!  And the age-triad reinforces the errant concept of ‘linear progress,’ where young feminists, except for the especially brave and brilliant, have been coerced to believe that second-wave feminism was not in their best interests, and was actually anti-woman!  It was, it is in women’s best interests, as it is female centered.  That’s its flaw in the backlash:  it refuses to center men.

The focus on motherhood, both a main basis of female oppression and of privileging within the sex-caste hierarchy, is an issue of unnecessary female divide.  I say ‘oppression’ because motherhood is our bodily ‘resources, extracted’ by the other sex, and I say ‘privileging’ because any capitulation to patriarchy is rewarded so long as it benefits men.  Women who choose not to be mothers at all in this era of global climate catastrophe and human overpopulation should be commended, not marginalized.  It could be simply girl, woman, old woman — but why the emphasized division by age, anyway?  If it’s focus, name the focus.  It might be stated as:  Building Self (a major portion of girlhood is drawing or weaving together the characteristics chosen as valuable, creating an honorable and worthwhile Self), Building Family (the gifts of adulthood that women bring include community, connection, and care, which are vital to the creation of one’s own chosen and supportive family), and extending the community outward, or Building Tribe (often older women build across divides).

And why is ‘Prostitute’ an included archetype???  Prostitution is, by definition, female sexual slavery (wherein pornography is the literal depiction of that enslavement).  The number of women trafficked into prostitution, often as pre-teen girls, is astronomical.  In the US alone the number of girls and women trafficked into this country’s sex trade is roughly 15,000 a year.  Worldwide, sex traffickers ‘buy’ or steal almost 2 million children a year.  The body-buyers and -abusers are men.  It is the ultimate proof of patriarchy — men buy fuckability in human form; under patriarchy men own the right to use others’ (lessers’) bodies for their sexual indulgences.  Some countries, legally or otherwise, have sex tourism as a major – if not economically THE major – industry.  Thailand and Singapore are “vacation” or “business” destinations most often visited by men, solo or in groups.  When businessmen brag about trips to Singapore or Thailand, this is probably what they’re telling you, and getting away with because you don’t know and aren’t encouraged to consider in the current cultural climate of “agency” and acceptance.  Now you know.

Awakening the inner artist in every woman, also a time of self-building, makes sense.  The warrior in many of us does come out in full force as our immediate obligations to sustaining others’ lives decrease.  Women often cannot be frontline activists easily when others are completely dependent on them; women with children feel this deeply, and are released into fighting back overtly, once those children are grown.  It may be dangerous to say in this day and age but having children really can limit what women can do communally; maybe that is a lot of the point.  Women who settle into culture are also seen as sexual targets up until their early 30s; performance (of “beauty” and of “sexy”) for males is demanded.  The freedom of greater age can be a time of community-building, both small and local, and large and bridging customary divides — including race and class and love interests (that which in the negative is Lesbophobia).  The wild woman archetype CAN open women to building — fierce and fighting alliances, or coalitions of care, but it can also be co-opted, in this era of more-backlash-than-actual-feminism to mean highly-individualized and individualist goals:  being seen as sexy in later years, developing a personal style or look, taking on causes without much analysis.  Look at the tremendous boost to the anti-feminist “trans” cult, and the subsequent loss of women’s rights abetted by older women!  Or look at the acceptance of pornography and prostitution now seen as “liberated” among so many older women!

During the meeting it became clear that Dr. Estes’s and the group leader’s essentialism, that men and women have very different, roles, goals, and innate personalities, was going to silence my dissenting view.  No, I don’t believe that men are innate competitors perfectly fitted to war, football, and sexual aggression aimed at spineless, simpering women.  I’m sure to women who are afraid of conflict this might be soothing, another version of ‘it’s not our fault.’  But that is infantilizing, nowhere near a true picture of womanhood, and certainly not covering the range of what many women already are:  brave, centered, caring, fierce, loyal builders of connection and community.  Some men have shown they are capable of that, but all men are taught to be destroyers, and all women are schooled in valuing men and maleness over other females.  That last stuff is culture.  I challenge that, always, and in a group where the basis for understanding place, as a woman, is in opposition to this ‘true nature of men,’ I can’t fit.

As I wrote to my friend:  I’m just not interested in fawning praise for masculinity, or loyalty to gender.  Gender is fake — the social roles each culture enforces upon the two very real sexes are not uniform across cultures, and usually only serve the power structure.  I am not a woman who ever fantasized of rape, or who eroticized power differences, men over women.  Possibly I’m fairly rare, I don’t really know.  But it’s something I never had to confront in myself, or worse, try to unlearn. The whole thing of ‘Ooh, men are innately power-driven and isn’t that SOOO sexy …’ smacks to me of the kind of accepted female subjugation that gets masochism labeled ‘female,’ innately ours.  Just no.

I’m glad I attended the introduction.  It was comfortable walking in as simply another woman, one among others.  I was one of the youngest, too, something I’m not used to, but not by much; we were probably early 60s to late 70s.  Seated in the presence of aged women, with agile bodies and active minds, was also comforting.  I love my sex; I deeply appreciate women.  But the woman who wrote The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football wasn’t praising men, she was critiquing culture.  Me, too.

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So Many Snowflakes

Snowflakes mean ‘specialness.’ Far beyond what Mr. Rogers sang and spoke, people in the US are invested in self, in aggrandizing that self, and in staking space for that self, often in very public ways. A version of Snowflake pairs well with youth, but others as easily accompany age. It’s the “I always knew you were special” of Blade Runner: 2049. It’s the focus in parenting of the Sputnik generation, where students HAD to math best and science finest because Russia HAD to be beaten in the space race and beyond; it’s the birthright of the Gymboree generation. It’s US rugged individualism carried to a petty, obnoxious, all too self-important level, with its basis in group-think. And I did it, too.  Maybe I still do, I don’t know.  And, of course, it’s wrong.

Two manifestations these days are vegan/vegetarian arrogance, and the cult that allows young men to claim womanhood and, with social approval, punch older feminists who disagree.

This all came up because of a discussion on nutrition. Some of us are aged and experienced, honestly took wrong turns and want to talk about them, and actually care that our miseries don’t repeat unnecessarily. We’ve started offering up articles on nutrition that showcase, usually too simplistically, the results of our deeper and well-considered analyses. If Trump’s given us nothing else he’s provided an escape for us all in claims of “fake news” we can aim at whatever we dislike, in studies and other science. Goddess knows “journalism” has done its part, and science is sold and sealed by corporatocracy. If exposure to education has garnered no other benefit, it has allowed for a critical analysis of studies and philosophies, alike.  Feminism is as strong and as accurate as the philosophies of its adherents — and as damned as its backlash is welcomed, culturally.

Remember I led with ‘aged and experienced.’ It’s hard to gather data if you don’t have the time in. And nutrition isn’t, as much as we’d love as a culture to believe, a fast science, leading readily to a quick fix. Dietary changes may feel great, as one toxin is removed, but too often we just replace it with another. Or with deficiency. Most of the adamant vegans and vegetarians are young.  Some of the remainder are recent converts. Many of the long-timers have such medical issues logically attributable to vegetarianism that their claims of health ring hollow. And many of us who were vegan or vegetarian for a long while can claim negative health effects clearly linked to our veg eating. I do, and the children I grew within my skin while fully vegetarian also do.

There is nothing quite like looking your child in the eye and admitting that your vegetarian adamance likely caused, or at least contributed to, their neurological damage.

I was that lecturing vegetarian in quality vinyl softball cleats. I was going to save the world through sanctimonious sermons on why killing and eating animals was wrong. Morally, ethically, and nutritionally wrong. I had science and feminism on my side. But mostly I had the righteousness of the many like-minded behind me, the virtue of our being bloodless eaters among those feeding the horrors of industrial farming: dismemberment, disease, and death accrued to them alone. Much later a friend talked of taking younger folks into communities with little money, where the very best of their food was offered to visitors, a gift they really couldn’t afford, only to have it rejected.  But the youngers didn’t simply reject the gift, they lectured the givers. Across the vast chasms of race and class, the young white people stepped up and spoke down to those who would share the best of what they had, in kindness and in communal connection. I had done that, in my time.

I honestly don’t care what anyone eats. Most of my view is based on once caring deeply about what everyone ate, and then finding I was actually quite wrong. Evading killing others is impossible, except in our shielded imaginings.  We kill bacteria and viruses simply to continue our own lives. Yes, peppers and cucumbers are delicious, and picking their fruits doesn’t end the plants’ lives. What about carrots? Radishes? Kohlrabi? And who carefully takes their apple core and reintroduces it to Nature, not trash and not compost, but back to the ground to have a fighting chance for rebirth? Factory farming is atrocious. But the atrocities also mount in the growing of, say, wheat: biotic cleansing of the soil is just the beginning. Post-harvest, those huge wheat trucks have large numbers of dead grasshoppers in them. We used to sift them out and then crunch the grains, raw and unprocessed, meaning we gained little to no nutrition; the grasshoppers would probably have been better food. But more to the point of beings with faces, with known mothers and families and connections, vegetarian loyalties stated aloud, there is the harvest of death and dismemberment of ground dwellers.  Prairie dogs and ground squirrels and nesting birds are all butchered by the machinery, or poisoned, as once I was required to do, by hand.

I strongly recommend Lierre Keith’s amazing book, The Vegetarian Myth. She is gentle, caring, kind, and honest. Her greatest gift is in offering us reconnection to the cycle of life, to understanding that everything is part of a whole; we skew reality when we part things out. Salmon, bears, rivers, and forests all work together to continue life. Paul Stamets has shown how mycelium and trees interconnect for the benefit of all. The world we inhabit is full of intelligence; individuals are but a part of that. And yet we have inflated the importance of individuals so as to obscure the interconnections between beings. And it’s those interconnections that matter most. They are obscured when we ask, How many humans can live on this planet? And they’re obscured when we tell others to take on our perspectives, without considering there might be other and very useful ways of looking at things that we haven’t yet discovered. They’re obscured when we dismiss kindness and community in the service of self-aggrandizement, fall back on entitlement and the self-righteousness of privilege, primarily of being white and male!

Another problem that seems to tie in well here is that of not wanting to be average.  Of not wanting to be just one of many, and finding place and positive interaction there. Some of us enter most easily where we can be seen as leaders. Do we spend the same energy or time being members? This seems especially true among women, where we are groomed to distrust, and to compete with, other women, usually for male approval and attention. Men adhere to hierarchy and find their place, occasionally challenging a rung or two upward, but little more. Women, who understand equality deeply — community and connection seem to flow in our veins — seem to struggle with both hierarchy and being lost in the sea of many. Especially as level members, we lose the ability to keep other women at a distance. In large groups of women the hierarchies create space — in conflict, more-privileged women demand we ignore differences, to focus on commonalities. Unfortunately it’s usually privileged difference that causes conflict to begin with, say white women not realizing (or caring about) their evident racism or het women their Lesbophobia.

I see it as probable evidence of entitlement when groups of women face internal conflict. It’s best to work through it, as it never seems to go away otherwise.  And sometimes the entitled even make claims of “identity politics” getting in the way of sisterhood. That, not privilege, or entitlement, or hurtful arrogant ways of speaking or seeing. The phrase has become a stopper, a roadblock to further discussion.

Not ironically to me most of the claims against “identity politics” in my field of vision are being made in white female and Black male writings, two groups that embody “identity politics” like no others! Feminism and Black liberation are the original “identity politics.”  What’s missing here is an understanding of the difference between ‘Being identified as a member of a sex or race caste’ and ‘Self-identifying as something you’re clearly not.’  That’s a whole ‘nother post that feeds directly off this one.  But it ties up the beginning paragraph, here.  Snowflakes are self-important individualists with collectivity only in fighting the object of appropriation, in the case of the “trans” phenomenon, or in signalling the highest of virtues, among the adamant vegan/vegetarian lecturers.  Again, I don’t care what you eat.  I care how you treat others.  I care that we nurture one another to be real, humans, caring and connected.  Women are losing rights, and privacy, to men.  And while the planet storms and swelters, we quibble lifestyles as we oversimplify issues and hide our eyes at the destruction wreaked by our own choices.

Men aren’t women, women can’t escape oppression by claiming to be men, and vegan or vegetarian eating won’t save the planet. There are too many Snowflakes for this time of global warming, of climate catastrophe.  My hope is that we all melt, and join in making real, lasting, effective change.

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.)