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Recently I was challenged in private correspondence on my view that motherhood is privileged within patriarchy. My friend insisted that feminism’s framing needs to be women vs. men; male supremacy is the real issue, and what happens between women is minor in comparison. This essay is an attempt to answer the challenge.



First some fundamentals:

Feminism is about, for, and by women and girls. That needs to be understood from the start. While male allies are welcome to consider and express alternate framings and explanations, feminist theory has to be constructed by females. Because only women and girls bear the burden of the oppression. Because the effects all accrue to females, only. This is not debatable; it is basic oppression theory.

A corollary: feminists are female. Period. Radical feminism is inherently trans-critical; men claiming to be women are appropriators. (Liberal feminists are collaborators, which I will explain later.)



Male allies may be called pro-feminists IF feminists find them to be true allies, but this designation is to be decided by women, feminists. Claiming to be an ally is all about intent, not identity. Being an ally is all about consistent behavior and action, not about a man’s right to claim the identity. Feminism may indirectly free or even empower men, but that is not and will never be its point. If the WATM (What About The Men?) whine ever comes up, that man is decidedly not an ally.



Radical feminism is also inherently pornstitution-critical. If a man jokes about pornography or prostitution as an OK, manly endeavor, he is not an ally.

Another corollary: women are born female; ‘woman’ is a word we NEED to explain female + human + adult. If we concede this term, Simone de Beauvoir notwithstanding (she could not have meant that adult human females do not exist), we infantilize all female human beings!

Privilege is always a comparison in treatment between two or more groups. Privilege is a hierarchy — it is reflective of the hierarchy of the power structure. Privilege is not negotiable; it exists, and it is present all the time.

There is one caveat to privilege, however: marginalized groups CAN be played against each other to further reinforce the dominants’ power. Anyone who prances into the realm of whether women’s oppression, male supremacy, is worse than people of Color’s oppression, white supremacy, is dancing on a foundation of the absurd. Men of Color often claim that racism is The Worst. White feminists often claim that sexism is The Worst. Both are right and both are wrong. Foremost, these claims force women of Color to choose artificially between sides while the sides further marginalize women of Color. But also it’s important to realize that placement on the hierarchy is entirely at the whim and option of those with the most power, anyway. Positioning is flexible, and kept that way in order to garner numbers in stifling uprisings by a marginalized group. Black men can be and have been useful in alignment with the elite white male power structure: think pornography, think prostitution, and the fact of Black male involvement and ties with white dominants in these arenas. White women can be and have been useful in alignment with the elite white male power structure: think of how convenient the myth of the Black welfare queen to the majority of public aid recipients who are white women. Think of how many times white women have placed their own emancipation ahead of Black women’s and Black men’s — from the early days of the anti-slavery and woman suffrage movements right up to mainstream feminism’s unwillingness to confront the prison industrial complex that incarcerates disproportionate numbers of Black men. Or think of how the human rights atrocities against Gaza are ignored in favor of the not-Arab Zionists, even among feminists.

All hierarchies matter. Foremost is the male over female power differential, the thing that women’s liberation seeks to obliterate. But in order to do so, all women must matter. In the current scheme, put forward by my pro-feminist friend, marginalized women are expected to contain their issues and discomforts until some later, post-revolution time, under the banner of sisterhood. But “white women first!” is not a radical rallying cry, nor is any version of ‘privileged women first.’ We have to dismantle the oppressions enacted by women on other women in order to have a valid feminism. We have to examine our presumptions, and our comforts with that which other women don’t have, in order to build a valid feminism. We aren’t there. And men pushing for the continued marginalization of some women are not feminists’ allies.

So let’s jump into the main theme, whether or not motherhood is privileged.

All too often, when motherhood is discussed, it is in terms of how mothers are abused within patriarchy. They are. Mothers are in many ways captives of the system. They are intimidated by threats and acts of violence into support of and complicities with the power structure. They are manipulated and controlled, wills bent and bodies bruised, because of caring for their (and more-powerful men’s) offspring. All this is terribly true and not the point. Motherhood is still privileged.

An outrage! How dare I?

I dare because privilege is about treatment relative to another group. While folks rail about how horribly mothers have it, they are not talking about disprivilege. There is no reference group, except maybe men, the aggressors. The fact of women’s disprivilege in relation to men is not being disputed, though. We know women are oppressed as women, including within their expected roles within the patriarchal scheme. Female oppression does not disprove the privileging of mothers!

Mothers are privileged relative to non-mothers, relative to childless or child-free women. Mothers are rewarded for their complicity in this patriarchal demand, even as they are abused by proximity to their oppressors.

This is an important point: proximity to oppressors always holds some risk. It was easier for men in a household to rape women who were enslaved in the house than those who were less available to male householders, say field enslaved women. The exception to that was if a male householder also claimed rights to access enslaved women in their private quarters. At any rate, proximity does mean an increase in typical and customary violence for the oppressed. A woman who works alone in close proximity with her male employer is at greater risk than would be the average woman among many in his employ. A woman alone on the street at night is in greater danger from male aggressors than is a woman behind locked doors and alone in her own home. A woman who is partnered with a man, or with teen-or-older male children or grandchildren, is in far greater danger of physical and sexual violation than is a woman who lives alone or with other women. This is female oppression by males. Of course it exists.

Somehow this idea of the reference group gets downplayed; folks want to dwell on how mothers are oppressed within patriarchy, and not with how they are privileged relative to non-mothers. Part of this is simply our culture’s disregard for non-mothers! They don’t matter!

Outrageous, daring me! I am going to talk about the dis-privileging of non-mothers. First, let’s consider the privileging:



http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/motherhood.html

There are telling quotes all over, here. One common theme is that motherhood is female-appropriately altruistic:

“The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness. When you become a mother, you are no longer the center of your own universe. You relinquish that position to your children.” — Jessica Lange

Men share knowledge (they don’t possess). Honore de Balzac: “It is only in the act of nursing that a woman realizes her motherhood in visible and tangible fashion; it is a joy of every moment.”

While women hope: that motherhood is “joyful,” enjoyable, “beautiful and significantly life-altering,” “humanizing,” a “glory” or “glorious blessing,” plus “bliss, love and fulfillment,” and of course linked to that other female fulfillment, marriage to a man. (It is heterosexist, it is heteronormative, at its core.)



A few women dissent: Barbara Walters suggests getting a puppy instead, while Rachel Cusk waffles: a woman is “Part martyr, part pioneer” with some women deriving “feelings of heroism, while others experience a sense of exile from the world they knew.” And Emma Goldman is quoted as having said, “Is there indeed anything more terrible, more criminal, than our glorified sacred function of motherhood?” Barbara Ehrenreich weighs in: “Take motherhood: nobody ever thought of putting it on a moral pedestal until some brash feminists pointed out, about a century ago, that the pay is lousy and the career ladder nonexistent.”

 But the problems with the dissent are many. Some waffle, while painfully few question the inherent complicities — that capitalism and its employment hierarchy is a given (the career ladder comment), that service to the patriarchy is still service to all of humankind, and is sacred. Loyalty to the power structure is not radical feminism; it is consistent with liberal feminism.

 But how is motherhood complicit?

First, the aggrandizement of motherhood is really about the favoring of sons — their creation, their nurture, their ultimate elevation into the power structure as high as they can go based on other factors, like race, class, and their own level of conformity. It is the duty of mothers to raise acculturated sons. Rape and male violence (down the hierarchy) are culturally-accepted norms. Mothers are to defend their sons against charges of rape and other forms of violence against ‘lessers,’ usually women but also marginalized men. And mothers do!

When I suggest that women’s loyalties must be to females, foremost, and against their misogynist sons, I get resistance. When I suggest that if a son rapes, is known to have raped, loyalty has to be to his victim, the female being, and he needs disowned, I hear, “How can you say this — he was born from my body, he is my child!?!” I can say it because it is high time our loyalties are to female humans. And I can say it because women defending the outrages done by patriarchy, even in the forms of their own sons, is a significant part of the problem. Patriarchy is maintained by unquestioned allegiances by the many, including the terribly-oppressed. All systems of subjugation can be reinforced this way (and usually are).

Second motherhood is, itself, loyalty to the norms of heterosexuality. I was at the time actually a part of the Great Lesbian Con into Motherhood. Lesbians everywhere were having children, and I wanted in! I read everywhere of women’s biological clocks and discovered I, too, had one! Is there an internal urge to procreate? There may well be, although I’m not convinced there is. Still, any valid urge or instinct is easily manipulable by incessant cultural pressure. Even more so if it’s subtle and proffered by members of your own minority group. The fact is that Lesbian Motherhood was an act of assimilation, complicity by its very nature. And I was a part of it. (Damn me!)

Third, motherhood brings rewards and attention at the expense of childless or child-free women. Women who eschew childbearing are “selfish,” and more. See this for many more:




http://bigthink.com/against-the-new-taboo/23-responses-to-23-awful-statements-made-to-childfree-people

Fourth, if we honestly examine the cultural talk and behavior around it, motherhood brings clear rewards and positive attention, especially at the beginning. Two women I’ve been close to in my lifetime have sought out becoming mothers repeatedly, in great part for the attention and praise it garnered. In a culture that ensures we have soul-holes, spaces in our psyches that leave us pained and vulnerable, self-doubting and searching for relief, two things emerge as solutions. One is finding others who compare unfavorably, and the other is finding ways that the power structure will reward us.

Women use weight in this way. Women will befriend fatter women so that they, themselves, appear thinner and therefore more attractive by fat-phobic cultural standards. And women will attempt to lose weight to gain cultural kudos, acceptance, and ‘desirability’ in the mating scheme. Mating schemes are taken as givens, with heterosexuality (fuckability in the eyes of men) as priority. And sisterhood is trounced in favor of personal gain, as women compete for the elusive fuckability-while-human (not merely being used but also at least marginally valued for her beingness).

An aside: in this Scheme of Het, can a conventionally-attractive woman ever be sure she is seen as a whole being, and not just valued as a Desirable Object? It seems better to not be conventionally-attractive! And yet can a conventionally-non-attractive woman ever be sure she is not being mentally replaced by a Better Object in his mind, that she’s the best he can get in reality but not in fantasy? Why, again, are women ever heterosexual? Add into this the extreme dangers faced routinely by women at the hands of men!

And the answer, of course, is at least in part because of the reward system. The privilege. And the comparison groups are lesbians, and asexuals who are willing to claim that. If motherhood is so maligned, why do women continue to reproduce? Again, because of the reward system, the privilege, in comparison to non-mothers, to childless and child-free women.

This is rough, a beginning. More with commentary. Thank you.

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.

Fighting Horizontal Hostility

Part of the reason Lierre wrote The Vegetarian Myth is to help women evade, she has written, the “ideological purity that’s directed at and destroys female bodies in particular”; she has said, “I write about how female hunger is a huge part of women’s oppression, from preferential male feeding to American anorexia, and the latter’s connection to veganism. If anything is oppression, it’s women denying themselves food to meet patriarchal, body-hating norms.”

That’s feminism, radical feminism, and an ethic of care.  We need more of this, not less.  Yesterday I posted about yet another incident of Lierre being attacked in writing, an obsessive though ill-informed critique of The Vegetarian Myth, and this attack, a blog post by a radical feminist, was widely circulated among feminists on Facebook.  The writing was used to discredit Lierre, and undermine readership of her book.  Is this really what we want?  We need to ask ourselves what effect we wish to have.  As feminists.  And within feminism.

There is no need within feminism to avoid challenging one another.  Challenges help us to grow, to define better our own values and to refine our belief systems so that they are internally consistent, effective, useful to us.  But challenges and horizontal hostility are very different.  Challenges move us to look together to examine a topic.  Horizontal hostility attacks, negates, distances, and defines the other as the enemy; one winner and one loser is the only possible outcome.

This is interesting to me, because I’ve never seen it so clearly before.  If I am honorable, I invite you to sit down tho the table with me to discuss.  I have a belief that we can talk this through, and it’s there that I begin.  Or I hold the belief that we might be able to process this difference to a reasonable level of comfort, and that I am not in danger sitting with you to discuss it.  (If I’m in danger, there is no concern for honor, only for safety.)

Think about that:  If I’m in danger, there is no concern for honor, only for safety.  If I name you the enemy, then I have to approach you oppositionally, I have to be on guard, and I am not under the impression that we can resolve our differences; either you win or I win.  I might immediately bow out to fight another day (I lose); I might stay in long enough to conclude futility, and then concede this battle and move on (I lose); I might plot to force you into showing your true allegiances publicly in spaces you don’t want to do that (I could win, with time and effort), or I might overtly discredit you so that others stop listening to you — destroy your credibility in circles we share, circles that are of vital importance to you (I could win, and likely with the least time and effort).

If I’m in danger, there is no concern for honor, only for safety; I must be concerned with safety.  If I name you the enemy, then most likely I will be asked to defend that naming.  The easiest way to defend myself is to discredit you.  The focus moves off me, and onto you.  And I can exploit that focus:  I have the arena, and you in the distance as my target.  This happens so often as feminists step in and ask for more information, for clarification, for facts.  The answers they are given offer more in the way of discrediting the target than addressing the actual questions.

Watch for this the next time a text argument ensues — I know I’m going to.

1.  Does the challenger invite in order to share?  Or does the challenger begin with discounting, negation, a hostile attack?
2.  Does the initial wording address the challenged one by name and with respect?  Or does the text open with talk about someone, the targeted one?
3.  If this is a two-person confrontation, what happens next?  Bowing out, manipulation toward revealing hidden alliances, or direct confrontation?
4.  If it’s direct confrontation, is an attempt to destroy credibility begun?
5.  When others ask question, seeking clarification and voicing their concerns, are their questions and concerns addressed directly?  Or are the “answers” mostly further discrediting of the target?

Presuming that coalition is to be encouraged, how do we handle this, as feminists?  There are a number of roles than can be taken up, and probably need to be.  There are the voices of reason who remain uncommitted to a ‘side’ and simply serve to introduce reasonable questions (A).  There are the voices of support who address the charges, and counter them. also remaining calm and reasonable if adamant (B).  There are the voices of passion who make very clear how troubling this is for feminism and for the women involved –they are still reasonable but are more adamant (C).  Negotiations would continue until space enough was claimed to allow for reason.  The idea isn’t to shape the conversation, only to block the false charges from going uncontested.  Anyway, these are the roles I’ve seen taken on; support, for some of us, is really only felt at the (C) level, and some of this may be class-related.  Often women will leave the conflict and not play their chosen role out to its logical conclusion — or even resolution.  And that’s sad because I think this or something like it might actually work.

What if we were to do this, to be available for calling when someone was engaging in yet another attack on Lierre, and The Vegetarian Myth?

Food Politics

I don’t care what people eat and in the long-term, I don’t care if it’s suicide by dinner plate, or drink preference, or dumpster deals, if it makes folks feel that good to be whatever food-identity they’ve taken on.  Women who are trying not to be murdered have my first loyalties, over and above women who are sticking to ideology despite their own bodies’ protests and their sisters’ urgings to listen carefully to those. Those not being murdered and sticking to ideology while taking in their own bodies’ feedback don’t need my blessing, or even my attention.

I’d prefer the real info get out there — making long-term ‘merely-anecdotal’ evidence gathered of tremendous value.  Some of that real info is Lierre Keith’s.  Keith has written the gentlest and most nurturing radical feminist book imaginable, at least to me (The Vegetarian Myth:  Food, Justice, and Sustainability).  Why she has been the target of (m)anarchist hate and female vegan rage is beyond me — except that it’s likely her truth is unsettling to those clinging to Purity Politics.

Yet another ‘feminist’ blogger has, in these last days of December 2011, taken Lierre’s work sentence by sentence to rail against the (imagined) injustices there.  With this level of horizontal hostility, with this intensity of venom reserved for a sister radical feminist, we have a political implosion that must make the patriarchy deliriously happy, and which solves nothing for us.  Some of us, me included, are already on record saying that this book has helped us immeasurably, and we strongly recommend it to others who might, we insist, benefit from it.  We find it to be an important book.

Some is the gathered information that we do have different needs — I need fewer carbs than most, and have probably required that my whole life.  I’m diabetic, a fact that I see as related closely to my decade or so of high-carb vegetarianism.  Buying into the food dogma of the day, I cut fat from my intake, and chose mainly complementing carbs to get protein.  It turns out that those carbs don’t necessarily ‘complete’ as we wish, and that protein itself can still be converted — up to 57% of it — to carbohydrate.  Cut fat and end up with converted protein really becoming carbs, and most of what I was eating was carbs.  That I’m diabetic doesn’t surprise me; your mileage may well vary.  I have Inuit ancestry, for starters, so one line of my people ate fat and meat only for tens of thousands of years.

(The irony of being told recently by vegans that I should never have eaten wheat just now dawned on me.  There is no way to be vegan and get adequate protein without combining grains, legumes and seeds; my detractors are, in fact, vegan.  Yes, vegetarianism allows the addition of eggs and dairy.  But these are still inadequate — so my body said — for nutrient intake, and even adequate-quality protein.  Therefore I ate grains to combine proteins.  Which proved to my detractors that I did it wrong!  So there!  And the focus moved to my wrongness, and NOT the impossibility of their own plan working for them.)

My farmer friend eats little meat, and her own bread and her free-ranging chickens’ eggs and fresh stuff from her gardens and makeshift growing houses.  At 4′ 8″ and in her late 60s, she can outlift me and keep up with me walking (easily).  And I’m a walker.  She is of European Jewish heritage.  Her husband, who is Armenian, a number of years older, only a tad taller, and ox-strong, eats more meat, easily triple her intake.  They eat meat; they eat wonderful whole fresh foods, mostly from a farm that is surrounded by Monsanto-ed crops, pesticided, although controlled some for wind drift simply because they are all neighborly. She often feeds me when I visit, and I leave nourished and comfortably full, if with a blood glucose level higher than ideal.  And this is after abstaining from the sweet treats that she and her husband may share, her homemade pie or pastry.

We are each a little different; we are probably very much our ancestries overlaid with the effects of industrial capitalist patriarchy:  Some of this ‘real info’ is probably that we have built-in sensitivities and allergies and intolerances from living within that system, which easily renders The Perfect Human Diet intolerable in its parts and portions, varyingly, dependent upon our damage(s).  And some of the rest is that the economic side of classism makes it difficult for most of us to access what our bodies need with any regularity.

Another factor that I sometimes forget, because I have so long been an activist against fat oppression, is how deeply we have been coerced to hate and distrust and fear our animal bodies.  Even a focus on food can lead to the toxic cycle of obsession, triggering the process addiction that underlies starving disorders.  For the most part I really don’t believe that food itself is addictive.  I don’t consider HFCS food, and I do acknowledge that drugs are addictive, or can be.  What I do have is the wisdom shared by a former process addict, the woman who originally proposed this idea that it’s the process and not the thing that keeps women locked in the cycles of starving (starve-binge-purge, etc.)  She was so compellingly brilliant in this that, for a while, we got a world-renown ‘eating disorder’ clinic to  admitted, publicly, that starving precedes any other action in The Disorders.

(I want to add that this woman, a proud Lesbian who was brilliantly moving through the PTSD of her childhood — her family camped in abandoned buildings and remained underfed through northern winters — became disablingly ill.  In spite of this, and through it, she organized, furnished and sometimes funded a kids’ computer tutoring program for her huge project housing complex, unpaid of course, and the state is probably still trying to get her off “the public dole.”  We do NOT live in a meritocracy, and the for all the courageous voices we hear, there are others that die in the silence of the vast spaces of privilege ….)

All of this needs our accounting, if we are to discuss reasonably the food we choose.  Our bodies, our choices.  Our bodies, our teachers.  Our movement — and why the horizontal abuse?  The hierarchy of need, of urgencies.  A more collective truth vs. my (privileged) view is oh-so-important.  Intentional kindness in the face of hate is praise-worthy.  Purity Politics demeans us all; purity is impossible anyway when we have so little real control over our environment(s).  Feminism is anecdotal; the truths of our lives matter — and make up the whole.  Conversely, science carries the taint of masculinity unless it can be worked holistically — and there’s a better way to say this, I suspect.  We can have differing views; a better, more useful truth often has a wide range of perspectives, which may agree or diverge, without being oppositional.  Sometimes oppositional is important.  Made-up minds don’t easily assess new information, and staunch confidence can lead to missing those subtle details that matter.  It’s OK to stand against the tide, and ‘majority rule’ is more about empire-building than truth.  A corollary — the fact of minions doesn’t make anyone more correct in their truths.  Class matters; classism comes with privilege.  So does racism, so does heterosexism, and so on.  For real oppressions (not ‘the oppression of het women in relation to Lesbians’ and not ‘trans’).

How, first of all, do we get beyond this horizontal hostility and into doing real work so that our beloved planet might endure?  And how do we continue this discussion, with all its injury and hostility, within feminism?

Class(ism)

For a number of years now, probably close to 25, I have been arguing with other feminists that classism is about more than economic status, or even ‘socioeconomics.’

Class determines your family’s pattern of existence.  You may have grown up in a nuclear family with a lonely, isolated mother whose friends are more competitors than sisters; in a neighborhood where every kitchen is a known entity and every mother mothers you, too, for better or worse; in a house full of people with too little privacy and too many issues to keep them all hidden away; or in constant motion from one abandoned, heatless building and its neighboring dumpster to another, in cast-off clothing and perpetual, aching hunger.  These four examples would approximate samplings of families who are middle class, working class, working poor, and poverty class, economically speaking.  What they don’t really show are the qualities within those lives, separate from the meeting of basic needs economically.

One hallmark of middle-class life is frequent isolation.  In a strictly-nuclear family, where childcare falls to the nurturing mother role-taker, she is routinely isolated in her single-family dwelling with its moat of a yard.  Competition is another characteristic of higher class status.  See http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2011/12/19/classandincome/, where the findings suggest that poorer-class people may “thrive better in cooperative settings than their upper-class counterparts.”  And “Upper-class individuals appear to be more self-focused, they’ve grown up with more freedom and autonomy,” […] “They may do better in an individualist, competitive environment.”

One hallmark of lower-class life is direct communication style, a bluntness in communicating which Bev Jo calls “plainly spoken.”  She writes of the “warmth, intelligence, kindness, humor, and love that I know is part of poverty class culture and is rare in colder class-privileged cultures.”  (http://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/, “Progress Versus Cooptation in the Radical Feminist Movement”)

Part of class does have to do with money; part of it does not. Part of it does have to do with looking up the ladder and either wishing for what Up-Theres have (like money, more comfort, greater access), or resenting Up-Theres because what they have is unattainable. BUT …. Whether or not working class people feel inferior isn’t the point. It’s that we are treated as inferior. It that we are expected to want and value the things our “betters” have, like college educations … because, of course, having a college education is better than not. But is it?

I said elsewhere that working class parents know there are risks in sending children off to college. It likely means moving into a world of not-belonging, yes, but also realms are often colder and less caring, more competitive and more isolating, especially for women, the higher up the social ladder one moves.

When feminists look at male culture and analyze oppression and determine goals, there’s a huge amount of it that females do not, generally, wish to take on. Women do not covet warrishness, or raping, for example. But ending the two-tier system of treatment based on sex, ending male privileging at females’ expense, is a goal. It’s the same with class. Class-disprivileged people don’t want the characteristics of elite-class people’s lives — the frivolity or the waste of the ultra-rich, or even the relative isolation of the middle classes. Only the access and the genuine comforts — adequate food and shelter and meaningful ceremony and so forth.

Certainly class is enforced at the institutional level. But like with white supremacy, what women do at the individual level determines how we form alliances — or don’t. I don’t really care whether or not women can be said to oppress other women, or if it’s borrowed power that’s used. Words aren’t my point, here. Behavior is. A white woman telling a woman of Color that something isn’t racism — that’s unconscionable. A class-privileged woman insisting to another who is class-disprivileged that classist behavior isn’t an issue — that’s also wrong. We cannot form alliances if the privileged insist on determining definitions of less-privileged reality.

That level of ‘class’ that has to do with relationship to the means of production doesn’t even quite work. Not only do schoolteachers see themselves as being above (more intelligent, more resourceful, more valuable than) say, janitors, but they act on that belief consistently. Degrees confer status that no amount of life experience can equal, in this culture.  Farmers, on the other hand, who live by their own means, generally don’t have the same lofty view of themselves, even though by Marxist rights they probably should. Not, at least, until they become ranchers, instead (this is an inside joke among farmfolk — those who want to be cooler, more elite, claim to be ranchers; or I watched the stepmonster try to finagle the phrase ‘dairy ranch’ to elevate his status).

Yes, oppression comes about because of disdained membership in a group. But it’s enacted on a very personal level, as well as on the entire group. And it’s not about a sense of inferiority — it’s about indignity. I know Marx would disagree, but there’s a wealth of group awareness that defines class in this way, and Marx’s view isn’t the issue. So, can we start to discuss class?

Betsy Leondar-Wright has the best analysis of anything I’ve found to date:  http://www.classmatters.org/2005_07/

Most of this post appeared on Facebook as a Note.  If it’s familiar, this is quite possibly why.