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.)

 

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The Decline of Oppression Theory for Discussing Racism, Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Is Gender Really A Hierarchy?

I’ve stumbled across the same line several times in radical feminist spaces: Gender is a hierarchy.

Sex is a hierarchy: male above female, man above woman, boy above girl. But gender, which even WHO, the World Health Organization, defines as masculinity or femininity, is a patriarchal construct much more complex than a simple hierarchy — gender is a system by which patriarchy rewards conformity. Framing gender as a hierarchy too easily leads to men being categorized as more oppressed than women. That’s my thesis here, so please pay attention to this line: Framing gender as a hierarchy too easily leads to men being categorized as more oppressed than women.

Radical feminism takes the stance — inherently — that gender is fake, a construct of patriarchy by and for the benefit of men; gender is invalid. For this reason alone it would seem that framing gender as a hierarchy is a waste of time. But even more, the concept of gender is so complex, and flexible in meanings, that it becomes more than a waste of time — gender reinforces anti-feminism. I’m picky on language. If you know me, you know that. But it’s for one reason alone — political expediency. If we don’t hone our definitions, they get used against us and weaken our movement. We have too few with too much to accomplish. Save energy: Get the definitions of the words we need to work for us, not against us.

Sex and ‘gender’ do overlap. Males are required to be masculine and females feminine: masculine men and feminine women conform to patriarchy’s “gender.” They are BOTH rewarded, even as the hierarchy of sex places men above women. This is an integral part of my thesis — Patriarchy is invested in seeing masculinity as an integral part of being male and femininity of being female, because if these things appear innate and sex-linked then patriarchy’s hand in the definitions remains invisible; it’s just the way it is. I accept here that patriarchy has the power to define words, and unless we have a great deal of energy to spare (we don’t), it’s probably best to use their definitions so long as they don’t damage our movement. In this case they don’t. Masculinity is expected of men, and femininity of women. Gender equals mandated sex roles.

And so what of ‘feminine men’ and ‘masculine women’? They. Don’t. Exist. Neither does “cis,” which is supposed to mean the sex that an individual feels they are, on the inside, conforms to what the culture around them believes them to be. Generally sex gets conflated with gender, so that it’s a matter of one’s “gender identity” being consistent or not, within that artificial “cis.” “Femininity identity” would be a stretch were it that clearly spelled out, and I suspect this is why the sex/gender identity obfuscation is so common — it hides the phoniness of “cis.”

Where individuals don’t conform to the assigned sex roles (a.k.a. ‘gender’), for example M2Ts (male-to-‘transgender’ persons), they may appear to be more oppressed by ‘femininity’ than are those for whom ‘femininity’ is REQUIRED, women. To transgenderists, the hierarchy, based on gender, looks something like this:

The Transgenderist Hierarchy:
MASCULINE men (CIS-gendered)
FEMININE women (CIS-gendered)
MASCULINE women (not-CIS)
FEMININE men (not-CIS)

As soon as you allow for “masculine women,” you give credibility to “gender.” Even more, you’re giving credibility to “feminine men” being MORE oppressed than women.

Nowhere else — except in the appropriation of First Nations identity — have people accepted that a person can “feel” their way into being something they clearly aren’t. Why this generosity only comes up with respect to sex — and to a very marginalized, much-genocided race — is telling. Women (of all races) and People Shoved Onto Reservations are not seen as valid beings, their oppressions not believed to be legitimate or important.

Some feminists have been so generous as to allow ‘woman’ to become a “gender” word, shared with M2Ts; they say “transwomen” for t-cult men. I think it’s due to a misinterpretation of Simone de Beauvoir’s famous “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” At any rate, these generous feminists are giving away our ability to name ourselves. We need a word that means adult human female — SEX, not gender — and ‘woman’ is that word.

Remember that gender is a patriarchal construct created for the benefit and maintenance of male power. So to be comfortable with one’s gender, to be this “cis,” means that a person is either a doormat, if female, or a brick wall, if male. What’s really missing with the emphasis on the imaginary “cis” is that there is no comfort for anyone in gender. There is comfort for men in being the superior sex. To translate: this means that there is no hierarchy of gender, it doesn’t work for gender — gender is imaginary, and even within this imaginary framing it is far too complex to be a simple hierarchy; there is a sex hierarchy, and men are on top. The sex hierarchy looks exactly like this:

MEN and BOYS
WOMEN and GIRLS

Onto the complexity. Within the reality claimed by patriarchy, which owns the arena in which gender plays out, Male = ‘masculine,’ or that male becomes an outcast; Female = ‘feminine,’ likewise. There are four categories still, but I’ve already pointed out that masculine women and feminine men don’t exist, can’t exist, within patriarchy’s definitions. Men are masculine or they’re just not real men; ditto for women and femininity. Nor is there ‘cis’; the nonconformists would simply outcasts, for need of a term. At first I thought the breakdown of the four categories would be more like this:

masculine-enough MEN
unmasculine MEN claiming to be feminine
— claiming female oppression and the right to infiltrate woman-only space
unmasculine MEN
feminine-enough WOMEN
unfeminine WOMEN

But this doesn’t work either! Those “unmasculine” men I listed? They are hyper-masculine in everything but the fetish wear. They grope women, they demand entry into women-only spaces, they accost, they act ever bit of the male entitlement they’ve always known. To quote a brilliant friend, “They play dress-up but they never lose their male power.” And even those symbols of supposed hyper-femininity, the fetishwear (and the breast implants and so forth) are not designed by women for women. They’re designed by men to create hyper-femininity, where femininity is the evidence of oppression. The symbolism of oppression.

Maybe the hierarchy could be more like this:

masculine-enough MEN
masculine MEN claiming to be feminine, fetishizing femininity
— AND claiming female oppression and the right to infiltrate woman-only space
less-masculine MEN (however marginally less so, they’re still potential sex-traitors)
feminine-enough WOMEN
unfeminine WOMEN

There are men who gain incredible amounts of feminist sympathy for being outcasts, who claim to cross gender and to own the word “woman”! These men adore femininity, and why not? It is symbolic of female oppression, which upholds male power and privilege. They are adamant, oppression-furthering conformists: Nothing reinforces patriarchy’s ‘femininity’ like equating breast implants, makeup, stiletto heels and skirts with ‘woman’!

Yet another problem with great magnitude in feminist circles, especially, is that we, as a sex-caste, never quite get past our coerced over-appreciation of men. Men in suits? Men in skirts? Doesn’t seem to matter. Perhaps sometimes we’re flattered into thinking men really do want to be like us, and will appreciate our teaching them to be women. What we really find, if we’re honest with ourselves and one another, is that these men believe they are the better version of us. (I often step back when sisters insist that we should feel for the t-cultists, because, given a very short time, they inevitably find that these are men, with full-scale privilege overwritten in their brains, and they will out themselves as male-supremacists, even in skirts; they believe fully that they are superior to women.) At any rate, men, however ‘trans’gender they may claim to be, face unabashed adulation within feminist and even lesbian communities, all too often.

Sometimes this unabashed adulation happens within institutions. I’ve been sheltered enough so that when my sisters argued that t-culters, men in skirts, were getting backing within university settings, I was thinking Feminism, rather than institutionally-backed privilege. If t-culters, men in skirts, are sanctioned out in the mainstream masculinist world for failure to conform, they are revered within the elite institutions that make up our culture. Those with the institutions of the culture behind them are not oppressed — they’re actually privileged.

So then the hierarchy might go something like this:

MEN (including those in skirts)
MEN who are potential sex-traitors
Feminine-enough WOMEN
Unfeminine WOMEN

One problem for me is where to put F2Ts, women who claim masculinity (and often act with entitlement, however borrowed it might be). Too often they have ALSO claimed the right to infiltrate woman-only space! And another problem is that with a hierarchy as complicated as this, the places are not fixed, definite or set. Gay men (potential sex traitors) and heterosexual women of the same races and classes can be used one group against the other when patriarchy needs to quell a potential rebellion. Feminine women, as conformists to the sex-role mandate (to ‘gender’) are rewarded by patriarchy! And yet they’re still women, and oppressed as women. But this is another case where places on this hierarchy can change at the whim or discretion of the powerful. There are times when, at least briefly, the middle two locations on the list can flip. Women can be used to quell the uprisings of lesser men, or those lesser men can be used to stifle unity among women (think any of the myriad scenarios where Black women were left out as white women and Black men fought over first rights). Feminine women are certainly used against non-feminine women. And there are the hordes of genderqueers and bois and gays (but the women here are never lesbians, never comfortable with existence among women), who tag along in this po-mo parade of proclaimed gender traitors, too many to rank into a credible hierarchy.

There are men who don’t conform rigidly to masculinity. These men, like ALL men it should be pointed out, still have tremendous MALE privilege and the accompanying sense of entitlement — they are not even close to any central location in between the dichotomous hierarchy of SEX. They can potentially be sex traitors, outcasts of ‘gender’ conformity, and still be allegiant to the hierarchy of sex. While they aren’t necessarily seen as “real” men, more as pawns or tokens, they may be called up to reinforce the hierarchy, when the elite want them to. Think leftist men who talk about feelings, but watch porn. (Or, simply, think leftist men.)

The punishments for sex-role non-conformity are reserved for unfeminine women, primarily, and men who are potential sex-traitors. Think lesbians and gay men, as the most obvious targets. These punishments are delivered by men, overwhelmingly — and for unfeminine women, also by women, handmaids of the patriarchy.

Unfortunately it is easier to pounce and pound upon the more-marginalized, and in the sex-role arena, death threats by transgenderists are legion (see GenderTrender). But these threats aren’t made against those with power — patriarchs. They are instead made against feminists. Women. The oppressed sex-caste. This only serves to undermine the credibility of the transgenderists. They do not want real change, they want easy targets, the more-marginalized, women.

Feminists still protest in earnest that the abuses of the trans are common and cruel. Are men in skirts, so thoroughly protected in the UK now, really seen as lesser when compared to men who opt to not conform to the privilege inherent in masculinity? Foremost, I’d say that the reason the laws protect men in skirts, t-cult members, is not that the culture has generous feelings toward these men (M2Ts), but rather that the whole t-cult line serves to shove women back, down the hierarchy, quite effectively. Elite men are protecting themselves against the real threat, the uprising of women should we ever see ourselves as a class in opposition to men/patriarchy. Gender is certainly not a neat, tidy hierarchy. It’s too complex to be so, and yet there is a solid case to be made that men in skirts who claim t-cult membership are elevated above men who simply don’t conform to the demands of masculinity — even as they are sometimes punished by sex-role enforcers out in the culture.

So why do our sisters, feminist or no, sell us out, seek appeasement and common ground with these appropriators? As in giving away the word, woman? As with using definitions of gender that cloud the fact it really is, simply, sex-roles divided into masculine/feminine? As with the focus on the occasional cultural hostility, and not the institutional adulation and reward? I can only see it as an intent toward kindness, a sort of a Good Girl conditioned reflex — so often I hear ‘inclusion’ and ‘reconciliation.’ As if these had never been tried!

I don’t see it as being so kind-hearted from men, and especially from leftist men. Think of the attacks on DGR for its radical feminist, trans-critical stance. It really looks like an opportunity to get one-up on women, and too many men seem to jump at the chance. I would dearly love to see the same level of indignation, of outrage, of adamance, when women and girls are attacked as I have seen in the past few days from men defending men (in skirts) against women.

If gender is as artificial as are class and race — and they are not innate, they are layered onto our identities — I do NOT wish to abolish class or race. While these may be viewed by much of the left as being as impermanent as gender, they still hold some of the discernability of sex. Sex is male or female (occasionally intersex, which is a different issue entirely). There are differences by sex, whether they are as biological as the ability to menstruate, or not, or as indefinable as in knowing which men will rape, given that it is overwhelmingly men who commit rape, and an astounding number of men who do so.

Class is more than poverty or lack thereof. Class, like race, involves a subculture with a worldview shared across at least regions if not entire similar classes. It’s more-frank speech, not the middle-class language of obfuscation; it’s ‘coarser’ words that represent the nature of working class lives: Greater danger in employment, shorter life expectancy because of it. (We call it plain speak, or plainly spoken, rather than ‘coarser.’ just so you know.) There are also beautiful traditions and visions that would be lost if we were to eschew class for the disprivileged. We who are marginalized ALWAYS have things to teach to those responsible for the world as it is, screwed up as it is. You know that “getting rid of class” would just mean we were expected to ‘rise’ to a class level that many of us would find boring and cold, deceptive and manipulative. Race is at least as replete with traditions and perceptions that have tremendous value to those who have been enriched by them — and which often would deeply benefit the planet! Genuine sustainability has many races, but none of them western-white. Diversity is not just a buzzword from a bygone era. It’s an important reality for those of us who are not among the privileged in all ways, or even in most ways.

We need a real dialog on sex and gender, and on the definitions we choose to use. I do understand that there are places where polite culture wishes to evade the use of the word ‘sex’ because of its cruder interpretations. We could opt to use ‘sex’ for male/female and sexuality for what two people do in intimacy (or one, or three). I hope this, re-edited on July 26th (and now 27th), is a better start. And I really hope to avoid, this time, accusations that I sound pro-trans, or trans apologetic. Seriously? I don’t think so!

The Effects of Confusing Sex and Gender

When we allow the misuse of words, or blur the meanings of words important to our movement, and to radical politics in general, we are weakening our position.

Though sex is biological, legitimately dichotomous except in rare instances of intersex individuals: female or male, gender is entirely contrived. Gender is a construct of, and for the benefit of, patriarchy: masculine or feminine. Even the World Health Organization, hardly a bastion of feminist sensibility, is (sometimes) clearer on sex and gender (see also Note (1)):

“Sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define
men and women.

“Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities,
and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and
women.

It’s really ‘men and boys,’ and ‘women and girls,’ in both cases, and sex = male/female while gender = masculine/feminine, for absolute clarity. But the WHO definitions make the correct split, where sex is different from gender entirely. While both sex and gender are hierarchies under patriarchy, because sex is real the hierarchy really matters: female people, for the fact of being female, are oppressed by males.

Often there is a conflation of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ creeping even into grassroots feminist writings. We hear of “The Divine Feminine,” as though that phrase has real meaning, and more importantly, feminist meaning. We read ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ conflated repeatedly. Academia has done much, beyond simply removing feminism from its base, in blurring the movement’s important definitions: we have Gender and Women’s Studies programs. Why on Earth would institutions decide to host programs for ‘Masculine/Feminine and Women’s Studies,’ except that sex and gender are words they have confused? Why is it not still Women’s Studies, or Female Studies, except that men felt excluded and were accommodated by “good” (patriarchally-approved) women? Why are women so willingly generous to men when they are the oppressors, and the issue is our oppression?

Those things that are culturally valued are claimed by men. Again conflating sex and gender, such “mannish” things are considered masculine, in a benevolent-leader kind of way, things like being:

responsible * strong * capable * intelligent * industrious * loyal

reasonable * wise * mature * sincere * benevolent * fair

Those characteristics are recognized as belonging to ‘good’ men, with widespread societal approval, if not necessarily to truly ‘masculine’ men, as judged by manly (not prissily “good”) men. And of course the characteristics said to be of “good” men are as often, sometimes more often, found in women and girls. Honorable and worthy human characteristics are not sexed; they certainly do not belong to the elite sex, male.

Other characteristics considered as belonging to men, or as being masculine, aren’t necessarily positive though they are often patriarchally-rewarded; these are the characteristics approved by manly men. They may include being:

aggressive * competitive * single-minded/ relentless * stoic

unmoved by others’ emotion * dominant/ dominating * violent

Patriarchy believes that the feminine counterbalances the masculine in this unequal dichotomy, and so the following characteristics are demanded of those mandated into femininity for this balance, women, including being:

passive * selfless * flighty or frivolous * overly emotional

unstable, easily swayed * deferential * cowardly

In this context it should be clear that “feminine” is NOT ‘that which is inherently characteristic of, or common to, women’! Instead, femininity includes those qualities that reinforce female subordination — characteristics which reinforce female inferiority in comparison to males, under patriarchy.

It is vital for feminists to understand, and to not conflate, ‘sex’ and ‘gender.’ It is only when these words are correctly defined and used that we can begin to see clearly the logic in the arguments of Bev Jo, Linda Strega, and Ruston (2a): that “Butch” is Female without the patriarchal overlay of feminine subordination. Butch is Female in her most vital, empowered, and unobstructed state. Every overlay of femininity that a woman carries with her is an act of complicity against the liberation of women and girls. Every reference to “The Divine Feminine” is an undercutting of feminism, a bolstering of female subordination. Sex is not gender; femininity is not feminist and, in fact, femininity works to actively reinforce female oppression.

Butch is, and long has been, a Lesbian who has, her entire life, evaded choosing femininity; she has never capitulated. A case could most certainly be made that Butch, right down to her Lesbian nature, is the unaltered female — but I’m not going to make it here, not in this writing (do see (2b)). (Also see Bev Jo’s incredible theory, along with Linda Strega’s and Ruston’s, in the book “Dykes-Loving-Dykes,” most of it at Bev Jo’s blog, noted above as (2a).)

So as not to appropriate more-marginalized women’s terms, to acknowledge that it is sometimes possible for women to have level relationships with men (rare, but possible), and to name this non-feminine way of being, any heterosexual, celibate, bisexual or otherwise-non-Lesbian girl or woman who later evades femininity needs a name. We could call her a normal, non-feminine woman (but not a non-fem, since by the definition of Butch she is still Fem, she made that choice once); we could call her a currently femininity evading woman, a CURFEW (I do like the idea of women putting curfews on men so that women may travel safely at night, especially) or a C-FEF for currently-femininity evading feminist. We could call her a virago. This, of course, affects me quite directly, so I would love having a say. And I’m sure there are better names and acronyms.

No matter the name chosen, an unfeminine woman, by definition many of whom here would be (or would have been) involved with men sexually, still deals with men’s patriarchal values internalized. This HAS to affect relationships with men. I would be surprised if most men can even see women without the judgment of standards of femininity. And I would suspect that for most all non-homosexual men, their sexuality depends on access to patriarchally-idealized, or feminine, females. Pornography certainly skews the standard, but femininity is basically as artificial as the porn ideal. Pornography is merely an exaggeration of the fixations on femininity — both idealized female body parts and female subjugation.

If women weren’t declaring subservience via complicity to the feminine ideal, how would non-homosexual men function sexually? Of course some men could function, but I wonder if that still is based on breast (and vagina-use) fetishization or the capacity to “see” femininity where it doesn’t exist, or both. Is her short, curly hair “feminine” in reality, or just to him and the same length and style would easily be seen as being appropriately masculine elsewhere? Large breasts are demanded not only in the porn ideal, but also in the cultural idealized view of heterosexual womanhood, enough so that young women frequently seek silicone-implant surgeries. But, ironically, both large size (often) and implantations (usually) serve to reduce breast and nipple sensitivity (3). To the extent that women find their own breasts to be erogenous zones, the preferred aesthetic serves heterosexual men, not women!

For many women, heterosexual or otherwise, I wonder how much the porn ideal shapes self-estimates of sexual desirability. For all women, I wonder how deeply are the norms of patriarchy internalized, taken then as givens. Certainly body shapes and features typical of women are culturally devalued, even demeaned, separate from breasts and sometimes buttocks. Women’s shoulders are relatively narrow, compared with men’s. But narrow shoulders are not considered attractive, not on either sex; wider shoulders are idealized, even on women, especially if the women are thin and not “too” tall. Long legs, more typical of youth, male or sometimes female, are idealized as is a narrow waist — far more rare for women after childbearing. Suntanned skin — but decidedly white skin! — smooth and hairless, is idealized. In so many characteristics, it’s more likely that a young male will meet them than any woman. And yet this is the “feminine” ideal.(4)

Those men who vary from the customary idealizing still don’t meet women as interesting individuals. Instead they simply skew the preferred characteristics: big butt over smallish hips, red hair over blonde, very long hair, or an exceedingly fat body, even to the point of debilitation. Women are still objects required to meet fuckability standards, though slightly amended ones.

 There is nothing inherently wrong with long hair; for many cultures, it is not sexed at all. The same can be said for natural red hair, a genetic-based component of appearance that is found among males and females, both. And while perfectly healthy women may have large backsides and/ or large breasts, and a lot of body fat, especially breast and fat fetishists too often demand a level of profound disability with their ideals. Pornography has forced female body insecurity to a whole new and more intimate level, with labiaplasty, the reshaping of the vulva to fit the porn aesthetic (and, ironically, ‘decency’ standards, for longer labia have been labeled obscene, while photographing prostituted rape is entirely legal!). Another newer surgery, reminiscent of the Victorian-era removal of women’s lower ribs to fit the wasp-waist ideal, is toe-bone removal. Pins replace toe bones in a woman’s feet so that they will better fit in sky-high stiletto heels; sometimes the last toe of both feet is entirely removed!(5)

Not only are women expected to behave in limiting, self-deprecating ways, we are also expected to surgically alter our bodies to a changeable set of patriarchal ideals. Why are we not fighting back? Why are we, in such large numbers, accommodating patriarchal views of our bodies, our sex? Why are we still so unable, in feminist spaces, to talk about sex and gender within this framing?

Some of us do fight back, and this is good news. For all of the infighting, and the recurring need to challenge faltering allegiance to the core principles of radical feminism, including being trans-critical and insistent upon keeping radical feminism open for all women — and not a white, heterosexual, college-educated and otherwise class privileged women’s movement — some of us do fight back. And some of us fight on very personal fronts — we evade the femininity mandate, even if we fail the more-stringent criteria for “Butch.”

Is it possible to actually talk about this? Or do I need to soft-pedal it further, create even more introductory posts, and find alternative ways to approach it other than simply saying, Sister, are you with us or are you against us?

I will say that I think that for most women, heterosexuality is deeply psychologically damaging, to the point that women cannot see themselves without the male gaze taking over their vision, without the mandate to evaluation by standards of sexiness, a male concept, and without the little girl posing that every clothing-store flyer puts them in.  Child porn is normalized, little girls preferred, but adult women will do IF they play along, grovel at the right times, learn their lesser place.  How can that not wound permanently?

And yet feminists who challenge compulsory (meaning ‘conformity absolutely demanded’) heterosexuality are exactly right — we can function with wounds, we all do, and we can make better choices.  We can honor and emulate those we cannot be — Lifelong Butches. In the sense that the personal is political, I think we also need a way to honor those women who later begin to resist patriarchy, who choose to be unfeminine, uncomplicit in the femininity mandate, unfettered by the patriarchal demand. But this needs to be a discussion, not just my voice so adamant on a rarely-read blog.

Yes, I know it’s more complicated than agreeing to stop the conformity cycle: the shaving, makeup, coiffed ‘do, heels and dresses and skirts, jewelry and scents and accessories, and the concern about taking up space — from body fat monitoring to gestures made demure by their intentional restriction. We are OPPRESSED and this is work, I do know that. And there are COSTS to a woman for not following the femininity mandate, I get that, too. But the costs are rarely immediate, and maybe you need to see it for yourself, if you’re clinging to the femininity mandate. Pick a few sacred capitulations, let them go, and see what happens? And while you’re dropping those several habits of femininity, listen to your internal dialog so that you might hear your judgments and your valuations of other women. And then, just maybe, consider the costs to the women who have NEVER capitulated — and realize they have, in fact, lived on.

The personal is indeed political. This isn’t about individual women, though it is about doing the right thing. It’s about women beginning to take responsibility for the effects their actions, behaviors, and words have within the dominant culture, and on other resisting women’s lives. It’s about either complicity or support, because sometimes it really is that damned simple!

I’ve said before, I don’t agree with “if only every …” scenarios. If every woman needed to drop her feminine acquiescence for change to happen, change would never have happened at all — but it has; both positively and negatively, change has come. We can work on moving liberation back toward the positive, toward greater legitimate freedom. But not through coercion, not through the violence of force. And the only way to get to ‘if only every …’ would be through violence; for their own reasons, some will always resist even the most obviously beneficial directive.

If only every woman were Lesbian, patriarchy would end overnight. Probably true, but they’re not — we’re not! And there just might be some small value in staying within the beast to inform those not in it of tactics it intents; and there might be some small value in forcefully challenging the misogyny that masculinity demands. If only every woman would stop giving time, attention and energies to men, patriarchy would dissolve almost immediately. Reasonable, yes, but it’s still not likely to happen. Certainly not without force. What about always giving less than half what a woman has available to give, and then giving the rest, the most, to women and girls? 



And what about those rare few men who do act differently? It is not incumbent upon feminism to change men, not ever. Men are not the issue in feminism. And yet men have the possibility of being allies, and sometimes even more, of doing ‘unmasculine’ things showing that they are not innate. I do believe men are rapists — what happens in war is not an anomaly, and there is a war on women that legitimates rape, anyway. And yet, women talk with one another: there are times when she was tremendously interested in sexual expression, and the man she was with was not — because of his loyalty to and feeling for another woman, because he was not ready, because she was drunk and he didn’t want intimacy under those circumstances. I believe strongly that we live in a rape culture, and I believe that most men, if opportunity exists, will find within themselves some abhorrent motive — and they will rape. And I know that some men don’t. And more importantly, that some men won’t.

I’ve also said that in a normal, tribal society of human-reasonable numbers, a jury of her peers would have no issue with terminating the life of the man who raped her, a woman of the society. Some other time we could explore a better ratio of females-to-males. Many of us are certain that anything like 1:1 is dangerously high for female safety. No woman who reproduces can ever be sure that her son will not rape, or that her daughter will not produce a rapist. We miss terribly, here, in resisting patriarchy. But I have written on this elsewhere, and others within radical feminism frequently further this idea. We understand the danger of males; even more, we can talk about it. Why then do we not see dangers in complicity to the feminine ideal? Why is this never an acceptable topic for feminist discussion?

Still, we do more than miss on resisting the femininity mandate: we so very often support each other, reinforce one another, in bowing to this terribly anti-feminist ideal. Sometimes this insistence toward our sisters’ femininity contains at least some violence: the non-conforming girl or woman is ostracized, and ridiculed when confronted in more-public spaces. And then, think of how often the Ugly Duckling tale, in girl culture, becomes a case of the Ugly one getting her revenge by winning the attentions of males, at her sisters’ expense? We do not ever win when we follow the femininity mandate — hugely, horrifically, we lose! What sanity might we find if we begin to put girls and women ahead of boys and men, in importance in our lives? What freedom might we find if we let at least some of the femininity rituals go? What revolution might at least begin if we were to give to one another the real support of resisting? Real support IN resisting? Are we, can we be, RE-SISTERS? Not if we continue the conflation of sex and gender so that femininity remains quietly reinforced — and by women, demanded.

 

Notes:

(1) WHO gets it basically right, here: http://www.who.int/gender/whatisgender/en/ and
in the text, above, but fails miserably at the site most apt to appear in searches I conducted (4/2013): http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/gender_rights/sexual_health/en/ where sex is defined (acceptably), though gender is not and the two are conflated. And then there is the weird caveat on the incomplete definitions, suggesting they should not be credited to WHO, anyway:



“These working definitions were elaborated as a result of a WHO-convened international technical consultation on sexual health in January 2002, and subsequently revised by a group of experts from different parts of the world.

They are presented here as a contribution to on-going discussions about sexual health, but do not represent an official WHO position, and should not be used or quoted as WHO definitions.”

(2a) These links, from Bev Jo’s blog, represent some of the most amazingly concise and cohesive theory to come out of feminism; the entire blog is (and the book is) well worth reading!
http://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/supporting-butches-supports-all-lesbians/
http://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/22-years-later-2012-butch-update/ and http://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/the-big-sell-out-lesbian-femininity-by-linda-strega/

The blog itself is here: http://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/

(2b) http://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/naturally-lesbian/

(3) https://www.google.com/search?btnG=1&pws=0&q=large+breasts+less+sensitive

(4) ‘As Tom Wolfe describes it in A Man In Full, today’s ideal female is “a boy with breasts.” ‘ http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles5/SchuchardtHefner.php

“The ideal body is now a boy’s body with breasts.” http://www.nytimes.com/1995/04/02/weekinreview/ideas-trends-put-on-your-best-chest-it-s-time-to-preen.html

(5) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2236039/Off-pinky-How-high-heel-obsessed-women-removing-toes-stiletto-surgery-comfier-fit.html

Men Rape: Normal Male Sexuality

I’m currently reading Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Talents, but it could be any book, really.  Any history, any women’s literature, any feminist work, anything chronicling the actions of men who have power over others, including women.  We know what happens in that situation:  even good, kind, family men conspire to find logic to justify raping.  Not unlike the businessmen who, when in Singapore, routinely visit child slaves whom they rape for payment to the children’s keepers.  Not unlike men who go to strip clubs and pay for a little extra.  Not unlike the male bonding act — using a woman’s body though it is mostly incidental, as a thing in which to ejaculate — gang rape.  Not unlike the very many men who peruse the ‘net or bring home the movies, movies depicting the actual photographed rapes and the sexual slavery of innumerable women.  Or, sometimes, men.

Two things are clear to me.  First, men rape.  Second, “normal” male sexuality is in need of an Other to penetrate; it is territorial, power-ensuring, a form of mastery, privilege-promoting, always hierarchal, with the Other merely a means to an end:  friction adequate to accomplish his orgasm.  “Normal” male sexuality is a terribly solo act, something done inside his head, inside his body; it is deeply selfish — it is all about HIM and in the end, only about HIM.

In this writing, the author suggests that men project onto women their own desires:

[Images become] a substitute for sexual feeling, that sexual feeling becomes externalized and out of control and is given an undifferentiated identity in the appearance of women’s bodies. It is a process of projection in which one blurs one’s own desire with her imagined, projected desire. If a woman’s attractiveness is taken to signify one’s own lust and a woman’s lust, then when an “attractive” woman is raped, some men may think she wanted sex. Since they perceive their own lust in part projected onto the woman, they disbelieve women who’ve been raped. So long as men project their own sexual desires onto women, they will blame women for rape.

But that’s just another way of saying that “normal” male sexuality is tremendously self-obsessed, self-centered.

Not all men rape — but a whole lot of men do.  And more men would, if only they could and not be caught and punished for it.

How many men do rape?  In an article headlined “1 in 4 Men Admit Rape,” the actual stat is 31%, a bit closer to one in three men who claim to have actually raped women and girls.  Maybe the 1 in 4 is easier to take.  This is in South Africa, war-torn and western-empire ravaged.  What about the US, where I live?  

Mary Koss seems to have found that 1 in 4 or 5 women will have been raped by men, or rape will have been attempted.  The old stat, which Ampersand found to parallel a 4-5% actual-rape admission rate by college men, was 1 in 8 women.  One in eight women of college age will face attempted or enacted rape.  Does that mean the 4-5% number has also doubled?  That 8 – 10% of college-age men will now admit to having already raped?  At best, about one in 20 to 25 men is an actual rapist.  And, if doubled, it’s closer to one in ten.  But this statistic only accounts for college-age men.  With all men, the percentage might be lower; college age is said to be about the peak time for men to rape.  And yet men who are now older were once that age, were once, presumably, just as likely to rape.  So what about the fact that these men who aged also gained in power and in access to female bodies, to power directly over women and girls?  One good site, offering a 1997 analysis of US data, suggests that 40% of rapists are men age 30 or older.

Still, these statistics are all in average patriarchal times.  What about difficult situations — what about where men are accorded or take extreme power over others, including women?  What about war times?  In Octavia Butler’s book, with its collapse scenario, even good, kind, family men (staunch Christian men) conspire to find logic to justify raping.  From here:

Susan Brownmiller was the first historian to attempt an overview of rape in war with documentation and theory[5] . Brownmiller’s thesis is that “War provides men with the perfect psychological backdrop to give vent to their contempt for women. The maleness of the military—the brute power of weaponry exclusive to their hands, the spiritual bonding of men at arms, the manly discipline of orders given and orders obeyed, the simple logic of the hierarchical command—confirms for men what they long suspect—that women are peripheral to the world that counts.” She writes that rape accompanies territorial advance by the winning side in land conflicts as one of the spoils of war, and that “Men who rape are ordinary Joes, made unordinary by entry into the most exclusive male-only club in the world.”

Under normal circumstances, then, some men rape.  Under circumstances where, simply, there are a lot of single females around a lot of single males, the statistic rises to over half of men reporting they would rape if they could get away with it.  The statistics are here.  And here.  And here.  51 to 60-some percent, depending.  The stats on how many women are raped?  Those are easy to find, direct and to the point.  The stats on how many men are rapists?  Those are obscured, difficult to locate and cloaked in unclarity when they are unearthed.  But given the logic of increases, under more dire circumstances, most men will rape.  Men rape.

And the stories of men stopping rapes, intervening when their friends start in with the banter and the attitude, are just legion … oh, wait, they’re not.  To be a man under patriarchy is to learn to get along, know one’s place, and NEVER confront another man who is in your group.  Cajole him out of his errant ways in private, but other than persuasion, well, what can you expect the poor guy to do?

I expect a great deal, honestly.  I expect men who truly feel they cannot help themselves, that they must rape, to suicide.  If no female, no woman or girl, is safe with them, then they have a duty to their species to remove the rest of the species from their impending, inevitable danger.  They have an obligation to not tarnish those of their sex who are not inherent rapists so that such males can exist as allies to women and girls.  I am willing to take them at their word, and I am willing to see them cease to exist.

And I expect men to ally with girls and women, and specifically with radical feminist women, without question.

It would be after this minor revolution, should it ever actually happen, that “normal” male sexuality might reasonably be pondered.  There is nothing but taint at this point:  the unchallenged use and abuse of female beings as devices for friction enough to get him off.  Don’t like that?  Challenge it!  Don’t like that I wrote it?  Make it untrue.  But make it untrue in your community as well as in your own life.  Personal solutions mean nothing when revolution is necessary.  The revolution is not personal; it is for the re-empowering of groups who have been marginalized.  Nor is the revolution private — let’s talk about this.

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/ )