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?