City Meeting

Yes, Lesley, I remember you.

The meeting is beginning, the room is almost full, and someone slides in front of me and sits between my acquaintance, a retired professor from the college, and me.  I smell a touch of perfume, enough to make me lean away.  I see the large, bright fuchsia purse slide past my face, and the clutch of notebooks and a phone.  I see butt-length waved black hair that looks like a wig, brown skin, and when the clever sweater of the dress ensemble is shed, the biceps of testosterone fueling.

I’d been warned that my longtime acquaintance, Lesley, seen last at the Black Lives Matter march in mid-summer, was now appearing everywhere in drag –- heavy makeup, wigs, heels, and always –- that marker delineating the women from the boys, clear proof of XX status –- skirts.  I’m joking.  No, really I’m trying to cover rage.  Because the other thing I’d heard was there’s a beloved “transgender” considering getting into politics.  I never made the connection to the young, obviously gay man who was so great a volunteer, and so good with those who depended on him.

Why rage?  Because the two left-wing political men in that room, the professor who’d run for local government and the one currently running for a top city position, greeted Lesley with bright smiles I’d never seen them give to a woman candidate.  And they wouldn’t; this is different:  this is a comrade who gets them major brownie points, a “transgender”!  And a “transgender” who looks like a pretty, young Black woman.  Sort of.  Double bonus points!  And eye candy, to boot.  How can I explain this without being completely crude?  They were both, these white men, fairly giddy.

And they will never understand my side of it.  They are, after all, supporting a WOMAN!  But they’re not.  They’re supporting an appropriator, and an attention-seeker, too.  Female, woman, girl, she, her, these are my words.  These are the only words I have to name my sex, and my sex is the basis for my oppression, so they are the very language of my naming and explaining my oppression, OUR oppression, girls’ and women’s oppression.  Steal those words, and our oppression is obliterated, completely.  Hand our oppression to someone who has NOT lived as a girl, has NOT been molested and raped as a girl and as a young woman, who has not been chased down a dark country road by drunken teenage boys knowing their bodies are stronger and running away is the only defense … and it erases the hells we have endured.

This “woman,” with his fake hair tossed and fluffed and then grabbed to maintain its attachment, repeatedly, and with his knuckles cracked every several minutes throughout the meeting, and his cutesy little sweater off then on then off, always with a polite “Excuse me,” and his fussing in his purse for phone and notebooks and pen, purse up, purse down, is not a woman.  But he is definitely satisfied with remaining the center of attention.  In quieter moments he clears his throat –- a somber low tone not at all like his pitched speaking voice.

And I could abide the attention-seeking behavior, the noises, the movement , if this were someone not appropriating my sex, my oppression, and not staking the terrain of my eventual divide with the shallow-thinking political men who pride themselves in pushing this new-found oppression, women be damned, with his heels and mascara.  These are the markers of femininity, not womanhood.  I AM a woman, clearly so, as I sit there as my real self, short hair, button down shirt and jeans, flat shoes, and as always, makeup free.  These are the markers of this authentic woman.  But they don’t flatter liberal men, and they don’t titillate –- there is nothing in here that suggests sexual availability or feeds male fantasy, and yet ….

No, I mean this seriously!  What does a short skirt say?  Possibly access?  What effect do high heels have on how someone walks?  They cause a sway of the hips –- that is their actual purpose!  To be noticed, to distract, to re-focus the male mind.  Signalling sexual accessibility –- skin exposure, vulnerability and lack of any real ability to resist — and seeking male attention and approval is femininity.

For a decade I adored this young man, talked him up to others, reveled in his awards and accomplishments.  For a decade I never guessed we’d be on the opposite side of the “transgender” issue –- never guessed he’d seek to mutilate his perfectly functional gay-boy and gay-man body, and never guessed the liberal men I knew would applaud his conversion to privileged normality:  female-seeks-male instead of remaining gay.  (Or is ‘privileged normality’ redundant?)

So as I’m readying to leave he turns to me and says something about, “I wasn’t sure you remembered me.”  With the closest thing to a poker face that I can find, I tell him calmly that yes, I remember him.  And I leave.

And I’m away from the building, alone, before I begin to swear aloud:  JFC, I saw you no more than seven months ago!  And while at the podium to address the city government you gave your name.  Of course I remember you.  I simply want to find the way to say, I liked you better before you appropriated my sex, my oppression, and pondered butchering your healthy body.  I suspect your attention-seeking behaviors are clues you’re not really that happy, or perhaps you’re just a narcissist.  Either way you’ve drawn a line, drawn me on the other side, in support of the war against women that is “gender.”  I can’t wish you anything more than a return to sanity; you’ll always know that I believe your life matters.  White privilege means you don’t have to worry about mine, but that male privilege is something else, and it doesn’t go away when you don a skirt, mascara and heels. ….

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Well, hell: the 2016 Election, Part 2

People still discussing the 2016 US election cycle five days later are deeply divided.  It isn’t simply division by sex, because so many (white, heterosexual) women voted for Trump. And it isn’t simply division by a belief that women matter, because I am still arguing with male colleagues on the left, whom I truly believe care about women and women’s issues (just how much is the debate point, because the male left and the male right sound too much alike).  The divide might best be framed as one between those who are female and who believe that all women’s lives matter, and those who can’t claim both.

That debate point:  how ready are men in the US to see women as equals in status and worth?  The logical conclusion from this election, for so very many women, is that men hate us even more than we suspected, and if we are multiply-oppressed (via race, class, being Lesbian, etc.) we are likely even more damned and despised.  I used to think “women’s equality” was a low bar, and now I’m looking at it from the underside.

I saw equality as a low bar of achievement because I’d understood it to mean “equality with men” or being “as good as men, LIKE men.”  Given the rapes and molestations and other sexualized and non-sexualized violence, and the love of hierarchy enacted the world over by men, equality didn’t appear much of a goal.  It seemed even a step or two downward.

But this “equality” is maybe better framed as men seeing women as equals, since men hold the power under patriarchy. And they simply do not. This “equality” is a plea: the low bar I once derided is not even within our reach; we must beg for access.  This is not what we felt a week ago, some relative autonomy giving way to shock over the horrifying possibilities of our futures.  Instead, our country voted for the candidate who bragged about being a sexual predator, and somehow both women and men found him an acceptable candidate.

Seriously, we are positioned under patriarchy to have to beg men for levelness.  Whereas we were set to at least have a woman as president, whatever her flaws, and to use populist pressure to shift her to the left, we found ourselves enduring brutal abuses of her, of other women, of girls, and of men of Color and of marginalized ethnicities and religions.  And it increased throughout the campaign.  Still, we thought, this country is not going to accept the misogyny and racism and hate outright — we’ve come too far, and have too much in place already, right?

One word:  pornography.  Pornography set the stage for women being seen as incompatible with leadership. Over the last decades our culture’s view of women has become one of utility (fuckable/ not fuckable) to men, rather than as individual beings in their own right or a collective and marginalized sex-caste.  We feel this occasionally (or often) as we pass groups of men or overhear their banter, but many of us have been able to keep it on the periphery of our lives.  Unless we’ve recently been raped or sexually harassed, of course.  And now pornography has brought us a “First Lady” that a number of American men have seen naked, enjoyed seeing naked.  We know because they have begun to brag about it on social media.  Her oiled-body nude photos have made the rounds recently on Facebook, and men who are generally respectful of women have stepped aside in their support and cracked brotherly jokes about those photos.  We have a new standard for American women, and it is one of objectification and subjugation — in short, hell.

And so we have women who understood that Hillary at least meant holding off the descent into hell, and who are now terrified for their lives.  Because eating and shelter are not optional, because marginalization has gone from dangerous to deadly.  And we have women who are traumatized by her opponent’s flagrant abuses played over and over in the media, and legitimized by the vote — women who have sobbed for days and who show all the classic PTSD signs, and if functional, only barely.  We haven’t even admitted to ourselves the likely increase in the rape rate, in intimate violence against women and girls — except the rare cases where it has hit the news and social media.

stalker

Have we admitted to ourselves the likely increase in violence against women and girls as an outcome of the 2016 election?

Maybe the saddest thing of all is watching women on the left claim there was never any real difference between the candidates, or that it’s acceptable to hold Hillary to an absolutely impossible standard when no man has ever — EVER! — been held to the same.   And yes, I would say that women who are still Hillary-bashing do not fit my side of the divide, where women’s lives truly matter.  They refuse to see the damage that is possible.  Worse, they appear to refuse to care.

Some of this is the baggage of racism, of classism, but some of it, I think, is borne of privilege, of the need to feel better-than in the face of despair.  I want to help nurture discussion and deeper communication between women, especially, and leftists, overall.  But we will have to face the issues honestly as we work to lessen the damage to the most-marginalized.  Here I do mean poverty-class women, Lesbians, race- and ethnicity-marginalized women, and disabled women first.

We can set the agenda on the issues later.  Right now we need to heal ourselves, become aware of those things we need that we are most likely to lose, and then settle ourselves for the long conversations.  At least that’s what I see.

Well, hell: the 2016 Election, Part 1

I’ve successfully moved from next-day depression to a sort of numbness on Thursday, to anger with resolve starting the Friday after the travesty that is the 2016 election. I’m interested in hearing how other women are doing, especially those of us in the US, but also women in countries that will be impacted by this presidency. Which seems to be most other countries, given US behavior.

I know of many, many women and no small number of men, who cried all day Wednesday, some of whom were still tearful on Thursday. And Friday. We grieve, we work to heal all that is broken. And there is so much broken. From here:

2016wwomen

Trust. Young Black women look at me in daylight much the same way that women look at men on deserted streets at night, and this alone breaks my very soul to pieces. Gray-headed white het-married woman sans college degree, very much working class, the demographic of hate, among women.

The future. Parts of Canada are thirty degrees warmer now in November, setting records 20 degrees (Fahrenheit, thankfully, and not Celsius) above the previous records.

The gains of social justice. From Black and women’s voting rights to rights to bodily sovereignty also called abortion rights to Lesbian and gay marriage to Title-freaking-IX to something nearer to decency for desperate immigrants, rights we’ve fought so damned hard for are up in the air.

How can we grieve all of this at once?

How can we come together to heal our communities? How do we give to those communities, and more specifically to one another, and still nourish and nurture ourselves? If we can’t function then activism is over. So — how do we heal ourselves? What steps do we take? For ourselves, and then for the most-marginalized, and for all who are marginalized, among us?

Link

None of my arguments seemed to be registering, and what I was receiving in response sounded like part of some other conversation, not the one I was trying to have. In exasperation I said it felt like I was discussing nutrition and others were talking about dinner, recipes, some specific meal, rather than looking at the what and why of eating.

I had said that suicide is selfish. What I was hearing in response was personalized. Focus on individuals’ pain and how wrong I was to judge others, along with certainty that I must never have felt serious depression myself. And platitudes — that we can never know anyone else’s pain. And that mental disorders are shrouded in a mystique that leaves them beyond discussion.

What I see is culture, father culture (to correct Daniel Quinn’s error). The culture of the fathers is brutally hierarchical, competitive, devaluing and unforgiving, and judgmental in a way that I am not. But I don’t blame others for missing the difference — there is no other way to judge, according to culture! Steeping in the culture, commonly called childhood, leaves us all full of soul holes, traumas endured, physical and psychological violations experienced, and no way to frame it all except on the given hierarchy. Soul holes are filled by taking shots down the hierarchy; that’s all we are allowed.

We face traumas individually, yes, but one of the most healing things is to realize at a gut level that you are one among many others who faced the same kind of thing — it isn’t you, it’s them. And they were wrong.

I can remember the 70s (and before) and feminists’ budding awareness that a huge number of women were on anti-depressants. We began to understand that depression came from oppression, significantly if not entirely. We also learned to consider that depression just might be anger turned inward: when women could not lash back at their tormentors, or find other effective outlets, their rage would be expressed in self-hate and self-harm.

And then came the 80s, and feminist insights were usurped for more profitable endeavors. One example of this is the psychologization of disordered eating. Whereas women were beginning to recognize culture’s cruelty in forcing women to be a specific size (thin) and shape (buxom, long-legged), along came the psych industry to profit from women’s pain. That huge numbers of women entered the medicalized and psychologized disordered eating professions made little difference; the framing was patriarchal. Culturally women’s coerced appearance obsession was backed by the porn industry, something liberal feminism refused to challenge.

There is a too thin and a too fat within disordered eating standards. All women are expected to be able to conform to a thin ideal. This is one area where diversity is expressly forbidden. Any woman who does not conform is seen as having a defect in her eating — by definition. And the industry controls the definitions involving weight, while the populace believes them. Women do not strive to be whole and happy within their natural bodies, no; women strive to appear correct. (There is nothing healthy in being controlled by an external aesthetic standard whether its medicalized aesthetics or pornography’s.)

In fact it is the attempt to adhere to unnatural standards that creates the disorders to begin with! For all, anorexics and bulimics alike, the disorder starts with self-semi-starvation. Anorexics continue it; bulimics hold to a cycle that is inevitably starve-binge-purge — the starving comes first, and purge is merely another form of it, a form of underfeeding.

So what does make people healthy, including psychologically healthy?

We are taught to look toward acquisition, power and prestige, and control over our and others’ lives, to find our fulfillment as human beings. Things and admiration are the stated goals. Yet these do not work for us.

In essence, meeting others’ legitimate needs is what gives our lives fulfillment. It is the human connection that is fostered by the gift economy, by meeting needs, that fills soul holes. (See Genevieve Vaughan’s book gifted on-line called For-Giving, linked below; see also the link to the talk by Charles Eisenstein, below.) But without a hierarchal culture, our capitalist patriarchy, there would be no soul holes. We have plenty.

My children’s generation, those who attended Gymboree and who were told incessantly that they were special, often have an overt entitlement. Whatever they do is supposed to be enough to rate praise and positive attention. They may be worse than other ages, but tell anyone, warmly, that they are among the common people, or that they are average, and watch the response! To some extent we are all programmed to see ourselves as exceptional. Older generations have the cult of the rugged individualist to live up to. But of course not everyone can be exceptional, above average, positively uncommon. And within this programming there is much manipulation (see the documentary film, The Century of the Self, linked below).

http://www.gift-economy.com/womenand/women_gift_part_one.pdf

http://charleseisenstein.net/sacred-economics-money-the-gift-and-society-in-the-age-of-transition/

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-century-of-the-self/

We really aren’t isolated selves, or rugged individuals, or even beings who are happiest when in conflict and competition with our peers. We are happiest in connected interaction with others. We are not islands, and no one is likely to be the only one ever to have gone through something — there was always someone else before who endured it — and usually thousands of such someones! If we aren’t exceptional, if we are part of a caste of humans who have been made to endure atrocities or at least significant pain, then we can pull together to resist. This should be good news!

Even as a child of the 70s, I’m aware that oppression isn’t necessarily the sole or inevitable cause of serious depression. I think it’s significant, but people are complex, and one size rarely fits most all. There are physiological origins, too. And selfish isn’t always wrong, to use a term of judgment. Sometimes being ‘self’-ish is necessary, especially in a capitalist patriarchy. Women often have no one else who will put them first. And sometimes being selfish is simply the last option. All I’m saying is that as a beginning point, it’s not conducive to filling soul holes or to making people want to continue to exist.

All people have some privilege available to them in their lives, and that privilege could be used — in the only useful way for privilege to be used — to aid those without it. For every horribly pained but privileged white man, there are women and children whose lives are atrociously oppressed, and who could benefit from his sharing what he’s been given, unearned. For every horribly pained but privileged white woman, there are other women, marginalized women, and girlchildren whose lives are infinitely more oppressed.

Now do privileged people have an obligation to use it to benefit those without? In the knee-jerk individualist stance, no, of course not. But is that the best way of looking at it? Same answer.

When we live as isolated beings in competition with one another, we lose. Generally we know this. So then why do we defend it as inevitable? The simple answer is that we have been groomed to see things in terms of rights. Our rights end where another’s begins. In this framing, we are inherently separate and in conflict with one another, practicing survival of the fittest. In reality though, cooperation is more the norm of Nature than is competition. And separation doesn’t make us happier. So what we know is in conflict with what we defend.

Because of this, I think some of the anger at my attempts to de-mythologize suicide (and to some extent psychology) aren’t necessarily aimed at me but are frustration from inherent contradictions.

When we live as beings within a connected, sane, and life-serving community, then we win. Those of us who have looked at studies on tribal people pre-civilization or separate from civilization have seen this valid form of ‘winning.’ More suspect it. In a community where lives are valued, intertwined and fulfilled, wouldn’t you expect to see some responsibility to others beyond individual rights?

Two incredible sources that have pulled me into this kind of reframing beyond Gen Vaughan’s words of community and connection are Barbara Alice Mann’s talk on WINGS, and David Abram’s books, The Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal. They’re worth some perusal, I think.

http://wings.org/ftp/WINGS%20shows%202009%20series/hi-bitrate%20wings34-09Mann2009-28_41-192kbps.mp3

http://www.humansandnature.org/david-abram-people-72.php

I have been called judgmental for my views. I would answer this criticism by saying thank you. Our human world seems to currently lack critical thinking, and judgment is a part of that. I would rather think critically than perpetuate the bland non-judgmentalness that has so many thinking they’re each one exceptional and better than the rest.

I have been called a traitor to the ideals of community. Again, we get nowhere with all-accepting kindness — it simply reinforces the status quo, maintaining the hierarchy and its brutalities.

And I have been called unkind, even heartless. I do care — about individuals and their very personal stories, about a culture that leaves gaping soul holes. AND I am adamant about not excusing the privileged as they minimize their very real abilities to alleviate at least some of the oppression of others. There is responsibility to be found in being given something you didn’t earn, and truly don’t deserve over and above those without who have done nothing but be chosen for oppression. There is a duty.

Robin Williams was a white man with an excess of privilege and of power; he had resources beyond most people’s imaginings. I have been said to be equating money with happiness, which is absurd. I am talking about privilege, which often includes wealth; clearly privilege does not buy happiness, either. But sharing it actually might — it is through meeting the legitimate needs of others that humans find real fulfillment. It is through community and the connections created within it that humans thrive.

Suicide is selfish. To squander luxuries, and the chance to equalize them into the provision of basic necessities, is entitled. To wallow internally in pains known when the breadth and depth of others’ pains, external, are not known, is entitled. To not try, when trying could mean so very much, is entitled. To be embedded in the role of Victim, to individualize depression as Victim, to never even begin to examine one’s privilege as well or to take responsibility for it — to be the perpetual Victim — is a sign of our times, our culture, our adamant isolation. And a block to trying for change.

But that is all I ask — to try. To not squander what others don’t receive. To hear above one’s own pain to understand those of others. Again, selfish isn’t always wrong. But dishonest selfishness probably is. I would prefer that we be honest about what we do know, including that there is a mystique shielding mental illness so that its inhabitants are above reproach. Recently someone told me about a rapist, but partially excused him because he didn’t take his medication!

Another thing we don’t allow ourselves to readily know in this culture is that sometimes damage is too much to survive whole. Those who deal with childhood sexual assault do know this, and often try to tell it: girls who were sexually abused long and early may never, ever possess a healthy normal sexuality. They may always see themselves as Objects meant to please the masters, and may be proactive (probably grasping at the only sense of control available to them), seemingly seductive, making the first moves in an inevitable ritual.

There are other ways to be damaged beyond healing, and it may be kindness to not resist the end of such suffering. I don’t actually want the ominous responsibility of deciding this. I am willing to take on the burden of calling out the bullshit when privileged people are given passes, for whatever reasons. What I want is discussion beyond the platitudes, the accusations, and the personalizing of what needs to be a genuine discussion on how we view humankind in community and as individuals. I care deeply about individuals who have been hurt in this discussion; if it’s too much then ignore it, but if possible let’s walk through it. I want to change the framing, not you.

I’m not an outsider in this discussion. My childhood was hell; I was emotionally abandoned at 18 moths of age — after molestation, “damaged goods” was the explanation — then poisoned and starved, and left out to die (porch, door locked behind me, trike, concrete steps, broken ribs and a nose that bled for 48 hours as recorded in my baby book). There was more, but that’s enough. I have chop mark scars on my arms from when I practiced with a knife, hoping that bleeding would release some of the agony and angst, or at least teach me to do better, more, next time. I have hours lost on bridges when homeless and young; I took risks that should have been seen as practice as well. I don’t know why I survived, why I found other frames, why I moved onto more solid ground. I do know the words that came to me, unbidden, were: “and suicide is silence, the ultimate family loyalty.”

I don’t face depression to any great degree these days, but when I do I take it as a sign my body (or psyche) is trying to heal. I am aware that there is much out there that I don’t have to endure (and some I do). I have cut all ties to my family of origin. And I have decades of activism past, and ongoing, with moments of sheer joy in the sharing of the work. Those do help sustain me. So does being old — knowing I AM going to die and it won’t be my choice when, most likely, since I am resisting oppression and wanting to eke out all the living I can to do so.

I’ve listed and refuted the accusations against me. If you can’t find new ones, don’t respond. Better yet, if you can find framings that don’t absolve the privileged of responsibility, let’s talk.

Link

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.

Radical Feminism and Oppression Theory, 2013

Contentious Divisions — Racism

Within feminism, we recognize that women are marginalized under patriarchy as women. What we don’t always recognize is that, among women, some of us are further marginalized for our differences from the markers of privilege, things like race and class. What I want to consider is how those differences, those further marginalizations, those multiple oppressions 1, can be framed so that we can understand and care for one another, while we nurture out the insecurities coerced (and sometimes defended) within ourselves.

Feminism is going to divide itself into factions, as women gather around beliefs, common experiences, wounds and points of pride. I don’t see this, by itself, as an issue. None of us has all the experiences to ground us in our theory; we need other women’s perspectives to create a comprehensive whole which can then be used to guide us in female empowerment.


Because we are all women — and feminism is by, for and about women — we are rightly seen as a sex caste, one of two sexes. Yes, there are a very few intersex individuals, but this doesn’t really change the fact of there being, primarily, two sexes. The issue is that when women don’t jump into this women-qua-women alliance wholeheartedly, WE are often seen as being divisive. When Black women bring up the entitlement of white supremacy, when lesbians talk of heterosexual privilege and its presumption of normality, and when I challenge classism, and fat oppression and the ever-present expectation that there is a right size and it’s thin, charges of our being divisive often arise.



That feminists with real-world privilege may still be oppressive to more-marginalized women becomes a contentious issue, and some of the things that come out in the ensuing discussions are brutal. Alliances with white women, with class-privileged women, with thin or average-sized women, and, foremost, with heterosexual women, are demanded. Hierarchy is usually ignored. It is complex, and maintaining victimhood while deflecting other women’s anger for complicity can and must often seem like life support to the threatened privileged. Still, it’s hard to hold unending sympathy, since they are privileged.

Victim Feminism/ Liberal Feminism

One of the biggest divides, even within radical feminism, is a leftover of liberalism that equates femalehood with victimhood only: each woman is a victim of patriarchy and her individual foibles of complicity should never be the focus; she is doing her very best, and is most correctly seen as a victim — and never, herself, as an oppressor. Differences are divisive. The ultimate insult within liberalism is to define a person as a member of a group, also disparaged as ‘identity politics.‘ Liberalism seeks to maximize the choices of the individual, without ever really questioning the effects or the consequences of those choices. 



Feminism, seen as white and relatively elite, is something women of Color may join if they fit in … on white women’s terms. Mostly those terms are that racism cannot be discussed because it hurts white women, who are only willing to focus on their own oppression. Victimhood is comforting in its lack of responsibility to do anything except fix blame.



Every focus beyond victimization, it is said in myriad ways, is about behavior coerced by patriarchy — and white women cannot be expected to address racism, class-privileged women cannot be expected to examine their own privilege, and so on. Because they are victims. Because attention to race (class, etc.) isn’t feminist. Because any mention of racism (classism, etc.) is to focus on differences, and it’s our commonalities as women which bring us together as feminists. Racism is (and classism is, etc.) viewed as a subset of patriarchy, and the empowerment of women-as-women will take care of all the other more-marginal issues. And because any focus on anything other than women-as-women is to shift the focus onto men, which is all too common — it’s always about the men, and women are forgotten, or worse, seen but ignored.



WATM has become a common Internet acronym: What About The Men? Women, as the lesser sex-caste in the existing hierarchy have been expected to consider men, as a matter of survival. And it shows, in Internet interactions. Men expect to be catered to, overwhelmingly, and whole groups have formed to complain about non-catering women; these men are called MRAs, ‘men’s rights activists, although many of us prefer other words, including ‘male reactionary’ or ‘repugnant’ and ‘asshats.’ In mixed-sex groups, male goodness often overshadows female brilliance; men are rewarded for behavior expected of women. WATM is a valid criticism within feminism, generally — but not necessarily when it comes to racism, classism, lesbophobia, and so on. Paying attention to further-marginalization does not necessarily imply WATM-ing.

I’m not convinced that the oppression of females is the founding oppression, the basis for all others, which is often cited as a cornerstone for radical feminism. I believe my First Nations friend when she says that for some, colonialism brought misogyny — that it did not exist prior to white contact. To me it looks like the sadistic side of the domestication of animals, or possibly wholesale slaughter vs. taking for need, may have formed the foundation for further oppressions, the legitimacy of canid companions and hunting aside. And perhaps the parent-child relationship, in its first abuses, led to the idea that some people are ownable, appropriate chattels, without any responsibility for their welfare, their own needs and desires. Scarcity, and the rise of the few sociopaths in devastating times, may have been the root cause of oppression — and it well may have brutalized women and girls first, since sexual violence works to disempower females so well. I still claim that I am a radical feminist; I can usually find words like Christine Stark’s, 2 where radicalism is “a means of getting to the root of the issue — seeking fundamental rather than superficial change.”

To me, the issue isn’t limited to the oppression of white, elite women. Feminism, and especially radical feminism, is for all women. And the need is for a fundamental restructuring of our culture, western culture, so that inequities between women are removed, and the playing field is leveled. A great deal of information exists within cultures and subcultures that this dominant one, via patriarchy, has sought to destroy. Rather than further marginalizing communities of Color, we’d be better off begging for the forgiveness of white folks, of Settler folks, and then listening to and learning non-imperial and non-landbase damaging ways of being and doing. I don’t see how it’s possible with climate upheaval and peak soil and the drawdown of ancient water stores to marginalize the Earth side of ecofeminism; even if they haven’t always done perfectly well by women and girls, many First Nations cultures have existed sustainably for tens of thousands of years, at least. We’ve lost on both accounts, so we might as well begin by listening. Especially, listen to the women.

I agree that feminism’s focus needs to be on women and girls. Feminism, again, is by, and about, and for the empowerment of, female people. AND Black women ARE women, and First Nations girls ARE girls, and so it goes. And the pressing issues in the lives of Black women — including that their sons/brothers/partners are the majority of the statistic that in the US, Black people are killed by security officers at a rate of one every 28 hours — matter to feminism; they have to, or feminism becomes patently white.

It only infantilizes us to insist we are always and only victims. We ARE victims; we can be survivors, as well. And we can be accountable to one another, so that we examine our biases, our complicities, our capitulations, and we work to not further marginalized multiply-oppressed women.



Marginalization Specifics

The Trayvon Martin trial, which should have been a legal examination of the acts of George Zimmerman but wasn’t, has ended and the younger members of the culture and a bunch of elders like me are devastated and angry. We are bouncing between despondency and rage. And in the days since the verdict, much of the bouncing has been on the Internet, where white entitlement has erupted repeatedly. Race, finally, is in the fore — at least for the saner ones among us. Fewer white supremacists are demanding that race had nothing to do with Zimmerman’s original stalking and accosting of the Black teenager. But the damage has been done. For every supportive post I have seen two, three and four posts making the claims listed above for Victim Feminism, even in radical feminist circles. And I have been scrambling to make challenging and worthwhile supportive posts! Even claims that feminism has work to do on racism/ white supremacy are contentious. Our work has barely begun, here.

If you suspect I’m overstating radical feminists‘ resistance to dealing with racism, consider this choice paragraph:



I am seeing this Zimmerman / Martin case being blown up on the Radfem FB pages and women fighting each other and actual claims being made that Radfems are seriously racist.  First of all, why are we discussing the Zimmerman case in the first place on Radfem pages when the case is about two men?  Secondly, women can’t be racist against men even black men because even black men oppress white women and have more privilege in patriarchy than white women.  If you are a radical feminist you should understand this basic power dynamic that the oppressed can’t oppress their oppressors. Yes white women can oppress and do have privilege over minority women and yes heterosexual women can oppress and do have privilege over lesbian women, but so far the claims I have seen of their being serious racism amongst Radfems have not been based on white Radfem women oppressing minority women or white heterosexual Radfem women oppressing lesbian women, but instead on Radfem women not wanting to concern themselves about the Zimmerman/Martin case—which is about MEN.  I must agree that this subject has no place in radical feminism and calling Radfem women racist because they don’t want to engage in or discuss the plight of men regardless of their race is ridiculous and has only proven to divide women.

(http://shehasthepower.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/zimmerman-case-allegations-that-radfems-are-racist-wtf/)


It is a complete misunderstanding of radical feminism, a branch of feminism begun in great part by Black lesbians. There is nowhere in oppression theory, besides in this blogger’s narrow view, that states that (white) women cannot be racist against men of color because all men have greater power than even that of white women. Nowhere. Simply because it’s not true. Both groups, white women and men of Color, are kept mobile on patriarchal capitalism’s hierarchy, certainly both below elite white men, so that they can be pitted against one another in whichever ways benefit elite white men. Black men rape; white women use their contacts with white men to move Black men out of their way. This has meant devastated or dead white women, this has meant devastated or dead Black men; mostly this has meant that the lives and deaths of Black women have been marginalized out of everyone’s awareness. Ha! Feminism.

Notes:

1. “Intersectionality” was, perhaps!, coined by token tower-dweller Kimberle Crenshaw. In scanning a Jo Freeman-edited anthology in a book store, I found the word attributed to a different woman, possibly earlier than the 1989 Crenshaw coinage. I will have to find that, if only for my use, but I will share the info if I can get it.


At least a decade before “intersectionality,” we were using language that was far, far stronger — more evocative of the terrible burden that oppressions caused when they were placed, one atop another, on the shoulders of women. We had “multiple oppressions” and the idea of women being “multiply oppressed.” And these terms are found in the works of Black women and other women of Color, many of whom were lesbians. I’ve been challenged for my racism in disliking Crenshaw’s word, which seems odd, since Combahee cradled such theorists as Audre Lorde, and I’ve heard Pat Parker’s name in there too. Barbara and Beverly Smith, I believe, were there …. To the very best of my information, radical Black lesbian feminists used “multiply oppressed” because it worked to show the burden, the weight, of oppression as it was experienced by more-marginalized women. As I recall it, we all used “multiple oppressions” to explain the dynamic; this was the wording of the 80s, and even the late 70s. And, in further reading, I’ve seen that Jo (Joreen) Freeman was using “multiply oppressed” in the late 60s!



One huge reason why I dislike “intersectionality” is that it brings to my mind ethereal points where this idea of oppressions can be seen as lightly crossing one another, and in that way discussed. The material reality, having to bear the weight of multiple oppressions, is not served by the small, light points of “intersection.” 

As a woman, and one who is working-class, non-Christian, old, and fat, I have a perspective that is at least somewhat marginalized in placement in relation to the power structure. I have a friend who is a poverty-class radical lesbian feminist, who feels the same, basically, but she is the only other woman I’ve ever heard articulate this.


I have heard other feminists, especially those grass-roots radical feminists (not trained in academia in feminism, although they may possess degrees in other disciplines), say that “intersectionality” is a code word for liberal feminism, for the entry of transgenderists as more oppressed than “cis” women. To me, this is too broad a sweep to be useful: words may work for us, even if the other side co-opts them to a degree. And, unfortunately, at the criticism’s basis, there is the idea that simply to discuss racism within a feminist framework is to be divisive, that it’s not an issue inherent to radical feminism, which is about the oppression of women-as-women, and not our differences. I think this is a leaching in of liberal feminism, but there is a lot of support for the idea that Those Other Women are disrupting Our movement — which, of course, makes it a white-centered movement, further marginalizing women of Color. I really can’t imagine that Audre Lorde would be pleased with this.

2. In “Girls to boy: Sex radical women promoting pornography and prostitution,” from _Not for Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography_, p. 279, eds. Rebecca Whisnant and Christine Stark, 2005, Spinifex Press, Australia

Heterosexuality and Feminism

Recently in a radical feminist space, someone made a case for intercourse, also called PIV (named for the parts), being a form of trauma-bonding. Intercourse is a specifically heterosexual act, which PIV makes even more clear. Intercourse poses inherent risks for a woman. While it may or may not be inherently hard on a female body, she has to trust that he will be careful enough, and receptive enough to her feedback, that he does not injure her. Each and every time: earned and maintained, this trust. Or his “sex” is actually his “raping” her: sex to him is rape to her and she, justly, is the judge. There is the risk of pregnancy, and of sexually transmitted disease. In reality, she is in bed with his entire sexual history of peopled intimacy. There is also the risk of his releasing into her body whatever toxins he has ingested or absorbed from whatever source, voluntary or unwitting. And she can never know what these toxins are, or what he is willingly imbibing that he doesn’t feel the need to disclose to her! All this accounted for, trauma bonding still seems a bit extreme.

If heterosexuality is coerced under patriarchy, being thin is also coerced. This does not automatically mean that if you’re thin, you’re complicit. Since some women are genetically thin, there is no reason to discount it as a way of being, no reason to fight Nature — to fight one’s own body. Having a privileged attribute does not automatically equal self-change to comply, or complicity. To some extent this even works with heterosexuality. Even intercourse. Dangers and all.

But let’s talk about privilege. There is an inane notion circulating among radical feminists — that if it isn’t delightful it isn’t privilege. Privilege is a about a comparison the powerful make: one group is privileged, or rewarded, at another group’s expense. To be rewarded for being in a group does not imply heaven-on-earth for its members. It simply means they will be treated better than the comparison group. Most of privilege just feels like basic, decent treatment. And if you grew up thinking you deserved basic decent treatment, privilege will not astound you.

We don’t, individually, get to claim or disclaim our privilege. That’s not within our power. Heterosexual women ARE privileged over lesbians in all manner of institutional power dynamics: in the workplace and in seeking employment, in schools, in governmental agencies and law, in medicine and religion. In access — in gaining and in sustaining that access. In social valuation. Under patriarchy, heterosexual women are valued, culturally, well above lesbians, and it is precisely for the complicity, the capitulation, that patriarchy understands it to be, that it is rewarded. Patriarchy also values thinness in women, and it’s roughly the same situation: thinness is seen as a sign of capitulation (whether it is or not).

Continuation of the species does suggest that some women might naturally, willfully reproduce. A Nature that is at least neutral would mean there is some sort of female buy-in to this reproduction thing in general. My childhood on a farm means I’ve witnessed female (other-) animal heterosexual desire. Since I don’t take Nature as innately or always cruel, the fact of some adult female humans being inclined toward heterosexual pairing does not surprise me. But some does not imply all. Even among wolves, generally only the alpha female and male mate (and she is said to dominate mating season and den location); the rest of the pack usually does not produce offspring — they do not mate. Shere Hite found that a mere 30% of women even have the capacity to orgasm during intercourse. Can it be said with any credibility that it’s natural for the remaining 70%? And what of those female animals who resist, and then are raped, even gang-raped, or fight back and stop the rape, injuring the male aggressor — don’t their different experiences factor in?



If hetness is seen as a form of capitulation by the oppressor elite, then why do we accommodate them? Why are some women heterosexual? The reasons are undoubtedly many, and somewhat varied, and that should be another essay. Beyond cause, though, we need to look at what the effects of heterosexuality for feminists really are. We need to understand that to be het means to miss the mark of one form of loyalty to girls and women: we have pledged time, energies and a certain amount of loyalty to our oppressors. This is reality. Having sons only further reduces the loyalty available for women and girls, and having sons within a rape culture endangers loyalty to females terribly.

I also think we heterosexual-privileged women need to consider our credibility. We should be subject to the same kind of ‘disregard of expertise’ that prostituted women still within the clutches of the sex industry receive. When your very life, down to the continuation of your breathing, depends on spinning the institution in the most positive light, you cannot be objective, or honest. Self-preservation also means that certain truths remain hidden, even from oneself, so that terrible realities don’t become unendurable, overwhelming. In the eyes of the culture that both demands and rewards it, to be a “wife” is a form of prostitution, of sexual servicing availability. To be a heterosexual woman but not a wife merely means the form of payment varies some. To be a woman who has sex with men means to be someone who is violated, penetrated, fucked. This is the only option the patriarchal mind can envision.

What, then, does it mean for a heterosexual feminist to say, “I love intercourse”? What exactly does she love and for what reasons? And what are the real political implications of that announcement in a culture where PIV is both compelled and viewed as capitulation? In a culture where woman-loving is always devalued under patriarchy’s terms of power?

Does it mean she’s delighted to a fuckable object? To be chosen thus? To be overtaken, penetrated like an enemy line, the demarcation the vulva in this war against women? I doubt it! And yet too often this is what intercourse, called “sex,” means to men.

Does it mean she has experienced intercourse as an integral part of “lovemaking,” where he has met and held her eyes, carefully, bridging across their separate humanness, to show her how much he values her, loves her, cares about her, puts her needs on par with his own? Does it mean she rejoices in the delights of her animal body and the intimate joys she finds in sharing it with a beloved other?

Does it mean she is backing feminist minds away from the idea of trauma bonding, and telling us all that it needn’t be so for those of us who are willing to risk the perils and live among men?

Does it mean that the sensations of intercourse, separate from its cultural or sexed meanings are pleasurable to her? Where, then, to put the cultural and sexed valuations, and the hierarchy that puts woman-loving far beneath man-loving, within the patriarchal frame? Can we really ever be separate from the effects of these? And what does it mean to lesbians, already culturally devalued, when we state our allegiance so openly to the oppressor class? It can’t be positive.

So what, then do we do? We work for women, we work for the empowerment of girls. We work for female physical and mental health and safety and nourishment and nurture. We work to grow the bonds across difference that know can be created, and we work to sustain them — we listen, especially carefully, to those women over whom we wield very real power in our privilege, and we learn and then we do (whatever needs doing). We give more to women and girls than we do to men and boys, and we hope this is enough to help build a woman-affirming feminism.