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.

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

But Which Females First?

An article, linked below, was sent as a reply to one of my posts.  I don’t think it fits, so I’ve discarded it as a response.  But the article itself is interesting, and possibly a space for establishing common ground.  I invite the author, Cathy Brennan, to engage with me here.

The article.

An excerpt:

The last thing Females want to be called is “Feminist” – because that might mean “Man Hating.” That’s bad for Straight Ladies, because then someone might think them Lesbian. Even though Lesbians don’t want to couple with Males, Lesbians are “supposed” to be socially available to them and not “Man Haters.” (I know I‘ve been called “Man Hater” before!) So heaven forfend if you’re Feminist!

Yes, heaven forfend!  I certainly agree that there is a great deal of feminist-baiting — and -hating! — in this culture.  And, yes, Lesbians not willing to avail themselves to every man must be “man haters” in that same-old view.  I love the old Lesbian duo comedy skit where some guy in the audience heckles them for being ‘man-haters.’  One of the duo stops, looks shocked then skeptical, and asks, “So *you’re* the alternative?”  I love it, not because I see Lesbians as alternatives-to-the-norm, but because it bolsters the framing of Lesbianism as a logical, sensible choice.  Hate?  Maybe, but not always, because even that level of energy and attention to men puts other women last.  Nope; ignoring the fools, and then shaming them if necessary to back them off is fine.  Or, if you need a stand-in man-hater, send me.  I volunteer.

I also agree that patriarchy socializes us to distrust one another.  And to devalue our own.  And so, yes, feminism is full of male-apologists.  (There’ve been times I wanted to propose that mixed-sex conferences ostensibly about feminism have dual name tags for het couples:  Her Name, and Her Name’s Nigel; I wondered if that’d get men to not dominate ‘feminist’ discussions quite so much.)  And son-enablers.  And men-firsters or patriarchal apologists (which is what the lines, ‘What about the men?” and “But women do it, too!” seem to mean).  I agree, as a het woman, partnered, that to give energy to males beyond what is received in return is too much.  Way too much.  We can do an even share in this human exchange of my participation — and know my extra energy goes to women and to female children.  In part because way too much extra energy is being demanded by boys and men.  Way too much is given.

Because of our socialization, Females resist coming together, or even identifying, as a class. Accordingly, Females are the most dissolved, invisible ingredient in the Great American Melting Pot. We hear of White, Gay, Black, or Poor People. When discussing Poor People, nobody asks whether they are Male or Females (even though – as a class – the Poor are Female and the Rich are Male). Only when discussing Females do concern trolls come calling to ensure you discuss Poor Females, Brown Females, Vegan Females, Gay Females, and (fill in the blank) Females. That’s no coincidence. Patriarchy places these filters in front of Females to prevent us from perceiving each other as members of the same oppressed class. These obstacles destroy the need for further derails by Patriarchy because Females don’t talk to each other as members of the same class. It divides Females.

I even agree that it is important for us as women to see ourselves as a class, the sex class ‘female.’  I simply disagree on how this vision is to come about.  I don’t believe that we can mandate that those we oppress just shush and join us, because we claim we’re all the same, we’re all just women.  Some of us are not just women.  Some of us are Lesbians, Radical Lesbians, even proud and honorable Lifetime Lesbians … and this complexity of womanness brings its own rich and textured history, its values and ideals, a depth of love for women that is boundless and without equal.  To lose this in the flattened het-washing of the dominant culture would be devastating.  Some of us are Latinas, with gorgeous, proud and colorful cultural traditions that we would never wish to lose, in the bland whitewashing of the dominant culture.  Some of us grew up working class or working poor, and before we’d shed our directness and plain speech, our integrity, our ability to laugh at the ironies around us, and our roots in the warmth of community, we would fight to retain these proud markers of this part of our identity.  To simply name us all women denies the rich tapestry of female existence we weave when we connect with one another as we are.

Actually none of us is ‘just a woman.’  We are women, individually, in a complex weave of privileges and dispriveges — lived oppressions and the lived ability to actively oppress other women.  And so I concur, then, that the poor we need most to concern ourselves with are the female poor.  There are poor men; there are oppressed men.  And yet in most cases it is the females of the group who are overlooked.  Females first:  here I do agree!

And yet, is this what divides females, really?  Obstacles of ‘difference’ thrown down by patriarchy?  Isn’t it actually done by other women — isn’t it the insistence that we ignore the characteristics that mark us as different from class-privileged, white, het, moneyed, college-educated, comfortably “normal” women?  Isn’t it the expectation that we will behave by their standards, speak and write and negotiate by their standards, and meet their standards in our appearance as well, when we are together?  Isn’t it the expectation that we wish to be like them, that we could, if only we tried appropriately hard, be just as awesome as they are?  And isn’t it the expectation that the issues of multiply-oppressed women are not really women’s issues, unless they also impact white, privileged women?

So why the need to demean us with the label “concern trolls”?  We are your sisters; we’re not trolls, and connection, building community, is a hallmark of women’s ways of being.  Concern is not a bad thing.

Cathy, I don’t feel arrogance from you in this writing.  But I would say that this is the cost to those parts of my identity not privileged, when I buy into this argument:  I find arrogance and entitlement and abuse, put-downs and dismissals.  I am not welcomed in as ‘female-and-whole’ but rather as ‘female — conditional (and please try to speak unemotionally, and please dress conservatively so as not to offend the more middle-of-the-road women we seek as members).’  I can be a movement workhorse, I can be passionate and full of activist joy; I can be persistent and persuasive.  What I cannot be is anything other than my whole, complicated self.  I’m not ‘female-but-‘ … as in ‘female-but-working-class.’  I am ‘female-AND-working-class,’ and in being so, I think I bring a depth to feminist perspectives that is lacking without this ‘difference.’  It is certainly lacking in welcome for women like me!  Ditto for feminists who are also Black, also Latina, also Lesbian, and so on:  we are oppressed as women, yes, but our oppression is not at all identical to women who are not-Black, or not-Latina, or not-Lesbian or any combination of these and others, legitimate others.

I don’t feel arrogance from you, but rather a longing for a strong sisterhood, a feminism united and moving forward.  I share this longing.  I agree that this is a noble goal.  I even agree that identity groups are more safety-ensuring than change-making.  In the long run.  But don’t we need to ask ourselves why women who are marginalized still form into identity groups first, and repeatedly?  Don’t we have an obligation toward creating safety before we demand coalition?  And it’s in the long run — forever forward — that I want radical feminism to endure, to thrive.  The only way I see to get to there is to build comfort enough here so that we can build that coalition, and move us — together, equal, and as we are, whole — forward.  We still retain our full identities — and we can work together within an atmosphere of acceptance of these differences.  I cannot see a future for feminism unless we honor each woman as the whole, wondrous being that she is.