Motherhood Privilege

I wanted to entitle this piece “Privilege in Oppression Theory: Privilege in Feminism (Or: What You Want to Believe Doesn’t Exist, or is Too Complicated, is Merely Your Denying Your Actual Privilege; No, Really)”.

I’m exceedingly frustrated — as you can probably tell from the snarky, wanted-to title. But for good reason. Male privilege? Sure, feminists get that, even as they also (mostly) get that Black men are incarcerated at an absolutely unjust rate. Men have privilege merely for being male, but it isn’t always luxurious. White privilege? No problem, here, either. Whites have relative ease, and … if nothing else, think about the rate of Black incarceration. Privileging of motherhood? No way! It’s all about MY mother, or MY life — or MY wife — and how horrible the culture is to her.

No one white whines, “My dad died from job-related cancer at his factory job, SO THERE IS NO WHITE PRIVILEGE! And there’s no whining because we’ve mostly stopped saying aloud that Those Jobs, the dangerous working-class ones, should go to Black and brown men. In part, this is because those jobs, often the remaining union ones, pay a near-living wage. Now women and men alike are clamoring for them, in a culture that has produced only service-sector (burger-flipping) jobs, or otherwise-menial jobs requiring multiple degrees.

No feminist, or pro-feminist male, whines, “My brother couldn’t get a job because they kept hiring females instead!” Partly this is because when a job classification has a preponderance of females, it loses status. And for men in western culture, it’s all about status, masculinity, about being seen as ‘not like women.’

In these two areas, most people understand that privilege doesn’t mean A Life of Luxury. Privilege simply means better treatment compared with a reference group. Men are treated better than women; maleness is higher on the hierarchy than is femaleness. Whites are treated better than are people of Color; whiteness is at the top of the racial hierarchy. Privilege simply means better treatment than that other, related group — related via race, sex, etc. This holds, consistently, uniformly, and really, really well until … motherhood. And I really, really want to know why.

I suspect that part of it is that women are still seen as being ‘designed for motherhood.’ Species continuation, as if too few humans were an immediate issue. Still, no matter our politics, motherhood often just feels natural. And right. And personally important — because without motherhood WE, personally, would not be here. Our very lives have depended on motherhood. To question any of it means to question the rightness of our own, very personal, existence! I suspect another part of it is that we are, when we think of humans as a group, still quite lesbophobic. Sure, Some of Our Best Friends Are, but we still don’t think of Them as equal. Or superior! As having excellent, inherent answers to pressing cultural concerns. Like too many people, like female support for patriarchy, like maintenance of the exiting hierarchy of female subordination and all it entails — including the maintenance of femininity. Heterosexuality is complicity. Seeing that is painful, too big a reach for most hets, and too hard to grasp without turning self and beliefs inside out and upside down. Nope, no real questioning of that is going to happen for the vast majority of far-leftists, even radical feminist activists.

Well, tough shit. Some of us are brave in this area, and would like to see others catch up. I remember the feminism of the 70s, where EVERYTHING was questioned. Women were far braver then than the backlash faux-feminists of this era ever dreamed of being. Which is also tough to deal with, for some. Too many women believe the New! Improved! claims of advertising somehow apply to feminism. Coziness, comfort, navel-gazing, a belief that If It Feels Good It Can’t Be Questioned, came into politics in the 80s and settled deeply in the 90s. Single issue ‘activism’ became normalized. Women could unite, never mind worrying about the messiness of race. Fat people could come together, never mind the messiness of hierarchies of sex, sexuality and actual love, race, class, and the rest. ‘Park your differences at the door’ bled from feminism into fat activism and elsewhere, and those of us who were never single issue activists were stunned. (All three of us.) Clearly I’m still pissed. And not likely to get over it. (OK, there are more than three, but not enough more, who get it.)

Part of it, which needs saying, is that it’s cultural, sub-cultural, even racial: for minority groups, and for people of Color, women not reproducing can feel like genocide. So outgroup women and women of Color have a sacred obligation to continue their people, their race(s). Conservatives distraught at the impending white minority classification, and the rise of outgroups, certainly reinforce it, and the world sure doesn’t need more first world, entitled whites. But women as obligatory Breeders of the People is a problem, a feminist problem, a huge problem for proponents of social justice. No one can be used against their own interests for the betterment of the group without damaging the group. In fact, no one who is legitimately marginalized can be claimed as a part of a group without their permission. (Lizard Man and T-Culters don’t qualify as ‘legitimate’ within radical feminism.)

Another issue is that lesbians capitulated to the cult of motherhood in the 80s. I was one of them, a fact that deeply shames me now. But it’s done and what I can do now, all I can do, is support more-marginalized women and call out the truth as best I see it. And that truth, here, is that motherhood is decidedly and clearly privileged.

Elite-caste characteristics are privileged: maleness and whiteness are two good examples of immutable characteristics, decidedly privileged. Another is white patriarchy’s consensus on physical attractiveness, the characteristics of which are rarely amenable to any lasting change. Think weight and body shape and size, coloration, physical features, and especially the smallness, weakness, and general paleness associated with ‘feminine beauty.’

Any conformity to the power-maintenance needs and the power-reinforcing wants of the elite is also privileged. These conformities CAN be changed. They are acceptances of the status quo, demanded by white supremacist patriarchy. Institutionalized inequity in the additional forms of heterosexuality over lesbianism and gay maleness, classism (economic AND subcultural/ worldview-based), and motherhood, fit into this category.

So can we start talking about it, with the understanding that privilege means better treatment compared with a reference group? And that your mother’s awful life, or your own, aren’t the point? And that if you cannot imagine how your mother’s life would have been different had she been lesbian AND resisted the baby-making mandate, or how your own or your wife’s life would have been different, you are denying privilege. No, really.

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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.

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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

Is Gender Really A Hierarchy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MEN and BOYS
WOMEN and GIRLS

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

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

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

Maybe the hierarchy could be more like this:

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

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

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

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

So then the hierarchy might go something like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Effects of Confusing Sex and Gender

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

responsible * strong * capable * intelligent * industrious * loyal

reasonable * wise * mature * sincere * benevolent * fair

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

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

aggressive * competitive * single-minded/ relentless * stoic

unmoved by others’ emotion * dominant/ dominating * violent

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

passive * selfless * flighty or frivolous * overly emotional

unstable, easily swayed * deferential * cowardly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

 

Notes:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.