Redefining Realness by Janet Mock: A Book Review

smash:

My latest post on Liberation Collective. Check it out!

Originally posted on Liberation Collective:

-Janet Mock, Author of Redefining Realness (former title: Fish Food)-

-Janet Mock, Author of Redefining Realness-

Janet Mock is a transwoman author who has strong opinions on gender and the sex industry shared in this memoir. Mock discusses many topics, but this review will cover five: essentialism, the term “cis”, the term “fish”, hormone blockers for children, and the sex industry.

View original 3,081 more words

A Short Word on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day heteronormative bullshit is so dangerous.

It teaches women that love is more important than boundaries, self-confidence, and self-preservation.

It tells us that our intelligence, our goals, and our health are less important than whether we’ve secured a man to manifest his value through us.

It tells women to stay in unfulfilling or abusive relationships because their self-worth is best realized in relation to /subordination to a man.

It tells us to ignore our partner’s bad behavior, his lack of attention to housekeeping or the kids, his “occasional” use of woman-hating propaganda (aka pornography), and his selfish sexual practices because at least we’ve “snagged a man”.

I know railing against Valentine’s Day is cliche, and I actually wasn’t going to. But another instance of “love conquering all” has come to my attention and it is so sad to see women being told that giving up their safety and their values for the sake of having a dude around is a good bargain.

Hey you women out there: happy I-don’t-need-a-man day!

flowers

Sweetening the Pill

Sweetening-the-Pill Holly Grigg-Spall’s book Sweetening the Pill does an amazing job uncovering the harmful effects, questionable history, and medicalized misogyny of hormonal birth control (HBC). She points out that both the pharmaceutical industry and modern third wave feminism have downplayed the harms of HBC and have equated use of the pill with liberation. As she says,

Contemporary feminism is enamored with consumer choice and has fully accepted it as a substitute for freedom. (p 61)

In discussion of this book I want to start by talking about my own experiences on the pill. Then I’ll mention the book’s critics, and finally I’ll cover a few of Grigg-Spall’s points.

My own experiences with HBC began in my teens when I began taking it for acne. I remember that once I started taking it, it took me about a month for my over-the-top emotional hormone swings to lessen. I recall going dancing in a club once and not being able to calm the intense pendulum of joy, anger, depression and more that kept swinging over me under the flashing lights. It was a feeling of being totally out of control.

Once my emotions leveled out, I was very good at taking the pill once per day at the same time every day. My friends and I used to sing what we called the tumbleweeds song about our uteruses. We’d imagine our wombs to be as empty as the ok corral prior to a gunfight, and sing ♪ oh e oh e oh, wah wah wah ♫ as our baby-free theme song. We thought it was funny. Our bodies were not at risk of fertility. They were under our control, and would not rebel against us.
here's a tumbleweed, enjoy

I stayed on the pill for a decade at least.

I discovered radical feminism in 2011 and, like so many of us, it changed my life. My thinking was altered on many issues and continues to grow and expand the more I learn. About that same time I decided to go off the pill. The last straw came when doctors thought I had had a pulmonary embolism, which is a condition made more likely by HBC. A CT scan indicated that it was actually pneumonia, but that was a very scary experience for me. I decided to finish my pack and be done with the pill.

Over the next year as my body detoxed from the pill I developed acne all along my jaw/chinline that hadn’t been there before. Large bumps protruded on my face, which was embarrassing as I was well past adolescence. I also experienced weight gain, which I was told wasn’t a *real* side effect of going off the pill. It was frustrating not to believed when I reported my symptoms.

Before Grigg-Spall wrote her book she kept a blog regarding her experiences. Many other women came and shared what had happened to them while using the pill or getting off of it, and it was a place for women to be able to discuss their reactions to the pill in a place free from pharmaceutical brainwashing and the liberal feminist gag-order on women discussing our own biology.

Now that Grigg-Spall’s book was published in November 2013 there has been a concerted effort to discredit her findings by misrepresenting her positions. My belief is that the pharmaceutical industry is threatened by Griggs-Spall’s book and that discrediting her is a way to maintain the status quo. I also contend that rejecting the pill goes against sex-positive/mainstream feminism, which is why there’s push-back as well from its representatives.

Liberal feminists have called her book “dangerous” and use name-calling techniques in attempts to push Griggs-Spall to the margins of feminist discourse. As many of us know, being insulted and told to keep quiet are tools used to keep us away from discovering truths and maintain the status quo. Grigg-Spall is referred to as a “crank” (how feminist!), and potential readers of her book are warned that discussing female biology and women’s experiences is inherently “essentialist”. The cherry-picked, decontextualized quotes this critic uses to make her argument are an obvious attempt to contort perceptions of the book and Grigg-Spall’s positions. There are several critiques of this book that have similar tones and I found the pro-pill apologism quite transparent.

What these reviews leave out is the long-overdue feminist analysis of the pill that Grigg-Spall offers.

I was fascinated by Grigg-Spall’s discussion of the “dark side” of the pill. Apparently data collected from Bayer concentration camp experiments was used in developing the pill (p 31). The pill has negative side effects for women ranging from promoting bone loss (p 63) to blood clots to depression, etc. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified the pill as a class one carcinogen alongside tobacco and asbestos (p 59). Apparently, Depo Provera is currently used in sex offender rehab programs to decrease sex drive (p 68).

These are just some of the negative aspects of HBC that third wave feminists and pharmaceutical companies routinely downplay.

Grigg-Spall also critiques the way HBC is set up as a solution to worldwide “population control” when the real issue is global inequality and poverty. The pill is a capitalist solution to this, and not a feminist one. We let women down when instead of seeking just societies we sell them injections or oral contraceptives. She quotes Betsy Hartmann who calls population control a “substitute” for social justice that holds back the emancipation of women.

Real reproductive choice relies on women having control over their own lives and equal power to men and this can only come with economic development. Developed nations are uninterested in providing aid for such countries, because they are active in their exploitation via cooperation with corrupt governmnents and via the corporate power wielded over those countries. The people are purposely kept poor so that developed countries (or at least their corporations) can become richer. (p 81-82)

This helps make sense of the fact that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s strategy for helping women in Africa and South Asia involves giving millions of these women the Depo Provera shot. The Gates Foundation partners with Pfizer, who makes the Depo shot (p 80). This is business as usual, and profits are being made in the name of “population control”.

Grigg-Spall also emphasizes the importance of female biology in discussing these issues. After all, as women “our experience of life is connected to our biology.” As she says,

Taking the pill might be seen as an act of trying to get beyond femaleness. As femaleness in our culture is understood in the negative, escaping its confines is good and progressive. Any dislike we develop of being female and of having a female body is rooted in the history of female bodies being seen as problematic and in need of male control (p 104).

Such claims have no doubt been the source of the liberal feminist claims that her book is “essentialist“. I find this accusation very suspect, as it asks us to stop speaking about our own experiences living within our female bodies. Many women are not comfortable with our bodies as they change in puberty, as they alter with pregnancy, or as they age. It is important that we are able to recognize and discuss these changes amongst ourselves without being considered “essentialist”.

Within feminism, essentialism has always referred to the feminist objection to conservative claims that the male gender stereotypes are natural for men, and that female gender stereotypes are natural for women. For example, the idea that men are better at math and women are natural caregivers. These are obviously anti-feminist claims that link our biology up with sexist behaviors that are expected of us.

These days, however, merely recognizing the relevance of female biology to our own lives is now castigated with the same “essentialist” label. This is an entirely inaccurate characterization, since the bodies we live in are obviously relevant to our experiences as women. Discussing biology was never the problem with essentialism. The problem was linking our bodies up with sexist stereotypes.

Not only is this new definition of essentialism an incorrect interpretation of the original meaning, but it asks women to stop discussing our actual lives. Feminism is about our experiences as women, so telling women they aren’t permitted to discuss these experiences is anti-feminism full stop.

I certainly believe that Grigg-Spall is correct in her observations about HBC. Women are expected to have sex “like a man” and to believe that our biology is in no way relevant to our sexuality. To me, this is as removed from our actual experiences as my cartoon uterus theme song is from the workings of my body.

I’ve covered just a few of the brilliant insights that Grigg-Spall presents in her excellent book. At the very minimum, her book encourages women to see the pill from a different perspective and to become more in tune with what is happening with our own bodies. I encourage all feminists interested in reproductive freedom, misogyny in medicine, or critiques of “choice”/”sex positive” feminism to give it a read.

Holly-Grigg-Spall

Holly-Grigg-Spall

Amnesty International Supports the Exploitation of Women

Amnesty International is a charity that ostensibly works to end violations of human rights.

Yet this leaked document indicates that Amnesty actively supports the full decriminalization of prostitution.

This policy flies in the face of extensive research indicating that areas where prostitution has been fully legalized have led to more violence and an increase in trafficking.

For example, after legalization in Australia, the percentage of illegal brothels increased 300%. In New Zealand, legalization expanded the illegal sector to make up 80% of the sex trade industry. In Germany, the safety of women within the sex industry was not improved through full legalization. Furthermore, both human trafficking and organized crime increase in areas where prostitution is decriminalized.

Amnesty has chosen to ignore all of this information and instead decided that the rights of johns and pimps who wish to exploit and use women are more important than the human rights of women to live free from this exploitation.

Amnesty could instead support the Nordic Model which decriminalizes women in prostitution but criminalizes the johns and pimps. This has been shown to decrease violence against prostituted women, dramatically decrease the number of prostituted persons, and to provide a way out of prostitution for those who wish to leave.

You can contact Amnesty and express your displeasure with their new policy at sct@amnesty.org.uk, or you can tweet @Amnesty or use the hashtag #QuestionsforAmnesty.

Please speak now. Your voice is needed on this issue.

EDIT: Please go check out this response to this document written by a coalition of survivors.

Imitation, Infiltration, and Invasion at Radfem Rise Up! 2013

I am writing this as an attendee of Radfem Rise Up! 2013 held in Toronto, Ontario. These are my observations as an attendee, and not an organizer.

This past weekend I attended RadFem Rise Up! in Toronto. The scheduled speakers included a survivor of prostitution and domestic violence, a presentation on reproductive justice, and a discussion regarding the case of rape and suicide victim Rehtaeh Parsons, among other topics.

This conference was held as woman only because under patriarchy, women are uniquely targeted with violence and rape. Many attendees have been victims of incest, male violence, and rape, and wanted to discuss these experiences as women together. We believe we have a right to female-only safe space for such purposes. We also believe in the rights of trans people to organize and hold their own conferences if they so choose, but we expect them to respect our right to do the same.

The conference went ahead and was powerful despite ongoing attacks from trans and their allies who do not believe women who have shared girlhoods have a right to meet together.

The first trans activist attack came in the form of imitation. The official website for the radical feminist event was located at radfemriseup.wordpress.com. However, trans activists and their allies created a cloned version of the website at radfemSriseup.wordpress.com and allege that their website is in fact the correct one. Their website goes on to claim that the purpose of the conference is to discuss exterminating trans people, and even uses surgical porn language when it states, “we will also be doing some group activities that will allow us to get to know each other better in ways trans can’t possibly do. Speculums will be provided.” That such a website would be set up to undermine us by imitating us and saying outrageous things goes to show how difficult it is to discredit us based on our actual positions. It also tells us that these trans activists and their allies are liars without integrity.

In order to discover our venue, at least one trans activist/ally signed up and paid for conference entry with the intention to infiltrate and prevent us from meeting.

Thus, this/these persons received an email stating the location of the venue and released this information on the internet. Trans activists mobilized their allies via social media to contact the venue and request that they cancel the booking.

Conference organizers were told that the venue received over 200 emails requesting that they drop the booking. Venue staff revealed to conference organizers that some of these emails contained threats, and that they were afraid for themselves and their children.

This is the reason conference organizers were given by the venue for cancelling the booking.

Given this cancellation, conference organizers moved the venue to the location where some attendees were staying.

On the first day of the conference, trans activists and allies sent an infiltrator ally to the new event location. This person sat among us as we discussed radical feminist politics, and shared intimate stories in our ostensibly safe space. This violation of our safe space affected all of the attendees, including those of us who are survivors of the sex industry, domestic violence, and rape.

This trans ally infiltrator leaked the second venue to trans activists. This exposed the fact that our space had been violated– the space where many of us were sleeping (including one ten month old infant).

Trans activists and allies then organized a protest of our event ~200 m from the venue location. transpark The original venue that cancelled the booking had told conference organizers that the reason they cancelled was because they felt unsafe. Given the boundary violations exhibited by these trans activists and allies on the previous day, as well as the long list of violent threats previously made by trans activists towards radical feminists, it is clear that this invasion was done in order to intimidate us.

The conference went ahead as planned despite these imitations, infiltrations and invasions.

If you support trans activism, please consider whether the above noted violations are appropriate methods to use in trans activism, or whether they did in fact cross the line as I am alleging here. The people targeted by these attacks are women– many of whom have already had their boundaries violated by men in the past before. Disagreement is appropriate– intimidation through imitation, infiltration, and invasion is not.

how do I know if my husband watches porn?

Every day, women find my blog by searching some variety of the question:

how do I know if my husband watches porn?

I imagine most of the women who google this are being sent to this post I wrote nearly a year ago entitled On Pornsick Bastards.

I doubt many of these women call themselves feminists, but they do know intuitively that there is something wrong with the man who claims to love them getting off to images of other women being f’ked and degraded.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure the post is exactly what women are looking for. They probably would like some advice about how to check their husband’s browser or download history in order to catch him.

But the unfortunate truth I share in that post is that nearly every man who can access porn is a porn user.

This is a sad state of affairs for women attempting to date men, or even for women trying to function in the world along with men. This porn- and misogyny-soaked culture is what leads men to “joke” to women at a Microsoft conference in front of an audience, “Just let it happen; it will all be over soon.”

It’s what leads men to believe that this statement is not sexual harassment:

ck

It’s part of the anti-woman propaganda that leads men to believe that their getting off is more important than our human rights:

rts

[For more information on so-called "feminist porn", please check here, here, and here.]

In her book Pornography: Men Possessing Women Andrea Dworkin distills the core message of pornography in these simple words:

[Pornography] means the graphic depiction of women as vile whores.

The answer to your question, women, is yes.

If you suspect he watches pornography, he is very, very likely to watch it.

I am so sorry to tell you this. But it is the truth. He gets off on depictions of women as vile whores.

We are here for you. Many of us have been there. Tell us how we can help you out.

Shared Girlhood

There’s an article hopping around the blogosphere called The Myth of Shared Female Experience and How It Perpetuates Inequality by Mia McKenzie.

Many of us object to the article’s claim that shared female experience is a myth or perpetuates inequality.

What is shared girlhood?

Shared girlhood is the idea that girls growing up under patriarchy are all oppressed based on their being treated as girls when they were younger.

For example, we’re told we exist to please men and be pretty, or we experience unwanted sexual harassment or contact, or we’re told to be small and eat less than boys.

There are obviously huge differences based on race, class, nationality, etc. But there is shared oppression based on sex.

When we grow up and become women, our experience as women is shaped by the way we were oppressed growing up.

Thus, growing up as girls is an important part of being a woman.

Some of us are on twitter today sharing our experiences of shared girlhood on the tag I created #sharedgirlhood. Join us in sharing stories from your girlhood, or just read our stories there.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 167 other followers