Radfem Reboot Day Two: Overthrowing Men’s War Against Women

You can find a summary of day one events here.

Jumping right in…

Day two began with a panel discussion with survivor Jeri Sundvall-Williams, the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter (VRR), and the Asian Women’s Coalition Ending Prostitution (AWCEP). Jeri Sundvall-Williams’ discussion of her traumatic experience in prostitution made clear that prostitution is modern slavery, and must be stopped. The AWCEP women spoke to the fact that prostitution is violence against women, and that it both entrenches racism, and amplifies sexism for all women. Additionally, they stated that the move to legalize prostitution is racism against Asian women, as well as other women of color. Such powerful statements! Next, VRR stated that these three oppressions: race, class, and gender (that is, sex-based oppression) must be fought at the same time, in order to fight for all women. I loved their point that prostitution must be kept on the continuum of violence against women, which is why they welcome prostituted/trafficked women into their shelter. They also reminded us not to use prostituted women as a shield to make our own arguments, and that those who have not been prostituted have an obligation to speak out for abolition once we see that it is in the best interests of women.

Next, Kathleen Barry led a fabulous keynote speech on her new book Masculinity of War: Unmaking War, Remaking Men. I was personally very touched by this discussion, because Barry emphasized empathy as a solution to our war-infected society. She describes empathy as the ability to put ourselves in the position of another person, and she mentioned that empathizing can be a political action. With all the discussions of male violence that had occurred through the course of the weekend so far, as well as through RF discussions over the past year, I found myself quite emotional in thinking about the serious lack of empathy that men have had toward women. Masculinity dictates that men never consider the position of women– let alone what it would be like to be in that position. This is such a hard truth to realize, and I was struck hard by it. Empathy is necessary, and men need to get some already. Certainly, empathy is not enough— but it is a start, and it is something we must teach our children, and our friends, and our family. We cannot make men empathize. However, we can require it of them. I also enjoyed what Dr. Barry said about the language of protection. At the core of masculinity, she said, is the idea of protectors— those who must watch after the family, and be strong. Those protectors are seen as superior, and in patriarchy women are required to recognize them as superior. Masculinity, as Lierre Keith mentioned later in the day, leads to emotional disengagement, and remorselessness— which are the opposite of empathy. Kathleen Barry spelled this out so very clearly— and I began to actually envision what an empathetic world would look like.

After a break, Kathleen Barry led a strategy/consciousness raising session where we envisioned what a world without war would look like. While some women had ideas, others could not see that possible future, given the horrific realities of now. Barry did an excellent job of leading the discussion, as well as helping us see what steps should be taken to help this world become reality. I want to say that the incredible dynamic we created during this session cannot be reproduced in writing— unfortunately, one just had to be there. Please do take my word for it though— this was awesome. I have discovered that it is possible to schedule sessions like this with Barry, and more information on that can be found on her webpage kathleenbarry.net, as well as through this flyer here . [PDF]

What a morning this was! I was struck with how brilliant and dynamic the speakers were, as well as the participants. Something truly powerful happens when women get together— something that the internet activism I had been a part of up until this point was not equivalent to. The activism we can do on the internet, as I’ve said before, is important. But I think these conferences are vital as well. I look forward to the next one.

Cherry Smiley spoke after lunch. She is a First Nations woman from Canada. Her stories were particularly difficult, as they made clear the racism, misogyny, and violence that native women suffer on a daily basis. As she said, aboriginal women are over-represented in street prostitution, so the idea of “legalization” (that is, legalizing the purchase of women) poses particular harm to them. She spoke on the “Harm Reduction” model, which does nothing to stop men from purchasing women, by saying, “We need to meet women where they are, but we cannot leave them there.” Additionally, the “Harm Reduction” model assumes that women can only go so far with their lives once they have been damaged by prostitution. These low expectations abandon women, rather than providing options for exit and another life. I was very moved by her awesome statements. Additionally, she laid out the two myths of prostitution: 1. That it is a choice, and 2. That it is inevitable. Finally, she emphasized that abolitionist and other movements must address white privilege, and that native and survivor voices take leadership roles in these movements. I learned so much from her presentation, and was very glad to have had the opportunity to hear her speak.

After this, we heard from Lierre Keith. I’ve transcribed a portion of her talk here, and you can find the entire video here. Keith was such a clear thinker—I really appreciated hearing her presentation, and I encourage you to watch it for yourself if you haven’t already.

Following this, Sam Berg discussed tactics for anti sex-industry activism. It was a fun, hilarious discussion! Again, with this one, you just had to be there :).

For the last event of the day, we watched a few short radical feminist films by Catherine Crouch. Several of the films were funny, and we were told that one of the films, called Gendercator, had generated controversy and had been pulled from the Frameline Film Festival because it was considered transphobic. I encourage you to watch the film and see for yourself, or check the description here.

After such a long and satisfying day, I needed some time to myself to journal and reflect. I went out, had a burger, and contemplated what an amazing few days it had been. The panels and the talks were all awesome, but one of the things that had developed over the course of a few days was true sense of community. As several women mentioned on our last day, there was not a lot of backbiting as we often see in activism circles. Rather, we put our differences aside (for the most part!) and recognized that while we may not agree on everything, our unity is exceptionally important in the fight against male supremacy and domination. As Sam Berg said, “What we have is not money, and it is not public opinion. What we have is each other.”

Stay tuned for day three!

Trans Identities are Sacrosanct, but Lesbian Identities are Transphobic

A recent article on Feministing caught my attention.

http://feministing.com/2012/06/28/enough-with-i-date-women-and-trans-men/

In it, women are told that they must re-evaluate their lesbian identity if they are attracted to both women and trans men, or else they are being “transphobic”. As Jos Truitt (the author) says:

My trans brothers deserve better than sex in a frame that undermines their identities [that is, sex with lesbians who sleep with trans men]. This doesn’t mean queer cis women and gender non-conforming female assigned folks can’t f*ck trans men, but then they owe it to these guys to reframe their sexuality in a way that’s not undermining – to recognize that they sleep with men, and to question why they’re OK with sleeping with trans men and not cis men.

In other words, if you sleep with trans men, you can’t legitimately call yourself a lesbian any more. YOU must change your identity, and Jos (who does not identify as a lesbian) has the right to request that you make this change. Additionally, you must ask yourself why you refuse to consider dating “cis men”. This statement places the onus on lesbians to determine why they have decided not to date “cis men”– rather than allowing them to decide for themselves who they should be attracted to.

Note that gay and straight men are not being called to task for not properly identifying themselves so as to avoid “transphobia”. It’s women– once again– who are the target of this ostensibly “feminist” critique.

Lesbians are under attack. At a recent dyke march, Cathy Brennan was cornered by tens of trans/queer activists, and screamed at. You can see video here, as well as one trans critique of the violent rhetoric currently swirling from the queer/trans community. Brennan has stated that she has never felt so unsafe as she did at the NYC Dyke March 2012.

But Cathy Brennan is not the only target. Lesbians are under fire. First it was the cotton ceiling debacle, and now this article at feministing.

Female reality is also under fire, and we are not even permitted to organize and discuss it.

It is unclear to me why “feminists” focus so much attention on policing women and lesbians, when the entire purpose of feminism has always been the liberation of women.

As an ally and a woman, I will stand with my sisters against oppression– no matter the source.

Ah, Womanhood!

-Jenna Talackova-


Radical feminists object to misogynistic beauty pageants such as the Miss Universe Competition, since these competitions reduce women’s value to how well their bodies conform to narrow, p-compliant standards. They reify patriarchal values of what women are for– that is, they are useful as masterbation props, as f’k toys, and as product billboards. See Woman as Useful Objects for more on this. Radical feminists believe that this reduction of women to useful object is a woman-hating enterprise, and should be abolished.

We also reject stereotypical conceptions of womanhood. We believe that we are socialized to think of ourselves in patriarchal terms; to believe that our value is in our bodies and how well they conform to the f’kability mandate. However, we reject this value, and recognize the myriad other qualities that make us A-mazing. At the same time, we also recognize that other women may not have the resources to dis-entangle their own self-worth from these p-given values. Regardless, we strongly object to these contests, and wish to see them abolished.

Recently a controversy has broken out out over a trans* contestant of the Miss Universe Competition named Jenna Talackova who wished to participate in the competition. At first, the contestant was kicked out, only to be reinstated at a later date. Interestingly, many mainstream feminist websites supported Talackova’s inclusion in this woman-hating enterprise.

Unfortunately, Talackova uses gender stereotypes when self-describing:

I have two sides to me. There’s the soft, subtle, calm side, and there’s the very glam, diva-ish side. I had to let that side loose a bit [in this competition].

Radical feminists know Talackova’s self description exudes stereotypical femininity. We encourage women to reject gender stereotypes, and we wish Talackova would recognize that womanhood and stereotypical womanhood are not the same thing.

The performance of stereotypical femininity, both in dress and manner, is not liberating for females. Radical feminists do not believe that these performances are necessary nor sufficient conditions for womanhood, and we would like to see them abolished. Though we do not blame individual females who perform them, we blame the misogynistic culture we live in for perpetuating them.

-Radfems OBJECT to this view of what a woman is-

-Radfems OBJECT to this view of what a woman is-

Post-Feminist Society? I Think Not. On LoveRance and “Up!”

TW

This song called “Up!” by LoveRance feat. 50 cent regularly on the radio.

Chorus repeats:

I beat the p*ssy up up up up up up up

Lyrics include these lines:

d*ck your girl down cuz i know she really need it
put it in your gut, tear that p*ssy up
tell me where it hurts spread them legs
And you know i ate the p*ssy cuz she light skin

It is jaw droppingly offensive.

Are we in a post feminist society? I think not, particularly with audio pornography like this on the radio. I’m not going to bother analyzing what is wrong with these amazingly misogynistic lyrics- you all know.

These are not just lyrics on a random rap album- this song is #9 on the Billboard Top 10. This propaganda receives a lot of attention- and not, from what I’ve seen, from a feminist perspective.

Sometimes I think ignoring this type of hateful anti-woman propaganda is best. It can be overwhelming to see how much women are hated and viewed as mere objects to be f’kd.

But then I hear folks claiming that women and men are equal, and that we don’t need feminism (folks in my real life, and of course MRAs).

Of course, we all know that’s BS. But perhaps it’s a good idea to keep track of virulent misogyny (and also, colorism in this example) to whip out when arguing against anti-feminists.

We’ve got work to do.

Gyn/affection and Dual Vision

A few weeks ago a female acquaintance Sandra (not her real name) blurted out, “I just don’t get along with women very well.” She proceeded to tell me how she always hated the cheerleaders in high school who allegedly pretended to be dumb to get attention, and how women are difficult to work with because they are competitive and catty.

This friend is obviously unaware of a feminist analysis that provides context for these women-hating sentiments. As you all know, when we hold misogynistic viewpoints of other women, we often hold ourselves up as the exceptional woman, who is not like “all those other terrible women out there”. As Ariel Levy says,

It can be fun to feel exceptional – to be the loophole woman, to have a whole power thing, to be an honorary man. But,” she warns, “if you are the exception that proves the rule, and the rule is that women are inferior, you haven’t made any progress.

My conversation with Sandra came at an interesting time, since I was reading A Passion for Friends* by Janice Raymond. The book was recommended by blogger Radfem Crafts, and she did a lovely series (starting here) analyzing it.

Raymond discusses the reasons why some females hold anti-woman sentiments, (p 151)

A chorus of male voices throughout the centuries has echoed Jonathan Swift’s words, “I never knew a tolerable woman to be fond of her own sex.”.. So women disidentify with other women in order to make themselves “tolerable” to men.

In other words, perhaps women hate women because male culture hates women.

To return to Sandra’s original examples. She remembers women in high school as playing dumb and actively conforming to beauty mandates, but she does not analyze the fact that patriarchal culture tells us that women are dumb and are only worthy as beautiful objects. Or to turn to another example, she believes women are difficult to work with because they are competitive and catty, but she does not see that our culture defines aggressive behavior in women as b*tchy, and does not note such behavior in men. In other words, she sees women through the male lens of hatred and disdain.

But Raymond does not believe that we can attribute all women-hating-women behavior and words to cultural brainwashing. As she says,

It would be easy to ignore these voices by saying that women internalize men’s attitudes about them and about their relationships with other women. The problem is that, although this may account in one way for the cause of women’s antifeminist behavior, it does not assuage the awful reality of women-hating-women conduct when it happens in our own and in other women’s lives.

To return to the above examples, Sandra may have hated the young women at her high school because she was jealous of the attention they received from men (due to the fact that they conformed to the f’kability mandate, and performed femininity in male-approved way). Since male-derived power is one of the only ways women can receive power, Sandra may have resented these women for receiving crumbs of attention she would have preferred to parlay into power herself. Or, perhaps the women at Sandra’s work really were catty and competitive with other women because they believed that women are easier targets then men, and that if only so many women were going to be able to succeed, they’d like to be one of them. In other words, perhaps the patriarchal culture that hates women creates women-hating words and behaviors in women.

Sandra was not open to my feminist analysis of her feelings, and she can hardly be blamed. After all, it is easier to see oneself as exceptional than to confront the realities of male power.

The above examples are just a few of the many obstacles to women-centered reality. However, Raymond believes that these obstacles must be overcome if women are going to become Gyn/affective. As she says (p 7-8),

Gyn/affection can be defined as woman-to-woman attraction, influence, and movement.. In many ways, Gyn/affection is a synonym for female friendship.. Gyn/affection connotes the passion that women feel for women, that is, the expression of profound attraction for the original vital Self and the movement towards other vital women.. The basic meaning of Gyn/affection is that women affect, move, stir, and arouse each other to full power.

Raymond believes that a Gyn/affective life is an important step towards women’s liberation, and I agree with her (p 241). When women step beyond the lies told about themselves and each other, we can begin to see ourselves and each other as we really are, and also create a vision of life beyond the current state of atrocity (p 23).

But,

How do women live in the world as men have defined it while creating the world as women imagine it to be? p 205

Raymond suggests that we use dual vision to keep one eye on the horrific and unacceptable material realities of women’s lives (she calls this nearsightedness), while at the same time recognizing “the possibilities of being for each other” now and in the future (farsightedness) (p 207).

As Raymond says,

Dual vision poses a tension but not a contradiction. Realism about the conditions of man-made existence must be illuminated by a vision of feminist imagination that acts. And the feminist visionary task must root itself in the real world or else, as Pat Hynes has remarked, like an electrical charge that has no ground, its unguided energy will disperse in all directions. Virgina Woolf phrased it this way, “Energy has been liberated, but into what form is it to flow?” (p 207-208)

By grounding our vision in our material world, as well as in our Gyn/affection for each other, we can begin to move forward towards wherever our vision takes us. This movement towards women’s freedom, despite the real realities of our material circumstances, has already begun.

Image from here.
*You can find an excerpt from A Passion for Friends here.

There is a System

In 2007 I volunteered at a domestic violence shelter as a crisis line operator.

The building we were housed in was yellow with white trim, with a wrap-around white porch. From the outside, it had a very homey feel.

This volunteer work helped me on my path of discovering baby feminism. Before this period, I often thought of myself as an Exceptional Woman™ who was smarter, more powerful, and more awesome than the rest of “those women”. I was one of a very small number of female graduate students in an analytic philosophy program, and I had just completed my Master’s degree. “Why aren’t there more women in Philosophy?” the ladies in the program asked. But we knew that our answer was, “Because philosophy is hard”.

If I was an Exceptional Woman™, then I got to identify with men. I can remember talking with K, the only other female grad student in my cohort (year), and she offered me a “high five for rape jokes”. I think I left her hanging, but I don’t remember telling her how massively misogynistic she was being, and we were being, by thinking we were exceptional compared to other women, and how utterly stupid we were for thinking that hating women ourselves is an escape hatch from being the target of misogyny.

Looking back, I can see that this behavior was clearly a coping mechanism. We Exceptional Women™ don’t want to be hated, so we try and remove ourselves from the group of women who we characterize as “girly” (whatever the f that is), and loathsome, and stupid, and concerned with frivolity. We remove ourselves by enacting the same hatred for “those women” that men do. This makes it easier to be taken seriously at the seminar table and around the pitcher of PBR with our colleagues.

I hadn’t even read my first feminist book at this point (Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy). My personal favorite “progressive” issue at the time was raising awareness about contraception. Women shouldn’t be stupid with sex, I thought. They should have a lot of it, as much as they want, as much as the men do, and they should use condoms condoms condoms (!) while they do it. That way they won’t have babies, and overpopulate the planet, and they can be free to have more sex, which liberates them. Orgasm politics horray. These women need me to tell them about the best way to be free! I wanted to volunteer at some place that raised awareness about contraception (I called it “Condom Flinging”), but the opportunity that popped up first was the domestic violence shelter, so I went there.

I had several duties at the DV shelter. As a crisis line operator, I would take messages for shelter residents (I cannot confirm or deny that Sandy is here, but if she is, I will pass the message along), hand out medication, and unlock the door to known female staff members, volunteers, and residents.

We also answered the phone to women in crisis, and checked women in.

I remember we admitted one woman whose face was entirely purple from a partner who had beaten her. Another woman called talking about how her partner kicked her in the head with her children in the room, and another had been smacked with a tire iron. These are just a few instances. All phone calls for the day were recorded in a book, and the shift relief was advised to read over what had been happening in case there were follow-up calls.

In looking back on this time, I see how unprepared I was, and that I had not anticipated noticing how privileged I had been to (mostly) have escaped intimate partner violence.

I burnt out of this work in less than a year, because I was not emotionally prepared to see how much abuse really goes on in our towns. I also attended a party where an abuser showed up, and I left in hysterical tears. I was so upset that no one shunned this scumbag, and that he was still invited out everywhere and treated as if nothing had happened, even though he punched a woman in the friend group and broke her nose and everyone knew it that I ended up calling the crisis line to talk about my experience.

Now I can see what I failed to observe then, which is that there is a system of oppression in place that allows men to beat women, and compels women to return to these men. DV is not just about bad people hurting other people. It’s about men maintaining a system of power over women. I can see that that system is the same system that had convinced me that the more “responsible” PIV one had, the more adventurous and liberated one became. It’s the same system I was trying to survive by playing the Exceptional Woman™ in my class, and by actively hating women in my words and actions.

I am ashamed of my previous ignorance, and I am grateful for the truths I’ve learned. I wish I had been exposed to/sought out feminism (and *radical feminist thought*) earlier.

Colbert Stomps on Witches

Stephen Colbert is an American comedian whose news-like show The Colbert Report parodies conservative pundits such as Bill O’Reilly. The Stephen Colbert viewers see is a fictional character, and does not represent Colbert himself. However, the fact that the Colbert character isn’t real does not mean that we should not hold the real Colbert or the writers of the Colbert Report responsible for the content of the show. With this in mind, onward to the critique!

Last week, The Colbert Report did a series in which Stephen Colbert (the character, unless otherwise stated) attempts to “make his own album” with the help of rocker and producer Jack White. Colbert claims to have been a rock star in the 80s with the song “Charlene (I’m Right Behind You)”

Check out starting at 55 seconds

The lyrics to his song:

Every time I see you I think of you
Every time I’m near you I think of you
I think of you and I dream of you when I’m taking pictures of you
I think of you when I’m in a blimp looking down from up above you
You know I’m missing you
My mind is kissing you
I’m right behind you now Charlene
Waiting, watching
Oh so close
I’m right behind you now Charlene
You’ll never be alone again, no

This stalker ballad is offensive, creepy, and not funny. Colbert (the person), you and your writing staff may think that stalker behavior such as taking surreptitious photos of an unsuspecting woman, or telling her that despite what she wants, she won’t ever have the option to be free from your company *is funny*, but it is not. It is not acceptable. It is not okay. NO.

I understand that the comedic effect of this song is supposed to be that character Colbert is a loser idiot who pines for someone, and no one is actually condoning stalking. The thing is though, stalking is harmful and terrifying. An influential tv show should not make light of this criminal behavior.

This is obvious to me.

But the show continues to be offensive.

In order to make his album, Colbert needs some musicians (since he isn’t one). So Jack White recommends The Black Belles.

The Black Belles use witch imagery in their visual presentation. Upon seeing the band and this presentation, I immediately thought of Mary Daly’s use of witches in her _Gyn/Ecology_ which I’ve just read this spring. Over the centuries, women who were not encumbered by a man (due to spinsterhood, or death of a spouse) were often accused of being witches and were tortured and then killed (Source _Gyn/Ecology_ Daly). Women nowadays can claim the title of witch– it is a women-identified, women-centric word that connotes power. Cherry Blossom Life has a great post on using her own witchy powers in everyday life.

So I was pleased to see these artists owning their witch-dom. Women power! Until Colbert entered the equation.

Instead of joining the group by costuming like them, Colbert dresses the women in his suit-and-tie uniform. Then he proceeds to stand directly in front of them in the album photo shoot. “Stomp stomp stomp,” says Colbert’s foot to the necks of these artists.

Then, he chooses the song to sing with them. Goody– more female hatred ensues as they sing Charlene II together. Some lyrics include “I’ve finished looking through your door, won’t check your mailbox anymore. Bet you’re wondering why, I’m over you Charlene, it’s all over now”. This album has been released, and now you can buy it on iTunes!

Again, the arrogant, neck-stomping behavior of character Colbert is supposed to be funny. “Look at him, taking over the band! Funny funny,” the audience should be saying. But the actions of character Colbert have real consequences (the belittling of female artists and the extortion of their talents being two such consequences).

I recognize that the Black Belles took part in this offensive sh*t because they wanted the publicity that comes with it. As artists on Jack White’s label, he pimped them out for their talent and their identities.

So, a recap for those keeping score. These are the takeaway lessons Colbert wants us to learn:

Women may have an identity of their own (in this case, witches) but it’s okay to take that from them and make them identify as I do

Singing about stalking is funny

When I take a photo with the women I’m exploiting who are wearing the clothes I made them, I’ll stand in front of them and take up the entire picture

Then, I’ll make them sing a creepy song about stalking a woman. 

This is comedy.

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