MichFest: One Year Ago

One year ago, I arrived at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival for the first time after hearing about it for years. It was an amazing experience and it changed me forever.

At the time, I wrote about my experiences, but since they were so personal I shared them in bite sized pieces on tumblr, feeling that I wasn’t ready for them to be exposed to a wider audience and all together.

On this important anniversary, and the first year without a MichFest, I have decided to share them here. Many women are grieving this loss for what it is. But there is hope. Womyn are creative, innovative, and powerful. Amazons get shit done. This is not the last time we will gather.

Here are my words from last year, interspersed with some photos for you all.

Arriving at MichFest: Challenges and Gratitude

outside michfest

I took this picture on the road outside MichFest, before we turned into the forest. Beautiful midwest skies.

 

The night we arrived finally was preceded by a full day. Strange women, only knowing each other from the internet, piled with too many tarps and groceries, drove from Grand Rapids, through small town Hart, Michigan, to a grassy pastoral scene on the side of a two lane highway. Well, here’s the line. Cars off the side of the road stretched for miles. We didn’t have any idea we’d be in the car lined up for eight hours. We were three strangers who internet-know each other, with open windows in humidity and bug bites, or cooling off in air conditioning and sweaty human smells. We finally turned right onto the three mile road leading to fest, and were able to sneak off into the woods to pee. I recognized the woods- they were so very like the green canopy of leaves in the Midwest town where I went to graduate school.

woods in the line michfest.JPG

We kept ourselves busy discussing the reddit board they moderated, and many cartoons I had never heard of. We got goofy and sang little mermaid and other Disney songs. We listened to Ani DiFranco, and we waited.

When we finally made it to turn in our tickets for wristbands, it had been dark for many hours, yet that was only the beginning of the ordeal. An orientation video and work shift selection awaited. The video appeared to be a VHS copy with occasional lines streaking through it from being shown so many times. It showed images of children standing under tents, and topless women chopping potatoes. It explained the fest experience, and what we should expect. Then it was to the next tent, where clipboards showed work schedule availability. The work shift choices were getting slim, but I selected a shift at Sprouts (childcare) and one at the Kitchen. Next it was on to the shuttle, where we piled our gear next to a white metal van to take us up to Triangle (one of several drop off points on the land). The shuttle got packed up with people and parcels. I sat on a cooler, and near the open door, so as I watched the trees slap the roof I felt fear that I would fall out of the vehicle. I had flash backs of being dumped out of a raft into white water the previous summer, and in my head, I thought “this is a lesson for me. I should learn not to step out of my comfort zone,” as I worried and worried about falling out of the van. Also, I wondered, where is my head lamp?

When we arrived at Triangle, I pulled out my Christmas decorations (to decorate my tent) for use in place of my lost headlamp. The battery box kept dropping the double A batteries out on the path, so it wasn’t a reliable source of light. Besides that, the woods were very, very dark, as no decorations had yet been put up to light the way. I didn’t know how we were going to find a place to camp that night. My bag was 47 pounds and as I dragged it down the dirt path, the wheels would give out and it would spin over. I would flip it back onto the wheels again for a bit, and then it would dump over again. I kept apologizing to my new friends for delaying them, and finally I gave up using the wheels. I then dragged it upside down, so heavy and miserable, along with my carry-on bag filled with clothes. Finally, I began to despair. Where! How! can I go on! My new friends went ahead of me on the path to find a spot as I waited in the dark. I tried to put the pack on my back so I got down, stuck my arms through the handle straps, and placed my knee to the wet ground, and tried to stand. I then found defeat, as my legs couldn’t lift the weight on my back and I began to cry. I silently screamed in frustration, and my face was covered in sweat and tears. I don’t know anyone, it’s dark, I’m exhausted! I. cant. *do*. this. Women came down the path and asked if I was okay. I dried my tears and calmed down as my friend came to get me. They had found a good camping spot not too far away, and she helped me bring my gear (thank you!). We began to set up our tents, as I hung my blue Christmas snowflake lights around my neck for light. Moths flapped at the light near my neck, as I shoved tent poles in sleeves and finally got it up. I placed my gear inside, and lay on top of my sleeping bag. Finally, alone, I could rest. I cried, and curled up, and sobbed for loneliness and fear. I felt I had made a mistake. What was I doing here? I was embarrassed that I was having such a hard time, and exhausted after all I had endured. I thought I was tougher than this. It was two am, and I finally crawled into the sleeping bag and drifted off into the night.

My MichFest story is not about a perfect paradise, but rather, a narrative about overcoming, my strength, and the power of other women. All week it was a struggle to stay hydrated and fed, clean and sanitary. The humidity was constant, and sticky was the new reality. My air mattress battery fiasco meant I slept on the hard ground all week (thankful for my 5$ pillow!). I kept losing things. I had short term memory problems- possibly due to exhaustion, or over stimulation, or potentially due to the extra emotions I kept experiencing. My feet, ankles, knees, back, and arms were always sore, and there was a lot of sitting in the dirt or grass.

Despite these challenges, MichFest was one of the most amazing weeks of my life. I learned a lot about myself as a woman in her 30s with body image and confidence issues, and felt the pull of radical feminist revolution. I was able to extract patriarchal perspectives and discard them from clouding my reality (for the most part). I found easy laughter poured from me and tears welled up many times a day- but grateful tears, of sadness at the end, potential for beginning, and awe at the love women have for each other and the community. The potential of another world where we help one another, a more liberated existence, and the freedom from men’s visions.

Michigan Coffee

I don’t know why the coffee at MichFest is so delicious, but it tasted amazing. I loved stopping at Saints (the food and drink vendor) for a morning calzone and coffee (cream and sugar added) while I microwaved my pepperoni and cheese calzone, making sure to leave the DART nuker for those women who needed it. Sometimes I would spot a friend and we’d enjoy the morning together, and sometimes I would sit on a leaning bench alone and listen and watch women at the August night café learn to couples dance while I perked up from the drowsiness. I can still taste the coffee, the cream and sweetness, hear the sound of women talking and laughing, feel the breeze in the trees, and see blue sky peeking out of clouds, or the shade I escaped into. I loved the opportunity not to rush or worry that I needed to be somewhere, or find out what time it was. I could let the day begin on my own time frame.

michfest sky

The weather was perfect at Michigan. It rained hard one night, but I found myself always looking up whenever I could.

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Hammock hung by the movie tent.

 

Opening Ceremonies at MichFest

Opening ceremonies were very powerful, as Stacyann Chin spoken word spoke what our hearts wanted to say. Then her mic had issues right at the end, and the mc Elvira Kurt joked that fest didn’t want to end, so it was just being prolonged a little bit longer. The music was amazing, and the drumming women, and all the signs thanking amazon women, workers, campers, etc. Ah, lovely. Then it got dark and Skip the Needle came on. A friend and I got up front to dance, and women started crowd surfing. I hadn’t been in a mosh pit like that in over 10 years, but it was amazing to dance and see women so free together. We danced for hours that night until we were so exhausted. Then we went back to the fire pit near our tents before we finally went to bed.

I didn’t take any photos of the opening ceremonies, because I was too busy participating. I wish I had some now, but I’m also grateful for the ones I have.

Radical Feminists at MichFest

radfem rhapsody

The Women’s Liberation Front put on a conference within MichFest.

 

I spent time with radical feminists at the Radfem Tree and the Rhapsody tent, where we discussed activism and the truths of our lives. We ate meat and eggs, and drank coffee, and I was so grateful to be a part. I truly belonged. I curled up and listened to radical songs, and I shared my beliefs and feelings without censorship. We talked about the harms of gender, and how to practice sisterhood. There were hugs with women I had just met, and others I have struggled together with before. What a relief it was for this one radical event to not have to worry about a venue cancellation due to threats and harassment. I treasured each moment with my radical feminist sisters.

radfem tree

Some sisters marked a tree near the kitchen with this sign so that radical feminists would have a place to gather together for meals.

 

Kitchen Shift at MichFest

My shift in the kitchen was challenging. My feet were already hurting (I was still recovering from a twisted right ankle) and I had unwittingly signed up for the busiest food event- burrito night. It was actually more like taco night, as women were given tortillas to load up with rice, beans, tomatoes, cheese, lettuce, and sour cream.

At fest, you are supposed to slide your plate/bowl/Tupperware across the table as you move from station to station to avoid having your plate above the foot trough and have food fall into your bowl and then back into the communal tray. If this happens, the communal tray will have to be thrown completely out, due to cross contamination. So a big part of my job was making sure that sisters were mindful of this requirement. At one point, the tongs for the tortilla chips were contaminated so we didn’t have any for about a half hour, but since women weren’t able to reach in and grab chips, they either had to pour them into their dish, or we could do it for them. It was challenging to communicate and also make sure that women knew they could take as much food as they wanted. We also wiped up any spills with a soaked rag, which dried my hands out pretty quickly.

It was neat to see the ways that women worked together to get more food when needed, and to combine old food containers with new ones as they arrived. Shifts are four hours long, and when my dinner break came, I was so worn out. It had been an exhausting shift, and the delicious food I enjoyed as a reward made it worth the challenge. It was great to work with sisters- I’m glad I decided to do a kitchen shift, despite the difficulty and exhaustion. After that I met at the Radfem tree with my feminist sisters. I just loved being surrounded by radical women in the woods.

40 years amazon proud

Art at the night stage.

 

What is a Sister?

Camping with women I hadn’t met before was unique, but we ended up bonding in a profound way. Laughing, listening to music, and eating together. Hugs goodbye at the airport were emotional. I know what a sister is, although I had forgotten. I found myself again at MichFest, and I am so grateful.

Day Stage Artists at Michigan

day stage michfest

Total relaxation awaits at the Day Stage.

 

The day stage was some of my very favorite experiences at MichFest. It was so nice to listen to women play guitars, or electric violins, or rock out with drums while relaxing together with sisters. I loved seeing girls and women hula hoop or sit on blankets together, or watch the deaf women’s translator express the emotions of the sound through her body and facial expressions. The music was also *really* good. These women were great song writers who created sonic joy through their rhythms and voices. I felt like I was witnessing power as I sat there, and it occurred to me on several occasions that I had internalized misogyny myself. The fact that I was surprised that the artists were so good was a reflection of the way that women are devalued outside of Michigan, and how I had taken those values in my own heart. I teared up with emotions as women sang songs about the future, of personal pain, and of ways they had found empowerment. Reina Williams’ cover of Aaliah’s Are you that Somebody was wonderful, and then when she did the “baby” part- ah, I smiled with nostalgia (you can listen to a version here). Mazzmuse’s electric violin sounded amazing, and she truly rocked the house. Crys Matthews made me tear up with the truths she expressed (her song “Holding Space” is about the end of MichFest and can be listened to here). It was so lovely.

MichFest Bush Off

One day after the music ended, the emcee decided that we would begin the first MichFest Bush Off. She wanted to start a contest to see which woman’s bush had the most retro 1970s look. I actually thought this contest was a ton of fun, because women were so comfortable with each other and the fact that we all have female bodies that it wasn’t objectifying at all- it was just hilarious! One woman had a merkin, and as women got up to show what they had grown themselves, women judged which was the fullest and covered the largest area of the body. It was excellent to see body hair being celebrated and normalized. Ah, MichFest- these things can only happen here, it seems. Honestly the bush off was one of my favorite parts of fest, because it was all about being natural and free. No, I’m not going to tell you who won.

On MichFest Nudity

*Note* A version of this short subpost will be published in the January 2017 edition of Sinister Wisdom.

What is the value of taking your top off? Outside of fest, it’s often for the male patriarchal gaze. At fest, it’s to free oneself from the shame of being a woman, a woman who grew breasts in puberty, and now has large nipples, or lowered heft in her bosom, or small breasts with dark nipples, or hair surrounding her areola. Fest nudity shows us that we *are* common, despite the diversity in our embodied flesh. Cellulite, C-section scars, stretch marks, swaying puckers and shimmying behinds … we walked through a cup overflowing of female realness and stated through our existence: I am the way I am, and no changes are needed. Many women had handsome facial hair and let it grow, unashamedly. No, I felt them say, I’m not a man because I have hair where adult women naturally grow it. I am a woman, I am real, and I am acceptable.

I never publicly disrobed except to shower. I had lingering feelings that somehow I was worse, or more disgusting, than my brave nude sisters in my pooches and red lightning stretch marks down belly and thighs. But there were moments, smiling moments of freedom from these lies as I crow barred them out of my consciousness. I loved my reflection in the mirror beneath sun hat or scarf or soaking showered hair. I saw my smile and my eyes smiling back. Bouncing along the paths, saying hello to neighbors, looking at decorations on my way to the janes or the kitchen. Changing my clothes in the tent and stopping to check for ticks, getting distracted by the wonder of my own skin under my hands, the width of my hips, the balance of my thighs, and the globes of my breasts. My freedom for me, I accepted for a moment, the land beneath me, and all her gifts. I am a daughter who claimed the sheer unlimited pleasure of being alive.

michfest trees

We spent a lot of time under this emerald canopy.

 

MichFest Closing Ceremonies

At the closing ceremonies, one thousand women were given candles for the end of the candlelit service. The only light had been dusk as it slowly turned into night. The trees framed the acoustic stage, and I stood on the edge of a bowl of women whose eyes faced the drums, the guitars, the piano, and the dancing women. I also hold that female sovereignty over our own bodies and lives is the first requirement for the new world we envisioned for one week in August. It’s a short way to refer to what we had begun to create, but it is not the end. I agree with many radical women who say that we’d rather this truth be acknowledged and face the end of fest, rather than compromise on this truth and see fest continue. Already the seeds of MichFest are beginning to bloom in states and countries everywhere, and the anticipation of this future fills me with excitement and a sense of being part of women’s history.

The closing ceremony asked that we snuff our candles out, as a signifier of the end. I wet my fingers and closed them on the burning wick, as women around me did the same. Then the mourning, painful howls began. We howled into the darkness- wolf howls of grief, of power, of female sovereignty, of home, and of love. So many howls whooping into the night, then died down, then from here to there began again, as we walked to our separate destinations on the land. Tearfully, we comforted each other through our presence together.
I treasure my candle, the flame of Michigan, and the power of women symbolized in its flame! As Crys Matthews sang, this is just so long for now/this is not good bye. I believe it, I hope for it, we make it, and we live it. Amazon women, rise. Now. In your town, in your family, your friendship, your hearts. We are women and we rise.

There are many emotions when it comes to women centered events. By celebrating you, I celebrate myself, and reject patriarchal existence. I find my place among sisters, and become valuable just as I am. Thankful, grateful, and passing it on.

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Encouraging signs like these are posted all around the Land. This one is particularly inspiring to me.

 

Drum Circle Fire Pit at Triangle

After Sunday’s closing ceremonies, we went to Triangle fire pit, which was cold. There was no fire. We waited a few minutes, until women came and said that there was not any wood left to burn, as the logs had all been used throughout the week. But, we could collect burnables and start the fire again if we wished. So in my long blue sun dress, with my ever dimming head lamp, I hauled into the woods to knock down dead stumps and contribute logs for the fire. I am a frequent camper, so it was not an unfamiliar process, but the importance of the circumstance gave me particular strength. We needed fire, and I can collect fuel. So once I had contributed a share, we sat around the deep dirt pit and the drums began. More women came. Several women slapped their hands and arms on the drums together, and a lovely naked woman danced as the fire shadows moved over her. We began chants, and songs, and we sang rounds, we clapped, and we looked into one another’s faces.

As women, we felt the importance of the ritual. We taught one another songs, and we listened and learned and all participated. I could have stayed there all night, but we had to load out in the morning, so reluctantly I left the sacred circle and went back to my tent one final night.

I couldn’t believe it was ending. I still don’t feel that it has. At the same time, it’s hard to believe it ever really happened. It feels dreamlike, because it was so different from the rest of my life. It’s been hard to write about fest because of this disconnect- I don’t really know how to use words to communicate my experiences. But I am so, so grateful I have had them.

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This sign hung off a path near where we camped in Bush Gardens.

 

Thank you all for reading about my experiences. There are, of course, many more wonderful things that happened at MichFest, and I only opted to tell you of a few of them. Coming back to the airport after spending a week with women was jarring, as it felt like what I had just experienced was dream-like. In a way it was- women created an amazing place that lived for 40 years. There is no where on earth quite like it.

I feel like I have been a participant in womyn’s history. It’s hard to describe how wonderful it is to have been there, and also how bittersweet I feel that it has ended. I am sure it must be much more difficult for womyn who had the pleasure of attending for many years. I do believe something else- or many somethings- will come out of this community in future. As this sign says:

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Words to live by.

 

Gaslighting Culture

gaslight-anthem_00289562

Lately I am really coming to terms with the fact that patriarchy is a gaslighting culture, and for the most part, messages do not need to be true in order to be consistently believed by a large number of people, or to be actively disseminated by the media. In fact, I’d go far enough to say that truth is often considered irrelevant in the media. I used to get angry when these messages veered so far off course from the truth, but I’m starting to see that as a feature and not a bug. That is, they never were meant to convey truths or reality- they were meant as wide spread propaganda.

For example, neo-liberal culture frames personal individual negative impacts in terms of “choice” and “consent” rather than systems of power that constrain groups of people, even though choice has very little to do with whether, say, impoverished inner city kids succeed in school. The same is true with the hidden-in-plain-sight fact about the toxic nature of masculinity and male pattern violence. The fear of taking sides or being too radical by *naming the problem* shapes the thinking patterns of almost the entire world.

This is why, for example, you’ll so often see suggestions like, “legalize prostitution- it’s just consenting adults!” as the most frequent opinion on the subject, even though there is overwhelming evidence that prostitution is harmful to women. It’s libertarian individualism writ large.

But my specific point about gaslighting is related to the worldwide culture of misogyny that has near universal adherence, even among feminists. I’m reading a book called Sarah Canary set in the 1870s that illustrates the gaslighting common at the time. Rape is referred to as “an encounter with women’s frailty”. That’s just one example of the way that reality- that is, a man forcing himself onto a woman- is seen as a weakness on the part of the woman being raped. In another case, a Chinese man comes to a house the next day after a murder occurs. He leaves town, and is told that he can never come back as the town has pinned the murder on him. Even though he wasn’t even present at the time of the murder, that is irrelevant- the fact is, the racist town wants to blame someone who is not from there for the event.

Those are just two examples in the book where reality is obscured through lies and gaslighting for a particular goal- in these cases, male and white supremacy, respectively.

Recently I saw an article on the Miss Representation page about how a young baby was being “slut shamed” for an image of her eating a frozen treat. This is gaslighting, because it implies that she was eating the treat in a way that disclosed her slut nature. A child. The article should have been pointing out that she was being sexualized in a sexist manner, or turned into an object of pedophilic desire. In no way should she have been described, by a *feminist* organization, as a slut. That depiction is false and feeds patriarchal narratives about the promiscuous nature of women and girls.

Nowadays, that gaslighting has just morphed into new forms. Women are still well hated, and we are not seen as people. I’ll include two incidents from this past week.

An event set up to normalize the varied embodiment of women’s external sexual organs through whimsical representations on cupcakes is derided as somehow “violent to trans women specifically”. It’s obvious to anyone who hasn’t been brainwashed on transgender issues in 2015 that this is a laughably hyperbolic statement, and yet this is the level of discourse we are working with. In another recent cupcake kerfluffle, it was said that “YOU ARE KILLING TRANS WOMEN WITH YOUR BELIEFS” and “the only good thing about terfs is that they don’t have feelings so its ok to kill them whenever you want”. As purple sage fem says,

It is so idiotic to claim that snack foods are oppressing people. I am just shocked that people are making this claim with a straight face. The only way you can truly believe you are being oppressed by cupcakes is if you are privileged enough that you have no idea what oppression actually is.

But this is gaslighting patriarchy, so of course if vulva cupcakes are killing people, and a transwoman told you that, you had better listen up. Women are being bullied out of discussing our complicated relationships to our bodies. We are even being told that we may not display feminine hygiene products in the women’s room. Our realities are considered of secondary importance to what transwomen want. We aren’t even allowed to discuss our own pregnancies as mothers- we are now “pregnant persons” (yes, really!).

Another situation from this past week is much more horrifying and is discussed here by Hypotaxis. This past week, supposedly “feminist” Jezebel hosted on their site an interview with a convicted child rapist, murderer and corpse desecrator who says he (a transwoman) has been victimized by “TERFs” for disclosing true facts about a horrific murderer he committed.  The interview is full of statements that the murderer is a “feminist”. How can an “feminist” publication print such lies while omitting the name of his victim and the nature of the crime he committed? As one of the commenters stated, “How ass-backwards do you have to be as a feminists to promote a child rapist and murderer on your site Jezebel?”

But that is gaslighting culture.

Thankfully, some are waking up. A Houston initiative that would enact “gender identity” laws (meaning anyone could claim the gender identity of woman and be allowed in the women’s room) was defeated using videos like this one to state what the impact of the bill would really be.  While it is unfortunate that conservatives are the ones who are seeing through this nonsense at the moment, and are large perpetrators of gaslighting culture themselves (remember Guantanamo Bay?!), I say radical feminists should use any exposure of the truth to our advantage. It is so rarely seen in these dark days.

gaga feminism

soda-can-hair*Content Warning- Pedophilia*

I’ve recently had the misfortune of reading a particularly bad post-modernist book entitled Gaga Feminism. The author is Judith Jack Halberstam who can be reached on twitter at @Jhalberstam.

Halberstam comes from a queer theory background and uses this framework throughout the book. Within the first few pages Susan Faludi, author of the insightful book Backlash, is bashed for not incorporating the latest female-erasing queer theory analyses into her projects.

Within the first fifteen pages, however, we see an incredibly worrying passage. Halberstam recommends civil libertarian Judith Levine’s (twitter here) “brave and controversial” book Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex.  From wikipedia:

[Levine] suggests liberalization of age-of-consent laws in the United States and the conception of minors as sexual beings, which Levine argues is extant in Western Europe. Levine argues for weakening most United States laws governing possession of child pornography, the access of abortions to minors, and conduct classified as statutory rape. Conservative commentators have heavily criticized her work.

This content is pretty concerning to me as a feminist who is opposed to the sexual exploitation of children. Halberstam states:

Levine, by asking impertinent questions about children and sex—like, Why label a child a victim if she doesn’t feel victimized? or, Why presume that all sexual conduct between adults and children is unwanted by the child or that all sexual activity among kids under the age of ten is pernicious?—has pushed back on one version of feminism that sees women and girls perpetually as the victims of unchecked male sexual aggression, and has pushed forward with another that understands children as sexual, parents as erotic figures, and sexuality itself as the pursuit of pleasure. By casting “harm” in terms of the judgments adults pass about child sexuality rather than in terms of exposure to inappropriate material, Levine went gaga and began a much-needed public conversation about the folly of imposing sexual regulation on children and the wisdom of making more-neutral assessments about what children want. Indeed, Levine proposed, when we really don’t know or understand what children want or how they may feel about something, we could always do something wacky and crazy … like asking them to let us know what feels good and what feels intrusive or wrong. p 15

Let’s unpack a few of the statements included in this quote.

Halberstam uses an interesting device in this in-need-of-editing passage– the “rhetorical question”. This way, Halberstam gets away with saying offensive and dangerous things by phrasing them as queries rather than statements. For example:

Why presume that all sexual conduct between adults and children is unwanted by the child

The phrase begins with the assumption that most people make generalizations about the participants in a particular sexual practice, and stands as a corrective to those generalizations. It frames the generalizers as out-of-touch prudes who just don’t understand what children want; meanies who won’t let children play with their favorite toys.

In fact, however, the rhetorical question is doing the opposite of what it purports to do. While it means to stand up for the rights of children to enjoy all facets of their lives, it’s actually making an excuse for pedophilia by claiming that some children actually enjoy sexual contact from adults.

Adults are responsible for setting appropriate boundaries with children, and children’s feelings towards inappropriate behavior are entirely irrelevant to whether the behavior should be engaged in. Halberstam’s re-framing of sexual violation as a potentially enjoyable pastime for children is a repellent reversal.

I asked Halberstam about this quote, and the response was to change the subject to child-on-child sexual behavior:

jjh

Halberstam first prevaricates on the term “child” the way that many child sexual abuse advocates do when they suggest that perhaps pedophilia may not be okay, but hebephilia or ephebophilia are. This changing of the goal posts is not appropriate when in any case we are talking about exploitative, dominating, and abusive behavior from adults towards minors.

Then Halberstam changes the subject in order to avoid my pointed question. The response presumes that I was asking about child on child sexual contact, which I was not. Dodging the question is a frequent tactic of those who wish to avoid revealing the truth.

Over the course of this afternoon, Halberstam has refused to answer my pointed questions regarding the viewpoints quoted in Gaga Feminism.

Moving along, let’s dissect another portion of this text:

[Judith Levine] has pushed forward with another [version of feminism] that understands children as sexual, parents as erotic figures, and sexuality itself as the pursuit of pleasure.

It’s concerning to me that Halberstam “understands children as sexual” and also “understands parents as erotic figures”. Halberstam seems to be clearly advocating for incestual relationships between parents and their children, which is obviously damaging, abusive, and exploitative. Halberstam is silent on this topic when asked directly:

jjh2

This leads us to the third portion of the quote that I’d like to unpack:

when we really don’t know or understand what children want or how they may feel about something, we could always do something wacky and crazy … like asking them to let us know what feels good and what feels intrusive or wrong.

This is an exceptionally disturbing, grooming quote. Frequently child sexual abusers will groom children into “enjoying” the abuse that they are receiving. This is very confusing for children who grow up not knowing what to do with the conflicting feelings they have. Many adults deal with severe trauma caused by being exploited and used in this way in youth, so to see this ostensibly feminist author attempt to justify such treatment based on whether the child involved enjoyed the treatment is truly beyond the pale.

Halberstam believes that by asking these questions, I have “turned back the clock on discussions about child sexuality about 50 years”:

j jack halberstam 3At this point, there was little to be said on the topic between the two of us. Halberstam engages in the justification of child sexual abuse, and calls those who object to the practice out-of-touch. I admit that my conversations on this matter left me feeling thoroughly disgusted.

There’s more to say about Gaga Feminism as an at best ineffective and at worst dangerous piece of so-called feminist literature. For example, the book states that we don’t need to have an end goal in mind with our activism, so long as we focus on the process:

A gaga feminism does not need to know and name the political outcome of its efforts. More important is to identify the form that transformative struggle should take. p 137

This is obviously no help at all to those struggling with poverty, sexual exploitation, or even workplace discrimination. To fight for abortion rights, for example, we must have a plan and execute it. The “transformative struggle”, so to speak, is worth bollocks if it doesn’t secure our rights for us . This book has a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of feminism, which is to liberate women from oppression.

Halberstam’s fatalism comes out in the following passage which takes as a given that feminists will lose:

Gaga feminism is the ideology that motivates the queen in the chess match—as the queen, you can make big moves, bold moves, aggressive moves. You can do damage, take others out, move at will. You will also have everyone gunning for you, coming for you, following you. You will go down. But, in the words of Lady Gaga: “Don’t be a drag, just be a queen. p 147

At this point, the book seems to be seeking teenage-level approval valorizing our pop music choices and framing our individual lives as feminist battlefields while ignoring structural inequalities, the importance of activist movements, and real solutions for women.

Gaga Feminism is a book that justifies child sexual abuse and has no conception of power relations or the purpose of political movements. It is being taught in several colleges, which is incredibly worrying. This book is anti-feminist propaganda.

jh

The author, Judith Jack Halberstam

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock: A Book Review

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-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.

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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.

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