Radical Feminist Mini-Retreat
November 12, 2012 12 Comments
I was fortunate to have been able to attend a regional radical feminist mini-retreat the first weekend in November. We did a lot of brainstorming, networking, sharing, and discussing. It was truly awesome to be in person with my sisters, and I am so grateful to have been a part. Sorry for the length of the post– feel free to jump ahead to the sub-topics if you don’t have time for the whole thing.
Topics to Cover
On Friday night we decided what topics we were going to cover. We agreed to talk about what projects we are working on in our own lives, how to navigate the queering of our cities, and how to deal with disagreements within our radical feminist community. We also agreed to watch Water Lilies, Andrea Dworkin’s Anti-Pornography, and the BBC documentary Angry Wimmin.
Film: Water Lilies
We watched a lovely lesbian film called Water Lilies. It depicted the difficulties of falling in love with a friend, as well as the predatory nature of most teen males. That aspect reminded me of my own youth, and made me wish I had known better that most young men are only after sex. It was melancholy, but also lovely, and I was really grateful to have gotten the opportunity to see it.
Discussion: Feminist Projects
The next morning we drank coffee and tea and discussed what our feminist projects are. Several projects were discussed, including the need for a radical feminist blog for teens, ways to get our message across in cities, podcasts, working in domestic violence shelters, getting porn out of libraries through employee rights, etc. It was a really productive discussion, and we were able to brainstorm together good ways of working towards helping women in “real life” as well as on the internet.
Film: Against Pornography and Discussion
After lunch, we watched Against Pornography: The Feminism of Andrea Dworkin. You can find the documentary here. Dworkin explained that she always starts out her talks by describing what actually occurs in pornography, since folks may not be familiar with it. It isn’t just naked women’s bodies these days– it is violent, aggressive, and abusive. She says the message of porn is that no matter what happens to a woman in porn, she will enjoy it. This teaches men that women enjoy abuse, which makes it a very dangerous instruction manual. I really enjoyed this phrasing of the point, “Porn is the war room where strategies of sexual abuse are planned.” Porn ties orgasms to inequality, and it is an institution that socializes men to rape. She ended by reminding us that if you know what needs to be torn down, tear it down.
The film led to a very interesting discussion. We pointed out that many don’t address the problem of porn in our society, because many men don’t want to give up their porn, and many women don’t want to give up their men. So our society fails to address the issue because we are afraid of the changes we might need to make if we did. We also talked about BDSM and the consent ritual. Under patriarchy, women really have two options: consent to be hurt, or be hurt without consent. The thought is, perhaps if we consent to it, it won’t be as bad. We also discussed the phrase “consent is sexy”, which is often found on “feminist” placards and t- shirts. One woman pointed out that the reason rape is wrong is NOT because rape is “unsexy”. The “consent is sexy” campaign targets the wrong objection to rape. Furthermore, since women are told that sexy is a good thing, they are thereby coerced by this message, and encouraged to “consent”.
Film: Angry Wimmin
Next we watched Angry Wimmin which was an awesome documentary on the beginning of radical feminism in Brittan. It was interesting to see the ways in which our movement overlaps with theirs. For example, the movie talked about how radical feminists sometimes try to make sure in conversation to replace certain words with others. For example, to say “oh goddess!” instead of “oh god!” when frustrated or amazed, or to say “herstory” instead of “history”, etc. I have found myself afraid of bringing my patriarchal framings into discussions with other radical feminists by using these words, so I could totally relate. At the same time, I have also found that we shouldn’t be ashamed if we decide not to make simple word replacements like the above and focus our efforts on working to free women. It was also inspiring to see the first Reclaim the Night marches in this film. I saw a poster that said “all men benefit from rape”, and I thought that was right on. Non-rapist males benefit from a terrorized underclass of women who are afraid to go out at night (we all know that doesn’t mean all men rape). Of course, I was inspired by the movie, and I also hope we can avoid some of the pitfalls of what they went through. There was some discussion of racial tensions at the feminist publication Spare Rib. It was a good reminder that we keep in mind class and race issues while working towards women’s liberation.
Discussion: Queer Culture and Radical Feminism
After this documentary we discussed the ways that queer culture works against women’s liberation, and what to do about it. One woman pointed out that queer culture is often saturated by pornography. Some famous trans folk speak about and “star” in pornography, and many are highly resistant to radical feminist critiques of prostitution and pornography. This is the first clue that queer ideology may not be liberatory for women. Another clue is the lesbian erasure that occurs in queer communities. Many women have begun to identify as “queer” or “trans” rather than lesbian. Also, queer culture ignores the boundaries between men and women, and aggressively insists that women who would like to maintain their own private spaces are transphobic. Clearly, if women are not allowed to organize without MAAB (male assigned at birth) folk present, that is a problem for our liberation. We also discussed how to begin bringing the radical feminist message to folks within the queer-ified cities and towns we live in.
Discussion: Conflict within Radical Feminist Communities
Finally, we discussed what to do about conflicts within the radical feminist community. We all agreed that women must step in when we see others being abused– even if this makes us worried of being personally ostracized ourselves. We agreed that resolving conflict involves standing up for each other, meeting women where they are at, and supporting women who have been attacked, We agreed that when we disagree with a woman, it is best to either discuss the issue with her via private message, or in the comment section of her blog. It is not sisterly to, as a first strike, publicly denounce a woman on facebook or on your own blog. Clarification can sometimes dissolve conflict. We also recognized that sometimes resolution is not possible, and that in those cases it is best to disengage with one another, rather than dredging up old issues on a frequent basis. We are human, and we all make mistakes– sometimes huge mistakes. Sometimes there is abuse. But we are also a community with common goals.
I am fired up about finding more radical feminists in my community, and engaging in political action. I am so excited to be a part of this movement at this moment in time– despite how difficult it can be. We are attacked by MRAs (men’s rights activists), queer culture, the right wing, and the pornographers. We are often hated and many times deliberately misunderstood. But we are empathetic to the struggles of women’s lives, and we can provide a truthful analysis of life under patriarchy. We are here, we are organizing, and we are not going away.