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 However, trans activists and their allies created a cloned version of the website at 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.

Radical Feminist Mini-Retreat

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.

Next we took a lovely walk by the lake. It was so beautiful! It is really nice to be out in nature with sisters. One of us spotted a longhaired cat, and this absurd upturned chair:

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.

Farmer’s Market

I went to the farmer’s market this weekend, and had two feminism-related experiences.

First, there was an old dude wearing a “Feminist chicks dig me” shirt.

Dudes think they are soo hi-larious.
Watch us all laugh.


My initial thought was that this shirt must be a dig against feminists, and that those wearing it actually do hate feminist women and want to shame them.

But then I saw that Jessica Valenti gave Stephen Colbert one of these shirts on his show. I honestly do not know what to make of that. See? Feminists actually do like dudes! Look, I gave you this shirt that demeans me– that proves we have a “sense of humor”!

Many of us know dudes who call themselves feminists. The internet is full of them! One of them just joined my book club! (YUCK)

But most of the men who self-identify as feminists do so on the belief that so identifying will bring with it sexual perks. Make her think you give a ‘ish about her rights, and she’ll be sure to let you bone her!

Real pro-feminist men don’t spend their lives bloviating on about how much of a feminist they are. They teach other men, instead of trying to lead women. But these men are rare.

Anyway. My next feminism-related experience came when I saw what I’m calling a princess-off in the middle of the grounds. Yep. There were two adult women dressed up as Disney princesses for the kids. One was Cinderella, and the other was Princess Merida from Brave.

Obviously, one of the princesses is much more feminist-approved.

As you all know, Cinderella teaches young girls that women cannot trust each other, and that the only way to advance in life is to marry your way out of misery by being petite and “beautiful”.

Now, I haven’t seen Brave and therefore can’t fully evaluate its feminist cred, but I have read the wiki on it. Though it seems somewhat problematic in depicting Princess Merida’s relationship with her mother, it does revolve around a young woman’s self-determined choice not to be married against her will. Also, she is an active character that makes things happen, rather than a passive one that receives the action like Cinderella.

What was encouraging about the princess off was that the Brave princess was much more popular with the young girls. They were circled around her, and asked her if they could play with her adult-sized bow-and-arrow. They lined up to shoot the kids bow-and-arrow set that was set up for them. There were young boys there too. Cinderella looked bored and embarrassed in her hoop dress and shiny gloves. Actually, I felt bad for her.

The two princesses at the farmer’s market could not have been more different, and the young girls decidedly chose the more active, self-determining, and adventurous option. I found this quite encouraging.

For more feminist analysis of Disney princesses, check out Allecto’s post here. Andrea Dworkin also talks about Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty in Woman Hating. As she says, the moral of fairy tales tells us that, “happiness for a woman is to be passive, victimized, destroyed, or asleep.”

So despite the frustration created by dude’s shirt, I was thrilled to see girls embracing a powerful– if imperfect– female role model. On top of all that, I bough some delicious chomp from local venders. Overall, it was a lovely Sunday.

Femininity and Essentialism

USian vice presidential candidate and full time misogynist Paul Ryan recently spoke at a GOP event called the Value Voters Summit.

The Family Research Council displayed a pamphlet at the event entitled “Modesty Matters”. It stated, among other things:

“All women, whether married of single, are to model femininity in their various relationships, by exhibiting a distinctive modesty, responsiveness, and gentleness of spirit.”

Woman-hating is no surprise coming from Republicans, but this was quite a blatant statement being displayed at a conference where the VP candidate was speaking. This article from RH Reality Check analyzes the code words in the above statement:

Modesty: Hiding yourself and avoiding clothes you find appealing, trying your best to be invisible. Responsiveness: Giving men attention and smiles they demand, no matter how miserable it makes you to do so. Gentleness: Giving up the urge to fight for yourself, instead just giving in and submitting. Women exist, in their eyes, to serve and to be invisible when they can’t be of direct use to men. Reproductive rights and sexual autonomy threaten that view of women, because these things suggest that instead of a servant class, women are people just like men, instead of creatures put on earth to serve men.

Clearly, modeling femininity as prescribed above is about controlling women’s behavior. As Lierre Keith has stated, in most cases the practice of femininity is “a set of behaviors that are in essence ritualized submission.” Nowhere is this made more clear than in this latest Republican offering.

Some postmodernists and genderists have downplayed the harms of femininity. As Julia Serano has said, “The only thing that all feminine traits have in common is that they are typically associated with women in our culture.” Statements like these miss the mark entirely, pretending that the performance of femininity has no historically oppressive context, and ignoring the fact that these traits are associated with women because they have been and are currently used to suppress them.

Most feminine traits are useful to men because they discourage women’s agency, and ascribe value to her only insofar as she pleases them.

Radical feminists know that male supremacists such as the Family Research Council have an agenda of dominating women. But outside of feminism, many people are not familiar with the oppressive nature of the feminine gender role. In fact, it is a common misconception that women are, by nature, more gentle, nurturing, responsive, etc. As many of you know, this position is called essentialism.

In actual fact, it is impossible to determine what characteristics women would exhibit outside of patriarchal socialization, since there is no way to observe that reality. Essentialism takes no account of gender socialization which begins at birth and teaches girls to be quiet princesses, while “boys will be boys” and are encouraged to be aggressive and dominant.

Interestingly, if gentleness, nurturance, and responsiveness were so natural for girls and women, why would socialization require such brutally pervasive influences to make sure girls turn out that way?

Radical feminists wish to free women from this type of feminine socialization. We acknowledge that patriarchy is an oppressive system that molds behavior, and that we cannot gain information about “natural” behavioral tendencies by observing current trends under patriarchy.

On Sisterhood

There is a worldwide community of radical feminists.

We don’t always agree on issues, and we don’t always disagree respectfully. We’re not perfect ethical beings (or perfect feminists) all the time either. There are personality clashes, and there are frequently differences of priorities. Sometimes there are betrayals– big and small.

Given that, I’m still glad to be a part of this community. We all hate the patriarchal bulls’it that says our value is in our objecthood. We are infuriated when we see pimps masquerading to spread their woman hating propaganda. We recognize that male pattern violence serves to terrorize women into a state of Societal Stockholm Syndrome.

We are working towards the liberation of women.

The other night, I had a dream that I ran into one of the women I met at the Reboot. In the dream, we were both busy doing other things with our time, but once we saw each other we ran together and shared a giant hug.

Then we went about our days separately. The dream wasn’t really even about this person– it was simply a side note in a larger sequence. But in the dream, as I went about my business doing other things, it was so great to know that I was not alone. There was a sister nearby.

Some of us are geographically closer to one another than others. But what we do share– no matter the distance– is sisterhood.

We are part of a community, and I am extremely grateful for it.

Also, that reminds me. We have work to do.

[Image from here]

Radfem Reboot Day Three: Reclaiming Women’s Space and Sexuality

Here is my third entry in the series. Part one is here, and two is here.

Sunday’s presentations didn’t begin until 2 pm, so I had a chance to spend some more time regrouping and hanging out in Portland. It is such a fun city! I had been told that it was a rainy place, but so far it was nothing but clear skies and cool weather. I had some delicious Thai food for lunch, and enjoyed a leisurely approach to the venue.

Cathy Brennan’s discussion was entitled Organizing for Lesbian Reality : Legal and Political Responses to Conflicts Between Lesbian and Transgender Communities. Her talk is reprinted in full here so I won’t summarize it, but I did want to emphasize several important points she brought up.

She mentioned the International Bill of Gender Rights which states, among other things:

“no individual shall be denied access to a space or denied participation in an activity by virtue of a self-defined gender identity which is not in accord with chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role.”

In other words, the authors of this bill have an agenda to eliminate sex-segregated space. That is, female/women only space would no longer be allowed, if they have their way. Although I was aware that this was a goal of trans activists, hearing it lain out in a declaration from the early 90s was another thing. Amazingly, trans activists have been very successful in breaking down woman only space since the declaration was written. Even this summer, as many of you know, Conway Hall in London bowed to pressure and booted the RadFem 2012 conference because it was supposed to be a specifically woman-only event.

Another worrying point that Cathy brought up was the definition of gender identity legislation that has been enacted in many states. Many legal definitions of “gender identity” are similar to this definition used in Washington, DC:

“Gender identity” means a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.

Definitions such as this one “suggest or codify into law that there are ways of expressing one’s self (or behaviors or appearances) “consistent or congruent with biological sex”” [quote from here]. Radical feminists know that this is a problem, since we want to abolish gender. As Lierre Keith said earlier, gender is a hierarchy and harms females. These types of legislation suggest that if women do not identify, appear, or express themselves in a way that is in line with their assigned sex at birth, they are trans. Obviously, radical feminists seek to destroy gender constraints, and hope for a world in which there is no such gendered behavior typically associated with our assigned sexes at birth. These types of legislation suggest that there are gender presentations that are appropriate for female persons, and others appropriate for males. This presents a risk to females, as such definitions codify the notion of stereotypes based on sex into law.

Cathy Brennan’s presentation was dynamic, and gave me a lot to think about. It was also lovely to meet her.

Finally, we saw an awesome presentation from Maggie entitled How Patriarchy has Hijacked Women’s Sexuality on Every Level, and What We Can Do to Fight Back. Maggie spoke about the male-centric vision of sexuality that we are sold through PIV sex, sadomasochism, and the use of dildos in lesbian encounters.

This male-centric sex uses media to spread its propaganda– media such as “women’s magazines” like Cosmo, Seventeen, and even lesbian publications such as and Diva magazine in the UK. Even though these magazines are for both lesbian and heterosexual women, both frame women’s sexuality in terms of “f*cking”—which is a very male-centric view.

Another example of male-centric sexuality in lesbian media is through the television shows The ‘L’ Word and Lip Service in the UK. In these shows, beauty- and gender-compliant women are shown using dildos and engaging in BDSM—both practices which mirror dominance/submission paradigms of male-centric sex.

As Maggie eloquently put it, our entire societal order is based on the hierarchy of dominance and submission. There is nothing egalitarian about our society. In this context, sadomasochistic sexual practices make sense. If all we know is dominance and submission, how can we organically envision a mutually respectful egalitarian sexuality? For this reason, BDSM practices can never be separated from male domination—even when practiced in an all women environment. As Maggie said,

“We’re programmed to get off on our own oppression, and orgasms don’t make it right.”

But, some (non-radical feminists, of course) might object at this point by saying, “what about women who consent to these practices? If they consent, how can we criticize?” Maggie reminds us to not pay attention so much to the act of consent, as to the practice that is being consented to. If we are consenting to torture, perhaps the horrifying nature of the act is what is important, rather than whether or not consent has been offered. As Susan Hawthorne commented at this point in the presentation, those who ask for consent are typically the ones who have power— and those who give consent are the ones who do not. I found that statement to be quite true, as well as revelatory.

So what is the solution to this male-centric sexuality?

We must decolonize our bodies and psyches from sadomasochistic culture. We must do this without shaming women who are currently engaged in these sexual practices. Instead, we must work towards a positive view of egalitarian, female-based sexuality.

I was really inspired by Maggie’s presentation to continue the process of de-colonizing my own mind and body from our sado-society’s anti-female practices. Not only that, but Maggie was such an awesome person to meet!

I left the weekend with feelings of inspiration, fellowship, and genuine love for the women I had been spending time with. I realized that I want to do more towards the goals of liberating women, and I found myself developing the strategic and visionary tools necessary to start that process. I also wanted to find more radical feminists in my own area to organize with—or if not to find them, then to help radicalize feminists I already know!

I was so, so very privileged to have participated in the Radfem Reboot in Portland, OR. I want to thank the organizers, the members of Sisters Underground, the presenters, and finally the women who were able to prioritize this moment and were able to make it. Truly—this is only the beginning of something wonderful.

Radfem Reboot Day One: Rebooting Radical Feminism

I was honored and overjoyed to have participated in this fabulous gathering of women to combat male supremacy and build community. What follows is a summary of the speakers/panelists, as well as some of my own experiences. Days two and three will follow shortly.

The organizers were fabulous enough to provide a ride from the place we were staying, which I really appreciated. I entered the venue, and immediately began meeting online radical feminists (RFs) that I had known through the internet for the past 18 months or so. Each new face and hug was thrilling! (I found myself using that word a lot when describing this conference). As we settled down for breakfast with each other, the first presentation began.

Renate Klein and Susan Hawthorne began to speak about a very personal subject—their love for each other. Their accomplishments over the years, as well as the challenges they have faced as publishers of Spinfex Publishing, did come out of the discussion. But what I took away from this more than anything was the incredible strength and love they have for each other—and the ways in which this relationship as well as their love for women sustained them both in tough times. They were so inspiring!

Next came a panel that I was honored to be on about the challenges and benefits of being a younger radical feminist. Interestingly, the entire conference was populated by a wide range of younger and older RFs—I was by no means the youngest. Nevertheless, I explained how I came to radical feminism (following the crumbs from the “Spinster Aunt Gets Translucent” post over at I Blame the Patriarchy). I also discussed how online activism is challenging because we rarely get to meet together in person, but beneficial because we are able to reach a wider audience. I mentioned the woman who, through the course of visiting my blog, discovered that her husband was indeed a porn user, and used that example to discuss the implications of online consciousness raising. Finally, I closed by mentioning Janice Raymond’s concept of dual vision—whereby we acknowledge the atrocities committed within patriarchy, while at the same time having a vision of what the world should be. Sisterhood and woman-centeredness should be the focus of both these types of vision. During this panel, Terri Strange did a brilliant job of highlighting the dangers of being a RF including receiving death threats and stalkers, as well as discussed her own journey to radical feminist consciousness.

Next, Hilla Kerner spoke on organizing strategies for women’s liberation. One point she made that really stuck with me is that when organizing in a collective, it is vitally important to make sure that those involved in the collective share the same goals. Otherwise, the collective cannot survive. These are exceptionally important words, and I will remember them for future organizing.

Heart Sees spoke after lunch about reaching out to women in fundamentalist/religious groups. She listed criteria for “high demand” groups (formerly called “cults”), and elucidated reasons why, though women in these groups are certainly oppressed, some may have seen their fundamentalist group as offering the best of the bad deal women are dealt in our patriarchal society (a la Andrea Dworkin in Right Wing Women). She urged compassion and understanding when reaching out to these women. Her talk was both engaging and enlightening.

On to the crafts, organized by Silvia Black! We all created posters celebrating radical feminist ideals, skewering the pornstitution industry, or lambasting queer politics. It was a lot of fun!

After that, the great Kathleen Barry presented the book launch of Big Porn Inc, another great book from Spinifex Press. The book discusses the normalization of porn and prostitution through pop culture, sex therapy, “female sexual dysfunction”, video games, strip clubs, and the like. Dr. Barry encouraged us, in our organizing, to think big— not to consider what the next goal is, but what five goals ahead is. We don’t want our movement to become a one person, or a one issue movement. This was great advice from a fabulous foresister.

With that, we closed down for the day, but the fun wasn’t over. A large group of us decided to take on the town. We first visited a bar. Oddly enough, it had a “gender” neutral bathroom! Of all the bathrooms in all the bars in this town, we had to visit the one without a women’s restroom. Crack me up.

Next, it was on to a gay bar where we enjoyed fabulous dance music and laughter. There is truly no experience like spending time with your radical feminist sisters—I was thrilled to have been a part of this.

I got to bed with not enough sleep, ready for day two to begin!