BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
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Archive for the ‘Stratification’

Work Less. We Need You.

May 23, 2017 By: Mel Category: Seeking, Stratification, Work

It seems like everyone I know is in one of two situations. Either they are un(der)employed and trying to figure out how to get some hours/money to survive or they are working far too many hours and trying to figure out how to fit any kind of a life into a workday.

I used to work appallingly long hours. It started because I was severely underpaid and had little choice. But it continued because I had internalized the idea of a “hard worker” being a good thing. I succumbed to the expectation that people are supposed to fit their life around their work, rather than the other way around. I also wanted independence. Work seemed like a better route to independence than housewife, the only other option on offer.

There were some rewards for all that “hard work” and long hours. It might almost make you believe in the pull yourself up by your bootstraps nonsense. Of course, not everyone can do it. While I was getting raises and promotions for being “indispensable,” my coworker was struggling just to get to the office on time. She was a single mother who lived in a part of Liberty City where the buses, when they were working at all, only ran Monday through Friday during rush hour. Ostensibly my raises and promotion were a result of all those long hours. But the reality is that requiring long hours to “get ahead” is a way of privileging certain people without seeming to.

Even a forty hour week is too much. It worked o.k. for my father, when I was small.  He was able to work full time, still have a social life, and participate in his community. But that is because he had a stay at home wife, a support staff in his office, a periodic housekeeper, and various babysitters for us kids. In other words, he had a cadre of women doing much of the work for him. Once his business was crushed by the big box stores, life changed. No more stay at home wife. No more support staff. The community participation stopped. He had a stroke and was never really able to work full time again.

So if you are feeling like you are somehow failing, if you think you need some self-help bullshit about how to manage your time better, you don’t. There is nothing wrong with you. The reason we have so many exhausted, sick people hanging by one last nerve is not that we are all inadequate. It is that the grind is killing us.

When I entered the nonprofit world things got even trickier. Suddenly, it isn’t that you are giving all your life hours to make an owner even richer. It is that you are dedicated to a cause. When the people you are ostensibly helping seem even worse off than you, how can you justify cutting them off?

Ironically, one of the first nonprofits I worked for was an organization in California that helped people who were caring for someone with a brain impairment. I worked long hours. I was tired, stressed, and cranky. I spent zero time trying to be a part of the community. I didn’t treat people the way they should be treated. While I was supposedly helping caregivers, I had a life which would not have allowed me to do any caregiving. So how was that really helping anyone?

What I have come to see is that the more we work at our jobs, the worse off we are as a society. Our work structure is designed to provide cover for continuing discrimination and inequality. It is designed to prevent us from being able to participate in the life of our communities. It relies on a cadre of women – disproportionately poor women of color – whose struggles are mostly invisible. It is exploitation that we are all complicit in, whether you hire someone to clean your house or are so busy that you need to rely on the poverty wage workers who make your fast food. I began to understand what Nancy Fraser refers to as a “crisis of care.”

Between the need for increased working hours and the cutback in public services, the financialized capitalist regime is systematically depleting our capacities for sustaining social bonds. This form of capitalism is stretching our “caring” energies to the breaking point. This “crisis of care” should be understood structurally. By no means contingent or accidental, it is the expression, under current conditions, of a tendency to social-reproductive crisis that is inherent in capitalist society, but that takes an especially acute form in the present regime of financialized capitalism.

In short, Capitalism cares only about production and marginalizes the relationship building and care that our lives actually depend on. If our communities are falling apart, it is because the time we need to nurture the relationships that make communities strong is being stolen from us. I don’t see how we will resolve any other problem unless we can tackle this one.

Clearly, this is a systemic issue that will require collective action. But one of the first steps has to be reprogramming our own thinking and pushing back on the theft of our time and well-being.

It is not easy to break the cycle. It might even be a little terrifying. We have been programmed our whole lives to believe that one false move will land us on the streets. The reality is that some people really are in such a precarious position that they have little room to push. But that isn’t true for all of us. And the more collective hours we can recover, the more time we will have to do things to open space for the people who don’t have it now.

A good start is to push back against all the voices, including the ones in the back of our heads, which tell us to judge people for not being hard working enough. Push back when people start every conversation by asking what a person does for a living. Don’t work overtime if you can afford not to. Find ways to decrease your material needs or alternate ways to meet those needs. Refuse to get on emails outside of work hours. Take every minute of your vacation (if you are lucky enough to have it).

Thank people who actually take off when they are sick. Support paid sick days for everyone. Applaud publicly those who prioritize their family and community in actions and not just words. Call out anyone who criticizes people who actually have their priorities straight. Build a support system that makes risking your job a little less scary. Be there for others so that they can take risks too. Be the one who helps those trying to live without wage labor, not the Petty Crocker who resents anyone that isn’t working as much as they are.

When you have a moment of guilt or fear, think about how this system is designed to make it impossible to have a reasonable life. Think about all the people who could benefit from a drastic shift in culture and expectations. Ask why, if you leave work early or get on Facebook at your desk, employers say that you are stealing time. Yet it is totally accepted that an employer expects you to be on email 24/7, schedules meetings during lunch hour, or takes advantage of lax overtime exemption laws to make people work late for free.  Get pissed. Remember that you aren’t just pushing back for yourself. Remember that time is not money, time is life. They are stealing your life.

No matter how you earn your living, you aren’t doing anyone any favors by abandoning your loved ones, community, and health to the organization. No person can work 40 hours a week or more, support their loved ones in the way they deserve, be an active member of a community, be aware of what is going on in the world, be conscious about the systems they support, take care of themselves, create beautiful things, and find time for the joy that makes life worth living. Too many of us are sacrificing all the most important things on the altar of work. We need to look at our lives differently. Or as Fraser puts it

“The idea that you could build a society that assumes every adult is a person with primary care responsibilities, community engagements, and social commitments. That’s not utopian. It’s a vision based on what human life is really like.”

You can (and should) read the whole interview here.

Clarity Through Microcosm

March 31, 2011 By: Mel Category: Politics, Stratification, Work

I used to work for a hotel in Miami called the SeaView. It was owned by stockholders who had condos in the building. In a crunch, some of the condos were rented out. But generally only the parts of the building that were purely hotel rooms were for the public. The interesting part is who the stockholders were.

The penthouse was owned by Dwayne Andreas. At the time, Andreas was chairman of Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). That would be the food, feed, and fuel company that The Informant worked for. It was Dwayne’s kid that was found guilty of price fixing. And it is ADM that that hears that ka-ching every time congress votes for more ethanol subsidies.

ADM got to price fix and collect all those subsidies because Andreas gave huge wads of cash and other nifty gifts (like cheap condos) to politicians (Democrats and Republicans alike). This bipartisanship was evident in the hotel. We had both Republicans and Democrats who were stockholders there. Bob Dole was one. Business and media were well represented among the owners too. David Brinkley had a pad. So did the Hoovers and the Duponts.

Some of the stockholders got occasional shit for being extra cozy with Andreas. New York Magazine wrote about Bob Dole’s Sugar Daddy. And Brinkley got heat for becoming an ADM pitchman. But mostly nobody really knew who Andreas was. Nobody ever called to inquire about the high profile visitors to the hotel. Nobody protested outside. We had no need for anything more than one very sleepy security guard at night. I watched Andreas, Dole, and Brinkley take off unmolested to go eat at The Palm and decide our fates.

And while the rich white dudes of business, government, and media were out schmoozing; the rest of us held down the fort at the hotel. The nicer jobs – management, office staff, front desk, supervisors – tended to be held by Asians, Light Latinos, and Europeans. The housekeepers were Haitian women. As a front desk person, I was allowed to walk in the front door. The Haitian housekeepers had to use a back door.

Dwayne Andreas had a private jet and his own personal pilot. There were cars and drivers, of course. Management and office staff drove to work. The cars ranged from Mercedes to clunkers. I took the bus, but since I lived on the beach it only took me 30 or 45 minutes to get home. The housekeepers I worked with at night also took the bus. But they had three buses and a sometimes two hour commute home. Bad enough on its own, but a lot worse when you consider that they had to have other jobs to barely get by.

What got me thinking about all of this was a post over at Eye of the Storm.  It describes how Chuck Schumer was overheard briefing all the other senators on what they should say when their media conference call started.  It was the commentary about these powerful people being told exactly what talking points they had to parrot out to the media that brought back the SeaView.

I was working there in 2000 when the election fiasco occurred. Gore’s people stayed there for a while. Then Bob Dole swooped in to do media while the Republicans arranged the election for Dubya. The party used to fax Dole’s talking points to our hotel office. I got a kick out of reading them. But I got an even bigger kick out of seeing how much control the party had over someone who was once a skip away from the presidency.

I always thought that hotel would make a great book or documentary. Every strata of society was represented. All the relationships and machinations were blatantly obvious. It is hard to hold the illusion that government, media, and corporations have separate interests when they just went out for steaks and share the same pool boy. You can’t really believe that Democrats and Republicans are much different when none had any qualms living in a place where the people who cleaned their shit couldn’t walk in the front door. And you can’t believe that elections mean much when someone as high up as Dole could basically be replaced by a very talented and congenial talking bird.

To All the Marriage Pushers

March 04, 2011 By: Mel Category: Politics, Sex, Stratification

If I have to read one more article on how a group of people must somehow be damaged because they aren’t in a 1950s nuclear family, I am going to spit nails.

Kay S. Hymowitz has a piece in the Wall Street Journal where she complains that men in their twenties “hang out in…a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.”  Poor Hymowitz and her fellow women can’t find a husband and breed.  All the guys are playing video games, fucking around in bands, smoking pot, or watching porn and comedy central.

Don’t feel too bad, dudes.  Tracy McMillan, has been married three times and so styles herself some sort of expert on what is wrong with those loser women who haven’t even managed to get married once.  According to her, women are shallow, selfish, slutty, lying bitches who don’t spend enough time acting like a doting mama to their men. And if you are a black woman who isn’t married, well then your lack of a mate is headline news and asshats like Steve Harvey make money telling you all the ways you should change yourself in order to attract a charmer such as himself. (I just threw up a little.)

Why is it that people are so fixated on marriage?  Why is it so fucking important to them that they will excoriate anyone who doesn’t hop right onto the marriage bandwagon? (Why the hell is our tax money going to try to make poor people get married?)

Usually, marriage pushers say some crap about marriage being the foundation of society. Horseshit. Marriage as a monogamous death pact has not been the foundation of society. The foundation of society has always been much bigger than the fragile nuclear family.  If marriage has historically been the foundation of anything, it is privilege, hierarchy, sexism, and the accumulation of property.  The kind of marriage we are familiar with is an ownership arrangement.*

If you really want to get to the heart of why people are so marriage obsessed, you must read the conservatives on the subject. Here I actually appreciate them. Most people pretend that they want you to change your entire self for your own good. They tell you it is what you really want. They tell you it is about love. At least some conservatives are honest.

Sam Schulman says that marriage is about controlling sexuality, especially women’s sexuality.  And we can’t possibly let the gays marry, cause gay marriage has nothing to do with controlling who people can fuck. It’s like telling everyone they can go out and fuck willy nilly.  We can’t have that. And my god, didn’t you realize that,

Even in modern romantic marriages, a groom becomes the hunting or business partner of his father-in-law and a member of his clubs; a bride becomes an ally of her mother-in-law in controlling her husband.

How the hell are two gays supposed to navigate those all important elite and gender specific roles? I mean all our parents hunt and belong to a club right? (Seriously, you should read his piece.  You can’t make that shit up.)

These people piss me off so much. They want you to revere an institution that gives them privileges. They want you to modify yourself to serve their needs. They want you to give up looking for something real so that you can be as miserable as they are. They want to stuff you into the same tiny box they have stuffed themselves into.  They want you to have the opposite of love.

Love is not about putting people into boxes, making them into something that suits you. As James Baldwin put so perfectly, “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” These people are telling you to put on more masks, to be as phony and miserable and deluded as they are. And for what? So rich people can have a system for property inheritance? So selfish people can delineate which tiny group of people they have to care about in life? So men can delude themselves into thinking that there is some virginal housekeeper waiting to take care of him who will never, ever want to fuck anyone else?

To hell with that.

Guess what? Not every girl has that Disneyland princess fantasy that McMillan and the rest claim we do.  As Violet so eloquently put it, some women listen to all that crap and think “Yes, I’d like to put a ring on it. The kind attached to a ball gag.” And here is another crazy fact for you. Men are actually human beings with feelings and not just walking hornbots. No, it is true.  I swear. It is possible to be a man and actually want something more than sex or money from people. I know, I could hardly believe it either.

I have no intention of getting married. I knew that by about the age of fifteen. It doesn’t make me damaged. It makes me someone who actually thinks about things before doing them. I have no idea if my fourteen-plus year relationship will last another four years or fourteen years or forty years. I do know that I love my video game and guitar playing, pot smoking, porn and comedy central watching bfriend. And I have no intention of telling him to “grow up” and fit into some Ozzie and Harriet idea of what a man is supposed to be. And I know that he loves me, not despite the fact that I am angry and raunchy and thoroughly undomesticated, but because of it.

So to all you marriage pushers who want the rest of us to sacrifice our happiness on the alter of your delusion – I know you hate to see people be honest about who they are, despite the harsh social consequences people like you met out for not conforming.  It must remind you of your own phoniness, unhappiness and mediocrity. I kind of feel sorry for you, but mostly I just want to tell you to suck it.

____________________________________

*  If you have never read Stephanie Coontz’s book, Marriage A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, I would highly recommend it.

On Jewish “Success”

February 18, 2011 By: Mel Category: Religion, Stratification

It’s hard to have a reasonable conversation about the apparent “success” of the Jewish community. For one thing, we Jews have an understandably defensive gut reaction to accusations of success.  And they are often accusations.  To quote the Illinois Holocaust Museum,

Adolf Hitler and the Nazis augmented this (Middle Ages idea of Jews as Jesus killers and userers) with a 19th century myth that emerged as a backlash to European Jewry’s emancipation and consequent involvement in and numerous contributions to European cultural, social, economic and political life in numbers disproportionate to its numeric presence in the general population. This myth stressed the existence of a “secret” Jewish plot to dominate the world through economic and political control.

So when people start saying that Jews have a lot of money or control the media, the hairs start raising on the backs of our necks.

But that doesn’t mean we can deny the statistics.  Jews in America are better off than other groups.  Only Hindus come close to having as many people making over $100,000 a year.  Forbes 100 richest people included 30 Jews.  That’s a third of the top 100 for a group that makes up less than 2% of the population.  And while FAIR has thoroughly debunked the whole Jews own the media bullshit, there are a lot of Jews who work in media.  In 2009, the Atlantic came out with a list of the top 50 bloggers.  By my count, 27 of the 50 bloggers are Jewish.  That’s more than half.  That’s a hell of a lot.*

When confronted with Jewish “success” (and I put that in quotes because I don’t believe getting on the Forbes list is something to be proud of), many people will tell you that it is because our culture values education or because Jewish people take care of each other.  The implication being, of course, that less “successful” minorities don’t look out for one another or value education.

It is complete bullshit, of course.

How do you measure how much a culture values education?  How do you measure whether it is that they value education or simply don’t question the socialization?  How do you know it is not that another culture faces more obstacles to obtaining an eduction?  Besides, are only those people who have alphabet soup at the end of their name deserving of a living wage?

And isn’t it convenient how the education narrative conveniently ignores all the radical Jews who protested, picketed, boycotted, and otherwise scrapped in the streets?  Isn’t it convenient how that narrative ignores that Jews in America aren’t a target of the authorities like other minorities are, or like they themselves were in other places and other times.  It’s a lot easier to “take care of your own” when the prison industrial complex isn’t breathing down your neck.  How many Jewish women do you know who had to take in their incarcerated relatives kids?

Nobody knows I am Jewish unless I tell them.  People might not like Jews, but I’m a lot more likely to get past a prejudice.  More importantly, while Jews weren’t always considered white, most of us are white now – at least, white enough.  And if you don’t believe that privilege has anything to do with who gets to be a “success,” if you think that it is all hard work and commitment to education, let me ask you something.  Why is that entire list of Jewish gazillionares on Forbes all white men?  Maybe you can brush off the white part. There aren’t that many Black, Latino, Arab, or Asian Jews in the U.S.  But last I checked, about half of us are women.  Are women somehow immune to these supposed cultural proclivities that make Jews so “successful?”

So why am I writing this?

One of the bloggers I follow has now twice been accused of antisemitism.  Once, she was accused for daring to include a Jewish category in a post where she breaks down minority representation in the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans.  And now recently she was accused of antisemitism for calling out the hypocrisy of Dan Snyder suing City Paper for a picture that supposedly depicts a prejudiced stereotype – when he owns the fucking REDSKINS!

And that really pisses me off.

It isn’t just that the accusers are wrong, or that people shouldn’t spew knee jerk accusations.  It isn’t even about how those accusations can shut off conversations.  Ultimately this is not really about Jewishness.  It is about privilege, white supremacy, male supremacy, the illusion of equal opportunity, and the American mythology that weaves it all together.

Jewish success fits in nicely with America’s ideas about itself.  Here you have an immigrant group who came here fleeing persecution.  And while they faced prejudice, they were able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

What’s more, America’s embracing of Jews is in direct opposition to the Nazis – the enemy of all enemies. World War II was the good war, the war used to justify all other wars.  And despite the fact that many Americans supported the Nazis, despite the fact that the U.S. didn’t even max out its immigration quotas in the war years, we like to think of ourselves as the anti-Nazi.  We are the saviors of the Jews and of the world.

So this Jewish success narrative buttresses all our myths about heroic Americans, good wars, equal opportunity and all that crap.  It is a minority mythology that does not challenge white supremacy or male supremacy.  In fact, it actually provides cover for it. We Jews are used as a silent indictment of other groups, as cover for people who don’t want to change the power structures and hierarchies that privilege them.

Our inability to discuss Jewish “success” is an inability to challenge the hierarchies, prejudices, and myths that need to be challenged.  I don’t want to provide cover for white supremacists.  I don’t want to provide cover for greedy bastards who use accusations of antisemitism to deflect from their douchebaggery.

That doesn’t mean that antisemitism isn’t alive and well.  (I’ve seen Glenn Beck’s list of Jews who have ruined the world.)  It means that we have to be honest about the fact that this supposed “success” is really just a measure of how thoroughly a person has bought into and benefited from the American lies.

_____________________________

*Even more common than a Jewish background was attendance at Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia, or University of Chicago.  At least 30 of the 50 attended one or more of those schools.

Feminism or the Highway?

December 02, 2010 By: Mel Category: Stratification

Is feminism the only banner under which people can fight patriarchy, or better yet, kyriarchy?*

Is any act performed with the goal of ending gender oppression automatically feminist? Even if the people doing it don’t identify with feminism?  Even if feminism has consistently slapped them in the face?

I’ve been asked to explain why I don’t identify as feminist and I think I need to start with trying to answer those questions.  Because it seems to me that many feminists think that feminism is the only path to confronting oppression. That belief (I would say arrogance) is one of the primary reasons that I do not identify as feminist.

If feminism is the only path to confronting oppression, then what about Womanism? Are we to erase the experiences of black women who have very consciously chosen not to identify with feminism?  What about other marginalized people who have, after much consideration, chosen not to use the feminist label?

Read Women and Social Movements in Latin America and you will find a very ambivalent relationship between women’s movements and feminism.  Sometimes women don’t call themselves feminists because they see it as a movement of privileged white women. Sometimes, like in the case of the Bentia Galeana Women’s Council in Mexico, they don’t adopt the term because they cant come to any consensus about what feminism means.

Who can blame them for not being able to figure out what it means?  Some people say feminism is just about equality between the sexes.  Others say that it is about crushing patriarchy. Still others say that it is about confronting all forms of oppression.  There is liberal feminism, eco-feminism, radical feminism, anarcha-feminism, black feminism, Marxist feminism, sex positive feminism, and even conservative feminism (a la Ms. Palin). And the fights between the different feminists – who all have ideas about what is essential to feminism – are as bad as the fights between Anarchists and Marxists.  Or Anarcho-capitalists and Anarcho-communists.  Or…  You get the picture.

Now if you believe, as I do, that there are ways to fight oppression outside of the feminist label then the question becomes, does that label provide any added value?  Is it meaningful to me?  When I asked that question, the answer I came up with was no.  On the contrary. I think that when you adopt a label or belief system, you have to be willing to own up to all the things done in the name of that label.  And I am not prepared to accept the baggage of feminism.  I’ve got my hands full with anarchism.  Thank you very much.

If you want to read about the baggage of feminism, there are plenty of people who have written about it.  Read Jessica Valenti on gender essentialism.  Read Kimberle Crenshaw and Eve Ensler on feminists who ignored Hilary Clinton’s politics and supported her simply because she didn’t have a penis.  Read Monica Roberts on the long history of feminist transphobia.  Read about the battles between feminists and womanists.  Read about the experiences of sex workers:

we’re having to deal with the tremendous harms and human rights violations that have been done in the name of “feminism,” perpetrated against us to prove some theoretical point. When I started to work on the street in Montreal in 2001, for example, a number of feminist groups decided that they were going to go on the anti-prostitution rampage, and allied with right-wing people and religious groups to do so, which is not a strange combination. We have seen it in the United States when the powerful alliance between right-wing Christian groups, religious fundamentalists, and a number of mainstream feminist groups [cooperated] to pass aid restrictions to limit HIV funding to sex workers groups, at a tremendous cost to sex workers lives all over the world.

Now I know that some of you are thinking – Sure feminism has problems, but you should get in there and help fix it.

Why should I?

Some time back, one of the people I follow on twitter made the following comment, “Answering a situation of male exclusivity with female exclusivity is almost like celebrating your marginalization instead of fighting it.”  I suspect that it may have been in response to my talking about a conference for anti-authoritarian women.  (The conference was inspired by the sausage fest of an event that Libertopia was clearly going to be).

I never actually responded, but if I had I would have said the same basic thing I say to people who think I should help fix feminism.  I would rather build something that reflects my values.  I don’t have any desire or obligation to spend my precious time fixing your shit.  I have other shit I’d rather be fixing.  What’s more, are we really going to ask the most marginalized people to go in and fix feminism?  Are you going to tell a trans woman, who is in the line of fire every time she steps out of her house, to get closer to the shooter?  Who the hell are any of us to ask that?

While we are on the subject of responses to my non-feminism, let me tackle a few more things that will inevitably come up.

No.  I have not been brainwashed by the anti-feminist culture.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  I have been surrounded my whole life by feminists.  I once worked for the former president of the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women.  I would get waaaaay less shit if I would just cave and call myself a feminist.  My opinions on feminism do not come from listening to its detractors, they come from witnessing the actions of its proponents.

Which brings me to a more valid criticism, that I am judging feminism by liberal feminists. Well, yes.  I am.  Most of the feminists I have known in my life are liberal feminists who do not question the power structure, but merely want more women at the top of it.  It is true that anarcha-feminists do not fall into the same traps as liberals, but most feminists are not anarchists.  The idea that I should judge feminism by the margins is absurd.  Usually, we talk about how movements shouldn’t be judged by the extremes, but with feminists I’m supposed to turn that on its head and not judge the movement by the mushy center?

Truth be told, I thought about identifying as anarcha-feminist for half a second.  But it just didn’t make any sense.  If feminism is defined as being against all forms of oppression, then adding feminist to anarchist just seems redundant.  If it is about being against patriarchy and gender oppression, then it would seem to preference one type of oppression over another.  Cindy Milstein, at a recent event in Baltimore, described it in less negative terms. She said that the anarcho-adjectives symbolized not preference, but passion.  That’s fine.  If you are extra passionate about injustice related to gender oppression, more power to you. But I am not.  I may identify more when I hear about the injustices and abuses faced by women, but I am not more passionate about doing something about those injustices than I am about injustices due to race or class or disability or anything else.

None of this means that I am anti-feminist.  I can appreciate the accomplishments of feminists without being a feminist.  Just like I can appreciate the accomplishments of the Southern Christian Leadership Council without being a Christian.  I can appreciate feminist writings, philosophy and discourse without being a feminist.  Just like I can appreciate the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh or John Paul Sartre without being a Buddhist or an existentialist.

I get that identifying as feminist is meaningful to many people.  And if you want to inundate me with suggested reading that you think will change my mind about the whole thing, knock yourself out.  I keep an open mind.  Just don’t be so arrogant as to think that, because it holds such meaning for you, the rest of us have to agree or we are BAD.  Don’t forget that the movement you are so attached to has shit on a lot of people along the way. And don’t continue that tradition by disrespecting all the amazing women out there who are confronting oppression without the feminist label.

___________

* Since I posted this I have been enlightened on some of the more troubling aspects of the term kyriarchy.  You can read a very good post about it here (HT @QueerCoup).  I’m usually more careful with my language.  Had I done more 101, I might not have used the term.

That said, I don’t think it effects the crux of my arguments and I still stand by all the rest of it.

Are all Johns (and Janes) the Same?

November 18, 2010 By: Mel Category: Sex, Stratification

Last Tuesday I linked to an article that really bugged me, but I hadn’t quite put my finger on all the reasons why.  It was about a brothel for women that is opening in New Zealand.  The author of the article was predicting that the brothel would be a failure because women “have to be paid to have sex with strangers.”

At first I thought what was bothering me about the article was that same old tired trope about women wanting relationships while men just want to get off.  There is no way to know for sure what women would or would not want if we lived in a society where women having sex with multiple partners (or any kind of sex) didn’t come with such massive social disapproval.  There is no way to know for sure what men would or would not want if we lived in a society that didn’t hold up James Bond as their emblem for promiscuous, manly virility.

Even in our present culture, surveys show that the number of sexual partners that men have and women have aren’t very far off.  And in some of the surveys, where the numbers are farther apart, the respondents who reported high numbers admitted to lying.  Not to mention all the societies that have had much different ideas about sex. Jesuit missionaries from France were shocked by the sexual freedom that Montagnais-Naskapi Indian women had.*

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that wasn’t what was really bugging me about the article. What was bugging me was the portrait this woman was painting of who would go to a prostitute and why.  She didn’t go so far as to claim that every guy who goes to a prostitute is some emotionally stunted pervert who just wants to get off without having to treat the other party like a human being (as so many people do).  But she did infer that the only reason someone would go to a prostitute was because they wanted to have anonymous sex with strangers.  And she implied that they prefered that anonymous sex to other options that they had.   But what were the other options?

Mike Jones is the gay male escort who outed Ted Haggard.  He wrote a book about his life called I Had to Say Something.  In it, he describes some of his experiences with clients.  He wrote about a client who had diabetes and lost both of his legs, about a client who was ninety and just wanted someone to touch him, about clients who were filled with shame because they lived in a society where their desires – for men, for cross-dressing – were considered vile.  In other words, a lot of his clients were people who had serious challenges to having sexual relationships. Surely it isn’t only men that face those challenges.  Should they be ashamed? Vilified? Criminalized? Abstinent?

There is something really disturbing to me about someone who refuses to see whole groups of people as human. And that goes for people who may be participating in something that is problematic in a lot of ways.  There are serious issues related to the sex industry – trafficking, violence, economic exploitation – but the people who vilify all the Johns and victimize all the sex workers are being just as dehumanizing as they claim the people in the industry are.

Isn’t it possible to understand that human beings have complex reasons for the things that they do?  Isn’t it possible to recognize the humanity of people who do things that you may not agree with, while still being honest about how they may be contributing to a problematic system?  Can’t we hold two thoughts in our head at the same time?

* From Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage

Food, Water, Air and Care

October 27, 2010 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Core, Politics, Stratification

Remember Maslow’s hiearchy of needs?  Sure you do. It is usually presented something like this.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
You start at the bottom with the most basic needs.  As basic needs are met, you go up the pyramid.  I’ve seen a few of these pyramids.  They usually list the same stuff for basic needs – air, water, food.  They always forget the same basic need – care.

Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains. – Jean Jacques Rousseau

I blame Rousseau, myself.  Man is not born free, he is born attached to his mother by a cord and is not capable of looking after himself for at least seven years (seventy in some cases). – Katherine Whitehorn

I often think of those two quotes, especially when people ask why there are so few women anarchists and libertarians.  The recent anarchist survey came back with 82% of the respondents being men.  Libertarian surveys also have lopsided results.

Why?

When I lived in California, I worked for a small nonprofit that assisted caregivers of people with brain impairments. I picked up the phone one day and spoke to a client who had just received her first bit of respite.  That’s where we provided money for the caregiver to hire someone for a couple hours.  The woman had been taking care of her husband since his motorcycle accident a decade before.  She was crying.  She said it was the first time away from her caregiving responsibilities in all that time.

Our program was paid for in large part by tax dollars, both state and federal.  Who do you imagine that woman was going to vote for when the time came?  Do you think arguments about taxation being theft are going to persuade her that she should forgo those precious few government-funded moments of freedom?  How does your vision of freedom actually help her?  Are you going to go take care of her husband for her?

The vast majority of our clients were women, more than 80%.  Nationwide, the vast majority of people providing care for aging or disabled family members are women.  And even where men do provide care, they usually spend a lot less time doing it.  All that care has a cost.  Caregivers are stressed out.  They are depressed.  They earn less money.  They don’t take care of themselves.  They are struggling.

Women are seen as caregivers.  Women see themselves as caregivers.   It is what society expects of us.  The expectation is that we are supposed to want to play that role, to relinquish our freedom willingly out of selfless motherly/daughterly/wifely love.  Why would talk of freedom be expected to resonate with people who aren’t even allowed to want it?

There is a small part of biology involved in the idea that women are caregivers.  Those women who are able and choose to get pregnant have a biological caregiving role.  But the caregiving role that women are expected to play goes way beyond what is biologically determined.  The ability to get pregnant does not make someone caring.  Once a child is out of the womb, there is no biological rule about who should or would do the best job of caring for them.  The fact that women are the caregivers in our society is socially constructed.

That doesn’t just suck for women, by the way.  It sucks for men too.  I worked for divorce attorneys for many years.  Some of those bitter, “men’s rights” activists do have a legitimate gripe.  I saw many men get screwed in their divorce because, historically, the default was for kids to be with their mother – the caring one.  I saw kids begging judges to live with their father, only to be denied.  It happens.  I hate to agree with those schmucks on anything, but the sun shines on even a dog’s ass some days.

And if the gendered nature of caregiving weren’t damaging enough, our “independent,” nuclear family focused, transient society has taken away the collective caregiving that women have historically depended on.  Now we are expected to take care of our kids and our aging parents, often at the same time, and with little or no help from other family members or the community.  Is it really a surprise that, as women’s caregiving responsibilities increase, they become more liberal?

I don’t claim to have definitive answers on why women aren’t responding to anarchist and libertarian philosophies in the same way men are.  But I do think that the gendered nature of caregiving, how little most men talk about caregiving, how central caregiving is to our lives, and how much caregiving restricts our freedom has to be a factor.

And I find it interesting, in the context of this discussion, that so many anarchist and libertarian women are childless or did not participate in the raising of their children – Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre, for instance.  I would be very curious to know how many anarchist and libertarian women are mothers.  Most women are mothers.  If we can’t reach mothers, we can’t reach women.

The fact is that every one of us had our baby diapers changed by a woman.  And there is a damn good chance that your adult diapers will be changed by one to.  Complete independence and freedom are an illusion.  It is an illusion that women are not in a position to hold.  We are interdependent.  And we are only free in so far as everyone is willing to share in taking responsibility for the caregiving that is a fundamental need for all humans.

Whoever is addressing the real life situations that women face is going to get their attention – whether that is liberals offering government social programs, conservatives offering church social programs, or anarchists offering something new.  Talk to me about how to have the freedom to pursue my dreams without leaving a mountain of young, old, sick, and dying to fend for themselves and I’ll listen.

Who Will Notice?

August 12, 2010 By: Mel Category: Stratification

I met a Palestinian woman who came to the United States for her graduate degree.  She picked the U.S. because she wanted to see imperialism from the inside.  She wanted to understand the richest, most powerful country on earth.  Imagine her surprise when she learned that the kind of economic development programs she worked on in Palestine were needed as much in Appalachia as back home.

I was thinking about that conversation as I read Glenn Greenwald’s piece on What Collapsing Empire Looks Like.

The truth is that a whole lot of people aren’t going to notice the cuts in basic services that Greenwald wrote about.  Cutting public school hours doesn’t make much difference to people who send their kid to private school.  And it doesn’t make much difference to the 18% of U.S. Latinos who won’t graduate high school (26% in California.).

Cutting off street lights won’t be noticed by the people who live in gate-enclosed McMansion communities.  And it won’t be noticed by the 14%  on Indian reservations who don’t have electricity in their homes.  Total lack of public transportation won’t be noticed by people with three luxury cars in the driveway.  And it will barely be noticed by people who live in places like Liberty City or Little Haiti, where residents have been relying on private jitneys for years.

People keep talking about the United State’s decline, but I wonder how much of it is more of an unveiling.

Anarchy, Disability, Purity, and Doubt

June 07, 2010 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Core, Stratification

I’ve been thinking about the Americans with Disabilities Act and about a conversation I recently had about social security.  You would think that, as an anarchist who wants a stateless society, I would be against both.  That would be the ideologically pure position, no?  To be honest, I’ve had a bit of cognitive dissonance on this issue.

The need for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and for social security is real.  My aunt grew up with cerebral palsy (CP) in a time when people hid their relatives with disabilities.  She lives in a private home.  The home was started by a woman whose child had CP.  She started the home knowing that, when she died, there would be nobody to take care of her kid.  This valiant effort by one individual has provided a home for many people.  But it would not survive if the people living there, many whose parents are no longer alive and who have no children, did not receive social security.

The kids I helped at Camp Challenge were sometimes trapped in their houses most of the year.  The profit driven market has no interest in starting an accessible transportation company for one kid in rural Tennessee.  There is no profit in that.  The market does see profit in at-home care, but only for those people who have an extra $2,000 a week to pay for it.  And eventually those kids’ parents will be gone and they will need a place to go and a means of support that they can count on.

Saying the market will take care of them, in our present circumstances, is absurd.  It is true that there is coercion involved when people have money taken against their will and redistributed to others.  But it is also true that we live in, and help to create, a society where differently abled people have virtually no freedom at all – that the freedom to not help them can be directly in contradiction to their freedom to leave their house, get around, have a job, communicate with people…Doesn’t their freedom count?

I pointed out in my previous post how Rachel Maddow gave the government credit for integrating Woolworths, rather than giving credit to the everyday people that actually did it.  And that is true.  But it is also true that my aunt could not march over to Woolworths and insist that they lower the counter to accommodate her.  She needs someone to dress her and feed her.   She needs a wheelchair.  She needs ramps to get out of her building and into Woolworths.  She needs people who have the patience to listen to her as she struggles to get out the words.  She needs people who can see past her chair and drool and speech impediment and who will listen to the brilliance of her thoughts.

We all need to take responsibility for ourselves and the people around us.  But we also need to acknowledge that some of us face obstacles to taking responsibility that others don’t.

So I see a need, in our present circumstances, for the the ADA and for social security.  But I also see how these things are part of the problem. It isn’t just about some idea of freedom or the free market.  It isn’t just about some principle against coercion.  The home that my aunt lives in is run by grossly underpaid, African American women.  Having an anonymous government bureaucracy deal with the details makes it so much easier to keep those women (and the people they take care of) out of site and out of mind.  I can just file that tax return and never have to think about the whole lousy system – until I end up in it, of course.

The worst part about supporting government programs is knowing that I am helping to feed the machine that causes so much destruction.  The machine that is supporting my aunt is murdering people in Afghanistan and incarcerating millions of people who have done nothing wrong.  That machine uses a few token programs to bolster its legitimacy so that it can continue to exploit and oppress at will.  Every small bit of good it does comes at someone else’s expense.

So where does that leave me?  It leaves me with a moral dilemma.

My instinct is to try and resolve that dilemma with some neat philosophical jujitsu.  But every practical bone in my body fights against it.  And, if I’m being honest here, every selfish bone in my body fights against it too.  If I were going to be ideologically consistent, I wouldn’t rely on the state at all, right? I would tell my mother and aunt to stop collecting social security.  I would give up my job and my life.  And I would try to find some way of supporting them and taking care of them myself.  (No idea how I would have a job and provide 24 hour care for my Aunt.)  But should I really be expected to give up any freedom I have?

The truth is that sometimes there are no good choices.  And I am going to have to live with some moral ambiguity.  That bothers me.  But not so much as it bothers me when people pretend that everything can be wrapped up in a nice package and that these issues don’t pose any moral dilemmas.

Our world was designed by and for a very limited number of people during a very limited portion of their lives.  An anarchist world would be a very different place.  A world designed by all people – all ages, all abilities, all backgrounds, where everyone has a seat at the table, where all can express their own needs and desires – would not have these contradictions.  But we don’t live in that world.

I know that the system can never be the solution to a problem it helped to create.  But I also know that I cannot snap my fingers and have magically appear an all voluntary non-coercive method of dealing with the problems of real people.  In the time between now and then, real people have real needs that need to be met.  Too often, we anarchists get so caught up in philosophical discussions that we forget that.

It is, I believe, a real weakness to pretend these moral dilemmas don’t exist.  It delegitimizes our arguments in the eyes of people who experience the obstacles we too often ignore.  And it constrains our strategies in trying to imagine a new world and how we might get there.

In short, what I am trying to say is that I think we should embrace the doubts, ambiguities, and moral dilemmas that are inevitable with the world as it is being so far off from the world as it should be.  Rather than having litmus tests for authenticity or trying to pretend that we are all ideologically consistent, we should admit that it is impossible and give each other room to breathe.  By allowing for the ambiguity, I suspect we will find ourselves better able to reach out to people who find our beliefs somewhat alien.  And I suspect that we might find ourselves better able to come up with creative strategies for getting from here to there.

Liberalism and Disempowerment

May 24, 2010 By: Mel Category: Politics, Seeking, Stratification

By now you have surely heard about Rand Paul’s interview with Rachel Maddow.  Paul slimed around for twenty minutes trying not to admit that he does not support the provisions in the 1964 Civil Rights Act that made it illegal for a private business to discriminate.

On Rachel’s next show, she had a segment on why Rand Paul’s views were so important to get out in the open.  You can watch it here.

Around minute 6, Rachel made the claim that the civil rights act “ended, for example, Woolworths lunch counter practice of only serving white people.”

Actually, no it didn’t.  Four college students – Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond –  took it upon themselves to take that lunch counter.  And a whole lot of other people sat at that counter day after day until Woolworths changed their policy.

You can watch a segment about the Woolworth protest here (excuse the hokey, travel channelish soundtrack).

It wasn’t government action that integrated Woolworth’s, it was direct action.

One of the most frustrating things about the liberal narrative is that it gives presidents, congress, and the supreme court credit for things that they have no business getting credit for.  Elites did not lead the way.  They did things kicking and screaming, if they did them at all, after massive mobilization by everyday people.

And the worst thing is not even that people like Ezell A. Blair, Jr., Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond don’t get credit for what they do.  The worst thing is that the liberal narrative makes it appear that our only option is to vote every four years and spend the rest of the time screaming at our television screens.

It makes you feel powerless.

But we aren’t any less powerful than Ezell A. Blair, Jr., Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond.  They didn’t wait for the government to ride in on a white horse and save the day.  They didn’t sit at home watching Tweedledee Democrat and Tweetledum Republican play political ping pong.  They made it happen.

Want jobs?  Take over a factory.  Neighborhood school an underfunded prison that isn’t teaching you shit?  Start your own damn school.  Pissed that banks are raking in millions while they foreclose on people’s houses?  Put your body between those houses and the sheriffs trying to evict those people.

And the next time someone tries to tell you that those benevolent politicians swooped in and saved black people, remind them who the real heroes are.