BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, anarchist, atheist who likes the letter A
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When Feminism Gets it Almost Right…But Not Quite

February 19, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Meryl Streep in DoubtEarlier this month twenty cities hosted an Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. Most Wikipedia contributors are men. The result being that entries on women are sparse. So these women are trying to fix that. Which is great.

There are all kinds of theories about why women contribute less to Wikipedia. One being that they have less spare time. Another being that Wikipedia can be a hostile and argumentative place. But Jacqueline Mabey thinks it is also socially formed self perception.

“We don’t raise young women to consider themselves authorities on anything…We raise them to doubt, constantly, their work and themselves.” Librarians are seen as the only female-dominated group that overall is a fan of Wikipedia, but Mabey says even they are cautious about editing. “These are women with double masters degrees,” she said. “I’m like, yes, you can edit it! The 18-year-old boy who doesn’t know anything is editing it, and he doesn’t even question it!”

You will get no argument from me that there are a lot of women who are hesitant to speak because they doubt themselves and a lot of young men who think they know everything. But the inference seems to be that we should get women to think they are authorities. And that is exactly the wrong thing.

Wikipedia is, at least in theory, anti-authority. You don’t need alphabet soup at the end of your name to contribute. You don’t need to have spent 20 years in an ivy tower collecting credentials. All you need is interest. The idea of Wikipedia is that our collectively imperfect knowledge makes something better than any one person – no matter how “authoritative” – could make alone. We don’t need more people who think they know everything, or pretend that they do. We need less of that.

But that is all too often how it goes. A gender gap or injustice is presented and then I am told that I should act more like an archetypal dude in order to right that wrong or get some socially acceptable level of success – authority, money, power. I mean, if I have to read another article about how I am not ambitious enough, I am going to lose my shit.

We don’t need more ambition or more authorities. We need more humility and doubt. Don’t encourage women to act like the worst kind of cocksure men. Encourage them to participate in things like Wikipedia precisely in so far as it undermines the whole system of authorities and status.

 

Trans Issues are Core Issues

February 04, 2013 By: Mel Category: Inequality

A few weeks ago, a piece by Suzanne Moore called Seeing red: The power of female anger started a bit of a shitstorm. Moore was looking to get women riled up and she succeeded – just not the women she was aiming for. Trans women were furious at her comment that women are angry with themselves for “not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.” Roz Kaveney explains.

In the first place there’s the implied dichotomy between women on the one hand and Brazilian trans women on the other – as if Brazilian trans women are somehow not women. But far more important is the fact well over a hundred Brazilian trans women were murdered in the last year alone.

And if there had been any doubt that people were right about the trans hatred that lingered behind Moore’s words, we had only to wait for her and her friends’ responses. The most vile of which came from Julie Burchill, best bud and godmother to Moore’s children. Click through and read the hate if you can stand it. I’m just going to give you one quote. The first part refers to another of Burchill’s friends who has been supposedly harassed by the “trans lobby.”

she refuses to accept that their relationship with their phantom limb is the most pressing problem that women – real and imagined – are facing right now.

Similarly, Suzanne’s original piece was about the real horror of the bigger picture – how the savagery of a few old Etonians is having real, ruinous effects on the lives of the weakest members of our society, many of whom happen to be women

I had to google Etonian. That would be somebody who went to Eton College, one of those boys boarding schools where upper crusty Brits go. Do you see what Burchill did there? She just made conservative legislation in the UK take precedence over every other thing that women are fighting.  Apparently, what some Tory does to a relatively privileged Brit is supposed to matter more to me than hundreds of dead Brazilian women, or even the  trans women killed right in my own city.

I may still have a lot of 101 to do when it comes to pressing problems facing the trans community, but I feel quite secure saying that “phantom limb” doesn’t make the top ten. Moore thinks it is terrible that women are getting laid off from government jobs. I have news for her, U.S. trans people have double the rate of unemploymentA fifth of trans people have been refused a home or apartment. A fifth have been homeless. Those who are homeless are regularly turned away from shelters, even in the dead of winter. And trans people face massive discrimination when it comes to health care. Even those who have insurance can be denied routine care due to a trans exclusion. The stats are even worse for trans people of color.

No. The trans community isn’t concerned about a “phantom limb.” They are concerned about the basic necessities of life – work, housing, medical care, personal safety. Concerns that are, by the way, a hell of a lot more important to me than how many women are in the UK parliament, how patronizing UK leaders are, how women do more housework, how women feel bad about themselves because they don’t look a certain way – the things Moore was complaining about in her piece.

It is a shame that so many women are blinded by their animosity towards those who don’t neatly fall into the boy/girl roles they were assigned by some doctor at birth. I have to wonder how the Moore and Burchills of the world think that gender discrimination is going to end. Do they not realize that it is based on a false binary, on differences that are largely socially constructed? Trans people, queer people, any people who challenge rigid conceptions of gender, are on the front lines smashing those tiny gender boxes for all of us.

If anything, it is the liberal bullshit that the Moore and Burchills of this world focus on that is a distraction. They don’t really want to shake things up, just for Tory politicians to be less patronizing and for there to be a few more tits in parliament. They might claim radical women’s movements when it suits them – as Moore did when she claimed Pussy Riot and Tahrir Square in that piece – but ultimately all they really want is a little more power and champagne money.

And I might add that, far from distracting me, learning about trans issues has made me more aware of the social constraints that affect me as a cis woman. I am more conscious of the safety calculations I make on the streets and of how safe for me is not safe for everyone. I’m more aware of how much of femininity is stagecraft. And I am more aware of misogyny and self hatred. Because while it is often kept in check around me, that hate spews out freely when it comes to trans women.

Suzanne, Julie, et al. You can take your freely spewing hatred and shove it. You aren’t just making life more difficult and dangerous for trans women. You are standing in the way of dealing with the core issues that hold up this mess. And, as a dear friend of mine likes to say, I ain’t got time.

 

Big Tents, Little Bridges, Vested Interests

August 24, 2012 By: Mel Category: Change, Inequality

Bridge in the Japanese Garden in San FranciscoThis piece over at Cubik’s Rube reminded me of something I have been wanting to write about for a while. James is worried that the atheism+ idea that Blag Hag wrote about, and that I linked to on Wed, will be just one more divide in a movement that already has plenty of “splits, schisms, and dichotomies.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about big tents and factions since the group I was working with disintegrated. I think one of our core problems was that we tried to be too much of a big tent, or at least we went about it the wrong way. We knew that people in the group had different political views, theories of change, and ways of working. We had different backgrounds and life experiences – age, gender, race, class, religion. And rather than tackling those differences head on, we avoided talking about them. It was a huge mistake. And we ended up bleeding people anyway.

If you spend any time studying social justice movements from the past, you will soon learn how many of them fell apart or were co-opted because different groups sold each other out. White workers threw black workers under the bus with the unions. Black men threw women under the bus with voting. White women threw women of color under the bus with the feminist movement. Trans people got thrown under the bus by the GLB community. And on and on.

And in the end, while there may be a few beneficiaries here and there, we all lost. We find ourselves fighting the same battles all over again. Clearly, we can’t just all break off into little affinity groups that only think about ourselves. Our liberation is tied together in a very real way.

At the same time, whenever you get people together that have wildly different backgrounds, privileges, interests, communication styles… you are going to spend a huge amount of your time just keeping the group together. If you don’t spend the time, you will lose people. But if you spend all your time dealing with those things then people will feel like you aren’t moving toward your goal. And you will lose people that way too. Not to mention that the most marginalized people will be FUCKING EXHAUSTED trying to beat their heads against everyone else’s blindnesses.

And let us throw in another conundrum while we are at it. In that atheism+ post, she inserts a long quote about how many of the people who have gotten involved in the atheist movement are people who are not affected by any other type of prejudice/oppression. Being an atheist is the one little speed-bump on the otherwise smooth road of their lives. And they are wholly uninterested in having their other privileges questioned.

It is pretty much impossible for me to work with anyone who can only see their little corner of the universe and stay willfully blind about everything else. That doesn’t mean I won’t talk to them. I just can’t work with them. But as infuriating as it is for me to deal with people who can only see the one thing that affects them, it would be so much worse if they were coming in to white knight on some issue that they have not experienced and do not understand.

As (I believe it was) @manowax said at the Words, Beats & Life teach-in, ”You have to have a vested interest to make change.” If atheist prejudice is the only thing that those people can see that they have a vested interest in, then that is what they should focus on. It is when something isn’t just an “issue” but your everyday life that you will see it through to the end. What choice do you have?

It reminds me of the beginning of this civil rights roundtable when they ask the participants to talk about why they are there. James Baldwin talks about being “born a negro.” Poitier says, “I became interested in civil rights struggle out of a necessity, to survive.” Belafonte talks about inheriting the struggle from his parents and grandparents. But Brando talks about Rosa Parks and Heston about talking to people at cocktail parties. Balwin, Poitier, and Belafonte spent their lives struggling for their rights as human beings. Heston went back to cocktail parties and shilling for the NRA.

So there is nothing wrong with spending your time on the things that affect you, but somehow we also have to find ways to help people see how all the different struggles are connected. At the very least, we need to figure out how to stop throwing each other under the bus.

I should say here that I don’t think there is anything wrong with getting involved in a struggle where you are not the most affected. But I do think we need to understand how that struggle is connected to our own. We should be very careful about how we get involved and realistic about how dedicated we are to the issue, to the people, to the community. We can’t just drop in for a year and then skip out to a masters program, patting ourselves on the back the whole way.

So where does that leave us?

I think we should stop trying to have big tents. We need to focus on understanding our interests and how they connect. We should be building small, close-knit groups and a lot of little bridges.

In other words, stop seeing different experiences, backgrounds, and struggles as divisive and start seeing them as connective. Blag Hag is a bridge between feminists and atheists. Not all atheists are going to examine their other privileges. Not all feminists are going to examine theirs. But many will understand. That bridge is the beginning of how we are going to stop throwing each other under the bus.

We don’t need to worry that our movements will be divided. Large organizations only erase differences that shouldn’t be erased and grow hierarchies that shouldn’t be seeded. Successful social movements of the past have usually been made up of small, tight-knit communities and groups. They have been made up of people with long relationships and a lot of earned trust and respect. It wasn’t a thousand people who started the freedom rides. It was a handful. But that handful sparked something and others followed.

I think it is o.k. if we work on the issues that most affect us and with people that we like, understand, and respect. But we all have to take on the work of pushing to understand how the struggles are connected. And we have to make sure that we aren’t taking the easy way out by avoiding the uncomfortableness that comes from working with people whose cultures, experiences, marginalizations, etc. are difficult for us. We need to constantly be confronting ourselves.

The good news is that most of us are a part of many communities and struggles. So we can all be bridges. We can all work on the things that most affect us. We can all help each other to understand how those struggles are connected. We can work towards the same thing from different angles. Our work will be stronger for it.

I Believe You

October 27, 2011 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Image of black women hearing harassmentA recent post over on Womanist Musings reminded me of something I have been meaning to write about. The post is essentially about how white, radical feminists are blind to other womens’ realities. They declare the world to be one way, based on their experiences, and expect all people to act accordingly.

It is infuriating when people erase or deny your life experience and feelings.

The most frustrating thing about my mother is that she will never concede to having done anything wrong – ever. She has her version of events and that is all there is. My sister and I could stand in front of her with video and forty two eyewitnesses – including Honest Abe, Gandhi, and Moses – and she still would not veer from her version of events.

My mother and I have a tenuous relationship based on occasional emails and a visit every four or five years. My sister hasn’t spoken to her since 1999. It is impossible to have a good relationship with someone who denies your reality. It is impossible to work with someone who remains willfully ignorant in order to protect themselves from the fact that they are not perfect.

We all see the world through the lens of our own experience. But that doesn’t mean that we dismiss all other experiences. When somebody tells you that they experience the world differently, your response should not be, “That is not how I experience the world and therefore you are wrong.”  Your response should be, “I believe you. Now how is it that we can experience life so differently?”

There is a growing campaign out there against street harassment. And I must confess to you that I have been snarky and dismissive of it at times. The only people I feel harassed by on the street are those adolescent activists hired by Greenpeace and HRC. (No I am not going to stop and listen to your spiel or give you money, especially not you HRC.)

When I saw this video of Emily May, Executive Director of Hollaback!, I was just annoyed. To me it sounded like she wants the whole world to be like the little town she grew up in. When she talked about wanting everyone to be able to say hi to each other without feeling threatened, I thought she was describing some provincial, waspy universe of horror.

Still, I kept reading things and talking to my friends about it. It soon became clear to me that other people are experiencing street harassment much differently than I am. It isn’t just our interpretations. It isn’t their imaginations. They are getting harassed more and more threateningly.

A while back, there was an article in the Washingtonian. It was one of those feel good stories about a downtrodden boy trying to make good.  When he was on the streets, the boy

learned the rules of street life:  Never put your hands on a white woman.  Never hit a young girl.  Never shoot a kid.  Never steal from your own family.

If he did all that, he was told, he’d stay alive.

I don’t think those instructions were about moral judgment.  They were more a judgment on what crimes people would pay attention to and which ones wouldn’t be pursued. Some women are targets in ways that some of us are not.

Native American women are twice as likely to get raped. Hundreds of First Nations women have gone missing with hardly any effort to find out what happened. Even after a decade of tireless activists bringing the Juarez femicides into the international spotlight, the murders of those women are still not being properly investigated.  But you can bet your ass that if some young, middle class, blond girl goes missing her face will be a fixture on the 24 hour news cycle.

There’s a hierarchy out there, and the further down it you are, the more danger you are in. To quote criminologist Steven Egger,

The greatest similarity I found among all serial killers, not just the killers of prostitutes, is the vulnerability of the victim. In almost all cases, we’re talking about a victim who is available, who is from a powerless group of society and who tends not to have a lot of prestige.

So is it really a big surprise that I don’t experience the streets the same as other people? Of course, I don’t. Race, class, and age all factor in with how free people feel to interact with me or to try and intimidate me. There is a power relationship there. Few are going to harass someone who they perceive to have power over them in some way – whether that is the physical power to kick their ass or the power of being the kind of victim that cops are likely to pay attention to.

So, women, I believe you. I believe that street harassment is reducing your quality of life, that the constant reminder of those power relations grinds down on you, that it is important to you to make it stop. And I support you.

I don’t understand your experiences exactly. I’m unlikely to make this an issue that I devote a lot of my time and energies to. And I definitely cannot support criminalizing the behavior and adding to the hideous issues we have with the prison industrial complex. But you will get no more snarkiness and eye rolling from me. And I’ll be keeping my eye out for you on the streets.

You would be amazed how different the world can look if you are just willing to believe people. And if you can’t even be bothered to do that, then you have a lot of nerve expecting people to have anything to do with you.

P.S. The image above comes from this post about Street Harassment of Black Women

Why Slutwalk?

May 19, 2011 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Sex

One morning, when I was in eighth grade, I got dressed for school and went outside to wait for my father to drive me. I was wearing a long knit skirt, sweater, and some boots. My outfit would have met the requirements for an orthodox family temple outing. But when my father walked out the door and saw me, he told me I looked like a slut. I was devastated. More than that, I was baffled.

You have to understand that, when I was a kid, my father and I were as close as two people could be. There was nobody on earth that I would rather have spent time with. My father wasn’t some uber-conservative, misogynist douchebag. He was the guy who always made me feel like my opinion was important.  He was the one who made me believe that there was nothing I could not do.

There was nothing slutty about what I was wearing (if you believe in that sort of thing). It wasn’t about that. And at some level I knew that. But I still didn’t quite get what the hell was going on. All I knew was that my father’s attitude toward me changed. In fact, all men’s and women’s attitudes toward me changed. One day I was playing with barbies and the next day grown men on the street were trying to fuck me. The really mindboggling part was that somehow their desire was my fault. Somehow that made me dirty and wrong. There was some kind of code that I was missing.

One of my friends at the time had the misfortune of having huge boobs. She would spend hours in a store trying to find exactly the right t-shirt. If it was too big, she would look fat. If it was too tight or the neck was too low, then she would look like a slut. In the hours that she spent trying to find a shirt that fell just perfectly on the spectrum between fat slob and dirty whore, she could have written a novel.

It really didn’t matter if my friend found that perfectly chaste t-shirt. Because if something had happened to her, it would still have been her fault. If she was wearing a t-shirt, someone would say she should have been wearing a turtleneck. If she was wearing a turtleneck, someone would say that she should have been wearing a hijab. If she was wearing a hijab, someone would say the attack was due to some errant hair.

The idea that girls and women are in some way responsible for other people’s action, for the sometimes truly awful things that people want to do to them, is pervasive. It is so pervasive that, when an eleven year old girl was gang raped, the first reaction was to examine her actions.  Really? Is there something that an eleven year old can do to bring something like that on herself? What kind of society even lets that thought pass through their heads?

My teen-aged reaction to this bullshit (and a whole lot of other bullshit) was a big, punk rock Fuck You. I was not reading Betty Friedan. I did not have deep thoughts about how all of my personal mini-tragedies fit into a larger context. I knew that it hurt. I knew that trying to conform to social expectations would make me lose my fucking mind. I knew that, if I wanted to survive my teen years, I was going to have to give everyone the finger.

So I did. It didn’t always work out. Sometimes I did some really self destructive shit. I spent way to much time acting in opposition to things and to people.  I did not understand that, when you are acting in opposition to people, you are still letting them define you. But it was the road I needed to take.

I’m boring you with this tween years confessional because a couple of people have inquired about my participation in the upcoming DC Slutwalk. For those of you who have been on Mars for the last few weeks, there was an incident in Toronto that set off a firestorm.

“You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here,” the officer said, according to Hoffman. “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

Women in Toronto got pissed. They decided to give that cop, and all the others like him, a big punk rock Fuck You. So the slutwalk was born. And women all over the world have been marching – sometimes scantily clad, sometimes not. Tiara will march marched with a sign that says said,

This is what I wore when I was raped. I still did not ask for it

I think Katherine Feeney and Suzanne Moore were a bit like me as kids. They get the riot grrl attitude behind the slutwalks. But lots of other people don’t like the slutwalks at all. Some people just don’t get the in your face fuckyouedness. Some people think that victim blaming really isn’t a problem anymore. Some think the word “slut” can’t be reclaimed. Some say the slutwalkers are just ruining things for real feminists. There are those who say it is too feminist and those who say it is not feminist enough. Some people think that it isn’t very sophisticated, only showing one side of the madonna/whore dichotomy. Still others say it is racist.

Every day that I open my blog reader there are more articles on the slutwalks. And I was going to respond to the criticisms. I was going to write about how some people just don’t get the attitude. I was going to write about how things don’t always have to be so fucking intellectual. I was going to write about how I thought some of the criticisms were valid. But then I thought….Meh.

The truth is that I am going to participate in the slutwalk because my inner fifteen year old thinks it is …like….totally….fucking… awesome. That’s it. I’m not going to intellectualize it or make excuses for its shortcomings. I’m not going to pretend that it is inclusive or that it is going to solve anything. I don’t believe that suddenly everyone is going to understand how debilitating it can be to be on the receiving end of that hate.

One thing that is certain is that we are talking about this issue in a huge way. I think that is a good thing. I wish that there had been a big public discussion like this when I was a teen. Maybe it would have helped me. Maybe I would have put two and two together a little sooner. Maybe I would have seen how scared shitless and emotionally ill-equipped my father was. Maybe he and I would have found a way to heal our relationship before he died, because we would have understood that what was going on between us was much bigger than just us.

Or maybe not. All I know is that me and my inner fifteen year old are going to put on a completely inappropriate outfit and give a big, cathartic Fuck You to a lot of clueless people. And it is going to feel good.

Selling Social (In)Justice

April 21, 2011 By: Mel Category: Change, Politics

Last week, I was invited to an awards ceremony at the Kennedy Center. The event was put on by an organization called Vital Voices, an NGO that “trains and empowers emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs around the globe, enabling them to create a better world for us all.”

Sunitha Krishnan, won the human rights award. Liron Peleg-Hadomi and Noha Khatieb won the Fern Holland award. Even a cynic like me finds it difficult to watch the linked videos without being a little inspired. In Sunitha’s case, that is despite my generally negative view of people in the rescue industry. (Just count how many times Sunitha says “I” and “rescued” in this TED talk).

But it isn’t the messianic complexes of so many in the non-profit world that really made the event horrific. That I could deal with. The real problem was who put on the event and what their agenda is. You see, Vital Voices was started by Hilary Clinton and Madeleine Albright back when Clinton was first lady. The organization still receives government funding. They also receive funding from a smorgasbord of some of the most hideously destructive private corporations.  If you want to get an idea of who this organization is built to serve, take a look at their board list.

So there I was, watching a splashy awards show that cost who knows how much of the organization’s multi million dollar budget. (They pulled in over 12 million dollars in 2009.) There I was watching Hilary Clinton march up on stage to introduce an event that honored women in countries like Afghanistan and Haiti – countries Clinton and her closest pals played a large part in fucking up.

I had to watch as they honored Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a woman who never met a war she didn’t like and who was rated 100% by the Christian Coalition and 0% by the HRC. Her voting record is just anti-human. And what about some of the other presenters/agents of misinformation. Wolf Blitzer? He may as well be paid by the Department of Defense. He does their work for them. Cokie Roberts? She robotically spews conservative talking points on trade and uncritically accepts conflating Iraq with terrorism.

Even worse was the sponsorship.  Much of the time the event felt like an ad for Goldman Sachs. Fatema Akbari, who won the entrepreneurial achievement award, actually thanked Goldman Sachs during her speech. Yes. Thank you Goldman Sachs.  Thanks for helping to blow up the world economy. Thanks for gambling on food and energy futures. Thanks for so generously letting all your employees work in the government. Everything is all better now that you supported a woman’s business in Afghanistan.

I wanted to punch somebody.

Much like my experiences working at that hotel in Miami, the Vital Voices event made abundantly clear how elites in politics, media, and corporations all merge into one amorphous blob of self-congratulatory power. And I have little doubt in my mind that most of them actually believe that their little philanthropic show makes them upstanding people, fighting the good fight. The delusion is infuriating.

So what do we do when social justice is co-opted by power? How do we compete against a money drop by Goldman Sachs when we can barely scrape together money to bring coffee to a meeting? How do we confront the people who use justice for women as a front for wars and crooks? How do we deal with the twenty-something girl who thinks Hilary Clinton is some kind of hero? How do we break the illusion?

Feminism or the Highway?

December 02, 2010 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Politics

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.

What is Pornography?

September 23, 2010 By: Mel Category: Sex

I was getting all ready to write a long diatribe in response to another one of those anti-porn feminists who claims that all porn is rape.  You know, the people who refer to those of us who disagree as male-identified, “fun feminists.”  This “feminist” was particularly irritating me.  It’s bad enough when we women judge each other, but this feminist was a man.  And I really don’t appreciate some man labeling women as victims or oppressors because we don’t excoriate anyone who participates in porn.

But then I decided that, if I’m going to dive into the porn fray, I need to get a little more basic first.  I need a good definition of pornography.  So what is it?  According to dictionary.com, it means writings, drawings, photographs, films, etc. that are

  1. obscene
  2. designed to stimulate sexual excitement
  3. of little or no artistic merit

Well shit.  Now I have to define obscene, evaluate the artistic merit of a work, and crawl into the mind of the creator.  I guess I’ll start with defining obscene.  Back to dictionary.com.  Looks like obscene means disgusting, offensive, indecent, immodest, depraved, corrupting, repulsive, repellent, unacceptable, and causing uncontrolled sexual desire.

I think I’m beginning to get it.  If a whole bunch of people think it’s yucky, then it’s obscene and nobody should be able to do it or watch anyone else do it.  And if society thinks it’s yucky, but the person watching it can’t help but get turned on anyways, well then it is triply as bad and they should probably be put on a sex offender list somewhere.

O.k.  Let me give this a go.  I think the first half of Monsters Ball had artistic merit, but the second half was crap.  I don’t think the whole movie was designed to stimulate sexual excitement, but the sex scene between Billy Bob and Halle Berry probably was.  I find watching Billy Bob have sex really yucky.  Which means it’s obscene, right?

Crap.  I thought I had it.  But I’m just confused all over again.  Do we ban Monsters Ball or not?

Women Using Women

September 08, 2009 By: Mel Category: Inequality

I have worked with many self-described feminists who have housekeepers and nannies.  I am amazed at how few of them see the conflict inherent in building your freedom on some other woman’s lack thereof.  And I’m not talking about Wall Street women.  I’m talking about liberal women who supposedly care about inequality, oppression, racism and poverty.

What I find especially frustrating is how a reliance on hiring poor women allows men to continue to shirk their responsibilities.  How many of you have friends whose husbands refuse to clean or do their fare share of the childcare?  Did they confront their husbands?  Did they attempt to confront the sexism and unfairness of it all?  Or did they just cop out and use their privilege to buy someone poorer to make the problem go away?

Racewire has an important article out that you all should read.  It is called
Immigrant Workers at Home: Hired Hands Hold Family Bonds and it reads, in part:

So immigrant workers help lift white-collar mothers toward that coveted work-life balance. But back at home, work remains the same as it ever was: hard, endless, and never fairly compensated. The difference for domestic workers, of course, is that they are still outsiders in the home, culturally and professionally. And when overworked and exploited, they end up tending to other people’s families at the expense of their ability to care for their own.

And let’s not forget that domestic workers have few rights.  They work long hours for low pay.  They work without health insurance or other benefits.  And they are specifically excluded from the labor laws that protect the rest of us.  Families that rely on domestic workers to give them time to pursue their careers, are relying on an exploitative system.

All inequality is related. If we accept the inequality inherent in using money to resolve a problem for a few women, at the expense of others, then we accept inequality, period.

The Wrestler: Selling Sex and Violence

February 09, 2009 By: Mel Category: Movie, Sex, Violence

Randy “the Ram” Robinson sells his body for a living. He is a wrestler. For decades he has been going out into a ring and punishing himself and others for public entertainment.

He is old and broken. He’s living on pain medication and steroids. He’s been punched, kicked, and (in a more gruesome scene) stapled. But even though he has no money, lives in a trailer, and is long past his prime, within his world he receives respect from his fellow wrestlers and admiration from his fans. He’s a legend.

Cassidy also sells her body for a living. She is a stripper. She has also, presumably, been earning money that way for a long time. She is older than your average stripper, but not broken. Yet Cassidy does not get respect or admiration. She is looked down upon. She is dismissed by many of the patrons in her strip club. Even Randy, who treats her decently, seems surprised that she looks “clean” in her street clothes.

It isn’t as though Randy wasn’t also selling sex. He has coked up sex in a public bathroom with some girl who remembered his hot poster on her brother’s wall. He does all the things a stripper would do to keep up appearances. He works out. He bleaches his hair. He hits the tanning bed and shaves all his body hair off.

Strippers and other sex workers are seen as beneath other people, even by (perhaps especially by) supposedly feminist women. I went out with some women from my work the other day. They were relating a story about how they had some drinks with a couple the night before. The husband was an attorney for the Department of Justice. The wife was a stripper.

One of my coworkers seemed quite proud of herself for treating stripping as though it was just another occupation – at least to the stripper’s face. She didn’t believe that the couple was really husband and wife, because she didn’t believe an attorney with the DOJ would be married to a stripper.

The implication is that a stripper is “below” a DOJ attorney in our societal hierarchy. It’s a pretty outrageous statement when you think about it. We recently learned that members of the justice department wrote memos justifying torture.

And we know that the justice department illegally fired attorneys for their political affiliation. Yet I am supposed to believe that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a man who had to resign due to criminal allegations, is somehow “above” a stripper?

There is a hilarious line in one of Chris Rock’s stand-ups about a father’s job being to keep his daughter off the pole. Is stripping really the worst thing that could happen to someone? Would you rather have your daughter writing memos condoning torture? Would you rather have your daughter beaten up every night in a ring?

Why is the way Randy “the Ram” sold himself more acceptable? Why is selling violence (with a little sex on the side) more respectable than selling sex? Why is sex dirtier than violence?