sisterhoodispowerful

Radical Feminist Resistance

Month: February, 2013

WHY I WILL BE AT RADFEM2013

I don’t want to sit on the internet any longer feeling so angry about what is being done to women, on a daily basis, that I can’t breathe. I don’t want to go another day being sexually objectified by strange men in cars or on streets without knowing I am part of a fight back movement. I don’t want to read about another woman who is forgotten after she has been murdered, prostituted, raped, beaten, sexually abused and harassed without knowing there is a growing movement of women who care and are doing something revolutionary in response.

I am angry. I am increasingly in touch with other women who are angry and who want to do something to end male violence and domination.

A radical feminist said to me recently: “I feel I am living my life on 2 levels. There’s the level at which I operate in order to survive patriarchy and there’s the level I am really operating at while viewing the world from a radical feminist lens. The two are at odds and they make me feel crazy, alone”

I will be going to radfem2013 so that I am not alone, so that I don’t feel silenced, so that the radical statements in my head have an outlet and so that they will connect with many other women because they feel them, have read it, and believe them too. Only from there, can we plan social change which will undermine patriarchy.

Radical feminism is a structural analysis. That means it’s not about me, or you, as individuals. It’s about analysing and understanding how patriarchal systems and structures work. It’s about recognising it’s not a coincidence that only a few rapists are charged, let alone convicted, that the systems which exist deliberately ensure male supremacy continues undisturbed at the expense of all women. The same is true for every aspect of women’s oppression. It’s a society which benefits all men at the expense of all women and that can only be understood at a structural level – it is the way our society is set-up and sustained. No other ideology analyses women’s oppression so clearly and, therefore, no other ideology can find real and lasting solutions. I am going to radfem2013 to talk to other radical feminists about those solutions. I am going to radfem2013 to take them forward.

I am going to radfem2013 to be sustained and nourished in sisterhood with other women, new and old friends, who want to join me, and other women, in the fight for freedom. The delicious joy of meeting many many women who think as I do and connecting with them is a significant moment of time in my life, as it was last year at radfem12.

I am going to radfem2013 because it’s a unique opportunity to be in a women-only space, where the politics and the rarity of sister space will be truly understood.

Are you a radical feminist? Come and meet me and hundreds of other women at radfem2013.

Get more details here:

http://radfem2013.moonfruit.com

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ANOTHER SUNDAY MORNING UNDER PATRIARCHY

Another Sunday morning as I lie in bed with some kind of fluey virus while feeling the tentacles of patriarchy spraying all over my psyche. Feverish and tense, my suffering increases as I skim-read the headlines. A known wife-beater championed as a hero, fighting the odds for his life, a story about a woman who was objectified in photos for male consumption when very young and inexperienced, and, most heart-wrenching of all, a survivor who killed herself days after giving evidence during a court hearing about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child.

I cannot hear these stories told from a patriarchal, or even liberal feminist, viewpoint. That makes me incandescent with RAGE. The casual dropping of each story as if it has no significance for all women. As if they are rare, isolated stories about individual women, at worst. At best, used as illustrations that the state, or society, should adjust how it does something. A little bit. And then everything will be ok.

We know that is not true. We have tried reforms through policies, legislation, media campaigns and nothing changes for women. If anything, women’s oppression is increasing despite various attempts at reformist measures over the past few decades.

Nothing except a radical feminist analysis makes sense of stories like the glorification of a footballer known to beat women or the young woman forced to pose in images suggesting sexual availability. Systems and cultural norms are designed to humiliate and subjugate women and view their resulting suffering  as insignificant and inferior compared to the suffering of men.

Most of all, it has taken a woman’s death to start a debate within the malestream about the suffering of female survivors of sexual violence and what happens to us within patriarchal legal processes. The suffering bites deep. It never leaves us. Society forces us to internalise it and believe we are to be blamed if we speak of male violence. If Frances Andrade had not died, it is unlikely that the fact she did not want to give evidence, but felt morally obliged to, would have been widely known. The defence clutched at the usual straws of attention seeking, fantasist when cross-examining her. These are accusations thrown at women world-wide when we speak out. They are designed to intimidate us and to portray us as an insane collection of individuals so that the conspiracy of silence about men’s systematic rape and abuse of women continues. It doesn’t matter what our circumstances are this is the typical accusation when we speak out – whether we go through legal channels or not. Speaking out about sexual violence, under patriarchy, is, somehow, shifted to being as “evil” as rape itself and as deserving of punishment. I was skim-reading a link about new proposals in response to rape in India. One comment read “I’ll agree to punishment by death, when women who lie are also put to death” Again and again, in the comments, men referred to “women who lie”. Patriarchy re-creates survivors as liars, as in the case of Frances Andrade, and we feel hopeless and helpless and our punishment and stigmatisation for not keeping silent goes on until, as individuals, we collapse under the weight of it.

I worry that, in this world of increasing “gender equality” leading to statements such as “women are violent too” (as well as being persistent liars and fantasists of course – I’ve never heard it in reverse – that men lie about being raped. Convenient that) means that explicitly feminist women-only services, set up by “second wave” (sic) movement feminists, are under threat.

I was lucky. When i began to speak out, I was not just listened to and believed, in the kind of typical counselling way found nowadays with pseudo “objectivity”, I spoke out within the context of radical feminism. I spoke to women who told me what happens to women who speak out, who told me it was not my responsibility to bring the man who raped me to justice. One of the times I was raped, I ran, distraught, in the streets and was found by a random woman who wouldn’t  let me go until I told her why I was hysterical. Eventually, I did. “Go to the police” she said.

She saw me in the streets months later “Did you ever go to the police?” she asked. I told her “no” and felt her judgement weighing on me, how it was my fault that he’d rape other women from that moment onwards. Years later, I received validation from many, many radical feminists who had made the same choices. There is no real justice for survivors under patriarchy. Instead, there is usually punishment for ending our silence. When we know that, we no longer feel alone and to blame. We see our personal experience within the context of male domination.

An anonymous woman offered to kill one of the men who raped me. I was tempted. I fantasised about it. The only part of my story involving fantasy. I imagined what intense pleasure I’d feel at knowing that a life that had caused me so much pain and hurt had been taken in return. Only I knew such pleasure would be short-lived because, by now, I had come to understand that life for all females is fraught with potential danger and we’re preyed on by predators in a never-ending war.

Frances Andrade could have been any of us, at any time. It is not about whether we are “weak” or “strong”. It is about a system of oppression where, no matter what we do or don’t, or say or don’t, we are punished for it.

Male supremacy creates conditions for all females which are the conditions of war and torture. Therein lies the unbearable truth which we are forced to deal with in all kinds of convoluted, distorted ways in order to live day by day. Otherwise, many more of us would take the same route as Frances did.

Radical feminism is unmodified.  It tells our truths. My strength as a survivor does not come from knowing I have told my stories and I am believed. My strength comes from knowing my experiences are common, that they are a result of my being a member of a class which is systematically beaten down and silenced. In the days when women-only support was undiluted feminism, women were helped to make our own choices with how we navigated systems which worked against us. Not going to the police was logical, acceptable. If Frances Andrade had received feminist support, instead of feeling pressured by patriarchy to put others before her own needs within an unsafe system, maybe she would still be here.

I know that is true for me. The day I discovered (radical) feminism and learned what the problem was and why I was blamed for it, was the day I joined the struggle for women’s liberation and found my own voice. Skim-reading patriarchal horrors takes me back to a place I don’t want to be. In an internet world of “sound-bites” it’s easy to throw a link to those horrors and think we are done. I want a radical feminist analysis of all that we see around us.  i want to read about women’s fight- back. One after another. It happens. With each other’s support, anything is possible.

Why I say NO to mixed “feminist” action

I am reading growing criticisms of one billion rise.

There is nothing new in those criticisms which haven’t already been said, in various forms, about “slutwalk,” about UK feminista, etc. In recent months/years, new activities, with sight feminist reformist goals, have sprung up. All these activities have one common theme – men must not, at any cost, feel excluded from what women do to fight against our oppression. It goes without saying that these new initiatives have the potential to be popular and widespread, given they are no threat to the status quo.

Some in radical feminist circles say it’s good that young women become awakened to feminist action, no matter how liberal, how mixed, how gentle, that activism is.

I disagree. I say we should be working together to create a strong radical feminist women-only movement with an emphasis on activism and not allow ourselves to be diluted into working in, and with, these liberal off-shoots of feminism. If women are to be inspired into feminist activism, let them be inspired into joining the fight for our liberation, not some bland watered down version where we all relax and have a cup of tea with our enemy.

Discussions on a facebook friend’s wall and a blog post by Carolyn Gage http://carolyngage.weebly.com/2/post/2013/02/movement-vs-dance-moves.html about one billion rise turn to the familiar argument of “We aren’t naming the agent here”. My blog post is about WHY the phenomenon of not naming male violence occurs. If an (alleged) feminist action is mixed, it is immediately saying something political about its priorities. It is saying “it is more important to us that men feel welcomed and supported here than it is that we prioritize fighting women’s oppression”

I understand why this is. I understand that centuries of patriarchy has conditioned women to be polite to men, to put men’s needs first, to not go out of our way to reject men for fear of the worst kinds of backlashes, and that the deeply embedded institution of compulsory heterosexuality means women too often feel obliged to affirm, again and again, how much they love the men in their lives.

None of this takes away the fact that (radical) feminism is about the liberation of women. “Gender neutrality” or “gender equality” are two drab meaningless phrases trotted out to fool women that feminism is about anything other than their fight for freedom. The shift means feminism is framed to be about men, or trans/queer people, or about other oppressions, such as class. Women, yet again, even in their own movement, are sidelined; their actions futile as their agenda gets more and more reformist in order to accommodate men and their needs and wishes.

When socialists organise uprisings do they send letters to the rich and powerful inviting them to join in?

No they don’t.

Historically, did disabled people and black people invite non-disabled people and white people to join their self-organised activist movements?

No, they did not.

And the reason for this is they know, and knew, that the very people they would be inviting were part of the problem and that they had to articulate what that problem is, and organise against it, in order to be free of it. The struggle is diluted if those who take part are, however unwittingly, members of the oppressor group and yet, undeterred by that, still occupy the spaces of protest. It is not a coincidence that this is a phenomenon dogging contemporary feminism. Many women live intimately with the enemy – separating herself, defining her rights and expressions of freedom are political acts. Creating women-only spaces, and defending them, is a political act.

And so, no I won’t be dancing with one billion rise, although I too love to dance. I will not be colluding with the de-radicalisation of feminism by taking part in any feminist action involving men. We have to defend women-only spaces and activism, at all costs, it’s our path to freedom.

I am reminded of a photo doing the rounds on facebook recently. It was of a placard which originally read: “End violence against women” and “women” was crossed out and replaced by “everyone” with the “o” written in the form of the trans symbol. When we aren’t upfront and clear that the fight is against male violence and male supremacy, the feminist movement de-radicalises. There is one group who can always be relied on to name male violence and male supremacy – and that is radical feminists. Again, it is no coincidence that our movement is seen as “fringe” and irrelevant and not malestream – we attack the status quo through the very act of naming the class of men as the problem.

I never thought the time would come when I wished “feminism” wasn’t so popular. It’s become so popular that the meaning of the word is lost. I never thought I’d long for the days when feminism was a word which people resisted because it meant “hairy, man-hating lesbians”. In that stereotype lies a much closer truth about what feminism is, and should be, than today’s shiny, glossy performances where all are welcome.

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS LATER

I am reminded by the writings of others that I “came out” 25 years ago. I came out to a cacophony of raised voices, direct actions, angry spray-painted walls. Our rights were under threat by a right wing ideology enshrined in legislation. In the UK “clause 28” was a direct attack on the lives of lesbians. There was enough of a lesbian feminist movement to know that, as lesbians, we had to defend our own rights, that no one else would do it for us and that, if we joined forces with gay men, we would be subsumed by a male agenda.

We did join with them sometimes. We joined the big marches against clause 28 along with hets and gay men. But, more importantly, we carried out our own direct actions and we saw ourselves as separate and apart in our fight for liberation. As radical lesbian feminists, we had no interest in the gay male agenda of being “accepted” within mainstream patriarchy. We saw ourselves as subversives and we wanted to act like that’s what we were.

I was reminded by a tweet of Julie Bindel’s that we occupied the ideal home exhibition. I don’t recall her being there but there were a lot of women taking part in the action that day. It was mother’s day and the action mocked the idea that lesbians were “pretend mothers” (as stated by the Thatcherite propaganda). When we occupied the house and shut the doors, I remember one of the male security guards asking, in puzzlement, “How can lesbians be mothers?” and we laughed. I remember shouting from the top “There’s a lesbian in every woman” and the other lesbians laughed. I don’t even recall going with anyone I knew. A solitary figure casually joining in. There was a lesbian feminist existence to join. She was bold, transgressive, she wanted to scrap all the patriarchal rules and start again.

I look back over the next 25 years as if they are ruins of a forgotten time. Individualistic solutions took a hold in lesbian feminist communities as the fight against patriarchy started losing momentum. If you are fighting what is invisible, acceptable, it is much harder than if you’re fighting an obvious wrong, an obvious injustice. Counselling, alternative therapies and happy coupledoms and tight friendship networks began to be all-pervasive as fewer women were increasingly less overtly political.

There were pockets of resistance. Some of us held out in tiny parts of the UK. We protested when they threatened to cancel our lesbian poetry reading, to be held on council premises. We continued to identify as lesbian feminists and we built communities but, gradually, the fire in our bellies died. It became more and more difficult to fight apathy. The malestream had accepted some feminist reforms. Some of the activists got well-paid jobs and were assimilated. And time rolled by. In the midst of the surge towards individualistic solutions came a new theory. I understood why it appealed to so many lesbians. It gave them permission to merely indulge in oppressive gender roles, instead of fighting them. Don’t like how women are oppressed? Pretend that “gender” is “fluid” and that by dressing up as a man or a woman you are, somehow, doing something revolutionary. And so dragkings and “femmes” and “butch femmes” and goddess knows what were born. They are now enshrined in an apolitical, barely visible, tiny lesbian corner of the universe somewhere. Meanwhile, gay men are busy getting richer and becoming the acceptable gay face of the LGBT world. We insisted on the “l” being at the front; we, the lesbian feminists, who knew we had to fight to be heard; that we are women, as well as lesbians, and that women are hated under patriarchy.

Our movement was co-opted by queers, by “feminist” (sic) men, even by MREs (male rights extremists) – all of whom demand “gender equality” and, in their different ways, deny, trivialize and actively suppress the liberation of women. It’s happened gradually, slowly, over that 25 years so that, now, we have to fight for women-only “reclaim the night” marches, for women-only services, for radical feminists to meet and critique gender openly and without fear of personal recriminations. We are slowly seeing feminist victories of that era being eroded as funding for refuges and rape crisis centres water down political critiques and the funding itself disappears; lesbians are seen as less vocal versions of gay men with the same needs and aspirations. To the (mostly gay men of course) people writing how gay men (and lesbians) are much more comfortable with their sexuality now, 25 years on, understand how our feminist herstory is important. This is only so because of fragile reformist acts protecting rights. Conservatives have made very clear how much they want to repeal those rights. They could be gone in seconds and the attacks on lesbians (and gay men) resurface. It’s what is happening to women’s rights already and, as lesbian feminists, we care about the reproductive and abortion rights of our sisters (and ourselves). We see retrogressive attacks on all women, as a class, increasing, while gay men fight for the right to marry and fit into patriarchal norms.

All is not lost, however, because there is a growing movement of radical feminists who put fighting women’s oppression first, once more. Central to that movement is the right to openly and autonomously organise as women. Our oppressors will not liberate us. We have to pick up the sword of freedom from our sisters past and fight on until we achieve true liberation. Revolution, not reform, will win our freedom.

 

Romantic Love: A Patriarchal Ploy

February 14. It’s that time of year again. I remember it from days gone by. Wondering if I had far-off, unknown admirers who’d suddenly find bravery within and send me a card. Feeling the wistful disappointment when looking at an empty mat after the post had been. As a  child, I made my mum a card and gave it to her and she said: “Someone loves me”.  During some years, there were cute cards from my cats (yes it was my mum in return). For many years, there was a build up of suspense that, maybe, this year would be the year when a boy would notice I exist. Romantically. I was, after all, continuously sexually objectified in the street and that’s almost the same thing, isn’t it? It was easy-peasy after I started dating women. I got valentines cards without fail and flowers and presents at any time because most women have romance in their bones. Their very conditioning.

Ok stop right there. Let’s look at this. If there’s something women are encouraged to easily do but men aren’t then we can almost guarantee it’s something which works against women, not for them.

In many cultures, including where I live in the UK, “romantic love” is a cornerstone of compulsory heterosexuality. From as soon as we can understand words, we’re given messages about marriage, motherhood and romance. Jokes are made about the 3 year old boy down the road marrying us one day. We’re asked repeatedly who we want to marry when we grow up. It’s instilled in us, from birth, that our primary aim in life should be finding a male “soul-mate” who we can look after and live happily ever after with. If we don’t get that reinforcement often enough at home, then  children’s fairy books make damned sure there’s back-up when required. Gender socialization starts from birth and we are read, as soon as possible, books which tell us about our place in the world as servers of men.

On the surface, perhaps, it all might seem innocent enough, if you’re prepared to accept this kind of propaganda at face-value. It’s only when we look deeper, from a radical feminist lens, we see the sinister implications of how “romantic love” works.

Centuries ago, women were controlled through economics; forced to be financially dependent on the patriarch. The only way they could survive was to be sold to the next patriarch (middle/upper class women) or to find a patriarch who had a chance of earning an income (poor/working class women). This form of control continues to exist but now needs strong back-up given that (some) women can earn a living wage based on their own training, education and skills.

That back-up is romantic myths. The idea that there is a man out there for all of us, who will love us, protect us, and nurture us. Forever. We have feedback that this must be true through the magazines we read, the books we buy and the films we see. Without fail, happy, successful heterosexual partnerships are mirrored back to us. On the rare occasions this is not the case, it is made clear these are exceptions in life, not the norm.

Who can blame women, then, when we naively seek “romantic love” which we think of as mutually nurturing, caring, emotionally equal relationships? Online dating sites are full of promise for the female romantic. Women seek connections and men seek casual fucks with sexually objectified women who, they believe, will be just like the tortured women in the porn they consume.

Our deeply conditioned belief in “romantic love” keeps us in abusive relationships. We look for deeper meanings, we say that “he loves me really” when he fails to live up to any kind of basic human standard, or “I can change him”. A belief in “romantic love” overrides experiences of beatings, rapes and psychological torture. We will find it, no matter what. We must. All the messages we have received from birth tells us it is there – what is wrong with us that we can’t find it? We are taught we are incomplete human beings without the love of a man. We must suffer in the hope that one day we might be given it. For real.

It is a Stockholm technique to keep females, as a class, trapped inside compulsory heterosexuality. Compulsory heterosexuality is designed to benefit men, as a class, at the expense of women, as a class. Imprisoning women or putting us in cages, will not work because we need to be free to carry out errands. They invented “romantic love”, instead, as a psychological cage with the aim of keeping us in our places until death.

As poverty bites hard in 2013, and as the welfare state shrinks, more and more women will be forced back into the home and into economic and financial dependency on men. Logic wouldn’t keep a slave as an unpaid drudge, meeting the financial, emotional, sexual and practical demands of men within the confines of compulsory heterosexuality. “Romantic love”, however, will fare so much better than a ball and chain.

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