I am re-visiting the recent feminist fight-backs of the past by reading the few herstorical books written by feminists about revolutionary struggle, including the freedom-fighting undertaken by radical feminists during the 60’s/70s/80s. Reading old truths with eyes of hindsight can reveal new truths.
And it suddenly struck me – women have always had to fight for women-only political space. For any oppressed class to foster revolutionary action, it has to have the freedom to decide its own goals. There is nothing new about that. What is new about contemporary times is that feminists are attacked virtually with real life consequences (so-called feminists or feminist ‘allies’ conspiring to destroy, sabbotage and dismantle women-only political space).
We’ve always been allowed to meet together if the purpose is to re-enforce our gender oppression (e.g. hen parties, WI (Women Institute) meetings, cultural women-only activities, make-up evenings, ‘ann summers’ parties etc). We’ve been allowed to be in other women’s company for centuries provided:
When we break through comp het to fight for our freedoms, men resist us meeting together as women with everything they know. It’s a repeat pattern – and blatantly there. If only more women would see it. They may look but we have been taught not to see.
For centuries, women were allowed women-only activities provided they fitted into the definition above. One marked period of resistence was when enough women believed that the right to vote would alleviate their oppression. They began organising to achieve this one main goal late 19th century-early 20th century.
Men resisted on all levels – the usual psychological warfare against specific women freedom fighters, and by physically preventing, intimidating and punishing women
The WSPU (the Women’s Social and Political Union) held an open-air meeting in 1907 in the north of England
“The mob then armed themselves with decayed vegetables from a nearby refuse heap and began to pelt suffragettes – who stubbornly continued their meeting for almost an hour. The mob then ran up a lane, hurling eggs and banana skins…Rioters (men) threw stones and even half-bricks, cracking one of the door panels” (Jill Liddington, “Wild Girls”, p131)
During the early 20th century, women appearing in the public domain to make political arguments about their rights was a step towards liberation. Men resisted. Women speakers and activists were physically attacked and called “unnatural”. Men demanded that they conformed to the expectations of their gender by remaining in the home and out of public political arenas.
In hindsight, the most powerful step taken by feminists towards liberation in the 60s-80s, was a recognition of the political power of women-only spaces. It began with CR groups. Groups of women recognised that men have made our traditional place in the home and away from societal decision-making. Over these decades, women fought men’s psychological warfare games aimed at stopping them meeting together in women-only spaces. Women were called ‘man-hater’ and ‘ugly’ and ‘lesbian’ (ha!). They steadfastly continued to pursue political goals in the interests of the female class within those spaces.
It always begins and ends with our own political spaces – only there can we think, dream and plan for a future with freedom. The concept of our own space to escape male supremacy was so successful that a whole women’s sector was built by radical (many were lesbian) feminists.
The idea that women could meet to make things better for all women was becoming so well-established that male supremacy found a way to attack, discredit and destroy it. What better way to do that than from an incredibly regressive ideology disguised as the new progressive way forward. We can’t possibly tell who is a man or who is a woman, the argument goes, (without a degrading look at those genitals down there and that’s unthinkable bigotry). We must, therefore, stop “policing” boundaries on gender lines. We must hold lesbian marches that are open to anyone who identifies any way they like, and we cannot have meetings where we ourselves define the boundaries unless men tell us it’s ok and we’re not “bigots” for our attempts to do so. In one short generation, women-only space is under attack again. As (some liberal etc) feminists are beginning to find out, the use of queer ideology in feminist spaces is a way to silence and control all women; not just those scapegoated for naming the way gender hierarchy oppresses women for the benefit of men.
On 21 June 2014 it feels fitting to dedicate this blog post to all the women who marched for their freedoms in 1908 in Hyde Park London, 106 years ago exactly. They believed that the right to vote would end their oppression. We now know it was barely even the beginning of our fight for liberation but it is entirely understandable that they risked so much to achieve that one main goal. It is also dedicated to UK radical lesbian feminists who cannot go on a ‘Dyke march’ around ‘visibility’ (oh the irony) in London today because men are more welcome than us and to the brave radical lesbian feminists who went anyway and demonstrated their concerns. #takebackdykemarch The two events falling on the same day is embedded in irony.
It was a hot day last Wednesday. I was enjoying the sunshine as I made my way to a bus-stop ready to go on a journey I’d never been on before. I had never been to the area at all. I was going for work purposes, my mind full of what I needed to do when I got there.
As I boarded the bus and approached the bus-driver, I was friendlier than I would normally be to a strange male. I have learned not to look at men, to give men no encouragement at all and to look miserable, stern and powerful as often as I possibly can in an effort to give them “fuck off” vibes. (Note: I know this is a tactic that doesn’t work but I do it anyway because the alternative is unbearable).
I was friendlier this time because I had no clue where to get off and I needed the bus-driver to tell me. I was there for work purposes and I couldn’t afford to get lost and be late. Unusually, I smiled and asked if he knew where the name of the street was. It was a conversation which lasted a while because he didn’t but he knew the name of another street which, I worked out, must be nearby. As the conversation went on, I realised he was being flirtatious. It was unmistakeable, the way his smile lingered and his eyes were intensely fixed on mine, dancing.
I gave a startled jump as I always do. No one ever told me that older women would be sexualised by men the way I am in public. I have been taught that we are ignored, invisible to men, are seen as asexual, but it’s not what i experience. This was a young man in his early 20s. Gentle in manner. Not overtly aggressive at all. Seemingly lacking in confidence and flirting in a shy, almost vulnerable, way.
It was too late for me to back down with my friendliness now or give off “fuck off I am a dyke” vibes. Satisfied he would tell me where to get off, I sat down, slightly taken aback at yet again having a man sexualise an ordinary situation but that was it. As a young woman, this was commonplace. I was never taken aback. I was used to it and had my strategies in place to deal with it. Now, I feel so unprepared, it always surprises me and I doubt myself. I feel alone with it.
I put these thoughts aside and concentrated on trying to find where I was going. Suddenly, without warning, the whole incident took on a darker twist. I was shaken out of my thoughts when I realised, to my horror, I was the only passenger on the bus. We suddenly sped along. His speed dramatically increased now I was the only passenger and I didn’t know why. My mind went into overdrive “Maybe he’s going to go off the route and take me somewhere isolated and remote. He KNOWS I don’t know where I am. I told him. Oh, fuck WHY did I give him that information? I never do this. When I jump into a taxi, I always pretend I know where I am going, even though I don’t. I told him because I had no other way of knowing when I’d arrived at my destination. Hang on a minute, he seemed gentle, yes? I mean, gentle doesn’t suggest sexual aggression.” And then i remembered countless stories about “gentle” men who turn sexually violent. Simultaneously incredulous, I panicked that I was in a hostage situation. It seemed totally unbelievable, even as my brain flashed through worse case scenarios.
That split feeling of not wanting to believe I am in danger whilst, at the same time, being filled with fear and desperately seeking escape routes is familiar to me. It’s there when I have been in danger at men’s hands. It’s there when I have escaped. I live with it. Daily.
My very slight discomfort at his sexualisation of our conversation had turned into overwhelming panic and anxiety. Here I was on a fast bus with no knowledge of where I was, or when, and how, this journey would end. My survivor instincts were on full alert.
I only calmed down when, at last, the bus slowed down and let another passenger on. I sighed with relief. We reached the end of the journey and I asked him where my stop was. All hint of friendliness completely gone from my voice. He told me it was the next one. It was. I got off.
I know radical feminists will understand the significance of this incident. I know I don’t have to explain that the ordinariness of my day contrasted with suddenly feeling trapped and imprisoned as the bus careered into the unknown. The instantaneous switch from every day life to uncertain danger unnerved and panicked me. I know I don’t have to explain that trivial moments in our daily routine can suddenly turn into possible life or death situations at the hands of men. i know I don’t have to emphasise that this happens to all women, everywhere, and that it’s a way for all men to dominate all women and that, as individual women, there are no easy escape routes. We are terrorised because of our sex. Because penis dominates, no matter how “gentle” the bearer of that weapon may seem to be.
I haven’t told any woman previously about this, though it has been playing on my mind. Not even my radical feminist friends. It’s too commonplace, too ordinary a story to tell. Something similar probably happened to them too that day. For a few minutes I was, yet again, terrorised by unwanted sexualisation and its potential consequences, just going about my daily life. And I am angry that I, like all women, must live my life like an imprisoned hostage.
Content note: This post contains references to internalised misogyny, anti-feminism, anti-lesbianism and a lot of radical lesbian feminist anger
This post is in response to the blogger “stavvers” post (linked below). In a nutshell, it argues that ‘genitals’ don’t, or shouldn’t, matter to anyone.
If only we could magic power and violence away like this, we’d be rid of patriarchy in no time. This is a typical queer approach to male supremacy: “power and control doesn’t exist IF WE SAY IT DOESN’T”
Blog post can be read here: (This is by someone who apparently says they’re a feminist. If you ARE an actual feminist you’ll be angered at how anti-woman the post is):
Let’s start off by laying my cards on the table here. I don’t believe in ‘natural’ anything when it comes to social organisation under male supremacy. Everything in the world is given social and political significance to benefit men, as a class, at the expense of women, as a class. Yes, especially the beloved penis. Penis is at the centre of male supremacy. Symbolically and in reality.
Penis has been used by men as a violent weapon against women for centuries. For centuries, women have been taught that, if they are revulsed by, or afraid of, penis, then there’s something wrong with them. They need therapy or medical intervention or their feelings ignored in favour of men’s ‘innate needs’ (sic). Lesbians have been given ECT, in days gone by, for rejecting men and their penis. It’s an established patriarchal lie that it is women who are at fault if they reject penis. They are ‘unnatural’, selfish, sick or mad.
Interestingly, for one who presents themselves as “intersectionalist”, Stavvers supports a medical model approach in relation to our genitals (see a range of writings by disabled feminist women about social model vs medical model e.g. Jenny Morris https://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/hypatia/v016/16.4morris.html ). Stavvers says that the only reason for anyone to be interested in genitals is for ‘medical assistance’ and even that “for the vast majority of us, is never going to be the case.”
So…stavvers has never read, never heard of, or is utterly disinterested in, the body of feminist work which criticises how, under patriarchy, men have appropriated the process of childbirth (e.g.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11251720 ). Women are medicalized, ‘treated’ and generally abused in the name of ‘medicine’ by institutionalized patriarchy – all for having their insignificant genitals and ability to reproduce.
Women who don’t give birth are rarer than those who do (an estimated 25% of the female population in the UK http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/9847642/Helen-Mirren-confronts-the-final-female-taboo.html ). This means that most women experience the unpleasantness of male intervention in relation to their genitals in the name of ‘medical assistance’ (sic) during childbirth. Even het women who don’t have children know the invasiveness of male-designed contraceptive options. This makes a nonsense of her argument that “for the vast majority of us, (‘medical assistance’ for their genitals) is never going to be the case”. Women’s ability to reproduce is controlled and regulated by male supremacy.
Female genitals – who has power over them and how they are characterized under male supremacist rule, especially compared to penis – is a central feminist issue. That stavvers can so misunderstand this point that she reduces it to “essentialist” almost defies belief. In queer land, it is a common, deliberate, manipulation of radical feminism to call the analysis of the connection between reproduction and female oppression “essentialist”.
It comes as no surprise, especially for those of us who’ve been observing the topsy-turvy political world of queer/trans/activists, that pressure for women to endure the penis is on the queer agenda. The slight “left field” is that the pressure comes from a so-called ‘left’ ‘alternative’ discourse (with an appealing revolutionary rhetoric but underpinned by an incredibly conservative agenda). Love the penis else you are a bigot “much of the time, it’s cis (sic) women, who are basically just bigots!” http://stavvers.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/shit-i-cannot-believe-needs-to-be-said-i-dont-dwell-on-your-genitals/#comment-17415
She goes on to reduce the social and political significance of penis as being merely about what can be done sexually – with or without the penis – between 2 people. Queers always reduces feminism to this because they have a politics which is a profoundly conservative form of individualism. As if, under patriarchy, we can all just forget the power structures in place, and focus on isolated sex acts regardless of who they are being done with or to.
Of course, many women know penis in a non-consensual context. We are raped and sexually abused, often numerous times, and know, therefore, that penis equals violent weapon within those personal experiences. But, hey, we’re just “bigots”. Meanwhile, it is acceptable for stavvers that a man rejecting his penis because of “gender dysphoria” is something other than bigotry. “I absolutely can entertain that this ties in with dysphoria!” she says enthusiastically (and then goes on to call “mostly cis (sic) women” bigots for our revulsion for penis). Look out, stavvers, your male-identification is showing.
There’s a bit of lesbophobia slipped in. She says she knows that men think about her ‘cunt’ (sic) all of the time. Now, she’s worried that women too think about it so she doesn’t feel safe in women-only spaces either. Well, well, that sounds familiar as a stereotype, the predatory lesbian seeking out women’s vaginas to prey on. And, yeah totes, you feminist revolutionary you, women think about your genitals all the time. You went from women being concerned about safety from men to a leap about other women being obsessed with your genitals?? WTF??
It is counter to the definition of lesbian that a penis is involved. Many lesbians and radical feminists before me have made that point. I add that it’s ok for any woman, whoever she is, to reject a penis in a world where penis has overwhelming significance as a weapon of power, control and violence. That, dear stavvers, is basic feminism. Whatever you are espousing in your blog post, it’s not feminist. Never will feminism be about calling women ‘bigots’ for rejecting men.
It’s just one argument among multitudes about why women rejecting men is called ‘bigotry’. And so, you might ask, “Why would anyone give this particular blog post any time or effort at all?”. I would have a lot of sympathy for that perspective, I really would except……Unless radical lesbian feminists watch what’s happening and speak our truths, anti-feminists, in the shape of ‘queer liberators’, will successfully re-enforce an age-old conservative agenda: women must accept men – in whatever form or shape male supremacy present itself – or else women are blamed or punished. It’s a position which has kept patriarchy intact for centuries – why would it change now?