sisterhoodispowerful

Radical Feminist Resistance

Month: October, 2014

WOMEN-ONLY SPACE DISCUSSIONS AT A FEMINIST GATHERING: A RADICAL FEMINIST ACCOUNT

Some women have been gathering together for 3 years at a UK event called ‘North East Feminist Gathering’. Previously, the agenda seemed quite clearly centred on women’s liberation. This year, there was a turning off course where, as with other ‘feminist’ conferences and gatherings, anti-feminist rhetoric is mistaken for feminism. A failure to name male supremacy and, instead, promote anti-feminist ‘queer’ politics was an underlying theme. Some radical feminists, having enjoyed the women-only event previously, decided to go anyway to ensure that radical feminism was not marginalised and misrepresented.

A few days after the gathering an anti-radical feminist account was put out in public on tumblr. One radical feminist attendee gave a different version. As a radical feminist, it is my aim to ensure radical feminism is better understood. For that reason, I am publishing her account (with permission of course).

There were two workshops held which are important to radical feminists, politically. These were: ‘why women-only space is important ‘and ‘trans-inclusivity in women-only spaces’. ‘Women-only space’ is at the heart of radical feminism. We cannot fight for our freedom with our oppressors in the room. See, for example: http://www.feminist-reprise.org/docs/support.htm

The radical feminist position is often misrepresented in hostile environments. Radical feminists did not make a coherent decision to go to these workshops. FACT. Many of us turned up feeling that we needed to do so, not knowing others were going. Women-only space is important to us; of course we are going to go where the debate is. I attended on my own. Others decided not to go at all.

The only account out in public about this event was written by 1 of 4 members of the Newcastle university ‘feminist’ society. This society on facebook is very queer-identified. Queer theory upholds, and reinforces, ‘gender’ and radical feminism seeks to abolish it. ‘Gender’ is a socially constructed vehicle designed to ensure women’s subordination under male supremacy. There is a clash of beliefs. The women’s account is a total exaggeration and misrepresentation.

In the first workshop, a radical feminist did walk out of the workshop.  She raised her voice generally in the room, not directed at the mbt person whose behaviour had distressed her. She said: ‘I’m going outside for a fag. I can’t stay in this workshop and watch a young, black woman be spoken over’. Radical feminists believe that those who are male-born are conditioned to accept, and expect, male privilege as members of the dominating caste. The young black woman herself did not feel personally silenced. There are issues about whether it is appropriate for those with one structural oppression to get angry, and speak on behalf of, a member of another oppressed group. That is not peculiar to radical feminism. In fact, it’s far more common among queers who operate on the individualistic level almost entirely.

There were non-radical feminists in the workshop who said during the discussion that they felt uncomfortable in relation to transgenderism and yet didn’t feel able to critique it. They felt able to say this with the language radical feminism gives and because they were in a space where it was allowed to be said alongside other views. FACT.

At the beginning of the second workshop, the transactivists present said they would not be offended by anything said. The transactivist facilitators were polite and facilitated well. They wanted honest dialogue. They invited honest conversations. They did not insist on pronouns. They said they would not be offended by that. Generally, the workshop was not heated.

I am afraid this is more propaganda from trans allies this time as opposed to transactivists themselves. Their understanding of feminism was limited. Many younger women told us that they are frightened to question the trans issue but that they are uncomfortable with it. FACT. I did refer to one mbt as ’he’. That was in the context of what the transactivists had said at the beginning.  No one said anything at the time. I usually try to use names but sometimes it’s impossible and I am not giving up. My reality. I get called a ‘lady’ and no one bothers that that offends me.

The main challenge in the second workshop was by a young woman. She said she is not a radical feminist. The workshop undertook some group work. The question posed was how should trans inclusivity sit within feminism. Of course, some of us said it did not. The workshop was presented by the facilitators as an open dialogue and so we expressed our views. The women who were most anti criticism of transgenderism were not making feminist arguments. Queer theory has leached on to a variety of ideologies and de-radicalised them. Those espousing queer theory will, nonetheless, argue that that’s not what they are doing.

I believe anti-radical feminists are trying to use a feminist conference to undermine and attack radical feminism. Some radical feminists believe we should only organise separately. I believe we should do that and be involved in the conversation. I hope that some women will now be open to radical feminist views as a result. When they met us, they were pleasantly surprised and interested in a critique of transgenderism from a radical feminist perspective. Some women have not got the language to express what they instinctively feel – that there’s no such thing as a ‘female brain’, for example.

In the anti-radical feminist account (which we are not linking here), the author states: “I felt just as unsafe as I would have in a room full of angry, misogynistic men.” Really? I don’t think so. Angry, misogynist men use violent and threatening imagery and, perhaps, real threats aimed at women. There were no threats aimed at anyone in that room. There were powerful emotions. Political disagreement becomes ‘putting other women down’ in this individualistic world of queer theory where everyone must feel ‘safe’ except radical feminists. Survivors of male violence find the misuse of the words ‘safe space’ offensive. It means a safe space from being, or feeling, threatened, personally, by those with structural power.

Some of us have been talking about the use of the word ‘unsafe’. Political debate has to have an ‘edge’ and certain robustness since challenge is essential. There are, of course, debates to be had about the most effective ways to challenge someone or a situation. What feminists can’t do is allow the concept of ‘safe space’ to silence differing political viewpoints. At no point were the ground rules, agreed at the beginning of the event, said to be broken or called in during either workshop. It is true only two slides were shown during the ‘trans inclusivity’ workshop. Some radical feminists thanked the transactivist facilitators. Some talked about having a day’s conference so that the entire debate could be out in the open – both sides of it.

Four women. I repeat FOUR women are now misrepresenting the whole experience. The account by the women involved in the Newcastle ‘feminist’ society is ageist in places. Some women who were vocally critical of transgenderism were younger and didn’t identify as radical feminist. They were speaking with their hearts and instincts. In feedback, I represented a view that unrelated women felt unable to explore their true feelings without being labelled ‘transphobic’. Women in that small group stated that they were happy for me to represent their views in this way. These women were not ‘middle-aged’ either. Many younger women have expressed a viewpoint that it is ageist to dismiss critical views of transgenderism based on age. Criticisms exist about transgenderism from women of all ages.” 

NB: the account of the radical feminist walking out has been changed following feedback from other radical feminists present

FURTHER INFORMATION

The transactivists who ran the workshop had this to say:

Emma and I (Tara) would like to thank everyone who attended our workshop today regarding Trans Inclusion. It was an emotionally charged session, but worthwhile dialogue was opened on this contentious issue.”

Their opinion backs up the radical feminist account published on this blog, rather than the tumblr ‘horrific gathering’ viewpoint.

You can read their comment yourselves on face book public page:   

http://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=847503168623832&id=467168359990650

‘Phobia’ finger pointing: it’s the new misogyny

There is a new danger to women. And feminists are on it. We’re naming it. We’re angry. And we WILL fight back.

It doesn’t matter what kind of politics a feminist has, unless she is fully accommodating to men (in the shape of anti-feminist, queer gobbledygook and other woman-haters) she will be attacked. Attempts will be made to silence her through a systematic campaign of hatred and intimidation.

Many feminists receive threats of violence simply because they are individuals who have made pro-women statements and carried out pro-women actions. See just one example:

http://www.standard.net/Police/2014/10/14/Utah-State-University-student-threatens-act-of-terror-if-feminist.html

There has been a recent bout of attempts to stop individual feminists from speaking at events. The chosen method is to call someone ‘phobic’. You can put any word you want in front of it. It doesn’t have to be a real word, you can just make it up. In circulation, we currently have: biphobic, transphobic, whorephobic, lesbians who are somehow ‘homophobic’ (will leave you to work that one out, I can’t) etc. When questioned, we’re told that the person knows this is what we are because they ‘feel’ it, they have ‘experienced’ it. It’s not possible to ‘experience’ or ‘feel’ an undefined made-up word so we’ve got a problem before we start. Words mean something.

In the distant past, we used to say that we rejected the term ‘lesbophobia’ because we felt men should fear us and our political analysis about male surpremacy. Well, that’s turning out to be true. The weapon of choice is made-up words which others take seriously. Who knew.

Deborah Cameron does a thorough, good, job of explaining that the constant use of something-phobia is meaningless because it implies oppression is driven by a psychological problem; a condition which gives rise to hatred. Although sometimes oppression is about hatred, it is always about power. A radical feminist analysis always involves where the power lies and why it is being used:

http://www.troubleandstrife.org/new-articles/minding-our-language/

Oppression is about power enshrined in structures and institutions as well as in attitudes and societal assumptions. It’s not about isolated insults or ideological differences which may result in questioning the way someone lives their life. Here is an example: Bisexual people are not structurally oppressed. Lesbian feminists accused of ‘biphobia’ do not have structural power over bisexual women. Bisexual women may be receiving the rewards of compliance which accompany compulsory heterosexuality – these are financial, societal approval for conforming and various other benefits (het women are also oppressed under comp het – it’s a complex system of rewards and punishments). Women who are ‘out’ lesbians (as opposed to those who ‘feel’ lesbian but are intimately entangled in comp het) are not.

When/if bisexual people face oppression it’s because they are perceived to be lesbian or a gay male or, possibly, gender non-conforming. Structural oppression, as it relates to sexuality, is about the way compulsory heterosexuality is imposed on women, from birth. The purpose is to enforce male domination. It’s nothing to do with someone’s feelings, about bisexual jokes or assumptions made about bisexual people. Any other analysis is bullshit individualism and has a libertarian agenda. That has no part to play in feminism – feminism is about the liberation of women, as a caste. It’s not humanism, it’s not about all other oppressions. It’s an unrelenting fight for women’s freedom.

That’s not to say that, as feminist activists, we should not take into account other oppressions; we may share other oppressions and we may be fighting other injustices alongside our feminism. However, losing focus on the liberation of women within feminism leads to humanist murkiness where women’s concerns, as always, is everyone else but our own caste. We are conditioned to put the needs of others before ourselves. Queer ‘phobic’ smoke-screens play right into that. Women, especially ‘feminists’ who have liberal notions of ‘equality’ and ‘fairness’ for everyone, end up fighting for the wrong team and against their own liberation. The reason liberal feminists lose focus is because they don’t recognise the importance of power in a political context. Power is more than the power of one individual. Power is about which group of people (men as a caste) control what social, financial and other resources and why. I really don’t know why we have to keep repeating this to brainwashed women on the left. But we do.

Never has this been more obvious than the recent spat of ‘feminist’ university societies targeting individual feminists. They have worked with male supremacists (whether visibly and consciously so or not) to silence both long-standing and newly emerging feminists. Having a critique, or, even better, a political analysis about why women’s liberation leads to gender abolition, is enough to get labelled one phobia or another. The mere use of the word ‘phobia’ gets ‘feminists’, and their anti-feminist allies, worked up into a frenzy and demand no-platforming of women who have something to say about male violence. It doesn’t even make logical sense half the time.

It’s surely the witch hunts of centuries past, all over again. The lack of analysis is very telling. Julie Bindel was simply called ‘vile’ by the NUS. Very mature. Over and over students admitted they had not read her work but something-something-‘phobia’. Caroline Criado-Perez has recently received the vague accusation of being a ‘damaging and exclusionary figure’ followed by an unsubstantiated but emotive ‘we urge you to distance yourself’.

You can read the sorry state of affairs here:

http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Feminist-campaigner-Caroline-Criado-Perez-branded/story-23448206-detail/story.html#comments

Am I right to see a hint of a threat there? – ‘distance yourself, single-out and ostracise this individual or we will cause trouble’. It’s a threat feminists are beginning to get used to. It comes from MPAs (Male Privileged Agitators) and queer folk alike. These types of accusations against feminists (who are, importantly, from across the whole political feminist spectrum) serve only to make women obedient to the male supremacist agenda

The mission to train feminists into being submissive, obedient, silent women goes like this: Don’t ever allow yourself to be called ‘phobic’ or else bad things will happen to you. Not to women. To you, personally. You will suffer and be punished if you express radical politics. When you’re challenging, for example, the billion dollar sex industry, you may be called ‘whorephobic’ (sic) and accused of hating prostituted women. And, if that happens, it’s not just a word with ‘phobia’ at the end, it has the power to set a stream of hatred and no-platforming your way. It has the power to disrupt your political convictions, your career. It enables some to justify terrifying threats of violence from misogynists towards you. Threats which often stem from the targeting of individual feminists as ‘bigots’ or something-phobic. No woman is safe from this mission. Liberal feminists might as well throw in the towel and develop a better understanding of radical feminism because male-appeasement won’t save you.

Our ‘choices’ are limited. We keep quiet, we go anonymous and hope we’re not doxxed (by anti-feminists or ‘feminists’ who knows?) or we speak our mind under our real name knowing that years of intimidation and harassment lie ahead. The pattern of thinking for the Obedient Woman goes something like this: ‘We avoid any kind of ‘phobia’ (sic) at any costs – but see those women over there? They’re bigots and should be silenced. I am, of course, a good ally of yours, how could you think I am not? Hey you over there! BIGOT! TRANSPHOBE!”. Don’t believe me? Unless you put men first every second of every moment in your political thinking or agree with queer bull-shit and acquiesce that to do so is more important than women’s liberation, I guarantee you, you’ll be on the list in no time.

Individual feminists with their real names out there are brave women. It is typical for individual feminists to receive death threats, rape threats, and a variety of other implied threats. On top of that, those same women face being singled out for no-platforming with massive campaigns of hate based on misinformation and assumptions. Those women deserve my, our, unconditional support as individuals, even if we don’t always share the same political agenda. The toll on women’s mental health cannot be under-estimated. I have heard some horrendous accounts of the impact it has had on women. I have felt it myself. We all do. Some, however, bear more of the brunt of it than others.

These intimidatory attacks are succeeding in preventing individual feminists from speaking in malestream public as well as women-only meetings. The male supremacist plan to silence feminists is working swimmingly – it’s morphed into an ‘own’ goal, attacking feminists and feminism from within. Call anti-feminist rhetoric ‘feminist’ and feminist analysis something-phobic and you’ve managed to reverse the whole situation. Well done, patriarchy!

However, as always, male supremacy under-estimates the fire in our bellies. The rage that we feel when we observe women’s caste systematically murdered, raped, abused, intimidated and harassed. All women. Everywhere. And, for their, and our, sakes, we can, and must, fight back.

And fight back, we will.

#feministsfightback

I can be found on twitter @rubyfruit2

CONFERENCE FEMINISM

I want to be part of a revolution. A revolution which will transform the lives of all females. Women are being murdered, abused, silenced, controlled on a daily basis. To be part of a revolutionary fight, we need to know each other in times of risks and danger. We need to trust each other. We need to know that sisters will not lie, manipulate or otherwise, misrepresent the feminist, or radical feminist, position. We need to know that those we work with have politics and ethics.

I have had concerns about conferences becoming the main focus for feminist organising, and the limitations of that, for over a year. The problem is getting worse, not better, so I decided to write about it. My concerns centre around how the conference format, in isolation, de-radicalises feminism.

Corporate ‘feminism’ understands this too well. It is a deliberate ploy for capitalist-patriarchy to exploit women’s desire to enjoy women-only space. It focuses on the richest, and most successful, women and provides corporate sponsorship, recognising the potential for profit in big numbers of women coming together. These two links show a general contemporary increase in women’s conferences. Collectively, they highlight how rich women can come together in expensive spaces, attract corporate sponsors, and chat about ‘empowering’ women already greatly more advantaged than most.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/06/business/media/womens-conferences-become-a-growing-media-marketing-tool.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=HpSectionSum&module=pocket-region&region=pocket-region&WT.nav=pocket-region&_r=1

http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/05/19/the_business_of_feminism_star_studded_women_s_conferences_empower_the_powerful.html

One of the women quoted in the article below says: “It’s almost become a competition, like: ‘Did you go to that conference? Well what about that one?’ And maybe you don’t even want to go, but now you have to because you’re afraid of what you’ll miss out on if you don’t.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/fashion/how-womens-conferences-can-be-a-business.html

This woman describes her discomfort at going to a women’s corporate event (which was sponsored by AOL and a skin-care product (don’t let that irony escape you).

http://www.vice.com/read/the-makers-conference-corporate-americas-view-of-the-future-of-feminism

There were big names who didn’t know why they were there in the spotlight. They faltered and stumbled over their words, admitting they didn’t write them. We can see from the photos how the performance of ‘femininity’, and its re-enforcement, was played out during these ’empowering’ and ‘inspiring’ times

We might have hoped that this author and reluctant attendee was present out of some kind of feminist conviction. And yet even she confesses: “In the interest of full disclosure, I should say the primary reason I attended the conference was because I was promised face time with Steinem.”

Julie Bindel speaks well here about the dangers of ‘fun feminism’. She argues that women coming together on liberal agendas do so to focus on personal liberty and freedom. This is not the same as the radical feminist goal of overthrowing male supremacy.

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2011/08/fun-feminism-women-feminist

However, she does not make the links between ‘fun feminism’ and the phenomenon described in the articles above where the conference format is used to sell Neoliberalism back to women via corporate sponsorship and the cult of the woman celebrity. In other words, the conference format, reinforces patriarchal-capitalist ideals hiding behind the rhetoric of women’s ’empowerment’.

I know what you may be thinking. If a conference is explicitly called ‘feminist’ or ‘radical feminist’ it won’t have a corporate agenda. The problem is, it has no choice. We live in capitalist-patriarchy. In order to book a venue with high numbers, women have to be charged a reasonably high amount. In order to get away with charging a high amount, many conferences have fallen into the trap of inviting ‘big names’ to attract the numbers needed. Some of these ‘big names’ don’t even share the politics around which the conference is being organised (examples described above in the articles about more malestream conferences are not so far from experiences I have seen or had described to me). I get the feeling some women are invited simply because they’re controversial. This is instead of rather than (or perhaps as well as) because they have something to contribute to the political goals of that particular conference (should there be any above attracting large numbers).

And if you need to aim for large numbers because your venue and other costs are expensive, you will need a lot of women present to break even, and, even more, to make a profit. This idea is fraught with political dangers. Some conferences capitulate completely and allow men, perhaps, even anti-feminist or violently dangerous men (how can we tell?) to be present. Men can usually be relied upon to boost numbers and revenue – they do, after all, earn £1 for every 80 pence women earn in the UK. Others, fearing that they might be boycotted and not get the numbers they need and/or have venues pull out, have compromised with queer bullshit and held sessions on a series of made-up phobias as opposed to feminism. By a process of needing to be popular, large conferences can end up being de-radicalised, with the conscious or unconscious approval of the organisers.

It doesn’t have to be like this. By far, my favourite feminist conference in recent years, still, is ‘radfem2012′ and I remember thinking ‘wow. Radical feminist, thought-provoking, speakers over 2 days for a real value-for-money event.’ £15 compared to the price of some women’s conferences reaching into their hundreds of pounds shows it is possible to be mindful of price. Although, on top of an entry fee, many women have accommodation, travel and other costs. If someone has domestic commitments or is disabled on top, these are added barriers. There are various barriers to individuals reaching conferences. Those barriers don’t, of course, just apply to feminist conferences. The point is if conferences become the main way in which women can work towards feminist goals then it becomes problematic as a method of political organising

One of the biggest dangers around today is that conference organisers will be intimidated from within, or externally, to cave in and accommodate the all-pervasive queer agenda. As a radical feminist I believe that agenda is libertarian, regressive, anti-feminist rhetoric. I believe the true queer agenda is masked behind rhetoric. The true agenda is to uphold ‘gender’ at the expense of women’s liberation. In recent times, it has shown it is more dangerous than merely being a string of words which make no sense. Those string of words are being used, in an ironic reversal, to shut down actual feminists in favour of anti-feminist propaganda . Silencing techniques are disguised as some kind of championing of humanist rights to confuse and mystify everyone. I am all for championing human rights of oppressed people, by the way – just not at the expense of a (radical) feminist movement losing touch with its goal of women’s liberation.

Conferences have had a place – and may continue to have a place for the right reasons and in the right hands. Some involved in the movement pretend that it is possible to have ‘international’ conferences, or, even more grandly, ‘summits’ or a ‘taskforce’ (a patriarchal term if ever I heard one). One or two rich people might make it across the other side of the world but revolution starts at home. Revolution starts on our own door-step. It starts with ourselves and the women around us. It starts with developing a political understanding about our lives. It starts with CR (Consciousness-raising). It does not start with controversial speeches and rhetoric and meeting someone famous. If it does, then that is not the right starting point. Rhetoric without CR can lead to anti-feminist behaviour mingling with feminist theory. What a head fuck that one is.

Without a doubt, some conferences can radicalise some women. They learn the joy of women-only compared to male dominated spaces. They might learn that (for example) radical feminism is being lied about; radical feminist truths are being masked in favour of ones which support male supremacy. They may learn it’s possible for women to fight back. But without the groundwork of ongoing activism, meeting once a year (or more) to listen to ‘celebrities’ speak does not a revolution make. There is a patriarchal tendency to adopt an academic style of conference with ‘plenaries’ and ‘experts’. Even that, potentially, has a place so long as women have a chance to learn how to trust each other and work together. Conferences are usually too big to achieve that and so they often end up with women who don’t know each other making suggestions about the way forward. Anyone who has ever been a grass-roots activist knows that does not work. We need to connect in small groups and we need to work on specific goals to ignite real flames which will stay alight for more than a heady, passionate day or two.

I am aware, even as I write, that it’s a lot of work to organise a conference. I have done it myself so I know. I also know that radical feminist conferences with integrity, and even those labelled ‘feminist’, are fraught with danger. Women organisers and attendees are at risk from misogynists. Threats and no-platforming are the order of the day. This article is not to diss those women organisers – some of whom are my friends and political allies. But I am not here to protect friendships. I am here for a revolution and I can only work with others who want a revolution too. Women who can recognise that there’s more to a revolution than rhetoric and hype.

I am glad women are having fun together, I really am. I am glad that conferences can help alleviate the isolation we feel because we hold radical feminist politics (or even half-way decent feminist politics, these days). That’s not revolutionary though. Being revolutionary is planning an over-throw of systems which oppress women. Being revolutionary is having clear goals and projects with the aim of liberating women. Being revolutionary is coming up with practical ways to support women to break free from patriarchy as far as we possibly can. Being revolutionary is offering alternatives to patriarchy, ways of escaping the worst of it.

Conscious that every single woman who’s ever organised a conference in her life (that will be me then!) may feel defensive in response to this post, I want to temper it (and also illustrate my arguments are political) with another post I have written alongside it (soon to be published) supporting all feminists who are under such a barrage of personal intimidation and threats.

There are many of us who are working towards an alternative to conference-itis. We believe you don’t need hundreds of women to spark a revolution. Our igniter is at the ready.

NB: I am conscious that there have been some feminist conferences recently and that others are coming up. The purpose of this post is to at least open the debate and name the conference format as a political choice, not to encourage defensiveness from particular individuals who may have spent months working on conference organising (as, incidentally, have I which is a main reason for my post).

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