Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Woman Separatist on White-centric Worldviews and Women's Liberation, with mention of a film called "Born In Flames"

[this image of Honey is from here. Honey is the woman who stars in a classic feminist film, Born In Flames. There is a website about that great cinematic story which is linked shortly. Also, in this first little paragraph, is a shorter synopsis of the film discussed in the next paragraph.

The movie that rocked the foundations of the early Indie film world, this provocative, thrilling and still-relevant classic is a comic fantasy of female rebellion set in America ten years after the Second American Revolution. When Adelaide Norris, the black radical founder of the Woman’s Army, is mysteriously killed, a diverse coalition of women - across all lines of race, class, and sexual preference - emerges to blow the System apart. [source: here]

Now a quarter-century old, "Born in Flames", hailed by former [U.S.] Twin Cities [Minneapolis/St. Paul] programmer Jenni Olson as “one of the most dynamic feminist films ever made”–also begins by proudly celebrating an anniversary: that of New York’s Social-Democratic War of Liberation, which 10 years earlier had brought equality to all, even Trotskyite black lesbians. Alas, Borden’s movie is a work of futurist fiction, albeit rendered largely in documentary form. “It is time to consider the progress of the past,” says an old white man in suit and tie, addressing the camera on a concrete square near Wall Street–evidence that the revolution has already passed, that only the counterrevolution will be televised. Or will it? Made guerrilla-style in 16mm for a mere $40,000, Borden’s Godardian salvo has her militant Women’s Army taking CBS video techs at gunpoint, forcing them to interrupt the U.S. president’s would-be pacifying offer of “wages for housework” with a special news bulletin from the black radical feminist underground. [source: here] Also see here for more on the filmmaker and film.

At the post on Navajo women fighting uranium poisoning a regular commenter here, "Anonymous" (this Anonymous is a white separatist woman), has been challenging me in some great ways to think more deeply and learn more about the world which is not so much "around me" as it is something I am in. And I am in it without much awareness of what is beyond me.

Recently, she has challenged me on the degree to which my blog's point of view is so immersed in white/US/Western experience that it distorts how I view feminism, feminists, and women's actions worldwide to fight against male domination.

Thank you, Anonymous white woman separatist, for these and other challenges. I hope you continue to be a regular commenter here. This blog would not be the same without you. While we disagree on a few key points: mainly that men are somehow inherently evil or bad, and that MtF trans people exist to invade women's spaces, I have always found the views of separatist women to be politically challenging in the best sense. In my experience of knowing a few separatist women, all of them white, btw, I have found that these women claiming time, energy, space, and culture to be only with one another, without having men around to take care of, explain stuff to, be abused by, and be controlled by has made these women very strong in many ways, while also just as vulnerable as any human being is. In my life I have argued for women's separatism primarily with white men, who think it is "absurd". What is absurd to me is why men think women living without us is "a bad thing". For whom is it a bad thing? Clearly not for the women! White men will counter with "Well, if every woman was a separatist, how would the human species stay alive." This question is right up there in the "stupid questions" category with "If there could be a society without male dominance, would pornography then be okay?" Answer to both: Let's try it and see!

Below are portions of her most recent comments, which can be found in their entirety at the post mentioned and linked to above. I will intersperse just a few comments, as I don't allow what I see to be racist, heterosexist, or misogynistic comments made here to go unchallenged. That includes people challenging me on any comments I make here, of course! I'll add that I think it is a bit obnoxious of me to interrupt Anonymous's comments with my own words. But I want the reader to get a sense of where she and I stand with one another, for those that haven't been reading our exchanges over the last weeks. And, admittedly, this is no where near a lesbian/woman's separatist space, and this one white boy DOES tend to chime in quite a bit here! I'm okay with that, as this is my blog, after all! Not that that gives me license to be obnxious to any woman. I hope my responses to Anonymous below are not seen as invasive or obnoxious, primarily by Anonymous herself. Let me know, Anonymous!

I think if you strip away the romanticism often attached to a white view of native american men, you'll see a completely different historical tale. It's why I believe that there is something inherently wrong with men across time and culture. We see men murdering each other in inter-tribal raids, we see maintaining tribal supremacy, and tribal leadership. Whether it is the 16th century or the 20th century, you have to look at cultures and what they were like before white men ever visited different parts of the world.

Something tells me that Azttec men or Mayan men were no prince charmings.

When I read this, I come up against an inner bias in myself, one that is rather nakedly Western white male supremacist. I'm aware of this tendency to ask anyone who proposes something not backed up by dusty tomes with footnotes, or legions of witnesses, to "prove" what they are saying. I think this request by any oppressor to the oppressed to "prove" what they are saying is buying into one of the worst aspects of Western white male supremacy: the belief that texts are unbiased, that proof is accurate, that facts aren't fudged, that truth is only knowable through some variation on the scientific method, or through areas of study developed by Kant.

So "something tells me" is just a strong an argument as "If you read in [such and such a book written by some white male expert on Aztec society] you'll find that Aztec men were no prince charmings". I don't think white male supremacist ways of being, theorising, knowing, and stating points of view are any more or less valid than other ways of doing the same. But this bias for white Western academic models of gathering knowledge mean that non-Western, non-white, non-male ways of comprehending and expressing the world will be devalued. So the non-fiction essay by a white man seen as more "truthful" than a poem by a white woman, for example. And white men's history books are seen as more truthful than stories passed down in an oral story-telling tradition, never written down at all.

Having said all that, I have heard Indigenous women speak about how their ancestors lived in relative peace, including "between or among genders" relative to how they experience the world since white colonialism and industrialisation. I welcome any women of color, especially Indigenous women, to post comments here about your own knowledge of how societies used to be in pre-Columbian times. I have heard of gendered violence existing in some of those societies, and conflicts existing between American Indian tribes, for example. More on this in a moment.

It's why I believe in the consistency of men's opposition to the full development and renaissance of women worldwide. Even the word renaissance is such a joke if you look at it from a woman's point of view.

I agree. It's right up there with women in recovery. If all one has known is life in white and/or male supremacist society--existing in that context, with those constraints and often unspoken forms of violence and coercion, what is there to recover? As many lesbian separatists have said, the issue is discovery and creating oneself anew, far more than it is "recovering" or being born again as the word renaissance implies. I think Catharine MacKinnon makes this point very well, among other feminists.

Since I didn't start out in the American feminist movement, I wasn't involved with what white women and black women were dealing with. I guess it's why I don't relate to the idea that white people are all that much different from non-white people. I think a better analogy would be looking at majority vs. minority interests.

I welcome you to write more here about that. About your experiences and what you have learned from those experiences. And I welcome women of all ethnicities contributing to any of the conversations here, adding what you know to the limited amount I can know, as a Western white man, about the world.

Men create artificial women's minorities by freezing women out of the public sphere in a variety of ways -- domineering behavior, debating and silencing women, freezing women out of business opportunities, paying men more just because they are men..only hiring a few token women after millions have been spent on lawsuits, and that old favorite, isolating women in homes, beating the stuffing out of them, preventing their psychological development free of male influence and control.

The groups I'm talking about these days are largely interracial women's groups, both straight and lesbian. I've been a minority within non-white lesbian groups, and I can say that every time, the common denominator is simply the ease of the work or cultural or political environment when men are simply not there.

Add men, and women get off track. I really think that most men think only of women as sex objects, or care givers, old men marry young women so that someone takes care of them in old age. Women's energy is simply used up in service to what?

I find myself in strong resonance with what you say here. I have seen how women's engagement, interaction, ways of being, ways of caring, are altered by one male presence, if not more than one. It's as if men carry within us a socially constructed magnet, that pulls toward us all the energy women have that would be more appropriately given to other women, who themselves are so busy taking care of men!

I have always been an advocate for women only environments, and whether it's all lesbian groups or all women's groups or different racial combinations, the key is the unity of women.

I advocate for the same environments for women. And thank you for doing so!!

I think the assumption of this blog is about a feminism that is American, rather than about a feminism and women's separatist movements that are international.

I think you are absolutely right. I've thought about this on and off. I've often wondered about posting more stories by and about women around the world about their own struggles with men within their own societies. And one problem I have with doing that is this: it tends to play into a Western white supremacist model of "us" talking about "them" as if we can know them. As if I can understand the complexities and differing herstories of women across the globe whose lineage is not so impacted by the West as I might think. And I can see a simple solution is to not let white men mediate women's stories of oppression. To find, if possible, women's stories untranslated, written or spoken by the women themselves, about what their lives are and were like. So thank you so much for stating that!

Men do everything in their power to cover up the lives of women. You have to search hard in America to get news of the daily life of women all over the world. It's all about men, war, and destruction on the nightly news, but it is not women interviewing women worldwide.

I guess now would be a good time to say that while this is done all the time, I really don't like the word "America" being used to mean "white-dominant countries in the Americas". So I try and say "U.S. America" or just "the U.S." as Chileans and Guatemalans are no less "American" (if we're going with the Anglo/Western conquerors' lingo) than a white rich straight man living in the United States.

And now, on to your point!!! I agree completely, Anonymous. COMPLETELY. If you know of women's blogs or news sites that share information by women about women, especially outside of the West, I'd be interested in linking to them here at this blog.

I look at the dynamism and energy of women, and what this actually feels like if you are white in non-white contexts. There is just too much of an assumption that lesbian separatism or women's separatist associations are American or white, when the majority of the world is not white, I guess that's where I'm coming from.

Damn great comment, Anonymous. Thank you again.

P.S. I have never personally known a lesbian who was battered by another lesbian. I have known hundreds of white women who are honest about their racism, and I've seen lesbians work harder on racism and classism than all women combined. I see men work on racism, but not on sexism. Men can't work on sexism, they need to just be isolated away from women, maybe they'd figure out something on their own. The minute women are in the mix, men become idiots, they just turn on this switch in their heads.

We have seen what men do when feminism becomes powerful. They react, they don't create, they don't volunteer to be the servants, they always want to be in control. Their control obsession is what makes feminism incomprehensible to every man I have ever met. It's not a philosophy for men, it is about women's freedom.

We need to challenge men more and more to change themselves.

I truly believe this too. And I think the time is coming, or has come and gone and needs to arrive once again, where women stop feeding men, in every way. And where men need to start feeding each other, in every way.

(To Anonymous, Christina, and other commenters here: is this the movie we've been waiting for? And none of us knew about it???)


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