Sunday, December 20, 2009

Radical Profeminism: a definition, for now

fig. 1: Ghost Dance Remnant. Liquid light on muslin
© Pamela Shields, 1990

[image is of work by artist Pamela Shields is from here and here]
From the second link:
Pamela Shields (Blackfoot/Blood Band), who was born in 1956 in Salt Lake City, Utah and grew up in Calgary, Canada, currently lives and works in San Francisco, California. After receiving her BA in Fine Arts from San Francisco State University and a MA in Art from Ills College in Oakland, she began to turn to collage to explore visually her community's history. In Ghost Dance Remnant (fig. 1) she comments on the religious revival that was bringing renewal to many western tribes before the United States government suppressed it as a threat to its control in the late 1890s.

Indigenous feminism without apology

We often hear the mantra in indigenous communities that Native women aren’t feminists. Supposedly, feminism is not needed because Native women were treated with respect prior to colonization. Thus, any Native woman who calls herself a feminist is often condemned as being “white.”
However, when I started interviewing Native women organizers as part of a research project, I was surprised by how many community-based activists were describing themselves as “feminists without apology.” They were arguing that feminism is actually an indigenous concept that has been co-opted by white women.

The fact that Native societies were egalitarian 500 years ago is not stopping women from being hit or abused now. For instance, in my years of anti-violence organizing, I would hear, “We can’t worry about domestic violence; we must worry about survival issues first.” But since Native women are the women most likely to be killed by domestic violence, they are clearly not surviving. So when we talk about survival of our nations, who are we including?

Over a year ago I posted my own understandings of what the term "radical" means for purposes of this blog and my life beyond this blog--such as it is. You can link to that post here.

In this post, I'd like to define what I mean be "radical profeminist", given that it is the title of this blog, and I'm not sure I've ever really explained what this term means, here, to me.

I know the term has existed for a while and that men and women have written about it as a phenonenon, as something that exists, in whatever helpful and non-helpful ways to radical feminists.

I don't know any other men besides myself who use it to describe themselves--for better or worse. As has been noted by many feminists, white men have a tendency to appropriate the language and take unjust and non-accountable responsibility for what women do to fight and end racist patriarchies. I hold myself accountable to the women I know, and many of the women I know disagree about many things, which I believe is necessary, healthy, politically vibrant, and human. It is necessary because if there were "one voice", "one perspective", and one "radical feminism" I believe that would, in the West, default to a white-, anglo-, euro-centric radical feminism, given that whites have more institutional power and press than women of color in the West.

"Radical profeminism" is an English-language term that I use in the West, in the U.S. specifically. So that locates it in a tradition of both radicalism and pro-feminism. And while it is located there, it cannot mean "work that only benefits the inhabitants of the West". It cannot mean "action dedicated to maintaining civilisation". It simply cannot. Because if it does, then it advocates, necessarily and without apology or remorse, for the destruction of women of color around the world. Not that having remorse or making an apology would make white men's acts of such destruction okay.

I have been part of radical feminist movements for twenty-five years. For a much shorter time I was part of antisexist men's movements. In all that time I have spoken with many men who define themselves as radicals, as feminists, as profeminists, and as anarchists who are supportive of Women's Liberation. I have not found community and am not sure I'd know what to do with one if I did. I have not found men, and in my case most of those men I've spoken with have been white, who are willing to do be accountable to women, especially and particularly to women of color. I have not found men who respect the need for profeminist men to follow, not lead; to always listen carefully and never assume we already know what someone is saying to us. I have been challenged to do this just within the last 24 hours. And I'm not sure I am listening well enough, which is to say respectfully and empathically enough, non-racistly enough, non-misogynistically enough. But I will make it my work to find out, and to listen more carefully with greater emotional and intellectual comprehension in the future. And that understanding will result in actions that don't find a home alone in my head.

For I am a Jew. And being Jewish means something very politically specific to me, that is not unique to being Jewish but is inextricably a part of it: I must actively oppose all forms of slavery and genocide. This necessarily includes all behaviors and systems that contribute to gynocide, the ethnically gendered political killing of women for being women. I must oppose rape, and all other sexualised violence against women. This is what it means to me to be a Jew and a radical profeminist.

For the most part, but not entirely, I have met men who think "racism" and "white supremacy" are not radical profeminist issues. This doesn't mean such men aren't out there. I have not met many men in the last fifteen years who do activist work, so it's possible there's a whole generation of younger activists who are accountable to women of color and to white women, who do see race and gender, and specifically whiteness and manhood, as indivisibly political and oppressive forces in the West.

This blog is not meant to be read only by Westerners, but because it is in English, it likely will be. I can know this somewhat by seeing from where people come to read this blog's posts. Overwhelmingly it is from "the West": North America, the UK and Western Europe, and the white fringes of Australia. I do not know how many readers from those areas are men or how many are white, however. But I know that I must focus my posts on what white men do. And I have received criticism for doing this. And I try to attend to the reality that men of all colors harm women of color. So a pro-WOC blog must address some of the crimes and atrocities committed by men of color against the women who live near or with them, in community, in ethnic bonds, in nationhood.

The primary reason for me to focus on white men is that I limit my posts to what I know most about, or what news I find that is relevant to what this blog is here to do, which is to name the white heterosexist male supremacist elephant in the room. To name what it does and how it operates. To name its methods, its dynamics, its systems, and the institutions and interpersonal behaviors that keep white heterosexual male supremacy flourishing, if also headed for death due to its own unsustainability. And those methods, dynamics, systems, institutions, and behaviors are not stagnant, even while they are deeply embedded and in need of radical transformation or removal-at-the-roots. Human systems are alive, and so are always in some level of flux.

From this perspective, being a radical profeminist means being willing to re-evaluate conditions and ways of being more accountable and responsible to women, every day. It means never believing I am "not sexist and not racist" because I am antiracist and antisexist. I am racist, white supremacist, sexist, misogynistic, male supremacist and all the rest that comes with being a white man in this time and in this part of the world. I am all those things so I must challenge all those things in myself and beyond myself. I know men who consider challenging it in themselves sufficient work. That is plenty of work, indeed, and I respect men who are willing to do that. But it is not enough.

To me it must always be combined with action-in-the-world-beyond-oneself, in part because men have a tendency to focus only on ourselves, as individuals and as the definition of what it means to be human. We are not "the definition". We are one definition that has had far too much staying power. White men, especially and most egregiously, in my lived experience, are arrogant and ignorant about what is most important to know and how to be in the world, non-oppressively, with respect for all Life. We tend to think white men who have come before us, who are presumed to have been "great thinkers" such as the Founding Fathers of the U.S., Plato, Descartes, Marx, Engels, Freud, Darwin, postmodernists like Foucault and Derrida, great artists and writers such as Picasso and Hemingway, and many others, often "hard" scientists, knew what we need to know. They didn't and couldn't, and they don't serve as intellectual or political role models for me, and never have. Not ever.

I do not locate radical profeminism on Western white men's model of a political spectrum running from communism on the left to fascism on the right. For me, radical feminism and radical profemism has always existed off that continuum, which is why the actions of some radical feminists are often miscategorised by the spokespeople for the status quo, for the white malestream. The status quo's spokespeople, its defenders, its promoters, tend to get most stuff wrong when it comes to comprehending radical feminism and radical profeminism. This surprises me not at all and is generally annoying to me. As the cartoon atop this post recognises and articulates, white men tend to make everything "All About Us". It isn't. Politics isn't; philosophy isn't; art isn't; Life isn't, G-d--whatever that is--isn't. None of it is or ever has been, except in the minds of white men and too many of those people who we terroristically, forcefully, and consistently colonise and otherwise oppress.

I have no problem with white heterosexual male supremacy dying as soon as possible; I have a problem with how it will probably die, not so soon. I wish for it not to harm and kill women in the process of dying. I wish for Indigenous people globally to thrive while it dies. I wish for it to not take all the soil and glaciers with it. I don't know if it will play out that way. I will hope so, against all odds and evidence, not because my hope means it is more likely to happen that way, but because without this hope, without a certain level of optimism about what can be, my activism sinks into depression.

I know Derrick Jensen has a strong critique of "hope" and I appreciate his views on this. And I think he is right, probably, about a lot of what hope does in people who are not willing or able to work to radically change "civilisation" into sustainable ecosystems that include but are not dominated by human will and want. As far as I know, only Indigenous people have figured out how to live sustainably on the Earth. Not all Indigenous peoples, of course. I don't assume "Indigenous" is one thing, is one people, is one perspective or way of living, or is synonymous with any one thing in particular--not one value system, not one worldview, and not one code of ethics and practice.

But Indigenism is a word with meaning for me. And it means being anti-civilisation, and pro-Life--but not as the U.S. white Right narrowly and horrendously defines that term. For me, to be pro-Life is to be anti-civilisation. To be pro-Life is to be pro-sustainability, pro-soil, pro-sentient being, pro-human-as-inhabitant not as human-as-ruler of the Earth or Gaia.

Indigenism has increasingly become centralised in my radical profeminism because it is necessarily anti-colonialism, anti-Western imperialism, and anti-racist, and anti-civilisation. It is pro-sustainability and pro-Earth, which is also to say pro-Life. And white feminism has much of its roots in the life experiences, the values and practices, of Indigenous women. So too must my radical profeminism, to the extent that it can, given my relational removal from such people due to my pernicious privileges and ethically questionable capabilities to live with and among mostly white people. Given that, it is my practice to not have my closest friends be white or men. And that is how it is: most of my closest friends are women of color, Black women particularly, mostly but not entirely African American. The learning from Black women that has happened, due to me listening, not do to me asking much, is also central to my radical profeminism. Hours and hours of dialogue, discussion, and increasingly less defensive debate from me, has been invaluable, and I hope helpful to each of the women who I have been honored to call "friend". Additionally and with great impact on my thinking and being, white radical feminism has been crucial to me. And remains so. And connection to white radical feminists--lesbian and not lesbian--has been a source of great learning and understanding about what it means to be a woman living in a patriarchal society.

I fully acknowledge and find important that the radical feminist perspectives I pay the closest attention to come from women of color directly, and are formed from the soil of experiences women of color face globally, in great diversity, with many necessarily different priorities. But to say I don't care about or listen to white radical feminists would be a gross lie. As many know, Andrea Dworkin is one of the people whose work I look to most for guidance and direction. But so to is the work of Andrea Smith and Audre Lorde. So to is the work of so many women who may never write several books, but who ought to have several books written about them, such as Yanar Mohammed for all the radical feminist work she does.

Radical profeminism, then, is a way of life, a way of listening, and a way of being accountable to women as I act in the world, or one tiny portion of it, to effect change geared toward exposing and eliminating white heterosexual male supremacy from the Earth. Whether white heterosexual men will deeply challenge themselves to change, to radically transform themselves into more humane and responsible beings, remains to be seen. If they resist such change, I welcome them to leave women alone while they await their deaths. For white male supremacy is anti-Life and is pro-Death. And so it will die, one day, one way or another. And human Life will return in greater harmony with the Earth, with Life In Balance, or Suyanisqatsi.

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