[image from the 1970s is from here]
For an idea of what this post is in response to, partly, see, for example, the following site:
For an idea of what this post is in response to, partly, see, for example, the following site:
I've been critical here of the Waves Theory of Feminism. This is largely because of what non-womanists and non-feminists try and turn Women's Liberation Movements into--an Objectified Thing, One Thing, usually a white-dominant or whites-only Thing, usually an "essentialist" Thing, usually a Thing that has clear boundaries with start dates and maybe also end dates, with start BOOKS--or "foundational books", so that it can be referred to, discussed, and have academic curricula organised to tell the next academic generations about "The Second Wave".
It won't shock any regular readers here when I state as a fact that the White West is racist: anti-Asian, anti-Black, anti-Brown, and anti-Indigenist, among other ways of being WHM supremacist. In my experience, the social/structural dominants in this Western World--defined here as dominant North America, dominant UK, dominant Australia, and dominant Europe (especially Western and Northern), tends to tell history as grossly distorted single-stories, as linear and simple stories. If non-womanists and non-feminists try and tell the story of Women's Liberation Movements, it usually does so with blatant lies, such as "the bra burning phenomenon".
As a kid, all I heard about in the mass media was "bra burners" which let me know "Women's Libbers" were intent on letting their breasts be free of restriction even if the rest of them couldn't be, inside patriarchy. The fact is that women's breasts can't be free either, being, you know, WOMANLY and all, whether or not the breast tissue is part of a woman's body. Shirt-free Rights activists gave it a good try a long time ago, but gave up, realising that until women are free, women's breasts, as well, cannot be free. Bra-burning and "You've Come a Long Way, Baby" cigarette commercials were presented to me by television as "Women's Lib". I may have seen some women marching in the streets too, on network news, but never do I remember hearing from these women until a show called "Donahue" gave some voice to a few Women's Libbers. His partner for some time has been Marlo Thomas, who was part of an important and ambitious campaign to raise children in a non-sexist way. On Donahue's show I saw some Radical Feminists. But not many, and those who tended to be in the media were white, which was designed to leave me with the impression that "feminism was white". Yes, there was Flo. I adore Florynce Kennedy. I remember Flo from the 1970s. But Flo was not so prominent as Gloria Steinem. And Gloria Steinem wasn't nearly as prominent in mass media as Richard Nixon or Chevy Chase's impression of Gerald Ford. Yes, there was Ms. But, then again, there was also Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler. And the racist pimps who produced them--Hugh, Bob, and Larry--made way more money.
In the 1980s, Women's Studies took off as an academic discipline. Since then, Women's Studies programs have been VERY compromised and forced to be "accommodating" of Gender Studies and Men's Studies. Academic dollars only support so much, and as soon as you're studying gender as an apolitical phenomenon, and as soon as you're studying "men" as a sociological phenomenon--so a few men can make nice careers for themselves and sell some books, it's kind of over for Women's Studies... almost. There are still a few good programs out there, but most have had the radicalism radically removed.
The Academy, after all, what with its Liberal Arts degrees, isn't in the business of telling people HOW TO RADICALLY RESIST AND FIGHT WHM SUPREMACY AND DOMINATION. It teaches many people how to be part of the status quo, and maybe, on occasion, how to conceptualise one's thinking about those who have fought systems of oppression, in the past. I despise the academy for this. It also tries to tell students how some mostly white women did this Thing called Second Wave Women's Liberation in the 1970s, that was book-ended by a couple of other waves. I know women who were activists then, who are still activists now--not writers, really. Not professors. Engaged-in-struggles-in-the-world Activists. (The world beyond the Academy. I understand there are battles to fought inside the Academy too. There are battles to be fought everywhere.) To all the radical feminist and womanist women in the Academy: thank you for figuring out how to teach radically about women's liberation, and for doing so.
Historically and currently, most feminists were and are not Academics. Women weren't allowed in the Academy until relatively recently. And at first only white women were allowed in. And some demographics of women are effectively kept out. Poor women are often kept out. This means that if your understanding of feminism comes from the Academy, it is likely to leave out the historical and contemporary efforts of poor women who have resisted and fought against racist patriarchy. As ought to be clear, in the white West, the poor are disproportionately women of color. (This is also true outside of the West, and these women's struggles are virtually unknown to most Western scholars, in part because many women are not literate, and many poor literate women don't have time to write books.)
From all I've learned to date, mostly outside of Academic settings, it seems quite clear to me that Indigenous and Black women are the foundational figures in Women's Liberation in the U.S.--in Indigenous feminism, in African American womanism and feminism, in white feminism, and in the other feminisms that exist in the Western world. And that's very verifiable. But you won't hear about it much in white-dominant spaces like the Academy. As I see it, Asian women are THE Revolutionary Feminists in the world right now: the leaders for the world's women on how to resist patriarchal atrocity, how to fight back, how to organise and stay alive doing so. But "Asian feminism" is barely a footnote, or at best a couple of chapters in any multi-ethnic Western feminist anthology. There aren't many feminist or womanist presses any more. So "The Man" who is white and usually heterosexual, is deciding what gets published. And that means that a lot of virulently misogynist-racist pornography is being published, and heteropatriarchal romance novels, and books glorifying white men's wars.
Asia, as you may know, is a big chunk of the globe, spanning from Japan to Turkey, Russia to Indonesia and beyond. (Israel is part of Asia. Moses and Jesus was "Middle Eastern" which is to say, West Asian, not white or European.) Approximately SIX of every TEN people on Earth are Asian. That means that most women fighting sexism (and racism) are Asian. That means, especially if we include Indigenous women, Black women, and Brown women, MOST women conceive of feminism as a movement to end white male supremacy, because there is no longer identity and indignity globally that isn't impacted by "The Man" who is, after all, white.
When I learned about "feminism" I also learned about "womanism". African American women were central to my understanding of what Women's Liberation was fighting against and for. Racism and sexism, white male supremacy. It has never been any other way, in reality, even if it has been in academic textbooks and the minds of white dominants.
So when "The Second Wave" is mentioned, I often wonder WHICH "Second Wave" and what do you think that second wave was?
I've always preferred to speak about Women's Liberation Movements in terms of issues, campaigns, and organisations. Right now, fighting trafficking is a central issue and Apne Aap as one of several critical organisations. I see women fighting very dangerous battles against men's misogynistic warfare--against women and men, intra and international warfare. And that warfare, to many extents, fuses racism to sexism. I see women fighting to survive and eliminate capitalism's poverty; I see women working to obtain water and land rights, and to make sure the Earth under and around them is not so poisoned as to kill everyone on it. I see self-determination issues being fought for among Indigenous women. I don't have much of a sense of what white feminism is right now. Mostly I see white feminists debating things, while I see women of color fighting for survival. Where is white feminism outside of blogs, books, and the academy? Almost every feminist effort has to contend with so much male supremacist aggression and aversion that it's almost a miracle that any feminism exists at all.
There's a form of not-so-funny irony in the reality that for feminism to exist, male dominance must be systemic and institutionalised, as well as interpersonal and intimate. And for it to be radical, it has to figure out how to live in places that do everything imaginable to discredit and kill it, often by silencing the women who speak out, one way or another, including through murder. Putting womanist and feminist books out of print also helps male supremacy. Traumatising girls helps destroy the possibility of feminism being radical, because trauma does more to silence its survivors than to empower them to speak. That most feminists I know are trauma survivors means that these are VERY strong and VERY brave women. That most feminists globally are threatened with death every day--from the man they may be nervously very near at night or the men they encounter or try and avoid during the day--means they have a kind of strength I'm not sure I can comprehend. I understand the determination, the will to create justice out of raw hatred of women. I understand not giving up. But there are social conditions I simply haven't experienced, and so there are questions for me about how one does it--how does one live with the constant threat or presence of death. I live in the West as a white and male-identified person. I don't have to know this.
For a white male-identified person, I'm unfortunately considered "well-read" in feminist and womanist literature. I'm familiar with many womanist and feminist theories. And, also, I always feel as though there's so much more that is critical to read that I haven't read. And, more, to experience that I haven't experienced. I'll tell you who I haven't read: I've read very little Susan Brownmiller and Mary Daly--but I've read some, and in many ways Mary Daly's work influences me. I'm not sure how to explain that. I guess that is because so many white women I've met have been so dramatically impacted by her work.
I've read almost nothing by Robin Morgan and Janice Raymond. I have always been drawn to the writers who are speaking to me about communities and landscapes where struggle is old and rooted. I am drawn to the writings of displaced women. I love Chrystos. I've met her and I love her. No, not in "that" way. But there is a special place in my heart for her. I will tell you this: I have learned a great deal about feminism and womanism by seeing activists and writers do what they do. I see their spirits shine and their values expressed in action. I have met Yanar Mohammed, and I adore her.
I get how much Men's Wrongs Activists don't understand about any of it. They don't get it AT ALL. They think that a dozen misquotes or quotes IS "feminism", as if most feminism is "written" and "quotable". Most men I know don't get womanism or feminism AT ALL. They can't be bothered to understand what the hell women are fighting for all over the world, which really pisses me off a lot.
As for profeminism... I think there are a few men who "get it". A handful, maybe. Derrick Jensen is one of them. Mark Anthony Neal is another. And Robert Jensen. As profeminism is known to me primarily through a few white led groups and books, it is necessarily the case that most people identified and classified as profeminist will be white men. U.S. prowomanism, for example, doesn't really have a "voice" in white mass media, let alone voices. What is rare among men is the willingness and commitment to be accountable to women. I really don't care to hear much from men unless I know they are fully accountable to the women in their life, and in the areas of activism they are part of, if any. Men talk a good line--well, a few do--and our lines are relatively meaningless to me because of what I've seen feminist men do.
So, men, don't make YouTube videos telling me about what you understand about feminism. Make a video showing me you being fully accountable to women in your life. Document that. Every day. Care more about women than you do about using pornography. Value being responsible and useful more than doing things that get your name out there as "one of the good men".
Feminism is on-going resistance work. Profeminism must also be on-going.
Currently, in the society I live in and subcultures I am immersed in, "second wave feminism" is being distinguished between a few counter-revolutionary activities. Here's a short list: sexual liberalism, the sexual practices and aesthetics of racist-misogynist pimps and procurers, white conservatism, patriarchal brutality, and Academic misrepresentation.
As noted elsewhere on this blog, "my" queer community has been overtaken by a kind of individualism and provincial political activism. White middle class values, always status quo, are being presented to young people as "what feminism is". And it's a tragic thing to watch happen. To watch people value Patrick Califia, Camille Paglia, Christina Hoff Summers, and Katie Roiphe as being "important feminist thinkers" is beyond sad. Especially, men who hate women love these writers. That's a clue.
And men who only read men's versions of feminism, well, that ought to be illegal. Like if this post is your "feminist" education, you need to stop reading this right now and go read Sister Outsider, Yurugu, and Are Women Human?. Seriously.
Reportedly, there was phenomenon in the U.S. called "The Third Wave". I seemed to me to be a willful misrepresentation of and unnecessarily individualistic response to the writers and activists who comprised the so-called second wave in the 1970s and 1980s. I never saw it taking on WHM supremacy. I saw it and other efforts make peace with pimps and pornographers. And figure out ways to reconceptualise "woman" such that fighting patriarchal harm was no longer in vogue or politically correct. Discussions about abstract ideas and re-appropriating things like the term "b*tch" and "wh*re" became cool. Lesbianism was either made to be for men, phallocentric, or not legitimate unless it embraced butch and femme role play. Lesbianism was no longer a resistance to heteropatriarchy, it was one expression of it. Gay men, well, never really left heteropatriarchy.
I've never seen any radical potential in gay men's movements. And I remain unconvinced that trans politics is determined to end WHM supremacy. I understand and support any marginalised group's battle to be seen and treated as human, and I also understand that mass media and other forces won't allow radical feminist trans (or non-trans) activists to be seen or heard. I want to be clear: trans activists aren't and ought not be accountable to me. I'm their oppressor structurally, not their ally necessarily. My movement, my passion, is ending WHM supremacy, so if your work isn't that work, I'm not likely to be enthusiastic about supporting what you do. So men's work, white's work, and other work that seeks to make race and gender seem like primarily biological phenomena... not my gig.
What I've found in the last five years or more, is that radical feminism is making a resurgence in communities where it was on life support. I'm thrilled by this. I'm meeting so many women of many colors who are age 18 to 28 who found nothing particularly useful in that "Third Wave" and realise that "Second Wave" radical writing and resistance is very important. (The Academic Story is that the Second Wave was White, whereas the Third Wave was woman of color-centered. That means that all the women of color who were central to the Second Wave didn't exist, I guess.)
Another problem is man-centered radical movements. (Why do those still exist? They barely do in the U.S., but why do they?)
And of course the white conservative men's institutionalised force and coercion has always been and remains the calculating and cruel core of gynocidal and genocidal societies. I can rail against liberalism all day long, for years, but white capitalist patriarchal conservatism is the man-made breeding machine for virulent racism and misogyny. And those men are the majority consumers from the West of globally trafficked women. When people want to blame a feminist for the supposed demise of feminism, I always want to remind them: don't you think white supremacist and capitalist patriarchal force, corruption, propaganda (mass media), and abilities to appropriate almost everything has something to do with what happens to feminist movements organised to radically challenge racist patriarchies? I want to tell them to read Backlash. Because the forces that keep the status quo in place are the forces that make the ground inhospitable to radical feminist and womanist actions taking root and thriving. And yet, Women's Liberation lives on.
What I understand from women of color radical feminists is this: racism and sexism are inseparable for most women on Earth, experientially, politically. And while white people are detrimentally and determinedly raced, fighting sexist racism isn't a central focus of most white people's activism. So I don't and won't make what white people think is most important to do central to my own activism.
Among the many things I am learning from Indigenous feminists is this: civilisation is killing us, and in the mean time it is doing horrendous things to women that it isn't doing to men. It must die before all women do. Racism, sexism, and ecocide are all bound up together into a knotted snarly braid of terror and horror. For whites and men to pretend they aren't, to pretend we can save civilisation while supporting the existence and activism of Indigenous women, is not just foolish, but is gynocidal, genocidal, and ecocidal. Unless we centralise the concerns, perspectives, and actions of Indigenous feminists, we will not live to tell the story of why we didn't.