Thursday, January 27, 2011

On Being Conservative, Liberal, Radical, Indigenist. A Call to Action for Women's Liberation

photograph of Sheila Jeffreys is from here
[NOTE: I revised portions of this post on 27 Jan. 2011 ECD.]

Background post:

Recent conversation with trans/intergender/queer-identified people has resulted in this post.

One focus of our conversation was the problem of trans/queer/non-queer/het people rejecting radical feminist lesbian theory, books, authors, and practice, because of perceptions, often misperceptions, of "bigotry" existing in the work.

I'd like to note that bigotry exists in most work from most authors. Some of it is hidden; some is explicit. Some is accomplished through acts of omission--the refusal to deal with Indigenous women's writings and the realities of gynocidal genocide, for example. Some of it shows up by pretending that white womanhood is equal to all women's experience; or, more often, pretending that white manhood represents all of (or the best of) human experience, thought, accomplishment, and wisdom.

The most common form of "rejection of radical lesbian feminism" is by attaching the labels of "man-hating" to the work, or by refusing to publish or republish writings which elucidate efforts to dismantle, or, even, understand, white male supremacy as a force to be reckoned with. Another, in contemporary Internet queer blogging circles--most promoted by queer men, by the way, is to accuse Radical Lesbian Feminism or R.L. Feminists of being "transphobic". I'd like to offer a response to this specific accusation. (I have posted many, many times on the other issue--of usually super-privileged white het men's pathetic and preposterous claim that RLF writing is all or frequently "man-hating". My response to these foolish men summary is this: men's writing and behavior is woman-hating and man-hating, and it is for men to stop both practices.)

I want to suggest that whether or not RLF writing is "bigoted"--a very liberally used term that requires some unpacking, the writings ought to and must be engaged with respectfully if we are to show concern, care, and compassion for the condition of women's oppression globally. If we believe girls who become women, as a class, deserve liberation, and ought to achieve it, we ought to be reading all work, and listening to all writers and activists who propose radical lesbian feminist and other radical feminist principles, values, and practices to address and remove from society all vestiges of white male dominance, Global Western/Global Northern dominance, corporate capitalist dominance, Christian dominance, het men's dominance, gay male dominance in queer community, and M2F transsexual and male-privileged people's dominance in trans community and discourse.

One person singled out, often enough as a "transphobe", in blogland by many men--het and gay--and a few vocal M2F transsexuals, is Sheila Jeffreys. Sheila offers to us a unique and tremendously important collection of books, feminist lesbian herstory, radical feminist analysis and theory, and proposals for social change. To ignore her, reject her, turn her into "just a bigot", and otherwise scorn and ridicule her, is, to me, to be virulently pro-patriarchal. It is to make women's liberation less likely.

I believe in critique of all writers, perhaps most especially non-radical and anti-radical ones. But if the critique is being leveled at the work of radical activists, it ought to be done only if the work is engaged with fully--which means it must be read, with sincere interest, with genuine regard and appreciation, and with openness to apprehending and comprehending what the author is describing and expressing. I have yet to see anyone in non-lesbian queer community do this with Jeffreys' work. Why is that? I'd say it's because she is a radical lesbian feminist, promoting the removal of societies of white male supremacy and the forms of violence that inhere in them, including the anti-lesbian ideologies and violence.

If those of us who are trans and intergender want our work, our writing, our activism, to be respected, ought we not demonstrate how to show respect by honoring and valuing the work of those radical activists and thinkers who take on the status quo? Or, are we only interesting in offering up a vision of the status quo that makes more room for us? And, in the process, are we accepting of the practice of disrespecting and disregarding, or insulting and degrading, radical authors and their theories and practices? The answer inside and outside queer communities appears to be, "Yes. That's exactly what we promote and protect as grossly bigoted mistreatment and dismissal of radical writers and activists, but only if they are lesbian-feminist."

Liberalism is a social practice of attempting to make room for oppressed people by never uprooting the systems and institutions that perpetuate oppression. Conservatism is a social practice that seeks to prevent such acceptance and social change. Indigenism is a social-cultural-spiritual practice which seeks to restore to the Earth ways of being and doing that are not perpetually at war with the Earth and animals, or other human beings. Indigenism is anti-genocidal. Liberalism and Conservatism are not. They are, explicitly or implicitly, overtly or covertly, supportive of and practicing genocide. And also white supremacy. Also Christian supremacy. Also het male supremacy. Also misogyny against girls and women in all social spheres, including in queer and trans communities. To be concerned with "trans-misogyny" without being just as concerned with misogyny generally, is to be anti-trans and anti-woman both. To be concerned with cis-sexism and not sexism generally, is to promote male supremacy, male dominance, and men's rule in all our communities.

I'd also like to note that terms like cis-sexism, trans-misogyny, and cisgender privilege are constructions of Academic writers and elitist bloggers. They have no real meaning in the real lives of non-blogging, non-Academic trans and non-trans people. This is an elephant in the room that ought to be named, as privileged, elitist M2F transsexuals in some environments are pretending these are significant, irrefutable forms of oppression, discrimination, and bigotry. They are not. Misogyny is. White supremacy is. Anti-Indigenism is. Militarism and economic terrorism is.

Our oppression--across gender, class, race, region, ethnicity, age, ability, and sexuality, is rooted in those very few realities and in nothing other than those. Heterosexism, for example, isn't existent elsewhere. Nor is cultural bigotry. Nor is warfare. Nor is poverty. What is your activism doing to end those core realities? Do your social change programs and practices aim to accomplish the removal from the world of misogyny, white supremacy, anti-Indigenist genocide, militarism, and economic terrorism? Conservatism wants genocide and misogyny to reign. Make no mistake about it. Liberalism pretends to be concerned but has no program or practice for ending genocide or misogyny. Only radical feminist theory and practice, and Indigenist/Indigenous theory and practice, offer values and perspectives geared to remove from the Earth the forces which are destroying us all.

What about the white male supremacist Left? What of men's versions of Socialism? What of men's vision of Communism? What of Progressivism? What about white's and men's environmentalism? These political theories, philosophies, and efforts are generally and historically so steeped in Western white male dominance, in the assumptions and values that make white male dominance socially existent, with no hope for any other reality. To better understand their limitations, I recommend reading the work of Andrea Smith, Angela Davis, Marimba Ani, Ward Churchill, and Vandana Shiva.

And Andrea Dworkin. And Patricia Hill Collins. And Catharine A. MacKinnon. And Mary Daly. And Sheila Jeffreys too.

Queer theorists--all that I have encountered with no exceptions, offer no program or practice for ending all three of these atrocities: genocide, gynocide, and ecocide. For these reasons and others, I find them to be morally bankrupt and politically irresponsible. I feel this is also the case with for white het men's theories and practices. If focusing on het white men, only Derrick Jensen and Robert Jensen (who has historically also not been het) offer up theories that are rooted enough in radical feminist and/or anti-racist practice to be valuable. Tim Wise ignores women of color's realities as central to his understandings of what racism is and how it functions as misogyny. Most people of color are women. This is a glaring lack of commitment to ending the racism that is also sexism on his part. I hope his future work centralises the experiences, theories, and practices of radical women of color.

I know of no men of color who take radical lesbian feminism--including the work of Audre Lorde and Alice Walker--seriously as an approach to changing the world we live in. I know of no men, across race and sexuality, who will even approach Audre Lorde's essay "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power"--one of the most radical* speeches ever delivered, with respect and earnest interest in applying what she says there to our radical activist work. I welcome the readers familiarising me with men of any color who do.

[*Radical: getting to the roots of the issue.]

Regardless of whether or not there are a few such men, it still will be women, must be women, who lead the movements of liberation. It cannot be otherwise. Men seek to rule women wherever men value male privileges entitlements, and masculinist manifestations and expressions of power, more than dignity and security for all people. Men, as a class, will not wipe rape from the Earth if left to their own values and practices because men gain too much, materially, from the reality of rape. Men, as a class, and male privileged people generally, are also not demonstrating themselves to be capable of non-rationally or viscerally or emotionally understanding the meaning of having your body targeted and treated as "for rape and other violations" from birth to death. Men and male privileged people are not demonstrating any regard for girls the world over.

I welcome evidence of systematic, globalised, and sustained activism by men that proves me wrong. I welcome learning I am wrong. Girls' and women's humanity and liberation, it surely seems to me, requires men to unilaterally step down from positions of unearned and unjust authority, control, and rule. Or be taken down. As usual, the choice is men's.


lauren said...

Women, on the rock bottom, are often expected to fight other people's battles. I have been at big anti-racism rallies only to think 'would this many people come out for women?. I see it often among the gay men I have worked with and have been close friends with. Everything's OK until you mention feminism.

I believe firmly that our job as women is to help each other and survive. We can be allies to other struggles, but should never be expected to fight anyone elses battles. Being overworked, underpaid and unpaid and at constant risk for violence from men, w/o health care, affordaable healthy food, housing or childcare, it's a wonder we survive. And many of us don't.

As for Ward Churchill, as important as his writing is, I have heard too much misogyny come from his mouth.

Julian Real said...

Hi Lauren,

I have some questions regarding your comment. This will likely be a two-part comment.

Women, on the rock bottom, are often expected to fight other people's battles.

I agree--in the context of activism. Woman-centered movements are not supported by men.

I have been at big anti-racism rallies only to think 'would this many people come out for women?.

I am concerned about that statement, honestly. Why? Because anti-racism is part of the anti-misogyny project, and I certainly can't assume women at such a rally to end racism are not their "for themselves". But, in the context of the real world, we know--and I get that you do too--that any major anti-racism rally is going to be centered on the experiences of men of color, not women of color.

So, the rally isn't likely to center on the intersections of being of color and a woman--dealing with crimes by white men against women of color, for example.

I see it often among the gay men I have worked with and have been close friends with. Everything's OK until you mention feminism.

Ditto. Ditto. Ditto. And ditto. I have lost all faith in gay men to organise on behalf of women, to end male supremacy/male dominance, including gay men's dominance in queer spaces and communities.

I believe firmly that our job as women is to help each other and survive. We can be allies to other struggles, but should never be expected to fight anyone elses battles.

This is a really problematic statement to me, and if I'm mis-reading it, I surely welcome you to correct my misread.

What battles are "not women's battles"? Anti-racism work? Anti-heterosexism work? Anti-capitalism work?

For me the issue is: "Who is leading the movement or campaign?" along with: "Which perspective drives the activism, and which values and practices are being promoted to address the social-political wrong?"

I'm not sure what activism you are addressing that would be for women only. Anti-rape-as-terrorism activism needs to happen. And while I don't believe men will ever take up this issue/campaign, I wouldn't want to put that work on the shoulders of women. This is discouraging and infuriating, imo, given that we know men, as a class, won't do a damned thing to end rape. But with Andrea Smith's first chapter in Conquest, what is "anti-rape" work, exactly? Which women's rapes? Because if we're talking about the rape of American Indian women, or Afghan or Iraqi women under siege by the U.S. government, the rapists aren't only re-enforcing male supremacy, but also white supremacy and militarism, among other atrocities against women.

Being overworked, underpaid and unpaid and at constant risk for violence from men, w/o health care, affordable healthy food, housing or childcare, it's a wonder we survive. And many of us don't.

Indeed. And when we consider how many males do survive because of women's care, only to be betrayed--in innumerable ways--by those men.

Julian Real said...

As for Ward Churchill, as important as his writing is, I have heard too much misogyny come from his mouth.

It's also the battery charges, the possibly battery of American Indian women that result in me raising his work and name here infrequently.

I do need to replace his name with that of pro-woman, pro-Indigenist, Native/First Nations/Aboriginal people, preferably women.

I questioned myself about naming him, promoting his written work. One issue for me is this: I promote the work of other men, or have in the past, who show a glaring lack of regard for women of color, while addressing atrocities that happen to white women. Should I not mention them either?

And, we know there are plenty of white people across gender who show no regard for or respect to women of color, who have never put the concerns and realities of women of color at the center of their activist work; who have never "allowed" women of color to take positions of leadership within their organisations. Should I not promote their work? These are complex questions and issues, for me. Ward Churchill has written some excellent pro-Indigenist work. Radical and incisive. I deeply value much of his written work, while not valuing him as a man.

Someone once came here and charged me with linking to a transphobic blog. I went to her blog and found plenty of links to racist women's blogs and noted that fact--is her "promoting" misogyny in the form of racism less significant and injurious to women worldwide than my promotion of the misogyny of transphobia? She is white and asked which blogs she links to were racist, and I responded that I wasn't going to name names, and that it should be obvious, given the concerns raised on the particular blogs--and whose voices are centralised there.

But I do welcome people offering me the names and work (and links, where they exist) of other pro-Indigenist activists/writers who center women's realities in their activist efforts, or, at least, as you note, people who are not misogynistic (or racist or silent on the issue of global genocide). I surely don't include Ward Churchill in that category of activist-writers, but have to contend with the fact that white feminist writing that ignores the realities of Indigenous women, or Black women, or Brown women, or Asian women, does nothing to end the raced-gendered atrocities killing and stealing the resources many groups of women of color need to survive sustainably.

Sheila Jeffreys' work is not responsibly attentive to the specific harms done to women of color, imo. She doesn't center the experiences of women of color in her books. And, of course, there are plenty of writers across race and gender who ignore the realities of lesbian women. Jeffreys' work is deeply concerned with lesbian women's lives, but that tends to mean white UK/Australian/Euro lesbian women's lives. I welcome correction if I'm wrong in my determinations and assessments.

Given that white women are women, and the fact that there is overlap in atrocities and systems of destruction that harm white women AND women of color, I believe her work ought to be read and considered. But ought not any work written by any *radical* activist who is white deal with what their whiteness means for women of color.

Similarly, ought not Tim Wise's writings deal not only with his whiteness and the problem of white supremacy, but with his manhood and male supremacy as well?

For me the answer is a definitive YES. His work must address both the dominance and privileges of whites and men, or it (he) fails to hold women of color in as much regard as men of color.

Julian Real said...

Hey Cerien,

Thanks so much for your comment, and if you want to write a guest post on this subject, please do so.

I am thinking about your opening line:

The function of a binary is just to provide an enforceable set of castes for the hierarchy to work on.

Following up on that point (do you agree with this?):

To me, the function of discussion of gender as a binary is to provide an effective academically (and otherwise institutionally) supported smokescreen to ignore the hierarchy that gender always is in societies invasively shaped by or fundamentally constituted by CRAP.

Also, what is so terribly striking to me is this: gender, sexuality, and race, to name three key sites of contemporary white male supremacy, have never been "binaries" in real life: two social or biological phenomena that are mutually distinguishable and the opposite of each other. They are only binaries in the imaginations, philosophies, institutions, and academic texts of oppressors who refuse to address and challenge white male supremacy and domination as such.

The trauma and pain caused by racist-misogynist brutality of white male supremacists and WMS institutions will not be named (identified and challenged) by conservatives, liberals, progressives, and anti-feminist/anti-Indigenist or non-feminist/non-Indigenist radicals. That's my experience, anyway. Is it also yours?

Instead, other emotional, psychic, physical, political realities dominate the discourse, as well as other theories and other agendas. And, inevitably and often intentionally, those theories and agendas disappear white male supremacist harm as such.

So, to name some examples, we can, socially, promote the Pocahontas story as one of love and romance, not colonisation, slavery, and rape of an Indigenous girl by a white man. Sexually racist exploitation and white misogynist violence disappears--for the maintenance of whose entitlements and power or to promote whose liberation? For the liberation of Indigenous Peoples globally? To challenge and diffuse the entitlements and power of white men globally?

We can, socially, promote and appropriate the story of Tenna Brandon (the name Tenna used) as one of an F2M trans person, not as the story of a white woman survivor of incest and white male supremacy. Incest disappears--for the maintenance of whose entitlements and power, and for whose liberation? That of lesbians and incest survivors?

That each of those stories are culturally popular in the dominant imagination, and materially successful in Hollywood or through more independent movie-makers, what does that tell us? It tells me that exposing the NAMED white male supremacy, and the brutality and pain of violence against Indigenous women, and against lesbian women, and against girls, is not allowed to be socially told in any media stories--in news stories, in documentaries, or in dramatic motion pictures. The stories which make white male supremacy and its violence--white men's violence--blatantly undeniable as such, will not be told or will be buried as quickly as it is born. And so, most radical feminist books are out of print, while Queer Theory books and racist-misogynist storytelling-in-media thrives.

Julian Real said...

As I read the work of radical lesbian feminists of many colors, gender is a complex political reality, which includes how power shifts across age, for example.

I observe that boys are not, in terms of power and privileges, the same gender as men. This reality, in the English-speaking West, tends to be generally ignored outside radical feminist work--I think Andrea Dworkin addresses this specifically. It gets touched on by people promoting "Men's Studies". But in that frame and academic work, too often, other forms of male supremacy are invisibilised, such as that found and felt in anti-Indigenism and racism generally. White male supremacy, when focused on by white male academics, generally ignores or decentralise or invisibilise the reality of girlhood--and how boys oppress girls. Most Men's Studies programs focus on how boys hurt one another. Such programs and professors also tend to ignore womanhood, inventing worlds in which men only effect and oppress other men. One might argue, "Isn't that the appropriate focus for a department called Men's Studies? My answer is this: the creation and political function of [white] Men's Studies, [white] Queer Studies, and [white] Sexuality Studies as their own disciplines is to rob money, other resources, and political focus from the agendas and analyses centered in what once were (and rarely still are) radical feminist Women's Studies programs. (And, yes, too many WS programs were and are also white-centric.)

Shifting away from "men" and back to "women", I consider this reality: being a girl and becoming a woman is a politically enforced, violently gendered and raced experience always benefiting white men, globally, as a class, materially and otherwise.

There is an irrefutable experiential relationship between that transition in gender from girlhood to womanhood. Male-dominated systems and also men and boys, individually, never release women and girls from the burden of having to be female-in-patriarchy.

White male supremacy targets and harms girls, globally, many of whom won't get to grow up to be adults too often because they are grossly mistreated as if they were adult women, but in childhood.

What are we promoting, exactly, politically, when we espouse a social practices and policies encouraging girls to become men and boys to become women?

If we don't invisibilise incest and the raced and gendered aspects of child sexual abuse and white male supremacy generally, aren't we who promote an over-simplified politic of gender-binaries-in-need-of-being-transgressed, also (inadvertently) advocating for girls to become rapists and boys to become more frequently raped as adults?

To be a man, socially, politically, is to support, protect, and defend rape and trafficking as practices of white male entitlement, whether or not the individual men who protect their "rights" actually rape or traffic girls and women.

To be a woman, socially, politically, is to be targeted for disrespect, degradation, harassment, harassment, rape, and the ravages of economic and environmental violence in every sphere of life, private, public, personal, and social.

Why are any academics or activists supporting the maintenance of medical, academic, economic, sexual and other political institutions promoting and enforcing the gendering of anyone?

Julian Real said...

Girls-to-women and boys-to-men as political processes necessitating gross violation and force is a dimension of transgender experience, to me, that too many het, queer, transgender, and transsexual activists don't speak of, when discussing gender in terms of it being a binary.

With the very well-published promotion of the idea that gender is an enforced transphobic/heterosexist binary, not an enforced racist-sexist hierarchy that intricately involves age, race, region, gender, sexuality, among other realities, we are left with popular ideas that people can cross gender in age, in time. And that notion doesn't appreciate or account for how gender transforms a person in their own lifetime, from girlhood to womanhood, or through boyhood to manhood.

The issue of what happens when girls become men or boys become women typically invisibilises or minimises the roles of misogyny/gynocide, racism/white supremacy, anti-Indigenism/genocide, and capitalism/ecocide as forces oppressing girls who become women in very specific and destructive ways.

In popular queer/trans discourse, we are left with an idea that "the problem" is limiting boys and men's access to femininity or girls and women's access to masculinity--as if femininity and masculinity don't exist to destroy girls and women, and also boys or men who refuse to hide features of their being that are deemed "feminine" by het men.

We can note that both femininity and masculinity, when they show up in girls and women, are sources of females-in-patriarchy being punished. Girls and women have no relief, including in the process of being forcibly feminised.

However, masculine boys and men can (as people atop a hierarchy) find status, power, privilege, entitlement, advantage, and positions of ownership, exploitation, and rule over everyone else.

When do Queer/Trans/Gay (and Het male) Theorists' and Academics' discussions of "the gender binary" discuss any of these realities?

The only group of theorists I know who address these issues are race-oppressed and race-responsible radical feminists, including, especially and notably, radical lesbian feminists.

Let's consider several of the het male/gay (male)/queer (male-dominated)/trans (M2F-dominated) criticisms of radical lesbian feminism. First, there is an absurd assumption that there is only one RLF viewpoint. Beyond that and the ceaseless charges of RLF being man-hating, homophobic, and transphobic, is that it ignores too much about the complexity of gender.

I'm leveling that charge directly at the spokespeople for het, gay, queer, and trans academics and activists, all of whom, to me, systematically and willfully betray girls' and women's battle to endure and end gynocidal atrocities.