|photograph of Sheila Jeffreys is from here|
Background post: http://radicalprofeminist.blogspot.com/2008/09/what-does-radical-mean.html
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.