Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Roman Polanski is finally arrested for intoxicating, photographing, and raping a thirteen year old girl

[photograph of raper of a girl and film director, Roman Polanski, from here, which also has a timeline of U.S. efforts to arrest him over the decades]

From the very important blog, abyss2hope:

Polanski was arrested in Switzerland and is now facing extradition to the US which for some is viewed as the first step to seeing him get away with his crime and get away with fleeing justice before he was sentenced.

The teenager's troubling--and contemporaneous--account of her abuse at Polanski's hands begins with her posing twice for topless photos that the director said were for French Vogue.

This is child porn and if this was where the crime stopped this would, under current laws, be child abuse and a serious felony. But this isn't where Roman Polanski's crime stopped. Not included in this quote but included in the transcript is that he gave a minor alcohol soon after entering Jack Nicholson's house on the second photo shoot, an action which was and is a crime and which was witnessed by a third party.

He even used the glass of champagne as a prop in photos he took which gave that action an innocent overtone. He not only had her hold the glass but he had her drink while being photographed. This strikes me as highly deceptive. He could easily have her drink a soft drink of similar coloring if his only purpose was the one he claimed.

By using his authority as someone taking photos for a specific legitimate purpose it makes sense that a child would do as she was told by someone who seemed interested in doing nothing more than he'd gotten permission to do. She wouldn't know when the pictures being taken of her weren't for French Vogue. Her perception of danger would be reduced significantly under the influence of alcohol. She was quite literally, impaired.

This is called misusing authority. Writing that feels patronizing, but too many people refuse to understand this concept which plays out in the actions described during grand jury testimony.

[For the whole post, please see here.]


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

On White Privilege: Marilyn Frye, from "The Politics of Reality"

[the above photograph of Marilyn Frye is from here]

With gratitude to ALD for posting part of this on her blog, thereby reminding me of something I read over twenty years ago. When I can't remember most of the content of an excellent radical feminist essay, it's time to read the essay again!! There have been some format-transfer related tyops, which I hopefully corrected in what appears below. (Note to part of the discussion on Jews and whiteness: not all Jews can pass as white. Many Jews of color cannot.)

What immediately follows are four excerpts from the full essay below these passages:

I was at a poetry reading by the Black lesbian feminist, Audre Lorde. In her poems she invoked African goddesses, naming several of them. After the reading a white woman rose to speak. She said first that she was very ignorant of African religious and cultural history, and then she asked the poet to spell the names of these goddesses and to tell her where she might look for their stories. The poet replied by telling her that there is a bibliography in the back of the book from which she was reading which would provide the relevant information. The white woman did not thank the poet and sit down. The white woman (who I know is literate) said, "I see, but will you spell their names for me?" What I saw was a white woman committed to her ignorance and being stubborn in its defense. She would convince herself that she cannot use this bibliography if the Black woman will not spell the names for her. She will say she tried to repair her ignorance but the poet would not cooperate. The poet. The Black woman poet who troubled herself to include a bibliography in her book of poems. [...]

White women's attachments to white men have a great deal to do with our race privilege, with our racism and with our inabilities to understand these. Race and racism also have a great deal to do with white women's attachment to white men. [...]

In the all white or mostly white environments I have usually lived and worked in, when the women start talking up feminism and lesbian feminism, we are very commonly challenged with the claim that if we had our way, the species would die out. (The assumption our critics make here is that if women had a choice, we would never have intercourse and never bear children. This reveals a lot about the critics' own assessment of the joys of sex, pregnancy, birthing and motherhood.) They say the species would die out. What I suspect is that the critics confuse the white race with the human species, just as men have confused males with the human species. What the critics are saying, once it is decoded, is that the white race might die out. The demand that white women make white babies to keep the race afloat has not been overt, but I think it is being made over and over again in disguised form as a preachment within an all-white context about our duty to keep the species afloat. [...]

Race is a tie that binds us to men: "us" being white women, and "men" being white men. If we wish not to be bound in subordination to men, we have to give up trading on our white skin for white men's race privilege.

(You can click on the title below to access the original source web page)

On Being White: Thinking Toward a Feminist Understanding of Race and Race Supremacy*
By Marilyn Frye
From The Politics Of Reality: Essays In Feminist Theory
(The Crossing Press 1983)


White feminists come to renewed and earnest thought about racism not entirely spontaneously. We are pressed by women of color. Women of color have been at feminist conferences, meetings and festivals and speaking up, pointing out that their needs and interests are not being taken into account nor answered and that much that white feminists do and say is racist. Some white feminists have been aware of and acting against racism all along, and spontaneously, but the topic of racism has arrived per force in the feminist newspapers and journals, at the National Women's Studies Association, in women's centers and women's bookstores in the last couple of years, not so much because some white feminists urged this but because women of color have demanded it.

Nonetheless, many white feminists have to a fair extent responded to the demand; by which I mean, white feminists have to a fair extent chosen to hear what it was usually in their power not to hear. The hearing is, as anyone who has been on the scene knows, sometimes very defensive, sometimes dulled by fear, sometimes alarmingly partial or distorted. But it has interested me that I and other white feminists have heard the objections and demands, for I think it is an aspect of race privilege to have a choice--a choice between the options of hearing and not hearing. That is part of what being white gets you.

This matter of the powers white feminists have because of being white came up for me very concretely in a real-life situation a while back. Conscientiously, and with the encouragement of various women of color-both friends and women speaking in the feminist press--a group of white women formed a white women's consciousness-raising group to identify and explore the racism in our lives with a view to dismantling the barriers that blocked our understanding and action in this matter. As is obvious from this description, we certainly thought of ourselves as doing the right thing. Some women of color talked with us about their view that it was racist to make it a group for white women only; we discussed our reasons and invited women of color who wanted to participate to come to the meeting for further discussion.

In a later community meeting, one Black woman criticized us very angrily for ever thinking we could achieve our goals by working only with white women. We said we never meant this few weeks of this particular kind of work to be all we ever did and told her we had decided at the beginning to organize a group open to all women shortly after our series of white women's meetings came to a close. Well, as some of you will know without my telling, we could hardly have said anything less satisfying to our critic. She exploded with rage: "You decided!" Yes. We consulted the opinions of some women of color, but still, we decided. "Isn't that what we are supposed to do?" we said to ourselves, "Take responsibility, decide what to do, and do something?" She seemed to be enraged by our making decisions, by our acting, by our doing anything. It seemed like doing nothing would be racist and whatever we did would be racist just because we did it. We began to lose hope; we felt bewildered and trapped. It seemed that what our critic was saying must be right; but what she was saying didn't seem to make any sense.

She seemed crazy to me.

That stopped me.

I paused and touched and weighed that seeming. It was familiar. I know it as deceptive, defensive. I know it from both sides; I have been thought crazy by others too righteous, too timid and too defended to grasp the enormity of our difference and the significance of their offenses. I backed off. To get my balance, I reached for what I knew when I was not frightened.

A woman was called "schizophrenic." She said her father was trying to kill her. He was beside himself: anguished and baffled that she would not drink coffee he brought her for fear he had poisoned it. How could she think that? But then, why had she "gone mad" and been reduced to incompetence by the ensuing familial and social processes? Was her father trying to kill her? No, of course not: he was a good-willed man and loved his daughter. But also, yes, of course. Every good fatherly thing about him, including his caring decisions about what will improve things for her, are poisonous to her. The Father is death to The Daughter. And she knows it.

What is it that our Black woman critic knows? Am I racist when I (a white woman) decide what I shall do to try to grow and heal the wounds and scars of racism among lesbians and feminists? Am I racist if I decide to do nothing? If I decide to refuse to work with other white women on our racism? My deciding, deciding anything, is poison to her. Is this what she knows?

Every choice or decision I make is made in a matrix of options. Racism distorts and limits that matrix in various ways. My being on the white side of racism leaves me a different variety of options than are available to a woman of color. As a white woman I have certain freedoms and liberties. When I use them, according to my white woman's judgment, to act on matters of racism, my enterprise reflects strangely on the matrix of options within which it is undertaken. In the case at hand, I was deciding when to relate to white women and when to relate to women of color according to what I thought would reduce my racism, enhance my growth and improve my politics. It becomes clearer why no decision I make here can fail to be an exercise of race privilege. (And yet this cannot be an excuse for not making a decision, though perhaps it suggests that a decision should be made at a different level.)

Does being white make it impossible for me to be a good person?


What is this "being white" that gets me into so much trouble, after so many years of seeming to me to be so benign? What is this privilege of race? What is race?

First, there is the matter of skin color. Supposedly one is white if one is white. I mean, one is a member of the white race if one's skin is white. But that is not really so. Many people whose skin is white, by which of course we don't really mean white, are Black or Mexican or Puerto Rican or Mohawk. And some people who are dark-skinned are white. Natives of India and Pakistan are generally counted as white in this country though perhaps to the average white American they look dark. While it cannot be denied that conceptions of race and of whiteness have much to do with fetishes about pigmentation, that seems to me not to be the Heart of Whiteness. Light skin may get a person counted as white; it does not make a person white.

Whiteness is, it seems pretty obvious, a social or political construct of some sort, something elaborated upon conceptions of kinship or common ancestry and upon ancient ethnocentric associations of good and evil with light and dark. Those who fashion this construct of whiteness, who elaborate on these conceptions, are primarily a certain group of males. It is their construct. They construct a conception of their "us," their kindred, their nation, their tribe. Earliest uses of the word `race' in English, according to The Oxford English Dictionary, make this clear. The people of one's race were those of a common lineage or ancestry. People of like coloring could be of different races. The connection of race to color was a historical development and one which did not entirely eclipse the earlier meaning. Race, as defined and conceived by the white male arbiters of conceptions, is still not entirely a matter of color. One can be very pale, and yet if there are persons of color in one's lineage, one can be classed as Black, Indian, etc.

On the other hand, it is the experience of light-skinned people from family and cultural backgrounds that are Black or another dark group that white people tend to disbelieve or discount their tellings of their histories. There is a pressure coming from white people to make light-skinned people be white. Michelle Cliff speaks of this in her book Claiming An Identity They Taught Me To Despise.(1) Cliff is a light-skinned woman who looks white to most white people. She encounters among white people resistance, even hostility, to her assertion that she is Black. In another case, a friend of mine to whom I have been quite close off and on for some fifteen or twenty years, noticed I was assuming she is white: she told me she had told me years ago that she is Mexican. Apparently I did not hear, or I forgot, or it was convenient for me to whitewash her.**

The concept of whiteness is not just used, in these cases, it is wielded. Whites exercise a power of defining who is white and who is not, and are jealous of that power.(2) If a light- skinned person of "colored" kinship claims to be white, and white people discover the person's background, they see that a person who might be a marginal case has decided what she is. Because the white person cannot allow that deciding, the decision must be reversed. On the other hand, when someone has been clearly and definitively decided to be white by whites, her claim that she is not white must be challenged; again because anyone who is even possibly marginal cannot be allowed to draw the line. To such a person, a white person is saying: I have decided you are white so you are white, because what I say about who is white and who is not is definitive.

To be white is to be a member of an in-group, a kin group, which is self-defining. Just as with fraternities or sororities, the power to draw the membership line is jealously guarded. Though a variety of traits and histories are relevant to whether one will be defined into or out of that group, one essential thing is that the group is self-defining, that it exercises control of access to membership. Members can bend the rules of membership anytime, if that is necessary to assert the members' sole and exclusive authority to decide who is a member; in fact, bending the rules is an ideal expression of that authority.

A particularly insidious expression of this emerges when members of the self-appointed "superior" group tend casually to grant membership by "generously" giving people "the benefit of the doubt." If the question does not arise, or does not arise explicitly or blatantly, one will generally be assumed by white people to be white, since the contrary assumption might be (by white judgment) insulting. A parallel to this is the arrogant presumption on the part of heterosexual people that anyone they meet is heterosexual. The question often must be made to arise, blatantly and explicitly, before the heterosexual person will consider the thought that one is lesbian or homosexual. Otherwise, even if some doubt arises, one will be given the dubious benefit of the doubt rather than be thought "ill" of, that is, suspected of "deviance."

The parallelism of heterosexuality and whiteness holds up in at least one more respect. In both cases there are certain members of the dominant group who systematically do not give the benefit of their doubt. They seem on the lookout for people whom they can suppose want to pass as members of their club. These are the sorts of people who are fabulously sensitive to clues that someone is Mulatto, Jewish, Indian or gay, and are eager to notify others of the person's supposed pretense of being "normal" or "white" (or whatever), though the person may have been making no pretense at all.*** This latter type is quite commonly recognized as a racist, anti-Semite or homophobe, while the other type, the one who "graciously" lets the possibly deviant/dark person pass as normal/white, is often considered a nice person and not a bigot. People of both types seem to me to be equally arrogant: both are arrogating definitional power to themselves and thereby asserting that defining is exclusively their prerogative.

I think that almost all white people engage in the activity of defining membership in the group of white people in one or another of these modes, quite un-self-consciously and quite constantly. It is very hard, in individual cases, to give up this habit and await people's deciding for themselves what group they are members of.

The tendency of members of the group called white to be generously inclusive, to count as white anybody not obviously nonwhite, seems to be of a piece with another habit of members of that group, namely, the habit of false universalization. As feminists we are very familiar with the male version of this: the men write and speak and presumably, therefore, also think, as though whatever is true of them is true of everybody. White people also speak in universals. A great deal of what has been written by white feminists is limited by this sort of false universalization. Much of what we have said is accurate only if taken to be about white women and white men within white culture (middle-class white women and white men, in fact). For the most part, it never occurred to us to modify our nouns accordingly; to our minds the people we were writing about were people. We don't think of ourselves as white.

It is an important breakthrough for a member of a dominant group to come to know s/he is a member of a group, to know that what s/he is is only a part of humanity. It was breathtaking to discover that in the culture I was born and reared in, the word `woman' means white woman, just as we discovered before that the word `man' means male man. This sudden expansion of the scope of one's perception can produce a cold rush of awareness of the arbitrariness of the definitions, the brittleness of these boundaries. Escape becomes thinkable.

The group to which I belong, presumably by virtue of my pigmentation, is not ordained in Nature to be socially and politically recognized as a group, but is so ordained only by its own members through their own self-serving and politically motivated hoarding of definitional power. What this can mean to white people is that we are not white by nature but by political classification, and hence it is in principle possible to disaffiliate. If being white is not finally a matter of skin color, which is beyond our power to change, but of politics and power, then perhaps white individuals in a white supremacist society are not doomed to dominance by logic or nature.


Some of my experience has made me feel trapped and set up so that my actions are caught in a web that connects them inexorably to sources in white privilege and to consequences oppressive to people of color (especially to women of color). Clearly, if one wants to extricate oneself from such a fate or (if the feeling was deceptive) from such a feeling of fatedness, the first rule for the procedure can only be: educate oneself.

One can, and should, educate oneself and overcome the terrible limitations imposed by the abysmal ignorance inherent in racism. There are traps, of course. For instance, one may slip into a frame of mind which distances those one is learning about as "objects of study." While one is educating oneself about the experiences and perspectives of the peoples one is ignorant about, and in part as a corrective to the errors of one's ways, one should also be studying one's own ignorance. Ignorance is not something simple: it is not a simple lack, absence or emptiness, and it is not a passive state. Ignorance of this sort--the determined ignorance most white Americans have of American Indian tribes and clans, the ostrichlike ignorance most white Americans have of the histories of Asian peoples in this country, the impoverishing ignorance most white Americans have of Black language--ignorance of these sorts is a complex result of many acts and many negligences. To begin to appreciate this one need only hear the active verb to ignore' in the word `ignorance'. Our ignorance is perpetuated for us in many ways and we have many ways of perpetuating it for ourselves.

I was at a poetry reading by the Black lesbian feminist, Audre Lorde. In her poems she invoked African goddesses, naming several of them. After the reading a white woman rose to speak. She said first that she was very ignorant of African religious and cultural history, and then she asked the poet to spell the names of these goddesses and to tell her where she might look for their stories. The poet replied by telling her that there is a bibliography in the back of the book from which she was reading which would provide the relevant information. The white woman did not thank the poet and sit down. The white woman (who I know is literate) said, "I see, but will you spell their names for me?" What I saw was a white woman committed to her ignorance and being stubborn in its defense. She would convince herself that she cannot use this bibliography if the Black woman will not spell the names for her. She will say she tried to repair her ignorance but the poet would not cooperate. The poet. The Black woman poet who troubled herself to include a bibliography in her book of poems. ****

In Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man(3) (a book of considerable value to feminists), one can see the structures of white ignorance from the side of the ignored. Nothing the protagonist can do makes him visible. He wants nothing so badly as to be seen and heard. But he is frustrated by an opaque and dense veil made up of lies the white men tell each other about Black men. He is ignored nearly to death.

There is an enlightening account of some structures of white ignorance also in a story called "Meditations on History," by Sherley Ann Williams.(4) In the story, a man who is writing a book about how to manage slaves is visiting a place where a slave woman is being held until her baby is born so that, when they hang her for running away and killing a white man, her owner will at least have the baby to make up for his loss. The writer is interviewing the woman to find out why she killed the slave trader, and why and how the slaves got loose. (His ignorance is, of course, already showing, along with some of the structures which both motivate and support it.) He is irritated by her humming and singing, but it never occurs to him that it means anything. By way of her songs, the woman is able to conspire with the other slaves around the place; she tells them that her friends will come to rescue her and notifies them when the time is at hand; they cooperate with her, and she escapes. The hapless interviewer is totally baffled by her escape. His presumptions have closed out knowledge; his ignorance has been self-constructed. His ignorance has also been both encouraged and used by the slave woman, who has deliberately and reasonably played on it by pretending to be stupid, robotic and disoriented. It was certainly not in her interest to disabuse him of his assumptions that her singing was mindless and that she was too mindless to be plotting an escape. Ignorance works like this, creating the conditions which ensure its continuance.

White women can dip into our own experience as women for knowledge of the ways in which ignorance is complex and willful, for we know from our interactions with white men (and not necessarily only with men who are white) the "absence" imposed on us by our not being taken seriously, and we sense its motivation and know it is not simply accidental oversight.

If one wonders at the mechanisms of ignorance, at how a person can be right there and see and hear, and yet not know, one of the answers lies with the matter of attention. The man in Williams' story constantly daydreams about what a great success his book is going to be; he has compelling fantasies of his own fame and recognition-recognition by white men, of course. He is much more intent upon the matter of whom he will please and impress than he is upon the matter at hand. Members of dominant groups are habitually busy with impressing each other and care more for that than for actually knowing what is going on. And again, white women can learn from our own experience a propos (most often, white) men. We do much of what we do with a great anxiety for how we will be received by men-by mentors, friends, husbands, lovers, editors, members of our disciplines, professions or political groups, tenure-review committees, fathers. With our attention focused on these men, or our imaginings of them, we cannot pay attention to the matter at hand and will wind up ignorant of things which were perfectly apparent. Thus, without any specific effort these men can turn white women to the work of falsification even as we try to educate ourselves. Since white women are almost white men, being white, at least, and sometimes more-or-less honorary men, we can cling to a hope of true membership in the dominant and powerful group, and if our focus is thus locked on them by this futile hope, we can be stuck in our ignorance and theirs all our lives. (Some men of color fall into the parallel trap of hoping for membership in the dominant and powerful group, this time because of their sex. With their attention focused on power and money, they cannot see women, of their race or any other.) Attention has everything to do with knowledge.


White women's attachments to white men have a great deal to do with our race privilege, with our racism and with our inabilities to understand these. Race and racism also have a great deal to do with white women's attachment to white men. We need to look at these connections more closely. Within the span of a few days, a little while back, I encountered three things that came together like pieces of a simple puzzle: 1. I heard a report on the radio about the "new" Klan. It included a recording of a man making a speech to the effect that the white race is threatened with extinction. He explicitly compared the white race to the species of animals that are classed as "endangered" and protected by laws. He also noted with concern the fact that ten years ago the population of Canada was 98 percent white and it is now only 87 percent white.# 2. In a report in the feminist newspaper Big Mama Rag, it was pointed out that "they" are making it virtually impossible for white women to get abortions while forcing sterilization of women of color both in the United States and around the world. 3. In the feminist magazine Conditions, No. 7, there was a conversation among several Black and Jewish lesbians. Among other things, they discussed the matter of the pressure on them to have Black or Jewish babies, to contribute to the survival of their races, which are threatened with extinction. ## I think on all this. For hundreds of years and for a variety of reasons, mostly economic, white men of European stock have been out, world-wide, conquering, colonizing and enslaving people they classify as dark, earning the latter's hatred and rage in megadeath magnitudes. For hundreds of years, those same white men have known they were a minority in the population of the world, and more recently many of them, have believed in the doctrine that darkness is genetically dominant. White men have their reasons to be afraid of racial extinction.###

I begin to think that this fear is one of the crucial sources of white racism even among the nonrabid who do not actively participate in Klan Kulture. This suggests a reading of the dominant culture's immense pressure on "women" to be mothers. The dominant culture is white, and its pressure is on white women to have white babies. The magazine images of the glories of motherhood do not show white mothers with little brown babies. Feminists have commonly recognized that the pressures of compulsory motherhood on women of color is not just pressure to keep women down, but pressure to keep the populations of their races up; we have not so commonly thought that the pressures of compulsory motherhood on white women are not just pressures to keep women down, but pressure to keep the white population up.

This aspect of compulsory motherhood for white women--white men's anxiety for the survival of their race####--has not been explicit or articulate in the lifetimes and lives of white women in my circles, and the pressure to make babies has been moderated by the pressure for "family planning" (which I interpret as a project of quality control). But what is common and overt in primarily white circles where the racism runs deep and mostly silent is another curious phenomenon.

In the all white or mostly white environments I have usually lived and worked in, when the women start talking up feminism and lesbian feminism, we are very commonly challenged with the claim that if we had our way, the species would die out. (The assumption our critics make here is that if women had a choice, we would never have intercourse and never bear children. This reveals a lot about the critics' own assessment of the joys of sex, pregnancy, birthing and motherhood.) They say the species would die out. What I suspect is that the critics confuse the white race with the human species, just as men have confused males with the human species. What the critics are saying, once it is decoded, is that the white race might die out. The demand that white women make white babies to keep the race afloat has not been overt, but I think it is being made over and over again in disguised form as a preachment within an all-white context about our duty to keep the species afloat.

Many white women, certainly many white feminists in the milieux I am familiar with, have not consciously thought that white men may be fearing racial extinction and, at the least, wanting our services to maintain their numbers. Perhaps here in middle America, most white women are so secure in white dominance that such insecure thoughts as whether there are enough white people around do not occur. But also, because we white women have been able to think of ourselves as looking just at women and men when we really were looking at white women and white men, we have generally interpreted our connections with these men solely in terms of gender, sexism and male dominance. We have to figure their desire for racial dominance into the equations.

Simply as females, as mere women in this world, we who are female and white stand to be poor, ill-educated, preyed upon and despised. But because we are both female and white, we belong to that group of women from which the men of the racially dominant group choose their mates. Because of that we are given some access to the benefits they have as members of the racially dominant male group-access to material and educational benefits and the specious benefits of enjoying secondhand feelings of superiority and supremacy. We also have the specious benefit of a certain hope (a false hope, as it turns out) which women of subordinated races do not have, namely the hope of becoming actually dominant with the white men, as their "equals." This last pseudo-benefit binds us most closely to them in racial solidarity. A liberal while feminism would seek "equality"; we can hardly expect to be heard as saying we want social and economic status equal to that of, say, Chicanos. If what we want is equality with our' white brothers, then what we want is, among other things, our own firsthand participation in racial dominance rather than the secondhand ersatz dominance we get as the dominant group's women. No wonder such feminism has no credibility with women of color.

Race is a tie that binds us to men: "us" being white women, and "men" being white men. If we wish not to be bound in subordination to men, we have to give up trading on our white skin for white men's race privilege. And on the other hand, if we detach ourselves from reproductive service to white men (in the many senses and dimensions of "reproduction"), the threat we pose is not just to their male selves but to their white selves. White men's domination and control of' white women is essential to their project of maintaining their racial dominance. This is probably part of the explanation of' why the backlash against feminism overlaps in time and personnel with renewed intensity and overtness of white racism in this country. When their control of "their" women is threatened, their confidence in their racial dominance is threatened.

It is perfectly clear that this did not occur to many of us in advance, but for white women a radical feminism is treacherous to the white race as presently constructed and instituted in this country. The growing willingness of white women to forego the material benefits and ego supports available through connections with white men makes us much harder to contain and control as part of the base of their racial dominance. For many of us, resistance to white male domination was first, and quite naturally, action simply for our own release from a degradation and tyranny we hated in and of itself. But in this racial context, our pursuit of our liberation (I do not say "of equality") is, whether or not we so intend it, disloyal to Whiteness.

I recommend that we make this disloyalty an explicit part of our politics and embrace it, publicly. This can help us to steer clear of a superficial politics of just wanting what our white brothers have, and help us develop toward a genuine disaffiliation from that Whiteness that has, finally, so little to do with skin color and so much to do with racism.


In a certain way it is true that being white-skinned means that everything I do will be wrong--at the least an exercise of unwarranted privilege--and I will encounter the reasonable anger of women of color at every turn. But `white' also designates a political category, a sort of political fraternity. Membership in it is not in the same sense "fated" or "natural." It can be resisted.

There is a correct line on the matter of white racism which is, in fact, quite correct, to the effect that as a white person one must never claim not to be racist, but only to be anti-racist. The reasoning is that racism is so systematic and white privilege so impossible to escape, that one is, simply, trapped. On one level this is perfectly true and must always be taken into account. Taken as the whole and final truth, it is also unbearably and dangerously dismal. It would place us in the hopeless moral position of one who believes in original sin but in no mechanism of redemption. But white supremacy is not a law of nature, nor is any individual's complicity in it.

Feminists make use of a distinction between being male and being "a man," or masculine. I have enjoined males of' my acquaintance to set themselves against masculinity. I have asked them to think about how they can stop being men, and I was not recommending a sex-change operation. I do not know how they can stop being men, but I think it is thinkable, and it is a counsel of hope. Likewise I can set myself against Whiteness: I can give myself the injunction to stop being White.

I do not suggest for a moment that I can disaffiliate by a private act of will, or by any personal strategy. Nor, certainly, is it accomplished simply by thinking it possible. To think it thinkable shortcuts no work and shields one from no responsibility. Quite the contrary, it may be a necessary prerequisite to assuming responsibility, and it invites the honorable work of radical imagination.

* This is a slightly revised version of the text of a talk I delivered to general audience at Cornell University, sponsored by the Women's Studies Program, the Philosophy Department and the James H. Becker Alumni Lecture Series, October 29, 1981. In the revision process I profited from the comments and criticisms of Nancy K. Bereano, Michele Nevels, Carolyn Shafer, Sandra Siegel, Sharon Keller and Dorothy Yoshimuri This piece, more than any other in the collection, directly reflects and is limited by my own location, both culturally and in a process of change. The last thing I would want is that it be read either as my last, or as a complete, account of what whiteness is and of what that means to a white feminist. I do not for a moment take it or intend it to be either.

** As Ran Hall pointed out: "the definition of 'whitewash'--a concealing or glossing over of flaws--does not imply improving or correcting an object or situation but the covering of reality with a cheap, inferior disguise (whiteness)." See "dear martha," in Common Lives Lesbian Lives: A Lesbian Quarterly, No. 6., Winter, 1982, p. 40.

*** I have not generally included Jews in my lists of examples of "racial" groups because when I did, Jewish critics of this material said that the ways in which anti-Semitism and other sorts of racism are similar and different make such simple inclusion misleading. I include Jews among my examples right here because with respect specifically to these questions of being allowed or not allowed to "pass" (whether one wants to or not), anti-Semitism and other kinds of racism are similar. Although many Jews are politically white in many ways in this country, when they "pass" as non-Jewish, what they may get is the treatment and reception accorded to ordinary "white" Americans. Paradoxically, though Jewish is not equivalent to nonwhite, passing still seems to be passing as white. My thanks to Nancy Bereano for useful discussion of these matters.

**** I do not mean to suggest she provided the bibliography specifically or primarily for the education of white women; but it is reasonable to assume she thought it would be useful to whatever white woman might happen along with suitable curiosity.

# This report went by quickly and I had no way to take notes, so I cannot vouch either for his statistics or for the absolute accuracy of my report of his statistics, but these figures do accurately reflect the genera magnitude of "the problem" and of his problem.

## Many Blacks in this country have a global perspective which reveals that though white racism here has its genocidal aspect, Blacks in America are certainly not the whole Black race. For such people, the idea that their race is threatened with extinction may not have the force it would have for those with a more "american" perspective.

### Edward Fields, a principal ideologue and propagandist for the Klan, was asked if homosexuals are a threat to the white race. He replied that they are, and went on to say: "Our birthrate is extremely low. We are below population zero, below 2.5 children per family. The white race is going down fast, we are only 12% of the world population. In 1990, we'll be only 10% of the population worldwide. We'll be an extinct species of homosexuality continues to grow, interracial marriage continues to take people out of the white race, if our birthrate continues to fall." (quoted in "Into the Fires of Hatred: A Portrait of Klan Leader Edward Fields" by Lee David Hoshall with Nancy A. F. Langer, in Gay Community News November 6, 1982, p. 5.)

#### Male chauvinism makes the men think of themselves as the white race. In this context it is appropriate to call it their race, not "our" race.

1. Persephone Press, Watertown, Massachusetts, 1980.

2. Cf., "The Problem That Has No Name," in this collection, for discussion of the speciousness and of the effectiveness of such power.

3. Random House, New York, 1952.

4. In Midnight Birds, Stories of Contemporary Black Women Writers, edited by Mary Helen Washington (Anchor Doubleday, New York, 1980).

Feminist Reprise thanks Kya for her assistance in readying this article for the site.

Monday, September 28, 2009

On Compassion and Confrontation: Part 3 of White Heterosexual Male Privilege: a True and Not So Simple Story

[photograph of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was found here]

[Here is part one]

[Here is part two]


What I learned tonight is that white heterosexual men like to believe they are "just individuals" even while they compartmentalise women (and queer people, and people of color) into all sorts of categories and genres for consumption and exploitation. Even while men disdainfully exclaim, "Women!", and stare at women's breasts or buttocks or other body parts day after day, they insist to the rest of us: "Please don't forget, every white heterosexual man is only an individual, each one unique in every way, unlike any other." (This shows a glaring level of willful ignorance about the existence of the Whiteboy Brotherhood.)

The triple combo of privileges and entitlements due to whiteness, manhood, and heterosexuality makes this demographic particularly resistant to many things; gross stigmatisation is one; oppression by sexuality, gender, and race is another. Knowledge of what most of the world's human beings experience as universal human experience, that W.H.M. rarely experience at all, is another.

Men being lumped into one gendered group in any way that isn't worshipful or deferential, that doesn't stroke the ego or the cock, is cause for any man to sound the alarm of being "stereotyped", mistreated, and not seen as a human being. Dudes, the problem isn't that WE aren't seen as human beings. The problem is that we don't see WOMEN as human beings, each one individual, each one unique in some ways while sharing at least one condition of oppression, most women sharing at least two conditions of oppression: by race as well as sex.

We men get pissed and we sulk. We punch and we pout. Either way, it is usually women who have to attend to the man who is so insulted by a woman having done to him what he habitually and oppressively does every single day to every other group on Earth: turning them into "a demographic", a set of stereotypes, making them two dimensional, each one the same as the other. And I can hear Thoman chiming in "I'm NOT one of THEM." And perhaps he isn't. But my reply to this, in my own imagination, as well as posted to this blog is, "Yeah. Ok. Fine. You're not. And now tell me how, exactly, you challenge the men who ARE like that, to make the world safer and less oppressive for women?"

A socially dangerous idea that goes unchallenged among men, generally and usually, is men believing "women want to be raped". The idea that "women hate men", as noted in other posts on this blog, is not one that is socially dangerous. The first produces conditions that make all women feel or be unsafe, that targets women to be potentially and actually physically and psychically assaulted, one woman every three minutes in the U.S. The second is a bit of foolish hyperbole passed around as if it had weight in the world. Whether or not any women hate any men, or whether some women hate all men, there is no man who can tell me that, as a consequence of "this feeling of man-hating that some women have", women act on it by systematically shoving something violently into men's body cavities in order to reach orgasm with the knowledge they are humiliating the man, seen as existing for such abuse.

I cannot begin to tell you how many white men, myself included, have felt "the greatest insult and hurt ever" when we are treated as "a demographic" by those we oppress, which is to say, when we are called out for behaving in ways that are, in fact, very typical of our population.

When Donna told me that Thomas is hurt at not being seen as a friend, and instead as a demographic, I wanted to go to him and say, "Thomas. I'm a demographic and I'm your friend. We all are all, every one of us, both part of some demographic and individuals too. You don't get some special anti-demographic status just because you're not used to thinking of your race, your gender, and your sexuality as carrying great privilege and power. And, I love you. Sleep well tonight, ok?"

He was way too sulky and withdrawn, and I was too angry and perplexed about what the most woman-supporting thing to do would be, to put in the effort to "reach him" and confirm my love for him, and hear out his hurt and pain, and validate it, and probably not get around to telling him how what he did was really grossly insensitive to do in front of a woman who has been sexually harassed by men all week, and in front of a gay man who has a history of being sexually assaulted.

I know Thomas well enough to tell you this: he is not a survivor of sexual assault. So there's an experience that many of us have, a disproportionately female population, who know rape not as an idea, but as a traumatic act of invasion and violation, as a spiritual betrayal and irreparable breach of trust. If you only know of rape as an idea, it can be on par with every other idea you have. This partially explains why Thomas could actually think his perception of "the two offenses" were not morally or politically different. However, it mbust be stated unequivocally, that "being prevented, as an oppressor, from entering the space of the group your people oppress" is NOT THE SAME and is NOT MORE IMPORTANT than "being raped". And the language of men's entitlements and privilege--"I should get to go anywhere I want! I should never be prevented from entering a space!" is overtly rapist speech.

Double standards abound. White men want to be taken care of emotionally by women whenever we are hurt, in any way. Whenever we feel wronged, whenever we feel mistreated, whenever we feel victimised.

It is the case that some of us bind our identities to the ways in which we've been harmed, forgetting about the privileges we still carry. There are are several groups of people who are renowned, in my own experience, for doing this: white gay men, heterosexual men of color, and white women--both heterosexual and lesbian. It is dangerous to those we structurally oppress to forget we are positioned to be oppressors every moment of lives. And, it is utterly infuriating to be repeatedly told, by those who structurally oppresses you, that you are overreacting to what happened to you.

To all W.H.M.: If you aren't oppressed by gender, by race, or by sexuality, how can you possibly know what constitutes "an overreaction" to misogyny, racism, and heterosexism? If you are not oppressed in each of those ways, or in any of those ways, who the hell are you to tell someone who IS oppressed what "the appropriate response to my oppressive behavior" should be?! Or to be so arrogant as to name your own behavior "not harmful"?

It is extremely likely that when anyone who is oppressed is observed expressing the ways they've been harmed as victimisation, they will be immediately reprimanded by the insensitive or arrogant others--those who need every wound attended to with care and respect--to "stop playing the victim". Rarely, very rarely, will anyone in the same class as the oppressor of someone so hurt and victimised say "I'm sorry you are harmed traumatically and systematically. I'm deeply saddened that the pain of that trauma follows you and is intensified each new day by callousness and cruelty. I cannot know your pain, but I can see you are in pain and I offer you my personal apology for doing so little to prevent it from happening to you and to others."

After Andrea Dworkin spoke to a group of 500 anti-sexist men at a Men's Conference, several of them returned home to start activist groups putting out the word that men can and must stop rape.

If you are a white man, I invite you to be similarly inspired by reading that speech found here.

From one white man to another,


White Heterosexual Male Privilege, A True and Not So Simple Story, part 2 of 3

[Here is part one]

[Here is part three]


This is the part of the story where things get, how to say, "interesting".

The three of us are led into a discussion about the need for women to have safe spaces, and that spaces completely free of men are often experienced by some women as profoundly different, profoundly more safe, far less sexist, and much more enjoyable than spaces with men among them. I mention to Donna and Thomas The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival as one small portion of time and space where women strive to get this annually: a man-free zone and a space where one can, if possible, drop one's fear of being stranger raped by a man.

Donna's eyes light up. She works in a place where she is harassed by men daily, sometimes also more overtly threatened at work and afterwards, and if I'm reading her non-verbal cues correctly, I get the sense she'd LOVE to have this experience at least once.

Meanwhile Thomas balks at this, saying "I'm offended by those who would organise a space to be exclusive. All events should welcome everyone."

I say: "You don't respect the fact that women might want a space that is man-free so they can, for a relatively short period of time, feel safer than they do when among men?!" And "How often do women get the chance to live in such a space?!"

Donna adds: "What's your objection to women having a woman-only space for a couple of days?"

He responds "I'm offended by there being spaces I can't go into."

I am fuming inside; the pot is about to boil over. But I steady myself enough to ask, "Are you saying that the offense you'd feel by being excluded is just as important as the right of women to have space that is rape-free?"

He says, "Yes."

I reword my question, feeling horrified, infuriated, and slightly frightened, but I'm not really aware of feeling frightened until later. What I want to say is this:

"Well fuck you and your white heterosexual male privileges! Guess what? You DO get to go just about anywhere you want, and there aren't many spaces you're likely to encounter that will exclude you! Meanwhile, women are harassed and raped all the fucking time! And you think it's REASONABLE to equate one 'offense' with the other????!!!! Thomas, get this: rape is an atrocity, a gendered one men perpetrate against women en masse. You not being let into a women's gathering is, well, an most, an inconvenience. ATROCITY and INCONVENIENCE: NOT THE SAME THING!!!"

What I do say is, "Explain to me how the harm to you of being excluded from a group because you're a man is EQUAL to the harm of a woman getting raped."

He says, "I didn't say that."
I say, "Well that's what I heard you say!" (And proceed to tell him what he said a few moments ago.) "Tell me what you meant to say then?!"

He says, "I just believe we should live in a world where people aren't excluded."
I say, "OK. And meanwhile we're living here, now, in a world where virtually every woman I know has been harassed or raped." (And where there is, as Andrea Dworkin once noted, functionally a police state, in which women are not supposed to be out once the sun goes down, and if they are, well, then they asked for what they get, even rape. Which of course is about a fucked up and male supremacist and rapist as view as it gets.)

Donna says, "I'm harassed every day at work, at least once. And the other night I was followed by a creepy man."

I ask her, "When was that?"
She says, "Two nights ago." (I hadn't talked to her in a few days, and it was deeply upsetting to me that in that short period of time she's already had several more experiences of being verbally or physically threatened by men. I am fully enraged at dickhead, privilege-denying men, and am also very sad she had to experience that.)

He says, "I guess I don't want to accept how the world is."
I say, "Then your values don't have real meaning, because they aren't located in the real world."

He gets silent, and begins a long period of brooding. This pretty much ends our verbal contact for the evening, which is awkward, because we're not in a very large space.

He goes upstairs to a guest bedroom, where he and Donna spent last night. I talk with Donna. She is surprised by what came out of his mouth. I say, "I'm not. It's typical of white men who don't get that they are privileged." (And who assume the world is made for them, and who don't get just how exclused most groups of people are, every damn day, while white men bounce around on jets, fucking children of color. AS IF white men being "excluded from places" is even on "the top 100 list" of things that are wrong with this world!!!! White men NOT being excluded from places is the reason many atrocities continue at such alarming rates. As noted in another post, I believe U.S. white men, by and large, should NOT be allowed to travel to places where they are known to rape and purchase children and women for the purpose of chronically raping them.)

She and I spend some quiet time together on a couch, during which I place my hand gently and lovingly on her stockinged knee. I am sensing non-verbally that she is ok with that contact at that moment. Even so, I ask her, "Is this ok?" She says "Yes" in a genuine, peaceful tone. We have always been very in tune with one another, often knowing what the other is feeling without either of us saying a word. We also have a history of doing massage and other healing body work, such as Reiki. Both our bodies carry a lot of emotional "stuff" from the past and present, that we have spent years trying to discern and help one another release.) We frequently massage one another's necks and shoulders, for example, to work out whatever stress is being held there. We both have strong fingers and thumbs that seem to have a way of locating knots and tight areas in the muscles. She and I feel very safe with one another physically and respect each other's boundaries. It is a rare and beautiful relationship.

While she reads in a book I had with me, by Pema Chodron, I can tell she is deeply absorbing parts of it, and also finding parts of it humorous. I find that Pema writes that way, utilising humor in a wonderful way to assist the reader in getting through what is generally serious and emotionally painful content. Donna tells me about the parts that she just read were helpful to her, explains a bit more about that, and adds, "I'd really like to read this book." I say, with a bit of humor (given that I've had the book for a few days already), "So would I." I got it from the library, and inform her that "You've read more in it at this point than I have." I then ask her to explain something to me that was eluding me from what little I'd read prior to coming over there to be with them. She explains it and it becomes comprehensible to me. I am now looking forward even more to reading the book.

She then goes to see how Thomas is doing, and then she comes down and quietly tells me they are going to go for a walk, to talk. When he comes downstairs he avoids making eye contact with me and as they are about to leave, she and I hold a loving look between us before they go. She is someone who is like a daughter to me. I love her in abundance. She is certainly my spiritual kin.

While they are gone what keeps going through my head, aside from flashes of anger at what he said, is: "I know I can be intense. He's relatively young. Maybe I came on too strong; my energy can be fierce at times, the fury in it palpable." But I stayed calm with him. I argued, but didn't call him names or tell him he was being absurd. (Though I imagine that's what he felt. And given that so much of what is communicated between people happens non-verbally, I can get why he might feel that way, assuming he even does. As for his age, I've known younger men who get what he doesn't get. I've known teenage boys who get what he doesn't get, so it's not really an age thing. And I wasn't abusive, just confrontational, direct, unwilling to take emotional care of him while making my points. (When we men experience this, particularly from women, we feel greatly mistreated or "abused". We have no fucking idea what it is to be abused by gender oppression. No fucking idea.) Yet I am frustrated that my directness was perhaps overwhelming to him. I get the sense he's not used to being challenged in the manner in which I challenged him. I have a habit of being challenging and confrontational in ways white men are not used to being challenged and confronted and held to account by other men. I do this because since being a boy, I gave up the idea of "being like them" and I identified much more with girls. I do this because I'm a radical profeminist who understands how much and how easily men betray women, by not calling out other men on their bullshit. And I do this because I have no respect or regard whatsoever for The White Brotherhood and it's many codes of racist/misogynistic atrocity-maintaining conduct among white men. When I see these codes, in behavior, playing out, I want to tear them up into shreds. And, I also feel responsible for what happened, mostly due to being the older one who, as Donna notes, has been engaged in this activity, this struggle, for a long time. How clear was I on this stuff when I was his age. Well, a lot more than he was, but I was far more prone to be unintentionally white supremacist (racist) than I am now, far more unchallenged in my position on trans politics than I am now. I wonder if I should attempt to make peace with him, to mend things, to heal whatever has been wounded in him by our exchange. I don't relish him hurting. And also I want him to feel better in large part for Donna's sake. I mean think of what she is now doing--going for a long walk, helping him process his feelings. She's having to do that because of what I did. No, wrong. Because of how he interpreted and experienced what I did. He didn't have the skills (yet?) to know how to stay present, to listen carefully, to not get defensive, to not move into the "I'm so bad" stance.

When they return she and I have a few moments together. She says "He feels very badly about himself." I ask her, "Is there anything you think I should say to him that would be helpful?" She doesn't have an answer for that. In a way, I am glad. I am very torn inside about whether I want to say anything to him, which I appreciate. It's not for her to figure out how to get the boys back on good terms. The only reason I would, tonight, is so things would be lighter on her shoulders. I do care that he's hurting in this way. I don't like to see him looking miserable, again, in part because that means Donna has a miserable husband, who she will, inevitably, take emotional care of. She will attend to him, help him open up and express whatever pain he is in. Without her he'd just close off and pout. (And, I'll say, albeit parenthetically, that he's very emotionally supportive of her, helps her process feelings she's not in touch with, and is generally a very supportive person in her life, and profoundly loving to her in many ways.)

I am pissed that we men act like children when we're treated like adults by another adult. Men stigmatise women as being children all the goddamned time. Most white heterosexual men I know refer to adult women as "girls". Men condescend to and patronise women right and left. I'm also extremely pissed that when while men are reminded that we are, guess what?, white men, that we resist, insisting on being "an individual".

At one point he is sitting on a couch alone. I sit down next to him, gently, and softly ask, "How are you doing?" (I think I even place my hand warmly on his shoulder when I ask this, to non-verbally emphasise the fact that while we may have periods of discord and disagreement, "that doesn't mean I don't love you and it doesn't mean I think you are a terrible person.")

He says, in answer to my question about how he's doing, while looking away from me, "All right." Short and curt and without any warmth, without being welcoming of further contact. The stance of the hurt child. Been there. Done that. I get up and leave him to be in his misery. I partly despise myself for even taking that much emotional care of him. And, again, I have to remind myself: it's going to be you or it's going to be Donna who takes care of him emotionally. He's sure not going to get through this alone, learning what he could learn about himself as a white heterosexual man, and he's not likely to reach out to anyone else for support. He's not the type of hetero guy who has misogynistic male friends, who would commiserate with him by calling women the b word and c word. Thank goodness. If he were, I wouldn't choose to have him in my life, nor, more importantly, would Donna.

They get ready to go. He makes sure not to interact with me, although I am available to give him a good-bye hug. (We all typically hug hello and goodbye. To not do so is "a sign something's up".) Donna notes his evasion to me as we make eye contact before they leave.

She approaches me briefly after he's left the house saying, "He feels he was being spoken to like he's a demographic, not a friend."

I respond, "I know. I've heard it all a thousand times before."

She says, "And he is an individual person."

I say, "Yes, and privilege manifests in many similar ways among those of us who are oppressors."

She agrees knowingly, we hug, and she leaves.

The other people there track these dynamics a little bit or not at all. The only other woman in the group is the only one I can tell has registered that "something's up". Without much surprise, the other men are either oblivious, or don't especially care, or figure "They'll work it out eventually." Which is true; we will work it out on our own. But I suspect Donna will speak with the other woman there, if she gets the chance. So his behavior has impacted at least two people in a negative, oppressive way. Donna was alarmed at his insensitivity and almost callous "values", and I realised later that he was talking to a sexual assault survivor (me), who, as a gay man, is among the population of humans who, outside of government prisons, is stranger raped, date raped, and "mate" raped by men.

White women are "a demographic" in the real world where men target women for harassment and rape. The are "the demographic" that endures the brunt of men's sexism and misogyny. Gay men, white and of color, are a demographic who are targeted for homophobic insults and assaults by hetero men. And people of color--women, trans, intersex, and men--are frequently and systematically hurt by things white folks do that we deny could have been as harmful as what happened to us once.

When will we white men collectively "get it", and begin to act responsibly toward women of all colors by challenging the systematic harm that we white men--heterosexual, trans, and gay--have a hand in maintaining?

[end of part two of three]

Sunday, September 27, 2009

White Heterosexual Male Privilege: A True and Not So Simple Story, part 1 of 3

[image distinguishing the white male ass from the white male elbow is from here]

[Here is part two]

[Here is part three]

OF COURSE the day after Andrea Dworkin's birthday there'd be a reminder of what's so messed up about the way white heterosexual men (W.H.M.) perceive themselves and the minescule world they live in. Tragically for the oppressed, they rarely take full responsibility for the conditions they remain in willful denial about perpetrating, or, at least perpetuating.

I am a white man: I know how annoying and violence-supporting I can be or could be, due to my privileges to "not know much" about what most of the world experiences--as human experience. I was raised to think "white men" WERE the standard and most appropriate models for "what it means to be human". The only aspect of my social/political being that separates me from my white straight brothers is my sexual orientation and how their overtly and covertly expressed heterosexism and homophobia hurts me, invisibilises me, oppresses me, and repels me. Were it not for me being gay, I'd be "one of them". And as far as many women have experienced me, I am one of them. I accept that as truth: I have behaved with the level of ignorance and arrogance known to run amock among my hetero white brothers.

Which takes us right into the emotional crisis du jour. Today's crisis began when I went to visit some white hetero friends--a whole group of 'em--totaling six in number, all of us cisgendered. These folks' ages range from mid-twenties to mid-fifties. Most of these are people I know VERY WELL except for the youngest male of the bunch, who is around 25. I've known him the shortest period of time and have probably spent the least amount of time with him, though we're off to a rather cozy start. We hit it off and care about each other a lot. But, there's not much of a history there, including a history of "how to resolve conflict".

I know what you're thinking and what can I say? I admit it: some of by best friends are white heterosexual men.... not that there's anything wrong with that.

So I sit down with the only two who are in their twenties. They are a heterosexual married couple. I've known her for years; as alluded to above, I've known him for months. He only moved into this area that long ago.

For the sake of protecting her anonymity, we'll call them "Donna" and "Thomas".

The three of us get to talking right away about the fact that he doesn't feel very comfortable in his home environment (which is not with his family of origin). For the last months he's been with white roommates who are queer in different ways. One person is trans, the other a lesbian ciswoman. Donna has been interested in women in various ways, and her ethnic background and presence is not "white". But Thomas, the roommates, and I are, in this country in particular, very white. Donna would probably not say that she is "heterosexual" although now that she's married to a man and they behave married in public, she has heterosexual privilege, which, for a straight woman, is "for better or worse". (A radical lesbian feminist friend of mine had a long discussion twenty years ago about whether or not heterosexuality in women, when and if it occurs, is "a privilege". There are strong arguments to be made for either case. Heterosexual women, more often than lesbian women, live and sleep with men. Their lives are more often bound to adult men in ways that lesbian women's lives aren't necessarily. I mention that decades old conversation because it kind of factors into what follows.)

I ask him why he doesn't feel too comfortable there. He tells me the history of the house in which they have an apartment is that it's always been queer-majority space. By that I assume he means probably for the last five years or possibly ten. Unless a group of trans and/or non-hetero friends have lived together in one space for more than ten years, few apartment buildings around town are queer-majority or queer-dominated. This isn't the gentrified part of The Castro in San Francisco, for example, where white monied gay men have been living for decades, displacing poorer queers and queers of color, and women across race, class, and sexuality.

So it seems there was this guy, a transman, who was fond of coming over to the apartment where Thomas lives, with a key, well after the time he'd moved out. He'd come in as if this were still his place too. And Thomas didn't particularly care. But the two roommates did. (Donna moved in after this part of the story happened.) The two roommates WERE uncomfortable with this transguy showing up repeatedly, unannounced, with key access. But they didn't feel empowered to ask for him to hand back his key to the place. Somehow it got arranged that Thomas would ask for the key back, and establish some needed boundaries, re: this transguy stopping by.

So the next time the trans fellow came over, Thomas did just that. And the trans guy experienced that as a sign that the house was no longer queer-friendly space. And he told his trans friends about the fact that now that there's one non-queer person in there, he's setting all kinds of new rules. (Well, no; Thomas just asked for a key to his and his roommates' apartment back, on behalf of his roommates.)

Our experiences are shaped by what we know. I can understand how the trans man would get the sense that now that there's a W.H. [non-trans] M. in the home, the space being no longer readily accessibly to him would lead him to feel that it was due to the straight cisman being there. To avoid this interpretation of reality, Thomas probably ought to have supported his roommates asking for the key back themselves, which would have left the cisman out of this, and he could thus have been spared being known as transphobic.

Word apparently spreads around parts of the trans community (and we could be talking about a dozen or so people here, to be clear), that there's "this transphobic cisman now living with my former roommates", and "only when the cisman moved in did I get a request to leave the key to the place there". Due to how this played out, what was made invisible to the transman was just how uncomfortable the other two roommates were with him coming by, with key in hand--and in lock, making himself right at home. This wasn't, any longer, his home. But sometimes when we move out of a place, we still hold great attachment to it, and I can understand the transman wanting to not cut ties to his old home. (And who knows how queer-friendly his current living situation was.)

I sympathised far more with the trans and lesbian roommates: having one's home space invaded by any man--trans or not--can be a very frightening thing; it is, at the very least, annoying, invasive, and insensitive. It seems clear he was intimidating enough to them for them to not feel comfortable asking for the key back directly. Or they just didn't want to hurt his feelings and leave him keyless and feeling rejected. Hard to know. But I certainly support any woman or women having safe space, to the degree that is possible. (This point too factors into the story.)

I also sympathised with the cisman, Thomas. I told him "I'm sorry you got pegged for something you weren't doing in any intentional way". "It sounds like you were being helpful to your roommates, and now the part of the town is abuzz about you being a major transphobe." (It's clear he's NOT a major transphobe, if measured against any other white hetero men I know. He enjoys a really good relationship with his trans roommate; for him, moving into a new home with a lesbian woman and a trans person was in every way something he welcomed doing. They have never identified him as someone who is especially transphobic or homophobic either. As for the roommates themselves, the three got along great, and after Donna moved in, the foursome really clicked and they've all been good friends and respectful of one another in many meaningful ways.

Thomas is a sensitive man. He can come across as meek, is generally not at all boisterous, he's very thoughtful and caring. Donna is more dynamic in social and interpersonal spaces, as are the two other roommates. Thomas isn't often the kind of hetero white guy who loves to be the center of attention, who wants all his needs met at the expense of other's getting their needs met. He probably tips toward being the kind of guy who is likely to ignore his own needs in favor of helping someone else out. Also, Thomas was actively engaged in one trans community support effort, helping to bring in money by performing at a fundraiser. He's done more for the trans community here, than say, I have. Which in no way rules out the possibility of him being transphobic, just as a profeminist guy doing some activism to challenge male supremacy doesn't mean he can't be sexist, or act misogynistically from time to time.

I go on to speak with this married couple about the history of tensions I've experienced in the queer community here, specifically among gay men. I mention that due to my own politics, of being radically profeminist, I've been marginalised in and by that group of "my people". Or maybe I'm just making it all up; but as a point of comparison, every "out" radical feminist lesbian woman I know has been very socially marginalised here, by not being welcomed at some social events, by not being supported when doing their own cultural work, etc. I'm openly, publicly alligned with them and have defended their politics, which rub queer liberals and non-feminist trans folks the wrong way.

There is a liberal politic at work in this community, whereby "anything interpersonal goes" as long as it doesn't appear to hurt anyone. "The appearance of hurt and harm" is something the radical feminist lesbian women I know, who are white, and I, take very seriously. We're well aware that just because no one is appearing to be hurt, that doesn't mean no one IS being hurt. For example: if an almost entirely white queer group has gathered, and a racist joke gets told by a white gay man, the one or two queer people of color there may not feel safe to express their hurt and anger to the larger group; for one thing, they may be the guests in some white folks' apartment--and that alone can have a greatly silencing and intimidating effect; for another their white gay friend may be best friends with the gay man who made the joke, and they don't want to generate tensions between the two white gay men. But that doesn't mean their anger is unjustified, or that their hurt isn't real. Their silence ought not be interpreted to mean "no harm was done".

The white radical feminist lesbian women and I also have a strong and thorough enough critique of "consent" to distrust it as the primary means by which "harm" is determined to be present or absent in any relationship, sexual or not. For example, someone could be consenting to sex with a partner because s/he doesn't know how to say no, due to being an incest survivor who never learned how to do so, or for whom doing so might have meant getting beaten, more violently sexually assaulted, or killed.

Needless to say, emotionally harmful things can happen even in authentically consensual situations. For example, two friends agree to get together for lunch, and during their talk something insensitive is said, and it wounds the other person. Harm happened in that moment. The conclusion to this sort of analysis or perspective ISN'T "No one should have sex" and "No one should ever, EVER meet for lunch!" The point of the perspective is simply to not be in denial about the ways harm can happen consensually, and that what appears to be meaningful consent may not be that at all.

The radical feminist women and I believe strongly in the value of accountability: generally speaking--with some exceptions--you are responsible for what you say and for what you non-verbally do. Period. Liberal society's members, in my experience, operate out of a different ethic. I'm not sure what to call it besides a devaluing of accountability; an indulgence in acting on entitlements. It plays out in white middle class places like this: someone does something that is harmful or hurtful to someone else, without realising it. I'll make the example one that happens between two cismale friends.

The harmed person is silent about the wound, except to a close friend, who then shares the news of this wound with the one who generated it. That person get defensive, not wanting to be perceived as an insensitive and a hurtful person. Their defensiveness blocks out their capacity to stay open, to caring about what was done, to understanding what was done (intentionally or not) from the other person's perspective and through the other person's experience. For the wounder, "intention" becomes THE most important measure of whether it was even possible for harm to have happened. The wounder says "I in no way intended for anything of the kind to be inferred by what I said! It's ridiculous that [the wounded person] took what I said that way! That interpretation is just plain crazy." The mediator says, "Well, that's how he took it and he is feeling quite hurt." The wounder is now in the position to:

a. Care about the fact that a wounding happened, and to stop defending his own ego, or

b. Continue to make the case that the other person "took it all wrong", which invalidates and invisibilises the wounded person's pain and keeps the issue on "what just happened to ME!"

Typically, in my experience, when a member of an oppressor class does something "unintentional" or "out of ignorance", the expectation is clearly placed on the oppressed person to forgive and forget ASAP. And, typically, another liberal ethic, which also implies something that never exists substantively or systemically in real life: a level playing field between oppressed groups and their oppressors.

Which takes us into part two of this story. See the next post for that.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Il corpo delle donne, The Body of Women. An Italian feminist documentary by Lorella Zanardo

[photograph of filmmaker Lorella Zanardo, from here]

Warning: The film mentioned here contains lots of graphic objectification of women, but is deeply critical of it from a feminist perspective. The film was made by Lorella Zanardo.

In Italian:
Potete trovare un feminist's blog in Italia @, che è circa la pellicola il corpo delle donna. Il documentario è circa il objectification delle donne nei mezzi italiani della televisione.

Troverete un collegamento là alla pellicola.

Usi prego un Web site quale Babelish per la traduzione.

In inglese:
You can find a feminist's blog in Italy, which is about the film On Women's Bodies. The documentary is about the objectification of women in Italian television media.

For more of an introduction, and a link to the film with English subtitles, go to this UK blog, The F-Word, linked to here.

Liberazione per le donne!


A letter to Andrea Dworkin, on what would have been her 63rd birthday

[this image is from here]
26 September 2009 ECD, and also year 5770.
Dear Andrea,

It gets harder each fall to say "Happy New Year" and believe it will, in fact, be happy for over half the population on Earth. It's been another very rough year, in fact. The gynocide continues unabated, with white men as collectively self-absorbed as ever about what's going on around us, particularly what we do to other people without taking responsibility or feeling remorse. As a group, we white men show ourselves daily to be the most heartless, callous, and cruel group of bastards on Earth. And it's our astounding passivity as well as our racist woman-hating aggressive behavior that makes us so.

I remain sad and angry at the way your books are misread, misunderstood, and just plain ignored by the people who do have access to your work, who can read, but won't read it.

That people can't see your work as humanitarian, as loving of humanity, well, that alone says a lot about the fucked up ways our dominant educational systems and media teach "reality".

You fought so hard to have the most basic things understood: that women are human, for example, precisely to the degree that men are human. And for that you are still called "a man-hater".

You fought to make the case that the pornographers and their white male supremacist values and practices beyond the pornography industry, not genes, not G-d, not hormones, make men rapists. And for that you are still called "a man-hater".

I have been puzzling over that one, especially in this last year, and I wanted to share with you what I think is going on here, in a world I am at least thankful you don't have to live in any more, much as I selfishly wish you were still in it.

What I think is going on is that white heterosexual men, especially, but men generally, get really accustomed to having our asses wiped by women from a very early age. And fed all of our first meals, sometimes from women's bodies directly.

We really do believe, in those early years and later, that women are "for us". "FOR US", as if women couldn't possibly exist on this Earth for any other reasons, and not for that one at all.

We men grow up seeing all the many ways women are degraded and humiliated, often in our own homes, but if not there then from the apartment next door, or the house down the block, or from the latest news story of a husband or boyfriend killing his female partner, always, always sensationalised rather that appropriately analysed in the most powerful media. And the story of a woman killed by her male co-worker. Or the many untold stories of some random man on the street who felt like "expressing his feelings" by murdering a prostitute who just possibly may not have wanted another procurer, another renter of humans, another possessor of women, in her face that day or night; or those untold stories of the man who harasses or murders some other woman who he thinks is a prostitute, "for him", because she's Black or Brown and has the audacity to be outside on a street, talking on her cell phone, not turning in his direction when he arrogantly and predatorially beckons her to him, never calling her by her full name, never calling her by any name with respect; or those untold stories of men murdering the women someone once proclaimed "to be his" wife; or those women, lesbian or not, trans or not, who may or may not be prostitutes, who, regardless, tell him to "fuck off" for following and harassing them.

You wanted people to understand that prostitutes are human beings precisely to the degree that any man is, including the men who would use and abuse and kill her. And for that you are stigmatised as "a man-hater".

You spoke truths about men, about us as a politically active class of people, who commit atrocities few seem to want to identify as such. You were sometimes, and not very often, angry. You were usually humorous and deeply caring and deeply concerned about the state of terror and subjugation women, as a political class of human beings, live in daily.

You spoke those truths without taking care of men's feelings. You didn't write to make men feel good about themselves while they were faced with coming to terms with what we men do that is in no way good, in groups and as individual men, against and to women.

You didn't take care of men's feelings. You didn't wipe our asses or spoon feed us baby food. You expressed anger angrily. You expressed pain painfully. You expressed social truth truthfully, and THAT is why I think men call you "a man-hater" rather than a lover of humanity. Also because you focused on women's suffering under male supremacy, not men's suffering that is accompanied by privileges and entitlements to use women as if "they are for us". Because of that narrow focus on over half the human population, men can't imagine that being "humanitarian work". How misogynistic is THAT? Like I have to ask you. You taught me how misogynistic that is.

You taught me that caring about the political realities: the economic exploitation, sexual violence, and social subordination by gender, sexuality, and race, of women and girls by men and boys, was, according to men on the white Right and the white Left, not WORTH focusing on. I heard you. And I believe you not because you said it, but because it is socially true. I listen in my heart for your many words of insight and wisdom. If white Christians can listen for a white Jesus or an imagined white male sky-god, I can listen for you and Audre Lorde. And I do.

Thank you for all the unbelievably hard work you did to educate us about what is and has been happening to women. Thank you for peeling away layers of incomprehension, delusion, and denial that keeps so many men from knowing, let alone feeling, what women experience individually and collectively because they aren't men--because they are women.

I await, not passively, the time when men, collectively, will feel outrage and demonstrate focused action against white male supremacists, including ourselves.

Maybe next year the report will be better. You, more than any other person, taught me to have hope for just such a time. And there will be a time after that, when white male supremacy is no more, when people--seen as fully human, not as objects or things--will be humane to one another.

Thank you for writing it down as it was (and still is). Thank you for not shying away from speaking women's truths to men's power. Thank you for so many years of radical political work on behalf of women and girls, which is to say, on behalf of humanity.

Thank you for being human in a way no man I know is: a human being who loves women so much; who refused to be silent about the terrorism and atrocity women face, endure, fight against, and still die from on a massive scale; who refused to call it anything but terrorism and atrocity. Men can be as humane as any caring souls, if we'd be willing to let go of our collective callousness and refusal to believe women have a right to be free of men's needs and desires. And to know that's not just a right. It is a reality awaiting its entrance through men's rusty locked gates of ignorance and inaction.

I love you. I'll continue to defend your work for what it was and is, and praise it for what it did and still does. I'll continue to defend and praise you, Andrea, as long as I'm mentally and physically able to do so.

With hope that you are resting in peace,


* * *

For her work, go to:


Friday, September 25, 2009

"What Would The Average Man Do" Standard: What's Wrong with THIS Picture?

[image is from here]

White middle class heterosexual men are considered to be a population of "reasonable" people, generally and legally. It apparently hasn't crossed enough legal minds to wonder about what "a reasonable person" is.

Most white middle class men routinely and regularly access images online of incested, raped, and pimped women and girls. On and off the record, white middle class heterosexual men of many ages will readily admit they do this.

To all white heteromale supremacist assholes: this is not "a feminist" claim. It's something you all brag about and take pride in. It's a behavior you feel so entitled to that should any woman you are with recommend you not do it, you will find every reason in The Oppressors' Handbook for Dummies to try to shame and silence the women who are around you, in your lives, impacted by this behavior.

Given that white middle class heterosexual men's values are shaped by their profound ignorance about what oppressed people experience, and given that oppressed people are the majority, why does a population which admits wanting 24/7 access to raped women's bodies online, when in courts of law, get to argue that an act was not rape because "a reasonable white middle class man" wouldn't call it rape?

If we determine a demographic's values by their practices, in this case of either committing or permitting gynocide and genocide, what hope for women is there of rapists ever being charged as such?

If heterosexual men, generally, want and enjoy 24/7 acccess to incested, raped, and pimped women's bodies online, can we say that this is a population of "innocent men"? What legitimate or sensible meaning does "innocent" have in this context?

There was a story in the news recently about a batterer (surprise: a white heterosexual middle class husband!) who was found not guilty of raping "his" wife. He was found to be "innocent". The court acknowledged he had battered her. He'd been charged and found guilty of committing battery of women in the past. I believe anyone with their head up their ass all day and night ought to be able to register "what's wrong with this picture!?"


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Danny's Corner of His Delusional Universe... Tap, tap, tap: Hey Danny, try living in the world of systematic human suffering

[image is from here]

I'm posting this to demonstrate why men's rape of women continues. It's because men like Danny would rather spend their time blogging about insignificant shit than to deal with CRAP.

Check this bullshit out as a prime example. And please read the comments, if you can.

Here's what Danny says about his own blog, called, appropriately enough, Danny's Corner:
"Over the years I've often had lots of thoughts swimming in my head and after reading different blogs here and there on different subjects I have concluded that perhaps the best way to flesh out said thoughts is to share them with other people. That being said I don't expect this blog to only focus on one subject. There will be focusing in individual posts but there wont be any all encompassing theme to it."

He's got that right, no "all encompassing theme" at all, except, well, not dealing with reality, if ya wanna call that a "theme".

Danny, you're behaving like a P.R.I.C.K. Wake up and smell the blood on men's hands, and note that it's not from our own bodies.


Father-Daughter Incest that extends into adulthood: Mackenzie Phillips bravely shares a terrible secret about "Papa John" Phillips

[photo of John Phillips with his daughter Mackenzie is from here]

[24 Sept 2009 update: see here for more about how her family has reacted to the news--as she notes, it's in a very typical way in families with incest. Her half sister and member of the all-female band Wilson Phillips with Beach Boy Brian Wilson's two daughters, will be the guest on Friday's Oprah Show, with Mackenzie via satellite. As someone who comes from a family loaded up and torn apart by incest, I'll be watching to see what kind of support Mackenzie gets.]

I welcome you to click here for an article about Mackenzie's story, which is where I found the image above.

I used to watch all the talk shows, or chat shows, in the 1980s that dealt with matters of sexual violence against women (and girls and boys): incest, rape, battery, prostitution, pornography. I kept looking for pieces of my own story, and to understand how people survive it all. I'm not sure I learned anything too useful, as too many of those shows refused to highlight a radical feminist analysis of these crimes against children and women. But at least in the 1980s feminism had something of a voice, a presence, in dominant media. That has been completely replaced by apolitical analysts, who refuse to see male and white supremacy's abuses as such even when they're staring the psychologists and relationship experts in the face. [there is more of her story there, and more videos from Oprah's talk show]

Oprah Winfrey's last show to air in the U.S., a portion of which is played in a video above, featured child actor, singer, and daughter of the creator of the famed musical group of the 1960s, The Mamas and The Papas. His name is John Phillips but because of the band, he was known just as much as "Papa John". He died in the spring of 2001 at the age of 65. Eight years later the oldest of his many children, daughter Mackenzie, co-star of the 1970s hit TV show "One Day at a Time", has a new book telling of her life's many serious struggles. She was a child in L.A. with a drug using father; she developed a decades long drug habit herself when she was an adolescent; and her father, the one and only Papa John, also raped her when she was nineteen and unconscious. He then continued to sexually violate her over the next ten years. There is a term Mackenzie uses to describe the sexual abuse that happened when she was, in her painfully honest words, old enough to know better. That term is "consensual incest". That term makes me very uncomfortable, but probably not exactly for all the reasons you might think.

From the perspective from which I analyse social reality, I'm not sure the term "consensual incest" has any merit or meaning. Once a man rapes his daughter, so many things happen to a person that what happens later by him cannot, in my mind, be said to be "consensual". For me, it is all abuse--his against her. And I realise that is a contentious position to take. But I take it based partly on my own childhood experience.


[added on 24 Sept. 2009] For more discussion of this by Mackenzie Phillips, see this:


When I was a prepubescent boy, I was deeply attracted to a man who lived for several years in my family's home. He was at least ten years older than me. He engaged me in some incestuous behavior that confused me. (He was, from my point of view, a part of my family.) And, because he never frightened me in his approach, I longed for more contact, which never happened.

I grew up, and after a family member of mine that he knew well had died, I contacted him to let him know. He was not born in this country and had, years ago, returned to the country of his birth, where he had lived with a U.S.-born woman--his spouse, with whom he had two children. And he was divorced by the time I reconnected with him by phone. Of course he didn't recognise my voice. It had deepened considerably since I was eleven. But he knew my name and the name of my relative who recently died.

Learning of his divorce sent many thoughts through my head, such as: I wonder if he could possibly be gay? (The answer is no.) And, more bizarrely, "I wonder if he'd consider resuming our relationship." I thought about going to visit him, and us picking up where he left off. I was in therapy at the time, and my therapist reminded me it wasn't "a relationship" in any healthy understanding of that term. She reminded me of something I'd said about him in an earlier session: He exploited me, plain and simple. I hated to think that, though. I wanted to believe he was in love with me, because that way there'd be some way for me to stay in denial about being so utterly and callously used by him. (He wasn't in love with me, ever. And even if he were, that wouldn't make this story any less abusive.)

I have brought up "the past" and he has said he doesn't remember much from that time. How convenient for him. When he said that, when he dodged responsibility for his actions, I realised he was fully capable of being an asshole. Of course he wouldn't consider taking responsibility for what happened, he wouldn't apologise, he wouldn't explain what the fuck he was doing to an eleven year old boy who longed for affection and closeness and got what he wanted from me. Nothing terribly "overt" happened between us, on the spectrum of what can happen to children. But any violation is a serious one, and every form of abuse and betrayal does damage. And part of the damage to me was my insistence in thinking of him as someone who loved me.

What I'm relieved about is that this story told on Oprah's show and in Mackenzie Phillips' book, High on Arrival, makes it clear John Phillips actions were always wrong and always an abuse of power. The way Mackenzie speaks of her father is the way many of us speak of those who incested us, who we loved.

My heart goes out to her, and to all survivors of incest and rape, the forms which vary considerably from heinously sadistic and horrifying to the forms that are gentle in approach and appear to be caring, but aren't.

[25 Sept. 2009 addition:]
John Phillips shot up his daughter with heroin and had nonconsensual sex against her while she was unconscious. To those who do not know, can you imagine what either of those things does to a person's sense of self? To their sense of "what's right and what's wrong in the world"? Would you EVER volunteer to find out?