Wednesday, October 20, 2010

White Men's Profeminist Writing, White Radical Feminist Writing, and The Writing of Radical Feminist Women of Color: Guess Which Writing is Most Important to Read In Order to Know Much about Humanity?

image of bell hooks' book cover with photo of a young bell hooks is from here

bell hooks, Barbara Smith, Chrystos, Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, Alice Walker, Andrea Smith, Patricia Hill Collins, and many, many other radical women of color and women of color radical feminists have impressed upon me the need to center into one's analysis of oppression and resistance to it, the experiences, voices, and perspectives of women of color: Asian women and women from the Global South; Indigenous, Native, Aboriginal, First Nations, and Fourth World women; Arab, Latina, Brown, and Third World women; African American women, Black women, and women from the African Diaspora; lesbian, Two Spirit, and gender non-conforming women. Consider, please, the words of Barbara Smith here and note how her humanitarian consciousness about "women" cannot and does not remove poor women internationally and regionally from her analysis of oppressive conditions feminism exists to confront and change.

It is with a bit of trepidation that I post what follows below, as it is written by a white man. I don't experience white men, collectively or generally as being intellectually, politically, or spiritually capable of grasping the significance of the problem of marginalising women of color's voices generally, and specifically within what is called "radical feminism". This doesn't even address the problem of white men not being willing to discuss and publicly challenge white men to deal with how white men oppress all women, across sexuality, race, region, class, ethnicity, age, and levels of ability.

For me, "radical feminism" was never "white", but I know for many, many people, it is white or appears white--I know that in many collections of radical feminist or liberal feminist books, writings and analysis, theory and experience, poetry and fiction, essays and speeches by women of color are often reserved and relegated, racistly and grossly, to the "race/racism" section of the book, as if women of color can only speak about race and responding to racism, and as if women of color don't speak generally or specifically for all women. Clearly the problem with such books is that they don't often or usually conceive of "race and racism" as being a matter whites must deal with, contend with, challenge, and confront intrapsychically, interpersonally, and internationally.

From the start of my own feminist education--my education in understanding and challenging normative and unquestioned racist patriarchal modes of operation--I was reading the writings of radical feminist women of color concurrently with the writings of radical feminist white women. In most white writing, always by men and usually by women, I found an ignorance--willful or not--about the reality that whites are a politically created ethnic and social group with specific privileges and entitlements. Whites are not spokespeople for some universal notion of woman or humanity. Too often the whites I read spoke for all women. As if all women experience what white women do. As if white women experience what all women do. Needless to say--or needed to say--this is most certainly not the case. This blog here exists to challenge many things; that idea that whiteness speaks for all of humanity is one ridiculous notion I hope this blog refutes beyond resuscitation or renewal.

The idea of putting white women's (or any men's) voices above women of colors' voices is not ethically or morally or politically or spiritually or intellectually or emotionally reasonable, defensible, or tolerable. That this is systematically done by whites and by men is entirely conceivable to me--I witness it happening all the time on white men's blogs, on men of color's blogs, and, most systematically and egregiously, on white men's blogs.

But this willful or active ignorance is also reprehensible and anti-feminist, to me--it is, in a word, anti-humane. For a discussion on the importance of not centering white voices in any resistance movement, in any anti-oppression movement or effort, see this post at the Crunk Feminist Collective blog. White feminists and feminists of color have often made the point that most women who do "feminist work" don't identify as "feminist" in part because most women around the world don't speak English as a first or second language and also because among English speakers, many women don't learn the term "feminist" or what it means in their own communities. Both my grandmothers didn't know what the term meant or had very limited ideas about it meaning "bra burners" or some other white het male supremacist media-concocted notion.

I am also critical of Academic writing as it exists in my own realms of experience. Not all of it, by any means. But much of it--even most of it. I find it indulges a kind of abstraction, an intellectual pursuit not readily tied to experience, and a kind of elitism in language-use that means most people who are literate will never read it or comprehend it, not because of a lack of intelligence or what is sometimes called "sophistication", but rather because the language itself, from the start, was designed not for human consumption generally and humanely, but for the benefit of a few monetarily and materially. That said, I have written to Rad Geek congratulating him on getting this latest work published. And it ought to be noted that I don't believe all very specific forms of language--such as the language used to describe art, or the language used to describe horticultural processes, are not valuable, or ought not exist. I'm making the point that when language is used in such a way that it is mostly a very privileged and powerful minority (Western Academically educated English-speaking people) who use it, white male supremacy is likely reinforced by its usage and it warrants critique on those grounds, if not also on other grounds. And that said, I have benefited greatly from reading the work of some academics, usually those who are also activists, such as Catharine A. MacKinnon, the white, class-privileged radical feminist. I value her work greatly.

But I'm not sure what I think about this work discussed and presented below by Rad Geek. I've not read it carefully and so don't offer it up as representative, in any way, of my own thinking or values. As alluded to above, or spelled out in no uncertain terms here in the post and elsewhere on this blog, I'm skeptical about using white men's Leftist or Libertarian (or neoLiberal or neoConservative) theories to better illuminate the meaning, function, and practice of radical feminist theories and practice. But as there are so few men who take radical feminist theory seriously--even that of only white radical feminists. Rad Geek is surely among those white men who had read with intellectual and political interest and openness the work of white radical feminists. He's done so for many years. So I wanted to promote his latest work and appearances here. I'm willing to do this partly because I get how some white men will only listen to other white men, no matter the topic--even if the topic is the oppression of women (and by "women" I DON'T mean "white" women only).

What follows is from Rad Geek People's Daily. Please click on the title below to link back to his blog which has more information.

Rad Geek Speaks: “Women and the Invisible Fist,” bringing Molinari to the Marxians, and Libertarian-Left Radical Philosophizing  

(posted 19 October 2010 ∙ 10:35 pm)

I’m pleased to say that my paper Women and the Invisible Fist: How Violence Against Women Enforces the Unwritten Law of Patriarchy[1] has been accepted for a panel at the Ninth Biennial Radical Philosophy Association Conference next month in at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

The RPA, if you’re not familiar with it, publishes Radical Philosophy Review, puts on conferences of its own, and puts on regular panels at the American Philosophical Association Eastern and Pacific Division meetings, on (engaged) radical philosophizing, critical theory, feminism, postcolonialism, academic Marxism, and the like. As RPA would have it, Founded in 1982, RPA members struggle against capitalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, disability discrimination, environmental ruin, and all other forms of domination. We also oppose substituting new forms of authoritarianism for the ones we are now fighting. … We believe that fundamental change requires broad social upheavals but also opposition to intellectual support for exploitative and dehumanizing social structures. Since this conference’s theme is Violence: Systemic, Symbolic, and Foundational, I figured that the Invisible Fist essay was apropos, and might provide a chance for some interesting Left / Left-Libertarian engagement and dialogue. Since the program committee seems to agree, I will be there representing the Molinari Institute.[2] If you happen to be around southern Cascadia next month, here’s my panel. It’d be great to see you there:
The Ninth Biennial Radical Philosophy Association Conference

Violence: Systemic, Symbolic, and Foundational

November 11th-14th
University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon
Conference Program available online

V-E: A Culture of Violence Against Women

Friday, November 12th 2010, 3:45–5:15pm
Rouge Room, Erb Memorial Union
University of Oregon, Eugene, OR
Chair: Gertrude Postl, Suffolk County Community College
  • Christa Hodapp, University of Kentucky. Identity Through Destruction
  • Charles Johnson, Molinari Institute. Women and the Invisible Fist
  • Jacob Held, University of Central Arkansas. Revisiting MacKinnon via Rae Langton: Pornography as Illocutionary Disablement and Civil Suits as a Means to Enfranchise the Silent Majority
I can’t speak for the others; but here’s my abstract. (If you’ve read the post with a similar title, you’ll already have a general idea; but there’ve been some changes, and like all academic enterprises, this one needs a tl;dr summary.)
When feminist theorists challenge the common dichotomies of pervasive private crimes from public policy, and of personal problems from political struggles against oppression, antifeminist critics often treat the challenge to this distinction as if it were a simple replacement of the private with a conventional understanding of the political – treating feminist analyses of patriarchy as little different from the use of conspiracy theories to explain the prevalence of male violence. I argue that, contrary to these canonical misunderstandings, the central insights of feminist analysis of patriarchal violence may be articulated with help from a surprising source – the work of radical libertarian social theorists, in particular the Austrian free-market economist Friedrich Hayek. Using philosophical analysis and critique to charitably reconstruct Susan Brownmiller’s “Myrmidon theory” of stranger-rape, as presented in Against Our Will, in light of Hayek’s conception of social order as importantly structured by emergent “spontaneous orders” which are “results of human activity but not of human design,” I argue that the dialogue provides critical terms to articulate the radical feminist critique of rape culture, while also claiming and importantly enriching the concept of “spontaneous order” as a tool for radical social critique. When this analytic reconstruction is supplemented with a discussion of recent empirical data on the pervasiveness of rape, drawn from social-science and public health literature on male violence against women, it reveals a distinctive picture that should be of prime importance both to radical feminists and to serious libertarians: a pervasive, diffuse threat of violence that constrains the liberty of women in everyday life to move and act and live as they want, but which, unlike the kinds of State violence which male radicals are accustomed to discussing — modes of domination handed down according to explicit State policies, ratified through political processes, promulgated from the top down and consciously carried out by officially appointed or deputized agents of the State — expresses itself instead in attitudes, behaviors, and coercive restrictions that are largely produced by bottom-up, decentralized forms of violence without conscious collaboration or conspiracy, sometimes in conflict with the explicit provisions of the law, in which women are battered into the social position they currently occupy as if by an invisible fist. I conclude that this unexpected convergence of Brownmiller and Hayek provides (1) a mutually illuminating dialogue on methodology in radical social theory and analytical understandings of structural violence, (2) a surprising synthesis of radical critiques of the construction of identity with radical critiques of domination through the state, and (3) an opportunity to ramify and radicalize understanding of both the feminist insight that “the personal is political,” and the Hayekian insight that society is structured by emergent orders that are “results of human activity but not of human design.”