Friday, April 22, 2016

John Stoltenberg's and Cristan Williams' The Conversations Project: Some Final Thoughts

graphic is from here
Note: When I heard Prince died earlier on Thursday, what I recalled was how much Andrea Dworkin loved his work.

The message in the above graphic was never anything 
The Conversations Project endeavored to do. 
Yet they insisted they were a radical feminist group.

I may be writing more about this, but just wanted to update you that after four months of very engaged involvement, I've been purged without notice from The Conversations Project Facebook group started by John Stoltenberg and Cristan Williams, although John was largely absent.

Here are a few concluding thoughts:

1. The group was steadfastly anti-radical feminist, but couched this as
anti-T--F, as if those radical feminists who are against the liberalism and male supremacy in trans politics should and can be separated out from those who are or were not.

2. There was consistent refusal to admit that they were misusing and misunderstanding the early work of Andrea Dworkin while ignoring all of Dworkin's later work (like, at least 11/12ths of what Andrea wrote). The only passages of hers they ever referred to (a lot) were Dworkin's most liberal points in Woman Hating about multisexuality and androgyny. They refused to acknowledge Andrea's mid-70s discussion of androgyny was something that wasn't specific to her, and something that was of political interest during that decade, but never thereafter. (As was the case for so many white feminists in that period: Kate Millett, Shulamith Firestone, and Marge Piercy, for example.) They refused to consider why Andrea later rejected the last section of Woman Hating as politically and intellectually problematic. They clung to a few early ideas because dealing with anything else--such as pornography, prostitution, male privilege, male power, white and male supremacy, the process of subordinating female bodies such as through intercourse, battery, and rape--would have implicated some of their own politics as more overtly pro-patriarchal and white supremacist. The only snippets of Catharine MacKinnon's work they paid any attention to were from a grossly overly-steered interview Cristan did with Catharine. As if that's what MacKinnon's thirty plus years of radical feminist activism should be reduced to.

3. There were less than five pro-radical/pro-feminist people in the group. One person, a white transsexual (not transgender) woman, left the group only after about a week being there due to the incessant liberalism, anti-radicalism, and anti-feminism. Now there are no radical feminists in the group, although one member, Margo, who identifies as a white lesbian feminist, has consistently advocated for feminist values and sisterly approaches to dealing with the Turf War, and I respect her very much for that. And one man there has been consistently affirmative of radical feminist perspectives on gender and sex. When Margo posted things that called for respect and regard for all feminists, few to no members "liked" her comments. Cristan and John never "liked" them.

4. The group was so white (how white was it?) that the only posts made about women of color, or even more generally, people of color, were exploitive: John and one other member, early on, posted links to Navajo understandings of gender, not because he ever discussed or linked to how to end white colonialist-patriarchal genocide, but, disturbingly, just because such ideas might be useful to or of interest to whites.

5. The white members of the group (the great majority) refused to center women of color. They refused to center an examination of how their race, sex, and class privileges shaped their views, their values, and their agendas. Doing so was considered 'off topic'. Supporting white, class-privileged transwomen was always on topic. No one white and trans in the group ever made it a point to name how they had white privilege.

6. The dominant membership always positioned some radical feminists as THE enemy. They did not critique or focus on white men (as a structurally positioned enemy class). When white men were critiqued, it was without the same disdain and derision as they demonstrated for some white radical and lesbian feminists. (I call that blatant misogyny, anti-lesbianism, and anti-feminism.) They never, ever considered what trans-critical feminists were arguing against or for. It was always only viewed as "hatred" and "wanting us dead". As if white and male privilege and power--including theirs--doesn't result in the deaths of women across many differences.

7. The group was never committed, even vaguely, to an anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal, or anti-colonialist agenda. Never. Ever. Ever. In this sense and others, the group was willfully and determinedly liberal yet being called liberal was considered an insult, for reasons which remain unclear. If it is so blatantly what you are and is all you want to be, own it and be proud of it, for god's sake. I conclude they valued the term "radical" because it allowed them to discuss the rare liberal points of Dworkin and MacKinnon as if those were radical. I think it gave them a kind of cache to make it seem as if they were distinguishable from their more honest liberal comrades. When I linked to useful ways to understand historical radicalism (as an actual political stance against institutionalised oppression), they rejected or ignored them. Sadly and outrageously, there was nothing about their perspective that was radical. Nothing. And their name revealed this from the start: no group that is seriously radical (that I've ever been aware of) makes a point of cramming the term into their title twice.

8. The group never considered what it is that causes the mass deaths of marginalised women of color. It was beyond their vision, their call to action, to do so. All they could come up with is transphobia. As if.

9. It became crystal clear to me that Cristan, and more surprisingly John, did not understood the traditional political meaning of "radical" when it comes to radical feminism. Again, John was largely absent as an active member, although he read a lot of the comments. But what became distressingly clear was that he could not articulate what Andrea's radical feminism meant or was. He was and is only concerned with prioritising the points of view of white and/or male-privileged people, over and against lesbian feminists. He refuses to see that Andrea never divorced 'woman' (the patriarchal construction) from what actually happens, oppressively, violatingly, demeaningly, to almost all female people from birth to death. Instead, he believes that what Andrea said about "multisexuality" in 1974, or this, from 1975, "it is not true that there are two sexes that are discrete and opposite, which are polar...", were in fact radical things to say. They were radical things to read--for him, a white man. What the group seemed to mean by 'radical' was allegedly post-modernly complex or intellectually ground-breaking. 'Radical', for him, only addressed acts of speech or ideas in writing, not political campaigns or efforts at social change. (For some discussion about Andrea's later abandonment of such 'radical ideas', please see the notes in a book called Without Apology: Andrea Dworkin's Art and Politics, by Cindy Jenefsky.) I repeatedly pointed out, if these are such 'essential' points of Andrea's, why do they never again appear in her work, over the next twenty years? Crickets chirped. This was a stubbornly anti-activist group. The only allegedly 'radical' action John engaged in was introducing young people to a liberal idea of multisexuality. Campaigns to end violence against women? Nope. How to organise against heteropatriarchy? Nope. Talking to college students about being colors in a color wheel: that's where it's at for John.

10. Also, members had no interest in supporting or working towards a truce between some white radical lesbian feminists and some white liberal trans activists. Only Margo, and the transsexual woman who left in disgust, explicitly welcomed this as a goal. The rest were intent on demonising some feminists (not just some of their views, but their personhood), while ignoring how their own political perspective was misogynistic, racist, and, yes, anti-trans.

The Conversations Project: The Radical Inclusivity of Radical Feminism should be titled:
"John and Cristan's Project: Radically Ignoring Radical Feminism".

Sad. And predictable. There's this old expression, 'When someone shows you who they are, believe them.' Yup. Everything I first experienced in that group in January proved to remain the case in April. Lesson learned.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

To Andrea Dworkin, With Love: 11 Years Gone (Sept. 26, 1946 - April 9, 2005)

portrait of Andrea Dworkin is from here

I wrote this exactly ten years ago, on the one-year anniversary of Andrea's sudden and shocking death.

This is the original and permanent website, with great thanks to Nikki Craft for her assistance with the graphics and layout:

To Andrea Dworkin, With Love

by Julian Real, April 9, 2006
Copyright 2006. All Rights Reserved.

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many years can a mountain exist
Before it's washed to the sea?
Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head,
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

-- Bob Dylan, "Blowin' In The Wind", 1962

I wanted instead to write books that were fire and ice, wind sweeping the earth. I wanted to write books that, once experienced, could not be forgotten, books that would be cherished as we cherish the most exquisite light we have ever seen. I had contempt for anything less than this perfect book that I could imagine. This book that lived in my imagination was small and perfect and I wanted it to live in person after person, forever. Even in the darkest of human times, it would live. Even in the life of one person who would sustain it and be sustained by it, it would live. I wanted to write a book that would be read even by one person, but always. For the rest of human time some one person would always know that book, and think it beautiful and fine and true, and then it would be like any tree that grows, or any grain of sand. It would be, and once it was it would never not be.

In my secret longings there was another desire as well, not opposite but different, not the same but as strong. There would be a new social order in which people could live in a new way. There would be this new way of living which I could, on the edges of my mind and in the core of my being, imagine and taste. People would be free, and they would live decent lives, and those lives would not be without pain, but they would be without certain kinds of pain. They would be lives untouched by prisons and killings and hunger and bombs. I imagined that there could be a world without institutionalized murder and systematic cruelty.

I imagined that I could write a book that would make such a world possible.
--Andrea Dworkin
First Love, 1978

How can I tell you now, Andrea, on this, the one-year anniversary of your unexpected exit from this horrific world of misogyny and racism, among other atrocities, how can I tell you what your writing has meant to me, and what you, courageous author, mean to me, only one grief-filled year after you are gone?

How can I express in words of simple gratitude the gifts you have given to me, to us--the human community? These gifts, your books, contain the keys to radically, lovingly, and, (dare one think it) permanently ending the locked-door world of women's systematised suffering. Can we still dream of a humanity that does not require women and men to be less or other than fully humane?

What you did in writing no one else has done for me. No one else I have encountered has written so directly, so unflinchingly, from the body. Your books contain your particular body of knowledge, but with an insight and wisdom deeply informed by the invisibilised lives of so many others, who shudder to tell their stories, and who will never write down what happened to them. This visceral knowledge is not abstracted and intellectualised into mental concepts, which academically well-educated folk love to verbally toss back and forth over tables that never see the light of day. Education is important to me; I spent eight privileged years in undergraduate school. Learning about life is necessary, but abstracting or denying the harm and suffering real people live with is callous at best, malicious at worst, inside or outside the academy. I wish more of your work was taught, with deep understanding of what you were saying.

Your knowledge is fired directly out of a kiln of torment and tears into palpable truths, felt, experienced, known by the mind, yes, but also by the heart that bleeds until it dies. In your body, you held truths no one without unfathomable courage wanted or wants to face in this era of a lonely, desperate individualism that ignores, and perhaps cannot bear, the collective suffering of the masses.

Andrea, it is now April 9, 2006. You have been spared one whole year, dear feminist warrior, of men and women arguing for rights to do things patriarchy demands men and women do to themselves in the first place. Another year in which men, predominantly, maintain and enforce those compulsory and mandated choices through simple interpersonal methods: expressed desire, rejection, ridicule, brutality; and complex systems and industries: prostitution, pornography, cosmetic surgery.

I hope you didn't live to know that in suburbia, there are strip-aerobics classes in gyms, and U.S. talk shows discussing to what degree middle-class heterosexual women should modify their bodies so they look more like the women used by men in pornography. Is it worse that women and men with webcams make themselves into pornography because they experience it as uniquely desirable and politically empowering? What power and desire is this, to become a sexualised thing for someone else, or, as sadly, for oneself? Surely this is not the power your generation of feminists had in mind when dreaming of an end to male supremacy. Once upon a time, the promise of political self-determination assumed that women and men might dream beyond the confines and limitations of gender and race, rather than purposefully eroticising and getting defensive about those same dehumanising parameters.

Racist patriarchy has won, it seems, if women want what white male supremacy requires from them, while declaring it "meaningful feminist choice". What meaning does feminism have if it is "feminist" to be used callously or compulsively by men who trade money for sex? Whose interests are served when it is now called "feminist" to be made into a flattened, fetishised image for men's (or women's) sexual viewing pleasure? What does feminism stand for when it no longer demands an end to all forms, manifestations, and expressions of male dominance and control over women's human lives? If women have no choice but to be politically female, and call all choices to be politically female "free", then patriarchy has indeed won.

That is what I learned from you, and I won't forget it. Your books are my political life-sustaining broth in a world where most books published are the spiritual-intellectual equivalent of toxic water. My spirit is strengthened by your passionate, poetic, informed, incisive descriptions of realities people know and instantly banish from their minds. Your work is the body of knowledge that those who seek "the good life" in patriarchy must not pay close attention to if they seek uncomplicated comfort. (Not that the materially comfortable are actually at ease).

Some of us, not just a few but not nearly enough, with material means and access to resources, do not seek "the good life" in patriarchy. We know such a life depends on the ignored destruction of humanity, including of heterosexual, lesbian, and gay lives, poor white people's lives, the lives of people of Colour and others who are ethnically despised, the lives of Third World women who do more work each day than the U.S. white middle class can possibly imagine. We know a society that is not radically activist will help ensure that all women will be relegated the task of being politically female indefinitely. We know biological determinism, also called sociobiology, is one of patriarchal men's self-serving excuses for maintaining a political system no gene or hormone could possible encode or regulate.

Your books are now in my blood, Andrea, coursing through me, sustaining my rage and compassion. You taught me those can be the same spiritual force for a feminist, which is to say a humanitarian who sees men--and women--as human.

Most caring men I know don't understand that definition. They have absorbed the liberal to conservative media's distortions of feminism and feminists. And so, with regard to women's political freedom, they are complacent. I feel despair and outrage as otherwise very active and relatively patriarchally benign men become utterly impotent, passive and speechless, when challenged to confront other men who are less benign: more predatory, more misogynist. I plead with them, as a Jew and as a profeminist, about the crimes of the good people, about how any degree of passivity in the face of atrocity is perpetuating that atrocity. Men, generally, cannot (or will not) hear me. Because I speak the truths of radical feminism, my words register as a foreign language in men's ears trained to only hear what non-feminist men say. That your work infuses my speech means it, like you, will too often be misheard, or rendered incomprehensible to those who cling to the benefits of privilege and the compromises of denial. Your living speech was the language of unrepressed social reality, of undenied political truth.

Yesterday I was informed that a white male dentist has been charged with injecting his own semen onto the tongues of his female patients. (See: Former N.C. Dentist Indicted on Seven Counts of Assault.)

This past year you have also been spared the knowledge of a current Duke University sexual assault case, in which three white male students are charged with raping an African American woman they hired to dance at their party.(See: Duke University Rape Case Raises Issues of Race and Class in Durham,BlackFeminism.Org and Ferel Scholar's Duke Rape-Reprinted from Biting Beaver)

How inhumane does humanity have to get before we recognise sexist-racist atrocity as such? What remedies exist to help us out of this nightmare of myriad forms of misogynist exploitation, rape, and ethnic bigotry? The answer is blowing in the winds of your words, Andrea. The answer is blowing in those winds.

Andrea Dworkin's written work:
Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant (2002)
Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women's Liberation(2000)
Life and Death: Unapologetic Writings on the Continuing War Against Women (1997)
In Harm's Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings (co-edited with Catharine A. MacKinnon, 1997)
Letters from a War Zone: Writings 1976-1989 (1993)
Right-Wing Women: The Politics of Domesticated Females (1991)
Pornography and Civil Rights: A New Day for Women's Equality (with Catharine A. MacKinnon, 1988)
Intercourse (1987)
Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981)
Our Blood: Prophesies and Discourses on Sexual Politics (1976)
Woman Hating: A Radical Look at Sexuality (Dutton, 1974)

Fiction and poetry
Mercy (1990)
Ice and Fire (1986)
The New Woman's Broken Heart: Short Stories (1980)
First Love (a chapter from an unfinished novel, 1978)
Morning Hair (self-published, 1968)
Child (1966) (Heraklion, Crete, 1966)