Reading a Gail Dines piece or watching her speak always makes me feel a little bit more sane. Her radical feminism is more akin to my own, with its focus on women’s liberation that includes a Marxist critique of capitalism. She also uses the concept of intersectionality in the proper way: to show how women of color are fighting two battles, and that we are ill-served when we ignore that fact. She doesn’t let that damage her focus on women-as-a-class, as so many Third Wave feminists do, but she does understand the importance it plays if we truly want to liberate all women. She’s an academic who’s not afraid to speak like a human being, about real human problems and in real human language. I smile every time she throws in a “fuck” or “shit” in one of her presentations, because it reminds me of the way I speak and write. In fact, Gail is the woman who made me find relevance in Counterpunch again. It had become the dregs of the male-dominated Left for so long. When her writing began appearing there, a site I had abandoned four years ago became a site I checked on a daily basis again. Gail Dines, more than any other “famous” feminist of our time, makes me feel like someone else sees the world as I do. I can’t thank her enough for that.
Now that I’ve gotten my personal heroine-worship out of the way, I want to reflect on Gail’s lecture “Neo-Liberalism and the Defanging of Feminism”. It was brought to my attention by one of the members on The Left Side of Feminism’s Facebook page. While this member and I disagree on a lot, I was very happy that he brought it to the page for discussion. It made my day a little brighter.
In this lecture, Gail hits on all the main points that make her worldview appealing to me:
- The idea that Marx laid the foundation for understanding and defining radical or revolutionary movements, as well as understanding how to fight for the rights of oppressed or exploited classes. His ideas, both on economics and on social movements, are valuable to all radicals–including radical feminists.
- The idea that individualism will not lead women’s liberation any more than it could lead to Black liberation or workers’ rights.
- The idea that feminism isn’t about the “agency” or “choice” of a privileged few, but rather about the real liberation of all women.
- The idea that intersectionality is important, but not int he ways that Third Wavers and other liberal feminists claim.
- The idea that feminism isn’t about “me”; it’s about “us”.
- The idea that judgement is not only acceptable, but it is required.
- The idea that men must be addressed when we speak of pornography.
- The idea that pornography, as it exists today, is a problem not because it increases rape or sexual violence. It is a problem because of the ideas behind it and the ideas it pushes into the social consciousness. It is a problem because of what it does to women within the industry, but also because of how it influences the minds of those who consume it.
I’m going to take each point above and expound on Gail’s feelings about it, as well as my own. I’ve written on many of these issues before, but this presentation inspired me to think about them again.
As is custom, let’s start with point number one, the idea that Marxist analysis of classes of people is invaluable to building any radical or revolutionary movement. This is an idea that was also central to Lierre Keith’s discussion of radicals vs. liberals. However, there are some within radical feminism who reject any positive discussion of Marx, because he was male and didn’t evaluate the world from a radical feminist perspective. I just don’t have much use for such a position. Radical philosophy of any kind didn’t spring from the head of Zeus fully formed. I also rate some views held by (most) radical feminists to be of great importance, and others to be of very little importance. As with any philosophy, I don’t find radical feminism perfect. I also believe there are philosophies that fall outside radical feminism that are very important to women’s liberation. There are other philosophies that fall outside radical feminism that I find to be very important to the future of the entire human race.
As Gail points out, Marx introduced the idea that the world is made up of classes of individuals, not individuals themselves. These classes have common problems, common goals, and common needs. Some of his followers, like Lenin, articulated that women were a class unto themselves, and were responsible for deciding their own futures as members of that class. Yes, in essence, Lenin argued for “women-only spaces”, where women themselves politically came together and made the important decisions about what women needed. Sadly, it didn’t fully develop as it should, because the tough work of tearing down the patriarchy was never addressed. That’s where both Marxism and Leninism fail. However, there are a lot of places where both succeed, and not using or respecting the tools they provide is self-defeating and foolish.
The liberals ignore Marxist concepts of movement-building and collectivism, and that’s where they fail. That’s where they reveal their foolish, self-defeating ways. As Gail discusses, the Oppressor class certainly acts collectively for their collective benefit. They don’t rely on individualism; they meet, plan and strategize as a class for the benefit of that class. All oppressed classes must also do this, rather than cling to concepts of “agency” and “choice”. For feminists, this means coming together as women working for women. It can also mean coming together with what few allied men are willing to give up their male privilege and fight alongside us. Other liberation movements have worked with some of the oppressor class, but only when those individuals were willing to truly recognize and completely reject their privilege. If they are unwilling to fully evaluate how they have benefited from that privilege and utterly renounce it, they are not allies. They are full-blown Oppressors, and must be treated as such.
Liberal feminists are willing to accept these Oppressors as “allies”, while some radical feminists believe that no man can ever be an ally. I fall closer to those radical feminists in viewpoint, although I am not on-board with mandatory political separatism. I do believe that some men can be true allies. However, I don’t believe that men who refuse to completely reject their privilege can ever be allies, even if they speak the flowery language of radicalism when it comes to economics or racism. These men will speak of social justice and collective action until it comes to misogyny and women’s liberation. At that point, they insist on clinging to liberal individualism and “choice” arguments. These are not and can never be allies. They are all-out Oppressors.
The second point–the rejection of the individual as the focus of movements–flows from the first. Gail spoke of how liberal feminists have attempted to redefine feminism as “whatever a woman says it is”. There’s nothing more ridiculous. Feminism is a movement. In its true form, it is a radical, revolutionary movement that seeks to tear down the patriarchal father and its monstrous sons, such as capitalism and racism. Women can be corrupted by living under the thumb of patriarchy, just as Blacks can be corrupted living under the thumb of institutional racism and the poor can be corrupted by living under the thumb of capitalism. In the U.S., it is astonishing when members of the working class align themselves with conservative, capitalist movements. They have been indoctrinated to believe that, if they just work hard enough, they can become part of that Oppressor class (even if they don’t identify it as an Oppressor class). Instead of identifying with other workers or the poor, they look down on these people and look up to those on the upper rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. That the male-dominated Left can recognize that, but don’t recognize that individual women can be corrupted by patriarchal indoctrination, reveals an ethical void in their very souls. That liberal feminists can speak about patriarchal concepts like body image or rape culture, but don’t recognize other ways that women can be influenced by patriarchal indoctrination, reveals that they are themselves thoroughly indoctrinated.
Points three, four and five illustrate Gail’s position that radical feminists aren’t fighting for their own personal comfort. They are fighting for the liberation of all women everywhere. Here is where she brings in the concept of intersectionality as a radical viewpoint. She discusses how the agency of a well-educated, wealthy, white woman who lives in the Western Hemisphere is far different than the (lack of agency) of a woman of color, a poor white woman who works multiple jobs to keep food on the table, or a woman suffering persecution in a society controlled by patriarchal religion. When you refuse to recognize the lack of agency these women deal with in their everyday lives, you are turning your backs on anyone who isn’t just like you, who isn’t a rich, white, young Western woman running a Third Wave website. Women aren’t entering prostitution or stripping because they have real choices. They are entering those lines of “work” because of a lack of real choices. They are constrained by financial difficulties, lack of education, drug addiction, and the like. Instead of celebrating and insisting upon the “agency” and “choices” of these women, why don’t Third Wavers actually fight to increase real opportunities for women? The importance of personal stories is to better analyze our plight as a class. The fact that a few among us have gotten to the proverbial promised land does not mean that women are liberated, and does not mean that we don’t continue pushing for the utter destruction of patriarchy.
Point six flows out of the “choice” argument–specifically judging the choices of others. The proponents of individualism and choice have a corollary that goes along with this, a corollary strongly built on ethical relativism. This is the idea that you’re not allowed to judge the choices of others. Just saying, “It’s my choice,” is supposed to be some magical shield from being judged for your actions. Wrong, wrong, wrong. One of the many times I literally laughed out loud and clapped my hands was when Gail recounted her story of the Las Vegas porn convention. When she asked a man who was there selling set lights whether he had daughters, and how he felt about working with an industry that made their world more dangerous, he defensively demanded, “Are you judging me?” Her reply was that she was absolutely judging him. Loved it.
The last two points have to do with dealing with pornography, that exhibition of the patriarchal conception of masculinity. Gail makes an important point about how and whom we should be addressing when it comes to porn. It’s not women. We should evaluate how women are treated within the industry, and the ideas about women that are perpetuated by porn. However, when we attack porn, the way it depicts women, and how it shapes heterosexual males’ sexuality, it’s men we should be discussing. It’s men who primarily consume it. It’s men who primarily make money off of it. It’s men who primarily write, direct and produce it. It’s men who like to see a woman on her knees with cum running down her face. It’s men who go to sites like “Gag on my cock bitch”. It’s men who like to see a woman’s anus shown to the camera, to prove that it’s stretched out of shape from forceful anal sex. It’s men who like to see porn where women are verbally abused, called “bitch”, “slut”, “whore”. It’s men. It’s men. It’s men. And they need to be named as the perpetrators, just as they should be when it comes to rape and to beating women.
The final thing I have to say about Gail’s lecture is that the comments section on YouTube should be avoided. It’s overrun by the poor little white boys of the Internet. The highest-rated comment when I was there simply stated, “Stupid cunt.” The second-highest-rated was someone whining about Gail’s legitimate statement that whites are the ones who are racist. I wasn’t surprised, but it still made me want to punch someone in the face.
As a note, I wanted to explain why I use Gail’s first name throughout this piece. Some people consider that disrespectful, but it’s not meant that way. First, I often do that when I have both affection and respect for the person about whom I’m writing; when it’s simply respect, but no affection, I usually go with the last name. Also, when someone’s last name ends in an “s”, I’ll often default to their first names. It’s so much easier and less clunky when you’re writing possessives.