The “Unruly Mob” vs. “Democracy”

As anyone on social media knows by now, the draconian anti-abortion bill in Texas, SB5, was defeated last night.  It is truly a great thing for all of those who fight for women’s bodily autonomy.  The law would have closed down all but five clinics in the state of Texas, which is one of the largest states (in both population and area) in the U.S.  The most affected would have been poor and working women, who could not afford the travel or time needed to travel to find services if they did not live in one of the areas where those five clinics were located.  This would include a significant number of women of color, as well.  Some say it would have virtually ended access to abortion in the state.

The proposed legislation, SB 5, would have criminalized abortion after 20 weeks and forced all but five of the state’s abortion clinics to close their doors. Because of Texas’ size and population, Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards warned that SB 5 would amount to a “virtual ban” on abortion services in the state.

I watched the live stream online and followed the proceedings on Twitter last night, hoping against hope that it would turn out the right way.  I was so relieved that it did. Despite my unmitigated joy today, I am having a major problem with the narrative around the struggle.  Those who advance this narrative engage in both the celebration of bourgeois party politics and the cult of personality.  This narrative holds that one woman, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, beat back this bill.  It ignores the throngs of people who flooded the Texas capitol in Austin, shouted down the Texas senators, and demanded to be let into what should be their house of law when the doors were locked against them.  It ignores the countless women who sent in personal stories of abortion for use in the filibuster.  It ignores those arrested and those who protested those arrests, at one time screaming at the cops to “let her go” as they arrested an older woman who would not (or could not?) rise from her seated position.  I prefer the “people’s filibuster” narrative, because it recognizes these facts.  It shows us the power of direct action.  Sadly, even that term is being misapplied to include only Wendy Davis.

Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), much of the coverage of and outrage over the events in Texas have been focused on the Democrats vs. Republicans “get out the vote” pseudo-movements.  When it was thought that the Republicans were going to ignore the time deadline and claim to have passed the bill, many liberal groups immediately began to declare that they would not forget, that people needed to get out and vote Democrat.  Even after the caucus declared the bill dead, this has been a major liberal rallying cry.  In fact, it’s the supporters of the bill who have recognized the power the people wielded in their legislative halls, blaming “unruly mobs” for the defeat.  While liberals “stand with Wendy”, conservatives recognize that they could have used parliamentary rules of “germaneness” to kill the filibuster and push the bill through, were it not for the crowds of people who shouted them down to run out the last 15 minutes of the clock.

What do we take from Texas?  We certainly should not believe the fight is over.  In fact, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is hinting that another special session might be called to bring the bill to the floor again, saying, “It’s over. It’s been fun. But see you soon.”  To put our trust in elected Democrats to protect us is misguided.  After all, when convenient, they have sold women out before.  Even more than that, simply supporting Democrats doesn’t change the underlying problems:  patriarchy, capitalism, imperialism and the corrupt structures of U.S. pseudo-democracy.  Controlling women’s reproduction, to push out more workers and soldiers, is a necessary function of patriarchy, imperialism and capitalism.  The corrupt structures of U.S. pseudo-democracy mean that our elections are bought and sold, and exercising control via elected representatives of either bourgeois party is bound to fail as often as it gives us minor successes.  I say the only true democracy in action in Texas yesterday was represented by the “unruly mob”–the people directly taking control.

UPDATE (6/26/2013, 3:49 PM MST):  Texas Governor Rick Perry has called another special session to reintroduce this bill.  The session will convene on the 1st of July, 2013.  This is why it’s so important that we have a movement, not just rely on a politician here or there.

UPDATE (6/27/2013, 6:31 PM MST):  I added a link to an article and video of the 72-year-old woman who was forcibly removed from the capitol.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT:  I need to thank Navdeep, a poster on  TLSOF’s Facebook page.  He made a statement regarding putting trust in politicians that I originally misunderstood.  After thinking about his comments for a while, I realized what he was saying and how right he was.  His comments, along with many other things that unfolded during and after the filibuster, led me to write this piece.

Language: Usage and Debate in Progressive Politics

In the past week, I have been involved in discussions and debates related to the terminology used to describe traditionally oppressed groups.  The use of language can be a highly charged topic in leftist and progressive circles, whether one is discussing women or traditionally oppressed ethnic and racial groups.  The debate can rage over spelling or word choice.  In some cases, the discussion is true political analysis.  In others, it is simply a way to “win” an argument and cast the opponent as politically out-of-touch or bigoted.

My purpose here isn’t to insist that people use one word or another, that they adopt alternate spellings or spell words in a traditional fashion, but simply to explore the topic and the motivations behind certain word choices.  We all know that language has power.  The “power to name” has been important to radical feminists for decades.  The power to marginalize individuals using derisive language is one that powerful groups have used for millennia.  My purpose is to discuss how language evolves, the political usage of language, and how there can be considerable disagreement within historically oppressed and exploited groups about proper word usage.  I think it’s important for anyone with leftist or progressive politics to understand this–that what they may consider “politically correct” may be a matter of considerable debate within the actual marginalized group.

Some of the words, phrases and designations that can be viewed as proper by one group, but not by another include “cisgender” or “cis”, women-vs-womyn/wimin, and Latino/Latina-vs-Hispanic-vs-Chicano/Chicana-vs-“people of color”.*  The use of one or more of these terms can lead to heated debate.  At times, this debate is based upon not understanding how the words are viewed or used by certain communities, while at others the debate is based upon a more thorough understanding of how the words are viewed or used.  Regardless, the debates generally include accusations that someone “just doesn’t get it”.  Perhaps they do get it.  Perhaps they simply have other information or they disagree with the political arguments behind specific word usage.  There are other words and phrases that inspire similar debate, but I will mostly confine myself to a discussion of these three, because they are the ones with which I have the most real life experience.

The term “cisgender” or “cis” can get one into hot water when moving from a liberal feminist environment to a radical feminist environment.  In the liberal environment, one can be castigated for not using this word and paying fealty to its political implications. This confuses many feminists who begin moving into more radical feminist spaces from liberal feminist spaces.  They may use the term thinking they are being kind, sensitive and politically aware, only to be told that they are actually being anti-woman.  I agree that the term “cis” and “cisgender” are politically useless, at best.  However, I think it would be helpful to tell women why the term and the theory behind it are disputed, rather than simply condemning them.  Unfortunately, I think many of us may assume that other women understand the issues involved and are simply willfully ignoring those issues.  I don’t think this helps our cause of advancing the analysis of gender as a destructive hierarchy, rather than a neutral continuum.  It simply serves to confuse and alienate women who could be our allies.

Also related to the struggle of women is the use of alternate spellings for the very words “woman” and “women”.  Because many radical feminists find the etymology and implications of the words problematic, they choose to use alternate spellings.  Among others, these include “womyn”, “wimin”, and “womon”.  On the other side are those who say that the use of such alternate spellings alienate potential allies by appearing to erase men.  I find the argument that feminists need to cater to men’s egos–even when referring to women— misguided, at the very least.  That said, I also prefer to use traditional spellings for words.  For me, I fully understand the desire to name ourselves that lies behind the practice of alternate spellings.  I have very little patience for those who ridicule others for using alternate spellings.  However, I do find that the use of such spellings in articles meant to influence others (call it propaganda, if you want) can come across like jargon.  I also have an ingrained desire to use proper grammar and spelling because of my background in journalism.  So, I remain unpersuaded by the hardliners on either side.

The final language-related issue that stirs up debate is the terminology used to refer to both men and women who belong to historically oppressed and exploited racial or ethnic groups.  In the U.S., these groups are usually, demographically speaking, in the minority of the population.  On the other hand, when one considers the population of the world, they are not.  For many, this demographic difference between white-majority countries and the rest of the world means that the only acceptable term to use is “people of color” to describe all members of historically oppressed ethnic and racial groups.  This is understandable, and it’s a term I often use.  However, it is not a panacea.  There is considerable debate within Hispanic groups about how that particular group–which includes those in all racial categories–should be referred to.  This is a long and storied debate, and one that gets little notice outside of this particular group.

Among the ethnic group referred to as “Hispanic”, there is a history of debate even over that term.  While it is currently used by the U.S. Census, there are those within the group who reject it due to its colonial implications.  It is a term they feel is used to connect them solely to Spanish colonizers, and does not recognize that the majority of those called “Hispanic” are descended from both indigenous and colonial backgrounds, with others being descended from only indigenous backgrounds, indigenous and African backgrounds, or only African backgrounds.  In short, it is considered Eurocentric and imperialist, as described by Cheech Marin.

Hispanic is a census term that some dildo in a government office made up to include all Spanish-speaking brown people. It is especially annoying to Chicanos because it is a catch-all term that includes the Spanish conqueror. By definition, it favors European cultural invasion, not indigenous roots. It also includes all Latino groups, which brings us together because Hispanic annoys all Latino groups.

In the 1960s, the words “Chicano” and “Chicana” became popular for Mexican-American activists, especially radical activists, to describe those of Mexican heritage who were born in the U.S.  Others reject that term for so-called derisive implications, as it was once used by Mexicans to describe Mexican-Americans, who were perceived as having lost their heritage.  The word has been used in the names of activist organizations in the U.S., such as Chicanos por la Causa.  “La Raza” is another term used for politically active Mexican-Americans, especially in California.  That, too, has been used in the names of activist organizations, such as the National Council of La Raza.

Similarly, the words “Latino” and “Latina” are subject to debate.  These words are often viewed in a similar way as “Hispanic”, linking the peoples of Latin America to their colonizers’ languages without any recognition of the indigenous or African origins of many in Latin America.  However, as indicated in the quote above, this is not a universal opinion, either.

And what of those in the U.S. who fall between categories, because they are of both Latin American and North/Western European descent?  Are these people of color?  Are they Hispanic?  Are they Latinos and Latinas?  Are they white?  Does their status change according to the situation?  This is important to me, because it involves my own children.  I met a Mexican-American man–first generation born in the U.S.–22 years ago.  I married him 21 years ago.  We have two children.  On official documents, they are listed as members of the Hispanic ethnicity and the white or Caucasian race.  How they are treated likely depends on the situation.  In person, they are treated as white.  Their skin tone is white, so they have the privileges associated with that white appearance.  Culturally, our family’s primary ties and influence are Mexican and Mexican-American.  On the other hand, if one were to see just their names written on a job application or academic paper, my children would be considered Hispanic by the reader.  As studies have shown, the appearance of a name indicating a female or member of another marginalized group can lead the reader to have built-in bias towards that individual and her qualifications.

But what of the term “people of color”?  As I said, I commonly use it, but I have run into issues with that term, as well.  It is not one my spouse embraces.  In fact, he does not even embrace the term “Mexican-American”.   He refers to himself, his family members and others within his national heritage group as simply “Mexican”, regardless of the country in which they were born or the passport which they carry.  This may be because his father was born and raised in Mexico, and almost all of their family still lives in Mexico City.   I have run into older Mexican-American folks who find the term “people of color” actively offensive.  Like the old fashioned term “colored” that was once used to describe African-Americans and is now widely considered offensive, they feel it defines them in opposition to whites.  It doesn’t say what or who they are, it says what or who they aren’t; there are “people” (who are white), and there are “people of color” (everyone else).  It also lumps them in with others of widely differing backgrounds and heritage.

So, where do we arrive at with this discussion of language?  For me, it’s realizing that even the terms most popular among leftists and progressives, the terms considered sensitive and supportive, are not always free of debate–quite fiery debate, in fact.  When we run across folks who don’t use the terms we consider sensitive or supportive, we should find out why.  Don’t assume insensitivity or lack of knowledge, unless it’s a historical pattern for a particular individual or the context makes it clear.  Find out what they’re saying and why, especially if they are someone you don’t know well.  Unless, of course, you’re just looking to silence someone who disagrees with you.  Then, you can continue being that “liberal bully” that Offbeat Empire refers to.  Just don’t expect to arrive at any real answers or gain new allies if you choose that path.

NOTES:

* I have used a number of links to Wikipedia articles in this piece.  That is not because I think Wikipedia is necessarily a good source.  Instead, I have chosen to include these articles because they include reference links to other, more helpful articles.

“Equal Rights Are Not the Same As Equality” by Elaine Charkowski

As mentioned in the title, this piece is not mine.  It is the work of Elaine Charkowski, who gave explicit permission for others to share the work copy-free.  There are a few things in the piece with which I am not in full agreement.  For example, there is considerable debate regarding the information used in the work The Chalice and the Blade.  However, I am in full agreement that women should not be looking to act as most men currently act.  I am also in full agreement with Elaine when she states that men are not naturally violent, and women should not seek to be.

The article is in PDF format.  You can access it by clicking the link below.

Equal rights are not the same as equality

Rape Culture and Its Real World Repercussions

Note:  This post is a slightly edited version of a Note I published to The Left Side of Feminism’s Facebook page.

As a follow-up to my recent post about the perpetuation of rape culture and rape myths being a bannable offense, I wanted to relate a real world story about why this is so important. It’s not about your political golden boy or any single case.  It’s a stance based upon real repercussions that affect real women in the real world. It’s about the way rape is excused and perpetuated by men and women who peddle bullshit

Several years ago, a football player at the University of Arizona was arrested on rape charges. He played on the defensive line, meaning he was roughly in the 6’3″-6’5″ and 250lbs-300lbs range. The victim, needless to say, was not nearly so large. The attack happened at a college house party. A young U of A student was at this party. Like everyone else, she drank a lot. She may have flirted with this football player at various points in the night. However, eventually, she had enough. She fell asleep/passed out/lost consciousness on a couch in the house where the party was taking place.

Seeing an unconscious female there, the football player decided to rape her. He took her pants off and did what he wanted to her. She reported the rape to police. When he was questioned, he first denied that there was any sexual contact of any kind. There were some uncomfortable facts, however–like his DNA inside her body–so his story quickly changed. Of course, now it was “consensual sex”. The facts–including his lies about sexual contact–were plenty enough to file rape charges. To his credit, the football coach immediately told this player to take a hike. “Innocent until proven guilty” is a good thing in a court of law; representing the University on the football team, however, is a privilege, not a right.

The case finally ended up in court. The defense used the usual “she’s a lying slut who wasn’t raped” attacks on the victim. Some of the things they presented in defense:

  • A picture of the victim taken six months after the attack. It was taken by her friends, as they all gathered to celebrate her birthday. She was smiling and wearing a tiara. This, the defense insisted, proved she’d never been raped. (Myth alert: A woman who is raped can never, ever smile again or have a single happy moment, or it proves she wasn’t raped.)
  • So-called “inconsistencies” in her story. She said at various times that she was on her back or her side when the assault began. If you’ve ever slept on a couch, you know that you can prop yourself against the back of the couch, so you could be described as both on your back and on your side. Regardless, this was hardly the earth-shattering “lie” the defense presented it as. It was a mild variation that could easily be explained by the piece of furniture she was lying on. It certainly wasn’t a lie along the lines of, “I never had sex with her…oh, wait, I guess I did since you have my DNA inside her.”
  • The fact that she flirted and danced with the attacker earlier in the evening. Even he admitted she was unconscious when he took her pants off of her. Here’s a tip: unconscious people can’t consent to anything, because they are, y’know, unconscious. (Myth alert: If a woman ever flirts with, smiles at, or, goddess forbids, actually has sex with a man, he has the right to have sex with her at any time in the future. She has given her consent to whatever he wants whenever he wants it forever.)
  • The fact that she might have moved at some point during the assault, so the attacker thought she was into it. Again, she was unconscious when he took her pants off and inserted himself into her body. What was the intent of her movement? Perhaps to try to get out from under a 250+ lbs football player? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. He took her clothes off and began assaulting her while she was unconscious. That’s not, to use George Galloway’s horrible phrases, a matter of “surprise sex” or “bad sexual etiquette”. That is rape. Period. Full stop. End of sentence.
  • Women who knew her testified that she was “flirtatious” with men. So, any man who ever wants to have sex with her is apparently entitled, forever and wherever and under any circumstances. (Myth alert: Once again, if a woman flirts with, dances with, smiles at, and has sex with one man or many men, she’s forever open to her body being used by any man who happens to feel the urge–even when she’s unconscious.)

So, what was the result? Acquittal. A real woman whose life was forever affected by a sexual assault, then devastated again by a jury who bought the rape myths. This is why I will never allow rape culture’s perpetuation here. You can peddle that bullshit somewhere else. There are plenty of online spaces where that shit flies, even Leftist spaces. But not this space. Even if that makes me Joseph Stalin.

It’s not all about you

Recognizing that it’s about “us”, not about “me”. That’s what makes some of us radical, and some of us liberal or libertarian. It’s not enough to slap a bit of liberal feminism on our radical leftist politics. If you’re going to be a radical, then BE a radical.

“Somewhere along the way ‘the personal is political’ became – not about the way that patriarchal society shapes the detail of women’s lives, not about the commonalities of experiences and certainly not about the social and political forces defining and constraining what it is to be a woman – but about identity, the individual, empowerment, the freedom to choose, the freedom to excel, to achieve.

“The conflation of empowerment and the personal – as an individual, not social being – as the political undermines collective action to dismantle the structures upholding inequality. Emphasising self-determination and personal achievement is conservative, it protects the status quo if it stops us from recognising or caring about the barriers that others face. Autonomy, choice, agency, empowerment are at best tools, political means not ends. If we confuse them with our goals then we might as well watch the chance to create a fairer and more just society for all slip through our fingers.”

Karen Ingala Smith

Last week, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner released a report on the impact of pornography on young people. Tweets about this report from the perspective on an organisation working with women, young people and children elicited responses including the following:

“so improve porn. Don’t ban young people from seeing it. Porn is a healthy aid to masturbation. It’s just badly done.”

“Telling women they’re debased by sex. Feminism.”

“I’m sick of people shaming porn. I’ve been watching porn since I was 11. It’s a healthy part of my life.”

Since then, the voices of so-called pro-porn, pro-sex-work and tory-feminists have started to sound increasingly similar to me. The young woman defending porn as a healthy aid to masturbation, the sex-worker celebrating her mastery of her craft or the former-tory politician describing that hard work that she had to undertake to reach the lofty heights of power, to my ears…

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Me me me

Cath Elliott does a wonderful job discussing how choices are not always feminist. Women make bad choices sometimes, choices which hurt the cause of liberation for all women. I have explored similar themes in several of my articles, including “Ethical Relativism Revisited: Choice and Feminism”. (See: https://theleftsideoffeminism.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/ethical-relativism-revisited-choice-and-feminism/).

Too Much To Say For Myself

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read recently how feminism is all about a woman’s right to make her own choices in life, and quite frankly I’m sick to the back teeth of hearing it. “You can’t criticise prostitution or porn” goes the cry, “some women these days have chosen freely to take part in it. They’re empowered and liberated, all those things feminists have been fighting for for decades.”

It seems that no matter what the choice in question is, whether it’s to sell her body for sex, or whether it’s to submit to the man in her life, the very fact that a woman has made that choice, all by herself and without any sign of having been overtly coerced, means that as feminists we’re under some kind of sisterly obligation to respect it.

Well I’ve got news for you: no it fucking well doesn’t.

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