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:

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.

View original post 453 more words

The Oxymoron Strikes Again: Religious Feminists

It’s hardly an original idea that just because women do something, that something does not automatically become a “feminist” thing to do.  Whether it’s defending prostitution, hailing pornography, living the BDSM lifestyle, or just staying with some asshole who beats her, not all “choices” a woman makes are equally good.  Even more, not all “choices” deserve to be defended by feminists.  Why?  Because they’re dehumanizing, belittling, and deeply misogynistic at their very cores.  Sadly, many women who agree with all those things–women who call themselves feminists–will suddenly come to a screeching halt and scream when religion is added to the list.

I don’t need to pull out the verses of the various holy books that advise on how and when to beat your wife, how to give your sexual slave to a group of men to be raped and murdered, or how to enslave all virgin females captured in war.  I don’t need to list the various religious-based laws, customs and political movements that seek to limit, oppress and exploit  women.  I mean, they all have them.  It’s really not that difficult to understand, is it?

Recently, I have come across some extremely strange defenses of religion.  I thought I would lay those out, and respond to them:

  • Defense #1:  “Yes, there are misogynistic parts of religion, but you don’t have to believe in all of it.”
  • Response #1:  If you have to pick and choose the least oppressive parts of a religion, what is the point?  If there are fundamentally unjust beliefs and practices embedded in the teachings, writings and traditions of a religion, is it not best to just jettison it altogether? If you have to convince yourself something is not unjust, picking and choosing bits and pieces of it, perhaps you should look at why you have to try to so hard.
  • Defense #2:  “But many women who consider themselves feminists believe in Christianity/Judaism/Islam/Hinduism/whatever.”
  • Response #2:  Many women who consider themselves feminists fight tooth and nail to defend porn, prostitution and mainstream American political parties.  It doesn’t make them right.  It sure as hell doesn’t mean that anyone else should join in their delusions and actually defend them as feminist.
  • Defense #3:  “But that’s just how society is.  There’s no use fighting it.”
  • Response #3:  There’s no point in being politically active at all if this is your view of things.  There is not one thing that makes religion necessary.  It isn’t needed for social interaction.  It isn’t needed for people to treat each other ethically or kindly.  (In fact, we have evidence that it causes people to do just the opposite.)  It isn’t needed to continue the species.  It isn’t needed to sustain life in any way.  Furthermore, it is a fairy tale and encourages people to indulge in magical thinking.
  • Defense #4:  “But it’s their culture, and you have to respect it.  No one can judge another culture/religion/tradition/whatever.”
  • Response #4:  I’ve written before about my rejection of cultural and ethical relativism.  It’s a lazy, cowardly way of thinking.  It’s a way to avoid taking a stand.  No, you really don’t have to respect it.  You have to understand where people are coming from and respect them as human beings, but that doesn’t mean that you have to give any practice or belief system a stamp of approval–especially when it is oppressive in both doctrine and practice.

Unfortunately, it is on the Left where you find much of this bizarre defense of religion, especially Islam.  The argument given is that it’s “Islamophobic” to criticize the religion–even as women are oppressed, tortured or killed under said religion.  The Left’s tendency to adopt the position that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” plays into this.  No matter how brutal or oppressive a regime, a group or a belief system, if it opposes the U.S., it is “good”.

Strangely, this tendency to use victimization to avoid criticism is also a handy tool used by one of the Left’s favorite targets:  Israel.  Anti-Semitism, in general, and the Holocaust, specifically, are used to deflect and evade criticism of Israel, its oppressive practices, and its oppressive religion.  The Left does not recognize this very real violence and oppression aimed at the Jews to be a valid reason to avoid criticizing the violence of Israel when it comes to the treatment of Palestinians.  Perhaps that is because Israeli violence and rhetoric are primarily aimed at men, at least in public. (Although women are all too commonly caught in the middle of one group of patriarchal males battling another group of patriarchal males.)  There are plenty of reasons to criticize Israel.  Its treatment of Palestinians is one of them.  Its status as a Jewish state–a state founded on misogynistic doctrine–is another.

In the U.S., we have Christians claiming that they are being victimized.  They point at any attempt to allow people to live secular lives free of religious-based bigotry as an attack on their religion.  They do so even as they pass laws that allow people to use their religious-based hatred to oppress others.

People talk of a “clash of civilizations” between the Christian West and the Islamic Middle East.  I see no such thing.  Playing the victim seems to be the tried-and-true method of avoiding responsibility for the bigotry and oppression at the heart of your religious teachings.  It’s something that all of the so-called “People of the Book” can agree upon.  Is that progress?

Reflections on Feminism: Gale Dines on “Neo-Liberalism and the Defanging of Feminism”

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:

  1. 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.
  2. The idea that individualism will not lead women’s liberation any more than it could lead to Black liberation or workers’ rights.
  3. The idea that feminism isn’t about the “agency” or “choice” of  a privileged few, but rather about the real liberation of all women.
  4. The idea that intersectionality is important, but not int he ways that Third Wavers and other liberal feminists claim.
  5. The idea that feminism isn’t about “me”; it’s about “us”.
  6. The idea that judgement is not only acceptable, but it is required.
  7. The idea that men must be addressed when we speak of pornography.
  8. 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.

Ethical Relativism Revisited: Choice and Feminism

Ethical relativism is one of my favorite topics in relation to feminism, for the simple reason that one cannot be an ethical relativist and believe in worldwide human or women’s rights.  The idea that human beings–all human beings–have certain inalienable rights means that these rights stretch across the globe, across cultures, across religions.  However, within feminism, there is another debate that falls into the trap of ethical relativism.  As mentioned in my last post, this is the idea that feminism requires that we support the “choices” of other women, whatever those choices may be.  Flat out nonsense, I say.

Feminism has fought for the rights of women to make their own choices.  This is an important part of feminism, and one that I support wholeheartedly.  This means that a woman should have the right to choose not to be married.  She should have the right to choose if or when she becomes a mother.  That she should have the right to choose what kind of career she wants.   The problem occurs when people jump from “the right to make a choice” directly to “the right to be free of any judgement for said choice”.  That’s where ethical relativism and the doctrine of feminist choice jump the tracks for me.

Not all choices made in this world are good choices.  Not all choices in this world are valid choices.  And it sure as hell isn’t true that all choices in this world free the chooser from being judged for the choices she makes.  When feminists–especially those who call themselves “sex positive”–begin speaking about “it’s a choice” and “you can’t judge”, it usually relates to sex work or  BDSM.  That was covered in my last post, so I won’t go into it in detail again now.  The problem here is that these same liberal feminists are more than willing to judge the choices made by others, if said others don’t fall in line with their own political beliefs.

Let’s consider other choices made by women.  The choice of political belief and involvement.  The choice to voice political opinions in the public arena.  The choice to fight for political convictions.  This means that feminists fought for the right of women to be on the political front lines.  Unfortunately, too many women use this right to choose to join anti-women political parties or espouse right-wing values as political pundits.  Ann Coulter is making her choices.  Sarah Palin is making her choices.  Michele Bachmann is making her choices.  Feminism fought for and won the right for these women to make their choices, even though those choices are hurting other women.  Does that mean we can’t judge them?  Hell, no! That applies to other choices made by women, too.

If they hurt women, women and their choices are open to judgment and condemnation.  Liberal feminists who claim that “choice” means “no judgment” are wallowing in hypocrisy the moment they criticize women like Coulter, Palin, or Bachmann. Feminists fought for lots of things.  We have fought for the right of women to make their own choices.  We did not fight for the right of women to make choices that hurt other women without repercussion.  At least, I didn’t.

Critiques of "Half the Sky": Ignoring the Real Problem

 Yesterday, I ran across a critique of the PBS presentation of Half the Sky called “Nicholas Kristof:  Half the Sky, All the Credit” by Anne Elizabeth Moore and Melissa Gira Grant.  I had some of my own criticisms of the PBS presentation, especially considering the underlying capitalist assumptions of Kristof.  The ones that concerned me the most were the arguments made for the education of girls.  That is, that if girls were educated, they could have “businesses” and be better mothers.  Such arguments out of capitalist and patriarchal bias would be understandable if the purpose was to persuade resistant parents to educate their daughters.  They are much less forgivable when presented to a general audience.  I also wondered why a man was front-and-center throughout the episode, while the female co-author of the book was confined to short interviews throughout.  However, this particular critique, and others I read made me more angry than Kristof ever could have.  They are chock full of shallow, knee-jerk, ethical relativist bullshit.

  After searching around, I found some other pieces written by Melissa Gira Grant.  They all run in the same vein.  Most of them conveniently tout her own book.  (Nothing like being a “media-maker” whose job it is “to talk and get talked about”, eh, Ms. Grant?)  The worst part was her insistence that the whole thing was just “white man’s burden”.  The flippant, almost dismissive way she talks of the horrors suffered by these women reveals her real aim here; the women aren’t really her concern.  She has an axe to grind with Kristof, and the women be damned.  Had the critic confined her discussion to the overbearing, shallow nature of Nicholas Kristof, I would not have a problem with her.  However, the fact that she completely ignored the indigenous women working against these practices just infuriated me.  To completely ignore and dismiss a 13-year-old rape victim, so she could beat her pro-prostitution drum, made me want to put my fist through a wall.  To make her point, she decided she’d make her own narrative.  And it was a false narrative.

  In all the segments, there are indigenous women involved in spearheading the efforts.  The only organization that seemed to operate without the considerable involvement of indigenous women was the organization in Vietnam, which was run by a white, Western male.  These educated Western women take the dismissive approach that these indigenous women aren’t doing anything to solve the problems, so they can be ignored.  These educated Western women hail the “local” and “grassroots”, then ignore the local women in favor of grinding their axe against Kristof.  Of course, these educated Western women are of the “prostitution is awesome, y’all” sort, too, so what do you expect?

  In fact, Melissa Gira Grant has actually written the following:  “The messaging of anti-sex trade campaigners casts sex workers as enslaved victims. In reality, it’s a service industry job.”  A “service industry job” populated by women who overwhelmingly began “working” as young teenagers.  A “service industry job” overwhelmingly done by the very poor, the very uneducated, and the very addicted.  A “service industry job” that puts these women at grave risk of rape, torture and murder.  She claims that the only reason prostitutes are the most common targets of serial killers is that they are “marginalised”.  No, they are the targets because there are misogynist pieces of shit out there who wish to rape and to murder women.  Prostitution puts women in the position of going with random men they don’t know, making them more likely to run into one of the many woman-torturers in this world.  The marginalization only comes in when we talk about prosecution and apprehension of these men.  Goddamn, but this woman is a fucking idiot.

  Gira Grant claims that the causes of all these issues are poverty.  In some sense, yes.  That is an incomplete, shallow argument, though.  To argue that sex work is just a “service industry job” ignores an entire discussion about the very nature of work and the desperation of subsistence–a discussion that lies outside capitalist claptrap.  She’s buying into the capitalist bullshit, in other words.  But it’s even more than that:  it’s ignoring and excusing misogyny and patriarchy.  She might argue that poverty exacerbates the issues and puts women in the position of going into said “service industry job”, but she ignores the underlying patriarchal realities of misogyny.  Why does a man who is stressed due to poverty or war or whatever turn to rape, which she seems to argue is the case?  Why is a woman a “legitimate” target for his aggression and his frustration?  Because of misogyny and patriarchy, dumbass.  Why does an impoverished family sell and torture its daughters, but not its sons?  Because of misogyny and patriarchy, dumbass.  Why does an impoverished woman make the “choice” to support herself through prostitution?  Because of misogynistic and patriarchal assumptions that say women’s bodies are their only real commodity, dumbass.  Gira Grant ignores that, stopping at the surface, as per usual.

  Gira Grant and Moore have claimed that the response to their critique has been “overwhelmingly positive”.  So?  There are lots of really, incredibly stupid people in the world–men and women.  I’ve also had difficulty commenting on any of their pieces.  The blog /PostWHOREAmerica (yes, “/POSTWHOREAMERICA”–emphasis theirs–is the name of it) uses Disqus for commenting, which is a broken commenting system that I’ve always had trouble using.  I don’t know how many others have similar issues.  Also, saying the response on your blog was “overwhelmingly positive” means little, since most people who read a blog are people who agree with the author.  As for pieces on other sites, every one I have found has been in a “comments are now closed” state.

  Women like Gira Grant and Moore are the handmaidens of patriarchy.  This is not the first time Melissa Gira Grant has argued for women to be degraded in the name of “choice” and capitalism.  A search for her name will reveal a slew of the general “yay! prostitution” nonsense that has become so prominent among Third Wave “feminists”.  This type of woman is worse than any right-wing woman, because we all know we can disregard the ravings of that segment.  No, this type of woman makes claims to feminism, while selling women out.  This type of woman will look at a film featuring a 13-year-old girl who was stabbed through the goddamned eye by a pimp, but instead focus on problems with presentation.  This type of woman will hear the story of a 13-year-old girl who was raped, then thrown out of her home because of it, and rant about the man who is presenting the story instead of the man who raped the child.  This type of woman will ignore the indigenous women who give shelter to a young mother whose family threatens to murder her newborn, claiming that the whole thing is just “white man’s burden”.  This type of woman is the enemy of women everywhere.

NOTE:  If you are in the U.S., you can watch Half the Sky online.  Part One will be available until Monday, 8 October 2012.  Part Two will be available until Tuesday, 9 October 2012.