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.

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.

Sexual Sadism: Face the Truth and Stop the Excuses

When you search for the term “sexual sadist”  on Google, the definition given comes from The Free Dictionary.  This links simply to the word “sadism”, which has the following definition:

sa·dism (sdzm, sdz-)
n.
1. The deriving of sexual gratification or the tendency to derive sexual gratification from inflicting pain or emotional abuse on others.
2. The deriving of pleasure, or the tendency to derive pleasure, from cruelty.
3. Extreme cruelty.

While the term appears to be sex-neutral, we know that this is not materially true.  While there are undoubtedly females who fall within the definition, both the practice and the social understanding generally applies to males.  If you have done any research on pornography–both graphic and “literary”–the sadist is presented as male almost universally.  The female sadist is a very, very rare exception to this rule.  Since the majority of porn is aimed at heterosexual males, it follows that the presentation of the masochist or the victim of the sadist is almost universally female.  This goes back to the patriarchal concept of masculine dominance and feminine submission.  The concept that the abuse of women is not only normal, it is what women desire.

In patriarchal society, sadists as a group are divided into two:  the sadist who engages in “consensual” sadomasochistic relations and the sadist whose sadism is “forced”.  There is a refusal–even among the choice proponents in liberal feminism–to acknowledge that the underlying psycho-sexual make-up of the sadist is the same whether the sadism is “consensual” or “forced”.  Indeed, some sadists have entered into “consensual” sadomasochistic relations with the intent of killing their “consenting” partner.  Others have entered these relations with indifference to whether the partner ends up dead or not.  All enter the relations with the idea that torture, humiliation, cruelty, and abuse are sexually satisfying.  Let’s repeat that, so we are all on the same page here:  TORTURE, HUMILIATION, CRUELTY and ABUSE are SEXUALLY SATISFYING.  Torture.  Humiliation.  Cruelty.  And abuse.  Are sexually satisfying.

Indeed, the word “sadism” itself is taken from the name of the Marquis de Sade, a member of the French nobility who was known to kidnap and torture women.  He was not the first to forcibly take women to torture and to humiliate them for his twisted sexual satisfaction, nor was he the last.  He was just the most famous.  Society as a whole recognizes that this type of sadism is wrong.  What society as a whole refuses to condemn is the sadist who engages is so-called consensual sadomasochism.  This, despite the fact that the underlying psycho-sexual make-up and motivations of the “forced” sadist and of the “consensual” sadist are the same.  This, despite the fact that we have plenty of evidence that the so-called “consensual” sadist has been known to kill his female partners in pursuit of sexual gratification.

The serial killer John Edward Robinson recruited his “consensual” sadomasochistic partners via online forums meant for sadomasochistic hook-ups.  The majority of the women he tortured and eventually murdered were not kidnapped.  They were not tricked.  They entered into these relationships “willingly” (assuming that you don’t consider patriarchal conditioning of women to accept submissiveness and abuse coercive).  In the language of liberal feminism, they chose to be there.  They exercised their “agency” by making that “choice”.  And they ended up murdered and stuffed in 55 gallon drums.  As I’ve mentioned before, a friend of mine ended up dead during a “consensual” sadomasochistic encounter.  Her sadistic “partner” suffocated her to death with a plastic dry-cleaning bag.  These are but two examples of men who murdered while engaged in “consensual” sadomasochistic sex.  They are not the only examples.

When more radically minded feminists bring these issues up, they are commonly met with a couple of excuses by males who lay claim political radicalism and by females who claim to be feminists.  One is the “choice” argument.  People who argue against capitalism, racism and other “isms” because they are injurious to groups of people seem to run into problems when it comes to sadism.  Here, they will hypocritically cling to the “individual choice” argument.  Guess what? Some people choose to work for employers who exploit them.  Some people of color choose to join racist organizations like the Republican Party.  A political radical should recognize that “an injury to one is an injury to all”.  They should instinctively know that the protection of the group is what political radicals are supposed to be about.  And they will recognize these things…until it comes to misogyny.  Then, they trot out the “individual” and “choice”.

As I have written previously, some women “choose” to stay with men who beat them–even when they are under no financial constraints that might force them to.  In fact, I have male friends who have seen women being beaten in public places.   When they intervened, the women have verbally or physically attacked them for stopping the beatings.  Does the fact that these women choose to stay with violent men and even physically resist when someone tries to end the violence mean that the violence is acceptable?  Does it mean we should advocate for the violence to continue?

The other argument that is brought up is that the sadist who kills or kidnaps is committing a crime, while the sadist involved in “consensual” sadomasochism isn’t.  Sure.  That’s true, but it’s a weak argument.  Legality doesn’t make something acceptable, and it sure as hell doesn’t make it something to advocate.  The racist who doesn’t actively commit violence against people of color isn’t committing a crime.  Would a so-called political radical or even a liberal then say that racism is just fine?  Would that person not only say that racism is acceptable, but that anyone who condemns racism is unreasonable?  Would that person advocate for the circulation of racist graphics and literature?  Would that person publicly criticize and deride those who fight to end racism?  Did I hear, “No”?  So, why does this suddenly become the directive as soon as women and the male right to violate women come into the picture?

The fundamental issue behind feminist critiques of sadism has nothing to do with legality.  It has nothing to do with the liberal/libertarian veneration of individualism.  It has to do with the radical notions of improving the lot of the oppressed and exploited group.  It has to do with the psycho-sexual foundation of sadism–that torture, humiliation, cruelty and abuse are sexually satisfying.  It has to do with the cultural constructs of “feminine” and of “masculine” that tie femininity to masochism and masculinity to sadism.  It has to do with the ways those ties restrict and influence women’s lives in other aspects of society.  It has to do with the ways that these constructs reinforce rape culture.  It has to do with the ways women are kept as the sex class–open and available to both the most extreme kinds of male abuse and the everyday sexual demands of men they may not even know.  It’s not about what two (or more) individuals do in the bedroom.  It’s about how the underlying ideas endanger and limit women outside the bedroom.

Where Do You Draw the Line: Free Speech and Hate Speech

As I have navigated political life, developing, rethinking and redeveloping my political philosophies, the obstacle over which I have stumbled the most has been free speech. Should it be absolute? Should it be limited? Who gets to decide the limits? Who keeps the decision-makers in check, keeping them from trampling unpopular opinion and dissent? Does accepting free speech mean that we have to let the purveyors of misogyny and other hatred to put their ideas out there? What happens if we try to limit them? Even now, after years of thought on the issue, I am still as confused as ever.

When I was younger, I often adopted the hardline.  I agreed with those who favored bans on hate speech.  Misogyny and racism have no place in civil society, anyway, right?  Why does the marketplace of ideas need to include the abhorrent, the ideas that seek to make others less than human?  My young mind felt that it didn’t.  I believed we would never have a truly just society if we didn’t ban certain kinds of speech or expression:  rape apologia, the racist justifications and rationalizations of the U.S. South, pornography, and other hatred aimed at women.  Laws like the European laws against “inciting racial hatred” made sense to me.  I just felt they should be used to protect more groups, especially women.

As I aged, I began to question that position.  As I became more acquainted with historical moves to suppress speech, I did an about face.  My belief that misogyny, racism, and other hate-based expressions didn’t change, but my opinions about how to confront those expressions did.  I learned how so many regimes have killed, oppressed and ostracized those who expressed unpopular opinions.  The problem?  Many of those unpopular opinions were ones I actually supported.  It was the U.S. government suppressing Socialists, Communists and anarchists via deportation, incarceration, or ostracism.  It was the U.S. government using anti-obscenity laws to suppress information about birth control and abortion, to keep women from making pamphlets and giving speeches explaining basic female anatomy and reproduction to the uneducated.  People had even been executed based on their political beliefs, although the charges were usually framed as something else.  So, history told me that the shoe had been and could be on the other foot.

History and the experiences of others weren’t my only teachers.  I also learned first hand the dangers of suppressing certain types of speech based upon content.  Many of the opinions I currently hold are very unpopular–even among those on the Left.  I have been accused more than once of “hate speech” for the statement that I don’t believe anything called “transgender” exists.  I’ve never claimed that people should be ostracized for believing they are transgendered.  In fact, I think radical feminists are overly obsessed with this issue, which I believe to be tangential.  I just don’t believe the phenomenon is anything like its proponents claim.  I don’t believe in essential femininity or essential masculinity.  I don’t believe there is a “female” way to experience the world that is essentially different from a “male” way of experiencing the world.  While those who support the transgender concept claim they are against the gender binary, the very core of the concept is in opposition to this claim.  The concept of transgender says that some people are born with the gender that is “wrong”, which actually reinforces the idea that there are two separate and distinct genders.  It doesn’t smash the concept of gender binary; it simply states that people may be born with a gender different from their biological sex.  To truly smash the concept of binary gender, the very concept of gender must be destroyed.  Human experience must be recognized as a continuum.  Just because a woman doesn’t fit with the stereotype of “feminine” doesn’t make her a man; it makes her a woman who doesn’t fit the stereotype of “feminine”.  The same with men who don’t fit stereotypes of “masculine”.  They are simply men who don’t fit the cultural stereotypes of what it means to be a man.  That does not make them women.  I applaud and support men and women who refuse to conform to stereotypes of gender; I just don’t think it changes their sex.

The Left Side of Feminism’s Facebook page has been reported for “hate speech” when I express this belief.  Nothing has ever become of it, because it is a patently stupid claim to make.  However, there are those who come out of the woodwork to label this view an expression of “hate”.  My comments on some liberal feminist sites are moderated because I have expressed this opinion.  That the statements above could be twisted into the concept of “hate speech” is ludicrous, but it happens all the time.

On a similar note, I have been accused more than once of “Islamophobia” for daring to critique Islam in the same way I critique Christianity, Judaism or any other patriarchal religion.  While the Left will applaud when one criticizes fundamentalist Christians for their misogynistic beliefs and practices, Leftists will come out in droves to condemn those who apply the same standard to fundamentalist Muslims.  In my view, holding Muslims to a different standard is condescending.  It assumes that they are not smart or moral enough to treat women as full human beings.  Again, that so many twist this opinion, calling it “hate speech”, is absolutely ludicrous.  It’s simply a way to shut down the opposition without careful consideration of what is being said.

Eventually, I arrived at a position of a free speech absolutist.  My stance was that no speech, no matter how offensive or hateful, should be banned.  To do so is to risk that the ban someday be turned on me or those with whom I agree.  If it can be used against speech I disagree with, it can certainly be used against speech I agree with.  There is nothing that keeps the opponents of justice and equality from using such bans to meet their own ends.  History tells us this is true.  My own experience does, as well.

In addition, banning speech doesn’t ban the ideas behind the speech.  One may make the speech unheard and the expression invisible, but that doesn’t mean the hate isn’t still there.  If the ideas persist and grow out of sight, how do we know what we must fight?  How do we keep the hateful from exploding in violence that we didn’t even know was coming?  How do we educate?

This position of absolutism was a comfortable place for me for a very long time.  Recently, it has become less and less comfortable.  The argument that we will never have justice when marginalized groups can be publicly degraded and targeted makes sense.  The argument that we must fight for good of the whole, not just the rights of the individual, also make sense.  After all, isn’t that at the heart of Communism?  Doesn’t it seek to destroy a system that benefits a few in order to better the lives of the majority?  Shouldn’t that be at the heart of feminism?  The betterment of the lives of women, as a group, rather than slavish devotion to the individual (i.e. the misguided “choice” doctrine of liberal feminism)?  I can’t argue with those positions, so I arrive at a place of discomfort, of uncertainty.

I haven’t resolved this conflict within my heart and my mind.  I stay along the course of absolutism, because I can’t resolve the questions of what happens to the unpopular opinion.  Communism, feminism, anarchism are all unpopular opinions to many.  Do we risk those social justice movements being targeted by limiting free speech?  I just can’t support anything that leads to that possibility.  So, I uneasily sit in the chair of free speech absolutism…and wonder if there’s a better way.

Which Choices?

In January of 2001, a woman named Joumana called 911 in Paradise Valley, Arizona, a wealthy suburb of Phoenix.  She spoke of her husband, Jason, punching her in the mouth in front of their young son.  When the 911 operator asked about her welfare, Joumana replied, “Don’t worry about me.  This is nothing compared to what I usually go through.”  Joumana’s and Jason’s last name was Kidd.  At the time, Jason was the star point guard for the Phoenix Suns.  He was arrested and plead guilty to domestic abuse.  His punishment?  “Anger management” classes, then an expunged record.  A mere slap on the wrist.

Joumana, the woman who spoke of the punch in the mouth as “nothing,” willingly returned to the marriage bed.  When Jason was shipped off by the Phoenix Suns, she followed him to his next NBA stop in New Jersey.  She publicly defended him against taunts of being a wife-beater.   Joumana was a woman of means.  A woman who didn’t face going to a shelter if she left her wealthy husband.  A woman who didn’t face a life of uncertainty for her children or herself if she refused to return to a man who she said had long abused her.  Yet, she made the choice to do so.

Many women make this choice, even when they have other options.  Rightfully, we realize that the societal pressures put on women play a heavy hand in this so-called choice.  We realize that telling women that marriage and relationships with men are their most important achievements leads women to accept abuse and misuse at the hands of men.  We realize that some women don’t have Joumana’s means.  They may find it necessary to “choose” to stay with an abuser so they and their children have a means of support.  We realize that there are a whole host of social pressures put on women to “make it work”, to “stand by your man”.  We realize that these pressures can lead women to make choices that are dangerous for them, and create and embolden the misogynist men who would beat them.  We realize that these choices have been used in the past to reinforce ideas that women accept abuse as a part of a relationship–and that they should accept it.  We don’t accept that a woman’s claims of “love” for the man who beats her makes this choice alright.  We sure as hell don’t call her choice “feminist” and demand that feminists support it.

For some strange reason, when you replace the word “love” with “orgasm” or “sex”, a woman choosing a violent relationship becomes something we are supposed to celebrate.  It not only becomes acceptable, but anyone who finds fault with it is labeled a “prude” and accused of condescension.  A woman who “chooses” to be with a man who gets off by torturing her isn’t fucked in the head by social concepts of female masochism.  This woman isn’t internalizing society’s twisted notions of womanhood.  Studies have shown that this woman is highly likely to have been sexually abused in the past, but we aren’t to believe that this abuse led her to twist concepts of sexuality into unhealthy practices of power and abuse.  We aren’t to believe that the constant inundation of media depictions of rough, violent, aggressive men who impose their sexual will on submissive, panting women have had the same twisted effect on this woman that the social concepts of “love” have on the abused wife.

Instead, we are to see the woman who likes violent sex as somehow empowered.  Sexually assertive, even.  We are told that she, as a bottom, is “in charge”.  I often wonder if the women who met John Robinson in online BDSM chat rooms thought that about themselves.  Did they think that traveling to have violent sex with a man they didn’t know, that signing a “slave contract”, was empowering?  Did they think that right up until they were slaughtered and stuffed in 55 gallon drums labeled “Rendered Fat”?

I’ve read articles by people involved in the lifestyle who talk about how staged photos depicting dead women are regularly included in the porn of the violent sex crowd.  In short, these people get off on the things that Robinson acted out.  If your dick gets hard at seeing a picture of a woman made up to look dead, or a woman being bound and tortured, you’re a fucking psycho.  If you get turned on by pretending to be that dead or tortured woman–or allowing yourself to actually be tortured–you’re the furthest thing from empowered that I can think of.

The Joumana Kidds of the world, the countless women who “choose” to return to violent men out of “love” are not empowered.  They are making choices, but choices aren’t all equal.  As feminists, we don’t excuse the abuse or the tendency of women to return to abusers as acceptable.  We don’t condemn those who point out how society, views of womanhood, and trauma in women’s lives all play into those choices.

I can understand the motivations of the poor or working class woman who is economically bound to her abuser.  I can’t understand the corrupted mind of the woman who does it not for love or for survival, but for an orgasm.  No one says people aren’t allowed to make their choices.  What I am saying is that your choices are fucked up.  Your choices reinforce all the twisted things about women and sexuality that misogynists thrive on.  Your choices are not feminist in any sense of the word.  And using the word “sex” instead of “love” doesn’t make your choices any smarter than those of that abused woman who goes back to that wife-beater.

Exploring Radical Feminism: Why I Am Not a Separatist

I originally posted a version of this piece as a Note on the Facebook page of The Left Side of Feminism. This is a slightly expanded version of that Note.

On my personal Facebook page, a friend posted a comment from a poster at Radfem Hub. The commenter had repeatedly and explicitly called for radical feminists to take “real action” by living entirely separately from men. The idea of separatism is not new. It has been floating around some parts of the radical feminist movement for decades. While I understand the frustration that leads to separatist thought, I have never been able to go along with that school of thought. Sadly, it has become a dominant school of thought within radical feminism, although that was not always the case. At all.

Early radical feminism arose from groups of women who had been involved in radical Leftist politics, such as New York Radical Women, Redstockings, and New York Radical Feminists. These were women who had become disillusioned with the New Left. The men of that movement had revealed themselves to be anything but revolutionaries. They didn’t want to tear down a broken system and build it anew–at least, not when it came to relations between the sexes. They didn’t want to destroy their daddies’ world. They just wanted their daddies’ places within that world. They wanted to be the ones controlling, oppressing and exploiting women. Whether you’re talking Stokley Carmichael’s hateful comments about women, Abbie Hoffman’s hateful comments about women, or Ira Einhorn actually beating and murdering a woman, the leaders of the male-dominated New Left saw no reason to upset their advantageous apple cart vis-a-vis patriarchy.  So, women like Shulamith Firestone, Carol Hanisch, and Kathie Sarachild broke away.

These women, who were at the forefront of the development of radical feminism, were not separtists.  Many of them were veterans of the Civil Rights Movement.  They had long organized with men on issues of social justice.  They were dedicated to real changes for real people in the real world.  In fact, Hanisch (along with others) has criticized the move of feminist thought from the real world to the world of the academic.  As much as I may respect academics, such as Mary Daly, I have to agree with her.  Getting published doesn’t change the world.  Getting organized does.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not aligned with any single school of thought. Those who are obsessed with theory will take exception to that, but I pay them no mind.  Theory and life rarely coincide.  I prefer organic, people-oriented action and belief systems to theory-obsessed ideologues.  I take what I think is right from a whole host of different philosophies, and leave what I think is wrong. To me, that’s how everyone should operate. Tying ourselves to a single philosophy is evidence of lack of dedicated, personal, critical thought. We adopt the ideas of others (or what we’re told others believe) instead of thinking for ourselves. Thinking for yourself is the most important skill any person can have–especially if she wants to make real changes in the real world.

One of the things I must come back to on many occasions, both on the Facebook page and in my writings elsewhere, is that I am hugely influenced by the writings and the lives of radical feminist thinkers. I hold many of the same convictions and worldviews as radical feminists, past and present. However, I do not count myself as a radical feminist, by today’s definition of that term. That’s for a variety of reasons.

One the reasons I do not identify as a radical feminist is the idea that there is no such thing as “feminisms”. There is only feminism. You are or you’re not. Period. I believe you can hold to other philosophies–Marxism, general Socialism, liberalism, anarchism, libertarianism, etc.–but the feminism part of it is how you view the place of women in the world, as well as how you view patriarchal concepts and practices–the albatross around the necks of women. I am a Marxist, and I am a feminist. I am a Socialist, and I am a feminist. I hold sympathy with anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-socialism and anarcho-communism. But I am a feminist. They are philosophies that can be parallel, but they are also separate. One’s other political philosophies may influence her expression of feminism, but it does not fundamentally change the fact that it is feminism.

The other reason I do not identify as a radical feminist has to do with the idea of separatism that many radical feminists hold as the epitome of the woman-identified woman. I oppose it for two reasons:

  1. It is morally repugnant to me.
  2. It is unworkable, and relies on several hypocritical practices and suppositions.

Let’s discuss item #1 first. The moral repugnance of the concept is the underlying idea of rejection of our male children, the turning over of our sons to the patriarchy and refusal to raise them. This disgusts me, and I find it the flip side of the coin of Chinese, Indian and other patriarchal rejection of female children. I absolutely believe that these concepts come from very different places. I understand why one would want to live completely separate from men. I really do. Under patriarchy, women are safest if they are away from all males–even those who support and sympathize with us. It’s too easy for a male with violent intentions to infiltrate and manipulate his way into the group. In addition, one study after another has shown that women and girls are freer to express themselves in all-female environments. They learn better in single-sex environments, for example. While the rejection of female children comes from a place of pure, unadulterated misogyny, this idea of turning male children over to their fathers and the patriarchal institutions comes from a place of protection for girls and women. I get all of that. And I still reject it as morally repugnant.

To me, the idea of giving over one’s male children, is giving into the patriarchy. Instead of seeking to destroy it for the benefit of all women, it seeks to simply separate from it. So, what of the women left behind? Do we simply not care? Do we turn our backs? To me, destroying patriarchal assumptions and misogyny are far better than simply throwing up our hands and walking away. The fight is more difficult, but it is the moral way to proceed.  Activists such as Hanisch felt this way, as well, since they realized that most women had no interest in lesbian separatism for one very good reason:  they weren’t lesbians.  Insistence that women be separatists in order to be radical feminists changed the face of radical feminism, and destroyed its momentum as a powerful movement for Women’s Liberation.  It became more of a fringe pursuit, giving liberal feminism the room to distort feminism into “anything a woman says it is,” as Hanisch noted.  While I may disagree with many of her comments in “What’s Wrong with Feminist Theory Today and What It Will Take to Make It Successful Again,” I have absolutely no arguments with her there.

On a personal level, I am the mother of a daughter and a son. They are both of me. They are mine. My spouse gave genetic material, but my body made them. My body carried them. They heard my heart as they formed and grew within me. My body birthed them. My body fed them. Mine. They are mine. To think I would essentially cut away half of me, and abandon him to the patriarchy is disgusting. Raising him right will not in and of itself destroy patriarchy, but it is one of the many methods which, taken in concert, will lead us there. Abandoning him to the patriarchy is, in fact, a victory for them. And it is a pathological thing for any parent to do.

Now, let’s discuss point #2: the fact that the very idea is unworkable and hypocritical. I’ve seen discussion of the idea of all-female communes that do not trade with males in any way. I’ve seen discussion that women should cut off all childbearing. I’ve seen discussion that women should no longer politically interact with males. To all of it, I say, “Bullshit.”

First, let’s talk about communes. I could support these up to the point where some proponents start talking about cutting off all trade. In order to have a commune of any type, one will inevitably rely on technologies that were developed by males. To say you will not trade or interact with males is foolish, when you can’t even chop wood without using technologies and tools that were developed by males or based upon other tools developed by males. There is no way to do that. To even discuss these concepts on the Internet is hypocritical, considering that men have been heavily involved in the creation of computers and networking–and they continue to be. If you’re discussing this on the Internet, you have already engaged in trading with the patriarchy and the male. So, where are you drawing your line here?

Now, let’s talk about childbearing. Parthenogenesis is not happening tomorrow. The only species that reproduce in this manner are those without much biological complexity or diversity. It is not happening in the human species. If we are to use artificial methods of impregnation, we are still going to be relying on the biological material of males and using techniques that males have had a hand in developing. So, once again, you would be relying on males to have birth-without-men. If you just stop reproducing, your all-female society very quickly dies out…and it deserves to, just as China and India deserve to die out for killing their women and girls.  If you only reproduce by recruiting women from the outside, you are, in essence, treating other women as your breeders; you are taking on the very attitude towards women and reproduction that is inherent to patriarchy.  You become a user of other women’s bodies.

Also, to say women are giving birth “for” men and “to” the children of men is dismissive of women. As I mentioned, my children are mine. They are mine more than they are my spouse’s. He gave biological material and he has been involved in their rearing, but I made them. Most of the work was from my body. I largely determine how they will be raised, because I am the more forceful and politically committed of the two of us; he largely follows my lead in those areas. They carry both of our names, but they are mine, first and foremost. I will not allow any movement to deny that fact. I also think that women must be pushed to take on this mindset instead of just waving the white flag to patriarchal concepts of childbearing and child rearing. Your body is producing this child. Stop thinking of it as “bearing my husband’s children”. No, you are bearing your children.

Then, we have the issue of political interaction. Again, I absolutely understand when women say that no male-defined movement or organization will ever properly represent women. The thing is that women, especially in the U.S., created the Left. It is our movement. It started with a stand that demanded women’s power in society and a fundamental rejection of the old ways of patriarchy. Even women who didn’t explicitly identify as “feminist” held these positions, and led these movements. Why in the hell are you willing to give in and walk away? I’m stronger and prouder than that.

I also believe that there are issues beyond feminism that are important to a truly just society. These issues concern men, especially men of the poor and working classes. They must be involved in that. Since I do not believe it is possible (or desirable) to break off from males entirely, I also think the idea of not politically engaging with men is begging for failure. What’s more, I have found men to be great allies in my own fight for women’s rights. Even if we just address The Left Side of Feminism, it has largely been successful because of the men who support our struggle. When I first created the Facebook page, some of the first members were men. My own father promoted the page among his friends. The first person who reached out to me with offers of help and advice to grow the page was a man. This very forum on which I am expressing my opinions was built with the help and strong support of men. These are the men who support our struggle, while also realizing there will be times we need to break apart from them and focus on our Sisters.

Reblog of “Your Lies Are Part of Our Genocide”

While there are always issues with spelling and grammar in this blog (which I sympathize with–as someone with no copy editor to look over my writing), it is always the powerful voice of a formerly prostituted woman. Her words are always meaningful and touching. I find that more important than picking on grammatical issues. I hate when we try to limit those who speak based upon the way they say their words. It cuts so many people out, and it’s elitist. Anyway, if you haven’t read this blog before, I recommend it highly.

Mott’s discussion of how liberal feminists and Leftist males erase her reality hits close to home. It’s the reason I reject liberal feminists, and seek to expose the misogyny that is rife in many male-dominated Leftist movements and philosophies.

Rebecca Mott

I have to live surrounded by the lies of the sex trade, the lies of the liberal feminists, the lies of Leftist men, the lies of fundamentalist religious folks, the lies of all of the media, the lies of high and low culture about what it is to be prostituted.

These lies are never harm-free, these lies are never without an agenda, these lies are a constant remainder to all the prostituted that we have no worth, that we will never be given the right to be fully human.

Instead in this environment, it has become the only that the prostituted can gain the simple and basis right to be fully human, is to take and not to wait for others to give it to us.

For the prostituted class see with a clear eye what the lies attempt to hide – that whilst the lies play with language, whilst…

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