The Violence of Gender

Recent reports  out of Greece reveal a campaign of terror being waged against the trans community.* The horror of this campaign is a prime teaching moment for the actual dangers posed to the gender non-conformists of both sexes, as opposed to the misstated dangers that are projected onto those who critique transgender theory and its implications for both gender non-conforming people and female-born and socialized people. This is an important time for all of us to stand up and condemn the violence done to other people. However, it is also an important time to ask the questions of how to stop this, of how to move beyond oppression associated with gender.  As a feminist who rejects current transgender theory, I abhor this violence.  I want to see folks who currently identify as trans living in a world where gender isn’t a thing, so there is no basis for the fascists to use to attack or oppress those who don’t comply with gender…because there is no gender.  No one looks at anyone else and associates ways of thinking, ways of acting or ways of being simply because of their sex.

Those who target the trans community for the type of violence currently occurring in Greece are doing so because of a deep, intractable commitment to gender and gender conformity. Not only do these groups believe gender exists and is natural, they are willing to go to extremes to enforce conformity. This is not the position of people who want to see gender abolished altogether, as is the case of those who criticize current transgender theory because of its reliance on the continuation of gender—whether it be binary or otherwise.

Unfortunately, transgender theory does not stand in opposition to the philosophy of those who carry out the type of violence occurring in Greece; it also holds to the idea that gender is a natural, in-born characteristic. It does hold that there is a naturally “feminine” way to experience the world and a naturally “masculine” way to experience the world. It just holds that gender isn’t tied to the biological sex of the individual; that a person’s “brain sex”** may contrast to that person’s “genital sex”. Sadly, I believe this insistence on perpetuating gender can only lead to more oppression and violence against the gender non-conformist, whether that person identifies as trans or not.

We already know that people who do not conform to gender stereotypes are treated as outcasts within society. For those who seek to enforce conformity between “brain sex” and genital sex—such as the fascists in Greece—this means violence or discrimination against them. For those who hold to transgender theory, this means labeling anyone who doesn’t conform as trans–whether that person identifies that way or not. Indeed, we are seeing very young children labeled trans by their parents simply because these youngsters prefer the dress or activities stereotyped as “belonging” to the other sex. The idea that we should simply celebrate and support these children as gender non-conformists is harder to come by.***

I believe that we can only hope to defend both the gender non-conformists of both sexes and the female-born and socialized by abandoning the defense of gender altogether, by destroying gender completely. We must encourage the gender non-conformist to refuse to comply. In fact, we should encourage (insist upon?) gender non-conformity as a revolutionary act, especially by men. That is, men should “refuse to be men”, to paraphrase John Stoltenberg.  We must also encourage the female-born and socialized to refuse to comply with the limits, roles and behaviors forced upon them by society and the gender hierarchy. We must make it safe for both the non-conforming and the female-born and socialized to do so. We must not ignore the very real differences between the oppression of the female-born and socialized (whether she is gender compliant or not) and the oppression of the male gender non-conformist. It is not the same.**** What’s more, the oppression of the gender non-compliant male is the doing of patriarchy, not the doing of feminists, as some would claim.  In fact, we must look hard at the interplay between trans theory and the oppression of the female-born and socialized.  Adopting the stereotypes of the other gender or even the genitals of the other sex doesn’t get us to the point where all people are free of the tyranny of gender hierarchy and conformity. Only the complete eradication of gender will do that.

NOTES:
*An interesting and telling aspect of this campaign is that it is an outgrowth of a campaign that also targets prostituted women. Trans folks are being accused of being prostituted, and forcibly being taken in for HIV/AIDS testing. At this point, they may be sent to detention camps. This campaign has been waged against prostituted women with little notice, it appears. I only heard about it from this article.
**The entire concept of “brain sex” is misogynistic. It holds that the behaviors of the male and the female are genetically programmed. It is pseudo-scientific essentialism. It is also one of the more recent attempts to use science to justify the subjugation of and discrimination against those born female. Any theory of social constructionism is incompatible with the concept of “brain sex”. It is precisely the kind of thinking that allows someone like Lawrence Summers to claim that women don’t hold as many positions in the sciences due to a lesser innate “aptitude”. MRA claims often fit well with theories of “brain sex”, which is another reason feminists should look long and hard at such theories and anyone who touts them.
***There does appear to be a smaller movement to do just this, however. More of this, please. Don’t label your child; just let that child be. Fight gender by allowing your child to be a male who refuses to be masculine or a female who refuses to be feminine.
**** Socialization begins at birth, and discrimination against the biologically female often begins even before birth (e.g. sex-selective abortion). To insist that the oppression of the gender non-conformist is the same as the oppression of the female-born and socialized is to ignore that. To insist that those born and socialized as female not be allowed to discuss that in female-only spaces is flat-out misogynistic.

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.

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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A feminist critique of “cisgender”

“The pattern of gender, constituted through gender’s repeated performance on the stage of life, demonstrates that males and masculinity are institutionally dominant over females and femininity.  Gender is not just a fun dress up game that individuals merely identify with in isolation from all contextual and historical meaning, but the most powerful tool of structural oppression ever created by humans.

“Notwithstanding variations caused by intersecting factors such as economic class, national jurisdiction, and cultural differences; the collective female social location is consistently less than similarly situated males in terms of: (i) material resources received as an infant and child, (ii) respect, attention, and intellectual encouragement received as an infant and child, (iii) risk of being sexually exploited or victimized, (iv) role within the hetero family unit, (v) representation and power in government, (vi) access to education, jobs, and promotions in the workforce, (vii) property ownership and dominion over space.[vi] “

via A feminist critique of “cisgender”.

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.

Hopeless: Life Under Patriarchy

“Men who want to support women in our struggle for freedom and justice should understand that it is not terrifically important to us that they learn to cry; it is important that they stop the crimes of violence against us.”  –Andrea Dworkin

There are just days I feel so fucking hopeless. Today is one of those days.  There’s not one thing that causes it, but there’s usually a single event that sets it off.  It’s rarely something major.  It’s usually just a final straw situation.  Too many things pile up, then the last one breaks that camel’s back.  Today, it was a couple of them.  One was a man pushing sexist jokes.  The other was a man who doesn’t see how the very concept of modern porn is hostile to women.  It’s not about how it’s produced; it’s about what it says about women.  Together, they just brought that feeling of helplessness welling up within me.

As much as I may disagree with separatism as a mandate for feminists, at least I know that separatists are coming from a righteous place: a place where the torture, murder, rape and oppression of women is so repulsive, that the only hope they see is to get as far away from men as they can. Even when I think their methods are extremely suspect–and there are some separatists whose ideas are not just suspect, but are downright pathological–I completely understand the motivation. The atrocities are too numerous and too long-lived not to. I cannot say the same for the male-dominated movements of the Left or the Right, no matter how much they try to explain away their behavior–religion, “jokes”, sex, “nature”, what the fuck ever. They come from a place of pure selfishness: a place of what they want, no matter how it hurts and destroys women and girls. Their hard-ons. Their comfort. Their self-importance. Their right to hold women in contempt and use them however they want. Their right to put us down with their hateful “jokes”. Their right to our bodies.

I believe that there are good individual men. I know some of them. I love some of them. I politically organize with some of them. It just breaks my heart that so many men–even men who claim to be all about social justice–are more than willing to sell women out to satisfy their own selfishness. Whether they try to sell it as a “joke” (the kind of “joke” they’d never make about a minority male, by the way) or as their sexual “right”, it’s all the same. It’s woman-hating. It’s selfishness. It’s what makes many women feel there is no hope but to separate completely from men for their very survival.

Women don’t make this a world where men are more at danger from sexualized violence than war, although those women who chose to play the patriarchal game often end up in positions where they support men who commit such atrocities. Men, as a group, do that to women. They make this world a violent, unsafe one for us to live in. They are the reason we have to worry about whether the doors are locked. They are the reason we have to think about where and when we can go outside, especially alone. They are the reason I can count on one hand the women in my life who have not been victims of sexual violence.

I never will be a separatist. I don’t think it ultimately solves our problems, and I think it leaves too many women in danger. However, my hatred of what men, as a class, have done to women overwhelms me some days. There truly are some days when the only male I want to see or even think about is my son. There are just too many days when I remember the injuries–to me and to women I love–and want to lash out, to rage, to let all those males who make excuses know that they aren’t just passive bystanders. They are active participants in the world of woman-hate and violence.  If you are not actively working to stop the crimes of hate and of violence against us, you are complicit in those crimes.  No matter how much you may ramble on about the evils of capitalism and the horrors of racism.

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.