Finding the Balance: The Feminist Facebook Campaign

Yesterday, Facebook finally put out a statement on the site regarding the feminist anti-violence campaign.  In it, they spoke to the balance between allowing controversial ideas, while eliminating that which is harmful.

[W]e also work hard to make our platform a safe and respectful place for sharing and connection.  This requires us to make difficult decisions and balance concerns about free expression and community respect.  We prohibit content deemed to be directly harmful, but allow content that is offensive or controversial.

My fear with campaigns like the anti-violence campaign on Facebook has always been that controversial, but not violent, material would end up being censored by those seeking to prove they’re “cleaning things up”. That is, that Facebook would overreact in seeking good P.R., and start eliminating controversial ideas, even when they did not celebrate, condone or encourage violence.

I have written in the past about my internal conflict with the concept of free speech.  That conflict has led me to tread carefully when people start talking about “hate speech”. In fact, I had to think a bit before deciding whether to join the Feminist Admin campaign this week. However, after careful consideration, the campaign against the violent images about raping and beating women was something I couldn’t refuse to support. These were not people talking about “controversial” topics. These were people reveling in violence, reveling in images of women’s beaten and bloodied bodies. They weren’t trying to arrive at answers to difficult questions. They were just trying to get off on seeing women beaten up.

I consider this blog and the related Facebook page to be controversial. They discuss very controversial topics, such as gender, from a radical perspective. However, I seek to weed out attacks or links that I consider focused on individuals instead of issues. This is why I made a decision a while ago not to post links to some of the more inflammatory radical feminist sites that discuss gender. I felt that some of them were focused on individuals and personal ridicule, instead of being focused on issues. To me, that kind of individual-focused rhetoric doesn’t help anyone. In fact, it turns people off and makes them tune out what is actually being said about the ramifications of certain positions.

The same is true when I discuss my opposition to religion, whether on Facebook or this blog. I abhor violence aimed at individuals because of their religion. I am an adamant supporter of the rights of Palestinians.  However, I cannot in good conscience allow that to keep me from discussing religion as ideology and how it is a tool in women’s oppression.  The stakes for real women are too high.

I would consider the Facebook pages of Male Privilege Activists (a.k.a Men’s Rights Activists, or MRAs) to be controversial, but I would not seek to have one shut down if it didn’t post the kind of content this campaign has focused on. I may despise what they have to say, but I’m not going to report them for “hate speech”. In fact, I’m not going to bother with them at all. I may criticize them, but I’m not going to seek out their nonsense.

Anyway, I hope Facebook gets it right. I hope they can find the balance that allows us to discuss controversial ideas, while keeping the images that celebrate violence out. We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.

Neo-Paganism and Feminism

I was born a member of an old Mormon family, a family stretching back to upstate New York and the origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  As a result, I spent many years within the church and still have many family members there.  At a fairly young age, I knew that membership in the church was not conducive to my sanity.  The limits placed on the female were too many to count.  They are also too well known for me to need to enumerate them here.  Suffice it to say that they were killing me, mind and body.  However, it took many years and several false starts for me to shake off not only this particular religion, but religion, in general.  One of those false starts was a turn to the Wiccan religion.

Wicca (and Neo-Paganism, in general) is an attractive option for so many women who are trying to find their way in the world, experiencing the failures of organized religion, but still needing the comfort of a Greater Power.  Its celebration of the Goddess and belief in a time before patriarchy are so important to women who need to believe that there are examples of a better way in the distant past.  I’m certainly not one to claim that, once upon a time, the status of women was not greater than it is now.  (In fact, I actively believe that.)  Goddess worship may well have been a sign of that.  However, we can see goddess worship lasting well into the age of male oppression of females, all the way into modern India.  It is not enough to simply point to the goddesses in a pantheon, and say that women have greater status in Culture X.

The most problematic aspect of modern goddess worship is not where it came from or whether those cultures were patriarchal.  The most problematic aspect is how it represents “masculine” and “feminine” in the modern world.  In my personal Facebook feed today, I came across a shared status update from another page.  It spoke of the shortcomings of the “pragmatic, male oriented reality”, while singing the praises of the “great female powers of intuition”, the “receptive powers of the female shield”, and the “feminine trait of contemplation”. *

Within the Wiccan ritual, there is a very strong belief in gendered forces.  Certain characteristics and natural forces are related to the feminine, while others are related to the masculine.  This is often played out during ritual by plunging a ceremonial blade into a sacred chalice.  In Wiccan writing, there is repeated reference to feminine qualities of the Goddess versus masculine qualities of the God.  The feminine is related to intuitiveness, caregiving, protection of children and the hearth, nourishment, and magic.  Motherhood is all.  The masculine is related to more active concepts, like hunting and protection of the group and the woman.**  These gendered forces must be balanced, but they are still there.  In addition, the argument is that both the feminine and the masculine live within each individual, regardless of sex.  Why they must, then, be referred to in gendered ways isn’t explained.

So, what’s wrong with that?  Well, a lot of things, if you believe (as I do) that there are only human ways of acting, feeling, thinking and being.  There is no innate feminine or masculine way of experiencing the world.  There is no “brain sex“.  This gendered way of categorizing human actions and characteristics is patriarchal at its very core; it can’t lead us from patriarchy, because it’s steeped in it.

I know many women find solace in Wicca, especially Dianic Wicca.  There are still things that I appreciate about it, such as the belief in the “interconnectedness” of life and other forces in the universe.  I still believe in those things, although my belief and appreciation of that connection is scientific instead of magical these days.  I also believe strongly that goddess imagery can help women who are constantly bombarded with the solely male representations of the most important, powerful, divine forces in the universe.  Having the strictly male images of divinity constantly before you, while being told that humans are in “god’s image”, is psychologically devastating.  This is especially true for a young girl.  I still hold dear to goddess imagery for this very reason.  However, I don’t believe that we can be liberated by engaging in magical thinking.  I don’t think we can be liberated by investing in ideas of feminine traits versus masculine traits.  The essentialism will always backfire on us.  We need to put our faith in the strength of real women, not in goddesses or “feminine” qualities.

NOTES:

* I am not linking to the post or directly mentioning the page for two reasons.  The first is that the link leads to someone’s personal Facebook profile, and I don’t want to directly criticize this particular woman or put a link to her profile in a blog post.  This isn’t about a single individual; it’s about an ideology.  The other is that I have interacted with the owners of the page who shared it on several occasions.  They are kind, good-hearted women.  They have shared things from TLSOF more than once.  I’m not writing about this to criticize them or “out” them in any way.  Again, it’s about the ideology.

** There are a few exceptions to this, such as Athena and Diana, but they are rare.

The Oxymoron Strikes Again: Religious Feminists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Enemy of My Enemy Is Not Necessarily My Friend

I originally published this piece on Righteous Anger.  The women were convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.  One of them has since been released on probation.

The old adage says that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  This adage often crops up in Leftist thought, especially in conversations about U.S. foreign policy.  The male-dominated Left will often support the most repressive philosophies and regimes, as long as those philosophies and regimes throw a collective monkey wrench into the imperialist foreign policy aims of the U.S. government.  The result of this misguided stance is that real human beings are dismissed. Their pain, their oppression, even their deaths, are seen as inconsequential to the “big picture”.  Of course, these real human beings are almost always women.

The story of Pussy Riot, a Russian punk band, has made its rounds of feminist and punk rock sites and commentaries.  Eventually, it found its way into the mainstream media and has been condemned by mainstream artists.  The all-female band staged a protest against Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s Christ the Savior church.  They were arrested, quickly put on trial for “hooliganism”, and now face up to seven years in prison (although it is commonly believed that they will get three, if convicted).

 

Unfortunately, there are some on the Left who are engaging in the classic blame-the-victim strategy in regards to these women.  A scathing, ignorant, and hateful piece written by Mike Whitney was published on Counterpunch earlier this week.  Now, Counterpunch publishes submissions (they have published my writing in the past), so the responsibility for these opinions can only be laid at the feet of Whitney, but it is disheartening to see them appear on any Leftist site.  Considering the past behavior of many on the male-dominated Left, it’s also highly likely that his opinions are shared by many others.

In his piece, Whitney uses the age-old method of discrediting women who take a political stand:  he essentially accuses them of being U.S. puppets.  His phrase for them is “useful idiots”.  He rages that they are simply the method to discredit Putin.  He then goes on to wax poetic about the Great Putin, Defender of Russia.  No mention of the horrors suffered in Russia under Putin.  No mention of the fact that these women didn’t ask to be a part of any story in the U.S. or elsewhere; they were protesting conditions in their own country for the benefit of their own people.  Instead, Whitney is too blinded by the “enemy of my enemy” concept to give these women the credit they are due.  His rhetoric condemns their protest as “unauthorised and profane”.  All protests are unauthorized, Mr. Whitney.  What kind of Leftist are you that you don’t know that?

Whitney goes on to claim that if such a protest happened in the U.S., the media would not be so forgiving.  I will give him that.  They would not be as forgiving.  However, the protesters would not face seven years in prison, either.  How do we know this?  Because it has happened.  In 1989, ACT UP and feminists confronted the Catholic Church at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  One hundred and eleven were arrested that day, but not one spent time in prison.  Not one, Mr. Whitney.

Those heroes of the Russian government whom Whitney so passionately defends reveal their true, ugly faces in reaction to the criticism.  Madonna is one of several artists who have come out in support of Pussy Riot.  In response, a Russian official used Twitter to hurl misogynistic insults at the singer:

“With age, every former s. tries to lecture everyone on morality,” Dmitry Rogozin, a deputy prime minister, wrote on Twitter late on Wednesday, using the first letter of the Russian word for “slut” or “whore”. “Especially during overseas tours.”

Are these the people the Left really wants to be allying itself with?  Not the Left I hold dear.  Fortunately, there are some on the Left who agree with me.  In a response to Whitney’s “ignorant defense” of the Russian government’s behavior, Chris Randolph writes:

Once upon the time the Left was in favor of free speech, feminism, and confrontational protest, and simultaneously suspicious of authoritarian predatory privatizers, misogynist clerics and prudish censors.  From the many articles and comments like Whitney’s in the (putatively) left of center blogosphere, we learn that the American Left is now quite alright with misogynist religion, censorship, rigged trials and the like just as long as the oppressing government is a foreign policy foil of the United States.  This turns so-called progressives into just another group of intellectually dishonest bigots.

Randolph’s Left is the one to which I have given my soul.  I’m increasingly frustrated that there is a large contingent on the Left who do not agree.  They are willing to sell women out in order to oppose the U.S. government.  The real lives of real people matter little when it comes to rhetoric.  It is not just the case of Pussy Riot or of Russia where we find this.  We find it quite often in any discussion of the Middle East or of Africa.  The dire situation of women is not to be discussed.  Those who bring it up are quickly condemned as Islamophobic, racist, or imperialist.  The man who will rant for days about human rights violations committed against men will suddenly clam up and get defensive when the violation of women’s rights are mentioned.  Those are cultural and religious matters, we are told.  How dare we try to meddle in that sacred concept of Culture and Religion.  The rights of women, you see, are not human rights.

I will be the first to oppose the cynical use of women’s rights by the U.S. government as a basis for “regime change”.  When Washington suddenly gets interested in the rights of women in a country whose leaders they previously supported, I can only see it as an excuse for invasion.  Afghanistan is a prime example.  The Taliban had been in power for years prior to the U.S. invasion.  As Presidents of the United States, both Bill Clinton and Bush the Younger negotiated with the repressive regime to get an oil and gas pipeline built across Afghanistan.  Some feminists objected, but their concerns got little play in the mainstream media (or in the White House).  I also believe that U.S. military or CIA intervention in the affairs of other countries often leads to a nightmare for women.  One only need look to the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, and installation of the Shah for evidence of that.  The Shah’s brutal repression of Islamists (and Communists) eventually led to the Islamic Revolution.  The lives of Iranian women have never been the same.

The fact that the U.S. government ignores women until they can be used as a convenient excuse for invasion and “regime change” does not mean that indigenous women living under repressive regimes should be referred to as “idiots” for trying to make their country and their lives better.  Anyone on the Left who plays that game is as cynical and small-minded as any imperialist.  And as misogynistic.

Multilingualism in the U.S.

I wrote this piece in “honor” of the 4th of July, 2012.  It originally appeared on Righteous Anger.
On the 4th of July, we’re usually treated to an endless wave of flag-waving celebrations of a mythical America.  Yesterday, I ran across an article on Counterpunch entitled Tom Paine and the Fourth of July.  Much of it was mildly interesting, but not anything that would stop me in my tracks.  Towards the middle of the article, though, I read the following passage:

“Contrary to the propaganda of anti-immigrant and ‘English-only’ demagogues today, the U.S. was not founded on monolingualism. In 1776 many in the colonies – especially Pennsylvania – spoke and read only German, even though their ancestors had immigrated from Germany more than 100 years earlier. When Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, it had that document also published in German as well as English.”

As a native Arizonan, not to mention the Anglo wife and mother of Mexican-Americans, the debate around immigration and language are dear to my heart.  So often, we hear Mexican-Americans condemned for speaking their mother tongue.  “They just refuse to assimilate!” the right-wing screams, as if “assimilation” is admirable.  (Ask any Trekkie, assimilation is not a good thing.)  Assimilation means becoming more Anglo, more European.  Speaking English.  Refusing to acknowledge from where you came and from whom.

Many of the people in my state are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Our largest county, Maricopa County, is where the Arizona Temple is located.  My own family was sent down by Brigham Young to “settle” central Arizona, ending up in the White Mountains.  Many of our lawmakers are Mormon.  Outside of Utah, there are few states more controlled by the LDS Church leadership than Arizona.  These individuals are also overwhelmingly right-wingers.  They make up the group who passed and rabidly support SB1070.  The people who demand photo ID at voting booths.  The people who don’t want any state business done in Spanish.  In other words, the people who demand that Mexican-Americans forget their past and assimilate.

A major tenant of Mormonism is learning the past, learning about the generations of your family that came before you.  Doing a certain amount of genealogy is an absolute requirement for any member of the LDS religion.  So, let’s think about this.  Mormons demand that their own members learn about and keep records of the past.  Mormonism started in New England.  In New England (and most of the colonies), people spoke German as their first or only language for over a century after coming to the colonies.  The Declaration of Independence was published in both English and German.  So, how do “English-only” devotees in Arizona reconcile that they are opponents of what the venerated forefathers believed in and practiced?  How do the Arizonans who cling to Mormonism and its veneration of the past reconcile that they are actively fighting the rights of others to do the same?  I suspect they simply choose to remain ignorant of the facts.