Wild Women and The Untamed Heart

It’s been a long time since I posted here. I’ve posted a bit on Tumblr, but have been struggling with what to say on WordPress, so here it is.

This blog never had an express purpose, other than a repository for my radical feminist thoughts, but I’ve heard from women that it’s served as a tremendous inspiration for them during their own radfem journey. That’s been really special to hear. since helping other women has always been my Number One Goal and is kind of hard to achieve for someone without many material resources. I’m glad I could do that for some of you, and will try to continue doing so in the future.

At the same time, women have periodically commented on my blog posts to ask if I hated them or thought they were sellouts, less than feminists, unradical, or what have you because they still shave their legs/wear makeup/etc. And I always struggled with how to reply, because while I don’t hate women for doing what they need to do in order to get by, I do think feminine “beauty” rituals are inherently misogynist and that every woman should test the boundaries of her personal chains. I still feel that taking a break from the incessant grind and going as wild as a woman can go is incredibly important for the colonized mind, which each and every one of us is.

The distance we can go, the amount we can return to “ourselves” (or find them for the first time!), and for how long we can remain so will vary from woman to woman. Some of us can run unimpeded into the metaphorical or literal woods and remain there forever in our flannel and denim, while others will have to put their pantyhose back on and reassimilate eventually — but however much discovery we can do is, I believe, essential to nourish our stifled senses of humanity. Having the freedom to experience ourselves as fully human, as much as we can, is something priceless that we can learn from and gives us something to draw from for years and years to come. I cannot stress this enough, and many women who support the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival say the same: even spending a week feeling human can give someone the strength to maintain her humanity for the rest of the year.

Moreover, I believe that in order to support the women who stay free, those of us who can do so have almost a duty to be free as long as we can. Although it seems naive to expect a cultural sea change or even reach a critical mass, any visibility that nonconforming women can achieve is important to counteract the incredible pressure women (especially lesbians!) are put under to either practice femininity or become trans men. 

Meanwhile, though? Speaking of that pressure: I’m in a position to appear much more tamed than I did when I was 23 and began writing this blog. My line of work doesn’t have an official dress code, but like pretty much anywhere else, it’s still a male-dominated industry and women are taken more seriously when they toe some kind of line. Since my goal is to establish a professional reputation that I can use to give other women a leg up, I want to be taken seriously — so I now put on a tinted moisturizer, put my hair up, wear eyeliner, and shave my leg- and underarm hair with a pet-grooming trimmer. It’s taken effort to get used to each little colonization. For example, today I am wearing a “proper” bra for the first time in four years (though it still doesn’t have underwire, because fuck that shit) and it feels really weird to have my breasts riding at armpit level. We are definitely not born to do this shit, it isn’t “natural”, it feels weird, and we are a little less free whenever we do it.

But here I am, still doing it. I hope it has some effect when it comes to improving material conditions for me and for the other women whom I can someday help; in the meantime, though, I still feel like I’ve sold you all out. So to finally answer all those comments: I still don’t hate you. I will never hate you. I live in the same world in similar situations, and feel similar pressures. I don’t think it’s the world’s worst thing to give in to some demands in order to get ahead or even just get by. However, if you can get away with something, go as far as you can go with it. Never take that for granted, and try to help others do the same thing.

For now, all I can offer is advice. Drug-store-brand eyeliner works just fine, comes in many colors, can double as eyeshadow and brow-liner, and costs a dollar. “Big” bushy eyebrows are back in fashion right now, so fuck the haters. If you have mid-length or long hair, a bun or basic braided updo involves minimal effort and looks good on pretty much anyone. Animal-grooming clippers cost around ten bucks for palm-sized models, work really well for trimming body hair without giving you razor burn, and can also give you a sick undercut or touch up any length of hairdo once you get really good at handling them. Flat shoes are always appropriate, no matter what the fashion magazines say; try looking on eBay or at thrift stores for good-old-fashioned loafers or Chelsea boots. If anyone calls you ugly, laugh in their face if you’re bold enough, or walk away if you’re not. If they’re dumb enough to say that in writing, photograph or screen-cap that shit and publish it online. You look fine and everyone needs to mind their own bullshit, especially if they’re men.

Just keep your heart wild. Never let the bastards cage you inside. Someday we’re coming for to let you out. In the meantime, we’re all gonna do what we can.

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Radical Feminist Revolution: A Difference in Details, Not Degree

I’m still a radical feminist. I have never stopped. I oppose porn, prostitution, porn culture, power dynamics, PIV, compulsory heterosexuality, all that shit. I’m actually pretty hardcore about it, and am the next best thing to a separatist (although life situations, eg poverty and certain attending issues surrounding employment, housing, and availability of/proximity to women’s-only communities, mean I do still have to come into contact with men sometimes in certain situations).

I am just a revolutionary feminist too. I believe women’s liberation will not be achieved through legislation (although we do need allies in legislation and have much progress to make in that arena, since we do not currently live in anarchy and do need people on women’s side in law and government; for proof of that, see women like the one in Florida who was sentenced to prison for shooting a gun to warn off her abusive husband) — but rather through direct action and hands-on helping other women: creating underground women’s-only communities and spaces that are safe from infiltration; organizing secret groups to assist exited and exiting trafficked women, women in the sex industry, and other abused women; setting up funds to help impoverished women make better or even escape their situations; etc.

I also believe that life without patriarchy would be completely different from the life we live now, and for the sake of my own sanity, I try to live towards those ends as much as possible right now. For example, without patriarchy, food would not look like we know it now. Jobs would not look like they do now. Our leisure time would not be spent as it is now. Our friendships and intimate relationships would not function as they do now. If women were truly liberated, we would not wake up in the mornings, drive our cars to our work, work for eight hours in a box, then drive home and watch TV* … just without men dictating our every moves to us!! We would not go through motions to try to find domestic partners to reenact the same old patterns with … just slightly different patterns, and without men looking over our shoulders and abusing us!!

No, with true freedom, we would organize and live our existences in ways we cannot even imagine right now, and that’s the world I want women to live in. So that’s the world I’m working towards. I’m not trying to eat the same potato chip in a different (man-free) flavor. We should strive towards totally different form of snack altogether.

And that’s what I meant with my “distance from radical feminism” post. I am still a radical feminist. I still practice radical feminist politics, including in my day-to-day life and intimate/interpersonal relationships. I am just also a revolutionary feminist who’s trying to work some subterfuge as well.

*This is partially in reference to a blog comment I once read wherein a dood “profeminist” commenter recounted an instance where he assured another dood that “radical feminists aren’t out to create a matriarchy or female supremacy; in fact, they’ll kick up their feet, pop a beer, and watch the game with you, as long as they can do it in peace and free of patriarchy.” It’s funny that this dude thinks sports (men being grossly overpaid and worshiped like gods for touching, fighting over, and chasing other men’s balls) will exist as we know them after the revolution. Much less that many radical feminists would want to watch them, as opposed to doing productive things (like helping other women). Typical lefty-dood fantasy: “radical feminists aren’t threatening, they don’t prioritize other women, they’re pretty much just like doods, eg real people and not weird ladypeople … but they’re like chill doods, not lame doods.”

I hate doods.

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I try to make a habit out of staying dispassionate on the internet

But now I am fucking mad.

Look at this shit. A group of people are getting together to 

PROTEST

an ANTI-CHILD-SEX-TRAFFICKING CONFERENCE.

Read that again and let it sink in.

These people are PROTESTING AN ANTI-CHILD-SEX-TRAFFICKING CONFERENCE.

Because of “SOLIDARITY WITH SEX WORKERS.”

Now, I understand that feminists who discuss “sex work” are always supposed to take into consideration the 12 or so college-educated white women who have done it by choice, and we are not supposed to analyze their choices because SHAMING. And I understand that the liberal-feminist, positive-thinking argument is, “We shouldn’t even call child-sex trafficking victims ‘disempowered’ because that will make them feeeeel bad and work as a self-fulfilling prophecy!”

But even from that precariously liberal position, you’d think people would stop to consider: These are CHILDREN we are talking about. And it’s not “ageist” to point out that IF YOU ARE TRAFFICKED INTO SEX SLAVERY AS A CHILD, YOU ARE GOING TO FEEL BAD. Regardless of whether some feminists point out your disempowerment, you are going to feel disempowered from being, you know. SOLD INTO SLAVERY. And RAPED EVERY DAY and all the attending complications of that.

These people are PROTESTING

AN ANTI-.

CHILD.

SEX TRAFFICKING.

CONFERENCE.

For fear of DENYING THE TRAFFICKED CHILDREN’S AGENCY. Among assorted sundry other reasons.

Let that sink in for another moment. Yes, really. And some of them have been arguing about it amongst themselves and with radical feminists on Tumblr for the past few days. They’ve been accusing radical feminists of being “pro-cop.” They’ve been claiming radical feminists are organizing the protest. They have been misreading the original poster and claiming it’s all an emotional manipulation tactic akin to KONY 2012.

This is the state of modern nonradical feminism. It’s time to cull the movement. Anyone who supports (or would protest in support of) child sex trafficking can no longer consider themselves feminists. It’s as simple as that.

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Cynicism as a survival tactic: “Baby, who hurt you?!”

Sometimes I think the biggest thing that puts people, especially women, off of feminism is — it requires constant critical engagement with the world, it requires that we unlearn that suspension of disbelief we are all taught since childhood. And once someone critically engages with their world all the time, once someone refuses to suspend their disbelief, that someone is branded a cynic.

And women are not supposed to be cynical, or in fact critically engaged with anything: we are supposed to be eternally sparkly-eyed and new, our arms open to the world. When we aren’t, it comes across as ANGER!! and BITTERNESS! and OMG WHO HURT YOU?!

This is by no means a new revelation for me, and it won’t come as a surprise to any other radicals either, but I’ve been thinking about it recently because I constantly think about everything. For instance, my roommate was recently telling me how great her new boy toy is, and she knows he’s so great because, duh! He works with kids! … and my first thought was, “So did Jerry Sandusky.” 

Which of course I could not say aloud, because she would have then replied, “We can’t talk to you about anything! You’re such a cynic!”

I don’t think that’s a bad thing, though. In fact, I think cynicism can be good, that it can keep people informed and keep people safe.

Take this instance: the boy toy was, unsurprisingly, a creep (although not necessarily with kids; I don’t know for sure, and I hope very hard that he is not, but he did treat my roommate like she was a disposable masturbation device). My roommate was totally blindsided, but I’d known from the moment I met him that he was an asshole — maybe no more so than the typical sex-entitled male supremacist dude, but an asshole nonetheless — because I am a cynic. 

On the other hand, with my new and improved high standards and super rigorous screening processes, I have not personally dated a creep in over two years. I have also been known for having terrible luck and a self-destructive bent, so if I can avoid creeps by screening everyone through a very fine filter, there is promise for all women in that field of research.

The fact that I have dated only one person in those two years, and she was also a woman, could be passed off as irrelevant … although it isn’t. Women can do some devastating things to women who are their partners, but in my experience, the devastation is largely emotional and borne out of the pain someone feels when they have to watch someone they love do something to hurt herself. I’ve never been raped by a woman. I’ve never been beaten by a woman. I’ve never been stalked or threatened by a woman. I’ve just had to watch women I’ve loved, deal with the fallout of living in patriarchy. Those things (‘physical violence’ vs ‘emotional pain’) do not really compare in the long run. No woman could ever do the staggeringly egregious things that men have done, even though television would really like to convince us otherwise.

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“Prostitution for Everyone: Feminism, Globalisation, and the ‘Sex’ Industry”

An essay by D.A. Clarke

This is possibly one of the most important essays for any radical feminist to read.

What I’ve been trying to approach in previous essays is that sex (both the physical state of being and the physical act, especially as defined by men), power, and class are all parts of the patriarchy; and that all systems of power-based classification (social, economical, racial, sexual) are inherently hierarchical, based on domination and submission, and therefore incompatible with radical feminist life or theory.

Capitalism is patriarchy. (All systems of power are questionable and should be questioned.) Capitalistic hierarchy plays into patriarchy by creating further classes within women: the ‘haves’, who can be sold as brides, and the ‘have-nots’, who can be sold as slaves.*

We can only achieve true liberation for women by dismantling the power structures of capitalism, as well. This article is not an expressly anticapitalist document (fear not, those who sniff disdainfully at ‘those dirty hippies’), but does an excellent job of spelling out the relationship between capitalism (particularly global capitalism) and the female sex class. It basically draws a (metaphorical) diagram with big red arrows. It should be required reading for anyone interested in radical feminist theory.

* It is understood that the difference between “bride” and “slave” is often only rhetorical. However, at the same time, to claim that there is no difference between, say, an upper-middle-class white woman who lives an unfulfilling life as unpaid housemaid and sex toy for some dude, and a woman (especially a woman of color) born into poverty (especially in what the West would euphemistically call “a developing nation”) who ‘sells herself’ as her only means of support would be patronizing and disingenuous.
This is not “the oppression Olympics.” This is reality. One can have sympathy and empathy for both the unfulfilled house-slave and the woman who is literally prostituted — and one can thus work to change both realities — at the same time.

Thanks to Sam at Genderberg for hosting this incredible essay online.

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The politics of personal experience

When I write, or speak, or even think about something that has happened to me or something that I do or have done, it is always in a wider political context.

Sometimes I don’t understand all of the political implications until much later. But if I speak or write or think about it, I do understand that it is connected to something bigger and representative of more than just me.

We are each individuals, but we do not live in bubbles. The things that happen to us, the things we do, are all part of a larger collective paradigm. The more oppressions a woman has to deal with on a daily basis, the more likely she is to realize this from an early age.

(The moment of realization doesn’t happen to everyone, of course, but oppressed people seem more likely to make these connections — “I am poor/nonwhite/female/disabled/homosexual/etc, and people who are poor/nonwhite/female/disabled/homosexual/etc all seem to be treated in [x] ways more often than people who aren’t …” — earlier and on their own. Even if they don’t name them as such or make a connection to a political movement, even if they invest time and energy denying the facts, they do notice.)

So while it’s real and great and necessary to talk only about theory, whenever I bring personal experiences into it, that’s a way of giving examples to theory. Proving it in a small way, if you will. Because I know I am not alone. I am not special. I am not the only one these things happen or have happened or will ever happen to. There is a connection. There is an explanation.

If even one other woman can read or listen to what I write or say, and draw a connection to her own life, and have that moment of realization that she isn’t alone either, then that is why I am here. That is the bridge to theory, which is hopefully then a bridge to further change.

Personal change is also political. Women have written that actions like eschewing beauty practices or purposefully and deliberately foregoing PIV intercourse are “individualistic” solutions, but I really question whether those women know what “individualistic” actually means.

Naturally, we as feminists and radicals should also seek wider change, but smaller changes often make wider changes easier.
For a not-explicitly-feminist example, recycling and “going green” (in the actual sense of the term, not the marketed consumer sense) are personal choices — but they add up to something larger. It’s not the same as dismantling the industries that pollute, but we would still be much worse off as a whole if no one recycled and everyone used pesticides/chemicals.

Even if a woman’s changes positively impact only her own life in the short term (for example, if she stops loathing her natural body, if she reduces her risk of getting cancer from the chemicals in hair dyes and cosmetics and/or cleaning products, if she breaks the cycle of sinking valuable energy into trauma bonding/contraception/illness/potential impregnation/etc), if these changes are in line with larger, radically feminist change, that is still positive, and that is definitely still political. If nothing else, it indicates — if to no one but ourselves — that change IS possible.
And since we do not live in our own private vacuum-sealed bubbles, other people do notice, and it does often become a learning moment. If that positively impacts at least one other person — if another woman learns that she too can break the cycle — then we are accomplishing something.

It might sound like hippie bullshit, but we’re all connected in some way. And just because it sounds like hippie bullshit doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

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Radical Feminism = / = The Highlander

Recently I’ve been reading interesting discussions about what is and should be the primary focus of radical feminism.

Is it reproductive freedom (which, as I understand it, encompasses freedom from unwanted sexual contact [eg, rape] as well as freedom from unwanted pregnancies)?

Well, certainly that’s a main concern! But how much do other things play a role in women’s oppression? Things like poverty? Homophobia? Transsexual infringement on women’s spaces? Certainly racism isn’t an issue, nobody in radical feminism suffers from that, right (wink, nudge).*

It’s pretty clear that all of these issues affect women. However, women often feel that if all women don’t suffer from a particular oppression, it is not necessarily a radical feminist concern. Not all women are not-white, hence racism should be left to anti-racist groups. Not all women are poor, hence poverty should be left to anti-poverty groups. Otherwise, we are being ‘individualistic’ and taking energy away from women as a whole.

All this approach does, however, is make radical feminism into that thing we claim we are not: a monolith that privileges rich white women to the exclusion of other experiences. Naturally, this isn’t anything new; “rich while white” is considered the default experience for everyone across the globe. (Just look at television, paying particular attention to advertisement-specific media, all of which is catered at what Americans euphemistically call “the middle class” — integrated only grudgingly, and always with some amount of disposable income and desire for upward social/financial mobility.)

Now, of course, women universally share many of the same oppressions. The primary commonality between all women is our vulnerability to rape, and most women share susceptibility to unwanted pregnancies (both from rape and from ‘consentual’ heterosexual intercourse). Unfortunately, even lifelong lesbians can be raped and impregnated, and even women who are infertile can be raped, so none of us have guaranteed safety.

These things are not in question. In fact, many liberal feminists can even figure them out (although they usually take divergent approaches to solving the problems).

But as radical feminists, we should understand that there are more factors at play. We should understand that women are oppressed from multiple angles, including race, class, ability, age, love for other women, and politics. (Even in 2012, political incarceration isn’t just for Occupy protesters, ‘Weathermen’, and people in Guantanamo Bay or outside of the Western world.)
Inventing a nice and tidy academic word, ‘intersectionality’, doesn’t mean the same thing as actually understanding those oppressions, and these oppressions are often a primary factor in a woman’s life. While our unifying oppression is that of vulnerability and often impregnability, white class-privileged women may notice it more because they don’t have to notice other things, like being profiled constantly for superficial reasons and living under the incessant threat of being arrested for absolutely no valid reason.

And as radical feminists, we should also understand that patriarchy is the root of female oppression — and patriarchy isn’t just men and the way men are taught to/permitted to behave, it is also the entangled web of male-created systems. Everything around us is a male-created system. Legislation (the laws we have, the ways they are enforced, and why), education (the things we learn, the way we learn, who is given the opportunity to learn, and why), finances (who makes and spends money, how and why they make and spend money), everything that makes up life as we know it — all are male-created, male-centric, systems. They aren’t just influenced by patriarchy — they are patriarchy.

Life without patriarchy would not just mean “women getting better educations and better jobs, therefore making more money.” Life without patriarchy would likely revolve around a completely different form of exchange, and therefore we would have no money. “Education” and “jobs” would mean completely different things, to which point that we would not recognize them from here. The ways we define “success” and “quality of life” would change drastically. The ways we eat and the things we eat, the ways we live and the places we live, the things we prioritize above other things, the ways we decide to spend our time and our lives and our energies, the ways we look at and think about other human beings (especially other women) — all of these things would change without patriarchy.

We can’t defeat patriarchy by putting more women through college. We can’t defeat patriarchy by hiring more female CEOs. That isn’t radical feminism, that’s reformist feminism.

And we won’t defeat women’s oppression just by giving us reproductive freedom — although that would be a huge burden lifted. Eliminating that unifying oppression might even mean that many women would have absolutely nothing in common. If it happened, how many middle- and upper-class white women would still call themselves feminists? How many would feel that the struggle continued? Would they think the job had been done?

Caring about multiple facets of oppression isn’t individualistic because not all women are nonwhite/poor/etc.; that’s like saying feminist theory (at its broadest) is individualistic because not all humans are female. Haven’t we been arguing against that mindset for a really long time?

Without feminism, we guarantee the continued oppression of all women (and it even affects men, too, although who cares about them). Likewise, without undermining all of patriarchy, we risk continued oppression of most women. (Most women are neither rich nor white.) And if you feel that’s just the problem of the women who will still be oppressed, you may wish to have a serious thinking session about your politics.

Reproductive freedom is a huge issue, but it’s not the only issue, and it’s not the only facet of patriarchy. Radical feminism isn’t The Highlander. We can care about more than one thing at one time without weakening our movement — and in fact, we should care about more than one thing, or we risk losing sight of the reasons we have a movement at all.

 

* I am employing deep, cynical sarcasm to mock a particular mindset; I obviously understand that racism is a huge problem, and one that has been widely untouched in many political circles. It is not a winking, nudging matter.

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