There have been a few months where I haven’t been blogging, or reading blogs, or even acting very nice. It’s not cool, and I’ve been struggling to articulate why, even to myself.
I’ve also been struggling to articulate my response to the Radical Feminist Conference in June. And I just couldn’t. And then I realized that it was the same thing.
The Radical Feminist Conference, which was actually the Stop Porn Culture Conference and not explicitly radical-feminist, hit me like a ton of bricks. I met a lot of wonderful, inspiring women there, but I also had a full-on nervous breakdown. I’ve been doubting myself, even hating myself, questioning why, and beating myself up for it — but it brought me completely to my knees.
SPC was like being in the live version of I Blame the Patriarchy. It was a bunch of rich, white women (there were a handful working-class women and perhaps two women of color at the entire event). Most of them upheld patriarchal beauty standards. And there was a moderator in place to make sure we didn’t talk about anything that might make those women feel icky.
But the SPC moderators were even a bit less feminist than the IBTP moderator/s, in that we were not allowed to: critique heterosexuality, talk about voluntary lesbianism or separatism, or suggest veering even a little bit from the patriarchal norm. Several of us, including myself, were even taken aside and told not to talk about rape, or suggest that rapists are anybody other than pornographers, porn addicts, and frat boys.
And we were all encouraged to sing “Happy Birthday” to Gail Dines’s husband. Even Sheila Jeffreys, who had previously spent some time happily singing revolutionary feminist and manhating songs.
I felt this was a slap in the face. I was deeply offended. More than offended: hurt, and let down. I didn’t come to an antiporn conference to stir up shit or harm anyone, but I also didn’t come to cater to the delicate sensibilities of a bunch of upper-class straight women.
I didn’t sit through an immensely triggering week of slideshows in order to hear a woman lament the fact that viewing anal porn will affect her seven-year-old son’s sexuality. (By giving him penis anxiety.)
I didn’t come there to have a Woman’s Studies professor reassure me that some men are wonderful and one day I might “be normal” (ie, stop being a lesbian), or that my perspective would change once I met a nice man. If I was lucky, I could even have a son! And then my perspective would surely change.
I didn’t come there to be told we couldn’t talk about rape. I thought that was kind of the point.
(I can understand not wanting to trigger someone. Triggering someone is terrible. However, we had already sat through hours and hours and hours of triggering material, and our discussion of rape was no more triggering. Survivors I later spoke to said they found it almost a relief: to say “those images didn’t just happen to those women on the screen, they happened to me too.”
In fact, the comment I made was, “I was gang-raped. The men who raped me reenacted porn. Porn doesn’t just happen to women who are in porn.” And I was told never to talk about that again.)
The idea of survivors-only discussion groups was floated, but a transman who dominated the conversation from the audience ultimately decided there wasn’t enough time.
Women who wanted to talk about the effects of porn and rape culture were quickly shut up, and their speaking time given to women who seemed like “more appropriate” victims. It was as though dissociation was being promoted. Dissociation, dogged heterosexuality (“gosh darned, I’ve been raped and trafficked, but I still just love the peen! some men are so wonderful!”), and patriarchal conformity — just with a side dish of antiporn activism.
It was like telling the patriarchy: “Look, we oppose all of your oppressive tactics, but we’re still pretty! We still behave.”
And that wasn’t what I’d come for at all.
At the risk of sounding crazy, I fell apart inside. It was like when I realized that other people in modern hippie or environmentalist or socialist or anarchist or activist culture still hated women, except a thousand times worse. As though it was all happening at once. Because while I’ve been a hippie and an environmentalist and a socialist and an anarchist and an activist, and I’ve been honestly devoted to what I’ve felt was their “real cause”, that was nothing like what I’d felt about feminism.
Once you realize that, not only does everyone in the fucking world hate women, but women in feminism still hate women, where do you go?
I turned inward, with a fury. I started to have all the old, patriarchally inspired doubts: what if I’m wrong? am I wrong? I really am wrong. I must be wrong. what if I’ve been too harsh? I’ve been too harsh. what if I really should just ‘get over it’? I should just get over it. what if I’ve been taking this too seriously? I’ve been taking this too seriously. am I really insane? I really am insane.
And on and on, ad nauseum.
I’m not saying I “embraced my inner slut”. I didn’t (because I don’t have one, because a slut is a made-up and dehumanizing concept). I’m not saying I went out and had PIV (in fact, I still get involuntary vaginismus just thinking about it). I’m not saying I bought makeup or shaved anything.
But I can’t lie and say I’m not still feeling those doubts. Those doubts we’re all made to feel, as women who speak out about their own oppression.
I am wrong, and insane, and taking this too seriously, and acting too harshly, and being too sensitive. I am outnumbered, and I am insane. Wrong, and insane, and outnumbered.
I may really be insane. I may be taking this too personally. I may be overreacting and I may be irrational and I may be outnumbered.
But I don’t feel that a purportedly radical feminist conference should make a radical feminist feel that way.