Sex, Gender, Harassment and Being a Radical Feminist

I haven’t written about the sex/gender debate for a while because I am simply horrified by the amount of abuse that it generates.  What chance do we have in dismantling the patriarchy if self-defining feminists think it’s acceptable to insult, denigrate, and harass other women because of difference? This is without addressing the issue of threats of violence up to -and including- suggesting other women should die in a fire.

This isn’t a feminism I want to be part of and I struggle to understand how women think this counts as feminist activism. Trawling the timeline of someone who has blocked you isn’t activism. It’s stalking and we need to stop pretending that it’s acceptable. Digital Stalking lists a series of behaviours which constitute stalking. Look how many are applicable to so-called “feminist activism” on twitter:

The most common tactics for stalkers and bullies include:

    • Monitoring you and friends- looking at what you post, photos, where you go, who you go with etc.
    • Spyware – putting spy software on your phone or computer
    • Sending text, messages – sending hurtful or threatening messages to you over and over again
    • Account takeovers/hacking – accessing your online accounts
    • Denigration – send, post, or publish cruel rumors and untrue statements to damage your reputation
    • Distribute photos or videos – distributing photos or videos to embarrass you
    • Exclusion – contacting or inviting everyone but you
    • Flaming – posting an abusive response so everyone can see it
    • Outing – telling people something embarrassing about you
    • Threats and Dissemination – they threaten you and then tell everyone
    • Confidence tricks- getting you to reveal information about themselves and then using against them
    • Impersonation – pretending to be the victim either online or via email etc.
    • Spaming- signing the victim up for junk email
    • Trolling – say something online to get you to provoke you into responding
    • Bullying by proxy – getting others to join in

It’s been about 6 months since I was last targeted with many of the behaviours above for labelling myself a radical feminist. When I say 6 months, I mean a sustained attack. I still get abusive tweets, bullying by-proxy and flaming on a daily basis from a group of women and men who label themselves feminists.

When I’ve written about this before, particularly in relation to being called “a hypocritical cunt“, I’ve always asked how this can be considered feminism. How can feminism have arrived at a point where calling women hypocritical cunts or suggesting women die in a fire is considered activism?

It wasn’t until I recently read Denise Thompson’s Radical Feminism Today, which is somewhat unfortunately titled since it is actually about defining feminism, that I realised what I was failing to understand. Thompson argues that much of the problem is that self-defining feminists are working from radically different definitions of the term and that much of our disagreements stem from a fundamental inability to define terms: feminism, patriarchy, sex and gender.

A very basic misunderstanding of terms is seen with “radical feminism” which defines radical to mean root or origin. It is radical insofar as it contextualises the root of women’s oppression in the biological realities of our bodies and seeks drastic political, economic, and social reforms.

As a radical feminist, my definition of feminism is similar to that of Thompson: feminism is the liberation of women from male domination. This domination does not exist simply in violence but rather encompasses the mundane social structures which result in the oppression of women even if we do not perceive them as such – the debate over “gendered” toys being a case in point.

Radical feminism, as outlined by Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriachy, also posits women’s oppression in two issues: women’s  sexuality and women’s reproductive potential. Women’s oppression is because of our biological sex. Terms like feminism, patriarchy and gender are non-sensical if they do not reference biology or the reality of male domination and male supremacy. We cannot liberate women from the oppressive social structures in which we live if we do not recognise that biology has been our destiny for several millennia.

This recognition of the oppression of women as a class because of biology is what results in the vast majority of abuse directed at radical feminists. We have arrived at a point where the reality of women’s bodies are being erased: we can not talk of abortion or menstruation without being labelled transphobic. We cannot discuss the reality of pregnancy, infertility, ovarian cancer or fibroids. These are issues which affect women every single day but we are no longer allowed to discuss them as women’s issues.

Yet, women’s reproductive capabilities are at the centre of our oppression. If we don’t recognise this reality, then why on earth do people think women are oppressed? Because, I genuinely don’t understand how we can discuss feminism without discussing the reasons women have been oppressed and these reasons are all rooted in basic human biology. This is why radical feminism seeks to eliminate gender because it fails to address basic biology whilst simultaneously reinforcing behaviours which are deemed appropriate to man/woman and, as such, mandate women’s oppression based on their biology. The rigamarole required to get to this position is ridiculous.

Gender is not a performance nor is it based in a science. It is nothing more than the systemic social, cultural and physical oppression of women’s bodies which does nothing more than a reinforce a binary of man/woman which is really that of human/subhuman. Gender only exists in order to reinforce the White Supremacist Patriarchy. It actively harms women because it is based in the belief that women are not human.

In order to do feminism, we must define what it is we mean by feminism and it has to recognise male supremacy and domination and the biological realities of women’s bodies. Women’s oppression rests in our sexuality and our reproductive capabilities for a reason; there is a reason that rape is a common weapon to control and punish women [and the men that own those women’s bodies] and that raping women to get them pregnant was (is) a tool of most armies across the millennia. It is because of our biology.

Men took control over women’s (reproductive) labour, in order to grant themselves economic and political power. Or, in the words of Gerda Lerner, the commodification of women’s sexual and reproductive capacities is the foundation of the creation of private property and a class-based society.

Women are oppressed as a class because of our sexual and reproductive labours (from the existence of concubines to the rearing of children to women’s labours being the foundation of a family’s income). To ignore this, is to make feminism irrelevant.

Women are oppressed because of our biology.

And, I am officially done with being silenced by men and women who resort to threats of violence and harassment any time a woman points out that abortion is a woman’s issue because it is about the control of women’s reproductive capabilities. If we can’t talk about the state’s interference within our own bodies as women, how on earth are we supposed to break free of the systemic oppression of us as women?

Women are oppressed because of our biology. Violence, and threats therein, are just patriarchal silencing techniques which have oppressed and harmed women throughout history. Anyone who claims that they are engaged in feminist activism when making such threats is mistaken. All they are doing is helping the violent abusive men who rape, torture and violate women continue to harm women. It isn’t feminism.

And, this should go without saying, but deliberately targeting women who have spoken publicly about their mental health for abuse makes you a shitty, nasty excuse for a human being.

 

I love Glosswitch.

That is all.

 

My Nephew has Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

My nephew has foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

Charles* has multiple cognitive and physical disabilities due to exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. He also has ADHD, which is a frequent associated and/or secondary diagnosis with FASD and  he is bipolar. We don’t know whether or not the diagnosis of bipolar is an associated diagnosis or if it is a secondary diagnosis like Charles’ diagnosis of ADHD. Charles has FASD: a disability he developed in the womb.

I don’t normally write about Charles’ diagnosis mostly because I find the judgemental responses infuriating. Almost everyone responds with something about “one of those families” as if alcoholism was only prevalent in poor families living in sink hole estates a la Shameless. I’m never entirely sure what the correct response is here but I usually respond with the wrong one: he’s adopted. Charles is adopted but the only reason I need to share that with people is because, subconsciously, I don’t want strangers to know we are “one of those families”. It’s an offensive response and I hate myself every time I say it to those who judge.

I wouldn’t have written about Charles here had it not been for the reaction I have seen on social media to the Telegraph’s “Drinking alcohol during pregnancy could be ruled a crime“. As a radical feminist, I believe no one has the right to tell a woman what she can and can not do with her body. I support abortion up to 40 weeks because I believe women know what is best for them. I believe any attempts to curtail women’s bodily autonomy – abortion, breastfeeding, tattoos, sexuality, medication – are based in misogyny. It is nothing more than the continuing perpetuation of male domination and oppression of women.

Yet, my nephew has a disability caused by his birth mother’s consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. Every day I wish his life could be easier for him: reading, playing and understanding his emotions. He struggles as a consequence of his mother’s illness. I find it hard to separate my politics from my love in this situation. I worry when I see women drinking alcohol during pregnancy. I instinctively want to tell them to stop. I know what the risks are for FASD. I’ve read the research and I know. But, knowing doesn’t stop the worry.

What I do know is how to prevent further children from being born with FASD. And, it isn’t criminalising women whose alcohol misuse results in their child being born with FASD.

Charles birth mother’s alcoholism was a direct result of the life time trauma of male violence. If we want to prevent further children from being born with FASD, we need to eradicate male violence. We need to end child sexual abuse. We need to end physical and emotional abuse of children. We need to start believing children who disclose abuse.

I know Charles’ mother’s personal history because it was an open adoption. We have constant contact with Charles’ extended birth family. I know why Charles was placed for adoption and why my sister was chosen to be his second mother. I also know this wasn’t a real “choice” for his birth mother.

This is why we also need the following:

  • a fit-for-purpose child welfare system which is child centred.
  • real social programs supporting parents
  • alcohol/ drug rehabilitation programs which care for women who are pregnant or with small children that doesn’t involve them losing custody of their children
  • adequate education programs within schools to help children with FASD
  • we need a criminal justice system which is victim-centred
  • a real healthcare system supporting women through pregnancy and whilst raising their children

Whilst I believe criminalisation is the worst possible way to prevent children being born with FASD  and I do not believe, as a radical feminist, anyone has the right to make decisions about a woman’s body, I’m also incredibly uncomfortable with the “well I drank during my pregnancy and I’m fine” response to the reality of FASD. Personal anecdotes do not make research-based evidence, particularly considering how much research there is into how the general public continually underestimates the size of a single unit of alcohol.

I’m disgusted by suggestions that alcoholism is only a problem for poor women living in sink hole estates and that a child born to a middle class mother can’t possibly have FASD. We are causing actual harm to women and their children by refusing to acknowledge the reality of trauma due to male violence and that this trauma isn’t class-specific. We are causing harm to children by suggesting that FASD is caused by buckfast and not over-consumption of sauvignon.

If we want to help prevent more children from being born with FASD and help support women to raise their children to the best of their ability, then we need start talking honestly about the reality of FASD, male trauma, violence and stop pretending FASD is only a problem for some other people over there. Accurate diagnosis can help children. Pretending that middle class children can’t be born with FASD stops them from getting help.

As  a radical feminist, I believe that women’s bodily autonomy is sacrosanct. As an aunt to a beautiful nephew with FASD, I worry.

I do know, right now, we are failing everyone: we are failing mothers and we are failing children. And, we all deserve better.

*Not his real name

Denise Thompson’s Radical Feminism Today

I loved this book. I was quite relieved though when I discovered that the title wasn’t the one Denise Thompson intended though. The book was based on Thompson’s PhD entitled: Against the Dismantling of Feminism: A Study in the Politics of Meaning which is a much better title considering the book is about defining feminism and not about the state of radical feminism today (or as it was in 2001). Why the publisher thought the title Radical Feminism Today was an appropriate title for a book on defining feminism is, frankly, boggling.

Thompson is a radical feminist and her definition of feminism is about male domination. In this she critiques a wide variety of feminist  and non-feminist writing which use terms like patriarchy, gender and sex without referencing biology or the reality of male domination and male supremacy. A feminism which does not recognise this reality is not, in fact, feminism.

Thompson deals with the issues of gender, race and class by insisting on the primacy of male domination and supremacy: women all suffer from the effects of the Patriarchy which is historically and culturally contextually whilst acknowledging the importance of multiple oppressions in how women experience Patriarchy. A major theme throughout the text is that we simply are not working with defined terms; instead we allow them meanings which do not have biological realities (gender). In order to do feminism, we must define what it is we mean by feminism and cannot simply be by women for women otherwise it is reduced to the idea that everything a woman does is feminist because a woman does it. Feminism has to recognise male supremacy and domination or it is simply irrelevant.

This is one of my favourite quotes:

The sense in which feminist theory is universal does not entail that feminism is as a matter of fact all-inclusive, either of women or the human race, but that it is open and non-exclusionary. Feminism has universal relevance because it addresses itself to the human condition.

Radical feminism, in theory, has always been all-inclusive. It has been the individual failings of women to understand the multiple oppressions of other women which have resulted in the continuing marginalisation of women of colour. It is not the theory which is problematic but how we use it.

There are parts where I disagree. I do think she is unnecessarily defensive of criticisms of white feminism, particularly in relation to Audre Lorde’s letter to Mary Daly. Both examples given by Thompson as a reason to object to Daly’s racism are incredibly important and I did not realise just how badly Daly had missed the issue of racism in her own writing. I find Daly’s text more problematic having read Thompson’s book, yet, I find Thompson’s criticisms of Lorde odd. Lorde published an open letter to Daly having waited 4 months for a response to private communication. It was also an open letter, not a peer-reviewed article with footnotes. Lorde didn’t give a detailed breakdown of the racist undertones of Daly’s work because she wasn’t writing a book review for a major academic journal. Criticising Lorde for not writing a peer reviewed article with footnotes seems a bit, well, petty.

It’s a great book on how feminism is undermined and erased through the use of sloppy language and ill-defined terms. I highly recommend it!

 

I’ve storified a selection of quotes from the text here which are definitely worth reading.

Nick Kristoff: Just Another White Saviour.

Last night, I read Dylan Farrow’s open letter to Woody Allen’s fans with a broken heart: another child ignored and labelled a liar because her abuser is a powerful man.  The excuses made for powerful men never end. Woody Allen, like Roman Polanski, profits from the theory that “art” is more important than the bodily integrity of women and children. For men who make “art”, it doesn’t matter how many women and children they harm. Their “art” is all that counts; for some, like Terry Richardson and Richard Kern, actively harming women and children is their art.

We make excuses and we ignore their victims.  We speak over them. We give their abusers awards and standing ovations and pretend we never heard of their victims. And, it works.

Yesterday, Dylan Farrow spoke out about her sexual abuse at the hands of her father Woody Allen. Every single person needs to read her open letter to Woody Allen’s fans.  This is Dylan’s life we are discussing; it is her experience of child sexual violence. No one has the right to speak for her or over her.

This is why I was so disappointed with Kristoff’s opening statement. He manages to take Dylan’s letter and make it all about him. This is precisely what Kristoff did with Half the Sky. He is a “White Saviour”.  He truly believes he has the right to speak over victims of child sexual abuse.

And, anyone who can write this about child sexual abuse clearly doesn’t have the experience or the training to be writing about child sexual violence.

These are extremely tough issues, and certainty isn’t available. But hundreds of thousands of boys and girls are abused each year, and they deserve support and sensitivity. When evidence is ambiguous, do we really need to leap to our feet and lionize an alleged molester?

The evidence isn’t “ambiguous”. A woman has made a disclosure about her experience of child sexual abuse, whether or not Allen would be convicted in a court of law is an entirely different matter. However, Dylan’s words are not “ambiguous”. They are clear description of child sexual abuse and we need to start from the point that she is telling the truth.

And, let’s be completely honest here. Even if this were taken to trial, does anyone genuinely believe a famous white director would be found guilty? Do we really believe courts have the best interests of victims at heart? Do we really believe that juries and judges are capable of making real judgements on guilt or innocent in a culture where rape myths are treated as fact and trauma responses used to discredit victims? Do we really believe that the courts have the interest of “justice” at heart? Or, that they even know what justice really means? Courts do not have the best interests of victims of sexual violence at heart.

Kristoff  is supposedly a journalist. He could have reported this without making himself the centre of the story. But, he didn’t. Instead, he did exactly what Dylan was writing against: others speaking for her.

The full transcript of Dylan’s letter is available on Kristoff’s blog. Please read that.