Audre Lorde described herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”. A writer of the 70s and 80s, this month her poetry and prose is published in the UK for the first time in a new anthology: Your Silence Will Not Protect You. Akwugo Emejulu, Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick discusses the resurgent interest in Lorde’s work and her importance to contemporary activists
Kate Millett, author of the groundbreaking bestseller Sexual Politics, was the feminist who launched the second wave of the women’s liberation movement. Millett, who has died aged 82, developed the theory that for women, the personal is political.
The basis of Sexual Politics (1970) was an analysis of patriarchal power. Millett developed the notion that men have institutionalised power over women, and that this power is socially constructed as opposed to biological or innate. This theory was the foundation for a new approach to feminist thinking that became known as radical feminism.
Sexual Politics was published at the time of an emerging women’s liberation movement, and an emerging politics that began to define male dominance as a political and institutional form of oppression. Millett’s work articulated this theory to the wider world, and in particular to the intellectual liberal establishment, thereby launching radical feminism as a significant new political theory and movement.
In her book, Millett explained women’s complicity in male domination by analysing the way in which females are socialised into accepting patriarchal values and norms, which challenged the notion that female subservience is somehow natural.
“Sex is deep at the heart of our troubles …” wrote Millett, “and unless we eliminate the most pernicious of our systems of oppression, unless we go to the very centre of the sexual politic and its sick delirium of power and violence, all our efforts at liberation will only land us again in the same primordial stews.”
Sexual Politics includes sex scenes by three leading male writers: Henry Miller, Norman Mailer and DH Lawrence. Millett analysed the subjugation of women in each. These writers were key figures in the progressive literary scene. Each had a huge influence on the counterculture politics of the time, and embedded the notion that female sexual subordination and male dominance was somehow “sexy”. Mailer, darling of the liberal left, responded with an article in Harper’s magazine in which he viciously attacked Millett’s theories.
And the well-respected critic Irving Howe wrote that Sexual Politics was “a farrago of blunders, distortions, vulgarities and plain nonsense”, and its author guilty of “historical reductionism”, “crude simplification”, “middle-class parochialism”, “methodological sloppiness”, “arrogant ultimatism” and “comic ignorance”.
It was never the intention of Millett to become a career feminist, being much more interested in her art, as a sculptor. But after being featured on the cover of Time magazine, in August 1970, she was catapulted into fame, which led to a backlash from some feminists who accused Millett of styling herself as a movement “leader” – an accusation she rejected.
That December, Time outed Millett as bisexual, and claimed that “[the] disclosure is bound to discredit her as a spokeswoman for her cause, cast further doubt on her theories, and reinforce the views of those sceptics who routinely dismiss all liberationists as lesbians”.
At the time the women’s movement was divided over the issue of lesbianism – Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique (1963), had labelled lesbians the “lavender menace” – and many liberal feminists turned against Millett. Yet more than three decades later, the feminist writer Andrea Dworkin wrote of Millett: “Betty Friedan had written about the problem that had no name. Kate Millett named it, illustrated it, exposed it, analysed it.”
Born in St Paul, Minnesota, Kate was raised by strict Catholic parents. Her mother, Helen (nee Feely), worked as a teacher and an insurance saleswoman to support her three daughters after her alcoholic husband, James, an engineer, abandoned the family when Kate was 14. Millett went to the University of Minnesota, graduating in English literature in 1956, and then to St Hilda’s College, Oxford. She taught briefly at the University of North Carolina before focusing on sculpture in Japan and then New York. In 1965, she married the Japanese sculptor Fumio Yoshimura. During their open relationship, Millett had sexual relationships with a number of women.
She went to Columbia University in 1968, and Sexual Politics, based on her doctorate, was published in 1970. At the time, Millett was living as an impoverished hippy in the Bowery district. She wrote about the impact of her newfound fame in Flying (1974) and followed this up with Sita (1976), about her relationship with an older woman. In 1979, she travelled to Iran’s first International Women’s Day with her then partner, Sophie Keir, a photojournalist. They were arrested and expelled, an experience they documented in their book Going to Iran (1981).
Millett had been committed to mental health institutions by her family on various occasions and she became an activist in the anti-psychiatry movement. She wrote about her experiences in The Loony-Bin Trip (1990). She also wrote The Politics of Cruelty (1994), in which she railed against the use of torture, and Mother Millett (2001), about her relationship with her mother.
In 1998 Millett wrote a piece for the Guardian, The Feminist Time Forgot, in which she said: “I have no saleable skill, for all my supposed accomplishments. I am unemployable. Frightening, this future. What poverty ahead, what mortification, what distant bag-lady horrors, when my savings are gone?”
I had met Millett the year before, when visiting Dworkin in New York. Millett was shy and warm, and not the angry, self-pitying person I had been warned about. She was preoccupied, however, with what she perceived to be the wealth held by other feminists, in particular those who had not contributed to the movement in any original way. Dworkin later told me Millett had lambasted her for owning a brownstone in Brooklyn, for no apparent reason other than she was unhappy with her lot.
In her later years, Millett and Keir lived on a farm in Poughkeepsie, New York state, where at first they sold Christmas trees, and later established a women’s art colony. In 2012 she received the Yoko Ono Lennon Courage award for the arts, and in 2013 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in New York.
Millett’s marriage to Yoshimura ended in 1985. She is survived by Keir, whom she married in later life.
Teflon John: The Man Who Hid In Plain Sight
This is the story of suspected baby trafficker, pimp, kidnapper, and major charity fraudster John Davies.
It is also the story of a world renowned academic, missionary, gold-hearted philanthropist, and expert in combatting trafficking in women and children.
Which of these two descriptions is true?
After an investigation lasting almost 20 years, Julie Bindel knows the answer. But will you believe her? Or might you prefer the version peddled by Davies and his supporters since the rumours began to circle back in the 1980s?
The intensive 18-month stage of this long-term investigation has been self-funded by Julie. She now needs to secure production costs to make a ten-part series.
The estimated cost per episode is approximately £500. The remaining funds will go to promotion and distribution in order to disseminate the story of John Davies far and wide. Julie is confident that on hearing the evidence against Davies, more victims and witnesses will come forward.
Once the first two episodes are funded, the team will begin to produce them.
Once properly underway, with regular donations coming in, we aim to produce a 20 minute podcast on a regular basis, covering the ten major phases of the story.
Please help fund this vital investigation, where there will be attempts to silence Bindel’s reporting and allow the podcast team to start producing.
You can listen to a taster of this story here: https://t.co/i4BmmJzM69
Julie Bindel is a British journalist, researcher and feminist campaigner. She has written hundreds of articles published by The Guardian, The Independent, The New Statesmen and other news agencies in Britain and around the world.
She has appeared in countless television interviews and debates in defence of feminist perspectives of male violence, and is a co-founder of the law reform group Justice for Women https://www.justiceforwomen.org.uk/
Bindel is sole author of the forthcoming book, ‘The pimping of prostitution – Abolishing the Sex Work Myth’ (Palgrave McMillan, 2017).
Bindel has devoted her working and non-working life to campaigning against male violence – going after the men who murder, stalk, abuse, terrorise and rape women and girls. Equally, she has exposed the structures, cultural, legal and political practises and ideas which lend themselves to the epidemic of male violence, particular the very idea that the bodies of women and girls are things to be bought, sold, acquired and taken in service of male power and privilege.
Read more at:https://www.byline.com/project/68
For instance, if instead of paying for sex a landlord would rather receive sexual favours from a tenant living rent-free, would that really be so bad? Well, yes, actually it would, at least according to recent reports of landlords making this very offer. Apparently, this is an appalling example of the current housing market allowing predatory men to exploit the vulnerable.
Only if this is the case, why is paying for sex not viewed with the same horror? It’s the same marketplace, the same bodies, the same needs. All sex for rent does is cut out the symbolic means of exchange in the middle. Yet far from decrying the exchange of sex for money, supposedly progressive organisations such as Amnesty International and the NUS, in addition to mainstream political parties such as the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, are pushing to liberalise attitudes towards the purchase of sex. Why are these two things seen so differently?
True, live-in work carries with it particular risks and uncertainties, but do any of us feel the same qualms about housekeepers or nannies getting to live rent-free? And aren’t many of us doing jobs we’d rather not do, only a pay check or two away from eviction? So why should sex for rent be seen as especially problematic?
If it’s to do with the fact that it’s sex and not, say, cleaning or childcare, shouldn’t we be able to pinpoint why this is? And yet few are willing to do so, silenced by the thought-terminating clichés – “sex work is work”, “my body, my choice” – that have come to dominate the left’s approach to sex and gender.
I’d go so far as to suggest the mainstream left has no real right to be shocked about sex for rent. After all, it’s only the logical conclusion of a pseudo-feminist politics which refuses to engage fully with power and labour redistribution, choosing instead to talk in circles about the right of individuals to do whatever they like with their own bodies while bypassing any analysis of why one group seeks to control the sexual and reproductive lives of another. It’s politics for the unthinking and the privileged, yet it appears we can all afford to be unthinking and privileged when it’s only the bodies of women at stake.
“My body, my choice”, a perfectly appropriate slogan when used to mean only a pregnant woman should be able to make decisions about her pregnancy, has been expanded ad absurdum. Yet the point about abortion is that the only alternative to it is the work of pregnancy; there’s no possible third option, whereby the already-pregnant individual gets to go through neither. The same is not true of sex work or poverty. It is possible for there to be alternatives to exploitation or destitution. That for many women there are currently none is not least down to a politics that values unlimited sexual freedom for all – an impossibility – over a fairer redistribution of limited choices for everyone.
If we regard women as full, equal human beings, then we cannot have a world in which there are no limits placed on men’s access to female sexual and/or reproductive labour. “Sex work is work” and “my body, my choice” simply don’t cut it when it comes to deciding where to draw the line. We should all face restrictions on what we can do with our own bodies, just as we should all have duties of care towards the bodies of others. The problem with patriarchy is not that it prevents women from having the same physical freedoms as men due to some inexplicable, knee-jerk “woman-phobia” –it’s that it shifts most of the necessary physical restrictions and duties attached to reproduction and care onto women, leaving men with the belief that liberation means no one ever saying “no” to you.
Such a belief – at heart pro-capitalist and anti-feminist – has seeped into supposedly pro-woman, left-wing thought and activism, yet anyone who points out the absurdity of it is treated to a Victorian asylum-style diagnosis of prudery and whorephobia. To claim, on the one hand, that one is anti-austerity and anti-neoliberal, while insisting, on the other, that no woman is without means as long as she has orifices to penetrate, is not progressive. On the contrary, it’s ultra-conservative. It shifts the baseline of our understanding of need and it does so dishonestly, masking coercion by repackaging it as free choice.
If anything is for sale – any body part, any experience, any relationship – then the poorest will be stripped bare. If you accept the principle that there is nothing wrong with buying sex – or ova or breastmilk or babies – how do you ensure supply can meet demand? Only by making sure there are always enough women with no other options. There is no other way. There are not enough female bodies to meet male sexual and reproductive demands without any form of coercion; that’s why patriarchy, with all its complex systems of reward and punishment, exists in the first place.
If sex work is work, poverty is necessary. The alternative to patriarchy isn’t a world in which everyone gets to be a de-facto patriarch, free to make whatever sexual and reproductive choices they want, safe in the knowledge that there will always be willing bodies to meet their demands. The postmodern fantasy that an underclass of coerced, poverty-stricken females can be replaced by an underclass of willing, always-up-for-it, cisgendered females, while charming in its naivety, remains just that: a fantasy.
The book is called Why I Am Not a Feminist, which is, of course, a lie as well as a provocation, for its author’s feminism runs through her veins like blood. Crispin’s principles, however, have their roots, radical and angry, in the second wave of feminism, not the third: she, for one, is not about to renounce the likes of Andrea Dworkin and Shulamith Firestone, whose uncompromising books she has, incidentally, actually read.
What she disdains, then, is what she deems lifestyle feminism: a bland, ultra-inclusive marketing exercise that demands absolutely nothing from those who buy into it save for to ask that they use the word “feminist” as frequently as possible, preferably while looking utterly adorable. “Dior has this $600 T-shirt that says on it: ‘We Should All Be Feminists’,” she tells me, when she talks to me on Skype from New York (where she is ill and rundown, her pink kimono almost matching the colour of her feverish cheeks). “But what does that say about the person wearing it other than: ‘I can afford a $600 T-shirt’? Feminism has been entirely co-opted by consumerism.”
The new feminism, which is not really feminism at all, is by Crispin’s telling as shallow as a martini, and a good deal less good for you: “This is a T-shirt you can wear in order to cloak your bad behaviour, to let you think of yourself as some kind of political hero or rebel without you actually having to do anything.”
What, she wonders, is the end result of so many younger women choosing to call themselves feminists? “It’s about individualism, and self-achievement. It’s about pop stars and television and narcissism. It’s not about subsidised childcare, or institutional and structural social change. It’s meaningless.” This self-obsession and ideological laziness extends, she thinks, even to their reading matter. “Roxane Gay [the US feminist writer] is on the record as saying that she hasn’t read Andrea Dworkin [the anti-pornographer campaigner], and that we don’t have to, either. Really? Isn’t there work and sacrifice in being a political person?”
Crispin looks out at the world and sees a hyper-masculinised realm in which women must mimic men if they’re to survive, let alone to rise in an upwards direction. “I realise that using words like ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ in this way can get you into trouble these days,” she says. “But where are the [feminine] values of community, care and empathy in our modern world? Their absence doesn’t seem to bother a lot of people.”
“Good intentions are nothing against the system,” she writes sombrely. And then, more terrifyingly: “The system is older than you. It has absorbed more venom that you can ever hope to emit. You will not even slow it down.” She would also like it to be known that not getting what you want is not, by any stretch of the imagination, oppression.
The Women’s Marches which followed his inauguration seemed to her to lack focus. “This is a repeated problem with the American left: the lack of clear goals. Those marches were celebratory. They were good for the heart. But we’ve had [municipal] elections in the US since then where the turnout was, like 15 to 20%. During the Women’s Strike [on 8 March], I saw a journalist ask a woman what she was going to do instead of working. She said: ‘Oh, I’m just going to do something empowering like watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer!’ I mean, come on! Let’s do something, here.”
Well, now I’m going to have be a little tough myself. If our marches are pointless and our workplace aspirations without worth, what should we do instead? She can’t be allowed to get away with writing a feminist manifesto with no plausible suggestion for the society of the future.
“You can start by all divorcing your husbands!” she says. For a moment, I wonder if she’s joking. But, no. “There does have to be a process of understanding the way you participate in these systems of oppression. Marriage’s history is about treating women as property, and by being married you’re legitimising that history.” Another good start would be to remove your money from the big banks and put it in a small, local credit union instead, “even if you only have $80”. Above all, maybe women should start listening to one another again.
QotD: “This is the beginning of a new style of feminism, which is not about one’s social position, but one’s inner identity”
Like most fairy-tale heroines, Belle doesn’t have a mother. One presumes her mother must have died while engaged in some second-wave, biologically essentialist activity such as giving birth. Thankfully Belle doesn’t need an older female role model – or indeed any female role model – because most women are rubbish, lacking the imagination even to question their fate. If they’re not fancying Gaston, they’re faffing about with babies or getting old.
While I doubt the creators of Beauty and the Beast had been reading Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (published in 1990), I think the overall shift in mood is obvious. This is the beginning of a new style of feminism, which is not about one’s social position, but one’s inner identity. It’s not for rubbish women, who marry local heartthrobs and have babies and get old and shit. It’s only for special women, like Belle. This makes it more inclusive (no, I don’t know why, either). More importantly, it makes it more marketable. Sod the sisterhood; as long as you have the right accessories, liberation is yours.
Structurally, it turns out there’s very little Gaston wants to do to Belle that the Beast doesn’t actually do. However, the latter is excused because he does it while being a beast and hence has identity issues. Not only that, but the Beast’s sexism isn’t as clichéd and common as Gaston’s. If the latter reads FHM, the former reads Julia Kristeva. If Gaston stands for the easy-win, obvious, pussy-grabbing misogyny of the right, the Beast stands for the left’s more refined, complex, long-wordy woman-hating. It’s not for Belle to challenge it, but to listen and learn from it.
This is, I think, one of the most insidious aspects of Beauty and the Beast, and the one which marks it out as a fundamentally third-wave project: it remarkets femininity – by which I mean female accommodation, empathy, self-sacrifice on behalf of males – as not just a female, but a feminist, virtue. Belle is sneeringly dismissive of the Bimbettes’ adoration of Gaston, yet quite prepared to embrace self-effacement for a more unusual male in a more unusual setting. Why, then it starts to look like empowerment! Watching this now, I can’t help recalling my own feelings about leaving behind the “coarse and unrefined” men of my own town to go to university, where I met men whose sexism I chose not to see. I associated misogyny with a lack of education and an uncritical embrace of stereotypes. Surely men who looked different and read books couldn’t hate women, too? Perhaps all they needed was a woman who understood them.
Feminism makes no sense without a meaningful analysis of work and class. I didn’t realise this back in 1991. As far as I was concerned, sexism was simply a massive, global misunderstanding, the unfortunate outcome of the mistaken belief that women were inferior to men. It never crossed my mind that it might all be the other way round: that the dehumanisation of women could have arisen as a means to justify their exploitation, an exploitation upon which countless social, political and economic structures depended. That would just have been too depressing, not to mention terribly second-wave.
As she keeps on reminding us, Belle wants more to life than unpaid domestic labour. While second-wave feminists had an annoying tendency to remind us that such work never actually goes away – someone still has to do it, and surely it should be everyone – third-wavers had a better idea: pretend there still exists a class of people who are born to do all the boring old tasks no one else wants to do, only this time, said class doesn’t have to include you personally. This is the solution to which Belle turns.
The likes of Betty Friedan may have fretted over how to liberate middle-class women from domestic servitude without piling the labour onto other women. One solution Friedan didn’t count on was an enchanted castle, with the staff who claim to “only live to serve”. In modern feminist terms we would call such people “cis women” (singular version: your mum). Such women’s relationship with their class status is not conflicted; on the contrary, they apparently identify [with] it. This means feminists don’t have to challenge an exploitative hierarchy after all. Rather they only need ensure that they – as individuals wanting “more than this provincial life” – don’t find themselves wrongly positioned within it.
Check me out, front and centre! This photo made international news!!
We had a collective of about 20 radical feminists marching for International Women’s Day in Melbourne, and there were enough of us that we could do our own chants and everything (we did a call and response chant of “name the problem” “male violence!”)
There were some anti TERF/SWERFs trying to antagonise us but we just ignored them and stood strong. Really felt like a victory for the radical feminist movement in Australia :~)
I think there are two kinds of femininity. Things that were created to be feminine or assigned to femininity simply because they’re restrictive or sexualizing and those sort things randomly assigned to femininity. A good example would be high heels vs. the color pink.
I think people need to take this into account when we talk about both abolishing gender and abolishing gender stereotypes. We need to destroy the things in category one and move the things in category two out of any category at all.
This is one of today’s search engine terms:
my dom beats me when i mess up without aftercare
For anyone visiting this blog in this type of situation, you are being abused. It doesn’t matter what ‘contract’ you signed, what you agreed to verbally, how nice your abuser is other times, what kind of ‘pillar’ of the BDSM ‘community’ your abuser is, this is a dangerous situation, and you should leave, not just your abuser, but the BDSM ‘scene’ altogether.
You deserve love and affection and care without having to be tortured first, you deserve respect without having to agree to total submission and obedience first. You can take responsibility for your own life and your own decisions, you don’t need a ‘dom’ to do this for you.
If you feel like you can’t leave, because of financial reasons, because you have become isolated from family and community outside of BDSM, because you are afraid of what your abuser might do, there are resources out there available to help you escape.