Category Archives: Radical Feminism

‘Feminism’s Forgotten Fight’

A myth has arisen, [Kirsten Swinth] argues, which says that second-wave feminism fought for women to “have it all” – family, motherhood, career, money, prestige, success – and then seeks to blame feminists for their failure to make this happen. This myth suggests, in some iterations, that feminists accepted a flawed, patriarchal image of corporate success and pursued it, failing to critique or challenge the problems inherent in the structures of patriarchy, capitalism and racism on which it was based.

Alternately, it suggests that elite feminists hijacked the movement and failed to understand or fight for the needs of poor, racialized, colonized, and otherwise marginalized women. In yet other iterations, it argues that “feminists overpromised”, and are therefore the ones to blame for the failure of society to make good on those promises. The result of these (mis)interpretations of feminist history is that today feminists find themselves under attack on the one side from a powerful and retrenched conservative patriarchy, and on the other from would-be progressives who have uncritically accepted the myth that feminism is to blame for its failure to achieve all of its aims.

While anti-feminist conservatives have always been around, the splintering of progressive thought is a more recent phenomenon. When progressives adopt an ahistorical critique of feminism, they risking aiding and abetting its subversion. They also risk reinventing the wheel: trying to set what they think is a new agenda while failing to learn from feminism’s long history in fighting for the exact same goals. In so doing, they risk repeating the struggles and often the failures of second-wave feminism, instead of building on feminists’ rich efforts to reinvent society.

In contrast to this myth of the blame-worthy feminist, Swinth argues that post-WWII feminism engaged in a broad and creative effort not simply to tap into the privileges of elite white men, but rather to reinvent and rebuild society in a deeply radical way. Feminists undertook imaginative efforts to restructure family relationships; to redefine masculinity; to achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth across lines of race and class; to support women’s rights to choose either to have children or to not have children, and facilitate the family structures and supports that women in either scenario needed to achieve their dreams.

No, feminist movements have not been perfect — and no one is suggesting that. Liberal feminists have sometimes capitulated on radical demands; white feminists have sometimes failed to stand up for women of colour; the anti-sexist men’s movement inadvertently spawned the virulent sexism of today’s “men’s rights” activism. Tremendous achievements have sometimes slipped from the movement’s grasp as a result of division and compromise. But Swinth’s point is that the history of post-WWII feminism is far more complex than today’s pundits make it out to be, and that we accept reductionist sloganeering at the risk of losing important lessons from our past.

One of the trademark responses of anti-feminists, Swinth observes, has been to co-opt the language of feminism in an effort to subvert public perception of feminist goals. Anti-feminists sought to brand themselves as defenders of “family”, much to the outrage of feminists, who rightly pointed out that they were the ones truly concerned with the well-being of America’s diversity of families: poor families, non-white families, immigrant families, single-parent families. What “pro-family” conservatives really seek is to retrench the primacy of the male breadwinner model; one in which white men have primacy of place and in which women essentially exist as household slaves.

Likewise, it was conservative forces that leapt on feminism’s so-called failure to enable women to “have it all”. They presented it as a structural contradiction within feminism – as though feminists had promised an unrealistic goal – while masking their own role in opposing equality-seeking projects. Women can have it all – it’s just that they’ve been stymied in this goal by the conservative forces that fear or oppose equality, and which successfully marshalled political opposition to equity-seeking initiatives.

Swinth’s main goal is to remind us of the variety and creativity of feminist activism in the ’60s and ’70s. Her book is a dense compendium of organizations, policies and struggles: a voluminous reference worthy of mining by researchers and activists alike. Her study is divided into three key areas in which feminists sought to redefine identity (self, fatherhood, and partners) and five key areas in which they sought to restructure social and work relationships (housework, care work, childcare, maternity, and flextime). Under each of these categories she examines American feminists’ movement goals and organizing efforts through the ’60s and ’70s. It’s a historical survey, crammed full of dates, organizations, bills and people. But it achieves the goal of depicting a rich and varied movement, full of difference, diversity, and idealism.

Swinth is attentive to the tensions and alliances between liberal, middle-class and poor women, and also between white women and women of colour. In fact, it is her thorough excavation of those tensions and alliances that really succeeds in reinforcing her argument that post-WWII ‘second-wave’ feminism was a more complex, diverse and idealistic movement than it is often portrayed as today. That’s not to ignore the proper concerns of contemporary equity-seeking activists about its shortcomings, but to warn against the simplistic and often ahistorical reductionism with which second-wave feminism is often dismissed and derided. Just as socialism is witnessing a renewed surge in the political sphere, so the goals of second-wave feminism continue to percolate in the social and policy sphere, and there’s much to learn from a rich movement history which is all-too-often glossed over.

From the origin of marriage contracts to the Women’s Strike for Equality; from the near achievement of a Guaranteed Income to the fight for pregnant women and mothers’ right to work; the historical sweep of Swinth’s survey is impressive and enlightening. But it is in her main goal – reminding us that second-wave feminists weren’t fighting merely for improved policies but to restructure and transform society and social relations between the powerful and the oppressed, the privileged and the marginalized – that Swinth’s book achieves its most impressive moments. Most importantly, Swinth reminds us that the purpose of learning (and re-learning) this history is not simply academic; it is to equip us with the tools to pick up a struggle which for many seems to have stalled.

“Second-wave feminism changed how Americans think and act so dramatically that we can almost no longer conceive how profoundly the movement transformed our society,” she writes, in conclusion.

“And it was not that feminists overpromised: their comprehensive conception of reorganized family and work lives carried wide appeal and elicited broad support. Rather, feminism’s opponents clawed back. They successfully resisted the legislative, legal, and workplace changes the movement’s champions sought. Their rhetorical triumph in distorting the movement’s goals has buried the breathtaking scope of the feminist dream. It is time to recover that vision, and to tell the world what having it all truly means.”

Full review here

QotD: “When information is passed using words the listener typically weighs and assesses the believability of the message … But unlike words, pictures don’t work that way”

When information is passed using words the listener typically weighs and assesses the believability of the message. When we hear words we tend to hear them as ideas or opinions, often the listener is counter-arguing against those ideas inside their heads. You can be deciding right now that what I’m saying doesn’t make any sense and you can be challenging my verbal statements internally. But unlike words, pictures don’t work that way.

None of you are counter-arguing against the fact that I’m sitting here or that this is a table. Pictures are mentally processed as events, as facts, and are stored unbuffered and unchallenged. If you see it, then it happened and is true. Pictures are truly worth a thousand words.

The Internet is an ideal medium for the spread of sexual permission giving beliefs. The sexual Internet sites by their very nature say that sex is a commodity for sale. Anything that you can buy, you can steal.

Sexual images of women and children are entertainment, sexual access becomes an entitlement, the individuals who are in these pictures do not appear to feel degraded, abused, physically and visually invaded. They appear to be enjoying the interaction. It’s an event.

Perpetrators now ‘know’ that children like to have sex with adults, they know it’s true because they have seen it. Perpetrators show these images to children to break down the inhibitions of children. Children now ‘know’ that children like to have sex with adults. They know it’s true because they have seen it.

For both the predator and the child these images produce permission-giving beliefs.

Dr. Mary Anne Layden
(found on tumblr)

QotD: “Decriminalization is just a different shaped cage”

I worked for a decade under decrim. But before that, for a little, I was a stripper so we’ll start there.

One night, let’s call her Stacy, came in for opening and was extremely distraught because she’d been raped a few hours earlier, she came in to talk to me because she didn’t have anyone else. Our manager told her she could either work her shift or be fired. The only reason she was allowed to leave was because I said I’d leave too and I was making them too much money at that point for him not to cop it from the owner if that happened. She didn’t go to the police because she knew they wouldn’t care.

Then when I was nineteen I switched to working in brothels. People like to think drugs come before that but usually they don’t. Most of the time that comes after you start, to cope with it.

I routinely worked with trafficked women in legal brothels because under that system, it’s actually way easier to traffic them in. Most of them were South East Asian and I know at least three of them are dead, I’m fairly certain a lot more of them are now.

I’ve seen men come in and leave because they wanted ‘younger’ girls, despite there being girls working that were 18 and looked 15.

The night a john tried to choke me, I slammed his head into the mirror. I was warned by police after that next time I would be charged with assault.

I don’t feel the statistics accurately portray the history of abuse most if not all of us have experienced. I met maybe five women who said they hadn’t been abused in some way during childhood, whether it be sexually, physically or emotionally. In ten years.

Literally no one was there because they wanted to be. It was because if not, you starved or worse. I’ve never met any of us who was in the girl’s room between “”“clients”“” preaching about how great it was. We talked about what we would do if we had a choice and what we hated about johns and management, and every level of horror you can imagine that we’d experienced in our lives.

Decriminalization is just a different shaped cage. It’s still designed to trap and commodify women and girls as sex toys for men. I’ve seen women raped and beaten, I’ve known women who have been killed or who have ended up killing themselves.

The reason it’s not okay to people to exchange money to kill someone but it’s okay to exchange money to rape someone, is because the world we live in perpetuates that women and girls are lesser, and that our worth is based in fuckability to men.

And you could ask anyone who is exited the same and their stories don’t vary from ones like mine. But we’re called liars by people who have never set foot in a brothel in their goddamn lives, for challenging the bullshit notion that there is a class of women it is okay to exploit.

Destroymales on tumblr

“Monuments across Wales and the UK have been dressed up as part of a new campaign against the erosion of women’s rights”

Monuments across Wales and the UK have been dressed up as part of a new campaign against the “erosion of women’s rights”.

The early morning rush hour crowd were surprised yesterday morning (Monday, January 29) as they came face-to-face with female statues dressed in black t-shirts or draped in banners emblazoned with “woman. Noun. Adult human female.”.

In the past 24 hours, South East Wales Resisters, known as SeWReSisters, alongside ReSisters United, have carried out a campaign across the UK using the hashtag #WomenStandUp. Statues of women all over the country are now dressed in similar attire.

The sculptures in the heart of Newport commemorate the Chartist rebellion.

SeWReSisters claim: “It is fitting that SeWReSisters honour this working-class movement which fought for the rights of the common people.”

ReSisters United, has co-ordinated this campaign across England, Wales and Scotland, to kick off a global week of feminist action called to protest what it claims is “the censoring of women on Facebook and Twitter and the gradual erosion of women’s rights”.

A spokeswoman for ReSisters United commented: “In today’s climate of hyper political correctness, the factual definition of woman has become taboo.

“The dignity, privacy and safety of women is at risk.

“With this action we send the message that women have the right to speak about our biology without shame, fear or retribution”.

“We’d say that we are not positioning ourselves against trans issues, we are standing up for the rights of women and girls.

“We’re not anti-trans, we are pro-women.”

ReSisters United proclaim that they are “committed to speaking out to protect the right to sex-segregated spaces, without the presence of men”.

Text from the South Wales Argus, image from Manchester ReSisters.

An Open Letter to Lunapads

Lunapads is a company I would like to be able to support, and to recommend to other women, but I am appalled by your recent behaviour on social media.

Calling women and girls ‘menstruators’ ‘bleeders’ and ‘womb-owners’ is dehumanising and degrading. Putting ‘content warnings’ for ‘gendered language’ (whatever that actually means) on articles about women and girls is turning femaleness into a taboo subject – the tweet (from November 2018) that upset me the most was about Girl Scouts on the International Day of the Girl Child, about “girls lifting up other girls”, apparently that article needed a ‘content warning’.

In a tweet (from September 2018) about ‘patriarchy-free periods’ you talked about ‘all bodies’ being ‘covered’. ‘All bodies’ do not menstruate, only female ones. Obfuscating female biology is not progressive, it’s reactionary, and you do women and girls no favours by making them feel like bigots for talking about their female anatomy.

It’s great that you make ‘gender neutral’ products (but does a woman have to identify as trans or ‘non-binary’ to be allowed to use them?), but if you want to be inclusive, why not just say ‘women and trans men’? It seems obvious to me that this has very little to do with including trans men, and everything to do with pandering to trans women by not using the word ‘woman’ in any context that naturally excludes them.

That this is pandering becomes even more obvious when looking at a photo you posted on Instagram (in December 2018) of a card with a picture of a toilet and the text “Feeling confused or maybe a little upset? Don’t worry! My gender has nothing to do with you and I am supposed to be here.”

Dismissing women’s reasonable concerns about safety in public toilets (and changing rooms, and locked hospital wards, and homeless shelters, and prisons, and overnight accommodation for school trips) as ‘confusion’ or ‘being upset’ is patronising, condescending, and arrogant; the card may as well have said ‘don’t worry your silly little head about it sweetie!’

Do you care about the safety of women and girls at all? You must be aware of the case in Canada of Jessica/Christopher Hambrook, a paedophile and serial sex offender, who assaulted two women while living at a women’s shelter in 2012. Do you think it’s a good idea to tell women and girls to ignore their instincts when they are in close proximity to a potentially dangerous male?

What exactly do you hope to achieve with this mindless virtue signalling? Are there really that many trans men to buy your products? Trans women have male bodies, they do not have uteruses, they will never menstruate, and your products will never have the same fetishistic attraction as scavenging for used tampons and towels from the bins in public toilets.

Have you noticed an improvement in sales? Is alienating your core demographic really a good business strategy?

How do you justify advocating body positivity and self-acceptance on the one hand, but on the other, promoting an ideology that says some women are born in the ‘wrong body’ and that those ‘wrong bodies’ need extreme medical intervention in the form of radical surgery and a life-long dependence on synthetic hormones? What message do you think you are giving to girls who are going through puberty, and all the natural difficulties that major life-change involves, when you put up aesthetic photos of mastectomy scars on your Instagram account?

But what really tipped me over the edge and got me writing this letter to you was a re-tweet (in December 2018) about ‘SWERFs’. ‘SWERF’, like ‘TERF’ is a thought-terminating cliché, designed to shut down debate and critical thinking. Are you aware that many of the women fighting the sex industry, like Rachel Moran and Fiona Broadfoot, have direct, personal experience of being commercially sexually exploited while minors? Are you aware that SPACE International (Survivors of Prostitution Abuse Calling for Enlightenment) have organised a conference in London for this February called Women of Colour Against the Sex Trade? Will you be listening to these women too?

I also found a 2016 post of yours on Instagram where you discuss a potential project with Buck Angel, a trans porn performer. Is collaborating with the sex industry part of your ongoing business strategy? What kind of message do you think you are giving to young women and girls by helping to normalise the sex industry?

Your Pads4Girls program (where you again refer to girls as ‘menstruators’) is designed specifically to help keep Global South girls in school and out of poverty. One of the undeniable purposes of keeping girls in school and out of poverty is to help keep them out of the sex trade, or situations where they need to get an older ‘boyfriend’ who can buy them basic essentials like sanitary towels. What impact do you think the normalisation of the sex industry as ‘just work’ has on the life chances of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable women and girls?

I look forward to hearing back from you,
Abi

Lunapads can be contacted via hello@lunapads.com. Screen-caps, of everything described above, in the comments

Front Row: Germaine Greer

As she turns 80, Germaine Greer reflects on her career as a Shakespeare academic, public intellectual, feminist and provocateur.

Germaine Greer discusses her passion for Shakespeare and how reading his comedies influenced her thinking for The Female Eunuch; her work championing the work of female writers and painters; how much things have really changed for women; and she shares her thoughts on censorship and pornography and why being outspoken is the best way to provoke change.

BBC Radio 4’s Front Row

QotD: “How To Disappear Patriarchy In Three Easy Steps”

So, as many of you are aware, the high-priestess of genderology [Judith Butler] decided to momentarily descend from her exalted academic plinth and relay her ‘thoughts’ on the ongoing internecine shitshow that she, probably more than anyone else, has helped to create. Except of course that, with her usual intellectual integrity, the thoughts she decided to relay about said shitshow totally ignored what is really going on, in favour of pretending that this is a conflict between the wibbly-wobbly-gender-and-sex-is-fluid-rah-rah-liberation crowd, and, basically, um, the Pope. Despite being entirely predictable, this level of disingenuous erasure, is, nonetheless, pretty staggering. As Judy is actually more than well aware, this is a conflict which turns, fundamentally, on the fault-line in feminism that she, in fact, inaugurated – a fault-line between those of us who think patriarchy is a system of sex-based male dominance enacted through cultural mechanisms which we could call – if we can still stomach the word – ‘gender,’ and those who think that patriarchy is…like, seriously, what the fuck do they even think it is….some kind of free-floating cultural system that has nothing to do with actual bodies or their appropriation and domination, a randomly generated set of signs and signifying practices that shape our subjectivity, a thought which leads, in practice, to staking feminism’s whole liberation project on the epic transcendent power of some spectacularly superficial idea of gender-fucking.

Look, I’m a feminist, and a Prince-fan. I like superficial gender-fucking as much as the next woman. (I actually think Prince’s gender-fucking wasn’t merely superficial, but that’s another story). BUT, and this in some sense points towards the heart of the problem here, superficial gender-fucking has fuck all effect on the fundamental patterns of male dominance. As someone said to me yesterday on Twitter, the wires are currently full of male people running around stanning for the absolute progressive power of gender fluidity, who seem to think they are the living breathing instantiation of ‘smash the patriarchy’ because they dare to pair some nail-varnish with their beards, all while acting like exactly the same entitled, narcissistic, dependency-denying, mind-over-matter, female-erasing assholes that they always were. If gender isn’t just a penchant for gold lamé pocketbooks and lace and is actually something to do with the psychic, material, ontological and economic structures which underpin male dominance, then, lo, it turns out you still need an analysis of male dominance if you’re going to actually do a bloody thing about it. And I’m sorry Judy, I know you were traumatized by Dworkin and MacKinnon trying to ban porn, but having an analysis of male dominance doesn’t actually make me, y’know, the fucking Pope.

[…]

This week there’s a conference going on at Brighton University, in which a load of ‘critical thinkers’ will sit around and think very critically. Judith Butler is doing the star turn. I was supposed to go with a friend, and put on my polite academic face, and listen while she is lauded by room full of people, many of them male, who cannot get over how fucking psyched they are that ‘feminism’ no longer asks them to even acknowledge, let alone challenge, male dominance. I cannot and will not do it. At this moment the thought makes me rage. And so what I want to do, instead, is to sit here, and try and channel my rage into a (partial) excavation of how, and why, Judith Butler performed the magical and much-rewarded feat of making patriarchy – and the critique of patriarchy – vanish from feminism.

Jane Clare Jones, continue reading here

QotD: “Vancouver gender identity event a roaring success”

In case you weren’t able to attend the sold out Gender Identity Ideology and Women’s Rights talk at the Vancouver Public Library, it was, in a word, beautiful. On Thursday, myself, Lee Lakeman, and surprise speaker Fay Blaney spoke truth to power, shutting down any possibility of discrediting the independent, grassroots women’s movement. Blaney challenged the myth of numerous “genders” in Indigenous cultures, wielded by trans activists in order to justify post-modern, academic theories about “gender identity,” and claim them as “non-Western” for identity politics points. Blaney said, “There are people who are talking about how Indigenous nations had five genders. That’s absolute B.S.” Lakeman reminded “those of you who can imagine bullying us into submission, you’re clearly unfamiliar with us.” I argued that it is unnecessary to trample on women’s rights in order to also argue that those who step out of traditional gender stereotypes should not be harassed or discriminated, and indeed, challenging gender stereotypes is always what feminists have encouraged. No one in attendance could argue, with any integrity, that any of the panelists were “hateful” or interested in harming others.

While many protesters shouted unrelated, nonsensical slogans outside, none had the strength of character or intelligence to address the panelists in good faith, inside. The few trans activists who did attend limited their “protests” to giggling at concerns about fascism and cheering when Blaney — a long time Indigenous feminist activist committed to fighting male violence against women — shared that she had been pushed out of the annual Women’s Memorial March, which honours the lives of missing and murdered women lost in the Downtown Eastside. One trans activist who did speak began by insulting another woman’s hair, before launching into a confusing lecture about race.

Three hundred people attended the event — many more wanted to, but could not get tickets, as the event sold out. Thousands more watched online. The vast majority of the audience was in support of either our positions or, simply, the need for an open conversation about the issues. It is clear that Canadian politicians and the Canadian media are failing the general public in their efforts to distort, censor, and ignore that this is a conversation people desperately want to have, and that most in Canada are not on board with gender identity ideology and legislation, nor do they support trans activist tactics, which rely on using bullying, threats, and libel to silence and smear detractors.

Watch the talk and Q&A in its entirety here:

Meghan Murphy, Feminist Current, full article here

QotD: “”(The Vancouver Police Department) will be monitoring and will take appropriate action should conduct breach the Criminal Code”, says a Canadian public library about a feminist speaking about women’s rights”

“(The Vancouver Police Department) will be monitoring and will take appropriate action should conduct breach the Criminal Code”, says a Canadian public library about a feminist speaking about women’s rights.

Today is International Women Human Rights Defenders Day.

#MeghanMurphy

Raquel Rosario Sanchez on twitter

QotD: “Prostitution = Violence, Listen to Survivors”

Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution International