Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici – a review at Mairi Voice

Cross-posted from: Mairi Voice
Originally published: 21.09.16

caliban-and-witch

“Most important the figure of the witch…in this volume is placed at the center-stage, as the embodiment of a world of female subjects that capitalism had to destroy; the heretic, the healer, the disobedient wife, the woman who dared to live alone, the obeha woman who poisoned the master’s food and inspired the slaves to revolt.” (p.1)

 

 

 

 

I have just finished reading this fascinating and excellent work.

I am avid enthusiast of the need for the reclaiming of women’s history and the necessity to document and learn about women’s past roles in our history. So it was with excitement that I came across this important work.

Federici gave me an interesting perspective on women’s history as she claims that it is not just about reclaiming women’s hidden history but understanding how women are often at the centre of historical events but their role has been diminished by historical accounts.
Read more Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici – a review at Mairi Voice

I don’t believe the outrage over Donald Trump by @glosswitch

Cross-posted from: Glosswatch
Originally published: 09.10.16

It’s that time again, when the liberal left pretends to be totally outraged by some heinous act of sexism which they’d ordinarily condone. Perhaps I should feel relieved. Perhaps I should think “well, at least one sexist out of the many millions is getting his comeuppance.” But instead I feel tremendously depressed. I don’t believe the outrage over Donald Trump. Yet again it’s feminism being used for anything but the purpose of liberating women.

So the GOP has chosen Trump’s “lewd” admissions of grabbing women “by the pussy,” caught on tape, as the excuse to distance themselves from him. Fair enough. They’ve known about the creepiness, the misogyny, the rape accusations, for long enough, but better late than never. They could of course have drawn the line over some other form of discrimination – one which, as many liberal commentators have helpfully suggested, affects actual people, such as men – but you can’t have everything. Hey, at least a trivial issue such as sexual assault is being used for the greater good.

I don’t believe anyone is actually outraged, though. Not women, nor men, either, and not merely because this is “what they’re all really like.” It’s just another of these increasingly false dawns, a cleansing ritual of sorts, whereby everyone gets to performatively express horror at one man’s sexism and by doing so absolve themselves of guilt. Take our sins upon you, oh tiny-handed one, that we may once again be pure (and not have to liberate women in any meaningful, practical way, which might cost us time, money and our precious ‘rights’). 
Read more I don’t believe the outrage over Donald Trump by @glosswitch

Louis Theroux, Jimmy Savile and the failure to recognise the obvious: misogyny

Cross-posted from: Young Crone
Originally published: 05.10.16

On Sunday night, I watched the Louis Theroux documentary ‘Savile’, which investigated why he (and by extension, others) hadn’t realised who and what the thankfully deceased serial rapist and abuser Jimmy Savile was, back when he interviewed him in 2000. In it, Theroux recognises and acknowledges that he missed certain signs, etc., as did so many others, but at the end, when he finally concludes that we will probably never truly know how Savile got away with so much for so long, he is completely mistaken. Because it’s totally obvious why he did – misogyny. And Theroux, for all his soul-searching, for all his sense of guilt and shame, for all his willingness to research the topic and hear difficult things from victims, including insulting things about his own past involvement with Savile, never stops to analyse the most obvious reason for why he also failed to spot the truth – his own misogyny. As a liberal, lefty guy, he probably doesn’t think he’s sexist at all, and I imagine that if you met him, he probably would come across as very nice and less sexist than a lot of men. Like so many men, because he’s not an out-and-out leering chauvinist pig who thinks women should only exist to attract and service him, he thinks he’s not sexist. BUT. BUT. His misogyny and male entitlement and participation in patriarchy are glaringly obvious in the documentary.
Read more Louis Theroux, Jimmy Savile and the failure to recognise the obvious: misogyny

Self-Care or Speaking Out? A Black Feminist Dilemma by @ClaireShrugged

Cross-posted from: Sister Outrider
Originally published: 08.08.16

On the personal and political implications of misogynoir.


THE PERSONAL

I should be writing my dissertation. I should be writing the abstract for that conference paper. I should be preparing the workshop on feminist voice I am to deliver. There are a hundred and one things I should be doing – things essential to my life that I am not doing, because I am curled under my desk having a panic attack.  The abuse I receive online has reached new heights. For the first time (and probably not the last) I feel physically unsafe because of it. Along with the persistent misogyny, the overt racism, the steady drip drip drip of “shut up nigger”, there is something new: the threat of violence.

A white man told me that he wanted to hit me with his car. He wanted to hit me with his car and reverse over my body to make sure that I was dead. The scenario was so specific, the regard for my humanity so little, that it felt more real somehow than any of the other abuse I have received. It shocked me in a way that nothing on Twitter ever had before. I could hear my bones crack. He believed I deserved to die for being Black and having an opinion different to his own, that endorsing Black Lives Matter made me a legitimate target of violence. Seconds later, another white man appeared in my mentions with a chilling casualness to say that my being ran over would be “fair enough.”

It is not ‘just the internet’. This abuse does not fade from the mind when I close my laptop, when I put down my phone. It is a part of my life. It has altered my way of being. It is, at points, debilitating. There is a clear pattern: it is when I am most vocal, most visible as a Black feminist woman, that the abuse occurs most frequently, is the most vitriolic. Not a single one of the accounts I have reported in the week (for calling me nigger, for threatening me, for telling me to go back to Africa, etc.) has been suspended. Twitter Support’s failure to penalise accounts spreading racist threats and harassment creates the impression that people are free to abuse others with impunity – and Black women are so often the targets of that abuse. 
Read more Self-Care or Speaking Out? A Black Feminist Dilemma by @ClaireShrugged

The Fetishisation Of Tall Women. at Rosie’s Gap Year

Cross-posted from: Rosie's Gap Year
Originally published: 25.02.15

I’ve never thought I would be forced to write an article about this, but due to recent comments I’ve been receiving on social media platforms, I want to voice my opinion on this.

I’m talking about the fetishisation of tall women by, predominantly, men.  This is more commonly known as “Macrophillia”, and to those of you who don’t know, this involves a tall woman taking on a role as a giantess, who’s main purpose is to dominate, sexually please, and crush men smaller than them.

Because of the nature of this fetish, tall women have been targeted as a cornerstone of it, whether they are consenting to being viewed in such a way or not.


Read more The Fetishisation Of Tall Women. at Rosie’s Gap Year

Familiarity and contempt by @wordspinster

Cross-posted from: Language: A Feminist Guide
Originally published: 22.08.16

Earlier this month, in an English court, a man who had just been sentenced to 18 months told the judge she was ‘a bit of a cunt’. To which she replied: ‘You’re a bit of a cunt yourself’. Complaints about her language are now being considered by the Judicial Standards Investigation Office. But plenty of people applauded her, calling her a ‘hero’, a ‘role model’ and a ‘legend’.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the New York Times reported that sexist endearment terms like ‘honey’ and ‘sweetie’ were no longer acceptable when addressing women in court. The American Bar Association had adopted Resolution 109, which makes it a breach of lawyers’ professional standards to engage in ‘harmful verbal or physical conduct that manifests prejudice and bias’.
Read more Familiarity and contempt by @wordspinster

When women attack feminists – self-hate in a woman hating culture at Shack Diaries

Cross-posted from: Shack Diaries
Originally published: 11.01.15

As feminists, when we stand together to challenge the misogyny embedded in our culture we have learned to expect to face the patriarchs, the MRAs and the violence and ignorance of men. However sometimes we find ourselves confronted on such issues by other women who will side with the sexism of men. Women who will vehemently uphold, for example,  rape myths, to the detriment of every female victim of rape and actually – all women.

In a culture of misogyny in which they too are intrinsically and literally greatly harmed, this can be shocking to us all.

So why?
Read more When women attack feminists – self-hate in a woman hating culture at Shack Diaries

Online Misogyny – a speech for FiL

Cross-posted from: Sister Outrider
Originally published: 26.10.15

On the 25th of October 2015, I spoke at the conference Feminism in London. The subject was online misogyny, and I was honoured to share the panel with Connie St. Louis, Dr. Emily Grossman, and Alison Boydell. The following is a transcript of my speech.

Hello and thank you for having me to speak at Feminism in London. I’m Claire, and it’s an honour to be here, and to be discussing something so relevant to women’s experiences both in terms of activism and in a more personal capacity. I wonder if I could start with a show of hands – how many people here have experienced misogyny online? Thank you. [Vast majority of hands raised.]

That’s sad, but not at all surprising.

If anybody is going to quote me on Twitter, please make it this: I believe that misogyny is endemic. It’s true that the Internet has revolutionised almost every aspect of our lives, but it hasn’t fundamentally changed the nature of people’s values. From behind a screen, perhaps from a position of anonymity, men are harassing women, swearing at women, abusing women, threatening women, stalking women. The internet, much like the Force, can be used either for good or bad. It has never been easier to sign and share a petition but, equally, the odds are signing one the one the old fashioned way with ink and paper is far less likely to result in you being called scum and told to die.
Read more Online Misogyny – a speech for FiL

White people critiquing “White Feminism” perpetuate white privilege

If you are involved in feminist discourse online, the chances are that you will have noticed a particular phrase becoming increasingly common: White Feminism. Sometimes, a trademark logo will even be added for emphasis. The term White Feminism has become shorthand for certain failings within the feminist movement; of women with a particular degree of privilege failing to listen to their more marginalised sisters; of women with a particular degree of privilege speaking over those sisters; of women with a particular degree of privilege centering the movement around issues falling within their own range of experience. Originally, the term White Feminism was used by Women of Colour to address racism within the feminist movement – a necessary and valid critique.


Read more White people critiquing “White Feminism” perpetuate white privilege

As it is, Genitals matter by @EstellaMz

Cross-posted from: Uncultured Sisterhood
Originally published: 03.12.14

In patriarchal heaven, a special award for total disregard and hatred of females is reserved for people who blather on about how genitals don’t matter and male circumcision is just as bad as female genital mutilation. You are more likely to encounter such drivel from those who are furthest removed from communities which enforce atrocious cultural practices like FGM. But while the temptation is to blank out their appropriative erasure of women’s struggles, there will be no silence in the face of this covert wave of misogynistic violence.

Perhaps in an ideal world, genitals would have as much importance as arms, or ears; vital but not weaponized as they are in sexist, male-centred, capitalist society. But wishing something were different doesn’t make it so. Here and now, genitals matter. And it is essential that those at the receiving end of oppression on the basis of the type they were born with understand exactly why and how this oppression is actualized. For us, this is a starting point toward liberation.

Undeniably, consent is a major issue in both female and male genital cutting. Consent  is compromised, often nonexistent, not only in the circumcision of male and female babies/children, but in cultures which provide no other option for their members except to endure it. And while tribal and religious women/men may proclaim agency and pride in having undergone the ritual, the fact that doing otherwise would have led to grave repercussions undermines the context of choice.
Read more As it is, Genitals matter by @EstellaMz

Finding Our Voices by @EstellaMz

Cross-posted from: Uncultured Sisterhood
Originally published: 17.06.14

In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions become strongly etched in a merciless light, and what I most regretted were my silences.

Audre Lorde

I’ve been pushing the urge to blog to the back of my mind.

It was inevitable for a couple of reasons.

The first is finding myself in a state of permanent rage over the multitude of injustices which girls and women in Uganda on the continent and globally, have faced historically and still suffer on a daily basis. Hardly a day goes by, not even an hour, without a report: man rapes woman, wife beaten, man kills woman, girl raped by father, soldiers rape women, and so on.

In the era of widely touted Millennium Development Goals, Uganda is in the lead or close to the top when it comes to incidence of child marriagesexual abuse of childrenteenage pregnancy, sexual harassment and assault (rape is hardly reported; on record is mostly that by LRA insurgents during the war in northern Uganda), intimate partner violencematernal mortality, and deaths from complications arising from unsafe abortions. The horrors are endless to the point that many have become desensitized to the real suffering, in real time, of real people.

Human-beings. Girls. Women.
Read more Finding Our Voices by @EstellaMz

I’m mad as hell and I’m probably going to take it a bit more, if I’m honest

Cross-posted from: No Humiliation Wasted
Originally published: 25.01.14

Well, people are shitheads.

The Guardian ran a blog post by a white man about why a photo of a white woman sitting on a chair made to look like a bound, near-naked black woman wasn’t racist, not even a little bit.

NoHum_angry

xoJane, a site I’ve written for and whose articles I’ve previously enjoyed, published a piece inviting readers to share stories about the “craziest” people they’ve ever met, i.e. people with severe mental illness. And readers responded in their hundreds because hahahahahahaha it’s so much funnier to laugh at people and perpetuate stereotypes than to have a smidgen of compassion.

Disabled women are twice as likely to be abused as able bodied women and on average earn 7p less per pound, yet many of the discussions I see and hear about intersectionalitymention disability as an afterthought, if at all, and most high-profile feminists seem to be more consumed by banknotes and pubic hair than disability rights.

This stuff makes me so mad. I want to to have increasingly fraught discussions on Twitter or in comment sections, to shout, to scream, to SMASH SOMETHING, to… Oh.


Read more I’m mad as hell and I’m probably going to take it a bit more, if I’m honest

Institutionalized Misogyny: Two Women Tortured and Publicly Shamed by Public Prosecutor in Ciudad Juárez by @Andrews_Cath

Cross-posted from: Hiding under the bed is not the answer
Originally published: 15.06.15

Two women from  Ciudad Juárez in the northern state of Chihuahua, were arrested and charged with provoking the abortion of one of the women’s fetus of five months gestation earlier this month. Both women do not have the resources to pay their own legal defense (they earn 700 pesos -3 pounds fifty in UK money, 42 dollars in US money a week as factory hands)  and were assigned public defense barristers. In every stage of their trial their human rights have been violated and their dignity trampled on. Both women allege that they were tortured by police authorities in Juárez: local media reports that one attended her trial in a wheelchair due to the physical and sexual violence she has suffered. Yet, at their trial their lawyers presented no arguments to defend them from the charges. As a result they were found guilty on the basis of the confessions they had made to the prosecutors and have been provisionally released.


Read more Institutionalized Misogyny: Two Women Tortured and Publicly Shamed by Public Prosecutor in Ciudad Juárez by @Andrews_Cath

‘Nagging wives’ aren’t the problem; lazy-arse husbands are by @Firewomon

cross-posted from Firewomon

orig. pub. 10.5.14

In a spectacular display of misogyny, a headline in yesterday’s Telegraph informs us that ‘[n]agging could cost the lives of hundreds of men’.

Yes, you read that right. Before I go any further, let’s just unpick that sentence. ‘Nagging’ is defined as ‘constantly harassing someone to do something’ but, let’s be clear here, it is a slur which is used against women – indeed, the OED gives an example of the word’s usage as “a nagging wife”. The Telegraph’s headline refers to the lives of ‘men’ only, which suggests that women are the wrongdoers and men are the victims. The implication is that women are nagging ‘hundreds’ of men to death. As hyperbolic statements go, that takes some beating.

Delve further into The Telegraph’s piece (if you can stand to) and you would no doubt be astounded to find that ‘around 315 extra deaths per 100,000 people per year could be caused by spousal demands and worries’ with ‘men tend[ing] to respond to stress with higher levels of the hormone cortisol which is known to be linked to poor health’. Women, so the report says, are ‘immune to nagging’. It is poor, put-upon men who are apparently dying in droves as a result of being ‘subjected to ‘nagging’, constant demands and worries from their partners’.

From a feminist perspective, ‘nagging’ is a misogynistic term because it is used pejoratively and more or less exclusively against women. The ‘nagging wife’ is the subject of ridicule and disgust. If a man complains to his friends or family that his female partner is ‘nagging’ him, he will expect – and more than likely receive – sympathy. No-one thinks to question why his female partner is ‘nagging’ him. Why would a woman ‘nag’? Why would she ‘constantly harass someone to do something’? If we remove the term ‘nag’ and replace it with ‘protestation at being used as a slave’, that brings us closer to the nub of the problem. Could it be that women, responsible for the bulk of childcare and household chores, just want the men in their lives to get off their lazy fucking arses and actually help out?

Of course, male socialisation and male entitlement contribute massively to male lazyitis. From a young age, many girls are expected to help out around the house in a way that boys are not. Girls are taught from an early age that housework is Our Job. Research carried out by the Institute for Public Policy Research shows that just one in ten of married men does an equal amount of cleaning and washing as his wife. This is appalling. Do men somehow produce 90% less mess than women? Do they eat 90% less? Obviously not. Why, then, are they leaving their female partners to do the vast majority of meal-planning, cooking, washing, ironing, cleaning, and the looking after of children? Why do men expect their female partners to clean up the vast majority of the mess they create? I don’t think it is a stretch to describe this as slave labour. Radical feminists have long propounded the view that marriage enslaves women – given these statistics, is it any wonder? It is difficult to argue otherwise.

Articles such as this one in The Telegraph are damaging because of the inherent implication that women should just shut up and get on with the household chores. It normalises inequality within heterosexual relationships. It says: housework is a woman’s work, a wifely duty. If she objects, if she dares to even voice her dissent, she risks driving her male partner to an early grave. What a burden to place upon a woman!

The Telegraph goes on to say that ‘poor habits such as eating junk food and lack of exercise… exacerbate the problem’. Ah. So, of these ‘hundreds’ of men who are dying each year due to ‘nagging’, an undisclosed number of those would have died anyway because they never move off the sofa. I suppose woman should be blamed for that as well, eh? Your hubby’s a fat, lazy bastard? You’ve compounded the problem by hoovering around him! You should have asked him to move! It’s all your fault!

As Germaine Greer says:

The universal ‘division of labour’ between the sexes was in fact the apportioning of daily drudgery to the female, so that the male could indulge his appetite for sport, play, dreaming, ritual, religion and artistic expression.’ (The Whole Woman)

The problem, again as Greer points out, is that:

Men resent having to work and harbour a positive ambition to do nothing… Men regard weekends as time off [whilst] working women use weekends to catch up with the tasks left over from an exhausting week.

The truth of this cannot be emphasised enough. How many times have you heard a female friend or colleague say that her male partner is ‘babysitting tonight?’ In some cases, the act of a man looking after his own children appears to be so rare that one wonders why he is being praised for stepping up to the mark for once (presumably after some ‘nagging’) instead of being challenged over his dereliction of duty. A mother would never be described as ‘babysitting’ her own children – looking after them is her job and hers alone, see?

A ‘nagging’ woman is a woman who refuses to keep quiet when faced with the drudgery of housework and the huge responsibility of childcare. A ‘nagging’ woman is a woman who recognises the unfairness of her situation, who gets angry about the unfairness of her situation and who tries to persuade her male partner to do the things he should already be doing. This Telegraph article is blaming women (‘you nagging harridan!’) for voicing their dissatisfaction at being a man’s slave. Ask yourself: in a relationship where women do 90% of the household chores, who is the real victim?

 

Firewomon: A Radical Feminist Blog [@Firewomon]

About that Protein World advert…(an open letter to James O’Brien)

cross-posted from The Joy in my feetimage

An open letter to James O’Brien,

In the last week almost 60,000 individuals signed a petition to have Protein World’s now infamous yellow bikini advert, used to sell food-replacement shakes, taken down from London public transport outlets. In light of this much reported petition and the upcoming Taking Back the Beach protest planned for Saturday afternoon, you used your Wednesday afternoon LBC radio show to ask listeners what all the fuss is about with this advert. In light of a widespread consumerist culture in which unattainable body images sneer down at us at every angle in almost every public space, what is it about this particular advert which has caused so much offence? The problem, one of your listeners volunteered, is simply that hard-core feminists are getting their knickers in a twist. This is because, another suggested, we live in such a politically correct society these days, that fat people just can’t stand being told that they need to lose some weight. Jealousy is SO unattractive.

Listening to your show at my office when I should have been working, I couldn’t very well call up to provide an answer to your very reasonable question and so, in an attempt to clarify where your callers completely missed the point, I am addressing this open letter to you.

The problem with the advert is not with the photograph of the model in a bikini, oozing unrealistic sex-appeal and making us all feel bad with the way we look on the way to work, when we’ve barely had enough time to brush our hair and wipe the toothpaste from our mouths let alone hit the gym. We’ve seen these images before. We’ve seen this model before. We all know that adverts make people feel pretty lousy; one of your listeners, in fact, wrote in about the mental health implications that pressures to appear ‘macho’ have on men. He was right to raise this. Presumably this listener is also aware that eating disorders are one of the leading causes of ill health for teenage girls. Perhaps he read the research that the number one wish for girls aged 11 – 17 is to be thinner.

No, the problem is not the image, and it’s not even the particularly intense visuals of the image – in blazing yellow, this giant woman glaring down at us like some sort of fantasy Godzilla reeking havoc and judgement wherever she goes. No, the problem with this advert is the tagline that accompanies this image and what this says about the role of women in public space. By asking “Are you beach body ready?” the question this advert puts to women is this: do you have a body deemed by mainstream western notions of female beauty to be sexually attractive enough so as to be aesthetically pleasing to men when on the beach? If not, buy our product or else do not come to the beach.

Do you think that this is a leap to go from the advert’s tagline to the message to women to kindly leave their not-beach-ready bodies at home on the sofa where they belong? Because this is certainly the message that a very large number of women take home and this was certainly the conclusion drawn in a large global study conducted by Girl Guiding and Dove, which revealed that two-thirds of women and girls have avoided actually going out and doing certain activities because they feel bad about their bodies (including, incidentally, 29% who do not go to the beach or pool for this very reason). The CEO of Protein World himself certainly knows that women often feel uncomfortable occupying public space without first altering their appearance; this is what sells his product.

Sure, ok, men don’t just roll out of bed in the morning and out on to the street and, sure, ok, they are made to feel ugly too. But considering the fact that the women who are shown in the media are almost entirely models posing for the benefit of the viewer, whereas the men we see are primarily politicians, business leaders, and sports professionals actually doing stuff, what this says about women specifically is that their primary role in public space is to serve as a sex object.

The reason, then, that feminists are *quote* getting their knickers in a twist *end quote* about this advert in particular is because this is the advert which makes explicit the link between female attractiveness and a woman’s right to occupy public space. It is a) this relationship between women’s subjective sexual attractiveness and public space that is problematic, and this is b) particularly problematic because it feeds into a continuum of violence against women and girls. In government-commissioned research it was made explicit that if boys grow up being repeatedly told by advertisements like this that women’s primary role in public is to provide for their sexual gratification, they are more likely to engage in aggressive and violent behaviour towards women and girls.

Sexual harassment and assault in public is a grave issue in our society. Of the 1 in 5 women who will experience a sexual offence in her lifetime, a significant portion of these offences will take place in public. The British Transport Police estimate that 15% of Londoners have experienced unwanted, intimidating, and threatening sexual behaviour on the city’s transport network, and I’m willing to bet that this problem is even worse than these stats suggest. I do not know a single female friend who has not at some point in her life been subject to sexual harassment or assault ranging, in the  collective experiences of my friendship group, from cat-calling, jeering, and verbal abuse right through to inappropriate touching (and I am using this term euphemistically), being masturbated over, and being pissed on.

I am sure that you, as much as I, want this kind of behaviour to stop, and we can make a start by taking that bloody poster down.

The Joy in my Feet: Inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem, my blog The Joy in My Feet is about celebrating the work of women activists and artists around the world campaigning to end gender oppression. I am an intern with Equality Now working on a campaign to end FGM in the UK, so most of the posts you’ll find are covering current issues of sexual or gender based violence against women, interspersed with poetry and art.

Replicating patterns of disbelief at Feminists Unknown

cross-posted from Feminists Unknown

orig, pub. 22.215

When I think of being young I think of being scared. I was scared all the time. I remember lying in bed, listening out for sounds, or watching for faces to change and if one face in particular changed, it wouldn’t change back, not soon enough.

I used to blame my brother. I thought that if he didn’t get hit, I wouldn’t get hit. I thought he caused it all. Then I blamed my mother. I thought that if only she’d let my brother get hit enough for all the hitting to be “done,” it would end and none of it would spill over onto me.

I never blamed the person who did the hitting, obviously. You just don’t. When it comes to blame it has to be women and children first.

When I had a breakdown in my teens I tried to speak about what was wrong. Unfortunately, people who have breakdowns are a bit like rape victims who drank too much, or women who’ve been called TERFs. They are not credible, not to friends, not to doctors, not even police (god knows why I tried the latter, but at least it was only the once – when I think back, my overwhelming feeling is not one of anger but embarrassment, for being so bloody naive). People did want to know “the key” to what was making me distressed but not that key; the answer I gave was incorrect. It felt like being in a dream in which you’re trying to shout and no sound comes out.

Why are there bruises down her back? 

She doesn’t eat enough and she drinks too much. They just appear. 

 “You need to cover up,” my mother said, “it makes us look bad.”

So I stopped talking and carried on drinking. You can’t fight for validation forever, even if that feels like the thing that would make you safest. You swallow it all down and a bit of you won’t be the same but perhaps the rest of you can be preserved.

Ten years later I was sexually assaulted by a stranger when I happened to be extremely drunk (as I often was back then). When I went to the police (I know, stupid) it was the same feeling of opening my mouth and no sound coming out, even though there were words, real words. Not being believed is an empty feeling. You might as well not exist. Another bit of you goes.

These things – physical violence, sexual assault – are more than mere words but it’s the words that hurt too. I don’t believe you can be the worst phrase of all. And sometimes it doesn’t matter whether what they don’t believe you about is an online rumour or a fist in the face.

Over the weekend The Washington Post featured a piece by Michelle Goldberg arguing that feminist writers are “so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire.” It offers a great deal of insight into just how hard it is to be a feminist voice in a misogynist world. However, it makes the mistake of treating online abuse and real-life misogyny as either/or, as though female commentators are, as if by magic, in a position to choose:

.. stories today about Internet abuse inevitably elicit cliches about heat and kitchens — demands that women toughen up and grow thicker skin. Punditry and activism, after all, are relatively cushy gigs. […] … the creator of Feministe, Lauren Bruce, no longer has an online presence at all. “I had to completely cut that part off in order to live the rest of my life,” she says. “In order to work, have a nice family and feel like I was emotionally whole, I could not have one foot planted in a toxic stew.”

Many of us have sought refuge from and understanding of real-life abuse within feminism itself. There is no real distinction between those who write about misogyny and those who experience it because most of those writing about it are women. Many of us are still in the “toxic stew” or still recovering from the trauma of having been there. This is why the current backlash against feminists who complain of online abuse is nothing more than misogynist bullshit. It’s the replication of patriarchal patterns of disbelief. Contrary to what some would like to suggest, there are no women to whom you’ve earned the right to say “we don’t believe you, your experience of misogyny is imaginary and you’re not really oppressed.” If a woman says a word is a slur and a threat is a threat, it’s for you to deal with your knee-jerk disbelief, not her “phobia.”

Online rape threats don’t cancel out real-life experience of rape.

Tweets threatening violence don’t cancel out real-life beatings.

The “privilege” of writing about male violence against women doesn’t bring with it the real-life privilege of never having experienced it.

Online misrepresentations and lies don’t cancel out all those times you complained about real-life abuse and no one believed you or, at worse, dismissed your voice as sick, hateful or vindictive.

No-platforming doesn’t replace all those other experiences of being literally left outside.

Using words that misogynists describe as “violence” does not grant you superpowers to fend off actual violence. It doesn’t stop you feeling afraid, not just about what you might read but of what might break your bones.

It’s not just that all this is triggering (although quite obviously it is), it’s that it is the very same dynamic, the same entitlement, the same dehumanisation, the same disbelief when you try to make your case. It’s the same dreamlike speaking without being heard.

When women are disbelieved online or are told that their complaints are motivated by sickness (***phobia) or spite (bigotry), it’s a replication of the way in which people in the “real world” might accuse them of lying about rape or emotional abuse. You’re vindictive, you’re unreliable, you’re not well. And the chances are women have faced not one or the other of these, but both. It’s how male violence sustains itself and online discourse surrounding “mistrustful” or “unaccountable” feminists is seeping back into the real world, endorsing the age-old view that women are pampered princesses who lie about their fears and make up stories just to spite men. It’s a view that hurts all women.

I think it is fairly safe to assume almost every woman who has faced online dismissals of her ideas, false accusations of bigotry and crude acronyms has also been a victim of some form of male violence and/or assault and/or sustained emotional abuse. If speaking out against male violence made us magically immune to male violence then there’d be no need for refuges at all. Just say the sort of things misogynists dismiss as “violence,” become magically privileged and that’s it sorted. Alas, it doesn’t actually happen like that because guess what? Women have been trying that for years.

When you decide that a woman is “too privileged” to talk about feminist approaches to sex, gender and violence, what are your criteria? Were her bruises not dark enough for your liking? Do you need more evidence that she has experienced sexual assault (perhaps a male witness who is a pillar of the community)? Is she just not credible, what with other people telling you she’s a slag/slut /TERF/SWERF/[pick your own one-syllable female credibility eraser]? Would you believe her if you hadn’t seen her hanging out with “the wrong people” and hence asking for it? Is an opinion the short skirt of the internet unless it’s the wrong opinion, in which case it’s all a grey area and she might have provoked it, you never can tell…? What would make her lived experience of misogyny credible: more rapes? more beatings? death? Would you need to be on hand to watch, just to make sure? (Or would you merely interpret the very act of dying as passive-aggression on her part?)

Because if these are your criteria – if you replicate the aftermath of real-life violence in your attitude towards online abuse and public misrepresentation – then you are re-traumatising women due to your own misogynist assumptions regarding female authority and credibility. You have decided that female experience is either/or, helpless victim or privileged bitch who deserves taking down. You can’t imagine that a victim might not base her whole identity around victimhood and could instead have the strength and perspective to discuss the structures that perpetuate it (you might use the word “survivor” yet when women show signs of actual survival, empathy evaporates). Online abuse is not the great equalizer, doling out shit to women who you’ve decided aren’t getting enough misogynist abuse in real life (and the same goes for the harassment and misrepresentation of female academics and feminists speakers. If that’s your idea of activism – spreading shit around and adding to it, rather than trying to clear the whole think up – then you don’t like women. And you’re certainly not speaking truth to power in any way whatsoever).

Despite what men do to women again and again, women are not either utterly crushed or in need of a good crushing. We stand up again. That is, I think, what offends misogynists the most and forces them to create the myth of the real-life-abuse-immune feminist with no right to speak. How can we have done that to you and still you’re able to talk back? You must have been missed off our list. 

No, we weren’t. We were always on your list. You never miss anyone out.

And if you’re the kind of feminist who doesn’t like women who don’t appear sufficiently crushed, you’re no feminist at all. Stop making us swallow your shit.

 

Feminists Unknown: This is a collaborative blog incorporating posts from a number of anonymous posters. It will be focusing primarily on feminism. There is no wrong view on this blog-only individual perspectives. It must remain a safe space for those who post and share. So leave your judgement at the door. Our criticism will be constructive or it will be bullshit.

TIME MISSES THE POINT: FEMINISM ISN’T ABOUT BEING PALATABLE TO MEN by @sianfergs

(Cross-posted from Sian Fergs)

I’ve been reading many articles that deal with the idea of rebranding feminism as of late, but one which especially amused me was this article in TIME, entitled ‘Ironic Misandry: Why Feminists Pretending to Hate Men Isn’t Funny’.

For a second, let’s put aside the fact that the author assumes that misandry is a real thing (hating men occurs, but the institutional oppression of men does not), and that it’s at all equitable with the oppression of women.

This particular article interested me because it asserted that feminists pretending to be misandrists hurts feminism’s PR. Sara Begley writes, “What feminists really hate is the patriarchy—the web of institutions that systemically oppress women. And to tear it down, we need as many allies as we can get.” She later adds, “To get folks on your side, you need an appealing message.”

Discussions about ‘rebranding’ feminism aren’t new. Last year, Elle UK decided to launch a project in which ad companies were tasked with rebranding feminism, resulting in heated discussion about whether feminism needs rebranding or not.

Often, rebranding feminism is directed at convincing people to identify as feminists. Flowcharts and quizzes are created to convince everyone who supports equality is a feminist.  Feminism is so much more than that – it is decades of academic theory, decades longer of praxis, and a diverse and dynamic movement. These flowcharts might inspire some people to educate themselves, but focussing on making feminism appealing rather than inclusive or informative doesn’t result in any real change. How does a person simply identifying as a feminist improve my movement, or my lived experience? Rebranding, I’ve come to realise, is oversimplification.

The capitalistic language (‘rebranding’, ‘PR’) reflects the increasing popularity of neoliberal feminism: feminism that focuses on the empowerment of women and not the destruction of systemic oppression. Contrast this feminism – as exemplified by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In – to intersectional feminism, which demands the acknowledgement and abolition of the kyriarchy.

The increasing interest in rebranding feminism prompts me to ask: why are we marketing our movement to the oppressor? Last time I checked, feminism wasn’t a company and men were not our target market.

There are a number of useful, valid critiques of feminism. Feminism has traditionally excluded both trans women and women of colour; it has generally focussed on the needs of white, middle-class, educated, cisgender, heterosexual women and not people with fewer privileges. While many feminists – like the ones at Guerrilla Feminism – actively work to counter this, feminism still is exclusionary.

It interests me that TIME chose not to focus on the real, exclusionary, problematic aspects of feminism, but rather on a perception propagated by the patriarchal mass-media. It interests me that Sara Begley is concerned about feminism alienating men, and not actual oppressed groups. It interests me that many feminists are more intent on recruiting ‘allies’ than being ‘allies’ ourselves.

Feminism shouldn’t have to involve choosing between our supporters and the people we support. But the conundrum arises often: in the feminist spaces I’ve occupied, I have witnessed many people afraid of calling others out on their racism, transantagonism, ableism and heterosexism for fear of alienating a potential ‘ally’. We tone-police others in an attempt to gain more faux support. We value the quantity of our supporters over the quality of our support. This attitude implies that a privileged person’s support is more important than an oppressed person’s safety.

We seem more interested in appealing to men than supporting other women. By paying more attention to gaining the support of privileged people, we are perpetuating oppressive systems ourselves. Could it be more evident that we live in a kyriarchal world?

In the spaces I navigate, I have an obligation to ensure that they are as safe as possible for trans women, women of colour and disabled folk. As someone who has privilege over these – and other – groups of people, I have a responsibility to change feminism for the sake of the oppressed, not rebrand it for the sake of the privileged.

 

Just a South African Woman: An intersectional feminist blog tackling issues from a unique South African perspective. The posts attempt to explain and discuss some academic feminist theories in a simple manner, so as to make feminism accessible to more people. Follow me on Twitter at @sianfergs.

Parallel Lives by @PortiaSmart

(Cross-posted from Portia Smart)

This post has been a long time coming.

As a woman informed by radical feminism, much of my activism and consciousness-raising has centred around the theme of male violence against women. My career has followed a similar trajectory and now my presence on social media follows the same path.

I set up a blog site to “write what I feel” and I did not intend for it to be a commentary on male violence against women. But something incredible happened when I wrote my first post on the subject. Women in my social media circle started to share their own experiences, I started to realise how many women were writing about male violence from a personal perspective and how profoundly powerful their words were. The incredible @EVB_Now established a campaign based upon the principle of women speaking out and challenging victim blaming. I found myself becoming a part of a group of women who refused to be silenced, who were not ashamed by experiences of male violence. We had found our voices and we were not going away.

I have experienced multiple forms of male violence within a continuum and I am in a place where I am able to speak (and write) about it without becoming distressed. This is why I chose to speak out. In the three years that I have been “online” I have been warmed and inspired by women who are breaking silences imposed upon them by abusive men, disbelieving family, minimising friends, a victim-blaming criminal justice system and an unsympathetic society. This felt like our time. But over the past twelve months I have felt a creeping unease. It doesn’t happen often but it can’t be ignored. It has been a drip-drip presence, so much so that I couldn’t pinpoint my discomfort until now. Women are dividing each other into categories: women “affected by male violence” = less than, women not speaking about personal experiences of male violence = greater than.

Women who speak about personal experience and/or who ask for emotional support and/or are in distress are cut off, rejected and labelled as “needy”, “difficult”, demanding” “attention-seeking” “damaged”. How is this happening? Why would women with a feminist analysis Other women sharing experiences of male violence? I recognise that women dividing themselves is nothing new. Living within a patriarchy means that women (even the good* ones), sometimes seek to compete, Other, suppress and silence each other in the hopes of establishing a greater position of power. Sometimes we also need to keep ourselves safe, and I am not criticising this. I am an advocate of firm boundaries to protect ourselves from harm. Male violence against women is stigmatised and the people who are stigmatised are women. We are expected to feel shame when harassed, guilty when beaten, blamed when raped. The stigma is real and powerful and keeps so many women silent. Why would we voluntarily share experiences of male violence when the impact of doing so is so great? Some of us don’t and that is OK. No woman should ever feel compelled or coerced to share personal experiences of male violence. But that is not what I am asking here. I am asking for us to stop attaching stigma to those of us that do. We are all trying to survive and live as best we can. This divisive process is often unconscious but it’s real and it needs to stop now.

The truth, the ugly truth about this phenomenon is that we our dividing OURSELVES. Women, ALL women experience male violence. Every day. No woman is immune to experiences of harassment, stalking, rape, violence, gas lighting and degradation from men. Male violence is on a continuum. We experience daily sexist and misogynistic aggressions on a micro and macro level. Our society is saturated in misogyny. To pretend otherwise because you don’t want to see it, feel it, hear it, or experience it is understandable but this is the reality.

The woman that had the most profound effect on me recently spoke honestly and unapologetically about the male violence she experienced in childhood. She spoke with conviction, power, strength, anger and passion. Not all women feel able to speak out and this is understandable. I don’t think it makes one a better woman or a better feminist to share personal experiences of male violence. But neither do I think it makes women less than.

We all want to live in a world free from male violence. But we don’t, we live in this one. And right here, right now we need to connect to each other. Sometimes women want to talk about their experiences, sometimes women need to cry, shout, scream. Sometimes women need to receive care and understanding from other women. We need to hear and support one another and stop this patriarchal lie that women who speak about male violence need to be pathologised or ignored. This is not sisterhood.

I recognise and empathise the need to distance oneself from our vulnerability to male violence. Have I enacted this same position? I think it is likely. I think I may have held thoughts disrespecting women in pain and it’s not good enough. This is the very definition of throwing women under the bus and it is the worst way to do it. We need to do better. We need to do better NOW.

 

*good/bad women don’t exist. We are women.

The Problem with Porn

(Cross-posted from Woman as Subject)

I sometimes struggle remembering what I did  yesterday but the details of the first porn film I ever watched have stayed with me. I knew my brother had somehow managed to procure a dirty video and I also knew that if I was careful I could watch it quietly in the living room when nobody was around. I must have been around the age of 11  or 12, a gangly soon to be teenager teetering on edge of the precipice of puberty. I sat in my front room nervously listening out for any sign of my parents, and giggled at the opening credits. A woman came jogging into sight wearing tight seventies shorts and the camera panned in to a close up of her jiggling breasts. The action quickly moved to a bedroom where the portrait behind the bed had holes for eyes and the female inhabitants all transformed into lesbians as soon as the men disappeared. Perhaps because the emphasis was on women enjoying themselves together, with the male voyeur always behind the painting, I found the film amusing and a little bit exciting. A bit of cheeky harmless 70s fun.

The naughty video that I watched as a pre-adolescent and the even naughtier ones I went on to watch in my twenties are so removed from the pornography that is available online today that it is hardly comparable.  But still, the porn I watched shaped my sexuality. Who on earth talks to their parents about the intricacies of performing fellatio? Or ponders about the nature of lesbian sex over Sunday tea? When my friends first told me about cunnilingus I was 13 and I found the entire concept disgusting, but a few dirty movies later, and I was ready to try it myself. I don’t want to turn this blog into a series of sexual revelations but this wasn’t the only thing I saw and then went on to try myself. Porn undoubtedly informed my view of what was normal and normalised things I had never previously dreamt of. I can not separate out the sexual being I am today from these early experiences and I have no way of knowing whether things would have been different if I had never watched that first footage of the clandestine lesbians.

Fast forward to 2014 and two of my friends have recently had to deal with their 8 year old children accessing hardcore pornography accidentally on the internet. When I was young, porn films were passed around like contraband between groups of teenagers. Hard to come by and watched in giggling groups of naughty friends. Now a young girl curious about the imminent changes to her pre-adolescent body is confronted with images of impossibly young looking women having violent anal sex when she googles “naked teenage girls”.

This immersion in pornographic culture is a uniquely new phenomenon. Children and teenagers have never had such instant access to the kinds of images that we are now able to find at the click of a mouse. It is estimated that 88% of pornography shows physical aggression towards women, with the most popular acts depicted in porn being “vaginal, oral and anal penetration by three or more men at the same time; double anal; double vaginal; a female gagging from having a penis thrust into her throat; and ejaculation in a woman’s face, eyes and mouth”. I am grateful I wasn’t exposed to such footage when I was teenager or who knows what I might have accepted as normal. A survey back in 2006 found that 40% of teenagers know a girl that has been coerced into having sex with someone and that 42% knew a girl who had been hit by her boyfriend. The survey also found some worrying attitudes in terms of entitlement to sex with 27% of respondents thinking it was acceptable for a boy to expect to have sex with a girl if she had been very flirtatious. Rates of heterosexual anal sex are also on the increase, as are resultant reported injuries and coercion is an increasingly common factor.

There is undoubtedly a need for more research into the impact and effects of such widespread pornography consumption by young people but there are some things that seem obvious to me. If you hold a social constructivist view of reality, then it makes utter sense that these things make a difference. Anybody that doubts that what we watch influences what we do obviously didn’t spend half their childhood climbing in car windows in emulation of the Dukes of Hazard like I did.  And they probably haven’t heard about the 12 year old boy who raped his sister after watching hardcore pornography online either.  If teenagers and young people are exposed to porn that routinely degrades, abuses and disempowers women then this is bound to affect their emerging sense of their selves as sexual beings and influence how they then behave in their relationships. Exposure to porn that embodies negative attitudes towards women perpetuates and reproduces further negative attitudes towards women which in turn eventually produces porn producers with negative attitudes towards women who produce porn that exhibits those negative attitudes towards women and so on and so on…. A neverending cycle of patriarchy reproducing itself. We will continue to fail our young people unless we find a way to interrupt the cycle.

Parents and educators seem unwilling to talk about such sensitive issues because to do so is to acknowledge that our children are at the stage in their lives when they are losing their innocence. Perhaps there is still an outdated notion that the porn our children are accessing is the sort of thing that we watched secretly in our front rooms as teenagers ourselves, rather than the violent abusive reality it so often is now. I have lost count of the number of times that I have had arguments about this issue with those scared of state censorship and the loss of freedom they envisage as a result – the individual freedom to wank somehow trumping the freedom of our teenagers not to be exposed to this stuff.  I’m not one for quoting philosophers generally but I think it’s worth referring to John Stuart Mill in this instance as he makes a vital point:

“The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good, in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it”

Too often those arguing against censorship privilege their own freedom above that of others. Misogynistic porn both degrades the women who have to act out abusive scenes whilst pretending to enjoy it, as well as having a serious impact on societal attitudes. It is gradually normalising coercive and violent sex and this has an impact on all the women in our society. This is not the kind of world that I want to live in, let alone my children.  I believe that it is possible to be both positive about sex as well as anti-pornography as it currently stands. To believe that we can instigate reforms in such a male dominated and powerful industry is so politically naive it is almost laughable. The porn industry does not care about women, it cares about money and that will always be its main concern. Whilst the main consumers of porn continue to be men who are seemingly turned on by such misogynistic abuse, then nothing will change. It is about time feminists stop arguing that pornography is ‘empowering’ and ‘liberating’ and wake up to the reality. Our children and young people do not deserve to be the unknowing subjects of a social experiment of this nature and we need to start talking about why porn is problematic for all of us.

 

Women as Subject: consists of feministy musings about things I argue about. It is a mixture of feminist theory, personal experience and ranting.

A Christmas Homily: On Being a Radical Christian AND a Radical Feminist by @VABVOX

A Christmas Homily: On Being a Radical Christian AND a Radical Feminist

by Victoria A. Brown worth

When I was a girl in Catholic school, I was told the early Christians spoke in code in order to protect themselves from arrest or being thrown into the lion’s den. Part of the code was to draw half a fish in the dirt. If the other person were a Christian, they would draw the rest of the fish and conversation could ensue without fear.

As a radical feminist who is also a Catholic and a Christian, I often feel the same way: The lion’s den of social media doesn’t compare with being eaten by actual lions, but it can feel quite brutal. Having been attacked by dozens of atheists at a time, I can attest to how exhausting these assaults can be.

I have also witnessed Muslim women I know–all of whom wear hijab–being badgered by both atheists and progressives telling them their religion is retrogressive and violent and abusive to women.

These attacks on religious women, nearly always by men, are often framed as atheist  mansplaining: “Don’t you know your religion oppresses women?”

A curious counterpoint follows these attacks: women direct message me with their confessions of being closet Christians–afraid even to state it publicly, instead drawing their half of the fish in my DM after seeing me affirm my own Christian beliefs. This happened most recently last week when a young woman I know–an outspoken feminist in real life–asked me how I was able to reconcile my feminism and my Catholicism.

“Teach me how to do this!” she implored.

My answer may seem simplistic, but if you have a belief system, there should never be a conflict. There is none for me–I believe strongly in most radical feminist tenets and I believe in most tenets of Catholicism. (Note, I say most.)

I get attacked just as often for being a radical feminist as I do for being a radical Christian. What is unsurprising is that those attacks are almost wholly from the same quarters: atheist men and liberal feminist women.

Both groups cite their concern for my mental health as well as my mental acuity. Am I, I have been asked, “insane” or “retarded”?

There is also concern about my lack of knowledge of the world and my own place in it, a marginalizing tactic straight out of Patriarchy 101.

The perception that only the ignorant believe in God is itself ignorant–and, I might add, classist, sexist and racist given that the overwhelming majority of the world’s believers are women of color. The perspective promulgated by atheists that atheism is somehow more evolved than belief in God is as offensive as it is inaccurate, ignoring as it does the vast array of scientists who also believe in God, from Galileo to Einstein to Hawking. Atheism is its own belief system, with its purveyors every bit as strident as any fundamentalist.

I was raised in a Socialist Catholic household by parents who were civil rights workers. In addition to the leaders of the black civil rights movement, my mentors were women who conflated their religious beliefs with their leftist politics, among them Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, Dorothy Day, Simone Weil and my patron saints, Teresa of Avila and Joan of Arc.

For me, feminism and Catholicism and leftist activism were always inextricably bound. Growing up in the era of Liberation Theology, I was fortunate to have models of feminist theologians from whom I learned a new way of viewing my own faith, starting with the work of the 19th century abolitionist women and their suffragist cohorts. But by the time I was in college, I had discovered–or rather, dis-covered–the work of Mary Daly and Sheila Collins, Rosemary Radford Reuther and all the many women in Latin America, nuns and lay women alike, who were melding their faith and their feminism.

These women validated the unarticulated reality that I had experienced as a girl in Catholic school: that women were the backbone of the Church. That women were the backbone of spirituality. That the activism of the female saints was not only just as impactful as that of their male peers, but in many respects they were the foremothers/foresisters of modern feminism.

Watching my parents civil rights work, much of which was inextricably bound to our parish and to the churches of the black men and women we (well, I was a small child, but our family) were working with and for clarified for me how integral God was to the work being done.

There is no writing by Martin Luther King, Jr. that doesn’t invoke Christ. Concomitantly the work of Malcolm X, often held up as King’s more radical brother in the battle for black equality in the U.S., was a follower of Islam.

For many, God propelled us into activism. For me personally, it was those female saints and Christ himself that made me a radical Christian feminist. Wooed by the literal fight in Joan of Arc and her refusal to bow to patriarchal mores, wooed by the refusal of St. Cecilia to become a concubine, wooed by the brilliant mystical writings of St. Teresa of Avila, I was certain that women played as keen a role in God’s plan as the male apostles whose names I seemed incapable of remembering past Peter and John.

As I delved deeper into the concept of feminist theology in college, meeting Mary Daly and interviewing her for the college radio station where I had the first lesbian feminist radio program in the U.S. for an hour on Sunday mornings, I saw that God was as much the divine feminine as the “He” we had been taught in catechism class. As Daly said, “Why indeed must ‘God’ be a noun? Why not a verb – the most active and dynamic of all.”

If our internalization of God–particularly for those of us who are radical feminists intent on smashing the patriarchy–is in activism, then how could feminism not be an outgrowth of faith? The synthesis of God and the work of making the world a livable place for women and girls, men and boys, was inextricable–Daly showed me that feminism did not requite that I  expunge it from my heart or my intellect. Rather she showed me that the two worked in tandem, each propelling the other–and me–forward into action, into the heart of the fray as Joan of Arc had done.

Activism drove me and Christ was my ultimate mentor. Jesus’s exquisite knowledge that the end of his activist journey was a slow, hideous and painful death from which he could not escape spurred me forward: if Christ could do this, how could I do less? How could I not fight every battle presented to me, work ceaselessly for a better world, a more equitable place, follow the dictates Christ presented in the Sermon on the Mount–a revolutionary treatise if ever there were one.

Following Christ means giving up a great deal. But following radical feminism demands the same. The over-arching thing that must be relinquished–the thing that contradicts every MRA, lib fem or atheist gunner–is ignorance. You can no longer ignore what is set in front of you. You cannot ignore the chasms between rich and poor, men and women, color of privilege and color of oppression. You cannot pretend.

Now perhaps in a fundamentalist religion or a male-centered feminism, ignorance is an imperative. If one acknowledges that we are all equal–which is the basic tenet of both radical Christianity/liberation theology Catholicism and radical feminism–then you cannot stand on the sidelines of either your faith or your feminism. You cannot ignore that people are dying in your very own city of starvation in the clear and abundant bounty of Western society. You cannot ignore that one billion women worldwide are victims of male violence. You cannot ignore the plight of the poor, the disabled, the oppressed. You have to be in not for a penny but for many, many pounds. You have to give up your life in service to your beliefs and you can never, ever take time off, because the criticality demands of your radicalism that you be invested 24/7. You can’t shrug off this rapist or that rapacious politician. You can’t flip past the photo of spikes being put in doorways to keep the homeless from sleeping there. You can’t pretend that FGM is a cultural thing that (white) Westerners should ignore.

You cannot ever stop fighting for what is right because you are not, as the atheists and MRAs and lib fems say, ignorant. You are ignorance’s obverse: you are keenly, hyper-vigilantly aware and you can never unsee all that is cruel and inhumane and immoral anywhere ever again. Mother Teresa explicated this clearly, “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

I have always believed that God is love and I have always believed that feminism is love. How could those two loves not heal the world the way they have healed me?

Two weeks ago I had some surgery. It seemed to go well, but an infection set in almost immediately, hidden under the healing wound, showing little sign to either me in my own body or to my doctors. It spread rapidly and by Dec. 17 I was gravely ill. By Dec. 18, death was knocking. On Dec. 19 I had emergency surgery. Today, as I write this on Christmas Eve Day, I am home from the hospital and I am alive.

I am not saying that I prayed to be saved–although I did, madly–and I was saved, because millions pray every day to be saved from things as painful and horrible as what I experienced and are not saved. What I am saying is being on the brink of death yet again, I am reminded of the value of life, of the value of all that is left to be accomplished and that the purpose of our lives on this earth–whether we believe in an afterlife as I do, or not–is to work as diligently as we can to give to those who do not have what we have, to seek justice for those of us (including ourselves) who have been marginalized, to make a space for equity and equality for everyone, to end male violence. Mother Teresa said, “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”

There is often no more “humble” work than feminism. But those of us who are feminists–true feminists–do it always and unflinchingly because lives depend on it. We cannot walk away. That work of feminism, or the work Mother Teresa spoke of, is how I put faith and feminism together in the same place.

No doubt some will come away from this saying I haven’t addressed individual issues that are fraught in both the Church and radical feminism. Perhaps not. But I reiterate that I said at the outset I didn’t believe in every tenet of either my religion or my feminism. But I believe in the construct of both my faith and my feminism. I believe that both work in a truly intersectional way to bolster my activism.

Every Sunday when I attend Mass, I am re-infused with activism–compelled to leave and do the work Christ set me here to do: save lives. Of women, of girls. Save men from their own violence. Save the marginalized from suffering and bigotry and oppression. This is my answer to the question of how do I meld my faith in God and my faith in feminism–through the example of Christ and the radical feminist theologians his pro-feminist activism spawned. The answer for me is the women who came before me, God and feminism inextricably bound together in their hearts and in their work. My admiration for all they achieved is immeasurable, as is my desire to follow in their footsteps. And those of their mentor, Christ.

 

Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer and the author and editor of nearly 30 books. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2013 SPJ Award for Enterprise Reporting in May 2014. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and a columnist and contributing editor for Curve magazine and Lambda Literary Review. Her reporting and commentary has appeared in the New York Times, Village Voice, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and Philadelphia Inquirer. Her book, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for cultural & historical fiction. Her novel, Ordinary Mayhem will be published in February 2015. Her book Erasure: Silencing Lesbians will be published in June 2015.@VABVOX