Report From the Women’s Liberation Front Action at the Midwives Alliance of North America Conference

 

WoLF Banner Proudly Displayed at RadFem Suite

WoLF Banner Proudly Displayed at RadFem Suite

 

Background:

Last year the board of directors of the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) chose to amend its core competencies for midwives document to prioritize gender identity over biological sex, effectively eliminating the words “woman” and “mother” and replacing these with “pregnant individual” and “birthing parent.” In response to this change, WoLF board members Michelle Peixinho Smith and Mary Lou Singleton drafted an open letter to MANA expressing concerns about female erasure from the language of birth as well as the medical, ethical, and cultural implications of choosing to view human reproduction through the lens of gender theory rather than biology. You can read the open letter here:

http://womancenteredmidwifery.org/take-action/

Michelle and Mary Lou are both midwives and both have served on the MANA board at different times over the past 20 years. Many prominent women in the midwifery movement signed the open letter. Signers were met with the now-usual backlash received by women who dare to question gender. Pro-gender midwives slandered one of the founding mothers of the modern home birth movement, Ina May Gaskin and even set up a petition to ban her from speaking at future conferences.

(https://www.change.org/p/birth-and-beyond-conference-remove-ina-may-gaskin-as-a-speaker).

Mary Lou was the target of a libelous article in the Huffington Post.

(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/trevor-macdonald/leading-midwifes-deleted-_b_8150284.html).

MANA itself refused to respond to the concerns addressed in the letter, choosing to ignore the letter and its signers. A pro-gender group calling itself Birth for Every Body did write a queer theory based response to the open letter, and MANA later adopted this letter as its official stance on the issue.

http://www.birthforeverybody.org/response-to-open-letter

WoLF presence at MANA conference

Even before they became aware of the changes in the MANA core competencies document, Michelle and Mary Lou had planned to represent the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF) at the annual MANA conference which was being held in their home state of New Mexico. Reproductive sovereignty is a core tenet of WoLF and WoLF supports autonomous midwifery and birth choices for all women. WoLF also works to combat the patriarchal violence endemic in our culture’s brutal birth practices. The MANA conference seemed like a perfect place to spread the word about radical feminism and recruit for WoLF. Mary Lou sent MANA a check for $500 for the exhibitor fee along with the exhibit hall application. One month later, she received an email from MANA Vice President Sarita Bennett expressing concerns about whether it would be appropriate for WoLF to have a table at the MANA conference. Over the course of many frustrating phone calls and emails, Sarita Bennett explained that MANA disagreed with radical feminist analysis, denied that a global system of male supremacy exists, and stated that women who believe that a system of male supremacy oppresses female people around the world are “dysfunctional” and have a “victim mindset.” Sarita Bennett even told Mary Lou that from her perspective of a mother with sons, she believes that patriarchy oppresses males more than females. At the end of these heartbreaking discussions, MANA sent an official letter stating that WoLF could not have a table at the conference exhibit hall because the presence of WoLF would make people feel unsafe.

Rather than be deterred, Michelle and Mary Lou chose to follow the historical tradition of banned radical groups and hold a radical feminist shadow conference. They were joined by WoLF members from around the continent. Carol Downer, Kathy Scarbrough, Kathy Mandigo, and Laura Pérez flew in to represent WoLF at the event. The conference was a huge success and helped mobilize the formation of a New Mexico WoLF pack.

"A Midwife for Every Body" buttons

“A Midwife for Every Body” buttons

 

The leadership of MANA used the conference as a venue for promoting gender theory. The MANA board refused to meet with any members of WoLF to discuss the issue, choosing instead to ignore WoLF’s presence at the event. MANA made it clear that discussion of the issue was forbidden in the conference area, posting signs promoting “safe space” all over the conference site. The signs stated that people would be expected to behave respectfully toward people regardless of “race, class, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, gender expression, religion, language, and more.” This sign perfectly reflected the MANA board’s earlier statement to WoLF that sex-based oppression does not exist. Apparently, in the MANA world view female people are no longer oppressed on the basis of sex. MANA also printed hundreds and hundreds of buttons promoting the erasure of women and the codification of gender identity as the way we should view human reproduction. Like the “safe space” signs, the buttons used the language of the genderist response to the Woman Centered Midwifery open letter, and read “A Midwife for Every Body.” Anyone who has been active in midwifery politics over the past decades should be able to recognize the political coup that has happened as evidenced by these buttons. For the past 20+ years, MANA has promoted the slogans “A Midwife for Every Mother” and “Midwife Means With-Woman.” Buttons with these slogans were routinely handed out at MANA conferences but glaringly absent from the 2015 gathering. Women and mothers have been erased. Midwives now take care of bodies, and gender-neutral bodies at that. Witnessing this change has been emotionally and politically heart wrenching.

"Safe Space" flyer posted in Women's Bathroom

“Safe Space” flyer posted in Women’s Bathroom

 

WoLF members were policed by MANA at the conference. Security teams followed us around and immediately removed any fliers or information we placed in the venue about our shadow conference. Conference officials came by WoLF member Carol Downer’s Women’s Health in Women’s Hands table daily to take pictures and make sure Carol was not displaying any WoLF materials or information critical of the gender industry. On the second night of the conference, Carol’s table was raided by unknown people and much of her radical information was removed.

Michelle and Mary Lou found it easier to remain in the WoLF suite with their feminist sisters rather than face shunning and silencing by their fellow midwives at the MANA conference. Up in the radfem suite, a steady stream of interested women came to learn about radical feminism. We offered food, chocolate, articles on radical feminist topics, free notepads, stickers, and other propaganda. We also put on a full alternative conference with speakers from around the country addressing contemporary feminist issues.

Reproductive biologist Kathy Scarbrough gave the first WoLF shadow conference presentation which was attended by thirteen women. Kathy spoke on the topic “Women’s Liberation is Based on Sex, Not Gender.” In wonderfully scientific detail she taught participants the difference between sex and gender, debunking the myth of any scientific evidence supporting female brains and male brains existing separately from female and male bodies. She clearly explained human sexual dimorphism and cautioned against viewing anomalies as proof that sex is not a binary. Providing a class analysis of reproduction as labor, Kathy explained how the roots of patriarchal oppression lie in males attempting to control the means of human reproduction, i.e. female bodies. Males exploit the reproductive labor of female people all over the world. This is labor that can only be done by females and should be compensated and honored. The exploitation of reproductive labor leads to the exploitation of other forms of labor relegated to women and usually not monetarily or culturally valued: child-rearing beyond birth and breastfeeding, emotional caretaking, domestic chores, etc. When we lose the ability to discuss sex-based oppression, we lose the ability to effectively fight it.

The WoLF suite was packed to capacity for the next session of our shadow conference. Eighty-two year old WoLF member Carol Downer dynamically recounted the history of the women’s self-help movement she helped found in the late 1960s. Carol told us about the bad old days when women risked their health and lives ending unwanted pregnancies. Women of this generation were kept uninformed of their own bodies and placed their trust in male abortion providers who often provided dangerous and degrading services. Carol helped form a woman-supervised underground abortion service where women stayed with each other for the procedures and made sure no one was being raped and abused by the abortionists. While working at one of these clinics, Carol (who had given birth six times but knew very little about her own body) saw a cervix for the very first time. She had a lightbulb experience, realizing “that’s it! It’s only a few inches away and has an easy opening. We can do this ourselves, women!” She stole a plastic speculum from the clinic and proceeded to show other women her cervix and explain that early suction abortion was a simple procedure that women could safely perform on each other. Carol’s friend Lorraine Rothman, who had a science background and worked in a biology lab, invented the Del Em device using a mason jar, some aquarium tubing, a stopper with two holes in it, a 50cc syringe, and a one-way valve. Carol, Lorraine and their feminist consciousness raising group practiced cervical self exam, uterine size checks, and menstrual extraction on one another, safely performing thousands of procedures.

Carol Downer Joyfully Presenting

Carol Downer Joyfully Presenting

 

Carol and Lorraine founded the Feminist Women’s Health Center network and also packed up their speculums and Del Em equipment and went on tour of the United States spreading the good news about women’s health in women’s hands in various cities around the country. Carol’s controversial work eventually attracted the attention of patriarchal authority figures who tried repeatedly to stop her. In 1972, an infiltrator attended a self help group and reported back to law enforcement on Carol’s activities. Carol was arrested for practicing medicine without a license because she helped another woman in the group insert yogurt into her vagina to treat a yeast infection. This incident inspired Carol to go to law school and she became an attorney focusing on reproductive rights. She continues to travel around the country teaching cervical self-exam and the history of the self-help movement today and remains a powerful voice in re-radicalizing the fight for abortion rights.

http://www.womenshealthinwomenshands.org/OurPeriods.html

The next event on the schedule for the WoLF shadow conference was a WoLF presence at MANA’s presentation of gender-promoter Sam Killerman, the man who says he invented the meme of the GenderBread Person (evidence exists that Killerman plagiarized this meme from other genderists). Six WoLF members and supporters attended Killerman’s question and answer session on gender. Audio of their contribution can be heard here:

http://markangelocummings.blogspot.com/2015/10/an-evening-with-sam-killerman.html

MANA members attempted to silence Maritza/Mark Cummings, a gender critical transman. EVEN though Maritza/Mark is EXACTLY the kind of person who might become pregnant while not “identifying” as a woman, she was told that because she chose to live as a man she had no right to contribute to the conversation. The hypocrisy of changing the language of birth in deference to female bodied people who don’t identify as women and shutting down Mark was almost enough to drive a rational radical feminist mad!! WoLF member Shoshana Handel summed up the Sam Killerman event beautifully, telling us, “Don’t eat the genderbread. It made me really sick.”

The next morning Transition Radio hosts Mark and Lynna Cummings gave a powerful talk called “Confronting the Gender Industrial Complex.” The talk can be accessed here:

Mark & Lynna Bringing Smiles to the Pack

Mark & Lynna Bringing Smiles to the Pack

 

Mark (Maritza) & Lynna (Paul) spoke from the heart
and shared personal stories and reflections on the root causes of adult transgendering, updated information on the eugenics aspect of the trans industry, overviews of the economic factors driving the trans trend, and the reasons why medical transgendering of children is child abuse. Two pro-gender midwives wearing Birth for Every Body buttons attended the talk and seemed genuinely interested in the perspective that body hatred and misogyny are being marketed to children and adults by powerful interests that are making billions of dollars by medicalizing gender.

Mary Lou Singleton gave the next scheduled talk, “Women’s Bodies for Sale: the growing market in eggs, wombs and breastmilk.” Mary Lou started her discussion of the growing trade in women’s eggs, milk and wombs with a personal story. After taking the standardized test to enter graduate school Mary Lou began receiving solicitations to pay her for donating some eggs. She said she was quite poor and considered this.

Women gather to learn more about Radical Feminism.

Women gather to learn more about Radical Feminism.

 

To collect eggs from a healthy young woman, the egg-donor must be “super-ovulated,” that is, shot up with drugs that will cause 10 – 20 eggs to develop and ripen during her cycle rather than the usual one mature egg. Super-ovulation is painful and carries the known risks of ovarian cancer and premature ovarian failure. These risks are not mentioned by the companies trying to buy eggs when they solicit young women to consider egg donation. Egg donation is not at all easy and not at all comparable to sperm donation.

Surrogacy, or the renting out of one’s womb to gestate a child, is a booming market. In 2014 Time magazine named pregnancy as one of the 10 best jobs to outsource!! The idea is to pay a poor woman from another country to bear your child conceived via In Vitro Fertilization and laproscopic impregnation. Ever since a surrogate refused to give up a baby she had conceived and gestated, care has been taken to make sure that the surrogate has no genetic claim on the child. Eggs from women separate from the surrogate are used in the IVF procedures so the surrogate is seen as gestating a baby not “her own.” Surrogates are often required to live away from their families in an environment where their diet and everything else can be controlled.

There is also a market for breast milk. In 2013 Bloomberg ran an article with the title “Bodies Double as Cash Machines With U.S. Income Lagging” where this is mentioned. Mary Lou said the Clinton Foundation is setting up “milking stations” all over the 3rd world. They sell the idea that women with more milk than their baby requires can help another woman who doesn’t make enough milk but they actually take this donated milk and sell it (after pasteurizing it!). Some men get off sexually by drinking breast milk so there is a sexual fetish market for it, too. And there are reports of “johns” wanting to nurse on prostitutes’ breasts.

Cervical Self-Exam!

Cervical Self-Exam!

 

So, the extraction of resources from female bodies goes from eggs, to uteruses, to breast milk. Prostitution can be viewed as the rental of a vagina and other female body parts. Do you feel like a commodity yet? Ugh!!

For our evening presentation, Laura Pérez and Carol Downer led a cervical self-exam workshop which was attended by thirteen women and girls. Participants were given their own new speculums for personal use and instructed on the basics of self-exam. Self-exam groups destroy patriarchal taboos that separate us from other women, empower women to take control of their own health, and help women know more about the huge range of normal in terms of female anatomy. Carol had applied to offer the self-exam presentation at the MANA general conference but was denied a spot on the program because feminist self-exam groups go against the current trend to professionalize midwifery.

Also that evening, MANA honored WoLF supporter and signer of the Woman Centered Midwifery open letter Barbara Pepper as the recipient of the Sage Femme award. The Sage Femme award is given annually to an elder midwife who has dedicated the majority of her life to serving women and mothers (now referred to by MANA as “pregnant individuals” and “birthing parents”). Barbara invited two WoLF members to accompany her onstage wearing their WoLF t-shirts when she received her award. She gave a powerful speech about the importance of taking a stand for the truth and nodded in the direction of the WoLF members when she said this. MANA had been live tweeting the awards ceremony and chose to omit all mention of Barbara in their coverage. Pictures of Barbara receiving her award have been disappeared from the MANA website and MANA social media sites, presumably because they featured images of the WoLF logo.

The last morning of the conference, WoLF hosted an informal discussion about the forced professionalization of midwifery and other traditional female reproductive services. MANA was founded as a grass-roots organization representing all women who called themselves midwives. In the past few years, MANA has become increasingly corporatized and now requires midwives to be certified by a state or federal regulatory body in order to be voting members. This is a huge change and runs counter to the entire history of the organization. Similar trends are being seen as birth and breastfeeding support become recognized by the capitalist health care system as professions, rather than services women have always provided for each other. Bills criminalizing the sharing of breast milk are also being introduced in state legislatures in response to breastmilk becoming a “for-profit commodity”. How do we resist the forced professionalization of women’s culture while simultaneously working for economic sustenance and freedom for women called to serve other women? A lively discussion without firm conclusion ensued.

While the WoLF presence at MANA was small, we believe what we did was powerful on multiple levels. We gathered in the face of suppression, refused to be silent, and helped women see the connections between gender, corporatization, capitalism, and the commodification of female bodies. We experienced what feminist Fran Luck has termed “the joy of resistance.” A strong new local WoLF pack was formed with this bonding experience as its foundation.

The Newly Formed New Mexico WoLF Pack’s Solidarity Howl!

The Newly Formed New Mexico WoLF Pack’s Solidarity Howl!

 

Looking forward, we don’t know if we will be able to turn this frightening tide. Will children in the 2020s be pushed even more strongly into conforming with gender, asked at young ages if they want to be the Barbie or the Army man kind of person? Will more and more women be forced to decide between the “empowering choices” of selling their eggs, being raped for money in brothels, or risking their health and lives as surrogates? This is already happening at a terrifying rate in some poor countries. Will MANA 2025 celebrate the progress of midwives removing babies from artificial wombs and handing them to their male-to-trans “mothers”? Or will people wake up from this nightmare and remember that biology (i.e. life itself) is sacred, that the class of people called women deserve honor, respect, and (yes) compensation for the reproductive labor only they can provide, and that beyond basic reproductive functions and anatomy, female and male people should be Free to Be You and Me?

Multi-Generational Radical Feminists!

Multi-Generational Radical Feminists!

 

 

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Radical Conference Brochure

Radical Conference Brochure

 

Resources

These articles represent some, but not all, of the materials that were available at the WoLF table.

Are we women or are we incubators? An interview with MaryLou Singleton
By Susan Cox

http://www.feministcurrent.com/2015/10/13/are-we-women-or-are-we-incubators-an-interview-with-marylou-singleton/

Eggs, milk and sex: What else must women sell?
By Alexandra Pelletier

http://www.feministcurrent.com/2015/06/03/eggs-milk-and-sex-what-else-must-women-sell/

Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
By Mary Lou Singleton

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/07/31/gender-patriarchy-and-all-that-jazz/

Interview with Radical Feminist Alicen Grey
By John Carico

http://www.alicengrey.com/2015/10/the-fifth-column-interviews-alicen-grey.html

Patriarchy, Black Listing, and the Language of Birth | Mickey Z.
(Interview with Mary Lou Singleton)

http://cindysheehanssoapbox.blogspot.com/2015/10/patriarchy-black-listing-and-language.html

Reproductive Sovereignty or Bust!
By Carol Downer

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/01/09/reproductive-sovereignty-or-bust

Women’s Liberation is Based on Sex not Gender
By Kathy Scarbrough

http://www.bu.edu/wgs/files/2013/10/Scarbrough-Womens-Liberation-is-Based-on-Sex-not-Gender.pdf

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Loving Women

By Natasha Chart

You remember lesbians, right?

They’re sort of like gay men, but they are female people who are only sexually attracted to other female people. They are discriminated against in every society in the world, and often specifically targeted for rape because of their rejection of men. They tend to be gender nonconforming and are economically punished, not rewarded, for the perception that they’re insufficiently compliant with mainstream female sex roles.

They do not, cannot, constitute an oppressor class on the basis of their sexual orientation. Having a vagina is not an axis of power in patriarchy, because it’s a male supremacy, and for two women to love each other and reject all men is a deep revolt against the compulsory heterosexuality baked into the system.

Are we having a dim flash of recognition? Some stirring of memory? I ask because I’ve really been left wondering a few times recently.

It started when I was forwarded an article Jos Truitt wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review, “Why The New Yorker’s radical feminism and transgenderism piece was one-sided.” In it, Truitt said, “She leaves unquestioned, for example, the position that women are defined and oppressed by men as a class because of pregnancy, an argument that makes no sense for lesbian separatists to make.”

When I finally got around to reading it, I thought there must have been some kind of outcry over that statement when it was published. There was none that I could find. Is it really controversial within feminism that biological reproduction is a central axis of women’s oppression? This is pretty blatantly the case. Oppressing women is the point of reproductive health restrictions, and control over our own fertility is an important feature of the fight for women’s rights.

Men have always been seen, and construed in law, as having a right to control their own reproductive health decisions. Men have always been seen, and construed in law, as having a right to control the reproductive health decisions of the woman or women they’re seen as having authority over or simply whom they’ve had sex with, which is the same thing to a lot of men. Men are granted the ultimate in reproductive and sexual independence, without having to demonstrate the kind of gender-conforming reproductive and sexual responsibility that is expected of women in the conservative view of sex roles from our earliest childhood. Men have always typically been given the best in reproductive rights and sexual healthcare available to their social class, generally at the expense of women and children.

It is in no sense revolutionary, or even very interesting, in a feminist context to talk about expanding reproductive autonomy, without foregrounding that the people who primarily need this expansion of rights are women. The point of fighting for those rights for women is the belief that women should be recognized as the people with rightful authority over our own reproductive capacity and pregnancies, and that male coercion not be allowed to override our desire to be neither forced into childbirth at a given time nor deprived of our right to bear and raise children.

You can map out special cases all day long where this analysis wouldn’t apply. But in almost every common situation, it’s women who are denied reproductive rights, denied economic rights, and denigrated on behalf of the actual or inferred female parenthood, upon which undervalued economic bedrock our society rests.

Environmentalists talk about the unpaid-for natural capital that makes industrial profit possible. Women’s reproductive and care labor is the human version of that “natural” capital and it must not be disappeared. If women in the actual women’s rights movement can’t explicitly say that, then we can’t speak to the motivations of our oppression and will lose our ability to fight it.

Anyone in liberal politics, let alone feminist politics, should also know that a lot of lesbians have children and that being a lesbian doesn’t protect women from being oppressed for any of the reasons other women are oppressed. Being a lesbian is no protection against rape, indeed rape is a common form of anti-lesbian hate crime. It also isn’t as though lesbians, let alone lesbian feminists, are somehow not supposed to know or care what happens to other women, even where it doesn’t necessarily affect them as often.

Truitt seems to presume that political solidarity among women is a non-starter, rather than political solidarity with other women being something where we often fall short along racial and class divisions, but should continue to strive for. If no solidarity among women is possible, if we don’t exist even in possibility as a political class, then feminism means nothing.

We might as well pack up all the women’s legal advocacy, too. If women don’t exist as a materially defined sociopolitical class, one described at least in part by historical patterns of oppression based on biological reproduction, then we can neither be oppressed as a class nor liberated as one. And there goes the theoretical basis for sex discrimination suits in the courts, too.

For instance, why not support the position that discrimination against breastfeeding mothers doesn’t constitute sex-based oppression that poses a major structural obstacle to women’s economic equality? If pregnancy, and all that relates to or follows from it, has nothing in particular to do with men’s oppression of women as enforced by nearly every facet of society, there’s little basis on which to argue otherwise.

In short, I can make neither heads nor tails of a good reason to have publicly wondered what pregnancy has to do with women’s oppression, or lesbians, and have that represented as feminism. Because that sentence of Truitt’s, all by itself, is close to an argument that feminism has no reason to exist.

Although it could simply be ignorance. After all, Truitt also thinks that lesbianism is sexist, and I don’t even know any straight men who are willing to say such things in public.

Then there was this article in Everyday Feminism by Sarah Alcid, “An Answer to ‘Why Is She Dating a Masculine Woman Instead of Just Dating a Guy?’” She started it this way, “Maybe you’ve heard it, been asked it, or wondered about it yourself: Why do queer women and lesbians date masculine-presenting women instead of just dating a cisgender dude?”

I’ve never heard anyone ask something like that outside of a homophobic, conservative religious explanation of homosexuality as an “unnatural” attempt to be the other sex. And this is wrong because it’s perfectly womanly to love other women, and does not necessarily have anything to do with one’s attitude towards men or a distaste for one’s own, female body. The answer, in short, need have nothing to do with men at all. Just like lesbianism.

But also, that opening sentence is the only time the word “lesbian” appeared outside of an acronym in the entire article. I think that people of only average clue-having would usually assume that two women romantically involved were probably lesbians, or maybe that one or both were bisexual, but that they were together because they liked women. And if the women we’re talking about are definitely lesbians, that should be all most people need to be told. Marriage equality is a popular enough policy that I somehow doubt there’s still a lot of confusion about what a lesbian is.

Mystery solved. Why is this so hard to just come out and say, without playing into the homophobic perspective of lesbian relationships as an attempt at being male, that Alcid seems to disapprove of herself?

When people see a heterosexual couple where the woman has a short haircut and gender neutral clothing, do they typically wonder why the man isn’t with another man, instead? Do people usually wonder why a gay man with a feminine-presenting male partner doesn’t just date a woman? I don’t think stereotypically masculine men get asked questions like this much, if ever.

Does an attraction to a local set of 21st Century fashion and behavioral norms constitute an innate sexuality? There is nothing down the line of this inquiry that does not lead into fresh hells of contrarian unreason.

Really, no one involved with that piece thought to themselves that it would be reasonable to include, somewhere in this article by a woman who dates other women, that lesbians don’t date men because they are lesbians and only date women? Alcid suggests that sex and gender shouldn’t be confused with each other, but then goes on to use “masculine” as an adjective in a way that completely confuses the issue even after multiple readings.

How are we helping people understand romantic relationships between women, if an article explaining these can’t get over the awkwardness of conflating women perceived as masculine with men, by suggesting that such women are somehow privileged? (And no, by the way, it does not give women masculine privilege women to opt out of performing mainstream feminine behavior and grooming, as about a million articles on “agency” have thoroughly explored in the context of the decisions of sex role conforming women.) And if this article never once fully acknowledges that some women exclusively love other women, the end?

Because even if we’re just talking about bisexuality, my own attraction to women has nothing to do with men or a fascination with exploring alternate permutations of masculinity. I can’t even relate to such an off-putting description.

My first girlfriend was a somewhat androgynous lesbian, but I can tell you, what I was interested in was her as a woman. My affection for her and view of her fully included recognition of that womanhood. I wasn’t confused. She was magnificent. The only photo of myself from those years where I had a genuine smile on my face was taken with her. I hope she’s well.

I did end up with a man instead of her in that near term, and a gross, abusive man who insisted that he was “a lesbian trapped in a man’s body.” That had a lot to do with both my girlfriend and I being broke teenagers who lived in different towns, had conservative families, and poor access to transportation. And I had not myself escaped the conservative, patriarchal mindset enough to understand how screwed up it all was.

He hit on her, too, which was gross. I didn’t want him near her, for reasons I couldn’t even articulate at the time. Too bad I didn’t think I had any options besides having him near me, either.

It’s previously been my habit to avoid telling people that I’m bisexual when I’m in a relationship. There has too often been the assumption made that I must therefore be polysexual, or at any rate, on the prowl or possibly available. No, poly wasn’t for me. No, I’m not telling you that as a prelude to hitting on you. No, bisexuality isn’t like some sort of atomic valence bonding condition where I must have both types of partner at once or be forever questing. But I’m not straight even though I am married to a man, so there.

I did always want to get married, though. While I know there are valid feminist, and progressive, and even lesbian critiques of marriage as a traditional institution; it wasn’t something that was on offer outside of heterosexual relationships during my formative years. It sounded science fictional. Did this subtly and sometimes not-so-subtly shape my behavior and preferences? Certainly it did, though like any such set of personal decisions, it’s hard to pin down a single cause. It did bluntly shape the options available to me as a young person, one who was still figuring out who I was after growing up surrounded by what I can now see as over-the-top homophobia.

In fact, two years before I was born, the largest LGBT massacre in US history took place. I was still a teenager when Matthew Shepard was left to die on that fencepost. I have read people wonder why the older generation of not-straight people don’t always like the word queer, and this is why. Because children still played a game called “smear the queer” on school playgrounds. Because when you heard about gay people in the media, they were dead. Maybe someone had murdered them, or maybe later because of AIDS.

Then your older relatives would make nasty jokes about how great it would be if more “queers” or “fruits” died, maybe even throwing some wrath of god into the mix. Everyone was happy they were dead and no one even felt like it was wrong to say so. It was terrifying. Every day we should respect the bravery of people who were out then.

Sometimes people say things like, “hearts, not parts.” As a bisexual person for whom that is about as true as it’s ever going to be for anyone, I don’t buy that. It isn’t like I have no perception of difference, myself, but that I potentially find both sexes physically attractive for different reasons. And I have to be realistic that even this is simply not a way most people live their lives or experience attraction. Not even other bisexuals generally choose partners without regard to physicality.

According to Pew, 84 percent of bisexuals have opposite sex partners. What would that ratio be if the entire weight of socioeconomic acceptance weren’t set up to support heterosexual relationships? What would it be if it weren’t simply so much easier to meet and date, as a fact of numeric majority and social acceptance, someone of the opposite sex?

How many bisexual people would end up settling down with a same-sex life partner if those relationships could expect a degree of stability that was similar to heterosexual partnerships? If none of us had grown up knowing how happy it made our families to read news stories about dead gay people? How many bisexual women have been discouraged from even trying to find a suitable female life partner because we did want marriage, or because we did want children, which is often much more expensive without a male partner?

Nor does assisted reproductive technology come with a lesbian discount. The kinds of men I met who’d be interested in “helping” for free were enough to make me feel warmly towards life as a nun. I’m not even Catholic, but still.

We can’t know at this time in our history what patterns of same-sex relationships would emerge without these layered incentives towards heterosexuality. We can only keep working to level the playing field and see what happens. But it hardly seems like a random, wacky coincidence that bisexual people, most of the time, end up in heterosexual relationships like most everyone else. Homophobia is still rampant, life is harder for same-sex couples, everybody can work that math.

We can also know that financial difficulties have long been recognized as injurious to relationship stability even for socially-favored, heterosexual relationships. It should make us more protective of recognition for lesbian relationships, where both partners are disadvantaged by misogyny and homophobia, and perhaps by additional oppressions over race or disability.

And you can’t protect what you won’t even plainly talk about. Feminism can’t fully include lesbian women and the fight for their rights if we can barely bring ourselves to say “lesbian” without hinting, as Alcid seemed to, that a same-sex attraction to women should be considered as if it were probably a phase, or “fluid.” Nor if we are more comfortable with saying “LGBTQIA,” an acronym that of necessity includes many men, than “lesbian.” So if you’re going to use the acronym and you’re part of a movement to liberate women, please be willing to spell that L-word all the way out occasionally.

“Lesbian.” See, it’s easy!

Then most recently, as a sort of last straw, there was Jessica Valenti, writing in The Guardian, “Feminists don’t care if you like hot pink, eat salads or shave your crotch.” I agreed with a lot of the points she made, but one portion of it typifies an attitude that I feel has become common and sadly unremarkable. From the article:

“What kind of feminist am I now?,” Vernon writes. “The shavy-leggy, fashion-fixated, wrinkle-averse, weight-conscious kind of feminist. The kind who, at 43, likes hot pink and men.”

Because the rest of us are all flannel shirt-wearing man-haters with hairy legs? This caricature died years ago, and any hint that was left Beyoncé promptly trounced last year.

Thank goodness, right? Now none of us have to worry that anyone will think there are feminists out there who give no damns about what mainstream male culture finds appealing in women. Phew!

I’d hope most people knew that, in addition to being an obnoxious stereotype of feminists, “flannel shirt-wearing man-haters with hairy legs” is also an obnoxious put-down of gender nonconforming women in general, and women who are considered to have “aged out” of the all-important beauty metric, and especially of lesbians.

Sure, the point of the article is that it shouldn’t matter to your ability to fight for women’s rights if you conform to patriarchal beauty standards. Everyone has to pick their battles and there are a lot of others out there. We get it. But when someone basically taunts you with lesbian stereotypes, replying with the equivalent of shouting really loudly that you ARE NOT A LESBIAN is not a good response.

It’s nothing special to seek conformity with patriarchal conceptions of how women should act just as hard as the next woman. Everywhere we turn we’re being encouraged to do that, or taught how if we’ve somehow missed a step. We’re all drowning in advice about how to please men, suffocating in it, swaddled in it from the cradle in a society that was built from its foundations for the task of breaking women’s wills and stifling our humanity.

It’s not some kind of feminist political act to brag about our “free” enjoyment of the mainstream beauty rituals that signify our compliance. Rituals that can be by turns poisonous, painful, unhealthy, hobbling, tedious, and expensive. Rituals whose results will be viewed as successfully “beautiful” in comparison to standards that center around coded, and often racist, public displays of emotional or mental fragility and submission to male dominance.

We practice the ceremonies of femininity as if they will save us from the hatred of men. We hope against hope that we, too, will not be instantly discarded once we’re no longer regarded as sex objects, and that we can postpone that reckoning a few years longer than the next woman. We’re often rejected as worthless and unfit for public viewing at the very same time in a man’s life when he’s seen as being at the height of his power, the time of his greatest potential to build his accomplishments into a legacy for his family, his community, or simply for himself.

Nor does it invalidate the strides that have been made in expanding mainstream U.S. beauty ideals beyond a narrow set of blonde white women, and the occasional brunette white woman thrown in to liven things up, to say that there is little place in media culture for women who don’t bother with any more in the way of grooming rituals than men do. The studio executives even make Rachel Maddow femme up before turning on the cameras.

All the usual words to describe a woman who shows up to life clean and neatly groomed, wearing clothing that’s comfortable and suited to the activity at hand, have an unfortunate whiff of the male about them. As if it makes a woman manly to simply not bother with the usual painting and pinching. As if it suggests that she is not really a woman and therefore affection for her might have something to do with men.

This means that all the words that easily convey such simplicity of presentation by a woman don’t seem adequate to express loving her as a woman. The not-femme women I dated were not manly, or masculine, or masculine-presenting. Someone might describe them that way but it seems a bit off to me now. I don’t know that “butch” would have really fit any of them either, and they never claimed that when I knew them. They were women. They were delightful to me for that reason.

Is a woman not a woman when she doesn’t “put her face on,” as my mother used to say? And really, it’s one thing to engage in elaborate and obvious beauty rituals because it’s your habit, or because you personally like it, or because you feel you must, and another to see beauty rituals as the true face of any woman. Beauty rituals are a performance, as feminists have discussed for many years, and that performance is rarely something women have originated for ourselves based on what we find appealing in each other and our own lives.
Jessica Valenti even knows this and has said so quite recently, yet the stereotypes creep in unnoticed.

But again, this very specific trope of supposed un-beauty in mind and body is heavily associated with lesbians, as everyone who gives the matter any thought is surely aware. You don’t actually have to call someone a lesbian as if it were an insult in order to make the same point.

And also, if you’re concerned about being an ally to the lesbian community, or being welcoming to girls just waking up to the different ways in which society hates the unfeminine woman; you should definitely refrain from performing thinly veiled victory dances over having distanced feminism from women who are or would read as lesbians. Why is a feminism that delights in successfully rejecting association with lesbians and gender nonconforming women not simply seen as a recapitulation of everything we insist that we’re fighting?

Why must feminism, like every other space in mainstream society, be dominated by a terrible insecurity over being found sexually unattractive to men? It isn’t as if that keeps us safe. We’re feminists, we should know very well that there are no ways a woman can look or behave that will protect her from sexual or other male violence. It isn’t as if lesbians are keeping the straight women down. It sounds ridiculous put that way, and it should sound ridiculous by implication, as well.

There’s a reason that suicide is the leading cause of death worldwide in girls aged 15-19 years-old, and it isn’t the fault of other women or girls. Have too many feminists spent so much time around nominally liberal people, steeped in benevolent sexism, that they have forgotten we live in a society built on thinking of women’s bodies as the rightful, unrapeable property of their husbands, and that this view is still publicly acceptable to many people under the guise of Christianity?

We are seen as things. Things for men. Things whose worth and desirability to men determines everything about our perceived value, even society’s willingness to redress wrongs against us. Regardless of whom we love privately, there is no fighting this state of affairs unless we can publicly love women when no one else will.

Women are not our clothes and makeup and depilatory habits. Genuine love between women, romantic or sisterly, isn’t about men, or imitating men, or looking for an imitation of a man. You can hardly get rid of men for trying, if that’s what you want, one would think they run the place.

No. Just as lesbian relationships are about loving women as women, whether they bother to perform local feminine gender roles or not, so should the women’s movement be about that. Our business, every day, should be loving women. Trusting women, as Dr. Tiller used to say, as well. We must care for each other. This is something we can’t realistically do if we see women who refuse to perform for men as an embarrassment to us.

So stop asking if you can be a feminist if you conform to patriarchal norms or go along to get along, posing the question as if it’s judgmental feminists oppressing you instead of the men who think your only worth revolves around their erections. If we could get ourselves free by encouraging the male sex drive, we’d have gotten there by now. Stop worrying so much about the lipstick you may be expected to wear at work. I’m sure there must be at least one unleaded brand out there. You have to get by, we get it, as Valenti and many others have said.

Think more about the undoubtedly sexist business practices of the institutions that take a cut of your every financial transaction, or any mainstream institutions at all, and what would need to be done to make things better. Because they’re all sexist. Every one. We each support sexist institutions every day out of necessity, and the places where we can fight are so small.

This is a spiritually crushing realization, a psychic burden of such immense weight that it seems tangibly heavy. I won’t hate you if sometimes it actually succeeds in crushing you, because that would make me a terrible hypocrite.

Consider, instead, if one can be a feminist without participating in the project of liberating women as a class, because feminism is a political practice. Then look for a way to participate that works for you. Consider if one can be a feminist while shunning women who reject local racial, ethnic, or mainstream norms of feminine behavior and grooming, who may reject men as partners or arbiters of women’s worth. Whether it’s because you’re afraid of contamination by association, or because you have unresolved feelings of despair over living in a society that you accurately perceive as hating female humanity, or because you feel conflicted about your personal ability to fight every battle … please face that in yourself instead of punishing other women for noticing different aspects of our sexist society that you participate in.

Because all women participate in sexist aspects of our society. It’s all right. It’s not your fault. Dead men set it up like that before you were born. You can’t personally fight every battle. It’s impossible. Make peace with it. That’s what movements are for. Individual women didn’t get into this mess on our own or because of something we personally did. We were born into it. We comply out of duress. We can’t get out alone, and we can’t because there is no “out.” There is no place to go in this world that isn’t patriarchal and sexist. The only out is to build another world together.

Feminism that regularly tolerates or expresses this much casual hostility towards lesbians and same-sex female relationships isn’t just walking the well-worn paths of homophobia, of lesbophobia if you want to be precise, though it is doing that. It’s failing to love women in even a sisterly fashion, failing to provide a cushion for the extremities of hatred towards us. A feminism that can’t love women, or the women who love them, or celebrate female bodies for the particular ways in which they differ from male bodies, is pretty pointless. It can create no sense of community within which we can stand together and gradually increase the space in which it is acceptable to be a woman who does not serve men.

Online feminism is long on jokes about misandry and male tears, but for all that they’re not usually funny jokes. They become a farce teetering into tragedy in a movement whose mainstream seems increasingly isolated from unapologetically woman-loving, woman-centered perspectives.

Just love women. Even if you don’t like them very much. You can’t get feminism right if you leave that part out.

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