From an earlier MichFest.
From an earlier MichFest.
I close my eyes and I am back in the Michigan woods, lying in fern and leaf litter, listening to the woods and the voices of women. I open my eyes and the shadow of leaves and voices remain while the sounds of Australian birds and the smell of Australian plants intrude. They’re not ferns, but they’re what I have and they are glorious.
This year, for my first and only time, I went to Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, started by Lisa Vogel 40 years ago. I had gone with as few expectations as possible, helped by the flurry of activity in the weeks before I left and the daze I walked through the gate in.
The experience was a revelation, in expected and unexpected ways.
While listening to CC Carter sing about her hips, I realised with a rush that this is what representation might feel…
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By Vee Esselar
I am a woman
And I will defend myself!
Coming Soon: Radical Feminism Welcomes Kaye Murdoch Home.
“All-woman groups, meetings, projects seem to be great things for causing controversy and confrontation.” – Marilyn Frye
I am with another lesbian feminist on a flight bound to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to attend the 40th, and apparently the last, Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. We are full of joy and excitement at the prospect of our ‘week in the woods’ with thousands of women, mostly lesbians, and we are hoping to connect with many other radical lesbian feminists there – some of whom we have the pleasure of knowing already, and many of whom we do not. As a lesbian feminist committed to women-only spaces but nonetheless a festie virgin, I am in awe at the achievement of the women who have created, and recreated, and recreated, and Recreated this space over decades. I know that I have barely begun to comprehend the nature and scale of that achievement.
On the flight, I read over the Terms of Reference of a new government inquiry that has the potential to make any such women-only gatherings in my own country infinitely more difficult.
Also on the flight, I read in the newspaper about a man who has just killed his mother-in-law in a horrifying supposed ‘revenge’ attack against his former wife, who speaks of the devastation he has brought upon her family, and her terrible regret at marrying him. Similar stories are, of course, a daily feature in our news media.
A womyn’s music festival that has been besieged over years by transgender activists.
A new government inquiry on ‘transgender equality’.
The ongoing, everyday reality of men’s violence against women.
Do we see connections between these things?
In the face of enduring and entrenched systems of male domination and unrelenting levels of male violence against women and girls – often perpetrated against those who with whom they are in close or intimate relationships – there is one glaringly obvious thing that women need to do for our survival: GET AWAY FROM MEN.
This separation can take many forms, from attending a women’s group to political lesbianism and separatism, but time spent away from men is essential for women’s survival. Creating women-only spaces, where women can begin to experience a sense of freedom, listen to and value other women, and start to think clearly about our oppression is the absolutely essential first step towards women’s liberation. Such spaces are a minimum requirement for the development of a feminist consciousness. Yet at a time when we have never needed women’s spaces more urgently, they are under attack in alarming and unprecedented ways.
While men’s intolerance of autonomous women’s spaces is nothing new, the rise of transgenderism has meant that male attacks on our spaces have manifested in new and hitherto quite unimagined forms, even gaining legal status in many jurisdictions.
One of the most disturbing things about the transgender assault on women’s spaces is the sympathy that such attacks receive from many feminists. Aggressive intrusion into our spaces is something that very few feminists appear willing to resist – on the contrary, many are its cheerleaders. Many collude with the antifeminist pretence that men are women if they say they are. Others privately understand the antifeminist nature of this assault, but maintain a public silence. Very, very few are willing to create spaces that are genuinely women-only, or to defend those of us who do. Indeed, it seems that at this point in time, very few feminists value or understand the necessity of such spaces. In the UK, for example, much feminist organising places great importance on engaging and involving men, and most student feminist societies include men. While there is thankfully a growing radical feminist movement in the UK, the mainstream feminist landscape is characterised by an eagerness to include men, at the expense of creating autonomous women’s spaces and at the expense of any chance of women developing a feminist consciousness.
For those of us who understand the necessity of women-only organising and are steadfast in our commitment to it, it is something of an education to be on the receiving end of vilification, threats and demonisation from the trans lobby, while our sisters stand silently by.
In a situation where you might expect a mighty roar, there is deafening silence.
This cannot go on.
Without women’s spaces, there is no women’s movement: there is no women’s culture, there is no women’s community. There is certainly no lesbian culture or community. And, as has been observed, lesbians are the canaries in the coalmine here: what happens to us is what will happen to all women.
The future for women in such a scenario is unconscionable.
On the 40th anniversary of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, I want to thank all the sisters who struggle to create and maintain women’s spaces in the face of the transgender assault and, agonisingly, the silence or worse of other feminists. You must never become our past. You – we – must be our present, and we must be our future.
We’ll not sit with our oppressors,
We will not break bread with men.
Not consort with our aggressors,
No way he’s a lesbian!
Stand together, in resistance,
Never sell our sisters out!
Never sell our sisters out.
Every day, assailed and harassed,
Public space is not our own
No respite from male aggression
In the street, at work, at home.
Women’s spaces, women’s spaces
Are a minimum demand!
Are a minimum demand.
We’ll not know the taste of freedom
With men in proximity.
In the company of womyn
Let us see what we can be.
Loving womyn, loving womyn,
We will see what we can be!
We will see what we can be.
Julia Long is a radical lesbian feminist and the author of Anti-Porn: The Resurgence of Anti-Pornography Feminism.
Coming Thursday: Samantha Berg Smashes Porn and A Freudian Nightmare Talks Health Risks
By Bev Jo
1. Do you know about the increasing demand to accept men as Lesbians, thereby supporting men in invading our last female only space, driving away women who do not feel safe with them there — women who are perhaps alone and isolated and needing safe women’s community?
2. If you feel angry or upset at being asked this, or unable to think clearly for fear that you are being “transphobic” or “politically incorrect,” can you consider that you are being subjected to cult rules which forbid independent thinking and feeling?
3. Did you know that 80% of the men who claim to be women have had no surgery and are quite capable of raping women, and that the numbers of women raped by these men are increasing?
4. Are you aware that many of these men refer to their “lady penises” or “six inch clitorises?”
5. Did you know that most of these men are obsessed with “Lesbian” porn, made by men, for men?
6. Did you know that 90% of men claiming to be women are “autogynephilic”– meaning they are “aroused” by wearing the exposing clothes, makeup, high heels, etc. that men demand women wear, and many of them masturbate while wearing “women’s” clothing? (Real women do not do this.)
7. Do you know that many of these men demand Lesbians have sex with them and call those of us who refuse “transphobic”? Do you agree with this? If not, and if you are outraged and concerned, do you feel pressured to ignore your reasonable feelings?
8. Since when have Lesbians accused other Lesbians of being “bigots” or “phobic” for daring to say no to men?” Have you considered for a moment — beyond the name-calling and guilt-tripping — that these ARE men who have found a clever way to get access to Lesbians?
9. Do you know that most women who have publicly tried to defend women only space get rape, mutilation, and death threats from these men? Yet we who have tried to protect our Lesbian communities (some of us for more than 40 years) are being asked to pay reparations on behalf of these men, in spite of the fact that they have threatened us and that men make far more money than most Lesbians could ever hope to have.
10. Did you know that many of these men have previously stalked and assaulted women?
11. Do you know that men appropriating female identity are more violent than other men and are changing the statistics on violence by “women?” Why are Lesbians being asked to be outraged on behalf of the violence that men aim at men claiming to be women, ignoring that those same men are threatening and attacking women? Asking women to be especially concerned about male-on-male violence ignores that women are the primary victims of male violence.
12. Have you witnessed any of these men touching, grabbing, making obscene comments or otherwise doing things to Lesbians against our will, yet felt pressured to ignore those assaults?
13. Do you realize that the “transgender” phenomenon has become big business for psychologists, surgeons, drug companies, etc., and that an increasing number of young children who are not happy with being forced into roles that patriarchy demands children obey (whether it’s little girls being forced into dresses and painful shoes, or little boys forced to fit male roles) are being considered “transgender” and started on irrevocable and dangerous hormones and even surgery before puberty?
14. Do you know that “sex change” surgery and hormones do not begin to approximate a female body or mind or spirit? Aren’t women far more than castrated men?
15. Do you know that many of the men claiming to be women also claim to be better women than us, and that they refer to us, and demand we identify ourselves with, yet one more “c” word: “cis?”
16. Do you know that adult men claiming to be women have won the right to expose themselves in school girls’ locker rooms and to play on girls’ sports teams?
17. Do you know that some men who have killed women are demanding that the government pay for their “sex change” and transfer them to women’s prisons?
18. We are told that “transgender” politics are progressive, yet they are in actuality right wing, enforcing gender roles that harm girls and women. In fundamentalist Iran, Lesbians and Gay men are executed, but the government pays for “sex changes.”
19. If you feel that no one has the right to tell someone they cannot be who they feel they are, do you agree with the able-bodied man who claims to be a “trans-paraplegic Lesbian?” (This man’s story is classic “trans” cult, including fondling his disabled aunt’s leg braces as a boy.) He goes to his local Dyke March in a wheelchair with a sign saying “Differently-Abled Dyke,” and makes his wheelchair fall over to get attention. He has no intention of truly becoming paraplegic, just as most “transwomen” have no intention of getting surgery.
20. Does believing that people have the right to identify however they want include white men appropriating the identity of people oppressed by racism? (Some of the completely European-descent men identifying as “transwomen” also say they are “trans-racial,” and have tried to get into positions of power in those communities they oppress, just as they have taken over many Lesbian/women’s organizations, including women’s studies classes.)
21. If you are outraged at the idea of “trans-racial” and “trans-disabled” identity appropriation, why would you accept that this should be done to Lesbians and other women?
22. Would you agree that people who have surgery to resemble cats or reptiles should be accepted as those animals? Trans politics and ideology say that you should.
23. Some women claim that these extremes are rare, mentally ill men who are not at all representative of real “transwomen.” Yet if you read any men posing as women online, you will see how they obviously have no idea what a real Lesbian or woman is. If you ever say no to these men, you will quickly find out how very male they are.
24. Why do the lives of Lesbians count for so little that men can claim to be us and then proceed to re-write our Lesbian history, get into power positions in our beleaguered Lesbian communities, and destroy what little we have left? Why do women feel flattered by or protective of these men instead of being protective of the Lesbians and women they are harming?
25. Do you realize that if you support these men to destroy our last female only spaces, you are simply supporting men against women?
See my blog for links that explain more: https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com
Coming Soon: Julia Long gives a mighty roar for women’s spaces.
Researchers Puzzled: No Male Violence without Men?
August 5, 2015
Hart, MI—A spokesperson for Researchers Against Bad Things (RABT) announced a puzzling observation drawn from their data: without men, there is no male violence.
Jillian North, head of the RABT (affectionately pronounced “rabbit”) project, explains, “We are hesitant to release these findings. Keep in mind that correlation does not equal causality. But the correlations have just gotten stronger and stronger with every data point.”
“Like, 100 percent,” adds Crystal Learner, North’s field assistant.
For the last forty years, North and her research crew have been studying the occurrence of Bad Things at one location: the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. By coincidence, it turns out to be the only place on the planet where there are no men.
“And no Bad Things have happened,” North explains, her voice betraying her amazement. “No violence, no fights. We know this because there have been no reports of gunshot wounds, stabbings, beatings, no grievous bodily harm of any kind.”
“No mass shootings,” Learner reminds her.
“Right, no murders or even suspicious deaths,” North says, shaking her head. “There’s been no sexual abuse of children. In fact, when we looked more closely, there wasn’t even any childhood hunger. It’s almost as if… when women are in charge, children get fed.”
“We extended our research even further,” North continues, pointing to a chart that covers one wall of her office. “There has been no ethnic cleansing and no wars. Not a single bomb has been dropped anywhere.”
She sits back in her chair, staring at the chart for answers.
There were more anomalous findings, though North is quick to caution against drawing conclusions. “There has been no public urination, no piles of dirty socks, no car chases, and no flies with their wings pulled off. No one died attempting to make fireworks by using a chainsaw to open a handgrenade, or from playing catch with rattlesnakes. And strangely, no one died of suffocation while dressed up like a school girl, with one end of a rubber hose affixed to his face and the other stuck up his rectum.”
“We don’t know what to make of it,” she shrugs. “I‘ve been studying this for forty years and I have no explanation. One hypothesis is that without men, there is no male violence. Another would be that somehow male violence only happens when men are present. Is it a chicken and egg thing?” North ponders.
“Or maybe,” Learner adds quietly, “the chicken crossed the road because the rooster was chasing her.”
Whatever the connection, the researchers of RABT assume more research is needed.
“Men can’t possibly be the cause of male violence. That would be too easy!” North laughs.
Coming Soon: Bev Jo Asks 25 Questions.
Lesbian Feminism and the Women’s Liberation Movement in the UK
Talk given at Rad Fem 2013, 9 June. The Camden Centre, London
The impact of the ‘sex wars’
Lesbianism as a politics, rather than just a sexual preference, was the target of savage attack by the pro-sex feminists of the 1980s ‘sex wars’, that is those feminists and lesbians who considered that all the sexual forms that libertarian men were defending against feminist critique simply were what sex naturally was, and those who sought to change the way sexuality was constructed were ‘anti-sex’. The pro-sex brigade sneered at us and said we just weren’t sexy enough, we were boring and too serious and did not really understand that lesbianism was fundamentally about sex. This position was encapsulated on the subscription page of the lesbian sadomasochist magazine ‘On Our Backs’ in the mid 1980s in the slogan, underneath a picture of a woman swathed in tight black shiny leather with tourniqueted breasts, ‘A lesbian is the lust of all women condensed to the point of explosion’.
4. The personal is political
Lesbian feminists took from radical feminism the understanding that ‘the personal is political’ (Hanisch, 1970). This phrase sums up the important revelation of the feminism of the late 60s and 70s that equality in the public sphere with men was an insufficient if not a nonsensical aim. Some feminists simply said that women who wanted to be equal with men lacked ambition. Others analysed the limitations of the strategy in more detail, pointing out that it was the dynamics of personal heterosexual life which imprisoned women and limited their engagement in public life, and that the very notion of public life itself, including its forms and content, derived precisely from men’s possession of a servicing ‘angel in the house’. Hierarchy had to be eliminated from personal life if the face of public life was to change and if the barriers between public and private were to be broken down.
Thus lesbian feminists, like many gay liberationists before them, rejected roleplaying and any manifestation of inequality in lesbian relationships. They saw lesbians who engaged in roleplaying as imitating the noxious patterns of heterosexuality and standing as obstacles in the path of lesbian liberation (Abbott and Love, 1972). The lesbian feminist vision of the future did not consist of a public world of official equal opportunity based upon a private world in which inequality could be eroticised and milked for excitement. The public and private were to be all of a piece and to be shaped to represent a new ethic. It was the lesbian feminist and radical feminist critique of sexuality and relationships, the idea that the personal is political and needs to change, that came to be challenged in the 1980s in what have since been called the ‘feminist sexuality debates’ or ‘sex wars’. A new breed of lesbian pornographers and sadomasochists derided lesbian feminist understandings of the personal as political and the importance of equality in sex and love as anti-sex (see my book The Lesbian Heresy, 1993).
5. Sexuality of equality
In the late 1980s and 1990s lesbianism was regendered, with the recreation of butch/femme roleplaying, to represent a sexuality of power difference. In a more recent example, a lesbian academic explained in the Journal of Lesbian Studies her despair at entering a lesbian event back in the 1970s and finding that all the lesbians who were there, who were having a great time, were androgynous and she found she was not sexually attracted to any of the. They were not roleplaying power difference so they were completely unexciting to her, ‘In the late 1980s, … I looked around at the room of androgynous lesbians-sweet women, laughing and enjoying themselves, comfortable in their bodies and the celebration of sexuality that dancing with your own can bring-and with the suddenness of an electric shock, I realized there was not one woman in the room who I could imagine dating. My community, a home in my heart, left me sexually cold, aloof’ (Lev, 2008: 134).
For lesbian feminists the personal, including how we do love and sex, is political. We understand, as I and Catharine MacKinnon, amongst others, have pointed out, that sexual feelings and sexual practice is socially constructed out of the power dynamics of male domination. Penis-in-vagina sex is at the heart of this political system, both signifying ownership and colonization of women and providing powerful pleasure to members of the male ruling class. For this reason, sexuality is constructed as the eroticizing of male domination and female subordination. ‘Gender’ constitutes the behaviours seen as suitable for those occupying these status categories. Masculinity is male dominant behaviour, and femininity is female subordinate behaviour. Thus women are required to wear revealing and constricting garments and torture shoes, do painful practices of depilation on their bodies, and make up to show their deference to males: this is femininity. Males on the other hand wear comfortable, loose clothing, and comfortable shoes, and can walk about in the world with barefaced cheek. Women must smile and simper deferentially, whilst men may interact whilst barely moving their facial muscles. There is much more to gender but above all it does, in these ways, very clearly represent the power dynamics of male domination. All of this is, unfortunately, sexy to many lesbians and gay men as well as to heterosexuals who may seek to retain the excitements of power difference by eroticising the roleplaying of masculinity and femininity.
In the seventies lesbian feminists, like those involved in other political movements, believed in ‘living the revolution now’, that is, living our lives in a way that presaged how we wanted the world to be. We sought to create in our personal lives, prefigurative forms, which would presage an ideal world that could exist after the revolution. Thus in a world where sexuality was constructed on a model of sadomasochism which led to the relegation of women and girls to the sex industry and to high rates of sexual violence against women and girls, the aim in personal life was to seek to eroticise equality and engage in egalitarian relationships without sex roles. Nowadays, living the revolution now is understood only in relation to the environment movement, where it is considered appropriate to reduce waste and use of fossil fuels, for instance. Sexuality on the other hand is completely depoliticized, not just for the malestream world but for most lesbians too, who would consider any critique of ways to ‘put the power back in’ to be anti-sex, bigoted, hateful, fascist and so on. It is interesting that the recent campaigns against me by tg activists have all included the important fact that I have criticized BDSM, which is now seen as tantamount to proof of complete social unacceptability.
As Janice Raymond reminded us back in 1989, lesbian feminism was not about every individual lesbian’s quest for the grail of what uniquely turned her on, it was not based on individualism but collectivism, ‘Lesbian feminism was a movement based on the power of a “we,” not on an individual woman’s fantasy or self-expression. This was a movement that had a politics- that realized that prostitution, pornography, and sexual violence could not be redefined as therapeutic, economic, or sexy to fit any individual woman’s whim in the name of free choice’ (Janice G. Raymond, 1989).
Why is it different now?
1. Impact of individualist politics: there is no such thing as society
Lesbian feminism, like second wave feminism in general, came out of a time when there were very serious revolutionary political movements taking place around the world. There was a radical students movement, the black power movement, the anti-apartheid movement. Serious politics inspired second wave feminism, both in our activist tactics and our imaginations. We believed in revolution, not reform. These politics and the strong Left that existed in UK, for example, were undermined by the onslaught of Thatcherism, Reaganism and free market individualism which attacked all forms of collectivism and sought to dissolve the glue that enabled radical political action. As Thatcher famously said, ‘there is no such thing as society’. Citizens were to be fashioned into indivdual consumers to take part in the marketplace of consumer goods, rather than in the marketplace of ideas.
The political agenda that took over from the belief in revolution was the rights agenda. This is about individualism and allows no space to understand women’s oppression as a sex caste. All individuals are seen as having equal rights. Thus the male-bodied transgender has an equal right with individual women to use the women’s toilets, and sexual violence by men against women as a class, including in the toilets, cannot be imagined or recognised. The rights agenda has been very problematic for feminism. Many feminists have sought to use it for their purposes, often successfully, but when it comes to the rights of men who say they are women to enter women’s spaces, and the inability of so many to question this, then we can see clearly the shortcomings of this approach.
2. Extinction of women only spaces
The extinction of women only spaces and the continuous campaign against any attempts such as this conference to recreate them, creates huge problems for the recreation of lesbian feminism. It is in women only spaces that heterosexual women can envision becoming lesbians. Inspired by the strength of women to do everything on their own and without men’s permission or condescension, women are able to develop a passion for women. The heat of lesbian eroticism was powerfully felt in the politics and the women’s spaces of the second wave. There is not so much of that now.
I have heard the argument that men these days are different, have been exposed to feminism, some have feminist mothers and so on. But the tsunami of porn and violence against women does not support this view. The culture in which women live is arguably more woman-hating than before. In the 70s pornographic imagery did not dominate the streetscape, and there was no easy access to Internet porn to ensure that males from childhood to adulthood would be exposed to porn. Violence against women is just as pervasive today but often in more brutal porn-inspired ways. Indeed it may be that heterosexual women’s involvement in anti-porn campaigns, for instance, is precisely because finding men unaffected by porn is no longer possible. It may be the case that in this respect men are not better these days, but much worse.
There is every reason for women to separate so that they can think together outside men’s pornographic space. But men, it seems, are more furious now at any possibility of women meeting without them. They are litigious and use serious harassment and threats of violence. In the 1970s I put my name, address and telephone number in the London Women’s Liberation Newsletter so I could have meetings at my house. That is unthinkable now. Feminism has been forced into secrecy and anonymity. So I don’t think the argument holds water that men are different. I think there is a state of emergency for feminism right now.
3. Enforced heterosexuality: compulsory propinquity with men.
In the present heterosexuality is forced upon women through enforced propinquity with men. As the few spaces in which girls and women might have been able to be together without men are eliminated, girls and women have no alternative. There are vanishingly few girls’ schools or university colleges any more, for instance. Single sex education has long been seen by supposedly progressive educators as dangerous, as creating lesbianism. It does do that, and I think it creates feminists too. Now men’s rights activists, transgender activists, and many young women themselves seem determined to enforce compulsory propinquity and treat the idea of women only spaces with suspicion or derision.
In a world so viciously heterosexualised and fiercely gendered, lesbian feminism has a struggle to become visible, especially when lesbians are now expected to admit they are really men after all, and transgender in order to create surgically constructed heterosexuality, not as good as the real kind but much safer, for the purposes of male supremacy, than two women loving each other as women.
I do think that for a truly radical feminism to develop which offers a strong challenge to male violence and male sexuality, lesbian feminism is necessary. Janice Raymond explains that a crucial principle of lesbian feminism is that we are there for all women, including all heterosexual women:
We feel and act for all women because we are women, and even if we were the last ones to profess this, we would still be there for women. (1996).
This helps to explain why lesbians were such a force within second wave feminism, and why it is hard to believe that they will not be so once again, despite the grim forces organised against us.
Abbott, Sidney and Love, Barbara (1972). Sappho was a Right-on Woman. New York: Stein and Day.
Bunch, Charlotte (2000). Lesbians in Revolt in Crow, Barbara (ed), Radical Feminism: A Documentary Reader. New York: New York University Press.
Clarke, Cheryl (1981). LESBIANISM: an Act of Resistance. In Moraga and Anzaldua (eds) This Bridge Called my Back. Writings by Radical Women of Colour. New York: Suny Press.
Daly, Mary (1979). Gyn/ecology. London: The Women’s Press.
Frye, Marilyn (1983). The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory. Trumansburg, New York: The Crossing Press.
Jeffreys, Sheila (1993). The Lesbian Heresy. London: The Women’s Press.
Jeffreys, Sheila (2014). Gender Hurts: a feminist analysis of the politics of transgenderism. London: Routledge.
Leeds Revolutionary Feminists (1981). Political Lesbianism: the case against heterosexuality. In Onlywomen Press (ed), Love Your Enemy. London: Onlywomen Press.
Lev, Arlene (2008). More than Surface Tension: Femmes in Families. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 12:2-3, 127-144.
Radicalesbians (1972: originally published 1970). The woman-identified woman. In Jay, Karla and Young, Allen (eds). Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation. USA: Douglas. 172-177.
Raymond, Janice G. (1986). A Passion for Friends: Towards a Philosophy of Female Friendship. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press.
Raymond, Janice G. (1991). Journal of Australian Lesbian Feminist Studies, Vol. 1, No 2: 18.
Raymond, Janice G. (1996) Putting the Politics Back Into Lesbianism, Journal of Lesbian Studies.
Rich, Adrienne (1979). On Lies, Secrets and Silence. W.W.Norton and Company.
Zimmerman, Bonnie (2008). A Lesbian-Feminist Journey Through Queer Nation. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 11: 1-2, 37-52.
Today’s music is Alix Dobkin, Talking Lesbian.
Coming Wednesday: Bev Jo asks twenty-five questions and The Scallion reports on even more.
A year and a half ago I wrote that the internet was magic: “I can’t stand the luddites who romanticize the days where people talked. Face to face. Or called each other.”
Why meet when you could email, why talk when you could dm. The internet seemed a simpler, more efficient, less stressful route towards organizing. I didn’t understand the point of wasting time in a room when you could sit on your couch in your underwear doing essentially the same thing you’d be doing in a room but with more pants.
I was wrong.
To say that the internet is a useful tool — for sharing information, finding information, organizing and communicating — is a huge understatement. Bu when it comes to feminism, meeting face to face still matters. More than that — I’d argue it’s imperative.
I’m a writer. I work at home, on my computer. It’s pretty easy to get comfortable there. I don’t consider myself an organizer or an activist, either, something that forces a person out into the real world (or, it should anyway…). My social life is strong but, when it comes to my work, it’s mainly done online. I also wasn’t around during the second wave and I wasn’t involved in the feminist movement, really, before the inception of social media. When I started to write and to produce feminist radio, thereby connecting with women in the movement, Facebook, email, and Twitter were already things. They made life easier in many ways, sure. Especially in terms of sharing your work and accessing the work other women were putting out there. You could learn and say everything you wanted to about feminism online, or so I thought.
The thing that online feminism is missing is faces. And I don’t just mean because there are so many anonymous avatars online, making it difficult to know who you’re engaging with and whether or not they’re accountable or trustworthy, but because there is a piece of empathy that is lost when we aren’t literally face to face with the human being we are speaking to (or about).
In short, we’re mean to each other online. Not always, but often. And maybe women were mean to each other pre-internet feminism, too, but I’m pretty sure it’s worse now.
The things I witness many women saying to and about one other online are gross. I can’t think of another way to describe it. It, quite literally, makes me feel gross. What I see is exaggerated beyond belief, unsympathetic, untrue, uncalled for, unhelpful, and, often, quite sexist. Not always, but often these exchanges and conversations happen among people who don’t know one another and/or have never met “in real life.” And maybe that’s part of the problem.
This is not meant to be a “call out.” I’m certainly not the first to attempt to address trashing and bad behaviour in the movement. Speaking only for myself, I am aware of the different way I engage with people “in real life,” versus those I’ve never met. I can be short online. I trust very few people. (I have been bitten in the ass for being too trusting and too open and learned my lesson the hard way.) I’ll often assume people have bad intentions rather than good ones, that they are trying to trick me or weasel their way into my life only to turn on me, armed with screenshots, looking to destroy me.
Things are different when I see women “in real life” and when they see me. We are kinder towards one another, more compassionate, more understanding, and less judgmental. In short, we treat one another like human beings deserving of respect.
A couple of weeks ago, journalist, Julie Bindel came to town. As a result, a number of events were organized to provide opportunities for women in the movement to be together, to talk, to eat, to drink, to strategize and to socialize. It was an incredibly important reminder for me: Oh right. Seeing and talking to movement face-to-face matters. It is important and we must do it – not only to maintain positive, constructive relationships — but in order for a movement to exist at all.
Now, there are many women around the world who don’t have access to feminist communities and women where they live. I know that I am lucky, living in Vancouver, to be able to simply take public transit to an event organized by Vancouver Rape Relief, or meet a woman for coffee or lunch. Some women only have access to online organizing and online conversations. But wherever we’re able to organize and meet, face-to-face, we need to try our very best to take those opportunities. We’re all busy so of course it will always be hard to find time, but – and this a reminder to myself as much as anyone else else – we need to make that effort. I need to make that effort.
We’re not all going to like each other – certainly we don’t all have to always agree — there’s no reason why we should. Boundaries are not a bad thing. Thinking things through and coming to our own conclusions is not a bad thing. But in world where a flounce or a nasty comment or a rumour spread is at our fingertips, one way for us to be accountable for those insults or attacks is to see each other, face-to-face. It’s a lot harder to call a woman a “handmaiden” (or whatever grand variety of names we call one another that I need not be explicit about here) from behind a screen. It’s much easier to hate those we don’t know, to judge them, to assume the worst, to denigrate them – to dehumanize them. A rather ironic type of behaviour considering what our movement is all about… Remember? That thing we’re fighting for? Humanity? Let’s try that.
Meghan Murphy is a writer and journalist in Vancouver, B.C. Her website is Feminist Current.
Tomorrow: Sheila Jeffreys doesn’t give up.
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Coming Soon: Meghan Murphy Reminds Us To Get Personal.