Gender Burns

Our insistence on turning efforts to achieve good health into a greater moral enterprise means that health also becomes a sharp political stick with which much harm is ultimately done.

– Kathleen Lebesco, “Fat Panic and the New Morality”

Each summer a spate of articles remind us that men refuse to wear sunscreen at higher rates than women do and that this harms the menz. In case you weren’t aware, men ages 15 to 39 are more than twice  as likely to die of melanoma than women in the same age range. The media and doctors are generally smart enough to realize that gender expectations play a role in this phenomenon, but generally not smart enough to realize that this isn’t a case of the big P harming men.

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What these articles are missing is that men’s knee-jerk reaction against sunscreen is part of a larger orientation to life that ultimately protects, not harms them: masculinity. We need to see that men’s dismissal of the need for bodily interventions, their refusal to see the male body as a project, and their avoidance of the medicalization of their bodies is boundary-setting that is granted to them and not to women in this culture.

In other words, the rights to bodily autonomy and bodily integrity are part of the benefits of masculinity, not part of the downsides. The body that is safe, protected from intervention, manipulation and gazes-with-the-power-to-sculpt-flesh is a male body; the male body, defined in opposition to the penetrable female body, is understood to be intact by definition. Pause and let the full range of the word “intact”—reproductive, sexual, and otherwise—resonate.

Yes, in this instance men fare worse in that they die of melanoma more often than women. But men’s actions speak, and what they say is that being a man comes with many many benefits, and that the benefits of maintaining that protective masculinity outweigh the risk of getting skin cancer—just as the benefits of being a smoking, harley-riding dude who “gets” harley-riding women, respect, and adventure simply outweigh the risks of lung cancer and traffic accidents. It is a quality of life issue and men see it that way.

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Whether men refuse sunscreen because of conscious preferences (“I don’t like how it feels on my skin” ) or unconscious ones (“real men don’t worry about things like sunburn”), the fact that they are men means that their refusal is respected. It doesn’t have to be the healthy choice or even the smart choice, it just has to be their choice. And if you accept that gender exists to protect men, you have to accept that on balance men who “do” masculinity will benefit.

Fans of the “patriarchy harms men, too” mantra might say that men are not allowed to show feelings of concern about possible cancer, or not allowed to ever stop taking the stupid risks that ease their anxieties about being “man enough.” But the truth is that an individual man’s choice whether to use sunscreen or not is not particularly fraught; proof of this is that the social repercussions for either using or refusing sunscreen are negligible. For men, sunscreen is not an exquisite mashup of beauty and health mandates that link compliance to social worth. There aren’t campaigns—either health or beauty-based—to coerce men into using it, and wives don’t leave husbands for not taking care of themselves and their skin. They simply outlive them. Life is inherently risky and, in the case of men, we seem to have accepted that. It’s simple: their body, their choice. When it comes to balancing cost and risk for the intact male body, individual men make individualized choices. We don’t always agree with them, but who asked us anyway?

The motivation to “be a man” can look self-destructive, but it protects and maintains the satisfactorily utilitarian relationship men have with their bodies. Men refuse to see their bodies as anything but their own—in sickness and health, stupidity and adventure, right and wrong, unquestionably. Sadly, women’s harmful relationships with their bodies are often depressingly great foils to men’s. If you want to see what is required of a body that is not one’s own, but must seek the approval of others and give the “right” answers when intervention is “requested,” look no further than the feminized female body. “Consent” to femininity is overwhelmingly given because it is the “right answer” under threat of social sanctions. In the absence of those sanctions, who can say what women would choose to do? Constantly checking, re-checking, testing, applying, primping, preparing, posing, weighing, buying, and reappyling, normal women live with a plague called “health and beauty.”

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We don’t moralize about men’s health decisions. We might try to encourage men to use sunscreen, wives might lovingly nag, and doctors might recommend sunscreen in black bottles, but we seem to accept that, ultimately, risk simply cannot be eradicated without cost to quality of life. And as we all know, society cares deeply when men’s quality of life is reduced, even a little bit. After all, “boys will be boys” is code for “males are happiest when allowed to do whatever the fuck they want,” and this law of nature is always put above the dictates of logic, health, and even harm to others.

We need to ask ourselves: are women balancing cost and risk? Are we allowed to do so without being told we are doing something wrong? In discussions about wearing sunscreen I hear women say, there is no reason not to. But what I hear them saying is that, unlike for men, there is no acceptable no. We don’t get the luxury of balance. When it comes to women who are laboring for health and beauty, dieting, beautifying, self-monitoring every 30 seconds and reapplying sunscreen every two hours there is no balance. The patriarchy, doctors, and popular opinion, along with targeted makeup and pharmaceutical industry campaigns, make those decisions for us.

I read a great comment once in a discussion about breast feeding, which asked: “Do we believe that risks to babies and children must be eliminated at any expense, or only if the costs of eliminating these risks can be paid by mothers?” The point is that, when making health decisions balancing risk and cost, who is it that will shoulder the cost factors monumentally into the perception of risk.

Just as people call breast-feeding “free” because women’s labor is understood to be worth nothing, there appears to be no cost involved in avoiding skin cancer with daily, hourly applications. No cost in the routine self-examination and weight-monitoring we are told helps keep us “healthy.” No cost in women submitting to invasive birth control regimes and health exams. I’ve heard plenty of women say “there’s simply no reason not to wear sunscreen every day.” This is a shorter way of saying that women’s labor feels “free” because our quality-of-life costs and intact female bodies are of no value. Society sees it as understandable—if not “smart” or necessarily “recommended”—that men want to avoid having the type of relationship with their bodies that women have with theirs. The requirement to constantly self monitor, tweak, be evaluated and found lacking is seen as “nothing” when women bear it…not so much when it’s men. When its men’s labor and men’s bodies, we can see that society judges there to be something of worth at stake.

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If we position men as the victims here—harmed by the big P— and compliant women as benefactors, then how are we to conceive of non-compliant women: wrinkly old sun-baked women who have clear likes, dislikes, irresponsibilities, desires, and thrills, women who have lived and used their bodies for themselves—not for men, beauty, or abstractly-defined health? If women are seen to have “no reason not to” comply, vitriol will always be reserved for us.

But women should be allowed to take health risks in the way men do. Women should be allowed to choose *NOT* to get invasive (and often unnecessary) medical tests like pap smears or mammograms without being called “irresponsible,” and we’re not. We should be able to choose not to breastfeed with a clear and breezy conscious, but we’re not able to. We should not have pharmaceutical birth control campaigns targeted at us, and we should be allowed to demand that it not fall to us alone to be responsible for where men decide to jizz, just to avoid harm. We should not have the propaganda machines pumping out beauty standards that coerce young girls into obsessing over those standards and using sunscreen and makeup—conveniently in one!—in order to meet them. Not looking at the 77% of all sunscreen ads that appear in beauty magazines for women might just be a risk some women are interested in taking.

I propose that, for once, women take a lesson from masculinity. The healthiest thing we can do is to have resistance—a “no”—be our knee-jerk response to any suggestion that our bodies are not okay as they are, that with just a little tweak here or there our bodies will finally be okay. Interventions on our bodies are not always unnecessary—if I broke my leg, I would go to the hospital— but the point is that we must take time to question why we are on this yellow brick road of constant vigilance and intervention, and why we feel judged and frightened if we step off of it.

As lay people and women, it’s very hard to resist what is labeled as “healthy”—how can anyone be against health? Indeed. We should be suspicious of anything so “obvious” that we can’t imagine anyone not obeying it! I hope that someday women can come to see “health” outside of a moral framework and as something attainable—not as a never-ending project in which we are routinely fearful, locked into an anxiety-fueled vigilance. Sunscreen is neutral, but WHY we use it and they don’t? Not neutral at all.

 

With thanks to A Freudian Nightmare.

Sweet Honey, Ella’s Song

Coming Friday: Vee Esselar declares war, and radical feminism welcomes Kaye Murdoch home.

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Reclaiming Words

By Samantha Berg

One of the earliest feminist blogs I used to post to was hosted by a man. From 2004 through 2006, I contributed many comments to his blog, as did other radical and liberal feminists. Then came the day in 2006 when we all discovered that Barry Deutsch of Amptoons.com sold his blog to pornographers for many thousands of dollars, and more than just radical feminists felt betrayed by his greedy foray into third party prostitution profiteering.

I was recently reminded of those blog posts when asked for details about a conversation between me and Amanda Marcotte  where she said about men who pay for sex: “Gender roles for men make it hard for them to be soft and affectionate and some find it easier to buy that than actually put their reputation as a hardass on the line by seeking love with a real woman. Prostitutes who keep a regular clientele will tell you that a lot of men are more lonely than anything.”

Obviously I found Marcotte’s quote, but in searching for it I also found hundreds of sentences I had contributed in good faith to Amptoons not knowing Deutsch would capitalize on my volunteered writings through third party cyber pimping. Almost ten years later, I am taking back ownership of my writings from an unethical louse of a man.

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Last week it came out that a respected public figure raped his 14 year old babysitter many years ago. The cover of the Willamette Week weekly newspaper calls Goldschmidt “having sex with” the 14 year old, “incomprehensible.” In the back of the same issue is an advertisement which promises to provide “Real Teens! Real Sex!”, meaning it should not be ‘incomprehensible’ to the editors that many adult men rape desire to stick their dicks inside girl child’s bodies.

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I’ve not seen in the 4-5 articles linking porn to Abu Ghraib I’ve read where an author states the incident should be seen “primarily” in relation to porn, just that the similarities should be considered more thoughtfully.

It doesn’t surprise me that so many women immediately thought of pornography when the story broke instead of considering the long military history of torture and sexual abuse during wartime. Perhaps if we had the visual records of black lynchings shoved in our faces with the dailiness pornography is shoved in our faces our thoughts would have gone there first.

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To say you believe in women’s equality but don’t see how that has anything to do with female sexuality being considered a Thing to be bought and sold misses the whole point of why it is called SEXism.
Women aren’t discriminated against because we’re shorter than men or less hairy than men. We are discriminated against because most men look at women and see some things (human beings) they would like to sexually pleasure themselves with instead of seeing women and girls as fully human people with personalities and desires of their own unrelated to wetting his penis.

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Why does a 13 year old prostituted child with no experience command a price 100 times that of a 23 year old with ten years of experience and in what other ‘profession’ does your value decrease the more experienced you are?

Why should men be allowed this form of “entertainment” when it is clearly so very detrimental to the people involved as well as to all male perceptions of all women’s worth? Using prostitutes is a male leisure activity, it is a very destructive one, and I don’t understand arguments that place men’s all holy right to shove their penises in and out of women’s bodily holes over the rights of the UN’s estimated 3-4 millions children, women and men held in sexual slavery and raped repeatedly for profit in a year.

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Chris Hedges, foreign correspondent from the NY Times in Bosnia and other wars and author of the book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning was on KBOO radio last year and he said that within 24 hours of war breaking out in Bosnia pornography sales soared and shelves of pornography were emptied.

You may discount the “if a then b” one-way directional flow of pornography’s effects if you want, and since few things in the world are so clearly unidirectional that would be sensible, but there’s much evidence supporting increased porn usage in militarized cultures (like the modern US) and increased amounts of sexual torture (like genocidal rape) in war, so porn obviously plays some important psychological role in war zones where it’s available and that’s not unconnected to increased sexual violence in war zones.

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No one thinks average, non-raping men in Bosnia bought porn by the truckloads as the war began then became rapists during the war because of it. Why did men’s consumption of misogynist, degrading pornography increase so dramatically as they mentally prepared themselves for the coming destruction and chaos of war? Why did a not-feminist war correspondent feel this point was worth bringing up in a radio interview when speaking of the impact the outbreak of the Bosnian war had on people there?

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Pornography isn’t free speech, it is costly speech manufactured by corporations who market their products aggressively and profit enormously. Missing from the discussion is how the ideas of an oppressed, objectified people whose very bodies are needed to create the ‘speech’ of wealthy men could ever be able to begin to compete with the privileged big boys in this stacked system.

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Almost all porn is about fulfilling women’s pleasure if you stop at “she looks like she’s enjoying it!”, but men have depicted women orgasming from being raped, cut up, spit on, fucked by animals and worse and really it’s about men’s pleasure seeing women acting like animalized dirty whores more than women’s pleasure at doing the sex.

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There’s no need to speak in hypothetical abstracts about the results legalization and decriminalization. Those of us saying legalization does not make ‘sex workers’ more safe aren’t pulling that out of our asses, it’s been demonstrated in the many historical attempts to regulate prostitution and in the more recent legalization trials in the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, certain Nevada counties.

AIDS, STD, pregnancies, gang control, child prostitution, street prostitution, violence from pimps and tricks…none of these problems have gone away in legalized places and the research demonstrates that these intrinsic harms are actually exacerbated by legalization.

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We need to stop talking about the benefits of legalizing prostitution like we need to stop talking about trickle-down economics. These theories have been tried many times over the years and they continually fail to produce positive results. If there are women and children in desperate straits, poor, sexually abused and addicted to drugs like almost all prostituted people are, the solution isn’t to find ways to make exploiting women easier for their pimps and tricks so their money and ‘proper management’ trickle down to the people on the bottom rung, it’s to provide direct assistance to those people who need help and give them the help they ask for.

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Cans of tuna come with “dolphin free” labels because tuna-eaters care about dolphins. Movies come with disclaimers that no animals were hurt in the making of the films. Pornography comes with advertising playing up the violence, lack of women’s consent, and vulnerability of youthful “girls girls girls!” (never “women women women!”) Pornographers BRAG about how they fucked that teen virgin bitch’s ass so hard she couldn’t sit for days. It’s as if cans of tuna came with labels saying, “Now with more slaughtered dolphins than ever!”

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I remember watching the movie Clan of the Cave Bear in high school. When I saw the movie I saw Ayla getting raped by a man who hated her and who relished raping her into silenced obedience, but the boys saw a male role model, a man gettin’ some recalcitrant pussy from an uppity blonde bitch.

For months afterwards a group of boys kept making the hand symbol Ayla’s rapist Broud used to command her to submit to his rapes and laughing over how sweet life would be if we bitch classmates would go as easily ass-up when the hand command was issued to us. There was no ambiguity in the plot; it was quite clearly rape. But to those boys it was just pornography, just sex as most men would have sex with women be, on demand and without any backtalk, like the sex of prostitution.

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Linda Boreman said she was sometimes forced at gunpoint to submit to her rapes, and thanks to a well-funded pr campaign calling her a lying whore fronted by women on the porn biz payroll she isn’t believed, but there are still many women, like these for instance, who are raped to make pornographic products men sell to other men to accumulate gobs of money.

These are not unusual, isolated rape events in the making of pornography but the understandable outcome of capitalism applied to sex as men demand it and are willing to pay for it. Men’s demand for 50 man gangbangs is far greater than the number of women willing to consent to it. The rapes of some number of pornstituted women and girls are necessary to sustain the multi-billion dollar pornography industries as they have exponentially expanded the past few years and subsequently evolved to include more grotesquely vicious woman-hating content.

But there’s a damnable wall of silence surrounding what it takes to make the pornography being consumed so greedily, a silence especially infuriating among liberals who I’d like to think would apply criticisms of racism, sexism and capitalism to pornography if they were people of integrity.

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There’s a vile trend in popular liberal media calling young women who say they were raped liars, a trend that has appeared recently in such as liberal media as The Nation, Counterpunch, and Clamor Magazine. What I see in this is the burning need to defend men’s rights to unlimited sexual access to women’s bodies in pornography and prostitution taking precedence over women’s human rights, and it makes me angry.

We women are just supposed to accept that being a whore is the new, progressive, feminist path to female empowerment and equality, and I am frightened for the girls and women being told this lie.

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The overwhelmingly male consumer choice for pornography is not only not against the pain, suffering and exploitation of women, these are the most desirable features of the most profitable, widespread pornography. The pain and humiliation of women is the main point, not an accidental byproduct as it is with sweatshop labor or Wal-Mart or the production of non-pornography goods.

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Women accepting pornography as it used to be known meant men didn’t want it that way anymore because if women like something, men stop liking it. So they (men) moved to more anal thinking correctly that most women didn’t like it, but then some women adapted to that too and now anal isn’t edgy anymore, edgy in porn really meaning “That which men like and women don’t, hence making it good and worthwhile”. Women got used to facials and now bukkake proliferates and, again, the verbal abuse has increased because there’s only so many things you can do to bodies but the patriarchy can always creatively concoct new ways to speak about hating women. Women are never going to get to the top of the pornography heap because anytime they come close men move the heap to keep it untainted by the touch of femaleness.

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Both pornography actors and non-porn actors act out sexual scenes, but non-porn actors are not placed daily in situations where their physical and mental health are put at severe risk. Porn actors come from populations with backgrounds much more similar to prostitutes than actresses, and a European study a few years back found porn actors had 6 times the suicide rate of non-porn actors. There is no billion-dollar market in enslaved non-pornographic actresses.

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Pornography production is not analogous to having a lot of casual sex. The sheer numbers of partners involved gets astronomical when you consider the other ‘pornstitutes’ have also had a tremendous number of prostituted sex partners in the same highly unnatural conditions of pornography production. Lack of condoms or dental dams, shaving & waxing that leaves tiny but bloody cuts, doing and redoing uncomfortable scenes until rubbed raw, the general brutality against women’s genitals modern pornography male consumers demand of pornography and more contribute to an undeniably toxic environment I would never compare to the most casual of casual sex-havers.

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I have vociferously questioned the “sex positive” liberals who think what’s best for women and children enslaved in SE Asian brothels is an unlimited supply of condoms, antibiotics, abortions and HIV tests so they can know shortly after contracting the disease that they’re now out of a “job” and they’re going to die painfully.

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I’ve been told by “sex positive” liberals that every study ever done on prostitution is wrong because they have friends who like being sex workers. I’ve been told most prostituted women just want the freedom to keep being whores on their own terms. I’ve been told it’s easier to find and speak with rape victims, drug addicts and trafficked teens than unraped, healthy, stable adult sex workers. I’ve been told pornographers don’t have as much money as “academic feminists” to conduct studies determining the general welfare of the prostitutes they use.

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Sometimes I want to shout à la Charlton Heston at pornography users, “Pornography is people! It’s people!”

Helen Reddy, “I Am Woman”

Coming Soon: A Freudian Nightmare Takes a Look at Health Risks.

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What We Can Be: The Necessity of Women’s Spaces

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.

Night Stage1

Building the Night Stage at MichFest, 2006

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.

Tracy Chapman, Stand By Me

Coming Thursday: Samantha Berg Smashes Porn and A Freudian Nightmare Talks Health Risks

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Please, if You Love Lesbians and Other Females, Think About This….

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?

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See my blog for links that explain more: https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com

Kathy Fire, Mother Rage

Coming Soon: Julia Long gives a mighty roar for women’s spaces.

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News From… The Scallion

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.”

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“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.

Testimony by Ferron

Coming Soon: Bev Jo Asks 25 Questions.

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Lesbian Feminism, Part 2

Lesbian Feminism and the Women’s Liberation Movement in the UK

Talk given at Rad Fem 2013, 9 June. The Camden Centre, London

Sheila Jeffreys

Part II

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.

More Feminism

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.

Conclusion

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.

 

Bibliography

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.

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In Real Life…

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.

WomenOfTheWorld

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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The Original MichFest Flyer

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(Click on image to enlarge)

 

Coming Soon: Meghan Murphy Reminds Us To Get Personal.

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A Lesbian Crone’s Manifesto

I am a Woman. I am a Lesbian. I love women..all sizes…all shapes…all ages.

I love to trace the soft skin of her check, nibble on the spot where neck meets shoulder… the soft, subtle curve of a breast hidden by summer’s thin cloth… the deep, heavy wetness of a mother’s breast. I love to run my hands down her sides till they rest on the swell of her hips … to lay my palms on the sensitive MaizeCoverspot over her ovary where the pelvic bone begins to curve to protect the womb … her soft inner thigh.

I especially love Butches…their broad shoulders, strong hands, muscled thighs, straight backs. I honor these women who were our vanguard, who stood in front of many of us ignoring the mocking stares, absorbing the angry words and punches.

We stood behind them, not cowering but perhaps with just a bit less courage. They were our warriors.

And now every time a young butch transitions from her own strength and power, our sisterhood is diminished. We should encircle these young women and hold them in our warmth until they are strong.

And I also love the wary looks of my sisters for I know that they have survived a girlhood wrecked by violence and abuse, but I revel in the hopeful glances of women whose girlhoods were filled with love and respect…they are so few.

At 62 I am to old to be deceived by men in dresses or transwomen. As a crone, I am no longer distracted by their angry accusations. I know who and what I am. I am a Woman. I am a Lesbian. No one will silence my voice. No one will silence the love in my heart for my sisters. I am a Lesbian.

– Ann E. Foland
Bandon, Oregon

Coming soon: Meghan Murphy reminds us to get personal.

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Searching For Tribe

When I was a girl, we listened to folk music. We listened to soul, and we listened to the Beatles, but also we listened to a lot of folk music. My mother worked at the Ash Grove. We were Early Hippies. I remember going to some little outdoor festival and wandering around among adults, off on my own as usual, and feeling perfectly safe. I came across a barrel of steamed artichokes. A whole barrel!

We also listened to a lot of Joni Mitchell. “Ladies of the Canyon” struck me as a life goal. This is how it should be. Trimmed with antique luxury. None are thin and all are fat. Sailing seas and climbing banyans, coloring the sunshine hours. This.

Life interfered. We went to the other side of the continent. Then we listened to Jesus Christ Superstar and John Renbourn. And we played a lot of chess and I wrote a song about the seahorse in the aquarium and wandered around at night with the dogs and made cookies at two in the morning, and had my own personal giant pine tree to climb and a decaying root cellar to hide in. This wasn’t that far off. This was very close.

But then everything fell apart again, and I moved back to Los Angeles and lived in the Seacastle Apartments, which were magnificent but were later condemned after an earthquake. Then I became an assistant to a woman who had some of that canyon ladies stuff down, but unfortunately she took to dealing cocaine, and everything again fell apart.

Then I met a guy through the bulletin board in the L.A. Reader. This was what we had before we had the Internet so easily, this strange free-form no charge classified ad section. This was around 1983. We had a scrapbook of all that madness but it got lost too.

We left Los Angeles, my second time doing so but not my last. I washed back up on the shores in 1988, sans boyfriend. I’d tried to find the canyon ladies at a commune, but they turned out to be a cult.

My next effort involved engaging in a hostile takeover of a cooperatively run health food store, after taking to sporadically dating the manager. He was a nice enough guy, but an absolutely terrible manager. He’d threatened to quit a lot, and the board of directors asked me if I wanted to do it. Sure, I said.

Things got predictably dramatic. It was a rather good gig, other than the robberies and horrible floor plan and all the fans of the ex-manager coming in and giving me the hairy eyeball.

I wound up giving up, ex-manager was reinstated and promptly started advertising for a new manager. Then the place failed entirely and he moved to Vancouver with much family money and, last I checked, was happily ensconced up there, busy going to meetings of nonprofits. That’s good.

I met some good ladies there too, but by then I’d gotten into tarantulas. The tarantula society ultimately lured me out to New Mexico. It was a little short on canyon ladies but I did learn a lot of interesting stuff.

Then when I got sick of working full time for the tarantula society for around $500 a month, I took to used book dealing. Even fewer canyon ladies, here in Little Texas. But I did learn a lot about books.

At this point I was pretty much at the end of my rope, and dove into the Internet.

And there you were, all of you. The canyon ladies. I finally found you!

Ladies2

But so far away. Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?

It took awhile. I made a lot of mistakes. The learning curve was steep.

I learned that I could unwittingly be insensitive towards women. I learned about how to see it when male acquaintances were trying to sexually groom me. I learned to stop questioning my gut reactions.

I learned that gender socialization runs so deep that there is no end to the learning, the unlearning, the untangling. For the first six months or so after I Discovered Radical Feminism, I thought that I’d figure this stuff out more or less in..nine months? maybe a year? I was expecting the plateau any time now. That was several years back.

But it never happened. It still never happens. I’m still stumbling around, semi-blindly, making a lot of mistakes. I’m just better at it now. Hey, practice makes perfect, eh?

Some of my family and extended family members worked in early childhood education. They said a few things that I remember. One is that you cannot cure personal damage, all you can do is grow stronger.

Another was that you can’t tell anybody anything, all you can do is give them the experience.

The Internet comes up short with giving people experiences. The telling is important, but women get weary. So many of us have so much, often unspoken, on our backs already. And so many of us are isolated, washing up here online like I did. Still hoping that maybe those canyon ladies are out here somewhere, drawing the sunsets and making each other delicacies, and pouring music down the canyon.

– Miep Rowan O’Brien

Coming up soon: Ann Foland is a Lesbian Crone.

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