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14 February 2006 @ 09:14 pm
"Radical feminists are always nice. Provoked to the point of madness, but remaining, at heart, nice."

- Andrea Dworkin

What's your favorite feminist quote?
13 February 2006 @ 10:58 am
I am in the midst of reading bell hooks’ From Margin to Center. I am sorry I haven’t read it before now as she gives me great pause for thought. I am not finished with it yet (much to my dismay because, for some reason, it is very slow going), so I’m sure other things will come up for me but what her words are sparking for me now is the great avoidance and/or dismissal the feminist movement has given issues surrounding class, race and motherhood. I’ll get to all of this in a minute and I assure you there is a method to my madness.

I just perused the NOW website for fun, simply to see where liberal feminism stands and what issues they consider important. NOW’s “Top Priority Issues” are abortion, lesbian rights, violence against women, constitutional equality, economic justice and promoting diversity. I find this list illustrative of why so many women do not connect with NOW in any meaningful way. Economic Justice was simply about pay equity. Of course I support this but have to wonder why it’s considered a “top priority” issue when the majority of women work in the pink collar ghetto where pay equity isn’t on anyone’s radar. In other words, this is a class issue. In Promoting Diversity/Ending Racism, most of the action items have to do with Katrina and/or women of color conferences and get-togethers. There is so much more that could be done on this topic! Family– arguably the top topic that impacts the most women in this country – and Welfare are relegated to “Other Important Issues” status. The Family area is concentrating on family medical leave with one line from 2005 and then you have to go back to 2003 to even see something on it. Welfare is hardly better with 4 lines from 2004 where they advertise disseminating information about poverty. This is pathetic. You may wonder why I even brought NOW up on a radical feminist blog because they clearly do not and should not consider themselves radical. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I consider them somewhat irrelevant. Perhaps I am wrong (and really, I would love to be), but I do not see them having any influence or impact on policy, young feminists or the national conversation on women’s issues. But I bring them up because (a) Betty Friedan’s death has given them a lot of play; and (b) they are one of the few women’s groups out there who get any kind of coverage at all. And they all but ignore issues that go straight to the heart of most women’s lives.

If you want to really take a look at why radical feminism is necessary in this country (and the world but I will confine myself to the US for now), you have only to look at mothers and poor women who are, a lot of the time, the same group. Let me back up a moment and say that I am not an essentialist. From Anne Fausto-Sterling’s work and others, we know that gender is a continuum. There are people who are born with female genitalia, male genitalia, no genitalia, and people born with both forms. Sex is simply not binary and I think this fact is slowly infiltrating the public consciousness. Similarly, hormones are not static or evenly distributed so that some women have more “male” hormones than men and vice versa. Finally, exhaustive research on sex differences has found that there are more within sex differences (e.g., more differences among women as a group than between women and men) than between sex differences. People don’t want to admit this because it would have huge ramifications for society (for one thing, if there is no longer a binary classification of gender, then who you love becomes more a matter of personality than biology). For me, what this means is that so-called gender differences are because socialization makes it so. There can be no blanket statement that “women do this because they are biologically female” – it’s way too complicated for that.

However, when reproduction is thrown into the mix, it all changes. When you’re talking about women who mother, you’re a lot of the time talking about virtual second-class citizens. Pregnant women are infantilized and frequently are not allowed to control even the way they give birth. Mothers are considered unintelligent as a group, especially if they do not work for pay. Mothers who do work for pay frequently are discriminated against either through refusal to hire them, unreasonable demands of the workplace, low-paying positions with little chance of advancement, and the inability to find or pay for adequate childcare. Unless you’re well-off financially and/or have a job with benefits, adequate healthcare is a pipe dream. If their male partners leave them, mothers often find themselves living in poverty (2/3 of the people living below the poverty line – people who are basically living on no money at all – are women and children). And heaven help you if you qualify for and accept welfare because then you are just lazy and must be subject to the demands of the unkind state. A lot of mothers suffer from physical illness and emotional distress. In fact, married women with children are the group mostly likely to be depressed. How many women in this country are mothers? Yet the feminist movement (and yes, even sometimes radical feminists) acts like they are invisible. Poor women are also nowhere to be found and women of color often are left out as well.

While I believe that theory is necessary in order to crystallize beliefs, it can only take you so far. I will admit that I am impatient but the crux of the matter for me is action. I was listening to NPR’s oral history of Nelson Mandela today and was struck by some of their comments about how battling apartheid in the 1950s and 1960s was such an uphill struggle. Indeed, they didn’t succeed in ending it until some 30 years later. It all started with a solid plan to resist and raise awareness, a charismatic leader, hard work and much sacrifice. Listening to this very moving story I thought, “Damn! The feminist movement will never succeed in our goals because we don’t have this kind of commitment or, as of now, a charismatic leader.” Part of this is because feminist leaders had little experience in being leaders, in defining issues correctly (read: abortion), in having a bold, creative vision or in working out details of a plan, any plan. The best that liberal feminists could do was to try to be like men. Radical feminists are better in a lot of ways but don’t get the publicity or the inspiration that is necessary to catch on. I’m sorry, MacKinnon is brilliant and we need many more people just like her, but she is absolutely incomprehensible to some. I can understand her points but I am impatient; I want to know the bottom line. What is it we need to do? And here is where it gets tricky. If we ever want to see a post-patriarchy or even the path toward it, we have to involve men. There is just no other way around it. Bell hooks (see, I told you I would get back to her) recognizes this and even wrote a book about it (Feminism is for Everyone, a book I have yet to read). While some women can and do separate themselves from men, the majority cannot and probably do not wish to do so even if they could. Hooks makes the point that, especially for women of color and poor women, men are their partners in life’s struggles. They do not view them as the enemy. As long as any kind of feminist movement advocates or even hints at men being the enemy, it will not succeed. For example, I have a son and cannot even imagine myself in a struggle where he is excluded. I want him with me. The same can be said of my male partner. Does this mean that I don’t want or value women-only places? No. Does it mean that I am oblivious to the impact of male privilege? No. Does it mean that I don’t want to challenge men to refuse male privilege? No. But if you turn this issue on its head, I don’t want my racial, class and sexual privilege to prevent me from struggling with others. I want people to help me change, so I, in turn, must try to help others. I think the bottom line is that feminists must figure out a way to include men in our struggle or nothing will ever change. And yes, I do believe that men are hurt by patriarchy, not as much as women, but it definitely hurts them. If we focus on a different distribution and enacting of power (as hooks suggests), then I think we really have something. So, the question then becomes: how do we do this? What is our first step?
04 February 2006 @ 05:56 pm
This has been a heavy week as we have embraced the loss of two pioneering women: Corretta Scott King and Betty Friedan. I'm supplying supporting information on her.

Betty Friedan, whose manifesto "The Feminine Mystique" became a best seller in the 1960s and laid the groundwork for the modern feminist movement, died Saturday, her birthday. She was 85.

Friedan died at her home of congestive heart failure, according to a cousin, Emily Bazelon.

Friedan's assertion in her 1963 best seller that having a husband and babies was not everything and that women should aspire to separate identities as individuals, was highly unusual, if not revolutionary, just after the baby and suburban booms of the Eisenhower era.

The feminine mystique, she said, was a phony bill of goods society sold to women that left them unfulfilled, suffering from "the problem that has no name" and seeking a solution in tranquilizers and psychoanalysis.

"A woman has got to be able to say, and not feel guilty, `Who am I, and what do I want out of life?' She mustn't feel selfish and neurotic if she wants goals of her own, outside of husband and children," Friedan said.

"That book changed women's lives," Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, which Friedan co-founded, said Saturday. "It opened women's minds to the idea that there actually might be something more. And for the women who secretly harbored such unpopular thoughts, it told them that there were other women out there like them who thought there might be something more to life."

In the racial, political and sexual conflicts of the 1960s and '70s, Friedan's was one of the most commanding voices and recognizable presences in the women's movement.

As the first president of NOW in 1966, she staked out positions that seemed extreme at the time on such issues as abortion, sex-neutral help-wanted ads, equal pay, promotion opportunities and maternity leave.

But at the same time, Friedan insisted that the women's movement had to remain in the American mainstream, that men had to be accepted as allies and that the family should not be rejected.

"Don't get into the bra-burning, anti-man, politics-of-orgasm school," Friedan told a college audience in 1970.

To more radical and lesbian feminists, Friedan was "hopelessly bourgeois," Susan Brownmiller wrote at the time.

Friedan, deeply opposed to "equating feminism with lesbianism," conceded later that she had been "very square" and uncomfortable about homosexuality.

"I wrote a whole book objecting to the definition of women only in sexual relation to men. I would not exchange that for a definition of women only in sexual relation to women," she said.

Nonetheless she was a seconder for a resolution on protecting lesbian rights at the National Women's Conference in Houston in 1977.

"For a great many women, choosing motherhood makes motherhood itself a liberating choice," she told an interviewer two decades later. But she added that this should not be a reason for conflict with "other feminists who are maybe more austere, or choose to seek their partners among other women."

By then in her 70s, Friedan had moved on to the issue of how society views and treats its elderly.

She said that while researching her last book, "The Fountain of Age," published in 1993, she found those who dealt with old people "talk about the aged with the same patronizing, `compassionate' denial of their personhood that was heard when the experts talked about women 20 years ago."

She had not stopped being a feminist, she said, "but women as a special separate interest group are not my concern any more."

Friedan, born February 4, 1921, in Peoria, Illinois, was a high achieving Jewish outsider growing up in middle America. Her father, Harry Goldstein, owned a jewelry store; her mother, Miriam, quit a job as a newspaper women's page editor to become a housewife.

As a girl, Friedan watched her mother "cut down my father because she had no place to channel her terrific energies, a typical female disorder that I call impotent rage," she said.

From high school valedictorian in 1938 to summa cum laude graduate of Smith College in 1942, "I was that girl with all A's and I wanted boys worse than anything," she said.

She won a fellowship in psychology to the University of California, Berkeley, but turned down a bigger fellowship there so as not to outdo a boyfriend.

The romance broke up anyway and Friedan moved to Greenwich Village in New York and became a labor reporter.

She lost one job to a returning World War II veteran but found another before marrying Carl Friedan, a summer-stock producer and later an advertising executive, in 1947. The marriage, which produced three children, ended in divorce 22 years later.

Friedan got a maternity leave to have her first child in 1949, but was fired and replaced by a man when she asked for another leave to have the second child five years later.

The family had moved to a big Victorian house in the suburban Rockland County village of Grandview-on-the-Hudson, New York, where Friedan cranked out freelance magazine articles while bringing up her brood.

Hoping to get a magazine piece out of a Smith College 15-year reunion, Friedan prepared an in-depth survey of her classmates.

What she found was that these well-educated women of the class of 1942, now largely suburban housewives, were asking, in effect, "Is this all?"

Friedan couldn't get the article published in a magazine, but five years of more research and writing turned it into "The Feminine Mystique."

If some women read it as a call to arms, others were outraged, Friedan recalled. Dinner invitations stopped; she was out of the school car pool.

But the first printing of 3,000 eventually grew to 600,000 copies hardcover and more than 2 million in paperback. The book was listed at No. 37 on a 1999 New York University survey of 100 examples of the best journalism of the century.

In 1964, the family moved back to Manhattan in 1964 and Friedan began working to have the federal government enforce the Civil Rights Act as it applied to sex and not only to race, religion and national origin.

Founding NOW was a response to federal inaction. The finale of Friedan's presidency was the national women's strike of August 1970, which brought women out across the country on the 50th anniversary of women's suffrage.

She also was a founder in 1968 of the National Conference for Repeal of Abortion Laws, which became the National Abortion Rights Action League, and of the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971.

During the following decade she taught and lectured, and her 1981 book, "The Second Stage," was seen by many as a public break with the feminist leadership that had succeeded her. She said they had pursued "sexual politics that distorted the sense of priorities of the women's movement during the 1970s," and had opened the way for conservatives and reactionaries to occupy the center on family issues.

In "The Second Stage," Friedan also appeared to accept criticism from some women that "The Feminine Mystique" was too dismissive of domestic life. "Our failure was our blind spot about the family," she wrote.

Friedan taught on both coasts, at New York University and the University of Southern California, lecturing widely and traveling to women's conferences around the globe.

She helped persuade the Democratic Party to give women half the delegate strength at its nominating convention and was herself a delegate when Geraldine Ferraro was nominated for vice president in 1984.

She lived in New York City and Washington, D.C., and had a summer house in Sag Harbor, New York.

Survivors include her sons, Daniel Friedan of Princeton, New Jersey, and Jonathan Friedan of Philadelphia, and daughter Emily Friedan of Buffalo, New York; nine grandchildren; a sister, Amy Adams of New York; and a brother, Harry Goldstein of Palm Springs, California.

Carl Friedan died in December, according to Bazelon.

She said the funeral will be Monday at Riverside Memorial Chapel in New York.
20 January 2006 @ 09:00 pm
January 20, 2006

BALTIMORE - A Maryland circuit court ruled today that it is a violation of the state constitution to deny same-sex couples the numerous protections provided to married couples. The American Civil Liberties Union and Equality Maryland hail the decision as an historic step toward the ability of same-sex couples to legally marry in the state.

”This is such an exciting moment,” said Lisa Polyak, who with her partner, Gita Deane, is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by the ACLU. “Our participation in this lawsuit has always been about family protections for our children. Tonight, we will rest a little easier knowing that those protections are within reach.”

In a way, this is the most wonderful thing. But there is a flip side that LGB has overlooked which is the larger picture for heterosexual women.

Marriage as an institution is seen by many feminists as the basic social unit of patriarchy. Many Radical Feminists seeking to address fundamental ills of society for all women see the basic structures in marriage as needing to be abolished. Where LGB desires to have the privileges and protections afforded by marriage available to LGB relationships, it has never addressed the assimilationist aspect of this desire. People who do not want to marry are denied the privileges of those who have it etc.

Where this is a wonderful victory for LGB, it's still an assimilationist move and one that will remove a good portion of poltical dissenters. When heteronormativity becomes the standard, it's only some of the standards of heteronormativity that are challenged and fundamental ills of society which oppress women, remain unaddressed.

Where I am really glad to see this happen, it's also a loss as far as addressing those deeper more fundamental ills. I totally agree with Marilyn French, that assimilation IS DEATH. Prior to the abandonment of this vision our community was cohesive and strong (although a limitation was that it was awfully white). In many places in this countr we have been assimilated and as a result we are no longer as united and cohesive and that one factor really hurts us as much or more than any other factor.

This is one step in fighting heteronormativity and I was sure that Maryland was going to do this, it's that kind of state. It's going to be interesting to see what happens now.

Heteronormativity is smotheringly oppressive but I rather agree with Rita Mae Brown "Until every woman is free - no woman is free", and those are my larger and greater concerns.
13 January 2006 @ 02:07 am
This is a private thread and everyone is invited to participate.

Time. I've been thinking about time. High School had a woman valedictorian who spoke of our values in 1965. She observed, "It's easy to have our values now, but the real challenge will be to have them ten, twenty and thirty years out. I just realized that this is the fortieth year. Perhaps she never counted on us being in our fifties. I didn't and I think that's what i wanted to write about.

I believed all the things that we learned in the seventies and they were good things, solid things and then the world changed. It wasn't as if I didn't notice because I did. Clearly it was in 1980 as I saw a man with short hair. Instantly I recognized what I was seeing, he was a harbinger of things to come. Somehow, I knew and I sensed it. That was at the same time Reagan was elected. Then we lost the Era. What a staggering setupback that was. I was heterosexual then and living with a nicce enough man. That was a problem for me, he was incredibly straight and apple pie and he said things I've heard people articulate, "I like to live on the surace. That way, I don't have to look at things." He was partnered with, one of the most skeptical women in the world. I swore men off. It was only a few weeks later that that I encountered a woman who was new at work. We went out for the obligatory dinner and it lasted for fours months. What a surprise! She left town and I then partnered with a woman for eight years and we co-mommed her daughter. We joined NOW which wasn't a great fit. That Now chapter was almost more oppressive than patriarchy. They conducted no business on the floor. We went there are heard talks and marched in abortion lines.

The eighties grew worse. Business became central in this county where it had been people quiet friend in the past and there was "me-ism". Me-ism has become par for the course now nd is another word for individualism which is another word for "dissolution of community" Yes, there was a magic moment in 84 when Ferraro was nominated. We had our first woman Vice Presidentail candidate, who was immediately eaten alive by the press amidst nightly editions of Rush Limbaugh which seemed to be a mix of the horrid and the horridly surreal. Not much seemed to happen in the late eighties.

The nineties were or a while. We had Clinton but then there was Newt Gingrich who seems to be Rush's clone to me.

In the seventies I went to work for the second largest computer company in the world. It made a bad decision in the seventies, it decided that PCs would never fly. Oh well. With a company that large these errors don't manifest themselves for a decade or more. The animal does a long slow horrid death where people are put under pressure and either leave or fall apart. I left to go back to school the company was sold shortly afterwards. In the seventies and eighties, I could have never have anticipated the demise of this company. None of us could.

This company was fairly egalitarian. I was hired by a woman manager. I worked for women manager's for years. And this company advanced women too. I ended up working for my secretary which really didnt work out. She wanted software people to dresss well. There was a lesbian there and she was aspiing to management. I was so sorry to see her showing up to work in dresses because I knew how much she hated them. There was a complicated case of harrassment. A high level black male mananger was accused of harassing a woman and he was fired. On an away trip a male VP called all the women together and told us the company had zero tolerance for harassment. I was curious, ncause I knew this manager was not popular so I sat down with my boss and asked her if his numbers were good, would he have been fired? "No", the answer came quickly. But overall, compared to other companies it was enlightened as far as women were concerned. On that away trip, married women articulated that they they didn't like leaving home overnight because of childcare. The company never had another overnighter after that. The was in 1984 when Ferrao was Nominated.

Somehow, I'm fumbling for a way to say that I had never dreamed of the social conditions that exist today. Hmmmm. There needs to be a Part II to this. :)
12 January 2006 @ 01:39 pm
What is “Radical”, anyway?

Normally, my impulse would be to begin talking about Radical Feminisms herstory and to draw upon papers written by the original thinking women. Perhaps it’s not wanted but it is needed and it’s going to have to wait.

When people ask me about my politics I respond by saying, “I’m a Radical feminist.”

“What does that mean?”, they ask almost apprehensively. So then I respond….. “I don’t blow up buildings or advocate that”, and there is a palpable, sigh. I must be harmless. But no, I’m not harmless because I’m Radical. But what does that mean? It means so many things that they all won’t fit here and that’s clear . There are some things that are endemic for Radical Feminists.

• It is Woman-Centered and emphasizes bonding between women.

• Non-violence is a guiding way. We engage peacefully.

• We look toward social revolution, a revolution towards a society that will affirm and empower women AS women and a society in which women have full access to it’s rewards.

• We reject paradigms of power over and that’s why radical feminism speaks of revolution. This government is based in power-over and a reformed power-over system stills relies upon power-over to get it's business.

• Radical Feminism sees that people are classed in one of two classes and one of those classes as a whole is valued much more highly than the others. It is the goal of radical feminism to dissolve that classing.

• It is certainly recognized that there are other oppressions. Radical feminism see gendered oppression as being the chronically primary oppression, that is to say that women were the first political party as an oppressed minority. It is clear that societies have organized around the oppression of as a subordinated class.

• Part of the radical feminist analysis is the rejection of essentialism, the idea that there are presocially-determined differences between the classes in either mind, ability or proclivity.

• These classes are arbitrary and significances and differences seen between these gendered classes are epistemological as constructed by power. Gender is a power structure.

• How did all of this come about? How did men end up on top? I like the post-structuralist feminist answer to this question. First there was agriculture and next there was horticulture. For a while a man had to work continuously because production efficiency was low but then production efficiencies grew and men invented capitalism as a way of profiting. The led to leisure for men but women had been relegated to the home the private sector. Over time, two languages emerged, the language of the private sector and the language of the public sector. Those who spoke the language of the public sector came to have more value.

This is a personal note and I may or may not be speaking to the center of radical feminism. The above item suggests to me that part of what we’ve learned from patriarchy is that post-patriarchy should not have an analogue to capitalism. It is my view that capitalism is a set of socially male and male-defined solutions which is oppressive in nature and at best capitalism is a form of Social Darwinism.

• Men: I think it’s important to be clear how radical feminism sees men. We see that we are members of a subordinated class and that men gain and profit from that subordination.

• It is also clear to Radical Feminists that there is a default male standard in place where the standard for what is desirable has been determined by men and for their benefit. There is a standard business resume it describes a man’s career mode and his way of defining himself.

• It doesn’t go without saying, in fact it must be said that radical feminists demand sovereignty over our own bodies. We recognize that men still don’t participate in child-care so to large extent child-care positioned as “women’s work” because men have the privilege of not participating in it. We seek compensation and support for that work as well as inducing men to participate.

When I look at what radical feminism is, it’s not this big horrible thing which is made to be. Instead it is a politic that works toward the dignity of women and our access to the full rewards of society. Notice, that I did not say "equality", because something cannot be equal to something else in the absense of a standard for it to be equal to. Equality, is yet another large topic in radical feminism.

• We recognize that we live in a rape culture which is a puzzle piece of male dominance.

• We recognize that violence against women must stop. We recognize that violence is employed as a solution by men to various problems they perceive. It is a radical feminist position that violence in never a solution be it against a person, persons or a country.

• Within radical feminisn there are concerns on all levels for the well being of the mother earth and we work toward her nurturance.

Also I’m very aware that everything I’ve said has a huge amount behind each item and that they are topics in themselves. I hope this is the first of many.
21 December 2005 @ 09:05 pm
Welcome to Voices of Radical Feminism.

The purpose of this community is to give voice to Radical Feminists and to provide a space for contemporary radical feminist writing. We notice that many sources speak of radical feminism with their impressions, where Radical Feminism is often misrepresented. It is our intention to foster and empower radical feminists. Voices of Radical Feminism is a Woman-Only, membership-based community with three simple guidelines.

Where a diversity of views is welcomed, members voice their positions in ways that respect other members.

What's public is public and what private within the community is private.

There is zero tolerance for misogynism.