queer radical feminism

was diddling around today, and was challenged on calling myself queer by someone on fb because I’m anti-bdsm (to simplify, more complex than that, but lean way more towards anti than pro). And I found THIS!, from the 5th People’s Global Action Conference in Greece, 2008. edit: I found out that a fb friend of mine translated it and it was based in large part on a Swedish article by Madde Elgemyr called Lesbianism as a feminist strategy.

Whole article follows below, in original formatting:

queer radical feminism and stuggles against patriarchy

Submitted by vlanto on Wed, 2007-12-26 13:24.

Gender and love – Feminism – Patriarchy – Men hating women – Heterosexuality – Homosocial / Heterorelational – Sexliberalism – Women hating men – Separatism – Women’s solidarity – Solidarity with women: Power of definition / Partiality

GENDER AND LOVE ::: Gender is a role assigned to us at birth. “Is it a boy or a girl?” Female if you have a cunt, and male if you have a penis. The ones with something other or in between (intersexed) are forced into either category, sometimes with mutilation of their genitals in order to have a body fitting with the role given to them. —- Most oppression work in the same way. Creating two different categories, and then assigning certain traits to one group who are valued higher than the traits who are supposed to be representative of the individuals belonging to the other group. In this case “male” values higher than “female”. —- Male: Control, reason, culture, adult, intellectual, leader —- Female: Sexual, emotional, nature, child, body, being lead —- These same categories go for: white / non-white. Upper class / working class. Adult / child. Humans / other animals. —- Love plays an important part in maintaining these structures. It’s there as a creating force, and also has the potential of being exploited. Love is the basics in all social relations. We all breathe the same air. We wake up to the same sun. Gaze at the same moon. We all have a deep need to feel love. All relations we have to all living things are based on love – seeing; listening; caring for – and how much we give and receive of it. —– We are socialized into seeing certain categories as the norm (for instance: white, male) and certain as “other”, and relate to each other according to what position we have in relation to ethnicity, age, able-bodiedness etc. We make differences in how much love we give and feel according to how we are positioned in this web of discriminatory labeling. It’s an oppressive system and we as individuals maintain and recreate it daily. Out of habit. And out of fear. It’s not accepted to break the rules. We know this from early on. We have been taught well through a system of punishment and reward. “Good boy!” “Bad girl!” “Boys don’t cry!” “Girls don’t wrestle!”

FEMINISM and PATRIARCHY – MEN HATING WOMEN ::: Every political movement must start by identifying their oppressor and adversary and the strategies used by their opponent in order to make strategies of their own. —- Apart from the cruel ways of separating children into boys and girls, and breaking boys into men. Patriarchy is a system mainly oppressing women. And if women is the oppressed group there’s only one group left doing the oppressing: men. In a lot of languages the violence that women face by men is not called ‘men’s violence against women’, but usually the doer is left out and it’s called: ‘violence against women’. Which is a way of obscuring the power relations, that should by now be obvious to us all. —- A mainstream opinion is that men and women are equally oppressed in this system. And it’s also very common to hear that “men are more oppressed than women” because they can’t cry or something such. It’s also fairly often said that “men are oppressed by women”. Looking at it through a historical lens, very few could argue that men as a group have been facing the same prejudice and bias as women as a group. —- Patriarchy means the systematic power men have over women. Women and men constitute two groups that are at a constant conflict. This conflict is present in all aspects of society. Men as a group and individuals oppress women as a group and individuals, by for instance exerting an enormous amount of sexualized violence on women, most women are at some point in their lives exposed to some form of sexualized violence by a man known to them, which means that most men exert some form of oppression towards one or more women close to them (since a person can only have close relations with a limited amount of individuals.) —- This means that men have power over women in a hierarchy, not only that men and women have a different amount of power and are “unequal” in “the system”. Men’s power lies in every single relation between men and women, not primarily in the state or by owning the means of production. It’s important to have a perspective that sees both the structure at large and at the same time see the individuals and actors creating it – there is no male power without the men exercising it; men’s violence against women is also not an isolated phenomenon but a part of the structural violence that men as a group use against women as a group. —- Very often when speaking of the realities of this oppression, “exceptions” and the “good men” are mentioned, making a theoretical difference between individual / group / system. Creating a difference between men as individuals and the acts and institutions of men, does not make a lot of sense. —- Men as a group hate women, and express this hatred through rape, murder, sexual harassment, and other sexualized behaviors. A lot of women do not experience these behaviors as expressions of hatred, since men’s violence against women have been so culturally mystified that we have been fooled into believing these are expressions of guilt free insanity, misunderstandings, natural sex drive or even: love. —- Even for feminists, aware of the power relations, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the men around her are “different” an “exception to the rule”. And thereby seeing the men in her surrounding as separate from men as a social group. And most women living / associating with men do the same. This leads to most men having some woman convinced he’s an atypical man, different from the rest, even if this is mathematically impossible (a majority can not be atypical of itself). This is a situation that men benefit from and feminists and women in general are disadvantaged by. —- It is not only that men treat women badly, although often they do, but that it is their choice whether or not to do so. All men have power over all women: over all women as a group and specifically over a few that they are in close relation to. Each man can then choose to exercise this power through oppression, or he may choose not to, but since men are not isolated from the patriarchal society at large they have always this socially supported power and can always choose to use it, at which point it’s then up to the woman in question to stop him. —- Any feminism not having the strategy of constantly criticizing men as a group and individuals, and holding them accountable to the women hating acts they perform on a daily basis, recreating patriarchy. Any feminism not speaking of men and their actions being the first most reason to keeping this system going. Any feminism not doing that is not really challenging status quo. —- The relation between men and women is a war, a war done by men on women. A war that’s currently not meeting any resistance to speak of. —- Often when speaking of men as responsible for the violence and harm done to women – identifying a certain political group in a determined and general manner, in this case “men” and “women” – this is seen as “essentializing” this group. Radical feminists would not agree on using this word, since we see essentialism as some form of biological reductionism, where something is described by its nature to be unchangeable and unaffected by political means. —- When feminism loses its analysis of men as responsible for men’s oppression of women but instead start speaking of liberating both women and men from “patriarchy” with no visible actors, a male power without accountable men, it also loses its potential to create a radical change. —- Radical feminism could be said to be the absolute opposite of postmodernism. Radical feminism’s strategy is for women to bond together in solidarity and organize against men as a social group. —- The postmodern way to fight patriarchy is to simply stop talking of “men” and “women” and by deconstructing these two categories in that way somehow get rid of the problem. —- As if these categories are completely detached from individuals and the social groups in the context defined by power. No group of people is seen as responsible for maintaining the social structure and no material problems are discussed. The deconstruction of men and women is supposed to be done without challenging men’s power over women in society, without stopping men as a group and individuals from harming women. —- Which is a very unrealistic way of getting anywhere. As if I as a white person could just stop calling myself “white” and in that way there would be no more racism. Or by not identifying as a “woman” I could then escape oppression. Not a very potent strategy. —- We have to go deeper than that. Look at structures and the individuals maintaining it. As in: Who’s on top and who’s on the bottom.

HETEROSEXUALITY ::: The turn on in heterosexuality is the differences between the (female and male) sexes, a difference based on power, a hierarchy. An erotization of power and submission. —- Women’s heterosexuality benefit men’s power over women since women are bound emotionally, socially and economically to men and isolated from other women in heterosexual couple- and polyamorous relations. —- In a society where men (as a group and individuals) continuously batter, rape and murder women, and in particular women who live in intimate love relations with them. The type of love bonding women to men in this way is problematic. (Even though it’s not only love keeping the women in these relations but most often a real fear of intensified violence if they’d try to break free.) —- Even if not all women are exposed to violence, we are all continuously aware of its existence and affected by it. In this way all acts of violence against women are beneficial to all men and strengthen their power over all women. —- Heterosexual love can in many ways be compared with the kind of love that a hostage can develop for their oppressors, as a survival strategy, creating strong emotional bonds of loyalty, great sensitivity to the needs of the oppressor through interpretation of nuances in words, tone of voice and body language, and finally love. This psychological condition is especially common when captivity is enduring for a longer time, and the hostages are kept isolated from each other and in close contact with the men who keep them hostage. Very much like the conditions women are under in the isolated family units where most of the male violence against women are practiced. Women live isolated from each other but close to husbands, boyfriends, fathers etc who have the potential of harming them (all men have power over women, regardless of whether they chose to exercise that power or not.) —- Victims of this type of violence react on the oppression in a string of seemingly illogical ways – they see themselves from the perspective of the batterer, see him as the victim and themselves as worthless, they put their hopes to being spared if they themselves are just loving and caring and obedient enough, and they experience this as loving the batterer. This is a pattern that can be transferred from an individual level to a societal level and explain women’s way of relating to men as a group and as individuals, given that women as a group in this society live under the constant threat of male violence (strangers and intimates) throughout our lives. —- Women’s love as defined above is a patriarchal strategy to keep women tied to men and support men’s power over women.

HOMOSOCIAL / HETERORELATIONAL ::: Heterorelational is a wider concept than heterosexuality. Heterorelations are all the emotional, economical, social and political relations that exist between men and women on men’s terms. Women living with men are not primarily heterosexual in the sense that they are attracted to men, but are rather living heterorelationally, which means that their lives and self-definition is related to relations with men – being a girlfriend, mother, attractive woman, and so on. —- The heterorelational ideology permeates the society to the extent that most of us don’t reflect over this, it stipulates that women only have a value in relation to men, that only those relations and situations where a man is in the picture are interesting, that relations between women are unimportant and fundamentally lacking something without men. —- For instance it’s not uncommon for a group of women sitting at a café or bar to be approached by a man asking if they are there “alone”. Women together are in a heterorelational way of thinking seen as incomplete without a man present. —- Heterorelational ideology has also defined a large part of the discussion about the relation between the (female and male) sexes, by defining feminism as striving towards equality with men, instead of women’s independent autonomy and relations with each other. —- In the same way as women are related to men, also men put men first in their relations. Their way of relating to each other is called homosocial. In men’s homosocial way of relating to one another women are viewed as relative beings who exist not for ourselves, but only for the servicing, maintenance and comfort of men.

SEXLIBERALISM ::: Sexliberals by advocating S/M and the buying of sex eroticize and practice the exact same power hierarchies that men’s power over women is based on, and also advocate a reactionary emotional essentialism by not allowing any criticism of feelings and sexuality as a political and social phenomena. —- If a woman is turned on by rape fantasies or sell her body to johns, feminists have no right to ask on what political grounds – the feeling can’t be questioned, regardless of the social consequences for the woman herself or for women as a group. —- The feminist agenda of changing and turning our emotional lives over from the patriarchal indoctrination by consciousness raising is judged as moralistic and puritan. —- Sadomasochist-activists advocate erotization of several power hierarchies, amongst others: man – woman, nazi – jew, white – black, and see the practices of these power hierarchies as a sexual “game”. Some sexliberals also advocate sex with children. —- Heterorelations function perfectly well in lesbian, gay and queer sexual relations for instance by sadomasochist practices, or that the women in other aspects, apart form the sexual, live male centered lives. Especially S/M – a sexuality based on degradation and violence, for instance licking somebody’s shoes or whipping somebody – has to a great extent been normalized in the lesbian subculture. —- The question why somebody is turned on by violence and submission is taboo amongst sexliberals. The general attraction to self-violence, women’s internalized self-hatred expressed by for instance cutting herself with razorblades is seen as something entirely different. But as soon as destructive behavior is eroticized and sexualized it’s immediately beyond any political criticism. —- Sexual feelings are learned and can be unlearned. One way of fighting women’s erotization of men’s power is by getting together and critically and with a large dose of humor analyze sexual fantasies, see the political reasons behind them and in that way make it possible to deconstruct it through feminist consciousness.

WOMEN HATING MEN – SEPARATISM – WOMEN’S SOLIDARITY ::: In order to break with this oppression women need to speak out about their reality. This is what feminists very often do. And in doing so, breaking the silence, breaking with the loyalty to the oppressor we’re often told that we’re hating men. Hatred as well as a love is a political strategy. And considering the socialization of women into caring, self-sacrificing, heterorelational beings, I would see the anger of women and even hatred expressed to the ones committing the crimes against us, as a healthy first step towards liberation. Women have no responsibility whatsoever to care for the wellbeing of our oppressors. —- Women should instead show solidarity with other women. Every woman has a limited amount of time and energy, and waisting it on the ones in power, is time and energy taken from other women, and the women’s movement. —- It’s important to create deep relations – political and emotional – where women put women first. A love with varying degrees of intimacy. Many women (or most) have been exposed to sexualized violence and therefore crave spaces and relations where they don’t have anything to do with sexuality and can feel safe: in which case they’d rather not have their relations with women sexualized in the same way as the relations with men already are. For others this love and solidarity for women can be extended to a sexual love. —- About women doing political work with other women: Racism and class oppression are issues that concern different groups of men as much as women, and it is therefore more socially accepted for women to engage in these struggles. Issues and oppressions other than sexism and lesbophobia have attached to them the seductive aura of male approval. If women choose not to work with men but instead focus entirely on women, it’s not considered to be “real politics” but instead seen as a limitation and a narrow perspective. —- Separatism is a fundamental liberatory strategy of an oppressed group. It’s important to understand the difference between segregation as beneficial for the dominant group (as in apartheid) and separatism initiated by the oppressed as a means of self-defense. —- Oppression is based on the dominant group’s or individual’s access to its victims – physically, socially, psychologically, sexually etc. Separatism – denying access to the oppressor – is a way for the oppressed to claim autonomy. —- Separatism can be expressed through many different actions and ways of organizing – for instance political gatherings for women only and women’s studies courses. —- Consciousness raising groups, where women discuss their common experiences of oppression in a political context, and plan change and resistance is an important strategy since women’s experiences are not considered to be political but personal. It’s also a strengthening experience knowing you are not alone in your suffering. —- The personal is political is a feminist phrase opening up an analysis of many different areas that previously had been defined as non-political, for instance: love, house work, rape and sexual harassment. —- Women’s separatism is not only a strategy against men but just as much a strategy by and for women.

SOLIDARITY WITH WOMEN: POWER OF DEFINITION / PARTIALITY ::: Power is best seen from below. In order to break with the prevailing oppressive systems we need to identify with the groups we as individuals belong to. And recognize the privilege or oppression that comes with these different categories. And when belonging to a privileged group, understanding that with this privilege (most of the time) also comes complete ignorance of having this privilege. So instead of reacting in a defensive (supremacist) manner when a person tries to point out oppressive behavior: “Can’t you have any fun?” “That wasn’t meant to be sexist/racist/homophobic…you are too sensitive” “Let’s not overreact.” “Now you’re violating my boundaries when you jump all over me like that, just because I was a little…” Instead of going along with the system we can act differently and actively try to change these systems by using two concepts called Power of definition and Partiality. —- Power of definition: The affected person has the right to define what is to be considered as a violation of their boundaries. They have a right to define a situation as oppressive according to how they’ve experienced it. —- Partiality: The person who is regarded the affected person is the one who, considering structural power relations, is in the oppressed position and who, additionally, considers themselves an affected person. Partiality means positioning oneself with the affected person and supporting their power of definition. —- Revolution could be really easy. Just: Shut up and listen.

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Published in: on January 28, 2010 at 6:31 pm  Comments (3)  

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  1. Fantastic, especially the section on sexliberalism. I think it’s essential to apply the principles of liberty and equality to sexual relationships. Modern mainstream sexuality frankly terrifies me.

  2. Some thoughts on the Sexliberalism bit:

    Is the concern only about women’s submission? There’s a large number of men within the BDSM community who identify as submissive and would love to find a Dominant woman to worship.

    I don’t buy that self-mutilation can (always) be equated with S&M. I see it as similar to how one assesses if someone has a drug problem: WHY the person engages in drug use plays a role – is it to escape a problem, or simply to enjoy the effects recreationally? The former poses much more risk. The same distinction, I feel, applies to this kind of violence: is one cutting themselves for a feeling of release from depression, or are the engaging in erotizied pain because it leads them to orgasm? Though the action may be the same, the motivation should play a part in one’s assessment.

    As far as such political criticism goes, I do see limited worth in analyzing what happens in bedrooms. Consciousness raising is a worthy cause, but can sexual feelings really just be unlearned? Is it that easy? I’m more of a mind that sexuality is a thing that evolves rather than something that can be changed consciously as I’m picturing “unlearning” it to be. Is the analyzing of sexual fantasies supposed to desexualize them so that one can “get over” the sexiness of it, or does it instead just make it okay that one finds such a thing hot because they have taken the steps to understand the fantasy from another angle? If the former, what would one be replacing these fantasies with if they be able to properly decontruct and desexualize them? I find it hard to imagine that after some humorous deconstruction expressions of equality and tenderness in the bedroom would be suddenly be as fulfilling and arousing as S&M play for active members of the BDSM community. I believe there has been some success with cognitive behavioural therapies to rid people of problematic sexual fetishes, but I feel doubtful that this is what you’re suggesting.

    Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy have written a number of lovely user-friendly books such as The Ethical Slut, The New Bottoming Book and The New Topping Book. If you haven’t read anything by them, I certainly recommend it. I’ve grabbed some quotes because they are more knowledgeable and better at expressing these next thoughts than I am.

    From The New Topping Book:

    “IS ALL POWER THE SAME? From feminist theory we have learned to distinguish between power-over and power-with. Power-over is a behavior pattern in which a person measures personal power by his or her ability to control others – you increase your own power by stealing power from somebody else. You can see this dynamic anywhere you see rigid hierarchies or chains of command, like the military or the corporate ladder.
    In our experience, if your goal is to build yourself a sense of empowerment and solid self-esteem, stealing power doesn’t work very well. You can’t build a solid sense of self-esteem by stealing someone else’s. When people strive to empower themselves this way they behave like addicts, constantly scheming to replenish a supply of power that never was truly theirs.
    On the other hand, there is power-with. Power-with enables us to get more power by sharing our power with others. The more I have, the more you have. By supporting one another in our power, we get more for ourselves.
    In any S/M exchange there is a sharing of power – the bottom lends his power to the top for the duration, the top adds power, and together they make a lot of voltage.”

    “The nature of the dance of BD5M tends to polarize our roles to a greater extent than might be possible or healthy in the rest of our lives. Play pushes both top and bottom out to the far ends of the spectrum. Each player, in traveling further out, supports the other in going yet further. Thus as a wonderful scene progresses, the bottoms get smaller, the tops get bigger, and the larger the territory we encompass: we move to the outer ends of the spectrum, generating something like centrifugal force, spinning further and further out while holding each other safe and tight.”

    • No, women’s submission to men isn’t the only concern. others include: racism, heterosexism, classism, colonialism, opression of children, speciesism. These are all offshoots of patriarchy (understood not simply as male supremacy, but as “rule of the fathers,” also taking into account power divisions and jockeying between males, and its impacts on diff situated women)

      Not to mention, much female top/male bottom bdsm is paid for by the man. Not only that, but in both paid and unpaid male bottom bdsm, degradation, violence, and objectification still occurs through feminizing the man through “women’s” clothing (sexually objectifying clothing that women “are supposed to” wear), calling him misogynist and homophobic names (eg pussy mama’s boy bitch whore faggot), referring to the anus as a pussy/cunt, penetrating him with dildoes, etc, etc

      I’ve spoken with women who are currently or were in the scene, and their experience as bottoms is radically diff from men’s–they report still feeling disempowered whether tops or bottoms, for example. That the men, either way, are running the show, not them.

      I do agree why matters, on an individual level. However, as a reflection of power dynamics within society it goes beyond that into systemic issues of power, privilege, why we find it sexy in the first place, how it originated, etc. So too with drug use eg who are the users, who gets rich, who ends up in jail, who gets rehab, etc

      It’s not automatic, generally, but a process. it can take years, and i can understand if ppl decide it isn’t worth it if it takes that much effort and they have more pressing priorities (eg working to pay bills, raising children, activism). there is also a diff between thought and wanting to act upon it. also salient is from which standpoint on experiences bdsm–as top, bottom, or switch–and how that interacts with social standing (eg class, race, sex, sexual orientation)

      I too agree its a socially constructed evolution combined with choice and unlearning. I myself have radically changed my sexuality over the years, eg as a child i found the thought of being 12-13 and being sexual with an adult male appealing. i kicked my ass (mentally) at 17 over that one, and stopped. Another: i used to be pro-porn and my sexuality revolved around it from 9-12. from 12 on, i’ve worked to get rid off that, finding it less and less appealing and replacing it with positive/poly/pansexual/etc sexuality in both thought and action. no doubt, there have been bumps in the road, largely in reference to me initially thinking gay porn was radically different from straight, and using it to get off, but it’s a process that is more and more successful and fulfilling as time and effort goes on

      re: the quote, i would add that power over is not only taking power away, but keeping someone with less power down. meaning, it’s not just active disempowering but continuing it. ie the whole issue of them never having that power in the first place is still exercising power over to allow a situation that disallows them that power. which, to me, also applies to bdsm, putting a MAJOR hitch in top bottom dynamics that reinforces or reflects current power dynamics.

      The second quote paragraph seems orwellian to me–by giving up power you get more. wtf? how can “lending power” to the top and the top using that power as well as their own *over the bottom* make a benefit of empowerment to the bottom? they admit it to be malarkey amongst obtusificating flowery bs-y language when they say “the bottoms get smaller, the tops get bigger, and the larger territory we encompass”–the bottom loses power, the top takes the bottom’s and keeps their own, and more “territory” (eg power, land, money, sex) is gained for the already more powered top–and we know the top has more territory because they have more power to get territory and use it


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