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      I’ve been writing online for 17 year or so, if you don’t include forums, in which case it’s 25 or so. And I’ve never known how to say this. We’re really fucked up. Really. We’re cruel to each other in ways that just aren’t needed. We have more houses than homeless; enough food to feed […]
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Women First

“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Madeleine Albright

By now, we have all seen the infamous Ms. Magazine cover of Barack Obama in Clark Kent drag, opening his jacket to reveal a T-shirt where the Superman “S” should be. The T-shirt proclaims, “This is what a feminist looks like.” It was a shocking, and yet predictable, hommage to a richly undeserving male by a so-called bastion of women’s liberation; the ultimate poke in the eye after the endorsements of NARAL and NOW for the all-male Obama-Biden ticket enraged us in the general election.

There are so many reasons to be horrified by this cover art, but the one that really strikes me is that the meaning of the word “feminist” is going the way of the word “liberal.” Just as some of those on the leftish side of politics took up the mantle of “progressive” in order to avoid the increasingly negative connotations of the “liberal” label, some female activists are wondering if the word “feminist” should continue to be used to describe us.

I believe, however, that allowing one’s enemies to control one’s language is a huge mistake. Instead of dropping the word “feminist,” we should restate its meaning in the strongest and clearest of terms:

Women first.

For example, this year, two women made history in a spectacular way. Senator Hillary Clinton was the first female candidate to win a primary election, then went on to win more primary votes than any candidate had ever received, male or female. Governor Sarah Palin became the first female Vice-Presidential nominee in 24 years. Yet who did the “feminist” organizations of our time endorse for President and Vice President? On whom did the “feminist” pundits lavish their praise? And whom did Ms. Magazine choose for its cover?

A man. A demonstrably misogynist man, who surrounds himself with people like Larry Summers and Rick Warren, and has only half the women in his Cabinet as the last Democratic President, Bill Clinton.

After witnessing more virulent and naked woman-hatred than I ever thought possible this year, I have realized that “Women First” is what the patriarchy fears. It fears that we will finally throw off our culturally-ingrained desire to erase and abase ourselves for men; that we will use our power of refusal for more than just sex; and that we will take away the advantage that every male child enjoys over every female child simply for being born with an extra scrap of flesh hanging off of his pelvis.

The knowledge of the possible loss of power and privilege is the origin of all the terror that the punditry and both Parties expressed when Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin loomed large on the horizon. No wonder Tucker Carlson said that he wanted to cross his legs every time he saw Hillary – in a very real sense, she would have castrated him and his fellow members of the partriarchy, by rendering his penis less significant in society.

Continue reading

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Reject trusteeship, forget about “normal politics”

The basic cry of the [ANC Youth League] did not differ from the ANC’s first constitution in 1912. But we were reaffirming and underscoring those original concerns, many of which had gone by the wayside. African nationalism was our battle cry, and our creed was the creation of one nation out of many tribes, the overthrow of white supremacy, and the establishment of truly democratic form of government. Our manifesto stated: “We believe that the national liberation of Africans will be achieved by Africans themselves.

The manifesto utterly rejected trusteeship, the idea that the white government somehow had African interests at heart.

Nelson Mandela, Long Walk To Freedom, p.99.

Reject trusteeship. This is the smartest phrase I have read in a long time when it comes to a fight to ending supremacy of a minority that works against the interests of a majority. Although Nelson Mandela was writing about the liberation struggle he and his compatriots waged against white supremacy in South Africa, the idea of rejecting trusteeship is going to be critical in the long walk to full autonomy for women (and anybody who is not a straight male) in our country.

Women need to appreciate that their liberation will be achieved by women themselves.

Consider each of three great emancipation/liberation struggles of the twentieth century: the fight for civil rights for blacks in the United States; the effort to end colonial rule and caste-oppression in India; and, most significantly for the post, the fight to bring democracy to South Africa. In every case there came a turning point, when the leaders of these struggles realized that they could no longer operate within a  paradigm of “normal politics”. That is they realized that that for true social transformation to occur the emphasis had to be on transcendent politics, a willingness to fight from the outside, not from within.

None of these fights I just mentioned were fights directed toward ending misogyny or sexism ; women participated, but the struggles were not aimed at ending male supremacy; they were directed against other social ills and  led by men with some rather illiberal attitudes toward women. I’m not prepared to condemn these men – e.g. Martin Luther King, Jr., M.K. Gandhi, or Nelson Mandela – for their attitudes toward women. I prefer to learn from their experiences in bringing about major social change.

Mandela in particular is a source of knowledge and inspiration for anybody determined to see a vast social transformation, one in which an oppressed majority comes to the fore. Mandela’s own development as a social and political thinker is a lesson in coming to understand true politics. I intend to continue to share his insights as guideposts for those of us who have found 2008-09 a time in which we realize that we cannot entrust the interests of women to preexisting institutions. We are starting almost from scratch.

I cannot pinpoint a moment when I became politicized, when I knew I would spend my life in the liberation struggle. …

I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered momements, produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned our people. There was no particular day on which I said, From henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead I found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.

Long Walk To Freedom, p. 95.

Do these words resonate with you? If so you are getting ready to move beyond normal politics – for Mandela’s “politicization” was in fact a rejection of the politics as usual of his time and place; he rejected tribalism in favor of African unification, he rejected incrementalism in favor of sweeping social reform; he demanded that the people whose oppression he sought to end become empowered as both a means and end of that goal.

Let us demand the same for women. We do not need breadcrumbs from either political party – we need not beg them to protect the already withered and watered down rights to reproductive freedom that are essential to women’s autonomy; we have seen the futility of supporting their favored sons in the vain hope that they will avoid employing and highlighting those who degrade and belittle women; we have seen that they will tolerate anything from a straight male regardless of the insult bestowed on women or gay men.

To be continued…

cross-posted at Heidi Li’s Potpourri and at Founder’s Blog, 51 Percent

Against the subjugation of women? Resist both infighting and selling out

Disagreements about how to end injustice, and specific injustices, are as old as injustice itself. Whether one is considering the injustices of colonialism, racist domination, oppression of women…in each and every one of these areas, those who can agree in broad general principle have often found themselves disagreeing over specifics, including some major ones. To make common cause does not magically bring about harmony.

When Gandhi fought to escape the injustices of British rule, he was opposed by people who resisted his ideas about throwing over caste distinctions. When Mandela picked up arms to fight apartheid, many withdrew their support from his movement. When King sought to expand his conception of civil rights to include equal access to economic opportunities, former and potential allies turned against him.

None of these examples of fights for justice  achieved perfect justice, no more than the Civil War achieved a perfect Union. But I do believe that the U.S. Civil War achieved a more perfect union. Likewise, I believe the India of today is a far more equitable place than the India of one hundred years ago, that the South Africa of today, like the U.S. of today, has achieved within the past fifty years enormous strides toward racial justice.

My own dream is that within my lifetime, I see the progress toward the good of justice for women that Gandhi, Mandela, and King got to see the toward the goods of justice they pursued in their lifetimes. They managed to see results in their pursuits even though each had to learn when to resist pressures from people who genuinely shared their vision and when to resist the lure of becoming subservient to those who offered only short term funding and enrichment rather than truly shared commitment.

Now, even as I write this, millions of men and women are freshly galvanized to make it a reality that all the world comes to see women’s rights as human rights, to see woman as just as much the paradigm representative of humanity as man, and therefore to see a woman’s rights as indistinguishable from any human’s rights. With all that energy comes passion and motivation. But with it comes too friction and infighting. With it too comes the willingness by some to give up the chance to speak truth to power in order, perhaps to gain power, but nevertheless at the sacrifice of a chance to speak without fear of offending. Continue reading