I read Jessica Valenti’s Sex Object about a month ago and it was painful at times. I think what troubled me the most was the section titled “End Notes.” Valenti compiles what is probably a small representative sample of the anonymous hate mail and trolling she has experienced. I realize the Internet enables people to do and say things they never would in person. I have an acquaintance who barely speaks in person yet will post combative and vitriolic Facebook articles in support of Donald Trump. If anyone questions the accuracy of her news sources (Breitbart), she will reply with sarcastic or belittling remarks. It’s an aggressiveness that no one would assume she was capable of in person—it only comes out online. She’s not technically anonymous, but she’s protected by the fact that it’s not a face-to-face interaction. She doesn’t have to look at people when she says shitty, condescending things to them—just like writing this post is easier than telling her in person that her online conduct is troubling.

In any case, the power of the anonymous troll was already in my mind after Valenti’s work. Then I went on to read West’s Shrill. If I thought the anonymous trolling of Valenti was awful, there aren’t words to describe the degree of hatred leveled at West. Not only has she committed the offensive act of being a woman with a voice, she’s also a large woman with a voice. That seems to really attract the trolls. Her opening explains the powerful impact that anonymous trolling has now made in our society: “Trolls tested the boundaries of how far society would allow racism, misogyny, and transphobia to be normalized. Would anyone do anything? Would anyone take action? Would anyone powerful take this seriously? The answer turned out to be no. Those of us on the receiving end begged for help, and we were told to grow a thicker skin because the Internet ‘isn’t real life.’ Until, surprise, the Internet became president” (x).

West’s chapter, “Slaying the Troll” was fascinating because it gave perspective to trolling that is never shown: the actual person behind the comments. One of the most telling moments in this almost unbelievable interview was his comment on whether or not West’s gender played a role in his perception of her: “Oh, definitely. Definitively. Women are being more forthright in their writing. There isn’t a sense of timidity to when they speak or when they write. They’re saying it loud. And I think that—and I think, for me, as well, it’s threatening at first” (249).

It’s perhaps not seen as appropriate to treat women this way in person (or at least, it wasn’t), but with the anonymity of the Internet, people have the ability to say and do things that should be considered harassment at best and hate crimes at their worst. That’s how anonymity has been weaponized in our digital age. It emboldened populations privately and then publicly manifested itself as an ugly administration that openly does not give a shit about being decent human beings.

Not only is anonymity a benefit to trolls and the super awesome people who comment on Breitbart articles but it is also enforced upon women who have had abortions. There is absolutely an attempt to silence these women through judgment and shaming. People don’t want to hear about their relatives, friends, coworkers, or other people they know making that decision because then they can’t continue to demonize them as abstracts—or, if they do find out, then they have to be judgmental right to that person’s face, and the Law of Trolling shows hating someone in person is just much more difficult. If between 25-33% of women will have an abortion by the time they are reach the age of 45, that’s a sizable population. Yet, many people will say that they don’t know of anyone who has had one. That’s just not true. They know many people who have had to or have chosen to have an abortion. Those people just aren’t speaking up because they are afraid of the consequences in their families, with their friends, and in some cases, at their jobs.

That’s why West’s “Shout Your Abortion” movement was so powerful. So many voices speaking up and relating their stories created a space to go when women, feeling isolated, needed support. As West states, “we simply must talk about it. The fact that abortion is still a taboo subject means that opponents of abortion get to define it however suits them best. They can cast those of us who have had abortions as callous monstrosities, and seed fear in anyone who might need one by insisting that the procedure is always traumatic, always painful, always an impossible decision” (65).

In the end, anonymity has been dangerous to our humanity in two ways. It’s allowed people normalize hate speech with no personal consequences. Then, it’s been pushed on women, allowing abortion opponents to demonize reproductive rights. The fallout of these actions is everywhere now.

Transfeminism

The first time I became aware of the tension between feminist and trans rights was during the Women’s March. Someone wrote a piece about how the “pussy hats” emphasized an unfair definition of womanhood focused on having a certain set of sex organs. I thought that was interesting and that, yes, it probably was alienating for some populations. However, I’m pretty uncompromising about reproductive rights and I had seen the hats as symbolizing the commitment to that issue (as well as a middle finger to Access Hollywood tape remarks). So, while I understood the need to have an open concept for womanhood, I felt a little twinge of discomfort. Reproductive rights like abortion do not necessarily impact the bodies of all people. However, they impact the lives and wellbeing of a society so in that sense they do impact all people and they should be a fight that everyone, women especially, should support—just like we should support everyone’s right to become a parent if that is what they want, regardless of gender, sex, or sexuality.

I realize that not all women support reproductive rights, though. So there’s that problem. But I’m wary of any criticism about that focus within the movement. Still, I realized that I needed to remember there are women in the movement who may not appreciate the uterus as a defining characteristic. That’s a fair point and a perspective I hadn’t heard before because I wasn’t listening.

Susan Stryker explains the difficulties the trans population faces within our society: “many kinds of routine administrative procedures make life very difficult for people who cross the social boundaries of their birth-assigned genders. Birth certificates, school and medical records, professional credentials, passports, driver’s licenses, and other such documents provide a composite portrait of each of us as a person with a particular gender, and when these records have noticeable discrepancies or omissions, all kinds of problems can result” (6) I haven’t had that issue because I’m cisgender and the little F on my documents is something I barely notice. I completely ignore it so much that when I fill out paperwork for my husband (a division of labor that falls to me but he takes care of the cat litter so I guess it’s fair) I have in the past clicked F for sex without even thinking. That mistake has caused some follow up paperwork. When my husband points out the error, I usually point out that he can fill out his own paperwork in the future.

The documents that we use so often in our society absolutely use gender as identification. When someone doesn’t match up to the information on their paperwork, difficulties can quickly arise. Once when I was coming back from vacation with my husband I was interrogated about my relationship to him because our last names were different on our passports. After a few minutes of calmly explaining that I hadn’t yet changed my name (and I didn’t think it was a requirement to do so anyway) I was begrudgingly allowed through and back into the United States. Home sweet home. I can’t imagine the constant scrutiny the trans population must face with identification documents.

One of the major issues in transfeminism is the definition of gender. Butler argued that “The illusion of a stably sexed body, core gender identity, and (hetero) sexual orientation is perpetuated through repeated, stylized bodily performances that are performative in the sense that they are productive of the fiction of a stable identity, orientation, and sexed body as prior to the gendered behavior” (173). This can be problematic in trans issues because it can be perceived as calling into question the authenticity of their identified gender. They see themselves as really a man or really a woman and that innate identification doesn’t exactly work with the idea that gender is a performed social construct. In addition, there is the issue of feminine stereotypes. Some feminists would like to avoid using or perpetuating gender stereotypes. However, the trans population sometimes needs to use these stereotypes in order to stay safe in a potentially hostile environment. If they don’t truly blend as female or male they can be put at risk—and I, for one, care less about the perpetuation of a few feminine stereotypes than I do about someone’s life. Their life and safety matters a whole lot more to me.

In true feminism, we have to champion equality for everyone. Addressing issues of race, class, sexuality, reproductive rights, and gender identification is essential to progress for all women. To do so requires a lot of listening and it’s past time to listen to the trans voices that want to be a part of the movement.

 

 

 

Chapter 28

Nadje Al-Ali’s “Gendering the Arab Spring” tackles the media portrayal of Middle Eastern political developments. Typically, men were featured as the leaders of the movements. However, it has become clear that women play an integral role in organizing and protesting. This is not a recent development, either. Al-Ali notes that “for decades they had been active members in trade unions, political opposition parties, and more informal networks and organizations that were all instrumental in the recent political developments” (531).

The experiences of women in these movements are, of course, diverse. Some Egyptian women in Tahrir Square “reported that they had never felt as safe and been treated as respectfully as during the time of these protests”(531). However, this is not always the case. Two months later, and again in Egypt, women protesting during International Women’s Day were “harassed and accused of taking away attention from the main issues” (532). They were subjected to attacks, strip searching, police brutality, and their treatment many times emphasized their gender: “they have been accused of prostitution and in some cases forced to undergo virginity testing” (532).

So, as it seems, women helping out the political movements that do not focus on their own rights is seen as admirable and so they are protected. When they begin to draw attention to their own rights, it becomes a distraction and needs to be quelled—and not just by men. Other women actively shamed protestors and victims. As Al-Ali remarks, ‘Women do not necessarily act in solidarity with each other, just because they are women” (533). That holds true for American politics as well. As Huffington Post notes, a win for a woman doesn’t always mean a win for women.

Women’s rights also can function as a tool of authoritarian regimes. There are times when slight progress is made because it can create the illusion of compromise. However, the gains in these cases are few. Ultimately, working with the state can do more harm to the women’s movement as it makes it appear that the government can take care of their issues without their input.

Al-Ali ends her piece by drawing attention to the many ways that “gender norms, ideologies, and discourses as well as gender roles and relations and the various processes of gendering within all aspects of social, cultural, political, and economic lives” can “[tell] us a great deal about the nature of and dynamics within the state, citizenship, civil society, the military, the economy, et cetera” (534). It’s not just about women, but about analyzing the entire system—nationally and locally—to see how political movements that impact every citizen and institutions are established and gendered.

 

 

Chapter 26

Reading the overview of Third Wave feminism was a bit frustrating for me. It’s not that I don’t find the diverse perspectives and interests of Third Wave feminism important—it’s just that the fundamental reproductive rights of women that were gained in Second Wave feminism have seen such targeted attacks over the past decade of this wave. It makes me feel like it was just taken for granted that the mission was permanently accomplished. It will wind up being the focus of Fourth Wave feminism at this point.

In our current environment, women’s rights are being subtly chipped away through state legislatures and we are one Supreme Court Justice away from a potential overturn of Roe v. Wade. So, while I read over and processed the importance of these different perspectives in Third Wave feminism, I still had a panicky feeling that there was a false sense of comfort and confidence in the forward nature of the movement—that battles such as reproductive rights, which is so essential to absolutely every feminist group, didn’t need as much attention anymore. It’s entirely possible to fight the male-controlled entertainment and music industry while still safeguarding the gains made by previous feminist movements, but I don’t see much of an emphasis on reproductive rights at all in these three perspectives. It’s not until the Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards piece, Third Wave Manifesta: A Thirteen-Point Agenda that the concept comes up and even then it’s just referred as “to safeguard a woman’s right to bear or not to bear a child” (520). Abortion isn’t really discussed by name one time in this entire chapter. That’s alarming to me. It’s like the issue is being avoided because of controversy within the movement.

As Bourgeois states, “arguments for inclusion can be taken too far” (504). In the big tent philosophy of feminism the danger is that we allow antiabortion culture to take hold and spread. People like Sarah Palin and Kellyanne Conway want to be heralded as rogue feminists as they actively disenfranchise other women. The Susan B. Anthony List funds antiabortion female candidates and Bernie Sanders chastises Democrats for not supporting antichoice political candidates. There can’t be any negotiations with this issue. There can’t be any rest—because it seems like we did back off defending reproductive rights in the Third Wave and look where we are now.

I think that it is important that women like Kathleen Hanna, Gwendolyn D. Pough, and Alana Suskin were able to empower feminism in problematic areas of their culture. The music industry has been controlled by men. Rap music does send conflicting images of women. Many religions have been male centered. These things do not need to be this way and through activism they can change, allowing women to “reclaim and repurpose their cultural identities for feminist use” (506). There’s no limit to how feminism should be explored in the Third Wave: “The movement is marked by difference. Third Wavers embrace contradiction on the grounds that their Second Wave predecessors were too restrictive in defining proper womanhood; in other words, Third Waver reject any arguments about the right and wrong ways to be a feminist” (503).

This is liberating and allows for a multicultural implementation of feminism, but there is a wrong way to be a feminist and that’s to be a self-proclaimed feminist who works, actively or passively, to undo the progress made by past generations. That’s not feminism at all.

Chapter 20

Fatima Mernissi’s “The Meaning of Spatial Boundaries” tackles the public versus domestic spheres in Morocco. She begins by illuminating the traditional space boundaries separating men and women into “two subuniverses: the universe of men (the umma, the world of religion and power) and the universe of women (the domestic world of sexuality and the family” (351). As these boundaries weaken and women enter into the public domain for economic reasons, there are no fixed rules regarding the interactions between men and women. With the sexes historically segregated to avoid sexuality and intimacy, contact that does occur between sexes is ironically intensified. Mernissi notes that as things change and there are no structures in a previously very structured world, people “are therefore compelled to improvise” (350). Improvising relationships between men and women in the public domain leads to a potentially volatile and unsafe environment for women.

A major part of the issue is the weight of the male gaze. Mernissi explains the significance of the male eye: “According to Ghazali, the eye is undoubtedly an erogenous zone in the Muslim structure of reality, just as able to give pleasure as the penis. A man can do as much damage to a woman’s honor with his eyes as if he were to seize hold of her with his hands” (353). Later, Mernissi’s reflections of her youth show this idea in practice, as Samir is banished from the women’s hammam when one woman believes he shows a “man’s gaze” at her during bathing. Samir is aged nine at the time and while most women laugh at the incident, he is quickly transported across the boundaries and into the male world. If anyone thinks this practice is foreign from our own environment, I’d recommend thinking over the ridiculous uproar about transgender bathroom use.

With the sexualized notion of the male gaze, women on the street are seen as either sexually available or a visual assault upon the men whose world she is entering. Mernissi explains this situation as “a woman in a traditionally male space upsets Allah’s order by inciting men to commit zina [sexual transgression]. The man has everything to lose in this encounter: peace of mind, self-determination, allegiance to Allah, and social prestige” (355). Women and their sexuality are dangerous to social order as that energy and attention should be spent on work and “[devotion] to Allah alone in the form of knowledge-seeking, meditation, and prayer” (360). This is not much different than many forms of Christianity, which can treat women’s sexuality as dangerous to patriarchal social order and regulate it to the purposes of procreation. This is the important thing to remember as our society wants to label everyone of a group in one singular way. There are different forms and interpretations of religions. As Mernissi states, “Christians, just like Muslims, fight each other all the time, and the Spanish and the French almost killed one another when they crossed our frontier. Then, when neither was able to exterminate the other, they decided to cut Morocco in half” (364). Another spatial boundary is created.

not asking

This section also reminded me of the mindset that some Americans have about the attire of girls and women. Our clothes are regulated in schools so that we are not a “distraction.” Men (and many women) make remarks about women “asking for it” when their attire is deemed too sexual.

I enjoyed reading about the different ways that women, specifically Mernissi’s mother, challenged the established power dynamic within the domestic sphere. They made a copy of the key to the radio and band together when questioned so it appeared “that the radio key must have fallen from the sky” (367). Her mother refused to believe in male superiority, calling it “nonsense and totally anti-Muslim” (368). When she is informed that the French beauty products are created by scientists in laboratories, she throws all but the perfume away:

“If men are now going to rob me of the only things I still control—my own cosmetics—then they will be the ones who have power over my beauty. I will never allow such thing to happen. I create my own magic, and I am not relinquishing my henna” (370).

There are moments of rebellion and control in Mernissi’s household. However, the separation continues into the next generation. As she struggles to understand the changing world and her relationship to others within it, she seeks help from Mina who tells her, “From now on, you won’t be able to escape it. You’ll be ruled by the difference. The world is going to turn ruthless” (375). Mina notes that this isn’t a good thing for women or for the men, but it is distinctly worse for women: “The frontier indicates the line of power because wherever there is a frontier, there are two kinds of creatures walking on Allah’s earth, the powerful one side, and the powerless on the other” (375). Women, unable to get out, are the powerless ones.

Chapter 19

Beauboeuf-Lafontant’s “Suffering Like an African Girl: Trauma Embodied in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions” explored the position of “the other’s other” as seen in the character of Nyasha (336). Nyasha lives as a colonized female in a society controlled by those who value neither her race nor her sex. Even when she embraces the values of her colonizers, she is still at odds with her father. Existing in such a space drives Nyasha to compulsively study and starve herself. While her initial dieting seems to be inspired by a need to fit into British ideals of beauty, Nyasha’s condition becomes an embodiment of her precarious position within society: “It is a regime, a discipline of mind and body, that allows her to question an adolescence comprising a steady diet of Englishness in schools and male dominance in her family and community” (338)

There are many frustrating moments during this work, but none more so for me than the verdict of the psychiatrist who “said that Nyasha could not be ill, that Africans did not suffer in the way we had described. She was making a scene. We should take her home and be firm with her” (348).

The implication is that African women could not possibly be like European women. As Beauboeuf-Lafontant writes:

“It parallels a still audible presumption that diasporic Black girl and women operate outside of discourses, material realities, and degradation known to impact women. To suffer like a European would mean that Nyasha had the complexity, sensibilities, and vulnerabilities that have long exalted white women over others and kept in place a dual and hierarchal construction of womanhood along racial lines” (337).

Slightly off-topic, but this also made me think of how we gender eating disorders to be a female experience and silence males who have the condition.

At this point, I thought of the careful construction of womanhood in general. I read Lindy West’s Shrill this weekend because I was impatient and didn’t want to wait until the end of the schedule (It looked too good and, full confession, I did the same with Valenti’s work). I’ll do a separate post just on those later, but the idea of the construction of womanhood is absolutely there in West’s work. For Nyasha, the hierarchal construction of womanhood means that she is incapable of sharing the same conditions as European woman. For West, it means that she is double-othered as a fat woman. Growing up, she sees only mothers or monsters in her shape. Later in life, she remarks that her proposal is a political act affirming her value: “A public proposal to a publicly valued body might be personally significant, but culturally it shifts nothing. A public proposal to a publicly reviled body is a political statement” (West 239).

Beauboeuf-Lafontant writes, “For Nyasha, as well as the profile-atypical women with eating problems whom Thompson studied, the body is the site of their domination, as well as their last refuge from material, physical, and psychic violations” (338). Our bodies matter. They obviously matter to those who rank and classify us. Control of our bodies matters to them as well. West states:

“Please don’t forget: I am my body…There is no substantive difference between the repulsive campaign to separate women’s bodies from their reproductive systems—perpetuating the lie that abortion and birth control are not healthcare—and the repulsive campaign to convince women that they and their body size are separate, alienated entities. Both say, ‘Your body is not yours.’ Both demand, ‘Beg for your humanity.’ Both insist, ‘Your autonomy is conditional’” (15).

Nyasha’s body is her “last refuge” from domination, but it is still consumed by her psychological suffering in a system where she is the other’s other.

 

Chapter 18

I’ve made it my policy to read over everything with an open mind because many of these experiences are not my own. Since I haven’t lived through some of these perspectives, it doesn’t seem right to criticize or argue their words. Paula Gunn Allen’s “Who is Your Mother? Red Roots of White Feminism” is the first piece of this anthology that I’ve found myself disagreeing with some of the argument. It’s not even that I don’t see her point, because I do and I think in selective time frames and situations it is even true. It’s just that in this moment of time—politically and socially—I’m finding it difficult to see Native American beliefs such as “the central importance of female energies, autonomy of individuals, cooperation, human dignity, human freedom, and egalitarian distribution of status, goods, and services” (323).

Part of Allen’s argument is that there is this continuous progress in Native American culture. Everyone knows where they belong because they acknowledge their own history and embrace it. Progress might happen slowly, but at least it continues forward. She contrasts this to what she calls the contemporary American practice of rejecting tradition and history, especially in the case of new immigrants to the United States. When a group consistently devalues history and tradition, that group will have to continue to fight for progress: “We find ourselves discovering our collective pasts over and over, having to retake ground already covered by women in the preceding decades and centuries” (322). In regards to the women’s rights movement, I agree with Allen here. We are constantly defending Roe V. Wade every time a conservative candidate takes office. With every gain the women’s movement seems to make, a state legislature quietly attempts to scale back our rights.

Allen notes the power that women had in Native American societies and remarks that feminists “too often believe that no one has ever experienced the kind of society that empowered women and made that empowerment the basis of its rules of civilization” (324). I think that is because many feminists are still operating through patriarchal education systems that conveniently leave these cultures and histories out of their curriculums. If they want to preserve their histories, they need to either dismantle that education system or operate outside of it. Education is critical because, as Allen states, “the price the feminist community must pay because it is not aware of the recent presence of gynarchial societies on this continent is unnecessary confusion, division, and much lost time” (324). Of special note, spellcheck did not recognize the term gynarchial. Additionally, as a history major I never read any of the primary source documents from Native American women included at the end of this chapter.

There were two specific passages that I had trouble reconciling with our current environment:

“Yet the very qualities that marked Indian life in the sixteenth century have, over the centuries since contact between the two worlds occurred, come to mark much of contemporary American life. And those qualities, which I believe have passed into white culture from Indian culture, are the very ones that fundamentalists, immigrants from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia find the most reprehensible. Third-and fourth-generation Americans indulge in growing nudity, informality in social relations, egalitarianism, and the rearing of women who value autonomy, strength, freedom, and personal dignity” (327).

“Contemporary Americans find themselves more and more likely to adopt a ‘live and let live’ attitude in matters of personal sexual and social styles” (327).

In a way, yes, she’s right. The majority of Americans believe in the right to choice. Sixty-four percent support gay marriage (How is it not higher??). Maybe we have inherited Native American values through generations of marriage. My problem is that we do not elect politicians that share our views and so the laws and policies we are living under do not reflect the kind of society that Allen describes. If you compared us to our European counterparts, I wouldn’t say that we were more egalitarian or socially open. Ocean City, Maryland just had an uproar over the idea of topless women on its beaches and drafted an emergency law banning the practice. Healthcare, a basic right to citizens in other nations, is seen as a privilege here.

I’m left with a question–if what Allen is saying is correct and we do have these predominant values then what are we doing politically? Is it because we haven’t listened to our past? How can we simultaneously hold these values while voting for people who scorn them? At one point while reading, I wrote “She must be so disappointed” in the margins.

Chapter 17

Mogrovejo’s piece, “The Latin American Lesbian Movement: Its Shaping and Its Search for Autonomy” presents the difficulties faced by Latin American lesbians as they sought to unify and further their needs as a group. The first issue outlined is the obvious obstacle lesbians faced within a predominantly Catholic region. Mogrovejo explains Catholicism’s influence within Latin America as one that “permeates the state and its institutions, shapes moral norms, and consequently validates women according to their loyalty to the family, heterosexuality, and reproduction” (312).

In addition to the influence of Catholicism, lesbians also had to work within systems that were often authoritarian in nature, making open discourse dangerous. However, Mogrovejo does note that the controlling and inequitable environment of authoritarian regimes spurred countercultures that sought to expand all rights, including rights of sexual freedom.

Groups such as Argentina’s Frente de Libercion Homosexual joined both lesbians and male homosexuals in the quest to further sexual liberation. While the unity could have been an inspiring way to fight back against unfair practices, the movement featured the same issues of sexism present within other progressive groups such as the black rights movement in America. Lesbians within the group were “greatly surprised to find that same sexual discrimination operating inside homosexual organizations” (313). It appears to be a common trend in progressive organizations and one that continuously incites women to create their own autonomous movements.

As Latin American lesbians began their own organizations, one major debate centered on the act of coming out. Some considered it important to enter the public sphere. Others argued the need to protect themselves from “possible reprisals in a lesbophobic society, mainly in the family, work, and educational environments” (314).

That problem is a difficult one to solve. On one had, to come out publically meant to place oneself in potential danger. These women justifiably might not have wanted to sacrifice their careers and relationships—and perhaps their physical safety—in a hostile environment. On the other hand, for these women to remain hidden could make it seem that lesbianism is something that is rare and doesn’t really exist. Things are only normalized after people are exposed to them repeatedly. But should people have to sacrifice themselves to normalize something?

The same could be said with reproductive rights in our own time. I believe that many people who are pro-life would say that they don’t personally know anyone who has had an abortion—because very few people are going to openly talk about it in this political environment. Almost a third of women will have an abortion by the time they turn 45. A great deal of them identify as Christian. When one of my colleagues made a comment about “baby killers” in a room of ten women, statistically three of those women listening had or will have an abortion in her lifetime. Is it the responsibility of those women to speak up and forever damage their reputations (unfairly so, but this is the world we live in) in order to normalize reproductive rights?

Mogrovejo ends her work by discussing the influence of globalism upon Latin American lesbian groups as the nation-state became less of an emphasis. Some groups were hesitant to join in with a global movement because it was too similar to the concept of colonialism.

The only work at the end of this chapter is the Declaration of Lesbians from Mexico. This piece highlights the risk that lesbians faced when organizing. The punishment of “up to six years in prison without the right to parole” is listed as one of the most serious political retributions they could face. With such obstacles in their path, the Latin American lesbian movement faced great difficulties in their quest to organize and achieve liberation.

Chapter 16

In “Strained Sisterhood: Lesbianism, Feminism, and the U.S. Women’s Liberation Movement,” Ciasullo explores the experience of lesbians in feminist groups. Their relationship with heterosexual feminists is fraught with complications. Ciasullo details the avoidance of lesbian voices as a result of the belief dictated by society that feminism was a “militant political enterprise run by main-hating lesbians” as “there was no other way to explain why women would publicly critique men as they did” (293). By trying to protect their image from the criticism of men, heterosexual feminists silenced the voices of lesbian women within their movement.

An additional issue of conflict was that idea that “the personal is political” (294). Second Wave feminism featured a “challenge to straight feminists—a challenge that raised important questions about the power dynamics of heterosexual relationships and the potentially harmful influence of male-centered and male-identified culture” (294). The group making this challenge championed lesbianism as the pinnacle of feminism. By entering into a lesbian relationship, women could cast aside a patriarchal society in which heterosexuality was not a choice but an institution that kept them as second-class citizens.

The first piece included in this section, The Woman-Identified Woman, argues for the dismantling—or, at least, the disengagement from—the institution of heterosexuality. The Radicalesbians state, “lesbianism, like male homosexuality, is a category of behavior possible only in a sexist society characterized by rigid sex roles and dominated by male supremacy” (302). The strict roles of men and women impact both groups in negative ways. Women are characterized as “a supportive/serving caste in relation to the master caste of men” while the roles “emotionally cripple men by demanding that they be alienated from their own bodies and emotions in order to perform their economic/political/military functions effectively” (302).

The Radicalesbians note how society uses the word lesbian to label when women are not playing their dictated role: “When a woman hears this word tossed her way, she knows she is stepping out of line. She knows she has crossed the terrible boundary of her sex role” (302). This section reminded me of the “gender traitor” term from The Handmaid’s Tale. It was used as graffiti similar to that used against the Jewish population. The scene where Luke stumbles upon a ravaged town features broken windows and “gender traitor” painted upon houses—a scene eerily akin to Kristallnacht.

In the end, it appears to the Radicalesbians that disengagement from the male-centered institution of heterosexuality is the only way in which women can free themselves and live a full life. This is, of course, problematic. I remember bell hooks refutes the idea of mandatory lesbianism in her work, Feminism is for Everyone. She notes the importance of allowing women choice. They can enter into any relationship they prefer. They can wear make up or not wear make up. To start creating forced ideas of feminism is a tricky path. One of the non-negotiable traits of feminism, according to hooks, is that you must absolutely be pro-choice. I think that’s a fair requirement. It still gives women choice. 

Essentially, the only time you can tell someone that they can’t do something is when they are telling someone else what to do with their lives. I think that’s an ideology that separates liberals from conservatives socially. Conservatives say they believe in freedom, but then they limit the rights of others. They have been trying to turn the idea of tolerance against liberals but it doesn’t work that easily—you can’t tell someone they are being intolerant when they won’t allow you to trample on others.

tweetHere’s a bullshit tweet that encapsulates the hypocrisy of this issue of personal freedom. Does he mean that if you don’t worship the Christian god, you aren’t American? Because that’s exactly what it seems like to me. All of this is just incredible coming from a man who has a broken moral compass.

 

But, I’m getting off topic.

The second piece in this section is a conversation between Hollibaugh and Moraga. The conversation deals with the sexual silences in feminism, with great attention to lesbian sexuality. Sex, especially tied to men, has been a source of pain for women. Rather than dealing with empowering sexual relationships, some sects of feminism just took sex out of the equation. They didn’t talk about it or if it was discussed, it was normally in negative lights. That dynamic is limiting and counterproductive. It needed to become more inclusive to sexual experiences—including the sexuality of non-heterosexual populations which are even more silenced.

As Hollibaugh states: “I won’t give my sexuality up and I won’t not be a feminist. So I’ll build a different movement, but I won’t live without either one” (310).

watsonThis section reminds me of the criticism of Emma Watson for—there’s no other way to put it—having boobs while being a feminist. There’s this idea that in order to be a feminist a woman needs to cover up her body and not have any sexuality, which is absurd. Watson stated that feminism wasn’t a stick with which to beat other women and she’s right. If women aren’t kind to each other, there’s no hope for the movement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 15

Most of the reading up to this point has focused on issues within the geographic location of America. We’ve looked at different classes, the body, and black feminism—all incredibly diverse perspectives—but now we are examining how the feminist movement in America connected to and supported women in colonized or imperialized nations as they faced Triple Jeopardy.” 

Organizations like the Third World Women’s Alliance used publications such as Triple Jeopardy to create “a political subjectivity capable not only of crossing national borders by linking their struggles to a growing third-world liberation movement, but also of giving them analytic tools and a nation of solidarity that crossed racial, class, and community lines within the United States” (Blackwell 281)
The Third World Women’s Alliance emerged from discord they experienced as secondary members to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. This reminds me of the issues women faced within the “Black Movement” from the last chapter. One of the most prevalent tropes critiqued by the TWWA is the “revolutionary (m)Other” (286). The difficulties of this model are previewed as Blackwell describes the limited roles for black women in movements as the “Black Women’s Alliance articulated a critique of patriarchal nationalism, which linked the rejection of white cultural norms and the assertion of black ‘tradition’ with the construction of gender ideologies that tended to limit black women’s roles to reproductive labor” (282). So, essentially it was reproduction as a moral imperative, which I think is a direct line from Serena Joy in the Hulu version of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Blackwell notes the conflict that ensued. Any time women brought up women’s rights they would be accused of being “white.” That claim reminded me of Ahmed’s “Discourse of the Veil”—how Western ideas of feminism became suspect when employed by women since it was established initially to benefit imperialism. However, black men were attempting to dominate black women with white models of domesticity.

Despite being accused of splitting the movement, the coalition focused on common issues that impacted women around the world such as “shared housework and child care, the right to decide if and when to have children…safe family planning including abortion when necessary, and an end to sterilization, mandatory birth control, and other genocidal practices.” (283). In regards to employment issues, the platform championed “full and equal nonexploitative employment controlled collectively by workers, adequate income for all, an end of racism and sexism resulting in lower pay for third-world women, and free day-care centers” (283). None of this would be considered revolutionary or extreme (or, at least it shouldn’t).

Triple Jeopardy gave women the opportunity to support causes around the world by sharing stories and the struggles and might have otherwise been unheard. Criminal justice issues across the globe were highlighted. By publishing the issues of women around the world, the movement “challenged the ways in which struggles to end class oppression, attain racial equality, or liberate women had been defined: until then, not only had each movement seen itself as separate from the others but also each saw their oppression as the primary struggle, which often crated a hierarchy of oppression in which women-of-color activists, in their attempt to name their multiple oppressions, were either told that their race/class/gender concerns were secondary to the ‘real’ struggle, at best, or that they were divisive, sold-out, or counterrevolutionary, at worst” (284).

Essentially, by sharing stories, women were able to find commonalities of their struggles and learn about issues that didn’t necessarily impact them. This discourse helped avoid a single story of feminism. We read the stories of others not only to connect and find similarities, but also to develop empathy for those who are different from us.