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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Everything I've Always Wanted to Tell You But Couldn't Because You're Too Busy Patting Yourself on the Back...

Kristen Bricker

Stop talking for the sake of hearing yourself speak and listen...for once. Everything I've Always Wanted to Tell You But Couldn't Because You're Too Busy Patting Yourself on the Back...
This is about anarchafeminism.  My anarchafeminism.  Just like feminism, just like anarchism, anarchafeminism is defined by the woman it resides in.  I think an anarchist woman wrote a feminist manifesto and got it published into a book.  I've never read it and do not claim its words as my own.  These are my words.  They are not any other woman's words.  But they could be.
...Hey, hey, ho, ho, this penis party has got to go...
"Anarchism and feminism have always been closely linked. Many outstanding feminists have also been anarchists..."
This is the first line on Infoshop.org's Anarcha-feminism kiosk , which, as far as I know, is run by a man.  This line is where our problem starts (or where we will start to explore the problem, because the problem attacks us from so many different angles all at once and it's impossible to tell where it started -- only where it needs to stop).
Anarcha-feminists are not women who happen to be both anarchists and feminists.  Anarchism and feminism are not closely linked.  They are not related.  They are one.  By separating anarchism and feminism, men are able to marginalize women and our struggles and to effectively cut the heart and the social out of anarchist philosophy and theory.  When we challenge internal group patriarchy, men quickly relegate that "issue" to the feminist realm.  "Oh, that's a feminist issue.  We're dealing with anarchism right here.  You should go talk to NOW about that one."  Anarchism is not just about money, brothers.   It's not just about economic class.  If I were interested in economic  class war as a panacea for the world's problems and my problems, I'd be a communist.  I'm not a communist.  I'm an anarchist.  I recognize that economic class isn't the only type of class, and it isn't the "main" type of class system, either.  Attempting to look at the current class system in terms of economic class displaces a lot of people, because economic class lines are not evenly drawn across races, genders, geographies, sexualities.  How do you deal with someone like me?  I don't feel economic oppression.  I'm upper middle class.  However, I still feel oppressed because of my gender, and it's not because I'm going to grow up to make 75 cents on every man's dollar.  I feel oppressed because I don't feel safe walking down the street in my own town.  I don't feel safe in my own anarchist community.  I don't feel safe in my own home.  It's because I'm a woman.  Economic  class warfare and the subsequent abolition of economic classes will not solve my problems.  I will still be raped.  I will still be beaten.   I will still be silenced.  I will still live in fear.  This is a revolution, and I don't want to hear excuses about how you're not  strong enough to deal with a revolution that's bigger than you can even imagine.  Anyone can fight a class war.  Anarchists fight oppression on all fronts.  
A statement like "many feminists have also been anarchists" verbalizes this forced fragmentation and subsequent shattering of anarchist principles.  At the same time, it makes a horrible attempt to "link" the different fragments by attempting to show how one fragment (in this case the feminist fragment) is "linked" to the male-defined main body of "anarchism" and "anarchist history."  If we stop fragmenting anarchism, there will be no need for these weak, insulting, tokenizing "links."
If you decide to " Read more... " on Infoshop.org's anarcha-feminist kiosk, you will come to their FAQ about anarchism and their section that attempts to define anarcha-feminism.  A good portion of the section explains that true "radical feminism" is anarchism, and any feminism that isn't anarchism is just playing into The Man's hands [ "Hence anarchism's traditional hostility to liberal (or mainstream) feminism, while supporting women's liberation and equality" ].  This is an all-too-common tendency of anarchists in general (even women): we patronize and criticize marginalized peoples, their activism, and their movements because they are not "radical" enough for us.  We try to convince them that anarchism is the only way there will ever be true equality, and anarchist revolution is our one and only option for bettering our lives.  I agree that the only way we're going to get out of the cycle of "fighting" for a right then "fighting" to keep it and "fighting" to defend it is to overthrow the government and the corporations and the fundamentalists that we are fighting against, but until we overthrow every single hierarchial power structure there is, I have to find a way to live, and we as a people need to find a way to live.  I can't wait for the anarchist revolution to happen so that I can stop holding my breath.  I need protection from rape, from violence; I need food and shelter.  The anarchist movement is not offering me any tools, and structures, that will help me live.  Who came into my classroom in sixth grade and taught me and my classmates how to use a condom?  Who fought to gain entrance to my sixth grade classroom to teach me that?  Who, when they are locked out of classrooms, gives me free, confidential access to things I need to help me live a healthy life as a woman, the way I choose?  The answer is not "anarchists."  It's those good-for-nothing, spineless, Democrat-voting, hierarchial, inherently patriarchial, liberal whinos, Planned Parenthood.  They've done more for me than your fucking revolution has, so until you figure out a way to meet my needs and the needs of other marginalized, at-risk people, why the hell should I join your revolution?  Don't give me that "in the long run revolution is better for you and your people" crap.  If it weren't for them I might've had unsafe sex and gotten sick or pregnant and then I'd really have problems squeezing into the tight mold of what a true revolutionary anarchist is.
Luckily, a good number of anarchists do realize that as anarchists, we need to begin meeting our own communities' needs before we topple the Evil Empire.  Let's face it, the Evil Empire does provide some necessary things for a lot of people in some small way or another.  These necessities come at a cost, and the price is generally blood, sweat, and tears, but they're there, and many people are finding ways to survive within the system or parallel to the system.  We're not going to overthrow any system that a majority of people (in this country at least) are dependent upon in some way or another, unless the system becomes unnecessary.  Anarchists are taking steps. 
~Some communities have redifined Food Not Bombs so that it is no longer a once-a-week mobile guerrilla soup kitchen.  They've turned it into an interactive food redistribution organization.  The more free food people have, the less money they have to make to buy food, the less they have to do wage labor, the more time they have to devote to whatever activism and/or mind-expanding, eye-opening project they see fit.
~Many communities have some sort of health service or collective set up to keep anarchists happy and healthy without medical insurance and a ton of money.  Services include women's health, mental health, homeopathy and herbal remedies, eastern medicine, etc, and they don't require a doctor.  In cities and towns where there are no public hospitals, these collectives are a vital form of preventative health care.
~Community gardens give people a place to converge and connect.  They also provide healthy fruits and vegetables  for the entire neighborhood.

I didn't and don't want to be a 'feminine' version or a diluted version or a special version or a subsidiary version or an ancillary version of the heroes I admire.   I want to be the heroes themselves.

History is a dangerous weapon.  Under the guise of being inclusive and empowering, it can be used as an oppressive tool.
There is a lot of focus on the history of anarchafeminism and how it fits into the white-hetero-male-defined history of anarchism.  The way this history is presented creates many problems for anarchafeminists.
First, there is the aforementioned problem of anarchist women being historically portrayed and glorified as part of a ladies auxilary club to the men's anarchist movement.  It's no wonder that anarchist women are still seen as having an auxilary role in the movement.
Now think about the famous anarchist men you know of.  There's Chomsky and Zinn and Bookchin and Proudhon and Berkman...  What about the famous anarchist women?  There's a whole list of them at Infoshop's anarcha-feminism kiosk : Goldman, de Cleyre...  What do you notice about these lists and what they say about who anarchists are?  First, all anarchists are white.  Second, while prominent anarchist men are making their marks in politics today, all famous female anarchists are dead.   Anarchist men have famous, vocal, oft-quoted anarchist men to look to for contemporary political comentary.  Who do we have to look to?  These are our resources.   That's not much to go on.  I found very few pages when I typed "anarchafeminism" into a search engine.  Most focus on dead women and/or capitalism as a tool of our oppression.  I am currently attempting to deal with an anarchist ex-boyfriend that spent a month or so after we broke up threatening to slit my throat and decapitate me, and I'm dealing with a community that won't hold him accountable -- instead they hold me accountable.  Furthermore, I feel as though I'm being completely shut out of organizing here because of hot-headed, holier-than-thou anarchist men who treat me as though I'm a child or I don't exist at all.  I keep hearing about my anarchist sisters being threatened and beaten and raped by anarchist men.  These are the problems I face as an anarchist woman in the year 2001.  Reading essays about how capitalism oppresses me and how great dead anarchist women were when they weren't dead isn't helping me deal with the hell I'm going through right now.

I sit on a woman's back choking her and making her carry me and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for her and wish to lighten her burden by all possible means.  Except by getting off her back.

There's also this great fascination and romanticizing of anarchist women's movements in the U.S., Spain and the Global South during their civil wars and periods of  great activism.  No one who discusses these movements ever bothers to ask, "Why?"  Why did women in these movements feel the need to form their own revolutionary groups outside of "mixed" aka male-dominated revolutionary groups?  And why were the women's groups wildly successful when they broke away from the men?  I can only make a guess based on writings from Third World feminists who aren't anarchists (because that's all I've read, sorry): Male-dominated groups were not meeting women's needs.  They were not listening to women's views.  They were not giving women the freedom to organize.  They were not allowing women to be in positions of power.  They were not dealing with their sexism.  Their movements didn't offer women any change.  It's no wonder they left. 
So why do most websites about anarchafeminism lack useful information?  Why do most websites about anarchism lack information that is useful to today's anarchist woman?  Why are books about topics that pertain to me so hard to find?  I see at least two reasons: sexism and sexism.
Boys are encouraged to do intellectual and technical things like theorizing and writing and computer science.  Look at who wrote your social studies books in grade school:  men.  Look at the great theorists you study in sociology: men.  Look at all the famous corporate computer geeks: men.  Look at the computer geeks in your community: probably men.  I don't think I know a single female webmaster personally (besides myself, but we'll get to that in a second).  The sexism that began at birth and continues now has a very real effect on who controls the means of diseminating knowledge within the movement.
Anther factor that contributes to a lack of available information is a lack of time.  Many radical women I know are very busy trying to juggle their "anarchist" activism, their "feminist" activism, their bills, possibly children, possibly school, along with sexism and violence within our own communities.  The abuse I've had to deal with from the community I live in has paralyzed me.  I'm showing signs of depression.  That eating disorder I thought I had licked is bothering me again.  I don't go to activist meetings because I can't stand the stress.  I spend hours a day communicating with people about my ex and the hell he and this community continue to put me through.  Despite that, the situation is still not dealt with in a satisfactory manner.  It hasn't even begun to be dealt with.  For a while, I thought I had leukemia because I was always so tired and pale and big bruises were appearing on my body for no reason.  It turns out it was just stress.  I'm cracking up on the inside yet attempting to maintain a calm, sane exterior.  I do not have the mental or physical time to maintain a webpage, write a long essay or a book, or read books and essays that may help me.  I'm too busy living my life and dealing with sexist oppression because you refuse to deal with it.

An essential point in anarcha-feminism is that the changes must begin today, not tomorrow or after the revolution. The revolution shall be permanent. We must start today by seeing through the oppression in the daily life and do something to break the pattern here and now.
So it's time for you to do something truely revolutionary, brothers.  It's time to fight patriarchy.  For some reason, this is an incredibly difficult task for many men (or people in general).  I've seen men throw molotov cocktails at police officers; I've seen them take over abandoned houses with homeless people, and I've seen them make moving speeches about oppressed people they've never seen or talked to for more than five minutes.  However, I've seen these same men's backs as they walk (or more like run) away from me when I need their support in challenging sexism within our own community.  So here it is.  This is your big chance to do something revolutionary instead of just talking about it.  This is something critical that depends upon your actions.  But you're too busy shutting down the WTO and fighting capitalism (whatever that means), all the while stepping over my battered body and the bodies of my sisters.  This isn't some difficult-to-grasp theory, or some long, drawn-out battle plan.  Your job is simple: support me in the way I choose.  Ask me what you can do.  I will tell you.  If I can't, then take the time to sit down with me and talk.  We can figure it out together.
"But, you don't understand, Sister.  You're putting me in a very difficult position.  It's not fair to put me in a box like this."  You're right, I don't understand.  Let's stop talking about you for once and talk about me.  Listen closely, because while women who challenge sexism are extremely strong, brave people, we're still fighting internalized sexism.  When you start talking about your needs and your wants and the mental anguish we're putting you through, that selfless mother figure who's been shoved into our minds and our hearts might help you beat back the strong assertive woman who's attempting to break free.  How many times have I fallen into the trap of feeling guilty about my strength because it's making an impact?  How many times have I backed down because men have told me that I'm making them feel bad when I challenge their sexist, opressive behavior?  How many times have I considered the "difficult position" that I put men in when I challenge them and their friends?  And how many times have they considered my difficult position?  Let's talk about the "box" that sexist oppression puts me in.  My box is my apartment.  I don't leave it.  If I go to shows to see bands, I might run into my homicidal ex.  If I go to my favorite food places, I may run into people who have attacked me for challenging my ex's threatening behavior.  If I go to activist meetings or activities, I know they will be there.  So I stay in my apartment, my box, and I play Nintendo and whine on the internet where no one can hear.  Are you starting to see the difficult position I am put in simply because I am a woman?  You have the privilege of choosing your position in this situation.  I don't choose.  I didn't choose to have an ex who wanted to slit my throat.  I don't choose to get talked down to or ignored when I talk to activist men.  I don't choose to live in fear.  I don't choose to be depressed, and I don't choose to have an eating disorder.  These are choices that were made for me, by people like you.  Just because you didn't talk down to me or just because you didn't threaten to slit my throat doesn't mean that you're not forcing me into my box, into my difficult position, by simply doing nothing.  So don't tell me about your difficult position and the pain you're going through.  You have a choice.  I don't.  Be a fucking revolutionary and step out of your comfort zone.  It'll require some pain and struggle on your part (and mine, but that is a given), but isn't that what revolution is all about?

. . .

A post-script:

I wrote this about a year ago.  Almost a year ago.  It started as a part of a class project, and I left it up unchanged because I think it has a time and a place (and I think that time might still be now).
I wrote it for anarchists.  Possibly non-anarchist feminists as well.  Well, actually, I wrote it for myself.  I didn't really intend that so many people would see it.  I don't care that people see it, I guess I want people to see it.
It's written for anarchists and can really only be understood by people who either are anarchists or are familiar with them.  For that reason, so many things are unsaid in this article.  Like "What is anarchism?"  Over and over again people sign the guestbook or post on the messageboard that if I'm an anarchist then none of this has any meaning because anarchists are against organization.  No, anarchists are against unequal power and authority.  We love organization.  Perhaps too much.  For the most part, with few exceptions, anarchists and anarchism NEED other people.  Anarchism can't function without community and organization.  That would be chaos.
As for how up-to-date this is, well, it is and it isn't.
The webmastista (I just made that one up) of Infoshop added a "live one" to the Anarchafeminism section of Infoshop.org.  A small part of Katie Sierra's story is up on there.  She fuckin' rocks so much.  She's gotta be one of the strongest, most dedicated people I barely know.
And speaking of Infoshop, I got the feeling after I wrote this that it sounded like I was attacking Infoshop.org.  I don't have a vendetta against that webpage or the person who runs it.  Frankly, it's a huge resource for anarchists.  I'm sure it gets tens of thousands of hits per day.  It was actually on the syllabus for the class I wrote this web-essay for.  That's why I singled it out.  It's huge, it's comprehensive, it's a good example.  And that's all it is.  Infoshop.org is not my problem and it's not yours.  I just used it to to demonstrate points.  That's all.
The issue of my ex is sort of being "dealt with".  That's a whole other story, one which I'm sure once the school year ends I'll reflect on.  It's slow, it's tedious, it's not getting very far, and it's fucking scary, but anarchists down here are paying attention to what's been said (screamed?) by north american anarchist women for the past three years about violence against them (I say north american because that's the dialogue I've been hearing.  I'm sure this has been discussed for a lot longer than three years in other places besides north america, but this is on the front burner right now in my mind).  Anarchists down here are listening, and they're recognizing a need to figure out how to deal with this, because it is absolutely impossible to incite revolution and dismantle everything we've ever known if we can't take care of each other.  Losing all of the institutions we've been born into will be liberating, of course, but it will also be really fucking scary.  Back when I was seeing a shrink for depression she told me (and this is the only smart thing I've ever heard a shrink say) that people get themselves into these holes.  These dark, damp, miserable, nasty, terrible, scary, lonely holes (the hole in my case being depression, the analogous hole in this case being our current lives under the current system of domination and subordination).  And people can get out of these holes, but they don't want to.  They get in that hole so long that they start to like the dark, damp, miserable, nasty, terrible, scary lonliness of the hole because it's familiar and it's all they know.  Getting ourselves out of that hole is a really fucking scary thing, but it's worth it.

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