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Friday, September 3, 2010

Just Ask a Woman

Just Ask a Woman

By Traci Harris

Fighting sexism has come a long way baby. We've come from the early days of the suffragettes demanding the vote, to the women of the sixties and seventies taking to the streets demanding

their freedom, and now to men themselves throwing down the gloves and leading the anti-sexist fight. Today, when we think of sexism within progressive and radical activist communities, we usually think of it as a problem of the "olden days." We all know that during the beginning stages of the feminist movement in the sixties, women having their own spaces and voices threatened men. They used to ridicule and humiliate them every time a woman stood up for herself or her sisters. But that blatant sexism just isn't a problem today is it? Today we have men on our side, we have "ex-Manarchists" working on anti-sexist behavior and how to fight masculine authority, and we have men establishing rules for meetings and conferences that divert the sexist jackass that plagues our society. Halleluiah! We have men to command the battle against sexism!

Lately, there is a trend in just about every radical paper and journal, lead primarily by men, to "out" the "Manarchist." In "Deep Inside the Mind Of a Manarchist part one" by Kooky, a self-proclaimed ex-manarchist defines what a "Manarchist" is and shows us how to recognize the ugly monster that demands the end of all authoritarian rule yet tyrannizes women. Additionally he gives his thoughts on how to combat this hypocritical fiend. There are other works that similarly are designed to end male dominance like "Working Together for Change" by Bill Moyers, and "Tools for White Guys who are Working for Social Change and other People Socialized in a Society Based on Domination" by Chris Crass. How wonderful that there are these clever pieces written about sexism by men, distributed by men and all male groups meeting to discuss how to be on our side. What is so nice about these particular articles and assemblies, is that they actually tell other men how not to act like a sexist. They provide a sort of "12 step" program that once completed, means that they are no longer "Manarchist" pigs! These men guide all of us ignorant sheep down the path of anti-sexism.

Gone are the days when activist men screamed obscenities at women who fought for even a tiny little space free from sexism. I get things sent to me frequently about men writing open letters to other men about how to conduct themselves at meetings, rules for men to follow in organizations so as to not exclude women, or critiques of protests or workshops where men "took over." With all of this information floating about both in cyberspace and print, most of which is being written and distributed by men, we as women sure do have a lot to be thankful for. Today we can go to a protest or a workshop or a political conference and not worry about sexism, right? If only that were true!

I was at a protest recently for May Day, attended by many men from organizations claiming to work on the "Manarchist" problem. Some of these men had even written documents similar to the ones I mentioned above. I am sure if asked, most of them would claim to be anti-sexist, an "Ex-Manarchist" or maybe even a Feminist. Yet as the protest got under way, it was very clear that sexism was raising its ugly head- and not just by the pigs.

The protest, for what I am sure seemed like good reasons to the organizers, had a distinct lack of strategy in the type of actions that would take place. For example, the protest must have marched up and down the same four-block area for at least 3 hours. The stops that took place along this commercial area seemed virtually accidental and consisted of folks engaging in actions that are characteristic of a protest: chanting, cheering, dancing, street theater, etc.

As the evening wore on, other actions emerged from the severe lack of focus. I recall one man from the protest strutting into the Gap only to be chased out by the pigs brandishing their pepper spray. On another occasion a male protester swaggered into the Borders bookstore and was directed forcefully to the exit by the pigs once again. I saw men excitedly challenging the pigs to arrest them by using what I call the "frat boy" technique. You know, when a guy challenges another guy to a fight by getting in his face, pointing his finger at him, calling him some sort of name. What usually results is a showdown of the challenged (pig in this case) who refuses to respond (but stares intimidating in his own manly kind of way) versus the puffed up challenger who usually struts off saying something like "Yeah, that's what I thought". Honestly, with the excessive amount of chest puffing I saw that evening, I thought I was at a cockfight, not a protest. Well, I guess when I look at it, I was.

A great article called "Stick it to the Manarchy" by The Rock Bloc enlightened us on what "manarchist" behavior is. They explain "manarchism" by sharing personal accounts of what they had experienced at mass actions, conferences, and within their own regular organizing. This article really put into perspective the sexist crap that activist women face today in protest situations as well as other activist circles. You know, stuff like men yelling "If you aren't willing to take a Billy club to the head you can't march with us!" I am not a pacifist and I find that most of my feminist comrades aren't either, but really, who ever wants to take a beating to the head? Reading that article made me realize that my own recent protest experience was in no way unique. I realized that the type of ill-planned activism that I described, which resulted in actions that can only be described as raucous, wasn't tactical. Rather it was a result of radical male machismo. Furthermore, I realized that this type of " uncompromising radical male" behavior is not exclusive to protests. But I am sure we all realize this by now. What I do find interesting, is the frequency that I (and other female activists) experience this display of male-agro penis power in present-day activist communities.

Show me a woman who hasn't felt under-represented at a conference by the exceeding amount of white guys that show up to those things. Show me a woman who hasn't felt as if her ideas were less important that a man's at a workshop on gender. Show me a woman who hasn't felt as if she was talked over at a conference. Show me a woman who has not been "rescued" by a man who thought she needed rescuing during a political discussion.

So why do we keep experiencing this in our day-to-day activism? Just about every activist or political organization claims to put feminist politics and anti-sexism in the forefront of their political agenda these days as does any event you go to. I mean really, with so many men writing about it and holding workshops on it, one would think that sexism would be a non-issue in activist communities. But it isn't. So we must ask ourselves, with so many men taking part in men's only groups to discuss and design steps they can take to end male domination, why do we women have to be subjected to the same shit over and over again? Or maybe that question holds the key to the problem- men dictating (once again) how to fight sexism. Well we seem to find ourselves in a strange paradoxical situation now don't we? Men are attempting to fight the patriarchal system by epitomizing the patriarchy.

I am not saying that a man cannot write on or that they shouldn't discuss sexism. I know quite a few feminist guys with excellent feminist politics. Some of these men are involved with the same organizations that I am and some even write exceptional political pieces on gender- I am sure most women have these kinds of male comrades. But these aren't the guys we are talking about are we? We are talking about the guys who have all male groups that claim to fight sexism- yet do it from a male standpoint. We are talking about the guys who proclaim that they are "ex-Manarchists"- yet still engage in chest puffing at protests. We are talking about the guys who are omnipresent on e-mail lists and message boards saying things like "I think there are too many men speaking here and maybe we should be quiet now and let the women speak" but when we see them at conferences we can't get a word in edgewise. We are talking about the guys who hold all male workshops to talk about sexism, what it means, what it is and how it affects them- I believe its called Consciousness Raising- yet look at getting pepper sprayed proudly as a symbol of their own radical politics.

So what should men be doing? Well, how about developing feminist politics for a change? The "12 step" model to fight sexism that seems to be so popular these days just isn't cutting it. This model in no way constitutes any sort of political attack on male supremacy. These "how to guides" of anti-sexism don't show any sort of engagement of feminist materials. Frankly, if you want to fight the "Manarchy" these days, a little political education is in order. A good friend gave me an excellent example of this. He said, "If you want to fight white supremacy you follow the tradition of John Brown, you don't go to a workshop." Similarly, if you want to fight being a "Manarchist", why don't you try tearing down the structure of male supremacy instead of going to a sensitivity training? Instead of working only to recognize the oppression that you as a man engage towards women, why don't you actually follow one at a protest? Instead of writing the "top 15 things a guy can do in a meeting to be respectful of women", why don't you become familiar with political attacks that women have engaged in on the patriarchy and follow in their footsteps? While I personally do appreciate it when men are conscious of their long-windedness at meetings and respectful of women when they speak, I am more appreciative of men with good feminist politics, because they seem to be a dying breed.

Truly the term "Manarchist" doesn't accurately define the adversary we face as women today. What is that really? A guy who claims to be against all forms of oppression yet fails to realize that he is oppressive to women. Sounds like a barefaced sexist to me. The cops claim to be against oppression don't they? But they still fuck with black youth in Compton and commit Emmett Till murders every day. The media claims to be against oppression, yet it still produces things like Maxim magazine and Rush Limbaugh. We as women activists aren't immune to sexist behavior, sexist chatter or sexist guys any more than any other woman in this society is and no amount of male writing or male sensitivity training seems to be curing the problem. When was the last time you saw a woman up front at a protest? Have the majority of activist men started looking to women for leadership and I just missed it? When do these guys stop telling everyone how not to be a "Manarchist" while personifying the patriarchy? When do these guys stop deciding what is right for women at these events and actually follow the tradition of radical women? Sexism is alive and well in the activist community, just ask a woman… Oh, what a great idea!

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