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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Liberated? (2002)

Printed in "Getting Louder Everyday #4" by sallydarity


at what point are women truly liberated from our socialization? as feminists, anarchists, anarcha-feminists, we have thought things through, we have made decisions about what we think and believe and why. we've rejected attitudes we previously held, we've stopped participating in some activities we had previously participated in. we've changed our minds and changed them again because of discussions, things we've read, or our experiences. yet how can we keep how we've been taught throughout our lives and all those forces around us now from affecting us?

one of the major differences in general between what men experience and what women experience is that women are forced into a submissive role. women are taught that they are/should be weaker, that they should look a certain way, they are valued because of their bodies and the sex they can offer men. thus, i, as an american white teenage girl took up reading teen magazine, concerned myself a little with fashion, wearing make-up, making sure my hair looked good, worrying about my weight and complexion, and hoping hoping hoping that i'd finally get a boyfriend. i doubt that other girls' experiences were very different from that.

but once we boycott mainstream media or partake in it for the little artistic or humorous value it might have; once we wear what we want to wear despite the latest fashion or even what is acceptable; once we stop wearing make-up or reclaim it as an art; once we don't worry so much about the hair on our heads or on our legs; once we don't care if we have a little or big belly; once we decided to love our bodies no matter how they look; once we don't care if we have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, both, neither or in between in terms of social value; once we claim our sexuality as our own: how can we make sure we follow through? how can we be sure our intentions will become/remain successful: how can we know if/when we're really free from our socialization, from what we've been taught, what had been ingrained in us, and the pressure we feel socially or from our families?

probably any feminist can tell you, feminism is not an automatic cure for body issues. sure, it certainly brings those issues to light and to the forefront- it attributes the causes to our culture, the media, or socialization. but it does not offer a simple cure.

i've been a feminist for a few years and i figured i'd gotten over not being skinny, but i broke down and cried a couple of months ago after realizing that a comment my dad made after my first or second semester away from home- "i see you've gained some weight"- still weighed on my mind even after a couple years. i wasn't so much upset that i am "overweight" (whatever that means) but that it still bothered me. i thought quitting watching t.v., not reading magazines with tons of skinny girls, eating healthily but not to intentionally change my weight, reading fat-positive stuff like nomy lamm, and attempting to just love my body, would make it so that i was no longer affected by mainstream beauty standards.

a friend of mine told me that where she lives there are a few feminist women who have eating disorders. i don't know what we can do about this. what i do know is that i was once under the impression that to be a feminist, one is mostly aware of patriarchal oppression and can thus make decisions about how one wants to live and feel and the choices one makes are conscious freeing choices. but this is not necessarily true, and i intend to stop pretending it is. the main reason i think my old assumption is very problematic is because people accept as okay some actions that a feminist partakes in just because ze/she/he (i'm mainly talking about women here) is a feminist.

Pornography is not a monolithic entity, which is how many critics portray it. They also assume that its only men that enjoy pornography, when the fact is that more women enjoy it than you might think. There is a porn industry (i.e. Hustler) that is like the chain store equivalent in the world of pornography. Certainly, these businesses are exploiting women, like most capitalist [sic.] do. As anarchists and radical feminists, we should have problems with that. But the culture of porngraphy [sic.] is more DIY than many people think. There are many women-run porn websites... And there are plenty of women who prefer sex work to the exploitation they would endure in a 'respectable' job. -Chuck0 (from a discussion on pornography on the infoshop.org as printed in "deal with it" zine)

pornography is certainly a sticky issue, and i'm not intending to take sides. i've never been fond of pornography, for what i've seen has only portrayed women fitting ideal beauty standards, in typical gender roles or submissive and/or objectifying positions or roles. on the other hand, i've seen a limited amount of probably mainstream pornography. i know that there is pornography made my women, feminist porn, porn made by and for lesbians, DIY porn. some women say they feel empowered by doing pornography or that it's no worse than any other job during which you sell yourself- only this pays more. thus, some pornography is more acceptable to the critical eye than others. certainly we can make very few if any general statements about all that which we label pornography. this should not however, allow people to disregard or reject critiques of pornography, as though the argument "well, i know feminists who think it's okay, so it must be" is good enough reason to ignore any critique of any subject. just as many people who are pro-censorship deny that there are different kinds of pornography that should be treated differently, there are people (usually men) who defend pornography without taking into account that there are types of pornography that we should be very critical of, not with the intention of censorship, but in terms of deciding what we can support and what should be rejected. i believe we all need to take responsibility to concern ourselves with the effects on other people our actions or consumption have. we also need to take responsibility for how we treat complex subjects. pornography is far too complex for simplistic treatment of the subject.

tying this back to choice and relating it to body image issues, i don't think it should be ignored that women are taught that they're valued by their bodies and their sexuality. i'm not prepared to argue that a woman is not fully capable of making free conscious choices based purely on her own volition. of course we will always have outside influences on our choices, but it is important to avoid assuming all is kosher when a feminist or anarchist woman decides to get involved with pornography. someone else in the infoshop discussion said it better than i can:

i guess what i want most is for the men i work with to realize the intense pressure wimmin are under to define the liberation of our own desires within the boundaries of an uneven playing-field. just because a womyn is 'fine' with selling her body consensually, for money, does not mean that the fullest, free-est realm of her options has been explored. And i have not even touched on the huge amount of non-consensual violence that occurs within the industry of pornography...the reason being that 'personal choice' is most often a libertarian male's response to indictment, of any kind, of pornography. until a womyn can be enraged without being called a feminazi, and can define her own desires in a world free of all domination, i am going to question just how real a 'choice' she has. -gumby.

this stance could apply to other forms of sex work as well. i fear that while making my argument, an audience might accuse me of portraying women as helpless victims who can't think for themselves. i certainly have respect for women who do sex-work or enjoy pornography- i have little right to judge them from my position and class status. i want to make very clear that i am not taking sides as far as pornography and sex-work go. i only take issue with people making simplistic validations of these things- avoiding or rejecting critique- simply based on the fact that women (anarchist or not)/feminists participate in such things as pornography and other forms of sex work. constructive critique is always very important because many subjects are much more complex than we feel comfortable with. but we have to treat them as complex if we are to understand them and each other.

in this same realm, i wanted to address relationships. what people want to do is their own business, but specifically in heterosexual relationships, the male tends to have more power than the female has. among feminists and anarchists there is a real effort to make things as equal as possible. however, especially among anarchists, there may be assumptions made about what people can handle. "I couldn't tell whether she was aware of the conflict that this ambiguity of who sleeps with whom was creating for me. She didn't know us that well, but surely she must have known that it would bother me to have to 'share' Brent with her. There was the distinct possibility that, in her mind, we were on such a high pedestal we were above succumbing to jealousy and insecurity. But I was not Superwoman." -Ann Hansen, Direct Action p.243.

to give you the context of this quote, brent and ann were a couple, traveling with another young woman named julie. they were heading somewhere to bomb a building. brent wanted to avoid making julie feel like an outsider or lonely by making decisions- like regarding who was sleeping (literally) with whom and where- not based on brent and ann being a couple. despite that ann was for the most part an anarchist, she still felt this jealousy. though one could argue whether one should have any claim over another person- it is up to each couple to make decisions about their involvement with other people. ann also had to talk to brent about his actions towards julie. it is the responsibility of people to keep communication open in relationships and for each to be respectful of others' feelings as well as it is important for people to be mindful of their effects on others' relationships.

not so much in my community, but in some other communities, i believe it is a common idea that monogamous relationships are oppressive. that one cannot be free in such a relationship. like i said, it is up to each person and couple to make decisions regarding commitment and faithfulness. it is very important, in my opinion to have a discussion as soon as any sort of relationship starts and continuously throughout it. it is very important also to be very aware of the feelings of the people you are or have been involved with. "i'm sick of people talking about how liberation is just doing whatever the fuck you want without considering the people around you." -lizdefiance 06/29/02

i think that women are more prone to desire a monogamous lifestyle- either due to socialization or nature or whatever, even if they may find it oppressive after some thought. men who do not believe in monogamy may unknowingly or knowingly coerce women into non-monogamous relationships without allowing that woman to freely make the choice about whether she wants to be involved with someone who will be involved with other people as well. this will be even more likely if the environment of many people who are vocally anti-monogamy add pressure to others in their community. the people in the community have a responsibility to communicate with each other and not contribute to pressure others may be feeling. this is especially important in terms of sexual abuse survivors as members of your community. "In our 'manarchistic' community non-monogamy/polyamory had been unveiled as if it were the ray of light leading to ultimate freedom in our personal lives. But the whole sex-positive subculture thing just didn't resonate with me considering my sordid history of sexual abuse that has left me unable to be 'intimate' with anyone without debilitating flashbacks." -Midge "radical slut dis-covery"

as with pornography, i am not condemning polyamory. i simply request that we have more of an awareness and allow more critique. assumptions not only make an ass out of you and me, but sometimes they hurt people and affect their lives. anarchists and feminists are not free from all our shackles. we are not exempt from oppressing ourselves and others. we need to stop pretending that things stop affecting us or our fellow anarchists/feminists once we become anarchists/feminists. body issues can affect any woman (or man, actually). our socialization is hard to shed and how the system works doesn't help at all. women may make decisions, like participating in sex work, because they are valued for their bodies, men pay for it, and there is this option to make lots of money. because women are not free, we must leave room for critique of such things. we may convince ourselves that having unconventional relationships is liberating, but it is ever important to respect others by communicating and being aware of factors that keep people from being completely liberated.

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