Thoughts on #Elxn42

I’ve had mixed feelings about this election from day one. On the one hand, I’ve seen more posts about Canadian politics on my social media feeds in the last couple months than I’ve seen in my entire life. I’ve seen mentions of the controversial police state…ahem I mean anti-terrorism act, Bill C-51, as well as Bill C-24, the new immigration law that makes it harder to qualify for citizenship and easier to take it away, posts about the failure of our government to call an inquiry into the shocking numbers of murdered and missing Indigenous women, articles about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the terrifying implications of giving new powers to multinational corporations to override democracy, posts decrying the Islamophobia that is being whipped up by right-wing parties throughout Europe and North America, and a few that essentially amount to: “Stephen Harper is an unrelatable douchebag and he’s running this country into the ground.” Honestly though, what I’m most afraid of is not that the Conservatives will be re-elected (although that is admittedly a scary prospect), but that the moment they’re kicked out of office, this whole conversation will grind to a halt, and people will go back to living their ordinary lives. I’m afraid that all these calls for people to get out and vote will ultimately be limited to just that. I’m afraid that the notion we’ve been fed that voting is the only legitimate form of political participation available to the masses is going to have precisely the effect it was intended to have, siphoning off all that critical energy and desire for “real change,” and pumping it into a rigged system designed to have only one outcome: politicians from neoliberal party X continue cutting essential public services and polluting our environment in order to feed the insatiable machine that is global capitalism.

Part of the problem is that I don’t see the Liberals or the New Democratic Party as significant alternatives to the Conservatives. All three parties are pro-capitalist and nationalist, all three support the expansion of the tar sands, and all three are running on promises that they are unlikely to keep once they step into office, thanks to corporate power and lobbying, and the pressures of maintaining control during periods of capitalist crisis. As far as I’m concerned, the difference between the three major parties, like the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans in the United States, is based on talking points and little else. The Liberals, who are poised to play their traditional role as the “lesser of two evils,” have a pretty bad track-record when it comes to fulfilling campaign promises and defending public services, and the party voted in favour of both C-51 and the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. Meanwhile the NDP have been drifting further and further to the right as they come closer to winning their first federal election. If even parties like Greece’s Syriza, which positioned themselves significantly further to the left than either the Liberals or the NDP, failed to live up to their promise to reverse austerity measures, what hope is there that two parties that are openly in favour of “business-friendly” policies will challenge the directives of business owners and investors, who are increasingly desperate to keep their profit margins up at any cost?

731271

This on its own is frustrating enough, but my uneasiness with the hubbub around the current election runs deeper than that. For one, the emphasis on voting, and the shaming of people who don’t, implicitly ignores and devalues the crucial role played by social movements and collective struggles in applying the necessary pressure behind almost every progressive reform that ever actually been implemented, including women’s suffrage, civil rights reforms, shorter work weeks, the right to collective bargaining, environmental regulations and workplace safety standards, unemployment insurance and parental leave, state-sponsored health care and child care, etc. In doing so, it alienates a large portion of the population, who don’t vote for one reason or another, but who often contribute in much more significant ways to enacting social change. This group disproportionately includes Indigenous peoples, recent immigrants, single parents, and poor folks who are already disenfranchised and may be (understandably) disillusioned by the current system that provides them little or no room for direct participation. As the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde put it, “When you don’t feel part of a system, when you don’t feel part of a society, you don’t feel you want to go out and vote. And you’re not going to be concerned about voting and politics when you’re looking for a place to live, when you’re trying to put food on the table.”

screenshot-twitter.com 2015-10-20 12-36-03

Behind this statement is the pernicious effect of liberal ideology, which limits politics and democracy to a specific set of “respectable” people, statements, and actions, providing a comforting (if fragile) illusion of personal freedom and choice for some (the privileged), while repressing anything that is too material, too direct, too real, too threatening to the status quo. By creating a simple equivalence between voting and democracy, we’re steered away from a broader definition of politics that goes beyond the electoral system to incorporate all areas where power is felt and exercised, from classrooms to workplaces to prisons, to comment sections and public squares. It’s this broader sense of politics that we need to tap into if we’re going to put a stop to austerity, climate change, the rise of police states, and imperialism, all of which pose mortal threats to millions if not billions of people, not just in Canada, but around the globe.

We can’t afford to put our hopes in politicians who have repeatedly failed to address fundamental questions of power and wealth. We can’t afford to limit ourselves to symbolic gestures or pat ourselves on the back for a job well done just because we’ve managed not to elect the worst possible government. If real change is what we want, then real action is required, and real solidarity. While I don’t know what that action will look like, I do know that none of us can do it alone. So please, please, please, please, DON’T STOP rallying your friends and family to take action just because the election is over and voting is off the table. DO stand alongside those who are already on the front lines, battling against corporate giants and repressive governments, including our own. DO hold on to the belief that you have the power to change the world around you. DO learn as much as you can from the history of oppression and collective struggle (but don’t forget to look after yourself as well—self-care is important!). DO view this election, not as the finish line, but the starting point for mobilization. There’s a lot riding on it.

Advertisements
Thoughts on #Elxn42

A (partial) guide to treating women with respect and avoiding subtle sexism

Reblogged from: http://thetreehouse.ghost.io/treating-women-with-respect/

This is a (partial) guide for any men who want to build considerate and respectful relationships with women. If you think you already know how to do that, you should probably read this anyway (especially point #11) since a) it never hurts to have a refresher, b) you might be surprised by some things and, c) you can then make an informed decision about whether or not to recommend this guide to other men. A lot of men who consider themselves to be feminists still unintentionally engage in behaviours that hurt and marginalize women. This may be due in part to the fact that a lot of feminist discussions assume that people already know “the basics”–they have to, or else we would spend all of our time repeating ourselves. However my experiences, which are based mostly on working in academic and game-related communities, suggest that a lot of things that seem basic on the surface tend to be overlooked, particularly when they’re expressed in a more subtle fashion.

Subtle sexism is, in some ways, harder to tackle than the obvious stuff–like the use of sexist slurs, sexual assault, or refusing to let women vote–because it’s almost invisible to people who aren’t on the receiving end. This “death by a thousand cuts” still has a huge effect, however, on women’s lives. It also impacts men, who often don’t understand why women react in the ways that they do to behaviour that seems perfectly harmless to them. This guide is intended to help address that gap in understanding, although it should be understood from the get-go that it’s very incomplete and not without lots of caveats, exceptions, and exclusions. With that in mind, the first step to creating respectful relationships with women is…

1. Give women space to talk and make sure you listen when they do

Listening is a highly under-appreciated skill. It’s also a skill that is absolutely crucial to building a more just and equal world, not just between men and women, but across other categories of difference and oppression. Listening involves two steps, the first of which is learning to recognize when you’re taking up too much space by talking over others and not giving people an opportunity to respond on their own time and in their own ways. Sometimes that means letting go of that really smart remark that you’ve been dying to share, but it also means opening yourself up to lots of amazing insights that you might never have encountered otherwise. Remember to keep in mind that traditional gender roles designate men as the speakers and women as the listeners (despite the “chatty woman” stereotype), so there’s a good chance you’re underestimating how much the men in the room are talking, and overestimating how often women talk.

The second part is actually listening, especially when the person is saying things you don’t really want to hear, either because you disagree or because they’re being critical of you or your actions. The moment you start to feel defensive in a conversation is the moment that you should be turning the “listening dial” all the way up, because that’s when you’re most likely to learn something new. Also keep an eye out for gestures, shifts in vocal tones, and other social cues. Is the person you’re talking to displaying any signs of discomfort around you, such as nervous laughter? Are they looking away frequently and avoiding eye contact, or shuffling and fidgeting? It’s ok if you have trouble reading these kinds of signs; staying attentive and checking in verbally if you’re unsure about something can still help to create a safer environment.

In some cases the safest way for women to deal with certain issues is to create a space of their own, outside the presence of men. If the idea of women meeting on their own is frightening or if it makes you feel angry or excluded, you might want to think long and hard about why you have so little trust in women operating outside the supervision of men. You might also want to think about why you feel entitled to that space, given that there are lots of spaces where women can’t go, either because of an explicit rule, or because the conditions in those spaces are unwelcoming and unsafe for them. Rather than challenging the need for such a space or accusing them of being “divisive,” allow women to make their own decisions about what they do or don’t need.

2. Be prepared to take “no” for an answer.

This is absolutely key, and something that a lot of people still struggle with. Rejection can be painful, and for a lot of folks the most “natural” response is to lash out against the person who rejected them. Unfortunately men are often encouraged to behave this way through subtle cultural signals and cues, which teach them that their masculinity, and thus their self-worth, hinges on their ability to assert dominance over others, to demonstrate persistence in the face of adversity, and to not take “no” for an answer. For example, think about the ways that male athletes, entrepreneurs, generals, and superheroes are often portrayed. Women, on the other hand, are taught to view persistent, non-consensual behaviour as “romantic,” and a sign of men’s dedication, confidence, strength, and overall superiority (Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey are well-known examples). These gender norms are incredibly harmful, creating an environment where care and consideration for others are viewed as a sign of weakness–something to be avoided at all costs–while violence and domination are glorified and celebrated.

It also makes consent impossible, because it’s not consent unless the person giving it is free to say no, without repercussions. You may think you’re asking someone for their consent, but if your response to their “no” is to scream at them, shun them, insult them, fire them, or physically attack them, then you aren’t really giving them much of a choice in the matter. The fact that this sort of response is what many women expect when a straight man propositions them should give you an idea of just how common this sort of behaviour is, even among men who declare themselves feminists. It should also tell you something about why women will often give a noncommittal, half-hearted response rather than a direct no, because a direct no is too risky, especially if the woman is also poor, racialized, trans, dealing with a mental illness or disability, is a member of a stigmatized religious minority, or is otherwise disempowered. Which leads to the next point…

3. Don’t get mad at women for “failing to communicate” their needs or expectations.

The important thing to remember here is that women are often punished for communicating their needs. Sometimes the punishment is subtle, for example when a woman complains about how she’s being treated by her male colleague and is immediately told that she’s being “too sensitive,” or is questioned about minor details by people acting under the assumption that she’s unreliable, and is probably making things up. Sometimes it’s more overt, like when women talk about feminist issues online and receive death threats and doxings in return. In other cases, their concerns are heard, and then promptly ignored, which is disempowering and a form of punishment all on its own, since it’s the equivalent of saying that that women’s needs and safety are unimportant. Regardless, the result of this repeated punishment is that many women are either afraid to speak up or, perhaps even worse, are convinced that whatever problems they face are their own fault, a result of their personal failings rather than external factors that are outside of their control. In a lot of cases, women will simply “suck it up” and bear it, even when someone is being abusive towards them. When the behaviour becomes unbearable, they’ll leave the space (if they can), rather than raise a complaint and risk repercussions, sacrificing a lot of opportunities, and personal or professional connections, in the process.

If a woman isn’t communicating with you, there’s probably a reason. It may be because of your personal behaviour, or it may be because of the factors described above. In any case, the best way to deal with it isn’t to punish the woman for “misleading” you, but to think about how you can contribute to creating an environment where that woman feels comfortable being direct and upfront with you. No one owes you their trust, regardless of your relationship to them. Trust is something you have to earn, and insisting otherwise reveals a sense of entitlement to someone else’s time, as well as their private feelings and experiences. In other words, it’s just another way of asserting control and domination over others.

4. Don’t insist that women explain sexism to you.

There are lots of resources available online that will help you understand how sexism and other forms of oppression work. In many places there are also workshops and community organizations that are focused on educating people about these issues, and can help you find resources. If you see a woman talking about her personal experiences with sexism, don’t jump in and demand that she explain to you how and why it’s sexism. Chances are this is something she’s had to explain a hundred times before, and it’s exhausting having to repeat the same lines over and over and over again, especially when you suspect that the person asking isn’t really listening to you, but is instead looking for a way to prove you wrong. A lot of the time these questions about why something is or is not sexist are asked in bad faith, because the person asking has already made up their mind. This unfortunately impacts men who genuinely don’t understand what’s going on, since women are less likely to respond to them. This isn’t the fault of the women however, but rather of all the people that have tried to derail their conversations about sexism, questioned their personal experiences, and punished them for speaking up. Rather than forcing women to explain sexism to you and then getting angry at them when they refuse, try doing the research yourself.

5. Don’t make her responsible for the harm you cause.

It’s ok to make mistakes, everyone does. What matters is how you respond when someone calls you out. If you fuck up and hurt someone, take responsibility for your actions, rather than placing that burden on the person you’ve hurt. This applies to everyone, but it’s particularly important when you’re in a position of power in relation to the person that you’ve hurt, and when the critique is specifically about how your actions reinforce that relation of power (for e.g. when a man is sexist towards a woman, when a white person is racist towards a non-white person, when a cisgender person is transphobic towards a trans person, etc.). Some general guidelines include:

Don’t make false apologies like “I’m sorry that you’re offended,” which shifts the blame and the focus of the conversation from your actions to their reactions.

Don’t insist that the person you’ve hurt is “overreacting,” or that they “misunderstood” your intentions. Your intentions aren’t what’s important—even the most well-intentioned people can cause a lot of harm. What’s important is the impact of your actions.

Don’t try to turn a critique into a personal attack on you and your morality. Again this is just another tactic for shifting responsibility onto the victim, while insisting that only people who can be proven to have “bad intentions” (i.e. virtually nobody) can be criticized. Chances are it was extremely difficult for the person criticizing your behaviour to even raise the issue in the first place. By arguing that they’re just trying to shame you or make you look bad, you’re actually implying that they’re the one at fault, making it more likely that they’ll keep silent the next time something bad happens to them.

6. Treat women as potential friends, colleagues, and fellow human beings first, everything else comes second.

Just because you’re attracted to a woman doesn’t mean this is the only way you can or should relate to her. Keep in mind that a lot of women are used to being treated as potential sexual partners, or “conquests,” first and foremost, while everything other than their physical appearance is either ignored, or else exploited in an effort to “win them over.” As soon as men discover that these women aren’t available for dating or sex, they suddenly lose interest in talking to them. This can be a pretty disheartening experience when it happens over and over again, particularly since women are taught–through everything from Snow White to cosmetic ads–that their main source of value lies in their ability to attract and please men, a lesson that is repeatedly reinforced by these sorts of experiences.

To avoid unintentionally playing into the sexual objectification of women, try to be conscious of how your level of attraction to a woman affects your behaviour. Are you more polite or friendly with women that you find attractive? Are you ignoring qualities about them that are more relevant to the given context, such as their professional background or technical skills, while paying undue attention to their physical appearance? Why? Would you be acting any differently if they were men? Note that casual sex and respect for women aren’t mutually exclusive. Just because you don’t want a long-term relationship, doesn’t mean they’re less deserving of your respect and consideration.

7. Don’t dismiss her just because she presents in a feminine way or likes “feminine” things.

Many of the things that are coded as “feminine” are also seen as less serious, frivolous, unprofessional, or juvenile. Sparkles, frills, ribbons, jewelry, the colour pink, cute stuffed animals, and cheerleading are all examples. The additional layers of meaning that these objects and activities have is partly a result of embedded sexism, and allowing those meanings to dominate your perception of the women who own or like them is essentially the same as viewing them through a sexist lens. The fact that a woman wears a lot of pink clothes with sparkles on them says absolutely nothing about her personal or professional accomplishments, her intelligence, or her ability to carry out “serious” tasks. The same goes for men and genderqueers who like feminine things or present in a feminine way.

8. Be careful with your compliments.

A lot of “compliments” that are directed at women aren’t really compliments, but rather a means of asserting control over them. They do this by making women feel obliged to show gratitude and acknowledge the person “complimenting” them, or else risk being punished by the man or their peers.

When the women suspects that the man complimenting them is attracted to them, but they don’t feel the same way, the simple question of if and how to respond can become a virtual minefield. On the one hand, they need to be extremely careful not to be too friendly with the guy, or they’ll be faced with more unwanted advances, and may be accused of “leading him on”–an interpretation that plays into the “seductress” and “slut” stereotypes. At the same time, they don’t want to be rude or come off as a “cold-hearted bitch,” another common stereotype, which could also escalate the situation or even lead to violence. As a result, women will sometimes feel trapped in situations that, from the outside, seem relatively harmless.

One way to avoid creating such a situation is to make sure that you get to know a woman before you compliment her. This will not only make your compliments more meaningful, since they’re more likely to be based on a real assessment of her strengths and interests than on some superficial feature of her appearance or her personality, but it will also give her a chance to assess where you’re coming from, and how you’re likely to respond to her actions.

Another possible way is to compare the compliment to one you would give a male friend or colleague. If the compliment sounds even slightly inappropriate to give a male friend or colleague, question why it seems appropriate to pay this compliment to the women you meet. Note that this thought experiment has its pitfalls, but is a good starting point when reflecting upon the comments and compliments you could make.

9. Don’t show up unannounced.

You might think that showing up at a women’s home or workplace is fun, casual, spontaneous, or “romantic,” but for many women this kind of behaviour is threatening and scary, particularly if they have been stalked, harassed, or abused in the past. By showing up without their permission, you’re signalling to them that they have no control over where or when they see you. If there is any uncertainty at all about whether or not it’s ok for you to come over without asking, even if you’re close friends and you’ve been to her place before, make sure you ask. Don’t assume it’s fine just because she “seems chill” or has been friendly with you in the past.

10. There’s no universal line for discomfort or distress.

These guidelines aren’t meant to apply equally to all women in all situations. Some women may be fine with you showing up at their place unannounced, while for others it could trigger a panic attack. The key is that you ask them first. Don’t assume they’re fine with it and then wait for them to tell you otherwise. Similarly, don’t assume that because one woman is ok with something, other women must feel the same way. Women all have different experiences and histories, and while there are definitely some common patterns that emerge, there are also countless variations and exceptions. Asking that someone spell out to you, in precise detail, a universal rule for when something is or is not ok is an impossible demand, since it depends both on the people involved and on the specific context. Power relations are tricky that way.

11. “Feminist” and “ally” aren’t badges for you to wear.

There’s nothing more frustrating than watching someone who claims to be a feminist or an ally use these words as a way to hog the spotlight or deflect criticism when they’re called out on oppressive behaviour. Ally isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card or a badge you can wear to signal that you’re part of “the feminist club” whenever it’s convenient; it’s an approach or a way of acting in a given situation that is about transferring power to, and operating in solidarity with, the marginalized and the oppressed. What this means is that you don’t get to decide when you are or are not being an ally. It also means you need to be accountable to the groups that you’re trying to support. Just because you did something helpful for someone that one time doesn’t mean that you have now been branded an ally-4-life and are free to do whatever you want. Taking on oppression requires constant effort and is a never-ending learning process. If you think that you’ve already got it all figured out and have nothing left to learn, you’re probably doing it wrong. If you love to talk about how you’re an ally but haven’t actually done anything to change your behaviour, you’re probably doing it wrong. If your response to being told that you’re doing it wrong is to shut down the discussion or “quit”… well you get the idea. Yes it can seem like a lot of work, but just remind yourself how much harder it must be for the people who are part of that oppressed group, because they don’t get to choose whether or not to care about their oppression, they live with it every day.


Thanks to everyone that helped me put this together.

A (partial) guide to treating women with respect and avoiding subtle sexism

Too Busy to Resist

“For ages, the rich and their sycophants have written in praise of ‘honest toil’, have praised the simple life, have professed a religion which teaches that the poor are much more likely to go to heaven than the rich, and in general have tried to make manual workers believe that there is some special nobility about altering the position of matter in space, just as men tried to make women believe that they derived some special nobility from their sexual enslavement.”

– Bertrand Russell, “In Praise of Idleness,” 1932

 

When I get really busy the first thing to go is usually the housework. I can only put this off for so long though, because I don’t live alone, and because sooner or later we’re going to run out of dishes – the housework is never really cancelled, it’s just delayed. After that are the political demonstrations, conferences, general assemblies, and other open invitation events that I like to attend, but often don’t. Next are the personal social engagements: the parties, the invitations to hang out, that sort of thing. Then there are my volunteer commitments, the things I’m organizing or helping out with, but that I might be able to offload onto someone else. Last is my work, which, as a student, includes assignments, papers, critical readings (i.e. the ones I can’t skip or pretend to have read), and so on.

phd_cleaning

A while ago I sat down and thought about this list, and about how the things that are the most important to me, are often the first things to go. I thought about how often we’re pushed to give up on our opportunities to learn from one another, and connect, and organize, and discuss the “big picture,” in favour of checking off another thing on our to-do list, or taking on an unpaid internship, or working overtime, or filling out another application, and how troubling this is when I think about the broad, social implications. I think there is an (ironically) widely shared sentiment that we live in a society that is increasingly alienating, isolating, and individualizing us to the point that we don’t even have a real understanding of what it means to live together, on one planet. A lot of these fears get projected onto social media, mobile phones, and the Internet, which are alternately viewed as either the source of or the cure for all our social ills, but I think it runs deeper than that.

simple_answers

About a year ago I read an essay by Roy Rosenzweig called “The Rise of the Saloon,” which talks about the effect of industrialization on the ability of workers to socialize during work, and the emergence of leisure time in the late 19th and early 20th century. As people moved from farms and workshops to industrial factories, they were forced, in the name of efficiency and profit, into more structured working regimens that were better suited to the monotonous rhythm of the machines, putting an end to the casual drinking, gambling, storytelling, singing, and debating that had characterized their previous places of work. The crackdown on workplace drinking however, and the tightening of other disciplinary measures, also made working conditions more intolerable. As a result, employees began resisting en masse, demanding shorter working days and higher pay. As working time and leisure time became increasingly distinct, new industries formed to fill the gaps. Where drinking was at first a largely informal affair carried out at work or in kitchen barrooms run mostly by working-class women, new regulations on the sale and distribution of alcohol pushed people out of their homes, and into the new saloons, which became the only establishments where alcohol could be reliably acquired. In effect this allowed the upper classes, the people who owned the factories and the saloons, and who wrote the legislation, to recuperate the money that they had ceded to their employees in the form of increased pay. Having fought so hard to acquire (or rather recover) some small amount of free time, workers were now compelled to spend that time consuming alcohol and other commodities.

This essay, I think, perfectly captures some of the dynamics that are still at work today. The pressure to enjoy ourselves, to spend what little free time we have on “leisure activities,” most of which cost us money (bars, luxury vacation packages, spas, amusement parks, IMAX movies, shopping sprees, videogames, conventions, concerts, the list of pay-to-play entertainment options goes on and on), goes hand in hand with the pressure to feel pride in how busy we are, and to feel shame any time we feel we’re “slacking off.” From this point of view, leisure is just another task we need to squeeze into our calendars.

polyp_cartoon_rat_raceI work in academia, and while it’s definitely not the worst working environment, it’s certainly one in which everyone feels constant pressure to be more productive, more “passionate,” and thus busier, than everyone else around them. It’s a rat race, and it’s terrible for us—it hurts our work, our mental health, our families, our friends, and our society. Of all the things that tend to fall through on a regular basis, it’s the collaborations with people and organizations outside our institutions or departments, because socializing and connecting with one another is not considered to be a productive use of time in and of itself. Unless you can put it on your CV, meetings are a waste, conferences are a waste, conversations are a waste, non-academic writing like this blog post are a waste, self-expression is a waste, it’s all a waste. Not everyone actually believes this (most probably don’t), but almost everyone acts as if it were true, because our careers depend on us playing along. This is how ideology works in the end—it’s not about what we think, it’s about what we actually do, how we perform, how we act with one another.

phd_realwork
Little known fact: graduate students tend to be obsessed with their productivity, or lack thereof.

The first thing to go when we run short on time is the one thing that actually makes social change possible. And the busier we get, the less effectively we’ll be able to organize. Organization for social change takes time: time when we aren’t working for others, time when we can imagine something other than the next deadline, time to care for ourselves and others, time to discover how we all fit together, time to be productive on our own terms, as opposed to somebody else’s.

This is why I think the labour movement is so important. Because when we work, and how we work, affect everything else. The 15Now campaign, to take just one example, isn’t just about underpaid employees finally making a living wage. It’s about a whole lot of people suddenly having a little more time and freedom to think about something other than how they’re going to eat that night, or which bill they’re going to pay off, or when they’ll get evicted. It’s about all that human potential, which we’re currently squandering on the altar of the “bottom line,” because everything that happens under capitalism, so the dictate goes, should happen only so long as someone, somewhere, is profiting.

cut_workforce_record_profits

To quote, once again, Bertrand Russell’s “In Praise of Idleness”:

“I shall not dwell upon the fact that, in all modern societies outside the USSR, many people escape even this minimum amount of work, namely all those who inherit money and all those who marry money. I do not think the fact that these people are allowed to be idle is nearly so harmful as the fact that wage-earners are expected to overwork or starve.

If the ordinary wage-earner worked four hours a day, there would be enough for everybody and no unemployment — assuming a certain very moderate amount of sensible organization. This idea shocks the well-to-do, because they are convinced that the poor would not know how to use so much leisure…

The wise use of leisure, it must be conceded, is a product of civilization and education. A man who has worked long hours all his life will become bored if he becomes suddenly idle. But without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists.”

weekend

If this was true in 1932, it is even truer today with the current advances in automation and computing. The question is, who is benefiting from this automation, and what will happen as more and more people are replaced by machines? Why are so many of us spending all of our time working in bullshit jobs that seem to serve no purpose beyond generating a profit for a few wealthy investors (not to mention certain sectors, such as the arms industry, that actually cause widespread harm)? If things continue along their current path, it seems we are heading for a world in which mass unemployment, and mass starvation, are the norm. Without adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth, unemployment, rather than granting us some much-needed free time, becomes a death sentence, or at the very least a burden, as we compete with one another to find another job, not because we want to work, but because our survival depends on it. If the power of the labour movement lies in the ability of workers to withhold their labour, to refuse to work, what happens when that labour no longer holds any value to the people in power?

ipad_replacement

This is the real threat of the doctrine of work: that we will end out working ourselves into obsolescence. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be part of a system that puts profit over people when we reach that point.

Perhaps we’ll never reach it, but I think it’s worthwhile, at the very least, fighting for the time and space to imagine, and produce, alternatives.

Too Busy to Resist

The Importance of Solidarity

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how kids these days (i.e. the millennials) are self-absorbed and need to learn to empathize with others, an accusation that has also been levied against the rich (albeit with more scientific backing). However I want to argue that a critical politics based on social solidarity is what we (meaning those of us on the political Left) are really after, and what many of the calls for “empathy” lack.

empathy_politicans_cartoon

Social solidarity means social cohesion based on interdependence, which, in our current, globalized societies, is a global interdependence. This idea is encapsulated by the phrase, “Workers of the world, unite!” — a call for solidarity amongst the vast majority of people that must sell their labour to survive (including those who are struggling with unemployment). While we all have different bosses, and work under very different conditions, our fates are bound together: a gain or loss in the standards of living and rights for one group affects all others, especially if those changes occur at the bottom of the ladder. Because we have very little power as individuals, the success and failure of these struggles is dependent on our ability to stick together and support one another, while still being conscious of the differences in power and privilege that divide us. The 8 hour work day, weekends, paid parental leave, pensions, public health care, universal suffrage, desegregation policies, employment equity, and other important historical gains won by labour unions and mass movements around the world are proof positive of the importance of social solidarity.

Social solidarity relies on critical thought and political action. While empathy usually leads us to nod our head in understanding, and sometimes prompts us to blindly accept what we’ve been told about the situation because we happen to connect to an individual or group emotionally, a critical politics pushes us to ask questions about where those feelings and experiences come from. A lot of human beings can empathize with anything, including an IKEA lamp, if it’s presented to them in the right light, but a critical politics based on social solidarity is what drives us to do something with those feelings.

Steph_McMillan_2011-06-23-big-empathy-chip
By Stephanie McMillan

Before I go any further, I should point out that I’m not trying to downplay the importance of interpersonal connections, or make a “reason over emotion” kind of argument (as if it were actually possible to divide the two). Empathy can certainly help enhance our sense of social solidarity, but what makes the latter especially useful is that it isn’t dependent on the former. You can stand by someone and support them even if you’re totally unable to understand, on an emotional or experiential level, what they’ve been through or how they’re feeling, and that’s a powerful (and I would say necessary) thing if we’re actually going to change our lives for the better.

Wisconsin

Not convinced yet? Here are a few other perks:

  1. It encourages us to think of politics as more than just a career choice, or a subject that ought to be left to the “experts.” Politics is not just something that happens in parliament; it also happens in the streets, in the lessons we teach to our children, in the relationships, organizations, and objects we build, in the things we read, watch, and play, and in our most mundane conversations.

    TwoPartySystem-NonSeq121011
    “I think the two-party system is working just fine. Besides, buying a third one would be a bookkeeping nightmare.”
  2. It connects us to a rich history of struggle. There is so much more to learn from the past than what we’ve been taught in school, and some of the most thrilling, inspiring, and heart-wrenching tales come from the parts we never hear about. Listen to the story of the POUM and its demise during the Spanish Civil War, read about Rosa Luxembourg and the German Revolution, learn about the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo whose children were “disappeared” during the Argentinian Dirty War, or watch a documentary about the Brookside Strike.spanish_civil_war_poster
  3. Based on this history you will learn to see how different forms of injustice and discrimination, such as (neo)colonialism, classism, racism, sexism, and ableism, as well the abuse of our natural environment, are interconnected. This means that even if you don’t have much (or even any) experience with a particular form of oppression, you can still appreciate how each of our respective struggles are intertwined and, ultimately, interdependent.
    iwwgiftwo1
  4. It’s all about the big picture. While empathy tends to highlight the individual, a politics based on social solidarity focuses on the system as a whole. It recognizes that people are, more often than not, constrained to play a particular role within that system, and that punishing a person for the part they’ve played may be much less effective than challenging the system itself. This does not mean that we fail to hold people responsible for their actions–only that we think carefully about when and why we’re doing so, and consider whether it contributes to the broader changes that need to be made. For example, will blaming union members for striking solve the problems that led them to strike in the first place? What changes when we try to identify with their position, instead of the position of the people that have been inconvenienced by the strike, or their employers? While the media will often try to direct our empathy towards one group rather than another, we should always consider the political motives and assumptions that underlie these attempts to manipulate our emotions, and assume that there is more to the story than we’re being told, no matter how “right” it feels. Empathy may lead you to help someone in need, which is wonderful, but a critical politics will give you a clear and consistent reason for doing so.
    free_market_capitalism
  5. We can do away with universalizing conceptions of “human nature” and morality. Empathy is a nice, feel-good concept, but by assuming that everyone has it, or needs it, or ought to have it, we unintentionally discriminate against those people that have difficulty identifying and matching emotions in others. Just because someone has trouble empathizing doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, and vice versa. You may be able to empathize with mens’ rights activists (MRAs), but if doing so means you also adopt their hatred of women, and particularly feminists, no one is better off because of it. There will always be limits to our empathy, but so long as our actions express a commitment to improving our collective well-being, that shouldn’t matter.

modern_sisyphus

Empathy is a good start, and something worth cultivating when we can. But it’s not enough on its own to get all of us up that hill. For that, we need a plan.

The Importance of Solidarity

GamerGate and the Right

For the last month and a half, most of what I have read, watched, or listened to on the Internet has been either directly or indirectly related to GamerGate.

gg_poster

If you haven’t been following the chain of events, GamerGate started in late August when Eron Gjoni released a blog post alleging that his former girlfriend, game developer Zoe Quinn, had slept with a journalist in return for positive coverage of her free interactive fiction game, Depression Quest (this was later proven to be false). This resulted in a sustained harassment campaign targeting Quinn, as well as her family, friends, and supporters, and inspired the creation of the GamerGate hashtag on Twitter. The stated purpose of the hashtag was to raise awareness about corruption and ethics in game journalism, but it also served as a marshaling ground for people who had a bone to pick with “feminist ideologues.” Other feminist critics and game developers were targeted, many of whom had already been subjected to both online and offline harassment, including Anita Sarkeesian, Mattie Brice, Jenn Frank, and Brianna Wu. Supporters of GamerGate have repeatedly tried to distance themselves from the harassment, doxxing, and threats, but thanks in part to the disorganized and decentralized nature of the “movement,” they have had little success thus far. As many critics of GamerGate have pointed out, GamerGaters have largely focused on the activities of small indie developers and critics, rather than large companies, which are far more likely to have access to the resources necessary to influence and manipulate the gaming press, though some supporters have succeeded in pressuring advertisers to pull their ads from websites that have published articles criticizing the movement.

gg_sjwlistAside from a public discussion I hosted about a month ago, this is the first time I’ve sat down to write something that maybe will be seen by more than one or two people. I feel a bit badly for not speaking up earlier, not so much because I feel I have something especially important to say that hasn’t already been contributed by somebody else, but because I think that numbers matter. It’s part of how we measure “public opinion,” but it’s also a way of resisting the silencing tactics used by some of the more vocal (and violent) anti-feminist supporters of GamerGate. No one is obligated to read this, but the very fact that it exists is my way of saying “You may have succeeded in scaring the shit out of me, but I’m not going to back down.”

Still, it’s hard to know where to start. The impact on the gaming community I’m a part of has been tangible, but I also think it has, and will have, impacts far outside of that. This is because GamerGate is part of several broader trends, the most obvious of which is the polarization that follows in the wake of (or occurs as part of) economic, political, and cultural crises. By crisis I mean a sudden shift in the status quo, which occurs in any unsustainable system, and leads to a struggle over a limited supply of material and symbolic resources. Think of a house of cards, or a Jenga game, and the inevitable collapse. It’s the dramatic release of tensions that have been built up over a period of time, as a result of contradictions or oppositions that can’t be reconciled: the very act of playing the game and expanding the system, of adding cards or pulling out and restacking blocks, increases the instability of the system as a whole, until eventually it can no longer expand, and something has to give. In Jenga, this marks the end of the game, but in reality, life goes on, and people are forced to deal with the (often unpleasant) consequences of the collapse.

Capitalism, particularly in its current form, is a highly unstable, and ultimately unsustainable system based on private property and the endless pursuit of profit. Overall profit goes in one direction, from those who have less wealth (the employees) to those who have more (the investors), and this produces ever-greater inequalities. However the rich can only get so rich before people, infrastructure, economies, and other things that depend on the continuous circulation and redistribution of wealth, start to give way. The 2008 financial crisis is the product of the instability created by the push for endless growth (of markets and fortunes) in a finite world. The effects of this crisis are still being felt today, and it is partly because of this that we’ve seen waves of large-scale protests and conflicts emerging in countries around the world: Tunisia, Greece, China, Turkey, Venezuela, Brazil, Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Egypt, the United States, Syria, Canada, Spain, Libya, Portugal, and the list goes on.

(At this point you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with GamerGate, but bear with me, I’m getting there).

 

gg_war

In a crisis it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a “middle ground,” as people are pressured to identify with one side of the conflict or another. As time goes on and the conflicts continue, both of these sides will tend to diverge, separating themselves from both the representatives of the old status quo (the liberals, centrists, and moderates, who present themselves as the “natural,” “normal,” and “neutral” middle ground), and the other side. This is what I mean by polarization. Historically, these two “sides” are what we call the Left and the Right. The Left is egalitarian and progressive, while the Right is hierarchical and reactionary.

gg_jontron_martyr

Often the Right adopts surface-level terminology and symbolism from the Left, as was the case with the “National Socialists” or Nazi party, which can fool people into supporting them, something that would be difficult if fascists were honest and open about their real motives. While the Left is pushing for greater inclusivity and equality, the Right is focused on protecting their turf from “outsiders.” This turf can be a nation, or it can be a medium like videogames. The outsiders can be Muslims, or Jews, or they can be feminists and “cultural Marxists” (a recycling of the term cultural Bolshevism, which was widely used by the Nazis during the Third Reich). Often this is wrapped up in language that emphasizes purity versus corruption, tradition versus change, strength versus weakness, order versus chaos. Class is almost never mentioned. Instead, the focus is on race, ethnicity, ability, gender, “merit,” sexuality, and ideology. In right-wing ideology, employees and bosses, rich and poor, are united against a common enemy.

labour_management

Bolschewismus_ohne_Maske2
“Bolshevism without a Mask,” a 1937 anti-Bolshevik Nazi propaganda poster.

The goal of the Right is to eliminate “difference” in order to return to an imaginary, and heavily idealized past, a past where the power and privilege of the dominant race was unthreatened and unquestioned, a past where men were “real men” and women knew their place, a past that was morally, racially, and culturally “pure.” Everything and anything that is wrong with the current state of society can then be blamed on the outsiders, the invaders who have infiltrated your turf and who are responsible for its decline. All of your problems, all of your insecurities, all of your fears, can be channeled into hatred of the Other. This is called scapegoating, and it provides a simple solution to the difficulties that you’ve encountered throughout your life but have never been able to name. It provides comfort, a certain degree of safety (as a privileged insider), and a sense of community. You may not have much power, but at least you’re better than “they” are, at least you’re not one of “them.”

gamergate

The Left, unfortunately, represents a threat to all of that. The Left wants us to change our whole society around, the Left wants to upset hierarchies and disturb the “natural order of things,” the Left paints you as a bully even though you’re certain that you are the underdog. The Left represents everything that is wrong with the world, and it needs to be fought, tooth and nail. The Left is weak, corrupt, cowardly, and illogical (i.e. feminine), but we are strong, brave, rational, and valiant (i.e. masculine), and we are going to prove this by crushing the Left, and anyone else that dares to oppose us, because that’s how masculinity works. We’re the winners, not the losers, and we’ll do whatever it takes to win.

 

cultural_marxism

In order to achieve this, we may claim to represent certain underprivileged groups, but deep down we can never accept them as equals, because as much as they try, they will never be real, white, heterosexual men. Never mind that they provide the basis of support that allows us to carry out some of our more extreme activities, never mind that they, like us, are simply looking for answers, and a sense of security, and belonging. This is, after all, the appeal of hashtags like #NotYourShield, which invites women and minorities to support and identify with GamerGate. It’s the feeling of being a part of something bigger than yourself, of feeling included, and welcomed, of having a clear purpose. It’s the same feeling that has united so-called “social justice warriors” on the Left, and activists of various stripes.

fascism_quote

The thing that is rarely understood about the Right, and its more extreme variant, fascism, is the extent to which it thrives on crisis. Crisis is what produces the anxiety, the uncertainty, and the desperation that pushes people to look for answers, to look for security, in whatever form. Crisis, which also brings with it the potential for change, the potential for a dramatic redefinition of the status quo, threatens those who currently occupy a position of power or privilege, particularly when they are faced with a strong and organized Left. In order to prevent the Left from gaining ground during the crisis, the old guard will start to support (or at least fail to prevent) the activities of the extreme Right, of the fascists, who at this point may be the only ones who seem capable of putting down the Left. The fascists are not afraid to use violence, whether that means beating up and killing Leftist activists or harassing feminist critics and game developers online. The elites, meanwhile, are perfectly happy to let somebody else do their dirty work, even if publicly they will denounce the violence, or pretend to take a neutral stance. Up until now they have had to put up with constant criticism from the Left, but no more. From their point of view, fascists are actually preferable (an enemy of my enemy is my friend).

gg_roguestar

The point I’m trying to make is that you do not have to be a fascist to act as a basis of support for fascism. You do not have to be actively harassing women and minorities to provide a cover for those who are. Not everyone in Germany was a Nazi, and not every Nazi was necessarily a xenophobic sociopath, but that didn’t stop them from committing genocide. The Nazi party emerged in a moment of crisis, initially supported by members of the Western ruling class who feared the spread of communism and its promise of a global revolution more than anything else, just as the fascist parties of today are slowly but surely gaining ground, alongside the rise of movements like Occupy and Idle No More.

 

GG Cultural Marxism

Screencaps from the GamerGate 8chan board.

GG_cultural_marxism

This is why I find anti-feminist sentiments and references to “cultural Marxists” in GamerGate videos and texts so absolutely terrifying, because I know where those things come from, and I know what they can produce. Anders Breivik repeatedly decries the corrupting influence of “cultural Marxist” in his manifesto, which he published not long before massacring 77 people in Norway. Elliot Rodger blamed women for his suffering, and for his inability to live up to the impossible standards of patriarchy, before killing 6 people and himself. Marc Lépine claimed he was “fighting feminism” when he murdered 14 people and committed suicide at École Polytechnique.

These might seem like isolated cases, but they all fall back on the same old myths about women and minoritized groups that are perpetuated by the mainstream media and supported by structural oppression. Every time we use a sexist slur, or dismiss the experiences of women and minorities, or make a crack about “feminazis,” or dehumanize someone who is struggling with poverty, or blame unemployment on immigrants, we contribute to a toxic culture that serves as a breeding ground for hate groups and right-wing extremism. People on both sides are suffering, but it is ultimately the people who are already disempowered, who are already vulnerable, that will bear the brunt of it, regardless of which side they identify with.

 

GamerGate and the Right

We need “Capitalism 101”

This is a call to all the parents and teachers and guardians and mentors out there: we can’t continue to raise generations of kids that have no idea how this economic and political system called capitalism functions, how it shapes our culture and our relationships with one another, how it impacts our sense of self and our understanding of right and wrong.

Growing up I can’t recall a single instance when someone actually sat me down and said, look Carolyn, you’re living in a capitalist society, and it’s about time you understood what that means. I was never taught to name the system, let alone comprehend it, and I don’t think my parents were either. I was born into capitalism the way one is born into a religion: there are certain rules you must follow, and rituals you must perform, but you’re never encouraged to think about why those rules or rituals exist, where they came from, or who benefits from their existence. Instead all the emphasis is on the person following the rules and performing the rituals, on you as an individual and your behaviour; everything else is beyond your control, part of the “natural order”. This is personal empowerment (and responsibility) being used to hide collective disempowerment (and responsibility).

Meant to Be Free by Stephanie McMillan
Meant to Be Free by Stephanie McMillan

Even four years under the roof of a liberal arts university wasn’t enough to shake me out of my stupor. After all, what’s four years of classes on literature and theory against 18+ years of Disney, Batman, and The Price is Right. Sure I learned about racism and sexism and colonialism, but they were always represented to me as relics of the past, things we as human beings were slowly starting to overcome, not as things that were being actively produced and fostered, and certainly not as products of a political and economic system that puts wealth and power in the hands of the few at the expense of the many. Karl Marx, perhaps the only theorist I encountered in school that dealt directly with economic concerns, was depicted as an outdated hack, whose theories and methods were overly rigid and totally irrelevant to the current situation.

marxIt’s striking to me now, looking back, that I went through so much of my life without ever thinking about capitalism directly, all the while accepting, subconsciously, the idea that capitalism was some sort of benevolent god, working through the “invisible hand” of the market, providing us with all of our modern goods and services, all our comforts and progressive values. Sure there were problems, but these were just the natural outcomes of human imperfections, or government intervention, or something like that, right?

It was only when I learned to name the system that I also learned to see, not only the extent of the problems, but the myriad of ways in which they were interconnected. I began to see (or rather was shown) the limits of the bubble I’d been living in, and how different things looked when I pushed on the edges of that bubble. Rather than viewing capitalism as natural, normal, and eternal, I began to see it as constructed, unsustainable, and in many ways, absurd.

How is it absurd, you ask? Well, let me count the ways.

1) High levels of economic growth and record-breaking profits exist alongside rising poverty levels, even in the richest countries.

2) We have an untold number of urgent problems that need to be resolved, including a looming environmental crisis that threatens the entire globe, and yet people everywhere are struggling to find work or are languishing in jobs that serve no useful purpose outside of the drive for profit.

free_market_capitalism

3) Countries with millions of unoccupied homes, also have problems with homelessness.

4) When new labour-saving inventions are introduced, they won’t be implemented until rising wages make it profitable to do so (i.e. machines become cheaper than people). When automation does happen, the workers are forced to fight against it, or risk losing their jobs. Instead of technology reducing the amount of time we all need to work to meet our needs, and improving our collective well-being, it actually hurts workers, who then have to compete to find new jobs, and/or accept less pay for their work.

Automated by Steph McMillan
Automated by Steph McMillan

5) Despite dwindling natural resources, our societies are producing massive amounts of waste. (For a specific example of the kind of waste produced by “free enterprise,” check out this story about Goldman Sach’s merry-go-round of metal.)

There are many more things I could list, including the surveillance state, the militarization of the police, and perpetual war, but you get the idea. Whether you’re totally on board with all of these claims, don’t believe a word of it, or agree with some of it but still think capitalism is worth saving, it’s worth reflecting on why you think this is the case. These, I would argue, are some of the symptoms of capitalism, but how well do you really understand its inner workings or its development over time? What about alternatives to capitalism? Do you feel a sense of revulsion, fear, and/or disdain when confronted with words like communism and anarchism, and if so, why? Do you think you could explain their theoretical foundations and history to somebody if they asked?

2013-04-05-commodity-breakdown
Commodity Breakdown by Stephanie McMillan. For a step by step explanation click on the image use Next to see each of the figures.

Though these questions have interested me for a while now, I still have a lot to learn, and sorting through the bullshit and misinformation can be time-consuming. A general climate of anti-intellectualism hasn’t helped, and while there are good reasons to be suspicious of the role academia has played in justifying the positions and mandates of the global elite, as a whole anti-intellectualism only makes us more susceptible to being misled and manipulated. One of the most telling flaws (though some might call it their strength) in right-wing rhetoric is the utter inability to explain, on a real, material, and fundamental level, how capitalism actually works, let alone other systems of social and economic organization. Instead you’ll hear vague (and often contradictory) appeals to freedom, individual rights, and innovation, with very little evidence or analysis–but then they don’t need it, because this vision of capitalism is so pervasive that we (meaning those occupying the more privileged corners of the West) don’t even notice it’s there most of the time. Some of us don’t want to notice, because we’re personally invested in the system, and are afraid to confront it. In this case anti-intellectualism can be very convenient, since it allows us to deflect criticism from “pompous” intellectuals while ignoring any research that happens to contradict our beliefs or undermine our interests.

atheismbull

There are some inklings that things are starting to change, however. Thanks in part to movements like Occupy and 15 Now, both of which emerged as a result of the 2008 financial crisis, the critique of capitalism is no longer taboo. People everywhere are feeling the strain, or devastation, of austerity measures, and the proverbial cake is beginning to crumble. Even in economics, which has played an important role in legitimizing capitalism, students are starting to demand an alternative approach that pushes beyond the dogma that has pervaded their discipline for so long.

But there is still a massive need for educational initiatives that address the very heart of the existing world system, the always-present but rarely acknowledged elephant in the room. Whatever our political leanings, we need to get to know this elephant called capitalism, and understand how it affects our day-to-day lives, before we find ourselves on the wrong side of history. We need to know what it is we’re standing up for, or what we’ve chosen to fight, and we need to help others do the same.

With that in mind, here is a list of resources that I’ve found helpful (also check out the links scattered throughout the post). Please feel free to suggest more if you have them!

RSA Animate – Crises of Capitalism with David Harvey

The Contradictions of Capitalism a talk and Q&A David Harvey

Marx’s Capital by Ben Fine and Alfredo Saad-Filho

Capitalism Must Die! by Stephanie McMillan. This is where half of the illustrations in this post came from, but the descriptions she includes on her website are also very helpful.

Slavery and the Origins of Racism by Lance Selfa

 

We need “Capitalism 101”

#NotAllFeminists

Feminism. It’s a word that means a lot of different things to a lot of different folks. To me it means the fight for equality, not just for women, but for all people that are marginalized and oppressed. Others see it as a scam or a conspiracy theory designed to cover up “female privilege” and/or subjugate men.

womens-suffrage-cartoon
“What, dinner not ready yet! What have you been doing? A picture of the future by our ‘mild-mannered’ artist”

Unfortunately patriarchy (which, by the way, also hurts men) is alive and well, and one of its effects is the demonization of feminism. Anyone who dares to publicly support it risks opening themselves up to criticism, ridicule, slander, exclusion, harassment, threats of physical harm and sexual assault, or other, often subtler, forms of punishment, especially if they happen to be a woman. The more vulnerable or underprivileged we are, the more dangerous it is to self-identity as a feminist, and the less likely it is we’ll be able to recover from our wounds.

feminist_unneeded_color

It’s no surprise then that many women avoid having anything to do with feminism. The stereotypes and misinformation that are actively promoted and spread by governments, mainstream media, religious organizations, men’s rights activists (MRAs), and so on don’t help either. In an attempt to combat these stereotypes, and perhaps avoid some of the anticipated backlash, many of us try to play down the more threatening elements of feminism, separating ourselves from the imaginary bra-burning, man-hating, “feminazi” militants that some people believe represent the movement as a whole. But while it’s true that there are many different strands of feminism, some of which are more radical than others, there are still problems with dismissing “that” kind of feminism out of hand.

hark_a_vagrant_straw_feminists
Image from Hark! a Vagrant – “Straw Feminists in the Closet” by Kate Beaton

First of all, we’re lending support to the “bra-burning” stereotype by promoting the idea that these women were/are irrational, that their actions were/are unwarranted, that they hurt rather than helped the movement, and that good feminists “know better.”  This does a disservice to the women that, whether you agree with their methods or not, risked a lot to help secure the rights we now enjoy.

Secondly, we’re excluding women that are angry, and have every right to be, by advocating a more “moderate,” liberal approach, while subtly reprimanding those that refuse to remain “calm” and “reasonable” in the face of extreme suffering, exploitation, injustice, and oppression. It’s easy to stay calm when you’re relatively privileged, much harder when you’re at the bottom of the ladder, struggling to survive, and constantly being shit on by everyone else. Many people may have trouble connecting to liberal feminism, not because it’s too scary or angry, but because it’s too nice, too complacent, too tailored to mens’ expectations, too focused on incremental reform as the one and only method of bringing about change, not to mention that it often completely fails to address the experiences and concerns of poor, working class, non-white, and non-cis-gendered women. Some of these people may feel that liberal feminism is far too preoccupied with symbolic gestures that are designed to make patriarchy more appealing to women, rather than actually working to eliminate patriarchy, and the systems of social stratification that support it, and you know what, they might be right.

Image by Nicole Stradiotto
Image by Nicole Stradiotto

And really, in all seriousness, what is so bad about burning a bra anyway?? It’s just a piece of clothing! How could this possibly compare to the acts of violence that women around the world face every single day? But of course we’ve been fed the narrative about “crazy” feminists so often that we don’t even stop to think about it. This narrative has been around for a long time (just check out this New York Times article from 1912), in various forms, and it’s typical of the divide and conquer strategies that have been used to undermine collective struggles throughout history. Not only does it encourage feminists to turn against one another, but it also reinforces the message that it’s always better to play by the rules–even if the rules were created largely by and for men, even if they’re unfair, and even if that means accepting less pay for our work, keeping our experiences and opinions to ourselves, or putting up with harassment and abuse, because nobody likes an angry, whiny, unreasonable, uncompromising, feminist.


harassment

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t welcome male allies, that men can’t be feminists, or that we can’t work together to further our goals, but neither should we be ashamed of our anger, or repress it in ourselves or others, or stop fighting for our rights because some people are upset by our anger or don’t agree with us. If the men that claim to be our allies are really on our side, they’ll feel angry as well, or at least support us in our anger, rather than trying to shut us down.

Jul16-patriarchy-rules-450

And really, no matter how much we try to act tame and “play nice,” it will never be enough, because feminism, like all social movements, is always going to be threatening so long as it represents a change in the status quo. The moment it stops doing that is the moment feminism dies, or at least ceases to serve its purpose.  That doesn’t mean we all get to keep the rights we currently have either, because those rights weren’t granted to us by benevolent government officials out of the kindness of their hearts; they had to be fought for, and unless we continue to fight, they will be taken away. The process is already in motion. The expansion of the prison industrial complex, the suppression of wages and attacks on unions and collective bargaining, cuts to public services and a push towards privatization, government spying, the introduction of laws that allow for the suspension of basic rights and freedoms (usually justified by vague threats to “national security”), and the rising popularity of fascist parties, all point to a less than pretty future, and not just for women. While this list may seem to have little or nothing to do with women’s rights, intersectional feminism is concerned with all forms of oppression and inequality, and the ways in which they connect to and reinforce one another. If we start with the understanding that everyone, regardless of sex, gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, and so on, has a right to respect, dignity, and a decent quality of life, we can start to see how these developments might negatively impact on those rights.

patriarchy

If we’re going to stand against this, let alone fight back, we’re going to need to embrace our anger, and the anger of others who, like us, are tired of the double standards, the excuses, the fear, and the hardship. Rather than dismiss it, we need to learn to use that anger, and turn it against the system that oppresses us; we need to make it work for us, rather than against us, as it so often does. I say this not because I think anger is a wonderful thing (it’s not), but because the alternative (passivity) is much, much worse.

I don’t know about you, but I’d take an angry feminist over an angry racist misogynist any day of the week.

#NotAllFeminists