On defining feminism; reclaiming bodies, anti-porn rebuttal

July 10, 2008

Since everyone seems to be doing it. This is a response to this post/rant defining feminism.
___
There is a glaring omission in this list of feminist actions. Glaring. It makes me sick that none of other the commenters mention it.

Surviving.

I can’t take surviving for granted, and neither can women of color, undocumented women, transsexual women, gender nonconforming women, or poor women. Middle class white cissexual American citizen women–like her, like most of the people who are commenting on that post yea or nay, can.

I can’t categorically rule out participating in sex work (and in fact I have), and what’s more, I can’t in good conscience work to end opportunities for sex work. Why? because, to use her own phrase, that’s not “putting women first”. That’s putting “the movement” first, and that’s wrong. That’s not feminist. Women (and some men/others) will die, literally, no I really mean literally, if all sex work were outlawed tomorrow. I happen to think that she’s wrong also that it’s an inherently bad thing, that feminist porn and empowered sex work are impossible or unattainable–even for survival–but even if they were it’s wrong for her to work to limit the available options for survival for women. And it makes me livid that she, in her privilege, is spending her efforts trying to kill people like me, not literally, not directly, not intentionally, but doing so all the same.

Feminism is not just for white women, it’s not just for cis women, etc etc. But she, essentially, makes ‘being a feminist’ a matter of privilege, something off limits to the unwashed masses, and none of them [white] [middle-class] [cissexual] folks seems to care. (OK, Belldame222 does say some things similar to what I’m saying here, but not, so far as I could tell, in response to that post.)

You think pr0n promotes f’ed up shit in men’s minds? Whatever. You think it harms women’s minds? Whatever. You think women shouldn’t do it because of these things? Whatever. You want to find ways to ‘get women out of the industry’ [an into other forms of employment/survival]? ok, that’s kinda legit. Kind of. (providing resources to women (et al) who want to get out of the industry find other employment? legit and important.) But you know what? The underlying cause of pr0n & other kinds of sex work being able to be as fucked up as they are, and the underlying cause of it being able to get folks to do it despite how hurtful it is–is 1)systemic economic inequality and 2)the marginalization of women’s voices/lack of accountability to women (et al)–but especially the marginalization of the voices of women who are also poor, not-college-educated, of color, trans, etc. Fighting porn/sex work itself does nothing about the first, and if it does anything about the second, it’s for white (etc) women at the expense of all other women. But you know what? Why don’t we fight systemic economic inequality? Why don’t we fight rape itself? Why don’t we work to create accountability?

When we center survival, when we center quality of life, when we center ‘putting women first’ (ok, by first I assume we do not actually mean “first” as in hierarchy but as in prioritizing ourselves), so many of these other things are just fucking clutter. Not wearing makeup? OK, fine, I can see that helping promote the right to not wear it–but demanding others to not wear makeup? Putting in a hierarchy of validity, ranking women by their virtue and conformity to a certain set of actions? Not putting women first. Not helping anybody’s quality of life. It isn’t the act of wearing or not wearing makeup that is feminist or not feminist–it is the act of liberating women’s bodies from public control–something that this segment of radical feminism doesn’t want to give up. They want to be the ones in control, to have the reins, to order the hierarchy. Liberating women’s bodies from public control is completely, totally, incompatible with opposing S/M–but so is remaining silent about the sexist bullshit within the community, BDSM norms and the way they are created, the stories we tell and don’t tell to the outside, the messaging we give each other and the broader culture.

That is to say, there are a damn lot of things you can do to reclaim one’s body, and to work for others’ bodies as well. And no one can do all of them. Even all of them in one’s daily habits. We have to keep challenging each other, to call each other out, to ask ourselves and each other what we’re doing and if we could do more, to push ourselves, to work out of love for each other and not merely anger–because only then will we really fight for all of us, not just ourselves, and only then can we stay in the fight…

Jessi mentioned that she’d gone to a center for labor organizing in (I think) TN, and how striking the difference was between that organizing and queer organizing. There, there was a long term plan, the assumption was that everyone would be in the movement their whole lives and planning happened out generations–and there was no rush. Go swimming, of course you need to relax and flake out. That’s ok. This work’s gonna happen, and it’d be great if you were part of it… Rural activists in Thailand were totally the same way. We need some of that in our movements–space for impurity, space for ourselves and our souls, space for living. Not ‘this has to happen but it won’t if you personally don’t step up.’ That’s busted. We will reclaim our bodies at our own pace, in our own way, because doing it at someone else’s pressure, at someone else’s valuation, is no reclamation at all.

6 Responses to “On defining feminism; reclaiming bodies, anti-porn rebuttal”

  1. Mike said

    Good post. You make a whole lot of sense.

    Welcome to blogging, or at least to WordPress🙂

  2. Heya,

    I’d actually addressed that Yawning Lion post when it was first put up; didn’t realize it was making the rounds again. can’t find the exact post of mine at the mo’.

  3. Cedar said

    It was, apparently, referenced over at Making Light.

    Yeah, I saw some of your comments there, which I appreciated (as is generally the case when I see your name pop up when folks are being ridiculous.) The OP mentioned that there was a post elsewhere that she couldn’t find that criticized her re: white, US citizen privilege that she made a silly response to, but I didn’t see anything in the comments that addressed it.

    …Without having seen your post or the one YL is responding to: when that objection is made in the form of ‘but you’re defining this from a specific place of privilege that you don’t examine’, all too frequently it plays out in this very Whose Ally tokenizing kind of way, scoring points while simultaneously silencing and erasing… It’s not just ‘oh look you forgot about blah people’ but also about what is decided–the violence being done when the ‘forgetting’ happens.

    [This is something that really grates on me w/rt arguments made for trans woman inclusion in [cis] women’s space. Like, I am not your fucking token, maybe when responding to cis women being scared of trans women in “their” space, instead of making some argument that tokenizes women of color too you should mention the history of cis radfem violence against trans women?]

  4. Cedar said

    Also, hi! Welcome.

  5. Thanks! Yeah, I really should read ML more often, I really like the Nielsen Haydens, I just never seem to get there, what with all the dwama elsewhere.

  6. “We need some of that in our movements–space for impurity, space for ourselves and our souls, space for living. Not ‘this has to happen but it won’t if you personally don’t step up.’ That’s busted. We will reclaim our bodies at our own pace, in our own way, because doing it at someone else’s pressure, at someone else’s valuation, is no reclamation at all.”

    …that is great.

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