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compassion seems thin on the ground in these neo-liberal times…

Okay.  You know the shit storm I referred to a couple of posts back? Well, it’s died down a bit. But there’s still acrimony. Now, I’m as twitchy about disagreement and conflict as the next person, and I have a defensive streak, yes I do. But these people, they didn’t just disagree with me, they called me “hateful” and “phobic” and “anti-sex-worker” and some other stuff. They didn’t actually engage with the ideas they found so hateful. They said, “you’re hateful and transphobic.” Um. But why? Some of ’em said they knew of our “differences” before, but thought I was respectful of that. Well, I am, I think. But once I posted on my blog the  argument for abolition that a few of my allies and I came up with, that demonstrated not just unspoken differences, but articulated disagreement. A bit more frightening, perhaps.

One person said, “I knew we had our differences”. But that’s not accurate. We disagree. We have differences, yes, we are not the same. Different hair cuts, favourite foods, hobbies– But we also disagree. And our statement about lesbian feminists and prostitution articulated the disagreement, which my adversaries seemed to perceive as attack. This is common in this realm of pretend conversation and faux activist space. We write things, and then we attack others for writing things we disagree with. What happened to me a couple of weeks ago, and what happens to many others of us in this strange space-of-no-space, the world-wide-web–was not dialogue or debate–it was attack and it was bullying.

I think we attack when we think we are in danger. When something dear to us is threatened, or we perceive a threat.

Now, i’m not whining here. It’s troublesome, this. My adversaries are not the enemy. The enemy is the structure within which we live, and those who benefit the most from the imbalance of power and the inequitable distribution of resources. That is to say that patriarchy, capitalism, imperialism rewards men, middle-and upper-class men; middle and upper class, white-skinned, North-American or Western European born men. We try to name who is doing what to whom. So we say “male violence” and we say “women in prostitution” and we say “prostituted women” because it names the women as in a system of exploitation which is fueled by the demands of men. And in that system, women do not have the power to set the terms or call the shots.  Maybe they are choosing, sure. But choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. We all see that. Those who want “safe working conditions” and those who want the abolition of prostitution all see that the most visible of the “public women” are also the ones whose choices are the most constrained. And we all know that the women we see on the street corners, the young ones, the old ones, the ones who are addicted and sick–they would not be able to find a place in a brothel.

And men who buy sexual access to such women do not WANT to go to a brothel. They would if they wanted to. We all know where they are. But saying that we know men target specific women is somehow dismissive of the women?  One of the people who was offering insult as argument lately said that the women in prostitution she knows “felt dismissed and unlistened to”.  Never mind that “unlistened” isn’t word, and should never, ever be used in a sentence, but neither word describes a feeling, or emotional state. They are judgments. Which is okay, we asked for people’s judgments, and critique and engagement. But what exactly was dismissive?

See, this is a good way to shut people up who are saying things that are uncomfortable to think about. Tell them they are bad, hateful, dismissive, disrespectful. We are feminists. We can’t bear to be told that we are not respectful. We don’t think of ourselves as hateful. None of us do, not on either side of this debate. And we’re women. We are trained to second-guess ourselves. We are trained to try to be “nice” and to avoid conflict. And we are trained to see the threat in each other. Not in men. We are trained, in fact, to align ourselves with power in order to protect ourselves.

What does it mean to align with power and against each other? Well, we are pressured to lose weight and wear makeup and wear underwear that yer bum eats and shoes that give ya bunions and take all the hair off our bodies and remake our bodies to look like what we think men want. And we are pressured to have babies and take care of them and we are pressured to get married and take care of our partner but rely on them for income and we are pressured to compete for the attention of men and we are pressured to pay more attention to boys and we are offered shitty jobs for not much money, or good jobs for not much money, but more than the shitty jobs, just less than the men would make and we love the men in our lives, the helpless little fellers who can’t cry, poor darlings and they don’t have a clue but they sure get the grants and the raises and the attention and the power and then they want more or they want something else, and we need the stuff they have, the space and the money and the influence but we don’t have it so we have to attach ourselves to them, and that means doing what they want at the expense of our relations with each other, other women.  Even lesbians, even lesbians do this stuff in some way or another. In fact, most of the people who are really mad at me and vocal about it (well not vocal, like they haven’t actually approached me, they just write shit on each others’ walls about me), they are lesbians. No, wait, they are queer. or trans. Butch or femme, they do attach those labels to themselves, but not lesbian, in general.

what’s that about, I wonder? I think it’s about not wanting to be identified with or as one of those hairy, seventies, ‘womyn with a y’ womyn’s libbers. I think there’s something in there about that. Several comments i have read, including some to the abolition post, called us “80s feminists”.  As if that was a bad thing.  But no explanation about why it would be a bad thing. Mullets were big then, for hair styles. That might be part of it.

Just the other day, one person sent me a note on crackbook in which she said our statement that lesbianism and prostitution are opposites is dismissive of heterosexual women.

Now. Let me look at her sentence.  On the one hand, it seems  she does not agree that lesbianism and prostitution are opposites. However, she did understand that we thought that lesbianism is a more positive choice for women to make.

so that might imply a glimmer of understanding. But we didn’t mention heterosexual women, because that’s not who we were talking about. We weren’t dismissive of heterosexual women, not at all. We’re lesbians.  Indeed, we meant to trouble the notion that prostitutes and lesbians are in the same boat, ‘choice’-wise, or in the way of enjoying an ’empowered’ version of womens’ sexuality. Which is generally how the pro-pimp folks put it. She added something in there that we did not say. We did not articulate our judgments of heterosexual women, because we were not writing about heterosexual women.

We were writing about what we knew, from where we are right now. feminists. lesbians. who have worked for a combined, oh, about fifty years in anti-male-violence work and activism.

It’s just been a strange trip altogether. It’s tiresome, this exhausting struggle with each other. We ought to be allies. There have been NO men commenting on this blog, far as I know. And no men commenting on the facebook flame fests, far as I know. A couple of my male friends and allies have clicked “like” to some of the posts and links that I and other women put up. But on the whole, this is a cat fight.

And that’s wrong on so many levels. We should be able to disagree (and that’s not ‘have differences’–that’s disagree–You think something that i think is a mistake, i think something you think is a mistake–that’s not ‘difference’–that’s ‘disagreement’)–without being reactive. We should be able to say, “I think you’re wrong when you say this” and say reasons why (and not “because you’re hateful” or stupid or phobic or anti-sex or whathaveyou). We deserve way better from each other.

We get mixed up and can’t tell the difference between an emotional state and a thought or judgment. We get mixed up and confuse insult with argument. I’m not likely to agree with you if you call me ‘hateful’ right off the hop. Don’t get me wrong, i’ve rode into town on some pretty high horses, for sure. I can get all righteous and in yer face about what a jerk you are–but bottom line is, if I really think that the way I understand things will get us closer to freedom, then i’m gonna stick to making an argument, and i’m gonna try to remember to feel the love. And when I’m not feelin’ the love, then, well, i’m going to fold up my tent and walk away.

We really DO need each other. All of us. It’s going to be more difficult to rise to the occasion and help out one of those mean sisters who’s been trashing me when she needs help, but i sure hope i will do if if that need arises.  Can’t say for sure, though.

The folks that most vex me are my greatest teachers.

Compassion is sharing the suffering of another and working to alleviate that suffering. It’s difficult and maybe even dangerous. But … why not try?

ach. i want to write what neo-liberalism has to do with this, too. And I wanna write about the Lesbian Tent Revival weekend–but later. another time. i still have a syllabus to figure out…jeez…

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About easilyriled

My mom was Edith, my dad was John. I have a brother, who is Shawn. I have many friends and allies and mentors in my life. I'm white, over-educated, under-employed, messy, funny, smart, lesbian, feminist "Not the fun kind", as Andrea Dworkin said. But I, like the feminists I hang with, ARE fun. I play accordion better than I did, and i'm learning the concertina. Slowly.

8 responses »

  1. Wow. Thank you for writing this, Erin! The bullying that happens in this online ‘community’ is completely inappropriate. I have been called an ’80s feminist’ too! Stuck in the past. As though the past should disappear, as though we haven’t learned from that past. Radical feminist has its problems, but those who dismiss it tend not to be the ones who studied it and then decided that it was all a waste of time and space, but rather those who bought into stereotypes, didn’t read anything by Dworkin, and then accused her of saying that all sex is rape(?!). BIG SIGH. All that said, you are right! We SHOULD be able to disagree without vicious attacks and this kind of ‘everyone pile on’ and start name-calling trend that seems so big on feminist blogs. And it has almost always been women and other feminists who do this bullying. It hasn’t been men commenting on my blog accusing me over and over again of being ‘anti-sex’ (whatever the f**k that means)- it has been feminists who disagree with my anti-pornography, abolitionist perspective. I have, I’m sure, made mistakes in the past around saying pretty harsh things about other peoples perspectives, but after having spent a little time online, and having been attacked myself, I really try to watch my words and not to outright tear someone apart, but rather to make an argument. Anyway – sorry the very long comment. Yes to this! Keep on blogging!

    Reply
    • Hi Meghan, that was fast! thanks for your comment. don’t worry about length. I think part of the problem is that internet “communication” demands brevity,and so there’s so much misunderstanding that can come from that. but it’s only a small part. Anyhow, good work, yourself, Meghan. Thanks again

      Reply
  2. YES yes yes to this.

    Thank you so much.

    “We should be able to disagree (and that’s not ‘have differences’–that’s disagree–You think something that i think is a mistake, i think something you think is a mistake–that’s not ‘difference’–that’s ‘disagreement’)–without being reactive. We should be able to say, “I think you’re wrong when you say this” and say reasons why (and not “because you’re hateful” or stupid or phobic or anti-sex or whathaveyou). We deserve way better from each other.”

    Reply
    • you’re welcome. it’s kind of hard to do then when we seem to misunderstand one another so thoroughly, but i think it’s important that we stay in the discomfort with each other and try. thanks for your comment. And those wontons look amazing!

      Reply
  3. Love love. Especially the paragraph that begins See, this is a good way to shut people up who are saying things that are uncomfortable to think about.

    So, so terribly much wrapped up in socialization.

    Reply
    • hi RFC,
      nice slippers. Yes. socialization, pretty tight weave, that. thanks for your comment. It’s frustrating all this being pummeled by one’s (potential) allies stuff. but we gotta shake it off and do the right thing anyhow, eh.

      Reply

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