This week, the New Statesmen published several feminist essays in a series entitled Rereading the Second Wave. I recommend them all. Second wavers tend to run the gamut from ignored to derided/dismissed to all-out monstered in popular media - therefore, I am thrilled to see a mainstream publication featuring their work. Furthermore, I am more grateful than I can say for the writers who were open-minded and curious enough to read their maligned/sidelined foremothers, smart and talented enough to pen truly engaging essays about them, and most impressively (to me) brave enough to publish under their real names.
Because to publicly engage second wave feminism is to bring all sorts of shit down upon oneself, and not just from the usual crowd of violently woman-hating trolls, MRAs, AFTAs, and their various handmaidens, but also from the Radical Feminist Tribunal. I found the negative, hyper-critical response of some radical feminists to this series heartbreaking. Radical feminism is not an i-dentity, it's a set of ideas, and nobody owns those ideas. The more people who sincerely engage those ideas the better.
But most of Twitter is uninterested in sincere engagement of ideas. Most of Twitter wants to ask you one or two yes-or-no questions so they can put you in the right feminist box - liberal feminist, intersectional feminist, radical feminist - and in your box you shall stay, lobbing grenades at the other boxes.
I hate those boxes. If I'm intellectually honest, and I do like to be intellectually honest, I do not fit perfectly into any of them. If we must have boxes I'd like one for the Freethinking Feminists, where all texts are available, all ideas are testable, and all grenades are aimed at the patriarchy.
In other recent news, pro-feminist trans women have announced a day-long workshop called "New Narratives 2014", to be held in conjunction with RadFems Respond.
From the New Narratives web site:
New Narratives 2014 is a trans woman-only discussion about the ways in which current trans theory harms trans women, and reconciling the goals of gender abolition with the reality of the gendered world we are currently living in.
In this day-long workshop, we will discuss our experiences at Radfems Respond, talk about how our conceptions of trans existence have changed over the course of time, develop new narratives of transition that are healthier and more ethical, drink craft beer, and make new friends.
Some of the topics we will cover include:
- the difference between sex and gender
- how and when can we set boundaries around our community?
- healing from the trauma of being gender-nonconforming
- victimization as validation – and how to get past it
- viability of identity politics in real life
- what if you don’t pass? what if you do?
- removing the bullying from trans activism
- ways trans women would benefit from gender abolition
Q: How awesome is this?
A: So awesome.
Q: How much shit are the hosts getting from the trans community?
A: So much shit.
Like the authors of the New Statesmen second wave series, pro-feminist trans women endure haters from all sides. Some feminists claim all trans women are necessarily misogynists whose only path to redemption is de-transition. On the flip-side, anti-feminist trans activists and their allies demand capitulation to their nonsensical identity politics, label transsexuals who insist upon dysmorphia as a pre-requisite to trans-ness "truscum," and attempt to kick them out from under the "trans umbrella." My trans women friends who try to publicly engage their community in rational discussions have been called TERF, accused of murder and told to die just as many times as I have, if not more.
More boxes, more with-us-or-against-us thinking, more benefit to the powers that be.
For what it's worth, I send all my support to these pro-feminist, pro-rational-discussion trans women, who are so brave to be putting themselves out there like this. I appreciate you.
Whew. I feel a little worn out just having typed out the above. Sometimes I feel like my heart is just a pulsing mass of half-scabbed wounds. Don't you?
Anyway, I was inspired by the New States(wo)man series to reflect on the feminists who really shaped my thinking. Adrienne Rich and Catherine MacKinnon are big on my list, and I'd love to write essays about them if I can ever work up the gumption to take on such looming subjects. But many of the women who influenced a young Miss Hell Bedlam were outside the second wave canon (if such a thing exists). Here are just a couple:
Pauli Murray, Proud Shoes (1956)
In which a bi-racial woman traces her roots and refuses to either give in to or stand outside in opposition to the ideal of a pure white America - by firmly placing herself and her complicated, often painful history within the label "American," exploding it from the inside. (Murray was one of the founding members of NOW, along with Betty Friedan. More about her here: http://paulimurrayproject.org/)
Lilah Abu-Lughod, Writing Against Culture (1991)
(As far as academic articles go, this one is passionate, clear and not overly-long!) Feminist anthropologist Abu-Lughod explores how concept of culture rely on concepts of the self and the other, and how concepts of the self and the other rely on difference and power- "Does difference always smuggle in hierarchy?" Worth a full read, whether you're into anthropology or not, as engaging difference is a critical issue, if not the critical issue, of our time. Perhaps most germane to this post is her regard for the potential of feminists and "halfies" - those who straddle the chasm between culturally-defined Selves and Others (such as Murray) - to illuminate new ways of seeing and writing.
And do you know what these two authors - one of African and European ancestry, writing an autobiography, and one of Palestinian and Jewish ancestry, writing an academic article - 35 years apart - have in common? They transcend the simplistic boundaries and reactionary egotism of identity politics.
There's a whole 'nother essay in there, and I'll get to it eventually. For now what I need to say is this:
Here's to all of you who aren't either/or, who live in the lonely spaces in-between, trying day-in and day-out to build bridges faster than your short-sighted naysayers can burn them down.