Sunday, April 16, 2006

Passing on a message 

Have you experienced partner abuse/intimate partner violence within an
activist community?

Want to break the silence and change our communities forever?

The Revolution Starts At Home Collective is creating a zine to break the
long-held silence about partner abuse in activist communities. We are a
collective of Asian and South Asian activists and writers, women and
genderqueer, who believe that it’s time to create communities that are
true safe zones, where people are held accountable and those who speak up
are not further isolated, invalidated, or deemed crazy/trouble makers/
airing dirty laundry/ a drama queen/king/ taking energy away from the
“real problems.”

What have your experiences been like? Was your abusive girlfriend’s best
friend working on the DV hotline? Were you able to successfully kick an
abuser out of your group? Were you able to find a solution where
accountability didn’t mean isolation for either of you? Was your partner a
high-profile activist? Did your anti-police brutality group fear
retaliation if you went to the cops? Was the “healing circle” a bunch of
bullshit? Was the trans community so small that you didn’t want you or
your partner to lose it? We want to hear about what worked and what
didn’t, what you learned, what you wish folks had done, what you never
want to have happen again. We want to hear about folks’ experiences
confronting abusers, both by using the cops & courts and by methods
outside the criminal justice system.

Please send submissions and a short bio both attached and cut and pasted to
revolutionathome@riseup.net by July 1, 2006. Writing, poems, visual artwork,
sticker designs and stencils are welcome. Please include contact info:
name, email and print address. We promise your words will be held in
confidence. Anonymous contributions and those using a pseudonym are fine,
but please include a name we can reach you under. Both survivors and
supporters are welcome to contribute.

The Revolution Starts At Home Collective: Ching-In Chen,
Dulani, Sham-e-Ali al-Jamil, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Monday, November 28, 2005

Oppression isn't abstract 

This is partly a response to DK's post here, but not a criticism. It also vaguely relates to the last few entries in this blog.

The last paragraph of DK's post reads: Unlike many of the examples of oppression which this blog gets exercised about, this is not something taking place in some far-off country (although it happens in many of those places as well) this is much closer to home. In fact, for many women it is at home.
My (somewhat belated) response was: Unfortunately i think that's why so many otherwise right-thinking people don't want to engage with it. Acknowledging and fighting oppression in other countries, happening to people you never meet face-to-face, is easier in many ways than dealing with oppression on your own doorstep in which your own (often internalised) culture is complicit.
Which i stand by. I didn't think it was fair to flood DK's comments page with my take on the issue, but it is something I feel pretty strongly about. So many people seem to see - and genuinely try to challenge - oppression in some forms, while closing their eyes to others. I am never impressed by this. For example, it is all very well getting het up over how sexist certain other cultures are, but please acknowledge that your own culture is far from a (post-?!) feminist utopia. In particular, do not expect to be taken seriously as any sort of progressive if you find rape jokes funny - something which i've found disgustingly common.
You see, oppression isn't an abstract concept. Neither is it something done by or to other (or Other) people. It isn't necessarily something that takes place at arm's length or further away. You can't write it off as part of an alien culture, while ignoring how deeply ingrained it is into your own. It is very easy to acknowledge how wrong something is when it happens far away and outside of your own immediate context. The real challenge comes when, somehow, you get an inkling that your own context also has aspects which need challenging.
I find being a feminist in England - take that how you will - slightly akin to banging my head against a wall sometimes. People will nod and agree if you talk about Afghanistan or China or Iran. But hint at oppression faced by women in England and the same people get offended. Doesn't. Happen. Here. they say as their faces close up. Rape? The women ask for it. Domestic violence? Whatever, doesn't happen, if it does it's between the couple involved and Not. (Y)our. Business. Porn? A bit of fun, liberating even. Stripping? They all enjoy it. Increased rape because of these things? See above. This is where i often lose the will to argue, if not to live.
Before I get flamed, i'd like to point out that i don't in fact think everyone does this on purpose. I know as well as anyone how difficult it is to open your eyes to certain things - how upsetting it can get to know that yet more atrocities are happening, particularly when close to home. (particularly when in your own movement) But if we are to truly challenge oppression, then i'm afraid this is a necessary step.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Hustling the Left
It relates to the last post. I was unhappy to see when chasing up relevant links that the site about sexual violence between activists has been taken down. (a victory for all those who think women's safety is a side issue and that being nominally on the right side is more important than how one behaves)

Friday, July 29, 2005

More a manifestation than a manifesto, and less of the 'man'
(or, something rattling around that needs scribbling down quickly)

There is no such thing as the definitive anarcha-feminist manifesto, and if there was i wouldn't be the one to write it. While my views on rape and sexual violence would, i like to think, be accepted by most anarcha-feminists (unless it is really just the few i know as friends, who have coloured my opinions over the years), i believe that a far smaller number would jump at the chance to claim my take on, for example, pornography as their own.
Maybe i should make clear at the outset that i am
against pornography, at least the commercial, mainstream variety. This is due to beliefs against the degradation of women - hence my current opinion that less commercialised porno/erotica is more of a grey area, and many of those who claim to support 'feminist' porn are far from craven liars - rather than in the inherent vileness of the human form or the perception that sex is 'dirty'. Sex is just something people do. It can be 'good' or 'bad' (or 'boring' or 'evil' ) according to who does it to whom and how they go about it. And no, state regulation is not the way to keep it 'good' (or, since we're talking about politicians, 'boring'?)
Anyway, this is an attempt at a draft of an anarchafeminist statement (a statement of my beliefs as an anarchist feminist, or a feminist anarchist) regarding sexual violence. As usual on this blog, it is unpolished, out of sequence, may be interrupted by other entries, and the next installment may not be here for ages. Any hints at future installments cannot be taken as guarantees. I'm not JK sodding Rowling, ok?

Men can stop rape, but how?
It is an old feminist truism that 'men can stop rape'. No way would i dispute that it is a valid one. And it isn't just the relatively small number of men who commit rape who can stop it. General male disapproval of the degradation, objectification, exploitation etc of women would create a culture where boys grow up knowing the boundaries, knowing that rape and other sexually abusive behaviours are wrong - a culture quite different from the one most of us know. In a culture without hierarchy, where one group of people is not considered inferior to another, where sexism and racism and all the other isms (assuming, hoping, that classism would be obsolete!) aren't ingrained in the lessons every child absorbs as they grow, is it too naive to think that the impetus for one group to degrade another will be removed?
No, you might say, but it is naive in the extreme to see such a culture coming into existence. I don't, you may have guessed, agree with that sentiment. No, certainly, it won't come about overnight. It will be slow and painful - not in the sense of physical pain,
a la Valerie Solanas, but that of the psychological pain of acknowledging and questioning one's own privilege and the effect it has on how you regard yourself and others, on the grounds on which you interact with people. Any of us who have even the smallest amount of privilege need to do this. It isn't easy - i'm not through doing it several years after starting to make sense of the whole thing, spurred by critiques of certain white feminist authors on grounds of race and class. (luckily none of them were my great heroines, but that's beside the point) Basically, in this context, men need to question why sexism exists; unpack their own deepest darkest most entrenched - or hidden - beliefs about the relations between the sexes; check their own behaviour; check their friends' behaviour; - realise that being 'one of the lads' does not excuse, well, anything really when it starts impinging on the wellbeing of others - acknowledge the thin, sliding boundary between rapists and 'normal' men and consider how to strengthen it; and pose the question of why (rather than whether) feminism is still necessary after all this time. Furthermore - maybe most importantly - do NOT expect women to beg you to do this. You are not doing us a favour. Ending sexual violence is not a gift generously bestowed by a superior group on its subjects. If you think it is or should be such, repeat the steps above until you realise what is wrong with that idea.
From the anarchist angle, the point here relates to how a society without laws or authorities would function. My somewhat controversial belief is that quite possible, if the laws disappeared overnight with nothing else changing, it wouldn't. People used to privilege, however minor and relative, will continue to try to subjugate others for as long as they believe they have the right to do so. There are 'anarchists' out there who are cases in point for this argument, and who do a lot to reduce my confidence in anarchism. (although not my overall belief in it) Before an anarchist society will function properly, ideas have to change. Culture has to change. Arguments need to be aired and seeds planted. If you think that discussion, education if you like, is pointless and that gearing up for violent struggle is all that matters, you really need to consider what would come after the revolution. How well will the propaganda of the deed work without the groundwork laid by the propaganda of the word? And lets face it, a full-scale revolution is a fair way off. Why not make some small ones, in the way we live? Many of us do this - some without realising.
Anyway, back to the prevention of sexual violence, and the statement that 'men can stop it'. This is usually accompanied by 'why don't they?'. Feminism's detractors, meanwhile, are often heard to say that only the men who actually commit rape can stop it. I believe that in describing how changes in society can (and must) reduce sexual violence, i have levelled enough of a disagreement at this attitude. Where such critics are undeniably right is in saying that the majority of men do not commit rape. This argument, however, i see as a red herring. We all know that already. The issue is
why men don't generally commit rape. How many do this out of a conviction that rape is genuinely wrong, that women are their equals and deserve the same respect as men? And, furthermore, would condemn any act of sexual violence committed by anyone on the same grounds, of respect for other people? How many, meanwhile, are motivated by a kind of chivalry towards the 'weaker' (so weak that we regularly survive the vagaries of our own repro systems, nevermind outside interference) sex ('no way to treat a lady')? And how many are motivated by a fear of the law, or see rape as 'wrong' because a statute says so? While the second reason exists, we don't have equality between the sexes. While the third exists, a society without laws will have big problems - and sexual violence is a problem whenever and whereever it happens, whoever it is perpetrated by.
So in short, to stop sexual violence, society needs big changes. That shouldn't really come as a surprise. Society can only be changed from within, by those who live it as everyday life - ingrained attitudes can only be changed one mind at a time. And the men in the first category are, i believe, ideally placed to do this.

To come, hopefully, (in tiny print in case i don't come through)
  • combatting sexual violence within the activist community
  • pornography as a manifestation of capitalism (ie, not something to be defended vigorously on anarchist grounds)

Friday, May 20, 2005

Government doublespeak

'Culture of respect'. Hahaha. Except it isn't funny. 'Respect' is not what you get when some set of silly pricks try to rule over a population. Respect is not what you get through enforcing stupid laws and penalising people for wearing particular items of clothing. Respect is what you get in a society where everyone is equal, where stupid power trips aren't the order of the day. In fact, it is what you get in an anarchist society, not a governed one. Only in Blairite doublespeak/bullshit does a 'culture of respect' mean what he tries to make it mean. Yes, i'm angry.

To be expanded on shortly...

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The 'Roosters vs women' question - why is it a choice?

American politics is not my field and America not my country, so the technicalities of this one are lost on me. Apologies for any resulting inaccuracies or owt.

Anyway, this issue is being posited in the feminist communities as 'putting chickens before women', so i knew it was only a matter of time before the anti-animal-rights folks would start on it. And they have.

So obviously as a feminist (against domestic violence) and an animal rights activist (against cockfighting) this is kind of strange territory for me. If it had just been a straightforward case of a lawmaker being a misogynist dickhead, i'd have jumped straight in with the rage this has produced. Likewise if the law he had passed had been some totally trivial one about, i dunno, restricting the re-painting of cars or something. (ask a new, junior MP if you want to know the extent of weirdness that goes through the legislatory process) But, of course, a ban on cockfighting is something that pleases me immensely whatever the circumstances, so i'm not about to go 'omg omg how tf can he do that!?!?!, am i? Even if the 'how can he not do that?!?! aspect is also something i agree with wholeheartedly, because of course domestic violence needs to be put a stop to. And much as i'm no fan of having a government, they might as well pull their weight on something useful instead of worrying about the poor ickle corporations being threatened by nasty scary protesters.

The thing is, i honestly don't see it as a choice. As far as i know, he could have approved both bills. But it is being portrayed as a choice, chickens or women, and he took the 'trivial' option. Like he's an arsehole for (supposedly, we'll see what he does if there aren't votes in it) bothering about animals, rather than just, well, being an arsehole because he is one. I've seen too many Ms threads disintegrate into 'all animal activists are misogynists! You have to care about either women or animals! etc', in which those of us who don't see it as 'either/or' are written off as trolls. Then of course you get some ar activist somewhere reading stuff like that and feeling just as negative about feminism. So two good ideas become, to some people, mutually exclusive, which is sad because imo both should be more popular than they are.

And of course this ignores the connection between violence against humans and against animals. In any abusive household where there are animals, you can pretty much guarantee that the animals are being abused too. There are cases of women not leaving abusive partners because they don't want to leave their pet; husbands threatening to kill the cat or dog to get their wife to return; and of course the fact that some people are just generally violent regardless of the target. One of the most dedicated animal rights people i know works for Women's Aid. The social worker who brought the concept of the non-accidental injury to the UK has been an animal rights activist for longer than i've been alive and is still protesting in her eighties. (don't tell her i said the last bit though) And you can guarantee that cockfighters are waaay more likely to be DV perpetrators than animal rights activists are, and more tolerant than us of having one in their ranks. Come on, you've seen cockfights staged to raise money for Refuge? Yeah, right.

So anyway, it's a fucked up world where it comes down to a choice between one sort of compassion or another, or even where it is assumed to be an either/or choice. No violence should be acceptable, outside of self-defence (count defence against the state in that, or don't, as you wish folks), regardless of the target. Compassion shouldn't be a zero-sum game.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

While i'm logged in, i might as well cross-post the abstract i submitted for a conference. Wish it luck!

‘No Vote, no voice’ – no longer?
Re-theorising social movements in a post-representation society

From the 1960s onwards, a body of literature evolved to explain the ‘new social movements’ which came into being in dramatic ways during this period. Such movements were apparently unlike anything ever seen before, and as such necessitated a re-thinking of the existing theories surrounding citizenship and political participation. However, I will argue that today’s ‘anti-globalisation movement’ may in turn have confounded these theories; in doing so, I aim to advance an alternative influenced by both traditional anarchist theory and Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of rhizomatic resistance.

Three main assumptions will be challenged here. In traditional social movements theory, as put forward by Tarrow and Diani, a key concept is representation by the state and by social movements. The effectiveness of social movements, likewise, has generally been measured in terms of their impact on the behaviour of state institutions. In addition, social movements have been seen as something outside civil society, acting upon the public consciousness. I will argue, using the so-called ‘anti-globalisation’ movement as an example, that these assumptions are no longer valid.

Firstly, the concept of representation has arguably been supplanted by that of agency as the key word describing today’s anti-structural protest movements. From its early days – the run-up to the mass action/‘riot’ of June 18 1999 is often taken as a starting-point for this type of movement – the focus has been on ‘DIY’ politics and ‘people power’: here, individuals are enabled to mobilise themselves, rather than being mobilised as part of a ‘mass’. The vanguardist model favoured by traditional communists cannot be applied in this case. It is here where the rhizome becomes important: as an organism with no single ‘root’ or linear structure, it provides a viable metaphor for this anarchic ‘movement of movements’.

Secondly, the impact on the state is no longer a reliable measure of the effectiveness of social movements. To begin with, today’s movement is based around global networks, focussing on supra-national bodies (of finance, for example, or governance) rather than national governments. The significance of direct, official impact for the movements themselves has also reduced – how, therefore, can it be used to judge their efficacy? Instead, these movements aim to have the sort of low-level grassroots effect sometimes referred to as ‘the revolution of everyday life’ (Vaneigm 1967) – again, the focus is on mobilising individuals to effect change in their own contexts.

Thirdly, as might be implied from the previous arguments, the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement should not be perceived as a separate entity from those involved or in whose ‘everyday life’ the ‘revolution’ is felt. Its effects are maybe best described as being in rather than on the grass roots of civil society, stemming from within the public consciousness rather than feeding (or being fed) in from outside. Here, arguably, is a form of political action for a post-representation society, rejecting linear and vertical structures of influence (and, by implication, the Marxist/Leninist concept of the vanguard) and opting instead for horizontal networks of autonomous affinity groups linked together by solidarity.

The theories which have previously explained social movements must, therefore, be deconstructed and adapted to the new developments in political action: in particular, the attachment to concepts such as representation, structure and leadership need to be questioned.

This is me not working on an essay

My bibliography so far (non-alphabetised):

Edward Said (1995) Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient Harmondsworth: Penguin

Cynthia Enloe (1990) Bananas, Beaches and Bases Berkley: University of California Press

Vron Ware (1992) Beyond the Pale London: Verso

Reina Lewis (1996) Gendering Orientalism London: Routledge

Saundra Pollock Sturdevant and Brenda Stoltsfus (eds) (1992) Let the Good Times Roll New York: New Press

Katherine Mayo (1927) Mother India London: Jonathan Cape

Elizabeth V Spelman (1990) Inessential Woman London: Women's Press

Joanna Liddle and Shirin Rai (1993) 'Between Feminism and Orientalism' in M. Kennedy (ed) Making Connections London: Taylor and Francis

Cleo Odzer (1994) Patpong Sisters New York: Arcade

nb: Mother India and Patpong Sisters are both included for the purpose of being criticised.

Now i want to go all Rolf Harris and say 'can ya see what it is yet?' But i think i'll restrain myself.

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