Liberation

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I’ve been reading a book by Bell Hooks on my holiday. It gave me a much better insight in the history of white mainstream feminism, their racism and classicism and it also showed me that their feminism is far from my feminism. The thought that all feminists resist the capitalist patriarchy, that they want to create a new world, with different forms of community, with other views on work and workers, with real liberation as keyword, has for some time been erased from my head, no naivety about that any more. Feminism, especially in the Netherlands where I live, is mainly liberal feminism, with much emphasis on how YOU as an individual can improve your life and how YOU can deal with sexism (that should not be exaggerated to much, because most men are just stupid Neanderthalers after all that can’t help it) and how YOU can help those poor oppressed Muslim women in their struggle against their horrible men. I wonder if they even believe patriarchy exists at all. I have always resented the way women and men are applauding the single fact that women are getting more jobs and working more outside of the home. As if having a job, whatever kind of a shitty payed job, would always be the way to liberation, to independence. I saw my mother working for little money when I was younger and I know it didn’t liberate her at all. She liberated herself by stepping out of an abusive relationship and no woman helped her with that.
Bell Hooks gives exactly the reasons why I am so sick of these white liberal capitalist patriarchy defending feminists, who even have the nerve to look down on more radical feminist views and ideas.

Some quotes from Bell Hooks’ work ‘Ain’t I a woman’:

(…)not all women are equally oppressed because some women are able to use their class, race, and educational privilege to effectively resist sexist oppression. Initially, class privilege was not discussed by white women in the women’s movement…as a group, white participants did not denounce capitalism. They choose to define liberation using the terms of white capitalist patriarchy, equating liberation with gaining economic status and money power. Like all good capitalist, the proclaimed work as the key to liberation. This emphasis on work was yet another indication of the extent to which female liberationalist’ perception of reality was totally narcissistic, classicist and racist. Implicit in the assertion that work was the key to women’s liberation was a refusal to acknowledge the reality that, for the masses of American working class women, working for pay neither liberated them from sexist oppression nor allowed them to gain any measure of economic independence…While it does not in any way diminish the importance of women resisting sexist oppression by entering the labor force, work has not been a liberating force for masses of American women. And for some time now, sexism has not prevented them from being in the work force(…)
(…) They found that white women had appropriated feminism to advance their own cause i.e. their desire to enter the mainstream of American capitalism. They were told that white women were in the majority and that they had the power to decide which issues would be considered “feminist’ issues.

That feminist issues are being dictated by mainstream feminists is still the case, even though Bell Hooks wrote her book in 1981. And that masses of women and men still find their jobs dull, oppressive, frustrating and alienating (S. Terkel,from Working) shows that true liberation has to start somewhere else.

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A butch abroad

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I just returned from a three week holiday in Scotland. My girl and I traveled around in a little camper van. Scotland is the perfect country for camping wild, since it’s allowed almost anywhere and public toilets are cleaner then they are at my house. I haven’t felt so much abroad as I was now. It’s not that I never travel: I visit a womens camp in Denmark every summer for a week. I visit my lesbian friends in other countries during the year. But to spend three weeks in a strange country, mainly in the countryside, seeing only straight couples day in day out, made me realize even more how society forces us to be ‘normal’. Normal as in heterosexual. They are the norm. On campings, in restaurants, on the road, on our boat birding trips, on the ferry, in the t.v. shows, in the commercials, in all the books I can freely swap or buy for charity everywhere, in the pub, at breakfast in the hotel, in all the brochures from the tourist office. I looked around me one day, having coffee and cheesecake in a little cafe, in a little village and watched all the straight couples around us and I felt all of a sudden so incredibly sad and alone, even with my girlfriend sitting opposite me. I know people say to me that it is all changing, that it is much easier to be gay, or lesbian, or trans. Those who say that have no idea how heterosexist the whole society is and how much it can take for a person to defy the heteronorm. On one of the last days of our holiday we stayed one night in a hotel, in the mountains. The hotel lay at the end of a dead-end road, used mainly by hikers and fishermen. A man and a group of young men were staying there too, they looked to me like a father and his sons, having an outdoor trip together. The man was dressed in military clothing. I watched them for some time. And I started thinking how it would be to be a son of that man, so obviously straight and a patriarch, and having to tell him that I was gay. I really could not imagine. After travelling for just a few weeks outside of my relatively safe spaces I started to suffocate. I desperately looked for other lesbians, other gay men, even queer looking people, but I only found them on the ferry trip home.

If you are heterosexual and reading this, you may not understand what I try to say. Because you are fine with lesbians, gays, diversity and you don’t really see the problem. The best way to understand it is to imagine yourself living in another world, where you, as a heterosexual grow up in a homonormative society. As a little child you are being read from a book by your two fathers or two mothers the sweet stories about a girl and a girl who fall in love and live happily ever after. You watch the soap-opera’s when you get older and where girls fall in love with girls and boys with boys. You read magazines that tell you how to attract other girls, how to dress for other girls, watch dozens of commercials with happy gay couples every hour, read literature about dramatic love affairs between two men or three, or the life story of two women. You are told at school how sexuality works, that it is between a man and a man or a woman and a woman and you learn that some people deviate from that sexuality, because they are attracted to the opposite sex. But normal sexuality is of course between the same sex. And in the meantime all your friends get girlfriends and ask you why you don’t have a girlfriend yet…the story ends when you are old and maybe live in a retirement home, where all the others talk about their lives, their families and they won’t ask you about your lovers, because that’s not their world. You are the odd one out after all. Then you may choose to live in a separate retirement home, with more people ‘like you’ and other people will complain about that and will accuse you of separating yourself from society…

It is not difficult to understand why so many people decide to stay in the closet or live secret lives. I understand it now even better. As Jeannette Winterson wrote: “why be happy if you can be normal?”. The truth is we live in a patriarchy in which heterosexuality always will be the norm. We will remain the deviant ones. Even though society is trying so hard to fit us in this norm (maybe more accepting, but at the same time assimilating), I’m proud to see there are many who defy it, who form other kinds of relationships instead of marriage, who form families in other ways, who choose friends as family and form strong resilient communities. And even though I haven’t met them in Scotland this time, I’m sure there are many who did in the end find the strength to come out and lead their happy, not normal life.

Fierce Femmes

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Nobody told us: The path divides, and divides again, in many directions…How many ways can gender expression multiply—between home and work, at the computer and when you kiss someone, in your dreams and when you walk down the street? No one asked us: What is your dream of who you want to be?”  Minnie Bruce Pratt

 

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As a butch I have great admiration for femmes. I don’t know how it must feel to be a political femme in this heterosexist normalized society, but I know you have to be incredibly strong to do that. Vanessa Shanti Fernando wrote this great blogpiece about queer women of colour and the femme identity. And Jack Tar 207, the fantastic fashion style blog from LK Weiss, focused on breaking down the notion that fashion models have to fit the narrow, familiar ideal of conventional beauty, is honoring femmes with this blogpiece: 50 Fierce Femmes. Just wow! So many powerful women. I’m so glad to see them in the spotlight, because they also pave the way for many other queer women who don’t want to conform and who seek their own way out of the binary. We love them!

A gentle butch in a hard world

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I identify as a ‘gentle butch’. On the butch spectrum you can find me somewhere between soft butch and stone butch. I lack the machismo and swagger to identify as boi or stud, but am to masculine of center and too gender dysphoric to appreciate the label ‘soft butch’. Finding and embracing that specific identity took me a long time. The gentle side is a part of me that I can handle in my own community, because I feel safe there. Being regarded as gentle in the outside world is something completely different. I try not to appear ‘soft’, especially not with men around, it makes me feel vulnerable and vulnerability is not something I want to show. I look more tough then I am. A trait that a lot of butches share I guess. It’s a barrier we have build in the outside world, for survival. And for me it works pretty well, I manage to look confident out there and that keeps me safe.

I realize people have got to know me, before they see that my outside image is indeed an image. That’s fine for me, only people who want to really get to know me take the trouble to look beyond that. I have friends who have the ability to make me feel safe with showing my gentleness, my emotions, my tenderness. You know, the ones where you can’t hide your feelings even if you want too, because they touch something inside you. I keep those people close, because I need them to let me be the person I want to hide away the most. My soft part is still not a part of me that I appreciate very much, because living in a capitalist patriarchy means that being soft can get you in trouble. Showing emotions or being to involved is not something that is appreciated. Especially as a woman showing your emotions in a job will label you as soft, unstable, emotional and will make you immediately unqualified for the position of any leading jobs. In my job as a care worker in a home for physically less able people, I have been experiencing the ongoing dehumanization of clients and employees for years. The economic crisis has severe effects on people who have the least (why never on people who have the most?) and every change in policy by government or management effects them greatly. Employees get told to ‘care from a distance’ , a newly introduced motto to make sure that they don’t get in the way of the management and don’t get too involved with the well being of the clients. This motto gets me in trouble all the time: I care too much, I am too outspoken, too assertive, too challenging, now and then too emotional. My manager expects me to provide care from a distance (they’re not your friends!) and that will make me a good professional. I have my own view of being a good professional worker and I know that view is shared by all my co-workers and by many more people who work in health and care. It makes me feel incredibly vulnerable and hurt, because being blamed for being a person who cares to much (in their view) and being not tough enough feels like a personal attack. And as a gentle butch, it touches me even more. I refuse to ‘toughen up’, just because society is getting harder and less social and solidarity has been thrown in the bin.

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Reblogged: How to Write Women of Colour and Men of Colour if you are White

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Media Diversified

by Kayla Ancrum

A colleague of mine was talking to me recently about her misgivings about her capabilities regarding writing Women of Color. She wanted very badly to include several WOC characters in her sci-fantasy series, but she had some concerns about correct portrayal and writing them in a way that wouldn’t instantly piss people off. I told her I would write something about it that might help. So, here we have it: How to write POC without pissing everyone off and doing a horrible job.

When writing people of color, producing quality work comes down to three things. Research, Persistence and Consideration. To streamline the effectiveness of this essay, I am going to use the individual struggles of Black women, Native Women and Mixed Race women as examples within each section, as they each represent different (yet very important) racial environments that need consideration.

1. Research is by far…

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Riki Wichins on gendernorms and shame

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” Yesterday, as my 7-year-old daughter and I were walking hand-in-hand shopping for a dress in sunny South Beach, she turned and said, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings,” which is usually the start of something really interesting.

I assured her she wouldn’t and she repeated, “I really don’t want to hurt your feelings. But you do look kind of unusual in a dress.”

She continued, “When you wear tights and your boots with a blouse, from the legs down you look like one person, and then from the waist up you look like another. And it’s like ‘whoa.’”

I told her I knew this and that it was OK to look different. And it was a mystery to me why this was such a big issue with people or why they cared so much about how I looked.

But of course they do. It was down here in South Beach that I last wore a nice summer dress. My partner at the time — embarrassed and stressed by all the visual attention I hardly noticed but she was unused to getting — told me if I wore a dress again she wouldn’t go out in public with me.

I was so shaken. Did I look that bad? I stopped wearing dresses for 14 years. So today was somewhat of a breakthrough. But here it was coming at me from another generation.

Becky Juro recently recounted going out for the first time dressed in feminine clothing and having some guy driving by yell “Hey, faggot!” and throw a bottle at her head. She cried with shame and fear.

I had a similar experience my first time. As I got out of my car to cross the street, a car stopped, a guy (it’s always a guy) rolled down his window and yelled out, “You look ugly!” I too cried with shame, if not fear.

Shame is the main weapon the gender system uses to keep us in place. We are supposed to compare ourselves to cisgender women, and if we come up short — and with the amount of testosterone my particular body has had, how could it not? — we are supposed to slink away in shame or work harder to pass.

Well, I don’t pass. And it’s taken me roughly 34 years from that first encounter but I’m finally OK with looking different. I look good, if I may say so, and today that’s enough. I don’t have to look cis.

I told my daughter that I was going to wear my new dress to her elementary school, just to mess with the minds of all the kids who have told her I can’t be her “mom.”

She’s learned to laugh and say to them, “She’s transgender — deal with it!”

I’m reminded here of the Harvey Fierstein’s new play Casa Valentina, a hotel where the married male cross-dressers go to wear female clothing.

My friend Mariette Pathy Allen reminds me that it was based on the real-world Casa Susanna in the 1980s Catskills, when cross-dressers were even more hidden than today. And although they experienced a lot of pleasure and built a closeted sisterhood, they also risked jobs and families doing so, as her book Transformations: Crossdressers and Those Who Love Them documents.

The clothing and bodies of transgender people have always been heavily regulated, of course. There is punishment and hostility galore for us out there. But the shame is ours and we carry it with us, like a virus. We catch it from them, and if we’re not careful, it can infect us for decades, as it has me. Then we regulate our own selves. What a victory for them.

There was a time when I was working as a consultant on Wall Street and stepped out of the subway wearing high heels, makeup, and an expensive women’s business suit. And someone called me sir. And it stopped me in my tracks.

I’d always assumed that I was being “read,” but as a transsexual woman, which gave me some kind of entitlement to the clothes I was wearing, which made me legitimate. But what if, after all these years on the Street, everyone at every job I’d ever worked at had not read me that way?

Suppose they all thought I was a straight male cross-dresser. What if they only saw me as some kind of pervert who got off on wearing women’s clothing?

This is at a time, mind you, when I was leading very public Transexual Menace street demonstrations. And yet the idea that people might think I was a male cross-dresser literally made a cold, prickly sweat of shame break out all over my body under that expensive business suit.

I know that most of the millions and millions of American cross-dressers remain severely hidden, not to mention completely ignored by the LGBT movement. Cross-dressing is the final closet. And yet I’m constantly struck by the bravery of these men, who risk everything whenever they put on a dress.

As I explained to my daughter, it takes a real man like me to put on a cute dress and look good in it. She laughed, I made a face, and we walked on.”

RIKI WILCHINS is an activist, stand-up comedian, and author of Read My Lips.

 

‘The Beautiful Girl’: Höch, Fetish and the Patriarchal Machine

Shack Diaries

Hannah Höch was one of the only women in the Berlin based Dada group. She was also a feminist.
The Dadaist movement was formed during and in negative response to the First World War. Later Dadaists found a post war basis in Berlin and the movement become explicitly political, critiquing modern culture in terms of bourgeois art, politics and religion. Dadaist artworks often employed mundane objects to create sculptures, collages, posters and photo-montages. Such materials, when out of context, as reflected in Höch’s artworks, enhanced ideas of the absurdity of contemporary life.

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Höch’s pioneering use of photo-montage in her artworks, often typifies her Dadaist/feminist stance. The artist often focused  on gender construction and limited roles for women.

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In ‘The Beautiful Girl’, the artist confronts societal values by reflecting the state of modernity, while (in ironic opposition to the title) conveying the grotesque implications of an ‘automated femininity’. This was a…

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The 4 Ways People Respond to Feminism

REVOLUTIONS IN MY SPACE: A BLOG BY RITA BANERJI

Sometime ago, a friend who has two daughters, one of who dreams of becoming an astronaut, was telling me about how she wants this and that for her daughters, like she would for her sons, and then shuddering, like she was shaking off some insects that had crawled on her, she said, “But I am not a feminist!”
And I replied, “That you certainly aren’t! You fall in the category of a ‘shameless feminist user’.”

If you don’t know yet, there are 4 ways to relate to Feminism.  And here they are:

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“Of Althea and Flaxie” by Cheryl Clarke

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I love to read butch and femme poetry, it’s not easy to find, but it’s out there. This beautiful poem from Cheryl Clarke takes me back in history, to the hard times butches and femmes and other openly gay/lesbian people had. It takes courage to live the life you want to live. It still does for many of us.

In 1943 Althea was a welder
very dark
very butch
and very proud
loved to cook, sew, and drive a car
and did not care who knew she kept company with a woman
who met her every day after work
in a tight dress and high heels
light-skinned and high-cheekboned
who loved to shoot, fish, play poker
and did not give a damn who knew her ‘man’ was a woman.

Althea was gay and strong in 1945
and could sing a good song
from underneath her welder’s mask
and did not care who heard her sing her song to a woman

Flaxie was careful and faithful
mindful of her Southern upbringing
watchful of her tutored grace
long as they treated her like a lady
she did not give a damn who called her a ‘bulldagger.’

In 1950 Althea wore suits and ties
Flaxie’s favorite colors were pink and blue
People openly challenged their flamboyance
but neither cared a fig who thought them ‘queer’ or ‘funny.’

When the girls bragged over break of their sundry loves
Flaxie blithely told them her old lady Althea took her dancing
every weekend
and did not give a damn who knew she clung to a woman.

When the boys on her shift complained of their wives,
Althea boasted how smart her ‘stuff’ Flaxie was
and did not care who knew she loved the mind of a woman.

In 1955 when Flaxie got pregnant
and Althea lost her job
Flaxie got herself on relief
and did not care how many caseworkers
threatened midnight raids.

Althea was set up and sent to jail
for writing numbers in 1958.
Flaxie visited her every week with gifts
and hungered openly for her thru the bars
and did not give a damn who knew she waited for a woman.

When her mother died in 1968 in New Orleans
Flaxie demanded that Althea walk beside her at the funeral procession
and did not care how many aunts and uncles knew she slept with a woman.

When she died in 1970
Flaxie’s fought Althea’s proper family not to have her laid out in lace
and dressed the body herself
and did not care who knew she’d made her way with a woman.

by Cheryl Clarke