Category Archives: Article/Essay

More sexism on the left

The [Socialist Worker’s Party] isn’t the first prominent leftwing movement to have its reputation destroyed by its own inability to deal properly with allegations of violence against women, and it may not be the last. From WikiLeaks to the Egyptian revolution to individual anarchist networks, the past years have been dispiriting for anyone who believes that feminism should be at the heart of any struggle against oppression. For some men on the left, it seems, feminism is just a petty bourgeois distraction from the real fight.

From Laurie Penny’s “The SWP and rape: why I care about this Marxist-Leninist implosion

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Occupy Patriarchy

With hindsight to put the pieces together, a bigger picture emerges. I remember who in particular these people were – male, predominantly white, alienated and resultantly defensive, and at their absolute worst anytime they were confronted by women.

When I facilitated meetings, they pushed back. When we talked about making space for other voices, they screamed about being silenced. And they are still with us; anyone hearing stories of the May Day General Assembly (GA) or watching Occupy Vancouver facebook  discussions can’t avoid seeing it. What we are really seeing is Occupy’s misogyny problem, and it’s one the movement shares with, oh, the rest of planet Earth.

from  Sasha Wile’s piece,  The importance of dealing with Occupy’s misogyny problem.

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White, Male Violence

[U]ntil very recently the fact that mass murder is an essentially all-male phenomenon got almost no attention.  Ironically, we are so accustomed to the idea that violence is gendered male that we don’t even notice that it is — unless we force ourselves to focus on something that seems so natural that it’s normally invisible to us.

As feminists have pointed out, if we define “human nature” as “what men do” we will treat male violence as merely violence, as opposed to a very gender-specific behavior.  If, when considering violence in our society, we were to turn being a man into a marked category, we would not ask questions like “why is America so violent?” but rather questions like “why are men so violent?”

From Paul Campos’ “Why is the shooter always male?

[W]hen poor folks or people of color engage in criminal activity — including, in general, a disproportionate share of lethal street violence — everyone has a theory; and not just a theory but an analysis that in one way or the other implicates something cultural. For the right, it’s the culture of poverty, or perhaps some specific aspect of “black culture” — about which they know nothing but about which they also feel utterly qualified to speak — while for the left it’s the culture of systemic inequality, of economic marginality, or the cumulative weight of institutional injustice.

But when white people, and especially those from stable and even well-off economic backgrounds lash out in a manner often more bizarre, indiscriminate, and apocalyptic than even the most determined street thug, it is then that the value of broader cultural critique vanishes faster than ethical judgment on Wall Street, to be replaced by a far more individualistic analysis. It’s the guns in that kids home, or the video games he played, or the Asperger’s, or the bullying, or he was a loner, or watched violent movies, or whatever. Because we cannot bring ourselves to ask the questions, let alone countenance the possible answers that we would ask and at which we might arrive were the vast majority of these mass killers black, or Latino, or God forbid Arab Muslims. In any of those cases — and everyone with even a shred of honesty would admit it — we would be talking not about the individual killer as an aberration, as a disturbed and disordered soul who had lost his way. We would be talking about the group or groups from which they hailed. About their cultures, their religion, their pathological communities.

But Adam Lanza was not Muslim. Not black. Not brown. Not poor. He was a white man, just like about 70 percent of all mass and spree killers in American history. And no one seems to think this is very interesting or worthy of comment.

From Tim Wise’s “Race, Class, Violence and Denial: Mass Murder and the Pathologies of Privilege

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On Masculinity and Capitalism

“John Henry of American folk song legend refused to bow to the superiority of a machine. He raced the steam-driven drill and won, though the effort killed him. Because of his strength and pride, John Henry is usually celebrated as a working-class hero. But he is really a capitalist’s dream […]

Like John Henry, a working-class man’s desire to appear strong and tough will often lead him to lift more weight, keep working despite pain, and forgo safety measures that slow him down and suggest fear or vulnerability. To appear competitive, he may strive to outdo his fellow workers, bringing a smile to the boss’s face.

Middle-class and upper-middle-class men do the equivalent. To display toughness, they work long hours and exalt efficiency over conscience and compassion. They compete for promotions, putting work first in their lives, lest they be seen as wimpy or wussy—sexist code words for “feminine” or “womanly.”

This kind of manhood striving is driven by a contradiction: To be a real man in U.S. society, one must have or display power—the capacity to exert control over one’s self and the surrounding world—but the fact is that most men in a capitalist society have little or no power. For most men, striving for manhood status is an attempt to evade this contradiction, to escape the psychic pain it causes.

From Michael Schwalbe’s essay, “The Hazards of Manhood

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The First Act of Violence

“The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.”

-bell hooks, “The Will to Change”

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The problem with “mansplaining”

Subtitled: “Who cares about facts when you can conform to conventional gender stereotypes?”

Yes, guys like this pick on other men’s books too, and people of both genders pop up at events to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.

Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence…

-Rebecca Solnit
Read the entire article, here.

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Recreating Oppression in OWS

-From Anarchists and the Occupy Movement:

“[At OWS,] Patriarchy and white supremacy reared its head constantly, as white male organizers were consistently given more credibility than female organizers or organizers of color. As a result, many of our most experienced queer, female-identified and organizers of color dropped out in the first few months of Occupy Wall Street and a trickling loss of talent continues to this day.

In Occupy New Orleans, where I lived and organized for a little over two weeks, a group of experienced anarchist organizers (majority female-identified people of color) who helped start the occupation were pushed out by a group of predominantly white male ‘anarchists’ who would loudly disrupt general assembly and mock the women of color facilitating.

Eventually, this group successfully pushed out the experienced anarchists; they stopped participating in the project. The conflict started because the one group were completely resistant to acknowledging white privilege or patriarchy, were infuriated at the women of color who brought up these concepts, and then used all of their privilege to launch verbal and physical assaults until they had won some kind of twisted power-struggle. When, weeks later, my female partner and I attempted to have a quiet, civil conversation with them about the importance of these concepts, she left in tears after being screamed at by a hulking, shirtless man who loudly proclaimed her to be a ‘cunt’.

…If our movement is to grow, we must learn to create safer spaces for systemically marginalized organizers and activists to work and thrive in.”

While I don’t know exactly who the “anarchist organizers” mentioned above refer to, such oppressive dynamics were not uncommon at Occupy NOLA  and the concluding prescription is spot on.

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What About the Men? Why Our Gender System Sucks for Men, Too

The problem of gendered, sexist expectations of men is enormous, and deeply ingrained into the culture. How are we to even begin dismantling such profoundly entrenched and damaging ideas? By using the same skills and tools that have worked before…

Keep reading

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Let’s be gentle with ourselves and each other and fierce as we fight oppression

From Dean Spade’s essay, For Lovers and Fighters 

Sometimes while I ride the subway I try to look at each person and imagine what they look like to someone who is totally in love with them. I think everyone has had someone look at them that way, whether it was a lover, or a parent, or a friend, whether they know it or not. It’s a wonderful thing, to look at someone to whom I would never be attracted and think about what looking at them feels like to someone who is devouring every part of their image, who has invisible strings that are connected to this person tied to every part of their body. I think this fun pastime is a way of cultivating compassion. It feels good to think about people that way, and to use that part of my mind that I think is traditionally reserved for a tiny portion of people I’ll meet in my life to appreciate the general public. I wish I thought about people like this more often. I think it’s the opposite of what our culture teaches us to do. We prefer to pick people apart to find their flaws. Cultivating these feelings of love or appreciation for random people, and even for people I don’t like, makes me a more forgiving and appreciative person toward myself and people I love. Also, it’s just a really excellent pastime.”

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The Invisibility of Privilege

From Michael Kimmel’s  essay This Breeze at My Back:

“This invisibility [of privilege] is political. This was first made visible to me in the early 1980s, when I participated in a small discussion group on feminism. A white woman and a black woman were discussing whether all women were, by definition, “Sisters,” because they all had essentially the same experiences and because all women faced a common oppression by men. The white woman asserted that the fact that they were both women bonded them, in spite of racial differences. The black woman disagreed.

“When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, what do you see?” she asked.

“I see a woman,” replied the white woman.

“That’s precisely the problem,” responded the black woman. “I see a black woman. To me, race is visible every day, because race is how I am not privileged in our culture. Race is invisible to you, because it’s how you are privileged. It’s why there will always be differences in our experience.”

As I witnessed this exchange, I was startled, and groaned – more audibly, perhaps, than I had intended. Being the only man in the room, someone asked what my response had meant.

“Well,” I said, “when I look in the mirror, I see a human being. I’m universally generalizable. As a middle-class white man, I have no class, no race, and no gender. I’m the generic person!”

Sometimes, I like to think that it was on that day that I became a middle-class white man. Sure, I had been all those before, but they had not meant much to me. I enjoyed the privilege of invisibility. The very processes that confer privilege to one group and not another group are often invisible to those upon whom that privilege is conferred…”

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