Amy’s Post on Heterosexism

[Edit: I had a hard time not putting Amy’s entire post in here, because there are so many important points. For that reason, I only addressed part of it. I was trying to get at: is separatism a good idea and could it work? But I’m all over the place. And a lot of this post is simply quoting her and saying “Uh huh!”, which makes me think I should scrap and redo the post. Strap on your seat belt for this one.]

First of all, go to Feminist Reprise and read I’m sick of heterosexism too. In yesterday’s post, I referred to Amy’s discussion of heterosexism and separatism, and how it really got to me. Why? Well the classic reasons, of course. It was very honest, it laid out an effective plan, and it made me supremely uncomfortable.

[aside: Amy is a very thoughtful woman, and she wrote today that she hesitated to blog about this issue because she didn’t want to hurt heterosexual feminists. IMO, one of the aspects of community is support. Support from other feminists is vital and it means so much to me. But another equally important value in a community is to push each other, challenge each other, and hold each other accountable. It ain’t comfortable, but it sure is worthwhile.]

Full disclosure: I am married to a wonderful, pro-feminist man. In July, we’ll celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. No one is more surprised by that fact than me. He’s amazing, and I’m keeping him. Now I realize (yet another) area of hypocrisy in my life. Because you see, Amy’s right:

I’ve never been the kind of person to sit around and wait for other people to do what I want them to, particularly after I learned, at a fairly tender age, the new-agey sounding but no less true adage that the only person one can change is oneself. I still see a lot of feminists writing and talking and acting as if we really can’t get on without the men.

Here’s where my discomfort really kicked in. She’s right, I’m not willing to live without the men I love. But more to the point, I’ve never considered separatism, because heterosexual privilege kicks in and I don’t have to think about it.

This just leaves me speechless because it’s so dead-on right:

There were some lesbians who looked at the understanding that patriarchy is built upon the usurpation and direction of women’s emotional energy, sexuality, and labor into the support of men’s interests; they stood back and scratched their heads and said, “Hey, what would happen if we, being women, directed our emotional energy, sexuality and labor to the support of women’s interests?”

I had the same reaction to this:

Nevertheless, there are lots of ways of prioritizing relationships with women, that is, of being lesbian, without involving sexuality. As just one example, I know some women have at least discussed the possibility of living more communally, such as sharing a house with another woman and their children, in order to live more cheaply and have help with household chores and childcare, as well as companionship. Why don’t more women do this? It’s a question I, as a lesbian-feminist, cannot answer, because my social and emotional energies, as well as the financial resources I can spare, are already directed almost exclusively towards adult women.

After reading this next section, the “Yes, but” thoughts were taking over my brain:

I have to say, my feminist sisters, from where I sit it looks like a lot of you want the crops without plowing up the ground. … Some of us don’t want to understand that men are not going to hand over their privilege, that the transformation of happy heterosexuality into something real and egalitarian can’t begin until women refuse to participate in the institution as it currently exists. Think about it: Did labor unions say to workers, “Well, we know that some of you have really good jobs with employers who only exploit you a little, and you really care about your bosses, so you all keep on working. The rest of us will go on strike to try to get better wages for everybody.” Of course not. They knew that some workers’ positive experiences or fair treatment didn’t negate the analysis that the system is exploitive and only collective action in the form of refusal to participate by all will change it.

Now I’m really stuck. Some men (several, many?) are worth it. They are good, decent people who work to end oppression. When these men are in our lives, we want them to stay. But comparing feminist separatism to worker organization is an apt comparison. It isn’t enough to change things a little; we need drastic reorganization of our society.

If we really want that safe feminist world, women are going to have to give up male approval and male love and start to build something with other women—not because rape is our fault or because justice is our responsibility but because men like raping women and they like hitting women and they like controlling women and they’re not going to stop until they have to. All that rhetoric about “giving up heterosexual privilege” wasn’t about being politically correct or cool or cutting edge; it was about the recognition that justice can’t co-exist with the systems of privilege that created the injustice in the first place.

The rapists and batters are not going to stop. Women fighting tooth and nail have not been able to make them stop. What’s missing in this scenario? The rest of the men: men who don’t rape, who don’t batter women and children. There’s a continuum out there from wonderful, kind and thoughtful men down to selfish but nonviolent. All of those men need to be involved in the battle to end violence against women.

What would shake up these men enough to get them involved in the battle? If every woman walked away and lived by principles of separatism, we’d have their attention right away. As I write this, it makes me feel like a traitor, because I won’t leave my husband.

So I’m at an impasse. Separatism seems reasonable. I think it would achieve its goals. But I won’t leave my husband. I usually am on the other side of issues: I’m the one trying to shake others up and get them to see that taking action is the only viable choice.

Right now I’m reading Life and Death by Andrea Dworkin. Amy’s post created cognitive dissonance in me, and I don’t have any solutions. But there may be one truly concrete result from this.

But I just keep thinking, what if there were 10 or 50 or 1000 of us and we were holding out our hands to each other and saying, “I’m scared, but I’m ready to make other women my priority so that we can start to build the world we want, together.” What if?

Thanks to Andrea Dworkin and to Amy, I decided to take some real action. Today I submitted my application to Eastside Domestic Violence Program. On May 1, I will start a 50 hour training program that will enable me to work directly with and for battered women. Thank you so much for writing that piece, Amy. Yes, it made me uncomfortable. But being outside our comfort zone stimulates growth. I certainly don’t have answers for how to resolve my conflict/hypocrisy. This volunteer program is a tiny step, but it’s a start. I’m sick of heterosexism too was the catalyst.

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18 responses to “Amy’s Post on Heterosexism

  1. Great news on the training program!

    “So I’m at an impasse.”

    Here’s what frustrates me about all this. Promoting an idea is one thing, doing it at the expense of others is another. It’s a no-win situation. There is always someone, somewhere, who will point out your “impurity”, all the things that you’re doing wrong. And you know what that starts to sound like? Do I even have to say it?

  2. le lyonshttp://lelyons.wordpress.com

    YAY for your new volunteer training. I did a similar program back in October and am now proud to call myself a “Hospital Advocate” – on call one or two nights a month to go to the hospital if a rape victim comes in for a SANE exam.

    Volunteering is a fabulous next step.

    Oh – my post responding to Amy should be showing up tomorrow. Might not be until later though. Damn work schedule.

  3. Three new referrals for me this week from the DV shelter. Sigh.
    Good for you, SE.

    Amy’s post was amazing.

  4. I won’t be making a post about my take on Amy’s article, because I have all the privilege and bias in the world to not want that idea promoted, as reasonable as it is. 😦

    I think that reformism is important, insofar as separatism leaves behind a lot of women who still need help. The biggest example that comes to my mind is women who have sons. It’d be kind of silly for a feminist sepratist community to let teenage boys in, wouldn’t it? Yet how can we ask mothers to leave their children behind or else be left behind themselves?

    The African American Civil Rights Movement chose to attempt massive reformism, and to a point, it worked. Second-Wave feminism accomplished quite a bit in the way of reformism. I do not think that reformism is hopeless.

    Of course, then again, I have a vested interest in focusing on reformism. Thus why I haven’t posted the pages and pages of male privilege that Amy’s post sparked in me.

    I’m very torn. I don’t know why I’m thinking even what I’m thinking.

  5. spotted elephant

    Manxome-Agreed about doing one thing at the expense of all others. But the way I read Amy’s piece was: the violence will not stop. What can we do, finally to change this hateful system? So she proposed a solution.

    le lyons-that’s great about your training. 😀

    Kaka-If I haven’t said it before, I think what you do is amazing.

    Dubhe-I identify with your confusion-I’m very torn over this. You brought up points I hadn’t thought of-what about sons? (Being childfree allows me to overlook things.) Teenage boys would not, IMO, be a good idea in a woman-centered community.

    I don’t think reformism is useles, but I don’t think it’s enough either. So, we need drastic solutions. And this is where my confusion takes over.

  6. Her post was so thought provoking to me. The ideas behind seperatism are solid. If we walk away they’ll do something, they’ll have to do something.

    But for those of us who’ve found ‘good’ ones we’re vested. And, for me, there’s the fact that I have 3 boys. I love my boys, with all of my heart but they’re 15, 14 and 11.

    Amy poses some incredible realities and that post forced me to think about my own desire to help. What I’ve found even more incredible is the response from feminists.

    Just about everyone who has read that post has ideas about it, and most of the women I’m talking to are grateful that she brought up so many hard hitting ideas. The radical blogosphere is pretty tight and I’ve seen so many responses from females saying, “Wow, that was a thought provoking post. It’s really forced me to think about my privilege and turn these ideas around in my head. Thank you Amy”.

    Think for just a moment about the reaction that we, as radical feminists, get when we do a post talking about *any* shred of male privilege.

    Think about the responses we get from men, the hateful vitriolic responses which universally say that we’re “Man haters”.

    Thus far, I’ve seen no woman accuse Amy of being a “Het hater!” why? Because she’s right about so many things. There *is* a privilege there, but the differences between how men and women seem to be dealing with this new angle are absolutely different.

    Anyway, for me that’s been an incredibly interesting reaction. The women are introspecting to see what’s there, where when we speak the same things about male privilege the response seems to be far more damning and far less ‘lets have a look at that’.

  7. spotted elephant

    BB-Yeah, the response has been virtually unanimous in terms of recognizing how she was right in what she said. I’m feeling stuck-like you said, when you find a good one, you’re vested in that person. But that doesn’t invalidate what she said.

  8. Mandoshttp://politblogo.typepad.com/

    One thing I note is that Amy was writing about what feminists have tried for 30 years.

    But these things have been going before the beginning of recorded history. It seems very odd to me to measure 30 years as an expectation of progress on something that Amy clearly believes is the foundation of culture itself.

    Progress seems to move from the outside in, and there’s been progress on women in employment and education, etc. Fundamental human-relationship questions can only echo this at a timespan of generations.

  9. Oh my God — you’ve got Mandos Mandos Mandos, SE!

  10. Mandoshttp://politblogo.typepad.com/

    Oh no! Whatever will you do!

  11. spotted elephant

    Mandos-Since she was focusing on rape and battery, it’s fair to say that they must (finally) be stopped NOW. Societal change, equal pay, sure things drift slowly. But we’re not talking equal pay in the workplace, we’re talking about the worst of the worst.

    Kaka-Is that bad?

    Mandos-Fess up! Should I fear your presence? 😉

  12. Good point on the responses to Amy’s post, BB!

    And SE: Yay volunteering! It really does help keep you moving forward when you can see a direct result of how much you’re helping. I’ve been wanting to get back into volunteering myself.

  13. Mandoshttp://politblogo.typepad.com/

    I’m an unrepentant pedant and nitpicker and my very first enthusiastic desire is to say “yabbut”, and I think that’s a good thing, and I also find agreeing with people very hard. I am also Twisty Faster’s volunteer scapegoat and have been elected Supreme High Avatar of the Patriarchy by general I Blame The Patriarchy acclamation so that I can be more properly used as a scapegoat.

    So the thing is, you have the easy and the hard bits backwards. The worst bits are the hard bits. They’re also the most ancient bits. Equal pay is a modern issue related to current modes of production, industrialization, etc. In agrarian societies where people work their own land, the issue simply wasn’t the same—but the violence was there. Equal pay is taking its time too, but workforce equality is, you may notice, arriving a lot faster than an end to violence against women.

    That’s because violence has to do with very deep aspects of our culture and psyche. Sexual control over women is so much more important than economic control. It’s so much older. It’s the worst part, and will take longer. It’s very urgent, like all death and violence…but it’s so ingrained.

    I wonder this: in our society, could it be that fewer men now abuse women, but those who do have more opportunity, leading to no net change in the rate of abuse? If so, that points to a kind of second-order progress, but of course that hardly helps.

  14. spotted elephant

    Mandos-I wasn’t talking about easy/hard, I was talking about urgency.

    The violence isn’t just a problem for our culture, but for cultures around the planet. If it was culture-bound, we might be able to address it more effectively.

    The opportunity to abuse and batter and rape hasn’t changed. As you say, this is an ancient problem, and things aren’t changing.

  15. Mandoshttp://politblogo.typepad.com/

    The opportunity to abuse and batter and rape hasn’t changed. As you say, this is an ancient problem, and things aren’t changing.

    My point is that urgency has nothing to do with what kind of change you should expect. The only relevant variable is the difficulty of the problem. Things can be horrible and urgent, etc, etc, but it has no relevance to what you can actually do and expect.

    Usually horrible things are the hardest things to deal with, anyway.

    That’s why I found Amy’s post a little surprising that regard. I mean, 10K+ years of horrible, urgent things, and she’s expecting 30 years of activism to make a dent? Of course, that’s why she’s proposing revolution: but revolutions are rarely successful (in uprooting fundamental social relations) even when they “work”, so to speak, and that’s for exactly the same reason.

  16. I’m going to stick my neck out here as the only dissenting voice. Although I think Amy’s an excellent writer, I really respect her views, and her post is certainly thought-provoking, I don’t believe separatism will solve anything. And I don’t think you’re a traitor for staying with your husband (nor are other commenters for not abandoning their sons). I say lots more here, if you’re interested in a different perspective.

  17. spotted elephant

    “My point is that urgency has nothing to do with what kind of change you should expect.”

    Mandos, respectfully, I say bullshit. Sitting back and waiting for things to change on their own timeline gets people nowhere. Change happens when the issue is forced. Period. Otherwise, people are quite happy to stay in their little cocoon. Most peoople consider change as being bad and don’t do it until they have to.

    Sage-I commented on your blog. Thanks for letting me know about your perspective.

  18. this is certainly interesting…. What interests me is that separatism is kind of being viewed as an either/or thing. It doesn’t have to be either/or. Perhaps selectivism is a better term for someone like me.

    Like you, I would never leave my husband or my son! Nor do I think it’s the answer, personally , but that’s an aside.

    I think selectivism is as effective as separatism. Be selective of whose company you choose, whose goods you buy. Refuse to be around those who offend you. I don’t read books written by men, for example — or very, very rarely if I do.

    I am extremely selective.

    By being in the common spaces known as the world, and making my selectivity clear, I think I have as much effect or possibly more than a group of women who secede. After all, does anyone here even know about the lesbian separatist commune in Northern New Mexico? My point is, it’s great for them, but are they having an impact by doing that?

    I think, though, that I don’t want to sound judgemental of the idea of separatism. Frankly, women need separate spaces in this world. Just how much separate space is up to you.

    And, I do a lot of advocacy work for women too. If you’re separated, how can you continue to do that kind of work?

    The world’s an ugly, gritty, hard, dirty place. It’s full of holes, cruelty and crime. But we have to hang with it, to some degree or other, or we can’t bring everyone when we change it. Wouldn’t it be better to bring as many as possible? I don’t want to leave anyone behind that wants to go, too.

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