Making Revolution: Our Radical Feminist Future

by allecto

Sheila Jeffreys recently guest posted an excerpt of a speech which she delivered at the alternative conference which my partner, Amazon ManCrusher, and myself organised in response to the bullying, harassing and intimidation that radical feminists were facing from pro-sex industry activists and queer/trans activists. In brief, the Melbourne Feminist Collective formed to organise Feminist Futures which was “a conference that aims to provide a safe, supportive and active space for discussing different strategies to create a feminist future. It is an open environment for anyone interested in imagining and creating feminist futures in our community.” The conference organisers were well-intentioned but politically naive, obviously having no idea of the hot water they would be jumping into, trying to organise a conference in which “participants will have the opportunity to critically engage with issues across a broad range of feminist perspectives and agendas.”

They invited Sheila Jeffreys, Kathleen Maltzahn (founder of Project Respect) and Melinda Tankard-Reist to speak and listed them as panellists on their website. The shit hit the fan first with Melinda being axed from the program, apparently because of her ‘pro-life’ sentiments. As far as I am aware Melinda is against abortion from a feminist perspective, believing it to be violence against women. She is certainly not the only feminist to be critical of abortion. However, she was not going to be speaking about abortion, but about the objectification and sexualisation of women and girls. Then queer/trans activists and sex industry activists began a facebook and email campaign against Sheila, demanding that the organisers take Sheila off the program and platform queer and pro-sex industry speakers instead.

The organisers did not fully capitulate to these demands, however, to appease the bullies and harassers they platformed Elena Jeffreys (from Scarlett Alliance) and Jez Pez (an F2T, member of an organisation called Still Fierce) and to make it worse they put Jez Pez on the same panel as Sheila Jeffreys. Upon initially being asked to speak, Sheila had specified that she would not share a platform with anyone who was opposed to radical feminist ethics. The organisers blatantly ignored her wishes and then came up with a Participants Agreement which I, and many other radical feminists, could only read as being purposefully marginalising of anti-sex industry and trans-critical feminists. Among other things the Participants Agreement required us to refrain from being ‘transphobic’ and ‘whorephobic’, which are contested terms within feminism. The Participants Agreement did not contain any reference to misogyny or the hatred of lesbians. I found this to be particularly telling.

For all the talk from the organisers about creating a safe space, they did very little to ensure a safe space for radical feminist voices or for survivors of the sex industry. We emailed the organisers about the Participants Agreement and also about their decision to put Sheila on a panel with a member of Still Fierce. We had over 40 signatures on the letter but no action was taken by the MFC to ensure the safety of either radical feminists or survivors of the sex industry. Sheila, understandably, decided to withdraw from the conference, which left AM and myself with a bit of a quandary. We had plane tickets booked and time off work, but we were quite uncomfortable with the idea of attending a conference that was obviously going to be incredibly hostile to actual feminist politics.

And then AM came up with a brilliant and inspired plan. With less than 2 weeks before the start of the conference AM booked a room in the same building as where the workshops for the other conference was being held. She organised speakers; including Sheila Jeffreys, Renate Klein, Susan Hawthorne, myself (the star attraction obviously!!!) and various other incredible lesbian feminist speakers and put a program together for a REAL Feminist Futures Conference. Watching AM in action is awe-inspiring. We sent out the word and printed off tons of leaflets then got on a plane.

Friday afternoon we went to Spinifex Press and printed off a whole bunch of posters and I bought loads of books. On Friday night we had the privilege of seeing Gail Dines interviewed on the last day of her book tour of Australia. AM leafleted her audience! The next morning we got up early and met a few friends (more radical lesbian feminists!) to leaflet outside the Feminist Futures Conference as women (and way too many men) filed through to register. After the conference started we were too full of nervous energy and too hungry to attend the first session, we headed out to brekkie and AM tried to finish her speech.

Our conference started at 11:00. We arrived at the room early to put up signs and set up. We set up about 25 chairs in a circle, thinking that that was probably overly optimistic but just to make sure. We started… the chairs were filled… more chairs were set up… more women kept coming… there were women in all the chairs… sitting on the floor… coming in and standing sheepishly in the doorway. It was amazing.

It was a charged environment. The power of women-only space was palpable. We were women of all ages, many races, both lesbian and straight, both child-free women and women with children and our discussion was moving, honest, open, political, and radical. We were talking revolution. And we were making revolution. For an incredibly detailed documentation of the conference please visit Sazz’s blog and read her very inspiring and moving descriptions: Real Feminist Futures Conference and Real Feminist Futures Conference (continued).

We also attended some workshops of the other conference. The difference in the feeling and the atmosphere was stark. Men’s voices dominated the workshop run by Project Respect. Participants attempted to disrupt the discussion which was being run by a survivor of the sex industry. The coordinator of the outreach program for Project Respect, is an incredibly brave woman and she did not allow them to take over the workshop. It was disappointing that there was not safe space to have genuine discussion around women’s experience of prostitution. These discussions could *never* happen in spaces that include men.

Kathleen Maltzahn decided to speak, despite being aware that it was not going to be a respectful audience. We were unable to attend to show our support as our conference ended up clashing with her panel. We heard that a group of sex-industry activists, many of whom were men, stood and turned their backs on her. When question time came they all rushed to join the comment queue and laid into her. It is apparent that the Feminist Futures Conference could never have been a safe space for radical feminists.

We spoke to one of the women from the MFC after the conference. She said that they would never take on a project like that again. I think that it was obvious from the start that the conference organisers had very little understanding of the herstory of the Women’s Liberation Movement, and had no idea how to create a safe space for real feminist dialogue and debate. (Hint: NO MEN!) They were in way over their heads, and to be honest, by the end of it, I felt quite sorry for them.

But our conference was an unequivocal success. I learnt so much from having been a part of making it happen. I am usually so cynical about the state of feminism… even though I believe in women passionately, with every beat of my heart. But this has given me new hope as to the future of feminism and the future of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Both AM and myself are very excited about organising our SCUM Conference in September. It feels like The Women’s Movement is finally starting to come alive again after a period of dormance.

I want to end by paraphrasing what Gail Dines said in response to a question asked at the end of her interview on Friday night. She was asked, “how do we engage young people in critiquing and analysing the woman-hating, destructive media and pornographic culture we are immersed in?” And she answered, “Give them radical feminism. Don’t give them the queer and gender bullshit… that will just send them to sleep. When I give my students women like Andrea Dworkin to read they come alive and are immediately engaged. They get it.”

The fact that our conference drew so many women, from so many age groups, proves that radical feminism speaks to women of all ages. We are far from dead and buried, sisters, we have only just begun…

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26 Responses to “Making Revolution: Our Radical Feminist Future”

  1. YAy…. Yeeeeharrrrrrrrrr!!!!! Goooooooo radfems United…
    ( Always wanted to be a cheerleader!)

  2. Thank you so much Alecto for providing us with such insightful details of the Real Feminist Futures Conference. Just shows there are many women hungry for answers as to why all the talk of ‘female empowerment’ can only be achieved if a woman turns herself into a disposable sexualised commodity.

    Gail Dines is right as are the radical feminists who spoke at the Real Feminist Futures Conference. Women don’t want ‘fun feminism’ they want to be engaged and radical feminism provides the answers. That’s why radical feminists are demonised because radical feminists must not be allowed to speak since it does mean the world would indeed be turned upside down and male supremacy would be revealed for what it is – male domination over women.

    Yes indeed the fact the Real Feminist Futures Conference had female attendees from differing ethnicities, age groups etc. proves yet again many women are hungry for answers – not the ‘pseudo feminist nonsense abounding.’

    Well done to you and your partner for organising this conference at such short notice. The politics of feminism cannot be dismissed as simply that of ‘catering to all genders(????) because this immediately depoliticises what feminism is about. It is not about men’s rights rather it is the radical political belief that women are oppressed by men and that is what Women’s Liberation is all about – the elimination of male supremacy and male domination over all women.

  3. It is terrible that rad-fems are treated so badly, it makes me sick how mainstream feminism frames prostitution as sex work without question. I’m so glad you had the determination and courage to stand up to reversal of the reality for the prostituted class. I hope I can get Down Under to be an ally in your struggle. I find all so depressing.

  4. Well this was hopeful, thank you for the info and congratulations on organizing a real conference so quickly!!

    Seems like radfems need a better strategy which actually neutralizes those who keep pimping prostitution, but not sure what a truly effective strategy would be. They’re PIMPS, not “advocates for sex worker rights”. They’re advocating for the right of MEN to rape and traffik babies, children and young women, not “sex worker advocates”. Pardon, I just read this story and I’m absolutely disgusted.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2011/jun/02/nigeria-baby-farm-raided-human-trafficking

    THAT is what they stand for, the right for povery-stricken 14 year old girls to “choose” coercion and slavery. Their depravity is just utterly disgusting.

  5. Isn’t it illegal to pimp women, girls and children? Because if we had a law — and I think we do — that makes it illegal for anyone to profit from prostitution, seems like their infomercial conferences would qualify. How about getting a district attorney somewhere to proscute some of them? Really, I’m not kidding.

  6. more accurately, “for anyone to profit from prostituting other people”. sorry for not catching that in time.

  7. the law would have to cover those who merely ADVOCATE for prostitution, not just those who profit financially from it. Seems like getting the laws changed to include that would automatically shut them up real fast. Expect opposition, lol. They’d try to say that advocating for prostitution is covered under Free Speech, but no judge in their right mind would believe them. Isn’t there already a law in place now? Something about pandering or encouraging someone else to commit a crime?

  8. Allecto thanks very much for summarizing everything

    And again well done for making such powerful conference possible in the first place.

    The Melbourne real FFC started our revolution 😉

    Liane

  9. Thanks for this informative and inspiring account of your conference, Allecto. You and AM were awesome, in making it happen despite all the difficulties.

    “The fact that our conference drew so many women, from so many age groups, proves that radical feminism speaks to women of all ages. We are far from dead and buried, sisters, we have only just begun…”

  10. Thanks making this happen and for reporting what is going on! Great!!!!

  11. I am love love loving this radfem organizing. Yay! Go allecto!

  12. wow, allecto, thanks so much for sharing all this. I can only imagine all the work you and AMC went to to set this up. As a side note, I am very jealous you have found a RLF partner. 😛

    I fuckin’ hate the term “whorephobic.” The conference in Boston has been called that as well, but what the people saying this don’t understand is that there are plenty of women who have been in the sex industry in the audience; for personal reasons, most likely having to do with all the SHIT they get from “funfems”, they don’t out themselves. But, nonetheless, these “sex worker rights groups” get to act like they speak for all in the sex industry.

  13. ( Always wanted to be a cheerleader!) .. just waiting half-my-life for the right “team” !

  14. ( Always wanted to be a cheerleader!) .. just waiting half-my-life for the right “team” !

    Never, ever wanted to be a cheerleader, but now willing to reconsider, given the team!! 😉

  15. This is so inspiring. Maybe I should move to Australia….

    The only thing more inspiring than your post was the story on Sass’s page about the woman who had a home birth entirely on her own.
    That this sounds so incredible is proof that the industrial-patrirarchy has taken everything from us. I’m sure it was, and is how women have given birth since the beginning.

  16. Reading Andrea Dworkins work should be compulsory reading for all young womon……as well as Kate Millet.

  17. The treatment of Sheila Jeffreys by the organizers of Feminist Futures is outrageous. She has written against what she correctly names “the destruction of lesbians”, i.e. so-called FTM-surgery. She has criticized all transsexual surgery as a violation of human rights. For this she is silenced and excluded – which just shows, once again, how anti-feminist and lesbian-hating “queer” is. It’s excellent that RadFemHub exposes this kind of censorship and harassment of radical feminists/lesbians.

    However, I was appalled by RadFemHub’s/Allecto’s lack of criticism of Melinda Tankard Reist – a woman who has written both articles and a book against abortion. She is spokesperson for Women’s Forum Australia, a religious, anti-abortion organization. Of course she should be excluded from the Feminist Futures-conference as she should from any feminist conference. (Why was she even invited in the first place by the Melbourne Feminist Collective?).

    Without a word of criticism you describe her as being “against abortion from a feminist perspective”. What ???!!! You can’t be against abortion “from a feminist perspective” since being against abortion is anti-feminist/woman-hating. You also claim that she is “not the only feminist to be critical of abortions.” I could hardly believe what I was reading, this on a supposedly feminist blog! It’s very simple: if you’re against abortion you are not/cannot be a feminist. A woman’s right to control her body, in all matters relating to reproduction and sexuality, is one of the most fundamental tenets of all feminism. Without this we have nothing.

    In addition to this you quote Melinda Tankard Reist’s description of abortion as “violence against women” without any criticism, without naming this as a vicious anti-abortion lie, standard propaganda from the anti-abortion movement. Denying women abortions, forcing a woman or girl to give birth against her will, is violence against women. I’m shocked by your lack of basic feminist consciousness regarding abortion and other reproductive rights issues. I’m appalled that you quote Melinda Tankard Reist’s anti-abortion rhetoric as if you agreed with it instead of attacking it. Does your quoting of it mean you actually agree with this crap?

    Being against abortion means that you think women should be vessels for fetuses, that women should be punished with unwanted pregnancies for having had sex with men and that fetal tissue has a value (indeed more value than a living, human female being). Being against abortion means that you on some level think it is OK to force or guilt-trip a woman or girl into being pregnant and giving birth against her will. All this adds up to vicious misogyny.

    Also: How naïve can you get? This is how right-wing groups have worked for decades: having their women infiltrate feminist organizing, stealing feminist ideas, emptying them of their original meaning, turning feminist ideas up-side-down for their own anti-feminist, and in this case anti-abortion, purposes. By supporting anti-feminist women such as Melinda Tankard Reist you seriously harm radical feminism.

    Katinka S, radical feminist, Sweden

  18. The treatment of Sheila Jeffreys by the organizers of Feminist Futures is outrageous. She has written against what she correctly names “the destruction of lesbians”, i.e. so-called FTM-surgery. She has criticized all transsexual surgery as a violation of human rights. For this she is silenced and excluded – which just shows, once again, how anti-feminist and lesbian-hating “queer” is. It’s excellent that RadFemHub exposes this kind of censorship and harassment of radical feminists/lesbians.

    Thank you, such feedback is much appreciated. 🙂

    However, I was appalled by RadFemHub’s/Allecto’s lack of criticism of Melinda Tankard Reist – a woman who has written both articles and a book against abortion. She is spokesperson for Women’s Forum Australia, a religious, anti-abortion organization. Of course she should be excluded from the Feminist Futures-conference as she should from any feminist conference.

    In the absence of allecto, (the author of this piece) – I will try to address your concerns. Firstly, Hub authors are independent and individual opinions may, or may not, be supported by other Hub authors.

    Nontheless, I think you have the wrong facts about Melinda’s work and are spouting lying propaganda promoted by the liberal leftists of this world, but rather than deal with them here, I suggest you read Melinda’s work, starting with her blog at: http://melindatankardreist.com/

    Without a word of criticism you describe her as being “against abortion from a feminist perspective”. What ???!!! You can’t be against abortion “from a feminist perspective” since being against abortion is anti-feminist/woman-hating. You also claim that she is “not the only feminist to be critical of abortions.” I could hardly believe what I was reading, this on a supposedly feminist blog! It’s very simple: if you’re against abortion you are not/cannot be a feminist. A woman’s right to control her body, in all matters relating to reproduction and sexuality, is one of the most fundamental tenets of all feminism. Without this we have nothing.

    This is not true, radical feminism has always been critical of PIV and the social construction of heterosexuality. Radical feminism supports abortion/contraception being legal, safe and accessible, but only because it is a “band-aid”. Not a solution. It does diddly-squat to liberate women-as-a-class from oppression.

    Many radfems are critical of it, from an anti-PIV framework, as violence-against-women – it may be considered by some as a “lesser” violence compared to unplanned pregnancy and its consequences, and I repeat – there is no radfem argument against it being available, legal and safe – the radfem argument is that it is not the wonderful panacea that libfems and marxists seem to think it is, and merrily promote it with celebration, and as a “right”. That is the real anti-woman statement, to this radfem anyway – celebrating self-harm? Promoting self-harm as a “right”?? Only because it is less harmful than the alternative? (And I would argue that it is just as harmful, not less – considering how many women have died, left with chronic health problems etc)

    It still causes harm, and often great harm to women, and is still violence-against-women due to PIV causation. Men (and their nation-states) still control it, and are just as likely to force/coerce women into unwanted abortions, as out of them into unwanted pregnancies. No matter how useful it is to women (as individuals), it is ultimately for men’s class benefit not women’s.

    I’m shocked by your lack of basic feminist consciousness regarding abortion and other reproductive rights issues.

    And I’m shocked by your lack of basic radical feminist consciousness, so we’re even.

  19. All the terribly interesting arguments about who is and isn’t a “radical” feminist aside, in a world absolutely chock-full of coerced, manipulated, demanded, mandatory, forced, and violently-obtained PIV sex (coupled with very little access to birth control for women), arguing that abortion is “ultimately for men’s class benefit not women’s” is intellectual masturbation of the highest order.

  20. Noan, it might be more intellectual than you would like, but its also true. There’s no reason not to speak the truth here, its probably the only place most of us have where the truth is spoken regardless of its popularity or whether individuals particularly like it.

    Abortion on demand is necessary and it must be “safe and legal.” Nobody has said otherwise, although I think we all agree that ending piv-centric sexuality is the less painful solution isn’t it? From women’s perspective of course, not men’s.

  21. “A woman’s right to control her body, in all matters relating to reproduction and sexuality, is one of the most fundamental tenets of all feminism. Without this we have nothing.”

    It is not women’s choices that make abortion necessary. It is men’s choices… and men’s control over what defines women’s sexuality and women’s sexual function. Abortion exists because men believe that women’s function in sex is as a receptacle for their dicks. It is intercourse which is the problem, intercourse is the cause of unwanted pregnancy, and abortion is not a solution… it is a part of the problem.

    I, as a radical feminist, consider abortion to be violence against women. I have seen abortion used by men against women and it is just as fucked as forced pregnancy. The pro-choice argument, which frames abortion as a solution to unwanted pregnancy, is a liberal feminist position which does not address the real issue of women’s reproductive autonomy, which is our basic right to deny men access to our bodies. Unwanted pregnancy would not exist if men did not stick their dicks into women’s bodies.

    That said, I would not advocate for abortion to be made illegal. I agree that while men are sticking their dicks into women’s bodies, abortion remains necessary. But it is merely a harm reduction strategy. It is not a real or radical solution to women’s reproductive liberation.

    I have written more extensively about this on my blog: http://allecto.wordpress.com/2009/07/11/abortion-and-contraception-a-radical-lesbian-perspective/

    As for Melinda… She has written two books on women’s reproduction. One was about medical eugenics. Women who were told by doctors and other health professionals that they should have abortions because the foetus they were carrying appeared “abnormal” according to medical technology… and what happened to them when they refused to abort. The other book was about women’s grief after having abortions. Both valid pro-women areas of investigation. Yes, her writing is critical of abortion… because more often than not abortion is part of our experience of oppression as women.

    Pregnancy is also part of our experience of oppression as women, especially forced pregnancy… and with compulsory heterosexuality and intercourse as women’s sexual function under male supremacy… most pregnancies are ‘forced’ pregnancies. I do understand that. Therefore abortion remains necessary. But it’s necessity DOES NOT negate the harm.

  22. yes, even framing the issue as “controlling womens bodies” or “women controlling our bodies” is problematic isnt it? as if womens bodies are the real problem, that we are unruly or out of control…and that men using us as masturbatory aids is to be expected, and mens deliberate and intentional exploitation of our biological-femaleness for their own gain is just a misunderstanding, an oversight, or an “oops”.

  23. “However, I was appalled by RadFemHub’s/Allecto’s lack of criticism of Melinda Tankard Reist – a woman who has written both articles and a book against abortion. Of course she should be excluded from the Feminist Futures-conference as she should from any feminist conference.”

    To be perfectly honest, I don’t have a problem with any of the work that I have read of Melinda’s which is critical of abortion. And I fully support the work that she does against men’s sexual violence against women and girls. I *do* think it is ridiculous that MTR was excluded from the Feminist Futures conference but women like Elena Jeffreys and men like Robert (Raewyn) Connell were included. Surely being critical of abortion is less woman-hating than being pro-sex industry and pro-transsexual ideology.

    Writing articles and editing books which are critical of abortion from a feminist perspective is not the same as campaigning against safe and legal abortion. If MTR launched a campaign to criminalise abortion then I would be completely opposed to that… as would any radical feminist. But writing about, questioning and caring about women’s real experiences of abortion is NOT anti-feminist. I don’t understand how it could be characterised as such. Her writing is concerned with women’s well-being, not with her religious sentiments.

  24. Hi, how wonderful to hear about the organizing of and response to The Real Feminist Futures Conference. I’m an older radical feminist who has not been active for a while. I’m trying to get perspectives and getting so much from the new Rad Fem Hub – thanks to all involved for that site as well as this site!

    I’d like to express something which is not really clear in my mind yet but which I hope is helpful in this discussion. As I read about the reasons why the Real FFC was set up, I see that the moment the original organizers announced their conference they came under attack on several flanks (notably the Trans movement and the sex-positive movement). The attack seems to have been fierce and to more or less have gutted that conference. I keep reading about tactics like this which seem to have one goal: to destroy the one basic tenet of radical feminism: that the oppression of women is the original and prototypical oppression. The original conference lost its focus – the attackers were successful in keeping anyone from moving ahead and divisiveness seems to have ruled the day.

    This discussion in this thread is being attacked in exactly the same way, as I see it, by a respondent who is turning the general discussion to a tangential issue, saying that you can’t be a feminist and critical of abortion in any way. Of course this is a ridiculous notion; things like this: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/global/2011/06/west-blame-sex-selective-abortion-asia/39361/ have to be discussed and our position developed and expressed. Of course abortion is not without complex consequences, and control of ourbodies even with that legal right is very much in issue.

    What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that it is crucial to keep our focus on destroying the original oppression. The interests of the Transgender Movement and the Sex-Positive movement are not co-extensive with the feminist movement and can be specially addressed elsewhere, and liaisons maintained, but these special interest groups must not be allowed to co-opt or exhaust the resources of feminist conferences. I’m sure so much has already been said about this that I must sound naive. But I am thinking that feminist conferences should bar a) men, and b) any topic or speaker who has some other agenda than “feminist first.” We must stop this accommodativeness.The real topic, women’s oppression worldwide and doing something about it, is much too important to get sidetracked by special interests.

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