recovery ‘n’ revolution

by easilyriled

Can’t have one without the other, not really.  I don’t think so anyhow.  Lookit, why I’m thinking about this, is — a few weeks ago, my buddy K and I went to a women’s meeting in a suburb of our city.  Sometimes we go to meetings in exotic places like North Van or Burnaby or Steveston even.  Sometimes we cross a border, other times we cross a bridge (!) and sometimes we cross both.

So this was a small meeting, and the women were lovely, as they are, all were white, most were middle-aged, a couple had these really deep smoky voices.  They sounded like they’d been dispatching trucks or taxis for years, and they looked all tough and no-nonsense.

And of the 10 or 12 of them, over half were on anti-depressants.

OVER HALF.

This is not a revolution.  These women are sober, and they are doing the work they need to do to stay sober and they are serious and loving of each other.  They talked about how their lives were better than they were before they got sober, but they are still difficult, and there are these meds they are on, and they can’t stop taking them because life is even harder then.

They have recovery, but they do not have revolution.  Recovery is not a movement.  It’s something that’s helpful, though, for women in the women’s liberation movement — I am all over getting my allies and friends interested in sobriety.  That’s through attraction not promotion — works the same in sobriety as with lesbianism, and in fact, feminism — you start telling women what you think they should do and we’ll do the exact opposite, don’t matter what.  It’s a better strategy to do the right thing, be disciplined, responsible, kind and radical.  If we show ’em how satisfying that is, to be part of something so big and important, and surrounded by such totally cool women — they’ll join.

Anyhow, but recovery, miraculous as it can appear, is not a movement.  It’s political, ’cause any time we get together and take responsibility for each other’s well being and tell the truth, that’s a way to gain and share power.  But it’s not, in that it’s not meant to challenge the power structures we operate in, and that operate in us.  It’s just learning how to live sober.  That’s all.  It’s big, but it’s not challenging the powers that be.

The Women’s Liberation Movement, now, THAT’s a movement.  They called it a movement back then because they were determined to MOVE things, shift the way we do things, alter the power structures, flatten them out so we could all participate.  We take to the streets, we try to jam up the works of the powerful machines, we write letters and briefs, we stick our necks out, we get in front and we get each other’s backs.

I’ve found it way way easier to participate in this liberation movement as I sober up.  As I learn to live.  I was always a feminist.  Always.  But I was not always effective.  Not as effective as I can be now.  Which is still not as effective as I will be in another year, two, ten — if I keep doing the work.  But the work of sobriety is not making the powerful give up their power and getting their boots of our necks — no AA or NA group will take to the streets with signs and megaphones or lobby politicians for changes to legislation in the name of AA — it’s ANONYMOUS.

Which is why women in recovery are still wired to pharmaceuticals.  Life is way better, but they are still oppressed.  It is part of the answer, but they’re not organized yet, to their own liberation.  I talk some about feminism when I’m in twelve step meetings, but not a lot, because it’s an “outside issue” and AA has no opinion on outside issues.  And I need that conservative guy over there to keep me sober.  I will go toe-to-toe with him outside of the rooms, but inside, I just listen and take what’s useful and when I am asked to speak I tell the truth.  On the other hand, outside, I know women in recovery and also in feminism, and we can find each other, and we can find the women who still suffer, the women in trouble — I often offer to go to a meeting with these women.  I need them beside me.  Need them.

Which is why it’s important to have feminist action as well.  I can’t have either without both.  Had I only stopped drinking and gone to meetings, I might be medicated in another way. Like those women in that meeting K and I went to.  However, I’m really lucky in that I have opportunities to participate in a pretty vibrant scene here.  My involvement with a feminist anti-male-violence organization has broadened my horizons of opportunities and expectations — and those of many other women, as well, to be sure.  Not that there are not some times when medication is helpful.  Necessary, even.  But 50% of us?  Really?

As K and I left that meeting, she made that observation — “you know,” she said, “there is something very wrong when more than half of the women in that meeting are on drugs.”  Uh-huh.

Some people call “recovery” a movement.  In a personal sense, I guess it is.  But in a political sense, nope.  Not so much.

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43 Responses to “recovery ‘n’ revolution”

  1. ER, that is a wonderful post, and the point you make is so important, we need both recovery and revolution, and we need different spaces in which to bring them to fruition. A space to put ourselves aside and consider the greater good (which is our own long term good) and a space to focus on ourselves, our personal pain and our immediate needs. The former space is feminist space, the latter space, therapy space.

    I think some of the reasons that intersectionality has the potential to produce such discord in feminist organisations is because, in part, it belongs in the personal experience, therapy space. So maybe feminism needs to create two zones, one for campaigning, strategizing and dissecting the million ways patriarchy herds us from cradle to grave.
    And one for the personal trauma the system has inflicted on us, and call that zone two.

  2. Great post! It reminded me of the book by Betty McLellan, Psychopression that I discovered when she wrote a guest post for this site. She describes feminist therapy and how it differs from other psychotherapy, including traditional therapy when the therapist is a feminist. The key difference is that, integrated into the therapy is an understanding misogyny as an ongoing fact of the woman’s life and helping the woman address that (liberation).

    Now, I’ve had therapy and it helped me deal with both loss and trauma. Each of these therapists were feminists (second wave). But they were not feminist therapists. They were skilled and good human beings, and they did help me recover well enough to function. No meds were suggested. But the therapy hit a wall when it came to looking at the patriarchy and all its ill effects. Hindsight, I can see that clearly. Looking at how all women deal with losses every day under patriarchy, for instance, would have made a very big difference, because those were a part of the picture in dealing with my own loss. Many women are on psych meds long term, even though they have therapy. While I believe psych meds can be necessary, my guess is that it would be rare for anxiety and depression if we had feminist therapy. I’m still reading Betty’s book, so don’t know what else she says.

  3. i just saw this today about apparently increasing suicide attempts and completions among middle aged women. the article is so smug, and asks so facetiously “but why middle aged women? why why why?” and then goes on to cite “mental health problems” in that population. FUCK EVERYONE that had anything to do with this idiotic article and all the studies it cites. we all know the answer to this one, or at least we could all probably speak intelligently on the issue, so why cant/dont they? its shameful.

    http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/43714272/ns/today-today_health/t/suicide-spikes-among-middle-aged-women/

    heres something i wrote at my place about aging under the patriatrchy. it was part of a 3-part series on dworkins “right wing women.”

    http://factcheckme.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/right-wing-women-part-3-d/

  4. Zeph, I appreciated your perceptive point about intersectionality. I do think that personal pain arising from class, race, physical ability, etc. have hurt women’s liberation. I would not put them only in the “personal” category, though. I think that they interact in complex ways with misogyny. These ways still need to be looked at, but differently and with more subtlety. For example, class. Does class “oppression” grow out of male supremacy? I grew up urban poor. Women and children in my neighborhood did not have enough to eat sometimes. But did women, even rich women, have power to do much about this, except maybe do charity projects to help hunger? (It was the best they could do and sometimes did do). Did rich women have privilege themselves in the form of more food security? Yes, but. . . only if they went along with rich men. Do rich men have more power than poor men to hurt, rape, and even kill women, even rich women? Yes, they do. Do rich pedophile men have more power in a custody battle, very much more? Yes they do. It’s complicated, and plenty of damage there.

    I’m saying here that I think the recovery part is needed so that women are not attacking women. It’s fine to clarify issues based on privilege, but a lot of compassion is needed for all women. We never know the details of other women’s lives based on categories. As a woman who grew up urban poor, in some ways, I see the lives of women who grew up in a middle and upper class bubble of illusion more clearly than they do. I would not have wanted their lives, either. I know they were incested, molested, beaten, etc. However, in my community that was always an open secret. I think there was more support. In theirs, I believe they were more isolated. Money privilege isolates those women, though it bonds the men. Also, richer women are more likely to deny rape, beating, misogyny for fear of poverty. And on and on and on.

    My point is that this post and comments made me think that a deeper analysis/understanding of the issues behind intersectionality is needed, one that sees both the personal pain and also the dynamics that are involved. I believe that some of the harsh and simplistic analyses, ones that include blaming and guilt, are based on what has been learned in Marxist groups. I had an early exposure to Marxism and ideas of “oppression” in groups that were more misogynist than the culture I grew up in. It’s where I met male sociopaths as opposed to the petty criminal guys of my neighborhood. It’s still going on, look at Strauss-Kahn. Women can do better than that.

  5. Paraphrasing something I read a long time ago that stuck with me though the author didn’t,

    “If you’re ignored, passed over, bullied, demeaned, stalked, threatened, humiliated, exploited, assaulted, raped, and generally made to feel like lesser human beings your whole life, you’re not depressed but oppressed.”

    An educated distrust of pharmaceutical corporations mostly keeps their drugs off my radar, but I have many beloved friends who take anti-depressants and share their experiences. I self medicate daily without pills and I’d rather not find out if I could continue my radfem activism as heartily without herbal remedy.

  6. I am so glad you wrote about this. I am not in recovery now, but I was for years and what I saw was that yes, the women stopped at a certain point with their recovery, at the next obvious precipice, which was too hard- looking at their trauma, which often was gender-induced. as a person who had debilitating “depression” for years and overcame it “naturally”, i.e. by facing the trauma in my past, not taking drugs, I firmly do not belive the lies that American pharma companies peddle- that depression is a chemical imbalance, blah blah. depression is repressed emotion frequently due to trauma, and it affects women more with no solution because many women believe they cannot afford to “come out” agains the frequently gender-oppression-based trauma in their lives and pasts- looking at how relationships with men past and present are or can be toxic, and changing that. it feels to scary, so accepting the status quo lie that they need meds is easier. it’s tragic, because as someone who pushed past that lie to joy and self possession, I can say honestly, it really is a lie.AA does not sufficiently address women’s real issues and it’s unfortunate, because there needs to be somethign within the rooms saying, you have more work to do, but frequently women are just told to rework the steps. the Steps are awesome, but they don’t touch everything.

    thanks for noticing and writing about it.

  7. In this “society” (how I hate that word), most middle-aged women know that they have nothing to look forward to but increased marginalization and loss. This intensifies within “society” every year. And even without that, in each woman’s life it intensifies by virtue of her simply getting one year older.

  8. Antidepressant medications are a blessing for those who need them, and save lives every day, but…50% is too much.

    Ever been to an OA meeting? It’s chilling. Same problematic recovery under patriarchy, but! the addictive substance in question is necessary for human survival, and the dialogue focuses obsessively on body image. Women often walk out of there feeling worse: MORE helpless; MORE caught in a crazypants maze of contradictory directives.

    @FCM: Your “right-wing women” series = awesome squared. Aging under the patriarchy is sheer terror. Someday, I hope that aging women will have safe places to go; to live together as independently as possible. How can we accomplish this?…

  9. Somebody wise once told me that the most radical thing a woman can do is to love herself. Just the simple act of truly taking care of yourself becomes a revolutionary act. If you really want to really piss people off with your rebellion, take it a step farther, be happy, be cheerful, be positive. One of Maya Angelou’s poems, “Still I Rise,” really captures that concept, “Does my sassiness upset you?………Did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes?”

    Women aren’t supposed to be happy. We’re supposed to be jumping off of bridges, mourning our fat thighs, and feeling guilty for the state of the world. Being a woman in this society is practically a recipe for depression. If a woman hasn’t yet developed a chemical imbalance requiring anti-depressants, it’s rather amazing. “Broken” is supposed to our default condition. There is a concerted effort going on to keep us in that state.

    One thing I like about feminism is that it suggests that women may not be these defective creatures responsible for all the evils in the world. Lo and behold, we may not being causing our own rapes, our own economic challenges, our own depression and oppression. Not only that, we may not be causing all of the menzs problems, either! That’s a staggering amount of weight to take off of women’s shoulders. Just taking that burden off of women is downright revolutionary.
    .

  10. Hi all, this is a great discussion, very helpful and thoughtful. damn. I love women, eh, so glad I am one…
    just to clarify, twelve-step programs are not therapy, exactly. They are resolutely non-professional, and all about peer-support. That’s one of the things i like about it, that emphasis on service. Everyone, once they walk into the doors, is invited to do some work, take responsibility for the well-being of others, make an investment in not only their own recovery, but others, as well. Pick up a chair, shake someone’s hand, tell the truth, help set up–doesn’t have to be much, especially at first. So it is like feminism in that way, radical feminism, in that our personal sobriety depends upon our unity, and depends on us all taking some of the responsibility for the good of others. Pretty flat hierarchy.

    Also, “singleness of purpose” is an integral part of AA–that purpose is to live sober and help others achieve sobriety. That’s it. that’s why it can never be revolutionary.

    AA (or other twelve-step programs), can help to sort out how the traumas we have experienced have affected us–certainly it gives us some new tools for living–but sometimes individual therapy as well can be helpful to kinda jump start or aid that process.I used to be really anti-therapy and was nearly pathological in my revulsion of twelve-step programs, I don’t go to a therapist, but some of my allies have or do, and they are far better organizers and activists than they could have been before. Similarly, i was not as effective an organizer as I can be now.that i ‘have a program’. My derision of twelve steps was kinda sorta like my disdain for feminism and lesbianism (a VERY long time ago…).

    one more thing–neither radical feminism, nor twelve-step programs are cults. One of the requirements of a cult is a charismatic leader. Heck, radical feminist collectives AND twelve step groups are abounding in charismatic leaders! so much so that i used an exclamation mark for emphasis.

  11. Token depressive in the house! Don’t be fooled by my characteristically enthusiastic nature– I’m unbearable deep in the throes of depression. All I do is cry and sigh loudly. I can assure you, it’s terrible to even *be around.* And no, I am not bipolar.

    My story, which I’m sure you’re all very interested in, is basically that I have experienced depression as a shadow on my brain since before I knew what to call it or what “depression” means. This may be some kind of congenital defect (chemical imbalance?) that would result in my death under evolutionary circumstances. I’m OK with that. On the other hand, and more likely, I think, is that I am unable to emotionally cope with the “scripted” nature of modern life and all its complexities. Under capitalism, I have a lifetime of bullshit WORK to look forward to. This is daunting and overwhelming and I don’t want to do it. DON’T WANT TO DO IT. So I take drugs to make it more bearable.

    I’ve been on and off my anti-depressants more times than I can count over the past 12 or so years; every time the hopelessness returns. I am not a hero and I will not suffer needlessly! That’s why I take my meds. The side effects and other risks associated with taking them are absolutely worth it.

    I’m not fishing for your sympathies, I don’t feel defensive about MY choice (you couldn’t talk me out of it if you tried!), and I definitely do NOT want to silence criticism of the predatory pharmaceutical industry. I only want to make clear that FOR SOME PEOPLE medication is 100% necessary. We know who we are. It isn’t revolutionary. It isn’t even particularly therapeutic because nothing changes– nothing MOVES. It’s merely SURVIVAL. And sometimes that’s everything.

    Thanks for posting this, ER. I love your writing!! LOVE IT.

  12. Thank you for bringing this topic up easilyriled.

    I’m a firm believer that depression is environmental. I love Greer’s quote: You treat a tiger for being in a cage, not for being a tiger!!!  Same goes for women.

    I had a long online discussion with a woman once who was very clued up about neuroscience. There is no evidence at all to show that chemicals in the brain *cause* depression. All they know is that certain drugs can *affect* the brain in certain ways, but they don’t yet know how or why.

    It is true that the brain of a person who has suffered unbearable abuse in childhood presents differently compared to the brains of others. Apparently the brain forms in a certain way in response to trauma, enabling the victim to block out feelings that would otherwize send them over the edge into suicide. This is a HEALTHY adaptive strategy. IF the person’s brain did not adapt, the organism (body and brain) would not survive. Again, drugs can help alleviate some of the symptoms, such as psychosis.
    Thankfully, new evidence is being uncovered to show that the brain can heal from trauma and create new neuro-pathways. It was previously thought that once a brain had been damaged there was no way back.

    I am well aware that had I been born even fifty years ago I would have been carted off to the mental hospital, either by my father or a husband. I have *never* been able to “adapt” to my environment. I *could* *not* stand for unfairness and would lash out and rile against it, even as a tiny girl. OBviously people thought I was crazy. THey couldn’t see that the circumstances I was dealing with were crazy.

    Here’s what I wrote at UndercoverPunk’s
    WRT anti-depressants, never gone there myself. I self-medicated with alcohol for a long while; now I just zone out into the computer. A bit too much for my own good. Writing took the edge off. Breastfeeding, actually, helps, something to do with the feel-good hormone oxytocin being released into your bloodstream. That kind of gets counter-balanced by the stress of having a baby around though, so you’re back to square one. Shopping is my drug. Not good.

  13. UP, I appreciate your post. It makes sense to talk about the differences amongst us, including that some people take medications for therapy, some use groups like AA for recovery, some use psychotherapy. While each of these things have downsides, they can make a difference in our survival. What we have in common is an understanding that the patriarchy damages each of us and all of us. The patriarchy threatens our survival in ways that these therapies do not change. In our acknowledgement of that we may be different from women who do not see it (yet).

  14. I should restate that it’s not my place to judge what other people choose to do. I do believe there are better choices and that there is hope for permanent change without medication, but everyone deserves and has the right to her best choice and it’s not for one person to say. I only share my success in quitting meds permanently because I used to believe that I was one fo the people who couldn’t live without them, but I have found success with cardio, mercilessly ending all toxic relationships-including most of my family-, and whole shit ton of emotional work. However, that is in no way the solution for everyone nor do I know what it’s like for other people.

  15. Well, I swim on a regular basis– agree! Exercise has always helped my depression. But I can’t think of any close relationships I have that are toxic. My problem with depression has most often been that either, one, there is nothing in particular that I’m endlessly crying about (I have been known to say: “if I knew what was wrong, I’d fix it!!”)– or two, that I can’t change the things that make me unhappy because they are global/structural issues. I have to accept the things I cannot change. Oh, serenity prayer!!! 😉

    Also, since I’ve been on and off my meds so many times (trying to get freeee of them!!), I can attest to a particular feeling that I describe as the insatiable itch of a mosquito bite: I want to cry, and cry, and cry. It doesn’t matter how much I cry, though, because the urge to cry MORE remains. It ITCHES!! It’s almost visceral and it takes a LOT of emotional energy to fight it off so that I can minimally function in the world. I’m done with it. DONE.

    Anyways, I can’t do feminism when I’m exhausted from crying and shit. That’s another issue here. When people are consumed by their emotional pain, they are not able to constructively participate in any movement or contribute to community. It’s a problem!

  16. Undercover probably already knows this, but for those that don’t, once depression becomes a physical problem in your body/brain, what’s going on around you doesn’t matter much. You could probably win the lottery and still be struggling to get out bed. It’s a physical condition. Your body, your brain, have taken over and staged a revolt. They quit. They are no longer willing to process information for you anymore. You can sit there and feel nothing or you can cry, but we don’t work for you anymore. For whatever reason, your body chemistry has resigned. Sometimes it can eventually be enticed back, the right vitamins, exercise, antidepressants, some peace, stability, time to heal. Sometimes that can take years.

    I do pretty well now days, except for a few months in the winter. It’s really dark around here and I can’t get enough sunlight. I have to take vitamin D, Saint John’s Wart, eat lots of healthy fats, and drag myself out into the rain to get some exercise. I did take prescription antidepressants and I’d still be taking them if they worked, but they don’t seem to help me as well as the vitamin D and St John’s Wart.

    You know what I wonder about? The diets we expect women to eat. I wonder how much those contribute to depression? We’re supposed to eat fat free diets, munch on a rice cake, not consume much protein. Always fear our thighs. I don’t feel the least bit guilty about taking an herbal antidepressant, but I do still have twinges of guilt about eating healthy fats. Isn’t that ridiculous? I’m still thinking about all the calories in those nuts and fish oils that I now have to eat.

  17. UP, I very much relate to what you’ve said. I take anti-depressants as well and have since my mother completed suicide. I was depressed for over a decade before my mother’s death. Her death really woke me up and I finally sought professional help. I still have days when I wish I were dead but they are few and far between now thanks to my meds.

  18. @yttik, yes! Neural pathways have memory. I will probably be on meds for the rest of my life. Believe me, that’s hard to accept. But I’ve been around this track tooooo many times. More importantly, what I gain from meds (the will to carry on another day) is infinitely more valuable than any related sacrifice. Infinite!!!

  19. Be very careful about cholesterol lowering drugs. My sister went on them and became suicidal. When she went off them, after months she changed back to her old self. Our brains need cholesterol. That’s a fact. The right kind is best. The doctors never warned her that they could have these side effects. Once they occured, the doctors did a lot of dancing around. Well, it’s a rare, side effect and all that. (No, it’s likely an underrported and for sure potentially deadly side effect). But they knew she’d become depressed. I doubt that it got reported as a side effect, so still underreported. The docs are too busy for that. It is scary, believe me. I say a person needs to do extensive research for each and every drug she takes, and know rare side effects, too. (Walks off stage mumbling and swearing. . .)

  20. Important typo. When she went off them, after taking them for months, she quickly changed back to her old self. Not, “after months she went back to her old self.”My writing is not always clear 😀

  21. {{{ to everybody here }}} For 15 years, I’ve been taking an SSRI. Whenever I try to stop, I fall into a depressive abyss. Taking it, I’m depressed probably 95% of the time, but not actively suicidal. I have some clonazepam and a bit of seroquel to get me through if I go into crisis. After seroquel, I’m out cold for a day and a half, and wake up with a nervous system that doesn’t remember what was happening before.

    I’ve been depressed since before I started school – it’s just my body chemistry, or I’m hard-wired that way.

  22. yttk: “Somebody wise once told me that the most radical thing a woman can do is to love herself. Just the simple act of truly taking care of yourself becomes a revolutionary act. If you really want to really piss people off with your rebellion, take it a step farther, be happy, be cheerful, be positive. One of Maya Angelou’s poems, “Still I Rise,” really captures that concept, “Does my sassiness upset you?………Did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes?” ”

    This comes up again and again on the abuse website that I participate in. In the process of embracing reality it is necessary to recognize that you are not only in, or escaped from, an abusive relationship, but that you live in a culture that has conditioned you to tolerate abuse. That is why it is essential that the therapist specializes in abuse. Too many women are helped by their therapist to learn better ways to tolerate abuse from their partner rather than ways to stop tolerating it.

    The linchpin that is pulled to collapse the cart of cultural conditioning always seems to be the realization that self care, self love, is essential to good physical and mental health, and for some survival itself depends on it. It is not selfish selfish selfish bad bad bad!!!
    Once they see it they cannot unsee it and they have taken a small step down the road to personal and cultural revolution.

  23. What about numbness?
    I’m quite concerned about my inability to feel. I used to feel everything as a teenager. IN those days it was as though a layer of my outer skin had peeled off. Now I’m frightened if I dare to feel the floodgates will open. I did actually hear there’s a short window of increased suicide once a person begins to take ADs, because suddenly they’re able to feel again.

  24. And I agree with you completely TBW. ONe of the steps for my healing was to choose to be a “bitch” because being a “good, nice girl who cares for her father and mother and siblings and grandmother and grades etc” was. literally. killing. me.
    I had to redefine my identity. I did not have to be the “responsible” one that everyone could rely on. Now, I am defined by others as a Bitch (I have had no contact with my parents for 5 years) but my mental health has improved.
    It’s a revolutionary act for a woman to decide to put herself first.

  25. I don’t know, CherryBlossom. All I can say for sure is that I was strong enough to survive it so I’m strong enough to tell myself the truth about how I feel about it.
    Going no contact is the appropriate response to abuse. Then comes the hard work of sorting through the FOO (family of origin) issues. Every family has their own special steps in the dance of anger. When we go no contact we stop dancing, and can focus on learning how to grow and heal.

  26. while it’s important that women figure out how to function in the world, this whacked out dangerous world, and that often includes no contact with our families of origin and therapy and drugs sometimes and all that other stuff–i think this discussion has slid over to discussions of individual recovery–which is okay, you know we get to offer each other what’s worked for us.

    But part of what i was saying in the initial post was that political organizing can be part of that recovery or aided by individual recovery (now the word “recovery” is starting to look weird…)– but both, in order to be effective, have to have some kind of taking responsibility for the well-being of others in it. The thing that kept me in the women’s movement, and that have kept me sober, well, a big thing, is that others have expectations of me. They expect me to show up, to tell the truth, to do the work–and they expect that I will figure out I am worth it, I deserve to belong and that others need me to be there. I matter. We all do.

    There’s a poster in a transition house i work at. It’s a repeating picture of a woman leaning on a window sill, looking out–the caption said something like, “together we are strong”–there was something before the “together ” bit, but I can’t remember it, i think it was more clever and encouraging than “alone we are weak”….but anyhow, that’s the thing, that’s why, because all those things, pharmaceuticals, twelve step meetings, therapy, feminist political organizing in and of themselves have flaws and limitations, but combinations of the above–with feminist organizing–with other feminists, can save our collective ass. Can help us transcend medication or recovery or therapy, not repudiate them–does that make sense? it kinda does to me, but i’m a bit sleep deprived….

    it’s not easy. it costs us a lot. a lot. and it’s bloody hard to organize and to see the structures that keep us from each other let alone figure out how to take them down. it drives women mad. i don’t know how. but i don’t have to know it all, i just have to keep thinking with other women, and keep doing the next right thing and keep telling the truth at meetings and in my life and keep praying (you heard me) for guidance. and doing the next right thing and believing that i am worth this undefined shared freedom, and you are too. the way things are now are not my fault. it’s not your fault. but it is our shared responsibility to see it, understand it, change it. I think online stuff like these radical feminist blogs are a splendid start, we are talking to each other. i miss taking the streets, but i realize we have to change our tactics.

  27. “together we are strong”

    Human beings are social animals, and one of the things we need when we are suffering is social structures that acknowledge and support that. Women, not being considered worthwhile human beings in our hateful patriarchal world, do not get this support and validation.

    It’s why good women’s spaces, women’s communities are necessary, why speaking of women’s realities are so powerful (and why men hate it of course).

    There’s a book I’ve recommened before, by Judith Herman Trauma and Recovery. She ties a lot of this stuff together, it’s hard going but good stuff.

  28. O/T to the mods – is there a blip on the Feminism and Vegetarianism post ? I can see comments but can’t see a comment box for replies.

  29. comments were closed on that thread after a reasonable time, as they were on sjs previous thread.

  30. I thought that this classic paper by Carol Hanish might be of interest. http://www.carolhanisch.org/CHwritings/PIP.html It is entitled “Personal is Political” It describes the consciousness-raising groups of the 1970’s and how women got together to better understand and analyse the political as it manifested in their lives and the lives of other women. Hanish makes the point that while these groups might have been therapeutic, their purpose was understanding theory. She also points out problems with action without theory.

    Looking at this from the perspective of 2011, it seems to me that action without theory is what liberal feminists do, in a way. Slutwalk, for instance got a lot of media attention. I think that the well-meaning women who participated did not have an understanding of theory, since PostMod theory is really no theory at all, a zillion individuals with different narratives are anti-theory. Those well-meaning women were exploited by cynical opportunists (mainly male). So, action without theory is making things worse. Women are getting exploited in the name of feminism. That’s the political.

    On the personal side, Hanish holds the view that women do not need therapy. While I do support the use of medications, therapy, etc., the argument she makes is important, basically that we need to make collective–political–changes, not adjust to oppressive conditions–personal changes. I do think that this is exactly what the liberal feminists advocate when they advocate individual solutions.

    What largely seems to be missing from feminism today are mechanisms whereby women get together in groups for political analysis. This happens to some extent on blogs like these and this is a really good place to start. Having participated in CR groups back in the 1970’s I do see some important differences and limitations to trying to do this all online. (I also did actions with women IRL, and the irl CR groups themselves were ongoing actions). I also see some advantages in the online presence of the blogs, Like giving women a chance to have a really large scope and access to information about the world that no one dreamed of having back then. We need both, really, but cannot do without the CR groups. [I’m not saying that the same woman needs to have an active blog and also start an irl CR group–a recipe for burnout]

    I think that something insidious happened to the CR groups. I witnessed this. They came to be seen as therapy groups, self-help groups, new-age spirituality groups. This separated/isolated the personal and the political. We have actions that are about “choosey-choices” and self-help as the solution to oppression.

    We have the resource of the online blogs, and we also have challenges that are different from those times, such as creating female-only spaces to do this analysis and the co-opting of the word feminism, thus confusing women who might participate.

    Finally, here’s a link to a How To Guide to CR groups: http://www.uic.edu/orgs/cwluherstory/CWLUArchive/crguidelines.html

    Here are some archived materials that are from those early groups, with topics, etc. JPGs seem to work the others are html code that don’t work for me. http://ia600303.us.archive.org/21/items/FeministConsciousness-raisingGroupGuideTopics/

  31. I think one of the amazing things about recovery groups is that if you put a group of women together, women from all backgrounds, all different personalities, together they can create sobriety. The power of women when they come together and invest their time in each other, is unbelievable. It’s simply startling how powerful and transformational it can be. And what women create doesn’t just benefit them, it ripples out into the community, like with that transition house. Focusing on ourselves, learning to put ourselves first, really is revolutionary and rather than being selfish, it has the power to benefit whole communities.

    Our culture works really hard to keep us isolated, to keep us divided, to keep women fearing and judging each other. I suppose that’s because if we ever truly united, we’d take over the world.

    I think personal recovery, whether it’s from alcohol or child abuse or whatever, needs to eventually expand in order to complete itself. We do eventually need political organizing or activism to finish the healing. We might be blogging or marching or organizing some service in the community. I think there is something in those recovery groups about sobriety only being the tip of the ice berg, the first step in a long process. I think it would be kind of sad if women simply got sober, got on antidepressants, and that was the end of the line. Women and life have so much more to offer.

  32. Your beautiful post brought up some emotion, easily riled. Right, it’s not easy. You said :”it costs us a lot. a lot. and it’s bloody hard to organize and to see the structures that keep us from each other let alone figure out how to take them down. it drives women mad.”

    Seeing those structures really is an ongoing business; they morph, they hide, they disguise themselves as positive things. It does take so much energy that we have to do this work as a group. These blogs steadily point out the structures, and I appreciate that work very much. It makes me think about women writers over the past 150 years, how so many, like Willa Cather, were entirely on their own, seeing those structures and trying to point them out. This work has indeed driven many women mad, but we can avoid that now. We must keep our individual selves strong and not sink into despair, and also strengthen ourselves as a group.

  33. yes, yes, yttik and tiptree2–we do have so much to offer, and so much to gain–we can’t even imagine all of it. thank you for your comments–
    this blogging thing is most sustaining, really. it’s only part of the work, and we need each other in our off-line lives of course, yttik, you’re right, the power of women together, all kinds of different women gathered for one purpose, is transformative. i’m working on a post about the womens worlds–i’m gonna try to articulate how that all felt–but first i have to write up a syllabus…yiyiyi….

    i like what you said too about the structures changing, tiptree. The Man keeps movin’ the damned goalposts…

    we can find each other and just get outta his game….

  34. oh, hey, Katie, i just saw your comment, i’d forgotten about that paper, by Carol Hanish . Great, thanks for the link.

  35. ER, thanks for bringing up this topic and keeping it connected to the larger issue of our connected oppressions as women.

    MarySunshine, and UP, thanks for bring brave enough to share with us about your anti-depressant use. I do believe a person’s brain chemistry can change in reaction to life events, and some people don’t bounce back without chemical help from this. Additionally, environmental factors, such as toxins from various sources and the way our food supply has been changed via genetic engineering, for example are surely affecting our body.

    But even with the best personal care and/or anti-depressants in the world, one needs to have relationships with real people to be well. I’ve heard that now the average person only has one friend. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but it sounds very frightening.

    I wish CR groups were still around; they would be a great, political, way to heal. It’s hard for me to accept any sort of treatment that doesn’t at least acknowledge my problems are more than individual.

    For those who are interested, there is a radical feminist womon who offers therapy online. Her website is feministtherapyonline dot com. She absolutely does work from a political angle.

  36. When I mentioned my personal issues I should have been clearer about the context!

    I do feel that the pressures that families put on girls is part of the larger picture. In my case, I was the only girl in a family of five siblings, which was a recipe for disaster when it came to my mental health. Psychoanalysts and psychologists do not factor in gender and the patriarchy when they’re analyzing female mental health issues. They do not take into account that daughters are required by society to carry out the lion’s share of the emotional and physical work required to hold the nuclear family together…. Daughters are also the ones elected to care for elderly family members in the future, whereas sons just don’t seem to have the same pressures. Daughters who refuse to comply are labelled bitches, and this is a very effective strategy of keeping women in line WELL into adulthood. Some women never even realize that it’s okay to put themselves first and, tragically, spend the rest of their life trying to live up to some ideal that their parents and society has of women. All these books about toxic parents are good at explaining how a family of origin can be the root of mental health problems, but they don’t mention that for females the pressures are exaggerated a hundred fold.

  37. Cherry, what you wrote above is so painfully and terribly true. So brilliantly true. If I had tried to write that, I would have cried out in agony and not been able to finish. I had four brothers and no sisters: what you wrote above has been the story of my life from birth to beyond middle age.

    It also makes me think of never-het lesbians who have been trapped into caring for ailing fathers for (sometimes) decades, well beyond their own middle years, because the het children are always spared that. Their “normal” lives must not be made to suffer, if there is a lesbian or celibate woman who can be targeted for that sacrifice.

    The requirement for personal service by females to males in families is not limited to sexual and reproductive; it extends insidiously into the lives of females who are already being punished for not providing the above.

  38. Oops – I meant to say “brilliantly written.”

  39. Hi Cherryblossom that’s really important, the point you make here–you were the flashpoint in your family for all the woman hatred of the world . thank you. I never thought of it that way. right in front of me, couldn’t see it. your story helps me understand what happened to a dear friend–she, too, had four brothers, and besides that her father was a brute. your analysis totally makes sense-
    ah. context. so helpful for understanding and developing theory.
    and womanonajourney, thank you for your comments, pulling this thread together, and for the link, too.

  40. “the flashpoint in your family for all the woman hatred of the world”

    YES! That is it.
    If male family members are misogynistic bruits, you can survive. But if your mother has internalized the misogyny, and despises you for being a girl, you’re fucked.

  41. If substance abuse occurs in part as a form of “self medication” (and then addiction), is it really so surprising for so many people in a recovery group to be on antidepressants?

  42. i think the point is that feminists need to be identifying and naming the reasons we self-medicate, and then help each other find different coping mechanisms and harm-reduction strategies that are less destructive. isnt it? i dont think its a “surprise” that women and femininsts in particular are self-medicating. not at all.

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