Solidarity of Interest, Looking Outward

by admin

Guest post by Cathy Brennan

The following is not a theoretical discussion. Rather, I propose a method of political organizing that will help move conversations forward. The ideas expressed herein are derived from my own experiences with political organizing and the limited theory I have read. I strongly encourage readers to read John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice if you are interested in learning more about my own theoretical framework.

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in the political world around me. I blame my mother for this, as I recall her making me write a letter about how I felt when the U.S. hostages in Iran were freed under Ronald Reagan (go look it up, I am not a history teacher) in 1981. My mother – an Irish immigrant who never graduated from high school but who worked a union job to send me to a fancy-schmancy college – taught me that we need to identify common interests in order to move a political agenda forward.  That is, we must look outward and find ways of making connections with others who support a common goal.  Working in this manner – in solidarity with people who might not be exactly *like* you, but who share your goal – has been successful on issue campaigns, most notably labor organizing and, most recently, health care reform.

Enter Identity Politics.

Identity Politics teaches us that we must organize by Identity.  So, it matters not that I am a progressive who wants to advance education and health care for working people. Instead, I should advance causes that benefit my *Identity,* whatever that may be.  Of course, individuals have numerous Identities, so there can be some difficulty in picking and choosing which *Identity* one most claim. But for many lesbians, for better or for worse, we have been thrust into the GLBT Identity.

As a GLBT-Identified person, one is supposed to favor repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, favor hate crimes penalties based on sexual orientation and gender identity, marriage equality, and antidiscrimination protections based on “gender identity.”  We organize as a community around this Shared Identity.  This Shared Identity is supposed to give us Solidarity (or Unity) of Identity, with all persons in the identity happy to work towards a common goal that benefits (allegedly) the Identity.  In reality, however, solidarity of identity does not always occur or exist; rather, laboring under a GLBT Identity can create cognitive dissonance, particularly for progressives (as most progressives are anti-military, so we don’t care about DADT, and anti-prison/industrial complex, so we don’t favor criminalizing more conduct) and feminists (or lesbians) as many feminists reject marriage as a patriarchical institution and find the concept of “gender identity” deeply conservative.

Identity, then, while a useful proxy to signal to others who share our Identity how we are supposed to think about specific issues that impact the Identity Community, is ultimately and entirely not useful as an organizing tool, as Identity Politics quickly devolves into a game of “who’s the Mostest Oppressed Identity” – this is a game members of an Identity Group can play all day long without advancing the discussion.  For example, in the GLBT Community, I and many lesbians have had to endure endless discussions about how we – as the Sub-Identity of Cisgender Lesbians – oppress Transgender Women simply by virtue of our Cisgender Identity – and we are expected to ignore the fact that many of these Transgender Women have lived much of their lives as males (or, if you prefer, the Identity of White Heterosexual Man – in Identity Politics, the White Heterosexual Man is *The Man* who causes *all the problems*).   This can lead to infighting among Sub-Identities in the Identity Group or, as is far more likely to happen, the silencing of Sub-Identities who haven’t been able to convince anyone that they actually are the most oppressed group (and really, what a depressing waste of time and energy to work for the title of Most Oppressed).

Identity is a tricky thing– it can be claimed and clung to; it can be thrust upon you.  But in all instances, it has to be Constructed.  It has to be teased out and tortured to death, to make sure you describe every last single nuance of the Identity.  Identity derives meaning from culture and society, and it needs a great deal of energy, oxygen, attention and nurturing. And all of this energy is time-consuming, time-wasting and incredibly self-absorbed.  This is particularly true in the GLBT Community, with its endless iterations of gender queer pansexual abbreviations. For 95% of the world (an unscientific percentage, of course, but let’s just say for most of the world who doesn’t live in Queer Land), people Exist, regardless of whether they fret over their Constructed Identity.

As a human being (insert whatever Identity you want here), I am wholly uninterested in playing Identity Politics any longer.  Indeed, I refuse to do it.  Identity politics is narcissistic and vain. Identity politics is inward-looking and finger pointing.  Identity politics creates hierarchies of oppression that do nothing to address underlying, systemic failures of society – failures in providing for the basic needs and safety of people, failures in ensuring equality of educational opportunity, failures all around.  In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say that Identity Politics is a trick to keep us all fighting with each other while *The Man* continues to profit. Some days I think The Man deserves to profit, as at least The Man is able to stick with an agenda and advance it.  The Man is smart. You don’t see The Man endlessly babbling about his Identity.

In the hope of ending the endlessly irritating conversations about one’s Identity and the numerous stories that one has to endure to learn how one came to claim their Identity – and also in the hope of actually accomplishing something – I propose an alternative: Solidarity of Interest. Rather than framing all of these discussions in terms of who I am, who you are, or what our Identities may be, let’s try framing these issues in terms of the goal.

In other words, rather than looking inward at ourselves – or judging others based on *your subjective assessment* of who other people are – Solidarity of Interest demands that we look outward at all people in terms of the skills they can bring to bear to advance the goal.  For example, I am currently a plaintiff in a lawsuit to ensure that the Maryland DREAM Act is not repealed by referendum.  I am doing this not because I Identify as an “Undocumented Immigrant.” Rather, I am doing this (in part) because I have an Interest in seeing an educational system that is as free and fair as possible, not only for other children, but for my own – my children benefit from having the opportunity to meet people who are “not like them.”  In other words, my participation helps advance the goal of fair education access (among other goals).

Solidarity of Interest – it matters not who you are and how you Identify – it only matters as to what you can bring to the table to advance the goal. Solidarity of Interest requires us to put forth what skills we can bring to bear to advance a cause. Sometimes, this inventory of assets might include one’s Identity – but it is not the only thing that’s important to the conversation.  What does this mean? It means that sometimes we need our allies – and the Identities they claim – to give a push to the goal we seek to advance.  This is why GLBT Organizations prioritize getting straight people to support marriage equality (which in this example serves as the goal) – as there are a lot more straight people on the planet than gay.  But marriage equality, for example, has been successful because advocates have advanced numerous Interests that will be served by allowing it – stability for the children of same-sex couples, for one.

Solidarity of Interest welcomes all people to the table who share common Interests – Solidarity of Interest doesn’t (necessarily or exclusively) care about your Identity. Your Identity only speaks for you and other *like you* who find meaning in the Identity.  And, much like the personal stories that swarm the Identity Politics Orbit, your Identity does not necessarily advance a goal, unless the goal is to endlessly and unceasingly talk about the Identity.  Solidarity of Interest demands more of us and from us – it calls upon us to acknowledge that there are goals more important that ourselves, even more important than our Identity. At the very least, it demands a certain level of altruism in the cause of advancing an Interest that will benefit people generally.

Political work is depressing enough without the narrowing of workers available to get stuff done that comes from Identity Politics. Solidarity of Interest opens the field to all comers who care about the goal. And if you want to get stuff done, you need workers. There’s been enough talking and processing, people. Let’s get stuff done.

Cathy Brennan is a lawyer and longtime lesbian activist in Baltimore, Maryland.

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45 Responses to “Solidarity of Interest, Looking Outward”

  1. Agreed.

    A civil-engineering principle rather than a treatise on vector and tensor analysis.

    Civil engineering requires trade-offs, comprimises, work-arounds. Like farming.

    You’re not working in a sterile operating field, but you’re working. At the end of the day, you have hay in the barn. Or a parking garage that won’t collapse.

    🙂

  2. “As a human being (insert whatever Identity you want here), I am wholly uninterested in playing Identity Politics any longer. Indeed, I refuse to do it. Identity politics is narcissistic and vain. Identity politics is inward-looking and finger pointing. Identity politics creates hierarchies of oppression that do nothing to address underlying, systemic failures of society – failures in providing for the basic needs and safety of people, failures in ensuring equality of educational opportunity, failures all around. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say that Identity Politics is a trick to keep us all fighting with each other while *The Man* continues to profit.”

    This is a very refreshing view point, it is important for feminist to strategise about how to achieve common goals rather than waste vast amounts of time and energy trying to find complete opinion fits with other women. I sometimes think the ‘are you my perfect feminist fit syndrome’ we go through, is a remnant of our conditioning to search for the perfect unicorn man!

    I think there is another reason too; pray animals group and synchronise for protection (think shoals of fish) and it is very annoying if anyone is out of step because it might threaten your security. Women have been socialised not to think like goal focused predators, who work in a group toward a common end, with each individual playing a different but complimentary part. We are taught ballet, while men are taught hunting, we perform self conscious synchronised prey dances for the amusement of men, who look on like a pack of hounds.

    In reality we hunt, gather, plant and reap, we need to pursue our feminist goals with this same cooperative sense of purpose.

  3. Wow, I really liked that, Cathy Brennan. Solidarity of interest. Good one!

    Your description of The Man gave me a laugh. Yes indeed, “He” at least has an agenda and sticks to it. “He” doesn’t waste time and energy babbling on about his identity. Under patriarchy I notice this too, women can have a lot of divisions, cliques. Men however, can come together as one group on a mission. We call it the good old boys system. I think it’s one reason we have this patriarchal system, men can align with each other, while women are subjected to separate, divide, control. We’re kept so busy trying to figure out our identities and whether or not other women are worthy of that identity, that we can hardly build solidarity on anything. Even within feminism, half our energy is spent trying to define ourselves so we now have the rad fems, the fun fems, the lib fems, and on and on it goes.

    I’ve completely rejected identity politics, but I guess I still maintain a woman identity, mostly because women are not a subdivision, a subset, a special issue, women are half the human race. More than half. All those other identity markers are included within this group we call women. I also tend to believe that this system of hierarchies and oppression stems from the power imbalances between men and women, because if you’d oppress your own mother, nobody else stands a chance.

    But that solidarity of interest, yes, I’m liking that! It would be nice if we could spend more time aligning ourselves around a common task rather then spending all this time trying to define ourselves with identities.

  4. yes, “female” is not an identity, its a fact. there is no such thing as female-identity-politics. radical feminism advocates for half the human race. and as far as “solidarity of interests” and an interest analysis, well, this begs a conflicts-of-interest analysis doesnt it? and all MAABs have a fundamental conflict of interest with womens interest, which is to be free from mens sexualized violence against women.

  5. Female is indeed not an identity, and I agree with yttik that “system of hierarchies and oppression stems from the power imbalances between men and women.”

    From a political organizing standpoint, I disagree with the statement that “all MAABs have a fundamental conflict of interest with womens interest, which is to be free from mens sexualized violence against women.” If I thought that was a true statement from a political organizing standpoint, there would be no point in doing any political work. FCM, you have identified FAAB’s interest (“to be free from mens sexualized violence”) – but you haven’t identified MAAB’s interest. What is MAAB’s interest?

  6. MAAB’s interest in that specific context is to maintain a system of sexualized violence against women, to benefit themselves. i do believe that MAABs could theoretically join a political lobby (for example) to reduce harm, like pro-seat belts, or anti smoking, or even pro choice. but not female-specific harms and sexualized violence that only men perpetrate against only women, which demonstrably benefits ALL men, whether or not individual men are abusers themselves, but also including men who abuse women directly and obviously.

    for background:

    https://radicalhubarchives.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/effects-of-girlhood-sexual-abuse-last-for-decades-study-finds/

  7. in other words, i do not believe that men will ever be able to support our interest in being free from sexualized abuse BY THEM. they could probably support other interests that benefitted us, just not that one.

    regarding that one specifically, i believe it is WOMEN who will need to band together despite our “identities” and support our own interest as a sexual class.

  8. This absolutely resonated with my experience in labor organizing in the eighties.

  9. Totally agree! But while I agree, to put it into practice is something else. That’s the whole question of how do we get the feminist revolution? How do we get all women to band together against male violence and misogyny? How?

    I find that the most exhausting thing within feminist activism is not so much identity politics but simply reproduction of patriarchal mechanisms, in all its forms. One of the major obstacles of feminists uniting is internalised misogyny.

    Having being raised from birth to identify with the oppressor and his womyn-hatred, on the top of being constantly exposed to varying degrees of male violence and misogyny and being severely damaged by this process (to different degrees of course), the enemy is also within ourselves. Criticising patriarchy also means viewing critically the way we as womyn reproduce and internalise our own oppression. It’s not only against the oppressor we need to fight but the oppressor within ourselves, and that’s what makes it so difficult to work together, I guess. There is no questioning that we always need to be understanding and indulgent, but having the oppressor’s words, mechanisms and hatred tactics slammed into your face within feminist circles is simply violent. The natural reaction is to preserve yourself as much as you can from exposure to this violence, and sadly this further limits scope of action and diverts energy away from working on common goals. The violence against us comes from everywhere, as well as from feminist spaces and and from within ourselves. How can it not divide us, make us weary of working together?

    We are so colonised we have no identity, no space, no land, no culture, nothing we can rest on, hardly any physicial haven we can go to when we’re tired of patriarchy. Everywhere we go we are reminded of the hatred of womyn. No wonder it’s so difficult not to get mad at each other when we’re tired, broke, exhausted…

  10. Ah and by the way, I’m curious to know for which reasons Cathy Brennan recommends Rawls, a theory of Justice. I was force-fed with all the dickwad Rawls, Cohen, R. Dworkin, Nozick and the like at my political philosophy course, it was a nightmare wasting my time even arguing their patriarchal theories. Just the sight of his name made me cringe with horror – I’m sorry to say so.
    I’d rather recommend Carole Pateman’s Sexual contract, which is a very well constructed critique (as far as I know and remember, correct me if I’m wrong) of all the so-called liberal contractualists – contract which is nothing other than the tacit contract between men to access women’s bodies.

  11. I’ve been thinking about how power works for a long time and in my book Wild Politics I wrote about Dominant Culture Stupidities. It’s a shorthand way of asking people to think about which dominant cultures we fall into. The problem for white heterosexual male is that he lacks antennae. His view of the world is constantly endorsed in multiple way – and when he transitions – he takes all of that with him (and is shocked that it’s no longer endorsed).

    I’m not saying this very well here, and I agree with you on the misuse of identity politics, but it’s because the dominant culture identities are strangling the ones that help to give us political insight. So, in queer, male always counts for more and it trumps everything else. In order to fit in, the women play up to it.

    Anyway, thanks for this and your other work.

  12. I disagree with the statement that “all MAABs have a fundamental conflict of interest with womens interest, which is to be free from mens sexualized violence against women.” If I thought that was a true statement from a political organizing standpoint, there would be no point in doing any political work.

    also, i am unsure what “from a political organizing standpoint” means in this context. mens sexualized violence against women isnt even a political issue really, is it? and what would “organizing” look like, around this issue specifically?

    this thread need not be derailed on the issue of mens sexualized violence against women (or sex-segregated spaces for that matter) and thats not really what this post is about either. but the point was made that “female” is not an identity, its a reality. so is “male” a reality and not an identity. and i think its useful to discuss conflicts whenever we are talking about “interests” as well. sex — in particular — is unlike any other inequality in the world. if mens sexualized violence against women ended, millions if not billions of males on this planet across time and place would never produce offspring for example. PIV of course being on the continuum of sexualized violence against women. there are interests, and competing interests, and conflicts of interest around this one in particular that only exist in this context. and i am not talking about “pure altruism” either, and whether theres any such thing. i am talking specifically in the context of sexualized violence against women by men only.

    again, the “problem” could be that its not a political problem? im not sure. but i know when i first got off the PIV pony and nigel protested that i was doing so on “political” grounds, this did not resonate with my experience or my reasoning at all. i was fucking sick of it, and couldnt live with the cognitive dissonance anymore, to say nothing of the bladder infections and birth control.

  13. to clarify, clearly “sexual politics” are implicated here. but this is not the same (again, its just not the fucking same) as “politics” in any other context. there are no other issues that are like the issue of mens sexualized violence against women.

  14. FCM in other words, i do not believe that men will ever be able to support our interest in being free from sexualized abuse BY THEM. they could probably support other interests that benefitted us, just not that one.

    I agree, certainly not as a *shared* goal. They could – in theory – work on sorting out their own issues with patriarchy around construction of masculinity etc, but they need to do it between themselves.

    yttik: Even within feminism, half our energy is spent trying to define ourselves so we now have the rad fems, the fun fems, the lib fems, and on and on it goes.

    LOL yttik, I used to call this the “Patronym”, its like needing to identify (and promote, market or advertise) which male-class we also belong to, like a male family name, appended to the front of the word.

    witchwind: Having being raised from birth to identify with the oppressor and his womyn-hatred…….the enemy is also within ourselves. Criticising patriarchy also means viewing critically the way we as womyn reproduce and internalise our own oppression. ….. but having the oppressor’s words, mechanisms and hatred tactics slammed into your face within feminist circles is simply violent.

    *hugs* witchwind, yessssss… although in more recent times, I make a couple of qualifications, it isn’t all internalised patriarchal mechanisms, or the “men-in-the-head” as Adrienne Rich spoke of it, (ie we don’t reproduce male alpha-heirarchies – but we often use that form of language/framing because we only have man-made language and tools to describe it), but also due to the twisting/perversion/inversion of female-bonding practices.

  15. “We are so colonised we have no identity, no space, no land, no culture, nothing we can rest on, hardly any physicial haven we can go to when we’re tired of patriarchy.”

    I agree with the above Witchwind, and understand the utterly denuded feeling that your words evoke so well. But I don’t think feminism ever has been, or should be, a place to rest. Some go to goddess gatherings, some go to counselling groups or separatist spaces, for respite. The freedom to do these things or even to leave the house unescorted, has come from feminist activism throughout all the ages since patriarchy began. So I believe when we show up here it is to fight for our rights and the rights of our daughters to maintain and increase these spaces. Women, like all oppressed peoples throughout history, are reluctant to fight back because of the costs of doing so, it is easier and safer, to sit around and criticise each other than it is to address the powers that oppress us.

    Of course some women come to feminism for the wrong reasons; for self preferment (some hope) or for the dubious pleasures of attacking other women; no one minds if you vent your frustrations on feminists! But most women are trying hard to increase their knowledge and their combined chances of a better future. Feminism is the means by which we reveal and contend with the system of male supremacy, I don’t think its helpful to congest it with a lot of self criticism. The problem with unity is a problem for all oppressed groups, when you look at the numbers it makes you realise just how brave women are, because we constitute 50% of the population and most oppressed peoples, like the peasant classes of Britain in previous centuries, constitute around 80% of the population, and still struggle to overthrow the elites. That is the power of inherited advantage, though they would have us believe it is the product of merit!

  16. FCM – “from a political organizing standpoint” means when people in the real world identify a real problem and then work towards a real solution to that real problem. It’s not theoretical and it is extremely messy. Identity politics has made that work all the more difficult because f people’s inability to see beyond their identity towards “the goal.”

    I am not a theory person and although I appreciate the need for theory, books on shelves and blogs on Internet are not the only tools needed to move issues. You need political organizing.

    What you describe vis a vis FAABs and MAABs may be true, but from a political organizing standpoint, it is unhelpful, as it forecloses the possibility that any MAABs can assist towards what I will call (using your construct) a FAAB goal.

    Interesting discussion!

  17. I do agree with you Zeph: feminism isn’t about fleeing from patriarchy but fighting against it (kicking the hell out of it), I was more trying to reflect on the reasons we find it difficult to unite, compared to other oppressed groups. Since it’s a natural survival and self-preservation reaction to go as far away as possible from the violence directed at us, separatism and isolation gives the illusion of a patriarchy-free haven but also at the cost of.. separation from other women and abandonment of political action. Compared to say, poor men, they still have spaces of their own to exchange, talk, bond. They don’t live with their oppressors all the time, are not so emotionally debt-bonded to their oppressors, and don’t have to spend so much time thinking about how to decolonise their own mind, imagination, language, thoughts, ways of interacting, moving in space, talking in public, etc. That enlargens considerably the scope and freedom of action for men.

    But remindrance of this common interest of all womyn, opposed to men’s common interest in expropriating and colonising womyn -as obvious as it may seem – is definitely a necessary step to overcome divides between ourselves.

  18. Cathy, I know what it means generally, I meant what could it possibly mean in this context? And also, what would it look like, to “politically organize” WITH MEN against men’s sexual violence against women?

  19. Before i was a bitter, burnt out fem, I used to do political organizing, especially around sexual assault and domestic violence laws. People came together to create some legal protections for women because of men’s sexual violence. At some point the work has to involve men, because men are the cops, judges, lawyers, legislators. Part of the work of political organizing involves convincing them to pass and enforce the laws. You have to get them to share your goal. In my opinion, men can have this solidarity of interest that Cathy talks about, but when it comes to letting go of some of their power over women, they don’t do it easily. It’s a real struggle, many of them do have that conflict of interest FCM talks about.

  20. Women and Lesbians organize around women’s and lesbian issues because issues specifically relating to women and lesbians are not supported by men and heterosexuals. Our issues are in OPPOSITION to male concerns. When woman and lesbians organize around general issues, health care for example, they invariably end up expending their energy for agendas which don’t centralize their issues, and which end up using their energy to support male-centric, heterocentric agendas. In other words, supporting the male and hetero supremacist status quo. Even the FDA ignores their own legal requirements on equity in health data collection: http://gendertrender.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/fda-ignores-federal-mandates-on-gender-bias-in-heart-device-studies/ .

    Since this essay is posted on a radical feminist forum, I assume you are addressing the audience of this forum: radical feminists. If you consider women and lesbians “identities” (which it seems you do) you are forwarding the idea that women and lesbians should not organize around issues of importance to women and lesbians. This position reminds me of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which expends most of its resources litigating on behalf of males and heterosexuals. They take lesbian resources, and in the name of lesbians represent people who have no relation to or relevancy to lesbian rights. They fundraise and gather scant lesbian resources and use them to litigate for the rights of male incarcerated child-rapists to obtain tax-payer funded “sex change” treatments, and file suit against gay softball leagues for “excluding heterosexuals”.

    The thousands years history of using female resources to promote male concerns and male supremacy is exactly why women and lesbians SHOULD organize on the basis of female and lesbian “identities”. If we do otherwise, we are effectively organizing for the male supremacist, heterosupremacist status quo. Even the organizations we specifically set up for women’s and lesbian concerns are being diverted to male-supremacist, sexist, hetero-centrist, anti-female causes.

    I agree that those born male should support female and lesbian health, freedom, equity. But I’ve never seen it. Has anyone seen it? Have you seen it Cathy?

    All female resources should be directed towards females and all lesbian resources should be directed towards lesbians. Males won’t give us anything. They will take, take, take.
    The idea of organizing sans “identity” presumes an equitable playing ground, one without sexism, racism, homophobia and classism. Tell me where I’m wrong, I’m happy to learn.

  21. Gallus:

    If you consider women and lesbians “identities” (which it seems you do) you are forwarding the idea that women and lesbians should not organize around issues of importance to women and lesbians.

    What? That’s not how understood the article at all. I agree with Cathy that narrowly-defined political goals, such as the legislative examples provided, can be supported by people who do not share the SELF-interest the goal is intended to advance. Giving males positions of power and influence within organizations that exist for the benefit of females and lesbians is definitely a bad idea!

    On the other hand, men have organized AMONG THEMSELVES in support of female interests here: http://www.mencanstoprape.org/
    It’s not perfect, but I do respect that kind of work and I think it’s valuable. I would also be more than happy for males to speak and/or vote in favor of things like increased criminal sentencing requirements for sex offenders.

  22. honestly, i think the article only works if we read it to mean that WOMEN need to band together despite our “identities” and support womens INTEREST as women, as a sexual class around the world. and this includes ALL WOMENS INTEREST to be free of PIV and het partnerships. and this includes FAABs that “identify” as trans. this article does not work (ie. the idea of casting off our IDENTITIES to support INTERESTS) if we are talking about MAABs supporting womens interests, because “female” is not an IDENTITY that can be cast aside, and neither is “male”. and male INTEREST and female INTEREST are in direct conflict in certain obvious areas dealing with SEX, and the REALITY (not identity) of being female, in a world where men routinely stick their dicks into women, AND where they have organized patriarchal institutions to exaggerate and magnify the harm to women (and the benefits flowing to themselves) that attach when women become impregnated, BY THEM.

    this is obviously different than the other legislative examples suggested in the article, like immigration reform, where non-immigrants would benefit TOOOOOOO from a more diverse educational experience for their non-immigrant children. and if racism ended, white men would still have children. if sexism ended, many men of all races wouldnt procreate, because the women wouldnt have them. this is a massive conflict of interest and i dont think it can be overcome.

    as for men organizing to “stop rape” well whats the effect of that really? all they are doing is getting men together and agreeing that certain lines shouldnt be crossed…and the effect of that is to completely normalize what the good-guys are still doing and willing to do that stops short of stranger-danger, or acquaintence rape, or DV or whatever they have self-servingly defined the “problem” to be. they will always narrowly define the “problem” to NOT include any behaviors than any of them have personally engaged in, which means that whats always been normalized will continue to be normalized, no matter how devastating the consequences for women. like the normalization of PIV, even though just regular-old PIV (as opposed to what MEN are willing to call “rape”) has probably been more devastating to more women around the world than any other act and any other crime. there, they will not go. so what good are they really?

  23. or, that we could all cast aside various identities and support various random interests that benefit everyone or without insurmountable conflicts, like…pro-seatbelts, or anti-smoking.

  24. Women are so much bigger than an “identity,” we’re like half the human race. We’re not a special interest group or a sub category or some tiny paragraph devoted to “women’s issues” or something. We’re huge, we encompass more than half the world, and more than half the world’s problems probably stem from misogyny. Because of that you would think that people would understand that women’s rights are human rights, that women’s interests are everyone’s interests, but it has never been that way. Over and over again women’s issues will be placed on the back burner in favor of More Important Things. Over and over again women will invest all their time and energy into men’s revolutions and never get anything out of it.

    The recent healthcare battle is a good example of some problems with “solidarity of interest” that includes men. Women’s interests in healthcare pretty much got bargained away for the “common good.” It became more important to support political agendas, to get something passed, than to protect women’s interests. Now we have “healthcare” but all I can see is the closure of our women’s health clinic, a 150 mile drive to the nearest abortion clinic, poor women having medicaid services reduced, working class women facing fines for being uninsured, and well off women being penalized for having good insurance. I hope this is not as bad as it all appears to be. I hope there are benefits that are going to kick in that I just don’t see yet. But as it stands right now, women in my area are worse off then they ever were.

  25. I don’t think Cathy’s post is saying that male and female are identities, she is saying they are realities. I read her as meaning that identities cause unproductive factions in the women’s movement and that focusing on our common interests, instead of our identities, is more conducive to getting constructive results.

    She extends her criteria to including the realities of sex on some issues only, and I agree with this too. Because although it is true that women are the spirit and the effort behind most revolutions, and that once men have achieved their ends, they try to return us, and our female ingenuity, back into the box, it never really works. Yes, we have been forced to push everyones through the door before us, but we have eventually gone through the door ourselves even if it was a long time after our initial effort. I don’t want us to let social freedoms slip, or we will have to repeat these processes all over again. If tyranny returns, women and children will be crushed down to the bottom of the pile and denied education and health access along with a portion of men who will become a slave class to the tyrannical few: so preserving social freedom and democracy is a common goal between men and women. It is also a much better vantage point from which to pursue further feminist freedoms.

    I disagree on the preservation of marriage to ensure family stability for children, I think we need to dissolve marriage and reconstruct matrifocal families, to provide stability for children. Few nuclear families are successful in protecting children, because they lock in the system of male supremacy with all its attendant horrors.

    Thank you Cathy for this excellent post.

  26. I don’t think Cathy’s premise is that if we just start working with men everything will be great. That’s absurd! Nor does the article argue that women should NOT support our own interests or organize with each other. I really don’t understand where such an interpretation would come from.

    Obviously if men in general cared about women in general, women wouldn’t be in the horrible situation we are in. OF COURSE they are the problem. And we most certainly cannot DEPEND on them to solve it for us, nor can we expect them to accurately frame our interests FOR us.

    Female is NOT an identity, I agree. Or an interest. It’s a bodily reality. As a result of this REALITY, females share some common interestS such as the need for specific kinds of healthcare, reproductive protection, and the end of socially mandated sex roles.

    I believe the argument being made is:
    1> that we need to focus on specific, concrete goals (examples already provided) that will serve clearly-articulated INTERESTS beyond vague, narcissistic notions of “identity”
    AND
    2> that we should not unconditionally reject the support of unlikely allies regarding these goals.

    The cold hard reality is that men, both historically and presently, own and control the majority of the world’s property and money. They also dominate the majority of decision-making positions in the world. For example, women still account for LESS THAN 20 PERCENT of the seats held in the US Congress TODAY [see page 3 of the linked pdf for a *pie chart*]. Yet, as far as I can tell, nearly every major feminist issue in the past century– from suffrage to the anti-porn movement– has or had some male support.

    Being wary of those who might benefit from your failures is just being smart. Women don’t have to love men, allow them to fuck us, let them in our homes, become economically dependent on them, or give them authority within our groups in order to accept male support for specific political goals that serve female interests.

  27. The cold hard reality is that men, both historically and presently, own and control the majority of the world’s property and money. They also dominate the majority of decision-making positions in the world. For example, women still account for LESS THAN 20 PERCENT of the seats held in the US Congress TODAY [see page 3 of the linked pdf for a *pie chart*]. Yet, as far as I can tell, nearly every major feminist issue in the past century– from suffrage to the anti-porn movement– has or had some male support.

    okay, you are talking about ONLY *legal* reforms here, legal personhood and legal rights for women, or maintaining the *legal* status quo that feminists before us have achieved and not losing legal ground here. right? narrowly-defined specific legal (not social, not revolutionary, not woman-identified) goals. someone needs to be on this, yes. is that all we are talking about here? “interests” that are so base and basic and male-identified and patriarchy-pleasing that the most unapologetically patriarchal institution in the world — the law — will support it? like the way we STILL talk about rape in terms of a property crime (yet so many men just cannot and will not stay off our fucking “lawns”)? what are we talking about here? this is a serious question. “political” organizing and sexual “politics” arent the same kind of political, are they? are we specifically excluding sexual politics here? obviously, we are never going to make PIV illegal, no matter how much it demonstrably harms women, including how much it affects our legal rights to “personhood” or life or liberty or whathaveyou.

    http://factcheckme.wordpress.com/2011/03/03/the-language-of-consent/

  28. I read her as meaning that identities cause unproductive factions in the women’s movement and that focusing on our common interests, instead of our identities, is more conducive to getting constructive results.

    I read this post that way too. The examples given, may not have been the most useful to illustrate that point, but I still read the point that way despite that. Making alliances and organising with right-wing women, women’s sports groups etc, would be an improvement over making alliances with men. Whatever their other politics (or lack of), at least they may have a more genuine “interest” in women’s safety issues. I’d rather cut-a-deal with other women, than with men of any stripe.

    At the end, yes – you have to deal with patriarchal powers-that-be in some shape or form, just like Black people have to deal with white supremacist powers-that-be for civil rights law reforms. But long before that point, you would have unite women around that common interest first.

    If we can’t negotiate alliances around common interests with each other, what makes you think you can with the men-at-the-top?

    Yes, we have been forced to push everyones through the door before us, but we have eventually gone through the door ourselves even if it was a long time after our initial effort.

    This is where I disagree. I don’t see the historical social progress of humanity, let alone the progress of women-as-a-class as linear, but circular. We only ‘go through the door’ when it is either – in patriarchy’s interest to do so (and any benefit to women is incidental, and often temporary), or — when the benefit is no longer a powerful thing to have and it no longer matters whether women have it or not – eg the vote.

    I acknowledge thats a very cynical and demoralising perception of herstory and history, we all like to honour our foresisters struggles, in the vote, abortion laws, marriage/divorce laws, equal pay laws etc – but in “Knowing Thine Enemy” then put yourself in his shoes just for a moment and hear him chuckle at watching our powerlessness. We are no threat, we are not even a ‘faction’ that needs to be mollified with a concession or two.

    The only time men start to court women’s support, for example committing support to help us ‘through the door’, is when they can’t make the numbers among themselves in their internal male-dominance struggles against other more powerful men. For them it is always a business deal. Whats in it for them? When its no longer necessary to have women’s support, when their power is consolidated and stabilised – the first ones ‘out the door’ are women. Back to square one. Sometimes it happens so fast, at the stroke of a pen behind closed doors, women are left gob-smacked in shock at the speed. Women can’t use men’s alliance/support, the same way men use women’s, because of this power-differentials.

    Besides you can’t negotiate with terrorists.

  29. “This is where I disagree. I don’t see the historical social progress of humanity, let alone the progress of women-as-a-class as linear, but circular.”

    I also see it as circular which is why I am concerned that we are letting our position slide again.

    “I acknowledge thats a very cynical and demoralising perception of herstory and history, we all like to honour our foresisters struggles, in the vote, abortion laws, marriage/divorce laws, equal pay laws etc – but in “Knowing Thine Enemy” then put yourself in his shoes just for a moment and hear him chuckle at watching our powerlessness. We are no threat, we are not even a ‘faction’ that needs to be mollified with a concession or two.”

    This is what men want us to think, and it is deeply misogynistic. Can you tell me if the Labour movement only gained victories for the working classes because the rich elites wanted them to?

    “The only time men start to court women’s support, for example committing support to help us ‘through the door’, is when they can’t make the numbers among themselves in their internal male-dominance struggles against other more powerful men.”

    This contradicts your statement above, if we are so powerless why would they want our help? Because we ARE powerful in numbers and men do everything they can to prevent us forming alliances, not because we are no threat but because we are a huge threat.

    I agree that men are worse than useless to us in terms of promoting feminist interests. My point was that we have to work with them when our interests coincide as they did in the fight for democracy.

  30. I also see it as circular which is why I am concerned that we are letting our position slide again.

    I don’t think *we* are letting our position slide, our position gets taken from us. I think its misogynistic to blame women for this situation not of their own making.

    Can you tell me if the Labour movement only gained victories for the working classes because the rich elites wanted them to?
    Rich elites didn’t care, because they found other populations to take on the role. They don’t care who does it, as long as someone does it. It went globalised, they exported the worst of the exploitation onto other nations and peoples. Out of sight. Out of mind. Or they found other ways to keep their own masses docile, eg with cheap ‘bread and circuses’. For all the victories of the Labour movements in most western countries – women are still waiting for equal pay. Migrants amongst others kept missing out too.

    This contradicts your statement above, if we are so powerless why would they want our help? Because we ARE powerful in numbers and men do everything they can to prevent us forming alliances, not because we are no threat but because we are a huge threat.

    No, it doesn’t contradict it. Please don’t put words in my mouth. Women’s greatest power is in numbers, as you say. But if we don’t use those numbers to further our own interests, it may as well be powerless. Whilever we don’t use those numbers, we will never be a threat.

    But back onto the topic of this particular post and forging alliances, I don’t see how spending time/energy/effort in making alliances with men/trans will improve those odds – or how it will further women’s “interest” or “solidarity”. For a start, they don’t have the power of numbers to offer us, either. Thanks for the offer dudes, nice of you to think you could help. /snark

    Allying with other women – yes, yes, indeed – in “numbers too big to ignore” (like the old song says), but allying with men/trans? On general human shared-interests issues yes, but around women’s political issues? Does not compute to me.

  31. Hi,

    Sorry, I don’t quite follow the post. Seems like some confusion in the responses. If the idea isn’t to say that radical feminists should try to ally with male groups and men, then why is there discussion about being a progressive who is using her resources to protect a statute that will be detrimental to US women, by legitimizing the import of even more patriarchal cultures than ours without any acknowledgment of this problem? And won’t upholding the DREAM Act help as many men as women, if not far more men, since they are majority of the undocumented workers in the US, so that our precious resources available for women’s issues are once again diluted to help more men than women? What I’m understanding is the old argument that women should subsume their needs to “human” needs, but I could be wrong, it just isn’t clear.

    Alliance with other groups of feminists is a different story. For instance, if I were a “liberal”, that is, reform-oriented feminist, I would feel that every woman lawyer in the US could represent pro bono one of the women Walmart employees who as a group were denied the benefit of federal class action laws in the recent Supreme Court ruling, on the ever-more-popular grounds that there are just too many victims, so a class action would be too unwieldy to litigate. The result is that each of the thousands of women denied equal employment rights at Walmart has been left to litigate as an individual, and on Walmart pay; that won’t be happening unless women lawyers step up to the plate. And of course that result (to prevent the claims) is precisely intended by our misognistic majority on the Supreme Court. The same reasoning is preventing women from being legally included as a class in hate-crime statutes and in asylum applications. The cry is that the victims are so many, we just have to screw ’em all!

    So there is specific reformist feminist work galore for women lawyers (I say this speaking as an ex-attorney), and liberal feminists could obtain my limited alliance to assist them with such a goal.

    Ms. Brennan raises the question of whether the time has come to stop theorizing and become action-oriented.

    I agree, for reformist feminists. But I identify as a radical feminist, which means to me taking the long view and looking at the big picture; destroying patriarchy’s power altogether. This stance requires more developed theory than a stance which looks at immediate problems and goes after them on an ad hoc basis. So I don’t entirely agree that radical feminists should theorize less and take more action, at least at the moment. Here’s how I tentatively see the question of alliances with other feminist groups and the goal of destroying patriarchal world systems being worked out.

    First, the scope of the problem has had to be thoroughly exposed from an overall theoretical perspective. This analysis has been going on for at least 40 years in the developed countries and we continue to analyze and publicly expose the new manifestations of woman-harming as they pop up. That it has taken a few decades to do this basic work, considering the obstacles, should surprise no one, and it has to be ongoing. These radical feminist blogs perform a brilliant and crucial function in that regard.

    Second, as Ms. Brennan says, specific realistic near-term and ultimate goals must be identified for the work of feminism overall, and specific steps to achieve each goal developed. I appreciate the work “liberal” feminists do in concentrating on palliative help for women in the near term. The work of feminists concerned primarily with the effects of the patriarchal-slavery system has helped me understand slavery and colonization as it affects all women. I appreciate that portion of the work of “sex-positive” feminists that supports the immediate need for us to be free to express our sexuality while retaining the power to protect our bodies as needed (though I realize a lot of the theory here has been co-opted by male agendas). I appreciate the work done by academic feminists that has brought into my consciousness the crucial distinction between sex (my “identity”) and gender (the social role I am taught to perform), as well as social dominance theory. As a radical feminist I have much in common with these other feminist groups, and no deal-breaking beef with them. They share my base identity and situation; they are woman-born-women. I can work with them to advance my goal of eventual full freedom from fear for all women.

    But since my focus is on the goal of full destruction of patriarchal power, not intermediate goals, and considering the limitation of resources we all face, I would think that radical feminists will limit their support of intermediate goals, and other groups of feminists focused on the near-term and facing similar constraints will limit their support of the long-term goal. In this way, yes, we can strongly ally with each other while at the same time reserving our primary energy for the goal we have chosen to devote ourselves to.

    Third, it seems to be left to the radical feminists to express and concretize the means for destroying patriarchal systems. The struggle for ad hoc reforms is important and we have had many successes; but the general struggle is going to require more than the ad hoc approach (including use of the courts). My own idea involves covert genetic modification of expression of testosterone in males; it is achievable by a small number of activists and would be a good start anyway. I think we are just beginning to develop such action plans.

    Fourth, in addition to continuing to observe and expose the current systems, and supporting to some extent the most pressing common intermediate goals, radical feminists have in my opinion the important function of developing a unified vision of the long-term goal, to make it feel achievable and to inspire all feminists. That is why literary visions of a post-patriarchal world is so important to me. We must see the dream, and there is a lot of work yet to be done in this area.

    Of course, I know I don’t speak for everyone here; these are just personal opinions, and I hope I haven’t offended anyone.

    Thank you for your posting, Ms. Brennan,

    vliet (tiptree2)

  32. OOps, I meant that literary visions are, not is…

  33. yes, “female” is not an identity, its a fact.

    I agree with this.

    Identity politics are a pile of post-modern meta-shite. That’s because of fucking pomo theory that male-women are allowed in lesbian communities.

    For example, in the GLBT Community, I and many lesbians have had to endure endless discussions about how we – as the Sub-Identity of Cisgender Lesbians – oppress Transgender Women simply by virtue of our Cisgender Identity – and we are expected to ignore the fact that many of these Transgender Women have lived much of their lives as males (or, if you prefer, the Identity of White Heterosexual Man – in Identity Politics, the White Heterosexual Man is *The Man* who causes *all the problems*).

    I really hate this. This whole “Cis” crap is the latest kind of misogyny coming from men. Men keep trying to erase females from existence. I’m sick of this.

    Not a chance I would ally with men or trans. And I think so many lesbians support gay marriages because, under patriarchy, that’s one way to geta bit more recognition or rights before the (male-supremacist) law.

  34. Male-created governments and laws cannot help us reach most our goals. I agree with FCM. We would need a lot of womyn engaging in civil disobedience, seeking revolution, etc That’s what we would need. If only womyn weren’t so brainwashed by the patriarchy…

  35. I’m a big supporter of the Dream Act and immigrants’ rights legislation more broadly. Young, undocumented women are easily forced into prostitution both my economic circumstances and at the point of a gun (and threat of being sent “back”). It still won’t be easy–not at all–for these women to go to college and get solid jobs, but the Dream Act at least helps.

    I realize this is still operating under a capitalist framwork, one I badly want to abolish. But I also want to abolish the framework of borders, of documented and undocumented. Women aren’t hurt by the Dream Act, not in my opinion, anyway.

  36. I appreciate this discussion. When I first read it and the initial responses, I said to myself, “There is something here different from other types of interest groups, political groups, issues groups, etc.” and thought that better understanding what that is would be quite valuable. Sometimes is is not just finding solutions but also coming up with different questions that is important. When things don’t fit in a system, including a radical feminist theoretical system, this causes us to look outside that system, (but not to an existing system) to find something new. As I read this, I find myself reaching for that, though I don’t have a very clear picture yet of what “that” is.

    Additional thought: “What is the association between theory and strategy?” I certainly get upset when I see how extremely effective the strategies of those who oppose us are. They have used certain ideas against us, like the idea of “free speech.” We may counter with elegant and logical ideas, but I think that we have missed that they are not really interested in ideas. They are mainly doing this as a strategy (sometimes very dirty tricks, unprincipled, etc). So, while the elegant and logical ideas are important, we also need to address this on the level of strategy. In getting votes, for instance, you need a strategy to get men to vote for women’s issues. While it may be through appeal to reason, but appeals to men’s vanity that we get those votes. If they believe that only a Neanerthal would vote against an issue, we may be getting the vote in a less than logical way, but we still will have won a battle. It’s a tricky business, because there is a point beyond which we cannot go without violating our principles, etc. I’m not sure if this is clear, but it’s late, so the best I can do.

  37. P.S. Identity politics = alphabet soup (LGBTQAAWXYZETC) It’s just silly as we have often noted before. When lesbians say we want out of that soup, we are reacting to this, I think. If we get out of the soup we leave all those men in hot water, and that’s fine by me 😀

  38. tiptree, i thought that was an excellent response, and the distinction between “radical” and “reformist” feminism does need to be made. it kills me to see people believing that radical feminist “theory” is useless, or it mental masturbation or “theory without application” or all the other nasty things you hear about it, even from seemingly self-hating radfems who cant shake the feeling they should be working in a rape crisis shelter instead. as if harm-reduction is particularly radical — its not. its necessary, but its harm-reduction only. indeed, radical feminism is “applied” when you plug in facts, and show how all of it is supportive of male supremecy and what the payout is for men, individually and collectively. for purposes of the HUB, i have mostly chosen to do this by analyzing news items, and also criticising the mainstream “news” coverage of news items to show how different radfem analysis is from mainstream analysis, and how the issues are framed and spun (and not-neutral) in mainstream discourse favoring male supremecy, and how different radfem “coverage” of the same events and issues would be, if only we had a voice. and on these blogs, we *do* have a voice, albeit a much more limited audience than any mainstream media outlet. what we are doing is how it SHOULD be done, and how it would be done, but for male supremecy, which is an INTEREST in itself and which all men, collectively and individually benefit from and have an interest in maintaining that supercedes all other interests.

  39. I was at the Brisbane Writers Festival over the weekend and there was a session on The Trouble with Feminism. A radical feminist, Zohl dé Ishtar, stood up and talked about the connection between radicalfeminist critiques and critiques of colonisation, militarisation and nuclearisation (Zohl has worked in the Pacific with the people who lived on islands used as nuclear text sites). The extraordinary thing was that Leslie Cannold (who sees herself as the only feminist in Australia) then went on to say that militarisation has nothing to do with feminism and that we should instead be encouraging women to be fighter pilots. I knew this woman was bad news, having seen her talk ridiculously about feminism in other places, but I nearly fell off my chair. She is the epitome of the worst aspects of liberal or reformist feminism – which just makes oppression feel a little more comfortable. The trouble with feminism is that this is what the mainstream out there thinks is feminism, and those of us with radical views are never heard.

  40. The trouble with feminism ay? This presumes there is any problem with it. I agree that there is a “problem” but the problem is as you say Susan: radical feminism isn’t heard or known by most people, and the misunderstanding there is often deliberate.

  41. i would also like to point out that the brennan/hungerford letter to the UN describing the potential for womens “reproductive harm” from men in womens spaces couldnt even have been written without the discussions we have been having on the blogs for the past year. like the comments on this article:

    http://scumorama.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/if-faab-were-a-meaningless-distinction/

    brennan/hungerford letter was posted at the HUB earlier here:

    https://radicalhubarchives.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/gender-identity-legislation-and-the-erosion-of-sex-based-legal-protections-for-females/

  42. FCM, yes, would the media ever look different if women had as much control of it as men have today!

    I have been thinking about this post and how it relates to my own life. I have had to make in my own feminist activist. Most self proclaimed feminists today aren’t going to the root of issues, and sell out their sisters in the sexploitation industries. Yet, these same women may be good–and frankly, the only people to work with–on other important issues. Do I constantly bring up their stance on trans and stripping? I have chosen to work with them on a certain project to its’ completion and once we known each other better, I can bring up my concerns with their fundraisers and politics. A semi-stranger telling you what to do isn’t going to have much effect, anyway.

    But yeah, alliance building can be tough as a radfem. Even as a lesbian, going to lesbian orgs for support on issues that matter to me is essentially pointless. How do we change this? An RLF table at PRIDE? At least it would give women some exposure to a new way of thinking.

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