Category Archives: Feminism
Thistle Pettersen is a songwriter from Madison, Wisconsin. This is from her collection Animal Dreams.
What do we want? Something or other.
When do we want it? Sometime.
The morning of the Women’s March I walked out to my car and discovered my rear driver’s side tire was low. Not flat, but low enough that I had to drive miles out of my way to a convenience store to get air. I had planned to get to the March a bit early, but now I only hoped the tire would hold for the thirty mile drive.
Miraculously, I arrived on time. The tire had lost air, but it held well enough to get me to Lewis, New York, for the march and rally at the gravesite of suffragist Inez Milholland (see last week’s post). I was stunned at the turnout. Over three hundred people were there, mostly women but plenty of men and children too, many wearing pussyhats and carrying great signs. Three hundred sounds like a small number in a protest of millions, and I guess it is, but Lewis is a hamlet in a very rural county — a county that voted for Trump by three percentage points. The signs reflected concerns across the country about reproductive rights, diversity, racial justice, and sexual harrassment.
I thought the March was great right up to the point where the speaking started, and then I wondered why I bothered to come. The leader of the Lewis March spoke about the history of the suffrage movement, offering some quotes from Milholland. So far, so good. Then she spoke about how we had gathered for “truth.” That was all: not even a passing reference to actual struggles of women today, where we need to go, and how we get there. I guess being on the side of truth is a political statement in this post-truth era, but truth about what? There was no focus to this march. All the energy was dissipated on non-offensive, non-directed pablum, and the whole thing became a celebration of tribal identity, not a demand for women’s rights.
In some ways, the well-attended Lewis non-event was a microcosm of issues that spilled out with the national March during the lead-up period. Many women were unclear about the purpose of the March. Organizers expressed a commitment to inclusivity, but that did not appear to include a feminist perspective. For example, organizers headlined a self-admitted rapist and a champion of “sex work,” angering sex industry survivors. The organizers declared this was not a protest any kind and not specifically about women. Despite the timing of the event the day after the inauguration, they insisted this march was not intended to be anti-Trump. So what was this about?
News media defined the March entirely as anti-Trump, sometimes even omitting to say that it was a women’s march. To be fair, most people I talked to were motivated primarily by their horror of Trump, and the demonstrators’ signs bore this out. The pink pussyhats were everywhere (even in Lewis). I have to admit that I originally thought the pussyhats were a bit silly. I didn’t say anything because I was happy to see women excited about a project and pouring their creativity into something, but privately I thought it was dumb. I changed my mind when I saw the pussyhats in action, sending a message that so many women and men who showed up to the March thought sexual harassment and assault worthy of protest at this thing that was not supposed to be a protest. And the signs! So many uteruses, vulvas, and vaginas. They showed that women rightly see their oppression as intricately tied to their biology, and the innocence with which this was displayed showed that apparently many have not gotten the memo that references to female anatomy are oppressive to trans people and must be exorcised from all women’s gatherings. I suspect that when most women have gotten that memo, there will be a huge rebellion, and many things about gender that have been accepted without question will be scrutinized.
But that rebellion is years away, and I believe that for now the women’s movement is in a long period of struggle to accept and confront the problem. Our problem is not violence; it is male violence directed at women. Our problem is not gender; it is the use of gender by males to define, redefine, and undefine women. Our problem is not sexual harassment; it is the sexual harassment by males toward females (and children). Our problem is not religion; it is male religions dictating to women what we can and cannot do. Our problem is men, and until a critical mass of women can name the agent of our oppression, I do not see the women’s movement progressing, no matter how many show up for a non-directed protest.
There was an indoor follow-up event ten miles away from the Lewis rally, and I had planned on attending it, but after the rather demoralizing graveside experience I decided to get my tire fixed. I think that the March was a success in that it sent a message to our Democratic lawmakers that large numbers of women all over the country and all over the world are paying attention to Republican efforts to erode human rights, and that these lawmakers need to stand up to Trump. That alone was worth the small investment of showing up. As far as the march for women’s liberty goes — we have a long road in front of us.
The big Women’s March in DC is this Saturday January 21st, and I will be attending one the “sister marches” in Lewis, New York. This march will begin at the gravesite of suffragist Inez Milholland with a follow-up rally at a nearby grange hall. Details here.
Inez Milholland was a campaigner with the National Women’s Party who appeared in an iconic photo of the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession in Washington. She was born in 1886 to a progressive family. Her father, wealthy businessman and newspaper editor John Milholland, was a founding member of the NAACP. Milholland herself championed a number of social causes in addition to suffrage during her short life, chief among them world peace and the rights of workers.
While a student at Vassar, Milholland was disciplined for defying the injunction against participation in organized feminist activities. A few years later she received her law degree from New York University. Though Milholland had a supportive family and was considered a brilliant woman, she was to find continual disappointment in the professional world. Only one firm would hire her, a criminal law firm that only allowed her to argue cases considered unwinnable. Partners in the firm believed a jury might convict a man simply for having female counsel. In frustration Milholland quit law and went to Italy to work as a war correspondent. Despite her efforts to persuade officials that a woman’s perspective on the war was important, she was never allowed to get close to the fighting. She returned to America in defeat.
One influential person who did recognize Milholland’s talents was suffrage leader Alice Paul. Milholland was a persuasive and engaging public speaker and in addition had the big-boned large-featured good looks that were fashionable at the time. Only some who came to see her were interested in the cause of women’s suffrage; others came to see a glimpse of the famous beauty. Paul began to give Milholland a higher profile in the suffrage movement and in 1916 convinced her to embark on a multistate western tour to argue for the passage of an amendment to allow women the right to vote. Milholland was feeling unwell but went anyway understanding the importance of the mission. She attracted huge crowds and a great deal of media coverage.
During the height of the campaign Milholland wrote to Paul saying she was ill and would have to suspend travel, but Paul wrote back urging her to continue. Milholland allowed herself to be persuaded. For her part, Milholland was finally seeing her efforts produce results, and it must have been difficult to contemplate walking away from a successful enterprise after being stymied so much in the past.
Milholland collapsed during a rally in Los Angeles and died there a month later. She asked that her last recorded words be, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”
This week marks my five year anniversary of blogging. I have blogged consistently over these years for a total of 297 posts.
I will be making some changes to this blog over the next year. I will be updating the blog’s appearance and transferring it over to my main site hearthmoonrising.com. I will be transferring my webinar page over to that site as well and, yes, I will be teaching some online classes this year. I will also be transferring everything to a new site host, and while I hope to archive the whole five years you might want to cache any pages you have bookmarked so they aren’t lost to you.
I don’t know what is going on with my Tumblr blog. I have not been able to log into my dashboard or to access the Tumblr homesite since mid December, although my past Tumblr posts are still showing. I suspect that this is related to the denial-of-service attack on Tumblr about this time, but it could be another attempt to punish me for my feminist political views, as I notice that other radical feminists whom I follow have not posted for some time. My Facebook account was briefly suspended a few years ago in response to a blog post here. Compared to other feminists, I have not suffered much of this abuse, probably because I don’t write much about politics, but I am very aware that my access to social media is tenuous and this is one reason I blog so consistently. If you haven’t seen me for awhile on Facebook or Twitter, come back and check the blog. Also, sign up for my mailing list to stay in touch. The link is at hearthmoonrising.com. I do a mass email about four times a year.
I will probably be letting the Tumblr site go. I’m annoyed that they are putting advertising on my site, and I don’t enjoy going to the Tumblr dashboard anymore because of the distracting videos that assault me from the corner of my eye. I haven’t been able to find software that will disable these particular videos, and I don’t think this is good for my vision. Fortunately the adverts on my Tumblr site itself are static, but I don’t like advertising on my webpages, especially since I’m not getting any of that income. I understand that Tumblr has to bring in revenue, so I tolerated the advertisements on my news feed until they got entirely too obnoxious, but I think I’ve had enough.
My next book is in production, and I will be posting more about that in the coming weeks. I wish to thank my readers and those who have linked and commented here for making these five years possible. Here’s to another great year of thought, worship, and study.
I don’t know how many of my readers are aware of the banning of a feminist from New Zealand from the Wellington Zinefest for her political beliefs.** Renee Gerlich had her registration refunded and was asked not to participate in the festival after organizers became aware of her peaceful activities protesting the sex industry through art and an article on her blog criticizing the medical transitioning of children. She was told that “your presence at zinefest would jeopardise the safety of our queer and trans artists, people we have worked hard this year to protect and create a safe space for.” That the zines Gerlich planned to sell at her booth were themselves inoffensive to the organizers did not matter.
Banning somebody from purchasing a booth at a festival because you don’t like something they once wrote on their blog? Really?
This attitude recalls the disinvitation by the Norwegian government a few years ago of Janice Raymond, who was scheduled to present a paper on prostitution. She wrote a book over thirty years ago on a different topic that had become objectionable to trans activists. Granted, the New Zealand example is on a small scale, grassroots level, but this exemplifies how censorship of feminists is being waged across the liberal/left spectrum, perpetrated by both government officials and scruffy anarchists. It is a censorship project underway from the far north to the far south and everywhere in between.
The phrase “safe space” is fast becoming a code word for “censor and suppress free speech.” Donald Trump used the phrase, albeit loosely, a week ago in denouncing the cast of the play Hamilton for calling out Vice President-elect Michael Pence. “The theatre must always be a safe and special place,” Trump tweeted. It is only fitting that the so-called “safe” phraseology of censorship should be put to use by fascists since it embodies a fascist concept. The tools male supremacists on the left/liberal spectrum have in desperation pioneered to assert dominance over females within their movements will increasingly be put to extreme rightwing uses. Look for “inclusivity” to move beyond its current usage as a rationale for excluding radical feminists from the public discourse, and get ready for it to exclude those who threaten the “safe space” of white supremacists and Christian fundamentalists.
Since they monitor everybody’s blogs, I suppose I am never going to have a booth at the Wellington Zinefest. And as for the Norwegian government: don’t bother to invite me. I’m sure I also wrote something thirty years ago you wouldn’t like.
*Apologies to Robin Morgan; it just fit so well.
Regular readers of this blog are aware of what I think about censorship. (I don’t like it, even if you think your views are correct.) When the forthcoming publication of Female Erasure was announced less than a year ago, an attempt was made to derail editor Ruth Barrett’s fundraising for the book through Indiegogo, thereby guaranteeing that I would order an advance copy and review the book. Barrett is a well-known Dianic priestess who has received a great deal of criticism, harassment, and no-platforming for her defense of born-women-only space.
I was impressed with the thickness of the book in this age of slim cost-conscious publishing. I read some feminist theory, and I have followed this issue closely for the past five years, so I had already read many of the excerpts in the volume. Still there were a lot of new articles here.
I think the crux of the issue of transgender rights clashing with the rights of females is described in the article by attorney Maya Dillard Smith, “Federal Court’s Denial of Obama’s Transgender Bathroom Directive A Win for Everyone.” Obama’s directive on transgender rights was made without the customary public input period for Federal rules, forcing agencies and citizens to comply without debate or comment. Dillard Smith is discussing this from a US Federal legal perspective, of course, but her insights apply to a variety of religous, social, educational, and legal situations. “Trans women are women; end of discussion,” transgender advocates have decreed in exactly those words, demanding public adoption of this belief with no examination of what it implies. The contributors to this anthology have disobeyed this injunction by exploring some uncomfortable implications of transgender advocacy for the rights of biological females.
Some of the issues covered in the book are transitioning of gay children, lesbian rights, reproductive issues, prisons, girls’ athletics, racial perspectives, and feminist political organizing. I found Carol Downer’s explanation of the philosophical underpinnings of transgender “queer” theory helpful, though dense and difficult as all queer theory tends to be. Many will be interested in Barrett’s “The Attack on Female Sovereign Space in Pagan Community.” Too many people think they understand this issue through oversimplified slogans about “inclusivity.” Barrett and many other writers here take the trouble to explain the history and background behind feminist positions.
Other contributors are lawyers, feminist theorists, journalists, medical professionals, activists, parents, and detransitioned adults. For people who think transgender issues are only about bathrooms, this book is required reading.
Finally. How can the week go by without a feminist American blog commenting on this? But really, what more is there to say?
Every time I started to get enraged by all the misogyny from the Left and the media that has characterized this primary, I had to take a breath and remind myself “Hillary is winning.” When I got too disgusted by all the lies and double standards I even sent her a few bucks. And now, she has earned the nomination.
I won’t say she was given the nomination, because women in this country have never been given political power – we have fought for it. But this is not just about politics. Though the hug between President Obama and Hillary Clinton gladdened my heart, I have not always agreed with Barack Obama. Sometimes I liked what he was doing and other times I was critical. Clinton is still a nominee for president, not the one filling that office, and she has had no chance, yet, to earn my displeasure. I am sure there will be times when I happy with her and times when I am in disagreement. But I will always be proud of her and of all the women and men who voted for her. It’s about time.
The online review of women’s spirituality books published in 2015 will be this Wednesday December 16th at 3:00 pm Eastern Standard Time. You can access the program meeting room starting at 2:45 pm with this link:
Type your name and enter as a guest; no password or registration required. You may be asked to download an “add-in” from Adobe Software to configure your device for the meeting room.
There will also be an interview with poet Elizabeth Hardy. This program is offered in conjunction with the Mago Academy Nine Day Solstice Program.
A more detailed description of the program was given in last week’s post.
Stay in touch with emerging concepts in Goddess spirituality. Join us for a review of spiritually oriented books published in 2015. The program will be live at 3:00 pm EST on December 16th. There will be a mixture of essays, nonfiction, fiction, and poetry.
To access program live on the day of the broadcast use this link:
Type your name and enter as a guest: no registration needed. Program can be accessed by desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile phone. You may be asked to download an add-in by Adobe Software if your device is not configured for the meeting room. Go ahead and click okay; it’s safe and fast.
A link to the recording will be available the day following the program on this blog.
The program will include a live interview with Elizabeth Hardy, author of Female Sperm Whale … and other [feminist] poems
The following books will also be featured:
Healing Your Feminine Essence: A Transformative Journey Within for Women Who Wish to Be Free by Marie de Kock
Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots and Restoring Earth Community by Pegi Eyers
Locust Girl: A Lovesong by Merlinda Bobis
The Mago Way: Re-Discovering Mago, the Great Goddess from East Asia (vol i) by Helen Hye-Sook Hwang
She Rises: Why Goddess Feminism, Activism, and Spirituality? edited by Helen Hye-Sook Hwang and Kaalii Cargill
More on the Mago Nine Day Solstice Program here.
In light of the attacks Dianic priestess and elder Ruth Barrett has been experiencing from transgender activist allies, I want to ask the larger community of Witches and other Pagans, the majority of whom disapprove of tactics being used against Ruth, to think about what we can do to put a stop to bullying in our communities.
The objection most Witches express about “getting involved” is that these campaigns by trans activists to silence and marginalize Dianic Witches are about a disagreement between between trans activists and Dianic Witches: it has nothing to do with them. Research on the dynamics of bullying, however, highlights that there are always three parties (at least) involved in a bullying situation. These three parties are the bullies, the victims, and the bystanders. The situation is complicated by the fact that bullies invariably see themselves as victims, and victims may or may not have insight into what is happening to them. You can’t go by what people say; you have to look at actions. Bystanders believe that by supporting bullies, by covert speech or careful silence, they will avoid being a target. In the short term, this is true. But the more effective bullying becomes, the more widespread and pervasive it becomes. Also, it is morally wrong not to care about the victims, just because they are not you.
The only way out of this morass is to move away from subjective feelings of persecution, subjective feelings like If you express disagreement with my belief system, I could kill myself or When I hear about men killing trans women, I feel like they must have been inspired by lesbian feminist witches or If I allow free discussion of ideas about gender, I am a poor trans ally and responsible for the murder of millions. We must stop validating feelings asserted without evidence or coherent analysis and look at specific behaviors. The behaviors that especially deserve scrutiny come under the heading of no-platforming.
No-platforming is a coercive set of tactics designed to silence an individual or group. It involves censorship, but censorship can be subtle or systemic while no-platforming is narrow and blatant. It utilizes strong-arm tactics promoted not by an authoritarian government but by a group of people. It is a more democratic way of shutting people up. The term apparently originated in the 1970’s in Britain, where it was at first narrower in execution and target (exclusively against fascists of the old-school variety). Like most social phenomena, the practice predates coinage of the term. Despite being purportedly progressive, groups that indulge in no-platforming tend to be white, college educated, and male-led.
Blacklisting is the most familiar no-platforming tactic. It was used during the McCarthy era by the US government and unofficial anti-communist groups to deny writers, actors, artists, and academics the opportunity to perform, exhibit, publish, or teach. It has been used in recent years to ban Dianic feminist Witch Z Budapest from venues for leading ritual and to try (unsuccessfully) to keep Australian feminist Sheila Jeffreys from publishing her book Gender Hurts. A closely related censorship tactic is that of the organized boycott, which can be a mode of consumer speech about things like unfair labor practices and environmental damage, but which can also be used to suppress speech. An example of this would be the boycott many groups have organized against performers and vendors at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival over the years. To (try to) force the Festival’s expression away from women-born-women experience, a T-shirt vendor was denied lgbt business as punishment for printing shirts with a Festival slogan, and musicians lost gigs as punishment. One group that had stopped playing at Michigan found their concert disrupted by trans activists who insisted they apologize for having ever played there. Destroying venue has become a standard tactic for censoring feminists. A trans woman activist employed at a women’s studies department and others led a campaign to harass a 2012 London feminist conference that resulted in the group losing meeting space. The tactic was successfully repeated the following year by Men’s Rights Activists, getting venue canceled at the last minute for another London feminist conference. These conferences were ostensibly censored because trans women and men were asked not to attend as part of the women-only policy, but the following year a radical feminist event was held in Portland Oregon that welcomed trans women and men, and trans activists convinced the Quaker group renting the meeting space to cancel the venue. These trans activists evidently felt that what they had not yet heard should not be spoken. Several months earlier, a Canadian feminist conference met in an alternate location after having its venue pulled, when a trans activists issued a threatening campaign that raised concerns for safety. Violence and threats of violence are a time honored way of enforcing censorship. The Internet is infamous for suppressing the speech of women, feminist or not, with death and rape threats. This form of censorship, usually anonymous and unorganized, is way too extensive to go into here, but one thing that should be noted is how the larger communities reinforce this censorship tactic by their response to it. When Ruth Barrett disclosed in 2013 that she was receiving threats, one of the few Pagan news sites that reported on this said it would be a terrible thing “if it were true,” implying that of course she was probably lying. Needless to say there was no investigation by that publication or any other into her allegations. It was enough to imply that a woman, particularly a feminist, particularly a lesbian, particularly a Dianic, might be lying. This type of reaction encourages violence and even censors a woman’s impulse to talk about what’s happening, lest it be implied she’s a liar.
Then there is the targeting of advertisers with boycotts to get articles suppressed from magazines, the manufacture and mindless re-blogging of incendiary untrue accusations that can be easily researched, and the deletion of WordPress blogs, Tumblr blogs, Facebook accounts, and Twitter accounts that have not violated any stated policies but which nevertheless offended some anti-feminist. You’ll have to take my word for it at this point or will be here all day – there are too many examples even to fill a large book. Obviously these strong-arm censorship tactics cannot be blamed solely on the Pagan community but are part of a wider anti-feminist culture, with trans women usually the purported beneficiaries. Trans women who speak out against these tactics are strongly criticized or even no-platformed themselves. Yet if Paganism is not the source of this brand of anti-feminism, it is surely a participant, and it has become, like Christianity and Islam, a tool for women’s oppression. If we cannot speak freely, women’s liberation cannot move forward, and we will surely move backward.
While of this outlining of what no-platforming is, it’s important to delineate what it isn’t to avoid confusion and misinterpretation. First and foremost, choosing to meet with others of your kind, while it is exclusionary by definition, is not necessarily no-platforming or even censorship. The reason feminists have protested the male-only country clubs is that most business and political deals (in the US at any rate) are conducted on the golf course, with offices only used for working out details. No company mergers or party nominations occur in women-only space, I can assure you: women don’t have that kind of power. The issue with women-only space is that quite often, for reasons having to do with male versus female socialization, women cannot speak freely and comfortably to other women if men are present. The same dynamic holds with trans women, even if they identified as girls while they were being treated as boys during their childhood. If you feel bad for not getting a chance to speak in a group that isn’t about you, you aren’t suffering from no-platforming: you’re suffering from an outsized sense of entitlement.
Name-calling, which no one really defends, is not the same as no-platforming. Hurt feelings are simply hurt feelings, and grown-ups don’t try to control others to defend their fragile egos. Demonstrations or protests are not a no-platform tactic, unless they disrupt an event with their aggressiveness to the point police need to intervene, as occurred when author Christine Benvenuto appeared at a bookstore to plug her memoir about her divorce from her transgender spouse. Starting a petition, even a petition you disagree with, is not censorship unless that petition is promoting censorship or contains errors of fact. Truthfully calling attention to someone’s lack of credentials, lack of competence, or unethical behavior may result in loss of platform but it is not no-platforming. Taking legal action against someone for no-platforming tactics, assuming the plaintiff has the facts straight, is not no-platforming. In fact, all of the no-platforming tactics I’ve enumerated are illegal in the United States. Every one of them. Some of them are difficult to prove or prosecute, and the role of social media has not been delineated by the courts, but the higher courts have taken an extremely dim view since the McCarthy era of tactics designed to suppress political speech.
Yes, but, what else can be done about this, since nobody likes the courts except on TV? We need to concretely, coherently, explicitly condemn no-platforming tactics. Every Pagan organization, tradition, school, conference, gathering, publisher, and news blog needs to issue a statement condemning the practice. It is long past time. Pagan conferences and gatherings need to extend invitations to controversial speakers and performers. Pagan news blogs need to do some real journalism and move out of he-said/she-said reporting by actually doing interviews and fact checking what people say. Facts have become offensive in the current political climate, but the more no-platforming tactics are catered to the more widespread they become. People keep using a tactic because it works for them.
Beware of gadflies: people who attract attention by spreading lies or pulling stunts to silence others. I’m not saying to no-platform the no-platformers, exactly, but don’t reward someone with a place in the debate solely because they tried to silence someone else. Most people build a media or activism platform through years of work; libel and censorship should not be rewarded as a short-cut.
Finally, don’t assume that anyone knows that you support a person who is being silenced if you don’t speak up. Comment on social media or on a blog, or send a private message if you are too afraid. You can say something simple like “I honor Ruth Barrett’s contribution to Witchcraft and feminism and like hearing what she has to say.” Supporting someone who is being targeted doesn’t mean you are seen by any sane person as endorsing everything they have said or done or might do. You don’t have to qualify it or justify it. Bullying is something you don’t have to go along with.
Imagine what it would be like if we could all speak our mind knowing that if people disagree they cannot retaliate with the implicit endorsement of other Pagans. Imagine what it would be like if feminists could get back to the work of helping women instead of fighting just to meet on our own terms and set our own agenda. Imagine what it would mean for people doing the thankless work of putting together conferences and gatherings to stop getting these demands to remove so-and-so from the program because somebody got offended over somebody else’s opinion. I wonder what these organizers thought when the trans ally mafia called last week warning them not to have Ruth Barrett on any program, in case they might be considering it. If Ruth does decide to sue, the subpoenas are going to start flying and every Pagan who has organized anything is going to get one. Lawyers are like that. Imagine our sordid lunatic Pagan communities under the spotlight for public scrutiny (and judgment). The media circus would make Z’s arrest for reading tarot cards look like a child’s birthday party. Even if this particular incident doesn’t end up in the courts, that is where things are heading, unless Witches and other Pagans put the brakes on this no-platform game and make it clear that the rest of us are NOT playing along. Even now, it may be too late.