Divide and Conquer

Tho we all share commonality as women which unites us, we must also be willing to hear out the pain that has divided us. There is no way around it. There are no shortcuts. We must understand how the patriarchy divides and conquers us.

None of us gets a free ride. We are all discriminated against and oppressed by some difference the patriarchs have singled out, other than just being women. This is what divides us. So we don’t get the option of ignoring it. We must listen to the pain of what it means to be a woc, a lesbian, a mother, a single or childless woman, or a senior, and …. So we must be willing to hear each other’s pain of how the patriarchy attacks us in special ways. – Luckynkl (possibly paraphrased from published works)

Indeed. I so agree with this sentiment. Despite so much of the intersectionality discussion reverting to Oppression Olympics, rendering it meaningless to many radfems, we still need to be willing to listen to the pain of women’s experiences from the other oppressions. We need to understand, and that is painful, for both speaker and listener. It’s hard to separate out the pain from the tendency to place everything in boxes of a less-than vs more-than hierarchical structure. Sometimes the pain we hear from other women who have been oppressed differently to ourselves will hurt us too. As white women listen to the pain of women-of-colour, some will feel unfairly attacked as ‘racist’. Some will feel liberal white guilt. Some woc will lose all sympathy with white women who don’t *get it*. Some will think woc are just playing the ‘race card’, and some respond along the lines that the ‘race card’ is powerless to hurt other women anyway. Others will try to understand how some of their unconscious behaviours might feed into structural racism.

The women sharing their pain, may be angry, they may use ‘nasty’ words, or they may well express ‘nasty’ concepts, but framed in polite, respectful, educated language. Which makes it OK to some women, as long as its said with ‘respect’ it doesn’t matter how cruel the sentiment being expressed is. They may say things that other women find painful to hear. Don’t take it personally, some say. It is just venting in rage against the ‘system’. Or, its just an ‘opinion’ on the situation, on a set of behaviours, not the person, its not an ‘attack’. It’s not directed personally, or onto any particular group of women. Nonetheless, for some women it feels that way.

Once I saw on a radfem’s blog, a remark about a woman immigrant dressed in hijab who she sees on her commute, including a comment along the lines of wishing the woman would return to her own country. It would appear the woman’s behaviour and dress was offensive to the American woman, perhaps the woman was too patriarchally-identified or ‘contaminated’ or not ‘pure’ enough to share a public bus in America. I don’t know why, but I was upset reading this, partly because I happen to know many women from hijab-wearing cultures who continue to wear it for various reasons. Some of whom are radfem lesbians.

Childless women vent their pain and anger, and some of that sometimes falls on mothers. I sometimes read the pain and anger of the childless as ‘contempt’ for mothers. Sometimes I see it as ignorance, for they do not know in what ways mothers are oppressed. Sometimes I see it as arrogance, for they do not care enough to find out. Some are proud of their achievement in escaping the chains of motherhood (while calling it *privileged*), and encourage others to do so. Some mothers join in to beat themselves up with regrets. I try to hear the pain, as rage against the ‘system’ and not as an ‘attack’ on mothers. As a mother, I don’t see the ‘contempt’ or ‘rejection’ of motherhood as a personal insult or rejection to all mothers, but I can understand why many mothers might feel that way.

Some radfem vegans are not shy of calling omnivores ‘impure’ and placing themselves as holier-than-thou on the radfem ladder. They are proud of their achievement in solidarity politics with our sister creatures. I know some radfem vegan lesbians who have called women ‘tainted’ because of their meat-eating habits, implying they are engaging in a kind of political rape. Is that an insult to all women eating meat? I don’t know, but many meat-eating radfems out of mutual respect, or in solidarity with the political principles perhaps, understand the anger and empathise, or just let it go.

In many of these oppressions that the patriarchy puts on all of us, we women – ourselves – are often used as tools of the patriarchs to police and reinforce them on other women. Many of us are unconscious of it. Lesbians in particular, because they interact with more women on more intimate levels, are often far more aware and conscious of how hand-maidens of patriarchy hurt us and in personal intimate ways.

Some lesbians, possibly the minority of all the minorities, similar to other minority women, get tired and frustrated at not being able to speak their pain because it might hurt other women, who just aren’t interested and tell us to go find our own country. Some lesbians, like some woc, have no time, energy or sympathy left. Recently a young radfem lesbian blogger asked where are all the young lesbians? I would add where are all the older lesbians? Some young lesbians are *terrified* of het women’s reactions. Many older ones stay closeted.

Some lesbians, like childless women, are proud of having escaped the chains from an early age, but their pride in their achievement is seen as hierarchical and is trashed as trivial and unimportant by most other women. On the other hand, childless women are put up as role models. Such lesbians are just terribly threatening. All 10 of them. All 0.00000001% of them in the population. Freaks. It would appear that even those few,  must be culled from the herd and not allowed to survive.

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10 thoughts on “Divide and Conquer

  1. Once I saw on a radfem’s blog, a remark about a woman immigrant dressed in hijab who she sees on her commute, including a comment along the lines of wishing the woman would return to her own country.

    Actually, what I said was, “And if she wants to be oppressed, why not just stay in her country of origin? It seems pretty silly to move to a country with more opportunities, if you aren’t going to make use of said opportunities.”

    That’s not the same as “go back to your own country.” What I meant by that was that many people, even people who aren’t really religious seem to think that religious belief is innocuous, or that it is simply separate from “real life.” But if you live in a country that has more freedoms than your country of origin, yet you continue to practice an outdated, backward, misogynist religion, your life may not be all that it can be. Immigrants come to America all the time from predominantly Muslim countries and practice FGM on their children and engage in honor killings. So, it’s not the country, it’s the religion. And if you’re going to keep practicing a backward religion, then why bother to move somewhere foreign where you don’t speak the language well and don’t partake of that country’s opportunities?

    And this doesn’t just apply to Islam. There’s a bumper sticker out there that says something like, when Christianity ruled Europe, we called it “The Dark Ages.” When a country/culture embraces religion, then I think they regress. I want progress. You don’t get progress by believing in a misogynistic god.

    As for veganism, I don’t think I’ve ever called omnivores “tainted,” or implied that I was holier than anyone else. I think I’m doing the right thing, and I find it to be a very significant thing that gives my life meaning, but I don’t consider myself better than omnivores. Of course, the obvious answer is that if you are always feeling irritated by vegans, that probably means it’s hitting a nerve or making you face something about yourself you don’t want to face. 😉

  2. I really liked Amy’s post on this subject today. She quoted from, and linked to, an article by Elliot about how the purity thing has a huge grip on women and hence on feminism.

    It’s a landmine because whenever a woman/feminist says “I think it’s better to do A than to do B, and that’s a feminist issue”, then feminists who are doing A to whatever extent feel “Oh, she’s telling me I’m impure”, and then all the horizontal hostility dynamics get genned up. Then all kinds of other issues from the alphabet, C D E F G H etc get wound in, and it’s a veritable tornado.

  3. This a wonderful post Rain. Lucky’s quote is dead on. We need to allow each other our pain, not preach to, or police each other.
    And try to stick together like mad, no matter what our other bug bears are. We are most effective when we are feminists first.

  4. Of course, the obvious answer is that if you are always feeling irritated by vegans, that probably means it’s hitting a nerve or making you face something about yourself you don’t want to face

    Exactly *hugs* Now substitute “irritated by vegans” with “Irritated by …..” <— fill in the blank with whatever, or whoever.

    We all have triggers.

    As for the fundie vegans LOL – no, not you *sloopch*, I know other radfem vegans who are that way, but they dont push *my* buttons 🙂 but still, I can understand how they might push others.

    Above, I said I was personally “upset”, thats why I didnt say anything at the time, I *owned* my personal trigger that you pressed, because my ex-lover was islamic, and I imagined *her* – or ybawife – on that bus – being thought of in such terms.

    It’s a landmine ….and then all the horizontal hostility dynamics get genned up….and it’s a veritable tornado

    Love the imagery MarySunshine 🙂 I also liked Amy’s post, was very thoughtful and hopeful too.

    We need to allow each other our pain….

    *nodding* helzeph, like lucky says “there’s no getting around it” unfortunately – glad you liked it! 🙂

  5. Above, I said I was personally “upset”, thats why I didnt say anything at the time, I *owned* my personal trigger that you pressed, because my ex-lover was islamic, and I imagined *her* – or ybawife – on that bus – being thought of in such terms.

    Ah…got it. Yeah, I can see how if someone has a personal issue with something that they could misread intent.

    Yeah, I also have my triggers. I’d like to think they are under control, but I’m sure people who are savvy could probably suss them out. 😉

  6. So does any of the ‘born lesbian’ arguments mean that I cannot be a lesbian then? because I have somehow been “tainted”? 😦

    Shit, fuck that! I don’t wanna go back to men, ever, ever! I’m now utterly disgusted by men and what they do to women everyday in a patriarchy. I’ve never even married; I never had any kid. And I’m still young.

    Yes, I understand why a never-het lesbian would never want to have anything to do with a former het. I’m just hoping that if I ever met another lesbian I really liked and if she really liked me, she would not reject me as soon as I told her that “I used to sleep with the enemy.” That would suck, really. 😦

    I understand the “baggage” that I carry and would do my best to get rid of it, if a never-het accepted me as a partner. That said, I’d be just as happy with another former het Les Sep. And I’d understand why a woman who’s never been with men would reject me, but that wouldn’t stop me from being sad or crying. 😦

    Believe it or not. I was always attracted to womyn. I even had a full break from heterosexuality on two occasions. I was simply socialized into living as/going back as a heterosexual. 😦 I’m sorry but this was not easy, you know; there was parents’ and peers’ pressure; there was the whole conditioning to heterosexuality. There was also the fact that the patriarchy always edits lesbianism out as an option. And I had been raped and coerced into sexuality with men. 😦 But I do know better now.

    I’ve always loved womyn, in my heart I know I always have. I know I am a lesbian and I don’t care about men anymore; I am a separatist.

    Adrienne Rich’s essay on Compulsory Heterosexuality, does it ring a bell, anyone?

    I’m really sorry for rambling but some radfems’ posts here and on the other blogs on this subject have made me real sad and depressed. If we are definite lesbian feminists and we are never, ever go back with men (or go with men in the first place), I think we can trust each other at some level.

    I’m still young. I am a lesbian. And I don’t give a flyin’ fuck about men anymore. They have hurt me and other womyn so much. I love womyn. I swear it to you all, I swear it.

    I really wish I had always been like you, never-het lesbians, and I understand that you are so, so lucky and proud of who you are as a minority. I wish I had been that lucky and realized right from the beginning that I did *not* ever “have to” be with men, that womyn are meant for each other and not meant for men. But I cannot erase my past of having been socialized within the heteropatriarchal system. 😦

    In the end, we are all female human beings, are we not?

    Does you know what I mean here and why I now feel bad about this sort of lesbian divide? Is it really a divide? 😦

    Or am I missing the point here? Please let me know, Rain. I’ve just been catching up on all this.

    (I also posted a similar comment on the other blogs)

  7. *hugs* Maggie 🙂

    Of course you can! LOL Too many took Sheila personally IMHO, and went way over the top in over-reaction. Like Polly said all this “wounded pride” because one lesbian said she was a little picky & choosy in her personal life.

    So she’s a little fussy? Thats her prerogative. Good luck to her! *chuckle*.

    I’m not so fussy *wink*, and neither was Polly I think she said – so don’t worry Maggie. It was the principle of the matter, so many women on that thread, became personally offended that a lesbian might reject them sexually. *roll eyes*.

    One thing about lesbians, in my own experience, is that most of us are far better at taking no for an answer, (and in giving it) than men are. Unlike men, we tend to respect other women’s feelings and decisions in such matters, and it is expected in return. The fact that so many women were so offended by it on that thread, just proves the het privilege and *baggage* and Men-in-the-Head attitudes that pissed us off.

  8. “It was the principle of the matter, so many women on that thread, became personally offended that a lesbian might reject them sexually. *roll eyes*.”

    Several people have said that that was what offended peeps.

    Many peeps have said it was the misogyny of the virgin/whore language so common in our lives.

    No reason to believe anything they say about what they think when you can tell them what they think, and then tell them how wrong they are to think it.

    • So other people are allowed to tell me I’m wrong, (in blog posts too numerous to mention) but I’m not allowed to do the same to them?

      Surely some mistake?

  9. Thanks, Rain, I get it now. 😉

    Well, I am a lesbian feminist. And, BTW, the vast majority of ‘political lesbians’ also have intimate female partners IRL.

    I am not going to “re-label” myself just because I have a past that I cannot changed (I was also raped and pressured, ffs).

    That said, if there are other small distinctions within lesbianism (such as the one we’ve been talking about), I will accept them, if a tiny minority really needs them for their own personal choices. As I said, I’d understand it if a particular woman who’s never been with men would not want to be with me. I just said that if (especially if she’d originally said she liked me before I told her about my past, hypothetical scenario here, I know) she decided she’d wanted nothing to do with me ’cause I’d been with men in the past, that wouldn’t stop me from being sad for a brief period… But I would get over it! I’m a woman: I’ve got nothing to do with any of those evil men who always go after women. Plus, I’m very shy IRL, as a matter of fact.

    Unlike men, we tend to respect other women’s feelings and decisions in such matters, and it is expected in return.

    Yep, I totally agree with you on that. 🙂

    (As an aside, though, I think that making a woman feel that she has somehow been “tainted” or “contaminated” is a very misogynistic way of putting it, IMHO.)

    But, as far as I know, I am a lesbian feminist attracted to womyn. I agree with some of the things tbat have been said here.

    I just don’t agree that ex-het lesbians should be “re-naming” themselves if they now geuinely and only care about women. But I don’t think it is what never-het lesbians said; Thanks all for that.

    Rain, if some womyn who used to live as hets are now real 100% lesbians, if we genuinely do NOT care about men anymore, and if we are now 100% attracted and committed to womyn, then we are lesbians. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any distinctions within lesbianism, especially if these represent best any urgent need that an even more oppressed minority may have. But we are still lesbians, and lesbian feminists, if we are lesbians who are committed to personal and political radical feminism.

    *hugs* to you too.

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