Last week, through a conversation with a friend I finally came to understand why identity making made me feel uneasy, which led me to think about the definition of identity and why it’s an embodiment of foreground male presence as opposed to female being (I’m using Mary Daly’s notion of male foreground / female background).
I’m not talking about identity politics here, which may be related but is more blatantly liberal and generally comes from the queer / intersectional fringes and has really nothing to do with radical feminism. It’s something else. I was thinking about this more than a year ago, then left it as it was, and these thoughts sprung back again in the same state the other day. I knew something was wrong somewhere but I couldn’t tell how exactly, put words on it. What I felt was a ‘something missing’ which left a dissonant aftertaste in my tongue, as if there lacked some deep understanding. Something appeared superficial. If there was a problem in the understanding of men’s oppression such as with social constructionism, or problems in the way they were acting that contradicted their sayings, I had already broken that down and there was something else still.
I’m racking my brain, thinking about it: superficial, that’s fake. Sisterhood. Why do I not like the way it’s used? Something in there is fabricating an idea of a happy sisterhood that’s too exaggerated to be true. It has a groupie feel to it, that horrible feeling I had in school with girl cliques you were supposed to want to be friends with, and many of us pretended to stick together only because being alone was too dangerous, it meant you would be scapegoated and that was akin to death, so you had to obey to whatever conventions in order to show your belonging to this group, to give the impression to yourself and others you weren’t alone. I always found group assimilation alienating as it would leave me feeling more isolated than when I was alone. I never managed to fit in any of these groups.
In a similar way, I find alienating the repetitive use of ‘sisterhood’ and ‘sisters’ in contexts that don’t relate to the reality of an association or trusted group of friends. You’re invited to feel part of or witness a wonderful community in which all women are happy together dancing, laughing and singing and holding hands or whatever… but you know this isn’t true, simply because it’s not happening as you read / listen – at best you don’t have any connection to the women writing, reading, commenting, publishing, talking etc because you don’t know them – or at worst you’ve heard about behind-the-scenes stuff which are too stressful to think about. In either case, you’re invited to share an experience that doesn’t exist or contrasts sharply with reality.
I presume sisterhood loosely means a large or small group or community of women bound together in a solid and positive way. I do know the existence of groups but I have no interest in mentioning them except if it’s relevant to what I’m writing. So it isn’t something that happens or appears just because you use the word. It isn’t like the word “I apologise” which is also an action and so when you say it you’re making it happen. In this case sisterhood – or derivatives referring to false images of a big loving community, words and names of radical feminists – are used as rallying symbols for following or inclusion, instead of for the meaning they convey in a relevant context.
This is what advertising companies do. This is what male ideologues do, what religious males do. Not that women are any of them, but some of the strategies bear a resemblance as we’re made to believe that diffusing feminism is about recruitment, communication and convincing. But persuasion and recruitment are only necessary for men since their institutions are based on myths and lies. Feminism is the opposite: either the truth of men’s violence is blocked out or either you see it – because it’s always there right in front of our nose. The method of radical feminism is peeling off the veil that men covered our eyes with, it’s consciousness-raising, connecting the dots outside and inside, it is Seeing and Feeling.
Just yesterday a woman told me she wouldn’t attend a woman-only feminist event because it was “politically biased” (in feminism) and she didn’t want to feel tricked or forced into an “ideology”. Well, I found that laughable because she ignores that everything else she goes to which is supposedly neutral is a manifestation of patriarchal ideology, and the only thought and movement that isn’t ideological is feminism. I reminded her that feminism, unlike an ideology, isn’t based in reversals and myth-making as a tool of control of one group over another: it’s naming reality, saying the truth of what men do to us and there aren’t 3,000 ways of naming it, the fact men’s violence exists isn’t debatable. It isn’t about recruiting and brainwashing an army to take power, wage war, occupy or colonise. To this she replied, “well all ideologies strive to tell the truth and give their own interpretation of reality, religions do that, political parties do that, and so does feminism”.
Oh dear. No, male institutions don’t ever strive to tell the truth, this is female projection and blindness here. I gave up the conversation at this point, as she was too far away into male liberalism to understand a word I said.
The point being, while feminism isn’t an ideology, it’s sometimes treated as such. My friend pointed out references to rituals. Rituals! Yes that makes sense, it’s like religion. It’s about upholding an artificial reality through regular gestures, pomp or actions, and are explicitly or implicitly mandatory to show your belonging to a male group or institution (religious, legal, military, other).
Ah. Now I understand. Identities may be a form of ritual – performance, role-playing. Just like rituals, you have to repetitively execute a certain number of actions or use a certain number of symbols to keep up those roles, to uphold the myth, to prove your belonging to the fictional group, collective or nation. This is male identity-making. Actions are retrieved from their experience, the goal is separate from the process of doing the action in itself. You’re deprived of the sensory experience, which is why it makes you feel empty and repulsed by it. That is you’re no longer doing something regularly because it feels good and it sustains you but because you have to do it in order to be part of the group at this particular time. And if you don’t comply, you risk being excluded, of being called unsisterly, you’re punished in some way or another, it may be subtle enough so you don’t realise it but feel guilty. It really is about control.
I think this is what we mean when we criticise the use of radical feminism as an identity: the actions, symbols, words and names are emptied of their meaning and context and used in ritualistic ways to uphold a fiction of group-belonging, for power over or to show conformity to a group because you need to feel included, so you become emotionally attached to it and it’s actually what prevents you from continuing to understand things on a deeper level. Identity = ritual = fiction = trauma-bonding to false inclusion = tool of control. Hence why it’s so stressful to read / listen, and my impression of shallowness.
Blogging and internet makes this role-playing easier I suppose, as you can just create an alias and invent a whole persona, the truth is easier to hide. But dynamics are the same online as well as in real life.
I don’t think the identity-making is always done deliberately or maliciously. Often it is, as a manipulation tactic to gain control, but sometimes it just flows from our desperate need to feel part of a group, because radical feminism may have been the first thing that broke our isolation, it may have been the first thing that gave sense to our suffering. I think this is very sad. We have all terribly suffered from being abandoned, scapegoated, excluded, and we want these women to be the happy family we never had. We cling to women very quickly and place all our hopes and dreams of a free sisterly community in them. Except that it doesn’t work this way. It’s tempting to make an identity out of radical feminism because our female culture and sense of being in this world is constantly erased and we want to recreate a sense of community and belongingness very fast because we’re desperate, so we recreate one before it exists, in ritualistic ways. These idealistic images of sisterhood are tempting but most often they’re not true.
That’s it, it’s lovebombing – a word that Delphyne used some time ago. Don’t be fooled by love-bombing, because it may hide abuse, control or manipulation. Experience has taught me that in patriarchy it’s dangerous to leap into a group or a relation without taking a very long time to build trust, without giving it the test of time.