Something we come across frequently is the idea that some women internalise and then reproduce or reinforce our own oppression. That we participate more or less out of choice (or ungratefulness towards second wavers) in making ourselves more oppressed, in losing the few rights we have gained, in betraying and failing other women and especially in making life more difficult for lesbians, radical feminists and women’s liberation…
Men are the problem, but not the only problem. Women are also the problem according to this view, and I can’t help but notice that a fair amount of energy is and has been spent reacting to libfem women (liberal feminists) in order to rant about them, mostly about how they throw women under the bus, betray radical lesbian feminists, and seem to be taken for the biggest threat to radical feminism and women’s liberation today.
The first thing I’d like to say is, as radical feminists, I don’t see why we should get so tired or impatient over this group of women more than any other. Yes, libfeminism is very strategically posted at the gate of feminism to prevent women from getting near liberation, and these patriarchal reprisals are those we are most exposed to once we’ve stepped into the feminist movement. But active libfems represent only a small portion of the female population and this “brand” of backlash is only one facet of men’s repression tactics overall.
Mental and physical alienation and destruction of relationships of solidarity between women isn’t specific to liberal feminist enclaves. It’s the normal consequence of being invaded and colonised by men — which is the case everywhere and liberal groups are just one group in which men hold power over women, collectively and individually. The same is true for women attached to right-wing, religious, atheist, conservative or activist men, at whatever age, from whichever country, etc. The workings of colonisation by men and compliance to their rules in a situation of captivity are always the same, except men’s methods differ slightly from one group to another. Similarly, to every breach opened by women to escape men, whether it be lesbianism, spinsterism, feminism, running away from an abusive family or husband, men respond with the specific kind of repression that go with it.
More importantly, no woman or group of women are responsible for men’s organised anti-feminist repression, whether actively or passively (ie lack of resistance). It’s materially, concretely impossible for an oppressed to be the one responsible for her condition of oppressed.
Whichever group of women we’re looking at, women aren’t the problem, or responsible for the situation we’re in. As the oppressed group we can’t reinforce our own oppression, we can’t have both the agency to maintain this oppression and at the same time, because of this oppression be so stripped of our agency as to be incapable of escaping patriarchy or doing much about it. Only the oppressors are in a position to oppress and maintain this oppression, which they do with the use of force. Their violence is unilateral, and violence in a context of oppression is always unilateral.
By definition, oppressors, abusers, slave-masters, tyrants or whatever we call them, enforce their oppression whether we like it or not. They force us into being useful to them. They resort to violence, to methods that destroy our will and turn us against ourselves and other women so to keep us useful and subservient to them. Only chronic violence and long-term captivity (to the owner-father, owner-husband, owner-pimp) can obtain such extreme results of adaptation and submission to abusers. Submission doesn’t ever equal active, willing participation. We participate into our annihilation only as victims.
The more a group behaves submissively to another, and in ways that appear contradictory to its own interests, the higher the level of occupation and repression this group is subjected to: this is a universal law. Not only the level of submission is always proportional to the level of terror, but the kind of submissive, traumatic responses of the oppressed group also directly mirror the various methods of torture used against them.
The level to which women in the left or libfem women are terrified of radical feminism (or of lesbianism) and fearfully obey to men’s demands, reflects the violence with which men infiltrate, invade and destroy the feminist movement from the inside. It reflects their controlling and abusive attitudes towards women, the way they’ll threaten, intimidate, harass and verbally assault women merely because they refused to submit to men’s fabrication of reality (ie demanding us to call men “she”). It’s also an effect of their sexual sadism towards the women they vampirise, as these men are usually supporters and active practitioners of pornographic and prostitutional violence. Liberal women are misdirected by the false hopes that not all men are bad and that equality is the solution, because liberal men constantly lure them into these myths and exploit women’s desires by posturing as allies and mimicking feminist discourse. More often than not these men manage to control women by becoming the boyfriend-owners (or “best friends”) of liberal women, and impose their interests in women’s groups simply by infiltrating her thoughts and actions in the “privacy” of her/his home, and in her bed, where he enforces PIV and sexually humiliates her, while calling this liberating.
Women don’t “let” men in feminism. Forced proximity to abusive men is simply THE central aspect to all women’s condition in patriarchy and so it is that women continue to struggle with it once they step into feminism. It doesn’t disappear because we say it should, especially if the women are already bound to an individual man. And the time it takes to become a separatist, that is to gradually be in a position to reject proximity to men, depends on the opportunities we have to free ourselves from our individual oppressors. Anyway.
Men are the ones who damage the movement, who cause trouble amongst women.
When we talk about women betraying women, this is something organised politically, beyond ourselves. Men are the only agents of this betrayal, they are the ones organising it, they very literally stand between us and the women that are important to us, attempt to control, limit and sabotage our contact in every possible way. The list of ways in which they break our bonds with women — whether within the patriarchal family (mother, aunt, sister, cousin, in-laws etc), within our friend-circle, our political groups or on a larger scale — is endless, literally endless. What’s more, men are in fact the ones who betray us constantly, constantly! Quite contrary to women, who mostly act in good faith, who are expected to be transparent and honest at all times — planned deception is how men proceed by default. The contrast between men and women in this respect is so stark that it takes years to even imagine how men can be so calculating. They’re capable of betraying our trust for decades onwards, stealing everything we have, tricking and manipulating us at every turn and opportunity. The backbones of all their institutions, from marriage to capitalism to the democratic state to medicine to religion (etc) are built on lies, myths and reversals.
So. If we encounter a woman acting in accordance to what men have demanded of her, I don’t see any point in telling her off, being angry with her, or even accusing her of betrayal. I think that’s being abusive to women, unjustly holding them responsible for the effects of men’s actions on them. It’s getting the enemy wrong, hitting on the co-victim instead of the oppressor; we remain caught in men’s endless cycle of hijacking our (real or potential) relationships of solidarity with other women. We may be that person, and certainly have been before, and would have expected empathy rather than scorn. She necessarily has very little control over the abuse that makes her act in this way so to avoid further punishment. The reasons and cause for her actions do not lie in herself but in the men who are taking her mind and body as hostage, one way or another. As feminists, it’s with these real men, and their real control over her we have to deal with first, not with the intellectual debates, or debates about who has the right to call herself radical feminist. The problem isn’t an intellectual one here, but a material problem of violence.