About a year ago, I was deceived into a male activist gathering by a few friends, who assured me the speakers were women, but who upon arrival turned out to be a man. Groan, what a trap! The problem being of course that these friends weren’t feminist enough to understand the danger it represented to be around male activists, as if the mistake didn’t make any difference. I shouldn’t have accepted in the first place, knowing it wouldn’t be feminist. It was too complicated to leave at this point, so I had endure the speech.
However listening to his speech was instructive, as I took careful note of the evening, reactions and content. He was invited to talk about his activism in his own country which was under military occupation (this is as specific as I can get) and what made his presentation rather enlightening was the comparison I could draw between colonised men and colonised women.
This man recounted his experience as an activist, the kind of actions their group did, his perspective on the occupation and on their means of action and strategies, gave some background info on the current situation, etc. It was infuriating and depressing to be reminded of men’s privilege as activists fighting for a male-accredited cause, recognised by a global community of liberals and lefties as the Noble fight for freedom against evil occupiers. A recognition that we, as radical feminists, could never dream of. Depressing to realise how many obstacles we have to face in comparison to male liberationists, how easy they have it all. Weird also to see how I’ve become so used to being attacked and rejected from all sides, isolated, having to constantly slash through the lies and reversals and gaslighting even in my own camp, that I completely forgot what it looked like not to have to endure that. At all.
Since he was speaking of occupation and colonisation, the parallel was glaring with women’s situation worldwide, us being the most colonised and repressed people on this planet, though obviously not one word was spoken about women. The injustice and inequality of his undeserved recognition was so insulting that it was like a constant smack in the face and I wanted to shout at the audience and the speaker that they were all hypocritical self-congratulatory bastards, but obviously I couldn’t do that without appearing completely crazy and inappropriate, so I just had to mutter and grumble to myself, containing myself from bursting at the people around me. These situations really drive you mad, the dissonance is unbearable.
Nobody in this room apart form myself realised or questioned the insane privilege he had as a male activist. The absolute luxury of being taken seriously, immediately. The admiring respect. The luxury of it being self-evident to everyone in this room that we are morally obligated to endorse this cause, to side with the oppressed and denounce the oppressors. He is certain of everyone’s approval. Everything is so easy for him.
He is free from the self-defeating, maddening burden of having to justify his use of the term duck for describing a duck and thus having to show what makes a duck, a duck, and how it applies to his case: since the bird he’s talking about has a particular form of beak, wings and feet, colour, and its capacity to both swim and fly. In other words, having to demonstrate how his condition of colonised qualifies as colonisation and how oppressors are necessarily oppressive. Of having to prove that military occupation is by definition forced on the occupied people and not chosen by them, that beatings are inherently violent and repressive and not expressions of love. He has no dread of being rejected or misunderstood by using straightforward terms to describe the situation. No one would dare come up to him to say “but what if your people enjoy being beaten, arrested and bombed?” I was envious of his privilege to name the agent and their violence in such a plain and matter-of-fact language, and it wouldn’t cross anyone’s mind to dispute the reality of his claims. It is obvious to everyone that the occupation is true and serious, that their need to resist is legitimate. There is no separation between language and reality for him.
Women by contrast are dispossessed from all the words necessary to name and therefore conceive of our condition – this is one of men’s most deadly weapons against women’s liberation. As Mary Daly says, “Women have had the power of naming stolen from us. We have not been free to use our own power to name ourselves, the world, or God.” (Beyond God the Father: Towards a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation (1973), p.8). Radical feminists are cursed with this invisible distorting lens, men’s false reality separating us from the world and from ourselves, the meaning of our words doomed to never reach our recipients – we may repeat the truth of the atrocities again and again but so erased and reverted is our reality that even to get women to glimpse a modicum of men’s oppression and understand that men’s violence against us is not a victimless crime, may take years. Imagine talking about pornography in the same way as the male activist, to that same public: “so, this year male colonisers have captured and tortured 3 million women in their mass rape industry, it is a terrible situation, so we have tried our best to harm men to stop their genocidal progress. We managed to sabotage two of their events a few months ago and we also ended up wounding two men. It’s not much but we do the best we can with the means we have” [applause and acclaim].
Men’s reality is so distinct from ours. I wanted to laugh out loud at him, Mr brave hero, ultimate martyr of the 21st century. He believes to shock the audience by saying that every activist he knows has spent several months or years in prison, arrested by the settlers. I wish women had only that to deal with. Not long before, a woman had told me she spent 23 years imprisoned by her abusive husband – like 3 other billion women on this planet. I guess 20 years must be the minimum sentence for married or owned women, if they survive that long after childhood. The kind of lifetime confinement, torture and isolation women are subjected to by men is far beyond any man would ever experience or could ever imagine. Men’s short-term imprisonment is a child play in comparison, not only that but their prison is at least recognised as a prison, and they go in there knowing they will be greeted as heroes in return, that it was worth it, that they’re not alone.
I could go on and on, and I will in fact. I was so angry that evening.
Oh and when these activists organise meetings and conferences, thousands of people turn up in no time. Their primary means of communication is through social networks on internet, and everything they do is documented and open. They refuse to hide anything – their faces, their names, and hundreds of thousand people support them on the internet. People take photos of him during the speech, he’s happy about that. His aim, he says, is to harm the occupier as much as possible. It is his right, he says, according to international human rights treaties, that victims of occupation choose the means of their resistance, whether armed or peaceful.
How free he is compared to us! I think of how difficult it is in comparison to even get 5 women together for a feminist project, and for them to take that seriously enough or put women first. We have to face constant rejection and contempt from women. I also wish I could do everything in the open, and be more open in my writing too – since feminist insights are gained through interacting with daily life events, having to omit personal anecdotes in order not to be recognised has the cost of limiting the context and meaning of my writing. I hide my name and I’m so scared of being harassed by men with my blogging that I have adapted my day-to-day behaviour in order to leave as little trails behind me as possible. I refuse to have pictures taken of me in public. I have to be careful of what I say, at all times. I simply can’t afford to harm men directly in any way because if I went to prison, or if I were attacked or harassed by them, nobody could help me, I wouldn’t have a bunch of activist buddies who would have the power to bail me out in a few months. I would be alone. There is no international community of liberals who recognises our condition as being occupied by men even if it defines as occupation: the right to harm occupiers only applies to men. I wouldn’t be able to rally wider support either because my actions would only rally more hatred against me. Just look at what happens to bloggers and women when they only reflect about it.
He needn’t fear that at every speech he is invited to, there will be defenders of the colonisers there to intimidate him, or worse, invited to speak alongside him for a “debate”, to advance the position that occupation is freedom. That every activist he meets may be covertly working for the settlers, identifying to their interests or seeking to sabotage his group’s actions from within. It wouldn’t occur to anyone to complain about the absence of oppressors, it would have been considered a terrible offence to do so. He has the luxury of being part of an essentially undivided movement, where the big picture of freeing themselves from the colonisers is never lost to the activists, even if strategies may differ.
This made me think about our everyday experience of infiltration and sabotage within feminism, how normalised it is – the banality of horror, to take Arendt’s term. We are so filled with crooks, imposters or our very oppressors that finding an un-twisted form of feminism is almost a miracle. Not wanting to be in the same room with our oppressors when we discuss our liberation causes endless retaliation. Our movement is so deeply controlled by male interests or men that merely attempting to exclude infiltrators will warrant punishment and be seen as illegitimate. We live in such a different world.
Where this comparison is leading me to, that he admitted himself he doesn’t like doing what he does, that he’d rather do something else of his life but he does it out of duty, because he wants his people to be free. Well, I find that interesting. Male activism is indeed boring. Deadening, repetitive, necrophilic, threatening. There is indeed no joy, no life. He’s perfectly right. Our situation as radical feminists might be the most repressed but for nothing in the world would I quit radical feminism – because contrary to male activism, feminism saves women’s lives. It brings back to life. I don’t do it out of duty but because it’s a call of my soul, I follow the flow. We become alive again and we regain our senses and sight. I don’t think he will ever experience the beauty of spinning and female-bonding, which all the admiration of the world will never replace. It was interesting to contrast his model to radical feminism here, in fact I never really conceived of radical feminism as activism so much as a transformative movement. It is movement, the real movement of being. Liberation isn’t a distant goal we seek to achieve but something we experience on a daily basis. And each transformation, each revelation, connection and bonding brings back a swirl of energy and joy. You can feel the “pops” and crackling of the fire which lightens your soul and frees from men’s mindbindings.
I don’t know what to conclude really, it’s strange this paradox between our situation being the worst yet our movement being the best thing that happens to us as women, in spite of the unbridgeable gap and all the crushing obstacles, men never completely kill the life in us, this possibility to resuscitate life after annihilation. The extent of men’s power over women even when they’re oppressed is gross and humiliating but our liberation is so distinct from theirs that the only thing we can do is get over it and continue what we have to do, sparking other women and ourselves and withdrawing from men. We just aren’t on the same level at all, it’s perplexing when I think of it. Basically the only thing that men will ever inform you of is the extent of their domination over you, and that’s the only thing you can learn from observing and listening to their speeches. Once you’ve understood the extent of your oppression and their power over you, and gotten over the anger of it all, well maybe we will set the bar higher for ourselves next time but we can learn nothing from male activism except that it’s everything we shouldn’t do.