As a general rule, I am not a subscriber to any of various the -isms and -ists. I identify with some of the more radical ideologies, but I often find the -isms and -ists to be more rigid than I prefer. Anarchism appeals to me for its espousal of equality and social justice; I think it is implicit that for society to be able to self-govern, its members must stand on equal footing. To accomplish that, anarchists would break down the structures of inequality. But variations of anarchism become much more specific. Anarcho-syndicalism promotes the worker and industry, while anarcho-primitivism concerns the environment, and anarcha-feminism emphasizes patriarchy as the enforcer of social hierarchy. (To be clear, these descriptions are both bare-bones glosses and a reduction to basic elements that don’t allow for combinations or complexities of thought.) As with other -isms, when presented generally, some seem very appealing, but when broken into specific sub-isms, they become more stringent. Anarcho-primitivism conflicts with the industrial elements of anarcho-syndicalism, and strains of anarcho-primitivsm conflict with each other – I’ve known people who espouse the destruction of the human race as a virus on the earth, whereas others promote coexistence among humans, animals, and the environment. After several years, a lot of workshops, and countless conversations, I gave up on specifics and deferred to an attempt to make positive choices for myself and my family. I’ve sometimes thought of it as lifestyle activism, but then I’m probably not fulfilling all the requirements of that particular -ism, either. Sometimes I’ve thought of it as being old, tired, a parent who can’t go to jail in demos, and other variations on those themes. Yet I continue to try to identify ways that I can work in my own small-scale way to undermine the established structures of social inequality.

I am reminded of that because I lost my morning to feminism. I encountered a brilliant blog, Blue Milk, thanks to our midwife.  The blog is great for really looking at the underlying social issues; the author is able to unpack connections between everyday concerns to clearly identify their meaning or importance – a rare enough talent. Many of her posts link to other blogs, and today’s post links to a critique of reddit comments at Skepchick.

The article at Skepchic, on the Reddit boards and the treatment of a 15-year-old girl there, caught my interest by reminding me that even such seemingly-meaningless drivel should be identified for what it is; casually speaking of abhorrent acts makes it easier for society to tolerate them in practice, which should never be acceptable.

I was surprised, however, to read the author admonish “those of you” who would dismiss the comments as to be expected: “You? You are awful, too.” She offers no room for redemption, no possibility of change, only criticism that doesn’t answer the charge she predicts. If she is not content with that dismissal, then we must assume that she thinks/hopes that even the internet can be a place of change, even Reddit can apply standards of not extolling the rape of 15-year-olds, but that it will only happen if rational people demand they do so. Unfortunately, the sarcasm and rhetorical disdain evident in the comments condemn even those who proclaim their sympathies to be with the author’s argument. Rather than opening discussion, the comments promoted an insular reading of the situation that abjectly precluded any other opinion. One reader suggested that while the situation was sad, the girl might avoid such conflict in the future by creating a new, anonymous account that would hide her gender and age. Rather than disagree with his suggestion because no women should have to hide her gender, they attacked the commenter himself.   The author stated that she only “approved this comment so that you’d be able to reread it and think about it and maybe realize how awful and point-missing it is.”  That statement is shaming and implies there is no reason to even discuss such a comment. From there, the other commenters take over with incredulity and sarcasm, lamenting how anyone could be such an asshole as to make such a suggestion. When someone steps in to agree with the suggestion, they are admonished to NEVER. POST. EVER. AGAIN. 

As a passing reader unfamiliar with the author or site, the whole thread left a sour taste in my mouth. The person who made the suggestion was clearly sympathetic to the girl and opposed to the Reddit comments. Rather than encourage him to consider a new perspective, the other readers shut him down. I did browse the rest of the site a bit, and the trend of the articles seems to be that they are relevant, but not universally insightful – if I am going to read criticism, I’m looking for an explanation and hopefully recourse, not just condemnation.

I did find a reference in the comments of another post about women in the secular community that suggested that while some women find it hard to attend secular groups, they also find radical feminism to be off-putting, and turn instead to womanist or chicana groups. That sparked my interest, and eventually I ended up here.  And then, I found this. If you don’t want to click through or read through all of it, Margie clearly states that a transgendered person who was born with male genitalia can never, due to poor medical technology, be *truly* female (lacking a uterus and the ability to bear children. By claiming to be so, they are imposing a gender-normative, patriarchal privilege on women, along with a binary gender paradigm. I assume that she refers to their claim to be female, as opposed to something between or claiming belonging to a special “intersex” category (her word, not mine).  Beyond being transphobic, she is setting up a framework for “female” that obscures a complicated reality of gender and sexuality by using technical and obtuse language, or more specifically, with her reification of “female”. She is subverting the intent of such language – to be clear and specific, and avoid derogatory stereotypes – employing it instead as a rationale for exclusion: trans women aren’t “female,” therefore they do not belong in her group of “feminists.”

I have often noted the absence of feminism in revolutions. I think the first critique I read was in a fictional account of the Irish Rebellion. Right now, today, women in Egypt are fighting to remain a vocal part of the revolution there. I never really considered though that the exclusion may work both ways, with feminists deliberately keeping themselves separate from other isms and ists. Perhaps I was fortunate to come of age in post-left anarchism (I learned that word today, trying to remember the word “syndicalism,” which I was mixing up with solidarite) which at least incorporates feminism as a basic principle, even if without absolute success. I was never really privy to the feminist waves, either, which always seemed a part of an earlier brand of activism. I’ve realized more and more lately that my own generation of activists in no longer current, as Occupy Wall Street has made me aware. Unfortunately, while OWS seems to have taken a lot of notes from my generation (like consensus and the general assembly-style meetings) the emphasis on corporate greed and class seems to have overtaken other concerns – like feminism.

Synchronistically, the Diane Rehm Show came on as I was writing this post with an interview with Peggy Orenstein, author of the book Cinderella Ate my Daughter. As the mother of a 6-year-old girl, I am all ears when people start discussing media and corporate portrayals of princesses and, as such, femininity. At about 3 years old, my daughter came home from preschool utterly convinced that pink and purple were the best things of all time. She later learned that boys have short hair, while girls have long hair. Most recently she came home describing how gentlemen open doors for women (rather than the lesson that respectful children don’t push each other, as the situation warranted). And yes, she very definitely wants to be a princess. She knows that I dislike the concept, and I’ve prattled on at length about serfs, privilege, and the repugnant roles that princesses typically play. But she stills thinks it would be cool to be a princess. She found The Backyardigans on Netflix, and while usually pretty unobjectionable, the show did manage to get in an episode about an Egyptian princess who has to learn how to share and say thank you to her servants… Then, we finally found that disc we lost months ago and returned it to Netflix, and (forgetting to cancel the DVD portion in time) Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind showed up in the mailbox. Now we have a princess we can both get behind (even if she does cry an awful lot), and we had a great conversation about empathy and compassion, which my daughter can really relate to as well.