I recently recieved this comment from a wonderful US feminist, JB Sproull. We subsequently had an inspiring email exchange which she has given me permission to publish here. It is emails from women like JB, The courage shown by women like demonista when faced with internet rapists, all you incredible, beautiful women online that keep me strong and sane. These emails are an indication of our power and our strength as sisters. We are the witches, the hags, the spinsters and the crones. We will spin and weave our dreamings until all women's hearts long for freedom as much as we do.
Thank you for that incredible comment that you left on my livejournal (_allecto_).
I too have walked an interesting path to feminism and I also felt that finding radical feminism was like having the scales fall from my eyes. I too missed the second wave not having been born yet :(. I feel very lost in this post-modern, post-feminist era. Sometimes it is interesting being the only young face in a room full of rad fems or the only angry face in a room full of queer/post-modernists. It's funny, I don't think I've ever fully bought male liberalism. I used to have some faith in socialism but that has deteriorated. Now I really only have faith in women.
I am sorry about your daughter. Are you able to still connect to her despite her religion? My mother is a Christian and yet she is also my sister and my very dear friend.
I think I've read comments by you on the Women's Space blog. Heart is one of my favourite feminists. She has such an amazing capacity to attract a diverse range of women and get us talking together.
Rabbit-Proof Fence is an incredible movie. It was made by the blood, sweat and tears of the Aboriginal women of Australia. I find the connections between indigenous cultures world wide to be truly amazing. And the strength of indigenous women's courage and determination never fail to inspire me. In some ways my politics and feminism has been shaped by the fact that my grandmother is a native Papua New Guinean. She grew up during the second world war, while th Australian military were fighting the Japanese in New Guinea. She was taken by white nuns at the age of 6 and renamed Mary. While at the school they were not allowed to speak their native language. My grandmother was returned to her family at the age of 15, unable to speak to her parents, aunties, cousins. She married a white man and moved to Australia when she was twenty.
I don't feel I have the right to identify as a woman of colour but I do define myself as a descendant of a First Nations people. I'm not sure if that makes sense to anyone else but it does to me.
The collective didn't really take off as no one showed up to it. I'm not too disappointed. I'm going to try other ways of being active. Dedicate more time to my feminist writing and to helping organise conferences. I love Australian feminists but because Australia is such a large country with such a small population, there just aren't enough of us around.
I too honour all indigenous women, all around the world who put their lives and hearts on the line, day after day, to achieve justice. So often their voices and actions go unheard and unnoticed.
I don't doubt your commitment to women and girls. Your words resonate your passion. Thank you for sharing it with me. And I don't know about wisdom and vision. I think I'll leave that to the hags among us. I still feel like an apprentice hag, wishing she knew more, and staring up in wonder at the fully fledged hags with so much wisdom and experience.
"Now I really only have faith in women" ... I'd like to sing this truth among my global sisters in a chorus spontaneously, something like a Sheri Tepper fiction of off-world creatures who honor individuality without dividing the whole into argumentative factions ...
I love how you write, Dani, the clarity of your empowering rage (a good thing by Mary Daly's elemental analysis), and the courage you display. You give me hope as the torch bearer for young women who are radical feminists.
I also enjoy Heart's blog. Sometimes I post there. For some reason calling out to me spiritually, I feel moved to write to you directly tonight.
"I don't feel I have the right to identify as a woman of colour but I do define myself as a descendant of a First Nations people. I'm not sure if that makes sense to anyone else but it does to me." --- certainly, yes, I entirely understand, having indigenous blood in my veins, too. The race questions have been effectively mounted by patriarchs (Trojan-Horse progressive and liberal men influencing activist women already programmed for self-hatred and hatred of other women) to divide the cause of womankind --- so effectively that now --- to walk gingerly around race questions is common courtesy of the moment. Your strong truth-telling about your native Papua New Guinean grandmother moves me, because you tell a real story of the inherent strength we have as women against all obstacles designed to break everything about us but our ability to serve men and their institutions of classism and racism.
Post-modernism, yes, humbug: male-invented refuge of women who still hate themselves. Same for B&D, S&M, casual sexual phallicism in any of its forms: self-hatred. Sad, but not anything that can be effectively debated because the patriarchs have rigged the discourse by the inherent rot of the internal nonsense played by women who are trying to win points from patriarchs. The debate's designed to waste our time and energy.
If I had three things to suggest, it would be for every woman everywhere to, first, honor/embrace/find what she needs to do (connected to her context) so that she can really love herself without internalized guilt and, second, to decide what she can do to stop supporting, aiding and abetting men while, third, she loves women more and gives women (and girls) her attention. The third aspect requires every woman (given the shape-shifting of the internalized misogyny we have been taught) to be very loving in protecting herself while forgiving womankind when their, or her own, internalized misogyny rears up. Sometimes we can only hold close with open arms, detach with love, and still keep our eyes off the guys. (Janice Raymond's A Passion for Friends comes to mind.)
Maybe if we started in the 21st century with radical feminism as an inside job, we'd have a tidal wave of change to surpass the first, second and third waves. I'd love to see what you'd write about the internal activism of rooting out the social conditioning, the brainwashing, in ourselves and in our interactions with one another.
In 2005, in Santa Barbara (CA), I talked at length to Diana Alstad and Joel Kramer (life partners since she bailed out on teaching women's studies at Yale). They wrote The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, mainly from the engine of her woman's genius, from what I saw. (He's unimpressive; she's amazing. She's also, sadly, from my perspective, deeply conditioned to believe she needs a man to make her life worth living. He candidly admits that he could "not live without her.") She was another practicing heterosexual woman I added to my list of aging het-women who take care to assure me that "the sex is great" (but that's about post-menopausal female assimilation to romantic rapism, from what I can tell). What is my main point? Their book (brilliant in spots where, I surmise, Diana had the ideas) can be used, Mary Daly-style, as a clue to male reversals and hypocrisy. For instance, there's great explanation about seeing in oneself the mental internal structures of culturally programmed "authoritarianism," but having and holding male privilege, Joel is an unabashed apologist for the claimed necessity of "hierarchy."
Whenever I sit down and try to write anything to add to the feminist philosophy of Andrea Dworkin, Mary Daly, Sonia Johnson, Sally Gearheart (Wanderground, "fiction"), Alice Walker, Bell Hooks, Kate Millet (who, in my opinion from reading her work, faltered as a feminist because she could not get her eyes off the guys, and because she could not dump the programmed guilt that made her want to forgive patriarchal "family" without honoring a natural rage), I sense that we may already have the words.
It's wonderful that you've also read Dworkin's fiction. She wanted to be a life-changing writer, and she is. I spent an entire day in the downtown LA Public Library (2006) inhaling every bit of fiction and all the essays by Dworkin on their shelves. Reading Scapegoat changed my world view. Although Dworkin might not have intended this, I've wondered since if at least some men mutated long ago for cruelty, and now try to teach other men to be like them. "Biological determinism" has been so misused against women, I have to wonder if it might not be just a reversal of the truth of male cruelty as having a biological base. Mitochondrial DNA passes only by mothers; this is biology, as were the now-suppressed biological studies indicating extra violence (but a lack of cunning) in xyy-chromosomal men who got caught for crimes. The behavior of patriarchal sadism is of course more significant to women than the cause. We would never prove biological bases for male cruelty, in any event (given mens' control of "scientific research"), and trying to do so could backfire and keep our eyes on the guys. It's just that if I might not in the same species with men who invented torture and enact terror, men who make pornography, rape and wars, then it's far easier somehow not to care for/about them any more than I would about deranged sharks.
Now, perhaps, ours is an inside job? And the work of quiet connections where we value women's (and girls') lives, and simply ignore men. Jesus cursed the hypocrites/patriarchal leaders with "woe," my favorite part of the "new testament." Let the strongholds be cast down by Spirit ... Let the men of good will, if indeed they exist, if indeed they are motivated to do so, sort out among themselves an end to their violence and the pain they claim to feel over society's ills.
If that's where we're intended to go in the metaphysics of our liberation --- something Sonia Johnson and Jade DeForest emphasized as their sense of forward movement when I spent time with them last summer --- then how do we write about that? Do we "live journal" as what we're feeling (as love of women) and doing today? Do we record the small kindnesses we extend to ourselves and to other women? Do we catalog the conversations about freedom, the small glimmers of contextual hope we share with our sisters --- in the neighborhood, at the grocery store, over the counter wherever --- who would never count themselves among the radical feminists or the lesbians?
I love my Quaker daughter, the "humanist" of the "light," and have agreed not to share my rad-fem thoughts or favorite authors with her. Interesting your comment about your Christian mom. I'm still an ordained interfaith minister, and find much to empower women from the more radical aspects to Jesus and his Mother; imagine liberation theology from South American Catholic priests who hold Sophia masses, but run by non-hierarchical rotating leadership of women touching women in the priestly mode. Churchmen don't teach or preach this, but one gospel reports an anonymous woman anointing Jesus on the head (in the priestly function performed as a woman). Jesus then stated that wherever the gospel was thereafter preached, what she had done was to be told in remembrance of her. I have studied extensively the feminism of Mother and Jesus, and keep tinkering with a manuscript to address the topic in a way less pedantic than biblical scholars might.
I'm not sure how it happened that my daughter's decided to try to trust men (date men, work with men) and make prevailing cult-ure work for her. She's especially attractive to men by personal appearance, so maybe their praise and affirmation (which she doesn't want to see as the hypocrisy of fu#$ability manipulation) in a culture so patriarchal has, at least for now, swayed her. Plus, she looks around and doesn't see any viable living alternatives as other community than what men have built as society and cult-ure (and I'm sad that there isn't a collective in which I'm living and self-sustaining and nourishing the growth of my sisters) --- but it's been hard enough just to stay alive, spiritually, mentally as well as bodily --- under the ravages of the world men have made. I don't fault the women who've retreated from experiments with land communities: taxes, easements, pollution, global-warming weather onslaughts, nearby over-farming and soil depletion, nasty woman-hating neighbors, so many forces of patriarchy have made too many women retreat into a faux lesbianism that wants to get "married" and live in the queer suburbs like sandwiches among the GLBTs. (At least the woman-centered communities don't exist to self-sustain us YET. I continue to have hope. Your hope gives me hope.)
My daughter's been told by men of the "family" that I'm an unworthy role model, having decided to live somewhat at the margins of the status quo. Ah well ... can you tell she's on my heart often? As are all of the young women everywhere who aren't yet radical feminists (and even those who are ^_^). Your wisdom and vision, Dani, thus truly gives me hope that not all of us have to be hags/crones before we can face what Sonia Johnson and others have so poignantly named: men hate us (even if we love them) or, at least, any man would sell out any woman to maintain his male privilege at women's expense.
These are the thoughts I'm winging to you in Australia, Dani, with every blessing of Spiderwoman for being a woman who understands how to remember our future, weaving in this present moment,
I had to reread your email quite a few times to fully absorb what you were trying to say. I too think it is sad that women are divided into argumentative factions. In a recent email I recieved from a feminist mailing list a sister claimed that Western women are the most divided and women-hating women in the world. I think the success of patriarchal capitalism and neoliberal individualism have destroyed and eroded women's ability to connect in deep and organic ways. This saddens me more than anything as I interact with my non-feminist sisters who truly cannot see that their relationships with their female friends are the glue that holds this world together.
I think that the movement building, slowly but surely, online is the greatest hope for my sisters in the West. But even there we are consistently pursued and undermined by the internet rapists. Who try to silence us in all the ways they know how.
I fully agree with your three suggestions. Connecting with our sisters KEEPS our eyes off the guys. It is that first act of sisterhood and spiritual bonding that I believe starts that internal revolution. Certainly, it was true of myself. My first alliegience was always to my mother over my father and that kick started my radical commitment to women.
Internalised misigyny is of course something that I struggle with and continue to struggle with. Not usually in my relationships with other women but in my relationship to myself. I sometimes wonder how I developed from a shy, christian, anorexic, self-hating, violent (towards my younger siblings and my father), angry, screwed up, very, very heterosexual teen into a radical lesbian feminist. The short answer is, I don't know. I knew when I was starving myself that I was doing myself harm but I didn't know how to stop. I didn't know how to stop hating myself. I didn't know how to stop caring about what men thought about my body so much that sometimes I couldn't breath. I didn't know how to stop being angry and violent. I loved my siblings but I was just so angry.
I guess that part of my answer is that I have always been self-critical. Which has it's ups and downs. But I could always see when I was in denial about something. I could usually see that something I was doing was wrong. I had decided quite early that I hated men because they were all like my father. That didn't stop me from desperately wanting to be owned by a man but it also made me uneasy about being owned. Confused? Me too! So I guess I just decided to stop being confused. I was fairly successful and by my early 20s I had sorted myself out enough to pretty much reject male company and develop close relationships with my sisters, mother and female friends. Again I think that sisterhood saved me. It also has saved my mother, who despite being Christian has pretty much given up on men, and at least one of my sisters (another radical feminist lesbian).
Wow, JB, you have courage I don't have, sitting down to add to the work of our Positively Revolting Hags. Whenever I read anything by Dworkin, Daly, Lorde etc I am usually so overwhelmed by the scope and the portent of their works that I usually need to sit in a corner somewhere to process it. Although I love writing and I am proud of my skills with words, I always feel so inferior when I pick up Dworkin, Walker etc. I generally feel like I need to write a response, like I did with Mercy but often I just feel too ignorant and insignificant to even attempt it. I know that it is silly to feel that because it means that I'm not developing even more but it is truly how I feel. (more internalised issues I haven't yet dealt with).
I understand a little more about your daughter. Getting off the drug of male validation is something I still really struggle with. I was attractive to men when younger and making decisions which altered my appearance (ie to look more dykey and less attractive to men) was something that was really hard. When you grow up being admired for being pretty, being an ornament, and object it makes you feel like you are someone. Being without that male validation is almost unimaginable. To a certain extent, I can understand why your daughter can not comprehend an existence without male validation because women like you and me are invisible to men. We do not exist. And if we do not exist to men then we do not exist at all.
My sister (the other lesbian feminist) grew up chubby and so she did not have the same issues that I did in giving up male validation. She was ALWAYS invisible to men so she already had to develop a different way of existing in spite of her invisibility. Of course women like us are not really invisible because in doing away with the male gaze we become visible to each other. And that is truly revolutionary.
I agree about the lack of alternative, however, as I said before the community of radical women online is getting stronger. I think there is real hope in the international sisterhood forming online. No, it isn't strong enough. But I think it shows promise. Many of us are online because we feel lonely, abused, tired by the lack of radical feminist/women-centred communities in our real life. So the fact that these brilliant communities of angry women are forming is really impressive to me. If it hadn't have been for live-journal, other bloggers like Heart and Biting Beaver, comments and emails from women like you, etc, I would have given up on sisterhood long ago. I also would not have learnt anywhere near as much as I have. I had never heard of Andrea Dworkin until I read her eulogies online.
It so saddens me to hear that the male campaign of rendering female power invisible, has worked on your daughter. It is fairly unimaginable to me to lose a daughter in this way. I hate so much that this is the norm under patriarchy. We lose our mothers, we lose our sisters, we lose our daughters, we lose ourselves. I have one sister who is lost to me. She hates who and what I am. Although, I have noticed that her behaviour towards me changes significantly if we are not in the company of men. If we are in the company of men, my brothers, her boyfrend, then she is really bitchy towards me and says really nasty things. If we are alone together or with my other les fem sister, things between us are quite good and we can be ourselves without it deteriorating into fights.
And finally, thank you so much for your email. It means so much to me that there are other women out there, doing and saying what needs to be done. Coping as best we can with the insane world that men have delivered to us. I often feel sorry for the hags and crones as they have done so much and given so much of themselves to fight for the right to exist and now young women are coming along and declaring that feminism is dead. Or worse that feminism is post-modernist. I'm glad that I have given you some hope for us younger feminists but I fear that we are very few and far between. But yes, we exist. And that is a threat to patriarchy in itself.
Your clarity, honesty, love for womankind mean so much among all the world's sisters sown wherever we've found ourselves, wherever we've moved to try to be more of our authentic selves, wherever, ever and ever ...
Thank you so very much for sharing about your own life. I'm glad you had your anger to light the way to change. And I'm sorry for the difficulty of your passages. I so wish we each could get to our joy without such struggles, but the anti-nature of patriarchy seems to snare us until we break free, however it happens, with our words of radical feminism being vital to validate what we're starting to feel and know.
Thank you, too, for your amazing caring about my daughter, Sarah. I called Sarah last night on Halloween, so that an 8-year-old costumed girl witch from the neighborhood and my one feminist friend in Corpus (handing out trick-or-treat candy with me) could howl a greeting to her. (Talk about something planned by Positively Revolting Hags ... Halloween used to be my daughter's favorite holiday, and she was a splendid witch.)
I understand what you mean about going through life, being patriarchally influenced in a major way, until for reasons we may not be able to pinpoint by limited logic, there's no turning back from the "aha" of radical feminism. It's the viewing filter through which global culture (misogyny and the hypocrisy about male manipulation of women) always makes sense. At some point, perhaps when enough has been named for us that connects to our own experience, we just know. And then, as you so carefully point out, it's an ongoing work to cast off the slave-brain men have tried to instill in us as a permanent fixture, and to find enough joy of natural/cosmological/womanly connection to be able to continue living and growing forward.
In reading what you write, everything you say rings so true. Please, please keep writing, because you name what so many of us, at all of our life stages and ages, have or will come to face, and you give courage that by not being alone in our thought and our hope, we will overcome. It may take spiritual help, nature's assistance, cosmological context and unpredictable elemental shifts beyond our logic about activism and "do-ing," however; or perhaps it's just the right stage of crones and hags to be more philosophical in wanting to work with consciousness (when the physical activism of a multi-decade adult lifetime seems --- as seems true to me from my own experience --- not to have advanced womankind's interconnected reality and freedom among the elements and other creatures).
I so appreciated your writing this: "I too think it is sad that women are divided into argumentative factions. In a recent email I received from a feminist mailing list a sister claimed that Western women are the most divided and women-hating women in the world. I think the success of patriarchal capitalism and neoliberal individualism have destroyed and eroded women's ability to connect in deep and organic ways. This saddens me more than anything as I interact with my non-feminist sisters who truly cannot see that their relationships with their female friends are the glue that holds this world together."
Your writing me is such a huge hope, the corrective to patriarchally brainwashed women I meet on a regular basis (given that girls and women of all types seem naturally drawn to me, as may occur for all radical feminists because we put women first --- or maybe it's their being drawn to the results of the deep studies in energy I've undertaken, from Christian faith healing to things like Shing-Yi and Reiki). It is so very difficult in the US to find women even among the GLBT-influenced lesbians here, even at places like Venice Beach, who put the cause of women first and find phallicism distasteful in their sexual practices with others of their own kind.
Yesterday while exercising along the bayfront I serendipitously met two young, unmarried women visiting the TX coastal bend from CA (and playing with their children, three boy toddlers among them, with no fathers around who care to put anything into the boys' lives, but the mothers still unapologetically in the male-apologist camp). The moms were quick to explain that the bad fathers of their boys are bad only because the grandmothers weren't good mothers, and that their boys "deserved" having their fathers' last names (proudly spoken like reading off the pomposity of naming on war memorials about generals) even though the fathers aren't specified on the birth certificates as fathers. It was an experience for me of the usual woman-hating seemingly appeased through the prideful rush of worshipping the phallus and what its physical-form holders even as little boys get from women --- worshipful service --- and the stealing of our lives as women. When I mentioned times of matri-focused child-rearing (from the ancient days of my Cherokee heritage) as being a healthier way for children, their eyes glazed over. When I suggested that women bond best without being concerned about the men who "can't step up," the immediate rejoinder was to talk about "mean" women in the world. When I rejoined with a sentence-summary of the global violence of men against women scaring some women into their own meanness, they spouted the moral nonsense (given their own sad experience of absentee fathers for their children) that "most women don't know what power they could really have to control men." I didn't argue, only stated that my own experience had suggested the wisdom of taking my eyes off the guys, to focus on women and our lives. I left feeling that a People-magazine male-identified propagandizing (on display in grocery store check-out aisles here) has infiltrated women's minds as if a virulent spore of misogyny. I redoubled my spiritual work to erase and replace the propaganda with the eternal courage of troupes of women, clans of women, women-identified women like the Australian aboriginals --- and the online network we're weaving with our words.
Dani, if you'd like to post our interchange from recent emails (in full or redacted, at your option), you'd be welcome to do so on your blog. There are days when I would like to have a blog of my own. However, I'm so much happier interacting face to face, voice to voice, I haven't yet undertaken to learn what would be necessary to know in order to enter the blog sphere. Meanwhile, you and others like Heart keep the portals open.
Again, my greatest thanks, in joy, Sister,