Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Privileged

Privilege can be defined as an entitlement or immunity granted to individuals or groups by society or the state. By default, the privilege of some disenfranchises others. Privilege is power. Those who have been granted privilege-either by birth or merit- have been granted access to society’s formal institutions and the “epistemes of knowledge.” Admission to these power structures has allowed the privileged to define and institute society’s laws, mores, and social norms. In essence, the privileged have shaped reality as we know it today.

What individuals or groups hold privilege in present day American society? The answer is complex. Marxists would generally argue that privilege (power) lies in the hands of the bourgeoisie, and is manifested through their control over labor power and the monopoly over the modes of production. Although a class analysis is essential to the formulation of an accurate interpretation of power relations, such an analysis alone would be insufficient. To gain a complete picture, privilege and power should be examined in the context of gender, race, sexual orientation, and class. Privilege has been awarded to specific groups in society, and ones level of power can be measured based on affiliation to these groups. Traditionally, those with privilege in American society have been wealthy, white, heterosexual, and male. With that said, this essay does not attempt to outline a complete analysis of privilege and power in today’s society. Since this blog is devoted to addressing issues pertaining to patriarchy, I will focus on privilege in relation to traditional male/female relationships.

Socialization begins at an early age, and this process is largely shaped according to ones sex at birth. As early as six years, children are already beginning to understand their roles and expectations based on gender. Girls are taught to be gentle, emotionally expressive, and submissive. Boys on the other hand, are taught to be tough, emotionless, and dominant. Such variances in socialization perpetuate the male/female power dynamic. By young adulthood, most individuals have based their identities on these social expectations, and their interpersonal relationships reflect what is learned in early childhood.

Mores and gender roles have been accepted as the norm and have been adopted by the majority of society. Despite this, there seems to be a discrepancy in how men and women interpret behavior under the confines of patriarchy. Men, like other privileged groups, view social interactions from a dominant position. Men have long established rules of interactions, and their interpretation of these interactions have been accepted as truths. Women continue to maneuver around and/or come into conflict with these established “rules” and “truths.” The discrepancies between men and women often lead to the disruption of interpersonal relationships, including inadvertent sexism and the absence of healthy resolutions.

I will illustrate this with a personal example. I recently had a disagreement with a man that I worked with in the struggle. The man behaved in a manner that left me confused over his intentions. I confronted the man about his behavior, and with a defensive attitude he denied engaging in any behavior that could have potentially been misleading. Feeling objectified, I accused him of behaving in a sexist manner. Instead of examining his own actions and attempting to see things from my perspective (a woman’s perspective), he reacted in anger. In response to my allegations of sexism, he declared “That was not sexism. Do you need me to tell you what sexism is?” As if a man in the position of privilege needs to tell me what sexism is. The power differential is quite apparent in such a statement.

I provide this example because it clearly illustrates three points. First, men and women frequently interpret behavior differently under patriarchy. Secondly, these incongruities lead to the disruption of interpersonal relationships. And thirdly, healthy resolutions are almost impossible because men are unable examine and interpret their behavior from a woman’s position in a patriarchal society.

Men, as a privileged group, have shaped society’s laws, customs, and social norms. In positions of power, men have developed rules and truths regarding social interactions. Man’s privileged position within society hinders his ability to interpret and judge his actions from a position of disadvantage. In order to rectify this disconnect and create healthy egalitarian relationships, men must acknowledge their position of privilege and be willing to examine their behavior through the lenses of the oppressed. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An Interview with Femenins

A writer for the blog Femenins asked me to speak about my experiences as a woman in the IWW. The interview below was originally posted on Femenins. I would like to add a note of thanks to JRB for his support, comradeship, and willingness to engage in dialogue.

JRB: What first attracted you to the IWW?

CDW: I had been politically active for years before joining the IWW. I began to feel a sense of disillusionment stemming from Leninist forms of organizing. The Leninist party [model], in my opinion, was not honoring Marxism. I felt a disconnect between the workers and the “party.” My libertarian tendencies had me searching for groups that were less bureaucratic and more “worker” oriented. The IWW takes a nonhierarchical approach to organizing. The IWW does not consider itself separate, or better than workers -- they are the workers! The practice of direct action was also appealing. The IWW did not concern itself with selling newspapers or recruiting party members; it enmeshes itself in workers' struggles. The IWW has a rich history in the labor movement, and its philosophy of inclusiveness was among the first of its kind —- how could one not be attracted to the IWW?

JRB: Did you initially feel that this inclusiveness was extended to women workers?

CDW: I would be lying if I said no. I would never join an organization that is so obviously exclusive. I think most radical organizations have enough awareness about structural issues that they are not overtly discriminatory; most of these groups attempt to mask the inequities within. Power dynamics take time to surface, and are not always easy to identify. Although the composition of the IWW is telling. Women make up only a small fraction of its members. The organization needs to question why it’s not recruiting and/or retaining female members. While I was a member of my local branch, there were only two females. There was a third woman who left prior to my arrival. Although I do not know much about why she left, I know there were allegations of sexism.

JRB: Regarding recruitment and retention, I've often thought along similar lines: What are we doing wrong? Can you think of anything in the culture of the IWW, as you experienced it, that might have been alienating or off-putting for women?

CDW: I'll preface this answer by saying that I do not make any attempt to be a spokesperson for all women in the IWW. Albeit, my experiences in the IWW are not isolated cases within the movement, and may be emblematic of more systemic issues. I will speak more generally and will not use identifiable information -- as to not distract from the more salient issues of patriarchy.

First and foremost, women are vastly underrepresented in the IWW. Women's issues are seldom addressed and tactics to recruit women are almost never employed. The last National Conference was a huge success, and I value my experience and the people I met. However, I do have some complaints. I want to say this carefully, as to not devalue the input and participation of the two or three female speakers. The women who participated on a panel spoke about their “experiences,” whereas male comrades educated participants on theory and the historical struggles of the working class. I make this comparison because higher levels of prestige are associated with more academic types of presentations. During the planning stages of the conference, I expressed interest in leading a workshop on the theoretical basis for organizing in a post-industrial society. My suggestion was shrugged off and no one bothered to get back to me.

Female comrades sometimes fail to receive recognition for their organizing skills and strategic planning. I witnessed a male comrade receiving congratulatory remarks on a project that I worked on diligently. Needless to say, my involvement was not acknowledged.

Sexist attitudes and behaviors of male comrades are often dismissed as non-problematic or are labeled a “miscommunication.” Unfortunately, instead of providing a safe space to express grievances, women have frequently experienced hostility and alienation as a result of speaking up. I want to add that I do not think these incidences are indicative of any particular negative culture within the IWW, but more the remnants of patriarchy found within broader society.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Whispers and Rumors

I was once told that the left is full of a bunch of “fucked up people doing fucked up things to other fucked up people.” The truth of this statement resonates loudly--from the echoes of peoples’ whispers. Women in today’s society deal with a variety of injustices. The victimization of women occurs in many forms, including physical abuse, sexual assault, exploitation, and objectification.  Yet another form of victimization exists, and may be potentially more ominous than the more obvious forms of assault against women. Society has placed restrictions on women: certain behaviors are deemed acceptable, while others are not. Society, for example, still places restrictions on women’s sexuality. Although we have come far from the stigma stemming from puritan ideals (Nathanial Hawthorn’s, “The Scarlet Letter,” comes to mind), the sexual expression of women is often still seen as scandalous and sinful.

A woman’s identity is wrapped up in society’s expectations, and threats to her reputation can lead to ostracism and public humiliation. Heterosexual men have been granted a free pass in regards to sexual behavior, while women walk a tight rope of discretion. Men have long used this privilege to silence and discredit women who have accused them of misconduct. It is common practice for men to label their accuser a “liar” or “whore,” or more simply say something to the nature of, “she’s just mad that I didn’t love her.” Such comments shift the blame exclusively onto the woman. The man gets off “scot-free.” Once the burden of blame is shifted to the woman, the trial begins. She is placed in a position where she must defend herself—the accuser becomes the accused. She must go to extraordinary lengths to tell her side of the story, and simply hope people believe her.

In attempt to declare his innocence and gain supporters, he talks to everyone he encounters. He is fully aware of the social stigma women face regarding sexuality, and uses it to his advantage. He spreads a mixture of truth and lies, or simply just lies. Without question,  he is believed. The story is the talk of the town—Hollywood drama meets everyday life. Not only is the woman left without any feeling of justice, she now suffers from public shame and scorn. The woman has no longer been victimized by one man, she has been victimized by the broader community.

This is yet another example of the subtleties of patriarchy. Society believes men over women, especially men with “good” reputations—as if a man with a good reputation or good politics cannot engage in patriarchal behaviors. So continue to whisper if you must, just remember there are always three sides to a story: her side, his side, and the truth!  

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A More Personal Account

This article was originally written for the blog site: femenins

In regards to the discourse on women’s struggles, there is a tendency to overlook the emotional and/or psychological effects of patriarchy on women. We focus on seemingly abstract concepts of power and control, and discuss concrete examples of oppression, inequality, and violence. Although these topics need to remain on the forefront of discussion, we should also be mindful of how patriarchy affects the emotional and psychological health of women in society.

From youth, women are socialized to be less than. Cartoons and childhood storybooks mirror normative behaviors and gender roles: men are the strong protectors and women are weak and in need of protecting. Commercials and magazines frequently depict half-naked women in provocative poses. We are taught that our bodies are for pleasuring and amusing men. We learn to equate love with objectification, violence, and exploitation. Women quickly realize that we live in a “man’s” world, and that to achieve any level of success and respect, we’d have to work twice as hard.

Recent studies have revealed that one in six American women have experienced a sexual assault, and one in four women have survived some form of domestic abuse. As a counselor at a domestic violence and sexual assault center, I can testify to the high level of emotional support needed after such acts of violence. As a survivor of sexual abuse, I can attest that the effects of trauma are life-long.

For the men out there: Imagine growing up “female” in a society where the victimization and objectification of women is commonplace. Imagine yourself as a young girl-a girl who is inundated with sexual depictions of women. Very few images exist of strong, smart, professional women. As a young girl in a patriarchal society, even those closest to you mirror what was learned in storybooks: men are the authority and women should obey. Sadly in such a society, you have few role models exemplifying healthy, egalitarian relationships. In addition to the above mentioned, imagine yourself as a victim of sexual assault or physical abuse. The combined effects of socialization and victimization weigh heavy on your psyche. Your sense of self-efficacy and self-worth are diminished. You have learned your role in society: you are an object.

You may be wondering what this has to do with radical groups like the I.W.W. I would respond by saying that it has everything to do with groups like the I.W.W. The organization is comprised of both men and women. It is highly likely that many of the women in the organization will bring with them a history of trauma-whether the trauma was an act of violence, discrimination, or experiences of objectification. Many women join radical communities because of their past. We want to help others by creating an egalitarian society, and we expect those we work with to share similar values and ideals. Whether naively or not, we expect male comrades to understand how patriarchy functions and anticipate that groups like the I.W.W will be a safe haven from the discrimination, objectification, and violence we endure in broader society. Unfortunately, my experience has shown otherwise. Mirroring our experiences in broader society, women in the movement are victims of violence and repeatedly find themselves combating sexism and male chauvinism. The emotional damage created by the behaviors of male comrades can be even more devastating because we expect more from men in these circles.

If women cannot find respite in radical groups like the I.W.W, what hope do we have for systemic change? Radical women find themselves overwhelmed from combating a force that seems too powerful to overcome. Patriarchy can only be irradiated if both women and men take an active role dismantling it.

Despite the pessimistic tone of the article, I do maintain hope. I came across this blog and was immediately taken aback by the honesty of the men writing. The men in this blog are willing to take an honest look at not only their own behaviors, but the behaviors of other men in the movement. Hopefully the dialogue in this blog can pave the way for further conversations and subsequent change not only within the I.W.W. but within the movement.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Misogyny Surfacing From The Case Against Mr. Assange?

This list is only a small sample of the accusations and statements (found amongst various blogs) made in relation to the women accusing Mr. Assange of rape. This is not an attempt to take sides on the issue, but to point out the level of misogyny surfacing as a result of this case.

  • Spineless A-moral fascist enabling cunt
  • Feminists are useful idiot tools
  • Never trust women
  • "Hissy fits"
  • Feminist cunts
  • Do men have any rights, or is this just about women dictating the terms of men's imprisonment?
  • Feminists are always ready to convict a man of rape
  • Militant lesbians
  • The CIA always manages to pick up losers and weirdos and they don't even have to brainwash them to get them to do their dirty deeds
  • Feminist vagina agenda
  • Looks like a tweaker to me
  • Feminists are so selfish
  • But many women send signals to men to come get it-or at least try, so she can turn him down.If a woman is in a sex-related biz, rape is a professional hazard. Hard life in a hard world, but that's the way it is.
  • Nuts and sluts
  • Post-sex residual mucous
  • CIA-connected radical loonies
I think this list speaks for itself...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Let’s Hear it From the Boys

Questions have arisen regarding the roles men should play in eliminating women’s oppression. Patriarchy is not solely a female problem. Patriarchy negatively affects both men and women in society. As a system of domination, patriarchy limits human potential-advancement based on the subjugation of others is not progression at all; it’s simply a process that allows certain inequities to be addressed while ignoring others. With that said, men have a duty to address patriarchy in their personal lives and communities.

In the social movement, I have observed male activists struggling to remain true to their progressive ideals of egalitarianism. I would like to say this: just because you identify as an anarchist or communist, doesn’t automatically make you a feminist. This distinction should be made because I have encountered men who have identified as anarchists or communists, and ignorantly assume that their radical ideology makes them a feminist. These “feminists” preach equality while blatantly ignoring their own chauvinism.

For strategic purposes, the following paragraphs primarily address male anarchists. Anarchist philosophy stresses the importance of dismantling hierarchy and establishing egalitarian communities based on mutual aid. Patriarchy is a systemic problem, therefore it is essential to rebuild society (ground--up) based on these anarchist principles. Anarchist men, in particular, have a duty to combat sexism and eliminate patriarchal practices. Although not all-inclusive, I have outlined an action plan that will help anarchist men and women create new, healthy social interactions. This action plan requires men to engage in three fundamental practices: acknowledgement, responsibility, and dialogue/action.

Men must acknowledge that patriarchy and sexism exist in all facets of social life. There is a tendency to believe that patriarchal practices have been eradicated within the movement—a grievous and false assertion. Secondly, men must take responsibly for their sexist beliefs and behaviors. Taking responsibility is an admission that a wrongdoing has been committed.

Dialogue/action is paramount to the elimination of patriarchal practices within the movement and within broader society. I do not consider dialogue and action mutually exclusive practices. Dialogue develops the framework; action implements it. There must be open, continuous dialogue between men and women for effective change to occur. It is not enough to simply acknowledge that a problem exists. Men must actively engage in discourse with women by acknowledging, taking responsibility, and correcting current injustices and preventing future ones. Men must create an atmosphere that allows for the safe expression of grievances. Men must step back and listen without judgment, allowing women to dictate the terms of their liberation.

In order for anarchists to reach the ideals they strive for, they must break down oppressive paradigms within their communities. The process of building a society based on egalitarianism and mutual aid must start now. Patriarchy affects all people, and men and women must actively work together to eradicate it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Women in the Movement

I have been politically active for nearly a decade. Over the course of the years, I’ve been a member of several leftist organizations-ranging from Leninist parties to groups structured around anarchist principles. Despite some fundamental differences in political ideology and strategy, the roles of women in these organizations remain eerily similar: women are reduced to tokenism. Women are largely underrepresented in leftist organizations-a problem seldom addressed by male comrades. Even more problematic is that women who choose to participate in leftist groups often find themselves channeled into designated roles as “caretakers” or “poster girls.”

Despite progressive rhetoric, the hierarchical nature of the relationships between men and women in most organizations mirror those found in broader society. Specific campaigns to recruit women are seldom employed. Issues pertaining to women are almost never discussed, and the sexist attitudes and behaviors of male comrades are frequently dismissed as nonproblematic. These practices, intentional or not, send a message to women: you are not wanted in our “gentlemen’s club.”

Women in leftist organizations often find themselves reduced to specific roles with little or no influence. We are either “caretakers” or “poster girls.” As caretakers, women manage the “chores” of the organization. By default, women routinely take on secretarial duties, including making food and buying supplies for group functions. If childcare is offered at an event, it is the women who are expected to provide the care.

As “poster girls,” women are assigned the role of representing the group in public and at internal meetings. This practice serves to elude; it presents the false appearance that women are respected leaders within an organization. Yet despite its immediate appearance, the role of a “poster girl” is not one of influence. Women in these roles are frequently asked to recite scripts handed down to them by male comrades in authority. If a woman is requested to participate in a discussion at a conference or public forum, she is asked to speak about her “experience;” whereas male comrades are assigned the role of educators-teaching others about theory and the historical struggles of the working class.

Female comrades routinely find themselves at odds with male members in the group. Suggestions by women are taken less seriously than those from males, and it requires more persuasion to have their ideas accepted. On several occasions I have witnessed male comrades dismiss the opinions of females in the group. Furthermore, female comrades fail to receive recognition for their organizing skills and strategic planning. Since men are perceived as the visionaries, innovators, and leaders, women seldom get credit for their achievements and contributions.

Where does this leave female activists? It leaves us feeling angry and resentful. We join leftist organizations because we understand inequity and want systemic change-not just for women, but for all people. How can the radical left challenge the state and its repressive forces when there is disunity among comrades in the struggle? How can we expect egalitarian, cooperative relationships to form when the radical left is merely a reflection of the current bourgeois system? We can not. Let us not delude ourselves into thinking that we can be a revolutionary force without first addressing the inequity in our own community.