I think the easy wraps I have been packing for my on-the-fly lunches just might be triggering a couple of bad effects. Namely, elevated blood pressure, and arthritis pain in my neck and sometimes elsewhere.
I do think the weight bias is snarky, and the dieting dogma idiotic. But so much of the carb info is wrapped in dieting dogma. Sadly, that’s where the money is, that’s where the bias brings in the bucks. Atkins was a near-genius, and yet without his fat bashing ideology, he would never have been heard. Sad, and enough said. What do you think?
Also, in my few moments on the Internet today, I found this:
Not that guns have anything to do with carbohydrates, or even neck pain, directly, at this point. Although I do think a good recoil might be hard on my arthritic regions; I already know that bowling with a maximum weight ball, a sixteen pounder, is. And a gun is a reasonable way to dispatch bison for the dinner table, ultimately, even if someone else has to shoot it. Quick and painless as possible. Mostly I think I just love the name of the bison ranch. And the thought of the high omega 3 meat. And dodging arthritis triggers. And women armed to good purposes.
I can only begin to write the next section, the one on my own capitulation, from the perspective of Butch oppression, the oppression of who I might have become without that submission to the mandates of femininity. I owe this to the girl I once was. I also owe it to those who resisted, and over whom I now wield privilege. It is essential to say that every act of feminization reinforces Butch oppression. Reinforces for those who have revolted, and who have paid tremendously, their choosing the route of the ugly, the clumsy, the pathetically unnatural, even though they may feel differently deep inside. Because to be Butch is still too often to be construed as being ugly and unnatural, as being oafish and bitter and cruel, and as being unlovable. Which is incredibly silly, and sad, because to be one’s most natural self is the opposite of ‘ugly'; it is attractive, beautiful. And as De Clarke wrote: “Many butches of my experience have an almost exaggerated gentleness …. I contrast this with the all-out violence of which women are capable who believe themselves weak and powerless ….”* The common view, the stereotype, is silly, sad, and also a reversal of the reality!
There is little positive Butch presence on the Internet, not yet, certainly not that I have found. There is the pornographic acceptance of the genderqueer butch-fem dichotomy, where roles are play, are not revolutionary in the least. There is the top who has chosen, within the given dichotomy, the manly side of Fem, and who may insist on ‘male’ treatment or apparent privileging within the play group. This is not real privileging, since the charade does not carry into the real world: Real privileging translates at the urinal, requires a level of disclosure not available to Fem faux males. (If Butch is the essence of femaleness, then there can be no Butch faux males, by definition.) But this is also not real privileging from the culture’s perspective, because the Fem is the role that is most like the one in heterosexual culture. So long as the Fem can be imagined to be just like those she is imitating, “attractive” heterosexual women, she is given privilege in her conformity, if not in her sex.
Real Butch is revolutionary. Even really dykey is probably close enough to approximate the bare bones of revolution. Those of us who succumbed and were raised in Fem privileging, in the kudos of being ‘right,’ will have an internal fight to overcome much of that privileging, and probably can never cast off every vestige of privilege. We who succumbed early on were basted in bias in our favor, for our acceding to the demands placed on us. We were allowed feelings of rightness when we conformed, and continually thereafter, so long as we conformed. Many of us resisted internally, and yet we still gained the benefits, and an underlying sense of righteousness that rears its ugly head on occasion. We are still dangerous to those who resisted without compromise, and who never gained the same kind of sense of rightness from the outside, from family and the culture at large.
I did not suddenly spring into awareness of Fem privilege, or of my own complicity in Butch oppression. Nor did I understand my own complicity in my subordination. Very logically, I did not perceive a choice. I did perceive how terribly alone I was in the resisting, and how the fight would continue until I relented. Nor did I understand that some girls did resist. Had I ever known they existed, I might have tried, myself. However it would not have surprised me to learn that these unrelenting girls were often brutally punished, with rape, with institutionalization, with psychiatric surgeries and shock therapies, and with abandonment, disowning, and death.
No, I was introduced to the intricacies of this topic through conversations with author Bev Jo, and other friends in social media, and then through reading the book she co-wrote, Dykes-Loving-Dykes. I think I may have it easier than others, because I have a history of resistance, and a solid basis for identity. Starved purposely in infancy, I had to fight for the right to live within my body, and to see my body as OK, as it is, as it will be. I had to fight to feel all my natural appetites as reasonable. I don’t find most cultural trappings as integral to my identity. I have certainly changed occupations often enough to know not to model my sense of self on my job! The ‘purest’ me is the animal being that lives within this body, is this body, and feels through this mind. I am an animal who loves her community, and is drawn to communicate, however ineffective that might be. If I ‘am’ anything then it is through my relationships with others that I become something nameable. And as I have seen across my life, others can come and go, and that doesn’t change the vital ‘me.’ And still, my struggle is sometimes painfully evident. This is not simple: Challenging internalized Fem privilege means questioning, confronting and dealing with everything, in an effort to get down to what is ‘vital.’ In a lifetime of privilege, there are going to be layers of righteousness, of arrogance, of entitlement, and more. And there are going to be other feelings dredged up, some from very early in life. All need dealt with, in order to move beyond the stagnation of privilege, into a more intentional way of living.
I can recall family lore of my ‘tomboy’ status, and with the memories come mixed feelings, layered emotions. In the kindergarten’s play area were trees. I loved trees even then, and I climbed them fearlessly. Back in that era, dresses were the required public wear for girls. No one deviated. Ever. I climbed the trees and tore the dresses almost daily. I was scolded, but to little avail in those autumn months. Within two years, at the tempered age of seven, I returned to that neighborhood to watch the other girls climb trees, monkey bodies clambering out onto delicate, bending limbs. I was afraid. I was tamed. And in that memory is the shame of having acquiesced, but also the shame at the possibility of not relenting, and not being lovable. Literally, of not being tended to, if I were to fall and be hurt.
This was not a fanciful consideration. I had already suffered the agony of broken ribs without medical care only a few years prior. Some of it was poverty, then, and some was my mother’s despondence over the state of her life, and her inability to protect me from sexual abuse. My mother had remarried, as far up the class ladder as she could see, but in her desire to be the correct kind of wife for him, she withdrew further from me. Or worked on shaming me into behaving like a “little lady.”
Family lore continues with the tale of my mother and her beau taking me to a lakeside picnic. I must have been just six. Cold after swimming in the lake, I trudged onto the beach and removed my suit, making myself more comfortable. I hadn’t equated nakedness with sexual abuse; it hasn’t been a prerequisite in my experience, although white socks with black shoes trigger me, to this day. No, I made the connection between the cold swimsuit and my discomfort, and I chose to be comfortable. My mother was appalled, and when my stepfather retold the tale, he made it sound like my perversion, even wistfully so. Only after that did I have the customary nakedness dreams, the ones where you find yourself without clothes, at school or in other public places. And there, nakedness does feel vulnerable, as does femaleness.
Still, it would take further lessons to tame the wild girl within me. I detested dresses for their limiting movement, and more because they seemed to encourage boys’ weird fascination with girls’ underwear. I began wearing shorts to school, under my dresses, so that at recess I could be as active as I wished and discourage weird attentions. I even convinced other girls to do the same. More shaming ensued. I had been seen unbuttoning my knee-length sleeveless jumper and tugging it off, leaving me in near knee-length shorts and a long-sleeved white blouse, and shoes and socks, hardly reportable nakedness. Still the school complained to my mother, and shorts were prohibited. I was required to keep my girl underwear in ready view, should I show signs of unfeminine activity.
I adored everything about Janie, my best friend in first grade. We lived near each other, and often held hands as we meandered the wooded lots on the trips home from school. I seemed to get in more trouble if I said I walked home with Janie. I don’t think my mother much liked the friendship, so perhaps the school told of the hand-holding, too. Janie usually wore her hair long and in pouffy, multi-banded ponytails. Once I understood that my mother was not going to style my hair like Janie’s, I gave up on hair entirely, except for seeking a tolerable haircut. Long hair tangled, it got into my eyes, it wouldn’t stay in braids or ponytails, and it was too easy for boys to grab. But five separate cowlicks made short hair an absurdity and me a buffoon, unless someone with some skill could be found and paid. Nine months of the year I was a prisoner of young lady-hood.
The prison seemed to be full of unexpected and unnerving moments, encased in childhood rituals that were supposed to be fun, entertaining. I can remember watching the movie Bambi on television with my grandmother. The ‘twitterpated’ scenes suddenly made me nauseated. Somehow either I voiced my discomfort to my grandmother, or she understood what was going on. I probably said, “Eww, gross!” She assured me that this all was natural, that this draw between the male and female of a species was the way it was meant to be. And to resist it led to unmentionable punishments and pains. I’m quite certain that the family had serious concerns about my deviation from the feminine norm. The insistence on comfort rather than appropriate wear and behavior, the attraction to girls; the short hair, and the preference for ‘boyish’ clothes; the indifference to showers and to feminine grooming across the summers of my girlhood; and now the distaste for heterosexual pairing. I’m fairly certain they were all worried, and my grandmother, as the matriarch, may well have been chosen to school me, or at least unnerve me. I had proven frightenable with enough effort, before.
We moved to a different school district, and I stopped holding hands with girls. I learned to spend every waking moment available to me in the hills, with horses. Summers I was a girl, wild and rarely bathed, hair as short as I could talk my mother into letting me have it cut. I wore jeans, or shorts, depending on what I was planning on doing. Jeans were better for long horseback rides.
Now I rode the bus to and from school. One day my mother confronted me, clearly upset or angry, and demanded that I “start doing something” about the hair growing on my legs. She meant that I should shave it. Thereafter, if I let it grow to any visible length, even tiny stubble, especially if it showed up in the sun filtering through the school bus windows, I felt deeply ashamed. It took a few years, and some continuous self-talk, to move beyond disgust at my leg hair. What sealed it for me was going with my family to a reunion in a small town, and seeing comfy girls with thick leg hair, almost like barley waving in the wind. These girls wandered through town, chatting with other girls and boys, or sat on benches in the town’s small park. To be ‘unfeminine’ did not mean isolation! I stopped shaving. But I didn’t stop wearing dresses. All bets hedged.
More than anything, I didn’t keep up with the questioning. Eventually I bought into the idea that disliking dresses was somehow the same as disliking women. If someone female could state emphatically that she disliked those things so accustomed to being part of womanhood, didn’t that mean that she was acting anti-woman?
Of course it was OK for women to wear dresses, bright colors and prints, even florals. After all, didn’t women have a greater freedom in expression? Wasn’t this one small allowance a concession to be relished, taken on and run with, and with total abandon? Those things that are culturally viewed as feminine, as inherently the province of the female sex, all of those are above reproach, unless there is something specifically endangering in them. So Botox and breast implants might be named inherently dangerous, but high heels, given that a woman didn’t always need to be able to run from an attacker, would not. Micro-mini skirts? Dangerous. Longer simple skirts? Not an issue. Tattooed eyeliner, and toxic metals in makeup? Bad. Great attention to appearance, to style and color and fashion? Whatever.
Except it’s not a matter of ‘Whatever,’ because even the less-dangerous in the pairings are Fem, and add to the oppression of Butches. Even more, they further the oppression of those women who perform them. And if the post-modern crowd insists that ‘gender’ is performance, why on Earth should feminists reinforce it? Femininity makes women vulnerable to male attack. Femininity makes women into objects. There is no great difference between wearing the kinds of cleavage-wear I wrote about in Part One, and Jaclyn Friedman’s bare-breasting in order to get audience attention. There is little difference between a micro-mini with tights, and longer skirts. Skirt equals rapeability within patriarchy. But even more, the wearing of a skirt reinforces that some women will defer to the mandate for femininity.
There is nothing inherently bad about skirts. To the best of my knowledge, Scottish men were not in grave danger of being raped by roving bands of Englishmen, all of whom eschewed the kilt and instead wore proper, manly trousers. Or knickers. Or whatever. It is only within a rape culture, and really that’s primarily a woman-raping culture, that skirts have become signs of sexual accessibility. There is also clearly nothing inherently feminine about skirts. But until the culture changes, and patriarchy ends, skirt-wearing Fems will always carry the taint of conformity, and will always add an edge of oppression to Butch lives.
There are things that I can do, things that I will do, to counter Butch oppression and to lessen the impacts of my privilege. There may be something, or many things, inherently bad about heterosexuality under patriarchy. At any rate I’m there: I am comfortably in a heterosexual relationship of twenty-five years’ duration. That level of conformity certainly appears on the surface to reinforce heteronormativity, and to a great extent it does: I am legally married in a manner that transfers readily to any state, even to any country; I am a mother. And then it doesn’t.
I’m not a “good” woman, by het standards, not in the least. I don’t take the cleanliness of the house as my mark of validity, and I never have. Others wish I would, and I wish right back. I grew up with a compulsively cleaning mother, and that is one of several idiocies I did not pass along to my children. I take health and food and encouraging the minds of children to flourish all very seriously. I take the household’s birds’ and dogs’ needs very seriously, because they are dependent upon me to provide for them. And now that my children are grown, they are finding I have little patience for their dependencies; I want them to take steps on their own, and only involve me if and when they can go no further. I love my partner, and I expect him to love, as I have always expected, as close to a level, lesbian way of loving as he can. My loyalty is to women, and I cannot give him more than he returns in legitimate nurturing and caring; I can and will meet him in the middle. As I have said, we play card games with the Queen as the highest card, and specifically-female epithets, hate-words like “bitch,” do not get uttered by the males within this house. I am open, including publicly, about being a radical feminist, and that alone draws raised eyebrows, and marks me as a bad woman, uppity, an undesirable. I have, essentially, a crewcut. And yet I still get privilege over and above all lesbians, and certainly above Butches.
What I can do more than anything is to examine the places where I have privilege, and then to work to ameliorate that privilege so that it doesn’t further burden those without, at least not as much. I suspect that heteros like me can be useful, can translate at times between the worlds, and can negotiate so that others do not have to step into the spotlight, or the bull’s eye.
This is just my story, one of many, and not terribly important. I see that other women are beginning to add their stories, and I want space for that, so I will stop this here, and ask again, for others’ views.
* From Dykes-Loving-Dykes, page 154, in the excellent chapter entitled “Butch Oppression.”
Much of this post is about trigger warnings. Because of this, there might be triggers in the text. Please be advised.
Do you remember when you capitulated? Succumbed to the cultural demand to be feminine, to accept your socially-given role as a female? To accept the trappings of the Essential She? To find the thrill in feeling smaller, more elegant, more emotional and expressive, in need of protection, less capable or wise, but infinitely kinder, compared with the essential man? Fragile-cloth dresses and skirts, shoes with a bit of elevating heel, touches of ruffles and lace, tassels and dangles and bangles and beads, color added to the ‘drab palette’ of your face, fuzz discreetly shorn from those places it ‘shouldn’t’ grow, head-hair grown long for its drape effect or short and perkily elevated pixie-like — do you remember when you accepted this as being the ‘essential female’? As normal? As you?
I’m not supposed to phrase it like that.
No, I’m supposed to pretend that female individual self-identity is both fragile and immutable, not open for question or even consideration. Too personal. Even for those whose mantra was, for decades, “question everything.” (Feminists, in case you’ve forgotten.) Too subject to domineering forces. (Mean, mannish women making you dress ugly: No “pretty girl” shoes, no underwire bras or plunging necklines, no slink, no sass, no sex-kitten allure.) Better left to the individual woman to sort for herself, lest she be ‘policed’ by other feminists. (Especially those without style or taste!)
But what is ‘style’ or ‘taste’ but reinforcement of patriarchal dictates? What is fashion, but a way of moving the bar of conformity frequently enough to force women into declaring loyalty, whereas no similar changeling status exists for men? And what are styles for women except clothing that is handicapping, endangering, marking females as vulnerable to attack? Skirts enhance rapeability. Heels and tight skirts ensure a woman cannot quickly, simply escape. Loose skirts and dresses, though, and other ‘feminine’ flowing fabrics, are vulnerable to tangling and tearing, to rendering the wearer raggedly naked. Long hair, necklaces, dangling earrings provide ready weaponry for attackers, something to hold onto that will cause tearing of skin, and submission, if leveraged.
Whatever happened to sisterhood? To ‘the personal is political’? To understanding the effects of oppressions, as multi-layered or intersectional as they might be? To accepting challenges on our own class-based oppressiveness, with fair focus on its individual manifestations? To accepting that there is a hierarchy within the class ‘women,’ and that rungs of privilege on that hierarchy’s ladder have real effects on real women’s lives? To questioning anything?
I would argue that grass roots, thinking feminism has been replaced by a terribly lazy feminism, wherein someone can mull over a topic for thirty seconds and believe their view is quite equal to someone who has spent three decades pondering the intricacies of the concept in question. And ‘lazy’ got a whole lot more backing with the rise of post-modernism. As Margaret explains, here, it’s
“… the idea that nothing means anything, that a person can identify as whatever they want to without regard to the way they are perceived by others or power differentials amongst different identities. The idea is that the powerless have as much freedom to identify as oppressors as the powerful have to identify as the oppressed. Therefore, oppression isn’t real, just a figment of our imaginations that we’ve all – oppressor and oppressed alike – agreed to make real by acting like oppressors and oppressed. And since anyone can choose their “role” there isn’t anything inherently oppressive about hierarchies.” — Margaret Jamison, AROOO blog, November 11, 2010, Do You Even Have a Black Friend?
Butch and Fem might be mere genderfucking roles within the post-modern framing, but they are real ways of being within a radical feminist framework. Fem is the cultural creation, patriarchy’s darling daughter. Fem is everything culturally female, feminine, fragile in comparison to manly men, thus disempowered but manipulating, not ‘good’ by cultural norms, for ‘good’ is reserved for that which is ‘masculine’ or ‘male.‘ Butch is not male, but is more the essential female, that which is not a creation of patriarchy but rather is fundamental, a female left unencumbered by the burden of proving herself worthy to The Father. Her worth is that of an agent, not an object, in the sense of being centered, self-valuing, capable, adept, confident, and intelligent. Because the framing is still and always patriarchal, and the framing for oppression is always that, power comes from conformity to male standards. Thus, the Fem, by virtue of her greater conformity, adds to and aids the oppression of Butch women; Fem oppresses Butch.
From Dykes-Loving-Dykes, page 148:
Butches are more like what we’d all be if we weren’t subjected
to intense feminization. Butches express femaleness and
Lesbianism more naturally, while Fems’ femaleness and
Lesbianism is channelled through the acquired values of
femininity. Fems share those feminine values with men and
heterosexual women while Butches’ ways of being are furthest
from those of men and het women.
The authors, Bev Jo and the others, continue on to explain the exceptions, the nuances, and the details. It is a wonderfully insightful book, and one I would strongly recommend reading. Given the patriarchy under which we all exist, it is never quite as clear or simple as I’m making it, here. Butches are too often self-loathing; nowhere is there really space to be. If Fem-ness is demanded within heterosexuality, it is most certainly over-valued in lesbian spaces, as well. And no one alive in western culture has completely freed herself of patriarchal influence. It would never be allowed.
Average Dyke Band
I understand that, with the rise of post-modernism, reality is presumed subjective, and ‘gender’ is recast as performance, not reality, not an essential part of identity. I understand that this view has led to an acceptance of the pornographic, the eroticization of inequality, pleasure in power over, and of the technologically artificial, of faux men and castrated-males claiming to be women.
There are no lesbians in this college town; there are only ‘bois’ and genderqueers. That sex as ‘gender’ can be disregarded, even evaded entirely through verbal means, is accepted. And there are a population-disproportionate number of surgically altered females, masculine above the waist, and passing for men, though not at the urinal. The trend throughout the west has been to push dykey young women into seeking transsexual surgeries, or at least to see themselves as male, and leaving them in that neither region as to sex, meaning male or female. This has had the effect of reducing lesbian pride and politicization into personal solutions taken to escape oppression. Female oppression, lesbian oppression, solved. There is no dyke community. The girls have become bois and have joined the boys, gay and queer-friendly het males. But gay and het males have never had feminism foremost in mind. Queer politics has completely undermined lesbians as a group, and has subsumed women’s realities within gay males’ values, even when those are clearly misogynistic. See Sheila Jeffreys’ wonderfully uncompromising book, Unpacking Queer Politics, for a brilliant analysis on this phenomenon.
Locally, this has spawned a particular piece of performance “art” where attendees pass a permeable wall through which are thrust fingers, and tongues, and penises. And where, in an adjacent room a couple is noisily fucking. Or at least that is what you’re led to believe. Are they, in reality? And what if they are?
Since “live sex” and “copious use of disembodied genitalia” are not forewarned, what about sexual abuse survivors who attend?
I tried to discuss the more immediate issue, that of coercion of performers, with a young male friend. If it was heterosexual couple-fucking going on, what about coercion? How does anyone in the participating audience know that the participating woman has freely consented? My friend assured me that theater people are more open, less rule-bound than most, and most likely they brainstormed where someone said, “What if it sounds like fucking?” and someone else said, “What if it is fucking?” and it simply took off from there, all participants equally willing.
That scenario might have happened. But I can also see the situation where a guy volunteers for performing sex, presuming his girlfriend will go along with it. And if she hesitates? How could there not be pressure on her to go along? Or if she simply declines entirely? Does this scenario now consist of a ‘script’ that her real-world boyfriend has an option, or obligation, to follow? What if he acts his part, has “real” sex with another who is simply performing her part, “receptive vagina”? Does that make it all OK? How inconveniently the personal intrudes into “art.”
We are not, after all, considering a kissing scene. And I’d be less inclined to think that actual fucking was occurring, if there weren’t genitalia protruding through hollowed walls. Or extravagant artistic renderings of genitals, next to their real-world, disembodied, counterparts. I’ll accept that intercourse enacted is unlikely, and yet the kinds of questions I raise are made entirely invisible, in the theater space, and in discussions surrounding it. No one is asking, “What about incest survivors? How are they handling this? Are there triggers here that will send them reeling, for the next weeks or months?” No one is questioning whether or not the ‘bits’ actors would be exhibiting their genitalia if their faces were also shown.
I did overhear one young male lamenting that he was now aware of his disproportionate smallness, something he’d apparently not had cause to discover previously. Clearly, genitals-as-art lead to competition. But in combining competitive genitalia with fucking, “sex” is solidified as involving penises, and large penises, at that. This gives potential credence to the urge to prove one’s manhood by penised performance, something done to women, or using women, but done for self-respect and for bragging rights among males. This is not the kind of discussion that is needed in what is already a rape culture!
And, again, if it is in fact fucking, however unlikely, there are other obvious considerations. Is the performance on a time-length basis? Does he simply stop when time’s up? Is he allowed to continue to the act’s ritual endpoint? For him? So then what about her? Does the audio ‘performance’ continue until she orgasms? And still, if it is simply a sound simulation of copulation, is the expectation of mutual and simultaneous orgasm? During copulation? Phallic “sex” rarely leads to orgasm for women; is this fact worked into the ‘performance,’ or is the naughtiness of audibly acted “sex” enough to satisfy the artistic requirements? No matter, it’s far more male fantasy than reality, whether or not it’s legitimate “art.” It is most certainly pornography, sexuality removed from intimacy between level participants, and performed, for an audience of voyeurs.
Given the depth to which post-modernism has removed the female perspective from the culture’s stories about itself, capitulation to femininity seems small change in comparison to this incessant pornographizing, seems insignificant. But it’s not. Because capitulation to femininity is the original yielding which allows capitulation to the pornographic as the next logical step. And it is through pornographizing that social movements are dismantled; sexuality is for the oppressed classes, still something that is deeply individual, personal. Having one’s sexuality deemed ‘wrong’ is immediately divisive. Ask that wave of feminism whose efforts were primarily derailed by the myth of the vaginal orgasm. It seems we have not gotten so far from there.
For more on the repeated return to the focus of individual women’s sexuality with every wave of feminism, read Sheila Jeffreys’ books, especially The Spinster and Her Enemies, and Anticlimax.
Bev Jo has often mentioned, in correspondence, that most transgender people who are FTcM (female to constructed male) are Fems, not Butches. Coming to understand Bev’s brilliance, and repeated rightness of view, I accepted this. But I did not fully understand it until I further researched those mentioned by locals, individuals like Sinclair Sexsmith, who prefers to be addressed as “Mr.” Sexsmith bills herself as a “sadistic kinky queer butch top.” And like Jaclyn Friedman, who raves about holding a room in her thrall, not because of her insights or skill with oration, but because of the “sexual power” of standing shirtless before an audience. Brilliant analysis or bared breasts? Oh, for sure, the real achievement comes not from wisdom, but from skin.
Feminization has never been adequate for patriarchy, and so each wave of feminism has been accompanied by a backlash that removed the class political awareness of revolting women and replaced it with the individualism necessary to bind the minds of those women, and to splinter ‘groups’ off from one another. The reality isn’t that women should ignore differences, valid divides like class and race and sexuality, but that these things can be understood, especially the value inherent in the demeaned categories. Living, creating a subculture, far from the center gives a group a better perspective on the main culture, as it allows for better, alternative ways of being. Patriarchy controls the perspectives, however. Currently it is nearly impossible to get published those analyses that challenge queer theory. Sheila Jeffreys is an exception; Bev Jo and her co-authors had to self-publish.
So, do you remember when you capitulated? I do, in a number of steps across my childhood. I will get to that in the next installment. You might think about it, too.
What would girlhood look like, without the demands of feminization? What would a truly “natural woman” look like? As much as I love and admire Aretha, I’m not convinced this truly “natural woman” would be singing to a man, that she would be heterosexual. What would our concept of real womanhood be? In a world separate from hierarchy, and from patriarchal demands that females remake ourselves into The Feminine: unlevel, diminished, even endangered form, yes, but also the pornographized, fetishized, parted-out form, what would Woman be?
Where the rare man can now love levelly, would he still be able to do so, should his female partner not appear before him in the trappings of femininity? A number of questions arise from this question, then. How “normal” is heterosexuality, since so much of it is predicated on alteration and object-ification? How common would heterosexuality be if women truly had the option to evade the feminization process? How differently would the most natural elements of human organizing be structured, without compulsory heterosexuality? How differently would women, free from the constraints of femininity, act and think? How deeply would humans’ relationship with the Earth on which we live be impacted by this shift from constrained femaleness to full female agency?
Girl names and boy names are separate, with a small amount of overlap, but only where girls can take up boy names. Boys cannot take on girl names without terrible stigma, and where boy names have been ‘feminized,’ used commonly for girls, they are then disallowed as boy names. ‘Beverly,’ which used to be a boy name, is now stigmatized into exclusivity as a girl name. Often boy names used for girls are spelled differently: Bobbi vs. Bobby, Andie vs. Andy, Billie vs. Billy, and so forth. ‘Y’ endings are set aside as male-appropriate, ‘i’ or ‘ie’ as female-appropriate. Only female names are allowed to end with the letter ‘a,’ and I’m wondering how long before ‘ique’ becomes feminine: Think ‘Tarique’ and ‘Monique.’ From the time names are chosen, usually before birth, the unborn being has the mark of sex, male or female, ready to be applied once sex is determined.
Once born, the sex-division and preparation for cultural role continues. Beliefs go beyond insistence that the sexes are different, though. Not only are the sexes supposed to be distinct, but they are supposed to be innately valued differently. One sex, the male sex, is viewed as ‘better.’ Boys carry on the ‘family’ name; girls surrender their identities at marriage, move under the ‘family’ names of their husbands. While this is less mandatory in the US, the expectation remains that all children of the union will carry the father’s, or the ‘family,’ name.
Personality characteristics are split, one side “good” and valued, the other side disdained but seen as still necessary. For the ‘male’ strength, there is the appealing weakness in females. This culture believes that males are: Intelligent, steady, active, wise, leader(s), courageous and other valued labels. There are parallel but lesser characteristics presumed to be feminine, innately; females are: Silly, impetuous or flighty, quiet and chaste, simple, follower(s), timid. Males who don’t live ‘up’ to the masculinist standard are chastised as being “feminine.” Men are expected to accomplish masculinity easily, and if they do not, they are suspect as less than real men. Any female who steps beyond the constraints of female expectations is quickly called “unfeminine,” or said to be trying to act “masculine” or “manly,” which is something she can only wish for, but never accomplish, given her innate lesser status. It is always inferred that masculine is better, and often it’s stated outright.
This overvaluation and yet denial, in females, of positive, ‘male’ attributes reinforces female oppression, and male supremacy. It especially makes the deeper oppression of unfeminine women inevitable. There is no escaping degraded status: Women are either ‘like women’ and disdained, or ‘not like women, imposter men’ and disdained. To be disdained for who you are believed to be is oppression. To be “caught” and called out for seemingly trying to evade this “natural” oppression is to invite even greater punishment, even greater oppression.
From Dykes-Loving-Dykes (pages 140 – 141, emphasis in the original):
Butch Lesbians are those who, as girls, rejected feminization, and refused to play the role designed by men for women. Fem Lesbians are those who accepted the feminine role, to various degrees, as girls.
Most Butches who acknowledge being Butch clearly remember hating and resisting femininity when we were little girls. A Butch’s resistance brings down extreme punishment: she’s described as abnormal, queer, a woman-who-wants-to-be-a-man; she’s often beaten, raped, institutionalized, psychiatrically tortured (including being subjected to electroshock, drugs, and psychosurgery), and/or disowned by her family, for not “acting like a woman.” Her resistance does not ever win her the privileges that men keep for themselves. Because men know she’s indeed a female, and a most rebellious one, she’s made an example of for all females contemplating resistance. She has “stepped out of her proper place” and “gotten above herself.” Butch oppression originates with men saying, in effect, “This is how patriarchy punishes resisters.”
If Butches resist feminization, then isn’t Butch what females would look like and act like and live like, without it? The women who co-authored Dykes-Loving-Dykes have written in detail about Butch oppression, both within the confines of patriarchy, and within the Lesbian, even Lesbian-feminist, community. It’s a worthwhile read, most definitely. For the purposes of this inquiry, though, I have broadened the category to include all women. This is about femalehood, about all of it, all of us, within western culture. And I want to discuss what this means for young women, especially, and Lesbians, in particular, in terms of existing cultural expectations.
How innate, then, would heterosexuality be? How common? It would certainly need to shift, to accommodate men loving equals who are also culturally regarded as equals, not simply “allowed” equality within the confines of personal relationships. Doesn’t level love between two who are dissimilar in status require an artificial levelness, a levelness “allowed” which always has the possibility of being removed?
One of the things that has concerned me, as a feminist who has lived across many decades, and styles, is the cultural mandate for young women to expose flesh, and wear their vulnerability on display, while young men are allowed baggy, comfortable clothing. This culture objectifies and fetishizes female youth and its smoothness, its fullness before the effects of aging and gravity set in. The clothing marketed to young women in the US is only occupying a different spot on the cultural continuum that offers up to western businessmen very young girls in Thailand for their sexual consumption. Granted, it is far better to be a young woman in the US who is burdened only by the expectation that she show some high-hip skin and cleavage, wear shoes she cannot run in, apply minerals laced with toxins to her face, amend her hair with dangerous chemicals, and wear fabrics that are vulnerable to tearing and other easy damage, rather than prostituted at age nine, and left raped and battered by the former young woman’s father, or uncle, or grandfather. Of that there is no doubt. And yet how far have we come, even within feminism, when the standard dress is tremendously revealing and creates vulnerability for one sex, and yet offers comfort and absolutely no revelation of physique for the other? Woman-as-object is not liberation.
I notice as I peruse all profile pictures of women born after the Boomer generation that cleavage and signals of sexual availability are everywhere. Head shots always seem to mandate the inclusion of cleavage, or the hint of it in these carefully-arranged partial-profile photographs. Either the torso is twisted a bit to induce the beloved indent or line, or the subject is leaning forward to ensure its visibility.
We are all vulnerable to feelings of inadequacy in physical appearance. Such doubts are induced on purpose. They keep us questioning ourselves and not the power structure. Female concern with appearance constrains females, and in fact the authors of Dykes-Loving-Dykes would say femininity (page 140), creates “a self-absorbed, narcissistic, unnatural state.” Obsession with appearance, care over clothes and meeting the prevailing style code is a part of femininity; in fact this obsession is one of the things that distinguishes Butch women from Fem women. Butch women do not share this preoccupation, this concern. If Butch is the natural woman, the woman not feminized by patriarchal demands, then this preoccupation is not natural, and this mandate to bare flesh and showcase vulnerability via precarious heels, fragile face paint, and easily-damaged fabrics is patriarchal.
How can I say this delicately enough to keep women thinking, without jumping immediately into defensiveness? Can we just ponder this? Femininity certainly looks like complicity in our own degradation. That doesn’t make us wrong, or horrible beings, or unfeminist. It does make sense, though, to examine it and see if it isn’t worth re-valuing. Over time, so that each woman has the right, and the responsibility, for deciding for herself what she can change, and what she should change, if anything. Because complicity has a purpose, it keeps us alive. It also keeps those without the privilege it provides more oppressed than we are. Are you still with me so far?
(Jo, Bev, Strega, Linda, and Ruston. Dykes-Loving-Dykes: Dyke Separatist Politics for Lesbians Only. Oakland: Self-published, 1990.)
If I taught feminism 101, I would have a lot to learn to be worthy. First off, I have been schooled on just how beloved Carol Adams is to many dedicated feminists. I don’t understand, but possibly the damage done to my body via the same political alignment has shaped my view, and I can best see the problems with adhering to ‘meat is masculine.’ It has meant something akin to ‘shortened lifespan’ for me, personally. For author Lierre Keith, it has meant perpetual pain and a spine resembling Swiss cheese. I’m not inclined to ask Lierre how she feels about Adams’s views; I have found Lierre both kinder and more politically savvy than I.
I also am beginning to see some holes in the rest of my theory. One of my new teachers is Margaret Jamison, of AROOO. She is among the most intelligent and insightful writers I have ever come across.
A Room Of Our Own is the blog she and (The Fabulously Mean Mutineer Queen of Power) Kitty Glendower share. In the October 1st installment, not only does Margaret write a wondrous, insightful post, but co-blogger Kitty breaks it down into bite-sized pieces. All here.
Clearly there is a reason why I do not teach feminism 101, in addition to not being clearly competent. Yet. Or so I am hoping.
No, it’s also because what I want to teach would so rock academia that minds might expand, even adequately to shake patriarchy and white supremacy a little. And that sort of thing doesn’t get you tenure, or even continued employment. I saw that long ago. And still I continue to discuss male and white supremacy, feminism, anti-racism and classism, and to challenge other feminists to move beyond liberal views. In doing this I have been able to support those with greater expertise, but who are new to feminism or very young or both, so that the experiences of younger women of color have space, and support, for entering the discussion.
Clearly I have the desire to learn and to teach, wherever I know enough to guide thought and theory I am hoping that if I compile the real teachers’ works, I can share learning with others. This is the theoretical part.
The practical part, the real world part, is not forgotten. Helping to open space for young feminists of color to enter discussion on level footing seems useful, and if I can use my privilege or my tenacity, good. But the more urgent practical part means getting out in the world and helping those who are truly disprivileged, especially class-oppressed women of color have a voice, and determine their own needs and priorities. Sad: the relatively privileged and primarily-black women that I meet are generally hesitant to discuss racism, owing to whites’ defensiveness, and the trend for people of color to police themselves based on appeasing defensive whites. I’m honored to be trusted. I’m frustrated that whites are still calling the shots. And I’m even further frustrated by the divides, so that minority women in the wider community are even more completely silenced than the students with whom I interact. Somehow it would make even more sense to take this feminism 101 concept out into the community, again as both a teaching and learning experience, but that’s a short ways down the road, based on logistics and interest, and more than I can give good thought to now. Practice has to follow theory, which follows the actual gaining of knowledge. I need solid knowledge, first.
So thank you, Margaret and Kitty. I hope my learning curve is steep, and that I can expand my own brain without unduly taxing yours. That’s my intent.
A pre-judgment or unjustifiable, and usually negative, attitude of one type of individual or groups toward another group and its members. Such negative attitudes are typically based on unsupported generalizations (or stereotypes) that deny the right of individual members of certain groups to be recognized and treated as individuals with individual characteristics.
The unequal treatment of members of various groups based on race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion and other categories.
To discriminate socially is to make a distinction between people on the basis of class or category without regard to individual merit. In a society, the majority can often discriminate against others.
The systemic and pervasive nature of social inequality woven throughout social institutions as well as embedded within individual consciousness. Oppression fuses institutional and systemic discrimination, personal bias, bigotry, and social prejudice in a complex web of relationships and structures that saturate most aspects of life in our society.
Oppression denotes structural and material constraints that significantly shape a person’s life chances and sense of possibility. Oppression also signifies a hierarchical relationship in which dominant or privileged groups benefit, often in unconscious ways, from the disempowerment of subordinated or targeted groups. Oppression resides not only in external social institutions and norms but also within the human psyche as well.
For many oppression theorists, ‘prejudice’ is what anyone can do toward any other: they can prejudge. Discrimination coincides with power. Prejudice plus power, or prejudice with the backing of—though not necessarily direct access to—institutional power, equals oppression.
Put simply Oppression = Power + Prejudice
Thus, the concept of ‘reverse prejudice’ has no real meaning. Anyone can show prejudice, so there it no basis from which one might ‘reverse.’ Similarly the concept of ‘reverse discrimination’ has no real meaning, since the institutional power required, or relied on, to enact discrimination, exists in the form of a hierarchy. The directionality of power, up over down, is fixed. Some groups always have power within the culture over others who always do not. Individual memberships across group lines and power divides does not negate this; it only complicates it.
Sometimes radical feminists have wanted to keep ‘oppression’ in the sphere of institutional acts, only. I appreciate the above definition, because it allows for individual acts to be examined, as well. Not first, not above all others. Simply examined as well.
One feminist who is unwilling to examine individual acts of oppression unfairly minimizes her own privilege, and risks silencing more-marginalized women. When many feminists combine forces to dismiss acts of oppression at the individual level, even to negate the concept, they effectively allow for the creation of demands on marginalized women. These demands are voiced by those with superior power. A better word for it might be “bullying.” Certainly it is not too harsh to merely name it “oppression.” Women can oppress women. Women who refuse to examine their own privilege in relation to other women probably already do.
External oppression is the unjust exercise of authority and power by one group over another. It includes imposing one group’s belief system, values and life ways over another group.
External oppression becomes internalized oppression when we come to believe and act as if the oppressor’s beliefs system, values, and life way is reality.
“Self-hate” and “internalized racism” are other ways of saying internalized oppression.
The result of internalized oppression is shame and the disowning of our individual and cultural reality. […]
Internalized oppression means the oppressor doesn’t have to exert any more pressure, because we now do it to ourselves and each other. Divide and conquer works.
Part of the issue with feminists being unwilling to examine their own oppressive beliefs and behaviors lies in internalized oppression. It is easier to not take other women seriously, no matter their different placement within society, simply because they are women. It is as women that they are dismissed.
Part of the issue with feminists being unwilling to examine their own oppressiveness toward other women is the intolerance of difference woven deeply into female culture. It may manifest as a fear of confrontation, a dislike of another’s claim of “specialness,” or the threat that difference has on the cohesion of the whole. If community is everything, then we must strive to be cohesive above all else. Unfortunately this is the short-term view. True cohesiveness is built upon respect for difference, and allowing that difference to be level within the group. It is levelness, not similarity, that is the keystone of women’s culture. And while it may take time to negotiate that sense of equality, a far more cohesive alliance can grow, based on trust, mutuality, and sharing. The push to silence dissenters creates a shallow cohesion, and angry dissenters.
And part of it may be comfort with privilege, and the fact that those above will not challenge it, and those below by definition cannot challenge it. As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
Marginalized People Oppressing Other Marginalized People:
Oppression is defined as the negative outcome experience by people targeted by the cruel exercise of power in a society or social group.
Understanding the dynamic between power and oppression, that power is not distributed equally and that groups with more power are capable of oppressing those with less power is crucial to these ideas. There are many cases of oppression in human interactions, both with each other and with the surrounding environment.
A friend recently loaned me a book, most of which I read into the wee hours today. It was that good. I’ve just finished it; it’s good right up to the end, a really good ending, in fact. Enough twists, enough reality, and enough of a kick to ensure I think of this book for a good long time.
The book is called Such a Pretty Girl, the author is Laura Wiess, and the year of publication 2007.
The major theme in this book, that women will choose men over even their own daughters, has been an undercurrent in many an Internet conversation lately. Women receive privilege from being associated with men, from having those men choose them for marriage, and from maintaining that marriage. Even when the marriage is a sham. In this book, the central marriage is far more than a sham, however; it is a delusion enacted at the expense of the 15 year-old protagonist, the chain-smoking Meredith. The book opens the day Meredith’s father is coming home. From prison. He’s a pedophile, a sex offender required to register locally, and is never to be alone with his daughter.
Meredith’s story is well worth the read!
What is female culture and how does it impact feminism?
Is it useful to explain oppression as viewed from this particular framing?
If you haven’t read Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice, I strongly suggest it. Though she’s come under a lot of fire over the years for this book, it is still, to me, the clearest statement on what female culture looks and feel like, and how it is denigrated under patriarchy.
If equality or liberal feminism can be used to normalize men’s standards, to push women to be like men as a way of achieving liberation, radical feminism needs to avoid that pitfall. One way to do this is to examine women’s ways of being and doing from a woman-centered view, and to note the value of what’s found.
Male culture tends to coalesce in linear form. Think of mathematics and hierarchies as two ready examples. Female culture tends to flow into circles and non-rigid patterns. Women’s sewing circles and church or grange potlucks come to mind when I think of the women of my lineage. Male culture tends to be competitive, and one’s place in the hierarchy has to be maintained against continual challenges, power plays.
I was sitting next to a group of young men in a community center space this evening listening to their exchange as they discussed some game club money to be spent on video games. The level of derogatory banter, deeply cutting sarcasm, would have been unacceptable in an all female setting. Female rules don’t allow for put-downs and posturing. Insults with that intensity would be cause for escalation, into screaming or threats of physical violence, so as to end the highly discomforting direct conflict. I realized, as I sat within a foot of their closest chair backs, I was interpreting no danger. They were negotiating places in their group hierarchy, and if it was brutal, it didn’t seem likely to escalate to physical violence. It was negotiating banter. And apparently I’ve been around it enough to have body knowledge of when it’s probably safe and when it’s not. They went on for a good 30 minutes, and then amicably disbanded.
Women’s culture tends to be cooperative, even to the point that levelness is demanded. If a woman achieves status above that of her sisters, they will expect her to downplay it, to remain level or risk being pulled down harshly, even ostracized. A woman who possesses a special skill can share it with her sisters so that they all might participate, but she cannot show she believes herself to be more valuable because of it, or she will face almost immediate censure. The rule, the norm of the female world is level, horizontal, is the circle, and its focus is the community as a whole. The rule of the male world is hierarchical, vertical, and its symbol might aptly be the ladder; its focus is on leadership, being in the top spot. I think women’s culture, compared with men’s, can be used to illustrate oppression.
Oppression can be likened to rungs on the ladder. The elite reserve the highest rungs for their own kind, white heterosexual males with Ivy-League educations and leadership in the elite institutions involving money, military might and other forms of power. That the United States now has a Black president is probably more evidence of the token power of that position than it is a loosening of white supremacy’s stranglehold on power. That Barack was chosen over Hillary is not necessarily evidence of the elevation of male supremacy over whiteness, the primacy of misogyny over racism. Tokens are manipulable in their positioning on the ladder, and those nearest the top, but not ‘of’ it, are most visible in their expressed loyalties. Hillary and Barack may trade places, and it is at the whim of the elite where they are positioned. But it is owing to their continued loyalties that they remain so close to the elite, so near the top.
Those positioned lower on the ladder are encouraged, even coerced, to align their sights with the elite. To identify with the elite. And to avoid any identification with those lower on the ladder’s rungs. My own mother became a Republican, but only after she married into money, and felt she needed to now protect that money from the undeserveds beneath her. She had long been desperately poor, and deeply ashamed of it. She came to believe that her marriage was a form of ‘work’ that entitled her to more than other women, other people, had. I don’t know the details of that ‘work,’ and I most certainly do not want to.
A young friend’s employers are a small group of ‘Log Cabin Republicans,’ or gay male conservatives. The take, locally, is that they have theirs now, and wish to protect it from those beneath them without the kind of money they worked so diligently to amass. Their hard work resulted in rewards, so clearly their work is what counts. Others’ failures to reap the same rewards are, then, due to those individuals’ own shortcomings, and not because of an unfair structure which privileges some at the expense of others. After all, they’re gay!
More to the point, not everyone can be ‘rich’ or there wouldn’t be a ‘rich.’ Probably more telling is that there wouldn’t be reason to presume superiority if resources, amassed wealth and other things, were shared. In fact, it takes some sneaky abuses of the commons to amass wealth. The Log Cabin group pollutes with impunity, and no one questions it. They are a major employer in the region, and a source of tax revenue. They feed the community in these ways, and no one is willing to bite their hands. Other major employers here pollute and pay large fines, but these aren’t punishments and the income earned doesn’t go directly to cleaning up the pollution, either. These dollars are simply included in the cost of doing business. And if the costs become too high, there is no reason to stay; other communities will gladly accept the company, and the pollution, as part of the cost of having jobs and adding income into the tax base.
Male culture is deeply hierarchical, competitive, abusive and manipulative wherever it can get away with it. The white heterosexual male elite owns the hierarchy. It places people, groups and individuals with layered identities, on that hierarchy to its own best advantage. It confers advantage to men so long as they conform, and depending on how completely they conform, to male culture rules. But it also confers advantage to women so long as they conform to the rules of the hierarchy. Do they look up the ladder, rather than identifying down its rungs, seeing and seeking connection with the less-advantaged? Do they align themselves with men, give their time and energies and loyalties to men, first and foremost? Do they do the elite’s dirty work and police other females who step from their proper roles in the hierarchy? Do they align themselves with white culture? Do they give their time and energies to white causes and the maintenance of white ways of being? And do they work to marginalize any and all other ways of being that do not over-privilege white men and their allies, heterosexual men and their acolytes, well-behaved subject women and their enthusiasts?
You can probably see where I’m going with this. White causes? Yes, those things that keep out the others, the non-whites. Think of anything that screams white might. KKK meetings and NASCAR, for certain, but also thousand-dollar-a-plate fundraisers, golf courses, tennis clubs. Yes, we know the tokens, but most of us aren’t aware of the places where the able tokens are still not welcome. Except as performers. Well-behaved subject women and their enthusiasts? What comes to mind, for me, are the libertarian or libertine, free sex feminists, and those who support prostitution as just another line of work, work being uniformly degraded and often dangerous, in the current scheme.
And those who object to questioning whether adorning oneself in the trappings of the acceptable feminine works to harm Butch lesbians, a controversy that has raged in several circles in the recent past.
Is it possible to discuss female oppression from this particular paradigm or framing?
A friend and I were talking about the toll that veg*nism takes on feminists. She said, “We are animals and we need to eat to survive.” This is a view I share with her, deeply. I’ve begun to think of veg*nism as Carol Adams Disease. Carol Adams is the acolyte of Mary Daly who picked up on the idea that meat is brutally, violently ‘male,’ and blasted feminists for being patriarchal in the penchant for consuming animal flesh.
Feminists have taken up the charge of ‘meat is masculine’ in a way that must surely delight the patriarchs, at least those who are not in the industrial animal business, feedlots and confinements, meat packing and distribution. And most of them are not. No, the passion, the very health-devastation fury of righteous veg*ns, could not have been better orchestrated with Bernays-level propaganda. Instead, this vengeful version of ‘divide and conquer’ seems to have originated from within. In our frenzy to divorce ourselves from all things patriarchal, we forgot somehow that our assignment, our bestowal, is not fact. And that sometimes the connections we make aren’t entirely valid.
Or, as Paleosister likes to say, based on an apt Lierre Keith quote, “Wheat is murder.”
What happened here? Why did a woman of Mary Daly’s inner circle jump off this particular cliff of philosophizing? And as hard as it is to admit, the fact Rush Limbaugh hates something is not enough to make it true.
Part of the problem, I think, is that when we oversimplify things into opposites, it’s too easy to overlay ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ with ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ The enemy of my enemy has to be my friend, and so forth. Another part of the problem, though, which is even harder to break down than flawed dichotomies, is the part mature responsibility has to play.
As females, we are expected to be drawn to cute, cuddly, flighty and fluffy. It’s all those butterfly bands and daisy-chain hair clips, and braids and pony tails pulled so tight they warped our girlish perspectives. “Whatever you see is fine; my eyes are pulled back nearly over my ears today, so I will take your word.” It’s all the pink and soft and delicate fabrics. And angry mothers when one climbed trees in dresses, and invariably ripped them. Cause and effect. And it happens so very young that we’ve no real chance of challenging it. And that’s kind of what pushes females into the veg*n world. Animals are “cute,” and they have “faces” and “mothers.” We liked being “cute.” We received high praise for it then; sometimes we still do. We have “faces,” and then there are those “mothers” of ours that we wish would approve of us. And support us and defend us against the patriarchy. Ever. Just even once. So we mother ourselves through vegan/tarianism.
And how apt is this? Food as nurturance. Food as redemption. Food as our deepest connection to female-kind.
Except that veg*nism is dangerous; it is not nurturance at all, and most have health consequences, and mood consequences. Sometimes these are deadly; never can they be discussed!
And how apt is this? Silence between women, silence for discomforts and lies made transparent, silence as ritual expectation. Dishonest silence as our deepest connection to our own kind.
This scares me a lot! Doesn’t it at least unnerve you a little bit, too? What about that adult responsibility thing?
In his book Long Life, Honey in the Heart, Martin Pretchel writes of the Mayan people and their concept of kas-limaal, which translates roughly as “mutual indebtedness, mutual insparkedness.”5
“The knowledge that every animal, plant, person, wind, and season is indebted to the fruit of everything else is an adult knowledge. To get out of debt means you don’t want to be part of life, and you don’t want to grow into an adult,” one of the elders explains to Pretchel.
The only way out of the vegetarian myth is through the pursuit of kas-limaal, of adult knowledge. This is a concept we need, especially those of us who are impassioned by injustice. I know I needed it. In the narrative of my life, the first bite of meat after my twenty year hiatus marks the end of my youth, the moment when I assumed the responsibilities of adulthood. It was the moment I stopped fighting the basic algebra of embodiment: for someone to live, someone else has to die. In that acceptance, with all its suffering and sorrow, is the ability to choose a different way, a better way. – Lierre Keith, The Vegetarian Myth
Lierre closes The Vegetarian Myth with these words. Actually these are followed by breakfast; she is such a nurturer!
“It’s time to put away the fairytales, all of them, and assume our responsibilities, the adult responsibilities that begin with adult knowledge. Our planet needs us. She needs us to think like healers and act like warriors. And if you think that’s a contradiction, then get out of the way.”
It’s not fair to lay this all on Carol Adams, though. Certainly she wrote the tome that led the charge, but she is an accessory of patriarchy, only its agent. I wish I had a better name for this malady, something that blamed patriarchy foremost. So far I’ve taken to calling it the Vegan Contagion or the Vegan Plague, and only subtitling it Carol Adams Disease.