Thursday, April 25, 2013

Michigan: a Butch Feminist Responds

I support the goals but not the strategy of a public boycott of the MWMF festival at this time. I think it will do more damage than good. Trashing and boycotts within the movement have rarely moved our goals further.

As one woman-born-woman lesbian feminist to another, I salute Lisa Vogel’s nuanced and in-depth letter to the Community about the issue of transwomen at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival. A response from Vogel is long overdue.

I want to highlight the sentence which I believe forms the core of her essay, that is: 
“I passionately believe the healing in our community will occur when we unconditionally accept transwomyn as womyn while not dismissing or disavowing the lived experience and realities of the WBW gender identity.”

This is well said and accurate. I hope this healing day comes soon.  Perhaps the Millennial generation, as they grow, will no longer find this an issue because they can hold in their minds an equal appreciation of the “lived experience” of WBW and the validity of transwomen as two different genders.

Meanwhile, there are other qualities of being a lesbian that I have long questioned about Michigan’s current—but dated—policy. An aspect which Vogel doesn’t address.

As a woman born woman and a butch, the “lived experience” of being “woman-born” has been somewhat confusing to me because I was socialized as male as well as female. Growing up my parents and sibs treated me as gender-neutral or mixed gendered. I was raised as my father’s son and my mother’s daughter. Many of my characteristics (dress, thinking, relational dynamics, etc.) are what were termed “masculine” in the '60s. 
I know this is to be similar for thousands of butches I have met or talked to over many decades. Yet, butches can go to Michigan. Transmen can go to Michigan. But transwomen can do so only covertly. Butches and transmen, most of whom are more male than Michigan's policy suggests transwomen to be, are welcomed at the festival. This policy holds little logic.

Is Vogel saying that butches are women-born-women? This is, at best, only partial true. Most transmen I know appear to have less “lived experience” as a woman than I did.  Are Vogel and other supporters of the current policy, then talking about how much “lived experience” is enough to get one overtly into Michigan? How much is enough? Five years, twenty? Slicing and dicing this qualitatively or quantitatively is a path too complex and inherently too dishonest for us to go down.

I think we should instead go down the path of self-identity as being a valid enough I.D.
If a transwoman has ‘voted’ to take on the burdens of female identification I believe that is license enough to admit her into a female-only venue. Especially if she is a feminist and/or aware and educated enough, as many WBW are not, of what it means to be a feminist.

Fortunately, perhaps only as an accident of timing, I came of age at the dawn of feminism and was privileged enough to be taught the value of being a woman, a feminist, a lesbian, and a women of color in an otherwise sexist (and racist) world.

So, as a butch feminist, I challenge Michigan to take the next evolutionary step and ‘straighten’ out its illogical and non-foundational interpretation of femaleness.

I put out my thoughts and opinion in order to further our discussion of what it means to be a woman in 2013.

If responding, please remember the truly foundational precept of feminism—sisters talking to sisters. So let’s talk and not hurl (accusations)! If Michigan doesn’t stand for that, what does it stand for?

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Birth of Feminism…and all that jazz

Once every three or four years, someone makes a speech or writes an essay that no feminist can afford to miss—it's required reading. 
Such is author Susan Faludi’s current essay in the New Yorker (April 15 issue), “Death of a Revolutionary” 

The essay is a truly amazing obituary of our famous foremother Shulamith Firestone, author of the feminist bible, The Dialectic of Sex. But the article is much more than a tribute to Firestone, it is a detailed account of the earliest organizational history, the opening hand, of the first women’s liberationists, circa 1967.

I’ve been living through, reading and contributing to this history for nearly four decades, but I didn’t know half the detail rendered in Faludi’s essay. Like, where did it all begin?

The Second Wave—how and where it began in the boroughs of New York City and
Chicago. When and what were those canonic books of ours written, and by whom?  Do any of you know that the three of them—Sexual Politics (Kate Millet), Sisterhood Is Powerful (Robin Morgan), and Firestone’s Dialectic of Sex, all were published in 1970!
And what drove some of these founders of feminism to jettison their self-created movement for a mental hospital?
I won’t tell you the answer to this one because I want you to hit the above link and read it yourself.

Faludi details how and why the women of the New Left—who were trying to stop the Viet Nam war—indeed left that movement to start their own movement of women only.

By way of describing Shulamith's life, and her death last August at 67, Fauludi presents an extremely well written, highly accessible, and almost perfectly accurate description of the earliest “cells” of organized sisterhood.
Apparently Firestone was one hell of an organizer too! As co-founder of the famous “New York Radical Women, and Redstockings, and Chicago’s Women’s Liberation Union—she led sophisticated actions like raiding the annual Miss America Pageant while
pouring that convention hall with dozens of little white rats—yes, mice all over the pretty floor. The contestants screamed and nearly quit.

Faludi’s essay, which names the players and their actions, pulls few punches. The Pulitzer prize winning journalist and author of several books, among them Backlash, she paints fascinating portraits of them all. She justly treats “Shulie” as one of handful of 1960s organizers who founded four feminist organizations, during the same years that she was writing her famous Dialectic. She was 25 years old when the book came out with her ground breaking analysis of “the patriarchy.” Authoring a feminist classic while being a prime organizer seems to me impossible. I’ve tried it myself. But Firestone was by all description a genius and primary mover and shaker who gave her youth to the cause.

One of my strongest reactions—sadness—was to revisit how “trashing” was such a huge practice. Our foremothers were way too quick to level their own scarcity issues against each other.
There was so much of it every where, it’s a wonder that it didn’t kill feminism at birth. Of course Faludi is not a 2nd waver. She came of age as a Gen Xer in the ‘80s. So, in my opinion, she is overly hard on these boomer founders. They had to carve out a space called feminism with no books, no mentors, no colligate speeches.
My view is that these pre-assimilationist wonder women need to be forgiven their raw ambition and talent. First, these are universal traits. Second, the world of politics is a place that draws out both the best and worse of our personality disorders. We see it everywhere in the lives of male politicos.
The early radical feminists were extraordinarily rigid about “elitism,” the rhetoric of the day was virulently anti-leadership. I remember from my own background that displaying or claiming any kind of leadership was enough to get you tossed out of the movement. Faludi gives the example of Marilyn Webb, one of the founders of the core feminist newspaper, Off Our Backs. Webb herself was thrown out of the publishing collective because she had prior professional journalism experience—which meant she wasn’t “equal” to the others. This almost unbelievable example resonates with my decade as publisher of the feminist lesbian magazine Lesbian Tide. I spent almost as much staff time processing and defending my own unruly leadership as I did in writing for the paper.

Among many other gems, Faludi explores the first fundamental split in the Women’s Movement. The opening chasm between radical feminism and liberal feminism. Before feminism became a civil rights struggle led by the liberal N.O.W., circa 1970, there were years in which a truly revolutionary feminism was primary. Radical feminists like Firestone sought to erase the binary of male and female.

Faludi also covers the strange and forlorn death of Firestone, last summer when she was just 67 years old. In many ways this author calls upon younger women to take care of our foremothers in their late elder years.
... One last lesson among many, in this essay’s amazingly well-researched contribution to all women.