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Our Words Are Our Weapons: The Feminist Battle of the Story in the Wake of the Isla Vista Massacre

By Rebecca Solnit

It was a key match in the World Cup of Ideas. The teams vied furiously for the ball. The all-star feminist team tried repeatedly to kick it through the goalposts marked Widespread Social Problems, while the opposing team, staffed by the mainstream media and mainstream dudes, was intent on getting it into the usual net called Isolated Event. To keep the ball out of his net, the mainstream’s goalie shouted “mental illness” again and again. That “ball,” of course, was the meaning of the massacre of students in Isla Vista, California, by one of their peers.

All weekend the struggle to define his acts raged. Voices in the mainstream insisted he was mentally ill, as though that settled it, as though the world were divided into two countries called Sane and Crazy that share neither border crossings nor a culture. Mental illness is, however, more often a matter of degree, not kind, and a great many people who suffer it are gentle and compassionate. And by many measures, including injustice, insatiable greed, and ecological destruction, madness, like meanness, is central to our society, not simply at its edges.

In a fascinating op-ed piece last year, T.M. Luhrmann noted that when schizophrenics hear voices in India, they’re more likely to be told to clean the house, while Americans are more likely to be told to become violent. Culture matters. Or as my friend, the criminal-defense investigator who knows insanity and violence intimately, put it, “When one begins to lose touch with reality, the ill brain latches obsessively and delusionally onto whatever it’s immersed in — the surrounding culture’s illness.”

The murderer at Isla Vista was also repeatedly called “aberrant,” as if to emphasize that he was nothing like the rest of us. But other versions of such violence are all around us, most notably in the pandemic of hate toward and violence against women. 

In the end, this struggle over the meaning of one man’s killing spree may prove to be a watershed moment in the history of feminism, which always has been and still is in a struggle to name and define, to speak and be heard. “The battle of the story” the Center for Story-Based Strategy calls it, because you win or lose your struggle in large part through the language and narrative you use.

As media critic Jennifer Pozner put it in 2010 about another massacre by a woman-hating man,

“I am sick to death that I have to keep writing some version of this same article or blog post on loop. But I have to, because in all of these cases, gender-based violence lies at the heart of these crimes — and leaving this motivating factor uninvestigated not only deprives the public of the full, accurate picture of the events at hand, but leaves us without the analysis and context needed to understand the violence, recognize warning signs, and take steps to prevent similar massacres in the future.”

The Isla Vista murderer took out men as well as women, but blowing away members of a sorority seems to have been the goal of his rampage. He evidently interpreted his lack of sexual access to women as offensive behavior by women who, he imagined in a sad mix of entitlement and self-pity, owed him fulfillment. 

#YesAllWomen

Richard Martinez, the father of one of the young victims, spoke powerfully on national TV about gun control and the spinelessness of the politicians who have caved to the gun lobby, as well as about the broader causes of such devastation. A public defender in Santa Barbara County, he has for decades dealt with violence against women, gun users, and mental illness, as does everyone in his field. He and Christopher Michaels-Martinez’s mother, a deputy district attorney, knew the territory intimately before they lost their only child. The bloodbath was indeed about guns and toxic versions of masculinity and entitlement, and also about misery,cliché, and action-movie solutions to emotional problems. It was, above all, about the hatred of women.

According to one account of the feminist conversation that followed, a young woman with the online name Kaye (who has since been harassed or intimidated into withdrawing from the public conversation) decided to start tweeting with the hashtag #YesAllWomen at some point that Saturday after the massacre. By Sunday night, half a million #yesallwomen tweets had appeared around the world, as though a dam had burst. And perhaps it had. The phrase described the hells and terrors women face and specifically critiqued astock male response when women talked about their oppression: “Not all men.”

It’s the way some men say, “I’m not the problem” or that they shifted the conversation from actual corpses and victims as well as perpetrators to protecting the comfort level of bystander males. An exasperated woman remarked to me, “What do they want — a cookie for not hitting, raping, or threatening women?” Women are afraid of being raped and murdered all the time and sometimes that’s more important to talk about than protecting male comfort levels. Or as someone named Jenny Chiu tweeted, “Sure #NotAllMen are misogynists and rapists. That’s not the point. The point is that #YesAllWomen live in fear of the ones that are.”

Women — and men (but mostly women) — said scathing things brilliantly.

— #YesAllWomen because I can’t tweet about feminism without getting threats and perverted replies. Speaking out shouldn’t scare me.

— #YesAllWomen because I’ve seen more men angry at the hashtag rather than angry at the things happening to women.

— #YesAllWomen because if you’re too nice to them you’re “leading them on” & if you’re too rude you risk violence. Either way you’re a bitch.

It was a shining media moment, a vast conversation across all media, including millions of participants on Facebook and Twitter — which is significant sinceTwitter has been a favorite means of delivering rape and death threats to outspoken women. As Astra Taylor has pointed out in her new book, The People’s Platform, the language of free speech is used to protect hate speech, itself an attempt to deprive others of their freedom of speech, to scare them into shutting up.

Laurie Penny, one of the important feminist voices of our times, wrote,

“When news of the murders broke, when the digital world began to absorb and discuss its meaning, I had been about to email my editor to request a few days off, because the impact of some particularly horrendous rape threats had left me shaken, and I needed time to collect my thoughts. Instead of taking that time, I am writing this blog, and I am doing so in rage and in grief — not just for the victims of the Isla Vista massacre, but for what is being lost everywhere as the language and ideology of the new misogyny continues to be excused… I am sick of being told to empathize with the perpetrators of violence any time I try to talk about the victims and survivors.”

Our Words Are Our Weapons

In 1963, Betty Friedan published a landmark book, The Feminine Mystique, in which she wrote, “The problem that has no name — which is simply the fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities — is taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental health of our country than any known disease.” In the years that followed, that problem gained several names: male chauvinism, then sexism, misogyny, inequality, and oppression. The cure was to be “women’s liberation,” or “women’s lib,” or “feminism.” These words, which might seem worn out from use now, were fresh then.

Since Friedan’s manifesto, feminism has proceeded in part by naming things. The term “sexual harassment,” for example, was coined in the 1970s, first used in the legal system in the 1980s, given legal status by the Supreme Court in 1986, and given widespread coverage in the upheaval after Anita Hill’s testimony against her former boss, Clarence Thomas, in the 1991 Senate hearings on his Supreme Court nomination. The all-male interrogation team patronized and bullied Hill, while many men in the Senate and elsewhere failed to grasp why it mattered if your boss said lecherous things and demanded sexual services. Or they just denied that such things happen.

Many women were outraged. It was, like the post-Isla Vista weekend, a watershed moment in which the conversation changed, in which those who got it pushed hard on those who didn’t, opening some minds and updating some ideas. The bumper sticker “I Believe You Anita” was widespread for a while. Sexual harassment is now considerably less common in workplaces and schools, and its victims have far more recourse, thanks in part to Hill’s brave testimony and the earthquake that followed.

So many of the words with which a woman’s right to exist is adjudicated are of recent coinage: “domestic violence,” for example, replaced “wife-beating” as the law began to take a (mild) interest in the subject. A woman is still beaten every nine seconds in this country, but thanks to the heroic feminist campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s, she now has access to legal remedies that occasionally work, occasionally protect her, and — even more occasionally — send her abuser to jail. In 1990, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported, “Studies of the Surgeon General’s office reveal that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44, more common than automobile accidents, muggings, and cancer deaths combined.” 

I go to check this fact and arrive at an Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violencewebsite that warns viewers their browsing history might be monitored at home and offers a domestic-violence hotline number. The site is informing women that their abusers may punish them for seeking information or naming their situation. It’s like that out there.

One of the more shocking things I read recently was an essay in the Nation about the infamous slaying of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese in a neighborhood in Queens, New York, in 1964. The author, Peter Baker, reminds us that some of the neighbors who witnessed parts of her rape and murder from their windows likely mistook the savage assault by a stranger for a man exercising his rights over “his” woman. “Surely it matters that, at the time, violence inflicted by a man on his wife or romantic partner was widely considered a private affair. Surely it matters that, in the eyes of the law as it stood in 1964, it was impossible for a man to rape his wife.”

Terms like acquaintance rape, date rape, and marital rape had yet to be invented.

Twenty-First Century Words

I apparently had something to do with the birth of the word “mansplaining,” though I didn’t coin it myself. My 2008 essay “Men Explain Things to Me” (now the title piece in my new book about gender and power) is often credited with inspiring the pseudonymous person who did coin it on a blog shortly thereafter.  From there, it began to spread.

For a long time, I was squeamish about the term, because it seemed to imply that men in general were flawed rather than that particular specimens were prone to explain things they didn’t understand to women who already did. Until this spring, that is, when a young PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, told me that the word allowed women to identify another “problem with no name,” something that often happened but was hard to talk about until the term arose.

Language is power. When you turn “torture” into “enhanced interrogation,” or murdered children into “collateral damage,” you break the power of language to convey meaning, to make us see, feel, and care. But it works both ways. You can use the power of words to bury meaning or to excavate it.  If you lack words for a phenomenon, an emotion, a situation, you can’t talk about it, which means that you can’t come together to address it, let alone change it. Vernacular phrases — Catch-22, monkeywrenching, cyberbullying, the 99% and the 1% — have helped us to describe b
ut also to reshape our world. This may be particularly true of feminism, a movement focused on giving voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless.

One of the compelling new phrases of our time is “rape culture.” The term came into widespread circulation in late 2012 when sexual assaults in New Delhi, India, and Steubenville, Ohio, became major news stories. As a particularly strongly worded definition puts it:

“Rape culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety. Rape culture affects every woman. Most women and girls limit their behavior because of the existence of rape. Most women and girls live in fear of rape. Men, in general, do not. That’s how rape functions as a powerful means by which the whole female population is held in a subordinate position to the whole male population, even though many men don’t rape, and many women are never victims of rape.”

Sometimes I’ve heard “rape culture” used to describe specifically what’s called “lad culture” — the jeering, leering subculture in which some young men are lodged. Other times it’s used to indict the mainstream, which oozes with misogyny in its entertainment, its everyday inequalities, its legal loopholes. The term helped us stop pretending that rapes are anomalies, that they have nothing to do with the culture at large or are even antithetical to its values. If they were, a fifth of all American women (and one in 71 men) wouldn’t be rape survivors; if they were, 19% of female college students wouldn’t have to cope with sexual assault; if they were, the military wouldn’t be stumbling through an epidemic of sexual violence. The term rape culture lets us begin to address the roots of the problem in the culture as a whole.

The term “sexual entitlement” was used in 2012 in reference to sexual assaults byBoston University’s hockey team, though you can find earlier uses of the phrase. I first heard it in 2013 in a BBC report on a study of rape in Asia. The study concluded that in many cases the motive for rape was the idea that a man has the right to have sex with a woman regardless of her desires. In other words, his rights trump hers, or she has none. This sense of being owed sex is everywhere. Many women are told, as was I in my youth, that something we did or said or wore or just the way we looked or the fact that we were female had excited desires we were thereby contractually obliged to satisfy. We owed them. They had a right. To us.

Male fury at not having emotional and sexual needs met is far too common, as is the idea that you can rape or punish one woman to get even for what other women have done or not done. A teenager was stabbed to death for turning down a boy’s invitation to go to the prom this spring; a 45-year-old mother of two was murdered May 14th for trying to “distance herself” from a man she was dating; the same night as the Isla Vista shootings, a California man shot at women who declined sex. After the killings in Isla Vista, the term “sexual entitlement” was suddenly everywhere, and blogs and commentary and conversations began to address it with brilliance and fury. I think that May 2014 marks the entry of the phrase into everyday speech. It will help people identify and discredit manifestations of this phenomenon. It will help change things.  Words matter.

Crimes, Small and Large

The 22-year-old who, on May 23rd, murdered six of his peers and attempted to kill many more before taking his own life framed his unhappiness as due to others’ failings rather than his own and vowed to punish the young women who, he believed, had rejected him. In fact, he already had done so, repeatedly, with minor acts of violence that foreshadowed his final outburst. In his long, sad autobiographical rant, he recounts that his first week in college,

“I saw two hot blonde girls waiting at the bus stop. I was dressed in one of my nice shirts, so I looked at them and smiled. They looked at me, but they didn’t even deign to smile back. They just looked away as if I was a fool. In a rage, I made a U-turn, pulled up to their bus stop and splashed my Starbucks latte all over them. I felt a feeling [of] spiteful satisfaction as I saw it stain their jeans. How dare those girls snub me in such a fashion! How dare they insult me so! I raged to myself repeatedly. They deserved the punishment I gave them. It was such a pity that my latte wasn’t hot enough to burn them. Those girls deserved to be dumped in boiling water for the crime of not giving me the attention and adoration I so rightfully deserve!”

Domestic violence, mansplaining, rape culture, and sexual entitlement are among the linguistic tools that redefine the world many women encounter daily and open the way to begin to change it.

The nineteenth-century geologist and survey director Clarence King and twentieth-century biologists have used the term “punctuated equilibrium” to describe a pattern of change that involves slow, quiet periods of relative stasis interrupted by turbulent intervals. The history of feminism is one of punctuated equilibriums in which our conversations about the nature of the world we live in, under the pressure of unexpected events, suddenly lurch forward. It’s then that we change the story.

I think we are in such a crisis of opportunity now, as not one miserable, murderous young man but the whole construct in which we live is brought into question. On that Friday in Isla Vista, our equilibrium was disrupted, and like an earthquake releasing tension between tectonic plates, the realms of gender shifted a little. They shifted not because of the massacre, but because millions came together in a vast conversational network to share experiences, revisit meanings and definitions, and arrive at new understandings. At the memorials across California, people held up candles; in this conversation people held up ideas, words, and stories that also shone in the darkness. Maybe this change will grow, will last, will matter, and will be a lasting memorial to the victims.

Six years ago, when I sat down and wrote the essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” here’s what surprised me: though I began with a ridiculous example of being patronized by a man, I ended with rapes and murders. We tend to treat violence and the abuse of power as though they fit into airtight categories: harassment, intimidation, threat, battery, rape, murder. But I realize now that what I was saying is: it’s a slippery slope.
That’s why we need to address that slope, rather than compartmentalizing the varieties of misogyny and dealing with each separately. Doing so has meant fragmenting the picture, seeing the parts, not the whole.

A man acts on the belief that you have no right to speak and that you don’t get to define what’s going on. That could just mean cutting you off at the dinner table or the conference. It could also mean telling you to shut up, or threatening you if you open your mouth, or beating you for speaking, or killing you to silence you forever. He could be your husband, your father, your boss or editor, or the stranger at some meeting or on the train, or the guy you’ve never seen who’s mad at someone else but thinks “women” is a small enough category that you can stand in for “her.” He’s there to tell you that you have no rights.

Threats often precede acts, which is why the targets of online rape and death threats take them seriously, even though the sites that allow them and the law enforcement officials that generally ignore them apparently do not. Quite a lot of women are murdered after leaving a boyfriend or husband who believes he owns her and that she has no right to self-determination.  

Despite this dismal subject matter, I’m impressed with the powers feminism has flexed of late. Watching Amanda Hess, Jessica Valenti, Soraya Chemaly, Laurie Penny, Amanda Marcotte, Jennifer Pozner, and other younger feminists swing into action the weekend after the Rodgers killing spree was thrilling, and the sudden explosion of #YesAllWomen tweets, astonishing. The many men who spoke up thoughtfully were heartening. More and more men are actively engaged instead of just being Not All Men bystanders.

You could see once-radical ideas blooming in the mainstream media. You could see our arguments and whole new ways of framing the world gaining ground and adherents. Maybe we had all just grown unbearably weary of the defense of unregulated guns after more than 40 school shootings since Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, of the wages of macho fantasies of control and revenge, of the hatred of women.

If you look back to Betty Friedan’s “problem that has no name,” you see a world that was profoundly different from the one we now live in, one in which women had far fewer rights and far less voice. Back then, arguing that women should be equal was a marginal position; now arguing that we should not be is marginal in this part of the world and the law is mostly on our side. The struggle has been and will be long and harsh and sometimes ugly, and the backlash against feminism remains savage, strong, and omnipresent, but it is not winning. The world has changed profoundly, it needs to change far more — and on that weekend of mourning and introspection and conversation just passed, you could see change happen.

Rebecca Solnit’s new bestselling book of essays on women, power, and violence, Men Explain Things to Me (Dispatch Books, Haymarket Books), has just been published. Its title comes from the essay (now updated) that Solnit posted at TomDispatch in 2008, and which has been making the rounds ever since.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Rebecca Solnit

Let’s Get Free!: Radicalizing Pro-Feminist Education for Men

By Kourtney Mitchell / Deep Green Resistance

By Kourtney Mitchell / Deep Green Resistance

The following speech was originally given at the Stop Porn Culture Conference at Wheelock College, Boston, in July 2013.

Hello everyone, my name is Kourtney Mitchell and I am a political activist and a member of the group Deep Green Resistance. We are a radical organization dedicated to social, political and environmental justice. As an organization we ally ourselves with indigenous communities, women, people of color and the poor. Our aim is to stop the destruction of the planet and the oppression of people and animals.

We are a relatively new organization just a couple of years old but we are growing and have numerous chapters with hundreds of activists around the world who are all dedicated to stopping the genocide of the planet.

So, I’ll offer just a brief background on my experience as a man with pro-feminist activism and educating men. I attended university and it was there that I first received academic and activist training in feminism and anti-violence through the peer education program on campus.

The peer education program consists of graduate students, faculty, and staff who train undergraduate volunteers. The training includes education about the widespread violence that women face and volunteers learn to give presentations to peers on rape, sexual assault, relationship violence, and feminism.

In turn, peers would then join our organizing efforts and events. This was the most profoundly significant and life changing time for me. To travel around the country raising awareness of violence against women, facilitating workshops, speak-outs, and protests was fulfilling, not to mention meaningful. The training threw me into another world, one in which violence and misogyny could no longer be ignored. Our advisors did a really comprehensive job of giving us an adequate scope of the problem, and creating a sense of urgency about these issues.

They helped facilitate the creation of a student culture based on the belief that it is possible to end violence against women, and knowing that possibility helped galvanize us to take action. Many of us went on to make this our life’s work.

My primary role in the campus activist community was recruiting and teaching men about pro-feminism and anti-violence. I helped lead the male ally program, which included a weekly discussion group, activism in the community, pro-feminist art and performance, and collaborations with other similar programs around the country.

I remember vividly the anxiety of pouring over every detail of presentations I would be giving to men, worrying if the way I presented concepts was too complicated or if men would shut down for the rest of the talk if I said something too complicated. I left some events feeling like no one was reachable, but I also walked away feeling really good about the successes which were accomplished.

Many men joined our organizations and became quite active – some because they just felt it was the right thing to do, but many more because of personal experiences and the experiences of their loved ones. Several men randomly wandered into our office and left planning to attend the next ally meeting, and sure enough did continue coming. This was just one of the many things that kept me optimistic about bringing more men to pro-feminist ideas and activism.

Unfortunately, the campus activist community was largely liberal and very much influenced by queer theory. Pornography was widely accepted, and a real revolution against the patriarchal order was more joked about than seriously considered. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the radical feminist perspective that I began to see the flaws of the liberal approach to pro-feminist education.

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Beautiful Justice: No Heart Unbroken

By Ben Barker / Deep Green Resistance Wisconsin

By Ben Barker / Deep Green Resistance Wisconsin

I wish this was just a nightmare. My friend is gone and I want her back. She was killed several weeks ago—violently, sadistically, suddenly—and for several weeks I’ve been crying. My head keeps shaking. I whisper to myself: “No. No. No.” Over and over. More than anything else right now, I want this to not be real. But it is the victim herself who would have been the first to remind me: men’s violence against women, the cruelty of this culture, is all too real.

The pain of the world has come home. What words could do it justice? I dredged some up to speak at her funeral, but even then this tragedy felt like a bad dream. It still does.

Just one night before her death, we were making dinner plans for the coming week. Just a few days before that, we were on the phone expressing how much we’ve missed one another. “I’m listening to Regina Spektor and thinking of you,” I said. “Aw, thank you for thinking of me,” she said. “I’d love to see you soon.”

After one unfathomable instance, after one piece of the most horrible of news, our plans are shattered, our relationship gone, my heart broken.

Jessie and I met because we both wanted to change the world; because we both believed that, in the words of a feminist writer we mutually admired, “there are certain kinds of pain that people should not have to endure.”

With her easy smile, a lot of laughter, and a propensity to start so many deeply profound conversations in one sitting, Jessie was a gust of wonder, passion, and beauty. She asked the big questions and, as best she could, tried to live out the answers every day. Her wish was only for others to try, too.

The personal and political were inseparable for Jessie. She was at once a musician, an activist, a daughter, and a friend. She was so much more than any one title could describe. And every aspect of who she was depended on the other; their coming together is what made her life as rich as it was, what made her as dynamic a person as she was, what moved her to change her corner of the world, as she did.

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Why I Fight – A Personal Essay

By Jonah Mix / Deep Green Resistance Bellingham

By Jonah Mix / Deep Green Resistance Bellingham

“Their blind gaze, the diminutive gold disc without expression and nonetheless terribly shining, went through me like a message: “Save us, save us.” I caught myself mumbling words of advice, conveying childish hopes. They continued to look at me, immobile; from time to time the rosy branches of the gills stiffened. In that instant I felt a muted pain; perhaps they were seeing me, attracting my strength to penetrate into the impenetrable thing of their lives. They were not human beings, but I had found in no animal such a profound relation with myself. The axolotls were like witnesses of something, and at time like horrible judges.”

-Julio Cortázar, Axolotl

I want to talk to you about axolotls, but in a way I can’t. They have to be seen. I’ve only seen one in my life, at an aquarium 2,831 miles away from their ancestral home at Lake Xochimilco in Central Mexico. There is one other lake where axolotls once lived, Lake Chalco, but it no longer exists. I’ll get to that soon.

There’s something in the face of an axolotl that is blessedly human – or, perhaps, there is something in the face of human beings that reflects the beauty of axolotls. Their neotonic bodies and knowing expressions transcend any notion of age or era. Ominously primordial, with their slow gait and mournful gaze, axolotls feel less like animals and more like manifestations of the Earth itself, incarnations of the rivers and lakes of their perpetual youth.

I first learned of them through Julio Cortazar’s story quoted above. I encourage everyone I know to read it. It’s a beautiful piece, full of incredible prose and disquieting sensuality. It’s also a requiem for these little salamanders. Even in Cortazar’s time they were dying, being found more in aquariums and fish tanks than the bodies of water where they had lived for millennia. The ancient lake Chalco, once the center of early Mesoamerican culture, is gone now, drained to prevent flooding in new housing and business developments. Xochimilco is a shadow of its former self, existing mostly as canals and shallow, oil-slicked pools. Pollution, urban sprawl, and encroaching industrial development will rid the world of wild axolotls soon. Look into the face of an axolotl. It carries the judgment that we deserve.

In Nahuatl, the intricate and beautiful language of indigenous central Mexicans, axolotl means “river monster.” And now the Nahua people are being slaughtered, exported as modern-day slaves and driven off their land. The axolotl is dying with them.

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Let’s Get Free!: A Scope of the Problem

By Kourtney Mitchell / Deep Green Resistance

By Kourtney Mitchell / Deep Green Resistance

Over the almost seven years I have been involved in social justice activism of various kinds, my level of understanding concerning our social and planetary predicament has grown quite a bit. I began my process towards a radical perspective as a student activist in the university anti-violence against women movement. It was there I developed what I like to call a clear “scope of the problem.

Allow me to back up a bit. I did not know it at the time, but while I was in high school my family survived a rough experience fighting the local police department that helped prime me for radical activism. My mother, while an officer, filed a civil suit against the department for racial discrimination. The ordeal was traumatizing – the media was relentless in their assaults on her character, the department engaged in continuous harassment of my family (including forcibly evicting us from our home on my 16th birthday), all of this culminating in several relocations in- and out-of-state. If it were not for the consistent support of family, friends, legal counsel and a compassionate and talented journalist who had our back, the city and its armed thugs would have certainly continued its oppression against us. Instead, my mother’s case was a primary reason the city organized a citizen’s review board to oversee law enforcement activities. My mother and I went on to write and publish a creative nonfiction book of her experience.

To this day, I am consistently amazed at my mother’s strength and courage. I witnessed her defy all odds, determined to stand up to the city’s bullying and set a lasting precedent for future generations.

As a teen I was not inclined towards activism, but that all changed when I attended college and somehow found myself sitting in the social justice center talking pro-feminist theory with fellow campus community members. I completed feminist and anti-violence training and that is when the real change began.

The information I learned was harrowing. I had no idea just how prevalent male violence against women was. Shaken to the core, I spent several nights in tears, struggling to understand just how the world became this way and how it could possibly continue. From the first night of training, I knew pro-feminism would be my life’s work. It became my passion.

Further social justice training on issues of race and class began to complete the circle for me. My own life experiences started to make much more sense, and I became sensitive to issues of justice and equality.

Then it was time for another wake-up call. I do not remember exactly how I discovered radical politics, but eventually I came upon Marxist theory, which then lead me to anarchism and eventually anti-civilization. I began reading Derrick Jensen’s Endgame in the fall of 2008, and all of the emotions I felt when completing activist training came rushing back to the fore.

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Peace Talks: New Chapter, Old Book

By Robert Jensen / Counterpunch

By Robert Jensen / Counterpunch

New negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians may begin next week, with much talk of a “new chapter” in the seemingly intractable conflict. A new chapter, perhaps, but who is writing the book?

Any public discussion about the “peace process” is tense, in part because there is no widely shared understanding of the history and politics of — even an appropriate terminology for — the conflict. That’s as true in the United States as in Palestine and Israel.

I never gave much thought to the question until I was 30 years old, in the late 1980s. Before that, I had a typical view of the conflict for an apolitical American: It was confusing, and everyone involved seemed a bit crazy. With no understanding of the history of the region and no framework for analyzing U.S. policy in the Middle East, it was all a muddle, and so I ignored it. That’s one of the privileges of being in the comfortable classes in the United States — you can remain comfortably ignorant.

But as a frustrated journalist with a newfound freedom to examine the politics of news media in graduate school, I began studying law and human rights, in the domestic and international arenas. I also started digging into the issues I had been avoiding. In the case of Palestine/Israel, I began reading about the roots of the conflict, how the United States was involved, and how U.S. journalists were presenting the issues.

I came to this inquiry with no firm allegiance to either side. As a white U.S. citizen from a centrist Protestant background but with no religious commitments, I felt no cultural or spiritual connection to either national group. I don’t speak Hebrew or Arabic, and I had never traveled to the Middle East. I had no personal relationships that predisposed me to favor one group over the other. Like any human, I was not free of bias, of course. As a relatively unreflective white man rooted in a predominantly Christian culture, I was raised with some level of anti-Semitism and anti-Arab racism, for example, and no doubt that affected my perceptions. But based solely on my personal profile, I didn’t have a dog in that fight, or so I thought.

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The structural problem of misogyny

By Zillah Eisenstein / Al-Jazeera

By Zillah Eisenstein / Al-Jazeera

The world seems upside down – the 1 percent turns most of our lives towards their benefit. Truth tellers go to jail; liars go free; secrecy trumps democracy; the World Health Organisation declares that violence against women is an “epidemic global health problem”; girls and women hold up not half the sky, but the whole thing as they do the lion’s share of labour; Julian Assange demands transparency from governments while progressives simply forget that he is accused of rape; right-wing activists attack women’s rights to her body, especially to abortion while denying real choices to children everywhere.

So much is changing about everything: the globe, the earth, weather, jobs, classes, races, genders and sexes. Because women’s lives are changing, and everywhere, feminisms also need to change.

Enter, the new proletariat(s) – where class structure matters and in new complex ways. So, maybe it is time to retrieve the term proletariat from the “left” and reinvent it for the rest of us progressives. It is time to recognise the struggle to control women’s bodies in all forms – from sexual abuse and rape to the war on abortion to the denial of equal pay – as deeply politically misogynist even if there is no easy way to mobilise and collectivise this effort.

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A Radical Severing of Violence from Freedom

By Sam Krop / Deep Green Resistance Eugene

By Sam Krop / Deep Green Resistance Eugene

There has recently been a great deal of debate around the topic of consent in sexual politics. Stakeholders in this debate have vocalized a wide range of positions, from positing the centrality of consent in questions of sexual ethics to considering the negative implications of undivided attention allotted to it. Meanwhile, on the ground, a certain kind of pornography starring women being tied up, chained, gagged and penetrated, whipped, and made to bleed has become exceedingly popular and widely sought out. To understand the nature, let alone the implications, of this kind of pornography, we have to understand its origins—the origins of Sadomasochism.

Marquis de Sade, a prominent member of nobility and a convicted rapist, kidnapper, and abuser was the namesake of the term sadism. Although he is now celebrated throughout philosophical and literary discourse as somewhat of a pop icon, Sade was undoubtedly a deviant of the most sordid variety. In her book Pornography: Men Possessing Women, Andrea Dworkin devotes a whole chapter to enumerating Sade’s abundant sexual escapades and convictions in a worthy attempt to expose him for the fiend he was. Among his atrocities, Sade was guilty of torture, poisoning, kidnapping children, and raping countless women. Sade’s ill formed justifications for these actions are articulated in his pornographic literature now commonly consumed as erotic philosophy. In his works, he claims to be an advocate of absolute freedom, a right he argues needs to be realized in sexual practice.

Needless to say, his conception of absolute freedom did not apply to his victims. To conceal this obvious inconsistency, Sade argued that the recipients of his violence would enjoy it, even ask for it, if they were to just surrender their prudish boundaries and openly realize their repressed sexuality. It is my opinion that anyone with a pulse who reads a factual account of Sade’s life would want to distance themselves as much as is worldly possible from this individual and his legacy. And yet, amazingly, in recent years sadism has become not only popular but widely accepted. This philosophy, stemming from a man who made no secret of the fact that he derived the greatest pleasure from inflicting bodily pain onto unwitting victims is flourishing even in activist circles, the communities that are supposed to be the most concerned with justice.

Sade’s legacy, the concept of absolute freedom applied to sexual practice, continues to legitimize the widespread dissemination of the most vicious sexual scenes imaginable. Instead of recognizing the practice of sexual violence as what it is—sexual violence—the ideology of freedom has precluded the possibility for critique, calling any challenge censorship. This practice has silenced the victims of pornography as well as those who question the ethics of enjoying the same treatment that has marked the most horrific of atrocities. This is called ideological orthodoxy, more commonly known as dogma. The job of radicals—those who get to the root of things, those who consider material circumstances, not merely ideals—is to challenge ideologies when they begin to threaten the lives of real humans.

As Andrea Dworkin has said, “when theory becomes an impediment to action, it is time to discard the theory and return naked, that is, without theory, to the world of reality.” As Sade has shown us, what the theory of absolute freedom in practice really means is freedom for some at the expense of others. In the case of BDSM culture, absolute freedom means freedom for rapists at the expense of the raped and freedom for abusers at the expense of the abused. This, of course, is the legacy of this culture from its birth—the history of oppression masquerading as freedom.

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