Author Archives: radicalfeministpdx

Free Space: A Perspective On the Small Group in Women’s Liberation Study Guide

Introduction

  1. Allen posits that small groups within women’s liberation create an obstacle to their goals by not being honest with themselves. What do you think that means? Does that hold any truth for you?
  2. “Differences in men and women are not acknowledged because it would attest to the fact that equality is a myth.” How have you seen this problem play out in your own life or in the media?

Sudsofloppen

  1. “We came to learn the hard way that one of the key characteristics of an oppressed people is self hatred…” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why or why not?
  2. Allen describes a disagreement of how to go about women’s liberation (should the group start with the personal, or the political) and the conclusion (that both approaches are necessary). Many Radical Feminists argue that “the personal is political.” What are some different ways that women and women’s groups can use these ideas to develop a concrete strategy?

Free Space

  1.  What does “acting responsibly towards the group mean to you?
  2.  What would help you to establish trust towards group members?
  3.  How do you feel challenged (or hope to be challenged) within the context of the group?

Small Group Processes

  1.  The processes listed are Opening Up, Sharing, Analyzing, and Abstracting. How do you think these processes could be utilized by our group? What do you think we shouldn’t use?
  2. How can we continue to refine our group and personal goals?

Women’s Movement

  1.  How can our group contribute to changing society? Allen lists multiple ideas, did any in particular stand out to you, or did you think of any on your own?
  2. Allen also suggests communication and cooperation with other women’s groups. What are the pros and cons of that strategy? Is that something that we should explore or not?

Study Plan

  1. Discuss the 5 enemies: capitalism, men, ourselves, the state, and racism.
  2. Discuss the 4 elements of women’s condition: production, sexuality, socialization, reproduction, and interrelations.
  3. I will try to flesh out these last 2 questions a little bit more, but any suggestions are very appreciated!

4th Meeting

There were several women who were unable to join us for this meeting, but it was still very productive. I also brought some lavender to share from my garden!

I felt badly because we had chosen to discuss Free Space: A Perspective on the Small Group in Women’s Liberation by Pamela Allen (PDF here) between other books while I was to work on a new study guide for something else, but after reading this short instruction guide, I realized how powerful and important the information was. I should not have treated it as a “throwaway meeting.” As we talked about it, it became clear that we would need to devote another meeting to this book.

Because I did not have a study guide for this material prepared, I mostly had taken notes on quotes that seemed important and my general impressions.

In the introduction, Allen explains that “differences in men and women are not acknowledged because it would attest to the fact that equality is a myth.” This reminded me of all of the times I had attempted to discuss feminism with men, only to be told that feminism had no point because men and women are equal now. It is still very difficult for women to get men to take them seriously, which was a major theme of this reading.

At this point in the conversation, one of our members asked “Why does it seem like radical feminism has dissolved so much? Why don’t we hear about it in the mainstream at all?” This caused us to jump onto a different track. We talked about how feminism has, lamentably, been co-opted by capitalists in order to sell t-shirts, coffee mugs, and makeup (of all things). Radical feminists were also labeled as crazy, hairy, angry lesbians who were not worth listening to. It is much easier to listen to liberal feminists who conform to gender by wearing makeup, shaving their entire bodies, and call themselves sluts (because it is so empowering!). Liberal feminism is easy because you don’t have to think critically or change almost any of your behaviors (as long as you call them “kinks”). Feminism has changed from a movement for women’s liberation to a simply having a female perspective on life with a focus on the legal struggles of women, instead of a radical restructuring of society.

And so we returned to the book, specifically the 2nd chapter, which is focused on the women’s group Allen belonged to, “Sudsofloppen.” Allen describes the difficulties in changing old thought patterns and behaviors as well as focusing on changing society to be better for women. She also asks which should you work on first? I think that you can’t really change society without (at least partially) deprogramming yourself of male supremacist thoughts and behaviors.

In the 3rd chapter, Allen writes about breaking free of old roles by establishing honest relationships with new people (women, in this context). She also lists several obstacles to developing trust in a group, such as not liking an individual, thinking someone else is being emotionally immature, sometimes other people will have an idea that you think is stupid, or you might feel that you are being pushed to believe or do something you don’t agree with. Then she moves along to talk about ways that a group can counteract this. There was a big focus on acting responsibly towards the group, which would mean that you are giving other women the best version of yourself, that you are making your best effort to attend all of the meetings, and taking other women’s ideas seriously. She also suggested closing the group early in order to provide more stability. I think that there is an ideal number of members, at least for a book club/discussion group, and it really shouldn’t exceed 10 people so that we can focus enough time and thought to what each woman wants to express. Allen also wrote that we can build trust by being understanding of the pressures and obligations that each group member experiences outside of the group, but that we should all try to leave those stressors behind for the time that we meet.

Allen’s next point was that part of being responsible to the group is challenging each other if we don’t agree, being willing to disagree, and helping each other to grow. We had a discussion about how we are or could be challenged by this group.

  • We are challenging each other to develop critical thinking skills
  • We are challenging each other to read and analyze
  • We are challenging each other to get out physically to meet, which is good for our bodies
  • We are challenging each other to engage socially
  • We are challenging each other to do the intellectual work that feminism requires

It felt good to talk about all of the ways that we are being positively challenged by this group, and I think that we were all grateful for each other.

We also talked a little bit about the Small Group Processes, but we will revisit this part in our next meeting.

3rd Meeting

June 25th, 2017

We held a fabulous meeting to close out our reading of Woman Hating. I brought some banana bread, and we talked about Part 3, Part 4, and a little bit about the afterword (please see the Study Guide here).

We discussed other disfiguring practices that have been done to girls and women. This includes female genital mutilation, lip and ear plating, neck stretching, breast ironing, corseting, underage trans-ing of “butch” girls and teens, high heels, and plastic surgery. Why do women (who, in many cases, have experienced the same cruel treatment) continue the practice on their own daughters? It is because women know that their social capital comes from performing femininity as well as they can in their given time and culture. Social capital helps to marry off their daughters, and being well married ensures that they will have more resources and a life without want.

Within the context of the chapter on witches, we discussed the blame that women bear for men’s thoughts and actions, as well as their sexual urges (and lack thereof). Because of this, women are forced to take care of men’s emotions at all times; men project their own failings on to women and expect us to be their emotional receptacles. We also have dress codes enforced more strictly on women in order to prevent boys and men from getting aroused, and women are also expected to dress a certain way if they are fat, old, ugly, or just don’t fit the standard definition of beauty. In Islamic cultures and families, women are expected to cover most to all of their bodies, sometimes their faces as well. In the same thread, women are accused of constantly tricking men. Makeup, high heels, and bras are “false advertising,” but if we don’t wear them, we have “let ourselves go.” If women change their mind at any point about dating or having sex with a man, we have somehow tricked him, but if we go along with dating/sex, we are “easy.” If women use certain angles or filters on their photos, we are “trying too hard,” or yet again it is “false advertising.” If we don’t use them, we are compared unfavorably to other women who do. Our lives are expected to revolve around being sexually available to men, but not too much.

I think that one of the most important topics we talked about was the question of how we individually or as a group can help other women. Some simple things would be to just listen to other women and their experiences. We can also talk more about radical feminism and get women more interested in it. When we aren’t in a place where it is safe to specifically talk about radical feminism, we can ask questions that might get other women thinking more critically. We need to speak openly about the physical reality of our bodies and reduce stigma of female genitalia and breasts. We can also get the word out about birth control, emergency contraception, abortion, sterilization, and menstrual extraction. We can learn healing natural practices to reduce menstrual and pregnancy pains.

Our society teaches us that patriarchy is the natural order of things and that to fight against it is futile. In reality, it is impossible for us to know what is “natural” when it comes to human relations, since women have been intellectually, emotionally, and physically stunted by our lower social status. In addition, there are plenty of things that humans do that are not “natural,” such as wearing clothing or using combustion engines, so why should we use the “naturalness” of something as the bar by which to measure it, instead of the fairness of it?

We discussed the idea that women are dark and mysterious and the impact that has on women. It gives men the excuse to not try to understand our perspectives and to assume that our inner lives are automatically inconceivable to them. The question of “what do women really want” stems from this, since women can tell men over and over again what we want and need, and they continue to ask “what do they really want?” instead of just listening to us. This also contributes to the belief that women are naturally more emotional instead of logical, which in turn, limits our ability to participate in academic and scientific fields.

Andrea Dworkin also talked about intersexed people and transsexuals in a way that could be quoted out of context in order to obfuscate her message. She describes six different aspects that impact one’s “sex identity” and claims that because some individuals are intersexed, that means that “we are clearly a multi-sexed species which has its sexuality spread along a vast fluid continuum where the elements called male and female are not discrete.” I have to say that I fundamentally disagree with her on several counts. The first being that one’s sex is not an “identity” but a biological fact. The second is that just because some people have both male and female sex characteristics, it does not make them necessarily an in-between sex. Sex is short for “reproductive sex.” Most intersexed individuals are sterile, but they still belong to one of two distinct groups that produce male or female gametes, regardless of how gendered their upbringing may be. Also, intersexed people typically suffer from other illnesses and disabilities that are directly related to that, so you can’t really define that as a separate sex, but more of a physical condition or disorder. Trans-activists frequently coopt intersex narratives in their attempt to chip away at biological facts and be accepted as the opposite sex, which is unfortunate since it is exploitative and fails to address the actual medical needs of people with these conditions.

Regardless of her feelings about intersex conditions or individual trans people, her arguments lead to this very important point: “Community built on androgynous identity will mean the end of transsexuality as we know it. Either the transsexual will be able to expand his/her sexuality into a fluid androgyny, or, as roles disappear, the phenomenon of transsexuality will disappear and that energy will be transformed into new modes of sexual identity and behavior.”

Andrea, that is very much my hope, too.

2nd Meeting

I have had a tough couple of weeks, so I have not been great about updating our website. On June 11th, I had the privilege of meeting with 4 radical women to talk about Andrea Dworkin’s Woman Hating.

We discussed how pervasive and normalized misogyny is. Our conversation also deeply into the learned feminine behaviors of passivity and victimhood and how women are taught through fiction to be “found” by men and once found and saved, they are expected to fawn over and serve men. We discussed at length our personal experiences of forced feminization and the reinforcement of beauty as “coin in the male realm.” We are further divided y competition for male attention, which becomes necessary when males have all of the resources.

I found it particularly powerful when we each described what our “feminist fairy tale happy ending would look like. I think it is really important to envision your end goal and ideal future so that you have something specific to work for.

We also talked about pornography and the harm it causes to women and society at large. The myth of the happy sex worker is used as justification for porn sick men to use and consume women, regardless of if they are being coerced by circumstance or by others in the porn industry to do things that they are uncomfortable with, or that are physically or mentally unhealthy.

We compared and contrasted Dworkin’s description of pornography in the 70’s with contemporary pornography. I think we mostly agreed that pornography is worse now because of the internet and the liberal feminist myth that pornography can be empowering to women. Porn sick men basically still have the same objectifying and demeaning fetishes, it is just easier to access videos and photographs depicting their fantasies.

Just the act of meeting with women and raising our consciousness together is a powerful act. I always look forward to the next meeting!

“Woman Hating” Study Guide

Questions to consider throughout:

  1. What is Dworkin’s thesis for each section/chapter (and the book as a whole). Do you agree or disagree with her theses? Why?
  2. Throughout Woman Hating, Dworkin sprinkles the text with expletives. Do you think this helps or hinders her writing? Is her writing style accessible? Why or why not? How might this affect how readers perceive her message? How might this be connected to her beliefs about punctuation and typography (as evidenced by the afterword)?

May 28 – June 11, 2017: Introduction, Parts 1 & 2

Introduction

  1. Multiple historical events and women are mentioned as they relate to feminism. Are there any in particular that you are unfamiliar with or would like to learn more about to gain additional context?
  2. Dworkin asserts that white and middle class women oppress other women of different classes and races. Do you feel that you have been/are complicit in that? Why or why not?

Part One: The Fairy Tales

  1. 1. Dworkin talks about women inhabiting certain “fairy tale roles.” Do you think that there are any “fairy tale roles” that others people perceive in you? Which ones? Why? Do you think that is accurate, why or why not?
  2.  The stories of Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty are all touched on. Has Dworkin’s analysis changed your perception of any of these stories? How?
  3. The “happy ending” for the fairy tale women is described as “passive, victimized, destroyed, or asleep.” If you were to rewrite the story for women, what would your real world happy ending look like?

 

Part Two: The Pornography

  1. Before reading any of this chapter, how do you feel about pornography? How do you think it affects women who participate in its production? How does it affect people who consume it?
  2. The description of the Story of O is very graphic and unsettling. Based on that, how do you think it measures in those terms against modern pornography?
  3. Dworkin alludes to the nature of choice. What do you think about women who “choose” to be sexually subjugated?
  4. What do you think about the religious symbolism? Is there any way religion has impacted how you were expected to perform (or not perform) sexually?
  5. In the description of The Image, Dworkin writes “The moral of the story is that Claire, by virtue of her gender, can only find happiness in the female/slave role.” what behaviors or roles have you been expected to be happy with due to gender?
  6. The relationship between women and men in our culture is characterized as “dual roles” (slave/master, oppressed/oppressor). How can/have you worked to change these relationship patterns in your own life? In what ways have you participated?
  7. Dworkin writes about the sin of narcississm, “a flaw which defines woman … and to atone for it a woman must consent to and participate in her own annihilation.” How do you interepret this in a modern sense? How do women annihilate their own bodies and minds?
  8. The “cunt photos” in Suck are described as superficial, and that is one of the reasons why Dworkin disagrees with their use. What else is wrong with pornography? Do you think there could ever be a time or place when women and their sexuality is not objectified by men? Would pornography be okay then? Why or why not?
  9. Dworkin draws some parallels between women and gay men, especially in terms of how they are expected to submit sexually. Do you agree with her analysis? Are there any examples you can give of misogyny coming from gay men?

June 11 – June 25, 2017: Parts 3 & 4, Afterword

Part Three: The Herstory

  1. Women who did not have their feet bound were considered un-marriable. Can you think of any other (gendered) cultural practices as physically or mentally crippling as foot binding?
  2. Mothers often perpetuate and enforce practices such as foot binding. Why do you think that is? What other practices, ancient or contemporary, do women continue to inflict on their daughters? Feel free to share any thoughts about your own mother or other women in your life who have enforced harmful expectations based on your sex.
  3. Dworkin describes phallocentric religious rituals and beliefs. How have they been passed down to modern religion as well as secular society?
  4. Men were said to be bewitched by women. How else have women been made to bear the fault of men’s problems and actions? How are women blamed for tricking men? Women are blamed both for men’s carnal desires as well as their lack thereof. How has this double standard historically contributed to the oppression of women?
  5. Witches practiced and taught ways to alleviate the physical and emotional suffering of other women. What practices or information can you (or we, as a group) pass along to reduce the suffering women experience under patriarchal and misogynistic systems?

Part Four: Androgyny

  1. “The separation of man from nature man placing himself over and above it, is directly responsible for the current ecological situation, which may lead to the extinction of many forms of life, including human life.” Feminism and ecological sustainability have many close ties. What important parallels do you see?
  2. Male supremacy is often described as the natural order of things. What arguments can be used to counter that idea?
  3. How does the belief that women are somehow nasty or evil currently perpetuate harmful stereotypes and social hierarchies?
  4. Many of the statistics and information regarding hermaphrodites and dual sex is often used as supporting arguments for transsexuality and inclusion of Male to Trans people in women’s spaces. Do you think that was Dworkin’s intention? What are your thoughts about that?

Afterword

  1. Please refer to the 2nd question about Dworkin’s writing style. Do you have any additional thoughts or questions about that?

First Meeting

I am very excited that we are going to have our first meeting of the Portland Radical Feminist Book Club this evening. We will be deciding on a mission statement and solidifying our group rules and guidelines. I still have some work to do on our reading guide for the first book (Woman Hating) and am in the process of ordering a few copies for the womyn who prefer to have it in print instead of the PDF. I believe that we should have four womyn (including myself) at this meeting, as one of our members is out sick today.

Update: Our first meeting was very productive! We hashed out our mission statement and guidelines as well as scheduling our next meeting. Thank you to the womyn who attended!