Tag Archives: feminism

Protecting girls

Andrew Tidball is somewhat of a New Zealand music personality. He DJs, he hosts a radio show on bFM, he runs local music site Cheese on Toast—he’s a guy that can help your band get famous.

I never really had my finger on the pulse of the music scene, so the first time I ever heard of Tidball was when I found out he had raped one of my friends.

Yesterday The Spinoff published an interview with four young women who were sexually abused by Tidball when they were teenagers, one of them when she was only twelve. Some of their stories I’d heard before, others were new.

I’m in awe of how courageous these women are, to publicly come out as survivors of his abuse. I’m also very grateful to them. I know there are probably other women who Tidball preyed on, who have chosen not to come out, because they know how often women are punished for standing up to abusers.

I’m also angry. I know that Tidball would not have been able to abuse multiple girls over a span of over a decade unless he had people around to enable him. There is no way that Tidball could have kept his abusive and predatory behavior a secret from everyone. I’m sure that people at bFM knew that he’d been accused of rape, but they continued to give him a platform up until yesterday, when his behavior became national news. I know that at least one prominent leftwing commentator was contacted by a woman who Tidball raped, and told her that she should go to the police with her “very serious allegations”.

In case anyone thinks that there is no connection between Tidball’s radio show or his website or the gigs he DJs, and his abuse of teenage girls, I will now point out that Tidball used his clout in the music scene, his knowledge of and access to the cool indie bands, to befriend alienated girls for whom music was a passion. He befriended these girls so that he could groom them for abuse. Tidball needs to be held accountable for what he did to these girls, and so does everyone else who made it possible for him to do so.

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It would be nice to pretend that Andrew Tidball is an exceptional predator, a man whose actions are repugnant to the society he lives in. But over and over and over again I see evidence that in New Zealand society, girls’ bodies do not belong to them, girls’ safety doesn’t matter, and girls aren’t really people. I’m thinking of Louise Nicholas and the other girls who were raped by police officers like Clint Rickards, Bob Schollum and Brad Shipton. I’m thinking of the girls who were raped and then publicly shamed by a gang of teenage boys who called themselves ‘roastbusters’. I’m thinking of the “prominent man” with name suppression who was found not guilty of sexually abusing two girls earlier today. I’m thinking of Rob Gilchrist, an undercover police officer who preyed on girls in the anarchist and animal rights movements. I’m thinking that he was enabled by both the police – who employed him – and by adult activists who should’ve known what he was doing but decided they’d rather not know.

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The same day I read about Andrew Tidball, I also read an article in the Guardian about Henderson High School deputy principal Cherith Telford who told female students not to wear short skirts, in order to “stop boys from getting ideas and create a good work environment for male staff”.

This school is teaching girls that it is their responsibility, not just to make sure that boys don’t see them as sexual objects, but also to make sure that their teachers – the adults who have power and authority over them – don’t see them as sexual objects. The school is teaching boys that if they see a girl as a sexual object rather than a person (who may or may not be sexual) that’s not their fault, it’s the girl’s fault. Worst of all the school is telling their male staff members, adults who are trusted to educate and protect children, that if they view girls as sexual objects, that’s the girls’ fault.

This is the kind of attitude that makes girls vulnerable to sexual predators like Andrew Tidball. This high school deputy principal is teaching girls that if they are abused it’s their own fault—essentially grooming girls for sexual abusers.

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I remember what it felt like to be 14 years old. I remember what it was like to be 14 and wear a short skirt. At that age I hated my body. I thought I was fat and ugly—I didn’t look like the models in Dolly or Girlfriend. Wearing a short skirt was a big deal, it took courage and it was part of the process of learning to accept my body. It never would’ve occurred to me that adult men would see me in my short skirt and see an object of sexual desire. It barely occurred to me that boys my own age would see me as desirable.

My mother tried to protect me. She had strict rules about what I could wear, where I could go, who I could talk to. Of course I ignored her. I wore outrageous grunge outfits made of op-shop lingerie, I went for evening walks alone in the Botanic Gardens, I chatted with random men I met on the street.

None of my mother’s rules protected me. They put me in more danger. They meant that when the older boy at the party fondled my breast, when the grocery-store owner put his arm around me and showed me the wine he had available (evidently he thought punk girls trade sexual favours for alcohol), or when the stranger on the street kissed my neck and whispered “I think you’re very sexy”, I blamed myself. Instead of getting angry at these men who violated my boundaries and my autonomy, who touched me without my consent, I got angry at me. I thought that by dressing the way I did I accidentally sent a message to these men that it was OK to touch me that way. I thought that I was the one who had done something wrong, and that what they did was alright.

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We need to protect girls. We need to protect girls by teaching boys that they are in control of their own actions, and will be held responsible for them. We need to protect girls by holding men accountable for abusing and preying on girls. We need to protect girls by refusing to give men who abuse and prey on girls any kind of power to continue abusing and preying on girls.

Most of all we need to protect girls by teaching them that their bodies belong to them, and that their sexuality belongs to them. We need to teach girls that it’s OK to wear short skirts, and it’s OK to walk alone at night, and it’s OK to flirt with boys, and it’s even OK to have sex if they want to have sex, and absolutely none of those things make it OK for anyone to sexually abuse them.

Anyone who teaches girls otherwise is part of the problem.

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The purple and the black

This article first appeared in imminent rebellion 13, and is based on a talk I gave at the Wellington Anarchist Bookfair in 2014. I’m republishing it here for International Working Women’s Day.

Anarchism is basically a movement against state power, but at its most powerful it is a movement against all forms of power and domination. Feminism is a movement for women’s liberation, but it is at its most powerful when it is a movement for liberation from all forms of domination. So bringing anarchism and feminism together is an obvious combination.

What feminism brings to anarchism is a move away from a narrow focus on class and state power, and an analysis of the ways oppression is gendered. What anarchism brings to feminism is a move away from trying to use the apparatus of the state to liberate women, and an analysis of how state power upholds patriarchy.

This means that we need to have an understanding of structural oppression and of the ways that people’s lives are shaped by economic and political circumstances. It also means understanding that people have agency, and that individuals will make the choices that are best for them, out of the limited options available. So we have to respect people’s autonomy.

Putting theory into practice

One example of this is sex work: this is an issue that has long divided the feminist movement. On one hand there are feminists who view sex workers as victims, who believe that no one would freely choose to work in the sex industry, and who support criminalisation of sex workers (for their own good). On the other hand there are feminists who think that sex work is liberating and empowering, because it allows women to make an income from their sexuality.

I think both these views are flawed. Having to exchange your labour for money isn’t liberating: it’s economic oppression. This is true for sex workers just as much as baristas, mechanics, nurses, librarians, editors, and anyone else who relies on selling their labour in order to stay alive. I know many sex workers who love their job. But even when you love your job there are days that you don’t want to work and you have to anyway, so that you can pay your rent. I also know sex workers who hate their job but continue to do it because it’s the best option available to them in a society that hasn’t given them a lot of options.

The important point here is that people’s choices aren’t made in a vacuum—they’re a response to circumstances. This doesn’t mean that you should disrespect their choices. It certainly doesn’t mean that you can liberate them by ignoring their choices and legislating for the state to force them to make the choices that you think they should be making. Women’s liberation will not be granted by the state and giving the state more power over women is dangerous. Laws that give police more power over women are dangerous. Think of all the women who have been raped by police officers, do we really want to give cops more power over any woman? The solution is not to give the state power over sex workers, it’s to give workers power, by supporting sex workers’ unions and organisations.

That’s one example of how we put anarcha-feminist theory into action. In fact, for the most part anarcha-feminism has existed more as practice than as theory. There isn’t a huge body of published work on anarcha-feminism, which in some ways I think is a shame. It’s mostly existed at a grassroots level of people organising on the ground, taking inspiration from a variety of feminist, anarchist, communist, and anti-colonial sources.

Anarchist feminist organising

At the turn of this century there were a lot of women anarchists in Wellington who were organising against free trade, against the war on terror and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, against coal mining in Happy Valley, against releasing genetically-modified organisms into the ecosystem, against low wages and exploitation of workers. What we found was that the groups we worked in were really sexist. This manifested in a bunch of ways. Sometimes it was subtle: men did most of the talking in meetings, men made the decisions, issues that affected women were ignored and weren’t seen as political issues. Other times it was overt: anarchist men who committed rape and relationship abuse were being defended by their comrades, and women who were raped and abused weren’t supported.

In response to that, we started up an anarcha-feminist group. Most of us didn’t know a lot about feminist history or theory. We were learning as we went. We spent a lot of our meetings talking about our own lives. We talked about experiences that we had in common and experiences that we didn’t have in common. Sharing our experiences with each other helped us connect the dots and understand the ways that our personal hardships were political in nature, and were caused by living in a patriarchal society.

When we started our group we decided that our meetings would only be open to women. At the time it was important to us to have a space without men, where we felt safe speaking our minds—and where we were allowed time to speak our minds without being talked over. In retrospect having women-only meetings wasn’t a good idea. It meant that we had to police who was and wasn’t welcome, which excluded a lot of people, especially trans women and genderqueer folks. It also meant that we had a tendency to homogenise women’s experiences and assume that we all had particular things in common. We often ended up ignoring the ways that racism, colonisation, class, heterosexism, transphobia and disability shape women’s lives.

When we started talking about what issues we should organise around, I think we made the mistake of taking a really narrow view of what constituted a feminist issue. We talked about rape, domestic violence, abortion, sexuality, diets, beauty standards—these are all really important issues and they’re often dismissed because they’re seen as ‘women’s issues’. But what I’ve come to realise is that every political issue is a feminist issue. Poverty is a feminist issue, war is a feminist issue, prisons are a feminist issue, colonialism is a feminist issue, benefit cuts are a feminist issue, workers’ rights are a feminist issue. Part of the reason that I’m not involved in a feminist group at the moment is that I don’t feel like I need to work in an explicitly feminist organisation: I bring my feminist practice to all the political work that I do.

In spite of our mistakes, all that fighting to make women heard did have an effect. The anarchist movement in Wellington has changed, there are more women active, there are more women being listened to, and issues that affect women are treated as political issues. This has alienated some men from anarchism—the ones that didn’t like their power being challenged.

Decolonising anarchism

Nowadays I see the same pattern being repeated. Anarchist activity is dominated by Pākehā. There’s a lot of racism, both explicit and implicit, to the point where a lot of Māori and other people of colour are fed up and don’t want anything to do with anarchism. A big part of that is that for some people anarchism has become synonymous with a kind of class-reductionist politics that ignores the relationship between class and sexism, racism, transphobia, disability and homophobia.

Pākehā anarchists have a tendency to be Eurocentric: they take ideas developed by people like Bakunin and Kropotkin in Europe and try to apply them to Aotearoa. These are useful ideas, but there is a different context here. The New Zealand state exists as a direct result of colonisation, and if we want to dismantle the state then we need to put decolonisation at the centre of our anarchist practice.

Don’t ban bossy, ban bosses

In the last couple of years feminism has made a comeback. Being a feminist is no longer taboo—Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé, Tina Fey, Sheryl Sandberg, National’s Jo Goodhew and NZ First’s Tracey Martin are all self-professed feminists. Being a feminist has been reduced to an individual identity and a brand, rather than a political movement and a set of ethics. Instead of mass grassroots organising we get viral Youtube videos and Facebook memes.

One of the most prominent—and grating—examples of this type of feminism is Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book and NGO. Lean in encourages women to achieve their goals by learning to overcome their fears and have confidence in themselves. This brand (and it literally is a brand) of feminism has no room for collective struggle or for recognising structural oppression. Instead of naming and abolishing the many barriers to women’s freedom, Lean In places the blame for women’s suffering on Women—we just need to overcome our fears and learn self-confidence. In this way, feminism is reduced to an individualist aspiration for individual success.

Lean In’s main contribution to the feminist movement is Ban Bossy. The campaign aims to encourage girls to take leadership positions by banning words like ‘bossy’ and ‘know-it-all’. There are countless reasons to criticise Ban Bossy. It fails to acknowledge the ways that girls’ experiences are shaped by class, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and assigned sex. It emphasises individual achievement over collective liberation. It assumes that the solution to sexism is putting more women in positions of power, instead of abolishing power inequality and constructing horizontal models of social organisation.

It’s also incredibly inane—functioning as an advertising campaign, not a social movement. It transforms women’s liberation into a commodity you purchase, rather than collectively fight for— like everything else in a capitalist economy. In fact the Ban Bossy online shop sells branded T-shirts, tote bags, mugs and even iPhone cases.

There’s nothing new about feminist ideas being co-opted and used to uphold capitalism. At best it’s brought us nothing, at worst it’s created the illusion that sexism no longer exists, because women can exploit the working class as efficiently as men. This is why it’s so important to articulate a feminist politics that aims for liberation from all oppression.

Smashing patriarchy on Teh Interwebz

New forms of media have made it easier to spread feminist and radical ideas. Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram allow people to share ideas, dialogue, and orchestrate mass activist campaigns without relying on conventional media to give them a platform. It’s been a double-edged sword. We risk having feminism reduced to a fad—a youth subculture defined by a love of cupcakes, winged eyeliner and Beyoncé instead of a political movement based on shared principles.

But the rise of online feminism has also meant that feminist ideas can flow from the periphery to the centre, or from periphery to periphery, without commercial publishers acting as gatekeepers. Some of the most useful and exciting feminist commentary is coming from bloggers like Budour Hassan in Palestine, Sara Salem in Egypt and Razan Ghazawi in Syria—and in a world where Arab women are consistently portrayed as passive victims of their own culture, these women’s voices are hella relevant. Likwise the group blog Tits and Sass provides a perspective on sex work from the people whose perspective matters the most—sex workers.

When Cece McDonald was incarcerated for defending herself and her friends from a racist and transphobic attacker, the website Support Cece featured updates from her support team and blog posts written by McDonald in prison. The website didn’t just build solidarity with a political prisoner—it also served to link her struggle with a broader struggle against racism, transmisogyny, and the prison-industrial-complex.

Here in Aotearoa Kim McBreen’s He Hōaka is an amazing resource on decolonisation, gender and sexuality. The group blog Mellow Yellow publishes feminist perspectives on racism and migrant identity. Capitalism Bad, Tree Pretty covers everything from labour struggles to rape culture to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I particularly recommend it for Maia’s articulate discussion of the politics of human bodies.

Tangles, assemblages and intersections

In 1989 Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term ‘intersectionality’ to illustrate that different types of oppression don’t exist in isolation, they intersect with each other.

Since then it’s become a bit of a feminist buzzword—people throw it around a lot, but don’t always stop to think about what it means in practice.

I actually don’t think that intersectionality is a very good model for understanding oppression, because it suggests that different types of oppression exist on separate axes that occasionally intersect. The reality is that they are deeply intertwined. Class is racialised, racism is gendered, and so on. Jasbir Puar suggests that we need to understand these as assemblages rather than intersections. I tend to think of them as entanglements: identities, experiences, material circumstances, interpersonal and structural oppressions get tangled together. If we want to undermine oppression, we have to start by mapping these tangles so we can understand the relationship between different types of oppression.

Where to from here?

What attracted me to anarcha-feminism as a teenager was this idea that all oppression is connected. Instead of arguing over which is more important, fighting capitalism or fighting sexism or fighting colonialism, we need to be fighting all of them simultaneously. That’s the theoretical basis of it anyway. In practice people don’t always do that. Feminists can be incredibly racist, transmisogynist and ableist. It’s important to acknowledge that. It’s important to listen to people when they challenge you on the way your political organising is throwing them under the bus. We can only get better if we’re willing to be honest about our fuck ups.

I’m trying to think of what I want for the future of anarcha-feminist organising: I think the most important thing is that we prioritise the needs of the people who have the least power in this society. All anarchists need to focus on decolonisation and fighting racism. We all need to organise in ways that are welcoming and inclusive to people who aren’t Pākehā—and not make it the responsibility of Māori and other people of colour. We need to prioritise making spaces safe for trans women and other trans people—without making it the responsibility of trans anarchists. We need to make feminist spaces accessible, to organise in ways that don’t disable people. And we need to do this everywhere all of the time.

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The radical left needs to be a safe space for women

The Hand Mirror, Anarchia and Capitalism Bad Tree Pretty have all published a statement about Omar Hamed and his repeated sexually predatory behaviour.

I know that lots of people are going to complain that making this information public is unfair to Omar, and that it damages the radical left. So first of all I want to respond to those criticisms. Making it public knowledge that Omar has a habit of ignoring (lack of) sexual consent and preying on women who are drunk is not about persecuting Omar, it’s about keeping other people safe. It’s about making sure that people can make their own decisions about what their boundaries are around Omar, whether or not they want to work with him, socialise with him, get drunk with him.

Making it public knowledge that a man who plays a prominent role in the radical left movement has a habit of ignoring (lack of) sexual consent and preying on women who are drunk doesn’t damage that movement. What damages the radical left is when sexual assault isn’t taken seriously, when survivors of abuse are blamed or discredited, and when people keep quiet about sexual assault because they think it will damage the ‘movement’ to talk about it.

So I want to say thank you to Maia and Asher for publishing the statement, I think it was a really brave thing to do.

And I want to reccommend some reading material too:

Asher has written a lot about people’s responses to the statement.

Grumblings and gravity writes about her own experience dealing with a close friend who was abusive to his partner, and about Omar as well.

Kim has also written about Omar, and about community based justice in He Hōaka, and her article on supporting survivors of abuse in imminent rebellion 9 should be compulsory reading for leftists.

Bamboo writes about the way the left has failed to deal with gendered abuse in both mellow yellow and imminent rebellion 11.

Finally, what I wrote about abusive relationships earlier this year is equally relevant to Omar’s behaviour and the way various left activists have responded.

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Uphold rape culture: become a cop

If you walk down K Rd in Auckland, towards Ponsonby Rd, you will see a mural depicting a man running away from two women police officers and the caption ‘do something extraordinary, become a cop’. The mural is part of a stencil art advertising campaign by M&C Saatchi, and it was painted by the street artist Otis Frizzell.

You may think it’s a little strange for the police to use street art to recruit new employees considering part of the job description is to arrest street artists. Apparently that’s the point. They are trying to appeal to ‘culturally aware and savvy young people’.

There’s also another sub-text here that isn’t mentioned by the Herald. Both the K Rd mural and the mural in Left Bank in Wellington show women cops. The message is very clear: if you are a woman then becoming a police officer is a way you can be strong and empowered. You can chase bad guys. You can protect children.

In the last decade the New Zealand police has been exposed as an institution that upholds rape culture. Cops have raped women in New Zealand. Other cops have protected their cop rapist mates. The police have a reputation for being a sexist institution and it’s not surprising they’re trying to address it with a fancy PR campaign.

But a fancy PR campaign doesn’t actually change an entrenched culture of sexism. Having women cops doesn’t equate to having feminist cops. It doesn’t mean those women cops aren’t upholding rape culture too.

A few weeks before the cop recruitment murals went up around the country, a few of my friends (for the purpose of anonymity we’ll call them Ms. Kaos, Ms. Calamity and Ms. Cannonball) were hanging out in an alleyway off K Rd drinking cider.

It wasn’t long before some cops showed up. In fact five whole units showed up to deal with three young women drinking quietly in a liquor ban area which makes you think those better work stories you get by joining the police force probably aren’t all that interesting.

One of the cops approached my friends. As chance would have it, she was one of the very same woman cops immortalised in Mr. Frizzell’s artwork. From Ms. Kaos’s account of events I gather the conversation went something like this:

Cop: What are you doing hanging out in this alleyway?

Kaos: What do you mean? Why shouldn’t I hang out in this alleyway?

Cop: Are you stupid? Do you know what could happen to you here?

Kaos: Tell me what you mean? What is it that could happen to me here?

Cop: You could be raped.

Now anyone who pays any attention to how sexual violence happens in our culture would be able to tell this cop that statistically Kaos is not very likely to be raped in the street with two of her friends around. She’s far more likely to be raped at home by her partner.

Which is beside the point, because I’m not about to say to a woman, ‘what are you doing being in a relationship with a man? Are you stupid? Don’t you know he might rape you?’ any more than I would say the same to a woman who is standing alone in a dark alleyway. Anyone with any feminist analysis of sexual violence understands that rape is always the rapist’s fault, not the survivor’s. Telling young women how to not get raped will not protect them from being raped. It just reinforces rape culture, it reinforces a culture where perpetrators of rape aren’t held accountable, because we think the person they raped is irresponsible for getting herself into a situation where she could be raped.

This reminds me of Michael Sanguinetti, the Canadian cop who famously told a group of students that women can avoid rape by not dressing like sluts, and unwittingly gave birth to Slutwalk.

It would be disingenuous of me to say that police officers should know better than to spout rape myths, because I don’t think that the police is an institution that can be reformed. I don’t think that feminists can work within the police to achieve feminist goals. I think giving any group of people the kind of power that cops have is bound to end with that power being abused. I’m an anarchist; I want to abolish the cops along with the state whose laws they uphold.

A hip new advertising campaign isn’t going to change that.

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One more news story to get outraged about

If you live in New Zealand you’ve probably read the article on Stuff yesterday about the British woman who is being deported because she left her abusive husband:

Timmons and her ex-husband, a plumber, and their two children arrived from London in 2007. He was granted a work permit and, in September 2008, lodged a residence application for the entire family under the skilled migrant category. Immigration New Zealand approved it in principle in February 2009.

The couple needed to send in their passports and a $1050 fee but Timmons left her husband before the process was completed. As a result, she and the children were illegal immigrants, and she was told she had to leave the country.

This news makes me think three things:

Thing one: Charmain Timmons’s appeal to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal was denied because there are ‘no exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian nature that would make it unjust or unduly harsh for the appellant to be removed’. This is one more example of how domestic violence and abuse is seen as a personal issue, not a political or humanitarian issue.

Thing two: Timmons has had a lot of public support from people who have power and influence in New Zealand, like MP Nathan Guy and Kapiti Coast District Mayor Jenny Rowan. This is a lot more support than most women in her position receive. Of course, Timmons is a White woman from an Anglophone Western country. Most women who are deported from New Zealand after leaving an abusive marriage are Women of Colour from Majority World countries. Most of the time their cases don’t even make it into the media. Which is not to say that Charmain Timmons doesn’t deserve all the support she can get but there are many other women who also deserve it. This case isn’t an exception, it’s more a norm.

Thing three: National borders and immigration laws are aimed at excluding people who are vulnerable and marginalised. Sexism is structural in nature and is upheld by the legal system. Patriarchy and the state reinforce each other. Not exactly a groundbreaking insight.

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Slutting around

I’ve been wanting to write something about Slutwalk for a while now, and putting it off because I have so many complex and conflicting ideas on it I think it’ll be a neverending rant.

There’s been a bunch of critiques of Slutwalk all over the interweb that have seriously resonated with me. Then there was this opinion piece, which reminded me why Slutwalk is actually really relevant:

‘But suddenly the women who had worn the dungarees – or perhaps the daughters of the women who had worn the dungarees – said they were still feminists, but that they were something called “new feminists”. This meant that they still wanted to be treated as equals by men, but that now they could wear very, very short skirts, and very, very low tops, and very, very high heels.’

Well let me clarify: I am not a ‘new’ feminist. I am the regular old fashioned kind of feminist. The kind that thinks women should have autonomy over our own bodies, and that this extends to choosing our own wardrobes. There is nothing new about the notion that feminism is a political stance, not a fashion statement.

‘It must be quite hard for [men] to tell the difference between the women who join “SlutWalks” and the ones who want to drink a lot of alcohol in nightclubs and maybe have sex with a stranger.’

There is a clusterfuck of sexist assumptions here. Starting with the assumption that women who wear revealing clothes do so because they want to have sex with strange men, moving on to the assumption that women who want to have sex with strange men are not feminists, and finishing back at the assumption that women who wear dungarees never want to have sex with strange men.

This is victim blaming rhetoric. The implication is that women who dress in ‘short skirts, low tops and high heels’ are doing so because they want sexual attention, and that because they want sexual attention they are inviting sexual harassment or assault.

This really pisses me off, because it reinforces the idea that women should have to choose: that we should have to choose between being virgins or whores, that we should have to choose between never saying yes to sex and never saying no, that we should have to choose between never getting laid and being raped, that we should have to choose between being appreciated for our intelligence and talent and being appreciated for how hot damn sexy we are.

I’m not willing to settle for these crappy choices. I want to have sex when I want, how I want, with who I want (when and how they want).

And I will fight like hell for everyone’s freedom to do the same. Because I’m a fucking feminist. Not a new feminist, just the regular old fashioned kind.

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An abusive relationship is a moving train

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways that revolutionaries address misogynist sexual and intimate abuse[1]. In the ten years that I’ve been involved in revolutionary activism I’ve seen so many instances of abuse perpetrated by men against women, particularly abuse within sexual relationships. Sometimes this abuse is subtle and hard to identify: a pattern of emotional and psychological manipulation and control. Sometimes it’s not subtle at all: I know women who have been severely beaten by their socialist or anarchist partners. I know socialist and anarchist men who have raped women.

All of these situations have been different, but I think the common thread is that every time a woman has been brave enough to come out as a survivor of abuse, to expose a man who abused her, there have been some fucked up responses from people around her. People who are revolutionary activists dedicated to building a society based on justice sometimes don’t see how the injustice of misogynist abuse fits into their political struggle, because maybe they don’t think that intimate relationships, and the abuse that can happen within them, are a political issue.

One thing that always strikes me is the emphasis people put on having a ‘neutral’ view of the situation. For example they might argue that there are two sides of the story, and that both the abuser and the survivor’s side of the story should be given equal weight. Or they might try to set up a police style investigation, where the person who was abused is expected to reveal all the awful details of everything she went through so that the rest of her community can judge whether what happened to her was really abuse. Often people will refer to the ‘allegations’ of abuse, and insist on referring to the perpetrator as an ‘alleged’ abuser.

I think this is a strange response, because anarchists (and other revolutionary leftists) don’t really take a ‘neutral’ approach to any other political issue. For example I haven’t heard any of my comrades refer to George W. Bush as an ‘alleged’ war criminal, or demand that we wait until he is given a fair trial before we pass any judgment on his imperialist invasions. I haven’t heard any of my comrades withhold solidarity with striking workers because they haven’t yet heard the boss’s side of the story. When Rebel Press published The day the raids came: Stories of survival and resistance to the state terror raids, no one thought to criticize us for not telling Annette King and Aaron Pascoe’s stories alongside the stories of the people the New Zealand state terrorized as part of Operation Eight.

Leftwing Revolutionaries don’t usually take a neutral position on political issues. This is because we recognize that you can’t be neutral on a moving train. Standing aside while somebody is being oppressed is allowing oppression to continue. If you don’t stand solid with the oppressed you are taking the side of the oppressor. This applies to imperialist Western states bombing majority world peoples, it applies to capitalists getting rich off the labour of workers, it applies to the state using force to repress activists, and it also applies to men, even revolutionary men, who abuse women.

Because an abusive relationship is a moving train.


[1] I’m talking specifically about men abusing women, because that’s the pattern I’ve seen recur. That’s not to suggest that intimate and sexual abuse is only ever perpetrated by men against women.

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