this week in Vancouver is the Urban Women’s Anti-Violence Week. six women’s groups, all of them engaged in working to end male violence against women, and advocating for systemic changes–and all of them with a, well, ‘history’ with each other–are collaborating to present a week of events calling attention to male violence against women, and demanding that the state, the cops, social services, and other institutions of power, as well as individual men–pay attention to feminist action, and take the lead of feminists to change shit.
it’s been lovely. you know how it is, eh, here in the women’s movement. sometimes we get all mean and picky with each other. We do the best we can, and we make a bunch of mistakes. Sometimes we give up, but keep trying to do the work of providing safe shelter and counseling and advocacy for women in crisis. and because we’ve given up, we can’t do that other stuff right. We forget who the REAL enemy is and get all demoralized and start blaming women. It happens.
Or we get all righteous about how one group is doing shit and we want to tell them they can’t do it that way, it’s ‘counter-revolutionary’ or something. Actually, usually it’s the radicals who are getting trashed, in my experience, and it’s for being TOO revolutionary, or “essentialist” or elitist or some such nonsense. anyhow. we get it from all sides. We get shit for being women in the first place. Then we organize to figure out a way to compost all that shit we’re getting (that’s a metaphor)–and then the state might give some of us money, but they attach all these conditions to it, and some of us think we can maintain our integrity if we take this money, so we do, and somehow, (sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly) the mandate of our work changes. So an agency that started out a couple of decades ago as a bunch of women trying to make a space for women, trying to offer a service just for women to help each other get it together, figure out how to live safe, maybe eventually FREE, even–over time, and with funding, and through a series of deft manipulations to get some grant money and maintain those contracts–that organization which began as a movement toward liberation–becomes a slender line–a ‘victim services line’ for example–a ‘service’– perhaps part of a ‘community’ — not a movement anymore, or even about women at all. Maybe now it’s about children–because children are so cute, you see, and innocent and utterly blameless (except of course for those children who have become bullies–). Women are trouble. We get grumpy and even downright crazy for about a week a month, and then when we go through ‘the change’–oh my god, watch out! and of course women can’t get along. get a bunch of women in a room, and you get a catfight within the time it takes to read this sentence. in fact, one just started right now. somewhere. i guess.
We are a people under siege. the first night of the Urban Women’s Anti-violence strategy was a consciousness-raising night, titled, “What’s Rape Got to Do With It?”. We got together in small groups and we answered some questions.
Do you wear makeup? What are your reasons for wearing make-up or not?
What was the worst act of violence against women you experienced, or that someone close to you experienced?
Do you remember a time when you were NOT afraid of rape? How old were you?
The answers and the conversations were stunning. Even the woman in our group who said, in answer to the first question, “Nothing bad ever happened to me” was compelled to explain, “my father was great, he never laid a hand on me. my parents always encouraged me to do anything we wanted.”
mmmm. Why immediately leap to the defense of The Father?
Even writing that, I want to say, “oh, but my dad was a good man, too”.
Most of them are good men. Really and truly.
All Men profit materially from male violence, though. All of them have more room in the world when women are afraid to go out in it.
Do you remember a time when you were not afraid of rape? how old were you?
None of us were yet teens by the time we understood about rape. All of us knew, from the time we were small children (5, 7, 8, –no older than 10), that rape was “something that happened” to women. Few of us could articulate, at the time, that it was something that men chose to do to women. Rape is a verb.
A maletofemale transsexual person came to the event, and participated in one of the groups. the terrain is not the same. The tools we acquire are not the same. The space we take up is not the same. He wanted us to say, “you don’t have our experience, leave us,” so he could fight us. But no one said that, and he was left with the presence of our difference. He was raised to understand that men are human and women are ‘other’. humans can be anything they want, have anything they want. others find each other and invent. He can’t invent, but only acquire, and he doesn’t know how to get this, because it comes from inside women’s shared experience*.
The last question we addressed was “what do you expect of the women’s movement”. We said, “we want to achieve freedom, we want the responsibility and space to live together with enough. Not too much, not too little. Love, nourishment, beauty–enough.”
there were men there, too, and they had different questions to answer. In a room packed full of people, perhaps five were men people. they talked together, about what i do not know. But the next night, one of them said, “It’s not difficult to offer practical, meaningful support to feminists. any trouble we might get in for standing up for women, and acting against sexism is nothing to what women face every day.” Something like that, he said.
i’m angry with men, and I’m afraid of them, of what they do to women. But i am sad for them, too. and i won’t give up on them, either. because I know I want to address and stop my racism, and figure out how the way i have been racialized gives me stuff i don’t deserve, and space i haven’t earned–at the expense of most of the rest of the world (especially, of course, my sisters). So i have to believe that the men who want to address their sexist privileges and behaviours want their own lives to change too. and that we all can.
it’s been a great week. difficult. hopeful. necessary.
*this line of thinking needs some room to grow, i think. There’s something going on in the world where there are so many more people willing to become “trans” and have their bodies and their body chemistries mutilated and manipulated. there is a big empty hole they are trying to fill, seems like to me. Frightening. plus enraging. dammit.