Now I’m on a train to Cornwall! Normally I do not like exclamation marks, I find them kind of shrill and demanding. But I’m all exclamatory these days – I’m far from home but returning as well. It really is the trip of a lifetime. As usual, I packed too much — too many books I’m not reading, too many activities I’m not pursuing (I packed my resistance bands, for example, and have barely used them. I am yearning for some gym time, though), too many projects I’ve barely approached (making the ol’ dissertation into a play – the conference was inspiring, but I’m still struggling with dialogue and character development). Also, I am bringing presents back to the colonies, I thought I’d left enough room, but turns out not to be the case. Oh well, I’ll give away some t-shirts.
Oh, look! The woman in the seat across from me just went off to get a coffee and asked me to look after her stuff. She’s even more spread out than I am, if you can imagine such a thing. I said, “of course” and she asked if I would like a coffee—I gave her some change (it’s still kind of ‘play money’ for me, which will surely be my undoing), and off she went. Everyone’s been so pleasant and friendly so far. Likely my pallor contributes to that. Also the slightly befuddled, yet earnest look. I always feel a bit apologetic when I travel. Usually that’s because I don’t speak the language. Don’t know what it is here –
Anyway. Back to “thinking differently”. Ah, she returned, then we had a lovely conversation, she’s a bit of an artist, bit of an anarchist, bit of this and that – we didn’t get into feminism – it’s a drag that I felt shy to talk about women’s resistance to male domination with a woman who is obviously concerned with inequality. But she said something about Jeremy Corbin being a great guy, and she was getting off soon, and she had gone and got a coffee for me….anyway, as she was leaving, we started talking about the harms of pornography, so I am hopeful. We exchanged email addresses too.
Okay. Really now! Thinking differently – Sheila said too, that we should be talking about “sex caste” or “sex class” rather than “gender”, because gender has become biological and essentialist. I’d add that it is both essentialist and meaningless – that no one knows what it means anymore, but perhaps it seems more polite than saying “sex”. Plus there is no way to provide a structural analysis unless you talk about the specific class or categories and their positions in relation to each other. Which gender essentialists refuse to do. It’s not more polite at all — the opposite. It’s dishonest.
“Identity”, Sheila finished with this, “is an invention of the United States” – There was far more questioning in the 1970s—questioning of sex roles, questioning of the status quo – we were more dangerous, it seems. Girls now, expected to conform to increasingly sexualized versions of what is considered a “natural” female, see no alternatives. Indeed, I’ve noticed for many years now, that we no longer tell each other our “coming out” stories. When absolutely everyone can be “queer”, there is less and less space for lesbian stories, lesbian existence. I went to dinner last night with Julia Long and Karla Mantilla, and we all did that, told each other our coming out stories – and the common thing between us was that all of us decided to become lesbians in the context of the women’s liberation movement. We were all connected, or beginning to become connected, to something greater than ourselves – not a community, but a movement, an uprising of women.
Oh my. The English countryside is so lovely, isn’t it? Look at those sheep grazing on the trim hillside, the quaint little 200-year-old farm house nestled there in the crook of the hill surrounded by slightly unruly shrubbery….
Okay, so then we went on to Lierre Keith, whose short, packed presentation addressed the question “what is gender”? She opened with a slide showing Marlo Thomas’ 1972 record Free to Be…You and Me which Lierre’s feminist mother got for her when she was a child and which lyrics she still remembers. “I was seven years old, and I went around to everyone in my elementary school and asked them, ‘are you for women’s lib?’”
She is still asking that question. She is still fighting for women’s liberation from men’s domination, often at great cost. She frequently receives death threats, “always from men on the left … It’s transgender men who threaten me with violence”. She talked about how gender is a hierarchy, which idea was new to me when I first heard her speak of it a couple of years ago, but which makes perfect sense to me. It’s a hierarchy that is based upon the sex caste into which we are born – as ‘race’ is a hierarchy, as economic/social class is a hierarchy. As Anita Sarkeesian said, “In the game of patriarchy, women are not the opposing team. They are the ball.”
“Gender,” said Lierre, “is a fist and the flesh it bruises” – she said a few other evocative and poetic phrases like that, but I didn’t write them down. It was all going so fast…
Lierre ended by saying by quoting Andrea Dworkin, “Feminism requires of women precisely what patriarchy forces out of us: Absolute courage in the face of men’s power”. I think I got that quote wrong, but close anyway. And Lierre advised us, feminists, to “match their contempt with our power”.
The first woman to comment after Lierre’s presentation did just that. Alerted to the presence of a contemptuous man tweeting furiously within the hall about “so-called” feminists, Kate loudly pointed him out. In her broad Scottish brogue she shouted to him, “How DARE you!” and said, “you called on us to confront their contempt with our power, and I’ve got an opportunity to do that–his name is Michael Ezra and he’s tweeting shite about us now”. He tried to protest, smirking awkwardly, but was, by and by, escorted out by the two women in yellow vests who were on security duty. Kate then offered an appreciation to the man in the audience who alerted her to this man’s tweets, for turning in his sexist brother. That IS “men’s work”, to refuse to collude or protect other men’s sexist behavior. Kind of easy, though, in a roomful of feminists. I hope our friend is as brave in the locker room or the pub with his mates.
Wow. We’re going past Teignmouth between red cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean. Tides out, there are a million little boats nestled by the docks, resting on the algaed sand (is “algaed” a word? Guess it is now). And the hillsides dotted with white-washed little cottages.
Speaking of security, I was surprised that there was no protest. Nothing. Not a whiff. I was a bit disappointed, to be honest. I was kinda looking forward to a bit of a tangle with the liberals—the transactivists and the non-binaries and the allies. Mind you, it was a pleasant Saturday, and perhaps they were more concerned with shopping and sunning. It was nice to have time with other people (almost all other women people, but some men, too) who were like minded, and/or curious in an open-hearted kind of way.
Right. That’s enough for now. Stephanie Davies-Arai was next, on the ‘transgendering’ of children – which is increasing exponentially. I’ll post more later. I have to change trains soon….