Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Family feminist blitzkrieg postponed

If I were to rate my feminist activity over the holiday I would give myself one thumb up. After all, I am biased. Mostly I found myself in the all-too-familiar position of "hanging out" while the women of the family organized and executed everything. I complimented them profusely and did some dishes. At one point I was told that I didn't need to do the dishes. I think that is a very interesting statement, in light of the fact that somebody does. But compliments are always well received. There seems to be something happening between the men and women in my family when it comes to meal preparation: if men really like the meal, this validates all the work women put into it. There are a lot of ways in which families kind of suck, quite frankly. That is why I sit by the fire and make myself keenly preoccupied with the dog.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Introducing a feminism for men

Industrial Worker

When we think about feminism amongst the working class, the people we usually think about are women. Feminism, after all, is understood as the struggle for the liberation of women in much the same way that industrial unionism is conceived in terms of the struggle for the liberation of the working class.

All too often, however, the role that working class men might play as feminists is not adequately defined. As Wobbly men, we might hold feminist values, but we may not know what to do with them in concrete terms. This is a frustrating experience for those of us who would like to establish real ties of solidarity to women's struggles, much like the ones we extend to other workers -- even when they are struggling under circumstances very different than our own.

Identifying our role as feminists can be less intuitive than knowing our role as unionists: as unionists, we experience class subjugation directly; but as men, our relationship to the subjugation of women is ambiguous. After all, there always exists the possibility that we are contributing to the problem, somehow, even in spite of ourselves.

Working class men should be reassured that this problem is not insurmountable. There is a necessary role for us within feminism; and what’s more, men have something to offer feminism that even women can’t provide. This is the perspective of someone who directly experiences patriarchy as a man, but who utilizes this awareness as a feminist.

Patriarchy is a big word and complicated affair. However, to afford us a familiar starting point from which to proceed, let us think about patriarchy as being not unlike the kind of hierarchy we know so well at work. At work, there is a boss that tells us what to do, enjoys privileges we don't, and who is free of responsibilities that we bear alone. Patriarchy, in other words, is a form of authority which assigns the role of “boss” to men.

Like bosses in the workplace, when a person occupies a formal position of authority over others, this doesn’t tell us everything about what kind of person they are, or what their first preferences might be. But like bosses who were promoted from the ranks of the working class by their employers, the role that patriarchy assigns to men isn’t something they choose. It is how their responsibilities are dictated by that system. But men don’t even “apply” for the job of patriarch; it is thrust upon them, and they often enjoy its benefits before they know what is going on, by the simple virtue of being “men.” Furthermore, most men don’t have the option to “quit” being men, strictly speaking -- as a manager might quit being a manager once he grasps the moral implications of class struggle.

If we think about men under patriarchy as being like managers who are forever condemned to be bosses until that system is destroyed, then the responsibilities appropriate for feminist men are easier to discern. Namely, it is incumbent upon us to actively resist our assigned role as “boss.” We can’t be neutral on this moving train -- and identifying as “feminist” is only the first step. Active resistance means anticipating what patriarchy is trying to accomplish and directing our actions accordingly -- namely, in solidarity with its intended victims. If patriarchy wants us to actively or passively endorse our boss-like authority or privileges, we need to identify what these are and reject them.

Much of the practical work of feminism for working class men begins at the individual level; it means examining our relationships with women in order to identify the ways in which our behavior might impact them like the behavior of a boss. For example, do we tell them what to do, enjoy privileges they don’t, or escape responsibilities that they bear alone? Once we start asking ourselves these questions in our relationships with women, we create the practical possibilities for modifying our behavior: we can reject the role patriarchy has assigned us as “men,” and create our own as individuals. But this takes quite a bit of work and introspection, as well as a readiness to hear the critical concerns of women as they are addressed to us.

In future installments, this column will address the relationship between feminism and the class struggle for men from a variety of perspectives; underscoring how this can contribute to the work of women feminists, and ultimately inform the feminist and class struggles at large. Specific strategies, including workplace organizing as a feminist activity, will receive special attention.

This initiative wants you to write for it so that the benefit of your direct experiences can be shared with others as they relate to the interwoven struggles of all of us within the working class.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Wages for Housework Campaign

Thanks to Nate for the links in the past post. One of the ones I really enjoyed was
Dorothy Sue Cobble, “‘A Spontaneous Loss of Enthusiasm’: Workplace Feminism and the Transformation of Women’s Service Jobs in the 1970s” which touches on an important feminist workplace campaign that was fought for in the 1970s: The Wages for Housework Campaign. This campign spelling out how housework and other caring work women do outside of the market produces the whole working class, thus the market economy, based on those workers, is built on women’s unwaged work.

American feminist Pat Mainardi pointed out in The Politics of Housework that even if it takes only one hour's work per day to attend to a person's domestic needs (a very low estimate), men who offload this work onto women gain seven hours per week, almost a whole working day. And women lose those hours. Working fathers gain leisure, earning-power, authority, status and choices, while stay-at-home mother had housework. This unfairness was no coincidence: the analysis of the "WfH Campaign", men's privileges existed because women d0 housework.

I think that this is an important campign to study, especially for the IWW. As far as I know, the IWW is one of the only union confederations that have a section for unwaged home-makers (antiquated term, sorry): The Household Service Workers I.U. 680. Of course, this section is inactive at the moment, but would be a amazing base point in developing a feminist unionism. "Wages for Housework" would be key to this union.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Back To The Future: Feminist Struggles Against Waged Work

I want to point out three suggested readings. Two are articles at the excellent Caring Labor blog, an article about the Canadian feminist union SORWUC, and an article by the historian Dorothy Sue Cobble about feminism and service-sector work. The third suggestion is the set of material in the "work" section of the online archive of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. Much of these articles deals with underappreciated and understudied aspects of the past. Specifically, these articles describe attempts at building powerful fighting organizations that confronted power in waged workplaces and which were informed by feminist values and women's concerns.

Ths material is worth reading for its own sake, for the way it speaks to current concerns with workplace organizing and with feminism. I've been writing a series of pieces on workplace organizing and feminism (the most recent piece is here and contains links to the rest of the pieces so far). Past experiences of this sort of struggle have lessons to teach us that we can and should use in the present.

It's also worth reading this material because we need a past. That is, we could use a sense of past feminist struggles on the job, as part of present feminist struggles on the job. I think many of us have inherited a limited understanding of feminism, of the possibilities of feminism. As part of this we've also inherited a partial understanding of the activities of actually existing feminists. This can shape our impulses in the present when it comes to activity. It's easy to feel like being a feminist means doing a few things and it's easy not to associate feminism with other activities - like workplace organizing and other attempts to build organizations of working class people who seek to exert power. This can lead feminists to neglect workplace organizing and lead workplace organizers to overlook the feminist components of their activity. A better grasp of the history of feminist struggles on the job and against waged work would help enrich our activities in the present and help us see various ways our organizing fits into a broader feminist agenda.

Social freedom

Ramblings of a Feminist:

Questions have arisen regarding the roles men should play in eliminating women’s oppression. Patriarchy is not solely a female problem. Patriarchy negatively affects both men and women in society. As a system of domination, patriarchy limits human potential -- advancement based on the subjugation of others is not progression at all; it’s simply a process that allows certain inequities to be addressed while ignoring others. With that said, men have a duty to address patriarchy in their personal lives and communities.

I would go on to say that men have a stake in creating free relationships with other people, if for no other reason than to finally experience freedom themselves. What happens between people should only be limited by what they choose, not by what society demands.

Much of my own motivation in this area comes from drawing a connection between how impoverished my life can sometimes feel, on one hand; and the arbitrary limitations placed on women, on the other. Those limitations affect me directly -- if differently than how they impact women.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tim Wise>>> The Difference Between Guilt and Responsibility

Tim Wise is probably one of the best speakers on white male privilege (and how to combat it as a white male) in America. The following is a clip from an October 6 speech in Detroit, for the Michigan Roundtable, in response to a question from the audience about so-called "white guilt" (Which I would argue is a right-wing talking point used to justify there own privilege and doing nothing about it):

The Difference Between Guilt and Responsibility – Video Clip 10/6/10

Monday, December 6, 2010

Recognize and record

Yesterday one colleague approached another: "Come here, [colleague's name]. Let this white man violate you!" He threw his arms around her and they laughed as though a good time were had by all.

Except by me. Afterward the woman asked, "Are you okay, [my name]?"

Friday, December 3, 2010

Anarchism vs. feminism?

reposted from ladypoverty


Cindy Milstein, at a recent event in Baltimore, described [feminism] in less negative terms. She said that the anarcho-adjectives symbolized not preference, but passion. That’s fine. If you are extra passionate about injustice related to gender oppression, more power to you. But I am not. I may identify more when I hear about the injustices and abuses faced by women, but I am not more passionate about doing something about those injustices than I am about injustices due to race or class or disability or anything else.

I would take it one step further than Cindy Milstein and suggest that "passions" are best informed by people's individual experiences; and, moreover, our circumstances are to a considerable extent not what we "choose."

People can be passionate about wanting to address every conceivable kind of oppression, and identify themselves in these terms; but in practice they will only have the kind of direct experience to speak, or act, in a leadership capacity on a few. As soon as we step out of what we experience on a daily basis and get drawn into circumstances which primarily affect others, we have to defer on some level to how they understand their own experiences.

We've certainly seen how the tendency to preference our own struggles can assume many illegitimate forms. But that doesn't mean it's inappropriate for middle-class white feminists, for example, to be committed to addressing the problems that they know best. It's inappropriate for them to be completely self-consumed; but it's also inappropriate for them to pretend to be something they're not.

In my view, the harmony between anarchism and feminism is implied insofar as anarchism concerns itself with authority, and feminism is aimed at authority in a particular form (that which subjugates women). People will use whatever terms or labels they like; particular women will distinguish their circumstances from others, etc.; but the principle remains the same.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Renewing the industrial union

This blog is fortunate to have several contributors who approach the issue of feminism from different perspectives. My co-contributors are seasoned Wobblies whose presence is felt within the larger organization in a variety of ways. In comparison, I am a newcomer with very little Wobbly "cred." And that's actually an awesome thing to be, because lots of people are in the same situation -- or else we want them to be as soon as possible!

There's a real advantage to be able to look at an organization like the IWW, which appeals to so many on the basis of its history, practices, and ideals; and give an unsloganed opinion about how well it functions in practice, at least for us. Newer members, who still haven't found their place in the organization, or who still haven't overcome the hurdle of making the sort of lasting commitment which defines veteran Wobs, can provide us with vital information about what the union looks like from their perspective. And that's important, because these people are the most important within the organization if we want it to grow.

If the IWW is going to grow as a popular organization it will have to defer in some ways to popular preferences. In many ways, it already does -- in its vision for a world without bosses, for example. What could be more popular than that? But in other ways, a sister Wob said it best when she recounted the description that other, non-Wob women organizers conveyed to her: to them, the IWW was male-dominated and "anachronistic."

If I'm honest with myself, almost nobody I know who isn't already well-versed in radical left history is going to understand the possible relevance of the IWW in their life -- not even with the benefit of someone like me as a family member, laying it out in 10-minute tutorials every time I see them; hammering the points in a blog everyday of my life; or otherwise attempting to patiently make the case. Of course, I'm open to the possibility that I am not the most effective salesperson, or that workers who self-identify as "professionals" and who never quite learned what a "union" is will require extra effort. The problem is that this is the situation that so many of us find ourselves in: if we don't have the skills to make the case to the average person, we need to develop them quick.

We need to turn to newcomers and outsiders for what they can teach us. If we aren't appealing to people effectively enough then we should be thinking about what we can do to change that. This has nothing to do with questioning our fundamental principles: our principles are among the few things that have consistently seen us through. But if our language or our practices or our general presentation to those who are more likely to identify as "consumers" than "workers" isn't viable, we have to think more about how a revolutionary industrial unionism can thrive in a culturally "post-industrial" age. To this end, feminism is an essential practice.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Many hands lighten the load

Ramblings of a Feminist:

I have been politically active for nearly a decade. Over the course of the years, I’ve been a member of several leftist organizations -- ranging from Leninist parties to groups structured around anarchist principles. Despite some fundamental differences in political ideology and strategy, the roles of women in these organizations remain eerily similar: women are reduced to tokenism. Women are largely underrepresented in leftist organizations -- a problem seldom addressed by male comrades. Even more problematic is that women who choose to participate in leftist groups often find themselves channeled into designated roles as “caretakers” or “poster girls.”

Because people tend to become preoccupied with their own struggles, it's not surprising that people with greater privilege also tend to shape collective action in their own image.

It's probably appropriate that straight white dudes like myself have always been preoccupied with a relation like class, for example, since the workplace is the one realm where we experience subjugation in a direct way. We experience this for ourselves, so we get very good at focusing on it as a result. It's not hard to see why we might even come to regard it as the prevailing relation which governs everything else: we don't experience "everything else" in a primary way.

In some ways, anarchism has given North American dudes like me the theoretical room to at least acknowledge the primacy of other struggles for other people, without taking away from what we know best. Subsequently, there is a lot of energy spent on acknowledging every conceivable category of oppression, or name-dropping a few big ones -- race! class! gender! -- as if to demonstrate that none are neglected.

And yet in practice we get a lot of the same outcomes, with progressive organizations reflecting the concerns of wonderful people like myself, while alienating our closest allies -- people who are in perfect agreement on problems of capitalism, the state, war, etc.; but who can't find a place to be honest with us about how our behavior impacts them. In consequence, they leave.

There are a few things that each of us can do well. Insofar as we find ways of working together, we can do many things well. It's not appropriate for anyone in particular to speak with theoretical authority on every kind of oppression, or for individuals to compete for this role. It's appropriate for people to think and act in response to the kinds of oppressions that face them, or that they are enjoined to perform. Our organizations would be a lot healthier if everyone focused on the relations that they know, let others do the same, and became comfortable moving between teacher/student roles rather than assigning these to a permanent hierarchy.

As men, we need to let go of the compulsion to be pedantic uber-activists, and let women bring to our organizations the kind of energy, perspective, and commitment that, by working together, might transform them from marginal entities into vibrant social groups that more people want to be a part of.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lessons of the patriarch

Older men, on the other hand, often serve as a reminder of what we are left with when we choose patriarchy instead of working towards a solidarity with women. Just to look at them is to break my heart. I usually get a good dose of this around the holidays.

One of the elder patriarchs in my extended family could be a very impressive person, all the more so in the twilight of his life. Why don't men understand that they will grow old, get sick, and die? This bastard hasn't lifted a finger in preparation. But his advancing years won't accommodate him like his partner always has. Now he feels cheated, having done everything he was "supposed" to do as a man; namely, to assert himself as such, and reap the benefits thereof!

I'm desperate for any male mentor who speaks from the advantage of a life lived in close proximity to death. What do I need to be doing now, while I can still choose? But most of these older men are stuck as if they still want to be boys. They can't even acknowledge where they are, except to complain.

It saddens me to say that many male elders exist for me as brilliant examples of what I must avoid at all costs! Of course, this is helpful in its own way; tragedies often are. Where some men bicker with others over petty, prideful things, I will have to practice simple humility. Where they are self-consumed, I'll have to be outwardly-engaged. And where they are estranged from their partners and loved ones, to say nothing of women in general, I know that I will want closeness.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Private lives

Many of the most interesting women I know are in their 80s and 90s, and I'm often comforted by the idea that in spite of all that was put on them as younger women they managed to keep what was necessary for themselves while discarding much of the rest. I hope this option will remain available for younger women today, who can seem profoundly insecure in comparison, no thanks I am sure to the degree of scrutiny attached to them at all times.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

When Diversity Is Power

When Diversity Is Power

I've been writing about workplace organizing, arguing that not all workplace organizing is not always a feminist and anti-racist activity but that it can be. So far I've been talking about this from the perspective of feminist and anti-racist values, talking about some things that we as feminists and anti-racists can and should think about with regard to workplace organizing. I have sometimes heard people say basically “if we don’t have a clear anti-racist and feminist agenda, we will not be able to organize!” I don’t think that’s actually true. There are racist and sexist organizations in the world and some of them are flourishing. We don’t hold our values primarily because they help us win campaigns. We’re committed to our feminist and anti-racist values because they are our values, because they’re right. In some cases, these values are in tension with building our organizations – sometimes it might be easier to pander to existing racism and sexism among people, not that we are willing to do that.

All of that said, I want to think about this in another direction. Some of the time, a feminist and anti-racist agenda really is a pressing need in order to win an organizing drive. Even if some people we're working with are not feminists or anti-racists, they still have short term interests that fit with an anti-racist and feminist agenda. This allows us greater opportunities to move that agenda. I’ve talked a bit about this before in relation to my experiences with a multi-racial group of hospital janitors. The janitors moved from being divided along racial and gender lines to having relationships of solidarity across those lines.

Those ties between people are a good thing, as I argued. They were also immediately important in that organizing - they weren't just morally good, if we hadn't prioritized building those relationships the boss would have stomped all over us.

What I mean is, in workplaces with diverse workplaces, we have only two options: find ways to build solidarity across divisions and be stronger, or be divided and weaker. In concrete terms, this means that in workplace organizing we need to have representative committees of workers. Whatever the demographics of the workplace, the committee has to represent that. If the committee doesn’t look like the workplace, the boss will use this.

Bosses tend to be very aware of divisions among workers, and often help maintain those divides. The boss will say – or get spies to say - “the union is just for white people” or some other group. If the organization is not representative – that is, if there’s some element of truth to what the boss says – then we will have a hard time countering this.

The need to build a representative committee can sometimes conflict with two impulses we might have. For one thing, people sometimes feel like white people can’t organize people of color, or men can’t organize women, and so on. I’ve talked about this before in earlier columns. There are important dynamics that we do want to be aware of, but we also have to organize our co-workers. Some of the time people hang back because of ideas about who can organize whom. That’s a problem and can lead to less representative committee. Aside from that, we often have an impulse to trust workers. Of course we should do that, but at the same time we have push them and we can’t just take what they say at face value. As we all know, the working class is divided. People often don’t have strong relationships beyond their social circles. People may not realize this clearly, but once organizing starts many people are hesitant to reach beyond their immediate social circles. We have to push people to do this, and we have to be systematic about it. Otherwise, the committee risks looking like (or worse, actually being) a clique.

The more diverse a workplace is, the more pressing it is that we build organizations that bridge the various groups in that workplace. In these instances, feminist and anti-racist values are often build directly into workplace organizing. We have to overcome divisions or the organizing is doomed.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Countering sexism in the workplace

There are several women at my job who are regularly subjected to what I would call sexual harassment; one of whom has complained to me in the same terms. In none of these cases do the women involved appear prepared to pursue any legal, or even administrative recourse (e.g. physical separation from offending individuals, which could be accomplished routinely), and maintain their working relationships as normal.

I don't want to tolerate sexual harassment or sexism in general in my workplace, so I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to call my coworkers on it without precipitating administrative action that my female colleagues aren't prepared for; but even this means intervening in relationships that aren't strictly mine to address. There's certainly justification in addressing that portion of the behavior which affects me now, but a long-term strategy might be better served by a coordinated approach between mutually concerned colleagues.

Anyone with any insights or advice into these kinds of problems is encouraged to share them below.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Speak Gently, Speak Firmly, Speak to be Heard

It's Not Enough to be Right: Speak Gently, Speak Firmly, Speak to be Heard

I've been writing a pieces on workplace organizing as a feminist and anti-racist activity. It's not always this kind of activity, but it can be. Feminists and anti-racists should think about ways in which organizing on the job is a part of struggling against oppression. All of these pieces are rough drafts; this piece is even less finished than the others. Comments are definitely welcome, especially comments that help me extend and flesh out the main points. In this piece I talk about another way that workplace organizing speaks to the feminist and anti-racist values that many of us hold. This in particular is connected with dealing with problematic behaviors among people we are organizing with -- the working class is full of contradictions and working class people often have problematic behavior. In our organizing we have to be ready to deal with these problems in ways that are constructive. Otherwise we don't actually address those contradictions.

As I’ve discussed before, one of the formative experiences I had early on was involvement in Take Back The Night. The group I was part of had many women and queer leaders. Growing up where, when, and how I did I had some baggage – some attitudes and behaviors and some ignorance – that I’m not proud of. Through my involvement in Take Back The Night I met some amazing people who impressed me very much. I’m lucky that these people responded to my baggage the way they did. They didn’t let me off the hook for anything, but they also didn’t attack me. I don’t know what they thought but I’d like to think that they called me out while also keeping me involved, because they saw me as having some potential.

The reason I raise all this is that I want to talk about calling people out. I’ve often heard people say things like “We have no tolerance for this sort of thing!” and so on when it comes to problem behavior. In my experience this kind of thing comes up a lot in particular with feminist men and anti-racist white people. I’m for this – people should be called out for their problematic behavior, we should not find racist and sexist behavior acceptable. At the same time, I think the way we call people out and the reason why we do so matters very much.
Sometimes people call others out for problem behavior in a self-righteous way. Some of the time we call people out in front of others in a way that embarrasses them, and/or provokes a fairly public confrontation. That can be important sometimes – particularly if a person has repeatedly done something and a group needs to communicate its disapproval to a person, or if one person is encouraging problematic behavior in others. In my opinion, we should have a series of escalating steps in how we talk with people about problem behaviors, just as we have escalation steps in the actions we take in organizing. In any case, when we act in response to problematic behavior, we should be deliberate – at least ideally so, sometimes we just can’t take it and have to say something.

Along with that, there are conditions that are more conducive to being effective in calling people out. People listen better to people they trust and respect and who trust and respect them. In my view, unless we’re already a leader in some environment (and even if we are), we build this respect and trust over time by organizing with people. My point here is that some of the time we can be right about an issue but communicate our rightness in ineffective or even counter-productive ways. It’s not enough to just say something, to absolve ourselves of responsibility for a messy situation by raising our voices. We should try to say something in a way that people will actually hear and respond to.

I am in part arguing for a level of patience here. I mentioned earlier that sometimes people take an attitude of “we don’t tolerate this behavior!” It is important that problematic behaviors are unacceptable, but we should also make decisions about certain behaviors. We can let some things slide temporarily in some circumstances if doing so sets us to more effectively address these things later. That said, with some behaviors we have to respond quickly and our responses stop being about the good of person doing the behavior (or that becomes a much lower priority compared to all our other priorities). In all of this again it’s key to be deliberate and to be clear: are we trying to move someone? Are we trying/willing to remove someone from our networks? There’s a place for both. If we’ve tried to talk to someone – really tried, by trying to say things in away that they can actually hear – and their behavior persists and become destructive, then sometimes a person just has to go. That should always and only be a last resort. Short of that, and in order to be sure that our stronger actions are warranted, we have to always work so that when we talk to someone a problem we talk in a way that they have the best chance to really hear us.

Confidence for feminist men

S.R., an Iraqi living in the United States; Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology:

[M]y yearning for freedom is my own instinct. I do not need to be rescued by anyone, whether their underlying motive is driven by oil or feminism. As such, I have only one unequivocal demand of all "liberators": Leave me alone. The only solidarity I am interested in seeing is the kind that throws a wrench in the war machine which occupies my homeland. That is the most I expect of an American or British citizen. Otherwise, please spare me your lectures on how oppressive you think my hijab is, or how I should follow your lead in fighting patriarchy, or how I should work for achieving democracy in my country. And for your own horizon's sake, do read the history of Iraqi women's contributions to civilization. You may end up finding yourself inspired to follow our example.

What men understand best about patriarchy is what comes out of their own experience of it. That's not the same thing as what comes out of women's experience of it. These are two different things, and we have to focus on the one that we experience directly if we want to be effective as feminists.

Feminism isn't about having any special insight into women's experiences, or knowing lots of theory as it has been articulated by women. Men have their own experiences, and so need their own theory, and their own language to communicate it. Men and women have to do their own work, in some ways independently, at the same time that they are trying to work together.

If there is one criticism women have about male feminists, it is probably that they busy themselves too much with women's affairs, while busying themselves too little with their own. We need to busy ourselves with our own affairs, referencing the ways in which they relate to the struggles of others.

As the solidarity principle shows, the struggles of others can be our struggles, too. As a modality of power, patriarchy affords men a very narrow script by which they are permitted to dominate and subordinate women. But to accept that script is to be immediately confined by it. Even if you are "into" domination and subordination, a consensual model would offer a lot more possibilities!

My experience of patriarchy feels like something imposed on me in exchange for a predictable set of relations, ostensibly for my benefit. Culturally, women seem to be in a perpetual state of undress, for example. Patriarchy presumes I want this, or tells me I should. But does patriarchy let me set the terms by which this occurs? No: it beats me over the head with it constantly, to the point where I can't watch TV or have much commercial exposure to anything. It doesn't respect my relationships with my partner, my friends, or my family. As a man, I want the freedom to determine what my relations with women will be, but patriarchy doesn't allow this.

It is the stupidity of the patriarchal mindset not to see that what patriarchy can't permit, free individuals can. Whatever men think they get out of patriarchy, they are blind to how much more they could get out of feminism. This is one of the reasons why I have confidence in my efforts to promote feminism as a man.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Membership drive

Hey, dude!

Wouldn't you like to:

a) become a Wobbly


b) contribute to this blog?

Just think: you'll be able to talk all you want about girls. OMG!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Notes on movement

bell hooks, via Anarcho-feminist:

A collective door-to-door effort to spread the message of feminism is needed for the movement to begin anew, to start again with the basic premise that feminist politics is necessarily radical. And since that which is radical is often pushed underground in our setting then we must do everything we can to bring feminism above ground to spread the word. Because feminism is a movement to end sexism and sexist domination and oppression, a struggle that includes efforts to end gender discrimination and create equality, it is fundamentally a radical movement.

If feminism as a movement is going to advance in step with all women, whatever exclusionary tendencies exist shouldn't be accepted as feminist. A solidarity with women will embrace the concerns of women, whatever they may be. Middle-class concerns aren't illegitimate insofar as they can be reconciled with the needs of poor people, for example. Only in the event of an irreconcilable conflict should we ever have to "choose" between competing advocacies for women, and justification for it should be shown.

Because I believe it is important to articulate what is persuasive about feminism with as little a priori baggage as possible, I don't take from hooks the idea that feminists should present themselves to society as radicals. "Radicalism" usually begins with limited appeal amongst parts of the left, and too often concludes by becoming more insulated from society than engaged with it. I believe she is saying: the content will be radical, as compared with that content which presently prevails. But the point is, we have to engage society, and to do that effectively we have to communicate in ways that announce our similarities, not catalog our differences.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Courtship for Wobblies

New York Times:

France crystallizes the paradox facing many women across the developed world in the early 21st century: They have more say over their sexuality (in France birth control and abortion are legal and subsidized), they have overtaken men in education and are catching up in the labor market, but few make it to the top of business or politics.

We have to ask the same thing about those organizations we call our own. There should be a meaningful difference between what "business and politics" has to offer women and what a practice of solidarity does. If what women experience as patriarchy is more or less the same everywhere they go, this is a terrible indictment of what we are doing -- or not doing -- within nominally "progressive" organizations. Unless working women want to associate with us, we aren't doing nearly enough.

One of the reasons I feel so adamant about this is because social advocacy inevitably fails without women. In fact, nothing "social" succeeds without them, for the simple reason that they comprise the majority of the world's peoples. To the degree that our organizations are marginal or ineffective, I believe a large part of this owes to a failure to make them at all attractive to women. Without women, social advocacy too often turns into some dudes arguing over dumb stuff nobody but those particular dudes care about.

Making our organizations attractive to women doesn't necessarily mean trying to impress them with dudely accomplishments or dudely intelligence. The whole point is to tone down all these dudely impulses -- big time. Even if men have the technical know-how and women are newcomers, as men we really need to make things about how we can welcome people into an unfamiliar setting, not broadcast the fact that we have the advantage.

Most of us at some point learned how to engage the women who interest us, if only on an interpersonal level. And yet somehow this is completely lost on us at an organizational level. It must be one of the identifying traits of patriarchy that we learn to extend a level of consideration to certain women, but not to every woman. By the standards of patriarchy, this amounts to showing a modicum of decency to the women we really like, and not much to anyone else.

So let us review some of the basics of going on a first date, and consider how they can be applied within our organizations. First, don't talk about yourself all the time, or only the things you care about all the time; in fact, try not to talk so much. Let other people speak, and actually take an interest in what they are telling you. Just because they haven't read Marx or Proudhon doesn't mean they can't communicate the fact that they don't want to talk about Marx or Proudhon. If all we take from somebody is that they haven't read Marx or Proudhon, we may miss out on the fact that they don't particularly care that they haven't. If we want to appeal to people, we have to respect their preferences, not immediately insist on our own.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Liberal feminism vs. independence for women

bell hooks, via caring labor:

Masses of women feel angry because they were encouraged by feminist thinking to believe they would find liberation in the workforce. Mostly they have found that they work long hours at home and long hours at the job. Even before feminist movement encouraged women to feel positive about working outside the home, the needs of a depressed economy were already sanctioning this shift. If contemporary feminist movement had never taken place masses of women would still have entered the workforce, but it is unlikely that we would have the rights we have, had feminists not challenged gender discrimination. Women are wrong to “blame” feminism for making it so they have to work, which is what many women think. The truth remains that consumer capitalism was the force leading more women into the workforce. Given the depressed economy white middle-class families would be unable to sustain their class status and their lifestyles if women who had once dreamed solely of working as housewives had not chosen to work outside the home.

Here hooks offers an account of liberal feminism, in which women's rights are pronounced to be "equal" to men's.

Two problems arise from the liberal formula. One is that women aren't the same as men; for example, men don't require any "rights" relating to pregnancy. For a woman to have the same rights as a man, in this regard, is not to have any rights at all: such rights aren't relevant for men. Women are subsequently penalized in the workplace for being people who carry and deliver children, because men are the employees that don't.

The second problem in asserting "equal rights" with men is that men themselves don't enjoy equal rights! If being dependent on a husband for her economic security was the plight of the domestic housewife, being dependent on an employer for his economic security has been the plight of most men. As hooks suggests, liberal values are those values arising out of the direct subordination of human beings to capital, taking for granted its "progressive" effects. It is little wonder that US women are angry about its feminist pretensions.

Feminism might be better defined simply as "independence for women," not "equality with men." Independence for women implies a personal right to economic security as the basis for free association with others, rather than limiting itself only to that which is deemed suitable for men.

See also ladypoverty

Friday, November 5, 2010

Organizing to Break Down Divisions and Build Up Leaders

Organizing to Break Down Divisions and Build Up Leaders

I've been discussing workplace organizing in relationship to feminism and
anti-racism, laying out some ways that we can see workplace organizing as a feminist and anti-racist activity.

One of my first organizing experiences was with a group of janitors at a hospital. This was a diverse group of workers, and they were divided every which way. The black janitors didn't like or trust the Latino janitors, they often had racist views about them and many the Latinos had the same about the blacks. Many of the black janitors also had bad ideas about immigration. They also all thought the Latinos were too scared to organize. Here too the Latinos had the same views about the black janitors. The men tended to be sexist and they all thought the women were too scared to stand up.

Ultimately we built a strong committee of janitors who became a leading force in the hospital organizing, we broke down the divisions between racial groups. The janitors became the most militant unit in the hospital, driving out abusive supervisors, gathering information on other units, and beginning to talk to other low-waged hospital workers (like the cafeteria workers, the transporter,s and the CNAs) who they knew because the janitors worked all over the hospital and so had contact across hospital floors and job classes. I don't know that we eliminated racist views, I can't say either way. It's not like everyone became best friends but we definitely eroded them enough that people worked together and started to build relationships of solidarity. When people fight alongside each other, they often develop bonds of trust and respect. When workers organize beyond divisions in the working class, those divisions are weakened.

From there we had to deal with how to help the janitor unit work with the more highly paid and whiter units - the nurses are the key to hospitals and to hospital organizing. That also meant getting the nurses to treat the janitors with more respect and set aside some baggage. None of this was easy but I think we were successful in easing those divisions among the workers. I think this offers examples of another way we can see workplace organizing as a feminist and anti-racist activity.

We also helped build up some women and people of color into serious, capable leaders who men and white people took seriously (as in, the white workers were led by them). Leadership development is another way that workplace organizing can be very powerful as a feminist and anti-racist activity, in two wagys. First, women and people of color who become skilled leaders and organizers have the potential to organize to further put sexism and racism away, so activating people like this has important possibilities. Second, building up women and people of color as leaders in multi-racial and mixed gender environments is good for making more feminist men and anti-racist white people. It's good for white people and men to have people of color and women as their leaders. I mean their real leaders, leadership in a social sense, people who are respected and capable who set the agenda. I can say for myself, at a young age I was part of a Take Back The Night group for several years, led by some smart, serious, capable women. Having women leaders and mentors at a young age really forced me to deal with some major baggage. Those women's skillled leadership made me a more capable radical, a feminist, and a better person.

As I argued before, workplace organizing is a feminist and anti-racist activity when women and people of color organize at work against the power structures they face. Two other ways organizing can be a feminist and anti-racist activity is by breaking down gender and racial divisions among workers and through leadership development. Developing and mentoring women and people of colors as leaders and organizers creates a larger pool of people to organize. Having women and people of color as leaders also helps men and white people to unlearn baggage from our sexist and racist society.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Class consciousness

Noel Ignatiev, A New Notion:

The task of revolutionaries is not to organize the workers but to organize themselves -- to discover those patterns of activity and forms of organization that have sprung up out of the struggle and that embody the new society, and to help them grow stronger, more confident, and more conscious of their direction.

In his excellent discussion, Nate has a specific conception of "organizing" which is common to all Wobs. I believe the spirit of it is captured above.

Of course, if somebody starts with the idea that "organizing" means presuming some authority to tell others what to do, then arriving at the conclusion that "men shouldn't organize women" is very appropriate! I imagine many people unfamiliar with the mission of the Industrial Workers of the World could reasonably take this view.

For me, organizers are people who are able to plug the daily concerns of the people they know into a bigger picture, helping to bring clarity to their choices. Many of us feel overwhelmed with obligations, particularly at work, but don't know what to do. IWW organizers bring with them a sympathetic perspective -- you shouldn't feel overwhelmed, or under compensated, at work -- and a commitment to support worker preferences that are tied to shared goals.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Who can organize?

Who can organize?

I wrote before about workplace organizing as a way to oppose sexism and racism (not the only way, but one important way which should not be discounted). I want to talk about something related to this. I’ve often been in or overheard conversations about organizing where people start to talk about who can organize whom, or who can organize with whom. This doesn’t just apply to organizing waged workplaces. (Just so we’re clear, I don’t think all workplaces are waged, but I use “workplace” as a shorthand for “waged workplace.)

Many times I’ve heard people say things like “white people can’t organize people of color” and “men can’t organize women.” This is false. White people can and do organize people of color, and men can and do organize women. Paid organizers for various unions and other organizations regularly demonstrate this. In a sense, the growth of churches demonstrates this. We could also look to the role of white organizers in the civil rights movement in the United States.

Someone might respond, “sure, but the point is not really that white people can’t organize people of color and men can’t organize women. The point is that they shouldn’t, at least not if the goal is to oppose racism and sexism.” That’s also false. Consider John Brown, the famous abolitionist. He and his compatriots organized a group of white people and people of color in a blow against white supremacy. John Brown being white does not mean that the actions of his group did not undermine racism.

I’ll use medicine as an example to put this another way. A white man who needs medical care would have an interest in seeing a female doctor of color. Similarly, a woman of color may well have a genuine interest in seeing a white male doctor. As a parallel, a woman could organize a group of male workers. A person of color could organize a
group of white workers. In both cases, there may be difficulties that arise due to sexist and racist attitudes on the part of the workers. On the other hand, if the organizer is successful these workers would recognize why it was in their interests to listen to the organizer. Likewise, a group of women workers might recognize that they have an interest in listening to a male organizer. Workers of color might recognize that they have an interest in listening to a white organizer.
My point is that we should not assume that a male organizer interacting with women workers will always and only replicate male dominance, or that a white organizer interacting with workers of color will always and only replicate white supremacy. To say otherwise means that the women and people of color who interact with male and white organizers are dupes or fools who don’t know their own interests. As long as the white or male organizer is playing a useful role in women workers and workers of color coming together to have more control over their lives, the organizer is doing the right thing.

All of that said, there’s an important element to the view that white people and men can’t organize people of color and women. I imagine (I hope!) that the parallel I drew to doctors a moment ago set off some alarm bells in some people’s heads. If men and white people are calling the shots, then there’s an aspect of liberation which is not being accomplished. This does not mean that whatever a woman or a person of color thinks is right. To say that would be patronizing. Often the most experienced organizer is likely to have the best sense of how to proceed. (Often, but not always.) Imagine a white male organizer who helped a group of women workers of color get fired because he wanted to listen to everyone’s views and did not push the workers to organize in the best way he could think of. That is not at all a useful example of feminist and anti-racist activity. My point here is that in our organizing we have to prioritize turning workers into organizers. The organizer’s role is to make him- or herself unnecessary. (On this point, let me recommend the column “Replace Yourself” by J. Pierce, which appeared in the Workers Power column of the Industrial Worker newspaper.)

The need for organizers to replace themselves by turning workers into organizers is a key piece of organizing in a feminist and anti-racist fashion, not only in terms of the role of men and white people in relation to women and of people of color, but also among women organizers and organizers of color. History is full of examples of people from oppressed groups who rise to a leadership position then use that position in a way which benefits the leaders more than everyone else. (This is part of how colonialism works: a local elite helps the outside power maintain dominance, in exchange for privileges and benefits.)

A man who organizes women workers in such a way that develops as many of those workers as possible into organizers is not a problem. The same goes for a white person who does the same with workers of color. I’m not saying that there can’t be any problems. Problems may well arise due to our socialization in a sexist and racist society. My point is that a man organizing women workers or a white person organizing workers of color does not always have to be a problem or to only be a problem.

There is one other important element to this issue of who can or should organize whom. As I said before, the key point is that the organizing is about the workers coming together to improve their lives. This means having more control on the job. It also means having more control in the organization. They need to be developed as full participants and leaders within a democratic union. Organizers should primarily focus on winning fights against the boss and cultivating workers into becoming organizers. At the same time, organizers need to cultivate workers into having full ownership of the larger organization, to the degree that all members should have that.

After the initial fights are won on the job, the workers need to be oriented and trained into the larger organization so they can understand and navigate its formal structures and procedures. The organizer should be deliberate about helping the workers build more relationships with people around the organization, so the workers can understand and navigate the informal structures and networks of relationships which are a key part of the organization. All organizers should do this with all workers but this is especially important with women workers and workers of color when they are not already in the majority within the larger organization.

In my opinion, people with organizing skills and experience have a moral duty to organize with others to help them improve their lives collectively. Even more so, experienced and skilled organizers have a duty to cultivate other organizers and pass on their skills and experiences so that more organizing and struggle takes place. With that in mind, the idea that whites should only organize whites or men should only organize men could boil down to the suggestion that white organizers and male organizers should keep the skills their organizing skills and experiences to themselves. That is clearly a bad idea.

The idea that white people and men can’t or shouldn’t organize people of color and women is false. The anti-racist and feminist values behind it as well as are values everyone should take seriously and the suspicions it expresses are healthy ones. These values and suspicions should make us organize more and make us careful to organize well.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Boys chasing girls

If only you were a male-identified Wobbly, you could write admiringly about women in these pages, too!

Where else do men have the opportunity to speak honestly about their relationships with women; and, moreover, to do so in revolutionary terms?

Consider my topic for today: Older men chasing younger women.

You see, the older man knows very well one way to relate to women, but has never taken the time to develop others. If he is retired and meets a college student, he wants to relate to her as when he was a college student. While his body has advanced with time, the rest remains stationary.

Our friend the older man has accepted certain social norms without ever asking himself if he deserves more.

Whatever his money, the richest man will have more than one thing to give another person, and more roles to play than the expected. The patriarchal ideal is bankrupt to him: the perennial skirt-chaser is cliché for a reason.

Any of us can end up like this older man if we don't build on our relations with women right now. We already know how to be one way; the way that is endorsed by power -- to take women seriously insofar as the social benefits accrue to us, as with status through sex. Within an organization, this is sometimes seen in the pairing of individuals romantically until the relationship ends -- and with it a woman's connection to both. How many women do we know who are no longer active in our work because they broke up with a boyfriend? We should be talking to them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Down with dudes

I've always avoided large groups of dudes. One of the problems with entering into a state of divine dudely isolation, however, is that you never really pick up the art of talking to dudes. This is great when you don't want to talk to them; for example, I never felt bad about not talking to a dude. I've gone years without talking to them, in fact, even within my own family. But it's bad when you need to talk to them; when you want to appeal to their better dude. I don't know how to do this -- certainly not with some random dude.

For most of my life this was ideal: I could bypass the problem of dudes. Now it kind of sucks, because I bear responsibility for that which is "dude." I really don't want to learn the language of sports if I don't have to. But dudes are too fast and loose with the things they say about women; they ambush you in the middle of an aboveboard chat. If I could draw a sports analogy right quick maybe I could make some salient point about the ladies to an audience of dudes.

The only role model I have when it comes to negotiating with dudes is As'ad AbuKhalil -- the Angry Arab. His solution is to yell at dudes whenever they act unbecoming of a dude. I'll be honest: I don't know if I am that brave of a dude. It turns out that dudes can be your colleagues; a dude can be your boss. A dude could be just some swivel-headed dude on the street, slack-jawed after every passing non-dude. Yelling doesn't really work for me; I'd rather not announce myself, and prefer to plot and scheme.

The best thing about confronting patriarchy is the hope that someday you'll know how to be just one dude, not a different dude suited to each occasion. I know someone who must be literally 15 different dudes; whether he says something to your face or behind your back, or remembers from one day to the next are among the deciding criteria. What he says about women while flirting with every one he sees is a wonder to behold. Don't be this dude.

Friday, October 29, 2010


Mr. Slim provides an example of a need that exists everyday, in supporting the choices women arrive at for themselves, often in the face of hostility and intimidation.

The abortion issue is never as much about abortion as it is about being with someone through an important moment in their lives, versus opposing them by force. If abortion is only about abortion, then a woman is nothing more than contested terrain. The difference in approach is stark, with the result being that few women are likely persuaded by those who only attack and harass them.

Solidarity with women does not prescribe any particular politics or belief system other than support for women's independent choices. Because women's independent choices are often less valued than particular politics or belief systems, we must be prepared to extend solidarity in the face of what are often popular or mainstream preferences, not only easily identifiable authoritarian groups.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Effective Support and Counter Tactics of the Pro-Choice Movement in Pittsburgh

originally posted here. could have some lessons to learn from.

Effective Support and Counter Tactics of the Pro-Choice Movement in Pittsburgh

One of the first things that seemed to cause issue was the dismissal by some of concerns raised by women, clinic workers/volunteers, and other vagina-bearers on the issue. There were problems with manarchy, stubbornness, and other things on the part of both participators and organizers. Perhaps most importantly, there was disagreement on where to place the majority of the actions' focus - countering the antis or supporting the patients - as if the two were mutually exclusive (which we believe are not).

To give a quick overview for those who have not experienced the varied tactics of the "pro-life" movement, the scene is one that can make even the calmest of people's blood boil. Keep in mind that patients in Pittsburgh often come from other states without clinics, are sometimes survivors of sexual assault, and may be experiencing increased levels of emotion and stress. We've seen patients yell and cry as a result of persistent harassment by antis.

At the clinic we've been at the past few weeks, the antis are broken into groups which carry out different tasks. Prayers and singers often crowd sidewalks, blocking the paths of patients and other people passing by. The police do nothing to change this (despite their willingness to tell an anti-authoritarian action to move at the drop of a hat). There is also a group that call themselves "sidewalk counselors" though we feel that more accurate terms to describe them include harassers, vultures, assailants, etc. The "counselors" rush patients as they walk towards the clinic, shoving pamphlets and images of aborted fetuses in their faces. Not only are patients stalked as they arrive, but even when temporarily leaving the clinic to grab a snack at a convenience store - yes, they were actually followed inside - and as they're walking back to their cars. Clinic workers are also periodically followed to their cars and bus stops. It's also worth noting that the harassers are often men (who will never know what it's like to be pregnant). Additionally within the group, there are a few individuals that put themselves up as "leaders" of the various activities. These people are usually priests or other men. They often have video cameras and will videotape women walking into clinics or will ask them to get into cars with them. At another clinic, we experienced the worst of the antis - the vocal harassers - who aim to intimidate and insult both patients and pro-choicers as well as clinic workers and volunteers. They yell things like "Women come out of there in body bags!" and give excuses such as "Pregnancy because of rape is God's way of letting you know your purpose". Many men and other antis will put themselves uncomfortably close to pro-choice people in order to try to intimidate them. So far, they've failed to do so with us.

In our first attempts at countering the anti's, many pro-choicers reacted by getting into verbal confrontations with them. We often positioned ourselves amongst and within close proximity to them, causing a more confusing and sometimes hostile environment for the patients we wanted to support. Some pro-choice passersby even yelled at us, assuming we were with the antis because of the conflicted jumble of people. Some of the pro-choicers attended the event masked and with signs targeting religion, which was viewed by others as creating an intimidating, scary environment for the patients. As a result, disagreements as to where individuals were placing their priorities and goals for the protest reached their peak and some people decided to step away from the organizing. Some groups divided from others until each group of people found their niche. Ours was on Saturday mornings from 7:30 a.m. to around 11:00 a.m.

The remaining organizers decided to approach the planning of future counter-protests in a way that we felt kept patients safety and comfort at the forefront. Future attempts attracted the attention of clinic escorts and security guards, some of whom were opposed to us showing up at clinics for the aforementioned reasons while others felt that a pro-choice presence at clinics was desperately needed. Despite our sometimes differing opinions, we all listened and communicated, allowing us to hear their concerns and implemented a majority of them. The next Saturday to come would end up being very rewarding as a result.

We made positive signs that focused strictly on a pro-women, pro-choice, and a light-hearted anti-antis stance including "Abortion is OK!", "I trust a woman's choice," "We support your choices," "Keep your rosaries off our ovaries," "Ignore the preyers," and others. We assembled across the street from the clinic which gave us a significant separation from the antis, making an obvious distinction between us and them. Despite our love of masked actions, we requested that people come to our event unmasked in order to create an environment that was as unintimidating for patients as possible. We decided to be as non-confrontational as we could with the antis, especially when patients were entering the clinic. This was perhaps the most difficult part of the action. Misogynistic men said harassing and abusive things to us and we struggled to keep our cool - though we did much of the time. We danced, laughed, smiled, and enjoyed our comrades standing with us in the damaging environment we found ourselves in. And, it worked.

The antis were frustrated by our presence and that we took over some of their usual praying grounds. While there were now more antis on the sidewalk next to the clinic entrance, we still saw the space takeover victorious as the only thing patients could see was us and our positive signs through the clinic windows. We were approached by several staff members who were excited about our presence and positivity. Escorts, including our detractors, came over to thank us and some told us they changed their minds about us being there (in our favor). Most importantly to us, patients expressed to clinic workers the comfort they felt knowing they had supporters on the outside during this often difficult time. We finally figured it out. But, as always, things evolve and change and we had to as well.

The antis attempted to step up their game on a recent Saturday. Little did they know, they played right into our hands. They showed up an hour late and moved all of their people en masse to our side of the street. They now shifted a majority of their focus on trying to minimize our impact which left only a few harassers on the sidewalk next to the clinic entrance. They brought a large religious banner and began praying loudly. It was about 100 of them to 5 of us. But, we acted quickly. We immediately moved our banner and signs to be directly in front of theirs. They tried desperately to stand on their tip-toes and stretch their arms up high but our messages still covered theirs. While our initial attempts resulted in many of us being mistaken as antis, people driving were now mistaking antis for pro-choicers!

Antis were now in close proximity which allowed us to counter them both verbally and visually with minimal impact on patients entering the clinic. Each time they pushed their banner towards us, we pushed it back, until they had little space to hold it. The "pro-choice" and "friendly" cop who often seemed to be an ally at the clinic allowed herself to be duped by one of the harassers (we refer to him as K-Fed, if you saw him you'd know why). She tried to ask us to move and so forth but we worked it out so we did not. She did not ask the 100 praying antis behind us to move, even though they blocked the entire sidewalk. We held our ground, sang "row your boat" over top of the sing songing of the antis, and finally got the chance to verbally and physically fight back a little. While unfortunately the antis could now be seen from the clinic windows, our messages of love and support still dominated. We laughed and sang over their prayers and harassment. We got to tell them how we felt for once without creating a scene of conflict for patients. We thanked the antis for failing miserably and expressed desires for them to continue to do so. We know they will.

There are a lot of actions in which the reward is not immediate. We have to hope that we're creating change and that we or at least others down the line will get to see results someday. When fighting an oppression it's important to keep in mind that one victorious demonstration does not negate the need for further actions, opposition, and solidarity. However, we've agreed that that pro-choice clinic actions are by far one of the most rewarding events that we've ever participated in. We've been extremely pleased with the effectiveness in supporting patients, volunteers, and clinic workers and the feedback received - despite the lack of sleep, harassment, and misogynistic comments from military men driving by. While it’ s unfortunate that our numbers have dwindled as a result of disagreements on tactics, we believe that the pro-patient focus has been vital to our success.

Our struggle for liberation is an ongoing one, with two assailants (of many) being Patriarchy and State Repression. Being that these are both multifaceted institutions within our society, it's sometimes difficult to pin down a physical, cognizant manifestation of these ideologies that we can directly confront and attack. People who hold the misogynistic belief that they should control the reproductive rights of women are an excellent example of both of these oppressions at work. They are right out in the open to be targeted and countered at your neighborhood clinic. There are patients there every day who are being actively attacked and oppressed, who need our support and solidarity. We hope this essay will help more people share in the joy that is a pro- female, pro-reproductive freedom, anti-hierarchy, and pro-support and choice environment.

The Pittsburgh Pro-Choice Welcoming Committee

Doing the right thing

Steeling ourselves to act in solidarity with someone like Christine O'Donnell is a useful exercise because patriarchy is often exercised by popular and influential persons within a group. While the victims of patriarchy aren't necessarily unpopular, exposing such behavior puts their reputation at risk. It can make them unpopular very quickly, as when the perpetrator enjoys good standing within the group, or is dominant by some social criteria.

We do well to recognize this as a likely scenario in which patriarchy will impact our lives. It implies that standing up for someone who deserves it is very often a decision that carries a real social cost, and will not be universally praised or rewarded amongst those who are otherwise like-minded.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A lesson in solidarity

I thought this was really great. See what you think. (Warning: this includes adult content that may not be suitable for all audiences.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Power and preferences

I want to thank Mr. Slim for writing the post that 100% of the people who know me wish I had written! I know they appreciate it.

And how about that Christine O'Donnell? She sounds like she might benefit by sticking to subjects that impact her, not other people, directly. Anytime you're going to take a position counter to that held by most of the people it affects -- like, "AIDS funding is misused" -- you'd better have a pretty good argument if you hope to be persuasive. Otherwise you look somewhat like an authoritarian -- aka not a nice person.

Personally, I think it's useful to distinguish between someone who holds authoritarian (or otherwise objectionable) views and the kind of power infrastructure which makes their imposition possible. As a culture I worry that we spend more time hating one another for a difference in views than we do in challenging the infrastructure which can put violence behind them. Without violence, people can think whatever they want. But when the infrastructure is assumed, what people think takes on heightened importance. This explains the quality of political discourse enjoyed by US inhabitants today.

Whenever our views, on some level, are being imposed, we may not notice because that seems "normal" to us. This is an important way in which people within a particular category of power are set against one another; as when working class men are blind to what working class women experience as patriarchy.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Defend Christine O'Donnell against sexism, Attack Christine O'Donnell for Sexism

First, before I get into the meat of it, I have to thank Brother Boyd for most of the "heavy lifting" when it comes to this blog. As a collaborative project, I don't think I've really been holding my end of the collaborative process. We owe him a big debt of graduate.

Now, own with the post...

Although I am Canadian, I have been following the twists and turns of the recent elections, especially the "extremist" GOP candidates who have been nominated, chief among them is Christine O'Donnell.

I think that J.R. is 100% right when he says that defending people who are victimized deserve support, for whatever reason. This should be a principle for action for all progressive people in struggle for a more just world. That being said, it's important that in defending peoples against oppression, that does not mean support for that person. Our defence needs to be as critical as it is resolute.

In Christine O'Donnells case, we have to fight against the people who think that she is unfit to be political because she is a women, at the same time, we must attack her for her positions that actively dis-empower women, LBGT* peoples, working people and immigrants.

In 1997, O'Donnell took to C-SPAN to complain that the government was spending too much money combating AIDS. She voiced concerns that a drag queen ball "celebrates the type of lifestyle which leads to the disease." She also objected to calling those with AIDS "victims" and said the disease was a consequence of a certain "lifestyle." She opposes abortion rights, even in the event of rape, incest or the health of the mother. She wants troops on the nation's northern and southern borders, walls and no amnesty for illegal workers.

O'Donnell and Palin like to portray themselves as "feminists". The problem is that they are women who are directly opposed to women's rights and the steps forward women have made the last 100 years. Their brand of feminism is one that women play a very specific role in society counter to the wider goals of mainstream feminism and completely alien to the radical, revolutionary syndicalist feminism we hope to help develop.

So yes, feminists should defend Christine O'Donnell, and at the same time attack her for sexism, homophobia and hate.

Yes, feminists should defend Christine O'Donnell


[H]ave the attacks on O'Donnell been "sexist and misogynistic"? Sure, they have been glib and mocking — par for the course when there's so much video evidence of her insouciant wingnuttery. And they have involved sex, but only because that was O'Donnell's topic of choice until she discovered a vague and sudden passion for tax cuts.

It's fair to say that within a patriarchal society, any woman that is being scrutinized and attacked by mainstream opinion is going to encounter the same kind of hostility that women with much lower profiles experience all the time, solely on the basis that they are women.

Because a solidarity with women finds its roots in the recognition that patriarchy works actively to harm and subjugate women, feminists should work actively in anticipating that this will be as much the case with specific, well-known women as we already understand it to be the case with every woman -- if not more.

Defending someone on the basis that they are a victim of patriarchy is no different than advocating for someone on the basis that they are working class: it is a position that is maintained on specific grounds; namely, that people who are being victimized, for whatever reason, deserve support.

For example, there are plenty of working class people who are racist, misogynistic, or homophobic who at the same time are victims of globalized capital (and by "working class" I do not merely mean "blue collar"; I mean all workers). Wobblies understand that all workers deserve solidarity in their struggle against employers and other bosses. They should also know that the best way to confront racism, sexism, and homophobia (among other violences) is by organizing along these lines: to extend solidarity to the victimized, and to confront the victimizers in all relations.

Practicing solidarity with women is no different. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin deserve to be confronted for the various ways they advance authority by illegitimate means. But they have also been attacked by illegitimate means, on the grounds that they are women. And while I haven't followed the O'Donnell case closely, unless we convince ourselves that mainstream liberal culture is not patriarchal, we can expect that the same anti-woman sentiments will find their expression in the course of a heated Senate campaign.

The point is not that Clinton or Palin or O'Donnell deserve special attention in this regard, but that nobody ever deserves to be attacked on the basis of any illegitimate criteria. Wobblies know very well: An injury to one is an injury to all.

Friday, October 22, 2010


One of the problems with trying to write everyday is that very often you end up writing everyday, and in a collaborative setting that can lead to a lot of you and somewhat less of everybody else. So I want to reaffirm the collaborative nature of this blog in hopes of scoring yet more Wobbly contributors.

For the last few years, writing "working class propaganda" has been my primary activity -- not organizing or administrating or even collaborating with anyone very much on anything. So it's very likely that any Wobbly has more experience to draw on in these areas than I do, even if you manage to attend branch meetings regularly or semi-regularly, which I haven't.

So while part of my confidence in writing in this area comes from reading and thinking a lot about these issues, part of it also comes from the fact that writing is literally where all of my energy has gone in the past few years; it is something I just force myself to do on subjects that are important to me.

For me, this can lead to a lot of theoretical declarations which hopefully have their place, but shouldn't set the tone for this blog overall. People should really post anything and everything they want around the subject of women, women's struggles and men's relationship to the two.

I work part-time and write part-time while plenty of other people work full-time and organize (or raise kids, run their branch, etc.) full-time; and because my contributions to femenins come with relative ease and a commitment to try to write between two blogs everyday, the likelihood is that there will be a lot of me, for better or worse. But it's not my blog: I can only contribute a perspective based on my own experiences, in many ways limited. We need experienced organizers and other active Wobbly men to draw our attention to everything else, and to begin to sustain a dialogue.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Practicing feminism

Feminism must be a daily practice because patriarchy is a daily affair. If the purpose of patriarchy is to break each of us into fragments, then feminism is the struggle to remain whole. We have to be whole people before we can give the best of ourselves to any purpose.

The best feminism comes out of an affection for the women in our lives. Once we orient ourselves toward our sisters and moms and friends and colleagues, we are not far from discerning the obstacle all women confront in the form known as patriarchy.

If patriarchy subjugates all women as a class, then it can only be challenged by advocating for all women as a class. This is the step we must take as men: to regard all women with the same concern we are taught to reserve for certain women.

Feminism is important for men because it teaches us to listen to women who have thought deeply about their own struggles, but also to provide encouragement to women who haven't. The influence men exert in many women's lives is constant, but the content of such influence is variable. If men aren't active in their fight against patriarchy, their influence does little to assist women who might be active in theirs.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fear and loathing

Elizabeth Bernstein, Wall Street Journal:

[T]he men I spoke with agreed that women are too sensitive, though most of them were reluctant to talk on the record. I promised anonymity, though, and they piped up:

"Apologize? What language is that?"

"Women care too much."

"One of the first requirements of getting into relationships with women is to rehearse saying 'I'm sorry' as many times as possible."

"If a husband speaks in the forest and no one hears him, is he still wrong?"

I pressed on, and asked men to explain exactly why they apologize -- when they do:

"To move on."

"To end the drama." (Hmm. This from a man who's apologized recently to me.)

"To be honest, men never -- well, almost never -- have any idea what we are apologizing for," says Mark Stevens, 63, chief executive of MSCO, a Rye Brook, N.Y., marketing consulting firm.

Mr. Stevens says during his 35-year marriage he has sincerely apologized to his wife, Carol, just five times -- but has said he's sorry an additional 3,500 times. He calls these mea culpas "fraudulent apologies."

These men argue that women are "too sensitive" -- yet they lack the courage to say this openly. If they think there is merit to this idea that the lion's share of the interpersonal conflict in their life stems from this source, why not make the case? The fact that they maintain one face toward their partner and another under conditions of anonymity suggests that they are afraid to be themselves.

I think one of the effects of patriarchy, the authority of men imposed on women, is to deny both men and women the opportunity to be whole persons. This is plainly evident in how our society chooses to see women -- as fragments of who they in fact are. But men also experience fragmentation in their own way, by surrendering who they could become: people who aren't afraid to be themselves in any context.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Feminist organizing

Halloween approaches and we see via Womanist Musings some prime examples of commercial patriarchy at work.

Far be it from me to say there is no place in the world for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of whatever stripe you like. But what we communicate by pursuing the same theme into every corner of human relations is unambiguous: we value some things about women and not others.

Now, as men, we should reflect on the scale at which this transpires every day. Certain things are communicated to the women in our lives with perfect clarity. Other things probably aren't communicated at all, except at the individual level, between persons. So we are talking about mass manufacturing vs. what may or may not happen within romantic or familial relations, between friends, etc.

Industrial production always has an advantage over what people can produce at an individual level; the production of culture is no different. Wobblies already understand that the solution to the industrial problem is organization. Accordingly, revolutionary unionist men must organize around the principles they want to communicate to women within their organization, their communities, and their lives; as well as to society at large.

What we are up against is plain to see! Join us in making our principles known. An injury to one is an injury to all!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Good news

reposted from ladypoverty

bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love:

Unlike happiness, joy is a lasting state that can be sustained even when everything is not the way we want it to be.

If we look at the world long enough, we may find that everything is not the way we want it to be. As a result, many of us don't look.

If we look in a comprehensive way, what can be seen is deeply troubling. Many of us arrive at the point of seeing particular problems with clarity, only to be left with the task of communicating their relevance to others.

At this point most of us experience real frustration. This can play itself out as anger, at the world and at each other; but because anger is a difficult emotion to sustain, it often leads to apathy: it becomes too painful to try, and we withdraw from our attempts to do so.

Anger is often justified, but because it can't be sustained, it can't form the basis for moving past frustration into fulfillment -- a fulfillment that is honest about what is wrong in the world, and the work that must be undertaken in response.

bell hooks points to something that must be cultivated in spite of what we very well know to be true about the world. This is what we must be prepared to offer others, if we ever want them to fall in love with our work despite its inherent difficulty.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Propaganda by the deed

I mention beauty because we should be thinking about what our organizations look like. We should be thinking about what our practices look like. Are they appealing? To whom do they appeal? Do they even appeal to us personally?

If we aren't in love with what we do, we can't expect anybody else to fall in love either. This is why there is so much cynicism within employer organizations. If the work we undertake in response feels half as lifeless, we'll never sustain a membership, and we'll certainly never take it to the next level; people will float in and then drift away. We compete against a consumer-driven culture that demands a lot less and entertains a lot more. For many Americans, "doing nothing" is exactly what we'd prefer after a long day at work.

Our best hope is to build organizations so stunningly beautiful that people want to be a part of them, because there is no alternative. There is no alternative to being part of the struggle to affirm human preferences at their core. "Doing nothing" resolves nothing, even if it feels good. We have to demonstrate that this true, and offer an appealing alternative.

Women contribute to the beauty of our organizations, especially when they are welcomed and supported in becoming themselves. This is the alternative we have to pose to the world, which has yet to get on board. If women look at our organizations and see nothing appealing about them, we lose. So there is a necessity for men to pay close attention to what they are communicating to women, and to work towards the kind of organization that women can identify as their own.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What men want

If we acknowledge what is beautiful about women, then we want them with us; we don't want this phony separation which robs us of their companionship. Corporate patriarchy sets up a very narrow idea of what "beauty" is, a fixed principle that best complements exchange -- beauty as commodity. Commodities are taken for granted; we pick and choose among them; and when what women bring to us is reduced to something we can "take or leave" according to the context, we have become alienated from our natural allies.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Fighting for equality, not presuming it

I've been doing a little reading about the historical anarchist feminist womans group The Mujeres Libres (Free Women) of Spain, in the hopes of writing something larger about the cross sections of womens autonomous organizing, feminism and revolutionary unionism. In doing so, I found this really great blog post on Property is Theft! about women and class struggle. The following is something that I thought was really important:

But one thing that is needed is a realisation, perhaps even acceptance. Of the fact that equality is only a given in a genuinely free society. Before that, and even within the structures of those groups struggling for that society, it needs to be fought for. Without compromise.
I think that in the IWW we've come to assume that because we are a revolutionary industrial union organization, that because our constitution says "IWW therefore actively opposes bigotry and discrimination on and off the job", that our organizing will be "feminist" and "progressive". It's become routine, banal.

Sadly, that's simply not the case, and by assuming that we have "equality" is a factor that adds to patriarchal inequality. One of the tasks of a group of revolutionary Syndicalist Feminist men is to recognize that even in our own supposedly revolutionary union that the society we live in, this patriarchal capitalist society, effects the power relations.

The Question for us then is what is the best way to fight for equaitly, the best way for men to "actively opposes bigotry and discrimination on and off the job" as well inside our union. Personally, it's something I'm still struggling to figure out, but I'm glad that I have righteous rebel men and woman by my side to walk with me down the path.

An exercise in Marxist feminism

How patriarchy functions within a particular society often corresponds with its economic form: a society based on large-scale commodity production produces the commodities men want; a society that lives by religious mandate enforces the virtues men desire.

In the former, men with money dictate the terms by which women are seen; in the latter, men of virtue do the same. Women's bodies are commodified and censored, respectively; they are perpetually exposed in one case, and made to vanish in the other. That which suits the man of means thus suits society.

The script that patriarchy has authored for men and women in the advanced capitalist societies was no doubt inspired by the needs of lonely men with lots of money. Like wealthy window shoppers, they want to see the commodity and then possess it by the one means at their disposal: money. So women are commodified in their sexualized form, and this is reproduced everywhere. It is very hard to navigate, let alone escape, for many men; this in turn impacts the genuine intimacy men can experience in their overall relations with women.

For more on this subject, see ladypoverty.