Saturday, January 22, 2011

Race/Sex/Gender Traitor: A Tool for Workplace Feminist Direct Action

I work in a masculine workplace environment; the meat department of a super market. All the butchers/Meat Cutters are middle aged/elderly men. Most of the traying/clean-up, and support staff are young men, and the counters wrappers/counters/frozen foods and Deli are women.

Working with meat, it can often lead to terrible sexual innuendos and "laddish" humor. "What kind of sausage do you like". Most time, it can roll off your back, sometimes not. Complaints to management don't end up anywhere, only "we'll talk to him, but this is a meat department, it is how it is".

One elderly (76) can take the jokes to far and often goes into harassment. What were once "laddish" jokes become attacks on gays, women, and other minorities. And unfortunately, for a time they were directed at me (with implications of how I was gay and how it was wrong or a problem to the workplace).

So, I took the question to our IWW branch: what to do when you're under attack? A FW brought up the idea he read in the magazine Race Traitor: deny your whiteness, be a traitor to your straightness.

The next time he tried to make jokes about gayness at my expense, I told him "But I am gay, whats the problem?" His face was went red, "but... you have a wife?!" I said "doesn't not make me gay".

He shut up. Hasn't made those awful jokes since. I know he hasn't changed his mind, and I don't expect him to (a co-worker once told me how he warned her that if gay marriage is accepted, "gays will break into your home and steal" her new-born son.) Still, within the workplace it allowed the worst excesses of a common masculinist workplace culture to be tempered.

As I see it, it was an important, individual direct action, an attempt to deny my own privilege as a white-straight-male and declare my solidarity with the struggles for equality. But such individual actions will never change the dominate paradigm in our workplaces. Only though true organization (not UFCW business unionism), solidarity on the ground and radical eduction/culture, can such changes have a real and lasting effect.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Kansas Politics and Blog for Choice Day

What Blog for Choice Day is: On January 21st (I'm barely getting in on time) this website asked bloggers everywhere to answer the following question:

Given the anti-choice gains in the states and Congress, are you concerned about choice in 2011?

News on what the new leadership in Kansas is doing: link

With news like this, how can I not be concerned about the future of pro-choice legislation?

Now, this may not seem, on its face, to be the most all-inclusive answer, since I'm discussing local politics. But if you read the link, you'll see that Kansas is trying to play the same card that California tried to play with gay marriage, only they're trying to repeal Roe v. Wade. And, since Sebelius left office, Kansas has turned RED. Kansas City had usually maintained a blue outline, but the Tea Party movement, in conjunction with other factors I'm sure, have turned the state deeply conservative.

Now, what does this have to do with feminism and labor? Pro-choice is the only sensible stance as a political feminist, because anything that restricts choice creates a power differential between men and women, thereby reinforcing the patriarchy. The moral choice is only such a choice when it is a choice. The political stance, as a feminist, must be directed towards equalizing power relations between the genders.

As such I think it behooves the labor movement to vocally stand up for reproductive rights. This is a power issue which can help to build a left movement for an actual socialist state, as opposed to a Democratic bourgeois state -- the current standard for leftists in the states. If a labor-based left movement wants power, then the left is going to have to embrace other issues of importance to the left. Abortion rights go hand in hand with labor feminist politics.

Sexuality, women, and work

At work there is a cork board meant for union business that has become the permanent residence of a dozen or so entertainment section cut-out "hotties" -- or "bitches" as my colleagues describe them in a sincere tone of reverence and admiration.

I've been careful to gauge the response of the larger work group, which ranges from appreciation to ambivalence in the case of the men, and perplexity with regards to the women.

"Why are they so interested in imaginary women? They won't know what to do with a real woman. I don't see the point," was the verdict of one woman in particular.

I thought it was an interesting reaction, because the sentiment didn't deny the importance of sexuality between men and women, even in the context of work; it just wanted it to exist between real people.

This got me thinking about why men are so easily drawn away from what is, or could be, real between themselves and women; and why they show this preference for fantasies they could never achieve. It's almost as if they don't believe they could ever have, or don't deserve, an intimacy with women that comes close to whatever ideas they have about women in their heads. Or maybe it just has to do with controlling the terms unilaterally.

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately, since I have an advantage in having experienced this myself throughout life: I have known the appeal of content produced by men about women; all the many varieties of pornography -- both as a product and as a way to sell products.

Once I started writing seriously about feminism I feel like something in my brain changed in how I relate to such content, maybe because I finally understood it. Or maybe I am just older, and less prone to trifling sexual distractions (in which case I cannot take too much credit!). Whatever the case, it's very hard for me to look at commercial advertising or pornography and not be awake to the fact that, in all likelihood, some very unappealing dudes are writing the script.

Between these dudes and the women in my life, who even as workplace acquaintances are saying "I'm real: If you're so interested in women, why don't you try talking to one?" the choice is straightforward.

One of the complicating factors, however, is that when straight sexuality is almost exclusively narrated by unappealing dudes, as a guy you can become hyper-suspicious of your sexuality altogether. That's no fun, either; certainly not for your partner, at least. This is another area where I think, as a guy, you have to step back from making unilateral judgments about what is or isn't appropriate, and acclimate yourself to making choices in concert with the people you care about.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Guest contributor C.D.W. hits on some themes that have resonated with me since I joined the Industrial Workers of the World. Chief among these is the idea that an organization like the IWW should bring with it a different way of relating to one another than what you're going to get everywhere else. We are building the new society in the shell of the old, remember! Sadly, I haven't seen a lot of that; and some of what I've seen is actually worse than what I put up with on a daily basis at work. Surely we can't expect that people will be drawn to our organizations if what they offer is worse than what we are fighting against!

Women should feel like the IWW is a place where who they are and what they can do is celebrated and affirmed. If male-identified Wobs could commit themselves to even one female member of their branch who they aren't romantically invested in and ask themselves "What does this person require for the IWW to remain relevant for them?" that might be a big first step.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A More Personal Account

In regards to the discourse on women’s struggles, there is a tendency to overlook the emotional and/or psychological effects of patriarchy on women. We focus on seemingly abstract concepts of power and control, and discuss concrete examples of oppression, inequality, and violence. Although these topics need to remain on the forefront of discussion, we should also be mindful of how patriarchy affects the emotional and psychological health of women in society.

From youth, women are socialized to be less than. Cartoons and childhood storybooks mirror normative behaviors and gender roles: men are the strong protectors and women are weak and in need of protecting. Commercials and magazines frequently depict half-naked women in provocative poses. We are taught that our bodies are for pleasuring and amusing men. We learn to equate love with objectification, violence, and exploitation. Women quickly realize that we live in a “man’s” world, and that to achieve any level of success and respect, we’d have to work twice as hard.

Recent studies have revealed that one in six American women have experienced a sexual assault, and one in four women have survived some form of domestic abuse. As a counselor at a domestic violence and sexual assault center, I can testify to the high level of emotional support needed after such acts of violence. As a survivor of sexual abuse, I can attest that the effects of trauma are life-long.

For the men out there: Imagine growing up “female” in a society where the victimization and objectification of women is commonplace. Imagine yourself as a young girl-a girl who is inundated with sexual depictions of women. Very few images exist of strong, smart, professional women. As a young girl in a patriarchal society, even those closest to you mirror what was learned in storybooks: men are the authority and women should obey. Sadly in such a society, you have few role models exemplifying healthy, egalitarian relationships. In addition to the above mentioned, imagine yourself as a victim of sexual assault or physical abuse. The combined effects of socialization and victimization weigh heavy on your psyche. Your sense of self-efficacy and self-worth are diminished. You have learned your role in society: you are an object.

You may be wondering what this has to do with radical groups like the I.W.W. I would respond by saying that it has everything to do with groups like the I.W.W. The organization is comprised of both men and women. It is highly likely that many of the women in the organization will bring with them a history of trauma-whether the trauma was an act of violence, discrimination, or experiences of objectification. Many women join radical communities because of their past. We want to help others by creating an egalitarian society, and we expect those we work with to share similar values and ideals. Whether naively or not, we expect male comrades to understand how patriarchy functions and anticipate that groups like the I.W.W will be a safe haven from the discrimination, objectification, and violence we endure in broader society. Unfortunately, my experience has shown otherwise. Mirroring our experiences in broader society, women in the movement are victims of violence and repeatedly find themselves combating sexism and male chauvinism. The emotional damage created by the behaviors of male comrades can be even more devastating because we expect more from men in these circles.

If women cannot find respite in radical groups like the I.W.W, what hope do we have for systemic change? Radical women find themselves overwhelmed from combating a force that seems too powerful to overcome. Patriarchy can only be irradiated if both women and men take an active role dismantling it.

Despite the pessimistic tone of the article, I do maintain hope. I came across this blog and was immediately taken aback by the honesty of the men writing. The men in this blog are willing to take an honest look at not only their own behaviors, but the behaviors of other men in the movement. Hopefully the dialogue in this blog will pave the way for further conversations and subsequent change not only within the I.W.W. but within the movement.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Introducing Myself

I thought I'd write a brief post to introduce myself to the blog, and thank Ryan for inviting me along.

I am a chemistry student who lives in Kansas. I've been involved in other political groups, and while I am a socialist I have not been involved in labor politics outside of personal advocation. I have been involved in feminist politics through the campus' philosophy club, which has discussed feminism, gay rights, atheism, and science. I had the privilege to participate in a public debate on abortion, arguing that abortion is generally a moral decision. I've also participated with an on campus anti-genocide group. Maybe all of this at once seems a little ridiculous as I'm trying to show off my credentials, but I wanted to show that while I haven't been in labor politics yet I have a little experience with public politics and I want to get involved with the IWW.

I hope to build some ties here to the labor movement in the United States, because the Midwest needs it! Further, I think there's a lot of potential for bridging between leftish groups, such as feminism and labor, and I thought this blog to be the perfect place to try and find and keep that sort of inter-group building.

As for feminism: I can't say I always was. In fact, one would be fair to say that I fit a fairly stereotypical pattern for a Kansas male with regards to women. But along the way I got to thinking, and I think that this pattern was damaging to myself and my relationships with others, even if it may have facilitated some ground-level immediate understanding, and so I decided I wanted to change that.

My experiences in calling myself a feminist thus far have revealed a few things. Some persons don't respect men that are feminists, some do. It tends to put you in a different crowd. But one thing in particular that struck me was that it's easier for me to say I'm a feminist than for a woman to do so. When a woman does so, even though it's obviously not the case, the immediate description that people generally leap to is an undesirable one. With me, as a man, people generally just don't know what to say. I'm a pretty open guy, and I'm friendly about it, so they may go for a playful ribbing, or just give me a "huh?" expression, which gives me an opportunity to explain myself. So, even in the realm of feminism, it seems that I have the easier job. Go fig! I'm not sure what to do about it -- as I said, I'm pretty open about myself, and I continue to say what I say when it seems appropriate to do so. But talk about a bad gig for the women.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Undercover feminist

Don't tell anyone, but today my relationship with feminism is on the DL. If you ask me, I will not reveal any information. I will only direct you to the nearest woman and encourage you to listen closely for any top secrets she has to reveal. For this you must be specially trained in the ancient art of not interrupting. Being an undercover feminist is not easy: the more you say, the fewer top secrets you will discover. For example, Top Secret #1: Is this person on the same page with you about anything? You will want to know the answer to this before you speak in long sentences in their presence. To err at this stage could prove disastrous, as it forms the basis for everything that is to come. I know: sometimes the odds seem insurmountable. But that is the price we pay for good intelligence.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A liberated man

It has dawned on me that I no longer want to pimp my feminism to an audience that is already down with feminism -- because really, who wants to hear about how "feminist" I am? I'm not interested in persuading anybody who already identifies feminist. My friend, you are on your own path, and we both have to respect that. As long as we can wave to each other every so often, or converge for a snack, all is as it should be!

How "feminist" I am is a daily choice, and it is not a particularly glamorous one. I make it glamorous, because it is important to adorn oneself with romance, particularly when folding the laundry. There are lots of necessary things to be done, but too often as a dude I don't do them. Truly, I am of dudely stock: I would sooner starve and root in the squalor of some big idea than endeavor to clean the shower or plan a meal. How in the world does a dude become such a dude?

Like so many things, however, what is appropriate in one context may not apply in another. I will never be one to out-feminist the feminists, in any room full of feminists. Please reserve that distinction for whoever wants it. If only I could out-feminist the anti-feminists, that would really be something.