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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Fifty Shades of Feminism

Just the other day, a friend posted this brilliant article on her FaceBook page by the equally brilliant Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, entitled #50ShadesIsAbuse: The Erotic Normalization of Violence Against Women.

There is a boycott movement against the film with the hashtags #50ShadesIsAbuse and #50dollarsNot50Shades, promoting donations ($50) to domestic violence shelters instead of paying to see the film.

As Thistlethwaite writes in her article from her forthcoming book, Women's Bodies as Battlefields: Christian Theology and the Global War on Women (Palgrave Macmillan 2015),
"Eroticized violence in fiction, whether in films or novels, is treacherous because it promotes the idea that women desire to be treated violently. Violence against women then becomes part of the very construction of the nature of love and desire in societies, orchestrating the eroticizing of bodily pain itself and deadening the impulses to compassion and empathy."
Suddenly, and from out of absolutely nowhere, we were being lectured by a young transwoman not to judge BDSM (Bondage Discipline sadomasochism) because the book, in her view, denigrated "healthy, loving, deeply consensual BDSM relationships that exist out in the world". 

Out in the world . . . .

Mind you, no one had judged BDSM. No one had even mentioned BDSM. We were talking about Fifty Shades of Grey and its treachery in promoting violence to women around the world as the reason to boycott it. 

It was a bit stunning and disturbing to those of us who have endured and survived domestic, intimate partner or child abuse.

Now, the truth is that these sorts of unexpected intrusions happen all the time in Social Media. It happened to be a transwoman - which may or may not be significant - but lots of cisgender people do this, too. It's a natural bully pulpit for people with an agenda. You can rudely barge in to any conversation, be insensitive to anyone's personal history because you don't know everyone there and not take time to check it out, ignore anything that has been previously said, dominate the conversation and impose your own personal feelings onto everyone else while not-so-subtly judging people for the assumed (but not accurate) judging against that particular topic. 

Suddenly, we were being further lectured by yet another young woman "with a trans history" (That's how she described herself. I'm not sure of the nuance, either) about how "easy it is to pathologize things we don't understand or can't relate to... And further how easily we become myopic in our assessment of others while failing to see the same aspects within our own "normative" practices." She even posted a graphic which summarized the difference between BDSM and abuse.

Mind you, no one had said anything about BDSM, pro or con. No one was "pathologizing" anything or any one. And yet, many of us were beginning to feel dominated and judged by this sudden, unexpected turn in the conversation which, I'll remind you, was about Dr. Thistlethwaite's brilliant article concerning the boycotting of the film "Fifty Shades of Grey" (Please do read it). 

A few of us objected, pointing out that the graphic was disturbing and asking what was it doing there anyway.  Her post remained but the graphic was removed. It's important to trust the intelligence of women to seek out the information they need when they want it.

I must say, however, that the very odd highlight of this very odd "conversation" was a private IM from one of the "lecturers" in which I was told that I am - and I cut and paste from it exactly - 
"A pearl clutching second wave feminist with concepts that aren't all that intersectional and are rather exclusionary." 
Which made me laugh. Right out loud. From my toes.

First of all, if you know anything about second wave feminists, you know that, back then, none of us wore pearls. Gay men wore pearls.

Second wave lesbian feminists didn't wear pearls. We didn't even shave our legs.

And, we used menstrual sponges.

Don't ask.

We thought we were being politically correct. Truth is, it was a pretty harmless way to express our anger and protest the billions of dollars being made off our bodies.

We were young and evolving. Our "social media" consisted of posters displayed on the bulletin board of Womyn's Book Stores and Coffee Houses and Health Food Stores or Food Co-ops where issues were discussed around a small table and comfy sofas and chairs in the back of the store and our kids had plenty of small tables and chairs and kids books and paper and crayons.

Secondly, I think the whole first, second, and third wave constructs of feminism are convenient category descriptors of a movement but they are essentially inaccurate. It's a lot messier than that.

Further, one does not "stay put" in a first or second or third wave "box". It's a wave. We're all carried along by the tide. Stay put and you drown. That's also true for those ushered in on the third wave, which is already becoming a fourth wave.

Not to worry if this is confusing new information for you. It's not the point I"m trying to make.

Or, maybe, it is.

Apparently, this young feminist was completely oblivious to the 'rather exclusionary' position she was taking. Essentially, she was saying to me that I'm an old fart and have no right to be breathing the same air as she does and should go away. Far, far away. Where I can't be heard. Very "inclusive", eh?

Yes, I know. I know. She was baiting me. I didn't bite. 

But, it did remind me of something I and many, many women were told forty years ago by men who were opposed to the ordination of women.  We were told that we had "insufficient ontological matter to be an efficacious bearer of sacerdotal presence." 

Ridiculous, right? But, notice any similarities?

Essentially these men were saying the same thing as this young, feminist woman: 

You have no right to breathe the same air, so why do you think you have any right to your own opinion or determine the way to live your life, much less be called by God to ordination? 

And you should go away. Far, far away. Where you can't be heard. 

Here's the thing: No matter where you stand on the socio-political-theological spectrum, when you have to work this hard and hide behind large words and obtuse thought, you actually reveal more about yourself than the intended object of your intended slur. 

Or, as my grandmother - one of the first "old school feminists" I ever met - used to say, "Whenever you try to make someone else look bad, you never make yourself look good." 

One of my gay male FB friends made this humorous analogy: 
"It seems to me we are playing PC Poker. I am destined to lose because all I got is a gay Queen. In order to have a full house and win the kitty you need to have a Lesbian Jack, an Ace of Color, a Female Queen, and a Alternatively Abled Joker. In order to collect you must slam down your cards and rattle off the latest academic social liberation jargon and point out that straight, white, or male players automatically lose due to their places of privilege. Fortunately this is only a game played by First World folk with too much time on their hands. Another name for the game is Your Privilege Is Bigger Than Mine but some players reject that name as being phallocentric."
It is a first world problem, isn't it? A first world problem riding the third wave of a feminist movement, the goal of which is the liberation of the human spirit all over the world.

This is not a game. This is very serious. We can't afford to play word games with each other.  Women's lives are at stake.

And, we're all forever young. We're all evolving.

Which may be why I left the experience with an incredible sense of sadness. 

My heart breaks that a basic principle of feminism has somehow been lost on some in these two representatives of a new generation of young women who call themselves feminist. 

I know, I know. They were only two. But, for me, that's two too many.

One of the early defining books of the expansion of feminism and the feminist movement was entitled, "This Bridge Called My Back: Writing by Radical Women of Color". 

Talk about your basic "intersectionality"! It was written by a group of feminists - Latina, Caucasian, African American, Asian - of various backgrounds who understood that progress for women would not be achieved unless we were willing to allow our backs to be used as bridges to the future. 

It was a serious challenge to Caucasian feminists that the movement could not - should not, would not - be defined by a White socio-politico-theological perspective.  

So, let's be clear: This movement, even as it grows and changes and adapts and evolves, is not about lecturing other people about what we think they need to know, or shaming and judging them because we perceive they are judging us. 

It's not about putting people down because we perceive they aren't "with it" - or as a defense against our own insecurities or sense of inadequacy.

It's about lifting each other up by building bridges of awareness and opportunity and progress with the shared stories and perspectives of our own lives. 

Feminism is, ultimately, about the liberation of the human spirit. It's about equality for women, yes, but this movement is not just about women. It's about being free to be fully human, which is the glory of God. 

To my mind, the real gift of Transpeople in the Queer and Feminist communities is that they help us to examine our assumptions and presumptions about gender roles and expectations. When viewed in its entirety, gender, like sexual orientation, is not binary. Rather, it is a point on a spectrum that includes both nature and nurture.

Men are as entrapped in and diminished by sexism and misogyny as women. Just as racism and slavery are as poisonous to the oppressor as they are to the victim, so do sexism and homophobia and ageism and all other forms of prejudice have damaging effects on their perpetrators and oppressors. 

Second wave feminists did not coin the term "intersectionality" - or, for that matter, hybridity - but we laid the foundation for it. With. Our. Backs. 

Not one of us is looking for a thank you.  The progress we continue to make, the bridges we continue to build, are worth more than much fine gold.

I sincerely hope that men and women everywhere are able to resist the curiosity of seeing this soft porn movie based on the book that romanticizes violence toward women. 

I also hope you will consider doing as I have done and contribute $50 to your local shelter for domestic violence rather than spending Valentine's Day at the theater, watching this treachery to the dignity of women and our bodies. 

Or, do go see the movie. My guess is that you'll leave the theater and decide to contribute $50 to your local shelter for domestic violence. I trust the intelligence of women to make the right choices for themselves and their partners. 

If you are into BDSM - where consent and respect and mutuality are, as I understand it, 'normative' - that is entirely your prerogative. I don't have to understand it and you don't need my - or anyone else's - approval to engage in that which is satisfying and fulfilling to you. 

That is not what Fifty Shades of Grey is about.  

It's about violence to women.

Which is as old as time and as current as your next breath. 

We have a chance to stop violence toward women if we stop defining ourselves by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are. 

Women and men.

Human beings. 

Children of God.

Working together across generations and human constructs of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical and intellectual ability, class and educational status for the liberation of the human spirit. 

And, call me a dreamer and a fool, but I do believe that, once we liberate the human spirit, we can liberate the whole world.


JCF said...

Elizabeth, if someone is rudely interrupting, someone is rudely interrupting.

However, I don't see it as relevant that you repeatedly cite the interrupting person as being Trans.

"Suddenly, we were being further lectured by yet another young woman "with a trans history" {scare quotes?}.

It comes across sort of "Michigan"-esque (Michigan Womyn's Festival, w/ their anti-Trans "woman-born-woman" canard. No one is "born a woman", or "born a man". We're all born powerless babies, and assigned a gender.)

I have zero interest in "50 Shades". I assume it probably is abusive---in the same way that I assume truly *consentual* BDSM isn't (but just isn't my cuppa). But as Trans women are probably those *most* vulnerable to abuse, I'm just sensitive to what appears to be stereotyping.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - Sorry if "I come off" as anything. I was telling the story of the experience. It just so happened that these two women were trans - or, one had "a history of trans" - and they were very rude and domineering in the conversation.

I think the blog, as a whole, is illustrative of my ability to be "intersectional" about gender and race and other sort and manner of human condition. I am not stereotyping because I know no "stereotype" of a transperson. They are as unique and varied as the rest of us.

You, on the other hand are suggesting a stereotype of lesbian feminists which I definitely do not fall into. Let's get this straight, as it were: I'm a lipstick lesbian, thank you very much. And, a rude asshole is a rude asshole, whether they are straight, LGBT, male, female, black, white . . .etc.

Albert Westpy said...


Thank you for this blog. If you have no objections I would like to repost it on a 'members only' page of the socialist party I belong to.
It seems as if every time I read a blog of yours my only regret is that I did not remain in the Oasis and get to know you.
The funny thing is thing is that I had my full of some of the other members and left. The good thing is that I have learned from that experience and will not make the same mistake again ( I hope ). That is why I would like to repost your blog.

JCF said...

Whoa, so defensive! Where'd that come from? O_o

Last night's episode of Glee, "Transitions", was (for the most part) outstanding. The highlight was undoubtedly when newly transitioning coach Sheldon Biest (victim of Trans-harrassment earlier in the ep), joins in w/ the FABULOUS Alex "Unique" Newell, and a choir of 200 Trans people. Watch, and be truly uplifted...

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Of course you can repost it Albert. I'm sorry I didn't get to know you better, either. And now, there's FB. Life is good.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Not defensive, JCF. Just responsive. I really think this is your stuff, not mine. Happens to the best of us, sometimes.