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Stop the Frack Attack Prioritizes Male Entitlement over Saving the Planet

By Deep Green Resistance Colorado

Dear Reader, do you believe women, including those who have been raped by men, have the right to not be forced to share their most intimate spaces with males?

If you believe women have the right to say no, you will not be allowed to table at the Stop the Frack Attack National Convention.

Why? Because evidently the right of males to colonize women’s most intimate and vulnerable spaces is more important to these organizers than the rights of women to say no.

What does this have to do with a conference on fracking? We believe that just as communities have the right to say no to fracking, so, too, women have that right.

As radical environmentalists (and radical feminists), we in Deep Green Resistance oppose any and all threats to the future of the planet. This includes the recent spread of hydraulic fracturing as a method of oil extraction, a particularly vicious expression of this culture’s contempt for the living world. Because of this, we were understandably excited when we saw that Denver would be host to the Stop the Frack Attack (STFA) National Convention this week, and immediately reached out to see about tabling and distributing materials for our organization. Unfortunately, the leaders of STFA made it very clear to us that feminist perspectives are not welcome at their event.

Deep Green Resistance (DGR) is being barred from STFA because, according to the organizers of this conference, we support a “gender binary.” This notion is absurd. No one in DGR supports the gender binary – in fact, we oppose it so strongly that we don’t think those who struggle to fit inside one suffocating category should mutilate their bodies to fit inside the other. Sadly, transgenderists seem to disagree.

The real reason for our being censored is simple: We don’t think one abolishes an oppressive system by creating more categories in between the powerful and the powerless. On every issue except gender, most activists agree with us. After all, Capitalist societies don’t have a “class binary,” but no one thinks that makes the proletariat any closer to liberation. The bloodthirsty Spanish colonizers had at least six racial categories in their so-called New World; did that stop the indigenous from being slaughtered? And if not, then why on Earth would a non-binary gender system do anything to stop men from raping and killing women?

DGR believes the ideal number of genders isn’t three, or four, or dozen, or a million. It’s zero. We aim for a world where no one, male or female, is defined by a set of violent stereotypes called masculinity and femininity. And we can’t get there so long as these patriarchal, culturally constructed notions of Man and Woman are turned into essential aspects of human beings. Abolishing patriarchy means acknowledging that the social roles of this culture are not natural, not innate, and not acceptable – yet transgenderists are determined to naturalize the structure of women’s oppression by turning gender into an identity.

Critics of DGR like to portray us as somehow protecting or defending traditional definitions of gender, but nothing could be further from the truth. Deep Green Resistance encourages and supports anyone who resists the abusive and violent gender system – and the greatest example of such resistance is women saying no to men. Inside a political structure wherein people with penises are taught to disregard, belittle, and abuse people with vulvas – we call this structure “gender” – the truly non-conforming position for males is to defend and support those boundaries, not find new reasons for breaking them. Men force women to sacrifice their spaces every single day in this culture; doing the exact same thing while wearing lipstick and a dress doesn’t make it radical.

In a world teetering on the brink of destruction, we in Deep Green Resistance are absolutely amazed that an activist would turn his back on a committed environmentalist group solely because that group thinks rape victims shouldn’t have to shower and sleep with men. Sadly, many women in DGR are not surprised; they are very used to male activists putting the feelings of men above the physical safety and security of women. If the organizers of Stop the Frack Attack truly want to strike a blow against our restrictive and oppressive gender system, they could start by challenging their own entitlement and misogyny, clearly displayed here for all to see.

In the meantime, thank you to the STFA organizers for at least being clear about their solidarity with males.

The Modern COINTELPRO and How To Fight It

Editor’s Note: this first appeared on Dissident Voice, June 7th, 2014

Crowdsourcing Repression

Let’s Be Honest

Despite the seeming popularity of environmental and social justice work in the modern world, we’re not winning. We’re losing. In fact, we’re losing really badly.1

crowd_DV

Why is that?

One reason is because few popular strategies pose real threats to power. That’s not an accident: the rules of social change have been clearly defined by those in power. Either you play by the rules — rules which don’t allow you to win — or you break free of the rules, and face the consequences.

Play By The Rules, or Raise the Stakes

We all know the rules: you’re allowed to vote for either one capitalist or the other, vote with your dollars,2 write petitions (you really should sign this one), you can shop at local businesses, you can eat organic food (if you can afford it), and you can do all kinds of great things!

But if you step outside the box of acceptable activism, you’re asking for trouble. At best, you’ll face ridicule and scorn. But the real heat is reserved for movements that pose real threats. Whether broad-based people’s movements like Occupy or more focused revolutionary threats like the Black Panthers, threats to power break the most important rule they want us to follow: never fight back.

State Tactic #1: Overt Repression

Fighting back – indeed, any real resistance – is sacrilegious to those in power. Their response is often straightforward: a dozen cops slam you to the ground and cuff you; “less-lethal” weapons cover the advance of a line of riot police; the sharp report of SWAT team’s bullets.

This type of overt repression is brutally effective. When faced with jail, serious injury, or even death, most don’t have the courage and the strategy to go on. As we have seen, state violence can behead a movement.

That was the case with Fred Hampton, an up-and-coming Black Panther Party leader in Chicago, Illinois. A talented organizer, Hampton made significant gains for the Panthers in Chicago, working to end violence between rival (mostly black) gangs and building revolutionary alliances with groups like the Young Lords, Students for A Democratic Society, and the Brown Berets.  He also contributed to community education work and to the Panther’s free breakfast program.

These activities could not be tolerated by those in power: they knew that a charismatic, strategic thinker like Hampton could be the nucleus of revolution. So, they decided to murder him. On December 4, 1969, an FBI snitch slipped Hampton a sedative. Chicago police and FBI agents entered his home, shot and killed the guard, Mark Clark, and entered Hampton’s room. The cops fired two shots directly into his head as he lay unconscious. He was 21 years old.

The Occupy Movement, at its height, posed a threat to power by making the realities of mass anti-capitalism and discontent visible, and by providing physical focal points for the dissent that spawns revolution. While Occupy had some issues (such as the difficulties of consensus decision-making and generally poor responses to abusive behavior inside camps), the movement was dynamic. It claimed physical space for the messy work of revolution to happen, and represented the locus of a true threat.

The response was predictable: the media assaulted relentlessly, businesses led efforts to change local laws and outlaw encampments, and riot police were called in as the knockout punch. It was a devastating flurry of blows, and the movement hasn’t yet recovered. (Although many of the lessons learned at Occupy may serve us well in the coming years).

State Tactic #2: Covert Repression

Violent repression is glaring. It gets covered in the news, and you can see it on the streets. But other times, repression isn’t so obvious. A recent leaked document from the private security and corporate intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (better known as STRATFOR) contained this illustrative statement:

Most authorities will tolerate a certain amount of activism because it is seen as a way to let off steam. They appease the protesters by letting them think that they are making a difference — as long as the protesters do not pose a threat. But as protest movements grow, authorities will act more aggressively to neutralize the organizers.

The key word is neutralize: it represents a more sophisticated strategy on behalf of power, a set of tactics more insidious than brute force.

Most of us have probably heard about COINTELPRO (shorthand for Counter-Intelligence Program), a covert FBI program officially underway between 1956 and 1971. COINTELPRO mainly targeted socialists and communists, black nationalists, Civil Rights groups, the American Indian Movement, and much of the left, from Quakers to Weathermen. The FBI used four main techniques to undermine, discredit, eliminate, and otherwise neutralize these threats:

  1.      Force
  2.      Harassment (subpoenas, false accusations, discriminatory enforcement of taxation, etc.)
  3.      Infiltration
  4.      Psychological warfare

How can we become resilient to these threats? Perhaps the first step is to understand them; to internalize the consequences of the tactics being used against us.

The JTRIG Leaks

On February 24 of this year, Glenn Greenwald released an article detailing a secret National Security Agency (NSA) unit called JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group). The article, which sheds new light on the tactics used to suppress social movements and threats to power, is worth quoting at length:

Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums.

It shouldn’t come as a total surprise that those in power use lies, manipulation, false information, fake identities, and “manipulation [of] online discourse” to further their ends. They always fight dirty; it’s what they do. They never fight fair, they can never allow truth to be shown, because to do so would expose their own weakness.

As shown by COINTELPRO, this type of operation is highly effective at neutralizing threats. Snitchjacketing and divisive movement tactics were used widely during the COINTELPRO era, and encouraged activists to break ties, create rivalries, and vie against one another. In many cases, it even led to violence: prominent, good hearted activists would be labeled “snitches” by agents, and would be isolated, shunned, and even killed.

As a friend put it,

“By encouraging horizontal, crowdsourced repression, activists’ focus is shifted safely away from those in power and towards each other.”

A page from a top-secret document prepared by the JTRIG unit.

Are Activists Targeted?

Some organizations have ideas so revolutionary, so incendiary that they pose a threat all by themselves, simply by existing.

Deep Green Resistance is such a group. If these tactics are being used to neutralize activist groups, then Deep Green Resistance (DGR) seems a prime target. Proudly Luddite in character, DGR believes that the industrial way of life, the soil-destroying process known as agriculture, and the social system called civilization are literally killing the planet – at the rate of 200 species extinctions, 30 million trees, and 100 million tons of CO2 every day. With numbers like that, time is short.

With two key pieces of knowledge, the DGR strategy comes into focus. The first is that global industrial civilization will inevitably collapse under the weight of its own destructiveness. The second is that this collapse isn’t coming soon enough: life on Earth could very well be doomed by the time this collapse stops the accelerating destruction.

With these understandings, DGR advocates for a strategy to pro-actively dismantle industrial civilization. The strategy (which acknowledges that resisters will face fierce opposition from governments, corporations, and those who cling to modern life) calls for direct attacks on critical infrastructure – electric grids, fossil fuel networks, communications, etc. – with one goal: to shut down the global industrial economy. Permanently.

The strategy of direct attacks on infrastructure has been used in countless wars, uprisings, and conflicts because it is extremely effective. The same strategies are taught at military schools and training camps around the planet, and it is for this reason – an effective strategy – that DGR poses a real and serious threat to power. Of course, writing openly about such activities and then taking part in them would be stupid, which is why DGR is an “aboveground” organization. Our work is limited to building a culture of resistance (which is no easy feat: our work spans the range of activities from non-violent resistance to educational campaigns, community organizing, and building alternative systems) and spreading the strategies that we advocate in the hope that clandestine networks can pull off the dirty work in secret.

When I speak to veterans – hard-jawed ex-special forces guys – they say the strategy is good. It’s a real threat.

Threat Met With Backlash

That threat has not gone unanswered. In a somewhat unsurprising twist, given the information we’ve gone over already, DGR’s greatest challenges have not come from the government, at least not overtly. Instead, the biggest challenges have come from radical environmentalists and social justice activists: from those we would expect to be among our supporters and allies. The focal point of the controversy? Gender.

The conflict has a long history and deserves a few hours of discussion and reading, but here is the short version: DGR holds that female-only spaces should be reserved for females.  This offends many who believe that male-born individuals (who later come to identify as female) should be allowed access to these spaces. It’s all part of a broader, ongoing disagreement between gender abolitionists (like DGR and others), who see gender as the cultural lattice of women’s oppression, and those who view gender as an identity that is beyond criticism.

(To learn more about the conflict, view Rachel Ivey’s presentation entitled The End of Gender.)

Due to this position, our organization has been blacklisted from speaking at various venues, our organizers have received threats of violence (often sexualized), and our participation in a number of struggles has been blocked – at the expense of the cause at hand.

A Case Study in JTRIG?

Much of the anti-DGR rhetoric has been extraordinary, not for passionate political disagreement, but for misinformation and what appears to be COINTELPRO-style divisiveness. Are we the victims of a JTRIG-style smear campaign?

On February 23 of this year, the Earth First! Newswire released an anonymous article attacking Deep Green Resistance. The main subject of the article was the ongoing debate over gender issues.

(Although perhaps debate is the wrong word in this case: Earth First! Newswire has published half a dozen vitriolic pieces attacking DGR. They seem to have an obsession. On the other hand, DGR has never used organizational resources or platforms to publish a negative comment about Earth First.)

Here are a few of the fabrications contained in the February 23 article:

  • “Keith and Jensen [DGR co-founders] do not recognize the validity of traditionally marginalized struggles [like] Black Power.” (a wild, false claim, given the long and public history of anti-racist work and solidarity by those two.3 )
  • DGR members have “outed” transgender people by posting naked photos of them. (Completely false not to mention obscene and offensive.4 )
  • DGR is “allied with” gay-to-straight conversion camps. (The lies get ever more absurd. DGR has countless lesbian and gay members, including founding members. Lesbian and gay members are involved at every level of decision making in DGR.)
  • DGR requires “genital checks” for new members. (I can’t believe we even have to address this – it’s a surreal accusation. It is, of course, a lie.)

If these claims weren’t so serious, they would be laughable. But lies like this are no laughing matter.

Here is one illustrative list of tactics from the JTRIG leaks.

Screenshot3

“Crowdsourced Repression”

The timing of these events – the Earth First! Newswire article followed the very next day by Greenwald’s JTRIG article – is ironic. Of course, it made me think: are we the victims of a JTRIG-style character assassination? Or am I drawing conclusions where there are none to be drawn?

The campaigns against DGR do have many of the hallmarks of COINTELPRO-style repression. They are built on a foundation of political differences magnified into divisive hatred through paranoia and the spread of hearsay. In the 1960s and 70s, techniques that seem similar were used to create divisions within groups like the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement.

Ultimately, these movements tore themselves apart in violence and suspicion; the powerful were laughing all the way to the bank. In many cases, we don’t even know if the FBI was involved; what is certain is that the FBI-style tactics – snitchjacketing, rumormongering, the sowing of division and hatred – were being adopted by paranoid activists.

In some ways, the truth doesn’t really matter. Whether these activists were working for the state or not, they served to destroy movements, alliances, and friendships that took decades or generations to build.

I’ll be clear: I don’t mean to claim that the “Letter Collective” (as the anonymous authors of the February 23 article named themselves) are agents of the state. To do so would be a violation of security culture.5 Modern activists seem to have largely forgotten the lessons of COINTELPRO, and I am wary of forgetting those lessons myself. Snitchjacketing is a bad behavior, and we should have no tolerance for it unless there is substantive evidence.

But members of the “Letter Collective”, at the very least, have violated security culture by spreading rumors and unsubstantiated claims of serious misconduct. Good security culture practices preclude this behavior. In the face of JTRIG and the modern surveillance and repression state, careful validation of serious claims is the least that activists can do. Didn’t we learn this lesson in the 60s?

Divide and Conquer

By itself, verifying rumors before spreading them is a poor defense against the repression modern activists face. Instead, we must challenge divisiveness itself: one of the biggest threats to our success.

The 2011 STRATFOR leak included information about corporate strategies to neutralize activist and community movements. Essentially, STRATFOR advocates dividing movements into four character types: radicals, idealists, realists, and opportunists. These camps can then be dealt with summarily:

First, isolate the radicals. Second, “cultivate” the idealists and “educate” them into becoming realists. And finally, co-opt the realists into agreeing with industry.6

This is how movements are neutralized: those who should be allies are divided, infighting becomes rampant, and paranoia rules the roost. To combat these strategies, we must understand the danger they represent and how to counter them.

Fight Repression With Solidarity

We all want to win. We want to end capitalism, reverse ecological collapse, and build a culture in which social justice is fundamental. Many of us have different specific goals or strategies, but we must find similarities, overlaps, and areas where we can work together.

As Bob Ages, commenting on STRATFOR’s divide-and-conquer tactics, put it in a recent piece:

“Our response has to be the opposite; bridging divides, foster mutual understanding and solidarity, stand together come hell or high water.”

Many people across the left share 80% or more of their politics, and yet constructive criticism and mature discussion of disagreements is the exception, not the rule. We need more thoughtful behavior. Don’t spread rumors, don’t tear down other activists, and don’t forget who the real enemy is. Don’t waste your time fighting those who should be your allies – even if they are only partial allies. Let’s disagree, and let our disagreements help us learn more from each other and build alliances.

In the end, that’s our only chance of winning: together.

  1. For Example:
    U.S. Inequality is at its highest point since 1928.
    One in three women is beaten, raped, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
    Obama has overseen more deportations — more than 2 million — than any president in history.
    Two hundred species are driven extinct every day. []
  2. The Koch Brothers get 40,600,000,000 votes. []
  3. The authors of the article come to this conclusion due to a statement by Lierre Keith that we should “abolish race” — apparently, they take this established and central theory of anti-racist organizing and theory to be instead a desire to erase culture – an absurd comparison. []
  4. Any DGR member who did such a thing would be removed, as this would be a violation of the Code of Conduct. []
  5. Security culture is a set of practices and attitudes designed to increase the safety of political communities. These guidelines are created based on recent and historic state repression, and help to reduce paranoia and increase effectiveness. Learn more about security culture on the DGR website. []
  6. Opportunists, who are generally involved in organizing for prestige and power, don’t even merit mention in this neutralization strategy. They should be excluded from our political organizing out of hand. []

Max Wilbert lives in the Pacific Northwest, where he works to support indigenous resistance to industrial extraction projects, anti-racist initiatives, and radical feminist struggles as part of Deep Green Resistance. He makes his living as a writer and photographer, and can be contacted at max@maxwilbert.org. Read other articles by Max.

End of Gender: Revolution, Not Reform

Gender is not an individual choice, it is not a natural state, and it is not just an idea. Don’t settle for reform – strive for revolution, and the abolition of gender.

by Rachel Ivey

(Video captions available in English and Portuguese.  Contact us if you would like to translate this or other Deep Green Resistance videos to another language.)

Video Transcript:

I was really lucky to be able to give a draft of this presentation to the women’s gathering that happened before the conference so most of the women here have seen it already and I was really lucky to be able to benefit from their experiences and their feedback after I showed it to them first.

My name is Rachel and I was a teenage liberal [audience laughs].  A little more about me for people who don’t already know me very well:  I’m 23. I graduated with a women’s studies minor
from a pretty typical women’s studies program at a mainstream university which I’ll go on to say doesn’t really mean very much but if it’s important to you, I do have some kind of sanctioned background.

I wasn’t only a teenage liberal; I was a 20 year old liberal on the topic of gender.  And then I was a 21 year old liberal on the topic of gender.  Then my liberalism started to fall apart.  It wasn’t all at once.  I don’t think minds change overnight.  I don’t think learning happens overnight.  It took me a while to weed out that liberalism from my activist practice and I think the liberal view of gender was the last thing I had to kind of exorcise from my brain in terms of liberalism.  It sticks hard, and that’s one of the reasons why I feel this presentation and the way we’ve framed it
and what Jessica and Lexy have said is so important because I think we understand the idea behind this presentation is that we understand why liberalism, especially in terms of gender, is so compelling.  I still can understand that.  And that’s one of the reasons that I’m excited that we did it this way.

Through my work with DGR, but also before that—I was a feminist activist before I was an environmental activist.  DGR is actually the first environmentally activist group that I’ve ever been affiliated with. Before that it was all feminism and women’s reproductive rights.  I said that to say that I’ve had a lot of conversations about gender.  And I’ve had them from the liberal perspective and I’ve had them from the radical perspective since I’ve gone on to spend a lot of time doing public speaking for DGR.

Over all that time of having conversations about gender I feel like I’ve developed a kind of standardized approach to beginning those conversations.  They don’t always go in the same direction; every one’s different.  But I can begin them the same way.  So if I feel like I need to bring up the topic of gender, or if someone else is tending towards the topic of gender,
I’ve got to stop them right there and I just have one question that I’ve got to have answered, and that is “What is your definition of gender?”.  Because if I don’t understand your definition of gender and you don’t understand my definition of gender,  you can bet your bottom dollar that conversation is not going to be productive.  Because if you’re using two different definitions of gender you’re not even speaking the same language when it comes to feminism. That’s the core of it.  It took me a while to figure that out.  And I think I’m still figuring it out because I’m still having those conversations. But this is where I’ve gotten so far.

Today I’m going to frame this within the personal shift that I experienced with regard to my definition of gender—like I said, I was a teenage liberal—but I also want to talk about the larger implications, for our activism and for our political practice, of these two differing ideas of gender. Because ideas have material consequences when we act on them.

Since in the past year, maybe year and a half when I’ve been doing DGR activism, you would think that a group advocating the forcible dismantling of civilization would, I don’t know, maybe find that to be the most controversial topic that you bring up.  But no.  [audience laughter] Nope. It’s gender. Every single time.

It’s contentious enough that it’s the only reason as far as I know that we’ve had DGR chapters defect from the organization.  We’ve been denied an audience at speaking events and venues because of the view we take on gender.

And Lierre, who’s unflinchingly vocal on the topic, has received threats of violence and death threats because she does not hold back on her view of gender.

I’m really glad to be able to give some explanation to a topic that has been widely misunderstood and mischaracterized both by the wider activist community and within DGR itself.  If there are misunderstandings about what I say today I’m really happy to answer questions, as are other members of the women’s caucus that are here.  I think that’s extremely important.

I want to be clear, though.  I’m not presenting this topic for debate.  Not in the slightest.  This isn’t only my opinion; this represents DGR’s policy and it has actually happened that people have joined DGR with the intention specifically of shifting our view of gender or challenging the women’s caucus and women in leadership on their radical view of gender.  And it failed miserably. It will again if it’s tried again because this is the core of DGR.  This is the reason I joined DGR.  This is the reason the women I look up to are in DGR.  And if it changed we would all leave. And then where would you be? [audience laughs]  I wanted to get that out of the way first.

Characterizing these two definitions of gender is very simple on the surface but I don’t want to stay on the surface.  I could say one’s liberal, one’s radical, but what does that mean?

Today I want to unpack these two definitions of gender according to what those implications of liberalism and radicalism actually mean in terms of the material effect that we’re likely to have on women’s lives.

But I also want to talk about some of the “light bulb” moments, the personal experiences that I’ve had that shifted my view on gender.  It wasn’t just reading a book.  Things happen that shape your opinion and I think describing those things is the best way I know of to explain to you why I feel the way I do.

We have this word “gender” and there are two definitions of it out there. I’ve kind of distilled these from conversations I’ve had.  Really there’s not a lot of variation.  Either someone tells me one of these or they tell me the other one of these.  They don’t really mix elements, and that’s really interesting to me, that it’s really one or the other. It’s very polarizing. 

In the first definition, gender, often called “gender identity” is a personal, individual quality possessed by each person.  Gender identity is a subjectize perception by an individual
of their position on a spectrum between masculine and feminine, which are both neutral attributes, politically.  Gender is performed outwardly through choice of markers or symbols
like demeanor, body language, aesthetic choices like hair, clothing, presence or absence of makeup, pronoun.  These outward markers are what govern whether an individual
regards you as male or female upon meeting you or interacting with you.

End of Gender 1

Each person has an innate gender identity, characterized with the words “masculine” or “feminine” or in between which is independent of their biological sex.  Each person is born with a biological sex (male, female, intersex) which is also apolitical in this definition.  Sex and gender are not necessarily connected.

What is oppressive about it, according to people who adhere to this definition?

The fact that it’s a binary system in the dominant culture.  The fact that upon birth you are socialized as either masculine or feminine.  Generally, that’s seen as the primary gender oppression in this definition of gender.  That system punishes anyone who doesn’t conform to either one of those binary options.  It follows that this oppresses both women and men.  It oppresses whoever is put into either one of those boxes, no matter why they’re put into it or what happens to them.

So how can we resist?

“Genderqueer” women and men reject the binary system, identify as “gender outlaws” and demand recognition for a range of gender identities, with masculine on one end and feminine on the other.  In this definition, it’s turned from a binary to a spectrum.  The two ends of the binary just get stretched out and we can see some more options in between.

This is the first definition.

The second definition: Gender is a hierarchical system which maintains the subordination of females as a class to males through force.  Gender is a material system of power which uses violence and psychological coercion to exploit female labor, sex, reproduction, emotional support, etc, for the benefit of males.

EndofGender2

Gender is not natural or voluntary, since a person is not naturally subordinate and no one chooses to be subordinated.  Biological sex is a physical feature of each person, and those deemed female upon birth are socialized by the culture into femininity.

In this definition, femininity is defined as ritualized displays of submission to males.

So why is this oppressive?

Because it oppresses a class of people.  And because there are oppressors.  Power is wielded by groups of people. It’s experienced by individuals, yes.  But it’s wielded by groups of people over other groups of people.  And gender is no different.

And how can we resist? Women organize to overthrow male power and thus the entire gender system.

Instead of stretching out those binaries so there’s a spectrum in between, this definition advocates for the abolition of that system of domination and oppression.  Instead of ideally there being more than two different gender identifications, in this definition there would be none.

Because without patriarchy there would be no need for gender.

Anyone want to guess which of these I’m going to characterize as liberal? [audience chuckles]
I ask it as a serious question, because when I read them, if I step back and let go of the fact that I do have a clear conviction with regard to this, the first thing that jumps out at me about the first one is that it emphasizes individualism.  That’s the first thing I’m going to talk about, and I’m going to spend a while on it because I think that’s the core of liberalism with environmentalism and it’s the core of liberalism in gender too.

Again, we have this word gender, and you’ll notice that this looks kind of like a Venn diagram, but the circles don’t overlap at all.

EndofGender3

That’s because I don’t think these two definitions of gender have anything to do with each other.  I think they use the same word to describe two contradictory definitions and I will explain why.  I’ll start with the liberal view.  I picked a quote for each of these that I think sums it up very well.

With this one, the quote is: [Rachel stops talking to let audience read quote]

EndofGender4

And that is Judith Butler, who I spent a lot of time reading in school.  She is a very prominent Queer Theorist, and she gets quoted a lot.  I think her ideas sum up very well the liberal definition of gender so I am going to refer to her quite a bit.  This quote really embodies that individualism for me.

So we start with individualism: On the liberal side, gender is seen as a personal individual quality, and thusly politically neutral.

The individual is held up as so sacred in our “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of dominant culture that it’s not politically correct to criticize or investigate anyone’s gender.

That leads to a lot of arguments, because if you try to analyze it politically people get offended on an individual basis. That’s not what I’m trying to do.

I’m trying to draw connections between how we see gender individually and the class issues that affect material reality.

With liberal environmentalism we see this individualism as the supposed ability of individuals to effect change just by changing themselves.  “I’m going to buy something different, I’m going to wear hemp clothing, I’m going to reduce my carbon footprint and that’s going to help get rid of this system, or change this system, that’s causing environmental destruction in the first place.”

The logical conclusion of that is withdrawalism.  If we just move ourselves out of that system entirely then we’re not contributing to it at all.  The problem with that, as all of you in DGR know, is that just because you’re supposedly not contributing to it, doesn’t mean you’re contributing to the dismantling of it.

The same thing seem to be happening with gender.

A term that Judith Butler coined is the “gender outlaw”, which is a really attractive idea when you’re a teenage liberal, [audience chuckles] because it puts that power supposedly in your own hands.  If I just stop conforming, personally, to these systems or to these attributes that are connected to these systems, then the system will wither and die without me, right?  Or at least I can personally escape the effects of it if I just don’t enact it in my own life.

Again, a “gender outlaw” is someone who abandons the gender stereotypes and the gender symbols that are traditional for their biological sex, and adopts those that are assigned to the other sex.

I do want to be very clear that I don’t really care how someone dresses.  I don’t really care how they cut their hair or whether they wear makeup.  Personally it doesn’t really affect me; I don’t really think it’s political.  But I do have a problem with people postulating that it is a political act of resistance in and of itself.

Dressing as, or appearing as, the traditional gender stereotype of the opposite sex is no more effective than living in a hut in the woods somewhere and expecting civilization to go on by itself.  It doesn’t make any political difference on its own.

But I don’t have any criticism of people individually.

In the liberal view, gender oppression is defined as social restrictions on individual capacity to express their true gender.  So it’s not one class oppressing the other; it’s individuals can’t express themselves.  They’re prevented from doing that, and that’s seen as the primary gender oppression.

When I was a liberal, this was really attractive because it left it all up to me. If I wanted to escape gender, I could do it.  But it wasn’t all up to me. And the idea that it is all up to me is as insulting as it is preposterous.  Because no one, including me, would ever choose a role that involves constant sexual harassment, the ubiquitous threat and in my case occasional enactment of male violence, and the certainty growing up, the conviction that you were meant for
exploitation, erasure, silence, but never personhood. I don’t think any of us think that anyone would choose that.

I’m not sure why, to most of the left, that’s different when it comes to gender.  But it seems to be. [audience applauds & cheers]

I want to emphasize here: I can say that, but I’ve also so far avoided being beaten, sold, or killed by men so as women go, I’m pretty lucky. The fact that I can still identify that class oppression in my own life really tells you something, since I’ve been that lucky.

So I got to college and read things like Judith Butler.  The idea that I could change my outlook on life, change my own perceptions, to escape what feminine socialization was doing to me, was really too tempting to resist. I understand why younger women, younger men — younger people — are really attracted to that.

But I was wrong. And I was wrong because gender is not an individual choice and there was not something wrong with me.

Gender is class oppression of females.

I want to stop here and talk about this. Because individualism too — I’m gonna talk about this throughout, but I wanna start talking about it with individuality.

I’ll repeat something I said earlier: in order to be an outlaw, there has to be a law. In the case of gender outlaws, that law is patriarchy, that system of values and that law is the class oppression of females.  In order for gender outlawism and people describing themselves as trans to make sense, there has to be a majority in order for that minority to exist.

And that majority is “cis” women, of which I count myself among them.

Or more accurately I don’t, because I think that term is oppressive to females on multiple levels
because it describes female people that have capitulated, in this view, to enacting feminism.

We’re taking the easy way out, girls!

We’re enacting that role that we’re supposed to enact, and we’re priviliged because of that.
Because being socialized into a role of femininity that encodes subordination so deep in your identity that you don’t call it that, you call it your nature, you call it your religion, you call it your culture.

I don’t thank that’s a privilege. And I find it ridiculous a lot of the time that I have to describe the fact that that’s not a privilege.

We’ll go over gender according to radical feminists, and I’ll talk about the class issues as opposed to individualism in a second, but first I have this quote:  “It’s become popular in some activist circles to embrace notions from postmodernism, and that includes the idea that gender is somehow a binary.  Gender is not a binary. It is a hierarchy.  It is global in its reach, it is sadistic in its practice, and it is murderous in its completion.  Just like race, and just like class.
Gender demarcates the geopolitical boundaries of patriarchy—which is to say, it divides us in half. That half is not horizontal—it is vertical.  And in case you missed this part, men are always on top.”

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I can envision the anti-DGR, anti-radical feminism party line being “Well of course you’d quote Lierre Keith. Of course you would.”  You know, I would. And part of that is because she’s my friend and because I appreciate her. But it was also because she was the first person I heard say something like this, and that is why it had such an effect on me.  This encapsulates to me the class issues that come into radical feminism.

Group/Class: for radicals, gender itself is oppression. I’ll repeat that:  Without oppression, there can not be gender. They are one and the same when it comes to sex oppression of females.

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For radical feminists, gender is the chain, and patriarchy is the ball, and it’s cuffed to the ankle of every female person born.

That socialization is not escapable, even if you move to that hut in the woods.

If you have a TV, it’s there.  If you know men that have been socialized into this culture, it’s there.  If you have a mother who was socialized as feminine, it’s there.  And that’s what makes it a class issue.

I could not escape gender by changing myself because changing my appearance did not change the fact that I was socialized into the sex class called “women” against my will.

The fear and desperation that comes from that is not something that someone would choose, and it was not my fault.  But even after I realized that, it took me a few years to hold my head up when I walked, and most days I still have to put conscious effort toward it.

So when people postulate that gender is individual, that my individual identity involves walking like you’re about to be kicked, or holding your head down when you speak, that’s offensive. And you can’t put it any other way.  Because no one chooses that identity; no one is innately subordinate.

It’s not a coincidence that 91% of those who are raped are female, and 99% of the perpetrators are male.  It’s not a coincidence that the shoes make it hard to run away.

It’s taboo to acknowledge that females are socialized from birth onward into a subordinate sex class for whom exploitation by males is so ingrained into the social norms that we can’t recognize it any more. That it’s become a “choice”, that it’s become our “identity.”

It’s taboo within mainstream liberal feminism to address the fact that males are socialized from birth onward into a privileged sex class that feeds on violation and subordination of not only women, but as all of you can recognize, of the oceans, of the earth, of life itself.

People who are critical of DGR’s feminist stance often seem unaware that Lierre isn’t the only radical feminist in the organization —“ far from it.  Because she is a woman who doesn’t hedge her words, doesn’t hold her tongue, and really doesn’t accept liberal bullshit, she’s become a lightning rod for the type of flac that radical feminism tends to get.  I find that unfair, first of all. And a lot of that flac comes from a private email she sent that got spread all over the internet, and when people criticize DGR based on the text of that email, they seem to expect us to be so ashamed of it or so offended by it ourselves, that we won’t even address it. So I’d actually like to read it out loud.

“Well, I’ve personally been fighting about this since 1982.  I think “transphobic” is a ridiculous word. I have no strange fear of people who claim to be “trans”.  I deeply disagree with them, as do most radical feminists.

Try this on.  I am a rich person stuck in a poor person’s body.  I’ve always enjoyed champagne rather than beer, and always knew I belonged in first class not economy, and it just feels right when people wait on me.  My insurance company should give me a million dollars to cure my Economic Dysphoria.

Or how about this.  I am really Native American.  How do I know?  I’ve always felt a special connection to animals, and started building tee pees in the backyard as soon as I was old enough.  I insisted on wearing moccasins to school even though the other kids made fun of me and my parents punished me for it.  I read everything I could on native people, started going to pow wows and sweat lodges as soon as I was old enough, and I knew that was the real me. And if you bio-Indians don’t accept us trans-Indians, then you are just as genocidal and oppressive as the Europeans.

Gender is no different. It is a class condition created by a brutal arrangement of power.”

[audience applauds]

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I’d like to follow that comparison a little further to maybe make it a little clearer.  I’ve asked, at first out of genuine curiosity when people would bring this up, why, if gender is something that socialization doesn’t matter, it’s voluntary, you can be trans-gendered or in the more specific case, a trans-woman.  Why is that acceptable when deciding that I’m trans-black is not?
I just want to follow it through. What would it mean if I was trans-black, if I decided that was true.  Would it mean that I wore clothes that are traditionally and stereotypically believed to be worn by African americans?  Would it mean that I identify more strongly with African culture than I do with white culture?

No. And I don’t think I really have to explain why. Because that’s offensive.

I don’t have the cultural background that makes that true; I have not endured the oppression and abuse that goes along with being a marginalized racial class.

So for me to claim that I’m more strongly identified with that is actually just reinforcing those stereotypes.  And I honestly don’t really see what’s different about gender.  If we accept that gender is a class condition, not an individual condition, that analogy makes sense.

People told me about these [analogies] before I actually read them, and once I actually read them, I was kind of underwhelmed [audience laughs] because I didn’t really see what was not straight-forward about calling gender a class position. This was after I left liberalism a little bit.

Next we can talk about idealism.

On the liberal side, gender is idealist.

This is a quote from Jennifer Baumgardner, who I used to idolize.  I went and saw her speak.  She’s a very nice woman.  She does a lot of really good work.  But she says that: “Consciousness is everything.  Even now, acknowledging inequality begs one to do something about it and that is a daunting, albeit righteous, responsibility.”

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The idea that consciousness is everything, just like with environmentalism, leads to an activist practice that’s focused on changing people’s minds as though oppression were a mistake that could be corrected if we could just explain to men that they should really just stop exploiting us.

It begs us to do something about it because we’re the ones affected by it.  But the realization that they’re benefiting from the oppression of others leads the oppressor class to dig in their heels, not to do something about it.

Even liberal feminists — I like to use the example of rape culture, to get away from idealism, because rape is not an idea.  Again, there’s a reason why 91% of rape victims are female, and 99% of the perpetrators are male.  If she’s lucky, the survivor of rape will be one of the 2% whose case actually goes to trial and 97% of rapists never see a day in jail. These are not ideas; they are reality.

EndofGender9When we’re talking about rape culture and idealism, we have to talk about Slut Walk.  I give you one guess who this intrepid young feminist is. [audience laughs]  Do the curls give me away?  I’m not sorry that I participated in this, I actually organized the one at my school, because I think that, just like me, the women who participate in this genuinely want to end rape culture because what woman wouldn’t? The fallacy, the one I fell into (I was 21 in this picture) was that changing people’s ideas about rape culture would actually change rape culture. It says “END RAPE CULTURE” in marker.

The fallacy here is not wanting to end rape culture.  The fallacy is that marching around with “END RAPE CULTURE” on my back was actually going to end rape culture.  Again, it’s based on the idea that we can change people’s ideas about what gender means: if we just redefine the term “slut” then it won’t be an oppressive term to women any more.

But we forget that the lines of oppression are not demarcated by the oppressed.  They are chosen by the oppressor, and they can only be changed through force, not through catchy chants. Which is a shame, because I’m really good at catchy chants. [audience laughs]
For radicals, gender is maintained through force. Gender is a material system of power
which uses violence and psychological coercion to exploit female labor, sex, reproduction,
emotional support, for the benefit of men.

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Rape culture, right along with female poverty, lack of education, the trafficking of our bodies
—it’s maintained through material structures.  Not through people’s ideas.

Gender is a system of power that uses violence and psychological coercion to maintain the oppression of females.  Not to just control our ideas about it, but to control actual physical reality.

Next on the liberal side we have voluntarism, and this again gets back to the heart of the controversy of DGR around feminism. That is, our policy surrounding women’s spaces, and how that relates to people who describe themselves as “trans.”

EndofGender11

I again feel sad that I have to put this as a disclaimer but through my time speaking in public for DGR, we’ve been asked whether we’re a “transphobic” organization. Do we hate trans people?
I can only speak for myself when I say that I do not hate trans people as a group of people;
I don’t hate the individual trans people that I know.

My personal feelings towards individuals has nothing to do with my political analysis  of what that definition of gender means for all of us, and for people as a class.

In the liberal view, gender expression — I took this off the HRC website —  is seen as a voluntarily chosen set of external characteristics and behaviors that are socially defined as either masculine or feminine, such as dress, grooming, mannerisms, speech patterns, or social interactions.  What follows from this is that if gender is voluntary, then people who are oppressed by gender are choosing to be oppressed.

I come back again to the fact that no one chooses to be oppressed.  If we accept this definition of gender, we accept that people who are oppressed for being born female, are choosing to be in that position and that if they wanted to, they could reject that and move away from it by their own personal choices and do something else.

I think back to a person I met who identified themselves to me as a transwoman.  Again, this person was very sweet; I was very glad to meet them; I don’t mean this as a personal attack.
But something they said really stuck with me as a demonstration, when they said “I don’t have the male privilege that I was raised with any more.”  I had to think about that for a while to think about what I thought about that, and whether that was true.  And I realized that it wasn’t. Because being raised with male privilege is the privilege.

Being raised with the knowledge that you are fully human and you deserve rights and that your body is not fair game and that the court system considers you human is the privilege.  And that doesn’t just go away.

So an alternative name for this presentation is “I’m not afraid of your penis but I’m terrified of your socialization.” [audience laughs] because I think that people think when I say things like this that I consider males innately terrifying, that you’ll never get out of it.  I’ve seen men get out of that system of behavior.

But getting out of being socialized into masculinity, which is based on violation and domination, does not make you female. It makes you a revolutionary, because that is what is actually going to change the culture, people acting outside … [cut off as audience applauds and cheers]

This is a quote from Kourtney Mitchell — maybe he’s on live stream right now, I’m not sure, I hope he is — he wrote an essay on white privilege and backlash. He wrote that “It is important to understand what it means to view racial oppression in the context of class analysis.  Whiteness is a class experience, and not based in biological reality. But that does not mean
one can just decide to stop being white, just like I cannot decide to stop being a man as long as the dominant culture classes me as a man.  As long as you are classed as white, you will continue to benefit from white privilege.  This is what allies need to remember.”

EndofGender12

If you put this in the context of gender oppression, it is just as true.  This is what allies need to remember, that whatever your intentions are, whatever your external presentation is, you’re going to have that socialization and therefore that privilege and that identification by the dominant culture as long as you live.

Just like as long as I live I will have to think about my posture so I’m not hiding.  I will have to speak extra loud most of the time in order to counteract the social forces that tell me not to speak at all.  None of that is going to change just because I want it to.  None of that is voluntary like it is on the liberal side.

Now I want to talk about a kind of conflict that I’ve seen within liberal feminism.

I don’t think oppression is natural or voluntary.  But on the liberal side, oppression is both natural and voluntary.  This is because gender is seen as both natural, something innate that we’re born with, and something that we choose from the wardrobe of gender every day, like clothes.  It’s hard to argue from a radical perspective, because liberals have the market cornered on the naturalism and voluntarism.  They can argue it from both sides, and switch in the blink of an eye, and I am having a really hard time figuring out how to point out that this is a basic conflict of logic.

If something is innate, it can not be voluntary.

My brown hair is innate, therefore it’s not voluntary.  The same goes for gender.  It can’t be both, and in my view it’s neither.

Next is constructivism.  Instead of being natural, in the radical view gender is constructed.  It is artificial.  It is imposed on humans who would enact humanity if given the choice.  But instead, this constructed identity of subordination and domination is impressed upon us.

This quote is from Andrea Dworkin: “Woman is not born; she is made.  In the making, her humanity is destroyed.  She becomes symbol of this, symbol of that;
mother of the earth, slut of the universe; but she never becomes herself because she is forbidden to do so.”

EndofGender13

For females this is the reality of the construction of gender, that it is not escapable.  Just because it’s constructed doesn’t mean that it can be deconstructed at will.  It doesn’t mean that it can be deconstructed individually.  In order to deconstruct it, it will take organization, which is something that has not happened on a mass scale yet and that’s why patriarchy still exists.

The thing that brought this home to me was my relationship with a student I used to have.
We went over basic sex ed, we went over self esteem, media literacy.  A lot of the time we just talked about these things, talked about our experiences of gender and of being a teenager in this culture.

I met a girl who had been subject to incest, trafficking, rape, more horrific incidences than I could comprehend.  She may have been the most horrifically abused person that I had ever met in that context. Part of the time that I knew her…

She already had short hair, she cut it a little shorter, she asked me to use the pronoun “he” which I also did.  I didn’t really think very deeply about that at the time.  At the time if you had asked me “Why did she do that?”  I would have said it’s her innate gender identity. She was born wanting to do that.  Now that she’s away from her parents, and in this institution, she feels like she can, without repercussion, and this is a good thing, because she can enact what is actually her.  But I don’t believe that any more.

One of the reasons I don’t believe that is because one of the days in class, I asked them to
draw a picture, all of my students. I knew what I thought they deserved, but I wanted to know what they thought they deserved. What they wanted their lives to be like when they got out. What their lives would be like if they had gotten what they wanted and what they needed throughout their lives.

They drew a lot of different things, but I kept [the girl’s] drawing for a really long time.
In one corner she drew what was clearly a girl’s face. It had pink lipstick, a pink bow in the hair, and tears running down the face, and it had a big X through it.  And underneath it she wrote words she thought described being a girl. She wrote “pain”, she wrote “fear”, she wrote “rape”, she wrote words in that vein.  In the other corner she drew a human face — in fact it looked a lot like her.  It had short, brown hair, no makeup or accessories, and the face was smiling.
And underneath it she wrote “confident”, she wrote “happy”, she wrote “safe.”  And underneath that she wrote me a paragraph, and it started with “If I hadn’t been a girl…”

“If I wasn’t a girl, I wouldn’t have been raped. If I wasn’t a girl, I wouldn’t be scared.  If I wasn’t a girl, I wouldn’t be here, at this institution.”

I kept that for a while, because I didn’t really understand it right away. It took a while for that to sink in.  I don’t bring up this example to try to convey that every person who describes themselves as trans does so because of the type of horrific abuse that she endured.  I do it to assert that being socialized into femininity is abuse, and she just experienced it more extremely than most of us do.  She did what she could to get out of it at that time.  As much as I want that for her, that doesn’t mean that she actually could get out.  She got out of that institution, but she did not get out of femininity, no matter how short she cuts her hair, and no matter what name she uses.

Gender is anything but natural. She was not born with a feminine brain or a masculine brain, but she was born with a female body and in this culture that means she’s considered less human than members of the sex class “men.”

It’s no wonder to me that she wanted to escape that oppression of female socialization by rejecting her femaleness, but like Kourtney said, just as men cannot erase their masculine privilege, women cannot choose to erase the oppression of being socialized into femininity.

Which brings me to the final distinction between the liberal and radical conception of gender that I’m going to talk about today, which is the difference between reformism and revolution.

This is a long quote; I’m not going to read all of it, because it’s not necessary.

“That’s one of the things that the word ‘queer’ can refer to: the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically.”

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This is a quote from Eve Sedgwick, who’s another really prominent queer theorist.  She goes on to say that people can identify as “radical faeries, pushy femmes, transwomen, lesbians who sleep with men, lesbian-identified men”… she goes on like that for a while, it’s a long paragraph.
The point I’m trying to get to, by reading all of that academic language, is that all of those identities are still based on domination and subordination.

Just because we’re putting extra categories in between the two, does not mean that we’re getting rid of the system based on animosity between the two.

On the radical side, we have revolution. This is Catherine Mackinnon: “In a society in which equality is a fact, not merely a word, words of racial or sexual assault and humiliation will be nonsense syllables.”  In the radical feminist view, this will be what happens to the words “man” and “woman”, along with the sex-class system based on subordination and domination that those words signify.

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And that’s it. Thanks. [audience claps & cheers]

 

Watch more Deep Green Resistance videos.

This is what I said at Radfems Respond

Excerpt:

1. Female people are a distinct social class with unique experiences, and members of that class experience specific forms of oppression under male supremacy based on the fact that we are female.

2. Gender is an inherently oppressive caste system that serves to facilitate and maintain the exploitation of female people under male supremacy.

In the last year, my experiences have made it clear to me that these two ideas are tantamount to Orwellian thoughtcrime in our current political climate around gender. And my question – yet again – is why. What is it about these two ideas that justifies the level of threats, backlash, and silencing that we receive just for daring to speak them out loud?

With each of these, I want to talk about their significance to feminism – the reasons that I think it’s important that we state them out loud despite the consequences –  and I also want to honestly address some of the criticisms that I’ve heard directed at them.

Of course, most of radical feminism’s detractors don’t even bother to engage with this discussion. It’s a lot easier to threaten women, to make us afraid, than to actually have a constructive adult conversation. It’s a lot easier to dismiss radical feminism as outdated, a relic from an earlier time, as many choose to, than to acknowledge and engage with our points. This argument, if it can even be called an argument, falls completely flat for me and so many radical feminists of my generation. We’re not clinging to relics, we’re reaching for a politics that actually addresses the scope of the misogyny and male supremacy that we are forced to live within.

Read more:  This is what I said at Radfems Respond