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Pre-2008 Posts

On Feminist Purity


In the Feminist Hierarchies thread the suggestion was made that a woman's feminist beliefs, or what and who she allows in her blog, ought to disqualify her from commentary on various issues, or, I guess, from being taken seriously, endorsed, listened to, or viewed as credible.

I can't get behind that kind of thinking, and this is why.

I have taken a buttload of shit from ALL quarters, and I do mean ALL, over the 12 years now that I’ve been online, because I am simply not a purist. I never will be. For me it will never be fundamentalist-style doctrine-over-person; for me, women are going to come first every time, before their doctrines, even doctrines I really value.  For me, alliances will always be the most important thing, before purity of feminist belief or values or lifestyle.

What that has meant for me is,  I get in trouble with my radical feminist sisters for continuing on in alliances or friendships with, for example, women who are into SM, who sell sex toys or pornography, or who are what would be described as “sex positive.”  I get in trouble with women who are into SM, who sell sex toys or pornography or who are what would be described as sex positive for the way my radical feminist friends criticize (and too often attack) them.  Sometimes what this means is that I get dissed in various ways by members of both groups– by both the radfems for my tolerance and the non-radfems for my intolerance.  I get in trouble with my womanist friends and feminist women of color because my white radical feminist sisters are so often effing racist and won’t for one moment cop to their racism– just arrogant as all get out (pisses me off, as you can see). I get in trouble with just about all of my feminist friends because I open my arms to women fleeing fundamentalist religion, even if they are still religious women, and I continue to walk alongside them even though they continue in, for example, their Christian beliefs.  I get in trouble with women out of Christian religion because my radical feminist friends freely and regularly bash Christianity and all religion and I don't challenge them or disagree with them or argue with them. 

I get in trouble with my queer and transgender feminist friends because of my views on transgender and queer, and I get in trouble with my radical feminist friends for having allied with, or become friends with, queer and transgendered women. I get in trouble with my Christian feminist friends for being relentlessly and avowedly pro-choice, pro-reproductive rights. I get in trouble with my radical feminist friends for my views about birthing, breeding, breastfeeding, pregnancy, and the maternal and matriarchal, just in general.

I get in trouble with my dyke sisters for suggesting that lesbianism is a choice. I get in trouble with heterosexual women for talking about lesbianism as a choice.  I get in trouble with bisexual women for challenging the politics of bisexuality.

I get in trouble with everybody but radical feminist/lesbian separatists for being too hard on men. I get in trouble with radical feminist/lesbian separatists for not being separatist enough and for being too soft on the influence of men, especially sons, in a woman's life.  I get in trouble with  nonseparatists for being a separatist in the first place.

I get in trouble with Michfest womyn for being too divisively and unapologetically political. I get in trouble with non-Michfest womyn for going to Michfest to begin with. I get in trouble with revolutionaries because the revolutions I’ve waged in my daily life are different than the revolutions they understand or can relate to. I get in trouble with nonrevolutionaries for advocating for a lifestyle that is far too revolutionary and which will cost them way too much.  

Any woman in any of the aforementioned groups could decide any time that because I disagreed with her, or didn't share her priorities, I wasn’t qualified to comment on whatever. I could say the same about any woman in any of the above groups.  Especially, I could use the fact of my disagreement with someone to attempt to silence or marginalize her for my own possibly shitty reasons.  Reasons like ambition, like wanting all the spotlight, like being petty and competitive and mean-spirited.  I could baptize all of this shitty-ness as a commitment to purity, rather than as the meanspirited politicking it really is.  There's a lot of that around.

Well, I don't have time for it. I am getting on in years and feeling the urgency that comes with age.  I don’t think, as women, we can afford to think that way or live that way.  We just plain need each other too much.  We need to listen to one another, and the more deeply we disagree, the more carefully we need to listen, and the more uncomfortable we feel, the more we need to pay attention.  In my book, all women are qualified to offer feminist commentary on all subjects.  All.  Ally ally ox in free.




10 thoughts on “On Feminist Purity

  1. Damn it Heart you are awesome,
    This made me well up,
    Partly because I’ve kind of been thinking about it today, my oldest friend, my best friend, the most important woman in my life and the person I know is always always always going to be there for me and who I am always going to be there for is kind of hard core Christian in a conventional heterosexual relationship. And people have said to me “but she’s a Christian how can you be friends with her with your politics?” without taking into account the amount of very nasty crap she has supported me through (we’ve been friends twenty years) and the base line is without her I wouldn’t have survived my life, there was a space of about five years in my mid/late adolescence when the only reason I didn’t kill myself was because I knew she loved me. And at the end of the day I think it comes down to that. What are we doing to support each other? How are we keeping each other safe.

    Also I don’t think any of us should silence each other, I just think living under patriarchy has taught us predominantly aggressive means of discourse and we need to learn to unravel that

    Posted by nectarine | June 25, 2006, 1:13 am
  2. I always thought it was “Ollie ollie oxen free” which makes just about as much sense in my opinion! 🙂

    I am all with you on this one. My loyalty, unlike yours, isn’t quite so specific. My skepticism is complete, and my ability to ostracize others total. My loyalty is to those who choose to stick with me in comradeship and/or friendship DESPITE the fact that we’ve probably pissed each other off around a million times.

    One of my most controversial stances, personally, is my personal preference for mostly “debate” spaces over “safe.” This has led me to be an active member in forums and communities that believe in things that I often do not. But because I enjoy debate so much, and I respect people who can debate well, heatedly, and get emotionally involved and still respect each other the next day … well, I get to forming friendships with people you could arguably call racists, imperialists, pornographers, and sexists to the worst degree.

    My problem has always been that I’m just no good and demonizing the other side, whatever that other side may be. At the same time, however, I’m no good at raving on about the utter goodness and righteousness of all the people who are on “my” side. This leads to a tendency to be seen as over-critical of the people who I’m supposed to be 100% sympathetic to, and under-critical of “the enemy.”

    I’ve been denied access to certain spaces, or bullied into silence, or asked things like, “If you’re so against such-and-such, why have you even come here?” Why, indeed. My preference always comes to bite me in the ass whenever I’m trying to make new friends somewhere and someone who was hurt when I was over-critical of them, comes up and reveals that, “Edith is a member of such-and-such!” Then it’s all gasps, and stares. And then I’m supposed to explain I’m just there to debate, I’m not friendly with THOSE people … but I am. Those are my associates, yes, guilty as charged. But then of course, those other spaces can be just as suspicious that I’ll turn out to be just like all the rest of “those” people (the people I’m grouped with). And of course, political belief-wise, I AM. I’m just really bad at literal separatism.

    Posted by Edith | June 25, 2006, 7:13 am
  3. Until I started reading feminist blogs I never knew that half these divisions even existed, let alone could be so acrimonious.

    Now, I don’t know what category I fit into, honestly it doesn’t bother me that much, but what I have found so frustrating about some of the recent debacle, is not just that it get’s so nastily aggressive, but how a lot of the problem has been about the misinterpretation and misrepresentation of another’s point of view.

    Some of the stuff I have read has been jaw-dropping, slanderous almost. Then you get women – young women usually, who, based on the the fighting and the slanders – not on the reality, they start saying oh, feminism is no good, or radfems are all (whatever insult here) and they’re cutting them out, won’t listen any more. That makes me angry. It’s so destructive.

    I find it interesting you say this as well: “… I don’t have time for it. I am getting on in years and feeling the urgency that comes with age.” There often seems to be quite an age split in these debates, another split that is worth bridging or we lose so much. You said it in your post about erasing feminist history. But it’s not only how the pioneers themselves are forgotten, but their lessons and knowledge, and young women are just not accessing and understanding that, and actually that just makes it more difficult for everyone.

    Posted by anon99 | June 25, 2006, 12:49 pm
  4. Heart,
    How dare you have diverse friends! Shame, shame shame. I’m just so sick of all of this.

    “We need to listen to one another, and the more deeply we disagree, the more carefully we need to listen, and the more uncomfortable we feel, the more we need to pay attention.”


    Posted by spotted elephant | June 25, 2006, 5:05 pm
  5. heeheehee 😉 I like this post. 🙂 You are a Living Bridge That Cannot Be Burned

    Posted by Jeyoani | June 25, 2006, 5:11 pm
  6. “You are a Living Bridge That Cannot Be Burned”

    Isn’t she though? And so are YOU, Jeyoani. You are such an inheritor of her gifts. 🙂

    (We all are, really.)

    Posted by Heather | June 25, 2006, 6:02 pm
  7. And yet some of us who you’ve butted heads with keep coming back to read what you have to say. And to learn from it.

    Just sayin’.


    Posted by Q Grrl | June 26, 2006, 5:03 pm
  8. Ah, the saddest part of all of this is that women have perpetrated all of the cruelest acts in my life. Constant ostracism throughout school, the assorted meanness that they enjoy perpetrating on those who are different, and one (thoroughly invisible) sexual assault.

    Please leave me out of your woman-only utopia. It’s my version of hell.

    PS…how did I choose my lesbianism before I knew what sex was? I had attractions to girls as a three year old, but I had no concept of sex beyon biology.

    Posted by Somethingerine | June 29, 2006, 7:42 am
  9. Somethingerine, yeah, women aren’t essentially or inherently good or wonderful or kind or moral. There’s no moral high ground we can claim. I hate hearing about the cruelties you describe. 😦

    I am not aspiring to a woman-only utopia, but I do aspire to woman-centeredness, and I can’t personally get enough of women. I just really, really do appreciate women, and the older I get, the more I appreciate us. But I also hear what you’re saying and wouldn’t try to talk you out of it. I don’t think we know anywhere near what there is to know about why we are attracted to whomever we are attracted to. When I talk about lesbianism as a choice, I am not suggesting that sexual attractions have no biological or genetic components. I think they probably do. But when I talk about lesbianism as a choice, I’m also not only talking about sexual attraction or sex, although those definitely figure in, definitely matter.  I think you’d agree that being a lesbian is a lot lot more than who we’re attracted to.


    Posted by womensspace | June 29, 2006, 7:27 pm

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