The online harassment of women exemplifies twenty-first century behavior that profoundly harms women yet too often remains overlooked and even trivialized. This harassment includes rape threats, doctored photographs portraying women being strangled, postings of women’s home addresses alongside suggestions that they are interested in anonymous sex, and technological attacks that shut down blogs and websites. It impedes women’s full participation in online life, often driving them offline, and undermines their autonomy, identity, dignity, and well-being. But the public and law enforcement routinely marginalize women’s experiences, deeming the harassment harmless teasing that women should expect, and tolerate, given the internet’s Wild West norms of behavior.
The trivialization of phenomena that profoundly affect women’s basic freedoms is nothing new. No term even existed to describe sexual harassment of women in the workplace until the 1970s. The refusal to recognize harms uniquely influencing women has an important social meaning—it conveys the message that abusive behavior toward women is acceptable and should be tolerated.
— Danielle Keats Citron, Professor of Law, University of Maryland School of Law in “Law’s Expressive In Combating Cyber Gender Harassment”, Michigan Law Review, Nov. 29, 2009
It’s good to see women attorneys who are increasingly focusing on this issue. The 2007 attacks on Women’s Space are cited here.
Update: Earlier today, I posted biographical information for each of the signatories to this open statement — this is a very impressive gathering of women! — but I have (reluctantly) removed this now out of concern over whether these women would want this information posted and over concerns about accuracy. I may try to contact all of them and ask them whether they would be willing to have biographical information about them posted here. I wish it could have stayed! But it’s best to be cautious. — Heart
Forbidden Discourse: The Silencing of Feminist Criticism of “Gender”
An open statement from 37 radical feminists from five countries.
August 12, 2013
We, the undersigned 1960s radical feminists and current activists, have been
concerned for some time about the rise within the academy and mainstream media
of “gender theory,” which avoids naming men and the system of male supremacy
as the beneficiaries of women’s oppression. Our concern changed to alarm when
we learned about threats and attacks, some of them physical, on individuals and
organizations daring to challenge the currently fashionable concept of gender.
Recent developments: A U.S. environmental organization that also calls itself
radical feminist is attacked for its political analysis of gender. Feminist conferences
in the U.K., U.S. and Canada are driven from their contracted locations for asserting
the right of women to organize for their liberation separately from men, including
M>F (male to female) transgendered people.
Deep Green Resistance (DGR) reports1 that queer activists defaced its published
materials and trans activists threatened individual DGR members with arson, rape
and murder. Bookstores are pressured not to carry DGR’s work and its speaking
events are cancelled after protests by queer/transgender activists. At “RadFem”
conferences in London2, Portland3 and Toronto4, trans activists accuse scheduled
speakers of hate speech and/or being transphobic because they dare to analyze
gender from a feminist political perspective. Both MF transgender people and
“men’s rights” groups, operating separately but using similar language, demand
to be included in the Rad Fem 2013 conference in London called to fight against
women’s oppression and for liberation.
How did we slide back to the point where radical feminists have to fight for the
right to hold women-only conferences and criticize conventional “gender roles”?
The rise of Gender Studies may be part of the problem. Language is a wonderful
human tool for thinking, understanding, cooperation and progress, so it makes
sense that when people fight for freedom and justice against those who are
oppressing them, the use and misuse of words—of language—becomes part of
the struggle. Originally the term “gender” may have been a useful way around
the communication problem that the word “sex” in English has several meanings.
“Sex” refers to the reproduction of a species, as well as acts bringing about sexual
pleasure AND the simply descriptive division of many plants and animals into
two observable categories—the “sexes.” Using “gender” instead of “sex” allows
feminists to make it clear that all kinds of social relations and differences between
the sexes were unjust, not just sexual relations between the sexes. “Gender”
also covers the artificial, socially-created differences between the human sexes,
the overwhelming majority of which are politically, economically and culturally
disadvantageous to female humans.
“Gender Studies” has displaced the grassroots women’s liberation analysis
of the late 1960s and early 1970s. An early embrace of the neutral idea of
“sex roles” as a major cause of women’s oppression by some segments of the
women’s liberation movement has morphed into the new language—but the
same neutrality—of “gender roles” and “gender oppression.” With a huge
boost from the “new” academic theory coming out of those programs, heavily
influenced by post-modernism, “gender identity” has overwhelmed—when
not denying completely—the theory that biological women are oppressed and
exploited as a class by men and by capitalists due to their reproductive capacity.
Women often can no longer organize against our oppression in women-only
groups without being pilloried with charges of transphobia. But, as a UKbased
radical feminist “Fire in My Belly” wrote in her blog, “Radical feminists
recognise that an individual’s ‘gender identity’ cannot, in a fair society, be
allowed to ride roughshod over biological sex, which cannot be changed.”5
We do not view traditional sex/gender roles as natural or permanent. In fact,
criticizing these “roles” is valid and necessary for women’s liberation. Radical
feminist analysis and activism focus on unequal power relations between men
and women under male supremacy, with real, material benefits going to the
oppressor group (men) at the expense of the oppressed group (women).
The system of male supremacy comes down hard on non-conforming men and
women, as movingly described online by members of the trans community.
While switching gender identity may alleviate some problems on an individual
level, it is not a political solution. Furthermore, a strong case can be made that
it undermines a solution for all, even for the transitioning person, by embracing
and reinforcing the cultural, economic and political tracking of “gender” rather
than challenging it. Transitioning is a deeply personal issue associated with a
lot of pain for many people but it is not a feminist strategy or even individual
feminist stance. Transitioning, by itself, does not aid in the fight for equal
power between the sexes.
There will have to be many advances in science and technology before the
bodies of female humans will no longer be needed for the complicated
and dangerous jobs of supplying eggs and gestating and bearing ongoing
generations to carry on the work of the world. There will also, no doubt, be
struggles to ensure that women are not oppressed in new ways under these
Not all feminists agree that ‘gender’ should be done away with, nor do
we agree with one another on pornography or prostitution or a radical
transformation of our economy or a number of other issues. But our movement
has a history of airing serious differences in speeches and distributed position
papers, not in physical attacks, threats of bodily harm and censorship of such
analyses. DGR and RadFem stood up for the right to think, speak and write
freely on the question of gender.
Although we may not be in total agreement with DGR’s analysis of gender, we
welcome it as an important contribution to radical feminism and commend
the courage it has taken to stand against the threats and attacks it brought
upon them. We defend the right of RadFem to exclude men, including M>F
trans people, from their feminist meetings and to invite speakers who analyze
gender from a feminist perspective. We also commend CounterPunch online
for publishing the DGR material, which brought similar attacks for transphobia
upon them, including from Jacobin magazine online.
We look forward to freedom from gender. The “freedom for gender”
movement, whatever the intentions of its supporters, is reinforcing the culture
and institutions of gender that are oppressing women. We reject the notion
that this analysis is transphobic. We uphold the radical feminist principle that
women are oppressed by male supremacy in both its individual and institutional
forms. We continue to support the radical feminist strategy of organizing an
independent power base and speaking the basic truths of our experience out of
earshot of the oppressor. We hold these principles and strategies essential for
advancing toward women’s liberation.
Initiated by Carol Hanisch (NY), Kathy Scarbrough (NJ), Ti-Grace Atkinson (MA), and Kathie Sarachild (NY)
Also signed by Roberta Salper (MA), Marjorie Kramer (VT), Jean Golden (MI), Marisa Figueiredo (MA), Maureen Nappi (NY), Sonia Jaffe Robbins (NY), Tobe Levin (Germany), Marge Piercy (MA), Barbara Leon (CA), Anne Forer (AZ), Anselma Dell’Olio (Italy), Carla Lesh (NY), Laura X (CA), Gabrielle Tree (Canada), Christine Delphy (France), Pam Martens (FL), Nellie Hester Bailey (NY), Colette Price (NY), Candi Churchhill (FL), Peggy Powell Dobbins (GA), Annie Tummino (NY), Margo Jefferson (NY), Jennifer Sunderland (NY), Michele Wallace (NJ), Allison Guttu (NY), Sheila Michaels (MO), Carol Giardina (NY), Nicole Hardin (FL), Merle Hoffman (NY), Linda Stein (NY), Margaret Stern (NY), Faith Ringgold (NJ), Joanne Steele (NY)
Cathy Brennan, a lesbian, was attacked at the New York City Dyke March this past weekend by a group of trans women and their supporters, one of whom was an organizer of the march. Cathy was one woman and she was targeted by a group of people, one ringleader of which acknowledges she “lost it.” Cathy used her one voice to speak her own truth and assaulted nobody.
This is despicable behavior, unconscionable and disgusting. To be silent about it when speaking up is possible, to ignore it, to fail to acknowledge it, would be wrong. Hence, this post.
On Friday, three years after a Collin County jury acquitted the Leshers and their employee of aggravated sexual assault, a Tarrant County jury awarded the couple $13.78 million in a libel judgment. The ruling sends the message that people have the freedom to write what they please online, but they can be held accountable.
The award is the largest ever assessed in an Internet libel case, the Leshers’ attorney, Meagan Hassan, said Tuesday…
“This was clearly a vendetta,” [plaintiffs’ attorney] Hassan said. “We originally sued 178 John and Jane Does, and it all came down to two IP addresses.”…
The abuse grew so bad that the Leshers closed their businesses and moved away from Clarksville, where they had lived for more than 20 years, Hassan said. Mark Lesher now practices law in Mount Pleasant and Texarkana, and his wife has given up her salon. Continue reading
there will be no compensation
it was of your free will that you stood
on the frontline
these are the rules of war
remember that you fought for your people
i know the freedom’s been hard won
but as you weep
remember that you
“Gertrude Beasley’s memoir of growing up dirt poor in and around the Bible Belt town of Abilene, My First Thirty Years, was released in 1925 by Contact Press in Paris. That’s the same press that published James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. H.L. Mencken hailed Beasley’s book as one of the best coming-of-age books ever …
“Despite these accolades, her memoir is largely unknown. Its violent and sexually deviant material caused it to be banned in Britain, where Beasley was living at the time. Most copies were destroyed by Scotland Yard and U.S. Customs. The few that made it to Texas were mostly yanked off shelves by the Texas Rangers, probably on the orders of prominent Texans maligned in her book. Then the author vanished. She was 35. Continue reading
A Kiev art museum contains a curious icon from St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai in Israel. It shows two robed Christian saints. Between them is a traditional Roman ‘pronubus’ (a best man), overseeing a wedding. The pronubus is Christ. The married couple are both men.
Is the icon suggesting that a gay “wedding” is being sanctified by Christ himself? The idea seems shocking. But the full answer comes from other early Christian sources about the two men featured in the icon, St. Sergius and St. Bacchus,two Roman soldiers who were Christian martyrs. These two officers in the Roman army incurred the anger of Emperor Maximilian when they were exposed as ‘secret Christians’ by refusing to enter a pagan temple. Both were sent to Syria circa 303 CE where Bacchus is thought to have died while being flogged. Sergius survived torture but was later beheaded. Legend says that Bacchus appeared to the dying Sergius as an angel, telling him to be brave because they would soon be reunited in heaven.
While the pairing of saints, particularly in the early Christian church, was not unusual, the association of these two men was regarded as particularly intimate. Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch (512 – 518 CE) explained that, “we should not separate in speech they [Sergius and Bacchus] who were joined in life“. This is not a case of simple “adelphopoiia.” In the definitive 10th century account of their lives, St. Sergius is openly celebrated as the “sweet companion and lover” of St. Bacchus. Sergius and Bacchus’s close relationship has led many modern scholars to believe they were lovers. But the most compelling evidence for this view is that the oldest text of their martyrology, written in New Testament Greek describes them as “erastai,” or “lovers”. In other words, they were a male homosexual couple. Their orientation and relationship was not only acknowledged, but it was fully accepted and celebrated by the early Christian church, which was far more tolerant than it is today…
Prof. John Boswell, the late Chairman of Yale University’s history department, discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient Christian church liturgical documents, there were also ceremonies called the “Office of Same-Sex Union” (10th and 11th century), and the “Order for Uniting Two Men” (11th and 12th century).
These church rites had all the symbols of a heterosexual marriage: the whole community gathered in a church, a blessing of the couple before the altar was conducted with their right hands joined, holy vows were exchanged, a priest officiated in the taking of the Eucharist and a wedding feast for the guests was celebrated afterwards. These elements all appear in contemporary illustrations of the holy union of the Byzantine Warrior-Emperor, Basil the First (867-886 CE) and his companion John.
Such same gender Christian sanctified unions also took place in Ireland in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, as the chronicler Gerald of Wales (‘Geraldus Cambrensis’) recorded.
Same-sex unions in pre-modern Europe list in great detail some same gender ceremonies found in ancient church liturgical documents. One Greek 13th century rite, “Order for Solemn Same-Sex Union”, invoked St. Serge and St. Bacchus, and called on God to “vouchsafe unto these, Thy servants [N and N], the grace to love one another and to abide without hate and not be the cause of scandal all the days of their lives, with the help of the Holy Mother of God, and all Thy saints”. The ceremony concludes: “And they shall kiss the Holy Gospel and each other, and it shall be concluded”.
Another 14th century Serbian Slavonic “Office of the Same Sex Union”, uniting two men or two women, had the couple lay their right hands on the Gospel while having a crucifix placed in their left hands. After kissing the Gospel, the couple were then required to kiss each other, after which the priest, having raised up the Eucharist, would give them both communion.
Records of Christian same sex unions have been discovered in such diverse archives as those in the Vatican, in St. Petersburg, in Paris, in Istanbul and in the Sinai, covering a thousand-years from the 8th to the 18th century.
The Dominican missionary and Prior, Jacques Goar (1601-1653), includes such ceremonies in a printed collection of Greek Orthodox prayer books, “Euchologion Sive Rituale Graecorum Complectens Ritus Et Ordines Divinae Liturgiae” (Paris, 1667).
While homosexuality was technically illegal from late Roman times, homophobic writings didn’t appear in Western Europe until the late 14th century. Even then, church-consecrated same sex unions continued to take place.
At St. John Lateran in Rome (traditionally the Pope’s parish church) in 1578, as many as thirteen same-gender couples were joined during a high Mass and with the cooperation of the Vatican clergy, “taking communion together, using the same nuptial Scripture, after which they slept and ate together” according to a contemporary report. Another woman to woman union is recorded in Dalmatia in the 18th century.
The women responsible for the holiday we know as Mother’s Day did not celebrate the day as it is celebrated in the United States. The day as they envisioned and conceived it had nothing to do with telephone calls from children, flowers, candy, or dinners out. It had nothing to do with the mothers and grandmothers with the most children and grandchildren being recognized with carnations and ribbons during church meetings. It wasn’t about Hallmark cards or Hallmark moments.
The women most responsible for Mother’s Day were radicals; feminist revolutionaries. Julia Ward Howe, who penned the Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870, was an abolitionist, sharing leadership of the movement with the likes of William Lloyd Garrison, William Cullen Bryant, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. She was a playwright, a poet and a mother of six who once wrote of her abusive marriage under a pen name when her husband forbade her to publish. She was a peace activist who worked tirelessly for an end to war and for healing the wounds of war which were suffered by civilians and soldiers alike. She was a woman who began to see and understand the parallels between the institution of slavery in the United States and the enslavement of the people of women.
Julia Ward Howe struggled as we struggle today in an oppressive marriage in which her husband threatened that if she divorced him – as she tried to do and wanted to do – he would maintain custody of their youngest two children. Chattel to her husband, as were all wives in the 1800s, Howe’s husband controlled her inheritance, using this power he had over her to withhold the money which would have allowed her freedom and independence to engage in the political work which gave her life meaning.
If we understand the reality of Howe’s life, then what she wrote in her Mother’s Day Proclamation takes on new meaning for us. When Howe writes, “Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage for caresses and applause,” she writes not only of the reality of mothers in bondage to their husbands throughout history, she writes of her own very private and personal bondage – and hell — as well.
Mother’s Day was originally Anna Reeves Jarvis’s idea. Jarvis had been a peace activist during the Civil War, devoting herself to healing the wounds and horrors of war for soldiers and their families on both sides. Jarvis called the very first “mother’s days,” “Mothers’ Work Days,” days set aside to improve sanitation during a time when more soldiers in the Civil War were dying from disease and infection than from the wounds of battle.
It was the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in the 1870s, following on the heels of the devastation of the Civil War, which moved Julia Ward Howe to begin a one-woman international peace crusade inaugurated by her Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870. In 1872 she traveled to Europe hoping to promote an International Women’s Peace Conference, but established peace organizations there would not allow her to speak publicly because she was a woman. She rented her own hall and conducted her own meetings, but her attempts failed. She returned to the U.S. and promoted Mother’s Day as a day as a festival of peace; her initiative was successful and resulted in a June 2 Mother’s Day celebration in major cities which lasted 30 years. It was a day in which mothers and grandmothers united to oppose violence and war, a day in which they demanded that men lay down their weapons and work for a peaceful new world.
Mother’s Day lasted only for a short time in its conception as a day of revolution and resistance. When the elder Ann Jarvis died, her daughter began a campaign to revision Mother’s Day as a holiday honoring the individual sacrifices of mothers for their families. The younger Jarvis’s efforts found favor with Woodrow Wilson’s relentlessly anti-Women’s Suffrage administration, and in 1913, Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May Mother’s Day, without any reference to the reason for which it was envisioned by the elder Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe.
Today Mother’s Day in the U.S. is a billion-dollar industry dedicated to sentimentalizing and romanticizing motherhood as patriarchally envisioned, all the while the governments and religions and conservative ideologues in general wage war on mothers by way of forced motherhood, denying them access to contraceptives and abortion, criminalizing them and penalizing them for such things as breastfeeding in public, for their health problems, disabilities, and impoverishment, for their victimization by abusive partners, and for rejecting the abuses of technobirth in favor of birthing their own way, attended by midwives. Today’s Mother’s Day, instead of being a day of resistance to all forms of violence, war, and tyranny, is a day set aside for the perpetuation and repetition of platitudes, meaningless gestures, and consumerism. It is a mockery of the revolutionary vision and work of the women who conceived it.
Howe is remembered in mainstream history as the writer of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but that song was written just as Howe began her public work and before the burgeoning of her own feminist consciousness. Later she would write:
During the first two thirds of my life, I looked to the masculine idea of character as the only true one. I sought its inspiration, and referred my merits and demerits to its judicial verdict. . . . The new domain now made clear to me was that of true womanhood-woman no longer in her ancillary relation to her opposite, man, but in her direct relation to the divine plan and purpose, as a free agent, fully sharing with man every human right and every human responsibility. This discovery was like the addition of a new continent to the map of the world, or of a new testament to the old ordinances.
It was in this spirit that Howe penned her Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870. What might our communities, nation, our world, look like, were mothers and grandmothers to re-member our herstory, now dis-membered by male supremacists? What if we were to reject the mockery which has been made of Howe’s proclamation and this day, in favor of returning to revolutionary militance and dedication to the building of a new world, for our children and grandchildren, for all people? What if we seized this day, taking the opportunity it affords us to remind our children, grandchildren, friends, relatives, all who will listen of the vision of the women whose work originally inspired this day. What if we simply remembered?
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears!
Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the bosom of the devastated earth, a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, Disarm!”
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail & commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesars but of God.
In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.”