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Anonymous asked: in response to your post about WoLF, I have a few questions, if you would like to answer them I’d be interested in your thoughts. I get where you’re coming from, although I disagree (as of now, anyway). What would you say to someone who thinks that it is dangerous to make the “progressive gaze” the yardstick of “good organizing”? In other words, you said that working with right-wing women and speaking at the heritage foundation is the “worst case scenario” of coalition strategy—is this for any
(con’t) other reason than because it looks the worst to progressives? Andrea Dworkin’s famous conclusion in Right Wing Women was that the right and left see women as objects, as property, and defend the property rights of our owners. The right wing sees females as the private property of men (fathers, husbands) and the left sees us as the public property of men (prostitutes,strippers,pornified girlfriends). If Dworkin’s analysis is taken seriously, it makes no sense to see working with the left (con’t) as any more “pure” than working with the right. Both sides are actively opposed to radical feminist politics. Co-optation is a danger in both cases, although I actually personally think it is less likely in working with the rights, but there is no evidence that this has actually occurred. To me, “worst case scenario” would be actual co-optation, in which WoLF began to compromise its political analysis or goals in favor of right wing analysis or goals. (con’t) That’s my definition of a worst case scenario, not looking bad in the eyes of progressives, who already hate us and actively harrass and no-platform us. All that said, I sympathize with your view, and don’t know enough details about what has happened between WoLF and detransitioners to understand the context you gestured at. I suggest it isn’t a zero-sum game;WoLF can do this and it can do that, both. Sorry for the length of this ask. Thank you for your work with disidentified women.
Hi anon, thanks so much for writing. I really appreciate this message and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to clarify. Thank you for asking. I’m definitely not concerned about “the progressive gaze.” That’s not the reason I think this is a worst case scenario, at all. I’m concerned about power. How power works. Who has the power, and how it’s being used. I’m not concerned about how it looks, but what it DOES. Who is going to end up benefiting, who will get hurt.
When I say that WoLF’s already been co-opted, I don’t mean that the WoLF women have all changed their minds about abortion access or lesbian rights just because they are working with women who oppose their stance on these issues. I’m saying that it doesn’t matter what they believe, they are being used by powerful men on the right to achieve the very forms of social control that they seek to oppose. They’re being played.
This isn’t a case of finding common cause with individual conservative women. WoLF might think so, but if so, they are naive. A right wing think tank and social engineering force, the Heritage Foundation, has decided that it’s useful to have radical feminists and lesbians representing their agenda. These people are theocratic fascists, with more institutional power than they have ever had before. They are making use of the left’s weaknesses and devolution into fascist tactics to present themselves as pluralistic and reasonable by comparison. They have an end game in mind. And they are only too delighted to have lesbians and radical feminists unwittingly working against their own interests to achieve that end game. The right sure relishes its tokens. They love it when they can get us to do it to ourselves.
Getting us to do it to ourselves relies on desperation, fanaticism, and/or a corrupt analysis on the part of the collaborators. If the goal is women’s liberation, how will that be achieved in collaboration with white supremacists? I didn’t simply mention white supremacy as a way to signal “these are bad people” and cause a knew-jerk reaction. I mentioned it because the aims of white supremacy and the aims of women’s liberation are in irreconcilable conflict with each other. This is not merely unethical but a serious strategic error.
One of the bitterest obstacles to feminist organizing is when white women universalize their own experiences to the detriment of the interests of women of color, to the extent that those interests do not always align. WoLF teaming up with Heritage does nothing to heal those divisions and in fact doubles down on the very things that compromise female solidarity across racial lines. This is dangerous and it is very destructive. There is the issue that for the most part, only white women would even consider making such an alliance and think it could possibly be in their own interest. You can say this is a matter of “optics” but the problem here is not that it “looks bad” for the most highly visible radical feminist organization to collaborate with white supremacists. The problem is that it betrays a severe lack of recognition about the relationship between white supremacy and the control of women. White supremacists seek to control women in different ways depending on our race, but always with the same aims in mind: absolute white male power. Any radical feminist action that does not take this into account will only play into that agenda. The white male supremacists are utilizing an old ploy about white women as “needing protection” in this case. Their problem with compromising the legal category of “female” is not the same as my problem with it. In fact, it’s the opposite. For them, the lack of coherence looks like an obstacle to complete control. For me, it looks like an obstacle to solidarity and liberation. But it’s the white male supremacists who are in a position to enact “solutions” to this problem—not the lesbians and feminists. Their “solutions” will result in even less power all for us.
The right is in power. They’ve been very successful with co-opting the language forms and tropes of the left, and repurposing them in infuriating, confounding ways to create new double binds for all of us struggling for better lives.
When I talked about HB2, I think of that as potentially the template for what they want to do more broadly. They’re dividing the left, possibly beyond repair. (And it’s worth mentioning the possibility that the fringiest leftist elements–think Dave Muscato–are either actually right wing plants–trolls–or true believers who have been influenced by right wing psy ops.) If HB2 is the template, then we all need to be afraid. Using the absurd excesses of “trans activism” as a pretext, while also playing on the homophobia of many, they dismantled rights and protections very broadly, impacting all workers, immigrants, people of color, lesbians and gays, and women.
So I’m not concerned about purity. I fully appreciate the limitations of the left, believe me. But the thing is, I’m talking about making coalition across disagreement with people who share the same material oppressions and trying to win specific battles on points of agreement. I know that’s what WoLF thinks they are doing, supposedly. But they’re not. WoLF has an issue with leftist gender ideology, but their friends on the right, who hold a frightening degree of power right now, have their own gender ideology. They don’t call it “gender identity” but it absolutely is. The difference is that their version of “gender identity” relies on social roles and appearance being in what they deem “congruence” with one’s sex. That’s why they think sex matters; it dictates your place in their order. Those “nice” right wing women are PR professionals. The men behind them are “playing nice” to get us to go along with them against our own interests, when actually they’re preparing the way for controlling and perhaps killing us. Or maybe they can get us to do it to each other. WoLF speaking to the mixed crowds where radiqueers yelled them down was a far more effective tactic for forging alliances against this most dangerous enemy. Women who see that start to understand the real power dynamics at issue. This “alliance” obscures the truth of those power dynamics, utterly.
The truth is that WoLF is being used by one group of men against another group of men–the two groups are vying for domination and the right-wing men have realized that WoLF are a useful tool against their left-wing male rivals. It’s a patriarchal dogfight and women like us are nothing but fodder in that larger game these men are playing with each other. Women are their pawns. Women on the left are the pawns of the leftist men; women on the right are the pawns of the right-wing men. I would like to see radical feminists step out of that position and work with and for women.
I brought up the issue of detransitioned women and WoLF, and surely it is only one example of many, but it’s the one I’m familiar with. Basically I think it’s extremely telling that WoLF has been able to get past their differences with right wing women, apparently even right wing men, but not willing to listen to us. I know some of us tried hard to get through to them, not out of some special snowflake ego trip like they repeatedly accuse (because they cannot/refuse to understand us in any other way), but because having been insiders in the queer scene, we had insight into what unintended consequences their well-meaning but ultimately harmful strategies and messages would have. And insight into how best to make common cause with other women with whom we may have political disagreement in some ways though we share a political predicament.
Honestly, a lot of women who have issues with trans shit have stuff to work out about what is really in it for them. The deference WoLF is showing to the right is chilling. It’s so much easier to give your wrath to your sisters than to the patriarchal power. So much harder to fight the actual power. I’ve seen WoLF recognize this in the other direction–that trans activists scapegoat feminists for harming transwomen when the real harm is being done by men. So how come WoLF gets so deferential in the presence of the white male supremacists (male and female) yet they’ve repeatedly failed to respect women like us as equals and sisters, but are only comfortable with us when we are Exhibit A’s, resources to be extracted according to their pre-existing agenda? How come they’ve been too invested in political “purity” to make inroads anywhere else on the left, but they clearly have a totally different standard of what’s acceptable enough, when it’s the right? It’s a power move. WoLF wants power and thinks they’re going to get some by standing next to it. It gets them attention, not power.
Clearly, the reason they were more motivated to work with these right wingers than with, for example, detransitioned women is an issue of power. Working with a group of marginalized women–especially women coded as “crazy” dykes–doesn’t give you the kind of money, power, status, and media exposure they are after. What it gives you is organized female solidarity. If that’s your priority, then that is everything. But they want what power they believe they will get by aligning with Heritage. It’s as naive as thinking that having sex with a powerful man makes you more powerful.
Ask yourself: What’s in it for Heritage? What’s in it for Kami Mueller? They are in a triumphant moment in terms of their political power. They are not desperate. They are not so desperate for allies that they have to reach their “hands across the aisle.” So ask yourself what they stand to gain from this “alliance.” They turned out a very disciplined, carefully “respectful” audience for that talk. They are organized; they have the money, the strategy, and the political clout. Think about the nature of their great show of “respect.” Think about the alt-right strategies we’re seeing–the new breed of white supremacists who deny that’s what they are, who show up pressed and neat, “respectful” to everyone. Think about what they’ve been able to accomplish by those means. The left is far, far too focused on Correct Language and How Things Appear. The right is using that focus to slip under the radar like an abuser who knows how to say all the right things to keep you hooked.
But the right paved the way for this insanity on the left to begin with. The left’s gender politics are reactionary, yes—but it’s an unholy amalgam of backlash against feminism and reaction against the Christian right.
And the movement for women’s liberation as we understand it does need to have more popular support than the current population of “radical feminists.” Once this “coalition” is over, then the right utilizes its results to enact its horrors on us all. Who are we going to stand with then, to fight it? Who is going to stand with WoLF at that point, when they are the collaborators who helped make it happen? How will the vast majority of politically engaged women interpret that result? How will that compromise the ability of any of us to fight patriarchy as feminists, to fight under the open assertion that the material reality of our sex is a basis for solidarity?
When the “solutions” brought by the likes of Heritage mean one kind of control and repression for white women and a very different kind of control and repression for women of color—particularly Black and indigenous women—how will that not be another example of failures of solidarity on the part of white women? How is this not a betrayal?
And won’t the lefty misogynists have a perfect example “proving” to the many, many misguided women (whose hearts and minds we need to win) that any acknowledgment of sex, not gender, is harmful to us all?
If the goal is women’s liberation through female solidarity, this is not the way.