The past, the future.

Googling myself is not something I enjoy doing. This is not because I hate the things I, personally, have written on the internet. Quite the opposite, I generally agree with myself. Haha. Which is not to say that I’ve never changed my mind about something–oh, I have!– but I’m very secure in my political positions. I’ve done a lot of thinking and researching and debating; I know why I believe what I do. I’m happy to support my positions when challenged. The reason I do not enjoy googling myself is because of what other people say about me. It’s very frustrating to read misrepresentations about me and/or my writing, knowing that I have no recourse. I simply have no control over what other people say about me. It’s an occupational hazard of sharing your ideas with the internet.

So, the top google hit on “Bess Hungerford” is a review of a blog post I wrote over a year and half ago, just before I closed my now-private blog called Undercover Punk and started this one. It’s kind of a funny read because the hyperbole is so thick and the critic clearly misunderstands what he’s read.

Here is a complete re-post of the post in question for your edification. The post foreshadowed this blog–especially the title, Revolutionary Combustion– so this is an equally appropriate venue for its publication. I will probably expand on these ideas in the future, but let me clearly summarize: violent elimination of *anything*–institution, individual, or class of people– is not a viable solution to patriarchy. If that’s what it takes to be “radical” or to be a “radical feminist,” then I am neither.

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Radical feminism and the future

JANUARY 24, 2012

It is common to say that something is good in theory but not in practice. I always want to say, then it is not such a good theory, is it?

Catharine A. MacKinnon

I have reservations about framing “revolution” as the natural or inevitable conclusion of radical feminist theorizing. It seems generally accepted that “revolution” will cause the total destruction of all existing social institutions because revolution is only means of eliminating the “root” of female oppression. Thoughts which support revolution are therefore “radical;” everything short of that is not-radical. Not-radical thinking has no place in “radical” feminism. I’ve been turning these assumptions over and over in my mind. The belief that female liberation through “revolution” is even possible leaves many unanswered questions for me.

For example, how do feminists propose that we destroy all social institutions? With physical force? I think violence is counter-productive to feminism, but let’s pretend that women can use violence as a means to a greater end without harming ourselves in the process. I will suspend disbelief and take as given that women have also been successful in destroying all the buildings and physical infrastructure men have ever built; that we have effectively destroyed all the historical records and organizational documents of patriarchy (and that no one is secretly harboring any of them).

This is not yet a clean slate.

Patriarchal institutions are largely ideological. You can’t physically destroy ideas. Ideas exist in human minds. Many of them stubbornly persist despite our attempts to forget them. Gendered expectations of appropriate behavior, just for example(!), are deeply embedded in our collective consciousness. No matter how we struggle to deprogram ourselves, we have each internalized the mind warping effects of gendered social conditioning. So, how would women eliminate these residual subconscious biases? This is my primary reservation about revolution as liberation: human minds cannot be wiped clean of patriarchal ideas. Freeing women from the tangible constraints of patriarchal institutions is a noble cause, but revolutionary results will require us to transform ideology as well.

Further, is “revolution” merely an end? And then what? It’s not a suicide mission, is it? What would a post-patriarchal world look like? Now, I have some really sweet ideas. But so does everyone else. We may find ourselves in serious conflict about how to proceed. In fact, I think we should plan on having some disagreements. How would women prevent patriarchal values and hierarchies from re-establishing themselves in this dreamy post-revolutionary feminist utopia? How would we solve problems and distribute resources? I simply don’t have faith in human (read: female) “nature” to magically work-it-out. This will be especially problematic if we acknowledge that post-revolutionary minds will not be clean slates. We should prepare ourselves to preempt foreseeable challenges. I want a better plan and a clearer vision. How will the post-revolutionary future be better than the patriarchal past?

Feminist reliance on an inevitable, yet indeterminate, notion of “revolution” is not, from my perspective, effectively contributing to the alleviation of women’s collective oppression in the here and now. I don’t think this mythical “revolution,” as currently conceived of, is a viable end goal for our thoughts about how to liberate ourselves or how to improve women’s lives as a class. It’s an underdeveloped pipe dream that gives us permission to avoid the incomplete and unsatisfying– but urgently necessary– work of institutional reform/attack. We are wasting time. We can do better.

If this disqualifies me from be-ing a “radical feminist,” so be it. I must think more practically about the purpose of my engagement with radical feminist theorizing.

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3 thoughts on “The past, the future.

  1. I do wish the capitalist state were ideological, but it is instead a grouping of coercive bodies which backs the power of the capitalist class, and backs this class’s oppression of various social sectors, including females. This backing occurs via means which depend on the function of the specific state organ – government, judiciary, police, etc.

    I also think that in order to discuss clearly the matter of revolution, we need to distinguish it from issues such as insurrection, which involve merely a quick transfer in *political* power, rather than any fundamental change in relations of production (economy) or the sex relations, for instance. It’s those latter, more fundamental, changes, that constitute a real revolution.

    The matter of what a feminist revolution would look like is certainly under-theorised, but that doesn’t make reformism (as opposed to being pro-reform) any more valid a feminist strategy, especially as it holds, without apparent justification, that the current dominant institutions can simply be reformed into niceness. As the USA is most powerfully showing us, change in legal rights and conditions for females is not unidirectional; we may on occasion force concession from the capitalist class if it seems those concessions will discourage us from radicalising and mobilising further, but we should not assume from this that this class has become more inherently pro-female.

  2. No one ever said violence should be used to change minds. It really doesn’t do that in any meaningful way.

    What violence does is let your bully know that *this target is not an easy one*. Of course the individual is under no obliGAtion to preserve her own life. But I intend to keep using violence when

    a) violence has been initiated against me
    b) I can get away with it without being arrested or killed

    Moving to the middle of nowhere may preserve the outspoken woman’s life, but invaders invade. 😦 Will take them one at a time if I have to.

  3. Truthful Nacho, I don’t know what “no one ever said” means. Actually, it has been said. The state does it all the time.

    Self-defense is not a revolutionary tactic. It is survival. I have not condemned self-defense. The context of the discussion is *revolutionary* social change. If all we want to do is hole up in bunkers, sure, violence will be necessary. But if we want to TRANSFORM ALL THE THINGS, then we will need more than violence.

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