[Transcript of podcast created 1 August 2017]
In this first podcast, I’ll be reflecting on the state of the world, as so many others have been doing since the election of Donald Trump as the 45th US President, and I’ll be asking – as you no doubt have already asked: “What in the world is going on?”
…followed by the all-important question for us: “What is the appropriate radical feminist response? (if we are to continue to be relevant and our activism effective?).
British feminist Jacqueline Rose at the Sydney Writers’ Festival earlier this year talked about a “scandalous, untamed feminism” in dark times. Robin Morgan in a blog post writes positively about the marches and demonstrations by women spontaneously protesting against Trump (who she called “a menacing clown”) and reminds us that “Forming the Resistance is simple compared to sustaining it, (and) intensifying it.” And that’s our task.
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But let me back up a bit. Why podcasts? you may ask. Well, I have a long history of expressing my radical feminist passion through public speaking, writing, marching, demonstrating, organising conferences and so on – and, with podcasting growing in popularity, I see this as another avenue, another medium, that can be used effectively by feminists.
I have long appreciated the online work of Canadian feminist Meghan Murphy, in particular, her podcasts – and, more recently, have come across the Lean Back podcast conversations between feminists Lisa and Laura in the United States.
My current plan for Radical Feminist Reflections is to present a limited number per year – keeping them brief (around 15 to 20 minutes). Sometimes I will be alone in sharing my thoughts, as in this first one. Other times I will be in discussion with other radical feminists, perhaps interviewing someone about a new book, an event, an action on behalf of women.
So, let’s get started on today’s topic which I’ve called:
YET ANOTHER CHALLENGE.
Today’s challenge, as I see it, is actually two-pronged: 1) to come to terms with the fact that a Donald Trump is indeed in the White House and doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon; and 2) to see this calamitous situation as an opportunity for us to review our feminism.
When Donald Trump was elected to the office of President, women and men around the world committed to human rights, women’s rights, peace, non-violence, environmental justice – were in shock. How could this happen, we asked? How could so many Americans (admittedly, not a majority by a long shot) cast their vote for a self-obsessed, woman-hating, climate-change denying, businessman of dubious character and mental stability?
Now, I still can’t decide if it was simply because he was a non-politician – or if it also represented a huge vote against neoliberalism (probably both) but, whatever the reason, it was glaringly obvious that many people were so disillusioned with mainstream politics that they voted for change, they voted for Trump in the hope that he would break the mould and begin to pay attention to the pain that ordinary Americans were feeling. Well, good luck with that!
But I do get their desire for radical change. In fact, that’s exactly what radical feminists have been working toward for a long time – the breaking of the mainstream mould – the downfall of the patriarchal, oligarchic system that operates to keep the rich and powerful in their privileged position, that despises and blames the underprivileged for their poverty and refugees for their need for asylum, that treats women and women’s bodies as a commodity and, in so many ways, condones violence against and disrespect of women.
But, in working for the downfall of the patriarchy-we’ve-always- known, it seems that it’s a matter of “be careful what you wish for” because, while the old order may now be collapsing, the new order that’s taking hold is more oligarchic, more dominated by white males and their supporters, more oppressive of ethnic and religious minorities, and much, much more abusive toward, and dismissive of, women.
I mean, when so many people in the United States voted for a man who unashamedly bragged about groping and abusing women, and whose negative attitude toward women was obvious at every turn, and continues to be so, what hope do we have of effecting the changes in society that feminists have fought for for so long? What hope do we have?
As I see it, our hope lies in our own ability to accept yet another challenge! One thing that is assured is this: It won’t be business-as-usual for feminists. It can’t be business-as-usual. With Donald Trump and all the right-wing politicians, community leaders and journalists (here in Australia and around the world) who proudly support him, we have to be ready for the fact that violence against women in all its forms, hatred of women, will be on the agenda in a way that we have not seen for a long time, giving all men permission to abuse women with impunity.
So, what do we do? One thing we MUST do is find, somewhere in all of this, opportunities to review and rejuvenate our feminism. What we must NOT do is bury our heads in the sand and hope that everything will turn out all right in the end. Because it won’t. It won’t, because power is intoxicating, and now that Donald Trump and his team have had a taste of real power, they will most assuredly become more emboldened, not less. We’re seeing it already – an attitude of arrogant confrontation that threatens the stability of the entire world. Keep on needling North Korea till a nuclear disaster occurs. Keep on refusing to believe the findings of climate scientists till our planet can’t take any more. Keep on turning our backs on desperate people seeking asylum, as successive Australian governments have done, to our shame. Keep on demeaning and exploiting women — trivialising and sexualising women. Look, we know that all of this represents the patriarchal way and, because of that, we also know that the current situation will not change without a lot of effort by people like ourselves who are committed to justice and human rights.
You know what I find even more scary? It’s that President Trump’s arrogance, bullying, narcissism, mental health issues, his dependence on ‘alternative truths’, his undermining of the media and law-enforcement bodies – all of these things are already being accommodated in different ways, interpreted positively, made “normal” by those who don’t know what else to do – making normal that which is not normal, making acceptable that which is not acceptable. When Trump occasionally makes a half-way reasonable speech (prepared, no doubt, by others), people are so quick to praise him and declare it to be a sign that he is changing. No, he’s not, but that’s what patriarchy does. It desperately wants to forgive men for their bad behaviour. Both men and women under patriarchy make allowances, make excuses for men’s bad behaviour.
So what will it take for us, feminist theorists and activists, to review our commitment to feminism and intensify our activism on behalf of women? Look at what’s happened so far. Already there have been spectacular marches and demonstrations. There have been articles, blog posts, Facebook activity, protesting and searching for a way forward. We need to find a way forward, even to the point of a total re-think of the role of feminism in this changed world.
As I see it, most of us (and I include myself in this) – most of us are going about our activism six months after the Trump shock in much the same way as we’ve always done, as if nothing has actually changed. It’s like we’re still in a state of disbelief – still hoping it’s not real.
I, personally, have found it helpful to look again at the history of 2nd Wave feminism because we’ve had some pretty dark times before and found a way out each time. Those of us who are old enough to remember the heady days of the beginnings of Second Wave feminism – in the 1960s and 70s – will remember how lost and confused we were in the 80s when we realised that liberalism had coopted and watered down our once powerful protest movement. Surely it can’t be over already, we thought. But feminism had been given such bad press that it was difficult to find anyone in the 80s who dared identify as a feminist. The backlash, as Susan Faludi called it, by mainstream patriarchal institutions and individuals, had been very effective. Feminism was a dirty word. I still remember how distraught we all felt.
It took a couple of years but then I noticed a different kind of feminist activism emerging. Instead of a mass movement, feminists were working away, protesting on the basis of individual issues. Powerful voices speaking out against:
Men’s violence against women in all its forms
Sexualisation of women and girls
Globalisation, neoliberalism – the absolute primacy of the market, regardless of the poverty and misery it created for so many, and
The wilful destruction of the earth.
We were everywhere – working, agitating, making a difference – each of us focusing on the issue, or issues, of her choice. And that’s where most of us are right now – each in her small corner, you might say.
Now, I’m not criticising that. It has worked well – and the Internet, in particular social media, has enabled our voices to be heard in ways that were never possible when all we had to depend on was mainstream media, who delighted in ignoring us.
But I want to stress that the urgency of this moment in history demands that we who call ourselves radical feminists lift our heads out of the busyness, the activism we’ve been committed to for so long and respond to the changed circumstances we find ourselves in. We’ll continue the work we’ve been doing, of course, but we’ll do it now with a new awareness. Already we see women mobilising in many parts of the world, and that’s great. And because of all this renewed energy that’s emerging around feminism, I believe there are two things we need to do right now:
First, each of us, whether a seasoned long-term radical feminist or a new and emerging radical feminist, each of us needs to look again at the label “radical”. What does it mean? Does it still have meaning for us? Sometimes I think the labels have ceased to be helpful and, in fact, serve to keep feminists divided – however I, personally, am not ready to drop the word ‘radical’ yet. But what is it?
In terms of social activism, radical feminism is based in what’s called a ‘response ethic’ – that is, we respond to what is. Not to some sugar-coated version. Not to the spin patriarchy puts on things. We get to the root cause of the issues affecting women’s lives. And it’s because we need to dig below the surface, below the immediately apparent, that radical feminism requires us to involve ourselves in serious analysis of issues so that our activism is targeted and strategic.
These are scary times and, as past experience tells us, it is women who will be the worst affected by the changes, so we have to get it right.
The second thing I want to say – recognising that there is lots more to be said, at another time – is that, in this changed and changing world we need to broaden our understanding of what it means to work with others. Not just other radical feminists. Not just with people who think exactly as we do.
The Women’s marches in the US and other parts of the world following the inauguration of Donald Trump provide a great example of what can be done when women of all feminist persuasions, ages and interests, women who don’t claim to be feminist at all, and men who are prepared to support women, work together to achieve a common goal.
Look, I might not want to wear a pussy hat as many women did in some of the marches. I might not want to declare my total allegiance to the philosophy of Intersectionality which seems to be the latest fashion in feminism – but it doesn’t mean I can’t march BESIDE people in pussy hats or people with philosophies that differ from my own, when we are marching in protest against a much bigger issue: misogyny, the hatred of women, men’s violence against women, the systematic defunding of organisations giving support to women and children around the world.
We need to find ways of working with others to achieve justice for women, for refugees, for religious minorities and for the Planet.
If the Movement is to grow, we need to be in there doing our bit. But a word of caution:
. I know some radical feminists find ways to work with extremist Christian groups around issues like ending prostitution.
. Others work with like-minded men on various radical feminist campaigns.
. Still others work closely with more liberal feminists calling for the elimination of all forms of men’s violence against women.
All of these alliances are crucial. They have the capacity to be really positive, provided – and this is my note of caution – provided our own political analysis, our own ethical stance, is not compromised.
I do believe it’s time for us to build bridges, to form alliances, sharing our insights with all the other players in this exciting new movement. Indeed, at this moment in history, I believe it’s crucial.
So yes, it’s a new day… and radical feminists have yet another challenge … which we will meet with energy, passion and determination.