On Saturday, August 13th I attended a Feminist Teach-In hosted by an organization called Stop Porn Culture (SPC). Now I have to say at the outset that as I feminist I agree that porn and it’s infiltration into mainstream culture is a problem and is damaging to women and children as well as men. However, I do not think that the complete abolition of pornography is the solution. With that being said, I knew that attending this event would provide some opportunities for me to disagree with people, which I am always down to do especially if it is productive. Unfortunately, what I was not prepared for was the outright dismissive comments and frankly in my opinion un-feminist commentary.
The event began with a talk on Radical vs. Liberal Feminism and Why it Matters. As a women’s studies major, this was a very women’s studies 101 talk however I did appreciate it because a refresher is always good and one shouldn’t assume everyone at a conference is up to par on the theoretical frameworks attached to movements. As a radical feminist organization SPC follows in the vein of Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon, both women I admire, in their condemnation of pornography. Towards the end of this discussion I asked Lori Watson, the presenter, if she could talk about Sex Positive feminism and its response to pornography. Although I do not agree with all aspects of Sex Positive feminism, I thought it was a viewpoint that should be addressed in the discussion and that the speaker would be remiss to leave it out. After I asked, the speaker used air quotes around the term Sex Positive feminists. Instead of simply pointing out the viewpoint, she seemed completely dismissive of the movement in a way that she did not do around Liberal feminism. Isn’t there a way to recognize women’s sexual autonomy while still understanding the patriarchal structure that harms women and that we internalize?! I think so. What is even stranger to me is that apparently so does SPC. While checking out the website under their FAQs they state that yes there can be feminist pornography. Unfortunately that viewpoint was never once expressed or mentioned during the discussions I attended.
The second talk given by Rachel Ivey was on Reproductive Rights and the War Against Women. It was excellent! Her presentation was eye-opening and informative. She broke down the pro-choice narrative and discussed which areas worked and which ones we needed to rethink as activists. She did not put down anyone fighting to oppose laws but instead championed our need to use “a diversity of tactics.” It was all going so well, and then the discussion was opened up for questions. And quite honestly to my surprise the speaker was bombarded by anti choicers. I won’t take the time to talk about why pro-life feminism is not possible. For more on this and why me saying this does not make me a hypocrite read The Myth of “Pro-Life Feminism.” I will say the speaker was attacked by these women but did a great job of basically saying thank you for your thoughts but we’re going to have to agree to disagree. She remained calm although I can imagine she was probably seething on the inside as I was.
The third discussion called Race, Racism and the Second-and Third-Wave Feminism had me super psyched. I mean this is my thing, race and racism within feminists movements and intersectionality. It started out pretty well with the speaker Gail Dines describing the different feminist movements and how they have never made room for women of color. She stated, “the empowerment of white women was on the backs of women of color.” I smiled, nodded. She put into words a major issue I have with Third-Wave choice feminism being that no other movement claims that it is individual to each person. For instance, she pointed out that one would ever say the labor movement is something individual to each worker, why can we say that about feminism. And she was right, if we accept the notion that feminism is what any person says it is, then we would have to accept pro-life feminism as real (which it is not). But then she threw the baby out with the bath water and began talking about “those third-wavers” and throwing out prominent Third-Wave feminists names, many whom I love, and dismissing their ideas. My reaction: wait, what?!! This again, calling discussion number 1 on repeat. But that wasn’t the kicker. She then ended her discussion of how feminism has often excluded women of color by criticizing A WOMAN OF COLOR FEMINIST. Don’t get me wrong, she has every right to discuss how her and Melissa Harris-Perry disagree, but to end this topic with this was not good look. We acknowledge how difficult it can be for women of color to identify as feminists and here is a prominent WOC feminist who openly discusses her feminism on television. She should have been used in the discussion as an example of how some women of color are able to embrace feminism, period.
We broke for lunch and I was already emotionally exhausted. Luckily the last two discussions I attended Patriarchy vs. Planet Earth and Male Violence: A Cultural Endemic were great. Although during the Male Violence discussion half the people in the room said they hadn’t heard of the Steubenville case and at that point I was done. It wasn’t so much that I gave up 3 hours early, it was more so that I realized that these were not people that were going to aid me in the struggle I was fighting. We all have our issues, the battles we choose to take on. If you truly embrace intersectionality, as I do, you can recognize that participation in one part of the struggle will help other areas. So I’ll let them work on theirs and I’ll work on mine and hopefully will meet at equality in the middle.
Feminist theories, like any other theories must be put to action. They need to be tested. To continue to operate under theories that have not proven effective does not allow for progressive change in the movement. I can honor my fore-mothers and yet move forward. Maybe I should have stuck it out. Maybe I should have raised my hand and said more. At the end of the day, I’m saving my energy to fight the patriarchy.