Friday, April 22, 2016

John Stoltenberg's and Cristan Williams' The Conversations Project: Some Final Thoughts

graphic is from here
Note: When I heard Prince died earlier on Thursday, what I recalled was how much Andrea Dworkin loved his work.

The message in the above graphic was never anything 
The Conversations Project endeavored to do. 
Yet they insisted they were a radical feminist group.

I may be writing more about this, but just wanted to update you that after four months of very engaged involvement, I've been purged without notice from The Conversations Project Facebook group, started by John Stoltenberg and Cristan Williams, although John was largely absent.

Here are a few concluding thoughts:

1. The group was steadfastly anti-radical feminist, but couched this as
anti-T--F, as if those radical feminists who are against the liberalism and male supremacy in trans politics should and can be separated out from those who are or were not.

2. There was consistent refusal to admit that they were misusing and misunderstanding the early work of Andrea Dworkin while ignoring all of Dworkin's later work (like, at least 11/12ths of what Andrea wrote). The only passages of hers they ever referred to (a lot) were Dworkin's most liberal points in Woman Hating about multisexuality and androgyny. They refused to acknowledge Andrea's mid-70s discussion of androgyny was something that wasn't specific to her, and something that was of political interest during that decade, but never thereafter. (As was the case for so many white feminists in that period: Millett, Firestone, and Piercy, for example.) They refused to consider why Andrea later rejected the last section of Woman Hating as politically and intellectually problematic. They clung to a few early ideas because dealing with anything else--such as pornography, prostitution, male privilege, male power, white and male supremacy, the process of subordinating female bodies such as through intercourse, battery, and rape--would have been harder for them to embrace: it would have implicated some of their own politics as more overtly pro-patriarchal and white supremacist. The only snippets of Catharine MacKinnon's work they paid any attention to were from an grossly overly-steered interview Cristan did with Catharine. As if that's what MacKinnon's thirty plus years of radical feminist activism should be reduced to.

3. There were less than five pro-radical/pro-feminist people in the group. One person, a white trans woman, left the group only after about a week being there due to the incessant liberalism, anti-radicalism, and anti-feminism. Now there are no radical feminists in the group, although one member, Margo, a white Lesbian feminist, has consistently advocated for feminist values and sisterly approaches to dealing with the Turf War, and I respect her very much for that. And one man has been consistently affirmative of radical feminist perspectives on gender and sex. When Margo posted things that called for respect and regard for all feminists, few to no members "liked" her comments. Cristan and John never "liked" them.

4. The group was so white (how white was it?) that the only posts made about women of color, or even more generally, people of color, were exploitive: John and one other member, early on, posted links to Navajo understandings of gender, not because he ever discussed or linked to how to end white colonialist-patriarchal genocide, but, disturbingly, just because such ideas might be useful to or of interest to whites.

5. The white members of the group (the great majority) refused to center women of color (trans or not). They refused to center an examination of how their race, sex, and class privileges shaped their views, their values, and their agendas. Doing so was considered "off topic". Supporting white, class privileged trans women was always "on topic". No one white and trans in the group ever made it a point to name how they had white privilege. Let alone male privilege.

6. They always positioned some radical feminists as THE enemy. They did not critique or focus on white men (as a structurally positioned enemy class). When white men were critiqued, it was without the same disdain and derision as they demonstrated for some white radical feminists. (I call that blatant misogyny and anti-feminism.) They never, ever considered what anti-trans feminists were arguing against or for. It was always only viewed as "hatred" and "wanting us dead". As if white and male privilege and power--including theirs--doesn't result in the deaths of all kinds of women.

7. The group was never committed, even vaguely, to an anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal, or anti-colonialist agenda. Never. Ever. Ever. In this sense and others, the group was willfully and determinedly liberal, yet tossed the term "radical" into their title twice and felt being called liberal was an insult, for reasons which remain unclear. (If it is so blatantly what you are and is all you want to be, own it and be proud of it, for god's sake.) I conclude they valued the term "radical" because it allowed them to discuss liberal points of Dworkin's and MacKinnon's as if those were radical. When I linked to useful ways to understand historical radicalism (as an actual political stance against institutionalised oppression), they rejected or ignored them. There was nothing about their perspective that was radical. Nothing. And their name revealed this from the start: no group that is seriously radical (that I've ever been aware of) makes a point of stuffing the term into their title twice.

8. The group never considered what it is that causes the mass deaths of marginalised women of color. It was beyond their vision, their call to action, to do so. All they could come up with is transphobia. As if.

9. It became crystal clear to me that Cristan, and more surprisingly John, did not understood the traditional political meaning of "radical" when it comes to radical feminism. Again, John was largely absent as an active member, although he read a lot of the comments. But what became distressingly clear was that he could not articulate what Andrea's Radical Feminism meant or was. He was and is only concerned with prioritising the points of view of white and/or male-privileged people, over and against lesbian feminists. He refuses to see that Andrea never divorced "woman" (the patriarchal construction) from what actually happens, oppressively, violatingly, demeaningly, to almost all female people from birth to death. Instead, he believes that what Andrea said about "multisexuality" in 1974, or this, from 1975: "it is not true that there are two sexes that are discrete and opposite, which are polar...", were in fact radical things to say. They were radical things to read--for him, a white man. What the group seemed to mean by 'radical' was post-modernly complex or intellectually ground-breaking. Radical only addressed acts of speech, or ideas in writing, not political campaigns, or efforts at social change. (For some discussion about Andrea's later abandonment of such 'radical ideas', please see the notes in a book called Without Apology: Andrea Dworkin's Art and Politics, by Cindy Jenefsky.) I repeatedly pointed out, if these are such 'essential' points of Andrea's, why do they never again appear in her work, over the next twenty years? Crickets chirped. This was a stubbornly anti-activist group. The only [allegedly radical] action John promoted was promoting the liberal idea of multisexuality among young people. Campaigns to end violence against women? Nope. Talking to college students about being colors in a color wheel: that's where it's at for John.

10. Also, members had no interest in supporting or working towards a truce between some white radical lesbian feminists and some white liberal trans activists. Only Margo, and the trans woman who left in disgust, did explicitly welcome this as a goal. The rest were intent on demonising some feminists (not just some of their views, but their personhood), while ignoring how their own political perspective was misogynistic, racist, and anti-trans.

Over four months, the discussions there were only intended to be "Liberal White-centered Trans and pro-Trans Conversations that Ignore What is of Radical Concern to All Women". Sad. And predictable. There's this old expression, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them." Yup. Everything I first experienced in that group in January proved to remain the case in April. Lesson learned.

The Conversations Project: The Radical Inclusivity of Radical Feminism should be titled:
"John and Cristan's Project: Ignoring Radical Feminism"