Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Anger, feminism, "The Secretaries"

That same La Lubu post at Feministe inspired me to make a comment that, in turn, reminded me of a half-finished post i'd been meaning to get back to.

First, the comment:

(first, quoting from La Lubu)

But I’ll also add—forgetting our anger. Our anger that we still have to negotiate these obstacles, and that we still haven’t found the common ground on which to even have these discussions, let alone act upon what we can and will learn from one another.

I think this is huge, especially for women raised under certain…mainstream shibboleths. “Don’t get angry.” Is HUGE. Possibly even bigger than “don’t be sexual/sensual for your own sake,” “don’t be successful in the outside world,” and so on, and so forth.

The teaching comes in several forms. One is the one that’s more talked about, the “pleasing men” business, sure. But also, it’s not just about being pleasant to -men;- it’s about people-pleasing, -period.- It’s about the whole “relationships are more important than anything else,” coupled with “don’t confront; don’t be direct; nice girls don’t raise their voice, swear, ’sass,’; play nicely together in the sandbox.”

Which last bit, you know, i think is really key in why the feminist communities (online and off) can get as toxic as they often do. Because a lot of the time, a virtue is implicitly made out of this…thing, our supposed better natures, better socialization, which is -all- about the anger business. Whether overtly or covertly, the suggestion is that this is in fact the reason why, unlike the menz, we’re not all out there raping and pillaging and murdering and starting wars.

O.K. But that still doesn’t solve the problem of there’s all this tamped-down murderous rage simmering or congealed back there. Where does it go? How does it get expressed?…

Even if we aren’t taking the line of women as moral guardians (another not-examined-enough heritage of Victorian times that often makes it into feminist theory and practice, albeit after having undergone a sea-change or two so that it’s not quite recognizable as such, perhaps), a lot of us still don’t know what to do with -anger.- Which is why i think it’s so very important to keep the focus relentlessly outward, sometimes; to “blame the patriarchy,” to blame the menz, to blame…whomever. Because that’s the thing that keeps “us” glued together. Solidarity through common rage, and a common Enemy. It feels good, it feels productive, it’s an outlet, possibly the first acceptable one some of us have ever had. For the anger. For the excuse to finally not be a “good girl” all the bloody time.

Trouble is, -unexamined,- this dynamic gets toxic pretty fast. Because sooner or later, inevitably, internal conflict comes up as well. And because we’ve now implicitly bought this idea that anger is this -annihilating- force, conflict means that -somebody- has to be The Enemy. Because conflict between friends and allies is simply unthinkable; someone i care about is angry at me! -I might die!- I’m angry at her now! -I might kill her!- Well, quick, let’s shift back into the black and white mentality mode, it makes life much easier: clearly, so and so is an outside provocateur, or “not a real feminist,” or this or that or the other thing. The only tools we have are a -really- harsh attempt at reintegrating shaming; if that doesn’t work, cast her into the outer darkness; she’s no friend of ours.

Everyone draw closer together and make a sort of healing ritual out of licking each others’ wounds and huddling in ever-tighter solidarity against the common Enemy, who looms ever larger and more multi-faceted.

Lather, rinse, repeat.


which reminded me, as I said, of this other thing: a play called "The Secretaries," by the Five Lesbian Brothers.

...actually, I'm gonna do that in the next post.


Alon Levy said...

It's not just feminists who end up engaging in that behavior. When I was on Democratic Underground, it was just as toxic and much more paranoid, even though it had no feminism, and its radicals were always about class rather than gender.

belledame222 said...

DU's collectively flakier than a croissant. at least it was when i left it.

Alon Levy said...

I think at some point Skinner purged all the communists and pro-Palestinians, who then went on to create their own forum, People for Change. That was in early 2004, if I remember correctly (I got the boot in late 2003, so I'm not entirely sure how the drama unfolded exactly).

But anyway, I don't think it's about gender. It's about the perception of oppression. You don't even need to be really oppressed the way women are. Evangelists display the same set of pathologies as radical feminists, communists, anarchists, etc.

belledame222 said...

Why did you get the boot?

Alon Levy said...

It's unclear; they never told me. But I supported the California recall and complained about the Republicratic Party too much, so it's probably a combination of these two.

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