HISTORY – Personalities and factionalism in late 70s feminism – courtesy of Ms. Daisy Deadhead

This is a comment DaisyDeadhead made at least a month ago. I don’t remember which thread it was and the context doesn’t really matter because the information is useful and really it stands on its own.

There is no such thing as too much clarity and part of clarity is granularity and attention to detail. Feminism is itself a gender issue – its development and history, its effects on people’s lives, its inner factions and alliances. Daisy tells us about one episode that had far-reaching effects.

I can’t fnd who this is in reference to now, but I think it was a discussion of Germaine Greer, a figure we all will agree was foundational in the development of feminism.

Yeah, for sure… also she unexpectedly joined the anti-trans Dalyoid faction, for reasons unknown. This was not really in keeping with her early work, so I will always think it was something personal. She was a very ‘emotional’ person.

The late-70s factions (very roughly speaking) tended to be: Steinem/Millett/Dworkin/Lorde and Daly/Jeffreys/Raymond/Barry. After considerable dithering, MacKinnon then joined up with the first faction and Greer with the second; a lot of these alliances were based on friendships. Robin Morgan had friends in both factions, and although closely aligned with the second faction theoretically, had more actual buddies in the first faction. (If that makes sense.) And so (unfortunately for feminism as a whole) Morgan landed the much-coveted Ms editor job after Steinem left. Ms magazine (which Steinem had kept decidedly and deliberately very mainstream) then took a turn for the bizarre, endorsing both transphobia and satanic sexual abuse and thereby going off the deep end. (and it just got worse) Steinem took makeup advertisements, but Morgan would not. Etc. Ms magazine got very factionalized and purist, and lost all relevance for most women, when once upon a time, they were totally setting the agenda.

I think Greer theoretically started out as close to the first faction, but Steinem made all kindsa nasty “blind item” remarks about her that were pretty obvious if you knew what was going on. So she ended up w/the transphobe faction. (Amusing aside: Phyllis Chesler, historically part of the first faction, totally jumped ship and went over to David Horowitz.)

Greer wrote this weird thing about her biological clock, too, very odd. I don’t know how to describe it. (Its like she just figured out that there WAS one.) She wrote a series of very strange pieces… after having missed childbirth, she suddenly started rhapsodizing about it as the Alpha and Omega of female experience.

In doing so, she alienated the last of her fans, if she had any left by then.

This kind of story fascinates me. Sequences like this have been real hinges of history. Thanks, Daisy!

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  • Iron Lightning

    Good comment Daisy but could you please provide me with some evidence of this “satanic sexual abuse” endorsement?

    I know the radfems have wrote some pretty crazy shit in the past but I’ve never heard of them being Satanic. Could you please clarify this?

  • Tamen

    I think she’s referring to feminists becoming convinced that satanic rituals where men rape women and children were very common and involved a lot of powerful men.

  • Tamen

    You can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satanic_ritual_abuse although strangely the feminist participants are not mentioned much.

  • JE

    Seen the parts of “The Gender War” that deal with the same? Satanic abuse conspiracies were apparently accepted by prominent Swedish feminist leaders as late as 2005 when that movie was made. (The movie resulted in a rapid replacement of those leaders).

  • Aych

    Question:

    Given the fact that there were so many fissures and factions within feminism…

    …why do people keep referring to “the feminist perspective” as if there is only one proper feminist perspective?

    And, given that there are so many factions, why do self-avowed “feminists” act offended when I “misrepresent” feminism by quoting a faction that they disagree with, given the fact that THEY KNOW are different factions?

    Because if every feminist has a different definition for feminism, they can’t be upset when non-feminists get confused as to what the “real” feminism is!

    Am I right?

    Or is it the case that one needs a PhD before they can start generating their own opinions about feminism– something which should be accessible to everybody??

    I think these are understandable questions.

  • Ginkgo

    “…why do people keep referring to “the feminist perspective” as if there is only one proper feminist perspective?”

    Because feminism is a monolith. Wait…..

    “Because if every feminist has a different definition for feminism, they can’t be upset when non-feminists get confused as to what the “real” feminism is!”

    You are supposed to “know” with your ovaries, or something.

    “Or is it the case that one needs a PhD before they can start generating their own opinions about feminism– something which should be accessible to everybody??”

    Sounds like job security and trying to cntrol the narrative to me. It’s been working for millenia already for lots of other people.

  • http://marjaerwin.livejournal.com Marja Erwin

    If the news cover protests, and cover protesters’ goals, which they don’t usually do, there’s a tendency to try to find someone to speak for all the protesters. I don’t know if the news try to find the most stereotypical protesters, but the loudest protesters often try to find the news.

    The effect, of course, is to allow one person or a few people to speak for hundreds or thousands, and to cut out the context to leave sound bites.

    If you scale this up from protests to social movements, then class gives some an effective megaphone, but the more self-convinced activists often end up driving the discourse. At times you get other activists who step forward to try to counter that.

    But the ones who assume their experience is every true x’s experience, and their answers are every true x’s answers, do seem to be louder than one ones who assume their experience is only one of a range of possible experiences.

  • Jupp

    Aych:

    Or is it the case that one needs a PhD before they can start generating their own opinions about feminism– something which should be accessible to everybody??

    Doesn’t Quiet Riot Girl have a Phd in gender studies? Given the appreciation of her views on feminism by many feminists, one has to say, that a Phd in gender studies doesn’t seem to be enoug.
    It’s likely rather about being part of the ingroup.

  • http://daisysdeadair.blogspot.com/ DaisyDeadhead

    You welcome, Mr Gingko!

    Tamen, right. It was outlandish, and it went on and on for several months of Ms magazine issues… Morgan wouldn’t budge. She really believed it! (I read the original first-person hysterical story. The author claimed that her baby sister’s head was cut off by satanists… something I am not likely to forget.)

    Tamen: I think she’s referring to feminists becoming convinced that satanic rituals where men rape women and children were very common and involved a lot of powerful men.

    Yes… It wasn’t just men, lesbians were of course under particular suspicion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wee_Care_Nursery_School_abuse_trial

    They do not mention in that Wikipedia article the fact that Kelly Michaels was a lesbian, but the series of articles in the Village Voice certainly did. That is where I first learned of the whole case. Like something from the witch trials.

    Aych, good question. The problem is that the academic account is now the “official” one… women like Kate Millett who were really popular at the time are not “assigned” now (due to being controversial, leftist, eccentric or whatever) … and young feminists who now take gender studies courses do not even know who they are. I was shocked when I first realized that! I mean:
    http://img.timeinc.net/time/magazine/archive/covers/1970/1101700831_400.jpg
    Millett was once worthy of the cover of TIME, which used to be The Shit.

    Per Marja’s comment… there was the “action faction” and then the “theorists”… and theorists tend to enjoy reading other theorists. Few college students learned to do any actual “feminist work” except maybe ‘Take Back the Night’ marches, which had their own problems. It was all thinking and theorizing. That is when (as TB said in her video about Tumblr) “men’s thoughts” became the issue, rather than what people actually DO… since they were not action-focused and all thinking-focused. The next step is the thought-police.

    Also, the Dworkinites (like Nikki Craft) actually went out and talked to streetwalkers and tried to organize them into groups and stuff; Priscillia Alexander* would legally represent sex workers for free in the Bay Area. Even MacKinnon represented sex workers for free for awhile too – she took on Linda Marciano’s famous lawsuits (aka Lovelace). I think it originally horrified nice suburban college girls to actually have to *talk* to sex workers and junkies. That was behind a lot of the ideological split, not just the issue of whether porn/sex work was exploitive… they did not want to TALK to them. You don’t hear about that too much though.

    *was a powerhouse and an inspiration… someone else that got dropped down the memory hole. http://prostitution.procon.org/view.source.php?sourceID=443 She wrote for Plexus while I was on the staff there. I learned as much from her as I did from any of the well-known, famous feminists, because she really was down in the trenches.

  • http://daisysdeadair.blogspot.com/ DaisyDeadhead

    BTW, yall, I think THIS BOOK upset lots and lots of feminists… Typhon, major trigger warnings, hon… but remember when I once told you there WERE feminists addressing these issue? I meant Kate: http://thisislikesogay.blogspot.com/2007/06/this-was-first-book-review-i-wrote-for.html

    In about 1979, it became an uncool thing for feminists to criticize women… unless they were devoted anti-feminist activists like Phyllis Schlafly, Anita Bryant or a similar cartoon character like Marabel Morgan.

    That nebulous/dangerous figure like the female kommandant (sorry about breaking Godwin rule again, but sometimes you just have to) was banished and never discussed again. Kate had the ultimate bad timing for thinking it was time to talk about women hating/harming other women. I think that is one reason why she was not included on the college course list… after all, in looking up her work, some young feminist might find this book, right?

    In Noretta Koertge’s “Valley of the Amazons” (a novel about the period of time we are discussing… and some really fun reading!) the professor-narrator briefly mentions how the book was deliberately overlooked by feminists… many feminist publications (there used to be a bunch in the 70s) would *not* review the book.

    Trouble in paradise, you might be able to trace it to the publication of “The Basement: Meditations on a Human Sacrifice”. We were officially Not Allowed to Go There. (Interesting that this critic of Millett’s book thinks Millett didn’t go far enough… and of course, for most of the College Feminists, she went waaaay too far.)

  • Ginkgo

    Thank you again, Ms. Daisy!

    ” It was all thinking and theorizing. ”

    Wel, talk is cheap and it is almost as fulfilling as actually accomplishing something.

    “I think it originally horrified nice suburban college girls to actually have to *talk* to sex workers and junkies. ”

    This is the same old “Ain’t a woman?” probeelm that keeps bedeviling feminism because of the problematic and unreconstructed class viewpoints of the mainstream feminists. It’s not just feminism, it’s every social movement with a “vanguard party”, and that’s about all of them, starting with Puritanism and moving right into Abolitionism and down to our day.

    “In about 1979, it became an uncool thing for feminists to criticize women… unless they were devoted anti-feminist activists like Phyllis Schlafly, Anita Bryant or a similar cartoon character like Marabel Morgan. ”

    This coincides in time with feminism moving from a broad cultural change in society emphasizing equality on the one hand to a college-based, academically-oriented in-group focus on women’s advocacy on the other. This was when there was a spate of articles in popular publications touting how women were so non-competitive and solidaritous and shit.

  • Aych

    Thanx, Daisy.

    I just wish there wasn’t so much dodging and weaving. If the definition keeps changing as an evasive technique, then the non-initiated can’t be faulted if they ever get feminism “wrong.”

    So when it’s said “Men don’t get it”, whose fault is that? The men? Or the people who make the definition of feminism deliberately fuzzy for the sake of avoiding honest debate? Or when a lot of otherwise-sympathetic women don’t call themselves “feminists”, whose fault is that? The women? Or the people who play games with the brand-name?

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but feminism claims to be universally-accessible to anyone who wishes to learn it. And yet, there is a deliberate mystification going on: rules and new vocabulary keep being created. So then, because of this mysticism, we need a high priesthood to tell us what to do. And that, I suppose, is probably the point of the game. It’s why the Vatican did everything in Latin for so long.

  • http://marjaerwin.livejournal.com Marja Erwin

    Well, some things demand suddenly-changing jargon.

    For example, if you trying to challenge social norms which have been taken for granted, social norms which have been taken as a natural order, sometimes the language doesn’t have the words you need, so you invent words, and sometimes you invent words which don’t work and drop them as you invent words which almost work.

    Or, if you are trying to manipulate people by keeping them off-balance.

  • Aych

    Marja: I think ‘Equivocation’ fits what you’re describing in the second bit.

  • http://paddybrown.co.uk Patrick Brown

    Re Daisy’s comment on “men’s thoughts” becoming the issue…

    AVFM have discovered a new anti-feminist on YouTube called Shieldwife, who has come up with an amazing insight on the feminist concept of “sexual objectification”. Whatever your faction of feminism, it seems to me that “sexual objectification” is pretty much a universally accepted doctrine, and too many non-feminists take it for granted too. I’ve been struggling to articulate what I find so objectionable about it for some time, and Shieldwife has nailed it – it characterises male sexuality as sociopathic. We need to start rejecting this, loudly.

  • Ginkgo

    Aych,
    “So when it’s said “Men don’t get it”, whose fault is that? The men?”

    Always. it’s called hypoagency, one of the foundations of the patrairchy. And it is structural to almost everything we see in the femmisphere.

  • Aych

    Ginkgo: Well, yes, I guess I have trouble accepting the hypoagency thing. I always dismiss it because I’d always been trained to see women as human beings rather than as dandelions seeds riding around on the wind.

    Anyway, am I correct in thinking that feminism claims itself to be a accessible by anyone while simultaneously trying to remain an exclusive club of haughty insiders? Because if it’s accessible by anyone, they seem to have little patience for anybody who doesn’t measure-up.

  • Ginkgo

    “Ginkgo: Well, yes, I guess I have trouble accepting the hypoagency thing. I always dismiss it because I’d always been trained to see women as human beings rather than as dandelions seeds riding around on the wind.”

    Aych, that’s ambiguous. do you mena you have triuble accepting the claim that hypoagency is real, i.e. that society inputes non-agency and powerlessness ot females, or do oyu just think that trope is bunk. If the second, we agree.

  • Aych

    I have trouble accepting the trope, which is why I have (or had) trouble understanding why men were to blame for feminism’s failure to express itself in a way that matches its pretentions of being accesssible to all. (Unless I am mistaken that feminism sees itself as being something which is accessible to all.)

  • http://dannyscorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com Danny

    Daisy your comment is a shining example of what keeps people so confused when interacting with feminists and feminism these days.

    I had to read that comment of yours in this post like 4 times before I understood the factions you talk about and who is linked with which. Seriously I almost pulled out pad and paper.

    And as others have said today’s feminists actively use confusion like this in order to avoid conversation, namely conversation where someone might be critical of them.

    It’s like playing a shell game where even after the shells stop and you pick the one you think it’s under, the runner of the game gets to move them again.

  • http://marjaerwin.livejournal.com Marja Erwin

    Actually, a pad of paper might not be the worst way to keep track. A few years ago, I briefly dated someone who was a fan of some anti-trans radfems. I think I need to know who is an ally and who isn’t, and it helps to know who they like and why. Also, skipping over the factional stuff, the theory is interesting and relevant to my life.

  • Aych

    Danny: praising feminism is, of course, a much easier. The factions don’t matter when you do that, for all praise can (and will) be lavished upon the generalized whole.

  • Jupp

    Danny:

    And as others have said today’s feminists actively use confusion like this in order to avoid conversation, namely conversation where someone might be critical of them.

    If the concepts feminists use would be defined properly, feminism would explode, I believe. It seems more important to keep the ingroup aligned, than to confuse members of the outgroup. Take a term like “rape culture”, which has (at least) two distinst meanings
    1.The set of ideas and customs that promote and excuse rape.
    2. A culture in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone rape.
    The first definition is obviously useful to study rape. But for the second definition to have a meaning one would have to be able to answer the question: “What are minimal requirements for a society not to be a rape culture?” and those requirements must be somehow realistic (or every possible culture is a rape culture and the term “rape culture” is obsolete). Do you really think that two feminists, if forced to say when exactly a society is not a rape culture, would give the same answer? Or more to the point, that feminists understand each other, when they use terms like “rape culture”?

  • Adiabat

    Jupp: It’s an argumentative technique that crops up in some of the worse strands of Philosophy: Redefine a word to mean something similar but different. Make an argument based on this new definition, which your opponant will probably agree with. State your conclusion, but revert back to the commonly accepted definition. Result: everone thinks that you’ve made a profound insight into something when really its a banal insight based on a using a word wrong.

    Meta-physics became particularly bad for doing this and when Philosphers pretty much expunged the field in the mid 20th Century to get some credibility back, it morphed in postmodernism and became the bedrock for many Humanities subjects, including Women’s Studies. When post modernism was widely ridiculed in the 90’s and early noughties, post Sokal Affair, different areas reacted one of two ways, they either rebranded again as a bunch of other things, such as Literary Criticism, or they continued as before with a conscious effort to avoid mentioning what it is they are doing.

  • Ginkgo

    “I had to read that comment of yours in this post like 4 times before I understood the factions you talk about and who is linked with which. Seriously I almost pulled out pad and paper.”

    Danny, it’s like this with any movement, it’s basically a soap opera, and it doesn’t have to be a social movement for this to happen. Randy Allen Harris chronicles the same thing in The Linguistics Wars, the struggles in linguistics around Chomsky’s theories, and all the factions that arose and fought.
    http://www.amazon.com/Linguistics-Wars-Randy-Allen-Harris/dp/019509834X

    And Adiabat, this business about Chomsky is an important case that illustrates exactly the process you are talking about:
    More on Chomsky from a combatant:
    Two Case Studies of Chomsky’s Play Acting at Linguistics
    http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/001686
    The Incoherence of Chomsky’s ‘Biolinguistic’ Ontology
    http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/001608

    and a bystander:
    A Potpourri of Chomskyan Science
    http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/001592
    The Essence of Postal’s Criticism: A short reply to Ulfsbjorninn (2012)
    http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/001573

    Jupp,
    “If the concepts feminists use would be defined properly, feminism would explode, I believe.”

    This is true of any actual discipline, if you take the analysis far enough – all semantic systems collapse finally when taken as far as they will go – but in real disciplines the terminologies are carefuuly enough developed that they serve ther purposes of the discippline, they hold up to the analytical and intellectual demands placed on them.

    What you find in feminism is people who were educated mostly in literature departments and in those intellectual standards attempting to apply those methods to what were sociological and anthropological questions. And it just doesn’t work. Terminologies and conceptual frameworks that work for the arts just don’t work for empirical study of anything (although writers and artists tend to believe they do; they tend to see themsleves as prophets of truth, the conscience of society, and so they are given to making bizarre, naive pronouncemnts on poltiics.)

    Couple this with the fact that feminism saw itself as a social justice movment, which wraps it up with questions of righteousness and unrighteousness, and it’s easy to see where its tendency to become religious and cultish comes from.

    And all along there were people trying to take this effort seriously, trying to maintain some kind of intellectual and ethical standards, and all along they have been paying the price for it. Just ask Daisy about the price she has paid along the way.

    So this is the fragile intellectual condition that feminism finds itself in, right at a time when the MRM is rising to challenge all its core assumptions and doctrines. You can expect a lot of distress and resistance.

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