It was great to see a few new faces at our reading group a few weeks ago, titled “Intersectional Struggle and Fighting Patriarchy”. The texts we read in preparation were The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House by Audre Lorde, The Toughest Skin by Liberté Locke, and Toward a Pro-Revolutionary Strategy Targeting Patriarchy by Gayge Operaista. Discussion moved from one text to another, making connections between the texts, clarifying confusions, and discussing how the pieces relate to our personal lives. A few subjects stood out.
Liberté Locke’s article struck a cord with participants who felt that often issues they had at work, regarding gender and sexuality, were often sidelined by the labour movement and also by many queer and feminist and LGBT groups. Sexism and homophobia are of course rife in the workplace, and these are things that we can organise around in a way that makes the fight against misogyny, sexism, and homophobia immediately useful. For example, we can make demands against sexist practices in the workplace along with other demands for better conditions. Some of us have experienced sexist and homophobic workmates and it has happened that we’ve broken down bigotry by building solidarity around our various workplace issues.
We explored the tension between identity politics and anti-oppression politics. When we’re made to feel ashamed for the categories we’re put into, it can be tempting to cling on to them as a way of countering that. As our experiences of our oppressions often follow being identified as particular a category of person, or follow our own identification with a certain group of people, it’s often simpler to base our organising around these identities. However this is difficult to do without effectively celebrating our own othering and marginalisation.
According to Gayge Operaista,
“The end goal must be to destroy gender and sexual orientation, even if our queerness can provide ground to struggle from.”
We talked particularly about Pride as an example of this, as well as the gay rights movement in general. While our eventual aim would be that we wouldn’t be defined by our romantic and sexual preferences, our deviation from heteronormativity is the basis for a lot of the oppression that we face. Most of us were fairly critical of what Pride has become, and felt that this had a lot to do with a focus on being gay, rather than on fighting homophobia. In the struggle for the right to be accepted as a certain identity, we lose sight of our eventual aim of liberation.
We also discussed the immediate practical problems arising from organising around identities. For example, the right to an abortion is generally considered a feminist issue, and there are good reasons for that, but there are also men that might need abortions, and it makes sense that they should be as involved in fighting for that right as women who might need one. Clearly the issues we face don’t perfectly map on to the identities associated with those issues. Putting the problems we’re dealing with first, with the make-up of the resulting groups or campaigns flowing from that, was suggested as a more inclusive and effective approach than starting with identities and working from there. It was felt that it was important, if taking this approach, to do so without undermining the labels that individuals ascribe to themselves, as these are often a source of confidence.
There was much agreement with Audre Lorde’s piece. What most of us took from it is that it is not possible to break down systems of oppression if we reproduce the same hierarchies within our movements. This was a sentiment that we kept coming back to as we discussed the dynamics that play out within our movements and subcultures.A number of people felt that the text by Audre Lorde was written in an overly academic style, although it was pointed out that it seems it was written specifically for quite an academic audience.
This does occasionally come up in reading groups, that we might find the pieces quite inaccessible, which is part of the reason we get together to discuss them. However, it seemed particularly relevant in this discussion, that it’s frustrating when texts written about power, privilege, intersectionality and marginalisation, aren’t written in plain English. We discussed the effects of this in general. It was felt that advantages gained from being able to express ideas more accurately by using academic jargon, were not worth the disadvantage of those ideas being made inaccessible to so many people. Though different texts are written for different audiences, we generally thought that if something was worth saying, it was worth saying to a lot of people and it was better to err on the side of writing things that were comprehensible to more than just academics. Some people felt that academics tend to hold quite dominant positions in groups that are supposedly intersectional, and that varying levels of education and social class were often not taken into consideration.
Finally there was some discussion about the issues with substituting “scenes” for “movements”, as scenes are by their nature cliquey and exclusive. We talked, for example, about the tendency for some to view punk subculture as the home of the anarchist movement, as well as the tendency to mistake queer subculture for a movement against heteronormativity. On the plus side people often find like-minded individuals within subcultures, with whom they want to engage in political campaigns and projects that go beyond the scene in which they found each other. We discussed the feeling amongst some women, that they weren’t recognised as queer because they’re too feminine, or not displaying the specific camp version of femininity that gets read as queer. We discussed participants experiences of being read as too gay for the queer scene or too straight-acting for the gay scene, and about the myth of having a “gaydar”. As scenes are generally held together by a common lifestyle, style of dress, or music taste, this celebration of subversive aesthetics over challenging wider social norms is not surprising. Particularly our experiences of sexism and homophobia in the punk scene, and of the policing of gender expression in the queer scene, was seen as indicative of the limitations of subcultures within political strategies. We can’t hope to recruit the world to a subculture, nor would we want to. What we want is for an end to heteronormativity, gender, and white supremacy world wide.