Andrea Dworkin would have turned 65 today

Think of all the true and fearless things she wrote  in the midst of obscurity and poverty. Think of how she got nothing but abuse and contempt from misogynists and liberals alike, but never diluted her words in order to widen her audience.

That’s one reason her books are so hard to find: They contain too much truth about being a woman in this world.

The other reason: They contain too much hope about being a woman in this world. They describe other ways our lives could be. That’s threatening to men who want to keep our lives as they are.

If you haven’t seen her online library, here’s a link:

http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/OnlineLibrary.html

Advertisements

strong.

Womyn, please permit me a Sunday-morning brag: I just walked by a full-length mirror, naked,* and realized that people might actually buy a workout DVD** if I was on the cover. All I need is a spray tan.

Here’s what I’ve spent the last three years developing: Thick, powerful quadriceps muscles. Veins running upwards from my pelvis, fanning out towards my obliques. Matching veins in my biceps. Fourteen-inch calves that can raise over 300 pounds. Knotty forearms.

Here’s what that requires: Good genetics. Five to eight focused hours a week in the gym. Four to five small meals a day, all of which include high-quality protein. Never having given birth.

Here’s what that requires: A sizable dollop of socioeconomic privilege.

I don’t make much money. But I do have an education (partly underwritten by my family) and a racial/class background that lets me go into Whole Foods or CrossFit and feel I belong. Even if I have to use a credit card to cover my organic salmon or my $120/month membership fee, those things are still accessible. I don’t live in a food desert, and things will improve financially if I can keep working hard. I don’t share the lifestyle of the lawyers and dentists I do flying burpees and toes-to-bar with, but I feel equal to them because I had opportunities to go to school; to read; to travel.

And, as for never having given birth? That’s the result of good sex education; access to safe, affordable birth control back when I was having sex with men; and the fact that I never had to rely on a man for financial support. No one was able to coercively impregnate me, or force me to bear a child against my will. When I didn’t want to be married any longer, I could get out.

Privilege. Luck. So much luck.

If my life had been different, my body wouldn’t look this way. And my body is a constant visual message from me, to me, that I’m strong. That — barring an accident or illness — I can take care of myself and the womyn I love. I don’t need to be afraid of any man unless he’s got a gun. I can bring in my own groceries in from the car and yours, too. My stepmother doesn’t have to worry about making it up a flight of stairs, because I can carry her. And, if I keep up this level of fitness and luck, I won’t have to depend on anyone in my old age. Dependency frightens me much more than death. And, for now, I get to walk through the world taking up muscular, confident space, thankful that my body can do what it needs to do.

I’m starting to turn a career possibility over in my mind: What if I were to get personal training certification and open up a womyn-only practice? What if I focused on womyn over 40 — the clients most trainers ignore, or simply put up with, because they’re not hawt enough to really invest in? What if I helped create a powerful, strong, Older Womyn’s Army, so that fewer of us have to face dependency and vulnerability as the years go by?

 

*Don’t worry, the mirror is in my house. Not at the mall or anything.

**But not a beauty magazine. Measured against that particular slender aesthetic standard, I look like a monster. Good.

The people united will never be defeated, until it’s time for progress reports

What inspires me about teenagers is their passion for justice and rights; their belief that the way things should be is the way things could and will be, with the right punch-kick combo of mountaintop outcry and moral certitude. What irritates me about teenagers is their Jesuitically complex, dedicated hunt for any loophole they can find in The System.

I see it every day with school rules. “No hats in the building” whips them up into an indignant frenzy, as does “No cell phones out on the desks.” I re-iterate these rules, oh, I don’t know, 58 times a day. Now that they know they can’t wear me down, they’ve begun experimenting with Reasons The Rules Are Stupid and We Shouldn’t Have To Follow Them.

“What if you’re 18?” one kid asked, looking at me like he’d really backed me into a corner. “They can’t stop you from having a cell phone out if you’re 18.”

“I turn 37 on Friday,” I said. “I can’t have my cell phone out either.”

“What about personal freedom? I’m going to write a letter of protest!” he said, and took out his phone to start composing it. He didn’t have any paper, though, so I gave him a sheet.

The other day, I had to hand down a new school rule: No earbuds in ears during class time, not even if you’re reading silently to yourself. They lost their shit.

“We think BETTER with our music!” they howled, and they may be right — something does seem to be happening vis a vis the evolution of the human brain in terms of multitasking and attention splitting* — but it doesn’t matter. It’s the rule. I have to enforce it or I lose my job.

“It’s only five hours a day,” I said. ” You can handle it.”

What I’m trying to say, I think, is Get used to the system. It’s bigger than you are, and fighting it will only wear you out. For every rule that you don’t like; for every requirement that you resent, I have a meeting I dread, taxes I don’t want to pay, and a ration of shit to take from someone above me. If you want a free and independent life — which, in our society, means staying out of poverty — you have to decide carefully which battles to pick, make sure they’re worthwhile, and be ready for the consequences as well as the joys. You have to stay in school, fly low, and beat the radar. Sometimes the only choices life offers are (a). Compromise; (b). Acquiescence; and (c). Defeat. There is no (d). None of the Above.

That’s one of the saddest things about being an adult; not liking any of the choices open to you. Knowing that the world is going a particular (pornsick, mysogynistic,unjust, wasteful) way, and that you don’t have individual power to turn the tide. You can protect and nurture yourself as much as possible — build a network of like-minded friends; start a community center; boycott the homophobes at Target; get into guerrilla activism and fuck up an offensive billboard. But you can’t just…make it all be different right now.

I miss knowing I could.

 

*Thumbs are evolving into a sleeker, faster incarnation too. We can’t send billions of text messages a day and not see some biological revamping within a few generations.

Evolution of a Lesbian Radfem, Part the Fourth

I’m the only dyke you’ll ever meet who lived in San Diego, moved to Bakersfield, and then came out.

You have to know a little about Bakersfield for the weirdness of this to shine forth in the bizarre bas-relief it deserves. Bakersfield is an ozone-polluted, soul-stripped abomination that lies between Fresno and Los Angeles in the San Joaquin Valley. Its main attractions are dessicated farmland and right-wing politics, both reeking of oil. Bako is consistently ranked as one of the least-educated metropolitan areas in the U.S., and boasts the highest redneck-to-misspelled-tattoo ratio in the Western Hemisphere.* At that time, it was booming — people couldn’t wait to buy a house there! Such a nice family town! With the lowest sales tax in California!

It wasn’t my type of place. But there was a newspaper job, and by 2002, those were thin on the ground. So I packed up my cat and 87 boxes of books, and moved.

The culture shock set in immediately, when I realized that I stood out for being 26 and unmarried. People nodded in relief when I said I was divorced; at least that made heterosexual sense. They assured me I’d meet a nice man in Bakersfield.

Instead, I met G.

G. was turning 40. This seemed like an advanced age, and I wondered if she was lonely. She looked like a soccer mom — nice sensible outfits; low-maintenance hair — except for her sharp, dark eyes full of hurt and ferocity. G. was an observer; a doer who didn’t say much unless she had to. But I was fascinated with her, so fascinated that I stayed far away. She’d ask if I was coming to Happy Hour after work. Not this time, I’d say. Things to do. Got to hit the gym. Then I’d watch her out of the corner of my eye all day. She was a large, dense planet with powerful gravitational pull, but I didn’t have a spacesuit.

One morning, I came into work and found an elegant little package of goat cheese on my desk. Enjoy, the note said scratchily. I went to a farmer’s market over the weekend. I’d have called you, but I don’t have your number. Here is mine: xxx-xxxx. — G

I  loitered at her desk much longer than it took to thank her. Then I did what I do when I’m nervous — fixate on a small visual stimuli until it becomes the only thing in the room and I have to verbally deconstruct it.

“You have such big hands,” I said. “I mean, not freakishly big; not like you couldn’t find gloves if you needed to — you’ll never need to, in Bakersfield — but bigger than a person would expect. Because you’re not that big. Or tall. I have tiny hands. See?”

I held up my right hand. She held up her left and pressed it to mine. We compared them silently. In that moment, the newsroom buzzing obliviously around us, my life changed. I lost my fear and shame as quickly and easily as shedding an ugly coat in the dressing room at Macy’s — it was never really mine to begin with.

Later that week, G invited me out for tapas at the one decent restaurant in town. She ordered mussels. I looked at her teasing them apart and blushed to the roots of my hair, thankful for the dim lighting.

She told me about her life before Bakersfield — the all-women’s rock band she’d played guitar in; her love of motorcycles; her friends in in L.A. and Santa Barbara (all of whom seemed to be named “Kat” or “Kris.”)

Awkwardly, I asked if she “had someone.” She shook her head and answered the question I was really asking — casually, but without taking her eyes from my face: “Oh, I’m a big dyke.”

A handful of stars skipped along my spine. Something solid moved into the space that fear and shame had vacated, and bones cracked and resettled into a skeleton that was finally mine. All my false starts and bad decisions; all my nagging questions — “Why am I such a fuck-up?” Why can’t I manage to make a life for myself?” — put a soft blanket around themselves and lay down.

Somewhere deep inside, without knowing the details, I knew that this was next:

 

We sit on her couch, talking about music in the glow of an orange lamp shaped like a jack-o’-lantern. G. tells me about a lesbian bar called The Wild Rose in Seattle, where she and another butch held lit cigarettes to each other’s arms to see who’d pull away first. She shows me the scar. I’m buzzed on two inches of wine, and I’m telling her about last year; about figuring out that I like women but most of the lesbians I’ve met are crazypants nuts. She says it’s the same wherever you go. I finish my last sip of wine, shift myself onto her lap, go limp and hang my head back.

“I’m the Pieta!” I say, and feel her laughter rock me back and forth. I lift my head back up and re-focus my eyes; inhale her; taste her. 

“Are you sure you’ve never done this before?” she asks an hour later. I know why she’s asking. I’m hardly sure I’ve never done this before, either. It feels like I’ve been doing it all my life; like all the years I wasn’t doing it were a dream.

 

With G. as my hostess, I dove into ** lesbian culture full-force. Within weeks, I discovered Curve magazine; MichFest; “Desert Hearts,” gluten intolerance, menstrual sponges, and the labrys — except I kept pronouncing it “lay-bris.”

“I want to buy a lay-bris necklace,” I told her on one of the Saturdays we never got out of bed. “Maybe they’d have one at that feminist bookstore in Santa Barbara. Have you heard of this thing called the lay-bris? It’s a double-sided axe, representing the waxing and waning moon, and also woman’s capacity to create and to destr– why are you laughing?”

“I was a dyke in the 80’s,” she said. “It’s sort of like you just asked, ‘Have you heard of this thing called the ‘fork’? Also, it’s pronounced lab-riss.”

On our labrys shopping trip, I picked out the biggest one I could find — so big, it hung with the axe pointing down instead of up. The bookstore didn’t have chains, so I wore it out of the store on a rainbow lanyard. Every few minutes, a lesbian passerby would catch our glowy, dilated eyes and toss us a smile. That day I learned the “dyke nod” — a quick uplift of chin that means, ” I see you and I know you see me and here we are.”

G. also bought me a dictionary that day — an enormous, unabridged Webster’s from the early 1950s, because I saw it and made a squeaky noise of longing. I looked at its thumb-wedged pages and marveled that all those words together weren’t enough to describe how brilliant she was and how fine, and how I had never loved anybody in the world even half so much.

 

*I made that up. Still, the city of Bakersfield is a sobering lesson in why, if you’re going to get a Chinese-character tattoo, you should first consult the Asian-languages department at the closest university. The difference between an armband that reads “Courage” and one that reads “Reckless Moron” is, all too often, no more than the flick of a nib.

** heh.

and my “no” is enough.

Here’s a sample of a particular kind of comment I received in response to yesterday’s post:

I don’t really understand how it’s constructive or necessary to make an exclusive space for women, especially not if that exclusive space won’t even accept women from different backgrounds. Will you also be filtering out comments from trans women? What about female-bodied gender queers? Will you be researching commenters’ identities to confirm that they fit your standards of what a feminist should look and feel like? Why can’t male feminists be a part of these dialogues?

First of all: There are two reasons why someone would claim not to understand why it’s constructive or necessary to make an exclusive space for women, and they go something like this:

1. “Women — and their needs and wants — aren’t really important. Even if women SAY they need and want an exclusive space, who the fuck cares? Men, transpeople, and genderqueers know better what women need and want, and if they don’t see a reason for a women-only space, then said space is neither constructive or necessary.”

2. “Well, I’m a woman, and I’ve never needed or wanted a women’only space, so I don’t understand why other women would. Therefore, those women’s needs and wants are invalid.”

Second and third sentences: Will you also be filtering out comments from trans women? What about female-bodied gender queers? 

Am I not allowed to do that in my own space? My tiny, obscure space, surrounded by thousands upon thousands of trans and genderqueer blogs? My space, from which I would NEVER venture forth and demand that trans and genderqueer writers accept my comments or address my needs, or cast accusatory aspersions on them for failing to do so?

Fourth sentence: Will you be researching commenters’ identities to confirm that they fit your standards of what a feminist should look and feel like? 

Like the Michfest straw-panty-checks, this is too disingenuous to warrant a response.

Fifth sentence: Why can’t male feminists be a part of these dialogues?

They can, and they are. At other blogs. This blog is for women who were assigned female at birth, were raised as girls, and identify as women — because I like what happens when we write and exchange ideas without the presence and energy of men and the endless, fruitless, hurtful debates surrounding trans issues. You can find both at other blogs. This blog is mine. Ours.

My bottom line: Women, when they create spaces for themselves and other women, get to choose who comes in. I know it drives men crazy to be told “no,” because they expect and demand access to women’s spaces, but I am saying “no.”

Keeping our space

Part of what I’m trying to do with this blog is give radical feminists a place (albeit small) of our own. We have very few spaces dedicated to women who were born female, raised as girls, and navigate the world from a radfem perspective — and I want to create another such space.

For that reason, I will no longer be approving comments from men, even feminist allies — and those allies will understand why. I’m happy to exchange e-mails with allies off-blog, but I want to honor the feedback I’ve received from the women who visit and comment here.

Women’s-only radfem spaces are rare, and we need them. I dedicate this one to us.