Assigned Faggot: Gender Roles, Sex, and the Division of Labor

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A boy in eighth-grade math class walks over and says, “You sit like a woman. What are you, a woman?” We both know there’s no right answer.


 

When I was born, the obstetrician said I was male. So, growing up, that was the role expected of me. People told me I’d become a heterosexually-married adult man. I shouldn’t have long hair, wear dresses, or cry “like a sissy.”

At some point, though, that comprehensive set of expectations (that gender role) changed. By the time I hit adolescence, no one thought I’d marry a woman. Boys were supposed to like football and act tough, but nobody looked at me and thought I could ever do that. My classmates started calling me gay before I even knew what the word meant. More and more, people expected that I would behave different from my male peers.

Of course, their expectations carried a weight of moral condemnation. When they called me a “faggot,” they made it clear that it was a very bad thing to be. But, none of them seriously believed that someone who looked, moved, and sounded like me could be anything else. I was chastised and punished for filling it, but nevertheless “faggot” was the role I was pressured to fill.

Are gender and sexuality fundamentally personal identities, or are they imposed by a larger social system? How sharp is the line between them?


 

Walking down the hall in high school, it feels like every other word is “faggot.” An especially churchy classmate tells me that if I was a real Christian, I wouldn’t “want to be that way any more.”

In gym class, the coach sends the boys to one side of the room and the girls to the other to do different activities. No one looks surprised when I go with the girls.


 

On paper, US conservatism believes in a strict gender binary. You are male or female, birth to death. Men are naturally one way and women another. No one really falls in between. Men, of course, are naturally strong and unemotive. They sleep with women but socialize with each other.

And yet, people who embraced that ideology wholesale would meet me and assume that my friends were girls, that I was emotional and “sensitive,” that I’d defer to my male peers, and – perhaps most of all – that I was sexually available to men. But since they didn’t read me as cis female, why weren’t they bringing the usual male expectations?

When I had straight male friends, why did they expect me to be emotionally supportive and assume I had some special insight into “what women want?” They didn’t seek that from each other, and they’d have either laughed or gotten angry at anyone who asked it of them.

If their idea of gender was as binary as they believed it to be, why didn’t they place me into a male role?


 

Unfortunately, many women-particularly single women-are afraid of the perspective of wages for housework because they are afraid of identifying even for a second with the housewife. They know that this is the most powerless position in society and so they do not want to realise that they are housewives too…

We are all housewives because no matter where we are they can always count on more work from us, more fear on our side to put forward our demands, and less pressure on them for money, since hopefully our minds are directed elsewhere, to that man in our present or our future who will “take care of us”.

Silvia Federici

 

Did those people believe in genders besides female and male?

With their ideas, they didn’t. With their actions, though, they did. After all, they created at least one gender role besides “man” and “woman” – I know because they assigned me to it! My social position was not authentically male. I was failed-male. In practice, my gender was “faggot.”

When they said “faggots aren’t real men,” that was an is, not an ought. “Faggot” is a socially-real gender category distinct from “male.” It is imposed (like all genders) by a social system beyond the control of any given individual. Gender, after all, is more than either individual identity or cultural beliefs. Each gender role corresponds to a particular place in the overall social division of labor.

To be given a feminized gender (like “woman” or “faggot”) means to be given feminized work: emotional, interpersonal, domestic, caregiving, and sexual. When you meet someone, they read a gender onto you. Practically speaking, that means they either expect you to take on those tasks or they expect others to take them on instead of you. There are, of course, plenty of signifiers that help people make that gender assignment (speech inflections, clothes, names, communication styles, inferred secondary sex characteristics, etc). But all that only makes up half of what a gender is – the rest is being expected to do specific kinds of work, and you can’t cleanly untangle the two halves. Being conventionally feminine means being expected to wear makeup, long hair, etc – but also to have a less aggressive conversation style, to step aside for men on the sidewalk, to be “nurturing,” and to sleep with men. On the ground, the division of labor and cultural norms are united. Each upholds the other.


 

I sit in a therapist’s office and talk about how since transitioning, I’ve felt less and less connection with any sort of sexuality and I don’t understand why. He tells me I just need to accept that I’m attracted to men – once I do that, he says, things will fall into place.


 

Radical feminism talks about “compulsory heterosexuality” – the idea that heterosexuality is more than a sexual preference some people happen to have. It’s a political institution built into the gender system itself, through which all women (including lesbians) are pressured to treat sex with men as inherent to womanhood. This approach to sexuality cares about the pleasure of men, but leaves non-male desires as (at best) an afterthought. Without it, feminized gender roles (woman and faggot alike) would bear little resemblance to their current forms.

I faced that imperative, just like my cis female peers. To be sure, people delivered it to me on different terms. Attraction to men was expected of me, but never treated as though it were positive. However, it was still part of the role I was assigned. Accepting my lesbianism still entailed a process of soul-searching to break through some deeply internalized messages; it tracked closely with the experiences of the cis lesbians I know.

Sexuality doesn’t neatly come apart from gender. Gender is an overarching system, a way of organizing certain types of work within class society’s overall division of labor. My socialization into a feminized role brought with it certain sexual expectations, just as it carried emotional and interpersonal ones.

Neither sexuality nor gender floats free, separate from each other or from the overall organization of society. They aren’t (just) individual identities, and they aren’t (just) cultural ideas. These roles exist physically: the interactions humans have with each other and with the world re-create them every day. If you ignore that context, you’ll misunderstand the relationship between them.

Cultural norms about gender receive institutional support from the government, businesses, religious congregations, etc. After all, gender is an efficient and elegant way to get some people to do certain kinds of work for free. Sure, some aspects of contemporary gender predate capitalism. However, this gender system is still capitalist to its essence. Why? Capitalism digested those older components and turned them into something qualitatively different (as the historical research of Silvia Federici and other Marxist feminists shows).

Beliefs and practices aren’t merely ephemera. They aren’t fluff on top of an underlying economic reality. They’re part of economic reality because they’re part of how people carry out the daily work of existence. Their function within it is vital. Without them, it wouldn’t be easy to get anyone to do feminized work for free, but with them? People “spontaneously” enforce those roles on each other via social pressure, “common sense,” and violence. Why else do so many women punish each other for deviating from fundamentally-sexist norms?

Again, though, the ideas in people’s heads are only half the picture. The conservative Christians I grew up around believed wholeheartedly that only two genders existed. But when they couldn’t find a place in the male role for people like me, what did they do? They created another one for us (faggot). Did they call it a gender? Of course not, but ideology isn’t what you believe. It’s what you’ve internalized through what you do. And isn’t it telling that if you asked them about trans and nonbinary people, they’d say none of it was valid because “those people are just confused faggots?”


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Nearly all liberals (and more than a few leftists) arrive at their politics by first noticing an instance of oppression, then deciding to oppose it. They hear conservatives condemn gays, for instance, and think, “We’ve got to stop that prejudice. Gay people deserve respect!” That’s an understandable approach – disrespect, bigotry, and microaggressions are right there for all to see. Shouldn’t they be gotten rid of?

But when you remember that ideas and beliefs are only half of what’s going on, doesn’t something almost sinister emerge? We can remove the outward signs of oppression. But does that mean it’s gone, or just that it’s harder to see?

When you look at someone’s face, it doesn’t take its shape from the skin on the surface. It takes it from the bone underneath. If outright bigotry is the visible skin, the division of labor and the need to enforce it are the bone. Had I grown up in a liberal area rather than a conservative one, the people around me would have believed that women should be considered equal to men and that LGBT people deserved acceptance and respect. Those categories would have been enforced more gently – but they still would have been enforced. Since capitalism’s division of labor would have remained, feminized work would still have gotten assigned to feminized roles.

They wouldn’t have called me “faggot,” but they would have called me “fabulous” – and at the end of the day, the role expectations are the same either way. Respect and inclusion would have been nicer makeup, but the face beneath would have been no different.


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Radical politics should begin with the physical reality of class society and its division of labor.

The cultural half of the mechanism matters. It isn’t a question of “divisive social issues.” Norms and ideas are part of how the system works, and separating them from “economic class” just shows you’ve misunderstood both.

But because these roles are unified with the class system, the goal can’t simply be greater respect. Imposing them politely is still imposing them. The surface manifestations are an important part of the phenomenon, but they aren’t all of it. And ultimately, radical politics must seek to abolish the entire thing.

And if radicals forget that, then sure, they might find ways to make society look less oppressive.

But will anyone have actually gotten free?


 

Sophia Burns is a communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism

It’s All About Sex: Feminism, Paganism, and Trans Exclusion

When I found a first hint of my Goddess, I was twenty and alone.

No one else at my small-town-South, church-affiliated college was openly trans. I wasn’t just socially stigmatized – I lacked spiritual tools with which to understand my alienation. Then one professor, a lesbian feminist with a goddess-symbol pendant, gave me a book: Beyond God the Father by Mary Daly. Daly’s post-Catholic thealogy taught me that a male authority figure wasn’t the only sort of God. Soon, I found a sacred place under an oleander tree and prayed to “the goddess;” within a few years, I’d gone through the Goddess Movement to the Meter Theon’s devotional service and the vows I’m under today.

In large part, Mary Daly set me free.

However, had I actually met her, she would’ve wanted nothing to do with me. Daly helped found what today we call the TERF movement: Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism, a strain of feminism for cisgender (that is, non-transgender) women who believe trans women shouldn’t exist. Some of them follow through with harassment or even physical violence.

I thought of this paradox — that a TERF’s book could set in motion a trans woman’s religious feminism — when the cis Pagans in my social media sphere recently discovered that certain Pagan leaders have TERF ideas. A professor at Cherry Hill Seminary, Ruth Barrett, signed a petition denouncing trans people’s involvement in gay rights; Cherry Hill stood beside her in a subsequent press release.

Of course, this is no one’s first rodeo. In 2012, similar criticisms emerged when the founder of Dianic Witchcraft, Z. Budapest, excluded trans women from a ritual at PantheaCon that had been advertised as a rite for women. Trans exclusion has been a fact for decades in many Pagan communities.

But where does this sentiment come from? Trans women exist and many of us are polytheists and/or Pagans; why should anybody mind?


 

 

“All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves…Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so that they seem non-invasive.”

– Janice Raymond, author of The Transsexual Empire

When TERFs and right-wing Christians talk about trans women, they agree that everything comes down to sex. Take a few examples:

  • Last November, Houston, TX (my hometown) voted to repeal an antidiscrimination ordinance that included protections for trans people. After months of TV ads slandering trans women as rapist men lurking in the bathroom, the final count was 2 to 1 against the ordinance.
  • Right now, in Washington State (my adopted home), lawmakers have written six different bills, all intended to deny trans people the right to use the bathroom that best matches their gender. All of these politicians (and their supporters) have endorsed that same bathroom-rapist lie.
  • The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which ran annually until last year, maintained a blanket no-trans-women-allowed policy. One year, a Lesbian Avengers chapter with a trans woman member did attend, and the trans teenager found herself surrounded by a hostile crowd of adults, some of whom threatened her with knives. The festival claimed that trans attendees would somehow pose a special danger to rape survivors.
  • Janice Raymond, who wrote the anti-trans manifesto The Transsexual Empire, explicitly equated the existence of trans women with rape, and claimed that trans lesbians who had consensual sex were actually, somehow, committing rape. When she developed these ideas as a grad student, her thesis adviser was Mary Daly.

No trans woman has ever been found sexually harassing people in public restrooms. The figure of the bathroom-rapist trans woman is like Hookman or Bloody Mary: an urban legend, not an actual person. But politicians don’t write bills cracking down on the cursed monkey paw market. So, whence this particular urban myth’s political credibility?


 

 

On Catcalling, Good Sex, and Nonconsensual Work

 

As I discussed in my last article, capitalist patriarchy runs on women’s unreciprocated social labor. I didn’t, however, much talk about the way that sex, sexuality, and sexual desire fit into this system.

In heterosexual settings, women generally put much more effort into sexually satisfying their partners than their men reciprocate. We see this in everything from the deeply-gendered nature of sexy underwear (lingerie for women is an industry, lingerie for men is comedy fodder) to the juxtaposition of normalized fellatio and stigmatized cunnilingus. Rape is simply the extension of this one-sided approach to sexual pleasure past the line of consent. Obviously, male-centric but consensual straight sex qualitatively and morally differs from rape. Nevertheless, both exist within a gender system that makes the work of good sex something that women generally perform both for ourselves and for men, but that men usually perform quite a bit less.

This happens outside of straight encounters, too. “Straight guys think lesbians are hot” is practically a proverb. Plus, the ubiquity of catcalling shows that no public space excludes what feminist theory calls the male gaze. When a woman goes down the sidewalk, puts on clothes in the morning, or wears makeup, her goal is rarely to give male strangers a moment of sexualized entertainment. However, when they catcall her, those men have just gotten their entertainment from the work she’s performed (even if existing in public is the only work she’s done).

She didn’t put together a public presentation in order to give men a show, but they got a show anyway by ogling and heckling. They’ve extracted benefit (entertainment) from her labor (wearing clothes and walking down the street) without her consent, and without reciprocation; they certainly aren’t likely to try to amuse her in return! In short, they’ve just exploited her work.

Every bit of this applies both to cis women and to trans women. All women, trans and cis, run the risk of rape and sexual harassment; all women who date men, trans and cis, deal with partners who demand that their own pleasure must always come first.

However, the exploited sexual labor of trans women goes past that of cis women. Patriarchy tries to reduce trans women’s entire existence to sex. Supposedly, we only transition to satisfy a sexual fetish; supposedly, the only people who sleep with us have a fetish of their own. We go into sex work much more frequently than cis women because hiring discrimination is so rampant. Mainstream cultural depictions of trans women at work rarely include jobs other than sex work and hairdressing. (And remember, patriarchy believes that women groom and get haircuts solely to attract straight men.) Without letters of approval from self-appointed psychiatric “experts,” it’s extremely difficult to access trans-specific medical care (mostly hormone therapy and various surgeries). Those gatekeepers have traditionally denied that healthcare to trans women they deemed insufficiently feminine, attractive, or heterosexual.

This extra layer of sexualization brings an extra layer of gendered violence. A majority of trans women have been raped and/or sexually abused, and anti-trans violence gets overwhelmingly committed by men who sleep with us. (Throw in race and occupation to the mix, and you’ll find that not only are most anti-LGBT hate murder victims trans women, but a large majority of those women are Black and/or Latina, with a substantial number of sex workers in the mix. When bigotry kills LGBT people, that bigotry is usually racism plus sexism plus transphobia.)

So patriarchy disproportionately sexualizes trans women, while disproportionately punishing us for it. Why? When that happens, what’s in it for patriarchy? It gets a class of women who perform extra sexual labor, while facing too much brutalization to easily challenge that. More exploitation, less resistance.

Anti-trans ideas only make sense in terms of that social situation.

Prejudice and stigma occur so that trans women stay in that extra-exploited situation. People who say that trans women are really men don’t mean that literally; after all, when most people say you really are a man!” to an actual man, it’s a compliment. Those same words to a trans woman are an insult and a threat (and often precede physical violence). However, the combination of stigma, discrimination, harassment, and violence that gets thrown at trans women keeps us easier to exploit. In sociological lingo, that’s transphobia’s social function.

And plenty of trans women have stories about getting hit on by TERFs and conservative transphobes. As often as not, the people who rail the loudest in public about how we’re sexually disgusting are the ones who sleep with us in private. No surprise that those who most directly benefit from our sexual labor also most want us kept in line!

However, anti-trans politics does more than that. By campaigning against a hated and nearly defenseless minority, both right-wingers and TERFs gain visibility, prestige, and clout within their communities: conservative Christianity and majority-cis feminism, respectively. Pagan TERFs like Ruth Barrett bolster their position within feminist witchcraft and the broader Pagan scene. If the benefits transphobic actions accrued were to stop, so would those actions.

If TERFism hurt rather than enhanced someone’s position within Pagandom, then anti-trans practices would wither.


 

 

“An injury to one is an injury to all!”

– The Industrial Workers of the World

I don’t write this article for other trans people.

Trans Pagans and polytheists have already spent decades attempting to undo the power of anti-trans leaders within our communities. We already know just how dangerous and spiritually deadly transphobia gets.

Cisgender fellow Pagans, I’m writing for you. I don’t want to make yet another moral appeal to support us because it’s just and virtuous to do so (although it surely is); instead, I want us to consider, together, what anti-trans Paganism means for us all. If you’re a cis woman, I have as much a stake in ending patriarchy as you – and transphobia only exists because it’s part of patriarchy. If you support full inclusion for trans women as women, you’re helping to reject one of patriarchy’s more violent ongoing projects! And if you’re a cis man, I have the same message. Transphobia is patriarchy, and patriarchy is capitalism, is homophobia, is racism, and is every other structure of exploitation that keeps the ruling classes on top. “An injury to one is an injury to all” is a statement not of moral solidarity, but of sociological fact. Propping up discrimination against someone else just strengthens the powers that oppress you.

So, together, let’s make the Pagan subculture a place where hating trans women destroys reputations instead of growing them. Let’s make our traditions islands of pro-trans feminism; let’s say “you’re being divisive” to transphobes, not to their critics.

After all, I know firsthand the power and intoxication of feminist self-embrace that people like Mary Daly offer at their best. If some of them fell short in their attempts to wash away patriarchy’s values, the strength of the Pagan feminist lifestance is surely enough to survive if we acknowledge that transphobia is patriarchy, and choose to do better than our precursors. Affirming trans women as women makes that feminism more powerful, not less.

And besides – if we can’t even reject patriarchy’s marching orders within feminist Paganism, how can we expect to do so anywhere else?


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Sophia Burns

Sophia Burns is a galla, vowed to serve Attis and Kybele, and a Greco-Phrygian polytheist. After coming out in the small-town South, she moved to Seattle, where she is active in the trans lesbian community. Other than writing for Gods&Radicals, Sophia’s activities include political organizing, attending nursing school, and spending time with her partners, friends, and chosen family.

The Patriarchy is About Class, Not Gender

Credit: J. Howard Miller, Public Domain
Credit: J. Howard Miller, Public Domain

A Battle for Our Bodies

We women know a hard truth of our culture; our bodies are not our own.

We are told how our bodies are supposed to behave.  How they are supposed to look (age/weight/height/hair/skin colour/breast size/genitals; the last of particular interest to women not visibly born “female”).  What we should feed them.  How we should decorate them.  Whether or not we should use them as incubators and what we are allowed to do with them once a zygote starts growing.  We are told to hide, and suppress, our body’s needs and natural functions.  We are told that the functions that formulate the incubator are supposed to be hidden from polite company, from menstruation to breast feeding.  We are told how we should wrap them, under what conditions it’s okay to unwrap them, and whom we should (or should not) unwrap them for.

After I overcame my childhood conditioning to suppress my sexuality, I wondered why.  This is something that has puzzled me for many years.  Why in the world does anyone else care about what I do with my body, whom I choose to have sex with, or how?  I mean, think about it.  How does it affect anyone else that I’m not sleeping with (or someone who’s sleeping with someone I’m sleeping with?)  I don’t give two figs what kind of car my neighbour drives because its effect on my life is exactly zero.

I read all the Dianic literature and found it empowering: The Wise Wound, Goddesses in Everywoman, The Chalice and the Blade.  Their theory was that because, until recently, your mother was a certainty but your father was an opinion, controlling women’s sexuality assured paternity and therefore, men would not find themselves in a situation in which they were struggling to feed someone else’s offspring.  I believed it because it was the only thing that sounded plausible to me.

The men in my life were angered by this theory.  They are feminists, and they are stepfathers.  They chose to raise someone else’s offspring, knowing full well it was someone else’s offspring, and give their love even when that love has not always been returned.  I didn’t give their anger much heed.  I figured it was a case in which they did not recognize their privilege.  I figured they would come around.

But there’s another theory, one that I’ve recently stumbled upon that makes much more sense.  Like anything else it’s not new; I was excited when I discovered, as I was reading it for the first time, that Starhawk had touched on it in the Appendices of her classic book on magick and activism, Dreaming the Dark.

Patriarchy exists to preserve inheritance.

Patriarchy is all about class.

Expropriation and Estrangement

Starhawk believes that we can find the evidence in enclosure.  In the sixteenth century a movement spread through England to enclose what was previously common land.  All of a sudden, which family controlled the land and its use became of paramount importance.  All of a sudden the people who lived on that common land became threats, because if land was held by common “squatters,” it could not be enclosed.  Often, lone widows lived in such places and so they were favourite targets of the would-be landowners, since they couldn’t do much to fight back.  Persecution increased against marginalized groups; that and widespread famines and possibly ergot poisoning led to revolutions and pogroms.  Enclosure forced most of us out of the woods and fields and into places in which our livelihoods depended on wages, and since one could only farm what was now on one’s land, trade became vital, and not an enhancement to existing living conditions.  We have seen the culmination of this trend in our current world economy, which depends on trading in raw resources and the forced labour of the developing world.

Knowledge became a marketable commodity in the new mercantile culture that was developing.  Universities developed.  Knowledge became something you could only have if you had the money to pay, and thus, graduates of those universities worked to preserve their monopoly on knowledge.  This particularly affected medicine.  Graduating university doctors spread the idea that anyone who did not have their certification was dangerous and stupid and might possibly cause real harm, even when the folk healing tradition was well ahead of the medicine of universities.  Often this was also a women’s profession, so once again women became an incidental target.  And “women’s medicine,” as a natural and unavoidable consequence of all of the medical practitioners being male, lagged behind and became a method of social control, culminating with the myth of the “hysterical woman” in Victorian times; an excuse to institutionalize women who did not behave according to the desired social mien.  We are currently seeing the culmination of the ownership of knowledge, with every task requiring (expensive) papers to certify your capability, bizarre trademark and copyright laws that allow corporations to claim intellectual property over ideas created 700 years ago, and tuitions so high that only the moneyed class can generally afford to pay them.

In order to justify this culture of ownership and expropriation, the world had to be disenchanted.  If the world has no life and no spirit other than what can be used as resources, there is no reason not to use it up.  Once again, the bodies of (cisgender) women, who are bound visibly by biological needs and changes, and who hold the power of the womb, became incidental targets, as the needs of the body and the needs of the earth and its creatures were denigrated, and “spiritual perfection” came to mean transcending anything as filthy and low as biology and nature.  We are seeing the culmination of this disenchantment now, in which faith is painted as a choice between the binary of absolute obedience to a patriarchal, distant god; or utter denial of the possibility of anything spiritual.

All of this is part of a culture of expropriation that derives from estrangement; estrangement from our nature, from our bodies, from the sense of the spiritual in the material, from people who are different from ourselves, even from one another.  We are almost seeing the culmination of it now.  We no longer know our neighbours.  We no longer live in families any larger than the nuclear.  Most of us these days are raised by single mothers.  We don’t even talk to each other any more, except through phones and computers.  As a result we are siloed in echo chambers of the ideas we support and our children sit across the table from each other and use their phones to converse.  Almost by definition, Paganism and Polytheism, which see gods and spirits here within the earth, are natural enemies of this culture.

I was excited!  Starhawk articulated it so much more effectively than I was able to.

Of course, it started long before that.  While the theory of the ancient matriarchy has been essentially disproven at this point, it is likely that inheritance did not matter in the prehistoric world until there was something to inherit that did not belong to the clan as a whole.  Chieftainships created a class of haves, and have-nots, which made tracking inheritance “necessary.”

How I Stumbled on This

I was writing a science fiction novel.  In the process I created a society in which all the men were warriors, so of course, the women were required to do everything else.  This society also had a noble caste who ruled over the other classes.  And I found that the society quickly developed, through a natural process of cause and effect, into a patriarchy.  Fascist societies, the ultimate in Corporatism, usually develop into patriarchies for this reason.

So I changed one condition; I made inheritance dependent on the female bloodline.  Now clans were organized around the females of a particular family, and to become nobles of the clan, males had to marry into it.  Technically the males inherited, but only through the females.  Suddenly, it looked to outsiders like the males were in charge, but in reality, the females were controlling marriages and fertility, and through that, the process of inheritance.  Over time, males began to develop traits that the females found desirable, and eventually it led to the breakdown of the class system and changing roles for males and females.

Corroborating Evidence

Why is it always the right wing who seems to support ideas that restrict the freedom of women?  You would think that powerful women of the moneyed class would be in an ideal position to challenge the supremacy of the patriarch.  But consider it.  Keeping the classes divided is the only way in which to assure that there are haves and have-nots.  In order to separate the classes, it is necessary to assure that the poor and the rich never mingle, and that requires controlling a woman’s fertility; and subsequently, her sexuality.  This is why it’s so important to the moneyed Conservatives to prevent cisgender women (and trans-men) from controlling their own fertility and claiming their own sexuality outside of the imposed rules of the patriarchy.  If women could do that, we wage-slaves wouldn’t continue to breed fodder for factories, would we?  Especially not in the developing world.  And what if a low-class male has sex with a high-class female and she has a child?  That elevates him out of the have-nots, doesn’t it?

We women impose these unconscious limits on ourselves.  Did you know that women do not call each other “sluts” based on their level of sexuality activity?  According to a study conducted at university campuses by Dr. Elizabeth Armstrong, the key trigger to being called a slut by another woman is being from a different economic class.  Why on earth would women perceive each other as being “trashy” for being more, or less, affluent than themselves?  It seems to me that this is a subconscious method of social control, to prevent the classes from breeding together.

Also, we choose mates based on perceived status.  It’s such a cliche that we make jokes about it; trophy-wives and sugar daddies.  Men with money are considered sexy.  Men buy expensive gifts and seek good jobs to impress women, and it’s considered the height of romanticism from him to buy us jewelry or that coveted diamond ring that proclaims our status as desired property.

We feminists think we’re above that.  After all, we believe in making our own way in the world and not relying on other people for financial support.  But consider this; assuming you are heterosexual, would you marry a man who made less money than you do?  Most of us won’t.  We think that “we can do better” and men who make less than we do are often perceived as freeloaders and “bums,” no matter how hard they work.  Fortunately this is changing.

There’s one last point of note that supports this theory, and that is the Mosuo people of China.  Often called “the last matrilineal society,” they have evolved a society in which all property rights pass through the female line.  There is no permanent marriage and partners do not live together, even if they have a long-term relationship.  Men live with their female relatives.  And all the behaviours of control and sexual dominance are displayed by the women; all the behaviours of social manipulation and preoccupation with appearance is displayed by the men.  In other words, property equals power.

The Real Enemy: Kyriarchy

Kyriarchy, pronounced /ˈkriɑrki/, is a social system or set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission. The word is a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in 1992 to describe her theory of interconnected, interacting, and self-extending systems of domination and submission, in which a single individual might be oppressed in some relationships and privileged in others. It is an intersectional extension of the idea of patriarchy beyond gender. Kyriarchy encompasses sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, economic injustice, colonialism, ethnocentrism, militarism, and other forms of dominating hierarchies in which the subordination of one person or group to another is internalized and institutionalized.  (Source: Wikipedia).

It is in the interests of the Capitalists to maintain divisions of haves and have-nots.  Kyriarchy is how they go about this in a (nominally) free, democratic society.  They teach the rest of us to see one group as being superior to another, which leads to an interconnected system of privilege and disadvantage.  Notice that the poor are the only identifiable group that it’s perfectly okay to discriminate against?  Institutionalized discrimination limits the ability of the poor to get education, houses and jobs, and forces them to pay more for simple things due to interest payments, bank fees and “planned obsolescence.”

This is why it is necessary to consider all disadvantaged groups.  The truth is that Kyriarchy cannot exist if we all stand together and refuse to see these artificial divisions.

In other words; sisters, men are not the enemy.  Those who teach us that one group is better than another, are.  And those who benefit from the status quo the most are usually the ones most invested in preserving it.  The ones who benefit the most from this current status quo are white, white-collar, straight, wealthy, older men; in other words, the Corporatist 1%.

By extension, this means that anyone who challenges this status quo and demands change is our ally.  It would help us all to march in Ferguson.  It would help us all to defend women’s reproductive rights.  It would help us all to support labour unions, advocate for anti-poverty groups, and march in the Pride Parade.  Any one of these activities is a blow to Kyriarchy; which, in its death throes, will take the Patriarchy with it.

Why the Patriarchy is Doomed

Don’t worry; it can’t last forever.  It was doomed from the invention of the Pill.  When you can’t control a woman’s fertility, you can’t control her sexuality.

But social sanctions will try.  And as long as we allow groups which are invested in the idea of patriarchy — such as religions or corporations — to dictate morality to us, then it will continue.  We must stop calling each other sluts.  We must stop trying to dictate to each other when it’s okay to sleep with someone and when it isn’t.  We should feel free to make our own sexual choices and respect the right of others to do likewise.  We should support the rights of all genders, especially because challenging the binary breaks up the division that is based in haves (men) and have-nots (women).  The Kyriarchs know this and that’s why they find it so threatening and fight it so hard.

A great victory was recently won when the United States finally caught up to the idea that marriage should be a right for everyone.  I am pleased to see another nail being hammered into the coffin as the worldwide movement for the rights of sex workers grows and we stop looking down on women who get more action than others.

When our social customs catch up to our physical and scientific realities, patriarchy’s inevitable end will crumble the support pillar that sustains the Kyriarchy; and it will collapse like a house of cards.  We will see the dawn of a new age which is not dependent on human beings dividing themselves into superior and inferior classes.  That day is coming.  I believe it’s not far away.

  • Sept. 2 Update: edits made in response to suggestions from Keen on how to be more gender-inclusive (see commentary below).

Uncontrolled: The Boxer Rebellion of 1898-1900

By Heathen Chinese

Boxers in Tianjin. Credit: Public Domain.
Boxers in Tianjin. Credit: Public Domain.

The anti-foreign Yihequan (義和拳, “Boxers United in Righteousness”) movement of 1898-1900, better known in the West as the Boxer Rebellion, was characterized by relatively decentralized and non-hierarchical organizational forms. It would be a mistake, however, to label the movement as a whole anti-authoritarian. For one thing, their best known slogan explicitly stated their support for the ruling imperial dynasty: “Support the Qing, destroy the foreign” (“扶清滅洋,” “Fu Qing mie yang”).

More importantly, however, participants in the movement exercised power in morally and ethically questionable manners in territories they controlled. I have no wish to superimpose “modern” value judgements onto the worldview of the participants in the Boxer movement, but I also have no intention of glossing over such aspects of the movement as edicts restricting the movements of women or the widespread summary execution of civilians.

In his book History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience and Myth, historian Paul Cohen examines the varied facets of the Boxer movement from many different points of view. Cohen’s nuanced approach proves to be essential when seeking to understand a movement as nebulous and complex as the Boxer Rebellion.

The Many Headed Hydra

If it is difficult for historians to fully understand the Boxer movement in hindsight, it was even more difficult for Qing government officials who were tasked with interacting with the movement as it emerged and expanded. For example, in October of 1899, the nascent Boxer movement clashed with Qing soldiers in the Battle of Senluo Temple, while flying the banner “Revive the Qing, destroy the foreign.” The governor of the province of Shandong, named Yuxian, had no choice but to respond to these events.

Yuxian recommended that local officials “be punished for their complete bungling of the crisis leading up to the Battle of Senluo Temple” (Cohen 32). This was “widely misinterpreted (by the Boxers themselves as well as by the Christians) as a censuring of these officials for having called in the troops to put down the Boxers,” due to Yuxian’s well-known “antiforeignism and consistent policy of leniency toward the Boxer rank and file” (Cohen 33). Leniency toward the rank and file, however, did not equate to leniency for the leaders of groups causing violent disturbances. Yuxian executed the three major Boxer leaders, “while ordinary Boxers were allowed–even encouraged–to meld back into the general population” (Cohen 33). Far from dissolving, however, the Boxer movement in fact began to rapidly expand into new geographical regions.

Cohen builds upon the arguments of Joseph Esherick’s The Origins of the Boxer Uprising, agreeing with Esherick that Yuxian’s policy of decapitating the leadership failed due to “the Boxer movement’s capacity, like Hercules’ Hydra (to borrow Esherick’s apt image), to reproduce itself (including the production of new leadership) with ease” (33).

Etruscan pottery depicting the Lernaean Hydra, c. 525 BCE. Credit: Wolfgang Sauber.
Etruscan pottery depicting the Lernaean Hydra, c. 525 BCE. Credit: Wolfgang Sauber.

The basic organizational unit of the Boxer movement was the tuan, which was centered around an altar or boxing ground in a public square:

Boxer units might number anywhere from 25 to 100 or more members. Typically a village would have a single Boxer unit (often called a tuan in the final phase of the uprising), larger villages, towns, and cities a plurality of units (which in urban areas were generally referred to as tan or altars). (Cohen 39).

Smaller units typically focused on attacking local Christian converts (at least initially), but were adaptable to changes: “Sometimes, when a major action was planned […] thousands of Boxers from nearby towns and villages came together under a unified command” (Cohen 42). There were particularly high levels of concentration and of leadership in the large port city of Tianjin and in the capital, Beijing, where “small groups of Boxers from all over Zhili, but chiefly to the south, filed into the city, where they became attached to one or another of the many altars that were established there” (Cohen 42).

Cohen mentions Esherick’s theory that “the relatively egalitarian social structure of the impoverished northwest […] favored the emergence of a social movement with weakly defined lines of authority and, for this very reason, made it more difficult to suppress such a movement by eliminating its leadership,” but cautions against relying too much upon this particular theory, reminding readers that these same organizational traits were “displayed in a great variety of different social settings, some of them far more highly structured than that of northwestern Shandong” (33-4).

In seeking a more comprehensive explanation for the Boxer’s rapid expansion, Cohen highlights five major factors: the dynamic of mass spirit possession, the severe drought that North China experienced starting in the winter of 1898-99, hunger and hunger anxiety, the ambivalent responses by authorities, and the momentum of the social movement itself. This article will take a closer look at the first of these five factors.

Mass Spirit Possession

Cohen, in broadening Esherick’s theory to account for Boxer activity in regions that do not fit Esherick’s sociological profile, points out that the possession ritual “was not linked to a specific social environment and thus served to uncouple the Boxer movement from the distinctive social environment in which it first emerged” (34). This made it easier to replicate elsewhere, as did the relative ease of performing the ritual itself, a point initially made by Chinese historian Cheng Xiao:

In South China, according to Cheng, shamanism was a more specialized and structured phenomenon. The ability to act as a shaman was passed on by teachers to their followers, and because of the procedures that had to be mastered, it was difficult for the general run of people to “become gods.” In the north, by contrast, […] there were, in general, no strict rituals or standards to be followed. All that was necessary to become possessed by a god was to write out charms or recite incantations, and these were so simple and easy to memorize that even illiterate people had no trouble mastering them. (Cohen 113)

Cohen quotes a historian specializing in the Taiping Rebellion on the potential political ramifications of such phenomena: “‘Uncontrolled spirit possession,’ Robert Weller has written, ‘more easily than other forms of religious communication, undercuts authority of all kinds'” (34). In his endnotes, Cohen also mentions the theory of a Japanese historian, Kobayashi Kazumi, who argued that “the Boxers, unlike the Taipings, had (and were possessed by) a plurality of gods, each with independent authority, with the result that they were unable to generate either charismatic leadership or a strong military/administrative organization” (306). In other words, the polytheism of the Boxers may have made them even more difficult to govern than their monotheist millenarian counterparts.

While there may have been military disadvantages to their decentralized organization, and the same factors that led to the their rapid expansion may have also led to their rapid collapse, this “uncontrolled” aspect is an important key to understanding the Boxers as a whole.

Artist: Johannes Koekkoek, 1900. Credit: Public Domain.
Artist: Johannes Koekkoek, 1900. Credit: Public Domain.

As an example of the difficulties of internal organization within the Boxer movement, consider the following eyewitness anecdote by Liu Mengyang, whom Cohen describes as “a reform-minded (and anti-Boxer) member of the local Tianjin elite” (77). Liu describes a dispute between Boxers over whose claim to be possessed by the god Guan Di was the most truthful:

Boxer A said to Boxer B: “You’re just pretending to be Guangong [i.e. Guan Di],” to which Boxer B rejoined “You’re the one who’s doing the pretending.” Unable to resolve their dispute, they asked a bandit [i.e. Boxer] chieftain to decide for them. The bandit chieftain said: “I am the one who has been truly possessed by the spirit of Guangong. You two are charlatans. You have the audacity to assume the name of another in order to trick people. You should be killed!” He then brandished his sword and made as if to chop off their heads, whereupon A and B refrained from further wrangling. (Cohen 122)

Liu was disposed to see all Boxers as “bandits,” but Cohen reminds the reader that “not having faith in this or that Boxer’s magic was a very different thing from not believing in Boxer magic and all,” and that “the great majority of Chinese at the time were quite prepared to accept the premises underlying the Boxers’ magico-religious claims” (144). Thus, it is important not to take Liu’s (obviously deliberately disparaging) account as evidence of anything more than an indication of a certain level of organizational disunity within the Boxer movement, and of Guan Di’s popularity among the Boxers.

Guan Di

Cohen makes the interesting observation that even though the Boxers were an armed movement, this was not necessarily their conscious motivation for worshiping (and allowing themselves to be possessed by) the warrior god Guan Di:

Although Guandi was possibly the most popular god in the Boxer pantheon, it is not clear that this was because he was the God of War; Guandi may have been worshiped with particular intensity in periods of armed conflict, but he happened also, in Duara’s words, to be ‘probably the most popular god in the villages of North China’ in general. (108)

In addition to his prominent role in Boxer possession (and the invulnerability to physical harm that possession was intended to confer), Guan Di was a protector of the people in other contexts during the Rebellion as well.

Battle of Tianjin. Note flames on right. Credit: Public Domain.
Battle of Tianjin. Note flames on right. Credit: Public Domain.

One of the favored weapons of the Boxers was fire, especially fires which the Boxers claimed to light by means of magical incantations. Like the Boxers themselves, Fire has a tendency to be “uncontrolled,” which is of course extremely dangerous in a crowded city like Beijing or Tianjin (especially in 1900). The Boxers, however, also claimed to be able to control the fires they lit and prevent them from burning down the homes of non-Christians.

The writings of Liu Yitong (not to be confused with the Liu Mengyang quoted above), who was “more receptive to Boxer claims than most Chinese elites,” contain an interesting example of such magico-religious firefighting:

Liu recounted an incident in which the Boxers on June 9-10 set fire to two churches in Tongzhou (some mile east of the capital). One of the churches was located very close to a granary. The local magistrate performed a koutou in the direction of the fire and prayed to the gods to protect the granary. Suddenly, as it was related to Liu, there appeared in the air a god in golden armor who stood atop the flames and then disappeared. Neither the granary nor the homes on either side of the church were damaged. Everyone said it was Guandi making his power manifest. (Cohen 126)

Edicts and Executions

The Boxers’ claims to be able to distinguish Christian from non-Christian residences gives rise to the obvious question: how? Liu Yitong “insisted that the Boxers had a remarkable capacity to know which homes belonged to Christians and which did not and that, by burning slips of paper and invoking the help of their gods, they were able to ensure that only the former were burned down” (Cohen 126). Disturbingly, the same method was also used to separate “Christians” from “non-Christians” for summary execution:

The accused party was hauled off to a Boxer altar, where he or she was made to burn slips of paper. If the ashes flew upward, the charge was determined to be false and the accused was given a reprieve; if however, the ashes failed to rise (after, according to some accounts, three burnings), the person was judged to be a Christian and was beheaded. Many innocent (that is, non-Christian) persons were wrongly killed in these circumstances, prompting Zhongfang Shi to remark: “How cruel to treat human life as a child’s sport and rely on whether ash rises or not as the basis for deciding whether a person should live or die.” (Cohen 203)

As is common in many authoritarian social settings, humanity’s worst traits began to dominate everyday life. Unsurprisingly, “a common practice during the Boxer summer, attested to in numerous accounts, Chinese and foreign, was that of settling old scores by falsely accusing people of being followers of Jesus” (Cohen 202-3).

Fear of the Boxers (and of being informed upon by their enemies, no doubt) led many people to preemptively attempt to rid their houses of anything remotely foreign: “When word was circulated that, after the Christians had all been killed, students who read foreign books would be next, many families owning such books consigned them to the flames” (Cohen 203).

Credit: LearningLark.
Credit: LearningLark.

One particularly poignant critique of the Boxers’ methods was recounted by a Beijing man named Tang Yan:

Tang Yan, while at the rice market inside the Fucheng Gate, came upon a weeping woman who complained with bitterness: “At first they said they were going to kill the foreigners, but up to now not a single foreigner has been hurt. The ones killed have all been Chinese who were worshipers of things foreign. What’s more, not a single man has been hurt. The only ones killed have been women and children. Things being this way, how can the turmoil truly be brought under control? I am very frightened.” When Tang heard this, he claims to have been left speechless, as none of the comments of his educated frineds in the preceding several days had been so clear-sighted and resolute. (Cohen 193-4).

Cohen comments in the endnotes:

The substance of the woman’s remarks is interesting. As of the time she made them, it is indeed true that very few foreigners had lost their lives, even fewer in the capital and its environs, which very likely was her frame of reference. On the other hand, although it is certainly possible, as the woman suggested, that the figures for women and children killed greatly outnumbered those for men, there is no hard evidence to support such a claim. (353)

It was true, however, that “women were more at risk than men owing to Boxer pollution beliefs” (194). Cohen, relying upon the account of Guan He, writes that at one point during the Boxer occupation of the city of Tianjin, “women in Tianjin were forbidden to go outside their homes at any hour, and those who violated this injunction (sometimes unknowingly) were killed” (137).

This edict was related to tactical considerations stemming from Boxers’ belief that women’s yin negated the power of Boxer magic, rather than to a conscious ideological position about the role of women in society, but the end result for women who ventured out into the streets of Tianjin was unfortunately the same.

Red Lanterns

In a paradoxical dynamic rather reminiscent of the Madonna-whore complex described by Sigmund Freud, the Boxers relied heavily upon the support of an all-female (and virginal) auxiliary force known as the Red Lanterns. The Red Lanterns were credited with powers including flight, hurling bolts of fire, sabotaging artillery by removing screws magically, healing and even resurrection. Their magic may have involved some sort of trance: “When the Red Lanterns stood erect and did not move, their souls left them and engaged in battle” (Cohen 125).

Indeed, the Red Lanterns “were viewed as possessors of magic that was even more powerful than that of the Boxers themselves. As one account put it: ‘Although the magic of the Boxers is great, they still fear dirty things [i.e. yin]. The Red Lanterns are in fear of nothing” (Cohen 139).

An actual red lantern, Chinatown, London. Advertisement for Les Misérables in background. Credit: Elliot Brown.
An actual red lantern, Chinatown, London. Advertisement for Les Misérables in background. Credit: Elliot Brown.

The Beijing Boxers requested Red Lantern reinforcements when they proved unable to storm a cathedral they were besieging (a fact the Boxers attributed to the use of powerful yin magic by the Catholic Bishop Favier), and in Tianjin the Red Lanterns were treated with supernatural awe. Liu Mengyang’s account notes:

When they [the Red Lanterns] walk through the streets, they avoid women, who are not allowed to gaze upon them. The people all burn incense and kneel in their presence; they call them female immortals and dare not look up at them. Even the Boxer bandits, when they encounter them, fall prostrate on their knees by the side of the road. (Cohen 139)

Zhongfang Shi reported rumors (which he did not believe) of male Boxers who also did not fear “dirty things,” who were allegedly dressed in black rather than the red or yellow that ordinary Boxers wore: “They cover their heads with black kerchiefs and wear dark shirts and trousers and yellow waistbands. Armed with double-edged swords, they don’t fear dirty things and gunfire is unable to get near their bodies” (Cohen 340).

Though this unit of Boxers may have just been an unfounded rumor, it is interesting to note that the possibility of men who “don’t fear dirty things” was not incomprehensible.

Contradictions and Conclusions

Some people glorify the Boxers for being anti-Western (or far more anachronistically, “anti-imperialist”), some people deplore them for it. Far fewer people celebrate the Boxers for being anti-modern, and many people have expressed contempt them for that very fact. Maoist-influenced historians and propagandists have tried to portray elements of the Boxer Rebellion as “anti-feudal” or even anti-patriarchal.

As is apparent from this selection of facts and stories about the Boxer Rebellion, it is extremely difficult to pin down the Boxers to any one dimension. From the fluidity of their organization to the easily reproducible nature of their possession ritual to their penchant for destruction by fire, the adjective “uncontrolled” describes the Boxers well.

For the purposes of his study, Cohen describes history-as-myth, as opposed to history-as-event (i.e. as narrated by historians) or history-as-experience (i.e. of direct participants), as “an impressing of the past into the service of a particular reading of the present.” Any attempt to mythologize the Boxers is bound to be confronted by their complexities and their contradictions. Some of those contradictions will be deeply disturbing or offensive. And in those areas, it is important to try to understand the worldview and experiences of combatants and civilians alike, in order to learn from the past.

Works Cited

Cohen, Paul. History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience and Myth. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Our Bodies Will Not Be Machines: My Resistance Will Be Bloody

I am thirteen and bleeding all over the floor of Renee’s bathroom. It is the middle of the night. I thought I had to pee, but it’s just that my period has started. I can’t predict these unpredictable occurrences. My stomach hurts. I feel queasy. But my flow is so heavy it’s running down my leg and making a mess on the floor. I mop up what I can. I swallow my pride and wake my friend to wake her mother. We need assistance. Thankfully, in an act of female teenage solidarity, no one ever hears of this story. Until now.

I am fifteen, crawling on my hands and knees through the halls of my high school. I have cramps so severe I cannot walk. I am pale and my English teacher is concerned that I might be passing out at my desk. Thankfully, most everyone is in class, so few people have to see my humiliation. But humiliation is the least of my concerns right now. Basic bodily functioning is my only priority at this moment. No one ever mentions seeing me do this.

I am nineteen and even being on the pill can’t cure me of cramps so bad that once again I cannot walk. I am slumped on the tile floor of the university dining hall bathroom. I might be passing out. A male friend is brought in to find me and carry me back to my dorm room. He never mentions this again.

In each of these moments what isn’t mentioned is that these moments aren’t mentioned. Women are supposed to be quiet about something that our bodies do every single month for thirty or forty years. Don’t make a big deal of your experience. Don’t gross anyone out. This is shameful and people will mock you. Or they willfully ignore it.

Don’t smell of flesh and blood. Don’t leak or leave a bloody stain. Stuff your cunt up. Eat ungodly amounts of pain-killers. Alter your hormones with birth control pills, regardless of the sex you may or may not be having. Don’t let cramps get you down; girl, let’s see that smile! Don’t rest; taking a day off work just proves women are weak and unreliable.

Patriarchy and Capitalism are cozy bedfellows. They are happy to convince women that their bodies are disgusting, so they can sell us one more product to make us more “productive”, to make my vagina smell like candy or flowers, anything that will stop these cunts from bleeding.

blood

HARDER FASTER STRONGER MORE

Anti-Capitalist efforts have always maintained the dignity of the human person, that our dignity is inherent in our being, and is not more nor less dignified according to our material wealth. Our bodies are not machines, and therefore we cannot work 12, 16, 18 hours a day. Thanks to the Socialists of the past, we now have an 8 hour work day.

Except, we don’t really. Our paid work may only be 8 hours a day, but there is no room for rest in our society. In 1974 Silvia Federici tackled the issue of the unpaid work of housework, done almost exclusively by women. She says “the unwaged condition of housework has been the most powerful weapon in reinforcing the common assumption that housework is not work, thus preventing women from struggling against it”. By denying that housework is work, that raising children is work, Capitalism can ignore women’s needs for equality of time, reimbursement, and support. If it’s not work, we can continue to underpay house cleaners, nannies, preschool teachers, (some) cooks, and so on.

We are encouraged to work ever longer hours. We are isolated in our nuclear families, not sharing the collective labor our lives require. Our communities are designed for long commutes. You can sleep when you’re dead. Play hard. Never give up. Always improving, never just being. There is no room for pain, or rest, or love, but our bodies are not machines.

“Women’s work,” women’s bodies, women’s embodied experience, in fact, all human embodied experiences, are inconvenient for the Capitalist enterprise. Because our bodies are not machines.

EMBRACING MY BLOODY BODY

In my late 20s, when I was in graduate school, I decided to try an experiment, because I could, because I had the flexibility to do so. I decided to give myself a 48 hour menstrual holiday. I was on the pill and could ensure that my period always started on a Friday. I would not make any plans. No studying if I could help it. I hung out in my pajamas, eating cheese burgers, napping, and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And bleeding onto cloth. No pushing myself to look good (when I was bloated and heavily bleeding). No trying to socialize (when I was spacey and queasy). No needing to be ON. No bleached cotton and chemicals blocking me up.

It transformed the way I felt about my period and my body. I stopped hurting as much. I stopped experiencing PMS symptoms as strongly. I started looking forward to my body releasing and resting. I started wondering how many other people, particularly women, were pushing through pain and discomfort, ignoring their bodies, menstruating or not.

It changed the way I understood bodies, period. My compassion for others’ bodies increased.

BY BEING SOFT I WILL RESIST

These days I don’t have “days off.” I have small children, born of a body so used to pain that labor was not that much worse than my cramps. When I am menstruating, I continue to observe my monthly holidays. I try not to schedule anything. We eat leftovers. I put my feet up. I embrace the blood that keeps my womb clean and healthy. I settle into a space, mentally, physically, and spiritually, that feels liminal and helps me wander between the realms of life and death, of this world and Other worlds.

By resting and embracing my bleeding I resist the fetishization of my female body. I don’t have to smell like a prepubescent female. I can smell like the animal I am, iron and flesh, pheromones and earth. I listen to the completely natural urges of my body. Sometimes the slickness and warmth sing a song of sex, needing salt and a firm hand. Other times I want not a single touch, as if every inch of my flesh has gone on strike.

Instead of purchasing conventional period products, I have acquired, over time, cloth products, made by women who work out of their home. They are more environmentally sustainable, easily washable, more comfortable, and supporting, not some corporation, but a family and/or independent craftsperson*. I step outside the conventional model and resist – economically, environmentally, bodily. One act of resistance leads to another.

BLOODY WILL BE THE WAY

I resist Capitalism by not being “productive.” I resist by refusing to accept that my body or your body is a machine. Our bodies need to rest. Our bodies need time and space to heal, to purge, to grow, to be. Honoring my body shows my kids that the female body is not disgusting, but a cause for celebration.

Blood is life. The blood that pumps in my body and your body every moment of every day is life. Your heart’s blood and my cunt’s blood. A bleeding woman is a powerful woman. A bleeding woman can grow a life in the hidden spaces of her body. A woman who resists hiding her power, in her sex, in her blood, lays bare her connection to the sacrality of life, of our flesh.

Who better to understand this than Pagans? We understand the balance on the knife’s edge between life and death. We understand that life is sacred, that blood and sex are sacred. The Capitalist system denies this sacredness and tries to shame us, male and female alike, by insisting that we soldier on, cover up, and purchase more goods to Get Through.

The body is a site of resistance. Resistance to Capitalism and Patriarchy may begin with a glimmer of a theoretical idea, realization, or hope. But those ideas must flower in relation to our lived, embodied experience. Resistance begins in these personal moments, in the ways we love, the ways we bleed, the ways we live and die.

I saw the tentacles of control between the two-headed hydra of Patriarchy and Capitalism, passing our bodies around. I cut one tentacle, only to see that we are tangled in others. But the confidence to cut one tentacle leads to cutting more. Resist once and you can resist again.

Resist beautifully. Bleed.

*Ironically, this form of resistance has finally been noticed by Capitalist powers and the FDA has decided that cloth pads are “class 1 medical devices” and must be regulated and taxed accordingly


Niki Whiting

Niki Whiting is a mother and a student of theology. She was born and raised in Alaska and currently lives in Olympia.


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