On Being Woman in a “Revolutionary” Group

[7pm: Edits are boxed in for clarification. I stand by everything else.]

This week I went to the first EG Collective meeting for the new year. I neglected to comment on the meeting because I am still gathering information about the group’s goals, commitment, and identity.

There are things about the group that pique my interest, primarily community gifting like Food Not Bombs and Books for Prisoners. In addition, the group emphasizes the use of local businesses and small business districts only, collectives and infoshops, and the visibility of counter-movements that challenge the status quo. These things encourage local activity and the necessary creation of paths alternative to the norm.

After the meeting, I suggested via listserv that we try to get together over the weekend, in part for my own selfish reasons. Most leftist groups in the area that I have participated in have fallen apart due to disorganization, rapid drops in attendance, fleeting interest, or group infighting.

Only a handful showed up to this casual get-together, and by the time I got there, two in particular were lit up like Christmas trees. I got a drink and tried to strike up a conversation about the group’s goals, and also to find out what kind of people I was dealing with. Is a group about blowing up bridges and dams* or about shifting cultural imagination? So, while intrigued by the initial meeting, I needed to gauge the viability of the group and see whether I fit in with the group’s goals. While not explicitly considering myself anarchist by identity, I feel I share enough anarchist ideals to participate.

Last year, Jeanne at Body and Soul wrote on women in countermovements:

For those too young to remember, when things got tense in anti-war marches back then, you’d hear the cry, “Chicks up front!” Women were expected to move to the front of the march, to put their bodies between the police and male marchers, because those leftist men, for all their supposed distrust of the police, assumed that the police and national guardsmen were gentlemen who wouldn’t beat up or fire on women.

They were wrong.

For years, women had felt that their contributions to the civil rights and anti-war movements had been diminished, and that technique, that willingness to use women’s bodies as a shield, was a wake-up call, a radicalizing moment. It helped make a generation of women on the left ask: Are you sure we’re on the same side?

I left Saturday night’s get-together asking that very question: Are we on the same side?

About thirty minutes after I arrived, one of the collective’s men struck up a conversation with me. Rather, confronted me: Who is my favorite theorist? Do I like movies? No? What the hell is wrong with me? Do I read? Do I watch TV? What do I do for fun? So what’s up with my kid? And that was just the beginning.

This surely raised the hair on the back of my neck, but then [one of the drunken pair who is not officially a member of said group] touched on one of my biggest pet peeves when he said, “You watch CSI, don’t you? Man, I’ve got you all figured out.” This began a string of assertions [by the other one who is a member of said group] that I was a) easy to read and b) could easily fit into a tiny box of his own making. I don’t know if it was his drunkenness or a regrettable personality flaw, but I couldn’t tell if his attempts at a verbal beat-down were a subconscious attempt to assert superiority (I presume this comes from being a fresh grad student of philosophy) or a lame attempt at flirtation. My response was cold challenge — something about conversations like this are a dare.

Him: So, is leather your thing?
Me: What do you mean, “Is it my thing?”
Him: Is it your thing? Man, you are so easy to read.
Me: Oh, I see. You wear plaid so you must like Pearl Jam.
Him: Huh?
Me: Man, you are so easy to read.

Him: Have you read any Baudrillard? [he asked after giving me the third degree on my reading habits]
Me: Yeah. Have you read any bell hooks?
Him: No.
Me: You need to.

Him: You don’t care, do you?
Me: Nope.
Him: No, I mean you really don’t care.
Me: Nope.
Him: Man, you are so easy. You wear this bitch attitude…
Me: (interrupts) Maybe it’s just you.

This kept on for nearly two hours, only because I wouldn’t be the first to leave. This was probably stupid of me, but if he wanted to play a game of power and intelligence I would play right along with him. If anything, I wanted to make it clear that not only was I not phased by his educational status or mental library, but also that I would not roll over as a minority member of a group.

After two hours of this business, he finally got up to leave. Two of my friends had come and gone and were waiting for me to join them at another venue. I was disappointed and pissed off and questioning my ability to interact “in solidarity” with the kind of leftist who would end an evening with this kind of good-bye:

“You know what’s cool, you’re not a dumb girl.”

The irony of this situation failed to occur to him — as a member of an ideally non-hierarchal group he was awfully keen on setting up a pecking order. The more I challenged him, the more he seemed intent on setting up and maintaining that pecking order. And yet, the more I challenged him, the more intimidated he seemed to feel, the more he puffed up his chest and name-dropped authors he assumes dumb girls like myself don’t read, and the more he pawed the air for ways to make me feel inferior.

Needless to say, it didn’t work. I’m not easily intimidated by these kinds of arguments in part because I know I can hold my own, in part because he was drunk and I was sober, and in part because I was comforted knowing that nearly every sentence that came out of his mouth was a testament to his own hypocrisy as a man who espouses the abolishment of all forms of oppression while buying into gendered and educational elitism. I can only wonder about the other members of the group, as he is a founding member.

I am reluctant to continue with the group but will attend a few more meetings in an attempt to get a more accurate gauge of this group’s identity. If anything remotely similar to this incident occurs again, I am committed to confronting the group as a whole. Beyond it’s ridiculousness, this kind of behavior runs contrary to the very things for which the group stands.

I can’t find many dissimilarities to this other than the political mind of the aggressor.

* Stereotype! i.e. this is a joke.
Sort of. One argument within the movement, as with most left-leaning movements, is between those who believe that some violence is necessary and those that wish to adopt a non-violent or pacifist stance.

Update: Amanda weighs in.

Author: has written 1251 posts for this blog.

Lauren founded this blog in 2001.
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33 Responses

  1. volsunga - girls are strong
    volsunga - girls are strong January 18, 2005 at 7:44 pm |

    [...] home

    1/18/2005

    leftie men, age and politics
    filed under feminism education
    Lauren and Amanda both have posts concerning putting wo [...]

  2. norbizness
    norbizness January 17, 2005 at 1:33 pm |

    Good God, that sounds like my biggest asshole friend, but only with the aggravating circumstances of (1) having recently broken up with his girlfriend, (2) drinking eight-or-so Wild Turkey 101 cocktails, and (3) having overheard a dick-size-joke and taking it the wrong way and/or personally.

    If flannel is really making a comeback in your sleepy whitebread mountain town, it’s time to brush up on your fake grunge lingo,

  3. bitchphd
    bitchphd January 17, 2005 at 1:50 pm |

    IMHBO (in my humble bitchy opinion) a LOT of lefty men are like this. Especially the young white anarchist/socialist/holier-than-thou/leftier-than-thou types. Personally, I think it’s fallout from American masculinity: men who are (or think they are) bookish or smart get shat on in high school by the frat boy types and develop this chip on the shoulder mentality that’s all about parading that they’re smarter than everyone else. But they don’t want solidarity with women, especially young cute women, because, you know, that’s wimpy. Plus they have this presumption that young cute women won’t give them the time of day because young cute woman = cheerleader.

    I always do exactly what you did, and I always get told I’m a bitch too :)

  4. Sina
    Sina January 17, 2005 at 2:16 pm |

    Jesus. What an asshole.
    It has always been my experience that studying philosophy teaches me just how much I don’t know. But then again, I’m just a girl, so I guess I never had much to start with ;)
    Hmm, I wonder, did Emma Goldman ever read Baudrillard?

  5. Emily
    Emily January 17, 2005 at 2:27 pm |

    his own hypocrisy as a man who espouses the abolishment of all forms of oppression while buying into gendered and educational elitism

    Spot on, Ms. Lauren. I think the deepest poverty of consciousness afflicting many leftists is their inability to recognize oppression is oppression is oppression. One cannot in integrity be committed to fighting one form while simultaneously buying wholeheartedly into another.

  6. Kenneth
    Kenneth January 17, 2005 at 2:29 pm |

    What a dick.

    It’s not about what you read, anyway. It’s about math skillz.

    :P

  7. Aleah
    Aleah January 17, 2005 at 2:39 pm |

    I’m so used to getting this sort of pathetic inquisition from men in every circle – and I mean every circle. There’s always a handful of people who have taken up a cause (be it making money or making revolution) in order to subconsciously feed their needs.

    I’ve come up against women with similar MOs but not as many as the men who see me as a “smart girl with a chip on my shoulder.” The flip side is when they start developing a crush on you because what was once threatening has become desirable, in their same neurotic and contrived machinations.

  8. jam
    jam January 17, 2005 at 2:39 pm |

    sigh…. this is all too common a story. unfortunately, it seems like it may be some kind of hyperspace archetype: the capital A anarchist (you can guess what the A stands for) – nearly every anarchist group i’ve been a part of, and i’ve been part of more than a few, has had this guy as a member …. loudmouth knowitall more-radical-than-thou dickheads

    it would be great if you confronted them if such bullshit occurs again. but don’t be surprised if you don’t get very far. such sexism is deeply entrenched (just like it is throughout the male spectrum) and often supported, either overtly or tacitly by other anarcho boys. i’ve supported it tacitly in the past: sometimes i’ve walked away, thinking it a waste of time (i even did it recently on another blog concerning the use of “pussy” as an insult). when i think back on these times, i deeply regret not having stuck in & fought, of not having said something more, of not confronting it in a more aggressive manner. not only because it reflects badly on me personally & is helping to perpetuate the miasma of sexism we live in, hurtiing every woman i know & care about, but also because i’m failing every man & woman who ever fought against such under an anarchist banner (like dear Emma G & so many others). in so many ways, they’re my chosen peeps & i owe them more.

    most of them at least…. grrrr & dammit! Emma would smack the crap out of that little shit! remember what she did to Johaan Most (another capital A)?

    At Most’s next lecture I sat in the front row, close to the platform. My hand was on the whip under my long grey cloak. When he got up and faced the audience, I rose and declared in a a loud voice: “I’ve come to demand proof of your insinuations against Alexander Berkman. There was instant silence, then Most mumbled something about “hysterical woman,” but nothing else. I then pulled out my whip and leaped towards him. Repeatedly I lashed him across the face and neck, then broke the whip over my knee and threw the pieces at him. It was done so quickly that no one had time to interfere.
    -from “Living My Life” by Emma Goldman

    i would be happy to send you a sturdy horsewhip if it would help. ;)

  9. James D
    James D January 17, 2005 at 3:23 pm |

    This happens to me a lot. I think people get a little nervous because they assume upon meeting me that I’m an idiot–and when I’m not, they don’t think it’s because I exceed their expectations, they think it’s because they are somehow lowered to my standard. So they keep trying to bring themselves back up and I keep laughing internally at their attempts to sound Intelligent.

  10. Roxanne
    Roxanne January 17, 2005 at 4:00 pm |

    Maybe I’m being too simplistic, but I think he was trying to sleep with you.

  11. shane
    shane January 17, 2005 at 4:27 pm |

    Lauren,

    Who are you talking about? You talked to ME more than him, and I never said anything of the sort to you, although I simply asked you why you “don’t like movies” and about your child, the latter of which was not meant in any way to insult you or anything. I actually enjoyed OUR conversation and do not know what the hell was said between you and my friend at all.

    I was not trying to attack your intelligence at all. All I (and I can only speak for myself) was doing was getting through the normal bullshit of normal conversation and address you as a person. I am not a sexist and I wasn’t trying to sleep with you. Hell, I even jabbered about the phoniness of the feminist “revolution” and whatnot. And when I talked to you about Baudrillard (and I again am only speaking for myself here) it was out of curiosity and nothing more. Your description of that night is nowhere near mine, but I only have your conversation with me as evidence I guess.

    Sorry if you took things the wrong way (these comments by others are INFURIATING). I thought explained to you why I was so direct and confrontational (you seem to be blurring certain things regarding me and him, by the way). My friend isn’t even in EGC, just so you know.

    bye,
    Shane

  12. shane
    shane January 17, 2005 at 4:32 pm |

    Furthermore, I was not speaking on behalf of anyone else in the so-called “group” or anything. I thought I was just talking to you as myself. What you quote as the conversation did not involve me at all, except that YOU introduced Baudrillard into the conversation and I just asked you what your favorite book of his was.

    I wonder why you are talking about my friend (not a member) instead of me( a member of the “group”), the person who talked to you much longer that evening and had a good conversation with you. Oh well.

    Shane

  13. shane
    shane January 17, 2005 at 4:45 pm |

    Lauren,

    I never uttered the word “bitch”, nor was I ever close to doing so. Furthermore, the “leather'” thing was something my friend said to your friend and I was making fun of THAT conversation (so your plaid comment took be aback a bit). Anyway, I don’t operate by so-called normal modes of conversation. Again, sorry if something offended you, but if it did, I wonder why you talked to me for an hour and a half still? The conversation had NOTHING to do with belittling you in the slightest. I am greatly perplexed by how you suddenly interpret it in this way.
    Also, your characterization has obliviously led others to believe certain ridiculous things about whoever you were talking to that night. These comments are crazy and are based on something that absolutely did not happen that night at all.

    Shane

  14. shane
    shane January 17, 2005 at 4:57 pm |

    Lauren,

    I don’t really understand. Note: your post and several of these comments are reinforcing numerous stereotypes about “anarchists” or “leftists” or even “philosophy.” Also, why didn’t you confront me then and there instead of blogging about it (and distorting what actually happened to make me look like an ass) afterward?

    Shane

  15. jam
    jam January 17, 2005 at 6:32 pm |

    Hell, I even jabbered about the phoniness of the feminist “revolution” and whatnot.

    bet that scored ya some points…

  16. Purple Duck
    Purple Duck January 17, 2005 at 6:56 pm |

    I’m almost speechless! Rather – I am speechless.
    Boy, you really get into discussions with some different sorts. Like I said…speechless!

  17. Amanda
    Amanda January 17, 2005 at 7:10 pm |

    “Sorry if you took things the wrong way (these comments by others are INFURIATING).”

    Shane, I know you mean well so listen to me–it’s statements like this where you just call her “wrong” without considering how she might have felt about the things that you said that cause this anger.

    And even though I know he’s lingering here, I just gotta say it. I agree with Roxanne. Trying to fuck you. Whenever some dude bulldozes me, and especially if he takes advantage of my female upbringing to be reticient in conversation, he’s gonna try to kiss me or make some kind of, um, proposal. Never has worked.

  18. bitchphd
    bitchphd January 17, 2005 at 11:05 pm |

    Oh yeah, men who try to tell me about feminism always impress me.

    HAHAHAHA

  19. Morgaine Swann
    Morgaine Swann January 17, 2005 at 11:43 pm |

    Shane-

    An enlightened Leftist man would send Lauren a personal apology and stay off of her comments section. To post at all is invading her space. To post 4 times looks like an attempt to intimidate. She has already articulated her perception that you were trying to “one-up” her all night. Your final remark that she wasn’t “a dumb girl” was sexist, elitist and rude. Deal with the fact that you suffer from that white-boy sense of entitlement that makes you think you are superior to most people you encounter and believe that you are doing us all a favor – and are therefore even cooler- by supporting progressive causes.

    Lauren – to answer your question- No, we are not all on the same side. Women are an occupied people. Men are the oppressors. If you ever meet one who doesn’t have a sense of entitlement, hang on to him so we can have him cloned. Personally, I’ve never met one, though I do hold out hope that one exists.

  20. Avi
    Avi January 18, 2005 at 12:11 am |

    Morgaine, you’re kind of sounding like a Feminazi (to throw that term around–dont’ evoke Godwin’s law on me!). I’m insulted at your implication (as well as bitchphd’s) that men can’t or don’t know anything about feminism or oppression, just because we “are the oppressors.” Not all men are out to get women. In fact, there are plenty of us who actively support and discuss feminist issues, without any sort of elitism or sense of entitlement. How can you expect there ever to be any progress with that kind of “us or them” attitude? If you believe men will always be oppressive, why even bother?

  21. norbizness
    norbizness January 18, 2005 at 12:18 am |

    I just want to learn what “operating outside of the normal modes of conversation” means, so that I can study the concept. However, my oppressor’s intuition suggests that it was covered in the groundbreaking treatise “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothin'” by Lorenzo Lamas.

  22. Omar K. Ravenhurst
    Omar K. Ravenhurst January 18, 2005 at 12:26 am |

    I can’t find many dissimilarities to this other than the political mind of the aggressor.

    Well, one of them counts as assault in some states. Speaking of which — a horesewhip? Refuting charges of hysteria by using a whip on someone who criticized violence? Why not just burn books that compare Americans to Nazis?

  23. mythago
    mythago January 18, 2005 at 12:27 am |

    It means that the speaker either has a genuine disorder, like Asperger’s Syndrome, or is an asshat who believes that ordinary rules of politeness, courtesy and give-and-take don’t apply because they’re not nearly hip enough.

  24. Morgaine Swann
    Morgaine Swann January 18, 2005 at 1:46 am |

    Avi-

    Quoting Rush Limbaugh isn’t likely to make me take you seriously as a Feminist.

  25. Brian Vaughan
    Brian Vaughan January 18, 2005 at 3:28 am |

    It seems like this person Shane never even considered the possibility that he’d made a mistake. Such a person is a dilettante, not a revolutionary. If Shane’s behavior was as boorish as described, and no one who observed it objected, then I’d have to conclude that it was a room full of sexist dilettantes.

  26. La Lubu
    La Lubu January 18, 2005 at 11:46 am |

    I say the behavior of these twerps is a good indication why the EG Collective isn’t exactly taking Indiana by storm. If that’s the sort of welcome one can expect…..jeez. Isn’t the ability to communicate with and work with other people inherent in the term “collective”?!

    Shane, you were in the wrong here, and Lauren deserves an apology. Save the game-playing for D&D night; if you want to actually accomplish anything with an organized political group, you have to be polite, especially with newcomers, and focus on some concrete actions, not long, drunken conversations about your favorite books (which can be fun too, just not on meeting night. Meeting night is for getting shit done, not philosophizing. Do that on an off-night.)

  27. Ron O
    Ron O January 18, 2005 at 11:55 am |

    My family loves to debate and argue. We have two rules. You can’t say someone is wrong and you have to control your tone of voice. Being told I’m wrong is a sure-fire way to piss me off. These two rules have served me well. That being said, I have to work at interrupting people less and I often fail to keep my voice level when things get hot.

  28. Kameron Hurley
    Kameron Hurley January 18, 2005 at 12:09 pm |

    This is great. It’s like a Joanna Russ novel. Whee!

  29. Roxanne
    Roxanne January 18, 2005 at 12:46 pm |

    I spy the poster child for “Give ‘em enough rope …”

  30. Polish
    Polish January 18, 2005 at 1:08 pm |

    I am a founding member of the Emma Goldman Collective, and I was at the Knickerbocker Saloon on Saturday night when these events supposedly took place. Oddly, Lauren fails to mention the positive interactions she had with four other EGC members, two of whom were women. I wasn’t paying attention to her conversation with Shane, but in any case, it is simply unfair of her to extrapolate her feelings about him onto the entire group. Although I have independent reasons for believing that her analysis of the situation is mostly inaccurate, these are largely beside the point; what concerns me most is Lauren’s assumption that casual interaction with a single individual constitutes a solid basis for judging an entire group of people. As Shane has already mentioned, he speaks for and represents only himself. We are indeed a collective, but as anarchists we believe in the fundamental autonomy and responsibility of every individual.

    P.S. 99.9% of the comments made here about men in radical organizations are bigoted, unsubstantiated, and unfair. I’ll leave that as an unsubstantiated observation.

  31. Polish
    Polish January 18, 2005 at 1:15 pm |

    One more thing – Saturday night wasn’t a “meeting night.” After our meeting on Thursday night, Lauren mentioned that she was interested in getting together again on an INFORMAL basis over the weekend. I mentioned that some of us would be at Knickerbocker on Saturday, and she showed up. It wasn’t an “official” meeting – just a group of friends getting together to talk and have a few drinks. I’m sorry if Shane’s behavior was considered untoward or impolite, but like I said, that’s between him and Lauren. It has nothing to do with me or anyone else in the EGC. [For the record, though, Shane is neither a sexist nor an elitist; those who know him well, including his female friends, would find this notion fundamentally absurd. He and Lauren merely had a misunderstanding which they are (hopefully) in the process of working out as I write.]

  32. Lauren
    Lauren January 18, 2005 at 1:25 pm |

    Okay, I’m closing the fucking comments on this. This has gotten out of control and is verging on the ridiculous.

  33. Noli Irritare Leones
    Noli Irritare Leones January 20, 2005 at 11:31 pm |

    About that horsewhip
    In 1892, Emma Goldman attacked fellow anarchist Johann Most with a horsewhip, in retaliation for an article he had written…

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