[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.
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?
Me: You need to.
Him: You don’t care, do you?
Him: No, I mean you really don’t care.
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.