At What Cost? part 1 : The Re-Framing Game & Divergent Feminisms- Responding to Black Orchid Collective

Because in our experience, people who have taken specified positions on the discussion of the Patriarchy in the Movement event, or on “person X”,  have as a result come under extreme fire, we write this document anonymously. We are people who participated in different ways in the original event “Patriarchy in the Movement” at the Red and Black cafe on February 28th.

          Throughout the course of the aftermath of the Patriarchy and the Movement event, and the subsequent discussions, some panelists and organizers have been attacked-most of the attacks are “personal”, some appear to be “political”. During the event, some panelists spoke about re-framing feminist concerns as personal, or as petty, and “scandalizing feminist responses”. We will speak to how we have seen some of the discussions in the aftermath of the event- and the meanings and costs  these discussions have for us.

Though the concerns around “person X”, or Pete Little,  had been re-framed as “personal attacks” against him by the people who read the pre-written statement, or letter, they also framed reading the statement and their position as a “political disagreement”. Part of the statement from the organizers after the event seemed to disagree politically within this re-framing, and outline how things unfolded. In the very context of this disagreement, the folks who were at first complaining that there was no room for disagreement began a subtle accusation that those who then disagreed with them were pushing a certain feminism and creating an atmosphere in which people are not able to disagree. Yes, it has been confusing. Yet part of the “disagreement” itself has been over how discussions have been framed – in which criticizing the danger of framing survivor complaints themselves as mere political disagreements is suddenly “repressive”. In further twists of re-framing, when the facts on the ground- in a specific example when the complaints about person X, or the political fallout around this person- are soberly presented, and people speak about their experiences with him or continue to raise concerns, they are personally attacked, or “scandalized”.  Continual re-framing at will and per convenience is part of a strategy, but is an unhealthy way to directly tackle questions or to approach comrades.  In part one of this article we hope to present a clearer and more holistic view on the situation,  while responding politically to statements that we find especially  unfortunate in the Black Orchid (Seattle) commentary on the Portland gender dilemma (“Building Capacity for Complexity”). In part 2 , we will answer the questions brought to the discussion by Geoff and Eleanor in their pre-written statement (in which they respond to person X being called out), and we will ask questions, questions that we do not wish to pose as open ended deflections from real concerns on the ground, but that we hope have a political commitment behind them and can assist in moving things forward.

 

        Unfortunately, BOC’s ill-informed re-framing of the issues from afar have created more confusion. Not only has the article created confusion, but some of the allegations in the statement come at a high cost for the discussion in the community. First, as the article admits, none of the members of BOC were present in Portland and witnessed the discussion after the panel in which (what we now understand is their friend), person X, was called out by more than one person in the room, and in which their other friends read the pre-written statement in response. Members of the Black Orchid Collective (BOC) did not contact any of the three Seattle panelists who were present during the discussion to take into account those comrade’s experiences before writing the statement, despite the fact that these panelists are members of the same political community. They also failed to contact other organizers. Members of BOC have said in their statement that the person who read the “pre-written statement”, or “letter”, was “stopped” from finishing the statement and was “silenced”.   This is inaccurate, and the 60 plus people in the room know this is inaccurate. We wonder what the motive is for presenting this inaccuracy. Not only did she finish reading the statement, but she was allowed to speak a few more times. Additionally, a panelist asked her to provide a political criteria for the statement, in order to bring the discussion back into the arena of political argument, since she herself had re-framed her response to concerns about person X as a political discussion. She responded by speaking of her personal value for person X, and his “humanity”.  In subsequent discussions and texts, the accusation that this person was “silenced” has been made in the terms that she was silenced and not given room for “political disagreement”, and yet when the room was opened up for political disagreement specifically for that person, she herself personalized it, bringing it back to the personal profile of person X, and did not respond politically (was she “centralizing a cis man”, as BOC puts it?) Though BOC quotes one of the panelists in the need for different feminisms, it is precisely the disagreement between feminists in the room, between many in the room and the person who read the statement, that is being called “silencing”.  Strangely,  those who disagreed with her partly did so because they felt part of the statement and the context in which it was read was “silencing”.

BOC writes: “It may be that people present interpreted the questions to be reminiscent of patriarchal invalidation of their experiences of sexual trauma and patriarchy. Having some distance from the event itself, we did not read the questions in that light.” BOC here ignores what was read in the first section of the statement, in which people speaking about their experience with person X were accused of making “personalized attacks.” Once again, this accusation was written ahead of time, before the authors of the statement would have known what would be said.  BOC not only ignores the whole content of the statement, but the context in which it was written (amongst pre-emptive suspicion towards the event itself), and the context in which it was read. Reading the questions alone, without the rest of the statement, deflects from the effect of the statement.

  BOC goes on to say, “We question whether centralizing cismen and negating the efforts of other feminists, especially when they raise questions drawn from their experiences of dealing with patriarchy, is feminist solidarity and sociability in practice.” This still seems to confuse the facts on the ground. Centralizing cismen? Are they saying that calling out person X, or any cis man, is in effect centralizing cis men? Or are they saying that the person who read the pre-written statement about their experiences with this cis-man person X, when asked to give political criteria for the statement and instead referred back to the value of person X, is centralizing a cis man and negating the efforts of those who had called him out?  Per the BOC assertion, the latter seems more accurate. Or are they saying that the multiple women who called out person X, some of whom were unaffiliated with each other, are centralizing a cis man and thus negating the efforts of other feminists? This is an extremely unqualified, and accusatory, statement. Will others who publicly call out men be accused of negating the efforts of other feminists and centralizing the men they have called out? At what cost is a statement such as this? What kind of praxis does a statement like this leave for people to be able to call out men for their damaging behaviors? And, what exactly are the “efforts of other feminists” that were “negated” by people speaking about their experience with person X? The idea that calling a man out for a specific experience with him negates the “efforts” of other feminists is a sexist, universalizing paradigm, if we are to understand it the way the BOC seems to assert here- in that if you call out a cis man for damaging, patriarchal behavior,  and another woman says that she has not experienced the same behavior from this man, the  experience that raises a concern is problematic in of itself because it negates the experience of the non-abused.

The idea that BOC seems to get at here- that  communicating with others and talking openly about experiences with men in the community is not feminist sociability, then we ask what is? The BOC text further seems to essentialize gender in their notions of feminist solidarity, as they say in their piece that the response to the female bodied person who read the pre-written statement is a break in solidarity. Are we to have solidarity with whatever actions or statements feminists bring for “discussion”, despite the content or the between the lines purpose? If feminists bring a statement that many others in the room find problematic, and are as a result met with confrontation-is that a break in solidarity? Only if solidarity is conceived of an agreement amongst a universalised idea of feminism and not amongst content itself.  In this sense, BOC are engaging in universalizing politics. Are there times when it is necessary to break with feminist solidarity when feminists themselves participate in blockading sociability itself, or blockade an anti-sexist process? Feminist solidarity should also mean confronting each other.

 

We wonder what ” feminist sociability” means to BOC, when they make the unqualified accusations that “…some of us feel pressure to conform to certain forms of feminism, imposed through other forms of coercive power such as gossip, back biting, and mischaracterizations of disagreements.”  What is the difference between feminist sociability and gossip, especially when gossip is usually a sexist way of referring to sociability between women? What is this “certain form” of feminism that is using the coercive power of “gossip”?  What really are they talking about? Isn’t there then an implicit threat to sociability between feminists when “certain” feminists, or some unknown “certain” feminist composition, are accused of “coercive powers” through “gossip” when they become social with each other? This seems like some kind of internalized or imagined threat- that there is a manipulative, coercive power that feminists have, an immature high school gossip back biting style, because people may be talking to each other, especially about patriarchy. To believe BOC, we must also believe that there are “certain” “gossipy” feminists out there, who are “coercive”, have no real political claims or  background of their own, who are using a socially tyrannical mechanism to pressure all the other feminists. For real? Not only is this statement unfounded and sensationalist, but to be truthful, it comes across reasonably sexist. (This assertion seems to also re-frame the concerns raised about person X- a concern that has been raised again and again is the he has shit-talked or spread rumors survivors to the point of coercively undermining them.)

Given these assertions in the BOC document, we ask what their methodology and process for writing this document are?  It seems to us that the factual errors, the assertions and subtle accusations that cannot be backed up or qualified, are in of themselves a product of mischaracterizations of facts and experiences. To speak of the danger of “gossip and mischaracterizations” is a bold statement coming from people who were not even present for the situation they are commenting on- where did they get their idea of what happened or has been happening? It is to say that although they weren’t present,  they have real sources who shared information, and those that disagree with them (even those who were present) rely on gossip. This is on top of the fact that the BOC statement uses circular and deflective language that leave very little way forward, and if anything confuses the situation more.

The further worrisome conjecture  is that those who are speaking out against patriarchy and naming behaviors within the community are silencing others.   Is accusing those who have spoken out about patriarchy as pushing a “certain” or singular or monolithic feminism and “not allowing” for other feminisms considered silencing? Whose feminism is divergent, and from what other feminism? The idea that those who have spoken out about patriarchy, or about a comrade whose behavior is considered damaging, are repressing other feminists or other feminisms is rhetorical acrobatics at the expense of speaking out in of itself.   Moreover, we struggle to understand what exactly during the course of the panel, or the discussion, or the subsequent discussions, has been any specific “feminism”.  It lends the question, is speaking out against patriarchy or about the behaviors of specific individuals a certain kind of feminism? Do different strands of feminism have different mechanics in speaking out about patriarchy? What is the feminism or praxis of those who have, in subsequent discussions, attacked the credibility of the organizers, panelists, survivors, and also those who are raising concerns about, for example, person X? Are these as well mechanisms of a disagreement amongst feminists? Do feminists who agree on specific praxis around survivor-based accountability processes or survivors support all come from the same brand of feminism simply because they agree on this one issue? When communities of survivors and feminists come together and attempt to have each other’s backs, or have solidarity with one another, are they pushing a “certain” kind of feminism and thus repressing or silencing other emergent and divergent feminist strands?

Because lets get real here, while the BOC statement talks about “back biting, gossip, and mischaracterizations of disagreements” in its attempt to characterize a large group of people raising concerns about patriarchal behaviors in the movement- it is  the organizers, panelists, and those who spoke up during the discussion who have largely suffered a backlash via these mechanisms. Some people have been undermined politically, socially, and personally. Some panelists have had to sustain many accusations and fall-out. People’s personal lives and trauma have been dragged out into scrutiny.  What is missing here is that these repercussions for holding an event about patriarchy, speaking at an event about patriarchy, or speaking to one’s experiences during an event about patriarchy, in of themselves aren’t scrutinized as mechanisms that do not allow for emergent feminisms, or not allowing a discussion about patriarchy at all.

  Though BOC quotes one of the panelists in the need for different feminisms, it is precisely the disagreement between feminists in the room, precisely between many in the room and the person who read the statement, that is being called “silencing”.  The further irony is that those who disagreed with her partly did so because they felt part of the statement and the context in which it was read was “silencing”.

 We have seen an emergent narrative that seems to seek a victimhood in claiming that people have been silenced from disagreement, and that those doing the supposed “silencing” are pushing a monolithic feminism. Not only is this untrue, but it again implies that there is a singular, monolithic feminist narrative on one “side”, and on the other “side” there are those attempting to engage in a divergent feminism with a critical thinking approach. To be frank about the sudden appearance of these “sides”- from what we can see, those who are accused of having a singular feminism that silences others are some of those who have spoken on the panel, some of those who spoke at the event, the survivor support team who spoke out, and others who attended the event who were dismayed by the pre-written statement for political reasons, or have continued to raise concerns over person X’s chronic behaviors. Many of these people are not directly affiliated. It seems to be inherently said as well, that those who have since asked for a reasonable commitment that person X change the multitude of his behaviors that have surfaced as problematic for the community are also those that are accused of not allowing for critical thinking and pushing a certain coercive or monolithic feminism, which quite frankly seems to add a sectarian edge to an already challenging situation. The “side” that claims to represent or be part of a feminism divergent from the “first” (a formation that doesn’t actually exist), has largely been presented by people close to person “X”. We beg to ask what is the actual feminism of either “side” in the specific context of responding to person X’s behaviors, or responding to the pre-written statement read during the discussion, or responding to patriarchy as it is acted out, or what BOC is actually referring to in their piece, and we ask that people begin to be more honest. The particular issues raised around person “X” were not discussions around different feminisms, and everyone on the ground knows that. The questions posed in the pre-written statement were supposedly open ended questions for discussion, so those didn’t represent a different feminism, either.  Deploying a vague notion of a “certain feminism”, or deploying supposed disagreements between feminists, between feminisms, or about feminism, has been since the beginning a deflection from the discussion what happened in light of the discussion of patriarchy in the movement- when person X was brought into the discussion by two different unaffiliated survivors for repeatedly enacting behaviors that were reflected in the panel on patriarchy. Since then, multiple groups have formed to address concerns of patriarchy in Portland-feminists groups, mens anti-patriarchy groups, and tons of informal discussion. A west coast network is emerging. There has been tons of vibrant and positive feedback from these processes.  But despite this,  person X’s political contacts in another city, who weren’t present during the discussion, have written a document that further obfuscates the situation, presents inaccurate information to deflect the “victimhood” onto the person who read the pre-written statement at her own agency, and makes vague accusations that these conversations in the aftermath of the event are a “certain feminism” that uses “coercive power… of gossip, back-biting, and mischaracterizations”. Other friends and contacts,  have issued open ended questions about accountability processes themselves while not offering any real way to move forward and address concrete concerns that have been raised about ongoing behaviors.

Weeks later, person X has issued an equally vague apology, that for even an outside reader seems to obfuscate and deflects from his own behavior, an apology which the survivor support team identified as being an attack on the survivor. Thats where we are at.

The fact that panelists themselves, organizers, and other members of the community have been attacked for whatever position they have taken in the aftermath of the event has demonstrated to a large section of the radical community the high costs of speaking in the open about patriarchy or speaking in the open about specific experiences. We urge people to continue to move forward, and are inspired by the  new, exciting conversations, the groups that are forming, the difficult discussions taking place, and the new alliances that have come out of the event and it’s aftermath. We do not consider  informal conversations about these issues,  nor meetings about these issues, to be the product, or a mechanism, of “gossip” or in of themselves deploying a “coercive power”.

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