At What Cost? part 2: Engaging questions in the “pre-written” statement and asking our own questions

At What Cost? part 2 : Answers to Geoff and Eleanors questions from the pre-written statement

      *since publishing a section of the pre-written statement, many have said that which is published does not include the more controversial parts, such as when the author spoke about being critical of survivors needs. We will only engage the questions that have been openly published.

– Why have the forms of accountability processes that we’ve seen in radical subcultures so regularly failed?

  When the authors say “failed”, what do they mean? Do we have an idea of whether or not such process regularly fail in protecting the survivor, removing them from harm, or changing behaviors? Or in creating an environment where the community itself takes on concerns for patriarchal behaviors and the well-being of others? In making the community aware of pervasive behaviors?  In a recent zine, the author argued that accountability processes are useful in providing ” a semi-formal social and political process around the experience of women”- an experience that is usually collectively minimized or denied. Do the process regularly fail at providing this? Or do they fail at providing a sense of restorative justice, a change in behaviors, a meeting of specific goals? Do they fail in terms of those being held accountable owning up to behavior, and taking steps to restore a sense of comfort and trust? Do they fail in terms of building solidarity and empathy to survivors and women in general?

One reason accountability processes may “fail”, is because of the environment they are operating in. In an environment where survivors are pathologized, feminists who speak out are scrutinized, and survivors needs or legitimacy is regularly questioned, we cannot expect the processes to have a huge “success” rate. Environments in which those who are being asked to be held accountable are re-framed as the potential victims themselves, in which survivors are more likely to become isolated, in which a small number of people in the community are willing to or have the skills to participate in these processes, are not conducive to any form of accountability.   There are many social mechanisms that block or deflect from the integrity of accountability process- the loyalties to the person being held accountable of their friends or community, the counter-narratives, the tendency to question the survivor. We can see from the recent response to the Steubenville rape convictions- the survivor is being blamed and scrutinized, and the media and the community are mourning  the loss of “potential” of the rapists. This response is not wholly dissimilar to the ways that radical subcultures also mourn the subjects of accountability processes (or mourn the possible temporary loss of their political promise) and scrutinize the survivors- despite the loss of the survivors political promise, or the impact on their lives.

Accountability processes may also fail if survivors are ignored, their needs or well-being are not taken into account, or their experience with the perpetrator are placed up against other’s experiences of the perpetrator, or his experience of himself. Accusations being thrown back at the survivor by the perpetrator or his friends are one of the beginnings of a failure for the survivor and the community. There are many reasons that these processes may fail- many being rooted in the sexist structures and mechanisms within the radical community itself and it’s system of valuing men over women.


– Is there a tension between supporting a survivor’s healing and holding perpetrators accountable? Should survivors be in charge of the entirety of both such processes?

Yes, there is a tension between supporting a survivor’s healing and holding perpetrators accountable. This tension largely exists for the survivor because of the high costs of being open about stories of abuse and rape, calling someone out, or asking for accountability. Often, asking for accountability and calling someone out is a huge risk to the survivor- it can mean that they will have to leave organizing spaces, they may be vilified by the community, their experiences or their character may be “put on trial”, they may be called all sorts of things- divisive, a liability, crazy, etc. They may be pathologized for their trauma and told they are not in a space to organize, or have to deal with other prescriptive narratives about their own trauma. They may be retraumatized by the gossip and shit talking in the community. They may be isolated by their own community, or told that they will receive support that they never receive. They may be questioned or doubted. There are many poor reactions in the community when someone calls someone out, asks for accountability, or it becomes known to the community that they have suffered from abuse or rape, even if they themselves haven’t spoken out.  All of these things are antithetical to healing. But should they then stay silent? No!  We all should work to build a community that doesn’t accept the behaviors that damage a survivor’s healing process during or even in the absence of accountability.

To the question stated here of whether a survivor should be in charge of the entirety of their own healing process. The answer is yes. For one thing, a healing process should not be equated with an accountability process as it is in the above question. The “process” of healing is not the same as the “process” of holding someone accountable. We should be in charge of our own healing, and we should also be in charge of our own bodies, our reproductive decisions and health, and decisions concerning our own well being and safety.  Healing from trauma is largely also matter of regaining autonomy and our own narrative of our experience, and so the very idea that perhaps we should not be in charge of our own healing process is contradictory to what a real healing process from trauma looks like. We should not allow a state institution or a radical community to take any authority or take any charge over our trauma healing processes, our bodies, our decisions, or our beings. This should not be a question in a liberatory community.

To the question of whether a survivor should be in charge of the entirety of holding a perpetrator accountable? This question can not be answered without knowing the situation, can it? At times survivors leave town or want to never to hear of a perpetrator again, whether or not the community is aware of the behaviors. There are survivors who do in fact want to oversee a process to make sure that their experiences are not manipulated,  or that there is integrity in the process, or to ensure their future safety. There is no way to give definitive answers to the question, and to do so is dogmatic and naive of real life situations.

– How should accountability processes or other forms of grassroots justice differ from the punitive models of state-enforced “justice”? What does this look like in practice?

(Perhaps this questions should be, do in fact accountability processes mirror from the punitive models of state enforced “justice”. With the absence of police, courtrooms, and prisons, and other social reform institutions, we are not sure what they authors really mean to say.)

  To the extent that survivors- their experiences, the integrity of their character, their popularity and status,  and even their drinking habits- are “put on trial” in the radical community is emulative of the state and media models of responding to rape and abuse. The extent to which the survivor’s name is vilified throughout the course of “justice”, their credibility is repeatedly questioned in radical communities, emulates how the media, parallel with the state, treats survivors. The ways in which survivors are pathologized also also similar to mechanisms within the state justice model. The ways in which survivors experiences are atomized into “their story” and held up against the “story” of others, particularly men, emulates a courtroom, even if the courtroom is replaced by conversations in the back of bars, at meetings, on the internet. The critical lack of support and resources provided to survivors in radical communities is yet another element that is similar the way the state handles rape and abuse.

We find ourselves telling survivors “don’t go to the cops, don’t go to the courts, not only will you not find justice, but it will be you who will be put on trial and re-traumatized”, is replaced in our communities with “If you say something, the risk is no one will believe you, him and his friends will discredit you and talk shit about you, your concerns will be minimized, you will be called crazy, his collective will water down or shield any accountability, you may not be able to do political work in the same scene,  people will say you are trying to get revenge, and besides, accountability processes often fail anyway.”  The same reasons why many survivors know it is useless to press charges, or are afraid to, are similar to why many survivors in our communities don’t speak up.

– How can we develop feminist anti-violence politics that undermines rather than reinforces the gender binary system? If abuse is not always a matter of men abusing women, does a feminist politics around this look like?


 While it would be nice if we could just all decide to smash the gender binary, despite our attempts to do so linguistically or conceptually, empirical data still shows that the gender binary exists particularly in relation to who enacts violence and who is a victim of it.  The overwhelming majority of rape and abuse are perpetrated by men.  Every 3 minutes women are raped, every 18 seconds women are beaten. Some statistics say that over 99% or rapes are enacted by cis men, and that at least 1 out of every 4 women are raped. Rape and abuse, every form of abuse, do not occur in a vacuum, nor are accidental. Violence, whether outright or subtle, and sexism, is how men uphold their privilege in the binary. Rape and abuse stem from dominant power structures, structures in which men not only privilege from, but in which violence relates itself to. What reinforces the gender binary is the perpetration of a specified gendered  violence and exploitation, not  anti-violent politics. In other words, anti-violent politics confronts the binary by confronting the gendered violence that upholds the binary.  A parallel assertion to the one in this question would be to say, “Doesn’t anti-racist politics reinforce racism by saying that a race exists?” or “Doesn’t anti-racists politics reinforce a racial order by saying that white supremacy is a problem and exists?”

It should not have to be explained that women do not rape and abuse men at anywhere near the same rate, and are not capacitated by the same power structures, and not socialized by the same paradigms, to do so. It should not have to be said that women do not uphold a privilege by enacting violence, or by treating men like shit.

The overwhelming case in our communities and in society is not that women are abusive- this question ignores the reality of gender and power and how power works. Saying that abuse is not always a matter of men abusing women is a-historical and a-structural, and it is also another deflection from addressing patriarchy as a reality.  This line of questioning sounds like men who say they are also oppressed by women, or whites who say that racism is not always a matter of white supremacy and that whites are also oppressed by blacks. It also sounds like what a court prosecutor may say in a case of a woman who has defended herself in the face of abuse itself.

The question of the gender binary in this form and context is fairly liberal- in that it parallels a progressive post-race analysis. The post-race, or color-blind, analysis seeks to shield the implications of race itself, in the way that it actually exists. These questions seems to shield the implications of gender within the gender binary, in which violence is in fact an implication of gender.


– Is there room for people to make mistakes and be supported in learning from them in the movements we are building? Should we ostracize comrades who fuck up?

 Here is the dictionary definition of the word  “mistake”:  1. An error or fault resulting from defective judgement, deficient knowledge, or carelessness. 2. A misconception or misunderstanding.

  Clearly, there is a difference between a mistake and a patriarchal action or behavior. There is a difference between a mistake and rape. There is a difference between a mistake and a pattern of using women. There is a difference between a mistake and abusing women. There is a difference between a mistake and a pattern of discrediting or shit-talking women who have spoken up. There is a difference between a mistake and scrutinizing feminists as a threat.  All of the behaviors which are pervasive, patriarchal, and uphold dominant power relations and structures, should not be called “mistakes”, and to do so shields, denies, minimizes, and silences.  The word “mistake” in this context, as one can tell from the definition, is a de-politicized description of patriarchal behaviors. Thus, in the interest of returning the debate to the real social and political implications of patriarchy, we are going to substitute the word “patriarchal behaviors” for the word “mistake” in the above question as we answer it:

Is there room for people to make (patriarchal behaviors)? There is plenty of room in society and as well in our radical communities (which don’t exist outside of society) for people to enact patriarchal behaviors, and perhaps we should ask what is the potential fall-out of having the room to enact these behaviors, and what does it mean for others?  Does the room to enact patriarchal behaviors and the learning curve in changing occur at the expense of others?  How can we allow room for people to enact patriarchal behaviors and be supported in learning from them in a way that is not at the expense of others? While mostly men have a stake in patriarchy and privilege from it and are protected by it,  how do we ensure that people who are enacting patriarchal behaviors really are learning from them, taking responsibility for them, are not repeating them, and are making efforts to reconcile the damage done?

To the question of should we ostracize comrades who fuck up- this seems to shift the victim narrative onto the perpetrator, or comrade who has fucked up. This comrade’s experience, as the person who has fucked up, is of a more dominant importance in this question.  Perhaps people should in fact be hesitant to embrace someone who has “fucked up” and has not shown true recognitions of their behaviors, nor has shown regret or made honest steps towards change. Should we embrace these comrades? Should we assume that the person who is socially victimized during an accountability process is the perpetrator?

Or the question could be, should we ostracize survivors, or other fierce feminists in our scene? Should we accuse them of pushing a “certain feminism”, not allowing for disagreements, or deploying “coercive powers”, to name some of the false accusations that have resulted from the Patriarchy in the Movement panel? Should we be suspicious of women who speak on panels about patriarchy, that they have some conspiratorial plan, or that they have no real politics, or that their politics are the result of personal vendettas? Should we subtly ostracize the politics of an event about patriarchy in fear people may speak of their experiences of ourselves or our friends? Should we spread rumors about feminists and survivors- that they are a damage to the movement, or incapable of organizing? Should we ask survivors who are traumatized to step back from organizing? Should we scandalize feminist and survivor responses? Should we question peoples experiences? Should we freeze survivors out? Should we undermine support for them?  Should we speculate on their private lives or experiences? Should we call feminists divisive? Should we call their stories “gossip”? Should we, as friends of the comrades who have fucked up, in an attempt to make him comfortable and to not ostracize him, make the survivor feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or isolated?

At what cost?

– Is it possible or desirable to purify a righteous scene or movement? How does fighting patriarchy look in the context of millions of people, damaged products of this system, making history together?

 This question is difficult to answer, as we have never seen, heard, or seen any implication towards a desire to purify a righteous scene or movement from patriarchy. We wonder why this question was taken to the Patriarchy and the Movement discussion. Was there the idea this event was an effort to purify the movement? Speaking about patriarchy is often conceived of as a threat, yet the threat of desiring to “purify” a movement is new.  Because this question is out of left field, we ask:  Is talking about our experiences seen as the desire to purify a scene or movement? Is fighting back, in order that we can also exist in this scene or movement, asking to purify it? Would these questions be asked on a panel about racism?


Our own questions:


Let us then ask some questions in response to the questions originally posed. We do not pretend our questions are neutral. :

-How can we educate people in our community about patriarchy? How can we teach people not to rape, abuse? Being that rape and abuse, or intimate violence, is not the only manifestation of patriarchy in the movement, how can we teach, learn, and educate each other or what patriarchy looks like? Whose job is it to do this work?

  -How can we work to protect survivors and those who speak up about men or patriarchal behaviors in our community from, (to use BOC’s words) “back biting, gossip, and mischaracterizations?” How can we recognize the cost of speaking up for the person speaking up- the potential damaged reputation, the loss of friendships with those close to the person in question, the political and social marginalization, the scrutiny of character and private lives-that is so common to survivors experience, and then take steps to prevent that? How can we protect those who speak up from vilification, rumors, assumptions, accusations, or scrutiny?

-What is the cost of silence? What is the cost of not speaking up?

-What does  “principles over friendships” look like in terms of talking about patriarchy? How can we approach male friends honestly? Can we call out our male friends?

-Is there a need to talk about, scrutinize, or manage womens behavior more than men’s behavior?

-What is gendered work in the movement? What do we see men doing versus what others do?

-In what was does patriarchy affect who takes credit or gains respect or credibility for political work? Do we have the experience of men who talk loudest at meetings, or write articles, or “put their” faces or names on political work invisibilizing women politically, intellectually, and on the ground?

-Should we discuss patriarchy publically or privately?

-How can we keep the integrity of building a feminist praxis from being corrupted by patriarchal structures already ingrained in the community? What is a feminist praxis and who decides on this praxis?

-What are the benefits of men’s anti-patriarchy groups? What are the potential drawbacks?

-How can we de-bunk the paranoid narrative that feminists or survivors are dangerous to the movement?

-How can we build support, solidarity, and sociability between people who are not men and without universalizing a single narrative?

-What are the dangers of having conversations about accountability processes, survivors experiences, abuse, rape, etc, in certain settings? What about in mixed gendered settings?

-How can we ensure that survivors- or those who speak up about men’s harmful conduct- are able to stay in collectives and organizing spaces? How can we recognize when social or political alliances are privileged over accountability, over a survivors narrative, or over a survivor or other’s political work?

-How can we keep organizations from acting as structural shields from accountability of one if it’s members?  How can we prevent friend alliances from doing the same?

-How is patriarchy itself a threat to our overall political goals and work? What does this concretely look like? What is the implications of not talking about patriarchy in our communities?

-How can we create an environment that is more conducive to accountability processes? How are attacks and scrutiny of survivors, feminists, and others in the community part of an environment that is dangerous to the success of accountability processes? What are other pervasive behaviors or structures in the wider community that create an environment that is counter-productive to survivor’s healing or to holding people accountable?

– How can we be more supportive of survivors and learn more about PTSD and how responses to survivors or people calling out men can be retraumatizing, isolating, or triggering? How can we stop pathologizing survivors and call-out those who do?

– Do we find that social and/or political structures in our community privilege men, certain men, or patriarchy itself? Do we find that social and/or political structures in our community are safe or  conducive to those who wish to speak up about patriarchy or abuse in the community?

-Do we find a hypocrisy inherent in the way that we value women’s political work and that of men’s? Do we find a hypocrisy inherent in the way that we respond to women’s behavior  versus men’s?


One thought on “At What Cost? part 2: Engaging questions in the “pre-written” statement and asking our own questions

  1. Pingback: The Anatomy of a Cover-up: How Organizations Respond to Patriarchy and Reinforce it | to the victor go the toils

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