Guardian feminism panel calls for change, gang activity


In the interest of behaving badly, let us first say that we won't apologize for the "roving feminist gangs" comment, nor the laughter that ensued at our July 11 "Bay Area Feminism Today" panel. In the light of the sexual attacks that have terrorized Mission District residents this year, Celeste Chan's joke (actually a reference to comments made by Fox News in reference to the New Jersey Seven) has to be read as a self defense tactic -- and source of comfort and strength to the women living in the neighborhood. Not a threat to men. Unless they're commiting sexual assault, of course -- but then, women commiting sexual assault will probably have the gang's wrath to face as well. 

Seven women from all walks of Bay Area activism -- arts, nightlife, immigrant advocacy, domestic violence organizations, and more -- came together at City College's Mission branch to discuss what our SF progressive community needs to work on, recent feminist victories, whether they even believe in the term "feminism," and everything in between. Our "Faces of feminism" cover story announcing the event attracted a decent-sized crowd of around 120 (mainly young women, with zero male elected officials in attendance.) We laughed, we nearly cried, we came away with a lot to think about. Here's some of the general topics that were discussed. And here’s to this being a spark for continued talks, however a Fourth Wave Bay feminism may take shape.


Reproductive justice

Reproductive justice has long been a feminist goal, but with the recent spate of attacks on birth control and abortion access it's come up again. Are we here in the Bay Area isolated from the War On Women?Some panelists thought we can affect the country's situation positively.

“Part of what we do here in the Bay Area is we send strong women to Washington,” the Drug Policy Alliance's Laura Thomas said. “We are responsible for a significant amount of women in Congress.” But California’s reproductive justice situation is more complicated than it may seem. St. James Infirmary's Stephany Ashley noted that reproductive health here is under attack with “criminalization of HIV-positive people,”  and that California “just cut all funding for HIV prevention for women.”


Chan, founder of Queer Rebels Productions, added that California is cutting domestic violence services through slashing CalWORKS funding. Mujeres Unidas' Juana Flores noted that the Bay's Latino communities can find it difficult to support aspects of reproductive health because of religion and tradition. But she said that people need to work together and realize that “it’s a real war. It’s a real war on us.” She warned that “politicians are not going to fix things just because they want to improve our lives. We need to fight back.”

Transgender activist and member of SF's Youth Commission Mia Tu Mutch said that part of the war on women has been a wave of anti-trans legislation across the country, as well as a wave of hate crimes, especially against trans women of color. Some legislation in Tennessee is making it more difficult for trans people to go the bathroom, she said. “Reproductive justice is important, but we also need just the simple right to pee.”

But what about the word itself?

Does feminism have power as its own concept now, or has its work been rightly subsumed into the queer movement, the civil rights movement, and other forms of activism? “A lot of us can agree that there isn’t something you can point to and say, this is the feminist movement in San Francisco,” Ashley said. “But there are many important feminist projects happening.”
Alix Rosenthal, who created a controversial women's slate in her bid for re-election on the SF Democratic County Central Committee recalled how “30 to 40 years ago, we all had to join together because there weren’t enough of us. Now people have splintered off.” Chan brought up the bicycle scene in 1983's feminist sci-fi film Born in Flames, and quoted Audre Lourde: “for so long, we’ve been on the edge of each other’s battles.”

Tu Mutch said that she “would rather identify as fighting for LGBT rights, progressive rights” than as feminist. But, she continued that it is “under the system of patriarchy that we’re all getting screwed over.” She said that women are treated as second-class citizens, and trans and gender non-conforming people are treated as third class citizens in our society.  Edaj, longtime Bay Area DJ and director of the Women's Stage at Pride for a decade, agreed that the word feminism “sparks a lot of emotion in people” and can create obstacles in growing support. Said Flores: “it’s a big word. People call me a feminist when I claim my rights. When I see another women who is suffering or being abused it’s unbearable to me,” Flores said. “When someone calls me a feminist, I feel proud.”

The inward gaze: how does the San Francisco progressive community do on feminist issues?

In a word: okay. But there's work to be done even here, in "progressive" San Francisco. Thomas led the charge, talking about the state's current legal ability to shackle women prisoners during childbirth. Tu Mutch expressed a need to stop “pitting groups against each other,” and to get rid of a City Hall attitude that says “my budget is more important than yours." Tu Mutch said “there’s still rampant transphobia and gender essentialism,” that affects not just women, but the “countless people born with intersex conditions and who identify outside the binary.”

Ashley pointed out that “even some of our favorite male progressive politicians, you don’t see them cultivating leadership among women, queer people, trans people.” She talked about how that’s a traditional feminist organizing principle, “mentorship and meaningful participation, not just tokenizing participation.”

As a (not) side note, there wasn't a single male politician in the audience that day. As Ashley put it, “patriarchy is really the problem.” Ashley and panel moderator, SFBG culture editor Caitlin Donohue shared the fact that they've felt diminished by remarks made by and in the company of the city's so-called "progressive politicians."

Recent feminist victories

But enough depressing stuff. How about recent feminist victories, asked an audience member.

This question was met with a disconcerting silence. Until Chan jumped in: “I’m really inspired by the place queer arts are at right now.” She told of the “lineage of resistance” of art that deals with questions like “how do people survive the unimaginable? How do people survive the truly horrific?” Disturbing incidents like that of transgender prisoner Cece McDonald beg the question, “is the perfect victim a dead victim? If you fight back, you’ll be criminalized? Now more than ever we need a movement. We really need to come together,” concluded Chan.

Rosenthal saw hope in surprising places. “Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman," she said. "These women are so incompetent. But they made it. They really made it.” She talked about how usually women have had to be five times better than the men they competed with, but “Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman are not five times better than anyone. But they made it.”
Laura Thomas was inspired by Julia Bluhm, the 14-year old ballet dancer from Maine whose online petition led Seventeen to promise to stop using Photoshop to alter women's body types. Ashley acknowledged Tu Mutch's advocacy work, and said she was recently inspired by a “take back the plaza” event Tu Mutch had organized. Edaj was inspired by being named a Pride Grand Marshall, and the feeling that the Pride organization was acknowledging the importance of the space created at the Women’s Stage. She was also inspired by Morningstar Vancil, a Filipino vet who is a two-spirit drag king, and Vancil's commitment to disabled veterans issues.

Action items

In response to a question that asked what the 2012 action plan for Bay Area feminists should involve, Ashley said “principles of intersectionality, anti-colonialism, anti-capitalism” had to be valued more than they have been in past feminist movements. They’re there in Third Wave feminism, Ashely said, only they are “wrapped up in theory and academia.” Those guiding principles should have "more on the ground” applicability. What needs to happen right now, speaking of on the ground? Back to 2012's spate of sexual violence in the Mission, there's a distinct necessity for "a perfect community response that doesn’t involve the police, so that we all of a sudden feel really comfortable taking a walk at 3 in the morning through our favorite neighborhood."

Flores said that any new form of feminism would need to be about “mutual respect” and “against any form of injustice,” to which Thomas agreed, saying it needs to be “less theory, more practice.” It also, Thomas said “has to deal with gender in a different way. A new feminism needs to go beyond gender, or deal with gender differently” in the sense of respecting gender non-conforming identities. A tricky prospect, she admitted. “How you develop a gendered movement that doesn’t use gender as a defining construct, I don’t know.” More specifically, she underlined the importance of “progressive revenue measures," and "an end to cuts to childcare and domestic violence programs.” “Our economy’s not coming back through more cuts. We need revenue, more taxes,” she said, to cheers from the crowd. Well this was a Guardian forum, after all. 

Edaj reiterated that “that word scares off a lot of people who might otherwise want to join.” Tu Mutch underlined that it would need to “take up the idea that men and women are opposites. That only serves to degrade women.” A new feminism, she said, would be about “turning away from that and realizing there’s lots of different genders.”

Tu Mutch said she would like to see success for her organization to fight for trans healthcare rights, FEATHER. “People have to spend ridiculous amounts of money to transition,” she said. “We need universal healthcare for all, including trans people.”

Chan pondered the question. In the end, she concluded, “roving feminist gangs,” inspiring at least one angry letter from a slighted middleaged white man in the crowd. Which wasn't the only reason why we deemed the panel a success, but an important one.


and it can really be encapsulated in this remark: "inspiring at least one angry letter from a slighted middleaged white man in the crowd. Which wasn't the only reason why we deemed the panel a success, but an important one." Amidst endless discussions over gender constructs, Audre Lord (we can never have a discussion on feminism in San Francisco without someone bringing up St. Lord), more and varied gender constructs and two-spirit drag kings we discover at the end that the panel was deemed a success because it offended someone in the audience - a white man.

Is it any wonder that the number of women considering themselves "feminists" has declined precipitously over the past three decades? The panel found lots of time to discuss the intricacies of queer theory and transgender rights but couldn't squeeze in the difficulties working women with children experience?

And of course, the elephant in the room - the city's only progressive officeholder was accused of domestic violence and the sponsor of this forum, The Guardian, has backed him to the hilt while making the case that domestic violence laws, which were implemented after extremely close coordination with feminist groups like NOW, "dehumanize" women and treat them as victims. Why wasn't that discussed Caitlin?

Betty Friedan, Audre Lord and Andrea Dworkin are turning over in their graves.

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 23, 2012 @ 11:34 am

The panel's agenda was planned myself and the panelists. We discussed whether or not to address the Mirakarimi issue many times, because as you say, it is indeed the elephant in the room.

Given their political positions in their communities (many of which haven't made an official statement regarding the case), many panelists said they would have felt put on the spot having to answer Mirakarimi questions. 

Those that did want to address the issue had every opportunity to do so: one of the questions specifically dealt with challenges within the progressive community having to do with women's issues. 

None of them responded by talking about the Mirakarimi case. I expect because it was politically freighted and also BECAUSE WE HAVE OTHER PROBLEMS IN THIS CITY AND EVERY ONE AND THEIR MOTHER IS TALKING ABOUT MIRAKARIMI CONSTANTLY

Had you attended the panel and not been the anonymous hater that you are, you could have asked the question yourself in the 45 minutes of audience question time.

Posted by caitlin on Jul. 23, 2012 @ 4:04 pm

Only bewilderment that the myriad of "OTHER PROBLEMS IN THIS CITY" didn't include the pervasiveness of domestic violence nor the severe issues working women with children face finding day care and other supportive services. Instead the discussion took a bizarre turn by delving into queer theory, transsexual bathroom availability and two-spirit Filipina drag kings.

It's quite clear who you wanted at this forum and it certainly was not men nor more white people. If you need evidence of that look no further than your mean-spirited mocking of a "middleaged (sic) white man" who dared to question some of the sophomoric humor and language used at the session.

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 23, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

How is queer theory a "bizarre turn" at a feminist forum? We actually did talk about life-work balance, and women's supportive services were covered extensively by the women on the panel whose organizations are... women's supportive services.

As I told my middleaged white man, should feminist gangs form, he should join one. You can too.

Posted by caitlin on Jul. 23, 2012 @ 6:00 pm

Because I don't mean my 61-year old hetero Caucasian father who was in attendance. He didn't feel excluded by the conversation. Weird!

Posted by caitlin on Jul. 23, 2012 @ 6:10 pm

"...many of which haven't made an official statement regarding the case..."

Why is that? Sure, it's politically freighted, but everything your panel discussed was and is politically freighted. I suspect, rather, it's because the Guardian is pro-Mirkarimi and doesn't want an event with its imprimatur straying from the party line.

Call me an anonymous hater if you want (if I'd been in town and known about it, I might've attended the panel), but I wouldn't mind hearing you deny what I just wrote.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

If I had been at the panel, my question would have been:

"Why is no one talking about the diversionary smear campaign being conducted against a former NOW chapter president, New College Law grad, active supporter of Sharmin Bock (the only person with actual D.A. experience in the 2011 race who actually campaigned on women's issues), CEO of a woman-and-LGBT-majority company, and author of a feminist graphic novel who did the right thing in helping a woman friend who came to her in crisis?"

Or would that have asking about what Ivory Madison been put through by the so-called progressives in this town been putting the panelists on the spot? It's not like I'd actually have been mentioning Mirkarimi himself by name.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2012 @ 7:13 pm

You should ask Eliana Lopez. It is a question she answered for the media last week, but then I don't presume you are interested in hearing what the alleged victim in this case has to say.

Posted by Erika McDonald on Jul. 24, 2012 @ 6:12 pm

I'd love to ask Lopez about the smear campaign against Madison, since the likes of Dan Noyes have been so derelict in their duty. Know how I can reach her?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 25, 2012 @ 9:27 am

...and Dan Noyes at KGO-TV/ABC-7. I'm sure both would love to hear from you.

Posted by Erika McDonald on Jul. 25, 2012 @ 2:15 pm

in a United States court of law (not an ethics committee) answering to a defamation suit for the lies she's spread about Ivory Madison and her family. She can run but she can't hide forever.

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 25, 2012 @ 2:38 pm

Ivory Madison lied when she said that she wanted her public role to end in this affair just like Ivory Madison lied when she said she was a lawyer.

What Ivory Madison really meant was that she only wanted to play a public role if it is on terms favorable to her, whether through writing or through a lawsuit.

In any event, the notion of a feminist hero so thoroughly disempowering the agency of a woman for her own benefit, notoriety and to serve her fantasies renders Madison a fraud.

Posted by marcos on Jul. 25, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

Marcos, feels he's in a position to lecture feminists on who their REAL heroes are, or should be in any case.

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 25, 2012 @ 5:36 pm

Wouldn't take much to turn Andrea Dworkin (she who wrote that heterosexual vaginal intercourse was tantamount to rape) over in her grave.

This is another case of the leftization and marginalization of a mainstream philosophy. Feminism is the theory that women are full human beings who are at least equal to men. Most men and women agree with that statement.

One of the reasons why second wave feminism faltered was because it became each and every identity for themselves. Instead of organizing, of focusing on issues important to most women, activists focused on issues that were important to them but not so important to most women.

NOW and Planned Parenthood also made the error of presuming that political and legal wins were permanent. They are not and must be defended. Take Roe v. Wade. During the Clinton regime when Janet Reno was heading the DoJ, due to unchecked terrorist threats, access for women to reproductive health services dropped from availability in 1/2 of counties to only 1/3 of counties. Today, the numbers of women supporting access to reproductive choice has dwindled down to 50%. I saw one poll that pegged it at less than 50%.

Apparently, NOW and PP did not see it in their mission to educate younger women as to the importance of choice as they matured. Big Mistake, things can get worse and do, especially when your opponents meet every Sunday in a tax subsidized Church.

Most women are not transgendered, most women are not sex workers, most women are not lesbians. Any movement that does not keep its eyes on the prize for most of the constituency it claims to represent is a movement with a fixed expiration date.

Feminism is populist and popular, it is simply that the activists are out of touch with the feminist movement.

Posted by marcos on Jul. 23, 2012 @ 1:03 pm

Dworkin would prolly have been delighted with this panel.

Posted by Troll II on Jul. 23, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

Oh, I doubt she'd have been delighted to hear anyone AT A PANEL ON FEMINISM say "she 'would rather identify as fighting for LGBT rights, progressive rights' than as feminist."

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2012 @ 7:29 pm

"...she who wrote that heterosexual vaginal intercourse was tantamount to rape..."

Wow. She really never did, and the fact that you keep spreading that male lie tells me a lot about why you support that abuser Mirkarimi.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

"Male-dominant gender hierarchy, however, seems immune to reform by reasoned or visionary argument or by changes in sexual styles, either personal or social. This may be because intercourse itself is immune to reform. In it, female is bottom, stigmatized. Intercourse remains a means or the means of physiologically making a woman inferior: communicating to her cell by cell her own inferior status, impressing it on her, burning it into her by shoving it into her, over and over, pushing and thrusting until she gives up and gives in— which is called surrender in the male lexicon. In the experience of intercourse, she loses the capacity for integrity because her body—the basis of privacy and freedom in the material world for all human beings—is entered and occupied; the boundaries of her physical body are—neutrally speaking— violated. What is taken from her in that act is not recoverable, and she spends her life—wanting, after all, to have something—pretending that pleasure is in being reduced through intercourse to insignificance."

Posted by marcos on Jul. 23, 2012 @ 8:19 pm

one to take into account such things as evolution which does a better job explaining a few things.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 24, 2012 @ 12:00 am

I don't see the word "rape" in that passage, marcos.

And she's talking about cultural references (art, literature, music, etc.) and the social consequences of them. She herself had consensual intercourse with many men, and never considered it "rape." The inability of men (even gay men) with a vested, concrete interest in getting laid to think abstractly about this issue is always depressing.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2012 @ 8:08 am

Dworkin equates het vag intercourse with being violated = violence, as in domestic, and we all know that rape is a crime of violence. You must remember that term, having bandied it about recently? Clearly if a bruised arm is worth imprisonment, then heterosexual vaginal intercourse is tantamount to Hitler invading Czechoslovakia performing anchluss on the Sudetenland or Stalin banishing dissidents to the Siberian gulag, which it is not, she says, but she brings it up anyway?

"This is nihilism, or this is truth. He has to push in past boundaries. There is the outline of a body, distinct, separate, its integrity an illusion, a tragic deception, because unseen there is a slit between the legs, and he has to push into it. There is never a real privacy of the body that can coexist with intercourse: with being entered. The vagina itself is muscled and the muscles have to be pushed apart. The thrusting is persistent invasion. She is opened up, split down the center. She is occupied--physically, internally, in her privacy. ... There is no analogue anywhere among subordinated groups of people to this experience of being made for intercourse: for penetration, entry, occupation. There is no analogue in occupied countries or in dominated races or in imprisoned dissidents or in colonialized cultures or in the submission of children to adults or in the atrocities that have marked the twentieth century ranging from Auschwitz to the Gulag. There is nothing exactly the same, and this is not because the political invasion and significance of intercourse is banal up against these other hierarchies and brutalities. Intercourse is a particular reality for women as an inferior class; and it has, in it, as part of it, violation of boundaries, taking over, occupation, destruction of privacy, all of which are construed to be normal and also fundamental to continuing human existence. There is nothing that happens to any other civilly inferior people that is the same in its meaning and in its effect even when those people are forced into sexual availability, heterosexual or homosexual; while the subject people, for instance, may be forced to have intercourse with those who dominate them, the God who does not exist did not make human existence, broadly speaking, dependent on their compliance. The political meaning of intercourse for women is the fundamental question of feminism and freedom: can an occupied people--physically occupied inside, internally invaded--be free; can those with a metaphysically compromised privacy have self-determination; can those without a biologically based physical integrity have self-respect?"

Next, we imprison the baby for the episiotomy.

Posted by marcos on Jul. 24, 2012 @ 8:21 am

Dworkin's world view is far more constricted than what she is complaining about. There is not a whole lot of individual freedom in passing everything through some filter created by a doctrinaire weirdo. I always found it odd that people who complain about the make up of society like Dworkin did want to make even more rules for all of us to live by, Dworkin's world be as interesting and unique as Jerry Fallwells.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 24, 2012 @ 11:35 am

Yes, like Valerie Solanas, this was a particular moment in the 70s and 80s where radical feminism was prevalent in elite academic circles.

I like Adam Parfrey's take on it all:

From Jim Goad's "Answer ME!"

Posted by marcos on Jul. 24, 2012 @ 11:56 am

"She wouldn't debate feminists who opposed her stance on porn, just men like Alan Dershowitz, thus reinforcing in the public mind the false impression that hers was the only feminist position and that this was a male-female debate."

I thought it was an ongoing thing, it seems I was at the right place at the right time to experience soft science students debating er... endlessly processing this non sense. The 80's was a hotbed of this business it seems. I think back on these upper middle class Portlanders fresh from the suburbs discussing these theories in a total hilarious vacuum.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 24, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

Yep, Dworkin is to feminism what Dershowitz is to American Jews, an extremist caricature.

Posted by marcos on Jul. 24, 2012 @ 12:51 pm

Not unlike prominent Bay Guardian commenters discussing development policy.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

Except that we'll be having a vote on development policy for the first time in 8 years.

Women are voting with their feet, abandoning the kind of feminism that is popular with activists yet living their lives as feminists who seem themselves as functionally equivalent to men in social relations spheres.

You fear that vote as you should!

Posted by marcos on Jul. 24, 2012 @ 1:11 pm


Posted by admin on Jul. 24, 2012 @ 3:59 pm

Well said, admin. There's nothing more sad than two men who think they know what feminism is showing how wrong they are.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2012 @ 6:03 pm

As a middle-aged white man, I think "roving feminist gangs" is hilarious and apt, and would love to take part.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2012 @ 6:33 pm

...this panel of great women!

AB568 was the bill to prevent the shackling of incarcerated women giving birth. It was vetoed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown. Chalk this up to another reason I voted for Green Laura Wells - she would have signed the bill. AB568 is a good issue to bring up with the Sheriffs in California also, because their union opposed the bill.

Regarding female candidates, I am saddened by the fact that Supervisors Jane Kim and Christina Olague have been such disappointments for me. Vital services (education, healthcare, child care, transit, etc.) continue to be cut, and that makes life harder for low income women especially.

The accessibility of services is important to all of us, and is worthy of more discussion.

I would like to explore the issues surrounding paid vs. unpaid activism, as well as solutions to the lack of child care available at many community events.

Posted by Erika McDonald on Jul. 24, 2012 @ 2:06 pm

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