Blog - Page 1 of 26
Photo: Clare O'Shannessy
This is a version of the talk given by Denise Thompson at 'That's Radical Feminism' the Spinifex 25th anniversary event held in Melbourne, 9 Sept 2016.
I've been thinking about how to theorise masculinity for many years, not because I’m interested in men as such, but because I want to understand the kind of the human beings that do the kinds of things that men do, and what it is that motivates them. But I’m only interested in masculinity as a personality characteristic to the extent that it is characteristic of men who embrace the meanings and values of male domination, because there’s something more than individuals involved. There’s some kind of imperative driving the individuals. They don’t come out of nowhere, they don’t get together and collude in their murderous mayhem. There must be something else separate and apart from individuals, something that motivates them to commit the same forms of violence even though they are not personally acquainted with each other. That ‘something else’ is the culture of male supremacy.
So my question is two-fold: what kinds of men are made by and make male supremacy, and how does that affect the social world we all live in? I’m interested in masculinity primarily as a cultural imperative, but also as a personality characteristic of those individual men who embrace the culture. As culture, it’s both individual and social. It’s how men are made under conditions of male supremacy, but it also shapes and structures institutions and affects the lives of all of us. We can’t avoid it by avoiding interpersonal interactions with men (or, in the case of men, avoiding its worst manifestations). As meaning and value, that is, as culture, masculinity permeates the social world throughout, structuring institutions, creating the world-taken-for-granted, and presenting itself as a harmless ‘difference’ while disguising its true nature as the prerogative of men made powerful (including the power of physical violence) by a system whose reason for existence is to do exactly that.
Eventually I realised that the type of masculinity I was looking for is characterised by an overweening sense of entitlement at others’ expense and such a crazed dissociation from reality that they are able to ignore the damage they do. That is the kind of men bred by male supremacy, but it is also how social reality is structured—through entitlement for some privileged men, disentitlement for hundreds of millions of people (and ultimately, everyone), and the insanity of believing that you can base social arrangements on the belief that only men count as ‘human’. There is male entitlement whenever men amass wealth endlessly at the expense of most of the world’s population, whenever men demand and get sexual access to the bodies of women and children, whenever they wage war, bomb hospitals and massacre civilians, whenever they pick up guns and shoot random bystanders, whenever they murder ‘their’ wives and children, whenever they use women’s bodies to supply them with children (as in so-called ‘surrogacy’), whenever they demand to be acknowledged as ‘women’, whenever they use their power to harass, deprive or punish the innocent.
Neo-liberalism is the political aspect of male entitlement, with its hatred of government initiatives for the common good, and its vicious treatment of the people who fail to thrive under the system that bloats their own self-importance, whether those people are the unemployed, asylum seekers, people with disabilities, or women trying to escape from violent men. All of these are also examples of dissociation, of a crazed detachment from a common humanity and even from reality itself.
At the same time, it must be said that male supremacy is not the whole of society, that human decency is possible even in the midst of the dehumanisation of male supremacy. It must be possible, or the human race would have ceased to exist long ago, so lethal is the system of male power.
I’ve finished writing a book-length manuscript on the subject of masculinity. It’s divided into two parts, the first of which sets the scene, while the second investigates capitalism as the modern form of male power. In Part I, I draw out a number of strands of what I believe is involved in the masculinity I am referring to. I discuss: the ‘masculinities’ literature and its limitations for this project; notions of culture and symbolic violence; right-wing discourse as the ideological justification for male supremacy; the alternative to male domination, which I call ‘genuine humanity’; and what is involved in masculine entitlement and dissociation.
Part II discusses capitalism because wealth is the modern form of male power now that such forms as royalty, aristocracy, chieftainship, etc. have vanished or become irrelevant. It discusses the fact that wealth is owned by men (and by women attached to men), and then goes on to discuss also a number of capitalism’s standard operating procedures, namely: ‘primitive accumulation’ or ‘accumulation by dispossession’; ‘inequality’ (which I argue is more accurately called domination); tax havens; an interesting economic framework called Modern Money Theory and its implications for a genuinely human economy; poverty and recent claims that ‘extreme poverty’ has been reduced; and the finance industry (insofar as I can understand it). I also briefly discuss the question of whether capitalism can be redeemed (no, not unless its nature as male supremacy is acknowledged, and then it might not look like capitalism).
I’ve also been investigating a number of other institutions for the extent to which they display the characteristics of masculinity I am talking about, namely, arrogant male entitlement at others’ expense and dissociation from common humanity. Those other institutions are: surrogacy; transsexualism; fascism; and US ‘welfare reform’. But once I had written up capitalism, there wasn’t enough room left in the book for anything else. The sections on surrogacy, transsexualism and fascism are largely finished, and I’m currently writing up a final version of the US ‘welfare reform’ material.
Denise Thompson is the author of Reading Between the Lines: A Lesbian Feminist Critique of Feminist Accounts of Sexuality
A critical analysis of feminist writings on sexuality from a radical feminist and lesbian feminist standpoint. Critical of libertarianism, Denise Thompson provides a detailed analysis of the mechanisms of domination and the ways in which feminist theory is marginalised. A must-read for any serious feminist thinker.
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The problem is male sexual entitlement and male violence. The Nordic Model is the only model that recognises the actual problem.— Sabrinna
Hi, my name is Sabrinna. I’m originally from Melbourne but moved to New Zealand when I was 14, so most my talk will centre around NZ. I worked for too long, in too many ways; street, massage parlour, bars, hotels, escort agencies and brothels and in too many places; Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, parts of the West Coast of the South Island, Brisbane and Sydney.
I also volunteered for the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) on and off over a 25 year span pre and post the Prostitution Reform Bill, passed into law becoming the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) in 2003. During my time at NZPC, I helped with the consultation process to write the PRA.
Under prohibition, ‘massage parlours’ rented rooms inclusive of a massage that the women were not paid for. Women negotiated their own money. Solicitation was the illegal part of that transaction and word games used to get around solicitation laws. These solicitation laws only applied to prostituted persons, not the Johns.
The streets rarely had pimps in NZ. Women negotiated their own money and used different word games to get around solicitation laws.
Escort agencies sold all-inclusives that only stated suitable attire for a date, company and the choice of a fantasy, e.g. ‘Girlfriend’, ‘Wife’s Sister’, ‘Daughter’ etc. No sexual services were overtly included. Women got paid a small fee and negotiated extras.
Police violence was rampant, using the threat of a criminal record. Women offered sex and money for a free pass.
There were clear boundaries on safe sex practices that were ‘policed’ by other workers. Kissing was an absolute no-no. No condom was considered absolutely gross and dental dams got used. Workers who broke with these practices were shunned from within the trade.
Did Decriminalisation Work?
Decriminalisation changed all this.
Massage Parlours became brothels and set the prices through ‘all-inclusives’. They left the girls to deal with the fallout of men expecting bareback, anal, passionate etc. ‘All-inclusive’ is not really all inclusive but of course, johns expect it to be. Where once men paid per/service, now they can have sex as many times as they can within the time frame booked.
I’ll note here that 20 years ago I was getting paid more than current prostituted people in NZ. Inflation has ballooned during this time, so a dollar then and a dollar now are not nearly similar. That is the result of giving power to the pimps. They’re usually men and they look after men’s interests.
The aforementioned expectations of ‘all-inclusives’ have become routine. Through doubles and bi-doubles I saw the difference first hand; unsafe sex for a price. The more one is prepared to do, the more jobs, and the more money; though still less in terms of buying power than when safe sex practices were an absolute.
Police brutality did cease, though helpfulness is very much at the discretion of individual police officers. As far as I am aware there has been no change in reporting violence since decriminalisation.
One place I worked for mysteriously had a bunch of Thai girls move in above the brothel, none of whom spoke English. None of whom ever exited the brothel for any reason, and all of whom had to ask for food, tampons, cigarettes and any other expenses. These were then purchased for them. I’m not blind enough to think they were on holiday. It looked like trafficking to me. [Jade, a NZ contributor to Prostitution Narratives, relates a similar account. Both worked for the same brothel owners – Ed.].
How Pimps Were Kept Safe
Originally the goal of decriminalisation was to firmly place the power into the hands of women. We wanted decriminalisation of all wanted parties, criminalisation of all unwanted parties. This proved too difficult because it isn’t clear what separates a brothel owner from a pimp, other than location. I’m now convinced that a brothel owner is a pimp.
Also, what are security staff doing, if not, ‘living off the earnings’. The avoidance of these words is what kept the pimps safe and decriminalised. The biggest difficulty is partners, whether married or not. A partner may be deemed to be living off the earnings by simply living with a woman working in prostitution. Yet, ‘the boyfriend grooming tactic’ is well known and in high use. How to differentiate a pimp grooming a woman and an actual partner is one that needs very careful and intense analysis in the writing of any Nordic Model legal structure.
When the PRA was passed, it was agreed that the law would not, under any circumstances be revisited for a period of ten years. At the end of the ten year period, it would be assessed to see if it did or did not work, with regular assessments and statistics being gathered during that decade. The pressure to ensure it worked was huge because to return to full criminalisation was the only alternative offered. In New Zealand there really wasn’t any great opposition to decriminalisation beyond those who wished to keep it under prohibition.
This meant that every problem encountered had to be dealt with by helping agencies using the new legal structure. It also meant that any huge unresolvable problems needed to be minimised and/or buried. So, the unsafe sex negotiations I had seen and been expected to undertake myself and thus fight off, were not recorded. We all knew it was happening but no-one spoke about it. For the right of it or wrong of it, this was a forced situation on those in the industry and on all helping agencies.
The Harm Minimisation model has been and remains the basis of NZPC policy. The first thing that must be noted is that the name itself automatically admits inherent harm in the industry. So, this is one area that all sides of the debate agree upon; there is unavoidable inherent harm within the industry that can at best, be minimised but not eliminated.
Under decriminalisation the power went to the pimps and johns despite that never being the goal. I respect the people I worked with at NZPC because I know they, like me, wanted everyone in the sex trade to have legal protections, power of conditions and negotiation, and a way to be as safe as possible. It’s been very hard to admit we failed but I feel morally obligated to do so. I still want the original goal and I believe the Nordic Model offers the best chance of making that happen.”
The Nordic Model is the only model that criminalises the John. I believe this is the pinnacle reason for opposition. Who does it criminalise? Men, average men, celebrity men, young men, old men, male politicians, husbands, sons, fathers, uncles, neighbours, men of good standing, men already criminals etc. Using women for sexual gratification under any circumstance is so normalised in society that many people have trouble seeing this as anything other than an attack on men and male sexuality.
What is rendered invisible is women. Prostituted persons, most of whom are women, are rarely, if ever, referred to as women. Usually called sex workers, prostitutes, whores, street walkers, escorts, ladies of the night, hookers and many other titles; all designed to ‘other’ the women in these industries. They’re not like you, your friends, your family, the people you know. But actually we are. In this way, women become invisible and replaced by ‘object’.
Harm Rendered Invisible
We know that abuse increases risk but we do not fully know why. We know that amount of sex makes no difference. The difference lies specifically in abuse. This is quite a recent area of psychology but it’s a significant one in looking at prostitution. Again, it’s not the amount of sex that needs to be looked at but the abuse within the industry. This is real harm. It is also invisible harm.
The long term problems rarely appear in the harm minimisation model because long-term harm often appears, or is noticed and diagnosed after a woman has left the industry. So, she no longer appears in the statistics. This is part of the industry’s abuse; to take years and years of her life, in return for money that has more hands dipping in to take a cut than any other job ever does, and to follow it up by dumping her on her ass, alone and impoverished with no support and more problems than she entered with. (Some of the physical and mental harms to women are documented by Melissa Farley here).
Women enter the sex trade for money and the trade makes promises of loads of cash that it never delivers. Ironically, the sex trade perpetuates the very poverty the woman is trying to escape.
For those of us who have exited, we face hidden discriminations. Huge gaps on the CV, outdated and unused qualifications with high student debts, vast experience with no way of demonstrating it on job applications, fear of being outed to family, friends and potential employers.
I have been too afraid to tell a counsellor for fear that the rapport we’d built would be destroyed in a single sentence. Our intimate relationships are compromised. Do we tell or remain silent? Does he or she have a right to know? If I do tell, will it become common knowledge? Will it be placed on a revenge porn site? Will they use it every time we disagree? Whore! This is stigma.
Stigma has not left under decriminalisation or under legalisation. It exists no less strongly now than it did in the bad old days of prohibition. It’s my personal belief that stigma cannot be legislated away. It exists because no one wants their baby girl to do that. No one wants their mum doing that. No one wants their partner doing that. No amount of legislation will change this instinctual response to abuse. We want to protect ‘me and mine’.
The services we need to exit
I’m fighting for the rights of people in prostitution to have more power while in it and more options when leaving it. I’m also fighting to protect the next generation from being lured into the sex trade by glamourised and false images.
Harm minimisation or harm reduction focuses only on the industry itself. We need to start focusing on the individuals in the sex trade. Irrespective of legislation I’d like to see non-religious, unbiased, non-judgemental exit services across Australia and New Zealand. A place where a woman can go and say,
‘This is where I’m at.’
‘This is where I want to be.’
‘These are the blocks in the way.’
The service will then provide options to help remove the obstacles. The woman makes her decisions. No decision is made for her, and no decision she makes is up for debate or judged; even the decision to return to prostitution or remain in prostitution. That is my definition of agency and empowerment.
Male sexual entitlement is the problem
I hate online debating with the people who defend all sex as positive irrespective of context. They tell me that the real harm is stigma.
I remember when a street walker was run over by an unhappy John, backed over, run over a second time, backed over a second time, and run over a final time. I remember the ambulance turned up, pronounced her dead and left her body on the road. I remember the press taking photos. A couple came into NZPC. They found out their daughter died by reading about a dead prostitute without a name in their local paper.
Stigma is the problem? Stigma does pose problems but it is not the real violence. When the ‘sex-pozzers’ say they’re being triggered by violent language, and stigma is the worst of the worst, I feel like screaming. That is not violence; not even close.
John smashes his wife’s head against the home wall and then storms out of the house. He jumps on a train and tells an 11 year old girl she looks sexy in her school uniform. He buys sex and bashes a woman’s head against the brothel wall. Society tells us he hurt his wife due to his poor childhood. Society tells us he was only complimenting that girl. Society tells us he harmed a prostitute because of stigma. Bullshit.
Male sexual entitlement taught him he owned his wife. Male sexual entitlement taught him public space is male space and females are his to comment upon. Male sexual entitlement taught him that sex, bought, given or taken is his right as a man. The problem is male sexual entitlement and male violence. The Nordic Model is the only model that recognises the actual problem.
First published on http://melindatankardreist.com/
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Talking down the Technodocs
A fantastic 1985 article from Spare Rib
which has now been digitised by the British Museum
Written by RENATE DUELLI KLEIN, GENE COREA and RUTH HUBBARD
Test-tube babies, gene splicing, amniocentesis—all are the work of the 'Big Brotherhood' of scientists, business men and politicians, RENATE DUELLI KLEIN, GENE COREA and RUTH HUBBARD participated in a women's conference on the new technologies in Bonn, West Germany, and were more than ever convinced that they reflect a pervasive deeply internalised contempt for and hatred of women.
That one has participated in a historical event seems like a grand statement to make. Yet that was how we felt at the congress, Frauen gegen Gentechnik und Reproduktionstechnik (Women Against Genetic Technology and Reproductive Technology) in Bonn, West Germany, April 19-21, 1985.
Organised by the Sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung and Praxis fur Frauen (the Feminist Social Science Association) and the Women's Section of the Green Party, 2,000 women from all parts of West Germany as well as other European countries, the United States and India came together to learn more about these new technologies, to discuss their impact of women, and to start campaigning against them. It was the first time that anywhere in the world such a large group of feminists officially recognised the threat of the techologies to women's present and future lives. It was, as the organisers stated, 'a meeting against the technologies - not a pluralistic discussion on its supposed advantages and disadvantages for women.' It was also the first time that gene and reproductive technologies were jointly discussed from a feminist viewpoint and their many technical, ideological and financial inter-connections exposed.
The conference, to which the three of us were invited, opened with a panel and it was here that the key issues were brought out in detail. Mona Daswani from the Society for Promotion of Area Resources Centre, Bombay, India, pointed out that in the 'developing world', new reproductive technologies mean — not in vitro fertilization (the 'test-tube baby method') — but dangerous contraceptives aimed particularly at poor women who are viewed as prolific breeders. Daswani gave examples of how Indian women were hurt and exploited by contraceptives sold by Western drug companies. She then urged infertile women in the West to think twice whether to give over their bodies - and lives - to a supposedly beneficial medical/scientific establishment that in another part of the world badly abuses women and couldn't care less about their well-being.
In India, she reported, the same medical profession which is uninterested in providing women with access to nutrition, water, sanitation and basic health care, has turned reproductive technology into a lucrative trade. For example, it has set up businesses for the detection of female fetuses through aminiocentesis and the abortion of those fetuses. An estimated 78,000 female fetuses have been aborted in this way between 1978 and 1983, she said. 'Despite active campaigning by feminist groups, amniocentesis continues to be conducted all over the country Daswani said. 'In 1983, the Health Minister issued a statement that misuse of the test was a result of the inferior status of women in Indian society and in the larger interests of research the test could not be banned. The same government has made every attempt to de-emphasise male sterilisation after it was discredited during the emergency. Obviously to the government female children represent the breeders of the future, and whether openly admitted or not, amniocentesis is perversely justified as a family planning measure.'
Another panelist, Gena Corea, author of The Mother Machine
, made the point that invitro fertilization (IVF) (test tube babies) and sterilization may be more closely connected than we think. Once in-vitro fertilisation becomes a standard procedure, women may be urged to use sterilization as their contraceptive method and, prior to that, have their eggs frozen so that those judged by authorities fit to reproduce could be ready for a later pregnancy carried by themselves or by a surrogate mother. Technodocs (scientists and physicians) frequently link IVF with sterilisation, Corea said, giving one of many possible examples. Dr Carl Djerassi, who helped develop the contraceptive Pill, believes that if women think they can always use IVF to bear a child, they will more readily agree to be sterilized. He wrote of IVF: ' If this currently controversial procedure ever becomes a routine, widely used method of conception, it could have a major impact on the acceptability of sterilization among young women.' Corea also asked women to think clearly whether we want to live in a world of 'big brothers' and 'little sisters' due to people 'choosing' to have first a boy and then a girl by means of increasingly sophisticated sex-determination tests; in a world where perhaps in order to produce a 'perfect' child', embryo flushing and subsequent evaluation would become a standard procedure; in a world where women whose eggs have been (or are alleged to have been) damaged by toxins in the workplace, are encouraged to use IVF with 'donor' eggs rather than risk using their own, and where little attention is paid to cleaning up hazardous workplaces.
Ruth Hubbard (Professor of Biology at Harvard University) was morepessimistic about the possibility of stopping the proliferation of these technologies completely. She pointed out that they are part of the larger reality in which scientists view organisms as technological devices that are to be controlled as one would machines. She also reminded us that what is being played out here is the contest between privatized and individualized medical care that is expensive and concentrates power and profits in the hands of a few so-called experts, and more widely effective and less sophisticated economic and health measures that could meet the needs of many more people. Although she was sceptical of the need for any of these technologies or of the benefits to be derived from them, she felt that because the genetic technologies of recombinant DNA or gene splicing (that is inserting or eliminating pieces of the chromosone) are already so widely used, it may be more effective to evaluate different ones separately and decide whether some could be useful if they were properly monitored and regulated, whereas others are too dangerous to be permitted under any circumstances.
She suggested that at present gene technology is used in at least five ways that are all related;
1) to learn about how genes function;
2) to engineer bacteria to produce large amounts of other organisms and large quantities of otherwise scarce substances, such as interferon, human growth hormone, or blood clotting factor;
3) to screen fetuses in utero for a number of relatively rare diseases, such as sickle cell amenia or hemophilia;
4) to treat people with specific genetically transmitted diseases — so-called somatic gene therapy; and
5) to change the genetic make-up of plants and animals, including people, which for people, is called germ-line therapy. (Gene therapy is not being used yet, but it is likely that scientlsts will soon begin to use somatic (body cells) gene therapy in clinical experiments with people who have very debilitating genetic diseases.) She pointed out that all can be used to discriminate — against people with disabilities or diseases, against workers who are particularly sensitive to one or another work-place contaminant, and because of their expense, against poor people the world over because they concentrate resources.
One of the greatest dangers is the potential use of genetic technology to produce novel pathogenic organisms and to stockpile toxins for biological warfare. But even making scarce products more cheaply and in greater quantities than is possible without gene splicing (which one might think of as beneficial) is likely to be misused. As an example, Hubbard cited an 'experiment' in which pituitary growth hormone, produced by gene splicing, was given to healthy children who were still growing, simply because they were at the short end of the distribution curve for height at their age. Being of small stature could thus be turned into a 'disease' that would require 'treatment'with this far-from harmless new product because the pharmaceutical industry needs to expand the very limited market that exists for its legitimate use.
Erika Hickel, Professor of History of Science at Braunschweig University, a member of Parliament for the Green Party and instrumental in the foundation of a parliamentary commission to investigate gene and reproductive technology, agreed with the need for an education campaign which will lead to an increasing participation of a diverse group of people — namely women —in decision-making processes. However, Hickel denounced gene and reproductive technologies as the 'brainchild' of the Big Brotherhood — politicians, businessmen, scientists and 'organised' moralists such as ethics commissions and churches. She painted a bleak picture of the so-called experts — scientists, doctors and politicians —who testified before parliament. Hickel urged all women to protest their handling of these matters which are of extreme importance for women and for all life on earth, and to take the decisions into our own hands, for the belief systems of the experts are deeply misogynist.
Renate Duelli Klein (co-editor of Test-Tube Women)
pointed to the pervasive, deeply internalised contempt for and hatred of women. Under the guise of being benefactors and perfecting the imperfect (that is, women's bodies), technodocs use women or their parts as living laboratories, dissect and dismember them with the aim of reassembling them again 'in their image'. In addition, Duelli Klein said, the economic interests at stake are phenomenal. What has become customary for bio- and gene technology, namely that research projects are financed by a private company, is now being applied to reproductive technology as well. In March 1985, Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, founded 'IVF Australia', a commercial firm to market IVF know-how to a yet-to-be-established chain of IVF clinics in the USA. The profits will be used to fund controversial research (eg surrogate embryo transfer) which the Australian National Health Medical Research Council has declined to fund.
However, Duelli Klein added, women's resistance against this latest take-over by 'technopatriarchy' has begun and on an international scale. For instance, in 1984, FINNRET (the Feminist International Network on the New Reproductive Technologies) and Women and Reproductive Technologies, a sub-group of the US Committee for Responsible Genetics were founded. Duelli Klein urged women to organise a broad and massive movement against the attacks on all women's dignity and our present and future physical and psychological well being. By doing this we also have to confront the patriarchy in our heads with its notions of 'progress' and technological benefits based on the destruction of nature. Simultaneously, we must encourage women to discuss the problem of infertility and the desire for one's own biological children, whatever the cost (monetary and health), in relation to social pressure to bear children that is put upon women. Lastly, we must be very clear that women have an enormous power: if we deny the technodocs the use of our bodies — or parts of them — they will not be able to continue their work!
Maria Mies, a social science professor at Koln and a congress organizer, emphasized the need on the part of governments and industries to produce new consumer goods in order to get the world economy back to flourishing, and to produce these goods by 'conquering' natural ecosystems. . . or genes. . . or women's bodies . . . whether by test-tube technology in the 'first' or by dangerous contraceptives in the 'third' world. Mies listed the usual arguments made in favour of the new technologies such as: 'technologies are not bad per se but only if they are in patriarchal — capitalist hands — all that women need is control.' Hence, 'we must get more women into science and technology in order to oversee these new inventions, otherwise this third technological revolution passes women by as well.' 'It's too late for resistance, gene and reproductive technologies are here to stay' and 'alternative use of the technologies is possible, eg feminists could use cloning to do away with men; the test-tube baby method enables some infertile women to have their biological child'; 'gene technology produces high yielding crops and fights diseases so that poverty in the third world can be relieved.'
Maria Mies counters these statements with the following arguments: Technological processes are never neutral. The development of the new technologies is a further step in the existing scientific logic in capitalist-patriarchal and social patriarchal societies. Natural science is built upon the premise of exploitation and dominance over nature, 'other' cultures and women. (Microelectronics, for example, would not exist without the massive exploitation of Asian women.) The method used — be it in nuclear technology, gene technology or reproductive technology — is based on the destruction of the integrated whole, on dissecting organisms — including women's bodies— into small pieces. After manipulation, for instance by inserting a piece of chromosome (DNA) from a plant into the chromosome of bacteria, or by fertilising a woman's 'harvested' egg-cells in a glass dish and screening the developing embryo for genetic defects (or sexl), the pieces are re-assembled according to the plan of the scientists/doctors. For instance, the four identical 'clones' into which the 4-cell stage embryo has been divided could be inserted in four surrogate mothers — who could be, if they were from the Third World, readily available 'cheap wombs'. Maria Mies contends that it is the production of controllable machines which is the aim of these technologies — and of their 'fathers' —and that this production is accelerated and heavily financed by major international chemical and pharmaceutical companies that need a new boost. Consumers are conned into buying the new products because they believe they will provide them with a 'better' life (more food, a child of their own, a 'perfect' child.) In reality, however, they may get new diseases if, 'by accident', the genetically manipulated bacteria 'choose' to reduce/multiply a different component of the eco-system into which they were released rather than the one they were supposed to act on — or if the woman whose body has been bombarded with hormones during IVF treatment develops cancer from the hormone overdoses or her child (should she be one of the rare successful candidates of the IVF procedures) is affected by them.
Thus, according to Mies, having more women scientists, who work within the same 'machinelogic' will not render these developments less dangerous. Even if they were in power (and for instance could clone men away!), their 'successes' would be based on the same scientific mentality — of biologistic, racist and fascist ideas — that life needs to be manipulated at the biological level. This mentality does not acknowledge that disadvantage, like exploitation and dominance, can be explained through a historical and socio-political analysis as the activities of one group that oppress and control others at the expense of their physical and psychological wellbeing in order to attain power, privilege and profit. Mies also fiercely rejects the attitude that it's too late to oppose the new technologies.' She argues that, on the contrary, 'if we resign ourselves to such thinking and react by trying to make the best of them, we become accomplices of plans that were made without our consent and are not 'for our own good.' She asks women to remember one of the earliest slogans of the international women's movement: Our Bodies, Ourselves
. This implies that we don't own our own bodies or those of our children and therefore cannot claim a 'right' to a child or a 'right' to sell our eggs or our uterus. We ARE our bodies and cannot be artificallysplit into pieces. We must strongly oppose any attempts to be made into controllable robots. Mies urged women to resist in this qualitatively new phase in the patriarchal war against women, emphasising that 'wars do not happen when the Missiles are fired but already when they are invented.'
On the second day of the conference these topics were discussed in depth in 16 working groups. Despite the fact that the rooms were overcrowded (the organisers had expected only about 500 women) there was enormous eagerness to learn and intensity about the seriousness of the issues. Perhaps a bit surprising was the almost total lack of discussion about artificial insemination and surrogate motherhood. Surrogate motherhood in particular has received a lot of media attention often with strongly moralistic undertones condemning the 'bad' woman who dares to lease her womb for money. In a number of countries, legislation to outlaw surrogate motherhood and tighten up regulations for artificial insemination - e.g. license it - is being drafted as the first response to the new technologies. Whereas there seemed general agreement that commercial surrogate motherhood agencies badly exploit women (they are paid a pittance and held under tight control) and objectify them as living incubators, there was obvious reluctance to support laws that are not going to what two of us see as the root of the problem; why people who for whatever reason cannot have biological children will do anything to get a child with at least one Parent's genes. (One of us, Corea, dissents on this point, not agreeing that this is the root of the problem posed by surrogate motherhood.) Similar reluctance was felt about coming out against artificial insemination. Some women made the case that artificial insemination did not need any technology at all, hence it shouldn't be lumped together with the 'high techs' which are characterised by the woman's loss of control over part of her body. Women have organised to facilitate insemination for many years and new legislation could make this unlawful. (This has already happened in Sweden). Others made the point that the philosophy behind both the 'low' and the 'high' technologies is the same. In all of them a woman's body is treated like an object that can be used to produce the commodity, 'child'. Proponents of both kinds of opinion agreed however that our energies should not be spent on side-issues but concentrated on exposing and fighting against the crux of the matter: 'high tech' reproductive technology and gene technology.
The resolution passed at the end of the conference and distributed to the media denounces gene and reproductive technologies as the latest attempt of international big businesses, science, politics and the military to re-activate the world economy by creating new markets. The new 'territories' that are dissected, appropriated and subjugated to total control are plant, animal and human life. In particular, it is women's bodies with our unique potential to create human life which are expropriated and used as raw material for the industrialised production of human beings. This development, the resolution continues, equals a declaration of war against women, the ecosystem and Third World people.
Addressed to 'us women', the resolution announces our firm decision to do whatever we can to stop these developments. By openly exposing and boycotting them we will fight against the further take-over of women's lives in all part of the world. In a passage addressed to 'those-in-power', the resolution demands an end to these anti-life and anti-woman technologies made by a small group of so-called 'experts'; an end to government supported research in gene and reproductive technologies; an end to the exploitation of women from Third World countries and poor women in Western countries by international pharmaceutical companies. Any government, the resolution states, which allows these technologies to progress becomes an accomplice in the destruction of nature, including people. Scientists — male and female — are urged to work towards a science that respects the dignity of human beings and of all life on earth and to end the unholy alliance between a mechanistic science and business interests. The conference thus ended with the strongest possible condemnation of gene and reproductive technologies.
Six months later, many local women's groups are engaged in speaking, writing and acting against the new reproductive and genetic technologies. On the international scene, in July 1985 74 women from 16 countries — among them the German organisers - met at the FINNRET Emergency Conference in Sweden. Evidence on the rapid and global development of the new technologies were so worrying — and infuriating — that the participants decided to rename the network to FINRRAGE: Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering. FINRRAGE members then spoke at the NGO-Forum at Nairobi and many new alliances were made. For women from Third World Countries there is no doubt that what these technologies are about is power and control over the decision of who should have — and what kind of — children. They — as well as the German women haunted by the Nazi past — know all too well the politics of 'Auslese and Ausmerze' (selection and eradication), that is, the decision made by a few about what 'kind' of human beings are worthy to exist and reproduce and those deemed undesirable. So things are moving. International resistance is mounting. Women in over 20 countries are now organising against the new technologies. For 1986, a European FINRRAGE conference is planned, and for 1987 a Tribunal on Medical Crimes against women. There is no doubt that our German sisters contributed significantly to these developments. We are deeply grateful to them for their hard work, commitment and political far sightedness.
RENATE DUELLI KLEIN, GENA COREA,
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Congratulations to Finola Moorhead for her 2015 Edna Ryan Award for the Creative Arts
Photo: Anna Couani
I acknowledge the original Indigenous custodians of this land and its surrounding waters.
Thanks to the committee for awarding me this recognition, and thanks to Anna and Dione for proposing that I receive an Edna Ryan in the Arts.
My art is literature and half my lifetime ago I started a novel length fiction on the challenge of having no major male characters and that took me about a decade. It is Remember the Tarantella. The name came from a footnote in Mary Daly's Gyn/ecology which was a myth probably witches made up before the Inquisition came to town. I think it was Naples. They said they had been bitten by the spider, the tarantula, then went into a crazy dance that took them into the sea to drown. Thereby robbing the Inquisitors of their trial. Quite a few million lost their lives in that particular war against women.
I never meant the tarantella to be the music you all know which is indeed a mating dance.
Today, of course, there is another war against women in Australia being waged on the domestic front claiming about 2 lives a week, 70 odd so far this year.
In literature in the last thirty years, not many women writers attempt fictions with no men in them, as I did as a Lesbian Feminist.
I know you've all thought of Feminism, but have you ever considered Masculinism? It's hard. It's a bit like an ocean fish trying to analyse the sea, as it is the reality we have surrounding us. Trying to ignore the masculine is thus like taking the fish out of the water. Very difficult to survive. Or in literary success terms, very hard to be read and appreciated.
Nevertheless I am grateful for this recognition and shall value my Edna Ryan award. Thank you.
Delivered on 23 October 2015 by Finola Moorhead at the award ceremony.
Finola is a playwright, a poet, has written articles and short stories, and published five books under her own name, as well as appearing in anthologies and journals. Her books include: A Handwritten Modern Classic (1985), Quilt (1985), Remember the Tarantella (1987), Still Murder (1991/2002), Darkness More Visible (2000) and a collection of poetry, My Voice (2006). She is the author of three plays, Curtain Raiser, Horses and It Might As Well Be Loneliness.
More about the EDNAs:
Edna Ryan (1904–97) worked towards making a better world, especially for women. The awards are for women who have made a feminist difference.
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by Lily Arthur, CoordinatorOrigins
- Supporting People Separated by Adoption
Penny Mackieson’s book Adoption Deception is a well-researched documentation of adoption denial in Australia.
By denial we mean that the complex issues associated with the separation of mother and child is ignored in favour of the needs of those who wish to create a family at all costs, the book reinforces the Origins perspective that adoption only serves the needs of those that choose or unable to have their own children.
Origins members fought for over 20 years to expose the unlawful and harmful practise of adoption managing to obtain a semblance of justice.
That sense of justice was quickly erased by the subsequent trivialising of this great human rights issue.
As Penny rightfully points out the hypocrisy of the apology, and then for the governments of this country to revert back to the same immoral and once again forced adoption practices staggers the imagination of most active of human rights campaigners.
Penny as a worker in adoption sees and articulates the covert actions of the media and politicians that dance to the tune of the rich and powerful.
This cynicism of a sincere apology by Origins members became blatantly obvious when Tony Abbott came into the role of Prime Minster, by the lack of funding, consultation etc. If one were paranoid we could say that he was ‘paying’ us back due to his embarrassment at being ‘outed’ as a putative father and partner to a woman who lost her son to adoption.
Penny articulates the very reason why we as activists need to maintain a righteous indignation at those who in their ignorance promote the separation of families. Promoting adoption misery that is not only an affront to a moral society that is hell-bent on pursuing its own self-interest at the expense of the most vulnerable. Once again the vulnerable and powerless are being exploited at the expense of those who cannot withstand the might of the system, in effect nothing has changed in the past 6 decades.
If we do not speak up as those who have lived through this experiment then we are sowing the seeds of our own destruction where the natural order of our own individual identity will be replaced by those who will take away the core of our individuality.
Finally what needs to be understood is that adoption removes all traces of the adopted persons rights to ancestry, culture and identity, and once taken can never be fully restored.
Penny has articulated all the reasons why adoption must be erased from society and left where it belongs, in the history of our country where the Common Law and the Australian family came second to the demands of those who had power and means to ignore it.
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