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On Profundity and Zap-Actions. Or, ‘1984’ and the Stonewall Riots Were Just Bitching and Consciousness-Raising? Really? October 25, 2012

Posted by FCM in feminisms, meta, politics, pop culture.
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the importance of thinking and writing to any political movement goes without saying, and applies to all political movements except radical feminists activating towards the end of male supremacy.  when we do it, our most profound thinking and writing are dismissed as bitch-sessions, coffee-clatches, or even (mere) consciousness-raising, and the political potential of our work is dismissed out of hand.

now, regarding consciousness-raising, apparently, early radical feminists coined the term themselves, and they defined what they meant by that and the point for doing it: first, because of male supremacy and misogyny, all accepted knowledge including “scientific” studies of women are fundamentally flawed, so to understand women and our plight, we must study the original sources — us — ourselves.  for their part, early radical feminist activists decided to do both private “consciousness-raising sessions” and public consciousness-raising actions.  being experienced politickers themselves, they knew at the time that it was actually politically effective to do this, and that other (past, male) revolutions had done this too:

The purpose of consciousness-raising was to get to the most radical truths about the situation of women in order to take radical action; but the call for “action” can sometimes be a way of preventing understanding — and preventing radical action.  Action comes when our experience is finally verified and clarified.  There is tremendous energy in consciousness-raising, an enthusiasm generated for getting to the truth of things, finding out what’s really going on.  Learning the truth can lead to all kinds of action and this action will lead to further truths.[…]  In the end the group decided to raise its consciousness by studying women’s lives by topics like childhood, jobs, motherhood, etc.  We’d do any outside reading we wanted to and thought was important.  But our starting point for discussion, as well as our test of the accuracy of what any of the books said, would be the actual experience we had in these areas.  One of the questions…we would bring at all times to our studies would be — who and what has an interest in maintaining the oppression in our lives.

The kind of actions the groups should engage in, at this point, we decided…would be consciousness-raising actions — actions brought to the public for the specific purpose of challenging old ideas and raising new ones, the very same issues of feminism we were studying ourselves.  Our role was not to be a “service organization,” … nor a large “membership organization.”  What we were talking about being was, in effect…a “zap” action, political agitation and education group something like what the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (S.N.C.C.) had been.  We would be the first to dare to say and do the undareable, what women really felt and wanted.

a zap-action, or political agitation and education group.  i like the sound of that, dont you?  heres what old diki has to say about the tried-and-true zap-action:

Zaps typically included sudden onset against vulnerable targets, noisiness, verbal assaults and media attention. Tactics included sit-ins, disruptive actions and street confrontations.  [Quoting gay journalist and activist Arthur Bell] “Gays who have as yet no sense of gay pride see a zap on television or read about it in the press. First they are vaguely disturbed at the demonstrators for “rocking the boat”; eventually, when they see how the straight establishment responds, they feel anger. This anger gradually focuses on the heterosexual oppressors, and the gays develop a sense of class-consciousness. And the no-longer-closeted gays realize that assimilation into the heterosexual mainstream is no answer: gays must unite among themselves, organize their common resources for collective action, and resist.”

isnt that interesting.  rocking the boat, leads to attracting negative attention from the oppressor class, leads to righteous anger and a sense of class-consciousness among the oppressed, leads to political organization and resistance, and change.  how political!  how profound!  you know, when men do it.

note that the “tactics” of the zap-action can and do differ, and that sit-ins and street confrontations (for example) might work more or less well depending on the political and physical realities of the oppressed.  in 1968, it was decided that picketing the miss america pageant would be a good use of one feminist groups time, so they did this.  what was the effect in the short or long term of that particular action?  i dont know, but the image of “bra-burning” harpies is forever etched in the collective consciousness, for better or worse.  im sure it had more effects than that, and anyone who knows what those are is free to elucidate in the comments…

for our purposes, it should be noted that writing and naming the agent — in publicly-accessible forums — seems to fulfill the requirements of the zap-action nicely, and the response of the oppressor class would seem to be the proof of that one (isnt it?).  indeed, any and all women having the audacity to exist in online (public) spaces are attracting the ire of their male oppressors — this needs to be contextualized, and the political implications seen and known.  for women, speaking publically is “rocking the boat.”  mens response to it *is* the response of the oppressor class.

for radical feminist writers, perhaps particularly today, we dont even need to leave our homes to accomplish what is obviously an effective political action — this a good thing, considering what men the world over would love to do to us, should they ever get their hands on us.  and considering that they would do much of this violence to us in private, and no one would ever see or know about it, so there would be no political effect of their response at all.  we would just be silenced (or dead) like so many uppity women before us.

to clarify, sitting in your living room (or on facebook) privately, with other women, is consciousness-raising and is important, but actually writing stuff for public consumption is exactly the kind of radical action that is known to be politically effective, inciting actual change.  what we are doing here might feel like bitching in someones living room, and there are indeed some similarities, and there is indeed an individual or local-feeling consciousness-raising effect to writing radical feminist material and presenting it for public consumption.  but that is not all it is.

anyone who knows more about the import of political writing is invited to discuss this in the comments.  thank you.


1. FCM - October 25, 2012

notes: i cant get ‘1984’ to appear correctly in the title, and its driving me nuts. any advice?

also, it didnt exactly warrant its own post IMO, but femonade (like the HUB!) has recently surpassed the blogging milestone of 500,000 pageviews. besides that, there are currently:

170 posts, including this one, and 10,000 published comments. the most striking aspect of this, of course, is that THATS NOT VERY MANY. AT ALL. think about it. 🙂

also, i feel its become necessary to remind some (or all) of you of one thing: none of you have ever been in my living room. mkay? its all well and good to have a nice dialog and get comfy with each other, but lets not forget what we are doing here. this is a PUBLIC FORUM, and this is a POLITICAL ACTION. and private convos and FB (and “collectives” that dont actually do anything) arent. make no mistake about that. thank you.

2. DavinaSquirrel - October 26, 2012

Just paste
over the top of the same in your title. It is a mix up between ‘straight quotes’ and ‘smart quotes’. I can’t be bothered looking up the ascii codes to sort it out

3. DavinaSquirrel - October 26, 2012

mmm, that may not have worked.
Then hold down the ALT and type 34, I think that should be a straight quote, one of those suck-and-see jobbies.

FCM - October 26, 2012

ha! yes thank you! it was copy and paste &.#.0.3.9.;. on either side, in HTML mode.

4. luckynkl - October 26, 2012

Consciousness-raising did start out as a “bitch session” (I think there may even be a book with that title which I read like 5 light years ago). Through these sessions, women then began to see the patterns. They discovered what each woman was experiencing was not an individualistic or isolated experience. It was methodical, systematic and consistent among women across the board. This did indeed result in a collective consciousness among women and resulted in their unification. Which in turn spurred action. But Women’s Liberation is much more than just a political movement. The movement touches all aspects of women’s lives – politically, economically, socially, and culturally – not just politically.

No doubt the printed word is powerful. The invention of the printing press was a major cornerstone and turning point in human history. It may also explain why women have methodically and systematically been denied education and reading and writing skills over the millenniums. What’s the saying? The pen is mightier than the sword? And no doubt, men know it. It’s only fairly recent in history that women are allowed to write at all so it is indeed very feminist to write – especially for the collective consciousness of women.

However, the women’s movement still remains a grass-roots movement so the bread and bones of the movement still occurs down in the street, woman to woman, up close and personal. This is essential because so many women are still denied education, reading and writing skills, and access to written media. The internet, books, and other media, are poor substitutes for human contact and socialization and were never meant to replace it. But person to person contact is no match for the lightning speed in which thoughts can be transmitted globally through the written word or by voice. So it is a powerful tool indeed.

FCM - October 26, 2012

yep. both things are important. but they arent the same. what, in anyones estimation, is the value of women who already “get it” spending inordinate amounts of time speaking to each other in private, with or without also denigrating the work of others who produce material for public consumption (or equating whats done in private with whats done for public consumption when they arent the same)? im just asking. i know for a fact that there are women out there who are slamming the writers for committing “mental masturbation” while completely ignoring the fact that this aint happening in our living rooms, honey. AS IF its a coffee klatch, and AS IF coffee klatches are wrong or ineffective (except when they do it? i guess?) its misogyny, and erasing/negating womens work. im fucking sick of it.

FCM - October 26, 2012

it also evinces muddy thinking and internally inconsistent values and policies. which bothers me. can we get our heads on straight or not? what is it we find valuable, and why? what i see is a clique, and the cool kids work is considered valuable and correct, regardless of what they are actually doing or saying, or even if it makes sense. if thats what it is, then i think it should be said outloud, so theres no confusion about that. if thats not whats intended, then it should be clarified (if thats not whats happening) or remedied (if it is). the reasons i think clarity is important have been outlined in my previous 4 or 5 posts. its been bothering me for awhile obvs.

5. luckynkl - October 27, 2012

Temperamental artist, eh? LOL. Actually I love your work and think you brilliant, FCM, or I wouldn’t bother reading it nor would I be here. So nah, I wasn’t knocking it. In fact I said the pen is mightier than the sword and a very powerful tool.

What writing does is create, inspire, influence, sway. All things start with a thought. And out of that thought we create and make all things possible. We also analyze and dissect our world so we have understanding of it and can make sense out of it.

FCM - October 27, 2012

thanks lucky. to clarify, i wasnt talking about you. 🙂

FCM - October 28, 2012

much respect to the WRITERS. and much HOPE for the time-wasters, hand-wringers, and judgey-judgersons who cant be bothered to produce any actual real work of their own, or to do anything original, interesting or useful at all, even though they theoretically could, if only they really gave enough of a fucking shit to actually do it. please get your collective and individual shit together soon, or at some point, at the very latest. thanks!

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