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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.