E-readers + feminist theory??

I’m thinking about getting myself a Kindle with my tax return (I mean, that interest-free loan I allow the government to take from my paycheck). Something to wean me off of internet feminism, you know?

Anyway, I just was reviewing the feminist theory category of available Kindle books on Amazon and, while I saw a few choice titles, I’m not really feeling inspired.

Do any of you feminists have a Kindle that you use for feminist-theory-reading purposes?

Do you know of other feminist titles that Amazon hasn’t added to this list that I, or other feminists, might enjoy?

Do you recommend another e-reader that has a better variety of feminist themed works than the Kindle does?

Thank you in advance for any thoughts you’re willing to share!!


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Marilyn Frye, The Politics of Reality: OPPRESSION

frye, marilyn OPPRESSION.doc

For educational use only.



by Marilyn Frye

It is a fundamental claim of feminism that women are oppressed. The word “oppression” is a strong word. It repels and attracts. It is dangerous and dangerously fashionable and endangered. It is much misused, and sometimes not innocently.

The statement that women are oppressed is frequently met with the claim that men are oppressed too. We hear that oppressing is oppressive to those who oppress as well as those they oppress. Some men cite as evidence of their oppression their much-advertised inability to cry. It is tough, we are told, to be masculine. When the stresses and frustrations of being a man are cited as evidence that oppressors are oppressed by their oppressing, the word “oppression” is being stretched to meaninglessness; it is treated as though its scope includes any and all human experience of limitation or suffering, no matter the cause, degree or consequence. Once such usage has been put over on us, then if ever we deny that any person or group is oppressed, we seem to imply that we think they never suffer and have no feelings. We are accused of insensitivity; even of bigotry. For women, such accusation is particularly intimidating, since sensitivity is one of the few virtues that has been assigned to us. If we are found insensitive, we may fear we have no redeeming traits at all and perhaps are not real women. Thus are we silenced before we begin: the name of our situation drained of meaning and our guilt mechanisms tripped.

But this is nonsense. Human beings can be miserable without being oppressed, and it is perfectly consistent to deny that a person or group is oppressed without denying that they have feelings or that they suffer.

We need to think clearly about this oppression, and there is much that mitigates against this. I do not want to undertake to prove that women are oppressed (or that men are not), but I want to make clear what is being said when we say it. We need this word, this concept, and we need it to be sharp and sure.


The root of the word “oppression” is the element “press.” The press of the crowd; pressed into military service; to press a pair of pants; printing press; press the button.Presses are used to mold things or flatten them or reduce them in bulk, sometimes to reduce them by squeezing out the gases or liquids in them. Something pressed is something caught between or among forces and barriers which are so related to each other that jointly they restrain, restrict or prevent the thing’s motion or mobility. Mold. Immobilize. Reduce.

The mundane experience of the oppressed provides another clue. One of the most characteristic and ubiquitous features of the world as experienced by oppressed people is the double bind – situations in which options are reduced to a very few and all of them expose one to penalty, censure or deprivation. For example, it is often a requirement upon oppressed people that we smile and be cheerful. If we comply, we signal our docility and our acquiescence in our situation. We need not, then, be taken note of. We acquiesce in being made invisible, in our occupying no space. We participate in our own erasure. On the other hand, anything but the sunniest countenance exposes us to being perceived as mean, bitter, angry or dangerous. This means, at the least, that we may be found “difficult” or unpleasant to work with, which is enough to cost one one’s livelihood; at worst, being seen as mean, bitter, angry or dangerous has been known to result in rape, arrest, beating, and murder. One can only choose to risk one’s preferred form and rate of annihilation.

Another example: It is common in the United States that women, especially younger women, are in a bind where neither sexual activity nor sexual inactivity is all right. If she is heterosexually active, a woman is open to censure and punishment for being loose, unprincipled or a whore. The “punishment” comes in the form of criticism, snide and embarrassing remarks, being treated as an easy lay by men, scorn from her more restrained female friends. She may have to lie to hide her behavior from her parents. She must juggle the risks of unwanted pregnancy and dangerous contraceptives. On the other hand, if she refrains from heterosexual activity, she is fairly constantly harassed by men who try to persuade her into it and pressure her into it and pressure her to “relax” and “let her hair down”; she is threatened with labels like “frigid,” “uptight,” “man-hater,” “bitch,” and “cocktease.” The same parents who would be disapproving of her sexual activity may be worried by her inactivity because it suggests she is not or will not be popular, or is not sexually normal. She may be charged with lesbianism. If a woman is raped, then if she has been heterosexually active she is subject to the presumption that she liked it (since her activity is presumed to show that she likes sex), and if she has not been heterosexually active, she is subject to the presumption that she liked it (since she is supposedly “repressed and frustrated”). Both heterosexual activity and heterosexual nonactivity are likely to be taken as proof that you wanted to be raped, and hence, of course, weren’t really raped at all. You can’t win. You are caught in a bind, caught between systematically related pressures.

Women are caught like this, too, by networks of forces and barriers that expose one to penalty, loss or contempt whether one works outside the home or not, is on welfare or not, bears children or not, raises children or not, marries or not, stays married or not, is heterosexual, lesbian, both or neither. Economic necessity; confinement to racial and/or sexual job ghettos; sexual harassment; sex discrimination; pressures of competing expectations and judgements about women, wives and mothers (in the society at large, in racial and ethnic subcultures and in one’s own mind); dependence (full or partial) on husbands, parents or the state; commitment to political ideas; loyalties to racial or ethnic or other “minority” groups; the demands of the self-respect and responsibilities to others. Each of these factors exists in complex tension with every other, penalizing or prohibiting all of the apparently available options. And nipping at one’s heels, always, is the endless pack of little things. If one dresses one way, one is subject to the assumption that one is advertising one’s sexual availability; if one dresses another way, one appears to “not care about oneself” or to be “unfeminine.” If one uses “strong language,” one invites categorization as a “lady” – one too delicately constituted to cope with robust speech or the realities to which it presumably refers.

The experience of oppressed people is that the living of one’s life is confined and shaped by forces and barriers which are not accidental or occasional and hence avoidable, but are systematically related to each other in such a way as to catch one between and among them and restrict or penalize motion in any direction. It is the experience of being caged in: all avenues, in every direction, are blocked or booby trapped.

Cages. Consider a birdcage. If you look very closely at just one wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of what is before you is determined by this myopic focus, you could look at that one wire, up and down the length of it, and be unable to see why a bird would not just fly around the wire any time it wanted to go somewhere. Furthermore, even if, one day at a time, you myopically inspected each wire, you still could not see why a bird would gave trouble going past the wires to get anywhere. There is no physical property of any one wire, nothing that the closest scrutiny could discover, that will reveal how a bird could be inhibited or harmed by it except in the most accidental way. It is only when you step back, stop looking at the wires one by one, microscopically, and take a macroscopic view of the whole cage, that you can see why the bird does not go anywhere; and then you will see it in a moment. It will require no great subtlety of mental powers. It is perfectly obvious that the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers, no one of which would be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by their relations to each other, are as confining as the solid walls of a dungeon.

It is now possible to grasp one of the reasons why oppression can be hard to see and recognize: one can study the elements of an oppressive structure with great care and some good will without seeing the structure as a whole, and hence without seeing or being able to understand that one is looking at a cage and that there are people there who are caged, whose motion and mobility are restricted, whose lives are shaped and reduced.

The arresting of vision at a microscopic level yields such common confusion as that about the male door-opening ritual. This ritual, which is remarkably widespread across classes and races, puzzles many people, some of whom do and some of whom do not find it offensive. Look at the scene of the two people approaching a door. The male steps slightly ahead and opens the door. The male holds the door open while the female glides through. Then the male goes through. The door closes after them. “Now how,” one innocently asks, “can those crazy womens libbers say that is oppressive? The guy removed a barrier to the lady’s smooth and unruffled progress.” But each repetition of this ritual has a place in a pattern, in fact in several patterns. One has to shift the level of one’s perception in order to see the whole picture.

The door-opening pretends to be a helpful service, but the helpfulness is false. This can be seen by noting that it will be done whether or not it makes any practical sense. Infirm men and men burdened with packages will open doors for able-bodied women who are free of physical burdens. Men will impose themselves awkwardly and jostle everyone in order to get to the door first. The act is not determined by convenience or grace. Furthermore, these very numerous acts of unneeded or even noisome “help” occur in counter-point to a pattern of men not being helpful in many practical ways in which women might welcome help. What women experience is a world in which gallant princes charming commonly make a fuss about being helpful and providing small services when help and services are of little or no use, but in which there are rarely ingenious and adroit princes at hand when substantial assistance is really wanted either in mundane affairs or in situations of threat, assault or terror. There is no help with the (his) laundry; no help typing a report at 4:00 a.m.; no help in mediating disputes among relatives or children. There is nothing but advice that women should stay indoors after dark, be chaperoned by a man, or when it comes down to it, “lie back and enjoy it.”

The gallant gestures have no practical meaning. Their meaning is symbolic. The door-opening and similar services provided are services which really are needed by people who are for one reason or another incapacitated – unwell, burdened with parcels, etc. So the message is that women are incapable. The detachment of the acts from the concrete realities of what women need and do not need is a vehicle for the message that women’s actual needs and interests are unimportant or irrelevant. Finally, these gestures imitate the behavior of servants toward masters and thus mock women, who are in most respects the servants and caretakers of men. The message of the false helpfulness of male gallantry is female dependence, the invisibility or insignificance of women, and contempt for women.

One cannot see the meanings of these rituals if one’s focus is riveted upon the individual event in all its particularity, including the particularity of the individual man’s present conscious intentions and motives and the individual woman’s conscious perception of the event in the moment. It seems sometimes that people take a deliberately myopic view and fill their eyes with things seen microscopically in order not to see macroscopically. At any rate, whether it is deliberate or not, people can and do fail to see the oppression of women because they fail to see macroscopically and hence fail to see the various elements of the situation as systematically related in larger schemes.

As the cageness of the birdcage is a macroscopic phenomenon, the oppressiveness of the situations in which women live our various and different lives is a macroscopic phenomenon. Neither can be seen from a microscopic perspective. But when you look macroscopically you can see it – a network of forces and barriers which are systematically related and which conspire to the immobilization, reduction and molding of women and the lives we live.


The image of the cage helps convey one aspect of the systematic nature of oppression. Another is the selection of occupants of the cages, and analysis of this aspect also helps account for the invisibility of the oppression of women.

It is as a woman (or as a Chicana/o or as a Black or Asian or lesbian) that one is entrapped.

“Why can’t I go to the park; you let Jimmy go!”

“Because it’s not safe for girls.”

“I want to be a secretary, not a seamstress; I don’t want to learn to make dresses.”

“There’s no work for negroes in that line; learn a skill where you can earn your living.”!

When you question why you are being blocked, why this barrier is in your path, the answer has not to do with individual talent or merit, handicap or failure; it has to do with your membership in some category understood as a “natural” or “physical” category. The “inhabitant” of the “cage” is not an individual but a group, all those of a certain category. If an individual is oppressed, it is in virtue of being a member of a group or category of people that is systematically reduced, molded, immobilized. Thus, to recognize a person as oppressed, one has to see that individual as belonging to a group of a certain sort.

There are many things which can encourage or inhibit perception of someone’s membership in the sort of group or category in question here. In particular, it seems reasonable to suppose that if one of the devices of restriction and definition of the group is that of physical confinement or segregation, the confinement and separation would encourage recognition of the group as a group. This in tum would encourage the macroscopic focus which enables one to recognize oppression and encourages the individuals’ identification and solidarity with other individuals of the group or category. But physical confinement and segregation of the group as a group is not common to all oppressive structures, and when an oppressed group is geographically and demographically dispersed the perception of it as a group is inhibited. There may be little or no thing in the situations of the individuals encouraging the macroscopic focus which would reveal the unity of the structure bearing down on all members of that group. *

(*Coerced assimilation is in fact one of the policies available to an oppressing group in its effort to reduce and/or annihilate another group. This tactic is used by the U.S. government, for instance, on the American Indians.)

A great many people, female and male and of every race and class, simply do not believe that woman is a category of oppressed people, and I think that this is in part because they have been fooled by the dispersal and assimilation of women throughout and into the systems of class and race which organize men. Our simply being dispersed makes it difficult for women to have knowledge of each other and hence difficult to recognize the shape of our common cage. The dispersal and assimilation of women throughout economic classes and races also divides us against each other practically and economically and thus attaches interest to the inability to see: for some, jealousy of their benefits, and for some, resentment of the others’ advantages.

To get past this, it helps to notice that in fact women of all races and classes are together in a ghetto of sorts. There is a women’s place, a sector, which is inhabited by women of all classes and races, and it is not defined by geographical boundaries but by function. The function is the service of men and men’s interests as men define them, which includes the bearing and rearing of children. The details of the service and the working conditions vary by race and class, for men of different races and classes have different interests, perceive their interests differently, and express their needs and demands in different rhetorics, dialects and languages. But there are also some constants.

Whether in lower, middle or upper-class home or work situations, women’s service work always includes personal service (the work of maids, butlers, cooks, personal secretaries),* sexual service (including provision for his genital sexual needs and bearing his children, but also including “being nice,” “being attractive for him,” etc.), and ego service (encouragement, support, praise, attention). Women’s service work also is characterized everywhere by the fatal combination of responsibility and powerlessness: we are held responsible and we hold ourselves responsible for good outcomes for men and children in almost every respect though we have in almost no case power adequate to that project. The details of the subjective experience of this servitude are local. They vary with economic class and race and ethnic tradition as well as the personalities of the men in question. So also are the details of the forces which coerce our tolerance of this servitude particular to the different situations in which different women live and work.

(* At higher class levels women may not do all these kinds of work, but are generally still responsible for hiring and supervising those who do it These services are still, in these cases, women’s responsibility.)

All this is not to say that women do not have, assert and manage sometimes to satisfy our own interests, nor to deny that in some cases and in some respects women’s independent interests do overlap with men’s. But at every race/class level and even across race/class lines men do not serve women as women serve men. “Women’s sphere” maybe understood as the “service sector,” taking the latter expression much more widely and deeply than is usual in discussions of the economy.


It seems to be the human condition that in one degree or another we all suffer frustration and limitation, all encounter unwelcome barriers, and all are damaged and hurt in various ways. Since we are a social species, almost all of our behavior and activities are structured by more than individual inclination and the conditions of the planet and its atmosphere. No human is free of social structures, nor (perhaps) would happiness consist in such freedom. Structure consists of boundaries, limits and barriers; in a structured whole, some motions and changes are possible, and others are not. If one is looking for an excuse to dilute the word ‘oppression’, one can use the fact of social structure as an excuse and say that everyone is oppressed. But if one would rather get clear about what oppression is and is not, one needs to sort out the sufferings, harms and limitations and figure out which are elements of oppression and which are not.

From what I have already said here, it is clear that if one wants to determine whether a particular suffering, harm or limitation is part of someone’s being oppressed, one has to look at it in context in order to tell whether it is an element in an oppressive structure: one has to see if it is part of an enclosing structure of forces and barriers which tends to the immobilization and reduction of a group or category of people. One has to look at how the barrier or force fits with others and to whose benefit or detriment it works. As soon as one looks at examples, it becomes obvious that not everything which frustrates or limits a person is oppressive, and not every harm or damage is due to or contributes to oppression.

If a rich white playboy who lives off income from his investments in South African diamond mines should break a leg in a skiing accident at Aspen and wait in pain in a blizzard for hours before he is rescued, we may assume that in that period he suffers. But the suffering comes to an end; his leg is repaired by the best surgeon money can buy and he is soon recuperating in a lavish suite, sipping Chivas Regal. Nothing in this picture suggests a structure of barriers and forces. He is a member of several oppressor groups and does not suddenly become oppressed because he is injured and in pain. Even if the accident was caused by someone’s malicious negligence, and hence someone can be blamed for it and morally faulted, that person still has not been an agent of oppression.

Consider also the restriction of having to drive one’s vehicle on a certain side of the road. There is no doubt that this restriction is almost unbearably frustrating at times, when one’s lane is not moving and the other lane is clear. There are surely times, even, when abiding by this regulation would have harmful consequences. But the restriction is obviously wholesome for most of us most of the time. The restraint is imposed for our benefit, and does benefit us; its operation tends to encourage our continued motion, not to immobilize us. The limits imposed by traffic regulations are limits most of us would cheerfully impose on ourselves given that we knew others would follow them too. They are part of a structure which shapes our behavior, not to our reduction and immobilization, but rather to the protection of our continued ability to move and act as we will.

Another example: The boundaries of a racial ghetto in an American city serve to some extent to keep white people from going in, as well as to keep ghetto dwellers from going out. A particular white citizen may be frustrated or feel deprived because s/he cannot stroll around there and enjoy the “exotic” aura of a “foreign” culture, or shop for bargains in the ghetto swap shops. In fact, the existence of the ghetto, of racial segregation, does deprive the white person of knowledge and harm her/his character by nurturing unwarranted feelings of superiority. But this does not make the white person in this situation a member of an oppressed race or a person oppressed because of her/his race. One must look at the barrier. It limits the activities and the access of those on both sides of it (though to different degrees). But it is a product of the intention, planning and action of whites for the benefit of whites, to secure and maintain privileges that are available to whites generally, as members of the dominant and privileged group. Though the existence of the barrier has some bad consequences for whites, the barrier does not exist in systematic relationship with other barriers and forces forming a structure oppressive to whites; quite the contrary. It is part of a structure which oppresses the ghetto dwellers and thereby (and by white intention) protects and furthers white interests as dominant white culture understands them. This barrier is not oppressive to whites, even though it is a barrier to whites.

Barriers have different meanings to those on opposite sides of them, even though they are barriers to both. The physical walls of a prison no more dissolve to let an outsider in than to let an insider out, but for the insider they are confining and limiting while to the outsider they may mean protection from what s/he takes to be threats posed by insiders-freedom from harm or anxiety. A set of social and economic barriers and forces separating two groups may be felt, even painfully, by members of both groups and yet may mean confinement to one and liberty and enlargement of opportunity to the other.

The service sector of the wives/mommas/assistants/girls is almost exclusively a woman-only sector; its boundaries not only enclose women but to a very great extent keep men out. Some men sometimes encounter this barrier and experience it as a restriction on their movements, their activities, their control or their choices of “lifestyle.” Thinking they might like the simple nurturant life (which they may imagine to be quite free of stress, alienation and hard work), and feeling deprived since it seems closed to them, they thereupon announce the discovery that they are oppressed, too, by “sex roles.” But that barrier is erected and maintained by men, for the benefit of men. It consists of cultural and economic forces and pressures in a culture and economy controlled by men in which, at every economic level and in all racial and ethnic subcultures, economy, tradition-and even ideologies of liberation-work to keep at least local culture and economy in male control.*

(* Of course this is complicated by race and class. Machismo and “Black manhood” politics seem to help keep Latin or Black men in control of more cash than Latin or Black women control; but these politics seem to me also to ultimately help keep the larger economy in white male control.)

The boundary that sets apart women’s sphere is maintained and promoted by men generally for the benefit of men generally, and men generally do benefit from its existence, even the man who bumps into it and complains of the inconvenience. That barrier is protecting his classification and status as a male, as superior, as having a right to sexual access to a female or females. It protects a kind of citizenship which is superior to that of females of his class and race, his access to a wider range of better paying and higher status work, and his right to prefer unemployment to the degradation of doing lower status or “women’s” work.

If a person’s life or activity is affected by some force or barrier that person encounters, one may not conclude that the person is oppressed simply because the person encounters that barrier or force; nor simply because the encounter is unpleasant, frustrating or painful to that person at that time; nor simply because the existence of the barrier or force, or the processes which maintain or apply it, serve to deprive that person of something of value. One must look at the barrier or force and answer certain questions about it. Who constructs and maintains it? Whose interests are served by its existence? Is it part of a structure which tends to confine, reduce and immobilize some group? Is the individual a member of the confined group? Various forces, barriers and limitations a person may encounter or live with may be part of an oppressive structure or not, and if they are, that person may be on either the oppressed or the oppressor side of it. One cannot tell which by how loudly or how little the person complains.


Many of the restrictions and limitations we live with are more or less internalized and self-monitored, and are part of our adaptations to the requirements and expectations imposed by the needs and tastes and tyrannies of others. I have in mind such things as women’s cramped postures and attenuated strides and men’s restraint of emotional self-expression (except for anger). Who gets what out of the practice of those disciplines, and who imposes what penalties for improper relaxations of them? What are the rewards of this self-discipline?

Can men cry? Yes, in the company of women. If a man cannot cry, it is in the company of men that he cannot cry. It is men, not women, who require this restraint; and men not only require it, they reward it. The man who maintains a steely or tough or laid-back demeanor (all are forms which suggest invulnerability) marks himself as a member of the male community and is esteemed by other men. Consequently, the maintenance of that demeanor contributes to the man’s self-esteem. It is felt as good, and he can feel good about himself. The way this restriction fits into the structures of men’s lives is as one of the socially required behaviors which, if carried off, contribute to their acceptance and respect by significant others and to their own self-esteem. It is to their benefit to practice this discipline.

Consider, by comparison, the discipline of women’s cramped physical postures and attenuated stride. This discipline can be relaxed in the company of women; it generally is at its most strenuous in the company of men. * Like men’s emotional restraint, women’s physical restraint is required by men. But unlike the case of men’s emotional restraint, women’s physical restraint is not rewarded. What do we get for it? Respect and esteem and acceptance? No. They mock us and parody our mincing steps. We look silly, incompetent, weak and generally contemptible. Our exercise of this discipline tends to low esteem and low self-esteem. It does not benefit us. It fits in a network of behaviors through which we constantly announce to others our membership in a lower caste and our unwillingness and/or inability to defend our bodily or moral integrity. It is degrading and part of a pattern of degradation.

Acceptable behavior for both groups, men and women, involves a required restraint that seems in itself silly and perhaps damaging. But the social effect is drastically different. The woman’s restraint is part of a structure oppressive to women; the man’s restraint is part of a structure oppressive to women.

(*Cf., Let’s Take Back OUT Space: “Female” and “Male ” Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures, by Marianne Wex (Frauenliteratureverlag Hermine Fees, West Germany, 1979), especially p. 173. This remarkable book presents literally thousands of candid photographs of women and men, in public, seated, standing and lying down. It vividly demonstrates the very systematic differences in women’s and men’s postures and gestures.)


One is marked for application of oppressive pressures by one’s membership in some group or category. Much of one’s suffering and frustration befalls one partly or largely because one is a member of that category. In the case at hand, it is the category, woman. Being a woman is a major factor in my not having a better job than I do; being a woman selects me as a likely victim of sexual assault or harassment; it is my being a woman that reduces the power of my anger to a proof of my insanity. If a woman has little or no economic or political power, or achieves little of what she wants to achieve a major causal factor in this is that she is a woman. For any woman of any race or economic class, being a woman is significantly attached to whatever disadvantages and deprivations she suffers, be they great or small.

None of this is the case with respect to a person’s being a man. Simply being a man is not what stands between him and a better job; whatever assaults and harassments he is subject to, being male is not what selects him for victimization; being male is not a factor which would make his anger impotent-quite the opposite. If a man has little or no material or political power, or achieves little of what he wants to achieve, his being male is no part of the explanation. Being male is something he has going/or him, even if race or class or age or disability is going against him.

Women are oppressed, as women. Members of certain racial and/or economic groups and classes, both the males and the females, are oppressed as members of those races and/or classes. But men are not oppressed as men.

… and isn’t it strange that any of us should have been confused and mystified about such a simple thing?


1. This example is derived from Daddy Was A Number Runner, by Louise Meriwether (Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1970), p.144.

From: Marilyn Frye, The Politics of Reality (Trumansburg, N.Y.,: The Crossing Press, 1983).


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Patriarchal Reality is Necessarily Defined at the Expense of Female Credibility

..Some rambling thoughts on a recent trip to New Orleans, and Spender’s “Man Made Language.”

It is my assertion that patriarchy, male dominance over women, is accomplished by the suppression of the female will. I make a distinction between the suppression of female will and the collection, appropriation/diversion of female/creative power, which is more akin to the fuel that patriarchy runs on. But for the creation and maintenance of this current system of human male dominance, it was and is necessary to suppress the female will.

Women live in a constant state of suppressed willpower. It is responsible for some, not all, cases of depression, eating disorders, shopping addiction, anger issues, horizontal and downward-directed vertical attacks (kids, other women, people further down the totem pole racially and class-wise). There is simply no way for the built up energy of existing as a female in patriarchy to be expressed because to express it directly would cause the end of patriarchy. As strong and spirited women know, there is also no way to exist without expressing it. We learn to express will/energy in outlets of all kinds, but the righteous rage that centers in the seat of our wills is never expressed directlyor fully because the suppression of it equals the suppression of righteous freedom necessary to create and maintain patriarchy. This patriarchal reality necessitates a cover up of natural-righteous tendency and flow to exist.

Take the City of New Orleans in Louisiana, which I want to use as a gut level example because the dynamic there is so striking. If a person set out to build a city and locate it in the worst possible location she could find, the crescent just north of where the Mississippi cuts down through the swamps to run into the Gulf of Mexico is the spot. The area is marsh and the entire city is set on an alluvial floodplain- essentially, loose mineral mud that is more or less constantly drenched by the seasonal rise and fall of the Mississippi’s banks. Additionally, the floodplain supersedes its past high levels at regular intervals and so the task of maintaining a civilization in New Orleans is one of living against everything one encounters there. The city is built over top of the Mississippi’s reality and in a constant and absolutely necessary, for its own maintenance, antagonism with that reality.

Patriarchy is exactly this to what is/femaleness. Patriarchy is a construction laid over top of (life, nature, females, balance, what is-pick your word). Patriarchy has built from a base of entitlement/enfranchisement of men and the goal of male satisfaction and happiness to the exclusion of all other interests, a system of distributing credibility from men to other men who support their agendas, a legitimization of knowledge based on that credibility, a codifying of knowledge, and a definition of reality based on that knowledge.

I don’t know what is wrong with dudes yet so I can’t put it into this writing, but what is right inside of women comes out from the inside, exuberant aliveness, statis, harmony even in natural cycles of death and destruction, cyclical and nourishing like the Mississippi flood waters.

So what if the residents of New Orleans succeeded in suppressing the Mississippi’s flood cycles so they could live on dry land with no fear of flooding or interruption of their lives? That water doesn’t just go away, because it doesn’t come from nowhere. Water would continue to be produced, even if its rise and spread over the Mississippi’s banks was suppressed. It would go other places. And if it was suppressed there, where would it go? what would happen if no water were allowed to drench the earth in any area because we, humans, had other things to do and we couldn’t afford to let the natural water cycles of earth complete?

I’m not going to go off because now everyone has a mental picture. It’s the same with patriarchal suppression of female will. Buried deep, that willpower turns some women to steel. It can make us inflexible, controlling, bitter and brittle, dry on the outside, dry without love, from the things we’ve experienced and not been able to process or express or even fully experience because our experience was already decided and defined, as was its acceptable expression, long before it happened to us. Our willpower should be the deciding factor in what we do with our lives, but instead it is buried. Choices are predecided, and enough has been written for us all to be able to understand the illusory nature of female choice within patriarchy.

But being embittered indicates a real violation unless women’s capacity to judge their experiences has already been stigmatized, making our own judgments and yes, impulses, already dead on arrival when we move through experiences in our lives, or they happen to us. We know that reality is defined at the expense of female credibility, but how does the stigmatization of female credibility negatively affect our desire to express our will?

Having a constructed reality that demoralizes women constantly is a major factor in creating depression and resistance to expression of the will at great personal cost by women. Many women feel resistant to expressing their emotional will because they realize or intrinsically grasp the fact that expressing discontent with the status quo a la male dominance is to those around them a signal for social correctives. This is built into patriarchy, and manifests as personal detriment and stigmatization to the women who dare to express it. Ridicule, shaming on various levels and from various angles, ostracization, judgment, diagnosis, and social isolation are a few of the results. At the very least, we have seen in the last 30 years that if a woman is really going to criticize patriarchy, she had better be socially adept, cute, feminine, happy, or have a capitalist agenda attached to her complaints. Or at least wear a skirt. When women’s wills truly diverge from the feminine appearance, behavior, and socialization mandates not only in word but in deed, our credibility and enfranchisement, our inclusion in reality, even in sanity, declines in direct proportion.

Levels of willpower expression move generally from subtle body language indicators to verbal expressions of pleasure/displeasure/intention/requests to physical and energetic movement towards goals and objectives. It is much more tolerable for a woman to speak out about things that she objects to regarding patriarchy than to actively stop participating in those things. Discharging aggression in speech and thought about feminist issues without taking the willpower to the level of action can actually be good for patriarchy. In an abusive relationship, as long as there is a dialogue going about the abuse, the abuse is likely to continue. It’s when the victim stops dialoguing and starts making behavior changes that the situation tends to escalate or the cycle be broken (depending).

from “Man-Made Language,” by Dale Spender:

“When modern feminists first began to be suspicious of the methods which had been used to construct knowledge, they were often cautiously critical. Reared in a culture which would have us believe in the absolute nature of “objective facts,” it was sometimes too much to comprehend in a short space of time the nature and the extent of the hoax which had been perpetrated…the patriarchal criteria of credibility, when placed under feminist scrutiny, began to emerge as yet another set of male meanings, another male encoded dogma no more or less credible than its religious predecessor.” (p.60)

We know that reality is defined by those in power. How is credibility related to reality, and to the right to define reality for ourselves and also for those around us or far away- those who coexist?

Credibility is defined as the quality of being believable or trustworthy. As the quality or capacity or power to elicit belief. Because the socio-human reality is a construction (i.e. we are doing things that go above and beyond our survival and stasis with our surroundings, we have created a constructed purpose and social/other environment for ourselves) it goes without saying that to elicit belief from other people is to garner the social resource to author future proceedings. Authoritative control over the future is the essence of constructing the social reality that humans live in= culture, “civilization,”…patriarchy. Being credible is a stake in controlling one’s experience.

Let’s take one of the subtleties of Spender’s above statement- that knowledge is a construction. I agree with this on such a gut level. Being a believer that “knowledge,” “rationality,” “logic,” are all thinly veiled synonyms for a constructed misogynist philisophical backdrop to the implementation of abuse of women in the pursuit of male satisfaction and pleasure, I am interested in how the construction of knowledge relates to the authority to define reality. It seems a fairly obvious statement that men dispense credibility in patriarchy, that credibility legitimates information as “knowledge,” and that those who “know” define reality.


“Michael Young defines knowledge as ‘available sets of meaning,’ and the knowledge which we have inherited has been constructed mostly by males in their attempt to provide meaning for their existence…if women are to have their own voice and not just to echo men, then new cerebration, a new way of knowing is required.” (p.59)

In thinking about the ways in which men have codified, commodified and put conditions on credibility, knowledge and reality, I have a few questions:

-How would/will women derive our knowledge?

-How will women define knowledge?

-How will women codify knowledge? Would we be interested in codifying the human experience in order to have a common language of experiental definition? Or would we be content with the diversity of individual experience?

-If women defined social reality as men now do, I wonder if our internal knowing would influence our will, and we could allow that will to influence our definition of knowledge, credibility, and reality?

-Would a female defined existence necessarily need to seek to codify credibility as men have? Or are women capable of the kind of respect that needs no standard to define a reality for everyone? Are we able to see the arrogance and inherent power-over that is present in that kind of existence?

-Further-would we be able to recognize the hubris in attempting to legitimate, socially or experientially, someone else’s credibility with regards to their own experience? Would we be able to see that there is no need to codify reality or knowledge unless there is a shared agenda that excludes certain experience to remain legitimate?

-What does the structure of patriarchal social criteria for credibility and its stigmatizing/corrective systems look like? I will probably pick up here in the next essay.

Just wondering.


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Sonia’s report on Janice Raymond’s “The Transsexual Empire” (1979)

This a book report on (the first half of) “The Transsexual Empire” by Janice Raymond. My opinion is still that transsexual (male) invasion of all feminist space should be patently ignored, however- I think these feminist Cliff notes might come in handy for those who want a reference as to why. I also think it’s significant that many of the things I’ve been saying, UP has been saying, and FCM has been saying over the last year or so (both of the latter much more than myself), are echoed here in Raymond’s words, despite the fact that none of the three of us read the book before I started it yesterday.

I find it auspicious and indicative of the fact that there is an objective truth inside women that some of us are getting at, and that when women-identified-women search within in response to the patriarchal culture around them, the same truths re-emerge. This should give us a confidence and a comfort. I also want to thank UP and FCM and all the gals who are writing about this issue for bringing it to the forefront of the online dialogue for us all. It is crucial at this point for feminism as a whole. Although I’m not a lesbian (yet), the book is written from that perspective and so I wrote my thoughts from a perspective of solidarity with my lesbian sisters.

Hope you gals enjoy. I admit it is disorganized, but if you’ve been following the dialogue, will pick it right up. Mostly just wanted to share a bunch of these quotes because they beat ass.

Janice Raymond on transsexual politics:

“If the stereotypes themselves are not confronted but are only frowned upon when acted out by persons of the ‘wrong’ sex, then the origins of transsexualism will be individualized and psychologized. What will go unexamined is patriarchy’s norms of masculinity and femininity and how these norms, if allowed to contain persons within such rigid boundaries, may generate such a phenomenon as transsexualism.”

In “The Transsexual Empire,” Raymond comments on the definitive work of her era on transsexualism, by Money (male) and Ehrhardt (female) which reinforced the obscuration of the primacy of females with statements such as “the antithesis of androgen is not estrogen, but nothing,”’ (p. 57) articulating the cognitive basis for the rationalization of post-operative transsexual males as female. The relevant patriarchal belief at play in transsexual theory, is that females are deficient males. Raymond reminds women of the underlying belief (fundamental to transsexual male rationale) of western, perhaps all, patriarchy, given original and most clear voice by Plato (the foundation thinker behind all occidental belief systems) that:

‘“…woman is defective and misbegotten..the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence, such as that of a south wind which is moist.”’ (p.57).

In other words, your definition and value is that you lack a penis. Aside from the obvious implications for the credibility of male culture and logic suggested by the belief on the part of the man that Western patriarchy regards as time’s most brilliant believing that femaleness is a birth defect possibly engendered by humid Southern breezes, it remains that the belief that women are men who lack, for whatever reason, penises, underlies culture/patriarchy. Though at this end-game stage of female subjugation it may be in the majority of individuals a subconscious or inarticulatable belief, it is ubiquitous in the western psyche, and it forms the foundation for the rationale in transsexual male culture.

Raymond on gender socialization:

‘Erik Erikson..polished..an inner-and-outer-space analogy, where the “inner” sexual apparatus of the female and the “outer” sexual apparatus of the male were seen to be the prime determinants of feminine “inner” directed and masculine “outer” directed behavior.’ (p.63)

We are all familiar with this. I personally correlate many elementary school heartaches and experiences to this dynamic of socializing young children, as I’m sure any female reader can. We remember when this normative conditioning slid closed around us and we grew to live with the yearning for freedom that it engendered. This perspective is so pervasive in cultural thought as to be omnipresent. It is probably the basis for the personal belief on the part of some individuals within patriarchy that their very selves, their souls, are a mismatch to their bodies. Patriarchy is so normative as to make people believe that their characters are flawed, instead of the reality- which is that the system of male dominance based gender conditioning is so relentless and so unnatural that it literally puts people, female and male, at odds with our very essence. Undoubtedly, something is amiss in people who desire transsexual operations. But it’s amiss in all of us, and it’s amiss in the world around us. Patriarchy lacks representation of the truth of human yearning and experience, for females. And for males.

The reasons the transsexuals Raymond interviewing for “Empire” included “absolute knowledge” that they were enclosed in the “wrong body,” or simply an occupational preference for traditionally feminine behavior and occupations. Raymond states- “very little of the transsexual literature has highlighted the stereotyping problem as either causally or therapeutically important.” (p.71)

As Undercover Punk has stated;

“Gender and sex are presumed to MATCH, with gender naturally arising from one’s sexual organs. Simple as that! Authenticity is assumed and the assigned gender is socially accepted without question. If someone isn’t feeling or performing her “gender” properly, there is obviously something wrong with HER, not with the traditional concept of “Gender #2.”

The cultural blindness to the base assumption that the feminine gender matches a female genitalia and the masculine gender matches the male gender is at fault for “gender dysphoria,” not the individuals themselves or their parents, or individual experiences. Patriarchal culture denies the detrimental effects of sex-role behavior mandates even when “treating” those effects in people who request “sex reassignment”. To examine the effects for what they are would reveal the ridiculous predeterminist beliefs about female subjugation that underlie and justify all male abuse of women. It is necessary for patriarchy to relegate “gender dysphoria” theorizing to an individualist basis, a recurring patriarchal tactic for isolating problematic results that develop outside the cultural model/mandate. In other words, if the brainwash doesn’t stick, there must be something wrong with you. You know, individually.

Raymond states:

“A person experiences role strain only if she or he has a self that is separate from the role.” (p.81)

A person with no gender identification would be incapable of social survival, so a prerequisite for success in life is some sort of sex role conformity (or a full time losing battle against it), We are under sex-role strain more or less constantly, but most people resign themselves to it and subsume their experiences under a role heading, in order to continue having “experiences” instead of problems, failures, or excessive traumas. We unconsciously understand that there is no social or material benefit to sex role deviance. Feminism has pushed and slightly changed the parameters of traditional womanhood for some women, but the role remains, and is mandatory. To break out of and completely redefine it without an examination of male social dominance is not possible.

Undercover Punk:

“For example, I’ve tried to do this by identifying certain DISEMBODIED aspects of “femininity” that I enjoy practicing. Examples include my affinity for bright colors, giggling, and being mindful of other people’s situational comfort levels. I’m not sure that I want to describe femininity itself as a/my “gender,” but it *is* associated with the gender traditionally assigned (#2) to and expected of female bodied people.”

Genitalia is too arbitrary a signifier to dictate desired social behavior from. We are all, female and male, too complex as people to have our affect, behavior and preferences dictated by our sex organs. Extrapolating multiple classes of characteristics and actions from physical qualities is unrealistic. As UP states, we all want pieces of both genders, even men, and even the new era’s Self Defined Gender is still too binary and sex-role identified to really be representative of who people are. Patriarchy’s extreme identification with certain emotional characteristics is what drives people to feel displaced within their very bodies, and addressing the binary issue in terms of clothing and hair and job choices doesn’t do very much to address the emotional sense of self or sense of ostracization from our own selves that binary gender mandates creates.

Note: transsexual surgery is an attempt to cure an advanced level of genderized wounds. Compassion, from a woman, for the plight of men is misplaced pity. However, to be unable to see the extreme level at which patriarchy wounds men into abusers by removing their humanity first is to be unable to understand what is at the heart of male-to-female transsexualism. Many men do not want to behave in the ways society dictates for them. Men are different from women, but not in the ways patriarchy thinks they are, and the masculine gender role is not a natural one. It is not based on the nature of men. The extreme brutal socialization that males go through works all of the time. The grinding self negation, self hate of masculinity with no authority or impending judgment drives the cycle ahead- however, not all men want to be a part of it. Who cares why. In the binary construct, the only other option is to be women.

Note: it’s not that radical feminists don’t understand this. We get it. Terming our struggle against transsexual identification as hate is not accurate. We’re working for women alone, and that’s always unacceptable. Radical feminists are for women, struggling against what threatens us. While we are compassionate people, 45 years of evidence suggests that including male interests in our struggle turns out badly for us, and we are most definitely.. for us. No radical feminist is suggesting that someone doesn’t have the right to do whatever they want to their own body. But quite simply, we reference an already existing line between our experience and the transsexual experience.

Raymond spends a great and valuable amount of time characterizing the tone of early transpolitics. She imparts that the teams of treating doctors, evaluating psychologists and others involved in the early surgery and socialization of male-to-female transsexuals were almost exclusively male. That the men who first attained the sex conversion surgery were qualifying their desire to be female and new personas as such through other men. As young women go through a mandatory feminization before being allowed to live as females in patriarchy, these men also had to pass muster with the fathers. Raymond paints a picture of post operative transsexual “females” as the daughters born of the patriarchs. She quotes Kando as referring to trans “females” as the “Uncle Toms of the sexual revolution,” but in truth they are the Athenas of the new age:

“’Blaming the mother’ also functions to identify transsexuals with men….”

“The syndrome of ‘blaming the mother’ in each of these theories raises some fundamental critical responses. Most is indicative of a fundamental reversal. The biological and psychological theorists blame the mother for both female and male transsexualism. Neither asks who is actually transforming transsexual bodies into the desired sex and instructing them in the rudiments of cultural femininity and masculinity..” (she is writing about early formalized socialization processes for post op transsexuals) “…the irony is that mothers are blamed, yet it is transsexual “father figures” (the fathers of the psychiatric and medical domains) who are performing the operations and coaching into roles. One way of perceiving this reversal is to view such “fathers” as “male mothers” who see themselves redeeming the biological mothers’ defective handiwork, whether that defective process is regarded as biological (failing to give enough of the  right hormone or giving too much of the wrong hormone in utero) or as psychological (failing to rear the child correctly).” (p. 74-75)

In a predictably patterned state of affairs, Raymond shows that transsexual operations are seen as a corrective of femaleness, whether perceived to be engendered in the male biologically or socially (since apparently in this case the fathers accept nurture as causal, but don’t you dare try to extrapolate that one- it’s as-needed valid) even though it is the male genitalia that is being removed. Even though the penis is being cut off in a transsexual “sex reassignment,” it is not the masculinity that is being corrected- always, in the patriarchal eye, the femaleness is errant and in need of correction- emotionally or physically. The operation seeks to correct an errant femaleness. (Maybe to create a fuckability for the perceived emotional vulnerability that is present? That part is worth thinking more about, but)

For me the above concept is the most significant aspect of the dynamic, being the reversal-thinking that creates both the problem and the therapy to “fix” it. We know that all life including humans is primarily female, and that maleness is a variation (not errant-that kind of thinking is strictly patriarchal because women know that nature makes no mistakes, but variant). The suffering from gender based conditioning is a result of this thought-reversal and stigmatization of the female.

Raymond on the roots of transsexualism, and more on Blaming The Mother:

“We consider the psychological hypothesis of Henry Guze…Guze thinks that as a rule, boys will psychologically develop in a feminine direction unless a male model is present in some way.”

(p.78) (i.e., the dominant male role model is necessary to prevent the feminization of boys which causes “gender dysphoria”, read=too much Mommy)

In this sense, then, a patriarch allows that masculinity itself is a castration. The transsexual operation seeks to castrate where an emotional castration has failed. Although the emotional castration of masculinization is seen to remove the perceived female aspect of a male, and the physical castration is an alignment with that perceived aspect, we see that some type of castration is necessary for males to feel complete in their culture. I will tie this in to further writing on the necessity of sacrifice, castration, and circumcision to patriarchal male sense of self and reality, but for the time being, the point is supportive of the reality that masculinity is a wounding, abusive construct at its core. On a meta/mythic level, this necessitated bloodletting/castration, whether symbolic/emotional or physical, is an example of the constant dis-identification-with-and-concurrent-emulation of females by patriarchal males.

In a sense, the transsexual identity is a confirmation of the fact that gender has conquered sex, and that gender categories have superceded natural sex, an affirmation, again, of patriarchy’s dominance over nature. Which is obviously the entire purpose and point of patriarchy. Male-to-female transsexuals are simply required to be good examples of the feminine role for other sex-class members. Patriarchy is now confident enough in the sex-class category to allow greater numbers of voluntary admission to males.

Raymond discusses transsexual presence in lesbian-feminist space, first giving us the history of the eunuch role in patriarchal gender dynamics:

“There is a long tradition of eunuchs who were used by rulers, heads of state, and magistrates as keepers of women. Eunuchs were supervisors of the harem in Islam and wardens of women’s apartments in many royal households. In fact, the word eunuch, from the Greek eunouchos, literally means “keeper of the bed.” Eunuchs were men that other more powerful men used to keep their women in place. By fulfilling this role, eunuchs also succeeded in winning the confidence of the ruler and securing important and influential positions…the earliest mentions of eunuchs is in connection with the Minoan civilization of Crete, which was a transitional period fro an earlier gynocentric society. It thus appears that eunuchs, to some extent, always attached themselves to women’s spaces and, most frequently, were used to supervise woemn’s freedom of movement and to harness women’s self-centeredness and self-government. ‘It is stated that entrée into every political circle was possible for eunuchs even if barred to other men.’” (p.105)

She continues:

“Men, of course, invented the feminine, and in this sense it could be said that all women who conform to this invention are transsexuals, fashioned according to man’s image. Lesbain-feminists exist apart from man’s inventiveness, and the political and personal ideas of lesbian-feminism have constituted a complete rebellion against the man-made invention of women..” (p. 106) (boldness mine, as usual 🙂 )

“What men really envy is women’s biological ability to procreate. Transsexuals illustrate one way in which men do this, by acquiring the artifacts of female biology. Even though they cannot give birth, they aquire the organs that are representative of ths female power. However, it is the transsexually constructed lesbian-feminist who illustrates that much more is at stake that literal womb envy. He shows that female biology, whether exercised in giving birth or simply by virtue of its existence, is representative of female creativity on a profound mythic level.” (p.107)

Finally, Raymond answers, 30 years ahead of her time, the transpolitical character assassination on radical feminist response to intrusion:

“ (transsexuals) would encourage us to set no boundaries by employing the analogy of how boundaries have been used oppressively against lesbians in the past/present. “There are so many painful parallels between how the world has treated strong women and lesbians and how Raymond and others categorize and discount transsexuals,” she quotes a critic, “but the analogy is false. The boundaries that have been used against lesbians are the boundaries of the fathers…(they) would have us believe that all boundaries are oppressive. Yet if feminists cannot agree on the boundaries of what constitutes females, then what can we hope to agree on?” Raymond tells us that transpolitical invasion in feminist space  “encourages the leveling of genuine boundaries of self-preservation and self-centering.” (p.110)

Raymond quotes Robin Morgan in Los Angeles, 1973: “If transvestite or transsexual males are oppressed, let them band together and organize against that oppression, instead of leeching off women who have spent entire lives as women in women’s bodies.” (85).

With trans politics, anger at an experience is misplaced on women as per usual, instead of on the dominant patriarchal order where it belongs.


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Feminism and the Politics of Appearance by Amy Winter

Published in off our backs, November-December 2004

Text courtesy of Dirt. No pdf.


It’s no secret that mainstream media are obsessed with women’s looks. For years we’ve been bombarded with advertising for all kinds of products, from skin cream to diet pills, and titillated with news of Cher’s latest surgical enhancement. Lately, however, the products and procedures advertised have become more invasive, more dangerous and, significantly, more expensive—Botox injections, chemical peels, liposuction, stomach stapling. And whereas Cher and other famous women used to be considered slightly odd for their excessive concern with appearance, or it was understood that for them cosmetic surgery was an occupational hazard, these days, with shows like ABC’s “Extreme Makeover,” MTV’s “I Want a Famous Face,” and Fox’s “The Swan,” there’s no excuse left for any of us to remain tuck-less and nip-free. As more and more cosmetic procedures are presented as “empowering choices” that we’d be silly not to at least consider—breast implants which can cause chronic pain and disease, injections to deaden the nerves in our feet so we can keep wearing those high-heeled shoes, surgery to make our vulvas resemble that of a famous porn star, permanent makeup tattooed onto our faces, liposuction or stripping of varicose veins which can lead to chronic nerve pain—the greater is the pressure on us to conform, and the smaller the space in which we get to be content with ourselves the way we are.

In the last decade, it’s also become very difficult to discuss issues of personal appearance, in fact, any issue of “personal choice” at all, within feminist and lesbian communities. The second-wave feminist emphasis on a woman’s right to body autonomy and sexual self-determination has been widely misinterpreted to mean that any choice a woman makes about sexual behavior and appearance is automatically feminist. This has led to the acceptance and even glorification of profoundly woman-hating behaviors and institutions, such as pornography, prostitution, cosmetic surgery, dieting, weight loss surgery, and various types of “body modification” including transsexual surgery. What we are left with is a practically incoherent public discourse, wherein mainstream journalists, “queer” activists and “third-wave” writers all champion an amoral liberal attitude toward women’s body-related choices, demand celebration of misogynist institutions and endeavors, and call that celebration “feminism.”

The merging of the rhetoric of the equal rights movements for African-Americans, women, and lesbians and gays with liberal political philosophy has resulted in progressives embracing the liberal concept of “tolerance.” The Declaration of Tolerance at www.tolerance.org reads:

“Tolerance is a personal decision that comes from a belief that every person is a treasure. I believe that America’s diversity is its strength. I also recognize that ignorance, insensitivity and bigotry can turn that diversity into a source of prejudice and discrimination.

To help keep diversity a wellspring of strength and make America a better place for all, I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own.”

This statement exemplifies the liberal focus on individual actions, rather than an analysis of how the power structure in the US privileges and empowers some groups while stigmatizing and marginalizing others. Emphasis on tolerance, rather than equalizing access to power and resources, deflects attention from systems that concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few, and locates oppression solely in individual acts of unkindness or discrimination.

When “tolerance of diversity” is the highest value, analyzing the political implications of any “personal choice” usually elicits a reflexic, defensive, even enraged response, which stifles discussion. It’s now considered rude, judgmental and intolerant in many lesbian and feminist circles to question the “choice” to be a stripper or a prostitute, or to practice sadomasochistic sex, for example. It’s out of fashion these days, with so many lesbians “transitioning,” i.e., taking testosterone and undergoing transsexual surgery, to critique the social construction of masculinity and the way it encourages and perpetuates men’s violence against women. But accusations of intolerance and judgmentalness impede our ability to have meaningful discussions about the communities and the world we want to live in, and how as feminists we can move toward those goals. We are encouraged to “respect difference” rather than work for justice. Emphasis on tolerance over feminist critique thus maintains the status quo.

Another factor that contributes to the stifling of political analysis of personal choice in feminist communities is an emphasis on feelings. The focus of discourse these days, the reason given for almost any choice, is “I just feel that way” or “I feel better that way.” The assumption behind this is that feelings are immutable and that they are an appropriate basis on which to make decisions that have political implications. Where appearance is concerned, appealing to feelings denies the fact that feeling better about ourselves has been shown to have almost no correlation with how we actually look to others (Freedman); body image, energy level, and self-esteem can fluctuate by the day, or even by the hour, depending on factors like nutrition, sleep, physical exercise, and positive interactions with others. This emphasis on feelings stems from the influence of the therapy and recovery movements in our communities, fostered in part by women’s very real need to heal from the damage patriarchy inflicts upon us. However, while healing and recovery would not seem to preclude political organizing, in practice the two very rarely go together. Thus, emphasis on feelings as justification for our choices “…has encouraged us to do what “feels right” to the exclusion of political analysis. As a result our community is tolerating behaviors we used to find abhorrent.” (Ward) We’ve forgotten that resisting patriarchy is often difficult and uncomfortable—but also satisfying in a way that conforming is not.

No matter how much we would like to use feminism to justify our choices, feminism cannot be interpreted to encompass any risky, self-hating, violent thing a woman does to herself, or takes money for doing, or pays someone to do to her. Feminism does not value women’s subordination and women’s pain. It doesn’t value healthy women’s lifetime dependence on the medical system for nutritional supplements or hormones—inevitable outcomes of weight-loss surgery or transsexualism. Feminism doesn’t value a standard of beauty for women comprised of extreme thinness, regular Caucasian features, smooth hair, young-looking skin without wrinkles or blemishes, and lack of visible body hair. Feminists know this standard purposely excludes most women and is designed to keep us feeling anxious about our appearance and dependent on surgeons and cosmetic companies for expensive reassurance. Feminism values women as the subjects of our own lives, not objects to attract and hold another’s gaze. It values cooperation between women, not the competition and comparison fostered by presenting us with image after image of women we’ll never look like—women who, in fact, don’t exist, given the extensive and now-infamous use of airbrushing and retouching in fashion photography. Fat women have been very damaged by the beauty standard under which we’re the ugliest of the ugly—but the feminist response to that is not to dress our fat selves up in lingerie and pose for the NOLOSE newsletter or Dimensions magazine. Feminism does not value expanding the categories of women available for male sexual exploitation; it values ending the sexual exploitation of all women. Feminists understand that physical ability can change with age, accident or illness; valuing ourselves based on physical ability denies self-esteem and body love to women who are aging, ill, or disabled. Feminism values the diversity of women; it recognizes that we don’t all look the same and says that there is beauty in each of us. Feminism seeks to foster self-esteem and confidence in women, not to encourage us to shore ourselves up through positive attention from others for our appearance. Feminists know that insults like “fat cow” or “dog” are attempts to manipulate us into conformity in the same way that accusations of “dyke” or “slut” serve to break our bonds with other women and direct our sexual attentions toward men. Feminists know that our separation from our bodies mirrors patriarchy’s attempt to separate human society from the natural world; as multinational corporations view the earth as an inert source of raw materials, so we are taught to view our bodies as matter that we can shape and change at will. Our bodies have a beauty and an integrity all their own, regardless of how poorly they conform to patriarchal aesthetic standards. They have their own balance that is intimately connected to the balance of nature, neither of which patriarchal science comes close to understanding. In the last few decades we’ve become increasingly aware of the devastating effects humans are having on the natural world through our attempts to interfere with processes we don’t comprehend. In the same way that, for example, building a jetty can change the profile of an entire coastline and affect everything that lives there, altering our healthy bodies by smearing chemicals on our skin, ingesting hormones, or fundamentally altering the progress of food through our digestive systems cannot fail to impact every level of our being. This is not new age romanticism; the biological processes of our bodies are the physical basis for life on this planet, and feminists would do well to remember what Western culture has made it our business to forget—that our bodies are ourselves. We are our bodies, and our bodies are not wrong, they are not ugly, they are not dirty, they are not too fat or too hairy or too tall or too masculine. Our consciousness doesn’t hover somewhere a foot above our heads; it’s embedded in every cell. We can’t damage our bodies without damaging ourselves; we can’t love ourselves and other women if we don’t love our own women’s bodies. And we can’t be honest in our feminism if we pretend that making choices to harm our bodies and conform to the dictates of a system that hates us is liberating and empowering. We collude with woman-hating when we etch it into or carve it out of our flesh, when we starve ourselves to look the way the media says we should, when we refuse to give heart to the resistance of the women around us by proudly living in our bodies as they are. Though our survival may at times depend on this collusion, we can never forget that these “choices” are made in a context in which we fear the consequences of not conforming to the appearance standards set for women, or we’re weary of the consequences we’ve already suffered—and that context, those consequences, have inevitable effects on our decisions. Deciding to collude may be necessary, but it is not feminist; resistance is the ultimate feminist choice.


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Virtue of Feeling and the Feeling of Virtue, by Elizabeth V. Spelman


PDF here.


Virtue of Feeling and the Feeling of Virtue, by Elizabeth V. Spelman

Published in Feminist Ethics, edited by Claudia Card. 1991, University of Kansas Press


The mother who taught me what I know of tenderness and love and compassion taught me also the bleak rituals of keeping Negroes in their place. -Lillian Smith 1

We cannot be said to have taken women seriously until we explore how women have treated each other. But that means, too, how we have mistreated each other. The history of women, including the history of feminism and feminists, is hardly free of some women doing violence to others, of some women miserably failing other women in need.

Most feminists would insist that the history of women cannot be well told unless its tellers are not embarrassed to investigate and describe women’s emotional lives: our joys, our griefs, our hopes, our fears, our loves, our hates. But such insistence on the importance of feeling amounts simply to a ringing, one-sided celebration of women’s virtues- in having emotions and recounting them-unless we are willing, as Lillian Smith was, to look at the expression of emotions among women that reveal the less glorious side of our lives together.

As is well documented, nineteenth-century white, middle-class suffragists were ready and willing to use racist arguments in the name advancing what they called “women’s interests.”2 Some white women routinely beat black women who were their slaves.3 Nazi women gave their all in the effort to eliminate the Jewish population of Europe-which included, of course, Jewish women.4 At an international conference on women’s history not long ago in Amsterdam, the organizers were asked why what in the conference brochure was


referred to as “women’s history” still really amounted to “white women’s history.” One of the white women responded: “We have enough of a burden trying to get a feminist viewpoint across, why do we have to take on this extra burden?”5 At a recent feminist gathering in Minnesota, an able-bodied woman expressed her deep disappointment at the complaints by women in wheelchairs that all the papers presumed that women are able-bodied: in effect she said, “Here we finally have some time and space to talk about just ‘us,’ and you insist that we talk about something else.” Can we be confident that women who demand the strictest scrutiny of the conditions under which they work and of the fairness of their salaries show the same concern for the working conditions of the women who take care of their children or clean their condos?

I do not wish to suggest here that white, middle-class, able-bodied, heterosexual Christian women have a monopoly on the mistreatment of other women. And by using these examples rather than others, I run the risk of making the sins of some women more important than those of others and thereby simply reasserting the privileged position of certain women in Western feminism. But it is startling that something as basic as some women’s inhumanity to other women has not been a central concern for the variety of inquiries included under the rubric “feminist ethics.” We give lots of attention to men’s oppression of women but far too few sustained examinations of women’s oppression or exploitation of other women.” As Berenice Fisher put it, when commenting on the growing use of “guilt” at feminist conferences: “Although we frequently employed the language of “guilt,” virtually no one paid attention to guilt as a moral issue, that is, to the realities of wrongdoing and the responsibilities and consequences entailed by it.”7 I want to offer a few reasons in brief for this virtual silence and then suggest a way we might explore the moral dimensions of women’s treatment and mis-treatment of one another as at least a necessary part of whatever we include under the rubric “feminist ethics.”

Why has the question of women’s treatment of each other not been a burning issue for much of feminism? First of all, one of the bad raps about themselves that many women have had to battle is the image that they are catty and callous toward each other, really interested


Only in men and their money or their prestige or their bodies or in some cases all of those. So perhaps it has seemed hard to make a publicly understandable feminist case about the oppression of women without simultaneously remaining mute on the topic of some women’s oppression of or plain meanness toward other women. According to this way of thinking, it is, to begin with, too difficult psychologically to talk about oneself or other women as both victim and victimizer. For example, perhaps it is not easy to feel sympathy for the abused wives of white slave-owners and at the same time be critical of some of their actions toward their female (and male) slaves. Moreover, under such circumstances it is awfully inviting to lay the blame for our own or others’ shortcomings at the feet of those who have victimized us or them. But however we might explain the reluctance or caution about discussing women’s bad treatment of other women, taking those groups of women seriously requires that we do so.

There aren’t only psychological motives for shying away from examining women’s mistreatment of one another. Many of the tools of feminist thinking work against the possibility of our taking to be of

much theoretical or practical concern the absence of care or the presence of hostility, hatred, and contempt among women.

First of all, many of us feminists have done little to shake a habit we share with many of our fellow citizens: talking loosely about “men and women” as if these men and women had no racial, class, or cultural identity; talking about “women and blacks” or “women and minorities” as if there were no black women or no women in the groups called “minorities”; comparing relations between “men and “women” to those between “whites and blacks” or “rich and poor” or “colonizer and colonized,” which precludes us from talking about differences among women-between white and black, or Anglo and Latina, or rich and poor, or colonizer and colonized. In addition, much feminist theory and history is filled with incessant comparisons between “women” on the one hand and “blacks,” the “poor,” “Jews,” and so on, on the other. Think for example of talk about “women” being treated like “slaves.” Whenever we talk that way we are not only making clear that the “women” we’re referring to aren’t themselves slaves; we’re making it impossible to talk about how the women who weren’t slaves treated those who were.

If we aren’t encouraged to talk about differences among women,


indeed prohibited from doing so by the very terms we use or the allegedly crucial comparisons we make, then it becomes very hard, or apparently only peripheral to our central concerns, to talk about how women treat each other. But that, it seems to me, is what feminist ethics ought to be about, whatever else it might be about: how women treat each other. For again we must ask whether we can be said to have taken women seriously if we have not explored how women have treated each other.

Moreover the effort by some feminists to delineate an “ethics of care” 8 as well as the struggle to get the role of emotions in human life taken seriously, paradoxically (but perhaps not so accidentally) has diverted our attention from the history of the lack of care of women for women and has almost precluded the possibility of our looking at anything but love and friendship in women’s emotional responses to one another. Some passages from Jane Austen’s Emma illustrate what I have in mind.

Emma our lively young protagonist, is deep in a debate with Mr. George Knightley about the behavior of Frank Churchill. Young Churchill did not grow up with his father and stepmother, who are part of Emma and Knightley’s social circle. A visit by Churchill to his father and stepmother has been long awaited: Emma and Knightley disagree in their assessment of Churchill’s delay in making the trip:

KNIGHTLEY: “I cannot believe that he has not the power of coming, if he made a point of it. It is too unlikely for me to believe without proof. … If Frank Churchill had wanted to see his father, he would have contrived it between September and January. A man at his age-what is he? three or four and twenty– cannot be without the means of doing as much as that. It is impossible.”

EMMA: “You are the worst judge in the world, Mr. Knightley, of the difficulties of dependence. You do not know what it is to have tempers to manage…. It is very unfair to judge of anybody’s conduct without an intimate knowledge of their situation. Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be.”

KNIGHTLEY: “There is one thing, Emma, which a man can always do, if he chooses, and that is, his duty…. It is Frank Churchill’s duty to pay this attention to his father.”

EMMA: “…you have not an idea of what is requisite in situations directly opposite to your own…. I can imagine that if you, as you are … were to be transported and placed all at once in Mr. Frank Churchill’s situation, you would be able to say and do just what you have been recommending for him; and it might have a very good effect … but then you would have no habits of early obedience and long observance to break through. To him who has, it might not be so easy to burst forth at once into perfect independence….oh, the difference of situation and habit! I wish you would try to understand what an amiable young man may be likely to feel in directly opposing [the other adults who had brought him up].”

KNIGHTLEY: “Your amiable young man is a very weak young man, if this be the first occasion of his carrying through a resolution to do right against the will of others. It ought to have been a habit with him, by this time, of following his duty, instead of consulting expediency.”

EMMA: “We are both prejudiced! you against, I for him; and we have no chance of agreeing till he is really here.”

KNIGHTLEY: “Prejudiced! I am not prejudiced.”

EMMA: “But I am very much, and without being at all ashamed of it. My love for [his father and stepmother] gives me a decided prejudice in his favour.”9

I think anyone interested in the work of Carol Gilligan and those influenced by her work would find the contrasts between Knightley’s and Emma’s judgments about Frank Churchill to be at least on the face of it illustrative of two conceptions of morality that seem to be quite distinct.10

Knightley’s concern for principled behavior, impartial judgment, and everyone’s getting their due seems to exemplify an “ethics of justice” (said to be more likely held by men than women). For Knightley, there are at least two principles that ought to be brought to bear: the duty Churchill has to his father and the importance of Knightley himself remaining unbiased in his judgment of Churchill. Whatever relationship Churchill has to his more immediate family, that can’t be as important as his duty to his own father; whatever the particular facts of the circumstances Churchill finds himself in, such


facts cannot be used by Churchill, or by anyone else, to mitigate the full weight of his duty.

Emma’s insistence on the contextual details of the situation and her concern for the importance of the many relationships involved (Churchill and his immediate family, Churchill and his father and stepmother, Emma and Churchill, Emma and Knightley) seem characteristic of an “ethics of care” (said to be more likely held by women than men). For Emma, Churchill’s formal “duty” here is irrelevant. And Emma’s relationship to both Churchill and his father cannot be erased by some formal obligation she might be said to have to remain “unprejudiced.” Knightley’s principled judgment of Churchill is not well grounded: He doesn’t know enough about what Churchill is capable of or about the crucial details of Churchill’s relationship to his immediate family.

I do not here wish to enter into the ongoing and very rich conversation about such apparently contrasting ethical orientations. 11 Instead, I feel obliged to point out what my readers may miss about Emma if they are interested in her only to the degree that her words and actions illustrate an “ethics of care” in contrast to an “ethics of justice.”

In the chapter immediately following the one in which we overhear the animated discussion between Emma and Knightley, Emma and her friend Harriet are out for a walk. Jane Austen invites us to eavesdrop again, this time on Emma’s private thoughts:

They were just approaching the house where lived Mrs. And Miss Bates…There was always sufficient reason for [calling upon them]; Mrs. And Miss Bates loved to be called on; and [Emma] knew she was considered by the very few who presumed ever to see imperfection in her, as rather negligent in that respect, and as not contributing what she ought to the stock of their scanty comforts. She had had many a hint from Mr. Knightley, and some from her own heart, as to her deficiency, but none were equal to counteract the persuasion of its being very disagreeable—a waste of time—tiresome women—and all the horror of being in danger of falling in with the second and third rate Highbury, who were calling on them for ever, and therefore she seldom went near them.


If we get thoroughly caught up in comparing Emma’s unapologetically biased, very particularized caring for Frank Churchill with Knightley’s rather stem, impersonal principled response, we may fail to ask a very important question: But for whom does Emma care? What kind of treatment does she give those she regards as her social and economic inferiors? The fact, if it is one, that some women in reflecting on their moral problems show care and a fine sense of complexity appreciative of context tells us nothing about who they think worthy of their care nor whose situation demands attention to details and whose does not.

Moreover, there are forms of care that are not only compatible with but in some contexts crucial to the maintenance of systematic inequalities among women. Judith Rollins describes in some detail the “maternalism” expressed by white female employers towards their black female domestic employees: The maternalism dynamic is based on the assumption of a superordinate-subordinate relationship. While maternalism may protect and nurture, it also degrades and insults. The”caring” that is expressed in maternalism might range from an adult-to-child to a human-to-pet kind of caring but, bydefinition (and by the evidence presented by my data), it is not human-to-equal-human caring. The female employer, with her motherliness and protectiveness and generosity, is expressing in a distinctly feminine way her lack of respect for the domestic as an autonomous, adult employee. While the female employer typically creates a more intimate relationship with a domestic than her male counterpart does, this should not be interpreted as meaning she values the human worth of the domestic any more highly than does the more impersonal male employer.”

I have said in effect that by my lights one of the most fruitful understandings of “feminist ethics” is the investigation of how women treat each other-how well or badly we do in relation to one another. I have also said that feminist interest in exploring an “ethics of care” and in emphasizing the importance of emotions in our lives paradoxically has encouraged us to ignore the absence of care by women for other women, to disregard the presence of “negative”


emotional reactions by women to other women. I now want to make my remarks much more specific by focusing on the ways in which our emotions reveal the moral dimensions of our relationships-in particular, how our emotions reveal how seriously we take the concerns of others, what we take to be our responsibility for others’ plight, and the extent to which we regard others as even having points of view we need to take seriously.

Our emotions, or at least some of them, can be highly revelatory of whom and what we care or don’t care about. They provide powerful clues to the ways in which we take ourselves to be implicated in the lives of others and they in ours. As this example from Aristotle reveals, many of our emotions locate us in moral relation to one another: One who doesn’t get angry when the occasion calls for it “is thought not to feel things nor to be pained by them, and since he does not get angry, he is thought unlikely to defend himself; and to endure being insulted, and put up with insult to one’s friends, is slavish.” Aristotle is insisting that if under certain conditions we don’t feel anger, we may have failed to show proper respect for ourselves or proper concern for our friends.

Here is another example of what I have in mind when speaking of our emotions as revelatory of ways in which we take ourselves to be implicated in the lives of others and they in ours. At my own educational institution and many others, there have been blatant displays of racism-for example, messages left by cowards in protective anonymity-telling black, Latina, and Chinese-American students in no uncertain terms that they don’t belong at Smith College and that if they don’t like the way they’re treated, they should “go home.” (These represent only the obvious tip of an iceberg that is melting with what the Supreme Court in a related context called “all deliberate speed.”) I do not wish to go into details of how my institution or yours actually has responded to what, in a revealing phrase, typically are called “incidents” (a term that suggests, perhaps insists, that such events are infrequent and anomalous). But by way of beginning to show what our emotions tell us about our moral relations to each other and the contours and quality of our care for one another, I’d like to run through some possible responses.


1. Ivylawn College regrets the occurrence of racist incidents on its campus.

2. Ivylawn College is embarrassed by the occurrence of racist incidents on its campus.

3· Ivylawn College feels guilty about the occurrence of racist incidents on its campus.

4· Ivylawn College feels shame for the occurrence of racist incidents on its campus.15

Surely you already notice some significant difference-yet to be explored in detail-between regret, embarrassment, guilt, and shame.

Think also of the difference between

5· Ivylawn College regrets the occurrence of racist incidents on its campus.

6. Ivylawn College regrets the harm done to those hurt by the recent events on its campus.

In the first set of contrasts reminds us that different emotions imply different notions of responsibility and depth of concern, the second reminds us that the same emotion can have different objects-what the emotions are about. In going into all these differences in more detail, I turn to Gabriele Taylor’s Pride, Shame, and Guilt: Emotions of Self-Assessment. 16

Gabriele Taylor is one of a number of contemporary philosophers who hold or operate on the basis of what has been dubbed the “cognitive theory” of the emotions. Though cognitivists differ among each other on certain details, they share the conviction that emotions cannot simply be feelings, like churnings in our stomachs, flutterings of our hearts, chokings in our throats. Though such feelings may accompany my regretting having hurt you or my sense of shame in having hurt you, the difference between my regret and my shame cannot be accounted for by reference to such feelings; nor can the difference between my regret in having hurt you and my regret in having hurt my father. There is a kind of logic to our emotions that has nothing to do with whatever dumb feelings may accompany them (in many cases there don’t even seem to be such feelings anyway).

It is the central tenet of what is currently known as the “cognitive


theory” of emotions that our emotions are not a clue to or sign of poppings and firings and other gyrations-mental or physical-within us but rather indicate how we see the world. For emotions typically have identificatory cognitive states. For example, what identifies my emotion as anger is among other things a belief that some unjust harm has been done; what makes my emotion a matter of fear is among other things my belief that danger is imminent. I shall not go into more detail about the cognitive theory here-you shall see more of it in reflective practice below-but it is perhaps worth making explicit that we could not regard our emotions as very interesting facts about us-in particular, as deeply connected to ourselves as moral agents-if emotions were simply events, things happening in us like headaches or bleeding gums.17

That said, let us return to our earlier examples of regret, embarrassment, guilt, and shame. As Gabriele Taylor reminds us, if I regret that something happened, then I must regard what happened as in some sense undesirable. But I need not regard what happened as anything morally troubling-for example, I may now regret not taking a few more days of vacation. Or I can feel regret for something for which I was in no way responsible–Gabriele Taylor’s example is the passing of summer.18 Moreover, even though regretting that something happened means I must take it to be in some sense undesirable, it is still possible for me to think that nevertheless all things considered it is not something I think should not have happened. And it is perfectly possible for me to regret it without being at all inclined to take any actions in consequence. This is why we can perfectly sincerely send our regrets-indeed, even our “deepest regrets”—that a party occurs on a night we’re out of town. It might have been fun to go to the party, and I might be a bit apprehensive about hurting the feelings of or disappointing a good friend, but it is more important to do what takes me out of town and I don’t want my friend to change the date of the party. In all these ways, Gabriele Taylor points out; regret is quite different from remorse. You can’t feel remorse about: something for which you do not believe yourself responsible, or about something that doesn’t appear to you to be morally wrong, or about something you don’t wish to undo or attend to in some way.

So if Ivylawn College or any other institution expresses regret that a “racist incident” happened on its campus, all it is doing so far is acknowledging that such an event took place and allowing that it was


in some unspecified sense undesirable. But it is not in any way assuming responsibility for the “incident” or indicating that there is anything morally troubling about it (as opposed to its just being undesirable for its nuisance value in terms of college publicity); nor is it indicating that any action is in consequence required. Note, by the way, that precisely because regret has these features, there are certain built-in limitations on the description of what is regretted: Though it is perfectly possible to “regret” something described as a “racist incident,” I’m sure no institution would publicly say that it “regretted” the murder of one student by another.

Having sketched out what the presence of regret means, we can keep on the back burner what the absence of it means-that is, not acknowledging that anything of note happened at all, let alone that it was in some way undesirable.

I shall then, without regret, move on to embarrassment. My guess is that most institutions are embarrassed by the occurrence of racism on their campuses, but they would not describe themselves in just that way. The reasons for this will become clear as we look at the logic of embarrassment (here again with Gabriele Taylor’s help). Unlike regret, embarrassment necessarily involves a sense that one has been exposed and in consequence is subject to an adverse judgment of oneself in some respect. Suppose a man is embarrassed about beating his wife. His being embarrassed is fully compatible with his finding nothing wrong in the fact that he beats his wife. He judges himself adversely not because he thinks he has done something Wrong but because he does not yet know how to respond to the audience to whom he is or imagines himself exposed. If all he feels is embarrassed, he doesn’t need to do any basic repair work on himself, only figure out a way to deal with the audience-perhaps tell them it is none of their business, or insist that women need to be pushed around, or laugh it off. Perhaps he’ll express regret that it is necessary to beat his wife in order to keep her in her place (so the expression of regret might cancel embarrassment). His concern is not about what he is doing to his wife but about the kind of impression he is making on others.

What then does it mean if Ivylawn College is embarrassed by the racist incidents on its campus-and why might it or any other institution be unlikely to publicly describe itself in this way? If an institution is embarrassed by the occurrence of racist remarks and


other behavior, then what it finds troubling is not the behavior itself but the exposure of the behavior. If there is anything wrong with the institution, it is that it does not know how to prevent adverse publicity or deal well with it once public notice is taken. When an institution is embarrassed, and only embarrassed, it puts its public relations department to work; it works not on changing the institution but on changing the perception of the institution. Admitting to embarrassment is usually not a good way of dealing with embarrassment, for it simply brings attention to the situation that the embarrassed party does not want others to see.

You can feel embarrassed without thinking that you have done anything wrong or anything you shouldn’t do but in general 19 you can’t feel guilty without believing that you have failed to live up to some kind of standard or that you have done something that is forbidden according to an accepted authority (including your conscience). (Of course you can be guilty without feeling guilty, but here we are talking only about feeling guilty). There is something I have done or failed to do. According to Gabriele Taylor, in feeling guilt I certainly am judging myself adversely, but my situation is not hopeless-I am not less of a person than I thought I was. I simply did something I think I shouldn’t have done or failed to do something I think I ought to have done. There is a blot on my record-but then blots only are blots against the background of an otherwise still morally intact person. That is connected to the fact that there are things I can do to repair the damage I’ve done. Indeed, the action I take is geared to restoring the blot-free picture of myself-so, Gabriele Taylor insists, if I feel guilty about harming someone else, the thought is not so much that “I have harmed her” but rather “I have harmed her” 20 and hence disfigured myself to some extent. In response, I may want to do something about the harm I did to her but-to the extent that my concern is more about myself than about her-as a means of restoring my status in my own eyes.

Gabriele Taylor’s analysis, then, implies that the man who beats his wife and feels guilty about it, unlike the man who merely feels embarrassed, does believe that he has done something he ought not to do, and feeling this way he is inclined to take action to alleviate the feeling of guilt. But his concern is not directly for his wife but for himself. If her pain is the occasion for his thinking he has violated something he stands for, his ceasing to beat her or his otherwise atoning for what he has done is the means to his self-rehabilitation.


Could Ivylawn College feel guilty about the racism on its campus? Of course this sounds odd-in a way that ascribing regret to the institution does not. This seems related to the fact that feeling guilty involves a sense of direct responsibility for the deed, so that to ascribe feelings of guilt to an institution really amounts to ascribing it to particular individuals within the institution. Institutions can have regret precisely because regrets don’t entail responsibility and where there is responsibility we look for particular agents. The president of Ivylawn; for example, could talk about the college’s having regrets without implying that she herself has them, but it would take a lot of work for her to say that the college feels guilty about something without giving the impression that she was talking about herself or other highly placed officials. It certainly is possible that there might be reports of various officials feeling “very bad” about what went on-not simply embarrassed, much more than regretful. Insofar as this means something like “feeling guilty,” then if Gabriele Taylor is right such officials believe that while nothing is basically wrong with the institution or with them, they or the institution bear responsibility for the racist events. The emphasis in any action will be on redeeming the good name of the institution and attending to the hurt done the injured parties as the means to redeeming the good name of the institution.

Let us go on to shame. Suppose the man who beats his wife feels shame for doing so. How is that different from his feeling embarrassed or guilty? According to Gabriele Taylor, 21 the identificatory belief in shame is that I am not the person I thought I was or hoped I might be. It is not simply, as in embarrassment, that I wish I hadn’t been seen doing something [even though I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong] or, as in guilt, simply that I have failed to live up to a standard I adhere to. If I thought the latter, I could still entertain the possibility that I can set the record straight, for in such a case what troubles me about what I’ve done is quite local: I’ve done something I don’t approve of, but I’m not someone I don’t approve of. As Gabriele Taylor puts it: “When feeling guilty … the view I take of myself is entirely different from the view I take of myself when feeling shame: in the latter case I see myself as being all of a piece, what I have just done, I now see, fits only too well what I really am. But when feeling guilty I think of myself as having brought about a forbidden state of affairs and thereby in this respect disfigured a self which otherwise remains the same.”22 So if Mr. Husband feels shame about beating his wife, he must think that his


action is revelatory of the person he in fact is even though he had thought or hoped that he was someone else, someone better than he turns out to be.

And thus if Ivylawn College should feel shame about the racism existing on its campus 23 it would indicate that the college or the people identified as its representatives thought it wasn’t the institution it hoped it was. The racism on the campus is revelatory of what the institution really is and not simply a sign that the college can’t always live up to what it says it stands for.

Perhaps that is why an institution is unlikely to feel or admit to shame: It maybe unable to countenance the possibility that at root it is not what it purports, even to itself, to be.

So, then, our emotions, or at least some of them, can be highly revelatory of who and what we care or don’t care about. They provide powerful clues to the ways in which we take ourselves to be implicated in the lives of others and they in ours. And their absence provides such clues as much as their presence does. For example, the conference organizers referred to at the beginning of this chapter who were asked why no women of color were included in a gathering on “women’s history” seemed to have no regrets about their decision, let alone embarrassment, guilt, or shame. From their vantage point, there was nothing undesirable about the focus of the conference, and though not in any way disclaiming responsibility for that focus, they made no room for the implication that they had done anything wrong or that the conference or they weren’t what they understood it or themselves to be. Indeed, from the remarks quoted earlier, it appears that they began to argue that the complaints and demands of the women of color were groundless: The conference was about “women,” not about race. And if anything, there is a strong note of annoyance in the remarks of the woman who insisted that talking about race was an “extra burden” for feminism and that the women of color were both missing the point and adding to the load already carried by the conveners.

Let us suppose that as a convener I come to feel regret as a result of listening to the comments of the women of color. What would that show about what I care about and how I take myself to be implicated in the lives of others and others in mine? Well, that depends of course


on what I regret. Do I regret having hurt the women of color? Having been made uncomfortable myself? That my theory turns out not to be adequate? In this connection Maria Lugones recently noted that in her experience many feminists, when asked to explain how their accounts of “women’s experiences” apply to women of color, express considerable concern about the inadequacy of their theories-but the focus of concern, Maria Lugones reluctantly concludes, is not how they have hurt women of color but rather that they need to tidy up their theories. 24

It is not news that white feminist conferences and conversations have been peppered, sometimes even smothered, with expressions of guilt-sometimes in reaction to the very lack of regret (or perhaps some other emotion) for the exclusionary practices and policies I have described. 25 Indeed, a great deal has been made of white women’s feelings of guilt in the face of charges by black women, Latinas, Japanese-American women, and others that our theories have been heavily tilted in the direction and to the exclusive benefit of white, middle-class women. Reflection on Gabriele Taylor’s work leads me to make three comments about the discussions about this guilt. First, if Gabriele Taylor is right about the point of action taken to get rid of the feeling of guilt, then guilt is not an emotion that makes us attend well to the situation of those whose treatment at our hands we feel guilty about. We’re too anxious trying to keep our moral slate clean. Second, I think it worth asking whether in any given case people are feeling guilt or simply embarrassment. If the latter, then there is no sense that one has failed in any way to act in accordance with what one stands for. There are no amends to make, only appearances to create.

Third, I think that there is a very neat fit between feeling guilty and a particular way of conceiving the relation between one’s gender and one’s racial identity. This friendly cohabitation throws some very interesting light on the concept of “white guilt.” According to Gabriele Taylor, in feeling guilt rather than shame, it is possible for me to think of a part of myself as not living up to what the rest of me stands for. Insofar as I see myself as a “doer of a wicked deed,” I see the hint of an alien self; in order to make sure such a self does not emerge, I need to do whatever it takes to “purge” myself of this alien self. 26 If I have a metaphysical position according to which my gender identity is thoroughly distinct from my racial identity (what I elsewhere call a form


of “Tootsie Roll metaphysics”)27 I very handily can rely on a neat distinction between myself as woman and myself as white person. The woman part of me is perfectly okay; it’s being white that is the source of my wrong doing. I assert my privilege over women of color not insofar as I am a woman but insofar as I am white. Note then that unless I am prepared to think of my womanness and my whiteness as folded inextricably into the person I am, I can think of myself and my responsibility for my acts in the following way: What really counts about me is that I am a woman, and my deeds do not show that I am not any less of a woman than I thought I was; it’s only insofar as I am white which isn’t nearly as important a part of me, that I have failed other women. It’s not the woman in me that failed the woman in you; it’s the white in me that failed (for example) the black no you. I, woman, feel nothing in particular; but I, white person, do feel guilt. If feminism focuses on the “woman” part of me and the “woman” part of you, conceived of as thoroughly distinct from my white part and your black part, feminism doesn’t have to pay attention to our relations as white and black. We never have to confront each other woman to woman, then, only white to black or Anglo to Latina.

Feminist ethics, I have been insisting, must at least address the history of woman’s inhumanity to woman. This part of the history of women is shameful. However, I am not proposing a daily regimen of shame-inducing exercises. Nor do I think that the deep self-doubt that is part of shame can serve as the immediate ground of a vibrant feminist politics, a politics that expresses and promotes real care and concern for all women’s lives. But I do not see how women who enjoy privileged status over other women (whether it be based on race, class, religion, age, sexual orientation, or physical mobility) can come to think it desirable to lose that privilege (by force or consent) unless they see it not only as producing harm to other women but also as being deeply disfiguring to themselves. It is not simply, as it would be in the case of guilt, that the point of ceasing to harm others is to remove a disquieting blot from one’s picture of oneself. The deeper privilege goes, the less self-conscious people are of the extent to which their being who they are, in their own eyes as well as in the eyes of others, is dependent upon the exploitation or degradation or disadvantage of others. Seeing myself as deeply disfigured by privilege


and desiring to do something about it may be impossible without my feeling shame. The degree to which I am moved to undermine systems of privilege is closely tied to the degree to which I feel shame at the sort of person such privilege makes me or allows me to be.

In sum, then, I have been urging these considerations to keep those of us who are feminist from hastening to quickly to feel virtuous about attending to the virtues of feeling, the marvel of care. Whatever we mean by “feminist ethics,” it ought not to make it difficult for us to examine and evaluate how women treat or mistreat each other. However, there are elements in feminism that make such examination difficult. For example, there is a tendency to focus on the contrast between an “ethics of care” and ethical systems that seem not to take care seriously. So far the contrast tells us nothing about who cares or does not care for whom. Moreover, since it has been claimed that an ethics of care is associated strongly though not exclusively with the way “women” think and act in the moral domain, it makes it very hard even to suggest that some women have failed to care for others, let alone that they have done violence to others. There is also a reliance on an understanding of care that obscures the fact that some forms of care are not only compatible with but crucial to the maintenance of systematic inequalities among women. In this connection, Judith Rollins’s book about relations between white female employers and their black domestic employees is very insightful.28 Among other things, Judith Rollins describes ways in which the employers insist on the privilege of “caring” for their employees in ‘ways that reflect and sustain their power over them. Finally, there is a rampant terminology of contrasts between “women” on the one hand and “slaves” or “minorities” or “the poor” or “Jews” or whatever on the other. Such contrasts land for that matter similarities) obscure differences between free women and slave women, gentile women and Jewish women and so on, making it hard to talk about how one group of women treated others. This is reinforced by theories within feminism according to which women are the same as women and are oppressed the same as women and so if white women mistreat, say, black women, it is seen as how whites treat blacks, not how some women treat other women.

I have proposed one way of looking at some of the moral dimen-


sions of women’s treatment of one another. Some emotions are called “moral emotions” because having them involves or can involve moral assessment of oneself and others. In Gabriele Taylor’s words, a moral emotion “requires a sense of value on the part of the agent, an awareness, more or less developed, of moral distinctions, of what is right or wrong, honorable or disgraceful.” 29 Our having such emotions toward others can reveal whether, how, and to what extent we have treated them or think we have treated them well or poorly-so does our not having them. Moreover, our political and metaphysical theories give shape and structure to our emotional lives. For example, our assumptions about what feminism is about will influence our beliefs about what is appropriate and inappropriate to bring up at feminist conferences, which will in turn influence the possibility of our feeling anger, regret, remorse, embarrassment, guilt, or shame. (As Arnold Isenberg says: “When you lack what you do not want, there is no shame.”30) And as I stated earlier, assumptions about the relation between our gender identity and other aspects of our identity such as our race, class, and religion can influence how we describe our responsibility for the way we treat other women.


1. Lillian Smith, Killers of the Dream (New York: Norton, 1949, 1961), 27.

2. See for example, Eleanor Flexner, Century Of Struggle (New York: Atheneum, 1972), especially chap. 13; Ellen Carol DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 19781; Angela Davis, Women, Race, and Class (New York: Random, 19811;Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (New York: Morrow, 1984).

3. See, for example, Linda Brent, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, ed, L. Maria Child (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 19731; Solomon Northrop, Narrative Of Solomon Northrop, Twelve Years a Slave (Auburn, N.Y.: Derby and Miller, 18531, quoted in Gerda Lerner, ed., Black Women in America (New York: Vintage, 1972), 51.

4. See, for example, Claudia Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, the Family, and Nazi Politics (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987).

5. off our backs (feminist newspaper], July 1986, 3.

6. See notes 1-5 above, also, for example, bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (Boston: South End Press, 19841, Audre Lorde, Sister/Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Trumansburg, N.Y.: Crossing Press, 1984), Helen Longino and Valerie Miner, eds., Competition: A Taboo? (New York: Feminist Press, 1987), Elly Bulkin, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Barbara Smith, Yours in Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives on Anti-Semitism and Racism, (Ithaca, N.Y.: Firebrand Books, 19841. Simone de Beauvoir, by the way, had quite a lot to say about women with race and class privilege undermining or failing to support other women in order to maintain their race and class privilege, but that part of her work is rarely highlighted-even by herself (see Spelman, Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988), chap. 31.

7. Berenice Fisher, “Guilt and Shame in the Women’s Movement: The Radical Ideal of Action and Its Meaning for Feminist Intellectuals,” Feminist Studies 10, no. 2 (Summer 1984): 186.

8. See Carol Gilligan, In a Different voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982); Eva Feder Kittay and Diana T. Meyers, eds., Women and Moral Theory (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1987).

9. Jane Austen, Emma (New York: Bantam, 1981, first edition, 1816), 133-139.

10.These are not incompatible conceptions, according to Gilligan and others. See Eva Kittay and Diana Meyers, eds., Women and Moral Theory.

11. See, for example, ibid., Lawrence A. Blum, “Gilligan and Kohlberg: Implications for Moral Theory,” Ethics 98 (April 19881: 472-491.

12. Jane Austen, Emma, 139-140.

13. Judith Rollins, Between Women: Domestics and Their Employers (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1985), 186.

14. Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, tr. Sir David Ross (London: Oxford University Press, 1925), 97.

15.Two problems emerge here, even in the presentation of 1-4: One is

what it means for institutions, as opposed to individuals, to have such reactions, and the other is that as long as we focus on institutions, we don’t have to think about what our own reactions are. But we’ll get to these below.

16. Gabriele Taylor, Pride, Shame, and Guilt: Emotions Df Self-Assessment (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985).

17. See Elizabeth V. Spelman, “Anger and Insubordination,” in Women, Knowledge, and Reality, ed. Ann Garry and Marilyn Pearsall (Winchester, Mass.: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 263-273.

18. Although regretting that something happened differs in some important ways from regretting having done something-since the latter, not the former, entails responsibility for having done the thing in question-I can fully regret that something happened without in any way implicating myself in having brought it about.

19. In “Cognitive Emotions?” Chesire Calhoun discusses the repair work necessary for certain versions of the cognitive theory in light of the fact that sometimes “one’s doxic life and one’s emotional life part company” (in What is an Emotion? Classic Readings in Philosophical Psychology, ed. Chesire Calhoun and Robert C. Solomon [New York: Oxford University Press, 1984], 333).

20. Gabriele Taylor, Pride, Shame, and Guilt, 92.

21. Ibid., 68.

22. Ibid., 92. fib

23. Note how odd it would be to refer to that about which one feels shame as merely an “incident.”

24. See chapter 2 of this volume.

25. It may seem as if this is at odds with my claim at the beginning of the chapter that the history of hostile or uncaring relationships among women has not gotten the sustained attention it deserves. But passing, even frequent, expressions of regret, embarrassment, guilt, or shame. Are hardly the same as a thorough examination of the meanings of those emotions in the history of the

social and political relationships among women.

26. Gabriele Taylor, Pride, Shame, and Guilt, 134, 13S.

27. See Elizabeth Spelman, Inessential Woman, passim.

28. Judith Rollins, Between Women, passim.

29 Gabriele Taylor, Pride, Shame, and Guilt, 107.

30: Arnold Isenberg, “Natural Shame and Natural Pride, in Explaining Emotions, ed. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty (Berkeley: University of Press, 1981), 370.


Filed under Uncategorized

Outercourse: Introduction, by Mary Daly

“It was Mary’s wish that if women or people want to memorialize her in any way they should stay in their own locality and have a get-together where they read or discuss her work,” said Linda Barufaldi of San Diego, one of several former graduate students of Dr. Daly’s who cared for her as her health declined.

In memory of her greatness.





The Voyage of Outercourse is Metapatriarchal Time/Space Travel, which takes the shape of quadruple Spiraling. Its parts (Spirals) describe clusters of Moments, each involving/requiring gigantic qualitative leaps into Other dimensions of the Background.

As I Re-member my own intellectual voyage as a Radical Feminist Philosopher, I am intensely aware of the struggle to stay on my True Course, despite undermining by demons of distraction that have seemed always to be attempting to pull me off course. These I eventually Dis-covered and Named as agents and institutions of patriarchy, whose intent was to keep me-and indeed all living be-ing-within the stranglehold of the foreground,* that is, fatherland. My True Course was and is Outercourse-moving beyond the imprisoning mental, physical, emotional, spiritual walls of patriarchy, the State of Possession. Insofar as I am focused on Outercoursing, naturally I am surrounded and aided by the benevolent forces of the Background. t

Since this has been my own experience of Outercourse, I have thought it Crone-logical that the philosophical/theoretical dimensions of this work be woven together with Recollections from an imaginary-though factually accurate-volume, which I have entitled Logbookofa Radical Feminist Philosopher. I believe that these Recollections shed much light on the major theoretical subjects under consideration, since they contain Revoltingly Intellectual Bio-graphic information that is deeply intertwined with the philosophical quest/questions of this book. **


*foreground is defined as as “male-centered and monodimensional arena where fabrication, objectification and alienation take place; zone of fixed feelings, perceptions, the elementary world: FLATLAND” (Wickedary). For an explanation of the of the moon symbols used throughout this book, see the Prefatory Notes.

t Background as used here means “the Realm of Wild Reality; the Homeland of women’s Selves and of all other Others; the Time/Space where auras of plants, planets, stars, animals, and all Other animate beings connect” (Wickedary).

**For a brief history of the genesis of this intertwining, see Chapter Sixteen. _________________________________________________

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The noun course is multileveled in meaning. Among the definitions in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English. Languages** is “the act or action of moviog in a particular path from point to point (the planets in their courses).” An “obsolete” meaning is “RUN, GALLOP: It has as an “archaic” definition “a charge by opposing knights.” It also means “a life regarded as a race: LIFE HISTORY, CAREER.” Course means “a progressing or proceeding along a straight line without change of direction (the ship made many courses sailing through the islands).” A final relevant definition is “the track or way taken by a ship or the direction of flight of an airplane: the way projected and assigned usu. measured as a clockwise angle from north.”

The meaning of course in Outercourse envelops and transforms all of these dimensions. Thus my Voyage as a Radical Feminist Philosopher has involved multidimensional courses, It moves in particular paths-not “from point to point,” but from Moment to Moment, and, beyond that, from Spiral Galaxy to Spiral Galaxy. It often feels like running, galloping (like a Nag or a Night Mare). It involves a warrior aspect-not as “a charge by opposing knights” but as an A-mazing Amazonian battle against the necrophiliac nothing-lovers who manufacture, spread, and control the dead zone-the foreground. It is life regarded as a Race, that is, participation in the Wild onward rushing movement of all Lusty Life.

The course of Outercourse is far from a “straight line” in the usual sense; it is not “linear,” but Spiraling. Its Moments are usually unpredictable. However, there is implied in Outercourse a Sense of Direction. Thus, despite seeming deviations and sidetracks and peripheral excursions, seeming inconsistencies and changes of direction, there is a kind of Metastraight Line. That is, in a wide view, there is a Fierce Focus to this Course. Implied in Outercourse is a Ferocious Refusal to be sidetracked from the Final Cause of the Voyager, that is, her indwelling, always unfolding goal or purpose, perceived as Good and attracting her to Act, to Realize her own participation in Be-ing.

While Webster’s describes course as the way “usually measured as a clockwise angle from north” the Course of the Voyage of Radical Feminist Philosophy moves Counterclockwise, that is, in a direction contrary to the clocks and watches of father time. It is the Time Travel of those who are learning to become Counterclock-Wise, that is, knowing how to Live, Move, Act in Fairy Tiroe/Tidal Tiroe. It is the Direction of Sibyls and Crones who persist in asking Counterclock Whys, Questions which whirl the Ques-


*I am indebted to Nancy Kelly for the word Outercourse (Conversation, Fall 1987).

**Hereafter, this dictionary is referred to simply as Websters.


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tioners beyond the boundaries of clockocracy and into the flow of Tidal Time. Those moving in this Direction Sense that we are on our True Course. The path/paths of our True Course, as seen from some perspectives, could be called an Innercourse, since it involves delving deeply into the process of communication with the Self and with Others-a process which requires deep E-motion, deep Re-membering, deep Understanding. Since it involves Amazonian Acts of Courageous Battling, it could also be called Countercourse. However, its primary/primal configuration is accurately Named Outercourse, for this is a Voyage of Spiraling Paths, Moving Out from the State of Bondage. It is a continual expansion of thinking, imagining, acting, be-ing. Outercoursing is Spiraling which has its Source in Background experience-in intuitive knowledge that it is by Moving on that Voyagers Dis-cover the Answers as well as the Questions. As Linda Barufaldi observed, it is not by wallowing in the “issues” and pseudoproblems manufactured by therapy and other re-sources that we progress, but rather we “bump into” solutions by moving on in our own lives, following the Final Cause.

As I explain in this book, the ship/vessel/craft of my own Voyage as a Radical Feminist Philosopher and Theologian has been my Craft-as theoretician, writer, teacher. The practice of this Craft is Voyaging, which is a form of Witchcraft. My Craft is a kind of Mediumship, coursing between/ among worlds.

This Voyaging is becoming, and it is the Seeking/Seeing of Seers. Philosophy,etymologically speaking, is not wisdom, but love of wisdom. Wisdom itself is not a thing to be possessed, but a process/Voyage. Radical Feminist Philosophy, then, is a Questing/Questioning that never stops and never is satisfied with the attainment of dead “bodies of knowledge.” It is participation ever Unfolding Be-ing.


I was looking at the flower bed by the front door; “That is the whole,” I said. I was looking at a plant with a spread of leaves; and it seemed suddenly plain that the flower itself was a part of the earth; that a ring enclosed what was the flower; and that was the real flower; part earth; part flower. It was a thought I as being likely to be very useful to me later.

-Virginia Woolf4

The word moment is derived from the Latin momentum, meaning “movement, motion, moment, influence.” It is believed to be rooted in the verb movere, meaning “to move” (Webster’s.). Virginia Woolf suggests that “moments of being” are experiences of seeing beyond the “cotton wool of

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everyday life” and understanding context. As she said of the flower in the flower bed: ”That is the whole.”

The Spiraling Voyage of Outercourse is comprised of Metapolitical Moments, which make up Spiral Galaxies. These are Moments/Movements of participation in Be-ing which carry Voyagers beyond foreground limitations. They are Acts of Hope, Faith, and Biophilic Bounding. They are Acts of Qualitative Leaping.

Even our seemingly “little” Moments are like leaps into/in a Great Moment. Thus they partake in the truly Momentous. When women Realize the Momentous potential of our “ordinary” Moments we find ourSelves Spiraling. Such experiences are not “merely momentary:’ They carry us into an Other kind of Duration/Time.

The Spiraling Moments of Outercourse, then, are utterly unlike mere instants. Instant means “an infinitesimal space of time … ” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary).* The definitions of infinitesimal are enlightening. It is said to mean “taking on values arbitrarily close to zero … immeasurably or incalculably small.” The adjective instant gives the show away. Thus we have “premixed or precooked for easy final preparation (instant mashed potatoes)” (Webster’s Collegiate).

Instants, then, are units of foreground time. They are incalculably small. They are mere points in time. They do not imply Motion, Movement, Momentousness, Momentum. They are elementary, foreground imitations of Moments. They do not open into the Background. They do not imply Qualitative Leaping. They do not participate in Spiraling Movement and therefore do not imply ever deepening experiences of Future, Past, and Present which overlap and which are in dialogue with each other. Like “instant coffee” and “instant success” instants resemble the “real thing” only to those whose senses have been dulled by imprisonment in the dim cells of the foreground.

In contrast to mere instants, Moments are incalculably large. They can be viewed as windows and doors through which we leap and race into the Background. They influence us; they are of great consequence, for they point us in the direction of Elemental Time/Tidal Time. Moving in Spiraling Paths, they hurl us on an Intergalactic Voyage. This leads us to the subject of the Intergalactic Movement of the Moments of Outercourse.


The Spiral Paths formed by Moments/Movements of participation in Be-ing constitute the four Spiral Galaxies of Outercourse. These Spiral Galaxies


*Hereafter, this dictionary is referred to simply as Webster’s Collegiate.


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are, like the galaxies of the universe, in perpetual motion.* Like stars, the Moments of Outercourse are born. They happen in the Twinkle of an Eye/I.’ They come into be-ing through Gynergetic Acts of women whose Focus and Force have their Source in the Background.

One Moment leads to an Other. This is because it has consequences in the world and thus Moves a woman to take the Leap to the next Moment. A comparison with the relations among stars in a galaxy is thought-provoking. An astronomer writes:

In a galaxy, the stars are separated by vast distances. But the stars do interact because of gravity. Stars feel each other’s gravitational fields…. In a galaxy, the force of gravity controls the interactions between stars.6

In a Galaxy of Outercourse the Moments are sometimes separated by vast distances. But the Moments do interact because of their subjective reality and connectedness in the consciousness of the Voyager and because of their interconnecting consequences in the world. The Focus of the Voyager directs the interactions among the Moments.

The accumulated Gynergy of Moments extends the curved arms of a Galaxy in Outercourse. At a certain point in this whirling progression, the accumulated Gynergy of Moments enables the Voyager to take a Qualitative Leap and thus begin a New Galaxy. Since the Focus and Momentum are from the same Source/Force, the New Galaxy Moves in harmony with the preceding one.

This book describes the Paths of four such Spiral Galaxies of Moments. Perhaps we should bear in mind that The American Heritage Dictionary describes a galaxy as “any of numerous large-scale aggregates of stars, gas, and dust . . . ” The Voyager of Outercourse has to confront a great deal of “gas and dust;’ not all of which is beautiful cosmic material. Much of the gas and dust between Moments is thrown in our way by the demons who attempt to block our Voyage. Thus Exorcism remains an essential and demanding task in the Intergalactic Voyage which is Outercourse.

This process of Exorcism, in combination with its inseparable companionate activity/experience, Ecstasy, provides essential Force and Focus for Outercoursing.’ These combustible components fuel our Crafts. They make the voyage Be-Dazzling, that is

eclipsing the foreground/elementary world by the brilliance of be-ing (Wickedary).


*A spiral galaxy is defined as “a galaxy exhibiting a central nucleus or barred structure from which extend concentrations of matter forming curved arms giving the overall appearance of a gigantic pinwheel” (Webster’s).

Hereafter, this dictionary is referred to simply as American Heritage.


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As the Voyager Moves farther and farther Out, the Light becomes brighter. The foreground fades and its demon inhabitants/rulers are overcome by the Powers of the Background. They are eclipsed by the brilliance of be-ing-which is participation in Be-ing.

Be-Dazzling is the Outrageous Challenge and Hope that moves the Craft/Crafts of Outercourse. In this Age of Extremity, we can settle for nothing less. The alternative to Be-Dazzling is precisely Nothing.

The following sections briefly summarize The Four Spiral Galaxies of The Be-Dazzling Voyage which is Outercourse.




In my own history, the early Moments involved Be-Speaking, that is, foretelling, speaking of what will be. Be-Speaking brings about psychic and/or material change by means of words. As I have experienced such Acts of BeSpeaking, they were and are* Moments of Exorcism of patriarchally inflicted aphasia, that is, inability to Name Background reality as well as foreground fabrications and the connections among these. One of my own early Acts of Be-Speaking was a letter published in Commonweal in 1964, responding positively to an article in that magazine by Rosemary Lauer entitled “Women and the Church.” I announced that I was ashamed that I had not written the article myself and foretold a barrage of such Feminist writings, proclaiming: “This is both a prophecy and a promise-they will come.”

So I was Be-Spoken into Be-Speaking by another woman’s writing. That letter-published when I was still a student in Fribourg, Switzerland-had a chain of breathtaking consequences. It led to the writing of my first Feminist book, The Church and the Second Sex, to my subsequent harassment and firing from Boston College, and to the months of student demonstrations, activism, and publicity resulting in my promotion and tenure. It led also, and most significantly, to my own radicalization. In other words, Moment after Moment of prophetic Be-Speaking caused the world to speak back. As this dialogue gathered Momentum I was hurled beyond man-made, fictitious, foreground illusions about “the future” and came into Touch with


*There is a problem of tense here. Since the Spirals are not linear-since I have come to the same yet different place of Spiraling at later periods-the past tense is not adequate. Many of these Moments recur in different ways. Thus they were, but they also are, and will continue to be.

I am indebted to Louky Bersianik for the idea of a Feminist interpretation of the word aphasia, as well as amnesia and apraxia. Responsibility for further expansion and development of these concepts is my own. See Louky Berslanik, Les agenesies du vieux monde (Outremont, Quebec: Lllntegrale, editrice, 1982), especially pp. 5-9.


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the Background Future. When I went back to teaching in the fall of 1969 I had already begun to change drastically. I had begun to see through the particularities of my experience with Boston College to the universal condition of women in all universities and in all institutions of patriarchy. I had experienced my first explicit encounters with the demons of assimilation-especially taking the form of tokenism-and won. I made the Leap into The Second Spiral Galaxy of my Outercourse.





By Seeing and Naming the connections that had been largely subliminal in the earlier stage of Voyaging, I Moved into The Second Spiral Galaxy of my Outercourse. This involved Acts of Exorcism of the amnesia inflicted by patriarchal institutions, religion in particular, and by the -ologies which they engender and which in tum serve to legitimate them. Exorcism of amnesia required Acts of Unforgetting-Seeing through the foreground “past” into the Background Past-beyond the androcratic lies about women’s history. I found that Breaking through to knowledge of a Prepatriarchal Pagan Past opened the possibility for Radical Naming. It became clear that Re-Calling was the clue to real Momentum. As Orwell had written in 1984:

“Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past,” . . . All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory.

My Unforgetting sometimes took active political form, for example in 1971, when-in cahoots with Cronies-I instigated the Harvard Memorial Church Exodus. I had been invited to be the first woman to preach at a Sunday service at Memorial Church in its three-hundred-and-thirty-six-year history. After plotting with a few friends at Harvard I accepted and turned the occasion into a Call for an historic Exodus from patriarchal religion. The hundreds of us who walked out experienced the action on different levels. For some of us it was an Act of Be-Falling.* It involved Moving into Archaic Memory. It was also a Memory of the Future– an action which affects/effects the Future. By participating in this event, some of us experienced an ancient, woman-centered spiritual consciousness.

Beyond God the Father belongs to this Galaxy. The writing of that book, followed by the writing of my “Feminist Postchristian Introduction” to the


*Be-Falling is “the Original Ontological Sinning of Fallen Women who follow the Call of the Fates” (Wickedary).


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1975 edition of The Church and the Second Sex, moved me into further Acts of Be-Falling. I encountered and repelled demonic forces of elimination, who/which erase women’s histories and our very lives.* I was hurled, then, in the direction of The Third Spiral Galaxy.




Moments of Spinning Move us into the Background Present. As I have experienced these, they have been Moments of Exorcism of the apraxia (inability to Act) inflicted upon women. I do not mean by this that I became more “activist” in the usual sense of the word (although I have continued to work in that way also) but that I have become more Active in my creative intellectual work. This has meant that I have Moved beyond “following” or simply reacting to patriarchally defined methods of thinking, writing, public speaking, and teaching. My activity in this sense has become more approximate to my ideal of Be-Dazzling-eclipsing the foreground world with the brilliance of be-ing.

The year 1975 was a Watershed year. By the time the “Feminist Postchristian Introduction” was actually published in 1975 I had moved on to writing and delivering a paper entitled ”Radical Feminism: The Qualitative Leap Beyond Patriarchal Religion.” This paper was delivered at a conference of sociologists and theologians held in Vienna, under the auspices of the infamous Cardinal Konig, archbishop of Vienna.

In rereading that paper I am struck by the fact that such words as Postchristian had become unimportant to me. Such a term had focused attention on where I had been and not where I had arrived. To keep stressing it would be comparable to a woman’s harping on her divorce and identifying herself as a “divorcee” years after the event had occurred. Qualitative Leaping is not merely beyond christianity but beyond all patriarchal religion and identification. Moreover, it is not merely “beyond,” but toward and into something else, which I have Named Spinning.

In the Course of this Galaxy I wrote and published Gyn/Ecology (1978), Pure Lust (1984), and (in Cahoots with Jane Caputi) Websters’ First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language (1987). The process of writing those books and confronting their consequences involved encounters with the demonic forces of fragmentation, which cut women off from our true Present and from our Presence to our Selves and to each Other.

My conflicts with these forces and with other personifications of “the Deadly Sins of the Fathers” occurred throughout the Metapatriarchal Jour-


*These would, of course, attempt to re-turn, but this was a significant victory.


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ney of Exorcism and Ecstasy, which. is a basic experience and theme of this Galaxy, first Named and explained in Gyn/Ecology. Uncovering and vanquishing the demons requires a mode of creativity which is Spinning. It involves finding threads of connectedness among seemingly disparate phenomena.

A vast shift in my mode of writing is evident in Gyn/Ecology, which is Metapatriarchally Metaphorical. This Shape-shifting continued/continues throughout Pure Lust, which is a work of Elemental Feminist Philosophy. Re-Weaving Webs of connectedness between women and the Elements is an essential theme of this book, which Fiercely Focuses upon the demonic destruction of nature as well as women and upon Metamorphic means of Weaving the Way Out.

The Wickedary also is a work of overcoming fragmentation, bringing together the insights of this Galaxy through the Weaving of Wild Words. It follows in the Wake of Gyn/Ecology and Pure Lust, fighting against the ever worsening conditions of the foreground, and Moving toward the expansion of women’s Powers of Sensing cosmic connections-Powers which enable us to Presentiate/Realize a True Present.

Thus the works of this Galaxy Move more and more into the Be-Dazzling Light. In this Light, the Voyager readies her Self for her Leap into The Fourth Spiral Galaxy, which takes her Off the Calendar, Off the Clock, into Moments of Momentous Re-membering.





In order to Name the most advanced stages of the demonic dis-ease of fragmentation I employ the word dis-memberment. The encroachment of the Age of Dis-memberment-a condition which manifests itself in the multiplication of divisions within and among women-involves also the breakdown of nature by phallotechnocrats and the splitting of women from nature.

In this age, Sisterhood can seem like a lost and impossible dream. The knowledge and and memories that were reclaimed in the so-called “Second Wave” of feminism re-turn to a subliminal level in our consciousness. As I see our situation of the 1990s, women are challenged to Spin and Weave the broken connections in our Knowing, Sensing, and Feeling, becoming Alive again in our relationships to our Selves and to each Other. This will require the practice of psychic politics and it will require Time Travel-Remembering our Future and our Past. What is needed is a Spiraling series of victories over the dis-memberers of women’s Present and of our Memoires, including Memories of the Future.

Such a series of Victories, that is, the Spiraling Moments of Momentous Re-membering, cannot be viewed as a linear progression. When the Voyager

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comes into The Fourth Spiral Galaxy she experiences an Overlapping of the Moments of her earlier Travels-a conversation Now with those Moments. The repetitious aspect of Spiraling enriches the experience of Movement, especially when The Fourth Spiral Galaxy has been reached. Yet the most crucial Moments are always Now, and that is why Now is always the special target of the dis-memberers of women’s lives.

It is essential to know that all of the Spiral Galaxies are interconnected, that all of the Moments implicate each other. Herein lies the hope for resolving miscommunication arising from “generation gaps” and time warps experienced by women in the Age of Dis-memberment. Implicate has as an archaic definition “to fold or twist together: INTERWEAVE, ENTWINE.” It also means “ to involve as a consequence, corollary, or natural inference: IMPLY.” (Webster’s).

I am suggesting that there is an organic interdependence/interwovenness among the Spiral Galaxies of Outercourse. There is a task before us, then: the task of actively explicating the connections. One definition of the verb explicate is “to unfold the meaning or sense of: INTERPRET, CLARIFY.” It alsomeans “In develop what is involved or implied in” (Websters).

The question is: Who can and will do this? Clearly a woman at her first Moment of Be-Speaking could not be expected to do this. Explication is the task of those who have Moved for some Time on the Be-Dazzling Voyage and who therefore can have an overview of its Spiraling Paths. These women are the Memory-Bearing Group-those who have “been around” and can Re-Call earlier Moments, and who can bear the memories and knowledge of destruction.

The Hope that such women can be Heard lies in the fact that participation in the Background Present is the underpinning of all of the Moments of Outercourse, even the earliest. Insofar as a woman is Alive and Spiraling at all she must have some glimpse of the Background Present. Therefore any potentially Radical Feminist has the capacity to Hear-if not always to understand all-the messages of the Memory-Bearing Group.

Re-Calling my own Voyage, I know that my ability to begin Be-Speaking was rooted in my capacity fur Living in the Present, unmasking the foreground present at least to the extent of experiencing desperation, of Fiercely struggling for Focus, and of daring Outrageous Acts in order In break free and live my own Life. This capacity for be-ing in the Present is the core requirement of Outercourse.

In The Fourth Spiral Galaxy, Voyagers Move into the Age of the Cronehood of Feminism. It is probably the case that the so-called “First Wave” of Feminism, in the nineteenth century, did not enter the Age of Cronehood, even though there lived individual Crones, such as Sojourner Truth and Matilda Joslyn Gage. As a collective Movement, Feminism was derailed and diminished by the forces of patriarchy. The sadosociety had effectively blocked the possibility of fully seeing the multiracial, multiclass, and indeed

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planetary dimensions of the Feminist movement. Phallocracy had muted the Sense of intensity/urgency/desperation to Move on to Moments of Momentous Re-membering.

In the “Second Wave,” although there has been a dreary amount of expenditure of energy in reinventing the wheel and fighting fragmentation, we are faced with the fact that a Qualitative Leap into Cronehood is necessary. This is the age of seemingly irreversible contamination-the time of the (foreground) triumph of phallotechnology. It is a desperate time of biocide, genocide, gynocide. Desperation combined with Furious Focus can hurl a significant New Cognitive Minority of women into The Fourth Spiral Galaxy.

While Feminists within the patriarchal era have always been a cognitive minority, the New Cognitive Minority includes the Memory-Bearing Group of women who have Lived through earlier Moments. It includes our Foresisters/Cronies from the Past who are Presentiating their Selves Now to those whose Sense of Cosmic Connectedness is awakening, The Fourth Spiral Galaxy, then, implies entering Other-dimensions of Awareness and Movement, evoking Radical changes at the very core of consciousness.

The Moments of The Fourth Spiral Galaxy began when I began working on Outercourse. I have written all of Outercourse from the perspective of this Galaxy of Time Traveling. From the vantage point of this Megagalaxy/Metagalaxy I have retraced my earlier Moments, which assume richer meanings as I revisit them. Although the events described Originally happened “back then,” in the earlier Galaxies, the Re-Calling of them is occurring Now, and the result is utterly Other than a simple collection of memoirs. It is participating in New Spiraling Movement. This is not quite like any writing that I have done before. It is a series of Acts of Momentous Re-membering of my own Voyage.


Log [short for logbook]: “a daily record of a ship’s speed or progress or the full record of a ship’s voyage including notes on the ship’s position at various’ times and including notes on the weather and on important incidents occurring during the voyage.”

-Webster’s ThirdNew International Dictionary of the English Language

Logbook: “A Daly record . . et cetera.”

-Webster’s Second New Intergalactic Wickedory of the English Language

It is clear from the preceding material in this Introduction that this book autobiographical and philosophical. The Logbook exists largely in my own Memories and in my collection of published and unpublished writings. I do not keep written journals, except those Written in Memory.

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Recollections from my Logbook do not constitute a clearly distinct entity or separate part within this book. The information from my Logbook is interwoven with philosophical analysis in the Course of this Voyage, in which Intellectual/Spiritual/E-motional/Physical/Sensory Travels are inseparable.

The purpose of Recollections from my Logbook is to Re-Call the Ideas, Experiences, Passions which constitute the Moments of my Voyage. These can Now be seen and understood from the Be-Dazzling perspective. It is my Hope that these Re-Callings will be helpful to women-mySelf included-in overcoming the time warps that mark the Age of Dis-memberment-the foreground “present” that impedes our Living a true Present/Presence. It is my Hope also that this Re-membering will generate more Gynergy for further Be-Dazzling Voyaging.


Syn-Crone-icities: “coincidences” experienced and recognized by Crones as Strangely significant (Wickedary).

The philosophical and biographical dimensions of this book intertwine through multiple “coincidences.” That is, they are coincident, which according to Webster’s means “occurring or operating at the same time: CONCOMITANT, ATTENDING.” Coincident also means “occupying the same space: having the same position, direction, or setting:’ It means “having accordant characteristics or nature: HARMONIOUS:’ The philosophical and biographical dimensions or aspects of Outercourse participate in the same Time. They share the same position and move in the same directioo or setting-the BeDazzling Voyage. Thus they have accordant characteristics: they are Harmonious. The philosophical theory and the biographical events recorded here are parts of the same Quest.

Recollections from my Logbook are the major source for the philosophical theorizing in this book. One key example is my Realization–through Re-Calling my early experiences–of the enormous and complex role of subliminal knowledge in myself and in other women. Indeed it was my subliminal knowledge of the extent of patriarchal oppression and of the existence or at least the possibility of an Other Reality that guided me and gave me the Courage to keep going through the early stages. When it would have appeared that I was a cognitive minority of one, I was-I Now Realize-strengthened by my subliminal knowledge of similar subliminal knowledge buried in other women.

Looking at the Logbook material, I Now understand that all of my Voyaging as a Radical Feminist Philosopher has been over and through a Sea of

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subliminal knowledge-which I have Named “the Subliminal Sea:’ As the Voyage has progressed, such knowledge has become more and more overt.

As I Now See it, my Life, my Craft in early stages of consciousness moved on the surface of the Sea of subliminal knowledge that is shared by women under patriarchy. Repeatedly I had experiences of being pushed by a Great Wind, and I could feel the stirrings from the depths of the Subliminal Sea. Eventually there were eruptions from volcanoes in the Sea in my mind. I came to Name this knowledge “Background” knowledge. I found also that as I Moved more daringly; as I made Qualitative Leaps from Moment to Moment, I was Realizing connections not only within myself and within Other women, but with the Elements of this planet, and with the sun, moon, and stars. I Sensed a cosmic connection.

From my Logbook Recollections I have learned that an important part of my task has been and is retrieving the subliminal knowledge of women and Dis-covering ways of communicating this. One reality to he confronted is the fact that the Subliminal Sea-like the oceans of the earth-has been contaminated. It has been polluted by man-made subliminal messages (of the media, of myths, of religion, of all the -ologies, et cetera). Yet, since these messages are reversed derivatives of deep Background knowledge, even these are doorways/viewers into the Background. Part of my task is to devise means of using them in this way.

If women continue to lose our Deep Memories, then the images propagated by the pornographers, the obscene experiments of the reproductive technologists, the mutilation and murder of women’s bodies by the sons of Jack the Ripper, and the mutilation and murder of women’s minds by omni-present woman-hating propagandists will go unprotested. Unprotested also will be the rape and murder of the planet.

My Logbook (together with other sources, of course) has supplied me with Information about the almost ineffable need for transformation of consciousness, and it has given me clues about ways to go about making such changes.

Outercourse is not sterile cerebration any more than it is a mindless and distracted collection of”interesting experiences.” A unifying Focus accounts “coincidence” between the philosophical and biographical dimensions of this book. An Outercoursing Voyager experiences participation in a complex Chorus of Be-ing. She is aware of a Background Harmony, of a Telepathic/Telegraphic Connection which is nothing less than an Intergalactic concert of Be-Dazzling Intelligences. This book is an attempt to convey the Sense of this Concert, this behind-the-scenes Eccentric and Outlandish Reality that is Present in everyday occurrences and that can enable us to Re-Weave the Integrity of our Lives.


Here is an uncharacteristically terrible pdf of the above text (the scanner does NOT like fat books!). Also, please excuse all formatting errors. Thank you.


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