WLRN Edition 4 Transcript

Women’s Liberation Radio News Podcast Transcript

Episode 4: Female Erasure And The Importance Of Women-Only Spaces

Transcribed by Amanda T.

***

Sekhmet SHE-OWL: Greetings and welcome to the fourth edition of Women’s Liberation Radio News. WLRN produces a monthly radio broadcast, to break the sound barrier women are blocked by under the status quo rule of men. This blocking of women’s discourse and ideas we see in all sectors of society, be they conservative, liberal, mainstream, progressive, or radical. The thread that runs through all of American politics is male dominance and entitlement. My name is Sekhmet She-Owl. I have a background in writing, marketing, and teaching. I live in the southwestern United States. Today’s program focuses on what women are doing to mark this one-year anniversary of the last Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, the largest international women’s cultural event to happen for 40 years every August. The last Michfest was one year ago, in the woods of Michigan. We will also explore why women-only cultural and political spaces are important to women’s liberation and feature an excerpt from an interview with organizer Sarah Jones about WoLF Fest, a radical feminist women’s gathering happening the weekend of September 17th in the redwoods. Finally, we will air an excerpt from an interview Elizabeth McKeown did with Ruth Barrett, contributing author and editor of the book Female Erasure, slated to come out just in time for the fall equinox.

Chante HOLSEY: And hi, my name is Chante Holsey. I sit on the board of Directors of WoLF, Women’s Liberation Front. This month’s podcast focuses on the importance of women-only cultural, social, and political organizing spaces.

***

“Real Voice” By Thistle Pettersen

We keep on walking, walking, walking

In a haze.

Hoping that one day, we’ll rise above

The burning blaze.

Of a society gone mad,

Of people insane

The whole world at arm’s length

Our silent efforts are all in vain…

***

SHE-OWL: And here are today’s WLRN headlines. On Saturday July 16th, a panel of well-known radical feminists hosted an event in London called Thinking Differently: Feminists Questioning Gender Politics. Speakers included Sheila Jeffreys, Lierre Keith, Julie Bindel, Stephanie Davies-Arai, Mary Lou Singleton, Jackie Mearns, Magdalen Berns, and Julia Long.

The Indiana Court of Appeals overturned Purvi Patel’s class-A felony feticide conviction, along with a conviction for felony neglect for a dependent. Purvi was sentenced for 20 years in prison for her self-induced abortion, which took place in 2013. She will now be resentenced for the charge of felony-D neglect of a dependent.

On July 26th, the Democratic National Committee made Hillary Clinton the party’s official presidential nominee. She is the first woman in American history to secure a major party nomination for president.

Michigan State University closed its women-only study lounge, which had opened originally in 1925. Mark J. Perry, a professor at University of Michigan and a men’s rights activist had filed a civil rights violation against MSU for the women-only space, but an MSU spokesmen said the lounge closing has nothing to do with that complaint. Earlier this year, MSU disbanded the school’s women’s resource center.

Meanwhile in Canada, the University of Victoria finished converting its women’s center to a co-ed space, which will be called Third Space. Daphne Shaed, a transgender male, has been a women’s center coordinator during the conversion process and sent an email to center members earlier this year prohibiting literature critical of porn, prostitution, and gender from being distributed in the space. The center’s collective also issued a statement apologizing for its “deep history of radical feminism”, which they described as “exclusionary, racist, and trans-exclusive.” An anonymous group of women studying at UVic opened a twitter account under the handle @UVicWomyn with a “y”, to respond to the space’s conversion.

Jessica Valenti, author, blogger, and columnist was forced to leave Twitter after she received rape and death threats aimed at her 5-year-old daughter.

Korryn Gaines, a young black mother, was shot dead by police in Randallstown, Maryland during a standoff that took place in her apartment. Her 5-year-old son was also shot, but is in good condition. Gaines was the ninth African-American woman killed by police this year.

And now for our featured news story on the importance of women-only, sex-segregated spaces in the movement for women’s liberation.

SHE-OWL: It was in female-only spaces that women discovered and developed feminism and politically organized the marches, protests, and petitions of the first and second wave movements. Second-wave feminists created service-based female-only spaces. DV shelters and rape crisis centers provided female survivors with rehabilitation and public sanctuary from male violence for the first time in history. Women’s health centers provided healthcare designed to meet women’s unique medical needs in ways that the male-oriented healthcare system did not. Female-only cultural spaces offered women the opportunity to share their art, educate each other, and talk to other women about common experiences of misogyny.

During the second wave in the seventies, lesbians began to publicly claim their lesbianism and meet with each other in women-only spaces and lesbian-only spaces. In many cases, it was the freedom and safety of these spaces that allowed lesbians to come out and discuss their feelings and experiences, challenging compulsory heterosexuality publicly and consciously. Second-wave lesbian feminist philosopher Marilyn Frye recognized female-only space as symbolic of female power, and the subversion of male power and domination at the heart of patriarchal society. She wrote, “Female denial of male access to females substantially cuts off the flow of benefits, but it also has the form and full portent of the assumption of power. It is always the privilege of the master to enter the slave’s hut. The slave who decides to exclude the master from her hut is declaring herself not a slave.” This not only describes the symbolic political coup that women execute when they create female-only space, but hints at the more fundamental boundary underpinning that space: excluding males from our bodies.

Laura Kaminsky observes, “The first and most basic woman-only space is her body.” Historically, women’s bodies have not belonged to themselves but to whatever male owned them. A male who rapes a female is violating her physical boundaries just as a male who forces himself into female-only space is violating female physical boundaries. In both cases, power is represented in who determines female accessibility: the male or the female herself?

Radical African feminist Patricia McFadden wrote, “I think that one cannot consider the issue of male intrusion into women’s political spaces without also considering that this demand is always made with a conscious desire to undertake surveillance on what women are thinking, saying, and doing. Men also tend to take over discourses and to steer them in particular directions, often adopting a defensive attitude towards women’s radical consciousness and consequently damping down women’s sense of entitlement to their rights.

The presence of men in any women’s space has fundamental consequences for women’s sense of themselves and their visions of the future. In other words, women become conscious, formulate strategies for political action, and develop strength in their feminist convictions within female-only space as they never do in mixed spaces. There has never been successful political action on behalf of women’s liberation without women gathering outside the surveillance and physical control of men. Without female-only spaces, there can be no feminist movement.

***

“August Moon (We Know We Are Love)” By Nedra Johnson

Mothers and daughters

Womyn born womyn

And we gather in the light of the August moon

Amazon women and we’re out in the woods

And we heal by the light of the August moon

Powerful women, creative women

Dancing in the light of the August moon

Girls and women in the Michigan woods

And we love by the light of the August moon

Calling all female friends

Come and gather in the place to be

Yeah, I’m talking ‘bout Michigan

Don’t you wanna come home with me?

Where I see you and you see me

Witness for each other, our commonality, yeah

 Mothers and daughters

Womyn born womyn

And we gather in the light of the August moon

Amazon women and we’re out in the woods

And we heal by the light of the August moon

Deaf women, hearing women

Dancing in the light of the August moon

Girls and women in the Michigan woods

And we love by the light of the August moon

First time I came to Festival

Learned I’d always been afraid

To finally lay that burden down

I could not believe the weight

Of all the trauma I carried deep inside my bones

Expectations, limitations

I had made my own

Maybe we can’t, we can’t do nothing ‘bout the way they treatin’ us

We just keep keepin’ on cos we know we are love, yeah

We know we are love (x4)

Womyn born womyn

And we gather in the light of the August moon

Amazon women and we’re out in the woods

And we heal by the light of the August moon…

***

Catina HYMAN: That was Nedra Johnson with her song August Moon. And now, we will hear a report from Thistle Pettersen, file from Michigan from a variety of locations at Michfest remembrance events.

Thistle PETTERSEN: Women in the hundreds, possibly the thousands, are seeking refuge from patriarchy in the woods of Michigan this first week of August, when the Michigan Womyn’s Festival would have taken place. To kick Michfest week off, L2L, a lesbian organization in Lansing, hosted the framily reunion on a private 10-acre piece of land. There was a mainstage with Michfest performers—

*Audio clip of Michfest performers*

–with Michfest entertainers, such as Mimi Gonzalez and Karen Williams—

*Audio clip of Mimi and Karen*

It was at the framily reunion that I got to speak with Shen Womack-Smith, a longtime Michfestee and vendor, at the framily reunion. I asked her if she thought women would go directly onto the festival land this week and why the land is significant.

PETTERSEN, to SMITH: Do you think women will actually go onto the land? I mean, it is right across the street from the national forest land that Amazons Rising is going to be at, right?”

Shen Womack-SMITH: I absolutely think women will go to the land. I don’t think it’s possible to keep us off the land. I know–as a property owner, I understand the liability and that no one can give permission. It can’t be given, so we’re going to have to “sneak on”. But our sisters are there. I have friends whose ashes are scattered there who will always be there. So, it’s kind of an important—important land and an important place because that’s the only place I can see some of them and, you know, go and visit and be there. It’s like, it’s in a way like a cemetery, and home, and a nest and it’s everything. And I didn’t think it was that important until I started to realize how many women are still there.

PETTERSEN: Awesome, beautiful. Thank you so much Shen Womack-Smith of “Bearded Dragyns.”

Once out of Lansing and down the trail, I arrived at the primitive Amazons Rising camp and talked with Jennifer Corbett, one of the organizers, about the inspiration for Amazons Rising and what kind of things are happening. There are four different areas women are camping near the land this week. Amazons Rising is in the national forest, with no internet access, no cellphone reception, no toilets or showers, and no coffee to buy in the morning when you get up.

Jennifer CORBETT: After Michfest of last year, within a couple months of it ending, I am friends with Gloria Downey. She’s a veteran also, and I met her through the veteran’s group that would meet at Michfest and we would mark. You know, we were trying to think of what’s next. You know, we were given the acorn, what were we going to do? We would sit back and look at what was going on on Facebook and the different groups and what they were planning to do. And we felt that was impossible to do in a year, to recreate something that took 40 years to develop.

So in talking–and you know Gloria came up with this plan—and in talking some more, what more appealed to me and Gloria was something in which was really organic, something that we could do in a year which was more of a primitive camping environment, where we could empower women to meet their own needs. And let’s watch some films there—make it a film festival. And we know we wanted to do it close to the land. So, right across the road from the land is a national forest. And it was the perfect spot.

PETTERSEN: Last night at the camp, there was a feast and a film showing using a generator these women brought to the woods. The snacks were provided by women taking leftovers from the day before in Lansing, Michigan from the live house concert Crys Matthews did, a Michfest performer. Here is an excerpt from her song about this historic women’s festival:

“Holding Space” By Crys Matthews

It ain’t over ‘til it’s over

Not even when this August comes and goes and I’m

Waving over my shoulder

40 years are said and done

But truly we were the lucky ones

As long as I have the memories

Keep each of you in me

The sisters up in Baltimore and way down south in Ecuador

And across the oceans, across the sea…

PETTERSEN: All of Michigan and several different geographical areas is alive with Amazon women gathering in their tents, in the woods, at house concerts, and on the land. This is Thistle Pettersen, reporting for WLRN in Michigan.

Cos it takes way more than one locked gate

To  make a forty year legacy dissipate…

***

“Real Voice” by Thistle Pettersen:

So speak out, speak over, speak under

Speak through the noise

Speak loud so I can hear you

I wanna know you, I wanna hear your real voice

I wanna hear your real voice, your real voice…

HOLSEY: And now, we will hear excerpts from an interview Sekhmet did with Sarah Jones about the upcoming women-only WoLF festival happening September 16th – 18th in the Redwoods.

Sekhmet SHE-OWL:  Tell us a little bit about yourself and the role you have in organizing WoLF Fest.

Sarah JONES: Sure. So my name’s Sarah Jones. I’ve been involved with radical feminist organizing just about the past year and a half. Like you said, I’m on the—currently serving on the board of directors for Women’s Liberation Front, aka WoLF. And I’m the core organizer for WoLF Fest, the first annual WoLF Fest taking place in September in Northern California. I am responsible for a large part of the big picture organizing and decision-making. Right now, just under 2 months out, I’m just making sure registration is running smoothly. I manage our websites, social media accounts, making sure we’re on track with finances and fundraising. Pretty much have my hands in every pot, and so my role right now is to make sure that we kind of pull this off.

SHE-OWL: It sounds like WoLF Fest is partially a response to the end of Michfest, but also something that organizers were thinking about simply because of the experience you had in your own camp at Michfest.

JONES: Yeah, I think for me personally—you know, I volunteered to—my involvement with WoLF was fairly limited until I volunteered to do the food, be responsible for the kitchen at the inner camp. You know, I worked with some of the other WoLF women there, met a ton of women. Yeah I mean, Michigan—I think that seeing how important that space was, and I mean obviously the space in Michigan, we’re not comparing it to that, I mean that’s like a magical, a magical world. But just that space as a little camp was so important, and some women really did kind of seek refuge in exclusively radical feminist space. You know, these women—maybe they knew from the internet or something—you know, I think women who otherwise probably wouldn’t have made so much connections, maybe wouldn’t have been very vocal in sort of a general setting. I think if you’re going to find a radical reunion, it would be at Michfest, but it was just cool to have such a concentrated group of us in our little camp. So, I think if we could make it fun with just the limited supplies and limited planning we had at that event, even though it took a lot of work, but we can make something amazing at WoLF Fest.

SHE-OWL: Why do you think that women-only cultural and political spaces are important?

JONES: Women are so fragmented in their consciousness, it’s impossible for women to kind of recognize their status in the coherent class of women, and women spaces are the only way we can do that. The unique thing about women’s oppression—basically, women are the only ones who have to love their oppressor. So, our oppression is unique because we’re so intertwined with men, with our oppressors. We’re intimately involved with them always, and so it’s a really kind of revolutionary act to organize among ourselves, even though it’s considered a threat. And women just don’t have any spaces for them, and the space that we do have is being created or is being appropriated by men.

I just think such amazing things come out of women-only space, even whether a weekend gathering with women or a big festival—just incredible things come out of an intentional, purposeful women-only space.

SHE-OWL: So, real quickly, if you could just tell us when WoLF Fest is.

JONES: September 16th through 19th. So, we start—Friday afternoon is when we’ll be rolling in, and then end loosely Sunday morning, wrap it up. September 16th through 19th 2016, Crescent City, California. It’s going to be three days of—what do we call it?—radical feminist workshops, discussion, strategy and revolution in the redwoods.

***

HYMAN: And finally, here’s an excerpt of an interview Elizabeth McKeown did with Ruth Barrett, editor of Female Erasure: What You Need To Know About Gender Politics’ War On Women, the Female Sex, and Human Rights. Ruth Barrett is a Dianic priestess, who understands the importance of women-only spaces to women’s spiritual practice. The full-length interview can be found under our Interviews tab on the WLRN website.

MCKEOWN: Can you give us an example of what some of the topics covered are, different pieces in the book, what they discuss?

BARRETT: Sure, absolutely. I have—well, I have six sections, actually, for the book and I’m in the process of actually doing chapters. I have—at this point, I have about 45 or 46 chapters, and the sections—like one of the sections is called “Biological Erasure By Gender Ideology”. And in that section, I really wanted to have pieces that were talking about that topic—biological erasure and how that is showing up currently. And so, I have a number of writers—I mean, do you want—shall I name some of them?

MCKEOWN: Oh sure, go for it.

BARRETT: Ok, well, I actually—I wanted to open with a piece written by Monica should and Barbara moore, and these are two women who have passed. They passed a few years back. And I actually am paying for the rights to republish this piece. But that was the opening chapter for a very powerful book called The Great Cosmic Mother, and that was from the late 1980s. But the topic was the first sect: “In the beginning, we were all created female.”

And it’s a very powerful piece to open, really open the project because it talks about physicality, and sacred physicality as well, and how the bodies became basically “other”, even from ourselves—a disconnect between mind and body. And there is a historical precedent for this. And I wanted to show that—by starting with this chapter—what is happening currently, from my point of view, is that the erasure and silencing of women with this whole gender identity ideology is simply a continuation. This is nothing new. How I understand it, it has actually been going on for thousands of years from when patriarchy began enacting itself in ancient culture and religion. And that’s my background. I’m a student of folklore and I’m also involved with women’s spirituality and feminist spirituality, to narrow it a little bit more. And so, I wanted to start about—I wanted to talk about the issue in terms of a context—and context being a continuum of female erasure and silencing that can be traced from ancient times.

And so, when I look at it from this perspective, it makes perfect sense to me that it would be enacting itself in this way. But I did not expect it to enact itself the way it’s come down! This time it was kind of—it was like a huge sideswipe. But I wanted to honor these foremothers in women’s spirituality by starting the chapters with theirs, but also to set that context from ancient times and where we are going from here.

So, I take that leap then, from that first chapter—that first text “In the beginning, we were all created female”—to a fantastic piece written by Rachel Ivy. It’s called “The End of Gender: Revolution, Not Reform”. And it goes on from there, with Kathy Scarborough and Elizabeth Hungerford and Sheila Jeffreys, and wonderful, wonderful women who are in the educational system, and who are in the medical and mental health field. And that’s all under this first chapter on biological erasure by gender ideology. The last part of this section is actually an amazing piece written by Mary Ceallaigh And Jennifer Bilek and it’s called “In The Absence Of The Sacred: The Marketing Of Medical Transgenderism And The Survival Of The Natural Child”. It’s an amazing piece. It’s probably the longest piece in the book, talking about what this industry is doing to our children who don’t fit neatly into a box, and the whole marketing with terrible consequences to our children. And it’s just kind of, you know—the people who go along with this are not allowed to question and are only given one option, which is medical interventions for their children. And so, that’s the first section!

I’ll go a little bit briefer to the other sections, maybe. This next section is called “Reframing Reality And The Language Of Erasure”, and this is—I love this section so much because it really is about the way that language has been used to literally reframe, which is really a way of using language to manipulate how people understand a topic. This is showing up in this debate a lot, I mean just in the—some of the simple things like, you know, “Trans women are real women.” Just that kind of a frame. Oh, and of talking about a psychological identity being the same as physicality, and at this point in time, gender identity has supplanted not only this physicality, our actual biology, but also the way that sex class oppression is enacted because it’s been enacted for, you know, thousands of years. And it—all of a sudden it doesn’t really matter anymore. We can call ourselves anything we want, and it’s undermining a lot of the protective laws that have been hardlined around sex-based oppression.

A lot of it is about language. I have a piece in there called “Eve Was ‘Framed’ ”. If any of your listeners have seen the cover of the book, which is on the website if anyone wants to look at it, it is an image of Eve in kind of a classical Renaissance depiction of the Eve. And I talk about—I’m making a case basically that how we understand Western, the Western paradigm for the place of women has been propagated by that particular myth of Eve in the garden and Adam being given the power to name her, and thus define her.

So, I’m talking about, in my chapter, but there are many other amazing pieces—“The Erasure Of Lesbians”, that by Alix Dobkin and Sally Tatnall, Luisah Teish wrote an amazing piece called “Patriarchy In Drag: Sexual Imperialism In Africa, And Delusional Revisionism In The African-American Community”. There’s a piece on—all about what’s happening with women in sports. Males can now compete in female sports, in women’s sports as long as they lower their testosterone level to a certain degree, but it’s already ten times higher than women are allowed to or they would be considered “doping”. It’s crazy.

SHE-OWL: And that concludes our fourth edition podcast produced by the team at Women’s Liberation Radio News for August 4th, 2016. Thanks for tuning in. If you’d like to get in touch with us to volunteer or comment, please email wlrnewscontact@gmail.com. We are looking for other women to join us in this radio news service, and would love to see a copy of your resume and references. You need not have experience in radio to apply. We are all-volunteer run member-powered radio and are happy to work with you at whatever level experience you have in radio journalism. Thanks again for listening. I’m Sekhmet She-Owl, your co-host.

HYMAN: And I’m Catina Hyman, signing off for now.

PETTERSEN: Thanks for tuning in, I am Thistle Pettersen.

And I am Chante Holsey, signing off from this fourth edition of WLRN. Be sure to tune in next time on September 1st. We’re always interested to hear what you think, so that email address again is wlrnewscontact@gmail.com. Again, wlrnewscontact@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you.

***

“Michigan” by Thistle Pettersen:

But how will we find our way out of this?

What is the antidote for the patriarchal kiss?

How will we find what needs to be shown?

And then after that

Where is home, tell me

Where is my home?

Cos gender hurts….

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