By Zora Raskin
Zora Raskin a junior majoring in Community Studies and Feminist Studies. She is currently on her field study in New Orleans, working with a prison industrial complex abolition organization called Critical Resistance. The following words are excerpts from her blog, militanthope.tumblr.com.
I started Good Intentions Co. as a lifeline to the outside world as I threw myself head first into the sea of the non-profit sector. This country is littered with good intentions that in reality cause more harm than good. I intend to avoid this fate. Originally ripped from the title of a Joanna Newsom song, Good Intentions Co. is an attempt to point out the problematic professionalization and cooptation of activism in the world right now. Good Intentions Co. references the heartbreak, nuance and struggle of being an organizer today.
On Being a Women in the Occupy Movement
Being a female-identified intellectual means gearing up for combat on the daily. The Occupy Movement is not an exception to this. Bell Hooks, Staceyann Chin, Assata Shakur and Angela Davis; I remember these warriors and elders and try to let them inform and inspire me.
I have currently been throwing myself heart-first into Occupy New Orleans. After a particularly jarring General Assembly in which female voices were continually silenced, including my own, I called a comrade from Critical Resistance who gave me an incredible piece of wisdom:
Me: I don’t think I can keep organizing in this space.
Comrade: Tomorrow morning, are you going to wake up and still
Comrade: Well then, what are you going to do about it?
The moment you think you don’t have any power is the moment you give power away. So here I will use my voice to channel my power. I feel that women’s voices and folks of color are being silenced in this occupation and in this movement.
Let me be clear: silencing is more than speaking over someone. Silencing is not being open to the concept of discussing white male privilege. Silencing is scoffing and rolling one’s eyes when someone is speaking. Silencing is questioning whether certain view points and emotions are rational or legitimate. Silencing is asserting one’s power, intentionally or unintentionally, causing someone else to not be heard. It is not a surprise that this is happening in this occupation because this is the legacy that has been passed down to us, a legacy that we must each take full responsibility for if we hope to change. We all have the power to resist and change these cycles of oppression and it starts with the interpersonal. It starts with your mother, your friends, your lovers, your comrades and spreads. Listen to the women around you. Do not ask anyone to quantify or qualify their experience, but instead understand the invisibility of privilege and how those who are oppressed must be respected as the foremost experts.
On similar note, I am wary of the very masculine definition of radicalism that I have seen continually crop up in my organizing history. A definition where you must earn your stripes in the street and to be arrested means glory. Are we really asking a single mother who works two jobs to pick up her children and then put on a mask to face down riot police? For those without documentation to risk deportation in order to participate in live-streamed General Assemblies and highly policed direct actions? For this movement to become a revolution we must find ways for every person to resist, we must understand the privileges that allow us to be in these spaces and participate in direct action. So often “the most radical” folks are defined as those who will leave anything behind, stop at nothing to win. But so often those left behind are women, children and those who need liberation the most.
This political moment will shape our conversations and politics for years to come. To see thousands of people willing to be brutalized by the cops and forsake their warm beds to speak dissent to authority is a beautiful thing. But we must never forget where we come from and our untold histories of oppression that play out in our daily lives. The 1% is a symptom of the structures that affect everything from how much your bank loan is, to how we speak and listen to each other in General Assemblies. The moment you stop questioning how you have internalized these power structures is the moment you lose.
An Open Letter to All Cat Callers
I recently had a conversation with a young male activist about cat calling and verbal harassment. He seemed to think that deep down women enjoyed this sort of attention…
Dear Cat Callers,
The idea that yelling at a women from across the street about “how fine she looks” is a compliment was a concept definitely created by a man. There is a myth that women need constant affirmation on their appearance and that all comments are good comments. Every sitcom, at one point or another, likes to play with the “feminist who is actually only concerned with male perceptions of herself” bit. Hilarious, undermining female empowerment just cracks me up. But I digress.
For all those cat callers out there, I am going to paint you a picture. It is a Wednesday. I wake up early to find that I am out of coffee. Disgruntled and stressed, I throw on some clothes and prepare to take my five minute walk to the closet cafe. Glancing in the mirror I resist the urge to wonder “what does this outfit says about me” and whether or not it is accentuating the parts of my body that pop culture has deemed as “problem areas.” “Capitalist, patriarchal bullshit,” I think to myself. Halfway down the block I am passed by a truck captained by a young male who feels the need to slow down and comment on “how good I look in that dress” and how “fine” my ass is.
Now here is me, trying to leave behind society’s expectations of me as a women and as a sex object and merely exist between the hours of 8 and 9am. However, simply leaving my house makes some men feel they have the right to instantly put me back in my place as first and foremost a body. Before anything else, women in the United States are evaluated by their physical appearance. Because I left my house, others think they have the right to sexualize me. These comments, however subtle, do not serve as compliments. They are tools to put me in my place. They serve the purpose of reminding me how far we still have to go.
So what do I do with the man in the truck? I would love to stand in the street and loudly list how, in every way, he is a complete and utter misogynist pig. But do I? No. I notice that he has a couple friends with him, that I am alone on this street and that there are a few blocks between me and my destination. No, I keep my head down and keep moving.
These comments do not only serve to humiliate and disrespect me, they also make the male a threat. If you feel you have the right to comment in such a way about my body, what else do you feel you have the “right” to do with my body? This is not simply an oppressor vs. victim situation. These instances serve to perpetuate the power inequalities between men and women, which are harmful to men as well as women. I am forced to leave the house with a shield up judging all those who approach me. Men suddenly become guilty until proven innocent. Is this something you would wish on your daughter? Your mother? Your sister? How do these power dynamics affect those relationships? Just because you are the oppressor does not mean you are immune from the harm you are creating.
So no. It is not a compliment. On the inside I don’t “sort of like the attention.” It is a harmful, disrespectful, and intolerable practice that has been completely normalized within our society. While some may read this and still think this is just a small issue on the laundry list of worldly woes, I must stress how this “small” issue is the canary in the mine for a society that enacts violence towards women daily. Feminism comes last, the idea of gender oppression is barely understood even in supposedly radical circles. Just so we are all clear, this shit was not resolved back in 1969.
So this is a letter to all those men who think they have a right to comment, from a women who just wants to leave her house and feel safe in a world that I occupy with just as much space and purpose and value as you do.
Published on page 27 of the Fall 2011 issue of Leviathan.