Some time ago, trans-activist F. was the target of bullying and harassment via social networks that lasted months and included defamation on Twitter and Facebook, articles in feminist blogs and web sites, and letters to women’s organizations and public institutions to request they ban the presence of F. from feminists spaces. Who did this? Feminists who had been F. friends. Why? For a disagreement with F.
In fact, F. was obliterated from women’s movements and even lost job opportunities. The most serious, perhaps, was the deep depression that affected her and the loneliness in which she had to live this experience.
My second stay in South Africa was marked by the stalking of Ritavee*, my ex-partner’s special friend/ lover. I do not know Ritavee; she is not my friend. I never saw her in person. I only know that she is a mature woman in her 50’s, a social worker, and she lives in Elsies River. However, my presence in Cape Town triggered in her enormous anxiety and strong negative feelings against me: Ritavee took to stalking me and taking screenshots of my publications on Facebook to inform my ex-partner of my movements, as later he admitted to me in a WhatsApp conversation.
Both cases are examples of a behavior that is not strange, but instead is pitiful and very harmful — the destructive socialization of females to please patriarchy and to reproduce patriarchy and oppression at the expense of our integrity as women.
Women fight with the guns of patriarchy
We have been domesticated, trained to obtain the approval of a man and of the patriarchal system at any cost, to do whatever it takes to have a place at his side. We are the result of centuries of pedagogy that creates mistrust between women, and the validation and reproduction of our oppression and conditioning towards mutual competition. This is the root of our inability to deal with conflicts between us in a constructive and non-dehumanizing way. We can only give of what we have and as long as we have an identity as objects instead of individual people, women will be expert agents of misogyny.
Being a feminist, a social worker, an scholar in gender studies doesn’t excuse or free anyone from this, at all.
Women with gender consciousness or women who are social justice activists are not free from endorsing destructive ways to deal with conflicts. Feminists, for example, often use the magic expression with which we believe to resolve the matter in our favor and wipe the stance of the other out: “Then you are not a Feminist.” This cliché makes us believe that it is more important to recognize each other under a label, rather than accept each other as people — that is, as individuals that are works in progress full of with contradictions and conflicts. This is how we dehumanize ourselves in the name of the cause of the humanization of women.
People who say “It’s not feminist that you do / say …” choose to obliterate the subjectivity of other women to validate their own vision of feminism. They are probably right. Many things that women do are not feminist at all, but something better -expressions of our humanity. We should not deny them. I’m not interested in a feminist perspective where I do not see myself as human. The radical idea that women are people is the basic notion of feminism. People are fallible beings, imperfect, with rough areas, moments of doubt and empty spaces.
Conflict as a pedagogical heritage
Patriarchy comes into conflict in order to other and defeat the opponent and women have learned these paradigms in relating to each other. Even if we find the model of perfect society and achieve the total eradication of female oppression, conflict would exist. However, this is positive if we think of conflict as a pedagogical opportunity, an instance to exercise an ethic in which we engage the following ideas:
1.-The controversy is not seen as an extra-ordinary and tragic event.
2.-The objective is not to destroy another woman, because there are no opponents, but interlocutors.
3.-There is an acknowledgment that each carries a knowledge and this recognition makes it possible to explore new paradigms to resolve conflicts.
4.-There is awareness of how privilege, the dynamics of power, and the control of knowledge affect the development of conflict.
5.-There is recognition that the participants are people.
6.-The emotionality is thought and the intellectuality, felt.
7.-Things are said straight forward, not through friends, lovers or messengers.
8.- You can agree on the disagreement.
It sounds easy, but it is not. Breaking with negative socialization means engaging in new practices and this, itself, can be a source of conflict. For this reason, this change in the way women confront each other is not possible without sisterhood; that is, without an explicit and strategic agreement of collaboration between women in a patriarchal context based on the pro-humanization principle that enables human action of respect between women as individuals.
This is not about loving each other for life, or being friends, exchanging gifts or going out together to the movies, or agreeing in everything. It’s not a friendship, it’s a political strategy.
It is about sharing the analysis of problems and information, about practicing empathetic rationality, thus escaping the mechanisms of emotional blackmail, manipulation, and vital dogmatism learned from patriarchy. Individually, understanding sisterhood means freeing yourself from the learned pettiness and stupidity, from the endorsing of violence, from the abuse that is reproduced and / or tolerated. It means committing to a humanized vision of oneself and other women on a daily basis in the personal and the political, in love and hate.
Picture: Cholitas Wrestling. La Paz, Bolivia. Flickr
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is an international journalist, community educator, an awarded women’s rights activist and an independent scholar in Religion, Gender and Politics.