August 2009

Feminism in America was from its inception permeated with classism and racism. Sojourner Truth’s entreaty “Ain’t I a Woman” was a plaintive cry out to a movement that had by and large overlooked women of colour, immigrant women and women trapped in sweatshops. The working poor and the unemployed poor, unwed mothers, widows not only had no place at the table in 19th century American feminism but were covertly and frequently overtly excluded from not only the benefits of the “sisterhood” but also from the “sisterhood” itself.

The”sisterhood” of the 19th century, those women of privilege brought into being a style of feminism that narcissistically mirrored the privileged places in American society that they occupied. Often the wives of prominent man, their feminism was aimed at attaining the privileges held by their white Anglo-Saxon Protestant husbands. But, in addition to already possessing many of the social privileges of their husbands, they tragically reflected the prejudices of the narrow segment of community that brought them forth.

Successive waves of American feminism were built upon the bedrock`of this classist and racist movement. Overt hostility gave way to arrogant neglect. From its inception, the stratified hierarchy of American feminism, motivated by an arrogant sense of noblesse oblige functioned in loco parentis, that is seemingly with the powers of a parent over the agenda of women, whose issues and lives they were wholly out of touch with and made no effort to understand except in terms of their own culture and experience. The faces remained largely Caucasian; the issues remained largely upper middle class. At a time that women of color, immigrant women and single mothers were struggling for survival, mainstream feminism continued to be preoccupied with breaking the glass ceilings, pay equality for executives and reproductive rights. With HIV sweeping through women of color, American feminism politely ignored growing epidemic.

There have been repeated demands and pleas for change; the shortcomings of the feminist movement had been pointed out not only by the Right, which delights in doing so but also by the left, whose diverse spectrum is barely represented at all in the leadership of the feminist movement.

The structure of the movement is hierarchical and therefore vertical. Its goals have been defined from the time of its inception through the modern era by a leadership that in a very real sense rules sometimes more, and sometimes less benevolently over the image, demands, and agenda that it presents to the world on behalf of a majority of women far different than itself

Spanish feminism, as opposed to this, developed as a popular and populist movement of women living with nearly feudal oppression, dispossession and disadvantage. Closely tied with it were the first women attending universities in the country in many instances. It was philosophically allied with humanism, socialism and even anarchism.

As a horizontal rather than a vertical structure, as a populist rather than an elitist movement and based on a fundamental premise of mutual support and improving the welfare of all women as opposed to attaining privileges associated with empowered white males for a select few, Spanish feminism or horizontal feminism is more egalitarian and inclusive with a heavy emphasis upon nurturing support in assisting and uplifting an entire sisterhood with close attention to the individual needs of daily life as opposed to abstract ideals and privilege.

The issues of race inequality have to be addressed for horizontal feminism to truly function; women have the obligation be cognizant of and lend themselves to the improvement of the condition of their sisters as part of the improvement of the condition of women as a whole. Healthcare, child care, safety from assault, employment equality all become issues for the entire movement. The agenda is generated from the far reaches of the community through the center to the opposite side, permeating the whole with a co-responsibility for human welfare

There is one defining feature of the group, the divine feminine, esprit feminine or woman’s spirit. To truly function, to truly reflect the nature of women as a whole, the group must be inclusive, must be diverse and must reflect both empathy and advocacy for the entire membership.

It is time to finally part with the fatally flawed structure that has been the model of American feminism and embrace a different, inclusive, co-responsible model, horizontal feminism too and the racial and class distinctions that poison the well of women’s rights


That was the final line made by the computer in the 1991 cult classic movie, “War Games”. Multiple levels of meaning are expressed in that phrase for myself right now. I’m turning my back and walking away from all things trans anything because I finally learned this lesson. My history is there but I no longer will let it or others use it to define me. And in that process I took a wider view of my own life and what I have devoted the rest of my life towards and realize it applies there as well. This is why horizontal feminism which in my own mind is nothing more or less than furthering the re-awakening in the world of Goddess Consciousness.

Goddess Consciousness has also been expressed in the idea of Gaia Ecology, Mother Nature. It is quite simply a belief in the interconnectivity of all of us and a rejection of the belief that mankind is the ultimate expression of the universe who can rape, pillage and plunder all resources at will and without cost.

Ultimately the failure of American Feminism to appeal to the majority of women has been that it “played the game”…and that only can take you so far when the deck has been stacked against you from the beginning. Despite having gained the vote, women still make 23-25% less than a man for the exact same work. The control of a woman’s own body is still a battleground. Roe v Wade is still in constant danger, contraceptives are still being withheld, the ERA never passed. We’ve played the game and gone as far as we can that way. Time to change the entire way we’ve defined our position and stop asking for “rights” within a hierarchy that in the end is nothing more than jockeying for position within that hierarchy and just toss those hierarchies out the window in our own lives altogether.

I’ll be writing in the future on the history of women from a political viewpoint and the demonization of cooperative efforts by the Patriarchy as expressions of the ultimate evil, socialism and what that implies as an answer to healing the world and ourselves as women. Hopefully I will be pointing the way to a new model of Feminism that simply refuses to play games that actually empower our continued enslavement. I invite others who wish to explore this in blog form to add their voices. These ideas are not new. The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House by Audre Lorde is a title of an essay that speaks to this, not just a quote. Read it……add what you know is true, that vertical organizational models are hierarchies and tools of the patriarchy.

I’ve changed the subtitle of this blog to reflect the new direction but actually this is merely my taking the work I do in my daily life to a wider meaning in my writing as well.

If you are now coming here for future discussions on trans anything, I’m afraid you will be disappointed. When I first transitioned I was shunned by the local “transsexual community”, after years of trans activism, considerable effort was made by some to make sure I never was credited or mentioned. Now some of the sisters of transsexual purity wish my name never mentioned again. While all this was done to hurt, it was and is a great gift.

My positions on women and trans remain the same as always: If you are a woman, be one. If you come to women’s space as anything other than a woman, you don’t belong. If you seek women’s space as a form of validation of your womanhood, you are not a woman and should examine why you need that validation for you thus came to take, not share. At any rate, I won’t play in that playground any longer.

Another guest blog and I am opening this blog up to others who also wish to guest blog in the hopes this might become yet another community nexus of those of us who wish to promote this new (old) vision of feminism. It should be apparent that Maura and I share a similar vision here.

“It was a true sisterhood. What bound us together was the spirit within, the spirit of the feminine. Equals.”

We were walking together on the grounds of the Complutense University in Madrid when my mentor and former profesora spoke those words to me. We were discussing the feminist movement of the last years of the Spanish Republic, known as “feminismo.” Feminismo gave rise to the Mujeres Libres, the Free Women of the Civil War.

“The Americans are crazy, Maureen. They will replace the Patriarchy of men with a Patriarchy of women. Who speaks for the poor or for the Moors(her word for African)? No one. It is a vertical feminism, and it will oppress and marginalise in the name of liberation, and I tell you Chica that no greater abomination exists than women denying their spirit of sisterhood and instead becoming the oppressor. They will, you watch.” Her lesson of the day to me had begun.

The feminism of 1930’s Spain had its roots in Existentialism and in Humanism. It was pro-active rather than reactive. Women advocated for each other and on behalf of each other. It was not exclusive to any class or race, or even sex; its nature would not permit that. “You find the feminine within all willing to recognise it, Maureen. Some people more than others, for they have been taught to shut it away or that it is weakness rather than strength.”

It was a horizontal feminism, as she expained to me, rather than a vertical feminism. Vertical implies a power structure, horizontal implies equality. Sisterhood demands equality and therefore a horizontal feminism was the trademark of the Feminismo and the later Anarcho-Feminism of the Civil War and the Mujeres Libres.

Horizontal feminism was born eight thousand years before Christ, two thousand years before the beginning of the chronology of the Bible. It began in rooms of women sifting grain or weaving, and was given voice by the singing of the women and by their drumming, using the grain sieves. Women lent their skills and time to each other for the benefit of all.

As a sisterhood, horizontal feminism demands responsibility for the welfare of all of the members of the community. That which women have in common, the divine feminine which marks us as sisters, is precious and is to be nurtured and cherished whatever the form it takes and in whomsoever it appears. By its nature defining us as women, it would therefore be that force which brings our sisters of unique journeys such as our trans sisters to the table of the Espirit Feminine.

Horizontal, not vertical. Therefore there is no superior position, no special privilege recognised. No racial preference, no class distinction. Women function as a family, as a community and by consensus.

During the Civil War, with the disappearance of services and resources, Femisimo and horizontal feminism was put to its most practical test. Communities of women created schools, hospitals, established militias and brigades, raised each other’s children as a communal family, worked as doctors, soldiers, teachers, engineers, writers, nursemaids cooks, and succeeded in sustaining an idea of equality while under attack from the Falanagist/Franquistas/Nationalists and the Luftwaffe. The women, Las Mujeres, yielded to no control but their own.

Horizontal feminism reaches across all lines and distinctions. It is not exclusory, it thrives by inclusion and what each sister brings into it. The sisters of the community are defined by a force within, a flame that each member, each sister, each woman has an obligation to nurture, cherish and to protect in one another.

The Lesbian must bear responsibility for, cherish and nurture the feminine spirit within her straight sister, her trans sister, her “moorish” sister, her poor sister, her Islamic sister; in short, the totality of womankind. The others are moved from within to do the same.

“We are one or we will be none, Maureen” she told me in English to emphasise the point with the alliterative accents.

Equality merely begins with horizontal feminism; a first step if you will, but without this step there is no possibilility of equality at all.

By way of introduction I will reveal that Maura Hennessey, Irish lesbian activist extraordinaire, has visited our home in the Catskills and along with a board member of HRC we shared an evening of spirited and delightful debate on feminism past and present. Her “friend of operative history” is a mutual one.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was an epoch of foolishness; it was an age of wisdom…”

In short, it was the 1970’s. A brash, angry and outspoken woman named Greer was caught up in and in fact one of the public faces of the feminist movement in the British Commonwealth. In Boston, a young graduate student was working upon expanding the ideas of her doctoral supervisor and rumoured lover. Her work on gender and feminism would be perceived as largely theoretically sound to a point, making a sudden leap to come to a conclusion nearly inconsistent with the first few chapters of her work. Her name was Janice Raymond.

“To understand what came after, it is important to know what came before.” In this case, it is important to understand the milieu in which both of these women arrived at the conclusions that are forever associated with their names.

Feminism arrived with not so much a trumpet blare as a cannon blast. Partly it was fueled by the availability of contraception, which meant that “good girls could…and did” and partly it was a reaction to the sociological experiment known as the Eisenhower years . The sexual revolution was on and with it a rapid and vertigo-inducing shift in ideas about women, women’s roles, women’s rights.

Donna Reed and June Cleaver were replaced by Angela Davis and Bernadine Dohrn(or Bernadette Devlin, if you were overseas). The stereotyped conservative, deferential housewife was exposed as a mockery of women, contrived to encourage a TV-opiated television audience to accept and to accomodate the dominance of men

Roles and stereotypes were ripped away, derided and condemned as what they were, sociological chains wrapped around women to keep them in their places serving comfortable a patriarchy deluding itself that it was exercising noblesse oblige in caring for their servant-wives and servant-daughters.

Into this age, this milieu and this sociological revolution came the higher awareness of transsexuality. The public began to hear of cases more frequently. These women now in the public eye were conventional in speech, in behaviour, in belief and in behaviour with perhaps the exception of Dr Richards. They were by and large heterosexual and socially conservative. Much as women of the fifties were shaped by the social constructs of men, the presentation of trans-women of the 1970’s was as well. Donna Reed and June Cleaver had returned, only now they emerged from the operating room. The culprit was the standards used for operative selection, permitting only women attracted to macho men, demure, feminine, attracted to frilly things. Man had become God and created woman in the image of his own fantasies and his own misogynistic desire for dominance. Man wrote the criteria for the surgery, insuring only women from the fifties languishing in the 1970’s could achieve their goal of mind-body agreement.

New women were coming into existence, it seemed, garnering public attention, and these new women were caracitures of the goals of women radicals, the antithesis of the feminist desire to shatter glass ceilings and glass walls, to end the control of men over their reproduction and thier bodies. The new women would in the end use conservative ideals, conservative life choices, and conventionalism to survive “in a man’s world.” By and large they are not to be blamed, this was the price of surgery and men had written the rules.

To women like Raymond and Greer, it seemed as if the Stepford Wives had arrived upon the scene. Worse, they seemed to have equal media access to send a decidedly anti-feminist image in nations where women were struggling for independence of men and equality to men. The anger and rage towards the men who had created post surgical Mrs. Cleavers spilled out in poisonous draughts upon their creations, whether or not they were truly ‘caricatures.’ An entire class of women was condemned in a fashion just as separatist, just as elitist and just as noxious as that of the men who Greer and Raymond were declaring their separate identity from.

Raymond and Greer condemned an entire group when their anger was at the man made social image of women carefully selected and crafted by male medical professionals. Over time, women freed themselves of the expectations of men and trans-women found medical professionals who would do likewise…

But ….the Stepford Wives, the ‘Desparate Corrected Housewives,’ these are still with us. Anti-feminist, conservative, demanding purity in their ranks, we know them by various names. Embracing a conventionality of the 1950’s, defining their group as heterosexual, frequently anti Lesbian their socialisation as women seems to be out of 1950’s and early 1960’s television; one wonders if they would appear in black and white or in colour were you to meet them.

I remark upon the socialisation because for the past 40 years women have had, unless living in a polygamous Mormon compound or a fundamentalist enclave, broader views of roles women can play, women’s sexuality and even women’s spirituality than is to be found amongst the heirs of Greer’s and Raymond’s targets. Worse, they choose, out of some desire for separatism and ‘legitamacy’ the lives, beliefs and roles of the trans-women of decades ago who had no choice but to be what their masters in the medical establishment meant them to be or they would never see the inside of an operating room.

They condemn Lesbians, they condemn radicalism, they condemn women’s spirituality which even Girl Scouts are exposed to and either overtly or covertly participate in. Though overinclusive, there remains a truth to Greer’s condemnation, though she points it in the wrong place.

There are caricatures, but in limited numbers, clinging to conventionality, defining others out of their cohort, roundly condemning women’s radicalism of spirit, spirituality, politics or sexuality. They are not amongst us, for they desire separateness of identity while claiming at the same time the title of women. While a conventionalised and more reactionary Greer points in one direction, the true anti-feminist caricature is to be found in the opposite.

The current “debates” about health care legislation boggle the mind.

The facts are pretty damn clear if you have just a couple of firing neurons left in your skull.

The insurance companies bought most of the legislators. They are the ones right now denying needed health care to sick people. They are the one’s effectively “pulling the plug” on chronically ill people and they absolutely are already dictating to your health care provider what services they are allowed to give you. Ask your doctor, he’ll tell you straight out. It’s the insurance company’s call on what care you get, not his or hers. Right now.

Forcing universal enrollment without a “public option” is basically handing the insurance industry a license to steal. They’ll not only continue to call all the medical shots but also be free to raise the level of costs so damn high 1/2 the country will be forced into bankruptcy for any major illness and it will be enforced by law! If this doesn’t scare the hell out of you, you are brain dead.

If you think the insurance and drug companies are fighting hard now, watch what happens if they get “reform” that excludes a separate government run program as an option (the public option they are fighting tooth and nail) and anyone even suggests regulation on policy prices! HMOs have been killing Americans for profit for almost forty years now thanks largely to Nixon and Kissinger. They changed the entire way medicine is practiced in the US and gradually removed all medical decisions from the doctors and transferred it to non-medical bean counters who put pricetags on human life. Who in their right mind would buy that changing this isn’t an improvement? Who in their right mind would claim that this will happen when it long ago happened already?

This is Karl Rove tactics on steroids.

Write your congress-critters, tell them in no uncertain terms that healthcare reform minus a choice to opt out of the corporate insurance dictators is absolutely unacceptable and you will be watching how they vote on this and remember it.

This is literally life and death stuff. No public option means no actual health care for most. Socialized medicine scares you so much you are willing to buy corporate fascist medicine? If so you are an idiot, there simply is no nice way to put this.

Still don’t believe me? Then consider this, coming from someone who worked in nursing for years. The average nursing assistant, those women who do 90% of direct patient care, are paid poverty level wages and have NO, NADA, ZIP health insurance themselves. And you think these Med Inc. companies give a damn about you? Guess again.