published at SistersUnderground Oct 25, 2011
“THRILL SEEKING FEMALES UNITE”
The SCUM conference announcement dared me.Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore, this
THREE DAY RADICAL FEMINIST CONFERENCE
is for civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females who want to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation…….and destroy male supremacy!
Sold and sold! I was ready to go. Then I saw it.
“Perth, Western Australia”
So I left a wistful comment wishing them the best of luck then prayed to gods I don’t believe in for the miracle it would take to get me there. The miracle turned out to be feminist sisterhood.
The organizers met my tossed off hope of attending with hundreds of dollars for airfare, a place to stay, and a spot discussing my radical activism. Once these two generous women gave form to my sojourn, women’s donations filled in the gaps and built a matriarchal microcosm of gift-giving economy.
That ad hoc radical feminist meeting exceeded expectations, and thus began a thirst to see just how far they could take the radfem resurgence they had stoked.
A core of thirty women spent three radfemtastic days in Perth, a city infamous for its relative isolation from civilization. About five of the women were under 35 and at least ten were over 60, making for quite a multi-generational meeting if you disregard that no teens attended. Younger women were prominently dressed in black and the elders were a living homage to varying shades of purple.
The community hall Allecto and Amazon Mancrusher (I could happily type that name a hundred times) selected was perfect beyond expectation. The pink adobe-like venue sat cheerfully among permaculture gardens and hosted environmentalist enclave standards like a solar powered fountain and art made from recycled materials. Inside was a well supplied kitchen, a bathroom with a shower, and a meeting room for fifty people scented with what I’m almost sure was a jasmine tree near the front entrance.
For the three nights of conference I could choose to either sleep in a proper bed back at the house or at the hippie paradise of the Earthwise center with other overnighters, which wasn’t so much a choice as a gift from goddesses I don’t believe in. I would have slept on what turned out to be a very comfortable mat just for the jasmine, but the assembled women were as charming and hilarious a sleepover crew as ever did play Balderdash.
We began the first morning’s business by listening to Nyungah elder Doolan Leisha Eatts speak about Indigenous Australia’s infamous stolen children. Families ripped apart by racism isn’t a new story, but what shook me was how recent and raw the crimes felt when sharing the air with a woman telling breathless truths. Carbon footprint guilt aside, sacrifices were made to bring me to the other side of the planet and I had considered Skype as an alternative, but there really is something magical about women gathering in a space together.
Later, Iranian-born activist Noushin Aref-Adib gave a solemn lecture about women’s especial vulnerabilities in war and in refugee situations. Sadly, Ms. Aref-Adib was crunched for time and skipped out of work to barely attend her own session before bolting back to her responsibilities.
Lyn Ariel dipped into feminism’s plentiful herstory with a recap of the bumper stickers, buttons, and protest signs that consolidated the conscience of the women’s liberation movement. We talked about the original meanings of phrases like “the personal is political” and “sisterhood is powerful” while contemplating how interpretations have changed. Then Betty McLellan upped the ante a few notches by focusing on the biggest one word feminist motto of all, “revolution.”
The first of several lively debates and the one I’ve been cheeky about calling “Betty’s revolution workshop,” the old activist bugaboo ‘reform or rebirth’ was re-examined. We questioned goals and how to achieve them while looking at possible roadblocks. Listening to young radfems, including those at SCUM, I get the notion that 80’s baby girls are getting over being told to get over men’s terracidal behaviors. Gail Dines did an Australian tour this summer and what she said at the Wheeler Center is worth interrupting this article for 1 minute and 8 seconds.
For the audio-incapable, the takeaway quote is, “I can tell you after teaching women for twenty odd years, if I go in and teach liberal feminism I get looked at blank ‘eh, interesting.’ I go in and teach radical feminism, bang, the room explodes.”
For a full picture of my Friday night I take you briefly back to September 22 and my first day in Perth. Thursday was planned as the first day so I could be attend the Western Australia Parliament House launch of Big Porn Inc, by venerable feminist bookmakers Spinifex Press. Editor Melinda Tankard Reist is an antiporn movement unto her Bionic Woman self with enough successes under her belt to require a much sturdier belt. Her organization Collective Shout – unhindered by the maligned and manipulated US Constitution’s first amendment – is a constant challenge to porn profiteers, and she asked me to speak with the emerging Collective Shout Perth group.
I jumped right from the end of SCUM’s Friday program into a taxi full of radical women headed for the oceanfront restaurant where Collective Shout met. As a full time bicyclist, months can elapse without me getting in a car, so on a good day car rides only make me feel trapped in a knocked-over phone booth being shaken by an angry demigod. Coming but one day after a 25-hour airplane flight, the taxi ride to the beach was the catalyst for a bout of jet lag that turned my brain to jelly and my appetite to zilch. I mustered through a short presentation mostly on the adrenaline rush that doing anarchist activism brings to this admitted stress junkie.
Saturday morning greeted us with impromptu art projects coordinated by Georgi Stone. Tools and utensils were piled on a table with instructions to choose one that represents feminism, a ripe opportunity for ribald jokes even without the obvious hatchet and nutcracker. When it came time to make art I couldn’t catch a creative groove but soon found my place gathering flowers, sticks, and leaves from the garden for other women. Sculpting isn’t my thing and I’m a bit cynical about, well, everything because I’m a radfem but also art, however the end results included some impressive explanations for the offered objets d’art.
Spider Redgold is a vivid woman with provoking thoughts on sacredness. In elementary school I read mythology books like nobody’s business and I emerged from that phase confused enough to be confident my puny mortal self was agnostic; atheism always seemed like the purview of presumptuous asses. I mention this because Spider veers off the usual charts of religion and also from what would be called spirituality, though truth be told some of the divinity-touching experiences she speaks of could be classified as ghost stories. Belying surface judgments, her sense of the sacred isn’t located in the spacey woo of stereotype but sits grounded in psychology, biology, social anthropology and the female experience.
Next up was Valerie Solanas. Okay not really her because she’s dead, but the SCUM gathering revolved on an axis of honoring our accomplished sister and all Saturday afternoon we did just that. Amazon Mancrusher and Chris Sitka took us through Valarie’s biography and publications respectively, and Susan Hawthorne set the 1968 SCUM Manifesto into its historical place among other famous manifestos. Together we mourned the lost art of manifesto writing and I got fired up about filling in the blanks of an anti-pornstitution document tentatively titled, “The End Of John.”
I don’t do talent shows. For nine years my dayjob’s annual conference has held them, and for nine years I have avoided the stage. The SCUM women made me so comfortable that I broke that long non-performance record twice in one night. My nonfiction writing is as solid as the facts about prostitution’s harms, but creative efforts are squishy with subjectivity and make me feel vulnerable. Like my ego’s own fairy godmother, Amazon Mancrusher swooped in an hour before the show and asked if I would display my best talent– concisely countering prostitution apologists. We wound up riffing a mock back and forth that covered the standards, and since then I’ve been trying to reconcile how messed up it is that I would very much rather debate prostitution with belligerent blowhards than read one of my poems out loud.
The last news that must be relayed about the talent show was the surprise appearance by lesbian heroine Superdyke. She flew in with a sparkly cape and left her electric labrys glowing green throughout the night for those of us sleeping at the venue.
Sunday morning began with a heavier topic than Saturday’s fun art project as we discussed conflicts in feminist groups. Rain Lewis did an admirable job providing an overview of formative conflicts between girls in childhood, but I’ll admit to expecting a more practical, activist-oriented session. If we had three hours to hash out the subject instead of one I’m sure we would have gotten there, but a grenade of a topic like that requires skillful moderation and ample time to pull off productively.
Finally, my session arrived. Titled “Radical Activist Strategies: Zero risk through high risk acts of resistance and reclamation,” I like to think it delivered. Usually my presentations are Pornstitution 101 with as much radfem theory as can be crammed into the allotted time. For this crowd I expanded into the exciting realm of anarcha-feminism with greater detail than has ever been possible in the Western Hemisphere. Short moments of subterfuge have snuck into talks because they’re an integral part of my politics, but never as detailed as what I let rip in Perth. I was exhilarated and then exhausted in the usual post-gig way.
Doctoral student Ryl Harrison took the floor when I finished and her testimonies of porn culture infecting pre-teen girls was expectedly horrific. Pornography intrudes into kid’s lives and the adult response has been embarrassed silence and dogmatic refusals to provide honest sexual education. I wouldn’t believe that a modern sex ed program for 16 to 24 year-olds could make no mention of pornography if I haven’t personally witnessed men getting evasive and angry at being asked to provide titles of the porn they use.
There’s not much point in detailing Allecto’s workshop on women’s spaces because she has provided it in full to Radfem Hub readers. Her summation of the group response is worth repeating, “discussion was especially passionate.”
The group then broke into informal sessions about using the internet and plotting various insurgencies. By that time I was emotionally wrung and instead of joining in I used the time to say goodbyes to women on their way out.
Australia is the first country in all my life’s wanderlusty travels that brought the phrase, “I could live here” frequently to mind. Maybe not bike lane deficient Perth, but there’s a can-do pioneer optimism in Australian culture that the born and raised New Yorker in me found refreshing. I don’t know what combination of factors left me with that impression – and it’s not like I spend a lot of time in multigenerational, women-only, radfem spaces to compare – but I liked the feeling so I’m going to roll with it.
They’re saying Melbourne 2012. See you there.
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