On Strong Sisters

Regular readers may have noted that the blog has been down for a little while, while I effected a re-location to Greece. It was a sudden decision, but a move that I had been thinking of for a good time, and if not now, then when? It was not only a sudden decision, but also a deeply selfish one. Although the catalyst may have been political, the reasons behind it are personal and I recognise the selfishness in all that I leave for an uncertain future.

Those who know me, or followed the writings that I made from Athens earlier in the year will know that I found it a fascinting place, and despite not knowing the language or having any solid contacts there, I am sure that it will not take me long to find my feet. Athens is at the moment not only fascinating tho, but also really pretty scary. A country where fascist MPs pull guns on people in the street unchallenged or punch other MPs live on televison with no consequences is not a particularly safe place.

The romanticism and sense of adventure which accompanies such a trip is not lost on me, and I feel the same level of anticipation and terror that I am sure many of those who joined the Brigades did. Women have a long history of involvement in anti-fascist struggles, at the time of the Brigades the Mujeres Libres were an armed feminist organisation who fought alongside both anarchist and communist comrades to repeal Franco, while in Greece under the Metaxia regime, the female resistance is celebrated.

The catalyst which prompted this move was a call for a no-platform within a feminist group followed by this tweet, sent from a feminist on the Glasgow Left.

Twitter is of course a truncated medium, and it would take a very long time to tweet all the various comments that were made within the group which called for no-platform. Although the accusation is basically the same, in its extended form, that I am a “fucking homophobic rape apologist arrogant arsehole”.

The controversy has arisen over a blogpost that I made in February, and in particular a comment I made in February in response to a woman who commented that she considered that she had been raped as a child by another woman, despite there being no penetration.

I’m sorry to hear of your experiences, it must be horrible to go through that.

But I stand by my position that while sexual assault can be as traumatising as rape, there is a difference. The difference is that rape involves penetration; and that unwanted penetration is fundamentally more invasive that sexual assault which does not involve penetration.

Once you get rid of that distinction, you effectively lose rape as a distinct crime – as is the case in Canada. By not distinguishing between sexual assault involving penetration and sexual assault without penetration, you deny the added risks of bodily injury and in the case of penile-vaginal rape, unwanted pregnancy as well as the additional violation of something breaching your bodily boundaries.

  Let me be clear.  I stand by my position that rape necessarily involves penetration and make no apologies whatsoever for doing so, but at the same time I wish to address the substantive of the issues raised.


The accusation of homophobia arises because as can be seen from the comment, I do not consider unconsensual sex performed on or by a woman rape unless it involves penetration. The inferences that have been gleaned from that are that I do not consider recognise that two women can have sex and I do not believe that one woman can rape another. Of course I recognise sex between women. But this is not about sex, it is about rape. Rape and sex are different things. Rape is about penetration, sex is not necessarily about penetration. Rape is about power, sex is not necessarily about power. Penetration which is unconsensual is rape, regardless of whether it occurs within a sexual setting or not. Women can rape other women (or men for that matter) if they unconsensually penetrate them.

In a number of further comments, I am accused of using straight privilege, and that it is only the homophobia of wider society which allows me to be tolerated within feminist circles. I spent a long time in my youth immersed in feminist organisations where lesbianism and political lesbianism were vaulted. Throughout my adult life, I have been told that I cannot be a “proper” feminist because I still sleep with the enemy. A few months ago, I was told that my views on feminism were invalid because I was not a virgin and consequently had succumbed to my patriarchial purpose (as if the patriarchy was some kind of injection that you get into your vagina that turns you into a handmaiden). The idea that because I not only admit to like being fucked by men, but also choose exclusively to have sex with them, gives me privilage within the feminist community is simply laughable.

Rape Apologism

On the accusation of rape apologism, words have meanings. The entire post was devoted to arguing against the expansion of the meaning of the word “rape” to include non-penetrative sexual assault.  As I have said this is a position that I maintain and make no apologies for.  I have looked extensively for arguments from a queer feminist perspective on why this definition should be expanded in this manner, and have found nothing convincing.  The main promoters of such an expansion of the definition appear to be Men’s Rights Activists, and as such I consider it a reactionary position.  The two main sources that I was guided to were a post by a queer anarchist mens group and a gratuitously violent film on lesbian rape which took no clear position on the definition.

I have been told that my request for sources is elitist and that it is only because the queer community is so small and marginalised that such sources are not commonplace.  I can understand that sometimes it takes a while for theory to be developed and written about, and that it can be difficult for such communities to publish work.  I would welcome a theoretical contribution to this discussion and am happy to publish it on this blog, however I have yet to see any such substantive argument made from a queer feminist perspective.

The irony of this, particularly bitter, conflict being reignited following a post on online bullying of women, and the role that other women play in this is not lost on me.  Extensive comments were made online which were not only insulting and offensive, but also very personally aimed.  I am no stranger to the cut and thrust of political debate, but the phenomenon of “trashing” within the women’s movement has a long history.

Trashing involves heavy use of the verb “to be” and only a light use of the verb “to do.” It is what one is and not what one does that is objected to, and these objections cannot be easily phrased in terms of specific undesirable behaviors. Trashers also tend to use nouns and adjectives of a vague and general sort to express their objections to a particular person. These terms carry a negative connotation, but don’t really tell you what’s wrong. That is left to your imagination. Those being trashed can do nothing right. Because they are bad, their motives are bad, and hence their actions are always bad. There is no making up for past mistakes, because these are perceived as symptoms and not mistakes.

The acid test, however, comes when one tries to defend a person under attack, especially when she’s not there, If such a defense is taken seriously, and some concern expressed for hearing all sides and gathering all evidence, trashing is probably not occurring. But if your defense is dismissed with an oft-hand “How can you defend her?”; if you become tainted with suspicion by attempting such a defense; if she is in fact indefensible, you should take a closer look at those making the accusations. There is more going on than simple disagreement.

Several of the comments made, related to this blog and the power and “privilege” that it gave me.  Again this phenomenon is well known.  I have become a “magic momma”, a target for the “trembling sister”‘s ire.  A major objection to the comment that I made above was that I had hurt the commentator, that I had not been sufficiently supportive of a survivor of child sexual abuse.  Whether that is the case or not is quite irrelevant.  I am not a councillor and this blog is not a counselling session.  But as Russ explains

hurting another woman’s feelings is the worst thing–the very worst thing–the most unutterably awful thing–that a woman can do. In a world where women and men are starved, shot, beaten, bombed, and raped, the above assumption takes some doing, but since the MM/TS script requires it, it gets made. (The script also assumes that the MM has no feelings, or if she does, hurting them is a meritorious act.)

Russ goes on to explain that putting the Trembling Sister together with the Magic Momma you get the Female Imperative – that women exist for others.  That women are only allowed to use their power to help others, and on the flipside that women are helpless creatures that must rely other the assistance of others to realise their power.   We need to stop this culture, where women turn on each other leaving the men to fill the vacuum. Women are accustomed to being pitted against one another – ironically that is what the article which proved the conduit for this was talking about – women’s role in attacking and damaging one another.  In the 70s women who gave leadership to the movement were routinely trashed, as the trembling sisters attacked for the crime of achievement; the movement ate its leaders.

Strong is what we make
each other. Until we are all strong together,
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.

For Strong Sisters, Marge Piercy

I am aware of the power that I enjoy/ed within the Glasgow Left.  People  from a number of different political traditions and none sought my council.  This blog is widely read and I am regularly invited to speak at a range of meetings.  While this is very flattering it was also exhausting.  I appreciate this power and make no apologies for having it.  It was freely earned and grounded in a respect that people have for me through contact either in person or through my writing.

As I said, my move to Greece is for personal reasons.  But at the same time, I care deeply for the Glasgow Left and wish it to become stronger and more united rather than more fractured and broken.  Consequently I hope that my departure will enable those  women who found my presence too intimidating and scary will be able to summon the courage to become more actively involved and take up the challenge of situational leadership which is critical to the movements success.  For the movement needs strong sisters, not trembling ones.  The fear that women feel in using their power for their own effectiveness is common to all, but it must be overcome, and sisterhood is the means by which women help other women achieve power for their own ends.

In the meantime, I’m off to fight the Golden Dawn.

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