Return to "RETURN OF STREET FIGHTING MAN" main page on CarolMoore.Net

How Violent Males Co-Opt Woman-Initiated Nonviolent Movements 
CarolMoore, Fall 2001

Including excerpt from Robin Morgan's book
THE DEMON LOVER: ON THE SEXUALITY OF TERRORISM

(W.W. Norton, 1989, Chapter 5, “Wargasm: The Revolutionary High”)

        Robin Morgan, a child television actress, was co-founder of the late sixties feminist group WITCH (Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell”) and editor of the 1970s feminist classic SISTERHOOD IS POWERFUL.  She became a 1970s bomb-building member of a revolutionary cell, managed to avoid arrest, and went on to become Editor of MS Magazine.
          In Chapter five of “Demon Lover”, titled “Wargasm: The Revolutionary High”, Morgan describes how women start many movements, men co-opt them just as they start to become viable, and then turn them into excuses to prove their “manhood” through violence, thereby harming the movements.  She uses as examples the civil rights movement  (from Rosa Parks to the Black Panthers), the environmental movement (from Rachel Carson to Earth First and the Red Army faction), and the welfare rights movement (from female welfare clients to male militants.)
          Were Morgan writing today, she would have added the “Anti-Globalization” or “Global Justice Movement.”  After I put the excerpt on an anarchist feminist list, one woman wrote back: “I couldn't say that womyn are the only ones in this movement but the ideas were definitely politicized by womyn first.” She then provided a long list of such women activists and women-led groups, including: Lori Wallach of Public Citizen, Vandana Shiva, Wangari Maathai, Sarah Van Gelder, Vicki Robin, Quebec longtime organizers who created the World March of Womyn, Sally Soriano, Priti Ramamurthy, Frances Moore Lappe.  She noted: “There's commonalities between all of their critiques but it's mainly more small scale, grass-roots community organizing that womyn are doing or have seemed to put their energies into.”  None of these women expected that their decades long efforts would become merely one more movement in which macho young white males could prove their manhood.
          Of course, even in the peace movement self-avowed "pacificists" will freely mock women who dare to criticize diversity of tactics or make any kind of feminist analysis of patriarchal institutions or actions.  See the DAWN/SHAC incident which includes the obnoxious The Betty Big Butt incident.

Morgan writes:

These [civil rights, environmental movment, welfare rights movement] are only three examples.  One can look in any direction where “the revolution” beats its chest and howls, and see the same process.  Given minor variations, I would delineate that process in ten steps.

1.  Women notice a problem, compare notes about it, name it, decide to do something about it.
2.  Women move from the daily resistance that informs their lives (hiding children from slave masters or armies, secreting food for their families in famine, writing protest letters, etc.) into a loose linkage of action with other women (parent groups, church affiliations, "good works" associations, neighborhood action committees, market womens guilds, etc.). These are all voluntary. The groups are informal, fluidly structured, filled with a sense of hope and good will.
3. These groups urge, cajole, and guilt-trip ("nag") men to become involved: agribusiness is taking over the farm; the corner needs a traffic light; a toxic-waste dump shouldn't go in next door; this village needs a well. I would characterize this phase as "Please, Herman, come with me to the meeting. It’s helpful. Honest, you'll like it."
4. The men finally become involved. The issue is now Important because it is no longer a "women's issue." The men assume leadership. The women permit this because they are relieved that the men are now concerned and active at all, they know that the men will be Taken Seriously, and they know that the men won't return to future meetings if they're not the leaders.
5.  Because men's time is valuable, the leadership positions can no longer be voluntary; the men must be salaried. Funds must therefore be raised. The women raise the money through more voluntarism (making and selling baskets, bake sales, etc.).
6. The men regard the women as tangential to the issue because the issue is now Political. (Tautologically, if it's a women’s issue, it's not important; if it's an important issue, it doesn’t concern women.) Because of their self-serving myopic definition of women's issues, the men exclude the women as a political constituency. The men say that prior to this time, the group was "masturbatory-rnerely talking to those already convinced." Now, however, the men will build a real 'movement,' i.e., the men will confront other men.
7.  A fatal shift in tone occurs-a slide from moral and spiritual integrity (now regarded as sentimental, idealistic, womanly) into self-righteousness. If the previous activism was church-oriented, for example, the shift is likely to be from a spiritual basis to one of religious fanaticism. Fragmentation of the practical from the metaphysical occurs-with the former then being lost in materialist fundamentalism and the latter being lost in religious fundamentalism of various sorts.
8.  The consequence of this fragmentation is the emergence of the "higher good" fallacy, leading to an ends-justify-the-means attitude. As abstractions proliferate, the original issues are likely to be forgotten entirely. Unease expressed by the women at this point is dismissed as conservatism, cowardice, liberalism, or divisiveness. Acceptance of this situation separates the girls (the tokens) from the women.
9.  The combination of a circumscribed constituency, self-righteousness, and the concept of an abstract higher good introduces manhood as the real issue. Manhood identity now depends on waging the struggle. Rhetoric, "turf," tools and weapons uniforms, become fetishes of that manhood identity, as in Frazer's concept of contagious magic to the savage mind.  The result is a dead end: the shift from living for a cause--e.g.,fighting to enhance the quality of living-to dying for a cause now locks into place. Violence. Those who question are traitors.
10.  A politics of hope has become a politics of despair. The goal is now too abstract and absolute to be attainable, nor can manhood be satisfied by less. Cynicism sets in, as does the strategy of provocation and polarization. What once aimed fora humanistic triumph now aims for a purist defeat. Martyrdom. The State obliges.
     The politics beneath the politics was manhood.
      One way to see this absurdity in perspective is to reverse the reversal and imagine people boasting about killing and dying in "womanhood struggles." That women have indeed been robbed of a self-defined womanhood ought to be obvious by now, but women don't seem to feel that supertoughness and murder will suffice to recreate the self or engender that womanhood identity. However enraged we become---and however much an individual woman may act (classically) in defense of her children or (lately) in defense of herself-women as a group do not mobilize for our own rights through violent means. Too patient? Too hesitant, having considered too many variables? Too held back by the virtues of ambivalence? One thing is certain- men of the State-that-is and men of the State-that-would-be share form as well as content; as the State increasingly adopts terrorist means, so the terrorists increasingly adopt State structures of organization---"playing State," so to speak. They become mirror images admiring each other. And men of the State-that-is and of the State-that-would-be also share a peculiar intoxication. It permits them to call up armies, attach electrodes to living flesh, justify the invention, testing, and stockpiling of world-destroying weapons; it also permits them to "knee-cap" informers with electric drills, purge "incorrect" col-leagues by literal crucifixion, and eventually to consider the political reasons for doing these things as secondary or irrelevant to the mere doing of them as creative acts. Such men suffer from a lack of ambivalence....A lack of ambivalence cannot tolerate complexity or compassion.  A lack of ambivalence is the hallmark of leadership–in the State-that-is and the State-that-would be...A lack of ambivalence must be trained into a man.  Can it ever be trained out of him?  Reward of ambivalence is “a frenzy, an excitement, an exhilaration–an organismic thrill in violent domination with which, he is taught, no act of lovemaking could possibly compete.”