Self As Other: Reflections on Self-Care Now Available Hand-bound and as PDF

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In activist circles and elsewhere, it has become commonplace to speak of self-care, taking for granted that the meaning of this expression is self-evident. But “self” and “care” are not static or monolithic; nor is “health.” How has this discourse … Continue reading

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New Zine Drops Soon

In collaboration with CrimethInc., members of SheRevolts will be offering a new zine later this summer, “Self as Other: Reflections on Self-Care.” Enjoy a sneak peek at the cover image here, and check out the introductory essay here.

Self as Other

 

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The Zine- Issue # 1 (click on the image)


The Politics of Radical Relationships

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The Politics of Radical Relationships – The ZINE

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Othering Occupy: Against the Rhetoric of Fear

by C. de Gabriak

On the anniversary of the Occupy movement, two speakers squared off to debate what tactics are legitimate and effective for bringing about social change, and who gets to define the movement’s goals. The debate exposed assumptions about power and safety, revealing how these concepts are framed differently in the language of the mainstream than of the disenfranchised. Facing these controversies, we must find a way past the fears  that would fracture this movement to embrace the irrational, the damaged, and the vulnerable into a network of support.

The most fascinating thing about the Occupy movement is its bizarre diversity—the broad sweep of humanity who poured into the encampments, sleeping, eating and working side by side for months. Drawn together by shared discontent—but not necessarily a shared vision for the future—Occupiers in most cities often found themselves butting heads with people they would never have chosen to organize or live with, people who seemed to be messing up this golden opportunity for real change. Whether they were Ron Paul supporters, 9/11 conspiracy theorists, those struggling with addiction or mental illness, black-clad anarchists, militant people of color, or middle-class journalists, many occupiers eventually wanted to draw a line around “us” and “the other” in an attempt to define who Occupy really was. Surmounting all these factions was the rallying cry, “We are the 99%”—a hopeful, if simplistic, call for unity. On the streets, we experienced Occupy as a social experiment, learning to organize by navigating difference—general assemblies at their best gave marginalized people a voice in a shared process of creating and defending a commons. But the mostly middle-class journalists and writers within the movement had the chance to publicly frame Occupy, and some chose to define it as a movement of people a lot like them.

This was the crux of Chris Hedges’ argument in his recent debate with B. Traven of the CrimethInc. Ex-Workers’ Collective about tactics, non-violence, and legitimacy; Hedges repeatedly called for Occupy to be a “mainstream movement.” While never explicitly defining who fell outside that mainstream, he implied that the fringes of society harbor monsters: proto-fascist militias, agents provocateurs, hyper-masculine individualists who could bring the full force of the State on the heads of the innocent. A journalist who has covered many wars and uprisings, Hedges continually digressed into cataloging atrocities he’s witnessed and warning of the terrible power of the State. He may have wanted to emphasize the gravity of our situation, but what I saw was a man paralyzed by fear, grasping for one shining and simple solution to take us out of the war zone and into safety. While his goals may be different, his rhetoric is not too far from the fearmongering mainstream media outlets engage in—encouraging us to fear each other (or the most disenfranchised and desperate amongst us) rather than the powers that keep us oppressed.

I agree that our culture’s shadow side is one of dehumanizing violence; many of us have experienced it firsthand and bear the scars and the psychological fallout—being quicker to attack or readier to hide. But I would argue that it does not arise in greater numbers or ferocity on the fringes of society—merely that we have been taught to “see” violence there and ignore it elsewhere, a point B. Traven elaborated in one of the few moments of the debate that directly touched on the question of how we define violence, and how a seemingly semantic argument has grave implications for the disenfranchised.

As A. K. Thompson wrote in anticipation of the debate, “the proponents of nonviolence assert the strategic and ethical superiority of their position without ever acknowledging the State violence that underwrites it.”[i] This is not to defend the irresponsible use of force, or to minimize the real fear that can arise at protests when people who aren’t expecting property destruction feel caught in the crossfire. It’s easy to understand why nonviolent protesters feel threatened by these acts.

My own beliefs as an activist were originally much more in line with Hedges’.  Partially in response to generations of violence in my own family, I converted to Buddhism as a teenager and devoutly practiced ahimsa, the doctrine of nonviolence. When I first attended mass demonstrations in 1999 I considered myself a pacifist. I was initially unimpressed with the masked anarchists I saw overturning dumpsters and setting them on fire—they seemed juvenile and irrelevant. I pathologized them, as I’d been taught, as ignorant and violent people. The ensuing years of activism have refined my understanding of diverse tactics—I learned the less public history of forceful struggles that have accompanied social change in this country, from the striking miners of Blair Mountain to the armed Black Panthers and the Oscar Grant uprisings, and I became close friends with a range of people whose tactics I don’t always agree with and who take risks I’d never choose to take. People who Chris Hedges would consider outsiders and parasites on the mainstream movement, I’m proud to know as loyal friends and passionate activists.

What I hope Hedges took away from this debate is that the mass movement he’s imagining will depend on a painfully wide coalition. We’ll need all of us, damaged as we are, who care enough to fight. This includes masked kids who occasionally escalate conflict unwisely, and it includes middle-aged journalists who slip up and dehumanize potential allies when they disagree with their tactics. It could include those in the “mainstream” that Hedges is anxious not to alienate—but they’re going to have to embrace those of us who occupy the fringes, with as much compassion and willingness to learn as we will need in learning to work with them. I imagine that Hedges believes we need the mainstream because they hold the most social power—but those who hold power often fear losing it too much to join an uprising, at least until their power slips. Even as the middle classes are slipping into poverty, most of them haven’t abandoned their sense of entitlement to a higher place in society than those who have historically been on the fringes. Nor have they overcome their fear of people with different ideas about how to effect change.

Which leads to the most interesting area of this debate: how do we overcome our fear—of each other and of the State—and become capable of tremendous collective courage? Hedges clearly fears Black Bloc tactics. During the debate he backed down from his original stance to asking only that there be a proper “time and place” for such tactics. His argument, that a diversity of tactics gives the police “an excuse” to attack the crowd, is a familiar one which always reminds me of the fractured logic of hostages or abusive families. When there is someone with disproportionate power to hurt many of us, we are far more likely to scapegoat troublemakers in our midst as the ones who “cause” those in power to act violently and irrationally. When we act to preserve ourselves at the expense of others we have begun to believe the logic of our oppressors; we may strive our entire lives to be good enough for them not to hurt us. Or, in the case of proponents of nonviolence, good enough that others will see our innocence as they hurt us. It’s this troubling moralism that allows our culture to demonize and condemn so many who fight to defend themselves. The same logic used to delegitimize Black Bloc tactics has been instrumental in criminalizing the most vulnerable among us who rise up to defend themselves. CeCe McDonald, a trans woman currently serving time for defending herself and her friends against a violent assault, is one example of a brave woman whose marginal social status left her vulnerable to being criminalized by the State.[ii]

As Traven concluded, the question is not whether people are going to resist with force, but “what happens when they revolt. If there is no movement for them to participate in, they’re going to act out in isolation. They’re going to throw their lives away.” Isolation is the most toxic condition of our times, and the state enforces it wherever it can. The various forms of oppressive violence in our culture—patriarchy, racism, and transphobia, to name a few—foster distrust and fear amongst us. Only when we can face the violence we’ve internalized, and neutralize the narratives of fear that surround us, will we begin to feel the power we wield together. Only when we grow sick of othering and excising will we recognize that compassion, solidarity, and courage are not exclusively tied to one narrow moralism.

 

 

 

 

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She revolts Audio II – Open discussion!!!

Audio She revolts open discussion!!!

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She revolts Audio I

Why are relationships political issues? What does it mean to have a relationship that resists an oppressive model?

Pleasure, vulnerability, the panopticon, Psyche, Melusina, intimacy and the empire, patriarchy, resistance and the intimate sphere, are some of the things we want to talk about.

Brief lectures by Corina Dross, Bronwyn Lepore, Kristen Asher, Fulvia Serra and Jen King.

Open discussion to follow.

Jini Kades and Jiulianne Kornacki will be facilitating.

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Reserchez les Communards: The Anarchist Struggle of Louise Michel

Recherchez les Communards: The Anarchist Struggle of Louis Michel

defenestrator archive
by Bronwyn Lepore
During her trial before the 6th Council of War on December 16th of 1871, Paris communard and professed anarchist, Louise Michel, accused of complicity in the arrest and execution of Generals Lecomte and Clement Thomas, of fighting in the front lines, of membership in the International, of professing “free thought” in the classroom, etc., etc., though not directly involved in the executions, spoke out before the court: “I do not want to defend myself; I do not want to be defended. I belong entirely to the Social Revolution, and I declare that I accept full responsibility for all my actions…I have been told that I am an accomplice of the Commune, yes; for the Commune wanted, above all else, the Social Revolution, and the Social Revolution is the dearest of my desires.” Michel would have been the first to note that there is something implicitly oxymoronic about the notion of an anarchist hero; though she took an active role in demonstrations and on committees, was known as an outstanding soldier and organizer, ran a school and was responsible for the care of over 200 Communard children, took her turn as a nurse and social worker, was a feminist who recognized that many groups were exploited – the helpless, the poor, the elderly, prisoners, as well as women – was an anarchist motivated by compassion rather than doctrine, Michel saw herself as a revolutionary among revolutionaries. For her role in the Paris Commune – the largest spontaneous urban revolt in modern Western history – she was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment in New Caledonia. On her release, she took up where she had left off, continuing to teach, speak, organize, demonstrate and write, about the necessity of revolution for the liberation of the people from the state, the church, and other authoritarian institutions – despite her time in and out of prison, including 6 years in solitary confinement – until her death in 1905.
So what relevance does Louise Michel have to contemporary anarchism or social change? Why study the Paris Commune of 1871 and those involved? Two brief months of history that began, for the purposes of traditional historians, on March 18th of 1871, with the mostly peaceful takeover over of Paris and its institutions by men, women, and children, forcing the government to retreat to Versailles, the disestablishment of an oppressive church system, the abolishment of the regular army, the police and the bureaucracy and was finally, after a bloody week which witnessed the slaughter of over 20, 000 Communards, stamped out on May 28th. Two months during which an anarchic atmosphere reigned, Vigilance Committees formed, workers’ cooperatives sprang up, equal access to education and the arts was encouraged, night work in bakeries ceased, pawn shop items were returned, and women asserted themselves politically and militarily.
In “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” Marx writes: “The tradition of all past generations weighs like a nightmare upon the brain of the living. At the very time when men appear engaged in revolutionizing things and themselves, in bringing about what never was before, at such very epochs of revolutionary crisis do they anxiously conjure up into their service the spirits of the past, assume their names, their battle cries…” So why conjure up history now? What is our revolutionary crisis? Can such a thing even be defined, let alone acted upon, given the conditions and structures of such a complex local, national, global web? Does the possibility for spontaneous revolution still exist? Or have such possibilities narrowed? What does it mean to be an anarchist/social revolutionary today as opposed to two centuries ago? Perhaps the weight of history will always accrue as a monkey upon the backs of visionaries like Louise Michel – but she was also a dreamer who acted and who refused to be acted upon, who resisted the paralysis of inevitability.
I was drawn to Michel’s story for a number of reasons: I am teaching the history of Western Civilization parts one and two – a history largely told by, for, and of, wealthy white males, or those under their patronage, and so knowing that women, the poor, the disenfranchised were also alive, doing something, I am compelled to find and tell their stories; I am confused about how to act and what to act on given our current post September 11th state of affairs and I realize that this is a privileged position to be in but I am trying to read and talk and understand the past nightmares as well as the past dreams that have influenced the present for both good and bad, so as to articulate, problematize, and discover openings for possibilities in a very frightening time; I am also writing/thinking about Henry Kissinger, Michel’s antithesis and a horrid representative of imperialism, power, and terrorism, a man who, by some estimates, has been responsible for the deaths of millions globally for the simple reason that he wanted more for himself. And so for me right now, Michel represents the dream of banishing power and the myriad abuses of authoritarianism and Kissinger the nightmare of its continued existence and history; and, well, some days lately, when I’m hearing conversations and looking at the front of newspapers and turning on the news and teaching the Greeks and Romans and the weak always, always, always getting beaten down, and those with money getting to decide, there seems such an inevitable and ongoing struggle between power and resistance to it that I wonder if our human fate already has been written. How is it possible that two such people, such visions, could exist in the same world? But then I read Michel’s memoir The Red Virgin and am merely glad that the one has always existed to oppose the other.
While I have had the thought, I don’t think it’s as simple as gender (though certainly gender has played a large role) differences – woman as life-giver, nurturer of mankind, man as plunderer, destroyer. Michel, like many women during the Commune, fought side by side with male communards – communes and worker’s collectives, where egalitarianism between males and females was, for obvious reasons, more likely to exist, have existed in Europe since at least the 12th century and in all likelihood before in resistance to the authority of the church and state. I like her, in part, because she was not a pacifist, but took care of children, she was a feminist, but empathized with female prostitutes and male burglars equally -“It wasn’t bravery when charmed by the sight, I looked at the dismantled fort of Issy, all white against the shadows, and watched my comrades filing out in night sallies, moving away over the little slopes of Clamart or toward the Hautes Bruyeres, with the red teeth of chattering machine guns showing on the horizon against the night sky. It was beautiful, that’s all. Barbarian that I am, I love cannon, the smell of powder, machine-gun bullets in the air.” Kissinger, on the other hand, is clearly a man of comfort, a sybarite still wined and dined at expensive soirees in Manhattan and D.C. – celebrity of death, power and foreign policy. One who waits and watches and plots in fat White House armchairs making phone calls so that others will needlessly die. (See Christopher Hitchens’ recent The War Crimes of Henry Kissinger). Theirs are two very different forms of violence.
Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, who had argued with Marx over the path social revolution should take – Marx preferring/Bakunin (correct, I think, in his argument that the “people can be saved only by themselves”- though this is perhaps one of the larger problems – theoretically and practically – that Anarchists faced then and today) rejecting Statism – saw in the Commune and its destruction, difficulties – “men are not transformed overnight, and can not change their ways at a whim” – as well as possibilities, the communards “proving to a comforted humanity that, while life, intelligence and moral firmness may have deserted the upper classes, they thrive in the fullness of their powers in the proletariat,” the takeover of Paris “a well articulated and daring rebuttal of the state.” Bakuninists perceived in the Commune a firm rejection of state power; Marx, and later Lenin, saw, in the failure of the Commune the necessity for less decency, more ruthlessness, and more disciplined leadership; in other words, Statism must precede Utopianism or collectively run society. Such arguments over the possibilities/conclusions of the Commune, dramatically influenced, certainly in the Soviet Union for the worse, decision-making processes, the result leading away from a people’s dialogue into totalitarianism, but also encouraged the impetus for transformation as witnessed in the Paris Uprisings of 68, and the perseverance of anarchist movements in France and elsewhere.
One of many possible representatives of Bakunin’s praises, who strongly opposed Marxist/Leninist notions of necessary hierarchy, Michel was an intellectual/spiritual Anarchist (not big on theory); she saw any kind of authority as a destructive/inhumane force that should be abolished, yet believed in the inherent goodness of mankind (another theoretical problem – and one that we are confronted with in a very heightened way during times of increased authority – now, for instance – as authority, and obedience to it, can only reflect another side or component – rather than existing “outside”- of mankind). She worked with her comrades on grassroots initiatives in education and the arts as well as worker’s cooperatives; she struggled with the difficulties of organizing, equipping, feeding, and paying an armed citizenry subsisting on minimal means; she met with the Women’s Vigilance Committee and marched with them in the streets to boost morale and discourage slacking. Barely sleeping during the Seige months, Michel journeyed back and forth between men’s and women’s Vigilance Meetings: “I belonged to both committees, and the leaning of the two groups were the same. Sometime in the future the women’s committee should have its own history told. Or perhaps the two should be mingled, because people didn’t worry about which sex they were before they did their duty. That stupid question was settled…The Montmarte Vigilance Committees left no one without shelter and no one without food. Anyone could eat at the meeting halls…it might only be one herring divided between five or six people.” Despite the brutal quelling of the Commune, her subsequent arrests and imprisonments as a rabble-rouser, until her death, Michel believed that the people would eventually prevail; for her it was just a matter of time.
Was hers an idealist’s dream? A martyr’s selflessness? Was the Commune too violent in seizing power? Or not violent enough? A fleeting mirage of unlikely grassroots democracy? A citizen rebellion against a government only possible in the particular historical circumstances of the urban French? What embers of the Commune’s flames still smolder? Have the possibilities for spontaneous revolution ceased to exist, and if so, what is/are the current goals of Anarchism? What can we learn from history?

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Alienation and Intimacy

Essay by Corina Dross, from a lecture given at the Radical Relationships event on March 9, 2012. Corina can be reached at corinadross@gmail.com

Intimacy is often considered outside the realm of political discourse; politics is what we do out there, not what happens in our homes, our friendships, and our romances. We know this is false, but that knowledge itself doesn’t transform our lives. We still carry shame and fear about our private needs and desires–and we look to our communities for clues about the appropriate ways to get these needs met. So when we mirror for each other the same policing and oppression we’ve learned from the larger culture, we’re failing to demand a better world for ourselves and the people we love. The enterprise of radical relationships is to create a language that we haven’t yet learned, that can subvert the language we’ve been given, as we struggle to analyze how the alienation that permeates our world specifically functions in the details of our intimate lives. It’s important that this enterprise be public and collective, to avoid the trap of buying into the self-help book mentality–which advises us to analyze our own deepest fears and worst habits alone or with a therapist, or with a partner or best friend–but as an individual project, without agitating for the world to better meet our collective needs.

And our own worst habits are not merely ours; most likely, they arise in response to larger systems of oppression, which we all face, and which we internalize. There are multiple intersections of oppression in our lives, but let’s focus here on capitalist processes of alienation. If we look at some specific ways capitalism creates suffering–and makes this suffering appear normal and invisible–we may see parallels in our intimate lives and begin to formulate forms of resistance.

There are many cultural side-effects of the capitalist project, worth discussing in future conversations, but for now let’s start with the idea of artificial scarcity. If we agree that capitalism shapes our world through processes that consolidate wealth, power, and resources amongst very few–creating scarcity and need for the rest of us, robbing us of time to pursue our own deepest desires and interests, time with friends and loved ones, access to healthy food and housing, access to medical care, and a thousand other necessary things, we can imagine how much pressure there is on our intimate relationships, which are supposedly outside of the public sphere, to be sites of abundance. It’s somewhat fantastical that we could expect one person (or several, depending on how we arrange our love lives) to make up for all that lack. But popular narratives reinforce this: that love will fix all our problems; that a long-lasting romantic partnership should fill all that is empty in us; that we must give to our lovers all that the world can’t.

I’m sure most of us have come face-to-face with our own inability to give our lovers what they need, despite our best efforts–or have felt how inadequate our partners have been in caring for us and meeting our needs. To some degree, our material scarcity prevents us from having the time to devote to our loved ones. But deeper than that, internalized oppression from capitalism (and other systems of violence) renders us not only damaged but damaging; in this way true expressions of care and intimacy can feel scarce. Because intimacy under capitalism not only promises a private space for transcendent, abundant freedom in which we can access our best selves (in opposition to the drudgery and anonymity of the marketplace), it also serves as a necessary release valve for our worst selves (where the consequences of our terrible behavior won’t be as public). I’d also argue that we can’t fully divorce our sense of identity from the economic conditions of capitalism; even the language we use for relationships is conditioned by the marketplace. We speak of “investing” in a relationship, we try to measure love as though it can be numbered, or exchanged like money, with a tally of debts owed and paid. With this fear of scarcity, we become competitive and insecure. We see love as limited, conditional, and rare–something to be earned, and like any other commodity, something that can be lost or stolen.

So how do we begin to resist the effects of the marketplace on our intimate lives, especially as we recognize that even in the privacy of our homes and beds and minds, we aren’t free of capitalist conditioning?

There isn’t one simple solution. But there are ways to begin. In “Twelve Theses on Changing the World without Taking Power,” John Holloway writes, “If separation, alienation (etc) is understood as a process, then this implies that its course is not pre-determined, that the transformation of power…is always open, always at issue.” Which is to say that transformation exists as a germ in our unvoiced experiences, in the moments we stray from the script.

I began by saying that radical intimacy needs to create a language that we haven’t yet learned, to subvert the language we’ve been given. This process has already begun, to an extent, in feminist and queer communities. We owe a huge debt to the language of identity politics even as we need to push past its reductive habits. Oppression functions by making itself seem normal and invisible–we partake in it everyday, until the day we stop and begin taking it apart. This requires vigilance toward normalizing forces even within our radical communities.

Because even in these communities that strive to offer prefigurative or alternate sites of intimacy, outside the model of the couple as a site mythical abundance, we rarely succeed in uprooting these myths. Rather, we pride ourselves on being self-sufficient, on practicing self-care, keeping our needs in check, and being productive activists who can keep fighting the good fight and require little from the world. We submit to the public discourse that legitimizes economic, rational models and disparages emotional experiences. Very few of us expect our friends, our casual sex partners, our political comrades, or our coworkers to actively care for us—that is, to provide us with sufficient emotional or material support—unless we’re facing some unusual crisis (if we can even swallow our pride and ask for help in those circumstances). If we have a romantic partner, we may or may not expect such care from that person. But care itself generally feels precarious, scarce, vaguely understood, and somewhat shameful to need. Think how much harder it is to describe what’s missing from your emotional life than from your material world.

Invisible and unspeakable, without a meaningful lexicon, is the world of care. No human could survive or thrive without touch, affection, nurturing, attention, compassion, validation, or empathy–yet the need for these acts of care (which are often gendered as feminine, no matter who provides them) has been subsumed into necessary invisibility by a system that depends on depriving us of the means to tend to our own lives. I highly recommend a text on this topic by a militant feminist research group from Spain, called Precarias a la Deriva (the text is translated as “A Caring Strike”). They describe how capitalism has found ways to isolate and commodify certain acts of care; customer service workers, sex workers, teachers and childcare providers, even cooks and waiters, all provide fragmented aspects of the care we all need to survive. Yet even in the marketplace, we rarely recognize that what we’re purchasing is care. When I worked as a phone sex operator, few of my callers recognized that they called to receive reassurance, compassion, and attention as well as (or sometimes more than) sexual release. By providing these forms of care under the table, as it were, hidden within the product they were buying, I met these men’s emotional needs while allowing those needs to remain invisible to them. Precarias a la Deriva ask us to consider what “a caring strike” might look like–acts that could make public and visible such invisible and unspoken acts of care; ways to foreground a continuum of care as the basis of human life, outside of any market value, and outside of any transaction in which we “earn” care by being worthy of it, beyond our merely being human.

So let’s begin by finding words for what’s still unspoken between us. Because acts of care, when they can’t be commodified, often entirely disappear from consciousness and language. Gender often dictates who does the emotional support work in an intimate relationship–or any relationship. Yet because the act of caring is itself gendered, no matter who performs it, it is almost always rendered invisible or unimportant. What stories do we tell ourselves and each other that overwrite the care we are trying to give and receive? How does gender determine these narratives? What violence have we swallowed that becomes fixated on our lovers? What shame do we carry about needing support, and through what subterrenean fissures does this seep into our friendships?  It’s curious, too, that our basic human need for care has become an insult—when we call someone “too needy,” for example–when by definition a human need can never be excessive; the lack is not in us, but in the artificial scarcity of the world that should nourish us.

 

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Gyno-anarchy and the Strategy of the Fool

I am not sure when it did all start. I know that it is one of those things that my mother somehow passed me along, even though I did not, at the time, want it or understand it, and even though she didn’t suspect that, along the way or because of some transformational process involved in the transference, it would become this particular practice I carry into my heart and my body now.
I know that I’ve seen her struggle with 3 or 4 abortions and 5 childbirths, and I remember her coming back from the hospital every time a little bit more defeated, a little bit more bitter and a little bit crazier.
She would often talk into the mirror at her own reflection or out the windows at the particles of dust and even to us children, for lack of better listeners. Sometimes she talked about not having wanted us kids, not so many of us at least. She would often tell us how all those pregnancies, the long months of nursing and the hard job of taking care of us had destroyed her, slowly but surely. She said she lost her beauty and her health. Her hair tinned, her teeth and bones weakened, her body deformed. She told us stories of loosing her language and speaking a sort of baby tongue after years of being so isolated that we had become her only interlocutors.
The most striking consequence of her apparent inability to exercise any control on her sexuality and her desire or un-desire for maternity was that all the rest of her life had become compulsively micromanaged. Her diet was extremely rigid. She spent innumerable amount of hours scrubbing floors, dusting furniture and washing clothes, in a constant struggle to keep a tight grip on her environment and to hide from the fact that the most important thing she indeed wanted to control had completely escaped her.

My mother was a math teacher. She was, and still is, brilliant and beautiful. She had liked, as a girl, to write poetry and even published some of it. She liked to sing and dance and she had been sort of famous for being the first one in town showing off a 70s style miniskirt.
Of course I’ve never met that girl, since by the time I entered her life her menial occupations had taken up all the attention and did not leave her any to read or write, sing or dance.
I remember nonetheless being fascinated as a child by all the things she knew and all the different skills she had (best of all that of storytelling).
She is a great cook, of the best kind, because she knows what food does to our body, which foods is best to eat and when and how to cook them in order to enhance their properties.
She knows everything about herbs and collects them, steeps them, stores them in alcohol solutions in the fridge, takes them orally in form of little pills first time in the morning, and grows them on our second floor balconies .
I still remember her giving me a concoction of ground almonds and honey to cure me from my constant anemia or administering us spoon-fulls of pollen to help us with seasonal change.
When I called her during my freshman year in college in the midst of a full blown depression, she advised me to take Saint John’s Worth at a time when nobody even knew what it was, and so saved me the pain of having to take prescribed medication.
When she developed breast cancer, she started studying unrelentingly about it and she eventually healed herself by changing her diet and taking herbal supplements. She never had to undergo chemotherapy and she was cured of it once and for all.
She told us that she had learned from her father who had been a medical officer in Africa during the second world war and who, though never a doctor, had always been a healer.
Paradoxically, her unique ability to take care of her own body and her refusal to delegate it to a clique of mostly male professionals miserably crumbled when the man who confronted her about it was my father.
Of course at the time I had no idea what a taboo it was, and somehow still is, for any woman to be in the kind of intimate relationship with her own body that is necessary in order to take charge of her own sexuality.

As a child I did not understand why she was so mad at my father, that all powerful, adventurous, unpredictable and fun creature who was, and still is, the object of my absolute love and admiration, as well as the source of some of my worst fears.
Later on, when other men came into my life as a more urgent and manageable target for love and desire, the question of their constant, menacing, indefatigable fertility, wrapped itself around my head in the form of an almost comical desperation. I felt that a sort of biological conspiration was unfolding in my personal life and, as the intellectual and political activist I already was or wanted to be, I was outraged at the amount of time and energy that I was expected to permanently spend in the attempt to protect myself from these most charming and most subtle invaders. I could not, in all honesty, understand why the blame and shame of unwanted pregnancies or abortions always fell upon women, when our bodies are, in comparison to theirs, so delightfully unfertile. Compared to the seemingly endless strive to procreate of a male body, ours appear to have evolved almost entirely for the sake of aimless, unconcerned enjoyment.
So, even though I am naturally and culturally very suspicious of health care institutions, and even though, being brought up as a free spirit in a house full of women, I never considered my gender to be a medical condition (to be kept under close check, to be examined routinely, or to be treated with long term drugs), at the age of 19, when in a state of obtuse enchantment, I decided to try and take the pill.
It did seem like the easiest and most reasonable solution to me at the time and it also apparently pointed me in a direction that was diametrically opposite from the one my mother had taken. It also felt like a grown up and serious thing to do. Something like I was taking sort of a social responsibility towards myself by making my inner environment a poisoned field and giving my lover peace of mind.
It did not last more than a few months though, because I could not bear the burden of headaches, fatigue and all the other side effects. Also, since I knew very well that my fertility window lasted only two days a month, putting that malignant, alien thing into my body every morning seemed to be like the most vicious of jokes. I felt a sense of weird disembodiment and estrangement. That thing had entirely stopped my periods and replaced them with a sort of fake, light monthly bleeding. It made me feel almost like I had bleached away the wilderness and dangerousness from myself and had become a tame, sterile, emptied-out doll. I understood, in a sort of blurred way, that I had found myself in a place very similar to where my mother had been. Far away from my body, trying to avoid seeing it and erasing all that was ‘inconvenient’ about it.
Since that day I started a journey of discovery and self-discovery and, even though I encountered the term gyno-anarchy only recently, what I have wanted has been to take full control of my sexuality, my fertility and my desire or my refusal to procreate.

I had to learn how to tune in with my body, with its so mysterious and marvelous cycles, with its temperature changes, hormonal picks, micro-contractions and viscous substances. I had to take into consideration season change, stress factors and, because I lived almost all my adult life in collective houses, even that most magical phenomenon known as menstrual synchrony.
I had to learn when to say yes and when to say no. Most importantly, I had to learn how to follow my Principle of Pleasure1.
The first time I read about the Principles of Pleasure, as it was elaborated by Italian feminist thinkers like Carla Lonzi, I didn’t really understand it. Or maybe I did, but it sounded too costly, too difficult and very dangerous to apply to my own life.
The fact is that pleasure really, and not only sexual pleasure, is far from frivolous. It is the very fabric of which our life is made. It is the internal compass that can and should guide us towards a free and authentic life.
The Principle of Pleasure makes us daring and generous. If I follow my pleasure, it will be difficult for me to fall into oppressive traps, abusive relationships and conformist cages because my body is braver than I am and often even smarter. Never my pleasure seeking body will choose security over adventure, stereotypes over curiosity, taboos over discoveries.

One of the strongest images I recall of my first year in the States is that of two young Mormons, kneeling under the rain and praying in front of an abortion clinic.
I did not understand it. I also did not understand why all that revolves around abortion is labeled here with such generic and vague terms, suggesting just the opposite of it, like planned parenthood, reproductive rights or women health.
Coming from a culture where miscarriage and abortion are described with the same word and seen as almost the same thing, I had a lot of problems accepting that it is so difficult for women in this country to say aloud ‘I don’t want to be a mother’ or ‘I don’t want this baby’…to own their desire to be other than procreators.
When recently the funds to planned parenthood were dramatically cut, I realized how much of our lives revolves around institutions, depends on politicians and is delegated to the expertize of a large group of mostly white males. I started thinking of a diversion tactic that I call ‘the strategy of the fool’.
I first encountered something like this when Mario Tronti, my Political Philosophy professor in Siena, gave me to read a little book called Discourse on voluntary servitude, while I was writing my final dissertation. It was written by Etienne De La Boetie around 1550 and it’s based on the idea that to liberate ourselves from tyranny, all we have to do is give it our back and turn a deaf ear to its postulates.
Turn your back and the monster will disappear, turn your back and create a new order , founded upon pleasure, relationships and shared practices, rather that bureaucracies and profit. Internalize the strategy of refusal, apply it to your own body. Refuse to let the approval of majorities and politicians matter all that much and, most of all, do not ever delegate to them the care of what is important to you.
Of course it requires practice, sabotage and diversion and of course it’s not at all that simple, but it does at least turn us into different kinds of heroes, unlikely warriors, brilliant farcical characters like Odysseus in the Iliad, the hero who refused to be a champion and played the fool to avoid a war he did not really care about. Or like Rachel in the Bible, who stole the family idols from the paternal hearth and hid them under her saddle so that, when her father tried to search her, she could turn the contaminations norms against him and say that she was menstruating and so could not be touched.
It allows us to use words like fighting, struggle and warriors, without the fear of falling into the usual male war rhetoric and describing a set of practices that, though not necessarily nonviolent (ending a life process is always a radically violent act), it is not aggressive.
And so I put together a workshop at the Wooden Shoe2, one in which I suggested that we all steal the family idols and play the fool, that we learn about our bodies and what makes them feel happy and loved, that we learn how to best take care of ourselves and of each other, instead of relying on the medical institution.
I met a lot of women there, some of them very young. Some of them, I discovered, didn’t even realize when they were fertile or that it could be tracked down at all, for that matter. Together with them I mostly laughed, a healthy laugh that opened the Pandora’s box of giggles on homemade spermicide and post-fertility hangovers, unveiling the deeply comical side of sexuality.

Some of them are already my new heroes, like Cassie, who soon after started a fertility class for the West Philadelphia Free Skool; like Nicole, who volunteers as a hand-holder at Planned Parenthood, whispering in the ear of frightened women who need to feel loved and accepted; or like Sarah and Toni, who were not even there really, because they are biking down the West Coast on a budget of 4$ a day, to talk to women about menstrual cups and body awareness and who started the Handsome Young Men Project , where men are encouraged to stop telling women what to do with their bodies and start instead a dialogue that includes learning and sharing new, woman -loving practices.
Oh… and BTW, they just made it to LA.

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