Tag: anarchism

Emma Goldman: Woman Suffrage and Feminist Idols (Revisited)

Emma Goldman: Woman Suffrage and Feminist Idols (Revisited)

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a day dedicated to “celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.” I decided to celebrate by honoring one of my favorite women, Emma Goldman. As I have before with Voltairine de Cleyre, I will revisit one of her classic essays from a modern perspective.

As an anarchist, Emma Goldman had no patience for the women’s suffrage movement of her era. In her 1910 essay, “Woman Suffrage,” she called suffrage a fetish and an idol. In her own words, “In her blind devotion woman does not see what people of intellect perceived fifty years ago: that suffrage is an evil, that it has only helped to enslave people, that it has but closed their eyes that they may not see how craftily they were made to submit.” Goldman thought that activists should be focused on radical revolutionary goals, not asking for greater privileges within an inherently unjust system. She viewed suffrage as a distraction, not an end goal.

More than one hundred years later, and 94 years after the ratification of the 19th amendment, was Goldman right?

In short, yes. Legislative changes are lagging indicators of cultural change. Asking an oppressor to grant the oppressed more privileges has never been the most effective strategy to achieve social change. The eventual success of woman suffrage, the great golden idol of the early women’s movement, effectively quashed the women’s movement for fifty years.

By focusing an entire movement on one specific legislative change, we lose sight of our end goal. The right to vote is not an end goal, but a means to further the end goal of equal socio-economic and cultural status for women as for men. By forgetting their end goal and focusing on voting, the early women’s movement set women back immeasurably.

Another, more recent example of a movement losing sight of the end goal is the gay rights movement’s focus on gay marriage. By avidly pursuing legislative changes to marriage laws and forgetting the end goal of equal socio-economic and cultural status, much of the movement subsided when equal marriage was achieved. An activist wrote that the gay rights battle was over for libertarians, as though strides could or should not be made outside of the government. At the altar of marriage equality, we forget to look beyond and take into account the full LGBT+ spectrum, as well as our overarching goals.

Emma wrote of woman suffrage in other countries and its effect on the long-term goal:

The women of Australia and New Zealand can vote, and help make the laws.  Are the labor conditions better there than they are in England, where the suffragettes are making such a heroic struggle? Does there exist a greater motherhood, happier and freer children than in England?  Is woman there no longer considered a mere sex commodity?  Has she emancipated herself from the Puritanical double standard of morality for men and women?

Emma’s observations that her society had a deeply problematic view of women, which voting could not change, did not catch on again until much later, with the rise of second wave feminism. Second wave feminism came and went in a flurry of revolutionary, powerful rhetoric and seemingly lofty, but inspiring goals. Decidedly white-centric and trans and sex-worker exclusionary, second wave feminism was far from perfect, but it was about more than a vote, more than a piece of legislation, it was about rocking the foundations on which society thought of gender.

In the third wave, we can bring forward the end goals and broad focus of second wave feminism, but uplift all women. We should remember that feminism is not all about electing a war criminal woman as president, or passing the Equal Pay Act. Our feminism is about challenging what it means to be a woman or a man and knocking down the idol “gender” that society holds so near and dear. We have the potential to change the world, so let’s take a clue from Emma and leave the idols behind.

Hillary Clinton’s War On Women

“Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat. Women often have to flee from the only homes they have ever known. Women are often the refugees from conflict and sometimes, and more frequently in today’s warfare, victims. Women are often left with the responsibility, alone, of raising the children.” ~ Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton leads race for the Democratic Party nomination in 2016. Liberal feminists such as Gloria Steinem, Madeleine Albright, and Lena Dunham continue to tout Clinton as the candidate for women. Planned Parenthood has officially endorsed the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State, calling her a champion for women’s rights. Clinton may have the best shot at being the first woman POTUS, but she is no feminist hero.

In Clinton’s own words, women have always been the primary victims of war, but Clinton is the most pro-war candidate in the 2016 presidential race, Democrat or Republican. Furthermore, she has the record to back it up.

In November, Clinton gave a speech describing her vision for the United States’ role in the Middle East:

“No other country can rally the world to defeat ISIS and win the generational struggle against radical jihadism. Only the United States can mobilize common action on a global scale, and that’s exactly what we need. The entire world must be part of this fight, but we must lead it.”

Hawkish rhetoric is nothing new for Clinton. Take, for example, her 2002 statementson the American invasion of Iraq:

“…If left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capability to wage biological and chemical warfare and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.”

As a Senator, Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq War, and in 2008, defended her vote, saying, “I believe in coercive diplomacy.” She also voted against the Levin Amendment in 2002, an amendment that would have given the UN veto power over United States military action. In 2004, she voted in favor of allocating $86 billion of the U.S. budget to military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. She voted against withdrawing troops from Iraq in 2007.

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s record is horrific. Clinton aggressively pursuedregime changes in Libya and Syria, leading to the creation of ISIS, war in Mali, and the strengthening of terrorist group Boko Haram. Regime change has historically beenterrible for national security, leading to blowback and the creation of newer, bigger, more oppressive threats to both citizens of the United States and citizens of the Middle East.

In a recent Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton bragged that she sought the support and counsel of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Kissinger himself has described Clinton’s run at the State Department “the most effective…[he’s] ever seen.”

Hillary Clinton was right about one thing: women are disproportionately affected by war. In 2003, the UN released a statement saying that women suffer disproportionately during and after war. War magnifies gender inequality and breaks down the social networks that women need to survive. ISIS has filled the vacuum Hillary created in Syria, executing, raping, and trafficking the region’s women along the way.

Gender inequality during and after conflict is not limited to sexual and gender-based violence; it touches every aspect of women’s lives. Clinton’s Syrian disaster led to the Syrian refugee crisis, and while men bear the bulk of mortality during war, women make up the majority of refugees. War also puts widows at a higher risk of poverty, especially in countries where social norms dictate that men make up the workforce and women stay at home. The notion that the United States as an external force can somehow change these cultural norms is part of the same democracy-spreading farceGeorge W. Bush touted during his hawkish presidency.

Violence and imperialism do not liberate women. External force and rampant destruction do not liberate women. Hillary Clinton’s incessant war mongering and disregard for the basic human rights of non-Americans do not liberate women. Women liberate themselves when they take control over their lives and their futures against all odds. Kurdish women defending their families from ISIS and US airstrikes are feminist heroes. Hillary Clinton is a violent oppressor. Know the difference.

This was originally published on February 25, 2016 at Antiwar.com.

Bernie Sanders: The Candidate the Establishment Needs

New Hampshire was Feeling the Bern in the Democratic Primary last night. The Associated Press called a win for social democrat Bernie Sanders late Tuesday night, an expected victory, but one of few for the upcoming primary season, as Hillary is largely predicted to win the Democratic nomination. The contentious fight between Clinton and Sanders has reached all-time highs, leading to epic Twitter wars, and even former president Bill Clinton slamming Bernie supporters for being sexist.

Bernie fans (and Bernie himself) flame Clinton for her record on foreign intervention and her ties to Wall Street, claiming she is an abhorrent, flip-flopping, establishment moderate. Bernie’s rise to popularity has been linked to growing discontent with establishment politics, and reminds many of us with libertarian backgrounds of Ron Paul’s race in 2008 and 2012 (albeit more successful).

The Bernie Sanders campaign serves a vital purpose for the Democratic Party: he draws hordes of enthusiastic, passionate supporters, supporters who had lost faith in a broken political system — supporters who will all jump ship to Hillary when Bernie inevitably fails. Because Bernie’s supporters are so passionate and invested in the political system, they will feel they have no option but to vote for the “least bad” candidate once the general election comes around.

Bernie’s campaign is inspiring.

Even as someone who could not be more uninterested in electoral participation, I can understand why Bernie’s supporters flock to the crazy-haired, outspoken senator from Vermont. Bernie is not afraid to stand up to Wall Street, he’s better on war than anyone else running (though far from perfect), he wants to get money out of politics, and he stands up for the “little guy.”

But that’s just it — Bernie is a politician. He is a part of the machine that he claims to despise. And not only that, he is working hard to guarantee a Democratic win in November, not for himself but for Hillary Clinton. Is this a behind-the-scenes conspiracy between him and Clinton? Probably not, but it doesn’t matter.

He’s exactly the candidate that the waning establishment needs to regenerate excitement about electoral politics and win voters for the general election. As much as Sanders supporters despise Clinton now, they will choose the “lesser of two evils” and jump to Hillary

So, Bernie supporters who have no other options, listen up. Politicians are self-interested individuals just like everyone else. They do not care about you. It does not matter who wins in 2016 — Clinton, Trump, Cruz. The Black Lives Matter movement has made leaps and bounds in public awareness and police resistance without endorsing a candidate. You can make such a difference in your community and world by devoting your time and energy to methods of creating change other than electoral politics. Here are some ideas to get you started: organize a protest, host a roundtable discussion, volunteer at your local soup kitchen, start a community garden, videotape police stops, write letters to local prisoners, and do not vote for Hillary Clinton because she is an evil war criminal who will say anythingto get your vote.

This article was originally published on February 10, 2016 at C4SS.org.

Market Anarchism vs. Anarcho-Capitalism

What’s the difference between “market anarchism” and “anarcho-capitalism”?

The difference between market anarchism and anarcho-capitalism is contentious, and somewhat semantic. Anarcho-capitalists choose to use the word “capitalism” because they believe it denotes a laissez-faire system of economics, free from government control. Market anarchists are far more critical of capitalism, as they believe the term “capitalism”does not denote a truly freed economic system. Market anarchists avoid using the word “capitalism” because it often refers to our current, unfree economic system, dominated by corporations and vast income inequality. Market anarchists say that “capitalism” places too much emphasis on capital, implying rule by the owners of the means of production, a form of oppression which market anarchists oppose. Many market anarchists believe that in a freed society, the world would look very different from how it looks now under state capitalism. They believe that freed markets would not result in corporate domination and hierarchical firm structure. If such firms did exist, they would be few and far between. As Gary Chartier and Charles Johnson write in Markets Not Capitalism, “Market anarchists believe in market exchange, not in economic privilege. They believe in free markets, not in capitalism.”

Adherents of anarcho-capitalism believe a capitalist, laissez-faire economic system isdesirable for maximum freedom and human flourishing. Market anarchism does not seek to prescribe a desirable economic system. Instead, market anarchists recognize that not everyone in a free society will desire to engage in a profit-oriented market, and alternativevoluntary economic systems, such as cooperatives, gift economies, and communes, may flourish. While market anarchists may often advocate market exchange, pluralism and decentralization are also of great significance. As long as these different voluntary economic systems can peacefully coexist, market anarchists take no issue with such alternatives.

This article was originally published on September 28, 2015 at C4SS.org.

Arm the Mentally Ill

On August 7th, movie theater shooter James Holmes was sentenced to life in prison. At the sentencing hearing, Holmes’s mother pleaded that he was a sweet, innocent boy whose mental illness haunted him and eventually turned him into a murderer. From Columbine to Charleston, every time a white man opens fire, mental illness is the go-to scapegoat. Rather than admit normal people are capable of evil things, a dysfunctional brain is blamed, as though dysfunction and evil go hand-in-hand. The tendency to blame evil on mental illness lends itself to grotesque human rights violations against those who think differently from what’s socially acceptable.

Much of mental illness is socially constructed. By using medical diagnoses to condemn patterns of thinking, we stigmatize and alienate anyone who thinks differently from what the capitalist, patriarchal state will accept. How dare anyone be restless, anxious, or depressed. People who are socially awkward, can’t focus for long periods of time, or struggle to deal with emotional trauma don’t make good capitalist workerbots. Patriarchal state capitalism depends on the masses’ submission to hierarchy and taking orders. For state capitalism to function, the state’s subjects must conform to the hierarchical standards set before them. People become cogs in the machine, and when a cog doesn’t fit properly into the system, the machine tosses it aside.

In the recent past, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)included homosexuality and gender identity disorder. Gender dysphoria is still by and large considered a psychiatric disorder. Diagnoses that remain in the DSM such as Asperger’s, depression, bipolar disorder, and ADHD reflect “abnormal” personalities, not any sort of illness. While some mental illnesses are real and can be debilitating, neurodiversity is desirable and a normal part of the human condition. Neurodivergence, or divergence from social standards of normal thinking, isn’t shameful.

People who are neurodivergent are much more likely to experience violence than to perpetrate it. One in four neurodivergent people experience sexual, physical, or domestic violence in any given year. Within mental hospitals and similar institutions, abuse runs rampant.

Regardless of the nature of one’s neurodivergence, a 1998 study showed that unless drugs or alcohol are present, the neurodivergent are no more likely to commit acts of violence than anyone else. When people with mental illnesses do commit violence, it is almost always directed toward family members and friends, not strangers. One quarter of the homeless population has a severe mental disorder, as the society that lives in fear of the mentally ill leaves them exposed to street violence and police brutality.

Neurodivergent people are more likely to be the victims of police brutality than their neurotypical counterparts. Police murdered at least 14 people who the state deemed mentally ill between January and August of 2014 alone. Police often arrest people simply because of their mental illness. Or they are involuntarily committed to hospitals and then forced to pick up the bill. The State also notoriously uses mental illness to suppress dissenting opinion, such as in the classic case of anarchist Aurora d’Angelo. Our society treats those with mental illnesses as freaks at best, and criminals at worst.

The neurodivergent need to be able to protect themselves. Because they are frequent victims of violence who cannot look to the State for reliable help, they must have the option to arm themselves. When trying to prevent mass shootings, the State seeks to either restrict the freedom of those with mental illness, restrict access to guns, or both. Many of these restrictions, such as AB 1014 in California, require only that someone be suspected of having mental health issues—no medical diagnosis is necessary. Such medical diagnoses are often based on restrictive social norms and are thus unreliable assessments of neurotypicality anyway. They certainly shouldn’t serve as the standard for curtailing a person’s freedom.

Gun control hurts the societally and legally marginalized the most, including (and especially) the neurodivergent.

This article was originally published on August 11, 2015 at C4SS.org.

Will the Real Feminists Please Stand Up?

Amnesty International has drafted a proposal calling for sex work to be legalized worldwide. The proposal “reflects a growing body of research from UN agencies, human rights organisations, and social science which indicates that criminalisation, in its varying forms, exposes sex workers to increased risk of human rights abuses.” According to Amnesty, the policy is inspired by the principles of harm reduction, physical integrity, and autonomy. Amnesty has never had an official policy regarding sex work in the past, and many involved in the sex industry view this as a huge step in the right direction.

In response to the proposal, several celebrities and human rights advocates, including self-proclaimed feminist Lena Dunham, have drafted a letter condemning Amnesty’s decision and calling for the proposal to be discarded. The letter cherry-picks statistics, saying that legalization leads to increased sex trafficking, and that “without a vibrant sex industry, there would be no sex trafficking.” The letter is misguided and comes from a place of privilege and downright ignorance about the realities of sex work.

Amnesty International understands what Lena Dunham apparently doesn’t: women own their own bodies. Outlawing sex work is just another way in which the State exerts its control over women’s bodies (as most sex workers are women). For someone like Lena Dunham, an outspoken advocate of reproductive rights, to call for the criminalization of sex work and for more restrictions on women’s bodily integrity is the epitome of white feminist hypocrisy. Speaking for other women rather than listening to them is a habit that seems to haunt white feminism.

Since the letter’s publication, many sex workers have spoken out in defense of Amnesty International’s proposal and their own human dignity. Dr. Brooke Magnanti took to Twitter, saying, “If anyone thinks they know better about the current state of sex work conditions than sex workers, they are fucking deluded.” In reference to Anne Hathaway, who also signed the letter, porn star Stoya tweeted, “Oh, you played a prostitute in a movie? I played a nurse in a porno. Does that qualify me to talk about working conditions in hospitals?” Thousands of sex worker supporters have signed a competing petition asking Amnesty to stand firm in their proposal.

The legalization of sex work is of the utmost importance in fighting against violence toward women. Laws against sex work marginalize sex workers and leave them exposed to sexual abuse, police violence, and trafficking. When rapists attack sex workers on the job, those sex workers have little to no recourse against their attackers. For sex workers, any encounter with police means losing their livelihood and their freedom. Because of the underground nature of sex work, prostitution lends itself to trafficking and sex slavery. If sex workers were able to work without fear of being arrested, they would have much more sayin the conditions of their employment, and it would be much easier to leave the business if they so desired.

If Lena Dunham and the other signers of the letter against Amnesty International’s proposal care about women’s right to bodily autonomy, they should retract their signatures. Claiming to be a feminist while simultaneously calling for restrictions on the way women can use their own bodies to earn a living is duplicitous and wrong. Lena Dunham, if you think feminism is about shouting over other women and telling them you know what’s best for them while using the violent apparatus of the State to enforce your moral norms, you’d best take a seat.

This article was originally published on August 2, 2015 at C4SS.org.

The Statist Left Doesn’t Care About Black People

On Wednesday, June 17th, a shooter murdered nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historically Black church in Charleston, South Carolina. After sitting in church for about an hour, the gunman made racist comments before opening fire. After what was clearly a crime directed toward Black people because of their race, President Barack Obama commented, saying that, “innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.” Obama (predictably) relayed more of the same tired rhetoric that comes into the spotlight every time the United States sees a mass shooting — guns kill innocent people, and more gun control will save them.

The Black community in Charleston, South Carolina has had a bad year. Tragedy struck Charleston earlier this year, when a police officer shot an unarmed Black man, Walter Scott, eight times in the back, killing him. The incident was caught on video and, in an unusual turn of events, the officer was charged with Scott’s murder. Cops disproportionatelymurder Black citizens, a reality that has come into focus in popular media since the 2014 murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Obama’s recent comments calling for more gun control are ironic and almost laughable to a community that is the constant victim of the violent monopoly the State has over weapons. Guns kill Black people all the time — in the hands of the police. The statist leftists I refer to are people who seem to recognize the omnipresent systematic racism in police institutions, but rather than get to the root of the issue by stripping police of their power, they continue to push for reforms that take power away from Black communities and place it in the hands of police.

Prohibition of any consumer good creates black markets. This is true in America’s drug war, and it will be true with increased prohibition of guns. Illegal products are always available to those who want them and don’t mind committing crimes. Not only is gun control ineffectivein preventing violent crime, but it also takes away the ability of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves from those who do have guns — violent criminals and the police.

Ronald Reagan, heralded as an NRA hero, passed the Mulford Act of 1967, banning public carrying of loaded firearms, with the intention of disarming Black communities in California. The Black Panthers marched upon the state capitol in protest. Reagan knew what liberals now forget — the best way to suppress Black communities is to render them powerless in the face of State violence. President Obama continues to increase the requirements of gun ownership, using executive orders when Congress won’t cooperate. In the face of Wednesday’s church shooting, Hillary Clinton called for stronger gun control as well. Leftists seem to forget the conservative, racist roots of gun control, and ignore their own claims about the nature of policing when looking for solutions. The answer is clear — the best way to protect Black communities from racist police or racist civilians is to arm them, not to take their guns away.

Black people cannot rely on the police to protect them from criminals. This is evidenced every time police murder an innocent Black person. My message to the statist left is this: asking the Black community to disarm themselves and look to the police for protection instead is the essence of white privilege.

This article was originally published on June 20, 2015 at C4SS.org.

Involuntary Commitment: Is Illness a Crime?

Involuntary commitment is the ability of the State to institutionalize mentally ill people against their will. Perhaps the most well-known law providing for involuntary commitment is Florida’s “Baker Act” of 1971, which allows for the involuntary commitment of a person who (a) may possibly have a mental illness, and (b) may be harm to themselves, a harm to others, or self-neglectful. The experience of being institutionalized is largely traumatic, and many who have been committed claim it was of no help at all. Rather than help people in need, the State arrests them and forces them to serve time for the crime of simply existing. The State’s resounding message is this: mentally ill people are not people at all.

Involuntary hospitalization is commonly used as a means to prevent someone from committing suicide. However, no states in the U.S. have laws against attempted suicide, and have not had such laws since the 1990s. Suicide is a human right. Just as people have the right to live as they choose so long as they do not harm others, they have the right to die so long as they do not harm others. Despite the lack of laws against suicide itself, many states have laws in place to support the involuntary commitment of people who are suicidal.

Instead of treating suicide as a public health issue, the State treats those who are suicidal as criminals. I spoke with Alexis*, of New York, who was involuntarily committed when she expressed suicidal thoughts to her therapist. Her therapist deceivingly informed Alexis’* family members that she was voluntarily committing herself. Alexis was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, which she and her family had to pay for. During her stay, Alexis, a transgender woman, was kept at the hospital, deprived of her hormonal medication, referred to with the wrong pronouns, and asked invasive questions about her genitalia. Despite telling Alexis she could leave when she wanted to, hospital staff threatened her with keeping her for another month if they disagreed with her reasons for leaving and forced her to take debilitating medications. Alexis found the experience to be traumatizing and utterly unhelpful, hospital bills aside.

The State treats even those who hospitalize themselves voluntarily as criminals. I spoke with Carla*, from Mississippi, who voluntarily presented herself at her school psychologist’s office to ask about hospitalization, but then was not allowed to leave. She was forced to go directly to the hospital, and made to take (and pay for) an ambulance, even though she had friends who were willing to drive her. Her school’s counseling services was surrounded by dorm buildings, and when the ambulance arrived it drew a crowd or observers, making what should have been a private experience public and humiliating. While hospitalized, Carla felt isolated and trapped, and had no idea how long she would be held. What began as a voluntary step toward recovery turned into a traumatizing imprisonment.

Other cases begin even worse. Generally those who are involuntarily committed out of their homes arrive at the hospital in handcuffs, after experiencing the humiliation of arrest in front of family members and neighbors. Such was the case of Ben* from Florida. Police arrived at Ben’s house while he was still sleeping. He was forced into a police care in his pajamas, not to return for five days. After spending the night in the hospital due to injuries from a suicide attempt, Alex*, of Arizona, was threatened with more time if she did not “voluntarily” check in to the hospital’s psych ward. Despite the fact that she felt better, hospital staff told her she would have police on her tail if she didn’t comply. Alex described her time in the psych ward as being a fish in a fish bowl — completely alone but constantly watched. Hospital staff took her phone away and refused her permission to stay with her mother. Alex said her involuntary commitment was the “worst days of [her] life.”

Of those who are involuntarily committed, an overwhelming majority says they would never do it again, even if they were in need of help. An anonymous poster in an online forum on the subject said:

I am one who would rather die than be forced into the psych hospital again. Forced treatment was a re-creation of sexual assault for me, which was not life saving, it was destroying. To be forced to take my clothes off in front of people, to try and hide my body with my arms, to be put in a room with a metal door, to be reduced to pleading and begging, to know my voice meant nothing. It was the same story only with different perpetrators. I would not ever, for a second, turn to a mental health professional who would do that to me again. I didn’t commit a crime and I didn’t deserve to be terrorized like that. I already had those memories. I didn’t need any more.

Involuntary commitment serves to victimize those who have already been victims. It often causes the committed to relive personal trauma, and reduces them to criminals, without the rights all human beings deserve. Involuntary commitment transforms doctor and patient to guard and prisoner, punishing those who have done no wrong.

Involuntary commitment lends itself to heinous abuses of power, as little evidence is required for a patient to be committed. In the United States in 1927, Aurora D’Angelo wasinvoluntarily committed after participating in a demonstration in defense of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, who had been sentenced to death. Authorities in Mississippi in 1958 arrested and committed black pastor and activist Clennon W. King, Jr. on the grounds of insanity for trying to enroll in the all-white University of Mississippi. In the 2010 case of whistleblower Adrian Schoolcraft, when the former NYPD officer asserted that the police force was faking crime statistics, the police sent him to a mental hospital rather than investigate his claim. Involuntary hospitalization has been used, and can continue to be used, by the State as a means of speech suppression.

Abuse of power within mental hospitals is all too common. A senior member of hospital staff in England raped a woman patient sixty times, sneaking in Valium to render her unable to fight back. A psychiatric unit in Brooklyn recently came under investigation for being run more like a prison than a hospital, as staff subdued patients with physical restraints and drugs rather than offering individualized treatment. Patients of varying states of health commonly abuse each other with little intervention from hospital staff. Hospital staff isolates and traumatizes schizophrenics, treating them as violent criminals, despite a lack of any criminal history.

Part of the reason for involuntary commitment is the association between mental illness and violence. However, much of these fears are unfounded. Mental illness has become the newscapegoat for violent crimes committed by evil people, and the main people affected are the mentally ill. However, mental illness is not a crime; it is a medical condition and should be treated as such. Most people suffering from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or any other number of mental illnesses are capable, functioning adults. The notion of mental illness itself is largely socially constructed. By feeding off of social stigma, the State is able to imprison mass amounts of people despite them never having committed a crime.

Involuntary commitment is traumatizing and unhelpful to sufferers of mental illness and easily lends itself to abuse. What seems like a dystopian practice out of a science fiction novel, the imprisonment of people who think differently is all too real. By stripping the mentally ill of their rights as human beings, and treating them as government property, the State perpetuates the idea that the mentally ill are less than people. I cannot believe I have to say this, but mentally ill people are people too.

*Names have been changed to protect the subject’s identity.

This article was originally published on June 2, 2015 at C4SS.org.

Black Widow’s Infertility: More Than A Sexist Trope

In the first Avengers movie, Black Widow stands alone in a field of men. Despite being the token female character, she breaks the bounds of classic Hollywood femininity and demonstrates depth and a sense of humor. Then came Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. In a highly controversial move, Black Widow reveals that she is infertile, and then calls herself a monster. Really? Infertility makes a woman a monster? Thanks, Joss. Feminists were immediately, and fairly, outraged. How could feminist Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, let his token woman fall into the infertility trope so common in Hollywood? Didn’t Black Widow deserve better than to face the classic cissexist female tragedy – the inability to have children?

Feminist Margaret Sanger said, “No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” Contrary to the interpretation of most (outraged) feminists, what makes Black Widow tragic is not that she does not aspire to motherhood, but that she has no choice either way. Black Widow’s forced infertility stands for a problem that plagues our society: the external loci of control over women’s bodies. Rather than be angry that her infertility even comes up, let’s have a conversation about women and the choices they are able to make. Our feminist project is far from over. The U.S.-centric view that women now fully own themselves is simply not accurate, even in the West. Thanks to legal obstruction, social norms, and male entitlement, women still do not have complete control over their bodies.

Perhaps the most obvious way in which women lack control over their own bodies is reproductive rights. Thirteen states in the U.S. are considered hostile to abortion and make it extremely difficult for women to get abortions, despite the Supreme Court ruling them legal 42 years ago. More states enacted anti-abortion regulations in 2011-2013 than the entire previous decade. Many states require parental consent for adolescent women to have abortions, further enforcing the idea that young women don’t own their own bodies. A woman from Indiana was recently charged with feticide for attempting her own abortion, inducing a miscarriage with illegal abortion pills. Women under these abortion restrictions are in the same boat as Black Widow — they cannot decide whether or not to have children. Someone else is making the choice for them.

Laws affecting abortion are extremely regressive. The typical woman who gets an abortion is poor, unmarried and young. Women in these circumstances have few choices; they simply cannot afford to raise a child. The cost of raising a child to the age of 18 varies on average from $157,000 to nearly $400,000 in the United States. These numbers do not account for the cost of pregnancy or of giving birth, not to mention any lost income due to having to drop out of school. Abortion, therefore, may seem like the only option to many pregnant women. Clearly the cheaper option, an abortion pill can still cost up to $800 and an in-clinic procedure can cost as much as $1500 in the first trimester. Abortion is expensive because of state regulations targeting abortion, mandated clinical procedures and intellectual property laws. The cheapest option for women is to not get pregnant in the first place.

Female birth control is expensive, often outside the range of insurance coverage, and requires a doctor’s prescription. For women who have poor insurance and cannot afford a doctor’s visit cannot get a prescription for birth control in the first place. These women are also more likely to have unprotected sex. The notion that women have the responsibility to abstain from sex to avoid unwanted pregnancy relies on outdated Victorian-era notions about female sexuality. Women need to have control over their own sex lives through easy access to birth control and, when that fails, abortion. Behind both Black Widow’s tragedy and ours, the assumption stands that women naturally should aspire to marriage and motherhood. Black Widow is violated to impede this supposedly natural inclination; most women today are violated to uphold it.

Male entitlement to women’s bodies affects every aspect of the experience of being a women. In the United States, 18.3% of women have survived a rape or an attempted rape. Despite the commonplace nature of rape, the men who commit rape very rarely are convicted. Unlike with any other crime, the first instinct of most people is to ask what the rape victim did to cause the rape to happen. Questions like, “What was she wearing?” and, “How often does she have sex?” invalidate the victim’s experience, violate her privacy, and place the blame away from the person at fault—the rapist. A culture of victim-blaming and slut-shaming reinforces the notion that women do not control their bodies, men do. Men just cannot help themselves.

So far, this conversation has been largely centered on cis women’s bodies, or women’s bodies with female reproductive capacities. Transgender women also lack the control over their own bodies that seemingly only cis men can enjoy. Anti-transgender violence is a national crisis, as the murder of transgender people often goes ignored. Over 200 transgender people were murdered in 2014 alone. One in two transgender individuals are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Apart from the shocking amount of violence toward transgender women, transgender women also lack self-ownership medically. Pills that aid with transition are expensive and require a prescription. Women must meet with a counselor who decides whether or not they are good “candidates” for the treatment. Many of the same laws that restrict women’s access to birth control also apply to hormone replacement therapy. Again, these laws are extremely regressive, as they most affect women with poor insurance who cannot afford the necessary doctor’s appointment. Cultural norms also dominate transgender women’s bodies by defining them. When women’s experiences are defined in terms of their reproductive organs, many women are completely left out of the conversation.

In many places outside of the United States, women fare even worse. Women in China face a problem much more similar to that of Black Widow, by not being allowed to have more than one child. Women in China are pressured or even forced into undergoing permanent birth control procedures after giving birth for the first time, or into having an abortion if their fetus is assigned female. In Iran, women are restricted in the way they can dress, and have virtually no access to family planning and reproductive services. In Egypt, 91 percent of married women have undergone female genital mutilation procedures. Unsafe abortions due to government control are the fifth leading cause of maternal death in Mexico. 99 percent of maternal death takes place in developing countries. In Russia, Black Widow’s homeland, it is illegal for transgender women to drive. The world has a long way to go in the fight for gender equality and women self-ownership.

As part of her training to become an assassin, the Black Widow is forced to become infertile because of gendered assumptions about motherhood. The underlying assumption in Black Widow’s graduation is that she will, unless made infertile, eventually want to settle down and have a family. This sexist assumption about Black Widow’s future dictates the choices she has about her reproductive health. Like all women under the patriarchy, Black Widow does not have control over her body, and it is tragic, trope or no trope. Black Widow is a feminist hero because she demonstrates strength and character depth in the face of Hollywood’s stereotypes about femininity and what makes a “strong woman.” She also has a tragic backstory that all women should relate to — not because we should all be baby-making machines, but because we all understand what it means to have control of our bodies taken from us by men with sexist ideas. Women around the world must take up arms and fight for the right to their own bodies. In the fight against the patriarchal domination of women’s bodies, we are all Black Widows.

This article was originally published on May 29, 2015 at C4SS.org.

Individualism, Anti-Essentialism, and Intersectionality

Social justice is, in large part, based in the concept of identity politics, or politics based on oppression, privilege, and group identity. Identity politics is important because of social and historical context. Understanding group interactions and their effect on the individuals in these groups is essential to fighting oppression. While many libertarians and individualist anarchists reject identity politics due to concerns about the collectivist nature of group identity, Wade Craig argues that identity politics, or politics based on oppression, privilege, and group identity, is an individualist project:

Identity politics seeks to take the individuals and free them from that group of which society has labeled them members. It seeks to free homosexual people from the stereotypical concept of what it means to be gay, male people from masculinity, colored people from race, etc.

In order to maintain the individualistic nature of our fight for equality, we must take into account two very important pieces of the social justice puzzle: intersectionality and anti-essentialism.

Intersectionality is an approach in social justice that recognizes the existence of overlapping categories of oppression. An individual may be oppressed in certain ways and privileged in others. To understand how to overcome oppression generally, we must understand how these overlapping categories of oppressed and privileged interact. For example, a straight black man and a white lesbian are both privileged and oppressed in completely different ways. While the first subject has straight and male privilege, he is oppressed on the basis of race. The second subject has white privilege, but is oppressed on the basis of being a woman and not straight. Recognizing this intersection of oppressions and privileges moves us away from a collectivist, one-size-fits-all approach to an individualist person-based approach to combating oppression.

Anti-essentialism is the idea that no “essential” experience exists among people of a certain oppressed of privileged group. There is no essential Black experience or essential woman experience because Black people and women are so varied and may be affected differently by different oppressions (as discussed above). Trina Grillo criticizes essentialism, saying it “assumes that the strands of identity are separable.” In other words, it ignores the variety in each person’s identity — it is anti-individual. Using Anti-Essentialism and Intersectionality is vital to our project in combating oppression because of the importance of recognizing each person as more than a member of an oppressed group, as an individual, a unique end in themselves.

Oppression and privilege affect every aspect of day-to-day life. Whether one indirectly benefits from the oppression of others, directly causes it, or is the victim, the pursuit of one’s goals is largely affected by one’s position in society. The recognition of privilege is simply the recognition that oppression affects each of us differently. As Nathan Goodman says in The Knowledge Problem of Privilege, “Every individual has unique knowledge shaped by their experiences and preferences, knowledge that may not be accessible to others…” Defining the collective experience of a group in specific terms is difficult, especially for those who have no first-hand experience of such oppression. In order to combat oppression, we must recognize the places in which we have privilege and cannot relate to the experiences of someone who is oppressed. In fighting oppression we must not lose sight of the individual, despite the importance of shared experience. Intersectionality and anti-essentialism help us to recognize the limits of our knowledge about experiences other than our own, so we can be careful not to speak for others and drown out their voices.

Collectivism leads us to define people into categories, placing each person into a strictly defined group. Essentializing the experience of each group, we set up expectations for members of each arbitrarily defined category and ignore personal experience. In her speech on intersectionality and anti-essentialism, Trina Grillo refers to both as the “Tools to Dismantle the Master’s House.” By looking to intersectionality and anti-essentialism, we are able to defeat collectivist notions of what oppression should look like, and get to the root of the problem. This sort of radical social justice goes beyond black and white categorization to individualistic recognition of the experience of each individual person, giving us the tools of liberation.

Individualism opposes the external control of individual choice, holding reason as the source of morality. Societal constraints on individual reason and morality are the subject of social justice. As rebels in the oppressive system, we must fight for a radical individualism in which people are not held back by societal expectations of behavior based on arbitrary factors like race or gender, but recognized as free moral agents, capable of making decisions for themselves. Oppression and privilege compel people to make certain choices or respond to certain situations based on their position in society. Dominant social structures, even those that are nonviolent, can impede individuality by creating illusions of choice and imposing oppressive, collectivist norms.

Ayn Rand, a strong proponent of individualism, stressed the importance of recognizing each person as an end in themselves:

Man — every man — is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.

She argued that in order for people to be able to pursue their ends, they must recognize and respect the value of the individual and the importance of individual rights. Our project as combatants against oppression is to open up opportunities for each individual to pursue their own ends without interfering with others. Our goal is not to recreate special privileges or redefine the boundaries of oppressor and oppressed, but to erase them all together. Only in a world beyond oppression and privilege will people truly be regarded as individuals.

To break the boundaries of oppression, we must empower ourselves, recognizing that the fight against oppression is a fight for all by all, and that no one’s experience of oppression is the same. Group identity is shaped by history and society, and is extremely important when diagnosing social trends and identifying problems of oppression. Identity politics cannot be ignored. By looking to individualism, anti-essentialism, and intersectionality, we can form a project that clears the way for each person to achieve their ends, man qua man. As Trina Grillo says, “We have a better chance of forming a vision of a post-patriarchal, post-racial society both by trusting in our own experiences and by seeking out voices that are drowned out by essentialism in all its forms.” We cannot fight oppression by ignoring the existence of social constructs such as gender and race, because these social constructs heavily influence human interaction. We can, however, tear down these social constructs by acknowledging them and defying their bounds. By recognizing that oppression exists and that each person is an end in themselves, we stand a fighting chance.

This article was originally published on May 23, 2015 at C4SS.org.