Interview about Vancouver Rape Relief Women’s Conference

(TFC) – Radical Feminist Michelle Peixinho Smith answers Rae’s questions on Vancouver Rape Relief’s women’s conference from the end of 2015. Smith works with other activists, as well as with women in need, to fight patriarchal standards.
Can you tell me a bit about the event?
The even was great. Its a super packed agenda with three main formats. Films, Panels of speakers with Q and A, and the roundtable where you find some healthy disagreement and a collective refinement of the analysis of how male violence is affecting our lives as women. The date commemorates a hate crime [the Montreal Massacre], the targeted killing of 14 women in engineering school. You should get VRR info on it because they have been doing this for a couple decades I believe. The original event was in 1989. I was in college too that year, same age as these women.
My sister is in STEM, to think women are targeted for it adds a much darker reality to the usual happy, go-lucky, “support women in STEM” messaging. Is that the kind of male violence at the forefront of the agenda for Radfems?
I can’t speak for all radfems, as you know, there is no one monolithic kind of radical feminist. However, the premise of radical feminism is recognizing male supremacy and the mechanisms of patriarchy that influence and permeate our lives as women. So we are looking at this kind of public terrorism (such as MM) which still persists such as in the targeting of planned parenthood precisely because the organization serves the reproductive autonomy of women.

Male violence comes in many forms, however, and throughout radical feminism you can hear this articulated. Providing frontline responses to domestic and intimate partner violence, cultural and religious practices that are overtly violent towards women such as FGM or forced marriages. Addressing the state sanctioned violence against women in childbirth. Most importantly addressing women as a class and the entirety of our experiences.

What do you mean by that specifically?
So for first world women, we might not feel the same pressure coming down as women in the Philippines, for example, who are at ground zero for impact of climate change – a very dire situation for these extremely impoverished women who cannot access family planning, legal abortions, or even get divorces because of patriarchal control of the health care system, US AID, and even religion that determines the morals behind these women’s choices. We see all this as male violence against women. Male violence is rampant and is the source of much of the violence perpetrated through the world in gun violence in America, terrorism, wars, police brutality and so on. One third of the internet is pornography which the majority of which is explicit and purposeful violence against women perpetrated by males. Male violence is everywhere.

The Montreal Massacre was particularly insidious because of the shooters declared hatred of [radical] feminism, which is simply that those women were punished further precisely because women had dared to set a boundary and voice opposition to their own oppression. That makes [the Montreal Massacre] so very pointed in its attack against women.

Just to get an idea of your participation, what events did you attend at the conference? 
I primarily stayed in the round table room. The round table was fascinating because of course its a whole different format for presenting information. It’s much more interactive than the panels and you even tend to hear healthy disagreement and debate on the topics. So you will hear, for examples, a debate within the round table of murdered and missing aboriginal women, a healthy dialogue around how good the inquiry is because of Native women’s history with the Nation-State of their colonizer. It is easier to see that a consensus on a topic actually still includes so many voices and perspectives not all in agreement on everything.

What kind of solutions/tactics were discussed at roundtables? 

The event itself in that it was organized by VRR, embodies the solutions in its organizing process. VRR has modeled this for over 46 years. They are a collective of women that make decisions by consensus and run an independently funded transition house (shelter) while maintaining all decision-making autonomy.

The shelter that I work in here is State funded and functions in a completely different way, subject to our State funding mechanisms and parameters (nation-state defined and therefore not always genuinely serving of women). As in the midwifery example, many states such as mine that are poor and underfunded must choose to run a State funded shelter or no shelter at all. We justify it because we know the need is so great. However, the services are skewed by the States patriarchal filters, that these shelters hold a space for the refuge that women need,  lack the analysis to help them understand that contexts in which they are living- a truly systemic analysis of what affects our lives. So we end up with the same victim-blaming model. But we also do not continue to develop autonomous services because we believe that its covered- even though it is not.

Where are women getting stuck when fighting these injustices?
The issue that we seem to face is finding the fulcrum between practically improving the lives of women and effectively taking down the patriarchal systems that have us all oppressed. We can work towards, for example (in the world of midwifery), a better situation for a handful of women, but the professionalization that allows us to do that also prevents us from overturning the whole system which would ultimately help all of us. We seem to get stuck here, ultimately fighting over whom we should help first or more.

How does VRR combat this paradigm?
The way VRR runs its programs, the revolution is embodied in the community volunteers that get trained and recruited into the work by way of a commitment to the consensus process and by eliminating as much as possible the hierarchical paradigm that trapped these women into their situation in the first place.
Can you go into deeper detail of a systematic analysis?
[Regarding the BLM movement] Police brutality against black men was the tip of the iceberg. You don’t even have to go to a third world to see how women are taking shit at home from men. [Black women] can’t call the cops because cops are not safe. Then, maybe they make it to safety, but still are still 5 times to give birth prematurely than white women just because they’re black. When I think about that statistic about infant mortality for black women/s babies then I can understand this is a very real intersection of lived experience, not just in theory.
At the core of it is sexual and reproductive control. The mechanism are severely racist and capitalist systems. But as women of color, these cannot be disconnected. Solutions seem to come about when women speak up. Like this Cop rapist case, blown up starting with one woman’s voice. It seems that each one of us that stands up about the sex-based oppression that we are experiencing and their roots in male supremacy, we give more opportunity for more women to fight.
How else does authority fit into these narratives?
Image Source: Surian Soosay, Flickr, Creative Commons Crying Girl

Image Source: Surian Soosay, Flickr, Creative Commons
Crying Girl

In these cop rapist cases we will see the culpability found within the institutional structure/leadership, the same way it exists in the military. Sexual assault is rampant in patriarchal institutions which unfortunately include the nuclear family which put every woman and child at risk and vulnerable to male violence. Prostitution and pornography permeates that home environment and tells men it is okay to rape. Pornography and prostitution is a major issue of disagreement among women and part of a range of forbidden discourse in our society.

The rhetoric seems to simmer down to looking at these male-owned industries as sources of opportunity for many hundreds of thousands of women across the world. So if we were to consider this from this individualist perspective, there are still the considerations of consent and how this is achieved. Prostituted and trafficked women come from very socially and economically impoverished situations of survival, one where consent takes on a different meaning.

Why is the sex industry so harmful?
The fact is that these industries demonstrate a public and accessible state-sanctioned violence against the female body. My favorite quote from MMM was Meagan Murphy. she said: “simulated misogyny is still misogyny”. The imprint is horrific. One third of the internet is pornography- the vile rape and torture of the female body, the average age of exposure for males in the US is ten years old.

Just like the midwifery example, by framing it from the perspective of the individual and meeting as many individual needs as  possible, we prevent ourselves from addressing the roots of the issue of male supremacy and the deliberate sexual and reproductive submission demanded of us as females by males. Another Meagan Murphy quote from the MMM event was “you can’t fight the status quo by calling it empowerment.”

Charles Rae writes about power and social justice. Follow more women-centered news at The Fem Column on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr.