This talk was delivered on October 28, 2023, at a Women’s Declaration International gathering in London. If you like this talk, please consider donating to my PayPal using the address firstname.lastname@example.org — I am currently fundraising to purchase a flight home. You can also buy my Brief Complete Herstory e-book here. Thank you!
I’m going to talk about one of my favourite topics: anarchism. Not too popular among feminists today, thanks to antifa activists, who are generally understood to be anarchists, and often act like it is their calling to give every feminist alive today a massive headache.
When most people hear the term ‘anarchist’, they think of these antifa activists, with black and fluorescent hair dye, unwashed clothes, an abundance of face piercings, and face masks, not for protection against COVID but surveillance cameras. These activists hate pigs, aka police, because of their inhumanity – but aren’t against punching so-called ‘TERFs,’ meaning women who know that human beings cannot change sex and men can’t be women. Which seems like a low bar for determining who deserves to be subject to policing and brutality.
To such nominal anarchists, the dream of a free world, of a world without oppression, is often sexualised. Pornography, like poor hygiene, is liberating because it poses a risqué and socially subversive challenge to polite society.
Where I am from in New Zealand, one notorious prison abolitionist group has a history of protesting the annual Pride Parades, for two main reasons. One is that they hate the police, and the police have participated in Pride since 2014. When antifa activists pressured the Pride committee to ban police uniforms from the Parade, and the committee conceded, it resulted in police withdrawing from the 2018 Parade, and then a corporate exodus. Pride lost all its funding.
One main reason why this antifa group hates the police relates to their prison abolitionist demands. The group lobbies to have men who identify as women, and have been incarcerated for violent crimes, moved to female only prisons. They have also demanded that Corrections allow such prisoners access to the underwear and makeup of their choice. So, the first problem this antifa group have with the Pride Parade is that the committee allows police to participate in uniform even though they are not moving quickly enough to transfer men into women’s prisons.
The second objection this group has to Pride is that there is not enough public sex. A spokesperson, who had his arm broken while confronting police at the 2014 Parade, has said: “I wanna see people fucking on a float … If there is not wall to wall sex down Queen Street, I don’t want to have any of it.”
This anecdote from New Zealand might sound familiar because we recognise the characters as the anarchists of today; what I want to argue is that what such groups represent cannot logically be anarchism at all.
The word anarchism literally means no chief, or no ruler.
Traditionally, anarchism does not only reject dictators and tyrants and authority figures, but also social conditioning and indoctrination, the gradual acceptance of authority that comes as we live the nine-to-five ‘rat race’, where you work to earn the money to buy the car with which to get stuck in traffic going to work. Anarchists don’t want to be cogs in this capitalist machine. So, they resist not only authority but the indoctrination that leads to acquiescence.
Porn and pornified sex seem to be the way many anarchists believe they can generate enough shock to shake people out of civilised complacency and subvert the status quo. What they fail to consider, because their penises are doing the thinking, is that porn is one of the largest capitalist industries in existence, and a primary means of social conditioning.
Conditioning by way of pornography starts young. According to Gail Dines, the average age boys first watch porn is eleven years old. Pornographers aim to capture male sexuality before boys have had a chance to grapple with it for themselves.
This industry is based on addiction, though it does not actually supply users with any physical substance or service, just images. The user gets hooked to his own sex response. All the porn industry does is create an association between that sex response and a certain kind of moving image – images of women being raped and sexually dominated.
In a world of mindless consumerism, the porn user is particularly degraded. Porn profiteers make him addicted to something he blatantly manufactures himself, orgasm. They know that he will trade his humanity just for the stimulus he’s been conditioned to require, like a lab rat.
This sexual programming is both comprehensive, and fundamental, as I explain in my book, Out of the Fog:
While the word sex normally refers to male and female anatomical parts, genital intercourse, reproduction, and an animal drive to procreate advantageously, that is not its full meaning for us. In human life, sex denotes a world of energy, feeling, longing, attraction, love, excitement, anticipation, delight, disappointment … that is not reducible to organ function and breeding. What’s more, the intangible aspects of sex, like attraction, are not about seeking out partners we think will help us produce genetically superior offspring. Attraction is about who we are, who we want to become, the life we long for, and the kind of world we want to live in. Those longings also form the basis of our unconscious and conscious identities and creative expression.
To capture someone’s sexuality is to capture their basic desires, and so to direct their living energy, their preoccupations, their humanity, their minds. In the Indian sacred texts of the Upanishads, it states, “You are what your deepest driving desire is.” So, when pornographers capture a man’s sexual desire, that man becomes like a puppet whose strings can be pulled anytime, which is what the mainstream objectification and sexualisation of women is about.
It was the Buddha, perhaps the ultimate anarchist, who said that this toxification of desire, this distortion of desire into a compassionless kind of selfish craving is not only the basis of our conditioning, but the cause of all human suffering. I think he was right. Certainly, pornography is diametrically opposed to liberation from indoctrination and compliance.
Porn represents the most inhumane, and the most conformist, social tendency there is today. It is a record of rape consumed as entertainment, and a primary tool in teaching men to fetishise domination, the impulse that sustains all forms of oppression, whether domestic, systemic or military.
So, a true anarchist could not take inspiration from porn to challenge the status quo. In fact, rejecting the pornographic script is the first and most fundamental act of defiance against a culture that replicates itself through dehumanisation.
If anarchism is a refusal to be ruled by external authorities and profiteers, and if it is about freedom from conditioning and indoctrination, then a true anarchist cannot be a porn consumer. A true anarchist works for a world without porn.
Now I’m going to discuss a character quite opposite to the porn user; the woman who is silenced and alienated because she lives in a porn culture.
Cassandra, the mythic princess of Troy from Greek legend, represents this woman and this condition, and she also has something to teach us about anarchism.
Cassandra had many suitors, one of whom was the God Apollo. In order to impress and seduce Cassandra, Apollo gave her the gift of prophecy – and when Cassandra continued rejecting him, he became angry, and cursed her. He told Cassandra that she could keep her prophetic gift, but now, nobody would believe her.
Cassandra foresaw the Trojan war, her brother’s death, and many other events. The curse held. The story goes that being constantly disbelieved and disregarded drove Cassandra mad.
Cassandra is not only a character in a tale. She represents the female condition in a patriarchal culture. Cassandra is a woman who had enough self-respect to reject a man, which is against the rules of a culture that says women are for men’s sexual use. Rejection humiliates men, which leads them to inflict punishment. Because this is a social pattern, women who experience it soon develop the ability to predict it. Though of course, everyone denies the pattern.
So, Cassandra is the woman who is alienated because her experience of the world is constantly invalidated.
For some women, this experience is a confused, unconscious, implicit struggle with the world. For others it is conscious and political. Today, the term ‘TERF’ functions to explicitly make Cassandras – or Medusas or Circes – out of women who verbalise what we see in the world, what we anticipate and predict.
To explain what Cassandra has to do with anarchism I will briefly talk about my own ‘Cassandra experience’.
By 2019 I had been writing a feminist blog for four years. I wrote a lot about the New Zealand model of prostitution legislation, which is supposedly about harm reduction, but in practice, makes it a woman’s job to protect men who rape her from catching sexually transmitted diseases in the process. The ‘harm’ is not the rape, but health risks it poses to men. When transgenderism started going mainstream, I wrote about that, too.
The problems with transgenderism were obvious: men in female prisons, women’s safehouses, public toilets, changing rooms, sports teams and lesbian spaces; children in the public education system being gaslit by teachers, and medicalised with puberty blockers for normal childhood behaviour, and the rest of it.
I received an incredible amount of backlash considering I was working alone without any institutional or organisational position. To this, I responded like a chicken, as described by Lierre Keith in her book The Vegetarian Myth: “If a chicken by herself sees a predator, she’ll hide as quickly and quietly as she can. But a chicken in a flock will sound the alarm, a loud, high shriek of warning. She’ll draw attention to herself, put herself at risk for the good of the flock.” By drawing attention to myself, I found allies and gathered us together in safety and privacy. I did that for 3 or 4 years.
When the group was large enough, they formed a public lobby, which they decided should not be associated with a woman who had spent 3 to 4 years acting like a startled chicken. They pretended to have nothing to do with me, and I tried to warn the group that this was bad politics; they did not agree, arguing they were being pragmatic.
It is a very good idea to gather people together in privacy and safety, in response to a common problem. The problem is that once people have the privacy, safety and anonymity of a group, they may come to value the privacy, safety, and anonymity of the group. This is one reason why groups can tend to be more moderate and conservative in decision making than individuals. A group is often made of members who do not want to lose the group or what it provides, and so will compromise to protect those things.
An individual chicken, or activist, might be prepared to scream to warn others about an approaching fox. But once a group is formed, it will often act as though the best way to deal with the fox is to just bargain with him and talk politely until he is convinced he doesn’t really feel like chicken today. This effort might lead the flock to distance itself from the noisy chicken, steer clear of her, or maybe even, you know, just discretely indicate to the fox that he can take her if he’ll leave the rest alone. All the while, the fox is just waiting for his moment.
To me this was a painful lesson. I found myself in a political vacuum that also felt like a social vacuum. I was a feminist rejected not only by the wider society but by other feminists as well. I felt politically obsolete and socially disconnected.
It’s fair to say that before this experience, when I was a noisy chicken, I was also angry. A lot of the time. Probably most of the time. It was hard not to be: it seemed like every day the situation for women in the world was getting not only worse, but more absurd. Absurdity adds insult to injury, and it all made me outraged.Beneath this anger lay powerlessness: I found that out when I no longer had a network and was confronted the reality of being one person in the world, with no notable status or means to change anything.
According to the mythology, women who have this kind of experience, like Cassandra, Medusa, or Circe, go mad. But that’s odd. Because I thought it was society itself that was mad, the society that has us taking the job we hate to buy the car to sit in the traffic; the society that has forgotten what biology is; the society that will destroy the environment to sustain itself.
It follows that the labelling of women like Cassandra may well constitute what Mary Daly called ‘patriarchal reversal’. If society is insane, then women who lose every attachment and tie to that society are in a prime position to go absolutely sane.
Maybe when the male myth makers said that Cassandra went mad, she simply became a self-possessed woman. And that is when the male narrator of her story declares her mad.
Maybe finding myself alone did not make me politically obsolete, but simply blessed with a chance to understand myself beyond all societal attachments; to reconnect with the humanity that lies beneath conditioning and indoctrination.
I learned a lot in this period. For a start, I learned about the distinction between two kinds of power: external and authentic. Gary Zukav defines these in his book, The Seat of the Soul. External power is power gained by money, fame, prestige, numbers, popularity, access. Authentic power is what each of us have by virtue of being alive.
When I felt obsolete and disconnected, I noticed that my heart still beat and lungs still filled with air. Trees did not deny me oxygen, the sun did not deny me warmth or light. I saw that primarily, I am a form of life, interwoven with all other forms. I saw that, to be ignored was not to be extracted from the fabric of life. I saw that my aliveness is natural, not societal.
I saw that the term female erasure, which feminists use to describe the writing of women out of culture, history and law, is not one hundred per cent accurate. It is shorthand for the widespread denial of female existence, but, if you ever find yourself being denied in this way, you will also discover that you have not actually been deleted or cancelled.
What, then, is authentic power? What is the power that we have access to by virtue of being alive?
Well – everything that is alive – including every living cell – shares the capacity to sense and to respond. Sensitivity is what we lose in a porn culture, as we become numb, dissociated and self preserving. Yet as writer Darren Allen argues, in an anarchist worldview, it is sensitivity that makes a leader. Allen writes:
In an anarchist group whoever has more ability or sensitivity than the others naturally ‘takes the lead.’ Nobody with any intelligence, anarchist or otherwise, would refuse to unthinkingly obey an experienced sailor in a storm. Indeed the hallmark of ability and sensitivity is that neither compel … Once we remove compulsion, then ability and sensitivity naturally take over as sources of authority. Thus anarchist society is, actually, full of leaders. End quote.
The other capacity is the capacity to respond.
Three authors I love – physician Gabor Maté, clinical psychologist Harriet Lerner, and spiritual teacher Sadhguru – all explain that the word responsibility does not mean what we ordinarily think it does. If, in any given situation, we decide we are responsible, it does not mean we are at fault or to blame. It does not imply moral obligation, or a duty to correct or fix a situation or another person.
Instead, we are each gifted the ability to respond.
And in the sense we have the ability to respond to everything that we perceive, we are responsible for, well, everything we perceive.
An anarchist is someone who knows this power and refuses to outsource it to any external agent. An anarchist is someone who, upon seeing a problem in the world, does not immediately think of which someone-in-a-suit needs to fix it, and does not consider themselves burdened with a duty to fix it. An anarchist knows she is gifted with full response-ability.
I have found that losing contact with external power leaves you with no choice but to discover what remains, in other words, what authentic power is: your ability to respond.
Back to Cassandra.
Radical feminism today tends to polarise the individual and the collective. The general understanding is that systems of power as large as capitalism, racialised oppression and patriarchy, can only be changed by groups, not individuals. Anyone who overvalues individual action must be a deluded political liberal.
But, today’s political climate demonstrates that when we value the group over independent thought, the group suffers. It becomes politically dull and moderate. Cassandra, Medusa, and Circe – and the ability to be these women, to walk in their shoes – are essential to the health of any group or movement.
The nineteenth century suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton felt this way. In 1892, she made a speech called ‘The Solitude of Self’ that her closest comrade, Susan B. Anthony, advised her not to deliver. Stanton insisted the speech was the best thing she had written, so gave it anyway. She said:
The strongest reason for giving woman all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties, her forces of mind and body; for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition; from all the crippling influences of fear – is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life. The strongest reason why we ask for woman a voice in the government under which she lives … is because of her birthright to self-sovereignty; because, as an individual, she must rely on herself. No matter how much women prefer to lean, to be protected and supported, nor how much men desire to have them do so, they must make the voyage of life alone, and for safety in an emergency, they must know something of the laws of navigation. To guide our own craft, we must be captain, pilot, engineer; with chart and compass to stand at the wheel; to watch the winds and waves, and know when to take in the sail, and to read the signs in the firmament over all.
Later in the speech, she said,
there is a solitude which each and every one of us has always carried with him, more inaccessible than the ice-cold mountains, more profound than the midnight sea; the solitude of self. Our inner being which we call ourself, no eye nor touch of man or angel has ever pierced.
This is the self that Cassandra found, and Circe, and Medusa, cast out of any other form of prefabricated societal acceptance. Cady Stanton states: “Such is individual life. Who, I ask you, can take, dare take on himself the rights, the duties, the responsibilities of another human soul?”
There is that word – responsibility.
An anarchist, by definition, must be someone who, not believing in external or artificial power, not necessarily even having means of access to external or artificial power, not believing in hierarchical rulers, in authority figures, refuses to outsource the response-ability that is hers to anyone else. An anarchist must be someone who, because she is alive, claims response-ability for all she can. That is not to say that she tries to fix and control everything. Control is fear based. Response-ability is creative.
In conclusion: feminism to me is necessarily anarchist. Feminists can speak with, talk to, and make demands of, authority figures, as much as they see fit – but feminism is not a reformist movement.
When reform is emphasised, negotiation and bargaining result, and negotiating and bargaining with men in power is not only delusional, it is a habit derived from feminine conditioning. As historian Gerda Lerner wrote in The Creation of Feminist Consciousness, the subordination of women,
has forced thinking women to waste much time and energy on defensive arguments; it has channelled their thinking into narrow fields; it has retarded their coming into consciousness as a collective entity and has literally aborted and distorted the intellectual talents of women for thousands of years.
For about 5,000 years, women have been negotiating with men from a defensive position, for reform of both the domestic and public sphere. If this strategy worked, so much of it has been carried out already that it would have resolved all our problems.
What’s more, feminists cannot assume access to forms of power that Cassandra, Medusa and Circe do not have access to. Feminism can relate to all forms of external power, but cannot be premised on a quest for these, or for attention from rulers and leaders, or the safety of numbers.
Women share collective conditions, needs and interests, of course. But all of us know, and can observe in politics today, that the world needs people who can stand apart. The world needs independent minds. People who are willing to reject groupthink, ask unpopular questions, challenge norms and dictates.
And so a feminist anarchist is a woman who knows herself as natural and human before she sees herself as a political unit. She claims her natural ability to respond to the world, and from that basis she is able and willing to collaborate. She does not need the group to feel effective or to protect her from the world, or from aloneness, or from her own self. She joins with others to share and contribute.
Anarchism is not about pornified sex, breaking windows and looking weird in the prescribed way.
Anarchism is for freedom seeking women to define for ourselves. It starts with you, with your longing for life, your longing for a direct and unmediated experience of life, your longing to claim response-ability and not to outsource it, your longing to join with others not to do charity but to contribute, your willingness to become a cultural anomaly in the quest for freedom.
The only movement that can afford to do without leaders is one in which each participant is fully responsible for herself. That is an anarchism for all women alive on earth today to build: women who are done with shame and also perpetual anger; women who know what it is to feel alone, but who also know that to be alone is to be alive, and to be alive is to be connected; women unimpressed by external power, women who want to live with integrity, women who crave relationships that are not superficial but creative and fruitful.
I think we’re everywhere.