linking the issues in the struggle for reproductive justice

whether the end-product of any given uterine activity is a cancer, a miscarriage, a termination or a live newborn infant, the very best of technological assistance should – clearly – be freely available to all.


re-blogging from movements@manchester:

Should we be doing more to link the issues in the struggle for reproductive justice? 

Continue reading

Demanding the future: beyond marriage; and reproductive justice for all

Plan C Manchester has been compiling a tumblr of radical demands – most of them formulated by ‘guests’ or fellow-travellers – imagining a liveable future. With my Feminist Fightback hat on, I helped to contribute to Demand No. 21Reproductive Justice for All! – and also wrote another one by collaborating with @takkaria, namely, Demand No. 23 – Stop allocating social resources on the basis of marital status. The latter in particular is merely a sort of sketch of a call for experimenting with more conviction, as communists, in materially otherwise forms of social reproduction, by building nurturing alternatives to the couple-form somehow, some sort of anti-families. Whatever you may think (I’m ambivalent myself) about the meaning of formulating demands in the relative absence of a corresponding social struggle, you can check these respective (differently styled) texts out, here and here, along with the entirety of the excellent Demanding the Future project/experiment, which (incidentally) will be written up thoughtfully by my Manchester comrades in short order.

Demand #21: Reproductive Justice For All!

Guest demand by Feminist Fightback

Reproductive justice consists of the social conditions necessary for people to enjoy the freedom to “have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments” (SisterSong). As UK-based intersectional anticapitalist feminists in solidarity with the SisterSong Women of Colour Reproductive Justice collective in the USA, we in Feminist Fightback demand: reproductive justice for all.

There has recently been a significant increase in the number of anti-choice pickets occurring outside abortion clinics, with picketers becoming increasingly aggressive.  Earlier this week, Lord Bates, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, suggested that immigration needed to be decreased, as migrant women were having ‘too many’ babies. In London, a group of single women with children, the Focus E15 Mothers, are defending their right to stay in social housing near their friends and support networks, as Newham council wants to ‘re-house’ some of them as far away as Sunderland.

When we speak about reproductive rights in the UK, we generally talk about a woman’s right to ‘choose’.  But while access to abortion on the NHS is still clearly very important, ‘the right to choose’ is inadequate to address the situation of migrant women subjected to racist and sexist attacks by the government, or low-income single mothers fighting to stay in their communities. What women (and other people who can bear children, but may not identify as women) need is reproductive justice.

While the phrase “reproductive justice” itself is relatively new, dating from the 1990s, in both theUS and UK, racialized women, low-income women, disabled women, and their allies have long supported the need to legalise abortion while also challenging the limitations of focusing exclusively on the ‘right to choose’. Reproductive justice places the ‘right to choose’ within the wider social context in which choices are being made. It asks us to think about the conditions necessary for genuine reproductive autonomy, and the intersecting systems of oppression that pervade our lives, preventing these conditions from being realised.  It asks us to consider why some women have more options than others, and why some babies are seen as more ‘valuable’.

Conditions necessary for reproductive justice might include (but are not limited to):

●     Free abortion on demand for anyone, without the need for doctors’ signatures, everywhere in the UK, including Northern Ireland.

●     Access to contraception, abortion and ante-natal, peri-natal and post-natal care for ALL people, regardless of immigration status.

●     A welfare state that provides adequate financial support for all parents and children, with extra support provided for children and parents with special needs.

●     A fully public and well-funded NHS to ensure free, excellent, reproductive health care for all.

●     An end to immigration detention, which is especially difficult and detrimental for children and pregnant women

●     Adequate training for all medical personnel on the reproductive health needs of trans* people, intersex people, and any other non-binary people.

●     An end to all ideologies and policies that paint some children and parents as ‘less valuable’ or less capable of making ‘good choices’ than others; obvious examples would be capitalism, sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, trans*phobia, and xenophobia.

These are by no means the only conditions. What would you add?

March 31, 2015.


Demand #23: Stop allocating social resources and privileges on the basis of marital status

This demand has been put forward, on the basis of a provocation by Laura Kipnis in the polemicAgainstLove, by members of Plan C Manchester andFeminist Fightback North: @takkaria and @lasophielle.


We demand that societies stop allocating social resources and privileges on the basis of marital status. By ‘marital status’ we are referring to whether people are publicly recognised as a couple, the couple form being, to quote Hannah Black, that “thing or experience or lifestyle or belief” that, despite the many and storied joys it brings, is nevertheless “the most reductive, exclusionary and precarious imaginable method of meeting the probably universal need to feel close to and recognized by others.”

Everywhere, the state promotes and gives recognition to various kinds of couples, the most infamous such measures being, perhaps, the provision of tax breaks and joint benefits to couples. Universal Credit also promises to glue poorer couples together financially in a gruesome recapitulation of 1960s middle-class life, making one benefit payment, once a month, to one person – despite the obvious potential for abuse this opens up. As such, the state also encourages society to treat people in couples as a unit, and their relationship as the basis of a household with special legitimacy. When you get a divorce in this country, still today, you are pleading with the Crown that your life “has become intolerable”. It is this state of affairs, to us, that is intolerable.

And while this unit (the basis for “family values”) undergirds what we call public, interactions between its constituent parts are private, creating an environment ripe for abuse – the brunt of which is borne by women. Those of us outside the unit are reluctant to intervene: what happens in the family is private and, after all, ‘we don’t really know what’s going on’. Legally, too, marriages have been the place where, rich or poor, one is least protected from the violence of rape by one particular person (incidentally, places where marital rape is still legal are largely using penal codes devised by ex-imperial powers, but that’s a story for another time).  Despite this, gaining and maintaining marital status remains synonymous with good citizenship: we must do it because we must – ethically, economically – ‘think of the children’, whether or not they have been created yet.

We demand a less precarious system of social reproduction, and a far wider horizon for our legitimate desires, than the couple form. We are wondering, as Kipnis puts it: “What if luring people into conditions of emotional stagnation and deadened desires were actually functional for society? … Note that the conditions of marital stasis are remarkably convergent with those of a cowed workforce and a docile electorate.”

We acknowledge that marriage has historically been sought, in particular, by members of a socio-economically vulnerable sex class, to whom it offered certain protections, even though the institution originally managed their exchange as reproductive chattel. We acknowledge that a great many people flourish in marriage. But this is no basis for predicating the allocation of social resources on this institution. Nowadays, especially for the poor, marriage is supposedly a ‘soft’, aspiration-forming mode of social ordering, yet it often takes on a coercive and punitive function.

Individual parents (overwhelmingly women) who try to leave abusive situations with their kids find their benefits sanctioned; immigration rights are, barbarically, tied to marital status; and even sleeping over at your boyfriend’s dis-entitles you to certain single person’s benefits. As such,Mumsnet is full of stories detailing ways one can snitch on neighbours who might be faking their couple-form, or failing to declare lifestyles that ought to be legally and economically coupled, given our era’s prevailing logic of austerity. “Who needs a policeman on every corner,” asks Laura Kipnis, “when we’re all so willing to police ourselves and those we love, and call it upholding our vows?”

So let’s abolish the apparatus that makes marriage, both gay and straight, a quasi-imperative (as well as every girl’s ultimate dream). Let’s have uncivil partnerships instead. Let’s stop policing ourselves, confusing commitment with property logic. Let’s stop letting the state police our intimate domain. We can decide for ourselves what a family is, and what resources it needs.

2nd April 2015

response to ‘for your safety and security’ by anonymousrefused

I wrote this without a view to publishing it anywhere, and, in the past week or so, hoped to get feedback and encouragement from the author of ‘For Your Safety and Security’ before I potentially did; but in the end I’ve decided to post this here without knowing what the response might be, and to simply hope that the dialogue continues.

‘For your Safety & Security’ is a new piece about not-so-new strife, platformed by Plan C. It heavily identifies safer spaces politics with ‘civility’ and ‘securitization’. Having participated in the workshop and read the piece, I disagree—respectfully—with this aspect of this particular partial repudiation, but what follows is not an attempted takedown of ‘For Your Safety & Security’. Actually, I think that what’s potentially dangerous about FYS&S is that it contains more than one argument. It contains, simultaneously, a feminist and constructive engagement with challenges facing current feminist praxis, sincerely aiming to strengthen that praxis, and also at the same time a great deal of rhetoric or imagery that in effect alleges an oppressive motivation (purging, scapegoating, and tumour excision…) and a bad-faith motivation inherent in accountability processes per se, not just the accountability processes that have been recently initiated. The possible slippage this enables between ‘this is what safer spaces politics must take care to avoid falling into’ and ‘this is what safer spaces politics simplys is’ runs the risk of playing into forces of anti-feminist reaction, on account of the absence of any disclaimer to the effect ‘scapegoating is a travesty of the logic at the heart of the necessary utopian struggle for safer spaces’. So, I’ve been motivated to try and write a genuinely comradely critique, together with an attempt to respond to the stated invitation in FYS&S for an open and less fearful discussion. My constant disclaimer is that I am someone very far from the London-based events that most directly inform the author’s experience of safer spaces politics.

The workshop (bearing the same title) that was given at the Plan C festival Fast Forward in September 2014 was kicked off with a version of the piece and developed into a fruitful discussion. I find the stand-alone blog to have a far less plurivalent, far more straightforwardly anti-safer-spaces effect than the workshop presentation had. Reading the published piece, I still recognise that ‘Anonymous Refused’ offers sincere and thoughtful reflections on shortcomings in our development of revolutionary alternatives to state-issue justice. There is something very rich about its eloquent description of the ‘scarred’ subjective terrain we inhabit. In disputing the claims and conclusions that are extrapolated, the following discussion points will hopefully also contribute to moving past the deadening and “righteous” sides-taking phenomenon, which the piece evokes as so all-encompassing of all speech about safer spaces.

Continue reading

Nymphomaniac: also: gender at the expense of race

I have a piece out in Mute magazine called “sex against gender” (it was going to be “‘whoring’ against society”, but there were concerns about my being read as implying that all sex is prostitution, scare-quotes or no scare-quotes). Anyway, it’s a review essay on Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac I and II and could also have been called “One woman v. Therapy” or “anti-Scheherezade”. ​That’s because, at ​several point​s​ in it I tr​y​ to tie in the gender, capitalist familiality and sex thematic ​in​ th​e​ film​s​, the latest in the ‘Depression trilogy’, with the present resurgence in anti-psychiatry discussion groups in the UK​.​ (​S​ee The Institute for Precarious Consciousness article posted by Plan C – ‘Theses on Anxiety’ – and the great response piece at sometimes explode as well as related reading groups and events (LeedsLondon 1 and 2Manchester 1 and 2​.​) Otherwise I just focused on the compelling way in which Nymphomaniac demonstrates the necessity of insurrection against gender.​ I’d be thrilled to know what y’all think.​ But one thing I ended up leaving out of my piece was the question of Nymphomaniac’s glib and explicit white supremacism. So I’m putting ​brief notes on all ​that​ stuff​ here, on my blog. Content warning for provocative racist terminology and, well, florid racism.nymphNN What’s the race case? Anyone who’s seen the films will know, as one scene in Volume II is pretty unforgettable and unforgiveable. ​In that second part of Nymphomaniac we at one point find von Trier hammily using Charlotte Gainsbourg as a ventriloquist’s dummy for his views on ​the​ democratic courageousness of​ us​ing the word ‘Negro’​ i.e. (I kid you not) “calling a spade a spade”​.​ The word, ​being, you know, a censored term for the truth​,​ is supposed to be a parallel of ​the film’s​ eponymous, also ​”not-politically-correct designation for the pathology of female sex addiction, which ​Gainsbourg heroically​ reclaims​ in a therapy circle​.​ “Er, we like to say sex addict…”​ says the group leader. No, Gainsbourg asserts, tearing up her therapy confessional: “I am a nymphomaniac!”​​ Needless to say, ‘nymphomaniac’ and ‘Negro’ are far from analogous signifiers. Any fool should understand why that is, so it feels a little bit like feeding the trolls to go in to it.

Maybe one ​should simply call von Trier’s bluff​: if it’s​ really​ ‘like for like​’​, ​then we can surely​ expect an upcoming trilogy devoted to cosmo​​logies of raced subjectivity​: a film on afropessimism and/or the experience of Black woman-ness. ​I’m not holding my breath, however. It’s obviously a​ppalling​ that saying ‘Negro’ ​has been defended ​in a mainstream film by a sympathetic​ celebrity​ subject, ​while exactly that kind of parochial, ‘free-speech’-ist, right-populist Ukipian toxicity is materially on the ascendant. ​It is perhaps too mild to say that von Trier is out of touch for making his feminist heroine a mouth-piece for yet another Cannes style ​joke, intended to bait ​liberal​s, perhaps, but doing so at the ​expense of people currently being targeted by neo-fascist policies across Europe. ​Because obviously it ​isn’t just content, it’s form. ​All of this is a response to the Cannes 2011 Q&A incident that got von Trier banned​.

But the film doesn’t just say ‘Negro’, and declare that “a point of honour” (actual quote): it of course inevitably enacts ‘Negro’, too. We’re faced with frames in a motel room, full of huge black cock, as though the human beings in question are in the film in order to enable Gainsbourg’s comments about speech democracy, rather than the other way around.  That the brief scene is an exoticizing, gratuitously provocative figuration of two African men as ‘Negroes’​ is ​unmistakeabl​e​​. It’s a scene that proclaim​s​ to the viewer in that all-too-familiar libertarian way ‘No, you’re the racist!​’​ even as it casts porn actors Kookie and Papou under the name ‘N’ ​(most characters in Nymphomaniac get initials, i.e. P, L, B, but ‘N’ was obviously saved for these two) ​and defies us to stare at their penises.

Why ​we​ren’t porn actors ​chosen​ to represent any of the dozens of ​​white men we see Gainsbourg fuck? Still, there’s ambivalence about Papou and Kookie’s cameo. If one anticipates excitement on the black men’s part about the white protagonist’s request for sex (made via an interpreter despatched to the street corner), one couldn’t be more wrong. She describes them as angry and “quarrelling”, but their tutting, head-shaking, gesticulating pantomime seems like more of an excuse to luxuriate, naked, in their mutual admiration of each other. Their behaviour to the white woman standing between them, whose face they never look at, whose gaze they never seek, whose vague and patient curiosity does not concern them, whose clothes they haphazardly remove, ​is ​so impersonal ​that it shocks white audiences. It seems intended to convey the animal or sub-social​, but it retains an authentic and autonomous ‘excess’​. Their extensive, uncaptioned conversation with each other could be, to those who don’t speak it (of which I am one) in any of the “African languages” or none. ​Gainsbourg walks out of the motel room, not so much because they can’t seem to get their double-penetration act together without offending each other, but because her sexuality is not roused by unapologetic blackness, or by not being the focus of any attention. ​​

A​ key aspect of ​the ​Nymphomaniac­​ production team’s​ self-advertisement its prurient publics​ (i.e. the way it produced those publics for itself)​ was ​to explain that they maintained a neat segregation​ both on- and off-set​ between porn actors and ‘actors’.​ ​This was a news-worthy separation ​of labour forces, it was said, because state-of-the-art digital technologies w​ere​ going to mediate​ it​. While the idea was, consciously or unconsciously, trailed, of Shia Labeouf’s actual cock sliding into actual celebrity pussy (but whose?) in cinemas across the globe, the ​production company ​Zentropa​’s​ ‘Making Of’ clips are, by contrast, remarkably reserved. Stars describe the porn set vs. movie set divide as two irreconcilable worlds. Stacy Martin says she always left the room when the porn actors came in to work (“I don’t watch porn, so …”) and Charlotte Gainsbourg speaks of her anxiety about what would be construed as her body. ​Zentropa’s little-known porn production side-line was not publicly talked about.​ 

So, Zentropa doesn’t just make edgy high-profile mainstream-‘art’ cinema, it makes actual porn and employs porn stars on the regular. ​​That’s the context in which I wanted to know: what language are the only one-name entries on Nymphomaniac’s IMDB, Papou and Kookie, speaking? What are they actually saying​?​ Is there a twist there, and were captions ever made? To inquire on the internet about this, though, is to gather that nobody knows or care​s​. Communication being “impossible” was the kick Gainsbourg’s character​ (thought she possibly)​ wanted, so it is OK that it necessarily becomes ours, too. In the end, the brothers’ abortive “sandwiching” of “one or the other of my holes”, while not successful in ending her phase of frigidity, serves usefully to expand white horizons, revealing “a world far from mine I had to explore… and there, or perhaps on the other side, get my life back.” After the narrative shows how she ​slipped away, practically unnoticed, ​from​ this quasi-explicit neo-colonial hook-up, leaving them to—she speculates​ as our rapporteur​—berate each other for not having been sensitive enough towards one another’s cocks,​ which were​ tangible “through the tissue”,​ Gainsbourg states ​laconically ​that “women who claim that Negroes don’t turn them on are lying”. Lying because in society, she says, “we elevate those who say right but mean wrong, and mock those who say wrong but mean right”. ​It’s a statement  that pretends to represent, but which actually distinguishes her from, all  (other) women. For while declaring how all women like black cock, she’s never looked less turned on in her life. Scratch a plain-talking maverick democrat and you find crypto-fascist contempt for people, paired with a bored and cynical certainty that they know the simple secrets of what people are like.​ “Joe” (the heroine) is confused, apolitical, and occasionally reactionary, but her powerful dialectical life-struggle in and against gender makes her somehow sympathetic.

Maybe a better film-maker could have shown how misogyny and white supremacy are inter-imbricated, thus, her attitude to ‘N’ could have been integrated into her internalised gynophobia. Instead, racism does not appear as a visible force or a theme in Nymphomaniac, which seems to honestly think it is itself ‘not racist’. It degrades the film when she defies the scholarly father-figure jocularly chastising her for saying ‘Negor’. A​nd it is von Trier hiding behind this “she”.​ ​I feel like saying to Lars: ​dude, you would fear worse than ‘mockery’ for trying to pass off your thoughtless opinions as courage ​when​ making light of structures of real and continuing oppression. ​Anyway,​ it’s significant​ too, ​that after the motel, ​her next port of call ​in ​​her quest into ​th​e unconquered territory of the​ “other side” is transcendental pain, sans safe-word​.​ ​Leaving behind Papou and Kookie *(‘N’) she seeks out the services of communicative, implacable white dom Jamie Bell​ (‘K’)​. In the aforementioned back-stage interviews, it is possible to breach the topic of this exotic weirdness and this submission, including the vexed question of its consensuality; but nowhere is it thought that (inter)viewers would want to pinpoint the ​race-“play” of the motel room DP scene. All are fascinated with other ethical dimensions of Nymphomaniac: yes, she uses men, yes, she gets what she needs from them, but​, hey, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have feelings for them, ​you know, this film makes you feel really broad-minded and, like, tolerant, ​and so on. Race, meanwhile, is the only dimension ​of the only men of colour she uses​ that is made visible. ​

It occurred to me at this point that a piece could be written that points how Nymphomaniac stages “gender against​ race” or gender at the expense of race.

The ‘call a spade a spade’ project isn’t even courageous enough to properly épater les bourgeois. In the series of promotional photographs of the Nymphomaniac’s cast, which captured different portions of one larger, staged, humorously risqué tableau of them ‘all’ embroiled in divers sexual kinks and perversions, the inclusion of two well-hung Black men would have neatly referenced an infamous genre in porn. They should totally have been there. The promo tableau features, for instance, two nipple-like cherry ice-cream swirls gripped by Nicholas Bro, who looks voyeuristically into the open trench-coat of Connie Nielsen. A nearby Willem Dafoe enjoys a spillage near his fly being dabbed at by Sophie Kennedy Clark, while Stellan Skarsgard’s groin is crushed by Mia Goth’s boot and Jamie Bell holds some paper towels in the background inches away from von Trier himself, who is gagged (a Cannes reference, again), holding a camera-phone. In the foreground we have daddy, i.e. Christian Slater, on bended knee, ostensibly preparing to bathe the flaunted genitals of Gainsbourg, the adult incarnation of his daughter, who as everybody knows tunelessly sang “Un zeste (inceste) de citron” with her bare-chested real father, Serge, in 1985. As long as it’s white people, then, incest is fine on a movie promo poster. But Papou and Kookie are not in the promo. ​

Generally, I think that the ​​aware-of-my-racism-and-comfortable-with-it school of film-making (​another gross recent example I noted was Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths) is neither, in any substantive sense, aware of its racism, nor comfortable with the inkling of its racism it does possess. More than that, it is more hypocritical than the establishmentarian hypocrisy it purports to assail; it ends up flattering and accommodating it. For all that von Trier enjoys thinking of himself as a free spirit, a trickster who can reference Albert Speer as an artistic inspiration in a press​-​ room full of puffed-up liberals, ​but ​he makes sure the ‘Negroes’ are cleared off the screen pretty quick​ and never appear in any promotional campaigns​. ​Having flashed their big dicks at us, he can then get​ Joe​ involved in the much less challenging (for von Trier) world of intimate domination ​where she​ gets tied down and whipped by a hard-faced white man until her flesh is in tatters, an image that ironically recalls Patsey in Twelve Years a Slave. ​​Someone should really pass von Trier this list.​ Image

4 Rape Revenge plots unfolding world-wide (re-posted from Novara Wire)

Read my first post for the excellent Novara Media collective over on their buzzfeed-style “Novara Wire”.


From the spectacle of injustice that was The Central Park Five to the realities flagged by Angelina Jolie’s vague ‘campaign’ at Srebrenica, the disciplinary functions of rape — within and without the home, with and without classed and racialized dynamics — are the air we breathe, the backing vocals on our news feeds. Even in the rare instances when they’re not making the news, individual or collective rapes — and the threat of them — continue to structure and pervade life in capitalist society across the globe. By way of counter-power, four closely interlinked manifestations of movement are illustrated below: demonstration, litigation, self-defence, and armed collective reprisal. Despite the tragic contemporary frequency of rape victims’ self-immolation, suicide has not been included here.

1. Demonstration.

In India, following high-profile Mumbai and Delhi gang rape incidences, a bellicose and sustained anti-rape movement has compelled thousands to the streets and onto buses in protest. While ‘traditional’ religious, patriarchal, and even fascist elements are participating in the rush to affirm women’s ‘value’, the majoritarian feminist contingent is, Kavita Krishnan argues, evolving a radical state- and family-critical analysis that seeks to revolutionize urban and rural caste-inflected sex relations alike.

sophie lewis 4rrp 1

In South Korea, incensed by Tokyo’s retraction of its WWII-related apology, rallies that have taken place every week since 1991 are now vindicating afresh the former ‘comfort women’ of Japanese and U.S. officers. The ramifications of this solidarity with trafficked sex slaves potentially run very deep for South Korean feminists’ struggles. These are demonstrations worth keeping an eye on.

sophie lewis 4rrp 2

2. Litigation.

The question of whether Twitter-storms can manipulate rape-apologist judges (as at Maryville, a year after Steubenville, USA) remains moot. But with massive grassroots support, eight UK women who became the unconsenting long-term sexual partners of undercover Metropolitan Police officers deployed to spy on political activist networks — some having children by them — are courageously conducting lengthy legal action to expose, redress, and hopefully impossibilize future repetitions of the experience they define as “being raped by the state”.

On a brighter note, since a rule barring prostitutes as claimants was removed in 2012, fourteen sex workers in California who suffered rape (though not by police) have been granted compensation. Since the 1970s when the designation ‘sex work’ was invented, sex workers have been organizing all over the world (usually out of court) against the (seemingly all-too-routine) rapes perpetrated by police. Refer to the discussion on consent, and the final chapter, ‘Movement’, in Melissa Gira Grant’s new book Playing the Whore.

3. Self-defence.

It was memorable when Rihanna shot her rapist down in 2010:celebrations of the individual vigilante abound, but very, very few aren’t male. Here are a few recent, real, live, departures from the script.

sophie lewis 4rrp 3

On 7 March 2014, Thomson Reuters  reported the jailing of a woman, Fatima, who axed her habitual rapist to death in the city of Fès and proclaimed: “He killed me a thousand times before I ever came to kill him too”.

In Ciudad Juárez, the assassin self-identified via email to the authorities as Diana “Cazadora de Choferes” (Hunter of Bus Drivers) caused an international stir by becoming, she said, an instrument for avenging rapes perpetrated by drivers with impunity. Reports in 2013 suggest “Diana” enjoyed considerable community solidarity in Mexico, and has not been apprehended to date.

It is as yet unclear what will become of Hong Kong resident and mother Yeung Ki during her eleven-day trial. Ki was the victim of her boyfriend’s rape, long-term abuse, and concomitant attempts to blackmail her with threats of revenge pornography. This year she drugged him and used scissors to remove his penis (which she flushed down the toilet) prior to beating him to death.

There is fear, too, in the minds of the many activists dedicated to freeing Yakiri Rubí Rubio Aupart, who was until recently imprisoned in Mexico City. Yaki still faces a terrible battle in court. Though cleared of capital murder charges, she has been bailed at a sum ten times higher than could be expected, for “excess of legitimate defence”. Meanwhile, the existence of her girlfriend, Rosa, is denied — lending a “corrective” flavour to the narrative, which many South Africans would find familiar. That she once had a lover with the same first name as one of the strangers who raped and slashed her, is apparently evidence enough for the judge that what happened could not have been rape. The dead kidnapper’s brother, the accomplice, still walks free.

Late in 2012, Nevin Yildirim calmly handed herself into the police in Yalvaç, Turkey, having avenged herself on her rapist by shooting him and cutting his head off, dropping it in the town square. “Don’t play with my honour!” she is reported to have proclaimed, as the head of her repeat abuser, her aunt’s husband, rolled towards a café.

4. Armed collective reprisal.

To those seeking freedom, ‘justice’ would not be enough even if we could attain it. But the justice that revenge represents is often what we desire. The ‘accountability processes’ for rapists that (primarily) women have come up with in many milieus do include forms of anti-violent violence.

Urban feminist tribes, from San Francisco’s surviving ‘girl armies‘ to Berlin’s antifascist Tuntenhaus veterans, are no strangers to the tactic of group rape vigilante fightback or ‘bashback’. Worldwide, simple rape-defence training courses for men and women are also becoming more and more common.

Indien Frauenbewegung Gulabi Gang

A rural counterpart to look out for comes from Uttar Pradesh. Here, a militant group of women who are combating, hands-on, their community’s scourge of domestic violence and rape by husbands, police, and others, goes by the name ‘Gulabi Gang’—and has recently acquired a documentary and a website.

Whether those Western commentators delighted by reports of a stick-wielding sisterhood in pink saris would respond similarly to a ‘bashback’ approach to Woody Allens, Julian Assanges and Jimmy Saviles remains to be demonstrated.

Man Down

I wrote this the day after the SWP emergency conference and Nina Power’s Hour of Power that reflected on two years fighting in court for Alfie Meadows and Zak King.


Man Down: There is a need for a “creeping feminism” that can revenge the rapes. 

The rapes, in this world, they don’t seem to ever stop, and so we can never stop howling in outrage, never stop thinking and talking about rape, nor yet be free from wanting revenge. Do you remember how, in 2011, there was an extraordinary hit single that some people tried to ban, in which a fictional black woman shot her rapist “in front of a big ol’ crowd”, and she sang the spine-tingling sound of her own vindicatory drum-roll, ram-pa-pa-pum, ram-pa-pa-pum … Man Down? Other than this, how many mainstream rape revenges are there in our imaginations? I can only think of Thelma and Louise, whose rapist dies in the car-park. There, the revolt against male oppression inside and outside the home has not yet become revolutionary at the point where they drive off the canyon—but one cop is certainly changed forever.

In Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi’s decidedly un-mainstream Baise-Moi (2000), it seems that gaining revenge for the full quantum of violence Manu and Nadine have experienced is impossible, at least, when pursued via sexual means behind closed doors. But Baise-Moi still strikes fear into men’s hearts, and for that I love it.



These four women are all ‘bandits’, though, who come unglued from the world. My hunch is that truly daring to want what you desire (to take Žižek’s phrase) will mean keeping the demand for vengeance firmly glued to a collective world, even if the price can be personally exacted. More interesting, then, has been the real-life example set by Nevin Yildirim in Yalvaç, Turkey, late last year, who calmly handed herself into the police once she had avenged herself on her rapist by cutting his head off and dropping it in the town square. “Don’t play with my honor!” she is reported to have added, as it rolled towards a café. She cooperated as she was marched away. What makes Yildirim’s courage so incredible is this willingness not to exit the world whose logic she has ruptured. I want, somehow, to reach her, to make it so that she is not alone. Rape by its very nature keeps us alone. I am afraid to imagine all the things that have been said to the Socialist Workers Party member ‘W’, the woman who brought to light what Martin Smith did to her years ago, a rape whose consequences are still percolating now.

Nevin Yildirim (Al-Jazeera)

Nina Power was not speaking specifically about rape on The Hour of Power last weekend when she induced tears via Resonance FM’s radio-waves, asking in the aftermath of Alfie Meadows and Zak King’s trial, if justice is not indeed another name for revenge. “There are those people I want to exit existence, which is not the same as wanting them dead”.

“It is no surprise that governments prefer secret courts… The human element that surrounds the world of the court, the world of colour, of love, of affection, of mutual aid, of support, threatens it, not because it is peaceful, but precisely because it has the power to be anything but.”

It is the form of our violence, which Žižek has argued is never necessary, but always legitimate, which we need to think about: what would ‘an eye for an eye’ mean (after all, we cherish anti-violence, and we desire no more), for us? And for all those who have been brutalized and continue to be brutalized, for Nirbhaya, or for Kimani Gray (shot dead in East Flatbush last weekend)? For Brandy Martell (to replicate the Lies collective’s list of the “recently fallen, whose memories serve to remind us of the urgency of struggle”), for Esme Barrera, Paige Clay, Anna Brown, Mark Aguhar, Shelley Hilliard, Marilyn Buck, Shaima Al-Awadi, Amber Lynn Costello, Deoni Jones, Hatice Firat, Josefina Reyes, Marisela Ortiz, Tyra Trent, and far too many more?

As James Butler pointed out in conversation with Nina Power, in the age of happy-clappy ‘Like Feminism’ it is generally deemed impossible that stars or the ‘successful’ might have a vengeful axe to grind. In keeping with this incredulity, already aired in relation to Eminem and later in relation to Chris Brown’s abuses, not everyone familiar with the sound of Man Down on the radio actually realized that Robyn Fenty (Rihanna)’s persona kills this “man”, specifically because he rapes her, in fact, this detail is largely only explicit in the video clip. All she says is “If you play me for a fool, I will lose my cool, and reach for my fire-arm”, where, needless to say, “play me for a fool” is a pretty dire understatement for the systemic sex oppression she is otherwise casting light upon. But then, “playing her for a fool” is so often the phrase in the mouths of the “man’s” apologetic friends—isn’t it?—one possible toned-down account of what “he” really did, a euphemism for his violence, and for this reason, a preclusion of his ever having to confront real justice. In this sense, it makes sense to say, yes, reach for your firearm when men “play” us, comrades: we know what playing actually means, and we are not fooled.


Incidentally, nothing about the visual supports for Man Down suggests “losing her cool” at all. Those who condemned it (the Parents Television Council and others) knew this, taking umbrage above all at a representation of “premeditated” retaliation. (She should presumably have “romanticized”, instead, recourse to the police: ideally, the supremely helpful South Wales constabulary, or New York’s Officer Gilberto Valle?) These reactionaries were unwittingly picking up, though, on a tension in the lyrics between a heat-of-the-moment justification, and a (far more subversive) crystalline telos that is undeniably feminist, more action-oriented, too, than what Robin James has convincingly characterized as goth- or shadow-feminist about Rihanna’s art-works about domestic violence (‘Rihanna’s Unapologetic Shadow Feminism’, Nov 2012).

The recurrent lyric “why did I pull the trigger, pull the trigger, pull the trigger?” rubs our faces in the correlate question, why did I have to pull the trigger (and alone)? Indeed, tragically, women and allies in general are largely absent from the world after this event: the maternal last resort, Mama, Mama, is all we’ve got. So, Rihanna’s articulation of distress stems, yes, partly from her contemplation of her attacker’s death, but primarily from mourning her own loss of community. The point of gallows speeches is often to muster solidarity even as one declares guilt, but Rihanna has to confront her total loneliness at the moment where it should be clear she is not the perpetrator, the originator of this violence. Who will stand by her? Nobody. Although she rhetorically declares “I didn’t mean to lay him down”, she is lamenting, not the act of revenge per se, but the fact that she will be caught. Ultimately Rihanna evokes a chilling apprehension of this isolated world in which she now finds herself, devoid of solidarity or public justice for women.

Oh lord, have mercy, now I am a criminal,

Tell the judge, please give me minimal,

I’ll run out of town, dem can’t see me now.

O Mama, Mama, I just shot a man down…

In the five-and-a-half-minute video, the revenge killing takes place as a flash-forward in the minute before the music begins in earnest, with dream-like clarity, to the muted sounds of the ocean and an urban pedestrian thoroughfare. Rihanna has been standing at a window, waiting. Then, after her index finger moves, down on the station square, the rapist collapses in a pool of blood that swiftly leaks from his head while people scatter in terror. Rihanna’s face looks stricken, but not shocked, regretful, but not repentant.


Rihanna’s “shadow feminism” in Man Down also figures in ‘Unapologetic’ and ‘Love the way you Lie’ (above)

In the manner of Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible, the narrative doubles back to explain how we got to this juncture. A woman in a Jamaican village, shown to be beloved of everyone in a smiling community, walks the rounds, sips on Coconut Water, and eventually goes out dancing, where she is raped outside the club (I try to ignore the product placement). It’s an amazing offering, expressing the relentless, historic force of an insufficient yet (for Rihanna) necessary justice, all through the self-avenging victim’s sorrow for a life she has had to end. Rihanna’s character’s tormented words are: “What started out as a simple altercation/Turned into a real sticky situation/ Just thinking on the time that I’m facing/ Makes me wanna cry…/ ‘Cause I didn’t mean to hurt him,He could’ve been somebody’s son./ And I took his heart when/ I pulled out that gun(ram-pa-pa-pum, ram-pa-pa-pum, man down)”. There’s no stopping that drum of cold revenge. And this last claim for responsibility, “I took his heart”, frames the final limit of Rihanna’s “victimhood”. It demonstrates how it is true that she “didn’t mean to hurt him”, because the violence was wrought by, or at least through, his body—she is pointing out that, premeditated or not, she didn’t mean anything. This shouldn’t be her problem. Thus, for me, the whole thing is an object lesson in philosophically clarifying one’s grief over eliminating the males who grew up on rape culture, whose crimes are never wholly incomprehensible (and who inevitably are “somebody’s son”).

Naxalite sisters of “Dopdi” (The New Red Indian)

And sometimes they were “comrades” until now, and often, they are formally leaders. But it shouldn’t be so hard, I don’t think. We must cry for them, but let them disappear. Perhaps we have forgotten that it is, in reality, an unutterably modest requirement, that one be obliged to manage, yes, an entire career in politics with one’s dick in one’s pants, except where enthusiastic consent is absolutely clear. Perhaps we have lost the ability to see that not raping anybody, ever, is not an eccentric standard, not an unreasonable condition for participation. In India, councilors and congressman who rape are being collectively beaten to a pulp. In the US and the UK, however, rapists routinely succeed in destroying social movements. The pain that has been lived by so many people, who trusted each other, whose organizing structures and spaces were rendered unsafe, beggars belief.

In the UK, the Socialist Workers’ Party’s Central Committee has now so badly mishandled the case of a rape by one of its members that the whole party now appears to have imploded, following an extremely traumatic process of internal contestation, resignations, courageous struggle by IDOOP, and most recently, the sinister degeneration at an emergency conference. Little can be said by someone outside the party, who is nevertheless grieving, and not gloating—grieving, for these idiots, the rapists and their inflexible apologists with authority, who have scarred and betrayed thousands of people.

There is a guiding principle, many of us feel, that isn’t hard to grasp: if someone thinks that you have raped them, then you simply cannot lead anymore. You cannot lead anyone or anything—with immediate effect. We must be unapologetic if insistence on this principle brings the whole order crashing down in the sand of history. Martin Smith, an accused rapist, should have disappeared. Instead, he received a “Disputes Committee” write-off and a standing ovation. Well, at this point, it’s man down, and at what cost! People I love have lost their minds over this cultish showdown from their leadership; others are heartbroken.


Honey of “Radio Phoenix”, Born in Flames

Lizzie Borden’s wonderful Born in Flames fantasizes a women’s army spearheading women’s struggle against the persistent “post-revolutionary” rape culture of a “socialist democracy” in America. How often do women figuratively (or literally) shoot down those who rape them in public? How can we make it so that the man does come down? What else necessarily has to come down with ‘him’? These questions were asked and answered by Mahasweta Devi when she re-wrote the figure of Draupadi from the Mahabharata as the tribal Naxalite woman Dopdi, who burns out the prince’s eye-sockets, stark naked, bruised and bleeding from her vagina under a vomiting moon. If we consider Dopdi’s “indomitable laughter”, I feel we may find that we do know what has to go, if we are to get justice. The answer is, the whole thing, the whole damn thing, by which I mean, all vestiges of the pretense that it’s OK—that core aspects of social relations are OK. Since all organizations harbor rape, all organizations will have to be reinvented such that the devastation and the damage it wreaks remain always within view.

It should not be possible for a self-designated revolutionary to utter the phrase “creeping feminism”. It should not be possible for Alexander Callinicos or anyone to re-frame a crisis about rape as the upstart intrusion of “undemocratic” “autonomism”. Ultimately, though there will always be ‘nice guys’ around who want to be on the side of gender liberation, as long as they conceive of this as “defending” what is good about existing structures, and building “renewal” in the place of the rot, they do not understand the simple, undeniable need for revenge. I, too, want the struggle for freedom from capital to be united and powerful. But that’s why I think this “bad apples” discourse is insufficient. In the end, as it is men who rape, why do we allow men anywhere near leadership positions in our revolutionary organisations? It is time to grieve these assholes, aspects of whom we have loved, and to get them out of the way.