Originally, I published this only as a private post in May 2012, submitting the links to friends for review before putting it all out there. Having received no feedback, I’m assuming it isn’t terrible … Or at least not within the realm of Outlandishly Offensive. Here it is unaltered for your perusal. Enjoy it or hate it, spread it around and discuss.
In the Spring/Summer 2010 issue of Make/Shift Magazine, Courtney Desiree Morris published a piece entitled Why Misogynists Make Great Informants: How Gender Violence on the Left Enables State Violence in Radical Movements. The article was posted online via Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. Unfortunately, I was stubborn and did not read the article right away. After leaving a partner whose behaviours are often described within Morris’s article, the significance of the piece became undeniable. Originally, while writing regularly for SACHA’s Take Back the Night blog in the Summer of 2011, I was going to write the following. Distracted by organizing other aspects of the event, I didn’t get the chance: Now that some time has elapsed and my notes have marinated on my desk for almost a year, it seems like a good opportunity to share the similarities, as an activist whose life and community have been permanently rearranged by both informants and abusers.
We’ve treated misogyny, homophobia, and heterosexism as lesser evils—secondary issues—that will eventually take care of themselves or fade into the background once the “real” issues—racism, the police, class inequality, U.S. wars of aggression—are resolved. There are serious consequences for choosing ignorance. Misogyny and homophobia are central to the reproduction of violence in radical activist communities. Scratch a misogynist and you’ll find a homophobe. Scratch a little deeper and you might find the makings of a future informant (or someone who just destabilizes movements like informants do).
Brandon Darby, the informant who devastated Common Ground in New Orleans, is identified throughout Morris’s article with having exhibited several troubling characteristics. She describes his team organisational style as “domineering” and “aggressive”, “quick to suggest violent, ill-conceived direct-action schemes”. Darby was generally “dismissive of women working in the organization”, and it is noted that he “created conflict in all the organisations he worked with, yet people were hesitant to hold him accountable because of his history and reputation as an organizer and his ‘dedication’ to ‘the work.’”
If you’ve read this far without even one person you’ve interacted with coming to mind, I will be either very surprised, or very sad by the inevitability of their arrival in your life as an activist. It’s clear beyond a doubt the ways these traits mimic red flags of abusive relationships. Substitute any notion of “the organization” or “the movement” or “communal struggle” with “romantic relationships” or “partnership” and you’ve already got yourself a textbook abusive partner. Oddly enough, if you consider these behaviours and reflect on the ways we’ve known police to act over the years, you also have yourself a run-of-the-mill officer. Let’s break it down further:
Morris identifies another activist, someone with whom she’d become personally involved. She reports having learned that his penchant for lies and secrecy within an organisation finally came to a head, prompting women to leave the group and never return.
Countless women locally have staged silent, subtle boycotts here in my home city of a local worker run co-operative after its executive owner has repeatedly mislead and gossiped about them, and many others. In a very much similar way to how I “left” my abusive ex, these countless women have “left” their power-abusing “lead activists”. Doubts about whether this might ever happen in the policing world? See Cpl. Catherine Galliford’s recent claim. How many women leave the police force less vocally? How many have had stories under-represented in the media? How many stories have gone as viral as Galliford’s? It is not an uncommon occurrence.
“The women he dated”, Morris continues of her ex, “were amazing, beautiful, kick-ass, radical women that he used as shields to get himself into places he knew would never be open to such a misogynist.” Others would assume, naturally, that if he was usually seen with strong, prominent, activist women, he was probably worthy of their trust and companionship, if not, he’d be at least worth working with — not someone they would want to “lose”. Many of us could say the same about our activist ex partners. This approach of becoming associated with popular women and trans* activists is common also among informants: Befriend the right people — those who apparently must, by virtue of their identity, have an ingrained analysis and be able to “show approval” by association — get close and be frequently seen with them, and create a safety net of trust that no one would be willing to attempt to question or untangle.
After the G20 police spy operation that razor-hacked the activist scene(s) here in South-Eastern Ontario, it would be pretty difficult for any one of us who’d had close encounters with Bindo Showan or Brenda Carey to deny the similarities in behaviour. Even those reading from afar could identify the common manipulations abused to exploit people.
One specific occurrence Morris noted in her experiences working with her then-partner, organizationally speaking (i.e. on activist projects), was that “he always spoke the loudest and longest”. This is an important step to take if you plan to hoard power, even if you do so covertly and within otherwise presumably anti-authoritarian groups. Interrupting, speaking over others, neglecting to respect the speaker’s list, making oneself the facilitator of meetings so as to get one’s say more frequently, and other approaches of being domineering at meetings, subvert egalitarianism and allow the individuals doing these things to funnel power toward themselves.
Foolish indeed would it be to suggest everyone who does this must be a cop. Effortless would it be for police to use these subtle approaches: Because these habitual behaviours are both so very common, and also so very rarely addressed or called out by members of collectives or organizations, it makes it easy-peasy for anyone who wants to take over to do so. All one has to do is experience that few consequences exist for these behaviours and they are in like, well, Flynn, unfortunately.
Another thing we see a lot of is when folks make it clear that they are experts on a particular topic by using a lot of out-of-reach jargon (or any wording that is largely inaccessible to the demographic involved in the organisation). Let’s say that a group has formed in an effort to address food security issues in a city’s urban core: If one member of the group continually uses wording that they’ve gleaned through years of academic experiences (e.g. homogenization, phytopathogenic, biodiversity, etc.), it will likely isolate and confuse some members of the group who have never been able to pursue the topics in an academic sense. This is a great way of ensuring one’s specialization on a topic makes them uniquely powerful, and their energy something of great value to members who may not know as much on the topic. When these dynamics have been established, that person can have more power and control within the collective because others will begin to “look up to” them.
Again, because these habits are so ingrained and so common among activists, criticisms are few and far between. Largely, we just assume “that’s the way it goes,” and that if you don’t have the social power to speak up about these issues, you should “suck it up” and “stop whining”. These attitudes toward the destructive and divisive behaviours we experiences during meetings or collective processes reinforces the notion that domination is not something we’re ready to concern ourselves with on radical, personal levels. Informants and cops will rely upon our inabilities to set up consequences for domineering behaviours, or call each other to task, and exploit our weaknesses in these areas to dissemble our efforts for social change.
Morris points out that her ex, while also talking loudly and for longer periods of time than anyone else. She described his behaviours during meetings as
“…using academic jargon that made any discussion excruciatingly more complex than necessary. The academic-speak intimidated people less educated than him because he seemed to know more about radical politcs than anyone else. He would talk down to other men in the group, especially those her perceived to be less intelligent than him, which was basically everybody.”
Pointing out the way her ex would “compensate” for these behaviours is extremely important on this topic: “…he’d switch gears, apologize for dominating the space, and acknowledge his need to check his male privilege. Ironically, when people did attempt to call him out on his shit, he would feign ignorance — what could they mean saying that his behavior was masculinist and sexist? He’d complain of being infantalized, refusng to see how he infantalized people all the time.” Those of us who’ve gone though, and supported our friends through, situations of recovery from abusive or authoritarian relationships will know all about what that feels like.
“His radical race analysis allowed people (mostly men but occasionally women as well) to forgive him for being dominating and abusive in his relationships.”
One of this aforementioned activists others partners, interviewed by Morris, gave this statement. Their experiences with this man were made even more complex by his powerful activist profile and racial identity: “How do you hold someone accountable when you believe he is target number one for the state?
There are many cases wherein local activists will attempt to intervene in someone’s negative and dominating behaviours. There are very few instances in which they will be successful in their attempts to re-augment equality and power-sharing. Sound like something that might also happen when we confront the state and its pawns? Most of the time, people who do and say things that debase others will avoid being accountable for their harmful ways.
“When (queer) organizers are humiliated and their political struggles sidelined, that is part of an ongoing state project of violence against radicals. When women(/people) are knowingly given STIs, physically abused, dismissed in meetings, pushed aside, and forced our of radical organizing spaces while our allies defend known misogynists, organizers collude in the state’s efforts to destroy us. … What’s more paralyzing to our work than when women and/or queer folks leave our movements because they have been repeatedly lied to, humiliated, physically/verbally/emotionally/sexually abused? Or when you have to postpone conversations about the work so that you can devote group meetings to addressing an individual member’s most recent offense? Or when that person spreads misinformation, creating confusion and friction among radical groups? Nothing slows down movement building like a misogynist. … To paraphrase bell hooks, where this is a will to dominate there can be no justice, because we will inevitably continue reproducing the same kinds of injustice we claim to be struggling against.”
If they wanted to — and needless to say, they do — informants would only have to act offended, frustrated, or slightly angered about being called to task for their domineering behaviours, and it would be enough to discourage anyone from holding them accountable. Even if others were to persist on the matter of accountability, all any informant would have to do is accuse them all of being racist, sexist, age-ist, or “crazy”: Solidarity among everyone would slacken as activists begin to question their own motives, as each other’s. Eventually, said informant will have effectively wreaked havoc and destabilized an already-precarious community.
This is a good example of how folks who act in misogynistic — or in raicst, classist, elitist, white-supremacist, ableist, privilege-denying ways can end up doing the work of the state. The difference is that the state rewards its informants and cops with money. Perhaps the absence of consequences for activists who refuse to be accountable is payment enough.
Resources on how to approach these dynamics and complex issues:
and someone who sees you around says hi, and you say hi. AND THEN THEY TALK FOREVER ABOUT NOTHING AND LEAVE NO GAPS IN FOR ME TO SAY ANYTHING STOP TALKING
Right?! I mean, I can understand being a bit nervous or awkward, that’s cool, but at least pretend there’s another human present with equal entitlement to social space. Total crush killer right there.
… Gawd, now I wonder if i do this…
For many reasons, I miss you. What sorts of things would you like to see more of? I’m guilty of not posting enough cool pics (cuz my “likes” show up on my page, and they’re mostly images). I wanna know what you wanna see more of based on the parts of my blog you already like! Got ideas?
Not that it’s usually my habit of taking advantage of a surprise group gathering to air my grievances about anything with which members of that group might be involved, but today, I felt strongly and ear-reddeningly tempted.
An old friend was visiting. Since the birth of her child and departure from the city, it’s been hard to stay in touch. A course nearby has her in the city for the week with her partner and newborn. She invited a handful of friends to chat over lunch. It was a bit last minute for me to find out that our reunion would be a group affair, but it seemed like a take-it-or-leave-it situation. Being that I love this friend, I went, regardless of my instinct to question my comfort levels around other invitees.
After food arrangements were figured out and the baby was happily toddling up and down the hallways, dutifully disturbing meetings and the chaplaincy office, my friend, let’s here call her Galix, spoke up with what felt like a respectably bold question:
So, what’s new? How’s this city feeling lately? — you know, the community and stuff…
Having just days ago reflected on how a handful of survivors, myself included, appear to be at the fulcrum of apparent schism within “the community”, my choice to respond came swift and not unlike a strong and sudden southerly wind as I attempted to assert the notion that it was a topic of contention. I was pleased that, given the context — friends in whom I’d come to feel disappointed and hurt by, a short timeline and what was to otherwise be a friendly lunch — there was some vague back up to my reply.
I really think that it depend on who you ask.
I said. And luckily came
and what kind of week they’re having.
from beside me. Another friend chimed in with a reply that echoed the sentiments of uncertainty and communally-felt disconnect.
Perhaps it’s all projection on my behalf. Over a year ago, I dropped a pretty heavy A-bomb: “Abuser” — an apt description for my ex-partner and one that I made as public as possible given the various restrictions I was under (and still am). For those who’ve had similar experiences, I’m certain it would suffice to say that did not go over all too well. For the handful who have not been through this experience, or sought to resolve it, you may not have noticed the effects.
Here’s one: People Stop Talking To You.
Q: Have you seen So-and-So lately? How’re they doing?
A: I don’t really know… they seem to be keeping to themselves.. I guess they’ve got a lot of shit to work through these days…
Q: Hey, what’s up with WhatsHerName? I haven’t heard much from her!
A: She doesn’t really come out to things anymore, I don’t really know what’s going on with that.
Q: So, how are things going in the community n stuff? Everyone doing okay these days?
A: That’s a good question — I haven’t done much to figure that out or participate in communal issues, so I really can’t answer that with much confidence whatsoever.
As someone who’s become pretty obviously isolated by the lack of practical solidarity within “the community”, I am very confident in how I want to answer these questions:
The community feels disconnected and unreliable.
Disbandments and “Are-We-Still-Not-Over-This-Yet?s” put survivors in at least one very predictable situation — Isolation. We sense there are very few who believe us or validate our experiences, and even fewer who which to support us in coming to a healthy resolve. With this in mind — and if the situations are anything like my own wherein we’ve spent up to years dealing with the aftermath of abuse in our lives — what else are we to do?
“Keep trying,” some may say, “they will never change unless you show them how.” Solid advice for those who have perhaps not being “showing them how” for several years.
There’s a point at which you begin to see it differently.
The amount of energy we put into encouraging people to Wise Tha Fuck Up has gotten some of us: 1) a solid inventory of individuals who need to wise the fuck up; 2) lost friends and a weakened social life; 3) endless hours to list on an activist resume under “feminism” and “support work”; and 4) some nasty backlash from critics of “vigilantism”. Perhaps it’s a contributing factor to being in what appears to my finally being in a relationship with a lover who isn’t abusive. That said I’m not about to neglect my losses and put all my eggs in one basket.
All these facts in mind, many of us in this boat find ourselves rowing faithfully toward a relatively uninhabited shoreline, embracing introversion (in spite of what sometimes feels like excommunication) and, of course, writing until our fingers bleed. We don’t have energy left to put into “the community” after we note the promises of reciprocity so often associated with community have been made with little foresight for reality when situations of magnitude arise.
So, How is the Community? Sadly, it still depends what wrung on the ladder you’re viewing it from.
Ah, the Freindzone. Well known semi-permanent stomping grounds to Nice Guys™ across North America, and throughout the UK (case in point Fresh Meat’s Kingsley, a prime example).
This article, as posted from some folks at the Feminist Alliance McMaster, shines a bit more light on the Nice Guys™ profile. As indicted therein, the picture to the right is what the Friendzone looks like IRL. (Please note the satire — we all know the Friendzone looks more like a living room or local cafe.)
Shakesville also offers an absolutely amazing piece composed by their very own Jeff Fecke. What’s great about this one is that it’s written by a dude and written with Nice Guy™ readers (or their many, many loyal defenders) in mind.
Below is (should be — please drop a line in my ask box to the tune of “wtf — where’s the essay?”, if not) a excerpt from Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape.
My business with this essay is the section dubbed Nice Guys™: Applying for Access to the Pussy Oversoul (pg. 33 - 35).
Toward a Performance Model of Sex, by Thomas Macaulay Millar
The term Nice Guys™ is dropped casually throughout the book, though not particularly frequently. Following my first reading of Julia Serraro’s Why Nice Guys Finish Last, I stewed on the concepts and reflected upon the ways the common definitions baffled me. All my experiences (in the previous 5 years) with nice guys involved dudes who looked like this:
Perhaps not exactly “hipsters” (by their own definitions or otherwise) but definitely close. “Alternative” guys who wanted to seem friendly and kind toward women, and “open” toward “different” experiences toward men. Some of them also looked an awful lot like this:
Classic. He’s leaning on the wall of the building that the latest Anarchist Bookfair took place in, quietly reading from a book; or having a nonchalant and highly stylized smoke outside of a venue; or sharing a bit about the price of his earth-friendly vegan footwear to charmed and curious Others. Often seen companionless… but who are we to judge?
After having been beyond wooed (you here have my permission to read that as “persistently fawned over and pestered”) by one of these architypes of Nice Guy™, I considered the options and decided (under the pressure of the aforesaid persistence) to reciprocate a bit. Bad idea.
Are there any other anarchists or radicals out there who already know where I’m going with this? Perhaps after having several similar experiences?
…Macho “anarchists” who talk too much at meetings, adhere to the cult of the great thinkers (drop Kropotkin, Bakunin, Proudhon, Chomsky, etc… all the time), negate others’ experiences, take up space, exert their privileges to their fullest, and generally perpetuate heteropatriarchal bullshit
Urban Dictionary offered that as a definition for “Manarchist”.
The NiceGuy™ brand of Manarchist avoids these more-glaring flaws by employing some very covert strategies:
Maybe they’re charming and witty, or fantastic fun, or a great ear when you’re down — heck, maybe they would be swell in bed — but don’t expect these characteristics to continue when they discover they still haven’t made their way down your pants (or noticed you’ve resisted being cornered you into a position of subtle subservience).
The most potent and definitely destructive characteristic of the Nice Guy™ brand Manarchist, Mactivist or generally Brogressive folks is that pesky habit of reacting maliciously to those who stand in the way of their pursuits for status. They can turn in an instant from accommodating, listening, supportive, “nice” friends to divisive, threatening, vengeful dicks. And they will.
Such is individual life. Who, I ask you, can take, dare take on himself the rights, the duties, the responsibilities of another human soul?
Part I of a two-part project inspired by a produced by Interval House of Hamilton-Wentworth.
Abuse does not always come in the form of assault — you do not have to be hit to be abused.
Abuse can look like any of the following main signs:
Does your partner or someone close to you…
#how-to identify abuse