When testimony is a labour of the negative

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Review: Intersextion: A ‘zine by Hampshire Feminist Collective. Issue 1.

On the 19th November 2014 I attended Southampton Reclaim the Night march, afterwards I had the pleasure of going to a meeting put on by the organisers of the march Hampshire Feminist Collective. The speakers included speakers from various organisations (see image below).

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It was also at this meeting where I bought the publication ‘Intersextion’, which is a bracing and sometimes upsetting read but one filled with the type of material that without reading it must be impossible to have a serious understanding of oppression and its effects in late capitalism. Laid out in cut and paste fanzine style, all doodles and squiggled lines, the hand-made aspect appears as both therapeutically valid as a work of affirmation and a rejection of a professional look that separates reader and writer into producer and consumer.

It seems clear that without seriously staking out the territory of consent and societies huge problem with abusive interpersonal/sexual relationships then coming up with an alternative practice is impossible. Treating people as property and as a means to an end for one’s own pleasure is, of course, a central part of class societies millennial oppression of women; but in the age of out of control commodity fetishism and repressive desublimination this is linked to a culture of sexual licentiousness in the media with a simultaneous attitude of shaming, hatred of the non-standard body image and rhetoric about, particularly, the expression of female sexuality. This is a recipe for serious psychological trauma as people are damaged by the contradictory social expectations and media-led degradation.

The zine comes with a disclaimer about the content, which is no doubt necessary, as the writers pull no punches relating manipulation, sexual violence, trans oppression and social exclusion. The writing is straightforward and powerful, some have a taste for smart metaphor (particularly the domestic violence piece), while the honesty and political grit of the two pieces that bookend the publication are astounding.

What is most valuable and clear in Intersextion is the insistence that the physical and psychological damage caused by both oppressive social relations and individually oppressive persons are not an unfortunate by-product of the society we live in but a mechanism, consciously employed or not, for reinforcing hierarchy and class relations. Written in first hand accounts, prose and poetry, it evokes a day to day battle, the struggle for oneself against the bastards, in a world full of exploitation and violence. It is the raw material of this everyday struggle. It’s quite obvious that straight men, including men on the left, need to face up to this reality.

It seems clear to me that despite what many had predicted ameliorative government’s social policy (of course we are talking about the past here) had not solved the issue of women’s oppression. While downplaying these problems in the name of the class unity (which has proved misguided and counterproductive) has led the left to repeatedly and disastrously fail on these issues, both through unwillingness to fully examine its own practices and through political convenience. Alternatives to the family unit, the dominant means of reproducing “authoritarian ideologies and conservative structures”, as Reich put it, and its subordination of women to the role of mother represent the clearest way out of this oppressive nexus. The lefts traditional mantra of revolution first has surely proved as utterly incapable of creating a movement for an alternative world that inspires people. We need both a subaltern (‘class’) consciousness, strategy and tactics for political action and an ethics of liberation (clearly including the elimination of interpersonal violence and abuse) that takes power relations seriously for a movement that can make long time social change possible. We need a vision of a society not based upon domination and exploitation but respect for each others autonomy as individuals in a collective social organism. In the meantime, an explicitly pro-feminist left would be a good start.

It would be interesting to hear the authors of this ‘zines ideas around how they envisage social and sexual liberation, the social organisation necessary to prevent oppressive behaviour and its causes, perhaps in future issues that may be touched upon. However, this edition certainly lays much of the problem bare, and that is a fine first task.

JR

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