(re)Thinking Sex Positivity, Abolition Feminism, and the #MeToo Movement: Opportunity for a New Synthesis

by Brooke Lober

Sexism, gendered harassment, and sexual assault are so common in our culture that they constitute norms; the phrase “rape culture” puts a name to this phenomenon. While assault and harassment remain rampant, a renewed sexual conservatism—consonant with the current right-wing power-grab and evacuation of the already ravaged social safety net—reproduces systematic inequity through an overt culture of misogyny, along with the privileging of marriage and monogamous partnership, heterosexuality, and sex/gender normativity. This hierarchy is produced at the expense of sexual outsiders including survivors of rape, abuse, and harassment, who lead the current public outcry on gender-based violence.

For the last forty years and more, feminist and queer movements have arisen to identify and resist the conditions of social subordination that are created through sex and gender hierarchy, while at the same time, these movements propose expansions of sexual freedom and gender self-determination. The current wave of protest and public speech against sexual violence, under the sign of #MeToo, while extraordinary, is not without precedent. But it offers a renewed chance to synthesize a popular framework for freedom through which we can work toward two longstanding feminist goals: freedom from sexual violence, and freedom to enact and celebrate all forms of consensual sexuality. Two feminist actions demonstrate these two aspects of sexual liberty. Since 1975, Take Back the Night marches and rallies have provided space for the outpouring of stories of sexual assault; and since 2011, Slutwalk has offered a site for the reclamation of self-determined sexuality as a public, political, and participatory act. While often emerging as opposed interests, freedom from violence and the struggle for sexual liberation are linked. As Adrienne Marie Brown writes, “Your strong and solid no makes way for your deep, authentic yes.” Feminist movements including women of color feminism, abolition feminism, and the sex-workers’ rights movement all offer possibilities for the integration of freedom from sexual coercion, and the freedom to engage in all consensual forms of sex. The radical imaginaries offered by these movements are crucial for activists who are now considering the next steps for countering omnipresent sexual harassment, abuse, and assault.

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Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Foter.com / CC BY-NC.

“Prison Treated Me Way Better Than You”: Reentry, Perplexity, and the Naturalization of Mass Imprisonment

Renée M. Byrd

In the absence of a critique of the logics at the heart of the prison industrial complex, seemingly progressive trends such as prisoner reentry initiatives will simply bolster racialized state violence. This essay grapples with questions of representation and power, and details how the disposability of imprisoned people is reproduced and renaturalized through carceral practices. Academic accounts continue to be complicit in this process, without a complex theorizing of subjectivity, representation, and state violence. This essay uses interviews with formerly imprisoned people in the Twin Cities to disrupt the way that formerly imprisoned people’s narratives are “mined as rich sources” in pathologizing and voyeuristic ways. Prisoner reentry programs appear progressive on the surface; however, they expand the prison industrial complex through perplexing logics that make it harder for women to navigate toward freedom. I use the notion of perplexity as a rubric for understanding penal logics and subjectivities as they emerged in my interviews with people recently released from Minnesota’s only women’s prison and analyze how they reproduce the vulnerability of people leaving prison. The gender-responsive façade of this unique prison and the surveillance orientation of reentry programs naturalized imprisonment as a solution to social problems in deeply problematic ways.

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Caption This: Police in Pussyhats, White Ladies, and Carceral Psychology Under Trump

Caption this: white ladies hugging Black cops in pussyhats. It goes deeper than the multiculturalist perfection of absorbing a racialized threat as justification for the continued exploitation of those deemed unassimilable. A Black man donning a uniform and a pussyhat at once obscures and reveals the historical relation of the symbols he now sports. This is what an analysis of heteropatriarchal white supremacy must account for, and what carceral psychology cannot. Literally embracing cops illustrates the ongoing investment in police as “benevolent” masters over an abstract notion of safety that criminalizes people of color. A system rooted in racialized social control cannot get an antiracist makeover through a few public dialogues between cops and community members. As Tariq Khan writes, “Heartwarming Barbecues and Hugging Cops Ain’t the Solution.” This obsession with individual acts of peace-making with cops is the liberal face of carceral psychology.

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Crafting the Perfect Woman: How Gynecology, Obstetrics and American Prisons Operate to Construct and Control Women

by Anastazia Schmid (artist/activist/scholar, currently incarcerated at the Indiana Women’s Prison)

Captive women were the prime candidates for experimental gynecological surgeries due to their invisibility, and due to the voicelessness of their social position. …
The violence, sexual abuse, medical experimentation, sterilization and death of a few hundred captive women in the 19th century laid the foundation for the field of gynecology to expand into evolving eugenics practices (albeit in more clandestine forms) across time. Our nation’s first women’s prison housed only 17 women when it opened in 1873, today there are over 115,000 women incarcerated nationwide. One out of every three women incarcerated in the world is incarcerated in the U.S. Numbers fail to illustrate the sobering reality of incarcerated women’s lived experience and loss of humanity.

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Digging the Needle into Patriarchal Media: The Feminist Journalism of Gazete Şûjin

[The following is a recent interview Abolition Journal conducted with a reporter from Gazete Şûjin, an all female news agency based in Diyarbakır (Amed), Turkey.]

Şûjin means “packing needle” in Kurdish. It refers to two important meanings of the word “jin” in Kurdish: women and life. Şûjin, or the packing needle, was invented by women. A needle created by women is, of course, a part of their own life. And we began our journey by saying “As we dig the needle into ourselves, we also dig the packing needle into the patriarchal media, in order to shake up and break down its masculine structure and language, and to promote women’s consciousness and feminist discourse. In a world of those who say “shut up as a woman,” we will raise women’s voices and words in the media with our female-oriented journalism.” 

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Intro/Conclusion to Abolition’s Elections 2016 Blog Series

[Joy James gives an Intro/Conclusion to the Abolition Collective 2016 Election Blog.]

“Welcome to the party.

So, we “lost.” That is the refrain and the grief cue for those seeking justice or peace or freedom, or all of the above in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States.

In losing the election, which was not a referendum on justice or peace or freedom, we gained increasing clarity (and, from late night comics, more hilarity laced with obscenities).

To be clear, we wanted to share free land and labor, love, and sacred nature—what we’ve never had. To be certain, those who wield disciplinary and predatory powers were not and will never be our protectors, allies or benevolent governors. …”

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Campaign Cover Stories & Fungible Blackness, Part 1

– Tryon P. Woods –
The point of considering election season through the abolitionist politic of black studies is not the humdrum one that presidential candidates cannot be taken at their word, but rather that containing black self-determination remains essential to campaign cover stories into the twenty-first century. In 2016, once again, sexual violence and sexual racism hide in plain sight, with blackness the interstitial element.

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The Pitfalls of Being the Best Black Surrogate a White Woman Could Hope For

– by Janine Jones –
Michelle Obama is being hailed as Hillary Clinton’s best surrogate. Arguably, this is as it should be. However, black women, at the very least, should be concerned with such praise, especially when historically they have been white women’s–white families’–best surrogates, and, more recently, have become the best gestational mothers a white woman could buy.

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Dismantle & Transform: On Abolition, Decolonization, & Insurgent Politics

A conversation between Harsha Walia and Andrew Dilts, recorded February 5, 2015. Edited for length and clarity, January 2016. Although the conversation is somewhat dated and political contexts are shifting, the overall issues remain relevant. Andrew Dilts (AD): I want to start by asking about “No One is Illegal” and your involvement with it. You talk about this a lot in […]

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