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Voices from the Collective

When anything even remotely feminist gets posted, someone suggests that this is 'gender' war, or someone suggests that consensus, generally understood to be a feminist critical stance, leads to the lowest common denominator, or is boring, and only good old fashioned dialectic can get us anywhere.
Cynthia Hoffman

Issue #18, January 1995

From: Cynthia Hoffman <>
To: Bad Subjects <>
Subject: War is Not Healthy for children & other living things

As a result of a serious car accident a year ago, in which my partner and I probably should have lost our lives, I have spent the last year disabled, in and out of hospitals, and finally, in the last seven months, in and out of surgery and physical therapy learning how to walk again. Because of this accident, and the resulting medical problems attendant, I was forced to withdraw from school, and due to financial constraints (no, disability does not pay enough to live on), was also induced to take a full time job to pay my voluminous medical bills. I am realizing that I might not be able to return to school any time soon; I am also coming to understand that maybe I don't really want to return to the academy anyway.

It was following the last of my numerous surgeries during last spring and early summer that I joined this mailing list, to keep in contact with the academic, intellectual, cultural and political worlds. These are my needs. I joined this mailing list at a time in my life when my day to day existence was circumscribed by office work, physical pain, physical therapy, family trauma and death. I was in terrible need of intellectual stimulation and contact; I wanted recommendations of books to read since I was out of touch with academia; I needed to know that there were others out there who shared my keen interest in things social and political. I didn't care whether those people agreed with me or not. As I said, I was amazingly needy; I say this not to imply in any way that the members of this list are responsible for fulfilling my needs, I know that I am responsible for that. I say this only so that people will understand that the actions of the past few weeks of a select few on this list *have* had an impact on people beyond the immediate participants in the battles and I am simply using my own experience since I know it best, to point that out. I would venture to say that I am not the only one who has needs arising out of issues not specific to this particular forum; everyone on this list has a reason for being here that was in one way or another probably disrupted over the last couple of weeks. Flame wars (like any other wars) have an impact on people other than the immediate participants. NOTHING HAPPENS IN A VACUUM.

David Hawkes asked why no women joined the flame war, and why no feminists were interested in joining in on the debate surrounding the recent flame war. I can only answer for myself; but I would suggest that if David thinks that a feminist analysis of flame wars would be valuable, that HE SHOULD DO ONE. Feminist critique is not limited to women and I suspect that he knows what some feminists on this list would have to say about flame wars already, or he wouldn't have suggested that we write an analysis for him.....

I am going to try out an answer from the perspective of THIS feminist and I am going to suggest that Annalee's posts, are also feminist responses to the flame debate that only go to prove why most of us probably stayed out of it in the first place. If this list is a place where debate is going to be encouraged, that's one thing. But what seems to me to happen when anything even remotely feminist gets posted is that someone suggests that this is 'gender' war, or someone suggests that consensus, generally understood to be a feminist critical stance, leads to the lowest common denominator, or is boring, and only good old fashioned dialectic can get us anywhere.

[BTW, while I know nothing in particular about the Marx/Stirner debate, I would seriously doubt that it was a flame war in the sense that what happened on this list over the last few weeks was a flame war; any more than I believe that the dialogues of Plato and Aristotle or the Erasmus/Luther debates on free will were flame wars. Flame wars are not, by their very nature, productive in the ways in which these other debates clearly were.]

I don't understand why it didn't occur to the participants in this (or any other) war that if they just stopped, it would be over. I am also thinking that just prior to the eruptions on this list which sent me reeling, and practically had me in tears nightly, I posted an incredibly provocative lecture by Andrea Dworkin that was also essentially summarily dismissed by *most* (although by no means all) readers of this list, and not even really engaged (I might suggest that most people didn't even finish reading it...), in spite of the fact that her main point (for those of you who didn't get that far in the piece) was simply to end rape. Just stop it.

I had been considering reposting a portion of the Dworkin speech, the latter part, seriously edited, so that people could see what I mean. In its simplest terms, it, like much feminist discourse, is about equality, and an understanding that bashing *of any kind* does not promote equality. While I am not suggesting (like Dworkin might) that all men are bashers, or that all men enjoy war in its various forms and that all women don't, I am suggesting that since part of women's conditioning has been to be peacemakers in the home, as well as in hospitals, etc., that we bicker, but we don't usually do battle in the ways that disrupted this list for the past two weeks. I am not certain but that this isn't a part of women's conditioning that men should strive to emulate, rather than have women strive to rid themselves of. COALITION BUILDING rather than dialectical battling promoted the civil rights efforts of the sixties, and helped the left amass enough support to shut down the Vietnam war. It was out of that movement that the wave of feminism that I came of age into evolved.

While I wasn't in control of the television as a teenager, and therefore had to watch Walter Cronkite do the weekly body count out of Vietnam, I certainly could and did disconnect cable television during the Gulf War and refuse to watch or promote or support that particular war effort in any way. That's my point about wars in general, and flame wars in particular. I will not be a participant in any way, shape or form. (Phil Ochs wrote: 'Call it peace, or call it treason, call it love, or call it reason, I AIN'T MARCHING ANYMORE.') Where did this recent little war get us? I can tell you where it got me: it got me angry and upset and made me seriously reconsider my previous high regard for a number of people.

Andrea Dworkin states, in the transcript of her speech entitled 'I Want a Twenty-Four Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape' that: 'Equality is a practice. It is an action. It is a way of life. It is a social practice. It is an economic practice. It is a sexual practice. It can't exist in a vacuum. [...] It is not just a matter of your attitude. You can't think it and make it exist. You can't try sometimes, when it works to your advantage, and throw it out the rest of the time. Equality is a discipline. It is a way of life. It is a political necessity to create equality in institutions. And another thing about equality is that it cannot coexist with rape.'

Allow me to suggest that you now go back and reread [just that] paragraph [or track down the speech itself, and do it with the entire thing...] replacing the word 'rape' with the word 'war' or even 'flame war.' In practice the same statements are equally true across racial as well as national lines: equality, true equality, can only be achieved and practiced where there is NO oppression of any kind. I remember when the Gulf War wound down and people started coming home in body bags, how shocked people were at the deaths. And I remember wondering what people really thought war was? Did they really believe that 'surgical strikes' weren't designed to kill people? I would also assert, like Annalee, that words can hurt people as easily and as painfully as fists, even if you can't see the bruises, or count the bodies in the bags.

Please, let's not let my repost of Dworkin's statements degenerate once again into debating definitions of rape; like Dworkin, I think we all know what we mean when we use the word. I think we all understand that rape is used in war as well, and in fact can be used as a metaphor for it; and that we knew that before the war in Bosnia made its use so popularly covered in the media. I also think that what Dworkin has to say about biological determinism may be illuminating for any discussion of why it is that only men seemed to be interested in pursuing the flame war once it really got going. In spite of her many faults, Dworkin never underestimates the power of people to change their behavior; she just doesn't seem to believe they want to. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, I do.

I have been thinking about this particular post for a long time, and because I wouldn't participate in the flame war on line, I almost didn't even write this, for fear that I would somehow fan the flames. Yet my truth is important to me, and I am going to proceed to be arrogant enough to attempt to make it important to you, precisely because, as Steve Rubio put it, you have all become important to me too.

Cynthia, who would still like to talk about Interview with the Vampire, if anyone is even remotely interested in doing so.

Copyright © by Cynthia Hoffman 1995. All rights reserved.