Elemento di Disturbo (on Separatism and Sexism)

by Cunt Incognita — Figa in Vicenza, Italy — she=he

Disturbing elements: Illusionary bubbles and undiscussed concepts.

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When offering a workshop on feminist self-defense for women and trans at Elemento di Disturbo, the answer was first a blank “No”, and in the unstructured process of coming to an agreement between the two women and the two men discussing the issue, I offered a compromise: A workshop for women, another for men, and after a comment was made by one of the men, that a mixed workshop would be preferred, then I offered that too. All in all three workshops – diversity of strategy and freedom to choose – in order to satisfy the needs of everyone involved, and to enable the use of the space for the women, trans only workshop.

When asked why a separatist workshop would be wished for, and giving the short explanation that men and women grow into different cultures that co-exist in a constant power imbalance, and saying that women can speak more freely in the company of other women of what it’s like being at the short end of the stick in this power relation – the response by the men, was that it is better to share experiences in mixed groups in order not to create ‘exclusion’. The point I was trying to make on self-censorship and behavioral differences in mixed environments didn’t come across. A woman was saying: “You can not understand, because you are a man!” The man continued to say that the same conditions would be for any group, for instance a group of immigrants would not be welcome to keep separatist meetings in the space, since they wished for open interaction between everybody contributing to the laboratory in order to maintain a process of exchange and common growth. In other words, they seem to believe strongly that: Here And Now their ideal is made real of a future Without Walls.

I asked if a neo-Nazi would be welcome to have meetings there as long as they were open to anyone interested participating in the activity. The response to this was yes. The two ‘patrons’ of E.di.D said that they believed that anyone in interaction with them would — if not ending up with an expanded mind — eventually realize that this wasn’t the place for them. In the case of neo-Nazism versus feminism at the Lab, it seems that while neo-Nazis would after a while feel that they don’t fit in with their activity, feminists need to be told directly to go away since their activity would threaten the shared ideals of the majority of the users of E.di.D?

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The exclusion of self-determination for individuals and groups working within the space, affects the general (mixed) interaction and atmosphere there, and sends a message for more radical (disturbing?) elements to ‘go elsewhere’ with their ideas and diversity of strategy [this was expressed openly], and is therefor the making of a place where people more comfortable with the majority opinion, and mainstream behavior in the group, or to be more precise – people who, for better or worse, fit with the opinions and behavior of the two men in charge – create the breaking mechanism for the creative expression on the far left of the far left in the same way that society at large stops creativity and self-determination in most commercial spaces for people wanting to relate to one another ‘differently’ (in an alternative way to the mainstream).

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The contradiction of the space goes like this: Elemento di disturbo is a space set aside – Separated – from a ‘slow-growing’ ‘mainstream’ society to be a space to break down walls and generating discussion, free exchange of ideas and creative energy. At the same time there is no understanding for the diversity of issues needing separate space to burst into bloom set aside – Separated – from the ‘slow-growing’ ‘mainstream’ within the alternative space itself. Liberation does not come by labeling a space ‘non-commercial’ or ‘non-sexist’ or ‘non-racist’ or wishing for people to ‘feel free’, or even by two persons stating that they are making efforts for everyone within the space to ‘feel free’ in the way they understand the concept of freedom (or: ‘non-commercial’, ‘non-sexist’, ‘non-racist’ [which includes having tolerance and understanding for one of them making racist ‘jokes’] etc).

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Separatism can not be equaled to segregation, which functions in an exclusionary manner to maintain power imbalance, and unequal access to resources. Separatism is not about exclusion and maintaining power, it is an opportunity for affinity, for growth, for creative flow between the ones who have less power, and less access to resources. It is an opportunity for the unspoken and unheard to be told and listened to. A space for a suppressed reality to explore and grow without heavy resistance. Separatism is not something ‘taken away’ from the mixed group. Mixed discussions should and can exist in the same space as separatist discussions, in the same way as alternative spaces and discourses can and should exist within the so called ‘mainstream’ society. Belonging to a dominant group and demanding access everywhere in the name of ‘freedom’ (or to “break down walls”) is the same as the State demanding access everywhere for the ‘safety’ and ‘good’ of the citizens, because the State knows better than the individuals what is best for them. Absolute access, absolute presence = Control = No space to express or try something different, no space to change.

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After the decision was made to have the three workshops, a text was written and sent by myself and another woman with a short description of the different groups (women & trans, men & trans, mixed) [workshop on self-defense against male violence] so it was a surprise to later find out that the workshops had been announced by the men as “for men” “for women” and “non-sexist” (mixed). One of the men said that the description sent by us, hadn’t been received, and that the text that the man had passed on, had been written according to what had been decided at the meeting: Women, Men, Mixed and for this man it was clear that the ‘mixed’ group was interchangeable with ‘non-sexist’ [I disagree] since the other two groups represented some form of ‘sexism’ [I disagree]. The decision made at the meeting that us two women would write the text and have it passed on to the facebook group, was overridden and ignored, and the same was what happened with our right to self-determination in relation to what was going to happen at the workshops. This is the first time ever in my life that someone else has written the description of my workshops, and this without consulting me: “Does this description fit with what you envision you will be doing?” Nothing of this sort, but instead talk about me, saying that there will be one non-sexist workshop and that what I’m doing is absurd and sexist, and will surely not take place again at E.di.D..

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I was told by one of the men that separatist activity is against the ‘group will’ (majority) of the users and contributors to Elemento di disturbo, a statement which I see as minimizing and marginalizing the effort and contribution made by users relating to a minority (alternative) opinion, when I said this I was told that the space is not about the group but about the two men caring for the rent, and that others are there as guests. And it was said that there is no space to make a lot of separate groups, that they wouldn’t want to take away space from mixed interaction by having separatist activity there (I have the understanding that they mean that even unused, empty space should be labeled ‘mixed’ = ‘non-sexist’, rather than allowing it for the use of separatist, and real, anti-sexist activity.) Saying that anything that doesn’t fit the norm set by the dominant majority is ‘alien’ and not belonging to the group, is plain and simple a politics of sameness – a struggle against Change and for Status Quo.

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When one woman talked with the men about swapping the dates of the workshops for men and women in order to include the woman who had initially began to organize for the feminist self-defense workshop, she was told that this wasn’t possible and that this might ‘teach me’ – the person holding the workshops – to get on the path of ‘a-sexual’ (possibly meaning non-sexed, non-gendered?) communication – after a pause changed to – ‘non-sexist’ (a-sessista), meaning that separatist groups are seen as a form of perpetuating sexism by the two men. Not as groups ‘For women’, but as groups ‘Against men’? With the same type of logic I assume that they would be against homosexual relations between women since it would ‘exclude’ men? Seriously: Why is it threatening to someone that some women might want to meet without men?

Women meeting with other women is a disturbing picture?

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I was told that the laboratory was only for mixed interaction and that other activity would be supported as long as it would be elsewhere. I was told that there is a center for battered women in the city, and that separatist activity could be done there. According to the logic of the man, a center for battered women must be a terribly backward and wall-building place, causing a lot of sexism in this society with their separatist work? So it’s clear that a liberated space where everyone says they are against sexism, no work on the issues worked on over at women’s centers are needed? Right? Let’s push that kind of activity out the door!! Sexualized violence and internalized oppressive gender roles can be dealt with somewhere else!

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The man had been faced with the Fact that as a man – as a person categorized and socialized and constantly related to as ‘male’ – it is not possible for this person to understand the realities of someone categorized, socialized and constantly related to as ‘female’ and how a space for women can work in a beneficial way to discuss what is usually un-talked and un-told since it is met by the mainstream with: Ignorance and Denial. This man had experienced the woman saying: “You can not understand, because you are man!” as an act of ‘sexism’ against men. I tried to explain that for me it is not possible to claim that I understand a non-white existence in a society dominated by whites. And that it is a privilege to belong to a group and yet consider oneself as an individual and feel ‘targeted’ when someone is presenting you with the mere fact of “You can not know, cause you don’t have that particular experience, and right now you are showing the type of behavior that makes it difficult for me to co-exist with you”. This isn’t sexism against men, in the same way that it is not sexist of me to say that I can not possibly understand what undergoing the process of male socialization in a system based on male dominance is like. I can understand privilege (as a white person, as an adult, as an ablebodied person and so on) and I can understand disadvantage (as a woman, as someone growing up with the surname of my immigrant parent, as someone who has experienced homelessness, as someone who experienced physical abuse as a child) and I can say that through these experiences I’ve come to realizations of advantage and disadvantage. The advantages/privilege I have is something I rarely have to think about unless someone feels bothered by my ignorance and has the courage and energy to point it out. Current disadvantages, on the other hand, are a constant stressful awareness from which there are very few moments of relief and rest. The relief comes in spaces where I can share my reality without being told that “I can’t take a joke” or “Shouldn’t think so much” or that I’m “Too serious and should relax”. Or that when I’m speaking of the reality of sexism I am told that I am misinformed and that I am in fact the one being ‘sexist’ against men and not vice versa..

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I’m not saying that separatism is a choice that everyone has to make. I am saying that it is a useful tool for persons with similar experiences to work on ways to change our existence. A way to stay sane. I’m all for privileged groups working on their/our issues in separatist groups as well (but with the possibility of transparency and accountability in relation to members of the disadvantaged groups). I see separatism as a choice, and not as something forced on anyone, or a threat against anyone, in the same way that I wouldn’t see mixed groups as forced on, or against anyone, unless it would be stated that separatism isn’t possible. I am saying that it is exclusionary and patronizing for members of dominant groups to claim that real freedom can only be reached by all making the effort together, when these same people don’t even recognize that there is a problem, or can relate to that they have problematic thinking and behavior.

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I have after writing this piece, read the conversation that took place on facebook in relation to the announcement of the workshops, and will within a couple of weeks post my response to the comments made, on this blog. I’m hoping that my comments will act as a needle bursting the bubble of illusion of ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘no walls’ that the men of E.di.D seem to live inside. I say ‘hoping’, since experience has showed me time and time again that some people don’t want to burst their bubbles or break down their own walls, and self-reflection is, for whatever reasons, unwanted.

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Written by: A temporary contributor to the Laboratory of Elemento di Disturbo, having my contribution Minimized, Marginalized, Vilified and Distorted by Some (note: not All) other contributors of the space.


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2 Responses

  1. hello!
    thank you for the report.
    it’s nice. you have follow what was your idea, and put something more. i like it.
    if i can say something more, i will say:
    you don’t have speak whit 2 male but whit marco and frè.
    i’m not a male, sorry i continue to think is a wile sessit to say it in this way. i’m frè, and i’m also a white european male in the word. but i fell more to speak whit a person if “i speak whit you, milla”, than to say “i speak whit a woman” or “i speak whit a white”. but maybe we can not understand eachother, milla.
    for the rest, you have also a project, but we don’t have say to you, “you need to change your program because otherwise you are the majority and, if you don’t follow what we say, you kill the minority”. we have say: “you can come, but the rule are not sex separatist. if you don’t like, we help you for do whatelse you want and where you want, but not here”.
    sorry these are the rules of the house. yes, this is our house, and we do like we want. if some suggestion come, we think about it, but we don’t need to change if we don’t think is right.
    please rispect us.
    and was really, for me, strange, you have choose, to get away from us on sunday, because, i have think was clear, marco (one of the 3 boss of the house) can make some worlk in others rooms untill you make the workshop. but yes, the “male” can not understand.
    please can you ask to who have send the notice, to who of us have send the stuff, because, in facebook, where normaly we use for info, there still don’t have come nothing… like for noone thing write in the agenda of edd.
    sorry you are not a woman, you are a person, and i’ve do like for all the other persons, and like we do all the other time.
    thank you for think different, please let the people think difference and let them free in their projects.
    if you need help, we will like to help you, because, like we have say to you at the end of the male workshop, we have chose different street, but the meaning you have, we like it. we like to support you, maybe not inside our house for whatelse is not needet to be check before to come, you are welcome on our house, and we try to help you to find the right place for your sexseparatist workshop.
    thank you.

    frèisaperson

  2. nice report, i spoke to the woman who brought you there, and was very curious to know your thoughts after that experience. i’m sorry it happened in italy, but not very surprised as i experience this kind of useless and stupid contradictions every day, even in a big place like rome.
    respect to your work and efforts to make it work despite the “obstacles”. hope we’ll meet oneday, maybe here for a workshop organized and realized as you think it should be done.

    if i can say something to fre, that i dont personally know milla was trying to tell the story to people who dont know you or the house you’re “running” together with the “3 bosses” (?) probably that’s why she was referring to a male instead of a “fre'” or a “marco”, it’s just simpler to understand for those who where not there.
    and to say that “she is not a woman” but a person means that you need to open your mind to other, important, realistic, and despite of your ignorance, actual issues, like genders and sexism.
    by the way a sexist white male is more or less what you appear to be according to your words. that’s really unfair. maybe a few books, movies and some papers will help you to fill the gap. and women like milla too.

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