LIES: A Journal of Materialist Feminism is a new feminist journal from North America. It’s the first contemporary political writing I’ve read for a long time that feels vital.
Misogyny is back. It never went away as a force, but it’s back as a topic of conversation, an issue that politcal groupings, from the major parties to the sects of the left, debate in order to differentiate themselves. Yet while anarchists and the far left generally say that they want to oppose sexism and any form of hierarchy, they often distance themselves from feminism. Feminism is caricatured as either anything-goes liberalism concerned with individual advancement or outdated puritanical essentialism. Either way, it’s dismissed as a marginal single-issue campaign with no analysis of, say, class or race.
Anarchist attempts to deal with sexism tend to either restate ‘it’s really all about class’, or see it simply as a matter of interpersonal bad behaviour that, whether it’s men talking over women in meetings or raping them, can be solved by essentially getting men to have better manners. I’m exaggerating, perhaps: things are said that are better than silence. But there’s a certain grinding weariness that comes when all our conversations seem to just repeat our complaints until they become boring even to us, with no sense that anything will ever change.
And to be fair, the loudest voices of contemporary professional feminism are often academically abstract, or tedious and superficial. But there’s a rich history of feminism as a complex movement and a heterogeneous body of thought trying to get to the root of things: How do the gendered divisions of power and safety and labour persist and reproduce? How does this work as part of racialised class society? And how it can be undone? LIES is part of that movement: deep and sharp and complicated.
Reading it, I was reminded of feminist memoirs I’ve read that describe the moment you read something that seems to recognise you, the moment when someone else gives you the words for your inchoate feelings. It’s the only thing I’ve read for a long time that speaks to me of both the everyday reality of living in this world and of being part of struggles to change it. That is, of living with the sometimes-clashing identifications of ‘woman’ and ‘anarchist’, of having a double-vision that is both difficult and essential. Or, rather, it’s the first thing I’ve read that makes sense of this other than zines written by my friends.
So I feel like LIES was written by friends. It creates an ‘us’, a shared feeling. The editorial note says: “Everything we write will be used against us. Every claim on or lament against society that we write will be received in the same way as accounts of rape – as lies. We don’t care anymore.” To stop caring is to turn around and start talking to those beside you, to have a conversation with those who aren’t accusing you of lying, to accept but refuse shame and marginality and see where you can go from there.
LIES is a collection of essays, poetry, letters, communiques old and new. There are texts that deal with gendered and racialised fault-lines within movements from Occupy Baltimore to Oaxaca. There are pieces that recover history: feminist communiques on prostitution and the state from 1977, and Suzan Cooke’s reflections on her experience as a trans woman in 60s radical movements. There’s a love letter that says “To be a feminist is to be a paranoid. Everyone tells us that we are reading into things too much, that what we are seeing isn’t there.”
‘Undoing Sex: Against Sexual Optimism’ is a thoughtful and moving essay critiquing the idea that there’s an essential goodness to sex, arguing that if this belief was once radical, it’s now institutional, and that it exists in strategic contrast to the shame and violence that work to enforce gender. The essay is a tour through a certain history of radical feminist thought, not to dismiss it or return to it, but to learn from its development and mix it up with recent theories on the contruction and abolition of gender.
‘Caring: A Labor of Stolen Time’ is a story about (mostly female, mostly migrant) workers organising in an aged care home, and about how capitalism treats people who are no longer productive. It’s about relationships: about workers’ struggle to treat residents with empathy and humanity even under intense work pressure, about the mutual aid of workers supporting each other in small ways and how these relationships enabled organsing. Jomo writes: “We can only truly succeed if we are also transformed into human beings who are good to one another.”