‘the happiest angry band in the world’ & everyday patriarchy

I attended a local, annual gig which raises funds for suicide prevention recently. I had not been to the show for a few years due to living elsewhere, being too ‘busy’, and my time being taken up with other projects.

Where I live has a long history of progressive politics rooted in a worker struggles, a longstanding immigrant community and campaigns for justice. The music scene here reflects, embraces, and in many has ways provided leadership for decades. This was again clear in the festival, the bands, the discussions and the audience.

Woman continue to play a key role in organising and running the event, with very clear and explicit support from men. There bands who played included a mix of genders, including the normative male only bands, and some long established and well-respected women only groups. Alongside the focus of festival, it was one of the latter that I most wanted to see—having not been to one of their shows for several years. The title of this post is a reference to them, and provides some subtext to what spurred me to pen some words.

The gig ran from mid afternoon through to late evening. I arrived mid ay through, with four bands still to play. First up was a group of men mostly playing Ramones covers. Most of them were wearing wigs, and their performance in many ways embodied the music ever scene: one that does not take itself too seriously, and at the same time comes together on key issues in the community like depression and suicide prevention.

The next bad to play was the one I most wanted to see, and all women three-piece — and I was more attentive They might well be the happiest angry band in the world. Their lyrics and style embody riot girl, and those I know personally live that ethos their everyday: radical and progressive politics and attitudes towards each other and the community. They have a good fun playing their shows, which we might consider essential given how long they have been together.

What specifically spurred me to write is the audience. As they played, the floor was a mix of men and women, all respectful of each other’s space. Right in front of the stage, women were dominant and their space was not intruded on in anyway. There was a clear embodiment here of progressive ideals, and an obvious awareness and comfort amongst the women who came to the show and were enjoying themselves. At the time I did not really pay too much attention.

The next band was 50/50 male female, and there was a similar representation on the floor. Again I did not pay too much attention. It was when the following band started playing that my non-noticing—as a benefit of my lived privilege as a man—became much more exposed. They had an all male line up. Noteworthy here is that also embodied the progressive politics and values that was the foundation of the event, and the broader community in attendance. What was different was the floor. Right in front of the stage was not only dominated by men, it was exclusively male.

I need to stress here that I did not note any aggressive or abusive intent or actions towards women. Rather there was an absence of the comfortableness I had witnessed only an hour prior with an all-women band on stage. For me it is not the overt impacts of patriarchy and sexism that are the most insidious. It is the everyday, the ones we (mostly men) don’t notice so much that require our attention. The example here illustrates how they permeate into progressive spaces. It is not in the actions of men that these were visible (to me), rather the response, perhaps preemption of women in not being willing to be in front of the stage for an all male be band—irrespective of the bands politics, and that of the audience—that are most telling.

I think men need to step back, (perhaps) become a little uncomfortable and embrace uncomfortableness in these spaces. Reflect on and reduce their presence. To make spaces for others—on their own terms.

a recent experience in challenging an act of racism

I had an “interesting” experience on a bus recently. It was very much a wake up call about the ways in which racism is (more) prevalent in Australia, to which I have recently returned, compared to Canada. I was one of close to two dozen people who hopped on the bus at a university campus, adding to the one or two people who were on it. It was an mid-evening service, after most classes had ceased. Before the bus had left the stop, a person who was already on the bus exclaimed very loudly something along the lines of “why don’t you shut up you stupid Asians?” (there may have been expletives or other derogatory terms).

The was an instantaneous silence. Of those who had joined the bus, the vast majority were from what I am assuming to be Japan (my generalisation itself is problematic; I may also be wrong on the assumption of origin). I noted one person from what I thought to be South America, and the friend I was traveling with who is from Bangladesh. The silence was short-lived, with those who were obviously the target of the comment soon talking amongst themselves again. Of note, whilst not speaking English, it was quite clear some were explaining the comment to others who may not have heard or fully grasped what was said. We could even sense a level of dismissal and ridicule in this dialogue.

I was the only other ‘white’ guy on the bus. When the comment was made, I turned to look at the protagonist to visually express my disapproval and disgust. I felt an obligation to act, as such behaviour was unacceptable. He appeared to not notice, and any tension seemed to dissipate with his complete ignorance of being essentially laughed at.

The bus moved off and for several minutes the jovial atmosphere returned. Another similar outburst followed, which seemed less profound than the previous one. This may have been because of the implicit-explicit dismissal expressed in the return to jovial conversation by those targeted. This time, I was ready to respond. I retorted “why don’t you shut up” (I have since reflected that perhaps something along the lines of “why don’t you keep you inappropriate comments to yourself” might have been a more effective response). Silence from the protagonist was the result—I was caught up in to the moment and did not note the reaction from the rest of the bus.

What came next took me, and perhaps many others on the bus, by surprise.

A few minutes after the second outburst, A voice came from the seat behind: “what are you blurting about to all of the bus”? It was the person who had made the racist remarks. I was taken aback by the aggressive tone and approach, and the physical imposition of the situation. Fortunately, I held my nerve, and responded along the lines of responding to an inappropriate comment. The person first denied making any such comment, and then stating that it was addressed to one person only. They then went on to excuse their behaviour as a result of intoxication, and tried to start up a conversation unrelated to the incident.

I soon alighted from the bus, with others on the bus taking to opportunity to move away from this person. I was later informed that the driver (either at that stop or the next one) refused to drive off until this person left the bus.

It was certainly an interesting experience…

on opposing sanism as a rhetorical device

At a recent  Critical Animal Studies conference  at Brock University, many of those in attendance were exposed to their own strategic ignorance: the unmarked and nonconsiered (to them) implications of words and discourse used. One of these was the term ‘standpoint’, a reference to Donna Haraway (and others) insightful standpoint theory. In seeking to address this, a term I have used in the past seems much more apt: situatedness.

In much the same vein, the term widely used by Gary L. Francione and others, ‘moral schizophrenia’, has implications that are unmarked and nonconsiered by those who are not subjugated by it. Those who are not labelled as mentally different, i.e. those who are considered mentally ‘normal’.

Rather than (re)outlining some of the issues myself, Ida at the Vegan Ideal has provided an overview. Once again, and this is a broader issue that continues to impact the efficacy of animal activism, Gary L. Francione is unwilling to accept that there are implications of one’s actions that exist irrespective of intent (nor that he is not stigmatised by the use of such terms as, for all intensive purposes, he is positioned as ‘normal’).

Below is the text of Ida’s post:

I believe we should strongly oppose using the phrase “moral schizophrenia” as a rhetorical tool for nonhuman animal advocacy. We should oppose this term as much as we would phrases like: “moral blackness,” “moral gayness,” “moral obesity,” “moral poverty,” “moral stupidity” or any other term that uses a group’s identity, condition or experience as a means of conveying a message that something is — morally or otherwise — wrong or problematic.

Since first introducing the term in his book Introduction to Animal Rights, Gary Francione has popularized “moral schizophrenia” as a term used when discussing ethical contradictions with regard to nonhuman animals. Recently, Francione posted “A Note on Moral Schizophrenia” to clarify — or, rather, justify — his use of the term. In his post, Francione attempts to placate those of us who oppose the way this term targets people who are different mentally:

Some people think that by using the term, I am stigmatizing those who have clinical schizophrenia because it implies that they are immoral people. I am sincerely sorry—and I mean that—if anyone has interpreted the term in that way and that is certainly not what I intended.

But Francione isn’t sorry, at least in the sense that he is still unwilling to acknowledge that the term is actually sanist (discrimination and oppression against people who have, or who are labeled or perceived as having, a mental illness) and oppressive. He essentially dismisses objections to how the term is stigmatizing. He claims, “To say that moral schizophrenia stigmatizes clinical schizophrenics is like saying that to talk about ‘drug use spreading like cancer’ stigmatizes cancer victims.” (However, referring to drug use as cancer does encourage the hatred and oppression of drug users. Cancer, unlike schizophrenia, is a deadly condition. As such, the aim is to eliminate cancer from the body. Attacking drug use as if it is cancer does not encourage empathy for people with addictions, which is exactly why the U.S. does more to criminalize drug users rather than assist them in managing their addictions.)

Schizophrenia is not like cancer — we don’t hear inspiring stories about people battling or surviving schizophrenia the way we do with cancer. Instead, people with schizophrenia are thought of as “crazy.” Schizophrenia is something those who have it will live with throughout their lives, and for many of them dealing with the phobia — hatred, stigma, discrimination and exclusion — they experience is often the worst and hardest part of managing being different mentally.

Francione believes that since “Schizophrenia is a recognized condition that is characterized by confused and delusional thinking,” this is sufficient justification for using the term to characterize situations where he thinks “we are delusional and confused when it comes to moral issues.” But the term is actually a dysphemism — that is, a derogatory term used instead of a proper one.

If Francione wishes to say that there are existing contradictions in our moral beliefs, attitudes and behavior with regards to other animals, then he can simply say that. It’s very common for authors and advocates on a broad spectrum of social justice issues to point out contradictions in what we say and do with regard to different groups. But, to their credit, most of these advocates never use the experience or condition of mental difference as a rhetorical stand in for those contradictions.

So why does Francione do it? While he claims it’s not his intention to stigmatize people with schizophrenia, I believe it is exactly because the term is so intertwined with phobia and oppression that Francione finds it so powerful. That is, it is exactly because sanism works to define schizophrenia as something bad and those who have it as “crazy” that it seen as a persuasive tool. Francione obviously believes that confused thinking or delusions are inherently bad, which is exactly the problem with using this term, and exactly why it is so oppressive.

In Thinking Class: Sketches from a Cultural Worker (South End Press, 1996), Joanna Kadi recounts her fears when navigating being different mentally while speaking before an audience about her writing. She talks about the internalized fear of a phobic response from her audience that would identify her as a “crazy” person because of the hallucinations and voices she hears in her head:

If I wasn’t so afraid, I’d be amused at the gap between their perception and my reality. Someone asks a question about my fiction. I say, “Characters show up in my head and start talking and I try to write it down. These characters are often gregarious and talk loudly. So far I like the characters who have arrived on the scene, except for some minor ones.”

The audience perceives some radical leap of creative artistic energy on my part and is impressed. I consider a street person approaching any of these people and daring to speak about people in her head. The audience members would walk away as quickly as possible, after labeling the street person crazy. No audience member knows I’ve been labeled crazy and locked up in a psych ward. Would it change their opinion of my creative artistic energy if they did? But I can’t know the answer, because fear locks up my lips.

The phobia and oppression that targets people with schizophrenia is merely perpetuated when we use their experience or condition to denote something as wrong or problematic. Francione may not intend to say people with schizophrenia are immoral, but his use of the term does nothing to alleviate the phobia and oppression experienced by people with a schizophrenic experience or condition. Rather, his appropriation of schizophrenia as a rhetorical tool clearly reinforces sanism and phobia of people who are different mentally. Unfortunately, Francione has no intention to stop using the term “moral schizophrenia when it comes to animal ethics,” and seeks only to justify his use through clarification. As long as this is the case Francione will be exploiting sanism and phobia of people who are different mentally as a rhetorical weapon for his own agenda.

We should avoid following Francione’s unfortunate example by instead questioning and confronting sanism whenever and wherever we encounter it. That is, when we encounter people using the term “moral schizophrenia” we should interrupt them, right then and there, and let them know that schizophrenia is not an appropriate term to describe something as wrong, problematic or contradictory, and that using this term in that way does in fact perpetuate the sanist oppression and phobia that targets people with schizophrenia.