Category Archives: the state

On lies, legal fictions and cognitive dissonance

Legal and social fictions, political fictions, cognitive dissonance, compromise in means toward an end are inevitable as we move in our daily lives and even in our physical bodies.  When my joints aren’t flexible enough on one side of my body due to injuries and age, the other side takes the weight.  I can’t move naturally, smoothly, coherently, I may lose my balance.  My muscles and ligaments feel the strain, if I take the pressure off in one place it moves to another.

Morality and conscience are making clear choices about what and how and where I compromise in anything that affects my deep values and commitments, knowing what those are.  Examining them and re-examining them, not taking anything for granted.

My commitments are first and foremost to myself.  Maybe in a different kind of society I’d be comfortable doing it differently but really, nobody has my back in a way I’d trust to create a common system of value that is strong enough to hold even if one of us breaks.

Inevitably, as I’m moving through my life, there is fragmentation and seeking of integration, as it’s too fast to see where the coherence lies in the moment of action, when there are split commitments.  I think that really this is inevitable for anyone who is oppressed, who has experienced abuse, who lives in modern post-industrialized society.   Gregory Bateson called it the ‘double bind’ and said it was the basis for so-called schizophrenia* as well as enlightenment, implying that it’s something out of the ordinary. But he also placed it in a framework of hierarchical orders of learning, hierarchical in the sense that each represented the working of consciousness on the previous one taken as its subject matter.  He saw the double bind as occasion for learning when the worldview you have arrived at over time that organizes the other large and small things you have learned and go on learning (similar to the ‘paradigm’ in Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions), is challenged.  This requires a kind of learning that isn’t easily described, but that allows one to move past the paradox, or past the inability to move that the paradox inspired.  Despite the paradox.

This week I was listening to the Trump impeachment trial (or lack thereof) in the Senate while doing other work and going about my business.  The Republicans claim it’s all political, that the Democrats timed the impeachment to hurt Trump’s chances of being re-elected, and that this is no different morally from Trump’s own quid pro quo using the mechanism of foreign policy to get a US ally to dig up dirt on one of his Democratic opponents in the presidential campaign.  The Democrats are promoting rule of law as a core value, rightly, because it has to be a core value once we are in the ballpark of a state that claims to rule in the name of the people: otherwise it’s brute force.  The Republicans are showing they don’t give a damn for the rule of law, that Trump’s personal authoritarianism and the movement he represents, a coalition (see Anne Nelson’s The Shadow Network) of Christian theocrats, extractive industries and other predatory capitalists, and white supremacists (all authoritarian and anti-democratic by nature), is party doctrine and discipline.  And so it is intensely political and moral at the same time, and this battle is itself contextualized by the premise of continuation of the US state and its Constitution.  Progressives don’t have much of anywhere to go that isn’t nihilistic outside that premise right now, since the authoritarians themselves would like to change the Constitution and they’re stronger than we are.   So we saw Nation writers and readers at one point a few years ago, early in Trump’s presidency, defending the FBI and the CIA as the bulwark of democracy, a bit hard to take for those of us who remember COINTELPRO and the assassinations of democratic socialists who won election in other countries. and other dirty tricks of the spy/covert action agencies.  I suppose in an era of private mercenaries (Blackwater) the official ones may seem better?

The mainstream, corporate-run media, including unfortunately National Public Radio (ok: to name some of the others – CNN, MSNBC, the Washington Post and the New York Times), have steadily trashed the candidacy of progressive populist Bernie Sanders while promoting his centrist opponents, particularly Biden and Klobuchar, and fomenting conflict between Sanders and his next-left opponent, Elizabeth Warren.  This happens both in their journalism and in the Democratic primary debates run by various media outlets.   The Democratic Party has changed its rules on campaign contributions to allow billionaire former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to run.  And meanwhile, Bernie Sanders, despite having built a strong organization and campaign with support from unions, environmental organizations, and key Congressional progressives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Premila Jayapal, has muddied his own waters by accepting an endorsement from racist, misogynist Joe Rogan – apparently to cultivate supporters among the Trump base of racist, misogynist white men supposed to be working class.

It’s a conundrum with no apparent way out.  Americans are not in Washington banging pots and pans en masse in the streets outside the Capitol and the White House (or as close as they could get given the tactical confinement of demonstrations that has been the policy of US cities since 9/11).  My pointing that out won’t get me or anyone else there any more than anybody else’s has.  We’re already hunkered down, we’ve either been boiled slowly in the water of authoritarianism and are about to die as a country and scrambling to save what we can in pieces or just to survive wherever we are materially, however we are materially.

And then outside the legal fiction of the state.  My friend in Iowa has a small farm where she raises goats.  It’s a beautiful life and hard.  I look out my window and know I’m relatively secure in the land I live on and in our house.  Climate change has made our winters warmer, I feel like what wants to hibernate is struggling with half-wakefulness, but it’s a joy to experience even that.

Another friend sent me a quote from Chinese novelist/poet Han Dong, translated:  “The energy sparked by battles is suspicious as it doesn’t give birth to anything new.  What we need is the labor of birthing, not a fight over the child.”  That resonates with me as similar to Hannah Arendt’s concept of natality, which helped me confront the nihilism of Judith Butler.   If we are used to battles, we might fear the labor of birthing as something unknown, and resist it as if that were violence and not the other way around.  But our lives as well as our moral integrity will depend on navigating that difference.


The psychiatric state is a rapist #UnVioladorEnTuCamino

gripping cry in the throat out at the cemetery
where my mother is buried
and the grave cannot hide her crimes or take her beyond my need for forgiveness
to forgive her or be forgiven i am not sure
as they say it’s a sin to put temptation to do wrong in the path of someone who can’t resist
yet ‘la culpa no era mía’
ni por buscar asilo ni por sentirme aislada y confundida….
el violador, el violador, el violador eres tú
the state
the psychiatrists with their eyes like metal bars already incarcerating me and turning the key
for nothing
a female animal brought in crying
by the female keeper
deserved to be locked away in their kennel
el estado
los psiquiatras
el estado opresor es un macho violador

y los demás
the ones who look on with peanut chewing eyes
the nurses
with their injections
the straitjackets
the ones of us who turn to comply with a system of washing machine circularity to discuss who is ready to be the next ones to decide about the next ones
not to get out but to circulate through this mock government
of mock lunatics created by the real ones in their white coats
el violador eres tú

the state
the psychiatrists
the bitter pills and the pharmaceutical grandiosities that create them
the shockers
the electrocuters
the nazis declared and undeclared
los violadores
de nuestros cuerpos inocentes

we are not at fault
not what we did to ourselves
not what we failed in making money
in keeping up appearances
la culpa no es mía
de nada

la sociedad que quema todo lo que queremos
el violador eres tú


Why a rapist in particular?

Many reasons, but these are some.

  1. Many women, as well as men, experience a disturbance in sexuality from the toxic restrictive psychiatric drugs particularly neuroleptics.  Feminists might not care about ‘poor men’ who can’t get an erection any more.  But the disturbance for women is real and is part of patriarchy’s forced dissociation of women from our own sexual self-knowledge, a dissociation which serves and facilitates men’s sexual exploitation and aggression with women as its target.
  2. Women have reported being unable to fight back to resist rape and other sexual aggression after neuroleptic drugs and electroshock.  This effect can be long lasting.
  3. Women who have experienced both rape and forced neuroleptic drugging and/or electroshock commonly talk about forced psychiatry as a rape.  This is not a misused or misappropriated analogy.  We have to look at the details of why and how we experience forced psychiatry as a specifically sexual invasion of the body.  I think it has to do with subjugation of will, a disruption and disturbance directed at core energy that ties body and soul together, a turning to the aggressor’s purposes of another human being’s bodily existence.  In forced psychiatry the purpose is the state’s repression of either resistance or the potential resistance by useless/surplus labor.  For that reason the linkage of the state and individual perpetrators in the feminist anthem #UnVioladorEnTuCamino resonates.
  4. Sexual abuse is routine in psychiatry with or without other force, as in any institutional setting and any service provided by men to women and girls.  Psychiatrists and psychotherapists rape their clients and/or engage in romanticized manipulation (as I wrote on this blog about the pioneering psychoanalyst Sabina Spielrein abused by Jung and Freud); psychiatrists and nurses and orderlies who rape and who allow male inmates to rape women in institutional or ‘hospital’ settings.  But that is only the tip of the iceberg.  If we don’t interrogate the levels at which all forced (as well as manipulative) psychiatry functions as sexualized aggression, we refuse to acknowledge what victims of psychiatry bring to feminism as a doubly marginalized population.

Here are links for the original #UnVioladorEnTuCamino by Chilean feminist collective LasTesis:

Mental illness accusations have no place in feminism

For my feminist sisters who can readily accept that the conditions of oppression women face affect our self-perception, sense of power or entitlement, happiness and satisfaction and joy in life, self-confidence, and expectations of life and other people – how do you think it relates to your life?  And how do you think it relates to other women’s lives?

Who do you think knows what part of your suffering is due to patriarchy and what part is due to the mysteries inherent to life?  Do you think that there are inherent weaknesses in your character, in your brain chemistry, inherited or transmitted from your parents, stamped on you from harm inflicted by others?  Do you think there is some authoritative knowledge that can tell you who you are?

Some of us have had the power to resist others’ claim to authoritative knowledge about us taken away violently and often abruptly, by psychiatry, responding either to our own reaching out for relief from pain and confusion, or to others’ fearful concerns for us and about us when they have decided that communication with us has reached the limits of their tolerance.  Can you feminists see us as your sisters?

Can you see that when you participate in using mental illness accusations against other women, you are arrogating to yourself a portion of patriarchal authority to use as a weapon, to silence another woman or place her outside the bounds of sisterhood, outside the bounds of lesbian-feminist ethics that require us to deal with each other face to face and honestly, or honestly simply withdraw and acknowledge a failure in communication?  Can you see that when you use mental illness accusations even against men you are increasing the hegemony of that patriarchal system and its availability for weaponization against women?

Disability consciousness has many linkages with feminism.  The movement first known in the US as ex-mental patients liberation, later and in other places as ex-psychiatric inmates, psychiatric survivors, psychosocial diversity, survivors of psychiatric assault, mad pride, started with consciousness raising inspired by feminism – a process of mutual respect and vulnerability creating knowledge together and giving each person the space to be heard.  Honoring our self-knowledge and the power to articulate it among others who won’t stick a de-legitimizing label on us, is what feminists have done and psychiatric abuse survivors have also done.  (Some of us have a hard time with that vulnerability; I passed up an opportunity at my first conference ‘for human rights and against psychiatric oppression’ to join a women’s group and regretted it.)

The politics of these movements have both been based in the principle, the personal is political, but there are nuances.  Psychiatric oppression, like men’s violence against women, is both private and public.*  By virtue of the part of psychiatric oppression that claims a beneficent motive, to provide care and treatment (words that belie the fact of detention and subjection to others’ control including their invasion of the brain and body with mind-altering drugs and procedures), psychiatric settings and their practices are given leeway both in law and in public opinion to function outside the normative framework that governs the state’s acknowledged repressive apparatus for criminal detention and other detention that does not claim a beneficent motivation towards the detainee.  (Madhouses, poorhouses, and prisons were not differentiated at an earlier period of European history according to Foucault’s History of Madness.  All function as repression directed against the lower classes.  Psychiatric wards and the mental health system as a whole still function as poorhouses, with people entering and/or unable to leave because of poverty, and so do prisons.  It is commonly said that prisons function as psychiatric wards, and this claim is usually coupled with promotion of diversion to locked psychiatric wards of people who have been criminalized; this is obviously no solution.  The underlying reality is that most people who are criminalized have been severely traumatized by life experiences so it is not hard to psychiatrize them if the motivation is there to do so.)  The claim of beneficent motive, as well as the outsourcing to privately owned and nonprofit enterprises, places psychiatric oppression in at least a semi-private realm together with men’s violence against women, where relations of domination are both excused and ignored.

However, unlike men’s violence against women, psychiatric violence is an institutionalized form of violence linked closely with the state (i.e. ubiquitous state-run madhouses; and also legislation that sets explicit substantive and procedural standards for the exercise of control and coercion).  In this way it is undeniably public, and psychiatrized women like myself can be in a position of insisting in feminist circles that the public realm cannot be invoked uncritically as a boon for women to counter privatized male violence.  Women of color have had to make this point as well; in 2019 we are very much aware of police violence against women and men of color.  As mentioned by a law professor of mine many years ago (Penny Andrews), women of color can experience their homes as a refuge from white society and its authorities, to be defended against intrusion, unlike the narrative that privacy of the home only serves to protect male violence and should be dismantled.

Another linkage between feminism and the movement against psychiatric oppression is a heightened consciousness of bodily autonomy.  Many psychiatrized women have expressed that forced drugging or electroshock is a kind of rape.  This deserves exploration.  It is not merely a metaphor, which would be offensive.  It is also not only about the sexualized abuse that often accompanies forced drugging in particular, where stripping, holding down and injecting the person in the buttocks is how the drugging is accomplished if the woman or man resists or if the goons simply want to add physical brutality.  Similar to how rape is now understood to include coercive circumstances or absence of free (and informed) consent, and women are not required to prove resistance overcome by physical force, the core violation of psychiatric assault, similar to that of rape, is an intimate invasion that is per se harmful, that turns a woman’s body to an instrument for domination of the woman as human being.  In rape, the woman’s own sexual potential is what is violated; in psychiatric violence, her consciousness as potential for engagement with the world and self is violated.  There are resonances between sexuality and consciousness, and psychiatric drugs particularly neuroleptics can both disrupt hormones and cause specifically sexual dissociation.

Yet, because of a gap between the survivor (of psychiatric oppression) movement and the feminist movement, because of feminist therapy and the debates around it, because of the male domination of the survivor movement or simply the impossibility of naming deep female experiences in a mixed space (along with having to face or avoid misogynistic fantasies that men share when it’s their turn to be heard)…. we have only talked about these linkages in small spaces (often one on one), in marginalized asides that end up being reinterpreted to exclude us.  (E.g. ‘sure, we have to de-medicalize women’s oppression.  But, there are women who are simply psychotic, and that’s a different thing.’)

Also, until 2006 (when the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted by the UN General Assembly) or 2014/2015 (when the treaty monitoring body, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, issued crucial interpretations of the right to equal recognition before the law and the right to liberty and security of the person), survivors of psychiatric oppression were a voice in the wilderness without any support in public authorities or institutions at all.  The CRPD prohibits deprivation of liberty based on disability, including all detention in mental health facilities, and prohibits deprivation of legal capacity to make decisions, with a heightened concern for decisions about physical or mental integrity such as psychiatric treatment.  Deprivation of liberty based on an actual or perceived mental health condition amounts to arbitrary detention, and forced or nonconsensual psychiatric interventions are a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or torture.

Recognition in international law (over 170 countries have ratified the CRPD; unfortunately the US is not among them) has given us a political platform, but even more basically, it has constituted us as political actors whose individual and collective subjectivity and voice matter.  (This too is similar to women’s emergence as a political constituency, which as I’ve written about elsewhere in this blog, is currently under attack due to the failure of the movement for the rights of transgender people to respect women’s definitional, political, personal and collective boundaries.)  But we still face too many situations where our sisters are vigorously promoting their belief in mental illness and its weaponization against those whose subjective realities a particular woman disagrees with, and/or whose behavior she finds objectionable.  The weaponization of mental illness accusations has been used against transgender people, including those who are female and identify as men or transmen, saying that they are mentally ill and need treatment.  The transgender movement on the other hand has conflated the value of personal subjectivity, which has been elevated by survivors of psychiatric oppression as a right of autonomy and integrity based in the equal worth and dignity of every human being, with a claim to have personal subjectivity judicialized as the basis for legal classification uniquely with respect to sex, undermining the political settlement that has recognized sex (at least grudgingly; US still has not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment for constitutional equality of the sexes) as an axis of discrimination and oppression.

We have to mobilize an intersectional feminist/disability rights analysis in order to politicize theoretically and practically the relation of gender identity to feminism within a human rights framework that can serve as a space for discourse of mutual recognition and debate on terms that do not automatically invalidate either side (trans movement’s current definitional invalidation of women, or some feminists’ weaponization of mental illness accusations to invalidate transgender identity as a claim for a recognition of a specific type of gender nonconformity as social identity).  The politics of gender have to be debated, including the question of whether all gender is patriarchal (does gender = sex stereotypes = masculinity/femininity; are these in turn equivalent to dominance behaviors and submission behaviors); whether all cultural symbolism related to sex is equivalent to gender (goddess, or god; representations of female and male genitalia and bodies, always a sexualized domination or not? differences between female and male in this respect, and why?); the relationship between sex stereotypes and men’s systematic material subjugation of women through sexual and reproductive exploitation; the relationship between sex stereotypes and female and male sexuality; the relationship between gender nonconformity and female and male sexual orientation; how we characterize the ultimate goal or marker of women’s liberation from male domination (e.g. my position: female autonomy and option of separatism at every level personal and collective, from sexual to political and economic; ‘at least’ equal power and resources of women compared with men); and the relationship of social and legal recognition of nonconforming gender identities and this ultimate goal – is the recognition of nonconforming gender identities unacceptable, a temporary accommodation, a way to undermine sex stereotypes, a necessary feature of a society that has achieved women’s liberation from male domination?

Finally, it occurs to me I haven’t argued the claim that mental illness accusations, psychiatric classification and psychiatric oppression and violence are patriarchal in nature.  We all should know about Freud and Jung, notorious abusers of women and rape apologists, whose psychological theories, those of Freud in particular, have shaped our assumptions about the authoritative viewpoint of mental health professional practitioners as knowers of the supposed unconscious subjective realities of others who are supposed to have hidden those realities from their own awareness for psychosexual reasons.  (I wonder if the original ideas of Sabina Spielrien, a psychiatrized woman who became a psychoanalyst, which were stolen and distorted by Jung and Freud, would point in a different direction, or not.)  The paradigmatic analyst is male with a female patient, just as men in patriarchal culture have punished women for knowledge of their own sexuality and enforced rape (marital or otherwise) as an opening of women through violence into supposed sexual knowledge responding to male direction.  The violation of intimate knowledge either privately (creation of a relationship of domination when a woman seeks help from mental health services and is required to expose herself to the power of the practitioner to dominate and assert control over her; anything she discloses in a relationship of trust can be used against her to involuntarily commit and ‘treat’ her) or publicly (by the social and legal act of domination exercised by involuntary commitment and ‘treatment’, which stamps her with a claim of knowledge of her psyche even if she has said nothing and given nothing of her trust or participation into an interaction with them; observation rather than interaction marks her as an object and her own narrative as raw material for the practitioner as designated knower, similarly to colonial dynamics as well) terrorizes and twists our sense of ourselves in the world, making the public (our self-narrative) go underground for private conservation, and putting out our actual private lives disclosed in trust or a narrative about our private selves made up by others, for public consumption and ridicule.  (This also is similar to sexual exploitation in prostitution and pornography industries.)  Women survivors of psychiatric oppression take extraordinary risks in talking about any of this, and we should not have to do it again and again.

There needs to be a right to privacy that is female-centric, and that complements a different kind of public space as well that is horizontal and discursive rather than hierarchical and coercive, and that incorporates female autonomy and the absolute eradication of rape as a first principle.  The convergence of feminism and anti-psychiatric oppression survivor politics opens up space for the fullness of women’s lives, as we express them, to emerge into both feminism and the political institutions we are working to transform or re-create.

Note: edited slightly for greater clarity Nov 15, 2019


Women’s liberation, gender identity and the state

The adoption of gender identity laws* by many states, and the endorsement of such laws by organs of the United Nations, demonstrates a failure to recognize women as a political class and women’s liberation as a fundamental component of the human rights project.

The transgender or gender identity movement in itself is a civil society phenomenon that has claimed the mantle of feminism and the mantle of lesbian and gay liberation as well. But it is states who bear the responsibility for the denial of women as a political class and the ensuring violations of women’s human rights.

The women’s liberation movement fought for abolition of all forms of male dominance and exploitation of women, and recognized gender as a social and cultural elaboration of  identities for men and women that not only limited individuals’ freedoms and opportunities but also kept in place the political and economy hierarchy with men on the top and women on the bottom.  This movement, now known as radical feminism, still fights all forms of male domination and exploitation of women.  It is an international and intersectional movement, keeping in mind that to be intersectional, women have to be recognized as a political class – intersectionality does not mean the obliteration of any political class or denying that there is any common political agenda, but rather pursuing the liberation of all members of that class including where that political agenda intersects with others.

Lesbians are caught in the cross-hairs of gender identity as an attack on women as a political class, most obviously because gender identity is promoted in our name through the ‘LGBTQ’ movement, but so are women of color, disabled women and women with other identities that have to fight intersectional battles, and those who have to defend themselves individually against male violence or who fight for its eradication.  Early in the US feminist movement, lesbians were told we weren’t wanted.  We are often treated as ‘not really women’.  Women of color and disabled women are also treated as ‘not really women’ or as the ‘wrong kind of woman’.  Every woman is exposed to social control and disapproval when she steps over the line of femininity as pleasing men and dedicating one’s own will and actions to maintaining a veneer of pleasantness in the family and in society, serving the interests of all hierarchies and systems of exploitation.  It is exactly trampling these lines of femininity that women need to survive, to defend ourselves against male violence both organized and individual, and to act in the world as responsible individuals and citizens.

The gender identity movement takes part of the feminist agenda, part of the lesbian and gay agenda, and makes it the sole focus to be enforced against the other parts of those movements.  The freedom to express ourselves and cross the lines of femininity and masculinity as individuals is part of both feminism/women’s liberation and lesbian/gay liberation.  It is a beautiful thing to see this freedom of expression win greater acceptance – but it has a conservative side, as the freedom is won by appealing to the construct of gender as a set of social cues in communication, e.g. I wear lipstick and present the appearance of breasts, therefore respond to me as a woman, or I tell you my pronouns are ‘they/them’, therefore respond to me as if you are agnostic about my sex.  It’s conservative because it treats an oppressive system as merely the cumulative product of individual choices, similar to a marketplace, and merely demands that the terms on which the market operates are made more equal in terms of opportunity to choose positions irrespective of sex.  But we don’t start out equal and don’t end up equal; it’s nonsense to treat a political hierarchy and system of economic and sexual exploitation as a marketplace – to do so merely entrenches the system of male domination/exploitation/extraction of resources from women along with all its dependent and intersectional hierarchies and systems of exploitation.  In order to act against oppression we have to act collectively to change the conditions that confront us; political action is not a marketplace.

Democracy has sometimes functioned as a marketplace especially when we are talking about majority vote and campaigns that function as marketing and not as political debate or deliberation.  But the answer is to bring back political debate, deliberation and collective action – not to capitulate to an individualism that is tantamount to despair.

The state is responsible for its violation of the human rights of women, but at the same time women have a right to question the state.  Democracy is a human right of a people to self-determination and pre-exists any particular form of political organization.  Equality of the sexes is fundamental to democracy, otherwise it is not democracy but androcracy.  Having been given the right to vote by states created by men, we are playing catch-up while men continue to shape the laws and customs to their own benefit, i.e. to treat rape as an individual crime for which sympathy is doled out or withheld on a racial basis to victim or perpetrator, rather than as a systemic hate crime against women that is to be eradicated.**   ‘Democracy’ itself cannot legitimize violations of human rights; like legal capacity it is a meta-right, a right that encapsulates a status for the exercise of freedom, and as a collective right, democracy remains accountable for the relations among individuals that it endorses and for those by which it operates.

The state should be the target of women’s political action and organizing, not the gender identity movement per se.  It is the state that bears responsibility within a human rights framework, and the state which, as the form of modern political organization that is answerable to democratic demands or can be targeted for political resistance if it rejects those demands.  The best and most successful organizing is being done in response to state initiatives like the proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act in the UK, which also benefits from a large grass-roots movement that was able to mobilize through an anonymous discussion board where women congregate to discuss political and nonpolitical issues of many kinds (MumsNet).  In the US our spheres of political action and debate are circumscribed, truncated and heavily influenced by political parties, funders and media that have created a political culture of spin and power rather than deliberation or collective action that can sustain itself independently, with some important exceptions.  We should learn from other countries and other struggles as we work intersectionally for women’s liberation.


*By gender identity laws I mean laws that allow men to change their legal classification to that of women, whether based on self-identification or on medical or social gatekeeping.  Self-identification laws are the most pernicious for women’s rights because they allow the greatest number of men to enter and represent the most complete denial of women as a political class, but laws that require gatekeeping are nevertheless problematic for the autonomy of the female sex to define itself.

**The Nordic model for ending prostitution, which provides support for women to exit the sex industry and penalizes sex buyers to criminalize the demand for commodified sex moves us toward a systemic approach by targeting sexual exploitation at the industrial level.

Sexual politics and arbitrary detention

Many of us cringe when we read some of the forward-looking legal decisions that find psychiatric detention to be arbitrary, because they are cases of rapists who have been civilly committed either instead of going to prison or after the prison term expired.

Where are the cases, and where is the outrage, on behalf of women who are doubly victimized by rapists and the psychiatric system that treats our anger, grief and disorientation as fodder for their human experimentation?  We talk about this, it is common enough knowledge that the concept of trauma-informed approaches in mental health originated in the advocacy of female survivors of psychiatry who wanted to be met with support and not revictimization.  Yet this response keeps the power and hegemony of the mental health system, including psychiatry, intact, assimilating both the politics and impact of rape into ‘mental health needs’, and carving out a specialty of trauma-informed care and avoidance of re-traumatization instead of squarely facing the primary victimization perpetrated by psychiatry equal with the primary victimization perpetrated by male abusers.  Intersectionality demands that we squarely face the double politics, the double violence, the double silencing and suppression and rendering of compliant female mental patients as a norm while isolating and ridiculing angry mad women with every vicious slur in the book.

I do not want rapists to be the poster children for my freedom.  Throw the book at rapists in a justice system administered by women, and do away with psychiatry.  What does restorative justice look like when it comes from an intersectional feminist critical disability and critical race perspective?  Including justice for the victims of domination and violence.  Including crying foul when speech of the victims is mis-labeled as violence, especially a trick of men used to silence women and by whites to silence people of color.

Let’s look at why the arbitrary detention of women who are doubly victimized by rape and psychiatry, women and men who are victimized by psychiatry who have not harmed anyone, women and men who are criminalized because of their race and/or disability and caught between psychiatry and penal system, why these acts of arbitrary detention are not so easy and clear for the human rights system to pronounce on.  I think it has to do with concept of civil rights vs economic/social rights, and the kinds of systemic and pervasive discrimination associated with sexual politics and to some degree with racial politics end up looking fuzzy to a system that wants civil rights to be black letter law, both categorical and procedural, rather than transformative and requiring work at many levels to uproot the violations.  Psychiatry as a system of human rights violations, mandated and delegated as a parallel state to enforce and reinforce the patriarchal family and its public/private divisions related to the marketplace, police and control subordinated ethnic groups and economic classes, is made invisible by its own operation, it cleans up its own trail of abuse by relying on the will of the general public to ignore what happens to those people who are made into ‘useless eaters’ and exploited for both their unpaid care of others and their economic value as objects of a paid system of control in the name of care.

The CRPD articulated the violations – detention on the basis of actual or perceived disability (mental health condition/label/diagnosis) is discriminatory, with or without any additional procedural standards and safeguards, since it is a regime that targets individuals based on a prohibited ground of discrimination.  Forced interventions that target the characteristics deemed to be actual or perceived disability for manipulation, control or eradication against a person’s will or without their free and informed consent are a form of discriminatory, disability-based violence and also violate the right to legal capacity and the right to control one’s own body and health.

Yet the CRPD could not name psychiatry as starkly as I do here, due to politics and perhaps steps in a necessary line of argument in terms of what could be achieved in that process, and also because the human rights system itself does not deal well with naming systems of oppression.  The CEDAW regime (treaty plus treaty body and its community of advocates) similarly cannot quite bring itself to name patriarchy or male supremacy as a system by which men exploit and expropriate resources from women and maintain a hierarchy by subordinating and violently oppressing women.

CRPD, in addition to struggling with this general feature of human rights, is a regime that comprises diverse and heterogeneous constituencies, which sometimes pull in different directions.  Survivors of psychiatry struggling to name our oppression accurately and create an accurate holistic picture of the problems and remedies face a situation similar to intersectionality; the reparations framework is most appropriate for us and yet it is politically still far off to name our oppression and our constituency independently as deserving of human rights subjectivity.  We fall between the cracks of the economic/social rights focus of disability rights measures such as reasonable accommodation, and civil rights with their paradigm derived from men’s public sphere of supposed procedural fairness, oblivious of race and class oppression and of hegemonic assumptions about ability that all intersect and overlap.  We also fall outside of the mainstream disability movement’s attempt at holistic conceptualizing of rights, independent living, despite our attempts (one example and another example) to utilize Article 19 to say ‘us too’.

Some lessons, tentative suppositions for future direction:

  • Intersectionality is key for the human rights movement of users and survivors of psychiatry / people with psychosocial disabilities.  We have to explore intersectionality in real detail, with sexual politics, racial justice, class exploitation – how all these systems interact with one another and with psychiatry as a parallel state.
  • Reparations framework makes the most sense conceptually to address past and present violations and prevent expansion of psychiatry in parts of the global south where it does not yet have a strong presence.  However, without political will among states and significant support among human rights defenders to become our allies, it will not be feasible.
  • Naming psychiatry as a parallel state, as a system of oppression linked with patriarchy, class, racialization, and the state itself as an organized mechanism of legitimized violence – as one form of political organization that is not inevitable and can be dismantled and replaced – needs to take place openly.  We have to get out of the mental health discussions.  Although those discussions will continue to happen and will partially advance a CRPD compliant law and policy framework now that WHO has accepted that coercive measures should be abolished, it is not going to be enough.
  • We have to think in all directions and dimensions to imagine what it will take politically for any country or sub-national jurisdiction to abolish the form of disability-based arbitrary detention that has been delegated to psychiatry as a parallel state.  This encompasses criminal as well as civil psychiatric commitment – known as forensic psychiatric institutions or security measures – and the entire regime of inpatient and outpatient commitment and coercive measures to enforce compliance with mental health treatments whether formal or informal.  It also links with increasingly worrying law and policy in the health field generally that aim to promote compliance with certain health-related behaviors (e.g. to quit smoking, reduce body mass, get a certain amount and type of exercise, get annual flu vaccines, etc.), and to remove health records and management of health care from our own control.
  • We have to confront technological developments, law and policy on the horizon that go in the managerial direction in opposition to our personal autonomy and bodily integrity, and work and fight for both our freedom and the creation of workable, non-exploitative support arrangements and relationships to sustain each other in times that are hard and frightening.
  • We have to name the oppressions accurately.  I thank Kathy Miriam and Ginny Brown for prodding me to accuracy on materialist feminism, Max Dashú for insisting on ‘sexual politics’ rather than ‘biology’ as the basis for gender critical feminism, and Nedra Johnson for her accuracy in naming ‘dominating sex class assigned at birth’ and ‘subjugated sex class assigned at birth’.
  • Our anger can be either a good guide to where there is something missing in the dominant analysis, or a vicious bloodthirstiness that feeds on itself.  Labeling oneself as a victim and therefore entitled to get away with murder is not the answer; we see too many examples to have to enumerate and those who are in the dominating class are the most likely to use ‘victim’ excuses to their advantage.  Abolishing the insanity defense is one expression of this, to return to the prompt for this blog post, where I started in the first paragraph.  But we neither leave everyone to the mercy of a racist, classist, sexist and absolutist penal system without changing it, nor do we take up uncritically the cause of rapists as our comrades simply because they are put into a position of vulnerability as criminal defendants or victims of psychiatric incarceration.  Analysis and willingness to face hard things are both needed; small groups where we develop love and trust and tolerance among ourselves, in whatever configuration needed (for me lesbian-only or female-only is one starting point) create a base of acceptance to be able to move outward and have harder conversations without fear, and analysis developed and refined together allows us to conduct advocacy campaigns without hesitation.


Some resources on women’s double victimization:

WNUSP side event at CRPD Committee August 19, 2015

CHRUSP resources page (scroll down for ‘Forced psychiatry as violence against women’)

Hege Orefellen’s statement on behalf of WNUSP and CHRUSP in COSP 11, panel 2 on women and girls with disabilities (to be posted after it is uploaded on UN website)


Health, women, and autonomy

The feminist women’s health movement wasn’t just about abortion and self-examination with speculums.  It was about taking the knowledge and power of health into our own hands, in all aspects of our health.  Herbal knowledge from parts of the world our ancestors came from and where we are now, other kinds of healing traditions both energetic and manipulative.  Some of us learned deeply and trained and became practitioners to treat others, some of us learned enough to apply it to ourselves, more or less well.  Not so different from the knowledge any of our mothers and grandmothers had, to be able to take care of a sick child or elder or anyone the best they knew how.  We also asserted ourselves with doctors who were mostly male and rejected the idea that they knew best because their white coat and stethoscope and degree conferred knowledge stamped with patriarchal institutional authority.  We created, or tried to create, relationships with doctors based on equality, tried to be on first-name basis or otherwise to be on formal basis equally, to be Mary and Jane/Bob, or Ms/Dr/Rev/etc. X and Dr Y, not Mary and Dr Y.  We learned about diagnostic procedures and treatments, pros and cons, and decided for ourselves, sometimes rejected western medicine for holistic medicine of some kind, other times did a combination.

Somewhere along the way things changed.  More women became doctors, and even those who were alternative practitioners – like chiropractors – wanted to be addressed as Dr Y and took on the unequal relationship calling us Mary.  Alternative practitioners created elaborate consent forms that listed everything under the sun that could conceivably go wrong with the treatment so that we absolved them preemptively of any kind of malpractice claims.  Managed care came in and even doctors who wanted to practice the art of medicine were pressured to be assembly-line workers running rote protocols according to the popular evidence-based statistical recommendations of the day.  Population-based medicine is the real meaning of evidence-based; you get what the statistics say is the best overall outcome for a whole population, however large or small that population is defined, and the doctor isn’t expected to really think much about you as a whole person; if she wants to she doesn’t really have the time.  (If she is really extraordinary, wants to serve her patients individually and keeps taking insurance because she isn’t only for rich folks, she has to work serious overtime without pay to keep up.)

The proposal for single payer health care in New York State will not do anything to eliminate these serious structural problems that plague our health care system in addition to the simple lack of access without money.  In fact that proposal if enacted will continue the prioritization of money over people, only as a public system run by the government as cheaply as possible, using the same principles as managed care to treat health as a problem at the level of populations as a whole rather than meeting individual needs.  Paying a ‘capitation rate’ to serve a certain number of patients rather than paying for the services actually used encourages statistical management of the health of the population of patients as a group – achieving a certain statistical outcome for the health center or hospital or geographical region as a whole.  It also encourages manipulative practices to steer patients towards health care decisions that the system deems desirable in prevention or screening or treatment, and the dumbing-down of informed consent practices which are also seriously undermined by their use to avoid malpractice claims which is placed above the patient’s right and need to make well-informed decisions.

The NY single payer proposal brings in an additional requirement that comes directly from managed care, the figure of a care coordinator, who is supposed to ensure that medically necessary services are made available to, and are effectively utilized by, the members.  This is at best a busybody whose calls you can ignore or whom you can direct to leave you alone if you don’t want their attention; at worst, since it would be a requirement to be enrolled with a care coordinator to receive services under the plan, it creates the infrastructure for more aggressive forms of coercion, incentive and disincentive, manipulative opt-out scenarios, being marked down as a troublemaker.

We have already lost our privacy rights thanks to HIPAA, the voluminous federal law on health care privacy that advocates long warned was anti-privacy.  It is hard to get our own records, especially the medical notes that doctors share with each other but prefer to keep hidden from patients lest we dare to read and think about their conclusions for ourselves.  We don’t know what else they keep hidden from us.

The culture of compliance, which some of us know all too well from experience or advocacy in the mental health context, is nauseatingly present and permeating health care today.  I hear of doctors who refuse to treat a patient unless she takes a certain medication that they prescribe (e.g. for high cholesterol), forcing her to lie if she wants to continue receiving treatment that she wants.  The pressure to accept flu shots and other vaccinations is strong.  Screenings and questionnaires sometimes are inordinately interested in personal behavior including such matters as ‘use of illegal drugs,’ alcohol and tobacco use, body mass index, and the ubiquitous depression screening and dementia screening that are designed to capture unsuspecting folks to be initiated into the world of prescribed and enforced psychotropic drugging, and labeled with the kinds of disabilities for which one can have their rights and freedoms taken away.

The NY single payer bill also specifically preserves the existing medicaid managed care plans, including mental health managed care which is required for people covered by medicaid who ‘receive chronic mental health services’ or are labeled as ‘severely and persistently mentally ill’.  I have tried unsuccessfully to get information from reliable sources about how this has worked in practice, but recall that at the time it was enacted there was resistance from the survivor community to this classification and its implications for keeping people tied to a service system that is managerial and essentially institutional even within the community.  (See CRPD Committee’s General Comment 5 on Article 19 and OHCHR study on living independently and being included in the community, both addressing obligations to eliminate institutional forms of care both large and small-scale.)

As I grow older – I will be 59 and eligible to join OLOC on my upcoming birthday – I worry not only about needing health care for the inevitable breakdown of my physical body.  I worry also about the risks to which our society exposes older people of having my legal capacity taken away if someone thinks I am not making good decisions.  I am an ornery and quirky person, I have a great memory for some things and a terrible memory for others, and I don’t want any of the screenings.  Who’s going to stand with me?


Reclaiming Public and Private for Women


Feminism in the second wave disparaged the public-private distinction because it was used to uphold male supremacy over women in men’s designated private spaces, to protect male violence and domination of women from scrutiny by the state. Women asserted themselves as subjects of law, who have a right to protection of safety and freedoms against male domination asserted in spaces that previously were claimed to be private and free from state regulation. Women thereby asserted a claim on public protection against men’s claims of privacy.

Catharine MacKinnon also disagreed with the grounding of abortion rights in privacy and saw it as preferable to ground in women’s equality with men. I agree that this would have been preferable, as privacy arguments for abortion and contraception do not adequately distinguish between male and female orientations to privacy, and do not capture either the sexed or gendered nature of women’s right to complete autonomy in our own bodies, including our reproductive capacities.

(Note that I wrote first “over” our own bodies, and I think there is a need in changing to a women’s orientation to privacy, to rethink the property-based conception of autonomy in favor of one based on embodied personhood. I have written about that here.)

Nevertheless, MacKinnon, while she has an analysis of the state as male, does not go further than challenging the aspect of this that relates to the public-private distinction which worked to men’s benefit. She has sought to invoke public power to enforce women’s rights, as the strategy to change the state into an institution more favorable to women. Yet the fundamentally male structure of the state in relation to women remains in place. The state is uniformly further removed from women than it is from men; we do not have equal claims on the state by removing the private sphere from public regulation so that we all stand simply as citizens confronting public power. The legitimation of public power, and the creation of both public and private spheres, is sexed and gendered male, as Carole Pateman discusses extensively in The Sexual Contract.   Public power is neither neutral nor can it be assumed to have the capability to function in women’s interest. Yet, since we have to confront state power as a feature of the legal and political order, we need to look at whether male power externalized in the state can be dismantled from within, through the development of relevant conceptual tools and strategies, or whether there are feasible alternatives to develop alternative forms of society in the modern world.

Perhaps as a step towards this larger project, I am interested in reclaiming both public and private for women, from a woman’s perspective. This interest stems from many sources.

First, I cannot accept that disappearance of the private, and a right to privacy, is in my interest as a woman. A professor who taught me Human Rights Law in 1999, Penny Andrews, once said that she considered that her home needed to be protected from state intervention, she saw it as a place where she was safe from external society. I cannot be sure I remember correctly, but I believe she was speaking as a woman of color about safety from racism in particular, in addition to other potential ways that home is a source of comfort and refuge when it is yours alone or when it is not undermined by domestic violence.   For me as a white woman, seeing my home as protection means a place where I am free from male aggression and where I can be myself without fear of anyone carting me off to psychiatry: where no one will ask me in that patronizing tone, “how are you?” and where there is no penalty for shouting or grieving or staying up all night and writing, or for dancing or wearing the same clothes for days.

That privacy is highly contested. The state can in fact invade my home and cart me off to psychiatry, under domestic law both in Norway where I am living temporarily and at home in the United States. I am highly attuned to this because of my early experience with forced psychiatry that I will never forget, that is stamped indelibly in all parts of my body, mind and soul. I can never take for granted my privacy in my home, or my bodily privacy as a human being, as sacrosanct, the unity of self and body in embodied personhood was broken for me irreparably when my body became a place that was invadable, and I had to learn what it meant to be an autonomous self within a body and mind that were coursing with toxic psychotropic drugs administered to me against my will. It was a privilege to learn that, to experience a core self that could not be touched despite that violation and destruction, and it was something that I would do whatever it takes to not be subjected to again.

Thus I come to a defense of privacy, and say to feminism, privacy is not about men, it is about me. If I am a woman whose rights and interests count for feminism, my privacy against the state and against state-legitimated patriarchal chemical rape by psychiatry has to count for something. There is similarly for me a common experience of having my attention, time, personal space, intruded upon mostly by men but also by male-female couples, by groups, by servers, who do not consider that a woman sitting alone in a public space is anyone at all taking up space there nor is she doing anything, whether she is immersed in reading or in her own thoughts. (I have to say this is less true in Norway than it has been in the United States, but still happens.) Also it is common that men interrupt women’s conversations with each other, and male classmates who are young enough to be my sons have presumed to demand my attention to their needs and become affronted when I denied them.

That is privacy too. Women need the vocabulary to talk about this. It is privacy in public space, that men take for granted as the default human beings, and that I value for myself and claim as a human being also. It is precisely by not being able to take it for granted that I notice men have it and that I choose to name it as a value meaningful to me as a woman; it does not mean that I am modeling myself on men or seeking “mere” equality copying whatever men have.

And public space. I mourn the death of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. There we created public space for women. A world in this space for a week, that was all women, no men except the employees of the company that maintained the porta-potties, who came at night escorted by one of the festival’s security crews. Women built stages and outdoor kitchens to feed thousands, ran the lighting and sound systems for concerts, drove the shuttles, created workshops and created culture of all kinds. Over a forty-year span, some girls grew up at Michigan and brought their own daughters. I can’t imagine how they must feel now. I only went a few times, but needed it to be there for me. One of the most important turning points of my life was initiated by a workshop there, that eventually set me on a path of the spiritually driven political legal activism that I am doing now.

Michigan could not consider itself legally public space; it was a private party thrown by Lisa Vogel who could set the terms for who was invited. The festival maintained an “intention” of welcoming womyn-born-womyn, i.e. natal females, and centered on female experience as women and girls. While some transgendered males (transwomen) attended, the festival did not center their experiences or consider them equally a form of women’s experience as those of females. Transgender advocates protested outside the gates and also in the festival itself, and eventually escalated to organizing a boycott not only of the festival but also of festival performers, seeking to deprive them of a livelihood. I had been away from the festival for long years, when I was in law school and then working on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with important meetings being held in August; then I became involved with Diana who hadn’t gone to festivals and we were just doing other things. Living in the Adirondacks I didn’t need to go to festival to be in the country, and I felt I was drawing on my feminist roots but didn’t feel the need to replenish them.

I came back for the last festival, responding to the escalating attacks and getting involved in Facebook discussions before we even knew it was going to be the last, and then attending with Diana. In many ways it was anticlimactic for me; I’m a different person, and large groups even of womyn are harder for me to feel connected to, also being there with Diana made it more of a continuum with everyday life, but it was enough. I also never felt entirely safe at festival, unlike most women who have gone and felt it was home. For me, intrusive questioning and the culture of a kind of mutual negotiation of personal boundaries that can empower most those who already feel entitled by it, means I do not get to let down my guard. The “how are you?” happens, and I know of crazy wimmin who have been given a hard time. It is not, was not, a safe space to claim madness that has been labeled as such by patriarchy, in a way only madness that wasn’t stamped and vilified as such gets to howl.

So I need more from public space. I need a womyn’s public space and I need for the public space womyn share with men to be controlled effectively by women. And I need it to be all women including me. I need, broadly speaking, for disability as well as race, and of course sex, to be part of what we mean when we talk about public and private, in terms of space and in terms of law and rights. And for disability to include me, to include all ways that patriarchy sorts us as normal human beings and abnormal freaks who only get the crumbs from the table.

I’m left with intersectionality, which has been given a bad name by the transgender movement using it incorrectly. Intersectionality cannot be used to magically transform members of an oppressor class into members of an oppressed class to confer on them all the benefits of positive measures allocated to the oppressed class to remedy systemic discrimination as well as all the entitlements they have already enjoyed and in many respects continue to enjoy as members of the oppressor class. That is what the transgender movement does by claiming that transwomen are women, and not merely claiming but asserting it as uncontestable fact as a trick of language. Women – you know, the people formerly known as biological females living under a construct of gender that shapes other people’s reactions to us irrespective of our subjective feelings – we women are now facing a similar kind of inside-out transformation of public and private that I faced when locked up in psychiatry 40 years ago. Public becomes private and private becomes public so that there is no definitional boundary or physical space claimed by women that men cannot invade. The boundaries are defined by males, period. We cannot talk about female sex or sexuality, about female bodies and their unique features and capacities, as feminists, it is increasingly culturally, politically, and even legally unacceptable to claim the right to create culture and politics as women, to serve women’s own interests. The transgender movement does not oppose pornography of women – the exploitation of female bodies by men – rather they tend to align with pro-pornography and pro-prostitution, although most of the transgendered males who are killed by male violence are killed in the sex industry, made vulnerable similarly to women by that industry that is based on the hatred and abuse of women.

(I have not made a thorough examination of the radical feminist writings on prostitution but I am convinced that it entails dissociation of women, separation of self from body, in a way that amounts to abuse, and that exchanging money for this abuse does not legitimize it. I do see the complexity in relation to agency under limiting conditions, because women do not have equal opportunities in work, and if we are always expected to give a little extra, if men are always extracting sexualized labor from us anyway, why not do it upfront and make it simple and real? From what I am understanding, the vast majority of women in the sex industry have nothing resembling free choice sometimes in getting in and also once they are in, and so I support structural change to end the industry in this case over the individual rights of women to make this accommodation with patriarchy in preference to other strategies. I do not know how transgendered males relate to the sex industry, if they too dissociate and utilize these feminized strategies in order to make an accommodation in a world that hates them, or if as males there are significant differences. But their interests cannot trump those of women to be free from a particularly destructive form of male abuse and violence.)

Not only can we not talk about women’s bodies as feminists. In addition, when gender identity is made to supplant biological sex, or gender in the sense of identities constructed by society, for the purpose of non-discrimination guarantees, we lose the ability to use law to secure women’s rights as women, since women can have no guarantees that males cannot reverse on us simply by claiming to be women.

It is time for a rethinking of public and private as women, as females, as lesbians, to re-situate ourselves with respect to law, public space, private space, with respect to public vs private as government versus private enterprise, as civil society versus home and family, as social role or responsibility versus personality and subjectivity. Lesbian feminist thinkers like Claudia Card and Sarah Hoagland have given us some ways to look at lesbian relationships and community, as a form of social order outside patriarchy (yet surrounded by it and infiltrated by it). Yet these conversations have mostly taken place as a way of theorizing what might amount to carved-out private spaces within the public orders of patriarchy. What if we move further, as Claudia Card began to do with her theories of friendship, to talk about lesbian claims on public space and all aspects of what public can mean.

This entails situating ourselves in relation to the patriarchal state and understanding it fully as patriarchal and thus not ours, as a coercive order that we do not control though we can influence both by appeal to its internal principles like equality and non-discrimination, and by political agitation. We have to re-problematize the public, the patriarchal state, in relation to all women, to reinstate a value of privacy as women, and to re-conceptualize public and private in ways that start from embodied personhood and bodily autonomy, and female sovereignty in the creation of culture, including economic relationships and systems of trade and production, and including the possibility or a new or different legal and political order.