Why Misogynists Make Great Informants: How Gender Violence on the Left Enables State Violence in Radical Movements

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Why Misogynists Make Great Informants: How Gender Violence on the Left Enables State Violence in Radical Movements

Still reading this piece, but needed to share right away!

I'm asking that this be a feminist discussion between women babblers.


Maybe it isn’t that informants are difficult to spot but rather that we have collectively ignored the signs that give them away. To save our movements, we need to come to terms with the connections between gender violence, male privilege, and the strategies that informants (and people who just act like them) use to destabilize radical movements. Time and again heterosexual men in radical movements have been allowed to assert their privilege and subordinate others. Despite all that we say to the contrary, the fact is that radical social movements and organizations in the United States have refused to seriously address gender violence ... as a threat to the survival of our struggles. We’ve treated misogyny, homophobia, and heterosexism as lesser evils — secondary issues — that will eventually take care of themselves or fade into the background once the “real” issues — racism, the police, class inequality, U.S. wars of aggression — are resolved. There are serious consequences for choosing ignorance. Misogyny and homophobia are central to the reproduction of violence in radical activist communities. Scratch a misogynist and you’ll find a homophobe. Scratch a little deeper and you might find the makings of a future informant (or someone who just destabilizes movements like informants do).

Issues Pages: 
remind remind's picture

could we have a link?

writer writer's picture

Oops! Sorry about that, remind!

[url=http://inciteblog.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/why-misogynists-make-great-in... Misogynists Make Great Informants: How Gender Violence on the Left Enables State Violence in Radical Movements[/url]



[start Personal anecdote/complaining]

When I was involved in student activism, I experienced a lot of 'male privilege' among activists.  It became sort of a joke between female activists, because it was fairly predictable.  It would manifest itself in a few different ways. 

For example, during informal political discussions (say over beer), a male activists (usually a political science grad student) would end up patronisingly 'explaining things to the girls'.  The assumption of course was that 'the girls' were new to activism, and new to political discussions.  Then, when the 'girls' in question began debating him (using his own, erroneously cited sources) he would get angry and start calling then names and telling them that THIS IS WHY the left is so divided.

THIS being not passively sitting and absorbing his greater knowledge.  The male in question was accustomed to blowing away the 'girls' with his suave dialectic, and did not like being 'shown up'.  I think some men use their 'activism' as way to pick up, and when that fails, they feel like they've been rejected and lash out.


There were times when it was truly awful though.  An activist friend of mine ended up getting into a very public, and divisive argument with a male activist colleague.  They were both part of the same group, but didn't see eye to eye on everything.  The male was consistently disrespectful to her during meetings, cutting her off, speaking over her, contradicting her and so on.  Rather than taking it, she would name his behaviours and ask him to stop doing it, and then continue saying what she had originally been trying to say.  It was extraordinary to watch at first, because a lot of us had been used to this sort of behaviour, and having her say, "you're trying to shut me up by ridiculing me as a person, rather than addressing the concern I'm bringing up" was a bit of a wake-up call.

However, the disagreement got intensely personal, and he began calling using traditional slurs (bitch, man-hating dyke, angry-because-she's-ugly, etc) on list-serves and such.  A lot of people didn't speak out about the abusive nature of his tactics (she did not reciprocate in kind).  Some left the group rather than deal with the drama.  A lot of people blamed her for 'causing it'.  I think it still bothers her.  It still bothers me.

I don't deal well with that kind of hostility.  It both scares and angers me.  It's abusive, and it's victim blaming.  What's worse is that among progressives, it's quite often assumed that this sort of thing doesn't happen or is extremely rare.  To the contrary, I find it's one of those things you simply have to navigate as a female activist.

[ end Personal anecdote/complaining]

remind remind's picture

Thanks writer, just read it, and it is a synopsis of what I have discovered over my years.Just change the names and places.

In fact it, is this reality that underscores my belief that misogyny must be challenged, everywhere, all the time. As pandering to patriarchy does nothing except exclude and alienate, and in the end does nothing to change patriarchial control.

And this article has reaffirmed an action that I was hesitant to undertake.


An excellent article, thanks for the link writer.

I notice that I am drawn to women only activism recently, I think there is a need for a wider statement from women that we can and must change.


great article, those sound like some real horror stories.  especially important was the part about people being scared to speak out about abusive behavior because of the persons "long history of activism".  A good reminder of how if we let them, activists movements fall into the same patters of idolizing people and giving them a free pass, instead of thinking of them as just another human full of contradictions and faults like the rest of us, and challenging them on it.

I also liked the part about the guy giving the long winded academic style lectures that made no sense to anyone but him.  That's always an indicator someone either doesn't know what they're talking about or is lying, when you can't understand what the heck they're talking about!


writer writer's picture

Thanks for posting that. I find myself in a very similar place. I was recently in a discussion where a white guy started to talk about identity politics, and how it has negatively affected "The Left" and created an inability to respond to the challenges of the day. I was really mad about it, but didn't say much. I'm still mulling over my response.

It's like there's no acknowledgement that the broader left has been controlled by a very particular, very narrow identity politics for quite a long time. Only when others demand to have access, voice and their perspectives acknowledged – and they refuse to simply fold themselves into the established (straight, white, male) agenda / culture / priorities – do we hear from the gatekeepers that there is a problem.


One of the main reasons I am extremely wary about working with activist groups anymore (I'm making a distinction between activist groups and community organisations, which might be unclear since there is a lot of overlap...) is the gender and race issue.  I get tired of facing male privilege and male/female 'white middle/upper class' privilege.  I used to speak out against it a lot more than I do now, because now I simply opt out and work with 'my own kind'.  I know a lot of women who have chosen to do this.


When I say I'm tired of the kinds of privilege I mentioned, it's manifested in different ways.  I don't want to deal with overbearing people of either gender, who ignore or belittle others or make assumptions about them and refuse to listen to them.  That style of organising and discussing is very prevalent.  Very little is done to address is.  This is probably why I'm so interested in the 'meta' here on Babble.  I want there to be a change, but it seems there is hardly even any recognition that there IS a problem, which baffles me.  (just look at the male domination of discussions thread for that absence)

I also don't want to deal with the 'guilt complex' so many activists (particularly male, or white middle/upper class activists) seem to have.  It manifests itself either in a creepy and intrusive 'interest in [our] culture/experiences', or in a defensiveness brought on by believing [we] see them as the enemy somehow.



This isn't a new phenomenon though, as highlighted by the article.  It's disturbing that it hasn't really been dealt with well.  Just look at feminism...often criticised as being racist and classist, even still.  There have been massive improvements, absolutely...perhaps even more so in this area of the 'left' compared to others, but it is still a problem in many ways.  At least there is a dialogue about it though, even if not everyone engages in it.  Nonetheless it still causes many women from non-white, non-middle class backgrounds to 'split off' out of frustration.

So you see those continuing problems in an area that does try to tackle the tough issues from time to time...and you think about other areas where none of this is discussed at all...it can get you down.


Also, how much are 'idenity politics' fostered by alienation caused by interactions with privilege?

writer writer's picture

Exactly! But those who speak up – naming the problem – then become the problem. And so the dudes (and privileged women) continue to hold forth, telling us all what the real priorities are, and how we should deal with them. Scratching their heads that the movement seems to have lost momentum. Well, yes, their movement has. No wonder.

One of the things I adored about this piece was the way the author tied race, class and gender together.


Skdadl, I think the context you bring in terms of the historical situation in the US is really important.  I think the article touched on it as well when it comes to the continuing vulnerability of non-white male activists, as being a sort of unintended shield against personal responsibility. 

In the context of aboriginal struggles, there has been a lot of tension between aboriginal feminists and male aboriginal leaders.  There is definitely the message the 'sexism can wait' until systemic racism is less of a force in our lives.  This was markedly powerful during the American Indian Movement, but continues, challenged by the not-always-popular Native Women's Association of Canada.  Also, when you have pressure to provide a 'united front' against forces that actually want to destroy you, it can be seen as unforgivably divisive to challenge gender violence within the group.  This of course is moreso the case when you're facing actual state violence at the leve you're speaking of.

That violence is still present, however, if somewhat less extreme (generally, though it flares up in places like Burnt Church, and Oka...) and is STILL being used by some as a way to silence the concerns of women and queer aboriginals.  It's not limited of course to aboriginals...



That is a very rich article -- it seems to me to address two different major problems that none the less converge (misogyny on the left, and subversion of the left), and it leaves me for the moment with a number of separate memories that I'm not sure I can connect right away. I think I need to read the whole thing through again (and I still haven't got to the comments).

I definitely remember the misogyny of the leading male heavies of the sixties left. I've long thought that the first reason for the rise of women's lib among women of the left in the late sixties was the male heavies of the left. ("The only position for women in SNCC is prone" -- Stokely Carmichael -- I think he actually meant "supine.")

I don't delude myself that I saw the worst of it. I don't think it diminishes any Canadian woman's struggles to admit that American women and especially women coping with, eg, the leadership of the BPP were facing major-league violence of a kind that never developed here, partly because the BPP had been forced into war mode by the American state. There's just no understating how intensely violent and paranoid the world became for the American left in the late sixties. So it was hard for safe little people like me to criticize, much less disown, misogynist jerks who we knew were often on the run for their lives, even as we were also learning that they were misogynist jerks.

Maybe I was just lucky. When I first came to Toronto (1971), I was already in touch with an old high-school friend from Calgary, Krista Maeots, a woman of a special kind of strength whose story has still to be told, and through her I met an amazing group of strong feminists (who sometimes ended up on opposite sides of severe political splits). I have never ever had the strength in person, in 3D life, to lead in the way that, eg, Jackie Larkin and Varda Burstyn did, or on the other side of the aisle, Kelly Crichton, but those women put something into my head that I cannot betray. They protected me at the time, I now realize, by facing down the male heavies irl again and again and again, I'm sure at some personal cost to themselves, but they did it for the timid sheep like me. Another old high-school friend on the left coast, Marcy Cohen, one of the instigators of the choice caravan to Ottawa, was doing the same thing, and I know that came at a cost.

They did force a change among the male heavies, though, the beginnings of one at least. They made it easier for wimps like me to challenge the jerks, or just tell them off or brush them off.

I can't do personally what they did, never could, and a lot of women my age have that limitation -- we were brought up with a personal insecurity that is extremely difficult to shed, so we are crummy fighters in person. We wait too long, and then we flail when we have to fight, and we learn soon enough that that doesn't work, so we retreat.

But we can do other things, and having that vision of justice and equality and courage burned in your brain can affect all the work you do ever after. Since I met her, it has always mattered to me that I should never betray Jackie Larkin, eg. I don't know whether that sentence will mean anything to anyone but me, but it means a lot to me, and it is the truth for me.

About the infiltrators and provocateurs: gah. I don't know what we do. I believe -- but this is just gossip, if sort of reliable gossip -- that I knew an RCMP plant in a political group in the early 70s. He was quite unlike the profile of the guy in Morris's article. He was vanilla. He was everybody's friend but actually nobody's friend in particular. He never lead from the front, actually said very little at meetings, although he was always happy to join in any practical work. He always turned up; he was attractive and generous ... but when some of us thought about it later, he didn't seem to have a personal life at all, attractive though he was. He was like something out of a designer magazine for radicals, all decor, no soul.

Maybe that's one difference between USian and Canadian infiltrators, or maybe it was. Their guys pushed further faster; our guys were often low-key, just collecting data.

I'm sure there are agents here now who are doing the provocateur number -- Montebello always being the touchstone and proof -- although so many of them seem so easy to out when they go that far.

And a completely separate observation: Umbrella Woman (driving off cameras and protecting her smash-happy comrade from being filmed) and Snarling Undercover Female Cop (doing pretty much the same thing, while impersonating what a friend calls a deranged badger -- you know who I mean) -- sisters under the skin?




A male activist I respect got into (one of the many) shitstorms on Facebook after the G-20.  He posted a status update expressing his outrage about the behaviour of the cops, and a woman poster argued with him saying she has relatives who are cops, the cops have a tough job, etc.  

So he called her a whore.  I'm not sure how to deal with this.  He and his wife have been friends of mine for years.  My husband is appalled, and says this greatly diminishes his whole view of the guy.  I'm willing to forgive it as an emotional outburst, and I said, next time I see this guy, I'll say something like, you want to dialogue with progressive women, you don't call ANY WOMAN a whore, even if you're talking about Ann Coulter.  But my husband has begged me to not say anything, saying I'm only inviting abuse upon myself.

I guess I'm tired of the innate aggressiveness of men, and women always forced into a position of having to react to their behaviour.

remind remind's picture

why would you not do what you wanted to do, and leave husband's begging aside?

My partner of soon to be 31 years, would never attempt to tell me to keep my mouth shut in the face of someone being verbally abusive because he felt it would then be directed at me. he is not my knight in shining armour there to "rescue" me, as he sees fit, he is my partner to support me in what my choices are, even if he as a male thinks differently.

He would know that I would see him, and correctly so, as part and parcel of sustaining the verbally abusive patriarchy who do that in an attempt to silence and marginalize women.


remind remind's picture

personally, I  think it is innately aggressive to ask a woman to silence herself, to her friends especially, it is also alienating of friends, as how can one continue to be friends with that standing between?


our silence allows....


Thanks, writer, remind.  My husband feels he is protecting me from verbal abuse, though I have told him that offering such protection is sexist.  It didn't occur to me, that it's aggressive, asking a women to silence herself, but I think you might have a point there, remind.

writer writer's picture

Last night, a story teller was telling stories. Robert Service: squaw. Some other shit: rich women in silk not opening their thighs to poor (male! white! heterosexual! of course!) geniuses who longed only for the comfort of a woman or at least a whore ...

Here I was, surrounded by a progressive community with explicit support for equality, and nobody made a peep about it. I was sitting in the front row. Because I know how hard it can be to get up and perform in front of an audience, I very rarely walk out.

I stood up, there in the front row. And I walked out, gum boots slapping against the concrete floor.

I spoke loudly outside the hall about what I had just been subjected to. About how unacceptable it was. Tween girls were just outside the doors, so they got a good dash of a woman standing up for the notion that women aren't the right of men - genius or otherwise. The notion that women are equal. The notion that native women are equal. And that this shit had no place here, or anywhere.

I don't know how this action will filter down through this small, tight community. I know I feel great about it. I know I feel like I was true to myself, and standing up in solidarity with all the women demeaned by this dinosaur.

Enough, already. Sineed, I would give you sooo much support if you stayed true to your own instincts! So much of the time, we are told to second guess them. And that can cause no end of trouble, no end of grief. xo

writer writer's picture

With each silencing, our world grows smaller. Our strength grows weaker. Our sense of empowerment dims, and the notion that we need protection from potential threats striking us when we speak out about our rights, about being equal, about respect – that notion wraps tendrils around our throats, and we are strangled by fear. Our protectors do us no favours. They kill us with a cruel kindness. With patronizing coddling and imagined punishments from the outside.

The best to you, Sineed.

writer writer's picture

Sineed wrote:

Thanks, writer, remind.  My husband feels he is protecting me from verbal abuse, though I have told him that offering such protection is sexist.  It didn't occur to me, that it's aggressive, asking a women to silence herself, but I think you might have a point there, remind.


My ex constantly told me to 'let things go', and I really regret following his direction...especially when one of the things he told me to let go was the harassment I faced at work.  He was afraid, as was I, that I'd lose my job and maternity leave benefits for complaining.  Because that boss wasn't stopped, yet again, he went on to hound a colleague of mine, even after she found out she had cancer...he tried to get her sick leave benefits cut. 

I will never forgive my ex for counseling me constantly to not ruffle feathers...that went against who I am as a person, and I would never stand for it again.  I am also upset with myself for going along with it.


remind remind's picture

Great post at 19 writer, spent the last several days with my fabulous, thank you for bringing that word back into use skdadl, granddaughter.

We talked a lot about just what you so emotively expressed writer, in one short paragraph. We also spoke at length about women's history, and our struggle for our human rights. This year was the "ah ha" year for her apparently. What she indicated to me about how her and her friends are handling sexism amongst the male 13/14 year olds, was amazing, it truly gives me hope.

And her undertstanding of racism and white supremacy, and how to illuminate it, by far surpasses many here. Including myself, ;) I think. :D

My heart is way lighter, as my fear for her, prior to our hours long sharing, was significant, and I dispaired. Now, not so much, as our friend unionist has stated, if  she is an example of the majority, then the teenagers today are going to be a strength to be reckoned with.

Her insights into fake people were hilarious....I had thought of her as Prime Minister material, but maybe social justice comedy would be more  apt. ;)


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Another sad example of the toxic effects of testosterone on the immature mammalian brain.


Classism is still going strong in the campus sustainability movement. It's all about a level of 'dedication' to process over action on some fronts that makes it impossible to hold a job and study and be a board member simultaneously. Also a strong priveleging of hierarchy and board membership and board judgement about the appropriateness and optics of supporting student action that is not intiated by them or by priveleged friends. Speaking out just causes acrimony and 'inefficiency' talk that I've not even heard working with right-wingers on the job at work.

But, heading to higher levels of higher education requires such things on the resume, and so those who are priveleged with time and resources and blessed with a 'passion for sustainability' and no need to work otherwise have the time to devote to scrapping tooth and nail for leadership and domination, male and female. Even to the point of pooh poohing antiopression theories as not their issue, and consensus as a waste of time. Most of this makes it a thinly veiled greening movement friendly to privelege rather than one that includes any social sustainability at all. 


Basically, most of the would-be student collaborators are driven off by the exclusive, self-important group organizers (particular school) I'm discussing, and only things that look unthreatening to the administration are pursued. Anything related to critiquing the university is avoided completely. Anything that would upset business students is avoided completely. Structural issues are not taken on. I'm for building alliances, but this group has almost coopted itself into meaninglessness and near-inaction. Just as the administration's officer prefers, maintaining an appearance of control and a dialogue of leadership spread by the top when really it is nothing like that at all. 

Misogyny is less a part of it in our case than privelegism/classism and an unholy respect for hierarchy and authority to the point where even asking for change is too much is a much bigger part. It's been a great disappointment joining and leaving this group.

Red Tory Tea Girl

I saw the title and immediately thought of Sylvia Rivera, Beth Elliot, and Sandy Stone... it didn't take much for the second wave's leadership to turn on trans and other non-normative women with a vengance that would not be denied. Time and time again, in the name of feminism, we eat our own, and betray our own stated principles, whilst serving as the hard right's useful idiots. When the Reagan administration wanted to attack trans women or sex workers or erotica, Janice Raymond, recent witness for the crown in the recent case that ruled the criminalization of necessary elements of sex work was unconstitutional, was their go-to author.

Of course, that, combined with the curious silence of those intellectuals in progressive politics who, given their educational background, could easily voice an informed opinion, means that misogyny will continue to fracture the left, and there remains no opportunity to clarify the divisions.