The Cult of the Male Expert (Becca Weaver explains why she participated in the protest of Kristian Williams)

The Cult of the Male Expert

by Rebecca Weaver

 

Hello, dear reader. My name is Rebecca Weaver. I’m a trans woman, meaning I’m a woman who was born with a so-called “male” body. I’m also a political radical, an anarchist, and a feminist. I’m personally not that into identity politics—I want total liberation for all human beings. But I like to think my identity and my politics have a bit to do with each other. Trans women, after all, are some of the people most harmed by this sexist society. Like so many trans women, I’ve been sexually assaulted. I’ve been discriminated against while looking for a job, and I’ve been evicted from a house—both for being a trans woman. I’ve been harassed in bars, on the bus, and on the sidewalk—sometimes people just being rude and asking stupid questions, sometimes people screaming at me, calling me a “tranny” or a “faggot.” And at times it’s even escalated to me getting punched in the face. But what’s probably hurt me most of all, is when I’ve been betrayed by people in my own progressive/radical community, by people who I thought were my friends, by people who I thought I could trust.

So I like to think my identity and my politics have something to do with each other. Being who I am, I haven’t really had the luxury of buying into the system. I’ve learned to think for myself. I’ve learned to feel for the underdog. Like so many trans women throughout history—from Sylvia Rivera to Chelsea Manning—when I’ve seen injustices, even injustices where I’m not the main target, I haven’t been able to stay silent. And this is why I can’t stay silent about the injustices dished out by Kristian Williams and those like him.

For those not aware, Kristian Williams is an anarchist author and an anti-police activist in Portland, Oregon. He is someone who in many ways I am very similar to politically. Unfortunately, he is also someone who hates women and pursues an anti-feminist form of politics.

Kristian Williams and those like him hold themselves up as rational “male experts” above criticism from those who are not similarly logical or qualified. The people who aren’t allowed to criticize them are generally folks who aren’t cis, white men—folks like me, for instance. Like me, the male experts’ politics are influenced by their identity. Unlike me, their identity causes them to be gullible and swallow mainstream lies, particularly misogynistic stereotypes. The male experts push an extreme form of identity politics, based around their identities as cis, white men, without ever admitting to it publicly or even perhaps being fully aware that this is what they are doing. They confuse their lack of understanding or caring about other people’s experiences for objectivity. They confuse their ignorance for expertise.

I didn’t always see things this way. And I am new to this conflict surrounding Kristian Williams. I’ve only lived in Portland as an adult for the past two years. Neither Kristian Williams nor his fellow anti-feminist bros Peter Little or Paul Messersmith-Glavin have ever done anything to me personally, but ever since an event in Portland last year called Patriarchy in the Movement, I’ve been hearing about what these dudes are doing. Multiple women, women who are amazing activists and radical political organizers, have shared their eyewitness accounts with me. And I’ve been shocked by what I’ve heard.

I should start from the beginning. All this business started a long time ago with one woman who was violently abused by her boyfriend. She broke up with the guy and wanted him to go to see a counselor and drop out of political scene. That’s it. She wasn’t asking for jail time; she wasn’t asking for money; she was only asking for those two simple things. She thought he should drop out of politics because during an intense protest, a protest where people might get arrested or worse, she didn’t want to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with somebody who used to beat her ass. And who can blame her? Would you want to keep seeing your abuser over and over again? Would you want to place your trust again in your abuser, to trust that he would have your back in such a sensitive situation? I sure as hell wouldn’t want that. I don’t think many people would want that.

This is where Peter Little, Paul Messersmith-Glavin, and Kristian Williams come in. No one has said that they themselves have abused women. What we are saying is that they are supporters of dudes who abuse women. What we are saying is that they’ve used their credibility as male “experts”—the fact that people who know nothing about a situation will immediately believe them before they believe a woman or trans person, simply because of who they are—to spread misinformation, sexist lies, and anti-feminist political analysis. The original woman’s ex-boyfriend was a charismatic white male who was a graduate of a women’s studies program. Despite being an abuser! He was a male expert, too—an expert on women, no less! And many people didn’t want to see him leave the struggle. So for the next handful of years, Peter, Paul, and Kristian–let’s call them the Patriarchy Defense Squad for short–swooped into action to do everything they could to discredit the original woman and anyone who stood with her. They said she was a crazy psycho. They said she was plotting violence against a child. They said she and her supporters were COINTELPRO agents. They said she and her supporters were “authoritarian” and “totalitarian” for daring to criticize what they were saying and doing.

So this was something I had been hearing about for almost a year, but I had been standing on the sidelines. I thought it was awful, and what those dudes were doing made me sick. But I had my own problems, you know? Just keeping my head above water has often been a daily struggle. So for a long time, I thought it was better that I not get involved in this as it didn’t seem to directly impact me. Also, there was a lot I thought I didn’t know. I wasn’t an “expert” on the situation.

Then I saw that Kristian Williams was going to be speaking at radical political conference here in Portland called the Law & Disorder Conference, and I saw that feminists were planning a protest. I saw how much backlash these feminists were getting for their intended protest, and well, things finally started to click for me. They had a legit critique of this dude, and all they were saying is that he shouldn’t be given a platform to speak at a big event in the community when so many people had such huge, huge political problems with him, with what’s he’s written, with what he’s done. But that was unacceptable to many. Kristian was a male expert—the ultimate one, in fact, for being such a well-respected male anarchist author. You couldn’t simply deny someone of this caliber his platform. So to punish these feminists, folks were attacking them, comparing them to Mao Tse Tung and the prosecutors at the Salem Witch Trials. Paul Messersmith-Glavin made jokes about how the feminists wanted to burn the books of anarchists. And I was like, really? These feminists are engaging in a principled, nonviolent protest, and you are making all these ridiculous, overstated attacks on them? That’s when I realized something.

It’s actually the male experts of the Patriarchy Defense Squad who have the totalitarian vision. They believe in all-patriarchy-all-the-time. They believe they should be able to purge whichever woman or trans person they want to out of the movement, without getting criticized, and if others have a problem with it. . .well, those people have to get purged, too. Most of the things written in Kristian Williams’ article The Politics of Denunciation are psychological projections. The true narrow, fanatical clique, the true authoritarians–why, they are Kristian Williams and his fellow male experts! They are the ones who are violating security culture, comparing anyone who disagrees with them to a COINTELPRO agent. They are the ones who launch sexist, personal attacks on women, saying we are crazy and irrational, saying things like we want to violently harm children. Everything they say, everything they do, is part of a finely-tuned, masterful program of political repression against women, feminists, and survivors. This is their true field of expertise.

And so I realized this movement would never be a real home for me so long as dudes’ like these were able to operate in a manner like this without challenge. I’m a trans woman with radical views who stands up for herself. It’s gotten me in trouble with my “comrades” before. And so I realized that a movement where powerful white male experts like these call the shots around who can stay in the movement and who can’t will never be a safe movement for me. And so it turned out that on a basic level my struggle was actually the same struggle as those who were protesting Kristian Williams, even though Kristian Williams himself had never done anything to me. So I decided to join the feminist protesters of Kristian Williams.

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“Some Dude in Portland” Response to Kristian Williams’ “The Politics of Denunciation”

Response to “The Politics of Denunciation”By some dude in Portland

Kristian Williams’ “The Politics of Denunciation” is a misleading article full of faulty arguments, starting with the fact that the entire foundation that it is built on is a lie. Williams states that“a friend of mine attempted to pose several questions” which is,at best, a strong misrepresentation of what occurred. The friend stood up to read a pre-written statement defending an individual who had been critiqued by another attendee of the event.

It is irresponsible to pretend that the questions were merely being posed for discussion when they were part of a statement to deflect blame and critique around the specific patterns of behavior of an individual. The outrage and shock from the crowd, or “angry roar”, was in response to this statement, particularly because speakers at the event had just spent the last couple of hours talking about how survivors are frequently disbelieved or reasoned away. That brought a lot of trauma up for many in attendance.

Denunciation bemoans the fate of those that lost friends, lovers or organizations because they didn’t want to take sides. What this neglects is the wide range of other people who lost their friends, lovers or organizations because they felt isolated, unsupported or abandoned. The act of “not taking sides” is anything but because it requires taking a side. Not providing support is taking a side. Not critiquing a friend or ally because it makes you uncomfortable or unpopular is taking a side.

As for the article’s point that strife was created in the aftermath,it is correct that it happened but wrong in the presentation of it. The Patriarchy in the Movement event did not create strife by itself. It was the statement that was read to defend against the critique of an individual’s behaviors that caused the strife. In the aftermath, many people did split ways but that is not denunciation per se,it is called standing up for your principals and standing with allies.

Denunciation makes a plea to continue to organize with instead of against abusers and criticizes organizers who push others out instead of working to heal them. This plays into the recurring trend of prioritizing an abuser’s needs or their inclusion into a community at the expense of those they have acted against. This argument is dangerous for the implications that are frequently justified by it. A perpetrator is seen as an important asset to a scene and their continued involvement gets prioritized over the survivor who is then left to accept the blame if they disengage. The idea of working with abusers should be addressed but not until our communities have developed the knowledge, capacity and desire to support survivors through their trauma.

The argument that Denunciation uses is not new and stinks of the old “black and white unite to fight” rhetoric. If there was a campaign against police brutality in a community that was predominantly people of color, can one seriously assume that Williams and his advocates would use the same arguments to prioritize the involvement of white power nationalists? No, we should not. But this is just about feminism so…

Denunciation critiques the survivor-centered accountability approach by saying that a group can make vague call outs in order to pass judgment rather than make a specific accusation about someone. It is odd that Williams makes this point considering that a specific critique about an individual was aired at the event which led to the statement being read defending the individual. It can’t be both ways can it? Denunciation tries to make two arguments that contradict each other. The first argument is that listening to the survivor is dangerous because they can be so vague about details that you can’t refute a vague allegation. The second argument is that you shouldn’t listen to a survivor when they are specific because the real issue is found in theoretical questions. The only way that those two statements are not contradictory is if one reads them both as true and walks away with the conclusion that the experiences and opinions of survivors simply don’t count.

Denunciation attempts to remove the context that created the fallout after the Patriarchy in the Movement event. It seeks to frame a purely theoretical debate (with faulty frameworks included) and removes the subjectivity that brought the issue to a head in the first place. It misrepresents what happened and presents the issues in a false light. More importantly, many that were affected by the fallout from the events of a year ago are now placed on the defensive with their backs to the wall again. The sheer amount of emotional trauma that was slowly healing from the last year has been kicked around again. This demonstrates what the priorities are for supporters of Denunciation,that theoretical points (however faulty they are) are more important than the experiences of people who have endured through abuse and assault.

Feminist Opposition: Kristian Williams Shut Down at Law & Disorder 2014

On May 10, over a dozen feminists protested Kristian Williams’ appearance at the Law & Disorder Conference (L&D) in Portland, Oregon. We challenged Williams’ continued harassment of a local abuse survivor, her supporters, and other political organizers. We did so because this harassment is not isolated; intimate violence and patriarchal power relations are pervasive in radical communities. We shut down Williams’ speech. Subsequently, video footage of the protest has circulated widely, but the political reasons for our disruption have traveled less far.

Williams’ supporters claim that he was protested “not for something he did, but […] for his perspective” — in other words, because of Williams’ article “The Politics of Denunciation.” This is only partially correct. We protested because it was vital to challenge Williams and his cadre’s anti-feminist behavior and politic. The article was produced to shield Williams’ close political associates from criticism, and to justify Williams’ prior work against survivors and feminist political organizers. Even without detailed knowledge of Portland happenings, many readers recognized “The Politics of Denunciation” as aiming to shut survivors out of the radical community. Providing some background to the article is necessary.

In early 2013, feminist organizers from radical communities up and down the West Coast hosted a panel in Portland, Patriarchy and the Movement. During the discussion session, a survivor and long-time organizer, and her support team, brought up the behavior of a well-regarded male organizer, Peter Little. Little had joined her abuser’s accountability process and used it to undermine and spread misogynistic lies about the survivor (see: Survivor Support Team Statement ). For over a year prior to PatM, the survivor and her team attempted to handle this matter discreetly by approaching Little’s political associates. At the event, as a member of the survivor support team concluded her remarks, one of Little’s comrades read a prepared statement (edited by Williams) that, while ostensibly of a broad political nature, reframed the survivor’s criticism as “personal attacks” unworthy of discussion. Neither Williams’ nor his political circles stopped there, but after the event continued to harass the survivor and other women organizers, including PatM event organizers.

In this context, Williams’ article mischaracterizes and marginalizes opponents rather than fostering discussion. Williams has never been interested in dialogue; he undertook hostile efforts against the survivor without attempting to hear anything from her perspective. Following the PatM event, Williams still wouldn’t hear her perspective or answer to any critics, exclaiming “Can we not talk about this?” when the issue came up. “The Politics of Denunciation” was just another escalation, with Williams trying to legitimize the anti-survivor tactics used in Portland and provide rhetorical cover for treating survivors like enemies.

We believe:

(1) It is never appropriate to use situations of abuse instrumentally, as a weapon against political opponents;

(2) Survivors feeling failed by a leftist “accountability” process is not grounds for ostracizing and punishing them;

(3) Survivors’ decisions to speak out about the mistreatment they receive after being failed by such processes should likewise not be punished; and

(4) Women and survivors who call attention to patriarchy in our movement should be listened to, believed and respected, not scrutinized and vilified. Characterizing women and survivors as political liabilities does not represent any sort of feminist politics.

These beliefs put us in clear conflict with sectors of the radical community. The rupture in our community began with Peter Little’s hijacking of an “accountability” process to harm a survivor, but Williams widened this breach.Williams’ role in editing the anti-survivor statement read aloud at PatM (a fact which he concealed in “Denunciation”) and subsequent characterization of those critical of Peter Little as “authoritarian” and “totalitarian” creates a hostile climate for the identified survivor as well as other survivors. Williams, Little and company have expended incredible energy not only discrediting a single abuse survivor, but offering resources to discredit other survivors who come forward in the future.

We realize that confronting Williams silenced his voice. Alright. Such confrontation is resistance. Williams has used his resources and prestige to endanger survivors and women. Williams’ attendance at L&D was a slap in the face to those who have, since PatM, been lied about and harassed by Williams and his closest associates. We protested Williams because, despite his anti-police work, he engages in political repression against those who speak uncomfortable truths about his associates. It is reprehensible to vilify a survivor, and even more so to use one’s power as a movement author to lie about that vilification and one’s part in it.  It is unprincipled to claim that these differences are about minor political disagreements, rather than about preconditions for collective work or even co-existence within a community. In asserting our place, loudly and confrontationally if needed, we carve out space to exist and to struggle.

-Patriarchy Haters