October 8, 1997
To: NOMAS Council
left Portland I've been reflecting on my experiences at the M&M conference.
While there was much at the conference I found inspiring, I've not been
able to shake my overwhelming feelings of discouragement and dismay. Things
were done and said in the name of NOMAS and pro-feminism that were at
odds with what I believe is politically and morally responsible. I want
to take the time here to share what I've been feeling with the NOMAS Council.
First, I was deeply
upset by the opening ritual presented by the Sons and Daughters of Orpheus. As
I was led by drums onto the lawn and into the circle, "smudged" with
burning incense, and then made to listen to mystical prayers to the earth, my
feelings of alienation grew so intense I had to walk away. This ritual was not
offered as an optional event; everyone at the conference was expected to participate.
In addition, we were not informed beforehand what kind of ceremony would take
Despite what may
have been good intentions on the part of the organizers of the conference, this
ceremony ran counter to the basic democratic principle of religious choice. This
ritual was a religious ceremony that was imposed upon the entire conference.
Participation in religious services must never be a requirement as it was at
this M&M. Would the NOMAS Council have felt differently if instead of being
smudged with incense we had all been asked to take communion? I see no difference
in the affront to religious freedom. I am astonished that the NOMAS Council allowed
this ceremony to take place.
Secondly, I fundamentally
disagree with the decision to bring Robert Bly to the conference. I believe that
he has no place at a pro-feminist gathering. Robert Bly's retrograde and dangerous
views on gender, his trivialization of the oppression of women, his romanticization
and distortion of the history of welfare, his unfounded and misogynous assertion
that mothers are to blame for their son's enfeeblement and anguish are all inimical
to pro-feminism and the stated mission of NOMAS.
I am not against
honest debate or dialogue. Yet, as a prerequesite for meaningful debate there
must be some common ground, some basic agreement on the nature of things. As
a pro-feminist dedicated to gender justice, I do not accept the basic tenets
of Robert Bly's world view. As I see it, pro-feminist debate with him is futile
and virtually meaningless. (After hearing him speak at the M&M I am more
convinced of this point.) I am saddened that within NOMAS there is enough accord
with Robert Bly that we agreed to bring him to the conference and provided him
with a platform to espouse his views.
Perhaps what disturbed
me most at the conference were remarks made by Michael Kimmel during his address
at the Special Event with Robert Bly. Michael reproached pro-feminists who "suggest
such patently false slogans as: 'All men are rapists.' 'Pornography causes violence
against women.' We know these to be false. All men are not rapists. Pornography
usually causes masturbation not rape."
of the views of anti-pornography pro-feminists is a crude and reductive distortion
of our politics and beliefs. His claim that masturbation is the foremost consequence
of pornography is simply wrong. Michael's glib statements disregard more than
twenty years of feminist scholarship and testimony that confirm the ways that
pornography harms women. Delivered in a forum where he represented the NOMAS
point of view, Michael's remarks are especially insulting as NOMAS' Ending Men's
Violence Network spent the previous day examining the harmful effects of pornography
on our society.
I don't believe that
the things I've described in this letter can be alleviated through processing
at a Council Meeting, or discussion in an Affinity Group. I've come to realize
that these are not isolated segments within NOMAS, but reflect something much
deeper and troubling about the organization.
A pro-feminist organization
that asks its members to partake in a religious service, gives a man who has
denied the existence of male supremacy a forum, and whose star spokesperson trivializes
the harms of pornography, I cannot be a part of. I must resign as co-chair of
the NOMAS Pornography and Prostitution Task Group and request that I be taken
off the list as an alternate to the NOMAS Council. I am appalled at the direction
NOMAS is taking pro-feminism.