Jendi Reiter: “Anarchists and Misogyny”

We are reprinting this article by kind permission of

Anarchists and Misogyny

I became friends with radical feminist activist and author Lierre Keith four years ago when my husband and I began working to raise awareness of women’s oppression by prostitution and pornography. (See our website NoPornNorthampton for more information.) Lierre’s latest book is The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability. In this controversial work, she argues that vegetarian and vegan diets are actually not as good for human health, or the planet, as an omnivorous diet that is based on more sustainable agricultural principles. The first chapter is online here.

As anyone who reads the New Testament knows, food taboos are a powerful cultural marker. Challenging them threatens people’s identity. Many left-liberal folks get a significant self-esteem boost from the belief that their culinary self-denial makes the world a greener and more compassionate place.

I don’t know whether Lierre’s right, though I plan to read her book and find out. What I do know is that violence against women is never acceptable. Silencing unpopular speakers through assault and intimidation is not liberal, compassionate, or progressive.

Some folks at last weekend’s San Francisco Anarchist Bookfair haven’t figured this out yet.

As Lierre was reading from her book at the SF County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park, three young men rushed the stage and hit her in the face with pies containing cayenne pepper–the equivalent of pepper spray in her eyes. The IndyBay website, which bills itself as “a non-commercial, democratic collective of bay area independent media makers and media outlets”, has posted a flippant story approving the assault, along with a video replaying the incident while slapstick music plays in the background [3/16/10 update: the music has been removed].

I wrote this letter to IndyBay asking them to take down the video. If my readers would like to follow suit, please send email to

As a friend of Lierre Keith, who has worked alongside her to defend women’s rights, I am appalled that you would post this video, which repeatedly shows her being hit in the face with a pie containing cayenne pepper…

Violence against women (and cayenne pepper in your eyes is certainly violence) is never a joke.

I have no opinion on the great vegan debate. I simply think that it trashes the credibility of the left-liberal and anarchist movements to allow young men to assault and silence women, and then publish the video as entertainment. If we want to reduce the power of the state, we need to show that we’re fit for self-governance, not acting like kindergarten bullies.

[Update: The video has been posted on YouTube, so if you come across it, please hit the “Flag” button to report it as abusive content.]

To add insult to injury, some commenters at the fair and on the IndyBay website derided Lierre for filing a police report. Anarchists don’t call the cops, they said. (For the record, Lierre does not identify as a member of the modern anarchist movement, though she admires the early 20th-century anarchists who fought against fascism.)

Personally, I don’t have enough faith in human nature to be an anarchist or a communist. Power corrupts, so power needs to be decentralized–distributed in a balanced way among individuals, private institutions, and the state, with constant adjustments to the balance as one or another group learns how to game the system to its advantage.

In a misogynistic society, which all societies have been to some extent, a power vacuum at the state level simply leaves individual men’s physical power over women unchallenged.

Perfect freedom for some people always means less freedom for others. It sounds nice in theory, just like the First Amendment: “Congress shall make NO law…abridging the freedom of speech”. Yet Congress does this all the time with laws regulating antitrust, copyright, securities offerings, and many other areas. However, when it comes to videos of women being attacked and humiliated for men’s entertainment (and Lierre has pointed out the similarity between the IndyBay video and gonzo porn), suddenly everyone’s a free speech absolutist.

Except, of course, the women who aren’t allowed to speak at all.

See also:

Abolishing Prostitution: The Swedish Solution – An Interview with Gunilla Ekberg by the Rain and Thunder Collective
…you have to take into consideration the impact of power differences when you address social problems…

Herbert, Brooks and Osayande on Misogyny, Money and Power;’s War on Women and Blacks (explicit)
…If there was ever a story that deserved more coverage by the news media, it’s the dark persistence of misogyny in America…

Hard-core pornography is a multibillion-dollar business, having spread far beyond the stereotyped raincoat crowd to anyone with a laptop and a password…

Prostitution is legal in much of Nevada…

A grotesque exercise in the dehumanization of women is carried out routinely at Sheri’s Ranch, a legal brothel about an hour’s ride outside of Vegas. There the women have to respond like Pavlov’s dog to an electronic bell that might ring at any hour of the day or night. At the sound of the bell, the prostitutes have five minutes to get to an assembly area where they line up, virtually naked, and submit to a humiliating inspection by any prospective customer who has happened to drop by…

The sexual mistreatment of women in the military is widespread. The Defense Department financed a study in 2003 of female veterans seeking health assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Nearly a third of those surveyed said they had been the victim of a rape or attempted rape during their service…

Fashionable ads in mainstream publications play off of that violence, exploiting themes of death and dismemberment, female submissiveness and child pornography…

A Review of D.A. Clarke, “Prostitution for everyone: Feminism, globalisation, and the sex industry”
Whatever one thinks of Clarke’s economic analysis (unrestricted loans to developing countries create their own set of problems), it’s hard to ignore the similarities between common pro-porn arguments and the ideology of the unrestrained marketplace. Neoliberalism’s key article of faith is that the marketplace is the ideal paradigm for all human interactions, and that it will produce fair and free outcomes if only we don’t regulate it in any way. (p.165) There is no room in this philosophy for noneconomic values such as kindness, human dignity, responsibility to the community, civil rights other than the right to property, or equality among social groups. Similarly, porn advocates behave as if the moral issues begin and end with women’s individual choices: as long as she’s being paid to be gang-raped, beaten, forced to drink urine, and so on, the rest of us are off the hook. Pro-porn leftists need to realize they are acting as shills for an ideology that reduces human beings to commodities or consumers, the same belief that they oppose in other contexts. (p. 169)

D.A. Clarke: Women Adopting Men’s Bad Habits Is Not the Answer
Ruthlessness, hardness, force and intimidation have characterised the successful businessman, soldier, gangster, politician and pimp from the very beginning. If we admire those qualities, we implicitly endorse the world these men have created – perhaps we subscribe to the fantasy that women can become hard enough and mean enough to compete with men on their own turf. Suppose we do so, and suppose some of us win: will a world that contains a token handful of lesbian aristocrats among its ruling class be a better world?

Pornography and Male Sexuality
…a particular incident was reported in the men’s jail during the Diablo Canyon anti-nuclear blockade. While most of the activities had a strong feminist consciousness, once 800 men were separated into the prison and prison authorities distributed pornographic literature along with other reading material, “that atmosphere began to disintegrate,” as one of the participants put it. His account continues: “Some courageous and concerned men began to see what was happening and, within a few days, succeeded in changing the jail environment back to something very close to what it ha
d been in the camp itself [prior to the blockade].”