While the rise in white nationalist activity in the U.S. (and the recent death of a woman named Heather Heyer, who was killed when a car plowed into a crowd of people protesting a white supremacist rally) has sparked discussions, anger, and protests against the alt-right and the white supremacist movement, what has been discussed less is the role of male supremacy. Male violence against women of colour is too-often ignored both in the media and by leftist groups. In order to discuss the connections between misogyny and racism, and what the feminist movement and other progressive movements can do to better address those connections and that violence, I spoke with activist and feminist Jollene Levid.
Jollene Levid is a second generation Filipina-American union organizer and social worker from Los Angeles. For the past 15 years, she has been involved in AF3IRM, an anti-imperialist, transnational feminist organization with 10 chapters across the US. AF3IRM fights for im/migrant women’s rights, and against trafficking and militarism. Jollene is the Founding Chairperson, and currently serves on AF3IRM’s International Committee.
Meghan Murphy: While the fact of racism as a direct motivation for what happened recently in Charlottesville is a clear, what’s been discussed less, in terms of the rise of the alt-right and (public) white nationalist activity, is male supremacy. Do you see patriarchy and misogyny as connected to the incident in Charlottesville and the rise of the alt-right more broadly?
Jollene Levid: It is no coincidence that the faces of the Charlottesville white terrorists are men. I think that this is an important thing to pause and think about. I think it’s also important to think about the fact that in the few centuries that the US has existed as a country, white supremacy’s spokespeople have always been white men… Bedsheet or no bedsheet.
What we learned in AF3IRM through the study of the history of patriarchy itself is that the first place that a man learns about subjugation of women is in the home. It is programmed, it is structural, and it is no surprise that the alt-right espouse male supremacy just as vehemently as white supremacy.
M: Websites and online forums like 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit have provided a way for Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) to congregate and increase their presence in public discourse, as well as to recruit and build their numbers — do you see this bolstering of MRA activity and discourse as connected to the white nationalist movement?
J: Yes. This is an important moment we are living in. When we take a step back and think about US history and stages in which there is a sharp economic turn – Reconstruction Era, the Great Depression, the 1970s — we see the same trends amongst white men who see themselves as “attacked” or “disenfranchised.” That trend is to increase xenophobia, racism, sexism. Who is allowed to work the “desirable jobs”? Who is allowed to enter the country? Who is allowed basic rights like voting and fair housing?
When you look at MRA public discourse and white supremacy, the intersections are apparent and the grievances are the same. We live in an imperialist era and these white men are feeling “victimized” — so they in turn increase violence against those with less power than them.
MRAs and white supremacists are of the same crop.
M: While people of colour are subjected to various forms of violence in North America, via the state, the police, the prison system, on the street, in their homes, etc., the issue of race as a factor specifically in terms of male violence against women is also a reality. Do you feel this issue is discussed or addressed effectively in public discourse or in the media? Do you feel women are left out of the conversation about racist violence in the US, specifically?
J: Race and violence against women are absolutely not discussed enough in the media or in our communities of colour, even in our movements.
I want to provide some concrete examples. When Trayvon Martin was brutally murdered by George Zimmerman in Florida in 2012, there was an all-out call to take the streets for Trayvon and all black people murdered by the state and those not held accountable by it.
AF3IRM in its eight chapters at the time attended protests nationally, attended meetings, answered the call, chanted, screamed, and wept.
We proudly followed the leadership of the queer black women who founded Black Lives Matter — Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors. Many of us who are mothers of black and brown children found an additional home in the movement.
After Sandra Bland was killed and there was a call for #SayHerName protests, we showed up with the same voracity, even joining planning and leadership groups in our respective cities like the Bay and New York City.
When we got to the mobilizations across the countries, what did we see? Emptiness. Maybe a hundred protesters at each mobilization, maybe not. There was a moment on a national AF3IRM call when we had to ask one another how the mobilizations looked and a slow realization that they were smaller than any of the other protests.
We immediately turned inwards and looked at our work — did we not organize effectively or work hard enough? Was the messaging and media around deaths like that of Aiyana Jones not covered or projected enough?
We came to the conclusion that, no, the problem was not with failures in organizing or ineffective messaging. This is a result of all the people who did not have as strong a lens on gender violence, gender oppression, and patriarchy, deciding it was not as important to protest the killings of black women and girls as that of the men and boys targeted by the police. Instead of double or triple the amounts of people showing up to protest because of double oppressions, we see less. The crowd was predominantly women of colour.
Even more — where were the white American feminists who work day in and day out against violence? Were the lives of black women and girls not as important, were their deaths not enraging enough to show up for?
The experience is reflected in other protests — why is it that AF3IRM is one of the only feminist groups in the US putting forward the crisis of the 1,200+ missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in North America? What about the fact that, in the Philippines, the fascist President Duterte is allowing — even encouraging troops — to rape women under martial law in Mindanao?
We go back to the feminist question that brought us to women’s organizing to begin with: why are women secondary, even in our social justice circles? Why are women and girls of colour not on the radar of the liberal, white feminist movement?
M: Do you believe the left — and specifically groups like Antifa and Black Lives Matter — are addressing misogyny and male violence against women in their activism? If not, why? What could be done differently?
J: Regarding Antifa and BLM and other groups: In our interface with BLM, which has been positive, we understand that each chapter looks different. I know their platform, their leadership, their written strategic plans include and prioritize women. The #SayHerName protests had BLM leaders in our respective cities. They did not have the mass mobilization of people that the other protests had. I hope that folks that subscribe to BLM’s ideological and political platforms follow the lead of women like Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors in their calling for the abolishment of patriarchy along with race and class oppressions.
For Antifa groups who have taken the forefront of defense against Nazis even moreso in recent months, their public stances do not have a strong stance against patriarchy.
I spoke with an AF3IRM woman who navigates these spaces — primarily in the anarcho feminist collectives. In those spaces, which have overlap with Antifa, there was strict accountability for men who engaged in sexual assault, harassment, etc. They were removed immediately. It is the lack of a programmed, public stance that is the problem (unlike BLM).
M: Helen Lewis recently wrote about the “Day Three Story,” explaining that many terrorists’ first victims are their wives (or girlfriends/other female family members). How does terrorism connect to domestic abuse? Do you think feminism has a role to play in addressing the mass shootings and terrorism that have become so commonplace these days?
J: I think it’s important to first talk about who is a “terrorist.” I think when we step back and look at where we are politically, economically, we also have to see the US in its complicity and in its role for creating, training these terrorists.
Feminism has a role in addressing mass violence if it does what it should do: be a comprehensive movement.
Feminists are not responsible for the mass violence happening in the world, but we are responsible for building a movement to address the roots and the product (the mass violence). Feminism is responsible for anti-racist work, for anti-imperialist work, for expanding our work to a global level. This issue in particular exposes our weakness as a movement. Why are feminists — who are thoroughly and publicly and ideologically feminist leaders — not at the forefront and deeply embedded in the anti-war movement, in the immigrant rights movement, in the workers’ rights movement? Why are they separate?
We can’t decry violence and not be part of dismantling the system at the root of it. That includes the multiple oppressions in addition to patriarchy.
M: What role do women play in the alt-right, if any? Do women have any responsibility, in terms of the rise of white nationalism in the US, or do you consider them to be victims of male supremacy (as well as victims of the individual men who spout racism and anti-semitism, and perpetrate acts of violence like the one that took place recently in Charlottesville).
J: Yes they do. White women are also to blame for the rise and consolidation of the alt-right. White women voted for Trump. They are more than complicit — they are comrades in the white supremacist movement. They may experience patriarchy, of course, but that does not excuse them. They become a tool of patriarchy and sexism in their both their active engagement in the white supremacist movement as well as their complicity in it.