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A journey in time: Intergenerational feminist summit | Tamar Ben David


A journey in time: Intergenerational feminist summit

When Wittig, MacKinnon and Chu met at a gender conference beyond time


Does a different feminine sexuality exist? In an imagined space-time that breaks the boundaries between life and death and between chatter and theory, three legendary feminists get together for a conversation about ancient limitations and new alternative possibilities for life. Each of them has her own radical, uncompromising ideas, but their language is mutual. Each of them provides a different answer, but their peers’ answers evoke something new in them.

The characters

It is March 8, 2023, 8:30 p.m. A large New York University conference hall is hosting a feminist event celebrating the end of the coronavirus pandemic. The first part of the event just ended; it was a series of talks by promising Ph.D. students, entitled “Women During the Pandemic, Feminism After It.” The talks included “Violence Against Women in Times of Pandemic and Lockdown,” “Economic Collapse as a Reactionary Patriarchal Engine,” and “Imagined Persecution: Between TERFism and Trumpism,” which Andrea Long Chu presented.

It’s dinner time, and the buffet is teeming with vegan foodstuffs. Katherine MacKinnon rests against the very last table, occasionally sticking her fork in the plate, but mostly busy inspecting other attendees. Monique Wittig shows up right behind her, as if she came out of thin air, taking her by surprise. The startled MacKinnon coughs.

Monique: Hello Katherine! Oh, careful not to choke on that cabbage.
Katherine: Monique! I had no idea you were still with us…
Monique: What do you mean, “with us”?
Katherine: I mean, I thought I saw you leaving. Never mind. How are you doing? What do you think about the conference so far? Some interesting talks. Sure are promising, these young ladies.
Monique: Well, all the more depressing. First the theme, which already felt like it was chewed over too many times way back in the first year of this bloody pandemic, and then they make you realize how old you’ve gotten. So much for “guests of honor,” who even cares we’re here? But truth be told, they are brilliant and they deserve it. I want to get a chance to speak to some of them before the party, there’s no way I’ll survive the wait till 10 o’clock here. Let’s sit at an actual table, eat more comfortably…
Katherine:I find it hard to imagine there’s a party and you’re not there. Here’s Chu, that last speaker. She made some nice observations. But her reckless fans are already all over her.

MacKinnon and Wittig take their seats just as Chu sees them and her face lit up with a big smile. She politely cuts the small talk with the students around her, as if she had suddenly spotted a table with really nice food, and approaches them.

Andrea: Oh, my God. I mean, hi. Could I possibly join you?
Monique: Sure, take a seat. Looks like you could use a rescue from that cloud of fans over there.
Andrea: I need to be a fan myself for a moment here! It’s like for years I’ve fantasized about hot conversations with the two of you, but I never imagined it would be both of you at the same time. What an honor.
Katherine: Thanks, that’s sweet of you. We were just talking about your nice lecture. I liked your analysis that avoids the risky “Biden era” comfort, and your gibes at Miss Rowling. I can’t believe this is what “radical feminism” has turned into, what a joke. And I like how you responded to it with critical analysis instead of more of the same identity politics, which everyone would have probably wanted to hear from you.
Monique: Katherine, my dear, you don’t even understand what’s become of our community nowadays. They’re always busy reaffirming the validity of each other’s identities.
Katherine: I may be straight, but I don’t live under a rock… You make enough noise.
Andrea: Actually, I think that the pandemic was another blow on the way to the final destruction of a thing that anyway created far more noise than the actual feminism(1) it claimed to represent. It’s similar to what I said about TERFism as false representation of radical feminism. We have to stop this superficial view from taking hold in the minds and actions of the feminist movement. But seeing as I already admitted to the conversations I had with you in my mind over the years, I would also be careful not to disregard the needs of the people behind that identity politics. If I’m being honest with you, I used to speak and think like that, because that was the only way I had available to me to express myself, after having been denied the possibility of being anything else for most of my life. Professor Wittig…
Monique: Oh, please, call me Monique.
Andrea: Monique, at the end of the day it’s not that different from what you yourself wrote about the need for the historical subject as an essential component of class consciousness(2). And just like Marxism couldn’t stop women from developing their own class consciousness under the pretense that they were dividing the workers’ struggle, feminism, too, cannot argue against diverse gender identities and claim they’re dividing women’s struggle(3). We just have to put things in the right context.
Monique: I’m not entirely convinced that’s the right comparison to make, but in terms of taking the conversation back to the ground, this event and your talk have certainly been a success.
Andrea: Thank you very much. I would definitely like to hear where else you disagree with me, if you’re happy sharing.

Wittig strokes/scratches her chin, and she appears to be piecing together in her head a perfect response, a sharp and convincing sentence. MacKinnon interrupts.

Katherine: Look, Andrea, you’re reviving an ancient argument here between Monique and I. There’s a vast difference between exposing the different axes of oppression in the patriarchal and economic reality – and this is where I’m all for it – and floundering in infinite fractals of identity categories. At the end of the day, what it definitely doesn’t do is resist the way sexuality denotes our gender. It’s only opening new paths for it, as if the patriarchy was something to play with.
Monique: Don’t get me started.
Katherine: Oh please, you’ve heard it a hundred times. Take a breath. I don’t think that doing butch-femme…
Monique: What does butch-femme have to do with it? Do you think they even know what that is?
Andrea: Not really sure who’s “they,” but of course I know what it is.
Katherine: Hold on. I don’t think doing butch-femme… or BDSM, or whatever it is you’re doing nowadays with queer drag and anime cosplay…
Andrea: Ouch!
Katherine: Come on, I’m not trying to mock it. I’m obviously not against it in principle. But there’s nothing revolutionary about it. As long as we sit here at this conference, talking about the terrible lives women live through under the patriarchy, about gender-based and sexual violence, about an unbearable capitalist reality, how does it fit there? More and more variations, but sexuality is still the foundation for what constructs your gender – the thing that pleasures you shapes your sense of self(4).

Wittig gets up and goes to the dessert counter. Chu grabs her phone, MacKinnon is back inspecting the others in the hall, occasionally sticking a fork in one of the items on her plate. A couple of minutes later Witting returns.

Monique: Say, Andrea, as one of the family here, wasn’t pizza enough for you? Now you had to steal the croissant from us and make a bland New York version of it?
Andrea: I’m not responsible for this thing, nor for that fractal talk. But I do recommend the ice cream.
Monique: Fine, later. Listen here, Katherine, one thing I would never understand is how you dare sleeping with men and then sitting here and lecturing two lesbians about duplicating power relations with them.
Katherine: Oh, andrea, you’re lesbian, too?
Monique: Here, you do live under a rock. But hear me out, because I’m really trying not to snap at you right here in front of everybody. Two old radical feminists screaming at each other would make a great show for their YouTubes.
Katherine: Even I know there’s no such thing as YouTubes, but I’m listening, dear. First of all, I’ll just say I’m not just “sleeping” with them, but also making love to them – that’s possible even within a repressive sexual construct(5). I’m just not telling myself that this is how I start the revolution. We all have our little sins.
Andrea: Sins, that’s that. That’s what you made me feel.
Katherine: Sorry sweety, I tend to get rough when I have a point to make. I didn’t mean to offend you.
Andrea: No, it wasn’t what you said earlier. That was insulting, but whatever, I hear it from conservatives all the time. I mean the things you wrote, which failed me in far more fragile moments in life. You gave us precious tools to analyze this messed up world. I fell in love with those tools back when I was living as a man(6), and that stirred something in me. It’s like my desire for women was unworthy as a man, and while most men get stuck on that level of guilt, it suddenly let me identify the subject of desire, which was me, as something else. And then, right there, is where it does get stuck.
Katherine: I’m not sure I’m following. I said nothing about your gender identity, and I don’t recall any text where I expressed any sort of opposition to the trans movement.
Andrea: My “gender identity.” That’s the thing. You have to understand, for me it’s not reaffirming or confirming. It’s not even birthing the revolution with my own body, pardon me, Monique. But definitely, like you said, what pleasures me shapes my sense of self. For you, either there’s no way out and feminine sexuality just isn’t possible, or the only right way out, establishing the right subject, is the one adhering to the rules of the revolution. At the end of the day, you’re both horrified by the rebellious nature of desire(7). You’re scared to obey it for a moment, even outside of the righteous world of lesbian feminism or the sinful world of radical feminism. Never let it grow its own powers, God forbid. It must never be a part of who you are, of your life, there must never be anything hidden and unjustified in you. But beyond theory and discourse, beyond politics and practice… Truth is I’ve never managed to distinguish my desire to be with women from the desire to be like them(8).
Monique: You mention here a classic of the lesiban complex, or what we’ve always viewed as its destabilizing force – blurring the line between identification and attraction.
Andrea: Yes, and in that sense I’m being even more loyal to the ideals than you. I abandoned not only the men in my life, but also the man I once was(9).
Monique: Honey, this has absolutely nothing to do with my ideals. I objected to romanticizing the matriarchy long before you were an egg(10).
Andrea: Alright, I overstated for the sake of comedy. But seriously on this, I think identification is great, but it shouldn’t become this justification to how our attraction to women is essentially superior to heterosexuality(11).
Monique: Simply mentioning the classic doesn’t mean you can reproduce it. What I’ve always been trying to explain, unlike the sexuality complexes of my old friend right here, our problem fundamentally lies in the category “woman.” You somehow take the lesbian issue to justify the reaffirmation of the category “woman.” Not to disregard your trans identity, I remain a woman at the end of the day and I’m not gender-critical or anything like that, but I don’t see how the things you say puts things into context, beyond just your private desires. How does your feminine consciousness stay class consciousness, which eventually works to eliminate that class?(12)
Katherine: Perhaps that’s what I’m trying to say, that I, too, am not really sure what’s the political issue you see here. We all recognize the importance of the personal being political, that’s at the core of consciousness raising. Our experiences form the foundations to analyze truth, but that analysis cannot create through theory some alternate universe all made of texts, with individuals operating with it in a standardized language(13). What can it actually get you?

Chu drops her fork. She picks it up from the floor, stands over the table and struggles to reach a clean fork, right opposite her.

Andrea: Perhaps my consciousness needs raising, but I don’t have the energy for it. (14)

MacKinnon hands her the fork. Chu, now more at ease, takes her seat.

Monique: I promise you we’ll be nicer from now on. Bitter as we may be, we came here to meet women like you, to talk. This whole “guests of honor” thing is mostly for publicity, and we both stopped caring about it a long while ago, and obviously we got zero dollars to sit here and eat this humiliating American food. Did they at least pay you for your talk?
Andrea: As if. Post-COVID, there’s no funds, so they say. But what would this day be without Mr. Professor with his academic tenure giving some opening remarks and saying how important it is? I’d have to wait for him to die before he leaves his post, or to get a few bucks.
MacKinnon: I’d love to try and understand that, too. I mean, we’re clearly not telling you anything you haven’t heard before. It’s clear you remember what we wrote just as good as we do, and you’re certainly at least as sharp this late.
Andrea: Well, I did talk to the organizers to make sure this night ends with a party.
Monique: Do you want to go get ready?
Andrea: Oh, no, not yet, but I’m trying to give you an answer. I spoke with the organizers and presented it as a precondition. Of course I’d have come anyway to be given a stage and certainly to meet the two of you, but it was important for me to give some more life to this thing. This nightmare is finally over. Two years of quarantine, distancing and fear of doing harm to others simply by touching them. And this horrifying boredom. Oh, how boring. I’m not sure where you stand on that, but more than I long for the theorization of this crappy situation we’ve lived through, I long for a party, dancing with someone.
Monique: Cool. That’s also a form of lesbian feminism, creating spaces and alternatives for us.
Andrea: But why create them, beyond revolutionism? I think it’s similar in that way. COVID is a terrible situation, most of the talks here touched on that – sickness, poverty, violence, death. But as an everyday experience, it terms of how we live through it – boredom’s at the heart of that experience. Even if we call it alienation and repression, which it is, it’s manifested in our lives as boredom. Not to take away from the severity of it, but to make our motivation for change clearer. So I rather put even gender transition in aesthetic terms, as a decision made not in order to confirm to some innate gender identity, but because there’s nothing dumber or more boring than being a man(15). If you’re asking what we can do with it, my answer would be that that’s the only way to live – why create spaces and alternatives, why analyze and criticize reality, why be the stubborn bitches the three of us are if not to live the way we want?
Katherine: This takes us back to the start. That question has always been shaped for us – what we want was defined from the onset according to what men want(16). And it’s okay to adopt a counter-strategy. Actually, it’s fine attributing parts of the change to it. But it’s certainly not all-encompassing, these spaces and alternatives – it doesn’t have sufficient value without true freedom(17).
Andrea: Okay, but what can you eventually do with it? How can I become an agent that doesn’t only fight and resist, but also feels something? In your own words, I want to reject that choice, choose both freedom and sex. Even choose freedom through sex. This is where I totally disagree with you, Katherine(18), but from that place of recognizing that emotions, too, aren’t something that exists outside the normative realm, how do we redefine our politics to make room for them? Not necessarily as exclusive schemas, but as legitimate motivation. Sex. And beyond all that, you don’t want a thing because you’re fighting for it and will eventually get it, but simply because you want it – and that’s why you’re fighting for it(19). But now I want to finish my food, because I’ve done a lot of talking and I don’t want to be dancing on an empty stomach. Apologies for the spiel.
Katherine: Don’t apologize. That’s very nice, what you just said. I’m a little too tired at this point, and I think I’ll leave the dancefloor to you. We’ll hopefully meet at the next conference, or on the revolution’s battle lines, or something along those lines. If there’s one thing Monique and I learnt over the years is that at the moment of truth we find each other on the same side, every single time we have to fight. But I don’t do parties, and everyone’s gay here anyway.
Andrea: Don’t you forget about those drag artists and anime cosplayers.
Katherine: The student has become the master! Anyway, at the next conference, if they don’t want to pay you, give me a call. I’ll deal with them and they’ll let you know they changed their minds. Here’s my number. Monique, where are you staying? Do you want a ride? Andrea, it was an absolute pleasure meeting you.
Monique: Yes, go ahead, I’ll be right there. Andrea, it really is nice, what you said. Maybe to you we’re simply stuck in a different reality, where our desires had no room if it weren’t for these justifications. I want to resist the urge to relieve ourselves of this dispute with a cheap common denominator, but anyway, I’m glad wonderful women like you are taking the baton of leadership from us. There’s no doubt you are, in a way, a justification for the revolution. Bon appétit, dear.

I would like to thank Dr. Tanya Zion-Waldoks, under whose guidance this text was first written, for the opportunity to think and write differently.

צילום: סקאיי ריקון

Tamar Ben David

A queer feminist activist, daughter of Avital Rokach Z”L. A graduate in philosophy and Jewish thought and master’s student in cultural studies, researching gender-based violence in a critical view. Society and welfare reporter at Local Call.


Wittig, Monique, “One Is Not Born a Woman.” In Carole R. McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim (eds.), Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives (New York: Routledge, 2013), 246-250.

MacKinnon, Catherine, “Sexuality, Pornography, and Method: ‘Pleasure under Patriarchy.’” Ethics, vol. 99, no. 2, January 1989, pp. 314-346.

Long Chu, Andrea, “On Liking Women.” n+1, 2018, Accessed May 3, 2022.

(1) Andrea Long Chu, “On Liking Women,” n+1.

(2) Monique Wittig, “One Is Not Born a Woman,” in Carole R. McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim (eds.), Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives (New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 249-250.

(3) Ibid, p. 249

(4) Catherine MacKinnon, “Sexuality, Pornography, and Method: ‘Pleasure under Patriarchy.’” Ethics, vol. 99, no. 2, January 1989, p. 332.

(5) Ibid, p. 327.

(6) Chu.

(7) Ibid.

(8) Ibid.

(9) Ibid.

(10) Wittig, p. 246-247.

(11) Chu.

(12) Wittig, p. 248

(13) MacKinnon, p. 317.

(14) Chu.

(15) Ibid.

(16) MacKinnon, p. 318-319.

(17) Ibid, p. 344.

(18) Ibid, p. 327-328.

(19) Chu.


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