“Racism is a Sexual Phenomenon”

This is going to be my final post on Shulamith Firestone’s “The Dialectic of Sex”, focusing on her chapter on race – which as you might have guessed, argues for the position in the title. I’ll freely admit that race issue are not something I’m hugely familiar with, so I feel a certain reluctance to issue judgements about it, and the claim that racism “is a sexual issue” seems like a fairly sweeping one. But I’d be inclined to take it in the following sense:

“The symbolic structure of American black-white racism is based primarily on the deployment and unfolding of psychosexual symbol-structures.”

So just to clarify – the focus is on the symbolic structure, the way that different races are constructed in the cultural imagination. The relationship and degree of weight to be apportioned between this and more ‘concrete’ economic or political issues, I will leave hanging. Similarly, Firestone expressly limits her remarks to black-white racism in the United States, but suggests that similar structures can be found far more widely.

Of course you may be wondering what on earth a ‘psychosexual symbol-structure’ is. Hopefully that will become clear.

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Firestone on Art and Culture

Another of the surprising things that Shulamith Firestone’s ‘The Dialectic of Sex’ claims is that in the future post-revolutionary society, there will be no art and no culture. That of course sounds distinctly grim, but what is really meant is that there will not be the distinctions between art and science, and between culture and everyday life.

I’m going to try to lay out where Firestone is coming from, but I should confess in advance that I am not very artistic. I very rarely find art galleries more than slightly interesting, and my response to poetry has often been something along the lines of ‘why not just write that in prose?’ So my perspective is likely to reflect that.

Anyway, here’s the set-up. Some of our activities, like almost all the activities of other species, are non-cultural in that they respond more or less straightforwardly to our surroundings: we see the task that needs to be done, and we do it; we see the food and we eat it; we get told to go away and we go away. ‘Culture’ is when we formulate an idea far removed from reality, and then try to do something with it. Firestone describes this as the attempt to “realise the conceivable in the actual”.

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Down with Childhood, Part 3 of 3 – Sex and Love

So this post is supposed to be about the institution of childhood as a separate section of society, and in particular the idea of special protection for children, from exploitation and from risks, and so forth. I’ll admit I’m not at all certain of myself here. I’m going to try to articulate the anti-childhood position, but I’m still wondering if it’s correct. In fact, this has been a very difficult post to write. I keep getting the urge to back away from what Firestone is saying and scream ‘please don’t arrest me!’ The strength of the emotional resistance is immense – but then Firestone would probably say that’s the evidence that we’re getting near to something important.

The pro-childhood position is something like this: many things require consent, and are otherwise a violation. But children lack the maturity required to give meaningful consent, and so doing such things (sex, work, sex work, cosmetic surgery, living alone, etc.) is necessarily a violation of their rights to integrity and safety.

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Down with Childhood, Part 2 of 3 – against school

Having discussed the history of our modern conception of childhood here, I’m now going to try to articulate the arguments for being against that pre-eminent institution of modern childhood, the school. I’m still not sure how fully I agree with her, but I’m going to inhabit her views like a new dress here so as to get a feel for them.

The first thing to do is clarify and qualify. I do not want to deny that never have so many resources been devoted to educating children as now are, nor that there has never been as much information made available to as many people as there now is. Nor do I want to suggest that there aren’t brilliant teachers and fantastic lessons sometimes. What I want to argue is that given this level of information and resources, the method of education, schooling, is an actively wasteful and de-informing method.

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Down with Childhood, Part 1 of 3

This, and the next two posts in this series, will be an attempt to grapple with perhaps the most radical part of The Dialectic of Sex, the argument that our construction of childhood is oppressive, and that children have an interest in ‘liberation’ from it. I will proceed in three steps, two in this post and the third split between the next two.

Step 1: Make childhood conspicuous.

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Firestone and Father Christmas: Thoughts on ‘Childhood’ and young humans

Ok, so I’ve just read Firestone’s chapter on Childhood – the basic position of which is that childhood is an artificial and repressive construct, that people below they age of 16 are just smaller, less experienced people, not a different class altogether, and that our institutionalisation of such a separate realm for them, espcecially through ‘schooling’, rather than allowing them access to the adult world, has an enormously retarding and oppressive influence on them.

Now this is a very radical perspective, and very easily prompts reactions of bafflement, amazement, or vociferous denunciation. It seems a bit crazy. So rather than jumping into a the whole issue, I thought I’d develop and discuss two quite specific examples.

The first example is swearing. It has long been thought, and is now still thought by many, that women shouldn’t swear, and that ‘people’ (i.e. adult men) should not swear in front of women. Similarly, and even more commonly, it is thought that children shouldn’t swear, and that adults shouldn’t swear in front of children.

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Firestone and Freud: A Regrettably Long Post on Power and the Family

Sometimes you read something and you find it impossible to understand how you didn’t see it that way before. It’s so obvious, it was right in front of your face, and yet it escaped you.

That was how I felt reading Shulamith Firestone’s discussion of Freud.

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