A Typical Day in the Blogosphere

Snark-loving radfem blogger: BDSM is “painfully silly rape-based patriarchy-reenactment boinking.” Any kinky man is “some asshole who gets off on rape fantasies” and “here’s another tip: Dump him!”

Defensive BDSMer: Fuck you! There’s nothing wrong with my sex life, I personally find BDSM empower(fuliz)ing!

Snark-loving radfem blogger: you silly person and your “hackneyed crap”. You think that because you have a personal experience of something, it should be automatically exempt from criticism? “Practicing BDSM without examining your choices is like having Stockholm Syndrome”.

Even more defensive BDSMer: But I have examined it – a lot more than you have (what with the whole ‘personal experience’ thing). And it’s not necessarily any more or less ‘patriarchal’ than any other sort of sex.

Suddenly philosophic radfem blogger: Ah of course, when did I ever deny that? Due to large-scale societal factors, all sexual interactions participate in patriarchal dynamics to some degree. No person escapes complicity, any more than you can avoid participating in capitalism or environmental degradation. Normal heterosexuality is no different.

Confused BDSMer: Oh. Ok…so why do you have to be so snarky about BDSM?

Exasperated radfem blogger: You’re just being over-sensitive. Can’t you take a joke? Why are BDSMers always so defensive?

Fights on the internet? Predictable? Whatever next!

Kealey, Women-as-Job-Perks, and Feminism from First Principles

Readers may have come across this story, in which vice-chancellor at a British university publically advises (male, straight) academics to leer at their female students as ‘a perk’. It has, predictably, sparked outrage from many and defense from many others, and I’m not going to repeat that stuff – partly because, this seems to be the sort of thing where some look at it and intuitively get that this is objectionable, while other people may simply not ‘get it’, and more forceful articulations may remain too intuitive to ‘get across’ effectively to the opposite group.

The same sort of thing applies to most of the media; plenty of people can agree that, yes, people of a certain race are rarely seen in films outside of certain roles and settings, and yes, adverts feature female bodies presented as bodily more often than they do male bodies, and yes, this Kealey fellow speaks as if the only sexual question is between male professors and female students. But so what? People just need to man up and deal with it. And yes, the phrase ‘man up’ is a gendered expression, but people need to man up and deal with that too.

Perhaps a more theoretical argument may be persuasive to some such people; if not, perhaps it might be useful and worth consdering. That is, if we think that these phenomena are not just distasteful but pernicious, we might think it worthwhile to sketch how that relates to something rather like ‘first principles’. And if we find that different people draw the same conclusion from different premises, that’s something worth learning.

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Is Sex Disgusting? Feminism and Metaphysics

In previous posts I argued a few things about disgust. Firstly, I claimed that the main things that disgust us are things that violate the boundaries between mind (and associated things – form, structure, will, etc.) and matter (and associated things – inertness, homogeneity, etc.) – for instance, seeing someone’s body being taken apart, turned into mere meat, is strongly disgusting.

Secondly, as a consequence of this, we are all latently disgusted by human bodies themselves – because they (or should I say ‘we’?) are a prime example of blurring mind and matter togher. Another person’s body especially – to smell it, to touch it, to feel its hairs and pimples and tubes and membranes and secretions – is always liable to disgust us.

Thirdly, though, society requires that we get past this disgust – people can’t interact much if they all make each other feel sick. And there are two major, and opposed, ways that this happens.

One is the ‘magic’ of appropriateness: by observing the right formulas (what to say, what clothes to wear, what to cover or uncover, which hairs to trim, where to keep our secretions, etc.) we can in public turn ‘banish’ our disgusting bodiliness, and present to people a sanitised image that doesn’t remind them that we are disgusting and oozy.

The other is the ‘miracle’ of sexuality: by some mysterious process, under the right circumstances, what had previously been most disgusting is transmuted into what is most desirbale. Rather than wanting to minimise contact with another person’s body-as-a-body, we now seek to maximise it.

The defect of this analysis, though, is that it presents these two as being separate. But of course there is an overlap: even in public, we present ourselves partly in sexual terms, and even in sex, we make some effot to present a sanitised version of our bodies.

At this point though, we can see that the methods of ‘disgust-management’ become very heavily gendered, and open to political critique.

The most striking thing, of course, is that for women, the ‘overlap’ is made a much bigger deal than for men. On the one hand, the way women are encouraged to present themselves publically is sexualised much more reliably and fully. The are endless decisions about how much to conceal or reveal, how things will flatter the figure, etc.  Men have some of the same stuff going on but to a much less degree. And on the other hand, that public sexualisation is also imported into the bedroom. For instance, there’s much more pressure for women to manage their intimate body hair of various types than there is for men.

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I Do Know What I Think About Pornography

A while ago I wrote a post entitled “I Don’t Really Know What I Think About Pornography“, in which I explained my uncertain fence-sitting on the issue of whether pornography is a bad thing from a feminist point of view. Thinking recently, I realised that my views had actually become more settled, and that I wasn’t particularly interested in being ‘against porn’ in any meaningful sense. So I figured I might as well explain a bit about how I’ve reached that view.

To be clear: I’m talking about the consumption of porn, not about its production and the people involved. That’s certainly a big issue – probably a bigger issue. But it’s not the same issue – it’s an issue of consent, employment, exploitation, etc. rather than an issue of cultural images and messages. As can be seen by observing that a lot of porn isn’t produced using any models, such as comics, stories, or computer animations.

The first thing to note is that it’s often claimed by anti-porn feminists that, in some vague sense, the meaning of our actions and statements isn’t something we can completely control – we can’t, for example depict a black person as a monkey without inadvertantly drawing on a history of racist images and actions. We carry cultural baggage and whatever we put out into society carries that baggage with it.

This is used to argue against attempts to trivialise pornographic images that, say, show women being raped and loving it – regardless of how they are intended, it is claimed, these draw upon a history of trivialising rape and ignoring women’s refusals.

But this has to work both ways.

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Workers of the World, Emasculate! Women of the World, Proletarianise!

This is the final post in the series of the previous 3, on the historic connection between radical feminism (the abolition of gender) and communism/socialism.

In my last post I talked about how a weakening of gender identification would enable socialist revolution to progress without being prevented or deflected by the preference for domination (power over others) relative to freedom (power over personal circumstances) that is engendered by the masculine identity (and the ineffective passivity engendered by the feminine identity). I summarised this by saying that communists and other socialists should look not merely to ‘the proletariat’ as a revolutionary agent, but to ‘the genderqueer proletariat’.

But the creation of this genderqueer proletariat was left unexplained.

Is it something simply ‘to be created’ by going around telling people not to identify strongly with gender identities? That seems to place too much weight on voluntary decisions, as if social change can just be willed into existence by a few dedicated agitators.

Or is it something that will just happen, as an inevitable consequence of impersonal social evolution? That seems to place too little weight on voluntary decisions, as if social change is something that happens independently of the actual people who make up society.

In my view, the great merit of class analysis in Marx’s tradition is that it manages to get between these two extreme options, to reconcile the undirected nature of social change with the need for individual effort – by making that effort, specifically in the form of class struggle and class agency, a key part of social change.

So what I want to do today is to locate the weakening of gender identification as the consequence of a class struggle. In doing so, I will draw heavily on previous posts about the idea of ‘sex classes’, male and female groups defined by their relationships to sex(ual access to women) which becomes a resource in sexist society.

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Socialism and Feminism: Emasculating the Proletariat

Over the last few days I’ve been talking about why the apparently sound premises of the revolutionary equation (1. the proletariat has the capacity to revolutionise society, 2. the proletariat has an immediate motive to revolutionise society, 3. a proletarian revolution will bring about socialism) have not produced their conclusion.

The answer I had been working on was concerned that the motive mentioned in point 2., the resistance produced by the frustrations and antagonisms of capitalist society, might take the form not of a desire simply for more power (which would include power over one’s own circumstances, i.e. ‘freedom’) but specifically for the satisfactions of exerting power over others, what I have called ‘domination’. To the extent that this happens, it will conflict directly with point 3., since an equal society doesn’t offer much opportunity for even vicarious domination. The result is various forms of ‘deflection’ of rebelliousness into dead-ends.

But what I want to discuss now is why this problem might arise.

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Disgust, Society, and Sex

I talked yesterday about disgust being ‘a dualistic emotion’, concerned to maintain our sense of the separateness of ourselves as persons, and other things belonging to the personal, spiritual, symbolic realm, from that horrible mindless matter that’s everywhere.

I suggested, in fact, that insofar as this sort of dualism is likely quite basic to how we are organised psychologically, but is nevertheless also false, “personhood” might almost be defined as “matter becoming disgusted with itself”.

But this poses an obvious question – if we struggle to avoid being disgusted at ourselves, how on earth will we deal with other people? Since other people are precisely that most disgusting thing, a fusion of personhood and matter, mind and body, we find them very disgusting. But we need to live with them, so how can this work? How can the need for society overcome our mutual repulsion?

It seems to me there are broadly two (diametrically opposed) ways that we do this: decorum and sexuality.

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In Praise of Violence

There is a tendency sometimes among certain of us radical cranks with our weird views, to be generally ‘against violence’, defining ‘violence’ very widely. In particular, I’ve known some radical feminists to be unhappy at the idea of children learning to play fighting or wrestling games, play with toy guns, watch programs where people get kicked in the head by the main characters, etc.

It occurred to me that I might at times give the impression of endorsing such a view, what with my generally negative attitude towards violence and aggression, and my tendency to diagnose most of what I disagree with as involving ‘the psychopolitics of domination’ or some such phrase.

So I thought I should make clear that I don’t, and that moreover I think such as view can be easily refuted with a single observation:

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Berlusconi and Promiscuity

Silvio Berlusconi has been in the news recently for having quite a lot of sex with lots of women in various arrangements and situations (up to the point of driving his wife to divorce him).

Now, personally I don’t see much point in getting hugely het up about this, given that there’s plenty of other stuff to hate Berlusconi for (rampant corruption, electoral coalitions with Fascists, and racist policies spring to mind) but it seems to have been picked up at least in the media. And I stumbled across this article, entitled ‘Naughty, Silvio, but nice one’, the main thesis of which is, look, men just want loads of sex and so we all secretly admire this guy and wish we were like him, because, look, I believe in sexual equality and everything, but men are polygamous by nature and women are monogamous by nature* so there’s always going to be a tension between those two and we shouldn’t worry too much about.

A nice quote is “[Berlusconi’s behaviour] brings a smile to the face and puts a spring in the step” of this Telegraph writer.

And of course there’s the recurrent trope “Men and women are made differently, think differently, act differently…Men are simple creatures and, in matters sexual, are bound by a rudimentary arithmetic. Two women are better than one, three women are better than two.”

Now, this ‘made differently’ is one possibility. But let’s recall Occam’s Razor: if a phenomenon can be explained in a simple way by already known causes, we shouldn’t introduce some alternative cause to complicate the picture. And whatever trend there is of more promiscuous men can be very simply and parsimoniously explained by reference to a known fact.

That fact is that society defines men as people and women as objects. This is undeniable for up until the last 50 years or so in the West, and if people want to suggest that those millenia of history have been entirely undone in the last few decades, well, they can go ahead but I’ll ignore them. Note that both of these definitions are wrong – humans are both people and objects.

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Environmentalism and Anarcha-Feminism – who owns ‘Green Politics’? Part 2

In yesterday’s post I asked how ‘environmentalism’ fitted into other schemes of political ideas. I distinguished three sorts of ‘environmentalism’, and promised to talk about a fourth.

Of those three, the first two (an ‘instrumental’ version that cares about ‘the environment’ only for the sake of the humans who depend on it, and an ‘animal rights’ version that extends this to care about the other sentient creatures who depend on it) were reasonable and sensible, but weren’t really ‘environmentalist’ in any strong sense. The third (valuing life of all kinds per se) was clearly ‘environmentalist’ in nature, but also, in my opinion, wrong and foolish.

The fourth, that I want to focus on today, is less about what doctrines and principles one rationally holds, and more about a different sort of emotional mindset, a different way of approaching matters – things which, I’d argue, play a large and sometimes underestimated role in making apparently ‘rational’ political decisions.

This sort of ‘environmentalism’ is opposed to a mindset that opposes two abstractions, ‘nature’ and ‘humanity’, supposes them to be locked in conflict, identifies with ‘humanity’ and therefore legitimises, encourages, and takes pleasure in all ‘triumphs over nature’ that humanity acheives.

In its place, it would recommend a mindset that holds up a single abstraction, ‘nature’, and treats ‘humanity’ as one component of that, alongside ‘moose’ and ‘fungi’. It then regards conflict within nature as regrettable, and prefers ‘harmonious co-existence’ to ‘triumph’.

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