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Archive for the ‘feminism’ Category

Trapped in binaries, we get confusing messages about how social change happens, both from the larger culture and from our own lefty culture. It only takes a few vs. it takes millionsIt’s all about policy or it’s all about culture shiftWe only need civil disobedience or we only need to win elections. No one knows exactly what formula will ward off the authoritarianism looming over our country and the world, but that formula probably doesn’t include the word “only.” There should and will be many tactical experiments in this period of political, cultural, and spiritual churn. Critique is easy. Actually running such an experiment is hard.

On Sunday night, Alicia Garza asked on her Facebook timeline what we think is required to build a movement in the millions. In my humble 33-year view of social change, I believe that it takes everything. Everything we’ve got. Every member, every leader, every ally, every platform, every tactic and every dime—all directed toward specific goals at specific moments. The moments when your big ideas have the potential to become reality don’t come around that often. When they do, we have to move. We can’t predict what will come out of each tactic, but we move fast and big and on faith.

And

After these big cultural moments, I always hear two refrains: “That’s just symbolic, not real change,” and “This is nice, but the question is, what actions are they really going to take?” Hell, I’ve said these things myself before I knew better. But symbols matter, and there are better questions to ask. Our affinity for symbols is the main thing that makes us human. If the left can’t deal symbolically, we are truly sunk. And of course “What actions are they going to take?” is the next question after an NFL protest/women’s march/Golden Globes moment. Duh. I’ve pledged to work harder, bypass that obvious question, and go straight to this one: How are we going to make the next thing happen?

I keep hearing that celebrities are too shallow to do much beyond sartorial protest, and to that I say, so what? Most people are too shallow to do more than the bare minimum on anything. I’ll take that shallow action over nothing any day. In fact, let’s go even further and lower our bars for participation on everything, so people can do something shallow and then do the next thing.

From “The Lefty Critique of #TimesUp is Tired and Self-Defeating” by Rinku Sen in The Nation. 

As I’ve talked about before, I believe the pursuit of perfection stifles social change.

 

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This is to say two things. First, the radical feminism of the Sixties and Seventies was as mixed a bag as any political movement, from Occupy to the Bernie Sanders campaign. Second, at least in this case, feminist transphobia was not so much an expression of anti-trans animus as it was an indirect, even peripheral repercussion of a much larger crisis in the women’s liberation movement over how people should go about feeling political. In expanding the scope of feminist critique to the terrain of everyday life—a move which produced a characteristically muscular brand of theory that rivaled any Marxist’s notes on capitalism—the second wave had inadvertently painted itself into a corner. If, as radical feminist theories claimed, patriarchy had infested not just legal, cultural, and economic spheres but the psychic lives of women themselves, then feminist revolution could only be achieved by combing constantly through the fibrils of one’s consciousness for every last trace of male supremacy—a kind of political nitpicking, as it were. And nowhere was this more urgent, or more difficult, than the bedroom. Fighting tirelessly for the notion that sex was fair game for political critique, radical feminists were now faced with the prospect of putting their mouths where their money had been. Hence Atkinson’s famous slogan: “Feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice.” This was the political climate in which both Elliott and Morgan, as a transsexual woman and a suspected heterosexual woman, respectively, could find their statuses as legitimate subjects of feminist politics threatened by the incipient enshrining, among some radical feminists, of something called lesbianism as the preferred aesthetic form for mediating between individual subjects and the history they were supposed to be making—call these the personal and the political.

So while radical feminism as a whole saw its fair share of trans-loving lesbians and trans-hating heterosexuals alike, there is a historical line to be traced from political lesbianism, as a specific, by no means dominant tendency within radical feminism, to the contemporary phenomenon we’ve taken to calling trans-exclusionary radical feminism. Take Sheila Jeffreys, an English lesbian feminist recently retired from a professorship at the University of Melbourne in Australia. In her salad days, Jeffreys was a member of the Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group, remembered for its fiery conference paper “Political Lesbianism: The Case Against Heterosexuality,” published in 1979. The paper defined a political lesbian as “a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men” but stopped short of mandating homosexual sex. The paper also shared the SCUM Manifesto’s dead-serious sense of humor: “Being a heterosexual feminist is like being in the resistance in Nazi-occupied Europe where in the daytime you blow up a bridge, in the evening you rush to repair it.” These days, Jeffreys has made a business of abominating trans women, earning herself top billing on the TERF speaking circuit. Like many TERFs, she believes that trans women’s cheap imitations of femininity (as she imagines them) reproduce the same harmful stereotypes through which women are subordinated in the first place. “Transgenderism on the part of men,” Jeffreys writes in her 2014 book Gender Hurts, “can be seen as a ruthless appropriation of women’s experience and existence.” She is also fond of citing sexological literature that classifies transgenderism as a paraphilia. It is a favorite claim among TERFs like Jeffreys that transgender women are gropey interlopers, sick voyeurs conspiring to infiltrate women-only spaces and conduct the greatest panty raid in military history.

I happily consent to this description. Had I ever been so fortunate as to attend the legendarily clothing-optional Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival before its demise at the hands of trans activists in 2015, you can bet your Birkenstocks it wouldn’t have been for the music. Indeed, at least among lesbians, trans-exclusionary radical feminism might best be understood as gay panic, girl-on-girl edition. The point here is not that all TERFs are secretly attracted to trans women—though so delicious an irony undoubtedly happens more often than anyone would like to admit—but rather that trans-exclusionary feminism has inherited political lesbianism’s dread of desire’s ungovernability. The traditional subject of gay panic, be he a US senator or just a member of the House, is a subject menaced by his own politically compromising desires: to preserve himself, he projects these desires onto another, whom he may now legislate or gay-bash out of existence. The political lesbian, too, is a subject stuck between the rock of politics and desire’s hard place. As Jeffreys put it in 2015, speaking to the Lesbian History Group in London, political lesbianism was intended as a solution to the all-too-real cognitive dissonance produced by heterosexual feminism: “Why go to all these meetings where you’re creating all this wonderful theory and politics, and then you go home to, in my case, Dave, and you’re sitting there, you know, in front of the telly, and thinking, ‘It’s weird. This feels weird.’” But true separatism doesn’t stop at leaving your husband. It proceeds, with paranoid rigor, to purge the apartments of the mind of anything remotely connected to patriarchy. Desire is no exception. Political lesbianism is founded on the belief that even desire becomes pliable at high enough temperatures. For Jeffreys and her comrades, lesbianism was not an innate identity, but an act of political will. This was a world in which biology was not destiny, a world where being a lesbian was about what got you woke, not wet.

From “On Liking Women” by Andrea Long Chu in n+1.

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There’s a reckoning taking place now, we’re told. Female anger is at last finding its mark and its moment. I hope this is my primitive anger-shame speaking, or jadedness, or simple exhaustion – but I can’t trust it. The speed of the avalanche, its force, feels too dangerous. It feels like a runaway train that’s going to crash off the rails, and soon. My own cheering at the sight of the bastards going down feels too much like the delinquent ecstasy of a classroom run amok, and beneath this lurks the fear that when the frenzy’s over, that will be that. And then we’ll all cop it worse than before.

Is the woman who was too afraid to read my book rejoicing as she watches retribution raining down on affluent men across the western world? Is this cathartic, curative, for her? I hope so. I hope the pain is flooding away from her spirit like a fast-running tide. But I wonder.

This is a wonderful piece from Charlotte Wood in The Guardian, “We’re told female anger is having its moment. But I can’t trust it”.

 

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“Raising a teenage daughter” by Elizabeth Weil with comments and corrections by her daughter, Hannah W Duane in The California Sunday Magazine.

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This is the most disturbing case I have ever read about sexting, and about the vulnerability of young people when police powers combine dangerously with the increasing power of technology.

“A teen sexting case revealed how judges let police invade children’s privacy” by Jay Schweikert in NBC News. 

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That the agents of destruction have been women simply telling their stories in public is nothing less than delicious. Women were gossiping, complaining, name-calling, and suddenly the world was listening. (In fact, historians have written extensively on the importance of gossip and its venues, such as coffeehouses, in fomenting previous revolutions.) Each tale that came tumbling out was more sordid than the last: infinite variations on the theme of sexual scumminess. The revelations weren’t exactly new, but the frame had shifted: the handsy boss, the lewd entreaties, the casting couch, were no longer going to be business as usual. Every revolution has its weapons of choice—once it was muskets and guillotines, this time around it’s “sharing” and media exposure. It wasn’t heads that were rolling, it was careers: contracts yanked, deals canceled, agents quitting, e-mail accounts shuttered. Career death is hardly nothing—it’s the modern equivalent of losing everything. (When the Times recently compiled the names of twenty-four prominent men accused of sexual harassment, it did rather bring to mind the spectacle of heads on a pike in a public square. The name conspicuously absent, unfortunately, was our groper-in-chief Donald Trump, who’s thus far managed to slither away from the variety of sexual charges lodged against him.)

About those chopped-down potentates and lords: many of them, one couldn’t help but notice, were not the most attractive specimens on the block: bulbous, jowly men; fat men who told women they needed to lose weight; ugly men drawn to industries organized around female appearance. Men with weird hair. Is it wrong of me to bring this up? We do, after all, move through the world as embodied creatures. I wondered what it felt like, if you’re such a guy, one who’s managed to accrue some significant portion of power in the world but you’re still you—coercing sex out of underlings. When you look in the mirror, is it a great white hunter you see staring back, with women as your game of choice? Sure you’ve won, you’re on top, but isn’t every win a tiny jab of confirmation about your a priori loathsomeness? If sexual domination assuages something for certain men, is it because somewhere inside lives a puny threatened runt, and extracting sexual compliance is some form of recompense? One woman, who’d fought off the advances of a naked, pleading film producer, recalled that he thereupon broke into tears and said she’d “rejected him because he was fat.”

The mantra lately heard across the land is that sexual harassment isn’t about sex, it’s about power. I wonder if this underthinks the situation: Is the man who won’t stop talking about sex a man convinced of his power, or one who’s desperate to impress you with his prowess? Failing to notice the precariousness of power encourages compliance, especially among the women targeted. If recent events tell us anything, it’s that power is a social agreement, not a stable entity. The despots had power because they did things that were socially valued and profitable, but the terms of the agreement can shift abruptly.

This is a great read! “Kick against the pricks” by Laura Kipnis in The New York Review of Books. 

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There’s much I appreciate in this interview with Yasmin Nair, but the way in which some are extrapolating from very specific criticisms Nair made of individualistic trauma conversations crowding out systemic approaches on panels, to criticisms of all feminist memoir writing is rubbish…

(I have written about this before here in an article).

MK: So it seems as though the image of the woman suffering or the child suffering, and the way that sort of grabs the media, seems to really often operate that way. So an example would be—hm—well, what’s your attitude toward feminist anti-rape-culture politics? Is that analogous?

YN: Well, hm… What is so troubling for me about all this discourse around rape culture is that it’s not just, you know, liberal feminists taking it up, but also, I think what’s most bothersome to me is how it’s also being used especially in radical queer circles. So it’s not only liberals who are doing this but people who I’d hoped would think better of it.

It just reduces everything to a set of circumstances completely beyond our control and understanding. And I think it also insists that everyone identify as a trauma victim in order to be considered, really, nowadays, a legitimate subject. I’m sure it’s linked in some ways to this proliferation of identities one can carve on the Web, but I think also in some ways the perfect neoliberal subject is becoming the traumatized subject, the subject of trauma. So despite excellent critiques by people like Ruth Leys—discussing the idea of trauma as a defining feature of the ideal neoliberal subject, including even those who might not actually identify as neoliberal subjects, like the queer radicals with whom I work—It just seems like trauma has become a requirement. I’ve been writing recently about how I am sick of being on panels where everybody starts to confess to their rape, or to their sexual trauma, and I just want to walk out on them! I just want to say, if you cannot think about critiquing policies and the state without having to assert how and why you have been a victim, then let’s end this conversation. Does everybody have to be a victim in order to gain sympathy, first of all? And what does it mean to have to constantly reconstitute yourself as a subject of trauma? What happens to people who don’t do it? Are they to be seen as traitors?

There’s this weird kind of culture of confession which is also something I write about: this constant imperative to confess, and this imperative to reveal oneself as the wounded subject, that I find very disturbing. Because I think it pretends to be a systemic analysis, because what it’s pretending to do is to say “Look, this matters because so many of us who work on this matter are in fact also traumatized.” That’s the rationale. But I want to say: is that only way to understand trauma in neoliberalism? Is it possible that only those who have experienced it are allowed to talk about it? There’s a kind of demand for authenticity in all of this that I find particularly vexing. And I know for a fact that many people who have a critique of trauma and of violence and of the state may well have been sexually abused, but just don’t talk about it. And does that make them less authentic?

It just all devolves. These discussions all devolve into these constant narratives, this kind of personalized narrativizing about the state. And I can see that as having emerged as a response to a time and a discourse where all of that was actually erased. I get that! I get the historical reasons why people have been encouraged to reveal their trauma, I totally get it. In the US, for instance, until recently, women in marriages could not be raped, legally speaking. So I get the historical reasons why all of this is important, but it makes for shitty organizing, and it makes for really shitty analysis. And it makes for a very insufficient and haphazard critique of capitalism.

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