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Archive for the ‘feminism’ Category

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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In her 1983 book The Managed Heart, sociologist Arlie Hochschild first coined the phrase emotional labor to describe the work of flight attendants and bill collectors to consciously regulate their own feelings and attempt to shape the emotions of others to get their jobs done. Women and low-income workers were being asked to very subtly (and very deftly) fix up people’s feelings without being recognized or compensated for that very tricky part of their labor. Hochschild was also worried about the potential social and health side effects of asking people to manipulate their emotions for others for pay, day after day. How did this affect their well-being when they went home? Did it alienate them from their ability to gauge their authentic emotions when they clocked out and regained their autonomy? Are women judged differently for their emotional work than men are? How are the emotions of people of color judged more harshly at work than white workers’, and how is this leading to workplace inequality? Hochschild’s work anticipated the rich field of research on the booming low-wage, high-stress service sector many workers find themselves navigating today.

However, since 1983 there’s been a shift away from using this as a term to understand the workplace to using it colloquially to explain interpersonal relationships between men and women. In 2015, some were calling emotional labor “feminism’s next frontier.” Taking Hochschild’s phrase from our workplaces to our homes requires some clarity, at least in part so we don’t trivialize the actual emotional labor many workers (customer service agents, flight attendants, nurses, and adjunct professors) do on a daily basis in their jobs, sometimes without support or adequate training.

So what exactly is emotional labor? Emotional labor is simply the management of feelings (your own or someone else’s) to accomplish some goal—to leave a customer satisfied or to get someone to do something they might not otherwise want to, or to keep your household functioning. Note that there are many other kinds of labor that can produce these outcomes too (simply providing information to someone, for instance), but emotional labor concerns the work of emotion management—say, delivering bad news about a flight cancellation in a comforting way, so that disgruntled passengers hardly notice the news is bad. At home, this might mean giving solace to a crying child with warm words and a calm demeanor or intervening between your mom and your sister when a fight about Trump threatens to ruin Thanksgiving. And when there’s a partnership or friendship in which one person is the go-to emotional servant while the other disregards others’ feelings and well-being will-nilly, these people are rightfully called emotional vampires.

What isn’t emotional labor? Most things, actually.

From “Please stop calling everything that frustrates you emotional labor” by Haley Swenson in Slate.

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More wonderful Ariel Gore from Rumpus:

I had my son at thirty-seven after having my daughter at nineteen, and I was partnered, although queer and not married so, again, not exactly getting invitations to the mom-party, but this time I was established as a writer. I’d been supporting my family as a writer and teacher and editor for years. I owned a little house. It was a hustle, but I had a level of stability I didn’t dream of when Maia was a baby.

And of course life is also a lot easier when people aren’t constantly making remarks about how your child should be taken away from you and put in an orphanage. No one has ever said that to me about my son. And I’m the same parent. I’m actually a worse parent now because I’m tired and my back hurts.

Rumpus: Ah, that gets to what I was probably asking with that previous question: when is very young motherhood a boon? What are the various factors that can stymie our creative growth and survival?

Gore: I’m all for young motherhood. The only problems were socially constructed. At nineteen, I was as ready to start my family as I’d ever be. I was as physically healthy as I’d ever be. I was getting gayer by the minute, so my biological clock had been ticking since age sixteen.

I wasn’t invited to the mom party or any other party, so I got to write. My first stories, like everyone’s, were just practice and experiment, so the baby wasn’t getting in the way of anything I didn’t have a sense of humor about.

Early motherhood didn’t ruin my life. I just did everything all at once—writer/mother/grown-up. I’m still clawing to dig myself out of the hole, but it’s good dirt and I have no regrets.

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Sometimes I think my whole life has been an embodiment of the conflict between art and motherhood, but by letting the two coexist entwined, I live in peace.

The conflict exists in me, just like it does in everyone, but I refuse to make a choice between art and motherhood. I reject the all-sacrificing martyr-mother archetype and I reject the selfish male artist archetype.

In Western culture, the social role of the mother is as the keeper of the family secrets. The social role of the writer is as the teller of the family secrets. So when you’re both, it goes against the whole social order. We have very little celebrated history for the combination of the two because if our grandmothers tried that shit in a lot of contexts they would have had their children taken away from them, and if their grandmothers tried that shit they were burned at the stake.

Part of the problem expressed in those essays you mention might be having a husband. I’ve never had one, so I don’t know anything about that firsthand, but it does seem that the women I’ve read and heard recently exploring the mother/writer conflict in these terms have not just partners, but specifically husbands. From where I’m standing I can see that straight, married women face an intense pressure to suddenly go super mainstream when they have kids. Like, Okay, mama, enough art for youIt’s going to be all carpool and Superman cakes all the time now. But if you read Maya Angelou or Diane DiPrima, their experience of this issue was very different. Not easier, but very different. So we do have that model—a tradition for at least a couple of generations—for the single mother as bohemian artist/writer. And I think even married moms can take a look at that model and find some inspiration and some tools there. You can keep the husband if you like, but maybe all the adults have to be willing to go against the social order.

In the Kim Brooks piece you mention, she quotes her friend saying, “the point of art is to unsettle, to question, to disturb what is comfortable and safe. And that shouldn’t be anyone’s goal as a parent.” And I understand that sentiment—but that doesn’t resonate with me at this point in my life. My family has always been targeted for harassment because it’s a nontraditional family, and of course it’s my job to protect my kids from that harassment to the extent that I can, but it would be a fantasy to think that I could shield them from all the bigotry and injustice that a creative life becomes the counterpoint to.

It’s always a mistake to give up art for safety except in short-term, emergency situations where self-preservation has to take priority. We can’t give up art for safety longterm. And we’re not doing out kids any favors if we try.

It does make you wonder if part of progressives’ extreme resistance to early motherhood is that they do believe, deep down, that once a woman has children, she can’t do her own work anymore, shouldn’t have her own life anymore. It’s a place where feminism hasn’t won out over internalized notions that the Family Values people were right—that a mother being herself is a mother being selfish, that our children will suffer if we’re whole and complicated people. And of course I reject that.

For me, the answer is to reinvent motherhood, not just to delay enslavement to it. The answer is to reinvent art, too, so that we’re not just trying to squeeze our complicated experience into the oppressor’s format in hopes of the oppressor’s praise.

From Ariel Gore in an interview in The Rumpus with Zoe Zolbrod.

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In 1776, when Smith published “The Wealth of Nations,” he began his book by envisioning a “pin factory” with just eight workers; Smith and his contemporaries could never have imagined that, in 1913, the Ford Motor Company would hire fourteen thousand people to manufacture its Model T, or that it would police those employees with a quasi-governmental “Sociological Department” that performed unannounced inspections of their houses. (“Workers were eligible for Ford’s famous $5 daily wage only if they kept their homes clean, ate diets deemed healthy, abstained from drinking, used the bathtub appropriately, did not take in boarders, avoided spending too much on foreign relatives, and were assimilated to American cultural norms,” Anderson writes.) The rise of large factories and corporations created a new environment in which private government could thrive.

Contemplating the return of private government, Anderson asks, “Why do we not recognize such a pervasive part of our social landscape for what it is?” She argues that we no longer think carefully about the distinction between “public” and “private.” We seem to have forgotten that private government exists; we believe, incorrectly, that “the state is the only form of government.” Because corporate tyranny takes place in the so-called private sphere, it seems to us like a niche problem for the labor movement, not a civic problem with broad implications for our society, on par with gerrymandering or the rise of the surveillance state. At the same time, we see the corporate world through an eighteenth-century lens. To large corporations, we lend the liberatory aura that, in Smith’s day, surrounded small businesses. This allows C.E.O.s to “think of themselves as libertarian individualists,” even though they are more like “dictators of little communist governments.”

From Joshua Rothman’s “Are bosses dictators?” in The New Yorker. This is a great piece on the encroachment of work into our private lives.

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On politics

I found these photos upsetting. Sometimes it feels like we will never get there.

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