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Archive for the ‘politics’ 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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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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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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More brilliant essay writing from Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah in GQ with “A most American terrorist: the making of Dylann Roof”. I am always fascinated by the role of mothers in these kinds of stories.

During two stages of his trial, Dylann Roof decided to represent himself. When family members of the victims testified, they listened to him, without looking over, as he lifted himself weakly from his chair and dismissed them from the stand with his deep, always bored, blunt voice, which sounded like his mouth was full of Karo syrup. He didn’t object often, but when he did it was because he was bothered by the length and the amount of testimony that the families offered. Could they keep their stories about the dead quick? Whenever he stood to be walked back to his holding cell, his mouth moved with what I first thought was a sigh or a deep exhale—really, it was an ever present twitch, a gumming of his cheeks that sometimes ended with his tongue lolling out and licking his thin lips.

 

Felicia Sanders, one of the few survivors, told the courtroom early on that Roof belonged in the pit of hell. Months later, she said that because of him she can no longer close her eyes to pray. She can’t stand to hear the sound of firecrackers, or even the patter of acorns falling. Because of Dylann Roof, Felicia Sanders had been forced to play dead by lying in her dying son’s blood, while holding her hand over her whimpering grandbaby’s mouth. She had pressed her hand down so tight that she said she feared she would suffocate the girl. Eighteen months later, Felicia Sanders pointed that same hand toward Dylann Roof in the courtroom and said, with no doubt in her voice at all, that it was simple—that man there was “pure evil.”

Their vitriol was warranted but also unexpected, since in most of the press coverage of the shooting it had largely been erased. Almost every white person I spoke with in Charleston during the trial praised the church’s resounding forgiveness of the young white man who shot their members down. The forgiveness was an absolution of everything. No one made mention that this forgiveness was individual, not collective. Some of the victims and their families forgave him, and some of them did not. No one acknowledged that Dylann Roof had not once apologized, shown any remorse, or asked for this forgiveness. Or the fact that with 573 days to think about his crime, Dylann Roof stood in front of the jurors and, with that thick, slow tongue of his, said without any hesitation whatsoever, “I felt like I had to do it, and I still feel like I had to do it.”

On the first morning that Felicia Sanders testified, I was seated directly behind Dylann Roof’s mother, and because she is skin and bones, it was apparent that she was having some kind of fit. She trembled and shook until her knees buckled and she slid slowly onto the bench, mouth agape, barely moving. She said, over and over again, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She seemed to be speaking to her boyfriend, but maybe it was meant for Felicia Sanders, who was soon to take the stand. A communiqué that was a part of the bond that mothers have, one that was brought up by the radiant shame one must feel when your son has wreaked unforgivable havoc on another mother’s child. Whatever it was, it was Gothic.

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Fashion-magazine layouts have a particular feel to them. We know it well: stylized, blank, alluring in an anonymous way, suggestive of sex, but devoid of sensuality or personal emotion. The photographs draw us in, but the models don’t return our gaze. Instead, they tend to wear a kind of frozen, faraway gaze, a look that frees us to gawk unashamedly, without fear of being caught staring. Fashion models feign ignorance of the camera lens in order to signal that we are not their interlocutors, but rather voyeurs whose desires are roused only to be rechanneled toward the items for sale (clothes, jewels, handbags, etc.).

Such photos exist to cast the fetishizing spell of the commodity over us. They create, that is, a dissociative relationship with the viewer. And while Melania Trump was known to have been somewhat stiff as a model, she has clearly mastered that squinty, middle-distance gaze, which she regularly employs as First Lady.

Melania dresses and moves as if she were awkwardly performing a theatrical role, much as Ivanka does. Their oddly stilted presence in political settings seems to transform all occasions, no matter how “presidential,” into advertisements. This is not because they were both once models, but because they cannot stop posing like models. (Ironically, successful models learn to avoid such obvious artificiality, since it makes the unreality of fashion shoots too glaring.)

The Trump women evince a dazed blankness and anonymity that in turn cast doubt on the reality of everything around them.

From “Melania Trump and the chilling artifice of fashion” by Rhonda Garelick in The Cut. 

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