The Opponents They Cultivate

At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid. – Friedrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche and the Horse - Eric Drass, 2011
Partially successful, stalled political causes
find the opponents they cultivate.
– Me
Diving Horses

From ‘Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken’ – Disney – 1991

My utter and abject failure.

I received this comment to my post on The Blurred Lines of Feminist Rhetoric.

Wow…What a complete, utter and abject failure you are a human [sic]. But, ironically, your failure as an individual and disdain for feminism/equality just shows just how needed feminism still is, so in a way, you’re working to promote that which you fight against!

Wow. Character assassination, much?

Fact is, I have been feminist since I first encountered the concept. And I am hardly disdainful or fighting against feminism — though I definitely understand it might appear that way given feminism’s low capacity for and tolerance of self-reflection and internal criticism.

As for “just how needed feminism is,” what pains me more than anything is seeing feminism having turned itself into a movement that points to the consequences of its own political ineffectiveness, including its inability to hold onto hard-won gains as a result of that ineffectiveness, as evidence of “just how needed feminism is” — IOW: a movement that has developed an institutional interest in its own failure as a way of covering for its inability to build on and exploit or even recognize the successes it has had. (Any impulse you might be feeling about now to deny feminism’s successes only demonstrates my point, as does the impulse to blame all feminist setbacks on the backlash of patriarchal capitalism.)

You refer to “feminism/equality” as though they are the same thing or interchangeable or two sides of the same coin. Once upon a time, maybe. Today, that’s just a conceit that pop feminism tries to pass off and trade on while wondering why it loses ground and can’t get traction on its issues.

But now: How can someone possibly feel and think and say these things and still call herself feminist? Alas, that is an excellent question, not just for me but even more so for feminism itself.

Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. Please visit again anytime.

(Additional comments here and here.)

The Blurred Lines of Feminist Rhetoric

rapey-rape-cultureOver at Feministing, some late commentary on one of last month’s big feminist pop culture outrages: Robin Thicke’s video for Blurred Lines. For those who missed it, the song’s title and lyrics play on the idea of blurred lines between yes and no, wanting it and not wanting it, teasing and delivering the goods. That kind of thing.

The blog writer, atypically and thus notably (and self-declaredly) a man, writes about how he initially paid little attention to the vid, and not just to the prancing semi- or bare-naked ladies (depending on which version you watch), but also the part where it shows the words “ROBIN THICKE HAS A BIG DICK,” because “that’s pretty much the message of every music video I’ve ever seen a dude make.”

He goes on to say:

That’s the danger of brushing aside this video and the potentially “rapey” lyrics, as I first did (a function of my privilege as a hetero man).

The verdict seems fairly universal: Blurred Lines is “kind of rapey.”

And I find that kind of interesting, and kind of ironic, in these days of not only “no means no” but “yes means yes” (which happens to be the title of a book by Feministing’s founder), because if there’s anything that blurs the lines between yes and no, consent and non-consent, rape and not-rape (not to mention “rape-rape”), it’s the word “rapey.”

Who’s the genius who came up with this oh so cutesy-poo wordy-word-word, and who are the sheep who first carried it into and infected the flock with this self-undermining meme? Just a guess, but maybe the same ones who decided the term “rape culture” doesn’t serve to normalize what it so cleverly names, or that “What about the menz?” is an effectively dismissive comeback when confronted with issues of social impact that any successful movement for structural social change must eventually deal with.

But of course that assumes that feminism still IS a social movement and not just a publishing genre.

It’s hard to trust or defend or take seriously a feminism that while unable to get much traction on its political agenda has managed to inject into its own discourse a word that explicitly and by design blurs the lines on one of its core issues and principles: rapey.

But isn’t that just the kind of incoherence we’ve come to expect from blogospheric pop feminism, where conceptual slipperiness plays happily with the language police, and where institutional interest finds that maintaining a siege mentality outweighs any need to shake off the dead weight of ossified theory and maybe, just maybe, hold on to previously hard-won gains (abortion rights, anyone?) which, as they’re systematically taken away like candy from (“unborn”) babies, justifies the siege mentality.

Have you heard the one about the girl who cried backlash?

Below, shrunk down to teeny-weeny size, in honor of the true dimensions of both Robin Thicke’s dick, and feminism’s intellectual vitality, political muscle, and current cultural influence, is the Blurred Lines video that everyone’s been just forcing themselves to watch over and over and over and over again. (Would you believe me if I said I haven’t seen it? Pinky swear!)

Now – THIS is ‘patriarchy’.

Burqua In The Breeze

First-world feminists talk about living under the rule of “The Patriarchy,” and it makes me want to burn my feminist tee shirt and sell the ashes on eBay.

I’m reading in the NYT about an Afghan law, the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act, that is facing revisions and amendments in that country’s parliament.

The law addresses what are otherwise everyday occurrences throughout Afghanistan, and would give Afghan women formal protections from such common practices as child marriage, forced marriage, the giving of women in marriage to settle disputes between families, and the selling of women to pay off family debts.

The Times:

Angry mullahs and conservatives who never supported the law in the first place complained that it and the proposed revisions were un-Islamic and asked who could better decide than they who and when their daughters should marry.

Other concerns of the commission looking into revisions to Afghanistan’s Elimination of Violence Against Women Act:

-    The definition of violence including wife beating is encouraging  disruption of harmony while husband according to Islamic Shariah has the right to discipline the wife

-    Father and guardian knows better privileges and benefit of children therefore child marriage through guardian cannot be questioned as per this law

-    Shelter homes [shelters for women fleeing abuse] are un-Islamic and centers of prostitution, therefore should be closed immediately

-    Arranged marriage with support of parents cannot be considered forced marriage.

Reading that, I can’t help thinking about how first-world feminists talk about living under the rule of “The Patriarchy,” and it makes me want to burn my feminist tee shirt and sell the ashes on eBay.

The feminist reliance on and relentless invocation of “The Patriarchy,” less as meaning than as a ping of recognition and membership, is a crass appropriation of a concept that in some parts of this sad world still actually applies and means something, but that from the mouth of popular feminism is just an ostentatious display not of solidarity but of contrived commonality. Borrowed victimhood.

Talk about privilege! Talk about intersectional insensitivity!

I know: it’s easy to find those same barbaric patriarchal impulses and motifs, tamed and muted but still echoing, behind the practices and beliefs and the words and images that shape gender relations even in the most advanced and (ahem) “civilized” societies (the long-running, highly successful “pro-life” campaign to kill reproductive rights and freedoms, and thus modern sexuality altogether, comes immediately to mind. Feel free to add your own.) But: The rote and ritual citing of “patriarchy,” and making the implicit (or is it explicit?) claim of straight and simple continuity in oppression between these Afghan women (and comparable others) and ourselves (meaning just about every woman capable of finding these words), makes Ann Romney saying she’s a stay-at-home mom, and her husband saying he’s unemployed, seem like reasonable propositions (not to dredge up ancient history.)

<stipulation>That large zones of hard patriarchalism still exist in this world is not in question or at issue, nor is the wide range of economic and other class- and race- and etc-based factors in the postindustrial postfeminist zones, which continue to limit women’s exercise of their formal independence and which must be addressed — as must broader issues of gender-based fuckedupness.</stipulation>

For the first-world feminerati to operate, and practice politics, as though confined within a force field called “The Patriarchy” not only insults women who actually live under Sharia and other comparable systems, it insults feminism itself by denying the influence it has had (however poorly wielded, however squandered) while revealing it as a less than honest actor. This is why “Feminist” today signifies less as a social and political movement, or as a theory of gender relations, than as a media category and entertainment genre.

Once again it occurs to me that feminism has developed a perverse interest in its own failure. In which case it’s succeeding most excellently.

Feminism needs to smarten up quick before its window snaps shut. (What’s that creaking sound?)

Here’s another article on a related topic:

No cover-up: Burqa businesses go bust in Afghanistan (Al Arabiya News/AP)

Are you being served?

……

Related posts on “patriarchy” as a problematic concept and term:

Feminist Baggage: Patriarchy
Patriarchal Baggage
The post-reproductive & the thing called ‘patriarchy’

More ‘Patriarchal’ Baggage

gender-essentialism-crimethincA post from a few weeks ago, Feminist Baggage: Patriarchy (on the limited value of the feminist concept of “The Patriarchy” as a tool for analyzing and dealing with gender inequality), received only one comment. Which I really appreciated. But because it was quite specific and detailed, and because my reply was the same, it kept getting longer, and longer, so I’ve taken the liberty of replying to it here as a new post. The entire comment (which can also be found here), is quoted below. My response follows that.

A comment on Feminist Baggage: Patriarchy.

May 16, 2013 at 12:44:07 PM

Well, that was “interesting”. I will be sure to hop on the next avaliable flight, and go tell a bunch of eleven year old femme prostitutes in pretty much any non-western country,(and many western countries) that it’s not REALLY men owning, and using them. Oh no, and the REASON this is happening is because of their poor PR skills, and the fact that they will not “divorce” the patriarchy (DIVORCE? consider the connotations of your lingual choices, please!). I will also be sure to explain to them that the very most important thing, is that they never ever make those poor poor men feel BAD about their lack of self analysis, or easy acceptance of their generally automatically assumed rights and privilege.

”It doesn’t matter how many times feminists insist that they and the movement are not anti-men, because even at its most vanilla, the language and imagery of anti-patriarchal feminism says otherwise. Literally. That’s how language and public relations work.”

If we do not have a system whereby one sex benefits over another simply by dint of visible secondary sexual characteristics, we do not NEED the term Patriarchy. But as we do not yet live under a rainbow in a golden castle of equality, it is an ACCURATE descriptor.

It is an ACCURATE descriptor, what are we to do, make up some nice new words, which will not offend delicate “masculine” ears, or challenge the patterns of behaviour of the WOMEN who find they benefit from appearing as the “weaker” sex?

Those “nice new words” will not be tolerated for long. Soon they will attract the same whinging and critique the word “Feminism” does.

I am a feminist, I am a feminist because we live in a society, (almost) globally, underpinned by and based on patriarchal ideals. I love men, I do not like the fact that men are slated for being stay at home dads, I do not agree with the frequent assertion that women are better suited to raising babies and men should “leave them to it” I like VERY VERY many things about men, and I strongly believe that the Patrichal system can be just as punishing for some men as it is for women (see, gay men in particular), A man (singular) is NOT the “Patriachy” he is a person.

I refuse to alter my use of words, to account for the ignorance and assumptions of others, instead I seek to educate. I refuse to play a public relations game, because it is one feminists can NEVER WIN, this is a massive part of the reason for negative connotations behind the very term Feminism, look back over old press reports of feminist demonstrations. No wonder so many men think we are man hating lesbians, the papers told them so.

Namaste.

Tori.

Although I did say that I thought feminism has a PR problem and in that way the word “patriarchy” isn’t productive, I did not say we needed “nice new words,” nor did I refer to not offending “delicate ‘masculine’ ears” or anything about “never ever [making] those poor poor men feel BAD about their lack of self analysis, or easy acceptance of their generally automatically assumed rights and privilege.” Those are all your words, and a misrepresentation of mine. But in any case — the PR factor was my secondary point. My main point, in the first half of the post, is that the concept of “patriarchy” is insufficient for analyzing gender inequality.

So as far as PR goes, given (as you put it wrt male privilege) the “generally automatically assumed” meaning and acquired connotations of the word “patriarchy,” it isn’t worth taking even a minor PR hit as the price of continuing to use a conceptual tool that’s grown too dull and imprecise and exhausted to do the work being asked of it. In fact, something you said in your comment actually supports that main point.

In that post (as in others) I said the system that feminism refers to as “patriarchy” and “the patriarchy” is better understood and engaged as a system of essentialized gender. The essentialization of gender is not only the basis of patriarchy, it is also the basis on which that system insists on its own naturalness and inevitability and on the appropriateness and justness of its consequences. You draw that very same connection when you say:

I love men, I do not like the fact that men are slated for being stay at home dads, I do not agree with the frequent assertion that women are better suited to raising babies and men should “leave them to it”…..

In those words you’re offering a perfect example of the essentialist belief system. You go on to say:

I strongly believe that the Patrichal system can be just as punishing for some men as it is for women (see, gay men in particular)

Right. That system has punishing consequences for men as well as women. But the reason isn’t because the system is “patriarchal” but because the system’s essentialist definitions and assumptions of both women and men are so rigidly enforced as the one true and natural if not god-given way. If I’m reading you right, those are the “patriarchal ideals” you’re referring to. What I’m saying is, even though it once made an intuitive, self-evident sense to designate such an essentialized and idealized system as “patriarchal” because of how it had positioned men as dominant, in practice the term doesn’t get to the deeper root of the problem, which is the essentialization of gender, which is a more pointed and direct and modern conceptualization of the problems of gender inequality.

Gender essentialism IS gender inequality. It’s easy to see why and how that got labeled “patriarchy,” but I see no benefit in continuing to do so, and few benefits in having done so. Nor do I see that as a concession to “poor, poor men” — seeing it as that actually indicates just how problematic the term is:

Gender essentialism produces patriarchy, not the other way around. Continuing to globally frame essentialist social systems as “patriarchy” at this point only deflects pressure from the core of the problem while it diverts analysis down unproductive alleys and cul-de-sacs. And endless sloganeering.

When you say (correctly I think)…

…A man (singular) is NOT the “Patriachy” he is a person.

….it helps illustrate how that deflection and diversion work: Of course no singular man is “the Patriarchy,” but at what point do these individual men (even when in organized groups or disorganized gangs) come to constitute “the Patriarchy”?

I am not saying the system that gets designated “patriarchy” isn’t real or doesn’t exist, producing complex effects with many bad (read: disastrous) consequences. But as it’s been deployed the feminist conception of “the Patriarchy” all but requires (and through anthropomorphic metaphor all but establishes) the existence of an objective entity that willfully and arbitrarily defines and enforces a system of gender inequality for no reason beyond the cushy privileges it bestows upon men — if that’s not what it actually means, it’s still how the notion effectively functions, both within feminist discourse and out in the real world that feminism seeks to change.

Attributing the essentialist system to something called “the Patriarchy” invokes and practically demands a conspiracy theory, that no one seriously takes seriously, but that still colors and distorts both the analysis and politics of essentialized gender. How we name and label things shapes how we see them and how we think about them — that’s an idea that feminism, one of the culture’s preeminent critics and arbiters of language, surely subscribes to, and surely applies, or so I would hope, to its own terminology and greatest hits.

A vision of “the Patriarchy” has been functioning as a magnetic pole within feminist discourse pulling feminism (and the interests it is said to pursue) off course from a more direct and effective and also more radical engagement with gender inequality’s essentialist roots. I believe this is why feminist theory and feminist rhetoric have become so indistinguishable from each other, with the latter often standing in for the former, and the former too shaped by and dependent on the latter. That’s a formula for political ineffectiveness. That’s why as a movement feminism has made little basic progress in well over a generation and in some instances has lost ground, despite having had enormous influence — an influence that feminism’s rhetorical self-positioning against an all-powerful “Patriarchal” entity often leads (or requires) feminists to downplay rather than exploit. That downplaying shows up in the NEVER WIN in the following quote:

I refuse to alter my use of words, to account for the ignorance and assumptions of others, instead I seek to educate. I refuse to play a public relations game, because it is one feminists can NEVER WIN, this is a massive part of the reason for negative connotations behind the very term Feminism, look back over old press reports of feminist demonstrations. No wonder so many men think we are man hating lesbians, the papers told them so.

So the ignorance and assumptions of others understandably makes you “seek to educate.” Me too. But by what means?

There’s a serious incompatibility between seeking to educate and refusing to “play a public relations game.” Politics is public relations at nearly every stage, and public relations is education. If that’s a game that “feminists can NEVER WIN” then what are the winning feminist alternatives? Going door to door like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Avon Ladies to sell feminist principles? More Slut Walks and One Billion Risings? Blaming the media? Blaming the patriarchy? Blaming capitalism? Blaming the patriarchal capitalist media? Talking about how terrible “the patriarchy” is for the next 50 years as has for the last 50 years? Becoming an even more prolific lean mean meme machine?

The reason feminism needs to evolve beyond its patriarchal frame isn’t because it offends men but because that frame can no longer support a more contemporary and nuanced understanding of gender dynamics. Designating the gender essentialist system as “patriarchy” is itself an essentializing move (patriarchy is a term of patriarchy), and a feminism that traffics in essentialism is self-defeating — that’s how the state of “NEVER WIN” comes came about.

DIVORCE? consider the connotations of your lingual choices, please!).

I did carefully consider the connotations of my word choices, that’s why I chose them. I’m aware that the marriage/divorce metaphor is a tough one to swallow. But I think it fits and illustrates my point.

Feminism is wedded to its conception of patriarchy as a core explanatory device, and rotely refers to it to the point that it’s been fetishized not simply as an obstacle to progress but as an excuse for lack of progress and a readily available all around object of blame. The system feminism calls patriarchy is real enough and is indeed an obstacle (to feminism’s purported goal of gender equality), but in conceptualizing and anthropomorphizing the gender essentialist system as “the Patriarchy,” feminism has locked itself into a reactive and defensive posture that’s proven ineffective not only in advancing that goal but in consolidating and even recognizing whatever progress it has made towards that goal.

Thus my call for feminism to divorce itself from the old ball and chain of a concept as simplistic as it is exhausted. Patriarchal feminism is self-limiting and self-defeating. Feminism needs a new operating system. Evidence? The state of feminism today, especially if measured by something other than google analytics and self-deceptive surveys.

Gender poster via Crimethinc. Found at Feministing on a search for “gender essentialism” pics.

Feminist Baggage: Patriarchy

feminist-baggage-patriarchy-1When a social movement finds its natural constituents declining to identify themselves as members, that social movement has a problem. When huge numbers of those declining nevertheless voice agreement with that movement’s goals, that movement’s problem is even more troubling. When this continues for years, across generations and the advent of new communication and recruitment tools, then things are so seriously wrong with that movement that maybe it’s no longer accurate to call it a movement at all.

Feminists are fond of blaming feminism’s crappy image on its misrepresentation by a media that does the bidding of “the patriarchy.” But a movement that can’t shape its own public image has only itself to blame. I think most of the problem is found in the baggage feminism carries in the form of theory and terminology inherited from past feminist generations. Although there are many to choose from, by far the heaviest piece of feminist baggage is its conception and analysis of “patriarchy” itself.

I believe that the concept of “patriarchy” has outlived whatever usefulness it may once have had and that its continued currency is an obstacle to feminist goals. For a feminism with gender equality as its defining goal, the language of “patriarchy” has been both analytically disadvantageous and politically disastrous. The reasons for this can be found in a brief history of the concept.

Conceiving “patriarchy”: a quickie history

It’s no coincidence that something recognizable as feminist consciousness initially emerged with industrialization, the latter initiating a destabilization of gender roles that had been in place essentially unchanged since before recorded history.

The destabilization of gender roles lifted the essentialist veil over every aspect of society that touches or is touched by the differences (whether real or manufactured) between female and male, and that includes just about everything that matters in this world.

Gender role destabilization, and the accompanying disessentialization of gender itself, were necessary for a “feminist” consciousness to first come into being and gain traction as a movement. From there, it was an easy, intuitive leap to feminism’s conception of “patriarchy” as a way of describing and naming the existing organization of society built around default, or formerly default, sex and gender roles. But as intuitive and reasonable as it was, and may still appear, that leap has turned out to have been largely in error.

The system that came to be called by feminists “patriarchy” derived whatever realness and power it had on the basis of what appeared, literally at the dawn of human consciousness, to be its self-evident, essential nature, which was quite enough to keep the system running strong and unchallenged for millennia.

“Patriarchy” is a term of patriarchy

However, the same industrial age disessentialization that birthed feminism also initiates, at the same time and for the same reasons, the fading of “patriarchal” social organization itself. This is a relatively slow process. Evidence of patriarchy’s fading would be difficult to discern at first (it certainly wouldn’t have been expected), even as vague intuitions and groping articulations that things were changing begin filtering through the culture. In retrospect, it can be seen that feminism was born at the same moment the entity it exists to dismantle, “the patriarchy,” was dealt a disessentializing  blow that will eventually prove fatal.

The continued centering of “patriarchy” in feminist theory is ahistorical and misguided. What the term patriarchy refers to is more productively understood as a reification of essentialized gender, which is something that requires neither recourse nor reference to some entity called “patriarchy” in order to be analyzed and opposed, and gets more precisely to the core of what feminism as a movement for gender equality seeks to overturn: the universally oppressive essentialization of sex and gender. Reproductive essentialism.

Catchy as it is, and as clumsy as any alternative terms I might use here will be, the word patriarchy has outlived its usefulness. Whether the term is taken literally or metaphorically, analyses and politics built around it need reframing. In fact, “patriarchy” is a term of patriarchy. (Of course, so is “feminism.”)

The irony is that feminism is wedded to “patriarchy” as an explanatory device. It has been a long and apparently happy marriage. The conception of “the patriarchy” has been a core feminist tenet from the beginning, which buffers it from questioning. This does not mean that feminism doesn’t “interrogate patriarchy,” but that the concept itself has been deployed for too long without substantive critique, as a concept, from within feminism. Over-dependence on the concept of “patriarchy” has rendered the term a rote piece of jargon. One could say that feminism takes “the patriarchy” for granted. One might even wonder what she would do and where she would be without him.

But it’s not just that the language and lens of patriarchy has diminished feminist analysis. It has also stood in the way of advancing feminist goals.

Retranslating “patriarchy”

One effect of the feminist concept of “patriarchy” is that it anthropomorphizes as male the system it names and theorizes, criticizes and blames. For this reason alone, whether fairly or not (and even if we accept the analytical appropriateness of the word), the use of “patriarchy” in feminist theory and rhetoric will always have a strong potential to appear as an anti-male, girls vs. boys, “battle of the sexes” kind of deal. To what end? It has created a massive and still developing PR and image problem for feminism as a movement, with “anti-patriarchy” getting easily and conventionally and understandably translated in the everyday world as “anti-men.” How could it not, when the word itself directly refers to men?

Notice how, out in the real world, the common translation of “anti-patriarchy” into “anti-men” follows the same associative train, and makes the same intuitive leaps, that led early feminists to conceive of the ancient system of essentialized sex and gender through the language of “patriarchy” in the first place. In both cases, the association makes sense, yet in both cases the association is wrong — and, for feminist politics, demonstrably ineffective.

Because the vast majority of people (including the vast majority of feminists) are not anti-men, a feminism with a stated “anti-patriarchal” mission is inevitably and automatically a tough sell. It doesn’t matter how many times feminists insist that they and the movement are not anti-men, because even at its most vanilla, the language and imagery of anti-patriarchal feminism says otherwise. Literally. That’s how language and public relations work.

Like a cherished family heirloom, “patriarchy” is just one of many pieces of baggage feminism has been dragging around for generations, rarely popping the latch and having a look at what’s actually inside. But between being conceptually imprecise and rhetorically tone-deaf, the heavy baggage of feminism’s patriarchal analysis needs to be tossed.

It’s past time feminism divorced itself from the ball and chain that is “the patriarchy,” a concept whose anthropomorphic power distorts feminist analysis and the public image of feminism. The continued deployment of “patriarchy” reinstates the essentialized perspective whose displacement allowed for the emergence of feminist consciousness in the first place. Patriarchal feminism is self-defeating.

As a disessentialist feminist, I blame the concept of “patriarchy” for feminism’s political ineffectiveness and its loss of hard-won gains (as evidenced, for example, by the current status of reproductive rights in the United Sates, with consequences that ripple globally.) Analysis and rhetoric that rely on the concept will almost always be more effective by reframing “patriarchy” in the language of gender essentialism, the true root of all that runs counter to progress on gender equality.

In another post I want to consider two other pieces of feminism’s deadweight baggage — the media representation theories known as Sexual Objectification and Male Gaze — and why it’s past time these exhausted ahistorical concepts also be retired as obstacles to feminist goals.

From Under the Fig Leaf, or, Why the feminist identification gap is a non-issue.

the-fig-leafThere’s endless discussion about the feminist identification gap, about how so many people, young women in particular, decline feminist identification even as they support feminist goals. This phenomenon is often noted in the general media but is a recurring theme in feminist media. Although it typically goes unspoken, the assumption seems to be that the feminist identification gap is an obstacle to feminist progress, and to women’s progress, that somehow must be overcome.

But how good is that assumption? I think not very.

If the goal of feminism is to get people to join feminist organizations and read feminist blogs, then concerns about feminist identification makes some sense, in a brand marketing sort of way.

But if the goal of feminism is to effect social change along feminist lines, then as long as people support those goals it shouldn’t matter what they call themselves, and feminist identification is a misdirected concern.

I think the feminist identification gap (FIG) has become a convenient rationalization, a fig leaf, for feminism’s ineffectiveness as a movement.

Just now, a search for “feminist identification gap” as a phrase turned up no hits at all. Of course the individual words turned up tons, and the very first link provides strong supporting stats that the FIG doesn’t matter. The fact that these numbers come via the ubermost second wave media organ, Ms. Magazine, seems entirely appropriate.

The Ms. blog announces a survey by Ms. and partners on feminist identification among voters in the 2012 election. It shows that 55% of voters self-identified as feminist. But the numbers jump by some 10% to 15% when you add in those who do not self-identify but who agreed that, yes, they were feminist after being read the dictionary definition of feminism. These combined numbers, in some cases into the 80% range, are being called the “Feminist Factor,” a kind of Gender Gap gone critical. I don’t know what portion of the general population those voter stats represent, but the numbers seem pretty good.

But come on now: The dictionary definition of feminism used in the survey — “someone who supports political, economic, and social equality for women” — though it might be technically correct, doesn’t begin to convey the full range of what non-self-identifiers (and even those who do identify) find when they approach feminist spaces, or encounter feminism in the media, and the everyday sense of “feminism” gets way more complex and messy when you move beyond the manicured pages of Merriam-Webster.

That’s the point.

Feminism needs to stop worrying about club membership and instead find ways of exploiting the fact that people ALREADY support its core goals. This would relieve feminism, as a movement, from the need to think about getting people to join something called “feminism,” which would liberate it to figure out how to actually move the culture — and continue moving the culture –  in directions that significant portions of the pubic are already moving, and where many already reside (though I have my doubts about the reliability of that base 55% figure.) The FIG is not only a measure of something feminism is getting wrong, it is also an indirect measure of something it’s managing to get right, or at least not do too much damage to, despite its crappy public image.

The only reason the feminist identification gap matters is because it’s within that gap, in the space between feminist identification and the belief in feminist goals, where you’ll find the keys to influencing and growing a public desire for gender equality without needing to grow membership in an frequently dodgy, unappealing movement. In the end, feminism shouldn’t care how many people call themselves feminists as long as it’s making progress towards its goals. The existence of the FIG looks like proof that that’s possible.

The feminist movement (in so far as there is such a thing) doesn’t need to be bigger. It needs to be smarter. And so it’s seriously disappointing to find some of feminism’s most prominent organizations using a dictionary definition of feminism when surveying its cultural status and influence, and then trying to pass the results off with a straight face. Identification is always at least partly a function of image, and this survey’s use of an idealized, static, technically correct but effectively misleading image of a dictionary definition indicates either monumental disingenuousness, or how monumentally out of touch the survey’s designers are with the very thing they claim to represent, and the world they’re trying to influence. Either way, it’s embarrassing.

Feminism has always had blind spots both to its influence and to its successes, and also to its errors and failures, which hinders its capacity for self-reflection and self-criticism, which does nothing good for the advancement of feminist goals, however they’re defined, but the first of which I’ve always understood to be gender equality.

Twenty years ago, Gayle Rubin (one of the few writers on sex, gender, sexuality, and feminism of the last 50 years who is actually worth reading, notwithstanding her 2nd wave roots) observed that, “Feminism has often simply announced changes already in progress for which it has taken credit and for which it has been held responsible.” The feminist identification gap offers a perfect example of exactly that.

Qualifying my feminism

I have always identified as feminist. Ask me if I’m a feminist, I’ll say yes, and all the more eagerly if the question feels like a challenge, or, when I’m in the mood, if I think I can provoke one.

But in my own mind, when I think about the thing called “Feminism,” I feel a need to somehow qualify the label for a more precise fit. The truth is, there are many things found under the feminist heading that I don’t and can’t identify with. To some extent this has always been true. But it’s gotten more so in recent years, and has really spiked since the days of the so-called war on women, which inevitably cast all things gender and feminist in a new light.

Post-feminist?

Finding a suitable qualifier for my feminism was never easy and I’ve never really settled on one. At one time I’d have been good with calling myself post-feminist, and might still be, except the term was long ago given the worst possible interpretation by many feminists and declared a no no. The use of the term in feminist spaces can get you pretty roughed-up.

This is a shame, as it would’ve been good to have an easy way of referring to phenomena, conditions, situations, practices, and so on, that have been transformed, whether for better or worse or otherwise, as a result of feminism having happened. The term could have been useful for measuring and cataloging feminist impact. Instead, “post-feminism” was taken to suggest feminism is obsolete, no longer necessary, that its work is done, and other dismissive, minimizing interpretations.

I’ve always thought these interpretations of “post-feminism” betrayed a needlessly defensive sensibility that has characterized feminism and impeded progress on its issues ever since. In fact, I think the history of the term post-feminist and the reasons for its fast rejection (particularly in the US) holds clues to feminism’s current health and influence. All that said: As an identifying label, “post-feminist” would have made more sense around the time of its rejection some two decades ago than it would today, and by now new terms would probably be needed.

So for all those reasons, “post” isn’t the qualifier I’m looking for.

Reproductive rights feminist?

I’ve toyed with calling myself a “reproductive rights feminist,” because I believe repro rights is the only indispensable feminist issue and the one on which, directly or indirectly, all other gender equality issues depend. Unlike postfeminist, “repro rights feminist” would locate my feminism in something concrete and foundational. But for that same reason, it’s too specific. It doesn’t give a broader sense of my relationship to feminism, which is why I’m looking for a qualifier to situate myself within the feminist landscape. (The term “pro-choice feminist” is a total nonstarter, that near meaningless term having done nothing for the cause of reproductive rights but lead it to disaster. But please don’t get me started on that one.)

Radical feminist?

Once upon a time I might have called myself a “radical feminist,” mostly because of how truly radical the very ideas of gender equality and reproductive rights and freedom have been and remain (something feminism often downplays or denies.) But I soon discovered that the term was spoken for by an essentialist strain of feminism I can’t imagine wanting anything to do with — and which I quickly and happily learned feels the same about me — and who are “radical” only in their reactionary backwardness. Unfortunately, this model of feminism (which often uses rhetoric that to my ear sounds a lot like classic misogyny) has probably contributed more than anything else to feminism’s craptacular public image and political influence.

Anti-essentialist feminist?

But feminist trafficking in essentialism isn’t confined to the misnamed radfems alone, and it’s my extreme allergic reaction to gender essentialist thinking, and my disappointment in how even conventional feminism uses politically expedient essentialism (comparable to how radfem uses misogyny), that triggers my need to qualify my feminism, if only in my own head, if I’m to continue wearing the feminist label, which I’d like to do, as I’m  quite attached to it.

And so, after having brief and unsatisfying flings with “anti-essentialist feminist” and “post-essentialist feminist” — and rejecting anything with a number and “wave” in it — and putting the highly appealing “dissident feminist” on the shelf for being too broad to meet my immediate desire for both specificity and generality — I’ve come up with….

Disessentialist feminist.

I am a disessentialist feminist. Yes, that feels about right.

I know that’s a mouthful, and easy to mistype. It’s also hard to see with all those e’s and s’s, but for that it’s a good looking and sounding word, don’t you think? I ran a search and as of this writing the word and its variations turn up very few hits — most are in the single and lower double digits, some get no hits at all. I like that. And though I have no illusions about it, should the word happen to catch on, well, you can say you read it here first.

Former feminist?

I could of course always drop my feminist identification altogether. I’m aware that my need to qualify my feminism comes essentially (haha) from the same place that leads people to shun the feminist  brand altogether, including many who otherwise believe in feminist goals. I understand that well, and to be honest I find it hard to fully believe those feminists who claim to not get why the brand is so unpopular — and I have no patience at all for those who try to blame the media for feminism’s branding woes: A movement that can’t shape its own public image has only itself to blame.

Out in the world beyond the feminist blogosphere, commentariat, classrooms, and conferences, what those who reject the f-word see when they look at feminism is a brand whose tee shirts they’d rather not be seen in, because of what it stands for, or more problematically, what it can appear to stand for, and what it can suggest they stand for. As a lifelong feminist and believer in gender equality (the latter being the reason for the former), that feeling is not alien to me.

The truth is, I can imagine arriving at a point where the most fitting qualifier for my feminist identification is “former.” But I’m a stubborn bitch. And I’ve got “dissident feminist” on standby. So for now I will qualify my feminism as disessentialist, and see how that fits for a while.

Sheryl Sandberg’s Women’s Studies 101

 “She’s like someone who’s just taken Women’s Studies 101 and wants to share it with her friends.”

That’s how Katha Pollitt, writing in the Nation, characterized Sheryl Sandberg’s recitation of well worn facts and statistics in her “sort of feminist manifesto,” Lean In. It’s a funny comment (and not as snarky in context as it sounds on its own.) It’s also a sad comment. I find much of today’s feminist commentary sounds like someone who’s just taken Women’s Studies 101 and is exercising a new vocabulary, or signaling authenticity as a club member. I can’t help feeling that this is reflective of and a partial reason for, as Pollitt put it, “the stalled gender revolution.” It’s 2013. When do we get to Women’s Studies 201? What would it consist of? And what would it not include?

Maybe that’s a stupid question. The idea of numbered levels of knowledge in a social and political movement based on theory assumes that the knowledge builds on itself, like Chemistry or Physics or English Lit or Infectious Diseases 101, to be followed by higher levels. This is a trap. The context of a social movement like feminism changes over time, by definition, as society changes, and so must the movement’s theories and constructs. Similar to how a software application that ran under an older version of an OS eventually loses compatibility with later versions, conceptual devices designed to analyze contemporary social contexts can lose relevance, or effectiveness, or applicability, as what was once contemporary passes into history and morphs in a new present.

Feminist theory devised in the 1970s cannot be expected to apply as well decades later. Second wave theories of media production, consumption, and influence must take into account not only technological changes but the social changes those technologies engender. Even more tricky, feminist theories must also take into account that feminism itself brought about changes in the very society and media its prior theories were trying to analyze: Second-wave theory predates second-wave influence and so describes a society that in a very real sense no longer exists — even when its problems remain in place.

Even such foundational concepts as “patriarchy” will lose relevance as the conditions of their origin give way to new, post-second-wave configurations of reality. Even relatively new ideas, like intersectionality, born somewhere between waves two and three, needs ongoing evaluation as social and cultural conditions change. The institutionalization of social theory ends in its entombment.

Over time, Women’s Studies 101 must inevitably be reclassified as history rather than directly applicable contemporary knowledge. That doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant, but that it needs to be built upon and where necessary (to continue the software analogy) “deprecated” and superseded by new analyses and theories and “programs” that better reflect and address a society with 50 years of feminism already behind it.

Skimping online feminism

PBS has a new 3-hour documentary, “MAKERS: Women Who Make America,” chronicling the past 50 years of feminism. I haven’t seen the film (and if I’m being honest, the odds are good I won’t.) But Amanda Marcotte does a flyby on it at Slate’s sadly named XX Factor ghetto.

Marcotte gives the film high marks, but notes that the filmmakers “missed an opportunity to cover what feminists are up to these days, inexplicably ignoring the explosion of online feminism and actions like Slutwalk.”

But is it really inexplicable? If the aim of the filmmakers was to chronicle how 50 years of feminism “remade our social and political landscape,” it’s understandable why they might “skimp” on covering feminism today — unless they were filming an exposé.

Yes, there has been an “explosion of online feminism” but it’s difficult to see what it has actually produced of landscape-remaking significance. The status of reproductive rights in the US (is there a more bottom line metric of women’s status?) is at a 40 year low, and maybe surpasses that low given the right’s invention of political tactics that circumvent Roe v. Wade, one of feminism’s defining achievements, to the point of near irrelevance.

Reaching back all of two years, Amanda cites Slutwalk as an “action” attributable to online feminism. But what has Slutwalk actually accomplished? It’s worth noting that the coming of Slutwalk and the “war on women” coincide exactly, and while there’s no causality in this correlation, neither did SW do anything to effectively temper much less roll back the WOW. To date, little has. (And no, the 2012 election results were not a “victory” for women’s health.)

b-word-cfrrEvery other day I get pleas for support from organizations like the Center for Reproductive Rights  and Planned Parenthood and Bitch Media reminding me that things are worse than ever — despite nearly two decades of online feminism. Why is that?

Online can be used for raising awareness, but “raising awareness” itself becomes fuel for flame wars (e.g., see recent thread at Feministe on One Billion Rising, an “action” that resembled Slut Walk in more ways than one.)

Feminism today seems more an entertainment genre than any kind of social or political movement. In fact, that could be a substantial accomplishment — but how does feminism exploit it? It generates lots of internet traffic and page views. It’s created a bunch of feminist hubs and feminist celebrities in feminist circles. The web functions as an efficient means of generating, distributing, and reinforcing feminist terminology and memes. But how much has online feminism actually accomplished by way of developing — and maintaining — the necessary conditions for gender equality and making progress on its issues?

You might think that two decades of so-called third wave online feminism would have influenced the “social and political landscape” so that the current full frontal on reproductive rights — contraception included — would have been politically unthinkable. In practice, my Inbox is filled with URGENT.

And this from a movement so finely tuned to the merest whiff of “backlash.”

Online feminism makes me wanna cry.

……

Some hand picked related posts:

Reproductive Rights & the Macroeconomics of Pussy, or, Why Is Feminism’s Image So Unpretty?
Waking up the Pro-Choice Public
Choice & the Neon Elephant
Limply fungible ‘choice’
The problem with ‘choice’
Is feminism afraid of something?
Since when are Coke & Pepsi pro-choice?
Paul Ryan on Reproductive Rights: “You’re not going to have a truce.”

 

Reproductive Rights & the Macroeconomics of Pussy, or, Why Is Feminism’s Image So Unpretty?

Proposition: Feminism has an active positive interest in cultural sexualization because sexualized culture, and the sexual and gender identities it supports, will seek to manifest non-reproductively, which normalizes non-reproductive sex and sexualities, which de-essentializes gender, which is a necessary condition for gender equality.

A repost/update of Reproductive Rights & the Macroeconomics of Pussy, or, Why Is Feminism’s Image So Unpretty? from August 22, in honor of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

The recent passing of Helen Gurley Brown (well, recent when this was originally posted back in Aug) created an unusually apt occasion for both mainstream media and feminist media to verbiate on the relationship between feminism and sexualized culture, even though it’s far from clear what those actually refer to.

Similarly, not long before that, the appointment of Marissa Mayer as CEO of Yahoo prompted talk of what to make of Mayer’s declining to wear a feminist button in the same breath she voices feminist views, and is a beneficiary of feminist influence. Marissa Mayer’s management of her fertility made some news even more recently in her short tenure as Yahoo’s CEO lady, though to be honest I don’t know the details because attention to that episode seemed decidedly optional, and I decided to opt out.

The point is, as in so many feminist matters, a common theme in both these episodes is the feminist public image: What is it? Why? What can or should it be? How might it be improved? What values are upturned, reinforced, or betrayed by any given representation of feminism and feminists, and of women generally?

The Feminist Public Image has gone from debate to pastime. But it takes on urgency when seen in connection to current attacks on reproductive rights in the United States, and to the way these transparently anti-women, anti-family, anti-sex, and anti-intelligence moves have not been met with greater public outrage.

To be sure, these attacks are not being taken lying down. But the unprecedented intensity and confidence behind these attacks, and the innovative methods used (e.g., localized TRAP laws, patient obstacles, stunt legislation), point to a long-running feminist failure of influence when it comes to gender, sexuality, and the whole cluster of feminism’s defining concerns.

Looking at the history, I believe the feminist influence deficit, and also the current status of reproductive rights, are traceable to a problematic analysis of objectification and sexualized culture that has left feminism with a conflicted relationship to pop sexuality.

The status of reproductive rights in the US directly reflects feminism’s brand image, its vitality and perceived relevance in the cultural marketplace. Unraveling these issues can shed light on why the feminist public image is so damn unpretty.

Read more

Candy Darling On Her Death Bed

I’ve been looking at a photo of Candy Darling on her death bed. The image is used in an ad for Sinister Pop, a new show at the Whitney Museum. The photo’s title is, in fact, Candy Darling On Her Deathbed, a moment captured in 1973 by Peter Hujar, and is (presumably) part of the exhibit. The ad (below) is on page 83 of The New Yorker’s year-end issue. (Here’s a NYT review of the exhibit.)

candy-darling-on-her-death-bed-ad-robe-cr

 

It’s a striking photo. Candy is beautiful. But for all the many notions and ideas, people and situations, I might associate with her, I don’t think of Candy Darling as especially sinister. The exhibit’s tag line is “Explore the Dark Side of Pop Art.” But is dark always sinister? Whatever. It would have been nicer if this out of the blue encounter with Miss Darling hadn’t been branded so heavily with sinister’s overtones, since even on her deathbed, Candy Darling radiates lightness and life and energies and something good.

Candy Says, Garbage/Shirley Manson Cover.
(a fave singer singing a fave song)

Beautiful Darling (2010) Trailer

The Democrats, Abortion, and the Election

obama-womens-health-security

Amanda Marcotte has a piece in Slate on how and why the Democratic party has so openly associated itself with abortion rights this election cycle. Contrary to conventional wisdom and expectations, their embrace of reproductive rights has apparently been beneficial to the party.

Marcotte asks, “So where does this belief that abortion rights hurts the Democrats come from?” She looks at interesting evidence that the belief is false, but why the belief arises in the first place remains an open question.

The belief that support for abortion rights is politically damaging has long been implicit in abortion and reproductive rights activism itself. That belief is reflected in the way abortion rights got branded as “choice” in a move to sanitize the issue and make it more politically palatable.

This process is clearly seen in how the most mainstream abortion rights organization, NARAL Pro-Choice America, dropped “abortion” from its name altogether (more precisely, they buried it in a rarely spelled-out acronym), opting to have their signature issue represented by the nearly meaningless “choice.” That was about 10 years ago, on the cusp of the feminist blogosphere.

In contrast, the opponents of repro rights, in addition to monopolizing the word “life,” haven’t hesitated to call it what it is: abortion, when they’re not calling it murder or infanticide, translated as “baby killing” for maximum emotional wallop. Fetus fetishization.

That the “choice” branding strategy has not worked is evident in the current status of reproductive rights in the US (more on that here) — not to mention the way US domestic repro rights politics and policies reverberate word wide though gag rules on foreign aid.

Like Amanda says, it’s good seeing the Democratic party being less shy on this. But it’s somber consolation seeing it took the current emergency to make that happen. It’s only because of how aggressively and blatantly the right has moved that the Democrats are showing such courage. That gives the Dems some cover, which gives reproductive rights advocates some breathing room, but it’s a wholly defensive position.

The right should never have found it this easy to push what they’re pushing. The “war on women” has so far been a piece of gunshot wedding cake for the right.

……

Some hand picked related posts:

Reproductive Rights & the Macroeconomics of Pussy, or, Why Is Feminism’s Image So Unpretty?
Waking up the Pro-Choice Public
Choice & the Neon Elephant
Limply fungible ‘choice’
The problem with ‘choice’
Is feminism afraid of something?
Since when are Coke & Pepsi pro-choice?
Paul Ryan on Reproductive Rights: “You’re not going to have a truce.”

 

Reproductive Rights & the Macroeconomics of Pussy, or, Why Is Feminism’s Image So Unpretty? (tl;dr)

Proposition: Feminism has an active positive interest in cultural sexualization because sexualized culture, and the sexual and gender identities it supports, will seek to manifest non-reproductively, which normalizes non-reproductive sex and sexualities, which de-essentializes gender, which is a necessary condition for gender equality.

The recent passing of Helen Gurley Brown created an unusually apt occasion for both mainstream media and feminist media to verbiate on the relationship between feminism and sexualized culture, even though it’s far from clear what those actually refer to.

Similarly, a month or so back, the appointment of Marissa Mayer as CEO of Yahoo prompted talk of what to make of Mayer declining to wear a feminist button in the same breath that she voices feminist views, and is a beneficiary of feminist influence.

As in so many feminist matters, a common theme in both these episodes is the feminist public image: What is it? Why? What can or should it be? How might it be improved? What values are upturned, reinforced, or betrayed by any given representation of feminism and feminists, and of women generally?

The Feminist Public Image has gone from debate to pastime. But it takes on urgency when seen in connection to current attacks on reproductive rights in the United States, and to the way these transparently anti-women, anti-family, anti-sex, and anti-intelligence moves have not been met with greater public outrage.

To be sure, these attacks are not being taken lying down. But the unprecedented intensity and confidence behind these attacks, and the innovative methods used (e.g., localized TRAP laws, patient obstacles, stunt legislation), point to a long-running feminist failure of influence when it comes to gender, sexuality, and the whole cluster of feminism’s defining concerns.

Looking at the history, I believe the feminist influence deficit, and also the current status of reproductive rights, are traceable to a problematic analysis of objectification and sexualized culture that has left feminism with a conflicted relationship to pop sexuality.

The status of reproductive rights in the US directly reflects feminism’s brand image, its vitality and perceived relevance in the cultural marketplace. Unraveling these issues can shed light on why the feminist public image is so damn unpretty.

Being burdened for decades with a crappy public image is itself a feminist failure. Worse, this public relations failure led US feminism to fumble reproductive rights in its 40-year journey from Roe to TRAP laws & personhood amendments & the looming possibility of a right wing theocratic frontman installed in the White House.

Beauty myth is only skin deep

The everyday world is flooded with sexual imagery some of which can at least arguably be read as feminist, and for that reason alone the feminist public image is not totally lacking sex appeal.

At the same time, in that same world, the dominant image of feminism and of feminist women as a type is angry, militant, humorless, judgmental, hypocritically non-sexual alternating with hypocritically sexual, and so on, and so on, and so on.

The fairness of this is not my concern here.

For better and for worse, the defining ingredient of feminism’s public image has been the objectification and “images of women” theories of the late-2nd and early-3rd waves, which today remain institutionalized as core feminist building blocks, almost like DNA.

In retrospect, it seems inevitable that, operating under a theory of commodified objectification as a mechanism for women’s oppression, feminists would look skeptically on pop sexuality. And a certain skepticism is always good policy. As it is, one consequence has been feminism’s compromised influence in sexualized consumerist culture (which is where activism must succeed.)

By hanging onto a simplified “vulgar” objectification theory — call it “beauty myth feminism” — it became increasingly difficult for feminism to engage pop sexuality and gender imagery without getting its hands dirty, its makeup smeared, and its principles tied in knots, while remaining at constant war with itself.

Having been analytically blinkered and led astray by its own rhetoric — and despite an appropriately heightened sensitivity to backlash — Unitedstatesean feminism was eventually outmaneuvered on repro rights through failure to make credible connections between sexualization and the very reproductive rights such sexualization demands and, in a way, presupposes. (More on this in a sec.)

During this period, reproductive rights became over-identified specifically and narrowly with abortion, while the “Abortion Issue” was branded a matter of “Choice,” an intentionally watered-down consumerist term easily dispersed and broadly applied in a marketplace where feminism is, almost as if by training or sabotage, unprepared to compete.

This is how feminism lost political control of reproductive rights, without which there can be no true gender equality, which is the only true measure of feminism’s progress.

The macroeconomics of pussy

The management of female sexuality has been a human preoccupation since before time: Just as pre-contraceptive cultures revolve around female reproductivity, modern contraception shifts that center of gravity towards non-reproductivity, with non-reproductive sexuality superseding reproductive capacity as an organizing principle. I think of this as the difference between reproductive and post-reproductive societies, cultures, economies, eras, values, etc.

The ongoing failure to adequately recognize, theorize, articulate, and exploit these shifts in the macroeconomic function of women’s bodies keeps feminism’s political potential unrealized, its meaning & branding incoherent, and its successes vulnerable to reversal. This is a formula for irrelevance.

Feminism has now spent decades working an analysis that has left it popularly identified as opposed in principle to the very cultural sexualization it could have and should have been seen embracing and taking credit for, shaping the meaning of, and promoting outright.

How fucked is this?

Feminist interest in sexualization

Everyday activist and blogospheric feminism is not shy in championing women’s sexuality: The right & freedom of women to our sexuality sans stigma is one of feminism’s great themes. But as the muted popular response to current assaults on reproductive freedom make plain, when it comes to evangelical sex-positivity, the girl don’t go far enough.

And just to be clear, this is not another call for feminism to sex-up its image but to re-conceive its understanding of sexualization itself.

Proposition: Feminism has a positive interest in cultural sexualization because sexualized culture, and the sexual and gender identities it supports, will seek to manifest non-reproductively, which normalizes non-reproductive sex and sexualities, which de-essentializes gender, which is a necessary condition for gender equality. (That’s why this shit’s so dangerous.)

Accordingly, the problem is not objectification and sexual imagery but the essentialization of sexualized gender and its representations.

Repro rights: Reclaim. Reframe. Rebrand. Relaunch.

The way I see it, as a movement, to the extent that’s what it is or should be or can be, whatever else it does, feminism’s got to do two things:

1) reclaim, reframe, rebrand, and relaunch repro rights awareness with the immediate goal of getting everyday people to recognize and value their own reproductive rights and to stop taking reproductive rights for granted. (Doesn’t that sound like fun?)

2) establish itself and claim full credit as the Defender of reproductive rights and freedom, broadly defined, as fundamental to human rights and freedom, rather than a matter of personal “choice.” (Try to imagine the NRA campaigning for “the choice to bear arms.” Try to imagine bible thumpers fighting to protect “religious choice.” Try to imagine “civil choice activists” pushing congress to pass the Voting Choice Act.)

This would be a populist sex-positivity that could stand in full frontal contrast to the regressive sexuality and gender profiling of right wing social conservatism.

This work is long overdue. It has been a costly delay.

Now I might think that selling repro rights and freedom in a highly sexualized culture would be a simple thing: Reproductive rights are so much more than abortion. Reproductive rights underwrite the modern sex life. Reproductive rights underwrite and lubricate a throbbing consumer economy predicated on and dedicated to the servicing of sexual ideation, from genesis to satisfaction. Reproductive rights include the right to consensual sex itself.

Modern sexuality is itself a reproductive right.

What social conservatives seek is to, in effect, abolish modern sexuality: If you impede access to contraception and family planning, you impede sexual expression, especially for women, thus reinforcing essentialized gender roles. This ancient agenda, never too well concealed, has over the last two years been exposed for what it is. New evidence accumulates daily.

For this reason alone, I might also think that people generally and women in particular would be in revolt against a cultural coup by reproductive Luddites, but I probably overestimate my fellow Americans: Given US history, a progressive vision of repro rights wouldn’t have been a simple sell even if feminism hadn’t run out of batteries.

Reprononics

On the other hand, falling behind on reproductive rights goes against the interests of advanced capitalism, whose most enthusiastic cheerleaders typically align with the enemies of repro rights. But why should that be?

Being against reproductive rights is economically incoherent: If you impede modern sexuality, you impede modern economy. There’s nothing “free market” about the denial of reproductive rights. There’s nothing “entrepreneurial” about it. There’s nothing “American” about it. Certainly nothing “pro-life” or forward looking. But then there’s nothing in feminism’s historically “lefty” orientation that prepares it to engage productively with sexualized capitalism.

Feminism could turn the current repro rights emergency (which happened on its watch) into a move for new relevance. I grasp at evidence of that happening. But to really matter, feminism’s got to occupy a cultural space where repro rights, sex-positivity, and sexualized economy intersect and make nice with each other in a modern, progressive, “post-reproductive” context.

As it stands today, feminism’s dysfunctional relationship with commodified sexuality has dulled its analytical edge and undercut its influence, blocking its creative political engagement with consumer culture & economy. No wonder the feminist public image is what it is, and the status of reproductive rights is approaching a 50-year low.

……

Some hand picked related posts:

Reproductive Rights & the Macroeconomics of Pussy, or, Why Is Feminism’s Image So Unpretty?
Waking up the Pro-Choice Public
Choice & the Neon Elephant
Limply fungible ‘choice’
The problem with ‘choice’
Is feminism afraid of something?
Since when are Coke & Pepsi pro-choice?
Paul Ryan on Reproductive Rights: “You’re not going to have a truce.”

 

An inconvenient woman

Ich bin ein Cosmo Girl.

Helen Gurley Brown

Helen Gurley Brown and Cosmopolitan are “feminist” for reasons that should be self-evident: For four decades, Cosmopolitan magazine has unrelentingly advocated for and promoted recreational sexuality… which by definition severs sexuality from reproductivity… which de-essentializes gender… which is a prerequisite for gender equality… a feminist goal. (Similar can be said about Hugh Hefner and Playboy, but no point going there until Hef kicks.)

There are things to not like about Cosmo, but what puts me off might not put you off. Changing one or more aspects of the Cosmo mix could skew its overall feminist quotient any number of ways. But as long as the mag’s advocating and promoting non-reproductive sexuality, it’s doing some kind of feminist work.

These days I only see Cosmo at the checkout. It seems to have become a caricature of itself post HGB. And its covers were better when they used models instead of celebrities, when they were shot by Scavullo, Mr. Malegaze himself.

I worry less about how awful Cosmo and other organs of objectification & sexualization are than I do about why, in such a highly sexualized culture, social conservatives are succeeding in dragging reproductive rights back to not just pre-Roe but pre-Griswold days, and about how feminism got caught with her bloomers down when the perpetual backlash finally crested.

If you’re looking for something to read, I can enthusiastically recommend Jennifer Scanlon’s Helen Gurley Brown bio, Bad Girls Go Everywhere, for which Scanlon had full access to HGB’s papers, housed at Smith College. An important story in 20th century gender, women’s, and feminist history.

Paul Ryan on Reproductive Rights: “You’re not going to have a truce.”

A 2010 essay by Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan offers stark evidence of how and why the rhetoric of “Choice” is no longer serving the cause of reproductive rights and freedom.

As Michelle Goldberg notes in the Daily Beast, the words “woman” and “mother” do not appear once in Ryan’s 1500 word piece, The Cause of Life Can’t be Severed from the Cause of Freedom. “Abortion” appears only once. But “choice” or “choices” appear 22 times, 9 times in the first 300 words. Nearly every use of “choice” is in praise of “free market choice” and consumer-type choices, as in the “freedom of choice” Ryan exercises with his car:

I can drive it, lend it, kick it, sell it, or junk it, at will.

I’m glad I’m not Paul Ryan’s car.

More from Ryan’s essay:

Under capitalism, people exercise their right to choose products and services they prefer, to pursue the job or career they desire, the business they wish to establish or deal with, the kinds of investments and savings they favor, and many more options. These choices reflect individuals’ hope to improve their lives and to develop their full human potential. While freedom of choice alone doesn’t guarantee happiness, it is essential to the pursuit of happiness.

The gap between this view of “choice,” as a right of economic free agents, and “choice” as a sanitized codeword for the right to bodily integrity and reproductive autonomy, is big enough to drive an entire fleet of Ryan’s well-kicked junk through .

The word “Choice” no longer serves the cause of reproductive rights. It lends itself too perfectly to the trivialized praise of consumer options that Ryan pulls throughout his essay, where the word’s deployment serves only to let the remaining air out of the tread-bare tires of the “pro-choice” mantra.

It’s past time for reproductive rights advocates to stop relying on the language of “choice,” now almost exclusively associated with “abortion,” as a stand-in for the full range of reproductive rights, health, family planning, and sexual lifestyle options that Ryan, Romney, and their kind seek to bury under the rhetoric of “natural rights” and founding father fetishism.

It’s time for reproductive rights advocates to start actually naming what we’re fighting for, rather than burying it under the consumer-friendly but politically inert language of “choice.”

Choices may be rights, but rights are not choices.

Goldberg quotes Ryan (via The Weekly Standard) as saying, “I’m as pro-life as a person gets. You’re not going to have a truce.”

It’s time for repro rights supporters to realize that today the rhetoric of “choice” itself is a slow motion truce and surrender.

……

Some hand picked related posts:

Reproductive Rights & the Macroeconomics of Pussy, or, Why Is Feminism’s Image So Unpretty?
Waking up the Pro-Choice Public
Choice & the Neon Elephant
Limply fungible ‘choice’
The problem with ‘choice’
Is feminism afraid of something?
Since when are Coke & Pepsi pro-choice?
Paul Ryan on Reproductive Rights: “You’re not going to have a truce.”

 

Scalia or Thomas as Romney VP?

Maybe I just enjoy nightmare scenarios. But I keep imagining Romney going for Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas as veep.

Picking either of those two would certainly “excite the base” as politicos are so fond of saying. It would also be a major stink bomb dropped into the election process. Nice.

Romney picking either Scalia or Thomas as VP would be a game changer of truly freakish proportions. It would put culture war issues not simply on the front burner but would set the whole freaking kitchen on fire.

By creating an opening on the court, Romney would force Obama to make a contentious high-profile political decision. The next SCOTUS term starts in October, so delaying a decision on a new nominee would not be an option, even though time would be too short to nominate and get a new justice through senate confirmation before election day.

At the same time, should a Romney/Scalia or Romney/Thomas team get sworn into office on Sunday, January 20, accompanied (as would be likely under the circumstances) by a fully Republican congress, it could get a SCOTUS replacement confirmed and sworn in by the following Friday. How does Justice Bork strike you? Justice Bachmann? Justice Rubio?

Would Scalia or Thomas go for something like this? Why not?

While both Scalia and Thomas must each enjoy his current position, these are men of uncommon conviction, it’s not hard to see ideological temptation trumping job security for either of them. Thomas in particular seems to have open (though silent) contempt for the court and its reputation, though Scalia is hardly a laggard. Each must long to give a good fuck you to critics calling for their investigation and impeachment. What better way than a history making self-impeachment that positions them a heartbeat away from the presidency? Should Romney win, whichever one gets picked as Veep can be sworn in by the other.

Would picking Scalia or Thomas actually help Romney get elected? I don’t know. But I’ve been thinking lately that although the GOP would obviously like to win in November, the far right that now controls the Republican party might be almost as happy to lose.

The right would benefit tremendously from a second Obama term, building on the playbook and template used during his first term. An Obama win would intensify the energy of panicked resentment necessary to bring about the right’s longer term vision. Maybe even more than a Romney presidency, an Obama win in November would drive four more years of rightward movement, during which the democracy-undermining methods and devices used over the last four years can be fine-tuned and augmented to further massage the US body politic into submission.

The Unitedstatesean right is both patient and opportunistic in ways that puts the left to shame. A Romney win would require them to actually govern, or at least appear to, which would make then responsible for whatever happens on their watch.

In contrast, Barack Obama was the best thing to happen to the far right since the Civil War. And their long term interests may be better served by continuing to help Obama fail than by winning with Romney.

Sleep well.

What should we call Aurora?

What will become the shorthand way of invoking what happened in Aurora, Colorado? What word will be sacrificed in the name of a handle to an event of terrifying proportions? The next few years are certain to be periodically dotted with news of one kind or another related to the event, and establishing the frame of reference for these friendly reminders will need to be instant and sure.

Like Columbine.

“Aurora” is the most likely candidate. But aurora’s are beautiful and wondrous things, why tag such an innocent in that way? Hmm… but so, once upon a time, was columbine the name of a flowerDark Columbine - from wiki…. though I completely forgot that (if I ever knew it) until just now. Columbine is Columbine, like postal is postal, and likely will forever be, or at least for a really long time.

How about we refer to it as the Batman shootings?

Lots of points in favor of that, not least being that naming it for the movie makes it easier to distinguish it from other shootings at other movies. The only downside I see is that it colors the Batman franchise with all those frightening associations — except that is actually an argument FOR referring to the event as “the Batman shooting.” Is the Caped Crusader not resilient enough to carry that weight?

How about we refer to it as the movie theater shootings?

That has a generic charisma that’s kind of nice. It lacks the flash of “the Batman shootings,” but maybe makes up for it with generality, greater applicability. “The movie theater shooting” has an all-inclusive anonymity to it — what theater? what movie? — that seems proportionate to the randomness of something like that actually coming soon to a theater near you. “The multiplex shootings” also does all that, but with a more modern, looming, mutant-technology feel to it — not unlike the Batman aesthetic.

Should we refer to it as the Century Theaters shooting? The Time Warner shooting? Nah. Too corporate, impersonal.

I like “the Batman shootings.” It’s got resonance.  And it would spare Aurora. But I bet that’s not how it plays out.

Disclosure: Aurora is the name of a character I invented for a story I’m writing. It took me a while to settle on the name. In my story, Aurora is an uber cool young woman with high-end shits for parents. I’ll think I’ll keep her name as is. I know Aurora would agree it becomes her.

And now for something completely not different.

Since when are Coke & Pepsi pro-choice?

And now, yet more evidence, as if more is needed, that “the limp language of choice” has outlived its usefulness as a rallying cry in the fight for reproductive rights.

The American Beverage Association, which represents the Coca-Cola Company and Pepsico among others, has launched a new multi-brand umbrella campaign built around the theme of Choice: DeliveringChoices.org.

American Beverage Association: Pro-Choice?

I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty confident that this is not an attempt by these consumer brands to endorse abortion and other reproductive rights. I wonder though, did no one in involved in this project know that, out here in the land of unquenchable thirst, the word “choice” is a political term, in fact a political brand, synonymous with those very messy and controversial things? I suppose it’s possible.

More likely, the fact that the word CHOICE is long associated with abortion & repro rights just wasn’t considered significant enough to dissuade them from their marketing plans. And why should it? Choice is what the American Beverage Association is all about. Delivering Choices.

If the world’s largest consumer brands are comfortable adopting Choice as an umbrella brand, then the word is no longer sufficient for branding — and for selling — reproductive rights. Was it ever?

……

Some hand picked related posts:

Reproductive Rights & the Macroeconomics of Pussy, or, Why Is Feminism’s Image So Unpretty?
Waking up the Pro-Choice Public
Choice & the Neon Elephant
Limply fungible ‘choice’
The problem with ‘choice’
Is feminism afraid of something?
Since when are Coke & Pepsi pro-choice?
Paul Ryan on Reproductive Rights: “You’re not going to have a truce.”

 

Mitt Romney’s doll parts

My Twinn, Real Doll

LifeLike Corporation.

That’s one of the companies at the center of current questions surrounding Mitt Romney’s relationship to Bain Capital. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Mitt Romney and the Doll Company,” LifeLike Corporation owns and markets a brand of dolls under the name My Twinn. The full article is apparently no longer available online, but it stated that LifeLike was brought to Romney by a friend from Brigham Young University and Harvard Business School, and was the only Bain investment originated by Romney and with which he was “closely involved.”

LifeLike’s unique selling proposition: create a “fully personalized” “just like me doll” as a “Special friend for your daughter, granddaughter, son or grandson. We create each doll to resemble a photo, provided by the customer, of the child between the ages of 3 and 12.” A selection of outfits is available.

“The My Twinn head is made from high quality polyurethane petroleum based vinyl with beautiful natural skin tones. The body consists of a plastic armature covered with polyurethane foam tucked inside of soft cloth. The arms from the elbows to the fingers and the legs from the knee to the toes are created of the same high quality vinyl as the head. The hair is of the highest quality modacrylic fiber, LifeLike in look and feel, and is professionally styled and cut for a beautiful likeness. My Twinn dolls are 23″ tall and include 18 points of poseability.”

Order Forms: LifeLike's My Twinn & Real Doll

Although the dolls are only 23″ tall, with their “18 points of poseability,” Romney’s LifeLike Corporation’s My Twinn looks like a sex doll for pedophiles and incest-oriented family members. I’ll add that the Mormon connection amps the creep factor by not a little.

LifeLike’s My Twinn immediately brought to mind Real Doll, the California maker of $6000 life-like sex dolls complete with auto-suction body cavities and customizable everything.

I’ve always believed that the rhetoric & imagery of so-called pro-life serve as porn for religious fundamentalists and their fellow travelers. This does not disabuse me.

So then, this is one of the businesses in Willard’s Bain portfolio (of which he is sole proprietor.) I wonder what kind of synergies an expert businessman like Romney could have concocted between LifeLike and another one of his Bain holdings, Stericycle, a medical waste company that disposes of aborted fetuses.

See also: Mitt Romney: I Pimp the Patriarchy

And now for something not completely different.

Waking up the Pro-Choice Public

This Maddow segment on repro rights includes an interview with Nancy Northrup of the Center For Reproductive Rights, on the eve of a Mississippi court decision on that state’s abortion TRAP laws. CRR represented the forces of modernity at trial. The interview starts around 13:00 minutes after a “very wordy introduction” and blood-boiling backgrounder by Rachel.

Interesting to hear a discussion on this subject without the word “choice” bouncing around like a ping pong meme.The first use of the word was when Northrup said CRR’s activities were “waking up the pro-choice public.” Interesting construction, pro-choice public. It gives a name to what is usually represented via poll numbers. As a phrase, “pro-choice public” gets less than 95,000 hits. “Pro-choicers” gets 231,000. “Pro-life public” gets 781,000.

I hope Northrup’s correct about them waking up, but I continue having doubts that the word “choice” is sufficient to capture the dangers to which we would have the pro-choice public wake. Come to think of it, how did they fall so deep asleep?

In the interview, Northrup spoke of “rights,” as does the name of the organization she heads, which is arguing in court to protect rights that, at least as of today, are still guaranteed by the constitution. And the idea of protecting constitutionally guaranteed rights carries more weight and wallop than “choice,” which means literally everything and nothing, and invokes no sense of urgency.

It’s past time for the “the limp language of choice” to be transformed and translated into the language of rights, especially when trying to reach a broader “pro-choice public” that doesn’t obsess daily on repro rights. Reproductive rights are fundamental to human rights, and “choice” can no longer even begin to convey the issues behind the euphemism.

“Choice” is a term of marketing. “Choice” reads like a matter of lifestyle, while repro rights are a matter of life and death. “Choice” has passed its rhetorical expiration date.

choice

Mitt Romney: I Pimp the Patriarchy

As I’ve written before, I find the term patriarchy problematic.

Between the word’s muddy overtones, and its being in such everyday use, the term patriarchy has lost analytical edge. I try to avoid using it in favor of trying to get more precisely at whatever I’m trying to say, though that inevitably makes sentences longer. In this case, though, I can think of no better word than patriarchy. I speak, of course, of Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney is a patriarch, raised by a patriarch to be a patriarch, marinated from birth in an exceedingly patriarchal sect of patriarchal Christianity. He has raised his five progeny, all male, to be patriarchs.

I Pimp the Patriarchy

Romney seems to wear patriarchy well. At the same time, he often reads like a man desperately trying to keep his cool, defuse a situation, bluff his way out of a jam, shifting blame elsewhere all while reeking of an untouchable paternalism. Eddie Haskell with a silver spoon and barber’s shears, trying to distract you from what he’s saying, with what he’s saying, a verbal shell game, run by a well-bred sleaze.

Romney's stump desperation

Maybe desperation is just Romney’s style. Maybe he’s born with it. Maybe it’s more than that. The social order he was molded from birth to embody and uphold — not Mormonism specifically but the whole shebang from which it was spawned — is in bad shape. He knows that. And those whose interests he shares, and whose bidding he will do if elected, they know it too. They do not lack resources in what may be their last chance to fully capture the United States and drag it kicking and screaming into the 19th century.

Through Mitt Romney, an Unitedstatesean model of capital-P Patriarchy will go one more desperate round against modernity, their efforts intensified by the immediate emergency of removing the black man and his family from the White House.

#Obama2012

See also: Mitt Romney’s Doll Parts

Having it all

Re: the Why Women Still Can’t Have it All article by Anne-Marie Slaughter that everyone’s just going mad about, dahlink:

The problem isn’t that feminism promised that “women can have it all,” but in the way “have it all” gets interpreted as “have everything.”

The point is that saying “women can have it all” is meaningless, a marketing proposition more than any kind of political or economic analysis. It places all ambition (which in this context is a novelty attribute for a women) in an acquisitive light, reducing it to a vague sense of luxury, and earned entitlement, inducements to a rodent race without sacrificing or transcending her status as a breeding device.

UPDATE: I see Slaughter has a follow-on piece where she reconsiders her use of the phrase: The ‘Having It All’ Debate Convinced Me to Stop Saying ‘Having It All’. I haven’t read that one yet.

clothed in pink

when feminism
sleeps with essentialism
she wakes clothed in pink.

Exhibit A

Illustration found through a blog post at Literate Perversions Tumblr.

“Patriarchy” is a term of patriarchy

I think “patriarchy” is more usefully thought of as reproductivity, in that patriarchy initially arose and began molding human psychology in an era when reproduction, its control and its utilization, was literally at the center of the human universe. The thing that gets called patriarchy is thus a reproductive institution. But the social and economicRead more

Feminism comes

feminism comes not in waves but in whirlpools. faster, pussycat.

Brave Little Man

I don’t think I ever heard of Jerry Sandusky before his sex scandal broke. In every pic of him I’ve seen since then, he looks kind of lost, spaced, confused, drugged. He sounds the same in his conversations with Bob Costas, not only in the self-incriminating things he says, but in vocal tone and delivery.Read more

Credit and responsibility

Feminism has often simply announced changes already in progress for which it has taken credit and for which it has been held responsible. – Gayle Rubin, 1992

Pro-life is porno for fundies.

“Pro-life” is porno for fundies. @AmandaMarcotte@sullydish #reprorights #prochoice #sexualityrights — Nico (@NicoDetourn) May 24, 2012