Archive for the ‘Identity’ Category

feminism_q07

Happy New Year!  I hope to introduce you to more writers, thinkers and do-ers  in 2014. Maybe I’m a bit tired of the cut of my own jib, or maybe I’ve suddenly gone shy(!). Either way, I think engaging with a variety of perspectives is always a good thing.

An independent-minded UK-based blogger/tweeter I like is Jacobinism. He has begun the year with a thought-provoking post entitled Racism; Censorship; Disunity. He puts forward the view that the ‘Left’, and ‘intersectional’ activists and writers within the Left, can be blind to oppression and violence unless it comes from white people. To illustrate his point he uses a case study from within the feminist blogosphere, where a young feminist woman was attacked and then censored by ‘intersectional’ feminism, for her views.  Jacobinism writes:

‘There is a damaging idea fast gathering influence on the Left that – like a lot of contemporary postmodern Leftist thought – urgently needs dismantling. This idea holds that racism is only possible when prejudice is married with power.

The corollary of this premise is that racism may only travel in one direction – from the powerful to the powerless – and it is therefore nonsensical to discuss, still less condemn, racist attitudes expressed by ethnic minorities. In the West, racism is the preserve of the white majority who use it – often, it is claimed, unconsciously – to sustain their advantage and to oppress those they deem to be ‘other’. In the geopolitical sphere, meanwhile, this racism is the preserve of the world’s wealthy democracies and is expressed as Orientalism, Military and Cultural Imperialism, and Neoliberalism, all of which are used to dominate and subjugate the Global South.’

Jacobin’s discussion of the feminist ‘storm’ that illustrates his points is probably best read in full. To give a flavour of the ‘case study’ here’s some extracts from his post:

‘On 20 December, the feminist writer and activist Adele Wilde-Blavatsky published an article in the Huffington Post entitled Stop Bashing White Women in the Name of Beyonce: We Need Unity Not Division. Wilde-Blavatsky’s post was a rebuke to those – on what she described as the post-colonial or intersectional feminist Left – who use identity politics and arguments from privilege to delegitimise the voices of white feminists speaking out about the abuse of women in the Global South and within minority communities in the West…

The response to this argument from the bien pensant Left ranged from the incredulous to the vitriolic.

In the comment thread below her article and in a storm which overwhelmed her twitter handle and her hashtag, Wilde-Blavatsky (who tweets as @lionfaceddakini) was derided with accusations of arrogance, ignorance, bigotry, racism and cultural supremacism. She was advised that she had not listened sufficiently closely to authentic voices of women of colour.  Others declared her to be beneath contempt and an object example of white feminism’s irrelevance. She was accused of using a fraudulent call for unity as a way of advancing an argument from white victimhood. It was demanded that she immediately re-educate herself by reading various academic texts on the subject. Her “white woman’s tears” were repeatedly mocked, as were her protestations that her own family is mixed-race. And, of course, there were the predictable demands for retraction, penitence and prostration…

To accept that one’s unalterable characteristics can play any part in the validity of an opinion is to submit to the tyranny of identity politics and endorse an affront to reason. Arguments about rights and ethics must be advanced and defended on their merits, irrespective of who is making them. There is no other way.’

I applaud Jacobin for taking on this thorny subject, and for referring to feminism in doing so. Not only do feminists find it difficult to have aspects of their dogma questioned, they find it particularly hard to stomach coming from a man. But I have a couple of points to make that disagree with his argument.

1) All feminism suggests men are ‘innately’ powerful and women not.  I agree with Jacobin  that actions should not be protected from criticism simply due to the identity of those taking them. But I am wary of Wilde-Blavatsky’s  allusions to patriarchal culture and behaviour in her criticisms of violence against women in ‘the Global South’. Isn’t the term ‘patriarchy’ a way of playing ‘identity politics’ too? Don’t men get dismissed by feminism in general for having views on gender because of their ‘unalterable characteristics’?

2) All feminism reinforces the gender binary There have always been tensions within feminism and different schools of thought within the ‘movement’. However as I have said in my ‘controversial’ piece Against Feminisms, all feminists rely on the binary of man v woman with ‘man’ being found powerful, oppressive and so not worth listening to. And so

‘ feminist theorists such as bell hooks and Julia Serano and Beverly Skeggs, even when they are referring to other divisions such as ethnicity, class and transgender identities, are still relying on the reification of the man v woman binary to support all their arguments about gender.’

3) Feminism is more ‘united’ than it seems I will write more on this another time, but my view is a lot of the ‘conflicts’ in feminism are not exactly fabricated, but they’re superficial.  Feminism does have common characteristics.  I find this ‘flowchart’ that was doing the rounds online recently, laughable. But it does indicate a basic worldview that I would suggest all feminists share to a large degree. It also illustrates clearly how not being a feminist is unacceptable and derided by feminists of all stripes (click image to enlarge):

FEMINIST-570

I don’t want a young woman writer to be censored for having the ‘wrong’ outlook. But I think young men are ‘censored’ from expressing their views on gender before they even begin. Gender studies and media output on gender are dominated by versions of Wilde-Blavatsky. I don’t privilege (‘white people’s’) racism over gender but I don’t think gender inequalities function how any feminist presents them. If that makes me persona non grata at some dinner parties who cares? I can have my own party (and the booze is always great)!

Do You Trust Me?

Posted: November 6, 2013 in Identity, internet, Writing
Tags: ,

 

above clip from Hal Hartley’s film, Trust (1990)

Trust is a funny thing. Every morning as we are forced from sleep into consciousness, we trust that the world is not too different from how we left it the night before. We trust that we’re not going to fall downstairs before even our first cup of coffee, that there is milk in the fridge, that the electrics haven’t blown. Even in a simple morning routine we put our trust in strangers – the postman, gas companies, engineers, the people who made the kettle and the toaster, the rubbish collectors, farmers, supermarket staff, cows. Human life relies on trust.

But sometimes trust between people breaks down. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment it happens, the precise cause of the splitting of the seams. But the effects are clear enough. Someone says something and you pause, sceptical about their words and the motives behind them. Your lover mumbles in their sleep and you wonder if they’re dreaming of someone else. The sunny weather that started the day looks like it could let you down any minute and turn to rain. Buying a paper in the newsagents you check your change twice, expecting the worst. That person who smiled at you on the tube must not have meant it.

Maybe your heart has been broken more than once. Maybe someone who posed as a friend turned on you, fast. Perhaps your parents didn’t protect you well enough when you were a child. You might have good reason not to trust.

But living without trust must be scary. Monsters loom behind every corner. Those people and organisations you once relied on now look like thieves and fraudsters. A hand held out to you could just as easily slap you in the face.

Some might find me naive, but despite of all the evidence mounting up to justify wariness, I still think it’s worth it, to trust. I still believe someone, somewhere, will catch me when I fall.

 

‘Boyfriends/And girlfriends/And enemies/Those upon which we rely’ – Low

When I was a child I treated friendship as sacred. If I were to attempt some clumsy psychoanalysis of myself, these many years later, I might begin to see why. My parents broke up when I was four years old, and my world collapsed. (Unconsciously then), I think I decided that in my own life people would not be so unstable, unreliable, so breakable as my parents. But of course they were.

I say ‘child’ but this dangerous belief has of course followed me round through adulthood, so that when friendships (and romantic relationships) have broken down, I have felt a loss, an inadequacy, an anger, a shame, akin to that first big break-up of my early life. It wasn’t my fault. But nobody told me that at the time. And, even today, in the complex world of adult relations, I tend to blame myself deep down, for most things that go wrong.

But there is in me, and it is getting stronger, (thanks in part to some recent and very helpful psychotherapy), an ability to step away from that ‘guilty’ child. To see life, and people (including me), as complex and unpredictable, and to accept that. Not all friendships (or romantic relationships) last forever. That doesn’t necessarily diminish them. I broke up with my ex partner over eight years ago now, but it is only very recently I have been able to feel happy and grateful that we knew each other, were very close, had some laughs, were best mates. A Buddhist might find my revelation amusing, for they know that if life itself is temporary, the things within it are hardly going to be permanent. I always was a slow learner.

I don’t think I am the only one afflicted with a perfectionist side when it comes to friendship. I can think of one or two people out there, who are probably even more ‘extremist’ (and less reflective?) than me. They hold onto this romantic notion that if someone is not utterly wonderful and nice and the kindest bestest friend in the world, they must be some kind of devil. Freud knew about this dichotomising amongst friends and even admitted to doing it himself:

‘An intimate friend and a hated enemy have always been indispensable requirements for my emotional life; I have always been able to create them anew, and not infrequently my childish ideal has been so closely approached that friend and enemy coincided in the same person.’

I think if we want to keep our friends, and to make new ones, to keep open to life and love’s possibilities, we have to acknowledge that negative aspect in people and relationships. In hindsight, I think my ex understood it better than I. After a row, or an affair, or a terrible sorrow-filled night, when I thought nothing could be salvaged from the wreckage, he would always treat me exactly as he had before the crisis. He didn’t seem fased by our ability to be ‘enemies’ at times, as well as lovers and friends. Maybe he had a bit of Nietzsche in him, and thought:

‘The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends.’

I’m not quite there yet. I still have a slightly rose-tinted view of friendship. And I still get crushed by messy imperfect reality on a regular basis. But I am learning to accept, much more than that heartbroken four year old could at least, that humans have frailties and that’s ok.

You may remember the Kinsey Sicks from my recent enthusing over their unique brand of ‘dragapella’ extravaganza. Now this irreverent barbershop (nail salon?) quartet are celebrating their 20th birthday with a rather brilliant song and video.

Why The Fuck Aren’t We Famous? is not only a very good question considering the talent, wit and style of the Kinsey Sicks, it is also a timely comment on contemporary celebrity pop culture. Aping  A and R men and Pop Idol judges, the Sicks list reasons why they’re not Top of the Pops along with the Biebers and Gagas of the world.

‘if you wanna be commercial minimise the controversial, people want their chicks with sticks to cut off the politics’.

I think there’s a very serious point here, in amongst the make up, stilettos and oh so lovely harmonies. In a world where popular culture has pretty well entirely  gone gay - see Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Eurotrash, Jersey Shore, Big Brother, The Golden Girls, etc etc – actual gay men writing and singing candidly about their sexuality, politics, and gender, still come across as a bit too much for the mainstream. In other words, Kinsey Sicks, darlings:

‘why can’t you all be like Ru Paul?’

I particularly love the therapy sessions in the vid, with the Kinseys taking it turns to sit on the couch of ‘Dr Fraud’ and tell him their woes. I have a sneaking suspicion that the original, unacceptably intellectual and open-minded Dr Sex would be a fan of the Kinsey Sicks, should he be alive today.

Famous or not, I am glad these talented performers are still here…er…sticking it to polite yet often hypocritical, celebrity-obsessed, trash TV society, and proving that good old-fashioned Camp is alive and well, and as brash yet subtle as ever.

Spare-Rib

I must say I was a little bit surprised to hear recently that Spare Rib, the feminist magazine that began in 1972 and ceased publication in 1993, was about to make a comeback.  It is one thing that a lot of contemporary feminists spout a kind of souped-up retro  mumsy cupcake version of  70s feminism. It is another that an actual relic of that era has come back to haunt us.

Or haunt me, should I say. For I don’t know many women of my generation (in our 40s) who both had quite as strong a feminist-influenced 1970s childhood as I did, but who have also rejected that part of their heritage. I remember seeing Spare Rib lying around my family home, and as I got old enough, picking it up and reading it. It is not really possible to recall the actual process of what? feminists might say ‘consciousness raising’; I might call it indoctrination. But I know that Spare Rib was part of my early education about gender politics, that has taken quite a lot of soul-searching and pain to begin to ‘unlearn’.

The resuscitator of Zombie Spare Rib, Charlotte Raven,  is only about a year older than me. I met her when I first went to university. I found her a bit severe and scary. Charlotte lives in a ‘big, beautiful house in north London’ and is married with two kids. I can’t help but feel as I read about her rediscovery of Spare Rib, that Raven’s  view of 1970s feminism as rebellion, and radicalism, and fighting ‘oppression’ is a romantic and nostalgic one, that doesn’t relate to the reality of the 1970s or of the 21st century. And that her enthusiasm for that period and this project,  may be borne in part from getting older and ‘settling down’. Some people buy fast cars, others try sky diving. Could this be the signs of a mid-life crisis?! Is my rejection of my feminist upbringing the mirror opposite?

Because if I am completely honest, whilst I haven’t ‘settled down’ like Raven, and also would not go to a ‘consciousness raising group’ if you paid me, I can relate to that desire to bring something back to life, to feel urgent and angry and right. Looked at through a different lens to my usual one, I can see some of my ‘anti-feminist’ fervour as a (subconscious) attempt to rekindle some of my youthful passion and energy.

But maybe I’m a bit too self-aware to start thinking I can put on my pixie boots  and leg warmers and go back to the 1980s with its demos, parties and political meetings. And actually, I remember some pretty grim things about those days. Youth is attractive if you wilfully forget the confusion, anxiety and terror that goes with it (don’t tell me that’s just me I know I’m not alone in that).

I am happy to be where I am and who I am now. I don’t need Zombie Feminism to drag me back to where I’m from.

 
foucault
 
I have just joined a Foucault Discussion Group in which we are going to read and discuss, aided by the joys of Google Groups, Foucault’s 1983 Lectures. Entitled The Government of Self And Others, this collection is particularly poignant to me because it represents some of Foucault’s last public work before he died in 1984. The original transcripts are owned by his ‘widow’, Daniel Defert. I still can’t quite get my head round what it must have been like, what it still is like (Defert is now  75) to have been the lover and life partner of such a man as Michel Foucault.
 
Even a casual observer can’t help but convey some of the electrifying moments when seeing Foucault, Live! Journalist Gerard Petitjean wrote in 1975: 
 

‘When Foucault enters the amphitheater, brisk and dynamic like<

someone who plunges into the water, he steps over bodies to

reach his chair, pushes away the cassette recorders so he can put

down his papers, removes his jacket, lights a lamp and sets off at

full speed. His voice is strong and effective, amplified by the

loudspeakers that are the only concession to modernism in a hall

that is barely lit by light spread from stucco bowls. The hall has

three hundred places and there are five hundred people packed

together, filling the smallest free space . . . There is no oratorical

effect. It is clear and terribly effective. There is absolutely no

concession to improvisation. Foucault has twelve hours each year

to explain in a public course the direction taken by his research

in the year just ended. So everything is concentrated and he fills

the margins like correspondents who have too much to say for the

space available to them. At 19.15 Foucault stops. The students

rush towards his desk; not to speak to him, but to stop their cassette

recorders. There are no questions. In the pushing and shoving

Foucault is alone. Foucault remarks: “It should be possible to

discuss what I have put forward. Sometimes, when it has not

been a good lecture, it would need very little, just one question,

to put everything straight. However, this question never comes.

The group effect in France makes any genuine discussion

impossible. And as there is no feedback, the course is theatricalized.

My relationship with the people there is like that of an actor

or an acrobat. And when I have finished speaking, a sensation of

total solitude . . .’

- Gérard Petitjean, “Les Grands Prêtres de l’université française,” Le Nouvel Observateur

1983 and 1975 are a long time ago now.   When Foucault was giving his last lectures before his death, I was too busy trying on ra-ra skirts and buying Howard Jones records to notice. But since I first read Foucault in the early 1990s, I have been quite overwhelmed by the clarity and incisive force of his ‘voice’.  So I strongly disagree with philosopher John Searle, who, like many, describes Foucault’s writing style as ‘obtuse’:

CAM00252

‘Philosopher John Searle once asked Foucault why his writing was so obtuse when he was easily understandable in conversation. Foucault told Searle that 25% of one’s writing needs to be incomprehensible nonsense to be taken seriously by French philosophers.’

I think these lectures show that actually Foucault’s speaking and writing styles were quite similar, and his urgency to illuminate and interact with his audience/readers was as strong in both arenas. Beginning to read the transcripts I am already reminded of Freud, and how it is quite easy to switch between his written work and representations of his speeches/lectures. I am also pleased to see that whilst I’ve struggled to find in Michel’s oeuvre, any direct challenge to or description of the function of ‘power’ in academia, the comments on Foucault’s lectures do show he had some issues with the conventions of the university, and the problems of actually having a dialogue between lecturers and students. If I’d been there I have no doubt I’d have been one of the keen young things arranging to meet Michel for coffee off campus to get down to discussing the nitty gritty of his ideas.

The journalist who wrote the evocative passage above called his article ‘Les Grands Pretres de l’universite francaise’ – The High Priests of The University of France. Now I am a critic of the ‘Great Men Theory’ of history which holds up individuals as demigods. But as my novella Scribbling On Foucault’s Walls reveals, I am guilty of embodying it too.

At the risk of completely going into religious mode, a radio four programme last night called  The Voice Of God also seems relevant here.  Participants in the show talk about how, despite all the texts and rituals people use to ‘find God’, the voice of God is actually pretty difficult to hear. In order to get the full benefit of God’s message, you have to put yourself somewhere very quiet and still, you have to meditate and open yourself up to what He might want to say to you.

And it’s the same with Foucault – for me, at least. I think there’s an interesting dissonance between how his work is all about the ‘modern’ (or postmodern, or post-postmodern) age, with its institutions, discourse, power relations and ‘noise’, but the only way to really ‘get it’ is to sit back and stop, to read, to listen, to think.

That’s what I’m going to be doing over the next few weeks. But as my long suffering readers/friends know, I might find it hard to keep my meditations to myself!

posthuman

Over at Cyborgology blog,  Whitney Erin Boesel has written a critical post about gender representation in Digital Dualism Debates. To really engage with what she writes, if you’re not part of the discussion already, you might have to read some of the posts she links to. Here I show the begining para of her piece, followed by my comments BTL and her reply to me. Then I will see if I can ‘widen’ out this topic to be relevant to more than just the digital dualists (and their opponents).

Whitney ( @Phenatypical) wrote:

‘If you’re a regular reader of Cyborgology, chances are good that you caught the most recent “brouLOL” (yes, that’s like a 21st century brouhaha) over digital dualism and augmented reality. If you’re a careful reader of Cyborgology, chances are good you also caught (at least) one glaring omission in much of the writing featured in this wave of commentary. What was missing?

Ladies, gentlemen, and cyborgs, allow me to (re)introduce you to Jenny Davis (@Jup83) and Sarah Wanenchak (@dynamicsymmetry)—oh yeah, and my name’s Whitney Erin Boesel (I’m @phenatypical). None of us identify as men, and all of us have written about digital dualism. In fact, you may have seen our work referenced recently under our collective noms de plume: “the other digital dualism denialists,” “others on this blog,” “others,” “other Cyborgologists,” “other regular contributors,” etc. If you’re a crotchety sociologist with a penchant for picking apart language (ahem: guilty), it doesn’t get much better than this. Per the conversation earlier this month, there are two groups of people who write about digital dualism on Cyborgology: there are named men, and there are unnamed Others’

I responed:

‘I too notcied the debate being framed as between what I termed – a bit sarcastically – ‘men of ideas’.

But I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say women are being ‘silenced’. Your post is not silence for a start. And in the piece by Machine Starts about Jurgenson v Carr the writer also mentioned Sherry Turkle at least. And at the #ttw13 there were loads of women talking, tweeting, organising, questioning etc.

Here’s my take. I believe that the ‘where are the women?’ statements are PART OF THE PROBLEM. They give too much credit to the ‘white men’ and their ‘pissing contests’ and present women as innocent victims of their lack of ‘voice’.

I believe gender inequalities are a problem in the realms in which you are focussing on – academia, journalism, tech, entrepreneurship etc. But I dont think these inequalities are as simple as a ‘lack’ of women and a ‘dominance’ of men. You mention trans people and people from diverse ethnicities, but as an afterthought, or as subservient to ‘women’.

I am a woman. And, as I have said before, the people who have ‘silenced’ or attempted to silence me the most have been feminist women.’

Whitney replied:

‘hi QRG – thanks for your comment. i agree with you that there were a good number of women engaging in dialogue around #TtW13; in fact, that’s part of why i think there *must* be more women writing about these issues, too!

we both know there’s a lot of gender stuff we’ll never agree on (though i like to think we have our points of agreement as well ;) , but there are two points in your comment i wanted to address:

first, i certainly have not intended to treat transpeople and people of color as afterthoughts. my focus in *this post* is the way women theorists were overlooked in a particular conversation (everyone writing for cyborgology at present is white, as is everyone who’s engaged in the early march 2013 debate so far as i know); what i want to do in my *future post* is highlight work done by a range of non-white-men. there are probably more non-white-men doing this type of work; i just don’t know about them yet. wanting to know is part of why i wrote this piece.

second, there’s a big difference between “speaking” and “being listened to.” women ARE speaking about digital dualism, as i’ve illustrated! but if no one’s listening (or if most of everyone is ignoring), that’s being silenced-in-effect–and i think it’s important to recognize that.’

I replied:
‘I do not think ‘white men’ is an accurate description of those who dominate debates on digital dualism or anything else. I suspect they have other characteristics in common. Because in USA for example, many ‘white men’ are INCREDIBLY disadvantaged in terms of economics, education etc. Are they writing about digital dualism? I doubt it. Once we start looking at ‘the academy’ we are already talking about some very ‘well off’ people in many ways.

also, as for ‘not being listened to’ = ‘silencing’ I see where you’re coming from. But not sure its an exact fit. and again, it is feminist women who have ‘not listened’ to me the most, in groups, on blogs, twitter etc and who have banned and blocked me to high heaven. so ‘silencing’ is not just something those big bad ‘white men’ do.’

——————-

So how does this exchange fit into wider debates on gender, academia, and the ‘digital society’ we live in? Firstly I have noticed before that the rather loaded question, Where Are The Women? is asked frequently and insistently. Where are the women in politics? science? celebrity chef land? music industry? etc. And the answer usually seems to be that they are cowering under the weight and dominance of those beasts – men. I find it is normally white, middle class feminist women, who already have some ‘power’ in life, who ask this question. And that they blame their brothers and husbands and colleagues - white middle class men, for the lack of parity in gender representation in their fields. Boesel says in her piece she is not looking here for reasons for gender inequalities in digital dualism debates. But I think she is. And I think she finds reasons – ‘white men’. But as I said in the comments, many many ‘white men’ are far more disadvantaged and far more ‘silent’ in the media, academia, technology, than the women she is championing. Because inequality doesn’t cut down a binary line. It’s complicated! The calls of ‘where are the women’ just reinforce the binary, and maintain the ‘silence’ of those not ‘represented’ by it in my view.

Secondly, the notion of ‘divides’ in digital cultures is not always helpful. In his #ttw13 talk,  ‘Urban Libraries and the Control of Access’ Daniel Greene ( @greene_dm ) critiqued the concept of the ‘digital divide’. He – yes, he is as far as I can tell a ‘white man’ – suggested this binary presentation of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in digital culture is simplistic and misleading. The myriad ways in which we access technology or are excluded from technological activities, are not expressed by this phrase. And I think the ‘where are the women?’ phrase similarly simplifies and obfuscates the complex issues of gender, opportunity, ‘silence’ and voice in digital dualism debates. At one point in her piece Whitney asked for us to send her links of work by ‘non white men’ on digital dualism, including people from various ethnic minority backgrounds, and trans people. I dont think this is the answer either. Trans people in particular, I think, may have huge problems in having a voice and being visible in academic cultures, digital or otherwise. For them, ‘visibility’ can be hugely distressing, difficult,  linked to medical and financial issues around transition, and, can even be a matter of life or death. I don’t think it is any coincidence, for example, that Professor Raewyn Connell became ‘visible’ as a trans woman after she had developed her career and name as an academic in her assigned gender identity. As a trans person I dont think she’d have been able to achieve what she did, at least not without all sorts of very hard personal and political battles. Maybe some of the men and women writing on digital dualism are trans? But haven’t ‘come out’? And why should they? Boesel is not advocating ‘outing’ trans academics, but I think she may be assuming more of them are ‘out and proud’ than there probably are.

 I have more to say on this. And, I am glad that, the group at cyborgology won’t try to ‘silence’ me. I have found them welcoming and open in their style of engagement. However, one of the issues I do intend to tease out is, illustrated by Boesel’s post, some of the gender politics these exciting young academics espouse, are lagging behind their more forward thinking 21st century ideas on digital societies and digital dualism. Donna Haraway was, in some ways ahead of her time with her cyborg feminism. But in other ways she was very much of her time, and she held up ‘women’ to be special flowers in my opinion, oppressed by those big bad wolves, men. I dont see the world like that. And I don’t think cyborgology has room for gender or any other form of binaries.