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Nowadays on LGBTQIA group chats and in leftist social discussions, the phrase "radical feminism" most often appears in a pejorative mention -- TERFS ("trans exclusive radical feminists") being castigated for their intransigence about female-spectrum transgender people, or disparaged for being anti-sex and anti-free-speech as exemplified by the MacKinnon-Dworkin pornography ordinance from a few decades ago, or accused of lying about data and making up statistics and being these vindictively hateful people who just want to blame males for everything.

Not that any of that would be a major surprise for the radical feminists I read throughout the 70s 80s and 90s. They knew they were hitting a nerve and were accustomed to receiving bad press and misrepresentation. I am sad to see them undercredited and disregarded by those who benefit from their insights though.

To review the basics, feminism in a broad general sense was a beacon of hope for me growing up, because its overall attitude towards gender was "hey, if it's sauce for the goose, it's sauce for the gander" -- that, regardless of whether men and women were different or were just regarded as different, it wasn't defensible to use a different yardstick of acceptable behavior. They pointed out the inconsistencies and folks recognized the unfairness. For me, as a gender invert, an exception to society's general rules about males and their personality and behavior, this translated as "hey, if it's OK for girls, it's OK for me; and if it's not OK for girls, then it's not right for the boys and hence it's not right to pressure me to be that way".

Now, RADICAL feminism, specifically, came to people's attention as it began to pinpoint topics that more mainstream feminism in the 70s shied away from: specifically sexuality, both in the sense of sexual orientation (yes, lesbian pride) but also more analytically in the sense of analyzing sexual politics, the politics of sexuality and sexual behaviors. Kate Millett taking contemporary depictions of sex and sexuality and holding them up for us to see how much they were about sex as an act of conquest and hostility, and about the eroticism of men having power over women. Susan Brownmiller writing about rape not as a horrifyingly deviant act but as a horrifyingly normative extension of how things otherwise were between the sexes, and as part and parcel of that overall situation. By going there, by having the courage and nerve to speak of such things as if they could perhaps be otherwise, and daring to condemn these situations instead of accepting them as a shameful but permanent part of human nature, radical feminism was the core from which central feminist tenets and understandings came in the 80s.

Catherine MacKinnon observed in 1987 (Feminism Unmodified), "...our subordination is eroticized in and as female; in fact, we get off on it to a degree, if nowhere near as much as men do. This is our stake in this sytem that is not in our interest, our stake in this system that is killing us. I'm saying femininity as we know it is how we come to want male dominance, which most emphatically is not in our interest."

Adrienne Rich, Jill Johnston and others questioned the "natural" centrality of heterosexuality, positing a different sexuality -- a sexuality between women but specifically different because, unlike heterosexuality as it existed and tended to define sexuality altogether, it could be mutually affirming, sensuous, not violent, an alternative to a conventional model of sexuality in which women's role was that of "natural sexual prey" (Rich) to men.

For me, that resonated powerfully: as a kid, I considered myself to be akin to the girls, regarding them and respecting them as colleagues and seeking them as friends, and now as a sexually adult person I wanted that mutually affirming sharing form of sex and wanted nothing to do with the adversarial and predatory model that was predominant in all understandings and portrayals of "wild uncivilized sex".

Nor did I find much to interest me in the non-wild, tamed, civilized version of sex, for that matter. Here there was a disparagement of sex itself as suspect, as something people should abstain from for a prolonged period after attaining the age of feeling the full appetite for it, and even after that should only engage in sex within very narrowly defined permissible channels. Here, perhaps, was a model for engaging in sex (eventually) without embracing all that adversarial and predatory hostility, yeah, sure, but it was basically saying that yes, sex IS like that, it's just that being like that is bad and naughty so sex is bad and naughty and we will therefore put sex in a cage. And even in this context, sexuality was not going to be mutually affirming, not as far as I could see: the nice girls had to preserve their reputations and also refrain from tempting the boys, and the boys were to suppress their desires and not sully the chastity of the girls, and then when he could adequately support a family he could get married and then she'd let him do it to her. The sexuality inside the cage was the same sexuality; the notions and understandings of it were still polarized and painted a picture of male sexuality that I wanted no part of.

Radical feminists tended to see sex as insurrection; they observed that even though it was politically dangerous to women in the current context, putting women in the position of sleeping with the enemy and eroticizing male domination, it was treated as dangerous by the patriarchy as well, and for good reason. The same intimacy that threatened women with too much identification and connection with their oppressor was a threat to the patriarchal system and its requirement that women be perceived as other.

Jan Raymond and Mary Daly, among other radical feminists, have indeed been hostile to any acceptance of transgender women. Those who have expressed such sentiments are not the entirety of radical feminism, though. Buried among the more publicized nasty sentiments, though, have been radical feminist voices whose concerns about the transgender phenomenon mirror, almost exactly, the concerns now being voiced by nonbinary activists: that jumping the fence, as it were, is not a radical solution to the fence between the genders, insofar as it leaves the fence intact. Neither the radical feminists nor the current wave of nonbinary genderqueer folks have a sufficient excuse for being as intolerant as they've often been towards people who simply feel that they personally will be happier when transitioned so as to be treated and perceived as the persons that they are. But it is a gross oversimplification to portray radical feminism as intrinsically opposed to transgender people.

Radical feminists spoke of the centrality of gender polarization. They said the political dynamics between the sexes was the central keystone issue in our society, and that the sexual dynamics as made erotic within patriarchal heterosexuality was the fundamental building block around which our political power arrangements were patterned. It wasn't the first time that one social factor had been pinpointed as the central core of all politics -- Marxism had done it with labor and the ownership of the means of production -- but it was the first to come along in a century and it took some common-place everyday understandings and inverted them to make sense of them in new ways: it wasn't that the awful world of competitive social and economic posturing tended to invade and corrupt the intimacy of sexuality and sexual relationships but that the corrupted form of sexuality and sexual relationships eroticized and rendered irresistible those forms of interaction and made them present everywhere that people interacted.

Society as we know it, as many of us conceptualize as human nature, is sexual subject-object polarized adversarial dynamics, writ large. Robin Morgan wrote about feminism as the "larger context":


For almost two decades, I've written about, lectured on, and
organized for the ideas and politics of feminism for the sake of
women ...as a matter of simple justice. If, in fact, these
were the sole reasons for and goals of the movement and
consciousness we call feminism, they would be quite
sufficient...nor is it necessary to apologize for feminism's
concerning itself 'merely" with women, or to justify feminism on
the "please, may I" ground that it's good for men too... In the
long run, it will be good for men, but even were it
permanently to prove as discomfiting for men as it seems to be in
the short run, that wouldn't make women's needs and demands any the
less just. So the fact that I place feminism in a "larger
context" is neither an apology nor a justification. It is simply
to show, once and for all, that feminism is the larger
context
... The "Otherizing" of women is the oldest oppression
known to our species, and it's the model, the template, for all
other oppressions. Until and unless this division is
healed, we continue putting Band-Aids on our most mortal wound.

The Anatomy of Freedom


Marilyn French wrote about power as the central patriarchal obsession, and taught us to recognize power by its own central imperative: the possession of control. Everywhere, she said, we see the sacrifices made in the name of obtaining and retaining control, as if it were an intrinsic good and a necessity in and of itself. And here again is the eroticized sexual imperative, the attempt to seize and make things happen according to one's own will and without concern for the will of that which is being controlled except as a possible impediment to be conquered.

Within the pages of lesbian radical feminism, as lesbian feminists sought to explain why this was important beyond the expressed choice of who to have sex with, came the growing recognition that in both gay and lesbian sexuality the people involved are not anchored by the body in which they were born to a preordained scripted role -- you weren't tied to being butch or femme, to being the man or the woman, on the basis of your bodily sex; and that that was, itself, radical. It wasn't how patriarchal heterosexuality was constructed and hence it was a threat, which went a long way towards explaining the hostility reserved for gay and lesbian people.

To say "patriarchal heterosexuality" was, and still is, somewhat akin to speaking of "women's lingerie" or "earthly lifeform" -- our conventional understanding of the category completely eliminates any need for the adjectives because those are the only forms we have tended to encounter.

Genderqueer sexual politics is radical sexual politics, and especially so the specific formulation of gender inversion: whether we refer to it as "heterosexual" or choose not to, to posit sexual relationships between male people and female people in which the participants are not gendered as men and women, respectively, elaborates on the radical departure from subject-object adversarial dynamics spoken of by the lesbian feminists; specifically, it extends it to where it is needed the most, directly dismantling what we've been describing as the core of the whole system. Untying male-female sexual possibilities from heterosexuality as we know it.

"Why", you may ask, "is it necessary to embrace gender inversion? Isn't it more useful to discard gender and embrace absolute gender equality instead? And if the female role is and has been on the receiving end of patriarchal oppression, of what conceivable value is it to issue a loud political hurrah for males styling themselves as feminine and wanting to be the girl in their relationships? Isn't that just making a fetish of the accoutrements of being one of the oppressed?"

Firstly, let's consider the limits of "let's just be equal shall we" optimistic idealism against the backdrop of the current eroticized 'devil boy chase angel girl' polarization. We go bravely forth (or we send forth the subsequent generation, all consciousness-raised and socially aware) into a social world that knows there may be sexually egalitarian people. It also knows to expect the continued existence of people in the traditional mold. The social milieu of expectations therefore is newly open to equality while still entirely familiar with the orthodox which is gender-specific. Anyone who has had to spend an evening doing arithmetic homework knows that when you do averages, the average that you obtain is less than the higher number, so when you average out the expectations of sexually egalitarian and sexually orthodox, your result is going to be sexually orthodox by some amount.

Secondly, yes, I can understand the misgivings about a set of traits and behaviors marked as submissive and subservient and offering them to males as a desirable experience and identity. But it is the subject-object adversarial worldview that tends to see things only in terms of power over and of domination or submission. Exactly WHAT is it that males are deprived of in a patriarchal context? Does it not strike you as odd that a patriarchy, a system of male power and privilege, should deny freedoms to its males with such intensity as it denies variant gender expression? The answer is that power is not a substance owned by the powerful. Power is instead a relationship that defines all parties involved, the powerful and the oppressed alike.

It's not about seeking subserviency or making a fetish of being dominated; there is and has always been an encoding of traits as feminine as part and parcel of encoding power as male, AND no, the boys don't get all the good ones. You're never going to understand this if you don't understand that some things are more desirable than power. But yes it is not a desire to be oppressed (by women or anyone else). I share Robin Morgan's and Marilyn French's radical feminist vision of a world no longer anchored by the obsession with controlling others.

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I echo my blog posts on the Straight Dope Message Board, an internet discussion board I've been a part of for two decades. It's a general-topic board where people post thought-provoking posts on a wide range of interesting subjects. For those of you with no familiarity with it, I recommend it: The Straight Dope Message Board

Anyway, there is a current thread titled Not having sex on the first date, which in turn was prompted by author Anna Akana's YouTube video titled Should I stop f*cking on the first date. The ensuing questions concern women and whether or not they refrain from having sex on the first date (or "too soon" by some other definition) specifically in order to fend off being discarded or otherwise perceived in a negative manner by the men that they date.

The Straight Dopers' posted opinions can be conveniently (at least for me and my thought processes) divided into three rough clumps:

• posts that come from a viewpoint that regards the double standard and any relevant beliefs about built-in differences between the sexes as deplorably sexist and either express bewilderment about any modern males who would hold such sentiments or else attribute such attitudes to knuckle-dragging misogyny and express bewilderment about why women would think losing out on the prospect of such guys is any real loss;

• posts that come from a stated belief that there are indeed built-in differences between the sexes, and that the double standard exists as a very predictable outgrowth of those differences;

• posts that do NOT embrace a belief that these differences are inherently built in to male and female nature but which instead emphasize the entirely real existence of the social attitudes and accompanying expectations, and contemplate the behaviors against the backdrop of those social realities and how those behaviors are likely to be interpreted by the other party (who is also embedded in that social environment) in these liaisons.


Within the first clump, one person finds the behavior of misogynists confusing and inconsistent: they want sex, and they'd be unhappy if they were deprived of sex, and yet they're contemptuous of the women who make sex easily attainable. (I made similar points in my blogpost titled What Do Men Want? last March, so I quite understand that bewilderment). Farther down, someone opines that men with this kind of mindset think sex degrades the party who is penetrated, so they have contempt for anyone who would let themselves be so degraded.

Other folks' answers and conjectures come from a more essentialist perspective: that men and women simply want different things (men want sex, women want ongoing relationships) -- sometimes this is stated explicitly, while other people's posts seem to tacitly assume that while surmising that what a person wants on his first date is often different from what he wants over the long haul (without explaining how or why this would differ by gender to create the described situation).

Then, in the third cluster, people ponder the strategic thinking of the participants against the backdrop of these cultural-social expectations: if there are roles and rules and expectations, some people can be viewed as testing their potential partners to see how appropriate and normative their responses are. Another person picks up from there and conjectures about the thoughts in the minds of one person when the other person's behavior does NOT follow those roles and rules, the wonderings and ponderings that person would have about WHY the other person would violate those social norms in such a situation.


Nobody has, as of yet, brought up gender in the sense of being cisgender as opposed to being transgender or genderqueer and how that variable would affect these participants. I, of course, am about to do so.



I am currently combing through Part One of my book, because the publishing editor finds that section (which covers junior high and high school days) to have redundancies and would like me to trim them out. (And I agree with that assessment, by the way). So as I've gone through it paragraph by paragraph, one of the recurrent themes from that part of my life was the powerful aversion I had towards being perceived as "only after one thing".

Insofar as I had always seen myself as akin to the girls and wanted them to see me that way as well, I had also internalized a lot of the same things they did about how we wish to be perceived. And across a very wide spectrum of differences, one of the things I observed about nearly every girl I'd ever known was that NONE OF THEM WANTED TO FEEL AS IF THEY WERE PUSHING SEX ONTO SOMEONE WHO DIDN'T APPRECIATE IT. Some girls wanted to feel as if sex with them were so special and personal that it would only be a possibility under very select circumstances. Other girls were cheerfully enthusiastic about sex with any adequately cute person who was similarly enthusiastic about having sex with them. And many had an attitude all along a continuum in between. But almost no girl had any interest in trying to make sex happen with someone who found the prospect unappealing.

Firstly, because you can't feel very attractive and desirable if you're trying to impose sex on someone and they're acting as if you're insulting them or asking for a huge huge favor. Secondly, because it's humiliating to have to mount a campaign to get someone to do anything with you that should be of mutual benefit, whether it be eating together during lunch or playing jumprope together on the playground or being friends in general or whatever. Thirdly, because it's not nice to make someone do something so personal if they don't want to, and although some girls didn't have any compunction against that sort of thing, many did -- it didn't mesh well with how they like to think of themselves, they weren't mean girls who took delight in making someone creeped out and uncomfortable.


if you think of the behavior from the vantage point of the person doing it, it looks like begging for it, trying to get someone to condescend to do something with you that ought to be a mutually delightful thing if both parties want it. If you think of it from the vantage point of the person you'd be doing it to, on the other hand, it manifests itself as a nasty invasive pushy offensive kind of behavior, and if you aren't comfortable with that notion of yourself (or of being perceived by others in that way), that's not so enticing either.


I have said before that I myself am agnostic about whether or not there are intrinsic built-in differences between the sexes in matters like this. I certainly agree with the people in the third clump, as I described and defined it above, that there is definitely a social reality regardless of whether or not there is a biological reality, and the social reality means that everybody functions not in a vaccuum but against the backdrop of socially shared expectations and roles and rules, and they are definitely gendered and they definitely delegate the horny sex-seeking sexually aggressive behavior of making sex happen to the male people.

The single most recurrent question I get from skeptical and provisionally noninclusive people when I say I am genderqueer and identity as a male girl is "what do you mean when you say you're a girl if you do not wish to have a female body or to be perceived as female?" It's a long complicated convoluted answer, which is why I wrote a book about it, but this issue, the "only after one thing" issue (if we may call it that), that was critical for me. it's the keystone issue. I'm not doing all this in order to win the right to wear skirts when I feel like it. It's this.

So here are some takeaway points:

• If you want to understand why girls in general, and boys in general, behave according to these patterns, it is useful to consider the situation they would find themselves in were they to depart from them.

• If you wish to understand why genderqueer people find it important and necessary to come out and explain their gender identity to the world surrounding them, ask yourself how else would a person proceed if conforming their own sexual (and flirting and dating and related etc) behaviors to those expected patterns is so foreign and feels so wrong to them that they can't go there; and then consider what alternatives may exist and how one would seek out potential partners who do not have those expectations.

• Riffing on the line of thought of one of the Straight Dopers I dumped into the third clump category, YES, consider the thought processes of someone when they do encounter someone who does NOT behave according to the expected conventions. It is reasonable and rational, I think, to assume that the typical person would find it perplexing and worrisome -- not so much that these nonconforming behaviors are WRONG but that they're indicative of someone not caring, in a proper self-preservative manner, for what folks they encounter might think of them. But now let's consider an ATYPICAL person in the same situation and perceiving the same nonconforming behavior. An atypical person whose reaction is an affirmative one. "Aha! I found one!"



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