Monday, November 07, 2005

The politics of identity

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of identity recently. Specifically, I've been pondering the notion that we all have multiple identities, that identity is a multi-faceted thing.
This all started with an argument I got into with a feminist fellow-traveller over at Twisty's blog (Thomas knows what I'm talking about). She basically accused me of being anti-feminist (pause for a moment to savour the irony there) because I objected to her labelling the practise of BSDM as inherently anti-feminist, and implying that women who participate in such activities are patriarchy-worshipping puppets. It's funny how much that pissed me off, especially since I really haven't been actively involved in the BSDM scene in over 10 years. I think that the reason it pissed me off is that, even though I'm no longer an active participant, BSDM is still an important part of my identity. It's part of how I define myself. So is goth, which the woman in question was also attempting to label as anti-feminist (without any indication that she actually had any knowledge of either scene, by the way).
So, this got me thinking about identity. Specifically, does one's devotion to a particular political ideal (in my case feminism or socialism) mean that one is required to eschew all the other parts of one's identity? The idea that it does seems to be tragically common in feminist circles, and slightly less common but still not exactly unfamiliar in socialist ones. This idea annoys the hell out of me. Firstly, there's the "it's not my revolution if I can't dance to it" element. Why should I let someone else decide for me what is and is not an acceptable part of my identity as a feminist, or a socialist? Does that not go against the whole spirit of both movements? Does anyone else see the irony in a feminist attempting to tell another feminist that an activity which she perceives as wholly positive and as something from which she derives sexual pleasure is in fact unnacceptable, and that she is deluded in thinking that she enjoys it? Is there anything more fundamentally anti-feminist than telling another woman that her actual lived experiences are not real, that her perceptions are not to be trusted? I wanted to smack her, and I don't mean that in a fun way.
Secondly, telling members of a political group that there is a standard of ideological correctness that they must adhere to, and that they are not competent to judge for themselves whether or not they are meeting that standard, is a crappy way to build a movement. It's less like inviting someone into a movement than inviting them to join a cult. Everyone's identities are multi-layered - there's gender, race, culture, class, religion, sexual orientation, pop cultural affiliations, political beliefs, and a whole host of other things. It's never as simple as "feminist" or "socialist", ESPECIALLY for those who are not white and middle class.
Thirdly, one's multiple identities, preferences and cultural affiliations are part of what makes life interesting. Indeed, it's a big part of what makes PEOPLE interesting. Have you ever met one of those people who have made one part of their identity into their sole cause for being? Since I'm into goth I meet the "vampire" version a lot, and they annoy the crap out of me. Must you really wear your fangs to the grocery store, or the DMV? Am I actually supposed to pretend that I think they're real when we're in line to get coffee? Tully's doesn't sell blood lattes, you know.
Lastly, why are my choices in terms of how I construct my identity any of anyone else's damn business? Or anyone else's choices? And why are some people so resistant to the idea that identity is multi-layered?
For myself, my identity includes the categories "feminist" and "socialist". It also includes punk, goth, BSDM, a love of anime and sci-fi, a generalised sense of intellectualism and a love of academic theory, a fascination with Japanese pop culture and Russian history, a love of swimming, and a strong sense of myself as not belonging to any particular culture, but being able to move between cultures with ease (many TCKs would recognise that feeling). All of these things are a part of my identity. Some of them are more significant than other, and which ones are most prominent is a thing that varies from one time to another, but all of them are in there. Not one of them should require abandoning any of the others. Is that really so difficult to grasp?


Eleanor said...

Don't know who said it first, but: 'Biology loves variation, society hates it.' Perhaps that applies as much to variation within individuals as between them.

Anonymous said...

This is a real problem. The truth is that our various identities bump up against each other. Some are complimentary, but some are in tension with each other. Some of the folks we identify with want to know that they are our first commitment, and sometimes we cannot make that promise.

Historically, some ideologies have tried to become a cult, and create a manichean "with us or against us" environment. In the post-war years, for example, Communist parties all over Europe demanded absolute conformity with the Stalinist line, or they pulled membership cards. Since the members often lived their entire lives within the party, this was a dreaded excommunication -- it usually meant finding a new job, a new social circle, and even a new place to live.

Ultimately, that usually doesn't work out so well.

The other approach is to build bridges instead of walls. The left in America talks a good game about building bridges, but it isn't easy. There are so many crosscurents of division -- class, region, race, etc. There are lots of feminists that resent Christianity as the religious ideology of patriarchy, and there are Christian feminists. There are straight guys and lesbian separatists. There are groups that can't work together easily, if at all. Not all feminists agree on what side on an issue feminism puts them on, so that in the 1980s and still today there are feminists in the porn industry and feminists trying to eliminate porn.

I don't have all the answers. Two thoughts I often have, though: (1) that if we're trying to build a coalition, we ought to avoid getting bitter and personal about good-faith disagreements; and (2) the way we keep disagreements among ourselves from becoming tribal divisions is to avoid joining up with the enemies of our friends. That is to say, I disagree with lots of pro-porn feminists, but it's easier to get over it if they are not working for Larry Flynt; and I disagree with lots of anti-porn feminists, but I can't get over it if they are allied with Lou Sheldon.


The Haikuist said...

Speaking as a member of a socialist feminist political party (The Socialist Party USA), I have to say that I don't know where others in my part come down on this issue. But it seems obvious to me that sexuality among consenting adults is no one else's business.

Socialism seeks human liberation from the bonds that oppress us, and that includes allowing people to celebrate their sexuality in all their myriad forms.

Living in San Francisco as I do, I think that the culture here definitely supports that idea, and so you don't many on the left here who take a sort of anti-sex position that seems common in some places. Anyway, even if you haven't partaken for 10 years, I can still understand why you are annoyed over someone presuming to tell you what sexuality is acceptable and what isn't.

FoolishOwl said...

Thomas's comment leaves me wondering if part of this is the residual poison of Stalinism, which has stuck around as a bad model for the Left in general in many ways.

Anyway, I'm a socialist, and as it happens, I'm seriously considering moving in to the goth scene, which I've felt vaguely drawn to for years but never really experienced. So far, the only conflicts between the goth scene and revolutionary socialism are scheduling conflicts.

FoolishOwl said...

Oh, and I've noticed that TF's comments on women's sexuality are exactly the sort of thing Amanda on Pandagon cites as patriarchal thinking, which strikes me as... perplexing?

Cassandra Says said...

Eleanor - you're right, of course, it's just that for some reason I continur to expect better of my political fellow travellers than I do of people in general.
Thomas & Brian - that was sort of my underlying point, actually. The "our way or nothing" path hasn't worked out so well in the past, and I'm kind fo wondering how long it's going to take the majority of my fellow leftists to figure that out. Obviously, there are some deviations from that standard that are too huge to be accepted - for example, if you call yourself a socialist and make a living scamming poor people - but I think that the boundaries of what is and is not acceptable should be something that we can talk about and decide as a group, not something that certain individuals get to just decide by royal fiat and then instruct the rest of us on what they have decided. Also, I think that actually listening to the real-life lived experiences of others is vital - how can you make pronouncements about a subculture (or indeed a national culture) that you know nothing about and expect people who are actually involved in that subculture to take you seriously?

Cassandra Says said...

haikuist - I know what you mean. I think that honestly I'm so insulated in my little Bay Area bubble of tolerance and reason that I forget just how unreasonable the rest of the country can be (with notable other little pockets of reason, of course).
And honestly I hate to use the term anti-sex, and carefully avoid using it whenever possible. I worry that the term can be used to browbeat people into having or accepting sex they don't want, and that's not acceptable either. However, I'm not sure what else to call some of the comments at Twisty's place other than simply ignorant (ie they don't really understand the scenes they're critiquing).

Cassandra Says said...

Brian - kudos to you for working up the nerve to explore goth, if ti appeals to you. The local goth scene is kind of lame though, to be honest. Of course, coming from London I was spoiled as far as goth clubs are concerned.
The advantage for you is that the goth scene is actually a fairly welcoming space for people who are shy and introverted. People will just think you're mysterious! Also, goths (both female and male) like skinny boys, so I'd be very surprised if anyone gave you a hard time about that.

Eleanor said...

It sounds as if perhaps there are two questions here - albeit very closely intertwined: one being whether conflicting identities can coexist, and the other one being whether other people can legitimately tell you that identities which you feel do coexist actually don't. One is to do with reconciling (or not) your interior contradictions and complexities; the other is to do with the ethos of a movement and individuals' power to dictate or influence who's in and who's out. (Of course the two are connected, since the nature of the movement will affect how you feel about identifying with it...)

Anonymous said...

Hi Cassandra,
I'm contacting you from BBC Radio in the UK. i'm interested in your blog, particularly your entry of 8th July talking of the London Bombs and the song 'I Vow To Thee My Country', as we (Radio 4) are doing a documentry on that song. If you would be interested in finding out more and maybe taking part then please contact me on email asap.
then we can take it from there.
Thanks very much, keep up the blogging! jude

The Haikuist said...

I just took a look at the Socialist Party USA's statement of principles (at Under the section "The Personal as Political", it makes the comment:

"Socialism must ultimately improve life; this cannot be accomplished by demanding that personal lives be sacrificed for the movement. We cherish the right of personal privacy and the enrichment of culture through diversity."

There is a Bay Area chapter of the SP USA, in case you are interested.

FoolishOwl said...

Also, the International Socialist Organization is having its annual regional conference on Nov. 18-19, at UC Berkeley. On the evening of Friday the 18th, we're hosting a panel with Cindy Sheehan, Peter Camejo, Barbara Becnel, and Todd Chretien; Saturday, after a protest at San Quentin against the scheduled execution of Stan Tookie Williams, we'll have a series of workshops. Email me if you want to know more.

arwen said...

Late to the party, but I had a similar discussion on Feministing at the end of the summer (I think you were there, Thomas?). I personally was Goth (not of the vampire variety), and although I'm not into SM (a little BD can be fun but I wouldn't consider myself part of any movement), I've got lots of Bettie Page loving friends. My sister loves burlesque and does queer burlesque shows. I've got a friend who loved stripping EXCEPT for the industry - the lack of money was a big concern, and the poor treatment and disrespect by the owners of strip clubs. She's into the idea of women owned co-ops. Anyway, none of those things work for me, but I respect my friends for being intelligent women who've thought about their emotional and political and sexual lives. To dismiss them is again dismissive of women. Matronizing. Mmhm.

I was soundly told off on Feministing, and it sounded briefly like I was being told that *all* hetero relationships must needs be infected horrifically by the patriarchy and suspect.
(To which I said, "If I can't fuck, I don't want to be part of your revolution.")

The thing is, it's true that anything that we do in our lives reflects, purposefully ignores, destroys, conforms, or in some way acknowledges the common culture. It's the environment in which we are grown. If that environment is patriarchy, of course we contain acknowledgement of patriarchy. That doesn't need to be poison, though. Desert flowers, and all that evolutionary jazz: it is in conflict and struggle that we often evidence our most creative and beautiful. Just because we're feminists and socialists and goths in the Western World, and all of them spin western philosophies slightly differently, doesn't mean that we're traitors one way or the other: it's the creativity of that synthesis that makes new movements and ideas grow. Frankly, our identities are forged on those intersections.

If we all reacted identically, what a horrifying world we'd live in; and what abysmally boring people we'd be.

Also, pragmatically, it makes sense to listen to those feminists who are concerned that too much of porn-positive feminism ignores the exploitation of sex workers who are being hurt: it also makes sense to listen to sex workers who suggest solutions, and it makes sense to listen to women who like consuming porn. Ignoring any of the conflicting viewpoints at the table minimizes our understanding of reality and keeps us in a bubble. Movements that don't acknowledge intrinsic human nature are in trouble.

On a personal tangent: I find it relatively amusing that I come out defending porn-positive feminists because I have a personal allergy to porn - based on personal traumatic experience. I have had a marriage end based on my partner's unwillingness to give up porn. And in the dying days of that relationship, I made many of the arguments about BDSM and porn that I've heard from other feminists. Here's the turning point, though: The MOMENT I realized and started respecting ALL of my own quirks/kinks/preferences was the moment I could start respecting other women's. My ex partner didn't listen to me. So I had to make it universal, political, to feel I had a right to my own feelings. That's the bullshit that seperates, I think - a feeling that we're being "hysterical" if we have feelings that others don't agree with.

arwen said...

Also, Cassandra, how'd it go with the BBC?

Anonymous said...

Arwen, I do generally read Feministing and I comment a fair amount, but I don't recall the thread. Do you remember what it was called?

Usually the only real interfeminist wars at Feministing are over porn and sex work -- some of the commenters like Terpiskore are very strongly anti-porn and anti-sexwork, while Jessica & Co. are almost reflexively pro (I end up in the middle on matters of commercial sex -- I think coercion is a huge problem and cannot be ignored, so I can't agree to hand-wave and say it isn't a problem like some folks do, but I'm equally uncomfortable letting patriarchal woman-haters like Ed Meese and Bill Bennett make the rules).

Also, do you use a different screenname there?


FoolishOwl said...

I find arguments about porn and sexwork to be pretty frustrating -- I've not been able to formulate a clear position, though it sounds like my thinking's close to that of Arwen and Thomas.

While I prefer openness and freedom, of course, I'm troubled that most of the "pro-porn" feminists don't seem to acknowledge the sexist content of a lot of porn. "It's all good" really isn't an adequate approach to the problem.

Anonymous said...

Brian, my really big problem with sex work is the exploitation of the sex workers. I'm not just talking about the trafficking of women; I'm not okay with taking advantage of a woman who is only doing sex work because all the other options are awful. There are some sex workers who are not in that place, especially those who have other resources and skills, or who have real control over the terms of their sex work. But that's not the majority.

In the porn industry, there's also a lot of "no real choice." Even Jenna Jameson got into sex work as a runaway in her early teens after being molested. It was that or poverty, basically -- and she's more of a defender than a detractor! Again, there are women like Tristan Taormino, who does the occasional porn film, has other options, etc.

Many of the objections to porn and sex work travel not through the lives of the women who do it, but the impression it sends that women are available as objects for male use for money. There's a lot to that, and I am both troubled and turned off by content that I see as anti-woman. I don't like the homogenized appearance and the surgical alterations of women's bodies in mainstream porn. I don't like the misogyny in some of the "gonzo" stuff.

But message depends as much on the listener as the speaker, so I can't be categorical about how messages are perceived, and I stop short of saying that specialized porn produced for and by sexual subcultures nonetheless have an anti-woman effect. First, that argument proves too much: if, in a patriarchy, all sexuality is read through a patriarchal lens and transformed into "man fucks woman: subject verb object" then there can be no representation or even discussion of sexuality. Even a story containing only text written by one lesbian specifically for her partner could be read, by any wider audience, as objectifying the characters and reducing them to the sexual acts contained in the text. I don't agree with that. My favorite example is a set of photos that a friend had taken of herself by a partner. They were intended for an audience of two: my wife and I. They were sexually explicit, yes, but they spoke in the language of sexual common ground between the subject and the viewers of the photos. In order to say that's anti-woman, one really has to throw out everything and end up with a prohibition against graven images.

So I end up being okay with sexually explicit images and text produced by people expressing sexuality first, and making money if at all secondarily: web sites by folks who clearly are part of the BDSM scene, porn by and for a gay male or lesbian audience, etc.

My $0.02.


Cassandra Says said...

I found Thomas' comment kind of funny, because I always find myself caought in the middle on this issue. The "sex-positive" people think I'm anti-sex because I'm concerned with the economic exploitation that tends to lead people into the sex trade, and the anti-porn people think I'm a traitor because I like BSDM and am willing to concede that some erotic materials may in fact be perfectly philosophically acceptable, as long as no-one is hurt or degraded in the production of those materials.
The thing that interests me here is, where do we draw the line between what's just an example of the way that sexuality pervades every aspect of our lives and culture and what's actually porn? Given the old adage that my erotica is your porn, where do you draw the line?
Here's a random example. I just ordered a concert DVD from eBay. Now, this is a band whose music I like a great deal BUT why am I then ordering a DVD and not just a CD? Because I think the singer is really hot, and I like looking at him. A girlfriend once described this band's videos as "porn for girls", and she has a point. They're a great band, but there's no question that the singer is openly sexually objectified by pretty much all the fans and that his looks are being exploited. So, if mainstream porn is bad because of the objectification element, should I feel bad for buying this DVD?
The truth is that I objectify men all the damn time. The reason I never bought the whole "the gaze is male" argument is that I know very well that I look at men in exactly the same way men look at women. I'm a lot more polite about it, certainly, and would never hoot and holler at a stranger in an ill-mannered way. Nevertheless, I do look at men in way that judges their fuckability and assigns value or lack thereof based on that all the time. Is it OK for me to do that because I'm subverting the dominant paradigm and blah blah, or is it not OK because it's objectifying the guys I'm looking at?
This is why I have issues with the anti-porn arguments (and why I lost my temper over at Twisty's place). Anyone who's ever been in the goth scene can tell you that women are just as capable of objectifying men as vice versa. Regardless of what Ms Clueless over there seemed to think, one of the most notable features of goth is it's tendency to play around with ideas about gender. The gender-fuck aspect is a big part of what drew me to it in the first place. In fact, I'd argue that that's what it shares with BSDM - it explores the idea that one can be both subject and object in a sexual sense.
I'm not buying the argument that there's no way to subvert the patriarchy, other than be strict seperatism. In a culture that's determined to tell me that I should be attracted to frat boys and old farts with money, isn't there something a little subversive about my insisting upon my right to decide for myself that in fact I prefer pretty goth boys who wear eyeliner?

Cassandra Says said...

Arwen - good to have you back. Did you have the baby yet? How are you feeling?

Arwen said...

Hey, Cassandra: I did have that baby, and I'm getting into the swing of things again...

Thomas: It was the post on
"The Power of Raunch"
. My screen name there is aetakeo (as it is on pandagon & other typepad sites). I think you were there defending BDSM? Anyway, in my responses there I acknowledge my concern for the *industry* around the sex trade which you talk about here so well: it is so very true that the majority of sex workers have been abused and/or have no other options, and on top of that, the industry itself is grim for its workers. At the same time, I disagree with chucking bricks at well-reasoned feminists who enjoy consuming porn, although (like most consumer products), you have to be careful who you're buying from (ethical porn!). I also find it pretty patronizing to assume the patricarchal collusion of feminists with an exhibitionist kink, or feminists who are into power games or BDSM. Generally, I feel like women have been told what they "should" be for damn well long enough.

I became truly ticked in that thread.

Even more, (tho' I didn't expand on it over there), as someone who's survived some bad experiences regarding porn, I'm not particularly fond of being made the poster child for any movement which suggests that abuse itself destroys any hope for agency. Survivors don't need to be further told that they're idiots who have no sense of their own sexualities. Attack the pimps and the strip-club owners and the rapists, NOT the women who are enjoying their sexual response. God: it felt like I was in a room of born-again Christians shaking their fingers at the "dirty girls". How infuriating.

Arwen said...

And I should note, I 'objectify' too. There are a number of celebrities whose deep inner selves I could care less about: the nice thing about fantasy lovers is that they do the right sexual thing at the right time & then disappear with no needs.

Anonymous said...

I remember that thread.

So here's what I was thinking: Terp is no nut. I may not always agree with her, but she's no nut. She does, however, have a habit of being really nasty to Jessica -- the kind of heretic-burning reaction that view the people immediately to one's left or right as more the enemy than the people at the opposite end of the spectrum. I really try to keep feminist women from hacking into each other over these issues, because it's really counterproductive. So when Terp made a statement that could be read as a condemnation not just of sex work, but of BDSM or even all het sex, I wanted to get her to concede that she was only talking about sex work, not sex. She agreed, and I was fine with that.

Twisty showed up, and much as I enjoy her writing, there's little common ground to be found with Twisty on this stuff. Her brand of feminism really does, I think, reject all relations with men and all expressions of female sexuality as inherently tainted. Neither you nor I can dance to her revolution. But it's not her way to harangue; she knows how to say her piece and let people accept or reject it, so that's fine.

Then Dim Undercellar and Biting Beaver showed up.

Now, I read an entry on Biting Beaver's blog once. She has a 14 year old son, who expressed the view that maybe, just maybe, since lots of men get killed in war, war is not really worse for women than men. Beaver cried and threw "how could you? You know I'm a rape survivor!" at him.

And Dim is not only too radical to reach common ground with, he's nasty. And he's nasty to women. He's nasty to women by trying to be more Uber-Radical Feminist than them. He was posting on that and another thread, and telling posters (including me) that their accounts of their experiences were false. He went so far at to tell me, having never met my wife, that he knew she didn't like the things we do together.

I seriously think that guy just likes to abuse and humiliate women, and he's found an ideology that allows him to do it. In a few years he'll convert to Pentecostal and begin street-preaching, which provides an even better soap box to judge and shout down women. I asked Jessica to ban him outright. She should have done it, but she warned him instead.


The Haikuist said...

I agree with you that people of both sexes can and do objectify one another, and that there is nothing wrong with it because it is simply part of human sexuality.

I think the big difference between men and women on that score is simply that the "fuckabilit" factor is different. Women find a much smaller percentage of the men they see fuckable than vice versa. So whereas the average man might find a fair percentage of women fuckable, the average women would find only a small percentage of the men they meet fuckable. Because women find a much smaller percentage of men sexually attractive than vice versa, the result is that any given woman is "objectified" much more often on average than any given man.

In my view, it is this fundamental quantitative (rather than qualitative) difference between male objectification and female objectification that explains hugely some of the phenomena that we see in the heterosexual world. Borrowing capitalist economic terminology to describe it, men are in low demand in the heterosexual marketplace, and women are in high demand. This naturally makes men more aggressive in seeking mates than women are--because men have to work harder to find women who are attracted to them (unless they look like a movie star, or have some other major asset going their way.

The point is that despite these differences, both sexes do "objectify".

FoolishOwl said...

I don't think that's what's going on at all.

There's nothing wrong with seeing someone as an object, so long as you see them primarily as a subject. The problem is that women's subjectivity is routinely denied or ignored. It's the active denial of women's subjectivity -- their agency -- that's the problem.

Cassandra Says said...

Now I'm going to have to go read that thread at feministing. About this, though
"Now, I read an entry on Biting Beaver's blog once. She has a 14 year old son, who expressed the view that maybe, just maybe, since lots of men get killed in war, war is not really worse for women than men. Beaver cried and threw "how could you? You know I'm a rape survivor!" at him."
Now, I'm all for the value of talking to men about rape, and personalising it by revealing the actual experiences of women they know BUT to tell your 14 year old son about your own rape? Is it just me, or is that really disturbing? Shit, my Mom didn't tell me about her sexually abusive father until I was 18, and even then I was probably too young to hear it. To tell a 14 year old? That leaves me with some serious doubts about her judgement.
On the objectification/fuckability factor, I think that both Haikuist and Brian have a point. Men are PERCIEVED as having low sexual market value, and women's subjectivity is consistently denied.
The thing is, I'm not convinced that the perception of low male market value is actually accurate. I think the perception exists partly because women's sexuality is so supressed that they often don't express their desires, which leads stupid people (and intelligent people like Twisty who really should know better) to assume that they don't have any.
Again, this is one reason that I bless my involvement in goth. I think you'd have a hard time finding any goths who think that women look at men in a less sexual way than men look at women.
Also (Arwen might want to chime in on this) I'm not so sure that the idea that most men want to nail anything with a pulse and most women are insanely picky acually reflects reality either. I mean, I'm insanely picky, but I think that's just because I have a very definate "type" and am not really interested in anyone outside that type in a sexual way. I'm not sure that all women are the same way, or that all men are as undiscriminating as is often assumed.
(I'm also wondering if insanely picky RE one's type is a goth thing. It is after all a very visually-oriented subculture, Again, if Arwen wants to jump in that would be interesting. I could even give examples of how ridiculously specific my tastes are, to the point where I'm often completely unmoved by men who others think that I'll find sexy).

Anonymous said...


The Biting Beaver anecdote was shorthand. It was clear that she has discussed her rape with her sons (the other is, I believe, younger) for years. Now, I don't have a problem with that, actually. I think part of sex education is that there are men who rape, and that it does tremendous damage to women. What really bugged me was that it seemed she pulled that out whenever she needed an argument-stopper to enforce idiological orthodoxy in the house. Her son was testing his own critical thinking skills -- saying, "hey, mom, I come to a different conclusion." She _self-consciously_ responded by trying to crush that thinking out of him.

She's worried for nothing, of course. By the time they are 14, the parents' values are either woven into the fabric or they are not. Adolescent rebellion doesn't include rejection of core values unless the child has already, in his or her heart, rejected those values. Lots of kids try to create distance and identity by taking on ideas that will piss their parents off, but unless they have root-level problems with their parents' worldview, they come back to their roots. That's my view, anyway.

I worry that that kid is being raised with some "original sin" conception that he's inherently bad for being a man.

Also, Cassandra, I think what you said is unfair to Twisty. You know I don't agree with her, but I'm only interested in disagreeing with her about what she actually believes, not a StrawTwisty. She has neither said not hinted that she doesn't think women have sexual desire, nor that they don't want to express themselves sexually. Rather, as I understand it, in a patriarchal system where women are the sex class, any expression of sexuality involving women will merely reinforce the patriarchal identification of women with sex, and any "transformative" or positive aspects are subsumed within the larger patriarchal construct. In short, she's saying, "have fun if you want to, but don't think anything you do with your sexuality makes a dent in patriarchy." It's not a view I agree with, but it's certainly more intelligent than some silly conception that women are less sexual.

Haikuist, my gut reaction is that I disagree with you, but maybe I just don't understand your idea. On your account, what's the mechanism by which greater competition becomes oppression? In ordinary economic terms, one would expect the opposite behavior, where women if scarce become more valuable -- but that could lead either to greater self-determination or to greater attempts to haremize, like herd animals defending their female property. But I'm not convinced an explanation like that works. Ultimately, what we end up with is what Brian said: the woman is reduced to object, and not accorded subjectivity, where men are recognized as having subjectivity even by women who are interested in them as objects. If you can account for how that state of affairs comes out of the economic model you propose, you may be onto somthing.


The Haikuist said...

I want to clarify I didn't say that women look at men in a less sexual way than men. I think that women just find far fewer men attractive than the other way around. I think most women have a pretty good idea of which men they are attracted to and which they are not, and for the most part, they just don't find that many men attractive. Of the men they do find attractive--sure, they view them sexually. I think it is the disparity between what percentage of the opposite sex men and women respectively find attractive that defines a big difference between men and women in the sexual marketplace.

Arwen said...

I think in your comments, we can figure it all out. Here we solve it all. Film at 11.

Thomas: thanks for the help with understanding some of the personalities involved. Also thanks for your take on Twisty's comments - I can understand the idea that women's sexual liberation can and will be subsumed or co-opted. If by nothing else, then by corporations. In some sense, no one's liberation dents the patriarchy. In another sense, if everyone was liberated patriarchy wouldn't have so much power.

Cassandra: I do agree with the statement that men don't want to nail anything with a pulse, nor do they only want to fuck the celebrity prizewinners. I think most women do ogle, and we mention our ogling to each other, but it tends to be less lockstep: if I have a thing for men with big bellies, or my friend likes them bald, no one's going to say boo. Why "guys" are easier to mislead about what makes their own clocks tick, I don't know: but you don't want to be the guy who's a chubby chaser in a room full of "guys". (Men, on the other hand, like whomever they fuckin' well want, and Goth Boys in my area almost need to be Bi, or at least damn comfortable with being hit on by other men, to be taken seriously as sexual partners.)

Women and queers are more free as to admitting their own type: there's queen-lovers and bear-lovers and club-boys and workout-kings: maybe there's types, but there's no consensus.

Prized women in our society fall into a totally limited and marketed field. Christ, many of the porn stars of the seventies would be considered unmarketable as porn stars today - OBVIOUSLY what's actually attractive is different than what's marketed in music videos or magazines. Mae West wouldn't have a career today, nor Marilyn Monroe, and Tyra Banks wouldn't have been a supermodel then.

As to talking to your kids about your own trauma: here's the thing. I'm into openness to a point. I believe that the thing that kids need to know, though, is that their parents are fundamentally stable. There's a big difference between telling a kid about rape, even your own experience of it, and giving your kid the *emotional load* of your rape to deal with. Or anything, really - your divorce, your plantar's wart, your migraines.

Now, sometimes, kids are going to see their parents hurting. There's a difference between being real and loading a kid down with responsibility for your emotions, though. I'm absolutely going to be open with my kids as part of their sexual education, but they don't need the details or the emotions of any of my intimate facets: sexual, traumatic, or even theraputic. Does that make sense?

Cassandra Says said...

Thomas, you may be arguing with a StrawCassandra here too. What I meant about Twisty was that recently I've seen her make comments to the effect that women just want less sex than men in general, and it bugged me (can't remember the exact post, sorry). I have a lot of respect for Twisty too, but occasionally I see some essentialist stuff from her that I just don't agree with, and this subject seems to be one such area.
Arwen - agreed with you about this issue of kids. What bugged me about the anecdote that Thomas referenced was that it seemed to indicate a level of emotional dumping that most 14 year olds just aren't ready to cope with, as well as a "well see, I automatically win this argument!" tone that bothered me. I've seen parents do that before (my husband is Asian, and his Mom guilt trips him all the time in a way that's pretty SOP in his community), and it's a bit too manipulative for my tastes.

FoolishOwl said...

I think I saw the same post by Twisty, or at least one in which she said that women are just naturally less interested in sex than men, and that everyone knows this. That's what I meant above -- it's exactly the kind of comment that Amanda on Pandagon keeps critiquing as an instance of patriarchal thought.

To be fair to Twisty Faster, she does, in a later post on her blog, clarify that she's critiquing manhood in general, not every individual man, and she understands that many women desire men. The implication was that she doesn't share their feelings, and doesn't entirely understand them. But she's not really an essentialist.

About a year ago, I got in a nasty flamewar with some "radical feminists" -- to cut a long story short, it turned out they were pretty much the Spartacist League of feminism. Such people, fortunately, are rare.

Anonymous said...

Cassandra, I didn't see that "women are not as interested in sex" thing. If she's saying that, then my defense of her is misplaced. I do appreciate that she says consistently that she's criticizing systems and not directly the people that operate in them. Ironically, however, I read her much less since the BDSM thread. I admit that I take that very personally. I do not consider my existence a debatable proposition, and while I sometimes read charitably those who have a problem with it, it is forever a wall between me and them.


The Haikuist said...

Thomas, regarding your question to me, I think that the fact that much fewer men are desirable to women than vice versa plays itself out in several ways. I think it does create male competition among one another for female attention, which is why men are traditionally the initiators in the courtship rituals--men are the ones who ask women out on dates. I think that these courtship rituals are not just an artificial construct, but exist because of the reality that women, being the ones in higher demand, have the luxury of allowing men to take the more aggressive role.

FoolishOwl said...

I think those courtship rituals are artificial. And I think part of the artificiality is creating the pretense that men take the initiative. That is, I usually see women starting things off by flirting with men they're interested in, and basically setting up a situation in which men will ask them out, or something along those lines. But that's at least as much a matter of women taking the initiative, if not more.

The Haikuist said...

True, women do take a kind of initiative when they flirt with men, but in essence I believe they can do this because, in general (and in the abstract), they know that they are attractive to a fair percentage of men. Flirting is a way of pre-screening and encouraging those few men a woman is attracted to to take the more concrete and overt step. I see the discrepancy between male and female demand in the marketplace as encouraging different mating strategies between men and women.

tuomas said...

I'm a bit late-comer in this...

Inclusiveness seems to me the strength and weakness of the Left. Authoritarian tough-talking is the strength and weakness of the Right. I suppose it all depends on what kind of people a political movement seeks to attract: Open-minded, but sometimes bit too fair-minded to opposing ideas, or strong and focused, but ultimately close-minded.To me, authoritarian approach is like a bush of nettles, and I'm drawn to political movements that celebrate an open mind and an unconventional approach.

About the pink-collar thing: The key issue in this for me is what actually would help those women (and some men). Prostitution (and porn of the strongly misogynist type) is something I'm sort of opposed to in principle (sex as something to be sold and bought... Ugh.), but illegalizing it to please the moralists (whose main focus is, and has always been, showing others what great and moral people they are. Genuinely good people are far more unselfish, and less self-centered) would make it far more difficult to help women who are abused in sex work (this wouldn't bother the "she-got-what-she-deserved" -group, but it sure as hell should bother feminists). Perhaps if sex work was seen as something not necessarily to be celebrated or considered liberating, but not as something that bad people, or bad women do either, then authorities (those responsible for workplace harassment etc.) might start looking out for sex workers, too? So I guess I'm in the middle in this too.

About identity: Identity was not much of an issue for me growing up. Everyone knew everyone (rural setting) so I was... me. Now that I live in a more urban setting, it's different, and I'm finding identity as a student, as someone who enjoys humanist sciences, especially history, as a computer geek, as a role-player. Sci-fi is good too. (okay, in short: nerdy type) I enjoy doing physical things (like jogging, tennis, gym etc. strange since I hated sports while growing up). I suppose there are just more subcultures for people in frigging big cities like London and SF, not just because of size, but because even the most introverted types really need some community, and big cities can (curiously enough) isolate people from that sense of "belonging". That's where the sub-cultures step in. (Just theories, mind you).
Of course, TCK:s might feel differently.

I hope I made some sense in all that.

Cassandra Says said...

I agree that no one can ever feel quite as alone as they can in a big city. If you're in a bad mental space, a true metropolis is the most alientating experience you could possibly imagine. If you're an introvert it must be exhausting.
I tend to feed off the energy of a city, and get all happy and buzzed in busy places. However, the few times that I was really depressed in London, like right after my Mom got sick, were hell. In fact, I suspect that introverts may actually need community more in a big city than in a more rural environment, since the general atmosphere of a city must be so stressful for them. I think that the community/subculture functions as a sort of shield. Does that make sense?
As far as the inclusiveness of the left is concerned, that was always part of the appeal for me too. That's why I'm always so annoyed when I see leftists acting in a way that deliberately excludes others - frankly, we should know better.
Haikuist - I think that the assumed disparity in male and female desires is mostly a cultural myth. I strongly suspect that many men may in fact not be as sexually voracious and un-picky as our culture assumes. Most of the men I know well enough to talk about this kind of thing honestly are actually just as picky as women, although I've seen them fake the "I'll nail anything with a pulse" attitude in front of other guys. As I've said before, I think that the myth of sexual scarcity as a model for men is one of the most pernicious and nasty ideas society has ever come up with, and that it creates and feeds into all kinds of problems.

Cassandra Says said...

Also, have any of you ever seen the psych study that looked at pickup situations in a bar? They found that in 95%+ of the situations where there was a "successful outcome" (defined as phone numbers/info being exchanged, a date being set or the couple leaving together)it was actually the woman who initiated contact, even if the man THOUGHT that he had been the one who initiated the contact. In almost all the situations where the man really did approach the woman "blind", without being given any signal that she was interested, he was rejected. So much for the myth that men are the initiators.
Now I wish that I had my old psych textbooks with me so I could look up the names of studies. If anyone else remembers the name of the study, feel free to chime in.

Tuomas said...

"Exhausting" is a perfect term. Whenever I visit Helsinki or Stockholm, that is exactly how I feel after the day (or several), exhausted, or drained. It's not a physical thing,because I can walk in a forest for the whole day and only feel recharged (even with sore legs), but definitely a mental thing.

Spot-on on community in city for an introvert, I'm very happy that I have found, and kept, some great friends to "share the pain" with. I was mightily depressed before that, from various things, and urban setting certainly made things worse.

And yes, most men in fact seem to be just as picky as women once you get past the bravado.

tuomas said...

I meant that I will have sore legs after walking in the forest, not that I enjoy any walking with sore legs. Bad grammar.

The Haikuist said...

I think that the psych study cited by Cassandra confirms my view about the disparity in male versus female attractiveness to the opposite sex. Women really are the ones who do the choosing--because they are the ones with the power to do it. Men more or less need to rely on cues from women in order to know which ones would be receptive to their advances--otherwise, men would be constantly facing rejection from women all the time, and that gets extremely exhausting. How can I, for example, as a man increase my success rate at finding a partner or mate among the many women I am attracted to? If I can find one of those very few women who finds me attractive to give what seems like a clue or a sign, then my odds have improved.

Women know who they are attracted to. There just aren't that many men they find attractive. But knowing that they are attractive to lots of men means that giving out signals to a man can serve as an invitation to the few men they find interesting.

This is completely consistent with the fact that men are much less attractive to women than vice versa.

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belledame222 said...

Reading this with some interest, since I just disentangled from a thrash/flamefest on the same issues, and with several of the same cast of characters. I get the impression that this is one merry-go-round which never stops. Agree with Thomas wrt Twisty--I'm just not ever going to see eye to eye with her on a lot of stuff, I'm concluding, but at least she's sane. Also, points for smart and funny.

But then there's the Ellen Jamesian brigade. And those two--you're so right, you know, I was actually just thinking that give 'em a few years and they could well be another Brother Jed and Sister Cindy. poorly lit basement guy in particular just really skeeved me out, I'm realizing. honestly i don't think even bad 70's porn gives me as much of the creepy-crawlies as some young male Dworkinite (!) going on and on about dirty dirty men and their RAPE FANTASIES. really, thanks for sharing. I feel so much safer and more empowered now.

anyway I was amused that Miz Radical Feminist called me and two other pro-BDSM women who showed up on their blog "screeching harpies."

I was kind of freaked because it was the second such couple I'd had an encounter with (really young male Dworkinite and his rather um colorful girlfriend) in a month, in completely differing contexts. Is this a trend? (the boy Dworkin thing), I wondered.

now I'm thinking: you know, at a certain point, some people are just too loopy for their ideologies to bear much analysis.

belledame222 said...

per the anecdote about the son:

I don't know as I think telling your teenaged child that you were raped is inappropriate in itself. I think ultimately keeping mum about something as big as that usually backfires. And fourteen is old enough to know the basic facts of "look, this happened to me, it was bad, I'm a survivor."

What sends up a much bigger flag for me is crying betrayal when your child disagrees with you, much less using your traumatic past to whack him into silence. Bad enough to do that to other people, but your child? That's like telling *him* he has to protect *you.* Who's the parent in that scenario? Not good.

belledame222 said...

(sorry for multiple postings, just catching up with a lot of interesting threads)

I'm an introvert living in a big city, and you're right, it is stressful--and yet, it's funny, it can be oddly calming at the same time. The same way (sort of) the 'Net is stimulating and soothing at the same time. Sometimes the constant deluge of information and stimuli is overwhelming. Other times it's sort of like this big, rushing river which you can just let yourself get swept along in. That simultaneous sense of being alone in the crowd, when it doesn't feel lonely, helps keep the flood at bay.

Of course when it's *not* working and it *does* feel lonely it's kind of hellacious, yeah. NY in particular is...not calming. I also find that as I get older (and more conscious, perhaps?) that some things which didn't use to bother me much (subway crowds, noise) are *really* starting to work my last nerve.

>As I've said before, I think that the myth of sexual scarcity as a model for men is one of the most pernicious and nasty ideas society has ever come up with, and that it creates and feeds into all kinds of problems.


The "there's not enough to go around" mentality is actually a big big cornerstone of the institutional problems we're all talking about here, I think.