Well, I got my car back on Thursday. Cost me almost $900. Next week will be busy with stuff I couldn’t get done without a car. Sunday is the final lunar eclipse until November, then Mercury goes direct on July 12. Things should be getting back to normal by the last week of July. I’ve always thought that transits, for me, happen before they happen, though. I think that’s because I’m an Aries, and we always have to be first, but it might be my four planets in Pisces making me more sensitive to vibrations.
In other news, this was quite a week in censorship. Reddit deleted it’s radical feminist accounts as offensive, but left up all the rape porn.
A legal crowdfunding site in the UK deleted, then rewrote, a campaign for a discrimination lawsuit by a lesbian, then told the public they had to because she did something wrong, but they couldn’t say what. Can’t make this stuff up, or keep track of it, or understand exactly what’s going on. EXCEPT that there’s a double standard in censorship for women and men. If a man takes offense at something a woman says, his offense proves that it’s “hate speech.” If a man types something that’s objectively sexist, racist, homophobic, or transphobic–well, he’s a man.
I personally let the stupid mean things people say go, unless they cross the line into violence or threats of violence. Unfortunately, with so much censorship going on, violence still isn’t addressed. Filming a woman’s rape is violence.
The take-away this week–and I’ve said it before–is that social media sites need to be regulated. That includes crowdfunding sites. They’re a vehicle for powerful unelected men to assert their control of the masses. What is the point of women having the vote, when men silence us through corporations?
No exploration of life on wimmin’s land would be complete without a discussion of the mice. Coincidentally, after submitting this article a mouse appeared at my workplace. I caught it and released it outside. It will probably be back.
A misconception emerged in the last decade of the twentieth
century that took feminism seriously off track: the assertion that feminism is
about “the rights of everyone.” Yes, because feminism deals with the rights of
half the world’s population, it has had to delve into many issues that also affect
men, albeit in different ways. Feminism has had to address racism, as it
affects women of color. Feminism has had to address class, as it affects
working class women. Feminism has had to address sexual orientation, as
it affects lesbians. But these and other serious problems also need to be
addressed within their own movements, in work performed by women and men: it is
not the business of feminism to solve all the world’s problems. The moment
women ceased to be centered in the movement dedicated to furthering their
rights, feminism itself became a tool for placing women last.
Since feminism has never been popular, it’s debatable
whether defining feminism as “about everybody” has done anything for other movements.
Defining a problem as a “women’s issue” at best frames it as a problem for
women to solve. Since women as a group lack political and economic power, while
shouldering most of the daily work of taking care of others, the group with the
least resources is tasked with solving the biggest problems. Certainly women
should be part of these solutions, but they are men’s problems, too, and men
need to give in real ways, not just in empty grandstanding.
Making feminism about everybody’s rights does make feminism
slightly more fashionable. A feminism about “men too” is a feminism more men
and women can get behind. And since men’s ideas and needs are the draw for the
“everybody feminism,” men quickly become the priority. Feminism that centers
men is (mistakenly) lauded as “intersectional.” Feminism that centers women,
such as childbirth issues, is decried as “white feminism,” although childbirth
can transcend “white feminism” by reframing it in terms of those identifying as
men: chest feeding, not breastfeeding; front hole, not vagina; pregnant person,
not mother. At worst, “everybody feminism” destroys the concept that there can
be a legitimate movement centered on women’s rights.
Feminists who are for women have grown increasingly weary of
“everybody feminism,” cognizant of the deleterious effects of feminist mission
creep on the women’s movement. Nowhere has this mission creep been more obvious
than in the assertion that “animal rights are a feminist issue.”
Feminism is a movement concerned with the rights of women –
adult human females. By definition, it is not about nonhuman animals. The
rights of animals are important – with the growing eradication of whole species
it can be argued that animal rights are more important than those of women –
but animal rights are not the same as women’s rights.
The exploitation of animals in capitalism is indefensible.
Eating animals can be defended as the cycle of life or decried as unnecessary
for human survival, but the wrongness of inflicting suffering on animals should
be a given. There is also overwhelming evidence that exploitative practices of
the meat industry contribute greatly to global warming and other environmental
pollution. The question for people invested in the wellbeing of animals (and
the planet) is not whether animals are exploited by humans but how to reduce or
eliminate that exploitation.
Actually, there is an additional question: how to define
that exploitation. The suffering of animals at human hands is so ubiquitous
that you would think this definition would be obvious, or at least that debate
over the finer points could be put aside until gross injustices are remedied. But
there is a tendency in social movements to equate the suffering of one
constituency with that of another, one in which there is seemingly more
agreement. This tendency is especially prevalent when activists feel their
efforts are being stymied. When people feel like they are losing an argument,
they bring up such an analogy – not to gain insight into their issue or to
explain their position, but to win the debate.
The most famous example of this tendency is Godwin’s Law,
the observation that any passionate sustained argument will eventually devolve
into a comparison with The Holocaust. Another common occurrence brings
Segregation in the South into arguments that have nothing to do with race. Then
there is Sexual Violence Against Women. Apparently it happens to animals too.
To people who use these analogies, the parallels are
obvious. There is hierarchy and violence; there is domination and abuse; there
is perpetration and suffering. But analogies are not equations. People who use
human rights analogies need to think about where these analogies break down.
Infringement on animal rights predates patriarchy. I would guess
(without really knowing) that abuse in 10,000 B.C.E. was milder than today, but
at the end of the Ice Age many species of mammals were hunted by humans into
extinction, and not always because there were no alternatives. Humans moved to
a more plant-based diet partly because we had killed so many animals (though
the environmental changes precipitated the imbalance).
Animal abuse does not, usually, involve sexual
gratification. Yes, men can do all kinds of bizarre sexual things, but the key
word is bizarre. Bestiality is not normative male behavior, unlike sexual abuse
Animal abuse occurs across species. Animal rights activists
are often criticized for caring about animals yet not caring about people.
Sometimes this accusation is justified, sometimes it is not, but it is an
obstacle in convincing the public to refrain from supporting factory farming.
Occasionally I see social media bios that say something like, “I love animals
and hate people.” I wonder, do the owners of these accounts understand that
dogs and cats are not reading their Facebook posts? Do they think that kind of
post endears them to other humans (unless those humans are so delusional they
believe they are nonhuman animals)? Do they understand what it means to be
human, and can a person who doesn’t understand humans think about animal rights
in a coherent way?
One argument for animal rights as feminism uses a Marxist
analysis of ownership of female reproduction. The idea is that, just as
patriarchy controls women’s reproduction, animal abuse is about controlling the
fertility of female animals. This, to me, is a stretch. Yes, domestic female
animals are used for their eggs and milk. Every animal slaughtered is some
female’s baby. But I don’t think female animals, on balance, are really treated
worse than males. In the rural community where I live, which is very
patriarchal, the marginal agricultural environment supports goats and sheep,
and the females are well cared for. The males, of no use for wool or milk, are
made into burgers. Male deer are hunted and does are left alone. Dogs and cats
are not pampered according to sex, but male horses are usually castrated. I’m
sure there are examples of female animals treated worse or suffering more than
males, but as a country girl I’m finding this a hard sell.
Women’s right are human rights. They’re not animal rights.
The false equivalency between women’s and animal rights
movements has produced a backlash that is in some way understandable. This
should not mean, however, that feminism should leave animal rights alone. When
feminist events become inhospitable to animal rights activists, it does become
an issue specifically for feminists. I’ve noted situations where multi-day
feminist events did not offer vegan options, either as part of the pre-paid
event meals or as option to buy elsewhere in vegan food deserts. Since veganism
is an important aspect of animal rights for many women, this becomes a feminist
issue in terms of barriers.
There are a lot of “feminist” issues that are not
intrinsically about women’s rights. Women in literature has been recognized
from the start feminist issue, with women’s words suppressed or warped by
patriarchy. Women in STEM is a hot feminist issue right now, with feminists pushing
to overturn barriers for girls entering science and tech fields. Yet science is
not intrinsically about women’s rights; it only affects our rights
tremendously. Women and religion is another important area for feminists, yet
is religion itself about women’s rights, or it only used as a tool for
perpetuating male dominance?
Animal rights is a women’s issue when it is an issue begging
for feminist leadership and influence. Animal rights as practiced can have a “ladies’
auxiliary” aura to it, with men defining and controlling the issue and women
preaching to other women about becoming vegan to be a real feminist. It reminds
me of knitting socks to help the war effort. Who controls the philosophy of
animal ethics, or the strategy of animal rights, and why?
There has also been an element (which may now be on the
wane) of the subjugation of women through animal rights activism. I’m talking
about the PETA lettuce dresses and other skimpy clothing, the women re-enacting
lobsters boiling, the women subjecting themselves to animal testing. This kind
of “activism,” whether promoted by women or men, has used animal rights to
express hatred and objectification of women. Young women, motivated by
compassion for animals, have found themselves conned by this movement. I
believe that in some instances animal rights has been used as an issue to
Animal rights need to be discussed within feminism, not as
part of the to-do list of being a feminist, but for feminist influence in a
wider movement. Why is being vegan an issue for feminists, when men eat so much
more than we do? Shouldn’t they be the focus of dietary changes?
Anything can really be about feminism, but the way we know
if we are practicing real feminism, versus “everybody feminism,” is by looking
at how that feminism challenges the power of men. Are animal rights a feminist
issue? Only as they intersect with women’s rights. Only as they affect women’s
right to influence an important issue. Only as they may be used by men to
dominate women. Animal rights should, in the end, be focused on animals, and
there are problems with grafting a human rights model onto animals. Sometimes
we have to look beyond our anthropomorphic lens.
So these are the ways animal rights becomes a feminist
issue: 1) Ensuring there are no barriers to participation by vegan women in
feminism; 2) Pushing for meaningful participation by feminists in the animal
rights movement; and 3) Countering the way the animal rights movement is used
to further subjugate women. To base analysis of the subjugation of animals on
the subjugation of women, however, is unhelpful. Most people, men and women,
care less about the suffering of women than that of animals, and making animal
rights about feminism extends the mission creep of “everybody feminism” from
men to animals.
I was reading Iphigenia in Aulis this week, and another thought struck me about this myth.
The Greeks performed a ritual to Artemis prior to attacking Troy, offering Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia to her priestesshood, in order to secure favorable winds and other blessings from the goddess, who was venerated along the coast of Asia Minor. Buttering up the gods of the people you planned to attack, trying to get them to move over to your side, was an ancient war strategy. The story goes that Iphigenia was going to be killed at the altar, but by a miracle Artemis substituted a deer (or sometimes, a bear) at the last minute. This made a better story, but it (probably) was an embellishment. Maybe as part of the ritual to Artemis a deer was sacrificed. Maybe Iphigenia initially protested being relegated into chastity. Her mother almost certainly wasn’t onboard with the plan. But I’m not going along with the miracle substitution.
I was thinking this week about how Judy Grahn and other feminists have viewed the Trojan War as a last stand against Western patriarchy, the defeated Trojans representing the matriarchy. The all-women priestesshoods were relics from the matriarchies, their continuation an uneasy truce, or even a condition of surrender. As patriarchy gained a firmer hold, the Witch hunts of the Catholic (later Protestant) church sought to eliminate these relics of female power. The persecution of Dianics by American Witches are a continuation of that quest to subdue female power under male domination. Thinking of the autonomous priestesshood as a term of surrender puts the attacks on Dianics within Paganism in sharper focus. The three major methods of maintaining female subordination under Patriarchy are violence, economic oppression, and religion. Destruction of religious self-determination for women is an essential part of patriarchal control on the left and the right.
Iphigenia means “mother of strong children” and is probably an early name for Artemis or another bear goddess who became merged with Artemis. It later became an honorary title for her priestess. There are conflicting versions to the following story, but this much is not in dispute: The hero Agamemnon, leading an offensive against Troy, made little headway with his fleet due to unfavorable winds sent by Artemis, whom Agamemnon had offended. After consulting an oracle, Agamemnon offered Artemis his eldest daughter Iphigenia, thus earning the implacable wrath of his wife, Clytemnestra.
King Agamemnon of Mycenae was on the wrong side of Artemis from the start. His father had failed to honor a vow that he would sacrifice a prized lamb to the Huntress, and there is no record that the son felt an obligation to make good the pledge. Agamemnon, so capable in manly pursuits, once slew a white stag with a single arrow and boasted that Artemis could do no better. So true this boast: the beast was a member of the Virgin’s chariot team, and she would never have slain it.
When Queen Helen ran away with the Trojan prince Paris, Agamemnon took command of the retaliatory mission. Here was a chance to lead a great coalition and gain heroic stature. So much more the pleasure of Artemis, whose sympathies were inclined toward the Trojans, in thwarting Agamemnon’s plans. As the fleet readied to embark, an unfavorable northeast wind stranded them in the harbor of Aulis for weeks. Some say the goddess was miffed over the killing of a hare and cursed the whole expedition. Impatient to sail and bewildered by the persistent bad wind, Agamemnon called for an oracle. A chicken was gutted and the seer declared Artemis must be coaxed with a sacrifice of Agamemnon’s oldest daughter.
At first Agamemnon demurred. His wife would never surrender the girl, he protested. The military cohorts devised a scheme: send a messenger to the mother explaining that the demigod and prince Achilles wished to marry the princess, and she must come at once.
Clytemnestra, whose ambitions were wholly channeled in securing an advantageous match for her beautiful daughter, hastened to Aulis with Iphigenia, where a comedy of errors—or perhaps a tragedy of errors—awaited them. Agamemnon’s secret letter to Clytemnestra exposing the ruse had been intercepted, and the strong-willed matron arrived against her husband’s expectations demanding a marriage contract. Achilles, innocent and uninformed of the subterfuge (and married to someone else besides), was protesting there had been a mistake. Priests were completing preparations for Iphigenia’s dedication. The bamboozled daughter was balking at the plan, and her mother began begging Agamemnon and then threatening him. Surely there was a face-saving way out of the mess, by declaring Achilles an unknowing partner to deception if nothing else, but the fact remained that ships were stuck in harbor and men were itching for war.
Iphigenia, realizing her father’s ambitions and her country’s future revolved around her, finally stepped forward and declared she would go to Artemis. Iphigenia was as loyal, devoted and obedient as she was beautiful. Or maybe filial duty and patriotism were just a piece of it, and Artemis herself seduced the girl. Perhaps Artemis promised her adventure in a far flung country. She could be mistress of a great temple. The possessions of rich ladies who died in childbirth were sent to this temple, and Iphigenia’s beauty could be displayed against the finest fabrics and jewels.
Iphigenia’s acquiescence stirred a whirlwind. At the altar of Artemis the priests raised their knives to slit the girl’s throat, but at the last moment a bear cub was switched in her stead, and Iphigenia was swept on a red cloud to the land of Tauris. The same wind that whisked the new priestess filled the sails of the Greek fleet, and they were off to conquer Troy.
In offering Artemis the coveted maiden, Agamemnon was given the favorable wind he requested, but the act never improved the disposition of the goddess toward him. Later she abandoned him to the wrath of Clytemnestra.
It would be inaccurate to say the sacrifice of Iphigenia turned Clytemnestra away from her husband, for he had earned her hatred long ago. There comes a point, however, where dislike becomes disloyalty, and the proud mother had envisioned a greater future for her daughter than being exiled in a remote temple wearing dead women’s clothes. That the victorious Agamemnon returned from the war to be trapped in his wife’s net should surprise no one.
Iphigenia did not learn of her father’s fate for many years, until her brother Orestes was cast ashore at her temple under mysterious circumstances. As high priestess, Iphigenia presided over the slaying of refugees at the altar of Artemis, and during the pre-ceremonial interview learned of his identity.
What was Orestes doing in Tauris? Orestes admitted he was running from the horror of his actions. He had killed Clytemnestra, with Apollo’s approval, to avenge her murder of their father. After the filthy deed, Orestes was called to account before the Olympians, where Apollo spoke in his defense. The gods quarreled over his fate along political lines until the goddess Athena cast a vote with Apollo, tipping the verdict in Orestes’ favor.
An acquittal won through a brilliant defender and a stacked jury does not automatically erase the pangs of conscience, however, and Orestes had committed a horrendous deed. The Furies, sister deities who rule the conscience, tormented him for his crime until, driven to the edges of insanity, he consulted an oracle for a remedy. The oracle instructed him to steal the sacred statue of Artemis at Tauris and carry it to Brauron, where he was to build a new temple to the goddess. If he was unable to carry out this feat, Orestes declared, he might at as well die in Tauris; he could not go on living with this torment.
Surprisingly, Iphigenia decided to help her brother. She had grown tired of her exile and longed for the customs, faces and clothing styles of her native country. She told the Taurian king that Orestes and his companion were polluted by matricide and must be cleansed before sacrifice. That much was true; Orestes was not fit to have his throat slit on the altar of Artemis. She further told the leaders of her host country that she was borrowing the statue of the goddess for the purification rites. Iphigenia was certainly the double-crossing daughter of Agamemnon
Miraculously, with much adventure and intercession of the gods, the brother and sister eventually reached the ancient shrine in Brauron. A new temple was built, with the sacred image installed therein, and Iphigenia was named high priestess of the complex.
The presence of an important temple to Artemis so close to the city was an honor that made the Athenians nervous, as the wrath of Artemis had already sparked so many misadventures. Every family that could spare a daughter for a year sent the girl to Brauron to attend the goddess and learn the Brauronia ritual. The girls were called little bears and charmed the goddess with their dances. In this way, Artemis extended her healing side to Athens, protecting against plagues and enhancing the survival of infants and their mothers.
In the last essay, I described the article that finally got
me interested enough in Judith Butler to actually read Gender Trouble. I
had read a lot about Butler’s writings, filtered through radical feminist
interpretations, and they had not inspired me to explore the original.
For one thing, I never see anyone quote or discuss Butler
except radical feminists and a few philosophers who hate her. Of course, I
don’t follow the social media or blog accounts of the tribe that espouses
gender ideology, but I do run across comments from the tribe on Twitter – it’s
impossible not to. They say: “Trans women are women, end of discussion.” “Biological
sex is a social construct.” “Our identity is not up for debate.” “Shut up
Terf!” “My pronouns are xe/xur.” “Misgendering is violence.” “Objecting to the
label cis is transphobia.” “Non-binary people exist.” “The penis is a female
organ.” “Suck my formaldehyde pickled balls.” Leaving aside the truth or
falsehood of these assertions, none of this sounds very theoretical or
academic. And unlike radical feminists, these commenters don’t link to academic
articles or thoughtful essays on blogposts, despite exhortations to “educate
yourself.” I have a hard time believing any of these people have read Butler.
I’ve also read a good deal of media propaganda about the “gender
revolution,” from places like National Geographic, The Guardian, The New
York Times, and the BBC, to name a few. Butler’s name is occasionally
dropped, as a historical precedent or an inspiration to the genderfull, but the
discussion quickly moves on. I doubt many of these journalists have read Butler
Having been a college student myself, I also find it hard to
believe that many college grads have read Butler. Oh, I believe Gender
Trouble was assigned. I believe it was discussed in a class or two. I
believe many graduates can regurgitate a succinct summation of the theme, the
way so many white quasi-feminists can spout a rehearsed definition of
intersectionality without having any idea what it means. But come on, if any of
the people who bought Gender Trouble at the beginning of a college term
ever read past page two, those troubling words are decomposing in their brains
along with calculus theorems they hope never to use again.
I have made the assumption (unconscious, as most assumptions are) that radfems have been perusing Gender Trouble carefully searching for a theoretical basis for the current gender madness that is undermining feminist progress (and even hard-won rights). I have assumed that they have done this because radical feminists are theoretically-minded women, who ground their own positions and actions in careful analysis, not because Gender Trouble has inspired bizarre permutations of patriarchy like the Cotton Ceiling. In short, I assumed radfems were reading Gender Trouble because of who they are, not because of what that book is, thereby giving it a significance it doesn’t deserve.
I further assumed that this agenda of finding a theoretical
basis for contemporary women’s oppression has led radfems to misread Butler. I
assumed that by careful reading they found somewhere, perhaps on page 53,
something that implied that sex (female biology) is fundamentally a suspect
social construct, and later, perhaps on page 97, something that implied “woman”
should be deconstructed into an individual identifier unconstrained by common
definition. But surely she didn’t mean to erase women altogether. It had to be
a misreading, because who would seriously say that, besides some nut on Tumblr?
The final assumption I must confess (the last one, I
promise) is my assumption that my poor brain wasn’t up to the job of reading
Butler. Not that I consider myself an idiot, but I’m trained in economics and
social work, not philosophy. And I kept hearing from radfems that Butler was
“difficult,” “impenetrable,” “hard to understand.” I now think that they were
only being kind.
Because the first thing I realized, reading the preface of
Gender Trouble, is that Judith Butler is not in my league. After ten years in
psychiatric social work practice, I know the difference between someone
communicating a difficult concept and someone who has difficulty communicating.
I know better than to strain to grasp the point of a writer jumping from place
to place to place, because I know she, too, is struggling to find her point. I
know that convoluted writing reflects confused thinking as much as poor writing
skills, and I don’t think Butler’s primary problem is that she can’t write.
Butler’s convoluted, disjointed, disorganized, unfocused thoughts are a
desecration to the printed page, and had she come up with any “theory” except
one so damaging to feminism, no one would take her seriously. Thus my first
apology is to myself, for thinking I could not understand Butler. I understand
her too well.
My second apology is to my fellow radfems, for assuming they
were erroneously ascribing to Butler the intentional unmooring the word “woman”
from any definition. That is unquestionably her aim, stated on the first page
and continuing for as long as I could read. She doesn’t say it clearly, because
she doesn’t say anything clearly, but she does say it.
The very subject of women is no longer understood in
stable or abiding terms. There is a great deal of material that not only
questions the viability of “the subject” as the ultimate candidate for
representation, or, indeed, liberation, but there is very little agreement
after all on what it is that constitutes, or ought to constitute, the category
of women. (p. 1)
Yes, that’s what she wrote. Don’t go back and read it again.
I carefully proofed this excerpt, and the grammatical error in the second
sentence is either a typo or Butler’s unique way of phrasing things, free from
the constraints of heteronormative grammar. As for the “great deal of
material,” supporting this contention, it isn’t cited, so I’m unsure whether
this material is feminist, or about women, or related to “the viability of ‘the
subject’” in more general postmodern theory. If I had read to the end, perhaps
I would know (but I doubt it).
Having moved women beyond any clear definition, Butler moves
on to the biology of the female.
If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps
this construct called “sex” is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed,
perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction
between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all. (p.9)
If the immutable character of sex is contested. That’s
a big “if,” unsupported by the previous paragraph, requiring a consultation
with the footnotes. Let’s see. She cites herself, which might count if she was
a biologist, but she’s not, and a quantum physicist who sounds interesting but she’s
also not a biologist. Quantum physics challenges our basic notions of reality,
but it doesn’t negate biology, as any physics teacher will tell you. Okay,
moving down to the next note, an African-American historian, a professor of
American Studies, and an anthropologist are given credit for thinking some of
Butler’s ideas before she did. I wonder how that feels. Then more Butler citing
herself. Then there’s this gem:
Of course, Homi Bhabha’s work on the mimetic splitting of
the postcolonial subject is close to my own in several ways: not only the
appropriation of the colonial “voice” by the colonized, but the split condition
of identification are crucial to a notion of performativity that emphasizes the
way minority identities are produced and riven at the same time under
conditions of domination.
Again, this was carefully proofed: it’s a classic example of
a misuse of a colon. Don’t reread: it was wrong the first time.
Okay, I’m not going to subject myself, let along you, dear
reader, to any more Butler footnotes. I’ll give one more example of Butler conflating
sex with gender and erasing woman as a category, just to complete my mea culpa.
[Simone de] Beauvoir is clear that one “becomes” a woman,
but always under the cultural compulsion to become one. And clearly the
compulsion does not come from “sex.” There is nothing in her account that
guarantees that the “one” who becomes a woman is necessarily female. If “the body
is a situation,” as she claims, there is no recourse to a body that has not
always already been interpreted by cultural meanings; hence, sex could not
could not qualify as a prediscursive anatomical facticity. Indeed, sex, by
definition, will be shown to have been gender all along. (p.11)
A couple of things. There is a dichotomy in that excerpt. Even
though The Second Sex is about the condition of women, Butler states
that we can theoretically imagine that nothing de Beauvoir says guarantees
that the “one” who becomes a woman is necessarily female; but in the next
sentence we are forbidden from supposition.. “…there is no recourse to a
body that has not always already been interpreted by cultural meanings; hence,
sex could not could not qualify as a prediscursive anatomical facticity. This
is an example of what I was talking about in part one: Butler can’t seem to
hold a premise from one sentence to the next, or else there’s some connection
between the two statements left out. There’s also a logical fallacy in that
second statement. All sexed bodies are influenced by culture; hence there is no
sexed body that culture influences. I won’t critique Butler on that level, however,
because postmodern theory (when convenient) says there is no a priori
condition and cause-and-effect are simultaneous. Still, if we can imagine de
Beauvoir was talking about dicks (and it’s a stretch), we can imagine, just for
a moment, a world that is subject to cause-and-effect (which, as a matter of
fact, ours happens to be). Some radical feminists accuse Butler of
sleight-of-hand and intellectual dishonesty. The impression I’m getting is that
she is not dishonest but incompetent.
The second comment I want to make about that excerpt
involves another apology, this time to French feminists. As an American
feminist, I am so sorry about this woman. I don’t know how we produced her, and
she claims it was the French. She quotes the translation of that opening line
to The Second Sex in Gender Trouble and makes it carry a heavy
load, and in the article in The New Stateman I mentioned in part one,
she’s still taking that sentence apart. It shouldn’t need to be said, but I
have to say it. De Beauvoir did not write, “One is not born, but rather
becomes, a woman.” She wrote, On ne nait pas femme: on le deviant. Maybe
that phrase translates perfectly in the English edition, but not everybody
thinks it does, and at any rate a discussion of the meaning of the words and
their connotation in their original language is warranted before imbuing them
with a meaning that could not have been imagined at the time they were written.
In her 1999 preface, Butler also misrepresents Catherine
MacKinnon’s arguments concerning gender hierarchy:
If gender hierarchy produces and consolidates gender, and
if gender hierarchy presupposes an operative notion of gender, then gender is
what causes gender, and the formulation culminates in tautology. (p. xiii)
Butler is aware, or should be aware, that MacKinnon is
operating under a recognition of the material differences between men and
women. Male and female is not a tautology, and MacKinnon is decidedly not a
postmodernist. Not being versed in many of the theorists Butler cites in
support of her assertions (and being reluctant to revisit Freud), I cannot say
if she characteristically misrepresents them. I will say, however, that analysis
that habitually misrepresents the work of others reflects dishonesty, laziness,
or fuzzy thinking. (I vote for the latter.)
Moving on to another erroneous assumption I made about Gender
Trouble, radfems are right to attribute at least some of the gender
ideology eroding women’s rights to Butler. I won’t go into exhaustive detail on
this, but I recognize phrases and jargon commonly invoked by gender warriors in
this book. To give just one example: I can’t count the number of times I’ve
heard a trans woman assert that because black women with female anatomy can be
women, anybody with a penis can also be a woman. Butler says:
The contemporary feminist debates over essentialism raise
the question of the universality of female identity and masculinist oppression
in other ways. Universalistic claims are
based on a common or shared epistemological standpoint, understood as the
articulated consciousness or shared structures of oppression or in the ostensibly
transcultural structures of femininity, maternity, sexuality, and/or ecriture
feminine. The opening discussion in this chapter argued that this
globalizing gesture has spawned a number of criticisms from women who claim
that the category of “women” is normative and exclusionary and is invoked with
the unmarked dimensions of class and racial privilege intact. In other words, the
insistence upon the coherence and unity of the category of women has
effectively refused the multiplicity of cultural, social, and political
intersections in which the concrete array of “women” are constructed.
(p. 19, emphasis added)
Butler does not state the concept in such racist terms as my
Twitter friends (nor do I believe she meant to invoke such a baldly racist
statement), but she is saying that a woman can either mean a white,
middle-class, straight, able-bodied, biological woman, or it can be dissolved
as a defined category altogether. In order to include brown skin, we must
Another popular idea that can be traced to Butler is that
feminism should be about all people, rather than focused on women. In fact,
Butler says feminism re-creates the oppression of women by sustaining “women”
as a linguistic category.
Feminist critique ought also to understand how the category
of “women,” the subject of feminism, is produced and restrained by the very
structures of power through which emancipation is sought.
Indeed, the question of women as the subject of feminism
raises the possibility that there may not be a subject who stands “before” the
law, awaiting representation in or by the law. Perhaps the subject, as well as
the invocation of a temporal “before,” is constituted by the law as the fictive
foundation of its own claim to legitimacy. (p. 4)
There is nothing supporting this claim, other than to cite the work of the great man Michel Foucault. There is an almost Biblical paradigm operating here: don’t prove a point, point to an authority. I am struck by the lack of concrete real-world examples that I find in Gender Trouble, because I’m used to seeing them in the feminist theory that I have studied. One example I kept thinking of as I read this book, is the lawsuit against Poverello House in Fresno, California. The nine women suing the homeless shelter say they were subjected to sexual harassment typical of males from a resident housed there, and that this resident was a man falsely claiming to be transgender to access segregated living space. Yet the assertion of gender ideologists that there should be no defined categories of gender precludes a falsification of gender identity. The postmodern theory underpinning gender ideology, with its emphasis on linguistic subversion and individual rebellion against sexual norms, has no room for the class analysis that would identify remedies for as highly marginalized and vulnerable a group as homeless women. Ramifications such as the Poverello scenario to gender ideology were pointed out by feminists years before they occurred, because people who can think can understand, at least sometimes, the implications of a theory. Some feminists assert that Butler lacks empathy for women in harsh socioeconomic circumstances, while Butler asserts that she is detached and nonprescriptive in her realm of theory. I think there’s a cog missing in this woman’s brain.
Have I answered my initial question yet? I can’t take this woman seriously as any kind of theorist, though I can understand how she could have an appeal to sexist university officials, sexist gay males, sexist liberal philanthropists, and sexist medical doctors. She’s having trouble reaching sexist religious conservatives, though, which I guess is what that dizzying rant in The New Statesmen was about. I’m not interested in refuting her assertions, because other feminists have done an excellent job. What I set out to explore was whether she potentially has anything to bring to the table, and I found no reason to hope. I do have other questions, such as why Routledge ever published this book. It’s so poorly written, it’s unpublishable in my opinion. Poorly written theory, like any other theory, appeals to people who can find a use for it, but it magnifies the risk, inherent in all written theory, of allowing any agenda to be projected onto it. These suspect agendas then become onerous to dissect and counter, because the original theory is so inscrutable.
I’m going to have to return Gender Trouble to
interlibrary loan soon, and in some ways I’m sorry to see it go. I’ve actually
learned a few “things” from Butler, such as to be “careful” about putting
individual “words” in “quotations.” It can make you “sound” like you’re trying
to make the “things” in quotations “disappear.” I’ve started reading pages at
random, since it’s poorly organized anyway, and it’s kind of a hoot. I’ll close
with a passage selected entirely at random.
By restricting the paternal law to a prohibitive or
repressive function, Kristeva fails to understand the paternal mechanisms by
which affectivity itself is generated. The law that is said to repress the
semiotic may well be the governing principle of the semiotic itself, with the
result that what passes as “maternal instinct” may well be a culturally
constructed desire which is interpreted through a naturalistic vocabulary.
Apologies for the diversion from the usual nature topics. I have some unrelated thoughts floating around I need to unload. You see, this week I perused the first forty-five pages of Gender Trouble, tenth anniversary edition, and you can’t unread that.
I have been hearing about the lady who wrote this foundational text for postmodern Gender Theory for years now, but I haven’t been tempted to explore further, because…postmodernism. I was exposed to postmodernism in the early 80s, when all it meant in the real world was bad poetry (those were the days!), and I haven’t willingly dived into the monstrosity since. It’s like tasting your first bag of Cheetos, and deciding that no, you don’t need to try all the other little bags of munchies encrusted with bright powdery colors never found in nature, but then you’re at a bus station, and you’re hungry, and there’s a snack machine with nothing else. So you capitulate and snag one of those little packets of mostly air, and it tastes like metallic salt, but you look at the ingredients and it says: salt, sugar, cornstarch, cultural hegemony, high fructose Foucault, FDA yellow #5, subjectivation subversion, calcium dipropionate, identity signification, BHA to retard exclusivity, partially hydrogenated not-unproblematically binary cathexis of multiplicitous semiotics as performance methodologies of discursive continuances. And you think, this tastes like bullshit, but I’m not a chemist or a nutritionist, so my limited fund of knowledge cannot appraise the contents of this package.
I have a master’s degree obtained in the late 90s, so I had
to read a lot of postmodernist injected social welfare theory that I
struggled to understand. I felt ill prepared for graduate school, because I had
not received my bachelor’s degree in philosophy. Only later, much later, with
the help of radical feminists taking apart postmodernist Queer Theorists line
by bullshit line, did I understand that I didn’t understand this shit because
it didn’t make sense. There is a deliberate obscurity in postmodern theory
which is employed to obfuscate the inability to connect one sentence to
another, one thought to another, one suspect assumption to another. B does not
follow naturally from A, but the postmodernist uses an ever-shifting array of
repurposed jargon to hide this. It’s immediately obvious how C could follow
from B, but the theorist doesn’t wade into the troublesome implications of her
theory, instead demurring that her theory is “nonprescriptive.” The shaky
assumptions underpinning her analysis, or what passes for analysis, call them
A, are thrown out with cavalier smugness as if this were settled ground.
Supreme show of confidence is the bullshitter’s primary tool.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. What inspired me to look at Butler more closely was an article by the Grand Dame of Gender Theory in The New Statesman: The Backlash Against Gender Ideology Must Stop. You have to read the entire article to get a sense of how all-over-the-place it is, but here’s a sample:
So is gender a field of study that is destructive,
diabolical, or indoctrinating? Gender theorists who call for gender
equality and sexual freedom are not committed to a hyper-voluntarist view of
“social construction” modelled on divine power. Neither do they seek through
gender education to impose their views on others. If anything, the idea of
gender opens toward a form of political freedom that would allow people to live
with their “given” or “chosen” gender without discrimination and fear.
If you’re thinking that this doesn’t make sense because it was pulled out of context, go read the article. Then read it again. Then read it a third time and you may start to get a sense of what she’s saying. And maybe you’ll stop there, and accept what she’s (possibly) saying, because it was hard enough to make sense of it, let alone look at it critically. Because, trust me, it begins to not make sense again when you look at it critically. So is gender a field of study that is destructive, diabolical, or indoctrinating? Who is asking that question, Judith, because you don’t establish this, and the people you quote don’t use those words. Gender theorists who call for gender equality and sexual freedom are not committed to a hyper-voluntarist view of “social construction” modelled on divine power. Wait, how did that follow from the question before? How do “gender equality” and “sexual freedom” relate to gender as “a field of study”? Wait while I find “hyper-voluntarist” in the dictionary, and now tell me, how is it a view related to social construction inside quotation marks? Neither do they seek through gender education to impose their views on others. Ding ding ding! That’s not an assumption, that’s a lie, but full marks (!) for a sentence connected to the sentence before. If anything, the idea of gender opens toward a form of political freedom that would allow people to live with their “given” or “chosen” gender without discrimination and fear. Oops. You even forgot to make the subject of that sentence agree with the two before. You were describing what “gender theorists” do and now, in the same paragraph, you’re talking about what “the idea of gender” accomplishes. And you were doing so well. The “idea of gender” doesn’t seem to need any justification to the Pope, who I infer you are addressing from the word “divine” (and references elsewhere in the article), so why are you talking about this? And why are “given” and “chosen” in quotation marks?
with this article is not that I don’t understand what Butler is saying. I think
I do understand, but more importantly, I understand that no clear-thinking person
would express herself this way. Not even a bad writer. Butler’s writing is
characterized by phrases that are missing a connection, although by repetition
and familiarity with her work a reader can sometimes figure out what the
connector should be. Butler also can’t find a subject and stick to it long
enough to make a point. She goes off on tangents line by line, with no
identifiable idea holding together a collection of assertions, forcing the
reader to stop and say, “Wait, what was she talking about again?”
But maybe Butler had a deadline and dashed off this piece in a hurry. Maybe she was hungover when she wrote it, or sleep deprived, or just having a bad day. A person’s ability to argue feminist philosophy can’t be honestly evaluated in one newspaper article. I could hardly wait to obtain Butler’s seminal work, no doubt reviewed and critiqued before publication by an academic press, to find out whether what I was seeing in this article was representative of her work. Could one of the foundational texts of gender identity theory be a disorganized, illogical screed penned by an incompetent thinker?
This ends Part One. In Part Two, I fearlessly open the pages of Gender Trouble.
Women-only space has been an important part of feminist spirituality. My essay this week reminisces about women-only space in matriarchal Appalachian culture. I plan to write a series of articles about women in women-only spaces.
Late last week, heads exploded when the online Pagan news journal, The Wild Hunt, posted an article where lesbian feminist Witches were quoted extensively on how they viewed their women-only witchy group, The Pussy Church of Modern Witchcraft. The way it’s usually done at The Wild Hunt is to summarize and round up links to blogs denouncing the priestesses for determining their own boundaries, without interviewing any of the priestesses for their side of the issue, and certainly without fact checking any accusations linked. It’s called “being inclusive.”
Turns out, it was all a mistake. Those who feel entitled to dictate the religious boundaries women may set and how they may describe those boundaries have asserted themselves and The Wild Hunt has apologized. The author, Terence P. Ward, has resigned as staff writer for The Wild Hunt, thus far without a public statement.
Many people on social media condemned The Wild Hunt’s retraction of the article as “cowardice.” I think this is unfair. I used to follow this news site regularly, and I believe the misogynistic attitudes of those at The Wild Hunt are sincerely held. It seems to be editorial policy, in deference to “feelings,” to proscribe the use of any word or phrase (even in a quote) that describes the class of people greeted with the words “It’s a girl!” when they are born. Referring to womyn-born-womyn, biological women, genetic women, etc. is verboten, thus depriving the conversation of any language that could be used to fairly discuss divergent women’s views. This is where Ward apparently came aground.
The international publicity (most of it negative) that the Pussy Church has received over the past few weeks is a matter that deserves reflection. Usually a church that applies for tax-exempt status is not a newsworthy item even in the Pagan communities, except perhaps locally or within a tradition. When the article in Forbes brought attention to the Pussy Church based on the author’s admiration for the thoroughness of the paperwork, the issue immediately became a hot-button one of transgender inclusion. Virtually anyone who goes public with anything conflicting with the dominant transgender ideology can expect some heavy backlash. (See, for example, Terence P. Ward.) It should be noted, however, that there are some women who cannot avoid conflict with transactivists because their words and actions are continually placed under a microscope and evaluated critically against transactivist postitions. These women who are subjected to ongoing political purity tests are radical feminists, women in born-women-only traditions such as Dianic Witchcraft, and lesbians. The Pussy Church of Modern Witchcraft hit the trifecta, thus setting off a wild round of condemnation. In the context of this, an article on a well-read Pagan site allowing leaders of the Pussy Church to express their views in their own words should have been welcome, but apparently this was too “controversial.”
Targeting groups for close scrutiny against purity tests, along with accompanying persecution, is, by the way, the very definition of a witch hunt. In the Middle Ages it was old women who were targeted; in the McCarthy era it was people in the arts. Today, if you have not received reprisals for doing or saying anything conflicting with transactivist beliefs, you are probably not a radical feminist, a Dianic Witch, or a lesbian.
One thing that surprised me in doing research for this article is the number of Pagan blogs still in operation that have scrubbed their sites of posts condemning Dianic Witches. It really does look like the tide is, slowly, beginning to turn. Who knows, maybe in the near future even The Wild Hunt will decide it’s time to change history, scrub their site of their sins, and pretend none of this ever happened.
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