The 'Patriarchal Racist Ignorant Condescending Know-it-all': an experiential analysis distilled from Stan Goff's blog* discussions on Engels and MacKinnon
by Julian Real, copyrighted 2005, 2008. All Rights Reserved.
(*It is my understanding that Stan's blog has been or is still co-moderated by De Clarke, although I have not participated in that blog's discussions for years. At the time I was part of The Feral Scholar discussions, the URL was www.stangoff.com. That has since changed, making it more apparent that it is co-moderated.)
Note: CRAP stands for Corporate Racist Atrocious Patriarchy.
In this essay, I will begin by making several truth claims.
1. Patriarchal racist ignorant condescending know-it-alls (or p.r.i.c.k.s, for short) are poorly equipped, individually and collectively, experientially and situationally, through social position and privilege (not biology) to know much about women that is useful in the activist struggle to end patriarchy. Some p.r.i.c.k.s are white heterosexual men, and some of them are caring and respectful partners to women, though many are not. Respectful or not, I know of no white heterosexual men who are anti-patriarchy activists in support of the radical feminist project to end racist patriarchy, except Stan. Note: being a p.r.i.c.k., like being a white heterosexual man, is not a permanent condition, and therefore one can be transformed into an humane citizen, as society radically transforms away from patriarchy.
2. P.r.i.c.k.s are raised with sufficient privileges to assume they have enough knowledge to discuss just about everything, and they can pretend and/or presume, against great evidence, that they know what they are talking about. Too often, p.r.i.c.k.s privilege men's limited experiences, man-gendered and ethnically white philosophical ideas, facts of his-story, and needlessly abstract theoretical frameworks, placing them at the center of their arguments and actions, in part to avoid dealing with the way they disrespect women, daily. What is simultaneously marginalised is (surprise!) women's experiences, ideas, herstory, and frameworks.
Due to this general disinterest and ignorance of a substantial portion of reality (women's), p.r.i.c.k.'s knowledge remains astoundingly partial and seriously biased, but is not called either by them. It is, rather, called "reality" or "important philosophical inquiry"—especially when it is so academically elite (read: abstract) as to be practically incomprehensible. That some p.r.i.c.k.s retreat to their abstract minds' "universally important thoughts" is not questioned, until now?, as a very specific political strategy for NOT dealing with women's real condition as women.
Not all white heterosexual men participate in this pro-man prioritisation and anti-woman marginalisation, but they can choose to do so without consequence of being held accountable, systematically, by other white men. For example, a woman may speak up, occasionally, after her fury, anger, irritation, or boredom subsides from the last disrespectful comment, to call a white man on something racially sexist or sexually racist, but he can generally evade her points by taking (or maintaining) possession of the discourse used in the discussion.
He will often dismiss her points of view, her experiences, as "silly" with a casual and paternalistic disregard institutionally afforded to white heterosexual men. (Note: p.r.i.c.k.s rarely call one another's ideas "silly".) He will point out that we are talking about "ideas" here, not "emotions" as if they were disconnected. He will alert her to the wonders of white heterosexual men's great work, ignoring, rather completely, the great works of women of many ethnicities, which he has likely never seen, let alone defended as "great" and "important". The "literary canon" was compiled around what white men, many of whom were p.r.i.c.k.s, loved to read. That academic white men love to read work that doesn't have much to say about women's real lives, especially those of Colour, means something. Womanists and Feminists have pointed this out, many times. Academic p.r.i.c.k.s don't seen to be able to listen, let alone hear, what these women are saying, because, well, they are so busy blissfully reading the books by their people.
3. Engels was a European married man, and, quite possibly, a p.r.i.c.k.
4. Engels was not situated or experienced, was too privileged, was not in the position, to know much about women as humans, that is, as humans altered into (e)raced women, systematically, through oppressive experiences of patriarchy, white and male supremacy, misogyny, sexism, heterosexism, racism, and other ethnic hate and discrimination. In other words, Engels didn't know how some humans become women through practices of subordination, by other human beings, called men, in patriarchy; and brilliant man that he was, it never occurred to him to find out. He did some very valuable intellectual work, but not on this matter. Engels is an expert on "the woman question" in the sense that Shakespeare is an expert on people of Colour. That both of these "white" men can be seen to be experts on "humanity" means something very dangerous: and that is that their humanity is awfully white and manly, and, therefore, ethnically and gender specific, in terms of how they view the world, and who they see as universally human when they look out at it.
5. Due to this, it is imperative that p.r.i.c.k.s learn to listen and take in the experiences and knowledge of activist and radical women of all ethnicities, who unavoidably endure way too much CRAP.
6. Ethnically oppressed men, and white gay men, *may* know something, due to political location, experientially and positionally, about racism and heterosexism, but are also poorly equipped (politically, not biologically) to know much, if anything, that politically pertains to women of all ethnicities, as women, in various patriarchies.
7. Any men that *do* know anything meaningful about the politically harmful conditions women face as women—conditions that constitute women as women (see the next three paragraphs), know it from women or women's writing, directly. I do not know of one single living or dead exception to this point. There are abundant examples, however, of white heterosexual men *claiming* knowledge of women's conditions that they simply do not have the experience to truthfully claim. For this reason, Engels, among many other white heterosexual men, must be "left behind" generally, except as an example of the above claims: he and his work may, in other words, be utilised to prove the claims made above, but his work cannot disprove them.
"Woman", in this view, is not primarily or essentially a biological category. While some (not all) "human females" share physiological experiences, such as menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and menopause, the meanings of and responses to those experiences are strongly cultural and political: cultural laws about menstruating women being associated with being "unclean" for example, turn what could be an morally neutral adolescent to mid-life sometimes monthly experience into one tainted with negative patriarchal social stigma. That these physiological phenomena happen to some "human females", only at some ages, doesn't equate with being gendered, in my view, any more than having pale skin, blond hair, and blue eyes equates with being Aryan (or otherwise raced). Admittedly, physiological and biological processes such as menstruation and pregnancy are more psychologically and socially impressive and involving than having a particular eye color (usually), but this involvement still doesn't add up to having a gender. Genitals are real, physiological processes are real, sexes (genders) are assigned in a nonconsensual, compulsory way. And if, as tons of people believe, the simple appearance of genital formations amounted to "having a gender", then what "gender" do intersex babies have, when born?
As with "woman", there is nothing about whiteness, heterosexuality, or manhood that is essentially biological. These are primarily social constructs, cultural phenomena, political affiliations: they are terms of position and privilege, rendered real through cultural and social forces and mandated identities. These identities and conditions are not learned from non-human animals, and what is "animal" in us is unlearned by being social, politically regulated human creatures. Seen this way, rape is not, as many men like to believe, a natural condition of being a male animal, even a human one; rape is a response learned in patriarchy, about who men and women are and how women and girls, and feminised boys and men, are to be treated. Being raped, and being "not a man," are mutually constituting. Rape, among other atrocities, helps make some humans into girls and women, and stigmatises some boys and men as feminised.
The meaning of so-called "significant biological differences", and the enforced ignorance about actual, more diverse differences in eroticism and ethnicity, is what is relevant here, not the facts of their physical existence. As noted earlier, some people give birth: some women, not men, do this. But many women do not give birth, or cannot, or are celibate and carry a firearm, or are post-menopausal, and they are still considered women, even while misogynistically derogatory terms are attached to some of those specific categories of women (such as "barren", "man-hating lesbos", and "old hags". Having a vulva at birth does not sufficiently, empirically, define "woman" as such. Some transgendered people born with vulvas do not identify as women when adults, nor appear as such. Joan of Arc escaped being patriarchally female by resisting all instructions, and refusing all associations with the sex she was supposed to be. (See pages 83-105 in Intercourse, by Andrea Dworkin, for a brilliant discussion of Joan's life in these terms). In most patriarchies, people are defined dualistically (that is, incorrectly, distortively), through physiological qualities and biological capabilities, which are then taken as significant and supportive of creating a separate allegedly natural category of sexually subordinated humans called "women". Not surprisingly, intersex, multi-ethnic, transgendered, and ungendered folks are invisibilised by these binary, hierarchically arranged social forms. (They don't do much for women's human visibility, either.) In the case of transgendered folks, the only way to be socially real and acceptable is to "choose" one or the other as your patriarchally correct physiology and identity. That there is no way to "choose" *not* to do this, *while* being socially real and acceptable, is not something the surgical world finds ethically and politically necessary to contend with. That women cannot choose to be not-women, yet not-men, and be socially real and acceptable means that women do not have the real choice to be ungenderedly human. No one does, really, in patriarchal cultures that have gender dualism. I once knew a person who was not born male or female, had no primary or secondary sexual characteristics, and was, in fact, fully human. That there are no pronouns for this person--in English, at least, tells you something about how our reality is denied us through language.
In Pornography: Men Possessing Women, Andrea Dworkin puts it this way (p. 17): "Men have the power of naming, a great and sublime power. This power of naming allows men to define experience, to articulate boundaries and values, to designate to each thing its realm and qualities, to determine what can and cannot be expressed, to control perception itself."
As Catharine MacKinnon states in her book Feminism Unmodified (p. 47), from a talk delivered at the Conference on Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, July 11, 1983): "We purport to want to change things, but we talk in ways that no one understands. We know that discourses have fashions, that we're in the midst of a certain fashion now, that a few years from now it will be another, that ten years ago it was different. We know better than to think that this is the pure onward progress of knowledge. We participate in these fashions, are swept along in them, but we don't set them. [...]
Sometimes I think to myself, MacKinnon, you write. Do you remember that the majority of the world's illiterates are women? What are you doing? I feel that powerfully when I think about what brings us all here, which is to make the changes we are talking about. When someone condemns someone else for the use of jargon, they tend to suppose that they themselves speak plain plate glass. I'm not exempting myself from this criticism, I'm saying that I see it as fundamental to developing a politics of language that will be constructive as well as deconstructive."
To pretend that patriarchally gendered and gendering terms, or raced and (e)racing terms, are not primarily social and political is to operate out of a dangerous biological essentialism that has the effect, necessarily, of reinscribing and reinforcing each of the atrocious phenomena (the "isms" and their accompanying forms of hate and harm) named earlier, relegating them to a somehow natural state, as if beyond social critique and political intervention. Similarly, if we believe men will always create military wars—that it is men's "nature" to do so, we are destined to live in a world where such wars persist. This point must also be made regarding men's patriarchal war against women.
It is grossly assumed that white heterosexual men speak for all of humanity. They don't. Much of the time, even when claiming otherwise, they speak for themselves, for their own experience, universalising it, pretending it applies to more than just them. This projection and extension of white men's being is a consequence of extraordinary privilege, which can and often does have the effect of rendering these social creatures profoundly arrogant and self-centered. Women of all ethnicities know (experience, endure) this arrogance daily. This privileged arrogance is manifested in institutions and other practices that women cannot avoid, and, as unavoidable, may need to ignore or repress, or, tragically yet commonly, participate in and support, much to the empowerment of CRAP.
On Stan's blog, there is a challenge to some white heterosexual men's speech, to their forms of speech as legitimately privileged, as well as to the content of the speech (that is, what it purports to say). A note to white heterosexual men: when you, as members of an oppressor class, are oppressive, and because of that, women, and other folks, respond with anger, or in other expressive ways that make you uncomfortable, I recommend *not* trying to get those challenging you to change their manner of expression, or their style of discourse. Why? Because the requirement that oppressed people speak with a privileged tongue, in a man-gendered manner, with a white ethnic accent, is a form of oppression. Specifically, it is but one of CRAP's entitlements to decide who can speak and who can be heard.
"That's fucked up!" is an appropriate critical response to what many p.r.i.c.k.s have to say. That some p.r.i.c.k.s register this sort of response as "inappropriately critical" or "over reactive", to use note two such dismissive terms, does not make it either inappropriate or unmeaningful, as a response. That some white men prefer to hear "rational" (ahem) cognitive argumentation in forms familiar to those white men, means, only, that those white men do not want to learn how to hear more emotionally unrepressed and intellectually real commentary. P.r.i.c.k.s can, usually, get away with "closing their ears" to this sort of critique. They have the power and privilege to tell the rest of us how we should debate or engage in discussion. To paraphrase my main point here: "That's just a big load of CRAP".
Most women cannot and do not ignore white heterosexual men's privileged arrogance. They instead find ways around it, under it, over it, or through it. They combat it individually and collectively, passively or actively, affectionately or aggressively. Only those women so unrelentingly inundated, insulted, and injured by this privileged arrogance pretend to not know about it, or do not, consciously, let themselves know about it. Only those for whom there seems no way around it, under it, over it, or through it, is there the solution, a political survival mechanism as it were, which does not often even allow for survival: they repress the knowledge of what white heterosexual men do, and, especially, the political meaning and reasons they have for doing it. In this repressed state, and with some privileges, at times, women are as dangerous to humanity as men, especially to children and other women.
In this discussion about Engels, some white heterosexual men have made great attempts to bolster the authority of one of their own. What they have not been willing to admit is this: they have no systematically lived experiences, no social-political position (no legitimate one, that is), from which to claim this authority. It is, rather, only by "virtue" of the privileges afforded white heterosexual men (privileges, which, along with their traumas, constitute them), that they make such grandiose truth claims to begin with. Acting unconsciously or arrogantly from this stance, oppressively, is what makes some white heterosexual men into p.r.i.c.k.s.
This must be systematically exposed and seriously challenged, if we are to move beyond "white heterosexual man as authority on the world", a pernicious and delusional stance they take, not from a base of knowledge, but, rather, from a base of privileged presumption and profound ignorance. P.r.i.c.k.s presume what people not in their group mean by what they say and do, while ignoring complaints about what they say and do. They march ahead like ghosts in the night, pretending they have substance and the power to illuminate. They have neither. Sometimes, of course, they white heterosexual men do have something useful to say about CRAP, usually because some oppressed "other" said it first, and they appropriated it, not giving credit to the originator of the thought. Every thought expressed here--what I write--has been informed, deeply and thoroughly, by women's writing about patriarchy and women's experience of it.
Charles, an African-American man, who is well-read in feminist theory, and well connected to real women, is, among the marxists here, the most understanding of the need to raise the consciousness of the Left on matters of gender oppression in male supremacy. I just don't know if Stan calls himself a marxist or not, but if so, I include him with Charles, as another anti-racist man who is seriously concerned about the Left's privileging of economics over gender.
I know what I know, about women-as-humans and men-as-humans, only because of my experiences of patriarchy, male supremacy, misogyny, sexism, heterosexism, racism, and other forms of ethnic hate and discrimination. I do not know these things through personal and interpersonal (social) experiences only, though this has created a solid foundation of important emotional knowledge. I know them also through reading of the experiences of women, almost never well-articulated by men. James Baldwin is one exception I can name. He was neither white nor heterosexual, and this is significant in understanding why he could know more about women's experiences of oppression, and write convincingly about women's plight inside racist patriarchy. (See the Communion chapter in Andrea Dworkin's book, Intercourse, for a deeply respectful, stunning analysis of Baldwin's worldview and ethics.)
You will find that those white heterosexual women who know most about women's diversely oppressive condition and experiences, are those who have read or talked openly and respectfully with women of many non-dominant ethnicities and sexualities. You will find that white heterosexual women who have not consulted or learned about the experiences of women of many non-dominant ethnicities and sexualities are limited in their understandings, but still carry much experiential knowledge, of patriarchy, male supremacy, misogyny, and sexism, as experienced within their own men's ethnically privileged arenas. White heterosexual women are, not surprisingly, less reliable on matters of patriarchal heterosexism and racism. They, like their brothers, have been and ought to continue to be held accountable to their privileged unwillingness to listen to women of Colour, women of other oppressed ethnicities, and women of many sexualities.
Generally speaking, you will find that radical feminist lesbian women are more knowledgeable on matters of patriarchal heterosexism.
Generally speaking, you will find that women of Colour are most knowledgeable on matters of patriarchal sexualised racism, as well as on matters of patriarchy, white and male supremacy, misogyny and race-hate, and sexism.
White heterosexual men simply don't know what the fuck they are talking about, when claiming to know the truth about women. What they know with any accuracy, they know from emotionally and politically meaningful intellectual contact with women.
Lesbian white women, and women of oppressed races and ethnicities of all sexualities, do know what they are talking about, when speaking of these and other matters, due to what they experience and their contact with other women similarly or differently affected. Oppressed people, it has been noted many times, often know much more about oppressors and their institutions, than oppressors know themselves.
That there is a connection between experience and knowledge is something p.r.i.c.k.s are not willing to admit, in large part because it would destabilise and challenge (to the core) their abilities to legitimately make truth claims about women.
I offer as proof of what I say, every entry in the discussion on Engel's and MacKinnon, on Stan Goff's blog here, here, here and here (see each post's "comments" sections).
That Stan is exceptional on these matters, means this: he, unlike *any* other white heterosexual man I know, pays attention to what women say. He listens and learns from women of all ethnicities, has emotionally close politically accountable friendships with lesbian and heterosexual women, and therefore knows, experientially, through respectful engagement and empathy with those women, what women endure that men do not, inside CRAP.
Empathy is the key ingredient in the political group "men" knowing anything at all about the political group "women". Cognitive intellectual analysis, especially abstract intellectual analysis and academic philosophising will not get any man very far—except among his own people, who, often, do the hiring in academic institutions, and the publishing of their books. College courses and academic texts often thrive by promoting needlessly abstract conceptions of the world of white men's ideas. But unless he has found ways to respectfully empathise with women, thereby learning one dimension of those women's bases of knowledge, and engage respectfully with their cognitive intellectual knowledge, he is lost in a tiny ethnic and gendered universe that he rather alarmingly believes is the entirety of the Universe, as he conceives of it.
I invite men of all sexualities, races, and other political locations and affiliations, to politically empathise with the women around them, in order to know and befriend them better. I challenge men to read the work of politically radical feminist women. (A suggested reading list follows.) Then, and only then, might those men have something useful to say about radically and effectively challenging CRAP.
I will conclude by making this truthful statement: The writings of Andrea Dworkin and Catharine A. MacKinnon are to a cogent critique of patriarchy and analysis of male supremacy, what the writings of Marx and Engels were to a cogent critique of capitalism and analysis of the dictatorship of the proletariat: each set of writings are profoundly important to understanding, deeply, the central conditions and key determinants of each oppressive social-political phenomenon, patriarchy and capitalism, respectively.
Recommended reading list. All works are non-fiction, unless otherwise noted.
By Andrea Dworkin:
Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourses on Sexual Politics
Pornography: Men Possessing Women
Ice and Fire (a novel)
Letters From a War Zone
Mercy (a novel)
Life and Death: Unapologetic Writings on the Continuing War Against Women
Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women's Liberation
By Catharine A. MacKinnon
Sexual Harassment of Working Women
Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law
Toward A Feminist Theory of the State
Women's Lives, Men's Laws
By Dworkin and MacKinnon:
Pornography and Civil Rights: A New Day for Women's Equality
In Harms Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings (editors)
See also, by Patricia Hill Collins:
Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment
Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism
And, by Patricia Williams:
Alchemy of Race and Rights
Seeing a Color-Blind Future : The Paradox of Race
...for additional perspectives on humanity outside the experiential and intellectual limitations of a white ethnic experience.
MacKinnon, deservedly, gets the last word on this post: from p.13, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State:
"Engels, by contrast [to Marx], considered women's status a social phenomenon that needed explanation. He just failed to explain it."