Sunday, December 19, 2010

On Homosocial and Homoerotic Behavior and Bonding Among White Het Men in the West

image is from here

What follows is a portion an exchange between a regular commenter here, Amna, and myself. For the earlier portion, please see this post, *here*. An investigation of these topics follow.

Hi Amna,

1. Homosocial. In this case, it's not a term I made up! Here's a link with a definition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosociality

It is used among my feminist friends to refer to "male bonding that isn't gay". Het male bonding rituals, such as team sports, going to sporting events, shooting animals, drinking beer, watching sports on TV, talking about cars, talking in vile and disgustingly pornographic ways about women they've been sexual with or hope to be sexual with, etc.

2. The Andrea Dworkin speech is online and is called "I Want A 24 Truce During Which There is No Rape" and the passage is here:

"You can't have equality or tenderness or intimacy as long as there is rape, because rape means terror. It means that part of the population lives in a state of terror and pretends--to please and pacify you--that it doesn't. So there is no honesty. How can there be? Can you imagine what it is like to live as a woman day in and day out with the threat of rape? Or what it is like to live with the reality? I want to see you use those legendary bodies and that legendary strength and that legendary courage and the tenderness that you say you have in behalf of women; and that means against the rapists, against the pimps, and against the pornographers. It means something more than a personal renunciation. It means a systematic, political, active, public attack. And there has been very little of that.

I came here today because I don't believe that rape is inevitable or natural. If I did, I would have no reason to be here. If I did, my political practice would be different than it is."

Saturday, December 18, 2010 12:59:00 AM EST

 
Amna said...

I was using the word homoerotic to explain these social behaviours, especially because I find that there is something different about the amount of bonding that human males have. Other mammalian males fight each other and expend their violence towards each other... not the female.

Of course, I'm talking about HET behaviour.

Gang rape seems like something very unique to humans. It is predatorial, although men have forgotten the instinct of hunting for food.

Discussing sex, instead of competing with each other for sex, is homoerotic bonding (for lack of a better term, it is something covert and not homosexual in that the men are looking after each other's sexuality rather than acutally loving each other's bodies or persons in a romantic way.) This can be actual bisexual behaviour especially in instances of war, where men have historically slept with each other for their common goal of war and pillaging.

Saturday, December 18, 2010 10:32:00 PM EST

Hi Amna,

I find that human males also compete with one another and against one another in many ways. Aggression, arrogance, and competition are traditionally masculine values in the West. The problem is that in the racist-patriarchal-misogynist West, aggression against and hatred of women is sexualised by men across sexuality who are pro-patriarchal in values and behavior. There is a theme in misogynist stories of men using force to achieve the conquest of women, and that turning, inevitably, into mutually passionate sex that apparently fulfills them both while only violating and subordinating her.

As Andrea Dworkin notes in the same speech (24 Hour Truce), homophobia in such a society--in a society in which all aggression and violence is eroticised by men--functions to keep men's aggression directed towards women and away from other men. From that speech, this excerpt:

But I think that if you want to look at what this system does to you, then that is where you should start looking: the sexual politics of aggression; the sexual politics of militarism. I think that men are very afraid of other men. That is something that you sometimes try to address in your small groups, as if if you changed your attitudes towards each other, you wouldn't be afraid of each other.

But as long as your sexuality has to do with aggression and your sense of entitlement to humanity has to do with being superior to other people, and there is so much contempt and hostility in your attitudes towards women and children, how could you not be afraid of each other? I think that you rightly perceive--without being willing to face it politically--that men are very dangerous: because you are.

The solution of the men's movement to make men less dangerous to each other by changing the way you touch and feel each other is not a solution. It's a recreational break.

These conferences are also concerned with homophobia. Homophobia is very important: it is very important to the way male supremacy works. In my opinion, the prohibitions against male homosexuality exist in order to protect male power. Do it to her. That is to say: as long as men rape, it is very important that men be directed to rape women. As long as sex is full of hostility and expresses both power over and contempt for the other person, it is very important that men not be declassed, stigmatized as female, used similarly. The power of men as a class depends on keeping men sexually inviolate and women sexually used by men. Homophobia helps maintain that class power: it also helps keep you as individuals safe from each other, safe from rape. If you want to do something about homophobia, you are going to have to do something about the fact that men rape, and that forced sex is not incidental to male sexuality but is in practice paradigmatic.

This analysis has not found its way to queer society among males. Instead, conversations about some of these issues gets depoliticised and removed from any understanding or acknowledgement of racist patriarchy.

"Homoerotic", in such a de-politicised consciousness, refers to social expression that conveys sexual attraction, interest, or behavior, between men. It might also describe such expression between women. I have found that gay males often see a lot in het men's behavior that is homoerotic and we often wonder if the het men are aware of how homoerotic it is. But we also might be projecting our own interpretations onto them. Rarely do we consider how het men's homophobia, co-existant with their homosocial bonding, functions to keep the rape of women by men an endemic atrocity.

"Homosocial" is a much broader category, for me, at least, than "homoerotic". For example, homosocial behavior includes sitting together at a sports bar complaining about their jobs, and there's nothing necessarily "erotic" about that. I find most homosocial movies, for example, one genre of which is called "buddy films" to be boring as hell. I find the lives of het men, when they gather together, to be dull and predictable, if not also dangerous and predatory. To me het men's emotional lives are so shut down, and often so superficial when they are together, that there's nothing to their revealed existance other than het men making sure they all still have status among each other, often enough by either preying on women or talking about doing so, or how they have done so in the past.

A key component of het men's homosocial bonding is preying on and putting down women, or affirming how men are not like women--or womanly men. So het men's social worlds are often both misogynistic and homophobic, because there is a need to affirm the status of "real men", who, in het men's worldview, are always heterosexual. Never mind who they let have sexual access to them when they are hanging out behind gay bars. Never mind the fact that het men solicit rented sex from females and males. They're straight, goddammit. And don't accuse 'em of not being het or the violence which inheres in their socially constructed and enforced identities will likely emerge.

What's important for me is to note and challenge the practices of het men when they involve oppressing and degrading women and gay men and other queer people. I don't concern myself that much with het men's cultures and don't involve myself in them. As noted earlier, I find them generally very boring or obnoxious. What is worth mentioning is that when I have been with het men, alone, they often drop their "het guard" and let their feelings out, and express much deeper levels of their humanity that they don't feel safe expressing when only with het males.

I have had some close friends who are het males. I know het males are just as human as anyone else but often social spaces, the need to maintain status, and structural location don't allow them to behave in humane ways. (You'll note that I don't for one second believe men are innately dangerous.)

One of the most ridiculous ideas that het men promote is that "sex is good" without qualification or distinction. It demonstrates either a kind of obtuse stupidity, or a willful ignorance about what sex is, in all its complexity, or an arrogance and ignorance born of denial and privilege. What men mean when they speak of "good sex", too often, is this: having unimpeded and easy sexual access to women to assert dominance in ways that resonate in men's bodies as sexual sensation. That's what men, as a class, believe is "good".

Let's consider a portion of the analysis of Andrea Dworkin's work very recently offered by a white queer man, Theory-Q, on the blog Below The Belt.

Please click on the title below to link to the whole critique. Overall, I find his analysis egregiously problematic in its lack of insight into what she's describing. This lack of insight is due, I think, to the author wearing an unowned foggy lens of queer liberalism typically found in the anti-activist academic world and in the anti-radical/anti-activist blogosphere, which, as I see it, prevents him from offering up any deeper understanding of Dworkin's work:
 
Andrea Dworkin & Queer Theory, Part II

 


“Men want women to be objects, controllable as objects are controllable… Adult men have made their seedy pact with and for male power…and no matter how afraid [they are] of…other men, [they have] taken a vow – one for all and all for one – and [they] will not tell” - Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women (65-66)

“Men are shits and take pride in it” - Andrea Dworkin, Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant (146)

In my previous post, I argued that Andrea Dworkin’s Woman Hating cold be seen as a proto-queer theoretical text. But in my reading of Pornography: Men Possessing Women – which is considered to be Dworkin’s magnum opus – I found that the kind of feminism she developed later on in her life does not sit very comfortably with modern trends in queer, feminist, and gender theory.

Pornography – what is it about?

In Pornography, Dworkin provides a sharp and lucid portrayal of the power men hold over women in Euro-American societies. She argues that masculine power is established, firstly, through the subliminally propagated notion that “men have [a] self and…women…by definition, lack it” (13). This male self has “the right to take what it needs,” and if resistance is encountered, physical strength is used to ensure that it can gets what it wishes. Importantly, Dworkin emphasizes that men are not a priori stronger than women, but that the difference in strength between the sexes is at least in part the result of socialization: “in the raising of women, physical strength is undermined and sabotaged. Physical incapacity is a form of feminine beauty” (14). Thus, the socially created absolute physical strength of men over women functions as a pillar of domination and gives men a stick with which to terrorize women (and each other).

Male dominance also relies on “the power of naming,” through which men are accorded the right to “define experience, to articulate boundaries and values…to control perception itself” (19). For example, the use of masculine pronouns or the word “man” to refer to humans-in-general signals that women are excluded from the category of humanity. Furthermore, systems of money and property, as they have stood for much of recorded history, clearly empower men: “in many parts of the world, the male right to own women…is still absolute,” and with money, men can buy “women, sex, status, dignity, self-esteem, recognition,” etc… (19). Ownership of women, in turn, “licenses [men to do] whatever [they] wish” to the women they buy: her body belongs to him for his own sexual release, to beat, to impregnate” (19). And sexuality is defined on this basis:

“…the male, through each and every one of his institutions, forces the female conform to his supremely ridiculous definition of her as a sexual object. He fetishizes her body as a whole and in its parts. He exiles her from every realm of expression outside the strictly male-defined sexual or male-defined maternal.” (22)

Sexual power is thus established as “authentically originat[ing] in the penis,” as centered on the sexual objectification, abuse, humiliation, and violation of women (24). In this system, sex is interpreted as being essentially about force and violence, and sexual freedom is defined “as men doing what they want” (99). Pornography is a literary, artistic, and cinematic genre that reflects and propagates this misogynistic system of values. Dworkin is often misread as arguing against erotic art in general, which is not the case, as she clearly points out that:

“The word pornography does not mean ‘writing about sex’ or ‘depictions of the erotic’ or ‘depictions of sexual acts’ or ‘depictions of nude bodies’ or ‘sexual representations’ or any other such euphemism. It means the graphic depiction of women as vile whores…The word pornography, derived from the Ancient Greek porne and graphos means ‘writing about whores.’ [In Ancient Greece], Porne mean[t]…specifically and exclusively the lowest class of whore, which…was the brothel slut available to all male citizens.” (199-200)

Thus, when discussing pornography, Dworkin refers to all those depictions of sexuality that propagate the pillars of male domination described above, e.g. – the idea that men have a self and women do not, that men can legitimately use physical power to terrorize women, that they can possess women’s bodies, and that sexual satisfaction is achieved through force and violation enacted upon these owned and enslaved bodies. Pornography must be opposed, Dworkin contends, because it is a reflection of misogyny and because it will teach a new generation of men to treat women as their property, as their whores.

Problems of Rationality and Collective Action

Despite the conceptual clarity and power of Dworkin’s vision, I believe that there are fundamental problems with her framework for analyzing gender relations, which make it difficult to reconcile Pornography with the queer theoretical tradition. Put simply, Dworkin implies that the adoption of patriarchal and misogynistic values is a rational choice that virtually all men make at a very young age. This dynamic is then extended to the collective level, where men consciously form a pact to take ownership of women’s bodies and to treat them as non-humans, as “chattel property” (102). Basically, Dworkin contends that all men are basically in league with each other, conspiring to put women in their place.

To support this contention, she cites Shulamith Firestone’s argument from The Dialectic of Sex, arguing that the development of misogynistic mindsets originates in early childhood and that it is basically the result of a decision by boys to prioritize their own physical safety. The young boy is given two options: “Be the mother – do the housework – or be the father – carry a big stick. Be the mother – be fucked – or be the father – do the fucking. The boy has a choice” (49, emphasis added [by Theory-Q]). And since “men are distinguished from women by their commitment to do violence” (53), the boy will inevitably experience the father’s physical aggression towards his mother, himself and others. He will thus realize his mother’s powerlessness, her degraded role in the family and in society. On the basis of these perceptions, he will conclude that “it is safer to be like the father than like the mother,” he will become a man to “escape being [a] victim” (51). The adoption of a misogynistic worldview and the process of becoming a man is therefore portrayed by Dworkin as a rational choice that the young boy makes for his own physical health and self-preservation. And this choice ends up forming “the basis for his adult behavior” (66).

Dworkin then goes on to claim that these choices for self-preservation are subsequently transferred to the collective level: the individual rationality that men possess as boys continues to be expressed by virtually all adult men as a group. For instance, in Dworkin’s view, the point of homophobia is to shield “men from rape by other men” (61). Since “male sexuality is expressed as force or violence, men as a class…enforce the taboo against male homosexuality to protect themselves from having that force or violence directed against them” (60). “Men as a class” are thus imputed with the ability to make collective rational choices, geared towards the preservation of the extant misogynistic/patriarchal system: “Adult men have made their seedy pact with and for male power…and no matter how afraid [the individual man] is of those other men, he has taken a vow – one for all and all for one” to protect and uphold the common values and desires of men (66).

[End of section from Below The Belt blog.]

I think that says it well. And we can see these themes discussed by men who are making their project to study homosocial behavior among men--apparently mostly het and white men in the U.S. (See video below.)


 
THE HOMOSOCIAL - introduction from North Country Cinema on Vimeo.

9 comments:

Amna said...

Thank you for making this post. It brings up many important points to consider.

1) You say that HET men do compete, but I think it is in a very subtle way, that acutally creates a war against the planet. Get a better job, better car, better house, etc. I do not think that aggression is all bad, except when HET men cooperate to create it for the sake of bigger, better society, etc. Woman is only a small fraction of the HET male acquistion, the real goal is riches for self-love and hedonism. In the face of that, male-to-male aggression is necessary. Not the subliminal or cooperative kind, but a more one-to-one sort that is less to do with ammunition and killing.

A good example is the movie The Fight Club. Men want to fight, let them fight. It's better than their coming home and battering the woman. It's better than their drinking themselves to uselessness, etc.


Therefore, I have a problem with Dworkin's theory. To my understanding, she is trying to tell men to be less afraid of each other. In the second part that you posted, it becomes more clear that the fear is of being raped by other men. The boy makes the decision to either join other men in fucking women, or to be fucked by men.

She seems to call for civilizing men, in an already very "civilized" world. HET men have testosterone. It is for the woman to tell him that a HET man wins a HET woman in need of a man, by competing and not by raping.

In our society, while the idea of subtle competition exists, so does the idea that it is normal for a man to rape a woman regardless of his accomplishments, or what he is. That is a structure of manhood that needs to be changed.

That is how little Johnny needs to learn that men fight men, not women. Little Johnny should also learn that if he is going to hit the woman, she will leave for another man.
Suppressing male-to-male fight for the sake of civility means male bonding and cooperation, which will eventually be released onto the male.

At what point in society did it become the concept of "Bro's before Hoes," I don't know, but it is wrong.

If men don't rape women (and actually compete for the available ones), then the image of sex will be less an act of violence, and therefore, not a thing to be used against the male as a fight move like a kick or punch.

Julian Real said...

Thank you, Amna, for that comment!!

You raise an issue that I've rarely heard discussion of: the whole matter of a push to "civilise" white/Western men.

I need to give your latest theorising more thought before responding further, but wanted to thank you, more immediately, for writing this.

And as for "Fight Club": GREAT example!

Julian Real said...

Hi Amna,

I'll reply more in depth to your most recent comment here:

1) You say that HET men do compete, but I think it is in a very subtle way, that acutally creates a war against the planet. Get a better job, better car, better house, etc. I do not think that aggression is all bad, except when HET men cooperate to create it for the sake of bigger, better society, etc.


"Aggression" is a profoundly misunderstood and misused word in the West, I think. It is commonly fused to white het male supremacist social practices that have nothing to do with nature or biology at all. They have to do with maintaining Earth-killing, woman-killing, genocidal systems of subordination, degradation, and violence. "Aggression" could be understood, outside of patriarchy, to be a kind of energy, used outwardly. But it doesn't imply whether it is used only against subordinated people, or whether it is institutionalised, systematised, and only regarded as "normal" when white het men use it against those their oppress.

Woman is only a small fraction of the HET male acquistion, the real goal is riches for self-love and hedonism.

I agree that what het men consume goes way beyond "women", but women, also, are half the world's human population, and so that men do maintain systems of acquisition, possession, and control over women is indeed a significant social problem, one worthy of global revolution against all forms of patriarchal injustice. And I wouldn't want to reduce motivation to simply hedonism or self-love. I think men feel many things about themselves, but I'm not sure self-love is in the mix. Self-aggrandisement maybe. Self-regard, yes. Selfishness, yes. And that is all enacted in a class-privileged and class-protected form--against a whole class of people who, in English, are called "women". The fact that whatever men "make their own" or "possess" or "control" is seen to become more feminine for having been consumed and controlled shows the depth of male supremacy's presence in all forms of acquisition.

Julian Real said...

In the face of that, male-to-male aggression is necessary. Not the subliminal or cooperative kind, but a more one-to-one sort that is less to do with ammunition and killing.

I see it as necessary to maintain a patriarchal system because both men and women must be terrorised and controlled by men for patriarchal systems to flourish. Men must be ranked, according to age, ability, race, and more. And each subordinated group must be forced into submission. That's how I see it, anyway.

A good example is the movie The Fight Club. Men want to fight, let them fight. It's better than their coming home and battering the woman. It's better than their drinking themselves to uselessness, etc.

Yes. Now if only men who fight each other would agree to keep their violence aimed only at each other. But, more typically, men who beat up each other also beat women and children.

Therefore, I have a problem with Dworkin's theory. To my understanding, she is trying to tell men to be less afraid of each other.

I don't hear her saying that at all, but please quote the passage where you hear her saying that. I might be missing something.

I hear her saying this:

That men have good reason to fear each other, and men's learned violence is the reason. And as long as men are socialised to be violent, they had better put in place some methods for keeping a lot of it directly only at women--the sexual violence especially. And so enforced heterosexism, is the means through which men's learned violence is aimed directly at women-not-men, institutionally and interpersonally. And of course if you're socialising a whole half of the human population to feel entitled to be violent to others, they are going to do so indiscriminately, sloppily, and not according to the codes of any society. But the codes do help direct the flow of violence to some degree. Otherwise men would rape men as much as women, and incest boys and much as girls.

In the second part that you posted, it becomes more clear that the fear is of being raped by other men. The boy makes the decision to either join other men in fucking women, or to be fucked by men.

Yes. In a sort of pared down way, I think that is what boys and men do: they figure out how to survive a system that might just as easily target their ass as women's bodies.

Julian Real said...

She seems to call for civilizing men, in an already very "civilized" world. HET men have testosterone. It is for the woman to tell him that a HET man wins a HET woman in need of a man, by competing and not by raping.

I don't hear her calling for men to become "civilised" in the sense in which the white West actually performs "civility". As you note, the white West's "civility" is, in practice, savage, brutal, and callous to the extreme. What I hear her calling on men to do is to hold one another accountable to what men do that is sex and violence fused together. And I hear her calling on men to be humane to women; to be respectful or women-as-full-human-beings; and to understand that any plans men have for creating any form of justice in the world can't happen if they don't also end rape as a practice of terrorism against women.

In our society, while the idea of subtle competition exists, so does the idea that it is normal for a man to rape a woman regardless of his accomplishments, or what he is. That is a structure of manhood that needs to be changed.

That's exactly what I hear Dworkin calling on men to change, to end: rape as a commonplace and acceptable practice.

That is how little Johnny needs to learn that men fight men, not women. Little Johnny should also learn that if he is going to hit the woman, she will leave for another man.

Men need to witness other men beating the shit out of men who beat women. Men need to witness systematic interruptions of every incidence of men's violence towards women and children. It doesn't have to employ violence. It might just employ a strategy of separating him from the community and leaving him somewhere in isolation to live out his remaining days. Some Indigenous communities have had methods of social regulation, and some still do, where men do interrupt and stop each other from committing on-going sexual violence against children or women.

Suppressing male-to-male fight for the sake of civility means male bonding and cooperation, which will eventually be released onto the male.

I think what I'm feeling is that men's violence against each other, when done for entertainment or the adrenaline rush, in no way makes it less likely they'll be violent in other ways--such as at home against women and children. And "taming" men doesn't work if there are no systems of accountability in place to ensure meaningful consequences if men do commit acts of terrorism and subordination against women and children.

The myth, I think, is that men naturally need to be "tamed". I think men, naturally, need to be raised to be humane.

Julian Real said...

At what point in society did it become the concept of "Bro's before Hoes," I don't know, but it is wrong.

There are many theories about it, Amna. Some trace it back to Ancient Greece. Marimba Ani in Yurugu discusses this.

We do know that through to this day there are cultures or societies that don't operate this way. The fact that they are all threated by the white man's ways should tell us something about the origins of the violence you are speaking about.

If men don't rape women (and actually compete for the available ones), then the image of sex will be less an act of violence, and therefore, not a thing to be used against the male as a fight move like a kick or punch.

I'd like to see "men ending rape" a goal and a practice among men not because it will reduce the rape of men by men. But primarily because it is imperative that men stop raping women. Period. Because part of the problem is that men are not motivated to work for human rights unless or until the "group" includes men. If the group deserving of human rights is defined as "women", the men go out of their way to avoid accountability and responsibility for stopping the violence that makes peace for women as a class impossible.

Amna said...

"Some Indigenous communities have had methods of social regulation, and some still do, where men do interrupt and stop each other from committing on-going sexual violence against children or women."

Does it mean that this sort of abuse happened in Indigenous socities, and had to be controlled with laws?


I read about an Indigenous people called the Taramhumara. They live in the Copper Canyons, Mexico. They have no laws, but they are perfectly honest people and respect women to the point that they have to get drunk to have sex in order to procreate.
Also, once a year they have a night when everyone loosens up: men fight each other, women sleep with men other then their husbands, daughters fight and rip each other's clothes off. It's a stress reliever in a way, given their uprightness year round.

Julian Real said...

Hi Amna,

My admittedly VERY limited understanding of some Indigenous societies that are far more matriarchal than patriarchal, is that because the sexual abuse of women is so discouraged, culturally, it is not so much of a problem and doesn't need to be regulated by what whites call "laws".

I have read or heard very little about the Tarahumara of the Copper Canyon region of Mexico. And the description you have read about feels very exploitive and "white" to me. It sounds like the kind of story about Indigenous or "other" people that whites and non-Indigenous people relish in reading, because it makes people sound like strange other beings, not just as human as you and me.

So I'd prefer to learn about any Indigenous nation's people from the people themselves, not through the lens of a non-Indigenous person.

Frankly, I just don't trust non-Indigenous people to respectfully engage with or discuss the many realities of Indigenous cultural, political, social, or religious experience.

Do you know who wrote that story about the Tarahumara? I'd like to know more about his relationship with Indigenous People.

Julian Real said...

Amna, if you don't mind:

Let's put any future discussion of Indigenism in the comments section of a post on the lives of Indigenous People of the Americas, rather than this one, which is about white het male culture.