Sunday, December 19, 2010

Analysing Below The Belt: Calling Out One Queer White Man who is Liberal in Theory and Practice

image of book cover is from here

The theorist I"m calling out for being racist, misogynistic, and anti-feminist is named Theory-Q on a blog he is a contributor to called a pro-queer (not so pro-lesbian feminist) blog called Below the Belt. What we have in Theory-Q's analysis of Andrea Dworkin's work is a fairly typical example of contemporary academic neo-liberalism. What we also have is him not understanding a whole helluva lot about what Andrea Dworkin was addressing in her work.

In such a liberal/anti-feminist perspective which is academically removed from reality, racist, and patriarchal to the core, social change is understood to potentially or possibly happen through the free exchange of ideas, not through the here-and-now practice of radically transforming who holds power and the forms of power being held. "Change", in Theory-Q's liberal view, might happen when people who hurt other people "get it" that they are behaving in oppressive ways, and once they understood that, this liberal liberally assumes, they'll want to be more humane and do things differently. Or something like that.

This sort of conclusion is a big part of why liberalism fails in achieving anything close to social justice--let alone liberation--for oppressed people. Because it is so bound to these notions that are only plausible in settings where force, apparently, isn't present in threatening and terroristic ways.

The writing I'm critiquing may be read in full here:

I'll offer up a whole section of it and will elaborate on my critique. (Here's a link to Part 1: his analysis of Dworkin's earliest work, and my commentary is *here*, to that.)

Here's my posted criticism to him at Below The Belt. 

Hi Theory-Q,

I was really looking forward to this. And I'm deeply disappointed by what I've read. I find your discussion to be problematically neo-liberal in its rejection of understanding power as existing anywhere but in ideas, not in material reality that includes ideas. A man's fist in a woman's face isn't an idea. Nor is gang rape. Nor is sexual slavery. To reduce oppressive harm to "ideas" is to make the social world into "discourse only", and this is an historically specific anti-activist strategy for not dealing with reality as it is experienced by the people sufficient privileges and opportunities to be removed from very visceral danger--not mental at all.

I also find your analysis of Dworkin's work misguided and off-base, and also anti-activist, and I'd be willing to engage with you about any of this, if you'd like to do so.
Today, 3:04:52 AM

On with the excerpts. I posted a whole chunk of Theory-Q's Part 2 on Andrea Dworkin's later work in *this recent post* to A.R.P. What follows is the section from Part 2 which follows that. My commentary will be in brackets and bold. Here he asks:

Can men change?

Another problem with Dworkin’s way of viewing the origins and maintenance of a misogynistic system is that it makes changing the system seem like a virtually impossible task. [This is classic liberal sexist analysis in which the person describing reality is not afforded the humanity to actually know what she's talking about, but is instead inferred to only ever be putting forth "a perspective". Men, it seems, especially if white and wealthy, speak in objective ways--such as Theory-Q does here about Dworkin's work. He doesn't own or even seem to recognise the lenses through which he determines the value of her writing--or lack thereof.]

Indeed, in contrast to Woman Hating, Pornography[: Men Possessing Women] contains hardly any ideas about how misogyny, patriarchy, and sexism can be overcome. [The burden is always on women to come up with those ideas on what men can do differently. As if men can't ever figure this out for themselves. Men, if white especially, are allegedly brilliant--sometimes intellectual geniuses, and yet not a one has figured out how to unravel the ravages of patriarchal atrocity. And in this rather willful ineptitude, they arrogantly proclaim feminist activists "unrealistic" or "out of touch" or "essentialist" or, in this case, also "not helpful enough". That Dworkin's book, Pornography, is primarily descriptive seems to be lost on Theory-Q. That is is a very different book, written in a different historical moment, seems lost on him. He's disappointed that this book is not like the first--to him it comes across as more pessimistic. There is not self-critique by Theory-Q about what might be the cause of such pessimism. There is no insight or empathy with the author who kept herself intellectually engaged with material that was repugnant and insulting to her; that degraded her and all women. He doesn't consider this. He only wants her to offer up those optimistic liberal idealistic proclamations of how we get to the other side. He cannot conceive that perhaps her despair about men rises from the fact that men do so little to challenge and change patriarchal societies. The problem isn't men's, you see; it is hers. The bearer of bad news is required, if a woman, to please balance it out with some good news, or just shut up.]

And indeed – the theoretical framework that Dworkin develops [as opposed, say, to the reality she accurately describes] makes change seem very unlikely [and one more time, with feeling: it couldn't possibly be patriarchal MEN who make change seem very unlikely--it couldn't be her years of experiencing the many ways men promote patriarchal atrocity but won't hold themselves accountable to women for the harms they produce. No. It can't be that. The problem, as we will see again and again, must be hers--it must reside in her sad, twisted mind, not in a sad, twisted world she observes, analyses, and critiques]: boys make conscious decisions to become sexists at a very young age, in response to a practically inevitable phenomenon (the father’s violence). Once made, this decision is fixed, agreed upon, and further ossified at the collective level. ["Ossified" is a crucial term for Theory-Q to toss into the discourse of his disillusionment with radical feminism. It implies a move towards rigidity. It implies that once this stage happens, change is now impossible, or at least improbable. And the problem isn't that men become more hopelessly inhumane from the vantage point of those harmed by them. The problem is that radical feminists speak about men in these ways.] How can we even conceive of men being changed, [like babies in diapers?] if their development into misogynists is viewed as a practical inevitability, an act of individual self-preservation and collective will? [Well, Theory-Q, that's a damn good question. What's the answer? Is it only for women to find out?]

This problem is compounded by Dworkin’s pessimism about the existence of non-misogynistic men, whom she makes out to be almost as rare as unicorns: [Here we must note that again the problem is her attitude about this whole matter of men being misogynists; the problem isn't men being misogynists. We can note, as well, that what she makes men to be out to cannot possible be "what men are"--rarely, if ever, radically engaged in activist ways to dismantle patriarchal society. What if such activists ARE as rare as unicorns? Hush your mouth. Don't speak that way about men! It's too, well, pessimistic!]

“An absence or repudiation of masculine aggression, which is exceptional and which does exist in an eccentric and miniscule minority composed of both homosexual and heterosexual men, distinguishes some men from most, or to be more precise, the needle from the haystack.” (57)

[I'll note this: what she said is true. There. A male person said it is true, so voila!, it must now be true. What part of what she said isn't blatantly obvious? That men rarely repudiate masculine aggression? That the men who do so with political insight into why it might be good to do this are few and far between? Can Theory-Q tell us what percent of men he's known who have taken up radical feminist challenges to men? And who have taken them seriously, in ways that manifest in systematic anti-patriarchal/pro-woman activism? In my experience, the numbers are fewer than one needle in one haystack. Call me a pessimist and shut me up.]

So what kinds of solutions for ending misogyny and gender fascism are conceivable, if non-misogynistic men are so few and far between that they are barely significant? [Again, a good question. Now if only he meant it as an indictment of men's collective behavior and not of Dworkin's intellect and capacity for accurately perceiving reality.] While Pornography offers hardly any concrete solutions to the problem [why would a woman write a book about a form of systemised, industrialised misogyny? What's the point, really, if there's no easy way to compost the CRAP? She's got some nerve, apparently--according to Theory-Q, of taking on the subject in such a "downer" kind of way. It's like those damned Indigenous people who speak ill of genocide, of the white man's genocidal practices, without offering up to the white man some solutions to the problem--for Indigenous people--of being a white man; when WILL these oppressed people learn to shut up if they don't have something nice and optimistic to say about their oppressors?!], Second Wave feminism [which Theory-Q can only understand as white and limited to the mindsets of a handful of women] has given us an idea [just the one, really] of what a response to men, as a gender that is unlikely to change, would look like. [Get ready. We're about to find out what the ONE idea is. I'll tell you this: he's not about to cite Audre Lorde's essay about her hopes for her son found in Sister Outsider. It's called "Man Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist's Response. He's so damned racist he can't conceive of "radical feminists" who aren't white. You watch and see.] For instance, Valerie Solanas [who never identified as a radical feminist] outlined a plan for eliminating the male sex in The SCUM Manifesto, [that red herring that any misogynist worth his weight in CRAP will toss up as the prototypal radical lesbian feminist screed] and a score of theorists (such as Mary Daly and Sheila Jeffreys) [that being two: and both are white; but with Dworkin and Solanis we have four; hardly "a score", if a score still means 20] have advocated a quasi-permanent female separatism from all male influence. Dworkin herself, in a book titled Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women’s Liberation, argued that the proper response to global misogyny is to establish a women’s homeland with “land and guns” – like the Zionists did in Palestine. [She did propose this as a proper response. She was noting how it is that any population that includes men, when men are under threat, globally, they might actually think to form a nation with geological boundaries, or a fortress of some kind, in and upon which to resist being murdered into extinction. She notes how it is that such a strategy never occurs to men as appropriate for women, and that it occurs rarely to women as well, to do exactly the same thing as what men who were Jewish thought to do in creating the State of Israel as a Jewish homeland. What Theory-Q doesn't inform his readers is that Dworkin never endorsed lesbian separatism as a revolutionary or radical political practice; and when such a form of social organisation had as a premise that men were naturally inferior to women, such as morally, such as by being inherently evil or dangerous, she was outspoken against it. That Theory-Q makes no mention of the speech about the dangers of promoting biological superiority--which was the hardest she ever delivered--is a curious omission, given that he proclaims himself to be so very knowledgeable about her work, from early to late.]

Thus, not only are there empirical problems with Dworkin’s approach to gender issues – it also leads to ethically impoverished responses to sexism whereby the only way to get rid of oppression is to eliminate men, completely separate oneself from them, or take up arms. [Again: the problem is her (ir)rationality: her sketchy empiricism and her rigid approach. Damn those feminists who think taking up arms against men might just be the only way out of the hell that is racist-rapist society. For Theory-Q, we'll again note, the problem isn't the stubbornness of patriarchal social systems to budge and adapt to make room for understanding women as fully human and also treating them accordingly. We have yet to get Theory-Q's brilliant remedies to the patriarchy problem. But he's not done, so perhaps he'll come up with something surprising.] This is what happens when gender relations are portrayed [by those four, no, three, apparently irrational white radical lesbian feminists] as ossified and unchangeable –  [for Theory-Q, this is not what happens when "gender relations" are, in fact, not in the insane imaginings of a few loony feminists, ossified and unchangeable in radically meaningful and liberatory ways] when the oppressors, rather than the systems of oppression, are imbued with rationality, consciousness, and intentionality. [Hmmm. So it's the systems that done it! Those "rational", "conscious", intentional systems! And how, exactly, does a system think? Either rationally or irrationally? Through what means does a human social system have consciousness other than through human minds and the behaviors that manifest those mental forms?]

A Queer(er) Conception [Oh, thank the Lorde. We're gonna get some better solutions--some queerer ones. Finally! Because we all know that radical lesbian feminists just aren't queer enough.]

In my view, therefore, Dworkin’s approach to gender in Pornography [as opposed to CRAP-loaded men's approach to maintaining racist heteropatriarchal gender tyranny] is incompatible with queer theory.  [He says this like it's a BAD thing.] It is an essentialist view that undermines the possibilities for changing gendered behavior, since it posits that misogyny and sexism are rationally chosen at a very young age, reinforced through macro-collective agreement in later-life, and extremely difficult to undo. [What Theory-Q doesn't wish to focus on is this: how and to what degrees ARE institutionalised misogyny, systemic sexism, and gendered behavior in such contexts "extremely difficult to undo". We mustn't ask such a question--those elephants in the room need their rest, after all.] A queer theoretical perspective would be different from this in several important ways. [Well, he's got that right--kind of. Unfortunately, he doesn't speak for all of us Queers--he speaks for a minority population (white, male, privileged in many ways, including by being Western and an English-speaker) that has a majority of time on the stage and a massive grip on that mic. And he doesn't convey nearly the level of sophistication of intellect and awareness of the political pitfalls of neo-liberalism of, say, Dean Spade.]

Firstly, the adoption of a misogynistic worldview [as opposed to the existence of it, in reality, observed and astutely described by many theorists, including Dworkin, Daly, and Jeffreys] would not be conceived as the result of a rational cost-benefit analysis, derived from experiencing the seemingly inevitable violence of the father. [He's a bit hung up on this father thing. Several early writings by some feminists took this family systems model to heart. And there's merit to it. That misogyny is inculcated and enforced by fathers in nuclear families is kind of a no-brainer. Father/father-figure to daughter incest remains the most common form of child sexual abuse on Earth. And there's a lot of forms of it to choose from. I can't even begin to count the scores of women who have had their sexualities and psyches permanently damaged by witnessing their fathers' pornography collections. But is father-violence the only means through which misogyny is taught and tenured? No.] Instead, the young person would be [would be? or IS? Are we living in a real world, or a world of ideas only?] conceptualized [Oh. Ideas only. Got it.] as coming into contact with social discourses ["discourses"? No fists? No penises used as weapons? No girls being resented for not being boys? No physically and emotionally brutal sexism? Just "discourse"??] about men and women [and, we assume, trans people], and thereby, acquiring ideas [more ideas!] about what they are really like and beginning to see oneself as a gendered being. [This understanding that we come to see ourselves as gendered beings--that this is a process of increased perception, as opposed or in addition to, say, a process of actual power exercised against the bodies and wills of classes of people who, in turn, repress, deny, dissociate, and otherwise resist knowing much about what went down--is neo-liberal to the core; it is, in fact, essentialist in its liberalism.] In that sense, queer theory [Which one? Whose? Does it just exist disembodied from actual thinkers?] does not assume that most fathers are violent (or that most mothers are non-violent), [nor does radical feminism, if we accept that radical feminism does, in fact, have scores of theorists who propose differing and sometimes contradictory, sometimes complimentary explanations for harmful and oppressive social phenomena] and it [that one Queer Theory?] sees the process of gender construction as heavily influenced by the ideas that are dominant in society. [And here is where it gets rather obvious where he's going: social reality is not a product of force at all; not of actions at all; but, rather, of the interplay and exchange of ideas, alone.  Besides "individualism", this perspective that the world turns on ideas is one of a few cornerstones of Western white male supremacist neo-liberal philosophy.]

In seeking to understand why many men are misogynists, queer theorists would most likely [the arrogance of speaking for all those queer theorists really does need to be called out; speak for yourself, Theory-Q, and cite theorists--radical feminist and queer, please] argue that it is because social discourse [not people, not actions people do, not power exchanged unevenly and harmfully; not institutions and systems infused with these structures of oppressive power] is misogynistic, because it contains demeaning ideas about women’s bodies, intellectual abilities, and personalities. [And again: the husband's fist in the woman's face is not a kind of discourse that contains ideas; it is an action that exerts terrifying power through force.] It is therefore not necessary to assume that the decision to become misogynistic is the result of some internal rational calculus – rather, practically everyone drifts into misogyny by virtue of their membership in sexist society. [Drifts? We drift into misogyny? Is misogyny a snowbank? Are we vehicles? What sort of conceptualisation is this? What world is he describing?] I do not think that becoming a sexist is a rational, conscious, purposeful decision – at least not at the individual level. [Except when it is.] And if such decisions do exist, [and, um, they do] they occur in the context of having already been socialized into believing certain things about men and women “in general.” [Ah. So let's see here: the man hits the woman because he's been socialised to think that it's okay for men to hit women, in general. It may well be the case that he has been socialised to believe this. But in fact men are not raised to think battering women generally is okay, because men don't beat up women bosses on anything resembling a regular basis. Men also do not beat up their grandmothers on a regular or systematic basis. No. It's not quite so general as this. What men are trained to do is to beat up women they can beat privately, who are not likely to tell others about being beaten. This is specific to how patriarchal, woman-bashing domestic violence works. And if we examine gang rape, and speak with gang rapists, what we find out is that they were not, in fact, socialised to gang rape. They didn't take courses on how to do it and they didn't necessarily see it on TV. Gang rape pre-exists corporate pornography, so it isn't only brought into the minds and bodies of males that way, either. And yet gang rape, by men, against one girl, one woman, or many, (and occasionally against a male or trans person) happens and has happening against girls and women for centuries. Why? Theory-Q offers us no answers to such questions. But there are clearly other elements, other factors, other forces at work. What are those? Are they ideas only? Is it possible that males make decisions based on what they witness their male buddies doing? And that a fear of rejection by peers is one factor among many about why groups of males participate in the horror that is gang rape? Are not the males "making decisions" when deciding whether or not to join in on the terrifying activity? Is there no "internal rational calculus" at work there? Are these just beasts, without cognitive capabilities and ethical minds? When did they stop being human(e), exactly?] and it is likely he has, but it is not necessarily the case that he has. [So, Theory-Q, what is a male who is behaving misogynistically doing? Is he being mindful? Is he conscious? If "ideas" are the sole carriers of misogyny, who has them? If we just "drift" into being misogynistic, can we drift out of being that way, in some instances? If not, your understanding of how it is we enact misogyny is pretty damned pessimistic, isn't it? And where are those remedies. I'm waiting.]

Secondly, having understood that misogynistic mindsets [never actions] originate in the way that gender is socially constituted, it is then irrelevant whether or not men get together and collectively agree to oppress women, because social discourse already ensures that women will be oppressed. Indeed, we do not need to imagine hypothetical and unrealistic “social contracts” among all men to oppress women because such an action would not even be needed to ensure the subjugation of women. [Which in no way means that men do not, in fact, make social contracts to be misogynistic. We know they do: the act of selling humans who are trafficked is contractual behavior among men, is it not? The romantic ideal of daddy walking his daughter down an aisle and giving her hand, and most of the rest of her, to her bride-groom, is a contractual arrangement created by men, is it not? Are not arranged marriages arranged? Do not frat fellows plot with one another about how best to accomplish date rape?] The ideas that are dominant in society ensure that nearly everybody will be a participant in that subjugation, that it will be embedded in social interactions, and (re)enforced by social institutions. [So adult males, and teen males, and boys of various ages, are not actors with wills? Since when?]

Finally, conceptualizing gender oppression as the result of system-level social discourses inspires different kinds of solutions for gender progress. [Yes: often neo-liberal and ineffectual ones; mostly anti-radical and anti-liberatory ones.] Instead of requiring the elimination of men or separation from them, [to misuse a red herring stereotype] changing social discourse will lead to the possibility [the possibility? Is this what we're going for here--the creation or generation of "possibilities"? Forgive me if I don't show up the party of possibilities.] of changing men and changing gender. [Changing men? Like doing a make-over? Changing gender? Out of a violently enforced hierarchy at which women are on the bottom, among adults?] Queer theory invests the human subject with an ability to change for the better [as yet unrealised but he only promised us possibilities, after all], and in that sense, it enables us to imagine a differently gendered world [will Theory-Q forgive those of us who find "imagining" not quite sufficient enough a goal?] – and one that is not created as such through violence or separatism. [Because white-male sky-god forbid women separate from men! Who will feed the men? Who will clean up after them? Who will buy their clothes, or make them? Who will carry to them their water, or their beer? And wm-sg forbig that women use violence; THAT is only for MEN to use, goddammit! Again other men, against women, against girls, against boys, and against intersex and transgender people too! Oh, and against animals and the Earth. Whose interests are served by ruling out separation from men, and the use of violence in class-based warfare? I'll go out on a limb and say "men's".] In Pornography, Andrea Dworkin’s vision is devoid of this impulse. [For damn good reason, Theory-Q: because it's liberal as hell and totally ineffectual and you've yet to show how your ideas about social change manifest AS social change that meaningfully liberates women from rapist, racist patriarchies. But please, do demonstrate where and how much that is happening.]


Overall, the conceptions of gender relations outlined in Woman Hating and Pornography could not be more different. [That's simply untrue. That's a woefully negligent read of both books.] The former takes a revolutionary approach to gender and sexuality, calling for a complete overthrow of the binary gender system as it stands today. [Yes; that's because that one early book was prescriptive as much as it was descriptive; Pornography is descriptive far more than prescriptive. This doesn't make them different in politic; it makes them different only in the energy expended imagining a future that is without male supremacy. But many, and not all, of the views in Woman Hating carry over through much of her later work. She has publicly critiqued much of the third section of Woman Hating as hopelessly Freudian. See the notes in Without Apology: Andrea Dworkin's Art and Politics, by Cindy Jenefsky.] People are conceptualized as changeable [and that has produced what, exactly, in the reduction or elimination of rape, trafficking, and gynocide?], as having the capacity to transform themselves and to end the gender system as we know it today. [Them's high-falutin' goals, mister. And they are, in fact, "just ideas"--in both senses of the word, "just". Now where's the action to back 'em up?]

These ideas are not found in Pornography. [What?!? No neo-liberal ineffectual ideas??? What kind of feminist was she?!] Instead, this work is so firmly rooted in analyzing the misogynistic system – as it stands today [well, over thirty years ago, actually, Theory-Q; and the pornography industry has only gotten far more cruel and callous, more racist and misogynistic, since then]– that it fails to provide any alternatives. [Well what good is it then? There's no value in "just" making a phenomenon formerly understood to only be "fantasy", and "ideas", and "harmless good fun" recognisable as harm, as oppressive practice, as sadism, as men's hatred of women graphically displayed? Shall we also deem "a failure" any books which describe the history of white supremacy, such as Dr. Marimba Ani's book Yurugu?] Dworkin conceptualizes men as evil, [no, she doesn't; she does quite the opposite actually: she characterises them as products of the civilisations they organise and dominate] unchangeable creatures [that's horseshit, Theory-Q, and you ought to know it, having read so much of her work!] who are rationally, intentionally, consciously and collectively crushing women. [That's because men are rationally, intentionally, and consciously bashing, raping, trafficking, selling, and oppressing women. If you'd like to remain in denial about that, go for it; but don't criticise as irrational one of the few people who didn't flinch from telling the truth about what men do and why they do it.] Unfortunately, with such a portrayal, the scope of conceivable solutions for ending misogyny and patriarchy can only be very narrow. [And, again, "scoping conceivable solutions" is something we're decades past needing. And that you can only support us getting to that point shows me how woefully ill-equipped you are to lead any of us anywhere towards liberation for women from men's rule and ruthlessness.]

***For More Information*** [you might wish to read these other white folks' writings. Theory-Q doesn't seem to notice that the best writings about feminism and womanism and women's resistance movements against patriarchal atrocities and tyranny are not only or primarily by white women; and the book on radical feminism he recommends, titled Daring to be Bad, is not one I'd recommend reading at all.  Nor would I recommend reading any of his other offerings. I'd recommend reading everything you can by the following women: Vandana Shiva; Malalai Joya; Yanar Mohammed; Ruchira Gupta; Andrea Smith; Audre Lorde; Andrea Dworkin; Catharine A. MacKinnon; Patricia Hill Collins; Sheila Jeffreys; Angela Davis; and Marimba Ani. And go from there as far away as you can from neo-liberal philosophers who offer women as a class nothing at all in terms of directing a route out of globalised (while not universal) racist heteropatriarchal hell.]

While her books are, unfortunately, quite hard to find, there are plenty of websites where you can access Andrea Dworkin's work. For more on radical feminism, I recommend Alice Echols' Daring to be Bad, which also reveals further unacknowledged connections between radical feminism and queer theory. On queer theory, Judith Butler's Gender Trouble remains an excellent introduction. For a more contemporary discussion, check out the recently released Feminism is Queer by Mimi Marinucci.

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