So this happened. The Victoria University debating society hosted an event at which one of the moots was:
“This House, as a parent, would tell their daughter to drink responsibly to avoid sexual assault”.
How breathtakingly daring of them.
As people have pointed out on Twitter, it’s not fair to say “all debaters are dudebro neckbeards”. So I won’t.
What I will point out is that this whole structured debating thing seriously reinforces a lot of patriarchal, privileged bullshit.
1. Because it treats serious social topics as completely morally relative
This is how you’re meant to argue when you’re eventually in charge. You’re trained for it, and part of that training is regularly being presented with morally indefensible positions to defend anyway or risk losing whatever competition you’re engaged with. I have seen perfectly decent young men get carried away defending genocide and torture because that’s the only way to win. Those who are unable to do so are taught that they have no business having political opinions. The people assumed to be the future elite are not rewarded for getting the answer which is most correct, most compassionate or humane or even sensible – they’re rewarded for smashing the opposition. And that’s how you get politicians who will argue anything they’re told to, enact any policy they’re told to no matter how many how many people will get hurt, just so that their team can win.
Chief adjudicator Stephen Wittington justified the moot by saying:
“As part of that discussion we discussed what the purpose of debating was, and as part of that discussion we talked about the fact that debating often requires people to defend ideas or arguments that they don’t personally agree with, even in circumstances where people do in fact have very strong views about those issues.”
As though the problem is that some people (in this case, women) just need to be challenged with different opinions. As if “I was raped and society said it was my fault so the rapist was never prosecuted” is just a strong view on the topic. Shocking news: it’s really shitty to use people’s real lived experiences of traumatic events as a thought experiment.
2. Because it holds “rationality” or “reason” or “logic” as supreme
Especially in comparison to emotion. Which is one of the reasons that moot above is supremely shitty. Hey, women, so 1 in 4 of you have experienced sexual assault, and probably been victim-blamed to hell and back, but now we’re going to grade you on how calm and reasonable you can be while arguing in favour of victim-blaming. Win!
Patriarchy privileges intellect and demonizes emotion. Totally coincidentally, men are held to be sensible rational creatures, and women in New Zealand have to convince two doctors that they’re so mentally fragile they deserve an abortion.
3. Because its judging criteria are privileged to hell
Guess what kind of people are most likely to be really good at the kind of speaking and preparation rewarded by formal debating? People from upper-class highly-educated families, that’s who. People who are able-bodied and neurotypical.
Please note that this doesn’t mean only rich white boys debate. Plenty of people from oppressed groups will be fantastic at debating in this format. But they will sure as hell have to conform to the expectations of privileged groups to do it. (cf Namond Brice)
4. Because it mistakes reinforcing oppression with challenging norms
There are a million ways to challenge people to think outside the box, or to explore current social issues, without going for the bog-standard Bob Jones line of debate.
The fact is, this was a completely unfair debate. Not because people were upset by it, not because it breaches the all-powerful Feminist Code, but because our society has already well-equipped the affirming team with arguments. Nobody arguing in favour of this moot had to think very hard about how they were going to make their case, because their case is made every single day to the point that many people consider it “common sense”. The negating team, on the other hand, had to fight not just their opponents, but centuries of social conventions and assumptions. And some of them will have been struggling with being triggered in the process.
So why do it? Because not all debaters are dudebro Grammar old boys, but plenty of them are, especially the ones at the top. And why would they do anything but reinforce the power structures which keep them there?
Thursday 21 February marked the day that New Zealand women effectively stopped working for free – in comparison to their male counterparts.
This was marked on the Green Party’s Facebook page, and almost instantly a very common argument was raised:
I am 100% in favour of equal pay, but the problem with measuring the overall pay difference is that men, on average, have longer careers than women, as more women than men leave the work force to raise children. It’s a very difficult thing to measure properly.
I quote the comment not to hint that you should all descend in pack formation and tear the dude in question to pieces, but to illustrate: this is the problem with trying to speak about individual issues of patriarchy.
You talk about the pay gap, and people (not just dudes) say, “Oh but women take time off to have babies.”
You talk about women still being the predominant raisers and carers of children, and people say, “Oh but women are generally more nurturing.”
You talk about socialisation and constructed gender roles and peer pressure and people say, “That’s true, but in a [assumed hetero/cis] couple the woman probably earns less anyway so it makes sense for her to be the one to quit work.”
Lather, rinse, repeat. (Issues not shown: lack of flexible working arrangements because managers refuse to adapt to the 21st century; employer assumptions that all women are cisgendered, heterosexual, fertile, and planning children; differing levels of respect and accommodation given to men who chose to actively parent; etc.)
It’s all the same problem. It all comes down to patriarchy. And it means that when we say “effectively, women are paid so much less than men on average that they’ve been working for free until today” someone gets to just State The Facts about women’s shorter/interrupted careers … without being forced to consider why women’s careers are the ones that get shortened and/or interrupted.
Oh, and also? There are plenty of douchebags in this world who do, absolutely, deliberately pay women less for the same role as men because they’re sexist pigs and because they know that they can play the “but what if she gets knocked up?” card whenever they like. And good common-sense just-how-the-world-works people will nod and carry on letting patriarchy (and don’t forget capitalism, because there’s a reason it’s hard to consistently quantify the pay gap) screw us all over.
Thanks for that.
Murders Without Murderers by Mallory Ortberg.
A CBS article about the killing of Reeva Steenkamp ran this morning with a quote from Oscar Pistorius in the headline: “She Died In My Arms.” Reeva Steenkamp died in Oscar Pistorius’ arms because Oscar Pistorius killed her. Her death was not something that happened to him. He did not stumble upon a tragic tableau and cradle her, Pietà-like, while she expired; it was an act he committed. A few years earlier, he had been arrested for assault against another woman.
One of the most basic truths about domestic violence is that it gets worse over time. There is rarely a sudden snap; a woman is hurt repeatedly until she is hurt so badly that she dies from it. These stories are written about murders without a murderer, as if there were no warning signs and there was no possible way anyone could have predicted what would happen.
We need to start questioning this shit: the shit of “he must have just snapped” and the shit of “if a person is supremely physically fit they must also be an upstanding moral citizen” and the shit of reducing Reeva Steenkamp to no more than “Pistorius’ slain model girlfriend”.
It’s all part of the same shitpile. The shitpile is patriarchy. It assumes men are always heroes and women’s lives are worth less – or worthless. It protects us because it tells us we have no blame to bear in the murder of Reeva Steenkamp or hundreds of thousands of other women, because it says “you could not have predicted this, despite all the many, sustained warning signs.”
Dig yourself out of the shitpile.
Ben Clark has a great post up at The Standard, quoting heavily from Women’s Health Action and the Auckland Women’s Health Centre, about proposed changes to the Family Court which will basically make it more expensive, less supportive, and force families into pointless mandatory mediation, because when your partner has beaten you and your children but still insists on shared custody because they’ve got ownership/control issues, what you really need is a single hour of counselling and privatised mediation.
It’s based on changes already repealed in Australia which led to the death of at least one child.
Ben’s post lays out the arguments and asks people to submit on the Bill. And as of writing this post, it has 6 comments on it, compared to 31 on a caption competition.
Of those six comments? Three are people basically saying “I had a bad experience with the Family Court.” Two are thoroughly disprovable “waaaah the Family Court hates men waaaaah”. The commenters are good enough to leave “so I don’t care if it’s privatised and other families have to go through an even worse time than I had” unwritten. Thanks.
This is patriarchy, people. Because the majority of abusers are men, because women are largely expected to be the childcarers, the work of the Family Court predominantly (but as linked above, not because of gender bias) revolves around women and children. Which apparently means it’s part of the Grand Feminist Agenda to Steal Your Children (because of course they’re possessions which you deserve to control, you big ol’ manly man.)
Because we ring-fence domestic violence as “domestic”, as private, as something we don’t want to discuss (unless what we really want to say is “aren’t those brown people evil?”) the Family Court doesn’t get recognised as the vital public service it is.
And now it’s being gutted and its processes are being privatised. If it were a power generating company, there’d be screams of protest. If it were a national park, there’d be marching in the streets. If someone were suggesting the fucking Rugby Sevens be relocated to the Tron, there’d be barricades on Lambton Quay.
But it’s just the Family Court. So who cares, right?
… is this, MRAs:
For actual hard, crunchy numbers on the topic, I refer you to The Little Pakeha.
Of those that go to mediation and are decided on by both parents, 65% go to the mother, 11% to the father, 12% to a third party and 12% shared.
Of those decided by a judge, 19% go to the father, much higher than the 11% when the two parties decide by themselves.
The real kicker though is when you look at the percentage of male applicants and the percentage of female applicants who are awarded custody. That is, the person who brings the case to court because they want more than their ex-partner wants to give them. Of all female applicants, 69% are awarded custody. Sound like a lot? You might be surprised, then, to find that of all male applicants, 65% are awarded custody, nearly the same amount.
Oops, looks like there’s only about a 4-point difference between the sexes in custody being granted to the parent who applied for it.
Men getting awarded custody less (that is, of cases which actually make it to the court system)? Might just have something to do with men applying for custody less. Because it looks like whatever assumed junk is in your trunk, there’s a 2/3 win rate for those who choose to go through the system.
The annoying thing about this “issue”? Is it’s one of those real-life examples where patriarchy does hurt men too. Because in heterosexual-couple households, men aren’t expected, much less supported, to take parental leave when the baby arrives. And in a double-income household they’re likely to be earning more so if it’s a matter of financial stability, it does make sense for Mum to be the one who suffers the career break.
People still seriously use phrases like “he’s babysitting this weekend” when referring to a dude taking care of his own children. That’s how we treat men being primary caregivers – and we always assume it’s a temporary arrangement, probably because “she” is so strung out / exhausted / needs Girl Time / a manicure / whatever.
Women get granted custody more because women are assumed to be the default caregiver. Men apply for custody less because their lives and expectations aren’t geared around childrearing. In one case I personally know of? A dad seeking 50/50 custody was told by his relatives that “the kids need to be with their mum”. So there’s fuck-all social support for the guys who do give a fuck.
And I’m sorry, MRA wankheads, but that has fuck-all to do with feminism.
I am now a fully-fledged author over at The Standard, largely thanks to my own
talents ego. I’ll be reposting my TS posts here at a slight delay, but don’t worry, you’ll still be getting a lot of the ranty stuff I don’t feel like challenging some of the lovely commenters over there with …
I originally wrote about this way back in February 2011, and though the political landscape has changed since then, the point still needs to be made: the Left, specifically Labour, cannot focus on a narrow pure economic set of arguments and expect to get majority support.
It’s the 21st century, people. The “identities” which have been traditionally used to demean, oppress, and sometimes enslave or kill people are real, because those people – women, people of colour, people with disabilities, the whole wide world of QUILTBAG – have been given no choice but to say “Yep, that’s what I am, now you have to deal with me.”
Old white dudes like John Ansell complain about how we should live in a “colour-blind” society, but that’s because for once, for the smallest period of time, and in a time when old white dudesstill pretty much rule the roost, people whose colour and origins have been used to keep them down aren’t staying down any more.
They – and many other historically shat-on groups – are demanding that we acknowledge the reality: some people have faced systematic, institutional oppression which has at the very least disadvantaged them and stopped them achieving their potential the way they could’ve if they’d been born … well, as old white dudes.
This has economic factors to it, sure – strangely enough, capitalist societies are really, really good at using economic pressure against people – but it’s not a pure old-school Labour ideal of The Workers vs. The Owners.
For Labour to survive, it has to embrace fairness. It’s certainly claiming to, at the moment, but it’s a narrow, nasty kind of fairness, a very John Ansell definition of fairness: fairness defined by old white dudes who don’t realise – who choose not to see – that comparatively they have it pretty damn good in life.
It’s the kind of fairness that gets twisted very easily into ignoring all that uncomfortable historic systematic oppression. Just like this: Why should a person who can paint his roof on a specific day get a handout from the government, just because our entire economy is based on people working flat-tack 40 hours a week if you’re lucky, just because employers aren’t willing to put up with the unpredictability and extra effort needed to hire someone with a chronic illness?
If you agree with this for no other reason, please consider this: as soon as you start using the principle of “fairness” to mean fairness for one group of people and not another, you’re being a dick and opening yourself up to attack from the Right – a group who have been far more successful at this game throughout history.
The Left needs to include feminism – and all the other movements for people’s basic human rights – because it should be about “fairness”. It should be about the many and varied ways in which capitalism controls us and screws us, not just our meal breaks.
Labour, specifically, needs a vision. A vision of all people being treated with dignity, all people’s situations being considered in compassionate and non-judgey ways, all people being supported and looked after by our society as a whole. A vision of a society whose members understand that we are all pulling together and we are all more successful when we help each other, even if sometimes this means that on the surface one person is “getting more” than another. To each according to their need, innit?
Remember, visions are like Excalibur. If you use them right, they pretty much make you the king.
Part 1 of this post was published yesterday. Check it out, ’cause it’ll probably make this post make more sense.
3. A life lived in stress is a life half-lived
Let’s assume, for this section, that one completely rejects the notion of “reclaiming” or “subverting” patriarchal norms, that all sexiness is collaboration and all nail polish is Giving Aid And Comfort To The Enemy.
It is pretty fucking difficult spending all one’s time enraged at the strictures and oppressiveness of kyriarchy. It is pretty fucking stressful, at least for me and I have no doubt for others as well, to be constantly analysing my every thought and preference and decision against the context of social narratives.
Do I like these shoes just because patriarchy says I have to look pretty for men? Do I enjoy Game of Thrones just because I’m presented with no other options in terms of racist, sexist medieval fantasy tropes? (I’m going to come back to this shortly …) And let’s not even start on my sexual preferences.
I like a lot of things that are problematic. I dress in a way which is very patriarchy-approved, albeit in a fat body so I can’t really win there (I’m either wrong for daring to look conventionally-sexy while fat, or I’m wrong if I stop trying to l0ok conventionally sexy despite being fat). I enjoy medieval fantasy, the Saw films, corsetry, etc etc. I know these things are problematic, and I know that a lot of the reason I like these things is due to being raised in a white, Western, patriarchal society.
(There’s a hell of a lot of other contributing factors, but let’s not let the complexity of human existence get in the way of judging people now.)
But, and here’s where y’all can start selectively clipping quotes to back up your stereotypes of a “choice feminist”, I still like those things.
I still like those things despite being aware they’re problematic, despite knowing that a lot of my choice is not fully of my own free will. Because none of us are making choices of our own free will.
Put it this way: if you’re a radical feminist who hates society’s treatment of women as a sex class and never wears high heels? In a world where patriarchy completely desexualised women and demanded they be entirely unnoticeable, $5 says you’d be breaking out the mascara and fishnets.
Mascara is not, in of itself, patriarchal. Our ingrained responses to it are.
Here’s my main point: I choose to not fight against every single patriarchy-approved preference in my head. I choose to prioritise other things to spend my mental energy on.
I understand how my conforming choices can benefit me, can make my life easier, can allow me to pass under the radar in some aspects of my life.
I acknowledge that it’s utterly shitty that our society demands such choices of us and rewards us for going along.
But my mental energy is my own to spend. My stress is my own to decrease or increase. And if I choose a type of activism which isn’t about standing as a personal refutation of patriarchy, if I choose to balance up the number of areas where I will challenge my programming and decide that I can’t live a full and happy life worrying about every last little thing I do … that’s how I will survive. That’s how I will make the best fight I can of this, and achieve a hell of a lot more than if I worry myself into a death-spiral of self-criticism.
And you can fuck right off judging me for that. You can fuck right off dictating that I put stress and pressure on myself to conform to Real Feminist Approved non-conformity. It’s simultaneously tragic and fucking hilarious.
4. Guess what, conforming doesn’t make life easier
Because, and this might be a slightly off-the-wall idea, we live in a patriarchy. So as women, we’re already the lesser, the other, the object. (Extend to kyriarchy and other oppressed identities as necessary.)
So even if we pucker up and make up and dress up, we’ll still be at the bottom. Even if we’re given a modicum of influence/status (see every painfully poorly written article of the past year entitled something like Why I’m A Smart Enough Girl To Reject Silly Feminism And Love Men), there’s still no getting around the fact that we only hold influence/status by the grace of The Man. And that can be taken away with the merest flick of a Leaked Nude Photos magic wand.
Conforming does grease the rails. And for those of us who can conform (remember, the majority of women are never going to be equally considered sexy or attractive or permitted a little autonomy as the most privileged, white/cis/hetero class) things get a lot less stressful. Bully for us. It’s still patriarchy, it still dumps on all of us (though, yes, less so on some than others.)
Sure, choices aren’t feminist just because a woman chooses them. The act of choosing isn’t inherently feminist and isn’t distinct and exclusive of kyriarchal programming.
But. Hate the game, not the player. Kyriarchy/patriarchy puts us in these positions and gives us these non-choices and labels all our actions in line with its own priorities. And it’s pretty much just massively uncool to take a superior attitude and judge individual women who for all you know are navigating life as best they can in the face of massive pressures to conform.
Even when – no, especially when these “choices” aren’t just about lipstick and heels, when we’re talking about sex-selective abortion or surname-changing or participating in sex work, how fucking cruel do you have to be to tell a person, “you have to suck it up and take whatever violence or deprivation is going to be thrown at you, it’s your job to represent our entire struggle against [insert problem here] because choosing anything else is UnFeminist”?
Fight sexism. Fight discrimination. Fight the norms and standards and assumptions. Don’t fight the people who you’re presuming to defend, and try not to act too fucking smug about how much better you are than the rest of us.
Related reading: amandaw at FWD/Forward.
This post got a little long, so tune in tomorrow for part 2, in which I reserve the right to manage my own spoons, we note that a life conforming ain’t perfect either, and I get to the point. Kinda.
I always end up describing the concept of “choice feminism” to other people in two ways: if someone’s using it as a serious term they probably mean some variation on “people who pretend every choice they make is feminist because they make it.” If it’s me arguing against that idea, it’s “let’s stop shitting on other women from orbit just so we can prove that not shaving our legs makes us Superior Patriarchy-Fighting Machines.”
Because no choice is perfect in a society which narrates and interprets our actions against an evil spirit level of power dynamics and biological essentialism. We can never win; all our choices are, on some level, wrong because we are women making them in a patriarchal society.
Wearing high heels? You’re just superficial and obsessed with shoes, like a woman (and sucking up to the patriarchy to boot) (and are probably stupid because omg who would ever like shoes which hurt your feet unless they were brainwashed???) Wearing “sensible” shoes? Prepare to be marked down as a dyke, as a square, as “not well-presented”, and all the attendant harassment and employment discrimination that comes along with it.
And that’s one of the most trivial examples (albeit one which I, as a very-privileged heel-wearer, take a little to heart).
What the anti-“choice feminist” people want to say, though, is that my wearing of high heels might be fine and dandy, oh, they might be magnanimous enough to tolerate my collaborator’s footwear, but don’t I dare claim that wearing high heels is a feminist action.
Because you know, I do that all the time.
And of course I’d better be okay with being called “stupid”, and I’d better be okay with people questioning my feminist credentials because I’m obviously too selfish/superficial to understand that High Heels Are Tools Of The Man.
To me, this is not only demeaning, and a tad misogynist, it’s also a refusal to even consider that the spectrum of our actions and choices is a bit more extensive than (a) Conforms to patriarchal standards ergo Is Bad vs (b) Doesn’t conform to mainstream patriarchal standards ergo Is Good.
So, a couple of points about why I’m frankly just fine with the label “choice feminist”.
1. Patriarchal standards aren’t uniform.
Sure, high heels are a great go-to for Things Approved Of By Patriarchy. If the only role women were ever forced into was that of “sex kitten”.
But there’s also “mother” or “teacher” or “nurse” – the unsexy woman held up for her Nurturing Qualities, her understanding of Her Place, her utter lack of autonomy and an identity focused entirely on being a helpmeet to others.
Betcha she wears “sensible shoes”.
This is one of the ways patriarchy gets us coming and going (well, not usually coming, boom boom!). There isn’t a perfect choice, even if your one goal in life is to conform (a goal which, I’m going to address later, does not actually make you an evil person.)
2. That whole “reclaiming” thing
People can, and do, do things which are surface-level conforming, yet present a challenge to kyriarchy/patriarchy.
It is a challenge to conventional beauty standards when a fat person dares to dress, and act, like a sexually-aware being. It is a challenge to people’s assumptions when a woman changes her name after marriage – and lets them know it’s only because she has no emotional connection to her “maiden” name. It is a challenge if a sex worker chooses to call herself a whore.
A lot of people take issue with the notion of reclaiming. I simply submit that shaking up the assumptions of others and causing them to rethink their immediate impressions of things is a form of activism in itself.
Part 2’s up tomorrow. Tune in then, or comment now, as you like.
I had set my mind to writing this article a few weeks back after IrishBill said some charming things to me on my own blog.
Then, because this is how the Universe works some days, the very issue came up on Kiwipolitico when Pablo sought discussion on where all the young left thinkers at. George D commented:
I know perhaps 20 or 30 minds as sharp as the ones you mention, all to some degree politically engaged. But absent a home – they are just speaking into the wind. Most prefer to save their breath. Many have deserted “left politics” for more direct forms of struggle/praxis: working class, union, and beneficiary activism; tino Rangatiratanga; environmentalism; feminism; and animal rights. Most engaged in at least one, with the knowledge that the structural conditions that enforce one enforce them all.
By this home I mean a space in which they can express their ideas and be taken seriously, at the very least by each other, and from which to develop a sustained and productive critique of society.
This really crystallized one of my key arguments: that the Left in New Zealand has been weakened by (among other things) the loss of activists and voices to other issues that aren’t specifically focused on class struggle or strictly economic leftist ideas. (I really focus on feminism here as that’s my baby.)
To put it in my more usual terms, the Left, and especially Labour, have screwed up by ignoring, cutting out and downright condemning feminists and other progressive activists and they need to get the fuck over themselves.
Also, it’s your own fucking fault.
Part One: history lesson
Second-wave feminism grew out of a lot of things. Yeah, there was dissatisfaction with horrific job discrimination and middle-class housewives were finally getting mad that their supposedly perfect lives left them feeling unfulfilled and directionless and women were haemhorraging to death in hotel rooms after botched abortions. And some women were feeling a wee bit angry about that.
But one thing that really helped kick things off? Leftwing men. Leftwing men who could talk your ear off about the oppression of workers but let the women volunteers stuff the envelopes and make the coffee. Leftwing men who were all about opposing men being drafted for a capitalist war but didn’t have time to think about how, war or no war, women got drafted into producing the next generation of cannon fodder.
Leftwing men who tried to tell us (and the people of colour, and the people with disabilities, and everyone else) that the problem was capitalism, obviously. It was all about class and once we got rid of that mean ol’ power dynamic all those other oppressions – those oppressions that didn’t matter quite so much – would just vanish.
Now could you please go make some coffee while the boys are talking?
And those angry women realised that relying on men to give a shit about issues that only affected the segment of the population categorised as “food provision/fucking” was about as good a strategy as deploying marshmallows against a Flammpanzer II.
Thanks, guys, I don’t know if we could’ve done it without ya.
Part Two: more recent history lesson
Nine long years of Labour, etc etc and oh, there was a lamentation and a crying of neckbeards, for women occupied a few powerful positions simultaneously and surely the end was nigh. And thanks to the 9th floor being transformed into a feminist lesbian cabal or something, we now have basic social support for parents (predominantly women) to take paid leave and not get fired, and The Gays can get almost-but-not-quite-proper-married, and you can’t just rape hookers safe in the knowledge that the cops, with their wonderful culture, will just arrest your victim because you’re a nice white pillar of the community etc. etc.
Oh, for shame.
Then our Beloved Leader smile-and-wave got into power, Auntie Helen handed over the reins and headed off to the UN just to let y’all know that the cabal is everywhere (or she could be immensely talented and qualified for the role) and lo, there was a great releasing of pant top buttons and a relieved round of burping at the caucus table and, well … the guys went a little silly.
Did I say a little?
These people have become the fervent champions of an indigenous culture they can never truly join because, fundamentally, they despise their own.
Yep, things got to the “white leftwingers who talk about Maori issues are race traitors stage a little quicker than I might have expected…
But don’t think Trotter reserved his scorn just for tino rangatiratanga:
[The] ideological roots [of “knee-jerk liberal orthodoxy”] descend into the swamp of identity politics and the New Social Movements which were at that time engaged in tearing apart the complex web of personal and political relationships that made up the traditional labour movement.
Trotter is speaking about the 1980s, that golden age of namby-pamby identity politics when the left got distracted by piffling little side issues like whether men should be held accountable for raping their wives and whether gay men should be allowed to be gay.
A time when the Left wasn’t, to quote Phil Goff’s own advisor John Pagani on that thread, “connecting with things that matter to people”. You can probably draw your own conclusions as to the kind of people he means.
I must admit to some naivety, because it came as a bit of a shock to me that identity politics could so easily be divorced from leftwing thought and cast as unrelated to the struggle against capitalism.
I mean, what is sexism if not a manifestation of capitalist reliance on women’s unpaid labour and reproductive capacity? (More on this in a later post, methinks.) And what is racism if not another handy way to separate out one sector of society to be exploited for their labour, all wrapped up in “science”? What is ableism if not driven by capitalism’s need for the most “productive” labour at the lowest cost and accommodation? How is enforcing heterosexuality and strict gender roles not about ensuring an increasing population to fuel the capitalist eternal-growth pipe dream?
(I certainly don’t want to imply that capitalism is the be-all and end-all of these oppressions, see previous “we’ll let you make speeches when the revolution is over, kitten” commentary.)
But nope, apparently these issues and concerns and theories were all just chaff getting in the way of the real workers’ struggle and the things that matter to people.
[W]hen two guys get in a huddle and start slanging against the Liberal Left and the evil distraction of identity politics, and whinge about how we need to think about ordinary people, I think we can make a few very good guesses as to the kind of people they’re talking about.
And I’ll give you a hint: it ain’t you or me, assuming you are not a middle class white heterosexual cisgendered currently able bodied male.
Because here’s what matters to me:
It matters to me that I not be passed over for a job or a promotion because I’m a woman who’ll obviously just leave to have babies.
It matters to me that I have the right to be paid the same as a man for doing the same work.
It matters to me that gay men and women can have their relationships recognised by the state just like every two-in-three-chance-of-divorce hetero couple.
It matters to me that people of colour not get pulled over by the cops because brown people shouldn’t be driving expensive cars, or are obviously on drugs because they’re brown, or not be played by white people in movies about their lives.
It matters to me that people with disabilities can travel on aeroplanes, and get into buildings, and pass exams at school (look out for that incredibly-expletive-filled-post tomorrow!) and go shopping without worrying some bastard’s going to throw them out for having a hearing dog.
It matters to me that trans people shouldn’t have to worry about being murdered because someone else feels they have the right to judge what defines a man or a woman.
It matters to me that people should be able to practise their faith without fear of persecution, and that people not-of-faith should be able to say so without harassment.
But fuck all that! That’s just identity politics! That’s just me assuming that the way people identify, the way society wants to identify them, the assumptions others feel free to make about you because of your identity or assumed identity, might actually affect people! It might actually rate a bit higher on their List Of Things That Pissed Me Off Today:
- Harassed on bus by guy who wouldn’t leave me alone.
- First question asked at job interview: “Do you have kids?”
- Threatened with sexual violence by blog commenter.
- Still alienated from means of production.
TL;DR: when a capitalist society chooses to force identity markers on you to aid in its goals, the shit you get for having those markers is probably going to be a bit relevant to your interests.
Part Four: how’s that centre vote treating you?
Going by Chris Trotter’s figures, the choices are between sucking up to the “5,000” nasty liberal left bastards who want to ruin everyone’s fun or bringing back the “150,000-200,000” voters who went over to National last election.
The assumption being, of course, that they did so because whinge cry nanny state nasty feminists etc.
Or it could be something to do with a notion roundly accepted and bemoaned on leftwing blogs at the time – the idea that the voting public just thought it was “National’s turn”. Or to quote a certain teacher in my family, “at least we expect to get screwed under National”. Or simple voter fatigue with a front bench of far-too familiar faces with too much baggage attached. Or the eternal tax-cuts bribe which probably seemed to make a lot more sense with 9 years of healthy surpluses dimming the traumatic memories of the last National government. Or fuck it, maybe a lot of people do just think John Key is a nice down-to-earth chap.
Nah, probably just the evil feminist cabal chased them away with our brooms.
But if the question is “why did a bunch of traditional Labour types vote for a cuddly, definite-statement-free-zone John-Key-led National” one is really struggling to think of why anyone in Labour thought the answer was “because they wanted some more of that uncuddly strong-statement Don-Brash-led-National type racism”.
And when your answer to anything is “make ourselves more like John Key” it doesn’t matter what the question is, you’re probably just fucked.
So, leftwing men being douchebags who refuse to consider the distinct oppressions suffered by other, not-them groups of people have managed to drive a lot of natural allies away. Natural allies who surprisingly don’t take it well when told that shit that affects them every day of their lives isn’t that important. Most recently in NZ this has been done by the Labour Party because everyone wants a piece of the elusive, self-contradicting “centre” vote. And as we approach a general election, a heck of a lot of good liberal-yet-still-left people just don’t know what the fuck to do to set things right.
Here’s a few ideas.
Stop buying into the idea that acknowledging the actual harms suffered by actual people is “polarising” or “distracting”. All it does is signal loud and clear to women and Maori and queer folk that they are expected to once again sacrifice themselves For The Good Of The Left. We’ve already seen how that kinda doesn’t work out so well.
Acknowledge where relevant that if you are white, male, cisgendered, currently able-bodied, living above the poverty line, and reading this post online and in vivid Technicolor, you have privilege. Probably another post in that concept because I’m just so sure a few types will refuse to get it.)
If you want to throw around concepts and slogans like “for the many, not the few” try to bloody well remember that the “few” in that should be the people on the top of the heap, not the bottom.
If you want to make any kind of political play on a platform of fairness and ability/need and compassion and social justice it might fucking help to do some social justice.
And when the Right (and your own mainstream commentators) decide to attack you for focusing on “fringe” elements or “irrelevant” issues, you just look those bastards in the eye and say “Our society should be free and fair for everyone. No one should be attacked or discriminated against just because of who they are. We are doing this because we care about people, even though some of them will still vote against us for other reasons or even though they’re already a part of our core vote or even though their votes won’t make a difference in the election. It’s the right thing to do and we are going to do it because all New Zealanders deserve to live in the kind of country that takes care of its people.”
Just remember: an issue may not be important to you. But if you’re on the Left you better be motivated by something more than what you fucking get out of it.
Just a tiny, weeny, last point on the Stephen-Fry-being-a-wanker debacle.
A heck of a lot of people who frankly should know better have been pseudo-defending Fry along the following lines:
Stephen Fry’s gay. Of course he doesn’t know anything about women’s sexuality!
Stephen Fry’s wrong about women because he isn’t a woman, he’s not attracted to women, he’s [many would presume but who knows?] never interacted sexually with a woman, of course he says ignorant shit about women and sex.
Now obviously it was very naughty of him to presume to comment on matters of which he is profoundly ignorant.* And of course we can’t expect him to know any better, the dear over-excited puppy.
Hang on one fucking minute.
We’re women, not tablets of Linear fucking B. Our vaginas [for those of us who have vaginas] aren’t Rubik’s Cubes and our boobs [for those of us who have boobs] aren’t the Grand Unified Theory.
And when we fuck, if we fuck, we fuck just like normal human beings.
I am, really, just a bit fucking disappointed that the defenders, and even the people not defending Fry’s comments, have happily seized on his own sexuality as being the cause, or at least a mitigating factor, in his comments.
As though “women’s sexuality” were some mystic unknown whose secrets were revealed only to The Enlightened, who by virtue of not being A Gay Man must be, or presumably have fucked, a woman. As though women’s minds were that idea feminism has fought and raged and yearned to destroy: strange, alien, different things, things that cannot really be understood or acknowledged or Gods forbid treated on a par with the minds of men.
And simultaneously, as though gay men are by default this detached, unaware, unthinking, unempathising group who couldn’t, even if they tried, ever really understand the thoughts and feelings and lives of a group of people they are wholly uninteresting in fucking.
At this point my brain is stuck on a bit of a “what the fucking fuck?” loop.
So just to be clear, here’s some things that even gay men like Stephen Fry can understand about we bizarro women and our sexuality.
1. There are three billion women in this world.
Odds are, some of us do actually enjoy fucking.
2. The sex women have is policed and punished by society.
Those in a state of disbelief may wish to turn on the television for five minutes, or perhaps read a quaint hard-copy newspaper.
3. To be open about sexual interest is to be vulnerable to attack.
Or you could crawl out from under that rock you’ve been calling home forever. Hoyden About Town’s tragically ongoing it’s not sex it’s rape series may be illuminating.
4. Women trading sex for a stable relationship is the bedrock of patriarchal capitalism.
If women had to be paid for their labour in terms of childrearing and homemaking the economies of the West would die screaming. [Old sauce, new sauce.] Entire industries are dedicated to convincing women that they must marry, that they must have babies. Disbelievers can go read any single issue of Cosmo picked at random, then get back to me. It is of course necessary for this transaction to occur that women be taught to think of sex in terms of its value as a commodity, and not as something that’s actually fun.
5. Being a gay man doesn’t make you inherently a fan of anonymous sex in parks.
Shockingly, I as a hetero woman feel entirely secure making that call. I also feel certain there’s probably some other reason why the practice of cruising has sprung up in societies which massively stigmatise and oppress homosexual behaviour, but darned if I can think what it might be.
6. Four plus five = REVELATION
[Straight] Women probably haven’t ever had to seek out anonymous sex in parks because they already had an acceptable outlet for sex, vis-a-vis monogamous heterosexual
slavery marriage, and weren’t told they were meant to actually enjoy themselves in the process – because if they did, see three! They were sluts who deserved to get raped.
Hope that answers all your difficult little questions, Mr Fry.
*Henry Wright of 103 Mein Street, Wellington represent!