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Vertiginous Capital Or, The Master’s Toolkit by Jack Halberstam

2 Jul

 

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Crisis upon crisis, we are living in a storm of epic and growing proportions. Every day a new travesty of justice, a new police-authored crime, a new violent executive order is issued on behalf of those who have everything and against the many who are divided and conquered. In this new era, one characterized by a violent, indeed vertiginous, form of capitalism in which all tools levied against the regime are re-appropriated and turned back upon us, it is urgent that we take aim at and demolish the “everything” that Trumpian masters of finance come to take. We must tear down not only the monuments and the fabricated past for which they stand but also the legal, political and social mechanisms that were supposed to provide shelter to the weak but that in the wrong hands become new weapons in the war on everyone. A world of rich elites arrayed against multitudes requires new tactics, new articulations of old problems and a willingness to risk all.

In the spirit of risk, on behalf of demolition and in a world where everyone should be opposed to everything, we would do well to revisit Audre Lorde’s famous maxim from 1984 about the master’s tools and the master’s house and in so doing we should remember her main goal – it was not only to create a debate about which tools to use, it was to argue for the demolition itself with purpose and without a chance of reconstruction.

1. The Master’s Screwdriver

66884426-steampunk-style-robot-handyman-with-screwdriver-funny-toy-mechanical-character-repair-service-concepIn the speech in which Audre Lorde originally used the term “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” she did so not only to critique patriarchy but also to take aim at what she called “racist feminism.” Pointing to the fact that she was often called to attend feminist conferences as a woman of color and appeared alone among white women who had hired women of color to take care of their kids while they were at the conference, she commented: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.”

This signature phrase from Lorde, who was fond of scolding white feminists (who were fond of being scolded), reminds us that there is never only one enemy – there is an obvious group of people who benefit from the status quo but then there is an entire support system for that group who ensure that relations of reward and punishment stay firmly in place. From Lorde’s vantage point, as a Black lesbian in the fraught middle years of so called second wave feminism, the enemies were certainly white men but they were also the multitudes of white women who supported these men, who cleaned up for them and who actively sustained the racial and capitalist hierarchy from which they benefitted.

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Lorde’s wise words were never so appropriate as now, an era in which white patriarchy has made a stupefying comeback and at a time when opposition to capitalism and patriarchy, white supremacy and xenophobia all too often uses the wrong tools to fight the power. For example, while we seem to be as invested as 1970’s and 1980’s feminists were in identifying, exposing and disrupting the quotidian mechanisms of white patriarchy, we still went with a hegemonic strategy of supporting a corporate woman in the last election (Hilary Clinton) to oppose Trump rather than finding a truly radical candidate (hello Alexandra Ocasio Cortez!). And of course, white patriarchy still relies upon on the support of white heterosexual women who helped to elect our current sexist in chief.

But, as in Lorde’s moment, the enemy is not just the abusive male, however powerful and overtly obnoxious he may be; as it was then, the problem is structural and lies within a system that allows the crimes of the white guy to rebound onto others while our hero sits high above the fray in the (Trump) tower he has built for just such occasions. And while the numerous stories of sexual abuse, the deportation of children and financial exploitation pouring into the public sphere should be enough to bring the master’s house down, because they continue to use the master’s tools of sex negativity, racism, and the doubling down on an unstable and deeply unfair real estate market, the house still stands. The vertiginous turn of the screw here ensures that the more things change, the more the rich stay rich and everyone else gets screwed.

2. The Master’s Power Drill

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When we spin too fast and gather speed using the master’s power drills (the law, systems of punishment, impunity for the rich), we often create gaping holes in the system, but we often also fall into them! There are many versions of this process in the world around us and so we can name our era one of vertiginous capital – an era in which things move too fast for us to properly identify the systems of oppression that hold us and twist our own strategies of resistance back upon ourselves at the same time.

Examples:

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We live in an era of big data with supposedly superhuman, literally, powers of prediction and speculation. Massive amounts of data are collected from each of us every day and yet, despite all that, we were unable to predict or prevent the rise of Trump. We could not even predict his electoral win and until the moment that the first few states reported the voting results, media organs like CNN and the NYT showed Trump as having the longest shot ever for President. And yet here we are.

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• We live in an era when Gender Studies has been institutionalized but only as a place to study the master’s house – how it was built, what materials it is made of and what abuses it contains. The site of knowledge production that should be committed to tearing the house down, becomes the safe house for accusations against previous owners; indeed, gender studies is now the house of trigger warnings where the very materials about sexual abuse and violence that we fought for the right to teach just a generation ago can now not be mentioned in case they trigger a concealed site of trauma. As a consequence of using the master’s tools, the university’s anachronistic division of knowledge holds firm, the disciplines thrive and hog all the resources and instead of seeing male bodied people learning to be feminists in gender studies classrooms, and female bodied people in STEM classes, gender studies remains a site populated by women, science classrooms remain male dominated and the beat goes on.

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• We live in an era of epic homelessness and we see tent cities springing up in high rent cities around the world. Vast numbers of people in first world countries live on the streets and every day another family fails to pay exorbitant rent for another rubbish apartment and ends up on the streets with no social safety nets to hold them. And so, we speak of a homeless problem when we actually have a homefulness problem in which too few people own too many properties and leave them empty or put them up for rent on the gentrified market of temporary luxury housing. Tent cities abound as do zombie buildings of luxury apartments from New York City to Shanghai, from Vancouver to San Francisco, from London to Sentosa Island in Singapore. All over the world, millions of apartments sit completely empty and millions of people live in the streets. In the 1970’s and 1980’s punks and anarchists squatted in abandoned buildings giving them new purpose and making space for public sex (the piers), collective life and radical queer politics (the Brixton Fairies). But in the era of home security and CCTV, traditional forms of squatting in buildings is nigh on impossible. And so the squat moves from inside the building to the street. Tent cities are the exact opposite of the master’s house. While gentrification and home improvement and the pretense of sharing a la Airbnb deploys the master’s tool of real estate speculation, the tents represent new forms of squatting.  And as such, they remake the relations between inside and outside, legal and moral, shelter and property.

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• We live in a world where instead of trying to replace the masters who exploit us, we seek to become them in small and meaningless ways. Take the new electronic “assistants” that people use to embellish the stupor and inertia of their domestic worlds. Hey Google, Alexa, Echo and Siri are electronic switch points between us and our home systems – Hey Google, turn off the lights! Siri – reserve me a table! Echo, change the channel. These devices give us the illusion that we too have personal assistants, better known as servants, and that we can outsource our labor to these helpers. The promise of technology of course was that repetitive labor could be automated and new relations to work and liberation might emerge. But in the era of vertiginous capital, the devices that are supposed to save us – washing machines and vacuum cleaners in the 1950’s, electronic assistants today, represent not liberation but new forms of prosthetic power.

Paul Preciado has identified prosthetic power as part of a post-war, post-natural mania for technologies of convenience that tether the body to new forms of rule. While the white, middle-class domestic household has been the primary location of prosthetic rule, queer bodies represent counter-productive opportunities for a new order reimagined around the countersexual. The countersexual in 04_didlotectonicsWEB1Preciado’s narrative of post-natural power is the dildo bearing butch who wields a prosthetic device of his own making against the domestic prosthetics of heteronormativity. And like the Barbie Liberation Organization of the 1990’s who switched out the voice boxes of Ken and Barbie dolls so that they would say things like “Vengeance is mine!” our new electronic devices are in need of a countersexual hack. Once hacked, these prosthetic helpers will have to do much more than turn security systems on and off, they will be programmed to respond to real demands and actual questions: Hey Google, smash the patriarchy! Echo, remove President Trump! Siri, what the fuck is going on? Alexa, pass me a battle axe!

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So, let’s recap, using the master’s power drill, a tool that spins so fast that the hole it is drilling becomes a vacuum sucking down all opposition, we turn the problem into the solution: big data without predictive powers results in renewed calls for more data to improve accuracy next time; a reckoning with patriarchal sexism and sexual harassment has now turned its focus upon queers and people of color; electronic assistants offer an illusion of automation while leaving labor relations intact; homefulness problems result in tent cities and home sharing apps like Airbnb give the illusion of a mutual economy while sucking the rental market dry. We must wield our own dildonic prosthetics against the master’s drill, fight the viagra sustained power tool with prosthetic imaginaries!

3. The Master’s Hammer

Speaking of prosthetic imaginaries, is there a feminist hammer? Or is the hammer just another master’s tool? Sara Ahmed believes the hammer could be used as part of an effort to name what afflicts us, to identify the enemy and in so doing to direct our energies with more precision. She writes: “having names for problems can make a difference. Before, you could not quite put your finger on it. With these words as tools, we revisit our own histories; we hammer away at the past.” But, she also goes on to propose that within the system that we live, by talking about a problem, you become the problem!

#Metoo and #Timesup have picked up the hammer of social media and they are using it, all too often, to hammer in the morning and to hammer in the evening and to hammer all over the land. The hammering that Peter Seeger and Lee Hays had in mind in their song “If I had a Hammer” concerned a social reckoning with racial and class inequality and indeed they first performed the song at a dinner held in support of arrested American Communist leaders. The #metoo and #timesup hammers however  all too often single out sexual assault from all kinds of other forms of abuse.

Indeed, the hammer of social media has the effect of flattening out the terrain of social difference so that all offenses become one, a forced kiss gets hammered along with a rape, years of abuse are treated the same way as an ill-judged pass. For this reason, rather than a moment of reckoning for white men in relation to the women they have abused and the violence they have unleashed, much of the impact of #metoo and #timesup has, as Martha Gessen pointed out early on, resulted in a full-fledged sex panic within which the hammer of moral accusation is brought down all too often by white women upon men of color and by straight people upon queers. Now, while of course there is no doubt that plenty of men of color and some queers have behaved as badly as the legions of others, and while many women of color actively oppose patriarchal systems extended by men of color, we have the mechanisms in place from years of institutionalized racism and homophobia to go after the men of color and the queers and so that is exactly what is happening.

Let’s take a look at one vertiginous loop characteristic of so many others when we try to hammer out the truth and consequences of sexual harassment. In academia today, under new Title 9 regulations, we are regularly being beaten at our own game. There are now numerous cases on college campuses across the country of women and queer faculty accused of sexual harassment and facing charges. For the last fifty years, white male faculty have groomed, dated, screwed and married their graduate students. And many more have simply harassed and assaulted the women under their mentorship. Take, for example, the case of George Tyndall, a white gynecologist at USC who was accused of multiple forms of abuse over several decades.

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Despite endless public campaigns against pedophiles and sex criminals in the US, this white guy was allowed to continue touching young women inappropriately with impunity for years! And it is not as if women did not complain; quite simply, the complaints from the women concerned never led to any consequences for Tyndall. When USC was finally pressured to act by the threat of exposure, it moved decisively to protect its endowment rather than its students, staff, and faculty. The story was buried and Tyndall took a nice retirement package and rode off into the sunset. Tyndall and other white male abusers are not the people upon whom the hammer comes down. Instead, women and queers of color at other universities have been placed on administrative leave with half pay for some vague accusations of inappropriate contact with students, none of which involved physical contact!

The case of Junot Diaz provides another cautionary tale about hammering people on social media. Diaz was accused of forcible kissing by one woman and of raising his voice at another woman at a conference. Here, the judgement was swift and decisive on social media even though some of  the accusations leveled at Diaz, according to the Boston Globe, proved to be untrue. And this is not at all to say that Diaz has not behaved badly or that men of color accused of piggish behavior are not guilty of abuse, assault, public performances of sexism and much worse; it is only to point to the long history of hammering men of color for sex crimes in the US, while white men, the benefactors of vertiginous capital and the operators of the tools of discipline and punishment, protect the money which in turn protects them.

If this sounds like hyperbole, consider a final example – the case of Jimmy Savile, a British media darling of the late 20th century who was also a well-known pedophile and serial abuser of the boys and girls who made up his audience.

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Jimmy Savile – DJ, Media Celebrity, Pedophile

Jimmy Savile was accused after his death in 2011 of multiple counts of pedophilia. There are now reports that estimate that he abused over 500 young girls and boys, sometimes through his philanthropic work in hospitals! But, while Savile died a good death, not openly accused of anything during his lifetime despite numerous whisper campaigns about his misconduct, England quickly and decisively turned a few months later to the “real crime” of a Pakistani pedophile ring and arrested and convicted seven British-Asian men.

This is business as usual and not at all the conclusion to patriarchy that was promised – this conclusion indeed comes with a whimper and the only bang is the sound of the master’s hammer as it batters resistance by turning the victim of one system (racism) into the criminal in another (sex abuse).

4. The Master’s House

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“Splitting,” (1974) by Gordon Matta Clark, Anarchitect

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” diagnoses perfectly our current predicament as we are pulled by the motion of vertiginous capital into a sinkhole of our own making, trying to claw our way out with the same methods that created the whirlwind in the first place. It is clear by now that you cannot resolve sexual assault with more criminalization, or the abjection of queers with marriage, or wealth disparity with real estate transactions. We cannot end sexual harassment on campus by throwing such a wide net that the predators wriggle free through loopholes of their own making while women and queers stand accused of unnatural, inappropriate and criminal conduct. It is clear that the moral policing we have engaged in the hopes of tackling heteropatriarchal abuses has come back around and now accuses us of misconduct. And so, it is time for new tactics: fewer strategies of repair and more damage to the system; less fixing up and more taking down; fewer victims and more fighters.

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Grace Jones, “Demolition Man,” (1981)

We are here, after all, not to redesign or fix up the master’s house despite the multiple shows on TV telling us how to do it. We are here, as anarchitects in the tradition of Gordon Matta-Clark, to tear the whole fucking structure down! It is time for demolition. It is time for Grace Jones. Jones had the right idea as usual in 1981 when she called for the “Demolition Man,” who turned out to be Black queer and dangerous:

I’m a walking nightmare, an arsenal of doom,
I kill conversation as I walk into the room,
I’m a three line whip,
I’m the sort of thing they ban,
I’m a walking disaster,
I’m a demolition man,
Demolition man…

We must all become walking nightmares, arsenals of doom, walking disasters, walking dead, here not to demand recognition, not to ask for justice from the same system that criminalized us or ask for a new leader to be delivered by the same process that gave us the Clintons and Trump. We come bearing new weapons, dildonic tools of the countersexual underground, new hacks of old systems, we come to blow the house down.  It is time to turn to the language of unmaking, unbuilding, undoing while refusing the vertiginous capital techniques of litigious accusation and criminalization. Tear it all down!time-to-revolt

 

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“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, AND EVERYBODY ELSE” by Paul Preciado

26 Jan

This is a guest post by Paul Preciado, Philosopher. Preciado’s piece was first published in French in Liberation on January 15, 2018 under the title “Letter d’un homme trans à l’ancien régime sexuel.” On Jun. 16, 2018 an English and a German version were published in Texte Zur Kunste, the English translation was done by Simon Pleasance. Preciado’s piece responds to the backlash in France to #metoo which was decried by Catherine Deneuve and some other prominent women as “puritanical.”

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Caught in the crossfire of sexual harassment politics, I should like to say a word or two as a smuggler between two worlds, the world of “men” and the world of “women” – these two worlds which might very well not exist, were some people not doing their utmost to keep them apart by means of a kind of Berlin gender Wall. I want to give you some news from the “found object” position or rather from that of the “lost subject” – lost during crossing.

I’m not talking here as a man belonging to the ruling class, the class of those who are assigned the male gender at birth, and who have been brought up as members of the governing class, those who are given the right or rather who are required (and this is an interesting analytical key) to exercise male sovereignty. Nor am I talking as a woman, given that I have voluntarily and intentionally abandoned that form of political and social embodiment. I speak as a trans man. And I’m in no way claiming to represent any collective whatsoever. I’m not talking, and cannot talk, as a heterosexual or a homosexual, although I’m acquainted with and occupy both positions, because when someone is trans, these categories become obsolete. I’m talking as a gender renegade, as a gender migrant, as a fugitive from sexuality, as a dissident (sometimes a clumsy one, because there is no trans user’s guide) with regard to the regime of sexual difference. As a self-appointed guinea-pig of sexual politics who is undergoing the as yet unthemed experience of living on both sides of the Wall and who, by dint of crossing it every day, is beginning to be fed up, ladies and gentlemen, with the stubborn rigidity of the codes and desires which the hetero-patriarchal regime dictates. Let me tell you, from the other side of the Wall, that things are far worse than my experience as a lesbian woman let me imagine. Since I’ve been living as-if-I-were-a-man in a man’s world (aware of embodying a political fiction), I’ve had a chance to check that the ruling class ( male and heterosexual) will not give up its privileges just because we send lots of tweets or let out the odd scream. Since the sexual and anti-colonial revolution of the past century shook their world, the hetero-white-patriarchs have embarked on a counter-reformation project—now joined by “female” voices wishing to go on being “importuned and bothered”. This will be a 1000-year war—the longest of all wars, given that it will affect the politics of reproduction and processes through which a human body is socially constituted as a sovereign subject. It will actually be the most important of all wars, because what is at stake is neither territory nor city, but the body, pleasure, and life.

 

Untitled-Infographic-11What hallmarks the position of men in our techno-patriarchal and heterocentric societies is the fact that male sovereignty is defined by the lawful use of techniques of violence (against women, against children, against non-white men, against animals, and against the planet as a whole). Reading Max Weber with Judith Butler, we could say that masculinity is to society what the State is to the nation: the holder and legitimate user of violence. This violence is expressed socially in the form of domination, economically in the form of privileges, and sexually in the form of aggression and rape. Conversely, female sovereignty in this regime is bound up with women’s capacity to give birth. Women are sexually and socially subordinate. Mothers alone are sovereign. Within this system, masculinity is defined necro-politically (by men’s right to inflict death), while femininity is defined bio-politically (by women’s obligation to have children). We might say with regard to necro-political heterosexuality that it is something akin to the utopia of the copulatory eroticization between Robocop and Alien, if we tell ourselves that, with a bit of luck, one of the two will have a good time…

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Heterosexuality is not only a political regime, as the French writer Monique Wittig has shown. It also a politics of desire. The specific feature of this system is that it is incarnated as a process of seduction and romantic dependence between “free” sexual agents. The positions of Robocop and Alien are not chosen individually, and are not conscious. Necro-political heterosexuality is a practice of government which is not imposed by those who govern (men) on the governed (women), but rather an epistemology laying down the respective definitions and positions of men and women by way of an internal regulation. This practice of government does not take the form of a law, but of an unwritten norm, a translation of gestures and codes whose effect is to establish within the practice of sexuality a partition between what can and cannot be done. This form of sexual servitude is based on an aesthetics of seduction, a stylization of desire, and an historically constructed and coded domination which eroticizes the difference of power and perpetuates it. This politics of desire is what keeps the old sex/gender regime alive, despite all the legal process of democratization and empowerment of women. aline1This necro-political heterosexual is as degrading and destructive as vassalage and slavery were during the Enlightenment. The process of denouncing violence and making it possible, which we are currently experiencing, is part and parcel of a sexual revolution, which is as unstoppable as it is slow and winding. Queer feminism has set epistemological transformation as a condition making social change possible. It called binary epistemology and gender naturalization into question by asserting that there is an irreducible multiplicity of different sexes, genders, and sexualities. But we realize, these days, that the libidinal transformation is as important as the epistemological one : desire must be transformed. We must learn how to desire sexual freedom.

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For years, queer culture has been a laboratory for inventing new aesthetics of dissident sexualities, in the face of techniques of subjectivation and desires involving hegemonic necro-political heterosexuality. Many of us have long since abandoned the aesthetics of Robocop-Alien sexuality. We have learned from butch-fem and BDSM cultures, with Joan Nestle, Pat Califia and Gayle Rubin, with Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens, with Guillaume Dustan and Virginie Despentes, that sexuality is a political theatre in which desire, and not anatomy, writes the script. Within the theatrical fiction of sexuality it is possible to want to lick the soles of shoes, to want to be penetrated through every orifice, and to chase a lover through a wood as if he were a sexual prey. Two differential factors nevertheless separate the queer aesthetic from that of the straight normativeness of the old regime—the ancient régime: the consent and the non-naturalization of sexual positions. The equivalence of bodies and the redistribution of power. As a trans-man, I disidentify myself from dominant masculinity and its necro-political definition. What is most urgent is not to defend what we are (men or women) but to reject it, to disidentify ourselves from the political coercion which forces us to desire the norm and reproduce it. Our political praxis is to disobey the norms of gender and sexuality. I was a Lesbian for most of my life, then trans for the past five years. I am as far removed from your aesthetics of heterosexuality as a Buddhist monk levitating in Lhassa is from a Carrefour supermarket. Your aesthetics of the sexual ancient régime do not give me pleasure (don’t make me come). It doesn’t excite me to “harass” anyone. It doesn’t interest me to get out of my sexual misery by touching a woman’s ass on public transport. I don’t feel any kind of desire for the erotic and sexual kitsch you’re offering: guys taking advantage of their position of power to get their rocks off and touch backsides. The grotesque and murderous aesthetics of necro-political heterosexuality turns my stomach. An aesthetics which re-naturalizes sexual differences and places men in the position of aggressor and women in that of victim (either painfully grateful or happily harassed).

Extinct Species Heterosexual man,extinct 2042.

Extinct Species Heterosexual man,extinct 2042.

 

 

If it’s possible to say that in the queer and trans culture we fuck better and more, this is, on the one hand, because we have removed sexuality from the domain of reproduction, and above all because we have freed ourselves from gender domination. I’m not saying that the queer and trans-feminist culture avoids all forms of violence. There is no sexuality without a shadowy side. But the shadowy side (inequality and violence) does not have to predominate and predetermine all sexuality.

Representatives, women and men, of the old sexual regime, come to grips with your shadowy side and have fun with it, and let us bury our dead. Enjoy your aesthetics of domination, but don’t try to turn your style into a law. And let us fuck with our own politics of desire, without men and without women, without penises and without vaginas, without hatchets, and without guns.

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#DemandBetter Straight Sex! By Angela Jones

21 Jan

This is a guest blog by Angela Jones, Associate Professor of Sociology, Farmingdale State College.

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The year is 2018. A cis woman lies beneath her cis male partner. He grabs her naked thighs and thrusts his penis inside of her—in and out—in and out. He grunts and moans and occasionally speaks. “Oh, that pussy is so good!” Her face is cold, and her mind is racing—she lays beneath this troglodyte thinking about piled up laundry and how if he “finishes up” soon, she might just get six hours of sleep that evening. She did not cum, nor will she. After he cums, he excuses himself to the bathroom to clean off his weapon of mass dissatisfaction. She turns onto her side, her back facing the dimly lit bathroom, and she lies there thinking, “sometimes it just feels like he’s raping me. I know he loves me, but why does he have sex with me when he knows I don’t want to?”

This story is not fiction. It is based on a real experience a friend shared with me. I remember thinking to myself, “but why would you consent to sex you do not want?” When the now infamous Grace shared her story about Aziz Ansari, I thought about my friend again. Why do straight women consent to unwanted sex acts with men? If a man, such as Ansari keeps making advances that you don’t want, why do you stay? These questions have been swirling around the Internet, and so, in this piece, I aim to provide some answers that will serve as a new vantage point from which to continue these important discussions.

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Before the Dworkinites come for me with their pitchforks chanting that I’m a rape apologist, I want to share something personal. I have been both sexually assaulted and raped. When I was 11 we lived in the working class black neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens in New York. I was sexually assaulted by a worker in Farm Fried Chicken on Merrick Blvd. The worker pushed me in a corner, gyrated his hips against me while whispering his nasty thoughts in my ear. What hurt most about this was that kids in my neighborhood teased me about the encounter—as if I did something wrong. When I was in my early 20s I was raped in my own apartment in Bayside, Queens.  The guy who raped me thought having sex with my half unconscious body was legitimate because I was too drunk and high to say no and because he probably thought I wouldn’t mind since everyone knew I was a sex positive stripper. I have seen one too many sisters assaulted and harmed by men. So, believe me, I take sexual assault seriously and I know all-to-well the long term wounds that sexual assault can leave on our spirits as well as our bodies.

With this said, please stop calling what happened to Grace sexual assault. Please also stop reductively calling what happened between Grace and Ansari simply “bad sex.” What occurred was far more complex than either social media camp wants to admit. Moreover, this moment poses intriguing questions for those willing to push past binary social media talking points.

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The initial questions this scandal posed for me were:

First, related to the Ansari’s of the world, what social forces produce droves of cis het dudes who have no idea what passionate consent looks like? How can a man shove their fingers in a woman’s mouth or continually make sexual advances and be so ostensibly unaware that she isn’t feelin’ it? Like, seriously, what’s wrong with you bro; how can you not see that she’s disgusted?

Second, related to all the Grace’s out there, why do straight women suck dick and lie there getting fucked when they aren’t interested? If your male lover doesn’t make you cum, why don’t you show him how? Straight ladies, if your male lover wants to fuck you like you are in a porn, and that’s not what you want, why don’t you speak up?

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In this piece I am making a call to women to #demandbetter! I despise the idea that the only way to avoid these scenarios is for men to change. Of course men need to change, but guess what?–Most men won’t! I want to see more women standing up and demanding that the male-centered definition of straight sex be revolutionized into one that includes female pleasure. The reality that many women engage in regular sex that is not pleasurable, and at times violating, is unacceptable. It is time that straight women redefine sex on their own terms and stop waiting for men to do better. So, straight women: start demanding better for yourself and all women!

Sadly, that’s not what the Babe article accomplished. The Babe article did not help to advance the cause of bringing more women in to sex positive feminism at all. In fact, my observation of its aftermath suggests that, instead, the piece has created a victimization narrative that paints Grace, and all women in similar situations, as powerless and helpless. That is the narrative we need to change. While it is important to use political strategies that foster sisterhood among women, we must move past just saying #metoo, in the hopes that women’s pain might appeal to benevolent men. We can stand behind hashtags such as #enoughisenough or we can #demandbetter through action. Women can do that by asserting their voices to insist that their sexual partners respect their bodies and honor their desires. Now, to be clear, this may often be easier said than done.

The fear that we are going to be sexually assaulted can send lead into our legs, and instantaneously quiet our speech. Believe me, I know! Grace seemed caught off guard, and confused by the behavior of Ansari, who claims to be a feminist and a staunch supporter of #timesup. The problem was Ansari was enjoying this encounter while Grace felt attacked. Moving forward, more men need to ask women what they want rather than assume what they want.  And more women need to clearly articulate what they want rather than assume men are getting it. Because clearly, many men are not!

Before we can get to that level of communication, however, we need to understand—and eventually put a stop to—the ideologies at work in the scene that played out between Ansari and Grace. I am getting back to my initial questions: Why is it that men (Ansari) cannot see that their coercive behavior is unacceptable and making their date (Grace) feel uncomfortable and violated? And why do women (Grace) stick around and even perform sex acts that they don’t want to on their eager partners (Ansari)?

There are many ideological culprits contributing to these awful sexual encounters. Western discourses of love and monogamy, patriarchy and hegemonic masculinity, and heterosexual sex itself all contribute to and set the stage for the terrible drama we imagine played out in the Grace/Ansari scandal.

First, Western discourses around love and monogamy declare that love is a sacrifice. Women’s genitals, bodies, and dignity often get sacrificed on the altar of heterosexual monogamous love. Women, like Grace, often put up with sexual coercion in search of love, as my friend allowed herself to feel raped to maintain what she sees as love in her relationship.

Straight women may consent to sex that feels like rape because patriarchal family structures are characterized by a grossly unequal distribution of power. In this system, women are the sexual property of men. The antiquated norms of heterosexual monogamy mean that many women will go along with all sorts of bullshit out of an obligatory sense of devotion and love for another human that doesn’t actually see them as an equal. Also Grace’s story underscores that women often pay a feminine sex tax, both coming and going—that is, if she goes, she’s an uptight prude who led him on, and if she stays, well then she must knowingly consent to unwanted sex and it’s potentially harmful effects.

ansari 4So, my intent here is not to blame women. These discourses that prioritize heterosexual patriarchal monogamous love are ubiquitous. Remember the Disney film The Little Mermaid? As a refresher, Ariel, a mermaid, who is an avid singer is willing to give up her voice as well as her fins and family for the love of a man she had met two minutes ago. Every year, Hollywood spits up several nauseating RomComs featuring the very same themes Disney tried to force down our throats when we were kids. Western society force-feeds individuals an unrealistic and undesirable romantic dream that reifies the overlapping systems of patriarchy, heterosexism, and white supremacy—systems that provide privileges for cis white men and inequalities for everyone else.

 

ansari 5Under patriarchy, men also engage in the relentless pursuit of masculine validation—acts which men use to (often unconsciously) maintain their privilege. Hegemonic masculinity means that proving that they are a “real man” is often predicated on and facilitated through active misogyny and heterosexism. Tested by neo-liberal capitalism, many men’s ability to demonstrate manhood through property ownership and status proves impossible, and they seek out other modes of masculine validation. The system of global white supremacy means that men of color must also find other modes to acquire masculine validation. These additional strategies or modes of masculine validation often involve their bodies. They build up their muscles to show us—and their cocks play the leading role in their masculine performances. This is why Louis CK wants to show it to you in action, and why men everywhere want to text you unsolicited pictures of it—and every heart emoji sent back validates their internalized sense that their dick gives them power.

Thus, sex—heterosexual sex—is a primary mechanism men use to prove they are real men. Hegemonic masculinity then means that men must be in dominant positions in sexual encounters in order to feel like real men. The more they take charge, the more aggressive they can be—the more manly they feel. Remember, the sexual scripts within heterosexual sex are based on patriarchal norms. So that means, for example, no pegging if you are a real man!

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Under patriarchy, real men are sexual aggressors. They penetrate. They initiate. They dominate. For many men, their manhood is contingent on how many “bad bitches” they fuck and based on the status they achieve by “smashing” as many women as possible. For some men, they are oblivious, like Ansari, because their behavior is normalized by the systems of patriarchy and heterosexism, and the pervasive rape culture that buttresses these systems. Moreover, while dismantling rape culture is vital, I would also love to see far more critical dialogue around how we define rape culture. For example, when rapper Rick Ross said, “let’s get these hoes on the molly,” in the popular rap song Pop That by French Montana—this to me is a legitimate example of rape culture. But on the other hand, for example, anti-porn feminist Gail Dines sees porn as contributing to rape culture. Without necessarily drudging up the Sex Wars, we must deploy the term rape culture with far more precision, and in a way that leaves room for sex positivism.

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Briefly, I’d like to take my example of the Rick Ross lyrics a bit further. It is worthwhile to consider how Ansari’s and Grace’s respective races might have shaped their encounter. This is a missing element in much of the debate about Grace and Ansari. It is important to think about how race shapes our discussions of rape culture and sexual assault because of the negative stereotyping that often results.

In the US, there is a long history of racist cultural imagery that depicts black men as hypersexual and dangerous. So, when Rick Ross says if they get women intoxicated they can have sex with them—he is describing rape, and he is doing so within the context of these existing racialized discourses. While it is impossible for me to unpack here the different complex histories of systematic racism in the US, let alone the world, men of color have too often already been culturally marked as predatory.  “Predator” is also an all too familiar racist trope used in political discourse to criminalize men of color. Therefore, we should be mindful of how we deploy and use the word predator to describe men accused of sexually inappropriate behavior or sexual assault. The word predator is a racially and class marked term that when deployed capriciously may also reify racist stereotypes about men of color.

For centuries, for black women, sexual assault has been a part of racial terror. If a white man rapes a black woman, that crime should not be divorced from the historical legacy of white supremacy, and the centuries of rape that black women have endured at the hands of powerful white men. So, it is important to always racially contextualize sexual assault.

In the case with Ansari, he has said he is not religious but was raised Muslim, and he is an Indian American. By all accounts, Grace is white. There is ample research in the social sciences that empirically show that institutionalized white supremacy creates cognitive biases in individuals, and so it is crucial that we ask how these cognitive biases shape sexual encounters. For example, when white women accuse men of color of sexual assault, we must consider if and how these racist cognitive biases might be shaping perceptions of these encounters. We should use this an invitation to think through how race is affecting our conversation about sexual assault at the present moment.

Now, the accounts I have read about the Grace and Ansari case are missing one more thing—I have saved the best for last! I am convinced that part of the issue we are grappling with relates directly to how heterosexual or “straight sex” has been discursively produced. For many straight folks sex is defined solely as penile-vaginal penetration. In the Babe article, it said, “She says he then resumed kissing her, briefly performed oral sex on her, and asked her to do the same thing to him. She did, but not for long. ‘It was really quick. Everything was pretty much touched and done within ten minutes of hooking up, except for actual sex.’” Here, Grace, doesn’t see the oral sex they engaged in as “actual sex.” By ignoring the oral sex she received (even if unwanted) and the oral sex she gave, her definition of “actual sex” echoes so many people. The problem with this commonly employed definition of sex is that it places male pleasure at the center of sexual encounters.  Therefore, defining sex as penile-vaginal intercourse renders all other acts—which many women find pleasurable (e.g., cunnilingus)—not as sex but as some kinda added bonus (if it happens at all). Straight sex by this limited definition ensures male pleasure, and relegates all other female desires as unimportant.

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So, again, I’m left thinking that part of the problem is with the way many people define straight sex. The horn-dog, male centered, pushy Ansari is a manifestation of this definition of straight sex. Perhaps, then, what many women are pushing back against in this moment is straight sex (as it’s currently and commonly defined).

 

Now, generalizations suck! I am aware that people may read this piece and criticize me for generalizing straight sex, and by default, romanticizing queer sex. So, let me address this. Of course, there are straight couples who regularly have mind-blowing, mutually pleasurable, wake the neighbors up kinda sex. My feeling is, this good sex is occurring because they are actively doing the work of writing their own sexual scripts, and disrupting gendered sexual mores. This pleasurable, well negotiated, and more egalitarian sex is occurring precisely because many straight women do embrace and live by sex-positivism and because their male partners are actually feminists.

I also have no doubt that sexual scripts regularly map themselves onto queer sex. Yep, I’ve had enough queer sex to know. So, no, my suggestion is not that straight sex = bad sex and queer sex = good sex. Yet, straight folks could learn a lot from queer communities! For example, many straight people could learn a lot from BDSM communities and their emphasis on safe, sane, and consensual sex. Polyqueer communities emphasize the importance of regular and open negotiation between sexual partners. In my thinking about Grace, and women like her, I am saying that more straight women need to make sex with men conditional on meaningful discussion of her desires.

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So, yes, not all straight sex is bad, and not all queer sex is good. But straight sex, as it is currently defined, was not equally designed around’s women’s pleasure as it is around men’s pleasure. There needs to be a collective push to redefine straight sex through progressive sex education and other cultural institutional transformation.

In conclusion, I am hoping we can move past Ansari and continue to unpack all the complexities that this moment presents. I’m hoping we can push forward in a more productive direction—towards a future, where women #demandbetter straight sex! Where we don’t just #demandbetter of individual men, but we #demandbetter from our government and its agencies; where we #demandbetter of the institutions that perpetuate patriarchy, white supremacy, heterosexism, and cisgenderism; where we #demandbetter of ourselves, for ourselves, and for everyone.

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Bad Girls: On Being the Accused

21 Dec

By Jane Ward

Jane Ward is a guest blogger from the University of California Riverside and the author of Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men (2015).

18817dlaqr49qpngAll these mother fucking men. These men who grope and threaten and assault girls, boys, and women. They are finally going down. We are celebrating, so the commentators say. We are enraged, they say. Every pundit has something to say about what has happened to us—the “survivors” of rape culture.

 We, it seems, are also being careful, strategic. We are whispering to one another, please don’t muddy the waters by talking about false equivalences right now. We are admonishing each other out of fear, please, I beg you not to distract from this powerful wellspring of feminist truths, this unstoppable testimony of violation and survival, by attending to gray areas and complexities. Not now. The stakes are too high. This is finally working! In trusted company we acknowledge these complexities, but we ask that they not be spoken outside our carefully guarded feminist chambers, where we trust they will be handled with great care.

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But these complexities are not theoretical. And they are not private. Nor are they evidenced only by the starkest historical examples, such as Carolyn Bryant’s lies about Emmett Till, or the day-care satanic sexual abuse panic of the 1980s and 90s, or the lesbians now known as the San Antonio Four, falsely accused of sexual abuse in the mid 1990s (A case I’ll discuss further in a moment). The complexity—by which I mean the fact that seemingly feminist, zero-tolerance responses to sexual assault are often animated by racism, sexism, and heteronormativity rather than any kind of substantive feminist intervention—is the key fact for many of us, absolutely impossible to compartmentalize or put off for discussion until a more convenient time.

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My partner and I—like many queer people—are included in this group of people for whom the complexities are often the real story, not the marginal notes. Three weeks ago, just as the #metoo campaign gained momentum, my partner—a genderqueer teacher at a public high school in Southern California, received a formal reprimand from the principal at her school. It seems a girl at the high school had been giving a boy, one of my partner’s art students, regular blowjobs in an art classroom during lunchtime. Having heard from another student that this was happening, the principal confiscated the students’ cell phones and found evidence in black and white: the girl had texted the boy expressing her excitement about the blowjobs she was planning to give him. Needing an adult to take the blame for these blowjobs, the principal explained that the school district considered placing my partner on a disciplinary leave, but ultimately decided a reprimand letter would be sufficient. In the reprimand they placed in my partner’s employment file, they described how she had “enabled obscene acts” by not supervising the students who had told her they were doing their homework in the classroom during lunch. The principal confessed that the whole thing was “sort of a cover-your-ass situation,” in case the school was subject to legal action initiated by the girls’ parents. The boy was given the choice to withdraw from school or be suspended for the remainder of the semester; he chose the latter. The girl was suspended for one week, cast largely as a “victim” of the boy’s sexuality. And my partner, she was asked to produce a response letter explaining why and how she had “failed to create a safe learning environment.”

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Everything about this story is right out of the sex panic playbook.  Consensual sex cast as abuse, girls’ sexual desire rendered invisible, boys’ sexual receptivity cast as aggression, teenagers imagined to be simultaneously sexless and obscene, safety and sex framed as mutually exclusive, the school imagined to be a sex-free environment, a queer teacher to blame for all of it, and the whole episode driven largely by instrumental concerns about liability. Even as school administrators invoked concepts like “safety” and “obscenity” in their formal communications, they made clear during less formal, in-person discussions with my partner that they did not “personally” believe she had behaved inappropriately. They just needed to follow the rules.

 What my partner’s experience confirmed for me, as I simultaneously followed the public disavowals of sexual misconduct by Miramax, NBC, Netflix and so on, is that the answer to rape culture is not, and can never be, liability culture. Rape culture—and the use of sex as a weapon of power and discipline more broadly—is not undone by compliance with institutional policies that attempt to manage people’s unpredictable behavior, create sex-free institutional environments, and protect the institution from profit-disruption or lawsuits. What that kind of liability culture accomplishes is similar to what a parent spanking a child accomplishes: it trains people to avoid certain behaviors out of fear of punishment, and to develop an unreconciled split between what they actually think or want (e.g., the principal who did not really believe my partner was to blame for Blowjob Gate) and what they must publically say and do (e.g., blame a teacher so as to appear tough on anything resembling sexual misconduct).

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Queer women have long been the scapegoats during times of mass fear about sexual victimization. Lesbians who interact with children, in particular, are always already embedded in histories of sexual suspicion and fear of predation. Four decades ago, Anita Bryant’s Save the Children campaign overturned employment discrimination protections across multiple states so as to ban lesbians and gay men—and in some cases, anyone friendly to gay men and lesbians—from working as teachers in public schools. Only twenty years ago, in the late 1990s, four Latina lesbians in San Antonio were falsely accused of gang-raping a little girl and spent 15 years in prison before being exonerated. Prosecutors used the women’s queerness as a motive, but their case was also bolstered by the satanic sex abuse panic that swept through the country in the years just prior. In 2001, queer comedian and foster mother Paula Poundstone was accused of lewd acts on a minor and her children were removed from her custody. Poundstone has consistently denied sexually touching her children (though she acknowledged that her alcoholism affected her parenting) and prosecutors ultimately dropped the lewd conduct charges.

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Many queers, including queer women, are aware that queer life means risking accusations of having made other people uncomfortable, perhaps even making them feel violated, with our sexual excess or illegibility or unpredictability or boldness. It is for this reason that some of us cannot so immediately vilify the accused and “believe all women,” because we have been the accused, we have loved the accused, and we have watched institutions manufacture and take down the accused to protect their own interests.  We have watched as liability concerns have posed as feminism (such as when university administrators have implemented “robust” sexual assault policies without seeming to have consulted a single feminist student or faculty member).  We have witnessed people and institutions, unwilling to acknowledge that sex is part of institutional life (because humans are part of institutional life), attempt to train, report, discipline and sue their way out of dealing with the presence of sexual desires that make them uncomfortable (see Jennifer Doyle, Campus Sex, Campus Security) . Rather than grapple with a teenage girl excited to give a blowjob, they have cast their environment as unsafe.

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I, for one, have long been a sexual problem. I grew up in a sex-talking house. I recall my father chasing my mom around the house, his arms outstretched, yelling “boobs! boobs!”—my mother running away laughing. I recall my brother, upon entering puberty, coming down the stairs and proudly announce the presence of a new “pube.” My mother, the most reserved of our bunch, laughed heartily at every ridiculous, juvenile sex joke on her favorite show, South Park. And for my part, I took my sex interests to school. In kindergarten, I organized a consensual butt-rubbing clinic in the girls’ bathroom, which was met with a severe spanking and public shaming by my teacher. In high school, I was sent to detention for noticing aloud that my friend Ashley’s boobs had grown, not finding out until later that the school had called a meeting with my mother in which they earnestly inquired whether I had been molested—because what else could explain such a brazen, sex-talking girl?

 By high school I had learned that despite all efforts to cast me as a sexual victim, adults were worried I may be one of those girls who was a sexual problem. I was perhaps one of those girls from whom other girls needed protection.

text-bad-girl-rose-temporary-tattooMy partner, too, was sometimes cast as one of these bad girls—accused and not accuser; perpetrator and not victim. Once, while she was in her elementary school, administrators found pages from a Playboy magazine in the trash can of the girls’ bathroom and subsequently launched a McCarthyesque investigation in which they asked all of the students to write down the name of someone they thought might have brought Playboy to school. While it turns out that my partner had not brought the magazine to school, she had, on earlier occasions, proudly shown three friends who had visited her house that her dad had a collection of this intriguing magazine. Hence, her name was written down three times, and she was subsequently subjected to an intense interrogation by several sex-panicked adults. Amazingly, when it was discovered several years later that she was on campus again (her brother was now a student at this elementary school and my partner walked there from her high school to be picked up along with her brother), she was told she was not allowed to enter the school because the Playboy images had continued to appear on campus. She remained their number one suspect. A few years later, when she came out as queer, the news about her lesbianism spread through her family and she was banned from interacting with some of her younger cousins. Cast, yet again, as a sexual threat.

 9781563410864These are common dyke stories: being the first suspect when sexual misbehavior is (or is imagined to be) afoot; being told to stay away from the children in one’s extended family; keeping your distance in locker rooms and bathrooms and other places where straight women presume the absence of same-sex desire and panic when they realize it could present. Dykes know what it means to be the accused.

 And these experiences, too, are the context that shape queer people’s unyielding attention to the complexities and to the dangers of zero tolerance approaches “where rough justice stands in place of careful analysis, nuance and due process,” to quote Andrea Ramsey, the democratic candidate for Congress from Kansas, who dropped out of the race this week following a resurfacing of sexual harassment charges she has long denied.

We celebrate as the Weinstein monster is, we hope, blocked from wielding his shockingly unchecked power over not one more woman and her career. Let this, too, be the fate of President Trump, Russell Simmons, and anyone else who may be proven to have used their power to rape, assault, and repeatedly harass.

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And yet in many other cases, truly different kinds of cases, we demand a deeper, historically-informed, intersectional analysis of the problem and its solutions. These include cases involving consensual sex between employees or students, unwanted kisses or touches that ended as soon as the uninterested party said no, sexual propositions deemed inappropriate or unprofessional by institutions but not by the people actually involved, the presence of sex or desire in places that some people would rather it was not present or between people disciplined into believing they are not supposed to desire one another (cross-racial desire, queer desire, cross-generational desire, etc.), and messy conflicts between people that may have a sexual element.

Queer people have good reason to fear any cultural turn in which these sorts of situations are collapsed under the same zero-tolerance umbrella as rape and sexual assault. Because while they are coming for Al Franken now, we recall that they have come for us, and we know they may come again.

Thinking Bad Sex

4 Nov

By Jane Ward

Jane Ward is a guest blogger from the University of California Riverside and the author of Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men (2015).

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Many of my students’ comments about sex have surprised me in recent years, and regrettably, this is not because they are introducing me to interesting erotic subcultures I haven’t yet encountered, or to inspired, new sexual terminology. No, it’s that some of them define sexual assault with such a broad brush that I nearly fall out of my chair. Some tell me that any sex involving alcohol or drugs is, by definition, non-consensual and potentially rape. Others tell me that all unwanted sex is rape (or “at least a form of violence “), including when someone offers to give a blowjob they don’t really want to give because they feel general social pressure to conform to hook-up norms, or when someone consents to have sex with their partner when they are tired and not into it.

Some students tell me that queer people my age are too obsessed with sex practices, and that queer liberation is about identity-based self-determination (the freedom to identify in multiple and evolving ways, mostly on the internet). I tell them I disagree with their framing of many of these points. I tell them about how sometimes people choose to have sex, and also choose to drink alcohol before they have sex. I tell them about Nicola Gavey’s distinction between rape and “unjust sex, “‘ and how heteronormativity and patriarchy set up the field of hetero sex to be a vast expanse of unwanted and unsatisfying sex for women. A rigged and unjust system? Yes. Rape? No.

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Rape is not a metaphor, I tell them. I tell them I think we need more and better language to describe the bad sex that many of us consent to, and that developing this language will also allow us to see that “consent ” is hardly the endgame when it comes to good, and maybe even ethical, sex.

Cultural flashpoints, like the recent news about Kevin Spacey’s pattern of sexual harassment, can throw these apparent divides into even sharper relief. Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw many queers posting with fury about how Spacey had set back the lesbian and gay movement by reinforcing the gay pedophile myth. They declared that his reference to being gay was a distraction and a manipulation. They said he was using being drunk as a way to excuse sexual assault. Some called him a rapist before any evidence of forced penetration had been presented. Again, I was shocked by how quickly queer people were making facile and confident conclusions—Spacey is the same as Weinstein! —with relatively little information and with what seemed to me to be an anachronistic sense that it’s our job, as queers, to anticipate and prevent straight people’s most outlandish fears about us (like that Spacey’s actions mean all gay men are pedophiles).

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The claim that Spacey had abused and sullied the otherwise beautiful act of “coming out” seems to me especially bizarre and off-the-mark. For one, everyone in Hollywood, Spacey’s social world, already knew he was queer, making this ineffective as a distraction within the industry. Spacey’s coming out was more likely an obligatory offering to the public, who demand that celebrities (and all people) account for their sexuality with an easily consumable identification and narrative. Had Spacey not explained himself as gay, the media frenzy about the homosexual element of the story would likely have eclipsed what was truly important: 1.) that Spacey sexually harassed a 14-year-old boy by drunkenly laying on top of him, scaring and later traumatizing him, and 2) that Spacey acknowledged the harassment, apologized, and said he was “truly horrified. ”

Before I had a chance to think through how I might draw upon the power of queer, feminist complexity to characterize what Spacey had done to Rapp, I was overwhelmed by the panic emerging from mostly gay white male commentators. Spacey is a pedophile! Spacey is gay! So now everyone will think gays are pedophiles like they used to! Given our history of criminalization and subjection to false accusations of child molestation, gay men and lesbians have good reason to be vigilant about how the public perceives our relationship to children. But wrapped up in this panic are also other presumptions fueled by assimilationist forces in the gay and lesbian movement and mainstream/white feminist responses to sexual violence.

The mainstream gay critique of Spacey’s “inappropriate timing ” to “finally come out ” seemed to me very clearly anchored in a belief I do not share—that coming out is a genuine moral obligation, a proclamation of tremendous significance, and an act of finally telling truth about oneself. What if you feel, as I do, that coming out is a tedious social requirement designed to appease straight people and dumb down the complexities of queerness by telling a tired story about how you always knew you were different, how you are just like straight people except for your “love of the same sex “, and so on? From that view, “coming out ” almost always diminishes us, even as it may feel empowering. It’s almost always “bad timing, ” because it is almost always timed to help straight people understand us—in other words, it is timed to accommodate heteronormativity. It makes perfect sense to me that in this moment of global attention to his sexual assault of boys and men, Spacey would believe this is precisely the time to do that discursive thing we require of people who are oriented toward the so-called same sex: tell a story that explains why he was attracted to boys and men in the first place.

Critiques of Spacey’s apology seem to be forged by the same blunt mainstream feminist instrument that my students often bring to their analysis of what counts as sexual assault. As Sarah Schulman has described so vividly, we are living in a time in which many young feminists are not interested in why sexual assault happens, because to even ask that question is to potentially extend a degree of humanity to the rapist, who should burn in hell or be locked up for life. I find myself wishing torture upon rapists as much as the next feminist, but I also want to see us undo rape culture systematically, rather than focus purely on how we can partner with police to lock up rapists one by one. Somehow, I have become afraid to ask in my classroom the very questions that I know we must be asking: what happened to men’s humanity, did they ever have it, and how can we repair them? How do we address sexual violence and oppose the prison industrial complex at the same time? Does restorative justice work in cases of sexual assault? (See INCITE’s The Revolution Starts at Home to begin thinking about this). How do we distinguish between rape, on the one hand, and all the other bad sex people have out of obligation, self-doubt, fear, and confusion, on the other?

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No one I know thinks that Kevin Spacey’s sexual harassment and possible assault of teenagers, or adults, is worthy of defense. That’s a given. Sexual harassment and sexual assault—by which I mean repeated, unwanted sexual propositions and forced sexual touching, respectively—are violations. And they are often, though not always, traumatic for the people who experience them. But the rush to meme-ify sexual harassment and assault with our righteous rage, and to reduce our thinking to the level of “what will straight people think??! ” is hardly our best way forward. For me the question is, as always, how do we draw upon decades of feminist and queer activism and theorizing to see our way through the complexities of sex and its intersections with violence?

Structures and Events: A Monumental Dialogue

20 Sep

Two noted scholars of indigenous and black culture and politics Jodi Byrd and Justin Leroy sat down to dialogue about #MonumentsMustFall.

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Jackson, from behind. Photo credit: Eric Gary Anderson

By Jodi Byrd and Justin Leroy

Justin Leroy: Since white supremacists clad in hoods of free speech descended on Charlottesville and clashed with the “alt-left” (i.e. those who aren’t Nazis or Nazi sympathizers), Confederate statues, plaques, and memorials have come down across the country. Good. By any means necessary. Our White-Supremacist-in-Chief disagreed—after blaming the rally’s violence on “both sides,” he lamented “the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns, and parks.” Typical neo-Confederate fuckery so far. What he tweeted next was meant as an ominous warning: “Who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!” But sometimes the right goes so far off the rails that it circles back around and starts making sense to the left. Like when pro-slavery ideologue George Fitzhugh described Northern factory capitalism as “a war of the rich with the poor, and the poor with one another,” one might be forgiven for taking Trump’s question seriously (after the initial shock of taking Trump seriously wore off). What exactly is the difference between Lee and Washington or Jefferson? There is no kinder, gentler slavery, and no good Virginia slave owner.

This question has vexed me for a while. When Yale students mobilized to change the name of Calhoun College I was supportive [See also “The Student Demand” here on Bully Bloggers. -ed]. No black student should ever have to address the head of a residence hall named after a slave-owner “master.” But I was also frustrated. Why Calhoun? Why were other, arguably equally compromised figures able to escape the symbolic purge? Why do Confederates seem to be the only line in the sand well-meaning liberals can recognize? As far as targets go, they’re a low-hanging fruit, since condemning Confederates lets Northerners feel good about pointing out how bad and racist Southerners are without having to confront the skeletons in their own closet. But the question of Confederate exceptionalism remains.

Do I think the Founders are morally superior to Confederates when it comes to race and slavery? No way. Jefferson inflicted tremendous physical and sexual violence on those he enslaved. Washington devoted tremendous resources to capturing runaways. And yet, actual history notwithstanding, Confederate symbols are exceptional for the way they mobilize white supremacists in the here and now. Figures such as Jefferson are too-often sanitized so they can be used to represent universalism, progress, and American “founding values,” but this strikes me as a distinct—if closely related—problem. The best analog to Confederate symbols might be Native mascots, which normalize and produce amnesia around indigenous genocide and ongoing colonialism, rather than Columbus, who we should recognize as a horrible person historically and not celebrate, but does not get mobilized as a contemporary symbol of white supremacy. That being said, these kinds of observations should be our ending point, not our starting point.

Jodi Byrd: I like the way you parse out the symbolism and the stakes in what you’ve written above, especially as you articulate the similarities between how Confederate symbols and native mascotry mobilize investments in antiblack settler histories. I have been trying to come to these questions from the other side, thinking that there is a way that this debate normalizes Washington and Jefferson, and by extension Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln, in order to ultimately demobilize any critiques of them. Washington and Jefferson were slave-owning Indian-killers and Abraham Lincoln not only served in the Black Hawk war in Illinois but is responsible for the largest mass hanging in US history when he authorized 38 Dakota men to be hanged in Minnesota. These figures do not necessarily mobilize white supremacists, but they do produce amnesia around the scale of their genocidal complicity.

JL: Yes! I was mulling this over all day because as a matter of history I have no interest in defending any of these men or elevating some over others because they weren’t “traitors,” but there does seem to be a real difference in terms of how they function in our present.

JB: Right? Because Abraham Lincoln for all his Indian killing does not will never inspire Confederate support, though here I think many progressives might rally to his defense. There is this nagging sense in the back of my mind that many of these debates signal a presumption of some investment in civility or something equally moderate that elevates Washington and Jefferson over Lee. Or, maybe it is down to this sense I have: If the South had won, they would have likely claimed Washington and Jefferson as founding fathers too.

So, like you, I think there is absolutely a normalization of the Presidency as somehow above historical intent and complicity. Nowhere is that more evident than in how Lee and Stonewall are vilified as traitors while Andrew Jackson and Jefferson are not. Of course, there’s the Civil War (and fascinatingly, Andy Jackson’s political career falls between the Revolution and the Civil War no matter what alternative history Trump has tried to construct), and then there is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.

What has been on my mind—along with the recent news that another jury has yet again ruled in favor of Cliven Bundy and his sons —are the ways that we staged these debates even a couple of years ago with the movement to replace Andrew Jackson on the twenty dollar bill with Harriet Tubman. It is clear that the US Treasury under President Obama hit a nerve and there is some deep-seated seething that has been given license to surface under 45. That “replacing” also underlies the “you will not replace us” that the neo-Nazis shouted in Charlottesville a few weekends ago. The irony, of course, is that Andrew Jackson is the author of the Indian Removal Act and responsible for carrying out the displacement of Indians that both Washington and Jefferson anticipated and longed for. The US has, in other words, a history problem. It keeps looking to Europe for signs of some genocidal nationalism that it can name and displace so that it does not have to confront the very core of its own creation. When the genocide of American Indians can be recast as dispossession or conquest, when slavery can be reframed through kinship and labor, and when the struggle between North and South can serve as a sign of some exceptional atonement for the original sin of chattel slavery, then the United States has managed to resell a narrative of purity rather than transform the foundational conditions of its creation.

What if we understood the faces of those marching in Charlottesville as the face of US settlement as well as through the broader European context of fascism? What if we understood the problems of race and colonization as endemic to the nation and not solved through the rearrangement of statues. Geraldo Rivera tweeted out “If #RobertELee is to be erased from history, why not erase #ChristopherColumbus whose arrival ignited genocide of Native Americas?” I still refer to such discursive moves as a cacophony of histories, but it is clear in the competition that Columbus is a bridge too far, and that settlers continue to use Black and Indigenous experiences to silence each other. Still, why not Columbus? Many states and cities have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Do we need these historical signs to serve a past? Supporters of Illinois’ racist mascot Chief Illiniwek still insist that without him dancing every halftime and without their beloved “war chant” and “Oskee Wow Wow,” people would forget that Indians ever existed at all. But in “retiring” him, he only became stronger. Like Obi Wan Kenobi—the structures of white possession that propel the creation of Confederate moments and dancing Indian headdresses as remembrance don’t go away when the monuments or mascots are removed. And that is for me is also part of the stake in this conversation.

And evoking Illinois in this conversation just brings us back to civility. And the presumed savagery it opposes.

JL: OMG don’t even get me started on Hamilton and the idea of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. I get that the soundtrack is cute, but Hamilton represents the problem we’re discussing in microcosm. Why actually reckon with histories of slavery and genocide when we just can cast actors of color in the roles of slaveowners and Indian killers and pretend the problem is solved? I think your idea of the Holocaust as the only legible genocide in U.S. political discourse and European fascism as the only legible model for authoritarianism shows us how deeply entrenched the redemptive vision is, even among progressive thinkers. I was frustrated, horrified, angry at the response of several black scholars —and it must be said, particularly those at elite, private institutions. Despite respecting their work in other contexts, the failure of failure imagination among these scholars was telling. Fantasies of federal intervention against white supremacists (which has never worked—both in the sense that the government has never had the will to protect substantive black rights over white “rights,” whether in the 1870s or 1960s, and for the way in which black rights are staged as the extension of a federal authority that further erodes indigenous sovereignty). Others expressed surprise that we were still dealing with white supremacy or stressed the need for civilized discourse is of even greater importance in these trying times. All I can say is “LOL.” Considering that all are experts in black history, this is a problem of ideology, not knowledge. Even when we admit that white supremacy lay at the foundation of the United States and continues to be its primary operating feature, we still can’t imagine an outside to it—even some of our most radical visions are inclusionary and assimilative rather than revolutionary. What we think we’re condemning as a fatal flaw is actually not fatal because deep down we believe it can be redeemed. If not redemption, then what are our other options? This failure of imagination is why I think we need to engage ideas of decolonization much more robustly. Drawing on the intellectual history of the black freedom struggle, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza has said, “When Black people get free, everybody gets free.” The idea being that if we were to truly address the problem of anti-black racism in all its dimensions, we would necessarily make the world better for all people. I don’t bring Garza’s slogan up to critique or appropriate it, but to suggest a parallel (or perhaps a corollary in the interest of expansiveness). In this post-Obama moment, when we have seen that even at its greatest heights of success the assimilative model cannot save us, what would it mean to take sovereignty movements seriously as a way of thinking beyond the redemption of the U.S.? To say “When indigenous people get free, everybody gets free”? It seems hard to imagine in practical terms. But we live in a world where a jury twice failed to convict armed white men who faced down and threatened agents of the federal government for trying to take away “their” land, while those same agents of the state had no qualms about forcibly removing and suppressing activists at Standing Rock or in Ferguson. Why is it any harder to imagine a politics grounded in principles of indigenous sovereignty than the reformation of a white supremacist government? I’m curious if debates in queer theory can help us out here. Non-identitarian, anti-assimilationist queerness is one of the most generative tools for imagining new political orientations. I think it’s telling that one of the central tenets of queerness, antinormativity, has recently come under suspicion by ostensibly leftist queer thinkers [See also responses on Bully Blogger, here and here. -ed]. So there’s not only a failure of imagination, but the active effort to police political imagination. Obviously there’s been much work on queer theory from a Native studies perspective, but I wonder if there’s a way to integrate discussions of indigenous sovereignty with non-identitarian and anti-normative forms of queerness to begin thinking about responses to white supremacy that are not bogged down by an inability to think beyond the continued legitimacy of the United States.

JB: You capture the conundrum here—the desire for an inside, the impossibility of an outside, and the fatal flaw of imagining decolonization through the maintenance of a kindler, gentler United States. That is still built on lands stolen from Indigenous peoples. Because when it comes down to it, that conditional possibility of belonging is so profoundly engrained—“blood and soil!”—that land becomes the fundamental sticking point and territorial issue for all claims forged in relation to it. Land is the source of power, identity, belonging, and sovereignty. And land is in part why discussing monuments is so fraught and difficult. We can take down all the Lee, Jackson, Jefferson, Washington, Cook, and Columbus monuments that litter the cities and towns of this nation, but the structural intent behind putting them up in the first place remains written onto the land. Those monuments order space, naturalize possession and dispossession, and even in their absence continue to produce the ownership of land as the only path to freedom. So in thinking further with you about the possibility queerness, antinormativity, and non-identitarian formations might offer as responses to white supremacy, I think we have to consider how such ways of being might themselves be shaped by relationship to and through land. My first thought in response to most of the liberal accounts for the rise of Trump is that it is frustratingly predictable that the critiques of identity politics come from the most transparently identitarian formation of them all—white men. But I do think that even queer and antinormative tools run into binds when confronted with indigeneity, indigenous sovereignty, and indigenous relationalities to land. In Maggie Nelson’s Argonauts, for instance, a half-remembered Cherokee ancestry becomes the justification for naming a child Igasho (a name, by the way, that spawns as much from the Tauren in World of Warcraft as it does from any generic “Native American” culture or language). Perhaps that returns us to the imperative provocation of Saidiya Hartman’s Lose Your Mother. How might we reframe kinship and relationality away from the patria of white supremacy and its continued insistence on familial bonds that were destroyed through slavery and genocide?

JL: Ah! I definitely agree that often radical politics, even (especially?) queer politics, ignores or refuses to engage with colonization. Your work shows us that there can be no true radicalism without taking indigenous sovereignty seriously on its own terms. But this is where I think there’s actually a real opportunity for generative discussion—or maybe generative tension. Hartman and others make the case that some form of ontological loss or absence is the foundation of blackness in the Americas. And so there is a strong current in black studies today that goes against the idea that black people can heal the injuries of slavery by claiming rights or land or belonging. I think some of that same impulse it at work when queer theory embraces antinormativity—an openness to rethinking everything we know about kinship, belonging, ownership, individuality, and yes, even land. None of this can be taken for granted, and of course these kinds of theoretical linkages would have to be substantiated by a lot of on the ground organizing. But it’s the only way out I can see. I wonder if the recent ruling reversing the 2007 decision that stripped Cherokee freedmen of tribal citizenship is a small opening for this kind of politics. A fraught relationship, that began in violence, with the potential to open up new frameworks of belonging that account for both the history of enslavement and struggles for indigenous sovereignty.

JB: A fraught relationship, indeed. And I’m with you that the only way out is through rethinking what we know about kinship, belonging, ownership, property, land, and individuality. But more, we have to think about what struggles for indigenous sovereignty might mean as we untangle the stack and compounded histories of colonialism here in the Americas. The ruling on the Cherokee Freedmen is a good start, and the Cherokee Nation seems to agree. Finally. But what I hope for my own Chickasaw Nation is that we can come to an expansive understanding of grounded relationality that resists settler state modes of sovereign power and brings us back to the fundamental revolutionary idea that power and transformation can be found in the tearing down of walls as much in the building of them. In the end, the quality of our struggle against the structures of colonialism will be determined by what we chose to dismantle.

 

Suffering Sappho! Wonder Woman and Feminism By Jack Halberstam

5 Jul
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Suffering Sappho!!

For those of you young enough to associate the term Amazon only with the corporate giant that slew the bookstores and sold the world, the new Wonder Woman movie may not evoke any earlier lesbian or feminist associations. But for people who still remember certain strands of lesbian feminism from the 1970’s, the term Amazon conjures fierce, one-breasted women who lived without men and who fought, hunted, made war and love and generally embodied a utopian feminist past. And while the Amazons so beloved of lesbian feminists tended to be figured as white, others may make connections to the Dahomey Amazons – not mythological figures at all but an all female military regiment started by the third King of Dahomey in the 17th century. These Black Amazons held political power and trained for war and were only disbanded when Dahomey became a French protectorate.

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Seh-Dong-Hong Beh, a leader of the Amazons of Dahomey

The now much maligned Michigan Women’s Music Festival used to open and close every year with a group rendition of Maxine Feldman’s  “Amazon” (“Amazon women rise, Amazon women weaving rainbows in the skies. Amazon women fly, Amazon women fly!”) And Feldman left no doubt as to what she meant by Amazon: “I am and once was called Amazon, now I am called lesbian!” That is clearly not the meaning of Amazon in the new Wonder Woman movie and indeed the Diana Prince who leaves Themyscira for London is no Dahomey style man-killer. She does not come to bury patriarchy, she just wants her place at the table. Indeed, our era’s Wonder Woman spends more time ‘leaning in’ than leaning on the bad guys.

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Leaning in?

Too bad, because I had very high hopes for Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. Jenkins, after all, made the fantastic Monster in 2003 starring Charlize Theron as famed rape revenge serial killer, Aileen Wuornos. And Wonder Woman as a character and a comic book hero has a long and colorful origin story that stretches back through early suffragettes, birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, and a domestic triangle involving psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston, his wife Elizabeth Holloway and his student/lover Olive Byrne (also Sanger’s niece). None of these details make their way into Jenkins’ superhero movie, alas, and instead we get a competent, conventional blockbuster with an alluring lead actress and long drawn out action sequences punctuated by a few moments of humor, a few leaden speeches and a rewritten version of World War One!

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William Marston with both of his female partners (Olive Byrne in white and Elizabeth Holloway in the right hand corner) and their four children.

 

wonder-2The Wonder Woman of the comic books from the 1940’s was a social justice figure – she opposed male dominance; she defeated the Nazis; she rescued people; and in one issue, she ran for president. In Patty Jenkins’ film, a blockbuster angling for franchise status and no doubt timed to coincide with what most people thought would be the first female presidency in the US, Wonder Woman is a romantic heroine, looking for a mate and fighting baddies along the way. For those who are so inclined, one could even read a Zionist narrative into Jenkins’ film given that Diana Prince is played by Gal Gadot, an Israeli actress, and former Miss Israel, who credits her time spent in the Israeli Defense Forces for her winning the part of Gisele in the Fast and Furious franchise. Her military expertise is fully on show in Wonder Woman. Also, Jenkins’ Wonder Woman moves the comic book narrative setting of World War 2 to World War 1, probably because an Israeli actress fighting Nazi’s in World War 2 would require some kind of discourse on the Holocaust!

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The Germans are still the bad guys in this version and actually the first time Diana meets Steve Trevor he is wearing a German uniform for disguise and the Amazons ask him how they are supposed to tell the difference between him and the enemy. Good question! And would that the film had followed up on this Amazonian instinct that wars pit one form of violent and racist nationalism against another…but we lose sight of any kind of critique quickly as a heteropornographic conceit takes over in which a lovely woman has been stranded in an asexual community of women and then spies a naked man for the first time. After some banter about whether the naked Steve is a worthy representative of the male species, Diana Prince begins the inevitable fall into the sloppy clichés of hetero romance accompanied by bottom-feeding lines like: “It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world.”

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“Men are essential for procreation but when it comes to pleasure, unnecessary.”

This is all very disappointing, if only because Wonder Woman began promisingly enough with scenes of Diana’s childhood in Themyscira: this was women-only territory and the women were training for war. In Amazon territory, viewers are treated to some bona-fide female muscularity in the form of Robin Wright, who plays Diana’s aunt, Antiope, and there are even quick explanations for the absence of men – “men are essential for procreation but when it comes to pleasure, unnecessary.” Once she leaves her Amazonian isle, Diana is plucky and feisty enough and she quickly lets Steve Trevor know “what I do is not up to you.” She consistently out thinks, out fights and out runs him and he underestimates her at his peril. But his presence is intended to snuff out any fantasies of Amazonian love between women.

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Perhaps Patty Jenkins should have made the Wonder Woman film a narrative nested in the far more interesting story about the polyamorous threesome of Marston, Holloway and Byrne who, together, coproduced the fantasy that finally made it to the pages of DC comics. Jill Lepore, in The Secret History of Wonder Woman, tells this story  with verve and skill and she untangles this history from a straightforward account of comics and locates the emergence of Wonder Woman firmly within a scene of sexual experimentation, security porn and suffragette feminism! According to Lepore, Marston, who is also credited with the invention of the lie detector, first married a lawyer, Elizabeth Holloway, and then fell in love with his student, the boyish Olive Byrne. The three lived together and shared household intimacies, chores and inspiration and they had four children together. After Marston’s death, the two women continued to live together, suggesting that the intimacy was not simply an extended three way in which the women shared the man. Olive was the niece of the great suffragist and early feminist Margaret Sanger and it was she who brought Sanger’s activism and writings to Marston’s attention. Much of Sanger’s work fueled Marston’s imagination when, later in life, he was hired to create a female superhero for DC comics. According to Lepore: Marston’s comic, was meant to chronicle what he called “a great movement now under way—the growth in the power of women.”

imagesMarston’s Wonder Woman was fiercely feminist. She was bold and strong if also limited and liberal (she believes in “truth” after all!). But the Wonder Woman that he and Byrne and Holloway birthed was sexually inventive and gave voice to a kind of lusty relation to life, love and romance – romance for her often involved inverted gender roles, light bondage and a casual relation to violence. Many of the Wonder Woman stories played out Marston’s ideas about the power of men submitting to women and there was a non-exclusive representation of heterosexuality capacious enough to allow for a frisson between Diana Prince and her Amazonian sisterhood. Power dynamics, in the Wonder Woman comics, were full of eros and like Marston and Byrne, student-teacher dynamics were avowedly erotic rather than sources of anxiety and concern. Wonder Woman was a utopian who believed in a world made lousy by men and a potential world in which women kept everything in check.

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That the power of women might be linked to lesbianism is not a hidden theme in Wonder Woman. According to Jill Lepore and others, lesbianism was always a clear part of the narrative. Indeed, conservatives railed against both Batman and Wonder Women in the 1950’s on account of the clear implications of a gay relationship between Batman and Robin and the obvious association between Diana Prince and lesbianism. Most accounts of the comic book character refer to her as bisexual. And yet, in the 2017 movie, in an era of gay marriage and public recognition of LGT families, the plot makes no nod to Sapphic love at all! Indeed, Diana Prince only comes to life when she meets Steve Trevor, leaves the island and begins a romantic flirtation with him. He even names her, for god’s sake, when he cuts her off as she is explaining to a military man in London that she is Princess of Themyscira. She gets only as far as “Prince…” when Steve interrupts and says “Prince, Diana Prince…” She also gets her “love conquers all” and “only believe” lines from Steve and the film suggests that after Steve is gone, she still believes he will return to her. Diana’s relations to women are firmly situated in a mythic past and they are all firmly situated as kin rather than love interests.

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While the Wonder Woman of the early years of comics regularly rescued her mates, now she relies upon them to do the heavy lifting. The female super hero who carried men to safety and punctuated many a particularly gnarly situation with pithy catch phrases – “suffering Sappho” but also “great Hera!” and “Athena’s shield! – is nowhere to be found in 2017, in a future world that early Wonder Woman could never have been pessimistic enough to predict. So, what is a contemporary Wonder Woman to do? Too queer for Hollywood, too powerful for male pornographic gazes, too militaristic for feminists, too feminist for Christians (probably too Jewish for Christians in the latest incarnation), too dangerous and castrating to be victim to Trump-like pussy grabbing activity, but too liberal to lead a freedom fight. While Wonder Woman in the past, and definitely in Marston’s version, strongly embodied the feminist aspirations and struggles of the day, does she represent any kind of feminism now?

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Marston’s Wonder Woman might be bewildered by the marketplace of ideas about feminism now and might not be sure whether she is a feminist or not, or what feminism even means in an era when Ivanka Trump, Angela Merkel and Cheryl Sandberg represent female accomplishment! Diana Prince is certainly no corporate feminist asking for a seat at the table; but nor is she simply Roxanne Gay’s “bad feminist” in the sense of finding herself outside its logic. Is she the womanist feminist of 1970’s radical feminism? A lesbian separatist stranded outside the Michigan Women’s Music Festival? Or is she the anarcho-feminist from my Gaga Feminism? Could she be the central character, with her raised fist and willful arm, of Sara Ahmed’s powerful polemic: Living a Feminist Life (Duke UP, 2017)? And will contemporary young feminists embrace the 1940’s Wonder Woman or ask for a trigger warning in relation to her preference for militaristic solutions to political problems?

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To take just one of these options, Sara Ahmed’s sense of a “feminist life,” we might find only a very rough fit between Ahmed’s principles and Wonder Woman’s proto-feminism. And at certain points, they would have to part ways. Sara Ahmed’s book was written in the wake of her decision to leave Goldsmith, a hard decision that she made, as she puts it, “after three years of working with others to challenge how sexual harassment has become normalized in academic culture.” Deciding to give up the institutional life with its tendency to provide brick walls for us to knock our heads against in favor of a feminist life, Ahmed returns to the work of philosopher Marilyn Fry, Black feminists bell hooks and Audre Lorde and other thinkers often associated with 1970’s and 1980’s radical feminism and even argues that “we need a revival of lesbian feminism.” This return has Amazonian potential as does the book’s embrace of willfulness and killjoy tendencies. Reviving the call to see the personal as political, Ahmed quotes Fry’s notion of “lived theory” and even flirts with her separatist orientations (Ahmed declines to quote white men in this book).

But, Ahmed also positions feminism as an “archive of fragility” – she defines fragility as “the quality of being easily breakable” and feminism as “self-breakage” and a feminist politics of fragility as a model of “not only how to survive what we come up against but how to enable relationships to endure that can be easily threatened by what we come up against.” This fragile feminism has little room for a bondage-oriented super hero committed to fighting evil men in hand to hand combat (although Ahmed does conjure the image of a feminist army!). Ahmed’s book is beautiful in places, profound in others and it ricochets between pure anger, despair and a poetic conjuring of the inevitability of miscommunication, and the futility of institutional routes to multiracial and non-sexist education.

But ultimately Ahmed’s return to lesbian feminism, the reclaiming of the kill joy is not as inclusive as Ahmed makes it sound and despite reaching out to trans women with the definition of womanhood as “all who travel under the sign women,” the history of lesbian feminism that she draws upon is the exact history of feminism that made transwomen unwelcome in the first place! And the connection between feminism and fragility, along with Ahmed’s sympathy for trigger warnings and calls for safe space, and never mind her warning that humor “is a crucial technique for reproducing inequality and injustice” might ultimately leave readers with a depressive version of feminism – one that precisely lacks joy, pleasure and sex.

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Wonder Woman, might balk at having to understand herself a part of what Ahmed calls a “fragile archive,” a record of the many slights and wounds that female-bodied people are dealt in a male-centric world. In Ahmed’s world, Diana Prince would not have much recourse to humor and she might have to issue a few trigger warnings before seriously kicking some patriarchal ass. Wonder Woman would be inclusive of trans women but she would ultimately have her fist in the air for safe spaces, sensitive students who are used and abused and a kind of femininity that does not want to hear about the erotics of bondage.

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Likely Ahmed would not accept Wonder Woman as a symbol of the “feminist life.” But if we return to the Black Amazons of Dahomey, we can find a better image for her book and for some compromise between the tough, gnarly, intersectional feminism that she offers us and the anarchic power of the super hero. Fortunately, Wonder Woman had a much more interesting twin sister – Nubia – a Black super hero sculpted from dark clay while Wonder Woman was sculpted from light clay by their mother! When the two meet, in a volume of Wonder Woman comics from January 1973, they engage in woman to woman combat – Nubia wins but does not kill Diana, instead she claims the title of the Real Wonder Woman and the two unite to defeat Mars. In another issue, Diana is battling to “free the women of Africa.” This is laughable when we remember the Dahomey militias, and luckily Nubia steps in to save “the women of Africa” from the promised emancipation at the hands of a white hero, and she gives Diana a lesson in anti-colonial struggle.

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We might hope for some future Wonder Woman movies that hew more closely to the spirit of the original Wonder Woman than Pattie Jenkins’ safe and genre conforming film. Supposedly something is in the works about Marston, Holloway and Byrne and there are also rumors of a Nubia film with squabbles online about whether Nubia should be played by Serena Williams! Either of these has more potential to tap into super-heroic feminist powers than the film we have been given in 2017, a time when a few violent women willing to put male “heroes” in their place while fighting for justice could go a long way. If someone is sharpening her pencil and readying to write/draw an episode of Wonder Woman in which both Wonder Women – Diana Prince and Nubia – or even a multi-racial coalition of trans* Wonder Women are gearing up to fight an evil Overlord with yellow hair, tiny hands and an even tinier vocabulary, let me know. And when they are finished with him, how about fighting a host of Overlords like Google, Uber, Whole Foods and others and taking back the term Amazon for more righteous and queer utopian freedom dreams?

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Rapture and Risk on Campus in the Age of the Sexual Security State

6 Jun

Laura Kipnis and Jennifer Doyle Explain It All To You……

By Lisa Duggan

In 2013 I read a stunning short article on the notorious Steubenville rape case by Joann Wypiejewski in The Nation, “Primitive Heterosexuality: From Steubenville to the Marriage Altar,” with the subtitle “Straight culture teaches its children that sex is either of the jungle or the picket fence.” Wypiejewski rejected the stark melodramatic terms of reigning descriptions of “rape culture” to place sexual assault on a spectrum with the normative coercions and inequalities of heterosexual courtship. She then took an extra breathtaking step to indict the supposedly adult model of ideal marriage that ends courtship as the site for the very abuses assigned to “rape culture.” She closed by looking not to the expansion of marriage to same sex couples, but to queer sexual cultures for models of sexual ethics:

Frankly, heteros have nothing to teach homos beyond, maybe, how to endure childbirth. If the zeal to arrest toddlers for stealing a kiss and to lock away teenagers for having stupid, drunken, nasty sex is an indication, the lesson ends once the babe is through the birth canal. The opposite—that heteros have something to learn, from the history of gay liberation rather than marriage equality—is surely true.

This is not to romanticize homosexuality. Regardless of the subjects, sex is a mix of rapture and risk, sweetness and cruelty or something more humdrum. But because history did not present gay people with the open choice of the jungle or the picket fence, they developed an alternative culture, a relational language and set of ethics not just to avoid a trap but to have at least a decent experiment, a decent anonymous encounter, a decent first time—not necessarily a transcendent one (though maybe), but not an awful one—and a different sense of family. Gay kids may drink or damage themselves and others for all the reasons anyone in this society might and more, but gay culture doesn’t teach its kids that the surest route to sex is through a bottle and a lie. Straight culture teaches that.

So OK, maybe Wypiejewski romanticizes gay culture a wee bit, forgivable for a straight lefty feminist with a galvanizing point to make. She is also elaborating the point of Douglas Crimp’s famous defense of queer “promiscuity” as a resource rather than a scourge in the midst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In the current continuation of the various crises over sexual assault, Laura Kipnis has weighed in with a book that shares some of Wypiejewski’s points, but misses others. Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus (Harper Collins 2017) sounds a crucial, complacency piercing alarm about the way Title IX investigations of sexual assault on campus have veered widely afar from the goal of fighting gender inequality (as Title IX was designed to do when added to the Higher Education Act in 1972) to become an underground wave of secret tribunals with inconsistent and unaccountable rules and outcomes.

I think Kipnis is largely correct about what has happened since Title IX’s purview was expanded to cover sexual assault in 2011. Though the confidentiality rules prevent any of us from really knowing much, Kipnis makes illuminating use of a rare breach in that imposed silence—a cache of documents released by accused Northwestern professor Peter Ludlow, who left his tenured philosophy position midway through his “trial” without any confidentiality agreement. My own academic network confirms the widespread existence of Kafkaesque “investigations” in which “targets” are not given clear accounts of charges or allowed to defend themselves, in just the ways Kipnis describes via the Ludlow investigations. My informants are disproportionately queer studies scholars, far too many of whom are charged with sexual misconduct (which can include teaching “improper” materials in class) by unstable, closeted or homophobic students. Campus activists against sexual assault routinely ignore this dynamic and many others when they call on us all to simply “believe the students,” the current variation of “believe the women” and “believe the children.” Activist support for administrative procedures that empower accusers (too often simply referred to as “survivors,” a problematic slippage) without question, while minimizing the rights of the accused, is utterly wrongheaded and misguided. These activists do not imagine themselves in the role of accused “target,” but they should, they must. To imagine oneself as possibly accused rather than only as accuser can illuminate the stark imbalances at the core of current practices of investigation and adjudication. And this is one of Kipnis’ major points—empowering the administration to act under cover of confidentiality removes mechanisms of accountability. This is a dangerous path.

Unwanted Advances also makes a key point repeatedly: Narratives of endangered young women bent to the will of powerful male professors (even in the absence of any supervisory role) are not feminist. These melodramatic rescue narratives offer a hero’s role to administrators, who overreach in an old story of young women without agency violated and rescued. This is the territory of “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon,” the lynching narrative, the progressive era “white slavery” panic. Kipnis points out that efforts to educate young women about how to understand their milieu and defend themselves are too often interpreted as “blaming the victim.” Campus activists would do well to read feminist history and critically examine the emergence of what sociologist Elizabeth Bernstein has named “carceral feminism” and legal theorist Janet Halley has called “governance feminism”—political formations featuring a turn to often punitive state and administrative “solutions,” rather than organizing to address and transform social relations.

But here we begin to reach the limits of Kipnis’ book. The history of feminism that she provides actively erases larger framing contexts that are crucial to the dynamics the author wants to analyze. The story of the emergence of “sexual harassment” as an innovative feminist concept, eventually converted by corporations and university administrations into a military style anti-fraternization policy policed by liability lawyers and elaborated by paid consultants, is mostly missing as the important background to the current spread of Title IX investigations. In the world off campus the context of the feminist “sex wars,” the debates over sex work and sex trafficking, and the horrific years of the “Satanic” child sexual abuse panic in the 1980s, are barely mentioned. Kipnis takes the vocabulary and arguments of these earlier fights (the sex wars discussions of “pleasure vs. danger” and the debates about female sexual agency especially), but rarely credits them.

This narrow framing is symptomatic of the reversed melodrama at the center of Kipnis’ narrative, a frame that features the author in both the victim’s and hero’s role. She was the “target” of a Title IX investigation for an earlier article (and is currently being sued by one of the students she writes about in the book), and in response represents herself as fighting the good fight for free speech and sexual agency. In her book she rarely shares that heroic spotlight with historical or current figures. She likes to pose as the badass, throwing around provocative claims and standing up for those stricken silent by confidentiality rules.

This pose with its narrowing effect becomes especially clear when Unwanted Advances is read alongside Jennifer Doyle’s 2015 book, Campus Sex, Campus Security (Semiotext(e), 2015). Doyle was also involved in a Title IX case that did not go her way, but this experience does not center the analysis of the book. Doyle uses the “problem” of off the rails administrative procedures to widen her vision and take in the precarious state of “the campus” at this moment in neoliberal time. Drawing on the 2011 ‘incident” of campus police pepper spraying non-violent motionless students at the University of California Davis, Doyle makes a series of astute and revelatory connections between campus security and sexual politics through a series of short, staccato chapters filled with quotable insights. At UCD, the Chancellor worried that “non-affiliates” from Oakland (read young black men) would take advantage of “very young girls” on campus and put the university “in violation” of Title IX. From there Doyle looks at race and colonial legacies, the insecurity of students with high tuition and faculty with part time appointments, and the experiences of queer and racialized students and faculty under campus security regimes—considering the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal, the suicide of Tyler Clemeni at Rutgers, the Rolling Stone story of a gang rape later revealed as a hoax at the University of Virginia, the violent arrest of Prof. Ersula Ore for jaywalking at Arizona State, and more.

The point of Doyle’s analysis across all these instances is that the university finds itself vulnerable, positions itself as threatened, and deploys ramped up risk management and security measures for self-defense. In the Title IX cases the university is defending itself from being “in violation” and losing money, not protecting the “very young girls” who are imagined as the ideal accusers, without agency of their own. This comparative framing makes the exclusion of political economic context, and of critical race and queer theory, from Kipnis’ text very clear. Kipnis “includes” race and queer sexuality with a few random comments, one example involving black athletes (where the word “packs” is used), and a few same sex examples that are unintegrated into the analysis. Doyle’s book shows readers what it means to bring these analytic frames together, rather than just use add on unanalyzed examples.

But Doyle does slip into the insupportable “believe the women” posture occasionally. In concluding her account of the Rolling Stone rape hoax story of 2015, written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely based on the unchecked facts of an unnamed accuser, she comments “Who cares, really, about what women say? For that matters, who cares about what women write?” (p.21) Um, what? Doyle twists herself into a pretzel trying to avoid criticizing either the accuser or the writer, instead going for the magazine’s staff. It’s a stretch, based on a melodrama of female innocence and male perfidy that she otherwise avoids.

This slip, and others like it, serve to illustrate how pervasive and apparently irresistible conventional sexual melodrama can be, all across the political spectrum. Though Kipnis is countering the melodrama of gendered sexual danger that frames the recent deluge of Title IX tribunals, she fails to note that this story is itself a reversal of another pervasive melodramatic tale—in which innocent men’s lives are ruined by scheming women. The tide of Title IX complaints is in part a justifiable effort to attack the assumptions that supported widespread dismissal of women’s accusations against serial harassers and attackers, who were often protected by administrators in the pre-Title IX era. The rage and frustration generated by decades of such dismissals in part fuel the relentless hostility to “targets” expressed by too many Title IX officers. Now Kipnis counters the counter narrative, with an again reversed tale of scheming women and falsely accused men. Though she acknowledges that this is not the whole story, that sexual assault on campus is real, and that harassers and rapists are sometimes excused and protected, these admissions are throwaway sentences that pop up now and then in the body of a text utterly devoted to a highly gendered melodrama featuring manipulative female accusers and vindictive unaccountable bureaucrats, versus men whose lives are unfairly ruined.

There is a moment in Unwanted Advances when Kipnis reports the events of one of her central cases to a psychiatrist friend, and recounts his speculative diagnoses for one of the young women accusers—borderline or hysterical personality disorder (p. 74). Arguably, this kind of third hand psychologizing crosses a line from hard hitting but illuminating critical analysis to personal invasion. Does this move justify my own speculation that Kipnis may have some unresolved oepidal issues? A father she wants to rescue from a controlling, scheming mother? Just guessing!

Ultimately, both Kipnis and Doyle, like Wypiejewski, want to replace the sensational, melodramatic tales of sexual danger with detraumatizing strategies for thinking about sexual assault (which would involve reducing the demand for anonymity and confidentiality, strategies that only reinforce stigma, and in the context of Title IX, prevent accountability). Doyle specifically calls for placing rape on a spectrum of normative sexual coercions including state regulated marriage and reproduction, while Kipnis points to the need to address “the learned compliance of heterosexual femininity.” Kipnis further calls for assertiveness training and self-defense—student initiated strategies for challenging male aggression. Why not organize, act up, create new contexts for social and classroom life, rather than call endlessly for more and better administrative procedures? Both books emphasize the danger of empowering administrators this way—and surely the example of the administrative persecution of Palestinian students and professors should show us that danger in action. Most broadly, it is the clear implication of Doyle’s book that organizing strategies need to reach beyond inequalities of gender and sexuality to address the context for them, in the political economic context of risk management and global securitization.

Another Day…..

6 May

Hypatia and Cultures of Critique

By Lisa Duggan

Image result for Hypatia journalIt was just another day in academia.  Another obscure journal, another specialized article. Another scholar publishing in a marginalized field, failing to cite the published work in that field.  Another peer review process ignoring the very existence of marginalized scholars and fields.  Ho hum…..

But then things got real.  Some readers noticed and complained, social media went berserk, some editors defended while others apologized, articles were written.  Things got a little crazy, tone wise.  Denunciations!  Accusations! Precious little good contextualizing analysis.

It started when the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia published Rebecca Tuvel’s “In Defense of Transracialism,” in their spring 2017 issue.  Tuvel, a tenure track assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College in Memphis, compares the Rachel Dolezal controversy over transracial identity with debates about transgender politics.  She does not engage critical race theory or transgender scholarship. This kind of exclusion is ripe for legitimate critique, especially as practiced by a feminist journal.  Legitimate critique there was galore!

On social media, things heated up in a familiar way.  The derision and denunciation so often found there migrated, mixed with legitimate critique, into an open letter that called for retraction of the article.  It was eventually signed by hundreds of professors, grad students and others. The letter generated an abject apology (reading a bit like a Soviet confession, to my ears) from the associate editors of the journal. This apology produced a disagreement and objection from the editor.  And by this time the whole shabang migrated away from social media and onto the blogs, higher ed press, and more mainstream media.

And so by now everyone is in role!  The academic journal has marginalized critical race and trans scholarship within feminist philosophy, many of the article’s critics are making self righteous demands and personal attacks, some of the apologizing is positively creepy, while liberal and conservative pundits eschew relevant context to cry Witch hunt! Call out culture!  Oy.

Meanwhile back on social media, a few brave souls are cutting through some of the shit.  We at Bully Bloggers have picked out a few posts that illustrate a range of thoughtful, regretful and exasperated commentary that appeared on The Book of Faces to share with you here.  We will add more as we find the good stuff online.  Below are comments from Ani Dutta, with a very nuanced critique, Treva Carrie with a sigh of exasperation and some advice, Talia Mae Bettcher with a cri de coeur and sharp intervention, and Lisa Guenther with some second thoughts after having signed the open letter.

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Ani Dutta:
On Tuvel, Adichie, Dolezal and the Privilege-Identity Distinction
 
I have a feeling that I’m not going to be riding any popularity waves with this one, but I wanted to register my discomfort with the way in which ‘trans / gender non-conforming’ and ‘people of color’ voices have often been essentialized and homogenized in the wake of the controversy on Rebecca Tuvel’s Hypatia article that defends ‘transracialism’ and makes analogies between ‘transgenderism’ and ‘transracialism’. I do not say this ‘as’ a trans/gender non-conforming person of color (categories I use with discomfort given their US-centric hegemonic senses), as I don’t believe that occupying those positions necessarily justifies or gives more credence to the points I’m about to make. But I am referring to these categories, in which I’m often socially placed, simply to make the point that some of ‘us’ (though there’s no ‘us’) might have differing takes on both the Tuvel article and the question of transracialism than the general stance of condemnation and dismissal that ‘we’ have been associated with. So here goes:
  1. The big underlying question first, I guess: I am an agnostic on the issue of transracialism and Dolezal’s identity, and frankly not very interested in resolving that debate any way or other, except to argue that I don’t think we need to dismiss the ontological question of transracial identity (and its defenses) in order to interrogate or critique some of Dolezal’s more problematic actions (e.g. lying about her family past, culturally appropriating the ‘Nubian soul’, taking on the NAACP leadership position, etc.), which are related to her position of white privilege. Though race and gender are obviously not exactly analogous, a similarity here is that one can occupy gender-privileged positions while strongly dissociating from related identities – and the Caitlyn Jenner analogy indeed applies here. Two months ago, Chimamanda Adichie made several extremely simplistic and problematic statements about (apparently all) trans women having ‘male privilege’ at some point in their lives, and many trans women in response pointed out that this was often not the case. In my humble view, the most nuanced responses were ones like Jen Richards’ piece where she pointed out that trans women (like any other gendered group) may have very different narratives and histories of gender dis/privilege. Some trans women or trans feminine / gender-variant people experience little or no male privilege due to early visibility or transition (e.g. Laverne Cox’s narrative), and others like Richards and Jenner have grappled with male privilege for much of their lives, both benefitting from and suffering due to their social assignment as upper-class white ‘males’. In slightly reductionist Marxist terms, in Jenner’s case, the surplus value she accumulated due to her erstwhile male- and continuing class-racial privilege literally enabled and financed her medical transition, over the backs of many less fortunate other (both cis and trans-GNC) people whose labor had gone to produce that surplus value. However, in diametrical opposition to Adichie, now it seems that any reference to some trans women’s past lives and erstwhile male privilege can be conflated with transmisogyny (a trend noticeable in some of the public posts/comments critiquing Tuvel). So, we’re stuck between either all trans women have (or have had) male privilege, or no trans women have male privilege and saying so is transmisogyny. I feel that one must remember that ‘privilege’ and ‘identity’ are distinct concepts and resist their conflation, both in the case of ‘transgender’ and ‘transracial’ identities / identity-claims. Indeed, gender is so crossed and constituted by class and race that many cis men might end up having less privilege than elite cis and trans women; and even cis maleness is not always a privilege in itself (as in the case of Black masculinity, often persecuted as a threat and enslaved through the US carceral complex). All to say that ‘privilege’ and ‘identity’ (social or personal) aren’t linearly correlated in any case, and thus, one can neither adjudicate identity claims based on privilege, nor dismiss mentions or critiques of gender privilege as being transmisogynist in and of themselves (unless one overgeneralizes and gaslights trans experiences of oppression, as Adichie did).
  2. As Tuvel has pointed out, several black/POC and trans scholars have taken complex positions on the question of transracial identity, and people like Kai M. Green and Adolph Reed Jr. have even taken sympathetic stances that inform my own argument in the previous paragraph. Though Reed’s argument, in particular, has problems such as biologically essentializing Jenner at some points, he makes a strong case for the privilege-identity distinction (he doesn’t exactly use that phrase), effectively arguing that one can’t dissociate Jenner’s womanhood from her (erstwhile) male privilege and politics, but the same time hold Dolezal to a rigid notion of white identity. Ultimately, these scholars underline the futility and impossibility of adjudicating ontological identity claims of any sort, and argue that one should rather focus on politics and actions – what one ‘does’ from any given positionality rather than what one ‘really is’. In that regard, as Green argues, the transracial-transgender analogy cannot simply be dismissed in entirety, and trans-POC stances on this issue can’t be essentialized in the ways they often have been in social media discussions during the Tuvel episode.
  3. This brings me more specifically to the Tuvel article: I agree that it is simplistic and problematic on several fronts, and especially fell short in its understanding of trans issues. As critiques point out, it reduces trans identities to a medical-surgical model of transitioning to another “sex” and ignores the trans-GNC critique of sex assignment (using phrases like ‘biological sex’ and ‘male genitalia’); further, it admittedly ignores non-binary subjectivities or practices, makes the sexed body the basis for both cis and trans identity, etc. Ideally none of this should have made past peer review, but these are far wider problems with entire biomedical discourses of transsexuality and are replicated across many academic disciplines, and even in some trans activism, rather than just this article in itself, and her article is not fundamentally making claims on trans identity anyway so they do not necessarily invalidate her main argument (which could still be critiqued, but that is a separate question). Her ‘deadnaming’ of Caitlyn Jenner – which she has apologized for – is again problematic but not reducible to the deadnaming of trans people in general, given that she mentioned the name specifically as a former appellation and not current description (which Jenner herself does on occasion, too), and also that Jenner’s past public identity and associated privileges are already very well known and hardly amount to violent exposure as such. Thus, to make the argument that the very existence or citation of this article amounts to ‘harm’ or violence against trans people and POC (as the open letter to Hypatia implies), to my mind, trivializes the concept of harm / violence and exaggerates the implications of Tuvel’s article (and inflates the importance and impact of paywalled academic articles in general). While I agree Hypatia and Tuvel should be held accountable to higher scholarly and ethical standards, I am uncomfortable with the scapegoating of this particular article and this (pre-tenure) scholar, sometimes by more powerful and institutionally recognized scholars, for much wider systemic issues that she did not initiate and which will not end with the retraction of any one (or multiple) articles. I also agree with critiques that Tuvel should have engaged more with TOC-WOC scholarship, but again this is a more systemic problem with (even feminist) philosophy and similar disciplines, and I wonder how many other Hypatia articles that deal with race in some form would fare on this count.
  4. Also, specifically responding to a public post by a colleague, the Tuvel piece has been accused of managerial whiteness and the violence of abstracting and controlling differences, deciding which differences are equivalent or not, etc. I do appreciate and agree with the argument that philosophy, and academic theorization more broadly, is often guilty of managerial violence and the violence of abstracting differences over material bodies and experiences that theorizers don’t inhabit or share. But again, it seems to be a stretch to zero in on Tuvel’s article as a particularly egregious example of a much wider systemic trend – especially given that she does not make a claim on anyone’s identity per se, nor lay out a cartography of valid / invalid identities, but rather, makes a more specific argument about the potential validity of transracialism as a phenomenon (which one could, of course, disagree with), in the face of widespread dismissals of the same. Further, we have to account for ways that many of us in academia are complicit with the violences of managerialism and abstraction even as we might be aware of and endeavor to work against material violence – for example, analysis or theorization of necropolitics and biopolitics (which I have myself done, among many others), is often literally enabled by the violences perpetrated on trans-GNC bodies, even as it lands us prestigious publications and helps us in the path towards tenure. “POC” scholars (such as myself) who follow the same academic-professional trajectories as whites, even if with more hurdles, are no less complicit in the governmental, biopolitical, managerial structures of academia and of academic knowledge production than anyone else. Further, queer-trans academics and activists – white and POC – have often made *careers* out of abstracting differences and laying out cartographies of identity and terminology. Moving beyond the aforementioned post, the general dismissal of ‘transgenderism’ as a potentially valid usage during the Tuvel episode is nothing if not a manifestation of such managerialism, abstraction and universalism – US scholars, many of them white, deciding for all of us which terms for gender-variance are politically+academically acceptable and which are not (even though white trans activists like Serano have themselves argued in favor of non-pejorative uses of ‘transgenderism’ as a term, as Tuvel points out). Many of my trans-kothi-hijra friends and sisters in India regularly use terms like ‘shemale’, ‘cross-dresser’, ‘transvestite’, etc. that are commonly outlawed in US trans activist-academic discourse. What are these tendencies if not managerialism and white / US-POC saviourism in the guise of protecting trans people from epistemic-linguistic violence, given that such attempts can invalidate people’s self-descriptions and alternative meanings? That a cis white ‘outsider’ scholar is being targeted in this particular case does not undo the wider potential ramifications of such attempts.
  5. Last but not least, moving beyond the specific Tuvel case, it seems important to introspect about why many of us (POC or not) have such a gut reaction to ‘transracialism’, racial self-determination and the analogy between racial & gender identity, while gender self-determination seems to be much easier to accept (even Adichie who generalizes male privilege onto all trans women seems to accept some degree of gender self-determination). Going by my preliminary and not entirely fleshed-out train of thoughts, part of it may have to do with the different ways in which ‘race’ and ‘gender’ are socially constructed, and these differences need to be interrogated more than they have been in recent debates. Broadly speaking, there is a relentless social demand that ‘gender’ be personalized and interiorized. Both conventional cisgender and more trans-inclusive epistemologies of gender (especially in the West) *demand* that we associate gendered embodiments, expressions, behaviors, words / terms, with a deeply *interior* identity (recalling the argument that Foucault famously makes about sexuality) – our gendered actions or embodiments must *mean* something in terms of the ontology of our inner selves, must correspond with a deeply held personal identity (even if that is genderqueer or fluid or agender, inasmuch as these are ‘identities’). Much of our hard-won struggles against biological essentialism and for gender self-determination often remain imbricated in this potentially oppressive ideology, being in some sense the obverse of the cissexist idea that social sex assignment ‘naturally’ corresponds to a gendered essence (inasmuch as an avowal of gender as a deep personal identity becomes the logic for social recognition). ‘Race’, in contrast, is etymologically linked with ideas of common descent and collective lineage, deriving from one’s position within a collective rather than a deeply held personal identity (indeed, US post-racial ideology asks us to [pretend to] forget that race matters for individual identification or social position). To my mind, this contrast between the personalization+interiorization of gender and the collectivization of race seems to be one of the underlying reasons for the discomfort with transracialism and the race-gender analogy. Regardless of the validity or otherwise of transracialism as a ‘real’ phenomenon, it ties us to the oppressive generalization of gender as an inevitable personal essence that all of us must ‘own up to’, in contradistinction to race or ethnicity that are assigned to us or derive from our collective social position. Inasmuch as many of us remain invested in and derive pleasure and validation from personal or ontological identification, I am not, of course, asking for ‘doing away’ with the concept of gender identity as per liberal humanist or TERF arguments. Rather, it is perhaps possible to bracket the question of personal identity in discussions of material differences, social positions and privileges, so as to enable the critique of social hierarchies and individual complicity in power structures, without needing to resort to an adjudication of identity through some external calculus or logic, or the attempt to fix an ontology that we can never really know (whether in the case of race or gender).

Treva Carrie:

this hypatia sitch. lordt.
 i’d like, in fact LOVE, to entertain and act on the idea that academic writing can and does do immense harm to people and communities.
but can we go all witch trials on someone good like George Kelling or all the Ivy league economists and mathematicians that created the financial instruments that facilitated the 2007 financial crisis?
or the inventors of predictive / algorithmic policing or the assholes who are still trying to make that hot weather and crime argument stick?

or if we’re feeling to need to cannibalize, I’d settle for going for someone like a Skip Gates, with his optimism for the molecularization race, his celebration of Linnean racist world geographies (find your roots, lose your healthcare!), or at least getting hyphy on the resurgence of retrograde cultural nationalism within critical race theory/theories of blackness?

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 but Becky with the controversial argument?  ::yaaaaaawwwn::
Talia Mae Bettcher:

 I want to share my thoughts about the Hypatia controversy. But, I want to be clear that this controversy comes at a time of deep personal crisis on the home-front. This has meant that I have not had the time to process the Hypatia controversy as quickly as I would have liked. It also means that it has been considerably less important to me.

When I signed off on the letter to Hypatia, I didn’t agree with every point that was made. But I agreed with the spirit. For me, the chief concern (aside from the gratuitous “deadnaming” which should have been caught) is the following. It’s not merely that the article does not engage sufficiently with the relevant literature. It’s that while it explores both transness and blackness, it fails to adopt a framework that would centralize transness and blackness as loci of oppression and resistance.  And it fails to provide any evidence that the author reflected upon her subject position.  When non-trans people do trans philosophy, for example, they need to ask questions about their subject position – who are they are relation to oppression? What are their motivations in writing about the trans-related topics? What do they hope to gain? For me, the problem with the article is that there was no evidence of any interrogated subject position, largely because there is no real centralization of transness and blackness as modalities of oppression and resistance in analysis which would require such an interrogation. (If there were, I believe that results of the analysis would have been different).  Simply consider the fact that the author felt it completely appropriate to consider whether Dolezel could call herself black without asking questions about who she was and how she was positioned in asking such questions.
One way to put this is to say, evoking Stryker’s distinction, that while the article examines trans phenomena, it does not rise to the level of trans studies. After all, trans people have long been the objects of investigation. But to do trans studies (and trans philosophy) is to centralize the existence of trans oppression/resistance as a starting point. It is to recognize that trans people have long been curious objects, puzzles, tropes, and discursive levers on the way to somebody else’s agenda. It is to take seriously the idea that trans people can theorize their own experience while negotiating dangerous terrain.  To take part in such a project, as a non-trans person, requires careful reflection upon one’s own political power, one’s own epistemic limitations, and one’s stakes. To ignore all of this and to simply examine trans people on that way to securing some sort of agenda, is of course, to engage in a scholarship that leaves out the voices and the stakes of trans people.
But let’s be clear. This is hardly new. And I think it is important to place the Tuvel’s work within this broader context so that she is not selectively targeted. So many articles in feminist philosophy have been published that, on the whole, simply ignore the existence of trans oppression/resistance in ways that would have mattered. Definitions of ‘womanhood,’ for example, are laid down that implicitly exclude trans women or that take up the issue in ways that are deeply problematic from a trans political perspective. And those articles that do discuss trans issues in depth often fail to embrace the existence of trans oppression/resistance as a central organizing principle – as a core part of the analytic lens. If they had been held to the standard that we are asking for now, they would have never been published at all. This isn’t about Tuvel’s work, then. Her approach to trans issues is not new. This is clearly about feminist philosophy in general.
What is new is the fact that trans philosophy has come into its own.
I’m an old-timer. I was a graduate student when trans studies first began back in the nineties. I have been trying to do trans philosophy within and without professional philosophy for quite some time. When I first began publishing in trans studies there were very few trans people doing work in trans philosophy at all. It was a different time. I was speaking to an old sociologist friend of mine the other day about the controversy. She expressed some discomfort with the intense reaction to the publication of Tuvel’s article. It’s not as if this was J. Michael Bailey, she said! (We had worked together on a response to Bailey’s presentation of his work at UCLA many, many years ago). And it’s true. This is simply not comparable to hostile scholarship of that type.
As I worked, I also saw that some of the work being produced by non-trans people on trans issues were “off.” In part because I felt so isolated, I simply decided, either rightly or wrongly, to do my own work rather than engaging. If I didn’t do this work, who would? By now it’s clear, however, that trans philosophy has come of age. Trans philosophy is happening. And that means that it is imperative for (non-trans) feminist philosophers to ask themselves to what degree they recognize the existence of trans oppression/resistance in their analyses at all and to what degree they understand themselves within that framework. Is it okay to philosophize about trans people without doing trans philosophy? If it’s not, then what does that mean not only for Hypatia, but for feminist philosophy in general?
While this controversy may mark the coming of age of trans philosophy, it is also a bitter reminder of the continuous failure of many white feminist philosophers to centralize racist oppression in their analyses of not only gender, but race itself. After all, critical race theory/philosophy has be around since at least the eighties. These points have been time and again by feminists of color and yet the changes in (white) feminist philosophy have been breathtaking in their meagerness. Not getting the point by getting lost in the theory. Dear Trans* People (especially we white ones): If you think there’s going to be some huge change now, please prepare for disappointment.
All of this said, I care about Hypatia and I care about feminist philosophy. No doubt, different people have had different experiences with Hypatia. But mine have been positive. At time that I wrote “Evil Deceivers,” I doubt that there was any other venue in philosophy for publishing this type of work all. But Hypatia provided me with thoughtful and constructive feedback for improving the paper. And they provided me with this venue. They even went on to do a special issue on trans feminism. Because of this, my shift from my work in modern philosophy into trans philosophy became possible. Hypatia’s support of my work even played an important role in my getting tenure.
There are not many journals like Hypatia in philosophy. And I’m glad that it exists. And if (it’s a BIG if) we’re at all interested in doing work in professional philosophy, then we need journals like Hypatia. But this also means that we need Hypatia to hold itself to standards that are different from mainstream philosophy, standards that mainstream philosophers may not even understand. This puts Hypatia in a highly fraught position. On the one hand, it needs to be the kind of journal that secures reputability within the profession of philosophy. This is crucial in helping junior professors who do work at the margins be taken seriously. On the other hand, it can’t merely replicate the standards of reputability with the profession without annihilating its reason for existence.  Of course, this is precisely the dilemma that all of us who work at the margins face. It’s one of the many double-binds that characterize work at the margins.
All of this is underwritten by the deep intermeshing of oppressions. A journal that expressly takes up a single issues (feminism) is going to be compromised from the get-go. While work may be done to include other forms of oppression and to embrace an intersectional perspective, the very starting point inevitably yields a kind of distortion. Again, as anyone who tries to think intersectionally knows, their work will invariably have this same distortion. This is something that we work against. But it is also something that we, to some degree or other, fail at achieving. It’s the nature of the beast.
I don’t say any of this to excuse Hypatia for what happened. But I do think it is important to frame the issue within the larger context of a shared struggle in “doing philosophy” at the margins and to recognize the treacherous ground on which we attempt to work.
There needs to be accountability. We need to hear something from the Editor of Hypatia. And there needs to be the real work of finding a way to improve the review process that both holds to the appropriate standards without burdening trans people and people of color. This work needs to begin soon. But I do think that there are larger issues at stake.
This has been a painful time. Sea-changes of the type often are. And the fact that most of the discussion has occurred on social media has only made matters worse. I’m not a fan. I wonder if there’s a way to have a real conversation, face-to-face. I don’t even know whether that would be productive. But it would be better than what’s happening. The issues here are important. The changes here are important. And there needs to be something more than blogging and FB updates. Could there be an organized event/discussion to come out of this? And if so, what would that look like?
Lisa Guenther:

Over the past few days, I have posted a few thoughts about accountability.  A close friend (and a few strangers) have challenged me to account for gaps and failures in my own scholarship as a feminist philosopher, and for my responsibilities as a mentor to past and current graduate students.

Let’s start with my own scholarship.  My book on solitary confinement doesn’t engage _at all_ with the fact that queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming people, and also people with disabilities and mental illness, are subject to outrageously high rates of police surveillance, incarceration, and solitary confinement.  Nor do I develop an analysis of the way gender or class shape carceral systems, or the intertwining of gender, sexuality, ability, race and class.  While writing the book, I did my best to engage with the perspectives, analyses, and testimonies of people who have survived solitary confinement, and those who have been crushed by it.  But I myself have never been incarcerated, and the people who are closest to me – my family, close friends, and loved ones – are not, by and large, targeted by carceral power.  My life was not torn upside down from one day to the next by an encounter with the police, or the arrest of a loved one.  I still stand behind the book, but it has many flaws, gaps, and silences that I would want to address if I were writing it now, and that I would probably critique in a peer review process.  I’m thankful for criticism of the book, even when it’s painful or difficult to hear, and even though there’s nothing I can do to un-write the book.
But I have never had to contend with personal attacks or insults about my work or calls for retraction, and I don’t want to underestimate the very different kind of pain that this inflicts on a person.  And I want to express my admiration for those who have been supporting Rebecca Tuvel as a person throughout the past week.  I want to apologize to her personally for any pain I caused by signing the open letter requesting retraction, especially given that I was a member of her dissertation committee.  I did not sign the letter lightly, and I do not consider the call for retraction a personal attack.  The letter was addressed to Hypatia as a journal, and I continue to see it as a demand for accountability, made in a very intense, fraught moment, in an effort to stand in solidarity _with_ and _as_ black (and) trans feminist thinkers whose scholarship was marginalized in this article, but not only in this article.
So in the same moment that we condemn personal attacks, I think it’s absolutely vital for us, as a community of feminist philosophers, not to conflate personal attacks with substantive critique, and not to silence black and trans critics of Tuvel’s article by dismissing the critical response as a mob of haters who didn’t even read the article.  Structural inequalities in power and authority compound vulnerability.  White feminists can and have deployed our own vulnerability as a weapon against others whose position is more precarious than our own.  I say “we” here because I want to be clear that this is something I am deeply implicated in, and also because I want to participate in what will no doubt be a long and fraught process of abolishing white feminism and committing to a practice of feminist philosophy that is creative, responsible, and liberatory.

“The Asian was told to leave. He was given an explanation. Nevertheless, he persisted. So he had to be carried out on a stretcher.”

16 Apr

On Compliance, Complicity, and Beating Up Asian America.

By Eng-Beng Lim

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For Asian Americans and other professional elites of color who think their class privilege or “whiteness” protects them from the racialized brunt of U.S.-America’s corporate-nationalist wrath, the bloody “re-accommodation” of 69-year-old Vietnamese American doctor, David Dao, on an allegedly overbooked United Airlines (UA) flight might be their “get woke” moment. Just to be clear, it involves police and neoliberal capitalist terror, corporate bullying, and Asian shaming. Dr Dao sustained “a broken nose, a concussion, two knocked out teeth and sinus problems that may require reconstructive surgery.” All for refusing to vacate his seat to accommodate UA’s administrative inefficiency.

But “getting woke” may depend on your level of subscription in the club of denial and complicity. Those with premier benefits might find it hard to relinquish their bad love. For denial has its own rewards, and complicity its wanton rationalization and even perfume.

Membership, afterall, has its privileges. What exactly is the cost of your membership’s privileges? Who is paying the price for your preferred status and clubby jaunt?

“Re-accommodation” is a term used by UA CEO, Oscar Munoz to characterize the forced extraction of seated passengers “randomly” selected by the computer to make space for four crew members. They had to catch a connecting flight that would otherwise be understaffed, delayed or canceled. The flight in question was not overbooked or oversold, as airlines officials originally claimed. That few if anyone is picking on this lie only shows our level of compliance with the fungible language of bureaucratic corporate procedure. We are so inured to gaslighting and alternative truth that a white lie is a just white lie (switch the color and you are most definitely a liar). Let’s give companies and the men who run them the benefit of doubt, and beat the crap out of consumers who do not comply.

Dr Dao was illegally ejected from the plane in violation of 14 CFR 250.2a. that prohibits giving preference to airlines employees over paying customers, especially if they have already been seated. Part of the dispute will hang on whether the employees who are considered “must-ride passengers” can unseat paying customers on a full flight. But it does not get to the spectacular violence against the doctor, and the seemingly inexplicable assault on the American consumer and Asian America. To sort out this mess, let’s start with a quick recap of the world we live in, and an earnest question:

Could it be that the corporatization of the Senate and the vindictiveness of male-centered egos exemplified by conservative and rightwing ideologues like Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and their cabal of mediocre apparatchiks, naysayers, white supremacists, 1 percenters and security thugs now go hand in hand with the thuggery of state-sanctioned oligopolies like UA that operate as their armed, air travel functionary disguised as service?

A nation’s divisions, arrogance and toxicity do not just spring out of nowhere. Their escalation has been facilitated by ultraconservative white supremacist rancor and gaslighting running the spectrum of racism/xenophobia, anti-gay/misogyny, anti-refugee/Islamaphobia. It’s almost mechanical at this point. But that we should entertain the idea that gaslighters are outraged that their crimes are “leaked” to the press rather than being outraged at their crimes is a real kicker. It is a rich ethical perversion that gives perversion a bad name. The vacuous shorthand, “a nation divided,” only compresses the deniability of those who start wars and fires by demagoguery or political poison. Enter the Bully-in-Chief with explicit instructions for his devotees and initiads, which include white nationalist groups:

“Knock the crap out of him, would you? Seriously.”

“I’d like to punch them in the face, I tell you, would you?”

“I love the old days. Do you know what they used to do to guys like that in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”

More than just Trump’s expressive nastiness at his rallies, these opportunistic incitements to violence have a long history in U.S-American nationalist bravura, machismo, belligerence, imperialism and gun culture. But as corporate performatives, it is virtually unheard of unless we examine the violent deeds of corporations as the very enactment of these words.

Yes, those are exactly the words that UA is saying to Dr. Dao who is carried out on a stretcher, and by extension to Asian/America. You know, the time when Asian exceptionalism means you can be legally discriminated against because the law does not apply to you – the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Japanese incarceration camp, just to name two – or, clobbered to death with impunity (Vincent Chin RIP).

Regarding Trump’s incitement to violence, multiple lawsuits filed against him state how “black residents were brutally attacked by a white mob,” including a plaintiff who was “kicked, choked, shoved, punched, scratched and referred to as nearly every racial slur known.” Though the racial violence is specific and contextual, the abuse is also generalizable of Trump’s treatment of African Americans, especially powerful black women like Susan Rice, Maxine Waters and April Ryan. The intersection of race, violence and corporations that has fueled Trump’s business empire and the rise of his despicable Presidential persona is also at the heart of UA’s treatment of Dr Dao.

To put it plainly, it’s about corporations punching people in their faces, sometimes without them knowing because it’s in the gut so to speak, and sometimes in the flesh, knocking them out senseless. The continuing fetishization of choice in this regard is laughable to say the least. Trump’s response to the incident is for airlines to increase the compensation for bumping passengers off the aircraft as if that would create more access and equality for air travel. And lo and behold, United has quickly announced an upper ceiling of 10k for those bumped out of their seats in the future. That is the solution? Some people are excited about how this is an enticing option to game the system. Who do you think will benefit from? The Dr Daos of the world or those “in the club”?

Let’s put it this way, you may think you are choosing or benefiting freely as a consumer but you have no say about the options from which you choose, and how you are treated in practice. When the options are lousy, they are lousier for those at the bottom whether it is U.S. air travel, healthcare or the school system. They are about creating insufferable conditions for the majority so that the super-privileged who can afford Platinum-level service can take up ever more space and resources just because they can. Because corporate entities love revenues more than anything else. Does this sound like a bloviating cheeto-maniac sucking up all the oxygen in the room, and making everyone parse his gibberish just because he can? That’s the kind of treatment we’re being trained to accept from POTUS Inc. which hails from the neoliberal business world where such disciplinary technique, from Walmart to Wall Street, is justified in the name of financializing everything. Cheap prices and ruthless profits rule the day.

Dr Gao’s plea, “I want to go home, I want to go home” resonates in this echo chamber of hell like a desperate, lonely cry in the woods. Like a bad Hollywood movie where a hero played by Harrison Ford/Liam Neeson/Tom Cruise enters an altered realm of reality where he is met by violence and punishment disguised as law enforcement, Dr. Dao found himself stranded in the limbo of the oversold flight. But while the white Alpha male Hollywood hero is always right and always vindicated, Dr. Dao was knocked unconscious for his efforts on behalf of righteousness and dragged unceremoniously from his seat.

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He was told to leave “politely” but he refused as a consumer who paid for his seat. He was given an explanation about how “we [United] have a number of customers on board that aircraft, and they want to get to their destination on time and safely, and we want to work to get them there.” No explanation was given as to why he was not one of the customers that UA wants to get to “their destination on time and safely.”

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Nevertheless, the Asian doctor persisted in defiance of his extraordinary exclusion from the airline’s articulated customer base. So the airlines summoned the full force of airport security, including the Chicago Department of Aviation and Chicago Police Department whose officer promptly smashed his face, rendered him senseless, and eventually carried him out on a stretcher with blood oozing out of his mouth. All the doctor could say in the end was, “Just kill me now.”

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Now imagine Senator Elizabeth Warren being carried out on a stretcher for refusing to abide by Mitch McConnell’s controversial rebuke to silence her during the nomination debate about Jeff Session as U.S Attorney General. Or, for that matter, citizen Warren being dragged out like a rag doll through the aisle, her hair disheveled, and her glasses askew on her face as she is rendered incoherent. All because she refused to shut up or give up her seat. Not so long ago, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted”?

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For those who missed this political theater, Warren had sought to read Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter regarding Sessions’s discrimination against black voters. The meme that went viral encapsulated the public’s response to the blatant sexism of the Senate that voted 49-43 along party lines to shut her up. Degrees of indignity aside, the different scales of violence tell a story of how gender and race are inflected by notions of privilege and proprietary that shape our political and social sympathies. It would be unacceptable for Senator or even Citizen Warren to be taken out the way the body of the limp and anonymous Asian doctor was treated. In fact, the discomfort of witnessing the Asian American doctor’s infantilization and breakdown struck such a raw nerve that reports have eschewed the racial spectacle unfolding before our eyes. He was some Asian man, maybe a doctor, no one was sure, and many commentators cast doubt about him being a doctor at all based, presumably on the way he looks.

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In a sign of the times, a doctor standing his ground on a humanitarian appeal (he had patients to meet the next day) was of no consequence to UA in Trump’s nation where self-serving corporate prerogatives come first. There is a lot more to be said about the terrible entanglements of corporate personhood, profit, policing, and biopolitical regulation. Suffice to say, Dr. Dao’s treatment is not exceptional in the context of ubiquitous bullying and killing across the country. They are only intensifying under the toxic charge of Trump’s administration. It is no coincidence that the vast majority of those being bullied or killed are folks with names like Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Danny Chen, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, Isabella Cornell and David Dao.

We might return to take a closer look at the scene where Dr Dao is carried out on a stretcher with blood oozing out of his mouth, and notice this time a different set of actors laughing in the fuzzy background: Team Agent Orange oligarchs, politicos and airlines executives feasting on their bloodied meat. We might add Dr Dao to the names of those who are targeted for harassment and even gunned down because they refuse (or are perceived to be refusing) to comply with bogus rules, corporate prerogatives, heteronormative policing, and white nationalism. The violence produced at the systemic level between colluding regimes and corporations are enduring and far-reaching.

To what extent is complicity – “the state of being an accomplice; partnership or involvement in wrongdoing” – and especially the complicity of cluelessness, detachment or apathy an alibi of colluding forces? Now more than ever, raising questions about complicity’s new faces is also a crucial inquiry about our moral and ethical coordinates as an American, witness, neighbor, ally and friend not only in the U.S. but around the world.

The satirical jokesters at Saturday Night Live suggest that in Trump Nation, complicity is a political pathology for sale in a seductive package. Their metaphor is a bottle of perfume. In an episode that indicts Ivanka Trump for her foxy agendas, Scarlett Johansson’s hyperbolic portrayal of Ivanka vamping it up for a line of perfume makes clear the businesswoman’s product placement comes before the public office she holds (to everyone’s incredulity). One can only wish the public’s wishful projection for Ivanka to be the progressive women’s voice ought to have ended in a recent television interview where she declared, “I don’t know what it means to be complicit.”

Complicity Perfume

Complicity’s feminine two-face (Johansson is herself accused of being complicit in Israeli settler colonialism for defending Sodastream’s factory as legitimate in the illegal settlement on the West Bank) blurs the good and the bad with no commentary on women’s participation in compulsory whiteness, colonial violence and clueless privilege. What looks good and desirable, like Ivanka or the perfume, might help to obfuscate what is making the lives of the disenfranchised even more miserable.

It is nonetheless a club that draws many members, including bourgeois apologists of color, other white liberal allies, and the pinkwashing homo-matrimonial types who want to smell nice. Everyone in this club is trained to love an arsenal of amnesia-inducing denials and blindspots: “I cannot see what you see,” “It doesn’t rise up to that,” “I need more information,” “They did nothing wrong,” “He was belligerent,” “He’s an illegal,” “Who cares?”

To be complicit is to approve the collusion of corrupt power, money, and imperial projects. It is to give your tacit approval of using violence, harassment and assault on people to protect corporate mandates and personhoods, the belligerent police-military state, and colonial whiteness at all cost. The stakes are higher as bombs matching the egos of a bumbling and bloviating team in the White House are being detonated in Syria and Afghanistan to legitimize their violent and morally bankrupt worldview. To speak out as many did on the plane where Dr Dao was assaulted is to reject the normalization of complicity as our moral code.

As we bear witness to the return of an angry U.S. police-military state and the increasingly swampy topography of corporate malfeasance and assault, how many of us will turn a blind eye or do nothing at all?. How many of us will be caught in the victim-blaming, smear campaign against the next “Dr Dao,” or be bought off by the new 10k reward for bumping off passengers?

Do people care? Over 240,000 comments and 550 million views are recorded a day after Dr Dao’s assault on China’s Weibo (the equivalent of Twitter), not counting the millions of views on related YouTube videos. United Airlines’s share price has dropped, and calls to boycott the airline are stronger than ever. So, yes, people do care and they make a difference.

The centrality of the question of complicity tells us we are desperately, urgently needing a salvageable moral and ethical position to live and to flourish in Trump’s America. This is an America where witnessing violence against a neighbor seems to have become a sport, where apathy and cluelessness are quickly becoming the new alibis of complicity. It gives new meaning to sitting tight with privilege in the face of trouble, and sometimes a face says it all:

Calm Guy As Asian Doctor Screams

Screenshot of a widely circulated video of an unidentified man sitting calmly as Dr. Dao screamed in the background.