Tag Archives: feminism

Weigel/Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating

Marxism is Feminism, and vice versa. Or at least these two strands have been coupled for so long that the difference between them, while not negligible, is still pretty minor. This can range from the second wave (the 1970s and 80s), with a range of thought and action from the university to the home to the picket line, and the almost atomic level betwixt genders. Feminism suffered the ignominy of quote unquote post feminism (along with the rest of post modern dreck of the 90s, the worst, most nothing decade of the 20th Century), but thankfully we’ve moved on. And Marxism/socialism, and its attendant targets, are back on the table.

This is where delightful books like Labor of Love fall into – a space that’s removed from the university, and still further removed removed from orthodox feminism, into a frank, engaging, but still essentially socialist take on dating. Dating, that most commonplace activity that the modern romantic comedy is built on, is taken through a historical lens, in a manner that’s intelligent, entertaining, and somehow almost grassroots in its’ Marxist feminist focus. Moira Weigel is not writing a dissertation here, and this topic isn’t some weighty piece on dialectics, but she isn’t writing a popcorn book either. This is a fascinating look at dating from a vantage point that’s largely left unspoken in pop culture.

Specifically, that vantage point is materialism – concrete money or resources. Weigel deftly looks at the industry of dating, from its beginnings at the end of the 19th Century – when police could and frequently did arrest daters and “Charity girls” for prostitution, up through its acceptance and the codification of the usual double standards that lie behind gender relations, and into the wide world of today, where things are even less clear than ever. Money and labor – the sheer costs involved in pursuing and maintaining a relationship – are what’s at stake, and misogyny, the patriarchy that buys and sells life as we know it is never far away.

Misogyny today is perhaps best embodied by the usual veiled threats of women getting pregnant before she’s forty (and with all that statement is based on – namely a genetic imperative that women are slaves to, no matter what those damn “libbers” say or do) and its that low view of women that is still deeply embedded in the dating conversation. And Weigel brings up that modern conversation, literally and figuratively, throughout Labor of Love. This makes the entire text approachable and engaging, to say nothing of the almost universal human aspect of dating itself.

This combination of intelligence, analytical clarity, and A SENSE OF HUMOR make the books’ hard truths easier to bear. Even as one reads the saga of how we ended up with an entire industry which is based on desire yet somehow manages to avoid being called prostitution, the reader is drawn in and hypnotized by her very human treatment of the subject.

The Marxist/Feminists excel at this sort of organic, unorthodox (but still resolutely Marxist/feminist) take on (often pop/cultural) subjects, subjects which are treated with far too much frivolity. This is a sweeping look at the process of dating and mating which revealed considerable truth while at the same time had me shouting “Yes! Exactly!” And honestly, Marxism, as it is entwined with radical feminism, needs to gain better, more concrete understanding of specific practices like the dating industry, beyond mere dialectical materialist theory. It needs to understand what materialism we’re facing. Labor of Love tackles this admirably.

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Creepy male “journalists”, word wank, and judging women by appearance while wearing a Rush tour t-shirt

Happy Christmas! Behold, misogyny combined with the worst writing this side of Twilight!

It all started when a certain sack of old balls named Owen Gleiberman (gee, I hope I’m spelling his name correctly, but if I’m not, there is absolutely no loss – the douche nozzle deserves anonymity) wrote an article opining that, as it had been 15 years between Bridget Jones movies, and as Renee Zellwegger looked different because of time and reality and stuff, was she the same person?
The mind reels.
Do you think Woody Harrelson, Al Pacino, Paul Newman, Robert Redford and every other male actor who has ever existed MAGICALLY TURNED INTO WOOD SPRITES WHEN THEY GOT KINDA OLDER? How about when certain male actors deliberately went after a different physical image? Did De Niro convert to Islam after he gained weight for Raging Bull? Are Russel Crowe, Edward Norton, and Patrick Stewart a bunch of neo-nazis because they appeared onscreen with scary tattoos?
Then some masturbatory word-jizz came down the pipe when a failed writer (of the now-cancelled, Martin Scorsese sponsored TV show Vinyl) wrote some claptrap personal profile of the Australian actress, Margot Robbie. To wit:
Inline image 1
It goes on and on. This is sadly par for the course whenever some male writer needs to throw together some bullshit under a deadline when he a) has no idea who the person was, and b) had nothing to say on his own. And so, you have pasty white creepy middle aged, middle class Elmer Fudds writing weirdly proprietorial articles on women who are several LIGHT YEARS out of their league, who normally wouldn’t waste their piss on these writers if they were on fire. Whenever some asshole male writer starts focusing on the physical attributes of a woman, ALWAYS investigate what Rico Suave looks like himself. Then post those lovely, sexy shots of music critic lotharios somewhere public – if anyone deserves to be outed, if words have to be raised in defense when anyone is dismissed/judged solely by the incredibly arbitrary standards of personal attractiveness, hypocrite misogynist assholes are an excellent place to start.
A number of people (beyond lunatics such as myself) aren’t taking this shit as a given anymore – as I’ve said a million times before, we are living in a nouvelle vague of feminism, particularly in light of the atrocity which took place in the States a month ago. Clinton may have barely lost, and she may not have been as representative of Women (or those identifying as women) as others, but the feeling remains in the air, and this oppositional attitude will continue in the face of reaction.
Not only are female actors, writers, artists, and everyone else that contributes to the cultural conversation taking a stand against the kind of bigotry that can be found from sea to shining sea (from dog-mud Twitter eggs to Vanity Fair writers and their lax editors), these first responders are no longer doing so alone. That inane competition which seems to govern (and I do mean govern) the entertainment industry, and which fractures and divides those who should be allies, is being left to one side in the name of survival and solidarity. Most people don’t use my language, and would consider me a radical relic, but their actions are nevertheless the same. We use different words – that’s all.
Anyway, for a much funnier look at this stupidity, and the manner in which drooling male journo-bots with nothing to say and the retarded articles they produce (including the Robbie article, which describes Australia as “America fifty years ago”) see –  http://tinyurl.com/hjhjcwv
 
Do yourself a favor and watch something like Born In Flames or the new season of Crazy Ex Girlfriend (which has lasted a lot longer than fucking Vinyl or Roadies  or the other tributes to the male wannabe rockstar), or check out Take My Wife, an amazing new TV show which is about the trials and tribulations of a lesbian comedy duo who are also married (both on the show and in real life).  Or listen to Rhea Butcher’s very rad comedy album, imaginatively entitled Butcher. Or, I don’t know, find out where any given male writer for dinosaur publications like Variety or Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair, and kick his balls in, while mocking his appearance. It may not change the world, but the visual image of dozens of fortysomething “journalists” rolling around on the ground and gripping their nuts makes me laugh and laugh.
 
 
Ho Ho Ho!

Rebel Lives: Louise Michel/Edited by Nic Maclellan

IT’S NOT WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH IF YOU STUDY FEMINIST HISTORY EVERY DAY.

Ahem. On with the show.

There are truly few books written in English about the Paris Commune, the world’s first (and short lived) radical democracy. I’ve written a few reviews that dealt with the Commune, but sadly I believe I have missed the human element, the actual face of the Commune. I intend to redress that fact with a bizarre “biography”(?) of Louise Michel, one of the firebrands of the Commune, dedicated feminist, and anarchist.

Michel has been declared a heroine for (and therefore property of) socialists, anarchists, and even liberal democrats; the same process has unfortunately been shared by other radicals such as Rosa Luxembourg, Victor Serge, and Bertolt Brecht. It shouldn’t be that difficult to understand that some people are just good people, above and beyond political schematics. Rebel Lives‘ strange bio reflects that basic truth.

When I say “strange”, it is because this bio is actually a handful of printed material either written by Michel herself, or more general commentary of the Paris Commune. And this polyglot works – the reader gets the sense of who Michel might have been from this kaleidoscope of differing writings.

Michel was largely responsible for setting up women’s committees during the siege of Paris by Versailles’s reactionary army. Michel made sure that women shared the work, and physically defend the city, as much as their male counterparts. Michel raised the consciousness of every woman she met, due to her egalitarian values and the belief that men (capitalists etc) were largely responsible for the evils that plagued women. She wanted equality in the Commune, and she was largely successful at this.

It should be noted that as Michel was a loud and proud anarchist, some of the commentary in this bio unfortunately emanate from armchair anarchists. The latter really don’t care for Marxists, or socialists, or anybody that’s not them, and this vanguard sensibility comes across in the articles; jabs are continually made against those gosh-darned Reds, despite the complete lack of spite generated towards said anarchists. It’s a little petty, and it does take away from the sheer amount of work and progressive politics that Michel represented.

A word should be made about the period after the fall of the Commune: Michel demanded to be tried in court, out of camaraderie with her fellow fighters.. She spent 8 years in external deportation, and upon returning to Paris, she continued rabble-rousing and raising hell. Michel stood stock-still in the court rooms of France, willing to die (and become a martyr) for the left. She remained stalwart until her death.

This is a volume for feminists, in case they were curious about what kind of hell-raising has to take place for the ancien regime to fall into oblivion. This latter topic should be interesting for similarly violent, chaotic anarchists (the majority of whom are still men, who should take a look at feminism before hurtling into the whirlwind). But this also an ode to egalitarianism, and the fact that the aims of the Paris Commune still resonate today.

In solidarity, Louise Michel.

 

Orr/Marxism and Women’s Liberation

Feminism has come back into vogue, echoing the good old days of radical chic in the seventies. Women everywhere, across the universe of digital media and mainstream “celebrity” circles, are once again taking up the torch against a patriarchy which has unsurprisingly grown stronger after the “post-feminist” wave of the last century. Feminism is no longer a historical phenomenon, AND THIS IS A GOOD THING. Modern discourse needs to include as many feminist voices as possible, and we are blessed that writers and analysts like Judith Orr still have plenty to say. And more wonderful than anything else, socialism is back on the table after the frightful “Me Decade” of the 90s. Welcome to the fourth wave of feminism.

Marxism and Women’s Liberation comes at an acute time, a moment in history when the basically democratic ethos of the digital/social media has been brought to the fore; the concept of united, mass action is most definitely one of the options available to activists, if not the only choice. This is in stark contrast with the so-called “third wave” of 90s post-feminism, wherein socialist ideals were opposed by the self-appointed leaders of the movement, where postmodernism and its’ intellectually fraudulent notions worked to isolate and alienate women. Judith Orr is absolutely against such navel-gazing pap, and her conclusions, drawing in historical and theoretical examples, are devoted to the idea that the main enemy is capitalism; patriarchy is a side dish to the crushing power of capital. The supposedly unchanging, static roles for traditional women are a falsehood created by capitalism relatively recently (post-1840s); patriarchy is a tool in the hands of the elite.

Socialism and feminism have gone hand in hand since the very concept of oppression was identified as such. Capitalism crushes all, and the specific crushing of women is a part of the divide and conquer method that the world’s elites have been practicing since the beginning of time. Orr refers heavily to Engels’ classic, Origin of the Family, and while she recognizes that there are dated aspects to Origin of the Family, Engels’ basic theory of domination and hegemony over the unpaid house-slaves of the world (and the somewhat better paid working women) remains powerful.

Orr explores the waves of feminism that have taken place since the French Revolution, citing inferences of proto or unconscious Marxist rebellion as it appeared throughout the 19th Century. With the dawn of the 20th Century, and with the dawn of actual, realistic revolutions that were meant to include EVERYONE, Marxism and Women’s Liberation truly hits its stride. It is not a hagiography; Orr is well aware of the mistakes made by feminists throughout the century, and she is able to discuss them rationally, seeing where solutions to problems can be found.

Marxism and Women’s Liberation is truly revolutionary in and of itself, arguing that mass action by a genuine united front of women AND men is the best method of fighting patriarchy and its’ big brother, capitalism. It is the first feminist book that I have encountered that has placed such an emphasis on group action, a method that is far more achievable in the social media age and with the practitioners of digital revolution. Twitter can be used for other purposes other than making fun of celebrities.

Judith Orr is part of a new wave of feminist-Marxists, a group which includes Lise Vogel, Heather Brown, and Caitlin Moran (to name just a few). They are just as interested in genuine Neo-Marxism (i.e. the abandonment of traditional “socialist states” like Russia or China) as they are in abandoning the utterly unhelpful advice of elders from the 90s, such as Camille Paglia (a woman that once stated that female sexual assault survivors were somehow asking for it with their air of weakness). The new school is also beyond the ivory tower of higher education, where post-modernism fled. These feminists are completely integrated into the actual physical struggle, and they have no time for the hermeneutics of language and symbols.

If you want a taste of this fourth wave, if you are interested to see what the collision of feminism and Marxism looks like, Marxism and Women’s Liberation is a sweeping, totalistic introduction to resurgence of feminist-socialism. It was printed in 2015, and that fact alone should tell you how cutting edge this analysis is.

Angela Carter/The Bloody Chamber

In case you were curious, the original fairy tales from the 1500s onwards are some of the most horrifying stories ever told to children. Werewolves eating babies, blood splattered everywhere, weird quasi-sexual undertones, a general aura of menace that is intended to teach children cautionary messages – the Brothers Grimm certainly lived up to their surname. English literature experts have been pouring over early fairy tales for decades; the stories are rich in metaphor and context, with more than a few pagan references.

This tradition was carried on by Angela Carter in The Bloody Chamber, writing some of the most subversive, outspoken feminist take on the stories of old, mashing new insight from old yarns such as Red Riding Hood and Bluebeard. The stories were then retold in the Neil Jordan film The Company of Wolves, a hallucinatory trip into the symbolism of gender identity and a good old-fashioned sense of the surreal. It’s one of the few films that stay true to the source, which may have something to do with the fact that Carter herself co-wrote the script.

Carter is a product of her environment, specifically the second wave of feminism that burst out during the sixties and seventies. Separatist feminism can be woefully obvious – the language games that produce asinine terms like “herstory” and “womyn”, as well as the mentality that all men are abusive rapists are a little hard to take. Angela Carter is sometimes guilty of this – Nights at the Circus is painful to read, and the metaphors are so obvious that Carter may as well have included the S.C.U.M. manifesto.

This is thankfully not the case with The Bloody Chamber. It’s a ride on the gothic merry-go-round, gleefully deconstructing and rebuilding the moralistic tone that dominates the whole canon of so-called children’s literature. I’m reminded of the countless children’s books that are actually pointed satires –Alice in Wonderland comes to mind, as does Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Satire is one of the most potent weapons available to writers, and Carter has a great time injecting social commentary into these stories.

There’s also a very large element of the Gothic in these stories (gothic as in “sumptuous aura of decay”, not Beetlejuice). This is clearly the case with the highlight of the collection, a revision of the vampire legend called “The Lady of the House of Love”. Some writer said that gothic stories (at least the ones produced in the anglo world) are an expression of the Protestant fascination with Catholic (continental) aristocratic decline; this may not be a universal aspect of the Gothic genre, but it’s certainly the case with this story.

A young Englishmen at the turn of the century travels throughout Eastern Europe on his bicycle, which is the very embodiment of the progressive modern era;  an era which has supposedly abandoned the ghosts and goblins of the past. What follows is a wonderful reversal of gender norms prevalent in pretty much every vampire story ever told (and yes, I’m including the Twilight saga). There is also a “sympathy for the devil” aspect of this story, as the Englishman is more interested in helping the vampiress rather than either falling in love or running away in terror. The juxtaposition of this proper, rational, Imperial Age Englishman running up against the ultimate irrational  phantom is perfect – there is a good reason why this story was included in the  Oxford Book of Gothic Literature (which I also heartily recommend).

An excellent exploration of feminist subversion and literature which is as rich as red wine, ­The Bloody Chamber has enough to satisfy radicals and bibliophiles alike. Just don’t read this one before you go to bed – apparently it makes you have strange dreams. Definitely not for children either; your children may evolve into post-modern English majors when they go off to college.

NB: This will be the last fiction review for a while; “Plamet of Slums” will be reviewed next week.

Theory: Mother Right vs. Father Might

NB: This is as much an attempt to sort out certain ideas that have emerged upon reading Engels’ Origins of the Family as it is an invitation to debate.Think of this article as a process piece. It should also be noted that the text in question was written in the late 19th Century, and anthropological studies have advanced considerably since that time.

I am without question the last socialist on earth to read Engels thoroughly, particularly his work on materialism and its effects on the very reproduction of life itself. With the renewed interest in Marxist-feminism (as opposed to the great “personal is political” mainstay of the nineties), The Origins of the Family likewise needs re-reading. The following text is my own skewed interpretation of Engels’ historical materialism – the special emphasis is on the dialogue between male and female power relations, from antiquity onwards.

Thus spake Engels:

At the dawn of civilization, humanity was organized into loose tribes, with equally loose attitudes towards sexual freedom and parental duties towards offspring. During the tribal period, sexual relations were based on “pairing”, i.e. serial monogamy. Men and women would come together and break apart like the seasons. As paternity was difficult to trace, the children borne by these relations were considered a part of the female side of things, what Engels called the gens. Children were part of the gens, the female lineage, rather than the male line. Taboos against incest meant that no child or blood relation could get busy with each other – the males of the tribe would have sexual relations outside of their gens, children would be borne, and the original gens would continue.

Work was divided but equal between the genders. As this tribal period predated agriculture, the livelihood of the gens was tasked to the males, while females ran the household. Commodity relations did not exist during this period – possessions were commonly shared, and besides which the property of this or that form was fairly limited, and whatever products were passed on to the mother side.

Group decisions were made by the group, before the development of power relations and the false value placed upon individuals. Executive decisions were made by the tribal chief, who would be elected by consensus rather than by lineage. The gens and the greater tribe constituted a collection of equals – commodities had yet to differentiate individuals.

Then came technology.

With the advent of tools came the advent of agriculture, and the subsistence level of earning a livelihood in the great outdoors also shifted. Animals were domesticated, specifically but not limited to cattle, and the development of pasture lands for those cattle. Excess product began to appear which would then be exchanged for other commodities. It was the beginning of surplus labour, which would eventually lead to the beginning of commerce.

This process created a massive shift away from tribal, gens-based existence. The males were in charge of the livelihood brought in to the house, and excess labor was also in the hands of the male. Gradually, men began to shun the idea of female primogeniture; males decided to a)keep the new-found wealth in their own hands, and b) pass it along to whomever they designated as their children.

This marked a decisive blow against communal existence and the inception of the atomic, individual family. It also marked the beginning of locked down monogamy, and the assertion of paternal rather than maternal right. While women continued to produce and care for children, they became dependent on male resources and the external production of wealth which revolved around men and their abilities garner surplus labor and the attendant privilege of exchanging the fruits of that labor.

If women valued the their livelihood and that of their now paternalized children, the entrance into rock solid paternal monogamy replaced traditional gens-orientated “mother right”. The atomized, single unit paternal family replaced maternal tribal association. The tribe itself began to disintegrate with the increase in population, the migration of tribal members, and the dawn of the commercial towns which hosted a number of commodity traders.

Engels used the civilizations of antiquity (specifically the Mediterranean cultures) to break down this development, but one can discern its form in North American tribes and their subsequent demolition at the hands of European “settlers”. The move away from the communal existence and the enforced break-up of native bands had disastrous consequences, as tribes were rudely introduced to white commercial culture and the subsequent integration into the Euro culture. Residential schools in Canada are one example, as are the displacement of tribal members into the commercial hubs of the brave new world as established by commodity-obsessed Europeans.

To sum up: strapped down monogamous, atomic and individualized families (and all of the paternalism that that entails) is a direct correspondent with the advent of commodity exchange. It is not coincidental – it is the break up of the commune and the rise of the traditional family which is primarily concerned about its own livelihood, rather than the greater tribe.

What does this all mean for contemporary existence? We can already note the shift towards serial monogamy, with the easing of paternalist family relations, increased women’s rights, the introduction of birth control and paternity tests, and greater economic opportunities for women.

However, whomever is the breadwinner (i.e. he/she that brings in the means for commodity exchange) remains the primary decision maker for any given family unit, and that family unit is based inextricably on that original, paternalist atomization. The first division of labour, and the resulting class relations thereof, began with this breakdown and movement away from gens-oriented communalism. And it is that division that continues until today

That sums up an interpretation of whatever Engels was trying to say, 125 years ago. It may be hopelessly outdated, but the experience and horrors of aboriginal conquest in Canada seems to support at least part of what Engels was talking about. The breakup of communalism, particularly at the rate of “integration” into a commodity based culture, has had a death toll on the First Nations, one that they are only recently beginning to recover from.

Still, nagging questions remain. Does serial monogamy preclude genuinely romantic feelings? Is jealousy a materialist construct, leftover from the good ol’ days? Is polygamy true freedom?

Anyway, I’m going to shut up for the time being. There is a lot of room for argument here, ranging from the concept of monogamy and whether or not it’s materialist, the modern condition of anomie, non-traditional forms of pairing, etc. Let’s open the floor.

 

 

Marge Piercy/Woman on the edge of time

Try not to read this whilst staying in a hospital. It will make you want to assault a doctor.

The artificial intersection between women and mental health has been raging since the beginning of psychoanalysis, if not earlier. The idea that women who are a tad strident could be “cured” with a little help from an inevitably male doctor has roots in the Victorian era.  Female “hysteria” has been a mainstay of mental health orthodoxy since that period, even if it has assumed different names in the following years.

Woman on the edge of time follows the course of Connie, a woman who has been brutalized by a system which is engineered to destroy the lives of forceful women. The novel is a product of its’ time – the early seventies, and more importantly, second-wave feminism. It is an unapologetically angry book, and not without justification. The idea that an unstable person could be cured by being thrown into a jail-like environment where one could be dosed with Thorazine if one acted out is maddening; so-called treatment of this sort that follows gender lines has not completely perished in our rational era.

The novel ventures into the realm of speculative fiction as Connie, while incarcerated, begins to flip between time periods, occasionally flying forward to a world where the feminist revolution has taken place. This post-revolution world envisions a future society where paternalistic attitudes have all died out, where gender equality (real equality, not just the right to vote and earn equal pay) is the norm. Concepts such as motherhood, monogamy, and earning the means of living have been turned on their heads, and they lie in stark contrast to the wretched life of the jailed (and possibly genuinely insane) heroine.

This is a defiant book, and rightfully so. This goes beyond radical feminism, into a suicide bomber mentality. In the present moment in which Connie spends half of her time, there isn’t a single male who is not malevolent. The doctors at the mental institution view their subjects as bags of meat to be experimented upon, and they’re backed up by the brute force of the orderlies. Woman at the edge of time is not looking for answers – it’s looking for justice, if not revenge.

It’s also clearly the work of the heyday of women’s liberation, and the milieu of seventies-styled militant feminism. The dialectic between genders (in the way that gender identity is strapped down by binary paternalism) didn’t really enter the conversation in that decade. This was classic radicalism, with a very specific target – the male. Piercy draws from this context as much as she draws from the new wave of science fiction that had begun in earnest during that same decade.

All of that typically male discourse of sci-fi/fantasy, which had been fairly reactionary in previous decades, began to assume new shapes in the cultural battleground of the newly progressive culture. Stranger in a strange land may have been a terrible book, but it did open the floodgates for imaginative minds such as Piercy to begin using speculative fiction in a radical fashion.

It’s fitting that the classification charts in the epilogue of the novel write Connie off as a paranoid schizophrenic (which is probably the worst classification in mental health pathology, other than sociopathy). This reduction points towards ways in which the mental health systems break down and “analyze” the emotional turmoils of its supposed charges. It’s also a damning indictment of the sexism that women, particularly outspoken ones, face when they are written off as “crazy”. Lena Dunham’s travails come immediately to mind, to say nothing of virtually every feminist who’s ever walked the face of this earth.

There is ambiguity here – the reader is never certain whether Connie really is time-traveling or if this utopia exists only in her mind. That ambiguity is irrelevant however. The possibly fictitious world that Connie travels to is one that is worthy of aspiring to, and one that Connie and the reader ultimately strive to reach.