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April 12, 2018
Amia Srinivasan's piece in the recent
London Review of Books of March 22, 2018, [ref]
is an excellent write-up that considers
some recent events in the light of the
history of feminism. I don't think I The present crop of internet
agree with Srinivasan's angle-- but it's feminists often seems rather
a pleasure to disagree with someone who young and insulated from
knows what she's talking about. knowledge of what went down in
the 70s and 80s-- and many of the
older feminists on the scene seem
to be cleaning up the story and
ignoring -- perhaps
inadvertently-- elements from
history they find inconvenient.
Srinivasan leads off with a
discussion of a misogynist
homicidal nut-job that found a Does a mere nut-job become more
sympathetic audience on the net. significant when they become a
She then backs up into a brief WORST_ARE_FILLED
intellectual history of
feminism, beginning with I think she leaves the role the
Catharine MacKinnon's case opening story plays ambiguous.
against porn from the late 70s, She does a transition away from
and going from there to Ellen it that strikes me as less of a
Willis and the development of logical connection than a verbal
"sex positive" feminism. flourish. ("It used to be the
case that if you wanted a
Srinivasan's discussion of the Ellen political critique of desire,
Willis essay, "Lust Horizons", feminism was where you would
leads up to the insight that Willis turn.")
was making a case that's at least a
little more complex than it's often WORDS_OVER_THE_CRACKS
Once you finish the
"Willis concludes 'Lust Horizons' by essay, come back to the
saying that for her it is 'axiomatic beginning. Does the long
that consenting partners have a right to opening passage serve any
their sexual proclivities, and that point except to provide a
authoritarian moralism has no place' in vague feeling that
feminism. And yet, she goes on, 'a truly this is important stuff
radical movement must look ... beyond we're talking about?
the right to choose, and keep focusing
on the fundamental questions. Why do we (Because the
choose what we choose? What would we nut-jobs are
choose if we had a real choice?' on the beat?)
Srinivasan calls that an "extraordinary reversal": Perhaps: if
only we had a
"After laying out the ethical more rational
case for taking our sexual sexuality the
preferences, whatever they may nut-job
be, as fixed points, protected wouldn't have
from moral inquisition, Willis Srinivasan's been so
tells us that a 'truly radical' view is that frustrated?
feminism would ask precisely the either desire Or would've
question that gives rise to is fair game understood
'authoritarian moralism': what for criticism why he was
would women's sexual choices *or* it is frustrated?
look like if we were not merely necessarily
'negotiating', but really free?" "fixed". Is Or is the
that right? thought really
as simple as
"Out of the
But here I have to wonder about desire'..."
what kind of utopian situation
Srinivasan is envisioning, what
kind of world can you expect If you tried to sketch this out as
where everyone is "really free" fiction you'd quickly get to
and we no longer have to something more absurd than "Omelas",
negotiate with each other about it'd be something like a porn-o-verse
anything at all, including who scenario where everyone magically
gets to fuck who...? That's wants to do to everyone just what
such a stretch, even just as a they want done... or perhaps a "Brave
thought experiment, you'd think New World" variant with people tanked
that she would just call this up on drugs that suppress any
the *reducto* and back away from inconvenient excess desire?
Lurking underneath all this is dreams of
rationally designed utopias, where we will
reprogram desire, re-engineer custom and
guarantee a world of fairness to all. It is true that these
Srinivasan goes off on a discussion days we tend to go with
of an analogy Rebecca Solnit introduced: ideas like: the employee
is not free to choose
"Rebecca Solnit reminds us that 'you don't whether to have sex with
get to have sex with someone unless they the boss, because of the
want to have sex with you,' just as 'you power imbalance between
don't get to share someone's sandwich the two.
unless they want to share their sandwich
with you.' Not getting a bite of someone's Going from that to
sandwich is 'not a form of oppression, the idea that no
either', Solnit says." choice is ever free
if there is any
Srinivasan raises a potentially individual constraint
troubling case where a child is at all-- that's the
discriminated against by being the kind of idea only a
only one left out of an orgy of philosopher could up
sandwich sharing. with.
She jams around on this point: In practice this
is another area
"Sex is not a sandwich. While your child does where we have to
not want to be shared with out of pity-- just live with
as no one really wants a mercy fuck, and inconsistencies
certainly not from a racist or a transphobe-- filtered by
we wouldn't think it coercive were the teacher custom and
to encourage the other students to share with precedent...
your daughter, or were they to institute an
equal sharing policy."
But an "equal sharing" policy
is *not* sharing, it dissolves
the meaning of the act, and
actually in practice it's a
dodge to raise the price of
"sharing" beyond most people's When I was in elementary school,
means or desire to pursue it. they used the schtick "if you bring
It's a policy that *forbids* candy to class, you must bring
sharing in the guise of enough for everyone to share".
And it certainly would be coercive: We might go along
with that in a school classroom situation (as a lesser
evil), but it's because grade-school classrooms are
inherently authoritarian, and that's a situation we
rationalize away because of the distinction we make
between child and adult.
Srinivasan is in effect
flirting with a forced It's actually something I find fascinating
infantalization of the about this piece-- Srinivasan has an
adult population, somehow intellectual acceptance of the fact that we
wishing for a world run must accept people's strange desires; but she
like a classroom where herself is filled with a strange desire of her
fairness rules could be own for a world that is perfectly blind to
enforced... ethnicity, power, gender, and body-type to the
point where they no longer have no influence
Admittedly she is not whatsoever on our desires.
(quite) following the logic
of her argument to that She would *like* to go with
conclusion ("Now class, MacKinnon, but understands
if you want to fuck someone how badly MacKinnon was shot
you should let someone else down by Willis-- nevertheless
fuck you, it's only fair"). she feels compelled to try to
trace an unpromising line.
I would gather she dreams of a world with a
list of qualities one is allowed to value (But that's a
(kindness, intelligence) and ones you're condition I can
not (body shapes, skin tones), but she has empathize with,
to halt at proposing it, realizing that though our
there's no good way to get there. obsessions differ.)
But where *can* this possibly go? The evident
intelligence on display here will not take this
material off to an absurd conclusion, but those
conclusions *are* out there, and I see very
little you can do with this material except to
run off to one of them.
o Start some public campaigns to
levelize the field of desire:
"Fuck a Fat Woman, Today"
o Recruit an elite corp of Mercy Fuck
troops, who will go where needed, Srinivasan mentions as an aside:
"(The utopian socialist Charles
o Prohibit sex under any Fourier proposed a guaranteed
circumstances. Pump the 'sexual minimum', akin to a
world full of anti-hormones guaranteed basic income, for
to completely eliminate the every man and woman, regardless
biological components of of age or infirmity; only with
sex-drives. sexual deprivation eliminated,
Fourier thought, could romantic
o Prohibit all sex save relationships be truly
teledildonics: forbid free. This social service would
personal contact along be provided by an 'amorous
with sharing of physical nobility' who, Fourier said,
descriptions. 'know how to subordinate love to
the dictates of honour'.)"
Or what the hell, why don't we just flood
the net with disapproving remarks about
any sexual taste we find distasteful--
And try to ignore the fact that
we're eroticizing it further by
painting it as forbidden.
She comments that feminists are
"... uncomfortable with thinking Srinivasan is much less shy about
in terms of false consciousness: making generalizations about
that's to say, with the idea that "feminists" than I would be.
women often act against their own
interests, even when they take Myself, I would say that I
themselves to be doing what they frequently see self-declared
wanted to do " feminists acting as though
they speak for all women.
"... a feminism that
trades too freely in And the feminists who don't
notions of self-deception like sex-positive feminist
is a feminism that risks ideas frequently just act as
dominating the subjects though they don't exist, or
it wants to liberate." are obviously obsolete...
That's the trouble all right, This is the main thing
and I would say there are many that really impresses me
feminists willing to take that about Srinivasan: she
risk. doesn't oversimplify to
try to win an argument.
Consider this claim:
"The important thing now is to take women at their
word. If a woman says she enjoys working in porn,
or being paid to have sex with men, or engaging in
rape fantasies, or wearing stilettos-- and even
that she doesn't just enjoy these things but finds But, consider Katha
them emancipatory, part of her feminist praxis-- Pollit at _the Nation_:
then we are required, as feminists, to trust her."
I would say that there's a tremendous amount
of double-think on the subject of trusting
women-- e.g. if a woman accuses a man, she is
to be believed under all circumstances, if she
announces she's changed her mind and wants to (Won't you tell us who
retract the accusation, she will be ignored pressured you to change
completely. your mind? Never mind,
There's this passage that I think goes
off the rails gradually, step by step:
"When we see consent as the
sole constraint on OK sex,
we are pushed towards a
naturalisation of sexual Srinivasan keeps getting
preference in which the tangled up on this point:
rape fantasy becomes a everything is either fixed Even if one's
primordial rather than a or mutable, natural or desires are
political fact." social. theoretically
"But not only the rape modification,
fantasy. Consider the there's still
supreme fuckability of (She's gotten used the question of
'hot blonde sluts' and to the rape fantasy why you should:
East Asian women, the case, but still why must you
comparative unfuckability balks at ethnic listen to
of black women and Asian fetishes.) Srinivasan's
men, the fetishisation and critique? Or
fear of black male anyone else's?
sexuality, the sexual
disgust expressed towards HETEROPHILLIA
disabled, trans and fat
"These too are political facts, which a
truly intersectional feminism should
demand that we take seriously." Okay, so go to it:
take 'em seriously.
"But the sex-positive gaze, unmoored
from Willis's call to ambivalence, That means you
threatens to neutralise these facts, don't get to wish
treating them as pre-political givens." them away, right?
"In other words, the sex-positive gaze
risks covering not only for misogyny, See you gotta trust
but for racism, ableism, transphobia, women, except when
and every other oppressive system that they like something
makes its way into the bedroom through you don't want them
the seemingly innocuous mechanism of to like, then you
'personal preference'." get to-- express
your ambivalence at
I'd like to raise the question them! Take that!
of what exactly Srinivasan thinks
is *riding* on this? If only we
could get people with ethnic
sexual fetishes to reflect, they
might modify their behavior, and-- BLOND_AMBITION
Then what? Racism goes away? Why
would you choose *this* particular
ground to fight racism?
Then there's that phrase "the
sex-positive gaze"-- it's an
absolutely beautiful dodge. The
usual feminist phrase is "the
male gaze", suggesting that men
can demean by the very act of
looking. Srinivasan extends To have an object of desire, one must
this, and in effect dismisses reduce it to a mere object, one rules
the sex-positive feminist as out all other characteristics and ways
being no better than men. of being. Sexuality corrupts all.
Gaze on your gazing and feel the guilt.
(Where do we get the crazy idea
that feminists are lost in
"But a state that made analogous
interventions in the sexual
preference and practices of its
citizens-- that encouraged us to
'share' sex equally-- would
probably be thought grossly
"... many would welcome regulation that
ensured diversity in advertising and the
I guess. But then many wouldn't.
And haven't we got more important battles?
"But to think that such measures would be
enough to alter our sexual desires, to free
them entirely from the grooves of
discrimination, is naive."
Well, like, uh... duh?
"For better or worse, we must find a
way to take sex on its own terms." Oh, the shame of it all.
Trapped in a world with
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