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Cupid, po and psych - click opera
February 2010
 
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Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 12:42 pm
Cupid, po and psych

I was browsing the other day -- as you do -- in the Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfeminism. The book is laid out like an encyclopedia, so I turned to the definition of postfeminism itself.

"Some argue that postfeminism participates in the discourse of postmodernism, in that both seek to destabilise fixed definitions of gender, and to deconstruct authoritative paradigms and practices. In Introducing Postfeminism (1999), Sophia Phoca traces the origins of postfeminism back to the split within the MLF in Paris in 1968, when members of the po et psych group publicly rejected the feminist struggle for equality with men. Instead, theorists such as Julia Kristeva and Hélène Cixous argue in support of difference, and draw on psycholanalytical theory in order to maintain that the feminine subject differs fundamentally from the masculine subject. They also emphasise the fluctuating and multiple nature of that subjectivity."

That interested me for lots of personal reasons. First of all, Sophia Phoca is the sister of one of my oldest friends. (She's also, allegedly, the inspiration for Jarvis Cocker's famous song about the girl from Greece with "a thirst for knowledge".) The year she published Introducing Postfeminism, we went to a huge millenium New Year's party at Gilbert and George's studio and she pushed me up against a pillar and kissed me passionately. We were all wildly drunk, and it didn't seem to matter that both our partners were hovering nearby. They were wildly drunk too. Later in the evening we all got in a big rugby scrum with Gilbert and George and their handsome, epicene Malaysian assistant. So, anyway, all this floated through my mind as I read the rather dry passage. If this sort of simply divine decadence was postfeminism, well, count me in.

In Sophia's book the origins of postfeminism are described like this: "The first shift between feminism and postfeminism was marked by the following event: Paris, 6 March 1968 -- International Women's Day. Members of the group psychanalyse et politique (later re-named politique et psychanalyse, or po et psych) marched through the city carrying placards reading 'Down with Feminism'."

But "postfeminism does not mean that feminism is over. It signifies a shift in feminist theory... In the shift from feminism to postfeminism, women have begun to celebrate difference rather than equality."

Yesterday, walking past the Queer Activist Centre just a few doors down from my house, I saw an interesting poster. Above an image of an attractively ambivalent girl-boy, the headline ran "I am neither man nor woman! There are more than two sexes." The text below explained:

"Many newborn children cannot have a gender clearly assigned. They're designated "intersexuals" and often operated on in early childhood. These operations are usually medically unnecessary and become part of the discrimination these people are faced with. Like all other humans, they're faced with the obligation to be male or female from birth. Everyone is arranged accordingly and treated and handled accordingly. The purpose of this project is to bring these processes into question."

The poster linked to a website campaigning for "more genders".

I wonder what would happen if there were 12 official genders (administratively, linguistically, medically) instead of just two? Would one of them still dominate, with the others ranged around it? Would the tweenies all get on with each other, or would it be like Old Labour -- endless infighting based on "the narcissism of minor difference"? In his great book "Distinction", Pierre Bourdieu (in the words of Anton Blok) explains Freud's idea: "social identity lies in difference, and difference is asserted against what is closest, which represents the greatest threat. An outline of a general theory of power and violence should include a consideration of the narcissism of minor differences, also because its counterpart -- hierarchy and large differences -- makes for relative stability and peace."

Recently I went to a swimming pool (I won't say which one) and paid extra to use the sauna. The first time I went all was normal -- the two rooms were empty. But when I came back an hour later, the two rooms were inexplicably full. This was men-only day in the sauna, and when I pushed open the door to the first sauna, it snapped shut again. Something was blocking it. I went to the other sauna room, but there were no free seats. So I returned to the first cabin and tried again to go in. A big muscleman looked angrily out at me and again snapped the glass door shut in my face. I had a dim impression of something going on, a huddle of men off in the hot darkness to the left. The penny dropped -- something sexual was going on inside.

I left them to it. Let the boys have their fun. Sure, I was being kicked out of the sauna I'd bought a ticket for. But to complain to the authorities (who might well be in on it, or turning a blind eye) would be homophobic and would get a whole lot of people in trouble. Not least, me.

But I wonder what would happen if, as my local Gay and Lesbian Centre advocates, there were 12 or 24 genders? First of all, in that parallel world, would I still be a straight male? Perhaps I'd take advantage of the free-for-all to identify as a "twee femio nipposexual" or something. I would certainly have a different feeling towards musclebound macho gay males who slam doors in people's faces. The narcissism of minor difference would apply. No longer the magnanimous "straight" using his benign sense of normality and centrality to fuel "tolerance", I might well have lodged a complaint. Bourdieu was right: hierarchy and large differences do keep things stable.

48CommentReplyShare


(Anonymous)
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 12:19 pm (UTC)

If this sort of simply divine decadence was postfeminism, well, count me in.

Oh, Momus.


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damageink
damageink
damageink
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 12:30 pm (UTC)

Hi Sir
I read all your post's and some times get baffled but here is something i can comment on. With regard to your swimming pool/sauna part of the post. why would it be homophobic to complain about someone having sex in a sauna? i know if it was a straight couple doing it id complain. there are specific saunas for this kind of activity in every town or city no matter how big or small so id have been kicking off especially as someone was dictating even your entry into the sauna area. what if you had wanted to join in or have a look or something?

sometimes i think that people can be too pc if you know what i mean and sometimes you just actually have to turn round and say that's not on.
does that makes sense?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 12:35 pm (UTC)

why would it be homophobic to complain about someone having sex in a sauna?

Because context changes everything. I'm a straight man, and a liberal. I feel bad complaining about gay behaviour. Sure, too PC, if you like. But I wouldn't feel that way if I shared the same minority status they did -- if, for instance, there were 24 recognized genders. And I wonder if the campaign for "More Genders!" has taken this sort of thing into account? Freud's "narcissism of minor differences" is obviously an extension of "sibling rivalry".


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 12:32 pm (UTC)

Jesus, now I know why people complain about your posts being NWS, I just traumatised the cleaner with that.

Will come back later to reply to this post with a clever macro.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 12:56 pm (UTC)

Equality is about everybody playing on the same field, which turns some people who would have been winners-at-being-themselves into losers-at-being-someone-else (because of course not everybody is equally adapted to the requirements of a specific field. Imagine if rugby were the only game in town).

Plurality and difference are good not for their own sake, but because there are a lot of microworlds which require different skills and adaptations. And because contexts change, and different skill sets might be required in the new context. The kind of equality where everyone is playing the same game according to the same rules is a precarious monoculture which not only makes losers of a majority of people, but endangers the whole species by reducing difference, and therefore adaptability.


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 01:05 pm (UTC)

And I screwed up your layout. Sorry!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 01:06 pm (UTC)

It's okay, that's actually more like what I saw through the steam, and it'll stop Tom of Finland fans from hotlinking the image.


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zorblek
zorblek
The Phoenix of Memory
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 01:18 pm (UTC)

I can't say I'm personally familiar with postfeminism, but your post puts me in mind of a quote from the Principia Discordia: "No two equals are the same." It seems somewhat pointless to me to argue about whether men and women are intrinsically different. All people are different. Is the average woman different from the average man? Maybe, maybe not. But individuals are what matter, not averages. Whether or not someone fulfills a gender archetype (or stereotype) is irrelevant to their worth as a person or their value to society.

I'm very skeptical about the idea that hierarchy and large differences keep society stable. That might be true in the short term, but in the long term forcing people to identify with broad, ill-defined categories creates major conflicts whenever people disagree on where the boundary lines ought to be drawn. It's not the size or accuracy of the categories that causes conflict, it's the act of forcing people to identify with a group rather than themselves. An ultimate atomization of identity, an understanding that all people are unique unto themselves would be more fruitful in creating a stable society.

That's my two cents... :D


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 01:27 pm (UTC)

The thing is, a world where all people are "unique unto themselves" doesn't prevent hierarchies from forming. Even if you could somehow remove the intermediate level (groups) between "special me" and "everybody in the world, each one a special me", that would just make one big catch-all group in which certain adaptations would trump others. Don't you see that groups are merciful, because they permit diversity and flexibility? They allow odd quirks to make you a winner in a microworld.

Example: I was lousy at all school subjects except English. If there were just one class in school, I would be a loser. But I was able to specialize in English, and in that microworld I could be a winner. This is only made possible by divisions and categorization and groups.


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niyabinghi
niyabinghi
niyabinghi
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 01:45 pm (UTC)

Hi, I'm new to your list, enjoy your entries, am a painter, a mother, a gardener, and as far as postmodern anything goes, I just know this:

My imgagination has no sex/gender. I resent and reject all and everything that would claim that all my thinking/imagining is always based from only one perspective of my being---my genitalia.


Thank you.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 01:53 pm (UTC)

Hello, and welcome!

I think the Campaign for More Genders would broadly agree with you, but would say that the connection between genitalia and gender (a cultural construct) is an arbitrary one, and that instead of trying to escape gender all together, we might be comfortable if there were 12, 24, 36, 48 genders.

Personally speaking, I would say that my imagination very much does have a gender. It's sexual, and distinctly hetero male.


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diggets
diggets
diggets
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 02:30 pm (UTC)

Not to belabor the sauna bit, which was just a very small part of your post, but:

Not only would reporting the shenanigans in the sauna not be homophobic, just the opposite -- declining to report it was utterly homophobic. (Not to mention, immoral.)

Why?

Because you're holding this group to a lower level of behavior than you would yourself or people like you. It's condescending & patronizing. You're treating them like naughty children rather than adults. The fact of the matter is that most communities have behaviorial standards, and having sex in a public place usually is one of these taboos.

Also: Would you have "let the boys have their fun" if there was a 9-year-old girl in the huddle of men? Oh wait, you didn't bother to find out, did you?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 03:33 pm (UTC)

I dig your argument, Diggets, but the "homophobia" charge all hangs on your use of the term "lower level of behaviour". Would your point be as strong if you'd used a horizontal, pluralist model instead of a vertical, hierarchical one? If you'd said was I was holding this group to "an alternative standard of behaviour" in view of their "alternative status"?

I also don't believe consenting adults having sex in public places is immoral. But clearly the presence of a 9 year-old girl -- or a non-consenting adult -- would have changed the whole situation, yes.

I doubt the men themselves would have thought I was less homophobic reporting them than not reporting them.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand



fishwithissues
fishwithissues
jordan fish
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 02:50 pm (UTC)

Who knows what the 12-gender world would be like! Maybe the culturally-encoded knowledge that everyone is sexually different and sexually weird would also "fuel 'tolerance'". And that tolerance would be probably less patronizing thantop-down, straight white male "tolerance" (and your scare quotes indicate you're aware of the issues with that). In a 12-gender world, maybe those dudes would've had an easier time finding a sauna that suits them, or having their own special man-on-man room, or maybe they would've happily let you in to watch, if your "gender" is of the voyeuristic variety.

And it might not have to be a distinct idea of separate genders anymore either... not 10 or 12 but a lot a lot more. Seems as our conceptions get removed from the physical truth of genitalia, you're moving away from gender distinctions towards a vaguer idea of sexual difference. Why move away from the physical truth of genitalia? Because there's a huge amount of cultural baggage (science is still cultural baggage) telling us that the locus of sexuality is in the sexual organs. This has to be revised, squarely. Ultimately the focus on genitalia will always privilege the "normal" and encourage the somewhat non-normal to do their best to "pass".

Of course, opposing the gender binary creates a binary, but there's a difference between a simple man/woman binary and a more complex binary where one opposing side is a binary and the other is something polymorphous. The difference is a binary. Maybe we should start talking about that binary--the binary between the binary between men and woman and the binary between men/women and the sexually weird!

chart: [man v. woman] v. [(man v. woman) v. (sexually weird)]

this means something!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 03:39 pm (UTC)

There would have to be a huge government department of Gender Accreditation and Administration, just to make sure people didn't switch genders as and how it suited them!

For instance, if you turn up at the swimming pool and it's "Masochistic Avant Gardeners-only" day and you're a "Twee Femio Nipposexual", you have to prove it with a biometric card or a sworn statement, otherwise you could just cheat.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 03:19 pm (UTC)
Re: it hurts my feelings when you don't include me

When women are not allowed into adult theatres, it has something to do with the discouragement of prostitution. Couples ok, single men ok, single women no.


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zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 03:23 pm (UTC)
It hurts my feelings when you exclude me

In 2001 I wandered over to Jiffy Lube camp at Burning Man. Was alone, had no idea what to expect. Turns out Jiffy Lube is a camp where gay men have sex. Women are not allowed inside Jiffy Lube.

I was incensed! I insisted on being allowed inside, just like I insisted on being allowed inside the Jack London adult theatre the other day.

Jiffy Lube would not let me go inside. I cried "Burning Man is about inclusion!!!! You cannot keep me out!"

Door guy (BIG BEAR) explained that having a chick inside might inhibit some of the guys. That kinda made sense so I left without further hubbub.

As for Jack London adult theatre, well, unescorted women are not allowed inside. I thought that was because they thought I might get hurt, not knowing I had a knife strapped to my ankle.

I insisted on going inside the theatre. Security arrived. I threatened to call the cops (I have friends on the force), then the ACLU.

I never got inside the theatre, I got tired of the fight, but I still think it not right that I cannot go into that theatre without a MAN at my side. Fuck that. Maybe I *will* call Anthony Romero.


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zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 03:25 pm (UTC)
Re: It hurts my feelings when you exclude me

<< When women are not allowed into adult theatres, it has something to do with the discouragement of prostitution. Couples ok, single men ok, single women no. >>

oof I deleted and resubmitted my comment while you were writing this! Sorry the flow is messed up.

Yes, I know now that that is the reason, to discourage prostitution. But the management of the theatre did not explain that to me at the time, they just kicked me off the premises. It was later, talking with friends, that I realized the prostitution aspect of the situation.

Next time I'm going to ask the bouncer to go in the theatre and ask if anyone inside wants a female companion. That should get me inside.


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murdermystery
murdermystery
FORGET ABOUT THE KILLER, STRIP NUDE FOR ME
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 05:36 pm (UTC)

nice use of tom of finland!


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ex_sonjaaa
sonjaaa
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 05:40 pm (UTC)

I wrote a rant about Muslim headscarves in my blog today. Thought you might be interested. :)


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 06:41 pm (UTC)

Ah, how great of you to learn Esperanto! I should fresh up my knowledge again. How good is that kurso de Esperanto (via a link on your blog)? I used to use lernu.net and managed to learn surprisingly quick.


Robert


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bopscotch
bopscotch
bopscotch
Thu, Mar. 15th, 2007 07:16 pm (UTC)

The British writer Neil Gaiman wrote a short-story where a doctor created a drug that cured cancer of most kinds. The only side-effect was that you changed your gender. So if you were a male with prostate cancer, you'd change into a female - but you wouldn't have to worry about your prostate cancer anymore.

The results in this alternative future is that the word "change" gets thoughts of indeceny and taboo attached to it. Women in the Middle East use the drug to escape the veil, but if they can't prove to the authorities that they were indeed born male they get put to death. In China, families use the drug on children born female when they need a male. The process that occurs when you take the drug is now called shifting. Male prostitutes (in the business against their will) are forced to take it when a client wants a female (and vice-versa).

Another interesting development that occurs though is that some humans have developed this sense that allows them to tell the difference between people who have changed their gender with the drug, and those who haven't changed - but having this trait comes with a price. In the short story, Gaiman shows this with the example of a person whose job it is to exclude those who have changed their gender, and gets nearly beaten to death.

The doctor who created the drug dies as a rich and forgotten man in his 90s, of cancer. He refused to take his own miracle drug (he found out about the side-effects with test subjects).


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