Across Turkey, women are at the forefront of the demonstrations. And not only women. Feminists: “At first groups of students chanted: `We are the soldiers of Ataturk’; this died out after feminist protesters objected to its militaristic overtones.”
From the first eruption through today, the Turkish movement has been a giant popular feminist education site, and one that includes sex workers: “`We used to sing ‘Erdogan is the son of a whore’. But when the police teargassed us, one of the brothels on Taksim Square opened its doors, and the women gave us shelter and treated us with lemons. We don’t sing that any more.’”
The solidarity of sex workers taught demonstrators that sex workers are workers, sisters, and women. Sex workers are not epithets or metaphors, and they are not criminals. They are part of the working mass, and they can represent themselves.
What is Redemptive Masculinity? It is a particular ideal often discussed as the reason men should embrace feminism. It is a way of pointing out how men suffer under patriarchy by being forced to stick to rigid ideas of masculinity that are violent, unemotional, and restrictive to a fully flourishing life. Redemptive Masculinity does not posit that men suffer equally from structural inequality or material harm under patriarchy, but that it is a valuable outcome for men to be able to embrace their “feminine” sides without fear of suffering violence. In short, masculinity can be “redeemed” from its distorted form under patriarchy by incorporating the “feminine,” constructed as emotional and nurturing. Now, to be clear I don’t think men can’t be feminists or work for women’s equity. I follow Donna Haraway in thinking that there is no totalizeable feminism, there is nothing “natural” about being a women, and there are multiple standpoints from which feminist politics can arise. However, I do think there are a couple insidious elements to Redemptive Masculinity that need to be questioned.
First, despite the forced stoicism of traditional masculinity, there is nothing “unemotional” about patriarchal masculinity; if anything it is driven by excessive emotions. Underneath the veneer of patriarchal masculinity lurks both fear and rage. Fear at the loss of control, at being unequal, at losing status, and most importantly fear of losing power - whether structurally or in the most microscopic of power relations. For power is indubitably linked to pleasure, to the experience of pleasure and the fear of its being diminished. Afraid of this loss of power/pleasure patriarchal masculinity reacts with rage and violence, expressing man’s desire to exercise his control, a control society has often promised him. Zizek’s idea that at the heart of racism is the thought that the Other has stolen my jouissance seems pertinent here. Under patriarchy men will fear that women have access to a pleasure that is denied to them, to their jouissance, and will lash out if they think that fear has been proven true. Kate Zambreno’s book Heroines is interesting in this regard, as she shows how the male modernists were as “hysterical” as the wives they claimed were crazy and abused. Their emotions, of paranoia and fear, were socially sanctioned and thus these men were not overly emotional but Great Artists. Patriarchal masculinity then does not suffer from being “unemotional” but from an excess of negative emotions that are socially sanctioned for the maintenance of women’s inequality.
This leads me to the other aspect of Redemptive Masculinity, that the emotions men need to incorporate from women are their “caring” ones. However, such thinking buys into one of the key myths of patriarchy concerning women. It confirms that women are the “emotional” ones in society, possessing something men need to possess as well. Structurally this is the inverse of the dominant logic of patriarchy, that women possess a jouissance men lack. Redemptive Masculinity then does nothing to breakdown societal stereotypes of sexual difference but only flips them. Men go from seeing being emotionless as a virtue to a lack, while women’s “emotional” nature goes from being denigrated to valued, something men require access to as well. Women are still seen as the possessors of all that is good (their jouissance, their virginity) and that men must acquire. Despite the best intentions of forming more tolerant, open men Redemptive Masculinity does not breakdown the essential connections between sexual difference, desire, and potential violence.
Recognizing this, what are the roots for a socially viable masculinity? I find the work of Leo Bersani useful here. In “Is the Rectum a Grave?” he argues that there is an essential link between misogyny and homophobia - a fear of the radical passivity of the woman/gay man. The way out of this fear is to embrace radical passivity itself, to be open to being “penetrated” by others and willing to form radical socialities with them. In his later work in Forms of Being and Intimacies Bersani has expanded this question into how to recognize correspondences between the self and the world. Moving away from the question of the difference of the Other Bersani asks how a person can recognize the sameness of their selves in the world. Radical passivity then gives way to forging non-violent correspondences in the world that will allow for both socially viable communities and sexual pleasure. I see this as a possible, though surely not the only, starting point for rethinking masculinities outside of patriarchal sexual difference, where it is not a question of the fear/desire of the Other’s jouissance but of a particular correspondence between “men,” however determined. This would by necessity be a masculinity aware of patriachal violence and histories of sexual control, while still allowing for particular pleasures of activity AND passivity for the subject. The other potential upside is that motivation for men to work alongside women for social justice is not predicated on the idea that this is the only way for men to gain something they lack, but instead they can be motivated by a correspondence they see between themselves and other women - a correspondence that springs from the mutual enmeshment of men, women, and others in communities that should be embraced instead of rejected.
Happy International Women’s Day! Today and all days, as a woman I want to dance and love and fuck and laugh and mother and nurture and sing and write poems. I want to celebrate doing this in spite of the hatred of our gender. I want to stop being afraid. I don’t want living in my gender to be a struggle. I want healing, for all of us, however we find it. Today I’m reflecting on the extraordinary momentum over the last two years in global discourse about women’s rights, especially rape culture. I would never have believed we would be having frequent conversations in mainstream media about this, in my lifetime. I’ve experienced painful growth because of these difficult and necessary conversations, and because of that, so have the men I know and love. I’m proud of them. I’m proud of the women I know who speak up, and of the women I know who reach out in quiet ways over shared trauma. I’ve drawn on the love and strength of wise women I’m lucky to call sisters, who have mentored me in my growth in feminism. At times I’ve felt exhausted, at times I have been sick with anger and shock. I’ve had to laugh or I would cry. Sometimes I just cry. I want to assert what my feminism is: My feminism isn’t about more white women in boardrooms and tokenistic equality for the privileged few. My feminism acknowledges my privileges as a white middle class woman. My feminism includes gender queer and trans men and women. My feminism is sometimes militant and often uncompromising, my feminism doesn’t always need to speak nicely. My feminism wants allied men fighting with me, men who want to learn and are not afraid of the challenge. My feminism doesn’t shame anyone for their body or what they wear or the consensual sexual choices they make. I want a world where we are equal, where we have the same educational and employment opportunities, the same access to health care, where our birth and reproductive rights are not threatened, where we can live without the daily terror of rape and violence, where we can care for our children without fear of homelessness or going hungry, where women fleeing war aren’t imprisoned with their children, where women in prison aren’t further brutalised and marginalised, where women have access to clean water and sanitation and the “luxury” of sanitary products. My feminism knows that capitalism, classism, homo/transphobia, imperialism, neoliberalism, patriarchy and racism are part of the institutionalised violence we fight. My feminism is a work in progress, much like our struggle.
A lot of misogynist press has taught us to scorn feminism as relegated to the past. In fact there’s so much more: we’re just at the tip of the iceberg in what has been addressed in terms of re-imagining a less patriarchal, a less misogynistic way to structure our world, society, communities, political and spiritual systems. Whereas all the systems that we have seem to be neutral, in society they are taught biased; they were all established by men and they’re all patriarchal systems, they’re all hierarchal systems. It’s not that they supplement something good that could be gleaned from that, but we are at the point now where we’re expecting nature to collapse within a century. It occurred to me in the last year that people can more easily imagine the apocalypse that religions have been telling their members of choice for the last 2000 years, than they can imagine the subtle shift in our systems of governance towards more feminist systems.
I have no hope that men can resolve the crisis that we’re facing now. Men can participate, men can draw upon feminine resources inside themselves, but it is for women to gain the empowerment necessary to participate so vigorously and internationally to create that change, I think they’re really our last hope. It’s the great untouched resource of the world; it’s half the population and if we organised ourselves differently it could be instantly reformative.
Beneath the massive denial of men’s power and responsibility and its projection onto women is an enormous pool of rage, resentment, and fear. Rather than look at patriarchy and their place within it, many men will beat, rape, torture, murder, and oppress women, children, and one another. They will wage mindless war and offer themselves up for the slaughter, chain themselves to jobs and work themselves to numbed exhaustion as if their lives had no value or meaning beyond controlling or being controlled or defending against control, and content themselves with half-lives of confused, lost deprivation. What men lack, women didn’t take from them, and it isn’t up to women to give it back.
Blackberries spilled through her front yard,
lanterns full of dark sugar. She wore
her pink skirts among the bushes till they bled.
School was a different story
every day: Balboa discovering the Pacific,
Petrarch discovering love. When Madame Curie
discovered radium she died of cancer.
Her name was Lúthien, and her feet twinkled like stars.
Her name was Eva, and she got blamed for everything.
Her name was Ann, and she lost her head.
We use this phrase for love as well as murder.
Her name was Portia, and Solomon was an admirer.
Oh, one day Virginia really did lose her head
in the valentine sense, blindly. She loved everything.
Her lucid hips and the way the salt ducked
over the bow of her sailing boat delighted her.
She loved men: they bowled straight at answers
and their chins were like mown lawns.
She loved women too, their smart hands, the hearts
full of tiny rooms opening into other rooms.
Today she thinks: I too have such a heart.
Mercedes walks a street made of billboards.
She weaves a family from a spider web of compromises.
Over her shoulder Madame Curie glows
like a quarantined star, queasily brilliant. By that light
she reads Aristotle and by it she comes home
in the early mornings, stockings askew.
Something hardens - anger or a barnacle.
Suddenly she is always shouting. The doors
in her heart close two by two by two.
She loves everything, everything.
One day she will kill herself by walking
into an oven with stones in her pockets.
Fuck Yeah API History is a blog worth following
New York City protest of the racist and sexist images in Miss Saigon, April 1991. The photograph of “My Sister” is of a Vietnamese National Liberation Front fighter from the Vietnam War era. Photo by Corky Lee.
Miss Saigon is a Broadway musical about the romance between an American GI and a Vietnamese bar girl in Saigon during the Vietnam War. Originally, Jonathan Pryce and Keith Burns, white actors playing Eurasian/Asian characters, wore eye prostheses and bronzing cream to make themselves look more Asian. From April 1989 to May 1990, nearly 100 shows were produced under the agreement between Equity and the League of American Theaters and Producers. 33 of the shows, with 504 roles, had no ethnic minority actors and 12 other productions had only one or two ethnic actors.