QotD: “This is the beginning of a new style of feminism, which is not about one’s social position, but one’s inner identity”
Like most fairy-tale heroines, Belle doesn’t have a mother. One presumes her mother must have died while engaged in some second-wave, biologically essentialist activity such as giving birth. Thankfully Belle doesn’t need an older female role model – or indeed any female role model – because most women are rubbish, lacking the imagination even to question their fate. If they’re not fancying Gaston, they’re faffing about with babies or getting old.
While I doubt the creators of Beauty and the Beast had been reading Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (published in 1990), I think the overall shift in mood is obvious. This is the beginning of a new style of feminism, which is not about one’s social position, but one’s inner identity. It’s not for rubbish women, who marry local heartthrobs and have babies and get old and shit. It’s only for special women, like Belle. This makes it more inclusive (no, I don’t know why, either). More importantly, it makes it more marketable. Sod the sisterhood; as long as you have the right accessories, liberation is yours.
Structurally, it turns out there’s very little Gaston wants to do to Belle that the Beast doesn’t actually do. However, the latter is excused because he does it while being a beast and hence has identity issues. Not only that, but the Beast’s sexism isn’t as clichéd and common as Gaston’s. If the latter reads FHM, the former reads Julia Kristeva. If Gaston stands for the easy-win, obvious, pussy-grabbing misogyny of the right, the Beast stands for the left’s more refined, complex, long-wordy woman-hating. It’s not for Belle to challenge it, but to listen and learn from it.
This is, I think, one of the most insidious aspects of Beauty and the Beast, and the one which marks it out as a fundamentally third-wave project: it remarkets femininity – by which I mean female accommodation, empathy, self-sacrifice on behalf of males – as not just a female, but a feminist, virtue. Belle is sneeringly dismissive of the Bimbettes’ adoration of Gaston, yet quite prepared to embrace self-effacement for a more unusual male in a more unusual setting. Why, then it starts to look like empowerment! Watching this now, I can’t help recalling my own feelings about leaving behind the “coarse and unrefined” men of my own town to go to university, where I met men whose sexism I chose not to see. I associated misogyny with a lack of education and an uncritical embrace of stereotypes. Surely men who looked different and read books couldn’t hate women, too? Perhaps all they needed was a woman who understood them.
Feminism makes no sense without a meaningful analysis of work and class. I didn’t realise this back in 1991. As far as I was concerned, sexism was simply a massive, global misunderstanding, the unfortunate outcome of the mistaken belief that women were inferior to men. It never crossed my mind that it might all be the other way round: that the dehumanisation of women could have arisen as a means to justify their exploitation, an exploitation upon which countless social, political and economic structures depended. That would just have been too depressing, not to mention terribly second-wave.
As she keeps on reminding us, Belle wants more to life than unpaid domestic labour. While second-wave feminists had an annoying tendency to remind us that such work never actually goes away – someone still has to do it, and surely it should be everyone – third-wavers had a better idea: pretend there still exists a class of people who are born to do all the boring old tasks no one else wants to do, only this time, said class doesn’t have to include you personally. This is the solution to which Belle turns.
The likes of Betty Friedan may have fretted over how to liberate middle-class women from domestic servitude without piling the labour onto other women. One solution Friedan didn’t count on was an enchanted castle, with the staff who claim to “only live to serve”. In modern feminist terms we would call such people “cis women” (singular version: your mum). Such women’s relationship with their class status is not conflicted; on the contrary, they apparently identify [with] it. This means feminists don’t have to challenge an exploitative hierarchy after all. Rather they only need ensure that they – as individuals wanting “more than this provincial life” – don’t find themselves wrongly positioned within it.
At a time when both science and feminism are under attack, there are welcome signs that neuroscience is showing new openness to critiques of research into sex differences. Mainstream journals increasingly publish studies that reveal how misleading assumptions about the sexes bias the framing of hypotheses, research design and interpretation of findings – and these critiques increasingly come with constructive recommendations, discussions and debates.
For example, we, together with other colleagues, made recommendations in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience on best practice in sex/gender neuroscience. Some of the errors and traps we identified included human neuroimaging studies with small sample sizes, and the common “snapshot” approach, which interprets neural associations with sex as a matter of timeless and universal male and female essences, without taking seriously the fact that biological associations might as easily be the effect of social differences as the cause of them.
For example, a study reporting female-male differences in spatial processing should take into account that women and men have different life experiences, on average, that can build such skills – such as practice with aiming at targets that comes from certain kinds of sports and video games. We also expressed concern about studies that draw on and reinforce stereotypes, even as they slip and slide regarding specific predictions about sex differences in the brain, and what findings might mean for how women and men think, feel, and behave.
For those who care about the quality of scientific research, this interaction is all to the good. It’s about generating better hypotheses, producing more reliable data, and considering a wider range of variables when interpreting findings. More generally, it’s how science is supposed to work: through robust debate within the scientific community, existing assumptions, models and methods are replaced with better ones. That’s why it’s important that these kinds of contributions to science are listened to in the scientific community.
But misplaced fears of the effects of feminism on science potentially threaten this. Late last year, in response to a new editorial policy by the Journal of Neuroscience Research mandating consideration of sex as a biological variable, a number of news articles reported that scientists had been ignoring medically critical sex differences in the brain, for fear of being labelled sexist.
Both before and since these pieces, we and our colleagues have been named as “anti-sex difference”, and thus some of the prime culprits in creating this situation. This is like accusing the people who invented airbags as being “anti-seatbelts”. We are all aiming for better science.
These charges would only make sense in a world without shades of grey, in which neurobiological investigation of sex – from basic cellular neuroscience to social neuroscience – is either good or bad. In this worldview, if you’re “for” investigations of sex influences, you will never criticise any of it, ever: otherwise, you’re “against” it.
Obviously, this isn’t how science works, which is what makes it science rather than dogma. The simplistic view is evident in a recent piece in Commentary Magazine, in which Claire Lehmann presents quotations from Cordelia Fine’s work criticising popular misrepresentations of sex differences in the brain – such as the claim that working mothers have “overloaded brain circuits” – as evidence that Fine is “anti-sex differences”. Lehmann maintains that we have a “wish to deny the self-evident truth that the biological differences between men and women … would have second-order effects on health, the metabolisation of medicines, and the way diseases work inside the body”. This entirely misses the point.
When previously charged with being “anti-sex differences” by UC Irvine neurobiologist Larry Cahill in 2014, we and our colleagues responded that: “[W]e all believe, like Cahill, that sex matters; that is, that genetic and gonadal sex can influence brain development and function at every level, that useful information may arise from investigating such processes, and that this may be especially critical in understanding pathological development. Indeed, numerous explicit statements to this effect can be found in our work.”
More recently, we described the new Journal of Neuroscience Research editorial policy mandating consideration of sex as “a welcome step forward”, then offered recommendations for avoiding common pitfalls. While Lehmann dismisses our work as “obscurantism”, the journal editor apparently disagreed, incorporating some of our suggestions into editorial policy.
I think there are two kinds of femininity. Things that were created to be feminine or assigned to femininity simply because they’re restrictive or sexualizing and those sort things randomly assigned to femininity. A good example would be high heels vs. the color pink.
I think people need to take this into account when we talk about both abolishing gender and abolishing gender stereotypes. We need to destroy the things in category one and move the things in category two out of any category at all.
[Robert Newman] displays distinct ire towards the evolutionary biologist and omnipresent scientist Richard Dawkins. His show, “New Theory of Evolution” takes a sustained, witty swipe at Dawkins’s world-view.
“Darwin’s theory of evolution has been hijacked by quite a narrow individualist philosophy that derives from Hobbes and I think it’s having a terribly negative effect. It’s giving people a very pessimistic idea of human nature. What I think Dawkins has done is brought back a particularly virulent form of original sin. He’s actually a deeply religious thinker – ‘We are born selfish therefore let us try to teach altruism’, ‘If your genes are selfish, you are.’ Not true.” Warming to his theme, he continues: “It’s a virulent repudiation of Darwin. What Darwin says is that those communities which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best and produce the most offspring.”
“I’m arguing that cooperation drives evolution as much as competition – I’m not discounting competition but cooperation is there as well. Dawkins is a reactionary thinker and he does a lot of damage. The universe he imagines couldn’t exist for five seconds. People say “It’s the law of the jungle isn’t it?” “It’s dog eat dog.” Well dogs don’t eat dogs – very rarely. Look at African hunting dogs – if they don’t share they get rolled in the dust and made to. Kropotkin – responding to Darwin – saw how if a buffalo falls in a ditch the rest of the herd make efforts to rescue it. Contrary to what male primatologists were saying in the mid-70s about baboons, it’s not about a dominant male with his harem of submissive female. They organise around a female kinship network. If a male wants to join the group he has to know a female and even then has to serve a probationary period in which he proves his work by performing foster care – looking after offspring that are not his genetic material. You can look at sterile female ants too…” He trails off, pauses, grins.
“I’m being incoherent, sorry,” he mutters, and sips more coffee. Not in the least, Robert Newman, I want to say. You see that chink of gleaming light in the dark, overcast sky – that’s you, that is.
(And for those of you too young to remember the Mary Whitehouse Experience, and therefore get the last paragraph, see here.)
QotD: “please stop talking about the human body as if it is a morphing vague undefinable accidental mass”
like if we were to start saying “humans don’t have five fingers because some humans have less or more” then you erase the fact that these abnormalities become disabilities. you don’t help people who are born missing fingers by ignoring the fact they don’t have the amount of fingers they should. these people grow learn and adapt but the fact that they must do so is a unique experience because of their disability, and something most people don’t have to do.
please please please PLEASE I am begging you please stop talking about the human body as if it is a morphing vague undefinable accidental mass. The human genome took thousands of years to evolve and will continue to evolve but now at this time humans have a set of characteristics that define them as humans and not as dogs or trees or bananas or birds or whales. They are primates, they are apes, they have two legs two arms ten fingers one stomach and one heart and also for the love of the moon the stars the depths of the sea and my sanity TWO SEXES
Kitty Stryker is a phoney and a fake radical who has co-opted the language of radical feminism, and shills for the sex industry while providing a fig-leaf for the BDSM ‘community’.
On twitter a few days ago, she said “I swear to god I wish we could just put the TERFs and Nazis on a goddamn boat together and send them into the sea.”
When someone else added “or we could put them in concentration camps? Maybe before they went into ovens? Lol” Stryker merely complained that that was “in bad taste”.
Sryker has changed her twitter handle to “Punch Nazis”, and added a later tweet about ‘terfs’ drowning, so it’s clear she has no problem with violence against women, when they are women she disagrees with politically.
This isn’t the first time Stryker has demonstrated that she sees women she doesn’t like as not fully human, in this tweet I screen capped a while back, we can see her wondering if radical feminists are actually real people, the ‘kill all terfs’ rhetoric follows on easily.
Stryker is also an intellectual coward, who ran away from conversations on this blog she wasn’t winning, and now won’t even engage, but she does keep an eye on me, as she tweeted about my previous post more than once.
Here’s a clue for you Stryker, ‘terfs’ don’t exist, there are no ‘terf’ organisations, there are no ‘terf’ leaders, there are no women calling themselves ‘terfs’ except ironically, it’s a term trans activists made up in order to intimidate women into unquestioning silence and obedience.
Stryker also likes lying about the Nordic (Abolitionist) Model, claiming that it made it easier for the police to arrest her – tell me Stryker, how does decriminalising ‘sex workers’ make it easier for the police to arrest them?
She’s doing this still, implying that under the Nordic Model, the police are more dangerous to ‘sex workers’, deliberately and cynically obscuring the fact that the Nordic Model means decriminalising the prostitute her (or him) self.
[EDIT 19/Feb/17: If decriminalising ‘sex workers’ under the Nordic Model doesn’t make the police ‘safe’, then how will decriminalising the whole of the sex industry make the police ‘safe’?]
The first loyalty of sex industry advocates is to the sex industry itself, always.
i hope you hit your limit yesterday.
yesterday, male people told you precisely how pathetic, worthless, & contemptible they find the female experience.
to them, any attempt to organise as female people is laughable & shameful. no matter how abstract your slogans (“no uterus no opinion” makes no attempt to exclude anyone from womanhood), no matter how obfuscatory your circumlocutions (”dfab”, “dmab” in reference to unambiguous sex). any solidarity between female people will be ridiculed as the enterprise of “cis women”, i.e. members of the female sex who have not dissociated from it.
i hope you listened to them & i hope you saw their tantrum for what it was: the same entitlement, the same ego, the same contempt for female people, the same ignorance of female experience.
engels said that: The first class antagonism which appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamian marriage, and the first class oppression with that of the female sex by the male.
patriarchy, male supremacy, institutional sexism, whatever you want to call it: it is the sex-class system through which male people subjugate female people, first & foremost to assert control over reproduction.
bell hooks said that: “feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.
feminism is the movement to dismantle that sex-class system. feminists must speak lucidly about sex, sex-class, socialisation, & reproduction.
& yet that speech & movement is condemned as oppressive, exclusionary, & cruel to male people, because sexist male people will never be happy with feminism. never. it’s not worth it to try to appease them.
the whole “abortion is too exclusionary to bring up at a women’s march” thing makes no sense regardless of how you define woman (i.e. “female people” vs. “anyone who identifies as a woman”).
is rape an appropriate topic for a women’s march? not all women are raped. not all rape victims are women. is bringing up rape at a women’s march oppressive to women who haven’t been raped? if never-been-raped women protested that anti-rape activism “excluded” them & hurt their feelings, would we take them seriously? if never-been-raped women proclaimed that anti-rape activism “reduced women to rape victims”, would you take their side?
so is female reproductive autonomy an appropriate topic for a women’s march? every person that suffers under the exploitation of female reproductive capacity – denied abortion, forced abortion, forced impregnation, etc. – is a member of the female sex. the vast majority of those people consider themselves “women” (or the equivalent word in their language).
so what if members of the male sex feel offended & excluded by discussions of male exploitation of female people? their bruised egos don’t need to be assuaged by women.
if rape can be discussed at a women’s march, why not female reproductive autonomy?
it would actually be great to discuss white feminism with respect to white women uncritically expecting black women to take over their domestic roles when white women “empowered” themselves in the workplace in the 60s and 70s or, like, white women CEOs exploiting women of color globally in sweatshops so they could join the boy’s club of millionaires, but no…. alas……. it’s not to be……… instead we get to say that referencing menstruation is the pinnacle of white feminism
Those on the frontline of this rage know it is there. Millions of us marched last Saturday. This has rattled Trump, who is obsessed with size, with ratings and with reviews. But let us now pursue clarity and strategy, and name what is happening.
Patriarchy is the sea in which these sharks gather. I am glad to see that people are using this word again. It went out of fashion for a bit when feminism was portrayed as a series of tedious personal choices over shoes, shopping and sex toys. But the concept of patriarchy is essential to understanding what is happening right now. It is a system by which men hold power over political leadership, moral authority and every kind of social privilege, over women and children.
Patriarchy is not some men-only affair. Many women play a role in sustaining it. The far right, by the way, is not afraid of using this word. It claims it as the basis for all that is good in western civilisation. The elevation of Trump is absolutely patriarchal fundamentalism. He has swept up a lot of the Christian vote because of it. The adulation of Putin is the worship of another white power based on patriarchal rule: unapologetically anti-women, anti-gay, anti-black and anti-Muslim. It is obsessed with displays of masculinity to the point of fascist camp. The right promises the restoration of a time when men were men and women were sanctified mothers or whores. Such authoritarianism may be delivered by both men and women. As the American author and feminist bell hooks says, patriarchy has no gender. It is not situated only within the individual – which is why screaming “Sexist!” at someone only gets you so far. Were the women who voted for Trump furthering patriarchy? Yes, obviously. They may believe it can protect them.
The dismantling of this power cannot possibly come from those who won’t name it and spend the entire time shoring it up, largely reaping its benefits: that is, much of the liberal establishment. By assuming the culture war had been won, the myths of impartiality and neutrality have allowed far–right voices to go unchallenged. The assumption that we all believe in equality, are anti-racist, love an art gallery and some heated debate turned out to be wrong.
Patriarchal power asserts itself through cultural as well as economic resentment. And that is everywhere. The oft-repeated sentiment that feminism is itself an extreme movement is evidence of how liberalism bows down to authoritarianism.
So much more important now than whether dullards profess their allegiance to women’s rights while refusing to listen to women is understanding who will get down on their knees to service the new man-child patriarchy. And those of us who won’t. The power of telling it like it is is ours.
“Testosterone Rex”, Fine’s target, is the name she gives to “that familiar, plausible, pervasive and powerful story of sex and society”, which holds that inequality of the sexes is natural, not cultural. After all, testosterone makes men tall, hairy and deep-voiced; it makes a certain superficial sense to imagine it also produces other characteristics we think of as masculine, such as leadership, violence and horniness. For example, neuroscientist Simon Baron-Cohen (the Alien to Fine’s Ripley in the dispute over brain sex) calls the hormone “that special substance”, and credits it with inducing all manner of adaptive qualities in those creatures fortunate enough to produce large amounts of it. T is the king.
This is an explanation that’s really a justification. If Baron-Cohen was correct that hormones make the man or woman, and we are what we secrete, then efforts to end male dominance would be futile at best and possibly downright harmful. But this, of course, assumes that “Testosterone Rex” is fact when, as Fine compellingly argues, it’s actually fiction. It’s a powerful fiction that shapes our society and our bodies in profound ways, yes – but it’s still a fiction, and one that in no way deserves to be enthroned in our understanding of ourselves.
I think it is most appropriate to make the first post of 2017 a call for female, feminist solidarity, please read Sarah Ditum’s article in full here.
There are females, of course […], but “female” is not counted as a gender identity. Female is written out. Inside the magazine, you’ll find features which reveal that, actually, femaleness is a highly pertinent characteristic: you can read about the poverty and violence inflicted on girls in developing nations, the pressures of bullying and body-shaming on girls in America, and how the two-tiered market in children’s toys might be harming girls through pinkification. Being female is a matter of life and death, but, per the cover, “female” is not a label under which people may gather.
Here I suppose I should concede National Geographic’s good intentions. National Geographic did not, I assume, deliberately set out to produce an issue showing that female people are exploited and abused for being female, while also announcing that “female” does not exist. Nor is National Geographic doing anything particularly new or shocking by deleting women as a class: reproductive rights organisations now talk about “pregnant people” rather than women in order to be “inclusive”, and even references to vaginas can be damned as transphobic. But if it the express motivation of this cover had been to tauntingly depoliticise everything the inside pages have to tell about the place of women and girls in the world, the patriarchy would give it a 10/10 for threat neutralisation.
In the circumstances, wanting out of the class “woman” is eminently rational. And being a woman is only going to get rougher in Trump’s America. Michelle Goldberg is correct in her bleak, eloquent Slate column when she writes that Trump’s presidency means the backlash is on. Abortion rights, protections against sexual discrimination, action against sexual violence – these things will be the first to go. Even if you don’t “feel female”, you will be exposed by being female. A label is no defense against male violence. You can disown your body, but your body is too valuable a commodity to be left alone. It can make babies. It can make dinners, mop floors. It can make a man orgasm. You are a resource to be colonised, and simply stating that you are not one by refusing the title “woman” will never function as a “keep out” sign.
To survive, to resist, we need to organise. To organise, we need to acknowledge what we hold in common. Throughout feminism’s waves and wanings, that’s been the basis of every success: identifying the oppressions imposed on us as women, and working together as women against them. Our female bodies are the battleground, and we can’t escape that even if we deny it by claiming some variant identity such as “non-binary” or “bi-gender”. We need a women’s movement. Even those of us who think we don’t need it, will need it. And for that, we need to call ourselves – our female selves – women, without compromise or qualification.