Shaving Your Legs Is Not Feminist (But You Can Still Be A Feminist And Shave)

The Belle Jar

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I posted this picture (by Natalya Lobanova) on my Facebook page yesterday and received a bunch of varying responses to it. Some people loved it. A bunch of people shared it. But some also found it insulting and judgmental, and took it as a criticism of women who shave their body hair. A few took exception to the word “mutilating,” which, though modified by “slightly,” they thought was going too far. As with anything that sparks a discussion, I was interested in how people were reacting and why. The truth is that I really liked this image, and was surprised that people took offence to it. I think that talking about the fucked up things we do in order to be beautiful is super important, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable.

Full disclosure, you guys: I shave my legs. I also shave my underarms, my bikini line, and this weird trail of…

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How to Eff Up (There’s Some Cussing Below! Be Warned!)

SACHA's Blog

Here’s a excerpt from an Absolutely Excellent, rad post, called (and I quote) “How to F**k Up”, by Teh Portly Dyke:

That’s what this post is about. “How to F**k Up” — and how to clean up when you fuck up.

I have a little tool that I call “The Four A’s” (I learned it from an absolutely fantastic teacher) and it has helped me through numerous f**k-ups in my life.

When you “F**k Up” (whether the f**k-up is minor or major) practice the “Four A’s”.

  1. Acknowledgment
  2. Apology
  3. Amends
  4. Action

#1) Acknowledgment — is really important, IMO [in my opinion], because if you don’t realize what you actually did, and how it was “f**ked up”, there’s a high probability that you are going to do it again — a very high probability.

#2) Apology — is also really important — but it has to be genuine (which requires #1…

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Muslim, queer, feminist: it’s as complicated as it sounds.

days like crazy paving

blog post cover photo me: muslim no matter how I dress.

There are three aspects of my identity that really can’t be untangled from each other:

I am a queer woman.

I am a feminist.

And I believe that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is Allah’s messenger.

Yeah, it’s the third one that usually gets the record-scratch reaction.

I was raised Muslim, but in my teens, I became severely disillusioned with the faith. Having finished reading the Qur’an in English for the first time, I started to fully appreciate just how easy it was for people to twist and re-interpret the book to serve their own needs. I realised my father had been doing that to me for years, with his rules that he swore came “from God” and his restrictions on my behaviour that were all part of me being a good Muslim girl. Cover yourself so men don’t…

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The Uganda anti-homosexuality bill: beyond monocausal explanations, by Kristof Titeca

Mats Utas

Last Friday, the 28th of February, a wealthier primary school in the suburbs of Kampala had a special occasion during their Friday Assembly (in which students hold performances):  the P2 class reenacted the signing of the anti-homosexuality bill by President Museveni. One kid was dressed as President Museveni, wearing his distinctive hat, and a smart jacket – he was surrounded by his classmates who were acting as MP’s, and one dressed as a military. After signing the bill, ‘Museveni Junior’ told the other kids “Fellow Ugandans, this is our country. We should not accept cultures and values imposed on us. Am, therefore, signing this bill into law to stop all immorality.”

In doing so, it shows a dominant explanation of Museveni’s signing of the anti-homosexuality bill: provoked by Western insistence on the issue, Museveni had no choice but to sign the bill. In other words, there is a…

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Why I Can’t Stand Junot Díaz

Note: This post is partially in response to a question posed to the author of our most recent post about why they discussed Junot Díaz.

I haven’t read any of Junot Díaz’s fiction. I plan to get there eventually, but when I critique Díaz, it’s for his politics.

Decolonial theory is associated with names like Walter D. Mignolo; if you want a solid critique from someone much more qualified than me of Mignolo specifically and his decolonial bugbears, then the first thirteen pages of this monograph do exactly that: http://materializmidialektik.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Zizek_Politics.pdf

Díaz, though, is specifically more well-known for talking about “decolonial LOVE,” and that’s why I bother to mention him by name in my above-linked Valentine’s essay. First, let’s step through where Díaz and I are in full agreement on race and love:

1. Racism exists in a violently unbalanced asymmetry, which is why the SJ movement consistently refers to it as “white supremacy” (often citing bell hooks’ own revelation and stance on this change of phrasing). Whatever moments of POC violence exist, they are dwarfed by the centuries of white violence, white police, white lynchings, white anti-immigration acts; and even when POC violence is explicitly given as anti-white retribution, again, this is not only dwarfed by anti-POC violence, but is clearly and obviously symptomatic of a universe in which racism is posited by white bodies who claim for themselves the top tier of value, meaningfulness, and right-to-life. An oft-used analogy is the distinction between Israeli and Palestinian violence.

White supremacy is the thesis, and all other races are the antithesis it generates.

2. Díaz writes, “we are never going to get anywhere as long as our economies of attraction continue to resemble, more or less, the economy of attraction of white supremacy.” (http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/12/watch_junot_diaz_keynote_speech_from_facing_race_2012_video.html) This is where we break, because while I would say the exact same thing, Díaz and I mean violently irreconcilable things by it.

Díaz’s politics are what Nietzsche excoriated in his Genealogy of Morals as “priestly morality,” or “ressentiment;” mine are what Nietzsche called “transvaluation”—in Christian terms, metanoia (which word, ironically, Díaz himself uses in the Salon article linked below)—or what Hegel called sublation, Aufhebung.

Díaz’s only possible politic is to invert the terms (and this is what Mignolo does more explicitly): where we were Eurocentric, we now must IGNORE questions deemed “European,” since they “do not matter” for the subaltern of the third world (Gayatri Spivak, who coined the term subaltern, makes exactly this claim in one of her critiques of Jacques Derrida). Where we were once white supremacists, we must value and celebrate the history of the indigenous, the black African, the Maori (not that Diaz has the first clue about Pacific Islanders who would never identify with the U.S. centric “AAPI” grouping, which happens to be most of them)—well-known things like the slogan “black is beautiful” or poetry and novels written in various creoles or patois.

As Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks unforgivingly put it, “Race, if it is working at all, is about the sense of one’s exclusiveness, exceptionality and uniqueness. Put very simply, it is an identity that, if it is working at all, can only be about pride, being better, being the best.” Díaz and the rest of the decolonial critics’ politics is to do exactly that: engage in the liberal fantasy where we are ALL the best, we are EQUALLY unique and special and valuable, in some impossible future harmony of racial balance and equality.

(Note: Intra-POC violence—like black-on-Asian violence after Rodney King—fits this same pattern, as documented by Anne Anlin Cheng: black supremacy is a movement of ressentiment which, in the specific case of the King beating, turned into an assault on Korean locals in a display of race supremacy, attempting only to re-order the relative privileges of race.)

3. Aufhebung—sublation—transvaluation—metanoia—whatever you want to call it, has no time for that. Besides having to give up on the illusion of a future (we must live rightly NOW, damn the rotten corpses we’ll be and whatever future society rises), it *DESTROYS THE THESIS*. Sublation is not about a “synthesis” in which thesis or antithesis are reconciled in unious harmony; sublation eliminates the thesis and the antithesis along with it: to lose white supremacy is to lose all sense of a shared black identity, of being Asian-American, of indigenous history; all of these were retroactively posited by white supremacy to explain its own existence (“We came to the land of noble savages with human chattel and are now fighting against the unwanted racial others trying to share in our prosperity”—all ideological hallucinations with real, material consequences: the genocide of Natives, the enslavement of black Africans, the Chinese Exclusion Act and the present hysteria about Latin@, esp. Mexican, immigrants).

As Zizek puts it later in that same essay I linked you, when it comes to class oppression, “the goal of the revolutionary activity is [not that everyone becomes like workers but], on the contrary, to change the entire social situation so that workers themselves will no longer be ‘workers.’” Racially, this is what revolutionary achievement aims for as well: Not that we all become more white (the neoliberal goal) or that we all convert to the side of the oppressed (what the frequently-cited Paolo Freire openly advocates in his “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” another favorite of the SJ clique), but that THE VERY DIFFERENCE IS DESTROYED. We are made free because these coordinates cease to control us—ANY of us.

“None of us are free until all of us are free,” as the now-unpopular slogan goes, since that involves grace for the devil, who must also be released from hell, even though he is the king of it. And we don’t want that. We want retribution.

3. And this, finally, is why the politicians of ressentiment cry “foul” and accuse the political radical of being a political conservative: they cannot tell the difference between the two positions, the neoliberal “post-racial” fantasy (which is a simple regression to the point where white supremacy is hidden and invisible again) and the actual elimination of white supremacy *and all it generates* as a result.

In the first case, as Díaz himself knows, white supremacy masquerades as non-existent, as the unmarked position, as common-sense knowledge, not some biased “ideology.” (http://www.salon.com/2012/07/02/the_search_for_decolonial_love/) Furthermore, we are all implicated in this; but for Díaz, that means betraying those we should be in solidarity with for some minuscule privileges, learning a little humility, whereas for me that means “we are all enabled to fight and destroy white supremacy, no exceptions.” (None of this imbecility about “well clearly revolution must come the working class women of color as they are best positioned to see white supremacy ‘as it really is’—the horseshit theory of false consciousness). The ressentiment politician has learned that white supremacy’s invisibility is a lie, but is convinced that the impossible is, well, impossible: not only is there no future in which a non-raced subject can exist, they sure as shit can’t exist NOW…

And that is where Díaz ultimately reveals himself to be on the side of ressentiment. While we both want to go full Bane in the Gotham Stock Exchange when it comes to “the economy of attraction of white supremacy”—catastrophically destroy it—Díaz wants the colonized to engage in some kind of “return” to a proud past, to achieve a love AGAINST the neocolonial subjectivity they’ve been raised into.

So it’s no surprise that many people like Díaz prefer to cite the passages of White Skin, Black Masks that Fanon immediately disavows at the end of that chapter (like the passages praising black beauty). As you’ll see Zizek himself cite Fanon, “I am a man, and what I have to recapture is the whole past of the world. I am not responsible solely for the slave revolt in Santo Domingo. Every time a man has contributed to the victory of the dignity of the spirit, every time a man has said no to an attempt to subjugate his fellows, I have felt solidarity with his act. In no way does my basic vocation have to be drawn from the past of peoples of color. In no way do I have to dedicate myself to reviving a black civilization unjustly ignored. I will not make myself the man of any past.” This runs loudly counter to the “historically-aware, systemic collective action” of most SJ thinkers—they reach for Gramsci and Spivak, I reach for Marx and Hegel—and the usual objection is that all of this is just an indiviudal fantasy (always the consequence of my or someone’s else’s “unchecked privilege”), insufficiently “structural” and unable to come to terms with “collective action.” What does Fanon’s privilege in being able to say this have to do with the 14 yeard old black boy on the Boston T who’s felt worthless his entire life, and then, as Cherrie Moraga knew, gets shot in the head by a cop (see the preface to “This Bridge Called My Back”)?

Such a response is also why I detest privilege: as bell hooks naively, even cluelessly, put it in her “post-modern blackness,” “it’s easy to give up identity, when you got one.” That is not a thing anyone who has ever tried to give up privilege can respond to except with abrasive, mocking laughter. hooks was specifically trying to defend identity politics as valuable; but what hooks cannot theorize is that privilege is not simply concrete, material goods like access to food, employment, housing, safety, etc.

Privilege is a bribe, and when you have privilege, you have been BOUGHT. To fight against it will go for you about as well as anyone who’s ever seen a cop movie knows—the corrupt system will either ignore you (because it can), discipline you (beat you, humiliate you, alienate you, rescind your privileges), or when you cease to be an acceptable level of threat, destroy you.

White racial identity is one such privilege.

To learn to desire outside the white economy is to no longer consider yourself worth saving, to be willing to die for the sake of love. And wasn’t it Christ, that “Man without Qualities,” the hole I was writing about, the one who Bonhoeffer who called “the man for others,” that said: “No greater love has anyone than this, but that they give their life for those they love?”

Díaz can’t seem to imagine me with friends of color, lovers of color, colleagues of color, enemies of color, indifferent strangers of color, and the need to relate to them. Fanon can—“I find myself in the world and I recognize that I have one right alone: That of demanding human behavior from the other”—but Díaz can’t. As Audrey Thompson put it in her popular but again, to my eyes, ultimately useless and misguided essay “Tiffany, friend of people of color,” they have no patience for the kind of love-object I was going on about in my Valentine’s essay: “This is a different question from whether a white person can be the friend of a person of color. Here, I am focusing specifically on the universal “friend,” as in “good guy” or ‘ally.’ Even intimate friendship, though, is not safe from racism. As Lerone Bennett, Jr., suggests, such a relationship may ‘transcend’ racism without destroying it.” That is an incredibly stupid statement—how can any relationship transcend racism without being a threat to it? and if it can, why the fuck are we calling that “transcendence”?—and repeats the standard SJ disavowal: you are an individualist, but I see things as they really are, on the level of systems and the universal; your pretty personal problem is never going to change anything.

Any Buddhist knows this is nonsense. To do some quick word-substitution on the one of Zen’s most famous sayings, on how mountains and rivers are perceived during the steps of enlightenment:

“First, I saw people as people. Then, I saw that people (including myself) were all raced. Then, when I had actually achieved enlightenment, I saw people as people.”

The third stage is that of the bodhisattva, the practitioner enabled to cut through delusions and assist others on their quest to their own (unique, singular) enlightenment. But for Díaz and his type, stage three is exactly the same as stage one; they cannot understand the difference between invisible white supremacy and the end of the white supremacy.

They are cynics, and as Lacan warned us about cynics, they’re all dupes. “I know how things really are; so I persist in my racial fantasies and fictions of solidarity…”

So. That’s why I can’t stand Díaz. He is irrelevant to me; his decolonial love has no way of redeeming the devil. As the Propagandhi song I linked to sings,

“i’ve been subject to the same de-structure of desire and i’ve felt the same effects; i’m a hetero-sexist tragedy[…] i had different desires prior to my role-remodelling. and at six years of age you don’t challenge their claims. you become the same. (or withdraw from the game and hang your head in shame)[…]sex has been distorted and vilified. i’m scared of my attraction to body types. if everything desired is objectified then eroticism needs to be redefined. and i refuse to be a ‘man’. dead men don’t rape. a gender war in your fucking face. a battle hymn to celebrate the fact that we don’t have to become or remain what we’ve come to hate.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXFkYyhoHiI)

That’s god-damn anti-patriarchal hymn, and has nothing to do with the ressentiment fantasies of the separatists who think only women can be feminists, the Good Social Justice Men who “know” that women need to lead the movement, the intersectional feminists who know we have to account for all identities…

Propagandhi takes responsible for the demonization (lit. “being made into a demon”) that was not his fault and the consequences he will get for throwing it down.

THAT’S “checking your privilege.” But it’s a conception I have never, not once, found articulated by any self-identified member of the “social justice” movement; and it sure as hell has nothing to do with Díaz and his ilk’s decolonial fantasies.

So I don’t bother with them so much. Down with decolonial love.

Why Can’t Anyone Have Sexual Relations on Valentine’s Day, and Why is that Good News?

Because it means we are free.

In Syrian Orthodoxy, the celibate monk is identified with Christ: both are called “îḥîdāyê.” (The language is Syriac, a later stage of Aramaic, the language Mel Gibson had everyone speak in The Passion of the Christ.) Our word, monk, comes from the Greek monakhos, “single, solitary.” Solitary—as in celibate—is *one* of îḥîdāyê’s meanings; but Syriac’s word also means only-begotten and single-minded.

The îḥîdāyê are like angels—considered genderless, neither and both androgynous—and they are each perfectly unique—only-begotten as Christ is God’s only-begotten son—and they are each single-minded in purpose—they have learned to desire differently, without distractions from the single object of their love, the cause of all their desire.

The îḥîdāyê, these Syriac monks, emphatically, unambiguously, BECOME another Christ, both according to themselves and those who wrote about them. Their goal is to imitate Christ, to be the same as him. But what is Christ for the îḥîdāyê?

Christ is a hole, a void, an empty space, the template of all people in all times and all places, abandoned of God as we are abandoned of God, fully God and fully man as we are fully men and fully God. Christ is—not emptiness, we have to be careful here—Christ is EMPTYING. (The technical Greek term is identical, piece-for-piece, with the English: “kenosis.” Kenein: to empty; -sis: the -ing makes-a-verb-a-noun suffix of English.)

The easy misconception here, and the one that descendants of Western churches (Catholic, Protestant) know well, is that of a “personal relationship” with Jesus. Jesus as husband, church as wife, the believer as Jesus’ beloved, the soul mate theory of love. None of that has a place in the îḥîdāyê’s philosophy of sex. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from a National Socialist prison:

“One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one.”

We need to say here: whether it be a good lover, sexually pure, a virgin, a great lay, in a relationship, alone to work on ourselves before a relationship, a spouse, a divorcee, a single parent, a twink, a switch, proud, ashamed, penitent, or frustrated. But if one no longer tries to become anything, what does it mean to “become” Christ?

Since Christ here is an empty space, the îḥîdāyê do not want to “become” anything in our usual sense of the word. They recognize in themselves their “fundamental Christ nature,” their constitutive gap, and this recognition—that they have no sexual identity to lose, that they have no sexual identity to gain—sets them absolutely free.

But why is this “celibacy”?

Since celibacy usually refers to an elective refusal of sex, it comes closest to an accurate name for the gap, as it appears in the sexual subject, whether heterosexual or homoromantic or polyamorous or virgin. That is how to understand Lacan’s “there is no sexual relation”: there is no fill for the void, there is no completion of sex, there are no other halves, there is no joining of the voids into some bigger void, there isn’t even “good” sex or “bad” sex. “There is no sexual relation” means we are confronted with the gap, and can either deny it—retreat back to the comfortable, the easily-thought sexual identities—or we can AFFIRM that gap, CHOOSE it, because it is there that we find sexual freedom. (Celibacy as a choice, and celibacy as an absence of sexual relation, is why I favor calling this “emptying of sexual identity” celibacy.) There are no sexual relations on Valentine’s Day, or any other day. The delusion of sexual fulfillment, of an actually-owned sexual identity, is revealed as a lie by îḥîdāyê: at bottom, there are no constraints, and there is no fulfillment. (If there are words, then, for every other identitarian fiction—race, class, gender, all of them—then they share this gap between the actually-existing person and the type they are supposed to conform too, “recognizably” black or gay or straight or white; but it would be strange to call that “celibacy.” These gaps would have their own names.)

I very carefully say sexual FREEDOM and not “sexual liberation” because that is another very stupid idea, buying back into the “repressive hypothesis” Foucault so beautifully excoriated forty years ago: if only we can get rid of this last obstacle, if we can end patriarchy, eliminate homoantagonism, then sex will be “good”—but not just “good,” it will be “good” “AGAIN!” When “liberation” falls into this Return to Eden delusion, it’s not worth being polite to. The “decolonial love” of thinkers like Junot Diaz, for example, is exactly this kind of stupid shtick: before racism, love was possible, we must de-colonize ourselves, get it back… and if Diaz and his ilk believed, finally, in the necessity of desiring other than what we desire, he would already have found Paul’s answer: as with any love object, “I consider all a loss, now that I have Christ!” We do not need to change society to become celibate; that is another delusion. Now—in this shattered, violent, horrible world, with its racist standards of beauty, its heteronormative aims—we affirm our sexual freedom. There is no future we can do it in instead. We are already, at the level of our being, celibate, and our freedom comes from this.

What if this is wrong? What if this bizarre theological speculation is only bizarre theological speculation? Then sex returns to the circuit of goods, and whoever has the most is best. Put another way: there will be a definite answer to the question of “what is the best sexual identity?” Perhaps the pansexual is uniquely privileged in being able to love? Might certain anarchist circles be right that all monogamy is necessarily patriarchal? Can only the colonized achieve true love (since only they can “decolonize” themselves—the colonizer has no pre-colonial past to return to)? Are only the radical queers able to be non-heteronormative? Are only the celibate able to resist their animal urges and live true, unfettered, good lives? Is the asexual a superior breed? Is only the person who is the best lover, the most concerned with their partners’ pleasure, the one who has never received anything but enthusiastic consent, the fully-realized person? And of course, we must remember: the unfuckable, the ugly, those who are “bad at sex,” the virgin, the slut, whoever is poor or miserly or a bad investor in the sexual economy—whoever has nothing to sell or has bad taste or just can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps or spends irresponsibly—is accordingly cheap, worthless, tacky, not WORTH someone else’s love or pleasure. We would have a moral OBLIGATION to disdain the ugly, judge the divorcee, hate on those who do not enjoy sex enough or are not good enough at it; we would need essays on how to be a virgin, books on how to be an ethical slut, encyclopedias of sex positions and the histories of various sexual identities *in order to have value as sexual beings*.

Celibacy—which again and emphatically has nothing to do with getting ourselves off with or without anyone else—is a matter of sexual being: of our being unable of ever being completed by anyone else, not because we are already filled, but because this emptiness is the source of our liberty. It is a statement on our morality and on our value, as “absolutely singular and infinitely valuable[…] celibacy [in this sense] establishes that each individual is fully human, in and of themselves; a value so great that nothing can be added to it and nothing can subtract from it.” A value that is, to be clear, completely worthless within the system of sexual identities and naïve sex-positivity: “Whether one is married, dating, polyamorous/nonmonogamous, or celibate, our sexuality is best understood as a creative and fun act between whole persons [“hole persons”?] rather than desperate attempts to find completion.”

Take your pick.

So I say, we are ALL îḥîdāyê, in the same way that we are ALL already in possession of the buddha-nature, we are ALL already freed from the slavery to the fear of death in Christ’s sacrifice, we are ALL already Allah as the Sufis screamed. But we do not live it, we do not approach sex as if this were actually true, and that is the difference.

Celibacy, therefore, is what “emptying” looks like when applied to the identitarian/identity-politics/intersectional imbecilities of “sexual identity,” which is no more stupid or less stupid than those who, for example, stupidly assert they “have no sexual identity” because—for example—their “only identity is Jesus…” Such a person, besides engaging in street-level blasphemy, has absolutely nothing in common with the îḥîdāyê: they mistake Jesus for being the thing that sutures their gap, instead of identifying with him BECAUSE of that gap, instead of realizing this hole is what makes them JUST LIKE him.

When we become celibate, in this sense which has nothing to do with the regressive medieval celibacy vows of certain massively rich and powerful Western churches, for whom celibacy became just another identity among identities instead of the name for the free-space hole of ALL sexual identities—when we become celibate, we are recognizing what was already true. Nothing changes. In *exactly the same way* as the Buddhist monk’s enlightenment is a recognition of her fundamental Buddha-nature—nothingness—she also recognizes that it is not some eternal void there: “Void itself is voided,” they chant, sexual identity is fundamentally a nothing-ing, a making-nothing, an emptying of illusions and desperate attempts to plug what does not need filling. We are enabled to see things as they are, as they have always been, and to make our steps accordingly.

Valentine’s Day—Singles’ Appreciation Day—in a theological context, means something simple: Fuck whoever. Fuck no one. Be with, date, see, fantasize about, anyone or no one. Doesn’t matter.

There’s nothing that was ever “supposed” to be there, for you or anyone else. You have nothing to fill, no match to meet, no one to save yourself for, no one to break up with, no need to find “time alone” to “work on yourself” and no right answer.

You’re free.

Other things that make the same point:

Shel Silverstein, “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O”: http://www.ktor.me/bigo/index.php

The New Gay, “Reflections on a Queer Christ”: http://thenewgay.net/2011/03/reflections-on-a-queer-christ.html

Dresden Codak, “For reasons unexplained, every person in the world is born with a large gaping hole in the center of their chest”: http://www.dresdencodak.com/images/stall10.jpg

Sydney H. Griffith, “Asceticism in the Church of Syria: The Hermeneutics of Early Syrian Monasticism”: http://books.google.com/books?id=EIqym5Pw_O8C&pg=PA238&lpg=PA238&dq=ihidaya+asceticism&source=bl&ots=QBTGBSvqMS&sig=6ykbMHaWu9xxcRChidp9nzvQCys&hl=en&sa=X&ei=8U78UqOgOcT40gGV8YDgCQ&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=syrian&f=false

Chelsea Fagan, “Not Everyone is Beautiful, And That’s Okay”:http://thoughtcatalog.com/chelsea-fagan/2012/09/not-everyone-is-beautiful-and-thats-okay/

Call-Out Culture, Cultural Critique, and Constructive Criticism

I was inspired to write this post by three things:

1.) Mounting frustrations with the typical social media outrage cycle (despite its relative importance).

2.) A friend’s recent Facebook status (re-printed with permission) with which I strongly agree:

I mean this with all due respect to the very brilliant people I know making astute and important cultural critiques, but given that we’re growing up and our generation is probably in charge of dealing with very real inequity nightmares left for us by our parents, do you think we can maybe start picking bigger battles than Beyoncé and Wacklemore?”

3.) Season 3, Episode 20 of The Big Bang Theory (I’ve seen random episodes before, but never watched it from the beginning, so that’s my current TV project).

Super quick recap of BBT (SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t seen it yet): In the recent aftermath of Leonard and Penny’s breakup, Sheldon’s increasing (though still lacking by “social standards”) capacity to perceive, feel, and respond to the emotions of himself and others causes him to do everything he can to maintain friendships with both Leonard and Penny without upsetting either of them (especially Leonard).

Now, as lots of people can attest, social media has created a fairly repetitive cycle of “Let’s all be upset and xyz important issue!” that inevitably leads to “Let’s all say why we should/shouldn’t be upset about xyz important issue!” responses. Read some of the links above if you aren’t sure what I mean.

It’s not that the issues aren’t important (they often are actually extremely important) or that the protests and responses aren’t thoughtful with useful insights. To me, part of the problem is that it’s like we’re constantly in break-up mode with the most recent celebrity mishap, news reporter/channel no-no, or political blunder. We scream, and shout, and let it all out, rallying our allies to accumulate likes and shares (and their Twitter, Tumblr, blog, etc. counterparts) while often not positively engaging those who dare to disagree.

To be perfectly fair, I happen to know several people who are more than willing to engage when they have the time and energy. But still, we are overwhelmingly inundated with some people calling out others for their mishaps while insulting the intelligence of those whose opinions differ. This is especially true during pop culture critiques (e.g. Sherman, Macklemore, the Grammys, Melissa Harris-Perry, etc.) and, with the power of the internet at our fingertips, more voices can be heard in rapidly increasing numbers, regardless of the authority of the author to speak on the subject.

I don’t mean to suggest that everyone who wants to talk about issues of race, gender, the economy, psychosocial trends, vaccine efficacy, etc. needs a Ph.D in the subject to do so; however, an awareness of, and experience reading, the research being done by those who have dedicated their lives to such fields would certainly help to clear the clutter across the board. The internet is rife with comments such as “you need to educate yourself” as a result of the exhaustion and exasperation that so many feel engaging other on these issues, though they rarely do more than elicit responses such as “that’s elitist” or “I know what I’m talking about, because xyz”.

Near the end of the BBT episode, as Leonard and Penny are entering a mini-argument, we see a distressed Sheldon (physically and socially stuck in the middle of them) leave to go to his room by saying “Ok! Just don’t fight…” Far too often, this is the feeling by the audience when one person launches a critique at another and the cycle starts anew: “please let there be no more fighting”. And while critiquing things that happen in popular culture is a great way to introduce these topics to people who otherwise might not be interested or know they exist, it often devolves more into “polite” fighting. The conversation rests on either “calling out” the person or group or idea or defending the target, and it becomes that much more alienating.

And, most troubling of all, is the seeming lack of consideration in providing criticism that is not only enlightening, but educative. I can’t think of a time when I saw someone, in their critique of Macklemore, provide a list of works for him (or others) to read by Judith Butler, Annamarie Jagose, or the late Jose Esteban Munoz when describing his impact and representation of people who identify as LGBTQI+. I don’t remember anyone suggesting to Beyonce or her fans to explore Bell Hooks, Frances Beal, or Patricia Hill Collins when deciding her role as a feminist. Nor can I recall a response to Katy Perry, Julianne Houghs, Miley Cyrus, or Justin Timberlake that provided resources as to what, exactly, cultural appropriation is, its history, and its continued role in the oppression of many demographic groups around the world.

In other words, most critiques are focused solely on their criticism rather than trying to get us all one step closer to solving the problem. While it may be a stretch, but what if we encouraged artists to engage in conversations with some of the brilliant minds who do work on the issues about which they wish to speak? What if we asked them to use their privileges as national figures to encourage their fans to learn more about the issues they care about? What if we demanded more not just of them, but of ourselves as well? Rather than all bowing down in blind reverence to Queen/King Bey or clucking our tongues in disappointment and vowing never to listen to THAT artist again, we, as their fans and audience, approached them with the kind of respect and honesty we wish for ourselves? In no way do I think that this will suddenly be the magical cure for all social ills and create the radical, revolutionary change that is so desperately needed to fight the ever-present inequity that exists in our society, but it could certainly be a start.

And then, just like Penny said to Leonard post-fight in the last scene of the episode, no matter what we’ve all been through, whatever criticisms we’ve hurled, whatever shame or embarrassment we’ve endured, we can end by saying “I think we can be friends.” Because in the end, we’re much more likely to listen to one another, do our best to help one another, and learn from each other if we’re friends, right?

Fighting Fire with Water: Identity Politics and Intersectionality

We won’t pretend to be authorities on what it means to have an identity or who can own it. But we know that we can’t fight identity politics through identity politics, for the same reason that Audre Lorde taught us to fight fire with water. It’s something we think—and debate, write, read, argue, fight, dream, and what have you—about a lot, and over the past couple of weeks, it’s been creeping up more and more recently, so we figured we’d toss some ideas out there to get us all thinking about it a little more.

Identity politics—and the concept of “identity” itself—is the subject of too much academic, political, and interpersonal debate for us to define fairly. Broadly(!) understood, identity politics is a way of making decisions based on a stable, concrete identity a person has. Decisions that use this identity to determine where someone can be, what someone can know, and what that someone can do. That can be a choice someone wants to determine for others, or decisions one makes only for one’s self, based on what you believe to be your identity, or set of identities.

We bring it up because when the Advocate profiles Michfest for its transphobia, that’s going to get some press—like the kind Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous gives it. MichFest, a relatively small (3,000) festival in Michigan, was conceived with the goal of maintaining a space by women and for women as an escape—however brief—from U.S. patriarchy. For our purposes, what matters is that the directors claim this space only for women who were born women. A founder, and the festival’s art director, Lisa Vogel, “rejects the contention ‘that creating a time and a place for women born women to gather is inherently transphobic.’”

To show why it is, we’re going to go a roundabout way: Through Mia McKenzie’s takedown.

Wisely, McKenzie attacks the Myth of the Shared Female Experience, saying:

It gets used by certain groups, including Michigan Women’s Music Festival, to exclude trans* women because they presumably don’t have all the parts necessary to participate in this “universal” female experience that doesn’t actually exist anyway. The idea that cis women who attend this festival have a shared experience of womanhood–an experience that stretches like a rainbow bridge across race, sexuality, (dis)ability and economic class–that is so certain that no one without a vagina could possibly understand any of it is, frankly, absurd.”

We totally agree.

However, the part that raises eyebrows is that McKenzie, in her attempt to think intersectionally, suddenly returns to identity politics—the very same politics employed by MichFest.

McKenzie writes:

My point is, possession of vaginas in and of themselves are neither what define women nor what bond women to each other. Shared experiences of the world, which include experiences of race, sexuality, (dis)ability, economic class, any number of nuanced vulnerabilities, love of french fries, etc. is what bonds women to each other.”

McKenzie, however, doesn’t give her reader any reason to see why the following point wouldn’t also be true:

My point is, possession of non-white skin in and of itself is neither what defines POC nor what bonds POC to each other. Shared experiences of the world, which include experiences of sex, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, economic class, any number of nuanced vulnerabilities, love of french fries, etc. is what bonds POC to each other.”

Control-replace any of the above.

To be absolutely clear: We aren’t saying that the above is true. To say all identities are somehow “the same” would be false equivalence. It’s absurd on its face that love of french fries and being trans* are going to affect one’s life with equal strength.

Which is why false equivalence is the problem we want to pull out of identity politics. All humor aside, McKenzie, above, is willing to rate love of french fries as more important in bonding two people together than their both being female—but also uses the term “women” in her analysis as a coherent category! As G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “when Mr. H. G. Wells says (as he did somewhere), ‘All chairs are quite different’, he utters not merely a misstatement, but a contradiction in terms. If all chairs were quite different, you could not call them ‘all chairs’.” Replace “chairs” with “women,” and you see our point: false equivalence will leave an analysis self-contradictory.

So while McKenzie rightly seeks to attack the myth of shared female experience rooted in identitarian and separatist/(self-)segregationalist politics, she doesn’t attack these politics at the root. Instead, we get these questions: If we reject a shared female experience, don’t we also reject a shared POC experience? And a shared queer experience? And a shared nerdy experience? In fact, aren’t we compelled to reject the idea of all shared experiences, as they are all rooted in identitarian and separatist politics? ?

Our concern is that that line of reasoning is McKenzie’s ad absurdum consequence, even if she didn’t intend it.

As Terry Eagleton writes:

There is no reason to believe in a post-Freudian era that our lived experience need be any less ambiguous than our ideas[…] if our conscious experience is elusive and indeterminate—a point which those political radicals who appeal dogmatically to ‘experience’ as some sort of absolute fail to recognize—then our unconscious life is even more so.”

In other words, the problem isn’t that it’s “wrong” to talk about your experience and the identity you have from those experiences. The problem comes with all attempts to elevate experiences to the status of “some sort of absolute.”

Mia McKenzie’s experience and comfort levels and points of connections are hers, to be sure, and she’s certainly far from alone in feeling them. (Who would read and share her pieces if she wasn’t resonating with people who feel the same way?) But when we generalize the experience of “being a woman” to a non-variable while keeping others, we’ve left experience and picked up identity politics… to fight identity politics.

Because that’s what MichFest does: Asserts that being a transwoman and ciswoman are different. That transwomen shouldn’t want to be in Michfest. That they don’t share enough experience. And McKenzie makes clear that she doesn’t feel that urge these transwomen do. Talking about race, she writes: “Seriously, a ‘room full’ of white women of any sort is a room I’m going to leave really quickly, and probably only have stumbled into by accident while looking for the bathroom.”

And that’s what Vogel and her ilk want: For transwomen to realize how “different” they are, see that their place at this festival is only an accident, and leave, never to return. This wanting to be in the room is the crucial point, and McKenzie seems to miss it—because, we think, she picks up the very same tool we’re trying to break.

To conclude: The problem with absolutism—an absolutism of experience on which identity politics relies to be coherent—is that it reasons backwards. We acknowledge that all women have different experiences from men, but an identity politic will argue that difference is because of some innate, essential thing: the second X-chromosome, vaginas, “the feminine mystique,” proportion of gray matter to white matter in the brain, what-have-you. An intersectional analysis, however, argues that the different experiences of women and men are because of patriarchy—that the difference in experiences isn’t rooted in some natural, unchangeable reality, but in the present, changeable reality of male supremacy.

Identity politics wants its difference to be biological, essential, stable; intersectionality recognizes that the differences are contextual, historical, changeable. They are real, they are observable, they can be witnessed; but they are not eternal.

An identity politic wants to reduce reality to a simplified version of what biologically or socially makes a woman. Intersectionality recognizes that this simplicity is inherently flawed because of its simplicity; in other words, we’re trying to make something super complex a bite-sized, universally understandable Truth, and then use that Truth to impose social order.

And even up until this point, Michfest’s higher-ups would agree with us. But they go further, and assert that patriarchy makes things different for ciswomen than for transwomen. And there is truth to that, but not the truth Vogel wants or seems to think exists.

Because the truth, we’re saying, is that part of patriarchy involves getting women to assent to its terms of who is a woman and who is a man. The truth, we’re saying, is that they commit the same crimes of patriarchy against transwomen that they resent when done to them—even when transwomen are much more likely to have violence done against them, and transwomen of color, even more. The truth, we’re saying, is that they scapegoat transwomen to preserve their own space, a safe space.

The truth, we’re saying, is that holding onto the master’s tools of abjection and separation will only ever make masters out of them.

If we’re going to make a space where transwomen are welcome—where Michfest isn’t the sort of place where McKenzie, for many good reasons that we won’t condescend to the reader to explain, knows they have to leave, for comfort’s, sanity’s, and self-preservation’s sake.

That’s a long way off, and we don’t pretend to have the tools to even mix the concrete for that road.

But we know it’s going to take something else, than the mud of identity politics Michfest is rolling in.