Feminism or Barbarism: The Patriarchy Papers 2010

The Patriarchy Papers

The year of 2010 ended with two international rape cases against public male figures. The conviction of former President of Israel, Moishe Katsav, on several charges of rape, sexual assault, and harassment flitted through the air waves during the same period that the liberal-left was focused on rape allegations against Julian Assange.  Assange, current it-boy of the left, is figurehead for the decentralized hacker-organization Wikki-leaks. The organization and Assange, its spokesperson, hit the news this past summer for its release to the press of over 250,000 government-classified documents concerning military operations and other nefarious government-activities.

Already targeted for his role in the leaks, Assange made even more news with another sort of “leaky” report– two Swedish women had reported him to the police for rape. The reaction of the male liberal-left was transparent–they reached for their dicks. The phrase “honey trap” went viral, insinuating a CIA plot. One of the women had been “wearing a revealing pink sweater,” Assange whined, adding that he had fallen into a “hornet’s nest of revolutionary feminists.” (Between honey-trap and hive, the species Vespa held the day). If only.

With luminaries like Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky rallying to the defense of Wikkileaks—for good reason–no leftist dudes have yet to distance themselves from a buffoon who claims that Sweden is like Saudi Arabia for men.  A woman liberal, Naomi Wolf, dragged the word “feminism” into the fray, using the identity to jump on the Limbaugh-of-the-left’s wagon. In the name of feminism, Wolf satirized the allegations, writing a letter to “Interpol,” aka “the World’s Dating Police” to  thank them for capturing a “narcissistic jerk.”  Michael Moore who originally called the rape charges “hooey” was pushed to backpedal a few days later thanks to feminist tweet-mobbing efforts led by Sadie Doyle. In contrast to Moore’s highly over-rated turn-around, Wolf continues to dig in her heels, most recently calling for the abolition of the anonymity policy granted to rape-victims.  This is not surprising given Moore’s dudely status; any left-liberal woman has something to prove—that she is as dudely as the dudes.

Of course it’s credible that the charges against Assange were politically exploited by the censorious powers of the state out to suppress Wikkileaks.  But the picture of everyday sexual coercion painted by the same charges is equally credible. Such apparently “minor” cases are the proverbial tip of an iceberg that unlike real icebergs is hidden in plain sight. A very partial list of events that never made headlines in 2010 (give or take a few years) helps connect the dots and between the Assange case and brings into focus another year in the war against women.

The Fog of War against Women

To reveal this war we don’t need a hacker; we need critical feminist consciousness—and media that lives up to its name as “independent.” The UN Report on Violence Against Women was released at the same time as the two rape cases but never “made the news.”

Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. Based on country data available, up to 70 per cent of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime – the majority by husbands, intimate partners or someone they know.

Among women aged between 15 and 44, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.  Perhaps the most pervasive human rights violation that we know today, violence against women devastates lives, fractures communities, and stalls development. It takes many forms and occurs in many places – domestic violence in the home, sexual abuse of girls in schools, sexual harassment at work, rape by husbands or strangers, in refugee camps or as a tactic of war.

Once more with feeling:  Globally, women between the age of fifteen and forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die as a result of male violence than through cancer, malaria, traffic accidents or war combined.

The body count here solves a mystery we’re not likely to see “torn from headlines” for a Law and Order Special Victim’s Unit episode (cha ching!) and not only because there were no headlines whatsoever about the case of the 200 million Missing Women.  The term “missing women” describes women who are dead in excess of natural mortality rates, as compared to males. This breathtaking calculation was originally made by economist Amartya Sen who, in 1990, primarily attributed the disappearances to gender based abortion and infanticide. More recent figures in 2009 not only double the original figure but cite the abuse of adult women and girls—not murdered infants or aborted fetuses—as the major reason for the disappearance.

Further figures are these:

  • Violence against women is the most common but least punished crime in the world.
  • It is estimated that girls and women do not receive the same amount of food and medical attention as their brothers and fathers.
  • The number of women forced or sold into prostitution is estimated worldwide at anywhere between 700,000 and 4,000,000 per year. Profits from sex slavery are estimated at seven to twelve billion US dollars per year.
  • At least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Usually, the abuser is a member of her own family or someone known to her. Domestic violence is the largest form of abuse of women worldwide, irrespective of region, culture, ethnicity, education, class and religion.
  • It is estimated that more than two million girls are genitally mutilated per year, a rate of one girl every fifteen seconds.
  • Systematic rape is used as a weapon of terror in many of the world’s conflicts. It is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 women in Rwanda were raped during the 1994 genocide.

Unsafe Sex and Leaky Leftists

Another stat on the same UN list is this:

  • Studies show the increasing links between violence against women and HIV and demonstrate that HIV-infected women are more likely to have experienced violence, and that victims of violence are at higher risk of HIV infection.

The connection between male violence/sexual coercion and women’s health has flitted through the media this year, starting with a U.C Davis study entitled Reproductive Coercion. Interestingly, the report was released during the final negotiations on President Obama’s “health care reform” policy.  At the precise moment then that the first man to make the cover of MS. Magazine was stripping women of abortion rights in the name of reform, the UC study was disclosing important data on the relationship between violence, sexual coercion, and condom-sabotage on the one hand, and unwanted pregnancies on the other. The same issue was at the center of the allegations against Assange.

The two women who pressed charges against Assange sought police help not to allege rape but to pressure Assange into getting tested for STDs. The allegations include, centrally, the fact that both women had to continuously struggle to get Assange to wear a condom during sex—for Naomi Wolf the fact that they warily gave in after a time is evidence of the consensual nature of the sex. When in the aftermath of this episode Assange also resisted or refused to get tested for STDs it was the last straw for the two women who coincidentally had discovered that they had each undergone the same ordeal with Assange within days (hours?) of one another.  While Wolf banalizes the act of condom-sabatoge as that of “narcissist jerk,” the act smacks of male impunity and men’s men’s entitled arrogation of women’s bodies for their own sexual interests. The position of dominance for men as a general fact of compulsory heterosexuality, is further intensified in the case of hero and idol as Assange was for these women—the younger of the two women was a groupie by any other name. Indeed, a whiff of the seigneurial right marks Assange’s actions, by which I refer to the (post)modern version of the archaic “lord’s” right to sample any maiden on his estate. Assange’s “white knights” among the white male left stood ready to defend the Lord’s sacred terrain–We are all Julian Assange” they seem to cry.

The easiest defense was to smear the charges as “hooey” to quote Michael Moore, before this leftist hero was pushed by a feminist tweet-mob to recant.  There has been and never will be any backpedalling on the part of Counterpunch co-founder Alexander Cockburn who quipped that the charges, “seem to “boil down to a charge of unsafe sex and [Assange’s] failure to phone his date the following day.” And any issue remotely connected to women under Cockburn’s cocky pen “boils down” to a sneer.  Yet when googling for the above article an earlier (2003) commentary by Cockburn on unsafe sex popped up at the same time. Here, focusing on the HIV pandemic for women in Africa, Cockburn whistles a different tune on the same issue. How do you spell male bad faith? Unless Cockburn’s jibe against the alleged victims of Assange is the product of serious, masculinist self-interested self-delusion—which is the safest bet—when we set the two articles side by side it’s impossible to avoid the inference that Cockburn somehow believes that African men do condom sabotage differently—and far more dangerously—than their Euro-American counterparts.

Based on Cockburn’s own words, the catastrophic sexual politics of unsafe sex are crystal clear.   “A woman can’t negotiate a condom with her husband” he reports, pointing to a major source of the pandemic. And he continues, “African women have higher exposure to risk because of a male liking for ‘dry sex,’ which can easily cause lesions because of the lack of lubrication.” In sum, “Being married confers one of the highest risks of getting HIV in Africa” (my emphasis). Passive voice aside: “being married,” “have higher exposure to risk,” it is obvious that male dominance is determinative of the sexual situation he is describing.

In addition to the conditions of marriage, he references “sex work,” pointing out that:

  • A sex worker gets more money from her trick if she doesn’t use a condom.
  • No condoms are available.
  • They can’t afford a condom.

So then, it seems that marriage and prostitution are the two major causes of HIV for women in Africa and other “poor regions.” Women’s inability “to negotiate” in either situation, point to the reciprocal unstated fact that male power, or men’s entitled access to women’s and girls’ bodies have more than a little to do with the “disappearing” of women on a global scale, which is to say, with the war against women that is hidden in plain sight.

Does Yes Really Mean Yes?

“It’s not about the condom,” avers Jessica Friedman in her attempt to counter rape apologist Naomi Wolf in a debate about the Assange case aired on the December 20th show of Democracy Now, and continued the next day.

Why isn’t it about the condom? The only answer I can come up with is that the issue of the condom detracts from Friedman’s “yes means yes” view of “consensual” sex. The best case against Assange, in her view, is evidence that he physically intimidated the women: “He had ripped her necklace. He had held her down,” and from these reported details she draws the inference: “She was afraid” (emphasis mine).  The speculation about what was in the women’s minds hides more than it discloses. The truth is that a range of emotional responses indicate coercion—not only or always physical fear at all, but fear of rejection in a culture where attracting a man is still at the core of femininity/identity for women. There are also experiences of wrenching emptiness, total dissociation (looking at one’s self as if from above), female shame, self-victim-blaming for getting into the situation, repulsion or disgust conflicting with the desire, not only or necessarily for sex, but to fulfill the ideal pressed on women today of the sexually empowered individual.[2] Given the groupie/admirer status of the women, a desire to please their hero might have something to do with giving in to pressure as well.

In fact the only evidence of the women’s fear was not with respect to Assange during the sexual encounter but in the aftermath confronting the possible consequences of Assange’s self-absorbed sexual recklessness. Given the facts about coercion and HIV for women, what heterosexual or bisexual woman today does not feel the shadow of catastrophe darkening or at least tinting any heterosexual encounter? This is also the shadow of male impunity. When Assange resisted condom-use and then medical testing he was flexing masculinist muscle, and the women rallied back in the best way they could, given their lack of real-world power to get him to respect their physical integrity. Assange’s condom-sabotage (in the context of other means of manipulating the women such as penetrating one of the women while she was sleeping) is a good indicator of a range of materially real (and dangerous) coercive tactics that do not neatly fit into either Friedman’s “yes means yes,” or Wolf’s “no means no” definitions of sex/rape. This might explain why Friedman had to stick to a tidy picture of Assange outright physically intimidating the women and why neither debater focused on the condom issue (except Wolf in order to belittle it).

Ultimately, Wolf and Friedman argued flip sides of the same ideological coin that fixates on a woman’s consent (or lack thereof), not men’s social power, as the only issue determining rape. Wolf pulled out the magical calculus that measures the number of “no’s” vs. “yeses” in any particular sexual encounter. In sync with the “no more excuses” neo-liberal era of Obama, Wolf’s concern is that we treat women as “mature adults” capable of saying “no” when they do not want sex. Wolf’s what about the menz concern is the real issue for her: “[Don’t] men deserve to know when something is not consensual?”[3] Friedman counters with her emphasis on women’s “enthusiasm.” Now granted, enthusiasm trumps sleeping as a sign of consent. However, the tactic of an anti-rape strategy based on “yes means yes,” does no more than “no means no” to address everything that happens between the moment of assertion and moment of insertion.  Friedman’s tactic is thus the equivalent of pulling a rabbit out of a hat—it’s like the “assertiveness training” version of feminism. From neither side of the debate did we hear about any connection between rape and contemporary relations of dominance and subordination between women and men. These are the relations which set women up to have always already consented, thus burdening women with primary, if not sole, responsibility for putting the lid on always-leaky men (pardon my puns).

The Point of No Return Story of Male Sexuality

Wolf, by asking feminism to “evolve” to a position where women are now treated as “mature adults,” is completely out of tune with the current sexual zeitgeist that pumps women up as “empowered”, and thus the primary agents in all sexual situations, save those in which patent force by a male partner is used, thus relieving men of any accountability. Wolf’s disconnection with reality is a product of her own bad faith “feminism.”  On the other hand, turning back to the fraternal bad faith of bonds between men, Assange and his posse of rape-apologists on the left were quick to defend—thus clarify—the sexual politics at stake in the case.  We can thank Paul Craig Roberts for spelling this out:

One [of the alleged victims] claims that she was having consensual sexual intercourse with him, but that he didn’t stop when she asked him to when the condom broke.

Think about this for a minute. Other than male porn stars who are bored with it all, how many men can stop at the point of orgasm or when approaching orgasm?  How does anyone know where Assange was in the process of the sex act?

Really? How does anyone know? If this is the question, then, it is highly unlikely that any attempt by women to stop men during an act of sexual relations could ever be deemed credible. For Roberts is relying on the myth that men can’t help themselves, otherwise known as the biologically determined male sex drive myth—or what Stan Goff calls “the [male] point of no return” story to define rape.

If a man can’t help himself then it’s not his fault. On the contrary, it’s (the traditional and postmodern alike) woman’s obligation to synchronize any “no” prior to her male partner’s mythical point of no return. Male sexual interests are the bottom line when determining whether a case of sex is rape or not. For rape apologists all rape that does not fit a. the Law and Order Sexual Victims Unit definition of the stranger leaping out from behind the bush, or b. the Law and Order SVU definition of rapist as “perv” and abnormal, then it is not what Whoopie Goldberg has unfortunately dubbed “rape rape” (when rationalizing the acts of convicted rapist Roman Polanski).

The Corrections

If men and their female loyalists like Wolf fear the swarming specter of buzz-killing revolutionary feminism, why not make their fear real? Rather than tepid tactics like “yes means yes,” nothing less than a full revival of revolutionary feminism is required at a moment when the arrogance of an Assange and his defenders is one flash point for large scale male impunity in the war against women. This is a year for example when such thought-defying acts as “corrective rapes” have become thinkable. The neologism refers to the gang rapes, beatings, and murders of lesbians in South Africa. The rapes are called “corrective” since the assailants and butchers claim to “cure” the women of their lesbianism with rape—and murder.  Back at home, a U.S Judge prescribed a similar “cure” for lesbians in the military.  “Joe Rehyansky, a part-time magistrate and Vietnam veteran, wrote on conservative news site The Daily Caller that lesbians should be allowed to serve in the military because straight male soldiers could ‘convert’ them.”  Is there any connection between this mentality and the fact that one out of three women in the U.S military are raped by their “comrades”?  That’s one out of three.

One of the earliest, most under-reported and most chilling accounts of rape in the military involve the military cover-up of the fact that women were dying in their sleep from dehydration. These women had failed to drink enough water during the day to survive nights that were 120-degree heat or warmer. But the military intentionally omitted from their medical records both the gender of the soldiers who died in this manner and the reasons that women had limited their fluid intake: The women were afraid to go out to pee at night because their male “comrades” had staked out the latrines as prime rape-camp turf. Thus “the women, in fear of getting up in the hours of darkness to go out to the portoilets or the latrines, were not drinking liquids after 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon,” explains Col. Janis Karpinski (best known for her role in Abu Ghraib prison). Karpinski describes the military cover-up:

And rather than make everybody aware of [the fact that women were dying in their sleep due to fear of rape] because that’s shocking — and as a leader, if that’s not shocking to you, then you’re not much of a leader — so what they told the surgeon to do was, ‘Don’t brief those details anymore. And don’t say specifically that they’re women. You can provide that in a written report, but don’t brief it in the open anymore.’

This ghoulish cover-up never made head-lines. We might ponder the connection between this hidden war within a war, sexual assault generally and the corrective rapes in South Africa focused specifically on lesbians. One connective thread is made explicit by Millicent Gaika, brave lesbian survivor of a “corrective rape” in South Africa. Next to the photo of her botched, half-butchered body, is Gaika’s recounting of her assailant’s battle-cry as he raped, beat and then tried to strangle her to death.

‘I know you are a lesbian. You are not a man, you think you are, but I am going to show you, you are a woman. I am going to make you pregnant. I am going to kill you.”

I’m going to show you are a woman. I’m going to make you pregnant. I am going to kill you.

The same blue-print for feminizing (“correcting”) the female doubly penetrated the body of Jamie Leigh Jones, another brave survivor of horrendous sexual assault. Moving back to the military again—this time the privately contracted army–Jones was gang raped by her fellow mercenary soldiers while working for Halliburton:

Ms. Jones was in Iraq in 2005 when seven Halliburton/KBR employees drugged and brutally gang-raped her. Her injuries were so extensive that she had lacerations to her vagina and anus, her breast implants were ruptured, and her pectoral muscles torn. The response of KBR was to lock her in a shipping container with only a bed, and to deny her food, water, and medical treatment. The rape kit that was taken after she regained consciousness was mysteriously lost.

The detail about the ruptured implants stands out. I am haunted by the image of Jones left “profusely bleeding” from her silicon-inflated breasts as a result of the assault.

Sexing a female as “a woman,” means correcting for femininity as fuckable, as rape-able, even killable.

Preserving femininity

I’ll show you you’re a woman, I’ll kill you. This sort of “cure” is the residue of witch-burning, and the archaic now modernized imperative to purify witches’ souls of “carnal lust, which in women insatiable” by burning them alive (the classic witch-hunter’s manual, Malleus Maleficarum ). A similar cure like the curing of meat is performed on women today without necessarily using fire, rape, or stabbing with penis, fists, weapons. In this case the living female being is preserved: living substance (female lust) extinguished while retaining a shell, a container of the being so preserved. For retained shell of female lust, see pornography and its morbid mimicry of female desire in every fleshy figure twisted/feminized into contortions required for male dread-of-femaleness to spurt, spray, defecate and penetrate into. Or inflated with the kind of “hotness” that has a half-life, timed to go off on its “own” and release toxic wastes at some later date.

For container see “live girls,” the rhetorical redundancy conjuring up girls in a jar, behind glass, for sale. For “live girls” see “models” (literal and figurative) of the femininized body—for example “porn star” Carolin Berger whose hideous death (and posthumous pornification) due to a sixth breast augmentation surgery hit the news at the time of this writing, beginning the new year of sexual corrections.  See also the cadaverous body of recently deceased anorexic super-model Isabelle Caro whose death ear marked the end of 2010.

The wasted skeletal frame and death-mask of Caro’s face prior to her death says “death camp” but the 20th century’s bench-mark for atrocity has been exhausted as a metaphor, and the war against women has never registered as worthy of it anyway. Most likely because the new inflatable (implant-puffed) models of feminization are even more spectacul-ar (pornified) in death. For this reason feminist images that merely mirror male atrocity can no longer help us here; what can slide-shows of shock do for the already traumatized female viewers? The mechanics of representation itself (media, art, advertizing, MTV videos, cinema, Reality TV, and pornography) in its pornographic structure preserves male culture, preserves femininity in fast-frozen forms that need a different kind of hacking to release from within their true significance, their horror.[4]

Swans, Brides and Ballerinas

This season our regularly programmed cultural representations of “woman” were not interrupted. The critically appraised block-buster Black Swan directed by Darren Aronofsky upgraded the flat-screen Swan, a show that feeds on fast-food desires for fairy-tale transformations in the gladiatorial arena of TV. Here women fight one another for the right to be surgically altered. Swan-and its update in 2010, Bridalplasty—ridicule the femininity it force-feeds, staging women’s hunger to be “beautiful” as a spectacle of feminine avarice. Black Swan meanwhile stages a not so dissimilar fairytale transformation in the tale of Nina (Natalie Portman) the tragic ballerina’s struggle for perfection.  Yet this event is inflated with “aesthetic value” via praise for its “universal” story about the archetypal artist.  This is quite a feat of bad-faith for the critics given the overt content of the material they are commenting. For there is nothing subtle about the way in which Aronofsky conducts Nina’s struggle for her “art” within the sex-marked (and marking) mediums of anorexia and self-injury (cutting), and works up a horror-movie/fairytale from such elements of patriarchal myth as captor-witch-mother and captive princess-daughter; and magic prince kiss (rape) of toy-virgin-princess into live-girl. Images of blood leaking unannounced from Nina’s abdominal area conflate a stab wound/self-injury with menstruation as, in the final scenes, an unexplained, repellent red-stain blooms within the white tulle of Nina’s white Swan costume. Nina stares in the mirror looking aghast as skin unpeels in icky red clumps from her body. Her stare is that of the director’s, mirroring his obvious astonishment at and repulsion for an alien-ated (eaten from within) female body/beauty.  Although he feels sympathy for his central character, this sympathy is for a victim whose psychosis is traceable not to any external system of male dominance but to icky feminine pathology. The character of Tomas, Nina’s ballet-director-prince-and-sexual harasser, comes out smelling like roses set next to the creepy witch-mother, and Aronofsky seems to attribute Nina’s psychosis not to the male dominant culture in which her break-down is precipitated, but to her relations with women including her own alienated relation to her female body/self.

From the “sublime” to the ridiculous

Put ballerina Nina’s wish “to be perfect” on Reality TV and you get, “’Every bride wants to look her best on her wedding day but for the women competing on . . . ‘Bridalplasty,’ only perfection will do.’”

Advertized as the only “contest where the winner gets cut,” the show parades—with typical Reality TV relish for “the cat-fight”—brides-to-be competing for a “dream” of surgical corrections. For example, unemployed 32 year old named Alyson shares her “wish list”:

  • brow lift
  • liposuction of chin
  • liposuction of jowls
  • liposuction of cheeks
  • breast reduction
  • breast lift
  • tummy tuck
  • laser skin resurfacing
  • liposuction of flanks
  • liposuction of inner thighs
  • liposuction outer thighs
  • liposuction of arms

Read more here.
Through the fun-house mirror of Reality-TV we might as well be slicing and dicing vegetables for an infomercial about a super-blender.  The maniacal “fixation on detail,” is part of the pattern of what Mary Daly called the “sado-ritual syndrome” in order to show the connection between gynocidal atrocities as disparate as witch-burning and modern medicine.[5] Reality-TV refracts cultural sadism through a fun-house mirror, reversing the fact of capitalist-patriarchal gluttony into a fact about women’s own over-the-top cravenness in wishing for “perfection.”

Bridalplasty is all about “awful people doing stupid things for dreadful reasons” as one female blogger entitles her commentary on the leftist blog Commondreams.

UH, NO:   It’s the patriarchy stupid.  But we all know that when it comes to women, any iota of an analysis of social power disappears behind the spectacle of will-full individuals. Just as swan-Nina glides unmoored by any constraint save her own feminine pathology (masked as inner compulsion for true art) into her own break-down, so Reality TV wives bubble up all on their own from the muck of feminine gluttony for “products” that are nipped, tucked, stapled and accessorized renditions of their selves.  Apparently the commodity-production systems of TV and cinema, let alone the inducements to be hyper-feminine and desirable to the male that assail women and girls at every minute of every day, have nothing to do with this.

Yet of course, it’s the culture industry of a capitalist neoliberal patriarchy[6] that burns women into live-girls, doll-girls, and even girl-dolls: Meet “Roxxxy Sex Robot: World’s First Robot Girlfriend can do more than ‘Chat.”Note the image of the balding geeky engineer standing behind his creation—Roxxxy—a live girl slack jawed, with O-mouth shaped for sucking about to drool down the chin like a medicated patient, the girl-head lolling and about to snap off its neck. The final fulfillment of the “dream of a perfect wedding,” once outlined as cautionary nightmare in the original Stepford Wives, now cartoon-cute. Copulation with a robot is rendered a trendy even tender quirky indy tale like Lars and the Real Girl, or, on the same beat with a different rhythm, Monster, Kanye West’s MTV spectacular about fornication with female corpses.[7] (Expect a spate of cult-stud po-mo Phd theses to come on this video as deconstructing its own racism and misogyny by means of reproducing it).

Academics who have learned to stop worrying and love the Sex Industry

Against the background of a pornatopia peopled with tragic ballerinas, Roxxys, Stepford wives, and Bridalplasts, the most brutal of sexual corrections are either normalized or glamorized or both by the culture industry and its liberal-lefty reviewers, not least when it comes to the main house of sexual corrections—aka the sex industry. Under the category of “when lefty bloggers write stupid things” in 2010 comes the Onion-worthy but completely non-satirical zinger from an environmental site publishing the following visionary proposal: “Greening the Sex industry (the ass is always greener).” Sustainable exploitation, yes, an idea whose time has come (hat tip to Nicole Whalen), thanks in no small part to decades of intellectualist energy exerted for the cause. Top winners under the category of  “academics who have stopped worrying and learned to love the sex industry,” include (to go back to 1994) philosopher Laurie Shrage and her Brave-New World fantasy of regulating the industry viz. the licensing of “sex workers” who would earn credits for certification by training in “therapy,” “massage,” and  “sex-education.” Sex workers would “graduate” by criteria set by panels including already-certified “sex-workers.”  (For the most acute philosophical deconstruction of the regulatory and legalization argument see Janice Raymond’s piece here.

These intellectualist “representations” are shock-proofed against incredulity, sealed within the sexual solipsism[8] of a culture without an outside to male fantasy, thus sanguine on the issue of male impunity—men’s entitlement to women’s bodies—aka the demand driving the industry. On the contrary, male demand is considered a life-style taste– “ like a preference for chocolate over vanilla” as opines Laura Augustin, author of Sex at the Margin and another award winner in the category of sex-industry academic apologists. The quote is from a radio interview with left economist Doug Henwood on his WBAI show, Behind the News. Listening to Laura, Doug chuckles over the “feminist fundamentalists” aka abolitionists whose main problem with the sex industry is that—wait for it—we want our “sex with violins” to quote the chuckle-head himself. Henwood’s Laura-love here typifies a pattern of male leftist reaction—when the going gets feminist, the left gets going and whereby the idea of honoring servitude as rightful labor would be odious when applied to any other category of exploitation, the idea becomes beneficial if not sacrosanct in the case prostitution. This is because, in the case of prostitution, the notion of “exploitation” disappears altogether into/as “sex” (sex-without-violins..eye roll please).

Sex-Worker Agents and Feminist Killers

For the sex-industry apologists, male demand is a frivolous consideration, and paradoxically all notions of male agency vanish into the night of male “nature,” as inevitable as the weather whereby women, specifically “sex workers” are suddenly, in a seeming reversal of all patriarchal ideology, supra-endowed with “free will.” The decision to enter the sex trade is evidence of that holy thing called “female agency.” There is a widespread misconception about the meaning of “agency” per se. The simple or not so simple truth of “female agency” is this: First the good news, contrary to male fantasy, women are not robots and are always also engaged with the structures that control and coerce us as a sex-caste. The bad news: “engaging” here means an activity that covers the water-front from adaptation to, to resistance against social structures of domination.  Thanks to the intelligentsia as it trickles down (a lot of leaks here) to popular-ist feminism-lite culture, “agency” is somehow opposed to subordination. On this faulty (I didn’t say “leaky”!) premise sex-industry-apologists distinguish “forced” prostitution from sex-work per se, defining sex-work as all about women’s “choice”—choice of labor; choice of sexuality; even choice of identity.  From this vantage point, the favorite whipping post of sex-industry apologists is a feminism that daring to oppose the prostituting of women by men, do that hideous second-wave thing of (repeat after me in a droning voice) “denying women’s agency.” The latter cliché lives so much as a truism about second-wave feminism that few but a minority of feminists will be incredulous upon encountering the following recent headline on a popular feminist blog:  “Their Words are Killing us: Violent Language of Anti-sex Worker Groups.”

This is the title of an entry posted on Feministing, the blog founded by Jessica Valenti and featuring Jessica Friedman as a key contributor.  The entry appeared during the same days of 2010 that Valenti and Friedman issued their counter-attacks on the rape-apologists surrounding Assange. There is no ideological inconsistency here, given that the fetish of “choice”—chosen “labor”—supports an illusory world—a “brave new world”–of distinction between prostitution and rape. It’s also a bizzaro world reflecting back this-world in reverse (again the fun-house mirror or culture): thus feminists by dint of critiquing the violence in prostitution become perpetrators of violence against women who are prostituted. “Abolitionists often use a language of war, and their hatred towards sex workers, which does not show remorse, can almost be tasted. For example, it could be argued that their descriptions of sex workers’ vaginas are more women-hating than those in any mainstream pornography.” It can be argued–we are playing fast and loose with the word “argued” here since no supportive evidence is provided by, say, quoting what abolitionists actually say. Nonetheless, according to the writers, it’s the abolitionists not pornography, johns, or pimps who claim that sex-workers have “vaginas that are receptacles to be masturbated into and are filthy with semen and lubricant.”[9] It’s important to note that one would never hear the same sort of charge made against critics of capitalism. I for one have never heard it said that socialists who want to abolish wage-slavery must loathe workers. Again this comes back to the fact that in the case of sexual exploitation, exploitation is hidden in plain sight of “sex,” a domain bloated with “individual choice” and thus perfect subterfuge for sustaining male entitlement in neo-patriarchy.

Feminism, Not the fun kind

Again, it’s not ideologically inconsistent when Jacqueline Friedman and Jessica Valenti can wax so irate about rape one day and on the next publish a sex-industry apologism blog. For these exemplars of one-dimensional feminism, liberal individual choice is the absolute horizon delimiting what they call “feminism.” As evidenced in the Democracy Now debate, sexual politics, much less the word patriarchy, rarely if ever darkens the threshold of popular public discourse about rape. This is even true for the most uppity of feminists who like Katha Pollitt continue to talk back to the left when it gets misogynist. “Here’s what I’ve learned so far from the furor over the rape allegations against Julian Assange: when it comes to rape, the left still doesn’t get it,” but what they don’t get about it is what even stalwart feminists like Pollitt will not discuss.

It’s as if by uttering words like patriarchy or sexual politics, publically acceptable (for now) feminists will risk association with “bad” feminists, aka (scary music) revolutionary feminists. The latter group (often named, like myself, as radical feminists) functions as something like the uninvited bad-fairy guest and her power to spoil the fun with her darned magical curses. For if invited, maybe these publically acceptable-to-the-left feminists will themselves be labeled man-hating, castrating, feminazi, hairy unattractive SCUM. To discredit themselves in the eyes of the male is the thing to be avoided at all costs.

The net effect of distancing themselves from radical thinking of the feminist kind is to in fact castrate feminist discourse, depriving discourse of the power to go to the root of situations like Assange-gate in sexual politics and thus draw the necessary connections linking this event with any of the events, culture and social, discussed in this entry (and I’ve left many out).

Feminist Paranoia vs. Correcting/Corrective Feminism

The events of the year discussed in this entry—and the longstanding male supremacist institutions these events are rooted in—have at least one common pattern, namely, the “corrective” dimension of socialization for women, and a socialization which has at its center the sexualization of the female. To “make” a woman is to “sex” her, a process that blue-prints outright femicide. In the decades post the Second Wave revolutionary threat to male supremacy, this making/sexing of the female (aka femininization) has required much surgical intervention in the service of repairing for any indication of feminist deviance. The “corrective” twists and stabs of knives—surgical and military, penises, guns, masculine bodies and ideological imperatives are inextricable with a larger work of “self-repair” on the part of neo-patriarchy as a social and cultural order.  By this larger work I mean the self-repair of a system of male dominance and female subordination not yet recovered from the fissuring impact of the first Women’s Liberation Movement. Repair-work for a patriarchal social order is at its most refined when, going beyond merely bashing feminism, it incorporates it as an ancillary mechanism.

It is the most ingenious coup ever in its history of sexual corrections: the ever-fluid forces of capitalist patriarchy has absorbed into itself a feminism that at best is reluctant to stand up to it, and connect the most basic of dots between male supremacy, cultural representations, rape, pornography and prostitution. At worst, it has generated a “feminism” that fetishizes female agency (“yes means yes!”) to the extent that the main players of patriarchy (e.g. the pimps, the judges, the priests, the generals, the Nigels, the Johns) are rendered irrelevant to any discussion of sex and power.

Looking back on this entry, I note that Mary Daly’s passing this past year has inspired my own refreshed paranoia. “Paranoia” is word which (following Thomas Szaz actually) Daly hacked into by other means than computer wizardry to “dis-cover” its story—it’s etymology: “Paranoia” derives, she told us, from “pattern detection.” The antithesis of “pattern detection” or feminist paranoia is Naomi Wolf’s will to dissociation—the latter is exemplified by her attempt, in the Democracy Now debate, to dramatically drive a wedge between the Assange case and the “real rape” for which she grasps as a signifier, “the rapes in Congo.” It’s a phrase she utters, exasperated, without discussion, like a mantra, as if the very phrase will trigger in her audience a shared incredulity at the very notion that Assange’s actions have any connection with real rape.

The truth is that if everyday, mundane sexual coercion is not taken seriously—and in fact, on the contrary roundly leered at— what chance do we have for confronting male power at its extremities in Juarez, Congo, in South Africa, Afghanistan[10] and/or in the U.S military which not only sets up rape camps for its own soldiers but has more than some hand in the wars on women elsewhere, and sometimes the biggest hand?  The issue is, what are the roots of a situation that connects disparate, sometimes diffuse, and sometimes concentrated, manifestations of rape and rape-culture? What are the roots of a situation that allows the continuation of a war that nobody sees, with a body-count that nobody remembers to miss?

What is to be Done?

I’ll show you are a woman, I’ll make you pregnant, I’ll kill you. This sentence belongs under the category once named by MacKinnon as one of those sentences that feminists should give our lives to understand.  Once understood, the sentence might lead to a more focused, political question that feminists should lend our lives to posing, let alone answering. Can you hear the hornets? Where are the hives? The hum pierces through white noise of all the unwritten headlines in 2010 (and in many other years, past, present, and future) with this clear question: Feminism or barbarism? It’s time to create a buzz around the word revolutionary feminism, it’s time to decide.

[1] Cockburn’s own reported facts support findings such as those made by the hardly radical World Health Report that declares gender inequality as the number one problem to tackle in solving the HIV pandemic among women in Sub-Saharan Africa.

[2] See Lynn Phillips, Flirting with Danger, an ethnographic and psychological study of young women’s experiences of sexual domination as an excellent source for studying the complexity of coercion as it occurs today in a culture that hyper-hyper sexualizes girls and women.

[3] Wolf continues: “I mean, I, too, have heard stories that alarm me of young women—and God bless them, my heart goes out to them, right?— but this is not the end result of feminism. This is not us evolving to the place we need to get. They say, “Well, you know, halfway through, I was having sex with this guy, and I felt raped.” And I said, “Well, did you say anything?” “No.” “Did you indicate anything?” “No, I just felt—I felt it.” She adds, “So, I would agree that that’s a failure of society, of..” [she is cut off by Friedman here]—as if societal “failure” is a side issue, marginal to what, implicitly, she suggests is, primarily, feminism’s failure to evolve. We should “evolve” to the point where we see women as mature adults capable of saying no. “Evolve”? Isn’t that precisely the traditional story of women as anointed gate-keepers of men’s sex drive? It’s always been up to women to “say no.”

[4] See Susanne Kappeler’s under-rated and under-read brilliant critique of pornography, The Pornography of Representation.

[5] Mary Daly’s death is another marker of the year of 2010, and occasion I argue to return to the prophetic elements of her insights into the mythic patterns of neo-liberal patriarchy. She wrote about the sado-ritual syndrome in Gyn/Ecology.

[6] Nancy Meyer’s term for neo-liberal patriarchy is “neo-patriarchy” underscoring the persistence of patriarchy within a neo-liberal capitalist order, or vice versa.

[7] For a great analysis of the racial and gender dynamics of the video see, http://www.racialicious.com/2011/01/18/black-monsterswhite-corpses-kanyes-racialized-gender-politics/

[8] Stole the phrase from the title of a book critical of pornography by philosopher Rae Langton, entitled Sexual Solipsism.

[9] I suppose it’s the abolitionists who are responsible for such sexual slurs against women—produced upon request every semester from my students in feminism classes—as “sausage sandwich” and “cum-bucket.”

[10] An revised and improved form of this essay will have to include focus on Juarez, the Congo, and Afghanistan. I found a thought provoking and critical perspective on Eve Ensler’s work on the mass rapes in the Congo here.  Along with the writer’s criticisms of Ensler’s failure to focus on the U.S role in this femicidal war, is the stunning headline on Ensler’s Website on the topic: “Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource, Power To The Women And Girls Of The Democratic Republic Of Congo.” Our greatest resource? Women as the resource of what? This is the premise of femicide not the “empowering” solution namely the notion that women are resources to be appropriated by men/the nation. For radically feminist Afghani reportage and analysis of the situation in Afghanistan see the RAWA website. RAWA is the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan.

22 responses to “Feminism or Barbarism: The Patriarchy Papers 2010

  1. Really excellent article, and very much needed. We remember that most of the left of the 1960s, now the 21st century progressives ran into hiding when the Vietnam War ended. Unwilling to face feminism’s explosion of sexual politics, many of them have returned to anti-war activism having learned nothing from four decades of feminism. They no longer ask us to bring them coffee, they just laugh at rape victims. But as we did in the 1960s and 1970s, feminism will prevail.

  2. Thanks from one Kathy to another 🙂 I am honored to have your comment. Your work has been so influential on my own thinking about the sex industry. I was thinking of your concept of seasoning–the seasoning of girls/women into prostitutes by pimps–as it applies to how i use the words “preserving” and “correcting/curing”–and i will try to develop the connection at some point.

    I am optimistic too, but cautiously so- To me the direction of a largely coopted feminism (that i call “one dimensional”) has to change for truly revolutionary feminism to prevail.

  3. Excellent, Kathy! Thanks for posting, I will share.

  4. swaneagle harijan

    Thank you so much for this. I have been doing all i can to address predators stalking, harassing and raping under age girls where i live. With a small group of concerned residents, we have been trying to come up with prevention, education, support for victims and effective ways of dealing with predators. Most victims do not report the assaults for good reason. Police are not particularly interested unless it is the man who raped 2 teens in their bedroom threatening to kill them with a knife if they told anyone. DNA matched the rapes and the guy was arrested. But way too many young women tell me of their rapes, that have not been reported. Police are complicit as far as i am concerned given the rampant sexism existing in this patriarchal society anyway which was evidenced at the trafficking of Seattle Girls event i attended nearly 2 weeks ago. 2 women and 2 men, one a cop and one a prosecuting attorney, were on the panel. When my daughter stepped up during the Q & A to advice on what to say to someone who wears a Hooter’s tee shirt and thinks it’s ok, the women said the men could answer. They were speechless which showed the shallowness of their approach to trafficking. It is all too sadly typical and outright frightening.

    Here is a link to my piece on trafficking in Seattle, which has among the highest number of child sex slaves in the country.


    I will end by saying i have been tracking a predator who harassed my daughter and other teens before he was charged with soliciting sex from a 12 year old girl, tho the papers said she was 13. He has a trail from New Mexico that follows him regardless of his claims of innocence. My friend in Olympia , who volunteered to find him where he has his sailboat moored, will be going to tell him he will be watched there if he doesn’t respect boundaries and stay away from young girls. Who knows if this will work, but i do know we need men who care. Last night i had the pleasure of meeting a group of activists from the Bay Area including a particularly articulate man who recognizes and acts on the growing femicide we face no matter where we live. Rape all too often leads to death and it is high time so called activist men open their eyes and park the sexism in the junk heap where it belongs. Shame on Naomi Wolf for her desperate need for seixst male approval. Sadly, too many women carry out this foot kissing behavior defending and protecting the rapers of the world.

  5. @Swaneagle: thanks for your support, and work, and all this valuable information too. I am a bit wary of “child” prostitution, since most women are recruited as girls and I don’t think there is some magic line where suddenly an adult (at what age) is consenting. Nevertheless, your work is invaluable. thanks!

  6. swaneagle harijan

    No they call it child sex slavery. Overwhelmingly, girls and then women in the sex trade 80 to 90% were abused as children. I have first hand experience with girls trying to cop with devastated self esteem. Not any resources available locally anymore for rape victims. Girls who have been molest and raped consider prostitution, others are nabbed, imprisoned and threatened, sometimes raped to death. I know one. The trafficking event in Seattle is very important. I will send a link to the article i wrote about it.

    • Swaneagle, when you say “they” call it sexual slavery, who are you referring to? I’ll look forward to the link to your article. I didn’t know this about Seattle.

  7. AmazonMancrusher

    Another A-Mazing post Kathy, thanks.

  8. swaneagle harijan

    Those in Seattle and nationally involved with stopping the trafficking of girls refer to so called child prostitution as child sex slavery. Women (and men) have been working against for over 30 years and now it is beginning to get attention.

  9. Kathy, a most inspiring essay – covers a lot & many things than I’ve been worrying at over the past year. Thanks for your work and words – inspirational. I’ll be re-reading this for sure.

  10. Thanks for your essay – lots of thought provoking ideas. I’ll have to come back and re-read.

  11. Thanks for this.

    One point though about domestic violence and rape being a greater cause of death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. It is most likely a faulty interpretation of the research.

    UN gives “World Health Organization 1997” as source, which in turn most likely will be based on this 1994 World Bank paper (pdf): Lori L. Heise, Jacqueline Pitanguy and Adrienne Germain, 1994, Violence against Women: The Hidden Health Burden (World Bank Discussion Paper 255), World Bank.

    That paper appears to be one of extremely few papers on the subject, since it is still apparently cutting edge, and every single paper I have seen about the global amount of domestic violence and rape quotes something that in the end quotes this study. And it does list domestic violence and rape as a greater cause of “Disabilty-adjusted life years lost to women age 15 to 44” then (in order) cancer, traffic accidents, war and malaria, but not combined. (It is also a lesser cause then (in order) Maternal conditions, STDs (excluding HIV), Tuberculosis, HIV and Cardiovascular disease.)

  12. Came here through Whisnant’s Facebook. Awesome analysis.

  13. Hi Kathy,

    Great analysis lots of work went into this essay thanks !

  14. Wow… just wow.

  15. Amazing read Kathy – brilliant work and powerful analysis – strength to you

  16. Hi there. I have just shared this article on my facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pgrenville . Whatever helps spread the word and
    raise consciousness.

    Paul Grenville, UK


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