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Posts from the ‘Feminism’ Category

Poverty and the Individualizing of #MeToo

I have been listening to Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (the book website gives a pretty good overview of the book). Desmond followed I think 11 different people around Milwaukee in 2011 as they were evicted and tried to make do with very little money and an eviction on their record. The most striking revelation of the book is the perverse incentives that housing policies and laws create for landlords as well as tenants. For example, federal housing vouchers enable their holder to pay only a third of the rent, encouraging landlords to evict current occupants and jack up the rent to what is a good deal for the voucher holder but way above market value for the property, in effect making federal housing vouchers good for individuals but bad for poor people (public housing turns out to be much better than this privatizing move).

At the same time, I’ve been reading a number of things that have been written about the direction of the #metoo movement. Alecia Simmonds reviewed Linda Martín Alcoff’s book, Rape and Resistance, in the Australian Review of Books. Simmonds calls attention to questions Alcoff raises of the colonial history of juridical concepts of consent and property as they pertain to sexual violation and rape to ask how far they get us. Also this week I came across Ann Snitow’s piece, “Talking Back to the Patriarchy” in Dissent Magazine. She begins by averring that the #metoo movement is “simply marvelous.” But she goes on to articulate some worries. Generally, I find that the worries people raise (what about due process?!) tell us more about their investment in the status quo than real concerns about justice. But one line struck me in Snitow’s list of pressing worries: “fear of a misdirection of the eye toward individual “monsters” and away from the need for systemic change.” Indeed, this point seems most important.

The focus on individuals instead of systems is part of what allows #metoo to be for better off women. Even the systems that the women of Hollywood are trying to change seem far away from the systems of power non-celebrities work within and even further away from the systems of power that affect the poor.  Read more

Kimberlé Crenshaw on Intersectionality at IUPUI

I saw Kimberlé Crenshaw speak at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis tonight. Crenshaw’s work on the unique legal and political situations that Black American women faced led her to coin the term intersectionality. As she said tonight, she meant for this term to be a dynamic term of analysis rather than a noun of identity, but she graciously allowed that concepts are dynamic and take on a life on their own.  As an analysis, intersectionality shows how Black women’s concerns could be captured neither by race in the law, which considered Black experience in terms of men, nor by gender, which considered women’s experience in terms of white women.  A new analysis was needed to see that adding black to woman did not just mean adding those experiences up but in fact pointed to a unique set of concerns.  Intersectionality has so become a part of our discourse that it is now being used against the very movement that spurred its coinage.

Tonight she gave a talk that was a model example of how public intellectuals should be engaging public audiences.  The talk was purposefully marketed to the community: the Black woman sitting next to me told me she heard it advertised on Praise Indy, A Black Christian radio station in Indianapolis. Some of the leadership team of BlackLivesMatterIndy were there, as well as other activists. And of course, a bunch of academics. Crenshaw staged her talk as an interview that lawyer, civil rights activist and now radio show host Barbara Arnwine conducted with Martin Luther King, Jr. today, in these times. King wanted to know what the state of racial justice was since he’d been gone. Using that narrative device, Crenshaw was able to dramatize the real harm that has been done to the cause of racial justice by forgetting history, tracing back to Dr. King’s own work how the movement erased the previous work of women like Recy Taylor and Rosa Parks. She argued that Parks has become pacified and acceptable to white Americans through the story of how she was too tired, but Parks was actually an activist who had been defending Black women for years, purposeful in her planning for this moment.  She spent much of the talk drawing connections, as she explained them, between unlearned history and the present moment, having the talk show host explain to King how the things that he left unlearned from his history help produce this moment, like the forgetting of Harriet Tubman in favor of Frederick Douglass.

While effectively dragging Mark Lilla for his critique of identity analysis, she pointed to how people across the political spectrum from Black male civil rights leaders to white conservatives bought into  “Moynihanism”–the idea that the responsibility for racial injustice lies with the Black family–which allowed them to naturalize patriarchy as a point of departure for advocacy up to and including in Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper project.  Crenshaw argued that everyone from the right to left internalized this view and effectively ignored the structural workings of those invested in maintaining racial power.  As she put it, when we broader the frame, our sense of responsibility shifts.

She took this device further to draw attention to #SayHerName and the women who have been killed by police, and to say in drawing to the close, “When we take leadership from the margins, things change.”

As I sat and listened and learned from her, I thought about how effective she was at engaging a public audience in her work even as that work was complicated and deep. She didn’t make it less complicated. But she found ways to make her case that did not require jargon and made the work significant for her audience. She honored the contributions of activists to her own work. I have shown her Ted Talk (below) of this same title–The Urgency of Intersectionality–in classes. But she wrote a new talk for this moment and this place that made this case in a new way, urgently.

Wabash Chapel Talk: Nasty Snake-Filled Heads and the Workings of Ideology

(A group of student leaders on campus at Wabash organize a weekly talk by a member of the Wabash community.  This is a transcript of the talk I gave this morning.)

As a philosopher, one thing I like to think about is how our ideas about the world affect the way we live in the world.  Today I want to talk about how our ways of thinking about how things are variously affect the ability of different people from different groups to thrive. I want to talk specifically about how we use the concept of “natural” to describe the ways we experience the world.  We tend to describe things as natural, as “just being that way,” as the way things just happen to be with no input or interference from human beings, when we are unaware of the history of how they came to be that way.  That move whereby what was formed for political and social reasons appears as natural is what we call ideology.

As a philosopher, I want to own some responsibility for this, since, as Nietzsche says, “Lack of a historical sense is the original error of all philosophers.”

To correct this error, I want to first back up a little bit and think historically about how the turn to nature has been used as a justification for ways of organizing the world.  Leo Strauss explains the historical turn to a concept of nature as a turn to philosophizing.  As he puts it, as long as everyone seems to do what you do, you do not prompt the question, is that right?  It’s right because it seems like the only way.  It is right because it has always been done that way.  It is right because it is what everyone you know does.  But when you leave your people and you encounter other people who do things differently, you begin to ask whether what your people do is right.  Like when you are a kid like I was in a big family where we always sat down together for dinner every night and you think every family sits down for dinner every night until you go to your friends’ house and they have dinner in front of the television and you go home and ask why you have to eat dinner together and your mother tells you it’s because you don’t have a television.  Not having a television also seemed right because it was what my family did.  Like taking vacations in the mountains instead of at the beach. Read more

I Marched, But Not for the Polls

When I started writing this post, I wasn’t going to go to the march.  But I started thinking about the post that went up yesterday about purity.  I realized you know, it is pretty easy to find lots of reasons not to do things and then be very consistent and kind of useless in terms of doing something in the world.  As my post yesterday suggested, purity in the politics might be the enemy of doing any g–d— thing at all.  Then I realized that some of my friends were going and that they had made posters that were not at all about winning at the polls, so I thought, maybe we can go, and be a part of shifting the conversation.  And you know what they say in organizing efforts, you gotta go where the people are.

I am wary of political organizing whose aim is not really to change the political order.  Any political organizing that is trying to motivate people to resist by voting is doing very little to really try to change the normal order of things.  I am not saying that people shouldn’t try to vote out Republicans in November.  They should.  However, I am not here for that effort if Democrats are just going to be a cleaned up version of militaristic imperialism and corporate underwriting.  Read more

How the NPR / Scientific American story on Men and the Environment Exemplifies the Fate of Humanities and Gender Studies in the Public Square

On December 30, 2017, NPR ran a story about a write-up for Scientific American that a marketing professor did on his research into the reasons men are less likely to engage in environmental activity than women.  His earth-shattering conclusion was that men think that caring for the environment is not manly.  His recommendation was to market caring for the environment as more manly.

I want to suggest that what happened here points to three different issues facing the academy concerning humanities scholarship.  First, research outside of the humanities often fails to see the ways that the humanities have contributed to the field of knowledge under discussion and so treats its own insights as original and is impoverished for ignoring the long history and consideration of these questions in the humanities.  Second, more specifically, gender studies fails to be treated as a discipline or a form of study that produces original research that people making claims about gender should be aware of.  As a result, people make overdetermined and weighted claims without even understanding their significance and implications.  Third, when people who are in positions with more access to the public present their work as if it is original when the claims have been made at great length the difficulty at crying foul, at suggesting that this research is derivative and not well-researched, points to the difficult the humanities have in being recognized as a producer of knowledge. Read more

Witchy Witchy Woman: Witch Hunts and Capitalism

I came across mention of Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch in Adam Kotsko’s The Prince of this World, and was taken with the notion that the character of the devil and the character of the witch can be understood through a genealogical method that shows how these characters were invoked, who was empowered by them, who invoked them and who was accused of these things. The question for Federici (as for Kotsko) is not was this person really a witch or a devil, but how did accusing someone of being a witch achieve certain ends in certain contexts?  Federici argues that the accusation of being a witch was used to strip women of power during the transition to capitalism from feudalism, a process which was necessary for the success of capitalism.

Against the view that the persecution of witches was the last gasp of the superstition that accompanied feudalism, Federici argues that the charge of witchcraft was used to limit women’s power and to control the reproduction of labor so necessary for the success of capitalism.  This persecution involved a steady indoctrination of the threat of witches and the characteristics of witches, a process which produced the notion of the strong independent woman as a supernatural threatening force antagonistic to the interests of even working class men.  Federici argues that the targets of witchcraft were not crimes but previously accepted practices and individuals that needed to be eliminated for capitalism to become possible and to thrive.  Evidence of this is that those who were accused were poor peasant women and those who accused them were wealthy members of the community, often their employers or their landlords.

Federici offers evidence that in the transition to capitalism, women lose economic, social and political power, rather than, as many people commonly suppose, that capitalism is a necessary stage toward the liberation for women. She argues that prior to the process of enclosure that privatized common lands women helped the family develop independence from the lord through their work on the common land.  The transition to capital takes the common land away and thus takes this power away.  Federici argues that enclosure made it more difficult for women to support themselves and to consider production in terms of use.  This process was resisted by women (Montpollier revolt in 1645, Cordoba in 1652) who needed then to be controlled and to have their power reduced for capitalism to become possible.  Read more

#DayWithoutAWoman Strike

In an odd sort of inversion where those who wish to maintain the status quo use the arguments and language of the opposition to shut down their activism, Meghan Daum argues in the LA Times that the Women’s Strike is only for privileged women.  Maureen Shaw makes a similar argument in Quartz.   In a classic critique of acts of systematic and collective resistance, Shaw went on to argue that strikes that have particular aims are more successful.  Tithi Bhattacharya and Cinzia Arruzza struck back at this line, calling this line of critique ‘concern trolling’ in The Nation.  They point to the responses to this line of concern that organizers like Magally A. Miranda Alcazar and Kate D. Griffiths discuss at length, also in The Nation. Read more

Women’s March Indianapolis

“The crowd is not a community.  It doesn’t rely on traditions.  It doesn’t have a history.  The crowd is not held together by unstated norms or an obscene supplement that extends beyond its own immediacy (although crowd images and symbols clearly shape the reception and circulation of crowd events).  Rather, the crowd is a temporary collective being.  It holds itself together affectively via imitation, contagion, suggestion, and sense of its own invincibility.  Because the crowd is a collective being, it cannot be reduced to singularities.  On the contrary, the primary characteristic of a crowd is its operation as a force of its own, like an organism.  The crowd is more than an aggregate of individuals.  It is individuals changed through the torsion of their aggregation, the force aggregation exerts back on them to do together what is impossible alone.” Jodi Dean, Crowds and Party Read more

#FEMMSS6

I learned about the Feminist Epistemologies, Metaphysics, Methodologies and Science Studies  (FEMMSS) 6th conference at the GLCA Women’s/Gender/Sexuality Studies workshop in Ann Arbor last May from someone who works in science studies.  FEMMSS is the feminist epistemologists and metaphysicians equivalent to the Feminist Ethics and Social Theory (FEAST) conference.  Since FEAST meets every other year, FEMMSS meets on the off year.  What’s great about this conference is how interdisciplinary it is — people from physics, neuroscience, philosophy, anthropology, history and sociology are here.  I have enjoyed the interdisciplinary conferences I’ve attended in the last several years, from HASTAC to PODNetwork to Wonder and the Natural World at IU this last June.  The conversations are lively and cross-pollinating, and the intradisciplinary anxiety and intensity seem softened by the interdisciplinary engagements. Read more

False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Review

We’ve been asking ourselves for years why certain voting blocs vote for the Republican Party apparently against their interest.  The economic platform of the GOP does not seem to serve working class white men, but the racist dog whistles and socially conservative “family-values” appeals draw these voters in election after election.  The neoliberalism of Hillary Clinton suggests that this same question should be asked of traditional Democratic voters who feel compelled to vote for the Democratic nominee to protect specific rights associated with identity politics. 7 intraparty caucuses are listed by the DNC in 1982, Donna Murch notes in this volume: “women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gays, liberals and business/professionals” (92).

One contributor asks whether, if Roe were settled, many feminists would feel any compulsion at all to support the Democratic candidate cycle after cycle.  Maureen Tkacik (“Abortion: The Politics of Failure”), founder of Jezebel, argues that this is the one issue that seems to unite women to the Democratic Party, despite the fact that Democrats haven’t been very good at making abortion safe and accessible to women. Tkacik maintains that the right to abortion is easier to exercise in Mexico, a country where that right does not exist.  “This is telling because Hillary Clinton owes her chances at the presidency to abortion: and she’s not alone–it’s often Democrats’ unique selling proposition to women” (113).

But abortion cannot be the sum of feminist politics.  Far more significant and far more central in making women’s lives, workers’ lives, people of color’s lives precarious are the neoliberal policies long supported by Hillary Clinton.  Neoliberalism is the political and economic view that uses government to support and protect corporate interests, devolving risk to individual workers, who can be deemed too expensive to support.  Tkacik concludes that it is telling that abortion has become the rallying cry of Clinton’s feminism:

Yet it makes sense from an insular Beltway fundraising perspective to focus on an issue that makes no demands–the opposite, really–of the oligarch class; this is probably a big reason why EMILY’s List has never dabbled in backing universal pre-K or paid maternity leave; a major reason “reproductive choice” has such a narrow and negative definition in the American political discourse. (123)

This collection of essays edited by Liza Featherstone reminded me of how central was Hillary Rodham Clinton’s role in bringing the neoliberal state of affairs to American politics and making it commonplace.  In three specific areas-education, welfare, and crime policy- Hillary and Bill Clinton were catalysts  of change in American thinking such that these issues appear incontestable yet are severely damaging. Read more