Women in Pants Riding Bicycles

The bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world. ~ Susan B. Anthony, 1896
It’s been 100 years since the idea of setting aside a day for the celebration of the world’s women and demanding their equality was first proposed.

In 1869 British MP John Stuart Mill was the first person in Parliament to call for women’s right to vote. On 19 September 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote. Women in other countries did not enjoy this equality and campaigned for justice for many years.

In 1910 a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named Clara Zetkin (Leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, greeted Zetkin’s suggestion with unanimous approval and thus International Women’s Day was the result.

The very first International Women’s Day was launched the following year by Clara Zetkin on 19 March (not 8 March). The date was chosen because on 19 March in the year of the 1848 revolution, the Prussian king recognized for the first time the strength of the armed people and gave way before the threat of a proletarian uprising. Among the many promise he made, which he later failed to keep, was the introduction of votes for women.  [here]

So even then it was about promises broken and the work of (mostly) women to force equitable, if not revolutionary, change.  If women today wonder why Susan B. Anthony would point to the bicycle as a liberator of women, we need only think back to the extreme limitations on women’s mobility that she had seen go by the wayside in her lifetime.  The bicycle and its female riders once evoked extreme anxiety in folk worried about women’s sexual innocence and purity.  Seems like the sight of women astride a bike with those saddles between their legs could only mean one thing to some peope – women feelin’ happy,  Oh my pearls!

The problem was exacerbated if women leaned forward, rode fast or did not maintain an upright posture when riding.  Special ‘hygienic’ saddles with no inner core that could rub against a woman’s ‘delicate parts’ were offered by manufacturers to circumnavigate this problem.  [here]

Even so, women achieved their right to ride bikes partly as a result of their willingness to ride sitting bolt upright.

The growing numbers of middle class women riding bikes in awkward, long flowing skirts eventually resulted in a revolution in clothing.  In Britain, dress reform was advocated and, to some extent, won – by the mid 1890s women were wearing bicycle trousers and culottes.  When your clothes get out of the way, many things are possible beyond bike riding.

Riding a bike and wearing pants can make a difference.  I wonder what difference changing the words of Canada’s national anthem might have made.  It was a strange, HarperCON kind of offer from Canada’s government and not one they took seriously themselves – apparently Harper cabinet ministers had not been consulted and they made short work of clearing up any possible confusion: no way were they supporting it.  Peter MacKay and Tony Clement said so publicly and Jim Flaherty, asked about the change in an interview with Peter Mansbridge on the budget, could not possibly have been less enthused.  When you make a proposal like this you have to explain, justify and sell it.  Instead, the CONs sold it out. 

Did the howls of outrage from “redneck” members of the CON base scuttle the deal?

“My guess is that while Stephen was out swanning around Vancouver for the Olympics and a lot of women were doing great there and winning a lot of medals and probably some feminist got to him and said, ‘We ought to revise the national anthem,”‘ Flanagan said in an interview.

“He’s always looking for things that can reach out to other constituencies without alienating the Conservative base. So I’m not surprised that he might have seen it in that light, say(ing), ‘Well, here’s something we can do to show that we’re open toward women, particularly women who vote.’

“And maybe he didn’t think through or forsee the reaction that would draw from rednecks like me.” 

Flanagan applauded the about-face. He said national symbols, like the anthem and flag, should “arouse a sense of awe and mystery” and that stems from the fact that they are enduring symbols for the ages.  [here]

Of course it would be “sons” and other “enduring” things that arouse that “awe and mystery” – daughters apparently don’t have the same symbolic power.  It can’t be the issue of change itself that provoked the outcry because the words to the anthem have changed several times and can hardly be called lasting – it’s only a 30 year-long tradition in its present form.  I think the CONs are averse to anything that even sounds politically correct and I think they’re averse to women in pants on bicycles too.

The CONs weren’t the ones who concerned me this time ’round.  I heard more than enough howls of protest in a place that’s been a bit of a safe haunt for me since late December – Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament (CAPP).  There were regular knee-jerk comments about the change being merely symbolic (merely?) and a trivial issue and an attempt to win women’s votes by fooling us into thinking the CON’s care.  Women, of course, could not be relied upon to notice that HarperCON really doesn’t give a crappie about women’s equality – even though many of the women CAPPers are also members of an anti-Harper group called “Proud to Be a Member of That Left-Wing Fringe Group Women” and have been working equally hard and for longer than members of CAPP to point out the effects of Harper’s fiscal and social conservatism on women, minority groups, Aboriginal people, children, the disAbled, members of LGBTTQI communities, poor people and just generally groups whose rights are guaranteed by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  We were not about to be bought off by an offer of a bright and shiny thing but it appeared to me that teh menz – and too many womenz – thought our heads could be turned by the promise of  a pretty geegaw.  How’s that for respect? 

There isn’t a woman/feminist I know who had it in her mind that the next issue we would tackle ought to be making our national anthem “gender neutral”.  It’s not that some of us haven’t thought about it from time to time and certainly after having our ears assaulted by the tune for two weeks while the Olympics ran on.  But as others have pointed out (repeatedly and ad nauseum) I don’t think it occurred to any of us that it was either that important an issue or a winnable proposition.  Still, when something is offered that is only right and good, why should we not have accepted?

Symbols are important.  The national anthem is supposed to include all Canadians and it specifically excludes women by mentioning “sons”.  Language is important and gender inclusive language is important.  Solidarity is important too and after being called a feminazi by a man of supposed liberal leanings, I’ve lost a bit of my new-found trust in the importance of “women’s issues” for some of my bro-friends.

But hey, it’s true.  I’d rather have a bicycle and a pair of pants than one of Stephen Harpers flying sparkle ponies.  So shut up!

Women & the Budget

From Kathleen Lahey at Relentlessly Progressive Economists:

Budget  2009:
Designed to Leave Women Behind  – Again

The big picture:    Women make up slightly more than half the population of Canada, and are directly responsible for caring for the majority of minor children in the country on a day to day basis.

The expectation:    As an ‘economic recovery’ and ‘stimulus’ budget intended to concentrate scarce financial resources in the hands of the most vulnerable, Budget 2009 was expected to carefully identify and respond to the needs of those on the economic margins, and to move Canada further toward the goal of genuinely equal treatment of all.

The Budget:        Budget 2009 not only fails to target the most vulnerable, but it seems to have been carefully crafted to exclude women from as much of the $64 billion in new deficit-financed spending and tax cuts as possible; women’s estimated shares of the first year’s worth ($22 bill.) are outlined in these notes …

Read the rest here

Girl or Boy?


Andrea Gibson


“Are you a boy or a girl?” he asks, staring up at me in all three feet of his pudding face grandeur, and I say “Dylan, you’ve been in this class for three years and you still don’t know if I’m a boy or a girl?” And he says “Uh-uh.” And I say “Well, at this point, I don’t really think it matters, do you?” And he says “Uhhhm, no. Can I have a push on the swing?” And this happens every day. It’s a tidal wave of kindergarten curiosity rushing straight for the rocks of me, whatever I am.

 And the class, when we discuss the Milky Way galaxy, the orbit of the Sun around the Earth… or whatever. Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and kids, do you know that some of the stars we see when we look up in the sky are so far away, they’ve already burned out? What do you think of that? Timmy? “Umm… my mom says that even though you got hairs that grow from your legs, and the hairs on your head grow short and poky, and that you smell really bad, like my dad, that you’re a girl.” “Thank you, Timmy.”

And so it goes. On the playground, she peers up at me from behind her pink power puff sunglasses and then asks, “Do you have a boyfriend?” And I say no, and she says “Oh, do you have a girlfriend?” And I say “No, but if by some miracle, twenty years from now, I ever finally do, then I’ll definitely bring her by to meet you. How’s that?” “Okay. Can I have a push on the swing?”

And that’s the thing. They don’t care. They don’t care. Us, on the other hand… My father sitting across the table at Christmas dinner, gritting his teeth over his still-full plate, his appetite raped away by the intrusion of my haircut, “What were you thinking? You used to be such a pretty girl!” Frat boys, drunken, screaming, leaning out of the windows of their daddys’ SUVs, “Hey! Are you a faggot or a dyke?” And I wonder what would happen if I met up with them in the middle of the night.

Then of course there’s always the somehow not-quite-bright enough fluorescent light of the public restroom, “Sir! Sir, do you realize this is the ladies’ room?” “Yes, ma’am, I do, it’s just that I didn’t feel comfortable sticking this tampon up my penis in the men’s room.”

But the best, the best is always the mother at the market, sticking up her nose while pushing aside her daughter’s wide eyes, whispering “Don’t stare, it’s rude.” And I want to say, “Listen, lady, the only rude thing I see is your paranoid parental hand pushing aside the best education on self that little girl’s ever gonna get, living with your Maybelline lipstick after hips and pedi kiwi, vanilla-smelling beauty; so why don’t you take your pinks and blues, your boy-girl rules and shove them in that car with your fucking issue of Cosmo, because tomorrow, I start my day with twenty-eight minds who know a hell of a lot more than you. And if I show up in a pink frilly dress, those kids won’t love me any more, or less.”

“Hey, are you a boy or a — never mind, can I have a push on the swing?” And some day, y’all, when we grow up, it’s all gonna be that simple.

Une transcription de Francisco/Genderkid.


via Cybersolidaires

Palin Performing Gender

From Carrie Rentschler at Liminalities:

Sarah Palin makes visible a political form of right-wing “hetero butch” that amplifies, unlike most butch performance, female feminine coding rather than female masculinity. For many commentators trying to make political sense of Palin, her sporting and sexual body has become the grounds on which to figure her out—a political mystery to be solved at the level of sex and gender performance. Maybe it’s a northern Midwest thing, but I always assumed butch women came in all kinds of packages, and sexualities—at least they did in Iowa and Minnesota where I grew up. Straight butches, like lesbian butches, bear several of the overt signs of “butchness” or female masculinity as defined by Gayle Rubin and Judith Halberstam, but even more “feminine-appearing” women can belong to a category of “hetero butch.” In “Of Catamites and Kings,” for instance, Rubin describes butch as existing along a continuum of looks and sexual practices; I suggest these looks and practices cut across the borders constructed in our thinking between hetero- and homosexu-alities.

Read the whole thing here

via wood s lot

The Question of Gender

From Jessa Crispin at The Smart Set:

The last century of gender theory has expanded the idea of binary masculine-or-feminine gender: It’s more of a spectrum — not one on which you are assigned a place to occupy for the rest of your life, but one on which you can shift like a be-socked child sliding over a newly waxed floor. From tomboy to cheerleader, from boy drag to girl drag, there are myriad influences on your gender expression, some more socially palatable than others.

But what about the idea of sex itself being a spectrum, rather than the binary of male or female? If you try to write out the criteria for the sexes, it quickly gets complicated. What makes someone male? The first obvious answer is genitalia. But take that away, due to a birth defect or an accident, and is the person still male? Of course, but why? Next answer probably goes to the chromosomes. But there are physical reasons why a child born with XY might have female genitalia and think of herself as female. Is maleness then caused by androgen exposure in the womb? Testosterone production? All fetuses start out as female, and things can happen during the pregnancy that prevent masculinization, or will masculinize a fetus with XX chromosomes. Currently, the word used to describe people born with physical traits both masculine and feminine, or with gender variations like Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) or Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (PAIS), is “intersex.”

Some, like Thea Hillman, the author of Intersex (For Lack of a Better Word), are not diagnosed until early childhood, some not until puberty. Hillman was four when she began to grow pubic hair. After a battery of tests, she was diagnosed with a mild form of CAH and put on hormonal treatment in an attempt to inhibit the growth of body hair and to allow her to grow to a normal height. The mildness of her CAH means she will not have the infertility, dwarfism, hermaphrodism, or facial hair that can occasionally result. But she is still poked and prodded her entire life, and every doctor’s visit begins with her pulling down her pants. It is a childhood of feeling ashamed of her body, of feeling there is something wrong with her.

Read the whole thing here

Reviewing Intersex (For Lack of a Better Word) by Thea Hillman

and Fixing Sex: Intersex, Medical Authority and Lived Experience by Katrina A. Karkazis

Purdy Poetry

From an essay by Frank Davey:

[Sam] Solecki, however, disagreed with [Patrick] Lane that Purdy and his poetry are “most enduring,” or even “enduring.” He suggested that Purdy is already unjustly ignored by critics, and is losing his place in the teaching canon—along with Layton—to “new multicultural” poets who “write on the [currently] preferred topics (gender, homosexuality, language, postcolonialism, race, the native, etc.)” (xi). For Solecki, Purdy was, as he was for Bringhurst, Lee, Musgrave, and Lane, the major Canadian poet not only of the 1960s but also of the 1970s and 80s; however, his non-enduring choice of topics was limiting his relevance to more recent readers. The major problem with this argument is that Purdy indeed wrote about many of these topics— although not necessarily in the manner of Solecki’s “new multicultural” poets. He wrote about gender in the “Song of the Impermanent Husband” and “Home-made Beer”; he wrote about “the native” in “The Cariboo Horses” and “The Last of the Dorsets.” His fading from memory may have less to do with his topics than with his poetics and with the ideologies implicit in those poetics. For although Purdy’s poetics were a part of the 1960s, they were arguably a rear-guard element—both part of the 1940s poets’ revisiting of romanticism and part of the 1960s’ confused romantic mixing of the occult, individual liberty, heroic masculine resistance to authority, and pure presence with various quite different interests in collaboration, the discursive construction of experience, textuality (as, for example, in found and concrete poetries), otherness, and performance. [Page 49]

In The Montreal Forties: Modernist Poetry in Transition, Brian Trehearne has suggested that the dominant problem in poetics for Canadian poets of the 1940s was to find a way out of the modernism’s apparent proscription, through its doctrine of impersonality, of subjective ideological engagement. He argues that one of the more effective responses to this problem was Irving Layton’s strategy of transforming his subjectivity into a consistent persona which became part of the displayed materiality of the poem—”[t]he motions of the poet’s mind constitute the field of the poem” (224). The result is a “collapsing” of the poet’s “subject and object worlds” (225), a collapsing understandable as a kind of imagist presentation of a poet’s performance of subjectivity. “Such a fusion of subject and object worlds in the media of the poem and of the poet’s mind permits a spectacular freedom of imagistic movement and a fine interpenetration of conscious thought and delicate sense,” Trehearne writes (227). Layton’s strategy in effect merges Wordsworth’s autobiographical speaking subject of The Prelude with the modernist persona of Eliot’s Prufrock, constructing a poetic self that is at the same time both ‘objective’ in being on display as a dramatic image and ‘subjective’ in its active interpretation of the world.

This performed self is extremely similar to what Solecki finds in Purdy when, citing Richard Poirier, he describes Purdy’s first-person speaker as “‘a performing self’ discovering himself, as well as the limits of the self, in the complex, dramatic act of discovery that is the poem” (98). “[T]he representative Purdy lyric is held together primarily by its speaking subject—ostensibly the poet—and his narrative, which describes or enacts in an often characteristic voice an event encountered by the speaker” (97). However, while Solecki acknowledges thematic relationships between Layton and Purdy, he is willing to grant only minimal similarities in their poetics, attributing these mostly to their common interest in D.H. Lawrence and arguing that it is in Lawrence that Purdy discovered the possibility of a lyric persona.

For Purdy, Lawrence’s example, like Layton’s, sanctioned the use of a literary version of his own voice and allowed the shape of the sentence and stanza to be identical with the shape of the feeling-thought, whether in poems of reflection, description, dramatization, or statement. From the perspective of history, the ultimate debt may be to Coleridge’s conversation poems, but Purdy learned it from Lawrence.                                     (87)

Trehearne’s research and readings of Layton would suggest not only that Solecki is overemphasizing this debt to Lawrence but also that he may be [Page 50] exaggerating the originality of Purdy’s contribution to poetics in Canada— and thus locating the poetics of the performed lyric persona in the wrong decade.

The contrast that Solecki develops between Purdy and the “new multicultural” poets, and the claim he makes that Purdy is now being unjustly neglected, depends in part on the above exaggeration and on whether Purdy’s poetics were already somewhat anachronistic in the 1960s or whether they were mostly a new development. Were his “grand” poetry and self-identification with the Canadian nation characteristic of that decade or were they only a part of a decade that was already moving toward the poetries that Solecki sees now ascendant?

In the closing pages of his essay, Solecki argues that Purdy “stretched the boundaries of the Canadian lyric” in order to enable it to express “his particular Canadian way of being in the world” (217). He laments that Purdy’s “‘you’” with which he invokes a community and a nation, as well as the inclusive ‘we’ that performs the same function, have been replaced in the work of younger poets by pronouns referring almost always only to a lover, a family member, or a personal relationship. This reduction in scope and ambition is particularly noticeable in the poetry of women, where politics and history have become gender specific. . . .                                                           (216)

Women poets and their readers, with their reduced ambition, Solecki hints, subscribe to an understanding of poetics that is both outside of that of Purdy and narrower than it. He also laments that the emergence of Canadian multiculturalism have reduced “the grand nationalist ambitions of Roberts, Pratt, and Purdy” to a “particular historical phase” (4). “We [currently] have diminished expectations of our poets, just as they have diminished expectations about their possible role in society.” Solecki’s frequent use of words such as “reduction” and “diminished” indexes a recurrent masculinist fixation on size in his study, and inversely echoes the expansive phrases he deploys in praise of Purdy—”grand and ambitious” (178), “sheer variety” (97), “stretched the boundaries” (216) “nearly countless” (217)—which in turn evoke the expansive terms—”greatest,” “like a god,” “most enduring”—of the funerary words of Lee, Musgrave, and Lane.

The presumptuous “we,” moreover, for which Solecki praises Purdy, was under question, and a potential embarrassment for many poets, by the early 1960s. Earle Birney had already shifted from the “we” of his political poems of the 1940s to the contextualized “I” of “November Walk Near False Creek Mouth.” The Tish poets had struggled publicly with the [Page 51] “stance” of a poet—a poet’s relationship to other subjects—adopting the ecological “field” theory of subjectivity outlined by Olson and his goal of “getting rid of the lyrical interference of the individual as ego, of the ‘subject’ and his soul, that peculiar presumption . . .” (59). bpNichol by 1965 had turned away from lyric self-expression, perceiving it to be an impediment to poetry, and to concrete poetry and comic-strip poems founded partly on linguistic theory. With bill bissett and David UU he was routinely attempting to subvert the implicitly asserted authority of the capitalized proper name and the capitalized first-person-singular pronoun. Daphne Marlatt’s two 1960s books, Frames: of a Story and Leaf/leafs, attempted phenomenological discourses in which the perceiving consciousness appeared much less authoritative than its perceptions. Margaret Atwood in this period was containing the first person-pronoun within various persona and within a collage stanzaic structure that prevented sustained lyricism. The 1960s were also a time of intense attention to the long poem or book-length poem as an alternative to lyric. That is, Purdy’s “stretching” of the lyric occurred at a moment when many other poets were perceiving it as an impasse—as a set of conventions that had lost opacity and credulity and that depend on a sharing of ideology between writer and reader. Solecki’s ‘reduced’ first-person pronouns are hardly a recent product of writing by usurping women.

The masculinism implicit in the terms of Solecki’s praise of Purdy has a long history in Western poetry that it is unnecessary to outline here. The general assumptions of the lyric at the beginning of the 1960s were still those of the courtly love tradition—men wrote or recited, as in Bowering’s “Inside the Tulip” (The Man in the Yellow Boots, 1965:16), women read or listened. The lyric was at once an instrument of courtship—and it was men who did the courting—and one of reflection. Purdy’s “Song of the Impermanent Husband” is a poem which both parodies heroic masculinity and reifies it through its extravagant performance of that parody. With its speculative list of fantasy women to whom the poet might make exotic love, it both reduces women to stereotypes, and also functions performatively as a courtship dance—the male poet strutting his peacock measures. The relatively few women in Purdy’s reflective lyrics are often similarly dehumanized, such as the native women, “Beaver or Carrier women maybe / or Blackfoot squaws” he ‘celebrates’ in “The Cariboo Horses” for having had “whiskey-coloured eyes” and having been sexually ridden like “equine rebels”— [Page 52]

such women as once fell dead with their lovers
     with fire in their heads and slippery froth on thighs

Here the collocation of native women with animals, whiskey, and reckless passion is as extreme and lamentable as any in our literature. This is the title poem of the collection for which Purdy was given his first Governor-General’s Award. [emphasis mine]

However, in general, masculinism in Purdy is presented both by his lyric performing of the itinerant semi-Odyssean male self, usually in male contexts such as the drivers seat of a car or beer parlour (“My 1948 Pontiac,” “At the Quinte Hotel”) and by his poems’ focussing on male subjects. Most of the people of Purdy’s poetry are male—from Kudluk of “The Last of the Dorsets,” to the mill-building Owen Roblin, to the epiphany-experiencing farmer of “The Country North of Belleville.” Often the effect of such poems is to locate art production, whether of an ivory swan or of a poetic moment, inside the gender that is also producing the admirable verbal performance that the reader or listener is experiencing. Perhaps there is a connection here to the care, noted by Solecki, of contemporary women poets to portray “politics and history” as “gender specific.”


 See “Purdy, Solecki, and the Poetics of the 1960s” by Frank Davey

Pornography Debates

In this response to Robert Jensen’s recent AlterNet article on pornography, Michael Bader tries to argue that the great porn debate is just a big misunderstanding because pornography is about fantasy, stupid, not reality (my words, not quite Bader’s).  Gee, as if we hadn’t thought of that.  He raises, for the umpteenth time, that a causal link between pornography and violence against women has not been proven and points out that men don’t want women to be hurt as part of a sexual encounter, unconsciously, they want women to be happy:

In porn, everybody is turned on and, therefore, everybody is happy. Sexual arousal is what we call a “marker,” an unconscious symbol, of the fact that the women are not hurt. It reassures the male viewer he can temporarily escape from the worry and guilt about women that typically haunts him and chills his libido. Such worry and guilt are not — as Jensen would have it — a sign of his loving humanity, but his neurotic feelings of obligation. Men grow up in our culture with two special psychic burdens: (1) they feel inordinately responsible for their mothers and later, for women, and (2) they feel especially disconnected and lonely. In regard to the first burden, it’s extremely common for men to talk about their guilt and resentful feelings of responsibility for making women happy, feelings that become exacerbated when they feel that they can’t ever succeed in these efforts. Men primarily want women to be happy, not degraded, but feel that somehow they’re supposed to be omnipotently responsible for making this happen. This isn’t healthy interdependence and responsibility, but an irrational burden generated in nuclear families and patriarchal culture. It lies at the heart of much of the hostility and emotional withdrawal from which women suffer in their dealings with men. The woman involved might see cruelty. But for the man, the hidden logic is: “If I hold you at arms length, if I treat you like a ‘piece of ass,’ if I love you and leave you, then at least I’m not imperiled by the chronic sense of inadequacy, guilty failure, and pressured obligation that I seem to feel is my lot as a man in our culture.”

So, imagine you’re this guy. What’s the appeal of porn? In porn, the women appear to be happy, so happy that they want to have sex all the time. It’s a special fantasy world in which women appear to be in situations that would hurt or degrade them, but — lo’ and behold! — they get turned on instead. It’s a world in which, for a few moments, the man, through identifying with the actors, can be utterly selfish, aggressive, and uncaring and not have to worry about the woman’s happiness. In fact, she only wants more!

That’s the appeal of most porn. It’s a fantasy enacted on the screen in which certain irrational and burdensome feelings of guilt, worry, and rejection get momentarily reversed — just long enough to allow excitement to emerge and climax. There are exceptions to the rule, as well as differences between various sexual modalities currently available, etc. that I discuss in my most recent book but can’t elaborate on here. Suffice it to say that there is very little scientific evidence that porn leads to any actual confusion between fantasy and reality. There is little evidence that men leave their online escapades and then insist that their wives engage in double penetration or face-slapping. The only people who are confused about the difference between fantasy and reality are Jensen and his fellow travelers.

Whew!  Men just want women to be happy so that men can experience a temporary relief from the nagging burden of pleasing their mothers and their wives!  I can’t quite imagine a more twisted, more sexist explanation.  So many questions, so little time.

For one, where is it that women are supposed to find happiness and sexual satisfaction if the entire sexual event is defined according to men’s needs, even assuming that Bader is right about what those needs are (which is assuming a lot)?  The whole territory of sexuality has, once again, been claimed for the fulfillment of male needs.

Also, it’s pure disingenuity on the part of Bader to argue that Jensen thinks there is a proven causal relationship between pornography and violence against women.  This is very difficult to prove and most studies are problemmatic in terms of the definition of terms, the methods of investigation and the framing of the question.  But this doesn’t matter to Jensen and it doesn’t matter (much) to me.  Though studies don’t or can’t prove it, most people find it hard to imagine that there is no relationship between pornography and crimes against women, even if it’s not a directly causal relationship, just as most of us are pretty clear that there is a relationship between increasingly ubiquitous images of violence on television and in video games and rising levels of violence among children, teenagers and others, once again, even if it’s not direct.

But this just isn’t the point that Jensen and others are trying to make, or not the only point.  In addition to the possibility that violent images promote violence, Jensen et al object to the dehumanizing effect that these images have on subject and object and for the effects it has on shaping our conceptions of “body, gender, sexuality and intimacy.” (See Jensen, here)

We seem to be clear about our feelings toward child pornography.  For the life of me, I can’t see the difference.

Bader does admit that the victimization of women in the porn industry makes the debate important in ways that we haven’t even yet understood, and that’s something.  But he also says that he’s “tired” of porn debates because they simplify public discourse about psychology and sexuality.  I think he’s guilty of simplifying the discourse about pornography and sexuality.  And guess what Michael?  I’m fuckin’ tired of the porn debates too.  And of patriarchy.  Very, very tired.

NOTE:  I am not a pro-censorship feminist, primarily because my experience of censorship is that no one knows how to implement regulatory schemes and they end up being used against material that is simply offensive to conservative people or whoever happens to be enforcing the rules.  It remains the most difficult issue in my feminist life, though, and I have plenty of sympathy for anti-porn feminists – just because I’m anti-censorship doesn’t mean I’m pro-porn.  And I think the notion that anti-porn feminists are Victorian era prudes is a diversion.

Edited to correct the spelling of Bader’s name.  Oops!

Big Peeve

These days, women not only struggle against sexism, they must also struggle against the putative scientific basis of sexist behaviour provided by popular evolutionary psychology.    I often hear men and, sometimes, to my dismay, women, rationalizing male sexual aggression on the basis of some vaguely defined but nevertheless, operational “caveman psychology”, a sort of “boys will be boys”, “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” pseudo-scientific understanding of male sexuality and female roles.

In that context, I’m lovin’ this article by Martha McCaughey in American Sexuality Magazine.  Here are some bits:

Popularized evolutionary discourse, or pop-Darwinism, offers men a scientifically authorized way to think about — and live out — their sexuality. Indeed, popular attention to the evolution of human male sexuality has increasingly lodged American manhood in an evolutionary logic. Pop-Darwinism has become a sort of cultural consensus about who men are. Average American guys don’t read academic evolutionary science, but many do read about science in popular magazines and in bestselling books written by enthusiasts of evolutionary psychology. Popular culture is a political Petri dish for Darwinian ideas about sex. As such, it is worth examining — even when magazine writers and television producers intentionally “dumb down” or distort more sophisticated or modest academic claims.

An issue of Men’s Health magazine explains “the sex science facts” to male readers interested in “the biology of attraction.” We follow the steps of a mating dance, but don’t quite understand that’s what we’re doing. Indeed, we must learn the evolutionary history of sex to see why men feel the way they do when they notice a beautiful woman walking down the street:


Of course, out there in the street, you have no thoughts about genetic compatibility or childbearing. Probably the farthest thing from your mind is having a child with that beautiful woman. But that doesn’t matter. What you think counts for almost nothing. In the environment that crafted your brain and body, an environment in which you might be dead within minutes of spotting this beauty, the only thing that counted was that your clever neocortex — your seat of higher reason — be turned off so that you could quickly select a suitable mate, impregnate her, and succeed in passing on your genes to the next generation.

The article, “The Biology of Attraction” by Laurence Gonzales, proceeds to identify the signals of fertility that attract men: youth, beauty, big breasts, and a small waistline. Focusing on the desire for youth in women, the article tells men that “the reason men of any age continue to like young girls is that we were designed to get them pregnant and dominate their fertile years by keeping them that way … When your first wife has lost the overt signals of reproductive viability, you desire a younger woman who still has them all.” And, of course, male readers are reminded that “your genes don’t care about your wife or girlfriend or what the neighbors will say.”


The influence of the evolutionary story cuts right to men’s physically felt dispositions. In his book, Cultural Boundaries of Science, Thomas Gieryn comments on the cultural authority of science, suggesting that “if ‘science’ says so, we are more often than not inclined to believe it or act on it—and to prefer it to claims lacking this epistemic seal of approval.” To his observation I would add that we are also more likely to live it. Ideas that count as scientific, regardless of their truth value, become lived ideologies. In this way, a heterosexist form of male sexuality is naturalized. In her discussion of naturalizing male power, sociologist Raewyn Connell states:

The physical sense of maleness is not a simple thing. It involves size and shape, habits of posture and movement, particular physical skills and the lack of others, the image of one’s own body, the way it is presented to other people and the ways they respond to it, the way it operates at work and in sexual relations. In no sense is all this a consequence of XY chromosomes, or even of the possession on which discussions of masculinity have so lovingly dwelt, the penis. The physical sense of maleness grows through a personal history of social practice, a life-history-in-society. (Gender and Power: Society, the Person and Sexual Politics)

We see and believe that men’s power over women is the order of nature because, as Connell puts it, “power is translated not only into mental body-images and fantasies, but into muscle tensions, posture, the feel and texture of the body.” The caveman becomes an imaginative projection that is experienced and lived as real biological truth.

We must challenge the convenient innocence with which men invoke science to understand and experience their bodies. The caveman mystique is, after all, a contemporary male counterpart of the feminine mystique so famously described by Betty Friedan in 1963. Women had to challenge the popular idea that they found fulfillment in keeping house and rearing children. It’s time now to challenge the idea that men find true self-expression in boorish behaviors, sexual aggression, and chance sexual encounters. Indeed, it’s time for men to take a great leap forward to develop a more sociological understanding of both science and their own sexuality.

Read the whole thing here

I’m going to place an order for McCaughey’s book, The Caveman Mystique: Pop-Darwinism and the Debates over Sex, Violence and Science right now!  I’ll get mine at a Canadian site, here.  In the States, you can place your order here and in UK, here.

Here’s an interview with Martha McCaughey at Daily Bedpost

Reviews at Goodreads

Here’s where two evolutionary psychologists (male) jump all over McCaughey

Echidne wrote a review of the book in the Winter issue of Ms Magazine.  See her blog archives, here, about half way down the page and buy your back issue of Ms, here

Oooh Excitement!

My mood is about the quality and even quantity of posts and articles I’m finding these days that I agree with and therefore think are right!  lolz, this one, from Steven Shaviro, of which this is just a bit:

Things are getting out of hand. There’s even a call for papers on Sarah Palin, together with a definitive Lacanian analysis by the current Pope (Jacques-Alain Miller, Lacan’s son-in-law) and a typically cretinous and self-congratulatory effusion by Camille Paglia, who has never met a butch woman, or for that matter a misogynistic woman, whom she didn’t swoon over.

I’ve already written more than enough about Palin; I don’t have the desire (or maybe I just don’t have the stomach) to engage in further analysis here. I just want to note that the problem I have with all these accounts (and even with infinite thought’s far more thoughtful response) is that they all take the question of gender, or of the construction of femininity, or of sexual difference, as being far more central to the situation than I think it actually is.

Of course it is true that McCain chose Palin largely on account of her gender; and that her affective effect upon “the American people” (an entity that I do not believe actually exists, but that I am using, in scare quotes, for convenience here), is rooted in her gendered (and explicitly marked as gendered) performativity.

But to redefine the election in terms of some analysis of how Palin reconfigures the essential figure of Woman seems to me entirely to be missing the specificity of what is happening in this election. There is little to choose here between Miller, who says that Palin “knows that the phallus is only a semblance and, furthermore, one not to be taken seriously: it is the de-complexified femininity”, and Paglia, for whom Palin represents the “robust and hearty” femininity, and a “can-do, no-excuses, moose-hunting feminism”, that supposedly existed in American frontier society before it was spoiled by the “whining, sniping, wearily ironic mode of the establishment feminism” of the last thirty years.

Such analyses transform the socially and historically conditioned gender relations that are at work in American society today into transcendent and trans-historical structures. They blithely ignore the ways that Palin’s media persona (the “hockey mom” entirely dedicated to Family who is also the ferocious “pitbull” or “barracuda”) could never have been imagined in another time and place, because it is so closely tied to the economic situation of American middle-class families today (in which the necessity for both parents to work subsists uneasily alongside the still unequal distribution of household and child-raising chores), to the ways that the feminist movement of the 1960s and after, together with the “sexual revolution” of the same era, the explosion in technologies of contraception, etc., have radically restructured gender conceptions and roles even among the most “conservative” and familialist sectors of the population, to the revival of fundamentalist Christianity in the last forty years on an entirely new basis (which is inseparable from the latest technologies of business and marketing, so that it has has very little in common with any sort of “old-time religion”), to the reconfiguration of shopping and consumption in our post-Fordist era (e.g. the new kinds of malls and the ubiquity of chains like Walmart, Target, etc., without which “hockey moms” could not possibly exist), to the ways that race has been reconfigured in post-civil-rights American (something that is, of course, essential to Obama’s image as well), and so on almost ad infinitum. [ok,maybe the sentence leaves one breathless, but that doesn’t take away from its “greatness”]

Any consideration of gender roles and positions aside from all these factors (and many more) simply misses the mark. Palin has not substituted plenitude for lack, or “physical fortitude and indomitable spirit” (Paglia) for wimpy, shrill, “politically correct” feminism. Rather, she is a phenomenon of the contemporary mediascape in which such binary oppositions are meaningless and pointless. Both the excitement she has generated (as a super-Mom who can do it all) and the disdain she has attracted (with bourgie liberals openly, and old-style country club conservatives more circumspectly, looking down on her as “white trash”), need to be understood, rather, in terms of communicative capitalism and its relentless premediations.

If Palin embodies any sort of plenitude, it is that of the commodity economy, rather than that of an economy of gender.

I especially like that comment about Camille Paglia’s “typically cretinous self-congratulatory effusion”.  HA! HA! hAH!  Damn right!  ROCK ON!

Read the whole damn thing at The Pinocchio Theory

via wood s lot