“Now, Tracy, let’s not rehash the coroner’s report. Let’s talk emotions.”

There’s a comprehensive “second wave” feminist theory reader I have that I like to pull down and look at every now and then. I always enjoy re-reading the pieces by Uma Narayan, Norma Alarcon, Elsa Barkley Brown, Judith Butler, and Monique Wittig (among others), but then there’s some I read just because I’m a masochist – Catherine Mackinnon on sexuality, for instance. Mackinnon’s piece is nine million different levels of awful, from her terrible prose stylings to the offensive assumptions underpinning her arguments. For example, were you aware that in female-dominant BDSM relationships, the titillation comes from the inversion of traditional gendered power structures (i.e. “a lady is spanking me and I’m a man! In the ‘real world’ I would be having the power over her! Boy howdy, am I getting my jollies right now!”)? Or that homosexual BDSM relationships are simply imitating those gendered power structures? Gender is, after all, the only locus of power, and assuming that homosexual relationships are pale imitations of straight ones isn’t heterosexist in any way whatsoever. Trufax. Anyway, I grew frustrated – not necessarily because of the content of Mackinnon’s argument, but because I could pick it apart so easily. And I am just some clod with a somewhat patchy education in feminist theory! If her arguments are this feeble, how does this shit even get published?

Thinking about how Mackinnon’s steaming pile of pony loaf could get past an editor/publisher reminded me a little of the Women’s Studies 101 course I took in college, in the sense that it made me realize how some people feel that critique, no matter what the tone, is a terrible insult when it comes to feminist issues. I was a senior at time, taking it to fill the requirements for my minor. I had a friend in the same situation in the class with me. We both quickly got a reputation as naysaying bitches because of the frequency of our arguments with people, to the point where I swear I started seeing people rolling their eyes when I raised my hand. In one class we discussed porn (surprise!) and someone mentioned Suicide Girls as an example of a feminist porn producer. When I pointed out that Suicide Girls pays their models much less than industry standard and the owner has a reputation for being a total sexist asshole to the women on his site, she gave me an incredibly wounded look and actually held her friend’s hand while I was talking. It blew my mind that me offering a counterpoint in a respectful manner could be taken as a personal attack like that.

I think this has to do with the concept that “the personal is political,” which had its genesis in 1960s-1970s feminist consciousness-raising sessions. I have no problem with interpreting personal experiences like rape and abortion as social phenomena – it grounds politics in everyday lived realities and helps bring sexist “common sense” attitudes towards these things (e.g., women are asking to be assaulted if they wear short skirts) up for challenge. My issues lie with the way some people misuse this concept by taking critiques of their arguments as dismissal of their experiences or attacks on them, personally. I’m guessing that instead of offering critique, I’m just supposed to be offering some nebulous kind of “support” or not saying anything at all. I’m not sure this has much to do with Mackinnon’s free pass for her shoddy writing – that may have more to do with the fact that she is upper-class and Ivy League-educated and actually did do some pretty groundbreaking work around sexual harassment. But the mean part of me wonders whether she centered her main feminist theoretical work around a deeply personal thing like sexuality so she could have an easy comeback for any criticism – that anyone who took her work to task was ignoring the experiences of women who had negative experiences with things like porn and BDSM, or attacking them as liars.

The idea of critique being mean or inappropriate is, I think, totally counterproductive to feminist goals. Feminism is built on critique – the idea women should not be treated as stupid, subordinate critters. Critique is how ideas develop, and how people and societies change. I am a critical motherfucker and I am not sorry at all.

Speaking of people’s wounded feelings, I came across a post on the Bitch blog a couple days ago that left me feeling deeply annoyed. The author argues that the disparagement of “emo” subculture echoes the ways in which people are dismissive of mood disorders – for example, dismissing depressive behaviors (staying in your room for 36 hours because the idea of leaving the house is terrifying) as “overreacting,” saying that people should “keep it to themselves.” She criticizes “the assumption that an observer can legitimately judge the appropriateness of another’s emotional reaction.”

On the one hand, I do think that criticisms of emo along the lines of “ha ha, emotions mean you’re a weak and feeble excuse for a man” are bullshit and reflect a narrow view of masculinity (real men don’t talk about feelings, doncha know) that doesn’t do anyone any favors. On the other hand, what about the way that a lot of those bands romanticize depression as the mark of a sensitive artist? As someone with a mood disorder myself, I find that kind of disgusting appropriation just as annoying as any bro saying “EMO IS GHEY LOLZ.” And what about the way they talk about women as these shadowy figures responsible for their pain and misery? If only that bitch had stayed with him, he wouldn’t be feeling so sad now. This feeds into the idea that girlfriends are obligated to try and help “fix” the dudes they’re with and their mental issues, which is wack, anti-feminist, and a terrible way of dealing with one’s mental health. While I am glad my boyfriend tries to understand and help me with my depression, I recognize he is not my therapist and being with him is not going to automatically make me better. And yes, I do feel entitled to judge the appropriateness of someone’s emotional reaction, if that emotional reaction involves screaming for your ex-girlfriend’s blood in front of a room of adoring fans (many of which are young women). Throughout the piece, there is no mention of these gender issues, which I found to be a pretty glaring omission. The poster mentions in the comments that she had no space within her word limit, but come on! It’s a feminist blog, for crying out loud! At least give it a single-sentence mention!

Wow, I have crabbed out all over the place here. For a bit of balance, here’s Girlschool on a French TV show in 1982. I love watching and listening them because they are obviously having so much fun – it’s infectious. Plus whenever I put on Demolition, my cat goes apeshit for some reason. It’s great. (I reeeally wish I hadn’t accidentally bought one of their awful later records, though. Oops.)

~ by Smellen on December 5, 2009.

2 Responses to ““Now, Tracy, let’s not rehash the coroner’s report. Let’s talk emotions.””

  1. Yea, it’s me again. I need sleep.

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