I tend not to post direct responses to articles I disagree with, because my experience is that there’s almost no space for conversation online, and that any kind of, “hmm, I disagree?” rapidly turns into a combative dynamic. Perhaps there are ways around that; I haven’t found them yet.
Sometimes, though, I think an article can say something so clearly, that in responding to it, it’s also possible to very clearly highlight a problem or disagreement and very clearly respond to it. Then, I think the response can be a tool for communication of more general things, rather than an attack against the original article itself.
In that spirit, I’d like to post a couple of quotes from an article I just read, along with my responses to it; not in an attempt to “take down” or whatever the original article, but to pop into the foreground some things I’ve often seen, and to clarify a radical feminist perspective on them. The responses are to this article.Woman is desexualized at the very moment when she is stripped naked. We may therefore say that we are dealing in a sense with a spectacle based on fear, or rather on the pretence of fear, as if eroticism here went no further than a sort of delicious terror, whose ritual signs have only to be announced to evoke at once the idea of sex and its conjuration. (Roland Barthes)
We’re de-something-ised, yes. If you want to call that sex, go for it, I guess. I tend to agree that “sex” has been so taken over by the “something” that disappears when fear disappears, that we may as well go ahead and call that something “sex”. Isn’t there something else that can exist, though, outside that “something”? My desire isn’t based on fear, and I don’t want desire for me to be based on it either. I’m a woman, I love myself, I love other women. I don’t want anything predatory in my love.
… because gender is not a fact, the various acts of gender create the idea of gender, and without those acts, there would be no gender at all. (Judith Butler)
Therefore, what could possibly be more “womanly” than dressing oneself up in Agent Provocateur lingerie?
As a radical feminist, I agree. But I wouldn’t say “womanly”. There are ways of being a woman which aren’t about doing the “acts of [female] gender”. In a patriarchy, those acts and their internalisation are part of the female sex role. In a patriarchy, the female sex role is the suppressed, hyper-differentiated, defined-as-lack, instrumentalised and homogenised component of the gender dualism, i.e. what woman has to be to make man God.
I’d ask, “What could possibly be more feminine (the aesthetic of the female sex role) than dressing oneself up in Agent Provocateur lingerie?” And then, “Where’s the nearest dustbin?”
I think Alice Walker might agree that this isn’t about “womanly”:
Womanish. (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one. Interested in grown up doings. Acting grown up. Being grown up. Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.” Responsible. In charge. Serious.
Of course, our selves (individual, collective) can be deeply interwoven with femininity. It’s understandable: I often say that gender is the system of organising male power within which women - forced to live there - have made a makeshift home. Femininity is part of that makeshift home. But the task for me and other radical feminists is in untangling what’s positive for us from the system of organising male power, and in Spinning new realities for women.
I don’t think uncritically embracing Agent Provocateur has anything to offer us toward that end!