Hosannah pour Le Châtre-Nègre
As I read Thoughts on Masculinity (de)construction and anti-capitalist activism I became quite disturbed about what I was reading.
It is quite a skillfully written text which hides its patriarchal proposals behind a superficial pro-feminism. It is also written in a manner which helps to psychologise and de-politicise any discussion of gender. It also expresses quite a deep institutional racism and defends middle class elitism. The writer attempts to thwart a possible direct confrontation with such disarming critiques as:
- "We're constantly developing relations of the type ‘ I know better, I do better...’ where we mostly try to show that we are more radical, stronger, that we're right or that we were there, that we've been listened to, that we’ve been involved since a long time, that we made great sacrifices for the cause."
My problem is that I have been faced with an abusive text, which I feel requires a confrontational approach - how else can we deal with such oppressive behaviour. So let's deconstruct the deconstruction:
After a few paragraphs which rehearses an understanding of women's oppression, we then have the emancipation of men. Pretty soon we get:
- The problem of patriarchy doesn't only relate to women's oppression and anti-capitalist struggles. As men we can also analyse how much patriarchal culture can also make us suffer and is in opposition to our emancipation and the construction of different social relationships.
So suddenly we are into "men-identified men". Suddenly women are being squeezed out of the debate. We are no longer thinking of ourselves as human beings, but as gendered beings. "Men" welcomed in and the others pushed to the perifery of the discourse. Suddenly the author is speaking for all men. The opening paragraph contained a giveaway:
- This text refers to a ‘we’ in which I include myself, and if it sometimes poses difficult questions, its primarily aimed at questioning myself.
Clearly this is disengenuous. People question themselves by questioning themselves, whereas this text has been put out for discussion. "Men" are being drawn into collusion with the author, into identifting with his disturbing views. However what is meant by "men" quickly becomes apparent: "Many of us, European activists, involved in various collectives, are white, heterosexual, middle-class men." So this where the pitch is at. Suddenly we are talking not about men but White Men.
Let's just pause a moment and consider how issues of gender have been part of the construction of racism in European culture:
One of the much vaunted acheivements of the European "enlightenment" is the rise of scientific thought providing a new form of rationalism sweeping aside the superstitions of religious obscuranticism. An integral part of this involved a great deal of confusion over whether African people were human or not. And from this arose the word mulatto, used to refer to someone with one African and one European parent. The word is derived from mule which is the sterile offspring of a male donkey and a female horse.
Are mules fertile?
- Like many other mammalian hybrids, mules are considered infertile. This is despite the fact that in both male and female mules the internal and external sexual organs are quite normal and both have the normal sexual urges. The explanation is a bit lengthy but lies mostly in the chromosomes and their inability to completely pair up in the mule. Although not fully understood, from 1527 to 1990 approximately 60 live births of foals to mules had been reported in Europe, the U.S., South America, North Africa and China. Quite a bit of study has gone into the infertility of mules and the few reported live foal births from mules, but until a modern birth is fully investigated and found to be substantiated through science, it would definitely be safe to say that mules are an infertile hybrid. Even if you consider some or all reported live foal births to mules to be true, it would represent a very small fraction that, while significant to the scientific aspect of mules, would still only warrant an asterisk beside the word infertile.
This term is an example white male disquiet about black fertility and its gender consequences. Once the myth that Africans were quite a different species, this comparison - so readily understandable in a rural society - asserted the sterility of mixed race people. Obviously as the fertility of enslaved African-European women was an economic reality of the plantation system, the control of their fertility was quite different than from African-European men.
- Imagine for a moment that there was a part of your body, an organ, that by the very nature of the society in which you lived, existed under immense pressure. Imagine that this organ, placed in a conspicuously vulnerable position on your body was to expand, rise and remain erect at will. Imagine that your status in society depended on your ability to control this organ. Imagine that if you couldn't get the damn thing to work, the importance of your existence would be questioned.
- Suppose further that some other overly oppressive race of people confined your "freedom of expression" almost exclusively to the manipulation of this organ. And then suppose that this race was always threatening to cut it off, to sever this organ from your body and leave you with nothing!
- Suppose your peers started a movement to obtain your equality to this oppressive race. Suppose you took it upon youreslf to prove your ability to use other parts of your body such as your heart and your mind. Suppose your great heart enabled you to endure enormous suffering and still love your enemy. Suppose your clever and resourceful mind enabled you to prepare eloquent and moving speeches and to write exhaustive and lengthy papers that gave evidence beyond doubt that you were the equal of any man.
- But then equally suppose your enemy's response was to spit in your face, to waterhose you, to bomb your homes and school buses loaded with your children, and suppose the whole nation in which you lived watched the abuse your people on national television but still did nothing to end your misery. And suppose that one of the main reasons they didn't was because they were afraid you would use this organ on their daughters. Suppose the enemy race continued to define you only in terms of this organ (meanwhile making the function of this organ a dirty thing, illegal to describe or photograph), giving even greater emphasis to your by now legendary ability to manipulate it. And finally suppose that this enemy race's ability to manipulate this organ was assumed, by popular culture, to be extremely doubtful at worst, unreliable at best.
- Isn't it just possible under these circumstances, you might begin to fantazise about this organ? Couldn't you begin to bestow all sorts of magical powers on it that it might or might not have?
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