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Archive for the ‘activism’ Category

Separatism is a mode of thought—often borne of oppression (real, perceived, or otherwise)—that advocates dividing the human species along lines of particular shared/homogenous traits. Oppression of a particular identity group by other elements of the human species is often utilized as a grievance explaining the need for group isolation. Such oppression is, according to the separatist, insurmountable or so profoundly harmful that drastic measures must be taken—that is, striving to isolate a certain population from the rest of humankind.
Examples of separatist populations include religious, ethnic, racial, gendered, and sexual identification groups. We’ve in this class encountered separatism explicitly in the article by Bunch and implicitly among other writers.

A critique of lesbian separatism (or separatism in general):
An argument for lesbian separatism: if men (and, thus, patriarchy—though this ‘automatic’ correlative is questionable) are removed from the social life of women, an oppression-free society of liberated women can thrive. The absence of men necessitates the absence of patriarchy, and therefore of sexual oppression.

From this (admittedly oversimplified) description of lesbian separatism emerges a flaw prevalent in all separatist thought. In order to reveal this flaw one must turn to Derrida and the inherent obstacle/antagonism between the condition of impossibility and possibility (Zizek 2000; 17). In order to illuminate the flaw in separatist thought one can take as an example an erroneous Marxist critique of capitalism and the transition to a communist society.

Communists (indeed Marx himself) believed that once the fetters and oppression of capitalism were abolished then communism would emerge as a similar economic environment minus the deleterious effects of capital. This involves the false belief that once the obstacle (source of oppression) is removed the situation will persist to function in a machine-like way, that social and economic life will continue as before. The problem is that it is often this very obstacle or coercion—the idea or social practice which must be excised—that makes the system function as it does in the first place.
The furious production pace within capitalism occurs only because of the coercive and oppressive practices of capital toward labor. Once labor is freed of this coercion, why should it then be assumed that production will maintain its hurried pace? It is then a flawed assumption that unbridled production exceeding (or even equaling) that of capital will emerge outside of capitalism. This belief is, as Zizek explains, “an ideological attempt to ‘have one’s cake and eat it’, to break out of capitalism while retaining its key ingredient” (2000: 19).

Where does this leave lesbian separatism (and all forms of separatism)? “If we take away the obstacle [patriarchy], the very potential thwarted by this obstacle dissipates” (2000: 18). Removal of oppression radically changes a social situation, and adaptation to a new set of power structures is required. Keeping the obstacle/antagonism relationship in mind, one must ask: ‘Why does the absence of men mean that there will remain a void where oppression once existed?”
With the unifying force absent—that is, the abolition of the obstacle (patriarchy, the social presence of men, etc.)—what binds together this assembly of women? Were they not thrown into one another’s arms by the hostile forces of male supremacy, found themselves united by the common cause of fighting their oppression? With the sudden disappearance of patriarchy and men, a new social system, wrought with power dynamics, emerges amongst these women. Is it not likely then that new forms of oppression based on difference will manifest? It is evident that this will occur since the ideology of separatism is wholly based on identifying according to difference (e.g. “I am many things, but I am NOT a man”). Who’s to say that this emphasis on difference-distinguishing and identification of difference—a primary feature of separatism, that of Othering—will not resurface within the newly-created utopian community, creating schisms between new identity groups where oppression finds safe haven in new gradations of power?

That is not to say that oppression emerging within the separatist community could not be combated, but it has delivered the separatists directly back to the situation they sought so desperately to escape. It must be asked: Why then divide and subdivide the human species when it is likely that addressing oppression and power relations cannot but be accomplished in the arena of humanity united, whole?

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the Natural.

The Natural is the social explanation for strict and conservative governing of human life. The term itself has much to do with forming and sustaining normativity—what is OK and what is not OK. Claiming that something (an object or an act or a phenomenon) isn’t “natural” often ensures society passing unfavorable judgment on it. First we need to break down what “natural” means and how it transitions into the political weapon I will call “the Natural.”

Let us take “natural” to mean that which is necessary to reproduce the human species. (Or, from a Darwinian standpoint, the actions that maximize a creature’s reproduction success.) In this way, “natural” are the qualities and characteristics of animals that bring about reproduction of the species.

How have we arrived at this definition? Does it not seem rather esoteric? Let’s apply it to our current political and social world and, as a result, it ought to make more sense:
If we take “natural” to mean that which is necessary to reproducing the human species, it should then be taken as truth that homosexuality and other non-heterosexual practices are unnatural. Homosexuality is constantly decried as being ‘unnatural’ (and therefore unnecessary) and should be criminalized, discouraged, punished. With the above definition of ‘natural’ at hand, it is a truism that homosexuality (read: all non-hetero sex practices) is unnatural. But, then again, so are countless other daily activities that we practice in an unthinking manner. For example, driving or riding in a car is a profoundly unnatural practice. We can note that driving a car is unnatural because it poses a much greater risk to the driver while on the road than if she left the car at home and walked.
The US Department of Transportation reports that:
There were nearly 6,420,000 auto accidents in the United States in 2005. The financial cost of these crashes is more than 230 Billion dollars. 2.9 million people were injured and 42,636 people killed. About 115 people die every day in vehicle crashes in the United States — one death every 13 minutes.
We can then ask, how many of these 42,636 dead or 2.9 million injured would still be reproductively viable if they had instead walked rather than driven a car? Using our standards of ‘natural’ as it applies to homosexuality (that it is an unnatural act that does not reproduce the human species and should therefore be discouraged), by all accounts, we should be criticizing driving and homosexuality equally for being ‘unnatural’ human acts.

We then have arrived at the crux of the problem of ‘natural’:
How is it that the natural suddenly became synonymous with the good and right?

We can see then that ‘the Natural’ becomes that rare occurrence: the irrational idea which (horrifyingly) simultaneously assumes the role of the authoritative idea. Like religions rooted in dogmatism, the Natural defies logic and steamrolls any criticism of itself, so ingrained is its authority and rightness in the minds of uncritical human beings. This is the inception of the Natural as a political weapon: when it is used to batter those individuals and practices that do not reside firmly in the ‘natural’ realm.

When we see that the Natural is ambiguous and nigh-irrelevant to our daily lives and social interactions, why do we persist in being governed by its irrational ‘laws’? This is the point at which we part ways with the Natural. Combating the Natural should not be done by attempting to “explain” homosexuality in such a way that it fits into the narrow framework of ‘natural.’ No, instead we need to reject the Natural as a force entirely. Pleasure governs us, not nature! We respond to reason and discourse, trading of ideas and dialogue, not some politicized concept of what nature decrees as “right” and “wrong”! This is our praxis…

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Putting theory into practice. Praxis is theory in action.

Praxis is an important companion to feminist theory. As bell hooks discusses in her article “Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression” there is no feminist movement without praxis. Lifestyle feminism isn’t enough because theory is not an end in itself to the problems it analyzes. In a field of study devoted to analyzing sexist oppression, it would follow that a desire would arise to end it. Out of that desire must come action- theory must become praxis.

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