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What happened to words like "women" and "poor people"?

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What happened to words like "women" and "poor people"?

This is a sincere question about language.

I was reading an article today, and lingered over this sentence: 

" Prostitution, as well as the sex industry as a whole, must be considered in the light of the reality of gender and class oppression and inequality under capitalism as it exists."

I have no issue with the point this sentence raises, but i was struck by the language.

And wondered why do such important matters now get discussed without talking about women's oppression and women's liberation"

What do we gain by inserting that strangely technical term "gender oppression" into this -- without talking about the people who are being oppressed.. 

And do those who are oppressed here, those living in the sex industry understand that their lives and agony are being opposed when we use terms like "gender and class oppression" -- or do they feel like bugs under an academic microscope?

Similarly doesn't the distant, emotionally-flat term "class oppression" get in the way of discussing the lives and suffering of poor and working people?

Of course, I understand that the issue (sex industry) doesn't just affect women. There is a current within the sex industry that exploits young men and trans people. My point is not that this oppression is just about women.

But: when and why did language like this "gender and class oppression" replace the talk about the people themselves? 

Shouldn't we actually talk about women, women's oppression, women's liberation? About the sale of human beings like objects? Isn't the discussion also about the lives and desperation of poor and working people, not some disembodied "class oppression"? (And, in the interest of fairness, that particular article does later discuss women's oppression as such... my point is not about that article, but about the problems of a certain language, and what we should use instead.)

Why is the reality of the subject so often now grayed over by neutral and non-specific terms drawn from blackboard grid diagrams of academic lectures and sociology?

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  • Guest - Gary

    I think at some point during the postmodernist heyday it became academically respectable to use "gender" in place of sex, it allowing for inclusion of self-identity as opposed to mere biology. About the same time eloquent, readable prose became unpopular.

  • Guest - Nick

    It's easy to blame "political correctness" and post-modernism, but that misses how this actually evolved. The dominant classes and castes became very uncomfortable with the language they themselves had used and learned to avoid it, believing they were absolving themselves. (Thus nowadays the most common statement you will hear from a racist will be something like, "I'm not a racist but...") They went from epithets to euphemisms. Meanwhile, so many on the other side demanded the euphemisms, understandably.

  • Guest - Dan

    Regarding "poor people" versus "class oppression," the latter phrase is very important. The term "poor people" seems to connote and essential characteristic - poor people are poor because that's just their lot in life, it's a fact of life or nature, etc. Talking about "poor people" rather than class oppression misses the point that poor people are poor because of their class, because the economic system they labor under exploits and impoverishes them for the benefit of the ruling class. Class is *the* defining relation in our society, and anything that serves to distract from the realities of class is less than beneficial. I have less of an issue with the "gender oppression" versus "women's oppression" argument, except to note that "gender" is more than biological sex. Women, of course, suffer the main force of "gender oppression" but they do not suffer alone. These are systemic evils, and while it's important to realize that each particular is a real human being and not just a statistic, the problems can only be understood and hopefully overthrown systemically.

  • What is the point of using a sexualized, softcore pornography image to illustrate this article?

  • Guest - Mike Ely

    In reply to: Guest - Undead Mao

    I think it is fair to discuss whether images contradict our political purpose -- but I don't think this one does.

    This is an article that commented on a discussion of the sex industry. This is an image that helps situate that.

    Obviously the sex industry involves people being sexualized -- so it is hard to depict this without some element of the picture indicating sex.

    This picture is not explicit -- i.e it is obviously not a picture of prostitutes providing sex, or strippers being naked, etc., Even calling it "softcore pornography" (as you do) seems to ignore (imho) the general definition of soft core pornography.

    I don't believe that we should use photographs that are unintentionally "titillating" (for obvious reasons) -- but i would not occur to me to say that about this picture. Tawdry, sad, and dangerous for the woman are impressions it gives me.

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by Mike Ely
  • To address the point, the issue is one of a mistaken perspective. Women's oppression is part of gender oppression, but not all gender oppression is that of women. This is because gender is not a binary, but a gradient, in which women are one end of the spectrum. Thus, women's oppression is a significant but not exclusive part of gender oppression. It is true specificity is important, but it is undialectical to claim - as is done here - that the general and the specific are counterpoised.

    They are not: the root of women's oppression and gender oppression (whatever their specificity) is the same: the rule of patriarchy and its relation to class formation in class society. Put simply, the enemy is the same.

    Of course, some here dismiss this materialist insight as mere "postmodernism" - and there is truth to some of that, postmodernists have dominated this dialogue. Yet, even postmodernists can and do achieve materialist understanding, much in the same way as Marx built upon Hegelian metaphysical dialectics to construct dialectical materialism.

    This has serious political consequences: the movements of those who are not within the binary have been some of the boldest voices in moving feminism and women's liberation forward - attacking rape culture, developing self-determination, dealing with unpaid reproductive labor, etc.

    It is of course in the interest of patriarchy to develop, instead of gender liberation, what has been called "patriarchial women's emancipation" - that is, the emergence of a formal equality with women ("women hold up half the sky") without attacking patriarchy per se, in all of its manifestation. One of the most crude examples of the limits of this view is precisely how many women who call themselves feminists are still homophobic, transexist, slut shamming, etc, that is, they still reproduce a patriarchy that recognizes equality of two genders, but denies freedom to those who do not conform or belong to the neatly delineated binary of gender.

    In other words, women's emancipation can be achieved in patriarchy, but patriarchy will still remain. And that needs to be struggled against.

  • Guest - red terror

    In reply to: Guest - Undead Mao

    Undead Mao, your comments here are confused and ahistorical. While there is indeed a spectrum of "gendered" oppressions in capitalist society, I think your attempt to decentralize the exploitation and oppression of women (and in particular the battle over reproduction and child birth) as the fulcrum around which all those other forces pivot is precisely the wrong way to asses these issues.

    Take for example your assertion that "gender is not a binary, but a gradient, in which women are one end of the spectrum". This has become a kind of "left" conventional wisdom, but I think there are major issues in this logic. There is no inherent, transhistorical "gender" that women are simply on one side of. Gender is a historical construct, the constantly evolving social mechanism by which the male supremacist sexual division of labor reproduces itself. Not just the super-exploitation of female productive labor, but the exploitation of female REproductive labor in the service of male capital. This is the root of "patriarchy", or male supremacy, and the "masculine" (exploiter) and "female" (exploited) gender roles. Of course there is resistance to the rigid enforcement of this system (the so-called "gradient" of gender expression), gender is precisely in opposition to the real complexity, nuance, and contradictory nature of lived human experience. But to take the trees for the forest and say that these forces can and do exist independent of the fundamental dominance of men over women - this is mistaken and results in hazy, obscured politics that cannot speak to the world as it really is.

    We need to address the fact that the downplaying or erasure of the unique historical mission of women's liberation has been one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) factors leading to the defeat of the past century of communist revolution. A deep and nuanced analysis of the exploitation of female productive and reproductive labor and the unique social oppression of women, and a real military strategy for women's liberation, as opposed to just legalistic or rhetorical tips of the hat, need to be central to modern communist politics. I don't want to ascribe motives or intentions to you that don't exist, but I see a lot of the "same old same old" dressed up in new "inclusive" phrasings here. We need to break with this in a major way...

    I apologize if some of this comment is confused or contradictory, I am still learning.

  • How I am being ahistorical? Be leaving the context implied and not explicit?

    Gender has always been a spectrum in every human society. Period. What these genders are, what the relationship to power is, how they overlap with biology, those are the historical and contextualized things that do change in history.

    A good analogy is class society: what classes exist do change in history, as does their interaction and relationship to power (for example, just as it would be difficult to imagine a matriarchial society, so it is difficult to imagine a society in which the bourgeois was an oppressed, revolutionary class, but both have existed).

    Beyond this, again, there seems to be a consistent problem of putting up as antagonistic a relation that is not.

    One can both chew gum and walk at the same time, one can both struggle against gender oppression in the general and women's oppression in the specific.

    However, reducing women's struggle to the

    We cannot just fight for women's liberation or women's emancipation, we also need to fight against patriarchy. Women cannot be liberated as long as being a man means being in power, by right of birth. It is not just about women, but men's participation in the power dynamic that oppresses women. We do not fight for worker's liberation, we fight to abolish capitalism.

    The difference is not trivial: I agree with the contention that "the downplaying or erasure of the unique historical mission of women's liberation has been one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) factors leading to the defeat of the past century of communist revolution". Yet the focus on women as reproducers and producers - ignoring the patriarchial ideological State apparatus - is precisely one of the perspectives that led to this downplaying and erasure: when Clara Zetkin became an apparatchik and not a feminist, when "women's wings" became auxiliary and not central part of socialist struggle, that is when this "downplaying and erasure" happened.

    You accuse me of being "ahistorical" - but you are being quite ahistorical yourself - I suggest you investigate more about the actual history of "downplaying and erasure", and see the nefarious historical role patriarchial women's emancipation - and its refusal to move beyond productive and reproductive labor - has played.

  • Please ignore the:

    "However, reducing women's struggle to the"

    It was a rephrase that didn't get deleted.

  • This article could be, for me, a great explanation of why I (a queer man) try to avoid using "LGBT." Under the guise of being inclusive, this acronym dehumanizes; it becomes something that even a newscaster can rattle off the lips without commitment, without risk of confronting what it means. While some pretend it expands definition of community and oppression, or binds related groups together, I say it is encloseting and obfuscating. If you want to talk about gays and lesbians, talk about gays and lesbians. If you want to be inclusive of bisexuals, be inclusive of bisexual people. And for chrissake if you want to be liberatory and inclusive of transgendered people, don't reduce them to a "T'." If you want to be transgressive, or inclusive of same-gender-loving people who don't fit "western" ideas of sexual identity, use queer, or figure out what people actually call themselves. How sad if 21st-century revolutionaries, finally trading in the stilted jargon of a previous generation and learning to re-explain basic concepts in ways that resonate and connect with people, adopt a new jargon that builds new silos and disconnects us from being able to engage our task in the real world.

  • I am queer and genderqueer and I agree with the radical critique of the LGBT stuff (one reason I sometimes use QUILTBAG almost as mocking the notion: Queer, Undecided/Unsure, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans*, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay). That said, I do not think the effect is that nefarious, and I will use LGBT as needed.

    And the reason is simple: no matter how annoying or how incorrect I find the label, it will never be as terrible, disruptive, or politically pressing as homophobia, hetereosexism and patriarchy itself.

    You emphasis on the "wrongness" of this term, with no mention of generalized attack

    Put simply, in the eyes of the oppressor, we are indeed LGBTs, thus to challenge their attacks. In fact, that is the origin - and you were there so it puzzles me you do not get it - of the word queer as a self descriptor: the language of bullies was transformed by radical, even revolutionary action, into a proud self-description.

    When those who are not in power are seen as much more dangerous than those in power, that is the actual silos and disconnect.

    One of the fundamental problems with this article is that it seems to ignore 40 years of feminist struggle and LGBT struggle and Queer struggle, and wants to return us to the simple times when men were men and women were women, and we didn't have to deal with women with dicks and men with vaginas and all these complexities whose visibility has been won not out of the goodness of the heart of a few academics - as the article and one comment suggests - but out of real struggle for visibility.

    I am not happy with LGBT as a label, but I can live with it - however, I cannot live with patriarchy.

    What is disheartening is that in the 21st century we still want to defend patriarchal behaviors instead of challenging them - at a political and personal level.

  • Dear Mike and friends: The whole USA is a scam, a fraud, a rape, not only a rape of about 30% of the US population who live kings, raping the wealth of the lower 70% who live a life without pleasures. But it is also a rape of the english language. The great philosopher in the book Untimely Meditations wrote about how also in Germany there was a destruction of the proper use the grammer and german language. And most oligarchic capitalist governments like the government of Henrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, the government of Rajoy of Spain and their capitalist mainstream media do a lot.

    In CNN, UNIVISION and TELEMUNDO (2 spanish news channels) they are also great at generalizing but never talking about the personal lives of the workers. How much they earn, if they feel good, if they can afford all their bills. If with what they earn they can go out to movies and have pleasures and all that. If they have 100% medical coverage. You never hear that in the corporate media. Obama is also a specialist at generalizing, speaking in stereotype terms, and never going to the specifics and to the personal lives of the US citizens

  • Dear Mike, hi again. Since you are talking about the proper use of language and words in this article. Another words that are never mentioned in the Washington, DC politically correct speech of even progressive liberals are the words socialism, communism, capitalism, workers-control, nationalizations. Capitalists, socialists. Not even in Democracy Now, in The Russia Today News and in the mainstream progressive liberal alternative websites.

    It is time for the marxist left to rise to visibility, destroy the words liberals and conservatives. In the mainstream media there have been a false class war between Liberals vs. conservatives (Which is the US political correct paradigm), but we should replace it with communists vs. capitalists, oppressed against the oppressors, The poor against the rich.

  • Guest - Mike Ely

    Undead Mao writes:

    "One of the fundamental problems with this article is that it seems to ignore 40 years of feminist struggle and LGBT struggle and Queer struggle, and wants to return us to the simple times when men were men and women were women, and we didn't have to deal with women with dicks and men with vaginas and all these complexities whose visibility has been won not out of the goodness of the heart of a few academics - as the article and one comment suggests - but out of real struggle for visibility."

    I think you misunderstand (and perhaps intentionally distort) the point of this piece.

    The issue here is not to deny a struggle for visibility -- among those forced to hide their lives by quite brutal means.

    It is a discussion of the need to actually discuss different forms of oppression -- without disappearing them all beneath some mush of generalized terms.

    I am making the argument about the need to talk about women's oppression and women's liberation in its own right, with its own name. And for using words like women and liberation and working people when talking to people broadly -- and not adopting obscuring technical-sounding formulas like "gender and class oppression."

    And it should certainly be possible to discuss liberating women from the oppression of this society (from capitalism, from structures of patriarchy, from mistreatment by men who enter their lives) without (as you imply) denying other sections of the people their "visibility" or denying them justice.

    And in particular, we need the ability to excavate the particular conditions and reasons for oppression.

    Humanity (objectively) is divided into two sexes. Biology is not destiny (in the sense that this biological division is what we start with, but not where we are forced to end) -- however it is a key and defining feature both of our species and of our society.

    And the relations of the sexes (and the generalized subordination of women as such) was integral to the emergence of class society. It marked the ways production and reproduction happened. And the world historic subordination of women marks the whole sweep of human history and every detail of our world today.

    Obviously human beings are not simply binary. As we are also discussing there are sections of people who live outside that binary -- either physically, or socially, or both. And with modern medicine, some people move from one sex to another.

    Every phenomenon and every distinction (as Lenin argued) is relative and conditional.

    Saying that humanity comes in two sexes doesn't deny the fact that there are (biologically) intermediate or mixed forms of existence (hermaphrodites for example).

    In addition, it doesn't negate the fact that there are people born (biologically) as one sex who prefer to live as another. There are lives lived between or outside any categories, there are people who choose to move from one sex to another.

    But recognizing that doesn't mean change the fact that the oppression of women is (globally and universally) something that needs to be taken up and resolved.

    My own view is that the necessity of class society to subordinate women (an objective and universal necessity for those maintaining class society) influences how society treats those who "transgress." In other words, we can't separate the extreme and hostile opposition to gay equality from the ongoing attempt to impose, reimpose and reinforce sex roles on women.

    The need to impose traditional sex roles on women drives (in many ways) social norms and movements that are militantly intolerant of other people in society who seek to live outside those sex roles.

    My point is simple: I want us to talk about the oppression of women. I want us to oppose it. Expose it. Rally people to end it. I want us to reach millions of young women with simple and direct language that speaks to their dissatisfaction, exploitation and hopelessness. We need a movement that addresses the problem that intimate relations are often so painful and abusive -- in general and especially among the poor.

    It is wrong to portray this as an argument for making sexual minorities invisible -- as if politics is a zero sum game. And as if discussing the oppression of women is itself (!) oppressive.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * *
    This kind of flattening and obscuring doesn't just happen in the discussion of women's oppression.

    What happens is that "oppressions" get tracked on some grid (where various "oppressions" are differentiated from each other -- gender, race, class, etc.) But as an analytical method it is very obscuring. the process you call "inclusive" actually prevents differentiation.

    And the dynamics of society -- how it is rooted in forms of oppression -- is obscured.
    The mistreatment of working people -- their suffering and exploitation -- is not some subset of some empirically cataloged "class oppression." It is a central dynamic of history and politics.

    The oppression of Black people is not some local subset of a general thing called "racial oppression."

    African American people have a very specific history, very specific forms of oppression, and the resolution will require very specific solutions. This is not some generic problem of "racial oppression" against "people of color" by some generic "white racism." (And again to avoid being distorted: I'm not sayng white racism doesn't exist as a set of ideas and barriers that operate in some common ways against many oppressed nationalities in the U.S.)

    I'm saying that the situations of different oppressed people (Native people. Puerto Rican people, immigrant nationalities, chicano people) are not merely localized manifestation of some generalized thing called "racial oppression." And it shouldn't be portrayed that way. This would drop whole peoples into some generic bin -- and flattened the very things we need to be understanding.

    Puerto Rican people have an island that was invaded over a century ago, and an independence struggle, and many developments that are a result of economic integration and mass immigration to the U.S. The Lakota people emerge from a history of genocide and decimation -- confined to scattered and marginalized reservations, or drawn into working class life (often in urban areas).

    There are distinctive questions of land and self determination, as well as profound questions of the emancipation of working people who live under capitalism. It is not helpful to reduce all this to some homogenized category of "racial oppression."

    Dealing with the specific conditions of people (including women globally, and specific oppressed nationalities in the U.S.) is obviously not an attempt to "exclude" someone -- how can the conditions of people under capitalism be understood without dealing with it in its particularity?

    And let me just suggest (with some tentativeness, and deliberate humility) that it is revealing and troubling that the moment we argue for the importance of women's liberation -- that the discussion is accused of grievous transgressions against others.

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by Mike Ely
  • Guest - Mike Ely

    Let me give a specific example of the problem that has emerged.

    We are all deeply concerned about the disclosure of left-circle coverup of rape and sexual mistreatment within radical organizations (specifically within the British SWP). And so I have sought out to study various writings that engage this. shared an essay called Betrayal which is a discussion of rape within anarchist circles -- an important topic to explore, and a sincere effort to explore it.

    Without seeking to discuss this particular pamphlet in detail, there is one passage that is relevant to our discussion here:

    "Our gentle reader will also notice that we have chosen to use gender neutral language throughout. Of course the majority of survivors are women or people who don’t conform to patriarchal gender identities, whereas the majority of perpetrators are cis gendered men. The neutrality of our language obscures the systemic nature of not only this, but also the way that interpersonal violence has consistently been a tool of colonial invasion, imperialist occupation, and the maintenance of white supremacy. It obscures the way in which organizing against interpersonal violence has historically been co-opted by white middleclass feminists, leaving women of colour, poor women, queer and trans folk with less access to support resources. It was not our intention to depoliticize the nature of interpersonal violence with language that is gender neutral (certainly, when it comes to gender, we are not neutral!). But having said that, we also wanted to recognize that people of all identities, from all walks of life, can be both survivors or perpetrators, or even both at the same time. We didn’t want those whose experiences don’t fit it neatly into oppressive binaries to find themselves even further marginalized here."

    In short this discussion of rape within anarchist circles in Britain is written specifically to avoid expressing the fact that the phenomenon being discussed is overwhelmingly rape of women by men. It is written in "gender neutral throughout." How can anyone understand the dynamics of rape, or the defense of rape, or the silence surrounding rape -- if the oppression and suppression of women (historically and in our culture) can't be discussed? If the very words are denied?

    This is done because some rape is not done by men against women, but by men against men. And because the authors don't want to marginalize those who were victims of rape but don't fit the general patters (of men raping women). Fair enough, on one level, it would be wrong to make the rape of men invisible. But to accomplish this it is necessary to discuss the rape of women by men and then also discuss other forms that rape happens.

    The net result of this sincere decision is that the core matters here, their dynamics, their causes, their history, can't be fully or deeply discussed.

    Rape (historically and globally) has been a key mechanism for the domination and humiliation of women by men. (It has also been used for other purposes, but certainly that is historically and currently a major part of what rape is about.)

    It is not the imposition of an "oppressive binary" to point this out, to describe it, to seek its roots and effects. And observing that there are men and women in the human species is not itself some "oppressive binary" -- it is the situation of the vast majority of humanity for reasons rooted in both biology and current social construct.

    There is also the rape of men and queer people by men -- including especially in prison, but also in other settings. But there is no reason that can't be discussed, and analyzed as well -- including the way the authorities allow (and obviously encourage) this kind of horrific abuse of-prisoners-by-prisoners for all kinds of reasons.

    Again: The idea that we have to make the discussion of rape "gender neutral" -- means that we can't actually discuss rape fully and deeply. And it (regardless of intent) obscures the oppression of women precisely in a discussion that integrally involves the abuse of women. And it is related to the disappearing of the phrase "women's oppression" and the insertion of that distant technical term "gender oppression" in its place. It is a denial of particularity (of the specific nature of different forms of oppression) and a refusal to discuss the treatment of women in a particular way.

    And by somehow treating all rape the same, by erasing the sex of the overwhelming majority of perpetrators and victims, it also makes it difficult to unravel the differences in kinds of rape -- in their historical or cultural or psychological meaning and impact.

    The rape of men and queer people (in, say, prison or on a military vessel, or in some horrific high school incident) is not the same thing as the rape of women (in all its many manifestations). The rapes are all abhorrent, and rooted in deeply wrong and reactionary ideas. But it doesn't help understanding, or resistance, or elimination of rape to blur sexual violence over -- as if it is all one thing.

    To their credit, the authors of this essay sense the problem with their decision:

    "It was not our intention to depoliticize the nature of interpersonal violence with language that is gender neutral (certainly, when it comes to gender, we are not neutral!). But having said that..."

    But they choose to proceed anyway.

    And if, at the end of a process of theory, someone's engine of analysis shakes and sputters and spits out a verdict, and if that verdict is that we can't discuss the fact that women are raped by men when specifically analyzing rape within a left movement, that we even have to adopt gender neutral language to obscure the sex of the people involved, then something has gone wrong with that process.

    We need to be able to talk about the oppression of women. It is a central problem of our world, weighing directly on literally billions of people -- and it is a core dynamic for the whole structure of class and capitalism that we are seeking to abolish. We should welcome theoretical innovation, and the refusal of oppressed people to be invisible. But if at some point, there is an attempt to forbid the discussion of women's oppression (or to treat this discussion as the imposition of something backward and oppressive), then we need to say to sincere and thoughtful people, "No. We need to talk more about the oppression of women in society, not less. We need to speak directly to the suffering of women, not more indirectly."

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by Mike Ely
  • "The net result of this sincere decision is that the core matters here, their dynamics, their causes, their history, can't be fully or deeply discussed."

    Did you even read the quote you provided from "Betrayal"? It precisely addresses and attempts (Quite successfully) to address it. Yet that succinct disclaimer is treated by you as its opposite.

    If it is an intentional distortion or a lack of reading comprehension or a Dunning–Kruger effect, who knows. But the reality is that they in one succinct paragraph basically said exactly what you know put forth as original criticism.

    The hallmark of mansplanation.

  • Guest - Mike Ely

    Undead Mao writes:

    "Women's oppression is part of gender oppression, but not all gender oppression is that of women. This is because gender is not a binary, but a gradient, in which women are one end of the spectrum. Thus, women's oppression is a significant but not exclusive part of gender oppression. It is true specificity is important, but it is undialectical to claim - as is done here - that the general and the specific are counterpoised."

    The problem with this view is that it starts from a sociology of oppression, not from an analysis of how our society works.

    Women are not just someone grouped at one end of the spectrum of "gender oppression."

    Women reproduce human beings -- and the reproduction of human beings is one of the core functions of human society, and the regulation (and subordination) of those producing children is a key function of class society. (This means the physical birthing of children and the breastfeeding -- which is biologically rooted. But it also includes the rearing and care of children, which has historically been one key domain of "women's work" and still, in the world today, is largely the work of women -- even when the children in a few countries are in socialized day care.)

    The control, exploitation and suppression of women is the reason "gender oppression" emerged -- it is not just some manifestation of an abstraction, or one end of its spectrum.

    And if women's oppression is at "one end of a spectrum of gender oppression" -- then it is worth mentioning that this "end of a spectrum" concentrates half of humanity (three billion people) -- in a way that defines and touches each feature of life.

    Women are a key force of production in the world, they are concentrated in the very poorest sections of the working classes. (John and Yoko sing: "Woman is the slave of the slave.") And the imposition of sex roles (and powerlessness, and propertylessness, and sexual slavery, and the "regulation by rape) is part of controlling women -- as the section of society central to both reproduction by child bearing and extreme exploitation at the point of production.

    (And this is true even if, obviously, many of those confined and abused by patriarchy don't have children, or can't have children, or don't work in the fields, etc.. The cause and social function of patriarchy is rooted in reproduction and exploited production nonetheless.)

    Your expression here is precisely an example of what I'm raising here:
    1) You flatten quite diverse things into a spectrum
    2) Analysis is reduced to a kind of empirical sociological "grid of oppressions" -- whereas the causation and roots of oppression are obscured by the method.
    3) the net result of this method is to demand that the oppression of women be treated as some subset of a (larger? more real?) concept -- an umbrella that covers diverse phenomena. This is not the actual relation of these things. Women's oppression is not some egg in an egg carton of oppressions.... it is actually central to the project of human liberation today the way few things are.
    4) It separates gender oppression from the human process of reproduction -- which historically and currently is causative to the necessity felt by oppressors to impose reactionary sex roles and structures of control.
    5) To point out that everything is not equal, to demand a discussion of things in their own right and particularity, is not to deny or exclude full discussion of other things. That is the sleight of hand that is attempted here.

    Again: We need to discuss the oppression of women more, not less. We need to talk about it in its own right (not subsumed by sociological means beneath a vague umbrella). And certainly we need to do that in ways that show the linkages of women's oppression to the oppression of sexual minorities (and how a society rooted in controlling and suppressing women turns those same mechanisms on anyone who steps outside the imposed sexual roles.)

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by Mike Ely
  • Mike, I cannot take you seriously when you say something like this:

    "1) You flatten quite diverse things into a spectrum"

    A spectrum is the opposite of flattening - it is an explosion of diversity. Do you even know the meaning of the word spectrum?

    1) A band of colors, as seen in a rainbow, produced by separation of the components of light by their different degrees of refraction...
    2) The entire range of wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation."

    Used in analogy, it means precisely to turn a previously monolithic (or flattened, to use your word) concept, and explode it into a multitude of components.

    If you agree that flattening is bad, then you agree with viewing things as a spectrum.

    Yet you claim you do not, thus you either do not know the meaning of the word, or are idiosyncratically trying to redefine, so as to exacerbated a non-existing difference.

    "We need to discuss the oppression of women more, not less."

    And we need air to breathe?

    See a tautology that everyone agrees with is also a hallmark of mansplanation: we need to discuss women more, we need to discuss queers more, we need to discuss oppression more.

    But we also need to discuss patriarchial women's emancipation and its bad history, and you refuse to do that by exercising it.

    As I said above, we can chew gum and walk at the same time - by making gender oppression to be antagonistic to women's oppression you are actually doing a disservice to both: we need both, and we need to speak more about both.

    Otherwise, women get reduced to an identitarian perspective based on biology that doesn't fit the actual lived experience of the bulk of humanity.

  • Guest - Mike Ely

    In reply to: Guest - Undead Mao

    Two things:

    "Mike, I cannot take you seriously when you say something like this..."

    It is one of the unfortunate features of much current discussion that any disagreement leads to demonization. Some people assume their own views are right, and that those who disagree are just pigs. (Must be a lonely but comfortable mini-space.)

    Let me just suggest: If you don't take me seriously, don't respond to what I write.

    If you choose to engage here, respect the basic approach here, which is mutual respect and taking each other seriously.

    * * * * * * * * *

    You write:
    "As I said above, we can chew gum and walk at the same time - by making gender oppression to be antagonistic to women's oppression you are actually doing a disservice to both: we need both, and we need to speak more about both. "

    This is actually a distortion, and obviously. I'm not injecting any antagonism. I'm pointing out that certain imposed rules of expression and language end up making "women's oppression" invisible.

    My example above was a whole pamphlet on rape that chose not to discuss that women are raped by men -- and that this is (overall and generally) a major defining feature of rape and rape culture in this society. How can we discuss rape without discussing the way women are viewed, and portrayed, and devalued -- and how can that be unraveled with "gender neutral" terminology? How can we understand (and end) rape without understanding its roots in class society, in the control over women and reproduction, in the sexual dynamics of property -- and the anti-woman ideas all that give rise to?

    In terms of method:

    Any thing we discuss has a context. We can discuss both the thing itself, and its relationship to other things. But I am pointing out a tendency to reject a discussion of women's oppression, to see that discussion itself as the imposition of exclusion and "oppressive binaries."

    In fact, our movement-to-come needs to discuss the oppression of women (in context but also in its own right), and it needs to speak clearly. And this is not (as you say) a tautology that everyone agrees with. Even mentioning that humanity has men and women is perceived by some as reactionary.

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by Mike Ely
  • It is not demonization, in the comments of an article that purports to explore language, to require that you actually use and know the meaning of words.

    It is indeed hard to take seriously someone who purports to speak with authority about language, and then shows stunning ignorance at the meaning of a word. It is not that hard.

    BTW, Nice one calling me a troll in facebook. It just shows the quality of person you are with those who disagree with you.

  • "My example above was a whole pamphlet on rape that chose not to discuss that women are raped by men -- and that this is (overall and generally) a major defining feature of rape and rape culture in this society."

    Which is a misrepresentation of what the article did - you even quoted the relevant paragraph in which this was explained and discussed. The article explicitly recognizes, visibilizes, and sharpens the perspective that most rapist are cismen and most victims are not cismen. It says so, explicitly. And you quote it. I have no idea how this explicit recognition becomes an invisibilization.

    You claim to not make the relationship antagonistic, but then continue to misrepresent that article - even after quoting a passage that contradicts your contention.

    "Betrayal" is one of the most important documents on rape within the left ever written. It raises a hell of a lot It is a weapon being deployed effectively, by women, to attack rape apologism within the left.

    Yet, instead of focusing on this primary intent - or even providing an alternative - you want to dismiss it as "ignoring women" - something it quite explicitly doesn't do. It uses gender neutral language, and THEN recognizes that this might be interpreted to mean that rape is gender neutral. That caveat is indeed sufficient. To argue otherwise is to covertly attack its main topic: the rape and sexual violence in the left.

    That is, as I said already, the hallmark of mansplanation, and the hallmark of rape apologism in the name of outdated and conservative notions of feminism. It is a real, vital, struggle being waged right now, and instead of contributing to it from a perspective of adding ammunition, you are putting it down by turning a non-antagonistic perspective into an antagonistic one, and by willfully misrepresenting what the authors of "Betrayal" - who are women - did.

  • One thing I would try and add to this discussion, is that queer/gender/postfeminist theory and communism do not have identical goals. It could be said that most people who adhere to the former seek into end patriarchy, or at least, to end oppression. While communists believe that the destruction of capitalism includes the destruction of patriarchy (and white supremacy and other reinforcing structures of oppression under capitalism), it doesn't follow that proponents of reunderstanding gender are anticapitalist in the way we understand this. It's a longer topic but "prefiguration" is to my mind an excellent way of recalibrating morality and human relationships among radical people under capitalism, but a wholly inadequate political strategy. The challenge becomes embracing new realities and understandings without forgetting our mission of human liberation.

    I don't think I've told this story here before, but back in 1980 or so, I went with a group of my then comrades in Chicago to discuss politics with a group of gay men in Rogers Park. One of my comrades was a very quiet woman I'll call "N." One of the people we were talking to started making some strange and somewhat offensive generalizations about transsexuals. N started getting agitated in a way I had never seen her do. Finally she jumped up and shouted, "You have no idea what you're talking about... I am a transsexual!" Jaws dropped among those of us who had no idea. You see for her, liberation included being accepted and recognized as a woman; that was how she presented and identified. I don't remember the end of this conversation, but this was never discussed again, and it didn't need to be, and after she said what she needed to say, N's demeanor resumed to that of a brilliant, introverted woman who had a great ability to analyze political situations.

    Jumping ahead ten years to New York City, I belonged to a group called Queer Pagans (yeah okay, secrets in a communist's closet). We soon found that transgendered people and bisexuals loved us and our events because the word "Queer" welcomed them, and didn't force them into unreal roles or labels. Our events explored a radical spirituality where things were not divided into two genders, and this meant an expression of liberation for people who felt set apart and excluded by choices that were false to them.

    The decades since 1980 have brought massive changes in consciousness. Some transgendered people today proudly identify themselves as such, and others don't. The word transsexual takes on a more limited meaning, and intersex replaces the quaint victorian "hermaphrodite." I know my transgendered friends demand respect on their own terms, and some of that is linguistic. (I would add as an afterthought, that all these self identities are clearly wrapped up in U.S. capitalist culture as it is now; without diverting into a polemic against homonationalism let it be said that the understandings we learn of our society are only partly universal: sexual and gender minorities in other cultures may describe themselves quite differently).

    But using new language and trying to grapple with new understandings of gender is not the same thing as making revolution. I was around the left when the "list" first started being used in written propaganda: workers, immigrants, lesbians and gays, women, african-americans, latin@s, etc. This list marked an improvement in leftist consciousness, a change from an unstated but easily assumed definition of the makers of revolution as factory workers, and quite possibly white male factory workers at that. And as much as I, a gay man, fought for inclusion on this list, in the end the list is a kind of easily caricatured blur of words that doesn't really even mean there is an actual commitment to the real world components of the proletariat. Returning to LGBT, does anybody do other than laugh or shake their head when this is extended to LGBTQQIIA?

    What is stated as inclusion can actually be exclusion, and i think Mike's example of the gender neutral rape discussion is a good example.

    So I don't argue with the right of people to decide how they want to be called, but our obligation as revolutionaries is to fight for a better world in a way that inspires, that unites, that sets liberation as a realistic goal we can actually fight for. Figure out who you're talking to and where. Offer respect. But if we're not making this sound real to real people, ain't nobody gonna listen.

  • "Returning to LGBT, does anybody do other than laugh or shake their head when this is extended to LGBTQQIIA?"

    I do, and that is why I use QUILTBAG sarcastically, as I said.

    "So I don't argue with the right of people to decide how they want to be called, but our obligation as revolutionaries is to fight for a better world in a way that inspires, that unites, that sets liberation as a realistic goal we can actually fight for. Figure out who you're talking to and where. Offer respect. But if we're not making this sound real to real people, ain't nobody gonna listen."

    Real to what people? See that is the issue. As another poster mentioned, there are valid counter-critiques about using "women" and "poor" as categories. They do not list them, so I will:

    1) "Women" is a broad, generally biologically defined categorization that flattens (yes, I use the word correctly in this instance) a broad category of people with often contradictory experiences, needs, power, privileges, etc, and imposes upon them a commonality based on chromosomes and genitals. More importantly, as dialectical materialists, we should be more interested in the social being and social relations among people, not the people as atomized biological entities. Thus speaking about "gender oppression" is seen as shedding light on why women are oppressed, and who the oppressor is (it is not just this other problematic category of "men", but patriarchy - a system, not a personality flaw).

    2) "Poor" is a relativistic perspective that flattens the complexities of socio-economic class, and furthermore, accepts the definitions of class of classical economics, rather than historical materialism. There are owners of means of production who can be defined as "poor" - for example, landowning peasants in many third world countries. Poverty can also be much more transitional than class is - a petty bourgeois college student might be poor, but notably hir class existence will not normally change - as soon as they graduate they will find a job and not be poor (they can also be proletarized, but that is not relevant for this argument). "Poor" also includes lumpenproletarians, who are declassed.

    Lastly, "poverty" and "poor" are a hallmark of the present imperialist language - neo-liberalism is all about "reducing poverty", "social development" etc. "Poor" in other words, has become codeword for "reserve army of labor" or "neo-colonials ready to be exploited" (ie "microlending" scams).

    Not mentioned in this article, but worth as an example, is the less common counter-formulation of "racism" vs "white supremacy". Racism has come to mean, in most context including the left, mere bigotry. This has led to the invention of "reverse racism" etc. So the contention is that speaking about "white supremacy" rather than "racism" is more illustrative. I am not fully convinced, but I am increasingly attracted to this formulation, because precision is important.

    I think this is important because it points my repeated criticism of trying to shed some light into a discussion that is ongoing in the wider left, both inside and outside of academia, and which leads to a presentation of a supposedly antagonistic perspective, where there is none.

    Put simply, to speak about language, we cannot ignore what other people are saying about it, and I feel this article does just that.

  • Guest - Random Name

    Ely Wrote: It is a discussion of the need to actually discuss different forms of oppression -- without disappearing them all beneath some much of generalized terms.

    Such as "working class," "women" and "poor"? Because you cannot be ignorant of the very similar critiques that people have made against those terms as being too generalized.

    Your post is a very good example of some serious cognitive dissonance about the effects of your own argument. I don't really care what you -claim- the intention of your hackneyed appeal to specificity is. The -actual- effects of your claims about specificity in language is to regress our political consciousness into atomistic and divided struggles. Talk about dividing the working class! What you seem to miss is that people may have abandoned the language of "women's oppression" for the very same reasons you want to keep it around. Let me re-emphazise this, because I want to make sure that it can't be misunderstood. The reason that you are advocating the language of "women" over "gender" is because you think that it doesn't do credit to the actual people involved, as you express in this rhetorical question: "But: when and why did language like this "gender and class oppression" replace the talk about the people themselves? "

    Let me answer your rhetorical question with another one. Do you actually think that people who use "gender and class oppression" think that they are failing to talk about the people themselves? Of course they don't.

    It is possible that you are right about the reality where they are wrong. But you do not actually recognize the motivating ground that you share with these... actually this is another problem with your article. For a post about talking about specific people, you don't actually have any specific antagonist, specific political line, or specific political tendency that commits this alleged error of using generalized terms to "dissapear them all." Sorry, I got a bit distracted by that double standard for a second. You do not actually recognize the things that you hold in common with these imaginary antagonists, and so your article seems like little more than a textbook strawman against imagnary people. I assume you go to such lengths, talking about specificity and "actual people" (without ever talking about actual people) to dress up what would otherwise be a nostalgic reversal of 50 or so years of developing political theory.

    The fact is that your concepts just don't have the explanatory and political power to assess, describe, or critique, things like prostitution in full. What you are advocating is not an incorrect theory, but it is an impoverished one.

  • "What you are advocating is not an incorrect theory, but it is an impoverished one."

    Precisely - half the truth is not the truth.

  • Guest - lucy logan

    one thing that hasnt been mentioned here is that "gender oppression" and "class oppression" both focus on the relationship of oppression or (exploitation) in a way that "poor" or even "working people" does not. Communists of course are perfectly happy to identify the ruling class as the enemy, and not merely capitalism, but some communists are not equally happy with a similar recognition that straight, cisgendered men are often quite literally the enemy of women and queer people because gender is also a relationship frequently a violent one. Personally, my read is that is what is going down here , that it is not exclusively a vocabulary malfunction, but an anti-feminist political point. and before it gets said, yes we need straight, cis-gendered men for the revolution. we need to start with the ones who not only arent actively hurting women and queer people, but already bother to learn and understand about the experience of women and other gender oppressed peoples oppression and who demonstrate that understanding as a practice of active solidarity, not only for fighting the (general) revolution but for fighting sexism, heterosexism and transphobia. you know, the 'advanced' sections.

  • Guest - Another random name

    "And if women's oppression is at "one end of a spectrum of gender oppression" -- then it is worth mentioning that this "end of a spectrum" concentrates half of humanity (three billion people) -- in a way that defines and touches each feature of life. Women are a key force of production in the world, they are concentrated in the very poorest sections of the working classes. (John and Yoko sing: "Woman is the slave of the slave.") And the imposition of sex roles (and powerlessness, and propertylessness, and sexual slavery, and the "regulation by rape) is part of controlling women -- as the section of society central to both reproduction by child bearing and extreme exploitation at the point of production."

    So for you, women are only defined as child bearers and workers? That is exactly the patriarchial definition of womanhood the concept of "gender oppression" addresses - women are much more than simply child bearers and workers, and their oppression is much more than just reproductive and productive oppression.

    Read more feminism written by women, then speak. You seriously are stuck on an archaic vision of womanhood.

  • (moderator's note)

    Undead Mao, you're comments are a mix of substantive argument combined with condescension and personal attack. Please stick with the substance and stop injecting toxic hostility into the discussions. On this site we seek to engage in serious and principled discussion and debate on questions important to developing new revolutionary strategy, movement, and culture. Personal attack and trolling are not acceptable.

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by Nat Winn
  • Care to show an example, please?

  • Guest - Random Name

    In reply to: Nat Winn

    Ad hominems are only invalid argument data if they are actually irrelevant, though.

    In the spirit of talking about "the people themselves," let us consider the impact on revolutionary strategy that a personal relationship - acrimonious or avoidant - could engender. If I understand the undead person correctly, then his point is that Mike has read an analysis on rape and rape culture in the left, rephrased that analysis into an opponent, and then used the original analysis to dismantle the altered version.

    If we, just for the sake of argument, presume that undeadmao is correct, and that this analysis is in error of its sources, then it is surely valid to explain the error. One explanation is a benign misreading on the part of Mike and the other would be an intentional misrepresentation on the part of Mike. These issues are really neither politically irrelevant nor uncommonly discussed. I mean, the point is often raised on this site. Mike raises it himself, and I'm glad it can be talked about here.

    By the way, Mike, you know, women rape men, also. That was conspicuously absent from your (to re-emphasize) accurate but impoverished, statistical account of "real people" and rape and such. You know this is something that just struck me, is that you speak of the need to talk to real people, right? But your argument, I don't know, it seems like its based on a quantitative value, right? That in order to strategize and organize the female sex (or female gender), then we need to speak to them directly and clearly, and that's all true and good. But I'm not exactly sure where talking about "real people" comes in here. Like when we talk about the history of women as political capital, we aren't talking about "real people" any moreso than when we talk about the history of the development of the female gender. When I think about talking about "real people," it generally seems to mean ethnographic studies and personal affirmations, stories of people's political developments, and so on. That Out of the Red Closet pamphlet by kasama is actually a really good example of what I mean here, and I think that stuff is rad as hell valuable.

    When we are talking about the language of our theory for overthrowing existing social conditions, it is clearly important to speak to women(gender) qua women(gender) and it is also clearly important to speak about women(sex) qua women(sex) (for example, Simone De Beauvoir advances some truly excellent theory on the histories of women as both biology and constructed idea.)

    But surely we should also approach women in light of the explosion of gender that we see today. A failure to explain the sort of gender cacophony that we see today is a failure to account for a political phenomenon. It's an occlusion of data. I mean we all have some idea of the history of how women have been included in capital by means of reproductive control and of how the interaction of reproduction and production can explain all kinds of shit that we see (schools, prisons, occupations, etc.) but let us remember that as capital advances and more variable capital is converted into different forms of constant capital, the relationship of women to capital will change drastically. Understanding how women fit into the exploded concept of gender in 2013 must address the conditions of "gender oppression" that place women into capital.

  • Dear friends, another form of oppression against women in USA and in many other countries not talked about very much in the mainstream media and not even in the alternative media, is one thing that we take for granted. Is that most women in the USA, have 2 jobs (Regular jobs, and domestic labor like cooking, laundry, cleaning etc.). I know that there is no perfect world, and it is impossible for a socialist system to save people from all the chores that they have to do on their every day. But the only type of rape that we hear on mainstream media is sexual rape, but we never hear about how women are subjected to an excess of work on a regular basis. I think that most women who are part of the lower classes in USA are over-worked. And I hope that in a new socialist system, in USA, in the dictatorship of the working classes and poor peasants in America, there can be a solution so that females would have to work less.

    But again the workers-dictatorship is too far from now, we don't even have the vehicle that would get us there which is a super big communist workers party composed of 100 million oppressed workers for the 2016 elections

  • Guest - jp

    In reply to: Guest - TrayvonCommunist

    would not need te elections with party of 100 million...
    i think using a word like 'poor'depends on concrete context. it can be usedto great effect when its use demysitfies á social relationship

  • Guest - lucy logan

    Unded Mao is correct about the pamphlet Mike is taking on here--so much so that I wonder if Mike read beyond the section he quoted. Its an incredibly useful pamphlet taken up by radicals of wide range of traditions specifically TO talk about the oppression of women on the left. It not only talks about real people's real rapes, but develops an analysis of the culture that produces and then hides these crimes.

    But Mike finds it absurd and gender neutral. Leaving aside that this is factually wrong...where is Kasama's detailed analysis of rape and sexual assault? of gender oppression on the left? Explanation for why it has no visible women writing about womens oppression? or men writing about womens oppression? It seems like clear case of 'show dont tell"--if you want to talk more about womens oppression do so. why substitute attacks on feminists for an? By simply calling for "more discussion' of womens lib, but producing nothing but attacks, Mike E has gone from passive antifeminist to actively antifeminist concern troll. His call to talk about womens liberation doesnt ring true, since he himself does not actually do this.

  • Lucy, I recommend this section of the Kasama website, under the "topics" tab above.

    I encourage you to submit discussion articles on how communists can fight for women's liberation or other topics relevant to the struggle to overthrow capitalism through our "open threads" feature, open to those who register and participate in the spirit of comradely discussion. More voices are indeed necessary.

  • Guest - lucy logan

    In reply to: ISH

    i keep an eye on it--frankly, the best stuff is reposts from gatheringforces. no high level discussion of marxist feminist theory or strategy will happen here, until it happens--and contributions like this one discourage that from ever happening IMHO

  • Guest - Random Name

    In reply to: Guest - lucy logan

    I do think its important to isolate reactionary and collaborative feminism when feminism turns to those lines. Everything revolutionary can be recuperated, and feminism certainly has suffered a lot of damage from attempts to liberalize it. By reactionary feminism I mean the feminism that is like "women should be able to win elections and be CEO's and be just as rich and successful as men" By collaborative feminism I mean the feminism that is like "feminism is about equal rights and equality under the law." In contrast, a revolutionary feminism seeks to end the goddamn patriarchy. The posts so far here mention the postmodern and academic permutations of feminism that often fall prey to collaboration, but I am not sure that that issue is really involved in the linguistic issue at all.

    So what is Betrayal? Well, I'm leaning towards revolutionary feminism. But even if we were to grant that it drifted into liberal or reactionary territory, that strikes me as a different problem than just "dissapearing" the people involved in the struggle. Academic feminism is often collaborative in virtue of it's attention to specific people which may occlude the systemic political content at work, and it's easy to fall into that trap, because it's seductive. But the worst (possible) problem with Betrayal would be if it fails to live up to itself, and is in need of internal correction, as opposed to Betrayal obscuring the "real people" struggles.

    I'm not totally sure if I'm replying directly to you, lucy, with these thoughts, but I'm interested in what you have to say about this variety of traps. Like, it's easy to ruin a good thing, you know? I'm always worried, when I talk about these things with my friends and such, when and whether our feminism declines into liberalism.

  • Guest - lucy logan

    In reply to: Guest - Random Name

    Random name--I 100% agree with the idea that liberal feminism betrayed any sense of real feminism by selling out working class women around the globe. Hester Eisenstein and Nancy Holmstrom have both written books, that though not perfect and obviously written by academics are pretty good. its also just obviously true (Lean In everyone! to say nothing of the "feminist" propaganada that sent us to war in Iraq and Afghanistan) but that is a different problem altogether than the OP initally points out, in my view. Feminism worth the name must be a marxist, class-rooted revolutionary one and it should not obscure the enemy--when done right, the idea of "gender oppression" unites oppressed people across differences and focuses on the enemy. when done wrong you get stuff that spends too much energy on how "patriarchy hurts (cis stratight) men too" and "performances of masculinity. (of course patriarchy DOES hurt cis straight men too, and feminist talk about this and know this, but just as we shouldn't expect comrades suffering the daily effects of racism to put most of their energy on racism's dehumanizing effects on white people, we should also not center cis straight men's experience of patriarchy despite its side effects.)

  • I'm a bit frustrated with this discussion for several reasons. First of all, as someone who participates in Kasama, I have to say that our contributions to gender/sexuality/women's liberation have been inadequate and, at times, our pieces do not reflect a deep engagement with the existing theory around these issues. I'm in agreement with the position that the concept of 'gender oppression' is more complex and more correct . 'Women's liberation' is no substitute for gender oppression as an analytical tool, and others above have explained better than I can why that is the case.

    Unfortunately, both in the OP and the comments there is very little discussion of who is being addressed by the language in question and in what context it might occur. It seems that a facet of what both Mike and ISH are arguing is that terms like 'gender oppression' may not resonate with people in certain communities, especially those who have had zero exposure to university discourse or the organized 'left' (whether communist, anarchist or other). I can imagine any number of organizing scenarios where using language like 'gender oppression', 'heteropatriarchy' or other similar terms may not be effective -- and at the same time where using the terms 'women' or 'queer' resonates in a much more immediate way. For example, in many communities, gender is not exploded, at least at the level of consciousness--it remains a binary and one that is deeply held and policed--as everyone on this thread well knows. And I don't suggest for a second that we police that binary ourselves or ignore the complex material realities of gender. At the same time, I can see how employing concepts like 'women's liberation' could be more appropriate as a way to unite a particular group of people who self-identify as women *and want to organize under that category*, as a kind of 'strategic essentialism'.

    And as someone posted above, I wholeheartedly agree we need more discussion about women and more discussion about gender -- and I believe we (as revolutionaries of various genders) need to do so more often in the context of actual struggles--daily struggles, movement struggles, etc.

    The other things that bother me about this conversation are the tone and the unjustified accusations. I have no problem with people being called out forcefully for unprincipled behavior, for being grievously wrong, for making racist comments, for being actual rape apologists, etc. But let's be real here. Mike is not the enemy. He is a person who is arguing a particular position about gender and sexuality (and one I largely disagree with), which reflects serious consideration of these issues. He is also not arguing something that is outside the boundaries of current feminist discourse. To this day there are arguments around the centrality of the category of 'women, even in academic Materialist and Marxist-Feminist discussions--discourses that are almost entirely shaped by women and queer people. There are gender theorists who are women and queer women who take positions similar to Mike's, and I assume some of the posters on this thread know this. So this isn't a case of Mike making some 'anti-feminist' point. He's not arguing against feminism or that the oppression of trans or queer or genderqueer or other people who don't fall under hegemonic norms of gender and sexuality are unimportant.

    I'm bringing this up in the context of a number of discussions I've seen lately about gendered violence over various forms of e-communication, some of which were far more corrosive than edifying. And no, I am not suggesting that the effects of some of these nasty comments and accusations have been anywhere near as damaging as the forms of oppression being discussed. But it's not necessary to treat comrades like the enemy.

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by amorrojo
  • Guest - Random Name

    In reply to: amorrojo

    So it sounds like you've pointed to a difference between the need to develop a political theory of gender and the need to communicate a political theory of gender. And you propose that language like "women's oppression" might be more to the point if, say, you are trying to organize a population of women in some specific situation. If I may propose an example, maybe an issue such as mass femicide in Mexico would show this point. And the language of "women's oppression" (or maybe even just "rape of women") would fit the political content much better. I hope I am getting your point correctly and if I am not then you should correct it, but I think I have gotten what you have written.

    Anyways, I agree, but I that raises another point. This is the point of who is deciding to set up the language of the situation in the first place. I am not sure why we are thinking about how to describe a situation without really having the particular kind of situation in mind? It seems presumptuous, like, I am going to make a judgment about what kind of language a person will or will not be more receptive to. Well, the only way to figure that out is to ask the person what they are more receptive to!

    Generally, if I am unsure of how to describe a situation, I would say that what is needed is input of the population at hand and then trying to figure out how they might describe the situation themselves. Then I would try to tease out the political implications and develop them. Like you can't come up with a organizing strategy, linguistic or otherwise, without something to organize, right?

    The point that some language will resonate more with some people is undeniable. But I also don't put too much stock in thinking about it beforehand, you know? Like, first try the simple say what we mean idea. Then, if something generally political like "gender oppression" turns out not to resonate, then go from there? Can't avoid the point forever, in any case.

  • I agree with pretty much everything amorrojo says above, but Random Name's response also brings out what is maybe the deeper reason why this post became so messy in the first place. Amorrojo's point is absolutely correct--in certain situations using such language will likely be both necessary and useful--and this does seem to be a small facet of what Mike is arguing in the initial post.

    The problem is that this facet is not the real core of what's being said (as amorrojo notes, the original post and the follow-up have had little discussion about this), it's almost completely buried by the more problematic attempt to basically set these limits on language more or less arbitrarily (i.e. as a declaration, without much theoretical backing or argumentation and posed as a false question). It exhibits strong fetish of the word, even while posing itself as a critique of just such a fetish--instead just reversing the fetish from particular "academic" combinations like "gender and class oppression" and fetishizing "women's oppression" and "women's liberation" instead. It's hardly evident that these alternatives would come off any less academic or activisty to most people, the context of the intervention would undoubtedly be more important to how the words themselves are taken -- and here is that bigger problem, the idea that we could just universally ascribe some change to our language (to a very specific subset of our language, at that) in order to make broader failures disappear.

    The presumption seems to be that, if we changed these minutia of how we speak, our ideas would more readily appeal to "regular people," and that this gap that exists between relatively insular leftist cliques and everybody else would at least be one step closer to being overcome. But the presumption here is idealist--proposing that the first step toward engagement with "real people" is changing how we think and speak. I'd propose the exact opposite: these insular methods of communication, when they are a real problem, are more symptomatic of that lack of engagement in the first place. Solving them doesn't come through dictating better words to replace overly academic ones in our lexicon, it comes through just actually engaging with people who are not radicals in our everyday life. Very simply: the way we speak is not the primary thing preventing us from engaging directly with those who are most fucked-over by this system, even if it is a symptomatic element of this distance.

    But the post doesn't even pose this as an attempt to look at these real symptomatic problems within how we communicate, either. I think those problems do absolutely exist and certainly tie into unwarranted and fashionable borrowing from the academy--Kristian Williams has written one of the best essays on this that I have read, here (.pdf), as a debate with some writers at CrimethInc. But instead, the above post just pulls a very small handful of words entirely out of context and proposes replacements -- all framed somewhat disingenuously as a question to be answered, obscuring the declaration ("these words are bad, these others are good") lying beneath the question itself.

    The only real way to decide on the use of words like this is in a situation like amarrojo describes -- you have to have context, you have to have applicability, these things provide the basis for whether or not particular language will be more appealing to people generally, given what you are doing and who you are talking to. I absolutely agree that "women's liberation" may be a much more appealing phrasing in certain situations. But I find it doubtful that those situations would necessarily be the ones that many of us organize within in the US--where "women's liberation" sounds more like a buzzword from the previous cycle of feminist struggle (and a previous incarnation of the radical academy), often misunderstood to mean the incorporation of women into the workforce/capitalist hierarchy. Ish and others have made some strong points about why gender may actually be a more relevant way to speak of things, given the nature and intensity of gender struggle in many urban centers in the US today.

    I'd also just note that I think it's perfectly fine for more rigorous debate to be carried out at a theoretical and academic level, using specific jargon, etc. It's much more of a problem when we start to fashionably borrow from this theory in a way that both obscures the terms themselves (by removing them from their context) and directs that obscurity as a method of outreach--this is the pattern that Williams describes. Not all writing has to be done for the most general of audiences.

    At a deeper level, I think there are major theoretical differences that are brought up here--particularly about whether revolution would mean the affirmation and liberation of women and workers, or whether revolution means the real abolition of both categories, the abolition of gender as much as class. The way the issue was brought up and responded to, though, has effectively obscured this theoretical understructure.

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by NPC
  • Guest - Joe

    Mike, you know that Betrayal is a polemic against the very specific type of rape culture found in the anarchist milieu, right? And that its actually eerily prescient in that regards, and also far more intellectually rigorous, regardless of its scope, than anything published on Kasama in the last five years?

  • Moderation note: I have just removed a comment of personal attacks and slander from this thread. Gossiping about individuals and unprincipled attacks are completely against the culture of this site, and won't be tolerated here. We need a culture of sharp comradely struggle, and those kinds of methods only serve to obfuscate the real line and political questions at hand.

  • I've just posted, as a kind of companion to one aspect of this discussion, some excerpts from a pamphlet on the legendary "Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries":

  • From the get, I want to say, even though my signature sounds masculine, or androgynous at best, that I am one of those women who have been trying to contribute to and have been participating in Kasama almost since its inception. (And my choice of said moniker has more to do with my forever love of jazz, rather than being gender based.)

    But obviously being a woman doesn’t automatically make you a revolutionary or a revolutionary communist. (Move over Sarah Palin, Phyllis Schlafly, ad nauseum.) One of my last posts was Rape & The Ties that Bind, 25 April 2013—in Open Threads—a further attempt to deal with and expose something that should be on all our minds—and should speak to, along with national oppression, some of our core principles; to put rape, and the growing movement against it, in some kind of global context. It should be startling to those who don’t know—that a rape (the majority of victims and survivors women) occurs globally every 7 seconds.

    I am trying to be respectful of this particular debate and dialogue, and am open to being more “sensitive” to changes in language/descriptions. However, I think it might be advantageous to understand some differences that carry more weight than others, strategically as well as tactically, and with inevitable struggle, are historically and currently adopted broadly on the linguistic front.

    For example, when Malcolm X referred to African Americans as Black versus Black people being referred to as “Negroes,” it wasn’t just a matter of semantics for Malcolm X or others before him. “Negro” was the terminology and language of the slave master, and Black people (which soon morphed into Afro Americans) plus the whole notion of “Black is Beautiful” had an overwhelmingly powerful, emboldening and empowering effect. It is no longer common place to refer to Black people or African Americans as “Negroes,” and that change in referential common language has permeated the society as a whole.

    I disagree that we need to simply use language that we think is more palatable to those who revolutionary-minded people are trying to reach; one term for one group, another for another. What best characterizes or embodies a whole movement, reveals a deep-seated contradiction, are terms that are counter to a pervasive ideology, etc.? Does the general reside in the particular, or vice versa?

    I would venture to say that at its core, “gender oppression” has its most powerful links to the oppression of women—and without the liberation of women en masse, we’re not going to get very far in the liberation of all humankind. And I’m not saying that because I happen to be a woman, but more so, because I’m a revolutionary communist.

    But here’s some terminology that is driving me to distraction. “Rape culture.” Say what?!@? I find a lot of people using that term very cavalierly—like some catchword phrase that in fact glosses over the whole heinous, violent crime, violence and abuse against mainly women, etc. and makes rape itself just another part of our political checklist. (And this includes not just sexual or physical rape/assault, but rape/assault sociologically, psychologically and intellectually.) There was the “counter culture,” and now we’ve got “rape culture.”

    “Rape culture” is becoming just another part of our lingo, without getting to the root of that “problem” nor rooting out and smashing patriarchy.

    While I abhor anyone being raped, I found it pretty hypocritical that many politicians were upset about rapes in the U.S. military—26,000 not reported to “officials” over a few years span. So where have these same politicians been every friggin’ 7 seconds, for eons?

    Here’s some further points I tried to raise in “The Ties that Bind” post, that I think are relevant—and just might be warping themselves into the national/international dialogue, specifically around “rape culture:”

    “In recent years, and to add to the disgrace of rape culture, the fact that rape in many places is more openly considered a “weapon of war” should give new meaning to the people being used as cannon fodder….

    “…As of late there have been important posts on K addressing rape (globally), women´s oppression and liberation, reproductive, abortion and healthcare rights, feminism, etc. Some of these posts have sparked some quasi-heated (but healthy) discussion, or at least have revealed some differences in how “the woman question” is even viewed. (Personally I have always had an aversion to categorically labeling women´s or national oppression as a “question” and hope we can shed some of that old linguistic baggage now and in the future.)…

    “But one of the questions I think we should be asking is--Has anything changed in the political landscape regarding women´s liberation and oppression? (or in particular regarding rape)?”

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