Excuse the frankness here and the use of “colloquial language”. Sensitive readers or employers may want to skip it, but the frankness is intended to break the easy path of intellectualizing the problem, speaking respectably when this concerns a culture that deserves no respect and is no respecter of persons. We need to be shocked by ourselves, even if at the end still having to live with ourselves.
On twitter @liamrulz posted a link to this awful story about some super-bro party “movement”. I’m sure the fact that this is the first time I’ve heard of “I’m Shmacked” shows my age or my hatred for what counts as journalism on the nightly news, but I was struck by a number of disturbing questions after watching the youtube video embedded in the report.
The video is just dripping with dudebro douchebaggery (something of course is going on here when this misogynistic product concerned with producing shame in women about the “fact” their pussies smell is now used to describe dudes who act like assholes) that anyone familiar with today’s twenty-something and thirty-something men should be familiar with. The appropriation of some hip hop party song replete with the casual use of the word ‘nigger’ while the majority of bodies on the screen are white and middle class is a staple of this white culture. We also see the usual rape culture bullshit with dudes smacking random girls asses, getting two presumably hetero girls to make out for the enjoyment of the men watching, the shaking of booze all over crowds of people as a surrogate dick getting its moneyshot. It is all too typical, too predicable, and depressing for having seen it year after year. But I was struck by my own reaction as I watched the video, and I don’t mean to present this as a confession, but only as a kind of attention or reckoning with myself. I noticed that, amidst my usual disgust with dudebros, I couldn’t help but look at all the women in the video and think both “damn, check out that ass” and “what the fuck is wrong with these girls?!” As these, again mostly white, girls got their asses and tits out, as they twerked, as they appeared to enjoy the male gaze and the male grope, amidst my own enjoyment of their performance I thought of Spinoza’s remark that people fight for their enslavement as if it were freedom. I want to investigate this thought and the way this moment of my own judgment reflects a kind of problem both for women thinking through these issues and for men who are inevitably complicit in rape culture even when they don’t want to be.
I want to be clear that this isn’t thought through and that these are thoughts in process. Much of it is probably wrong, but I think the coordinates are correct. Those coordinates and their relation can be summed up in the declaration found in the original title, “women like to fuck, but bro culture demands that women be fucked”. (NB: The second aspect of this formulation isn’t mine originally, it was mentioned to me but while I don’t want to take credit for the formulation I also don’t want to implicate the original source in my public use of vulgarity.) This concerns desire, the way desire may be captured in ideological forms that put that desire in question, and the complicity of both men and women with regard to the ideologically captured desire. Some of the questions around this flow out of my own attempt to understand how to affirm feminine desire (the right of women to express their desire and sexuality any way they want to or do not want to) and being suspicious of my own affirmation of that desire (after all, as a man with sexual desire I benefit from pornography, ethical or not, as can be seen in the way I can even take enjoyment of women displaying themselves as they do in the video above), alongside a general pessimism regarding the possibility of finding a “real desire” beyond the ideological capture (what can be summed up as ideology critique).
While much of what I’m about to say should come with the usual caveats of white dudes talking about issues unrelated to our direct experience, it is also important to realize that some kind of critical attention has to be given to the male experience in the world. That’s obviously very dangerous, since of course most of the attention is always given to men! But, in this context what I mean is something akin to a consideration of men not as the starting point, but thinking men under the conditions of the problematics of feminism. Still. Dangerous, I realize. In part it’s thinking under these conditions that leads me to say that, obviously I am a misogynist in the sense that I benefit from that system, even if I aim to not be in my individual actions. I benefit from the way women are systematically destroyed in our culture. The way they are told to be fucking pretty or no one will want them. The way they are told they’re fat, they’re ugly, their pussies smell, their hair isn’t soft enough, they’re way too fucking hairy, they need to know how to fuck, how to handle a dick, how to work, and have kids, and work with kids, and make dinner, and spend all their money on figuring out how to stay pretty and not smell and make sure they are still tight for their partners. I can’t imagine what that feels like, just thinking about it outside of the situation sounds exhausting. And while I want to be an ally, I also look at Jennifer Lawrence crawling in her nightgown and think “god damn, she can get it” and then joke about it with my lesbian friend or see James Deen being rough with his co-star(s) and think “that dude knows how to fuck and she knows how to take it”. And the great thing about being a dudebro who wants to be a queer ally is that I can have it all (at the structural level)! How shameful, though of course I feel no guilt (thinking of Victor Turner’s differentiation of the two as William Jordan III explains it in his The Sunflower Forest).
First, in my thinking of Spinoza with regard to feminine desire I thought of my own discomfort with radical feminism. A discomfort that I normally stay silent about because it seems the last thing intelligent women who are debating and discussing with one another need is another white dude butting in with a “Well actually…” By radical feminism I am referring to the tradition of feminist thought normally associated with Dworkin and there are a number of critiques of this position, some feminist and some not. For example, the stance that many have taken with regard to trans issues are often troubling and sometimes just disgusting. There are certain issues with this that relate to a poor understanding of nature and some residual commitment to natural law in considering questions of gender and sex. But being able to critique that may be an easy way to avoid dealing with the ideology critique that radical feminism deploys that does challenge me as a man in the way I consume women’s bodies. When you watch a video like the one linked to above where women are treated as more or less sexy holes to be fucked it becomes difficult to dismiss radical feminism completely.
While in debates concerning sex work (various levels of prostitution, pornography, and so on) the stance does often look like a failure to trust other women and their autonomy, there remain serious questions about the view of the self proposed by those affirming sex work as well (many of these women are, to my mind, also radical feminists but I’m not sure the titles they take on in debates with Dworkin-esque radfems). The ideology critique performed by radical feminism puts in question whether or not one is truly autonomous in their desire and while I am sure that there have been responses to them, I am unfamiliar with them and would like to correct that. The aporia we encounter here, though, is between real desire and desire mediated by patriarchy. Do the women in the video enjoy twerking? Is it affirming of their real desire? Or are they playing the role of girl who can be fucked? How do you enjoy being a sexual body without being fucked (over)? How can you enjoy it without wondering, do I really enjoy this and if you are the position of structural power how can you then not wonder “do they actually enjoy this and how can I trust them to know? If they don’t, is this not part of a generalized rape act?” The answers to any of these questions are far from clear. I don’t mean to suggest the answer of the woman will be, “you know what, I don’t enjoy this”, but it may be. The lack of clarity here is the problem.
While the aporia seems a real one to me, the questions are probably poorly thought out. They belie a certain distrust of women present, for example, in the Tiqquin book Theory of the Young Girl (which was written as a group that included women). So who is thinking about these issues without falling into the polemical stance of sluts vs. prudes? Without falling into the abyss opened up by the cut of good women from bad women (depending on how you decide who is good or bad) that is too often present in the girl-hate of female relations and is a product of and support for patriarchy? Are we simply fucked? All of us, men and women, regardless of our desire’s reality or capture? If this answer to give up on saving desire and follow it? But how to do so ethically in the sense of being attentive to complicity, to the ways that these actions can be reactive or active, can shut down relations or open up spaces of liberty?