Saturday, 13 September 2014

Why Liberal Feminism is White, Bourgeoisie Feminism

In this post I will discuss the presence of pro-Western, white-supremacist thinking within mainstream feminism. In my last post, I challenged cultural relativism and was added to some liberals' list of evil people who should be hated for their opinions as a result. 
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Speaking of entities hated for their opinions, Socialist Alternative’s Monash University club has been deregistered (meaning that they are more or less banned from organising on campus.) If you believe in the right of radical leftist groups to express their views, please sign this petition
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Introduction
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It seems that no matter how much radical feminists talk about the racism in pornography or the way in which most female pornography performers come from poor backgrounds, they are always deemed to be “white” or “bourgeoisie” and therefore anything they say can supposedly be dismissed. Liberal feminists claim to provide an alternative to “white feminism”. But is liberalism really as anti-racist as it claims to be? Is it really as anti-capitalist as it claims to be? Who are the real “white”, “bourgeoisie” feminists”? My answer is obvious, it is in the title of this post after all, keep reading to find out why I hold this position.
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The Movement Composition Issue
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Before I move on to my arguments, allow me to address one this is often presented by liberals. Liberals argue that the radical, anti-pornography feminist movement is composed of nothing but white, “middle class”, university educated women. In reality, the feminist movement has included black women such as Audre Lorde (who would be hated for her opposition to BDSM, had her views not been appropriated by liberals) and women who turned to prostitution as a result of poverty and/or abuse (such as Andrea Dworkin and Rachel Moran.) However, if the radical feminist movement were indeed made up mostly of white, middle income women who have gone to university, would this discredit the movement?
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I think not. For one thing, the current liberal feminist movement is mostly made up of white, middle class, university students. This does not prove that it is acceptable for the radical feminist movement to have such a composition (see the Ad Hominum Tu Quoque fallacy) rather it suggests that if a movement is dominated by whites, middle class people, educated people or males, it may not be entirely the movement’s fault. 
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For starters, both the liberal and radical feminist movements are based in the universities, so it should not be at all surprising that most women in these movements have a high level of formal education. The fact that feminist activism is largely (though not always) confined to universities is also not the fault of either feminist movement. It is a result of the larger political climate, in which discussions that imply that there is something political about everyday activities and items, such as films, television shows, books, sports, children’s toys, beauty practices and sex are regularly shunned and people are told to shut up and “stop taking everything so seriously”.
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Issues related to race and class can also discourage women (and people generally) from getting involved in political activism. For example, women who work long hours in addition to taking care of children and performing most of the housework (which is not to suggest that a women must be married with children or conform to traditional gender norms in order to be worthy of respect), often lack the time and energy to be involved in feminist politics. Furthermore, one cannot prove that working class women have deemed radical feminism irrelevant, since most women (even those who attend university and take “gender studies”) have never had it presented to them in anything other than a derogatory way. 
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Working class women who belong to certain racial minorities (particularly blacks, Latinas and, in Australia, Aborigines) and wish to become politically active face the additional threat of having to confront racist police forces and criminal justice systems. This in turn may drive them towards safer forms of “activism”, such as personal choice making (e.g. performing some beauty practice, then claiming it is “empowering” and “feminist” because one chooses to do it), language correcting (e.g. ensuring people avoid use of the term “mankind” when discussing their love of pornography and sex roles) and privilege checking (which strikes me as a liberal version of Catholic confession). These forms of activism, which are typically advocated by liberals (rather than by radical feminists or revolutionary socialists), do not typically involve taking to the street and putting oneself in danger of arrest. They also do little, if anything, to improve the world.
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These are only some of the social forces that may be to blame for the lack of “diversity” (a term that treats members of minority groups as if they are fancy little accessories that can be added to a movement to “spice it up”) within progressive movements. I am not arguing that no attempts should be made to bring impoverished or non-white people into progressive political movements, but we should avoid asserting that the lack of “diversity” within a particular movement is proof of some ideological or tactical weakness on the part of the movement. Call me crazy, but I think that the best way to spot problems with a movement's ideology, is to look at its ideology.
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1. Its Opposition to Truth/Morality Suits Western Capitalism

Liberalism’s anti-morality viewpoint suits modern day capitalism very well, since capitalism is a system in which the rich and powerful are free from moral constraints. They need only generate profit in order to be successful. Capitalism is a cold, heartless system and those who live under it must adapt our behaviours to fit it. Thus the amorality of the capitalist class filters down into the thinking of ordinary people. The popular liberal notion that all moral constraints (especially those that apply to sex) are automatically oppressive is a clear example of how economic circumstances (by which I mean not only how much wealth a person has, but also what sort of economic order that person lives under and their position within it) shape people’s thinking. 
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Another capitalistic “virtue” promoted by liberalism is a lack of concern for others. The view that “truth is relative” and that everyone has their own personal “truth”, leads people to believe that if they are living in a state of ignorant bliss, they should not allow others to impose their uncomfortable “truths” onto them, “truths” which contradict one’s personal view that the world is full of bunnies, rainbows and orgasms. Relativism also leads one to believe that any problem they encounter is the result of negative thinking on their part, because if objective reality does not exist, then it cannot be the cause of one’s problems. 
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This leads me to the next capitalistic idea within liberal feminism, personal responsibility. Conservatives accuse liberals of not believing in personal responsibility, but in reality liberals also assert that there is no such thing as a “victim” and get furious when people claim to be victims. Liberals may use the word “oppressed”, but they use it to mean “disapproved of”. In the eyes of liberals, nobody is truly oppressed, in the sense of being deprived of power. Both conservatives and liberals view the word “victim” as an insult and insist that everyone be perceived as an agency-filled choice maker who is responsible for everything that happens to them. This viewpoint is pro-capitalist, because it draws attention away from the ways in which the current economic order (rather than the actions or thoughts of individuals) causes harm.
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In addition to being a highly individualistic ideology, liberal feminism also promotes consumerism. It claims that, for women, “empowerment” and “individuality” come (at least in part) from having a physically attractive, yet “unique” body which is created through consuming a wide range of otherwise unnecessary products (e.g. make up, hair removal products, fancy clothing, fancy shoes, etc.) Other unnecessary purchases encouraged by liberalism include the consumption of pornographic videos, the purchase of expensive BDSM equipment and the use of prostituted women and men, which brings me to my next point.
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2. Sex Positivity is a Western Viewpoint
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In addition to promoting greed with regard to consumer items, liberal feminism promotes greed with regard to sex. Not only does it elevate sex (a pleasurable, but not medically necessary experience) to the status of a human right, it also asserts that everyone has a right to as much sex as they happen to want. Men and (to some extent) women are told that if their partner is not giving them enough sex they should watch pornography, use prostitutes or acquire a harem of additional sex partners. If their partner is giving them sex but failing to generate consistent highs then they are told to “spice up their sex life”. This usually means adding BDSM elements which generate increased physical stimulation during sex. Whatever the problem is, the supposed solution is to get more and more of the same ultimately unsatisfying thing (physical arousal). The solution is never to build stronger emotional connections with one’s partner or to find satisfaction in helping others rather than oneself or to downplay the excessive importance which is placed upon sex within mainstream culture.
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In spite of liberal feminism’s supposed opposition to “ethno-centrism”, their sex industry positive viewpoint is more popular in Western countries than in the rest of the world. A quick glance at the pornography laws of Asia, the Middle East and Africa, reveal that in most (though not all) countries from these regions, pornography is illegal and laws against it are strictly enforced. Somehow the principle that one has no right to criticise traditions and behaviours which are part of other people’s cultures does not extend to bans on pornography. Of course, many of these cultures are oppressive in their own more traditional way. I do not wish to defend all pornography-banning cultures, nor do I automatically defend all anti-pornography laws, but I do find it interesting that liberals are not rallying to the defence of non-Western nations’ right to ban pornography. It seems only practices that clearly cause physical harm to women’s bodies (e.g. footing binding, female genital mutilation, etc.) are worthy of defence in the eyes of liberals. 
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Liberal feminists sometimes argue that anti-pornography, anti-BDSM feminism is racist and bourgeoisie because it attempts to impose “white”, “middle-class” morality onto poor, non-white people. This sentiment reinforces harmful racial stereotypes such as the traditional, pro-slavery view that black women are naturally sex-crazed and animalistic. The dominant culture also portrays Latinas and Asians as sex obsessed, with Asians being represented as particularly submissive towards white males. In Australia, the theft of Aboriginal land is justified through the argument that Aboriginal men are inherently more prone to child sexual abuse and sexual assault than white men are. Perhaps it is not such a great idea to imply that poor, non-white women (and non-whites in general) are more “sexually liberated” than white women and thus have no interest in the “sex negative” feminism.
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It seems that the liberal approach to dealing with reactionary stereotypes is to blindly assume that they are true and then reinterpret them as “empowering”. This approach ignores the way in which these stereotypes serve as justification for racist practices, such as the rape of enslaved black women and the exploitation of Asian women by white men within sexual relationships. The liberal strategy of “reclaiming” racial stereotypes (which resembles their attempts to “reclaim” the word “slut”) can only ever benefit the better off portions of oppressed groups.
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Conclusion
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In summary, implicitly racist and pro-capitalist thinking within liberal feminism is not purely a result of problems with the individuals who adhere to it. The problem is with the liberal ideology itself. Racist and pro-capitalist ideas also exist within the radical feminist movement, as I have defined it, however, I do not believe that such thinking is an inherent part of radical feminist ideology. Nevertheless, I endorse attempts by radical feminist movements to combat racism within their own ranks and throughout society and believe that an anti-racist analysis should be used to build upon rather than undermine the broader arguments of radical feminism. 
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If you disagree with me feel free to post a comment explaining why. Anyone who makes nasty Tumbler posts about me will be viewed as having no rational response to my arguments.
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With regards to Socialist Alternative, most of my readers will have political differences with the organisation. I do myself, but as an Australian university student I feel that a threat to their freedom of expression is a threat to mine. If you support the right of myself and others to express status quo challenging leftist opinions, please let your voice be heard in any way you can.

2 comments:

  1. Great, lucid and well argued piece !
    Keep up the good work !

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  2. Do you use "liberal" in the mainstream sense of the supposed opposites of "conservatives"? Or in the true sense of liberalism which is individualism? Liberalism means liberation from values, ethics, loyalty, responsibility, and such. Real conservatism is not what is seen in the mainstream. Unfortunately even the "true" conservatives can often be as racist and as sexist as they are mythologized to be. I say unfortunately because the family, not "family values", was often seen even by leftists as a refuge from society's influence. The family should not be destroyed in the name of liberation but, as the most important part of a person, reformed by liberation. So much supposed leftism now supports posmodernism, but the refusal to search for values and truth--why is it different than modernism? Ironically this is because modernism is closely related to the scourge positivism, the focus on studying what already is (sociology replaces philosophy) rather than idealism.
    And it seems the only possibility for those talking about sex and gender is a choice between positivism or postmodernism.
    I am suspicious of "feminism" in general. I think it might be important to utilize 'women's liberation', or even better, "gender liberation" because feminism sounds like an academic term, sort of dead and playing at objectivity. But really the issue is that feminism has lost it's meaning. It does not stand for "gender equality" but stands for an end to phallic-centric sexuality, genital primacy, male institutions (capital, property), dom-sub dynamics, and everything labelled by nature or by history male. Ergo "femin"ism. The documentary 'The Century of the Self' on youtube traces the history of liberalism, radical politics, and industry; of all the things I've digested that remains the second greatest source of information I've discovered.

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