Reddit Repost: “The Subject-Object Dichotomy, Female Power, And The Loving Of Sluts”

This is a repost of an article I posted at /r/GenderEgalitarian here: http://www.reddit.com/r/GenderEgalitarian/comments/1t8frm/the_subjectobject_dichotomy_feminine_power_and/

I would like to point out that this is my last Reddit Repost! In the future all of my articles will be original content exclusively for GendErratic.

In hindsight I have one regret about this article: I over-focused on one instance of a pattern (specifically the Edmonton SlutWalk telling Men’s Rights Edmonton to go away). I was trying to propose a theory to address a pattern of pervasive “I’m a slut but NOT FOR MEN” behavior… perhaps we could call this “slut-shaming in the name of sluttiness” (any suggestions as to a nice-sounding label for this phenomenon would be awesome!). Basically, a knee-jerk hostility to the idea of men benefitting from sexually liberated women, and things like the advocacy of female sexual liberation but consistently treating male sexuality as inherently problematic.

I focused far too much on the SlutWalk (admittedly because doing so allowed me to use rather witty subtitles), however I think my theory with respect to the pattern holds up. Anyway, here’s the article!

Introduction
When Men’s Rights Edmonton showed up to support the Edmonton SlutWalk, they brought with them a banner which stated “We Love Sluts.” Several SlutWalkers told them to go away; the banner apparently made the SlutWalkers uncomfortable.

This incident raises an interesting question.

SlutWalk is a feminist event. The feminist movement claims to be against “slut-shaming” (i.e. condemning women for having lots of sex). Many feminists embrace the label “sex-positive” and encourage women to explore their sexuality. So why would a pro-slut message… a message which is literally the opposite of slut-shaming… cause discomfort in an event which is meant to be an archetypal example of sex-positive feminism? Why would sex-positive feminist women be made uncomfortable by “We Love Sluts”?

After all, would marchers in a gay pride parade be made uncomfortable if supporters held a banner reading “We Love Gays”?

Some have argued that the problem was not the message, but the messenger; the message “We Love Sluts” was being delivered by male representatives of a men’s rights organization. However, most feminists argue that “slut-shaming” is part of the Patriarchy, so wouldn’t pro-slut men be seen as a positive development?

Indeed, the pattern of allegedly pro-sexual-liberation feminists seeming to reflexively be prudish is hardly new. Why, however, does this paradoxical pattern exist?

In this article, I will propose an explanation. I will argue that traditional gender norms (which treat men as subjects and women as objects) do not completely disempower women (as most feminists typically allege); they in fact imply a specific vision of feminine power (distinct from agency, which is traditionally masculine power). This specific kind of feminine power is the ability to enlist male agency in the service of one’s own ends and thus the exertion of agency by proxy. One of the ways in which women have historically enlisted male agency in their service is through sex appeal, essentially “trading” sex in order to get agency by proxy in return. The ultimate consequence of this is that women have been culturally trained to see power in terms of their “agency profit,” i.e. getting as much agency by proxy as possible for as little sex as possible; this in turn means that women instinctively see men getting lots of sex as a loss of feminine power (which is analagous to bargaining power/market power/producer surplus in economics).

The paradoxical pattern of “proud sluts” being made uncomfortable by pro-slut males is due to the fact that traditional gender norms make being a “slut” a position devoid of traditional feminine power. Traditional feminist analysis of the gender system, which typically denies the existence of feminine power and typically casts slut-shaming as an attempt by men to control the sexuality of women, lacks the conceptual space to accomodate (and thus critically address) this feature of the traditional gender system.

Understanding, criticizing and (eventually) rejecting this feature of the gender system requires the acknowledgement of traditional feminine power, the role that sex-as-incentive plays in maintaining this feminine power, and the role that women themselves play in enforcing this element of the traditional gender system. Women who sincerely embrace sex-positivity owe it to themselves to follow this line of inquiry further.

Part 1: The Subject-Object Dichotomy
The basic gender role which has been consistent throughout all human history is the Subject-Object (or Hyperagent-Hypoagent, or Agent-Patient) Dichotomy, which can be briefly summarized as “men do, women are.” Masculinity is understood as a platonic ideal which demands men act to maintain congruence with it, whilst femininity is simply an innate trait of female-bodied persons. Men act, and women are acted upon.

The reason this gender role came about is because both masculinity and femininity were conceptualized as (essentially) ways in which men and women respectively contributed to society. The feminine contribution – the ability to bear children and thus grow the population – was innate to female biology, whilst the masculine contribution – producing food and protecting the women and children – was not biologically given and thus had to demonstrated through risky action of uncertain outcome.

The gender system ascribes value to the fulfillment of both the masculine and feminine functions. However, because a woman is assumed to be capable of fulfilling her function of incubating the future, women are ascribed an innate value by the gender system. Males are not assumed to be capable of fulfilling their function; they must prove it. Therefore, males are seen as ultimately expendable.

This gender system reserves the power of agency exclusively for men. However, agency is a requirement of human life; in a world where material needs exist and resources don’t just materialize in response to cries of “I want X!,” teleological action is unavoidable. Women have to provide for their needs too, but for a woman to directly go out and provide for them is gender-transgressive to at least some degree. As such, the system mandates that women secure their needs by trading off their innate feminine value and convincing men to do things for them.

Part 2: Feminine Power as Agency By Proxy
It is commonly said that an action video game is a “male power fantasy.” By the same token, one can argue that a romance novel is a “female power fantasy.” The typical romance novel ultimately is about having an extremely strong, powerful, competent, desirable man being so hopelessly devoted to a woman that he will do anything for her.

This pattern even holds in romances like “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades Of Grey” where the woman is often seen as being controlled. Edward’s creepy stalker behavior is intended to underscore his devotion to Bella – how he will do anything at all to be near her, how much he needs her. Christian Grey offers to sub for Anastasia just to keep her with him and he eventually gives up most of his kinks for her.

Even if one takes a look at pornography, one can find that in much femdom porn, the dominant partner (the woman) is typically being the passive partner; the submissive male is exercising agency to cater to her whims.

Let us take a look at the most groan-inducingly gender-traditional childhood fantasies; young males typically dream of being firefighters, soldiers and superheroes, i.e. agents who save and protect people. The equivalent feminine fantasy is the princess, who is an object of adoration whom occupies a place of status merely by birth and doesn’t really do much other than stand around and look pretty and get waited on by servants and protected by bodyguards. Can a princess be truly described as powerless when Prince Charmings will risk life and limb to save her?

As Anita Sarkeesian argued in her Master’s Thesis, the “Strong Woman” archetype in action films and video games practices a male form of power (i.e. agency) under the traditional gender system. Feminine power is found not in the exercise of agency but in the ability to enlist the agency of men.

Part 3: Sex As An Enlistment Perk
So, what traits enable women to enlist the agency of men? The fact that the male gender role pretty much glorifies rescuing vulnerable women and soothing hurt female feelings certainly helps, but what traits held by a woman specifically make it easier for that woman to enlist male aid?

Let’s face it: if a woman is sexually attractive, it helps.

A simple biological fact is that men, due to the average higher levels of testosterone in their systems, want more sex than the average woman (women with higher-than-average sex drives have higher-than-average amounts of testosterone (yes, testosterone is found in both sexes!)). For many men, sexual stimulation can be a need on par with the need to eat.

This difference between the sexes, combined with the fact that men are culturally trained to pursue women to validate their manhood, sets up what might be described as a marketplace for sex with women on the “supply” side and men on the “demand” side; after all, prostitution has been an historically female-supplied industry with male consumers. Ceteris Paribus, a man would rather get a blowjob on his third date than on his fourth date, and a woman would rather a man buy her four dinners than three dinners before she gives him a blowjob (assuming she herself gains less marginal utility from giving a blowjob than from the meal).

And so the basic terms of trade are simple: women exchange sex in return for male agency (or the products thereof, such as money). Of course women in fact desire some sex, but under the traditional gender system this is essentially ignored (women are the objects, not subjects, of desire). As women are in fact rational economic agents, their objective is to get the highest amount of agency for the lowest amount of sex (vice-versa for men), because this represents the most effective ability to enlist male agency (being more sexually attractive raises one’s market price and thus increases one’s effectiveness at enlisting agency).

For those skeptical of the proposition that traditional feminine power is ultimately about getting the most agency out of men for as little sexual satisfaction (for the man) as possible, I again offer the example of Femdom porn and how it often has the domme controlling and denying the man’s orgasms whilst she kicks back and he does the work.

Part 4: The Pussy Cartel, Sexual Market Dynamics, and Slut-Shaming
Traditionally, feminists have argued that slut-shaming is a product of the patriarchy. This argument has two distinct problems; first, we live in a stud-praising culture and are members of a species where men have higher sex drives, which would seem to suggest that men would want more sex from women and thus slut-shaming would be against male interests. Second, women are the primary slut-shamers; the patriarchy theory would seem to suggest that men would be the primary agents of slut-shaming.

In reality, as both economist Andrea Callisto (http://theumlaut.com/2013/07/02/the-economics-of-slut-shaming/) argued and Dr Tracy Vailliancourt’s recent study (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/19/science/a-cold-war-fought-by-women.html?_r=2&) has shown, women are the primary slut-shamers because as explained above, women want to maintain their market power with respect to sex (i.e. make the market price as high as possible). The same micro-level dynamic, where individual women exert power by trying to enlist male agency through sex as efficiently as possible (i.e. getting the most agency for the least sex, or in economic terms getting the greatest Producer Surplus), applies at the macro-level where women shame and humiliate other women who charge lower prices for sex than they do. This dynamic, which Callisto correctly describes as a cartel, is about increasing female power under traditional gender norms (by making smaller amounts of sex able to enlist larger amounts of male agency – raising the market price of sex, in other words).

The implication? Sluthood is opposed to traditional female power. Sluts increase competition and lower the market price of sex, lower the Producer Surplus which can be extracted, and weaken the female bargaining position.

Part 5: SlutWalk, Slut-Shaming and Slut-Loving
We now return to the fundamental problem this essay wishes to address: why were the (presumptively sex-positive) SlutWalkers made so uncomfortable by Men’s Rights Edmonton’s statement that they love sluts?

The answer: Cafeteria (or perhaps subconscious) Gender Traditionalism.

Typical feminist analysis essentially ignores or misses a logical consequence of the subject-object dichotomy; specifically, feminine power as Agency By Proxy. As such, said analysis doesn’t comprehend the effects that this has on the sexual marketplace. By not confronting this feature of the traditional gender system, this feature of the system has been left unchallenged (fish not being able to see the water they swim in) and as such the mentality has been internalized by many people who claim to reject traditional gender norms.

Hence, presumably sex-positive SlutWalking feminists see the “we love sluts” sign and all of that subconscious gender traditionalism is immediately thrown into overdrive.

The sign points out that men love sluts, and thus genuine sex-positivity does men a favor by increasing the supply and thus lowering the market price of sex, which works against feminine power as defined by the traditional gender system. When people are made to feel less powerful, they generally feel uncomfortable, particularly when they’re participating in an event where they claim to embrace the thing which disempowers them.

Part 6: Conclusions, Implications and Further Questions
In summary, MRE’s statement that “We Love Sluts” caused discomfort because it played into a (perhaps subconsciously held) meme complex about feminine power promoted by the traditional gender system; since female sexual power is about using sex to extract male agency in return, a “slut” is not a sexually powerful woman but rather a woman who is cheapening herself and other women by acquiescing to men’s desires without getting enough in exchange.

The reaction to MRE’s sign demonstrated, rather unfortunately, that the self-proclaimed “feminists” who participated in the Edmonton SlutWalk still accepted several components of the traditional gender system. I speculate that this indicates a significant blind-spot in feminist theory; specifically, how the gender system accomodates a specific type of “feminine power.” Gender theorists of any label who truly wish to fully analyze and oppose the traditional gender system would benefit from further studying this aspect of gender roles.

The event also shows that sex-positive thinkers (particularly sex-positive feminists) should oppose the traditional gender system, for this system encourages women to perceive sex as disempowering and something to be endured as a means to an end, rather than as a pleasurable and joyful experience.

The fact that traditional gender roles encourage women to experience power through extracting the highest possible “price” for sex may be relevant for several other gender questions. First, in the debate over sexualized female protagonists in video games, how much female resentment of these protagonists is really a reaction to a perceived threat (i.e. a woman who does not even need male agency since she possesses that herself, yet seems rather able/willing to satisfy men’s desires)? Second, can sex-negative feminism (with its attempts to control pornography and prostitution) be explained as an epiphenomenon of this aspect of traditional gender roles? Third, can the paradoxical situation of a woman dressing in revealing clothing and complaining about men sneaking a peek (“I don’t dress for men!”) be explained by this feature of the gender system?

Comments and feedback are welcome.

My Tweet to Lena Dunham, Re: Feminism, Ableism

It was Black Friday 2013, and I was depressed. I’m one of those SAD / holiday depression people. When in that mode, I use twitter to vent–nothing terrible, but negative. (It’s a bad habit.)

Lena Dunham had tweeted: “As a girl with serious thighs you dream of looking like Venus or Serena. But they’re powerful athletes & I’m a short immobile writer…”

I replied: “Way to solve Feminism’s ableism problem, bro.”
Immediately she retweeted, adding “Is this English?” Dan Savage (@fakedansavage) came to her rescue with: “It’s old English—no, wait. It’s scold English. People learn it at college the way they used to learn Latin or Greek.” People retweeted and favorited.

A miniature pile-on ensued, where I apologized (3x), and Lena Dunham kind of said it was okay. At the end, comedian Norm McDonald (@normmacdonald) joined in to certify “ableism” as an actual word.

So here’s what I meant: She’s not immobile! (I know she didn’t mean literally immobile.) People who are actually immobile would “dream of” someone freely out and about in a different light. Mainstream feminism prioritizes a certain set of issues (like beauty standards) to the deemphasis of others, e. g. mental illness and physical disability.

Then, I mislabeled her as a “bro”–the ultimate feminist insult. (I apologized.)

Recursion: SPLC Sourcing Manboobz, ABC Sourcing SPLC

Last year, Southern Poverty Law Center’s Spring “Intelligence Report” exposed hate groups, focusing on “patriot movements.” The same ‘Issue 145’ profiled online spaces for Men’s Rights Activism as “woman hating,” and it’s posted to SPLC’s website.

It references Manboobz.com as a source, which accounts for why pick-up artist urls are next to MRA websites and the term “manosphere.” Manboobz.com is a self-described site for mockery. In April, posts about MRA website A Voice for Men used images of the KKK and Nazi symbols.*

In saying Manboobz.com is a “resource” (with a url), SPLC puts their organization’s endorsement on the content. Southern Poverty Law Center is an organization of legal professionals, backed by lawyers. In effect, content for mockery in one space is turned into information.

A blog can now cite Southern Poverty Law Center as a credible source. KKK and Nazi associations–which also appear on SPLC’s “Hate and Extremism” page–are in a new context.

Ryan Holiday, in his book Trust Me I’m lyingcalls the cross-referencing of links recursion. Now other blogs, like in this piece from The Good Men Project, use SPLC in their coverage of Men’s Rights Activists.

A consequence of this kind of loose association is the language of a protest group who clashed with MRAs in Toronto last month. Through a megaphone, they shouted ”Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay!” and accused MRAs of being a “front group for white supremacists.”

At a new level of recursion, ABC’s 20/20 is sourcing part of its news story about MRAs and A Voice for Men to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Description of an “underbelly” alludes to SPLC’s “underworld.” (There’s a quote.) The editor-in-chief of SPLC’s “Intelligence Report,” Mark Potok is quoted as an “expert.”

The promo video shows an anchor woman wearing a distressed facial expression questioning A Voice for Men‘s Paul Elam. With a Southern accent, he talks about “a change in the world in the last 50 years…”

Mark Potok was interviewed in 2012 by Abby Martin on Breaking the Set. She asked:

“When you juxtapose these groups… when you characterize them as groups that one should be watching out for… put them under this blanket next to hate groups… Do you think this does any damage?”

*(Manboobz.com also used KKK and Nazi associations prior to 2012.)

GENERAL – Light posting lately

I’m getting married in the morning! Ding dong!
The bells are gonna chime. Pull out the stopper!
Let’s have a whopper! But get me to the church on time!

I gotta be there in the mornin’
Spruced up and lookin’ in me prime.
Girls, come and kiss me;
Show how you’ll miss me.
But get me to the church on time!

If I am dancin’ Roll up the floor.
If I am whistlin’ Whewt me out the door!
For I’m gettin’ married in the mornin’
Ding dong! the bells are gonna chime.
Kick up an rumpus But don’t lost the compass;
And get me to the church, Get me to the church,
For Gawd’s sake, get me to the church on time!

I have been a little preoccupied lately with wedding preparations and thank you for the forbearance you all have shown. Tomorrow I’m getting married, there won’t be a honeymoon, and I’ll be back in the saddle again. We did the ceremony Saturday.

Two meager bunches of calla lilies cost almost a hundred dollars. I had no idea. None. Where I grew up those were weeds. But then again even there they didn’t bloom in January.

So the house is ready, the food is ready, the guests are on thier way and we’ll do it in front of the fireplace – before a cross though, no chalice and dagger.

Back among you on Wednesday.

WEDNESDAY

That article was supposed to post on Friday, but I got busy and besides it would have distracted from Xakudo’s rather meatier posts anyway, so I let it slide. But I’m back on the block again.

The ceremony itself was short and efficient, but the minister made it dignified, relaxed and very warm. We held it in front of the fireplace in the living room. My husaabnd choked up during his vows and I managed to hold off telling him to pull himsefl together until the very end, when he had pulled himself together. My mehtod of keeping level was to stare forward or at the floor. Whatever works. Then when the minister proclaimed us married, everyone broke out in applause. This unsettled stodgy Episcopalian old me; this kind of thing is more Lutheran, but what really unsettled me was how long it went on – minutes and minutes, seemingly forever. Most of our friends there were straight; I hadn’t realized how much this meant to them too. I thanked them for coming and honoring us with their presence, and for their votes and said that this was one time the political was personal.

Seattle One Night Count

Last night my girlfriend and I participated as volunteers in this:
http://www.homelessinfo.org/what_we_do/one_night_count/2013_press_release.php

It was actually quite a lot of fun, although I could have done without the 2am starting time. A whole bunch of volunteers divided up into groups, each of which was assigned a small part of Seattle. Each group thoroughly walked their area and counted homeless people. The intent was to get some good numbers on how many unsheltered homeless there are in Seattle during the winter.

Our group only ended up seeing a single homeless person, but other groups saw quite a few more. Here are the final results:
http://www.homelessinfo.org/what_we_do/one_night_count/2013_results.php

The gender of most of the homeless people could not be determined (1615 unknown gender). For example, the homeless person we saw was wrapped in many blankets, and given that we were not to disturb them, it was therefore difficult to determine their gender. But of the homeless whose gender could be determined[1], the large majority were men (897 men vs 205 women). Which shouldn’t be surprising to those familiar with existing homeless statistics[2].

There could be a variety of reasons for this disparity. But I couldn’t help but notice that the press release phrased this as “2,736 men, women and children had no shelter in King County last night”. There’s nothing particularly wrong with such a phrasing. But I couldn’t help but wonder if the gender ratio were reversed, would they have still used such gender-neutral phrasing? Maybe they would. I don’t know. But it caught my eye regardless.

In any case, I’m very glad I participated, both because it was fun, and because I feel good helping out with data collection. Solid data is important.

Footnotes:

[1] It’s worth noting, of course, that there was likely some amount of mis-gendering that happened for a variety of reasons (e.g. transgender people), but I think it’s unlikely to have biased the gender numbers substantially.

[2] However, it’s good to be skeptical of numbers where such a large proportion fall under “unknown”. It’s easy for there to be confounding factors–many of which we might not think of–that would make the known ratio not translate to the unknown ratio. So I would call these numbers on the gender of unsheltered homeless “suggestive”, but not definitive.

ACTIVISM – One Piece of Advice at a Time

“Is cunamh mór comhairle mhaith” – “Good advice is great help.”

It is also a form of activism.

Someone getting ready to marry was presented a really lopsided prenup and didn’t know what to think of it, so he asked the Reddit community on r/Mensrights. As far as he’s concerned, they came through for him.

This is what he was wondering about:

My future in-laws want to talk to me about a pre-nup and they want to add a few extra clauses in it. I have not spoken to them yet, but I suspect the clauses are: 1. My fiancee will keep all of the inheritance (probably during the marriage too, not just in the case of a divorce). 2. Assets will be split 75%-25% (75% paid by me of course) On top of this: – My fiancee will be a stay at home mom – I will probably pay an obscene amount of spousal support, especially considering the stay at home mom part.

As others pointed out, the mandated SAHM part and the weird split of assets as well as the presumption of spousal support are all big throbbing red flags. Even the part about the way her inheritance would be handled is a red flag, because it means she reamins financially separate in a way he doesn’t. In all it makes him look less like a husband and more like a live-in sperm donor.

Anyway, this is a form of activism, because after all the personal is political.

Family law is unequal in the US as are the cultural expectations around marriage. The only way to make permanent change is to work at one marriage at a time, one parenting agreement at a time, one DV case at a time. Of course there will be times when some broad institutional action is needed – an unfair law or policy has to be overturned, a bigoted judge has to disciplined or even taken off the bench. But in the end, it’s the eaches that make the real difference.