Monday, January 16, 2006

The texts caused society, and not vice versa.


......."In her essay "Feminism, Criticism and Foucault’" feminist Biddy Martin explains,"His History of Sexuality states very clearly that discourses on sexuality, not sexual acts and their histories, are the essential place to grasp the working of power in modern society." Words and texts – not acts -- are the keys to how power works. Thus...the demand that feminist, lesbian and gay characters be included in children’s literature and schoolbooks. Thus...history is re-written to include the voices of women, even when those voices did not significantly contribute to events. Radical feminists want to correct the texts in order to re-define sexuality and gender.

In accepting "sex as a construct," radical feminists reject sexual essentialism – the notion that sex is a natural force that exists prior to society. Sexual essentialism claims that there is something natural or biological, rather than cultural, about deeply felt urges such as motherhood and heterosexuality. There is something biological about gender.

But according to Foucault’s analysis, biology is shifting sand. Even deeply felt sexual preferences, such as heterosexuality or homosexuality, are not matters of biology but of ideology. They are determined by the texts of society. Thus, the phenomenon within radical feminism about two decades ago: many lesbians urged heterosexual feminists to stop sleeping with the enemy, men. Heterosexuality was viewed as an indoctrinated political choice, not a biological one.

Sex as a social construct is good news to radical feminists. If sex has been constructed, then it can be deconstructed and put back together correctly. How? They must control the single most powerful of those texts – pornography – because this is how a woman’s body is defined. This is what radical feminist theorists mean when they say ‘pornography defines/objectifies women,’ or ‘pornography IS rape’, or that we live in a rape culture. It is why lesbian-activists are willing to promote legislation they know will harm lesbian bookstores.

With this new perspective, read a famous passage from Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will:

"Pornography, like rape, is a male invention, designed to dehumanize women, to reduce the female to an object of sexual access, not to free sensuality from moralistic or parental inhibition. The staple of porn will always be the naked body, breasts and genitals exposed, because as man devised it, her naked body is the female’s ‘shame’, her private parts the private property of man, while his are the ancient, holy, universal, patriarchal instrument of his power, his rule by force over her. Pornography is the undiluted essence of anti-female propaganda."

In other words, pornography is the text through which man expresses hatred of woman and socially constructs her oppression.

It took me a long time to understand that – in discussions with radical feminists – I was speaking gibberish to them. I would talk about choice and personal responsibility. By their analysis, however, I am socially constructed by male society that controls the texts and language. I can no more choose my sexuality than a concentration camp prisoner chooses the menu of her evening meal. It is no wonder that so little productive dialogue occurs between radical and individualist feminists; we are speaking different languages. Radical feminism speaks of class warfare over who will control the deconstruction and reconstruction of gender. Ifeminism speaks of a mutual respect between the sexes and of autonomy in which women celebrate their inherent biology.

June 29, 2000

Wendy McElroy is author of The Reasonable Woman. See more of her work at ........"

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