Category Archives: Gender

Not A Meritocracy

Social Justice

So, I’m done with the social justice world.

I always had more time for the really complex and nuanced arguments of the heavyweight writers anyway and I had the privilege of working with smart and level-headed activists when it came to actions.

But, in the last few years I lost my certainty about every cause I was involved with and now I feel much more interested in studying all sides, watching how things play out and to a certain extent having a go at predicting outcomes, without feeling particular alleigence to any “side” in a debate because almost everything has merit and almost no-one is interested in measuring actual outcomes. When outcomes are played out, things are normally good for some people and bad for others, appropriate in some circumstances and irrelevant in others.

Im interested in that fact, but openly sympathising with the problems faced by men’s rights activists gets you pushed out of the feminist activist club fairly quickly, and rightly so, because passionate outrage is the fuel needed to act there.

Anyway, excellent activism is more drowned out these days by tribe-signalling meme warfare and I generally ignore it.

But I still have thoughts and critiques when particular examples float my way and here is one of them.

Intro

A friend invited me to a talk by a woman of color about the difficulties she has experienced in the media industry. It set me to thinking about the media industry and how this is a known industry for being extremely difficult to get into. It also strikes me that the media industry is one of those industries that is most obviously based on nepotism (powerful people promoting their friends) than based on merit (fair interview processes for all job openings).

In this talk I wonder if the person will be calling for less racism in a meritocratic sense or in a personal relations sense.

Systematic lies

I certainly used to be a highly systematic and individual person who believed in rules and fairness. My understanding of feminism moved through the following cycle:

Believing that the world was fair to the genders -> angrily realising it was not -> advocating for more fairness ->seriously thinking about how to educate others to be fair -> realising you partly have to tell the next generation to behave better than you do ->telling kids that the world already allows boys in pink skirts ->those kids believe the world is fair ->angry realisation that it’s not…. etc.

In this way we are iterating over the generations since the 60s telling little lies that everything is fair.

Relationships

I recently spent some time working on my skills when it comes to relationships, being dissolved in a web of humans, forgetting the rules and so on.

A pertinent example of this is moving to London. I had always been too scared to move to London since the barriers to entry are so formidable. When I decided to make the move, I had no money, no previous address and no (current) skills. I knew that the “correct” way to move to London, use an agency to rent a property at market rates, would be impossible for me. I knew it was impossible for others too, and yet people managed to get there. It seemed obvious that it was important to meet some people who had found some sweet deal, some cheaper niche of their own, by luck and rule-bending and circumstance. It was important to personally meet these people because any spare rooms would be a closely guarded secret that would never leak out onto “official” channels, reserved only for friends by word of mouth. This strategy would take time and luck, but was my only way in.

It worked, and that is exactly how I moved to London.

This is nepotism, the epitome of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. The catch-22 of “networking” is that human networks is one of the only ways things get done but articifially trying to build those networks at networking sessions is exactly the wrong way to forge those connections. It must be done in a way that feels natural and inspires trust.

More Lies

Back to lies we tell our kids. Adults claim that their institutions are based on a meritocracy, which is not really the truth. There is a sliding scale of truth to that claim, with most universities and boring companies on the meritocratic end and Oxbridge, government and the arts industries on the nepotism end.

When I was a feminist activist, I took fair, meritocratic systems as a given and was trying to eliminate unfair practices between genders in what I perceived should be a fair system.

I wonder if this woman of color is making the same assumption: that unfair racist practices are occuring in what should be a fair, meritocratic system. If so, I don’t think she will get very far. Not because of the resistence to equal treatment of race and gender (though that is likely present), but because protecting the facade of merit over the reality of nepotism is something people will fiercely defend and lie about (and do it well, this is the media we are talking about).

My advice to this woman would be to use race and gender as a tool in this nepotistic setup. Go find the people of color who are already there and if they won’t help you (likely) they might indicate who in power likes having black friends. Gender is an even more unpalatable option, since other women may not help (they might, find that one feminist who works in TV), so one might have to resort to feminine attractiveness or, more likely if its TV and theatre, one could do well by butching up for all the gay guys that find women a bit scary.

This all sounds like a social justice nightmare, but if you’re not willing to be realistic about these strategies a career in the media may not be for you. It also does not preclude activism. Someone’s personal climb through the nepotisitc ranks may lead those friends on the way up to regard a person of a colour as a good bet in the relations stakes, whereas before they were prejudiced/ blind to it. I genuinely believe that that outcome would be a big win that does a lot of good.

Support

I won’t be going to the talk. I’m bored with all that. My advice above would not be taken well, and I can see why. But my friend is definitely showing signs that she takes my lack of support for her talks as a rejection of her friendship. Is it possible to show support for someone in this part of their life without resorting to totally faking it?

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Postmodernist Territory

Cover Photo by James Walshe

Intro: You already know this stuff

Sometimes people feel they don’t grasp Postmodernism because they believe it must be complicated, when in fact many parts of it are “obvious”, “normal” or already part of everyday life. We live in a postmodern world and from the end of high school onwards we have been taught and use postmodern principles. Some people feel they don’t understand Postmodernism because of an absence of a  lengthy explanation of it, they feel it must have long words or difficult concepts. There must be a certain amount of forehead wrinkles and frowning before you can say you Get It when it comes to Postmodernism. Whereas the truth is that no-one explains it at length because there is nothing more to say that you don’t already know from your postmodern life experience. To a postmodern person, Postmodernism really is quite “simple” and its concepts appear to be self-evident.

Modernity

Postmodernism is the word for thoughts you have as an inevitable result of achieving Modernism.

I highly recommend this essay by Nadia Rodinskaya about the two shifts in intellectual thought that humans have had so far. Seriously, it’s very enlightening and lays the ground for what is said here. Meaningness talks about this in detail too.

Modernism is stage 4 incarnate, all human life systematised and interlocking extremely well. Some systems are so efficient that human actors are no longer needed (eg factories). Urban planning has gone from not existing to common knowledge. Machines and rational efficiencies have been used in every corner of life, not excluding “natural” life eg farming but also eating, sleeping and defecating. Everything has optimised systems to manage processes in increasingly efficient ways. They are entirely invented and maintained by system 4 successes, normally in terms of civic government & services or capitalist concerns – these include banks, trade routes etc as well as business entities.

These projects need not be complete in every domain for the problems of systems to become intellectually apparent. The precursors of Postmodernism in philosophy were writing in the 19th century. In some ways the next 100 years was a project of figuring out what the hell to say but first building a language to say it in. In the 1960s – 80s  the stuff that the Postmodern philosophers were coming out with was pretty great (and their thoughts are precursors to Constructivism in Nadia’s essay).

At first there were a lot of counter arguments that challenged the status quo of how to think about science and the assumptions we have about knowledge. Criticising Modernism.

Then they made up new ideas about knowledge and meaning (and most people don’t know that part).

Part 1: The counter argument

Post-structuralist critique part 1

Some philosophies in the 20th century were about trying to find an underlying structure to human behaviour, just like that which had been found in physics, biology and so on. The most famous was linguistics – trying to find how language is acquired and what rules govern it.  The people who we now call post-structuralists critiqued this idea in two ways. Firstly, they stated that people do not operate according to structures. Secondly, that as people ourselves it is impossible to “get outside” of a human system to have a scientific, “objective” view of human systems.

They did this in a fancy way and Derrida is the leader, and his stuff is really dense. If you’d like to know more about the details of critiquing structures philosophically, he’s your man.

Inherent bias: Feminists smash up social theory, art and psychology.

One of the ways to know that people do not fit nicely into structures is to be someone for whom the structures do not work, people who are squished or erased by “objective” notions of how people are. The most numerous people in this category are women. Feminist writers took apart everything we thought we already knew in the 20th Century.

Art

Susan Sontag’s critique of cameras as phallic, ahistorical, unreality-death-machines in ‘On Photography’ is utterly dark and convincing. If you’d like some Postmodern nihilism, I can’t recommend this enough.

Psychology

Luce Irigaray’s project was critiquing psychoanalysis. Her books wade in and deconstruct every aspect of psychoanalysis with feminist theory so new and so extreme it’s like a welding torch. In hindsight, Freud was easy pickings for feminists since he based all his theories on men and then sometimes created a ‘mirror image’ for women or just presumed women were the same. Nope.

Irigaray’s alternative feminist psychoanalysis project was a brave and complicated effort, but I think is kind of pointless except as an intellectual exercise because psychoanalysis never had much good to say about women and finally not much good to say about anything after a certain point. It was extremely important but I think more as a step on the path than a Theory of Everything.

Literature

I think it was via Luce Irigary that I came across the idea that not only essays and novels but language and sentence construction itself is an imposed patriarchal system. That grammar rules are a too-strict arbitrary system that restricts its user base, creates unnecessary hierarchies and loses richness of meaning in favour of technical rules.

I think that is mostly silly but none the less there is the seed of an important idea in there. Kathy Acker did some extraordinary literary experiments involving stuff like this, so if you’d like a book that makes William Burroughs’ cut-up technique look like child’s play I recommend her work. Lots of sex and blood too.

Female Life

Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex was published in the 1940s and still endures as relevant today. It totally nailed the description of female life within and without these structures built by men in the everyday world. If you want a primer for feminist thoughts and only read one book: dip in and out of this one. Simone de Beauvoir was an existentialist philosopher and because of this book she totally beats Sartre on historical significance and coolness.

Conclusion

All these structures you thought you’d made suck balls and don’t work.

Not rational digression

Just a quick digression: it was only as a result of postmodern thinking that anyone questioned the idea that humans typically act in a rational way. It took until the 1970s before psychology devised experiments that showed that not only are people more governed by their emotions than previously thought but that they actually act really irrationally, all the time, even if you try to help them with the way you devise the test.

The 70s! Think about that. It’s hard to imagine that before that, everyone was presumed to be rational. Well, white men at least. This assumption was key to propping up all the institutions we have. In fact it still is. How to deal with irrational agents operating inside a rational system is still something we are struggling with.

Post-structuralist critique part 2

Ok, so far I’ve only really talked about current structures for humans being flawed. That doesn’t mean the principle of systems is wrong, does it? Well, now for the good stuff: later Postmodern philosophers point out that “scientific” thinking is also just wrong according to its own principles.

This is talked about a lot by Foucault, using a technique he called “archaeology” to compare scientific reasoning, methodology and behaviour over time. He argued that self-proclaimed ‘objective’ systems of thought were constituted entirely from contingent historical and social influences and the changes within disciplines or the invention of new disciplines are all entirely guided by these cultural and accidental influences. In fact, they always have been.

At first he looked at specific areas, like the history of mental illness, then the medical clinic but eventually he did a history of “the human sciences”.

It became increasingly apparent with Foucault that not only was it foolish to apply physics-like principles to systems for human beings but that all science, physics included, is so skewed by cultural sanction as to lose all ability to claim objectivity or to elucidate ‘truth’.

(No arguing with me in the comments before you’ve read some of his work.)

 

The 4.5 gap

Many people and philosophies get stuck here. Systems seem to have it wrong and the critique of that is quite convincing. This makes systems seem to be interchangeably bad, or in another way to be equally valid. Ethical relativism looms large in particular. Very common in normal postmodern life seems to be the idea that “all opinions are valid”. There seems to be an impasse as to how to judge anything, and whether any meaning is even possible.

Is this the missing stance combination of monist nihilism? We have moved on from stage 4, which tends to favour the division of things into categories because it is a stage of independence and separation. We are moving towards a stage of inclusion (like the previous stage 3), implying a move away from division, but nothing seems to mean anything. Therefore, “all is one” in the sense that old categories do not exist, “all is one” in the sense that all is interchangeable/equivalent and the stance is “nihilist” because this equivalence erases meaning.

The real: a nihilist cul-de-sac

I’m placing this section here because it seems to fit a 4.5 nihilistic train of thought.

Lots of recent postmodern thinkers became caught up in the real, or specifically the absence of it, getting quite attached to the idea that no one can experience the real any more, using words like hyperreal or “real”.

Baudrillard talks about “the absence of negation” ie the negative side of real – “not real” -has gone. “Not real” has been replaced by something different – “artificial”, which is not quite the same. We run around in “artificial” a lot in everyday life and Baudrillard claims that since that is true, we also cannot experience real things any more because “artificial” is not the opposite of real, therefore both “real” and “not real” have become lost to us.

Baudrillard goes on and on with this stuff, but I’m not sure it needs exploring unless you really want to. The Matrix (the film) does in fact explain some of the main concepts pretty well, although Baudrillard is not talking about the ancient “brain in a jar” philosophical problem like The Matrix does.

I surmise that in 2016 we pretty much feel this concept intuitively. We all experience this real-not-real stuff on a day-to-day basis, especially when using the internet, but really it is in all forms of media.

I think Baudriallard was crapping his pants about losing a binary of real/not real and not knowing what will take its place. He seems to fear that humanity will collapse into a void. But, like almost everything, this hyperreal problem is not that scary, we are all basically fine with it in day-to-day life and the void has yet to swallow us. It also has loads of benefits which point towards stage 5 style usages.

Getting unstuck

So, it’s easy to get stuck here in monist nihilism because moving on from here is pretty hard. If not a system to make judgements, then what? What words can I even use? Luckily, philosophers come to the rescue, Thinking Very Hard is what we pay them for after all.

Part 2: What there is instead (the stuff people don’t know)

While it is clear that rational systems clearly don’t cut the mustard it is also clear that everything, especially social systems of persons, is not entirely in chaos. Social norms are in fact surprisingly consistent on the whole, even if they can differ in the details.

When postmodern philosophers discuss this they are pointing out what Meaningness.com calls pattern. They have come up with a few ways to talk about the nebulous yet patterned nature of life beyond systems.

Social inscriptions

Simone de Beauvoir not only described female life she also stated that gender was inscribed on a person by societal norms. Social rules can bruise one into conforming, sanctioned behaviour wears down grooves in a person from the outside. This is in contrast to the systemic idea that a personality springs from the inside, representing a unified self that maneuvers rationally within society. De Beauviour said that society both produces and potentially reduces the person. At the time de Beauvoir was not refuting notions of the self, merely adding to the spectrum of representation of the ‘norm’.

Much more recently the philosopher Judith Butler described her notions of the ‘performance’ of gender, where gender is a series of acts that you do rather than a thing that you are.

Each time a performance is accepted by others the information about permissible acts is reinscribed in the person. There is a continuous flowing feedback loop between self and other that is cooperatively reinscribed.

This process can be a powerful force to preserve the status quo, but there is possibility for change in this model since translations from person to person or within groups can gradually evolve new meanings, whether deliberate or accidental. In addition, challenging acts can be performed that may or may not gain acceptance. Art and jokes are places where challenging representations can be enacted.

Society then is seen as a continuous series of interactions, or dance of performative meaning. (We are starting to sound stage 5ish now aren’t we?)

This idea can be applied to any label or role in society as well as gender.

This more general trick of turning a noun (‘identity’) which is solid and fixed into a verb (‘performance of identity’) which is active and changeable is a useful technique for sliding around systemic thinking.

Rhizomes

I recommend being pretty stoned when reading Deleuze & Guattari but especially Deleuze. Or do I? All I remember is that they use the word “rhizome” a lot in ‘One Thousand Plateaus’ and seem to be describing both the bifurcation of plant limbs and also the flowing movement of stuff or information around pathways that are both well-trodden and also continuously changing.

(That and the black hole/white wall dichotomy which seems to me  to have the same unknowable message as the film 2001:A Space Odyssey but in overblown fancy French. )

Anyway the rhizome pathways seem quite cool as an idea. For a STEM application: I’ve seen some research talking about networks as a system of nodes that have a certain number of connections. The research involved flows of information, and examining whether the richness of connections that a node has effects that flow.

Power lines

After his analyses of modern systems of thought, Foucault went on to formulate explanations of modern society along different lines than that held by structures. His key ideas were around knowledge and power.

Foucault claimed that, for example, biological sciences are not in the practice of ‘objective study’, they are not uncovering something that was already there, like the rubbing of the gravestone, rather they are bringing into being the object of study. Science creates things that were not previously there by categorising, labelling and cataloguing.

In this way Foucault claims that the Victorians were not disinterested in sex, or prudish about it, rather they were obsessed with it. More cataloguing, category-making and forethought went into sex during this period than any other. The reason they did this was to make efforts to control it.

For Foucault, knowledge and power are inextricably linked. From the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy:

Foucault’s point is rather that, at least for the study of human beings, the goals of power and the goals of knowledge cannot be separated: in knowing we control and in controlling we know.

By knowing something, it can then be designated as “normal” or “abnormal” or “deviant”. In this way certain things can be sanctioned and other things repudiated. Power structures have evolved to reshape what is considered deviant behaviour, rather than simply punish acts. Foucault more often calls this power relations and describes flows of power around nexus points of knowledge and historical contingency.

He gives examples of these flows, which have influenced each other and sprung up for innocuous reasons but have become sites of power. One example is the examination.

The examination (for example, of students in schools, of patients in hospitals) is a method of control that combines hierarchical observation with normalizing judgment. It is a prime example of what Foucault calls power/knowledge, since it combines into a unified whole “the deployment of force and the establishment of truth”. It both elicits the truth about those who undergo the examination (tells what they know or what is the state of their health) and controls their behavior (by forcing them to study or directing them to a course of treatment).

Gutting, Gary, “Michel Foucault”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Here again I believe we have a powerful example of somewhat abstract things flowing around a network of node points with stable yet changing connections and configurations.

Making meaning

Almost all the Postmodern philosophers retreat to aesthetics or art to talk about how to make decisions and how to make meaning. I think they are touching on the same thing that I am talking about when I say “judging” and David at Meaningness is talking about with meta-rationality and meta-systemicity.

They seem to be saying that the decision making process is now closer to ‘aesthetic’ in the sense that it is more a matter of sensibility to make judgements, rather than recourse to objective facts. Some talk about fusing rhetoric with aesthetics, perhaps to show it comes from somewhere. More research needed!

Fluid Mode

It is my view that several Postmodern philosophers have given us a consistent language and concepts with which to grapple past stage 4.5. These concepts slice reality along different lines.

Foucault deals explicitly with boxing things up into categories and labels, and what happens when you do so. He then offers what seems to be a more “zoomed out” view of all these different systems, showing the flows of power and knowledge over, between and around the systems we have created.

Deleuze and Guttari’s rhizomes feel like this too. I think there is so much more to be discovered but the original writing is really dense. I would go for these guys over Zizeck any day of the week though.

Butler has described a continuous and flowing notion of a “self” and a “society”/”other” that is by necessity always a performance (and therefore not necessarily a “true self”) which is always collaborative, is often stable but always slowly changing.

(In an interesting side-note I listened to a lecture of hers which marries the rights of prisoners to the rights of disabled people through the concepts of freedom of movement and freedom of assembly. This is very related to Foucault, whose work focussed on prisons and marginalised groups. It also shows how to bring two unrelated groups together in the same thought process by examining an entirely different axis.)

Conclusion

To conclude: I believe these flowing, changeable things that none the less have pathways, grooves and nodes or nexus points are the metaphorical ideas to move forward with. It is this flowy nature that I use to identify possible fluid mode phenomena, and it was this postmodern background that lead me to think Meaningness.com was onto something.

Extras

Labels

In true stage 5/bisexual/Postmodern fashion, almost all post-structuralist and postmodernist philophers explicitly reject the labels applied to them. Some of them are not even philosophers, which is illustrative of formal categories breaking down in academia, which is itself illustrative of stage 5 thinking being well under way in thought arenas. The overarching placeholder word “theory” is now taken to mean the people and ideas I have mentioned plus many more, who range across disciplines.

Omissions and errors

I have attempted to make a sketch of philosophical postmodernism and have missed out loads of it. Tell me which bits you’d like an expansion on! I may have made errors.

Notes

I have yet to figure out proper notes and references, sorry. Below are authors who are often said to be post-structuralists, or to have had a post-structuralist period. These are philosophy based. The ones with stars are the ones I have read. Titles after the names are ones I recommend.

Kathy Acker *
Jean Baudrillard * ‘Simulations’
Judith Butler * ‘Gender Trouble’
Rey Chow
Hélène Cixous
Gilles Deleuze *
Jacques Derrida
Umberto Eco *
John Fiske (media studies)
Michel Foucault * ‘History of Sexuality Vol.1’
Félix Guattari *
René Girard
Luce Irigaray *
Sarah Kofman
Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe
Jean-François Lyotard *
Jean-Luc Nancy
Avital Ronell

Also mentioned:

Simone De Beauvoir* ‘The Second Sex’

 

Eternalist problems with bisexuality

Preamble

My thoughts in this blog post rely on other frameworks to better understand bisexuality.

The first set of frameworks are eternalism/nihilism and  monism/dualism as outlined by David Chapman on his project called meaningness. Very briefly,

  • Eternalism says that everything has a definite, true meaning.
  • Nihilism says that nothing really means anything.

I will be focussing on eternalism. Eternalism resolves the ambiguity of life by saying that, even if we can’t fully see or understand it, there is an ordering principle to everything. This ordering principle can explain everything, providing comfort and a sense of control. The most obvious examples are God, or the non-theistic Fate. However many things can be eternalist, such as staunch belief in Science (scientism) or political ideologies.

There are two common ways to futher enact eternalism, called monism and dualism by Chapman. Very briefly,

  • Monism is the idea that “All is One.”
  • Dualism is the idea that the world consists of clearly separate objects.

To take a religious example, Monist Eternalist thought appears in New Age religions that state “you and the universe are One”, meaning you will be saved because you are God. Dualist Eternalist religions say God is a thing, separate from you and he will save you.

I will also be looking at several of Chapman’s ‘Eternalist ploys’ and linking to them as I go along. I really do recommend an extremely long click-around the book linked here before reading my thoughts to come.

Problems of bisexuality

In the bisexual activist community, it is commonly known that advocating for bisexuality is extremely difficult because of a number of problems.

To begin, almost nobody actually identifies as bisexual because the label, or stereotypes of the label, do not fit their experience.

Most people believe they are ‘not bisexual enough’ because they don’t have equal and unbiased sexual attraction to all genders, all of the time. Many people disagree that “both homo- and hetero- sexual” is an adequate term for their feelings.

Many bisexually-behaving people either swing between identifying as ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ depending on their current partner or refuse labels entirely and state “I am just me”. Some find their way to the queer community, which is more of an umbrella term but some of their bisexual behaviour must be sublimated to fit into queer spaces (eg opposite-sex attractions), just as those who remain in a hetero society sublimate their same-sex attractions.

Tragically, despite feelings they are not a ‘true’ bisexual, most bisexual people’s experiences are very similar to each other and distinct from other people’s. This means that services of any kind which are tailored to straight, gay, lesbian or trans people are inadequate and unhelpful for bisexual people, whereas bisexually-tailored help would work, if it were available, or if anyone accessed it, which they don’t, which means funding for new services is hard to get, because no-one identifies as bisexual.

This leads to depressing statistics about mental and physical health amongst bisexually behaving people, with outcomes being far worse than any of the aforementioned groups.

When bisexual people come together in an understanding environment, the effects can be profoundly positive, but finding a way to reach bisexual people is notoriously difficult. The positive effects can also fade quickly over time as normal life once again denies bisexual experience.

Understanding bisexuality through frameworks

Having read Chapman’s ways of slicing reality into stances, I became very interested in how or why this might apply to bisexuality.

I believe bisexuality is inherently nebulous, complex, changing over time, with multiple things going on. It explodes neat binaries and refuses to be its own, easily understandable thing.

At the same time there are strong patterns of commonality between people who feel or behave in a bisexual way, grouped into clumps of common experience. Most bisexual people share some but not all of these groups of experiences, some but not all of the time. This makes the label bisexual more of a marker for a rough direction than any kind of explanation, leading to everyone’s frustration with it, and labels in general.

Common objections to bisexuality from the stances

The eternalist stance has a problem with any sexuality that is not fixed over a long time, while some gay activism has focussed strongly on eternalist principles to fight their cause, such as having no choice about sexuality, whether from a genetic or environmental standpoint – ‘born this way’.

However, bisexual people experience attractions to other genders fading in and out over time. Some bisexual people “decided” to become bisexual or first experienced another-gender attraction quite late in life.

This leads to many people denying that bisexuality can exist. It is dismissed as “just a phase”, as if sexualities must eventually become ‘stable’. Or dismissed as treacherous or dangerous,  as ‘watering down the message’. Sexuality studies exclude bisexual people because they ‘muddy the water’.

The monist view that we are all one comes into play when bisexuality is denied by appealing to similarities. People either say “well, we are all human, that’s what matters” or the extremely pernicious statement “well, we are all bisexual really”. While it is true that most people could conceive of the idea that someone’s attractions may vary across gender boundaries, it is certainly not true that everyone behaves in a bisexual way. Otherwise everyone would be bisexual, really.

I believe this monist inability to see categories also leads people to entirely reject labels. The monist view says ‘I don’t see why we need labels anyway, it only serves to divide people unneccessarily’. However as we have seen, when bisexual people cannot rally around some words or identities, their health and wellbeing suffer tremendously.

When it comes to being gay, almost no-one  gives the following advice: “well, you are just you, you are unique, you should only take up labels that suit you” but this is almost always given as advice to someone questioning whether they are bisexual.

Similarly, the dualist view ends up rejecting labels. Dualism insists on concrete categories, particularly gender of self and gender of the people to whom one is attracted. A bisexual person suspects that they do not fit neartly into the category of hetero or homo, so the dualist creates anthoer category called “both”. This category is entirely unacceptable to a bisexual person as briefly described above.

It’s also very hard to undestand as a dualist, since liking two “opposites” at once sounds suspiciously like categories shouldn’t exist at all. The dualist then wants a bisexual to ‘decide’. Parents constantly state “so you’re straight now”, “so you’re gay now” to a bisexual person when they have a new partner and bi people themselves swing between “gay” and “straight”. Other dualist biphobc statements include “pick a side”, “choose a team”, “stop being on the fence”.

Many valiant attempts to create categories that do seem to fit bisexual people have occured to better describe bisexual experience. These include:

  • bi-romantic, to capture the relationship aspect of attraction only
  • hetereo- and homo- flexible, to express a ‘mostly, but not always’ fit into dualist boxes
  • pansexual, to describe attraction based less on gender than on other attriubutes
  • queer, to express ‘not straight, but check the details’
  • fluid, to desribe lack of fixity over time

And many others.

However, each label only decribes an aspect of bisexuality. The process of choosing and applying many labels which may change over time or not be an exact fit soon becomes absurd, and many people give up the idea of labels all together as unworkable.

As we have seen, the monist view dismisses labels as divisive, while simple dualist labels are not nebulous enough for real people to fit into, but at the same time applying mutliple, more fuzzy categories becomes absurd.

Eternalist ploys

A couple of the eternalist ploys mentioned by Chapman struck home as being relevant to bisexuality.

Continuum Gambit

The ‘continuum gambit’ is a ploy by eternalist thinking to regain control of, and create boundaries on, nebulous things.

When it becomes obvious that things are not either this or that, but somewhat both and neither—a typical manifestation of nebulosity—the continuum gambit suggests that reality is a matter of shades of gray, corresponding to numbers on a continuous scale.

This describes the Kinsey scale perfectly. Kinsey was radical and needed in his time and set us on a new course of thinking about sexuality forever. However, the Kinsey scale is misleading and useless about 10 minutes after it is first discovered.

A person will yield as many different numbers on the scale as there axes of experience around sexuality. The same person will have wildy different numbers depending on the history of their relationships, compared to feelings now, compared to the future, let alone actual behaviour vs desired behaviour in an ideal world vs fantasy life (which normally has no correlation with actual acts).

The Klein grid is an attempt to take into account these considerations, and involves some interesting thoughts, but the results seem to me to become immediately meaningless. A bisexual person will not be indentifiable from the general population when taking this test, and interpretation of the results is apparently complex. This is normally a sign that it is useless for ordinary people and indeed the website itself suggests it’s better to find a therapist.

(Lack of) wistful certainty & others

Wistful certainty is the idea that there definitely is a right system to do things that will solve all our problems, if only we can discover it. For example, the certainty that once we discover the correct laws of physics, they will explain the entire universe. Or the certaintiy that if we develop just the right combination of policies, there wil be a political system that works well enough for everyone.

The fact that this is not true is not immediately obvious (in my view), with the above examples. I believe many people are supported by wistful certainty surrounding many assumptions in their lives, making them more comfortable than they might be otherwise.

However, the lack of wistful certainty is immiediately apparent with bisexuality. There is no hope that someone is working on this stuff and it will all be figured out eventually. Rather, the bisexual person is simply weird,wrong and does not fit any systems.

No-one is examining the puzzle of bisexuality to give them hope. Rather they are excluded from studies as anomalies There are no meanings to bisexuality, fixed or otherwise.

This lack of eternalist bolstering leads to the opposite stance to eternalism, nihilism. Nihilism is not sustainable for very long and is very depressing. Bisexual people either switch back to dualist eternalist (“straight now, gay now”), monist eternalist (“I’m just me, I don’t need labels”) or tragically, commit suicide.

Stages of development

There is another way, however and hopefully many bisexuals reach this stage, at least eventually.

Chapman calls the answer to the eternalist/nihilist stances the complete stance, which sady he has yet to talk about in any great detail (but there are smaller sections on many of the other pages, take a look).

However, the next key framework I am looking at is Kegan’s framework for social and cognitive development, a summary of which can be found here. This is Chapman’s summary and I found it through the meaningness blog. I have yet to read the book, I have only read the summary but it seemed like a good summary that extracts and explains key points.You must read this first before anything I say next makes sense (and we’re at the end so you can stop here if you like).

The first 4 stages do not really relate to the stances, but the 5th one, fluid mode, seems relevant.

There is much discussion on the meta-blog about how few people reach stage 5, about how society operates largely in stage 4, providing no structures to support the transition from stage 4 to stage 5, leaving many stage 4.5ers adrift in nihilisitc depression.

Stage 5 is the moment when the system that a person has been using to have beliefs, achieve projects and relate to others has been replaced by the idea that there are many systems, none of which is objectively the ‘right’ system, because any system is founded on fallable axioms. Rather systems are simply a better or worse fit for situations. Where previously a person was adept at defining their role within a system, a person can now use and even define entire systems dependent on context. In this mode, conflict between systems seems less problematic, as do internal inconsistencies.

A bisexual person will hopefully come to realise that the system we currently have for gender and sexuality is flawed. Labels are both useful sometimes, but not descriptive other times. Categories like gender don’t really exist, but are still handy shorthand for a cluster of attributes. Bisexuality is something outside of gay/straight, it is not simply “both” but it is also not “neither”. That each bi person is different, yet there are commonalities of experience.

I will make a blog post soon talking about how lessons learned from bisexuality can help individuals and societies progress to Stage 5 / fluid mode / complete stance with more understanding and emotional support.

Bisexual notes – genitals and new binaries

 

New Binaries

Before we even move beyond binaries (that bisexuals can access) we can point out that there are a wealth of more subtle binaries that become visible to bi people, because they have opportunity to play on both sides and being overly invested in neither. Trends that are normally hidden by the apparently impenetrable miasma of gender norms (that the trans movement and feminists both live under, and in certain crucial ways contribute to or reinforce due to their preoccupation with historicity) become clearer to bisexual players.

These oppositionals include:

Active role’ and ‘passive role’

(which can be in part loosely situated within old style ‘masculinities’ and ‘femininities’ but which in this case are obviously accessible to both genders/all bisexual players and with any combination of partners)

‘Subjective role’ and ‘objective role’

in which players can idolise (for example) a celebrity in two ways, sometimes wanting to be with them, have sex with them, experience them as an outside/objective agent. In that way your sexual object has their gender and one raltes to them through one’s own gender. Then alternate: sometimes want to be them, emulate them, inhabit them, in which case an agent takes on that person’s gender and one’s own gender becomes the ‘other’ gender to interact with.

‘hard… thrust’ versus and as well as ‘sponge… flow’

expound [Elizabeth Grosz, philosophy of the body]

similarly

‘defined inside/outside boundaries’ (enabling ‘in/out’) vs. and as well as ‘shifting/diffused boundaries’ (which dissolves the notions of ‘in/out’);

The whole damn mess is all so rhizosomic daahhlink… Deleuze and Guttari postmodern chiciness.

Versus and as well as… power of and, and, and

no wonder some bi people decide to be polyamourous – half and half seems like loads but is actually statistically likely if we really are supposed to have a choice.

Genitals

Clitoris as engorged, waving around object, clitoris as a penis, continue with that thought, clitoris enjoys the same things, engorgement, envelopment, lubricated massage.

‘Thrust’ – contraction of the muscles around the legs, backside, within the vagina, makes the vagina small, the back wall pressed against the back of the clitoris, creating a larger surface area out of composite bits of the genitals, create a thrusting pole, if viewed in cross section. This sensation we could attribute to ‘masculine’; since it is persons with penises that learn this lesson first, and womb/vagina havers learn more slowly.

Vaginal as sponge, feminine, space, envelopment organ

(subsection lips) (Irigaray??)

[other male genitals – huge and needing research but possible sites of pleasure could be: skin sensation on the head, around the edge of the head, shaft engorgement, pressure on the penis/shaft, lubricated massage of penis, testicular sensation/musculature*

*candidate for exclusive to males/masculinity]

Gooch skin and pressure…

Anus sexuality…

Anal canal – for itself and then in relation to pressure on prostate/pressure on vagina then in relation to simultaneous inside and outside pleasure, anal interior, manual exterior, which is available to all genders

Simultaneous within/without

Anal with exterior manual stimulation, whether head/penis/balls or clitoris/labia

Worst housemate ad ever

I’m clearing out my Sticky notes on my desktop and thought I’d repost this amazing piece of prose before I delete the sticky forever. Needless to say, no-one replied to this ad, which I consider to be a failure on the part of the human race.

Slutty meat eating smoker wants to live in the dirty parts of town.

Bisexual, polyamorous, feminist, activist, loud, cantankerous, meat-eating smoker seeks furnished self-contained accommodation in the dirty parts of town.

The good part (?):

I’m a manager at the council (“professional”), always pay the bills, always wash up, have no pets and I’m regularly out of the house. I have no mental health problems and have this other side of me that is kind, polite, witty, quiet and full of good conversation. Honest. I also have a vagina – which seems important to some people.

For 400 quid or less you can have me (and regular income secure for the near future). References and deposit available.

Let’s Talk About Street Harassment

Lately, in any discussion on street harassment, there has often been a comment along the lines of ‘but… some of this doesn’t seem to be harassment’, ‘it’s a fine line between harassment and good nature’, ‘what if the guy was just saying hello?’, ‘don’t tar all men with the same brush’ etc.

Let’s talk about that.

The comments made above seem reasonable, and here are my thoughts that are probably not obvious to men who have never suffered street harassment:

Comments like ‘hello’ and ‘good morning’ are still harassment because it is unequal. It is clear, being in an urban area far from home, that there is no chance that this person is a neighbour or otherwise a not-stranger. It is also clear that this only happens to women. This stranger is a man and aside from anything else, men do not say ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ to other strange men. When men interact with strange men, they avert their gaze, don’t speak unless spoken to etc.

But strange men do not show the same deference to strange women. They speak to them, they stare at them, they wolf whistle them, they catcall them, they turn around to check them out after they’ve walked by (my personal un-favourite because they think no women see it) and yes, they say ‘hello’ to them. The ‘hello’ and ‘good morning’ is a plea for attention that is exactly the same as the more directly sexual comments. It is also completely and entirely obvious from their body language, tone of voice and social context that their ‘hello’ means, “I’ve noticed you, I want you to notice me because: sex.” I mention social context because it is important to remember that this never happens if any other man is present. It is also much more rare with groups of women, and in this case the guys often yell from cars, from across the street, in groups, or other ‘safe’ places. When a woman is street harassed she is in a public place, alone and being harassed by a strange man.

Now, when men comment on stories of female harassment there seem to be a number of feelings tied up in the comments. The feelings are also all tied together. They seem to be:

‘This is awful, I don’t want this to happen to women’. ‘I’ve never done this to women, in fact I’m careful to not do it’. ‘I’m sure I’ve said ‘hello’ to women in the past, I don’t want them to think I was harassing them’. ‘Maybe some of these guys these women are complaining about were guys like me, truly well-meaning’.  ‘I’m now scared to ever say hello to women in case I get tarred with the man-hate brush’ and ‘How is anyone meant to meet anyone new/get laid?’

Let’s talk about this.

Let’s just lead with the fact that street harassment is a massive open secret that has only begun to be spoken about with any kind of coverage in the last five years. And I repeat, ‘spoken about’. We’re not even close to doing something to make it change yet.

Street harassment is very much part of a spectrum of behaviours that has murder through domestic violence on one end and lad’s mags/page 3 on the other end. None of it is good, some of it is worse than other bits, and we’re not *very* close to the murder end of the spectrum today, we’re more in the middle (although street harassment has lead, and continues to lead, directly to murder if you’re trans*), however it is an endemic spectrum of behaviours that shows us that the whole system is rotten. Men are bound up in this rotten system just as much as women, and it’s the system that needs to change.

Only a percentage of men harass women on the street, although a greater percentage may have done so in their lifetime. Everyone on every side of this debate knows that not all men do this. But people who are posting about it are not being careful to remove any implications of this. Men, I’m asking you to please let this one slide. Why? Because we’ve only just started talking about this. Decades of rage, oppression and very negative feelings are all coming out in a rush. We are not being nuanced about this. When out on the street, there is no way to know which man will harass and which one won’t. We know that three out of the 100 or so men who pass us today will demean and degrade us, we will feel threatened, frightened and alone. Not only that, but we’ll see it happen to other women too. We know it’s not all men, we have fathers, brothers, sons, dear friends and most of us have kind, wonderful lovers. We know it’s not all men, it’s only some men, but we’re having a really freaky bad time over here, we’re finding it really hard to talk about, let alone with any careful language and the ‘not all men’ argument derails the debate. Any victim is going to have a hard time talking about their experiences at all, and expecting a victim to be careful in their speech is quite a stretch. Women don’t hate all men, just as men don’t hate all women. This is a given.

This is the part of the conversation where, despite lack of nuance, the listener just listens. (And I do honestly believe this debate will evolve over time and it’ll be totally cool to call out the ‘All men’ statements, just not yet.)

We also know that most men make sure they don’t harass women on the street. We know most men have refused to bow to the pressure of peers or culture and have carefully figured out that strangers should probably be left alone, even though that leaves us with a bit less opportunity for amazing interactions. We appreciate your efforts, we really do. Like I said before, fathers, brothers, lovers…

Now we approach the idea of the misunderstood guy. The friendly ‘hello’ guy. This part is particularly hard. Men are defending a straw man that doesn’t exist because the feelings behind it are: ‘these new-fangled rules are pretty darned strict and it’s uber hard to not come off as creepy. Plus, I’m really freaked out that I might have done this accidentally in the past’.

I sympathise strongly with the feelings, but not the straw man argument of the mythical misunderstood guy. By saying one or some or all of the harassers might have not meant any harm is demeaning to the women who report being harassed. It implies you don’t believe them. It implies that they cannot read body language, tone of voice or social context. That women are unsophisticated with social interaction. It implies that they haven’t been dealing with this since they were thirteen years old. It implies that the intentions of the harasser matter more than the feelings of threat. It implies the patriarchal pat on the head, the ‘don’t be so silly’ argument that has been used to dismiss women’s experience over and over in all of living memory. Or worse, it implies that women are lying and on a hate-campaign against men. This is fucking rare, about as rare as men who have hate campaigns against women. These implications give women rage. Which does not help with refining a debate and using correct words to describe things.

So, don’t say ‘maybe those guys didn’t mean it’ because we need to practice believing the victim and you have no idea what happened, you weren’t there. Instead say ‘I am scared I’ve done this and didn’t mean it’ or ‘I’m scared someone will think I’m creepy when I wasn’t’ or ‘Can we have a talk on another thread about this whole thing because it feels shaming’.

EDIT [ Actually, this part is key. Women have been victims, and when women speak out, men are feeling shame, even though it’s not personally their fault. I’m asking men to listen to female victims, even if they are not very nuanced, but I’m asking men to have nuanced replies, even though they are having bad feelings too. I think we definitely need a space for men to talk about these feelings, where they are supported and uncriticised. We have always needed this space. It might just have to be a separate space to the original victim speaking out. ]

In terms of the past, it’s highly unlikely that you accidentally came off as creepy. People are generally very able when it comes to social interaction. It’s very nuanced. If we go down the road of believing that women have the skills to notice a creepy ‘hello’, they can also tell an un-creepy ‘hello’. Women aren’t unsophisticated about this. Women want to find new friends and lovers just as much as you, and continue to engage with random interactions and go on dates, despite all the horror.

But if you did come off as creepy once, don’t worry too much, it’s probably forgotten and mistakes happen and you have friends and lovers who know you’re not creepy and you’ve heard about the types of things that come off as creepy and you haven’t done them. And you’d rather the person walked away and called you creepy than we live in a world where we’re going backward on this whole patriarchy thing. So it’s ok. I’m sorry if you’ve been misunderstood, it was in the service of a good cause and everything is going to be alright.

The current rules ARE darned hard, because everyone is trying to be better to each other than they were before. We’re working inside of a toxic system that sets genders against each other and no-one has any easy new rules about how to deal with this new stuff. Women are going to react in wildly different ways, and it’s going to be hard to find a baseline that generally means everyone is ok. It’s going to be a bit sad for quite a while, what with stranger interactions being reduced between men and women while we sort the harassment thing out. But overall happiness will still be higher since women will feel less threatened, day to day.

The only good general solution is honesty and respect for boundaries (and this is on everyone, not just men, of course). Honesty with ourselves about why we’re saying hello to this person on the street, or someone is saying hello to us. Honesty that certain things are gonna seem creepy. Honesty that there is a lot of sadness around this, and everyone needs to give support to people who feel sad. Honesty that we’re scared we’ve done the wrong thing, because the new rules are so hard to fathom.

And almost no-one is doing that yet, so we’re all well outside of comfort zone, and social sanctioning. But it’s worth it.

It’s worth it because, we’re trying to build a world where men and women can openly say to each other in the moment, without conflict or fear of violence, ‘hey, that came off as creepy’ and the other party can say ‘oh my god that was NOT my intention, please tell me in detail what it was that seemed creepy’. This will also be a world where both men and women can say, without fear of shaming or violence, ‘hey, you are attractive, any interest in fucking?’ and there is no obligation to say yes or no. In a world when all genders are empowered to ask for/accept sexual interaction in an equal, honest and open way, street harassment could disappear.

I want to live in that world, and we need to do everything we can to get there.

On feminist movement, at “its peak”…

“it was also important to claim the body as a site of pleasure… We had all-girl parties, grown-up sleepovers. We slept together. We had sex. We did it with girls and boys. We did it across race, class, nationality. We did it in groups. We watched each other doing it. We did it with the men in our lives differently. We let them celebrate with us the discovery of female sexual agency. We let them know the joys and ecstasies of mutual sexual choice… We reclaimed the female body as a site of power and possibility…”

hooks goes on to talk about a reticence on the part of revolutionary feminists to engage with mainstream media on the topic of sexuality because of the inevitable distortions that occur. She challenges the stereotype of antimen feminists:

“… Heterosexual women turned on by feminist movement learn how to move away from sexually dead encounters with patriarchal men who eroticize exploitative power and domination scenarios that in no way embrace female sexual agency, but these women do so not to give up sex  but to make sex new, different, liberatory, and fun…

She speaks about the need to publicise this shift in sexual attitudes in a positive way.

 

“… Were many more of us documenting our sex lives in art, literature, film and other media, there would be an abundance of counter-hegemonic evidence to disprove the popular sexist stereotype that women in feminist movement are antisex and antimen.”

– bell hooks in ‘Talking Sex’ published in Outlaw Culture , 1994