On a Specious Reply

This isn’t a general essay, more the upshot of the ongoing intra-philosophical spats, so it might not be of interest to all of you..

So, anyway, someone calling themselves Dr Specious (ho ho), possibly one of our philosophical colleagues in disguise, turned up and pass-agg pointed me and Kathleen and Holly at this paper, which I haven’t yet read fully, but makes the prima facie sketchy claim that we should assign gender (do you means sex?) not on the basis of ‘facts’ but on the basis of political calculations related to oppression (there’s a lot to say about this in itself, some of which I point towards in what follows, but, yeah, you want us to utterly conflate judgements of fact and value and then rearrange reality so it’s determined by nothing but power – or the alleged critique of power – do you??? What could possibly go wrong????) Anyway, we got into a bit of a back and forth, in which my take was ‘if you wanna run around aggressively calling people bigots you should probably demonstrate that you have decently engaged with their arguments beforehand.’ I sent them a link to this, and was promptly told I didn’t deserve engagement. However, this morning this turned up, along with the proclamation that it was “mostly incoherent and hypocritical drivel.” Well now…

specious

I started typing up a response, which, in the immemorial words of the ever lovely Arthur Chu, got ‘obnoxiously long.’ (Whyyyyy must people insist on thinking in long sequences of joined up ideas?? WE WANT BAD ANALOGIES AND SLOGANS AND WE WANT THEM NOW). Anyway, it got long, so I decided to stick it here. Take and/or make of it what you will 🙂

Numbers refer to the points above.

4. What it means is that second person pronouns are extended to you by another person. The phrase ‘my personal pronouns’ is an ontological contradiction. You do not ‘own’ the pronouns other people use to recognise you, because they are a speech act which marks another person’s recognition of you. When you claim that another person’s recognition of you is something you ‘own,’ you are making a claim to have something akin to a property right over another person’s recognition, that is, you are claiming you have the right to dispose of someone else’s recognition as you see fit, and you are further attempting to give leverage to the claim that is they who have done something wrong if they challenge this right. Other people’s recognition is not the kind of thing over which one can, or should, attempt to claim property rights. Because other people’s perceptions and judgements about what they perceive are fundamental to their own freedom of belief, and are integral to their own right to understand reality as it presents itself to them. Attempting to appropriate them, make specious property claims over them, and enforce those specious property claims through more or less explicit social sanction, up to and including shouting at strangers in public space, is a form of domination. It is also an attempt to exert pressure to undermine their own perceptions – that is, it is, precisely, gaslighting.

(If you’re interested, here is a position on this laid out by our trans allies with which I broadly agree).

9 and 13. I will deal with the nonsense name analogy in a moment. So, to deal with the other issue, yes, social pressure is how we enforce norms, correct.

Two observations:

a) I find it pretty interesting that a political movement framed in significant respect by a critique of supposed anti-normativity, and a clear exploration of the disciplinary nature of norms, and how they function to construct and enforce identity, is suddenly so very interested to defend itself in terms of ‘but social pressure is just how we enforce norms *shrug*’ To wit: radical queer and trans activism is, like, the least queer thing I have ever seen.

b) I’m not actually one of those people who thinks norms are necessarily bad (and I’m pretty suspicious of an intellectual movement that so readily tells us norms are bad when they interfere with men’s sexual gratification (Mr Foucault), but is more than happy to wheel them out to make people conform to queer normativity). Anyway, the point is, I think it’s kind of important not to either accept or reject norms on the basis of the fact that they are norms, but rather, to interrogate them carefully, in each instance, and examine what they are for, what harms they are protecting us against, or what goods they are trying to enact. That is, we don’t just get to say, ‘pronouns are a norm and there is no issue when we use social opprobrium to try and enforce them,’ without interrogating that norm.

Here there are two issues, one of which is to do with the issue of possible conflicts over the harms and goods that issue from the enforcement of that norm, and the other to do with the nature of the norm – and these are both actually interlinked.

i) As your example of the n-slur indicates, one of the issues here is a thorough conflation of judgements of value and judgements of fact. The n-slur is entirely a judgement of value, it is a word that serves no function other than derogation, and derogation that is placed evidently within a historical structure of power. It is the conceit of your political ideology that people’s judgements about the sex of another person is an analogous example, but this relies on the claim that the only reason we might want to insist that someone is the sex that we perceive them to be, rather than the gender their pronouns assert they are, is for the purposes of derogation – and this is actually the basis of the entire tottering pile of normative coercion that you have constructed to enforce your ideology. You seem to be unable to comprehend that some people care about reality because they care about reality, because we think that coercively enforcing norms that do not correspond to our perceptions of reality is the ontological heart of totalitarianism – like, Orwellian is overused, but really, this is Orwellian, to the letter. If you destroy the reality base of norms, or of any shared aspect of social life, you are saying that the only thing that should determine what we all agree to be true, is power. Maybe you want to live in that world? If you do, I can only conclude that you’re either an authoritarian, or an idiot. It is not, y’know, the case, that ‘alternative facts’ are really bad when Trump uses them and totes fine when ‘progressives’ use them,

ii) This conflict over fact and value is also related to the fact that this is basically a conflict over harms. What you will not acknowledge is that we are resisting this because we consider the erasure of sex to be a harm to women. I appreciate that people experience it as a harm when their identity is not validated through social recognition. That is why the vast vast majority of us are happy to extend that recognition on the basis of human decency, and kindness. What has happened, however, is that the trans rights movement has refused to accept the adequacy of freely offered recognition as politeness and turned ‘my pronouns’ into an enforced mandate – including people getting fired from their employment for not complying. (“You won’t be imprisoned” “You won’t be physically forced.” No, you’ll just be called a bigot, socially ostracised, no platformed, the police might be sent around to check your thoughts, and you might lose your livelihood. None of this is in any way coercive, but we are doing it to enforce norms mind.)

At the point at which people started telling us that there was no such thing as male and female biology, and that the being of a man or a woman was determined only by gender identity, you converted a norm that was functioning on the basis of politeness into an ontological judgement that many people do not accept, and then you attempted to use that as the basis by which to demand access to services etc. That is, you took something extended in kindness, turned it illegitimately into a statement of fact, and then used that to try and make rights claims to services already being used by female people, who have reasons to be concerned about the presence of male-bodied people that you are only ever capable of handwaving and dismissing (ps – if you want to talk about norms and harms, you don’t get to pretend that the harms to one group must be given unilateral precedence over those to another group). Which is all to say, you guys have seriously taken the piss. And you’ll find that people cease wanting to be polite and respectful to people who have taken that recognition and used it to try and take their rights away. Strangely.

18. ‘Some feminists believe that the performance of gender doesn’t change someone’s sex…what’s the point here?’ Are you fucking kidding me? The point is that you are trying to mandate that we all agree with an ideology that is committed to the political erasure of sex. We think that sex matters, politically, and that legally abolishing sex is very bad for women. That’s the point.

19. Your ideological movement circles insistently around the claim that all our analysis and objections are illegitimate, and that everything can just be handwaved as an expression of our hatred or phobia. What I mean by ‘this is not a pretext’ is that we want our objections and arguments to be dealt with and not consistently dismissed, and we’d like it recognised that we exist, in our own right, have our own interests, our own analysis of the world, and that it’s not ALL ABOUT YOU. (On this, and re: both the stuff on narcissism we’ll get onto in a bit, and Christa Peterson’s response to our Daily Nous piece, can you, for a second, think about the absolute narcissism of reducing a whole slew of different feminist objections to the acronym ‘TERF.’ Female people will be defined only in terms of what they will not give to male people. How very novel.)

20 a) Indeed we might. And let us also note, that you cannot get through any form of intellectual engagement, even with something as sober as the text I gave you here, without being snarky. I said this to you yesterday, and I will say it again. The aggression coming from you people is staggering, and you’re so high on your piety you are completely impervious to what a bunch of bullies you look like to many of the observers of this conflict. I do not want to be part of any form of progressivism that has pickled its brains in this much Zizek-vibe. To return to the point about ‘feminism,’ it looks like a load of cock-waving Red-Terror-romanticising masculinist bullshit to me.

b) I’ve missed some steps? Or you are just being disingenuous? One of the main justifications for controlling our speech is that we are ‘making people unsafe’ and this claim of ‘unsafety’ is frequently leveraged by the additional claim that the kind of violence that trans people are subject to is in some way produced by feminists. Where are my stats? The stats that prove that patriarchal men don’t commit violence against trans people because they have read too much feminism (or are influenced by feminism)? I think if you want to make that claim, the onus to demonstrate that it’s not the obvious bullshit it looks like is on you. I’ve explored this is detail here.

21. The name analogy. Proper names are not analogous to words referring to people’s sex. Proper names have no semantic content other than denoting the person to which they are attached (not quite true, to be more precise, they don’t have any denotive content other than picking out a particular person, proper names do of course have historical, class-based, ethnic and racialised connotations and they are sexed (clearly not before 1492, when sex was invented)). However, they do not name any specific material feature of that person’s being (other than denoting also, their sex). I cannot perceive a person’s name by looking at them. I do not walk down the street and more or less consciously perceive the names of everyone that passes me by. If someone tells me their name, there is no basis, prima facie, on which I might dispute that name, because I have no perception of my own of some material facet of their being which may contradict it. And there is no political power structure which is attached to ‘the class of people of x proper name,’ and which has led me to have a certain number of bad experiences which correlates with ‘the class of people of x proper name.’ That is, they don’t function in anything resembling the same way. Apples and oranges as we say in the trade. One more for the ‘big bag of shit analogies.’

22. ‘Conceptually identical’ means, in this context, ‘the same idea as.’ It’s incredibly opaque I know. *Flat stare*

As I’ve said, your analogy is rubbish, but even were it not, calling someone by the wrong name would be an act of impoliteness, and not an act of structural violence or oppression, unless you could demonstrate that there was an entire power structure which qualified for the description of oppression which hinged on illegitimately calling people ‘Becky’ when it was not their name. (We might wonder here whether that this choice of name is entirely accidental. It’s actually interesting right? Because no one is going to argue, given the nature of power, that calling white women ‘Becky’ is a form of oppression. Derision, maybe. Justified derision containing important political critique? In part. A more-or-less conscious way for you to slip in that endlessly-recycled imputation that only oppressive white women believe in sex? Maybe that too).

And while we’re here, what you guys really need to do, is actually work out a coherent account of why people believing something as manifestly true as the fact that mammals are sexually dimorphic is actually the basis of a historical act of structural oppression. And it needs to be an account that actually bears some relation to the historical record, doesn’t rely on ahistorical appropriative racist bullshit like ‘colonialism invented the gender binary,’ and gives a convincing explanation of why the recognition of sexual dimorphism functions in itself (i.e. that doesn’t conflate sex with its social construction through patriarchal gender) as a form of oppression, and is not merely the recognition of a material fact. I have outlined several times, that I fully accept that trans people experience discrimination as an adjunct of patriarchal gender. I have not, however, ever heard an account that convinced me that trans people are oppressed qua trans people as a class by a system that is specifically motivated by the benefit conferred to the class of non-trans people, and I have never heard a convincing account of how that mechanism might hinge specifically on the recognition of sexual dimorphism in itself.  And on that, I don’t know if you’ve clocked it, but your ideology might be uniquely distinguished by being based on dereification rather than reification. You’ve taken the normal functioning of ideology – ‘passing the constructed off as the natural’ – and flipped it, so we get ‘passing the natural off as socially constructed.’ It seems rather apt for the spirit of the age, don’t you think? We like to call it ‘the unconcealment of patriarchal ideality.’

23 and 26. I recognise trans people’ needs. That’s why I think this is a rights conflict, and I want to work out a solution which can meet trans people’s needs without violating women’s rights to comfort, dignity, safety, political representation etc. Quite what solution we could find is going to be a hard road. We won’t start walking it until we we start to recognise that both sides here are people, with needs and vulnerabilities, and start trying to thrash it out. Your move.

It may however be the case that I don’t think that someone else’s needs immediately give them license to something (didn’t we used to have some old idea about other people’s rights ending at my nose or something?). Because we don’t generally accept, say, that people have a right to sex from other people because they need or want it, do we? (Apart from the fact, of course, that your movement actually makes that argument all the time – and specifically in relation to lesbians’ self-determination, and to the question of sex by deception (apparently ‘sexual autonomy’ is not an absolute right when it interferes with trans people’s validation – are you joining the dots about why we think this might be some narcissistic rapey bullshit yet?)) In fact, in general, if we were using a consistent moral calculus, we’d recognise that the right to refuse someone something we don’t want to give generally trumps someone else’s needs. Because forcing someone to give you something when they don’t want to is, um, narcissistic domination (aka, ‘the psychic structure of rape, colonialism and material appropriation in general’.)

Anyway, it’s interesting you should bring up mirrors, because…

25. Wow. You really don’t understand the first thing about the feminist critique of psychoanalysis, object relations theory, French feminist philosophy, or the analysis of patriarchal narcissism, do you? True fact: We think primary narcissism is a retroactive patriarchal construction used by masculinist thinkers in order to obscure the mutually constitutive nature of human subjectivity. We further think that construction is used to reify narcissism as the normative model of human subjectivity, and functions to exculpate and reify the developmental, social, and ontological system which justifies male narcissism and the domination it creates. And we think that when many adults – often of the male variety – dominate other people, often in a modality of narcissistic rage, and refuse to recognise that they can’t always get what they want because other people have needs and have said no, that they actually are, indeed, having a big person’s tantrum.

If you understood this, you would understand how male narcissism connects male violence, the appropriation of women’s bodies, the domination of nature, capitalist appropriation, colonisation and the legacy of racialised violence. You would understand that the anti-sovereigntist critique you have reductively collapsed into the normative axiom of ‘inclusion’ (and then turned into another binary), is, at its root, about the critique of patriarchal narcissism, and that when you make of it another binary (WE GOOD. TERF BAAAAAD), use it to other your critics, and to attempt to coerce and appropriate, I’m inclined to think you haven’t learned a fucking thing from the Derridean strand of post-structuralism. Which is all to say, I am beyond bored of being piously lectured about being a bad feminist by people who don’t actually understand how patriarchy works. Go read some Irigaray. FFS.

28. I refer you to my previous point about your apparent non-familiarity with feminist philosophy’s elaboration of models of relational intersubjectivity, and the critique of patriarchy as fundamentally structured around the narcissistic inability to enact intersubjective recognition. The master-slave dialectic is a reifying masculinist lie, say all the witches and the mothers.

Shall we burn them for it?

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12 comments

  1. Thank you–I learn so much reading your work. I did want to mention re names that maybe a more accurate analogy would be using someone’s preferred name in a conversation about them when they’re not present, and there are certainly times when I don’t do that. I consistently call someone in another office ‘dogboy’ when I mention him to people in my office; I will admit I’m sure he would not be thrilled to know this, but everyone I speak with about him knows who I mean. It’s not very kind, but he doesn’t know so it doesn’t harm him.

    Also, a friend of mine has never had a positive experience with someone named Steve.

  2. Could you, if at some point you have the time, elaborate your point about the Master-Slave dialectic? While rhetorically brilliant, it seems to fundamentally conflict with my reading of Hegel’s famous passages about it.

    1. Yes! The reference is based largely on the reading of the MS dialectic which was given by Kojeve https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Introduction_to_the_Reading_of_Hegel in his lectures in Paris is the 40s, which were attended by pretty much anyone who was anyone in the French intelligentsia of the time – Sartre, Beauvoir, Lacan, Merleau-Ponty – and came to be a structuring influence on a huge chunk of post-war French thought (also, notably, the subject of Butler’s doctoral dissertation/first book https://www.amazon.co.uk/Subjects-Desire-Hegelian-Reflections-Twentieth-Century/dp/0231159994). The short gloss I’d give is that Kojeve reads it as the signature moment of the development of self-consciousness staged as the confrontation between two consciousnesses that both conceive themselves to be narcissistically omnipotent, and approach the encounter in terms of the need to extract recognition from the other, in their own terms – to effectively impose their self image on the other, and to turn, in Irigarayan terms, the other into a mirror. (How this relates to the current situation should be obvious – recognition is a valuable resource, it is not an accident that the MS dialectic is constructed as a conflict over recognition, or that such a moment would come to stand as a kind of signature moment of the necessary relation between self-consciousness and domination.) Anyway, the feminist critique would be that there is an uninterrogated assumption that mutual recognition is not possible, I have my self image, you have yours, and one of us will win the battle and impose that image on the other (as we can see from the current war, that is definitely a thing that happens). However, if we think about infant object relations, or the intersubjectivity between infant and mother/care-giver… we would argue that the fundamental emergence of self consciousness cannot be reduced to this singularly narcissistic moment – in good attunement there is always mutual mirroring, recognition is given and received, negotiated… it’s much more like a dance than a war. And we’d further claim that assuming this kind of fundamental hostility is one of the many retroactive projection which is produced by the reification of patriarchal narcissism itself (the whole Oedipus story would also be that, in fact). I’m going to write something more on this, because it’s so pertinent to what is happening. Viz:

      Trans activists: You must recognise us in precisely our terms
      GC feminists: Well, I’m not sure that I can, because that erases your recognition of us and our differences, can we find a way where we can both recognise each other?
      Trans activists: No, you must recognise us in precisely our terms and if you don’t you are killing us.
      GC feminists: Um, we don’t think we are killing you by not submitting, sorry, can we find a way where you can recognise us and we can recognise you?
      Trans activists: IF YOU DON’T RECOGNISE US IN PRECISELY OUR TERMS IT IS LITERAL VIOLENCE. RECOGNISE US OR YOU ARE COMMITTING GENOCIDE.
      GC feminists: You’re being kind of dominating. We’d rather not fight. Surely there’s a way for us to express what we need and…
      Trans activists: DIE IN A FIRE TERF.
      GC feminists: Well, we’re not submitting…soooo…

      Cue ‘fight to the death’ for recognition by the other.

      All totally fucking unnecessary and avoidable.

      *sighs*

      *goes back to trenches*

      1. I’d add…to clarify with respect to your reading, and what might be throwing you, what *all* of French philosophy got from Hegel/Kojeve was that self-consciousness was intersubjectively structured… what, however, the masculinist parts of the tradition didn’t get (and Butler is very much on that side of it), really, was a) that the narcissistic fundamental hostility isn’t necessary, and that recognition isn’t something we have to kill each other over, because we can both be subjects and objects in process… and we don’t actually have to drive towards omnipotence and b) that the fact of intersubjectivity is not some terrible shattering of the phallic narcissistic ideal that we just have to resign ourselves to in some awful alienated way… you can release into it, Derrida got this… it’s play, it’s a dance, it’s only awful to find yourself in something more fluid if you need omnipotent mastery… which you don’t… as Irigaray would say, the abyss is created by the obsession with the ground.

  3. Hope you have had a look at Scotgov consultation docs on Hate Crime. Very worrying. The Scotgov consultation docs on Self Id were such very poor quality and so dishonest, I have no words. But I am pretty certain the responses were used by UK gov. ie that Scotland is a testing ground. I have so many basic issues with Hate Crime legislation anyway and this is out of my expertise or general knowledge but in the first pages phrases already cause concern. Self id had such a concentration on deletion and denial of history and privacy in its later parts and this aligns. Anyhoo this needs far more visibility and stress. Thank you for your attention.

  4. I think this is the second piece of yours I’ve read. This is so cogent and elucidating. I appreciate your patient application of logic though I have found an astounding resistance to it amongst the transcult. I find it insulting that people with so little knowledge of feminist thought want to impose their newly minted views on feminism itself. Brava, brilliant article.

  5. I’ll comment under this specific post, it’s as good as any.
    As a french person, it’s always strange when Anglo-saxon people go on about “french feminism” and “french theory” which is, simply not a major thing here in France. It always strikes me funny when I see Irigary’s name put forth when she was pretty much inconsequential to feminism development in France. In fact, the ones who were influenced by her style of thinking (Psych&Po group) were those who went on to pillage the MLF from its founders and turned it upside down into basically an anti-feminist group. ”French feminism” and ”psychoanalytical feminism” is very badly considered amongst french historical and present radical feminists.
    I’m writing this without even a clear question to launch, nor do I presume to be the first to talk to you about that topic. Just wanted to hear your thoughts about it as I see “french feminism” frequently mentioned in your writings.

    Just in the random chance of the negative, have you read Delphy’s « Invention of French Feminism » ?
    https://www.feministes-radicales.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Christine-Delphy-The-Invention-of-French-Feminism-An-Essential-Move-Copie.pdf

    Despite the apparent disparaging tone of this comment, I have actually greatly enjoyed reading this blog as your writing is both pretty up there in complexity yet clear and accessible. I especially appreciated a lot your criticisms of Butler (funny enough, we are in France struck by a similar returning current that make her THE American Papess of Feminism – I wish I was making this up – that is absolutely fueled by the same things that Delphy was mentioning in her article).

    1. Hi, thanks for your comments. I had a look at the article, and I’m going to say… I think it is absolutely right to say that ‘French feminism’ is a construction of the Anglo-American academy, in so far as all naming of schools of non Anglo-American thought in such a manner are (eg. German Idealism)… I have only scanned it, but from first impressions, I’m also going to note some problems with the way this is presented… firstly, Delphy doesn’t seem to deal with the fact that the construction of ‘French feminism’ is *specifically* something that exists in relation to the history of philosophy… I’ve studied it in great detail, and it never occurred to me in a million years that anyone thought that ‘French feminism’ denoted anything representative of the women’s movement in France… it means, ‘that part of the strand of French post-structuralist philosophy that is written by women and has feminist concerns’ or, more simply ‘French post-structural feminism’…that is, ‘French feminism’ is a shorthand name for a philosophical school that has a particular philosophical lineage inside the larger body of what we call, also with the same kind of gesture, ‘Continental philosophy,’ and which is itself divided broadly into ‘German’ and ‘French,’ and then further subdivided, ‘French post-structuralism,’ ‘French post-structural feminism’ etc. That is, it’s a system of philosophical classification, evidently produced from the perspective *of* the Anglo-American academy…

      So what I’m going to further say, is that given that Delphy doesn’t place French post-structuralist feminism in its philosophical lineage, its possibly not that surprising that the rehearsal she give of it completely misses what is going on with it philosophically – or even, to take her point at face value, what Anglo-American thinkers are doing with it within the philosophical tradition. To take just one example, in the list of characteristics she give of it, she seems to assume that ‘the masculine’ and ‘the feminine’ as used in French post-structural feminism map neatly onto what, in radical feminist thinking, we would call gender… that is, that ‘the feminine’=’patriarchal femininity’… and that, furthermore, when we talk about ‘the feminine,’ and the extent to which, say, women’s embodiment may give them access to that experience, we are reinscribing the patriarchal connection between sex and gender, and mandating sex-based roles. Evidently, such a thought would be conceived as anti-feminist. The point, however, is that ‘the feminine’ is not ‘patriarchal femininity,’ it’s an ontological-epistemic category formed through a very detailed and extensive critique of the whole structure of Western patriarchal metaphysics, and the way in which patriarchal masculinity has informed the construction of Western ontology.

      The easiest way to summarise this difference is through the two axes of time and space. ‘The masculine’ privileges the static or eternal (time), and non-relation, independence or atomism (space), and ‘the feminine’ privileges movement, change or process (time) and relation and interdependence (space). They’re ontologies, but ontologies which have arisen through a complex interaction of how patriarchal gender positions male and female people in the world, plus some aspects of their embodiment and the social experiences that follow from that embodiment (with particular importance given here to the relationality that arises through mother-child relations). It is not however, contra Delphy, the case, that only female people have access to ‘the feminine’ and male people access to ‘the masculine.’ The fundamental argument would be, I would say, that the call for revaluation is for the process/relation ontological aspect which has been excluded by the static/atomistic aspect to be brought back into balance, and ideally, for all human beings to move between the two ontologies as appropriate. What Irigaray means by sexual difference, would then, at an ontological level, be a call for the ontology which sees only the static and the atomised to be over-turned…the recognition of sexual difference is central to this, because the refusal of fundamental interrelation is intertwined with patriarchal male narcissism, and patriarchal male narcissism is the motor of the erasure and appropriation of women, the inability to see us as fully human/not a resource which men rely on. As trans activism seems to have demonstrated remarkably, no one seems to notice when people decide to erase and appropriate women, because people don’t think we actually exist as people in our own right.

      Which is all to say, I don’t think Delphy really understands French post-structuralist feminism, at all – and I’m pretty unconvinced therefore, by her claim that it is a construction simply of Anglo-American thought, because the attributes she gives to it don’t resemble anything I have ever understood about the work I have studied. I totally agree with her that if it was the case that ‘the feminine’ meant ‘patriarchal femininity’ and if the ‘Holy Trinity’ *were* claiming that that was essential and proper to women, it would be a MASSIVE problem. But that’s not what is going on with it, and you really have to read it in its philosophical history to get what *is* going on with it. I took me about 5 years of work to understand what on earth Irigaray was saying. I had to read Heidegger, and a ton of Derrida, and Levinas and a huge chunk of Plato, and the Pre-Socratics and Descartes and half of Freud and a load of Lacan. I had to understand the feminist critique of psychoanalysis, and Winnicott and Jessica Benjamin and Care Ethics. And I also needed to understand the connection between deconstruction and the ontologies of Buddhism and Taoism, and how that all related to feminist theology and to witchcraft. It’s really a whole other way of understanding the world, starting from a totally different set of ontological assumptions, and we’re so embedded in patriarchal metaphysics that people often really don’t get what we’re talking about. That is, I agree that what Delphy is talking about is an invention, but I have to say, it looks a lot more like an invention of Delphy’s than anything else.

      Anyway, I appreciate the question, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. I hope, if anything, to show that it is possible to use what I have learned from ‘French feminism’ and to weave it together with radical and socialist feminist critiques of gender, and to produce something coherent and useful. I think the analysis of patriarchal narcissism, and its ontological and social correlates is invaluable…and I think it helps us answer some of the questions that snagged up second wave feminism the first time around (what is the explanation of male dominance and appropriation? how do socialist and radical feminism connect? what is the importance of women’s sexuality, why has it been repressed, what would it look like if not played through the male gaze?), and point us towards to the future, with a bit of luck.

      1. Well first, thanks for the long answer! I don’t intend this follow-up of mine to start an everlasting internet posts chain, but I still wanted to respond.

        I’m going to write things assuming you don’t know some history of the French second-wave and of the MLF, not because I think you do, but because it’s easier to make the whole thing more coherent. First we have to recognize that what is called in France radical feminism directly stemmed from Marxist thinking and was put up mostly by disgruntled women of the left post-1968. This part of the movement, though strategically allied with, was philosophically at odds with Lacanians, psychoanalytical feminism, post-structuralist feminism and also marxist feminism. There certainly was an internal battle of recognition. This made the whole movement explode in the late 1970’s when Fouque, who was the “leader” of the psychoanalytical feminist group, stole the MLF name, trademarked it and prevented any other tendencies than her own to use it.

        With this in mind, I bet you can imagine that when some anglo-saxon feminists decided to call post-structuralist psychoanalytical feminism, “French Feminism”, many radical feminists, Delphy among them, saw this as the same old stealing gig: trying to masquerade the same specific feminist line as the whole movement. And this is regardless of what you know about the history of anglo-saxon philosophical semantics tendencies. The name “french feminism” IS a way to pass a piece for the whole cake. You get it yourself because it’s your job to know your history of philosophy, but I hope you can imagine that when you write “french feminism”, most laypersons probably don’t understand it as “this very specific and over-represented in the US post-structuralist group of feminists in France” but understand “the whole feminist movement in France” (and this because people usually prefer having it painted in broad strokes at first – this french feminism semantics makes a dishonest use of it). On that matter I should point at Delphy specifically wrote lots of articles about the power to name (and therefore to order and dominate – “classer et dominer”), the act of making the specific seem to be the universal, etc. She didn’t need to understand the deep end philosophy of the people she was directly making activism with, she understood just right what their underlying practical politics were, and it ended up being usurping a grassroots collective movement.

        I’m not gonna hide, my feminism fundamentals are themselves very influenced by Delphy and french materialist feminism, so of course I have “taken sides” already. My area of study was in history and sociology, not philosophy. This is why I’m a bit lost and uninterested by all this ontology discourse (this not saying it’s uninteresting obviously). Personally, I’m of the mind that domination and oppression is first a subject of material reality, that this shapes the landscape that then allows philosophical and discursive domination (just like Colette Guillaumin thought in regard to race). I think, just like the french historical tendencies showed, that radical materialist feminism and psychoanalytical post-structuralist feminism are (in my country anyway) irreconcilable and that trying to make them compatible is a waste of time and energy. In the field, allies don’t need to align perfectly on your own political thoughts, though some matter should be non-negotiable (and yeah, appropriating names is bad!).

        Anyway, though I suspect you’re the kind of people who could make a fort out of the books written on your to-read list, assuming you haven’t, I have to recommend some C. Delphy (L’ennemi principal), C. Guillaumin (Sexe, race et pratique du pouvoir) and N-C. Mathieu (L’anatomie politique). I’ll keep on reading this blog.

      2. I know you don’t want to get into a long chain, but this is interesting, and I’m a materialist, and an ontologist, so I kind of can’t resist.

        1. I guess my response to the first point is, yes, I totally see how that would appear, and yes, it is clearly an instance of positing a part as a universal in some sense. At the same time I’m also going to say, this is all about the ethics and violences of translation. Yes, it’s all about naming and the power to name. Delphy is right to note that there is some representational injustice going on when that label is created and circulated in an Anglo-American context, but equally there is representational injustice when what that is about is read only from a French perspective. I guess the bluntest answer here is something like, ‘we already had our own radical and socialist feminist traditions, so what we took was the thing we didn’t have, post-structural/psychoanalytic philosophical feminism’…I’m not sure it’s quite right to read that as an intent to occlude either radical or socialist or materialist feminism, I guess from my perspective because I’m not positioned in a French historical context where I consider them to be in opposition… but this is all very interesting in itself, and your perspective is very helpful here…

        2. I agree with you that the basis of all this is material appropriation. I guess what I would say is that what I don’t think is that ontology is irrelevant to that *at all*… partly because ontology, or the ‘imaginary’ that encodes it, shapes our concepts and symbols, and through that actually structures and maintains material relations, and secondly, because if we want to do anything about material domination and appropriation, we need to understand what *drives* it…I’m *not* satisfied with any kind of answer to the question of the *why* of domination which reads *because* or *because men*…and I think, fundamentally, any viable future feminism must both look domination squarely and unflinchingly in the face, *and* have some kind of answer to what the hell we do about it, and here, you need some kind of psychological and ontological model that accounts for why patriarchal masculinity leads to domination and appropriation, and you can’t get that simply out of a material analysis. When it comes down to it, human being and culture is psycho-material, you have to look at *both* ideas and their structuring drives *and* materiality *and* their interaction… The whole structure of patriarchal ontology is based on the denial of material dependency and its appropriation, that is axiomatic, and it is what must be challenged, but its challenge depends on accounting for why patriarchal masculinity (and the symbolic structures it creates) leads men to deal with material dependency *through* appropriation and domination… and this is where for me, the French post-structuralist system helps us to draw together the analysis both of capitalist material appropriation and the appropriation of women as a sexual and reproductive resource. In short, you have to have an analysis of patriarchal narcissism, and how that is both inculcated and maintained through child-rearing and cultural mechanisms, and plays itself out through material relations.

        Anyway, thanks for the stimulus. I will look at the references. All best.

  6. Here is a website that directly goes over the contradictions and loopholes showed in trans* discourse and presents a cohesive way of understanding gender using photos and cross-cultural examples.
    It is for the average reader and audience who is confused at the incoherence in the discussions and is definitely worth a read. We hope it could be shared around and bring some light.

    genderexplained.wordpress.com

    Also, good luck Dr. Jane Clare Jones and thank you for your courage to stand at the forefront with your name and reputation exposed during such a time. If only everyone else could speak up.
    If you could, or want to if you’re interested, would you use your platforms to share the work around to get it more openly known for a wider audience to visibly grasp the hyper-contradictions of the discourse that many can feel as it itches the back of their minds but have a difficulty voicing?

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