Why Do They Hate Our Liberal Feminism?

“American diplomats also cast a wide net to gather information on police brutality, the cables show. Through contacts with human rights lawyers, the embassy follows numerous cases, and raised some with the Interior Ministry. Among the most harrowing, according to a cable, was the treatment of several members of a Hezbollah cell detained by the police in late 2008.

Lawyers representing the men said they were subjected to electric shocks and sleep deprivation, which reduced them to a “zombie state.” They said the torture was more severe than what they normally witnessed.

To the extent that Mr. Mubarak has been willing to tolerate reforms, the cable said, it has been in areas not related to public security or stability. For example, he has given his wife latitude to campaign for women’s rights and against practices like female genital mutilation and child labor, which are sanctioned by some conservative Islamic groups.”

from

Landler, Mark & Andrew W. Lehren. 2011. “Cable Shows Delicate US Dealings with Egypt’s Leaders.” The New York Times, January 27.

Linda Gordon on the Evils of Inegalitarian Altruism (Chivalry)

In this essay/speech, Linda Gordon reviews historical evidence from the US, revealing how, in an inegalitarian society, even altruism comes out all wrong (not unlike egoism). She commences by condemning the modern reification of childhood innocence.

In addition to the shock doctrine and Policy Drift (Hacker & Piereson), pimping out victimhood (here feminism) is a third pillar neoliberal strategy in coordinating the advancement of conservative policy.

People’s desire to “do something” altruistic with their feeling of victimhood (which they are groomed to misread) meets their timid desire to do something reassuringly “close-to-home”–producing righteous, cowardly energy, easy fodder for neoliberal elites cultivating hoi poloi-screwing neoliberal crises.

The Persecution of a Two-way Mirror

At this blog site, Joanne Namerow discusses the main Wikileaks outrage, from elites’ perspective: States’ use of surveillance technology, rendering subjects’ lives and political views transparent to rulers, can occasionally be used to make capitalist state and capitalist elite machinations transparent to the public. What Namerow doesn’t discuss is that transparency isn’t half of what’s required for political mobilization. The state has the advantage of being run on behalf of antidemocratic elite interests, whereas the capitalism in front of our faces remains illegible to most of the unorganized public. Further, the leaks can’t stop the great assembled masses of neocon strategists and secret polices from doing their job #1–suppressing democracy and promoting Anglosphere financial-militarist capitalist interests.

The public elite freak-out over Wikileaks is a nice, petulant, fascist law’n’order rallying cry and all, and it’s not like they don’t have the excess machinery to prosecute their campaign; but it is also a lot of wasted energy and resources. But hell– I’m all for elites & their retainers wasting their considerable, malevolent, ne’er-do-well energies, and they’re wasting our appropriated resources anyway.

Democracy Now! hosts a Dec 20, 2010 debate between a socialist feminist, Naomi Wolf, and a neoliberal feminist, Jaclyn Friedman over the international persecution of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange.

What’s at stake in this debate is setting the criteria for the circumstances in which socialist feminists coalesce with neoliberal feminists, and the circumstances in which socialist feminists must break off from neoliberal feminists and regroup as a separate network (cf Nancy Fraser).

When Karl Rove comes knocking at your door and tells you he will let you decry rape for 15 minutes on teevee if you sell imperial tyranny for him, and your reaction is “OK! Sounds like a bargain!”, you know you’re a fucking neoliberal tool. If and only if in the context of an international antidemocratic elite campaign, you do not believe that women have the capacity to make decisions, then you are not a feminist; you are a paid neoliberal shill. Since we are strict pomos and we must allow women to label themselves feminist if they want (or if it serves their career networking), we could gamely specify them as Karl Rove feminists. Which version of feminism led Friedman naturally to resort to yelping, “Fear! Fear! Fear is the reason!” at the end of the Democracy Now! debate.

Yes, most of us women and many men have been raped; it involved fear and other emotions, and rape is one of the overlapping abuses of power in a rapacious, proliferating, inequality-based political-economic culture of alienation and “unmaking,” as Elaine Scarry might put it. The existence of abuse in individual relationships requires us to morally oppose the further development of the institutions that foster such oppression. The long elite antidemocratic campaign is a central corrupt and corrupting institution.

Inasmuch as it first pointed to hypocrisy (as articulated by Naomi Wolf and Michael Moore), the charge that Sweden underprosecutes rape is a distortion of the actual legal strength of women in Sweden vis-a-vis sexual violence. Sweden has a very different legal system that approaches almost all crime with restitution, rather than vindictive, long-term punishment as in the Anglosphere; and that social democratic legal tradition is an asset that reduces alienation and oppression. (In ignoring this, Amnesty is cooperating with a local Swedish effort to use the international public sphere for local political purposes. Perhaps in the Swedish context, Amnesty’s classification of women in Sweden as particularly vulnerable to consequence-free violence supports women’s emancipation; perhaps instead it supports neoconservative efforts to augment inequality by replacing the current legal system with a punitive, capitalist class-biased Anglo legal system.) There is a very good reason why some Swedes are angry with the state prosecutor and the neoliberal feminists for assaulting that reconstructive social democratic tradition.

This Assange prosecution case will most definitely NOT make Sweden and the world better at opposing rape, contrary to Friedman’s baseless assertion. It will only continue to give conservatives license to destroy democracy in the glorious, cynical, patriarchal name of protecting the sub-rational womenchildren sub-citizens. Sweden has a conservative Law’n’Order government that got into power and stays there by flogging the idea that swarthy immigrants threaten the virtue and accomplishments of “real,” “liberated” Swedish women. Those politics of pimping out feminism are honed to a fine art in Sweden, as you can see from watching the cynical Swedish lawyer in the Democracy Now! report.

Sweden’s conservative government is absolutely colluding with other conservative states to pimp out women’s fear and rage at being raped for these rulers’ own antidemocratic purposes. Wolf knows what she’s talking about, and her incisive analysis is impressive.

Assessment of socialist-feminist / neoliberal feminist coalition:

In the Assange case, the neoliberal feminists are not fighting for rape victims or any women. They are serving as a voluntary army for politically-organized international capital. But simply wrapping the terrifying, bloody flag of sex victimhood around the shoulders of this conservative campaign cannot make it liberatory for anyone but already overly-mobile capital, rapist of whole communities and societies, progenitor of alienated, dehumanizing, abusive, exploitive relationships. And I speak not just from a political perspective, but also from an experiential perspective, as a feminist who was raped by an IDF soldier.

This is a point where socialist feminists cannot reconcile with the political program of neoliberal feminists, which has led directly into the pit of extreme social inequality, including gender inequality–if you recognize that women make up the majority of the world’s poor, exploited, dispossessed and disenfranchised. In today’s political context, mutual opposition to rape and patriarchy is not enough, nor is mutual commitment to women’s advancement. Which rape? Which patriarchy? Which women’s advancement? These are crucial questions, because the neoliberal feminists’ abstracted emotional triggers cannot hide the bloody flood of wretched disparities in life chances that we have seen and will continue to see under the management regime of such neoliberal supplicants to the conservative movement.

This is a point at which socialist feminists must regroup around their own separate, historically-rooted Left feminism. They can and must fight sexual violence and promote women’s networks separately from the neoliberal feminists. Mobilize their own constituency. Build upon their tradition’s own ideas. The neoliberal feminists’ only policy answers are sealed within the bleak, corrupting world of Reagan, Thatcher, Mulroney, and Reinfeldt, wherein Karl Rove’s Angels can sell their glossy, full-color magazines to the self-righteous daughters and wives of finance, insurance, and real estate.

Considered strategically, socialist feminists should remember, however, that over an historical sweep, the existence of elite conservative feminist hegemony–while destructive in many terrible ways–can produce something of a hegemonic check on Left patriarchs. As Paul Lichterman’s work has shown, it’s sometimes wise to refrain from enjoining fierce bullying with all your firepower–but rather to practice some jijitsu. You don’t want to completely alienate or destroy all enemies.

Naomi Wolf is a good model. She articulates a consistent, clear socialist feminism firmly and confidently, even while she is being savaged by the neoliberal feminists. The trick is to regroup with other socialist feminists at such junctures–not to let the neoliberals get inside your head.

There will come a point in the future where the competing feminist groups will have temporary use of each other. You want your head clear to take advantage of that moment.

Obesity is a Social Inequality & Health Problem

Sociology: I like it more the further removed it is from the task, explicit or de facto, of  proposing the manners required to grease or otherwise optimize capital accumulation.

I appreciate that feminists feel under siege and martyred. Don’t we all these days. But sometimes, due to  un-nuanced, anti-authoritarian alliances with capital, some kinds of feminists permit feminism to be reduced to a wretched, reactionary tool. Certainly, liberal feminism is commonly used in the contemporary era as a tool by political elites to persecute political opponents, as for example where Swedish courts are currently abusing pseudo-feminist sex deviance charges to persecute Wikipedia’s Julian Assange (Sweden has an established weakness for allowing conservatives to use liberal feminism to attack progressive policy, as in immigration).

We appear to have arrived at an epochal juncture where, while global oil-finance-war capitalist machines and working class Enlightenment fighters clash in the streets, postmodernism appears to consist of poorly-paid, impassioned liberal (sometimes self-identifying as radical) feminists, as they are tossed out of the crumbling offices of dying Women & Gender Studies departments in dying humanities schools in overpriced colleges and universities, grasping desperately at the last, remnant, potentially-fundable liberal reform cause: Obeausity liberation (sponsored by Pepsico).

In obesity advocacy, liberal feminism and radical social constructionism are tools used to claim that obesity has no known association with disease. For example, on the environmental website Grist, obesity advocates opposed environmentalists’ pro-bicycling infrastructure campaign on the grounds that it is an affront to obese women. This the last great liberal cause exhorts us to liberate the maligned fat girls from their oppression at the hands of the elite of society: the mean girls, the bicyclists, men who aren’t attracted to fat, and the unsupportive medical doctors of course. In academia, an obese Canadian OISE academic claims that obesity-as-public-health-issue is nothing more than a mean social construction. Presumably to her the function of recognizing a relationship between obesity and disease would simply be to make her feel like she’s in the 7th grade again. Solipsism and careerism charade as a justice campaign.

In a 2010 article from this expanding academic subfield, the UCLA authors Saguy, Grys and Gong reduce the terrain of the issue to a random fight between two groups they reify as moralists v. sociologists. Essentially these are Sneetches with Stars, an unsociological group of people who, presumably out of sheer meanness, choose to understand obesity as a sin behavior “like smoking,” versus Sneetches without Stars, presumably more sociologically-sophisticated people who understand obesity as an “ascribed characteristic like race.”

You know, I enjoy a critique of rampant sociological illiteracy and individualistic moralism as much as anyone; but always take a step back and look around, when social science devolves into simple, de-contextualized barbarity policing/scolding, and social scientists are reduced to professional, secularized nuns. At this point in history, it is a discovery every day for 18 year olds, that race is ascribed. That doesn’t mean that at this point in history, the problem is that doctors got bitchy and called Americans fat.

Fat’s significance is not as a phenomenon of a collective 7th-grader imagination. That would be an EZ problem to solve–for example, with the good old ruler to the knuckles, basically the implied suggestion. No, fat’s significance is that it is created in the physical world outside of our heads, by unequal social relations, which hurt our bodies and minds in other ways as well. People are not being barbaric to oppose this, and it is cheap sophistry to conflate their opposition to these relations with incivility to fat women.  Because it is so myopic, X-treme, fetishized social constructionism can be such a reactionary and careerist tool. Cheap sophistry and toolery are endemic hazards of post-modernism, or any phenomenological dogma. Post-modernism’s proliferation of contextually-naive sophistry and its susceptibility to serving as a political tool for better-organized, hegemonic conservatives (centres of social domination) enable brute power to dictate the terms of reality, and that is why critical realism is required for science, human knowledge, to proceed. (Anarchist post-modernists  argue back that science is nothing more than a tool of the state. That is a debate I will take on more fully elsewhere, but some aspects of my case are embedded in this post.)

Liberal feminist social constructionism dully, dutifully black-boxes why various experts and institutions are identifying obesity as a public health problem, and what their different goals are (eg. social epidemiological efforts to improve public infrastructure v. drug company efforts to sell diet pills). Thus, to the extent that such work –similar to climate change deniers– simply ignores the changing incidence of obesity, its infrastructural, economic and policy roots, its costs to, variously, individuals, families, communities, insurance firm profits, and state health care budgets, and efforts to rectify the roots of obesity that avoid stigmatizing the obese, they are intellectually lazy. But worse, they are dissimulating;* there is in fact solid scientific consensus on the material relationship between fatness and disease.

The Causes of Mass Obesity and the Costs of Obesogenic Societies

This post is not refuting the psychological and physical struggles fat and obese people can experience. Here is a relatable article on how hard it is for a person, once she becomes fat or obese, to lose weight. John Cheese avoids pseudo-altruistic academic bullshit and gives it straight, why poor people in the West are obese, and why they stay that way: They can’t afford real food, and even if they run into money, their tastebuds have already learned that quasifood is exclusively what you stick in your piehole. “Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel.”
In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey declares that we should avoid being mean to people about their weight. I agree. Generally, I am all for being nice. I like it when people are nice to me, though I notice that in a world of 7 billion people, privatized, concentrated means of production and consequent rampant over-competition within the labor market, and very little equality and repair, this doesn’t happen as frequently as obesity advocates assume is normative. The reliable exception to this niceness rule is in paid, underpaid, or free, professional academic and political argumentation. So without further ado, let me tell you why fatness and obesity are themselves social and health problems determined by systemic social problems.

The increase in rates of obesity in the soaring-inequality Anglosphere is alarming. In the past 10 years, the incidence of obesity has risen 50% in the UK. The British National Health Service (NHS) observes that childhood obesity is increasing most drastically. Since 1980, the incidence of obesity (as based on BMI) has increased from 25% of the American population to over 1/3. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, along with the British Department of Health, have classified American and British societies as “obesogenic,” meaning these societies promote increased food intake, nonhealthful foods, and physical inactivity. Although more conservative public health experts avoid specifying the well-demonstrated social epidemiological relationship between growing inequality and declining non-elite health, an obesogenic environment is nonetheless seen as the root cause of the increase in fatness and obesity in a population.

“The problems we are now seeing are to do with changes in society – the levels of car ownership, availability of convenience food,” Dr. Tim Crayford of the Association of Public Directors of Health advises. “We need to make it easier for people to make healthier choices, for example, that means having better cycling and walking networks.”

“Dr Susan Jebb of the Medical Research Council said that in this (obesogenic British) environment, it was surprising that anyone was able to remain thin, and so the notion of obesity simply being a product of personal over-indulgence had to be abandoned for good,” reported the BBC following a 2007 UK study of the impacts of obesity, conducted by 250 clinicians and backed by the British government.

Fatness-associated risk for the chronic diseases listed below can be (and has been) measured in health care costs associated with fatness. Depending on the methodology, 1998 US costs associated with fatness totaled between $51 billion – $79 billion, for example. In 2002, those who were overweight or obese cost the UK nearly £7bn in treatment, state benefits and indirect costs such as loss of earnings and reduced productivity. These costs spur both capitalist and government interest in decreasing fatness and obesity in some societies. As well, these costs to societies are private profits for many businesses, which produce and support pro-obesity commodities and infrastructure, including pro-obesity hegemonic work.

Fatness is a Risk Factor for Chronic Diseases

Some of the medical and health research establishment classifies obesity as a “metabolic disorder.” That classification facilitates lucrative medical interventions into the symptoms of the public health problem. There have also been successful efforts to designate obesity as a disease, in order to promote drug treatment. That is obviously profit-scrounging behavior, especially as it ignores and distracts from the roots of rising obesity in the population. You are on firmer ground regarding obesity as a “known risk factor for chronic diseases.”

UK studies have shown that 9,000 premature deaths/year in the UK are directly attributable to obesity. Obesity decreases a person’s lifespan on average by 9 years. Severe obesity reduces the lifespan by 13 years.

Fatness significantly increases the risk of the following ten (broad)
diseases (the evidence for the association is rated “convincing” by
the CDC):

Coronary heart disease
Type 2 diabetes
Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon)
Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of
triglycerides)
Stroke
Liver and Gallbladder disease
Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone
within a joint)
Gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility)

Fatness Taxes the Heart

According to the American Heart Association, fatness is associated
with a number of comorbidities, including several forms of heart
disease. Comorbidity means that no direct physical relationship has
been established between the main “disease,” (here considered fatness)
and the diseases it tends to occur with. So technically, many of the
diseases associated with fatness are not as far as we know caused directly by
the “disease” of fatness.

However, some heart diseases are caused by fatness, including
hypertrophy of the left heart ventricle. Weight is directly positively
related to blood pressure. Fatness tends to cause systemic
hypertension. People with severe obesity are likely to die suddenly of
dilated cardiomyopathies, featuring concomitant cardiac arrhythmias.

When the left ventricle hypertrophies, this causes the right ventricle
to also hypertrophy. This causes obstructive sleep apnea and the
obesity hypoventilation syndrome, which produce pulmonary
hypertension, dilatation, progressive dysfunction, and finally
failure.

The most valid way to diagnose obesity is via hip-waist ratio. Because
insurance companies (eg. Met Life) have traditionally used BMI to
successfully predict risk of disease, we know that BMI is a valid
predictor of heart disease for people who are not of the following
ethnic backgrounds: Pima Indians, Hispanics, and African-American
women.

Fatness Causes Diabetes Type II

Obesity causes impaired glucose tolerance or non–insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, which leads to insulin resistance and accompanying hyperinsulinemia.

With insulin resistance, muscles no longer respond well to insulin, and do not pull sugar (or, more technically, glucose) out of the bloodstream efficiently. Both insulin resistance and fat-marbled muscles (storing extra fat within and between muscle cells) are metabolically unhealthy conditions that can be precursors of diabetes.

The BBC regularly reports on government-sponsored studies of the obesity epidemic in the UK. See:

BBC. 2007. “Obesity not individuals’ fault.” October 17.

Triggle, Nick. 2007. “Why the NHS struggles with obesity.” BBC, September 11.
Also fun: The CDC’s Global Cancer Atlas Online and the US cancer map site. The CDC’s site has mapped data on obesity as it relates to cancer.

Social-constructionist feminists are not the only accomplices in the reactionary coalition to block needed social infrastructure reform in sclerotic, anti-egalitarian, stress-fueling, health-depleting, crisis-plagued late-capitalist societies. Accepting the data on obesity’s relationship to disease, one rising Canadian star of neoclassical freakonomics has used her mathematical skills to argue that obesity is caused by cigarette taxation–which encourages individuals to give up smoking. Her view is that individuals smoke instead of eating; and so in order to stay thin, people must smoke.

So if you’re of the Panglossian pro-inequality persuasion, and yet somehow you don’t subscribe to the solipsi-feminists’ anti-empiricist flat denial of obesity and disease research findings, you have the option of embracing the conservative economists’ contention that there is a second E-Z policy approach (Besides sassily labeling obese people “Real Women” and scolding thin people and family practitioners.) to obesity: discourage taxation and encourage smoking!
Yes, this neoliberal junk social science is what painstakingly-educated people get paid and/or lauded to come up with and flog. They’re just like everyone else when it comes to scratching for their meat. It’s a wicked life, but what the hell. Everybody’s got to eat.

*To be perfectly accurate, they are radical social constructionists, and not critical realists. So they don’t recognize differences among epistemologies’ relationships to ontology. This is what allows them to join with conservatives to deny scientific consensus on changing conditions.

Infrastructural Contributors to Obesity

I) Pollutants Contribute to Obesity and Diabetes:


II) Social Inequality Contributes to Obesity via Stress


III) Capitalism Contributes to Obesity via Class Inequality in Consumption: The Consumption and Lifestyle Decision Paths of Workers and Consumers with Little Effective Demand Are Unhealthily Constrained

On materialism and feminism

Engels’ definition of materialism:

“According to the materialist conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of immediate life. This, again, is of a twofold character: on the one side, the production of the means of existence, of food, clothing and shelter and the tools necessary for that production; on the other side,the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species.”

On oppression:

French feminists, particularly Christine Delphy, argued that materialism (i.e., part of the Marxist historical-materialist approach) “is the only theory of history that views oppression as the most fundamental reality; this is why women and all oppressed groups need it to examine their situation: ‘to start from oppression defines a materialist approach… oppression is a materialist concept.'”

Quoted in Martha Gimenez’s essay on feminist academic tribes, especially Materialist Feminism.

Gimenez’s contribution was to caution against conceiving of patriarchy ahistorically. In her view, patriarchy should be analyzed in its historical relationship with the conditions of production and reproduction.

Gimenez advocates “a return to Marx whose method and analysis of capitalism, despite its ambiguities, omissions, complexities and 19th century limitations, has far more to offer feminists and all oppressed people than contemporary theories which, having severed the internal relationship between existence and consciousness or, between discourse and its material conditions of possibility, postulate the materiality of the discursive and whatever there might be ‘outside’ discourse (Nature? the Body?) while rejecting as ‘economism’ the materiality — i.e., the reality, independent of people’s consciousness, and causal efficacy — of labor and of the mode of production. As Ebert unerringly points out, Marx’s critique of ‘Feuerbachian materialism’ aptly describes today’s MatFem materialism: ‘As far as Feuerbach is a materialist he does not deal with history, and as far as he considers history he is not a materialist.'”