Monday, March 31, 2008

is Pro-Choice!

 Not sure if this is an actual net-meme already or just an interesting coincidence — but I noticed a couple of my friends changing their Facebook status this morning to “is pro-choice!” (with or without the punctuation).

So, I’m encouraging everyone to update their status that way this week. This can be done on all sorts of internet sites and services — not just on Facebook: Twitter, instant messaging, whatever.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Rereading Valerie Solanas: Destroy the male gender?

Valerie SolanasThe S.C.U.M. Manifesto has, for me, long been a favourite work of extreme writing that holds some good analysis on community and education, among other things. The Manifesto is probably best known for advocating the extreme position of destroying the male sex.

A week or two ago, I was talking with a friend about Solanas’ writing when it occurred to me that a rereading of the text could be done where we substitute “gender” for “sex”. With the notable exception of the advocacy for genetic engineering, this one — admittedly substantive — change brings an even stronger relevance to my own thinking on feminism and patriarchy.

Now, I should make clear that I’m not calling for rewriting or casting aside Solanas’ work as it stands. It is really important to approach (and exceed) the extremes of ideas and positions advocated in society. By presenting what was previously seen as a inconceivably extreme call for the eradication of men, Solanas “moved the centre” of what had been open to general dialogue in feminist and mainstream analysis.

These are some initial thoughts I have on a gender-focused reading of the Manifesto. I intend to reread Solanas’ book in detail to explore these ideas in depth, and reserve the right to come to completely different conclusions from what I’ve written below.

Abolishing Gender

In taking a gender rather than sex focused reading of the Manifesto, I see a reinforcement of a position I have held for some time now: the abolishment of gender (which is an entirely social construct).

Most, if not all, of the ills Solanas’ attributes to the male sex are, in my view, actually attributable to the application of gender roles — especially as a construct of patriarchy. Rather than a biological consequence of the Y-chromosome, it has been the holders of socially constructed male(gender)-power who have created and imposed the harms Solanas’ describes — harms that have been reinforced by those who have been socialized into female(gender)-roles in patriarchy.

Sex, Gender

The distinction between sex and gender is really critical here. The traditional reading of the Manifesto can be seen to point to, or at least hint at, this in identifying women(sex) who have not escaped their patriarchy-defined roles as distinct from women(sex) who have formed a complete female(sex) identity independent of patriarchal constraints. Where Solanas’ seems to put the focus on biological femaleness, I see the distinction as being between gendered and non-gendered identities.

Gender is used to arbitrarily divide people — just as with other social constructs including (but not limited to) race, class, nationality, age-groupings (“child”, “senior”, “too young”, “old enough”, “too old”), etc. It can be made clear that the roles defined for the different genders are social constructs and not biological imperatives when we identify the variances in gender roles across communities and cultures (especially across generations) as well as identifying cases where individuals successfully adopt or are put into a gender role that does not match their biological sex (e.g., Margaret Thatcher).

Imperatives

Given that separating people into gender roles is not a biological imperative, we might ask the question of whether it is a social imperative — whether it is possible to have a human society that can function and survive without arbitrary social divisions. However, I would like to turn that around and suggest that we cannot function and survive in the long-term with the arbitrary social divisions that have been constructed under patriarchy (and probably not with any arbitrary social divisions).

The social divisions in our societies are what has created the ability of our species to wage wars, to tolerate poverty, to commit untold atrocities, and to risk annihilating life on this planet (and thereby ourselves).

So, yes, I am seeking to destroy the male gender — and all other ways our species has come up with to divide each other.

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