Marxist feminism or petty moralism?

hfspc002 at hfspc002 at
Sun Nov 6 02:12:26 MST 1994

On Sun, 6 Nov 1994, John Hollister wrote:
> If you define these isms so broadly, they become useless for politics
> or for anything other than competitive displays of self-righteousness.
> As a gay man, I find it useful to recognize a difference between
> straights who flaunt or go along with their het privilege - getting
> married, raising families, embracing in public without fear of violence
> etc., and those who actually threaten me with violence.

Well, I agree with everything you say after this point, but I reallky
don't see that I've conflated the differences you rightly point out.
Obviously it is useful to distinguish between a fag-basher and a clueless
straight man who wishes you no harm.  The point I was making is that even
in wishing you no harm, the clueless straight may still harm you, and in a
sense does by taking advantage of the privileges of heterosexism.
> By conflating routine heterosexual arrogance (which I can match by being OUT),
> and anti-gay violence and the systematic treatment of gays as lesser
> human beings (which I count on the solidarity of the gay and lesbian
> movement, and the conscientiousness of some straights to protect me
> from), the movement against the latter is trivialized.

Again, you misunderstand my point.  I don't say that we shouldn't
distinguish among these problems; only that these problems are
intextricably intertwined.  Of course I think that it is important to
distinguish heterosexual arrogance from outright violence, but it is also
important, in my perception, to recognize both as part of a systemic
problem that, in the end, requires a systemic solution.  So if you don't
like calling that system "heterosexist" then feel free to choose another
term, but I think it is a little short-sighted, to say the least, to
pretend that the fag-basher and the heterosexual who just "ended up" with
that sexual preference because s/he never gave it a second thought are not
produced in the same society, the same culture, and through the same
systems of oppression and exploitation.  As is the outest of out gay men
and lesbians.  My point is simply that none of us speaks from a "moral
high ground" here.  In fact, quite the opposite of what you have me
saying.  My goal is not to proclaim my righteousness but to argue that we
need to get beyond the language of individual righteousness and blame, and
move towards a language of collective responsibility.  We are all part of
a general cultural system and have been born into certain ideologies that
precede us.  Again, to paraphrase Marx, we can make history, but not
through conditions of our own making.
> And this whole move to define the isms so loosely simply endangers the
> credibility of movements for social change, and provokes the anti-PC
> backlash that may endanger the more vulnerable sections of the population.
I think my definition is more precise, not looser.  To me the problem with
the "PC" backlash has nothing to do with what leftists have done and has
everything to do with what the right has done to exploit otherwise healthy
intellectual conflict among the left.  In any case I refuse to give in to
what the right wing wants, which is that we on the left avoid confronting
the real problems that face us.  That we avoid calling a racist power
structure a racist power structure; that we avoid calling sexist ideology
sexist ideology; that we continue to pretend to believe, as Marcuse put
it, "that which is, is not."

If we become more docile and less vehement in our opposition to oppression
that may get us more publications and better jobs, and it may make us
better friends with those in power, but it does nothing to add to a useful
critique of an oppressive society.  I don't take this position because it
is "PC"; I take it because I feel a social responsibility to call 'em like
I see 'em.




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