White Academics, Maori and sex: a Reply to Jim Craven

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Thu Jul 24 16:42:48 MDT 2003

Hi Jim, you wrote:

I once heard a Maori Elder and well-known activist claim that extreme
homophobia is an integral part of Maori culture. I do not know if that claim
is true, but I do know that in Indian Country, homophobia is a real and ugly


This is partly correct, there is a strand of homophobia in Maori culture,
and indeed pointing one's bare arse to somebody (as Maori activists did in
front of British royals) is a traditional Maori sign of contempt
(Whakapohane). But, in reality, the real sexual habits of Maori aren't so
different from anybody else, and in some ways better, insofar as they
emphasize sharing, love (aroha) and gift-giving (koha). The movie Once Were
Warriors, shown internationally, highlighted Maori sexual abuse, but there
is no real substantive evidence that I know of, that would prove that the
incidence of sexual abuse of young children is higher among Maori than among
pakeha (although, possibly, Maori youths would engage in sexual activity a
little earlier, on average, than pakeha children, but these days I would not
be certain of that).

By the way, my own concept of "heterodox socialism" should not be taken to
imply homophobia on my part; indeed, I have personally taken the opportunity
of exploring and experimenting with a variety of sexual permutations,
empirically, in my life, allowing me to talk more objectively about it,
insofar as one can do that. But I am not interested in flaunting that.

It is true, I am essentially heterosexually oriented these days, but the
whole Dutch sexual and emotional world is mostly alien to me anyhow, for
quality experience, I think I would have to go somewhere else. Dutch sexual
culture, in my experience, is liberal and tolerant enough, but nevertheless
centres essentially on competition, power, domination, status, material
considerations and exploitation, and apart from that, it's often boring,
cynical, harsh and cold. There is an awful lot of talk about sex here,
people take a prurient interest in other's doings, judge it in an instant,
but there is much less quality eroticism or sexual love; and sexual teasing,
jibing, prejudice and harassment in public life and among youth is rife - it
is often a rather puberal, patronising, patriarchal and opportunist culture,
all considered. Being blasted with sexual stimuli has the effect that people
search for new ways to shut it out of their lives, they often experience it
as oppressive.

These days, sexual culture in capitalist society generally is, in my
opinion, largely based on fake models of how sex "ought to be", young people
often feel under pressure to engage in, or refrain from, acts to meet a
certain standard or criterion, and biological racism is fierce in the sense
of a priori sexual "ratings" and prejudices against others. Realistic
portrayal of sexual relations by the bourgeois media is rare, and rarely
based on serious, carefully gathered empirical evidence, rather it is based
more often on more or less subtle moralisms and vicarious, voyeuristic
snooping on other people's sex lives, as if that would provide any objective
judgement, rather than the annihilation of intimacy. The very ability to
negotiate sex has become for many an integral aspect of upward mobility, job
promotion, business opportunities and class status ("emotional
intelligence"). Thus, dialectically considered, greater sexual freedoms also
often means greater sexual exploitation and oppression, more pressure on the
human psyche, it is yet another aspect of human life that apparently needs
to be "managed" and "controlled". Inability to perform sexually in an
"appropriate" manner, or "poor sexual development", thus affects
"life-chances" and opportunities in bourgeois society - life itself being
treated as if it was a durable consumer good. Marxists used to comment that,
"the more food there is, the more people go hungry." Nowadays one might well
conclude, "the more sexual abundance there is, the more sexual alienation
there is."

The important role of a more permissive sexuality in the new regime of capit
alist accumulation established since the 1980s, and as a new source of
enslavement, is underestimated by Marxists, I think, whereas e.g. the
worldwide increase in the incidence of prostitution and de facto enslavement
ought to be seen as an integral aspect of neo-liberal "free market"
policies, where sexual weakness is a source of exploitation. More market =
more whoring = more enslavement = more social inequality, simple as that.
Likewise, a good part of postmodernist culture is explicable simply as a
product of the fact, that the average number of sexual contacts per head of
population increases, giving rise to the concept of many different "worlds",
increased subjectivism, obsession with personality, and moral relativism.

Sexual emancipation is an integral aspect of workingclass struggles and the
fight for a socialist civilisation, in my opinion, but sexual emancipation
obviously does not necessarily consist in having more sex. When Marx wrote
wrily in Cap. Vol. 1  that "the propagation of the species may be safely
left to the working classes themselves", he really missed the mark. The
elites have always sought to intervene in the moral life of the proletariat,
and therefore the freedom to discover and assert a satisfactory mode of
personal sexual expression has always been, in varying degrees, a political
issue. But Marx was certainly correct in thinking that sex will happen
anyway, regardless of any formal prohibitions and attempts to regulate it.
Love will find a way, despite all attempts to negate it, therein resides its
ultimately revolutionary content.



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