Can we please put to rest the phrase “identity politics”? What is at issue and has been at issue in regard to gender, race, and sexuality is the perception of identity by those who control the cultural conversation. We who are female, of color, and who express liquid sexualities during our lifetimes have created consciousness about social inequality and abuse based on our perceived identities. We who challenge the essential nature of everything are describing the trauma of being othered by the normative majority. The reality of identity is up for grabs. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a man, a women, a gay person, or a straight person. People have different skin colors, but race as a biological category does not exist. What we need to study is not identity, which is in flux all the time, but phobias against perceived identities. We need phobia studies, since sexism, racism, and homophobia are certainly real and alive. Sexism–and the same old dirty form of sexism that has existed for centuries–drives the recent use of the phrase “identity politics” by dems and male “leftists” to trivialize and fracture the global shift in consciousness these reform movements have accomplished. Yeah, racism and homophobia, too. But man do these asshats hate female humans.
Today is the 201st birthday of brilliant original Charlotte Bronte. In 1847, as her first novel was bounced back yet again to Haworth parsonage, her sisters Emily and Anne made a deal with a London publisher to bring out their novels, “Wuthering Heights” and “Agnes Grey.” Charlotte read her sisters’ books and took what she needed. Enough with restraint and the unspoken. She would give readers what they want — what she wanted: sex, ambition and Gothic shenanigans. The heroines of her sisters’ books were beautiful, and Charlotte bristled. They said they did not think the public would embrace a plain woman. In the spirit of a dare, Charlotte wrote “Jane Eyre,” in which a plain, orphaned governess wins the heart of a rogue addicted to beautiful women.
When “Jane Eyre” was published later in 1847, it was an immediate rage. The intimate voice of the storyteller made people feel she was speaking to them. Charlotte, not Dickens, invented the child narrator who acutely registers pain. Before publication, Charlotte’s editors urged her to tone down the harshness of the opening chapters set at Lowood School and the agonizing death of Helen Burns (based on Charlotte’s older sister Elizabeth), but she refused.
In 1837, she had sought encouragement from Poet Laureate Robert Southey, who told her women should not write. After the publication of “Jane Eyre,” she mentioned to her father that she had written a novel, that it had earned praising reviews, and that she was making money. Wearily, he said he might consider reading it.
After her marriage to a minister at 38, Charlotte did not write much and died nine months later from a complicated pregnancy, but until that time and except for harrowing periods working as a teacher or a governness, she lived at home with her siblings, and they wrote all the time. No boyfriends, no husbands, no children. Their escape from traditional roles is at the core of their radicalism. It made them scary and thrilling in their time and continues to in ours.
A few thoughts about unloved and unloveable white supremacist males. The movements that were once derisively called “identity politics”—the civil rights movement extended to include female humans and queer humans—have changed the global conversation about social justice, economic equality, and inclusion in civil rights. The French Revolution produced a global paradigm shift with regard to the middle class. The civil rights movement produced a paradigm shift with regard to people of color. This shift is still contested. The women’s movement and the gay rights movement produced a paradigm shift in rethinking what a human being is. This shift is so far-reaching in its implications about social justice and self-governance, it destabilizes all economic, social, religious, and cultural systems that are now termed “patriarchal,” “sexist,” “homophobic,” and “misogynist.” The majority of Americans voted for a black male president and for a white female candidate for president. They were voting for the paradigm shift. The majority of Americans are being held hostage in an illegal election. No matter how violently white, male, self-defined heterosexual humans fight back to regain supremacy in the cultural and moral conversation, they will fail to change minds. We believe in these values in our bodies and through our experience, and this knowledge can’t be bombed out of us. We can be frightened, jailed, and killed, but none of this will alter the paradigm shift. Female humans are not more peace-loving kinds of humans, but all our lives we have felt and studied how unfair power works. One thing feminists added to the cultural conversation is thinking about the psychodynamics of global politics: that there are unconscious drives as well as economic strategies in policy decisions. The push back of white supremacy and masculinist (militarist) values underlies everything that is happening on the cultural landscape now. The supremacy of capitalism as well, of course, but I think the venom and crazy we are witnessing, the frenzied enjoyment of 45 and his policy makers, the pure enraged tantrum of it all to destroy regulatory programs and abortion rights, attack the arts, education, and everything we think makes life worth living, is driven by a poisonous rage that whiteness and maleness are not safe, not ordained by nature and god, not respected, and not loved.
Why isn’t Celeste’s erotic response to her husband’s rapes and beatings investigated in “Big Little Lies”? The show is exploring the husband’s tyranny and insecurity. It is showing the multiple times violence moves them to sex, and we see Celeste (Nicole Kidman) seemingly into the sex. We are meant to believe she gets off on it even though she hates what fuels it. She laughs in one scene and gets on top of him. We are not meant to think she is faking it to get it over with. I think her terror and sense of blank bewilderment about the shape of her life is also stunningly written on her face at other times. The shrink (Robin Weigert) boldly advises Celeste to leave her husband and prepare for a new life, but she does not question her patient about the sex itself. The complexity of eros amid violence for females as well as males often remains in the shadows and is shaved or muted in profiling abuse and victimization. It is not wrong to be aroused by any sort of sex. The nature of sex is arousal. There is the category of abuse and coercive control. (bad things.) There is the category of arousal. (not a bad thing.) And there is the category of arousal within abuse. (pleasure mixed in with an otherwise wretched circumstance). It’s a real category and probably a powerful one that needs exploring free of shock, shaming, and veiling.
I posted the above on Facebook, and one person questioned accepting various forms of arousal. I wrote in response: Arousal is internal and involuntary. We don’t decide to be aroused. We either are or are not aroused in the same way we laugh or sneeze or come. These are eruptive and unmediated responses. Deciding to perform a sexual act or deciding not to perform a sexual act is a different matter. The pathology model of healthy and unhealthy erotic response is another form of the morality model of bad and good sexual feelings and practices. We know these models shift all the time depending on the culture and social mores of a period and place. Most interventions in controlling sexual response devolve to: What turns me on is the good kind of sex and what turns you on is the kind you will burn in hell for.