Crossing Masculinities 3

EuroPROFEM - The European Men Profeminist Network 


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Crossing Masculinities 3


Regarding the problems of antisexist practice by men, particularly men’s groups, here’s what I have to say:

Regarding point # 1,

the fundamental problem of legitimacy of men’s groups: I think antisexist politics by men is no less legitimate than “white” antiracism and I am frequently annoyed by the double standard that is often employed here. What’s more, I believe that a politics that tries to get its motivation exclusively, or even mainly, from a sense of being the victim of or directly affected by something or other, is bound to fail. Such a politics has to disavow the complex situatedness of people in different networks of power and the non-unitary composition of subjectivity (which develops over time and may change depending on the situation) and is bound to hallucinate ostensibly uniform, unambiguous, morally good subjects. Now this is not at all to say you can’t determine who is the perpetrator and who is the victim of a specific act or who is privileged and who is underprivileged in terms of a specific type of exploitation. On the contrary, you can and I think it’s ultra-important you do. My point is, though, that, firstly, no subject is exhaustively determined by being victim or being perpetrator, being a man or being black (for example); no person is permeated in every fiber of her or his being by such determinations of identity. And secondly, the relations between what you could call “objective social situatedness” on the one hand and political motivation on the other are sometimes highly mediated, complex and opaque. I’m not trying to completely deny the link between “material conditions” and political consciousness (as some post-marxist intellectuals do[9]). What I am saying though, is that it’s necessary and legitimate for privileged people to politically address precisely those structures of domination that privilege them:

“Emancipation is not only the liberation from external, but also from internal constraints. It’s not just about changing structures between people but also inside people (and distinguishing structures inside and outside individuals doesn’t make sense anyway most of the time: it’s a bourgeois illusion). Emancipation is also about liberating oneself from wishes that are part of the system (to put it bluntly: addictions) and unfolding wishes that exceed the limits of the system. That’s the context for our assertion that what actually characterises left radicalism is acting against one’s own interests – as men, as whites – while striving to fulfil our desire for autonomy and collectivity. We think it’s important that men begin to see their masculinity, whites their whiteness, as a political problem; that, generally speaking, privileged people take issue politically with their, ostensibly normal and universal, unmarked difference.”[10]

Regarding the issue of “usurpation” of feminist positions by antisexist men: I think this suspicion that that is what men’s antisexism is actually about can never be entirely gotten rid of; for men with antisexist ideas there is no alternative to continually and critically questioning their motivations[11], preferably without completely losing the ability to act. In this context I’ll return to the comparison of antiracism and antisexism: Racist as well as sexist attitudes are fundamentally ambivalent. Desire and disgust are as mutually conditional as slum and palace. “The Others” are just as much targets of projection of white desires as of white fears. It is not as easy to distinguish exoticism or racist romantisation/xenophilia from “truly” antiracist attitudes as one would like. What’s true for the antiracism of whites holds just as well for the antisexism of men: The close connection between hatred and contempt for women on the one hand and (masculine hetero-)sexual desire and romantic idealization on the other is well known. And some forms of heterosexual male profeminism do, under closer scrutiny, turn out to be highly suspect variants of romantic idealization. To simply trust male protestations of profeminist solidarity would be naïve, to treat them, without further differentiation, as subtle sexism and purely tactical does not do justice to the complex realities. Real trust between privileged and less privileged people must remain a rare occurrence anyway, in a society structured by domination and exploitation, and can only exist between people who know each other a little better, I think.

Regarding point # 2 and 3, identity politics in general:

“It’s necessary to develop a strategic identity politics that constructs unities across differences, without disavowing differences and without positing unities as natural; that remains conscious of the dangers of essentialising, naturalizing and homogenizing. This entails a pragmatic and flexible approach to identity-defined groups, a ceaseless problematization of homogenization inside and boundaries to the outside.”


“Identity politics of priviledged groups raises completely different issues from that of underpriviledged/oppressed groups. Identity politics of priviledged people can be a progressive practice only as self-abolitionist[12] or negative identity politics. This means that the goal of abolishing one’s identity should not only be present – as in any non-reactionary identity politics – but should be clearly in the foreground, in uncompromising antagonism to the propagandists of masculinity, home, the nation and the like.”[13]

Regarding point # 3, identity politics and “postmodern thought”:

“Radical left thought means, quite crucially, I believe, to try and reflect the social conditions under which one’s own theoretical tools come into being. For me, radical left thought today means questioning classical left theories, using poststructuralist ideas and by way of postmodern critiques, discarding what is historically outmoded (and what was always false), whilst, at the same time and as part of the same process, attempting to grasp – our – “postmodern thinking” as an aspect of the ideology of the latest stage of development of global patriarchal class society, and trying to adopt a critical distance towards it.”[14]

I find sweeping and unequivocal assessments of poststructuralist approaches as being theoretical and political advances over “classical” left/feminist approaches problematic[15]; equally sweeping condemnations of “postmodern thought” as an expression of deradicalization and the decline of critical thinking strike me as absurd.

As always, it’s important to look closely at which critiques are being employed when by whom and to what ends.

Anti-essentialist critiques of identity politics, for example, were used in debates within the German “autonomous left”[16] during the nineties to slander (pro)feminist politics as such. The new bogey(wo)man was the “identity feminist” and “identity politics” was recognized as the root of all political evil[17]. Generally, crypto-antifeminist discourses within the “radical left” have, in the last few years, shown a tendency to disfigure the concept of sexism in “pseudo-deconstructivist” fashion, ignoring the relations of domination of men over women, separating the violence of gender stereotyping from these relations of domination and making gender stereotyping out to be that which mainly and exclusively needs to be scandalized about the system of patriachal gender relations[18].

Now this is not at all to say that poststructuralist critiques of identity in and of themselves somehow further antifeminist tendencies. Certainly deconstructive feminism - a self-criticism of the feminist movement, undertaken with emancipatory goals - offers key words and figures of thought to people who were never in solidarity with feminism. But that’s the disadvantage of self-criticism and unavoidable.

[8] Even the left German weekly “Jungle World”, which until now had not exactly made its mark as a champion of radical, feminist critiques, has recently produced a “queer-debate”…

[9] See Laclau & Mouffe: “Hegemony and Socialist Strategy”, 1985, for example

[10] >From the manifesto for a – now deceased – coalition of men’s groups in Berlin.

[11] By this critical questioning I don’t mean a purely intellectual, cognitive kind of introspection, but a practice of honesty towards oneself, for which, I believe, a certain kind of sensitivity for one’s own emotional and somatic impulses is of the essence.(This is something you can learn). Neither do I want “critical” to be understood as referring to some kind of self-tormenting practice of confession. The radical self-criticism that all radical people need to undertake can best succeed on the basis of a benevolent relation to oneself. It’s essential to strengthen or develop such a relation to oneself, instead of superimposing political beliefs onto one’s self-hatred. I’m not suggesting that the necessary personal changes can happen without pain or insult to one’s ego. Nor do I want to promote some kind of “new male pride”. The self-esteem I’m talking about is not based on an identification with masculinity. Also see the notes on “abolition of one’s own identity” in the next footnote.

[12] “’Abolition of one’s own identity’ in a ‘negative politics of identity’ is not about taking the construction in question, masculinity for example, as a whole, as it is, and demonizing it. Instead, the idea is to “unpack” a complex of symbols and properties in a way that would allow a recombination of the elements, in which the elements themselves would change their “hue”. This one could maybe call “deconstruction” and on an individual level it suggests a kind of personal change beyond moralism and self-hatred, that is simultaneously dissolution and creation.”From: “Was heisst Linksradikal?” in Maennerrundbrief Nr 15, 2000

[13] >From “Identity politics and political organizing”, web journal of the antiracist noborder camp 2000

[14] From: “Was heisst linksradikal”, Maennerrundbrief Nr 15, 2000

[15] I do find a lot of the very critical things T. Eagleton has to say in “The Illusions of Postmodernism” (1996) quite convincing, for example.

[16] A subspecies of the German “radical left” whose name, and some elements of the very divers set of theoretical elements circulating within it, originally derive from the Italian Autonomia Operaia of the seventies.

[17] See “Die Geschichte von Paul und Paula” by “Die Ungluecklichen”, in the “autonomous left” fanzine “interim” nr. 436, 6.11.1997.

[18] One good example for this is a text by two elder stateswomen of the “autonomous left” regarding conflicts around sexism at the antiracist noborder camp 1999, also published in “interim” nr. ??, which, in its last passages, frankly admits to finding organizing in identity-groups, such as women/lesbian groups, to actually be a mistake.


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