Crossing Masculinities 4 
antisexist politics by men

EuroPROFEM - The European Men Profeminist Network http://www.europrofem.org 

 

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Crossing Masculinities 4 
Towards a critical renewal of antisexist politics by men

 

Part 2: Towards a critical renewal of antisexist politics by men

If antisexist politics by men is to have a future worth talking about it must, in my opinion, become part of a kind of organising that, on the one hand, takes constructions of identity seriously in their social reality and efficacy, and on the other, and equally, attempts to resist the excluding and homogenizing violence of identities. I refuse the dichotomous choice between “identity politics” and “critique of identity”. In practice, this could mean the simultaneity and overlapping of mixed and separate forms of organizing within an alliance network.

 

Critiquing the homogenizing and excluding effects of gender categories should become part of the “program” of men’s groups much more than it has ever, to my knowledge, been in the FRG. In my eyes, this means first and foremost, dealing with the differences between men. When speaking of “men’s groups, men’s ‘movement’”, the term “man” calls up the association “white heterosexual man from the new middle classes” - this needs to be addressed as a problem and taken more seriously than it has been up to now. White bourgeois groups of heterosexuals should call themselves just that – or something else, but not simply “men’s groups”. The issue of class differences and the debate about different types of masculinity (subaltern, complicit, hegemonic…) needs to get more attention than it has. It’s necessary to try and (re)start dialogues between straight, bisexual and gay left, antisexist men. And of course I think a debate on the political status of masculinity among women/lesbians, intersexual, transsexual and transgendered people would be very valuable. But before anything of the kind could work out, many left men with antisexist ideas have some serious homework to do. To put it mildly.

Another huge issue, of course, is the narrowness of the “ethnic spectrum” of “traditional” men’s groups and the sidelining of ethnicity as an issue in their practice. Masculinity is a resource that gets used, along with ethnicity, class etc., to gain status; different racialized/ethnicized identities include different kinds of masculinity. Differences among men of different ethnic backgrounds and the potential for emotional injury when communicating across such divides should be taken into account much more than they have ever been in my experience (or my own past practice, for that matter). One precondition for better communication between between white men of the majority population and men from a migrant background would be for the former to take a hard look at and and really deal with internalized racist and antisemitic stereotypes, images of “other men” and the tendency to project “bad”, disavowed and split off aspects of oneself onto “other men”.

The analysis of German antisemitism, be it in the mainstream of society or within the Left, has, up till now, largely remained the project of usually gender-blind male theoreticians. It is high time the connections between sexism and antisemitism, Germanness and masculinity were explored, by means of consciousness-raising as well as theoretically, and political practice was informed with this knowledge.

Regarding sexuality, too (a “classical” topic of men’s groups), I would like to see some new approaches: In view of the antifeminist offensive in the current debate over rape within the German “radical left”, I consider a debate on sexuality, reaching as many people as possible, more urgent today than ever. I find many people on the left pretty disoriented regarding this field in terms of theory; and, as far as I know, in terms of communicating about sexuality outside the classical private sphere, it’s not looking any better: I haven’t seen any kind of verbal and somatic communication about erotic wishes and boundaries - that’s really different, in a positive way, from what’s going on in the mainstream of society - establishing itself in any of the left subcultures I am familiar with.

I do believe men’s groups can be one suitable place to talk about sexuality. But I absolutely do not think men should speak about sexuality only or mainly in men’s groups. The argument that some proponents of men’s groups have often used, that it is easier for men to talk about sexuality in such groups has always put me extremely ill at ease. For one, this implicitly defines a men’s group as a desexualized and thus pacified space, because, it seems, it’s supposed that all men involved are super-straight and totally not interested in each other anyhow, so that we can all finally have a good talk now, in peace and quiet, about our problems with women. I find this unspoken supposition annoying, and I’d consider a group that really did work like this quite a conservative institution in fact, and extremely boring, too. What’s more, I find heterosexual men telling other men things about their sexuality that they’re not telling the women they’re involved with, for fear of conflict or shame or whatever, quite problematic. That may be acceptable, in particular circumstances, as an interim solution, but as a permanent practice what is this but masculine “solidarity” of the worst sort?

Another problem I see in men’s groups’ dealing with sexuality is the common tendency – shared by most discourses on sexuality – to narrow down the field of the erotic to gender. Whereas in fact, all kinds of difference, cultural, ethnic, what have you, are eroticized; sexuality is never just about gender but always about race, class, ethnicity etc., as well[19]. If sexual politics is not to remain a field dominated by white middle class perspectives, it is, in my opinion, very important to work out the racist dimensions of sexuality, among others, and foreground them politically[20].

If I’ve created the impression now that I see sexuality mainly as an assemblage of relations of domination – this is not the case. It’s true I don’t think much of schematically separating out good sexuality from bad violence[21]: domination is not external to sexuality. Domination works within and through sexuality and helps constitute it. Yet I believe it’s completely wrong to reduce sexuality to domination.

Certainly, as I see it, sexuality emerges when, in the socialization process, desires are forced under the primacy of genitality and heterosexualized. (A liberation from this sexualization would be a liberation towards other sexualities, or post-sexual practices - or whatever this might be called in the future – that would no longer have to bear the “burden” of being this secular religion that modern sexuality is, this only form of ecstatic satisfaction and energetic exchange[22] available to humans).

Yet the diversity of desires persists within the sexual, the conformist formation of sexuality fails just as necessarily as the construction of unambiguous gender identities must fail in the end. And this is why sexuality has its own “logic”, that cannot be reduced to politics and discourse.

 

[19] See “Desire and Difference” by Jonathan Dollimore, in: Stecopoulos/Uebel: Race and the Subject of Masculinities, 1997.[20] See Kobena Mercer and Isaac Julien, “Black Masculinity and the Sexual Politics of Race” in K. Mercer: Welcome to the Jungle, 1994.

[21] That’s why I continue to speak of sexual violence rather than using the term “sexualized violence”.

[22] I believe that conceptions of vital energy, as they have been developed in various non-western traditions (chi in chinese medicine, prana in the yogic/ayurvedic tradition, etc.), but also exist on the margins of official biological-medical discourses in the West, correspond to real phenomena. I see the tendency in some left circles of unquestioningly taking over the dogmas of mainstream science and suspecting all divergent views of being politically suspect, esoteric, irrationalist etc. as a very regrettable kind of rationalist narrowmindedness. I recommend the study of the “Dialectic of Enlightenment” (1947).

My view that conceptions of vital energy, as well as practically and theoretically drawing on experiences and conceptions from various traditions of body therapy, can be invaluable for a critique of actually existing sexuality has not changed over the last 20 years, except maybe that I am more convinced of it today than

 


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