Friday, March 05, 2010

My Marxist feminist dialectic brings all the boys to the yard 2

Like the relations between all people, the relations between men and women are social relations: they have at their core a creative process which governs their possibilities. Circumstances which are friendly to the development of these creative abilities are likely to yield a diversity of outcomes, but surely offer the best hope in securing that kind fellowship between men and women which seems "naturally" inspired, if broadly elusive among contemporary social relations. Conversely, we can expect that circumstances which are hostile to the creative impulse between people will produce a corresponding hostility within their relations, as they inhibit that creative impulse required to overcome social problems in a collaborative way.

As related in the previous post, the tendency toward subservience and dehumanization in the act of creating (i.e., production) has wide-ranging implications within a totalizing system. Furthermore, the fact that "freedom" is only really experienced in the acts of consumption and exchange will naturally lend psychological reinforcement to these acts as compared to others. In other words, within a consumer society, power is experienced as autonomy in the marketplace, and slavery within production. Let us remember that this is not lost on the human psyche as it engages other realms of experience.

Power obviously enters into the human sexual experience in profound ways, with sexuality being one of the sharpest fault lines existing between (in this case, heterosexual) men and women. Introducing patriarchy into our analysis colors in the location of men and women within the productive/consumptive hierarchy -- in other words, men and women assume different degrees of authority both as producers and consumers, with men enjoying distributive advantages overall. These advantages are evident both within production and within the marketplace, as men are overrepresented as bosses, and commodities are often designed by men for consumption by both men and women (or just men).

In a "dictatorship of production" largely run by men for their needs, which is additionally ever-expanding into new realms of human experience, the commodification of female sexuality is plain to see, not only in the strict sense of pornography, but in the pornographic forms in which women, presented as "finished products," are distributed within the mainstream. This "consumer-oriented" approach to women is very deeply held by men, reinforced by that personal liberty which is the exclusive domain of market relations, and which men do not experience anywhere else. That creative capacity which men naturally possess remains unreferenced; it is not used at work, and it is not applicable in the market. It lies undeveloped to a significant degree.

It is important to emphasize the extent to which the creative impotence which men experience through a subjugated work experience is mutually reinforced by the power-urge men experience as consumers, where their creative abilities don't apply. The very social relation which men most desire but struggle to navigate has been commodified into an object which must now compete with others of its kind for mens' approval. Men have been transformed through market relations from objects of production into gods which the female-sexual-commodity is designed to serve. Suffice it to say, after a long day at work, this must be "nice!"

This regularly contributes to a sort of two-facedness amongst men in their personal relationships with women. This can manifest itself as the maintenance of one "face" amongst their girlfriends -- deferential, considerate, etc. -- while revealing a very different face, the face of consumption and exchange, which is shared between men in relation to women. Alternately, men will attempt to keep their relations to women-as-commodities a secret from everyone, not admitting any relation to pornography, for example, despite the fact that they can be more "invested" in this mode of sexuality than they are with the women in their lives. As a point of practicality, it is always easier to consume commodities than it is to create social relations, which under capitalism are mediated by commodities, and therefore frustrated, at each turn.

Investigating the relations between men and women from the point at which Marxism and feminism converge is useful because it suggests that the obstacles to a genuine fellowship basically implicate us all, and so make it that much harder to browbeat men in a simplistic, moralizing way. Men should go much further in listening to women, which is at least one creative act most people can summon for lack of anything else, not to mention the most basic kind of courtesy. However, what men are up against is all around them, constructed by their kind and set in motion, but not always with their consent or even full understanding of what is happening to them or how it affects their relations with others. Needless to say, women can unwittingly play into their own subjugation as well.

Patriarchal consumer culture effectively exploits the vulnerabilities of the male sex drive, which is visual and immediate, and plays them against the kind of subjugation which men frequently experience at work, and the creative impotence they experience generally within social relations as they are shaped by capitalism. It makes relating to women as objects easy, and heightens the reward in a way that many of us, as men, have never experienced in an analogous, self-directed way.


Quin said...

This series is excellent, and enlightening. I will chew on it. Will there be more, or have you pretty much said what you set out to already?

JRB said...

Yeah, that's about it.

However, my long term goal is to synthesize Marxism and feminism more completely in my posts, since these frameworks address forms of authority which interest me particularly. So I hope you will find there to be "more" in that regard.

C├╝neyt said...

This rather succinctly explains the both the commoditization of women and the resistance of men to collaboration with women. Their (which is to say our) power comes from consumption.

Of course, there's also a lot of social baggage to this, and history, and putting down of others to ignore our own subservience, but this is part of it.

Thank you for such interesting analysis! I'm going to pass this on and see if I can start some conversations.

Bruce said...

Thank you for this.

Enron said...

You know Marx had an illegitimate child right? Also, I think you are right that gender is important in the development of capitalism, ergo the department store for consumer culture.

Anonymous said...

all cylinders fired in this post.

careyrowland said...

You make an accurate observation: Men wimp out by selflishly consuming images of women instead of working toward authentic social (or marital) interaction.
This passive, victimic consumerism is a lazy way to avoid societal and marital responsibility.
Unfortunately, you are correct in noting that capitalist consumerism enables and proliferates such behavior among men.
Rampant consumerism turns people into wimps.

Day said...

I'm super curious what y'all make of bell hooks.