Male and female power, and ‘structural analysis’ – avoiding the MRA contagion

There’s an MRA-style position too beloved of economistic socialists — it would be wrong to call them marxists — which treats women’s unsympathetic wordstowards males as being on a par with male-pattern control over women and children, and all the violence and abuse which that entails.

This economism acts as though a sufficient anti-capitalist critique can be accomplished by ignoring capital’s support for male power over women and children, and by blaming DV and rape mainly on ‘poverty and cutbacks’. By avoiding any mention of gendered socialisation and how it is actively enforced, especially via society’s main institutions, from birth.

Real marxists reject the claim that this is any kind of competent ‘structural analysis’.

The failure to get this right makes it impossible to ‘structurally critique’, or understand the inherently oppressive nature of, a key institution of capitalism — the capitalist (male-led) family unit:

+ We can end up endorsing capitalism’s conflation of female self-defence with male attacks on us. And its state institutions’ increased recording and punishment of ‘female violence’ instead of taking action against the male perpetrators (mostly partners or family members) who the women and girls were struggling against.

+ We can end up thinking that male children are as endangered by male-averse women muttering about them as they are by their family. (Statistically, the former are nearly no threat, whereas family and older acquaintances — especially older males — are a large threat.)

+ We can fail to understand the MRA-style psychology of the brocialists who portray as dangerous the women who joke about lopping off penises. Or the psychology of brocialists who joke about women who really do this. In fact, women who joke about doing it are a threat to nearly no man, whereas women abused by men might, very occasionally, do it. Socialists who joke about women experiencing such long-term abuse are no healthy or revolution-promoting force.

Part of male supremacy’s constant policing of women, to keep us too intimidated to oppose it much, is its practice of making us feel like the aggressors no matter what. (Sometimes women are manipulated into enacting this policing on its behalf, ‘jumping down our throats’ at what are merely factual comments about patterns of abuse from men.)

Poststructuralist politics, which have invaded anti-capitalist ideas more than we realise, exacerbate all this by holding that criticism or ‘discourse’ are what oppress us, and by ignoring real, class-based dynamics. Such as capitalism’s institutional enforcement of male power over females — for instance, by ensuring that women and girls who kill men to escape longterm abuse can receive far heftier prison sentences than many murderers do, whereas men who kill their female partners are typically treated more leniently than other murderers.

These postmodernist (‘pomo’) politics have transformed the previously more materialist and structural takes on socialisation. Gendered socialisation is no longer considered an outcome of the sex hierarchy as it is moulded into and reinforced by all major social institutions. Rather, it is considered something more like ‘free-floating ideology’, which individuals can readily recognise and even opt out of. (Even, to listen to some trans activists, something which one can opt into, as if by tuning into the feminine radio station of one’s choice, and tuning out of the masculine one.) Or perhaps something which parents teach their children — or don’t, if they are “gender free”.

While these elements of conscious identification with the dominating or subordinate sexes have some reality (and we do need to keep trying to disengage from male supremacist ideology and practices), these liberal understandings of socialisation:

  • overemphasise the degree to which people are both willing and capable to recognise and challenge their own socialisation. People detrimentally affected by their sex’s socially enforced role have significantly more stake in challenging their socialisation to submit than do those whose socialisation to dominate, and take advantage of, already has society’s backing. Trans women may like thinking of themselves as female, but they tend towards male patterns of criminality, especially in regards to violent crimes.
  • overemphasise how much both the adults in the family unit and the capitalist education system recognise what they are teaching children. Studies have repeatedly emphasised that adults believe they are giving boys and girls equivalent time and attention, when most of it has been spent on the boys.
  • underemphasise the extent to which children learn from all their interactions with the world, and not just from what they are consciously told. Consciousness is not formed narrowly from what we hear, read or see, but also from the responses we get when we interact with the world. However much boys are allowed to like pink, they are still allowed to speak longer before being shushed or ignored, and still allowed to be more adventurous. However sporting girls are, they still learn at some stage that their bodies are considered legitimate sexual harassment targets by males — in school, on the street or socially — and that adults around them, whether family member or teacher, often will not treat all of this as a serious offence. Young men learn that they can walk or jog along the street and attract little inappropriate familiarity, and usually have no idea of the impact on young women of being refused this right.

    Consciousness is very much formed by what we are and are not allowed to get away with.

  • underemphasise already-existing knowledge on how fundamental social change occurs. It does not happen via individual family units deciding in isolation to rear their children gender-free. It occurs via overthrowing capitalist relations of production and misogynist state institutions which reinforce male supremacy, for instance courts which grant abusers access to children under the fathers’ rights belief that “all children deserve a father” (read: “all fathers deserve their children”). Social change occurs via eradicating industries which profit from the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies, and establishing a truly participatory democracy. Via a mass feminist movement of women which continues to transform society even after the overthrow of capitalist social relations, being afraid to declare that female boundaries and autonomy are nothing but healthy.

Any assertions that “I, however, was not socialised into gender”, or that “I teach my boy not to dominate or be sexist” are idealist illusions which deny the role of all social institutions, and our exchanges with all the world, in forming consciousness. Heck, they deny the role of the relations of production in forming consciousness. Upending Marx and Engels, they declare that perhaps capitalism itself cannot be nice, but we can all still act nicely and bigotry-free.

They also make us too prone to blame children’s primary care-provider, who is usually their mother, for not having ‘socialised’ the child correctly. As one commenter in a recent Facebook discussion on this pointed out, capitalist impositions on most women make this very difficult:

Poststructuralism makes us too inclined to believe that the point of undertaking a ‘structural analysis’ is less to overthrow oppressive social systems, and more to simply teach children that they are wrong, apparently thus removing the problem of socialisation. Because what kid could retain any degree of conservative psychology after this?

Similarly, we see postmodernism’s socialisation-denying consequences in the outraged declarations by the male-born that they must not be denied entry to spaces where females shower or sleep or socialise, because their agendered or even feminine nature — since by this logic, why should they not be the ones to designate it— makes them no threat. And because gendered socialisation is backed by the endemic, structural and ideological male supremacy of capitalism, we listen to and cater to this outrage — regardless of how the male persons identify.

When males are ‘‘offended’’ by slogans on feminists’ placards like “lesbians exist” and “porn hurts women”, the intentional intimidation that then follows these women relates not just to the words in question (mild and incontrovertible as they seem to be), but to how society is structured around silencing women and catering to male feelings. To understate the issue, society is not built around putting women’s wishes and words into action.

Women can be wrong, and at times our words can lend endorsement to oppression. We should also avoid using terms which objectively satisfy hate-speech criteria. Our words may be validly criticised on the basis of the politics which they support. (And frankly, I don’t joke about penis-lopping since it focusses our attention on venting rather than organising against male power. And will be taken by some male whiners as an opportunity to respond with far more harmful misogyny.)

But when the merely unsympathetic words of the ‘care-provision’ class are regarded as morally and effectively on a par with those whose abuse of females is actively enabled by capitalism’s social structures, we must recognise this as harassment designed to corral us back into our prescribed service role.


Female socialisation to ‘care’, and the political impacts on proletarian feminism

Because of our socialised belief that it is women’s responsibility to put our own needs behind those of others, women in the feminist movement also often expect its other members to deprioritise the cause and their own needs, in order to provide for theirs.

This common expectation on the part of feminist women that we should be ‘agreeable’ and ‘caring’ (at least in a performative sense, by ensuring that those around us perceive us as such) has wide-ranging ramifications, such as women desiring the cessation of both political debate and even criticism of individuals, because such criticism interferes with one’s personal and social comfort levels.

These expectations tend to work ‘down’ social hierarchies, in that more bourgeois ‘feminists’ are less accustomed to prioritising others and less accustomed to the pressure to agree with what other women say, although they may expect more proletarianised women to agree with them.

These norms are self-reinforcing, since the less we experience disagreement, the harsher it appears when it comes.

Since capitalist education and other teaching are hierarchical, we are also prone to conflating analysis with power-over-us, and to assume that a woman disagreeing with us is ‘telling us what to do’ or ‘making us discard our opinion’. We may respond by accusing her of attempting to silence us, a response which is quite likely to discourage disagreement.

Given that the women who have already spoken (and must not be disagreed with) are more likely to have voiced ideas based on what bourgeois society teaches us – in that proletarian-supporting ideas are held by a minority – this entrenches bourgeois ideas within feminism.

It also means that many feminists who officially/consciously reject feminist trends such as ‘cultural feminism’ will nonetheless prioritise approaches which strongly resemble that.

[The practice of divining a woman’s politics by how she identifies, or is identified by others, continues to have hugely limited usefulness, which is not to say it is nil.

Marxist feminists will continue to prioritise the activist efforts of women whose politics are proletarian-aligned and scientific, regardless of how they ‘identify’.]

We must be more active in recognising the pressures on women to deprioritise our own needs in favour of ‘the cause’, and reject them. Of course, capitalism also socialises us to believe we ‘need’ to focus on individual advancement only. (Which will certainly see us reaching planetary levels of increased misery so much faster.) That we ‘need’ to boost ourselves at the expense of others, and to believe we need to have our activism agreed with. This is, of course, not a real need. We are not owed agreement.

This social/emotional pressure to suppress disagreement is often boosted by a self-indulgent socialisation on the part of both men and women to believe that a woman speaking unpalatable truths is ’emotional’ or ’emotive’, and to declare her opinion or analysis a ‘rant’ without properly rebutting it. This emotional self-indulgence is enabled by an implicit understanding that the automatic attribution of illogic to women has society’s endorsement. And via the bourgeois myth that a woman with feelings cannot simultaneously manage logic. Indeed, women are so accustomed to the illogic of our social situation that we may frequently be exasperated when pointing it out.

Collectively enabling the pressure on women to agree with one another is by no means the only form which this pressure to prioritise others over one’s own needs can assume. A woman who disagrees with others with ease may also expect other women to cater to her own needs above theirs, and provide little corresponding support, via means including manipulation, abuse and taking advantage of the prevailing gendered expectations.

Let us recognise and discard these hierarchical and anti-woman responses, as much as we can. Ultimately they see us deprioritising women’s needs and engaging in very little kind of real ‘care’.



Banner image in full: socialisation not to disagree

Lenin: The Defeat of One’s Own Government in the Imperialist War


As Lenin so rightly remarked 102 years ago, ‘“a war against war” is a banal phrase unless it means a revolution against their own government’. Here, he spells out why. Opening comment by Amber B. of Anti-Imperialism.Org.

[Originally published in Sotsial-Demokrat no. 43, July 26, 1915, this article is of vital importance even today. Revolutionary defeatism, or the willingness of revolutionaries to not only wish defeat of their own imperialist government in times of reactionary warfare, but assist in that defeat by whatever measure is possible under the current circumstances. Now more than ever Communists and Socialists must be reminded of this doctrine, as they have taken to the practical cheer-leading of amerikan imperialism as it fights the Islamic State, or edges closer to open conflict with the DPRK. [US aggression against IS is increasingly undertaken in such a way as to aid its objectives against Syrian sovereignty and increase US access to oil, rather than being for the good of those in ISIL territory – GB]

Further, the backhanded defenses offered to the sanctions placed on Russia and China, and the economic warfare underway in the South China Sea has also played into this great hypocrisy by which amerikan imperialism becomes seemingly progressive in competition with that of foreign countries. It is our responsibility, as revolutionaries in the imperialist core, to take on the task Lenin describes in this article, and to ensure the final defeat of imperialism. As always, this document is being made available here for the purposes of education and discussion.]

During a reactionary war a revolutionary class cannot but desire the defeat of its government.

This is axiomatic, and disputed only by conscious partisans or helpless satellites of the social-chauvinists.  […]

Continue reading at Lenin: The Defeat of One’s Own Government in the Imperialist War —

Patriarchy or Male Supremacy?

Meeting Ground On Line has recently reprinted a short 1993 piece by Carol Hanisch on what is described as the unfortunate shift by feminism, from describing our current system as a ‘male supremacy’, to describing it as ‘patriarchy’.

As the Editor’s Note on the reprint remarks:

Patriarchy has all but replaced male supremacy and sexism as the preferred word for the system of discrimination and multi-faceted oppression that women face. The term patriarchy wasn’t used by most 1960s pioneers of the Women’s Liberation Movement and only came into popular usage as those founders were disappeared from view. The liberal and academic takeover of women’s liberation by women with access to the press and money led to the dropping of “liberation” from the name of our movement and to the rise of the word patriarchy to describe what is wrong with “the system” or “society”. Some claim it more accurately blames the system rather than individual men. We think it lets the class of men off the hook and is not applicable to current late capitalist conditions. The short piece reprinted here is an earlier argument against blaming a patriarchy for women’s oppression.

I wrote on this topic a few years ago, explaining the marxist concerns with the ‘patriarchy’ description.  (To be honest, I do sometimes use “the p” as a colloquial descriptor when referencing the male supremacist aspect of our capitalist system, but I think its usefulness sharply dwindles when we require detailed analysis. And it is probably generally disorientating.)

I argued in my article Against Patriarchy that this is not an argument about words, but about best identifying the system oppressing us, so we can equip ourselves to overthrow it.

This understanding also seems to guide Carol Hanisch’s US-based piece, Patriarchy or Male Supremacy?.

Since her article was so brief, I do not know to what extent she shares my concerns about flattening out an analysis of female oppression to be all about men. As I noted five years ago:

Patriarchy theory often also dissuades its proponents from looking at who the ruling class in our society is (the capitalists/ bourgeoisie), deeming it instead ‘men’, despite most men not having the power to rule society.

It does matter what the ruling class is. It affects the way society works. [Eg capitalism or feudalism? It does matter.]

  • Capitalism has created entirely new forms of female oppression. The porn industry as we know it wouldn’t exist without capitalism. As advanced capitalist industries do, it creates demand. And its images are nothing like the pre-capitalist paintings of nude women – they are now images of actual women, which continue to be sold and bought long after the image’s subject/object has died.
  • Industry as a whole needs different classes of workers, to play us off against each other, with some paid much less. And capitalism needs women to do unpaid work (including rearing the next generation of workers) within the hetero family unit in order for the capitalists to keep more of society’s wealth, rather than devoting it to these important welfare tasks.]

[This is not to say that men won’t in general try to maintain their (relative) material privilege via exerting power over the women around them. Male privilege under capitalism is very real, despite it being less inscribed in law than it used to be. Any socially privileged sector has an immediate objective interest in maintaining that privilege, and capitalism inherited the precapitalist sex and sexual relations of male dominance and female subjugation, although it has altered those relations in its own interest. Consequently, female sexuality remains largely subordinate to the political and economic needs of the ruling class (as it has been to the ruling classes of all economic forms), and men maintain their historical role as main gatekeepers and immediate beneficiaries of women’s sexuality. The implementation of this (including the extent to which a woman’s sexuality is determined by her own wishes and enjoyment) varies enormously around the world, which will have to be a subject for a future post.]

And while it has been true that the ruling classes of all types of class society have mainly comprised men, it doesn’t follow that all or even most men are part of the ruling economic class.

This is another reason why conflating capitalism (a women-oppressing system) with patriarchy just confuses us. It can lead to writing off any mention of the role of the capitalist class with (‘well, men created capitalism – it’s part of the patriarchy’). But it is vital to acknowledge that the capitalist class has political interests outside the objective interests of most men. Since knowledge is power, it utterly disorients us, and significantly demobilises us from key aspects of the fight, to assume that discussing and opposing capitalism *specifically* is pointless.

Suffice it to say that I do not believe this is about arguing between the terms ‘patriarchy’, ‘male supremacy’ and ‘capitalism’, but about ensuring we use them each correctly. Capitalism is male supremacist, and cannot be otherwise.

I will also note that I have seen no thorough reasoning for the superiority of the term ‘patriarchy’ when applied to today’s world. I did see the assertion that “male supremacy” reduces male power to the ideological and psychological, but no explanation as to how it necessarily does that. (Clearly, any political descriptor can do that on its own if its user possesses no systemic analysis. For instance, I have seen ‘capitalist’ used to describe a consumerist culture by people who appeared to believe that capitalism would vanish if the mindset supporting it could be argued away.)

Certainly, we need to draw assessments about why it is that ‘patriarchy’ has not been fleshed out as a sociopolitical system. Given the far greater analyses which have been built to date of capitalism, and how its necessary relations of production and reproduction sustain female oppression, I believe we must conclude that the problem is not feminists having failed to prioritise the task of ‘explaining patriarchy’. Rather, it’s just not the right analytical framework for women’s needs.

Please do read Hanisch’s full piece and my own, to get an idea of the political considerations behind these discussions.

Miranda Yardley: Common Threads And Narratives of Transgender Children And What This Means For Our Lesbian And Gay Populations

Miranda Yardley writes:

This is some original research I did for a larger project which for reasons of space I shall be referring to from that project. It’s good I think to have this out here in full as it would have been quite a long section that makes some points I believe are important.

In the UK, the national centre for the assessment and treatment of gender dysphoric children and young adults is the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, based in Leeds and London. Taken from the document ‘Gender Identity Development Service Statistics‘ we can see that in 2009/10, the number of referrals of natal males was 56 with 40 referrals of females, with a single referral of a child “of transsexual parent” with no apparent attempt to identify sex, total 97, split 58.3% male and 41.7% female. The latest reported figures for 2015/16 which show a total of 1,419 referrals split between 490 male and 929 female and a shift in composition to 65.5% female and 34.5% male. This represents a huge increase in the numbers of children and young adults seeking help for gender non-conformity and cross-sex identification, as well as a significant change in the composition of children and young adults seeking help; historically, the reported incidences of males seeking such help has far outstripped the numbers of females, yet this appears to no longer be the case. Overall, there has been a fifteen-fold increase in referrals of children and young people over a six year period, and a 23-fold increase in girls against an 8.75-fold increase in boys.

I have used public sources to examine the commonalities between the lives and experiences of children who claim a “transgender” identity. Historically, stories that made the media consisted mainly of adult males who announced to the world their new identity, however recently we are seeing more evidence of these young children and adolescents as well as females “transitioning” to male.

The following quotes are extracted from a selection of stories on the Daily Mail (British newspaper) website looking at young transgender males (sources are linked at the end of this piece):

They had presumed their prancing, pink-loving son who squirreled away cousins’ girl toys was gay… He wore sweatpants around his head to mimic ponytails and dressed as a princess for Halloween. And he hated boy things – especially his body.[1]

Sources said the youngster had confided in friends that he wanted to be a girl and would put on a bikini to go swimming and use a Barbie towel. He rode to primary school on a pink scooter and wore pink ribbons in his hair.[2]

While Blaine preferred playing with trucks and cars, Keat liked dolls. At school he liked playing dress up with the princess dresses… Keat was so happy in her skin but I dreaded that first day back at school where she would be going back to class with pigtails and a pink backpack.[3]

She grew her hair out, pierced her ears, and wore dresses everywhere – even to kindergarten… growing up Jazz’s bedroom was filled with girly things – pink bed linen, a closet filled with dresses and an ample collection of stuffed animals.[4]

When she chats with people, she introduces herself as, “Hi, I’m Sadie, my favorite color is pink, I’m vegan, and I’m transgender. Who are you?”‘ Sage said.[5]

“I’m wishing for the one I love to find me!” the preschooler would enthusiastically sing into the toilet, copying Snow White, who sings into the echoing wishing well in the animated Disney movie. Six months after her second birthday, her parents say Ryan was drawn to all things pink and sparkly. Ryan, the boy, wore pajama pants on his head, pretending it was long hair, or acted out girl roles from movies.[6]

Danann Tyler, who was born male but now dresses as a little girl and has long hair,… he never had any interest in the toys his elder brother Liam had loved. His sippy cup had to be pink. When a family friend playing dress up put him in a princess gown, he refused to take it off.[7]

The commonality of these narratives is striking, within these seven stories mention is made of the following: a preference for pink (7/7), hair (6/7), princesses and dresses (5/7), ‘toys for girls’ (5/7).

This does not appear to be unique, and is filtering through to childcare organisations.

Interviewed in 2015, the CEO of the transgender children’s charity Mermaids Gender said:

She’d go into my wardrobe, put on dresses and she even put my bra on at 18 months. At nursery Jackie never played with the boys, always took a female role in the games played and would treat the soft toys like babies or pretend to have tea with them. She couldn’t wait to get into the dressing up box. She’d come out as Snow White with a jumper on her head and the arms trailing down to make it look like she had long hair.[8]

This segment published on the NHS Choices website ‘My Trans Daughter’ shows that the cultural acceptance of this narrative is more widespread than newspapers and parenting sites:

When my child Nick was about two, I realised that he wasn’t playing with toys that I expected a boy to play with. He was interested in dolls and girly dressing-up clothes. At that age, it doesn’t really matter. You just think they’re trying lots of different things, so I never made a fuss about it.

But when he was four years old, Nick told me that God had made a mistake, and he should have been a girl. I asked my GP what I should do. He told me to wait and see, and that it might just be a phase and go away. But it didn’t. It got stronger. One day when Nicki was six, we were in the car, and he asked me when he could have the operation to cut off his ‘willy’ and give him a ‘fanny’. His older cousin had told him about these things.

The Tavistock Clinic wouldn’t give her hormone blockers. [The Tavistock Clinic follows British guidelines, which suggest not introducing hormone blockers until the latter stages of puberty. However, these guidelines are under review.] In the end, we went to a doctor in the US. I found him through the WPATH network (The World Professional Association for Transgender Health). Nicki was 13 when she started taking hormone blockers. It’s put her male puberty on hold, and given her time to think.

Looking at equivalent stories of transgender females for commonality produces results that have a different emphasis. It is interesting that the stories about transgender females are generally fewer and the age of the subject is usually old enough for them to be able to indicate their sexual orientation:

…Alfie, from Harpenden, Hertfordshire, who was born Ana and changed his name two years ago after feeling like he was trapped in a girl’s body from the age of seven… described his ‘depression’ when he started puberty… even as a young girl, he rejected all things female, Alfie said: ‘I was into sports and skateboards, but never into girls’ toys, dolls, princess or anything pink.’ (M)y mum would say it’s just a phase and you’ll like makeup and boys once you get to high school… (i)n his mid teens, Ana started dating boys in an attempt to be normal, but found he was more attracted to girls and came out to his parents as lesbian. [9]

‘I remember thinking I was just like any other boy… I remember getting a haircut when I was around eight and afterwards turning to my mum and asking if I looked like a boy now. I felt like one and wanted to make sure I looked like one too.’ As Jamie grew up, he was always attracted to women, meeting his current girlfriend Shaaba, now 21 at a postgraduate at the same university, at college when they were 16.[10]

‘I believe I am a boy and want surgery’… (f)rom a very young age he knew he did not want to be a girl, wear dresses, grow his hair long or have breasts or female sexual organs… ‘I would look up like boy changes to girl, and girl changes to boy, and im like wow, theres people who feel EXACTLY the way i feel and then i knew like thats what transgender is,’ he wrote. He added that he was about six when he knew he was attracted to girls – but he has no plans to date any just yet, adding: ‘I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.’[11]

Kasey, who has been in a relationship with a woman for five years… ‘I previously thought I was a lesbian, but in April I said out loud for the first time that I was transgender and it just felt right….’ Kasey came out to his parents as gay when he was 15, shortly after cutting off his long blonde hair.[12]

In all these cases, the striking commonality is the sexual orientation of the individual concerned, although other cultural preferences are evident, and every single one of the stories for boys indicates a childhood preference for pink. To understand the significance of this, and that it’s nature is foundational in culture, we should look at the history of colour in clothing. As explained by J Maglaty in “When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?”:

The march toward gender-specific clothes was neither linear nor rapid [….]

Article continues at Miranda Yardley: Common Threads And Narratives of Transgender Children And What This Means For Our Lesbian And Gay Populations — ‘Gender’ hides the problem