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.