Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Icelandic Stripping, Feminism, Marxism, and Leisure

Via Matt Yglesias, FLG found this article decrying the banning of strip clubs in Iceland. The author, Jennifer Abel, makes a good point -- that women ought to be able to make their own choices and not have them imposed by feminists and lawmakers. But FLG thinks the author misunderstands the underlying ideology of feminism.

Put simply feminism relies, at its core, on Marxist class theory and rhetoric. The author writes:
The ban is the brainchild of politician Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, who feels it necessary because: "It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold." Which is true, but a non-sequitur. Halldórsdóttir falls for the same falsehood my militant classmates did: professionally sexy women must always be exploited, whether we thought so or not.

FLG thinks this misses the larger picture. Marxist ideology views any work for wage as a form of slavery. The particular case of strippers offers moral problems and more angles of attack, but wage labor itself is the problem. Obviously, banning all wage labor is preposterous, but banning particularly problematic types is far less so.

Abel continues:
Opponents like Halldórsdóttir think the sex "industry" must be synonymous with sex "slavery," without understanding that driving such industries underground only increases the likelihood its participants will be victimised. Illegal sex slavery unfortunately does exist, but the problem is the slavery, not the sex.

Are you starting to see what's going on here? Abel, failing to see that the theoretical underpinnings of much feminism is Marxism and further that Marxism views wage labor as the problem, is making distinctions where the feminists don't see much of any. Stripping for money and sex slavery are, if not exactly the same, within a similar moral sphere. Indeed, merely working for a wage is in the same moral sphere. Whether the necessity to work is created by force or the simple economic requirements of life is less relevant than somebody needs to work. If an individual doesn't have the option to engage in pure leisure at all times, then they are in many respect akin to a slave.

The article continues:
The crusaders refuse to believe any woman could rationally choose a job like dancing, because "I'd never want to, therefore nobody could want to, therefore nobody's allowed to". When did feminism get so solipsistic? I remember tracts from the second wave of the 1970s and 80s, when feminism was about "choices". But nouveau feminists can't stand women making choices they don't approve of, and support women's rights as their religious counterparts do: by banning what offends them.

This is making more sense, no? What Abel calls a choice to engage in sex work is, according to the underlying feminist ideology, not really a choice because economic necessity exists.

But FLG, you say, this is nuts. Are you saying that feminists believe that all work for wages is slavery? They cannot really believe that. Don't they argue that women ought to work outside the home? This is really about their concern about exploitation of women.

Yes and no. On one hand, feminists do argue that women ought to be able to have the same job prospects as men. On the other hand, they also propose and support policies that attempt to remove all necessity from people's lives.

The first point, about working -- this is largely motivated, at least in FLG's opinion, by the recognition that to change the system women need to take power within the system. So, the goal is to ascend the ladder of male power (sexual, corporate, or governmental) to bring it down. FLG has said previously that he thinks this is silly. Trying to beat men at their own game is a fool's errand.

On the second point -- if you ever see feminists arguing forcefully in favor of a policy that seems only tangentially related to their core concerns of female equality it is invariably about attempting to remove neccessity from people's lives. Whether that's about economic necessity or necessity imposed by force (in this case see the great concern about prisons among feminists), the underlying motivation is to remove necessity in the long run. FLG isn't saying that all of these policies are bad. The concerns about prisons FLG finds particularly helpful, but that you need to understand the primary motivation.

So, the ultimate goal for feminists is actually the Marxist world of total leisure. A world where everybody, men and women, are treated exactly the same -- which is to say they can do whatever the fuck they want, whenever they want, in total lack of any compulsion, whether that compulsion be force, societal, cultural, economic, or, the one FLG finds most laughable, biological. In that world and only in that world, if a woman wants to take off her clothes in front of men for money, then it would be okay. However, it is also a world in which no woman would ever need to take off her clothes for money. So, in practice, it would never happen.

Lastly, FLG guesses that many people who call themselves feminists might not recognize what he is saying as accurate, but he comforts himself with the notion that they probably haven't thought what they believe all the way through. Also, this isn't to say that anybody who agrees with the notion that women and men ought to have equal opportunities is therefore a Marxist. FLG believes men and women should have equal opportunities and certainly isn't a Marxist.


Withywindle said...

Or it could be that the feminists are realists about the inevitable consequences of the sex 'industry,' and the free-markets are delusional idealists. It seems to me you recognized this when you were discussing some other aspect of feminism a while back, where the realist/idealist roles were reversed.

FLG said...

Nah, if they're correct it is for the wrong reasons.

FLG said...

Nah, if they're correct it is for the wrong reasons.

Flavia said...

FLG guesses that many people who call themselves feminists might not recognize what he is saying as accurate, but he comforts himself with the notion that they probably haven't thought what they believe all the way through.

This is only a side point to the content of your post, but I think this kind of policing of ideologies or affiliations (regardless of whether they're one's own or someone else's) serves no good purpose, unless it's to shut down debate and declare victory: I know what a real feminist/Republican/Christian/Nietzschean is, and you're not it!

To depart a bit from your example: does Sarah Palin's record show support for feminist issues? I'd say no. But I very much understand why some women see her as a feminist inspiration--and I think it's more productive for a conversation about feminism's ends and aims to take seriously her and her supporters' claims that she's a feminist than to howl over how she's so totally not.

Now, there are limits. You probably can't claim to be an anarchist when what you mean is that you support a hereditary monarchy. But most terms of affiliation are capacious enough that they permit and should permit a range of interpretations. That's all to the good of democracy.

FLG said...


That's a good point. I agree with you that "this kind of policing of ideologies or affiliations (regardless of whether they're one's own or someone else's) serves no good purpose."

However, it's also not quite what I meant to say by the passage you quoted. There's a feminist, for lack of a better word, complex. This exists in the academy, political action groups, politicians, and more recently blogs.

That complex would totally disown Sarah Palin. It does disown her.

So, my point was really limited to the members of the "official" feminist complex. The one's who buy into that buy with it certain Marxist assumptions. If a individual isn't aware of it, then they haven't thought it all the way through.

I'm not saying that anybody who wants to call themselves feminist has to be a Marxist, but the established organizations rely on Marxist theories. Moreover, those established organizations are very concerned about who is the right kind of feminist, which I agree is unhelpful.

Withywindle said...

Also, Andrew Sullivan so totally should be bitch-slapped every time he calls himself a conservative.

But that's a special case, without precedentiary weight.

Flavia said...

Oh, yes: I totally agree. I'm no fan of Palin's, but it drove me crazy to see feminists after her nomination asserting that she couldn't be one. And I'm all for calling organizations out on their own exclusionary logic.

But I'm also troubled by the tendency of people outside a group to produce something they believe to be a trump card--a proof of intellectual incoherency or hypocrisy or whatever--to deny others the affiliation they claim, often with perfectly good reason (I'm not saying that's what you were doing, just that you reminded me of that move): he's pro-life, so he can't be a Democrat! She's an Evangelical Christian, so she can't be a feminist!

Few of us are ideologically pure enough to stand that kind of purge--and insisting on such purity is both intellectually and politically impoverishing.

So I agree that there are feminists who "haven't thought through" some of the positions they espouse. But I don't agree that every feminist who seems in some way establishmentarian--who participates in the feminist blogger/academic complex--IS a Marxist, or takes an essentially Marxist view of female labor.

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