SEX & WAR By Stan Goff


Copyright 2006, Stan Goff


To Sherry


Acknowledgements & Notes Throughout this book there are citations of the books, essays, and articles I have read and sometimes studied over the last two years. These deserve and have my gratitude, as they should the gratitude of the reader. Gender1 and warfare are not easy subjects for people to go upstairs with alone. The work of those cited here represents not merely their intellectual accomplishments, but their emotional commitment and psychic expenditures. I want to honor that for its selflessness. My comrades Dennis O’Neil and Juliet Ucelli can still claim the credit for putting their combined boot to my posterior to write about the military – which I have done three times now in book form. There are times, a lot of times, when I want nothing more than to forget about all of this. Dennis has said I owe them a karmic debt on more than one account, and I will not dispute him. I’m glad the book is written, even if there were times I wanted to crawl into a hole over the implications of it. Accidents are fine things sometimes. With the startling growth of the pre-2003 international antiwar movement, those of us who became public enemies of the Bush gang were circulated and mixed together like stews for a moveable feast of demonstrations, forums, and teach-ins. That’s how I met Robert Jensen. I was asked to appear on a panel with him at Duke University, so I looked him up on the web and discovered that he was a defender of the much-maligned radical feminist2 Andrea Dworkin, who regrettably passed away in April 2005. I was immersed in my own study of Dworkin’s equally misrepresented colleague, Catharine MacKinnon, and so Robert and I had a connection. Robert Jensen says hard, true things. That’s important. The lies we tell each other in this society these days are very dangerous lies, for which our children and grandchildren will pay. Late in 2004, Robert emailed that he had contributed to an anthology of essays on the pornography and prostitution industries, Not For Sale, and within days, I was contacted by Rebecca Whisnant, one of the editors, asking if I would write a review. I botched that mission, having rather too much to say and not enough time to render it explicable, but in the process of writing and circulating a kind of patchwork theoretical brief on the book, I came into contact with one of Not For Sale’s contributors, D. A. (De) Clarke, a software engineer living in Santa Cruz, whose essay on globalization and prostitution hit so many bulls-eyes I thought to re-name her Annie Oakley. De and I kept in touch, hatching little plots neither of us had time to carry out, and when the book was nearing completion of the first draft, she consented to look it over with her sharp editor’s eye as well as her standpoint as a veteran of the gender trenches. Aside from being a software engineer of high repute, an engaging writer, and a search-and-destroy feminist bullshit-hunter, she also turns out to be a fine editor. I want everyone who reads this book to know that the value of the book doubled under her critical gaze. She objected when I called her a mentor, saying something about hierarchies, but since I have already taken over 90% of her suggestions I’m going to blow her off on this one and say that a mentor is exactly what she is… and a good one. De referred to the manuscript more than once as “the anaconda,” which gives readers some idea of the difficulty she overcame to improve this. In the past years, I have been blessed with women. I’ve never properly acknowledged my mother, because the vain pursuit of masculinity is about breaking away from one’s mother, and since I am headed now in another direction, it’s time to publicly thank her for carrying me, for pushing me out of her body and into the stream of human history. It’s time to acknowledge the countless hours she spent keeping me alive and doing the very best she knew how to both protect me and prepare me for life. Even when I didn’t ‘need’ her, when I was oh-so-self-sufficient, she was


It gets tricky here on this word ‘gender.’ I do not – for reasons that become clear further along – want to separate ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ as if they are two different things, one biological and one social, creating a false duality. But for the purpose of clarity, I will use ‘gender’ to refer not to a social ‘dimension’ of human sexuality, but to an actual system of unequal power.

Radical feminism is the form of revolutionary feminism that sees male social power and its oppression of women as cutting across national and class boundaries. It came of age in the 60s and 70s, and provided some of the most important critiques of patriarchy as a system. It has now been isolated and shunned, much as Marxism has, in the academy, because of the revolutionary implications of its critique.


always there, available. She taught me to read before I was four years old. How can anyone ever be repaid for that, for the ability to read and the love of books? In everything I write there is a lot of Sherry, my partner for 15 years now. I started writing after we met, and in some ways, when I imagine to whom I am writing, it is always to her. She is the person I ‘see’ and who sees me, comely and homely and in-betweenly. In a kind of goofy adolescent way, I still want to impress her. After all the stress and storm, and all the separations, and the precious islets of silliness and laziness and sensuousness, I still have a crush on her. De asked me who is the ideal reader. I have no clue. I am making no assumptions. I’ll wager that when Maria Mies and Patricia Williams, Jessica Benjamin and bell hooks, Rosemary Hennessy and Chandra Mohanty, were writing books, the last person they imagined reading them would be a middle-aged southern white male who’d retired from the Army. But here their books are, all over my little cubicle, dog-eared from rereading, underlined and highlighted, with copious notes and questions scribbled all over the margins, and these brilliant women are swimming around in my head. This is a book for people who want to participate in history, because that’s all I can think of that I want to do and that I might have in common with all those different imaginary readers. I won’t attempt to keep this stream of discourse popular. If we are challenging those who do not have power to take power, that means acquiring the conceptual weapons to challenge and then exercise power. If heavy theory – and there’s some of that here – wasn’t valuable, the rich wouldn’t reserve it for their own children. And if someone were teaching you how to use a firearm, that person would be irresponsible to reject the formal instruction required to use it correctly. What I have tried to do to make the book user friendly to more readers, however, is include exhaustive, same-page footnotes not only for citations but for words or ideas that are not common in everyday use. If I were looking at these questions for the first time, I would like to save myself all those trips to the dictionary – even knowing how badly I need, and we all need, new words to represent unfamiliar things. In that regard, I guess I’d like to believe that any motivated college freshman can make sense of this polyglot of storytelling, reflecting, theorizing, and debunking. Any college freshman, or any soldier, or any secretary… anyone who likes to read and wonders about sex and war and how they are related, and is prepared to see things, at least for the duration of the read, through a set of lenses that you can’t get from the dominant culture. Any time I have wanted to highlight a word as ‘so-called’ or otherwise quoted but not directly quoted, I have used the ‘single inverted commas.’ When the quote is a direct reference to what someone cited has said, I have used the standard double-tick “quotation marks.” Lengthier quotes are indented, offset, and italicized. Shorter quotes are folded into the format of the general narrative. Sex & War is a process, and if there’s a theme it’s ‘spot the system.’ Learn to spot the system all around us. Make the invisible visible. Then we can fight it.


… our sons must become men – such men as we hope our daughters, born and unborn, will be pleased to live among. Our sons will not grow into women. Their way is more difficult than that of our daughters, for they must move away from us, without us. Hopefully ours have what they have learned from us, and a howness to forge into their own image. -Audre Lorde I freed thousands of slaves. I could have freed thousands more, if they had known they were slaves. -Harriet Tubman

The recent emergence of the U.S. as consumer of last instance in world capitalism has disrupted older post-WWII system masculinities/femininities and replaced them with ‘desire diversification’ to create new consumer ‘identities.’ This trend has run headlong into right-wing reaction with the recent militarization of US policy, the reassertion of the US security state, and the perceived need to resurrect a reactionary model of violent hegemonic (white nationalist) masculinity.


Introduction I tried out for Delta Force in 1982. Delta selection – more formally “Selection and Assessment for 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta” – was conducted in the West Virginia mountains around Kingwood and Terra Alta. Natives and part-time adventurers from that region will know what I’m talking about when I bring up mountain laurel. Mountain laurel, botanically named Kalmia, is also called calfkill and lambkill by old timers. It is a relative of the rhododendron and has similar waxy dark evergreen leaves and pink or white blossoms. It kills animals because it is highly toxic. Honey made by bees that use mountain laurel can actually cause cardiac arrhythmia. It is a very serious shrub. My experience, the experience of all Delta Force candidates, and that of hikers and hunters in West Virginia, is not related to ingestion of this ubiquitous vegetation, but to the plant’s architecture. Mountain laurel grows along the Appalachian slopes in thickets worthy of the name. These mountain laurel stands are thin at the edges but grow denser as they are entered, where, by some process still undisclosed by science, they surround passers-by and leave little sign of one’s point of entry. They are not really shrubs and they are not exactly trees, but a kind of hybrid that grows to human height on twisting, arm-thick boughs that are hard as iron and braided loosely through one another. If you do manage to break one of these boughs in a fit of entangled frustration, it fractures longitudinally into bright yellow spikes approximately as hard as frayed bridge cable. These can tear clothing, disassemble equipment and even disembowel the unfortunate dunce who chooses to fight the thicket. One needs a very good reason to deliberately go into mountain laurel. I once took a short cut through a 500-meter ribbon of it as an alternative to going three miles around it, and that turned out to be a big mistake. I ended up forced to shed my rucksack and rifle and push them forward through the tangle on all fours ahead of me as I strenuously laced myself through the malevolent shrubbery. I exited the high side of the thicket bleeding, wheezing like an emphysema patient, and profoundly dehydrated even in the thirty-degree weather. But there are times when to get to where you need to be, you may have to go through the mountain laurel. The relationship between imperial militarism and gender makes mountain laurel look like a field of sweet clover. This book does not aim to solve many riddles, only to re-pose them. Sexuality and state violence are each arduous thickets on their own accounts. Together they are more formidable than the sum of their parts. I want to suggest that to get to the other side of this thicket, the rucksack will have to come off, and the path of inquiry will have to weave over, under, around, and through the many stubborn branches. The list of things related to gender as a system of power that I will not cover in this book is inconceivable in length. The list of things about the military I could cover, but won’t, is equally inexhaustible. The list of topics that this book might explore in the inter-relation between the two is pretty much infinite. I have neither the energy nor the confidence to go much beyond where I’ve gone here, and where I’ve gone has been challenging. It’s just one modest contribution to a much larger discussion. Sex & War is not a thesis-book, but a cognitive stream. Sometimes I used recollection, and sometimes I relied on plain, garden variety study, and sometimes I ventured into theory. The greatest failings of this book will be direct reflections of my own inability to fully comprehend all the implications of what I wrote here.


Death War is to man what maternity is to woman. -Benito Mussolini As this is written, around two thousand U.S. troops have lost their lives in Iraq, and more than 100,000 Iraqis have died. I can’t distinguish combatant from civilian because the reports are mostly lies. All these have died just since the March 2003 ground offensive. Fewer than 3,000 people were killed in the September 11 attacks, while around 4,000 Afghans were killed in the invasion and subsequent occupation of that country in the wake of 9/11. Some estimates put the toll of the pre-2003 invasion international sanctions at 1.7 million Iraqi dead. Around the world almost 3 million people will die of AIDS this year, and another 25 million will die early from hunger and malnutrition. Over 7 million will die from the plaque in their coronary arteries, 5 million will die from cerebrovascular disease, almost 4 million from lower respiratory infections, 2.6 million from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 2 million (mostly small children) from diarrhea, 1.6 million from tuberculosis, 1.3 million from various childhood diseases, 1.2 million from respiratory-tract cancers, 1.1 million from malaria, 870,000 from hypertension, 850,000 from stomach cancer and another 800,000 from cirrhosis of the liver. 745,000 will fall prey to measles. Around 3 million more will fall through a combination of colorectal cancer, yellow fever, sleeping sickness, nephrosis, liver cancer, and influenza. Motor vehicles will claim around 1.3 million. Suicide will take another 850,000. In the 20th Century, 4.1 billion people died. If we call the average height of the dead 50 inches and could string them head to foot, the human cadavers of the 20th Century would stretch out for 3,235,417 miles, enough to trace every paved road in the United States. Political killing – including organized warfare – took 167 million of those lives. Only 33.5 million were military people, so we need to be careful when we say that soldiers make the biggest sacrifices in war. Famine claimed 44 million in the 20th Century, proving that hunger is a more effective weapon than arms. Preventable blindness affected 35 million people. Almost a billion are chronically malnourished and without adequate potable water. 40 million are alive with AIDS. 100 million women every year have their genitals mutilated. Anyone reading this, at least for the next ten years is unlikely to survive the 21st Century. I will certainly die in the 21st Century. All those who died in the 20th Century would have died eventually. There will be a time in the not-too-distant future when not a single person alive today will be left, and the consciousness that resides individually within each of us will have the plug pulled on it forever. Even still – and this is interesting – there have only ever been around 15 billion human beings on the planet; that’s starting all the way back when our collective mother, the real Eve, an African woman, launched our species around 200,000 years ago. Almost half that number is alive on the planet right now, and a quarter of us died in just the last century.3 2005 started off with an Indian Ocean earthquake that triggered a tsunami, killing around 150,000 in one fell swoop, rivaling the approximately 200,000 killed in almost as short a time by the gratuitous atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by President Harry Truman in order to intimidate the post-war Soviet Union.4 We need some perspective before we tackle big subjects. This is only disheartening to those who deny death, and it is only demoralizing for those who prefer fantasy to reality. I take a kind of comfort in it, because it tells me there is a fundamental stability in the universe that’s not going to suddenly turn into something else. Denial is fear. Denial is individualism. These are features of the living, characteristics of those of us who are still around to make our way and perhaps actually do something to make the world less unpleasant for those who come after us. We die alone, and the dead fear nothing. Anxiety is an attribute only of those who are alive and aware and in society with others. In order to talk about war, I have to be able to talk about death, about how we face death, as well as how and why we kill.


“Death by Mass Unpleasantness,”


Alperovitz, Gar. Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima & Potsdam. The Use of the Atomic Bomb & the American Confrontation with Soviet Power [1965] (rev ed.; NY: Penguin, 1985).


Maronage It’s the French word for runaway, the noun, and it was used to refer to the slaves who ran away to live in autonomous communities in the mountains of Haiti when it was still the French slave-colony of Saint Domingue. Anglicized, the runaway slave was called a “maroon.” There are maroons in Haiti again, with the wave of repression sweeping the country in the wake of the last US-crafted coup d’etat (February 29, 2004). There is official repression – with fake charges against the leaders of popular organizations, and there is the unofficial cruelty being perpetrated by ex-militaries and ‘offduty’ police. Therefore many people have again moved into the mountains, hours by foot from the nearest roads, in order to ride out the latest colonial violence. Twice in 2004, I visited one of these maroon communities in the Central Plateau, where first 27 and eventually 54 people had established themselves on the steep, green mountainsides, constructed houses of bamboo and grass, and started raising banana, beans, yams, and chickens. The first group was all men. Women had remained behind with children, and the men – more frequently the target of the paramilitaries – had come as a kind of advance party to do the building and planting. A handful of women are now showing up. The floors are dirt, and bedding consists of a straw mat with a blanket to ward off the night chill of the mountains. One day I discovered a hen laying an egg on my folded blanket. People sleep together, sometimes three to a mat, sharing blankets and warmth, and it is nothing to see four men taking a nap together with their limbs entangled like small children and their bodies unselfconsciously pressed together. In day-to-day interactions, these men cut one another’s hair, shave each other with a single naked razor blade, and hold hands while they talk or walk together. And Haiti is a homophobic culture. While the masisit is not beaten down and tied to a snowy Wyoming fence to die, he is considered a lesser-man, partially a woman in this particular Haitian version of patriarchy. I point that out not as an indictment, since I think much of Haitian homophobia and patriarchy is at least partly the residue of Haiti’s exposure to Europeans, and because the point of these remarks is not homophobia in Haiti, but to show the social sexualization of touch. Even with homophobia as one of the sexual organizing principles of Haitian culture, the forms of touch that people in the United States would instantly perceive as (homo)sexual – and the forms of touch between men in this instance that are scrupulously avoided and policed in North American culture – are not sexualized in the least in Haiti. In the evenings, when the tiny radio pipes in music from Cap Haitien, these men also dance together.


Natural I’m not sure how much more clearly I could demonstrate the social constructed-ness of sexuality, or the power of ‘naturalization’5 – in which a socially constructed phenomenon is treated as if it were the outcome of natural laws – to conceal that social constructed-ness. Perhaps the most important thing I have learned in my later life is to be very suspicious any time something is referred to as ‘natural.’ Like natural sex. Like human nature. If we could just learn to substitute the term “socialized” or “enculturated” every time we use the word natural with regard to human beings, we’d be a good deal more accurate. I am watching my grandson during his early development, and after knowing how to suck milk, move his muscles, and pick at things with his fingers, pretty much everything else he is getting from all the rest of us. He kisses me readily now, and likes to lay on my chest, but there may come a time when his enculturation will – unfortunately – make him squeamish about these displays of affection. We take a lot away from boys, and we take it away early. I do not want to see him put on the emotional armor of a man. Oddly enough, my own departure from this kind of gender-touch-policing came with my membership in that most homophobic of institutions, the U.S. Army. It was in those austere environments – in both operations and training – where exposure to the elements led to two, three, and four men cramming themselves together under a single poncho, spooning together to sleep under one poncho liner, sharing body heat against the wet and cold. Part of my Ranger indoctrination was, “We’re all we got out there, and you ain’t gonna make it if you don’t know when you got to hug a motherfucker to stay warm.” Note how the macho tone is used to neutralize any implication of the erotic. Funny how these exigencies are all that’s needed to overcome a lifetime of training to the contrary. It has to be said, however, that one of the reasons I saw a ‘withering away’ of certain aspects of homophobia among some (certainly not all) people in the ‘elite’ units of the military, was that we had already ‘proved our masculinity’ in such overwhelming ways – through extremely difficult and often very dangerous action, including the demonstrated willingness to take human life – that the sexually-paranoid bluster of many American men was no longer required as a defense mechanism. Never underestimate fear. It is the glue that holds oppressive social systems together.


Naturalizing: Treating a socially constructed phenomenon as if it were an outcome solely of natural laws.


Killing Jaydin – my grandson – watches television. All kids here in the U.S. do. He will never remember when he began to understand how to use the remote to turn the television on and off, even though his counterpart in the Haitian mountains will be perfectly baffled and amazed when she first sees these gadgets ten years from now, if ever. Jaydin’s favorite video is “Sesame Street Sings Karaoke.” He sings along with it, dances to the music, and even applauds certain parts. Many of the characters are animals. Not real animals. These animals talk and sing and are completely anthropomorphic.6 Americans in general have all been raised with these images of humanized beasts – from Bambi to Shrek’s jive-talking donkey pal. We keep animals as companions, and we even give them people-names. My daughter’s beagle is named Baybee; she wanted to hip-hop the spelling, give this hyperactive creature a tag. We have the ASPCA here. We have mass organizations to protect animals from cruelty. We don’t slaughter our own animals. When we buy a package of pork fillets there’s absolutely nothing there in the plastic-wrapped symmetry of the cut meat to remind us that this was once a sensible creature, or that the first step in its preparation for our table was a bolt driven into its skull in the killing room at some hellish enclosed facility by an underpaid immigrant who is exhausted at the end of eight hours of butchery. Americans feed the scraps to Poopy, the Labrador Retriever who seems to understand full English sentences and sleeps next to the bed. Mimine is a 22-year-old Haitian woman, hiding in the mountains of the Central Plateau because after the 2004 coup d’etat the ex-militaries threatened her for her political activity. Her two-year-old daughter is with relatives. The goat tied up behind the kwisin7 has been there for two days when she unties it, pulls it by the rope to a stump, rolls it expertly with her strong arms and rough hands onto a stump, and saws through its carotid artery with three strokes of a knife, cutting short its bleating protest, and raising the hind legs to ensure good drainage of the bursting spring of bright red blood. This goat will be divided between more than three dozen people today and will be – along with some beans – the only dietary protein they get. The work to finish preparing it will take hours. When Mimine is trimming connective tissue from the skeletal muscles, slicing up the tripe, and carving the liver, she is seated on a rough stool, her hands slightly macerated from immersion in the sour orange juice and water that marinates and disinfects the meat, feet bare and thick, with the killing blood still spattered across her lower legs. For her comrades, who mill and work around her, she is no more or less remarkable than anyone else. She is a woman. She is Haitian. Sometimes, she kills sensible creatures. If she needs to, I have no doubt, she will kill a man. If I were to tell them I have two dogs with names, this would be remarkable. There is no space in a life where survival is so near a concern for sentimentality about beasts. I admire the form of a circling bird of prey. One of the men looks up and tells me the name of the bird in disgust, malfini. He adds, “Mange poul.” It eats chickens. He’s not outside ‘nature’ looking in. This bird competes with him for food. And – not to idealize peasants – he has no idea that this killing of competitors has led to the near extinction of many of the species that were native to this island. Killing is part of life here. One reason these mountains provide refuge is that there are places here where macoutes – armed partisans of the big landowners, named for the Tonton Macoutes, President Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s Gestapo-like militia—have gone and not come back. When two of them attacked Lavalas people in Plaisance last year, and were repelled with an unexpected weapon, it was the peasants who cornered the fleeing macoutes (who had dropped their weapons). The peasants dispatched them both with machetes – quick and easy as killing a goat – and went on their way. No post-traumatic stress disorder here. Malfinis eat chickens. Macoutes kill peasants and poor people. It’s survival math, the computation of a pastoral-agrarian pre-industrial society riven with multiple and violent class contradictions. Haiti is not like us. It is a different society that produces a different kind of consciousness. Sex and killing are constructed differently here. This is not about human nature.


Anthropomorphic – Human-like. Kitchen


Dislocation Dave Grossman, a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the Army, made quite a little ripple a couple of years ago with his book, On Killing – The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society8, and even spawned a new academic discipline – “killology.” His thesis is that killing is contrary to human nature, and therein lies the reason for (1) post-traumatic stress disorder in combat veterans, and (2) the need for the military to brainwash its recruits to overcome this ‘natural’ disinclination to kill. I indicated earlier that words like nature and natural should always hit the skepticism switch, but I did not say – as some Althusserians9 have – that there is no such thing as human nature.10 This is an important distinction, and in any discussion of either sex or war, a critical one, because there has been such widespread abuse of ‘nature’ in much of the discourse about both. Killing is an act that can fragment the personality of the colonizer. It is an act that can liberate the colonized. It’s all a question of one’s world view and its vulnerabilities. It’s a standpoint issue. It depends on where you are standing. This is why I concur with Alf Hornborg’s claim that anthropology – even amateur anthropology – has an important role in providing the kind of “dislocative jolt” we often need to overcome faulty but wellentrenched patterns of thought.11 Comparisons of dramatically different social organizations throw social construction into bold relief, and they conversely12 help us get at what might actually be intrinsic13 to human beings… as members of a species. Everywhere I’ve been people smile. But it takes remarkably different incentives at times to elicit that smile. Everywhere I’ve been people listen to music, but that music is always unique. Everywhere I’ve been people have sex, but the rituals and protocols are stunningly diverse. The whole business of trying to separate human individuals from human society or human society from ‘nature’ or human individuals from other human individuals is Cartesian dualism14 – which is wrong. But we default to it, because our whole world view is the sub-divided, compartmentalized15 reflection of bourgeois16 science17, property relations, and generalized
8 9

Little Brown & Company, 1996.

Althusserian – “Louis Althusser (b. 1918) was a French Marxist philosopher who saw Marxism as a science. His work is in the structuralist tradition. One feature of Althusserian Marxism is a rejection of Marx's Hegelian essentialism. Essentialism is a reduction of things to a single principle or essence. Althusser rejected two kinds of Marxist essentialism: economism (economic determinism) and humanism (in which social developments were seen as expressive of a pre-given human nature). So Althusserian Marxism is anti-economist and anti-humanist. In rejecting economism he saw ideology as itself a determining force shaping consciousness, embodied in the material signifying practices of ‘ideological state apparatuses’, and enjoying ‘relative autonomy’. Althusser's work represents a move away from a preoccupation with economic determination.” – Daniel Chandler Author’s note: As I said earlier, this claim of economic determinism is specious.
10 11 Hornborg, Alf. 2001. The Power of the Machine – Global Inequalities of Economy, Technology, and Environment. AltaMira Press.
12 13 14

Conversely: When the terms of a relation are reversed. Intrinsic: Belonging to a thing by its very nature.

Dualism: Western patriarchal thinking is based on 'dualism', a world view that orders the world by dividing it into opposed pairs of concepts: Mind is split from body, spirit from matter, male from female, culture from nature. One concept in each pair is deemed superior to the other. This 'other' is sometimes demonized and always discriminated against. Concepts on both sides are bound into complex relationships which become mutually reinforcing. Groups that are oppressed in our society are often associated with the body rather than the mind and may be portrayed as intuitive but overemotional (feminized). Other societies have other versions of dualism. Cartesian dualism is a Western construct.
15 16

Compartmentalized: Divided up into compartments or categories. Bourgeois: The modern, property-owning, ruling class. Not, as many incorrectly believe, the ‘middle’ class.


commodification…18 a reflection of the organization of our society and the ideas that perpetuate the power of those who are dominant within it… be they capitalists, white people, or men. 19


The orthodox view of science in which interactions between phenomena are intentionally excluded from the study of the same phenomena (atomizing) for the purpose of describing phenomena empirically – reducing them as much as possible to linear causes-and-effects.
18 19

Commodification: The transformation of things into commodities, into things for sale. The Green Fuse – Ecofeminism


Affect I think there is another aspect of an intrinsic human nature that has been overlooked by the left – at our peril. Just as we need oxygen and glucose and water, we have an intrinsic need for emotional attachment, and this emotional, or ‘affective’ need is more basic than our need to understand, especially our need to understand in the domain20 to which writing like this addresses itself. Affective need is not opposed to that kind of interpretive reaching and intellectual creativity, but it is prior to it in a kind of Maslowian hierarchy.21 While I might refer clinically to it as affective need, others might describe the same need as ‘spiritual.’ Marcuse would call it cathexis,22 and Audre Lorde just called it the erotic – that psychic-emotional tug that connects us to the world. We are not only affectively bonded to other people, we are affectively bonded to aspects of our environment, to certain gestalts23, to (in some cases) other creatures, to rituals, and to our belief systems. Sex and killing are both freighted with affective meaning, completely embedded in highly emotional belief systems, but while the need for affective attachment is universal, the specific content of those belief systems – and the emotional reactions to concrete situations related to killing or sexualized activity – is neither universal nor ‘natural.’ There is no killing gene, and there is no non-killing gene, any more than there is a gene for heterosexual state-sanctioned monogamy. And the attempt to retreat into naturalized explanations of these behaviors is an affective reaction – a withdrawal based on one’s earliest socialized fear of chaos in the absence of meaning. Meaning-making is part of human nature. Actual meanings are social constructions. There are people who don’t want to acknowledge that their own marriage is not a ‘natural,’ that is, timelessly universal, the manifestation of some divinely ordained human nature. And it is easy for someone to be manipulated by that fear into voting Republican in reaction to ‘gay marriage.’ But the notion among those who might never vote Republican – as it were – even Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman (retired), that killing is timelessly and universally unnatural is a manifestation of the same reaction, and manifested just as much in the desire to turn one’s back on the evidence of Mimine – who kills a goat effortlessly, when her metropolitan female counterpart might experience post-traumatic stress disorder if she were forced to kill a sensible animal for food. I’m not trying to posit either an intrinsic right or wrong, nor am I advocating complete moral relativism with regard to either sex or killing. I simply want to divest of our particular cultural baggage to provide that ‘dislocative jolt.’


Cognitive domain: The area of human action which pertains to mental processes such as intellectual learning, and problem solving.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – “Abraham Maslow is known for establishing the theory of a hierarchy of needs, writing that human beings are motivated by unsatisfied needs, and that certain lower needs need to be satisfied before higher needs can be satisfied.”
22 23

Cathexis: The libidinal energy invested in some idea or person or object.

Gestalt: A structure, configuration, or pattern of physical, biological, or psychological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by summation of its parts.


Entertainment If we are serious about breaking out of the impasse of resistance, we have to figure out what’s causing it. I think it is our own disinclination to confront all the ways we have accepted the premises of the right, all the ways we have tried to naturalize our own moral prejudices, and all the ways we have retreated from the threatening transience of our existence, that we have backed ourselves into corners. Trying to identify homosexual genes to counter heterosexual genes won’t cut it, any more than trying to ascribe moral equivalence to the organized violence of a Filipino guerrilla army and the U.S. pillage of Fallujah. If both a Filipino guerrilla and a U.S. soldier commit a rape, that is certainly in some ways individually equivalent. But the killing of an enemy who is an occupier can not be equivalent to the killing of an enemy who is occupied. Seek context. Flee abstraction. I need to note that most of my generalizations in this book are about Americans. War and sex both frighten American people, and therein is one reason why they are such energizing subjects for conversation, entertainment, and art. Sex and war make voyeurs of most of us, and this is an age of voyeurism. And social Darwinism24 And narcissism. In the United States of America, we live not in the land of the free and home of the brave, but in the land of Fear Factor, Survivor, The Real World, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Batchelorette, Cops, Jerry Springer, and all the rest of the humorously named ‘reality TV.’ These spectacles herd us all into the safety of our living rooms where the big bad world embodying all those grim statistics above can be safely rendered invisible, where our anxieties can be domesticated, and where we can learn – supine before our televisions – that happiness will be found only in its commodity25 forms. Some people would like to underplay the significance of television, but we cannot ignore the fact that average Americans sit gazing into this electromagnetic data stream for an average of 70 full 24-hour days each year – that’s almost 20 percent of our lives, 29 percent of our waking lives. 248 million of us are tuned in, and this is not content-neutral information to which we are exposing ourselves. Those who say “Lighten up, we are just relaxing,” are deluding themselves that they are left unaffected by the content and form of television. We pay an average of $255 per person (not family) to television services each year, maintain 2.4 TVs per household, where $40-45 billion dollars is paid by advertisers to find their way into our living rooms and (more and more) our bedrooms.26 Marie Winn, in her book Plug-in Drug – Television, Computers, and Family Life27, compares television to drug addiction: When we think about addiction to drugs or alcohol we frequently focus on negative aspects, ignoring the pleasures that accompany drinking or drug-taking. And yet the essence of any serious addiction is a pursuit of pleasure, a search for a 'high' that normal life does not supply. It is only the inability to function without the addictive substance that is dismaying, the dependence of the organism upon a certain experience and an increasing inability to function normally without it. Thus people will take two or three drinks at the end of the day not merely for the pleasure drinking provides, but also because they 'don't feel normal' without them. Real addicts do not merely pursue a pleasurable experience one time in order to function normally. They need to repeat it again and again. Something about that particular experience makes life without it less than complete. Other potentially pleasurable experiences are no longer possible, for under the spell of the addictive experience, their lives are


Social Darwinism: The principle that “the survival of the fittest” applies to human ethics and politics just as it does to biological evolution. The problem is that Darwin didn’t make this claim even about biological evolution. This idea was used to justify the colonial conquest of other, often ‘darker’ people by the European ruling classes.

Commodity: A thing produced for use, but for which the motive to produce it is ‘exchange,’ that is, in the modern world, for sale. The car maker is not producing because he needs to drive, but to sell the cars (commodities) for money.
26 27

Public Information Office, US Census Bureau, Publication CB04-FFSE.04 Penguin, 2002.


peculiarly distorted. The addict craves an experience and yet is never really satisfied. The organism may be temporarily sated, but soon it begins to crave again. Finally, a serious addiction is distinguished from a harmless pursuit of pleasure by its distinctly destructive elements. Heroin addicts, for instance, lead a damaged life: their increasing need for heroin in increasing doses prevents them from working, from maintaining relationships, from developing in human ways. Similarly alcoholics' lives are narrowed and dehumanized by their dependence on alcohol. Let us consider television viewing in the light of the conditions that define serious addictions. Not unlike drugs or alcohol, the television experience allows the participant to blot out the real world and enter into a pleasurable and passive mental state. The worries and anxieties of reality are as effectively deferred by becoming absorbed in a television program as by going on a 'trip' induced by drugs or alcohol. And just as alcoholics are only vaguely aware of their addiction, feeling that they control their drinking more than they really do ('I can cut it out any time I want—I just like to have three of four drinks before dinner'), people similarly overestimate their control over television watching. Even as they put off other activities to spend hour after hour watching television, they feel they could easily resume living in a different, less passive style. But somehow or other, while the television set is present in their homes, the click doesn't sound. With television pleasures available, those other experiences seem less attractive, more difficult somehow. Finally it is the adverse effect of television viewing on the lives of so many people that defines it as a serious addiction. The television habit distorts the sense of time. It renders other experiences vague and curiously unreal while taking on a greater reality for itself. It weakens relationships by reducing and sometimes eliminating normal opportunities for talking, for communicating." (pp. 23-25) Ethnobotanist Terrence McKenna’s book Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge – A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution28 is based on McKenna’s anthropological studies of altered consciousness, induced by both chemicals and ritual/incantation. In it, he studies television as the modern-day equivalent of shamanism and hallucinogenic religious practices. He finds in heroin the perfect analog for television. The nearest analogy to the addictive power of television and the transformation of values that is wrought in the life of the heavy user is probably heroin. Heroin flattens the image; with heroin, things are neither hot nor cold; the junkie looks out at the world certain that what ever it is, it does not matter. The illusion of knowing and of control that heroin engenders is analogous to the unconscious assumption of the television consumer that what is seen is 'real' somewhere in the world. In fact, what is seen are the cosmetically enhanced surfaces of products. Television, while chemically non-invasive, nevertheless is every bit as addicting and physiologically damaging as any other drug. The interesting thing about McKenna’s analysis is that it does not settle for a notion of ‘addiction’ that is abstracted out of history and social systems, as Winn does, reducing television addiction to an individual pathology. “Most unsettling of all in this,” says McKenna, “[is that] the content of television is not a vision but a manufactured data stream that can be sanitized to ‘protect’ or impose cultural values… Serious study of the effects of television on health and culture has only begun recently. Yet no drug in history has so quickly or completely isolated the entire culture of its users from contact with reality. And no drug in history has so completely succeeded in remaking in its own image the values of the culture that it has infected.” McKenna calls television a “dominator drug par excellence… control of content, uniformity of content, repeatability of content make it inevitably a tool of coercion, brainwashing, and manipulation.” (pp. 218-220) In 1911, Fredrick Winslow Taylor published a set of ideas designed to maximize worker efficiency by the coordinating the actions of workers to produce uniform products. What TV makes possible is a sort of

Bantam, 1993.


ideological Taylorism put into effect during the after work hours, for the purpose of creating uniform manufacturedgoods. De Clarke wrote to me that what porn does to sex, McDonalds does to food. Egg McMuffins and Big Macs. Cream pies and facials. I would add film to television, not only to avoid fetishizing29 one medium, but because films spend a bit more time with us, and they structure as well as reflect our cultural mythologies. Film is what Rosemary Hennessy, in her highly commendable book Profit and Pleasure – Sexual Identities in Late Capitalism30, called “one of the most pervasive forms of cultural narrative in industrialized societies [and] serves as an extremely powerful vehicle of myth.” (p. 144) She uses Roland Barthes’ definition of ‘myth’: “The very principle of myth is its transformation of history into Nature.” There it is again: Naturalization.


Fetishize: Removing a thing from its history and social context and describing it or thinking of it as a thing without a history or a social context. From the religious idea of a thing that has magical qualities, a fetish, separating it from the real world.

Routledge, 2000.


Icons On September 24, 2004, CNN reported charges brought against three US Navy SEALs in the death of an Iraqi detainee, part of a much larger damage control investigation in the wake of the Abu Ghraib photo crisis – an investigation that quietly expanded to 222 abuse cases, 54 of which resulted in detainee deaths. One reason this particular set of charges managed to push the story back out of media limbo was the involvement of SEALs, who like all ‘Special Operations’ troops have become masculine cultural icons. Let’s go to the movies. In September 2004, my 18-year-old son brought home a Blockbuster DVD of the Denzel Washington hit, Man on Fire. I have avoided watching films that feature guns and fireballs on the marquees ever since I worked as the military advisor for the reprehensible Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Collateral Damage. But on this particular day, there was a three-hour space, and it seemed an opportunity to do something with my son that he wanted to do, even if it was just catching a flick. Man on Fire was well-written, expertly acted, skillfully directed, and edgily edited with plenty of free-cameras, whip-pans, and jump-cuts for the MTV generation. It is a modern filmic myth, perfectly suited to the Pyrrhic31 last gasp of the American empire. Washington’s character, a Special Operations veteran struggling with anesthetic alcoholism and the grim memories of his imperial adventures, is drawn into a complex Mexican kidnapping scheme as the bodyguard for a terminally intelligent and charming little girl – an American expat child named Pita living in dark and dangerous Mexico City with her attractive parents, a Americanized Mexican father and an American mother. There is an early reveal-scene with a former spec-ops colleague, a dissipated but likeable32 expatriate himself, Rayburn, played by Christopher Walken. Washington’s character, Creasy, asks, “Do you think God will ever forgive us for what we’ve done?” Rayburn replies, simply, “No.” This is a sly male-revenge-fantasy film in more ways than one. The pivot for the emotional manipulation of the audience is Pita’s character (brilliantly played by Dakota Fanning). There is an almost easy-going character development in the first half of the film that draws the audience in emotionally to Creasy’s guilt and pain. Finally, Man on Fire’s fine acting almost makes believable that favored film convention in the United States – the salt ‘n’ peppa buddy-team – always reassuring to America in its stubborn denial of our racialized reality. Washington is a Black actor who has consistently had strong crossover appeal with white audiences. The question about God’s forgiveness and the fact that Creasy carries, reads, and commits to memory portions of his Bible (which the cosmopolitan Creasy quotes in Spanish to a Mexican nun, before telling her he is a “lost sheep”) are combined with a hypnotic and elegiac background score that clearly makes HollywoodGod one of the film’s main characters. God intervenes with an epiphany for Creasy when he attempts suicide with his pistol and the bullet fails to fire. Drunk and crying in the pouring night rain with his favorite song, Linda Rondstadt’s Blue Bayou wailing away (I told you this film is manipulative), he calls his friend, Rayburn, and asks what it means when a bullet fails to fire… not letting on that he has attempted to blow his own head off. Rayburn then shares some Hollywood-concocted spec-ops lore that “a bullet never lies.” This is Creasy’s road to Damascus, whereupon he becomes Pita’s surrogate father, as her own treacherous (Mexican) father plots to have her kidnapped for the insurance (he will die by the same truthful bullet later in the film). Act II is Creasy and the child falling into filial love, whereupon Pita is kidnapped. Creasy is gravely wounded in a heroic attempt to foil the sequestration, the plan goes sour, and Pita is killed. This is the cue for Creasy to become the instrument of God’s justice, of course, and even before he is mended from his ever more Christ-like and manly wounds, he begins to hunt down, systematically (and even sexually) torture, and exterminate every participant in the kidnapping and ostensible murder of fair Pita. The audience is carried along on its well-massaged emotions, and we are invited to revel in the cruelty of Creasy cutting off a crooked Mexican cop’s fingers one at a time as part of his interrogation, and in the anal rape of one of Creasy’s victims with explosives.

Pyrrhic: Refers to Pyrrhus, a Greek general who defeated the Romans at the cost of destroying his own army. A ‘Pyrrhic victory’ is one that comes at too great a cost. 32 I use the term “dissipated but likeable” here to describe a film convention, not my personal feelings toward the character Rayburn – who is only likeable if you admire the imperial sexual predations of a man who uses the power of his dollars in a poor economy to surround himself with nubile sexual attendants.


In a fine imperialist flourish, the honest but ineffectual Mexican police stand aside while the American warrior Creasy delivers God’s justice in a lethal wave of violent masculine revenge-energy, until the denouement when Creasy, now Christ-like, walks willingly to his death in exchange for Pita (who it turns out is alive after all), telling her he is going “home to Blue Bayou.” Creasy, who believed he could not be forgiven by God, instead serves as God’s instrument of war and is redeemed. As one of the most pervasive forms of cultural narrative in industrialized societies, commercial film serves as an extremely powerful vehicle of myth… To some extent the scripts that do get picked up manage to be supported because they already articulate a culture’s social imaginary – the prevailing images a society needs to project about itself in order to maintain certain features of its organization. This social imaginary is not simply encoded in a film or decoded by the viewer from the film’s formal structures. Rather, the mythic meanings of films are the effect of a social and dynamic process of meaning-making in which their production and reception participate. Any film text comes to make sense by means of the historically available modes of intelligibility – a variety of assumptions about reality – through which the spectator chains together the film’s signifiers into a meaningful story. (Hennessy, pp. 144-5) Linda Kintz, in her study of right-wing Christianity, Between Jesus and the Market33, examines, “the emotions that matter in Right Wing America.” . She calls this social imaginary the “national popular… based not on content but effects.” In every reactionary34 conjuncture, there is a destabilization of both the material foundations of middle-class existence and its belief systems, and in those periods of destabilization, like our current deindustrializing post-modern period, there is “no anchoring effect to link emotions and desires to meaning.” (pp. 60)


Duke University Press, 1997. Reactionary: One who favors reaction, or seeks to undo political progress or revolution.



Decoys People need emotional attachment… to something, and if one security-structure disappears in a period of dislocation they will seek out other meaning-making structures to re-anchor those emotions. The thing that the Right has well understood, and that the Left is only just now grasping, is that there is no persuasive appeal to critical thought or logic because these meanings are beyond the reach of tested interpretations. “The intensity of mattering, while ideologically constructed, is nevertheless ‘always beyond ideological challenge because it is called into existence affectively’” (Kintz, pp. 61) Robert Connell, writing in Masculinities35, said, “In gender terms, fascism was a naked reassertion of male supremacy… To accomplish this, fascism promoted new images of hegemonic36 masculinity, glorifying irrationality (the ‘triumph of the will’, thinking with ‘the blood’) and the unrestrained violence of the frontline soldier.” “A bullet never lies,” is the emotionally resonant wisdom of a divinely sanctioned male death cult – manufactured on the laptop of a script writer – who is not feeding the culture but interacting with it as it acquiesces to, nay, feeds into, the slaughter in Southwest Asia. In a sense, then, Man on Fire was the cultural recoding37 of precisely the rationale deployed within the American culture as the troops were deployed into Afghanistan and Iraq. A mission, sanctioned by God to deliver his retributive justice, that rationalizes the suspension of ineffectual law in favor of raw masculine violence against the caricatures of Evil,38 and that might require that we commit torture and even murder to serve a higher call for justice and order. Creasy, disguised as a Black man to divert us from the fascist content of this film, is the strong, violent father – a constant in the emotional cosmos39 of Mussolini, of Franco, and of Hitler. So we needn’t be shocked when we hear that SEALs were committing torture and even murder. Nor should we be taken aback when we discover that by the end of 2004 there were dozens of these cases that were no longer worthy of even page 10. The citizens of America had studiously ignored these realities ever since it came to light that Special Forces were supervising torture and massacres in Mazar-i-Sharif in November, 2001, a fact ably and thoroughly documented by film maker Jamie Doran in Massacre at Mazar.40 The same cultural interaction that combines producer and viewer as participants in the meaningmaking of male revenge fantasy films, signals to ‘journalists’ what is and is not appropriate. If the story cannot be mapped onto the emotional terrain of imperial America, then it is not done at all. It is disappeared or spun41 as an aberration42 from our God-given destiny as bearers of the light to the deviant brown people of the world. That Denzel Washington is himself brown not only does not change this message, it gives it Americo-mythic “melting pot” cover.43
35 36 37

University of California Press, 1995. Hegemony is rule through the consent of the ruled. Hegemonic means holding the most sway in society.

Recoding: Converting from one code to another, in this case from the context of the real war in Southwest Asia to this cinema story.

“Evil” is an ideological device that recasts complex reality into one stark contrast, and represents enemies as intrinsically unredeemable, therefore worthy only of destruction. This is the reason politicians use the term when preparing for war, and the reason the media ‘demonizes’ enemy leaders, stripping them of any vestige of humanity. 39 Emotional Cosmos: Cosmos is defined as a vision of the universe as an orderly, harmonious whole. “Emotional cosmos” refers to the collection and relation of images and constructs that form the emotional architecture of an individual.

In public relations and journalism, ‘spin’ is the selective assembly of fact and nuance to support a particular view of a story.
42 43

Aberration: a state or condition markedly different from the norm.

The American myth of the “melting pot” that Americans learn in school suggests that even though we come from many cultures and histories, we are all the same ‘as Americans,’ or that we all aspire to be the same – the hidden premise here is that this sameness we want is to be like another myth, white ‘middle America.’


Washington’s character is a color decoy – as in duck hunting. Colin? Condoleeza? Condoleeza is also a gender decoy. Sex and Race are as mixed together as Sex and War. Colin and Condoleeza look like ducks, so they are supposed to convince all the other ducks that everything is okay. They are also supposed to convince all the non-ducks that the hunters are bird lovers. Rumsfeld’s own revenge fantasy organization is the ultra-secret P2OG, or Proactive Preemptive Operations Group, a Phoenix/MACSOG on steroids designed not only to respond to terrorism but to provoke it in order to justify a preordained response. You can be sure there will be no Black operators among the P2OG because at bottom they will be considered unreliable. Sorry, Denzel. Mere SEALs and Delta operators, unlike the Hollywood representations of them as paragons of diversity, are the units in the U.S. military with the absolute lowest numbers of African Americans, as is the CIA’s covert operations branch. Only an occasional token and thoroughly obedient Negro is allowed. Of course, women are excluded altogether. But we need all the myths in a world-view basket, and Hollywood accommodates: Imperial myths, melting pot myths, and hegemonic military masculinity myths, to “articulate a culture’s social imaginary – the prevailing images a society needs to project about itself in order to maintain certain features of its organization.” Those real features are the oil patch where the real military is obliged to do the real wet work, and the prisons and torture rooms that are needed to terrify the inconvenient population into submission. Without the myths, without Denzel’s tragic pose and truthful bullets and his willingness to saw the fingers off of Mexicans to get the information on time to protect the innocent from Evil, how are we to co-sign for Abu Ghraib and Mazar-i-Sharif? We aren’t even seeing the victims any longer; the corpses on ice while the young GI leers over the lifeless face, the naked bodies piled on one another, the hooded men hung by their handcuffs. Thousands of new photographs have been repressed, but we get Man on Fire, redeeming himself before God with unspeakable violence. Or we get Michael Moore, showing us the PTSD victim, blasted out of his skull on morphine, talking about becoming a Democrat. Everyone is spinning the soldiers. In fact, Moore’s interviewee will not likely become a Democratic Party activist. More likely you’ll see him in five years – not as a redeemed warrior, but under a highway bridge with a cardboard sign. This is the military masculinity about which we seldom hear. But that does not make a comforting myth. We cannot achieve the the psychic and emotional attachment to the world we need here, that is “beyond ideological challenge because it is called into existence affectively.” No one wants an affective attachment without a happy ending. We are Americans, and we deserve what we have, and we are innocent as long as the blindfold is on. We don’t know what is happening in Abu Ghraib and Mazar-i-Sharif, because we don’t want to know. Mike Davis calls it ostrich-consensus. Vote. Take Prozac. Go to the movies. Turn on the television. As Barthes said, “The very principle of myth is its transformation of history into Nature.” There are four concepts that need to be clear to follow Barthes’ reasoning here, and they are concepts that are essential to eventually breaking down gender itself: Invisibility, availability, naturalization, and resonance.


Invisibility Invisibility has to do with those realities we fail to see even when we look at them. In American society, for example, there is a very obvious gender division of labor and a “racial” division of labor that is just as obvious. We see these every day, in fact live them, yet if you ask the average American if there is a gender or “racial” division of labor, that person will find a hundred ways to tell you no. We have been trained not to see these social phenomena precisely because seeing them (and not merely looking at them) has the potential in this day and age – when the publicists of our system are making claims of “land of opportunity,” pluralism, “successful women”, salt ‘n’ peppa buddy teams, and the like – to provoke social instability. These realities are rendered invisible. As an example, think of the clothes you have in your closet. You have looked at them many times, probably even including the labels, where most of them say something like, “Made in (These are the first three I find in my daughter’s closet) Korea… Sri Lanka… China.” There is an international division of labor clearly written on these clothes, but we have been trained to look at them for other qualities – size, color, design – and not for the information on the labels. We look, but we do not see, based on how we have been socialized to see. All our ways of knowing are thus constructed by society, and certain ways of knowing are emphasized by and integrated into the things we do. In the excellent film Dirty Pretty Things44 about undocumented aliens living underground in London, suddenly entangled with the international trade in human transplant organs, the Nigerian fugitive Okway (played by Chwetel Ejiofor), is asked during the climax of the film by a wealthy English organ purchaser, who were he and his two women companions (one a prostitute and another a Turkish laborer). Okway replies sardonically, “We are the people you don’t see. We drive your cabs, and clean your rooms, and suck your cocks.” It is a film about ‘invisibility.’ Film is neither intrinsically reactionary nor myth-making. Invisibility is sustained by certain culturally constructed beliefs and assumptions, social codes to which each of us is indoctrinated almost from birth, and which we don’t question because they have taken the aspect of a kind of law of nature. These codes provide us with the tools available to us to “make sense” of the world. Whatever and whoever decides what interpretive tools are available exercises a tremendous power, not the power of going beyond our ways of “knowing,” but the power of drawing the limits to how we “know.” As described above, our seeing the clothes in the closet a certain way renders the reality of Sri Lankan sweatshops invisible. A complex array of social institutions determines what interpretive tools are available – family, market, school, state, media, church, marriage, even heterosexuality itself functions as a kind of institution. Those interpretive strategies45 that are excluded from these formative institutions are generally not available.


Directed by Stephen Frears, released by Miramax Films in 2002, rated R.


A concept borrowed from literary critics – “The interpretation of the meaning of a natural event, or the assignment of it to a place in a scheme of things, is embodied in our recognition of that event’s existence. The interpretation of the meaning of a symbolic event, on the other hand, is embodied in our recognition of its structure that is, in our recognition of its possible communicational significance. In order to recognize the structure which defines a communication event, as distinguished from a natural event, we must bring to that act of recognition an assumption of intention. We must assume that the structure that we recognize is, in a sense, ‘made,’ performed, or produced for the purpose of ‘symbolizing,’ or communicating.” – Larry Goss


Availability Many power struggles revolve around this question of availability. Think for a moment about the ferocious struggles over sex education in public schools. This is an availability struggle. Without even having thought about it in that way, as a question of availability as power, people intuitively understand that a great deal is at stake. One of the purposes of this and other books addressing social issues from revolutionary perspectives is to make available to the reader and others new interpretive strategies and tools. Alf Hornborg, in The Power of the Machine – Global Inequalities of Economy, Technology, and Environment, points out that knowledge is never simply the objective apprehension of objective facts. “[M]aterial conditions never directly determine human behavior, for humans can relate to those conditions only through a specific system of meanings.” (p. 114) Knowledge is constructed within the limits of those meanings. The old ways of knowing, and here I return to Barthes’ comment that myth transforms “history into Nature,” attempt to present every aspect of the dominant system as if it is based not on power and social evolution, but on the very laws of nature. This is what feminists and others refer to as ‘naturalization.’ Simply understanding what naturalization is – having the concept of naturalization available as one of the instruments in one’s intellectual toolbox – allows us to see much at which we formerly only looked.


Naturalization Remember Mimine. Naturalization has two aspects that will be important further on: Naturalization treats the existing order as if it were decreed by Nature (almost a synonym for God), and naturalization is an exercise of power by ‘subjects’ (men, for example) over ‘nature’ (the object). In the former case, we frequently hear such bromides as “socialism is not consistent with human nature,” or “men are naturally more aggressive than women.” In the latter case, we encounter the separation of human beings (often described as ‘Man’) from their own environments, and in a relation of domination of Man over Nature (and anything that is reduced to nature, like women). This is an example of ‘dualism,’ and it is used to establish or justify relations of domination and subjugation. In describing the origin of the latter form of naturalization, Maria Mies in Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale – Women in the International Division of Labor46, writes, “a concept of nature arose which generalizes man-the-hunter’s dominance-relation to nature.” The division of the world which followed defined certain parts of the world as ‘nature’, that is, as savage, uncontrolled and, therefore, open for exploitation and civilizing efforts… the process of ‘naturalization’ did not affect only the colonies as a whole and women of the working class the women of the bourgeoisie also were defined into nature as mere breeders and rearers of the heirs of the capitalist class. But in contrast to the African women who were seen as part of ‘savage’ nature, the bourgeois women were seen as ‘domesticated’ nature.” (pp. 68-69) Thus the ‘white man’s burden,’ his obligation to domesticate and civilize, extends from the shores of the lands he colonizes into his home. Naturalization has more than persuasive force. It becomes part of each person’s cosmology, or world view. It is integrated into a system of meaning that is emotionally vital to the individual. Hornborg writes, “Humans everywhere subscribe to some version of cosmology in the sense of a corpus [body] of congealed and unquestionable meanings. Such a core of concepts and propositions is geared to social praxis47 and is a prerequisite for social interaction.” Hornborg goes on to describe why meanings have emotional resonance.


Zed Books, 1986, 1998.


Praxis: The synthesis of thinking and acting, or reflection and intervention. Sometimes called “reflective intervention.” Also used to describe the interfusion of “theory and practice.”


Resonance “Culture process – the construction of meaning – is propelled by fear of chaos.” Think back on the stark statistics of death at the beginning of this book. The universe is a wild, ultimately uncontrollable, and dangerous thing “Control is thus an important aspect of meaning.” (Hornborg, pp. 120) That need for emotional control should not be underestimated, particularly when we look at issues of gender. Our gender socialization is perhaps the earliest form of our socialization, beginning even before birth with the selection of clothing and a name. This accounts in large part for the intractability of gender construction. Our emotional attachment to gender ‘identity’ – and even our resistance to it – is pre-literate and deeply emotionally rooted. It is this emotional power that has the capacity to be mobilized for social and even political purposes. Linda Kintz calls this capacity resonance. In its general acoustical sense, resonance is defined as the intensification and prolongation of sound produced by sympathetic vibration. In the context of this study, resonance refers to the intensification of political passion in which people with very different interests are linked together by feelings aroused and organized to saturate the most public, even global, issues. Resonance is the almost ineffable element that constantly threatens to collapse church into state when politics are made (traditional) family-like: ‘In the beginning God created the family,’ In the words of Texas Congressman Tom Delay. Here the traditional family… provides a metaphoric resolution of the inherent tensions between cultural traditionalism and economic dynamism. These are resolved… in a ‘systematically gendered view of the world… The organic unity of the family resolves around male egoism and female selflessness into a smoothly functioning expression of divine intent. In this conservative cosmology, resonance is created by familiarization, which the culture wars are all about, really. In fierce opposition to the influence of feminism, traditionalist conservatism has reconstructed the primacy of a narrow definition of moral culture and the family so that it is the mother’s responsibility to train children in familiarity. [I will address this important point much later. –SG] That is, her intimate training of them can repress critical distance. By doing so, it grounds a political system in things that are already familiar, excluding difference from the earliest moments of child rearing. Children are raised to feel and experience their own sensuality, their own bodies, in very particular ways, and to look for and find others whose feelings, values, and identities are intimately familiar to them. While the most basic element in this construction of familiarity is the definition of woman primarily as the mother and man as father and head of the family, its corollary is the claim that anyone outside the traditional family is illegitimate, in the legal, historical, and metaphysical sense of the word. It is here that the rational arguments of familiarization are made to work in the very matter of the body, where they will resonate. (Kintz, pp. 6-7) Resonance is based on what Kintz calls “familiarity” and “sacred intimacy.” The powerful emotional association between an adult’s developed cosmology, the intimacy with one’s (usually) mother at a secure and security-seeking stage of development prior to confronting the world’s ‘chaos,’ and the need for meaning cannot be overstated. Moreover, human beings have a fundamental need for emotional connection that binds them to communities of the ‘familiar.’ Hennessy writes that, “Affective needs are inseparable from the social component of most need satisfaction, then, but they also constitute human needs in themselves…” (Hennessy, pp. 210-211) Back to Barthes, then… “The very principle of myth is its transformation of history into Nature.” The myths we see in film and television, then, bring the spectator in to apply available cultural categories that maintain the invisibility of dangerous forms of seeing, thereby naturalizing the existing order in a story organized to achieve emotional resonance through the manipulation of familiar mythic categories. How many film plots are resolved in the end by the formation of a patriarchal nuclear family? Hennessy shows how these myths articulate--meaning they shape and are shaped by-- sexuality, historical development, and political power.


One of the mythic functions of commercial film in late capitalism is to articulate cognitive maps for postmodern subjects whose historical situations – conditions of work and family, community, and pleasure – are in a variety of ways distinct from those of social subjects in industrialized countries a generation ago. Two of the most notable features of these new historical situations are the consolidation of the structures of neo-imperialism, whereby colonial power is no longer exercised as directly or as visibly as it was in the first half of the twentieth century, and the proliferation of sexualities increasingly unhinged from kinship alliances, property, and the reproductive couple. The media have played an enormous role in this process enhancing both the invisibility of the empire and capital’s ability to create and make use of sexuality and the sexualized body as new colonies. To paraphrase F. W. Haug, “the illusion industry” in late capitalism – advertising, television, computer, video, and film – “has populated the spaces left empty by capitalism” in its former phases. While the imaginary medium of myth’s displacements is in one sense a matter of “shades and shadows,” as Haug contends, in another sense this new colony is profoundly embodied. Indeed, the body has become the premier commodity and marketing niche of late capitalism; corporeal fashion, engineering, simulation, and management have created a host of new needs and accompanying new modalities of power, knowledge, and control. (pp. 1478) My generation and most that still inhabit the earth in the industrialized metropoles48 have been profoundly affected by the electronic media. We are affected by its cultural homogenization49, under capitalist-patriarchal social relations. It affects the very structure of our lives, including how we know and how we feel. But this is also a time of deep insecurity in the face of a society that capitalism’s restless and cannibalistic expansion is materially destabilizing with increasing velocity. When we retreat, we retreat into that resonant psychic space. Rosemary Hennessy’s comments above were written before the September 2001 attacks, and already we can see how what she described as a past epoch, of direct colonial rule with its extreme militarism and colonizer masculinity, has again become a cultural point of reference as imperialism enters a new and even more dangerous crisis. I want to explore the reactionary attempt by some of our rulers to re-inscribe overt militarism and colonizer masculinity onto a culture that has in many ways moved beyond them. The tendency to idealize50 and demonize is a direct reflection of the simplified world view acquired through television (and film). My own children, growing up, when confronted with situations they heard about in the news, wanted to know, “Are those the good guys or the bad guys?” These polarities have always been presented as part of any campaign to whip up a war fever in the past, and to indoctrinate us into masculinityfemininity with actual scripts. If we are getting eight hours a day of television, we can become a passive, hypnotized audience. This hypnotic passivism has taken the place of an earlier way of life in which each actor spent more time in actual day-to-day activity, where the nuance, contingency, and complexity of life was engraved into our consciousness. The power of this medium is not merely the medium, but how it serves as a projection of ruling class power to produce how we know the world. There have been the sermons and morality plays of the past, but never such a powerful and globalizing instrument of conformity as we have now. Yet it is simply not sufficient to examine our relationship to television or anything else through the lens of individual pathology, because it renders the social system – that is in so many way determinative of what we are as individuals – invisible.


Metropoles: In world system theory, the advanced industrial capitalist nations – usually refers to the United States, Western Europe, and Japan.
49 50

Blending together.

Idealize: Taking a person, a people, or a situation, and representing it in ideal terms. One form of idealism that hinders the Left in many cases is the idealization of the oppressed, which transforms the victims of oppression into simplified characters and thereby erases their complexity.


Symbols [T]he psychoanalytic process should be understood as occurring between subjects rather than within the individual (Atwood and Stolorow 1984, S. Mitchell 1988). Mental life is seen from an intersubjective perspective. Although this perspective has transformed both our theory and our practice in important ways, such transformations create new problems. A theory in which the individual subject no longer reigns absolute must confront the difficulty each subject has in recognizing the other as an equivalent center of experience… Intersubjectivity was formulated in deliberate contrast to the logic of subject and object, which predominates in Western philosophy and science. It refers to that zone of experience or theory in which the other is not merely the object of the ego's need/drive or cognition/perception but has a separate and equivalent center of self… What cannot be worked through and dissolved with the outside other is transposed into a drama of internal objects, shifting from the domain of the intersubjective into the domain of the intrapsychic. -Jessica Benjamin51 Hennessy writes, “Most theoretical attention to the desiring subject has been developed from a psychologizing/psychoanalytic frame that has been largely responsible for an individualized understanding of desire as a psychic process whose materiality is rooted in the drives and conveyed through the symbolic order.” (Hennessy, p. 69) We cannot understand the alienation, regimentation, and demobilization of late capitalist American society without concretely understanding how this symbolic order works. This symbolic order gives rise to unquestioned assumptions, assumptions that structure how we know the world. It works through incredibly powerful media. And some of the deepest and most irrationally anxiety-producing symbols are rooted in how we know both sex and war. It was the radical women’s movements, more than any other, which recovered the question of epistemology52 after it had been dropped on the battlefield of the 20th Century’s social movements. In preparing to write this book, I was forced to focus – really focus – for months on at least a fraction of the immense body of feminist writing and theory that continues to be ghettoized in popular readership, in the academy, and in social movements. It continues to be relegated away from the center because male supremacy by whatever name and in whatever historically contingent53 form continues to declare itself in all these arenas with remarkable and resilient force. Male supremacy, systemically, ideologically, inter-subjectively [occurring between conscious people… subjects], and intra-psychically [occurring ‘inside one’s head’], continues to determine the shared and unstated constructions of knowledge in such a way that even those who are committed to undoing it can tend away. We find other things to do, and evade the kind of intense studies we make in the struggles against white supremacy and class domination (and patriarchy is irrevocably bound to these antagonisms and shaped by them as they are by patriarchy).54 Today’s patriarchies are also consanguine55 with an imperialism56 that relies ever more directly on war and the threat of war.

From “Recognition and Destruction – An Outline of Intersubjectivity,” Psyche Matters, September, 1999.


Epistemology: One of the principal branches of philosophy, epistemology is the theory of knowledge. Its subject matter includes the role of sense perception in the acquisition of knowledge, the possibility of attaining objective knowledge, the psychological aspects of knowledge, and – on some accounts – the sociological aspects of knowledge. (The adjectival forms are "epistemic" and "epistemological".)

Historically contingent: An adjective phrase referring to things that happen only under specific conditions of geography and social development. Fatal accidents have been around as long as life, but fatal automobile accidents are a historically contingent form.

Patriarchy: The rule of men. Consanguine: related by blood.



Cunt Men’s interest in patriarchy is condensed in hegemonic masculinity and is defended by all the cultural machinery that exalts hegemonic masculinity. It is institutionalized in the state; enforced by violence, intimidation and ridicule in the lives of straight men… and enforced by violence against women and gay men. -R. W. Connell As I was preparing to go to work on the morning of September 11, 2001, the telephone rang. My partner, Sherry, told me to turn on the television. I don’t need to recount to anyone who has been conscious for the last four years what I saw and heard. During the post September 11 hallucinatory interlude, no one was questioning the official story, because retaliation was the new national emergency. I wrote a thinkpiece questioning the official story to a list (the Radical Green List, I think), while the toxic smoke was still wafting out of the rubble of the World Trade Center. This piece was never intended for publication, nor was it meant to jump to the conclusion that the CIA or whomever engineered the attacks. But there were a lot of disturbing questions, and to this day I believe there was a cover-up to erase high-level US connections to the perpetrators and probably some foreknowledge, in addition to plain gross incompetence. But the piece escaped into cyberspace via re-posts, and it is flourishing to this day on the web as a viable conspiracy theory. C’est la vie.57 But it did cause a lot of people to contact me and ask questions. Some of those contacts survive to this day. One of them was Inga Muscio. Inga is a writer, and I had noticed her signature book, Cunt – A Declaration of Independence58, on the shelves of Internationalist Books in Chapel Hill, in a striking cover of sunny yellow punctuated dead-center with a simple flower. Through the store manager, Dawn Peebles, Inga and I were put in email contact, and I learned that she was coming to North Carolina in March 2002. We arranged to meet for a coffee when she came to Raleigh, neither of us knowing what to expect – her self-described as a radical dyke, and me a retired knuckle-dragger from Special Forces. As it turned out, within about five minutes we felt as if we had known each other for a very long time, and within two hours I felt I had gained a cherished sister. She gave me a Cunt t-shirt, an autographed copy of her book, and a fine crushing hug. She is a west-coaster and me an east-coaster, so we see each other far too seldom, but she remains a cherished sister. I read Cunt, as I encourage others to do. Inga begins and ends by venerating “the anatomical jewel” and in the process locates women’s oppression and strength, as women, in sex – graphically, audaciously, and repeatedly in the body. I have read many intellectual critiques of the postmodern notion that sex is a pure social construction, but Inga refutes that by simply putting the cervix right in your face, as it were. Cunt demystifies and de-reifies.59 “The anatomical jewel” is not an abstraction, and when you have it, certain things happen to you because you have it that don’t happen when you don’t have it. Good things and bad things and things that are neither; date-rapes and multiple orgasms, being ignored in a classroom and bearing children, menarche and menopause. From Cunt:


Imperialism: The policy of extending a nation’s authority by territorial acquisition of by establishing economic and political hegemony over other nations.
57 58

“That’s life.” Seal Press, 1998.

Mystification and reification are the tools of dominant ideology. Mystification is any idea propagated for the purpose of confusing people about reality, and reification is partly characterized by the ideological transformation of living, breathing human beings into abstractions.


English is considered the "universal language" because it represents the victors of history's present telling. Seizing this language and manipulating it to serve your community is a very powerful thing to do, and-based on a variety of specific elements, such as ethnicity, musical tastes, credit limits and/or sexuality-it is done a lot in America. Creating a general, woman-centered version of the English language, however, is just insanely difficult. Womankind is varied and vast. But we all have cunts. While one word maketh not a women-centered language, "cunt" is certainly mighty potent and versatile contribution. Not to mention how deliciously satisfying it is to totally snag a reviled word and elevate it to a status which all women should rightfully experience in this society. When viewed as a positive force in the language of women-as well as a reference to the power of the anatomical jewel which unites us all-the negative power of "cunt" falls in upon itself, and we are suddenly equipped with a word that describes all women, regardless of race, age, class, religion, or the degree of lesbianism we enjoy. That’s Inga: “Womankind is varied and vast…. But we all have cunts.” Inga’s book materializes women, which is a refreshing and vital rebuttal to the idiot-species of postmodernism that has taken the form of a dominant academic cult. The point here, is to unmask the dualism that continually creeps, via the hegemony of ruling class ideas, back into the thinking of the Left. One of Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s main theses in Feminism Without Borders is that socially defining “‘women’ as a group, as a stable category of analysis… assumes an ahistorical, universal unity between women based on a generalized notion of their subordination.” In the attempt to separate the biological from the socially constructed with the perfectly justifiable goal of confronting biological determinism – an oppressive ideology60 – dualism is preserved and turned on its head. As Inga points out, the single stable category that unites women is biological, not because of biology, but because of what patriarchy in its ever more generalizing forms has done with it. The goal is not to escape biology, which is not possible, but to first decipher and then overturn oppressive social constructions applied to biological women. And the oppression of gay men and transgendered people is directly connected to the larger structural subjugation of biological women. I’ll be coming back to that. I am going to change my voice in this book, a lot. I have lost the belief in a separation of practical and theoretical, the popular and the intellectual: all dualisms. I like the idea of mestiza consciousness, as Gloria Anzaldua calls it, hanging around borders and transgressing them. What we are suffering from is an absolute despot duality that says we are able to be only one or the other. – Gloria Anzaldua


Ideology is here defined as a theory of the nature, value and use of ideas. In short, it is a theory of ideas about ideas. Being a theory, an ideology consists of definitions, tenets, themes, descriptions and examples interwoven with a thesis to form the fabric of a proposed explanation. The term 'ideology' as used herein, includes epistemology, logic, semantics, and other disciplines insofar as they presuppose elemental theories. Because so many thoughts are involved, ideologies quickly become complex. Also, because ideologies are concerned with root ideas, it is common for ideologies to contain elemental mistakes (root errors).


Tempo-tasks We see and hear selectively. There were two images that predominated on the airwaves on September 11, and only one of them was the perverse and hypnotic repetition of the aircraft crashing into the buildings and the billowing erasure of the Manhattan skyline (controlled, uniform, and repeated, just as McKenna described it). The other was the authoritative father. He was everywhere, in every guise, not only embodied in George W. Bush, but in a plethora of newly anointed ‘terrorism experts,’ and in the suddenly ubiquitous dick-thing posturing by male politicians and reporters with variously processed hair. It was as if the whole nation was being converted into a male revengefantasy film, wherein a state of emergency obliges the women and children (including those men who are feminized and infantilized) to cringe into the background, while the martial Reichian warrior-father61 transcends conventions in order to unleash his pure supra-rational62 masculine energy on the evildoers. The nation became the family, and its preservation depended upon the restoration of absolute authority to the white father. Like we were rebooted by the crashing buildings, then returned to some ideo-mystificatory default.63 Ann Kibbey, in the February 2003 edition of Genders, writing about the Iraq War political climate in the U.S., pointed out how effectively the Bush handlers were already using the mythic American signifier of the Western film genre. I want to quote unusually extensively from that piece, because the connection between U.S. film culture, imperial masculinity, and war will come up again and again… and she describes this so well. Both liberals and leftists in the U.S. have had difficulty in believing that a muchdiscredited American film genre, the Western, could suddenly be structuring and mandating U.S. political rhetoric… from Bush's “Wanted Dead or Alive” Bin Laden poster, to Colin Powell's insistence that “time is running out” as we cut to the chase, to the numerous U.S. television and print media that report daily on the “Showdown” or “Standoff” with Iraq. The evocation of the Western and all its prejudices now infuses U.S. culture and underwrites U.S. militarism. It seems that Bush, initially distinctive for his inarticulateness and stupidity, has succeeded in forcing (and enforcing) that same inarticulateness and stupidity on the U.S. public. People were stunned when Bush patronizingly dismissed the massive anti-war demonstrations in his “Father Knows Best” speech on the following Monday, but that's consistent with the gender ideology of the Western. As we ought to be aware, the ideology of gender and the ideology of genocidal violence are intertwined in the Western. The parallel action that typifies the conclusion of the Western (and other U.S. ‘action movies’) has generally been characterized only by its racist polarization of populations, which creates an artificial binary opposition that is resolved through the physical annihilation of one side by the other. But there is another dimension to it: The polarization of gender roles that is intertwined with it. What Americans seem slow to realize is the repugnant role in which they have now been cast, that of the female victim who must be rescued and saved by the male hero, a female victim whose role is to be helpless, mute, and passive, immobilized by fear as she awaits the outcome of the chase. Such rescues are in no way about social justice. They are artificial “tempo tasks” (Sergei Eisenstein's wonderful phrase). The tempo task actively closes off ethical and political issues. That is its purpose. With the inception of the tempo task – “time is running out” –, morality is located in the sidelined female victim, whose role is not

Reichian authoritative father: Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) was a psychoanalyst dedicated to re-integrating the mind and body, to overcoming the mind-body dichotomy in psychoanalysis. In his theory of fascism, he said that the social system that operates according to the principle of compulsive moral regulation. Headed by the father, the authoritarian family is reproduced in the authoritarian state.

Supra-rational: A mystical realm that transcends mere rationality, by implication authorizing behavior that goes ‘beyond reason.’

Ideo-mystifcatory default: Combining ideology and mystification into one adjective to describe reverting to basic childhood ideas (in computer language, default). Ideology here means the process that ‘inverts’ the relationship between ideas and lived experience from ideas being the mental reflection of experience into a notion that experience is reflective of ideas. This inversion helps ‘mystify’ reality by giving ‘contingent’ facts the appearance of being eternal.


to act morally, but to merely personify and symbolize morality. She passively awaits the outcome of the genocidal violence whose purported aim is to rescue her. This is why we are now being told to hunker down in the cabin, wrap ourselves in plastic sheeting, put duct tape over our mouths, and await the outcome of the horrific violence that is being perpetrated ostensibly to ‘save us.’ No wonder, then, that Bush had no difficulty relegating the anti-war demonstrations to the role of moral symbolism, the cries of the helpless victim in need of rescue. He used it as yet another occasion to display his own ‘masculine heroism’ with which he intends to save us from danger, first from ‘evil’ Iraq, and then from ourselves through the pending Domestic Security Act. Many people also seem to think this upcoming war, repulsive though it is, will be short. After all, tempo tasks end the film and impose their version of order very quickly – it’s the last part of the movie. No plans for reconstruction? Hey, that's not in the movie script. A reflexive reliance on the genre conventions of the Western has not only led to silence. It has helped to obscure the reality that this war has already been going on for many years, that the bombing of Iraq was never stopped and has already intensified again, that genocide has already been perpetrated by economic sanctions, that the much-touted weapons of mass destruction are those of the U.S., whose depleted uranium weaponry has already mutilated or killed much of the population of southern Iraq. The genre conventions of the Western have mandated a deafening and ignorant silence in the U.S. in the last year. An important dimension of this silence is the de facto moratorium on gender issues. Ideologies of gender become highly coercive when they are taken for granted, when debates about gender are suppressed as unimportant, when they are dismissively cast aside as irrelevant. To be silent now about gender is to take the bait, to perceive the current political and economic crisis through the lens of socially conservative gender roles. “Tempo tasks.” This identifier alone makes this very valuable article even more valuable. September 11, 2001 became a national tempo task.


Chickenhawk By the time the election season rolled around in 2004, the ‘tempo task’ was a juggernaut, and the Democratic Party had picked up the whole dick-thing. Christopher Lasch, in The Culture of Narcissism – American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, published all the way back in 1979, concluded (in perfectly predictable patriarchal terms, and with a powerful Freudian inflection) that the narcissism we see in American life is related to the loss of authority of the male. That’s utter misogynist bullshit, of course. Nonetheless, Lasch’s description of cultural narcissism had some merit. He said: “Success in our society has to be ratified by publicity… all politics becomes a form of spectacle. It is well known that Madison Avenue packages politicians and markets them as if they were cereals or deodorants; but the art of public relations penetrates more deeply into political life… The modern prince… confuses successful completion of the task at hand with the impression he makes or hopes to make on others. Thus American officials blundered into the war in Vietnam… More concerned with the trappings than with the reality of power, they convinced themselves that failure to intervene would damage American ‘credibility…’ [They] fret about their ability to rise to crisis, to project an image of decisiveness, to give a convincing performance of executive power… Public relations and propaganda have exalted the image and the pseudo-event.” A spectacle presupposes the spectator, which as Lasch points out is essential to modern political practice – and becoming more so as the material basis of American power is eroded and that power comes to rely on economic hostage-taking and on bluffs. And so we came to the comic political opera of the Swift Boat tempest in 2004, with the George W. Bush publicity apparatus baited by the John Kerry publicity apparatus and vice-versa. The spectacle was a strident dick-measuring contest over military service records. Bush was bashed for his evasion of military service in a theater of combat. Then the Democrats anointed their candidate – a decorated veteran of that war (Vietnam) – as a not-so subtle way of having a candidate who could bludgeon Bush as a ‘chickenhawk’64 – whereupon, through intermediaries, the Bush campaign went into high gear attacking the credibility of Kerry’s service record. It went without saying – or did it? – that the image of the warrior-king and the pseudo-events of political conventions had decisively sidelined any meaningful public discourse. But then public discourse is so seldom meaningful in the way I mean it here. We can salvage some real meaning by looking more closely not at the electoral implications of that shameless political dogfight, but at the cultural ones. Before the Democratic Leadership Council enjoined the political assassination of Howard Dean – whose insurgency within the Party was trifling, but important on one account and that was his stated opposition to Bush’s Napoleonic delusion in Iraq – there was a new energy, semi-conscious as it was, emerging inside the Democratic Party, and that energy was rooted in the mass movement that had materialized against the post-911 neocon lunacy, especially the plan to invade Iraq. Fearing an ever-more-politically-conscious popular base every bit as much as the reptilian Karl Rove65 (remember… Clinton had Dick Morris with his affinity for the feet of high-dollar prostitutes), the Democrat Party bosses opted not to risk a position on the war. Instead, they would mount an ad hominem66 campaign using the zombie hound-dog Kerry and his moment of alleged martial courage in an earlier failed occupation to paint AWOL-George as a chickenhawk.

64 65

Someone who promotes war while avoiding his own personal participation in war. A ‘hawk’ who is ‘chicken.’

Rove is George W. Bush’s political handler and his chief political strategist. He is widely acclaimed for his amoral devotion to ruthlessly winning at all costs.

Ad hominem: A logical fallacy that rejects a claim or argument on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument.


John Kerry saluted and “reported for duty”67 as his grand entry to the 2004 Democratic National Contrivance. They had tested the mood of a culture re-indoctrinated to military masculinity, with fare from Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down to the military-male-revenge fantasies of Steven Seagal films, with the CNN agitprop68 docudramas produced by embedded reporters, and with our collective memory of what Robert Connell has called “frontier masculinity” embodied in the mythologies of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. (The film The Alamo was just redone in 2004.) Kerry had to join the ranks of warrior-fathers. Thus we see the inevitable declension69 of the ‘chickenhawk’ indictment of Bush into its ultimate masculine absurdity. I had said before, to the deafness of my mostly male veteran allies in the anti-war movement, who loved using the chickenhawk thing to beat up George W. Bush – we never should have gone there. It was one thing to call Bush out on his “Bring ‘em on” bluster. He had said that from an airconditioned office, and it would have made not a whit of difference if he had a leg full of shrapnel and chest full of fruit salad on his mothballed uniform. It was stupid and hypocritical under any circumstance. But for Kerry’s to reaffirm the patriarchal-imperial premise70 that armed combat is some male rite of passage, as this chickenhawk business tacitly71 did, was plain militarism72 at its gendered worst. Robert Connell, showed, among other things, how martial73 masculinity has evolved as an ideological reflection of empire-building. The battle of the Alamo, it must be said, was about both territorial expansion and preserving the institution of slavery, though kids are never taught this in school. Teddy Roosevelt built his reputation on the imperial subjugation of dark foreigners. ‘Cowboys and Indians’ is a male-child’s game based on a military campaign of genocide. Connell writes, “With masculinity defined as a character structure marked by rationality, and western civilization defined as the bearer of reason to a benighted world, a cultural link between the legitimation of patriarchy and the legitimation of empire was forged.” (pp. 186-7) He goes on, however, to describe this same military masculinity in its more irrational fascist guise – reflected on the silver screen in psychosexual bloodbaths like The Rock, and a long list of revenge-fantasy films featuring the caricatured likes of Steven Seagal, Arnold Schwarznegger (who is now the Governor of California!), and Sylvester Stallone, and in Man on Fire. “In gender terms, fascism was a naked reassertion of male supremacy in societies that had been moving towards equality for women. To accomplish this, fascism promoted new images of hegemonic masculinity, glorifying irrationality (the ‘triumph of the will’, thinking with ‘the blood’) and the unrestrained violence of the frontline soldier.” (pp. 193) There was real content to the Swift Boat controversy after all. These two brothers (Bush and Kerry) in the same grave-robbing fraternity (Skull and Bones claims to have Geronimo’s skull – a genocidal war souvenir), who were now snapping at each other with bared teeth over questions of combat and courage, were connecting with the public in a most direct and visceral way. They hooked up with the ennui74 of destabilized masculinity. In case anyone is inclined to underestimate the force of this sexual anomie75, I would point you to the sexual mutilation that was integral to every lynching
67 68 69 70 71 72 73

Kerry actually walked onto the stage during his grand entry, saluted, and said, “Reporting for duty, sir.” Agitprop: Political propaganda promulgated through art forms. Declension: a downward descent. Premise: a statement that is assumed to be true and from which a conclusion can be drawn. Tacitly: By implication; through silent consent. Militarism: An ideology that idealizes and exalts war and military life. Military.

Ennui: A feeling of weariness; dullness and languor of spirits, arising from satiety (having all one wants) or want of interest.

Anomie: personal state of isolation and anxiety resulting from a lack of social control and regulation.


campaign in US history, campaigns forged in the flames of white male sexual insecurity76 whipped up around lurid stories of Black male sexuality. Rituals of sexual mutilation and rape – including the rape of enemy men – can be dated at least as far back as the Greeks, and almost always in the context of male groups, where competition to demonstrate sexual cruelty as the mark of manhood works as a kind of psychological accelerant. The introduction of social instability, and the destabilization of masculinities, reignites this collective cruelty with the special force of a reactionary backlash. Bush and Kerry were competing for the votes of men who climb into $30,000 automobiles to drive to decreasing stands of beleaguered forest to shoot a deer when they are taking time off from their service-sector jobs with their arbitrary bosses. This gender and military business has material force and immense political power. Those who staked their feeble political hopes on John Kerry to mount his shabby defense of women’s social emancipation by appointing a couple of judges (He’d already said that positions on reproductive freedom would not be a litmus test for these appointments.) had largely not considered the enormous betrayal of women’s emancipatory project embedded in the big-dick strategy of “reporting for duty.” The gender regulation of women’s lives by the state pales in comparison to the control exercised by the culture itself, reinforced by exactly the kind of trope77 inhering in the Kerry campaign’s shameless pimping of his military 201-file. The direct supervisory violence against women in the metropoles has not predominantly come from the state (though state supervisory and direct violence against women, as women, is common); instead it has been a family affair – protected for many decades from public intervention by the state’s definition of privacy. While the fight for legal equality has always been important in the fight against male supremacy, the decisive battle is the fight against the cultural hegemony78 of masculine-feminine scripts. Let me be clear about this business of scripts, however. These are not merely cultural artifacts, nor are they postmodern narratives. These scripts are rules of behavior that underwrite a material system of power, one that gives power to men and takes power away from women. They afford privileges to men, and that is one reason why men defend them. These scripts are not some theater role, but a code of behavior that is often enforced with extreme violence. There is a daily tidal wave of images of women every day in this society – images internalized by women and men from birth, images that are either reactionary religious images of domesticity or women commodified as sexual objects – that is degradingly subservient. That internalization is hegemony, and it regulates more powerfully than any law ever could. Take this away, and legal inequality will scatter like a house of cards before the terrible wind of women’s latent political power. But it won’t be easy. We are fighting resonance. John Kerry had held out this crumb of limited legal equality to women, and in the same breath embraced the culture of violent masculinity as a political weapon that will always – in the final instance – be aimed at women. This tactic backfired on Kerry, and not merely as the ham-handed attack ads sponsored by Republican surrogates of the infamous Swift Boat ads. The reactionary white male base of the Republican Party is not nearly as equivocal in its defense of male prerogative as many Democrats are, and consistency matters. Those men who were listening with their beleaguered pricks to the subtexts of the political campaign responded to the Party that has consistently opposed every threat to male hegemony – from opposition to reproductive choice to the call for a constitutional amendment imposing compulsory heterosexism79 on marriage… to opposing any manifestation of women’s social agency. Gender has political juice, and for those to whom it matters, they


77 78

During the lynching of Black men, their genitalia were routinely cut off in a ritual emasculation. Trope: figurative speech.

Hegemony: The domination of culture by one particular cultural group, resulting in the empowerment of certain cultural beliefs, values, and practices over others. The domination of culture by one particular cultural group, resulting in the empowerment of certain cultural beliefs, values, and practices over others. Steven Biko, the South African martyr, once said that “the greatest weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” He was describing hegemony.

“Compulsory heterosexuality” is a term first used by Adrienne Rich in her influential 1980 essay, “”Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” Strongly recommended.


don’t want theirs watered down. White males overwhelmingly supported George W. Bush, twice. He was their erotic ideal.


Eros I believe in the erotic and I believe in it as an enlightening force within our lives as women. I have become clearer about the distinctions between the erotic and other apparently similar forces. We tend to think of the erotic as an easy, tantalizing sexual arousal. I speak of the erotic as the deepest life force, a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way. -Audre Lorde80 In her essay, “The Erotic Dimension and the Homeric Ideal,”81 Nancy C. M. Hartsock uses the representations in Greek mythology to tease out the overtly military dimension of a hegemonic masculinity. Seeing masculinity not as some personal characteristic, but as half of a polarized sexuality that is inflected in every aspect of our lives – in our very sense of connection overwriting our activity in the world, as Audre Lorde poetically describes above as the erotic – Hartsock begins to unpack the masculine erotic ideal as a division between public and private, between freedom and necessity, between domination and submission, and to show the connections between the intrapsychic life of (Anglo-Saxonized) men, the way they relate to others, and their activity in the world. While it is true that John Kerry went to Vietnam – many believe as part of his early training and preparation for high political office – he was not in a position to embrace the totality of this ideal as it was represented in the platforms of the two white-bourgeois-male political parties. Just as the Republicans had stolen the mantle of white supremacy from the Southern Democrats during the Nixon campaign in 1968, and ceded Black support in exchange for white majorities in the South and white pluralities in the North and West, the Republican Party has staked out gender positions on the frontier of male backlash against women’s social emancipation that directly and affectively connect with the unquestioned premises and the intra-psychic experience of gender. The Republican Party assured itself not only of male majorities (except in constituencies where Republican racism is so directly felt that even appeals to homophobia can’t crack them), but of the support of nearly half of all women, who – in the case of George W. Bush – behaved politically consistent with their own female socialization for dependency and fear – the perceived need for the feminine opposite, the strong white father-male in times of peril. The fact that Kerry had personally put himself through the male rite of passage, combat, by shooting and being shot at by Vietnamese, was easily trumped by the carefully constructed Texas Cowboy image that was George W. Bush, because Kerry could himself not tear himself away from the ambiguity of his party on race and gender, because Kerry could not divorce himself from his own support of the war in Iraq when the tide of public opinion shifted away from it, without appearing decidedly un-masculine, that is, wishy-washy. George W. Bush is an intellectually mediocre, mean-spirited, dry-drunk, sexist, narcissistic prick, spawned from an ultra-rich, pampered brood of pro-fascist lumpen-aristocrats whose primary talent is the exercise of ruthless amorality in the pursuit of money and political power. I would make a substantial wager that Kerry would score higher than George W. Bush on any standardized test – if you put any stock in those – and that he could whip Dubya ten games out of ten at chess in less than an hour, though Kerry shares the same reptile-minded devotion to imperialism and money. Masculinity is about recognition, and in the consumer society of late imperialist America, reputation can be constructed as a public spectacle if you have the funds. The public didn’t know anything about either of these guys, only what their scripted public personae were. Recognition in this case is not recognition of the masculine erotic ideal embodied in a real person, but that embodied in an actor. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Arnold Schwarzenegger is now running the 7th largest economy in the world, or that he had been preceded in that role already by a second-rate actor who used to narrate the introductions to a television Western.82 The masculine prerogative of recognition meets the pseudo-event of decaying imperialism.

80 81 82

From “The Uses of the Erotic,” an essay by Lorde written in 1978. Chapter eight of Money, Sex and Power (Northeastern University Press, 1985).

“Death Valley Days,” a series that was sponsored by a toxic soap, “Twenty Mule Team Borax.”


It should not be lost on readers that public recognition and spectacle are distinctively gendered, and that not long ago, a woman who transgressed her private role by making a ‘public spectacle of herself’ received negative notoriety. Strangely enough, or not so strangely given the centrality of military power in this period to the preservation of imperialism (and every time in history that the military had to be unleashed as the mailed fist of the system), the men who are actually acting out the masculine erotic ideal are no longer the good family men, the providers, the managers, or the inventors. They are in the military.


Selection In 1979, I had volunteered for the Selection and Assessment Course for 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta. Delta Force. I was working as an interim platoon sergeant at 2nd Ranger Battalion in Ft. Lewis, Washington, adjacent to Tacoma. I had added onto an already demanding physical training program, conducted each morning and augmented by the nature of Rangering, evening three-mile runs with a 50-pound rucksack on my back and two five-pound ankle-weights over my boots. (The military then was only beginning to understand about cumulative trauma disorders, so I was unaware that I was paying in advance for my future debilities.) When I arrived in Camp Dawson, West Virginia in March – separated completely there from the world of women – there was spring snow on the ground. Heavy-bodied whitetail deer routinely grazed on the airfield at dusk, and the Cheat River crawled with a kaleidoscope surface between the blue-gray mountains of a leafless Appalachia. There was no shouting by the cadre, who were in civilian clothes with relaxed grooming standards.83 In fact, there was a quiet icy distance among them. Verbal instructions were monosyllabic and studiously without affect. Most instructions and a schedule were posted daily on an easel-mounted chalkboard near the double doors of the brick barracks. The whole environment was designed to break with all markers of familiarity we might know from our regular army units and our lives. We spent hours idle in the billets for the first three days, left to wonder whether we were already being observed, and to wonder what exactly the cadre might be ‘assessing’ in each of us. The unit was highly secret, as were the performance standards for selection and assessment, and therefore steeped in the mystique84 that grew up in the official silence. This kind of mystique grows fat on hints and rumors. The only standard we had for performance – in a course we all knew would only select around 20 percent of those who came – was to do everything as hard as we could. Save nothing. Do not pace yourself. Give everything and see what happens. Survivor without an audience. One day, we took an eight-hour battery of standardized psychological tests. We were exhausted from coloring in the bubbles on sheets reading (a) through (d), to record whether we strongly agreed, agreed, didn’t know, disagreed, or strongly disagreed with statements like, “I have black, tarry stools,” “I like tall women,” and “For the most part, people understand me.” After supper, we returned to the barracks, where we were instructed to report to formation with 45pound rucksacks at eight that evening. With perfect precision, at exactly eight o’clock as we stood in formation puffing little clouds out into the night chill, the selection cadre (this is what the people who ran the course were called) rolled up with eight covered military pickups, parked them exactly the same distance apart, and emerged from each. In turn, each driver called out the roster numbers of his passengers and we mounted up. They then zipped the covers closed around us without another word, and the convoy pulled out of Camp Dawson. The only sensation left was that of switching direction and climbing and descending then climbing again. Then we stopped. The zippers were opened, and we dismounted. Sergeant Major Cheney, looking like a lost hunter in the dark, directed each of us to tie an activated plastic chemical light to our rucksacks, prohibited us from using flashlights except in a medical emergency, instructed us to follow the markers and signs on the gravel road, and to go until we were told to stop. Everyone knew from the rumors that there was one unspoken rule at selection. Do exactly as you are told, and do not hold back. We all burst down the road like top-heavy marathoners. Within moments, we could hear the first grunts as men careened onto the patches of ice and crashed. Everyone fell, a lot. No one knew how far we would go, but the rumor was almost twenty miles. Chemlites marked the route. The chemlites would partially blind us, making the dark darker between them. Within minutes, I was bathed in sweat. The downslope became the upslope as we tore like half-blind sasquatches85 over the undulations of the West Virginia mountains in the frozen night.


The military generally demands that men maintain close haircuts and little to no facial hair. In Delta, this standard is significantly relaxed to allow ‘operators’ some cover for covert operations.
84 85

Mystique: An aura of heightened value or interest or meaning surrounding a person or thing. Mythical animals; Bigfoots; large hairy humanoid creatures said to live in wilderness areas of the United States and Canada.


I don’t know when I started to notice that I was gradually passing exhausted men. First there was one, then another, then a pair here and there. I would hear their feet scuffing in front of me, and my own feet scuffing frenetically up behind them. I had emptied both one quart canteens within an hour and could already feel the effects of dehydration. But I kept reeling in the next man. At some point I calculated that I must be among the front-runners. Passing was merciless. We were instructed from the beginning to conduct the course as a “singleton.” Unless someone was in immediate danger of losing life or limb, we were not to assist or encourage. I had learned well how to be both in my body and out of it, over it, above it, commanding it like an abusive father commands an obedient son. (I am told that abused women feel detached in this way.) My boots were soaked from the snow patches, my socks wet, my feet macerated and swelled inside. My shoulders screamed at the insistently increasing pinch of the ruck straps. My leg muscles quivered. My throat burned with panting in the icy air. And I passed more men. At the end of the event, I stumbled into Camp Dawson, still half-running and on the verge of exhaustion, eighteen miles total, and reported in to two cadre members who recorded my arrival on a clipboard and instructed me to go to the barracks. When I went into the barracks, there were only two men there, obviously not long arrived. I was third out of almost sixty men. I sipped water and let the exhaustion overtake me as I showered in my wet clothes to wash them, threw them into a dryer, treated two blisters, and basked in the experience of watching more men arrive through the night. Our first physical test had passed, and I was among the chosen. One candidate – that’s what we were called, candidates – staggered in, having remembered me pass him in moment of supreme exhaustion, and said good-naturedly, “Goff, you’re a fucking animal.” I took indescribable satisfaction from that remark, even as I waved it away with my hand. In the military, nothing matters so much as recognition and reputation. Securing them can be a career in itself. At around three that morning, however, I had unfamiliar sensations in my thighs. When I tried to get up and walk to the bathroom, it was blindingly apparent that I had gone beyond pushing myself, and that I had transgressed the real boundaries of my own quadriceps. I was not strained. I was injured.


Climbing I went out the following day for collective training to prepare us for the rest of the course. We ended up walking almost seven more miles, and the pain in my quads was so severe by the end of the day that merely climbing the stairs caused sweat to burst onto my forehead. Rather than make a big production of it, I quietly packed my gear in the dark barracks, and painfully dragged it over to the cadre charge of quarters in the headquarters building. They moved me into a holding barracks out of sight of the rest of the candidates, had me eat in the mess hall after they were gone, and put me on a plane back to Tacoma two days later. I was on physically restricted duty for over six weeks afterward with two torn quadriceps. Outwardly, I was fatalistic. Inwardly, I felt like a failure. Somehow, I had not adequately prepared myself. Later that year, I reenlisted with a promise to be reassigned to the Jungle Operations Training Center in Fort Sherman, Panama. My marriage was a miserable prison for us both. We were psychotically codependent, and I had the idea that if we moved away from the site of our latest insanities, things might get better. They didn’t of course. In fact, things got a lot worse. My career was going very well, however, because I volunteered for twice the time any of the other school cadre did to endure the harsh conditions of the jungle with the training battalions. In my professional life, the recognition and reputation were nothing but up. I was almost an icon there. But at home, there was an atmosphere of poisonous history and recrimination that neither of us knew how to escape. That’s not something I’m ready to write about yet. I know it’s not unique. I can hardly bear to think of it even now all these years later, or of how my young daughter grew up bearing witness to it, trapped in it.


Trying When the Delta recruiters came back in 1982, I had already made up my mind. I wanted to attend the next Selection and Assessment course again. Delta was reputed to stay away from home more than any unit in the army. My preparation this time became maniacal. I carried twice what anyone else did to the field, and I stayed in the field, sleeping in the jungle, four days a week. I reeked so badly when I came in that I had to undress on the porch so I wouldn’t foul the house. On days I was in from the field, I would catch a ride to Gatun Locks on the canal, eight miles from home, and run back… not jog, run. Six-and-a-half-minute miles, with my lungs trying to burst out of my chest as I sprinted the last half mile. I swam with the barracudas in laps around the lagoon. I pushed and jerked the weights in the non-air-conditioned gym, gulping down four and five gallons of water a day. My fellow Jungle School cadre looked at me like I was an alien. Officer and enlisted alike deferred to me. The more insane my household became, where my daughter Elan (Laney), then just six, would witness our madness… the more obsessed I became with outdoing everyone in everything. Not only did I run faster and farther, carry more weight, stay longer in the field, my classes were more animated and effective, my preparations more detailed, my evaluations more precise, my command of the doctrine and my tactical acumen more studiously developed, than anyone’s. It looked like achievement, but it was obsession and fear.


Body When I showed up at Camp Dawson in March 1983, I had never been so single-mindedly committed to anything. All choices had been taken from my body. The mind was made up. Regardless of the outcomes, I would not quit. If the quadriceps failed, if the back failed, if the feet failed, then they would fail. If I was carried off in an ambulance or fished out of a strip mine, so be it, but there would be no quitting. The mind would dominate and overcome the body. There was far more at stake than episodic escape from my marriage. This was fucking Delta Force, the highest priority unit in the army. This was the pinnacle from which you could look down at the other elites, down on the Ranger tabs and green berets. This was where you would be exposed to the darkest skills of power projection. This was the secret world into which one could disappear, then reemerge with recognition and reputation that was whispered and hinted. And inside the man, there was a boy who was scaling the treacherous wall of his own self-doubt. For a month, the course progressed. The actual ‘selection phase’ lasted for around two weeks, during which each person, alone, would navigate overland with map and compass from point to designated point, using no roads, never knowing how far he would go each day, or when he was at his last rendezvous point (called RVs). Some days we would go merely seven or eight miles, some days as much as 25. Each night, we would be directed to a camp near our last RV, to begin again anew the following morning. Each day, there were fewer of us. Men fell behind the (unknown) time standards, or they became injured, or they quit. At night in the camps, where the cadre forbade us to talk about the course, we would quietly try to compare who’d been seen. We had all heard the rumor about the final movement: a 40-mile trek that finalized the physical portion of the course. One night, we were all collected together at one camp. There were only about 25 of us left of the original 60. The cadre handed out new flashlight batteries, and checked our HF emergency transponders. Be prepared to move out at midnight, they said. Everyone pretended to sleep. At five minute intervals, we were given our RV coordinates and released, and told this time we could use the roads. I departed at around 1:30 AM, with a rucksack that weighed 55 pounds before I added the water, according to the instructions. At each RV, the rucksack was weighed. I had passed four RV’s and covered around thirteen miles when I pulled into an RV not far from Bear Mountain. The scale showed my rucksack weighing 54 pounds. I assured the cadre member that it had weighed out correctly, and at 56 to 57 pounds at each time. One of the two cadre instructed me to open the rucksack, then placed a large flat rock in it. “Don’t lose this,” he said. It took my ruck weight to 64 pounds. We were also hand-carrying fake M16s made of metal rods and hard rubber that weighed around eight pounds apiece. I was still angry miles later – not about the weight, but at believing I was the victim of bad scales, and about the delay – when I failed to double check the turn in Bear Mountain Trail and followed the sign. Fortyfive minutes later, I realized I had been ascending when I should have been descending. I checked my map. I had gone three miles the wrong way up Bear Mountain Trail. Fuck! As I jogged back down Bear Mountain Trail until I passed the point where I’d made the wrong turn, telling myself the whole time that I had just failed selection on a stupid rookie error after all this shit. But the prime directive kicked in. Don’t rest. Don’t think. Don’t quit. As I continued downhill alongside a turbulent mountain stream that had drowned a candidate one year earlier, I noticed that my feet began to ache – not the usual ruckmarch aching, but something that felt like the bones were trying to push through the flesh of my feet. Don’t quit. I encountered an RV at a swinging bridge, where I blathered on about a wrong turn to the taciturn faces of the two cadre who looked ominously at their watches. I crossed a highway near Parsons, West Virginia, I think it was, then tried to take a shortcut off-road through a mountain laurel thicket that chewed me up and spit me out onto an RV at the top of a mountain. Two cadre were listening to the radio, and Alberto Salazar had just finished the Boston Marathon in under 2 hours and nine minutes. I exclaimed with admiration while my ruck was being weighed, and was exposed to my first humor from anyone in the Delta Selection cadre. Don Feeney, that cadre member, said, “He just did in two hours what it took you all day to do.” Ha ha. If that was the 26-mile point, I had gone 32 because of my little six mile detour on Bear Mountain. He had just told me, without realizing it, that I had 14 miles to go.


At the top of a large flat mountain nearby, there is a huge shallow swamp sitting in the miles-wide dish that is the top of that mountain, perhaps an ancient volcanic crater. Through the middle of that swamp – a swamp that was not called a swamp on the Universal Transverse Mercator maps we used – is a soggy path called Plantation Trail. To this day I don’t know how long that trail is, but I remember that it soaked my feet with every step and transformed the sensation of the bones trying to stick through the flesh into a bright-hot pain that made every step like a hammer slamming into an anvil that vibrated from my feet all the way into my memories. In a kind of delirium, I slogged across Plantation Trail with a folk song I remembered Emmie Lou Harris singing. The song was in my head, about a mill worker that said, “Me and my machine, for the rest of the morning, for the rest of the afternoon, for the rest of my life.” In my head, the song became, “Me and my RV, for the rest of the morning, for the rest of the afternoon, for the rest of my life.” By the time I stepped onto dry ground from Plantation Trail, I was singing my new song aloud to quiet the anvil in my head that reverberated from my feet. Don’t quit was no longer a brave self-challenge; it was just a monotonous noise like a cardiac monitor in an ICU. I was staggering down some gravel road at dusk. The pain in my feet had merged with the pain in my shoulders and back from the rucksack. I had become pain. My only purpose in life had become to chip-chip one silently screaming foot in front of the other. I almost walked into the next RV with my head down. Captain James Knight and Sergeant Major Don Cheney said I would be allowed to use my flashlight for the rest of the course, and that they wanted to check the batteries. No, I told them. My flashlight was fine, but if I removed my ruck long enough to get out the flashlight, I was afraid my muscles would freeze up. Cheney glowered angrily and ordered me to give up the rucksack. I was arguing with him when Knight smiled and shook my hand. I was then sure that I was disoriented. “Congratulations,” said Knight. “You have just completed the endurance march.” I had walked forty-six miles. “Will you let me have that rucksack now?” asked Cheney, smiling. “Sergeant Goff,” said Knight. “Would you like a beer?” “Sir,” I said. “I’d suck your dick for a beer.” Fourteen of us made it. Terry Gilden, an old associate from 2nd Ranger Battalion, had finished with stress fractures in both shins. He would be killed in Beirut in two years. The theme of ignoring/overcoming the feelings of the body is related to the fear and loathing of the body. Thus [one] can argue that Don Juan, the “femme fatale,” and de Sade share the quality of being unfeeling, and unfeelingness that allows them to be “powerful and free,” yet leads at the same time to feelings of numbness. In pornography, feeling is conquered by projecting emotions onto the victim who is humiliated by bodily appetites, by reducing the women to the status of a feeling body, and in “snuff” films to a literal corpse… Thus, sensuality and bodily concerns, the second aspect of eros, take representative form. They become entangled with and point toward death… the death of feeling as well as the death of the body… the denial of the body is in part due to the fact that it is a reminder of mortality and therefore of death… knowledge of the body is knowledge of death. (Hartsock, pp.173-4) Eros is developed as the fusion of emotion and symbol that overwrites our activity in the world. That connection is sexualized early and deeply – and the sexuality of it is constructed as sexual complementarity – Jessica Benjamin’s term for ‘a unity of opposites’ – not as mutuality.86 In a society where military practice becomes central to the stability of that society’s hierarchies, that binary sexuality87 is military-ized.


Complementarity in gender refers to the ‘unity’ of the complementary masculine with feminine, while mutuality refers not to unity based on difference, but unity based on common ground – equality.

Having only two sides (binary), this is sexuality constructed as complementary male and female with no deviations.


Commando At Delta, I finished what was called the Operator’s Training Course (OTC), and was assigned to B Squadron – now well-known to military aficionados who have read Eric Haney’s book, Inside Delta Force – The Story of America’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit.88 (Haney was eventually my team leader there.) My first assignment was to Tommy Corbett’s team of assaulters – people who specialized in close quarter battle inside buildings, aircraft, trains, and the like. One of the team members was a man named Marshall Brown. Marshall adopted me. He was small and wiry like me, and like me he had a great deal of nervous energy. We were very compatible in that regard. Marshall was one of the most dedicated, one might even say obsessive, ‘operators’ in Delta. He had plenty of recognition and a fine reputation. He was a very fast medium distance runner. He practiced his every skill religiously. And he was one of the finest pistol marksman and ‘practical’ shooters89 in the unit. Marshall would take me to the McKellars Lodge pistol range at Ft. Bragg on the weekends, with ammunition from the unit, where he would drill me mercilessly and coach me on the fine points of pistol shooting on the match-quality .45 caliber Colts that were standard issue in the unit. It was not unusual, between shooting on the job, and Marshall’s weekend sessions, for me to fire 2,500 rounds of pistol ammunition a week. Marshall was showing me his peculiar intensity, one that was highly valued by the unit. Marshall was single and lived in a trailer. He also had his own personal pistols at home. Marshall went to International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) competitions every chance he got, and he practiced dry firing, quick draw, magazine change, and position changes when he was at home. He also practiced his lock-picking, his climbing, his various surreptitious entry techniques – and he read his OTC manual constantly to stay abreast of his tradecraft and explosives. Intensity! When I first came to the team, he took me aside and told me, “This unit is at war. Never forget that.” He was also a former Golden Knight freefall parachutist, and had participated in the failed raid in Iran in 1979. Marshall was a Texan. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was raised by an emotionally abusive father who set standards for his behavior to which he could never measure up. His mother was also subject to the despotism of the father, and by some accounts never intervened.90 In what, I’ve never learned. This is partly speculation, but it seems like the army was a place where Marshall could work hard to earn the accolades he’d never received from his father, a place where the rules were clearly spelled out and if you really understood them and didn’t violate them, you wouldn’t get into trouble. Those who know little about the military do not understand the value of this kind of bureaucratic consistency for anyone who has suffered from capricious91 domestic power. (That includes women who have suffered, as many have, from capricious domestic power.) Marshall enjoyed a good practical joke, and would often place Vaseline under doorknobs, turn windshield washer nozzles to squirt people riding on the passenger side of his car, and reach into the shower when your eyes were closed against cascading shampoo and switch off the hot water. He was playful, despite his weird intensity. And practical jokes are often tiny displays of cruelty, but that’s not what we saw. He was always seeking training opportunities. He and I had asked to design a field training exercise, and were riding dirt bikes to look over the training area. We were buzzing over a fire trail, and I had fallen behind him, so I rolled back the accelerator to catch up. When I rounded a turn, Marshall was straddling the bike perpendicular to a deep erosion ditch. For me, it was too late. My bike dove into the ditch and the front wheel fell short of the far side, launching me over the handlebars to land face-first on the other side. The next thing I remember is looking up at an alarmed Marshall calling my name over and over again. My mouth was full of clay. My neck was throbbing. While I sat up and scooped the clay off my lower teeth, Marshall told me that I landed directly on my face, while the rest of me traveled over my head. He though my neck was broken, and was sure I had been killed. When he had calmed
88 89 90 91

Delacorte Press, 2002. ‘Practical shooting’ is the term applied to shooting that attempts to simulate actual armed combat situations.

According to my conversations with his former brother-in-law. Capricious: Unpredictable; determined by chance or impulse or whim rather than by necessity or reason.


down, he remarked that it was a good thing we did our strength training and that this was what had probably saved my life. I have had problems ever since with periodic spasms in my neck. When we were deployed, Delta would drink. Delta drank a lot. Our punishment for poor marksmanship or errors in training was to buy the Squadron a case of beer. The other favored pastime was marital infidelity, most operators being married men with mortgages. Marshall was not married, didn’t ‘chase women,’ and when he drank with us, it would be an hour or so at a time, nursing maybe half a beer, whereupon he would quietly retire and leave us to our debaucheries. There were exceptions to this whoopy tendency, of course: a couple of very religious men, including Jerry Boykin (a general now) who only recently gained infamy with his claim that Muslim resistance to American imperial ambition is Satanic. Jerry used to try and force the rest of us to attend prayer breakfasts at Delta. But Marshall was most concerned with his physical edge, and seemed quite frankly to be rather shy on the subject of sex. Sex was everywhere at Delta though. And Delta Force in those days had one of the biggest collections of pornographic videos one could possibly imagine. Oh yes. Delta porn. I’ll talk a lot about porn further down. One of the most odious tasks in the military is charge of quarters, or staff duty. That’s a rotating duty to have someone awake and by a telephone in every active duty unit in the military, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. At Delta it was no different, and around once every four weeks, one could expect to be put on staff duty for 24 long hours of wakefulness. Delta, however, being closed to the public, behind gates with surveillance cameras and buzzers, there was the kind of privacy where the men could keep themselves awake watching pornographic videos, one after another, all night long. The joke around the unit was that the wives were asking why their husbands were always so amorous when they finished staff duty. I watched it too. By the time people started showing up for work and the videos had to be put away, I was almost numb to the images, having often masturbated four and five times throughout the night just to make the time pass, and with the repetitiousness of the images flowing together into a unity of penetrations and ejaculations. I wasn’t unique in this, not by a far cry. I have no idea if Marshall watched the porno. I actually doubt it. Marshall was squeamish about the subject of sex. At any rate, our teams were reorganized, and my contact with Marshall became less constant. Marshall had fallen under the thrall of a heterodox doctor at Delta who was experimenting with different performance enhancing diets. Marshall would show up at your table at lunch and point to the sugar jar, saying, “That’s white poison.” At some point in 1985, Marshall got religion. He’d been hanging out more and more with Lance Fennick, an ex-Ranger who was deeply religious and who attended Boykin’s prayer breakfasts with great enthusiasm. One day, Marshall and I got into an argument when I said, in whatever context it was, that it’s better to tell your daughter about birth control than not. He launched into a tirade about how that was giving them permission to sin, telling me I was on the road to becoming an irresponsible parent. I was, but in no way having to do with Marshall’s outburst. Then Marshall got married and drifted out of the unit.


Rapist By December of 1986, I was excommunicated in the middle of a corruption purge for allegedly having had sex with a Salvadoran communist woman on Ambassador Edwin Corr’s bed. It wasn’t true, but it became a legend before I was confronted with it, that was confirmed on station by the embassy Security Section Director John Swafford, who also believed the rumor. Swafford had congratulated me two years earlier on my good sense in directing my carnal appetites at the woman who was Vice Consul in Guatemala, where both he and I had been together in 1983. Adultery was never an issue. Adultery between people who worked at the embassies, military and foreign service alike, was common. Having sex with a communist, however, was not. The Vice Consul in question, who would later marry the resident CIA agent, was an admirer of fascist dictator Francisco Franco, so that was okay. The story of soiling the presidential representative’s sheets with a communist, however, broke the camel’s back. My career as an elite counter-terrorist came to an end. When we were tested during Selection – psychologically tested – we were administered a whole battery of diagnostic assistance tests, with names like Thematic Apperception Test, Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, and the like. The day after the “forty (six) miler,” we were queued up to have a conversation with the unit psychologist. As we understood it, Delta did not want to train a member to become a proficient sniper, then learn one day that one of its members was sitting in a public tower picking off random targets like young Charles Whitman did at the University of Texas in Austin in 1966. At that point, I wasn’t questioning what kind of psychologist works for a unit like Delta, or what might be wrong with them. We had a pleasant interview where I intrigued him with my knowledge of Sartre and Camus;92 I was manipulating him. This shrink was eventually canned in his own sex scandal. The psychological evaluation didn’t screen out crooks, because almost the whole unit became embroiled in a fraud scheme that threw us into the crisis that contributed to the atmosphere for my expulsion. We were dummying up rent receipts all over the world, after the State Department paid our rent, then collecting the reimbursements from the Army when we got home. It worked great until one guy got religion and dimed the whole unit. The officers probably knew, but didn’t want to acknowledge that they knew. Apparently these psychological evaluations didn’t screen out rapists either. In 1988, an investigation began when two women were attacked in Raleigh, one at North Carolina State University, apparently by the same man, a stranger. He climbed in through their second story windows – hooded and dressed in black – ordered them to silence with a knife held to their throats, covered their faces, then raped them. During the rapes, he apologized, telling them that he didn’t want to hurt them and that he “had to do this.” On June 11, 1989 in Cranston, Rhode Island, Marshall Brown was taken into custody and charged with the rapes of two Rhode Island women. These women were raped with the same modus operandi as the North Carolina women. While in custody, Marshall was deferential to the police, calling them by their ranks and observing scrupulous courtesy. Police described him as soft-spoken. He even spoke approvingly of the professionalism of the arrests and complimented one officer for his handcuffing technique. He had been arrested for prowling in Fayetteville, North Carolina, earlier that May, whereupon he had forfeited his bond for a dismissal of the charge. Marshall went to work in jail studying the patterns of the Federal Marshals who transported him to and from court, and making friends with a 20-year-old inmate named Frederick Heon. Marshall stayed in shape in jail, using his exercise periods to run. On July 30, he was cuffed to another prisoner in the back of a Federal Marshal van and driven to Providence to attend his hearing. When the back door opened, Marshall – who had picked open his handcuffs – walked with the escorting marshal and his fellow inmate for a bit, then sprang past the startled Federal Marshals and ran like an Olympic athlete up the street and out of sight. Heon was out on bail and had rented a car, per Marshall’s instructions. He was waiting at an appointed rendezvous point, and drove Marshall to the Connecticut state line. Heon then went to a church where he was told he’d find money, which wasn’t there. Three days later, Marshall was caught in a stolen car and re-arrested. Marshall told the police about Heon’s assistance, and Heon was taken back to jail for a parole violation. Marshall had burglarized a house 15 miles outside of Providence for food and credit cards, and was camping in a pine grove nearby. He stole the car in the same neighborhood. When back in custody, he

French writers most closely associated with the philosophical current called Existentialism.


admitted to nine rapes in Rhode Island, Texas, Arizona, and North Carolina. Marshall had been attending the Navy version of a sergeants major academy in Norfolk when he was caught the first time. His wife, Michelle, who was taking care of their young son, was stunned. I can’t even pretend to understand Marshall Brown, after spending many hours with him and going on one combat operation with him. I have heard the statement that rape is not sex, it is an exercise of power. I don’t buy it. Rape is violent power, but it is sexualized violence, and it is also violent sex. Sex in patriarchal society is in almost every case practiced, portrayed, and understood as a form of aggression and power, and all power is in many ways sexualized. This is recognized in our everyday speech, even while it is denied by many policy makers and academics. Marshall’s brother-in-law spoke with me many years later and said that Marshall told him that he felt he had to use his skills somehow, or he’d begin to lose them. Marshall saw the rapes as a training opportunity at some level, and therefore the women as training aids. But there is something that has to be said here. I did a lot of different kinds of training over the years, and I never became aroused by my training aids. I never ejaculated on them. And Marshall, even as he was violating these thoroughly terrified women with a knife held to their throats, and arousing himself to an orgasm in the process, was apologizing and explaining to them, “I have to do this.” One might suppose, since he repeated this ritualistic rape at least nine times, that there was some generic rush he needed. I don’t buy that either. He had jumped out of airplanes a thousand times, was a proficient technical climber, and had been in combat. I think the rush – if that’s what it was – was transgression.93 Hartsock said that “without the boundary to violate, the thrill of transgression would disappear.” (Hartsock, p.172) Marshall’s criminality was not in spite of his religious conversion, his squeamishness about sex, or his uptight WASP upbringing in East Texas. It was an outcome… of all those things, but also of a masculinity defined by a culture of rape,94 and a man who had made a career of pursuing that masculinity. The transgressions of his career, invasions of other countries, for example, or killing, were legally-sanctioned. Why should it surprise anyone that he crossed the fuzzy line between legal and social sanction? He lived on that line. “We live in a culture that condones and celebrates rape,” says bell hooks95 (hooks, pp. 109-113). Catharine MacKinnon says that “male and female are created through the eroticization of dominance and submission. The man/woman difference and the dominance/submission dynamic define each other. This is the social meaning of sex and the distinctly feminist account of gender inequality.” (MacKinnon, p. 113) Robert Jensen says, “Rape is illegal, but the sexual ethic that underlies rape is woven into the fabric of the culture.”96 A culture that defines the male as a sexual aggressor, the do-er, the taker, the subject, and the female as the done-to, the taken-from, and the object, is a culture that has defined the parameters of rape and normalized them. The only rape that is illegal is the kind that Marshall committed. The definition is narrow, and the bar of legal proof is very, very high. Rape has to be understood simultaneously as both social and personal, because social control is exercised through individuals, and with individual bodies. “The defence of injustice in gender relations constantly appeals to difference,” says Robert Connell, “to a masculine/feminine opposition defining one place for female bodies and another place for male. But this is never ‘difference’ in a purely logical sense…” bodily difference becomes a social reality through body-reflexive practices, in which the social relations of gender are experienced in the body (as sexual arousals and turn-offs, as muscular tensions and posture, as comfort and discomfort) are themselves constituted in bodily action (in sexuality, in sport, in labour, etc.). The social organization of these
93 94

Transgression: The action of going beyond or overstepping some boundary or limit.

“Rape culture” is the term first used by Dianne Herman in her essay, “The Rape Culture.” Written in 1984. “Our society is a rape culture because it fosters and encourages rape by teaching males and females that it is natural and normal for sexual relations to involve aggressive behavior on the mart of the males.”
95 96

Outlaw Culture, Routledge, 1994.

From his commentary, “Rape is ‘Normal’”, printed in Counterpunch, September 4, 2004.


practices in a patriarchal gender order constitutes difference as dominance, as unavoidably hierarchical. This has been documented in immense detail by two decades of feminist cultural criticism – and it was of course visible long before, to observers of masculinity such as Alfred Adler. Difference/dominance means not logical separation but intimate supremacy. It involves immediate social relations as well as broad cultural themes. It can be realized violently in body practices such as rape and domestic assault. (Connell, p. 231-2) There’s that complementarity that Benjamin talked about… difference. It is masculinity as institution and ideology that posits a Cartesian duality97 between Man and the Other (be that other woman, lesser man, or nature), and defines masculine practice as conquest, often even of one’s own body – like my own experience with Delta selection and a host of other military ‘pain-schools’. In the military, the exercise of professional sado-masochism in preparation for the violence of warfare is often sexualized in our vernacular, disguised as humor. Allusions to pseudo-Victorian naughtiness are common. “Push me, hurt me, make me write bad checks!” Yes, we talk like that. “There is a surprising degree of consensus that hostility and domination, as opposed to intimacy and physical pleasure, are central to sexual excitement,” writes Nancy Hartsock. “[T]he mechanisms that construct sexual excitement rest most fundamentally on fetishization and on the dehumanization and objectification of the sexual object. And these are associated with debasement of the object and the construction of mystery, risk, illusion, and a search for revenge.” (Hartsock, p. 157) Men’s bodies are the most dangerous things on earth. – Margaret Atwood98


Named for the philosopher Rene Descartes, who first formally posited a mind-body ‘duality.’ There are other versions of duality in non-Western cultures.

From “Alien Territory,” an essay by Atwood available in The Male Body, edited by Laurence Goldstein (University of Michigan Press, 1997).


Destabilization Those who dealt with Marshall from the time he was arrested remarked how polite he was throughout the whole process, how observant and supportive of social conventions. Implicit in these remarks was the idea that rape – and in this case, serial rape – is aberrant in this society. But rape is not seen as fundamentally aberrant in this society, it is seen as excess, as crossing a line, and at times as provoked excess (as in warfare). Hidden within the open public discourse about rape are exclusively male assumptions, and in this space rape is routinely portrayed as understandable and even at times desirable. Socially, rape serves as an extrajudicial99 instrument of social control. bell hooks says that “rape of women by men is a ritual that daily perpetuates and maintains sexist oppression and exploitation.” (hooks, p. 129) And in the same way, the exercise of male prerogative100 in rape and the exercise of military prerogative in killing carries with it a transgressive thrill that is in some respect still socially sanctioned (against designated enemies, against Abu Ghraib prisoners, against ‘fallen’ women… away from higher ranking men). This is the fusion of the subjective experience of desire and violence with the socially instrumental101 violence of rape. Inga Muscio, in describing her traumatic and illuminating discovery that her mother was raped at the age of nine, concluded that “rape… viewed merely as a crime… is the fundamental, primal, most destructive way to seize and maintain control in a patriarchal society,” little realizing as she wrote, I’d wager, that a military principle of strategy against an enemy uses exactly the same language: “Seize and maintain the initiative.” The language reveals this at every turn. Men – in the “man talk” they speak in allmale environments and increasingly in general discourse even when women or children are present – often use metaphors of rape (male-male rape, for example) to indicate aggression, anger, submission, domination. Just bend over… we really took it in the shorts that time… check out the web site today, Juan Cole just ripped Goldstein a new ass… I’ve got a hardon for that SOB… he just rolled over for it… he thinks I’m his bitch… did you hear him reaming that guy out… and of course, the routine uses of “to fuck” as in “fuck you”, “we are so fucked”, that’s fucked”, plus the perjoratives applied to the “submissive/receptive” role, as in… he’s such a scumbag (recipient for sperm),… that sucks… what a cocksucker… and so on. The very texture of the vernacular expresses everything any sociologist could want to know about the association of sex and aggression, sex and ranking, etc. – and then every mawkish pop song rambles on about (hetero)sex being exactly equal to and definitive of Love, tra la la. It’s a wonder we don’t drop in our tracks from terminal cognitive dissonance.102 Marshall did not appear abnormal, because he was not ab-normal. He was, if anything, hyper-normal, as a male, going above and beyond the call of duty (expected of commandos) to preserve social stability. MacKinnon says that this implication that rape is psychopathological103 serves as a smokescreen by validating the notion that rape is not about sex – because if it is about sex, then sexuality itself comes under review as a construction of power. This is exactly why both MacKinnon and her late colleague, Andrea Dworkin, were vilified from both right and left. People do not want to go there. “Rape becomes something a rapist does, as if he were a separate species. But no personality disorder distinguishes most rapists from normal men.” (MacKinnon, pp. 145-6) (italics mine)

Extra-judicial: Outside the law.


Prerogative: A right reserved exclusively by a particular person or group (especially a hereditary or official right); “suffrage was the prerogative of white adult males”.
101 102

Instrumental: Serving a practical, functional purpose. Comment by email from D. A. Clarke. Cognitive dissonance: the discomforting conflict between an individual's thoughts (cognition) and that person's behavior; often as a result of the person's having acted in a way that does not agree with her or his existing beliefs.

The science of pathology is the study of disease – part of the medical cosmos. Psychopathological implies that there is a disease process going on with an individual.


Marshall Brown served in a profession with a constant subtext of coercion, and in a field within that profession (Delta Force/Special Operations) where we were expected to work outside the rules, behind the scenes, in the shadows, employing a host of very specialized skills, to ‘preserve a way of life.’ The expectation of us was that we would go ‘above and beyond the call of duty,’ or we wouldn’t have suffered the kind of extreme physical trials we accepted in selection just to qualify for a chance to be in the unit. And for that, we were – in the traditional militarist mind – entitled. His outrage at my suggestion that my daughter might be given access to reproductive control or her own sexual agency, his affinity for obscurantist ultra-patriarchal religion, his commitment to take profound risks on behalf of maintaining a social order, are all perfectly consistent with the manner in which he carried out these rapes. With the same aplomb that accompanied his acceptance of collateral damage had the Iranian rescue mission in 1979 that he participated in succeeded (planners conceded that hundreds and probably thousands of Iranian civilians would have been killed had the rescue-mission reached Tehran), Marshall Brown accepted the psychological wreckage that he left scattered around each of his rape victims. “Rape,” writes Inga Muscio, “makes you wonder if there’s a safe place.” And that’s the point, isn’t it? If you don’t want to be raped by a man, you need the protection of a man. It’s a psychosexual protection racket. Maria Mies wrote about feminist anti-rape campaigns in Bombay and Delhi, where activists were astonished to discover that as women came to the cities from the countryside – where feminist activists assumed rape was a backward feudal vestige like dowry murders – the frequency of rape exploded, and the fastest growing group of perpetrators was the police. These feminists were slow to associate the increasing number of rapes with the increasing independence and political agency of women. (Mies, p. 153) Rape punishes women who get out of their places. This is often displayed as a ‘playful’ theme in pornography. This phenomenon need not occur as a socially conscious strategy by the perpetrators. In fact, it is a reaction that should lead us to interrogate the categories of the ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ in social relations. Objective and subjective are interfused and inextricable, and it is this very interfusion that consolidates both patriarchy and rape as perceived norms. When Marshall Brown became a serial rapist in 1988 (we think), the institution with which he identified absolutely – the military – was undergoing a series of significant transformations related to gender. In 1973, when I was taking my first break in service, women constituted 1.6% of the United States armed forces.104 When Marshall and I had participated in the invasion of Grenada in 1983, the follow-on occupation included 170 Army women. The U.S. Naval Academy had a woman graduate first in her class in 1987. By 1989, when Marshall was first arrested, and three years after Lissa Young graduated from West Point as the first female Deputy Commander of the Corps of Cadets (whose story is in the chapter, “Homo”), that percentage had leapt to 10.8%. Marshall, with his East Texas upbringing, could hardly have missed this, or the fact that 30% of these women were Black. By the time Marshall was arrested, 59% of the Army’s occupational specialties were open to women (That’s not the same as 59% of the positions.). Women were being rated as test pilots. Lissa Young, whom I describe further along in this book, was flying Chinook helicopters – a huge incursion into the male domain. With this new influx of military women came another dynamic: Fraternization, as the military calls it. Men and women in the military were interacting socially, dating, having sex, and getting married. The malemale and female-female liaisons stayed as much as possible under the official radar. But among these ‘heterosexual’ pairings, there were significantly higher numbers of interracial contacts than in the civilian sector. The most frequent combination among those in uniform was Black male/white female. I’m not surprised. They have something in common… whom they have reason to fear. White men. Marshall was sure to notice that, too. In fact, it was a constant subject of conversation among white male troops, mostly expressing outrage at this Black male infiltration and white female ‘betrayal.’ Resentment was directed at the Black men, but with lynching not an option, that same fierce sullen rage was re-directed at the white women, who were referred to as ‘zebra-women’ and ‘mudsharks.’ When Kimberle Crenshaw wrote “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex,”105 she noted that a “singular focus on rape as a manifestation of male power over female sexuality tends to eclipse the use

Beecraft, Carolyn, “Facts About Women in the Military, 1980-1990”, Women’s Research and Education Institute, June 1991. 105 Included in The Black Feminist Reader, Blackwell Publishers, 2000.


of rape as a weapon of racial terror,” pointing to Black women’s virtually ‘unprotected’ status. In the same essay describing the mixture of white and male supremacy, she shows how white men attempt “to regulate the sexuality of white women.” Hegemonic (white nationalist106) masculinity is profoundly threatened by a perceived inability to control the sexuality of white women, creating what Connell calls “sexual vertigo.” This recombinant107 mixture of sexual and racial construction that obliges white men to both ‘control’ and ‘protect white womanhood’ is ignited as violence against both women and Black men. The bogeyman of the potent Black satyr raping the white woman has been paired with virtually every call in the United States for anti-Black pogroms. It is hardly coincidental that assertions of Black social agency have been met with expanded outbreaks of racial terror, and it is likewise not a coincidence that police rapes increased in Bombay when women began organizing politically. Connell says that “Violence is part of a system of domination, but is at the same time a measure of its imperfection. A thoroughly legitimate hierarchy would have less need to intimidate. The scale of contemporary violence points to crisis tendencies in the modern gender order.” (Connell, p. 84) When Marshall Brown began his career as a serial rapist, there were myriad influences on his target selection. Marshall went through Special Forces training where the sign at Camp Mackall said: Rule #1: There are no rules. Rule #2: Obey the first rule. Marshall was the commando, root word ‘command,’ who follows orders without question within established hierarchies. He was committed to in his role as the colonizer’s paladin, with its admixture of violent conquest and ‘civilization’ to be imposed outside those disciplinary restraints.


As I use the term ‘nationalist’ here, this is not the same as nation-state or country, a geographically defined political entity. A nation, as I employ the term as the root of ‘national-ism,’ is more akin to what we usually think of as ethnicity. It relates to a “stable community” of people who share a common language, culture, and history, and a distinct relation to other “nations.” White nationalism, in the current context, is the phenomenon described by people like David Roediger, in his book The Wages of Whiteness (cited later in this book), to describe the simultaneous historical formation of US society – as it is ideologically perceived and represented – and the development of ‘white’ as a racial-national identity.

Recombinant: A figurative term here, borrowed from genetic engineering, where it refers to DNA which has been altered by joining genetic material from two different sources.


Pornography Military men not only consume pornography, as I pointed out in my story of Delta Porn. Military installations sell it. It is part of the culture. Pornography is an exercise of male power, too. I suspect the sales of so-called soft-core pornography on military installations will soon go by the wayside, because it will no longer be profitable. Soldiers are on-line. The new availability of tremendous quantities of internet pornography needs to be understood in this context, especially as it relates to commodification, gender orders, and the construction of sexuality. Few people have studied the issue of pornography, or so controversialized it, as the late Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon. bell hooks hits close to the center, I think, when she simultaneously critiques and defends the radical feminist perspectives of Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, explaining how these two in particular have been set up as targets for the co-opted ‘feminism’ of Katie Roiphe, Camille Paglia, and other right-wing stalking horses who are “repackaging feminism as a commodity and selling it to us full of toxic components (a little bit of poisonous, patriarchal thinking sprinkled here and there).” The Roiphe-Paglia tendency is to reduce feminism to a caricature, first by caricaturing the revolutionary (and therefore provocative) trends within feminism, then by attacking that caricature as “feminist excess.” This is the straw man108 fallacy I described earlier. Substitute a scarecrow for your debating adversary, then tear up the scarecrow. hooks is clear that the critiques represented by the radical feminist strand of feminist inquiry represented by Dworkin and McKinnon are genuinely subversive, even if she finds their discursive manner to be “ruthlessly dogmatic.” I am not as troubled by this alleged dogmatism, which seems to deliberately bend the stick beyond the center precisely because the stick has been bent so far in the direction of patriarchy for so long. I am not sure that their work would have created the controversy it did without that bending, and that controversy was exactly what was necessary to pull the whole issue of sexuality as a political category back to the surface. I will go into more detail on this later on, in a discussion of the patriarchal state, where I will rely significantly on MacKinnon’s juridical insights and her well-developed critique of Engels. I disagree with hooks that the McKinnon/Dworkin thesis is in many ways so categorical that it falls into the trap of denying women’s dialectical109 agency. MacKinnon does qualify the provocative implication that there is no such thing as consent to sex in a thoroughly patriarchal society. She does say at one point in Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, “If the sexes were equal, women would not be sexually subjected. Sexual force would be exceptional, consent to sex would be commonly real.” (MacKinnon, p. 214) (italics mine) But consent is not agency. It is a liberal notion closely associated with contract theory. Anyone whose work has engendered the kind of rage from the patriarchal establishment that Dworkin and McKinnon has, in my opinion, merits a second look to determine exactly what it is that the patriarchal establishment is so afraid of. In actually studying their thesis on pornography, which has ignited the fury of civil libertarians, liberal feminists, and poseurs like Paglia-Roiphe, there is much to be learned if we can just keep our liberal knees from jerking the book off our laps. So I will leave the denunciation of Dworkin/McKinnon to the legions of libertarians and misogynists out there who are standing by lusting for blood at the slightest whiff of antiindividualism and anti-patriarchy, and attempt to integrate these two women’s important insights into an interrogation of pornography in military culture, and for that matter throughout this book. From the box office success of The Birth of a Nation in 1915 to the national obsession with O. J. Simpson, the image of the Black male as the spoiler of white womanhood
Straw man: Constructing a debate position which is similar to your opponent's position but far more easily attacked. One then defeats this false position (one is said to attack the ‘straw man’) then acts as if the opponent's position has been defeated. If done with sufficient skill one can often get the opponent to defend the straw man instead of her actual position.


Dialectics: A logical process of arriving at the truth by putting in juxtaposition contrary propositions; a term often used in medieval philosophy and theology, and also in the writings of Hegel and Marx. Dialectics focuses on relations between phenomena, and not just phenomena by themselves.


has been a staple of media representation in this country. The demonization by the media of Black men as rapists and murderers has been well documented by scholars interested in film, news, and rap music. While this image stands in sharp contrast to the feminized ‘Uncle Tom’ which was popular in early Hollywood films, both images serve to define Black men as outside the ‘normal’ realm of (white) masculinity by constructing them as ‘other’. Although both the ‘Uncle Tom’ and the sexual monster continue to define the limits of Black male representation in mainstream media, it is the latter image which dominates, and… serves to legitimate racist practices such as mass incarceration of Black men, police brutality and right-wing government policy. So begins an astonishing critique by Gail Dines entitled “King Kong and the white woman: Hustler magazine and the demonization of black masculinity,” originally printed in the Journal of Violence Against Women. This is one of 28 essays on the subject of prostitution/pornography that were pulled together by an academic and a rape-prostitution survivor.110 Reading this anthology inspired by radical feminists’ long standing critique of pornography and prostitution compelled me to revisit what I believe to be well-founded critiques of the left by many feminists, and this issue of prostitution and pornography is emblematic of exactly how we (I include myself in this critique) have failed to effectively engage in the struggle against patriarchy, and why the issue of ‘pornography’ is still at the vital center of that failure. As someone who is exploring the cultural association of violence and masculinity in this book, this porn-prostitution anthology on systemic sexual exploitation couldn’t be more timely or useful. Every essay in Not For Sale provides the reader with a view of a different facet of the phenomenon of prostitution/pornography. Several are extremely powerful first hand accounts of those who have survived violent sexual commodification. I use this conjunction ‘prostitution and pornography’ because the distinction between these two forms of sexual commodification – never very sharp – is being erased in the internet-sex political economy, where pimps and johns can record the images of a single act of socially-economically-or-physically coerced sexual exploitation and mass produce it for distribution on the World Wide Web, where the consumer—including military consumers – can enjoy near absolute and effortless anonymity. This digital market distribution has only served to reinforce the abstraction of sexuality and sexual degradation and slavery, and therein support the twin towers of fallacy (phallacy?) that have prevented many on the left from understanding the concrete reality of the world’s third most lucrative industry, and one that in its non-abstraction perpetuates a daily holocaust among the world’s women… as well as millions of children. D. A. Clarke writes an essay entitled “Prostitution for everyone: Feminism, globalization, and the ‘sex’ industry,” in which she describes quite lucidly what social destabilization looks like today in the world, and how it has thrown millions of women off the land and into various forms of sexual slavery. In the essay, she takes the male-led left to task for either winking at prostitution or declaring it sex-work, the ‘oldest profession.’ [F]eminists have often been frustrated and infuriated by the fond attachment of the (male) Left to prostitution and pornography. The enthusiasm of good Leftist men for the high principles of Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité all too often peters out before forging any genuine solidarity with the global Sororité of exploited women… Prostitution, so the weary old cliché goes, is ‘the oldest profession’. Many feminists, decade after decade, have protested that pimping, not prostitution, is the ‘profession’… (Stark & Whisnant, p.156) It’s not only the left that is largely hostile to any critique of pornography and prostitution. The academy is just as hostile to the critique of prostitution and pornography, oddly enough, as it is to critiquing capitalism. Perhaps this is because prostitution is capitalism. Sexuality has been adapted to the dislocations of postmodern society without fundamentally eroding male power. Christine Stark’s scathing denunciation of so110

Not For Sale – Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography, edited by Christine Stark and Rebecca Whisnant (Spinifex Press, 2004).


called ‘lesbian pornography’ shows how easily and thoroughly this ‘liberated’ sexuality has been integrated into male power systems. In it, she takes to task so-called ‘sex radicals,’ like Carol Queen. My friend Inga’s unfortunate paean to Queen is the only disagreeable chapter I find in her book, Cunt, and Stark has done a very thorough job of giving a strong and convincing voice to my discomfort with these ‘sex radicals.’ The most important thing to point out up front on the issue of pornography and prostitution is that these are not ‘choices.’ They are vast, exploitative, patriarchal-capitalist industries, largely violent, very lucrative, controlled by women-hating men, and destructive of the women (and children) who are victimized by them. Most of the women who are prostituted (including those who are used to produce pornography) are poor, disproportionately from oppressed groups, frequently drug-addicted, the vast majority showing clear signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, and wanting out. The majority suffered from sexual abuse as children, and many were first ‘turned out’ as minors. Many new prostitutes are ‘broken in’ through gang rape, and perennially abused by pimps. The ‘bad girl’ image coveted by ‘sex radicals’ is a pure exercise of class and national privilege that intentionally ignores how they provide cover for this industry and the dangerous, sometimes deadly, realities behind it. In the sex radical analysis, there are good girls and bad girls. The good girls are those – whether heterosexual, lesbian, or bisexual – who engage in ‘vanilla’ (that is, noncommercial and non-sadomasochistic) sex. The bad girls are whores, women who use pornography, women who sexualize children, and women who buy prostituted women: ‘Whores, sluts, and dykes are bad girls, bad because we are sexually deviant’ (Queen, 1997). Sex Radicals define prostitution as a sexuality and then link that to homosexuality, the sexual use of children by adults, and sadomasochism, calling them ‘sexual outlaws’. They claim to be censored and discriminated against, not by pimps, tricks, wife beaters, racists, corporations, and daddy rapists, but by feminists fighting sexual violence, racism, and poverty. The sex radicals’ ‘good girl-bad girl’ analysis is nothing new or radical; it merely reproduces the conservative patriarchal dichotomy between madonna and whore. Sex radicals simply reverse the valuation attached to the two sides: here bad girls are to be celebrated for their rebellion and audacity, while good girls are scorned and mocked as boring, repressed, and obedient… Queen and other sex radicals have a rebellious, adolescent-style reaction to sex: what they perceive as being ‘different’ or rebellious is good, period. What sex radicals lack in thoughtfulness and feminist analysis they make up for by appealing to emotion. They channel women’s valid anger and desire to rebel against patriarchy into their political camp by misrepresenting the term sex radical. True sex radicalism would mean recognizing structures of inequality and oppression, working toward egalitarian relationships, and aligning with those who do not have social or political power – such as women and children hurt in pornography and prostitution…(Stark & Whisnant, pp. 278-291) The claim by ‘sex radicals’ that anti-pornography feminists (usually radical feminists, whose analysis of gender as a system of power is the most advanced) are either Victorian or opposed to the women who are engaged in prostitution and pornography is not only specious, it is a deliberate misrepresentation designed to interdict further study of the work these women have done. Everyone I have ever engaged in a debate about Andrea Dworkin – and there has thusfar been not a single exception – has consistently attributed arguments to her that she has not made, and proven incapable of articulating exactly what she has said about pornography. That is because they have gravitated to these proponents of ‘sex radicalism’ that merely flip the patriarchal script, and who justify our own use of pornography or prostitution or both, and ingested these red herring and straw man critiques coming from the likes of Queen, Suzie Bright, and others. Much of feminist theory and activism against pornography and prostitution has been and continues to be developed by formerly prostituted women, who are not judging or otherwise maligning prostituted people, but rather exposing pimps and rapists, he sex industry as an institution of male violence and racial and economic privilege… One of the ways sex radical women misrepresent feminist work against pornography and prostitution is


by claiming that feminists are in bed with conservative religious groups. This accusation is false… (Stark & Whisnant, p. 278-291) Under sex radicalism, the pornography and prostitution industry disappears along with class-based political analysis of sexism, racism, heterosexism… leaving a few, select, privileged women to write about how they can ‘choose’ to oppress or be oppressed. Sex radicalism turns away from feminism, embracing a captor/captive mentality as revolutionary. No matter how many cute ways one spells ‘boys’, celebrating the objectification of women is dehumanizing and reactionary, whether it’s men or women doing the objectifying. (Stark & Whisnant, p. 290) Oddly enough, when I weighed in on the topic on the internet to describe this industry, I was castigated by metropolitan women (from Australia in this case) for being a white man who “continually made reference to third world women” trapped in prostitution and pornography. Then came the post-modernist suggestion that I was in the grip of something called the “injured body metaphor,” which was “orientalist.” I was then at pains to point out, “The reason the issue of women in under-developed countries is important… now listen very closely, because this is a very subtle point… is that the vast majority of women live in underdeveloped countries.” Resistance to any critique of pornography generates the most outrageous and fallacious reactions, almost all of them, in my short experience, name-calling… anti-sex, reactionary, orientalist… or the most scurrilous, that we are in league with the right-wing, and we are trying to ban sexual expression. There is an insistence on seeing pornography only as a cultural phenomenon, taking the pressure off the industry and gender as a system, and dissociating it from capitalism, combined with deployment of the slanderous implication that ‘criticism = repression.’ Pornography and prostitution are international industries, underwritten by a system of extreme malecapitalist power, and this is related to one reason military men crave certain overseas assignments. The inflated value of their dollars, the generalized poverty, and their separation from home, can turn off-duty time into a kind of year-long, cut-rate sex tourism. But the military does more than patronize this system in its larger context. It secures it. When we read about the explosion of sexual slavery and sex tourism in recent years in the global periphery, we need to understand that it is not merely a massive moral failure. It is a concrete characteristic of actually-existing imperialism – a social system, reproduced through global dollar hegemony and secured by arms. In addition to the failure to recognize imperialism as a system that includes the colonization of women, the process of cultural polarization/counter-polarization within the capitalist paradigm in the U.S. accounts for the inability of many putative feminists – calling themselves ‘sex positive’ – to understand the critiques that radical feminists continue to make of pornography and prostitution. The conservative patriarchal reaction against women’s sexual agency has actually contributed to liberal feminists’ (and many leftists’!) abstraction of pornography and prostitution into expressions of women’s ‘freedom to choose.’ This is libertarianism, the fallacy that freedom can only be defined as an attribute of individuals, and then only ahistorically. It is based on the abstraction that a poor Black woman in a hopeless ghetto has the same ‘choices’ as Suzie Bright or Carol Queen. Abstracted, game-theory, rational-actor, neoliberal bullshit! Reinforcing this American ideology, and by extension, the myopia111 about pornography and prostitution, is the position of the United States in the world system. Our collective job in the international division of labor is to consume – to buy, buy, buy, and shop, shop, shop. This gives rise to an idea reflected from that practice, that life itself is a series of individual selections, of shopping choices, of lifestyles. This is consumerism. Consumerism is itself an ideological product and an industry; it can be credibly defined as consumerdemand-production driven by the imperative to extend commodification into every available dimension of our lives. Some socialists have theorized direct production in light of the microchip revolution. This statement in the 2001 “Main Political Report” of Freedom Road Socialist Organization is a good example:


Myopic: A medical term for the inability to see objects clearly at a distance.


Information/communications technology shouldn't be seen as just a sector of production. Rather, as more and more machinery is computer-driven, this technology is crucial to the smoother integration and rationalization of most productive activity and therefore has the potential to raise profit rates throughout the economy. First, it enables capitalists to monitor sales, adjust the product mix with less retooling (lowering the cost of fixed capital), facilitate "just-in-time production" and keep inventories low. For example, the average time that a GM car spends on the lot before purchase has been reduced from 77 to 64 days. In Marxist concepts, this raises the rate of profit by shortening the time of turnover. A capitalist puts out money to hire workers to make products to eventually sell for more money than he initially laid out. The less time the product lies on a shelf, the quicker money comes back to be re-invested and start the cycle over again, and the more money the capitalist ends up with. Secondly, these technologies lower what Marx would call the unproductive costs of accounting, record-keeping, bill collecting, market research. These activities don't create surplus value but are required to realize surplus value (to sell products and collect money)—so when these costs are lowered, the surplus value that's left goes up. This is significant; Marxist economist Ernest Mandel estimated in the 1980s that as much as 50% of GNP in advanced capitalist countries was dedicated to the accounting and realization of value and that this was a severe drag on profit rates. This drag is now being lessened. Other uses for information/communication technology include product design and greater control of labor in auxiliary aspects of production, like transportation, that were previously hard to monitor. For example, satellites now track trucks on the road and impose more speed-up on truck divers (nominally independent contractors) by regulating where they should be within how many hours, what routes they must follow, etc. In large clerical pools, computers automatically track and record for management the number of keystrokes workers make on a daily basis. High-speed, lightweight digital information/communication technology has also become a crucial technology for creating expanded consumer demand. While Marx set aside questions of practicality differentiating commodities in order to focus his investigation on the production of surplus value and the explication of capital as a social relation, it is now necessary – given that Marx’s basic theses on surplus value and capital as social relation are more or less axiomatic – to examine demand creation as not only characteristic of late capitalism but as symptomatic of a new form of incipient crisis, as well as determinative of new forms of sexuality – now itself hugely commodified. New demands must be engendered (pun intended) in the consuming public. Not For Sale offers the first detailed exposition I have seen of how this digital revolution has also massively expanded the scope and scale of sexual exploitation. One of the more disturbing trends identified by people who are polling American youngsters is how many adolescent girls now actually claim an aspiration to be a ‘porn star.’ Connell asserts that the destabilization of gender norms is inevitable and the movement for women’s emancipation is a genie that will never go back into the bottle. That may be dangerously optimistic. New contingent forms of women’s exploitation have begun to generalize themselves through commodification that constitute a huge setback for women. Chief among these forms of commodification for metropolitans, I will argue, is internet pornography, which is a mass marketed form of prostitution, now state-protected as ‘speech.’ A quick review of any internet porn menu will reveal not women’s empowerment, but the commodification of women’s humiliation and the massive exploitation of (often very young) women from the deep-poverty zones of the world system, the message being, women live to serve men’s sexual appetites. D. A. Clark writes: The essential issues which traditionally inspired feminists to challenge and criticize the sex industry have not changed despite decades of effort. It has been remarkably difficult for feminists to make any progress on these issues. It is very difficult to get these issues taken seriously. Obviously one reason for that is that feminist activity has not changed the fundamentals of social power. Men still control decisive power blocs such as the armed


forces, the higher levels of government, big business and media – and the ‘sex industry’ is a service industry for men.112 Decisively, men control the state.


“Prostitution for everyone: Feminism, globalization, and the ‘sex’ industry”.


Hate-speech I am going to digress here, for a reason. Before we can connect pornography to the state to gender, and gender back to the state, of which the military is a necessary part, we need concrete examples. An interview with Carol Smith (a survivor of the porn industry) contradicts the abstract libertarian version of pornography; she explains how she was sexually abused as a small child, chemically dependent and severely affectively disordered by age ten. She was cajoled into pornography at 19 based on her drug dependency. She reports that this is actually the most common trajectory for porn ‘models’ and prostitutes… there is no Pretty Woman. Exactly when was she was capable of ‘consenting’ by libertarian standards? Perhaps at the age of eight when she was first sexually abused? This is certainly a real question in the real world. Her story – which includes her escape from pornography – is not typical. It is optimistic. Many do not survive, and most remain addicted. Pointing this out consistently provokes pornography advocates to shift the conversation back to their individual rights and find exceptions. It also provokes them to claim that a critique of the actually-existing pornography industry is the same as a demand that all erotic material be banned. This is, of course, a lie. It is also an attempt to shift the focus off of pornography as a violent industry that produces anti-woman propaganda, which is heavily connected to organized crime syndicates. In Smith’s interview, she pointed out that her pornographic videotapes are still being marketed and displayed on the internet, even though she has tried to take legal action to stop them. This has had a tremendously damaging effect on her and her family, but the courts have sided with the pimp-pornographers based on a contract she signed years ago – a contract signed by an addicted, affectively disordered, young woman, financially dependent on her pimp-pornographer, in a society characterized by male supremacy. This is how consent is defined using the libertarian fallacy in the male capitalist state. Her images, being sexually humiliated under the influence of drugs – images which others have been shown to her children – are a pimp’s property. The notion of the contract is central to the liberal state. Libertarianism has always been about one thing at its core – property. Not only is pornography a service industry, as Clarke stated – a masturbation aid – it is, as radical feminists have long argued, a form of hate speech. Pornography is anti-woman propaganda. The display of pornography in a workplace (like an Army PX) intimidates female employees; it is tantamount to posting pictures of hangman’s nooses in workplaces with Black employees. State protection of pornography (including pornography that is actually digitally distributed prostitution) is state protection of misogynist hate speech. Imagine, if you will, a billboard along an American highway with the caricatured image of a grinning, bug-eyed Black kid in tattered coveralls grinning over a slice of watermelon. Clearly, this would generate an outcry that would result in its removal almost immediately. Yet we can see billboards everywhere that show infantilized (male sexuality is constructed in many ways as pedophilic), hyper-sexualized and depersonalized women, yet there is not only no outcry – there seems to be little discussion of what those images do to our daughters, sisters, partners, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and friends. It should be noted that it is also culturally ‘okay’ right now to display grotesque stereotypes of Arabs, since the United States government is involved in an active project of killing them. Pornography not only portrays women as sexual objects, it portrays them as living for the opportunity to display overtly sexual submission to men (sometimes with other women for men to view). Pointing out the exceptions does not neutralize the rule.


Colonization. People often accuse me of compulsively pushing race into the middle of every discussion. Guilty. But it’s not race I want to get at. It’s colonization. There is not simply an ‘intersection’ between race and gender. These are two lanes in the same road. And race is perceived as a phenotypic113 or cultural or even biological category. That’s why we continue to be confused by it. Race and gender are the air, but the ground is colonization – a structure made up of physical bodies organized spatially114 and energetically115 and disciplined into dominator and dominated. The reason for the impasse116 in the Civil Rights struggle is that it was never merely a struggle for civil rights. It was an anti-colonial struggle, and when that was forgotten, the movement lost its way. The struggle against patriarchy is also an anti-colonial struggle, and cannot be defined within the narrow confines of a fight for legal equality. Nor can it be neatly subsumed into a “class” struggle. Race and rape foreground the contradictory colonial relations between white and Black and men and women. Crenshaw: [W]hile it was true that the attempt to regulate the sexuality of white women placed unchaste women outside the law’s protection, racism restored a fallen white women’s chastity where the alleged assailant was a Black man. No such restoration was available to Black women… When Black women were raped by white males, they were being raped not as women generally, but as Black women specifically: their femaleness made the sexually vulnerable to racist domination, while their Blackness effectively denied them any [legal] protection. (James & Sharpley-Whiting, p.223) One of the markers of the colonial relation is a separate and unequal system of law and jurisprudence, whether de jure117 or de facto.118 Yet bell hooks points out that even Black men, not recognizing the relationship between the colonization of a people and the colonization of women, embrace the patriarchal colonization of Black women, sometimes as a perverse assertion of social agency119 against racial/national colonialism: Black males, utterly disenfranchised in almost every arena of life in the United States, often find that the assertion of sexist domination is their only expressive access to the patriarchal power they are told all men should possess as their gendered birthright. Hence, it should not surprise or shock that so many black men support and celebrate “rape culture.” That celebration has found its most powerful contemporary voice in misogynist rap music. (hooks, p. 110)


Phenotypic: Of or relating to phenotype; the phenotype incorporates the observable characteristics of an organism. This contrasts with genotype, which is an organism’s genetic composition.

Colonization separates the actual geographical and local spaces available to colonizer from those available to the colonized. It is spatial – having to do with space. White and Black neighborhoods, for example.

One of the most useful and consistent markers of the colonial relation is per capita energy consumption. A detailed analysis of the spatial and energetic separation of nations can be found in “Spatial Patterns of Capital,” by Stan Goff, published by Sanders Research Associates, January 26, 2005.
116 117 118 119

Impasse: a situation in which no progress can be made or no advancement is possible. De jure: According to law. De facto: Something which, while not necessarily lawful or legally sanctified, exists in fact.

Agency is used throughout this book to describe a state of action, decision, or power. A person who can act of her own accord is exercising her agency.


White feminists have frequently seized on this contradiction to lay claim to the loyalties of Black women, recognizing the necessity of Black women to struggle against Black men over their patriarchy, but denying the equally real need for Black women to remain in solidarity with Black men against the very national-racial oppression these white feminists have been reluctant to fully acknowledge – and sometimes even participate in. It was the late June Jordan who wrote of rape in her “Poem About My Rights”: they fucked me over because I was wrong I was wrong again to be me being me where I was/wrong to be who I am which is exactly like South Africa penetrating into Namibia penetrating into Angola and does that mean I mean how do you know if Pretoria ejaculates what will look like the evidence look like the proof of the monster jackboot ejaculation on Blackland This is a powerful expression of affective clarity about rape and the colonial relation – from international relations to gender. So what about the men? What about the colonizers? Are the dominant within these systems also trapped within them? As Toni Morrison points out, “The trauma of racism [read: colonization, sexism] is, for the racist and the victim, the severe fragmentation120 of the self, and has always seemed to me a cause (not a symptom) of psychosis – strangely of no interest in psychiatry.” It’s interesting to me. In the trauma of patriarchy, for men and for women, there is severe fragmentation, again of little interest to psychiatry. How far was I from being Marshall Brown? Radical feminism makes a key contribution to understanding power as more than but not separated from class – to understanding that sexuality is controlled and contested in a deeper and more personal sense than means of production. In making a solid critique of many species of Marxism’s persistent attempts to fold sexuality back into class struggle and subordinate it there, radical feminism has exposed the ways that Marxism has actually manifested internal forms of patriarchy. Radical feminism had to bend the stick hard to make the point, because the resistance on the left was so powerful and persistent. Radical feminism remains a vital interpretive orientation, and in fact consciously and correctly employs key Marxist categories in making its analysis. What radical feminism had to wait for, however, and that which will force radical feminism and Marxism to remake themselves yet again, are the feminisms coming out of societies on the periphery of the world system – referred to with the somewhat unfortunate term, ‘third world feminism.’121 This represents feminism growing directly out of the politicoeconomic colonies of the world. As Maria Mies and Chandra Talpade Mohanty point out, for the majority of the world’s women, located in underdeveloped societies, capitalist exploitation is not a step removed between the workplace and the household as it is perceived in the world’s metropoles.122 It is perceived more severely and directly, as the


Psychological fragmentation is the loss of one’s sense of integration between one’s material world of the body and ones symbolic world of the ‘mind.’ It is referred to in some literature as a “spiritual emergency,” or “identity crisis.” 121 Third World is a term that originated to distinguish those countries that were aligned neither with the capitalist West, the ‘First World’, nor with the communist states, particularly the Soviet Bloc, during the Cold War. It remains widely used to describe non-industrialized or under-developed countries, despite the collapse of the Soviet Bloc.

Metropoles: Used in this book to denote highly industrialized countries, particularly the United States and Canada, Western Europe, and Japan. These nations are over-developed, that is, the rest of the world could not sustain their rates of consumption.


weight of socially reproductive labor,123 as well as monetarily exploitative labor falls directly on women as a result of imperialism – its latest form being neoliberalism. The reality for most women in the world is that their daily life-and-death struggle is waged in the face of conditions created directly by the U.S. state, and the life-and-death character of that struggle is increasing in its severity with remarkable speed. The specific nature of the US state and its partner in U.S. finance capital, then, in both form and function, is a vital question, perhaps the most vital question, for the majority of the world’s women, even if it remains invisible to the majority of metropolitan feminists – which it does. Mohanty writes in her book, Feminism Without Borders – Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (Duke University Press, 2003), “Capitalism is a foundation principle of social organization at this time. This does not mean that… all forms of domination are reducible to capitalist hierarchies… It does mean that at this particular stage of global capitalism, the particularities of its operations… necessitate naming capitalist hegemony and culture as a foundational principle of social life. To do otherwise is to obfuscate124 the way power and hegemony function in the world.” (Mohanty, p. 183) (italics mine) One of Mohanty’s points is related to the specific circumstance of women’s studies scholars in the university – where given the resurgence of the right through their so-called ‘culture wars’ – the gutting of the public sector to liquidate more capital for Wall Street’s casino and for war, and the proletarianization125 of academics, women and women’s studies professors are particularly vulnerable. They are objectively and preemptively being ejected from first the petit bourgeois professional class126 into the proletariat (by becoming transferable commodities, ‘free-labor’ sent out in the world with just their labor to sell), then sometimes from work altogether, now outside the capital-labor contradiction.127 In a sense they are becoming what Nelson Peery called a “communist class,”128 a highly educated one at that with very sophisticated leadership skill sets, and primary experience of multiple facets of oppression – a potentially powerful vanguard.129 Revolutionary impetus130 has usually not come from within the dominant class contradiction, where those social poles are tied together by history into a Gordian knot,131 but from a new class that emerges outside that contradiction.

Social reproduction: The social practices through which people reproduce themselves and society on a daily and generational basis; childbearing, childrearing, household work, and unwaged production. 124 Obfuscate: To make a thing unclear.

The word proletarian means someone who is thrown into the market economy with nothing to sell but her labor, which transforms this person without productive property into a commodity herself. Simply earning a wage does not make one a ‘proletarian.’ The essence of being proletarian is having commodity. With the attacks on tenure in the academy, and the increased use of temporarily contracted professors in universities, this formerly professional class has been reduced to competing for these insecure positions, to selling themselves in a marketplace – to becoming commodities. Proletarianized.

Petit bourgeois is a term that encompasses classes who are not proletarians (workers forced to sell their labor in a marketplace) and not bourgeois (those who own and control society’s means of production). It includes managers, small business people, and professionals, and is therefore a very imprecise term.

In the Marxist vocabulary, a contradiction is an ‘essential opposition,’ or the ‘unity of opposites.’ The simply describes a phenomenon in which two ‘opposites’ can only exist in their relation to one another. While they are at different poles, without one the other can not exist. Capital can not exist without labor, and labor can not exist without capital. Right only exists in its relation to left, for example.

This is a rather schematic and formal idea, that since ‘communism’ as a social form is by definition a society without classes, and one that follows the breakdown of capitalism, the expulsion of more and more proletarians from the overall work force will eventually result in a whole ‘communist class.’ There are problems with this formulation, but it should also not be too quickly dismissed.

A revolutionary vanguard is a core of dedicated cadres with a highly developed political consciousness that plays a leading role in formulating the principles, goals, and strategies of a revolution. In actual revolutions, these vanguards have emerged from the mass movements that preceded revolutionary activity after having proven themselves capable of winning campaign victories for the masses, usually including the exercise of some military prowess. In many metropolitan countries, there are a plethora of small, ideologically-conformed, self-isolating groupings that proclaim the need for a vanguard and invariably point to themselves as it. These sometimes delusional pronouncements should not be used to dismiss the necessity of actual vanguards – which must take shape for real revolutions to happen.

The initial push.


Born working class, and developed by a military career as an enlisted man, I have to admit that my own current ‘middle-class’ life makes possible the intellectual work I engage in now. I can put myself to this task because I am warm, dry, clean, well-fed, and sitting in front of a decent computer where I can do research on the internet, page through an mark up my collections of books in relative comfort, and I am not distracted by the multiple daily emergencies of life in poverty. Yet I have no class interests to protect as a bourgeois owner, either. I may not have the time-advantages of teaching in a university, but then again I don’t bear the burden of fighting against academic orthodoxies, engaging in campus personality politics, or facing up-or-out publishing deadlines. The point is, members of classes often outside society’s main contradictions can be positioned to advantage for the advance of revolutionary projects. More and more, these folks are women. I am not suggesting that this is the vanguard in the coming period, but that this sector should not be ignored. There is gold in their heads. Travel, first in the military then out of it, has given me the opportunity to see first hand what life is like for other people in the world, and to actually share that life with them from time to time. It is true, it must be said, that it was easier to do this because I am a male; I can travel more ‘safely.’ So my own unique circumstances have afforded me a very useful standpoint for the work I do now. When I was assigned to 3rd Special Forces in Ft. Bragg, and we were preparing for the 1994 invasion of Haiti, we were provided high-quality satellite imagery of our potential targets around the country. My team’s mission was to occur near the Dominican border close to the northern coast. Those satellite photos revealed something startling and – then, for me – inexplicable.132 On the kinds of maps we generally use, political boundaries are superimposed on this “two-dimensional, graphic representation of a portion of the earth’s surface, drawn to scale, as seen from above” [the military definition of a map]. But satellite photos do not record these invisible political boundaries… well, not always. Yet on these photo-images the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic were sharply delineated by a dark, heavily vegetated Dominican side that abruptly switched to the pale, denuded Haitian side. In 1997, I visited the Dominican Republic and rode a rented motorcycle up to the border. Flashing back… Los Algodones is an ambiguous little place. Half its residents call it a pueblo, the other half, a ville. On one side of the road that passes through Los Algodones, the landscape of the Cordillera Central (the Continental Divide of the island of Hispanola) is verdant; a patchwork of lush pastures and forests, mostly pine, resembling in many respects the Alleghenies. On the other side, the recent rains have turned the stripped moonscape from scorched tan to metallic pale green. The kai-pai, Haitian houses of mud and sticks, dot the barren ridges and draws, leaning this way and that with the ravages of weather and gravity. The houses of the fincas133 on the Dominican side are hidden from view, tucked back into the forests, and the only visible structure is the military outpost, a mini-fortress complete with battlements,134 where bored, suspicious Dominican soldiers stare out over this little edge of Haiti, watchful for incursions from the official Dominican enemy. I took the trip to the Dominican Republic after my fourth foray into Haiti. As my interest in and understanding of Haiti had deepened, it had become more and more apparent that one can not ignore the relationships between the co-resident nations of this island if one is to find the context for the tortured history and troubled present of Haiti. If I had learned anything over the past few years of political inquiry, it was that the key to understanding is not to be found in clever academic constructions, but in observing relationships.


Gordian knot: 1. An exceedingly complicated problem or deadlock. 2. An intricate knot tied by King Gordius of Phrygia and cut by Alexander the Great with his sword after hearing an oracle promise that whoever could undo it would be the next ruler of Asia.
132 133 134

Inexplicable: Incapable of being explained or accounted for. Ranches.

Battlements: The working defenses atop a castle wall, consisting of a walled walkway fronted by parapets – openings between protective walls.


In Los Algodones, the Haitian border market – operated almost exclusively by women – is permitted to operate on Tuesdays and Fridays. Permission is granted by the Dominican soldiers, who effectively control the ground on both sides of the road – a road that is also the official border. The Dominican soldiers stroll through the crowd with a casual and confident superiority. The Haitian women and their children are watchful and submissive. Dominican traders will stop and chat up the Dominican soldiers. They are striking hard bargains for the produce the Haitians sell – coconuts, mangoes, yams, straw hats. It’s a buyers’ market, and the presence of the soldiers inhibits the aggressive dickering for which Haitian women are notable in their own marketplaces. The Dominicans will mark everything up when they transport it down the mountains to Restauracion and Loma de Cabrera.135 The soldiers and police will pick through the truckloads of produce and commodities, here and at the several checkpoints, a system of gratuities136 so longstanding that the drivers and soldiers converse during the process, laughing easily at shared jokes. All relationships are characterized by power. As in our personal relationships, sometimes that power is negotiated, each and every day, in an atmosphere of trust. Sometimes it is not negotiable at all, but hangs stubbornly together out of brutal necessity and unabashed137 domination. There is no doubt that the Haitians who eke out their existence on this international margin submit to the suspicion, domination, and humiliation of their neighbors out of the starkest economic necessity, much like a woman isolated in a bad marriage with no prospect of independence. I was eating days later at a little restaurant in Puerto Plata,138 interrogating the waitress about the tourists that infest the place, trying to gain a notion of her real reaction to them. Instead, I heard about her relationship. Her child was in the hospital, burned by a gas explosion in her kitchen, and her boyfriend was not helping with the costs. It was not his child. Without him, without the protection he afforded her as ‘taken,’ she felt vulnerable, even as she acknowledged he wasn’t much good. He was no worse than most other men, she quipped. She was working, she said, so she would get together the hospital bills for her daughter. At least she had a decent job at the restaurant. Many women she knew worked at the cabaretes, a euphemism for houses of prostitution where HIV is now spreading like wildfire. For most women on the tourist traps of the North coast, the choice was to get a husband with a job or work in the cabaretes. That’s just the way things are, she said. Men have one job, on their feet. Women have to survive both on their feet and on their backs. Right now, for most Dominican women, there are no other prospects. The absence of prospects is a real thing. Most women in Haiti have thick feet, hardened by endless journeys to the nearest water pump or river, back and forth to the markets, never wearing shoes. Once in Ferrier, a nun told me how the men had the equipment to fix a local pump, but since men never carried water, they hadn’t thought to fix it. The two mile circuit that women were making to the next nearest pump, often carrying as much as 80 pounds of water, just hadn’t registered with the men as important, though the male-burden of the 75 percent unemployment rate was a frequent subject of male discussion. The women in the Dominican Republic typify what I’ve seen of the Latina world. Their feet by age thirty are plagued by bunions and corns on the anterior half and flattened across the heel from years of walking on jacked up heels with their toes jammed into a pointed leather muzzle, part of the uniform of any woman who can afford it. Skin tight trousers, provocative blouses, glaring makeup…all mandated by the life or death competition to gain an approving male mate – the alternative to poverty or the cabaretes. Unlike the Haitian women, who can not buy perfumes, deodorants, gels, razors, the Dominican women live in a society which has reached the stage of development where the dominant collective male can demand the decorative face, and the slick, infantilized, hairless legs and armpits, the invisible halo of applied fragrances. These women are caught somewhere between the status of Haitian women who carry the entire economy literally on their heads or subordinated as draft animals in the cane fields and factories, and the Dominican women’s northern metropolitan sisters, who are in Mies’ terms “housewifized,” transformed into breeders, sex objects, and showpiece consumers. (Trophy big game, trophy house, trophy wife… man the hunter)
135 136 137 138

Dominican towns at lower elevations along the same road. Little pay-offs. Shameless. A tourist town on the northern Dominican coast.


A Dominican man on the airplane asks me if we hit ‘our’ women. Some men hit women, I acknowledge, but it’s not something I approve of. As if correcting me, he explains that the willingness to impose corporal139 discipline on a woman will make her love you more. His wife is with him. She smiles pleasantly, and he fawns over her when they sit down. Smiling is important in many relationships. Especially if it signals submission. An American expatriate140 bar and grill owner in Puerto Plata is congratulating a fellow restaurateur,141 a German, on his newest employee. She’ll be good for your business, he tells his colleague. She’s pretty and she knows how to smile. Good help is hard to find. In the tourist traps of Puerto Plata, Samana, Luperon, Jarabacoa, there is a lot of smiling. The guides smile. The local merchants smile. The canned act of the campesinos142 in Cambiaso – who play peasant music for the drunken French who splash to shore from the tour boats to enjoy the local color – is an act full of smiling; smiling as the coconut is lopped open and offered to the pale skinned clients, smiling as they serve the food, and smiling on shore as the pink and staggering foreigners re-embark in the afternoon, some to puke over the side from too much rum and Presidente.143 Just as the Haitians in Los Algodones are driven by necessity into their relationships on the border, these impoverished residents of Cambiaso are driven to play the role of charming backdrop for people with burnt skin who travel thousands of miles to take photographs with the charming natives. The charm industry is the principle developmental144 activity in the Dominican Republic. Charming scenes are being built everywhere to lure in the tourist dollars. Investment dollars from all three major trading blocks, American, Asian, and European, are pouring into the country. The whole process is mediated by the colonial surrogates145 of the sugar, alcohol, and tobacco industries, mainstays of the Dominican export economy. These investment partners need one thing above all else. Stability. Tourists and stock speculators spook easily. That’s why the Haitians are so critically important to the Dominican ruling class and their international patrons. Haitians cut the cane, labor in the most exhausting factories, perform the most grueling work for the least money, and much like African Americans and Latinos in the United States, provide the colonially exploited economic safety valve against demands to increase wages. Many progressives who are looking at Haiti focus too much on the minimal American and transnational investment in Haiti itself. They need to look at the favored nation next door. Haiti’s desperation is protecting international capital’s Dominican investments. A young Dominican man is raking up last night’s trash around a network of beach bars. He is part of a platoon of laborers who are receiving directions from British woman who has grown leathery and bloated from years of exposure to Dominican sun and alcohol. He is arguing with a young entrepreneur146 who is opening his little gift booth for the day. I am a burro, the laborer spits. All of us, all Dominicans, are just burros. They’ll never let you get rich like them. Quit complaining, says the entrepreneur. At least you’re not a Haitian. The United States military invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965 and installed a government there. It was part of the Cold War. The point is they are still there. The American military regularly trains and equips the Dominican military. In 1994, just before my Special Forces team went to Haiti as part of the
139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146

Physical. Expatriate: Someone who has left his or her home country to live and work in another country. Restaurant owner. Country people. Dominican beer. Development here means economic ‘growth’, or capitalist expansion. Surrogate: Literally, a deputy or substitute. Entrepreneur: A person who assumes the risk to start a business with the idea of making a profit.


intervention task force, we were scheduled to run a training program in the Dominican Republic. I was recently arrived and had never been to D.R. But the team had long experience there. They all would tell you, the Dominican is preparing to meet the enemy; and that is Haiti. The only other neighbor is Puerto Rico, and it is formally a colony of the Dominicans’ gringo patron.147 So Haitians have the role of lowest of laborers, and the corresponding role of official national enemy. It’s very neat, actually. But that neatness is not an accident. The fundamental economic relationship must be painted, in both national and ideological colors. The black Dominican calls himself Latino, so he can call the Haitian black. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful phenomenon. When I was training at the Special Forces Medical Lab, we used goats as ‘patient models.’ The goats would be wounded for trauma training, shot for surgical training, and euthanized148 over time by the hundreds for each fourteen-week class. Injected, the tossed into the incinerator, where the joke was “last vital signs – pulse, zero, blood pressure, zero, temperature, 2000. Nearly every student upon arrival would begin expressing his antipathy149 for the caprine150 breed, and spend a great deal of time discussing how stupid, contrary, and unattractive the goats were. A few acknowledged what the program was actually doing without seeking these comfortable rationalizations,151 and a few even became attached to the animals and grew more depressed with each day. But most required the anti-caprine ideology to sustain their activity. No one is as convinced that all women are sluts as the rapist. No one is so convinced that the ‘red Indians’ are lazy thieves as the cavalryman who killed them for our ‘westward expansion.’ Dominicans fear Haiti. Few have gone, and few want to. They regard it as a mysterious, dangerous space. Most Dominicans will assure you that Haitians worship devils, and that they practice cannibalism. All will remark on their unperfumed body odor. The more refined Dominicans will express their pity for Haitians and say, alas, it is a shame they can not effectively govern themselves. The American and British expatriates I speak to tell me the same thing about Dominicans, who are largely African themselves. You should visit Bermuda, they will say. At least there, they know better than to give up colonialism. They know their future rests on the proven ability of white people. I am white and English speaking – even with a southern accent, so it is safe to share this bit of ‘wisdom.’ They don’t even know me, but it’s safe. Later, they will commiserate152 with one another about what the hell is wrong with that touchy fucking commie from the States. Jose E. Oviedo Landestoy is called “El Gordo” by his friends and comrades… the fat man. It is said with affection and taken affectionately. And he is a very large man. He is on the Central Committee of the Partido de Trabajadores Dominicanos (PTD) (the Dominican Workers Party). It is my last full day in the country, and I have been invited upstairs to have him explain how he sees the political development of the Left in the Dominican Republic. I am also interested in a recent factional dispute between PTD and the Frente Revolucionario (FR) (Revolutionary Front) over whether or not Marxist-Leninists should have participated in the last elections. The PTD participated in a broad Left-Center coalition, and the FR led an attempted boycott of the elections. On the previous day, while visiting the FR offices, I was told that neither of the three coalitions, identified by color (purple, red, and white), were providing the people with true representation. The purples represent the ancien regime153 of Balaguer, a rightist-nationalist tendency. The reds are comparable to a kind of conservative Democrat-moderate Republican grouping, with a populist appeal. The whites are a

147 148 149 150 151

Godfather. Killed painlessly, also means ‘mercy killing’. Antipathy: A feeling of intense dislike. Caprine: Being or pertaining to or resembling a goat or goats.

Rationalization: A defense mechanism in which the individual attempts to justify or make consciously tolerable by plausible means feelings, behavior, and motives that would otherwise be intolerable. 152 Commiserate: To feel or express sympathy or compassion.

Ancien regime: French term for a political and social system that no longer governs.


combination of liberal capitalists, social democrats, and Marxists. FR opposed this latter alliance as a sellout of Marxist principles. “They need to read Lenin’s remarks,” says El Gordo, “on left-wing sectarianism. They do not yet understand the difference between a desire and a reality. The revolution will grow out of concrete developments and the mass movements that correspond to those developments, not the ardency of their beliefs. “In 1992, we were illegal. In 1994, in the wake of the election fraud perpetrated by Balaguer, we became an open political force. In 1996, we worked in a left-center alliance that gained a significant plurality in the congress, and which significantly eroded the previously autocratic power of the presidency. This year, our alliance won. To behave as if this is not progress is dishonest. To boycott now is to boycott a trend that we are winning. It would be boycotting ourselves. “Just as the development around the tourist industry has deepened the impoverishment of many Dominicans, the necessities of that development, the necessity of putting a shiny face on Dominican democracy, has given us maneuver space. We can not take advantage of that maneuver space, if we refuse to make real incursions into the parliamentary arena, where we can enter the debate about the actual development of democratic institutions.” (Since this conversation those years ago, the Dominican Government has consistently been ratcheted further and further to the right. When I was there, I believed Landestoy. Time has proven me wrong.) The PTD has a women’s caucus, which is launching something relatively new for the Dominican Republic, a national discussion of feminism. These things are evolving along with the charm industry and the cigar exports and the organization of work to develop these economic activities. If there are two points of agreement on the Left in both the Dominican Republic and Haiti, points that transcend154 the sectarian155 and national fault lines, they are the continued relegation of the issue of gender to a subordinate ‘Woman Question’156 and the belief that salvation, even after the seizure of political power, will come in the form of development. My friend, De, calls it a “cargo cult. The colonized are truly colonized when the only path they can see out of their colonization leads to the colonizer’s definition of heaven, through the colonizer’s religion.” Led by males, these movements always tend toward gender gradualism157 and the enduring, deadly faith that Man must conquer a “female” Nature. So I have to return now to those satellite photos, because to understand how this international frontier painted itself onto the actual terrain as a forest bordering a desert, there is a relationship that must be unmasked between gender, energy, nature, and power as material and symbolic158 phenomena. In The Power of the Machine, Alf Hornborg wrote: [C]apital continues to generate obvious spatial patterns, as anyone can see on nightly satellite photos. Such images lend concrete, visual support, for instance, to statistics that say American consumes 330 times more energy than the average Ethiopian. When new parts of the world system succeed in attracting capital – that is, when they “develop” – it shows clearly in the satellite images, as in the strong contrast between the dark northern and luminous southern half of the Korean peninsula [and the desert-forest demarcation between Haiti and the Dominican Republic]. It must be of relevance to world system theory that the
154 155

Transcend: To go beyond.

Sectarian: As in members of a sect; intolerant of the view of anything outside the sect. A characteristic of many small leftist groups, based on the belief that even tiny deviations from their internal ideological conformity will lead to catastrophic consequences.

Many older leftist groupings subdivided issues into ‘Questions.’ The class struggle was generally seen as the central feature of all activity, and any issues outside the strict definition of class struggle were called Questions. There are still those who refer to gender as the Woman Question. In the old days, there was also a Negro Question.
157 158

Gradualism: A model of evolution that assumes slow, steady rates of change.

Symbolic is used here in its relation to the study of semiotics – systems of signs and meanings – and refers to social codes and meanings that are ‘inside’ our use of language.


United States’ share of world energy consumption is 25% [with only 5% of world population], while 20% of the world’s people do not have access to enough energy to successfully maintain their own body metabolism. This obviously also has an environmental dimension. The richest 20% of the world’s population consume 86% of the aluminum, 81% of the paper, 80% of the iron, and 76% of the lumber. Per capita carbon dioxide emissions in 1990 were around five tons in the United States but only 0.1 tons in India. (Remarkably, however, many people in the industrialized North continue to believe that it is their mission to educate people in the South on how to live and produce sustainably, as if the North was setting a good example, and as if environmental problems in the South were the result of ignorance rather than impoverishment.) (Hornborg, p. 28) The Dominican Republic is a colony, but a colony from which value159 is extracted by two principal routes: export based on industrialized capitalist agriculture – sugar and tobacco – and on tourism. But the political power enabling this transfer of value from the Dominican Republic to the metropoles – principally the U.S. – is the demand that they pay an ever-increasing, dollar-denominated, external debt with interest rates now jacked up so high by the International Monetary Fund (IMF)160 that this debt will never be paid off. Default161 on that debt would result in instant and crippling economic sanctions162 by the United States. It is this structure that makes the Dominican Republic an economic colony. If and when such measures fail, and people take an independent course, the massive U.S. military is in the background. It was the build-up of the tourist industry by foreign investors, oddly enough, especially European and American investors, alongside a real concern about the link between environmental devastation and social unrest in next door Haiti, which obliged the Dominican government to implement a policy that is directly responsible for half of the frontier satellite imagery. To prevent further deforestation and to promote reforestation for the purpose of developing and maintaining the verdant163 scenery that provides the backdrop for European sun-sex-and-booze tourists, the Dominican Republic heavily subsidized164 the propane gas that is in use in almost every home and business in the country – the same dangerous propane that was responsible for the fire that badly injured the Dominican waitress’ child. This subsidy is responsible for the maintenance of Dominican forests. The principal fuel in Haiti is charcoal. In heavily deforested Haiti, the charboniers who make charcoal, among the poorest and most marginal people in a desperately poor and marginalized nation, have been pushed into a commons165 that consists largely of tall, thorny brush. With deforestation came soil

Using the Marxist notion of this term – the appropriated surplus of the product of other people’s labor in the form of monetary profit.

The IMF is a post-WWII international lending institution, controlled by the United States government through a dominant plurality on its voting board. It has been transformed into a giant loan-sharking operation to bleed poor nations through something called structural adjustment programs. An in-depth description of this process can be found in the serialessay, “Today’s Imperialism – Uniquely American,” by Stan Goff, archived at

Default means failing to pay. This can be for lack of means, as in bankruptcy, or by simple refusal.


U.S. economic sanctions can include comprehensive or partial embargoes on trade and investment; ‘blocking’ or ‘freezing’ of assets (prohibitions on dealings in property); suspension of government assistance for trade or investment (e.g., preferential financing); suspension of eligibility to participate in government procurement; denial of ‘normal trade relations,’ i.e., most-favored-nation treatment (import tariffs at highest standard rate); and rescission of preferential import treatment (e.g., Generalized System of Preferences). These measures can also be used against any nation that trades with the targeted nation in violation of the economic blockade.
163 164 165

Rich green. Subsidy: A grant paid by a government to an enterprise that benefits the public. Publicly held or untitled land.


erosion, some of the worst in this hemisphere, and only the toughest, desert-adapted species of flora can thrive. Each year I have gone back to Haiti, the average height of this brush, visible on the mountainsides all around Port-au-Prince when one lands at the airport, has dropped each time as shorter and shorter brush is fed into the buried fires that smolder as tiny columns of smoke along every mountainside. This charcoal feeds the million or more perennial cooking fires that are lit in three-legged boucans across Haiti, presided over by women who are simultaneously cooking, trading, tending small plots, washing clothes and performing the daily maintenance of the kai-pai… and therein the nation. It is the ability of these charboniers to live on pennies a day, and the massive unpaid labor of women in Haiti – an outcome of a sexual division of labor – that directly underwrites the dollar-a-day cost of social reproduction for most Haitians. In fact, in every under-developed place I’ve been over the years, the low prices are kept low by the ability of the locals to survive on women’s ingenuity and sweat, where women’s work is not augmented by the fossil-energy assisted washing machine, the gas stove, the refrigerator, the vacuum cleaner, the automobile… Tied to this socially reproductive process by custom and child-rearing, women remain in this role, a role that become more and more onerous in deeper and deeper crisis, while unemployed men begin to roam about in search of work or other, sometimes criminal, opportunities. Maria Mies wrote in 1986: The domestic labour debate, which took place between 1973 and 1979, did not include other areas of non-wage work which are tapped by capital in its process of accumulation. This is particularly all the work performed by subsistence peasants, petty commodity producers, marginalized people, most of whom are women, in the underdeveloped countries. Thus, most people involved in the discussion on housework did not transcend the Eurocentric vision of capitalism. According to this view, these other areas of human labour are considered to be lying outside of capitalism and society proper. They are called ‘precapitalist’, ‘peripheral–capitalist’, ‘feudal’, or ‘semi-feudal’,166 or simply underdeveloped or backward. Sometimes they are referred to as areas of ‘uneven development’. The discovery, however, that housework under capitalism had also been excluded per definition from the analysis of capitalism proper, and that this was the mechanism by which it became a ‘colony’ and a source for unregulated exploitation, opened our eyes to the analysis of other such colonies of non-wage-labour exploitation, particularly the work of small peasants and women in Third World countries. (Mies, p. 33) Mies and Hornborg both make reference to Rosa Luxemburg’s thesis early on that capitalism has never been a system that can exist in a self-contained form; that it has always required and will always require non-capitalist peripheries to feed the essentially unsustainable accumulation dynamic of the capitalist metropole.167 Hornborg takes the critique of mechanical Marxism,168 even as it appears in world system theory, a step further in suggesting a way out of the tautological logic169 of the metropolis being the place that accumulates and accumulation being what happens in the metropolis. Hornborg talks about value (in the Marxist sense) being simply one of the several polarized and unequal flows, and advocates using energy flows


These terms refer to social systems where land is the basis of wealth, and exploitation of weaker classes was based on direct appropriation of a product from the land. The difference between feudal and semi-feudal is that semi-feudal refers to these systems that exist within the capitalist world system, and the share of product that is produced under these sharecropper-like systems passes from the landowner who appropriates it to a comprador who buys it cheap and sells it dearer for export into the global capitalist market. This is also what is referred to as ‘uneven development.’

A key characteristic of capitalist accumulation is that it requires ceaseless expansion to continue – what capitalist economists call ‘growth.’ It therefore uses up the materials and the people it needs for this expansion in any ‘closed system,’ like one country. This is the reason that capitalism inevitably becomes global – that is, imperialist.

Marxism that uses very static, non-dynamic models to describe capitalism.

Tautology: In logic, a tautology is a statement which is true by its own definition, and is therefore fundamentally uninformative. Logical tautologies use circular reasoning within an argument or statement.


as an additional and sometimes more accurate physical marker of social relations – what he calls the “thermodynamics of imperialism.”170 Here is where we can see how per capita energy use may be a more precise (and inverse) measure of inequality than value. Energy use (as “negentropy,”171 almost another book) can be added to value-theory172 to give us a more complete account of imperialism. But Hornborg says, speaking of the unequal value implied by Luxemburg’s thesis of a system that operates on the principles of the labor theory of value in the metropoles. Capitalism is now and always has been dependent upon a qualitatively different system outside the logic of industrial capitalism. “[W]e could define ‘undercompensation’ and ‘underpayment’ as a condition in which exchange rates allow the [capitalist] to increase his or her relative share of the system’s total purchasing power, at the expense of the groups delivering labor power, energy, or raw materials.” (Hornborg, p. 29) In this, he has excluded Mies’ point about the role played in this inequality by ‘third world’ women’s exploitation outside the logic of capitalist accumulation that results in a generalized lower cost of social reproduction. While it is very useful to employ Hornborg’s analytical categories related to thermodynamic flows as a means for understanding and indexing the evolution of the world social system, it is just as essential to recognize that this mass of women, invisible from the metropolitan living room, are not only those who most directly bear the highly disproportionate burden of the crisis now expanding over the world, these women have the capacity to survive outside the principle contradiction of capital-labor that rightly pre-occupies the left (but that should not do so exclusively). Women have been consigned in many ways to that ‘outside’ position by systems that pre-dated capitalism. Within that capital-labor contradiction, especially in the imperial metropolis, and even with the inhering antagonism between capital and labor, these two poles exist in a relation not only of antagonism but of mutual dependency. So long as this is a politically stable social order, there is a near zero possibility of labor taking on a genuinely revolutionary role. This at least theoretically suggests that peripheral women are positioned to be a leading revolutionary force, precisely because they are outside the labor-capital contradiction. They do not need the bourgeoisie. The big ‘if’ here is how these same women are contained inside the male-female power gradient.173 This is their prison within the prison, and in many respects the very relationship that articulates them back into the world capitalist system – as exploitable outside the direct cycle of surplus value creation. It must also be emphasized that military institutions play a number of key roles in the system behind that little tale of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The former Haitian military as a colonial surrogate quashed popular uprising against the economic and ecologic devastation of Haiti. The Dominican military oversees the relation on the Haitian border. The US military is the guarantor of Dominican ruling class stability, and conducted a full-scale invasion and occupation of the Dominican Republic in 1965 to ensure a compliant colony. In 2004, when the US staged its second coup against Haiti’s popular Lavalas government, the Dominican Republic was where the paramilitaries who brought that coup to fruition were harbored and trained.174 Colonization - the act of taking over and governing ‘territory’ for the purposes of exploiting the resources of the weaker power – of other countries, of nature, and of women shares a common structural feature. These are the spaces, geographically and socially, outside the process of the valorization of capital – the realm of the ‘free good’, be that extracted soil fertility, the rivers that serve as dumps, or the unwaged women’s work in zones where the level of development is so low that it holds to a minimum the costs of social


Thermodynamics is the branch of physics that relates to energy. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is also called the Law of Entropy. It says essentially, “You cannot break even (you cannot return to the same energy state, because there is always an increase in disorder; entropy always increases).” For Hornborg, this can be seen – the increase of disorder due to energy use, which is then ‘exported’ in the form of waste and social strife to the peripheries of global society. Hornborg connect the Second Law – which is inescapable – to society, to show that capitalism is ‘against the law.’

Stored, mobilizable energy – as that which is held in biomass, oil, coal, etc. Marx’s formal and exhaustive working out of the ‘law of value’ in his opus, Capital. Inequality. Joshua Kirlantzick, “The Coup Connection,” Mother Jones, November 11, 2004.

172 173 174


reproduction, and even the unwaged housework and child care done by women in the metropoles – upon which capital accumulation175 depends and has always and absolutely depended. It should be not in the least surprising at this point that this is commonly seen as Man’s conquest of nature, Man being ‘the head of woman,’ or the white Man’s burden to civilize the darker feminized Other. The world system is capitalist, and the world system is gendered male. But it is passé now to make any claim for a world system at all. The neo-radicals of the postmodern academy will have none of it. This metanarrative, they will say, is now as dead as a Brontosaur.


In the Marxian critique of political economy, which I am using for the purpose of this book, capital accumulation involves investment in capital goods, but also has an additional meaning: it refers to the reproduction of capitalist social relations (institutions) on a larger scale over time, i.e., the expansion of the size of the proletariat and of the wealth owned by the bourgeoisie.


Metanarrative Margaret Deirdre O'Hartigan, writing in Off Our Backs, August-September, 1999, “Post Modernism Marches On”: …the postmodernist supposition that sex is nothing more than a social construct trumps the very real oppression of women… [when a] battered women’s shelter was opened to men who claimed to be female.” …proving yet again what postmodern ‘anti-essentialist’ deconstruction looks like taken to its unanchored conclusion, where the “refusal to distinguish between men and women benefits men at the expense of women.”176 Although biological determinism had been criticized quite early in the women’s movement as a method of explaining man’s patriarchal dominance by the biological difference between the genders, the postmodernists tabooed even the use of such concepts as ‘woman’, ‘mother’, ‘land’, ‘patriarchy’, ‘capitalism’, and so on. The fact that women have the capacity to bring forth children, that they can become mothers, is totally devalued, dehistoricized and dematerialized. It is considered to be a mere biological accident which nowadays can be changed by biotechnology. The same applies to the category ‘woman’. The fact that most people appear in this world as male or female is not accepted as a given, because it is possible today physically to change one’s gender or one’s sexual orientation. The gender discourse in particular contributed to the elimination of such categories as ‘mother’, or ‘woman’. In this discourse ‘sex’ as supposedly biologically determined and ‘gender’ as culturally constructed are being separated and contraposed.177 This results in the old schizophrenic situation that ‘sex’ is again dehistoricized and declared a matter of biology only, which can be left to reproduction and genetic engineers, while ‘gender’ becomes the ‘higher’ affair, where culture plays the determining role. Old dualism in new garb. (Mies, from the Preface, 1998) Bodies matter, and they are matter. Matter and energy are bound together. It’s what we do with our bodies that matters, and Hornborg says this involves “the interfusion of the symbolic and the material.” (Hornborg, p. 161) The modern condition is one of reflexive uncertainty: the crown is understood as a symbol (conventionally) representing the king, and human language as a (provisional)


Postmodernism: “A general and wide-ranging term, which is applied to literature, art, philosophy, architecture, fiction, and cultural and literary criticism, among others. Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality. In essence, it stems from a recognition that reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particular and personal reality. For this reason, postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually. Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, knowing always that the outcome of one's own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal. Postmodernism is ‘post’ because it is denies the existence of any ultimate principles, and it lacks the optimism of there being a scientific, philosophical, or religious truth which will explain everything for everybody - a characteristic of the socalled ‘modern’ mind. The paradox of the postmodern position is that, in placing all principles under the scrutiny of its skepticism, it must realize that even its own principles are not beyond questioning. As the philosopher Richard Tarnas states, postmodernism ‘cannot on its own principles ultimately justify itself any more than can the various metaphysical overviews against which the postmodern mind has defined itself.’” (

Presented as mutually exclusive opposites.


representation of the world. This is the historical space of the subject-object dichotomy178 and of the possibility of fraudulence or falsehood, where the wearer of the crown may be an imposter and Scripture may be mistaken. It has historical coordinates but is essentially more of a structural condition than a period in history. It is the moment of doubt that follows every major deconstruction of power. It is a source of tremendous existential anxiety and creativity that can either be harnessed in the production of new hegemonies or substitute for the old (e.g., science instead of religion) or assume the form of solipsism179 , disengagement, and indifference. (Hornborg, p. 162) bell hooks, in describing the themes of racially-sexually transgressive films like The Bodyguard and The Crying Game, says there is a reactionary message “in both these films: We don’t need politics. We don’t need struggle. All we need is desire. It is desire that becomes the place of connection. This is a very postmodern vision of desire, as the new place of transgression that eliminates the need for radical politics.” (hooks, p. 44) (italics mine) Isn’t this convenient in a consumerist way? Desire and appetite is the intersection where meaning resides? We do need politics, and the so-called meta-narratives that go with it. Imperialism is real. It’s more than mere narrative. If you want to know how real, if you want to see how imperialism interacts with bodies, go to Fallujah. Go to a women’s shelter. Take a look at the United States Department of Defense, at its sheer size, cost, and reach, and think about how it has insinuated itself into every aspect of our lives in ways we don’t even see. Exactly how meta does a thing have to become before it is more than a narrative? So I don’t want to make the mistake of reducing sex and war to individuals, to ‘pathologies’, in the medicalized argot180 of our consumer hypochondria.181 But I do nevertheless need to discuss sexuality as it is understood and experienced individually to get at the junction of epistemology as a social product and personal experience, which is the ultimate location of all consciousness. The reality of the military is extremely paradoxical182 to American notions of hegemonic masculinity – even as we exalt warfare. Individualism, the cornerstone of capitalist popular ideology, the foundation of American capitalist culture, and a constituent element of the Daniel-Boone-style ‘frontier masculinity’ of our popular mythology, is absolutely antithetical to actual modern military practice, which is collective, coordinated, and highly bureaucratic. This is where we might corner a big contradiction and expose it. Many of the virtues of actual military practice are commonly thought of as feminine characteristics: attention to detail, subordination of the ego to the ‘family,’ maintenance, cleanliness, internalized obedience, and multitasking. Military bases are freer of public advertising than any other public space in the United States, and since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States armed forces is the biggest centrally-managed economy in the world. (China is not centrally managed! It is a free market free-for-all. China’s banks are managed.) In her book Race Against Empire, Penny M. Von Eschen showed how during the Cold War Black anti-colonialism was smashed by the judicious use of reward to compliant Black leaders who dropped their

178 179

Dichotomy: A twofold division or distinction, especially one between mutually exclusive things.

Solipsism: Belief that only I myself and my own experiences are real, while anything else—a physical object or another person—is nothing more than an object of my consciousness. As a philosophical position, solipsism is usually the unintended consequence of an over-emphasis on the reliability of internal mental states, which provide no evidence for the existence of external referents. (
180 181

Argot: Specialized language used by members of a group or subculture.

Hypochondria is itself a medicalized concept to describe a preoccupation with illness to a point where it becomes ‘pathological.’

Paradoxical: Seemingly contradictory but nonetheless possibly true.


critique of colonialism, while McCarthyite183 intimidation was used against those like the Alphaeus and Dorothy Hunton, W. E. B. and Shirley DuBois, and Paul Robeson184 who did not. This maneuver was ideologically consolidated by redefining racism as an individual psychopathology185, thereby publicly abandoning any critique of slavery, Jim Crow,186 and colonialism as social systems. A similar discursive strategy developed after the Vietnam War, where the American imperial system itself was discredited by any detailed examination of the war, especially those critiques that focused on powerful decision-makers in Washington DC. (Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were assassinated after they public opposed the war in Vietnam.) The essence of this discursive187 strategy is to shift the public’s point of view from the system to individuals. Focus on political leadership cuts far too close to the system, so after Vietnam the story became that of the individual soldier. This is part of the postmodern shift away from seeing systems – and concomitantly from opposing them through political organizing. One heard less and less about Westmoreland or Johnson or Nixon.188 The stories became those of individual soldiers and their angst and tribulation. Perversely, Vietnam veterans themselves (including many who never saw combat in Vietnam) adopted this portrayal of themselves as the primary victims of a war of occupation in which they themselves were the occupiers.


“Senator Joseph R. McCarthy was a little-known junior senator from Wisconsin until February 1950 when he claimed to possess a list of 205 card-carrying Communists employed in the U.S. Department of State. From that moment Senator McCarthy became a tireless crusader against Communism in the early 1950s, a period that has been commonly referred to as the “Red Scare.” As chairman of the Senate Permanent Investigation Subcommittee, Senator McCarthy conducted hearings on communist subversion in America and investigated alleged communist infiltration of the Armed Forces. His subsequent exile from politics coincided with a conversion of his name into a modern English noun “McCarthyism,” or adjective, “McCarthy tactics,” when describing similar witch-hunts in recent American history. [The American Heritage Dictionary gives the definition of McCarthyism as: 1. The political practice of publicizing accusations of disloyalty or subversion with insufficient regard to evidence, and 2. The use of methods of investigation and accusation regarded as unfair, in order to suppress opposition.] Senator McCarthy was censured by the U.S. Senate on December 2, 1954 and died May 2, 1957.”

These prominent African American activists originated the Committee on African Affairs, an advocacy group with very high international credibility and visibility, which combined a pan-African perspective with leftist anti-colonialism, and pointed to the connections between imperialism and African American oppression in the United States. All were doggedly persecuted by the FBI.

Racism even today is seen as an individual defect. He or she is ‘racist,’ meaning they have beliefs that are hostile to members of another ‘race.’ Or an individual act is perceived as racist. Few Americans today, particularly ‘white’ Americans, think of racism as a social structure.

The popular nickname given to the period of American racial Apartheid in the South. There is an excellent online short history of Jim Crow, by Tsahai Tafari, at
187 188

Related to discourse.

General William C. Westmoreland was the commanding general of the Military Assistance Command in Vietnam (MACV) 1964-68, famed for continually updating various optimistic scenarios about the war that always turned out to be false. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were Vietnam-era presidents.


War-story Susan Jeffords, in her essay “Telling the War Story,” says, “This trend away from the war itself to the people who fought in it shifts the war from a national to a personal experience, making it possible for viewers to forget the specific historical and political forces that caused the war.” This shift fits nicely with ‘support the troops’ appeals that oblige the public to drop all critique of leadership or interrogation of geopolitical motives to ensure we don't disempower our ‘loved ones’ in uniform, or encourage their attackers. We are allowed to have differing individual opinions about the war, provided they are superficial enough, but expected to rally round our team once the war is on (ignoring, in the most recent case of Iraq, that the U.S. had been waging low intensity warfare against Iraq for over a decade before the March 2003 ground offensive). Gender iconography was combined with this approach in the manufacture of the Jessica Lynch story. Ideally, from the point of view of political rulers, the redefinition circuit is only complete after the geopolitical war is reconstructed out of the social sphere and into the individual, whereupon the individual is iconographed189 in order to be reintegrated with a mythology that substitutes itself for social reality in the public imagination. With the able assistance of the American press, the American public was treated to an irresistible series of lurid and titillating feature attractions that combined the patriarchy, racism, and chauvinism190 that form the internal structure of American national mythology. There is a great deal to be learned about our notions of the binary opposition of masculinity-femininity, and about how capitalism itself has continually destabilized (then reconstructed) these categories, if we unpack these stories and identify the multiple representations of Jessica Lynch. I don't know a great deal about Jessica Lynch, and neither do most people. In any case, what is most revealing about the Jessica Lynch saga is not what it reveals about Lynch, but what it reveals about American attitudes regarding sex, race, and war. New York Times columnist Frank Rich insightfully called the Jessica Lynch story an American ink blot test.191 Jessica Lynch was raised just south of the Ohio River valley in Palestine, West Virginia. The Little Kanawha River and Hughes River run nearby, and this region of Appalachia has become popular for backpackers and canoeists who can afford the hobbies most West Virginia ‘Palestinians’ cannot. Extractive industries, in particular coal and timber, have long colonized Appalachia. As these industries have become ever more mechanized, coal colonies like Palestine have suffered high rates of unemployment. The mountaintop removal method of coal mining has reduced the mining labor force to 10 percent of its former levels while it trashes and toxifies the land.192 The Southern Regional Council193 used to publish poverty maps of the south, reaching from West Virginia to Texas, with color codes for each county that reflected percentages of total populations in poverty. There was a corresponding map showing percentage of Black population by county. Taking these two maps together, there was a high degree of correlation between Black counties along the cotton producing Black Belt and high poverty rates, and a strong correspondence of heavily Hispano-Latina counties and poverty in Texas. There is only one region that has an overwhelming white majority where the poverty figures are extremely high. That is an area reaching from Scott and Fentress Counties in the mountains of northeastern Tennessee, across Eastern Kentucky, and across all of West Virginia. There is only one county in West Virginia with poverty rates below 15 percent, Putnam.


Iconography: Used figuratively here, it is normally defined as “the set of symbols and allusions that gives meaning to a complex work of art.”

Chauvinism: Absurdly exaggerated patriotism or militarism; originally a term of ridicule applied to idolatry of Napoleon I (1769-1821), it came from the name of Nicolas Chauvin, a much wounded and decorated veteran who worshipped with blind enthusiasm the military glories and expansionist policies of his defeated hero.
191 192 193

Frank Rich, Pfc. Jessica Lynch Isn’t Rambo Anymore,” New York Times, November 9, 2003. Peter Slavin, “Razing Appalachia,” Los Angeles Times, May 5, 2002. Southern Regional Council website -


Wirt County West Virginia has only five small towns, Munday, Elizabeth, Creston, Brohard, and Palestine. Wirt County and neighboring county Ritchie are more fortunate than some of their adjacent counties. Wirt and Ritchie have poverty rates – using the federal government's grossly understated criteria – only around 29 percent. Calhoun and Gilmer Counties nearby have poverty rates above 35 percent. This region of white Appalachia is rivaled on the SRC maps in its overall poverty only by the Arkansas-Louisiana-Mississippi Delta, the border region of southwest Texas, and much smaller Indian reservations. These maps clearly show three large economic colonies in the southern United States – the Black Belt, the Southwest, and coalfield Appalachia. The Indian reservations are more akin to Bantustans. What makes Appalachia different from the other two is its strong cultural identification with being ‘white.’ Slavery and the terrible political power of the planter class drove poor whites off of fertile lowlands to scratch out an existence on the rocky slopes of these ancient mountains. Then the fossil fuel age began and the carbon energy, trapped for millions of years underground – beneath the blue haze, the little subsistence patches, and the lush green forests – was monetized.194 195 The mechanical cotton gins of the south and the northern industrial manufactories that were being born out of the belly of slave cotton were insatiable in their appetite for coal.196 The aspiring coal barons arrived with their gun thugs and the full backing of the United States government, and that region of Appalachia was subjugated to King Coal, the younger sibling of King Cotton. In all these regions this colonized status carries with it the paradoxical combination of extreme backwardness and progressive resistance, to include archaic197 gender constructions alongside evolving ones. There are also powerful solidarities based on shared oppression. Millenarian198 religion sprang out of a sense of hopelessness in the face of this subjugation even as some of the most militant, and first multi-racial, unions in the country fought back against the bosses, sometimes with firearms. John Sayles’ matchless film Matewan portrayed these contradictions in relating the story of a 1920 union-management war in Mingo County that culminated in a shootout in the town of Matewan in which ten people were killed. Sayles himself made a cameo appearance as a chiliastic199 preacher, who interpreted the millenarian Baptist cosmology on behalf of the ruling class. The film’s narrator was a teenage preacher who sermonized for the union using the same cosmology. And women, who neither bossed nor worked in the mines, were mobilized as a kind of underground support cell during the conflict, transforming their roles from passive observers to active insurgents. Many that formerly toiled in the coalmines, thrown off the land as subsistence farmers and into the pits as subterranean proletarians,200 are today being steadily expelled from the economy by more ‘efficient’ technology and the coal capitalists’ overarching desire to break or subjugate the unions. Like their counterparts in other internal colonies, young people look at their situation and select from the menu of options that seems available. Some nurture tragic dreams of celebrity. Some deal drugs and then sink themselves into addiction. A few compete for the handful of public sector jobs that are available in a shrinking economy. And some get a free ticket out of town, the offer of some training and money for an education, and a regular paycheck, by joining the military. This is the real story of Jessica Lynch, which I will combine with inferences and speculation, but inferences and speculation from the perspective of a soldier, a socialist, and a feminist, and not the perspective of those who have serially reduced this young woman to instrumental symbols.
194 195 196

Kenneth Noe, “Appalachia’s Civil War Genesis,” West Virginia History, Volume 50, 1991. Monetized: Transformed into instruments for making money.

The centrality of slavery not only for the build-up of American capitalism, but European capitalism before it, is described in great detail in the 1944 canonical history by Eric Williams, Capitalism & Slavery. Highly recommended.
197 198 199 200

Archaic: Old fashioned and no longer used. Millenarian: Relating to or believing in the millennium of peace and happiness, especially after an apocalypse. Another word for millenarian. Underground wage workers.


She wanted to teach school. She needed money to get her education. She signed on the dotted line and entered the contradictory world that is the United States Army. There could have been worse things. Pornographers troll for women like Jessica Lynch: slender, blonde, with an air of pretty next-door innocence the humiliation of which titillates the main consumers of pornography: men. Perhaps she would have escaped Palestine by being featured in the porn collection used to entertain the staff duty NCO at Delta Force. Wealthy men are also quick to colonize young women like Jessica Lynch as models, mistresses, and trophy wives. Just add a little dental work and silicone. Some of the men from her own home might have sought to take possession of her within a patriarchal marriage there in Palestine. By contrast, even in the masculinist culture of the military, she might find an element of juridical equality201 and access to competencies. This belief leads many young women to choose the military. A supply clerk is a supply clerk, ungendered; the military provides an opportunity for women to enjoy the kind of instrumentality202 that is the historical prerogative of masculinity, and that counterposes itself to feminine express-ivity.203 A degree of independence was accessible within the military’s institutional framework, along with job training, a written guarantee of some money for college, and a way out of Palestine. Then she could go to school and get a certificate to get a public-sector job teaching kindergarten.204 As she was undergoing her initial training as a supply clerk, and during her initial assignment to the 507th Maintenance Company in Ft. Bliss, Texas – now immersed without knowing its import within another region like Palestine, the most deeply colonized region of Southwest Texas – plans were being drafted and redrafted for the military conquest of Iraq. Kentucky and West Virginia weren't the only places with the misfortune of sitting atop colossal fields of the combustible hydrocarbons205 required to feed industrial capitalist expansion. Jessica Lynch was 19 when she was deployed to Kuwait to support an impending invasion of Iraq. Like so many young people for whom the military is a sectoral economic strategy,206 she was unschooled in the dynamics of capital accumulation and imperialism. Her frame of reference – like the vast majority of white Americans – was what Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz describes as "the U.S. Origin Myth," which portrays the development of the United States as some axiomatic force for good, and which is underwritten by the assumption of white supremacy and “white man's burden.” In the context of this Origin Myth, there is no question of the rightness of invading other nations to ‘civilize’ and ‘democratize’ them. Young people, white or otherwise, have not been equipped by their education to interrogate207 these assumptions – quite the opposite. With this background un-interrogated, they were simply ‘doing their job’ by participating in an invasion. She was also largely uncritical about the patriarchal dynamics of this system. The invasion was delayed by international resistance in the form of a massive antiwar movement, and that resistance resulted in the loss of the Turkish and Saudi offensive fronts.208
201 202 203

Formal, legal equality. Instrumentality: The quality of being instrumental for some purpose.

A bastardized term, normally having to do with genetics, but here used in contrast to ‘instrumentality,’ reflecting the gendered belief that men are ‘instrumental’ creatures and women ‘expressive.’
204 205 206

Every account of Jessica Lynch, almost without exception, attributes this ambition to her. Oil, coal, and natural gas are all ‘combustible hydrocarbons.’

Sectoral strategies will be discussed further along in the book, and in some detail. A sectoral strategy is when an individual develops a strategy to improve one’s own personal position, sometimes collectively like in associations or unions, with no real consciousness or concern for the larger social context of that strategy. 207 Ask penetrating questions.

The overwhelming and militant opposition to the war around the world forced many politicians in other countries to resist U.S. demands for international cooperation. France, Germany, Russia, and China resisted in the United Nations, while Saudi Arabia and, even more surprisingly, Turkey denied the U.S. access to their countries to launch American or British ground offensives.


Almost the entire United States ground force was forced to drive north into Iraq along a single axis out of Kuwait that would bifurcate209 into two columns along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The initial invasion was now being conducted during sandstorm season. And Iraqi resistance fighters were now able to concentrate their pinprick attacks along a single avenue of approach. On March 21, an inconceivable mass of military vehicles crawled northwest along the main axis210 of advance, with units blending and weaving among each other in the open terrain, a small unit commander’s accountability nightmare. Jessica Lynch was driving a 5-ton truck with an equipment trailer attached. The sandstorms that had plagued the invasion taskforce left a heavy residue of dust in every moving part of every machine and weapon, settled in the corners of eyes and the folds of skin, and insinuated itself between clothing and skin. The frantic movement schedules and the sand undermined mechanical maintenance, troop comfort, and attentiveness. Lynch's unit was supporting the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Division, the main combat force aimed ultimately at Baghdad. The 507th was not a combat unit, and they never anticipated combat. The intelligence summaries issued by Central Command (CENTCOM),211 still reflecting the triumphalist212 expectations of Donald Rumsfeld213 and the optimistic predictions of Rumsfeld's con-man advisor Ahmad Chalabi,214 said that Iraqi soldiers would surrender on sight. The U.S. troops were directed that Iraqi soldiers were to be allowed to keep their weapons, presumably so their own officers could control them. The convoy went non-stop for a grueling 48 hours, using their blackout-drive infrared headlights and night vision goggles during darkness. They were gritty-eyed, nodding, and exhausted. Lynch's truck, like many others, casualties of the sandstorms and the schedules, died and was hitched to a giant recovery vehicle. She was put aboard her company first sergeant's Humvee,215 where she could nod off fitfully while the blearyeyed driver, another young woman named Lori Pietsewa, fought sleep behind the wheel. As they approached the outskirts of Nasiriyah on March 23, units were channeled along narrower roads, and convoys achieved a degree of separation. The sun was not yet up when the first sergeant's Humvee, leading the 507th convoy, encountered a U.S. traffic control checkpoint at the intersection of Highway 1, their main avenue of advance, and Highway 7 that went due north toward the center of Nasiriyah. No one has established exactly which military policeman was working on that checkpoint, or what his or her communications had been, or how exhausted the MP might have been. It was dark. People were stupefied with fatigue. The first sergeant and the 507th company commander, Captain Troy King, had GPS navigation systems.216 They claim they had no maps as backups for when these hi-tech gadgets lied or failed. But the truth is no one in the 507th expected that there would be any need to actually navigate. They were part of a growling river of northbound steel and diesel, and these checkpoints were there to direct them as passively compliant traffic.
209 210 211

Split from one into two. Axis: A straight line with respect to which a body or figure is symmetrical.

The regional, or ‘theater’ headquarters responsible for the overall planning, command, and control over the invasion and occupation.

Triumphalism is a form of arrogance that generalizes from transient success to the idea that a person, organization, government, or class is undefeatable and has permanently ‘triumphed.’
213 214

The United States Secretary of Defense during the 2003 Anglo-American aggression against Iraq.

Chalabi was the favored advisor of many Bush officials. He was also a convicted felon facing over two decades in prison in Jordan for bank fraud and embezzlement. He was the principal advisor to both Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and his now famous claim that the Iraqi armed forces would collapse almost overnight and that the Iraqis would greet the Anglo-American occupation as ‘liberators’ fell apart, whereupon the Bush administration turned on him in 2004 and attempted to paint him as an Iranian spy. (Source) Doug Lorimer, “Chalabi and the Cheney Gang – Thieves Fall Out,” Green Left Weekly, June 2, 2004.
215 216

The general utility vehicle now used by most of the U.S. military. Global Positioning System. GPS is a satellite-based navigation system.


Pietsewa and the first sergeant, Robert Dowdy, looked at some nameless military policeman, who raised his hand toward Highway 7, directing Jessica Lynch into a future of terror, dislocation, huckster iconography, and a racialized patriarchal culture war. The sun rose over the 507th as it was creeping steadily along Highway 7, its addled leadership now making excuses to itself for discrepancies in the GPS systems. No military leader likes to admit that a mistake has been made, especially when they are still unsure whether it’s been made or not. They are like the proud father at the wheel of the family car not yet prepared to admit that he is lost. Surely, that day, as the 507th passed through not Army but Marine units, the doubt went deeper. But they were traveling generally north. They hadn't crossed the Euphrates, which was there like a great geographical backstop. The commander bit back his self-doubt while he tried to puzzle out the contradictions between his GPS readings and an operations order that was jumbled in his sleep-deprived brain… and continued on. In the morning light, they found themselves driving into Nasiriyah with 33 sleep-starved support troops and 16 vehicles. Rising up around them were buildings where most people were apparently still abed. A bridge suddenly appeared in front of them. They crossed over it, but after a couple of miles – perhaps after an anxious discussion – the leaders realized that they had crossed the Euphrates River. Iraqis began to appear on the streets. Captain King then ordered them to turn the convoy around. They were definitely in the wrong place. Vehicle traffic began to clutter the streets as the convoy went through the clumsy business of turning 16 massive military vehicles about in the tight thoroughfares of downtown Nasiriyah. There were Iraqis carrying weapons. They began to pass actual manned Iraqi tanks. Looks were exchanged. But the CENTCOM intelligence summary had said the Iraqis would either be friendly or they would surrender, and the 507th was not a combat unit. Their greatest desire now was to be back in the company of a real combat unit. Adrenaline began to make headway against their deep muscular fatigue. At just after 7 AM they could hear a fierce firefight in the distance. The Marines they had passed earlier were in contact. Some began to wonder, if they will fire on the Marine infantry and armor, won’t they fire on this collection of mechanics and clerks? The convoy made several false turns in Nasiriyah, becoming ever more confused about their location, and their disorganization became evident to the Iraqis. As they attempted to reorganize themselves, now split over two narrow streets and trying to turn around, an Iraqi pickup truck turned around to make a slow second pass of the convoy, two men inside now frankly assessing the disorganized American unit. In a few minutes, a second pickup with a mounted machinegun wheeled past them and around a corner. One portion of the convoy was still out of sight from the other. Pulses were now fluttering and mouths were dry, as they began to sense that they had stepped out of everything they knew and everything they had trained for. They were prey, and they were in trouble. A few bullets suddenly snapped past them from buildings on both sides of the street. Orders were shouted and radioed. “Get out!” Then the sprinkle became the storm. Bullets cracked lethally and smacked into the vehicles, then RPGs began impacting with full-throated explosions. As the detachment frantically tried to maneuver their vehicles, Iraqis threw tires into the street to block escape routes. Down another street, a bus was being pulled forward to block that avenue of escape. Dowdy jumped off the Humvee and attempted to direct the other vehicles back into a semblance of order to escape the intensifying ambush. Moments later he wilted from bullet wounds, dead. Two soldiers whose vehicle had been disabled leapt aboard Pietsewa's vehicle. Pietsewa, the two who’d jumped aboard, and Lynch careened wildly over the street as if trying to actually dodge the bullets, finding every avenue blocked and now covered by Iraqi fighters, then Pietsewa lost control. Jessica Lynch was gripping whatever she could find inside the careening vehicle. The Humvee smashed to a halt under the trailer hitch of one of the convoy's destroyed semi-tractor trucks. Jessica Lynch saw Pietsewa and the others vaguely, unable to assess their conditions or her own. She managed to get off the Humvee where she fell to her knees and began praying as she crumbled, then for Jessica Lynch the day was over. The concussion from a gaping head wound sustained from the crash caused her to lose consciousness. There is a contradiction here yet unresolved, a story that her rifle jammed, which would


mean she attempted to put it into action… but in this series of presumptions, I am presuming from the severity of her injuries that she was in shock and it was unlikely she attempted to operate an assault rifle. It happens in the movies, but this was no movie. Her ankle was dislocated. Her femur was fractured and releasing blood in to the muscle of her thigh. Her arm was broken, and she had a large, copiously bleeding laceration on her head. Pietsewa, her best friend (and a woman of the Hopi Nation) was already in deep shock. Part of the convoy, with Marine assistance that finally arrived, escaped. Once the attack was over, the Iraqi troops took Lynch and Pietsewa to the Nasiriyah military hospital. Had they not, she would have bled to death. Pietsewa expired en route from her extensive injuries. Dr. Jamal Kadhim Shwail and Dr Harith al-Houssona examined her. She was in shock with precariously low blood pressure. Not knowing the extent of the musculoskeletal injuries or whether there was spinal damage, they could not afford to jostle her to remove the layers of combat gear, uniform, body armor, and web gear. They had to use bandage scissors to cut away the equipment and clothing, which was still fully secured on her body. She was infused with fluids, including three units of whole blood – two donated on the spot by Iraqi hospital staff – catheterized, splinted, her head sutured, and transported to Saddam Hospital, also in Nasiriyah, for surgery on her dangerously fractured femur. Dr. Mahdi Khafazi performed the surgery. Al Jazeera published photos from Nasiriyah, including pictures of the dead and captured Americans. The U.S. military would eventually attack the al Jazeera offices (as they had also done in Afghanistan) for daring to publish the true face of war. In those pictures were prisoners from the ambush of the 507th: Specialist 4 Edgar Adan Hernandez, 21, of Mission, Texas; Specialist 4 Joseph Neal Hudson, 23, of Alamogordo, New Mexico; Specialist 4 Shoshana Nyree Johnson, 30, of El Paso, Texas; Private First Class Patrick Wayne Miller, 23, of Walter, Kansas and Sergeant James Joseph Riley, 31, of Pennsauken, New Jersey. The fear and pain of Specialist Johnson, a young African American woman who had been shot in both legs before her capture, was almost palpable in her picture. Shoshana Johnson's story would cross Jessica Lynch’s again. During Lynch's convalescence, Dr. Harith Houssona, a young 24-year-old physician, and several of the nurses befriended Lynch. Iraqi military commanders considered her a prisoner of war but, given the severity of her injuries, gave the hospital staff wide latitude and little oversight. Seven days into the ordeal, most of the Iraqi military left as part of a general tactical retreat to the north, and Houssona ordered Jessica Lynch to be returned to the American military. One Iraqi officer and an ambulance driver named Sabah Khazaal tried to transport Lynch back to the Americans. The reasoning was that an ambulance is protected under the Geneva Conventions and wouldn’t be fired upon. It didn’t work. When the ambulance was within 300 meters of the American army checkpoint, U.S. soldiers opened fire on it, nearly killing Lynch after she was well on her way to a successful convalescence and repatriation to the United States.


Rescue It is probably coincidental that a detachment of SEALs217 and Rangers were deployed for a ‘special’ mission on April Fools Day. Several things were ‘special’ about it. First, special teams like this are generally employed on sensitive missions, for which the tactics and techniques are highly classified. Second, special teams like this, given the classified techniques and tactics they use, would not take along a civilian cameraman, who would both record classified techniques unnecessarily and be a possible impediment to the operation. Third, there was not a threat for this special secret mission that warranted the use of these classified tactics and techniques. It was well known to American military intelligence, by the time the so-called rescue of Jessica Lynch was planned, that the Iraqi military was abandoning Nasiriyah as tactically untenable. Civilians were moving freely between Nasiriyah and American positions on the outskirts of the city. Wily opportunists were among them, one in particular a lawyer named Mohammed al-Rehaief. The official story is that al-Rehaief reported Lynch's ‘captivity’ to the Americans, and CENTCOM then organized a special ops rescue mission. Given what we know now, including that al-Rehaief has become rich and lives in the United States, it seems likely that al-Rehaief, whose wife worked in the hospital, told him about Lynch. He went to the Americans, who then began debriefing him. The war was going very badly for American forces at that point with Rumsfeld's feeble new doctrine and his incessant and counter-productive micromanagement. Doubt was emerging in the anesthetized consciousness of America, and to keep that patient asleep, the War Department needed a publicity boost. Al-Rehaief was offered a free trip to America for him and his family and a life of fame and adulation in exchange for a modicum of cooperation.218 (He was, of course, eventually forgotten.) He was sent back to the hospital to gather specific information on floor plans and door locations, while the ‘special’ unit began planning the ‘rescue’ of PFC Lynch. The Public Affairs Officer of CENTCOM was put on high alert, and the whole Department of Defense “Wag-the-Dog Bureau” went into action, including the Rendon Group. The Rendon Group has been around through both the Clinton and Bush II administrations. It is not the only public relations outfit feeding at the public trough for the purpose of shoveling bullshit at the very public who signs its checks. But Rendon is emblematic.219 Rendon stage managed much of the run-up to the current quagmire in Iraq; it was largely responsible for the organization of a new Iraqi quisling220 regime – dubbed by Rendon the “Iraqi National Congress,” complete with the changed regime head and convicted embezzler, Ahmad Chalabi. (Said one unnamed State Department official in a moment of anonymous candor, “Were it not for Rendon, the Chalabi group wouldn’t even be on the map.”)

217 218

SEAL, abbreviation for sea, air, land; the special operations teams used by the United States Navy.

“Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief is the Iraqi lawyer who claims to have told U.S. Marines the location of the captured Private Jessica Lynch in early April 2003. Weeks later, Al-Refaief and his family were granted U.S. asylum (,2933,85479,00.html). Along with the chance for U.S. citizenship, al-Rehaief received $300,000 from Rupert Murdoch's Harper Collins for a book about the Lynch rescue. ( He also was given a job at the Livingston Group (, a high-powered D.C. lobby firm. ( His book Because Each Life Is Precious: Why an Iraqi Man Came to Risk Everything for Pvt. Jessica Lynch is being promoted by his Livingston Group colleague Lauri Fitz-Pegado and Republican PR man Craig Shirley. Fitz-Pegado is infamous for her work at Hill & Knowlton PR in 1990 coaching the Kuwaiti girl called “Nayirah” in her shocking but phony testimony on Congressional hill that she’d seen Iraqi soldiers murdering Kuwaiti babies.” - Center for Media and Democracy, November 13, 2003.
219 220

Emblematic: Serving as an illustration of a type. Quisling: Someone who collaborates with an enemy occupying force.


Neither would Jessica Lynch’s ‘rescue,’ because it never would have happened. It was a staged military operation… staged for the entertainment media with the purpose of injecting some war optimism into the American mass consciousness. There never was a rescue. There was a made-for-television movie short. Rendon has picked up where Hill & Knowlton, the Gulf War I perception managers, left off. The reader may recall that Hill & Knowlton, on contract with the U.S. government, hatched the Kuwaiti-babiesthrown-from-their-incubators-by-Iraqi-soldiers story that mobilized massive press and public support for the Bush I invasion.221 Of course, the story turned out to be complete horseshit; but it proved so persistent that an HBO movie about Gulf War I aired in 2003 actually echoed it again as fact. It should not surprise anyone that Torie Clarke, Pentagon spokesperson during the stop-and-start blitz at the beginning of the 2003 invasion, is a former Hill & Knowlton staffer. More and more, the right-wing is bringing women into the limelight as spokespersons for their policies: gender decoys. Rendon Group was founded by the former Democratic Party operator, John Rendon. Rendon Group worked alongside Hill & Knowlton during Gulf War I, inside Kuwait, where they learned quickly how to mine America’s consumerist witlessness. Rendon even boasted about it to the National Security Council, saying, “If any of you either participated in the liberation of Kuwait City ... or if you watched it on television, you would have seen hundreds of Kuwaitis waving small American flags. Did you ever stop to wonder how the people of Kuwait City, after being held hostage for seven long and painful months, were able to get hand-held American flags? And for that matter, the flags of other coalition countries? Well, you now know the answer. That was one of my jobs.” Did you ever stop to wonder... Well, no. We don't. That's why we keep signing checks for dull-witted gangsters pretending to be statesmen. Hill & Knowlton actually published a pack of lies disguised as a book, called The Rape of Kuwait, that was sent directly to troops prior to launching Desert Storm, presumably to remove their inhibitions against killing Iraqis and imbue them with the proper fighting spirit by dehumanizing their new enemy.


“How PR Sold the War in the Persian Gulf,” Center for Media and Democracy.


Scripting The Rape of Kuwait is an interesting choice of words. Rape comes up again and again in warfare, on the one hand as an unspeakable reality, and on the other as part of a patriarchal protecter-avenger tale. The shifting fictional account of “What happened to Jessica Lynch?” was likely a fabrication that originated in the White House’s Office of Global Communications – an office essentially run by Rendon people. They generated ‘news stories’ to be released through CENTCOM and elsewhere faster than the press could keep up in order to push deadlines and competition ,and thereby inhibit fact-checking. (Overkill really, since the press was already completely and cravenly housebroken to the war agenda.) The stories came apart, sometimes in mere days or hours, but the fabrications were allowed to ‘linger’ without comment. Remember the monotonous regularity with which the war stories were spun out only to be proved utterly false a few days later? ‘Linger’ is a wag-the-dog industry word and a concept employed by military psychological operations (Psyops). This tactic is combined with language/message control – explaining why masculine bluster like ‘Americans are not the running kind’ can show up in two separate speeches in the same day by different members of the administration – redefining all opposition to US actions as terrorists, and building false associations through repetition: ‘echoing,’ another industry word. (How many times did we hear “September 11,” “terrorists,” and “Saddam Hussein” in the same breath.) This is a Psyops technique, a method to ‘construct memory,’ and the ‘target audience’ is not the enemy, and not the ‘indigenous population.’ It is us. When they get caught, they reconfigure the story with elliptical222 – some would say obtuse223 – language, then let it linger some more. Weapons of mass destruction become a ‘weapons program,’ a ‘seeking’ of WMD. George Tenet's CIA ‘had questions’ about the British forgery... er, dossier. By the time this is published, who will remember the Jessica Lynch fable, or care? Some of these constructed tales are so lurid they would defy imagination if people had any. But the American press, always a stronghold of healthy skepticism and critical thought, lapped up the Jessica Lynch fable like Basset hounds. The prefabricated story was ready at hand for the press pool at CENTCOM headquarters in Qatar, and they dutifully echoed a dramatic morality play224 of chauvinism – national, then male – around the world. Concept. The pretty, plucky, white American female soldier fights off the degenerate, blood-drinking, cowardly (that is, negatively feminized), sub-human Iraqis, emptying her magazine into several of the evil-doers until, multiply shot and stabbed, she is overwhelmed and taken prisoner. CENTCOM solemnly left the question of sexual assault open and let the public imagination run with it. Wicked Fedayeen interrogators reportedly cuffed her around in the hospital. Reflect on the centrality here of both myth-making and affective resonance.225 Then, the epitome of moral American manhood, Special Operations, enters the set to rescue our heroine, fallen beneath the assaults of the unmanly Arabs; the Manly Men rescue the Captive Princess, reaffirming the roles of male and female (fully-human Americans), and the great chain of being226 is reconstituted in all its proper hierarchies.


Elliptical here is used in the figurative sense of an asymmetric orbit, references that do not pinpoint their central conclusion, but that hint darkly at it.
223 224 225 226

Obtuse: Lacking in intellectual acuity. Morality play: An allegorical medieval play form, in which the characters represent abstractions. Emotional echoes based on learned conventions and myths.

Great chain of being: The name given to a Classical, then Medieval, then Renaissance concept of the universe, in which everything is connected in a vast hierarchy, and anything or anyone moving out of its place could disrupt universal order. In this scheme, among other things, “God is the head of man, and man is the head of women.” Very dramatically described by Shakespeare, for example, in Romeo and Juliet, where the man following the irrational women leads the chief characters to despair (the most unforgivable sin) and suicide (another mortal sin). The reason the play is no longer interpreted this way is that few people today understand the cosmology of Shakespeare, who was a conservative ideologue in the employ of the aristocratic ruling class.


To paraphrase Susan Jeffords – at a time when American military invincibility is being called into question by Iraqi resistance, a display of heroic, militarized male power can provide a “compensatory national identity.” Fade in. Susan Schmidt and Vernon Leob of the Washington Post were positively fawning on April 10 when they regurgitated the ‘leaked’ story of Jessica Lynch's fight to the death with deviant Iraqis and her subsequent rescue, complete with subtitles like, “Fighting to the Death,” “Talk About Spunk,” and “Classic Special Ops.” The latter refers to that “daring special operations raid” that “rescued” Lynch. The story ‘echoed’ breathlessly across the airwaves and the pages of ostensibly respectable magazines and newspapers. The public memory was ‘constructed’ through repetition. As questions were raised, the story was allowed to ‘linger.’ On May 15th, the Guardian said, “Her rescue will go down as one of the most stunning pieces of news management yet conceived. It provides a remarkable insight into the real influence of Hollywood producers on the Pentagon's media managers, and has produced a template from which America hopes to present its future wars.” Americans don't read the Guardian. They still believe the rescue fiction. In point of fact, the Special Operations ‘raid’ was conducted with zero resistance, exactly as they expected, given that they were perfectly aware the Iraqi combatants had already withdrawn. But to give it the feel of authenticity, they cut the power to the hospital (putting every patient there in danger), explosively breached doors that hospital staff would have willingly opened for them, and gratuitously flex-cuffed two hospital employees, taking one prisoner for several days, as well as two patients, one with an intravenous infusion.227 That was edited out of the film version. Then came the doubts as the Lynch fight-to-the-death story collapsed, and then the ellipsis. Lynch's actual experiences were “still being sorted out,” said CENTCOM. They were obscured by “the fog of war,” a fog generated from the White House Office of Global Communications. Lynch herself, the real person, was held incommunicado. The Rendon style spin-masters, taking their cue from Hollywood, manned (and I do mean MANned) by those who clumsily tail social trends like commodified-media ersatz228 feminism, constructed their tale of the spunky woman soldier, kind of a GI Jane229 meets Courage Under Fire,230 and ran headlong into an unexpected red-meat reactionary backlash. Any woman who donned a uniform was a manifestation of something called ‘radical feminism,’231 which meant anything remotely resembling feminism at all. Lynch the late imperialist token woman hero ran headlong into Lynch the violator of primitive partriarchy's weapons taboo. America is truly diverse.


Julie Hyland, “BBC documentary exposes Pentagon lies: The staged rescue of Private Jessica Lynch,” World Socialist Web Site, May 23, 2003.
228 229

Erstaz: An inferior substitute; a knockoff; a fake.

A stupid and offensive film, starting Demi Moore, about a woman undergoing SEAL training in a special experiment, in which the heroine achieves her goal of ‘equality’ by beating up a man, then telling him, “Suck my dick!”

An only slightly less stupid and less offensive film, starring Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan, about an investigation of a combat incident. This film was a poorly concealed apologetic for the 1991 war on Iraq, the action of which bore not the slightest resemblance to the wholesale slaughter of Iraqis and the nearly non-existent resistance encountered by the U.S. That Meg Ryan’s character was a combat helicopter pilot was seen by some to make it a ‘feminist’ film.

Not to be confused with the actual ‘radical feminist’ current of scholarship and activism that this writer admires very much.


Redefinitions Patriarchy doesn't assign women one monolithic232 script, but many, with every script developed safely within a phallocentric233 construction of sexuality. As Zillah Eisenstein notes in her essay “Disciplining Female Bodies for Khaki,” as part of its restless renegotiation of sexuality, capitalist patriarchy pluralizes234 femininities in relation to their corresponding, also evolving, and dominant opposite poles, masculinities. (Eisenstein coined the term I have liberally plagiarized – gender decoy.) Lynch had been grotesquely exploited by the Army Office of Public Affairs, but now she was going to undergo multiple transformations. Like women in all situations, she was one female body who would now be plural-ly defined against a plural-ity of masculinities serving a diversity of interests. Her subordination as a woman, her femininity, was not abolished. It was diversified, like a product line that is losing market share. As quickly as the fiction of the fight to the death was released, liberal feminists came forward to seize this proof of women's fitness for combat. She was GI Jane. This backfired, as the battle to the death story unraveled, and the liberals were silenced by the misogynists arguing against women’s fitness for combat, and other liberals arguing against women valorizing military violence, and conservatives talking about girls’ ‘better natures’ being at risk. As my friend De Clarke put it, “no one could resist the piñata of political symbolism that was Jessica during her 15 minutes of fame.” This question of women’s fitness for combat is a bogus argument either way, engaged with arsenals of competing empirical claims about upper-body strength and other near-irrelevancies, given that there is not a single combat skill that doesn’t have its corollary in non-military endeavors and which has not been practiced from the very beginning by women. Harriet Tubman led so many forays behind Confederate lines during the Civil War, including commanding units in combat, that she earned the nickname from John Brown of “General Tubman.” Tens of thousands of Yugoslav partisan women fought valiantly against Ustasha, Chetniks, and Nazis by turns. Soviet women flew fighter aircraft and were among the top combat snipers for the Red Army in the war against Hitler, with one female Soviet schoolteacher single-handedly sending 93 Aryan warriors of the Wehrmacht on to Valhalla. These are just a few examples. It's not even a real question whether women can perform in combat. They can. History has already settled that question quite decisively, yet another reason why history can be so dangerous and has to be displaced by mythology. Jessica Lynch, the person, was hidden away, while her definitions were played like instruments in competing orchestras. Why didn't the press cover the men who died fighting? Why did Jessica Lynch receive a Bronze Star? Why didn't anyone point out that Pietsewa, a woman, “lost control” under fire? These reactionary questions proliferated. Sex and war are both sanctified categories variously bronzed in competing dogmas. Jessica Lynch’s defenders from the reactionary attack have in many ways reduced her to a poor, picked on girl, which while true in some respect is also another script… it's inescapable. Jessica Lynch was chosen because she was a white woman-soldier, and the issue became a can of worms for that reason, too. The perception managers of the fight-to-the-death story, in trying to mobilize ‘feminist’ sympathy as support for the war, now spotlighted (if we were looking) how patriarchal society has to reduce women in order to retain male hegemonic claims on this key institution, the military. The father of a male soldier – who had reportedly fought fiercely before being killed – excoriated Lynch when her book deal was signed. So did a host of others. Now she would become a gold digger (another
232 233

Monolithic: Formed from or composed of a single material.

Sexuality centered around the penis (phallus). A good anecdotal example of this is the idea that (heterosexual) sex is never finished until and always finished with male orgasm. Phallocentrism is defined by semioticians as “the privileging of the masculine (the phallus) in understanding meaning or social relations. Feminists illustrate how all Western languages, in all their features, are utterly and irredeemably male-engendered, male-constituted, and male-dominated. Discourse is “phallocentric” because it is centered and organized throughout by implicit recourse to the phallus both as its supposed ground and as its prime signifier and power source; and not only in its vocabulary and syntax, but also in its rigorous rules of logic, its proclivity for fixed classifications and oppositions, and its criteria for what we take to be valid evidence and objective knowledge.” I will cover this in more detail later in the book.



patriarchal female-stereotype), a woman ruthlessly exploiting the deaths of brave male soldiers to make money. Rick Bragg, an unscrupulous white man, was fired from the New York Times for borderlineplagiarizing a freeleancer's material and pretending he was reporting from on the scene, when he was clearly not. Bragg cut a million dollar deal with Knopf Publishers to write Lynch's ‘authorized’ biography, which raises the suspicion that he swindled Lynch into signing a contract in which she relinquished her control over the final product. Or not. I'm not here to idealize Lynch or anyone else. I don't know. A million dollars is a lot of money to turn down for a poor family from Palestine, West Virginia. A million dollars is just a lot of goddamn money. The book, I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story, patched together as many details as Bragg could string together, then added a twist to pump up the sales. Jessica Lynch, it claimed, was raped by her captors. Raped. This claim, it turns out, has no evidence to support it, and the Jessica Lynch doll (that is, whatever collection of interests now acting as her public surrogate) was reported to have another bout of amnesia about this ostensible rape. The doctors at Nasiriyah hospital who examined her in great detail, to include catheterizing her, said that (1) there was no sign of sexual assault, (2) her clothing was still buttoned, zipped, and intact when she arrived at the hospital, and (3) her condition was so grave from her injuries that a sexual assault would have killed her. Did her rapists then reassemble the complex and cumbersome equipment on her body as the Marine Corps guns rattled in the distance? Aside from selling books, why rape? The answer will take us across the terrain where gender and race tread together in the dangerous landscape of the American racial and sexual psyche. Rape happens, and rape happens in war as well as peace. Men rape women. Male sexuality is socially constructed, understood, and accepted as aggression. ‘Getting fucked’ is still metaphorical slang for being attacked or taken advantage of. Men still boast about their sexual exploits as ‘tearing that pussy up,’ ‘knocking the bottom out of it,’ ‘hitting it,’ and so on. These are not aberrations. This is the norm. And this is not news. The frequency of rape is amplified by war, but it can be amplified so readily because patriarchal culture is rape culture, and the military is mostly male, and mostly young males. Follow closely: Masculinity is associated with violence that defines the sexual subject (male) as aggressive, that describes sex as aggression, and aggression as sex, and therefore necessarily defines the sexual object (female) as an object of (sexual) aggression. This is the essence of rape culture. Women, nature, and brown people's societies are ‘naturalized’ in the imperial cosmology, the objects of male subjectivity,235 the objects of conquest (often referred to as penetration) and control. When an imperium requires war to continue its exploitation, the (masculinized) military as an institution assumes greater centrality, taking the rest of society along with it by further militarizing masculinity. When civil and ethnic wars236 occur, this dialectic of militarism and masculinity happens too, and the frequency of rape is amplified. The merger of violence and sexuality that is already there in countless forms is suddenly released from the legitimizing constraints of civil “peacetime” association, and men take their opportunity to rape, to actualize sex as aggression and aggression as sex and therein actualize their own now militarized masculinity. But rape also has propaganda value, and here is where we have to take great care. Just as we deal with the intricacies of separating anti-Semitism from anti-Zionism,237 we have to separate the denial of rape culture, about which women and their male allies are rightly outraged and in motion, from identifying actual falsifications about rape. This is an extremely important critical challenge as imperialist patriarchy becomes ever more deft and sophisticated in retaining its ideological hegemony.
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Synonym for the earlier use of the word ‘agency.’ The state of being a ‘subject,’ a conscious actor in the world. Civil and ethnic wars.

Anti-Semitism is the oppression and hatred of Jews. Anti-Zionism is opposition to the policies of the State of Israel – a political conviction shared by significant numbers of Jews themselves. Zionists have done a very good job of conflating these two in the public mind as a way of intimidating anyone who would criticize Israel, the state, by painting them as antiSemites, haters of Jews – the ethnicity.


In Cynthia Enloe's Maneuvers – The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives238, remarking on the breakup of Yugoslavia, she wrote: Rape has been used as one method to terrorize civilian populations in villages and forcing ethnic groups to leave [according to the U.N. “Investigation into Rapes in Bosnia,” which published its report in 1993]. ... Serb paramilitary units would enter a village. Several women would be raped in the presence of others so that word would spread throughout the village and a climate of fear was created. ... Those male villagers who had wanted to stay then decided to leave with their women and children in order to protect them from being raped. ... Often, men were deported or fled. Women were then often raped in their own homes or taken from their hopes to another location to be raped ... (Enloe, p. 140) In fact, she was repeating a misrepresentation. This is an example of unwitting collaboration with one form of patriarchy, and with imperialism, that happens when seeking ‘evidence’ to support one’s case in a singularized issue,239 in this case the characterization of the military as a dehistoricized thing-in-itself with no reference to which military, under what circumstances. The fact is that in some militaries rape was not tolerated. And every story of rape cannot be accepted uncritically. A thorough review of the breakup of Yugoslavia reveals in short order that many of the lurid tales of mass rape and ‘rape camps’ were in fact not true, that these stories targeted those alleged crimes almost exclusively against Serbian combatants, and that they were intentionally used to mobilize not only Western feminist outrage, but – and this is even more significant, I think – also the paternalistic240 outrage of men as women's father-protectors. Real men must protect women from the ‘rapists,’ who are something else, another species. There were rapes in Yugoslavia, and they were committed on all sides. But that does not constitute a ‘rape camp.’ Yoshie Furuhashie, a feminist scholar with whom I have corresponded off and on for about six years, had the temerity to point out on a feminist listserv (that was quickly taken over by men) that these stories were factually questionable. A male on the list replied with reflexive outrage, “What proof do you have that the Serbs did not use mass rape as a conscious policy of genocide and terror in Bosnia and Kosovo?” Note the detailed specificity of his construction. There is an argument from intimidation in this challenge where he not only demands that Yoshie prove a negative (Prove that there is no God.), but he issues the challenge with a kind of sanctimonious241 outrage that implies any question of the veracity of the rape camp claim is tantamount242 to holocaust denial.243 Yoshie cited numerous sources that demonstrated these were demonizing fictions, targeting Western feminists as an audience, to mobilize support for an imperial war to further break up Yugoslavia, disguised as a war against demonized Serbs. The demonization of the Serbs with this strategy is little different than the similar demonization of African Americans and German Jews, also systematically and effectively portrayed as sub-human sexual predators. Now it was the Serbs’ turn. Diane Johnstone is a former European editor of In These Times (“Seeing Yugoslavia Through a Dark Glass: Politics, Media, and the Ideology of Globalization,” 1999) and Karen Talbot writes for Covert Action
238 239 240 241 242 243

University of California Press, 2000. An issue by itself, without a larger context. Paternalistic: Benevolent but obtrusive. Root word, pater, means ‘father.’ Sanctimonious: Holier-than-thou: excessively or hypocritically pious. Tantamount: Equivalent in effect or significance.

Holocaust denial is a right-wing phenomenon that began after World War II by Nazi sympathizers who began creating bodies of phony scholarship to ‘disprove’ the existence of the Nazi death camps.


Quarterly (“Backing Up Globalization with Military Might,” 1999). Both journalists react with a high index of suspicion when imperialist adventures dovetail so nicely with shocking stories of women-as-victims, stories issued by the male-dominated imperial press that normally couldn’t give a shit less about the oppression of women. They looked closely into the stories of ‘rape camps’ and found that for the hundreds of stories about them, there appeared to be one singular original source: Ruder Finn, Inc., yet another public relations outfit, al la Rendon Group and Hill & Knowlton, working for the US government through proxies in Bosnia and Croatia. Ruder Finn convinced the world of the existence of Serbian rape camps, but the official story was undermined by Martin Lettmayer, a German journalist who spent months trying to find any actual evidence of these rape camps, and came up empty handed. Nick Mamatas (“The Public Relations Firms of Dictators,” 2001), (full disclosure, my first editor at Soft Skull), described one public relations coup manufactured by Ruder Finn in former Yugoslavia: Pictures can fool the world, and recently, one of them did. In 1992, an Independent Television News (ITN) team led by journalist Penny Marshall shot footage of men staring out from behind barbed wire. They were Bosnian prisoners inside a Serbian concentration camp, ITN explained. The picture was very misleading: the ITN photographers were actually inside the compound, and their subjects were outside the fence, looking in. LM, a libertarian magazine that had been founded by some disaffected former Marxists, pointed this out, and was promptly sued out of existence thanks to Britain's stringent libel laws. There is, again, no way to prove that these ‘rape camps’ didn’t exist, even though Ruder Finn serves as the inevitable originating source when the tale is back-traced. What is interesting is how Serbian rape camps can be a source of outrage to metropolitan bourgeois men who regularly frequent ‘sex tourism’ locales, like the brothels of Bangkok, and see no coercion there. Ruder Finn's president, Jim Harff, unapologetically proud of his accomplishments, boasted in public interviews that his firm had targeted liberals, feminists, and Jews, wagering on a generalized ignorance of Balkan history, in their efforts to gain support for Euro-American interventions in the Balkans. Catherine Sameh, writing for Against the Current, in “The Rebel Girl: The War, The Women, The West,” responded to similar attempts of the Bush administration to appeal to feminists for support of the war against Afghanistan: Let me be clear that I DO NOT in any way support the Taliban regime as defenders of Afghanistan against neocolonial domination, nor do I endorse a silence from the left on this issue. I strongly condemn the Taliban's oppression of women and all Afghan citizens, as I believe any thoughtful antiwar, global justice movement must. But I do oppose a decontextualized, exclusively Western discussion of women under the Taliban or the position of women in the Middle East (as if there were one position). From Oprah to "Frontline" to the Feminist Majority, the discussion spins on a highly out-ofcontext, sensationalist view of Islamic societies and Muslim people—which simultaneously reinforces the Islamic-fundamentalist framing of their political regimes as the one true Islam, and the Orientalist framing of Arab and Muslim societies that further silences women's voices and agency. This tactic is proving effective in many venues, and the paradox of it is that while it is directed at whatever these hacks consider to be feminists, it also serves as an appeal to an anachronistic patriarchal protectionism that often defines women as sentimentalized property. Overnight, the oppression of women was ‘discovered’ in Afghanistan so we could rescue the Princesses with our bombs. Jessica Lynch was yet again redefined by Bragg’s totally unsubstantiated allegations of rape. Rape by an enemy is the usurpation of male privilege by a subhuman, and it must be avenged to restore the status of the victim in the eyes of the father-husband, who is regarded as the real victim (having symbolically lost his manhood). Rape becomes symbolic of the enemy. Men have to ‘protect’ women, and oftentimes, ‘our’ women. This is the basis of the Black rapist stereotype that was used to overthrow Reconstruction and enforce Jim Crow.



Racerape Andrea Dworkin noted about lynching: The black male, in the South hunted at night to be castrated and/or lynched, becomes in the racist United States the carrier of danger, the carrier of rape. The use of a racially despised type of male as a scapegoat, a symbolic figure embodying the sexuality of all men, is a common male-supremacist strategy. .... And so, among the women, night is the time of sex and also of race: racial exploitation and sexual exploitation are fused, indivisible. Night and black: sex and race: the black men are blamed for what all men do…(“Take Back the Night,” a speech given in 1979) Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and its Legacy244 described the North Carolina coup d’etat245 against the fusion governments of Black Republicans and white Populists that signaled the last nail driven in the coffin of Reconstruction. In account after account, it tells how the specter of the Black Rapist was the absolute centerpiece of white Democrat propaganda to marshal and mobilize ad hoc white militias against ‘Black rule.’ Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, writing in Monthly Review in July 2003 (“The Grid of History – Cowboys and Indians”) explains the Origin Myth. Although white supremacy was the working rationalization and ideology of English theft of Native American lands, and especially the justification for African slavery, the independence bid by what became the United States of America is more problematic, in that democracy/equality and supremacy/dominance/empire do not make an easy fit. It was during the 1820s, the era of Jacksonian Democracy, that the unique U.S. origin myth was created, James Fenimore Cooper the initial scribe. James Fenimore Cooper’s re-invention of America in The Last of the Mohicans has become the official U.S. origin story. Herman Melville called Cooper “our national novelist,” and, of course, he was the great hero of Walt Whitman who sang the song of manhood and the American super-race through empire. The Origin Myth – based fundamentally on white supremacy – asserted itself in the minds of the white Populists; when given the choice between their class peers among Blacks and their fellow ‘whites’ in the ruling class, they chose the latter. (This is a lesson we cannot afford to forget about any form of American populism.) Sex, race, and imperial war become inseparable in actually existing U.S. history, and rape has an ideological marker within that grid, as Dunbar-Ortiz called it. This provision of outrage is essential to deploying troops into battle on imperial adventures. Wars in defense of one’s home, or wars defending oneself against extermination are clear and unambiguous to combatants; but wars of offense generally require the emotional fuel of a morality tale. It needn't have much of a half-life either, though when it expires in the face of reality you begin to see the psychic dislocation we have reduced to the term PTSD. When I was in Haiti, my Special Forces team allowed themselves to feel the outrage at the FAdH246 baton-beatings of civilians when the mission was still defined as one that might involve combat. Once the likelihood of combat passed, however, within a month, several of my subordinates were longing for the batonwielding FAdH and would themselves have gleefully laid into the raucous crowds of turbulent black bodies. Which brings us to Shoshana Johnson, Black, daughter of a Panamanian immigrant, and one of the captives from the ambush of the 507th. There was never any reference, however elliptical, to the possibility of Shoshana Johnson being raped, as there was for Jessica Lynch even before CENTCOM learned her fate. Indeed the issue of Black women being raped is extremely dangerous in the United States because it hits too
244 245

Edited by David Cecelski (UNC Press, 1998).

Often referred to erroneously as the “Wilmington Race Riot,” this was a well-organized overthrow of an elected government, which Cecelski’s book describes very well. 246 Haitian armed forces.


close to the centuries-long American tradition of white masters, including our so-called ‘founding fathers,’ raping their slaves. This is not part of the U.S. Origin Myth. Quite the contrary. For any high school student who is feeling adventurous and wants a cheap thrill, I suggest this. In your history class, ask how often George Washington whipped and raped his slaves. This is the mytho-historical basis for the tacit white belief that Black women cannot be raped. There was much made, and rightly so, of the disparate treatment of Jessica Lynch and Shoshana Johnson, but little remarked upon was what bound the two together in mass consciousness. They are both women. White supremacy has been sniffed out by both sides of the race question regarding Johnson and Lynch (who reportedly liked each other), judging by the outrage of one side and the defensiveness of the other. The issue of racial disparity is red hot and will fought out in other venues, and we can stand with Shoshana Johnson in her demand to be treated equally, holding the military and white supremacy as systems responsible, and not Jessica Lynch. It is more important here, perhaps, to point out what they had in common, and to include Lori Pietsewa: an Appalachian woman, an African American (with a Panamanian parent) woman, and a Hopi woman; all in the Army, and all doubly colonized and plurally defined by capitalist patriarchy. Lynch and Johnson would eventually appear together on the cover of December 2003 Glamour magazine as the “Women of the Year.” Get your head around that if you want to see how deftly any seed of subversion is commodified! This was the final transformation, the last account – two smiling women warriors, salt ‘n’ peppa like those biracial-buddy movies white America finds so comforting, backgrounded by American flags and yellow ribbons, our (militarized) social progress on display in every supermarket. Commodities at last!


Fraudulence247 Nancy Hartsock wrote that “[t]he highest good for the warrior-hero is not… a quiet conscience, but the enjoyment of public esteem, and through this esteem, immortality…” Just as the warrior-hero faced the conflicts between community and nature in extreme form on the battlefield, so he faces this dualism in extreme form within his own being. He fights to win reputation, as well as to preserve the community. It is perhaps the importance of public reputation that leads to the externalization of emotions. If to “lose face” is unbearable because it is to lose moral identity, how then can one explain actions one would be ashamed to acknowledge as one’s own. (Hartsock, pp.188-89) It seems important to point out here that this is a mythic construct, having nothing to do with actual military practice – merely a perception by those who are not in the military, but who feel obliged to valorize248 the military in a climate of militarism. The majority of those who are in the American military never see combat, even in wartime. The reputation they enjoy in a militaristic society as part of that general cultural valorization, is one they do not enjoy within the military where there is a powerful prestige hierarchy between those who are in the more dangerous specialties and the many who are truck drivers, finance clerks, cooks, medical technicians, dental hygienists, personnel administrators, mechanics, etc. etc. This mythology, this mystique, serves everyone – the institution, the troops with their increased standing in general society, and as a kind of deterrent for potential enemies. But in the actual military, it is a kind of family secret. Even for those in combat arms, and even for those in the stratosphere of special operations, combat is seldom heroic. Success in combat is predicated on caution and planning, not reckless bravado. Any commander worth two cents will quickly move to eliminate or contain macho wild-men intent on proving they are Rambo. Most combat is outrageously one-sided and therefore akin to plain murder, especially when preparatory attacks are being made, as they are by the American military, with highly technical, highly lethal, standoff weapons. The majority of those who are wounded or killed in most combat are not combatants, but civilians, killed not directly by soldiers but by bombs and missiles and aerial chain guns.249 And most of those ground troops who shoot seldom see what they are shooting or know whether they are personally responsible for any of the bodies they pile up after combat engagements. So the “mythic immortality” that Hartsock describes, and which is fantasized by men generally as part of our socialization into the negative eros250 of masculinity, is quietly understood by those in the military to be largely fraudulent. The power one acquires in the real military is the power to objectify everything outside themselves and their little agonal251 community for the purpose of destroying it – in much the same systematic way a construction crew moves in and destroys thirty acres of wildlife habitat for a new Wal-Mart… and in the same way one might systematically plan serial rape. (Most rapes, by the way, are planned; they are not the spontaneous affairs many have been led to imagine.252) This secret knowledge of the fraudulence of the military myth does not neutralize the cultural power of the myth. It is used to discipline those within the military if they display any reluctance to engage in
247 248 249

Fraudulence: Act of fraud; something intended to deceive; deliberate trickery intended to gain an advantage. Add value to.

High-speed, electronic machine-guns with multiple barrels rotated by a chain, some that can achieve cyclic rates of fire as high as 4,200 rounds of ammunition per minute.
250 251 252

Eros: The personal, relatedness element that is said to characterize a woman's ‘psychology’ and a man's ‘anima’ (spirit). Agonal: Pertaining to the agony associated with death.


combat, and it is used to discipline the public to continually re-valorize the military as an institution and an unassailable cultural sign. We see the cultural dissemination of this myth in the male revenge fantasy film, a response simultaneously to the new centrality of military action to preserve a doddering global accumulation regime,253 but also to the destabilization of masculinity in the face of both challenges to that imperial hegemony and the destabilization of hegemonic masculinity by that same process of capitalist accumulation. (Note: Patriarchal privilege is not challenged by the destabilization of various masculinities; it is re-worked. The responses to any destabilization of one masculine role are to reseat male privilege in a new role.) It is no accident that films like Dirty Harry (1971)254 and Death Wish (1974)255 came on the scene as almost-nihilistic splatter flicks featuring a lone male avenger, set inside the Untied States, just as the U.S. was seeing the inevitability of its defeat in the institutional aggression against Vietnam.


Regime is used here to indicate a set of agreed-upon principles, norms, rules and decision-making procedures, which govern the negotiations, establishment of agencies, and other interactions by international participants in the world capitalist system, not the more common definition of regime, as in a seated government.

An iconic Clint Eastwood film in which the protagonist policeman systematically murders all his enemies to prevent them being released by ‘liberal’ courts.

An iconic Charles Bronson film in man whose family is murdered by vicious urban youth-predators becomes a one-man vigilante army, killing criminals throughout the city to the cheers of an admiring public.


Mirrors In Mab Segrest’s Born to Belonging – Writings on Spirit and Justice256, she describes a workshop given by Jacqui Alexander in Zimbabwe. In Alexander’s words: To this process of fragmentation of mind, body, and spirit we gave the name colonization – a set of exploitative practices usually understood in political, ideological, and aesthetic terms. We saw its minute operation in dualistic and hierarchical thinking – divisions among mind, body, spirit; between sacred and secular; male and female; heterosexual and homosexual; rich and poor; the erotic and the Divine. It is a thinking always in negation, often translated into singular explanations for oppression, such as racism versus sexism, with less attention to how these systems work together Internal colonization leaves us dealing with alienation from the body, from the self – the ‘other’ is in the self. It is the othering of ourselves. So we exist for them, not for ourselves. For some kind of them. It produces love/hate relationship with our oppressors. We want to be sovereign, but don’t let us be too sovereign. Instead of taking out the pain and examining it, we act out of negation. It’s the lateral violence we visit on each other. (Segrest, p. 202) The masculinity of Marshall Brown, Delta Force commando and serial rapist – and indeed many men in the military, but especially Special Operations – did not hover in the air as history passed through it in some parallel dimension. It is one symptomatic form of masculinity among many, all in a state of profound disequilibrium that is directly interactive with concrete social processes. It is Western masculinity. It is capitalist masculinity. It is military masculinity. It is southern masculinity. It is religious masculinity. And it is irredentist257 masculinity, fascist in many respects. Fanon said that violence breaks the colonial mirror, because the colonizer sees in his victim his own degraded self. Hegemonic masculinity, and in many respects all masculinity, is somnambulant,258 dreaming away inside the cold, lightless spaces of the stony, masculinized ego-fortress. If there is a way out, it will require wakefulness. Maybe a touch of that wakefulness was what kept me (and many others) from going into the room where Marshall did as he placed a knife to a woman’s throat in her own bed and invaded her shocked and adrenaline-drenched body with his own – the most dangerous thing in the world – and made her wonder for the rest of her days if there was a safe place. The invasion of the penis, the invasion of the lash, the invasion of the bullet. The mirrors are broken to prevent our waking, but these mirrors are in fact the living bodies of human beings. Perfect masculinity is sociopathic. Wakefulness is a precondition of transformation. Mab Segrest said, “It is only in the present moment that transformative reconfigurations of self can occur.” (Segrest, p. 36) Men have much at stake here, even if we stand to lose our privileges. We’d better wake up. We need to look at ourselves in the real mirror, and wake our asses up.

256 257 258

Rutgers University Press, 2002. Irredentist: Exrtreme ethnic chauvinist. Sleepwalking.


Anesthesia Segrest called this somnambulance ‘anesthesia.’259 “The anesthesia of power.” In what she calls the “metaphysic of genocide: people don’t need to respond to what they can pretend they do not know, and they don’t know what they can’t feel.” Somewhere between this danse du mort260 of colonizer-colonized and the disengagement that begins the process of undoing is a dangerous terrain, where in the casting aside of old norms in the absence of new ones, there are no limits. If total depravity corresponds to total control, latent anarchy corresponds to the deconstruction of both control and depravity. This, at least, is the intuition of sexual vertigo. With the slow death of imperial-frontier masculinity that defined much of Marshall Brown’s irredentism – under assault by gay Boy Scouts and even by consumer culture – a newer, far less stable masculinity is becoming hegemonic, inside and outside the military: the addictive narcissism261 of American consumer capitalism that, rather than liberating women from internalized oppression, has consigned men to that self-exploiting space with them. Men are now obsessively ‘marketing themselves’ as sexual commodities, developing eating disorders, and being lashed through the malls by fashion. Capital must create new market niches, and so it is itself driven by falling rates of profit to engage in demand production, including destabilizing old masculinities to make men better consumers of constantly refurbished product lines. Everything must eventually be colonized, because capital – the social relation at the heart of capitalism – is by its very nature unstoppable. If it fails to expand, it fails to expand value, and therefore ceases to exist. The world must be colonized. Lest we forget, the US state is now trying to make the entire world its colony, and the principal instruments of that colonization are money and the military. Marx showed how money is the solvent that dissolves the bonds of community and frees the world up for the permanent state of disequilibrium required to allow capital to expand, which is another way of saying ‘run away from its own law of value’: . All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. (From the Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848) It is this state of constant and inescapable disequilibrium that also dissolves old masculinities/femininities and reformulates new ones, and with it throws the relations between men and women into confusion and disarray. The faster the social change, the more deeply is this destabilization felt on the skins and in the very psyches of individuals, and capital is always accelerating. It is this disequilibrium, global, financial, social, and sexual, that has given rise to strategies that have shifted the discourse from the


Anesthesia: the loss of feeling or sensation as a result of medications or gases. General anesthesia causes loss of consciousness. Local or regional anesthesia numbs only a certain area.
260 261

Dance of death.

Narcissism: There are multiple definitions of this term, both medicalized and popular. In this case, it refers to a kind of self-centeredness that transforms everything and everyone into instruments for either one’s own aggrandizement or for one’s own sense of self-worth (including mirrors). The word describes a pathological state – one that does not in any way create happiness for the narcissist. On the contrary, the narcissist is perpetually dis-satisfied with the world and others for not reflecting what he or she most needs – the validation of an impossible image of oneself.


public to the private, from the social to the individual, and also which has allowed those with the most material power to redefine themselves – in the resultant confusion – as victims. Just as the rich have redefined themselves as the victims of the poor, men have shifted the premises to construct themselves as the victims of masculinized women. It’s incredible but true.


Sado-masochism During the run-up to the March 2003 Anglo-American ground offensive into Iraq, the US Patent Office received a request to patent “Shock and Awe Condoms.” What clearer example can I possibly provide of the cultural association between violence and male-centered sexuality, except to point out that many who read this will react by laughing before we think. I was still in Delta the evening I discovered my first wife in an affair with a fellow soldier from my unit, I was preparing myself psychologically for the five freefall parachute jumps I would perform the next day. This was well before Marshall had launched into his career as a sexual terrorist. Liz and I fought all night. She went from penitence to a defiant declaration at around three in the morning that she hoped I would die on one of the jumps that day. There had been two close calls over the drop zone the day before. The air was still crackling with mortality, and she knew this was a button. She also ranted about suicide. I may have, too. Our daughter, Élan, then almost seven, was a hostage in the other room. This is not an uncommon kind of story in the military. But I’ve explained that this unit was not in any way typical of the military in general. This was Delta Force, the very peak of the alpha in alpha male,262 and a kind of rebellion against the half-committed and destabilized masculinities of modernity and post-modernity – extreme soldiery conducted in the interstices of international diplomacy. Nancy C. M. Hartsock looked closely at earlier epochs and how male and female realms were divided into ‘freedom’ and ‘necessity.’ The male freedom from ‘necessary labor’ was freedom to be in the external public world and exercise his agency. The banal necessities of the household, with its repetitious reproductive tasks; washing, cooking, caring for children, were beneath him. As political power had come more and more to “rest on heroic action defined by courage in war,” so the military came to assume a more central position in society, transposing263 military values onto all men, and coming to define, in many ways, hegemonic masculinity itself. Military masculinity becomes hegemonic at precisely those times when a society requires military action as the centerpiece of ruling class stability. The attraction of joining these elite military units is multiple. It is Hartsock’s escape from necessity. It is a rebellion against the constrained, flabby techno-mercantile, proletarian, and postmodern masculinities. It carries immense social status. It also answers the need in some men who, like some women, thrive on challenge seemingly by temperament. In 2002, the Army implemented some new ‘post-deployment family reconciliation’ measures after a string of spousal murder-suicides at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Special Forces men and Delta men were involved. The string of deaths started June 11 when Sgt. 1st Class Rigoberto Nieves fatally shot his wife, Teresa, and then killed himself in their Fayetteville bedroom. Sergeant Nieves, who had been back from Afghanistan just two days, had recently requested leave to resolve personal problems, officials said. On July 1, Master Sgt. William Wright reported that his wife, Jennifer, was missing. On July 19, he led investigators to her body, buried in a shallow grave in a field near Fayetteville, and was charged with murder. Sheriff's investigators said she was strangled on June 29. Sergeant Wright, who had been back from Afghanistan for about a month, had moved out of the family's house and was living in the barracks. His mother-in-law, Wilma Watson, said from her home in Mason, Ohio. "Until he came back from Afghanistan, I didn't worry about violence. He was getting these attacks of rage. She was afraid of him." On the same day Sergeant Wright was arrested, Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Floyd shot his wife, Andrea, and himself in their Stedman home. The Fayetteville Observer reported that

Alpha Male: first in order of importance; “the alpha male in the group of chimpanzees” Transpose: Change the order or arrangement of.


Sergeant Floyd was a member of Delta Force, the secretive antiterrorism unit based at Fort Bragg. He returned from Afghanistan in January. In the fourth case, Sgt. Cedric Ramon Griffin was charged with stabbing his estranged wife, Marilyn, on July 9. He was in an engineering battalion.264 Officialdom tried to ride the Ft. Bragg murder-suicides out, and couldn’t. People speculated that the malarial drugs issued in Afghanistan, from where the perpetrators had just returned, might have induced psychosis. Others talked about post-traumatic stress disorder. What was remarkable was how quickly the whole culture redefined the killers as the victims… or at least, patients. Soldiers, especially Special Operations soldiers, are granted a depth of inquiry into the causes of their pathologies that is withheld from others – like Black teenagers – who break the law. It is a little astonishing that even the atypical depth of interpretation afforded these murderers scrupulously avoided the issue of gendered power. All gendered power. PTSD – if there was PTSD – is assumed to have been triggered by something traumatic these soldiers had seen, or something that had been done to them. PTSD, for soldiers, is often not only a consequence of what is seen so much as a consequence of what has been done by the subject himself, and how badly those actions and experiences disrupted one’s world view with all its affective attachments. What happens, as my old teacher Dr. Ken Cook once asked, when the goldfish succeeds in breaking its bowl? Marines and soldiers – who were raised to think of themselves as Men, protectors of women and children – are now adapting to a situation in which they feel compelled by a host of pressures to machinegun vanloads of women and children at checkpoints in Iraq, women and children who are outside the taxonomy of slut-whore that might merit rape. There’s no handle there to reduce that cognitive dissonance… that ‘rape the bad girls – protect the good girls’ convention. Fear in the wake of violence against oneself can transform us, as rape victims can testify. The most common cause of PTSD in the United States is not combat. It is rape. It is the most common cause in women, and after combat, the most common cause of PTSD in men.265 But a different transformation happens when one commits the violence against others in the face of socialization to the contrary. The taking of human life by colonial soldiers is simultaneously the cultural initiation into a full masculinity and the most powerful of our social taboos. So powerful, in fact, that the armed forces – and the society itself – have to convey an elaborate system of rewards on those who kill to offset the psychic conflict for Americans who – except for some ‘sportsmen’ – don’t even kill the animals they eat and wear. The actual act does not play out like Sylvester Stallone. It plays out more like Ted Bundy – banal, mechanical, almost under-stimulating. There’s no recognition from the dead any longer of the power that made them dead. One can get drawn to it again and again to internalize this power, a power so stark it has no background music, and a power so alone that it leaves one trapped in an infinity of isolation.

264 265

Associated Press, “Rash of wife killings stuns Fort Bragg,” July 27, 2002.


Alienation Masculinity is the exclusive terrain for heroic action in the popular imagination, unless you can be G.I. Jane, semiotic hermaphrodite.266 In that film, the female undergoing SEAL training achieves her Hollywood-feminist vision quest by beating a man in a fight, then shouting at him when he is subdued by her violence, “Suck my dick!” She goes on to kill some dehumanized Libyans to certify her symbolic manhood. You have to have a dick, and you have to be able to tell someone to suck it as a marker of dominance; then go off to kill the dark Other. A few extremely confused people believed this was a feminist film, a film where the liberal notion of equality required the assimilation of violent homophobic masculinity as a military norm and necessity. Something happens when Western imperial men are confronted with the reality of war, however, which is often anything but heroic. Especially in this period, in the United States, where the mission is the wet work of ground actions against other nations. We are the recipients of so many conflicting messages; killing is bad, killing is good, we are the civilizers but we want you to be the barbarian; we are the light of the world, destined to bring the light to others; we are the protectors and the destroyers; we are to be simultaneously lovers and killers…. women are bad, women are good… it is the magnification of the very dissonance built into our sexual conventions, disconcerting, even slightly frightening, like the first time one sees the organisms in their own saliva under a microscope. There is a reason military people are given a sort of secular divinity It's to pay them for their ‘service.’ Service. There is a reason for the pomp, the fruit salad of merit badges pinned on soldiers’ chests, the maudlin ceremonies, and the endless direct and indirect accolades. This incessant adoration – a charade that many soldiers, even those who have not yet been transformed by killing (and the vast majority never will be), participate in – is something the soldier hangs onto like a life preserver, through everything from simple humiliations in training to that complete fragmentation of his personality when he follows the directive to murder. Others go beyond. In the act of taking human life, of transgressing every boundary, when there is no fear, when there is no necessity for self-defense... in the act of murder, not out of any particular passion, but just to exercise that absolute power, there is an indescribable freedom. Freedom from every convention. The most perfect freedom is knowing that nothing is forbidden, and that we are limited only by our fear, and that our fear is gone. But with it comes anesthesia, and one has to go further and further to seek any kind of sensation. It's a freedom most people do not want to know, because they sense that once they know it, they will have irrevocably stepped out of everything they do know and into a place where the possibilities of their own agency are bounded only by death... which is nothing really, no different than being on an operating table, no different than being numb, no different than what we were 100 years ago when we were all still part of the great in-itself, no different than what we will all be 100 years from now, in a universe that is infinite in time and space, that will swallow and thereby erase every consequence. Welcome to the masculine one-upmanship of Columbine. Top this!, the young nihilists seemed to say, then turned their firearms on themselves. We learn by doing, and some deeds will teach us the un-teachable, and when we go beyond, drawn into these actions by masculinity – the ideology, the practice, the cult. We pass through heroism with all its constructions and rules and limitations and leave it behind. If heroism in combat is what James Redfield (“Nature and Culture in the Iliad”) called “the frontier between culture and nature,” then true freedom lies one step outside society, beyond that cultural boundary, beyond any rules of human interaction, beyond intersubjectivity.267


Semiotics: Theories regarding symbolism and how people glean meaning from words, sounds, and pictures. Hermaphrodite: One having both male and female sexual characteristics and organs.

Psychic connection to others as fellow subjects, and not mere objects.


This is the white-hot nihilism of the most extreme military masculinity, one pole of a powerful sexual ideology, when we take the short step from action-hero into the perfect individualism of the sociopath.268 It is not military. It is masculine. The Colombine shooters were not soldiers. They were geeky Goth boys. It's here with us now. I saw it in Vietnam. No, I lived it. Let's be honest. I could casually light a cigarette while I played with a severed ear, admiring it as I handed it back to its new owner, one of my colleagues. And we were mere teenagers. Officers in the Army feared us. They should have. Now they have no institutional memory of those days. Now they are fresh out of the '90s, and they think that they can design a program to decompress these lads and ‘return them to duty.’ At Fort Bragg, the Army officers have a new program that is advising the wives (!) of men who are deployed into combat not to cut their hair, not to display the independence that was required of them while their alpha-male was away in Afghanistan or Iraq doing Uncle Sam's wet work.269 Sudden changes or perceived challenges could set the lad off. This is a fairly typical, boneheaded bureaucratic response – clueless about its casual sexism, completely clueless about crossing over that psychic ‘frontier.’ The therapeutic types are saying the military culture restrains soldiers from seeking help. Well yeah. Neither the nature of the ‘work’ nor how we begin damaging boys at birth, with the psychic terrorism of masculinity, are ever subjected to critical scrutiny. They won’t be. That would give away the whole show. There is no way for any of us to trace all the ways these gender expectations, our gendered way of knowing, our cultural colonial-militarism, the domestic dynamic of sexual power, personal sexual histories, and the requirements of soldiery, are interwoven into the convulsions that took the lives of the Fort Bragg victims and victim-perpetrators. My own little story of marital infidelity is one of thousands of snapshots. I had been in training for over six months, so I wasn’t in my domestic pressure cooker with the blood still fresh on my hands, but who knows what might have happened if I had been? She was crazy with her tortured womanhood. I was crazy with my trapped, ambitious manhood… ....and men kill women. Not just in the military. Men kill women. Men rape women, and men beat women, and men kill women. And killing is a socially constructed act in every case. Remember Mimine, the Haitian peasant woman? Perhaps the soldiers who melted down and killed their spouses at Ft. Bragg in 2002 – and on two occasions themselves – were simply picking up where they left off at home, before they were called to the colonial civilizing slaughter. Out in the colonies, away from the conventions that constrain their masculinity, they had passed by the pinnacle of their own manhood, had learned how to literally annihilate the Other, the One Who is Different. They had learned the illusory freedom of the nihilist, a savage freedom that no longer knows how to step back from itself. Or maybe not. I can’t possibly know. But how can these soldiers who are anointed in this wet work ever return to the demands of banal necessity, cutting grass and making dental appointments? How can he? How did he? He didn’t. Maybe on return, when the payoff came, when he received his ration of worship from the general culture, he was confronted with one who could not, would not, worship – one who was the ultimate Other demanding recognition of her own subjectivity, and the one who demanded he return his attention to domestic necessities – and he exercised that newfound freedom... and to underline that freedom or escape it, with the inert victim at his feet now incapable of reflecting his meaningless existence back to him, he aimed carefully at his own brain stem. This is the price of military masculinity in America in the 21st Century, a price paid by women... and men.


People sometimes use the term sociopath to describe an individual with antisocial personality disorder (APD). A person with this disorder shows a lack of concern for the rules and expectations of society, and repeatedly violates the rights of others.

An old KGB euphemism for killing.


Homo In 1986-87, I was assigned to the United States Military Academy at West Point as faculty. I worked in the Department of Military Instruction as a classroom instructor of Military Science and had additional duties as the Service Orientation Course’s Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge (NCOIC), a program to help seniors get ready for ‘real life,’ as the NCOIC of the Cadet Basic Training Bayonet Assault Course, and I organized and conducted the first two ever West Point Ranger Orientation Programs. As one might imagine, my schedule was demanding, my supervisors numerous, and my impressions of the Academy absorbed on the run. I was also taking night courses at Mt. St. Mary’s College in Newburg, NY. One semester, I took an English course called simply “Women Writers.” The teacher was married to a major who was with the Geography faculty at West point. The books we read for this course, if my recollection serves, were Tell Me a Riddle, by Tillie Olsen, Burger’s Daughter, by Nadine Gordimer, The Dollmaker, by Harriet Arnow, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard, and The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. My teacher used the classroom to express her own sense of constraint and frustration at the role of ‘officer’s wife,’ courageously admitting in front of all those students (among which I was the sole male) that she sometimes found herself wondering if she’d have to say on her deathbed, “I made cheese balls.” This alone was an education for me, both the exposure to frank admission of self-doubt in a group and the insight into the world of those who we took for granted. I was incapable of empathy with my own spouse at that point, given the psychotic nature of that relationship, and my first spouse never really got into the military wife role, at any rate. Officers are under a great deal more pressure than enlisted men to have ‘supportive wives.’ The book list was superlative, as is apparent, and these books still exercise an influence over me today. That semester I had to write two papers. My final paper was a comparative criticism of Burger’s Daughter and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, both still favorites of mine to this day. My first paper was on The Color Purple. I had just begun peeking at the dense Mr. Hegel, so I think my pretentious-sounding thesis was that the book was a “dialectical movement toward humanness.” In the paper, I also endorsed the ‘separatism’ of Celie and Shug’s relationship. I was into performance, always performance, always competition. I wanted to outperform in the eyes of this officer’s wife. But I was also very moved by what I was reading, and it was about the brutality of men. In the offices of the Department of Military Instruction, I was next door to the Aviation branch representative. These branch reps were advisors to seniors (called Firsties) who were trying to figure out in which field they would specialize in when they went on active duty after graduation. Each of the branch reps developed a short list of regular cadet visitors who would drop by to eat the M&M’s left there for them, and pick the branch rep’s brain for stories and descriptions of these specialties, as well as use them as counselors with a shoulder to cry on. The Aviation rep and I were talking one day, and for whatever reason I mentioned the paper I’d written on The Color Purple. He suddenly became quite animated, telling me that his top Aviation prospect was an English major who was working on a paper for the exact same book. Her name was Lissa Young, and she also happened to be the highest-ranking women ever in the West Point Corps of Cadets, the deputy commander. Would I mind if he sent her over to chat? No problem. She came by a few days later and introduced herself. Lissa was a tall cadet, taller than me (though that’s not remarkable for men). She was very comfortably strac,270 as they say, her uniform with perfect creases and everything shined to a brilliant luster, fitting perfectly. This is something many soldiers are selfconscious of, but Lissa was just… comfortable. She wore this military perfection as if she were born to it. She exuded a friendly confidence, had a firm handshake, and looked people in the eye. My very first impression of her was that she would be one of those rare officers who would rule more with competence and troop loyalty than with decrees, but also that she was not to be trifled with. She had heard that I had done a paper on The Color Purple, and her branch rep suggested she come by and introduce herself. I asked her if she’d like to have a copy, and a shadow of hesitation passed across her face before she said, “Of course, Sergeant Goff. Thank you.” She was the second highest-ranking cadet, but anyone in the active Army still outranked the Deputy Cadet Corps commander. She stayed for a bit longer, while I went through a pro forma interrogation of her academic career, then we shook hands again and she left.

Originally, this stood for skilled, tough, and ready around the clock (STRAC). Eventually it came to mean sharply dressed with a professional comportment.


The next day, I found a note on my desk in a plain envelope. “Let me pick my jaw up off the floor,” it began. The note was from Lissa, who was obviously surprised by my paper. But the note went on to gush, if that’s the right word, about how much it meant to her to read this paper. This was not the world’s greatest English paper, and the tone of Lissa’s note was not consistent with the picture of perfect professional comportment I had seen the day before. This was not an accolade for my organization or writing style; it was someone seizing a lifebuoy and gasping with relief. In breaking all the barriers that Lissa had set out to break successfully, she had slammed part of herself into a tiny closet. Without explicitly saying so, Lissa’s note was a thank-you for her now knowing there was at least one person she might trust at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to know she was a lesbian. I suddenly had a glimpse, through this straight-A, highest-military-marks, born-to-lead, do-anythinganywhere-and-take-no-shit woman, of the terrible confinement of closeted queer people. It also set me to thinking about lesbians generally, about lesbians in the military, lesbians in the women’s movements, and about gendered power. I was already thinking about it, or I wouldn’t have written the paper as I did. I had thought about it ever since my relationship with a sometime-friend, sometime-lover in the past, who explained to me when she was in college why she had become something called a ‘political lesbian.’ But here was Lissa – free of the debilitation of dependence that crippled many heterosexual women, seeking out the kinds of challenges that (oddly enough) only the Army might offer her. Here was a person who needed those challenges, whose very temperament was to meet life head-on – having to conceal the very sexuality that released her from a ‘woman’s fate,’ the reliance on a script organized around sexual, emotional, and economic dependence on men. Yet those same men had long monopolized every public sphere. They monopolized the institutions where power resides. The same men’s ideologies constructed sexuality itself in a way that Lissa now had to deny, like a traitor to herself. She was trapped inside the personal foundation of her own ability to break into those institutions and challenge male hegemony – her sexual independence from men. The opening words of Catherine McKinnon’s Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (Harvard University Press, 1989) are, “Sexuality is to feminism what work is to marxism: that which is most one’s own, yet most taken away.” “…most one’s own, yet most taken away.”


Reunion Some years later, when I was working at 7th Special Forces in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, I was thinking about Lissa and called Army Locater.271 They found that she was indeed still on active duty, flying Chinook helicopters, and that she was stationed right there in Ft. Bragg, at Simmons Army Airfield. On an impulse, I drove to Simmons, tracked down her company’s hanger, and as luck would have it, she was there. I told a sergeant my name and asked if he might let Captain Young know I was looking for her, and that I would be waiting in the parking lot. In a few minutes, she emerged from the hanger, dressed in her aviator’s coveralls, carrying a kit bag and a motorcycle helmet. Behind her were two of the giant, growling, double-rotor, multi-purpose CH-47 helicopters. Huge engines were in harness for maintenance. There was a bustle of mechanic activity. When Lissa was close enough to see her features, she was smiling. Her eyes had already begun to take on an aviator’s squint. She was again that picture of calm confidence I had first seen when she came to my office, now striding across the macadam plain. Lissa belonged there if anyone did. Nothing could have been more self-evident. We shook hands and had a very pleasant conversation while she strapped her kit bag to her HarleyDavidson. In short order, we were talking about a lesbian I was close to in Arkansas. Lissa questioned me on the level of my friend’s political activism, almost as if Lissa were some kind of field commander in a war, seeking information to gauge allied progress on another front. We talked for about half an hour, and promised to stay in touch, and we’ve never seen each other since. In 2002, I started an internet search for Lissa. I found a picture of her in Alaska, where she had been flying with an army helicopter rescue outfit. She was sitting in the door of her Chinook on a frigid looking airfield, smiling with her aviator’s squint now so pronounced on her broad face, looking very Slavic. She was holding a small, white, heavy-coated dog. A further search showed an abrupt break in her service, like she’d disappeared. I called her unit in Alaska, and all they could tell me was that Lissa had left the service. No one knew where she had gone. Left the service. I calculated. She graduated in 1987. She left the service in 2002. Why would she separate from the army with 15-16 years in? It made no sense. I found where she had given several talks on women’s leadership around the country. One was at Harvard, so I emailed one of the coordinators at Harvard, and asked that if she had contact with Lissa to forward my email to her. Bingo! Lissa emailed me. “Hello from the past,” said the subject line. Lissa had been selected for promotion to lieutenant colonel when she was commanding the rescue company in Ft. Wainwright, Alaska. Then the army had terminated her employment under the official doctrine of hypocritical military homophobia – ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (because we don’t want to know until we decide to investigate you). I have never learned the exact circumstances of her expulsion from the Army. She sounded tough and in good spirit in the email, and I’m not surprised. Lissa was always tough. Suzanne Pharr said that sexism is socially reproduced through three mechanisms: economics, violence, and homophobia. If you’re ‘straight,’ and you don’t believe the latter, here’s a challenge. For the next week, tell people that you are from a different place than you are. For the week after that, tell people – with a straight face (no pun intended) – that you are gay.


A telephonic service to find service members.


Challenge Patriarchy is practiced on bodies. Women practice internalized male supremacy on their own bodies. Women immobilize and cripple themselves – the hair that can’t be mussed, the face paint that can’t be smeared, the high heels, the tight pants, (in some places) veils, the counter-utilitarian, silencing, demobilizing nature – like foot-binding – of ‘feminine beauty.’ These general social constraints on women are challenged by women’s participation in the military. It is not surprising that many lesbians, already in some ways independent of the masculine-feminine dichotomy, and in other instances thinking they are “transgressing” it by simply flipping the script, are attracted to the inevitable utilitarianism of military practice. The military is also a key institution in which to assert female historical agency against male domination. This (sometimes vaguely understood or acknowledged) reality probably had much to do with some Rangers’ violent reaction to a woman combatant in Somalia (see the chapter, “Weapons Taboo”) that I will describe further along and to the choices made by women like Lissa Young. Soldiers like those outraged Rangers understand directly what many others can only infer. Weapons confer real, physical power: not just for aggression, but for self-defense. Significantly, weapons confer political power when they become part of a table of organization and equipment272 for the armed institutions (police and armed forces) of the state. Weapons are for use against bodies. They are not merely symbolic. They are not a narrative. Lynching campaigns and ‘race riots’ were organized in direct response to 350,000 returning World War I Black GI’s as a way of rapidly escalating the repression against a colonized people who had suddenly been given an intimate familiarity with combat weapons.273 All political power is constructed, in the last instance, around organized force. The political power of the state – a legal monopoly on violence – makes the state’s military a central necessity. Gaining knowledge and prowess in military matters is far more than a mere psychological or symbolic advance for women, more than some liberal attempt to gain ‘access,’ and far more than some rite of passage for men. It is a real component of real power in the real world – and military experience gives real insights into every aspect of power, from organizing for power (including self-determination) to exercising political power.

272 273

TO&E, the name given by the military to official templates for organization.

Robert L. Zangrando, “About Lynching”, from The Oxford Companion to African American Literature (Oxford University Press, 1997).


Compulsion Adrienne Rich said that heterosexuality, far from being simply a personal sexual ‘orientation,’ is a social institution, and that it is a “beachhead of male dominance.” This metaphor is interesting for more than its allusion to male dominance as a military operation. It points to the unity of opposites – of masculinity and femininity as institutions – institutions that lash female sexuality into a phallocentric social structure and a corresponding sexually binary worldview. Note – Rich did not talk about “monogamy,” a concept that even when critiqued causes male power to disappear. This is not the same as her saying that heterosexuality as a personal sexual ‘orientation’ or practice is oppressive or deviant (as detractors of Rich and others accuse, of being ‘anti-male’ or ‘anti-heterosexual’). On the contrary, she shows how “compulsory heterosexuality” – as social practice, institution, and ideology, shapes the experience of one’s sexuality in everyday life – and calls on us to interrogate our own experience of sexuality, in all its guises, while we pay attention to those influences. Consciousness-raising is part of every self-determination struggle. Like class struggle, the struggle against gender as a system of unequal power must recognize the structures of the male-female contradiction as it is socially constructed. Marxists point out that unlike “class” struggle, this doesn’t end with a liquidation of male and female as categories, though it should end with the liquidation of masculinity-femininity. This is a critical distinction and it has great import for how the struggle against male domination is carried out. What Marxists claim is that class is inherently antagonistic, and gender is not. But if we say that class is a separation of human beings (now there are actual bodies involved, as there are in the previous construction of gender, which cannot disappear in the liquidation of power), then we can well say that class can be abolished, but human beings cannot. Gender is inherently antagonistic in exactly the same way. It is, just as class, and I would even argue is a form of class, a structural social relation of complimentary inequality – a system where domination and subordination exist as a unity of opposites And it must be abolished. If the struggle for a deep-down transformation presupposes the transformation of sexuality, and if the most powerful weapons with which the gender order is maintained are economics, violence, and homophobia, then there must be a struggle to abolish (capitalist) patriarchal economic relations, there must be the means to defend against violence, and there must be a delegitimation of homophobia.


Militarizing When I started my background reading, almost everyone I consulted who had any familiarity with feminist writing told me to pick up some of the work of Cynthia Enloe. So I went to my favorite bookstore and ordered her book, Maneuvers – The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives.274 In the aftermath of the Gulf War… Sherri Paris, writing for the California gay paper Lavender Reader, explained why she “didn’t support the troops,” even if some of those troops were lesbians: “Now I could tell you in that moment I felt compassion for Donna Jackson [an American woman soldier who had been discharged after she publicly revealed she was a lesbian], that I saw her as a fellow human being rather than a symbol of the war I hate, and that I respected her for having the courage of her convictions. If I told you that, I’d be lying. My sympathies were reserved for those that Donna was willing to kill if she could do it as a lesbian.” (Enloe, p. 19) There were many who opposed the Gulf War for reasons other than pacifism; anti-imperialism, for example. And for those who didn’t begin seeking simple moral polarities, the question of ‘supporting the troops’ or not is a non-starter – a red herring, just as it is again during the current phase of the Gulf Energy War (as this is written). Sherri Parris, quoted approvingly by Cynthia Enloe, is failing to examine her own premises, at least in this case, the very same thing she is critiquing the gay soldier for doing. This can be perfectly logical so long as one confines oneself to the unexamined epistemological framework of decontextualized, individual moral choice – a framework that defines this whole statement. The question of who deserves ‘compassion,’ framed as an either-or proposition, utterly fails to understand the war as an action or the military as an institution acting on behalf of certain systemic interests – a system about which the imperial troops are generally just as mystified as anyone else, and by which they themselves are used up. Note the level of complete abstraction here about killing, when anyone outside a combat branch (from which women are still excluded) is unlikely to do. But when it comes to the military, many ‘progressives’ don’t feel obliged to describe either the context or the complexity of the military. This reproduces one stereotype after another (like the robot killers), and one technical error after another about the military. The real issue here, for me at least, is that there is no recognition at all that everyone in a capitalist society participates in capitalism, and that militarism as practice, that is, war, is integral to the whole enterprise. If you want capitalism you have to have war. Period. Passing judgment on the soldiers generally – who are often making stark economic choices – is a little like passing judgment on slaughterhouse workers for their cruelty when you buy your chicken at the store or wear leather shoes. (It’s also not unlike passing judgment on prostitutes for prostitution, also an essential commodity in a capitalist patriarchal society, who are forced to ‘sell’ their bodies.) Abstract morality does not confer responsibility. Only consciousness can do that. It is only through consciousness that anyone can take any role they have inherited in society and transform that role into a means of resistance. I emphasize resistance, because if you simply sit around and pass judgment, all you have done is staked a specious claim on your own moral superiority. This is a pointless, and often offensive practice, usually by people who are well positioned to make comfortable choices (which most of us are not). I am grateful to Cynthia Enloe for the immense body of research she has contributed to the question of gender and the military. Her work is invaluable for its description of all the women who are in the military’s institutional and social orbits. Before Enloe’s research and writing, these same women had been rendered invisible through reduction and through military iconography that focuses exclusively on the predominantly male solider himself. But I have to be critical of this decontextualization she endorses from Sherri Parris, and reiterates herself. In her description of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programs in public high schools, Enloe isolates JROTC as an indoctrination program for a system she calls ‘militarism,’ (limiting her view of the actual system to one manifestation of it) and fails to mention the Junior Chambers of Commerce

University of California Press, 2000.


that are in the same public schools. The Junior Chamber of Commerce reflects an adult component of the actual system – capitalism – that is continually forced to rely on the military for its own stability. Enloe has not only fetishized the military as an institution, she has taken the focus off of the system that reproduces war. This transforms the question of whether and how to participate in one aspect of that system into an individual choice… consistent with capitalist ideology. Donna Jackson and Lissa Young are wrong for being “willing to kill” for the system, but if they work as managers in a capitalist firm, if they are social workers, or if they run for political office, they are somehow reprieved – even though all these activities are equally essential parts of the system which reproduces the need for military force. (My ‘bold’ claim here is, of course, that capitalism cannot survive without warfare. It is actually an easy claim to defend.) Says Enloe, “These women see younger women’s entry into the ranks of the state’s soldiery as a step toward all women gaining ‘first-class citizenship,’ They are willing to work inside the most militarized corridors of government to advance what they believe is women’s cause. They don’t see themselves as being militarized by the state; they are exercising women’s political agency.” Both are true. These women are being used by the system; and they are using the system. The contradiction that has to be identified here is not a question about whether the military is more appropriate to this ‘citizenship’ project than some other dimension of the imperial-patriarchal system. If it is, then the whole question becomes one of what is most seemly – an almost aesthetic issue – unless one clings to a dehistoricized narrative about the military. The real contradiction is far deeper, and it goes to the heart of liberalism as a Western political epistemology. I have intentionally bent the stick a long way here, perhaps even to the point of being a bit reductionist, and I don’t want to ignore the fact that (as Enole points out) the military is not a friendly place for women. So in fairness to Enloe, whom I admire, let me get to my point.


Essentials Once upon a time, the sexual division of labor in society created an (exclusively male) sexual division of labor for the military – and the concomitant requirement for keeping (male) people in a harsh and brutal line of work, so to speak – gave rise to a military ethos, one that is contingently275 given special emphasis and priority as states became ever more dependent on military prowess to survive... an ideology of militarism. The existing sexual polarization of the military, by default then, gives rise to military ‘virtues’ becoming male ‘virtues.’ This strikes me as a far more materialist direction of interpretation than the notions of inherent gender predispositions, popular among essentializing276 ‘progressives,’ that the military/militarism is an outgrowth of ‘masculine’ values, e.g., that wars wouldn't happen if women were in charge and other such nonsense. Enloe doesn’t explicitly go that far, but when I read her, I feel like she is flirting with this notion. She refers again and again to something called militarizing, divorcing it from the larger system in which the military plays its role. JROTC in high school has some special standing as nefarious,277 while student government and the Junior Chamber of Commerce don’t. But in the real world, the real system, what is the businessperson and the politician, the capitalist class and its political establishment, and what are their relationships to the military, its mission, and its practice? Who will grow up to determine how the JROTC graduate will be used, if not the class president and the chair of the Junior Chamber of Commerce? While it is true that militaries predate capitalism, just as patriarchy has, actually existing militaries are historically situated and contextualized, just as patriarchy is. The nation-state278 and its armed forces are part and parcel of the bourgeois epoch.279 The American military is historically unique, constructed specifically, and related to all other aspects of our epoch. It is evolving within that epoch through its various stages, with new geopolitical situations, new technologies, new organizations and doctrines, and new social relations with correspondingly evolving ideologies. Militarism as official ideology waxes and wanes based on the centrality at any given period of the military for the survival of the system. There is certainly a special idealization of the military that forms part of this ideological practice, but not simply because it is something attractive to males (reverse causation), but because without a mystique, a mystique that is certainly sexualized (but so are many other male roles in society), it is very difficult to get people to take up arms as a vocation. That sexualization of military practice, as well as many other practices, plays off the commodification of gentitalized heteronormativity280 should not be a surprise, especially in a society that has evolved the necessity of maintaining a professional volunteer armed force. In this period, American men and women are encouraged in every aspect of their lives to be desirable sex objects. Sex is used to sell automobiles; why wouldn’t it be used to sell a career in the military? Just as masculinities are ideas and practices with very distinct kinds of ideological force in material reality, so are femininities also ideas and practices that assert themselves in both obvious ways and in more subtle ways through epistemology. Just as a certain masculinity is associated with making sexual icons of firearms, so do some femininities take up a rather uncritical and generalized opposition to firearms, for example. In a larger sense, this shortfall of critical engagement on the topic of war can appear as a critique of an ill-defined generalization called militarism and conceal a deeper epistemological prejudice that grows out of a form of ‘feminism’ that is in fact an unexamined femininity – masculinity’s mirror in the same old gender
275 276

Contingent: Determined by specific but not inevitable circumstances.

Essentialism: The belief that people and/or phenomenon have properties that are essential to what they are. In a feminist context, the belief in a unique and unchanging masculine or feminine essence existing above and beyond cultural conditioning.
277 278

Nefarious: Extremely wicked.

Nation-state: A politically organized territory that recognizes no higher law, and whose population politically identifies with that entity.
279 280

Epoch: A period marked by distinctive character or reckoned from a fixed point or event.

Normal is defined as heterosexual, and sex itself has become focused more and more on the mechanical role of the genitals. This is strongly reflected in sex as a commodity.


binary. Girls aren’t supposed to like guns, and boys are, for example. This is ideological, and it is essentialist. Looking at the world more concretely, women have very good reason to fear guns (being the most common victims of all forms of social violence), and they have good reason to fear men as well. The mystique of guns, and their weird power to change people’s heads, could be a book by itself.


(Short Philosophical Digression) My book is messy. I have to jump back and forth sometimes, and the interweaving of ideas can be jarring, partly because I am not yet sure of my conclusions. But I need to preface the discussion of postmodernism, gender, and the state, by picking up some pieces from earlier chapters. I want to begin with biological determinism, and one of its alternatives, biological foundationism.281 The argument of biological foundationism is different from biological determinism. Biological foundationism, according to Linda Nicholson282, is a “coat-rack” theory. “Here the body is viewed as a type of rack upon which differing cultural artifacts, specifically those of personality and behavior, are thrown or superimposed” (pg. 41). Biological foundationism attempts to reconcile the obvious fact that we exist as a biological body with the equally obvious fact that our behavior is overwhelmingly a consequence of socialization. The problem with this approach is that it is still highly reified.283 Concrete context is withdrawn and replaced by abstraction and generalization. Human behavior is yanked out of social history, and that history is replaced with a Dawkinesque284 history of the genes… which is then qualified by an element of equally unspecific social constructionism.285 The implication is one of mutual autonomy286 – autonomy of the biological and autonomy of the social, with some simple and linear causal interactions, like billiard balls bouncing off one another and not changing the essential shape of each ball. It is the failure of this autonomy in real life that makes this analysis unconvincing. It also sets us up for other fallacies that begin with this unquestioned premise of autonomy. There is an argument that animals, even ‘higher’ mammals and primates exhibit certain sexual and-or apparently sexualized behaviors, implying an element of biological causation. Counterposed to this is the (social constructionist, but also Marxist) claim that human behavior is not determined by these kinds of predispositions. Counterposed to the constructionist argument is the claim that denial of the biological ‘element’ (like a billiard ball) is a reversion to biblical separatism between ‘human and beast.’ This is a non sequitur287. The rejection of biological determinism, and of biological foundationism, is not based on assumptions of divine intervention and religion’s species discontinuity. It is based on both the empirical evidence provided


The notion that biology is the foundation of our behavior, but that learning introduces an element of social determination.
282 283

Nicholson, Linda, Ed. Feminism/Postmodernism (Routledge, 1990).

Confusing abstractions with concrete realities; treating as subject as if it floats outside history’s evolutions. The left has maintained a lively controversy about this term, so I’ll clarify my use of it. The saying goes, “We treat the map as if it were the terrain.” By implication, it means we treat a phenomenon as if it had no history; consider a specific instance as if it were universal and timeless.

Richard Dawkins – A socio-biologist associated with biological determinism, author of the term, “selfish gene.”


“The basic contention of a social constructionist perspective is implicit in its title, namely, that reality is constructed socially (i.e., created in interaction) and that researchers must analyze the processes in which this occurs. The underlying assumptions of this approach are that people constitute, create, and produce themselves and their worlds through their conversational activity and that when people communicate, they are offering definitions of themselves and responding to definitions of other people. This perspective, of course, does not suggest that people do not exist separate from their conversational activity, but rather that the meaning and perceptions people have of themselves, others, and reality are communicatively created. Meanings and knowledge are co-constructed (constructed together) in interaction.” –Tasha J. Souza
286 287

Existing as it is, alone, with no outside influences.

(Latin). Literally, “it does not follow.” Given the conditions or situation set forth, a non sequitur is a fallacy, illogical inference or unwarranted conclusion.


by the social sciences that demonstrate, through diversity, the inextricably social character of conscious human behavior, and on the assumption that socialization is interfused with every conscious behavior past infancy. It is also based on the recognition that these behaviors are cognitive. Social construction and cognition are not mutually exclusive. They exist apart from one another only as an analytical category, not ontologically.288 Note, I do not say the ‘social content’ of behavior, because I believe this implies some quantity; our behavior is 80% social and 20% biological, for example. This is a decidedly non-dialectical understanding. So is the false dichotomy between the determinative influences of “social being” (from means of production through epistemology) and “consciousness.” These are interfused. The arguments of constructionists and foundationists (I am dismissing plain biological determinists out of hand… sue me.) inevitably lead us to the issues of both science and ‘essentialism.’ Since these are so central to every debate on gender and militarism, as we have seen, it seems appropriate to address the relation between science and essentialism here. A bit earlier, I accused Cynthia Enloe of “essentialism.” I said that she at least implied that (a generic) militarism grows out of some inhering essence of the male. I countered with my own hypothesis that a sexual division of labor that predated organized warfare created the social conditions for male exclusivity in organized militaries, and that military values growing our of military practice then came to be associated with certain masculinities. I went on to counter that even the concept of the military and its ideological appendage militarism should not be reified. There is a huge difference between, say, a Spartan military organization and the bureaucratic behemoth of today’s U.S. military, based on very real differences in the world system, and the politico-economic goals supported by these military formations. (Yeah, yeah, there are similarities, too.) Alas, however, I need to further complicate this argument by critiquing the whole notion of essentialism as it is currently used by academics… even though I just used it. ‘Essentialist’ has become an epithet, and as such implies the moral and-or intellectual superiority of the ‘anti-essentialist.’ The desire of many people to rebut essentialism is the desire to break down the rationale for oppression based on categories like ‘race’ and ‘gender.’ This is laudable. Marxists and radical feminists stand in opposition to dominant interpretations of race and gender as natural because they want to expose the systems of power embodied in race and gender. Post-modernists see their liberation as liberation from oppressive ideas, the liberation of individual identity, which struggles against oppressive social ‘narratives’ (racist ideas, sexist ideas) that attempt to curtail the individual’s ‘freedom.’ One obvious goal of both camps is to struggle against racial and sexual stereotypes that are used to justify oppression. The two strategies of rebuttal against ‘essentialism,’ according to philosophy professor Ron Mallon289, are “skeptical non-essentialism” and “constructionist non-essentialism.” These are extremely useful categories. Skeptical anti-essentialists will use the ‘scientific’ argument – induction – that there is no such thing as race, because as soon as you try to define it, there are exceptions. All people we consider to be Black do not have dark skin. Constructionist anti-essentialists will de-naturalize. Being Black is not a ‘natural’ phenomenon, but the result of being perceived in society as being Black. Both these approaches ignore the fact that in everyday life, we readily recognize Black people, even those who do not conform to every single characteristic that might be associated with black-ness. White people recognize Black people, and Black people recognize Black people. To my mind, neither of the arguments above (admittedly over-simplified) is particularly convincing to the average person who knows damn well when she sees a Black person. This also applies to gender. Even if there are transgendered people, men who are more fem, women who are more butch, etc., our initial registration about whom we see about whether that person is biologically male or female is overwhelmingly accurate. Pointing to exceptions to dismiss generalizations, or reducing the generalization to a ‘construction’ does not articulate with the day-to-day experience of most people, and not merely based on their prejudices, but often on a preponderance of evidence from their own experience.

Ontology: An explicit formal specification of how to represent the objects, concepts, and other entities that are assumed to exist in some area of interest and the relationships that hold among them.

Ron Mallon, PhD, “Is Non-Essentialism a Substantial Constraint on Theories of Human Categories?”, University of Utah, Department of Philosophy.


It is only the most reductionist view of science, billiard ball science, which supports the kind of absolutism that demands conformity by each individual instance of a phenomenon to a set of quantifiable criteria. Science does not consist only of the application of absolute laws of nature, and purely inductive generalizations. Generalizations for which there are exceptions can still have very strong predictive and explanatory power. Nature and society embody tendencies as well as iron laws. And, as Mallon points out, there can be “kinds” without “essences.” One does not have to deny the kind to refute the essence. The trouble with essentialism is this notion of ‘essence.’ But it is perfectly possible for someone to exhibit a set of real characteristics that mark that person as Black or female without implying any kind of “coreessence” whatsoever. There is such a thing as being African American, and it is more than a mere socially constructed narrative, and it exists even if it does not display some sharply inductive boundary. There is such a thing as being a woman. Essentialism implies that each woman, or each African American shares a set of individually necessary characteristics to qualify for ‘membership;’ that these characteristics are intrinsic; and that the actions of ‘members’ of a group can be explained by a set of shared properties that might not be directly unobservable. This is obviously false. Yet the anti-essentialisms, both skeptical and constructionist, do not do an effective job of rebutting this falsehood. One cannot attack the notion of Black-ness simply because all those who are considered and consider themselves Black do not have dark skin. No one uses one single individually necessary criterion to make such an assessment. My youngest daughter is very light-skinned, yet most people readily recognize her as Black based on both phenotypic and cultural characteristics, and on her context (Raleigh, NC). A ‘kind-group,’ such as Black or female, is characterized by a constellation of features, which are recognizable as a pattern in a context, without any individual necessarily having all those features – features that are morphological, geographic, and-or cultural. If my daughter lived in a Puerto Rican neighborhood, she would blend in quite well and be mistakenly thought to be Puerto Rican… the exception to a rule that would generally work. The problem is not the existence of kind-groups, from the point of view of a politics of liberation. It is breaking down false assertions that the kind-group is responsible for its own oppression based on an intrinsic defect or the idealization of a kind-group based on some mythical intrinsic property. Acknowledging that women and Blacks exist as women and Blacks is perfectly possible while at the same time rejecting racist and sexist essentialism. Moreover, how do Blacks and women and their allies fight for social remedies aimed at women and Blacks (I use these two categories not to exclude others, but as examples), or for self-determination, once we erase these categories? The liberal politics of anti-essentialist ‘equality’ has already led us into this swamp, and it’s where we met David Horowitz screaming reverse-discrimination. He does not claim Black people are genetically inferior. He says Blacks are culturally inferior. The other anti-essentialist strategy, of breaking with ‘nature’ and substituting the socially constructed narrative, is equally ineffective, and dangerous. The error of naturalization was covered earlier in the book at some length. That’s not the problem with the constructionist critique. The problem, with post-modernism generally, is its pig-headed rejection of the ‘metanarrative,’ that is, an analysis of the systems of power that contextualize oppression. Showing that racism cannot be justified, because race is not ‘natural,’ has proven ineffective. Horowitz and his ilk have rather effortlessly redefined their racism in cultural terms, and mooted the constructionist argument against naturalism. And by reducing everything to identity (which is plain philosophical consumerism), post-modernists have surrendered any possibility of coordinated, collective struggle against oppressive systems… because they deny the existence of those systems. In a real sense, the post-modernist constructionist critique of essentialism itself falls back on skeptical anti-essentialism, because its fallback position is based on pointing out exceptions to generalization as a way of ‘proving’ the generalization doesn’t exist. This sounds scientific, but it is bad science. Newtonian physics loses its explanatory power if we are trying to understand a quark, but it works perfectly well to make most machines, for example, and to intuitively predict the behavior of the objects in our everyday environment. Gender, race, and other categories are both explanatory and predictive a good deal of the time, just like Newtonian physics. These realities do, however, change over time and in relation to other changes, global and local.


If we want to avoid the pitfalls of racism and sexism, anti-essentialism is not the most effective strategy. Anti-reification is. Returning now solely to gender, post-modern identity politics has reproduced the worst elements of bourgeois patriarchal positivism:290 dualism (nature vs. culture), atomization (individualism), dogmatism, and the stand-down of a politics of collective resistance. “Identity” has replaced the notion of core-essence, not annihilated it. This is how we got stuck in the cul-de-sac of “sexual-orientation,” for example, where we define ourselves sexually by a reified attraction to a ‘type,’ (from ‘I’m a butt man’… to ‘I like fem-doms’) explained by turns as ‘genetic’ or ‘chosen’ (like a commodity). Sex as a system of power, then, disappears into subjectivity, as a defense of one’s individual right to have sex as one pleases (without reflecting on how one’s practice might reproduce systems of unequal power). Lost is the ability to describe and resist a social system based on the recursive291 interplay of gendered divisions of labor, colonization, compulsory heterosexuality, and male social and political power. Some Marxisms have adopted the anti-essentialist line as well, with the intent of liquidating all questions of gender back into “class.” But we can acknowledge the differences between “white middle-class” metropolitan women and colonial women without adopting either the “skeptical” or the “constructionist” antiessentialism, by keeping our analyses concrete and historical. With that interjection, we can move on.

290 291

Positivist: Someone who maintains that any statement that cannot be verified empirically is meaningless.

Recursion is a mathematical term, referring to a system that ‘calls itself,’ that is leads back into itself. I like it as a way of describing the cyclic interconnectivity of systems – like ecology and economy, for example.


Weapon-taboo In 1993, I was part of the fated adventure in Somalia called Task Force Ranger that was charged the mission of capturing the most powerful warlord in that shattered nation, Mohammed Farah Aidid. I was expelled over a conflict that had developed between myself and a captain who had been hit in the head one too many times playing college football, so I was not there for the tactical defeat at Bakara marketplace in South Mogadishu that was eventually made into the book and film, Blackhawk Down. I was, however, involved in a firefight one night that was also the first time I had been in combat alongside a woman combatant. ‘Sue’ (not her name) was part of the Central Intelligence Agency end of the mission. If the military part of the mission was ill-considered, the CIA part was positively stupid. White agents were circulating all over Mogadishu trying to gather intelligence, while standing out like maggots in the caviar. Sue was in and out of the tactical operations center, always with a couple of men. She was no more than 30 years old, so I inferred that she was a junior member of the team. If I had to guess, and I am told my ‘gaydar’ is generally accurate, I would say Sue was probably a closeted lesbian, and given the culture of the Agency, she may very well have been carrying on a relationship with a man as cover… but that’s just speculation based on experience elsewhere in the military. She had that I-want-to-be-considered-one-of-the-boys air about her, and the dull edges of unacknowledged humiliation that her institutional reality gave her… denial of the fact that she would never be fully accepted. She was probably an over-achiever in every technical and academic endeavor, and scrupulously silent about anything political. She was trying to make it in a Man’s world. I’d seen it before, and it’s the rack. She reminded me of some of the women I had known in the military, driven into the whole milieu by both a desire for self-actualization and even a notion of breaking new ground for other women. She was swimming now in a sea of political testosterone, Rangers, Delta Force, the CIA, all thrown together in an African airport, charged up with the energy of planning a colonial military adventure, and glancing at her sidearm dismissively… what are you going to do with that? I felt kind of sorry for her, so I always greeted her respectfully. Then, for reasons I’ll never know, but probably to identify potential captives, she was assigned to the same vehicle I was for a mission near the K-4 traffic circle not far from the airport, where we were about to conduct a raid. It was a night mission, and our vehicle was part of a strongpoint security position near a large stadium. To make a long story short, we were hit with machinegun fire that night at close range, and we responded to it with biblical force, killing as it turns out not only our small band of assailants, but a lot of civilians who were encamped in the stadium. As fortune would have it, Sue was directly to my right, armed now with an M-16 for this excursion outside the airport compound. Sue was within arms reach of me when the Somali machinegun engaged us. I was the first person on the strongpoint to return fire. The muzzle flash from the machinegun was directly across the street from me no more than 50 feet away. My primary magazine was loaded with tracer ammunition, bullets that contain phosphorous so they leave a light streak along their trajectory. These are used to mark targets so others who have not yet oriented on their target will know where to fire, and so the shooter can know where his or her rounds are going. When the rest of the strongpoint, three vehicles total with an impressive collection of firepower, began firing, Sue shouted a question at me through the din. Where was it, it being ‘the enemy. Straight in front of you, I told her, whereupon she shouldered he weapon and opened up on full automatic. Part of her burst strayed dangerously close to a detachment we had pushed out across the street, so I told her to switch to semi-automatic. She did, and continued to fire until the cease fire was called by the senior officer on the point, a lieutenant colonel. That was my one and only experience of combat with a woman. One a purely technical basis, she did very well. She did not freeze or become uncommunicative, which is the real acid test. And she fired her weapon, which is the most common manifestation of combat panic… the inability to fire. She followed instructions, which indicated she could still solve problems and behave with conscious intent. The real story I want to relate began when we got back to the aircraft hangar. Everyone cleaned weapons and equipment when we got back, we put a couple of slightly wounded soldiers in the field hospital there, and we went to bed.


The next day, as the story began to circulate that CIA Sue had participated in the firefight, there commenced a strange whispering uproar to demand that she be prohibited from every going on another combat mission. It was strange because no one seemed to question the rationale for this. She was not military, so it wasn’t a question of her working outside her occupational specialty, as if that mattered in a firefight. She had not been an endangering impediment, and in fact had performed remarkably well for her first encounter with armed combat, as well as the Rangers – one of whom had fired a stray .50 caliber round into the door of a Humvee that was around six feet off my right shoulder. But the murmured demand was not to allow it again. The young Rangers in particular were upset by it, partly perhaps because that meant that there was now a woman who had as much combat experience as they did, but there was something deeper and more visceral about the reaction – something akin to a primitive weapons taboo. They could no longer pass her by in the compound with an air of dismissive masculine prerogative that said, I am the Man here; I am the warrior. After the Somalia mission, after the debacle at Bakara where Task Force Ranger was defeated in a 10hour firefight by the Somali National Alliance and the whole mission was scrapped, the beaten and wounded Rangers returned to Ft. Benning. Through the military grapevine I heard about a party the Rangers organized, where two prostitutes were hired for the evening, and the wounded men – some still encumbered by medical casts and braces – took turns having public sex with them as they were cheered on by their mates. If we are to challenge US militarism and sexual oppression, we must develop our understanding of them, and the dialectical relations between them. The level of social complexity that structures warfare and sexuality makes it impossible to understand them in their totality. We are forced, then, to conduct multiple examinations of war and sex, and war and sex together, from multiple perspectives. Then we can infer as best we can what is between and behind those phenomena. Preconceptualizing them as some sexually-essential and ahistorical Siamese twin will not work. Sue performed well in combat… a combat that killed civilians in a place subjected to an imperial incursion. The reaction of the Rangers was both symbolic and physical, taken out eventually on the body of a prostitute. Sex and oppression are symbolic, but they are also body practice. All forms of colonization are body practice. The settler has only recourse to one thing: brute force, when he can command it; the native has only one choice, between servitude or supremacy. -Jean Paul Sartre292 The struggle of women against patriarchy is a struggle people for whom a physical female body entered “into the social process, becomes part of history (both personal and collective) and a possible object of politics.” (Connell, p. 56) If we are to understand the relations between sex and war, then we have to begin with real bodies in specific epochs. Sartre is not saying that there can be no reconciliation. He is saying that when someone is actually under attack, her immediate choices do not include reconciliation. He was talking about Algeria, and he was talking about Warsaw. Today, he would be talking about Fallujah.


From the Preface to The Wretched of the Earth, by Franz Fanon.


Rape-Redux “If the occurrence of rape were audible, its decibel level equal to its frequency, it would overpower our days and nights, interrupt our meals, our bedtime stories, howl behind our love-making, an insistent jackhammer of distress. We would demand an end to it. And if we failed to locate its source, we would condemn the whole structure. We would refuse to live under such conditions.” -Patricia Weaver Francisco “Telling: A Memoir of Rape and Recovery” The military in a liberal state293 “appears as first glance a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties.”294 Especially legal subtleties. This is particularly true when we begin to view the military through the lens of gender. One of the other unfortunate subtleties of liberal society is that people like ex-cops, ex-soldiers, and other figures of (male) authority, who have broken with their own pasts, can publicly ‘authorize’ certain viewpoints that are marginalized when those same viewpoints are expressed by the people who are most affected by them. Many of the issues I will touch on in talking about sexual aggression, and the military propensity to absorb, conceal, and sidetrack interrogations into its outrageous institutional misogyny, have already been raised by women who have been affected by this misogyny and by women who advocate for women generally. The long and difficult struggles of these women predates this book by many decades, continues as I write, and makes this critique possible. My conclusion – that there may be a better chance in the military of legally redressing rape than there is in the civilian sector – is not original, because it is only taking this prior work of others another step. I am standing on these women’s shoulders. Before I explore these subtleties, I want to review the process of public discovery that opened the military up to these kinds of interrogations, and a few basic statistics to establish a superficial context that is recognizable to most. Most of us who are over 35 remember the Tailhook Scandal. In September 1991, when I was – if I recall correctly – with 7th Special Forces training Honduran troops to conduct airmobile operations in the day. In the evenings, I pulled bad teeth in a pueblo called Ojo de Agua while I was drunk, in exchange for chicken dinners at Hondurans’ homes. During this time, there was also a party for Naval Aviators at the Las Vegas Hilton hotel that would eventually result in the early retirement of Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Frank B. Kelso II. Kelso had attended the 35th Annual Tailhook Symposium in Las Vegas – which was a traditional bacchanalia295 for this fraternity of Naval Aviators. He claimed under oath that he had not observed the activities that aimed a klieg light296 into the convention’s activities, but a dozen witnesses rebutted his claim. The activities, which might be described generally as a binge-drinking party, included the sexual harassment and assault of 26 women, which journalists hastened to point out included 14 female commissioned officers (as if the offense was less egregious when committed against mere enlisted women or civilians). Women were pushed into a gauntlet of drunken male aviators, the latter proceeding to push their hands up the women’s skirts, clutch their breasts, pinch their buttocks, and rip at their clothes. When Lieutenant Paula Coughlin filed formal charges and brought the bacchanalia into the light of day, additional women came forward, 83 in all, to describe similar experiences they had had when attending Tailhook Conventions in the past.

I’m using liberal here in the Jeffersonian sense, not as the common pejorative of the right-wing or the identity of those who seek to differentiate themselves from ‘conservatives’ without stepping out of bounds of the establishment as anticapitalists.
294 295 296

Cribbed from Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 3, on “the fetishism of commodities,” by Karl Marx. Drunken party. Klieg light: The carbon arc lamp emitting intense light that is commonly used in the production of films.


Even with their martial training and indoctrination, military women understandably believed two things: the military would stonewall them if they reported it, and their hard-won careers would go down the toilet. These considerations, the real danger of physical violence, and the peculiar madness associated with heavy drinking, account for the previous ‘failures’ of these women to fight back. To make a long story short, a press scandal ensued. The Navy did damage control, issuing written reprimands of various degrees of severity. Not a single charge was filed against the 117 perpetrators – partly, it must be pointed out, because trials of the junior officers would have quickly resulted in inquiries about the knowledge and acquiescence of senior officers throughout the Navy who had been aware of this annual party for years – in fact, many had themselves participated in their youths. The Navy made loud public noises of outrage and concern – much as the Department of Defense did when photographs exposed the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib. They were “shocked, shocked that there is gambling going on here.”297 Mandatory ‘sensitivity training’ was implemented, a typically superficial and clueless military response, wherein every service member was to be familiarized with the narrowly legal definitions of ‘sexual harassment’ and ‘sexual assault’ (they still avoid the R-word). After a ‘decent interval,’ counter-attacks began on ‘political correctness’298 and the damage this “gutter reporting” had done to “good order and discipline” (the military loves these high-flown and slippery phrases, but exempts binge drinking from the list of dangers to the same). Of course to the thorny ‘problems’ associated with putting women in the military were resuscitated, too. Paula Coughlin was subjected to a steady and plausibly-deniable299 psychological battering in the Navy until she herself resigned her commission in 1996. Last year, when the Abu Ghraib crisis came data-streaming out of our boob tubes, we were treated to the now-memorized tiny handful of photos – photos showing a woman gloating over dead bodies and a woman holding male prisoners on a leash. In June, 2004, Zillah Eisenstein would describe these women as “gender decoys.”300 Everyone knows the name of the sketchy Ms. Lyndie England these days, and they have all but forgotten the name of her lumpen-Svengali, Charles Graner, who was a twisted civilian prison guard with a history of abuse before he took up the uniform to become part of the ironically named Operation Iraqi Freedom301 and Lyndie England’s lover. According to the Red Cross, there are hundreds and hundreds of photos that the Department of Defense is withholding from the public now, hoping against hope that no one obliges them to expose these photos – ever – that show the treatment of women Iraqi prisoners, by men. These photos include rape. The stories that are behind these photos have been widely supported and substantiated by independent investigators. In the famed Taguba Report302 from the Army, rape was not called rape. It was referred to as guards “having sex with” female detainees – implying that there was some element of consent. Stories also emerged from Abu Ghraib of gang rape committed against female detainees. Most of the women detainees were not themselves suspected of anything that would justify having rounded them up, but were imprisoned as potential ‘bargaining chips’ to get at relatives whose names were on the now questionable lists of the US forces.303 (This hostage297

Reference to a famous line from the film Casablanca, in which a corrupt police chief expresses his mock outrage about Rick’s Place, a speakeasy in which he himself drinks and gambles.

The whole ‘politically correct’ thing was started by right-wingers who wanted to marginalize their opponents by showing how ‘not with it’ and ‘uptight’ they were. It’s another form of right-wing intimidation. It is frequently deployed against anyone who dares critique the pornography industry, too.

These are the sneak attacks where non-verbal communication and other signs are used to go after someone, but which can be ‘plausibly’ denied for lack of witnesses or intentional ambiguity designed to throw doubt on any future description of events.
300 301 302 303 A report filed on the prison abuse by Army Major General Antonio M. Taguba.


taking, by the way, meets the legal definition of terrorism, and is a violation of the Law of Land Warfare and the Geneva Conventions. Masculinist depravity, as a political discourse, can be adopted by males and/or females. It is all the more despicable that the Bush administration used the language of women's rights to justify the bombs in the Afghan war against Taliban practices towards women; and then again against the horrific torture and rape chambers under Saddam Hussein. And it should be no surprise that Bush's women – Laura, Mary Matilin, and Karen Hughes – who regularly bad-mouth feminism of any sort were responsible for articulating this imperial women's rights justification for war. Imperial(ist) feminism obfuscates the use of gender decoys: women are both victims and perpetrators; constrained and yet free; neither exactly commander or decoy. What if rape and `sexual humiliation' are understood not as aberrations in war but as simply `a form of war by other means'? There is then a different context for seeing the disorder and chaos in Iraq that leaves many women barricaded in their homes fearing rape and capture if they venture onto the streets. It also puts a different lens on the recent charges of sexual assault and rape by dozens of U.S. servicewomen in the Persian Gulf area against their fellow soldiers. -Zillah Eisenstein304 There was another story that had only received a whiff of coverage. By June of 2004, 112 cases of sexual assault and rape had been reported within CENTCOM by female US troops identifying fellow male soldiers and officers as the perpetrators. The Miles Foundation says that number climbs to 243 if you include Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Bahrain. This is only the latest. Since Tailhook, there are 17 major sexual assault scandals which have leaked beyond the Department of Defense containment apparatus, including the now infamous case of the Air Force Academy’s rape culture, in which 68% of the female cadets polled had prior experience with various forms of sexual aggression and hostility. This is in addition to the 2002 stories of military spousal murders in Fort Bragg. Captain Jennifer Machmer, a West Point graduate was raped in Kuwait in 2003 by a senior NCO. “I reported the rape within 30 minutes,” she explained in to a silent Congressional committee, “then watched my career implode.” This demonstrates how profoundly gender trumps even the rigid structure of rank in the military. Had the same NCO in any way assaulted a male officer, he would have been imprisoned. Her assailant, however, was promoted and transferred to Kentucky to finish his career. The military had employed a narrow definition of rape under military law to exonerate the assailant.305 The assailant, a master sergeant named Riddle, only “digitally” penetrated then Lieutenant Machner. The same circumstances in civilian law could have resulted in a rape conviction. The military then uses the oblique method for shedding those who are not ‘team players’ – the evaluation report. These are notoriously subjective instruments in the hands of every commander with which the withdrawal of a single point below the maximum – after an initial Officer Evaluation Report – will result almost certainly in being ‘passed over’ for promotion in a cannibalistic up-or-out officer personnel management system (OPMS). In the Army, there are thousands of lieutenants, fewer captains, still fewer majors, etc., until one gets to the generals (where there is a bit of an expansion against the trend, but that is a bureaucratic story for another book). The system can be pictured as a pyramid, constantly filled from the bottom, but obliged to push more and more people out as they ascend. This is the meaning of “up-or-out.”
304 305

Eisenstein, op cit.

“Civilian laws changed during the 1970's to recognize a broader range of conduct encompassing sexual assault including acquaintance, date and marital rape. The military case law resulting from the court-martials associated with Aberdeen Proving Ground expanded the definition of rape within the military to include acquaintance rape and abuse of power. Statutory changes have not followed.” Testimony before Congress by Christine Hanson, Executive Director, Miles Foundation.


How can we determine the incidence of sexual assault in the military? We have statistics, which I will present further down; but we also have good reason to mistrust them. This hostile and centralized institutional power, the macho military culture, the inability of service members (in this case, mostly female) to leave the military at will, makes under-reporting of sexual aggression statistics for the military even more likely than the under-reporting of civilian sector statistics. Moreover, military sexual aggression victims are not entitled under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to confidentiality, which further inhibits women (and some men) from reporting sexual aggression – be it harassment, assault, or rape. Prior to a 1999 executive order to the contrary from the Clinton White House, under Military Rules of Evidence 501(d), military victims could not invoke doctor-patient privilege (called the Jaffee privilege in civilian law) with regard to communications with their own psychiatrists and psychologists.306 Since then, even with the executive order, the military has not fully implemented the reversal of this policy.307 In January of this year (2005), Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness David Chu announced that confidentiality would be extended to medical providers and post-trauma counselors, though implementation is waiting on a green light from the Office of General Counsel. These changes were in direct reaction to the outcry raised – though feebly echoed by the press – about sexual assaults and rapes in Iraq and Kuwait. This does not necessarily signal real change. The following examples of inaction and stonewalling were presented to Congress in 2003: Talia was sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier while deployed in the Persian Gulf. She was, belatedly, flown back from her unit for medical leave and long term counseling to cope with rape trauma. The rape evidence kit was turned over to local police for DNA analysis due to a backlog of six months or more. She has been unable to obtain information relative to the status of the investigation due to transfers and reassignments of military criminal investigators. Kelsey was sexually assaulted by an escort while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. She has received no immediate or subsequent medical treatment for an injury occurring during the assault. She has not received testing for STDs, HIV and/or pregnancy. She will engage testing facilities and counseling with civilian authorities in the near future. Augie was sexually assaulted by a colleague while being transported between units. She was driven to a secluded place. She was threatened with charges of adultery and fraternization upon reporting the assault. Lisa was sexually assaulted by a male soldier following his viewing of pornography with fellow service members. She received medical attention from medics at a combat support hospital. She has not received counseling for the trauma. She has been denied access to attorneys until her return from theater.308 This kind of inaction and stonewalling might easily be attributed, by more legalistically disingenuous309 types, to individual offenders in the chain of command. The Department of Defense, however, contracted with retired Lieutenant Colonel Charles P. McDowell in the 1980s to develop a “rape allegation checklist,” that he then proceeded to distribute the list to selected officers throughout the military for almost a decade – with training on how to use it. The purpose of this checklist – which many women’s advocates now refer to as the “permission to rape” checklist – was to reduce the number of successful prosecutions of rape in the military.310
306 307 308 309

Manual for Courts-Marital (Rule 513) Flippen, Major Stacey E., “Military Rule of Evidence 513”, The Military Lawyer, September, 2003. Hanson, op cit.

Disingenuous: Giving the false appearance of being straightforward in order to intentionally deceive. In the military, there is an old slang phrase for this – someone is pissing on your leg and telling you that it is raining.

Checklist is available at


“Training on the checklist was generally highly guarded and restricted only to specific audiences,” explains the PTSD Alliance. “For example, only certified police officers or District Attorneys were allowed to register at one training which was co-sponsored by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Even psychologists, psychotherapists, victim advocates and rape crisis counselors were not authorized nor allowed to be in attendance at this training.”311 McDowell himself had expressed his belief that most allegations of rape were false before he contracted himself out to the DoD. He began his classes with the completely unsupportable claim that 60% of all reported rape claims are false, and said that when rape did occur it was really “courtship behavior gone awry.” He divided rape claimants (not perpetrators!) into three categories: “N, S, and I personality-types,” meaning, narcissists, sociopaths, and immature, impulsive, or inadequate. The FBI’s own data has long shown that false claims of rape constitute no more than two percent of total claims.312 This makes the claim by the military of having reduced the incidence of sexual aggression by half since the 1950s very questionable. The goal seems to be to reduce the number of claims without doing much to change the culture that promotes sexual aggression, while marginalizing and even punishing the women who report it. Danielle… …was stationed with her Fort Lewis, Wash., unit at Camp Udairi, about 15 miles from the Iraqi border, for training before deployment to Iraq. She had just finished guard duty at 2:30 a.m. and was stepping into the latrine on the edge of camp when she was hit on the back of her head and knocked unconscious, she said. She recalled waking to a man raping her: He had tied her hands with cord, stuffed her underwear into her mouth and wrapped cord around her head, as well. He used a knife to slice off her clothes, cutting her in the process. She was blindfolded. When she began to fight, he threatened to cut open her crotch. He then hit her with an object between the eyes, again knocking her unconscious. When she awoke, the man, who remains unidentified, had left. Danielle said she ran, naked, bleeding and gagging, into camp. A fellow soldier cut the cords binding her hands and mouth and put his coat around her before waking her commanders. She was driven to an aid station, where a rape examination was performed. She received no other treatment for the injuries to her head, back and knees, she says. After the exam, a commander drove her to another camp, where she was allowed to stay. She was interviewed for about three hours, she said. For the first few days, Danielle said, a fellow woman soldier from her old camp remained with her. Then the woman had to leave to resume training, and Danielle was left alone. Requests to see the chaplain were denied, and she was not given counseling for sexual trauma. An investigator scheduled a polygraph exam for her but never followed through. "I was hysterical," she recalled. "There I am, all bruised up and beaten, and somebody in my chain of command wanted me to take a test." After several more days in isolation, she overdosed on anxiety medication and was hospitalized. Involvement of family and lawmakers enabled her to return to the United States. Within days of her return, she said, her commanders at Fort Lewis told her to get back to work, even though she still suffered from migraines, blurred vision and pain from back and leg injuries from the assault. Smith, her civilian advocate, intervened, and Danielle was granted leave.313

311 312 313,1674,36~6439~1913069,00.html


Department of Defense estimates, gleaned from their own surveys, suggest that 3-6% of women in the military experience sexual harassment, assault, or rape. But surveys conducted outside the military of women veterans show that almost a third of the women in the military are victims of attempted or completed rape during their service, and of that number 37% are raped by multiple perpetrators, either serially or in groups (gang rape). Three quarters of these women said that they did not report these assaults, most believing (with some justification) that nothing will be done about it and that they will be retaliated against. That casts serious doubt on the DoD stats, when one-quarter of 33% is 8%, not 3-6%. This is Westmoreland math.314 Having pointed at the military statistics of sexual aggression, let’s examine the more general statistics in American society. One in four women in our society is sexually assaulted before her eighteenth birthday. One in four women who attend a four-year college is assaulted before she finishes college. The FBI estimates that for every reported sexual assault there are approximately nine that go unreported. One in four Black women is raped after the age of 18. One in five white women is raped after the age of 18. The majority of sexual assaulters are known to the victim. The National Victim Center says that an average of 1,871 women are raped in the US each day.315 Before we say that military men sexually assault women, we have to concede that men sexually assault women. According to most criminology studies, the average attacker at arrest is 31 years old. The average age of those who rape teenaged women is 22.6 years old.316 It is not surprising that women in the military, then, are assaulted at a slightly higher rate than women in civilian life. The average age of the military – which is now composed of approximately 85% males – is 26 years old. The majority of those troops are junior enlisted, and their average age is 19, which is also the average age of the junior enlisted female – who by her subordinate official position in the military hierarchy, her immersion in a vast male-majority, her female socialization, and her relative inexperience in the world generally, is intuited by sexual predators as victimizable. In the first and second phases of the Gulf War, however, women troops report having been assaulted at a rate ten times higher than their civilian counterparts.


General William Westmoreland, the tactical architect of the invasion of Vietnam, once presented statistics to President Johnson’s staff that showed his force had already killed over 100% of the enemy.
315 316


Law Christine Hansen, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, cited Madeline Morris of the Duke Law Journal: The norms currently prevalent within military organizations include a configuration of norms regarding masculinity, sexuality and women that have been found to be conducive to rape, including elements of hypermasculinity, adversarial sexual beliefs, promiscuity, rape myth acceptance, hostility toward women and possibility the acceptance of violence against women. Morris suggested that military cohesion is associated with a culture of hypermasculinity including the objectification and denigration of women through the consumption of pornography and pervasive use of sexist language. Bonding tends to occur around stereotypic masculine characteristics, such as dominance, aggressiveness, risk taking, and attitudes that favor sexual violence toward women and that reflect distrust, anger, alienation and resentment toward women. Morris concluded that norms reflecting hypermasculinity among servicemembers are imparted during the informal acculturation process encompassing the consumption of alcohol, pornography, bragging about sexual activity and attending strip shows. 317 War magnifies preconceptions of masculinity – a masculinity in which sexuality and aggression are synonyms – as it erases the boundaries that prohibit physical violence against human beings. War is carried out by an institution (the military) that has a proven track record of protecting perpetrators to the extent possible and attempting to silence victims, an institution dominated by men in sheer numbers and in control over the formal command structures. Out of almost 900 general officers in the US armed forces, only 34 are women. That is less than 4%. The percentage of women leading Fortune 500 companies, on the other hand, while still low, is around 16%. Of the 100 members of the US Senate, the most powerful political boys club in the world, 13 are women. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is a Congressionally-generated code of criminal law applicable to all members of the United States armed services, adopted in 1951. The U.S. Constitution itself gives Constitutional exceptions to the military that are embodied in this military law. Those under UCMJ jurisdiction are not entitled to hearings before a grand jury, for example. And many violations subject to imprisonment under the UCMJ do not exist in the civilian world, like leaving your job without permission, lying to your boss, or saying certain things about your job or your employer in public. The UCMJ also has some very elastic violations that would not withstand the kind of scrutiny a good civilian lawyer would challenge in a non-military courtroom – like “conduct unbecoming an officer,” actions “prejudicial to good order and discipline,” and conduct that “brings discredit upon the armed forces.” That last one was actually created during World War I to prosecute service members for unpaid debts (class war from above), but is now applied more generally, albeit selectively (like against gay soldiers). These elastic clauses give military commanders an immensely powerful tool for control over subordinates, because these offenses can be pretty much applied to any human being who is not a candidate for canonization if one’s life is placed under close enough scrutiny. The UCMJ also has crimes of omission, of failure to act, like “Article 92: ‘Failure to act’ is punishable as a dereliction of duty. The elements of that offense are: (a) That the accused had certain duties; (b) That the accused knew or reasonably should have known of the duties; and (c) That the accused was (willfully) (through neglect or culpable inefficiency) derelict in the performance of those duties.” This, of course, is what was used in the very limited prosecution of Tailhook, but it is also emblematic of the potential power the military has as an institution to redress problems if the command emphasis exists and is backed by institutional will. This is one reason that public pressure can, in some instances, be brought to bear with particular force in the military – as it has been with above average success in the ‘racial’ integration of the armed services. The military system has the power of law to issue directives, and not merely

Morris, Madeline. (1996). “By force of arms: Rape, war and military culture.” Duke Law Journal, 45, 651-781.


prohibitions. This is a very important distinction. Military law protects the military as a polity, and not simply ‘contractual’ relations between individuals. Article 134 of the UCMJ specifies, among other things, for sexual assault “(1) That the accused assaulted a certain person not the spouse of the accused in a certain manner; (2) That the acts were done with the intent to gratify the lust or sexual desires of the accused; and (3) That, under the circumstances, the conduct of the accused was to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the Armed Forces or was of a nature to bring discredit upon the Armed Forces.” (italics mine) Note that under military law, there is no such thing as spousal rape (or abuse, for that matter), and that the violation of sexual assault is not a violation against the individual woman (or on some instances, man), but a violation against “good order and discipline,” that is, the military as an institution. It brings “discredit.” The U.S. armed forces further specify that rape is not rape unless direct force is employed against the victim – implying that the failure to fight back, even if the victim fears that fighting back would result in serious bodily harm or even death, can nullify the charge of rape. In January 2005, alterations to the UCMJ standardized definitions across all services. That definition now includes ‘lack of consent’ in addition to force to define sexual ‘assault.’ This criterion applies to rape specifically. But proving rape still requires the element of force (undefined). No mention has been made of extending sexual assault or rape protection to spouses in the DoD communiqués. The changes will include the right to bypass commanders to report (avoiding collateral charges that are often leveled against the victims of rape and sexual assault, related to drinking, adultery, etc.). Still, this ability to initially bypass vindictive commanders does not preclude the military leveling these countercharges once the rape or assault case is formally filed. Military law, for now, at least until the OGC implements the 2005 changes, still takes no account of mitigating318 factors from the victim’s standpoint – that is, the validity of consent when a woman is passed out from liquor, for example, or the inhering coercion in a confrontation with a member of one’s chain of command. Direct force is the standard until new rules are put into effect, and may still be the standard for the potential (in the military) capital charge of rape. The fact that rape, as defined by the military – someone “who commits an act of sexual intercourse with a female not his wife, by force and without consent” (note that male-male rape and spousal rape are nonexistent in the military) – is punishable by death if so deemed by the court martial authority,319 adds to the reluctance to prosecute aggressively, not always out of squeamishness about capital punishment on the part of red-meat military prosecutors, but because capital cases typically involve a long, and very public, appeals process that is often unwelcome in the armed forces precisely because of the publicity. Making rape a capital charge in the military might seem a good thing for those who are passionate on the issue, if they believe in capital punishment (I don’t, but that conviction is sorely tried at times), but the practical result is that it creates conditions where the crime is unlikely to be prosecuted at all. Women (and occasionally men) who are victims of rape on military installations by other military members do not have recourse to civilian courts until they have completely exhausted every remedy within the military. This can take years, especially when the military drags its feet. But the differences between military law and civilian law in the U.S. are more than which has the most archaic definition of rape. Military law internalizes societal norms, whether legal, social, or both, and codifies them in a way designed to ensure either the efficacy of the institution or bureaucratic self-protection. These norms are still reflections of social standards in the society-at-large, now incorporated into the body of one institution of the state. Legislatures, that is, law-making bodies, are also state institutions, and they in turn operate within the parameters laid down by a Constitution. In order to reveal the paradoxical content of military law and the military as a social institution, it is necessary to contrast it with the liberal state as a whole, and with the concept of ‘law’ in a liberal state. It is, therefore, necessary now to turn to the question of how law operates in a liberal state. The contrast between the military definition of rape, which is basically held over from a definition that was general in the 1950s before it came under challenge from women, and the commonly used definition of rape in civilian law serves to put the issue of rape and how it is perceived on a historical continuum.320
318 319 320

Special circumstances that would make the offense less serious. “Reform Military Code on Rape.” Denver Post, April 27, 2003. Continuum: A series of points or degrees along a single geometrical line.


Since rape is a state-level (as in Montana or Alabama-state) offense in civil law, we can not include every state’s rape laws as examples, and they do vary somewhat, including that a few states still do not classify forced sex between male and male to be rape. But for our purposes here, I will use our most populous state, California, whose laws are a good approximation of most rape law in the US. California defines rape as “an act of sexual intercourse carried out: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. "against a person's will by means of force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on the person or another." where the victim is unable to resist because of an intoxicating, narcotic, or anesthetic substance that the accused has responsibility for administering. where the victim is unconscious of the nature of the act and the perpetrator knows it. where the victim believes, due to the perpetrator's intentional deceptive acts, that the perpetrator is her spouse. where the perpetrator threatens to retaliate against the victim or any other person, and there is a reasonable possibility the perpetrator will execute the threat -- "threatens to retaliate" means threatens to kidnap, imprison, inflict extreme pain, serious bodily injury, or death. where the victim is incapable of giving consent, and the perpetrator reasonably should know this. where the perpetrator threatens to use public authority to imprison, arrest, or deport the victim or another, and the victim reasonably believes the perpetrator is a public official.”

This definition of rape is certainly more comprehensive than the archaic military one, but there are still some pretty big loopholes for offenders. First of all, if the assailant tries to have forcible intercourse, but fails to achieve “penetration,” the crime is no longer rape, but assault or attempted rape, a lesser crime regardless of intent. Yet the same intent that is ignored if penetration is disproved to reduce the severity of the charge becomes the most salient issue for the defense in a rape trial, because even if penetration occurred, and force or coercion were present, the defendant can force the prosecution to prove that he intended to rape and understood that “consent” was absent. All definitions seem to work for the defendant and against the plaintiff. William Kennedy Smith beat a rape charge when his lawyer convinced the jury that while the victim was forced to have sex, Smith “misread” the “signals” and “reasonably” believed she had “consented.” I know that there are a lot of scare-quotes there. That is because each of these categories is contestable in court – but only to the advantage of the defendant.321 Prosecutors do not bring charges against defendants they believe will beat them; but there are many legal nuances involved in a charge of rape. Regardless of guilt or innocence, the reality is that probability of conviction or exoneration corresponds most significantly to the quality (and price) of the defendant’s legal representation. Statistics show that being white and-or rich is a highly significant statistical advantage in court when rape charges are leveled… rich being the greatest advantage.322 This is where the subtleties come in, so I ask the reader’s attention and indulgence. Studying this was difficult for me, because I am accustomed to thinking of the law in the terms with which we are most familiar. But ideology is a structured set of beliefs as well as a way of knowing that renders anything inimical323 to it invisible, including the existence of ideology itself – which disguises itself as common sense – and I have been habituated to seeing things in the ways determined by the unquestioned assumptions of the dominant ideology. My children have told me again and again, for example, that my failure to grasp fashion (which I enjoy ridiculing, which in turn annoys the hell out of them) was a failure to grasp sense. My own working

321 322 323 Highsmith, Gary. “Black Skin, White Justice,” Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, January 10, 1996. Unfriendly.


assumption for this book is that the reader is no more or less affected than I have been by the dominant ideology. I will use some of the philosophical insights into liberal-state law gleaned from reading two legal scholars – Dr. Catharine A. MacKinnon, law professor at the University of Michigan Law School, and Dr. Patricia Williams, law professor at the University of Wisconsin. I commend the work of both these activists and law professors to anyone interested in a deep critique of liberal law. They begin with the question of the state itself. What is it? What is its nature? How do we characterize it? Those who have spent much time in the laurel thickets of state-theory are far more qualified than me to sort out the intricacies of Locke, Marx, Weber, Dahl, Miliband, Poulantzas, Gramsci, and the rest (all men!). This can be an important if arcane debate, but what is more germane here is the U.S. state in its particularity and how it relates to women. The best measure of what that state is, in its particularity, is to be found in what it does. The reason I cite the two aforementioned women at length is that they have both – unlike male state-theorists – examined the state from the standpoint of women, and both have addressed the issue of rape extensively in their work (which not surprisingly makes them lightning rods). The liberal state is an institution of power, but it is not the sole source of power. It can send police to your door to arrest you if you violate the law, and these police are legally entitled to use all necessary force, up to and including killing you, to ensure your compliance. It can send the armed forces to Iraq to occupy it, or order the bombing of an aspirin factory in Sudan, or sign allegedly-binding treaties with other states. It makes the laws that we are then bound to follow (or face the aforementioned force), and even has courts to interpret the laws – because as we have seen these laws can never anticipate the complexity of real life nor the kinds of social pressures that emerge during the constant evolution of society – and this interpretive process in the courts is designed to ensure the stability of the state. This judicial motivation is an important point. But there are obviously many other systems of power operating in society that are not state power. The power a boss exercises over an employee, the power a parent exercises over a child, the power (social and economic) that many men exercise over many women. (I already anticipate the argument that women actually exercise power over men, but that is adaptive, defensive, and negotiated power that is not borne out by or reflected in any empirical indices of actual social, economic, or political power.) The question of what the state is, and does, cannot be answered without assessing how the liberal state relates to these other forms of power. When I refer to the state, I mean the organization that exercises political power within the nationstate, a geographically-defined political territory. The state is constituted by a government (not the same as a state, but the transient personnel who run a state) that consists mainly of members of the dominant class(es), an administrative staff, generally organized as a bureaucracy, armed bodies designed to enforce laws and control populations internally and respond to ‘external threats’ and-or militarily pursue its extra-territorial interests. The state has the power to make and interpret laws, force its citizens and residents to comply with those laws, and the power to collect taxes in order to reproduce itself as an organization. A political regime, as I will use term further along, is not used as a reference to a specific government – like the ‘Bush regime,’ or ‘the Saudi regime.’ Here it refers to the definition of regime as a set of agreedupon principles, norms, rules and decision-making procedures, which govern the actions of the state. When I refer to the ‘liberal state,’ that is a reference to a particular regime in this sense. When Peter Gowan described globalization, in the same way, he specified it as a Dollar-Wall Street Regime.324 It is a reference not to the actors, but to the norms. The norms. Government is a constituent part of the state, specifically the clique who is currently running the state. The Bush government is now in control of the US state. Governments – even exceptionally reckless and incompetent ones – can change without disrupting the essential organizational stability of the state. That brings us to ‘civil society.’ ‘Civil society’ must be differentiated from both the ‘civilian sector,’ and society at large. “Civil society encompasses all social relations that are outside the state but that

A concept detailed in Gowan’s very worthwhile book, The Global Gamble: Washington’s Faustian Bid for World Doiminance, (Verso, 1999).


influence it… Civil society is not to be confused with the people. The people can be considered as all citizens having [abstractly –SG] equal rights; civil society is citizens organized and weighted according to the power of the groups and organizations they are part of. The state formally exerts its power over civil society and over the people. Actually civil society is the real source of power for the state, as it establishes the limits and conditions for the exercise of state power.”325 For the purposes of this book, when I say ‘civilian sector,’ this means any collection of adults in the United States not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. MacKinnon writes that “Gender is a social system that divides power.”326 This is absolutely basic to understanding the law, rape, and how the military as an institution responds to rape. I cannot spend the time in this book necessary to rebut notions of this sexual division of power being part of ‘nature,’ and I cannot trump the idea held by some that it is God’s will, because I cannot threaten the eternal salvation of those who disagree with me. My premise is that social constructions of sexuality – of masculinity and femininity – appear as ‘sense,’ (the same way fashion appears as common sense to my children) but that they are profoundly interfused with systems of material power. Gender is a social system of power division that has the notion of difference at its core. Here is the subtlety. In many societies, the state still puts this gender difference at the center of its legal edifice, but in ours, where the struggle by women for legal equality has gone on for some time, this question of difference has been challenged – not with absolute success, but with some significant changes – by the notion of equality in the abstract for all people, including women, who are assumed by the liberal state in many cases, to be the same as men… in fact, an abstract person, genderless in the eyes of the law. There are several problems with this. The law in other respects is anything but genderless. Moreover, when it is ‘genderless,’ the law of the abstractly equal person does not recognize a pre-existing history of material social inequality. The old Anatole France quote that puts this idea in bold class relief is, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich as well as poor from sleeping under bridges, begging in the streets, and stealing bread.” So we are left, regarding gender, with legal abstract equality that refuses to see this historicallyevolved social inequality it overlays, and which existed prior to the operation of the law. Not chronologically prior, but prior to the triggers that bring the law to bear. Most of the rules of behavior imposed on members of society are determined before and even without state intervention. Women in the U.S. were regarded as chattel327 in the 19th Century, prevented from full control over themselves and their property by marriage coverture328 well into the 20th Century, denied the right to vote until after World War I, didn’t achieve legal control over their own reproductive capacity until the 1960s (this is now under attack again), and tried for ten years to get a simple equality amendment for women into the Constitution, finally failing ratification in 1982. On average, women still make only three quarters of what men do in the US. (These numbers become dramatically more stratified when race is introduced into the calculations.) My point is, without running out ten pages of statistics that consistently demonstrate inequality of social power between men and women329, the social reality of perceived difference and material inequality is reflected inaccurately by the liberal state’s legal assumption (in selective instances) of abstract sameness and
325 326 327 328

“State, Civil Society and Democratic Legitimacy,” Lua Nova – Revista de Cultura y Politica, #36, 1995. MacKinnon, Catharine, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, Harvard University Press, 1989 (pp.160). Live property.

Couverture: This was a legal doctrine that specified the husband’s prerogative to handle the wife’s property and to speak on her behalf in any public affair without her corresponding right to contradict him.

Check for statistics.


equality. As in all forms of Jeffersonian liberalism, including libertarianism, it is intentionally ahistorical.330 History embarrasses abstraction; therefore history embarrasses power. This is, in fact, a characteristic of the American liberal state since its inception. The U.S. Constitution is written in such a way that it reflected existing conditions as natural, and largely described the systems of power in which the state was prohibited to intervene. Male power was assumed. White power was assumed. Propertied power was assumed. Every incursion against those power systems by the state itself was propelled not from within the state, but from without, by social movements. MacKinnon calls this the neutral, or ‘negative’ state. “Unlike the ways in which men systematically enslave, violate, dehumanize, and exterminate other men [as in Southwest Asia now, for example –SG], men’s forms of dominance over women have been accomplished socially as well as economically prior to the operation of law, without express state acts, often in intimate contexts, as everyday life.”331 (italics mine) Since state power is erected upon pre-existing (prior to the law) social power, just as we can call the U.S. liberal state a capitalist state, we can call it male. (We can also call it white nationalist, about which I will write more, further down.) The ‘neutral’ state professes neutrality, objectivity. It claims to be a neutral arbiter of abstract equality, and thus sidesteps the issue of concrete inequality – assuming inequality out of existence and assuming itself out of any prerogative to intervene and change that inequality. The negative state is the liberal state that says what the state shall not do – no laws shall be made abridging this freedom or that freedom – which can then only meaningfully apply to those who already have the material means to exercise these freedoms meaningfully. The liberal state’s legal episteme332 is neutral in its reflection of actual inequality, reflecting that concrete inequality back into society and renaming it abstract equality. This, of course, requires that we are all complicit in maintaining this fiction, which we generally do. Its fictional quality has been rendered invisible by ideology. If the liberal state is prohibited from intervention in affairs declared private (the basis for tacit state support for domestic abuse until well into the 20th Century – “a man’s home is his castle,” etc.), and if the private, or civil sphere is the sphere in which male power is most directly exercised, then the state simply forecloses a political solution to that system of unequal power, and therein supports it. This is the contradiction in the liberal state and the liberal conception of law that allows white men to sue for ‘reverse discrimination,’ and that equates corporate campaign spending during elections with ‘free speech.’ Actually existing power inequality is accepted by the state as a background, as part of nature, into which it cannot, and will not, interfere.

330 331 332

Unconcerned with history. Ibid., pp. 161. Knowledge from first principles.


Summing Since the resulting relation between society and the law is one of non-intervention in the status quo, and given the U.S. state’s reliance on precedent, that is, the status quo as codified in prior decisions, the end result is the unequal social system that is gender (and therefore a ‘political’333 system, according to McKinnon) is written out of the liberal state, and relegated to “intimate concerns.” In this way, sexual inequality is “assumed out of legal existence” by the liberal state, leaving pre-existing gendered power largely unfazed. Paradoxically, the liberal state “cannot address [women’s] situation in any but an equal society – the one in which it is needed least.” (p. 165) Black attorney and social critic Patricia Williams tells a story in The Alchemy of Race and Rights334 (pp. 85-89) about her experience in law school; how law students are trained to assume inequality out of existence with a parade of hypothetical situations that “set themselves up as instructional mirrors of real life.” The majority of these ‘situations’ indulge grotesque stereotypes about women, gays, and people of color that are designed to provoke students to a sense of protest against these stereotypes for the express purpose of calling righteous outrage to the surface and then suppressing it. In these hypotheticals, Williams showed how law students are directed to ignore as legally irrelevant white racism, histories of domestic battering, and homophobic violence. In one example, a brutally battered wife strikes her husband, and law students are supposed to defend the husband by excluding the ‘irrelevant’ issue of ‘provocation.’ These situations are not anomalous or infrequent forays into the subtleties of law, but a consistent, frequent, and relentless effort on the part of law schools – with the student under the grading gun – to force students to “indulge the imaginative flowering of their most insidious rationalizations… [requiring them] to suppress any sense of social conscience.” The purpose of this seemingly gratuitous and often voyeuristic (Williams’ term) exercise in ignoring existing inequality is to habituate the future purveyors of the law to the ‘negative’ conservatism of the liberal state. Closer to home, three years ago I became involved in a case of racial harassment at North Carolina State University. A white student became upset at a rather sharp critique she was hearing of white supremacy in the classroom from a Black student. She lost her temper in the class, stood up, and shouted at Najja (the Black student’s name) to “go back to Africa.” Najja reacted emotionally and stood up to say that he was born in North Carolina, and who was she… etc. The teacher then focused instantly on Najja (as threatening) and commanded Najja to sit down and not “make trouble.” Najja then became doubly offended and stalked out of the room, filing a complaint based on a student code that forbids “creating a climate of racial hostility.” He also returned to the next class period with eight Black friends, who stood outside the classroom silently in protest against how the instructor had reacted and the fact that no action was taken by the administration against the white student. This was eight too many Black bodies in one place for the teacher – a nascent335 ‘gang’ – and the teacher then called security. A student organizing initiative raised the issue to a fever pitch and embarrassed the administration mightily, which in turn ignited a firestorm of hateful anti-Black venom, including racist caricatures of Najja on the student web. The administration ultimately determined that they could not punish the white student because it would be a violation of her “right to free speech.” Welcome to the new, ‘modern’ North Carolina. It is precisely this failure to grasp the fundamentally oppressive nature of the ‘negative’ liberal state – the very form of the state promoted by libertarians – that leads many progressives to idealize the Bill of Rights. They have tacitly accepted the libertarian (classic liberal) fallacy of pre-existing social equality that pretends there is some measure of abstract equality into which it declines intervention. The ideological construct is one of liberty, or laissez faire (to leave to do), that emphasizes what the state will not do, but that ignores the historical status quo. It is in this way the liberal state, i.e., the U.S. state, uses de jure relations to “stabilize de facto relations.” It says, in effect, that’s none of our business, even as it preserves to itself a monopoly on the direct coercive force that alone has the ultimate capacity to shift the balance of social power. Not surprisingly, the very armed bodies that constitute this coercive force – military and police – are predominantly men, and the more exclusively coercive jobs within those bodies – that is, SWAT teams and
333 334 335

‘Political’ here means any public contest over power. Harvard University Press, 1991. Nascent: Newly emerging.


combat arms, as opposed to basic patrolmen, administrators, supply clerks, etc. – the more it is constituted as exclusively male (and white!). Engels said, “The public force exists in every state… armed men… material appendages, prisons and repressive institutions of all kinds.” Lenin called them “special bodies of armed men, standing above society and becoming separated from it.” (Italics mine) This is actually the juridical case for the United States military. The military not only has its own exclusive form of codified law, the imperial military exempts itself from the laws of ‘host’ nations with status of forces agreements (SOFA). And the military even enjoys a special exemption from the contradictory mandates for juridical gender equality embodied in U.S. law. The contradiction of juridical gender equality is explained by Counselor McKinnon again. In the United States, it is acknowledged that the state is capitalist; it is not acknowledged that it is male. The law of sex equality, constitutional by interpretation and statutory by joke, erupts through this fissure, exposing the sex inequality that the state purports to guarantee. If gender hierarchy and sexuality are reciprocally constituting -gender hierarchy providing the eroticism of sexuality and sexuality providing an enforcement mechanism for male dominance over women -- a male state would predictably not make acts of sexual dominance actionable as gender equality. Equality would be kept as far away from sexuality as possible. In fact, sexual force is not conventionally recognized to raise issues of sex inequality, either against those who commit the acts or against the state that condones them. Sexuality is regulated largely by criminal law, occasionally by tort law, neither on grounds of equality. Reproductive control, similarly, has been adjudicated primarily as an issue of privacy. It is as if a vacuum boundary demarcates sexual issues on the one hand from the law of equality on the other. Law, structurally, adopts the male point of view: sexuality concerns nature not social arbitrariness, inter personal relations not social distributions of power, the sex difference not sex discrimination. "Sex discrimination law, with mainstream moral theory , sees equality and gender as issues of sameness and difference. According to this approach, which has dominated politics, law, and social perception, equality is an equivalence not a distinction, and gender is a distinction not an equivalence. ….. Socially, one tells a woman from a man by their difference from each other, but a woman is legally recognized to be discriminated against on the basis of sex only when she can first be said to be the same as a man. McKinnon shows that within this contradictory construct, relegating the toughest issues relating to sexuality to an extra-legal realm of social practice that the struggle was taken up for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). In a sense, the ERA called the question of the liberal state around this very contradiction. One of the key factors in the abandonment of the ERA, aside from the panic about sexually integrated public toilets, was the question of women in the military. The weapons taboo raised its head and defeated even a universal application of ‘negative’ law to women. Hortense J. Spillers, English professor at Cornell University, in her essay “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe,” makes a very important point in connection to the law and the military, in describing the language of the slave codes. “Slaves shall be reputed and considered real estate,” said Spillers, herself italicizing. “I emphasize ‘reputed’ and ‘considered’ as predicate adjectives that invite attention because they denote a contrivance, not an intransitive ‘is’…. These laws stand for the kind of social formulation that armed forces will help excise from a living context in the campaigns of the civil war.” (italics in the original) By force of arms do these ‘social formulations’ (laws) stand, and by force of arms they are undone. Law is contrivance. Property is contrivance. Gender is contrivance. The force of arms is real, and it makes the rest real, ands by force of ideology, these are felt and acted upon as real. (Gender, it must be said, is also enforced by the ‘laying on of hands,’ as it were, and other body parts, as Marshall did.) Spillers, in the same essay, challenges liberal and radical (white) feminism with the variant contradiction of Black women’s experience of patriarchy as experience first and most compellingly of white patriarchy, beginning with the theft of the Black body in slavery, evolving in the nexus between kinship and property including the white male rape of Black women, and under discursive and material assault by the


Moynihans of the white world that attempt to shift the culpability for white crimes back onto the bodies of Black women. The Dred Scott decision in 1857 contradicts the decision on Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Yet both were issued by the same continuously-existing institution, the Supreme Court of the Untied States. In each case, the court reflected existing conditions (precedents), and together they represent shifting social realities, and the court’s role in ensuring continuity of bourgeois and male power within the state. The court explicitly reflects existing conditions, then naturalizes them. Civilian law in the United States is interpreted by precedent… in effect, by the status quo. And the interpretive motivation for the judiciary is not some intransitive truth, but stability of the state. The paradox for women has been that feminists “caught between giving more power to the state in each attempt to claim it for women [have left] unchecked power in the society to men,” (MacKinnon, p.161) because the liberal state resists intervention into ‘prior to operation of the law’ social power structures, like gender, and reflects those same structures, pretending now that this is an exercise of juridical ‘objectivity,’ in precedent. Just as in other cases of power struggle, the shift created outside the law by social movements has preceded (the root word of precedent) the juridical reflection of these changes in law. Abounding in metaphysical subtleties! “Those who have freedoms like equality, liberty, privacy, and speech socially and economically keep them legally, free of government intrusion. No one who does not already have them socially or economically is granted them legally.” In fact, a demand for them legally will generate a reaction that the disempowered group is seeing ‘special rights,’ the claim deployed against gay rights advocates. Philosophically, this posture is expressed in the repeated constitutional invocation of the superiority of “negative” freedom – staying out, letting be – over positive legal affirmations. Negative liberty gives one the right to be “left to do what [he] is able to do or be, without interference from other persons.” The state that pursues this value promotes freedom when it does not intervene in the status quo… For women, this has meant that civil society, the domain in which women are distinctively subordinated and deprived of power, has been placed beyond the reach of legal guarantees. Women are oppressed socially, prior to the law, without express state acts, often in intimate contexts. The negative state cannot address their situation in any but an equal society – the one in which it is needed least.336 “That’s some catch, that Catch-22.”


Ibid., pp. 164.


Consent On February 28, 2004, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti had U.S. Marines enter his home. His American embassy-approved personal security detail (They were from an American company.) stepped aside. The person in command of the Marines presented Aristide with a letter of resignation and the information that paramilitaries intent on killing him and his family were en route. He was informed that if he signed the letter of resignation, he and his family would be flown to safety. If he refused, he and his family would be left to the tender mercies of the paramilitaries, and his security detail would be commanded by the U.S. Embassy, at whose pleasure they served, to step aside. He signed the resignation, and Colin Powell said the next day that his signature was voluntary.337 Aristide had “consented” to leave. In the strictly philosophically technical sense, as when the existentialists state that human beings always have a choice, because they can always commit suicide, Aristide consented. Consent is not a cut-and-dried affair, as the contractual idiocy of liberal law would have it. The fiction that because individuals can make choices, everything they do absent a gun to their heads is ‘free’ is just that. A fiction. But it is a fiction by virtue of what it doesn’t say, by what it abstracts. Because the individual walking autonomously through the world making pristine choices each day is an abstraction… the ‘rational actor’ fallacy. This individual has no complications from life with a family of origin, or the absence of one. He has (because the abstract individual is always male) no addictions or compulsions that he can not control or understand. He is not motivated by irrational fear, guilt, unfocused anger. He has no history, no attachments, no complications in his life. He has never been manipulated, or indoctrinated, or mugged. He doesn’t have obligations and responsibilities to children that limit his choices or force him to take degrading or underpaid work. He is never subjected to a situation that is in any way morally ambiguous in which he has to choose a course of action anyway. He has no post-traumatic stress or any mental/emotional difficulties on account of it. He has access to all pertinent information, and never behaves in ways that are unintelligible to himself. He is not the inheritor of a history of national oppression. In fact, the contractual-human has no childhood. And he doesn’t exist. Neither does she. Consent is real, but consent is not clear-cut or decontextual. It exists on a continuum, on multiple continua. The liberal state assumes consent because it assumes abstract people. But because the state is neutral and negative (and therefore male), as explained earlier, and therefore reflects the status quo, the state assumes that women generally consent to sex with men. My next point is not that women do not consent to sex. Let me say that again for emphasis. My next point is not that women do not consent to sex. Women have a real degree of agency, including sexual agency, but it is not absolute. De Clarke – paraphrasing Andrea Dworkin in one our email conversations – said “heterosex is never innocent. It always encodes power.” That’s why heterosexuality is so ideologically encumbered with the constructions and deeply emotional internalizations of ‘love’ and ‘affection.’ These conventions exist to conceal gendered power through its idealization. Women’s ‘consent’ to sex is never unequivocal. It can never be unequivocal in a society where gender is a system of unequal power. But the law of the liberal state assumes consent, as a constantly renewed, ahistorical, yes-or-no category. And the burden of proof in cases of rape is on the victim to prove that there was no element of consent on her part – at the same time obliged to prove that even if consent was absent, the perpetrator ‘understood’ that consent was absent. In court, the male perpetrator faces off against the female victim as an abstract equal in the eyes of the court, which cannot acknowledge the social inequality of men and women even as it reflects it in all its assumptions and precedents. Remember, the liberal state is a capitalist state. Its responsibility is to facilitate commerce through regulation. The basis of regulation is the contract, which is based directly on the ‘rational actor’ fallacy and the notion of consent. It should not be surprising that the liberal state ‘regulates’ sex as if it were a business transaction. In society, male and female are defined as different. In court, they are counted the same (with some exceptions, the military being a big one – and one that contributed to the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment), with the key criterion for judgment being ‘consent’ between abstract equals.


Goff, Stan, “The Haitian Intifada,” From The Wilderness,


Consent, as an absolute category, is problematic in the real world, because it is always conditioned not just by power and powerlessness but even by the way desire itself is socially constructed (as power and aggression, and conversely as ‘love’ and ‘affection’). Life’s complexity does not allow for such thing as absolute consent, yet in the courtroom of the liberal state, not only is absolute abstract consent assumed, it is defined only in the context of an instant, and has to be proven as a negative – prove that you did not consent. Left behind in that courtroom are the pink frilly baby clothes, the early socialization for dependency and weakness, the premium placed on looks instead of performance, the cruel gender policing of a full childhood and adolescence, the changed attitudes of parents and peers at puberty, the constant inundation of gender propaganda that portrays men as sexual aggressors (and eroticizes this) and women as sexual whoremadonnas (also eroticized), the economic dependency of women and the pressure to seek out a male mate for security, the inhering competition between women that leads to the self-hatred of women, the sexual assaults and harassment of childhood, adolescence, or adulthood, the constant fear of rape that informs every decision about where and when to go, the teachers that ignored you to call on boys four times more often (even women teachers) until you quit trying, the cruel woman-jokes, the inequality of treatment by parents between brothers and sisters, all of it… left behind. In the courtroom, this is all irrelevant. The liberal state’s sole recognition of history is how many times and with whom she has had sex, and then only to create doubt about her failure to ‘consent.’ That doubt is provided by what my friend calls “taint,” showing that the woman making the accusation is ‘damaged goods.’ That’s not a legal construct. It’s a construct that is prior to the law, carried into the courtroom in the jurors’ heads. Moreover, you, the woman who has been raped, must now overcome all that and the psychological trauma associated with the rape, face your feared attacker as a legally abstract equal, and prove a negative… prove that you did not consent, and that even if you did not ‘consent,’ that your attacker ‘understood’ you had not consented and ‘intended’ to attack you anyway. Rape is a tough thing to prove in a civilian court. In a military court – as the military now operates – with an even more restrictive definition of rape and a culture that has demonstrated its hostility to the accusation of rape, and the institutional tendency to protect itself from scandal, and the more autocratic control exercised by the executive leadership over the judiciary, and the probability of institutional retaliation, it is even tougher.


Intersection Kimberle Crenshaw, Professor of Law at UCLA and Colombia, returns us to the contradictions of sameness and difference… with a twist. In her thesis on “intersectionality,” she discusses how Black women can suffer discrimination as Black women, not as simply Black, and not as simply women, but as Blackwomen, and the liberal state refuses to recognize this “intersection.” In the same way the liberal state disaggregates actual women from the actual experience of women as a group and reduces them to abstract individuals to raise the bar of proof in court, the categories of actually existing discrimination are broken apart and isolated in American courts by denying this “intersection.” In citing Degraffenreid v. General Motors, a case where GM had clearly discriminated against Black women, the district court forced the plaintiff to show separately how GM discriminated against (1) women and (2) Blacks. To admit Black women as a category, the court argued, would open “a Pandora’s box.” The reality of intersecting oppression, then, that is lived each day by most Black women, which differs from that suffered by Black men or by white women, was intentionally not recognized by the court, not because it didn’t exist, but because it could be a de jure recognition of a de facto practice that might destabilize a state institution – open Pandora’s box.338 (Of course, the scary box belonged to a woman who disobeyed orders.) Again, what is reflected in this court’s procedural decision is an unacknowledged reality that exists prior to the law, but also in this case as part of legal precedent. Past discrimination suits regarding gender have as their unacknowledged premise that ‘women’ means white women, and that ‘Black’ means privileged Black male. These are the actual categories of people who have successfully sued against discrimination, not least because these people had access to legal and financial resources, but more importantly because in all other respects there was atypical ‘equality’ existing prior to the lawsuits. This situation has been created by a juridical equivalent of the ‘neutral’ or ‘negative’ state embodied in law – what Crenshaw refers to as the “but-for” rule. Here’s how “but-for” works, according to Kimberle Crenshaw: Consider first the definition of discrimination that seems to be operative in antidiscrimination law: Discrimination which is wrongful proceeds from the identification of a specific class or category; either a discriminator intentionally identifies this category, or a process is adopted which somehow disadvantages all members of this category. According to the dominant view, a discriminator treats all people within a race or sex category similarly. Any significant experiential or statistical variation within this group suggests either that the group is not being discriminated against or that conflicting interests exist which defeat any attempts to bring a common claim. Consequently, one generally cannot combine these categories. Race and sex, moreover, become significant only when they operate to explicitly disadvantage the victims; because the privileging of whiteness or maleness is implicit, it is generally not perceived at all… Because the scope of antidiscrimination law is so limited, sex and race discrimination have come to be defined in terms of the experiences of those who are privileged but for their racial or sexual characteristics. Put differently, the paradigm of sex discrimination tends to be based on the experiences of white women; the model of race discrimination tends to be based the experiences of the most privileged Blacks. Notions of what constitutes race and sex discrimination are, as a result, narrowly tailored to embrace only a small set of circumstances…(emphasis in the original)339 Even in the liberal state’s acknowledgment of social difference (accomplished under intense pressure from previous social movements), there is still the attempt to take material social difference and transform it into juridical abstract sameness. Note also the requirement to prove, as in rape law, the offender’s intent. The perception is that this burden of proof is designed to protect the innocent and establish a modicum of due

Crenshaw, Kimberle, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”, The University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989 (pp. 139 – 167).



process – which in itself might seem a laudable goal – but the hidden characteristic of this form of law is that there is no recognition of power prior to the operation of the law, of social systems of inequality, and the question of state intervention to redress a social problem is corralled inside the question of individual culpability, even when overwhelming empirical evidence points to a real system of unequal power, ergo, an undemocratic social reality. Before I explain why the original problem of rape in the U.S. military might be subject to redress more easily than the complex systemic problem in the liberal state at large, I want to refer to another dimension of this problem cited in Crenshaw’s essay, that I have intentionally (no puns intended) held back to make a point. White feminist critics of the liberal state have in some ways failed to interrogate the social reality behind their own unintended abstractions. Just as the “but-for” system in antidiscrimination law assumes the abstract female to be white, the rape critique of white feminists fails to take into account the standpoint of Black women. I cannot possibly say this better than Crenshaw, so I will allow this excerpt to speak for itself: A central political issue on the feminist agenda has been the pervasive problem of rape. Part of the intellectual and political effort to mobilize around this issue has involved the development of a historical critique of the role that law has played in establishing the bounds of normative sexuality and in regulating female sexual behavior. Early carnal knowledge statutes and rape laws are understood within this discourse to illustrate that the objective of rape statutes traditionally has not been to protect women from coercive intimacy but to protect and maintain a property-like interest in female chastity. Although feminists quite rightly criticize these objectives, to characterize rape law as reflecting male control over female sexuality is for Black women an oversimplified account and an ultimately inadequate account. Rape statutes generally do not reflect male control over female sexuality, but white male regulation of white female sexuality. Historically, there has been absolutely no institutional effort to regulate Black female chastity. Courts in some states have gone so far as to instruct juries that, unlike white women, Black women were not presumed to be chaste. Also, while it was true that the attempt to regulate the sexuality of white women placed unchaste women outside the law’s protection, racism restored a fallen white woman’s chastity where the alleged assailant was a Black man. No such restoration was available to Black women. The singular focus on rape as a manifestation of male power over female sexuality tends to eclipse the use of rape as a weapon of racial terror. When Black women were raped by white males, they were being raped not as women generally, but as Black women specifically: their femaleness made them sexually vulnerable to racist domination, while their Blackness effectively denied them any protection. This white male power was reinforced by a judicial system in which the successful conviction of a white man for raping a Black woman was virtually unthinkable… The lynching of Black males, the institutional practice that was legitimized by the regulation of white women’s sexuality, has historically and contemporaneously occupied the Black agenda on sexuality and violence. Consequently, Black women are caught between a Black community that, perhaps understandably, views with suspicion attempts to litigate questions of sexual violence, and a feminist community that reinforces those suspicions by focusing on white female sexuality.340 (emphasis in the original)




White-male-state The U.S. state is capitalist, in that it reflects the power of a capitalist class in control of in civil society, and recruits its governments from that class. The U.S. state is male, in that the liberal state naturalizes male power existing prior to the operation of the law. And in the same way, the U.S. state is white-nationalist. There is a White Nation, and its name is the United States of America. As I use the term ‘nationalist’ here, this is not the same as nation-state or country, a geographically defined political entity. A nation, employing the term as the root of ‘national-ism,’ is more akin to what we usually think of as ethnicity. It relates to a “stable community” of people who share a common language, culture, and history, and a distinct relation to other “nations.” It is important to note that culture encompasses these categories, and holds within it two forms of powerful ideological glue, religion and mythology. In fact, what we often refer to as history is, in fact, a cultural (and often official) mythology. White nationalism – in the current context – is the phenomenon described by people like David Roediger, in his book The Wages of Whiteness341, to describe the simultaneous historical formation of U.S. society – as it is ideologically perceived and represented – and the development of “white” as a racial-national (and working class!) identity. Just as the ‘naturalization’ of existing social power prior to liberal-state law, this is a phenomenon that is indirectly perceived, because – like background music in a film – we take it for granted, even as it powerfully directs our emotional responses. The norms we assume for American society are in fact historically developed norms associated with ‘white’ culture. White identity has proven flexible over time, and as people have been more thoroughly assimilated into ‘white’ social norms, they have been granted access to white-national identity – examples being the Irish, Italians, and Jews, now even ‘white’ Latin Americans… none of whom were considered white until they ‘earned’ assimilation into this category. My use of the term white nationalism is not synonymous with the explicit white nationalism of organizations and associations of self-identified white supremacists. It is far more general. The issue of rape, as it relates to the state, and as it relates more specifically to the military, is bound up in class, bound up in gender, and bound up in race – all of which exist outside the military and are only reflections within the military of that larger social context. The idea, then, that rape and all its social permutations are somehow reflective of the military as an exception is demonstrably false. And while military demographics and culture certainly magnify rape’s precursors, and the military system likely contributes to massive under-reporting of sexual aggression including rape, a social phenomenon must already exist to be magnified. Rape does not inhere especially in military activity or institutions. It inheres in patriarchy, a generalized social system, and therefore in all activities and institutions. What differentiates the military is how it legally treats sameness and difference. The mystery of a mirror is not that it reflects left as right and right as left. A mirror reflects the image of the front in the direction of the back. This can serve as a kind of conceptual analog342 for how the military and civilian sectors treat gender. The United States Armed Forces explicitly treats women and men differently. It codified that difference in law until the repeal of female combat exclusion in 1991. (It remains in policy.) The civilian legal system attempts to conceal difference by positing an abstract equality. In 1948, Congress specifically prohibited women by law (Title 10, Section 3012 of the United States Code) from serving in any “combat role” in the armed forces, but did not apply this “combat exclusion” to the Army. The Army had a separate Women’s Army Corps (WAC) at the time, within which there were no combat positions, and the application of combat exclusion was seen as unnecessary. When the Army fully integrated women and men into The Army in 1978, rather than go to the trouble of amending the law to extend combat exclusion to the Army, they simply implemented a policy stating, “Women are authorized to serve in any officer or enlisted specialty except those specified at any organizational level, and in any unit of the Army except Infantry, Armor, and Cannon Field Artillery.”343 George H. W. Bush’s signed into law the National

Roediger, David, The Wages of Whiteness – Race and the Making of the American Working Class, Verso Press, 1991/1999.

Mental comparison.


Defense Authorization Act repealing the combat exclusion laws which prohibited women from flying combat aircraft and serving on combat ships, and combat exclusion is now almost exclusively a matter of policy, not law.344 Policy can be changed by a command, and requires no legislative process to accomplish. Military commanders have wide latitude to implement policy so long as it does not fly in the face of regulations or directives from the Pentagon and Joint Chiefs. Given the actual numbers of personnel in these fields in the Army and the Army’s system of promotion, the Combat Exclusion Policy effectively closed off the majority of positions in the Army to women, and denied female NCOs and officers access to the most rapidly advancing career tracks. Since 1978, bit-by-bit, women have fought their way into more and more jobs in the Army and the other services, to include combat aviation positions, though they are still frozen out of the majority of actual positions by policy, explicitly because they are biologically female. The Army, when it began needing women to maintain its numbers overall, initially failed to attract enough women. A variety of physical standards that most female high school graduates – for obvious reasons of socialization – had difficulty meeting, were ‘weeding out’ women, so the military simply established different standards for women and men. Again, the military officially recognized ‘difference,’ though it was a difference (1) in standards that many military people, including this writer, find to be of questionable value (In my combat roles, I never was required to run two miles for time, do sit-ups, or do push-ups, for example.), and (2) the standards seem designed to highlight average physical differences between men and women, rather than relate to the specific tasks required to do certain jobs in the military. It is notable that in the Special Operations male bastions, the ‘standards’ established (like Delta selection) emphasized tasks that often emphasized upper body strength. The most insecure male military leaders brass have constructed retrenchment positions against relevance arguments with regard to these standards, like cohesion, discipline, etc., but studies done on malefemale units have shown that mixing the sexes has zero impact on ‘cohesion and discipline,’ at least as far as can be measured by martial think-tanks like the Rand Corporation. The same studies show, in fact, that observable performance of male and females is generally the same, too. The real forward-facing-backward value of the double-gender-performance-standards in the military is that it remains the single most commonly cited source of friction for male soldiers serving alongside women and competing for the same positions, and so creates and perpetuates but chronic male resentment in specialties that are open to both sexes. This resentment is in evidence in almost any discussion by military enlisted men about the subject of women in the military. “She can get promoted by meeting a different standard than me.” Which is technically true – not because of the women, but because of the institution’s arbitrarily separate standards. The differing standards designed to put more women into positions actually reinforces patriarchal resentment of women. The difference between the military and civilian sectors on the question of gender, and specifically on the question of rape, is not what these sectors do do, but what they can do, and which is more permeable to the impacts of activism and mass movements. The United States armed services take the self-same masculinity-defined-as-sexual-aggression that the liberal state reflects (but can not openly acknowledge without blowing its cover as ‘objective’) and actually, formally, institutionalizes it. It polishes that masculinity up and smoothes over its ugliest parts – in much the same way film and other ideological media do – but the military is actually defined by its potential for and willingness to employ violent aggression. In a typically bureaucratic turn-of-phrase, we taught cadets at West Point that they were training to become “managers of violence.” Violence can be aggression, and it can also be unavoidable self-defense against aggression, or display to ward off aggression. Ascribing some kind of equivalence to all ‘violence’ merely confuses every issue in which violence is a factor. Violence is not intrinsically anything, except whichever definition you choose for it – there are eight different definitions available from a simple Google search. If we say shooting someone is an example of violence, we cannot infer much beyond that it was a ‘violent’ act, a shooting, until we ascertain the specific circumstances of the shooting. Military violence in the U.S. is always dressed up as a morality tale, with an assumed male protector defending the virtuously feminized defenseless against the unvirtuously feminized Dark Other. It is important that we not accept any of the premises of this morality tale. The military’s justification for combat exclusion has been that women (1) have a limited aptitude for violence that calls into question whether they will function effectively in combat (there is a ton of evidence that flatly contradicts this), (2) that women will react fearfully to violence and therefore not have the self-discipline


for combat. The same evidence rebuts this, with the additional point that men – even after training – still experience intense fear in combat, and many in current conflicts have hidden, fled, or otherwise reacted in perfectly understandable ways when faced with combat violence. This is often overlooked or covered up. (3) The military claims that the average woman does not possess the physical strength to perform combat functions – another baseless claim that has been disproved. There is some heavy lifting involved in every job, but nothing that any reasonably fit, grown woman can not do. (4) The inclusion of women with men in combat will cause the men to jeopardize themselves as they revert to their inherently chivalrous ways to protect the wee females (when they are not raping them). The same people who tell us this, also say that soldiers don’t fight for abstractions, but for their buddies, and various creeds in the military proclaim that no comrade will ever be abandoned on the battlefield. If the buddy is a woman, then apparently the woman, by virtue of being a woman, is somehow culpable for the soldier’s dereliction in doing what he has been told he is supposed to do for male comrades. (5) Women who are captured on the battlefield… will be raped (by the Dark Enemy, not a soldier or officer in her same unit). The latter is considered a self-evident argument. Yet, as I have shown above, the military itself goes to a great deal of trouble to suppress and conceal rape charges, at the expense of rape victims who are themselves military members. So the military is caught in its own paradox. They conduct combat training with a heavy emphasis on male-identified aggression, as any honest veteran can tell you – constantly exhorting one to “be a man,” “sound off like you got a pair,” and describing the most physically courageous males as having “big, brass balls.” At the same time, in the face of social pressure developed by women since the feminist struggles of the 60s and 70s, and faced with the constant necessity to legitimize itself to a controversy-allergic Congress, they have to tie themselves in patently ridiculous knots to represent military masculinity as simultaneously sexual (the province of biological males) but not sexist (as most military people understand the word, in purely liberal, individualistic terms).


Sectors The reality for the military comes to the surface under combat pressure. In some of the most graphic and disturbing (for me, especially, as a combat veteran) stories and images coming out of Iraq are the uncensored accounts of GIs interacting with Iraqi detainees. There is a boiling-point anger visible among the GIs, one they often have to conjure up to do their jobs, and when they address their detainees, there is one epithet that is far and away more common than all the others. Bitch! Anyone who doesn’t think this is indicative of how sex and aggression are merged in masculinities, and reflected in military practice, needs to go watch the last Denzel Washington male-revenge fantasy, Man on Fire, where one of the defining moments of his righteous male revenge-energy was when he symbolically raped his captive by placing explosives up his captive’s ass. This feminization of the victim – in this case a wicked foreigner who could reflect the War on Terror to the U.S. public – invited the audience to participate by exulting at the (climactic?) explosion. And, of course, we remember the sexual ‘humiliations’ of Abu Ghraib, which were in fact sexually assaultive, pornographic feminizations. The prisoners were made to pose like ‘bitches’ (exactly as many women are directed to do in pornography). Masculinity constructed as sexualized-violence and violent-sexuality is not some alpha-male genetic defect; it is not natural. It is an historically evolved reflection of a division of social power. The military – an organization within the state – simply took this construction into itself, and made itself in masculinity’s image. The state and the military are institutions that are articulated and fused with other institutions and social entities. The military is inside the state as one of its fundamental constituent parts. And specific histories of development give unique characteristics to each and every state. The US state is a liberal regime, and it is capitalist, male, and white nationalist. Its capitalist character, I contend, is the most, but not exclusively non-negotiable aspect of its character, based on the forces of civil society that wield the most power to “establish the limits and conditions of state power.” We can look at churches, and universities, and NGOs, etc., etc., but the most powerful non-state actors influencing the U.S. state are capitalist enterprises – defined here as organizations constituted to invest money for the primary purpose of gaining a return-plus on their investments – for the accumulation of capital. For an in-depth discussion of “the poles of capital,” productive and speculative, and how that balance of power is shaping the world, I recommend Gowan’s The Globalization Gamble – The Dollar Wall Street Regime.345 For this discussion, it will suffice to point out – if there is any doubt of my assertion – that a review of the campaign finance records of any state or federal election will bear me out. Capitalism is a highly complex international social system – its international politico-economic dimension is one I call ‘imperialist’ for shorthand – that is, it requires the (core) domination by economic and military means of other (peripheral) countries and subordinate sectors as the basis of its continued ability to accumulate capital – class war across frontiers. (On the left, imperialism has long been called “the highest stage of capitalism,” which is fine, but fails to account for the many changes in form and practice that it has taken – which leads one to ask what is the highest, or last, stage of imperialism?) Economically, capitalism is now necessarily encumbered with regulations and bureaucracy by the state to stabilize and protect the advantages of the dominant classes. Capitalism has always been regulated by, and in fact was built up directly in its initial phases by, the state. The state is the only body with the monopoly on legal force required to enforce property relations, to print currency, to make the laws, protect the dominant class from insurrections, strikes, etc., that make the system function in its economic dimension. It also uses its military to loot peripheries. The pure ‘capitalism’ espoused by capitalist-utopians such as the late Ayn Rand and Reason Magazine has never existed and can never exist. It is the reductio ad absurdum utopian fantasy of a Jeffersonian liberal concept that is ahistorical, having never been actualized anywhere or at any time in history, and abstract application of the principles of which would allow, for example, any citizen to own a nuclear weapon so long as s/he didn’t actually use it. Actual capitalism was built up on war, plunder, state-sanctioned piracy, the slave trade, and the expropriation of millions of square miles of land from various peoples – often accompanied by campaigns of genocide. It was also directly built up on previously existing gender-relations, which it adapted to the demands of capital accumulation. It has been developed and maintained using similar methods, and its juridical consolidation has only been possible by the liberal-state mechanism of false neutrality and feigned ignorance


of power inequalities that exist prior to law, just as we discussed above. This system includes the continued legitimation of claims to ‘property’ that was taken through conquest and extermination. In the concrete and current world capitalist system, one state holds pivotal power – the U.S. This power is guaranteed monetarily through dollar hegemony, and militarily through the US armed forces. And there are several books to be written about how military production and procurement, research and development, etc., have become irreplaceable in the U.S. domestic economy to prop up living standards above the threshold of political instability. In a seeming paradox, the U.S. itself, as an economic society, is producing fewer and fewer commodities – what used to be the basis of relative capitalist power in the world system – but consumes a wildly disproportionate share of the world’s commodities. This is important to note, because there is also no abstract universal state except in our taxonomies.346 In the world, there are only real, historically contingent states, and the U.S. is uniquely-unique among them right now. Historical allusions are inadequate, not to mention downright inaccurate, to describe the United States of 2005. In many highly significant respects, no such state has ever existed before. No state has ever wielded global power, for example, based on its status as a debtor-nation.347 And the U.S. state, in particular the military as a constituent part of it, is in a condition of deep disequilibrium.348 One of the peculiarities of capitalism – often ignored by both right and left – is the aforementioned dependence on non-capitalist sectors of society. Pro-capitalists have been inclined to describe the system strictly by market mechanisms. Anti-capitalists have been inclined to describe the exploitative appropriation of surplus-value in the production process, and leave it at that, as if this is a closed system. But if the system depends on non-capitalist sectors to (1) realize a return on investment, or (2) exploitatively valorize capital, then what are these non-capitalist sectors, and how important is it that we understand them? What work and what resources are drawn into the total social effort to ensure its continued and stable functioning that are neither bought nor paid for? Eco-feminist Maria Mies has answered this (correctly, by my reckoning) with three things: colonies, nature, and women.349 I want to add one more – the state. If the state is the expression of social power – economic, gendered, national – then it consists of (as we learned in school) law-making bodies, judicial bodies to oversee the application and interpretation of the law, and an executive branch. The latter, however, is not as cleanly circumscribed350 in its actions and is simultaneously responsible for a vast bureaucratic administration as well as physical enforcement of law. Lawmakers and barristers perform a legitimizing function that contains resistance and attempts to gain the willing consent of the governed (hegemony). The executive in the state applies and enforces rules. Members of the state apparatus, of the government, are theoretically subject to the same laws they enforce in the liberal state – the model of the state being now imposed, wherever possible on the world, as most consistent with the goal of continued capital accumulation. The exception to this is the military, which alone among all the subelements of the state, maintains its own independent system of jurisprudence. What is the significance of this? While the U.S. state is capitalist, male, and white nationalist in its reflection of the power and material interests of those who dominate civil society, as an organization the state categorically cannot function in a capitalist way. Not only would it not be able to show a profit – the sine qua non of ‘capitalist’ activity – it would abdicate its most important function of providing stability for the whole capitalist class if it were incapable of a degree of autonomy from individual capitalist enterprises and the market itself. The attention
346 347 348

Taxonomy: The science of naming and classifying organisms. Used figuratively here. Good book on this is Super Imperialism, by Michael Hudson, (Pluto Press, 2003).

Which I described at length in my second book, Full Spectrum Disorder – The Military in the New American Century (Soft Skull Press, 2004).
350 Circumsciption: The act of restricting or confining.


span of a productive capitalist is one business cycle, and for speculative capitalists it is sometimes measured in minutes. The state is responsible for ensuring the long term conditions for the continuing power of the class as a whole, and therefore must be something of both a political manager on a world scale and an umpire.


Mission So what has all this digression got to do with rape in the US military? The military, an absolutely essential constituent part of the state, is even less capable of working in a capitalist way than the state at large. The attempt of the Rumsfeld Department of Defense to introduce more ‘capitalism’ into the military through contracting-out much of the military’s work and attempting to impose capitalist values – through ‘contracting out,’ that is, a market ideology – has significantly weakened the institution, precisely because the military mission has nothing intrinsically to do with return on investment or valorization of capital. In fact, the contrary is true. Effective militaries exhibit such institutional norms as mutual-dependence, collectivity (enforced if necessary), cooperation as opposed to competition, subordination of the individual to the requirements of the group, cohesion, etc. The military produces nothing. It is in no way designed to create profit – even if extrinsically in a capitalist society it is the guarantor of capital. At bottom, its mission is to liquidate capital (the money and goods, not the social relation), either by using it up or destroying it. The imperial military of the United States is effective only to the extent that it rejects many of the shibboleths of its own culture. The military can and must operate outside the articulated patterns of economic life without directly threatening either the (gendered) social relations of the civilian sector upon which the economic system rests or the complex, almost-impenetrable, liberal legal regime of the state. Odd as it may sound, given the macho culture of the current military, the military might be the state institution that is most vulnerable to a social movement against rape. The issues raised by rape about the entire social architecture of gender are so deep and so resonant that they could be disruptive of the ideological legitimacy not only of a highly gendered accumulation regime in the economic sphere of society, but they could challenge the feigned neutrality which forms the foundation of liberal law. The legitimacy of the gender order is vulnerably dependent on this liberal faux-neutrality, and hence vulnerable to challenge. The liberal state and its laws have become enormously complex, and heavily insulated within the associations forming civil society. This ‘neutrality’ has now been turned on the liberal women who have used it, who now battle through the layers upon bureaucratic, legislative, and judicial layers that have to be penetrated to achieve only incremental results. But, as the military demonstrated when it was ordered to integrate the armed forces, if the Department of Defense is ordered to solve a problem, for the uniformed services this becomes nothing more or less than a question of command emphasis and will. And because military law is not negative-law, not precedential law… because it is outside the Constitution in many ways, and because the decisions in the military do not have a direct impact on the socials structures of accumulation that are immediately threatening to dominant sectors of civil society, the armed forces have a greater institutional potential to redress rape. We are catching a glimpse of this ability to respond by the military’s latest response with new directives and policies to the latest rape scandal in Iraq and Kuwait. I do not advocate relinquishing the struggle against rape and the practice of the liberal state with regard to rape. On the contrary, I do not believe there is any more urgent issue in U.S. society than stopping the widespread and systematic violence against women as women. But I want to make a specific proposal here about how to respond to rape in the military. Before rape will be taken seriously and in a new context – as a crime against women that reflects a system of gendered power – there must be a mass movement against rape, and it must be understood in ways that transcend its definition in liberal law. Moreover, the mass movement against rape must be part of a movement that identifies all violence against women-as-women not as a technically determined legal aberration but as a means of enforcing the social power of men over women. And before rape will become an issue that receives the kind of command emphasis it needs in the military voluntarily, this mass movement must create the conditions that will make that inevitable. Pressure from the outside against this legitimacysensitive institution can provoke policy changes inside, and create a legal foothold to challenge the status quo in American society at large.


Strategies We have already seen some of the inherent limitations in the existing ‘women’s movement’ to take this on in a more meaningful way – the captivity of the most well-resourced (white, ‘middle-class’) sections of ‘feminism’ by liberal civil society. Liberal civil society has as core values the maintenance of social stability and the stability of the state. But, as was pointed out, patriarchy as a system of power, within which rape is an extra-judicial means of social control, is articulated into all social relations, and can not be overcome from inside that system, or without creating a fundamental destabilization of it. I feel fairly safe saying that this actually holds true about imperialism as well. We don’t need elections, which serve to legitimize existing relations of power. We need actions more akin to strikes and other disruptions. Instability must be the goal. This, of course, requires the development of a much higher level of consciousness than currently exists about gender, the state, and how these relate to rape. On the other hand, the issue of rape is not one whose urgency is difficult to describe to countless women. This brings me back, yet again, to the military, which – oddly enough – may be a very good place to begin the process of building that larger, more radical social movement against patriarchy (and at some point, for socialism). Not only is the military the key state institution – far more central than, say, the Department of State – right now in U.S. foreign policy. In our current ideological milieu of hyper-militarism, the armed forces are under a spotlight that makes them the Achilles’ heel of the legitimation of the U.S. state. Any disruption of the idealized image of the military with which the public must be indoctrinated has a powerful ripple effect against the more general perception of legitimacy of, first, the government, and later, the state and system. As this is written, the United States armed forces have become our cultural conceit, our prevailing social signifier. Far more pressure can be applied to elected officials, bureaucrats, and military commanders by a campaign against rape in the military than against war. The reason bureaucrats collaborate as they do to suppress public discourse on the issue, is because they intuit that it is so sensitive. The subject of rape simultaneously confronts them with the necessity to express unqualified outrage at each instance of it and the need to avoid any discussion of rape’s larger, systemic, social implications. It generates tremendous controversy, and the rationalizations required for said public officials are skin-thin and easily demolished in any real debate. The automatic response of all these governmental strata will be to make it go away as quickly as possible, and they will bend over backward to do so if there is any sustained pressure on them. It is a way to win concessions, but more importantly it is eventually a way to wake up and unite with women who are in the military and who have been subjected to all manner of sexual aggression there. This is an integral part not just of the struggle against rape and patriarchy, but to build resistance inside the US military, a goal near and dear to my heart. For those uninitiated in the military bureaucracy, I need to point out that there is no more potent hand grenade that anyone can roll into the room of a military commander’s office than a Congressional inquiry. Military commanders who are contacted by any Congressperson about any of their troops’ situation are required to reply in writing within days to any questions or concerns posed in the letter of inquiry. Precisely because the officer personnel management system (OPMS) is so intensely cannibalistic, any whiff of controversy that might get out and ‘reflect’ badly in any way on said officer’s own commander has the potential to end a career. The initial stage of a campaign targeting the military on the issue of rape is not to win policy concessions, or even to begin organizing within the military. It is to raise the visibility of rape in the military to the point where it can not be ignored. The fact that it has been systematically covered up in Iraq is a huge issue, and one that merges with the anti-war effort itself. But simply complaining about it is not raising its visibility; to do that, public visibility must become a strategic organizing goal designed to reach the largest possible audience with the most sustained intensity possible. As part of that effort, military women must be made aware of the extra-military resources available to them for the redress of rape and other forms of sexual aggression. While I have said that policy concessions are not the initial phase or the only goal, there are some concessions that must be fought for – though not in such a way that it becomes a form of lobbying. Lobbying is the death knell of any militant social movement.


Lobbying is working to convince legislators and others to do what you want. It involves building relationships with them, and it consolidates existing relations of power. Creating the conditions outside the legislature that forces them to meet a demand is not lobbying, and it does change the relations of power. At least one of those concessions must be forcing the military to redefine rape, and demanding not a definition that is on par with neutral liberal state law. We need a definition that uses the advantages of codified law to explicitly establish rules of procedure and evidence that, as Ann Scales says, test whether said procedure or presentation of evidence itself “integrally contributes to the maintenance of an underclass or a deprived position because of gender status”351 and rules it out if it does. The question of consent must be disengaged from the archaic criterion of ‘direct’ force, and not merely as a component of ‘sexual assault.’ Spousal rape must be acknowledged. A woman’s sexual history prior to any charged incident must become unequivocally inadmissible. Use of the McDowell checklist by military defense attorneys needs to be made a violation of policy – an act of inappropriate legal hostility against a plaintiff – tantamount to insubordination. The nuance here is the difference between policy and law. Congress must make the laws that amend the UCMJ, while policies can be issued by commanders up to and including the Secretary of Defense and the President. Here are some policies that can be implemented at will by commanders from the level of post/base and above. Pornography that is sold on the installations can be banned, as can the possession of pornographic materials while troops are on post or on duty. Pornography is hate-speech, demeaning to women the same way racial caricatures would be demeaning (though racial caricatures are used to supercharge misogyny in pornography!), yet it is still widely tolerated. Sexually-exploitative bars and nightclubs that feature topless or nude dancing can be placed off limits. A special assistant to the Inspector General, independent of the post chain of command, can be assigned to exclusively handle sexual aggression complaints. On the issue of gender, ever since the military found it necessary to fill out the rosters by recruiting and integrating women into the military, it has wanted to have its cake and eat it, too. As commanders, male military officers – as well as most members of Congress, the judiciary, and the executive branch – actually believe that masculinity and aggression are synonymous, that this is a product of nature and not socialization, and that men will perform consistently better in war than women. (The rub is that this masculine aggression creates more problems than it solves on the battlefield, but that’s another topic.) The dominant position on this is not a conscious effort to keep women in their place to preserve male power in spite of their own knowledge that women are perfectly capable of performing military tasks, etc. They believe what they used to say on these matters; and this is reinforced by all the affective attachments they have to their own individual sexual identities. On the other hand, as careerist bureaucrats and political creatures (in the limited, pejorative sense), these same commanders do not want to jeopardize their careers by being drawn into the line of fire of the social movements – particularly issues that smack of race or sex. It is this split institutional personality and inhering role conflict on sex that created the contradictory firestorms around the whole Jessica Lynch affair, which twisted them into such knots. This is a chink in their institutional armor.


Smith, Patricia (ed.), Feminist Jurisprudence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993)


Prisons The meaning of masculinity is different in prison than in mainstream society. In prison these meanings are reinforced as men in these locations act to affirm their masculinity in the limited ways that are available. This results in a modified form of “hegemonic masculinity,” which emphasizes negative attitudes toward authority, control over others, aggressiveness, and social reinforcement for violent acts. Previously learned sexual and social styles of masculinity, as exercised in the broader society, are adapted and altered within prison so that the male inmate does not lose his position of dominance and control. To fail to do so results in the male inmate accepting a subservient role, or as it is termed in the prison subculture, the role and label of a “woman”. In essence, sexual violence among inmates is a statement of power, status, and control. -Robert D. Hanser352 … just like it is outside prison, but now it is directed at males! And thereby becomes an issue. The enduring claim to fame of three young military women will be their leering over tortured and dead Iraqi bodies at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. On May 5, 2004, President of the United States George W. Bush, Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces and the man with the authority to launch the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, allegedarchitect of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, went onto two Arab news channels and laid himself before the Middle Eastern public like shirtless King Henry II taking his licks at the tomb of Thomas a Beckett. Henry was forgiven. Bush’s show was received with contempt throughout the Arab and Muslim world. "This is a show,” said a young Lebanese woman said. “They're trying to cover this up. If they hadn't been exposed, Bush would not have done this." How did a dozen pornographic snapshots bring pitiful Prince George down from his throne to bare his tender back to the wogs?353 This is The Question coiled still as a snake under the table around which harried staffers had to put in 20-hour days manufacturing televised regret. Lots of regret. Enough, they hoped, to entertain the newly anxious American masses who sign their checks. Enough, they prayed, to hold at bay the surlier multitudes of Southwest Asia and North Africa whose patience had dwindled to a thimble of water in a hot room. It is The Question they couldn’t answer – wouldn’t. They had nothing left but illusions, and the answer to that question – the true answer – is that they were illusions all along. Dangerous, dirty, deadly illusions for which others paid, and still pay. The State of Pennsylvania convicted Nicholas Yarris of rape and murder in 1981. Yarris was sentenced to die, but in 2003 – thankfully, after an appeals process had kept him off the execution table – DNA evidence was presented in the face of relentless opposition by the state that exonerated Yarris. Yarris was then released from Greene State Correctional Institution’s death row. His story was a local scandal, but it quickly faded. What brought Yarris back into the limelight was his recollection of a prison guard at Greene State, named Charles Graner, Jr. If that name rings a bell, it is not ringing from Pennsylvania, but from Iraq.354 Graner was one of the tiny handful of prison guards who were indicted in the Abu Ghraib scandal, where as Specialist Graner – US Army Reserve – he was photographed grinning over the torture and humiliation of Iraqi detainees, most of whom were rounded up randomly on U.S. military sweeps. His girlfriend was Lynndie England. “I was just sickened by it because I know what he used to do. And I can only imagine without the restraint of any supervision over there, what he was doing,” Yarris told an interviewer in May 2004.355
352 353

Hanser, Robert, “Labeling theory as a paradigm for the etiology of prison rape,” Sam Houston University, 2002. British colonial epithet used to describe Arabs; used ironically here. 354 Dennis Cauchon, “Alleged abuse ringleader had history of stateside problems,” USA Today, May 16, 2003.


Yarris, who knew Graner for five years, said that there was nothing surprising about either Graner’s behavior or that of the other guards… at least not to anyone familiar with prison life in the United States. “Charles was just filled with the glee of opportunity to go over there. Because he said as we were walking down the corridor, ‘I can't wait to go kill some ragheads,’” reported Yarris. Yarris recalled how Graner would smile just as he had in the infamous photos when guards spit in prisoners’ trays, how he would gratuitously humiliate prisoners during strip searches, and how he used to provoke prisoners into a rage for his own entertainment. As a matter of public record, Graner was accused of beating prisoners at Greene State and even of concealing razor blades in their food, though – as is almost always the case in all U.S. prisons – he was exonerated of all charges. The public villain for this whole episode – with no analysis of the relative social power of men and women – was Lynndie England. I’m not going to engage in the dualism of individual versus collective responsibility here, but only point out that Graner was not associated in the affective public mind with the pornographic videos that he and England had made as they had sex in front of prisoners to humiliate them. England was. While many will be quick to (rightly) indict Graner, England, and the rest for sexual sadism, it is also important to understand the institutional and systemic dynamics of prison to begin talking about what prisons are – they are an adjunct of the state, just like the military, designed to ensure social control outside the prisons. Sexual ‘humiliation,’ including rape, is a key means for enforcing social control within them. In 1971, Stanford University Professor of Psychology Phillip Zimbardo designed an experiment that would come to be known as the Stanford Prison Experiment. Subjects were recruited and paid a modest stipend, whereupon they were separated into ‘prisoners’ and ‘guards,’ and placed in a mock prison built in a Stanford basement. The prisoners were stripped, deloused, shackled, and placed in prison clothes, while the guards were given authoritative uniforms, sunglasses, and batons. Long story short – within two days there was a near prison riot, psychosomatic illness began to break out, white middle-class kids in the role of guards became rapidly and progressively more sadistic and arbitrary, and the two-week experiment had to be abandoned after only six days... before someone was badly hurt or killed. The experiment seemed to support the truism that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ But that conclusion serves as a description, not an explanation. It describes what happens to the individual, but it fails to account for the role of rationalization that legitimates the domination, and it completely fails to account for institutional support of that domination… the structuring of domination-subjugation as the primary human relation defining a social environment… like a foreign military occupation. When one uses the term systemic, she is saying that the source of this abuse is not individual moral failure, but a predictable expression of the system and its structures. This does not rule out agency or accountability. The My Lai slaughter was eventually stopped by an American helicopter pilot. But circumstances do create powerful tendencies, and resistance is the exception, not the rule. The abuses of detainees, by US troops, by CACI International and Titan Corporation mercenaries,356 and by the CIA in Iraq, was and is systemic. There is a cancerous growth of prisons in the U.S., at the same time there is a call for the expanded use of mass detentions as part of U.S. military doctrine post-9/11. The historical tendencies behind the latterday expansion of prisons works in conjunction with the massive militarization of U.S. domestic police forces – the armed bodies of the state. We have all heard about the alleged propensity of the cruel Chinese to use incarceration as a means of social control. But studies show that China has 1.51 million inmates out of a gross population of 1.3 billion. The United States now has 2.03 million behind bars, which translates into 701 people out of every 100,000 in the US, while China is locking folks up at a measly rate of 117 per 100,000.357 The second highest rate is in Russia, at 606 per 100,000, and that is in the wake of a history of a draconian period of barracks-socialism, followed by gangster-capitalism. George W. Bush kept telling everyone that ‘terrorists’ hate us because they
356 357

CNN ) Two mercenary contract companies also implicated in the abuses. Sasha Abramsky, “American Gulag: Petty criminals doing hard time,” San Francisco Chronical, February 24, 2002.


“hate freedom.” If that were the case, upon reviewing U.S. prison statistics, these same freedom haters should be casting confetti over us. We have not only 2.03 million locked up, but an additional 5 million under the supervision of the criminal justice system, that is, on probation or parole. We should be asking the question why. Statistics don’t show crime rates rising, and in fact our crime rates are in some cases lower than countries with far lower rates of incarceration. The answers are hidden inside the general numbers and in history. It is important to point out that all credible research indicates that the experience of an American prison renders an inmate more likely, not less likely, to commit more serious subsequent crimes. So we are not incarcerating to rehabilitate or to protect the public. The ex-convict is far more dangerous than the first offender who avoids serving time.358 Research also indicates that it would cost less to educate than incarcerate young people, so there is no cost-benefit to society. If we are to understand the social rationale for prison, we first have to discard these intuitive answers and hypothesize other ones in their stead. Most social scientists who are outside the gravitational pull of officialdom posit three things: general rates of profit, population control, and surveillance. These are also the motives that lie behind the systemic integration of domestic police doctrine and the developing doctrine359 of the U.S. military overseas. I need to point out before going any further that ‘motives’ are not synonymous with some vast, totalizing360 conspiracy, but that they develop in response to contingencies. This is a point that – when confused – gets lost in a false dichotomy of conspiracy/system that I believe to be a structuralist fallacy.361 History is not engineered. It is a process that is in some sense deterministic even as it is paradoxically unpredictable, and involves conscious actors. But it is being determined by long term secular trends that are both inertial and beyond the control of any individual or institution. The crack cocaine epidemic in South Los Angeles is a perfect example. The Iran-Contra conspirators were certainly involved in a conspiracy, but the conspiracy was to end-run the Boland Amendment prohibiting any further material aid to the Nicaraguan terrorists earlier organized by the CIA.362 It was a contingent conspiracy, as all conspiracies are. The Cold War was a larger, more over-determining backdrop, which was itself embedded in an historical epoch defined by two apocalyptic inter-imperialist wars,363 which was more deeply a result of the generalization of modern capitalism into a thorough-going world system that was repeatedly running into its own material limits. And that global generalization was an outgrowth of uneven development and qualitative changes rendered by technology, especially technology that required huge quantities of fossil energy. The dumping of cheap cocaine into the lap of “Freeway Rick” Ross that opened up the crack-highway into LA’s most desperate de-industrialized crisis centers, and the consequent social disaster, were not designs of the CIA despite the Agency’s legendary racism. It was simply the path of least resistance in the specific
358 359 360 361

Angela Davis, “Are Prisons Obsolete?”, speaking at the First Congregational Church of Oakland, July 26, 2003. Fundamental principles guiding military or police practice at any given time. All-encompassing.

Structuralism is a philosophical current that shares a conviction that individual human beings function solely as elements of the (often hidden) social networks to which they belong. While this is certainly true to some degree, it is also reductionist – it reduces the individual to an appendage of her system/network, and strips her of any ability to act as a knowing subject – a demonstrable fallacy.

During the 1980s, the Reagan administration funded Nicaraguan mercenaries called the Contras to overthrow the popular but leftist Sandinista government. When Congress started feeling the heat for the Contras’ human rights violations, they passed an amendment, the Boland Amendment, which forbade any further assistance to the Contras. The Reagan administration, in what was to become the Iran-Contra Scandal, began using covert operations to violate the Boland Amendment, including CIA complicity with Contra cocaine traffickers, whose product suddenly flooded the streets of Los Angeles spawning the crack cocaine epidemic there.

World War I and World War II were both fights between imperial powers for control over the resources and labor of the people in the underdeveloped world.


circumstances – a definite by-product of racial-economic apartheid, but not a conspiracy – and of malicious neglect after the crack epidemic took root – again a neglect borne of racism, while that racism was not a central factor in the conspiracy – which was to fund an illegal war. South Central LA, however, serves as a microcosm to understand more global developments, which have to be understood simultaneously through demographics364 and technology.


Demographics: The characteristics of a population (e.g., sex, race, age, geographic location).


Cities The majority of the world will, within the next two years, for the first time in history, live in cities. This is also true for women as a whole.365 When cities first began developing, there was an economic ‘pull’ to their centers created by the development of productive forces no longer based directly on the land. These cities were rapidly growing industrial centers, requiring huge inputs of human labor. Land enclosure and other despotic methods for pushing people off the land were employed to force these people into the urban work forces. The development of capitalist-industrial agriculture (copied in large part by socialist states) accelerated this trend, as fewer and fewer people were required to create more and more food and other agricultural products. Even after the Dickesnian sweatshops were filled, people were abandoned to the cities by these massive land enclosures. At first, this created what Marx wryly called a “reserve army of labor” to drive wages down and profits up. But as technology became more and more sophisticated – particularly after World War II, and more particularly with the introduction of the microprocessor – there were more and more goods being produced using fewer and fewer people, and the “reserve army” is now being transformed into an useless (from the point of view of ruling circles) surplus population. A population that is increasingly young, increasingly unemployed, jammed increasingly into mega-cities with a decreasing public capacity to support them with services or even basic infrastructure. These urban agglomerations of tens of millions (Tokyo, Mexico City, New York, Seoul, Sao Paulo, Jakarta, Osaka, Dehli, Bombay, Los Angeles, Cairo, Calcutta, Manila, Buenos Aires, Shanghai, Moscow, Rio De Janeiro, Paris, Rhein-Ruhr, Tehran, et al – don’t forget Baghdad) with their ever more hellish slums and the expulsion of masses of people from the official economy, become unofficial economies unto themselves – criminal gangs and syndicates in some cases – or they become points of white-hot political resistance. The potential and the reality is… they are both. Mike Davis, in “Planet of Slums,” explained how this explosion of urban poverty has directly increased the burden of women in maintaining basic survival for these slum populations: Throughout the Third World, the economic shocks of the 1980s forced individuals to regroup around the pooled resources of households and, especially, the survival skills and desperate ingenuity of women. In China and the industrializing cities of Southeast Asia, millions of young women indentured themselves to assembly lines and factory squalor. In Africa and most of Latin America (Mexico’s northern border cities excepted), this option did not exist. Instead, deindustrialization and the decimation of male formal-sector jobs compelled women to improvise new livelihoods as piece workers, liquor sellers, street vendors, cleaners, washers, ragpickers, nannies and prostitutes. In Latin America, where urban women’s labour-force participation had always been lower than in other continents, the surge of women into tertiary informal activities during the 1980s was especially dramatic. In Africa, where the icons of the informal sector are women running shebeens or hawking produce, Christian Rogerson reminds us that most informal women are not actually self-employed or economically independent, but work for someone else.366 This deindustrializing global urbanization explains the apparent merger of police and military functions. The social control function of the police and the strategic-political control function of the military have seen their battlegrounds merge into these teeming urban warrens. Neither the militarization of police nor the “policification” of the military is indicative of any overarching idea to merge. They are adaptive measures, and indicators of the increasing difficulty, and urgency, of urbanized social control. The American troops in Iraq can complain to the high heavens that they are unprepared and untrained to take on constabulary functions, but the fact is that is now part and parcel of every military occupation. This is new only in how quickly this conversion happens after invasions. But the helmeted, assault-rifle-toting cops we see at every U.S. demonstration, as well as the SWAT teams now used routinely for simple drug busts, are real reactions to real threats in a society that is becoming ever more polarized, both economically and politically.
365 366

“State of World Population, 2004” United Nations Population Fund report.
Davis, Mike, “Planet of Slums,” New Left Review, March-April 2004.


It also explains the exponential growth of U.S. prisons. Profit is not always the direct motive in policy that is ultimately geared to protect a profit-taking regime. So the dots don’t connect one-to-one. If you look for investment opportunities in the wake of the most recent U.S.-sponsored coup d’etat in Haiti,367 for example, you will be hard pressed to make a credible case for such a hypothesis. But when you look at the larger geo-strategic picture, with huge investments in the neighboring Dominican Republic, the proximity of anathematic368 Cuba, and you factor in rising Puerto Rican nationalism, the independent course being charted by oil-giant Venezuela, the civil war in Colombia, and popular resistance to US neoliberalism in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador, then you begin to see why it is a bad idea to allow Haiti (generally considered weak in the region) to kick sand in the face of American neoliberals.369 To do so would create a ‘demonstration effect’— named for the military intimidation caused by displays US military power around the world – in reverse.370 The same might be said of the gay marriage debate. Right-wing opposition to any changes in a retrograde and static definition of marriage cannot be framed as an attempt to preserve a sexual division of labor, upon which profit depends absolutely, even if it does. There are issues of power related to stability – and reinforced culturally and psychologically – that transcend mere economics, even when the actual structures are ‘obviously’ articulated into the economic dimension of the system. What is ‘obvious’ is frequently not as obvious as it seems. Profit is not a prime motive for prisons. Even though large numbers of well-meaning progressives pay a lot of lip service to something called the prison-industrial complex, suggesting that prisons can be profitable in themselves. In fact, the evidence suggests that this simply is not true, nor will it ever be. Capital accumulation depends on political stability, and for that – especially when the accumulation process itself is now characterized by extreme social disequilibrium, described above – there must be in place effective measures for social control. Christian Parenti has noted that the explosion of prisons in the US began in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, followed by the anti-war movement, followed by the Black Power movement and a period of labor militancy in the 70s. In reaction to these incipient social revolutions, there was a period of extreme reaction that led directly to the election of Ronald Reagan. Parenti: The sixties brought the civil-rights movement, the black-power movement, the poor people’s movement, the antiwar movement, and all sorts of informal rebellion. At first, the police were unable to contain this uprising, which was a big embarrassment for the U.S., because we were waging a bitter ideological struggle with the Soviets to prove that capitalism and liberal democracy were better than socialism. When the entire world saw images of Watts and Detroit going up in flames and angry black people describing in detail how they were being held down by the system, it put the lie to the idea of true democracy and racial progress in the U.S. So the federal government was very concerned about the failure of the police to contain the rebellion. The nation’s economic troubles really began in the late 1960s, by which time the postwar boom had pretty much petered out. The conditions that had sustained the "golden era" of American capitalism were gone, and so were the abnormally high profit rates of that
367 368

On February 28, 2004. Detested to the point of excommunication.


The term neoliberalism is used to describe a political-economic philosophy that had major implications for government policies beginning in the 1970s – and increasingly prominent since 1980 – that de-emphasizes or rejects positive local government intervention in the economy, claiming instead that the ‘free-market’ can solve all social problems. This claim is purely rhetorical, because in practice it has been the economic domination of the world’s economy by the United States and its closest allies, using conditional loans with exorbitant interest to pry open other nations’ economies for takeover by multinational corporations based in the capitalist metropoles.

‘Demonstration effect’ is the term used by some journalists to describe the military intimidation of the world by displays of U.S. military power.


era. Big business in the U.S. faced ever-higher tax rates and wage demands. Out of this came the economic crisis of the seventies: rising unemployment simultaneous with rising wages — something that had never happened before. In part, this was due to the fact that working people still had a safety net. If you were treated poorly at your job, you could quit, get food stamps, and go to community college. Strikers in the early seventies received welfare. In the eighties, Reagan dealt with all of this by cutting taxes on corporations, attacking labor, eviscerating social services, and so on. As a result, by the mid-eighties, profit rates had been restored, labor had been cowed, and the cost of maintaining the state had been shifted from business to everyone else. But this transformation created a massive new wave of poverty, and the war on drugs was a response to these newly reemerging class distinctions. It served to segregate and contain the dangerous classes. Though the poor were not rebelling, they were still a threat. Poor people threaten the system’s legitimacy in that they make the social structure appear unjust. They also pose an aesthetic threat, scaring and disturbing the moneyed classes by showing up in inconvenient places. And whether or not poor people are, at the moment, organized and rebelling, there’s always the threat that they will. So, with Reaganomics, we again find massive resources being poured into policing.371 Parenti has shown, however, that privatized prisons, the bogey-man of the ‘prison-industrial’ left, have been economic sinks. A few profiteers have made some money, but mostly through the subsidies detailed in their fat, cost-plus government contracts.372 The net effect of the expansion of prisons in the U.S. economy overall has been an economic drag. They do not produce a profit in the sense of valorizing capital. The attempt to explain prisons through bald greed is emblematic of the left’s reluctance ever since McCarthyism to explain problems systemically, resorting instead to Ralph Nader-ish empiricism, that is, seeking evidence of a ‘smoking gun’ payoff. In most cases, the empirical case is solid. Corporations do pay outlandish CEO salaries, despoil the environment, and rip off workers and consumers. But in the case of prisons, this payoff-analysis misses the mark, and in the process exposes the weakness of this strictly empirical approach. The dots don’t always lead directly to a funding stream. Prison is part of an effort to extend state control over the urbanized population, and not just physical control, but psychological control. And in the background of the threat of prison is the threat of what happens to people in prison – they are raped. So rape again becomes a mechanism of social control.

371 372

Derrick Jensen interview with Christian Parenti, The Sun, October, 2000.

A cost-plus contract is one where the contractor being paid sends in a bill to the government for all expenses, to which there is a percentage added. This means that the more they waste, the more the make on the percentage. It is a recipe for legally sanctioned corruption.


Panopticon Jeremy Bentham, writing in 1791, described his own prison fantasy, an exposition of a Utilitarian form of social engineering which he called the Panopticon. Translated, this means the ‘see-all.’ When he wrote it, incarceration was actually considered a humane alternative to the fate of most criminals. For Bentham, the Panopticon was an imaginary physical structure, built in such a way that radial enclosures served as incarceration dormitories (but also factories, schools, and even hospitals – anyplace where the people within required full time oversight), and a small staff was located strategically in the center where it could maintain 24-7 surveillance. It was the 20th Century French philosopher, Michel Foucault – yes, that same postmodern guy – studying the phenomenon of prisons as a social disciplinary institution, who adopted Bentham’s concrete proposal as a metaphor for the increasingly technological security state… a Panopticon society, in which tabs are kept on all of us. Foucault was writing in the Sixties, and he was focused on the increasing moderation of direct repression. This was a period when Western Europe and the U.S. were still seeing a steady increase in living standards for their majorities – in fact, when many working people had come to think of themselves as ‘middle class,’ and a period of intense technological innovation (driven in large part by military research and development). He had studied the question of social discipline and punishment dating back to Medieval Europe. His most dramatic point was that Bentham’s concept of the Panopticon, articulated in the late 18th Century coincided with the take-off of capitalism – a system that was massively diversifying the activities of populations, and that required frequent displacement of those populations to keep up with its frenetic pace of technical change and boom-bust cycles. In the feudal system, Foucault noted, power was easily projected from the landed aristocracy onto one, static, easily subjectable class that was tied to the land – serfs – and even in Classical antiquity, the system of slavery was one that was subjected to disequilibrium more often than not by environmental catastrophe or war, not by market forces. Power projection was direct and brutal, and occured in the same places, generation after generation. According to Foucault, it was sustained by spectacle as its most potent form of intimidation: huge palaces, public executions, festivals, and so on. So this was an external subjugation accompanied by intimidation that brought the public together to face their masters’ power directly and collectively. Death, dungeon, and exile were measures to expel the criminal or the rebel from the body politic in populations that were spatially stable. Bentham’s Panopticon, on the other hand, augured a new form of control, one that was detailed, built into every aspect of the social structure, to establish surveillance that would become more and more ubiquitous, even as was no longer identified directly with the ruling class – a structure designed to discipline, not expel, and a discipline that was to be internalized by those disciplined. People were now becoming mobile, displaced constantly by the incessant changes wrought by capitalist accumulation.


Discipline The emerging and dynamic social system, said Foucault, required a form of discipline that was not merely punitive, but that would increase productivity; one where norms were not established by decree; one which did not identify discipline too directly with a ruler. The emerging system, said Foucault, required norms ‘established’ by science and institutions that would permeate every aspect of every life, no matter how much mobility was required of individuals. It was to be a substitution of disciplines – plural – in place of discipline as a characteristic of the whole population. Foucault: The panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognize immediately. In short, it reverses the principle of the dungeon; or rather of its three functions - to enclose, to deprive of light and to hide - it preserves only the first and eliminates the other two. Full lighting and the eye of a supervisor capture better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap. Surveillance is established in the prisons, yes, but also in the hospitals, the factories, and the schools… and from there reaching even into the family. (It must be noted that many women welcome the Panopticonism of surveillance cameras in underground parking lots, where this technical form of control reduces the risk of rape as another form of control.) The beauty of the Panopticon is not that it simply removes the ruling class as a target; it is that it establishes a generalized, impersonal, “faceless gaze.” Everyone becomes aware that they are under someone’s surveillance in virtually every situation, and this surveillance constitutes not the one discipline of the edict, but the multiple disciplines in a complex society that needs its subjects to police themselves. It is the internalization of ‘the gaze’ by each individual that circumscribes her behavior and mitigates the propensity to ‘act out’ (using the therapeutic double-speak of the Panotpicon) as either criminal or rebel, much like the gaze that most metropolitan women carry from the relentless imposition of constructed standards of beauty and femininity. Now that gaze has been perversely metastasized by the pornographer’s spy-cam. The Panopticon takes the claustrophobic social oversight of the small town and implants it in our heads. Prison was both one of those Panoptic institutions and a last resort for the bodies of the recalcitrant.373 The ‘spectacle of power’ was replaced by conformity enforced in multiple dimensions and structured to rationalize the complexity and disequilibrium of an ever more generalized capital accumulation regime. Outright fear was replaced by an unfocused anxiety that could conceal itself from easy critical interpretation. This system of Panoptic conformity still prevails in the average white suburb of the United States, though as even that “urban ring,” as Mike Davis calls it, begins to disintegrate, the white suburb will become subject to the return of the spectacle. The Roman games are back in the film Gladiator, another male revenge fantasy dripping with testosterone. Man on Fire is there in the burbs, reminding us that outside (culturally) white America, there is something unspeakably terrible and unclean: something from which our boldly tragic, bloodstained male adventurers in uniform must protect us. That spectacle, as Parenti points out so eloquently in his must-read Lockdown America – Police and Prisons in and Age of Crisis (Verso, October, 2000), has returned, with the Panopticon as its high-tech adjunct, in a period of global crisis, while Foucault’s observations about “moderation” of direct repression are being dramatically reversed. The metanarrative went over Foucault like a tsunami. It was in the wake of Vietnam and the accompanying social upheavals, including significantly the feminist upwave, that the American political establishment began to compare policing to counter-insurgency – a doctrine of warfare (like the Ku Klux Klan in its original form), not merely policing. It was also during this era that military technology began finding its way into the hands of the police. From the more global macroperspective, this was when the same technological advances began to dramatically increase the output of workers worldwide, leading to a sustained over-accumulation crisis, that resulted not in the laying off of large swaths of the world’s wage labor, but in their expulsion from the production process altogether. In the United States, that process – as it always does – was a last in, first out affair, and the industrial urban cores that had attracted millions of Latinos into the Southwest and millions of African Americans from

Recalcitrant: One marked by stubborn resistance to and defiant of authority or guidance.


the Black Belt into the industrial north began to disintegrate, it left behind a nationwide network of people trapped in these ghettoized cores with rising unemployment and attendant rises in social rebellion and criminal enterprise. The transfer of military technology and doctrine into these crisis centers, polarized these communities into areas that were not so much policed as militarily occupied by the police. It was the Johnson administration that began the Panoptic technical integration of U.S. domestic law enforcement and criminal justice systems, using military doctrine, technology, and information standardization techniques, when he signed into existence the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA). Parenti writes: It was in the midst of this storm [Vietnam, marches, riots, et al] that President Johnson, stubbornly losing the war in Southeast Asia, began edging towards a new war at home. In 1967 he took drug enforcement and regulation away from the Treasury and FDA respectively, and handed both to Attorney General Ramsey Clark at the Justice Department, creating a new agency called the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD), the precursor of today’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). At the same time Johnson called on Congress to create a new “super agency” to strengthen ties between the federal government and local police. Over the next decade that body, the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), spent billions of dollars in an effort to reshape, retool, and rationalize American policing. Along with money, the federal government doled out military weaponry, communications technology, and special training.374 But it was the paranoid Nixon administration that really stepped on the accelerator, and the motif375 was race war. Hatchet man H. R. Halderman, remembering his years with Nixon, stated that Nixon “emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”376 This admission from Halderman coincides nicely with the Republican ‘southern strategy’ employed by Nixon to split the Democratic Party by appealing to its white supremacist southern wing, and which has entrenched the Republican Party in the South to this day. But as Halderman said, “devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.” (italics mine) The politically-coded language of race evolved from Nixon defining race in terms of counterinsurgency, to Reagan’s “welfare queens”377, to Bush Sr.’s Willie Horton ads, to the so-called ‘war on drugs.’ The common denominator accompanying this coded racism was the increasing use of the criminal justice system as a political demonstration of the will to suppress and lock up Black and Brown people. And this corresponded to increased state surveillance and control of Black and Brown women – now stigmatized – who relied on the social support of Aid for Dependent Children (‘welfare’). A game of cynical political one-upmanship began that fed on itself, where political opponents were ‘soft on’ Communism, crime, drugs… choose one… and note the appeal here to the masculine intransigence of the strong father. This created a self-perpetuating dynamic of accelerated incarceration, with the introduction of three-strikes, mandatory minimums, and a new form of policing called “zero-tolerance” that resembled, more than anything in the history of American law enforcement, the military occupation of poor communities. It is important to note – in the interest of both honesty and clarity – that this process was not strictly ideological, and not solely political opportunism. Black and Brown communities, especially in the wake of deindustrialization, were and are the sites of higher crime rates, higher addiction rates, and greater potential for
374 375

Jensen, op cit.

A motif is an image or action in a literary work that is shared by other works and that is sometimes thought to belong to a collective unconsciousness.

Alexander Cockburn and Jeffery St. Clair, “They Want Blood – The Bi-partisan Origin of the Total Drug Wars,” Counterpunch, August 21-22, 2004.

The logical attack on implicitly Black women that was set up by Democrat Moynihan’s thesis on the dysfunctionality of the Black ‘fatherless’ family – note how to evade the charge of racism, these white male demagogues make women not under male control the heavy.


political rebellion. It was the militarized response to this capitalist social pathology – one that was both economic and social in its origins – that exacerbated the polarization between these communities and the criminal justice system. To connect this phenomenon to the international scene where we tend to see imperialism more crisply, we need to change our terms and assumptions with regard to race. Racism is an ideology that creates an unscientifically privileged category called ‘white,’ then decides who doesn’t qualify. It uses a set of shifting phenotypes378 to define non-white – also grotesquely unscientific – which correspond to the general social position of this phenotypic group. It makes all sorts of pseudo-hereditary claims that support the idea of some manner of ‘racial superiority.’ But we need to see racism as the skin on this beast, and ask the deeper questions about what is under the skin… what is the real nature of this system? When we begin to look at the specific historical development of African Americans, however (one example, there are more among HispanoLatinas, indigenous nations, etc.), we can see them not as a race but as a ‘people,’ that is a community that shares a common history distinct from, but defined against, the common history of the dominant society they find themselves in. ‘Communities of color’ have been on a completely different developmental path from ‘white communities.’ There is not one single empirical index that can be tracked over time that does not support this thesis, and this is not merely quantitative, that is, differences in average Black net worth versus average white net worth, etc. Patterns of economic ownership, as pointed out by researchers like Earl Ofari as early as 1970,379 when he showed that among basic industries in the U.S. – primary production, and not retail/service – there were exactly zero African American owners. It is this absence of ownership that shows the power of productive property is not only bourgeois, it is white and male. The affluent among African Americans are in roles that are utterly dependent within the dominant (white nationalist-imperial) economy of American production and finance. African American elites are comparable in position not to the white elite in the U.S., but to the comprador classes380 in other nations whose economies are satellites to the dominant U.S. economy. In other words, African America can be more precisely defined not as a ‘race,’ but as a nation – a dependent nation, or if you like, a peripheral nation… exactly like many of the countries on the receiving end of imperialist interventions. We can rightly think of the U.S. criminal justice and prison system as an imperial intervention of a white nation against a Black nation and Brown one. The method for disciplining these populations is to feminize them. This is the connection that must be made between colonization, Abu Ghraib, and the institutional/cultural support for prison rape in the Untied States. It should not be surprising then that as shared technologies diffuse into the police and military, and their similar roles as guarantors of national subjugation (knowingly or not), the distinctions between these two armed bodies – the police and the military – are growing increasingly difficult to define. It is also important to note that this national subordination is not a system set up in response to a malevolent ideology, racism, but a structural necessity for continued capital accumulation. This is the reason that struggle is required to break the system, and moral persuasion has no long-term efficacy. Our centrally important moral objection to the results of the disease can not be made practical so long as we fail to do the dispassionate analysis of the cause of that disease. Capital accumulation in today’s world rests directly on the ability to unequally exploit non-capitalist sectors of the world system. While being a racist can be counted a personal character defect and a moral failure, rac-ism is an ideology that justifies a more fundamental economic reality, and that economic reality is a national reality… whether we see it in African America or in Latin America or in Iraq or in Palestine. But it is more than merely an economic subjugation. It is now encoded culturally and militarily. Essential to the exercise of this kind of colonial power is the ability to both monitor and control the object-population. In the case of decaying American urban cores and of many other under-developed nations, these populations have evolved away from their former utility as cheap labor – what they were when Foucault was talking about moderation – and become merely surplus populations in a global system where fewer and

378 379 380

Physically observable characteristics. Earl Ofari, The Myth of Black Capitalism, Monthly Review Press, 1970.

Local elites who make money trading with the colonial power, and from whom a political elite is recruited to serve as colonial political surrogates.


fewer people are required to valorize the total world capital.381 As we shall see further down, this has hugely gendered implications. Their situation should also be a warning light for the ever-more-besieged American ‘middle class,’ who have become the principal domestic pawns in the dangerous and un-winnable game being played by the U.S. empire now in Southwest Asia. It is their living standard that will now come under attack. In the short term, that is happening through financial manipulation and the further disappearance of living-wage jobs. The tremendous personal debt burden that is mounting in the American ‘middle class,’ fueled by low interest rates and equity loans from mortgage refinancing, is the latest maneuver to prop up this sector’s role as global consumer – a time bomb that will explode directly under the former labor aristocracy’s feet.382 Meanwhile, the liquidation of the commons – from Medicare to Social Security to public services – constitutes a transfer of wealth saved by these working people directly into the speculative money pit that is Wall Street. Simultaneously, the bill to the United States from Treasury loans to other nations – already impossible to pay – grows exponentially to pay the cost of the military that temporarily secures the global periphery and the rentier states of the Persian Gulf that underwrites the whole system.383 As we saw with the taxpayer bailouts of the Savings and Loan criminals as well as the Long Term Capital Management hedge fund, these burdens will invoke the ‘too big to fail’ principle, and this so-called middle class will pick up the tab.384 These chickens are coming home to roost… soon, just barely beginning when the housing bubble bursts.385 Then they begin to become the problem population. Poor and angry, it’s a hell of a combination, and one that requires increased oversight. This is where Panopticism is still relevant, as one facet of the technological build-up of the supreme state to monitor and control restive populations. In a paradox that only history might provide us, the powerful symbolic threat to maintain the control over populations of restive ‘white’ men in the U.S. will be that they will be confined in a prison with a ‘Black male rapist.’

Valorization of capital is the creation of profit from surplus value in the production process for commodities. That profit is then circulated through the system, but not created except at that point of production where the workers are paid less than the amount of value they actually create for the market. The surplus value appropriated by the owners is the actual ‘profit.’ The paradoxical aspect of valorization is that capitalist competitors are driven by each other to increase production, using technology for an edge – the driving force behind industrialization and digitalization; yet that same technological evolution reduces the number of workers in the total work force worldwide, whose work is the source of the surplus value that constitutes profit. So the tendency is for profit to fall, creating a capitalist crisis, and driving capital to seek ever cheaper sources of materiel and labor. But the process is constrained by how big the consumer market actually is. So the process inevitably leads to more and more severe levels of exploitation to create value for a shrinking consumer market, which – along with technical innovation – then forces capital to use fewer and fewer workers to supply fewer and fewer – but richer – consumers, expelling huge numbers of people worldwide from the process altogether, where they become competitors for resources with no value at all any more for capital. Along with this expulsion, capital is now driven to rid itself of the growing mass of billions outside the relation defined as capital because they are both potential enemies to social stability, and because they still require a share for survival of the diminishing resources that capital needs. My own belief is that imperialism is moving toward the extermination by war, plague, starvation, and neglect of huge masses of these ‘surplus people,’ as they are already in Africa. A friend of mine once called this Exterminism, the final stage of Imperialism.

Labor aristocracy is the term applied to privileged sections of organized labor and union bureaucrats, who ultimately assist in the provision of stability to the system by ensuring that labor struggles do not become too militant, and by collaborating with imperialism.

Rentier capitalists do not run productive enterprises, but are positioned in the system to collect various forms of royalties. The Persian Gulf oil states collect this kind of ‘rent’ from foreign producers operating within their borders.

In the 1980s, after massive fraud and deregulation of Savings and Loans, these criminal enterprises were bailed out by the federal insurance that was established during the New Deal to protect bank customers from losing everything in the event of a bank collapse. Some estimates are that U.S. taxpayers are paying $32 billion a year to bail out Wall Street – rather than prosecute them – until 2020. LCTM was a giant hedge fund that was part of the 90s dotcom bubble that had its bailout engineered by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

In approximately 20 of the most desirable housing markets in the country, based on record low interest rates and mortgage refinancing, prices of nearly half the nation’s ‘housing’ wealth have skyrocketed – creating an immense pool of ‘fictional’ value. This kind of non-credit fictional value is the basis of the bubble phenomenon, where this fictional value fills a ‘bubble’ that will inevitably break when reality sets in, as it did with communications companies in 2000.


Denzel’s character in Man on Fire delivered justice by symbolically (and explosively) raping his male detainee. All the tropes of race and gender and discipline are merged into an imperial revenge convention. The larger system, for which Iraq was to become a kind of proving ground, will require the ability to employ a spectrum of force in urban environments up to and including urban civil war. This is, at some cynical level, a rational response to a world with billions of ever-more-urbanized surplus people. Iraq has become a testing ground for this New World Order. The process begins with innovation, then proceeds to standardization and generalization, as we have seen in the blending of police and military functions that corresponds to an increasingly uniform (urban, unemployed, young) and crisis-ridden human ecology. With this more openly warlike state prevailing, and particularly with the new rationale for US state power domestically and abroad being ‘terrorism,’ another unscientific concept employed for all forms of resistance to U.S.-state hegemony, the Spectacle – as Christian Parenti has pointed out – has come back into its own in the form of cultural militarism. In reality, military technology and training do not make people safer. Military gear brings embedded in it a set of militaristic social relations. Aggressive group tactics, automatic weapons, and infrared scopes all displace and preclude the social skills, forbearance, and individual discretion essential to accountable and effective civilian policing. The metaphor of war also implies the possibility of victory in which one side vanquishes another… But the military world view is not confined to the ranks of SWAT. Tactical units, having close relations with the armed forces, act as ideological transmissionbelts between the military and regular police.386 When I was in Special Forces in the early 90s, there was already an ongoing program of direct cooperation between the Border Patrol and active duty military units, a secret program that was outed when a Marine sniper killed an innocent 18-year old shepherd on the Texas-Mexico border in 1997. The news media ignored the story as much as possible, and questions about posse comitatus, the law that forbids US military to conduct law enforcement activity, were evaded. Delta was training the FBI in 1983, a program I participated in, and beginning to train urban SWAT teams. An historical paradox is that posse comitatus387 was originally implemented at the demand of white southerners with the end of Reconstruction, wherein slavery’s infrastructure was dismantled under the oversight of a military occupation of the South for 12 years. The USAPATRIOT Act,388 then – while sinister – should not be surprising. It simply attempts to extend and further integrate a Panoptic process that was already in motion. Suddenly people became alert that their library selections might be monitored, but the reality is that through thousands of digitally encoded transaction every day, we have all already been enclosed in the ‘dossier society.’ And many Americans, as evidenced by how they welcomed increased repression and surveillance in the wake of September 11, have already “internalized the Panopticon gaze,” just as we now embrace militarism in our books, television programs, and movies. It is rare indeed to see a cultural representation of the Military-Panopticon state that does not make its enforcers the sympathetic protagonists and its opponents into feral packs of dark predators.


Parenti, op cit. A federal law that prohibits the use of federal troops against U.S. citizens without a presidential waiver.

387 388

A so-called anti-terrorism package of laws that were developed by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks and passed by Congress with little attention to the details. Many of its provisions that inv=crease government power to perform surveillance on virtually anyone have alarmed civil liberties groups.


Myth-making We don’t just obey. We glorify… we mythologize those whom we obey. In how many ways is the Panopticon state modeled on the patriarchal family? The Prison fits into this picture both as part of the threatening spectacle – the place none of us wants to go, the place where we will be raped, a kind of deterrent against any resistance – and as a public ritual of revenge against the dark Other. This applies in the United States, and it applies in Iraq. During lynching campaigns in the South – often increasing in frequency when Black GIs had returned ‘uppity’ from the wars – there was sometimes a festive atmosphere – family picnics complete with food and group photographs. Men, women, and children all participated in the spectacle. Photos were made into postcards mailed to relatives. People collected these postcards. The fear of being raped in prison is the one social circumstance where white men share this fear with women. Women of all nationalities live with the sub-clinical dread of this possibility every day of their lives. If this doesn’t lead us to re-examine our phallocentric construction of sexuality as violence, then we are unlikely to ever get it. Sexual penetration is constructed as a form of dominance and also as a form of intentional humiliation, a form of revenge. And it is widely known that prison rape in the United States is not merely overlooked, it is sometimes encouraged by management. The threat of sexualized violence, of violent sexuality, is a key dimension of all social control. Why do some of us seem so surprised, then, that in Abu Ghraib the handful of perpetrators who have been indicted have indicated that they felt they were avenging 9/11? How much more clearly can the racialcolonial-sexual connection be made? Our enemies are always ‘feminized,’ that is portrayed as irrationally emotional, hyper-sensual, and cowardly or virtuously obedient – the colonial analog for the whore-Madonna complex. No aspect of socialization is as pre-literate and emotionally charged as our sexual identity, an identity that is ruthlessly policed almost from birth. And so no aspect of our personality is so vulnerable to attack. That women were involved in these abuses does not mitigate this one iota. Zillah Eisenstein is right when she calls them “gender decoys,” and she connects it right back to U.S. criminal ‘justice.’ These women should be held responsible and accountable; but they also are gender decoys. As decoys they create confusion by participating in the very sexual humiliation that their gender is usually victim to. This gender swapping and switching leaves masculinist/racialized gender in place. Just the sex has changed; the uniform remains the same. Male or female can be a masculinized commander, or imperial collaborator while white women look like masculinist empire builders and brown men look like women and homos. The United States of America is a collection of people, but it is also a state – the same and not the same. Liberals and conservatives will argue about who has the best plan to protect the state and the people (though the first is paramount for both of them) from our new ‘enemies.’ But the fact is – and this must be faced so we can dispense once and for all with all the gendered fear-mongering and fascist masculinity – there can be no protection. September 11th showed that anyone who wants to get at a thing badly enough can do so. As an exspecial operations soldier, I can sit in my living room and spin out perfectly feasible and devastating attacks against a multiplicity of targets more easily than I can do the research for this book. And if I were determined to carry one of them out, there is little anyone could do to stop me. All I lack is the motive. The size and aggression of the American military not only does nothing to stop these kinds of attacks, it makes them more likely. The actions of our state at home and abroad are creating motives faster than they can interdict potential actors. The war in Iraq is already lost, yet each day we will continue to watch bodies – Iraqi and others, including American – being sacrificed to this vanity, and we are drowning in our dissonance. The camp commandants at the Nazi death camps were often cited as good family men. The state gave them permission to build a wall between their families and their ‘work.’ The paradox of modern life is how we have reified the lives of almost the whole planet and severed every communal bond outside the family, and at the same time


constructed the isolated, atomized family itself, a refuge for some, an emotional pressure cooker for many, and the primary site of Panopticism.


Marriage I met Sherry Long when she was working at Troop Medical Clinic #13 in Fort Bragg as a low-paid medical records clerk. I was a detachment medical sergeant in A Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Special Forces. My team’s medical records, the maintenance for which I was responsible, were maintained at TMC-13. Once a month, I would pick up the records and check to ensure that the whole detachment’s physical examinations were current and that they had all their immunizations up to date. I had noticed the 30-something woman who worked there before – a little butch, cute, with a nononsense attitude, strong hands, and a fine throaty laugh. One day while I was going through the records, in response to I don’t know what, she had gone off on some hapless staff sergeant and in two or so sentences cursed him so effectively that he left the room without a word of reply. I was suddenly more interested. On my next visit to TMC-13 about a week later, I struck up a conversation in which she let slip some comment about liking Korean food. I sent her a note asking her if she’d like to go out for Korean food, but she didn’t put the person together with the note and – thinking it was a crank or a lunatic – didn’t call the number I’d given her to either accept or decline. Stung by this apparent rejection, I decided to go back to the clinic for closure. “That was you?” she gasped. Sexual harassment was a permanent fixture on post, and so she had assumed it was some creepy co-worker. Once that was settled, and since we had already come this far, I reiterated my invitation, and Sherry accepted. Two days later, we went to see The Stranger Among Us, after stuffing ourselves with bulgabi, kimchee, and beer. When I had gone to pick Sherry up at her little duplex, three small children were seated side by side on the sofa aiming radar-like gazes at me with big dark eyes… like I had just dropped in from outer space. Their mouths were open. Jessie, the oldest at nine, spoke first. “Do you jump out of airplanes?” I would discover, by and by, that Jessie could blurt out questions non-stop, and not simple questions, but questions like, “How many gallons of water are in the Mississippi River?” “Is the moon hot?” “Can a bass eat a duck?” Within a week, I wasn’t sleeping at my own apartment any longer, but spending the night at Sherry’s, where all three kids slept together in the same bed, and where I would tip-toe out of the house before they rose each morning. We were both exhausted, still being caught up in the first flush of the relationship, me working a 12hour a day job and Sherry working her job at Ft. Bragg, then sitting up until the wee hours doing medical transcription on a Remington typewriter as a small second income. She also baked quiches on the weekends to sell to some local Jehovah Witnesses. I thrived on strong black coffee and she gulped down about a dozen Pepsis a day. She had been living very close to the margin for around five years with these three little ones, with NBA games as her sole escape – she was a dangerous woman to bet against, if she’d have had the money to bet, because she knew NBA basketball as few people do, right down to each player’s free-throw average. Her sub-compact car was a smoking menace on the verge of collapse that she could ill afford to repair. I had a little saved, having been effectively single for a couple of years, so I paid for the repair and bought her a bicycle as a plain old gift, and she cried. Crying belied what was a basic toughness at her core, the same toughness that was exhibited in abandoning a dysfunctional relationship and striking out on her own with these three kids. I was overwhelmed with admiration for her. Combined with the great laugh, this toughness – which I have always admired in people – had me hooked. After six or so weeks of paying rent on two places while we actually lived at one, she suggested we move in together officially. It made perfect sense, so we did it. I was driving a car with a bumper sticker that said, “Just say no to marriage” when she met me. I was still terribly gun-shy from my first experience with matrimony – an epic of drama and unhappiness that lasted (technically) for fifteen years. So we didn’t broach the subject of marriage. We just moved in together, with all that entailed, including the low-level struggles around control that accompany all cohabitation, and the compromises required to resolve them. At work, Sherry was constantly subjected to sexual harassment, particularly but not exclusively by one active duty member. And while the military pays great lip service to its stringent policies regarding sexual


harassment, the bureaucratic reality is that each commander is vitally interested in nothing untoward being reported on his (mostly his) command, under his watch, so the art of soft pedaling problems and resolving them outside the line of official sight has become one of the arts of military ‘leadership.’ Sherry has served on active duty before working as a civilian employee for the Army, and she was painfully familiar with that whole culture. In any situation with the potential for embarrassment to the command, the weakest are sacrificed for the strongest. She knew very well that reporting sexual harassment, with its huge political import, could very easily result in her own unemployment – and all that meant with regard to her children’s economic security. There are plenty of people who will say they would report it and let the chips fall where they may, but they are not generally people who have few options and three small children who absolutely depend on them. Similarly, there are those who admonish Black women not to inflict corporal punishment on their sons, not understanding that this is seen as requisite for these sons’ survival in a hostile society that reserves a body bag or a prison cell for Black men almost at birth. And some people have a hundred formulas for raising collegebound children, not grasping that we have to send our children up the street to a corner church’s free day-care on Sundays if we want to get our limited living space cleaned up or make love. Some talk up the advantages of Montessori with an air of parental superiority, and completely fail to understand that Montessori is not an option if it means we can’t keep the lights on in our crappy apartment. They say boycott Wal-Mart, even when it’s the only place we might be able to afford to buy what we need; they admonish us to eat organic when all we can afford is generic white Bread and canned goods on special. I’m not saying that organic is not good, that Wal-Mart is not a predatory monstrosity, or that Montessori doesn’t work. I’m talking about real day-to-day choices that aren’t waiting for the revolution. Most of us do not have the choices – ethical or lifestyle – of the affluent. (The truly poor, often trapped without transportation, are forced to pay inflated prices for inferior food at local supermarkets.) Sherry was sexually harassed. Sherry had no access to the services provided at Fort Bragg where she worked. Sherry had no credit history, and therefore could not take out loans. And Sherry did not have that intangible social standing – with all its privileges – of being married. We decided on Thursday, October 15, 2002, to get married, and we did it at the Cumberland County Courthouse on Saturday morning in front of one Justice of the Peace, one witness from the JP’s office, and three goggle-eyed small children. I removed the stupidly simple bumper sticker. Was there an element of love and commitment in this decision, like all the stories go? Of course. Was this a pragmatic decision based on the social, legal, and economic benefits that come with state recognition of the union? Absolutely. These were not mutually exclusive propositions. The sexual harassment of Sherry at work stopped immediately. She was married, and married to a senior NCO with a strong reputation in Ft. Bragg. I could write a book about all the things that are wrong with this, and in fact may be doing just that. But with all the other problems that we would face, there was no social transformation of gender relations waiting just around the corner. Neither she nor I were cognizant of, or prepared to deal with, everything that was ‘wrong.’ We needed space to deal with the myriad practical problems associated with cohabitating not just with each other, but with three small children who were more than a little confused by all these goings-on. We needed the military benefits that were suddenly available to all of us by being married. We needed the legal recognition in case of emergencies. We needed the axiomatic acceptance of our unity by other people in countless circumstances every day that is implicit in the statement, “We’re married.” I have lost all patience with those who have never faced any of these choices talking about marriage as if it is ‘selling out,’ or entering into some ‘bourgeois’ relationship. These are pronouncements from positions of privilege. The Army is an institution that is conflicted with itself on the issue of marriage. This has been particularly true since the abandonment of the draft. Once the armed forces had to compete on a more equal basis with the civilian sector for its ‘human resources,’ it had to take into account that young people usually get married, and they have married young. While the military does create family separations on a more regular basis than most jobs, it also is (was?) able to offer a very attractive benefits package, not the least of which is job security with a guarantee of free health care for the entire family. This is the nub of the matter with regard to marriage and the military; it’s not just a question of the marriage relation inside the institutional framework of the U.S. armed forces, it’s a question of family. The military is a bureaucratic institution that is a necessary component of the state. Marriage is a social institution that receives the sanction of the state. Marriage confers privileges in the form of state recognition, on an anthropological kinship relation. The marriage relation is putatively characterized by the highest levels of


interpersonal intimacy. Within the marriage relation, the state itself has acknowledged a very strong ‘right of privacy’ (albeit originally to protect male patriarchal prerogative within the household). Marriage is also an economic category, with the family as our society’s most basic economic unit of organization. The military is both a highly invasive and supportively managerial institution as it relates to the military family. There is, as there was in the Jessica Lynch episode, an inhering contradiction between the reactionary social values that underwrite the military in today’s culture of militarism and the need in the real world to retain force levels through family support mechanisms in the military and selling the military as a ‘good life’ in recruitment pitches. In the right-wing National Review, 389Allan Carlson referred to military child care facilities as “social parenting,” one of the nemeses of gender reactionaries. Castigating Major General John G. Meyer Jr. for consorting with Hillary Clinton (this was at the height of the Monica-gate hullabaloo) in the ‘social parenting’ apostasy, Carlson quoted Meyer as saying, “Child care is critical to the Department of Defense’s bottom line. Supporting the care and development of children is a responsibility the military readily assumes in exchange for the loyalty of their parents in uniform.” Meyers had pointed out, with some pride, that while the civilian sector’s child care facilities met accreditation standards established by the National Association for the Education of Young Children only 5 percent of the time, the Army had an 85 percent accreditation rate. Dripping with sarcasm directed at the pansy-General, Carlson said, “Forget fixing bayonets; try changing diapers.” He railed against the grim statistics: 1.4 million uniformed service members had an aggregate of 1.3 million children under 18 years old, with 343,000 of them of diaper age – under three. Sixty percent of service members were married, and of them 68 percent of the “dependent spouses” worked outside of the home. Ten percent of total military marriages were between two service members. Accordingly, "quality child developmental care" has become, in the words of the 1987 Army Family Action Plan, "a crucial [military] program." While the number of combat divisions has been slashed by half over the last decade, direct and indirect military expenditures for child care have tripled. Among the three services, eight hundred child-care centers -- a growing number of which are open 24 hours a day -- tend over 200,000 tykes, making the U.S. Department of Defense the nation's largest child-care system. The Department of Health and Human Services now has nothing on the Department of Defense. Indeed, the Clinton Administration recently ordered the military to proselytize civilians on behalf of safe, affordable, and accessible child care. "I believe that the military has important lessons to share with the rest of the Nation on how to improve the quality of child care for all of our Nation's children," the President explained in his April 1997 directive. It is, of course, highly unlikely that any Republican executive now – given the indeterminate ‘War on Terror’ – would so boldly proclaim his or her opposition to this “military social engineering,” because their mad foreign policy depends so centrally on the military as it currently exists. In this area, it isn't the broader culture assaulting the values of the military, but the other way around. Since the first Army Family Action Plan, issued ominously in 1984 ("The Year of the Army Family"), the Army's focus has been on dissolving real, autonomous families and blending the human parts into "The Total Army Family," a notion that tacitly assumes the primacy of post-family or non-family bonds. It is interesting that Carlson, a soft-jowled, besectacled academic type with a snow-white comb-over, who was never in the armed forces, calls this “militarized socialism,” decrying the threat it poses to some Rambo-like masculinity. Carlson is one of a stable of think-tank reactionaries on the front lines of the gender war. He was appointed by Ronald Reagan to the National Council on Children, and is a fellow with the Family Research Council, a non-profit front group for Christian evangelical absolutism. What is interesting

February, 1998, “Fighting Families: the military’s focus on child care corrupts families – and the national defense – Unarmed Forces”.


about it is that I – a commie heathen who spent over two decades in the military and who has no graduate degree – have reached the exact same conclusion and regard this “militarized socialism” to be the only redeeming attribute of the whole institution. On he rants: Some aspects of the Total Army Family appear traditional. For example, a range of family entitlements – including housing subsidies, health care, and "high quality" child care – encourages early marriage and/or childbearing. But the high rate of early marriage in the military is matched by abnormally high rates of family turmoil and divorce. Moreover, the birth of children in the military increasingly occurs outside the bonds of matrimony, with "the Total Army Family" assuming the roles of both breadwinner and caregiver for the unmarried service mom and her children. Up to 40 per cent of military pregnancies occur among the unmarried. Furthermore, because these unwed soldiers, sailors, and aviators are excused from hard duty and receive preferred access to medical care, education, and housing -without even having to identify the father(s) of their children -- the military goes beyond simple moral neutrality and actually subsidizes illegitimacy. The reality, of course, is not that the military has lost its moral compass, but that it has never lost its social and political compass the way wingnuts like Carlson frequently do. Conscription became untenable as the Vietnam invasion come to an end, leaving in its wake not only a demoralized force, but one that was ever more embracing an active politics of resistance in conjunction with the social revolutions taking place all around it. The only way to ensure that social movements did not break out within the military was to leave Vietnam, abandon the draft, and adopt incentives sufficient to recruit and retain an all-volunteer military. Not only was there a passive ‘pre-screening’ in as much as highly politicized individuals on the left were unlikely to join, there was an active and ongoing effort to stay abreast of evolving social trends and co-opt them. One of those trends was the women’s liberation movement. In a sense, the military itself – as it has become more central to the continued viability of the US state – has become a seismograph of which social trends have gained enough momentum to outrun the culture of reaction (and concomittantly which trends are most urgently in need of capitalist commodification). The U.S. military, for example – especially the Army – led the rest of U.S. culture in the practice of ‘inter-racial’ marriage. The only way the military could remain competitive with the larger civilian job market was to take advantage of its status as a not-for-profit to shovel money into precisely those social benefits that capitalism tends to systematically erode. But it takes either a left-wing veteran or someone from the psychotically misogynistic right to name this. The military and the family both exist as non-capitalist sectors, upon which capital accumulation depends. Is that you, Ms. Luxemburg? This provison of social service is precisely why so many young couples – not infrequently wed under the pressure of an unplanned pregnancy – gravitate into the military. The larger social reality, of course, is how early pregnancy corresponds to a host of other social determinants. Pregnancies that are not terminated and do not result in matrimony are reflective of a pattern in general American society for women who have a degree of economic independence and often see no reason to tie a legal knot with a biological father who may or may not be worth the effort, or whom they simply have no interest in marrying. When this independence doesn’t exist, it plays directly into the ‘economic draft.’ The tension between the Carlsons of the world and the United States Department of Defense is that Carlson is fighting to mend a fracturing structure of male power – an historic goal, no matter how backward – and the DoD is responding to the very immediate contingencies of their institutional imperative to retain and recruit. This is a temporal contradiction. (When I say a structure of male power is fracturing, I am not saying the structure of male power has fractured. I am saying that the pace at which earlier masculinities are being destabilized is accelerating with the more general destabilizations of society by runaway-train capitalism. This has not decisively undermined male privilege and power, only reformulated it, and triggered a lot of reaction – from Carlsonesque fudamentalism to the proliferation of weird male cults associated with Robert Bly and his ilk, driving to


weekend retreats from their dotcom day jobs in their Land Cruisers to get naked in sweat lodges, beat drums, and commiserate with one another about the lost ‘wild men’ trapped inside them.390) The evolving social institution of the family and the continual re-negotiation of the definition, in practice, of marriage is exercising a more powerful influence on the military than the military is on the family, and in a paradoxcial sense – as Carlson suggests – the changed military is now positioned in some respects to be a social change agent. As Carlson reminds us, “it isn't the broader culture assaulting the values of the military, but the other way around.” It’s both. These relationships are recursive. All institutions require a level of stability. Marriage works in the military as a stabilizing force. The soldier who has familial responsibilities is not only less likely to act out against institutional norms in ways that could result in loss of rank and pay, s/he is also more motivated to re-enlist if a spouse has grown accustomed to and argues for the continuation of the economic security, which is very common. The military spouse and the welfare of dependent children are nearly always factors in the decision to reenlist. Women are socialized through the domestic division of labor to seek security and to blunt the rebellious content of male risk-taking. This allows men their masculine illusion that they avoid manly risk in the interest of some higher male responsibility as a ‘provider,’ while it also fucntions to preserve systemic and institutional stability. This stabilizing dependency is most important among officers. Among male enlisted soldiers, a kind of brain-dead machismo is encouraged, then constrained with the absolutism of military authority. The theory is that male aggression is a kind of fuel, but these men are not driving. Male officers, however, are subject to the same kinds of social despotisim as any mid-level corporate manager. They are to be above the others… officer and gentleman… warrior-poet meets organization-man ( a very contradictory masculinity). Their children are groomed for college beginning at age three, and their wives are expected to perform as ‘lady’s’ auxilliaries to the officer corps. In thinking about my Women Writers teacher at Mount St. Mary’s College, defined not as a teacher, but as a major’s wife, her commentary on the insurgent women whose books we studied served as a kind of therapeutic outlet for her won frustration at being recognized for “making cheeseballs.” Cynthia Enloe writes: Over the generations military commanders and their civilian political superiors have tried… to reconcile their worries with reality by finding… uses for those women who have married soldiers… It has required the exercise of institutional control: only if those women can be socialized to become military wives… a properly socialized officer’s wife can be mobilized to calm the anxieties of the wives of enlisted men. Women as military wives can help win civilan support and sympathy for the military… Military wives can – if they do find their own militarized lives satisfying – persuade their husbands to reenlist. (Enloe, p.157) The military tries to nurture its own version of the wifely role, one version for enlisted wives and another for the officers’ wives. It is only partly successful, because female military spouses are required by the nature of the military to become multi-tasking, single-handed, management machines when the service member is deployed for extended periods. While enlisted men’s wives are managing households on tight budgets, working shit jobs (though more and more enlisted wives have become teachers, nurses, and other such professionals), looking out for kids, and often trying to squeeze in some school, commissioned officer wives are managing on more money, but required to be an organizational surrogate for hubby – making cheeseballs, as it were, and all the other catering, networking, and abhorrent ass-kissing that is unofficially required of this ‘class.’ The latter is a role ripe for resentment; and there is more than a little revenge-fucking – especially of enlisted men – by many of these officers’ wives than many people might imagine. During Desert Storm, I was in the Special Forces Qualification Course in Ft. Bragg, adjacent to Pope Air Force Base. The favored pickup bar was the Pope Air Force Base Officer’s Club, where hundreds of the


My friend, Michael Schwalbe, wrote a very good account of this whole ‘mythopoetic’ men’s movement, which he basically infiltrated in order to do the research. It is called Unlocking the Iron Cage – The Men’s Movement, Gender Politics, and American Culture (Oxford University Press, 1996). He became a pariah in that whole ‘community’ when the book came out. Schwalbe is more generous in his evaluation of them than I am, sympathizing with their angst and their rejection of more violent forms of machismo. I find it to be crackpot Jungian horseshit.


legal spouses of deployed commissioned officers came to drink, dance, and take home a zipless fuck391 from among the legions of (most frequently) enlisted stay-behinds. In the male latrine stalls, scrawled on the walls were “Sir, thank you, sir!” and other such sexualized manifestations of ‘dick-measuring’ military class conflict. Nancy Cott said in Public Vows – A History of Marriage and the Nation392, “Molding individuals’ self-understanding, opportunities, and constraints, marriage uniquely and powerfully influences the way differences between the sexes are conveyed and symbolized. So far as it is a public institution, it is the vehicle through which the apparatus of the state can shape the gender order.” (Cott, p. 3) Further along in the same introduction to her book, she makes the important point that, “Marital behavior always varies more than the law predicts. Men and women inhabit their marital roles in their own ways, not always bending fully inside the circle of civil definitions, but bringing new understandings into the categories of ‘husband’ and ‘wife.’” (Cott, p. 8) Social norms are not the products of pure economic determinism.393 Even as the U.S. state has explicitly treated the family as an economic unit – non-capitalist, yet essential for the reproduction of capital as a social relation – the traditions, perceptions, and emotions that surround the institution of marriage are the result of a build-on process that leave us with many of the ritual-emotional aspects of a now unremembered past. Fathers giving daughters away at weddings, white dresses signifying chastity – and even wedding rings – are feudal artifacts, the signifiers of sexual ownership for a now-dead feudal aristocracy. Marriage was heterosexualized before it was constructed as an affective relation precisely because it was a fairly coldblooded mechanism among the elites for the genetic reproduction of aristocratic bloodlines with overtly political implications. It was a reproductive convention, not an affective one, and one in which females were employed as aristocratic breeders. What many do not realize is how racialized American marriage is. The whole notion of American marriage was based on ‘consent,’ (there’s that word again) although once having consented, the white American female was to then obey and accept her husband’s surrogacy through coverture. (It was the business contract model for human relations. And marriage is still secured through a contract.) By contrast, slaves were not permitted to legally marry. The distinctly American patriarchalbourgeois ideology was one that was redefining ‘citizenship’ in accordance with the white nationalist vision of the so-called founding fathers; wherein ‘consent’ was part of the whole notion of a social contract – one that was exclusively limited to fully human beings, i.e., Anglo-Saxon male property owners. The rest of society was naturalized. Marriage was seen as an instance of that same social contract, one that had to be entered into voluntarily, even by the woman who – once entered – contractually surrendered her own autonomy. African slaves were not counted as either human or worthy of this brand of ‘citizenship,’ that is, a person with the legal right to exercise formal influence (e.g., voting) within the state. “The denial of legal marriage to slaves quintessentially expressed their lack of civil rights. To marry meant to consent, and slaves could not exercise the fundamental capacity to consent.” (Cott, p.33) “White southerners’ post-emancipation hysteria about African American men’s threat to white women illustrated how far a man’s freedom to marry and become head of a household defined his manhood.” (Cott, p. 45) It is interesting that Cott chooses to remind us, with the use of the word ‘hysteria’—a gendered noun with origins that associate women with irrationality—that white southern male reaction to emancipation was to take it as a effeminizing threat to their own racialized self-concept of masculinity. Yet when this legal convention broke down, the U.S. military made the most rapid social transition to it with its comparatively high rates of interracial marriage. There is a kind of structural triangle between the U.S. state, the U.S. military, and U.S. marriage. The state defines marriage even though it is called a ‘private’ affair, and even dictates what the standardized marriage ‘contract’ is. The state contains the military as a constituent institution, which also has its own
391 392 393

Term coined by writer Erica Jong to describe casual, one-time, emotionless sex. Harvard University Press, 2000.

Economic determinism: the doctrine that economic factors determine all others in social development – a common accusation leveled against Marx that is false, but that is commonly believed because so many people have only read criticism that makes this claim without having read Marx himself.


peculiar way of recognizing marital unions and relating to them. The joke goes that the only people fighting to get married and join the military are gay: in fact, these are the two most unambiguously and legally homophobic institutions overseen by the U.S. state. Hennessy says that marriage is “the premier institution by which hegemonic heterosexual identity is policed… regulated by the state and so performed in and through the reiteration of its laws,” but she points out how unstable the marital norms are. “[T]he very need to reiterate these [marriage] rituals, like the monitoring of heterosexual coupling by the state and church, betrays the insecurity of these social bonds that are in everyday practice continually thrown into crisis, fractured, loosened, or subverted.” This is even true in the military. When I was stationed at the Jungle Operations Training Center in Panama in 1981-2, the post commander felt compelled to constantly and vainly intervene to stop widespread “wife-swapping,” as he called it, though the practice of military polyamory was being embraced by the women who participated in it as well as the men – and it was fairly ubiquitous. Something about living across frontiers, I suppose… I don’t want to leave the impression, however, that women’s participation in this was an indication of anything resembling either equality or lack of misogyny. Wives were referred to by husbands in the bar as “trading material.” Totally unrelated to that bit of gossip, the prime movers in the Bring Them Home Now campaign against the Bush-Cheney adventure in Iraq were Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out, the latter formation being mostly military moms and wives. What the military is faced with now are women who are recognized as the married partners of service members who are increasingly engaging in open politics of resistance – the exact opposite of what commanders initially conceived of as ‘wife socialization.’ The two most gendered institutions – one overseen by the state and one a constituent part of it – are marriage and the military, and they are not only intrinsically homophobic, both are non-capitalist in their operation yet essential for uninterrupted capital accumulation. Homophobia polices gender as a system of power: a system integrated into very aspect of actually existing capitalism. The policing of gender as a system of men’s power over women, by homophobia and every other means, often begins before birth. Ironically, the person most held responsible for gender socialization… is Mom.


Motherhood In patriarchal society, sexuality is institutionalized and institutions are sexualized. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? And does it matter? At best, one can only examine this interrelation, and at best one has to be arbitrary about where to begin. Since mothers have been the favorite whipping boys (no pun intended) of every misogynist expert studying psychology and social relations from Freud to Moynihan, what Mary Daly394 called the “ritual destruction of women,” (Daly, p. 65) perhaps motherhood is a way to begin. But in the relation of motherhood to masculinity, there is another actor: the son. In the mother-son relation, the focus of responsibility/culpability tends to concentrate solely on Mom, and the singular ‘product’ of this relationship is always assumed to be the child. In almost all parenting literature nowadays, we can note that the mother is treated not as an autonomous human being but as a vehicle for the development of the child. The son who enters military service is grown and surely must be the target of study and the bearer of some measure of responsibility for reflection and self-criticism commensurate with his experience and education. People never cease asking Sherry and I why we ‘let’ our son Jessie join the Army, for example, as if parents exercise absolute lifelong control over their offspring, and as if a child’s decisions for the rest of his or her life are a direct outcome of parental practice – particularly that of the mother. Motherhood is not only a practical institution, but an affective-symbolic one, and therefore an ideology. The practice of motherhood, of the mothering of boys, on the other hand, is the first and, many would argue, most formative experience of male-female relations for boys. But what are the social forces bearing down on the mother, on the son, and on the evolution of their relationship, that circumscribe and direct the socialization of boys, as opposed to what ‘individual responsibility’ women ostensibly bear for the ‘outcome’ of this relationship? And what happens to mother and son, and to their relationship, as the military – a real formal institution – becomes more central to the project of protecting and preserving power, thereby hyper-privileging military masculinities and shifting the perceptions and definitions of all masculinities throughout society in relation to it? I recognize that co-parenting by both male and female parents and by same-sex parents exists, but this is an exceptional reality. The vast majority of people in the U.S. and the world are still initially socialized by women. The relation of mother to son is one that can be neither generalized nor naturalized. Societies define motherhood hegemonically. Motherhood is defined consistent with the need for social stability. And mothers are indoctrinated for the purpose of gaining their uncritical acquiescence. But American society is divided by internal colonization; and there are long standing historical permutations of hegemonic motherhoods. Among the most striking differences in American motherhoods is that between white and African Americans, which I will discuss further along. There are also class and regional versions of the mother-son relation; and there is significant diversity within families that are now subject to the general social mobility of American society that has wrought new adaptations in all familial relationships. The mother-son relation is universally characterized by evolution, with a series of socially-constructed ‘gates’ through which the relation passes: punctuations that mark decisive shifts in the quality of the relation. It is also safe to say that, historically and currently, part of every developing masculinity is the psychic separation from the mother, or the female… or female-ness. The socialization of boys into various masculinities is determined partly by social position and standpoint. The ‘housewifization’ of the metropolitan mother, described by Mies – wherein the post-WWII American woman was redefined as a sex-object and consumer – has been further determined by women’s economic forced entry into the (usually low) wage-labor force by both cohabitating and single mothers. The domestic subtraction is no longer just of a male parent, either by separation or work, but the subtraction of all parents from much of the direct socialization process, leaving school and mass media to fill the void. This has created an element of standardization of masculinities, driven by ideology in the schools and by structural commercial avarice in the media. A corresponding process has happened in the construction of femininities. I can easily remember when cultural norms in Black communities were such that most of the African American women I knew had not been drawn into the infantilizing hairlessness that subjected white women's legs and armpits to daily or near-daily assault with a razor. But with the ever more ubiquitous presence in the mass media of malesexualized Black women as gender icons, a new Black female ‘beauty’ standard has become hegemonic, and most young African American women are now disciplined to this standard – one that is highly sexually

Gyn-Ecology – The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (1978, re-released by Beacon Press, 1990).


objectified, and doubly retrograde for the fact that this is a long standing racist stereotype applied by white men to Black women. It is hard not to miss how the majority of Black leading women in American film are light-skinned, pretty by white standards, with just enough of the ‘exotic’ to appeal to white male viewers (and directors). Fashion has always played a disciplining role in gender. The more compelling question – if we are going to understand the construction of masculinities in boys, and the mother-son dialectic in this regard – is not what are our children being disciplined to wear (though that is important) but what are they being shown to do. What ways of relating to one another as male and-or female are they absorbing in those eight hours a day in front of the tube? How has the decreasing direct oversight by any parent at all in the socialization process, given the ways in which school and mass media fill those voids, worked to standardize masculinities/femininities? Capitalist patriarchy, with its gender and class divisions of labor, has regimented children by age and imposed a sharp demarcation between the so-called developmental stages. In the Haitian countryside, the concept of ‘adolescence,’ for example, is unheard of, and would be very difficult to explain. Scholars tentatively agree that ‘childhood’ began in this society only in the early 19th Century. Without entering into the debates about what precisely childhood is, I feel very safe in pointing out how commodified it has become, and in the era of mass-media, how standardized it is becoming. ‘Youth culture’ is a modern phenomenon, accounting for many of the intergenerational culture clashes we see now – clashes that themselves can be commodified by selling rebellious poses to youth and self-help advice to us older folk. Intergenerational social division is thereby sharpened by mass-media consumerism economically and consolidated by formal schooling spatially and culturally. This is the destabilized capitalist milieu in which women (in a non-capitalist context – the family) are then expected to rescue social order through the medicalized, that is, “normative,”expectations of modern ‘parenting.’ The family has been divested of many of its functions as an instrument of socialization. The educational system and the media – television in particular – surpass the family’s importance in the socialization process. Nevertheless, the very earliest formative months and years are still subject to the family’s – and especially the mother’s – guidance… it is the mother who introduces the child to language and who first assists it to develop the powers of perception through which it will eventually ‘receive’ the world… Society assigns to women the mission of unknowingly creating human beings who will ‘feel at home’ in a reified world.395 Women are not only expected to perform most of the emotional work in American society, they are saddled with the contradictory responsibility of nurturing male children and then training them to adapt to a misogynistic culture. The remarkable thing – given the protracted pressure of this role conflict for mothers – is not that they have internalized much of the misogyny in that culture, but that they have resisted it to the extent that they often do. This contradiction is even sharper for African American women who often feel compelled to impose harsh corporal discipline on boys early in life in order to regulate their behavior before they come of age, when ‘acting out’ can make them easy targets for trigger-happy racist police and the U.S. gulag. While there is a powerful awareness that simply ‘behaving’ will not protect Black men from state violence, Black mothers know that particularly fractious boys are singled out early and often for tracking, profiling, and maltreatment. Mary Daly gives a poignant example of this bind into which women were literally placed in prerevolutionary China: The use of women as token torturers is more obvious in Chinese footbinding… The imprisoned, mutilated women had to believe that “if one loved a daughter one could not love her feet.” Not only did contemporary Chinese males choose to see this as something done by women, as if women were truly the controlling agents, but so also do Western scholars. (Daly, pp. 139-140)


Angela Davis, “Women and Capitalism: Dialectics of Oppression and Liberation”, The Black Feminist Reader, p. 170


The woman, especially the mother, is always left holding the bag. The inhering pain of this male-socializing role for the mother is mirrored in the son, even if it is only vaguely and symbolically remembered later in life. The first love of most children is their mother, and yet we seem to reflect little as a society on the emotional cost to males of their enforced separation from and rejection of the mother (socially coded as the rejection of anything ‘feminine’) as part of the male socialization process. (This is often sublimated into the idealization of one’s mother reflecting a generation-flipping paternal attachment. This gives the epithet ‘motherfucker’ its special force as a challenge not only to one as a male protector (of his mother), but to the idealization of the mother: an idealization which is violated with the reference to the incest taboo.) Because the problem for the boy is to distinguish himself from the mother and protect himself against the real threat she poses for his identity, his conflictual and oppositional efforts lead to the formation of rigid ego boundaries… Thus the boy’s construction of self in opposition to unity with the mother, his construction of identity as differentiation from the mother, sets a hostile and combative dualism at the heart of both the community men construct and the masculinist world view by means of which they understand their lives… The construction of the self in opposition to another who threatens one’s very being reverberates throughout the construction of both class society and the masculinist world view and results in a deep-going and hierarchical dualism. First the man’s experience is characterized by the duality of concrete versus abstract. Material reality as experienced by the boy in the family provides no model, and is unimportant in the attainment of masculinity. Nothing of value to the boy occurs within the family, and masculinity becomes an abstract ideal to be achieved over the opposition of daily life. Masculinity must be attained by means of opposition to the concrete world of daily life, by escaping from contact with the female world of the household into the masculine world of politics or public life. This experience of two worlds, one valuable, if abstract and deeply unattainable, the other useless and demeaning, if concrete and necessary, lies at the heart of a series of dualisms – abstract/concrete, mind/body, culture/nature, ideal/real, stasis/change. And all these dualisms are overlaid by gender; only the first of each pair is associated with the male. (Hartsock, pp. 240-241) We can talk all we want about the economic reasons many young men join the military, and these factors are real and significant, but it is at our peril that we overlook how the perception of military life conforms to the masculine pole of these dualisms that define identity for us. I say perception because the reality of concrete military life is very different than the masculine symbolism that makes it so attractive to uninitiated young men. From the symbolic domination of the mother, they enter into the very real domination of the military rank system. There are many who still point to the psychic damage of military training and culture, but I believe that is a tremendous red herring. The damage is not institutional, it is social, and the problem is not primarily the military, it is masculinity itself. We start attacking boys with gender almost from birth, and while they will someday reap material privileges from their gender, the price they pay is very, very high. Those rigid ego boundaries are a very heavy armor and a bitter burden for life. The family, the marriage, the mother… it is here in the household where we first learn how to be human, that the most powerful affective aptitudes are constructed, and where a symbolic universe is constructed pre-literately. An emotional and cognitive frame is built here that is highly resistant to rational and persuasive intervention, but which is manipulable by the forces of reaction – and which en-genders every aspect of society. Says Hartsock, “… female care of infants… shape men as well as women – as fathers and husbands, and as policymakers, as the male gender in whatever role. Those arrangements, social as well as affective in origin, shape public life and policy in the very attitudes toward nature, life, and power borne by the gender that must overcome the Mother.” (pp. 176-7)


Men’s interest in patriarchy is further sustained by women’s investment in patriarchy, as expressed in loyalty to patriarchal religions, in narratives of romance, in enforcing difference/domination in the lives of children… -R. W. Connell


Prepossession Mary Daly wrote of “prepossession.” “The preposessors invade and occupy a woman, treating her as a territory before she can achieve autonomous, Self-centering process.” (Daly, p. 232) Implicit in this socialization of the woman as a sexual colony is “pre-occupation” (hyphen hers). Colonizing, occupying, pre-possessing – conditioning in advance of one’s ability to understand and struggle – achieves hegemony, the consent of the governed. Hegemony relies not on direct force but on ‘consent,’ and that consent predicated on the internalization of the colonizer’s categories and ways of knowing. The preoccupation is transformed by her socialization into her own endless list of preoccupations. “Her mind is preoccupied with anxiety… [she] examines herself in the mirror, seeing herself as a parcel of protuberances. She is looking through male lenses. [italics mine] Filled with inspired fixations, she checks to see if her hair, eyebrows, lashes, lips, skin, breasts, buttocks, stomach, hips, legs, feet are ‘satisfactory.’” (Daly, p. 233) This is the construction of a consumer. This is the construction of an addict. But if women are constructed by capitalist patriarchy as consumers and addicts, they are constructed as a certain kind of consumer/addict, a woman, defined by the cycle of preoccupation-consumption assigned to women in a society – consumption that is both obsessive and compulsive – at least part of the definition of addiction. Advertising, overt and covert, has become the construction of obsession and compulsion. There are many scripts for consumption-addiction, and some are female and some are male. They all are forms of bondage, but they are not equal forms of bondage. In marketing to metropolitan children, capitalism has leveraged the position of woman as consumer and caregiver intermediary who intervenes on behalf of her children to prevent their being ostracized. The ostensible short-term interest of the children is used to subvert the long-term interest of a whole society. Therefore, the children enjoy this transient and largely superficial benefit at the expense of their own futures. Moreover, the ‘bene-fit’ of ‘fitting in’ serves to further socialize the children as consumers and therefore reproduce this slavish retail addiction across generations. (This phenomenon is now apparent in the imperial military, where the volunteer military is fundamentally designed to ‘compete with the private sector.’ The military now finds that it has to provide plenty of retail opportunities for its members in order to remain competitive. This is what the soldier grew up with as a child.) In the world system now, the United States has the role of dominant consumer. Abdication of that role would crash the global economy. The degree to which the woman’s role as consumer (as Mies pointed out) – and therefore essential to late capitalism in the core nations – is shaped by male approval and reinforcement, is vastly underappreciated by the left. Correspondingly, the revolutionary potential of women is under-appreciated even after 50 years of vigorous revolutionary feminist theory that men on the left still seem to want to sideline as secondary to their pre-existing revolutionary schemas. A challenge to the addictive consumerism cultivated in metropolitan women is a simultaneous challenge to both economic and sexual oppression. It is a direct challenge to what Mary Daly described as “pre-possession” and “pre-occupation,” which have also been medicalized – framed as symptoms, pathologies, diseases (which can only be corrected by… commodity consumption). Reduced to the state of an empty vessel/vassal, the victim focuses desperately upon physical symptoms, therapeutically misinterpreted memories, and “appearance,” frantically consuming medication, counsel, cosmetics, and clothing to cloak and fill her expanding emptiness. As she is transformed into an insatiable consumer, her transcendence is consumed and she consumes herself. This is enforced female complicity in gynocidal fetishism. (Daly, p. 233) Self-consumption is turned by metropolitan women against their own bodies, starting in that peculiar phase we call adolescence. It is acted out through ‘eating disorders’ and a host of other self-destructive reactions.


“It is not just the often quoted cliché of the ‘fear of growing up’,” writes Marlene Boskind-White, “that is the problem but the reality of growing up in a society that is clearly hostile, dangerous, and damaging to women.”396 If my own masochistic pursuit of a Special Operations career was overcompliance with the expectations of masculinity, then bulimia and anorexia are overcompliance with the expectations of femininity. From whence do we internalize these expectations? The impact of television and film can hardly be overestimated in its power to shape sexuality and control the necessary and adaptive renegotiations of masculinity-femininity. The medium of television itself is insidious in its power, addictive in its own right, and perhaps the most effective mechanism of social control in history. It is in nearly every American home, regardless of income. Through television, while we sit relaxed in the safest and most accepting space we have in society, a manufactured world view is pumped into us that substitutes an audio-visual data stream for reality, and that builds epistemological conformity across the entire society. It has signficantly usurped interpersonal bonds of learning and socialization, and is effective at creating affective states that are barely permeable to intellectual persuasion. Not surprisingly, eating disorders that were largely restricted to white women are now on the rise among Black and Latina women, and men are now suffering from increased rates of eating disorders, compulsive and injurious weightlifting, and steroid abuse.397 Capital has to expand the consumer market, create consumer demand where there was none, and now men are being subjected to the same impossible body-ideals as women, pushed more and more to see themselves as sexual commodities to be placed on ‘the market.’ In the jargon, these male consumers are now called ‘metrosexual.’ These destabilizations have not broken male privilege. But they are reformulating it in very destabilizing ways. There can be little doubt that the American national role in the late imperialist world economic system – as consumer of last instance – is a determining force that underwrites the drive to transform men into consumers of body-image insecurity. There is likewise little doubt that this body-image preoccupation, this impossible pursuit of entertainment media archetypes, is being carried into the U.S. military. Then these young, self-alienated, insecure men are sent to Iraq, where their televised mythologies crash into the realities of imperial pillage with unpredictable consequences.


Marlene Boskind-White & William C. White, Bulemia/Anorexia – The Binge Purge Cycle and Self-Starvation, W. W. Norton & Co., 2000, p. 67.

Norman Swan, “Men with Eating Disorders,” The Health Report, July 24, 2000.


Correctives These recursive symbolic-affective-economic systems are what make gender such an intractable reality, even as gender norms are increasingly destabilized by the expansionary imperatives of capital accumulation. Women are no more immune to conformity within the system than men, and – as Connell pointed out – they are often the most enthusiastic enforcers of system stability, because they are the least secure actors within it. Many single men, in decades past, remained in the military to remain outside consumer society – which they perceived as mindless and unpredictable – but now the number of married soldiers is high. Financial responsibility to spouse and children is often a major factor in staying with a military career, and military spouses frequently encourage remaining in the military because of the strong element of economic stability. This mirrors the female role in the larger consumer society of policing mates' conformity, mates upon whom the economically disadvantaged women depend for stability – not just for them, but precisely for their children. Here is the trap, for women and men, and it is constructed on consumerism disguised as survival. Addiction defined as necessity. Consumerism is, as Mies points out, the ideology of the middle-class metropolitan housewife, and “the sadistic, cynical woman-hatred of the whole capitalist-patriarchal civilization is so openly demonstrated today that feminists can no longer have the illusion that women’s liberation will be possible within the context of this social paradigm.” (Well, unfortunately, some do.) The very ‘lifestyle’ that is held up as a symbol of progress to poor women, and to women outside the capitalist metropoles – a lifestyle that is materially supportable only through the continued violation and exploitation of these women in the invisible peripheries – is a lie, cynical and sadistic, and requiring a strong dose of self-delusion from middle class women to continue. The ‘middle class lifestyle’ is not innocent. It is inextricable from the militarily enforced empire. It is a lifestyle that rests firmly on the misery of unseen millions, the majority being other women. Johanna Brenner subdivides the broad category of (Hartsock’s) ‘positionality’ into “survival projects:” “…the ways people group together in order to live in capitalist society. These projects take different forms, from the most narrow and individualistic modes of striving to mass collective action. Individuals may be very conscious of making strategic choices, or they may adopt them more or less unconsciously. In either case, people must enter into various kinds of affiliation to secure the basic necessities of life. These patterns of affiliation are fundamental to how individuals define the boundaries of their solidarities, how they position themselves in relation to others, how they organize a worldview, and how they develop their various definitions of self, including their gendered identities…. the notion of survival projects … is a way of talking about material life that recognizes the importance of individuals' motives and action, while placing these in specific social and historical contexts.”398 She describes the importance of communal ties outside capitalist relations (like families) that are simultaneously a source of support, but also frequently parochial and xenophobic influences. In the military, too, there is an extra-capitalist institution that attempts to overcome old communal ties and replace them with its own; communalism from above. Those individuals in the military system employ survival strategies as well – and in a predominantly male culture, especially in combat specialties where units are still exclusively male, masculinist ideology is the worldview, to which each individual man to some extent must adapt himself. These ties constitute “survival networks” in broader society. They include family and friends. These networks undergird and precede direct entry into capitalist relations. In the military, however, the sub-society is organized around the notion of a network preparing to survive warfare – kind of mirror-reverse image of society at-large. While this ‘imposition’ of communal ties in the military is off-putting to those with strong experience of the more organic communal ties, it is manna for those who have little experience of them, or for those who socialize easily within the masculinist sub-culture. In fact, communal activities outside of work in

Johanna Brenner, “On Gender and Class in US Labor History,” Monthly Review, Volume 50, Number 6, November 1998.


the military – those that are organized by the military – have a distinct working class flavor, softball games, horseshoes, barbecue, etc. The increasing alienation and atomization of American society actually makes the communalism of the military attractive. Brenner points out that not only is sexuality constructed with a powerful emotional dimension related to the question of ‘identity,’ but that so is our work. Work “mobilize[s] feelings as much as gender does. And, on the other side, gender identities, while drawing on cultural meanings and mobilizing sexuality, are constructed within material relations, relations defined by the survival strategies through which people accomplish their basic life tasks.” And we know that work is still largely divided by gender, so there is a recursive reinforcement. Our various social affiliations determine and are determined by gender and by capitalism, but they can never be reduced simply to one or the other or even both. And it is this complexity of ‘position’ for each individual that leads us to make what Brenner calls “strategic choices” about our lives. This is related to the urgency of “tempo-tasks” in our daily lives, and to the overwhelming temporal contradictions between the goals of social movements and the demands of everyday life. These contradictions lead to the employment of ‘sectoral strategies,’ that are very effective as making gains for smaller ‘sectors’ in the short term, but which subvert long-term inter-sectoral unity to overcome the more fundamental power relations in society – be they gender, class, or racial-national. “Masculinity of a certain sort (e.g., white or native-born) was produced and mobilized to delimit the areas of labor belonging to unionized men and to justify their exclusionary strategies.” (Brenner) She points out that males are not exclusive in employing sectoral strategies, but that women (RNs and certified teachers) have been just as exclusionary out of narrow self-interest as men. Sectoralism then is not synonymous with masculinity, therefore we cannot conclude that certain masculinities “produced and mobilized to delimit areas of labor” (including soldiery!) precede sectoralism or that ‘sectors’ themselves – like military organizations – are a simple linear outgrowth of masculinity. Brenner also notes (describing trade union activities) that women have been able to contest for power with men more effectively at the local level where these communal networks (more often than not organized by women) were strongest, and that “the more centralized, bureaucratic, and trans-local working-class organizations are, the easier it is for men to monopolize decision making and marginalize women.” Limitations on women's participation were cultural (definitions of leadership, and notions of masculine authority and the role of women in the public sphere) but also material. In the first instance, care-giving responsibilities restricted women's leadership beyond the local level. Until quite recently most women union leaders and organizers were single, childless, or had grown children. But even when individual women fought their way into leadership at the regional or national level, they were isolated, lacking a collective political base. What is more “centralized, bureaucratic, and trans-local” than the US military? What might this mean for the social movements against capitalism, national oppression, and patriarchy? As resistance struggles begin they are more local, and increasingly as the struggle transforms into a nationwide (and even internationalized), coordinated one, from war of maneuver to war of positions, from guerrilla to conventional, the organizational tendency is to centralize. Given that many forms are necessarily centralized and trans-local, the question becomes how to be intentional about preventing the sectoralpatriarchal defaults from kicking in? There is no way to evade how ‘development’ as an economic paradigm for both capitalists and socialists is directly connected to the persistence of the global sexual division of labor; and in particular how it is responsible for women who came forward as combatants in armed liberation struggles, saw that power translated into other manifestations of social equality, but then were consistently hurled back into primitive accumulation and household sectors after the armed struggle was won. This was not simply a matter of male ‘sexism’ reasserting itself. It was structural. But it was also preceded by the incremental marginalization of women before these struggles were won, by a masculinist default that kicked in with trans-local centralization. There are also sectoral divisions latent in the quest for women to make inroads into traditionally male jobs in the military. Note the violent objections many Navy ‘wives’ had to including women on ship’s crews. Women who still perceived marriage as their best career option (the wives) were thrown into a perceived


conflict with women who were challenging male hegemony in the military. Was this an emotional or an economic concern? Of course, that is a false dichotomy. Brenner: The passionate feelings that leak through the minutes of both nineteenth and twentieth century union meetings where the employment of women was discussed demonstrate that craftsmen experienced lower-waged women's entry into their workplaces as an attack on their masculinity, their sexual and social selves. The economic threat that lower-paid women workers represented was certainly real. But much more than wage levels was at stake. Women's presence also threatened the practices, feelings, and relationships through which men had constructed a culture of solidarity within their organizations. Brenner also, however, shows how attitudes were re-formed in the struggle for more sexually egalitarian unions: Periods of labor radicalism and mass struggles were the most hospitable environment for challenges to hegemonic cultural constructions of gender. The movements' radically democratic ideology encouraged claims for gender equality and respect for women as partners, not subordinates. The actual organizing and solidarity of workers in conflict with employers encouraged women workers to organize and encouraged working-class men to support them. Organized feminism, while predominantly middle-class in membership, helped working-class women to develop the language and political resources to articulate demands for political and economic equality within their trade unions and communities. (The contrast between the 1930s and earlier moments of widespread class mobilization is especially striking along these lines.) The above also points to the vital importance of class-breakaways and working class intellectuals – in all struggles – to “develop language and resources to articulate demands,” something overlooked by those who reflexively dismiss ‘petit bourgeois’ feminism, and to a failure to understand that women’s freedom struggle, much like the Black freedom struggle, will require cross-class alliances to overcome male hegemony. When Sherry and I took our grandson to the beach in the summer of 2004 with his father and aunt, we bought a little sun cap with a 360-brim to help prevent him burning. The horrified reaction of both his dad and aunt were, “He looks like a girl.” These two grown children had not grown up with zero exposure to gender politics, including conscious gender politics. But they attended public schools, interacted with other children and adults, and have been exposed to the same omnipresent cultural indoctrination as anyone else in American society – albeit more on the African American side of the Black-white cultural boundary. Individuals alone can not be a dam against the gendering of our socialization. It’s not possible. And the attempt to ‘enforce’ our heterodox values about gender is a recipe for conflict which could potentially drive our children away altogether. Any parent knows this dilemma, and every parent knows that the day-to-day interests – sectoral though they may be – of the children we raise in actually-existing society include the draconian gender policing they encounter at school; the consequences range from mockery to ostracism to physical attack. So we have our say, plant the seeds we can, and enter into a long-term dialectical struggle not with our ‘creations,’ but with these other people with whom we have established these powerful affective bonds. Voluntarism has never changed society, at any rate. My own opinion is that it unlikely ever will. Self-help strategies of individual redemption are cop-outs for people who for whatever reason can not or will not participate in mass struggles, or they are used to bewilder the masses into continued internalization of the system. The reality of gender, particularly of masculinity from where I stand, is that there is no way around it, under it, or over it. With very few exceptions, boys and men are inside it before they even have the capacity to name or interrogate what it is. Women are inside it, too. Capitalist patriarchy is a social system that holds us all. The only way out is through. When there is nothing to join, all we have is our rebellion. But I remember Steinbeck’s description (the work escapes me, but the image is clear) of two Dust Bowl refugees sitting down


together at a hobo fire, strangers. One says, “I lost my farm.” The other responds, “I lost my farm, too.” Steinbeck called that the first cell division in the gestation of revolution. Find others. Work collectively. One of the points I have elliptically orbited throughout this book is that gender is not the imposition of human characteristics on sex. It is the division of human characteristics – forged into their concrete forms in the dialectic between society and the individual – into a gendered division of productive, reproductive, epistemological, affective, and psychic labor. Men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus. They have been exiled there from Earth. If the colonized-ness of femininities exists directly in its relation against the colonizer-ness of masculinities, then – speaking for myself as a man – I have to begin where I am and continue through masculinity to find a liberatory place on its other side. I have to be the white collaborator with the Black guerrilla in Apartheid South Africa. While I reject voluntarism as a vehicle for social transformation, I have to also recognize that at the end of the day we must change individuals in order to enlist them in the mass movements. On the question of gender, from my own point of view, that means more men must become engaged in radical gender politics. While males as an aggregate have material benefits in the gender system, my argument remains that the price we pay in every other aspect of our lives is terrible. Somehow we have to connect not with male privilege but with male pain and make that our point of departure for re-integrating the struggle for the liberation of all human beings from the tyranny of gender. Nancy C. M. Hartsock, writing about the agonal universe created by gender polarity, says: For each aspect of eros, the centrality of hostility, the wish to do harm, marks a fascination with death – the death of the other as a separate being, the denial of one’s own body in order to deny one’s own mortality, and the recasting of even reproduction as death. These, then, are the outlines of the community structured by a masculine eros, a community that expresses the life activity and experience not of the ruling class but the ruling gender. The masculine gender carried by power intensifies the tensions of community and leads to the construction of an even more conflictual and false community than that formed by means of exchange. It is a community both in theory and in fact obsessed with revenge and structured by conquest and domination. The opposition of men to women and perhaps even to other men is not simply a transitory opposition of arbitrary interests, but an opposition resting on a deepgoing threat to existence. Rather than an interaction in which parties have both conflicting and common interests, where the first choice of each is the second last of the other, the participants in the agonal community structured by a masculine eros have no common choices. The community emerges only through conquest, struggle, and even the potential death of its members. These dynamics of conquest and domination mean that the gain of one participant can come only at the expense of the other’s submission, humiliation, or even death. Been there. All the way to the top, to places most men for a thousand reasons will never go. Here’s what I found there. Nothing. It is a place without meaning.


Traversing In today’s American conjuncture, when we see the abundance of masculine revenge fantasies in the entertainment media – our myth-making, meaning-making apparatus – and when we see how easily trumped Marx’s material antagonisms are by the deployment of fear of the dark, feminized Other, how can we not see gender as an organizing principle at the center of the answer to a question? Why do so many members of the American working class continue to act against their own interests? It is because the very basis of their world view, emerging from the deepest recesses of their psyches where their most basic identities were formed from birth – long before they experienced the agonal reality of class – affectively consolidated in the emotional hothouses of their families, is sexuality. We can never fully understand how American society co-signs imperial wars without studying the gender content of that society and the gender content of the ruling class rationalizations for those wars. The hard question remains, if we are to go beyond describing what we have, to changing it especially considering that we are not outside this system, but in it how do we resolve our own paradox? Hornborg writes that we can only “go through.” We have to use the objectification process against itself, what he calls “conceptual encompassment as power.” Whether constructed as White Man, industry, patriarchy, or capital, the target for all their protests is perhaps nothing less than modernity itself. Although epitomized by the affluent, bourgeois, Caucasoid male, the sociocultural and political phenomenon of modernity cannot be reduce to a function of race, gender, or even class. In focusing on modernity, we may distill the essence of that pervasive polarity [subject-object] which continues to generate rifts in the most commendable of movements. At the same time, we may come to understand why these various movements have had such difficulties conceptualizing the enemy in ways conducive to its subjugation. For modernity is essentially a strategy for encompassment of the local; thus, it cannot be challenged in local terms, but only in turning its own logic against itself, that is by “emcompassing emcompassment,” or what Bourdieu has called “objectifying objectification.” (Hornborg, p.225) I will go a step further. In a world constructed agonally, it will now require turning agonal power against that very structure to break it down. If one of a Man’s ‘developed’ assets is courage – and not merely physical courage born out of maleenculturated emotional intimidation – then any male committed to undoing gender has to figure out where and how that courage is appropriate in the struggle alongside his sisters – and to enlist his brothers in that same collective fight. Not try to explore his feminine side. Not try to prove his remorse about his past, or that he has now become some feminist prince. The irony of this situation is that the agonal-male society has already been constructed, and only through agonal struggle can we now redress the problem… or rather find our way through. This courage is not simply the courage to fight the enemy without. In fact, it must first be the courage to fight the enemy within: the ruthless rooting out of one’s own oppressive masculinity, not as some self-referential encounter-group path to ‘enlightenment,’ but as a necessary way to clarify our practice. Then we can move the fight against gender as a system of power into the realm of collective practice, of solidarity with sisters, of criticism of our organizations, and finally to transforming society. The courage to go through one’s own socialization, as male or female, is a matter of deeds that begins with study, the toleration of intellectual vertigo, and continual ruthless critique/self-critique. But it does not end there. The courage to face the possibility of a new future can never realize that future without commitment to a mass movement, and the route from self-realization to collective action is not along well-traveled pathways. We are inside the laurel thickets of late imperialist gender, and we have to begin navigating our way out and toward each other not by seeking the trails that inevitably lead us back to where we began, but by reading the social and political topography of this epoch and crossing the most rugged terrain. This is never a straight line. Jessica Benjamin, in The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination,399 noted, “In order to challenge the sexual split which permeates our psychic, cultural, and social

Pantheon Books, 1988.


life, it is necessary to criticize not only the idealization of the masculine side, but also the reactive valorization of femininity. What is necessary is not to take sides but to remain focused on the dualistic structure itself.” (italics mine) The duality that is masculine-feminine is not only a division of labor, it is a division of personality in which men and women are both fractured to fit into their respective Procrustean beds. Commenting on Benjamin’s work, Dr. Harriet Kimble Wrye writes, “She [Benjamin] argues that the privileged male subject must eschew the illusion of dominance, reclaiming the vulnerability and subjectivity of which he is accustomed to divest himself by projecting it into the female, his object. The formerly objectified female must at the same time eschew the illusion of passivity, and take possession of her own activity, desire, and subjectivity.” Many feminists have referred to the ‘blindness’ of socialist and national liberations struggles, but that is only partly true. The tendency among metropolitan progressives is to forget that backwardness mattered. The vast majority of the anti-imperial combatants in these struggles were in often illiterate and superstitious to a degree that is often unfathomable by those who have not encountered this kind of backwardness first hand. Yes, there was no socialist Russia, but no trade union or agri-co-op or woman's group is ever socialist, either. What they all have in common is they are attempts by ordinary people to take matters into their own hands, a process which inevitably sooner or later brings them not to socialism but into conflict with banks and commodity-exchange, followed by US marines, body-bags, covert operations, disappearances, then USAID, professors from Washington to help reconstruct – well, we know the rest… Imagine the situation sixty or seventy years ago, then, when the Bolsheviks announced the dream of constructing a vast modern industrial society to these people's grandparents, who knew only the village, who had never seen perpendicular lines, who wore bast shoes made of straw and lynched the first teams of agricultural engineers sent to demonstrate to them the workings and potentialities of the few dozen – pitifully small number – of Fordson tractors which Lenin had imported for the purpose – because they convinced themselves that this was the devil's work, believing satanic imps lived inside the noisy, fuming engines.400 While many of these same people have some remarkable practical and survival skills – skills that we shall all sorely need in the not too distant future – they were not prepared to fly in the face of deeply ingrained beliefs about sexuality. The persistence of sexual ideology is as powerful as that of religion. This is not simply a matter of social relations, but also of deeply imbedded irrational fears. These are fears ameliorated by religion, like the fear of death; and fears associated with sexuality, like the fear of the loss of identity and meaning. It is the powerful personal experience of these fears that give religion and sexuality their immense gravitational force: a force that asserts itself during periods of deep confusion or strife. The reproduction of ideas about sexuality takes place in relation to its material basis – the family as an economic unit. Twentieth Century revolutions and national liberation struggles began with backwardness, but they also began with encirclement. So long as the world system was capitalist and relatively stable, anticapitalist/anti-imperialist projects were placed under relentless external pressure, economically and militarily. For survival, they depended on the ability to develop their own military capacities, and therefore (as in the case of the Soviet Union between the World Wars) their productive forces. This created a situation where internally property relations were superficially transformed but entire national economies found themselves under competitive military pressure that mimicked the competitive economic pressure of capitalism itself. To catch up and keep up, socialist economies had to modernize hastily, using the only productive systems in existence – those developed under capitalism and using capitalist productive relations. Those productive relations – going back to Mies yet again – were thoroughly integrated, “part and parcel” with the “man-woman relation,” that is, the family. Backwardness and encirclement combined to ensure that there would be no deep social transformation, and when those socialist projects began to collapse the stunning speed with which capitalism –


From a post to a listserv by Mark Jones on Soviet collapse and Russian trauma.


albeit a gansterized version – was restored was a consequence of the inability, under developmental pressure, of socialist states to break with capitalist relations of production and reproduction. Gender constructed within the family was one of the powerful hidden default settings for society with which the whole period of reaction following the defeat of these global movements articulated seamlessly. In a very real sense, the defeat of male supremacy will mark a break with the past so decisive as to require the absence of an organized external threat. War and the threat of war – as much as any other factor – preserved male supremacy in the socialist states. Even among the Chinese who granted legal equality to women and outlawed rape in the People’s Army, the vast majority of those forged in the armed struggle for future leadership were men. And the preservation of male supremacy created that gravitational pull that kept capitalist relations more generally in their orbits. This suggests the pivotal role of anti-patriarchal struggles in the metropoles, and most especially in the United States. Mies, writing about the failure of socialist projects to overthrow patriarchy, said “such a change of consciousness could not take place because there was little change in the material production relations, of which the patriarchal man-woman relation is part and parcel.” (Mies, P. 198) These contradictions continue and one inescapable conclusion is that women are still caught in the imperialist-national liberation dilemma, especially as deeply patriarchal religious formations become more objectively anti-imperialist in the current case of political Islam. And as neoliberalism becomes more savage, increasing the priority to break decisively with it as a matter of human survival, the need for a feminist state becomes that more urgent, and with it the need for more self-determining women’s insurgencies… theoretically… while objectively it is highly problematic. This should at least lead us to consider the question of fighting for a genderless state within the metropoles – not within the capitalist paradigm, but as a vanguard agenda here for a more general and thoroughly revolutionary project, and not a movement that can be selectively aimed abroad by American Orientalism. It becomes a revolutionary responsibility then for male revolutionaries to become feminist, and to exploit their own privilege for the purpose of destroying it… to become gender traitors. The relation between male supremacy and ‘growth’ economies is such that none of this will be possible without a decisive break with ‘growth’ altogether. The liberation of women is not an outcome of revolution. It is a precondition for it.


Father My father was born in 1906 in Michigan. In the most freewheeling parts of his life, he trapped fur, hunted, and fished. He was an outdoorsman; and to his credit, a minimalist. He walked where he went, boiled his tea on a pitch fire, and spent little on the ‘retail’ phase that now supports ‘sports’ conglomerates like Dick’s (think about that name). If he were alive and could witness the hi-tech, overfed, SUV-driving, weekend-awayfrom-the-office deer assassins that infest the diminishing patches and besieged corridors of woods and meadows, he would hold them in contempt. But when I was born, he was a proletarian. He was working in an aircraft plant in San Diego, and his escape from the deadening alienation of the assembly line was fishing or hunting quail not far away in Mexico. His other escape was in telling us the stories of his freer past existence. I of course idealized this. My father’s unintended influence on me had an inestimable impact on my embrace and eventual rejection of the peculiar masculinity that took me through the military. My larger-than-life image of him as a child was that of the outdoorsman – not the proletarian – one of fearlessness and non-alienated independence, and one that involved seeking clues about the past from signs in the present. I was trapping before I reached puberty. I could picture what had happened on a creek shore days earlier from observing the raccoon mizzens of mussel shells and tracks… I could see the raccoon there breaking open the shells. I could use these signs to determine where to set a trap, and I knew how to camouflage and bait it. I still wear a fading scar across my right thumb where a raccoon I caught in a leg trap in Missouri bit the tip nearly off when I attempted to drown him before he was sufficiently stunned by a blow. Eventually, the military – where I was attempting to earn this same masculinity my father displayed – took me beyond it; it took me to something far more dangerous and frightening. It would take a very long time for me to understand that the edgier masculinity of the military was underwritten by the same fear that enforces all masculinity. My father’s masculinity was defined only partly by his role as ‘provider.’ In telling and retelling his stories about trekking through Canada, bird hunting in Baja, hunting, fishing, etc, he added to the ‘provider’ masculinity a more cherished and mythical masculinity from the past, a masculinity one step further removed from the world of necessity, of bills and wages, and from his own proletarianization (feminization? objectification?), a masculinity more in contact with something essential… then fetishized as Nature, though still a Nature against which we see ourselves and not within. A world of drama with subjects whose actions are their own and not alienated. This is the hold that the military has on the psyches of many men of the metropolis, based on a yearning not for domination but release from their own daily subjugations in late capitalism. This is not a pure vision or even a conscious yearning, but a nascent form of resistance… that can also become reaction. It is here, where man lives in his own deeply sexualized identity, that a transformation must be made, and this transformation must inform all our practice. My father also had one other influence on me, and it would subvert the others, by and by. He told me for as far back as I can remember, “Always root for the underdog.” For all his failings, the most I can do to honor his memory is acknowledge this. This idea would get me into a lot of trouble, and for that I am grateful to my father.


Marx’s Ghost Many people who are trying to challenge power have also challenged what they perceive to be academic theorizing. They see it as removed from the masses, as elitist, even as “male” and “white.” I think this is wrong. I think it underestimates the masses. It also mischaracterizes the problem. In fact, it mischaracterizes several problems and leads us to – as Ramin Farahmandpur and Peter McLaren described it – “interpret our defeats as victories, to reaffirm our conditioned reflexes.”401 The first goal in any emancipation struggle must be to throw off the shackles of the dominant ideology, and for me that wasn’t always the dominant ideology for the elite. There is more than one dominant ideology, one dominant epistemology – one way of knowing. For me, coming from a white working class family, then spending a military career, not as an officer but as an enlisted man, I was trained and encouraged to know in the ways that made me effective in those roles on behalf of the existing system and those who command it. That system does not merely indoctrinate its youth in the universities, because the system is not reducible to its propaganda. It is training them to exercise power: technical power, managerial power, and conceptual power. Society’s institutions of learning have much that is of value, and that value will be necessarily diminished without the kind of critical discourse402, creativity, and dynamism that also allows subversive knowledges to find niches there. Institutions of higher learning are not merely credentialing agencies, and when their continuing commodification achieves that result, the ruling class itself will be fatally weakened by it. They teach important things in the academy, valuable things, things that confer real power. Even the power to challenge the knowledges that are parceled out to the masses. The same dominant class that will promote creationism among the masses will encourage its own children to study real biology. They know. They take the best food, the best land, the best beaches, the best technology and art. They also take the best knowledges they can, so long as those knowledges are useful to retain social power. I discovered a few these knowledges along my way, often reading everything I could get my hands on to fight the boredom of military life. Most who haven’t experienced the military don’t realize that half a soldier’s life is spent waiting somewhere. I found out that with a little effort I could get at these new knowledges, even without subjecting myself to the peculiar hardships and restraints of a university education. I couldn’t know it at the time, but my emancipation from my own limitations utterly depended upon learning new ways of knowing, many of them only available through serious ‘academic’ works. And these ideas, these interpretations, these reflections that went so deeply, required study. They have to be compared. They have to be defended against one another or combined to make them stand the test of observation and practice in the world. I think these knowledges that flourish in the interstices of the academy, the most dangerous ones to the system, like Marxism, like radical feminism, even like certain aspects of post-modernism, are transformed into academic departments and quarantined with careerism so they cannot infect popular epistemologies. Soldiers are not supposed to read them. Neither are poultry workers or peasants. So I’ve come to reject antiintellectual rejection of ‘the academic.’ Instead, it seems to me that we must break the quarantine. In thinking about gender and the military, it seems necessary to at least construct a framework for understanding the state: the organization within which the institution of the military exists. One of the problems that plagues liberal metropolitan feminism403 is precisely its acceptance of the liberal state as somehow axiomatic404 and eternal. This failure to theorize the state also plagues anarchist-feminism, though


Peter McLaren & Ramin Farahmandpur, “Reconsidering Marx in Post-Marxist Times: A Requiem for Postmodernism?” Educational Researcher 29.3 (2000): (pp. 25-33).

Critical discourse: By this I mean communication that emphasizes both the structure and the social context of the subject under review, and that aims to enable the participants to “denaturalize,” or expose the “taken-for-grantedness” of ideological messages, thereby exposing the social agendas concealed behind ideology.

The feminism of generally ‘white,’ economically comfortable women in the developed nations that perceives feminism as a struggle for ‘equal opportunity’ within a capitalist framework.

Axiomatic: an adjective meaning ‘evident without proof or argument.’


for different reasons, predominantly the continuing anarchist failure to come to grips with the state as an inescapable outgrowth of structured social antagonism,405 and not the source of that antagonism. For many on the orthodox left, unfortunately, the Holy Text on the issue of sex and the state is Frederick Engels’ The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State. The 1884 essay by Engels is not itself unfortunate. Orthodoxy is. Engels’ friend and colleague Karl Marx had died, leaving Engels to continue the application of their method – the materialist conception of history406– to social questions. In 1877, Lewis Henry Morgan, an anthropologist studying the Iroquois Indians published Ancient Society. Marx and Engels’ historical method had abandoned the “history of kings and generals” of earlier historians and begun to examine how geography, technical advances, and most of all the divisions of labor that came with human social development were determinative of social evolution. Darwin’s discovery of natural selection as the motor of species development had ignited curiosity throughout the world, and Engels himself was caught up in that curiosity. Morgan’s was perhaps the first systematic attempt to combine the Darwinian revolution in biology with the Marxian revolution in sociology (not to be confused with the “social Darwinism” that characterized 19th Century capitalist racism). Morgan’s documentation of Iroquois social structures gave Engels his point of departure in The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State. In the family, Engels identified a sexual division of labor. In brief, Engels believed that women were valued more or less equally in society even though tasks became divided by sex, so long as these tasks were communal, or public. Hyper-simplified, he attempted to make a case that women were “overthrown” by men as part of the process that forged classes based on property, with the result that women were confined to the domestic sphere and removed from social (public) production.407 The key to the emancipation of women, then, according to Engels, was returning women to the sphere of social production. Engels was committed – ahead of his time – to the legal and social equality of women, and he wanted to integrate a nascent theory of sexual oppression into the materialist interpretation of human social development. It is very easy to critique him now, as it is easy to critique anyone in the past in the light of discoveries made since they passed into made-history. That kind of retrojection408 is specious when it is part of an attempt to discredit a body of theory by taking ad hominem potshots at those who were instrumental in creating that body of theory. Eleanor Burke Leacock, the anthropologist who wrote the 1971 introduction to the International Publishers version of The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, said, “In western academic circles second-hand knowledge of (or assumptions about) Marxist ideas are legion, but Marx and Engels’ works are all too seldom read. The usual practice is to set up as Marxist theory the straw man of economic determinism and then knock it down. When more inquisitive students read some of Marx and Engels’ works, they commonly end up distorting the ideas they have gleaned therefrom, as they search for modes of discourse acceptable for the publications which are the means for entry into the academic brotherhood.”

By this I mean that inequality in society is not some accident or the product of varying ‘merit.’ Powerlessness exists in a direct relation with power, on incapable of existing without the other, and so creates a ‘structural’ antagonism between the two. The powerless must actually defeat the powerful in order to defeat their own powerlessness, and this antagonism is why the state has developed as an organization with a ‘legal monopoly on force’ to prevent the powerless from doing so. The class, gender, and national inequalities exist ‘prior to’ the state and are what make it necessary.

In Marxism and the study of history, historical materialism (or what Marx himself called “the materialist conception of history”) is a method which accounts for the developments and changes in human history according to economic, technological, and more broadly, material development. It can be contrasted with other theories of history (which Marxists might call idealisms) which place the causal role for historical and social change on politics, philosophy, art, God, or any number of other, more cultural phenomena. It centers on the notion that the ways in which humans live are forever changing, so that even capitalism is an artificial institution that will someday go away.

Social production: Cooperative, public work that creates those things required or desired by people; anything from food to DVDs.

Retrojection: Presenting something as a concept or idea available to people at a certain time in history, when it actually came later.


The common liberal feminist critique, for example, of Marxism that says (paraphrased), “the commodity forms the basis for Marx's analysis, exploitation occurs in the productive process, and class structures emerge from the workings of the productive process,” is a straw man analysis. The commodity doesn’t form the basis of Marx and Engels’ inquiry, but the basis of Marx and Engel’s inquiry into the process of capital accumulation in the process of production. The basis of Marxist inquiry at a deeper methodological level is dialectics. Quoting Eleanor Burke Leacock again, “a… theory of relationships that must constantly be tested, elaborated upon, and refined, both through theory and action. Rather than seeking comparabilities in statistical terms among what are all too often superficial features of different situations, comparabilities must be sought at the level of determinate mechanisms,409 at the level of processes that are generally hidden from easy view.” (italics in the original) What separates this dialectical approach from that of atomized and reductive male-bourgeois science (also seeking determinate causes) is the word “relationships.” The dynamism of social process and development is located in relationship, in interaction, interfusion, recursion. It is also a very useful approach to understanding women’s oppression. Marx used it to theorize capitalism in the only place on earth at the time where it was sufficiently evolved to do so: England. Then he died. It has been up to others to look through that same lens at sex and sexuality. Among friends, I can say I am a Marxist. But given both the awful distortions of this tradition by its enemies and the sometimes idiotic religious orthodoxy of some who also call themselves Marxists, I have to explain and qualify this claim. Marx is not a god for me, but a very benevolent ghost who constantly urges me to keep questioning. And as Miles Horton once said, he left us a tool box, not a blueprint. For those who have no anticommunist agenda, there is good reason to give credit where it is due to Marx and Engels and to honor their work and the work of revolutionaries who came after them by continuing their work – which includes critiquing it. Engels outlined some key and related issues in understanding social development. Oftentimes those who have come recently to radical politics have a kind of hair-trigger disposition to lash out at leftist sexism in the distant past, almost as a way of proving their own credentials, and failing to take into account that these socialist men were far out in front of their peers in their time. This kind of retrojection of one’s own “evolved” status into the past is thoughtlessly hubristic and easy, as if had the critic lived in those times she or he would have been able to leap over these backward men. They would not have, because we are all products of our time. This is like holding the people of the 17th Century responsible for spreading germs. Moreover, it is reducing the question to individuals. That in no way excuses the leftist sexism of today, which is in my view no longer excusable, but an inexcusable exercise of defense of male power and privilege. As Martha Gimenez said in her essay Marxist Feminism/Materialist Feminism (1998), “Lurking behind the repeated statements about the shortcomings of Marxism there is an economistic410 and undialectical understanding of Marx and Marxist theory. That Marx may not have addressed issues that 20th century feminists consider important is not a sufficient condition to invalidate Marx's methodology as well as the potential of his theory of capitalism to help us understand the conditions that oppress women.” There really is a powerful dialectical relationship between the family, property relations, and the state – just as Engels suggested – even if he erred frequently in attempting to describe it, and abandoned his own chosen method of “a materialist conception of history” with regard to women – the more serious error – by naturalizing them. It is the latter error that caused Marx, Engels and most subsequent Marxists, including successful revolutionaries, to overlook sexuality as the primary power relation inside that pivotal institution, the family, and as a powerful determinative force in the construction of all social relations. This is not a new argument. Revolutionary feminists have been making it for some time, often using Marxist categories to do so. That is why “Marxist” sects have sometimes perversely cozied up to liberal feminist precepts. They treat every word written by Marx, Engels, and Lenin to be perfect revealed truth (a practice that any one of these actual people would have regarded with contempt), and they are trapped inside their own economistic

Determinate mechanisms: The unseen forces that actually make things work the way they do – like natural laws, for example.

Economistic: Refusing to look at the dimensions of an issue beyond the strictly economic. Many Marxists have refused to understand or study women’s oppression outside the waged workplace, treating women and their oppression as strictly economic phenomena.


interpretation of women’s oppression, and left themselves floundering in the treacherous currents of liberalism when economism demonstrates its inability to explain gender as power. They have distanced themselves thereby from radical feminism, which has consistently tried to engage the most time-tested and useful Marxist methods and categories. In revolutionary practice, women were relegated to being revolutionary helpmates with certain exceptions and the most immediate forms of women’s oppression – often in the home – went unrecognized or was ‘deferred’ for resolution within the socialist project until after the revolution (which, for reasons I will cover later, never happened). What stake did women have in these revolutions that failed to account for their lived experience? What might have been women’s contribution to social revolutions had those revolutions went after patriarchy with the same ruthless resolve as they went after landlords and counter-revolutionaries? Everyone knows who Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was. Only some know who Ella Baker was. Yet her contribution to the Black freedom struggle was contemporaneous with King’s and just as significant. Still we have to recognize that with the armed forces of revolutions largely peopled by males, males steeped in the masculinities of their own societies, the revolutions would likely have failed if these shock troops had suddenly faced the demand that they surrender their own sexual privilege. As Barbara JancerWebster wrote in Women and Revolution in Yugoslavia411, the choice before many revolutions was not socialism or capitalism, but revolution or extermination. With or without the patriarchy of the revolutionaries, failure would have produced the result not of patriarchy for the women, which already existed, but coextermination with their male comrades. These were real situations. More reason to consider that any revolution that will commit to toppling both capitalism and patriarchy will necessarily have large numbers of women in the revolutionary armed forces and in command positions. A materialist conception of history is essential, in my opinion, for revolutionary progress and that is precisely why capitalist institutions work so hard to discredit it. There are, however, many insights to be gained from other bodies of theory – even those that deviate from materialism. Empirical science ignores the non-linear and dynamic, the dialectical, but it still yields valuable information. In the study of sex and sexuality, as well as the study of ideology, post-modernism has yielded valuable insights as well. Empiricism and post-modernism are both self-limiting and both can be deceptive, if we let them deceive us by failing to understand their limitations. But the fact that they are problematic does not translate into them being valueless. Just as Marx theorized power in the sphere of production, revolutionary feminists broke ground in theorizing power in the realm of sexuality. It is plausible to argue, as radical feminism does, that sexuality is constructed from a male-dominant point of view, defined by men, forced on women, and therefore constitutive of the very meaning of gender. In a sense, then, if we accept this without a dialectical appreciation of nuance, there is no such thing as genuine ‘consent’ on the part of women, in much the same way there is no way to legitimize a construct of “Black reverse racism” against whites. It's simply impossible to extricate this, as liberals do, from generalized social power. For the record, I do not accept this unconditionally, because it strips women of any agency whatsoever. But it is an extremely valuable perspective that does have a lot of validity that cannot be shorn from it by critiquing its absolutism. Feminists are simply demanding that we understand the ‘consent’ that determines cases of rape, for example, to be as specious as the ‘consent’ that workers give to spending most of their days in someone’s sweatshop. Consent is conditioned by surrounding systems of power. This is the radical feminist thesis, as I understand it, at least part of it, and it strikes me as very compelling, even if it flirts with determinism. Not comforting, not complete, but compelling and extremely useful. I acknowledge that the bourgeois has the power to define knowledge hegemonically.412 But this power is also male power. I also know that we have the agency to challenge it. The power to ‘explain’ is a form of acting on the world, and a form of material power. We can’t challenge that power if we don’t recognize it. Normality is the one of the most powerful notions that underwrites popular beliefs about sexuality. Social constructionists begin their inquiry into sexuality by asking how many different definitions are there for “normal.” Subjective, statistical, idealistic, cultural, clinical? Which is it?

Arden Press, 1990. Hegemony is rule through the consent of the ruled – defining knowledge hegemonically means having the basic assumptions of a system of knowledge already accepted as articles of faith by the vast majority of a society.


Raising mixed-race children has instructed me in just how powerful the notion of ‘normalcy’ is. They may not be able to define it, but as people who were already over-scrutinized growing up, our kids craved acceptance and even an element of blend-in anonymity in their social lives, and ‘normalcy’ is something they gravitated to, ‘a script’ as the social constructionists say. Masculinities/femininities are nothing if not sexual scripts, and we do not adopt these scripts for biological reasons. I myself have played out masculine sexual scripts for affirmation and acceptance, for affection, for physical and psychological protection. I still do, without even thinking about it. When I feel physically threatened, I adopt a counter-threatening demeanor… a very ‘male’ demeanor. And it works more often than not. So the reduction (a better and more accurate word than determinism) of sexuality to biology just doesn't ring true. I was biologically male when I was born. But ever since, the whole business of my sexuality has been instructed, rehearsed, and herded by social constructions of sexuality, constructions of a malesupremacist society. We have to take the radical feminist thesis seriously. It was presented as part of a principled debate, and its dismissal by self-referential, patriarchal, socialist formations for polemical and political reasons has done a disservice to Marxism as well as an injustice to this body of theory that was extending its hand in collaboration as fellow materialists and revolutionaries.


Standpoints The homophobia of the social movements in the past merits a lot of study in this regard. Homophobia is not some separate issue from women’s oppressions. It is intricately connected to them, and left-wing gender economism created left-wing myopia about sexuality. Ian Lekus, in Queer and Present Dangers: Homosexuality and American Antiwar Activism during the Vietnam Era,413 writes: Antiwar activists of all sexualities shared similar goals: stopping the Vietnam War, curbing American interventions in the Third World, and ending the nuclear arms race. However, despite the self-proclaimed radicalism of many heterosexual men in these movements, they frequently shared the homophobic values and practices that characterized Cold War American society. They usually dominated the groups working for peace, often gay-baiting their opponents and cajoling male recruits into proving their masculinity by following orders. These activist men often organized women in and out of the movement based on whom they were dating at a given moment, effectively dividing the New Left women into girlfriends who mimeographed and made coffee on the one hand and were desexualized leaders who were essentially accepted as “one of the boys” on the other. Frequently, these men justified such rhetoric and practices by referencing the homophobia and misogyny that they perceived as inherent to the white working class, Black Power, and Third World movements and cultures as authentic revolutionary attitudes. Lekus shows the real and practical interpenetration of misogyny and homophobia, but he also alludes to the deep-rootedness of patriarchal epistemology, surfacing in movements where people in the same radical tradition, like the American communists of the 1920s and 1930s, took principled and courageous risks in confronting white supremacy among the U.S. working class. The radical feminists have called on us not merely to be self-critical, but to orient our critical efforts on an examination of our basic theoretical assumptions about sex and attempting to identify what is responsible for this deep-rootedness. The standpoint of each of us informs all of us in this effort, and that is why one standpoint will never suffice. When ‘straight,’ ‘white,’ college-educated males predominate in the leadership of any movement, that movement will suffer from a hegemonic standpoint. This does not justify the flip side of this problem: idealization of the oppressed. Patricia Hill Collins, in her essay, “Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought,”414 writing about African American women, said that “African American women, as a group, experience a different world than those who are not black and female… these experiences stimulate a distinctive black feminist consciousness concerning that material reality.” This is what some academics have taken to calling ‘standpoint theory,’ or the idea that there are knowledges specific to a particular position in society. She identifies four areas where one’s national, class, and gender position in society can be seen in stark relief – paid work, unpaid work, type of community, and kinds of relationships. While this may not be comprehensive, it is a pretty good set of criteria for comparing colonized people with colonizers – whether those who are colonized are a nation-state like Haiti, an internal colony like African America, or housewives. It is also a useful way to describe standpoint. She gives her own operational definition of a way of knowing: it produces independent, specialized knowledge; it encourages collective identity by offering a view of themselves and the world; it infuses consciousness with new meaning; and it can be rearticulated as a weapon of struggle. This applies to a dominant group just as much as a subjected or resisting group. In describing the “Eurocentric Masculinist knowledge-validation process,” she says, “Two political criteria influence the knowledge validation process (italics mine). First, knowledge claims must be evaluated by a community of experts whose members represent the standpoints of the various groups from which they originate. Second, each community of experts must maintain its credibility as defined by the larger group in which it is situated and from which it draws its basic, taken-for-granted knowledge.” (italics mine)
413 414

This is Ian’s dissertation, some happy day to become a book. Ian’s home page is at

Included in The Black Feminist Reader, edited by Joy James and T. Deanan Sharpley-Whiting, Blackwell Publishers, 2000.


If that group is white, male, and bourgeois, it goes without saying that the inhering ‘superiority’ of all three of those categories is hidden because this standpoint is taken for granted – not as an explicit claim to superiority, but as an implicit assumption about the inferiority of non-white, non-male, non-bourgeois standpoint within an interpretation of the world. The dominant claim to ‘objectivity’ is in effect an expression of support for existing power relations. Those relations are precisely what are ignored in any putatively ‘objective’ account of social reality. This is directly analogous to the problems described earlier with regard to the liberal state: power concealed behind abstraction. Because the entire society is organized by this dominant class, including the production of knowledge, the dominant standpoint is normalized – that is, taken as the norm and foreclosed to any critique; even what passes for legitimate critique must now meet the demands of the hegemonic knowledge-validation process. This is precisely why I argue that those of us who are involved in the politics of resistance need a community of organic intellectuals to establish our own knowledge-validation process. The first thing we need to overthrow in that community is, in Collins’ words, “Positivist approaches [that] aim to create scientific descriptions of reality by producing objective generalizations. Since researchers have widely differing values, experiences, and emotions, genuine science is thought to be unattainable unless all human characteristics except rationality are eliminated from the research process.” There is no doubt that positivism has shown itself to be efficacious415 at manipulating nature and at prying some of nature’s secrets loose. The object is not to overthrow science in communities of organic intellectuals, but to unveil the systems of power concealed within the myth of scientific ‘objectivity.’ It is to overcome positivism’s limitations and expose its biases. The scientific method does not eliminate the nonobjective values that enter into the decision of what to study, or not, and the ability to select the kinds of research that are done is an exercise of immense power. The scientific method is able determine what we can do in many cases, but has no criteria for determining what we should do, or in whose interest things get done. And positivism (also atomism) is fundamentally based on a duality that it cannot investigate, any more than a doctor can remove her own tonsils, and that is the separation of subject and object – to which I refer several times in the course of this book. Having said that, I think honesty requires me to note that the maintenance of hegemony is not the sole reason for the dominant knowledge validation process. It also must prove itself, particularly in certain fields, to be efficacious in the world. In that, it has real value. I doubt anyone is prepared to throw out the study of microbiology in medicine, for example, even if there are many problems associated with the field of medicine and how it is practiced. Which brings us to the baby-and-bathwater argument that invariably comes up when one proposes ideas and practices outside the norm. We need some standard of rigor and depth that gives our work the force required to challenge these dominant ways of knowing. The only way I can see to do that is to first master positivism as a way of going beyond it. Counter-hegemonic communities of organic intellectuals must be able to swallow positivism whole, to envelop it, to minimize it with the immense context of the world. This will take work. We cannot confront it if we do not understand its meanings and implications better than its proponents. Standpoints are essential for this. This book is a book that fundamentally relies on a standpoint – the peculiar one of a career soldier (also southern, ‘white,’ male, working class, in a ‘racially’ diverse family) who has embraced revolutionary politics. At the same time, standpoint alone cannot be the sole basis of a politics of resistance. This is an important point in this context, because this book is an exploration of resistance as it relates to the politics of sex and the political role and position of the American military. A diversity of standpoints allows us to examine the totality of our current social system – which I argue is totalized416 and global – from different distances and angles in order to grasp that system in as many of its dimensions as possible. This is not for the purpose of fleshing out someone’s curriculum vitae417. It is for
415 416

Efficacious: Possessing the quality of being effective; productive of, or powerful to produce, the effect intended.

Totalizing theory: Unifying theory that attempts to explain the larger contexts of reality – historical materialism, for example.

A special type of resume traditionally used within the academic community. Earned degrees, teaching and research experience, publications, presentations, and related activities are featured. Unlike a resume, a CV tends to be longer and more informational than promotional in tone.


the same reason that a military organization conducts intelligence activities. We need to understand the system, in its parts and in its totality, to struggle effectively for its collapse and – more importantly – its replacement. This transformative agenda, for my part, is unvarnished and undisguised. Another advantage to being ‘organic.’ No one can go after my formal credentials or threaten my tenure because I openly call for the overthrow of a social system. The politics of standpoint only – or ‘identity politics’ as it is understood by some – is inherently selflimiting, as well as inherently myopic. It is this self-circumscription and myopia, combined with what is taken-for-granted within dominant ideologies that permeate the consciousness of all groups in society, that leads to the error, in my view, of ‘localism,’ or ‘spontaneity,’ or ‘volunteerism,’418 depending on which intellectual tradition you consult for the proper term. I want to emphasize that I am not saying standpoint theory is inherently wrong. On the contrary, I am saying that standpoint is invaluable, absolutely necessary for any politics of resistance. The error occurs when we see the world through standpoint alone, and thereby limit our contextual understanding of the oppressions against which we struggle. No standpoint is immune to hegemony. The same Black women that Collins cites are constant prey to consumerism, self-help hucksters, and jack-leg preachers (like everyone else in consumer society). And the more dangerous error, because of the sectarian impulse concealed within it, is the belief that standpoint theory and practice is counter-posed to totalizing theory and anti-system struggles. As both a Marxist and a feminist/womanist who believes that the reconciliation of these movements is urgently necessary, I see this as a critical point. Rosemary Hennessy makes the case for the necessity to transcend identity politics, and identifies the key weaknesses of so-called ‘localism.’ The contradiction between the material realities that shape individual lives and our ways of experiencing them (feeling we are “good” women for the exploited work we do, blaming ourselves when we fail to juggle the pressures to compete and serve, etc.) are inevitable in capitalism because capitalism relies on and continually reproduces ways of knowing and feeling that conceal the exploitative human relations that the accumulation of profit requires. Capitalism’s contradictory social arrangements affect societies across the globe differently and unevenly, and yet the ways the effects register and are known – or are distorted – in local communities and individual lives may often share common patterns. Many contradictions are not seen or experienced as local instances of a global social system because the ways of knowing that are most available do not allow them to be understood this way. Moreover, the social mechanisms for keeping capitalism’s structures and abuses invisible are long-standing, widely shared, often unconscious, and very effective. (Hennessy, p. 6) Hennessy defines ‘local’ beyond mere space and geography. “Although it may be these too, localizing is also a way of seeing or knowing the world that imagines any social entity – for example, a shared identity or social practice – to be simply a temporary occurrence or a provisional point of departure for defining the goals of emancipation.” (So-called ‘sex-radicals,’ for example) Her point is not a rebuttal of the standpoint thesis of Collins, but an elaboration and qualification of it. The problem for many leftisms, aside from the plain hostility of many men in these movements to feminism altogether, has been counterposing their totalizing theories of social development to these ‘local’ struggles (unless, of course, it involved trade unionism). The problem for many struggles lumped (too cavalierly) together as ‘identity politics,’ has been rejection of ‘totalizing’ theories (often a rejection initiated through bad experience with the hostility and orthodox sectarianism of the left – let’s be honest – but also through the cooptive mechanisms of capitalism itself). It seems to me that both Collins and Hennessy are right. While the particularity of any form of oppression certainly generates its own unique consciousness, that consciousness is still powerfully shaped and distorted by the imperatives of the larger society and the values transmitted to all components of that society by capitalism’s immensely expensive and effective system of indoctrination. The majority of Black women I know (not all), using Collins’ example again, can easily

Localism, spontaneity, and volunteerism are the fetishes of those who oppose broad, strategic organizing and theoretical perspectives that are ‘totalizing,’ a bad thing among those who promote the former three.


identify with any description of their own oppression, and resent the experience of it in their own lives – when they recognize it. At the same time, most are still caught up in both inter-female competition for the attention and favor of men, and in consumerism. So ‘totalizing’ theory, that provides the context to first see and then understand these oppressions, is still necessary if people are to fight back. The Marxist version of this theory in the past, however, has made two assumptions that are very much open to question. First, some have separated ‘class’ from ‘gender’ as both a category for analysis and as a realm of political practice. Second, some Marxism has insisted that capitalism is the ‘bottom line,’ if the reader will forgive the market idiom, of social organization, and that everything else is negotiable to preserve capital accumulation. I don’t disagree with the latter hypothetically, but I have two issues with where this has led to in terms of practice. First, I believe that feminists – particularly of the radical and socialist variety – have made a pretty good case that gender hierarchy is structurally and functionally inextricable from actually existing capitalism in such fundamental ways that we have to reassess the idea that gender and class are separable. Second, I don’t think that just because we identify capital accumulation as the central and inescapable motive of the ruling class (I believe that absolutely!) that it somehow automatically follows that the emphasis for revolutionary practice is at the point of production. History seems to indicate, again and again, that this is a non sequitur. My own military experience and my own study of military practice tells me, on the contrary, that the big strategic engagements do not come until after a long series of battles, counter-battles, campaigns, countercampaigns, and many intermediate objectives. If there is any proposal – since people are always asking “what do we do?” – that corresponds to this book, it is one that is both modest and immodest, and that is we need to organize a community of organic and academic intellectuals and activists who are committed to the refoundation of a revolutionary left that makes gender, national oppression, and ecological science as central to its theory and practice as class, and – here is my own wish – that we recruit, educate, and incorporate those with military backgrounds (especially women) into this revolutionary process. The division of labor that relegates gender to a ‘woman question,’ and that tends to exclude men from gender struggle and the theory that grows out of that struggle, has to be broken down. That exclusion, in my opinion, is not about the ‘oppression’ of men, but about keeping this contested space as an intellectual ghetto for the containment of women… in the end just another way of preserving male hegemony. If we are going to challenge hegemonic ‘knowledge,’ we all – male and female – have to master then envelop it. We must swallow it whole, encircle it, swarm it with standpoints and solidarity.


Post-modernism Back for a moment to pornography, because this issue exposes so much about gender, and then to culture. Digital market distribution of pornography has reinforced the abstraction of sexuality and sexual humiliation and slavery, and therein supported the twin towers of fallacy – biological determinism and libertarianism – that have prevented many on the left from understanding the concrete reality of the immensely lucrative sex-trade industry – an industry perpetuates a daily holocaust among the world’s women… as well as millions of children. Pornography – here I am talking about the general character of the industry, and not the exceptions that are hauled out by its apologists – is an ideological apparatus for rape culture – the culture that defines male sexual desire as aggression and female sexual desire as submission. Rape culture has been taken to the bosom of imperial military culture, and I think I have shown that. Pornography that says, “She wants it” – “it” portrayed in pornographic fantasy as being turned on by domination and humiliation – is propaganda for the system of power that these constructions of desire underwrite, i.e., patriarchy. Culture – at some level – is a set of shared assumptions. The left, in my considered opinion, is obliged to critique pornography, not defend it as naturalized desire (drive theory – biological determinism) or as a capitalist-consumer’s ‘freedom of choice’ (libertarianism). That is our job. The job of the left is to shovel the ideological bullshit off of social systems of power, and expose them for what they are. I would like to make the case to others on the left that engagement with the struggle for women’s selfdetermination is as central – morally and strategically – as the struggle on behalf of the ever more ‘informal’ proletariat, and the struggle to oppose imperialism. Moreover, I believe these struggles are intimately connected, and that we cannot adequately understand those phenomena with which we have long been preoccupied without understanding sexuality in an historically specific and contextualized way. A front line of this struggle – which the left has largely abandoned – is resistance against patriarchy. Capitalist patriarchy has the genetic predisposition of a ferret. It skitters off of obstacles and seeks new avenues without skipping a beat; it is constantly seeking its way forward. With the philosophical destruction of biological determinism and libertarianism –even though these fallacies still enjoy popular appeal – and with the academy shorn of activist Marxism and activist radical feminism – a niche has appeared for the latest ferret-form of capitalist patriarchy. Containment and co-optation, named ‘post-modernism.’ Wendy Brown, quoted below, is representative to some degree of the so-called ‘post-modern’ sensibility of many identity-based politics, which also include certain strands of feminism. Socialists have been very critical at different points of all three: feminism, identity politics, and post-modernism. Conversely, each of these tendencies has had occasion to critique socialist movements, particularly Marxism – the tradition that has been most useful to me, until my equally helpful engagement with feminism, in my own critical and political life. These critique/counter-critiques have dissolved into minor polemical wars as mutual defensiveness has led the proponents of each tendency to harden its position into a bunker of competing orthodoxy. This is unfortunate, because Marxism, feminism, identity politics, and post modernism all have something to teach us, and something to teach each other. The latter was embraced by power in the academy for its anti-Marxist potential, wherein it was transformed into an academic orthodoxy. Marxists have by and large attacked post-modernism for its reduction of society to competing ‘narratives and texts’ and for post-modernism’s expulsion of any theory of systems – what post modernists call “meta-narratives.” The wholesale rejection of post-modernism by some Marxists, however, fails to account for how post-modernism originated, or even that to which it constitutes an historical reaction. This wholesale rejection also blinds us to some important insights gained by post-modern ‘deconstruction’ of prevailing narratives. In its emphasis on narratives, texts, scripts, and signs, post-modernism has broken much new ground in the understanding of how ideologies are constructed and transmitted. Post-modernism has begun to draw connections between ideological transmission and psychology, in particular as it relates to constructions of gender. That post-modernism as a general tendency has rejected systemic interpretations and critiques is a profound weakness, but that failure does not constitute grounds for a wholesale rejection of every insight gained within the post-modernist project. In the same way, post-modernists (and many others) have rejected Marxism as a ‘totalizing metanarrative’ (which academic post-modern orthodoxy rejects), citing in just one example, “Marx’s most


important condition for the development of the contradiction that would break capitalism – relations of production that would ‘simplify class antagonisms… [such that] society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes facing each other’ – now seems as empirically remote as it is metaphysically alien.”419 On this basis alone, the failure of a particular vision of the breakup of capitalism (in the early polemical Manifesto of the Communist Party), Brown calls the Marxist critique of capitalism (in the later and exquisitely rigorous Capital – A Critique of Political Economy) as a system driven by tendential laws “a fiction.” This is saying that because Marx’s crystal ball didn’t work, his microscope was broken. Or as Alf Hornborg said, “There is evidently an inclination to dismiss the theoretical understanding of the dynamics of the world system – like the Marxist perspective as such – as soon as the practical implications someone has derived from it prove a failure. This is tragic, because it should be quite feasible to arrive at a correct analysis of a problem without (yet) having developed a good solution.” (Hornborg, p. 27) Certain Marxists have attacked feminism and ‘identity politics’ as petit bourgeois, based on one or more particular tendencies within each of these larger social movements, or sometimes simply as an ad hominem attack on a particular proponent. And Marxism, until the emergence of Marxist-feminism and radical feminism (and still true of many Marxists today), has limited its critique of patriarchy (and the gender norms that constitute its ideo-practical and emotional framework) to descriptions of economic injustices among ‘working’ women and an often pro forma position on behalf of simple legal equality between the sexes – essentially an economistic, liberal formula. The development of specifically materialist theories on gender – that is, the social construction of sexuality – has been ‘women’s work,’ and mostly left in the Women’s Studies ghettoes of the academy (and this has been groundbreaking work, it must be said), where it is left largely untouched and unexamined by the various strains of Marxist orthodoxy outside the academy. I should say something – to seem somehow ‘balanced’ – like “by the same token,” feminists have likewise ignored Marxists, but that is actually not true. Marxist-feminists, socialist feminists, radical feminists, eco-feminists, and so-called ‘third world’ feminists (including ‘national’ [African American and HispanoLatina] feminists/womanists in the US) have engaged with Marxism in a very serious way. I would even venture to say that these very women have done some of the most path-breaking work in the application of “a materialist conception of history” (how Marx described his own project) to understanding a rapidly changing world capitalist system. One reason for this, I will venture, is that patriarchy – though varied and contingent in its many forms – is every bit as much a totalizing system as class (and I believe these are two dimensions of the same system). So there is quite simply a lot to discover in the critical engagement with gender. What Marx’s Marxism and various revolutionary feminisms have in common – and where feminism has in many respects carried the torch of revolutionary Marxism – is in the critical arena of epistemology – that is challenging not just free-standing ideas and positions, but seeking more deeply to understand how-we-know, what constitutes ‘knowledge.’ As shall become apparent, without the intentional adoption of a different epistemological framework about sexuality, we will continue to rely on the dominant frameworks of both biological determinism and libertarianism – as many on the Left have continued to do – to interpret and respond to key questions like rape, prostitution, and pornography. On the other hand, many manifestations of identity politics have come to attack or studiously ignore Marxism and to avoid altogether any critique of capitalism as a system. I believe this is a result of an extremely successful capitalist institutional structure of political containment: the Internal Revenue Servicedesignated non-profit corporation in the U.S., and the U.S. Embassy sanctioned Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) abroad. This will be addressed further down as well, because it bears a close relation to the state’s indirect control over the media and the development of a specifically anti-Marxist post-modernist orthodoxy in institutions of higher learning. Another factor, perhaps deeper still, for the failure of many Marxists to engage the question of gender with the seriousness of revolutionary feminisms, is psychological. The roots of male identity are so deep in the male psyche, so pre-literate, so affectively bound, and so subconsciously experienced as the first terror of gender policing at an age we can scarcely recall, that our own rationalization and evasion appear to us as plain sense… axiomatic.

Wendy Brown, Politics Out of History, Princeton University Press, 2001.


A key concept for making the connection between the crisis of socialism, the crisis of feminism, the rise of post-modernism, and presently existing capitalism, a theme I have returned to again and again in this book, is destabilization. Destabilization is a permanent feature of capitalist accumulation. As capitalism has become generalized into a unitary global accumulation regime, the effects of this destabilization have become universal and penetrated further and further into the material substrates – the underlying materials and structures – of accumulation. It destroys the biosphere. It generates wars. It multiplies misery. It lashes people from place to place with ceaseless dislocation. It also penetrates our consciousness, cognitive and affective. It leaves us bewildered, emotionally disordered, and alienated; and it tempts us into reaction, even sometimes nihilism. Capitalism does this to the majority of the world’s population. This destabilization has advanced at increasing velocity with the introduction of new, even ‘revolutionary’ technologies, with the breakout of human population (from 1.5 billion in 1900 to over 6 billion by 2000) that Marx characterized as the Capitalist Law of Population, with generalized global urbanization, and an ever more integrated and rationalized system of metropolitan ‘knowledge’ production, both ideology and – more deeply – epistemology. This destabilization is necessary for capital accumulation to continue, but at the same time it creates the very social fissures and moments of extreme unpredictability that can threaten the political stability and ideological legitimacy required to consolidate and protect the social relation of capital. Destabilization is systemic, and therefore it is experienced by every sector, every individual in society, whether it is understood or not. It is experienced as material dislocation in our lives, and as disruption of the categories with which we interpret and make sense of the world – affectively as insecurity and alienation. Marx and Engels stated – accurately in my view – that capitalism “cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. [italics mine] All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned… ” It is precisely this capitalist destabilization-imperative to transform every nook and cranny of our lives into commodities that has been accelerated to warp speed by the dramatic technological developments in our own epoch. And as Marx said, these ceaseless dislocations have an impact on “the whole relations of society.” But we know now that the system is not merely capitalism. It is, instead, capitalist patriarchy. With the rise and consolidation of capitalist patriarchy as the world system, there was an accompanying ideology of ‘liberalism,” what some like Wendy Brown call modernism in order to associate it with the whole period following the so-called Enlightenment. She lists “fundamental modernist precepts – progress, right, sovereignty, free will, moral truth, [and] reason,” which she calls “constitutive narratives.” (Note how careful to avoid any reference to capitalism or patriarchy is this post-modern account.)


Libertarianism Libertarianism is a powerful popular dimension of this worldview – the idea that each individual is a ‘free actor,’ choosing absolutely during every waking moment of her life… ‘choosing,’ for example, to have sex with strangers for money or to perform sex acts in the creation of audio-visual commodities. These practices are not conditioned in the abstract libertarian case by histories of child sexual abuse, drug addiction, poverty, or violent pimps, though in the real world – though in the real world this is the overwhelming reality of actually-existing prostitution and pornography. This free female agent is never compelled by direct force to avoid walking through a park, never compelled to check the back seat of her car before she gets in; so if there is not direct force, there is no exercise of power. This is the mean-spirited and pig-headed disingenuousness of libertarianism. Libertarianism has no history, and no fear ever influences a pristine choice. It is in Wendy Brown’s Introduction to Politics Out of History that she states, “[w]hen a disintegrating political or cultural narrative seems irreplaceable, panicked and reactionary clutching is inevitable; when this perceived irreplaceability refers to a narrative or formation actually lost, melancholy sets in.” Her description – no matter at what pains to evade modes of production and systems of social reproduction by focusing exclusively on the cognitive-affective world as post-modernism is wont to do – is still a very good account of how real people react to destabilization. On the one hand, they retreat into the order of an often fictionalized and idealized past (reaction), or they become demobilized and demoralized – “melancholic.” This is a valuable insight. We really do need to attend to how people experience history in the making. The old schematic notion popular among orthodox Marxists that this is ‘merely’ super-structural, that our tasks involve transforming the economic ‘base’ is poorly disguised Cartesian dualism – a tendency that Marx himself savagely critiqued. At the risk of taking a metaphor a step too far, in order to dismantle the foundation of a structure, one might very well have to dismantle the roof to get to it. This is precisely the deconstructive value of much postmodern thought, which emerged not as academic anti-Marxism but as a response to the inability of progress, right, sovereignty, free will, moral truth, and reason – the standards of the liberal cosmology – to stand either the test of close scrutiny or the relentless expansion required to sustain capital accumulation. It was later transformed into anti-Marxism in the Academy. Marxism was subjected to this critique in particular based on socialist governments’ devotion to modernization projects (progress) – which encirclement obliged these socialist states to adopt in order to survive. A Marxist critique of progress (seen as industrialization) had not been forthcoming for most of the twentieth century. World systems theory has helped us to understand that the socialist state was always a phenomenon within and determined by a world capitalist system, and the twentieth century has interred the concept of ‘socialism in one country’ (with heroic Cuba now navigating the capitalist fjords of tourism – and its attendant prostitution – while it struggles to bear the tattered banner in the face of the Empire). Post modernism emerged in direct response to a generalized sense of destabilization – specifically the destabilization of Enlightenment notions (modernism) of progress, right, sovereignty, free will, moral truth, and reason, all of which were swept aside by capitalism with ruthless ease any time they interfered with capital accumulation, undermining the very legitimacy of the ideological justifications for the system. Progress was subjected to post modern scrutiny – and rightly so in my view – which was a shared assumption of both bourgeois and socialist theorists in descriptions of history as ‘advancing’ and the mutual sense of the deterministic inevitability of ‘progress’ in the future.


Biodeterminism An important challenge from the post-modernists to the critique of gender was the deconstruction of biological determinism. Radical and materialist feminists, in their engagement with the post-modern critique of biological determinism regarding gender, identified and emphasized one species of Marxist error on the question of gender – naturalization. The tendency within post-modernism that undermined biologically determined theories of gender was ‘social constructionism.’420 Leonore Teifer’s book Sex is Not a Natural Act421 is a good example of the social constructionist argument (inspired by post-modern philosopher Michel Fouclaut’s essays on sexuality) against the naturalization of sex. In it Teifer writes: Scholars in many disciplines identify postmodernism as a contemporary shift in worldview and the construction of reality. As one leading feminist author [J. Flax] has said, “Postmodern discourses are all ‘deconstructive’ in that they seek to distance us from and make us skeptical about beliefs concerning truth, knowledge, power, the self and language that are often taken for granted within and serve as legitimation for contemporary Western culture.” Discourses, of course, can be scientific or academic treatises or they can be diaries, poems, productions on the analyst’s couch, lullabies, or film scripts. Postmodernism is about challenging absolutes in favor of multiple points of view. It’s about honoring the contexts of observations and concepts and contesting objectivity and privileged access to the “way things really are.” It’s about acknowledging change and the difficulty of definitive pronouncements. It’s about permanent instability. (Teifer, pp. 37-38) Teifer, using this deconstructive approach – that is, deconstructing existing dominant ‘narratives’ (that embody our basic ideological assumptions) – develops a powerful argument to support the thesis indicated in the surprising title of the book. Sex is not a natural act. It is socially constructed. Comparing the study of music with the study of sexuality, she notes that sexology “always dwells on the anatomy and physiology of the genital organs… [but] Open a textbook of music, in contrast, and you will not find chapters on the bones, nerves, blood vessels, and muscles of the fingers (for playing the piano), the hands (to play cymbals or cello), or even the mouth or throat (for flute or singing).” (Teifer, p. 6) Marx made precisely this challenge to biological determinism, when he wrote in Grundrisse that: Hunger is hunger, but the hunger gratified by cooked meat eaten with a knife and fork is a different hunger from that which bolts down raw meat with the aid of hand, nail and tooth. Production thus produces not only the object but also the manner of consumption, not only objectively but also subjectively. Production thus creates the consumer. Production not only supplies a material for the need, but it also supplies a need for the material. As soon as consumption emerges from its initial state of natural crudity and immediacy—and, if it remained at that stage, this would be because production itself had been arrested there—it becomes itself mediated as a drive by the object. The need which consumption feels for the object is created by the perception of it. The object of art—like every other product—creates a public which is sensitive to art and enjoys beauty. Production thus not only creates an object for the subject, but also a subject for the object. Thus production produces consumption (1) by creating the material for it; by determining the manner of consumption; and by creating the products, initially posited by it as objects, in the form of a need felt by the consumer. It thus produces the object of consumption, the manner of consumption and the motive of consumption. Consumption likewise produces the producer’s inclination by beckoning to him as an aim-determining need.

Social constructionism, previously defined, has been described by some as five progressing premises: (1) Experience is ordered and not chaotic, (2) language is how we make sense of the world, (3) the reality of life is shared, or social, (4) shared constructions of experience develop into institutions and habits, and (5) knowledge can be generalized through society or shared only by a special group.

Westview Press, 1995.


What are widely perceived as mere (‘natural’) bodily needs – drives – says Marx, are not ‘natural’ at all, but in every case structured and mediated by the organization of society and its culture, because we begin and end not only as merely biological creatures but as bio-social ones. Marx says here that one cannot reduce eating – as it is actually performed and not in some abstract sense – to biology. Biological reduction is one manner in which ideology makes the structures of society disappear from our consciousness, whereupon it establishes norms. Prior to or apart from society, there is no such thing in nature as ‘normal.’ ‘Drive theories’ of sex correctly point out that there is some biological basis for sexual behavior, but what value does a statement like this have? We are biological organisms; that is inescapable. So what? The abstraction out of history that is accomplished by attempting to explain sexual behavior through these ‘drives,’ is not only partially wrong, it is totally wrong. When these behaviors are in every actual case socially mediated then there is no such thing as a free-standing drive. This is like trying to describe the phenomenon of fire in the absence of oxygen. Desire is never produced by a simple ‘biological’ drive. Desire itself is a biosocial construction. This fact is the basis of understanding that sexuality itself is socially constructed, and that it is a system of power, and therefore deeply political. In the past sexual behavior and ‘misbehavior’ was explained by religion and characterized as an issue of morality. This biological reduction of sex now, says Teifer (and I agree), is part of a larger process of the twentieth century medicalization of sex (a new sexual epistemology) and a host of other human behaviors, that establishes norms (naming the boundaries of ‘normal’) against which we can describe non-normative behavior as pathological.422 The Law of God was replaced by the Law of Nature. Nature was rendered marginally more explicable (and radically more subject to dangerous manipulation) by empirical science, and with the twentieth century emphasis on medical science, good and evil were replaced by norms along a continuum of healthy (sometimes ‘well-adjusted) to pathological. The individual became the repository of normalcy, and once again social systems and their determinative effects on sexuality were eclipsed. A common abbreviation in the medical profession for summarizing laboratory results is WNL, ‘within normal limits.’ This is useful for identifying disease and injury etiologies and determining treatment. There is good reason to establish blood pressure and to know a patient’s hematocrit, WNL. But in fact a fever is perfectly natural – consistent with the laws of nature – during a malarial episode. Teifer’s critique, however, is against the extension of this way of knowing (what is ‘normal’ or ‘natural’) into every aspect of our social lives, particularly sexuality. She actually historicizes this approach, though her history here is reduced to the history of ideas: Political philosophers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries invoked a hypothetical state of nature, subject to the laws of nature, to support political theories based on individuals’ free and rational acceptance of the social contract. Such theories were intended to support the right of people to resist the doctrine of the divine right of kings and to resist the abuses of power of the church. Recourse to the concept of the state of nature and its laws represented an effort to invoke a presocial design for the world that would trump the mere historical legitimacies of states. Appeals to the reason and dignity of man as given by nature supported claims for individual human rights [for some] and aspirations and for equality [for some]. At the same time, nature, this time the mere material world… was invoked throughout the writings of seventeenth century scientists such as Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes as something waiting to be tamed and controlled through man’s use of reason. Emancipated from ignorance and fear, making use of the new economic and technological opportunities of the time, man (often the male of the human species and not the generic man) would master nature, rip the veil from nature, and so on. The rhetorical uses of nature as presocial, universal and biological thus arose as political rhetoric in this intense cauldron of social change and have shaped our language and imagery since. (Teifer, pp. 34-35)


Medically abnormal.


In actuality, this is a portion of the critique leveled against the Enlightenment by Marx. At the center of Marx’s philosophical critique were both historicity and the idea of false consciousness – understanding a transient, historically specific phenomenon as if it were a universal law of nature. Naturalization, which I discussed in the introductory passages of this notebook, and as described by Teifer, is an important dimension of this false consciousness.


Mystification Social systems, like capitalist patriarchy, have a powerful structurally-determinative effect on every aspect of our lives. These systems are neither static nor stable. Social phenomena, then – like sexuality or economic production – can never under any circumstances be explained or understood as universal or timeless abstractions like ‘drives’ or ‘nature’. They are historically contingent, existing only in their specific forms at specific times and places, with biology and society interfused. This is in many ways the most radical proposition of Marxism, so it merits more than a passing thought. Once we begin to dispense with ideas that are abstracted or naturalized out of history, the ideological edifices of patriarchy and capitalism begin to crumble. That is why it every system is preoccupied with and devotes incredible social resources to the maintenance of its own supporting world view. Marx and later Marxists were very preoccupied with understanding capitalism, and the predominant application of their own deconstruction was to bourgeois economics, where the search for reified categories was – in the elliptical language of the military that socialized me – a target-rich environment. Note that both Marx and Teifer speak of permanent instability as well. Teifer, however, as part of the postmodern tendency and, as a feminist, applies her deconstruction of reified categories to sexuality. Marx and Teifer are both challenging male-bourgeois empiricism, even though Teifer refuses to name its class origins. Both share the premise that “human nature” is not fixed, but a rich mass of potentialities that develop in a thoroughly social context (socially constructed). The split between them has occurred in what they each neglected. Marxism has shown a powerful economic bias in its observations (economism), and Engels’ definitive work on sexuality, The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, as well as many of Marx’s pronouncements ‘naturalized’ women and sex, in spite of the fact that this treatment of the subject contradicted their own groundbreaking critique of bourgeois science and ideology, a critique reflected above in the passage from Grundrisse. In Capital we read: "The distribution of work within the family, and the regulation of the labor-time of the several members, depend as well upon differences of age and sex as upon NATURAL conditions... Within a family… there springs up NATURALLY a division of labor, caused by differences of sex and age, a division that is consequently BASED ON A PURELY PHYSICAL FOUNDATION." (capitalization mine, for emphasis) Unlike “social” labor (in a factory, for example), which is subject to human intervention, we might suppose. This is not a statement of incompletion by Marx, but an explicit statement about gender, that contradicts his own epistemological method as an historical materialist. "The production of life, both of one's own labor and of fresh life in procreation, now appears as a double relationship; on the one hand as a NATURAL, and on the other as a SOCIAL relationship… [A]part from local causes, principally... to the employment of the mothers away from their homes... there arises an UNNATURAL estrangement between mother and child... the mothers become to a grievous extent DENATURALIZED toward their offspring." (capitalization mine) Both the Marxists and post modernists committed a common error; identification of that error goes a long way toward showing us the way out of the Marxist-postmodernist impasse, and to reconciling the left with feminism so we can take up the revolution together… as we should. Post modernists, as we can see above in the scrupulous evasion of class and modes of production in the effort to confront sexual reification, have circumscribed themselves to the ideological realm (and then convinced themselves that it is a free-standing dimension of reality, independent of – or even determinative of – the material basis of socio-economic development). On the other hand, the postmodernist project of discovering the genealogies of ideas – especially with regard to gender – has given us a rich body of new insights into the psychological/affective dimension of gender that does exist in a powerfully interfused relation with the so-called material conditions of gender – which are not always directly perceived as economic. This is the rebuttal to Marxist naturalization of gender.


With that naturalization, the question of sex was rendered invisible. Engels was all about motherright and father-right, but as Carole Pateman points out in her irreplaceable book, The Sexual Contract (Stanford University Press, 1988), what Engels and the rest of the anthropology-obsessed left failed to consider was that mothers and fathers are created in the sexual relation that precedes the child that makes a parent. Male power is not simply father-right, but “sex-right.” It is about men having access to the bodies of women in a relationship of domination and subjection.


Dualism Both these camps have committed the same error, and that is to accept the premises of the very Cartesian dualism they have struggled to deconstruct – that is, the arbitrary separation of mind-body, natureculture, etc. Post-modernism is primarily an academic phenomenon, but that should not be used as an excuse to dismiss it. The academy plays a very significant role in providing the most sophisticated and thoroughly worked out theoretical descriptions of reality, as well as a mountain of research to support them. The academy is an important arena for struggle, and has at critical junctures been a key platform for politics of resistance. Far more considerably than we often realize, the academy sets a kind of general epistemological tone for society. Academics are knowledge workers – as are some of us who are not academic. Dr. Gerald Horne once told me he is “an intellectual sharecropper.” Post-modernism has developed within the academy as a kind of philosophical framework within which there are no social systems, only an infinitely expandable basket of social identities characterized by differing and sometimes competing ‘narratives.’ They are called ‘constitutive’ because they are seen as constituting reality; that is, as narratives (ideas) that actually trump what objectivists (including some Marxists) refer to as ‘material reality.’ While postmodernism has itself adopted a totalizing pluralist narrative (Two can play at sophistry!), this abandonment of materialism can lead to a state of perennial disembodied speculation and endless categorical leveling. Post-modernism, however, is practiced as the interrogation of dominant narratives – narratives that are very real components of ruling class ideology in most cases – and the ‘deconstruction’ of hegemonic premises and assumptions actually yields valuable insights into and substantial challenges to ideology – and therefore to the systems for which ideology is essential to reproduce.


Herding The retreat into radical idealistic pluralism (and away from opposition to capitalist patriarchy), including many species of identity politics, was not the inevitable result of post-modern interrogation of modernism’s categories – the kind of ‘slippery slope’ so feared by sectarians and Marxist puritans. The abandonment of systemic critique and resistance to capitalism was a result of a process I will call ‘herding.’ This is the process that subtly defines the boundaries of the academy, the media, and the world of NGOs. It is not a direct form of control, but a much more effective and hegemonic form of control, that is in the sense of internalized discipline. If you observe a herd of sheep with the dogs on the periphery, you will see that a herd with experienced members seldom suffers the discipline of the dogs. They mill around quite freely within a kind of invisible perimeter. They avoid crossing the invisible line without panic, almost without the knowledge that the line even still exists. They have internalized this limit. In fact the dogs become a background that is taken for granted, even perceived as a source of security (which they are – security so that the shepherd can preserve his access to wool and mutton – something the sheep also don’t realize). This herding reinforces the tendency – among all of us – to exercise our agency in very limited and narrow ways. Klaus Holzkamp in describing what he calls “critical psychology,” says: “Critical psychology’s ‘historical empirical’ method of reconstituting the basic concepts (categories) of psychology yields a conception of the psychical as an objective property of a system of living organisms. The specifically human individual psyche is reflected as a partial aspect of more comprehensive historical, societal structures. [Even the so-called unconscious is socially constructed. –SG] Humans do not respond only to external stimuli but to meaning structures which are generalized societal possibilities for action. These, however, do not determine action directly but act only as premises for action. What a person actually does in a situation is mediated by subjective grounds for action, that is, by what appears to be reasonable or appropriate from the standpoint of the subject. The concept of ‘action potence’ is introduced to distinguish between grounds leading to action that merely accommodates external demands and grounds leading to action—usually collective—that alters those demands in order to bring them into line with subjective needs.”423 Rosemary Hennessy noted that there are two kinds of “action potence.” First there is “restricted action potence,” which is the kind of pragmatic decision making we exercise on a daily or short-term basis, and then there is “generalized action potence,” what we see when collectives organize and people begin to take a longer view of things. Action potence in capitalist societies is organized by class divisions in that possibilities for fulfilling needs of all sorts are less restricted for those who own and control resources. Critical psychologists use the concept of action potence to address the way individuals relate to the possibilities available for fulfilling their needs – whether by making the best of the options at hand or going beyond the limits and extending existing possibilities… The restrictive strategies are often the easiest to adopt in the short run – getting along and receiving the benefits of the good or accommodating subject. But no matter how understandable or ‘ideologically available’ the restrictive framework is, in the end by exercising this option ‘people become their own enemies’ because restrictive forms of action are characterized by modes of thinking that fail to reflect the social mediatedness of existence, including the option to extend existing possibilities. (Hennessy, p. 219) This is saying more than ‘people take the easy way out.’ It is saying that how we know the world determines if we know alternative possibilities. It is an availability question. It also points to the selfregulation of the herd.


Schriften von Klaus Holzkamp, “Critical Psychology; Preparatory Notes,” 1972.


Hennessy herself writes of her experience teaching in the university, where she is now comparatively free to discuss sexuality in her classes, including her own woman-centric sexuality. It is her embrace of socialist politics, however, puts her ‘on the margin’ – not because homophobia has disappeared in ‘the world,’ but because the narratives of sexuality in the academy have been sufficiently disrupted, while those of capitalism have not. This is intuited in the institution itself, where the herd dogs can interrupt one’s career advancement. In the rarified (liberal) academy, sexuality can be discussed… but the appropriate framework for discussion is within the bounds of accepted liberal premises, and certainly not sexualities understood as developing in the context of late capitalism. If one wants to advance to the top, one discerns these things. Sexuality yes, socialism no. This was also the subject of my first book, Hideous Dream – A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti – which described this same herding system in the military bureaucracy. This hegemonic form of control is far more essential to the military than the authoritarian methods used during basic training to rapidly enculturate troops. Returning for a moment to the issue of pornography and prostitution – again, because it is so very illustrative. The academy is as hostile to the critique of prostitution and pornography as it is to critiquing capitalism. (Perhaps because pornography is capitalism, not culture…) This is an important insight into how sexuality has been adapted to the dislocations of post-modern society without fundamentally eroding male power. Just as if one wants to advance to the top in the world of network news, or film-making, or the production of daytime soap operas, one intuits what are the changing boundaries of acceptability and what boundaries do not change. This same self-discipline is reinforced in the world of NGOs, where foundation or U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funding directly determines agendas and internalized understanding determines methodology and acceptable discourse. This herding effect in the academy is not solely responsible for the anti-materialism that has come to characterize post modern thought. It is also a reflection of the actual experience of the academy, where ‘knowledge’ is both fragmented into disciplines and represented as texts. It is not particularly surprising that a tendency might develop in that environment toward anything-goes relativism. Looking one level deeper, however, we see a lucrative academic job alongside a university housekeeper scrubbing toilets, and that reminder is ever-present to the professor… but for the grace of the Academy, there go I. Thus can the sex-radical university professor stir the Caribbean sugar into her Africangrown espresso and hold forth on ‘transgressive sex’ and the ‘agency’ exercised by a 14-year-old Thai peasant girl who ‘chooses’ prostitution.


Objectivism On the other hand, Marxism as a movement has often been guilty of objectivism, making claims about something called ‘objective conditions’ and the like. If we think for a moment about this business of the subjectivism of post modernism and the objectivism of some Marxists, we can see that these are mirror images of two incomplete reactions to the very (male) Enlightenment precept that both tendencies seek to challenge: dualism, which begins with the separation of subject and object as the foundation of knowledge. By claiming the primacy of the subject, as post-modernism does, or the primacy of the object as orthodox materialism does, we miss the crucial point that Marx and many post-modernists initially struggled to assert. Knowledge originates in neither subject nor object, but in the relation between them. The materialist claim that we can ‘know’ some separate ontological reality was exploded by Heisenberg and is just as preposterous as the postmodern reductio that nothing exists in the absence of the text. The Marxist embrace of dialectics was precisely a rebellion against both idealism and mechanical bourgeois science, and the later schematic acceptance of base-superstructure was in many ways the abandonment of dialectics. In the Army, when we needed an intelligence estimate, we wanted to know all those ‘objective’ facts – size, location, disposition, composition, et al, of enemy forces – but we also always asked the question, what is the morale of the enemy? Morale is not ‘objective,’ but it sure makes a difference in material outcomes. It is often the difference in whether someone stays and fights or runs away. Score one for the po-mo’s. Low morale is losing the belief in the narrative of victory, and embracing the narrative of defeat.


Identity It is only by consciously avoiding the Cartesian pitfalls of both objectivism and constructionism that we can successfully integrate the insights of both into a critique of ‘identity’ – sexual and otherwise. The very notion of identity as an individual attribute the way it is now commonly understood is historically contingent. That may be the best place to begin, then, especially given that identity is the clarion call of many socalled sex-positive (meaning anyone who opposes their point of view is sex-negative, I presume) ‘progressives’ who support – in the abstract – prostitution/pornography (Yes, I’m still on it!) – which I contend, along with radical feminists, is mostly patriarchal rape-culture propaganda, with exploited crime victims as its actual ‘performers.’ Using the Euro-American case simply as an example (because it is not universal), we can look back to the seventeenth century when commodity production was still largely cottage industry (domestic) and sexuality was defined and understood in the context of the family, as kinship. With the spread of factory production, men and women were pulled out of the home and into public production. With this change, and it is reflected in the literature of the time, came new notions of sexuality not merely as procreative, but also as having the additional ‘sexual aim’ of intimacy – with or without the intent to procreate. It was only around the twentieth century that sexual identity began to be understood not by its meaning to the participant, but by the reified object of desire – the generic man or woman. “[S]exual object choice became the distinguishing feature of sexual identity, and it was on the basis of this standard that the distinction between hetero- and homosexuality was erected,” writes Hennessy. (Hennessy, p. 99) This object-choice version of identity, taking heteronomativity as its now medicalized point of reference (Medicine and therapy were coming into their own as commodities.), redefined sexuality to accommodate new relations of production and reproduction – not revolutionize them. “Sexual identity as an identity organized around whom (or what) one desires to be sexual with was engendered out of the scientific effort to explain and to tame disruptions of the gender system.” (Hennessy, p. 100) Patriarchy as male power was never disrupted, and remains in effect to this day. But the structure, form and expression of that power are dramatically different, and must be understood historically… as they actually are, and not simply as reified ‘male power.’ Hennessy’s account is important, and incomplete. It would be negligent to overlook two important facts. First, object-choice sex was once the prerogative of the aristocratic. Like marriage, these privileges and customs have – like sugar, also once reserved for elites – worked their way down to the proles. Commodification. Second, masculine identity as an identity of domination has not been significantly disrupted by the nuanced discussions in the Academy, or by object-choice identity. The prison bull has male wives. And much ‘gay culture’ imitates these power gradients, with top-bottom, butch-femme parings and practice… that are not in the least ‘transgressive’ of the power inhering in compulsory heterosexuality, but performative of it.


Normativity The Sambia people of New Guinea have for around three millennia practiced a rite of male passage in which adolescent boys enter into adulthood by fellating an adult male member of the kinship group and swallowing the semen. This is considered neither child abuse nor homosexuality (there is no such conception of sexual orientation). It is as ‘normal’ to them as a bar mitzvah or the senior prom. Examples like this of other cultural practices – as I pointed out earlier in the book – are sometimes a necessary “dislocative jolt” to expose the constructed-ness of all notions of social ‘normality.’ Heteronormativity, or the cultural axiom that normal people have generic members of the opposite sex as the object of their desire, is anything but natural. It seems natural because it is how we have been trained to know. It is only against this idea of heteronormativity that something like homonormativity can emerge. What becomes important to understand – historically and epistemologically, but especially politically – is not whether a particular sexual practice is normal, but what power structures are protected and-or disrupted by the norms themselves. Who defines homosexual practice now as pathological, when biblically it was an abomination? In both cases, they are power structures, but only in the former is it a male medical power structure, that not surprisingly hawks ‘cures’ and therapies for the ‘pathology.’ Then sexuality became a consumer market. “Sexual orientation’ is now called a lifestyle. It is important to relate the position of the over-developed metropoles in the world system to the recent proliferation of sexual identities, and its powerful association with libertarian notions of ‘choice.’ These notions have underwritten the arguments of pro-prostitution/pornography (‘sex-positive’) sex-radicals, a cooptation of revolutionary language by collaborators with patriarchy. This ‘freedom’ (a libertarian fallacy) is being exercised by people with class privilege, who are exercising their ‘freedom’ to ignore the overwhelmingly violent and crushingly exploitative nature of the actually-existing prostitution/pornography industry. They are proponents of sexual consumerism, in which women and often children are commodities. Even when they themselves do not directly exploit poor women and children (I do not care what they do with their mates, friends, and neighbors!). When they apologize for these industries by redefining them as culture and refuse to acknowledge the ideological content and the violent exploitation of the ‘performers’ of most pornography, these people are complicit with male power. That complicity is a reflection of metropolitan privilege. Let’s take a quick historical excursion. Beginning with the New Deal, as Keynesian economic policies of consumer-demand economics were established to reset capital accumulation after the global capitalist crisis of the early thirties, and as the U.S. became the last industrial power standing in the wake of the conflagration of the Second World War, the older household values of thrift and long term investment gave way to consumerism. Consumer demand was to be the engine of economic recovery. Buy, buy, buy. This must be understood as the adaptation of a system of accumulation to its own dislocations. ‘Freedom to choose,’ and other such horseshit were the newly refurbished ideological neon. When a subsequent accumulation crisis in the sixties and early seventies forced another restructuring of the capitalist world system, the stage was set for neoliberalism: the name given to the form of late imperialism that is now itself entering into a crisis phase. Neoliberalism is our system now. During its development, speculative capital was drawn into the orbit of American bankers and brokers on Wall Street (the mightiest military nation is the safest investment location), securing the dominance of the dollar as world currency. Productive investments (factories and so forth) were more and more shipped to the global periphery in search of maximized profit through exploitation of cheaper labor. This initiated both the tendency toward deindustrialization of the United States and to the imperative of peripheral nations to find U.S. dollars to pay increasingly crippling and expanding external debts (international debts were denominated in dollars). This transformed peripheral economies into net exporters… to Consumer USA, where the dollars are printed. When we read about the explosion of sexual slavery and sex tourism in recent years in the global periphery, we need to understand that it is not merely some massive moral failure. It is a concrete characteristic of actually-existing imperialism (neoliberalism) – a social system, reproduced through dollar hegemony and secured by arms. In a sense, then, a new global division of economic labor emerged in which accumulation of profit as surplus value is achieved more and more in the periphery, and return on investment through retail sales happens predominantly in the metropoles. This is accomplished – and I will not doubly digress here into what De Clarke calls an ambitious synthesis – by a system of dollar hegemony in which the US can print dollars to


cover its debts, putting many overvalued dollars into general circulation within the US consumer economy, without suffering a currency crisis… yet. The United States has in this conjuncture assumed the role of consumer of last instance in the world economy, an absolute necessity to complete the circuits of capital in order to sustain accumulation on the world scale. Part of that developmental process has been the construction of ‘consumer demand production’ (advertising for useless and harmful shit, for status luxuries, and leveraging manufactured insecurities) and consumerism as an overarching ideology in the US. So we see a progression, beginning with Fordism and the balance of production with consumption, to consumer demand economics, finally morphing into the consumerism of late imperialism, now supported by fictional-value bubbles and ballooning levels of personal debt. This has been a powerful determinant of both the changing roles of women – in metropole and periphery – reworked constructions of gender, and the terrible expansion and acceleration of violent sexual exploitation. It has also put the power of the United States military center stage in the preservation of this system. Maria Mies’ does a very creditable job of systematically describing how this international division of economic labor had newly differentiated women’s roles and the constructions of sexuality that had accompanied these changes, up to 1986, when her book was published. When third world women were being economically press ganged into the periphery’s maquilas, first world women were being reconfigured as breeders and consumers (housewives) of the very products made by their female counterparts in the other economic pole. The strategy of mobilizing poor, cheap, docile, dexterous, submissive Third World women for export-oriented production is only one side of the global division of labour. As we said before, it is not enough that these commodities are produced as cheaply as possible, they also have to be sold. In the marketing strategies of the Western and Japanese corporations which are thriving on the export-oriented production in Third World countries, Western women play a crucial role., too, but this time not as producers, but as consumers, as housewives, mothers, and sex objects… The tremendous expansion of TV and the introduction of cable TV have as their main purpose the expansion of advertising. Most of the advertising is directed at women as consumers, or the advertisements themselves contain images of women as sex symbols as their most important ingredient. Here we see the new IDL [international division of labor] divides the world up between producers and consumers, but it also divides women internationally and class-wise into producers and consumers. This relationship is structured in such a way that Third World women are objectively – not subjectively – linked to First World women through the commodities which the latter buy. This is not only a contradictory relationship, but also one in which the two actors on each side of the globe do not know anything of each other. The women in the [global] South and South-East Asia hardly know what they produce or for whom they make the things they make. On the other hand, the Western housewife is totally oblivious of the female labour, the working conditions, the wages, etc., under which they things she buys are produced. She is only interested in getting these things as cheaply as possible. (Mies, pp. 120-1, emphasis in the original) In terms of how consumerism has impacted gender roles in the metropolitan consumer pole of this world system, it hasn’t only reorganized the division of economic labor and transformed the U.S. into an essential global consumer, and it hasn’t only ‘housewifized’ the metropolitan woman as breeder and consumer, it has created a quantum shift in culture itself through the process of commodification. The reification of sexual identity in the late nineteenth century is overdetermined by a set of structural changes in capitalist production that involved technological developments, the mechanization and consequent de-skilling of work, the production boom brought on by technological efficiency, the opening of new consumer markets, and the eventual development of a widespread consumer culture. A new and growing mass media, including the advertising industry, displaced unmet [by capitalism] needs into new [constructed] desires and offered the


promise of compensatory pleasures, or at least the promise of pleasure in the form of commodity consumption. The inducement of social demand and consumer desire was one of the key components of the new consumer culture and a critical mechanism through which capitalist overproduction was managed ideologically… the formation of newly desiring subjects, forms of agency, intensities of sensation, and economics of pleasure that were consistent with the requirements of a more mobile workforce and growing consumer culture. Most significantly, the position of desiring subject was gradually being opened to women who would eventually be recruited as the ideal and consummate consumers [in the metropoles, as Mies pointed out]… The emergence of new consuming and desiring subjects only gradually and unevenly displaced the Victorian social logic of gender with the modern logic of sexual object choice [read: consumer choice]. (Hennessy, pp. 99) This process has by no means been without its contradictions. Going back to Wendy Brown’s point that destabilization doesn’t only open the way to new epistemological categories, it creates feelings of deep and often irrational insecurity and triggers social and political reaction. We need only see right-wing reaction today to corporate attempts to accommodate same-sex partners, or the contradictory gender firestorms that surrounded the whole Jessica Lynch affair. The strength of “a materialist conception of history” in the current conjuncture of deep instability is that this particular episteme is well-equipped to expose the sources of change where boundaries collapse, and the sources of stability where they do not. This is the very destabilization, by the way, through which we can trace the genealogy of postmodernism – the cultural reaction to that instability. Change is driven most forcefully by the unrelenting drive to commodify every aspect and dimension of life in the restless expansion required for the continued accumulation of capital. Even those social reactions and forms of resistance that spring up in the interstices of capitalist culture are enveloped and commodified. Feminism was turned into cigarette commercials, and Hip Hop has gone corporate. General-purpose money is the vehicle for capitalist commodification, and it acts as a solvent that dissolves every bond of community – just as Marx said it does – and creates deeply unstable and unsustainable ‘solutions’ that multiply the system’s contradictions. If we think of the biosphere as the two billion year accumulation of stable organic solutions (unstable solutions are selected out over eons), we can see capitalism as the imposition of dramatically unstable inorganic solutions (driven by the urgent requirement to expand commodification). Hornborg notes that, “Viewed from outer space, money is an ecosemiotic phenomenon that has very tangible effects on ecosystems and the biosphere as a whole. If it were not for general-purpose money, nobody would be able to trade tracts of rain forest for Coca-Cola.” (Hornborg, p. 170) When I mentioned above that gender does not simply rest comfortably atop some separate entity called an ‘economic base,’ I did not say that it is detached from materiality. The economistic error of the left in studying gender has been to strictly limit our inquiries to the realm of production, looking at oppressive working conditions, wage differentials, female underemployment, etc. Sexuality (not merely sex) is not a system of production (though it is integrated into actual production, and is at the core of existing social reproduction). It is a social product, and increasingly a commodity. Sexuality is constructed socially, and it is now highly commodified. This is the dynamic to which we must pay close attention if we are to understand the destabilized sexual categories of today and their attendant insecurities and backlashes, as well as being the key to understanding how sexual ‘identities’ are reconstructed inside liberal-capitalist epistemology. It is in this endeavor that both the Marxist critique of political economy and the feminist/post-modern critique of epistemology can be effectively joined. Once sexuality is ‘deconstructed,’ we can begin to understand the strengths and weaknesses of ‘identity politics,’ and how it relates to struggle against the brutal and very material sexual exploitation of women and children. Hornborg’s description of the universality of money directly refutes the orthodox post-modern assertion that there are no meta-narratives available with explanatory power with regard to systems. (Male) Feminist theorist, Australian Robert Connell, in his studies of the evolution and class characters of masculinities writes, “Power relations show the most visible evidence of crisis tendencies: a historic collapse of the legitimacy of patriarchal power, and a global movement for the emancipation of women. This is fuelled by an underlying contradiction between the inequality of women and men, on the one hand, and the


universalizing logics of modern state structures and market relations, on the other.” (Connell, pp. 84-85) (italics in the original) Not only does he identify the universalizing power of general-purpose money in the capitalist market, he makes the inescapable point that there is also one “universalizing logic” that is backed up by physical force – the state and its military. As Hornborg says, in his argument to reconcile Marxism and post-modernism, we “require a reconsideration of both the potency of consciousness and the permeability of the material.” Understanding this interfusion without the arbitrary and mechanical dualisms of base-superstructure or culture-economy is particularly important in the United States because of our new and unique economic position in the world system – that of world consumer, where the narratives of media advertising exert an ever more universalizing and persistent determinative force over the consciousness and therefore the actions of our society. To reconcile feminism and historical materialism, we need not only abandon the base-superstructure dualism. We have to theorize desire and emotion (affect) to truly understand the dynamics of sexuality as a social construction and system of power. We must further investigate how sexuality is now being reworked in Consumer USA (and throughout the world via American cultural hegemony) in response to both the imperatives and crises of patriarchal capitalist accumulation. We have to understand how the recent emergence of the U.S. as consumer of last instance in world capitalism has disrupted older post-WWII system masculinities/femininities and replaced them with ‘desire diversification’ to create new consumer ‘identities,’ and how this trend has run headlong into right-wing reaction with the recent militarization of US policy, the reassertion of the US security state, and the perceived need to resurrect a reactionary model of violent hegemonic (white nationalist) masculinity. To discover the appropriate ways for revolutionaries to critically intervene in the history of capitalist patriarchy as well as the resurgent colonial militarism of this period, we will need new epistemological guideposts. We have to attend to interactions between the naturalization of desire, desire as an ideological constant (liberal ‘freedom of choice’), the manufacture of desire to create new markets, the fetishization of desire, the identification of desire with an object (the object of desire), the identification of the subject by the object of desire (sexual identity), the manipulation of desire by association with affective resonance, and the substitution of desire-satisfaction for deracinated and alienated people. But most basically, we have to intervene politically against sexual subjugation. The old canard that women have to wait for proletarian revolution before we socialists can fight against patriarchy is… not to put too fine a point on it, bullshit. As Catharine MacKinnon explained 15 years ago – “Sexuality is to feminism what work is to Marxism: that which is most one’s own, yet most taken away… the molding, direction, and expression of sexuality organizes society into two sexes… This division underlies the totality of social relations…” The struggle against patriarchy… I’ll say it again… is not an afterthought for revolution but a precondition of it.


Last Word I’d like to conclude something about the unresolved difficulties presented by someone like Lissa Young or Jessica Lynch, the contradictions between sectoral strategies and resistance to systems, between core and periphery, between nation and gender and class… the dilemmas posed to each of us every day and the dilemmas thrown up to us by consciousness and its burdensome responsibilities that still find us in that day-today body, doing inescapably day-to-day things. There is no shortage of people who will give us an elegantly constructed argument that resolves these issues for us in someone’s interior universe. But in that world where we can have our best plans wrecked by a germ we can’t see or a tsunami we can’t predict or another’s will we can’t control, the world where we might have prescience without precognition, where we are raising children, and certainly none of us can know the variables that suddenly matter when – the opposite of Ecclesiastes – there is nothing not new under the sun… I am reminded of Mao, who told us that nothing is confirmed until it is tested in practice, and I am reminded too that in acting we change the context… and act we will, with and without success, with or without consciousness, and with or without responsibility. Understanding the limitations and dangers of the analogy, I think late imperialism is a lot like the 507th Maintenance Company of Jessica Lynch, motioned down the wrong road, exhausted by our alienation, stupefied by our own inertia, self justifying to the last minute, with no idea of the consequences that an unforgiving future holds just up the road, where we are about to experience the early episodes in a dire epoch of brutality. Something needs to be said. We have to fight through our exhaustion and read the instruments. We need that clarity that sees beyond the tired cop directing us at the junction, that sees the system under the surface, and gender is deeply there and deeply determinative. Then we have to fight, period. With clarity comes responsibility. I imagine a young woman in the military, struggling with her alienation, struggling with patriarchy, struggling to prove herself… even to herself. Or a man, locked in his emotional armor. I imagine each reader in his or her specificity, in the military and out, in the great technical agglomerations of the Imperium, or out. You have difficulty with connections, all of you, all of us, but you all know so much, and we all know so much. You have so many skills and capacities that are like seeds cast onto the parched earth of commoditized society. Resistance is the water that will make them bloom. Resistance is not hard. It is sweet. Inertia is hard, lightless, barren. Inertia is death. And we have an infinity to do inertia, but only a short while to resist. Resistance places you back in the world as an actor. Resistance throws open the windows and allows the bright light to flood the dusty unused spaces of your humanity. Learn. Go deeper. Don’t be afraid. And to my brothers especially, don’t be afraid. Go deep. You will be repaid for the privilege you surrender, and not by being put in touch with your ‘feminine side.’ There is something far more precious and important you will find by passing through to the other side of masculinity, some-one that you can finally, really embrace. Your sister.


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