A reply to Eli Zaretsky
We are living through dark times. Many lament the decline of a vibrant Left in American politics; why the right has been ascendant for the past quarter century is a matter worth extensive exploration. Zaretsky’s “Rethinking the Split Between Feminists and the Left,” however, both underestimates the deep roots of the American right and overestimates the power of feminism (Perlstein, Lowndes). In doing so, Zaretsky makes it difficult to rethink the possibilities and obstacles for the Left now. Zaretsky’s account of feminist politics runs amuck because of the ways in which he links feminism with madness and distances it from radicalism and race. Let us untangle the ways in which Zaretsky puts these elements in play in ways that distort past, present, and future.
Let us begin at the beginning — with madness. Zaretsky starts with a fine recognition of Shulamith Firestone (1945-2012), and her work as a radical feminist thinker (The Dialectic of Sex) and activist. …
Every year the issue of gender and sexual stereotyping is highlighted at the Super Bowl and in the minutes of well-famed commercials surrounding the game. Be it macho-football players, sexy cheerleaders, slick, yet still, macho-men in fancy cars, sexy Danica Patrick, macho-beer drinkers, sexy female beer drinkers, static femininity and masculinity are displayed suggesting to us all what kind of men and women we should be.
Following this grand display of gender duality, there is an annual critique of femininity, generally in response to the halftime show, with camps divided between female sexuality as an autonomous choice of empowerment and female sexuality curtailed in consumerism, thus objectifying the participants. …
We write as members of a group of faculty from different parts of the New School who are working to return graduate-level gender and sexuality studies to the university. Our project is an unusually collaborative one, drawing on the work of colleagues from a wide range of programs and disciplines. Our aim in posting this piece is to start a conversation about these matters right away, even while our proposed program is still in the development process. What interests us is discussion about what we see as the powerful case that can be made for the intellectual and political importance of gender and sexuality studies not only in general but at the New School in particular. We invite responses from anyone in the larger community who is interested in weighing in.
Let us start with some reflections about what is distinctive about the New School.
One of the founding myths of our university is that it places social research in the service of liberating and transformative social action…
About language, our society, madness…
Leslie Kaplan read the following excerpts from her plays after she gave the eighth William Phillips lecture on November 6, 2013 at Theresa Lang Student and Community Center/Arnhold Hall of The New School.
all my life I’ve been a woman
all my life
does that sentence seem
odd to me
I am teaching a course called “Feminism and Literature” at the New School that explores how literature can articulate feminist claims in the public sphere. One of the problems we discussed is whether the language we are currently using, as well as the imaginary that sustains it, are actually adapted to this task. In order to debate the issue, one of the classical texts that I assigned to my students was Freud’s essay on “femininity.” I chose this text because I wanted my students to be aware of the risks we take when we look at femininity (and female sexuality) from the point of view of masculinity (and male sexuality); Freud’s idea that women have to go through a phallic phase in order to become truly feminine – and that, as a consequence, they have to abandon their childish clitoral pleasure in favor of a more mature vaginal one – seemed to me rather questionable. Is it true that the clitoris is an “atrophied penis” and that it is only by abandoning “wholly” or “in part” the pleasure that comes from it that a “normal femininity” can be developed? Are not the clitoris and the vagina just two names that we assign and use to separate what is actually part of the same unitary body? These are the sorts of questions that I was hoping the text would raise (and indeed it did), and that would lead us to quickly dismantle Freud in favor of a more complex view of female sexuality. In particular, I was hoping to get rid of what seemed to me the most untenable of his positions: the idea that the small size of their so-called atrophied penis (the clitoris) is at the basis of a fundamental and inevitable penis envy in women.