Friday, May 7, 2010

Offend a Feminist: Laura Sjoberg, Ph.D., J.D.

In case you missed it, Robert Stacy McCain issued the call for contributions to "National Offend a Feminist Week 2010." And as I've recently learned, it's not so hard to actually offend a feminist. Last month I posted on 13 year-old Alaina Podmorow, from British Columbia, who had slammed Canadian Melanie Butler's master's thesis, "Canadian Women and the (Re)Production of Women in Afghanistan." Shortly thereafter, I noticed a post by Professor Laura Sjoberg at Duck of Minerva, and for fun, left the link there to my post on Podmorow. Upon reading about Podmorov's smackdown of Melanie Butler, Professor Sjoberg wrote at the comments at Duck of Minerva:

Wow. I suppose I have an answer to how long it takes to write an oversimplified, essentialist, and empty statement on complicated, contingent, and multifacted [sic] issues. Answer to follow, when I have some downtime around the conference.

And she did answer, later that afternoon, with "Smashing as Feminist Practice?"

Having been around feminist academics for some time, I got a kick out of Professor Sjoberg's response. Indeed, the notion of feminist chauvinist elitism might apply here, or more simply, stuffy scientific snobbery. Unsurprisingly, Professor Sjoberg dismissed 13 year-old Alaina solely on the basis of age and credentials, not on argumentation. This passage is best, especially that highlighted in bold:
To the extent that I identify as a post-colonial feminist, I will make the disclaimer that I don't speak for the field as a whole. Still, I think I am pretty safe in saying that post-colonial feminists do not hate women, desire their suffering, or oppose their access to basic needs and physical security. There is much more to this ....

This is not to take anything away from the very bright, very passionate
"little woman" whose blog post was appropriated on American Power. Her passionate writing is clearly intelligent, well beyond her years, and a valid and important point of view.

That said, it is, of course, not all there is to the issue. One cannot expect someone who has not yet had a college education to dig through decades and even centuries of theorizing and empirical work on gender relations in political and social life, and certainly activism on behalf of women, in whatever form, is far preferable to the sort of apathy that seems to be largely endemic in younger people now.

But when one has intellectual and practical access to those resources (as I am assuming the blogger who appropriated this passage does), there comes with that a responsibility to see complexity and contingency when it exists. And this is a place where it clearly does. I have not yet had the chance to read the
Master's Thesis from UBC by Melanie Butler, but, before going further, want to point out that it is really crappy pedagogical practice to viciously attack a Master's Candidate like American Power does (citing another attack by Terry Glavin), given that a Master's Candidate is not, as American Power claims, "a political scientist," but a student writing a paper to learn the field and demonstrate a knowledge of it.
You see? Nowhere has Professor Sjoberg actually addressed Alaina Podmorov's actual argument. The response is to dismiss the precocious one for not yet having earned the keys to the academic kingdom. And that's what so sad about Professor Sjoberg. Podmorov is arguing that human rights are universal, and that working for education and opportunities for women in Afghanistan is not a hegemonic Western project designed to "reinforce and naturalize the Orientalist logic on which the War on Terror operates," as Melanie Butler argues. Frankly, as I've noted, Podmorov's commentary smashes Butler's claim that Canadian women's rights campaigns in Afghanistan simply reinforce "narratives that sustain imperialist violence and women's subordination."

Elevated on her pedestal, Professor Sjoberg refused to dignify Alaina Podmorov with a substantive rebuttal.

In any case, I've come to learn more of Laura Sjoberg, Ph.D., J.D. She's got a more recent post at Duck of Minerva, "
Reading Andrea Dworkin to Write Feminist IR?," where she writes:
My first feminist mentors were in the legal profession, particularly Catherine MacKinnon, and my first exposures to feminisms were in debate rounds and law schools rather than political science or International Relations departments. My first feminist books were (therefore?) Andrea Dworkin, before Ann Tickner or Spike Peterson or Jindy Pettman. Perhaps that's why I return to Andrea's work whenever I start writing a major project, despite the fact that it does not translate to and often is not directly cited in my work.

But I think there also might be more to it.

While I remain, always, committed to feminist politics and combatting the other oppressions that gendered lenses help me to see, there's a rawness, a plainness, a terror in Andrea's work that's not in mine explicitly, but which is a lot of why I am committed to feminism and feminist politics

I am a feminist because I will never be free when rape culture exists. I don't even know what free means, or if I will ever be free, but I know I will never be free if rape culture exists. I do not know what it would look like or how it might be achieved. Still, I want to inspire thinking about it through my work, and use my work to agitate for the cause.
So there you have it: Professor Sjoberg's epistemology gains supreme inspiration from the work of Andrea Dworkin. Interestingly, it just so happens that I've read Andrea Dworkin. For the uninitiated, Andrea Dworkin is the progenitor of the "heterosexual intercourse is rape" thesis. And while holders of the Dworkin flame deny this, folks need only read for themselves. Here's this, from Intercourse, Chapter 5, "Possession":

The act itself ... is the possession. There need not be a social relationship in which the woman is subordinate to the man, a chattel in spirit or deed, decorative or hardworking. There need not be an ongoing sexual relationship in which she is chronically, demonstrably, submissive or masochistic. The normal fuck by a normal man is taken to be an act of invasion and ownership undertaken in the mode of predation: colonializing, forceful (manly) or nearly violent; the sexual act that by its nature makes her his ....

In other words, men possess women when they fuck women because both experience the man being male. This is the sustaining logic of male supremacy. In this view, which is the predominant one, maleness is aggressive and violent; and so fucking, in which both the man and the woman experience
maleness, essentially demands the disappearance of the woman as an individual; thus, in being fucked, she is possessed: ceases to exist as a discrete individual: is taken over.
And here's this, from Chapter 7, "Occupation/Collaboration":
There is no analogue anywhere among subordinated groups of people to this experience of being made for intercourse: for penetration, entry, occupation. There is no analogue in occupied countries or in dominated races or in imprisoned dissidents or in colonialized cultures or in the submission of children to adults or in the atrocities that have marked the twentieth century ranging from Auschwitz to the Gulag. There is nothing exactly the same, and this is not because the political invasion and significance of intercourse is banal up against these other hierarchies and brutalities. Intercourse is a particular reality for women as an inferior class; and it has in it, as part of it, violation of boundaries, taking over, occupation, destruction of privacy, all of which are construed to be normal and also fundamental to continuing human existence. There is nothing that happens to any other civilly inferior people that is the same in its meaning and in its effect even when those people are forced into sexual availability, heterosexual or homosexual; while subject people, for instance, may be forced to have intercourse with those who dominate them, the God who does not exist did not make human existence, broadly speaking, dependent on their compliance. The political meaning of intercourse for women is the fundamental question of feminism and freedom: can an occupied people -- physically occupied inside, internally invaded -- be free; can those with a metaphysically compromised privacy have self-determination; can those without a biologically based physical integrity have self-respect?
Andrea Dworkin was so radical, so hate-addled and misandrous, that the popular backlash to her work spanned both genders. Note especially how Dworkin was excoriated by feminists themselves. See, Havana Marking, "The Real Legacy of Andrea Dworkin":
When young women put on the Dworkin x-ray specs for a moment, they see female victims everywhere ....

But when a woman is portrayed as a victim, even when she is not, and certainly does not feel like one, you not only insult her but you alienate her as well. The idea that a sexually active and interested woman is merely fulfilling man's fantasy, and there to serve him, is outrageous ....

Heterosexual culture, like pornography, is not a bad thing in itself. Dworkin might not have actually said "all men are rapists" but she did have the slogan Dead Men Don't Rape above her desk. Blanket and extreme arguments help no one
And this brings me back to Professor Laura Sjoberg. After the first round of debate, I wrote a snarky follow-up making fun of the recent "topless" gender protests. See, "Topless (Post-Colonial?) Feminists: Now That's My Kind of Protest!" And playfully ribbing Professor Sjoberg, I wrote:
EXIT QUESTION: Will Professor Sjoberg loosen up in response, or will our dowdy dumpling do a grammar-check once more?
She responded at the comments at Duck of Minerva:
I don't think you know whether I am "loosened up" or not, nor will you ever, and if you don't see the sexualization in that question, you're an idiot; if you do, its disrespectful ...
I must be an idiot, because my usage of "loosen up" was meant as "to relax", "to reduce the tension", "to take it easy" in debate. But by reason of such comment, Professor Sjoberg reified me as the evil possessor and internal violator of the most Dworkinite kind. Never mind that I'm just playing. Feminist international relations, which is Professor Sjoberg's speciality, is a serious discipline. But when its practitioners are driven by pure hatred and ideological extremism -- and when they refuse to debate individuals on substance rather than atop prestige hiearchies -- it becomes increasingly difficult to take them seriously or give them legitimacy.

And Professor Sjoberg will no doubt find that offensive, without even trying.

ADDENDUM: FWIW, Professor Sjoberg has a forthcoming book, Gendering Global Conflict: Toward a Feminist Theory of War, due in 2011. And for the record I'm up for a serious review and debate of the book upon publication. Hopefully, by that time our good professor will have relaxed somewhat.


Viking said...

O, please!

How many times have you argued with a Feminist/Sociologist and had them stick their nose in the air and tell you to go and read all 6,000 pages of text x, y and z ?!?!

If an argument takes 6,000 pages of sociological texts to articulate then, just maybe, it isn't a very good one :)

great post!

smitty1e said...

I fear that this post may not un-ruffle the professorial feathers.

Stogie said...

Radical feminists like Andrea Dworkin have zero credibility with me. I suspect that Dworkin is also a man-hating lesbian, of the type I have seen too many times before. It's not just that they prefer relations with their own gender, they actually hate men. Men are the enemy. Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman is "rape." If that be so, then the human race would not exist without a lot of rape going on.

Any theory that abrogates the laws of nature is null and void and devoutly to be ignored.

Radical feminism, to put it quite succinctly, simply sucks.

kato said...

feminism has nothing to do with "hating men". it has to do with recognizing that we live in a culture that is very hostile to womyn. yet, i guess you guys enjoy the privilege this society spoon feeds you.

David said...

hey kato, just spelling women with a y outs you as a dork. and if my memory serves me correctly, dorkin dworkin was such an ugly dog that no visually unimpaired man would touch her with a 20 foot pole which surely fueled her hatred of men more than any of the women as victim bull she espoused.

Grizzly Mama said...

What a strange little woman. Oh dear, that's probably bad to say - oops!

She's uppity, twisted and perverse.

Cuffy Miegs said...

She's right - feminism isn't about "hating men", it's about exploiting gender differences and the idiosyncracies of the academic community to exploit the public for material profit. Feminism has nothing at all to do with women, even less to do with justice or equality for women - it is a club designed not to advance the cause of women, but rather of feminists, something that is entirely different.

To have the sort of ethically barren people as feminism attracts berate others for "immorality" and "seeking privilege" has to be up there at the heights of hypocrisy. Feminism is an ideology that incessantly fights for undue privilege and respect for a group of feminist charlatans, who are frequently allied to Marxist groups and Muslim groups that have treated "womyn" with the most outrageous cruelty. This does not hinder feminists from championing their allied factions on the Left and elsewhere, so long as the wealth, power and influence of the feminist community is advanced. Nor do their frequent calls for "racial and gender equality" prevent them in the slightest from engaging in the most outrageous racism and sexism of their own (of which Andrea Dworkin was a prime example).

kato said...

i'm not a female. feminist come in all colors, sexes, and orientation. the remark "stogie" made about lesbians is so completely off base that i can't even tell if its some kind of really lame comedic joke.

how is a womyn to feel safe in a society where statistics say 1 in 5 will be raped in their lifetime, yet the rates are a lot higher due to the amount of unreported crimes?

some states don't think its rape when the husband forces the wife to have sex. but i guess that just is a part of traditional marriage, right?

what about the amount of exploitation womyn face in the entertainment industry where they are judged primarily on their bodies? how do you think that affects a girl's self-esteem? the bodies of hollywood are unrealistic and unnatural goals.

David said...

kato, if your not a women then your the worst type of asslicking male alive. when did they cut your balls of katy. I'm so sorry for you but I bet there's plenty of work in italy for a castrato.

Trent said...

You know, something tells me that Abby Clancy is a whole lot more fun than Professor Sjoberg.

Stogie said...

Kato, my comments about lesbian "feminists" come from my direct observations of them. I once was invited by a co-worker feminist to attended a NOW event in San Francisco, where I watched a one-woman play about Virginia Woolf.

I attended with an open mind, figuring that NOW must be an organization with legitimate goals. I came away quite disillusioned, after realizing that NOW is largely a "hate men" group as much as it is a "pro [lesbian] woman" group.

In any case, I decided that these folks are way out on the fringe someplace, and they never again had any credibility with me.

The fact is, they are bigots against men, far more involved in gender discrimination than the one-half of humanity they so clearly hate.

Donald Douglas said...

Thanks for the comments, folks. I'm heading out to the movies, and will approve comments from moderation later tonight. Sorry I've got to do it, but it's the point where too many freaked out lefty trolls have polluted my threads.

Harry said...

I believe what Professor Sjøberg took offense to in your "Exit Question" was being called a "dowdy dumpling". I don't think that's an unreasonable reaction.

Anonymous said...

I just googled Professor Sjoberg and found this. I'm sitting in her International Security class at UF right now and she seems like a nice enough lady, so be nice :-P