Full Version: The Hammer in our Hamlets: Patriarchy on the Left
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When I got to the part about "sexual/romantic labor," my first thought was "well, if you're viewing it as labour, you're kind of taking the fun out of it." ;) But, if I was going to be a little less glib, I would modify this statement by saying that, if the social conditions in which you're engaging in sexual activity tend to foster a view of sex as labour, then its probably time to fundamentally question those conditions. Like so many "activist" discussions of sexual politics, this quote seems to acknowledge the problems with subcultural insularity on a purely symptomatic level but stop short of calling "subculture" itself into question. If your starting premise (and I mean the generic "you," not you specifically) is, "Yeah, our subcultural milieu has its problems but, if the people within them just behaved differently, then those problems wouldn't exist and we could still maintain our social circle," then, as far as I'm concerned, the discussion is effectively over before it begins. In my experience, discussions of rape, sexual violence, and domestic abuse within radical subcultures usually begin from a desire to preserve the existence of "the Scene" as such but without their negative aspects.

This, I think, is misguided because it tends to reduce these problems to purely interpersonal ones while largely ignoring or at least excusing the larger context in which they occur. In describing radical activist subcultures, I sometimes use the analogy of the petri dish, referring to a self-contained environment existing in contradistinction to an ambiguous "Outside" (i.e. so-called "mainstream culture") in which bacteria can live and grow. Clearly, sexual and physical violence have strong interpersonal elements that relate to the social construction of gender/sexual identity that are very much worth considering. However, it becomes a problem if one's sole focus is squarely on these interpersonal dynamics without accounting for the insular nature of the subcultural environment. I'll give credit to this particular quote in that its critical reference to "dating as a recruitment strategy" suggests at least a fleeting awareness on the part of the author of the inherent problems with a goal-oriented view of sex. I'll even grant that the stereotypically "male"  character of this goal-oriented view is also worth considering at length.

What I find a little off-putting about this quote is the uncritical use of such terms as "organizing spaces," "political work," and, as I've already stated, "sexual/romantic labor." Aside from the overly stilted and formal ring of such terms, it's a little ironic to note that the left's well-known - ahem - fetish for the industrial labour movement is even seeping its way into the language its adherents use to talk about sex. Whether one's "goal" is the discharge of sexual energy in the form of orgasm or the the continued survival of a social movement with an ultimate view toward "revolution," an instrumental view of sex rather than one premised on the intrinsic value of fostering pleasure and intimacy (both physical and emotional) between explicitly consenting individuals is one that drains it of its vitality and reduces it to a mechanical operation. If people within radical activist subcultures are finding that sexual violence and all of the interpersonal conflicts that surround it have become problems for them, then maybe it's time for them to take a critical look at both the literal and ideological walls they've built around themselves - and how containment within such confined spaces might be a breeding ground for aggression by both "perpetrator" and "victim" alike.