Widgets Magazine

The Split $ubject: Who’s your daddy, MTL? Between gender performativity and psychoanalysis

Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. (Courtesy of Stanford University)

To begin a column on Xenofeminism — the most interesting critical movement to appear on Stanford’s campus since Black Lives Matter’s explosive rise and carefully engineered deflation — one must begin elsewhere to avoid calumny. I have chosen Marc Tessier-Lavigne. When I picked up this same paper today — that is, the day I am writing this article — I was surprised to be invited to see myself invited to an event with my “beloved president (and neuroscientist) Marc Tessier-Lavigne.” Belove him? I hardly know him! But I could not help being reminded of the quantity of Stanford memes invoking MTL as my “Daddy” curated and created by my fellow edgy trees.

Former Vice Provost Etchemendy I know slightly better, so I etch here my next sample. Shortly after the country’s last presidential election, in consideration of the President-elect’s xenophobia — xenos is the Greek word for alien, by the way — there was talk of making Stanford a “sanctuary campus,” some of it at the Faculty Senate, while I attended. After a noble eulogy for a beloved scholar of mine, Professor Emeritus Robert Cohen, most subtle of Anglophone Mallarméans — I was sad to hear of his passing — a proposal for a sanctuary campus was made by some students.

Etchemendy responded, and it is this response I wish to note and discuss. He responded, in his usual circumspect manner, that he was entrusted with caring for the interests of this university, and he could not spend this money — tuition money — tuition money paid by the students’ parents moreover, that is, quote, “your father’s money” — on making Stanford a sanctuary campus. Perhaps it would be vapid to note that I, not my parents (whom I love dearly, sometimes despite their best efforts to love me) pay for my university education, in a similar manner to many of my fellow students, most racking up years of debt they will yet have to figure out how to pay off. The subject passed. The Faculty Senate continued through its docket of subjects with marionette-like automation. Across campus, the still column of Hoover Tower jutted into the air, dominating the azure of the Palo Alto sky I have so come to love. The student presenter of the sanctuary campus proposal did not have a chance to respond. I wondered if he, too, was paying his own tuition.

For my third and final attempt to begin elsewhere, I sample the Jan. 20 publication by a local Hoover Institution fellow, Bruce Thornton, entitled “Snowflake Feminism,” in the online publication American Greatness. I encourage you to look it up and read it. It begins with a photo: A young girl supine on a soft bed in her bedroom, clad in a pink shirt that matches the pink pillows scattered around her, cute as any pedigreed snowflake-white bunny-rabbit. Her hands cover her eyes and face in a gesture of sadness and shame, like the weeping angel statue on campus near Stanford’s Mausoleum. At first, I could not help but wonder: Is this Hoover Fellow Bruce Thornton’s daughter? But when I got to the subheader of the concluding section — and it is this, dear Reads reader, that I’d like to look at with you today — my question changed, in fact to the question that was the subheader: “Who’s your Daddy?” — a question that seemed of such importance that I wanted to take it up again, in the Stanford Daily, as my main header, albeit to different effect than Bruce Thornton. In fact, it is not Bruce Thornton’s “daddy” in question, it is the fathers of “weak, passive and helpless women.” In fact, the pictured girl resembled Bruce’s daughter only because she was caught up in paternalistic rhetoric while bought and sold on the stock photo marketplace without any say in where her image would be used, valued only for her image of passive innocence.

I here present two quotations, to use them as sample arguments for a discussion of Xenofeminism between gender performativity and psychoanalysis, as I promised at the start of this column:

1. “Now we come to the biggest incoherence and hypocrisy of modern feminism. Simone de Beauvoir, Germaine Greer or Gloria Steinem didn’t liberate women … their activism was only possible because modern science and technology liberated women from the dangers of childbirth and the drudgery of domestic chores. A dynamic capitalism created and expanded wealth that improved the lives of women and gave them more opportunities and the confidence to demand changes in mores and laws that held them back.”

2.  “If women wanted to have a sexual autonomy equal to that of males, then they had to be responsible for the consequences of those choices. But the difference between male and female complicated things. It didn’t take long for the high cost of sexual liberation to be recognized as steeper for women than for men. The ruthless reproductive imperative that nature imposes on women means they cannot be as indiscriminate as men can in indulging their sexual drive.”  

3. “Even more ironic, the advent of snowflake feminism has reduced women to the very caricature they invented: weak, passive and helpless without big government. That’s just exchanging one daddy for another.” 

The cut of my argument is simple: (1) there is no internal contradiction between the liberatory feminisms of Simone De Beauvoir, Germaine Greer, Gloria Steinem or any other “modern feminist” and the liberatory vector of science and technology, however (2) there has been a contradiction between every yet existent capitalism and the ability of women to have equal and happy lives, thus spurring feminists from unnamed American suffragists to Alexandra Kollontai (look her up) to demand changes in mores and laws by collectively fighting against “dynamic capitalisms” and their various political and commercial facades (even though up to this point in history the genealogies of science and capital have been tightly entwined). It is misogynistic to think that (3) women and men have or deserve different amounts of “sexual autonomy,” and with the liberatory capabilities of modern biotechnology it is ludicrously anachronistic to characterize the cost of sexual liberation as “high” and even more so as “steeper for women than for men.” Men’s desires ought not “trump” women’s. In fact, (4) given nearly all people conceived through sexual intercourse have a father, it is simply untrue to trumpet about a “ruthless reproductive imperative nature imposes on women” — even in the off chance there is such a thing for people with different sexual imaginaries than Bruce Thornton — that is imposed on women more than men. Furthermore, given the imbalance of sexual labour that carrying a pregnancy to term involves, it would seem that only women have the “right” to be sexually indiscriminate. (5) The implication that women taken as a class of people “naturally” seek ruthlessly to indulge their sexual drives substitutes in nature as a cause to cover over the fact that the only support for this view of women is a fantasy. In regards to fantasy, (6) men and trans people are as complicit as women (because every type of person in a culture is default complicit in a culture’s stereotyped caricatures unless they actively construct themselves a way to think outside of the cultures stereotypes) in the tactless dis/semin/nation of a caricature of women as weak, passive and helpless without the relevant governing bodies as their “daddy,” but (6) this is by no means a privileged caricature or stereotype of women — any more so than women as tentacular space goddesses, or as hard-working cafeteria workers — nor a very accurate one. Every day, I encounter brilliant and extraordinarily capable feminists and women as professors, as fellow-students, as artists, as my friends and comrades, as hardworking Stanford contracted bathroom-cleaners and food servers, etc., many of whom seek a way to change the condescension that these and other patriarchs foist upon them “without consent.”

“‘He’ gave her rings and earrings, ‘he’ brought her flowers and candies, ergo he loved her.

But when he became despotic and coarse, when he made demands and laid down prohibitions, this was precisely within his rights, the rights of the master of her heart!” So says Alexandra Kollantai in “New Woman” from “The New Morality and the Working Class” in her “Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman.” I say let (s)he who does not need a Stanford embossed buttplug cast of vomited gold buy herself a cute little neon pink one for $5 online.

There are two paradigms of critical-sexual discourse at Stanford right now: Gender Performativity and Psychoanalysis. Neither are enough. I’m right here: not everything’s okay. A new and alienating way of thinking sex is needed on this campus. I’m right, here.

Xenofeminism in a sentence: Alienation is the labour of freedom’s construction.

To the many advocates of gender performativity, often students, on Stanford’s campus I say: To relegate sexuality to performance is to miss that the sex has been constructed around one role. Let us see that Fatherhood is no longer a blind spot in our critical-sexual vision.

To the fewer advocates of Psychoanalysis, often professors, sometimes clinicians, I say: It has been the labour of psychoanalysis to provide ever-subtler formalizations and practices adequate to thinking sex to those who carefully read and practice it. Yet, the inability of the discourse to gain mass appeal is inscribed in its foundations. Something more ambitious is necessary.

To my fellow students, lauding Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s dad vibes under the ambiguous cloak irony affords you, I say: yet another effort, Stanfordites, if “of course” you be feminists.

To Etchemendy and the faculty senate I say: Financially and domestically belittling your students to avoid hearing their carefully wrought proposals is no way to run a university, especially one so esteemed as Stanford. The tacit conflation of capital and fatherhood you peddle has gone on too long, and ignorance or custom are no longer an alibi.
To Bruce Thornton and the Hoover Institution I say: To elevate your own despotic Daddy-kink fantasies to the level of public policy in order to support your governmental BDSM’s requirement  of weak, helpless, passive women is naughty indeed. It can be only cowardly to lash out at the women of the world when your personal Hoover Tower goes limp.

And to you, dear reader, I say with Charli XCX: Go f*ck your prototype, [Xenofeminism] is an upgrade of your stereotype. And I say with local XF Femmebots: Let us work together to alienate the rapacious — if normalized — kinks underlying the violent conflation of capitalism and fatherhood which structure our university, and replace them with hotter and less exploitative ones. Let us construct the freedom we lack together. Let Xenofeminism be the name under which this local coordination takes place.

To Xenofeminists: Let the vacant caryatids shouldering the domestic burden of the University’s libidinal economy set down their burden and walk.

To Xenofeminists: Let the ten thousand flowers of those subjects — whatever biological apparatuses they may be preloaded with — whose sexuality valorizes relinquishing their need for a (all too often illusory) sense of power and control blossom indiscriminately under our campus’s beautiful azure sky.

Thus I conclude part I of this Xenofeminist Alienation. It has been written that you may find it more than just titillating. It is my sincere hope any questions or concerns it may have raised will be sufficiently elucidated in its second part. Nevertheless, do not hesitate to contact me if this discourse captivates you. Scilicet.

 

Contact Joe Goodhew at jgoodhew ‘at’ stanford.edu.

  • Bilal Choho

    I have lots of questions! I especially want you to elaborate on some of your claims, most of which I nevertheless seem to intuitively agree on:
    (1) is obvious
    (2) could you elaborate on:
    a. the contradiction between women’s emancipation and all capitalisms
    b. the intertwinement of capitalism and technology
    c. the possibility for disentangling them
    (3) is very obvious
    (4) not sure I quite understand the point about women’s “right” to be sexually indiscriminate. Is the point that BT is conflating what he **imagines** is a biological burden on women with a “right” that they don’t have? Do men implicitly have that “right”? How can we talk about this beyond the idea of a “right”?
    (5) what is BT’s fantasy and why is it the only support for this claim?
    (6) what is your point about writing it as “dis/semin/nation”?
    (7) do you mean by “this caricature is not privileged”:
    a. that there are other equally prevalent (and bad) caricatures of women, and if so how is that important to your argument?
    b. that there are alternative better (caricatural) ways of thinking about women, and if so how is that important to your argument?
    c. something else?

  • Bilal Choho

    More general requests for elaboration:

    What do you mean by alienation? Why is it labor? This seems different from the idea of someone alienating someone else.

    You do not include in your paradigms of sexual discourse the reactionary one, i.e. for example BT’s. Particularly interesting (because we all know the “classical” patriarchal BS) would be to understand what and how this paradigm answers to gender performativity and to psychoanalysis. How does it react to them, maintain itself, and how does your new paradigm propose to be one step of ahead of this process of destabilization/stabilization?

    What is the blind spot of gender performativity? How has sex been constructed around one role?

    The Etchemendy story seems to work great as an example of the conflation between capital and fatherhood; what are other (perhaps more general) examples of this conflation?

    How does one set down one’s libidinal-economic burden? What is it to “walk”?

    How does this illusory sense of power and control work for conceptions of sexuality on this campus and why is it an illusion? Is it sufficient to relinquish this need or do we need to figure out how to actually get sexual power and control, for those of us who don’t have it?

    What is a split subject?

  • Disappointed Leftist

    Wait – so a bunch of white privileged Stanford students talking about Xenofeminism in their armchairs is in anyway comparable to Black Lives Matter, a movement that actually created noticeable change led by people of color who are LITERALLY being shot in the streets? What is this tone deaf racist nonsense?