01 May 2014

"Oh Bondage, Up Yours!": Resilience as Feminine Ideal and Racializing Technology--my philoSOPHIA 2014 talk

Here is the outline from which I will be speaking tomorrow morning at philoSOPHIA: a feminist society's meeting at Penn State. I've also reproduced it below; the formatting in the gdoc is prettier.

Introduction
  • [SLIDE 1] XRay Spex: “O Bondage, Up Yours!”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYMObdOqcRg
    • “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard/But I think O BONDAGE UP YOURS! 1234!”
      • Poly Styrene’s scream has been co-opted; not resistant/disruptive but normalizing
    • Girls aren’t virginal, passive objects who “should be seen and not heard,” but Poly-Styrene-like sirens who scream back in spectacularly noisy and transgressive ways (“going gaga,” in Jack Halberstam’s terms).
  • Patriarchal femininity has changed, “upgraded” for both neoliberal capitalism and post-identity politics (which I call MRWaSP, multi-racial white supremacist patriarchy)
    • co-opts traditional strategies of resistance
      • recycles feminism into the new patriarchy, black radical practice into white supremacy
      • analogous to what Lester Spence calls crack governmentality: creates/produces “exceptional” population, those who are too lazy, backwards, or unhealthy to fit in society proper (and thus must be surveilled and/or executed).
    • how?: resilience discourse
  • These two screenshots from pop videos (Gaga Telephone, Beyonce Video Phone):

What is Resilience?
  • {SLIDE 4} It’s a form of “creative destruction,” to use Harvey’s term. Mark Neocleous argues that resilience, or “the capacity of a system to return to a previous state, to recover from a shock, or to bounce back after a crisis or trauma” is the ideal that grounds contemporary structures of subjectivity, logics of governmentality, and capitalism. Or, Rahm Emmanuel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rs6TgitlNIA
  • Resilience has replaced fragility as (white) feminine ideal
  • [SLIDE 5] 2 moments:
    • incites damage, actively produces it
    • spectacularly overcome that damage
      • eg., women’s magazines that both headline diets and ‘love your body!’
  • normalizes damage as “past” (but not present)
    • does not eliminate or solve OG patriarchy; in fact, it requires it.
    • INDIVIDUAL women are now responsible for their own PERSONAL overcoming of OG Patriarchy
  • Nietzsche’s “eternal return” as means of production: “You ought to overcome.”
    • recycling damage (sexism, racism) at a profit
      • that profit is in
        • one’s own human capital--a ‘good’ or ‘modern’ woman; not a backwards women who needs white saviorist feminism
        • increased power and efficiency of MRWaSP; doubles down on the patriarchy
  • A specific form of therapeutic overcoming, not just any old way of recovering from trauma.  It proceeds as follows: (1) incite, manufacture, identify damage and trauma as such; (2) visibly and spectacularly overcome this damage by laboring on yourself so that (3) others’ perceptions of your overcoming generates a “moral” profit--your labor generates virtue (in the strict philosophical sense), and that virtue is your payoff. A resilient system or person is “virtuous”.
    • recovery that is profitable for hegemonic institutions
      • your health supports overall ‘health’
      • cultural, ideological, epistemological, social, affective, economic work that generates surplus value that hegemony needs for its continued growth and health → “women’s work” 2.0
    • resilient practices normalizes individuals across populations
      • deregulation means lots of damage; resilience is how individuals recuperate that damage for hegemony
      • outsources the labor of normalization to individuals; the state/police doesn’t need to strictly regulate
    • micro-level flexibility produces macro-level stability (audio equalizer)
      • this differs from a dynamic system, when micro and macro change together (thx Jason Rines for that point!)
  • precarity as inability to profit from resilient-like practices--none of your surplus value returns to you as human capital
    • just hovering at/above bare minimum/threshold of death
    • some populations most socially productive as resilient, other populations most socially productive as precarious

Resilience as Feminine Ideal
  • Content has flipped
    • Neoclaus: “what is at stake and why the concept has become so appealing: rather than speak of fragility and its (negative) associations, we should be speaking of resilience and its (positive) connotations.”
    • LEAN THE FUCK IN, LOVE YOUR BODY
    • Traditional white femininity--fragility, passivity, objectification, “throwing like a girl”--that’s over for nominally white women.
      • these new features don’t read as masculinity b/c they are the result of overcoming specifically feminized damage (e.g., negative body image, stereotype threat, etc.)
    • good women overcome, bad women choose not to and backwards women can’t
  • Admits women aren’t born but made
    • e.g., avow the male gaze (as damage overcome) rather than disavow the camera
      • Mulvey’s “Male Gaze” -- patriarchy could be natural only if the fourth wall wasn’t broken, only if we didn’t see the constructedness of it
      • MRWaSP visualization -- resilience discourse requires the affirmation of the camera as damaging, bc only then do women have a reason to labor on themselves
    • assign to women the labor of becoming “women”
      • except in addition or above and beyond something like Bartky’s “feminine disciplines,” in which women make themselves into objects (‘active w passive aims, as Freud put it), resilience makes women subjects, not objects
      • the work of becoming “women” vs traditional “women’s work”
        • another instance of full subsumption? even the performance of gender is now part of the means of capitalist production (and not its constitutive outside or prerequisite)?
      • from the “exchange” of women to resilient women as entrepreneurial subjects
        • ‘feminine’ subject position (i.e., the Other of patriarchy) now those who produce the ‘trust’ or ‘credit’ or ‘care’ that facilitates risk-taking and leaning-in of Absolutes
        • no longer “women on the market” or “the exchange of women” but “femmes as conductors” (like copper wire)

Resilient Femininity as Racializing Technology
  • reworked/upgraded virgin/whore dichotomy
    • good women overcome, ‘bad’ women fail to overcome and need saving (often from supposedly unreconstructed non-white men)
  • [SLIDE 7] “advanced” civilizations have overcome patriarchy, racism, etc. “backwards” ones haven’t. → MRWaSP
  • white/’good’ women’s resilience labor includes cleansing society from any obvious remnants of patriarchy and racism
    • this amounts to scapegoating black men (in the US) and some foreign men (e.g., “the Taliban”) as responsible for sexism
    • if white femininity was about keeping whiteness pure (the white/non-white model of white supremacy Jared Sexton discusses), then MRWaSP femininity is about keeping blackness pure as exception (the black/non-black model of white supremacy);
  • Hegemonic femininity produces blackness as exception, the part of society that must be incarcerated, executed, etc., bc it is evidence that we are not, in fact, post-race, post-patriarchy, etc.
  • active production of WOC as damaged and/or toxic
    • “toxicity” as discourse facilitated by material-discursive specificities of contemporary digital social media

Examples:


[SLIDE 8] How to respond? What’s a feminist to do?
  • well, like, there’s no one solution, bc there’s no one subject of feminism, duh.
  • adapt, take care of yourself even and especially if that upsets the overall ‘health’ of MRWaSP capitalism
    • Ahmed, feminist killjoys ⇒ maybe we need a correlary concept of feminist toxins? or feminist vice (as opposed to virtuous resilience)?
  • working at the individual level will never cut it
    • algorithms adapt; TINA
  • you have to work relationally: fuck with the overall balance
    • Invest in blackness, rather than divest it/make it the exception
      • that’s what Rihanna does in Unapologetic; she invests in her relationship w/CB; she doesn’t produce him as exception
    • melancholy
      • not Freudian failure to overcome/open-endedness, but negative feedback loops, investing in biopolitically “unviable,” “unhealthy” practices (eg., Critical Fat Studies)
      • pathologization of black feminists on social media--they’re killjoys, aggressive, vampires, a drain on the upworthiness of the liberal left or the acceleration of the radical left.

1 comment:

  1. This is great work, Robin. You're producing very smart, up-to-date, and important work.

    ReplyDelete