Archive for the ‘Feminism’ Category

Lierre Keith and the Politics of Exclusion

February 13, 2014


A young friend of mine who is a student at the University of Oregon recently sent me a message asking me to sign a petition demanding that Lierre Keith not be allowed to speak at a Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University later this month. The petition claims that Keith is a transphobe and a racist. I must admit, not without some embarrassment, that I did not know who Keith is. I subsequently learned that she is a feminist and environmentalist. She is a founding member of an environmental group, Deep Green Resistance.

The accusation of racism apparently stems from an incident in which she posted a comment on a DPR message board in which she called Lakota culture “patriarchal”. When some people criticized the comment, it was taken down. I don’t think there is anything to see here.

The transphobia accusation is more substantial. Deep Green Resistance is unique among environmental groups in that it doesn’t allow transgender members. This is due to the particular brand of feminism that Keith and other leading members of DPR subscribe to. These people hold, as Keith puts it, that gender is “not a binary but a hierarchy”. (You can find an exposition of Keith’s ideas here. You can find a critique of those ideas here) Keith objects to transgenderism because it seems to her to go against her theory of gender. (It apparently doesn’t occur to her that perhaps this means that the theory should be modified in some way. But what does an empiricist like me know.)

I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, I’m a firm believer in free speech, including for people I disagree with. On the other hand, if Keith insists on excluding some people, she shouldn’t be surprised if they want to exclude her in return. I would have to say that Keith should be allowed to speak, but with the proviso that people can protest her views if they so wish.

Since When is Rape an Organizational Matter?

January 10, 2013

I have always had a strange fascination with the British Left. Perhaps this is because it seems more lively than the US Left, which is sodden with hippy platitudes, conspiracy theories, quack “alternative” medicines, and anarchist posturings.

The British website, Socialist Unity, has posted an internal document from the Socialist Workers Party of Britain. Although I don’t care for SU’s politics, they have a right to publish any document from any organization that falls into their hands. The document in question concerns an accusation of rape against a member of the SWP. Charlie Kimber, the National Secretary of the SWP wrote an e-mail to SU protesting against their decision to post the document, which he as a right to do. SU has posted his e-mail. When I read it, I was troubled by the following passage:

    Organisations [sic] that have to deal with personal cases and allegations of this sort deserve the right to privacy about the details of the proceedings. Do you think that trade unions, for example, should publish transcripts of such cases? [I do, as a matter of fact. – SP]

Whenever a woman is raped, that is everybody’s problem, not just the business of some organization that she happens to belong to.

Israel Shamir and CounterPunch

August 25, 2012

Why does CounterPunch, which is ostensibly a left-wing website, continue to post articles by the neo-fascist nutjob, Israel Shamir? You only have to read Shamir’s website to see that the guy is crazy. Yet he is apparently not too crazy to be published by CounterPunch.

CounterPunch has just posted an article by Shamir entitled The Secret History of Pussy Riot. In it, he repeatedly refers to the members of the band by the misogynist term, “viragos”. This fact alone should have been sufficient reason to reject the article. Alas, it’s actually even worse than that. Shamir argues that the Putin government was right to send these women to prison for merely expressing their opinions. He writes:

    Two years’ sentence is quite in line with prevailing European practice. For much milder anti-Jewish hate talk, European countries customarily sentence offenders to two-to-five years of prison for the first offence. The Russians applied hate crime laws to offenders against Christian faith, and this is probably a Russian novelty. The Russians proved that they care for Christ as much as the French care for Auschwitz, and this shocked the Europeans who apparently thought ‘hate laws’ may be applied only to protect Jews and gays. The Western governments call for more freedom for the anti-Christian Russians, while denying it for holocaust revisionists in their midst.

Why does CounterPunch insult its readers by posting this garbage? The kindest thing one can assume here is that they didn’t bother to read this article.

Shamir has ties to the Lukaschenko dictatorship in Belarus. When David Irving was sentenced to prison for Holocaust deanial, Shamir wrote:

    Thus we should say: David Irving was sentenced for denial of Jewish superiority. His doom seals the reign of (albeit limited) freedom that began with the fall of Bastille. European history went full circle: from rejecting the rule of Church and embracing free thought, to the new Jewish mind-control on a world scale. Not only is Western Christian civilisation dead, but even its successor, secular European civilisation, has met its demise only a few days after its proud and last celebration by the Danish scribes. It was short-lived: about two hundred years from beginning to the end, the Europeans may once have had the illusion that they can live without an ideological supremacy. Now this illusion is over; and the Jews came in the stead of the old and tired See of St Peter to rule over the minds and souls of Europeans.

This is anti-Semitism, plain and simple. The Breivik shootings in Norway have shown that fascism is still a force to be reckoned with. Yet the editors of CounterPunch apparently think it is all a joke.

Pandora’s Box

July 20, 2012

Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box.

G.W. Pabst’s 1929 German silent film is based on two plays by Frank Wedekind, Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box. Wedekind’s plays were meant as attacks on sexual repression and moral hypocrisy. The star of this film, Louise Brooks, has become something of a cult figure. When I lived in New York, I knew a guy who had a tattoo of Brooks’s face on his arm. (I remember he insisted on showing it to everyone he met. It was actually a pretty good likeness of her, I must say.)

Lulu (Louise Brooks) is the mistress of Dr. Schoen (Fritz Kortner), a newspaper publisher. She lives with Schigolch (Carl Goetz), who appears to be her father, although the exact nature of his relationship to her is never made clear. Schoen tells Lulu that he is going to marry Charlotte (Daisy D’Ora), the daughter of a high government official. Lulu is not happy about this. Schoen is unaware that his son, Alwa (Francis Lederer) has fallen in love with Lulu. Alwa’s artist friend, Anna (Alice Roberts) is also in love with Lulu. (The film indicates her lesbianism by the fact that she sometimes wears men’s ties.) Schigolch wants Lulu to start a trapeze act with Rodrigo (Krafft-Raschig), but then Alwa, at his father’s urging, invites Lulu to join his musical revue. One night, as Lulu is about to go on stage, she sees Schoen with Charlotte. Lulu angrily announces that she will not perform in front of “that woman”. Schoen takes Lulu into a back room to plead with her. They argue for a time, and then they start making love. Alwa and Charlotte walk in on them. Charlotte angrily leaves. Schoen decides at that point that he has no choice but to marry Lulu, in order to maintain his respectability, although he does not relish this prospect. “This is my execution,” he tells Alwa.

On the night of the wedding, Alwa slips away from the reception and finds Lulu in the bridal chamber. He confesses his love for her, and he begs her to run away with him. Schoen walks in on them. He is horrified by what he sees. He tries to force a gun into Lulu’s hands, telling her that she must kill herself. As they struggle, the gun goes off, killing Schoen. Lulu is then put on trial for murder. The prosecutor demands the death penalty, even though Lulu flirts with him. The judges, however, find her guilty of manslaughter and sentence her to five years in prison. Schigolch and Rodrigo set off a fire alarm, and in the ensuing confusion, they whisk Lulu away. They take her to Schoen’s home, where Alwa finds her. At first, he is incensed at her being in the place where his father died, but he is still in love with her, so he eventually gives in to her demand that he run away with her. On board the train, Lulu is seen by Marquis Casti-Piani (Michael von Newlinsky), who recognizes her, knowing she is wanted by the police. He blackmails Alwa into giving him money. He then tells Alwa that he knows of a place where he and Lulu will be safe from the police.

We next see Lulu and Alwa on board a docked ship where people gather to gamble and drink. Schigolch, Rodrigo, Anna, and Casti-Piani have all followed them there. Casti-Piani “sells” Lulu to a pimp from Cairo. He tells her that if she doesn’t go along with it, he will turn her in to the police. At roughly the same time, Rodrigo demands that Lulu give him money so he can start a new trapeze act. He, too, threatens to go to the police. Lulu turns to Schigolch for help. He devises a plan. He gets Alwa to cheat at cards, so they can get enough money to pay off Casti-Piani. He then has Lulu persuade a reluctant Anna to pretend to be in love with Rodrigo. Anna lures Rodrigo to her cabin room, where Schigolch murders him. He then ties up Anna and leaves her there. (It’s not clear why he does this. Does he dislike Anna because she is a lesbian? I suspect some scenes may be missing from the version I saw, which was released by Janus Films in 1983.) Alwa is caught cheating, which results in a riot. Someone calls the police, who promptly show up. In the confusion, Casti-Piani grabs Lulu, but she manages to escape. She finds Alwa and Schigolch, and they get away in a row boat.

The three of them go to London, where they live in poverty. Desperate for money, Lulu, at Schigolch’s suggestion, turns to prostitution. Her first client turns out to be Jack the Ripper (Gustav Diessl).

Wedekind’s Lulu plays are a study in how society’s ideas about sex and “respectability” ultimately victimize women from disadvantaged backgrounds. A lesser artist than Wedekind would have tried to make this point by making Lulu a saintly character, but Wedekind wants us to see life in all its rawness. (Wedekind makes the “hard argument”, as Troskyists would say.) Lulu is not a good person. She is deceitful, manipulative, and sometimes cruel. Yet one gradually realizes that the men around her are far worse. Lulu is one of the great tragic figures of world literature.

Pabst was able to get strong performances from all the actors in this film. This is particularly striking in the case of Alice Roberts, who, I’ve read, initially expressed horror at the idea of playing a lesbian. I’ve also read that when Pandora’s Box premiered in Germany, Brooks’s performance was harshly criticized. I can only assume that this was due to nationalism. (Brooks was American.) Brooks actually gives an amazing performance. She exudes so much energy, that her character actually seems like the “primal form of woman” that Wedekind melodramatically described her as. Brooks began her career as a dancer, which perhaps explains her striking feline gracefulness.

Pandora’s Box is one of the greatest films ever made. The current attacks on women’s rights have given it a renewed relevance.