Daei Jan Napoleon

My Uncle NapoleonMy Uncle Napoleon by Iraj Pezeshkzad
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I read that this book had been made into a TV series, I should have anticipated what it would be like: it is a hologram. Every part of it contains the image of the whole; the drama runs in place, the characters are inalterable (and apart from the nameless narrator and his beloved cousin, who have no personalities at all, are a broadly ‘unsympathetic’ bunch), and the elements of the comedy are always the same. Fortunately, these are all entirely adequate to the task of keeping me entertained for five hundred pages.

To be honest, I’m quite surprised I enjoyed it so much as I don’t think I would have read this if I had been told it was a farce relying for most of its laughs on innuendo and bodily functions, especially of the penis. Clearly, Pezeshkzad has the genius of imbuing his comedy with sparkling life. The characteristic exaggerations and romance of Iranian speech, re-exaggerated by the author, are a treat non-Iranians can enjoy as the countless shockingly disingenuous dramatic oaths on the souls and deaths of loved ones and holy figures sometimes becomes a joke in itself.

Had enough? OK, off you go, thanks for reading so far = )

Attempted Feminist Reading of Daei Jan Napoleon*
There is one female character who speaks at any length: Aziz al-Saltaneh, whose terrifying volatility is early on highlighted by her attempt to cut off her cheating husband’s penis. In addition, Farrokh Laqa, an unpleasant busybody permanently dressing in black and going to funerals, has a few lines, and the mother of cadet officer Ghiasabadi, whose unattractive appearance is her main attribute, speaks a little. For comparison, there are five main male characters who speak about as much as or more than Aziz al-Saltaneh, and many more minor ones who speak much more than any other woman

Three women exist to be sexually attractive and potentially available to seduce or be seduced; they are mostly discussed in their absence. Layli, the narrator’s beloved, is spared ever being physically described, but she barely speaks. The narrator’s mother and young sister, and the wives of ‘uncle colonel’ and Daie Jan himself barely exist. I don’t think there is a single scene in which two women speak to each other.

Arguably the most complete, sympathetic female character is Qamar, the teenage daughter of Aziz al-Saltaneh, described in near-enough-author-voice as ‘simple’ (I do not know what this is translated from) and by unsympathetic characters as ‘not all there’ ‘not right in the head’ and ‘crazy’. The latter is particularly inaccurate as Qamar seems to be very sane: honest, consistent and cheerful except when she is threatened with an abortion against her will. This is only one of the ways in which she is abused. She is, apparently, raped by a family member, and coerced (under the threat of a dangerous abortion) into marrying an older man. Uncle Asadollah, perhaps the most sympathetic character overall and thus closely identified with the author, obviously feels for her and treats her kindly. She is described as attractively ‘chubby’ (as are other attractive women – I suppose it’s at least refreshing not to have a less unhealthy standard of sexual suitability) and her body is subjected to various narrative commodifications, but she does emerge as a person with a will. I like her a lot, and I wish we heard more from her.

The strategy of having the story told from the perspective of a lovesick teenager, even if his endless eavesdropping is an utterly transparent device, allows a clear eyed and ‘innocent’ (though certainly not unbiased) perspective, a thin veil for straight author voice.

Further distancing through other characters allows Pezeshkzad to poke fun at the (mainly) classism racism and patriarchal attitudes of others. However, to some extent these are conferred in by the author. Extreme male jealousy and references to wife-murder are satirised, and I sense a strong sense of injustice at the cruel prohibition against men displaying emotion: a crying boy being subjected to ‘this one’s a girl, get the barber and cut his willy off’ could hardly be more appalling. On the other hand, in addition to the problems with female characters, the text raises scant objection to the abuse of Qamar. Uncle Asadollah’s view that sex is the best thing in life and in particular that sex with a man solves all a woman’s problems is distanced from the author by the narrator’s firmly chaste and chivalrous attitude to his love object: ‘I’m in love with her Uncle Asadollah; dirty thoughts like that have never entered my head’.

To an extent, racism against Indian people is sent up – Daei Jan* is so racist he can hardly bear to speak to an Indian, while Uncle Asadollah, perhaps the most sympathetic character overall and thus closely identified with the author, shows no sign of being so, and enthusiastically befriends one whose wife takes his fancy. However, Asadollah describes an Arab in a very unpleasant stereotypical way.

The narrator’s father is a victim of Daei Jan* and his circle’s extreme classism, and his revenge involves constantly inviting people of objectionable class status into Daie Jan’s house and presence whenever he can. Asadollah directly criticises Daie Jan*’s self-importance as both unreasonable and disingenuous. However, he himself is of ‘noble’ origins and his virtue consists in wearing this status lightly and gracefully and behaving in the Iranian tradition of hospitality, conviviality, sympathy and helpfulness to all. Stereotypes of both upper and lower class people are embodied and mined for comedy.

The TV Series
I have a very little Farsi, but having read the book I found I could watch the series without subtitles, follow the action and enjoy it, and get more out of my reading. Indeed, I watched two hours of it while I was doing the ironing! This is surely testament to really brilliant acting and adaptation, and the inevitable humanisation of characters who have only a minimal embodiment in the novel. By watching, you can better appreciate Mash Qasem’s funny habits of speech and the imposing presence of Daei Jan*. Watching gives a sense of place that the novel spends little time creating. The women are dressed in a relaxed style, in colourful dresses, and for most veils are only worn for religious observance.

The Translation
I’m not really qualified to comment as I can barely read Farsi. However, Dick Davis’ translation is so natural and light-footed that I would have completely forgotten the book was not written in English if I had not occasionally mentally un-translated words and phrases to feel them in Farsi, which was an additional pleasure. Comedy must be very difficult to render in another language, but there is never a hint of strain. Davis’ approach to the art of translation is discussed a little in this article in relation to classic poetry.

*I know it is very obnoxious of me to untranslate the title of the novel and the name of its main character, but Daei Jan (dear maternal uncle) sounds so much more natural than Dear Uncle, which makes me feel I’m writing a letter.

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Strange Encounter

The Lesbian PostmodernThe Lesbian Postmodern by Laura Doan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The winged lesbian on the cover of this book gazes anxiously at the hand with which she finishes drawing her second, presently missing trouser leg, while in the other hand she holds aloft a fragrant bottle of essence. This image got funnier as I understood more and more about it, which was a relief as for the first two essays I wasn’t sure I could understand anything else. It got easier, but (disclaimer!) this review is bound to be full of gross oversimplifications.

Doan’s preface to the collection tantalisingly promises that it will unsettle rather than settle questions arising from the confluence of the lesbian and the postmodern, two fraught terms with no immediately obvious relationship. Judith Roof begins her essay by resisting the conjunction, but after tracing their parallel histories finally finds readings of both that set them up for a potentially fruitful collaboration. Other essays are more direct in their intention to utilise, to put to work some relation to the postmodern for something, for the benefit of the lesbian (community)? I feel postmodern divestment from epistemic foundations holds out the possibility of testing the effects of thinking words and structures differently. We are at sea and it is up to us to work the winds

Sometimes this relation is negative. Emma Perez is perhaps the strongest voice critiquing postmodern approaches to categories of identity and subjectivities. Perez shares (in an essay I loved) that claiming her subjectivity as a Chicana lesbian is a practice of strategic essentialism (needed for survival). Robin Wiegman and Sagri Dhairyam expose postmodernism’s repositioning of power as ever more concentrated in academia, which remains white and male, and critique the complicity of the (postmodern) intellectual in the commodification of categories of identity. Erica Rand points out that ‘postmodern’ readings are often esoteric, and have limited use. But these authors are not calling for divestment from postmodern ideas and attitudes, but for critical and pragmatic engagement.

Wiegman offers, the suggestion that it is postmodern thinking that helps feminism to recognise that categories of gender race and class are inadequate to define and critique all relations of domination; Dhairyam notes that lesbian/queer as subject position/identity is only reached via the sanctions of race and class privilege.

My favourite was Elizabeth Grosz’s beautiful, inspiring contribution ‘Refiguring Lesbian Desire’, which critiques the Platonic concept of desire as a lack of something, which leads to the complementarity model of heterosexual relationships. Grosz shows that desire-as-lack means that desire is annihilated by satisfaction, so its only appropriate (or sustainable) object is another desire. She proposes a Spinozist/Deleuze & Guattarian idea of desire as productive, creative, making something, making connections. In so doing she moves away from psychoanalysis, from ‘latencies and depth’ and to ‘intensities and surfaces’ ‘energies, exitations, impulses, actions, movements, practices, moments, pulses of feeling’. This is great! Postmodernism’s suggestions of relational and dynamic… transformations? directly offer something to the erotic (not only sexual) This refiguration would have an interesting meeting with Audre Lorde I think.

Colleen Lamos asks who is reading the lesbian porn publication
On Our Backs
and finds that apparently everyone is. She suggests that this represents something like the mainstream becoming lesbian as well as the lesbian becoming mainstream. One of the themes I feel in the collection is that as soon as a step beyond the constraining frame of heterosexuality is taken, gender, romantic and sexual diversity flows in myriad directions. This is perhaps the effect of restless subjectivities seeking languages, styles, modes of being and becoming not overdetermined by the hetero/cisgender-normative, but it also, I think, exposes the artificiality of those norms.

J Halberstam (writing from a trans perspective) goes so far as to suggest that ‘we are all transsexuals’: all gender is a fiction, and one that seems to need readers. This essay seemed in danger of erasing trans people to me, but on the contrary I think, it was seeking to centre the experiences of trans men in particular. The proximity of butch lesbian women and trans hetero men reads uncomfortably through my awareness feminism’s shoddy record on trans rights, and the all too common conflation of sexual orientation with gender (although it surely harmonises in some ways with Julia Serano’s discussion of oppositional sexism in
Whipping Girl
). Halberstam’s suggestion that gender confirmation surgery be reclassified as cosmetic rather than medical rings urgent alarm bells, but is an attempt to undo the pathologisation of trans people rather than to trivialise their needs. Perhaps the head-in-the-sand syndrome of the privileged postmodern intellectual, critiqued elsewhere in relation to race, is at work here.

Laura Doan’s own contribution is a wonderful essay on the delights of Jeanette Winterson and the risky but potentially transformative work of ‘sexing the postmodern’ which lesbian feminists must undertake, in Doan’s view, to bring liberatory possibilities to life from the collapse of Enlightenment foundationalism.

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machines dream electricity and other predictabilities

Imaginary Numbers: An Anthology of Marvelous Mathematical Stories, Diversions, Poems, and MusingsImaginary Numbers: An Anthology of Marvelous Mathematical Stories, Diversions, Poems, and Musings by William Frucht
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I first picked up this book at my brilliant local library when I was about thirteen, and I was totally inspired. This is my third reading, and I found it dispiritingly male and pale (not a single non-white character or author as far as I can tell)

The Form of Space by Italo Calvino This sexist little piece is very eloquently, gracefully written, but repulsive in content. Rape culture is not Calvino’s fault, but there is really no need to enthusiastically pitch in.

A New Golden Age by Rudy Rucker
This is pure intellectual snobbery, but apart from that is hugely likeable. It doesn’t start off well and the dialogue feels lumpy, with too many characters for a short short story, but the idea of a math-player that you can plug into your brain to experience math directly is just too cool to resist, and Rucker’s description illustrates it perfectly. I hope someone invents it.

A Serpent with Corners by Lewis Carroll This will amuse folks who pick this up hoping for logic puzzles to chew on. Abner Shimony’s piece Resolution of the Paradox: A Philosophical Puppet Play, which features a lion who defies Zeno’s logic, is in the same vein

How Kazir Won His Wife by Raymond Smulyan
This is about the ‘Goodman principle’ which tells you how to find things out in a situation where some people always lie and others always tell the truth, (geek moment: Sarah uses it in The Labyrinth!), but there is much talk around the topic. This tale is a good example of what the book is like in general: math-inspired subversive whimsical realism (has someone coined this genre?)

An extract from Einstein’s Dreams made me really want to read the whole book – here Lightman imagines what the universe would be like if the arrow of time pointed in the opposite direction: the one in which disorder DECREASES. Another extract, from Hofstadter’s GDB, about preludes to fugues, reminds me that I want to re-read that book as well

The Golden Man by Philip K Dick A longer piece that as always demonstrates Dick’s genius-level talent for writing hauntingly believeable scifi. There is, I think, a critique here of illiberal institutional controls, yet its tension with fear is fully fleshed out, to the point where the terror takes over. I’m not buying the woman-blaming though…

The Morphology of the Kirkham Wreck by Hilbert Schenk is a unique piece, less whimsical realism than math-magical realism. It’s protagonist reads as a typical lifeboat man, hardy and deeply experienced, to the point where his professional intuition seems like a preternatural ability, except in his case it actually is. I enjoyed the framing of the story from the point of view of ‘time-users’ watching Keeper Chase, an energy-user, doing his godlike tricks.

The Third Sally, or The Dragons of Probability by Stanislaw Lem bored me somewhat after the first few pages, but I think I was just being impatient – it is quite funny in a Terry Pratchett way. The same goes for the other Lem story in here, The Extraordinary Hotel, which is about set theory, and is more technical.

An extract from Flatland: Concerning Irregular Figures is extremely disturbing. I wonder if anyone has written a feminist analysis of Flatland, where all women are lines while men have different shapes depending on social class/occupation. In itself this is a kind of feminist comment on Victorian society… I’ve never been tempted to read Flatland but maybe I should. Clearly only men could be ‘irregular’ and therefore subject to the murderous eugenic policy here illustrated…

On Fiddib Har by A K Dewdney is an extract from The Planiverse, which imagines contact with a two-dimensional world through a youth who lives there, and is extremely clever and interesting to me. The illustrations are particularly delightful. It is quite technical and book length would probably bore, but a small dose is delicious.

The Church of the Fourth Dimension by Martin Gardner feels more real than fiction. I’m sort of surprised that Gardner imagined the whole thing – it makes sense! Nice that it has some knot tricks at the end. Fun.

Burning Chrome by William Gibson Most of these stories have no women in them at all. Where we do feature, we are invariably objects of the action and description rather than subjects. Here hacker Bobby, for whom women are ‘talismans’, is observed by his partner in crime Jack. Rikki, Bobby’s current sexual partner, is the driving force of the story, yet she has no character, other than a desire to become a ‘simstim’ star, for which she will need to have her lovely brown eyes replaced with new ones able to literally film life from her point of view. The eyes she wants are blue, but Gibson offers no material for an analysis of why. Jack is in love with Rikki and thus resents Bobby’s objectifying relationship to her, but his intervention in her favour consists of buying her a flight to Hollywood to pursue her dreams

While I’m on the feminist line of attack, Fritz Leiber’s story Gonna Roll the Bones is particularly grotesquely sexist. Oppressed by his mother and abused (by him) wife, the protagonist heads out to gamble, where slim, naked young women serve and are delighted to be groped. Sample: “The Big Gambler had just taken into his arms his prettiest evilest sporting girl and was running an aristocratic hand across her haunch with perfect gentility, when the poet chap, green-eyed from jealousy and lovesickness, came leaping forward like a wild cat and aimed a long gleaming dagger at the black satin back.”

The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges was my favourite story on first reading and it retains its ponderous and ponderable pleasure, but by this point I am wondering why none of the authors yet featured have been women (with the possible exception of Wislawa Szymborska who contributed a poem – must check gender!) and can’t help but notice that the Library contains no women at all. Presumably the men spring fully formed from the bookshelves without the messy business of birthing…

Ah here we are! Connie Willis’ tale Schwarzchild Radius breaks the mold with a very literary reflection on the weirdness of war and relativistic physics. Now my favourite piece in the collection. I must find more of Willis’ work.

Siv Cedering’s poem Letter from Caroline Herschel is great – I think I saw it before in Dark Matter? Anyway, it’s a tribute to ‘my long, lost sisters, forgotten/in the books that record/our science – Agnice of Thessaly, Hyptia, Hildegard, Catherina Hervelius, Maria Agnesi…

Then there is an extract from We by Yevgeny Zamyatin which is a very good book in my opinion, and finally a J G Ballard story The Garden of Time which as Frucht writes in his introduction, is very evocative, reeking of nostalgia for decadent days. The final description of the approaching army is painfully vivid. But isn’t this fear of barbarian hoards from whom one cannot protect one’s charming, frail wife a sort of… elitist white supremacist parable?

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Picturing Frida

Frida : a biography of Frida KahloFrida : a biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a long book of a rather short life: Frida Kahlo was injured in a traffic incident when she was eighteen and spent the rest of her life in pain and ‘invalidism’. Regardless of this, her persona was so vibrant and vital that her magnetism outshone her vivid, charismatic work, and if she had lived thirty more years the book would doubtless be three hundred pages longer.

But it would have been completely different. Frida would probably not have begun to paint if she had not been immobilised for many months after her accident, and if she had not been made unable to have children, she would have had them. And so she would not have painted her physical pain and her frustrated longing.

I enjoyed Herrera’s descriptive interpretations of Frida’s paintings and only rarely felt she had gone too far in taking them literally or carrying her own idea further than was justified. My highlight was her rejection of the inclusion of Frida in the Surrealist movement. Herrera unlines the cultural and individual specificity of Frida’s work and the personal authenticity of its non-realistic elements. Her work perhaps owes something to Mexical socialist realism and Latin@ Catholic iconography (the ‘naive’ ex-voto tradition is clearly an influence) but not to self-indulgent European navel-gazing. Herrera explains why Surrealism gained little traction in Mexico:

Mexico had its own magic and myths and did not need foreign notions of fantasy. The self-conscious search for subconscious truths that may have provided European Surrealists with some release from the confines of their rational world and ordinary bourgeois life offered little enchantment in a country where reality and dreams are perceived to merge and miracles are thought to be daily occurrences

I also loved her eloquent writing about Frida’s dress and ‘costume’, which was obviously a hugely important part of her process of identity. Although Frida’s maternal grandfather was indigenous, she had a middle class settler Christian upbringing and dressing in tehuana clothing was a deliberate, political, and perhaps disingenuous act of appropriation, motivated, it seems, by Communist anti-imperialism, aesthetic appreciation and the desire to hide her right leg, which was damaged by childhood polio and became increasingly problematic, probably as her injuries put an end to her therapeutic habits of exercise.

It’s always hard not to see the life of an artist primarily through their work, but according to Herrera, in many periods of her life Frida painted little. She writes that Frida’s relationship to Diego was often more important to her sense of herself than her art. Some of Frida’s writing supports this, but I am uncomfortable with Herrera’s adhesion to the idea, especially as Frida often complained about Diego too. She had many correspondants, friends, and semi-secret lovers, and organised Diego’s life and finances as well as her own. While he floundered without her, however inattentive he could be (apparently he lived for his work; unlike Frida he seems to have painted compulsively from childhood), she seems entirely capable of independence.

Diego was always unfaithful, but while he apparently tolerated Frida’s lesbian affairs, he seemed to be typically macho about her heterosexual ones, which she kept secret. Herrera gives far more attention to these associations with men, although affairs and intimacies with women may have been at least as important to Frida. But perhaps she did not write to her women lovers, or the letters have not come into the public realm, as those written to men have. I usually feel that biographers of bisexual women are annoyingly dismissive in this way: lesbian affairs do not count, just as they didn’t for Diego.

Frida and Diego were ardent Communists, and as world communism shifted and strained their allegiances were juggled too. But they retained the original impulse towards the rights of the people, towards leftist revolutionary and anti-imperialist politics. Frida was frustrated that she could not make political art, but Diego reassured her that her work was a worthwhile political contribution. Later in life, she became a teacher and led students in creating murals for a pulqueria and a women’s laundry. It was fun to read her scornful opinion of European bohemians who ‘did no work’ and spent all their time in idle talk. A message to Euro-USian hipsters not to co-opt Frida as ‘one of us’.

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A Generous Orthodoxy For Feminism – Or Why This Issue With ‘Cis’ MUST Be Resolved.


I entirely agree with you that the post is an example of ‘gender panic’ as described by Schilt, but I’m not sure about calling the gender abolitionist faction conservative since they generally tend leftward, want to redress assymmetrical power relationships and advocate a kind of gender revolution.

I consider myself generally radical rather than liberal but my first political tenet is ‘nobody under the bus for anything’ – that’s how I got here. Increasingly I feel & recognise that gender-as-power structure can only be dismantled through ending gender-as-coercion, beginning with not assigning sex at birth. What I would really like to do is persuade the trans-excluding gender abolition lobby that their pronouncements reify the tropes they wish to destroy, as you suggest here in your last paragraph.

Since sex (mostly but not exclusively f or m) in the body exists, is often recognisable and has social effects, gender (sex (mostly but not exclusively f or m) in social space) exists and will crystallise on top of it, regardless of any efforts to the contrary. We can only work to prevent gender from functioning as a system of power and exclusion. The ‘fallback to biology’ will always be conservative in effect because insisting on a hardened biological category will harden the functioning of gender as power *sigh*

Originally posted on incarnationalrelational:

In a [Western] society, where patriarchy dominates much of our daily lives, it is too easy to forget that there are also subtle (and not so subtle) web-like power structures which too many of us fail to recognise our own role in – the able bodied and the differently abled, people who enjoy stable mental health and those who don’t, white and black or colour, straight and gay/bi/queer, trans*gender and cis gender.

This a very simplified overview and there are of course many other variants, and interweaving hierarchy’s across all those and more. As we grapple with those concepts, peeling away the layers and struggling with continuously evolving understandings, working out where our oppressions and privileges are within those structures, there is often push back from those who have prefer their theologies more orthodox – more conservative.

Those with such staunch conservative tendancies do not tolerate ‘liberals’ (a word that is often spat out with…

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a blade of grass

The Lathe of HeavenThe Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I don’t know. Things don’t have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What’s the function of a galaxy? I know know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters. What does matter is that we’re a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.”

There was a slight pause, and when Haber answered his tone was no longer genial, reassuring or encouraging. It was quite neutral and verged, just detectably, on contempt.

“You’re of a peculiarly passive outlook for a man brought up in the Judaeo-Christian-Rationalist West. A sort of natural Buddhist. Have you ever studied the Eastern mysticisms, George?” The last question, with its obvious answer, was an open sneer.

Many white men have written science fiction that ahistorically imagines a better world – one without war, prejudice, blahblahblah. This book wonders what would happen if a liberal white USian man was empowered with a subtle means of effecting magical changes (of making dreams true), and suggests that all this I-Know-Besting might actually be how we got to where we are. De-colonial, ableism-indicting sci fi, where have you been all my life?

The idea that one mind can’t fix everything is a difficult one for a fiction author to present, for obvious reasons, but Le Guin does it. Most books, I think, create a we-understand-each-other intimacy between author and reader that usually extends to the protagonist. But George Orr isn’t like us. He is so direct that sometimes he speaks in formulae, sharing his thought process. I want to call this mode unpolitician.

He never spoke with any bitterness at all, no matter how awful the things he said. Are there really people without resentment, without hate, she wondered. People who never go cross-grained to the universe? Who recognise evil, and resist evil, yet are utterly unaffected by it?

Of course there are. Countless, the living and the dead. Those who have returned in pure compassion to the wheel, those who follow the way that cannot be followed without knowing they follow it, the sharecropper’s wife in Alabama and the lama in Tibet and the entomologist in Peru and the millworker in Odessa and the greengrocer in London and the goatherd in Nigeria and the old, old man sharpening a stick by a dry streambed somewhere in Australia, and all the othes. There are enough of them, enough to keep us going. Perhaps.

He brushes off the mantle of heroism, not because he is in need of encouragement, but because he knows the quest is vain vanity. The female protagonist, more forceful and vivacious, vanishes when ‘the race problem’ is ‘solved’ by making everybody grey. As with the other changes, Le Guin shows us that the removal of inconvenient bodies is always a genocide, even if some sleight of hand makes it appear non violent and ‘progressive’. (If you ever find yourself complaining about overpopulation, read this book before you go on.)

But now, never to have known a woman with brown skin and wiry black hair cut very short so that the elegant line of the skull showed like the curve of a bronze vase – no, that was wrong. That was intolerable. That every soul on earth should have a body the colour of a battleship!

That’s why she’s not here, he thought. She could not have been born grey. Her colour, her colour of brown, was an essential part of her, not an accident. Her anger, timidity, brashness, gentleness, all were elements of her mixed being, her mixed nature, dark and clear right through, like Baltic amber. She could not exist in the grey people’s world.

I was rapt from the moment I began reading to the last page, held by a spell of poetry that was unbroken. For me the story’s music reached the zenith of beauty when the Alien came into Orr’s dream offering help. Sometimes hampered communication manages to be the most eloquent: we have said too much already.

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Inconvenient bodies

A reader pointed out that my use of the word ‘transphobia’ in this post, and indeed the term itself, is problematic, and sent me a link to this blog Bigotry is not a Mental Illness

In her novel NW Zadie Smith shows us how certain bodies are convenient for making certain arguments. One of the protagonists, a young black barrister, finds herself much in demand to prosecute sympathetic black defendants, and to defend evil corporations pressing cases against communities asserting their rights to space and resources in developing countries. Human rights cases find her less convenient. Black feminists have explained how that white supremacist capitalism & the white colonial project is founded on the convenient exploitation of black and brown women’s bodies and there’s nothing really different here.

White women’s bodies certainly aren’t exempt from being treated as exploitable conveniences: as passive objects of male sexual desire, justifying white male protection and possession, useful for criminalising black men. In other places, women black and non-black find ourselves less convenient: places where we find ourselves ignored, talked over and dismissed in favour of men, or of women who better meet kyriarchal expectations.

Recognition of this sexism and the appropriate response of asserting our subjectivity and full-personhood against it is feminist praxis. It can help us to reclaim, through finding shoulders to stand on and to cry on, through collaborative social-cultural-political work, our me-for-my-sakeness, our I-am-enoughness. Feminism has helped me to love my body when I can and at least treat it kindly. To accept it, and recognise it as mine, my responsibility, my right, something nobody else has a claim to use or control.

I read the writings of gender abolitionists and I believe that they want that autonomy and subjectivity for all women – for everyone in fact! But since gender for them is synonymous with sexism, since femaleness or maleness must be, for them, some particular orientation of observable features of the body, they find certain bodies, especially trans female bodies, inconvenient to their arguments. Gender abolitionist feminists have not been able to find anywhere acceptable to lodge trans women and girls’ claims to be women and girls. They believe that these claims are ‘regressive’ and ‘essentialist’, reinscribing sexist gender norms.

These women’s bodies have to be controlled, these women cannot be allowed autonomy. They are seen as a threat, often a physical threat I don’t want your genitals in my space, and always a social/political/cultural threat, an obstacle to the feminist project.

Trans women continue to be treated as matter out of place (dirt) by sections of UK feminist movements

I see influential, column-writing feminists arguing that they don’t have to accept trans ‘ideology’, which seems to mean the use of the term ‘cis’ and requests that feminists stop misgendering them and restricting ‘female’ to those with the right sort of body. I’ll play nice, they offer, I’ll call you ‘she’. I just don’t want your genitals in my space or your socialisation, maybe, implying that people can’t, after all, divest from their socialisation (which is the opposite of the whole point of radical feminism?). I’ve previously felt that these voices were not transphobic, so much as cis-sexist. But unfounded fear is exactly what these recent pieces expressed. And while those articulating these fears offer their sympathy plus the pronouns of your choice (I’m not transphobic!!), the people who appreciate and reblog their posts (Cathy Brennan for one) are not so subtle.

An example: Sarah Ditum has been having trouble talking about female bodies of late, which she says fits into a pattern of making such bodies inconvenient. Her own body is found very convenient for the argument, as are some others: Here’s the child I bore, reproductive achievement, conveniently supporting my real woman status, and here’s my cis male man husband, also here to back up my real femaleness. And I’ll call you she (or he, let’s be fair) but it’s my way or the highway:

“Gender is a vicious framework, and few of us can survive as complete people within it. Of course there will be escapees, refugees, self-fashioning radicals who make their own existence – and I support them and embrace them, if they will embrace what gender means and acknowledge the harms which feminists seek to dismantle.”

To me that reads:
I’ll support you if you agree with me.
I’ll support you if you acknowledge my real woman-ness (supported by husband and child) as against your subsidiary woman-ness (which I condescend to acknowledge)
And if I support you feminists will support you because feminists are with me.

Even inconvenient bodies can be accommodated, as long as they are compliant!

Sounds like patriarchy to me.