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I have a piece in the next issue of Irish Anarchist Review that offers an epistemological, metaphysical, political and  pragmatic justification for the adoption of intersectionality by class-struggle anarchist groups. This post attempts to address a common objection to intersectionality that came up repeatedly in discussions on the topic, namely, that class is in some way special and  different to other “axes of oppression”, and therefore to regard class through an intersectional lens minimises its importance and fails to grasp its unique character.

The reflexive response that privilege discourse conditions us to make is that this objection is merely a case of privileged people trying to exclude challenges to their privilege within the anarchist movement. I think that response is both unhelpful and unfair. Unhelpful, because it places intersectional theory above criticism, and unfair, because those making the objections are often sincerely concerned with avoiding the marginalisation of women, queers, people of colour, etc. within the movement. Nonetheless, the discourse of “class exceptionalism” often has precisely that effect (a point I’ll return to later).

The following two examples give a fairly clear exposition of the exceptionalist position. The first is Slavoj Zizek:

The third thing to underline is the fundamental difference between feminist, anti-racist, anti-sexist and other such struggles and the class struggle. In the first case, the goal is to translate antagonism into difference (the peaceful coexistence of sexes, religions, ethnic groups), while the goal of the class struggle is precisely the opposite, to turn class differences into class antagonisms… What the series race-gender-class obfuscates is the different logic of the political space in the case of class: while anti-racist and anti-sexist struggle are guided by the striving for the full recognition of the other, the class struggle aims at overcoming and subduing, annihilating even, the other – even if not a direct physical annihilation, it aims at wiping out the other’s socio-political role and function. In other words, while it is logical to say that anti-racism wants all races to be allowed to freely assert and deploy their cultural, political and economic strivings, it is obviously meaningless to say that the aim of the proletarian class struggle is to allow the bourgeoisie to fully assert its identity and realize its goals. In one case, we have a “horizontal” logic of the recognition of different identities, while, in the other case, we have the logic of the struggle with an antagonist.

The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, pp. 33-4

(Interestingly this analysis seems to be copy-pasted almost word-for-word from an earlier essay that is available online.) The second is Paul Bowman in the last Irish Anarchist Review:

Otherness is socially constructed. Through socialisation we become either man or woman, white or black, straight or queer, normal or other. In the social construction of otherness, both poles of the relation must be explicitly present. The normal defines the other by projection in ways described by feminist or queer theory authors or Edward Said’s criticism of “orientalism” or Deleuze & Guattari’s becoming-other. These mutually defining poles of subjectification multiply and proliferate in the social sphere and can be combined through conjunction.

But class, as we have seen, is not an identity, nor a socially constructed role. Hence the conjunction of otherness breaks down at the class line. There is no contradiction in the conjugation of othernesses when a person identifies, for example, as a woman AND as black AND as queer. We understand that each category of otherness neither wholly encompasses nor wholly excludes the others, that their conjugation is a process of defining the overlapping of these sets that are inscribed within the same social plane that constructs identities and particular oppressions through the operation of polarising normativities in contrast to othernesses. But when we try to add class to the chain of conjugation – woman AND black AND queer AND working class – something jars. Consciously or not, we perceive that something about the last term in the conjugation does not fit with the previous ones. Society not only does not contest that the speaker is a black queer woman, it asserts it before she even speaks. In drawing attention to these identities the speaker is only re-asserting what is already socially constructed, or imposed, as fact – even if the speaker is challenging the meaning of these social facts, or the power that constructed them. But in relation to class there is no such social recognition forthcoming, on the question of whether class is a social fact in the same way as femininity, blackness or queerness, there is only silence. And as Derrida taught us, we must listen for the silences because they teach us most of all.

Without pursuing that further, at this stage, we see also that there is a problem with the process of defining class on this basis, which after this conjugation is made, must, retrospectively, be carried out in an analogous manner to other particular oppressions. Because otherness is defined through exclusion and oppression, then class in turn must also be so defined. The experience of class then becomes reduced to social exclusion – the snobbery and exclusivity of the “middle class” – and the oppressions of economic deprivation – poverty. But to reduce class to a relation of economic oppression by poverty, is to reduce economic life to that privileged sphere of capitalist universality – consumerism. So long as class is reduced to economic oppression which is in turn reduced to relative deprivation in command power in the market for consumer goods, then it loses any meaning in relation to exploitation, the production of surplus value and the valorisation of capital and, ultimately, the active production of the totality of social relations. It becomes a passive category, a doubly passive one when we take on board the failure for it to be actively constructed by the dominant social discourse, as already noted. Reduced to this doubly passive status, the category of class becomes a mere ghost compared to the identities actively produced by the discourses of power, and must ultimately fade into the universalist background.

….

The attempts by some to create a mono-dimensional category of “intersectionality” where particular identities/oppressions intersect with each other, and class as another identity, within a unified plane of oppression, are driven by the search for a universal category. By projection, they assume that those defending the particularity of class, must equally be proposing it as a competing universal category. Indeed, there actually are some – the “class reductionists” – who make that very mistake. However the argument between the “intersectionalists” and the “reductionists” over whose category is the truly universal one, is simply a competition within the same framework – that of universalism itself.

Rethinking Class: From Recomposition to Counterpower

While these two quotes may superficially appear to be saying the same thing, there are important differences that should be recognised prior to a response. Most significantly, Zizek offers a much cruder essentialist analysis. There are, for Zizek, races that will survive the demise of racism, and which have “cultural, political and economic strivings” collectively. In Paul’s analysis, otherness is socially-constructed and can therefore presumably be deconstructed and eradicated. The purpose of including both is to tackle both the essentiallist and social-constructivist versions of the argument. In addition, Zizek’s picture of class struggle is simplistic: the class struggle is a struggle of two antagonistic classes of people, contradicting his exposition in the previous chapter of the possibility of “capitalism without a bourgeoisie”, which rests implicitly on the assumption that the proletarian struggle is fundamentally with capital (an inhuman force) rather than with the bourgeoisie as such. (Consistency doesn’t seem to be much of a concern in his writing.)

It’s also worth noting that neither analysis precludes revolutionary organisations from struggling on issues of gender, race, sexuality etc. – indeed Paul goes to great lengths to emphasise the importance of such activity in his piece. Nonetheless, I have three responses to exceptionalist position:

  1. Like class, neither gender nor race can be reduced to identity.
  2. The class-struggle is not the same from all social locations, and therefore something like intersectionality is necessary to allow a deeper theorisation of class.
  3. Even if (1) and (2) do not hold, there are pragmatic reasons to adopt an intersectional mode of analysis.

1. Theorising gender & race: beyond identity

As Richard Seymour points out “the concept of ‘intersectionality’ is a way of posing a problem, not an ultimate theoretical solution” and it’s usefulness “depends entirely on the wider theoretical articulations that the concept is embedded in”. Liberal proponents of intersectionality often make precisely the error of reducing class to classism and poverty, which can then be recited as part of a list of “isms” – bad or discriminatory ideas – which we must combat. (One of the frustrating things about Patricia Hill Collins’ recent lecture in Dublin was that she did this repeatedly.) This liberal reduction of class to classism functions to strip class of its transformative potential, confines class politics to the realm of state policy and cultural values, and reinforces the privileged role of academics in developing state policy to mediate social conflict (liberal capitalism doesn’t, for the most part, function by brute domination: amelioration of the conditions of the lower classes is permitted to a certain degree and many supposedly dissident academics feed into this) – pace whatever discourse of “social justice” it is articulated within.

My contention here is that, just as it is reductive and depoliticising to consider class struggle and classism to be identical, it is equally so to see in gender and race only identities (whether essential or socially-constructed), to fail to theorise gender and race as social relations pertaining to systems of social organisation, exploitation and domination, to see both merely in terms of “mutually defining poles of subjectification” as if both were free-floating artifices with no objective component, or to limit the horizons of these struggles to the “full recognition of the other” rather than “wiping out the other’s socio-political role and function”. I will sketch the argument here that gender constitutes a system in its own right that is neither reducible to identity, nor entirely contained within nor isomorphic to class. A similar claim can be made in the case of race, although I don’t feel I am able to do the argument justice at this point (I haven’t learned enough).

Regarding Zizek’s implicit claim that there are two sexes which might one day come to fully recognise one-another, I have three responses. First, as Judith Butler argues, there is no “sex” that is not a product of social construction – that is, a result of a socially-constructed categorisation of bodies according to their perceived (or socially-assigned) function. Neither is there a meaningful distinction between sex and gender, whereby some deterministic process “inscribes gender meanings on anatomically differentiated bodies” that does not ultimately reduce to “the biology-is-destiny formulation.” (Gender Trouble, p.8) Second, as Monique Wittig argues, “sex” as a category is inseparable from the power relations in which it is constructed. “It is oppression that creates sex and not the contrary.” (The Category of Sex) Third, even if we attempt to reduce sex to some politically-neutral observation about bodies, as Foucault points out in Discipline and Punish, bodies themselves are at least in part materially socially-constructed by disciplinary mechanisms. Thus it is meaningless to talk of what sex or gender would look like after the success of feminism. (I give a slightly more detailed argument on this here.)

The above argument already hints at my main point: there is something deeper going on here than just “identity politics”. In fact, what we are looking at is what Foucault termed “biopolitics” – the rationalisation and control of phenomena of populations of living beings by political powers –  and in particular, the social organisation of sex as a key concern of biopolitics. In ‘Marxism, Method & State’ Catherine McKinnon lays out the argument:

Sexuality is to feminism what work is to marxism: that which is most one’s own, yet most taken away. Marxist theory argues that society is fundamentally constructed of the relations people form as they do and make things needed to survive humanly. Work is the social process of shaping and transforming the material and social worlds, creating people as social beings as they create value. It is that activity by which people become who they are. Class is its structure, production its consequence, capital its congealed form, and control its issue.

Implicit in feminist theory is a parallel argument: the molding, direction, and expression of sexuality organizes society into two sexes – women and men – which division underlies the totality of social relations. Sexuality is that social process which creates, organizes, expresses, and directs desire, creating the social beings we know as women and men, as their relations create society. As work is to marxism, sexuality to feminism is socially constructed yet constructing, universal as activity yet historically specific, jointly comprised of matter and mind. As the organized expropriation of the work of some for the benefit of others defines a class – workers – the organized expropriation of the sexuality of some for the use of others defines the sex, woman. Heterosexuality is its structure, gender and family its congealed forms, sex roles its qualities generalized to social persona, reproduction a consequence, and control its issue.

Understood in this way, it is clear that while identity is an aspect of the gender system – perhaps the most obvious aspect, or the aspect most immediate to one’s experience – it is not the whole picture. Gender identity is in fact constructed according to one’s role in an economy of sex in which the sexuality of one sex is expropriated. While clearly the logic of the political space is not identical to that of class, the condition of women’s liberation is clearly not the mutual recognition of each gender’s social role but the annihilation of the socio-political role and function of men and women. (I think it is important to point out here that just as the bourgeoisie are constructed by capitalism, men are constructed by patriarchy, and neither are necessarily conscious of their role as dominants and exploiters. I think it is incorrect to conceive, as some radical feminists do, of patriarchy as being the conscious construction of men as a class. Rather, it is an inhuman system which produces men and women in antagonistic relations to one another.)

2. Class struggle? Whose class struggle?

One of the key insights of intersectional theory is that in any resistant politics, questions of race, gender, class etc. are always-already posed. The totality of social relations is composed of interlocking, mutually constructing and supporting systems of oppression, which combine to produce any particular experience of the social world. It is therefore impossible to develop a generic class politics, separated from any analysis of race or gender, which holds in all social locations: the class struggle simply isn’t the same, in either its subjective or objective dimensions for all observers.

When we conceptualise The Worker as an ideal type around which to build a theory we already have somebody in mind. Even if, like a more radical Rawls, we attempt to produce a “veil of ignorance” in our heads behind which is a disembodied, genderless, raceless, abstract proletarian and attempt to imagine the class struggle from their perspective, we find ourselves in a web from which we cannot untangle ourselves. Gender and race are so embedded in our thought and language that they cannot be overcome: they are preconditions for legible humanity. Our Worker is always-already inflected with racial and gendered meanings whether we are conscious of them or not: if he is not a woman he is by default a man; if he is not of some particular race he is by default white. The dominant category is understood as universal, the subordinate as particular; the post-gender, post-race subject is beyond the limits of our imagination at this moment in history.

This is not merely a problem of imagination, however. The unity of interests presupposed and embodied by the idealised Worker is a false unity established through the occlusion of real antagonisms within the class. To take a concrete example, both the racialised undocumented migrant worker and the white unionised worker are both basically of the same class, but experience a very different class struggle. Moreover, there are real antagonisms between both; the power of the union which protects the white worker may well be undercut by bosses exploiting undocumented migrant labour, while the racialised migrant may well be excluded from the same union. The classic leftist call for unity in a universalist project of class struggle across such divides ignores the reality that the immediate goals of one are not the same as the other, and may in fact contradict. Which set of interests are most likely to win the race to become those of the generic worker?

Intersectional theory tells us that any movement of workers must learn to act with those contradictions intact, without domesticating either (by, for example, adopting an on-paper opposition to racism, while in practice focusing on the struggles of more privileged groups of workers), or it will continue to reproduce various forms of marginalisation in the name of unity.

3. Discourses and their effects

In Society Must be Defended, Foucault asks the following questions of Marxist proponents of “scientific socialism”:

What types of knowledge are you trying to disqualify when you say that you are a science? What speaking subject, what discursive subject, what subject of experience and knowledge are you trying to minorize when you begin to say: ‘I speak this discourse, I am speaking a scientific discourse, and I am a scientist.’ What theoretico-political vanguard are you trying to put on the throne in order to detach it from all the massive, circulating, and discontinuous forms that knowledge can take?

By analogy, we should ask whose interests, experiences and politics can more readily be spoken through the discourse of class struggle? What precisely are the power-effects of refusing intersectionality and insisting on class exceptionalism?

Moreover, if the discourse of class centricity can adequately accommodate the political demands of feminists, queers, people of colour etc., then adopting an intersectional position offers no threat. If it can’t, then why bother defending it? Does the theoretical project of proving that class is special move us closer to the eradication of relations of domination and exploitation? If not, what good is it? The empirical fact of the continued marginalisation of these groups within even the most progressive of anti-capitalist movements speaks to the need for something like intersectionalism, in the sense of adopting a conscious practice of analysing class always alongside race and gender, even if we can do without it in theory.

This is an essay I wrote for my Feminism Today! class last semester, which was really useful in helping to clarify my thoughts on issues of sexuality and gender.

Feminism would hold that sexuality is socially constructed. Discuss how and why women’s sexuality and femininity is socially constructed and how these constructs may be the site of oppression, regulation and control.

Sexuality – its origin, content, and political meaning – has been an important concern for the feminist movement. Key in understanding and articulating a particularly feminist picture of the sexual has been the idea that sexuality is socially-constructed. This essay explores the ideas of social construction and anti-essentialism in the context of female sexuality. No definition of the sexual is taken, rather I agree with Stevi Jackson that ‘an act is not sexual by virtue of its inherent properties… [but] becomes sexual by the application of socially learned meanings’.1 The construction of sexuality involves complex interactions between the body, the self, culture, power, the state, etc., which are explored throughout the essay. First, the issue of essentialism and the meaning of the categories of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are discussed. Next, Freud’s account of psychosexual development is discussed in relation to critical feminist perspectives. Drawing on Foucault’s analysis of power and of social control, a framework for understanding the mechanisms by which sexuality is constructed is sketched. Next, with Foucault still in mind, the analyses of radical feminists are drawn on to discuss the political implications of normative forms of sexuality. Finally, the tensions between ‘sex-positive’ and ‘sex-negative’ feminism as forms of resistance are briefly discussed.

As it’s presently constructed, to talk of sexuality presupposes gendered subjects. Consequently, to understand how female sexuality is socially constructed, one must first understand how women are constructed as women, by looking at the social construction of sex and gender. Most feminists hold that gender difference is largely if not entirely socially constructed. However, there has always been an essentialist current within feminist thought, which holds that femininity is biologically determined (for example, Naomi Wolf’s recent book Vagina: A New Biography2), but contests the patriarchal conception of femininity as inferior. This viewpoint is criticised by Andrea Dworkin, who argues that essentialism is always reactionary (Fascist, even) in its political implications.3

Many feminists maintain a radical separation between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, with ‘sex’ referring to the biological differences between male and female bodies and ‘gender’ referring to masculine and feminine behaviours, attitudes, identity, modes of thought etc. However this sharp distinction, while useful in some respects as a counter to reactionary bio-essentialist arguments, is problematic. The sexing of the body is also an act of interpretation, and as such relies on a socially-constructed interpretive framework within which gendered meaning can be ascribed to (or imposed upon) bodies: this or that particular feature of the body (such as the capacity for reproduction, or a certain arrangement of chromosomes, or a certain morphology) is taken as the salient feature of that body and its associated sex.4 In the case of intersex bodies, this act of interpretation is often accompanied by the physical imposition of this interpretation via coercive surgery on infants to ‘normalise’ their bodies within a schema of anatomical norms. Transexual individuals, by radically decoupling bodily sex as interpreted by medical professions from sex as a lived experience, and, in some cases, by transforming their bodies to match their understanding of themselves, also undermine notions of an underlying biological facticity of ‘sex’.5 As such, ‘sex’ is not a neutral pre-discursive surface on which gender is inscribed, but rather the construction of ‘sex’ is an aspect of the social process of gender formation.6

In Gender Trouble Judith Butler argues that gender (including ‘sex’) should be viewed as a performative utterance: a discursive act which brings into being that which it names.7 In this, she echoes Monique Wittag’s argument8 that ‘sex’ as a category is inseparable from the power relations in which it is constructed. ‘It is oppression that creates sex and not the contrary.’ To argue the contrary would be to naturalise the oppression of women with reference to a constitutive difference between the sexes that exists prior or external to society, either biologically (the physical sense) or ontologically (the metaphysical sense).9

Among the first feminist works to contest the idea of a ‘natural’ sexuality existing prior to culture is Ann Oakley’s Sex, Gender and Society.10Drawing on anthropological evidence, she compares (hetero)sexual attitudes and behaviours among various indigenous groups, and discovers a wide divergence. Commonsense notions of a qualitative difference between male and female sexuality, in which the male is active and the female is passive (her sexuality is held to involve ‘long arousal and slow satisfaction, inferior sex drive, susceptibility to field dependence… and romantic idealism’), are found to be culturally-specific rather than universal. Cultures are also found to vary widely in the meaning and importance afforded to sexual activity. Oakley’s work provides an empirical support to an anti-essentialist account of human sexuality.

Psychoanalysis is among the key analytical tools for the understanding of sexuality. Sigmund Freud’s male-centric analysis of the psychosocial construction of sexuality, which has had an important influence both on academia and in shaping commonsense understandings of sexuality in wider society, has been contested by feminists. One such critique of Freud is offered by Stevi Jackson.11 She rejects the notion that sexuality is driven by some ‘animal’ or ‘instinctual’ side of human ‘nature’ which is then repressed and shaped by social forces – the Freudian libido – rather it is produced socially, with the biological serving merely as the surface onto which socially-learned meanings are inscribed. Sexual learning involves the assimilation of these social meanings into one’s self-concept, rather than learning to repress or express one’s innate desires. For Freud, libido is an active masculine force, symbolised by the phallus, and the female is defined and understood in terms of its absence, not just sexually, but in her whole personality. Women are, he says, from an early age overcome by an intense envy of the penis and a concomitant feeling of being mutilated which determines her entire personal and sexual development. This assertion, according to Jackson, is unfounded: there is no reason to assume that little girls evaluate themselves negatively on encountering the penis, let alone that penis envy develops to the obsessive proportions Freud gives it. In making this leap, Freud is in fact imposing his own meanings upon children’s behaviour. Simone de Beuvoir12 argues that Freud’s theory makes little effort to study female psychosexual development in itself, rather he simply modified his masculine model, and in doing so obtained the conclusion that the female is a mutilated male, a complex deviation from the human norm, who is male. She argues that while for little boys, who obtain a living experience from their penis, the penis may be a source of pride, little girls are often only dimly aware of the male genitalia, and thus there is no necessary corollary that they should be humiliated by its absence in them. Further, she argues that Freud’s generalisation of the male Oedipus and female Electra complexes (i.e. that a boy’s affection for his mother and a girl’s for her father during their development have a distinctly genital aspect) is spurious and without foundation, particularly in the case of girls.

The regulation of sexuality per se and women’s sexuality in particular has often been a pre-occupation of political powers. This, according to Foucault, is due to sexuality’s two-fold importance: on the one hand, powers are concerned with the regulation and discipline of bodies, on the other with the regulation of populations.13 ‘Regulation’ here should not be confused with ‘repression’: the exercise of control over sexuality may involve ‘refusal, blockage and invalidation, but also incitement and intensification’.14 From the 18th century onwards, Foucault argues, biopolitics – that is, a governmental practice concerned with the rationalisation and control of phenomena of populations of living beings, such as birthrate, health, hygiene, etc. – increasingly formed part of governmental practice and became and important concern of governmentality.15 It is important to note here that, while power often acts through the state, the state should not be seen as a universal and autonomous source of power with a will or intent of its own, but rather as a conduit and series of mechanisms through and by which powers act.16 In Discipline and Punish, Foucault develops two particularly important concepts in this regard. First, biopolitics involves the development of technologies of the body, often diffuse in application and effect, by which the body, understood more or less as a machine, can be explored, shaped and reorganised by disciplinary institutions according to the logic of various powers. These processes produce ‘docile bodies’ shaped and habituated to practices of submission.17 Second, the ‘panopticon’ is used by Foucault to denote a society in which people are subject to continuous surveillance, which functions to remove the need for coercive force in the exercise of social control. The subject of surveillance, aware of her own visibility, is made to apply constraints automatically to herself, and thus becomes simultaneously both agent and subject of her own subjection.18

For Foucault, power is not held or exercised by one group over another, rather it is composed of ‘multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization’.19 As a result Foucault arguably offers a somewhat depoliticised account of the regulation of sexuality: there is no patriarchy as such in Foucault’s analysis; gender is not of particular concern: it is just one sphere of regulation among many.20 Nonetheless, feminists have found in Foucault important analyses and tools which aid the understanding of female sexuality – in particular, a move away from understanding social control as purely a repressive force, which allows for a more nuanced discussion of how and why female sexuality is repressed in certain directions and encouraged in others. Susan Bordo21 draws on Foucault’s ‘docile bodies’ in discussing how particularly gendered forms of submission are inscribed onto female bodies. Andrea Dworkin’s description of women as being ‘made for intercourse’ (discussed later) can be read in this light.

Radical feminists in particular have been significant in theorising the political significance for women of various forms of normative socially-constructed sexuality. Adrienne Rich, writing in the context of a period of feminist debates on the role of lesbians and lesbianism within the feminist movement, identifies ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ and lesbian erasure – i.e. the idea that women have an innate orientation towards men and the definition of lesbianism as less natural, deviant, a product of bitterness towards men, or an alternate lifestyle choice to the heterosexual norm – as an important form of male power.22 She details a range of manifestations of male power ‘ranging from physical brutality to control of consciousness’ which, in aim or effect, subtly or forcefully, convince or coerce women towards heterosexuality (particularly within the marriage construct) and away from lesbianism, in the furtherance of a male-oriented political economy of female sexuality.

In Intercourse23, Andrea Dworkin critically interrogates the act of heterosexual intercourse within the context of a patriarchal society. Within this context, intercourse is understood as both a physical and metaphysical occupation of a woman’s body, which places her in a subordinate position and denies her the integrity and privacy of her own body. She is ipso facto less human than a man, for whom being physically entered is never a normative use of his body. In male discourse, she argues, this is simultaneously both the proper use and a violent abuse of a woman. It further dictates that intercourse is synonymous with and totally delineative of sex. Since men control both the terms on which the act takes place and the ways in which the act may be understood, and since it takes place within a context of fear and inequality, women never fully have ownership of the experience, even if they formally consent to, or even desire intercourse. For Dworkin, private sexual activity is not discontinuous with the social or political spheres: women’s position in the bedroom and in society are inter-related and co-productive of one another. Women must make and remake themselves into the objects of men’s fantasies, failure to do so leaves a woman no longer legibly human. Dworkin leaves open, but does not presume, the possibility that intercourse can survive the dissolution of male power and represent an expression of sexual equality; however, in order for this to happen, women must be equally empowered both to control both the physical and experiential content and to produce the metaphysical meaning of sexual activity.

Dworkin’s argument should be read carefully, however. While she explicitly denies the interpretation that all intercourse is rape24 there is nonetheless a failure to adequately delineate discourses from essences, which leaves similar interpretations open. Read together with Foucault, one might agree that intercourse means violation and domination, and that women may be socialised to experience that domination bodily as pleasure and as desire, but it is not essentially so. It does not follow immediately that entering a person’s body dehumanises and objectifies them – discourse and power relations make it so.

The critical analyses of radical feminists, such as Dworkin, have been criticised by ‘sex-positive’ feminists on the grounds that they are ‘sex-negative’ – i.e. that they reproduce sexually-repressive conservative moralism within the feminist movement in a way that ultimately harms women’s ability to self-determine their sexuality. On her blog25, Lisa Millbank attempts to sketch an ‘authentic’ (non-pejorative) sex-negative feminism, based in the understanding that sex is often in varying ways an imposition, to which feminists can positively subscribe. She argues that sex-positive and sex-negative feminism needn’t be seen as opposed to one another, but rather, that both can act in concert as progressive forces in opposition to patriarchal demands on women. That is: sex-positivity acts as a countervailing force to sex moralism while sex-negativity acts against compulsory sexuality, both of which co-exist as contradictory regulatory forces acting on women. Ariel Levy26, meanwhile, while not opposing sex-positive feminism as such, criticises the utilisation of sex-positive narratives which reposition the sexualising demands and sexually exploitative practices of patriarchy as forms of feminist liberation. These issues are significant when we move from describing the social forces that construct sexuality to formulating a praxis of effective resistance: progressive intentions, such as the creation of counter-hegemonic spaces in which sexuality is celebrated, are susceptible to recuperation by patriarchy, turning them against other women in complex and often unpredictable ways.

In conclusion, a multiplicity of forces and interests are involved in shaping female sexuality. Often, these forces act to naturalise the present position of women by reference to some essential true sexuality: biologically determined, in the case of the bio-essentialists, or ontologically in the case of Frued et al. However, as seen above there is no truth of sexuality that is prior to culture, only discourses and mechanisms which both produce and constrain sexuality according to the logics of various political powers. Patriarchy is the key focus of feminist agitation, but patriarchy is not a monolith, and women are often made to embody contradictory demands simultaneously: for example, that women must be continually sexually-available, but must never be sexual in their own right. Agreeing with Judith Butler, what is clear is that, given the diffuse and multifaceted character of women’s oppression, there ‘is no one site from which to struggle effectively. There have to be many, and they don’t [necessarily] need to be reconciled with one another’.27

Bibliography

Bordo, Susan, “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity” in Writing on the body: Female embodiment and Feminist theory, eds. Katie Conboy, Nadia Median and Sarah Stanbury, 309-26. US: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble. London: Routledge, 1990.

Butler, Judith, Undoing Gender. London: Routledge, 2004.

De Beauvoir, Simone, The Second Sex. UK: Vintage, 1997.

Dworkin, Andrea, “Biological Superiority: The World’s Most Dangerous and Deadly Idea” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 57-61. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

Dworkin, Andrea, Intercourse. New York: Basic Books, 2007.

Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. UK: Penguin, 1991.

Foucault, Michel, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-1978. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. London : Penguin, 1990.

Jackson, Stevi, “The Social Construction of Female Sexuality” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 62-73. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

Levy, Ariel, Female Chauvanist Pigs, US: Free Press, 2005.

Millbank, Lisa, “The Ethical Prude: Imagining An Authentic Sex-Negative Feminism,” A Radical TransFeminist, February 29 2012, http://radtransfem.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/the-ethical-prude-imagining-an-authentic-sex-negative-feminism/

Oakley, Ann, “Sexuality” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 35-9. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

Osborne, Peter and Segal, Lynne, “Extracts from Gender as Performance: An Interview with Judith Butler”. Theory.Org.Uk. Accessed 26 November 2012, http://www.theory.org.uk/but-int1.htm

Moore, Suzanne, “Naomi Wolf’s book Vagina: self-help marketed as feminism”. The Guardian, 5 September 2012. Accessed: 1 December 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/05/naomi-wolf-book-vagina-feminism

Rich, Adrienne, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 130-43. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

Scott, Sue and Jackson, Stevi, “Sexual Skirmishes and Feminist Factions: Twenty-Five Years of Debate on Women and Sexuality” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 1-31. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

Wittag, Monique, “The Category of Sex” in Sex in Question: French materialist feminism, eds. Diana Leonard and Lisa Atkins, 24-9. UK: Taylor & Francis, 1996.

Endnotes

1Stevi Jackson, “The Social Construction of Female Sexuality” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 62-73. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

2Suzanne Moore, “Naomi Wolf’s book Vagina: self-help marketed as feminism”. The Guardian, 5 September 2012. Accessed: 1 December 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/05/naomi-wolf-book-vagina-feminism

3Andrea Dworkin, “Biological Superiority: The World’s Most Dangerous and Deadly Idea” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 57-61. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

4Peter Osborne and Lynne Segal, “Extracts from Gender as Performance: An Interview with Judith Butler”. Theory.Org.Uk. Accessed 26 November 2012, http://www.theory.org.uk/but-int1.htm

5Judith Butler, Undoing Gender. London: Routledge, 2004 pp.4-5

6Judith Butler, Gender Trouble. London: Routledge, 1990, pp.6-7.

7Judith Butler, Gender Trouble. London: Routledge, 1990; Peter Osborne and Lynne Segal, “Extracts from Gender as Performance: An Interview with Judith Butler”. Theory.Org.Uk. Accessed 26 November 2012, http://www.theory.org.uk/but-int1.htm

8Monique Wittag, “The Category of Sex” in Sex in Question: French materialist feminism, eds. Diana Leonard and Lisa Atkins, 24-9. UK: Taylor & Francis, 1996.

9For the remainder of this essay I will discuss ‘femininity’ and ‘female sexuality’ in terms of cisgendered and cissexual women – i.e. those with normative gender identity, gender expression and bodily sex – and accept, for example, the normative assumption that men have penises and women have vaginas. However, with the above discussion in mind, it is important to note that to do so is, in itself, an act of social construction with political consequences.

10Ann Oakley, “Sexuality” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 35-9. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

11Stevi Jackson, “The Social Construction of Female Sexuality” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 62-73. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

12Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex. UK: Vintage, 1997, pp 70-4

13Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. London : Penguin, 1990, pp145-6

14Ibid. p.11

15Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-1978. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p.317

16Ibid. pp.76-8

17Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. UK: Penguin, 1991, pp 135-69

18Ibid. pp 195-228

19Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. London : Penguin, 1990, p.92

20Sue Scott and Stevi Jackson, “Sexual Skirmishes and Feminist Factions: Twenty-Five Years of Debate on Women and Sexuality” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 1-31. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

21Susan Bordo, “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity” in Writing on the body: Female embodiment and Feminist theory, eds. Katie Conboy, Nadia Median and Sarah Stanbury, 309-26. US: Columbia University Press, 1997.

22Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” in Feminism and Sexuality, A Reader, eds. Stevi Jacson and Sue Scott, 130-43. UK: Edinburgh Univerity Press, 1996.

23Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse. New York: Basic Books, 2007, pp 153-82

24Ibid. pp xxxii

25Lisa Millbank, “The Ethical Prude: Imagining An Authentic Sex-Negative Feminism,” A Radical TransFeminist, February 29 2012, http://radtransfem.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/the-ethical-prude-imagining-an-authentic-sex-negative-feminism/

26Ariel Levy, Female Chauvanist Pigs, US: Free Press, 2005.

27Peter Osborne and Lynne Segal, “Extracts from Gender as Performance: An Interview with Judith Butler”. Theory.Org.Uk. Accessed 26 November 2012, http://www.theory.org.uk/but-int1.htm