What are women?

I stumbled on Lily Alexandre’s What Are Women vid on YouTube. And despite already being in the midst of a dozen other things, I decided to watch it. Well, I’d been up all night and super tired, so after ten minutes I listened in bed until the end. After a few minutes, I felt compelled to respond on her channel. And then I was awake, so I figured I comment here as well—despite 2 or 3 of the dozen things I’ve got going on are draft posts here.

Lily presented her points well. And save for a few nits, I agreed fully. Getting the nits out of the way, I feel she took some shortcuts by (admittedly) overgeneralising the historical record of European gender history and anarcho-Communist hunter-gather or hunter-horticultural roots. I don’t disagree with the story point, but it’s a disservice to play the same game as the promoters of the primary narratives. Just say something along the lines that there is more about the historical record that we don’t know than we do, but there is evidence of X, Y, and Z. I recommended David Graeber’s The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. Moving on.

I recommend listening to her piece directly, as I am going to editorialise rather than fully recount it. Where she ended up is where I want to start. Adopting a Foucauldian perspective, the definition of woman is only important to those who want to employ it to control women, to gain power over them. Any definition of woman is going to exclude some who identify as women and include some who don’t.

A quick aside: When I was in my young twenties, I loathed being called sir, the polite title. It wasn’t the maleness that this suggested; rather I didn’t identify with the maturity aspect it conveyed. Whilst I identified as a male, neither did I identify as a boy nor a man. Sir tried to impose this on me. At least when someone attempted to label me a gentleman, I could retort that I wasn’t wearing a tophat and tails. Gentlemen, I viewed as Rich Uncle Milburn Pennybags, AKA Monopolyman—monocle and all. Did Mr Monopoly wear a monocle, or was that Mister Peanut? No matter.

Mr Monopoly

As anyone who’s read a few of my posts knows, I don’t really buy into the whole notion of identity. I’m not much of a fan of ranks and titles either, in case you wanted to know.

As I was listening, Lily got to where woman is defined in three words: adult human female. In my head, I’m already arguing against it. Like when watching a horror suspense movie—Don’t go in there! Alas, then so did Lily shoot it down as well. Each of these words is arbitrary. Admittedly, all words are arbitrary by definition, but these words have their own challenges

Adult

In turn, adulthood is defined differently depending on time and cultural place. Nowadays, in the West, 18 is probably the arbitrary cutoff most used. This is the age of majority as far as entering into legal contracts are involved—though people can’t drink alcohol or buy cigarettes until they are 21. And the brain continues to develop past 30. It may actually never stop, though it does shrink after 45, so there’s that. We could opt for a less legalistic litmus in favour of a naturalistic approach. As she points out, we could argue this happens at the onset of menses—but that’s a slippery slope on several accounts. Firstly, some females are precocious and might commence their cycle as early as 12 or 10 or even 8. We’re going to need to return to this litmus for the definition of female, so let’s continue.

Human

As she points out, human is ill-defined, and we’ve got a history of dehumanising people. Don’t get me started on negroes and indigenous Americans. This allows legal systems to simply rescind one’s human card. That’s no woman; she’s an animal—blah, blah

Female

And we arrive as female—the synonym we’ve managed so far to kick down the kerb. Lily didn’t spend too much time here, but this is attempting to tee up a CIS defence—a genetics double-X defence. We’ve already touched on the arbitrary categorisation. The intent here is to exclude. This is Beauvoir’s otherness. Derrida’s subordinate pair to the dominant male term. But we’re not discussing intent at the moment. Let’s regard the definition:

Female / ‘fi meɪl / noun

  1. a person bearing two X chromosomes in the cell nuclei and normally having a vagina, a uterus and ovaries, and developing at puberty a relatively rounded body and enlarged breasts, and retaining a beardless face; a girl or woman.
  2. an organism of the sex or sexual phase that normally produces egg cells.

Here, we see the double-X defence, but what about XXY and so on?

We get stuck in a circular logic loop at some point because the definition of female concedes that it is synonymous to girl or woman. A woman is a female who is a woman who is a female who is a woman who is a female who is a woman who is a female who is a woman who is a female who is a…

Normally having a vagina, a uterus and ovaries may not intentionally be trying to exclude transgender females. Rather, some XX females may have some genetic anomaly, and more probably, some women have their uterus and/or ovaries removed due to medical reasons.

In closing

Words have use, but if the intent of object words is to do more than describe, beware an agenda. As for gender words, I have no use for them. As for sex terms, I don’t really have a use for them either. Detouring to Saussure for a moment, we’d got female, the signifier noun, and the signified.

Parental Advisory

There is one and only one situation where I have any concern about the genital manifest, and that’s when I am performing some sex act—talking Crying Game here. I even admit that this is my own shortcoming, but I live with it. Your mileage may vary. Other than this extremely limited scope* of events, it really doesn’t matter.

Anyhoo, this impromptu post has run its course. Watch the vid yourself, and tell me or Lily or both of us what you feel—perhaps even what you think.

* Limited scope of events: Come on now. Don’t be judgy. It’s not that limited.

What’s in a word?

Florida politicians have decided that ‘gay’ shan’t be uttered in their schools, their Senate having recently passed their ‘Don’t Say Gay‘ bill, a bill Tuesday that would prohibit “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in the state’s primary schools.

I don’t happen to agree with speech censorship, and I feel the politically correct speech vendetta is bollox. As a linguaphile, I don’t feel that words hold the meaning we ascribe to them. And I do feel it to be somewhat hypocritical for one group to say ‘don’t use words F, U, and N’ whilst simultaneously complaining that another side asks not to use other words—L, G, B, T, and Q’.

In the English-speaking West, we are concerned with words. Despite being raised hearing the familiar ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but names shall never hurt me’, yet then worrying about hurtful words. It’s risible. Like the Floridian politicos, some people think words are magic—and not just like Harry Potter magic, or then again perhaps so.

I discovered when I lived in Japan that they don’t have swear words. This is a Western notion likely stemming from the repression generated by Abrahamic religions, commenced with not uttering the name of Jehova. And then we have levels of swear words. American and British English not only have different swear words, some of the same words fall into different offence-severity categories. I’ll get back to this. I recall when I studied French, pouring through my Larousse or Collins-Robert dictionary and seeing their asterisk system—ranging from 0 to 3.

Of course, 0-level words are everyday words one might choose to use in polite company. Level-1 words are considered to be mildly offensive. In English, these words might include damn, bitch, bastard, crap, or bollox—perhaps merde en français; level-2 words might be shit, bullshit, bollox, tits, arsehole, or asshole;—perhaps putain en français (not to be confused with poutine, which is not at all a swear word); level-3 words might include fuck and any of its derivatives, cocksucker, or cunt—perhaps pute en français. Interestingly, cunt is a level-3 word in American English, but more like a level-2 word in British English. At least it’s bandied about a lot more often. As for the French, con, operates at the same level as its British counterpart.

If this doesn’t convince the reader that it’s not all made up, I don’t know what will.

My point is that it’s not the words that hold the offence. It’s the intent behind them. For me, intent is just another weasel word. Unfortunately—and although entire legal systems are built on the concept—intent cannot be discerned. The culprit is intent, not lexical elements. And, yes, context is everything. Moderate politicians hoping on the PC bandwagon from the 1980s until now are the problem. Somehow, the wagon they hopped on is authoritarian and prescriptive—positions more often associated with people a bit further to the Right. But this still doesn’t address the notion of intent.

My position is that children are likely going to encounter same-sex couples. The agenda of those who don’t want it taught don’t want it to be normalised. Interestingly enough, Foucault—a notorious gay philosopher—argued against normalisation. It should be obvious that this would be his view given his position that normalisation is a control mechanism. Better to cherish the difference than to integrate.

Bonjourno, Adorno

I’ve recently read Adorno’s publication, The Authoritarian Personality, and I share my perspective and thoughts.

This study was performed post-World War 2 and published in 1950. It was meant to determine if a relationship existed between anti-semitism, ethnocentrism, and fascism (cum authoritarianism) and compared several psychometric tests to determine the correlation between cohort groups. The new test was called the F Scale test, a pale attempt to hide the purpose of the Fascism Test.

What’s interesting to me, is how these map to the épistémè of the day, but perhaps that’s more a reflection on how ripe some populations were for fascism. In many ways, it’s dated,and many have questioned the approach and methodology. Moreover, some have noted that the correlation with fascism may simply be a correlation with authoritarianism more generally.

Before I get to the main content, I admit that I don’t agree with the psychoanalytical vantage. In fact, I equate psychoanalysis with astrology and tarot cards. To this end, I ignore the etiological aspects. I also feel that the fixation on anti-semitism is overspecified, so the effects would map to any targeted out-group. Finally, I feel that the chosen categories are not mutually exclusive, so there are unnecessary covariances. I discuss these in turn. Adorno created 9 categories. The first is conventionalism.

Conventionalism:
Adherence to conventional values

By conventional, Adorno means traditional — people who find solace in the familiar. In my experience, most people are conventional and to a large degree. When I  consider conventionalism, it’s about how people present themselves when they think they are being observed. I’m not sure that I’d differentiate closet rebels from people who are simply conventional to the bone. Many people will tell their closest confidantes how rebellious and unconventional they are…but only behind closed doors because they fear being judged and reprisals. In practice, they will even call out and chastise a person who has been caught being unconventional.  This extends to beliefs, sexuality, and other propensities, such as recreational drug use.

Authoritarian Submission:
Towards ingroup authority figures

Authoritarian submission also over-indexes across the board. Ostensibly, this is about obedience and deference. Even if one disagrees with an authority figure, they are unlikely to voice the disagreement and will quickly cave any defence when push comes to shove. 

Note the in-group qualifier. In the United States, when George W Bush was president, the authoritarians railed on about how important it was to support whoever was president — until Obama became president. When Trump became president, it was important to fall into line behind the new leader, leaving differences in the past — until Biden became president. In practice, some of these people couch the ousted leader as the better or legitimate leader. Historically, this has led to fractures that have taken down nations. This is also the story behind the Sunni-Shia conflict of Islam.

Authoritarian Aggression:
Against people who violate conventional values

Authoritarian aggression is a natural extension of conventionalism and submission. I submit, and so should you — if only performatively, I will call you out. We can witness this when closet gay legislators not only pass laws against their own beliefs and activities, but they do so vocally, aggressively. The best defence is a strong offence. And better to be the accuser than the accused.

Anti-Intraception:
Opposition to subjectivity and imagination

Anti-Intraception is a fancy way of saying that one is an objectivist. Anti-intraception is a characteristic of the authoritarian personality which results in a low tolerance for creative thinking and emotion-importance; people who are anti-intraceptive (i.e. are not particularly self-aware) reject subjective thinking in favour of more concrete thinking (e.g. placing high importance on clearly observable facts instead of thoughts and feelings). There is no room for subjectivity or relativity. This is one god, one truth, and whatever the prevailing position of the day, with no room for perspective or interpretation. Other sources equate prescriptive optimism to be an effect of an anti-inceptive disposition.

Superstition and Stereotypy:
Belief in individual fate; thinking in rigid categories

I would have distinguished between superstition and stereotypy, but perhaps there is a strong correlation between the two. Stereotypy is where we get the need for strong categories and things like binary sex and no distinction between sex and gender. Superstition is obviously belief in improbable metaphysical forces and entities. This is where gods enter the equation. With superstition comes fatalism. Things are not within their control. Things just happen to them. They feel powerless, and so seek to align with the powerful, being somewhat subsumed by the bully. This is a perfect segue to the next characteristic.

Power and Toughness:
Concerned with submission and domination; assertion of strength

Power and toughness are where militarism and domination come into frame — Nietzsche 101. This is also projected and reflected onto leaders and representatives. Brawn is privileged over brains. Affiliated bullies are copacetic. It also manifests in ethnocentrism, jingoism, nationalism, and patriotism. We’re number one. We’ve got the best this and that, whether country, state, school, sports team, or Girl Scout Troop. It doesn’t matter. Everything is a competition, and I need to come out on top — if even only by association.

Destructiveness and Cynicism:
hostility against human nature

Excerpting from the text, this is about ‘the inability to identify with humanity [that] takes the political form of nationalism and cynicism about world government and permanent peace. It takes other forms, all based on ideas concerning the intrinsic evil (aggressiveness, laziness, power-seeking, etc.) of human nature; the idea that this evil is unchangeable is rationalized by pseudoscientific hereditarian theories of human nature. The evil, since it is unchangeable, must be attacked, stamped out, or segregated wherever it is found, lest it contaminate the good. The democratic alternative — humanitarianism — is not a vague and abstract “love for everybody” but the ability to like and dislike, to value and oppose, individuals on the basis of concrete specific experience; it necessarily involves the elimination of the stereotypical ingroup-outgroup distinction and all that goes with it‘.

As one can notice, this fits into the religious mindset. It’s also a prime motivation for genocide.

Projectivity:
Perception of the world as dangerous; tendency to project unconscious impulses

Projectivity takes us to the Leviathan of Hobbes’ ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short‘ natural existence. It’s also takes the most blatant psychoanalytical aspect: projection. Enough said.

Sex:
Overly concerned with modern sexual practices

Sex and sexuality ties back nicely to conformity and conventionalism as well as stereotypy. It manifests as repression, to borrow from psychoanalytical nomenclature. By and large, the reason these people want privacy in the bedroom is because of modesty. Make no mistake, these people practise plenty of deviances and excuse themselves in typical attribution bias fashion. When caught in the act, they make excuses for their deviance rather than to defend their personal rights. Some of these deviances are not actually deviance from practice. Rather, the deviation is versus belief.

Whilst I agree with the sentiment of sexuality, this feels like it’s already been captured as a special case of conventionalism and is a quaint throwback to the Freudian obsession.

Closure

Speaking for myself, I’m not certain that a post-modern can be a fascist. First, what post-modern is a conventionalist or traditionalist. The only recognised authority is the underside of a power relationship. Without a recognised authority, there is nothing to react against. A key element of postmodernism is subjectivity over objectivity, which helps to explain why authoritarians like Jordan Peterson so vehemently oppose even the notion of postmodernism. Postmoderns eschew categories or make them so expansive as to not provide much gravity for stereotypes. I can’t speak for other postmoderns, but I am a pacifist and conscientious objector. I’ve got no tolerance for power plays, alpha males, and machismo. I am a bit of a cynic, but it’s not from some sense of evil caricatures. I don’t even believe in the notion of good or evil. I don’t believe in nature, let alone human nature. These are just facile categories to contain stereotypes. Where have I seen that before? Do I project my unconscious as my perception of the world? The shadow knows. And then there’s sex. My sex life and my insouciance of others’ sex lives are not necessarily in sync. I’m no pansexual, but neither do I care if someone is. Not my monkeys. Not my circus. I am not overly fixated on sex — especially what everyone else is or isn’t doing.

I’ve avoided reading much Adorno over the years, primarily because I was put off by his work on media and culture. And in general, I am put off by people holding onto teleological propositions. I’m amazed that I hadn’t tripped over his work on authoritarianism. 

I’ve always questioned authority, and authoritarians and even mainstream people have painted me as being oppositional to authority because of my upbringing, taking a psychoanalytic approach. Being suspicious of psychoanalysis and its tendency towards conformitivism, I received similar criticism. In the 1980s, Robert Altemeyer renamed the authoritarian personality Right-Wing Authoritarianism, as this was in step with the times and in recognition that there other authoritarian constructs outside of the Right and Fascism.

I’m not sure I ever needed permission to question authority and confirmation, but somehow Adorno does just that. The blind faith Adorno attributes to Fascism, has always rubbed me like a priest. For all intents and purposes, I ignored the Semitic and psychoanalytic aetiology, focusing instead on the attributes. 

All of this said, it is easy to create a stereotypical heuristic strawman, if you will, and live in fear for the many people who seem to fit this bill. Meantime, I’ll occupy my time elsewhere.

Gay Genes

I’ve been so busy attending to other things, that my blogging here has gone by the wayside. Philosophy is an activity meant for those with spare time.

Besides philosophy, genetics is an interest of mine. An article I was reading, Genetics may explain up to 25% of same-sex behavior, giant analysis reveals, prompted me to react and respond. This article by the Economist came out ,too.

As the article states, there is no one gene, and we can’t even predict ‘gayness’ based on some configuration of genes. That humans’ knowledge of genetics is so nascent is one reason, and over-imagining the impact of genes on behaviours may be a problem. Just because you want to find a relationship doesn’t mean one exists.

My take is that genetics establish a predisposition. Genes may limit your height to 180 cm, but environmental factors may not allow you to reach this limit, and anything short of genetic modification will not allow you to surpass this limit.

I don’t see a reason for sexual orientation to be different. One may have a propensity to same sex attraction, let’s say 70%, but if environmental factors fail to catalyse this predilection, it may never manifest. Even this is too simplistic.

Being ‘gay’ is an identity marker. Just because a person has same-sex relationships does not mean the person identifies as gay. Moreover, one can be ‘virginal’ or celibate and otherwise have had unexpressed same-sex tendencies. More-moreover, ‘gay’ is not about activity; it’s an emotional attraction. A ‘gay’ person might have sex outside of their identity orientation for myriad reasons, for example, access to a partner of the preferred orientation (say, prisoners) or for survival (say, prostitutes).

On balance, I’d argue that this is a quixotic venture into finding the underpinning of a human social construct. Once again, humans obsessed with categorisation, as if finding a category provides special meaning to the thing in it.

Why Sexual Morality Doesn’t Exist

His words, not mine.

Whilst I agree that all morality is contrived, Alan H. Goldman, Kenan Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the College of William and Mary, presents his position that sexual morality is not divorced from any morality. It’s not particularly a special case. I agree in principle, but his argument is lacking.


Sexual desire aims directly at the pleasure derived from physical contact

Alan H. Goldman

He states that ‘As other philosophers point out, pleasure is normally a byproduct of successfully doing things not aimed at pleasure directly, but this is not the case with sex. Sexual desire aims directly at the pleasure derived from physical contact. [The] desire for physical contact in other contexts, for example, contact sports, is not sexual because it has other motives (winning, exhibiting dominance, etc.), but sexual desire in itself has no other motive. It is not a desire to reproduce or to express love or other emotions, although sexual activity, like other activities, can express various emotions including love.’

Pleasure is normally a byproduct. 

Sure.

This is not the case with sex.

OK. Elaborate.

Sexual desire aims directly at … pleasure.

I'm still following.

Sexual desire in itself has no other motive, which is pleasure.

Damn. You lost me.

I might agree that pleasure (let’s ignore the fact that this is another weasel word) may be the motivation behind sexual desire, but we don’t really have means to determine motivation or intent, and we certainly can’t assess one attribute over another.

Power is everywhere because it comes from everywhere — Michel Foucault

Foucault may have argued that the motivation is power—perhaps each side is making their own power calculus. Given the state of current knowledge, this is not ascertainable. Prof Goldman may feel that pleasure is the motive; one may even argue that power yields pleasure. I’ll not traverse that rabbit hole.

Later, he asserts that ‘More controversial is whether any consensual sex between willing partners is wrong’. I won’t debate this position, but there is no good way to full assess consent.

I’ll outline a fairly stereotypical scenario—excuse me for opting for a heterosexual situation, but the pronouns are easier to track. Say a man and a woman have met in a social setting—perhaps they’ve been dating for some period—, and they ‘mutually’ decide to engage in sex. We’d call this exercising agency, two consenting adults.

But what of ulterior motives? Following the stereotype, perhaps he feels that he is conquering her, and she feels she is securing a stable mate; or perhaps they don’t feel this at all. What is the actual intent? Not to go full-on Freud, but are they playing out some latent urge? Is this just some deterministic eventuality. There’s really no way to tell. Any story I tell is as speculative as the next.

So, to end on a tangent, a significant problem underlying philosophy, psychology, and jurisprudence is the issue of intent. The term is bandied about on most cop shows and legal dramas, but it is another just another vapid notion that we accept as valid. Of course, if we dispense of the notion, our legal systems would just unravel.

Yet again we’ve reached a point where the only truth is rhetoric.

Penetration Politics

Foucault (or Dworkin or Butler) may have had something to say about penetration politics—not the measure of electability in the professional political arena, rather the type that occurs in interpersonal sexual (or protosexual) relationships. 

Although different cultures treat this differently, at least in the West, there is a certain polarity between the penetrator and the penetrated, with the penetrator presumed to be dominant and the penetrated to be passive or submissive. I’ve not done any deep research—especially cross-culturally—but I’ll guess that this is more prevalent in patriarchal settings. Religion adds the element of shame and fetishises sex in the first place.

Before Greece

Even in Ancient Greece and some African cultures, same-sex penetration is allowed, but only when the penetrated is of a lower station, whether by age or class standing.

Greek Art

Anecdotally, female same-sex interaction is less of an issue than the male counterpart. I suggest that this is because of the penetration involved. It is also statistically speaking, the least risky. In BDSM parlance, there is a top and a bottom. The choice of these terms is not merely coincidental. And whilst they could represent the actors in physical space, they also relate to the power hierarchy.

Greek Pottery

We can also visit idiomatic speech—at least in English. Penetrative notions are most typically negative. I can’t think of any that are positive, so correct me if I am wrong.

‘I got fucked’ and ‘He fucked me’ are both terms of being taken advantage of. ‘I got screwed’ is the lighter version. ‘I got fucked in the ass’ ratchets it up a notch, perhaps. ‘Fuck you’ is not a term of endearment. I suppose I’ve heard people exclaim ‘fuck me’, but I don’t think one is supposed to reconcile that literally.

Boys will be boys

People we don’t like are cocksuckers. This one has always been a bit curious to me. It represents cocksuckers as some negative actor, but—as a fairly typical male—who doesn’t like a cock-sucker? How could this possibly be a negative? It’s because of the penetration. It’s yet another double standard. Most guys I know want to get their cock sucked and even enjoy it, but the sucker—that person is of a lower order; clearly a loathed order. Myself, I can’t use the term—at least not as a pejorative.

Sex seems to be a power play. Some people use sex as a weapon, either through teasing or withholding, which as I think about it are one and the same. If the receptor (allow me to stay with a heterosexual model for a while) gives in, the penetrator; if she doesn’t, she’s got the upper hand.

Greek Pederasty

Don’t get me wrong. In a functioning relationship, this is an activity of equals, but many relationships are dysfunctional on one level or another, and so it becomes a power struggle. He or she wants it less. One or the other party ‘gives in’ in order to remain in the relationship for some other reason, and so we are back to politics.

In the spirit of TMI (but hopefully not too too much ‘I’), my first wife hated doing dishes. Though I would have preferred not to wash them, I didn’t really care either way, so we alternated turns every other day. On her days, she’d offer a blowjob in exchange for my taking her turn. To me, it was a win-win proposition. Although I might have, I never viewed it as a power thing, though I did view it as transactional. Firstly, it was her idea; secondly, it seemed so consensual.

Unlearn Sexism

But where is the shame in sex? There is even shame in being seen nude in most circles. How did this happen? And why does there appear to be more shame in being penetrated? I’ll blame religion. It seems to be like a cancer that ruins everything it touches—like a reverse Midas touch.

Slut-shaming

I understand that in the past, sex could lead to death in childbirth or sexually transmitted diseases or infections, but with the widespread availability of barrier protection, this risk is substantially reduced. Think about this. What is the difference between a wife having (protected) sex with her husband each day for a year and a woman who has (consensual, protected) sex with different men each day of the same year? Ostensibly, nothing.

It’s not so much that the wife would advertise to the world that she had had sex each night—because sex is somehow shameful—, but if she let it slip that she and her husband had shagged the night before—or the past trend of nightly sex for a week—, there would be likely little more than a blush. For the unattached woman, there would likely be judgment and scorn. But this would be for no other reason than the taint of religious dogma.

The End