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Refusing to be a Man: Essays on Social Justice: Essays on Sex and Justice – John Stoltenberg

August 18, 2015

RTBAMIt’s a commonplace, these days, to be told that gender and sexuality are social constructs. This book was one of the earliest to argue this; the first fully argued liberation theory for men that will also liberate women. He argues that male sexual identity is entirely a political and ethical construction whose advantages grow out of injustice. His thesis is, however, ultimately one of hope – that precisely because masculinity is so constructed, it is possible to refuse it, to act against it and to change.

I remember telling a trans person that he didn’t need an operation in order to conform to society’s view of male/female. I am embarrassed now that I did so but this book was part of the thinking behind my ill-judged comment.

Stoltenberg was life partner to anti-pornography campaigner Andrea Dworkin for thirty-one years (eventually marrying), although he considers himself gay. He is a lapsed Lutheran, of German and Norwegian descent.

Instead of getting back to what a ‘real man’ is, he argues, we need to get PAST gender to diversity.

He asks – what makes you a man?

Some say prenatal hormones determine gender specific behaviour. Or is it the way you are brought up (cf. bouncing blue baby and cuddling pink).

Aristotle noted masculine traits thus: unfailing belief in own goodness regardless of others’ thoughts; rigorous adherence to male behaviours; belief in one’s own consistency

Females are characterised by hesitancy, qualms, uncertain she is doing right. In rape, then man is certain that he is right and women wonders if she led him on.

Biology proves that it’s much more complex. It’s amazing that male and female genitals come from same tissue. Are their two sexes? Or as many sexes as there are people?

Narrowing down is ironing out diversity. The Nazis sought to exterminate all but the Aryan type; to narrow down the diversity of God’s creation.

Masculine body sensations have become narrowed down to the tip of the penis while women orgasm all over

Sexual politics is essential to ‘politics’ as we more often understand it. The arms race cannot be dismantled without sexual revolution. CND marchers use masculine chants and fists.

It’s false biology o say women don’t have rights, don’t belong (men owned their daughters and ‘gave them away’ in marriage) – from view of Aeschylus that mother is not a parent but merely receptacle for the seed.

Gays are not necessarily the great hope – gay men behave and think more like straight men than like women. The term ‘sexual orientation’ suggests some sort of aim for target practice. Gay male sex in porn is ‘straight’ in orientation: no past – coupling is history-less, no future – relationship is uncommitted, no present – physically functional but emotionally alienated.

The cure is diversity. Men are seen as doers and they need to learn to be passive (cf. the cross – Jesus laid aside garments, allowed himself to be arrested – passive verbs lead to the victory of the cross). The fully human male is the vulnerable one.

RTBAM 3Quotations:

“I felt an urgency to write words that I could stand behind with conviction, words that I could trust to say out in public because I had thrashed them out in private until they were as true as I could get them, until they said exactly what I mean, exactly what I believed, even if those words might provoke some people to outrage.”

“It is a measure of how much sex-class determines ‘who we fundamentally are’ that for us as men to disavow the interests of our sex-class makes us feel we disappear. Tangible membership in the sex-class men is our primary means to identity. It’s a familiar story: You grow up to become a boy and you are terrorized into acting like a boy and you are rewarded for being a boy and you learn to dissociate from your mother by adopting a whole range of fears and hatreds of women and you learn what you need to learn to be accepted in the company of other men. Women shore up this identity; we look to women to affirm this identity. But we get the identity from other men; it is other men we look to as the arbiters of sex-class identity, the identity that gets inside of us, an identity so close to who we think we are that letting go of it scares us to death.”

“At some point in his life, if he is developing ‘normally,’ he learns a physical and emotional association between this dread and his ‘desire’; this is the point when, perhaps irrevocably, his gender anxiety and his reflex reactions become linked: In relation to other people’s bodies, he experiences acutely his anxiety about his identification with authentic maleness . . . He eventually learns to desire such erections because he experiences them as resolution of his gender anxiety, at least temporarily . . . ”

‘It is now assumed that by giving eroticised domination and subordination free expression, is the fullest flowering of sexual freedom’.

RTBAM 2 ‘Sons or fathers, poor men or rich men, sacred or secular: all are homosexual in their worship of everything phallic. A sexual revolution might destroy what men do so well together, away from women: the making of his-tory, the making of war, the triumph of phallic will’ – Phyllis Chesler – talking about war, dehumanising machine work, worship of technology, rape of planet earth, adversarial politics and legal system

‘This country’s superfathers want to make certain that the United States will have the biggest cock in the world – that is, the greatest potency for sadism, euphemistically referred to as ‘deterrent’ capability.’

“Penises and ejaculate and prostate glands occur in nature, but the notion that these anatomical traits comprise a sex—a discrete class, separate and distinct, metaphysically divisible from some other sex, the “other sex” —is simply that: a notion, an idea. The penises exist; the male sex does not. The male sex is socially constructed. It is a political entity that flourishes only through acts of force and sexual terrorism. Apart from the global inferiorization and subordination of those who are defined as “nonmale,” the idea of personal membership in the male sex class would have no recognizable meaning. It would make no sense. No one could be a member of it and no one would think they should be a member of it. There would be no male sex to belong to. That doesn’t mean there wouldn’t still be penises and ejaculate and prostate glands and such. It simply means that the center of our selfhood would not be required to reside inside an utterly fictitious category—a category that only seems real to the extent that those outside it are put down.”

“Pornography also eroticizes male supremacy. It makes dominance and subordination feel like sex; it makes hierarchy feel like sex; it makes force and violence feel like sex; it makes hate and terrorism feel like sex; it makes inequality feel like sex. Pornography keeps sexism sexy. It keeps sexism necessary for some people to have sexual feelings. It makes reciprocity make you go limp. It makes mutuality leave you cold. It makes tenderness and intimacy and caring make you feel like you’re going to disappear into a void. It makes justice the opposite of erotic; it makes injustice a sexual thrill.

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