Category Archives: Uncategorized

The forgotten pay gap: The latent identity of the ‘gender pay gap’ discourse

It is not controversial to assert that there is no justification for two similarly-able people to be remunerated differently for the same job. It’d simply be discrimination in its most basic form, and anyone with a common sense who  ever cared for fairness and not only if they were paid less themselves, can see that. The fact that we have a gender pay gap in our society is nothing less than an absolute outrage and disgrace, and we must support any immediate collective action that demands to mend it unconditionally. Nothing less.

B U T  – this inclusive campaign might is at the same time be exclusive. Or, put in a better way: Can we allow ourselves to take this argument further and make bigger claims? Continue reading

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‘Consent’ is not enough: The risk of communication reductionism

The campaign for [sexual] consent is a very important and helpful tool on the legal front. It’s also a good response for the male argument ‘she said no, but meant otherwise.’ But both as a nonliberal feminist and as a discourse analyst, I find it a problematic concept.

The starting point here, which is particularly importnat to make as a cis-hetro-man, is that there is no doubt that no one deserves to be harassed, or raped, for any reason. That’s pretty basic.

Still, human interaction is much more complex than what ‘consent’ has to offer.

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Look at the poster to the right, for example. It states that Yes means yes, and No means no. This statement is tautological, and so always true, without needing any context. But, this also implies that verbal messages are simple to understand, as well as that ‘consent’ (or indeed any interaction) boils down to a binary yes or no. The poster also says that ‘clothing is not consent,’ which, again, without the necessary context is a weird thing to say, because, [tauto]logically clothing is clothing. Of course, we still understand the full message of this poster because we have the contextual (pragmatic) prior-knowledge that this is a response that confronts the rapist argument that ‘she said x but meant otherwise’ or ‘just look at what she was wearing,’ that tries to justify sexual predatory behavior or worse (excuses that are much more urgent to fight when they come from the police or courts). This is how we can also understand that this is about sex or sexual violence, although neither of these words are even mentioned! (Indeed, consent to what).

I bring this example to briefly demonstrate the complexity of communication. WITHOUT GIVING ANYONE LEGITIMACY TO, SAY, RAPE, from both a communication and a nonliberal and nonlegalist perspective, there are inaccuracies and risks to consider about reducing human behaviour and communication to concepts like consent:

  1. Communicative messages are more complex than simply what we say.
    This is how irony and sarcasm are possible. So, you can say one thing and mean the exact opposite, and, as any pragmatics professor will tell you, communication, is rarely unambiguous. Everything is said in context, and is interpretive (and therefore bound to mistakes). This fact also allows us to make many more feminist arguments about subtext and lack of consent, e.g. that even a Yes can still mean something else. Intonation, nonverbal messages, body language, and other communication channels and prior knowledge help the addressee to decipher the message. (Much of the art of flirting relies on this ambiguity). And, yes, mistakes in interpretation happen; but this only means that we must be much more careful!
    Advocating ‘consent’ risks simplifying communication and encouraging people to be less sensitive to each other. No wonder that some even opt for machines for consent, rather than rely on feelings. (Also, the linked app ignores the fact that consent can be withdrawn at any point). In fact, you can have sex or avoid it without any moral issues and without any verblisation. NONETHELESS – IT’S QUITE SIMPLE TO UNDERSTAND THAT, IF IN DOUBT, JUST COMMUNICATE MORE TO AVOID HARMING OTHERS. ESPECIALLY IF YOU LIKE THEM.
  2. Clothing actually IS a message.
    Always. What you wear to class or work or dinner at any other time, carries a message about who you [think you] are, and what your expectations are of the interaction. It can even mean consenting to something (e.g. uniform), or rejecting it. And we also continuously interpret what others wear. To say that clothing is meaningless to a message (e.g. the poster above), is, I think, both counter-intuitive to the broader public, and generally wrong. Clothes are practice of meaning, and meaning is always fluid and depends on interpretion. Instead, we should clarify that clothing is insufficient and its message is highly sensitive to misinterpretations.
    I find this statement better: Even if somebody is walking naked on the street, it still gives no one the right to harm or be offensive to them. period.
  3. Wants and messages can be more complex than the binary yes-or-no.
    There are many shades of grey in human interactions and communications (see what I did there?…). HOWEVER, AGAIN, IF IN DOUBT, COMMUNICATE MORE TO AVOID HARMING OTHERS.
  4. While we are often able to simply say what we want, at other times we don’t even fully know what we want.
    ‘Consent’ is a burden that assumes that individuals are rational beings whom are necessarily able to know what they ‘want.’ This assumption goes against psychoanalyst approaches where we are ‘split’ in many ways inside our heads, or are on a spectrum, and are very dynamic, and so on. STILL, TO REMOVE DOUBT, COMMUNICATE MORE TO AVOID HARMING OTHERS, and remember that we can still change our mind.
  5. In fact, wanting is not simple either.
    The genius feminist philosopher Sarah Ahmed has an entire book problematising will. A key point in the book can be simplified to this: Because we are subjects designed by social positions, discourse, time, place, etc., there is at least a doubt about our will being genuinely ours, and not what others will us to will. Are we sometimes having sex, or avoiding it, for reasons that are decisively shaped by society? AND, YET, AGAIN, THIS DOES NOT GIVE ANYONE THE RIGHT TO HARM.
  6. To make this even more controversial, interactions and relationship are almost by definition a constant compromise over wills. In sex too.
    Moreover, sometimes, as the feminist patriarchal bargain theory argues, women rationally trade things they have (including sex) with men, and this is part of their agency and strategies within ‘the logic of practice.’ (Men can also have sex as compromise, although it’s not really the same). In a micro-scale, a woman can compromise her ‘will’ as part of her strategy to cope with her position. So, while women consent to sex, it is not so straightforward, because their consent is not independent but pressured by their position within power structures.
    That said, the key to any relationship is respect: communicate clearly, avoid harming each other, and compromise rather than demand. SO, AGAIN, DON’T SEE THIS AS JUSTIFICATION FOR DEMANDING, PRESSING OR FORCING SOMEBODY TO DO SOMETHING THAT THEY MAY NOT WANT TO DO. PARTICULARLY WHEN THIS CONCERNS PENETRATING THEIR BODIES, AND EVEN MORE SO WITH THOSE WITH WHOM YOU HAVE PRIVILEGES OVER.

In conclusion, my point is that there is a series of issues with the reliance on the simplifying notion of ‘consent’ for feminist advocacy, which is also falling into the trap of legalism. While it has been immensely helpful in the short run, it might end up counterproductive for the sensitive society we want to build in the long run.

And, I’m not the only one thinking that.

The Capitalist Bargain: Understanding Trump, Brexit and fascio/whitedomists beyond racism

The Trump vote, the Brexit vote and the general turn to white, ultra-national, and hard Right in European and ‘First World’ politics has stimulated the curiosity and speculations of many puzzled observers. The common explanations seem to be that the trend is either a sheer mistake of voters’ turnout, or a revenge of poorer classes against the elites, or a manifestation of ignorance and misleading news, or simply racism or xenophobia. However, these explanations do not really offer an understanding from the point of view of those left behind, but assume that while ‘our’ votes are rational, theirs aren’t. So, in what follows, I would like to suggest that these trends have a clear classed and interested aspect, and are effects of the form that the global and extreme Capitalist system takes today.

An epitome or exemplar of this argument can be demonstrated by deconstructing pragmatic assumptions behind Trump’s campaign slogan: ‘Make America Great Again!‘ What this slogan does is evoke certain sentiments about experiences of America today of those left behind. This slogan suggests that:

  1. America is not great now;         which means that it is not working for me, the voter, as I am experiencing it today.
  2. America used to be great;        which means that I, or my family or community, used to manage better here.
  3. We must change America;       i.e. stop my or our deterioration, which also makes claims to ownership.

The third point above is key to understanding the political beliefs. When people say ‘Make America Great Again,’ they are saying ‘we’ must change ‘our’ country, so they are making claims for inclusion in the great and better nation. For many lower classes supporters, this is an attempt to situate themselves in a more advantaged location within an (unjust) social system; also, because changing the entire unjust system is much harder to achieve, or even imagine. So, they are actually being rational and realist.

There are strikingly similar assumptions behind ‘Taking Back Control‘ in the UK’s Brexit campaign. Namely, that: [1-] there is no control now; [2-] there was control before; [3-] ‘we’ must act to fix it, which means it is ours (ownership claim). In fact, the same wish to secure the benefits of the poorer privileged groups, i.e. among those in the first world who have most to lose from a globalised system, holds true to many other Right-wing ortho-dox calls and achievements among nationalist working classes around the world. For example, with only minor adjustments, it explains the Right-wing support among lower classes Jewish-Israelis in the continuous state of oppression of the Palestinians.

Inspired by Deniz Kandiyoti’s Patriarchal Bargain theory, we can call this explanation ‘the Capitalist Bargain.’ The poorer First World groups support the nationalist Right in the hope to safeguard their inheritable benefits by fighting to continue to distribute the extremely uneven global wealth (and prestige) along national and/or racial lines, rather than in other ways, thus continuing to enjoy some privileges of the First world. They prefer it because, in an increasingly unruly globalising capitalist world, they witness in fear how their few advantages deteriorate towards those of poorer parts of the world, whose enslavement we all benefit from; (and, of course, over believing that a better system is possible altogether). This is a rational privileges-securing deal with the nationalist/racist Right, who, within the current form of Capitalism, vow to secure their position of superiority and advantages over those from the Second and Third World.

This is also why many in the First World, for example in Sweden, insist that limiting immigration is supposedly ‘inevitable,’ fearing the cost it might have on their existing level of privileges within the global unequal system.

And, by the way, when people respond to the Trump slogan by saying that ‘America is still great,’ they are expressing a view that is situated in privileged positions within America, one which allows them to overlook from how broken their society is. America is only great for some.

 

What the new dystopian international norm of masked riot police says about our zeitgeist

Watching the disturbing images of the Spanish police violently dispersing peaceful Catalan civilians is an opportunity to draw urgent attention to the quick spread of policemen (and women?) in balaclavas, which appears as a new international norm of riot police units. The dangerous shift of the recent years towards masked policepersons operating against civilians is evident in journalistic photographs from the UK, the US, France, Germany, Israel, Turkey, Russia and many other countries, and necessitates serious public discussion. Presumably a spill over from ‘special’ anti-terror units who operate under the all-encompassing War on Terror, police forces’ new anonymity – and consequently unaccountability – testifies to how any civic unrest is now seen, and treated, as a threat to the nation.

The most obvious effect of masking anti-protest police officers is that they are less accountable and less deterred from wrongdoing, and therefore the masking means world citizens are less safe and more vulnerable to unlawful actions of the law-enforcers. In real time, fearless police officers and fearing protestors share the understanding that visual documentation no longer translates into a public post holder’s accountability. Masked, the police has written itself off potential disciplinary actions, which in turn encourages officers’ misconduct and ab/use of power, and both discourages and disables the complaints of its victims. Police forces took for themselves an unconditional peace of mind guarantee from potential victims, by dis-appearing the identity of officers and shielding it behind the identity of their appearance, so the covering of the face covers the potential cover up and saving face.

With the disabling of identification, not only are the victims of faceless police able to point their grievances to nobody (literally, to no-body), but they are now facing a new body instead, a body of faceless and fearless police officers, a Borg of sorts. Anonymised, the officers are not septate entities, but are experienced as one impersonal agency, a uniformed and uniformised form of force, an army of black robocops swarming like soldier-ants, indefinitely unidentifiable, well defended and highly trained to work as one fighting machine, and exposing the dystopian present, where ‘riot’ police is a hybrid of military special combat units and a civil law-enforcement force. Riot police — whose name already speaks volumes about the counterinsurgency perspective that fosters it and which sees any civil discontent as danger to the current order — is then not only bigger than its sum, but is even exclusive of its (human) components.

Milgram and Zimbardo’s famous experiments have taught us long ago how uniforms, anonymity and official roles strengthen obedience and liberate voluntary brutality of roleplaying humans. Can the balaclavas do anything other than enhance manifold this disembodiment? Than further dehumanise and de-individualise the police officer? Than ease the transcendence of a person from their identity, individuality and humanity?

Finally, perhaps most concerning is the shamelessness that replaced shaming, where yesterday’s fears from obedience and unaccountability to the public became today’s desirable operatives of public repression, in the name of law, order and public security.

Engenderment: Socialising children, socialising parents

I have two very young kids. A boy and a girl. They are both exceptionally stunning and painfully beautiful. Objectively, of course. Now,  when other adults see my boy and want to compliment his beauty, many would say that he ‘will break many hearts, when he’ll grow up.’ When others want to say my girl is very beautiful, many would say that I ‘will have a lot of trouble with boyfriends when she will grow up.’

So, boys will break hearts, and fathers will need/try to protect girls from such boys, is what parents learn from society, as socialising and engenderment never end.

By the way, attending to society speaking is not enough, so to the former I answer that I’ll teach him kindness, and to the latter, that I’d be happy if she’ll have many lovers (surely more than if she’ll have none). I do wish both my kids will be kind with others’ hearts, and others with theirs, and that both will have many lovely experiences with whomever make them happy. But, yes, they are very beautiful, I agree. Well observed.