December 19th, 2013 / 5:16 pm

Stupid Teaser Hed Goes Here

Because sexism isn’t something we can turn off like a faucet, or fix like a leak, I asked Lazenby to talk about how we might consider the function of our actions in the context of systems we can’t control, which in fact inform our approach to their demolition.


I don’t really understand the particulars of what Reynard asked me to write about, because I don’t know any of the people involved. What I do understand is the incredible stability of systems when they are attacked on their own terms.

One system that we all live in presumes women can be treated as a bloc. It understands women as creatures who share a common, female essence that gives each woman her female traits. Things like frailty, irresponsibility, vanity, and above all, the need for a type of security—emotional and material—that men are uniquely equipped to provide. The system says: ‘Act as though these presumptions were true, and I will reward all of you with an immensely stable set of relationships between men and women.’

Now, if you find these assumptions about women to be totally false and patronizing, the obvious question is: well, how do you change things at a fundamental, system-wide level? I can think of a couple of ways that people try to do this (while really just engaging the system they despise on terms it can easily repel.) You could:

  • • Protest these assumptions simply by ignoring them. In your behavior towards women, whatever your own gender, you could act as though the woman you’re talking to is in full command of herself and surrenders her soul neither to behavior pre-programmed by her two X chromosomes nor to the system’s expectations of her. That is, you treat a woman like an individual. One who is entitled to act however she chooses, even if her behavior seems to be coincident with a stereotype.
    • ◦ This is, I think, how a lot of men understand being a male feminist. The problem with this approach to changing the system we live in is that any change it effects will be extremely slow. In reality, the system views people who act this way toward women in the same way the IRS sees someone who commits suicide as a tax protest. You simply cease to be relevant. You might be square with yourself if you resist the system by treating every woman you meet as an individual, but your contribution to that system’s defeat and dismantlement is so minimal as to approach selfishness. Cf. the rising incidence of rape and sexual assault despite Ryan Gosling modeling the role of male feminist to the hilt. (The smugness of men who love to say that they aren’t The Problem because they don’t think of women only as a quavering womb perched on delicate shaved legs is so gross as to become its own problem.)
  • • Protest these assumptions by pointing out their falsity, their hypocrisy and the injustice that they create.
    • ◦ But outside Supreme Court briefs, this isn’t even worth the effort: Any system whose benefits arise from a lie so deeply entrenched as to seem like truth (“Women are vain.”) is probably not vulnerable to points of logic.
  • • Protest these assumptions by violently attacking their source. You could do this in a physical (FEMEN, sometimes) or rhetorical (A. Dworkin) way.
    • ◦ The only way you’re overcoming any bigtime system thru violence is to defeat it in an actual land war. To the beneficiaries of a system that treats women as inferior, it would be a dream come true for that system to be attacked with physical violence. The men who benefit from oppressive systems usually have a society’s levers of power at their disposal too, and they know that any physical attack on a system of injustice which infects their society is instantly transmuted into an attack upon that society as a whole. Which lets them call in the cops, and then Nixon gets elected and it’s sic transit Sixties and game over all over again…
    • ◦ Rhetorical attacks on the system are a good way to release yourself from its restrictions on freedom of thought and self-conception. But in the end, (when it comes to changing the system, as opposed to yourself) this is moving a beach with tweezers. It is possible to tilt the scales by fighting the system as it exists in individuals, but it’ll take an extremely long time for that pile of converts to lend weight sufficient for dramatic change. (Think about how long it took for literacy rates to make newspapers into sources of political power. And that was just teaching people how to read, not the ins and outs of patriarchy…)
  • • If you’re fortunate enough to be in a position of power, you could protest these assumptions by refusing to let them influence your executive authority. E.g., if you’re a loan officer or the editor of a publishing house you could resist the temptation to think ‘Oh, I’m not sure we can take on her loan/book, I think we’re supporting just about as many women as we can these days…’ and judge instead the thing itself, not the person who submitted it.
    • ◦ But again, tick tock.

Or, you could try to do something with a lever:

Gandhi has something interesting to say about struggles. Very early on (1909) he pointed out that a struggle against injustice invariably wins the sort of outcome it deserves. So, the victory won by the violence of the French Revolution was The Terror. And the victory delivered by Napoleon as he conquered most of Europe—in the name of the Revolution’s ideals of liberty and democracy was (surprise!) an Empire. Gandhi put it like this:

If I want to deprive you of your watch, I shall certainly have to fight for it; if I want to buy your watch, I shall have to pay for it; and if I want it as a gift, I shall have to plead for it; and, according to the means I employ, the watch is stolen property, my own property, or a donation.

So, the way you fight determines the world you make for yourself after you’ve won.

A trivial way of interpreting this would be to say: “If you want to change the system by policing the opinions that support it, you’re going to create a society where people have to watch what they say.” This might be true, but who cares: we’ve had political correctness for decades and it doesn’t work. A deeper way of looking at it would be to say that it reveals a lever by which a small number of people can enormously magnify their power. This is what Gandhi saw, and it is what led to non-violent resistance.

In effect, Gandhi’s line about means works in reverse: What he pointed out is true not only for those who struggle against injustice but also for the system that perpetrates it. If there is a lie at the heart of any system of inequality, then it is the job of people who want to destroy that system not to expose the lie, but to reveal how that lie poisons every benefit made possible by it. So, if the lie is that South Africans or Indians are morally and intellectually inferior to the British who rule them, then Gandhi’s job is to show how any act of force undertaken against him by the British is cruel and blatantly illegitimate. This was accomplished by offering no provocation to violence and simply allowing calm and unarmed crowds to be beaten by policemen who were expecting savages.

The challenge faced by people who are disgusted by the system that we live in is not how to explain or justify their disgust, but how to force that system to reveal itself as rotten. I think anyone interested in destroying the system of inequality that has infected our society and made women less valuable than men ought to be racking their brains for ways to produce this kind of leverage. Because a powerful machine with a great deal of momentum is all the more vulnerable, and liable to fly apart, when a wrench is thrown into it.

Tags: ,


  1. deadgod

      When Gandhi “show[ed] how any act of force undertaken against him by the British [was] cruel and blatantly illegitimate”, he was attacking the system on its own terms. The technique of non-violence was as well-known a power trip to the Brits as it had been to Nietzsche–and to Jesus.

      Revealing how a system’s on-going consequences contradict its self-understanding – “lie[s] at the heart of any system of inequality” – is a fine lever.

      But this kind of disclosure only has leverage in the cases where its fulcrum is firm.

      (A lever requires an unmoving pivot-point around which to turn.)

      If a system is composed of people conceptually organized to repel even logical consistency and empirical compulsion successfully with respect to their own experiences, then showing them the “lie” of a “system of inequality” will be understood in terms of that inequality.

      This self-reinforcement – ‘ideology’ – is why systems are stable “when they are attacked on their own terms”.

      Many Brits were convinced by Gandhi’s living example of his ethos – the ethos of (most of) their god – to question and reject their sense of racial superiority.

      Were most Brits? –or even enough Brits?

      Or did Britain relinquish colony in South Asia as much and more due to material expediency? (Britain found itself without the money or manpower any longer to stop nationalization in South Asia.) Is it a minority of British people today who reject their putative superiority to South Asians??

      Given a system which, on its terms – the terms it justifies itself to itself – , is ‘unjust’, that system is already decomposing revelation of the lies that poison it at its heart and reconstituting such revelations in the service of perpetuating that system.

      Ideology: self-reinforcing circularity of understanding, by virtue of which evidence is or becomes demonstration of that ideology’s premises.

  2. Jeremy Hopkins

      Irony (our only hope) is — unfortunately — a dead scene, man.

  3. reynard seifert

      thanks for explaining how lever’s work, i had no idea

      i don’t think the british thought in terms of nonviolence then, & i don’t think they do to this day; that’s like saying that western civilization is by nature nonviolent. i can’t think of anything more ridiculous than that

      anyway, that’s sort of beside the point, & obviously just a parable here

      the system that supports sexism, which is a broad complex of systems, does not define itself as ‘unjust’ on its terms, on its own terms it is ‘reason,’ often it is ‘science’

  4. reynard seifert

      irony is definitely not our ownly hope

  5. deadgod

      yeah, ‘lever’ seems like one of those words that people use figuratively without ever considering its literal meaning. you’re not alone

      the smaller point was not that the British think exclusively or even predominantly in terms of non-violence, but rather, that non-violence is among the terms intelligible to them. that’s how they recognized what Gandhi was doing, which is lazenby’s premise: Gandhi won because non-violent resistance drove the Brits out

      (Western civ has in it the tactic ‘non-violence’; that’s not the same as saying that Western civ is by nature non-violent, which most or tied for most thinkable ridiculous thought is a mischaracterized consequence of lazenby’s implicit premise)

      i don’t think that explains enough. i think the Brits left ‘India’ for more than one reason: not just from shame inspired by Gandhi’s movement, but partly from shame and partly – mostly – because they couldn’t materially afford to keep south Asia colonized

      not so much beside the point of sexism, Gandhi’s non-violence is a useful analogy for how opponents of sexism can (and do) confront sexism in ways intelligible to misogynists

      it is exactly in terms of the norms of ‘justice’ that opponents of sexism identify and criticize and (try to) reform sexist behaviors and discourses. for example, the principle of “equality” for all propertied European-American men: that is the “equality” that, truly to be a principle of “equality”, includes poor European-American men, non-European-American men, and bingo all women

      feminism is reasonable, consistent with respect to method and experience (ie scientific), and empirically sound.

      in my view, the rationality of feminism is a rationality that Aristotle would accept as rational, were he to ravel its logical skein

  6. Citric

      “The challenge faced by people who are disgusted by the system that we live in is not how to explain or justify their disgust, but how to force that system to reveal itself as rotten.”

      what if all people are bad & when the truth comes out no one cares?? yeah….

  7. Citric

      “The challenge faced by people who are disgusted by the system that we live in is not how to explain or justify their disgust, but how toforce that system to reveal itself as rotten.”

      what if all people are rotten & no one cares about the truth as long as they’re comfortable???

  8. Kim Göransson

      One safety cache of the system though seems to hold “male” as the default “value”, if only women could be treated as equal to men etc and become “subjects”. Reasonable, controlled subjects. But isn’t it the male value system that’s fucked and should be demolished? What’s wrong with vanity, frailty, irresponsibility? What’s more vain than a hunger strike? Male so called feminists need to get off the sidelines and start cutting

  9. Andrew Sargus Klein

      While I think it’s clear that there is no One Way to dismantle structural sexism, I think there’s a lot of merit in you second bullet point, despite its dismissal. Take the shitstorm with Garret Strickland. He wrote something that followed a script on how to objectify, disenfranchise, and creep out women. He followed up with, if we take it at its word, an apology (of sorts)—or at least an acknowledgement that he wrote something deeply effed, and that there was merit to the backlash. Whether you believe him or not (I am pretty doubtful), it represents a messy and inexact (but VITAL) cultural mechanism of public disavowal (see also: that Duck Dynasty shit). The conversation is important. The conversation is really fucking important.

      I think, perhaps, that I’m disagreeing with the framing of the second bullet point. I think there is a impossible-to-know difference between someone who honest-to-goodness believes that women are vain/objects/precious/vulnerable (no need to expend energy throwing logic that person’s way) and those who “at heart” (because who the fuck knows what’s in anyone’s heart except trans fats and blood) do not think that women are any of those things, but who are so closed off from The Conversation (so closed off from self-awareness, from empathy and compassion) that they have no idea when they take a shit on propriety and good sense with something like “The Zambreno Doll.”

      It is Important and Good to call those people out, to put them on their heels and think through their actions. Maybe they stay defensive and even double down and embrace the bitterness of epistemic closure, but there are many who lurk and follow and upvote and get warm feelings in their chest when they see so many rallying to the defense of common sense and compassion. That’s the point: that the rallyers win, that the Conversation slowly and continuously backs those who dare to think beyond their own sphere.

  10. mimi

      now This is the kind of fascinating and intelligent post and thread (still having a hard time using the word ‘blogicle’ – which i think is from ‘blog’ + ‘article’ but can’t stop thinking is from ‘blog’ + ‘icicle’ and then that idea gets stuck in my head and i just can’t bring myself to use it cuz that makes no sense!) that i love to read but rarely comment on because i just don’t feel learned*- and erudite-enough to do so the way i’d like to be able to

      (*the two-syllable ‘learned’)

      also, that lazenby site looks awesome can’t wait til the weekend (~nine hours from right now for me) to explore

  11. mimi

      i was wondering if someone was going to mention the Duck Dynasty thing here
      first thing i read over coffee this morning, Yahoo! homepage tease “Money on the line”

  12. reynard seifert

      i was being sarcastic about the lever, actually i was pretty good at physics – that was rude i guess

      obviously ‘feminism is reasonable’ but i think reason & empiricism are unfortunately part of the problem, part of a rotten structure that rejects other ways of knowing, such as feeling & intuition, which is maybe why pop science has been waging war against the humanities (the subject of a book i plan to write about soon)

  13. deadgod

      Shorter reply: how can most men and some women be gotten to realize that they’re paying more for misogyny than it’s worth?

      lazenby’s is a good analogy.

      But the Brits didn’t uncolonize South Asia because Gandhi’s movement shamed them. It did shame some of them, but that’s the smaller part of a polythetic explanation of how the Empire got levered out. The larger reason was the cost of holding back nationalization.

      Both shame and material expense are terms Western civilization thinks in.

      Revealing how the lie at the heart of a system poisons every benefit of it is exposing that lie.

      Forcing the system to reveal itself as rotten is explaining or justifying disgust at that rottenness.

      I think lazenby is confusing ineffectiveness with non-existence.

  14. deadgod

      Whoa – your reply appeared while I was mulling a mercifully shorter answer; I should’ve been more attentive. Probably always.

      I don’t mind rudeness, as long as I can play. For the record.

      Truly, I don’t see why logical consistency and empirical compulsion have to go against feeling or intuition. Quite sure I would read that book; the roles of feeling and intuition in the humanities deserve defense against all attacks. –though I’d say that pop science’s real problem is the war it wages against scientific science.

  15. Jeremy Hopkins

      Just an open question —
      I was talking with two young women in a bar and they brought up ‘Blurred Lines’ as an example of sexism, and I (openly playing Devil’s Advocate) said something like, “No, it’s not sexist,” and she said, “‘Just let me liberate you’ isn’t sexist?” and I said, “If men have been the ones oppressing women forever, shouldn’t it actually be incumbent upon them to liberate women? Shouldn’t it be their responsibility?” and she said, “No.”
      — Well, should it or shouldn’t it?

  16. Jeremy Hopkins

      [I am actually interested in opinions on this matter, but if someone would rather just direct me towards some reading elsewhere, that’s welcome as well.]

  17. reynard seifert
  18. reynard seifert

      no, but that’s not the point, the point is that robin thicke is an asshole

  19. Jeremy Hopkins

      Do people have a responsibility not to be assholes?

  20. reynard seifert

      that’s a good question. i don’t know

  21. deadgod

      I think your interlocutor was being too dogmatic, probably due to the limited terms of this brief exchange. The kind of emancipation you were talking about is social – not constituted by apparently isolated personal transformation – , and my answer would be that the liberation of women has to be a communal project and achievement.

      Men won’t liberate women, nor will women be liberated – in the sense of becoming equal biological and political-economic persons – without more men’s liberation from male privilege and masculinist identity fundamentalism.

      I think Reynard is right, though: Thicke is singing about the faux liberation of orgasm provision – or about his liberality in feeling confident on those lines – , and, except for the gazillion (free?) women who dig or think they dig him and being talked to like that by men they dig, ew is a pretty strong play.

  22. mimi

      i don’t have a problem with the line “Just let me liberate you”

      the one i have a problem with is “You know you want it”

  23. Jeremy Hopkins

      I believe one possible interpretation may be that she does want it (which assumes a “she” apart from the listener, which I must due to my personhood).

  24. Jeremy Hopkins

      I agree the song has little to do with any yea/nay stance regarding actual societal paradigm-shifting. But, apart from the most basic impulses of masculine sexual desire, I don’t think there’s anything particularly macho about the song. When you take all the lyrics together (TI verse excepted) the narrator seems more confused and horny than actually positioning himself for or taking advantage of anything resembling a domination of anybody.

  25. mimi

      correction: the line is “I know you want it” –
      that’s a bit worse, maybe? a man claiming to Know she wants it (instead of wishing, hoping, asking if)

  26. michaelangelmartin

      But who is Lazenby?!

  27. Jeremy Hopkins

      Perhaps potentially creepier, but I feel it does not rule out the interpretation which holds that “he’s situationally correct”.
      [I do understand this I/you question puts my other “take the lyrics all together”-comment in doubt.]

  28. Don

      What’s wrong with vanity, frailty, and irresponsibility? If scaled up to all of humanity, society would be a hellish nightmare and collapse.

      Thankfully, vanity, frailty, and irresponsibility are not ‘female values’.

  29. Don

      If all people were comfortable, why in the world would the system be disgusting and rotten? The problem is that most people are not comfortable.

  30. deadgod

      Yes, if all people were comfortable, the system would be healthy.

      But that doesn’t address Citric’s premise.

      The reason people – for example, Lazenby – credit themselves for concern with “the truth” is that they’re uncomfortable, not that the system is actually unhealthily dishonest.

      ‘The system of Western civ might in reality be unhealthy, but how would you know it? How do you know reality?

      Interest in “the truth” is a matter of expedience, not virtue.’

      I think that’s a tough suspicion to overcome.

  31. februaryy

      I don’t think it matters if he’s situationally correct, because the icky part is his assumed authority on the subject of the female in question’s desires.

  32. Jeremy Hopkins

      In the scenario which allows for his correctness, he wouldn’t be assuming her attraction to him; he would “know” that “it” was wanted. If she had, in fact, made her desires clear, then he would actually be responding to them, not dictating them to her.
      But, are they clear? I think there is more ambivalence in the lyrics than people admit; no ambivalence in the male’s desire, rather in his weighing of the situation. He’s a horny dude at a club wondering whether or not he’s going to get laid, at a moment when laid is what he wants to get. He’s sick of the “blurred lines” which (so far as I can tell) are not the lines between rape and not-rape.
      When he says “I know you want it” followed by “but you’re a good girl” I think this is evidence that he is not absolutely assured that he’s going to get laid. After all, maybe she’s just flirting, or a tease, or just a little tipsy, or happier with the other man than the narrator thinks she should be.
      I think the more ‘macho’ lines are the narrator ‘psyching himself up’, but there are also definite pullbacks and reevaluations, which altogether demonstrate he is not 100% sure of his chances and not assuming any more than is necessary to make the attempt (which is nothing more than that he has some chance for success).

  33. mimi
  34. mimi


      and he Does offer Liberation, from Domestication, girls

      which would You rather ‘have’?

      so, he’s empowering us, ladies*

      *no sarcasm intended

  35. februaryy

      I want to know so bad. Love the lazenby blog/twitter. I’d love to have a book of it.

  36. februaryy
  37. Citric

      my point was, people don’t respond to just knowing something…. who in the US doesn’t know that politicians are corrupt for example? yet it goes on like always… people don’t respond to truth, only necessity… only when something is the last remaining option does it ever happen

  38. mimi

      just think how much better the song would be with a little tweaking of the lyrics:

      I hope you want it
      I know I want it
      It’s fun to want it
      Feels good to want it

      I’ll treat you nicely
      I’ll ask politely
      I’ll do what’s right
      ‘cuz I’m a Goooood Boy

      and it would still be fun to dance to

  39. Don

      I agree with you that ideas and knowledge are not the motors of history. Politics is not about truth. Etc.

      But your last point doesn’t seem like it’s true. Lots of things happen that are far from the last remaining option.

  40. Jeremy Hopkins

      “The way you grab me / must wanna get nasty” —
      Perhaps she’s done even more than the u+me=jiggy-dance.

  41. deadgod

      A blogicle must be the axe for the icicle inside us.