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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

An anarchist response to "Masculinity Is Not Revolutionary" (2012)


Recently an article found its way through anarchist circles entitled Masculinity is Not Revolutionary. The piece was written by Ben Cutbank, a member of Deep Green Resistance, who originally posted it on his blog (http://kidcutbank.blogspot.com/). In his text Cutbank argues against the concept of masculinity, which he sees as a driving force behind sadism, violence, and men's struggle for power over other people and the Earth. In Ben Cutbank's attempt to conceptualize masculinity he fails to define or identify its actual relation to gender itself. Taking his article at face value one would infer that masculinity is a social condition or existent social/psychological entity which manifests itself in men and is utilized by them in their never-ending pursuit of greater power. This power, which of course is inherently masculine and we can assume male, is a sadistic force bent on domination, violence, the “breaking of boundaries”, and power over women. Cutbank leaves open the question of how this masculinity relates itself to the male gender, how femininity relates itself to the female gender, how these two concepts relate to one another and to themselves, under what conditions they appear (be they social or biological), and how their inherent attributes have manifested themselves as such. His analysis falls short of a competent understanding of power and gender and relies on essentialist generalizations which disempower women and reinforce gender roles. [We are like Gods in the clouds fighting each other with thunderclaps]
Although this analysis is an apparent weakness in Ben Cutbank's arguments, this is a flaw that is prevalent in feminist thought popularized by contemporary anarchism. This type of feminist thought has failed to define these concepts, their relations, attributes, and their relationship with the exertion (or receipt) of power and dominating influences. At once this theory of gender claims to reject the commonly ascribed inherent attributes of gender roles, yet, as Cutbank does, it strictly reinforces these gender norms with a short-sighted and shallow analysis of masculinity and femininity based on essentialist deconstruction and analysis of incidents of power exertions and situational dynamics.
In Ben Cutbank's essay it is easy to see how this shallow analysis affects his writing. Cutbank writes, “Masculinity’s destructiveness manifests in men’s violence against women and men’s violence against the world.” In discussing gender politics in radical communities Cutbank explains, “ ...male privilege goes unchallenged, while public celebrations of the sadism and boundary-breaking inherent in masculinity remain the norm.” Given the plethora of imagery attached to his essay which depict black bloc radicals attacking corporate targets, police informants, and those trying to stop them from striking their targets, we can only assume that the “public celebrations” of male sadism Cutbank describes are acts of revolutionary violence and resistance. Since these images depict acts of legitimate resistance against the state, capitalism, and state-actors, Cutbank's apparent criticism of them gives us the idea that he sees these acts as masculine and therefore sadistic. Here Cutbank is defining what he describes as “masculinity” based on entirely negative, oppressive attributes. Not only is this a dangerous analysis of a complex construction such as the male gender, it completely ignores all attributes of the masculine gender which are not oppressive and domineering. It also ignores attributes of the feminine gender which are equally destructive and patriarchal.
If one subscribes to the idea of the roles of the gender binary such as Cutbank does, it follows that the other side of the gender coin is masculinity's opposite: femininity. If one defines masculinity as power-seeking, dominating, and violent, it follows that femininity is power-receiving, dominated, and non-violent. Cutbank accedes to this when he characterizes femininity as a “fuck-me” attitude as opposed to the “fuck-you” of masculinity. While masculinity is the powerful hand of capitalism, hierarchy, and patriarchy, femininity is its support network which passively receives this power and reinforces and supports its structure. If one subscribes to this vision of the masculinity/femininity dichotomy one is directly reinforcing these genders and their roles. To overcome this problem we must reject these short-sighted analyses of gender.
Furthermore, we must reject the idea that the exertion of power is something one must seek to avoid and abolish. Ben Cutbank quotes Robert Jensen to make his assertions about male power. Jensen writes, “When we become men—when we accept the idea that there is something called masculinity to which we could conform—we exchange those aspects of ourselves that make life worth living for an endless struggle for power that, in the end, is illusory and destructive not only to others but to ourselves.” To pretend that it is possible to live your life in a way that is separated from the struggle to power is ludicrous. What is even more ludicrous is to assert that the struggle to power is based in male-ness and not in the construction of reality. This constant struggle to power is not purely negative and “destructive”, but it is the base of all positive and creative acts in addition to the negative and destructive. Surely, patriarchy is a system based in the power and domination of men over the rest of the world. But to argue that personal exertions of power are themselves as problematic as patriarchy is a weak argument. Cutbank takes this line of thinking further by refusing to separate the struggle to power from male-ness and patriarchy and he refuses to recognize the concept of power in its own context.
He follows by quoting a passage by Lierre Keith. Keith writes, “Men become ‘real men’ by breaking boundaries, whether it’s the sexual boundaries of women, the cultural boundaries of other peoples, the political boundaries of other nations, the genetic boundaries of species, the biological boundaries of living communities, or the physical boundaries of the atom itself.” The concept of the “breaking of boundaries”, which must be seen as an extension of the exertion of power, is similarly essentialized in Cutbank's text. Cutbank uses this quote by Lierre Keith to argue that the acts of pursuing scientific discoveries, of struggling for political power, and the study of physics become akin to male domination of female bodies and the violation of female bodily autonomy. This argument is sadly similar to many held by some in the anarchist scene who refuse to separate male-domination and male-power from the concept of the will to power itself. The pursuit and exertion of power is not something we should condemn, it is something that we should encourage and partake in. Only by empowering those on the receiving end of domination, oppression, and exploitation can we hope to stop instances of patriarchal exertions of power and violations of personal autonomy and boundaries.
To combat patriarchy and its brother, masculinity, Ben Cutbank says that men must begin “taking direction from the women around them.” He argues that masculinity must be fought by allowing women to assume leadership roles and to analyze calls for militancy and the use of violence through a feminist lens. By gendering calls for militancy and violence as masculine and therefore animal-like and irrational, and by calling upon the rationality and level-headedness of femininity to temper these irrational actions, Cutbank further reinforces gender roles and the binary instead of attacking them. Although it is crucially important to develop practices of empowering women to take on leadership roles and to be outspoken, we cannot pretend that this is a solution to patriarchy. Power-sharing within a system of patriarchy is still patriarchy. Simply promoting femininity to a place of equality with masculinity ignores the problematic nature of femininity and avoids the task of deconstructing the gender binary. Empowering women while critically analyzing the concept of gender must be a parallel project.
It would be vastly useful to critically analyze the use of violence and force and their effects on the viability of generalized resistance. This includes looking at the roles of masculinity, femininity, patriarchy, and power. Instead of the almost Leninist tactic of looking towards feminism for leadership and guidance, these projects should always be undertaken with a focus on the proliferation and intensification of resistance and through a lens of the deconstruction of gender itself. If we follow the logic of Ben Cutbank and those who think like him it will lead us down a path of inactivity and powerlessness. Constantly deferring to the hypothetical oppressed “other” for guidance, we would allow under-developed and shoddy essentialist analysis to undermine the critical task that lies ahead of all insurrection-minded people.

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