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<nettime> pope-on-a-rope digest [x5: butt, tal, pentecost, miller, baldwin (sondheim by proxy)]

Re: <nettime> On brouhahas and battles
     Danny Butt <>
     Kali Tal <>
     Claire Pentecost <>
     "E. Miller" <>
Give the Female Pope a Rope
     "Charles Baldwin" <>

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From: Danny Butt <>
Subject: Re: <nettime> On brouhahas and battles
Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2006 22:29:54 +1300

Speaking of the language of 40 years ago, some of it sounds pretty  

"I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely  
disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the  
regrettable conclusion that the negros great stumbling block in his  
stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku  
Klux Klan, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to order than  
to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of  
tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who  
constantly says: I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot  
agree with your methods of direct action; who paternalistically  
believes he can set the timetable for another mans freedom; who lives  
by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to  
wait for a more convenient season. Shallow understanding from people  
of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from  
people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than  
outright rejection."

-- Martin Luther King, Letter From The Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.

On 16/10/2006, at 8:05 AM, E. Miller wrote:

> Hi Martha, thanks for your thoughtful reply.


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From: Kali Tal <>
Subject: Re: <nettime> On brouhahas and battles
Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2006 03:43:17 -0700


Martha said, and I am underlining, that you are incorrect in your  
assumption that "your generation" has somehow progressed to the point  
where male and female equality is considered "natural" and where  
problems like the wage gap are simply "structural," rather than  
ideological. The research and the numbers (despite your personal  
experience) prove you wrong.  If feminists are fighting the battles  
of forty years ago, it is because they were were never won.

You paint us as some sort of dinosaurs not in touch with "today."   
But... many feminists are out in their streets and communities  
dealing with all generations on a regular basis, and quite a few of  
us are in the academy dealing with students of the "latest"  
generations of adults day in and day out. Probably, we're out there  
talking to other people (male and female) about gender issues a lot  
more often than you are... and yet you believe your perspective is  
more informed.  But let's look at your claims and your rhetoric:

> I feel comfortable saying that my generation is lucky enough to
> take for granted a baseline assumption of gender equality. In
> practice, yes, there are huge problems -- witness the wage gap. But
> to my perspective, those seem like structural issues that are being
> addressed by generational change and changed expectations, and aren't
> best tackled by 'to-the-barricades' rhetoric, or castigation of other
> supportive voices because they don't toe the ideological line.

No feminist on nettime-l has employed "to-the-barricades" rhetoric in  
this discussion.  And no one has castigated "supportive voices."   
What we have done is point out that feminism is still  
institutionalized, and that some men (including you) are reinforcing  
sexist structures with your arguments... even if those arguments are  
*intended* to help us. I think I can safely say that most feminists  
would be delighted to drop the burden of proving we're oppressed if  
the majority of men would accept the results of decades of research  
and study of women's oppression. That you don't (and that you make a  
weak argument that sexism's ideological position is no longer the  
majority position), is, as quite a few feminists pointed out, part of  
the problem.

The evidence you use to support your claims simply doesn't stand up  
to scrutiny.  For example, you pick on the phrase Martha used:  
"Playboy mentality." You treat the phrase as if it refers literally  
to men who read Playboy, and then "prove" her wrong by pointing out  
that Playboy is increasingly marginalized as a publication.  That's a  
rhetorical strategy aimed at undermining her authority by making her  
look quaint, out of date, and faintly ridiculous (right in line with  
your "corset" comment). Her real point (a point that was quite clear  
to me, and I'd wager clear to the majority of female readers) is that  
*you* are recapitulating a kind of liberal apologist argument women  
heard repeatedly in the 1960s from "well-meaning" men who still...  
don't get it.

Let's look at the structural integrity of your Playboy argument:  
because a certain pornographic magazine (once an icon, but now out-of- 
date) has lost most of its trend-setting power, this means that the  
pornography arm of institutionalized sexism (the "Playboy mindset")  
has also become irrelevant and unimportant to consider.  But...  
generalizing from the specific is another logical fallacy.  Playboy's  
demise doesn't mean the demise of porn. In fact, a good argument can  
and has been made that Playboy's power as an institution is reduced  
because of a hyper-abundance of porn, flooding the internet, our  
email boxes, and streetcorner sales kiosks. When trading of porn  
created by amateurs rivals or replaces professionally produced porn,  
it can more reasonably be taken as an indication of the heightened  
popularity of sexist representations of the female body than as  
counter-indications of popularity... especially since the essential  
depictions of female sexuality have not changed at all.  Add to this  
the global economy's contribution to turning sex-tourism into a  
billion-plus dollar industry -- making exoticised porn-stereotype  
purchased-sex available even to members of the middle class.

Then.. there's the "tarring and feathering" metaphor you employ.   
I'll assume an educated man like yourself knows that tarring and  
feathering was a lynching technique commonly used in the U.S. up  
through the 1800s and into the early 1900s to punish blacks and race  
traitors who questioned white supremacy.  To paint Alan as being  
"lynched" by people who protest his sexism is, again, a sheerly  
rhetorical technique aimed at undermining our authority without  
actually contesting our arguments.  Rhetorically, you turn women into  
a white lynch mob attacking a presumably innocent man for their  
nefarious purposes.  This is bad, any way you look at it:  sloppy  
argumentation, even if you don't believe in women's equality.  It's  
reminiscent of Clarence Thomas's claim that those supporting the  
woman he'd sexually harassed were engaging in a "high-tech  
lynching."  Do you really want to join conservative men like Thomas  
in attacks against women?  If so, I'd think it undermines your claim  
to really be on our side. Honestly, what's the difference (except in  
scale) between equating women critics with a lynch mob, and going to  
a Rush Limbaugh extreme and calling us "Feminazis"?  (And isn't this  
Martha's point? That you're unconsciously supporting  
institutionalized sexism?)

You make it clear you don't know Alan's work well. And you especially  
don't know Alan's take on feminism.  I do.  I've been reading his  
writing for a decade now and I don't like it. But I dislike it for  
very clear reasons I'm willing to articulate... not based on fuzzy,  
misinformed beliefs or emotional biases.  The feminists with whom  
Alan has most deeply engaged are French feminists like Irigary and  
Cixous.  This is partly why I found his dismissive charge that I am  
"essentialist" reprehensible.  The school of thought usually referred  
to as "the French feminisms" is deeply essentialist (specifically  
celebrates essentialism) in its ideology and beliefs. It is the  
wellspring of the idea of  "l'ecriture feminine" -- a theory of  
woman's writing that assumes that it is rooted in women's bodies...  
down to the level of the "the two lips" (vaginal lips) that allegedly  
define both the bodies of women and the body of their work.  Alan,  
however, has taken this essentialist feminist theory and appropriated  
it -- acting as if, in his "body" of online writing, he can EMbody  
"the feminine" down to the essential level that Irigary and Cixous  
describe.  Irigary and Cixous would have found this laughable, and in  
fact they write about the pathetic nature of male attempts to don the  
(n their eyes superior) bodies of women.  I, on the other hand, as a  
constructionist, find both the French feminists and Alan  
objectionable on the grounds that there is nothing "natural" about  
the way gender is created and enforced in a sexist society. So we  
have an ideological argument, Alan and I, whether he wants to  
acknowledge and talk about it or not and whether you can see it or not.

That the speech of women critics sounds to you like "a historical  
documentary" isn't so much an indication of our out-dated nature, but  
an indication of how powerful and successful the revisionist attacks  
on the history of the 1960s have been.  The purpose of the  
revisionists was specifically to undermine and trivialize the radical  
protests of the Sixties, and to turn today's youth into jaded  
consumers of a "Sixties product," with revolution repackaged as  
fashion statement. (I wrote at length about this in an article called  
"From Panther to Monster," about the revision of black radicalism  
into gangsta chic: 

Calling feminist critique of sexist structures "counter-productive,"  
and placing the burden on us to attract and interest (entertain) you  
with an updated "Feminism 4.0" allows you to sidestep your own  
responsibility for perpetuating a system that oppresses us. If you're  
truly the product of as liberated an upbringing as you claim, you  
wouldn't be keeping women busy answering your charges that we're a  
reactionary old guard; you'd be out there trying to figure out how to  
help us bridge the wage gap and those other "structural" problems you  
think are still in place.  And if you did that, after a while a smart  
guy like you would come to see that sexism is still ideological and  
still the rule rather than the exception.


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Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2006 10:55:13 -0500
From: Claire Pentecost <>
Subject: Re: <nettime> On brouhahas and battles

A great many of these missive missiles seem to me to have a fairly 
retrograde understanding of what feminism is.

I would like to propose another way of looking at the question:

Feminism is a lens, an analytic and ultimately ethical tool for 
understanding how power works in a patriarchal society.

Feminists are people who find this tool especially relevant to 
understanding how the world around them works, and, assuming they are 
active, if not activists, incorporating that understanding into what 
they do toward changing business as usual. Don't get me wrong -- it's 
not only about the lenses through which we choose to make an analysis 
of power, but also about the choices we make in our actions. And I am 
not pretending that lenses are neutral.

 From there stem a panoply of positions of advocacy, solidarity, 
aggrievement, accusation, incredulity, defensiveness, etc. on all 
sides., which of course are going to be tendentious.

They are tendentious because the understanding of power fundamentally 
organized through patriarchy is still very much in process, and may 
always be. The ways that patriarchy saturates power relations is so 
deep, so integrated into our subjectivities that understanding it 
remains quite fugitive, especially in liberal democratic affluent 
societies where very sophisticated psycho-social screens arise 
repeatedly in the face of critique and protest (see also the ways 
power is organized around white supremacy aka racism, and wealth aka 

Even though specific cases are all relevant, in the end nothing is 
really proven by specific cases. You have to look at an entire 
insidious architecture and its effects and feedback loops. The E. 
Millers of the world (apologies E.Miller) can look around themselves 
and say I see all these empowered women, but this won't comprise an 
adequate view.

  In one general trend, I would say the most _obvious_ and obviously 
egregious "examples" have  been de-visibilized in the places 
generally pushed beyond our field of everyday vision-- to lower 
economic classes and "off-shore." Notoriously these structures of 
oppression--gender, race and class being shorthand for the big ones 
articulated in our era's intellectual culture to a point where many 
are happy to dismiss them as cliche-- almost always work together and 
very complexly. I would venture that you rarely have one working 
without at least some undergirding of another.

One of the really interesting things to ask is:
How are we made blind to the continued consolidation and maintenance 
of power along the logic of patriarchy?
How is a systematic ignorance or dullness to these conditions 
maintained AND REFRESHED all the time?
Because it is. Highly visible individualized phenomena like Condi 
Rice, Hilary Clinton, Madeleine Albright,  usually become 
illustrations for both sides!

For both men and women, to understand it -- and especially to answer 
the question of how our IGNORANCE is continually refreshed-- requires 
getting a very wide perspective on your own experience and beyond our 
own experience. It is simply not enough to say "who reads Playboy 
anymore?.... it's so clearly irrelevant today, etc."
First of all, do you know who reads Playboy?
Second of all, in a consumer capitalist culture (if that is where we 
are focusing for now) do you really think the relevant cultural 
products would have stopped "evolving' ? There are countless 
publications and websites and films, etc created to appeal to 
different ages, generations, economic positions --in other words 
finely calculated market driven demographics-- that perpetuate the 
logic of patriarchal power often in more complex ways. Even something 
like the Tom Leykis show [U.S. nationally syndicated radio show 
wildly popular in some places] which on its face is gruesomely 
misogynist includes some good ideas in its daily harangue, i.e., 
always use birth control if you don't want to have kids, women 
shouldn't depend on men for economic stability or self image, even if 
this is contradicted by his explicit message that women are worthless 
if they are not young and hot and are like cars --should never be 
acquired permanently because they get old and worn out, better to 
rent and trade in whenever you want a new one.

Granted that what is now known as identity politics started by 
asserting the basic right of all people to speak for themselves and 
to have agency in the politics of representation that effect them, 
one of the "blind alleys" it has taken us into is an idiotic focus on 
the authority of the individual speaker. Hence a woman can say in 
myriad ways "I don't feel oppressed" and this is taken as the last 
rites of feminism, sigh of relief, etc., etc.

Add to this the mindfuck of affluent capitalist hyperindividualism in 
which someone says I work in an office run by cool women, my 
girlfriend makes more money than me, i'm a man who is insecure about 
my looks, etc. and that is the whole story of the end of sexism. 
Sorry but any one of our personal experience scenarios is only going 
to tell us so much; it takes some effort to get beyond it and though 
personal experience is not insignificant it does not enlighten the 
person at the center of it if they don't do the work to put it in a 
larger, much larger perspective. One of the real battles of the 
'information age' is whether we will use it to learn about ourselves 
and other worlds or let it be used to clutter our thinking in the 
service of a systematic ignorance that serves those already enjoying 
the most power and security.

It is not simply about men ganging up on women or women ganging up on 
men even if that still does happen. It is not simply about individual 
men being better off than women they know or the reverse.
Among other things, it's about value systems and their generalized 
relation to gender.

For example, the relative worth of activities that might be 
classified as the reproduction of daily life and subjectivity, the 
labor of care. It is still true that all activities in these 
categories-- childcare, primary education, basic hygiene and body 
care, household maintenance and sanitation, daily sustenance, care of 
the aging, care of the disabled-- are all "feminized" work. They are 
low status and very low pay. They are perhaps the culture's lowest 
priority, even if we couldn't go on without them. Many of them are 
jobs performed by people without any job stability or legal status. 
Most jobs related to the production of our food, the actual daily 
production-- bottom rung. Many of these jobs are performed by men.
But i would argue that in the status hierarchies concomitant to 
patriarchy as we know it all jobs in categories of sustenance, care, 
maintenance, are low status and that is because those areas of life 
have been and still are associated with the unpaid, under recognized 
(symbolically) labor of women.

For other examples of where the structures of patriarchy have huge 
consequences you only have to look at regions where HIV is spreading 
rapidly in heterosexual populations. It is well known that women's 
lack of power is disastrous for the spread of sexually transmitted 
diseases. But don' think that is a third world problem. Our 
government's policies of withholding funding from organizations that 
don't toe the ABSTINANCE as the only solution line is both 
international and domestic.  One need look no further than home to be 
reminded of how control of women's sexuality is fundamental to the 
health of patriarchal power. What do you think all the fuss is about 
regarding sex education in the schools? And pasting the image of hot 
synthetic babes on every available surface, that's about controlling 
women's sexuality too.

That's all i have time for now but couldn't resist jumping in, since 
i have been trying to sort these things out for myself.

oh and if you are allergic to the words patriarchy or white 
supremacy, pffff, it's a fact.

thanks to the listening energy of nettime,

At 12:05 PM -0700 10/15/06, E. Miller wrote:

>Hi Martha, thanks for your thoughtful reply.

Claire Pentecost
Associate Professor
Department of Photography
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago

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Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2006 10:54:56 -0700
Subject: Re: <nettime> On brouhahas and battles
From: "E. Miller" <>

Hi Claire, this was a great post.  Thanks.

Again, you won't get argument from me on the overall issues of gender
equality; the day we have a woman elected president here in the US, and the
media aren't saturated with 'can she take off the apron and run the
country?' stories, that's when we might be able to say that we're
approaching a better, more level playing field.

But my point was (and is) tactics as expressed through language and which
battles are chosen.  Or call it marketing, or positioning, or strategy, or
whatever.  Specifically:

> The ways that patriarchy saturates power relations is so
> deep, so integrated into our subjectivities that understanding it
> remains quite fugitive, especially in liberal democratic affluent
> societies where very sophisticated psycho-social screens arise
> repeatedly in the face of critique and protest

While this may be true (and I would largely agree that it is) the language
_sounds_ like "you don't know the thetans are there but they are!" or "God
placed the fossils there as part of his master plan to fool us, but the
earth is only 6000 years old" or "the black helicopters emit the brain
control waves as commanded by the jet contrails "... or pick your own
personal favorite cult conspiracy theory and note the use of 'you can't see
it but it's there' themes.  Substitute "the Roswell alien mind control
devices" for "patriarchy" in a text like this and you have the arguments --
nearly verbatim -- of the tinfoil hat crowd.

And when this type of ideologically-driven language is used to crucify a
sympathetic voice like Alan's, it makes the position look...well, just nuts,
frankly, to many members of the Jon Stewart generation, where earnest
denunciations of a sexist Matrix elicit snickers rather than solidarity.
Particularly when an increasing number of people, like me, have had life
experiences contradictory to the 'stealth sexism' argument.

Why not use language that doesn't sound like a finger being jabbed in
someone's chest?  Why not assume that most of the audience is not actively
engaged in a subconscious conspiracy to subjugate women?  That's all I'm


On 10/16/06 8:55 AM, "Claire Pentecost" <> wrote:

> A great many of these missive missiles seem to me to have a fairly
> retrograde understanding of what feminism is.

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Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2006 08:26:32 -0400
From: "Charles Baldwin" <>
Subject: Give the Female Pope a Rope

I was asked to forward this by Alan Sondheim.

Give The Female Pope a Rope

Too often have the forces gone astray
That force one's hand; and yet another day
Brings nothing new. Everything is lost
In this or other groping holocaust.
I write the only way I know how to;
Thus write reversed in letters as a Jew
Who claims his right to silent speech,
Lest some good offal - whom I won't beseech -
States, nothing is the same between us two;
You shouldn't speak unless you're spoken to.
I raise my Vajra, Siva's darkling spell
Holds me in thrall; I'll take you all to hell
And back, and forth, and all across the town
Of knaves and fools who want to hold me down.
My writing blisters, cuts the flesh, and seeps
Like acid on the eyes; the reader weeps -
She sees naught, hears what? I cannot guess -
Smells naught, breathes, and touches even less.
I claim the right to both the West and East
As Occident or Orient, I trample; I'm the beast
Of World Wars Three and Four, not to mention Five;
I flay men, women, children, skin theorists alive.
To hell with them who take words as the hammer
Meant for cruelty, for I'm a culture jammer:
And just as you speak from your flesh and blood
I speak your bones and body born of mud.
I take your words, and turn them inside-out
Until they scream forgiveness from your ugly mouth
That squeals traitor, revelation's sin -
You can't know what a State you've put me in.
I'll name it: State of Exculpation, Fear -
The State of Fabrication - I am the seer
Who speaks with bloody mouth, speaks to one and all -
Who leans with bloody back against the bloody wall
Where traitors die, where theory sickens, stains
While I remember boxcars, people, trains.
While I remember Beirut, Iraq, Iran,
Theory steps, confers, and to a man
Or woman sets up condemnation
In no uncertain terms! It tells the nation
Hold back, desist, go home, now end the war!
Books appear, and seminars, and more!
And manifestos filled with deconstruction,
Petitions, mandates, anything that sucks on
The use, employment, of illicit power -
For theory triumphs! This is theory's hour!
I'm on my side and I can only urge
I'm recognized as enemy or sourge -
It's all there, attested-to, I'm sure
Celia shits on me, my writing's but manure
Without the Jewels men wear; please don't sift -
There's nothing down there, just ask Doctor Swift.

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