The Female Gaze and Male Shame

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pinchedYesterday in an airport and on a flight home (from Miami), I read Pinched: How The Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It by Don Peck (from the Atlantic). I can't recommend the book highly enough; I hope to write more about it in the future.  Sufficed it to say, I believe it's the most important book written on the US and its ongoing economic downturn.  

One of the themes of the book is the way in which the Great Recession/depression and its anemic recovery have caused diverging paths for men and women, particularly in the blue-collar or working class (lower-middle class/working poor) world. 

A very generic and short version is that women are fairing much better than men--though plenty of women are still hurting (particularly single mothers).  I think this has some great relevance for Dark Side of the Womb Week, so first some context from Peck and then application to our current theme.  

Peck writes:

"Women are fast becoming the essential breadwinners and authority figures in many working-class families--a historic role reversal that is fundamentally changing the nature of marriage, sex, and parenthood. Working-class men, meanwhile, are losing their careers, their families, and their way. A large, white underlcass, predominantly male is forming--along with a new politics of grievance."

Later on Peck describes the research of Harvard professor Kathryn Edin:

"Edin's research in low-income communities shows, for instance, that most working women whose partner stayed home to watch the kids--while very happy with the quality of child care their children's father provided--were dissatisfied with the relationship overall. 'These relationships were often filled with conflict,' Edin told me. Even today, she says, men's identities are far more defined by their work than women's, and both men and women become extremely uncomfortable when men's work goes away (Peck, p.128, my emphasis).   

Peck gets this quotation from Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia: "if men can't make a contribution financially, they don't have much to offer (p.129)."  

I once heard a moving presentation by Beams' author Vanessa Fisher on what she called the 'male gaze.' As I understood it, the male gaze was the physical and symbolic look of men to women as sexual objects. And this look Vanessa argued had been internalized by women (or at least by many many women). This gaze was like an alien voice/identity that had infected women and negatively affected their self-image and the way they treated other women.  

In light of Peck's discussion of many men's failures in the informational, de-industrialized economy, I'd like to suggest a parallel--the 'female gaze.'  The female gaze is the gaze that women give towards men which is based on their ability to make money.  Every man is aware that they are valued (or disvalued) by women depending on how much money they make or are perceived to be able to make.  [Of course here I'm talking about the heterosexual world].  Just as women have internalized the male gaze and it's now part of their being, men have internalized women's gaze.  It affects our self-esteem and it radically shapes how we treat other men (again in a largely negative fashion I would say).    

Put bluntly, men's currency is actual money, women's currency is their bodies.  Both reduce humans (of whatever sex) to purchases.  

This is a hard subject to discuss for a number of reasons.  Two biggies that come to mind:

1. It would seem to be griping about women's empowerment  (which it need not be--and Peck's book is really solid on this point).

2. As Peck notes it's often caught up with the politics of resentment--blame is unfairly applied to various nebulous "others":  e.g. immigrants, foreigners, women, minorities, etc.  In the US this is particularly the case and it makes any discussion of male struggles sound like white man complaining about how they don't run the world anymore.  Or in the language of South Park, "They took our jobs."


But if we could extricate the problem of male economic and social dislocation from the politics of grievance, then I think we would enter a really important discussion. As Tim Walker detailed previously and exquisitely on Beams, men are often unable to talk about, in some cases even feel, their pain. To connect that numbness to the female gaze, I think a big part of it is that men have this sense (from the gaze) that they are simply a bank account. Bank accounts don't have feelings and they certainly don't talk or connect into pain. 

When men know they are not valued, then they feel shame. They have a really hard time admitting to themselves and to anyone else that they feel shame--generally they will either drink or use drugs or in the worst cases become violent.  But whatever pattern of self-destruction they follow, they will increasingly withdraw from relations.  We men isolate ourslves (the so-called "man cave").  And this is what is occurring in our day--men are withdrawing from social and economic (as well as marital and familial) relations. They are then perceived as failures, cowards, or weaklings for doing so which only furthers the cycle of isolation.

If women are empowered--as Vanessa suggested rightly--by owning this voice of the male gaze within them and then moving beyond it, then men need to own the female gaze and how they too have made it a part of themselves.  And then seek to move beyond it, while honoring its truth--that it's good for men to be productive members of society and to be enmeshed in human relations, thereby having a stake in social welfare.  But to define men's worth solely as how much money they make, is to dessicate the male soul.


Update I: As a postscript, I want say that one way to enter into this inquiry is I think not to shame ourselves greatly for our gazes in relation to each other. There are biological reasons for their occurrence that have been selected for. The various gazes make reproductive sense. But they are deeply conditioned and have negative effects on all of us and we need to grow beyond them. But this won't happen if it turns into a pissing contest about whose been hurt more or blame games.  

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  • Comment Link John Wagnon Tuesday, 15 November 2011 21:22 posted by John Wagnon

    HI Chris, nice article. I've long thought that men are stuck in about the 1950's in terms of transcending our gender roles. It makes sense that this is the case. We are only just beginning to feel the pain that will push us to change. Until now, men could go along blithely identifying with money and, for the most part, do just fine.

  • Comment Link Philip Corkill Tuesday, 15 November 2011 22:24 posted by Philip Corkill


    And totally with you on the owning process. If there were no women left on the earth many men would still experience the gaze and vice versa. Deeply internalised it already is in us.

    Anybody have thoughts on a How To move beyond whilst honouring biology? Especially for the large white underclass forming (does that apply to both genders too?).

    Danke Chris!

  • Comment Link Trish Tuesday, 15 November 2011 23:21 posted by Trish

    It is easy to suggest that neither our bodies or our work constitute our value. But, I think its not true.

    My husband and I have been married for almost 35 years. As we moved into marriage and child-rearing, we made conscious (LOL) decisions about when we who would work and what was best for our family and children. We were lucky (no idea just how lucky) to be able to make choices.

    I stayed home. I worked full-time. I worked part-time. I worked part-time and went to graduate school. I worked full-time and went to graduate school. I worked full-time and provided care for my infant grand-daughter 2 nights and 2 days a week. We've tried most of the variations on this theme.

    My partner was, through most of the sage, relatively stable in his employment and provided the foundation for a remarkable family life. However, six years ago, it all changed. His then current employer went under (laid-off), off for about four months, his next employer was solid for about 18 months, and then subject to the financial meltdown, another lay-off, off for over a year. Next came a contract job, which by the company's policy could last no longer than 18 months. Off for six months, and now, a new employer. In the middle of that my son graduated from college and could not find work (lived with us), and my daughter, at 30, found herself single and pregnant, and moved home--she was able to find part-time employment at Home Depot. Outcome: On and off, over the past six years, I have been the foundation provider for the household.

    The single biggest personal challenge for him, for us, for our family has been redefining what we think and how we feel about value, job, and work. This redefinition was not easy. Very few people who seek a job and can't find employment or who has been laid-off don't take it personally. For most people, its very personal. It's personal because jobs (which I will distinguish from work) translate into the wherewithal to feed, clothe, and house ourselves--preferably in comfort and abundance. Learning how much you have become status-driven is part of what makes it personal. Many people, regardless of their gender, are depressed and cannot find their ways when they lose their jobs. Our sense of identity is deeply rooted in our capacity to maintain our status and power--lose that capacity, you lose your identity. As we move into menopause & andropause (mortality), many of us also 'lose' ourselves. These two pieces--work and body--are at the heart of many mid-life crises. While the economy can exacerbate the symptoms (certainly it takes advantage of them), it is not the cause.

    Body and work (not job) are fundamental to our identities. Our physical bodies are the locus of our experience and presence in the world. Aging forces changes on identity. At its best, work is an expression of our best selves, our unique gifts and vision, our labor is our self manifested in exertion or product. Yes, it ALSO gets translated into meeting our survival needs, but the expression is much more important to us. When we feel our work is not meaningful--valued, regardless of whether that's personal, social, or economic value--we feel devalued. As a consequence of this particular economy, many of us have accepted jobs that are economically valuable, which often have substantially less personal value. We use the job to generate our personal orsocial value (status/prestige). Lose the job, you lose your value.

    One might say that I am affirming the key argument--lose your job, lose your body, you can lose your self. That's true. But, I am also saying it is impossible to build an identity without them. It is the next step that is important: What worth do we attribute to our efforts (labor) and to the body that makes it possible?

  • Comment Link Richard Munn Tuesday, 15 November 2011 23:22 posted by Richard Munn

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for this piece. I'm really interested in men starting to talk about gender as largely it's not something that happens.

    I do feel it's very important to look at gender from a place of how gender is co-created by both men and women rather than an us vs. them perspective and either side of the us vs. them world having a (sometimes quite considerable) investment in "yeah, but we got it worst."

    I feel the gender debate is largely still in the shadow of what Warren Farrell calls the 'myth of male power' and this leaves the gender debate in a position of marginalizing the male perspective. I just read an article the other day that started off saying that men are top in big business and in politics so they are doing "very well, thank-you" and really had no right to speak about their difficulties. It's a very popular view.

    The problem is of course that this doesn't take into account many other forms of powerlessness and, as you point out, that men often can value themselves (and be valued as by women and other men) as walking wallets.

    It seems a big step to go beyond this is in men recognizing their deeper needs on an individual basis. On a social basis it seems there a need to highlight male pain in terms of higher imprisonment, death, suicide, death at work, homelessness, exposure to war (and male front line soldier die five times more than female front line soldiers), and so forth.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 16 November 2011 00:52 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @John, thanks. I like the notion of seeing the potential for positive change coming through rising tension/pain. Though obviously if we don't channel it that way it will just make society more depressed, angry, bitter, and resentful.

    @Philip. Hmm...good question. I'll have to think on it more. To sound simplistic I think the first step is just to get more people open to this perspective and for men to get honest about what is going on for them. A point Richard emphasizes.

    Trish mentions a distinction between jobs and work which I think is a good place to start--particularly as automation may bring a society that has fewer and fewer jobs (though not less work). My caveat with that would be that we have to find a way then (and this is a more political-economic point) to practically value non-job work. As it stands, the only way to make a living is with a job (unless you are a rentier or a gangster I suppose).

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Wednesday, 16 November 2011 00:59 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Chris, I think this piece is important on a lot of levels. The dislocation you speak of in men has the serious potential for militaristic and fascistic movements. This is very dangerous stuff. I heard recently that there's a much higher level of enrollment of women than men in universities in North America these days too. All in all, it's the makings of a bad tinderbox.

    This brings me to a slight concern/caveat with the piece. The description of the depression/recession and the general economic decline (esp. in the American context) makes no mention of some of the sources of these changes from within the current configuration of global (financial) capitalism, ie. the source of many of the concerns behind the OWS movement (LR). I'm sure it wasn't your intention (it's a short space), but it can feel in this piece like the economy is this big free floating meta structure that just does its thing and then we have to sort out the consequences at the social level. But much of the changes you mention and the shifting sands in our societies have to do with systemic corruption and inequities throughout the corporatist-economic structure.

    My concern is that if we don't find clarity and solidarity- between men and women, and between countries- as to what's ultimately corrupting, shifting, and deteriorating our economic and social lives, two things can happen. Either we'll fight it out for the scraps in a very ugly society, and the broad shifts in culture and identity you mention will provide for great difficulties in a fear/scarcity saturated society. Or quasi-fascist demagogues will come along and create scapegoats for this dislocation, and we'll see the usual outburst of racism, violence and the like.

    As you know, the Tea Party had legitimate concerns in its beginnings, but monied interests (esp. the Koch brothers) steered the movement away from the real source of these concerns. I think the identity work you mention is crucial and necessary, but let's also not lose site of what's causing so much turbulence in our societies in the first place. That's my perspective to add to the collective mind on this one. cheers, t.

    (PS- I also understand that the information economy is legitimately changing the playing field in the economy etc., but I don't think this nullifies my overall point/concern raised here).

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 16 November 2011 00:59 posted by Chris Dierkes


    I didn't say men's work doesn't constitute their identity--I said their money didn't. That's a huge difference, in fact one you mention as a difference between work and job.

    In point of fact I did mention at the end of the article that it is very good for men to have work and a sense of investment in society, family, and so forth.

    I appreciated your sharing about your family and I really respect the way in which your family has lived through a lot. I didn't however say that people who have trouble finding employment shouldn't take it personally. I was talking about the ways in which all of this intersects with dating, being perceived by the other sex and personal esteem.

    Certainly our bodies and our work are valuable pieces of ourself. It's a helpful nuance, but I'm not clear whether you have misunderstood what I was discussing in this piece or not.

    When I mention the deleterious effects to men and women I'm talking not about work but about men's value as how much money they have and women not as bodily beings but whether they conform to a hotness quotient in society. I'm not advocating a non-personalized identity. I'm critiquing what I see as de-personalizing effects to both men and women (though clearly the emphasis in this piece is more in relation to men).

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 16 November 2011 01:04 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Thanks for mentioning Warren's book. I think it's very good. I get why he calls it The Myth of Male Power but sometimes I wonder whether that title and framing hasn't hurt getting that perspective through though. I think by calling it that people (men and women) can too easily dismiss its contents by saying, "What the hell, men still have all the power in the world?" And by and large at the upper echelons, men do.

    It seems to me the argument is much more about self-identity and a place of value and belonging. What I think is strongest in that book is the sense that men are instrumentalized--they have status so long as they are winners/heroes and how hero actually comes from the same root as slave. And therefore men are enslaved psychologically and spiritually by this seemingly heroic narrative that surrounds men.

    I don't know what the catchy title is for that, but to me that is a much more interesting perspective to get men and women thinking more deeply about men's place in society and where their hearts are rather than emphasizing the power angle. But maybe that's just me.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 16 November 2011 01:42 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Yeah there's a lot packed into that comment--thanks.

    Obviously it's a short piece so I can't cover everything. But it's always good to get a multi-quadrant dialogue going at the same time. (Though it's tricky).

    In terms of the economic view, I think I probably give more weight to the inevitability of certain technological factors at play than you do. Peck's view (which I'm largely in agreement with) is that the economic crisis has exacerbated certain tendencies already at play before and has accelerated them and deepened them. The distinction between men and women in the economy is one of those tendencies. As is the increasing gap between ultra-rich and everyone else. In that sense, I think I'm actually more of a Marxist than you are--as perhaps I'm a little too easily base and superstructure :).

    On the other hand when you reference configurations that too me sounds like it has its own mind in a way. It's again (way over generalizing here) a struggle I have sometimes with critical theory when it discusses something like, "Empire wants this..." In one way it's interesting and informative to purposively take on that perspective and see the world through that lens (what Wilber calls a quadrivium), but it's a perspective. Just as it's possible to take a quadrivium with technology (Kevin Kelly does this for example). I think when people don't realize (or forget) it's a not the or final perspective, then we can get into trouble.

    But that's a major meta-view when you/I/whoever starts putting major constructs together like that. That's way beyond where the current discourse is and while it's valuable, taken to an extreme I'm not sure how helpful it really is.

    In practice then, I tend to the view of capital controls rather than trade controls. Dani Rodrik has proposed a new Bretton Woods Treaty that would allow national governments more decision making power relative to what speed and how they want to globalize.

    I would like to see financial speculation hived off as much as possible into the gambling world that it is, rather than its current infection into the rest of the economy. But that's easy to say and less easy to achieve in actual practice.

    And more theoretically we will need to find some way to integrate Keynesian insights around government as a buyer of last resort (this austerity s#@! is for the birds) with Hayek's insights that no one, no small group is smart enough to have it figured out. A tall order altogether.

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Wednesday, 16 November 2011 14:10 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Great piece, Chris.
    I'm really glad you are taking this on. I generally agree with your points and like the play of the female gaze. I'm also aware of not being a man, so wanting to be sensitive to my own potential blindspots in responding to this post. I really want to encourage men in making spaces for their own inquiry around this.

    With that, I'll just offer a couple comments generally speaking.

    First of all, I have a lot of respect for Warren Farrell's work. Reading his books have illuminated a lot for me, and I also just like him on a personal level--I think his heart is sincere.

    That said, my critique of Farrell falls on the side of some concern I have with how he frames the issues. He is bringing good research to light, yet I think his framing of gender evolution is largely from a functionalist lens.

    In this way, I think I'm somewhat aligning with Trevor's comments (although he was speaking in a bit of a different context), in that I think he misses the conflict/critical perspective in his analysis of gender and power. He tries to peg a lot to biology and then create this equalized playing field where men and women grew with these mutual arrangements about roles and status based on the life conditions that faced them.

    That is definitely true at one level, but for me, his arguements lack a real understanding of how power and oppression work, and how history evolves through conflict and unequal power dynamics (i.e., Marxism). In other words, I think he tries to make history too "clean." And this functionalist bias on gender is also present in Wilber's theories of gender evolution.

    I also think there is a strong Western bias in Farrell's views.

    The other concern is that I feel he often aims to present men as equal victims to women. It is great that he is bringing out male forms of powerlessness, but I think trying to equalize the victim status only takes us to a certain point.

    Anyways, I won't make too many generalized comments about his work, cause I haven't read everything he has written. But from what I've read, these are some of my concerns.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 16 November 2011 17:10 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Nicely put. I think your critiques of Farrell are valid. Though I didn't flesh them out as well as you did in your comment, if you look up to my comment starting @Richard, I make some of the same points. In other words, his influence is there in this post, but I'm not a Farrell-ist as it were :).

    One thing I did take from Myth of Male Power--while not supporting his overall thrust that men and women have suffered equally--is to say that patriarchy hurts both genders (as well as helps in some other ways). I think that framing, based in lots of truth, is helpful to build solidarity...without having to try to argue that both genders suffered equally (which I think just creates more resistance). e.g. Life expectancy for women and men diverge in patriarchy (women living longer than men which doesn't seem to have been the case in more hunter gatherer systems). Men fight, kill, get scarred/traumatized, and killed in the wars of patriarchy. Again we don't have to say suffering is equal to say both have been hurt and therefore both together can and should work to build something better.

    In regards to the functionalist critique of both Warren (and Ken) you mention, I think that too has validity. As a sorta half-defense, I guess I would say the critical voice is quite prevalent and if someone wants/needs to learn about that there are ample excellent resources on the subject. It's interesting (if only partially true) to get an alternate (and highly minority) view from these two guys. At least I think so. I do agree though that when (within the sub-world of integral circles), that more functionalist and less critical interpretation is the orthodox one, then that's problematic.

  • Comment Link Richard Munn Wednesday, 16 November 2011 22:06 posted by Richard Munn

    Hey Chris,

    I have to admit right off the bat that I'm really frustrated with most of what I see and read in the gender dialogue (often framed as a debate, an us vs. them).

    I just saw a video of a popular chat show in the States (which I can't remember the name of, The Talk?) where a panel of well-known women laughed and joked about a man being drugged and tied up by his wife. She then cut off his penis and put it in the waste disposal, and turned the waste disposal on. Why? Because he wanted to divorce her (to which a woman in the audience called out "that'll teach him!")

    Why were they laughing? They're laughing precisely because of the myth of male power. They're laughing because of the massive cultural assumption that women are disempowered, that men are powerful victimizers. They're laughing because 'now it's our turn.'

    Warren, I feel, included Power in his title because he's questioning what power is and who has it. He also looks into someone can be empowered and also disempowered. One can't really, I don't feel, talk about one's own Power, or lack of, without including one's own Heart, as well as more besides.

    Regardless of whether men and women have suffered equally we haven't even begun to look at how men have suffered, so how would we know? That's a huge problem.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Wednesday, 16 November 2011 22:53 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Chris, I'm going to take another pass through this territory, as I think some important things are at stake for the possibilities of enacting the post-postmodern world.

    I think you've properly identified a key difference between our worldviews. Your view of political economy I find to be a deterministic (or 'inevitablist') laden one. Not only do I think this view is demonstrably (or analytically-empirically) incorrect, I also find it profoundly disempowering and evolutionarily stagnating, hence my critical engagement with it. That is the context that animates my kosmic address.

    There's lots in what you said, I'll take it one at a time. In terms of base-superstructure, I think we can look to more contemporary Marxist views on this for a more nuanced view, one that moves beyond the determinism in Marx's original formulation (although even that's debatable).

    Here's Raymond Williams from 1977:

    "So, we have to say that when we talk of ‘the base’, we are talking of a process, and not a state...We have to revalue ‘superstructure’ towards a related range of cultural practices, and away from a reflected, reproduced, or specifically-dependent content. And, crucially, we have to revalue ‘the base’ away from the notions of [either] a fixed economic or [a] technological abstraction, and towards the specific activities of men in real, social and economic relationships, containing fundamental contradictions and variations, and, therefore, always in a state of dynamic process". ("Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory". New Left Review)

    And Hardt and Negri from 2000:

    "Postmodernization and the passage to Empire involve a real convergence of the realms that used to be designated as base and superstructure. Empire takes form when language and communication, or really when immaterial labor and cooperation, become the dominant productive force (see Section 3.4). The superstructure is put to work, and the universe we live in is a universe of productive linguistic networks. The lines of production and those of representation cross and mix in the same linguistic and productive realm. In this context the distinctions that define the central categories of political economy tend to blur". (Empire, 385)

    As I understand it, this passage (part of a much longer analysis) is arguing that the superstructure is increasingly immanent to the productive process. As such, Hardt and Negri argue at length (esp. in their latest text CommonWealth) that this opens up the possibility of transforming the system immanently. I think there's huge potential in this, although I'm still working through that book, so I'll have to offer some further conclusions in the future.

    "Peck's view (which I'm largely in agreement with) is that the economic crisis has exacerbated certain tendencies already at play before and has accelerated them and deepened them".

    Sure, someone like David Harvey completely agrees with this view:

    However, he looks at it from a much larger time scale and draws a very different moral conclusion. Sometimes I find your analysis of political economy draws too small of a circle as its analytic starting point; I think we need to incorporate much more of the *longue duree* perspective of world-systems thinkers, and some meta-structuralist analysis that doesn't just assume the world around us as given. My reading of Marx's Capital so far has affected me profoundly in regards to the latter.

    "On the other hand when you reference configurations that to me sounds like it has its own mind in a way. It's again (way over generalizing here) a struggle I have sometimes with critical theory when it discusses something like, "Empire wants this..."

    I'm not anthropomorphizing the economic system if that is what you're suggesting. I'm saying that we can understand its material components and how they interact/function, and realize that there are real human beings actually guiding the choices of this system and how it acts and for whom. As a reader of John Robb, I'm surprised that this wouldn't be a more mundane point. However, here's a series of articles that back up this claim:

    I could be wrong, but I hear a certain Deism in your view of political economy, as though someone just wound this whole system up and then let it run, and now no one is really officially running it, thus we're simply at the whims of its twists and turns. Is that accurate? The repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, for instance, was no random act, nor were its consequences, much of which is central to the story you analyze.

    (I will make the one caveat in regards to the reality of contingency and non-linear (thus non predictable) dynamics that animate the global economic system; however, I see those more as spaces of (r)evolutionary opening than signs of bondage).

    "But that's a major meta-view when you/I/whoever starts putting major constructs together like that. That's way beyond where the current discourse is and while it's valuable, taken to an extreme I'm not sure how helpful it really is".

    Beyond what current discourse are you talking? And why is it "way beyond it"? I don't see the problem here as being one of operating from some supposed abstract meta-view, but from not being granular enough in our material-analytic description of political economy. Hardt and Negri, for instance, offer a very complex and detailed analysis that gets very close to the territory it describes. I find it very helpful for both understanding the world in which we live, and how we might act within it to transform it. The social situation you describe in this piece is inextricably intertwined with the political-economic realm, and thus we must think them through together. It might be "tricky", but that's the kind of thinking that's called for in my view, and we have many quality forbearers in that regard (Arendt, Habermas, many others).

    "I would like to see financial speculation hived off as much as possible into the gambling world that it is, rather than its current infection into the rest of the economy. But that's easy to say and less easy to achieve in actual practice.

    And more theoretically we will need to find some way to integrate Keynesian insights around government as a buyer of last resort (this austerity s#@! is for the birds) with Hayek's insights that no one, no small group is smart enough to have it figured out. A tall order altogether".

    These are all great initiatives and there's many more that can be added to the list besides. But why always the descriptors like "a tall order" and "less easy to achieve in practice". I don't think this is just 'realism', there's a certain Eeyore-esque quality to this that I cannot abide. Solidarity and collective action can and do change the makeup of the social order, as is historically demonstrable. The OWS is a start in the right direction.

    Having said that, these changes we've just outlined are just to get the current system healthy, stable and relatively equitable again. But how about an entirely different type of monetary system/social organization in the future? Are we not called, as Walter Bruueggemann put it in The Prophetic Imagination, "to express a future that none think imaginable"?

    An (inaccurate) 'inevitibilist' account of political economy will not help envision and usher in that future. As such I will continue to confront it as I see it, as I feel morally called to do so. I suspect this will not be our last conversation on the topic. :)

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 16 November 2011 23:17 posted by Chris Dierkes


    I hear what you are saying. Actually I raised the issue of why male rape jokes are so prevalent (and uncriticized) on television in a way (rightly) no one would allow for jokes about women being raped in a previous thread on the site.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Wednesday, 16 November 2011 23:20 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    I should add that I don't want this particular discussion between Chris and I to get in the way of other folks talking about other important aspects of the piece. I know Chris is fully capable of juggling many threads at once. This is a long standing simmering difference between Chris and I at the site, and perhaps he and I can take it up more formerly in another form, such as a podcast or article exchange.

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Thursday, 17 November 2011 04:58 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Hey guys,
    I'm going to leave the space to the men :) Happy to support it. But wanted to offer another resource for you in case you haven't heard of him.

    Joseph Gelfer, who is one of the contributors in my upcoming anthology, is doing some very interesting work on men's issues.

    Admittedly, he is a staunch integral critic, and I don't agree with all of his views, but we included him in our book because he is smart and offers some very interesting critiques of Farrell, Deida, Cohen, and Wilber's ideas of gender development. Some of it is too aggressive for my taste, but try to sift the baby from the bathwater :) He is a smart theorist and has a good grasp on critical theory.

    And Chris, I agree with your point about Wilber and Farrell offering an alternative that is important to include. Just some of my concern with the integral circles is their lack of serious integration of postmodern critique (which I know you care about too.)

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Thursday, 17 November 2011 16:48 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Well yeah brother the central aim of this post was the female gaze/male shame angle which certainly is connected into economic issues but that wasn't what I was out to highlight. So I replied pretty loosely the first time, for which you pinged me. Fair enough. You made some important comments about being able to think more clearly and see more deeply and that changing our actions. I appreciate that.

    All that said, I found the overall tone of your response very unhelpful. In particular, charges that I have some Eeyore complex are a load of bovine manure and are not conducive to constructive dialogue.

    The exact reason I'm not a revolutionary is precisely this black/white view of the world. I speak about ambiguities and ambivalences and I'm accused of having thrown up my hands in surrender. Not helpful.

    To the substance then...

    In Kevin Kelly's recent book What Technology Wants he draws an isosceles triangle. One of the three sides he labels structural (inevitable), one contingent (historical), and one side intentional (open).

    Now I guess I need to add the caveat here that just because I find this an insightful framework does not mean I endorse all of Kelly's interpretations or views (I don't). Nevertheless I do find that a fair assessment. To be very technical, he's drawing a quadrivium (looking at the world through the lens of technology). We could take (per Jeremy's piece) William Irwin Thompson as essentially drawing a cultural quadrivium and put the two in tension with one another. Wilber tends I think to draw the world through the Upper Left. I think all are valuable as long as we keep the perspectives (and their limitations and strengths) in mind.

    But for now, just focusing on this piece. An example of the structural-inevitable is say Moore's Law, which has held through every form of politics and every kind of economic situation (up, down, whatever). And as Kurzweil has shown Moore's Law is just a species of a much broader law of technology.

    So there are some quasi-universals at play. I find it strange that you (rightly) critique moves towards gender and cultural relativism--not recognizing quasi-universals--but are leaving yourself I think wide open to that critique when it comes to economics and politics.

    When you call me an inevitabilist, I would say (at most) that's 1/3 of the equation. So I can't be labeled any kind of strict inevitabilist--contra your claims. And actually in the long run and in the large scale, I'm actually pretty optimistic. Absent the serious possibility of major collapse in relation to environmental issues or an economic system that leads to a two-tier humanity. There's been progress (progress is still occurring), and progress is deeply unfinished and even more progress creates new problems. aka Habermas' Good News/Bad News.

    Take Steven Pinker's view that we are living in the most peaceful era ever. I think that's true. And contemplate how much violence there is in this most peaceful era. The sheer level of it is almost infinite and yet it's better than it was and hopefully can continue to get so. That's the kind of view I try to hold and don't always articulate or am able to keep in paradox truthfully.

    In regards to a Hardt and Negri (or the Williams quotation you provide), I would say they are very strong on 2 out of the 3 of the sides of the triangle: the contingent and the intentional. But to me they miss something Kelly is pointing to in his book: the structural-inevitable.

    Kelly uses the example of a whirlpool which is a natural, spontaneously, self-organizing reality. It leads in a direction as well. But it is not designed (so the Deism charge you laid on me is out the window). Biology and technology are evolutionary in that sense and have certain directions.

    What Kelly says is that we can only glimpse the outlines and broad strokes of the inevitable--what Wilber calls the deep structures. Again contingency and intention are always at play.

    But that does mean there are constraints from the structural side. The use in Hard/Negri/Williams of immanence is I think an attempt to sideline the third side of the triangle.

    Wilber's line is that the structural is the single greatest determinant of the average mode of consciousness.

    I think that's finely parsed. Single greatest not only determinant. Of average mode of consciousness not non-average (pre or post average). Nor does it say that the single greatest determinant for the average mode couldn't be exceeded by the sum of the other factors involved. The single greatest factor could be like 30% and other factors like 10%, 8%, 20%, 5%, 2% etc and if you add those up you get more than 30%.

    In relation then to the other factors, the historical/contingent also creates what I might call economic and political karma (some good, some bad). The historical/contingent is not pure destiny as such--karma can be changed. But only through intention (the other pole). Absent that cause and effect will play itself out. But again the to me real choice exists within a set of constraints. Or in Wilber's terms, things are freed up by being limited.

    Kelly also says however that the realm of the intentional is expanding--but then again so is the realm of the other two. This is the fun, paradox, seriousness, and insanity of the Universe it seems to me.

    Now you may not accept that triangular framework, I don't know. If that were so, then we wouldn't even be able to agree on the terms of debate. In which case I'm not even sure how to proceed.

    But what I take from this is I need to keep more in mind to speak to the historical-contingent and the intentional as I think it's fair to say I tend to speak more to the structural-inevitable (as I think that's often missing from the conversation). I'll work on that and am open to be reminded of having made this commitment.

  • Comment Link Richard Munn Friday, 18 November 2011 20:10 posted by Richard Munn

    Hey Chris,

    I liked what you brought to the discussion about the 'comedy' made of rape.

    I'll post a video here that I've watched many times as it demonstrates a strong ambiguity about male rape, male sexual identity, male shame, contrast with female rape, what support is available for men, machismo . . . it's packed. Oh, and it's by Dave Chapelle.

    Caught me slippin' . . .

  • Comment Link Richard Munn Friday, 18 November 2011 21:43 posted by Richard Munn

    Just to clarify, I posted it here though due to the link with shame and how that relates to men. It's also really relevant to the other thread so I'll post there also.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Saturday, 19 November 2011 02:31 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Chris, thanks for laying out that framework in detail, I see no real reason why I couldn't proceed with our discussion/debate within that model.

    Just a few quick words in regards to some of what you've said above. In terms of the tone of my comment to you, I was responding to what I felt was a somewhat dismissive response from you, one that seemed unwilling to truly engage what I was saying. This is not the first time I've felt that way when we meet on these topics (I can remember a thread where Hardt and Negri's concept of the multitude was dismissed out of hand as "utter crap"), and out of frustration I amped up my response to you accordingly, hoping to force a more horizontal discussion. I'm glad we've gotten there, despite the rough ride.

    In terms of my Eeyore comment, I stand by it as a line of inquiry. I think it's valid to suggest that someone's (possible) internal disposition might color/influence their analysis of the world. Nietzsche used this line of argumentation all the time, drilling down into the psychology of someone (or groups) holding a certain view of world and life, and finding things like resentiment, revenge and a 'No to life' at their source. In this way he re-established this version of an ad hominem argument as legitimate. You say that your somewhat strong emphasis on the more deterministic/inevitabilist side of the street is due to wanting to correct an imbalance out there, which is fair enough and good to know. I'll be looking forward to hearing more of the other two poles come out in your writing in the future.

    Your comment that all revolutionary thinking is black and white, seems a little black and white itself to me. There's certainly a partial truth in there, but I don't think we could categorize the revolutionary thinking of say Zizek, Badiou and Hardt and Negri as in any way black and white. So I disagree with the totalizing nature of that statement.

    In terms of the structural side of Kelly's model, there's lots to say, and we can take that up in the future. But just a quick word in regards to Hardt and Negri; you write that, "The use in Hard/Negri/Williams of immanence is I think an attempt to sideline the third side of the triangle". I just want to be clear that they are not trying to 'sideline' anything, they are making a very specific and detailed argument as to the current configuration of labor within capitalist production, and they see deep revolutionary possibilities in this emergent relation (as do I). Now, because their work is very original and new in general (and still new to me, and I'm guessing you also), I'll commit to taking the responsibility of communicating their view on the site here in the next two or three months. That'll give you the chance to read a more detailed version of their view, and then we can work through it from there.

    I'll also grab a copy of Kelly's book so I can get more up to speed on the technological perspective, and I'd encourage you to do the same with Hardt and Negri's latest text CommonWealth. I'd just be interested to hear what you had to say after spending time with that.

    Alright, that's it for now, sorry that this turned out be a tentious passage between us, but you know what they say about talking about politics and religion! :)

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Saturday, 19 November 2011 19:34 posted by Chris Dierkes

    I'm going to repost here a comment I left over at the thread on Are Rape Jokes Funny in response to Richard's excellent response (and the great video of Chapelle):



    that's exactly it. Chapelle is always right on the money.

    I just read an article apropos of this in the VancouverSun today. Money quote:

    For men in particular, promiscuity, uncontrollable rage and aggressive behaviour can are common coping mechanisms as they attempt to overcompensate for what they experience as the emasculating effect of sexual abuse at the hands of an older man, said Jim Hopper, a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School, who has studied the long-term effects of sexual abuse on men.... "Relative to girls, boys are socialized to not be aware of, to not express, and to not have empathy for vulnerable emotions," said Hopper. "So, when you're abused, you're hit with these overwhelming emotions, and, as a male, you're conditioned not to be able to deal with them."

    Or in Chapelle's language, 'you just gotta walk that off.'

    This connects to Tim's piece around men not being taught to respond to vulnerable emotions:

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Saturday, 19 November 2011 20:10 posted by Chris Dierkes


    I don't remember saying that I thought The Multitude was utter crap. If you have a link where I wrote that, then I'd like to see it. I don't think the concept is utter crap and if I said that then I was wrong--although I doubt I did say that.

    It's certainly true that I'm not totally sold on it, but that's a far cry form completely dismissing the concept. Speaking really really generically (and again not in great detail or nuance), I feel like Hardt and Negri have picked up on processes definitely at work. And they deserve serious credit for articulating these principles--in some ways describing what was already occurring and in other ways I think actually calling things into being or predicting what was to come.

    But there's still a question (I think) of values related to the processes. Again really really really broad brush (this is a comment on a post about male shame not full-fledged politico-economic treatise after all) ---but what we've seen in the Middle East is The Multitude organizing to topple authoritarian regimes and attempting to build parliamentary democratic systems along with (I would bet whether intended, realized or not), opening up of markets. Not to belittle that struggle at all, but they are seeking the establishment of a recognizable pattern of human politics in existence--for all its flaws, it's clearly better than *classic* authoritarian systems.

    In the West, The Multitude is organizing against parliamentary liberal democracy as currently practiced and therein lies a very interesting ambiguity. If not against parliamentary democracy altogether (e.g. 90% consensus policy). It's clearly a movement and there's no one spokesperson. Some seem to believe that the Western parliamentary and democratic system has become authoritarian and are therefore trying to make links between the two, attempting to argue the West is now capitalistically authoritarian (or even totalitarian). Others, from a more Marxist view, seem to hold that this form of politics was always authoritarian and is now just showing it's true colors (rather than having become somehow corrupted).

    But whatever flavor, there's I think a tendency towards horizontalizing and mushing vertical or structural difference. I can understand rhetorically the rationale for doing so (creating solidarity) but as an actual conceptual matter, I think it's a mistake.

    I would say a similar kind of critique lies at the root of the trouble that the Canadian version of the Occupy movement has had--i.e. make clear it's rationale for existence distinct from the political, economic, and cultural situation of the United States.

    But regardless of all the shades, there is some argument (I think) attempting to be made about a different economic and political system. One that doesn't currently exist on the planet in any large scale (nation-state) way.

    The Middle Eastern struggle faces a more upfront and violent system. On the other hand, it could be said I think (again really really broadly) to have a clearer path to a new political structure. i.e. a modernist system. It will be distinctly Tunisian or Egyptian (or more regionally) Middle Eastern rather than Western per se, but it will be recognizable modern. (In integral terms: quasi-universal deep structures plus distinct surface features).

    The Western struggle has less formal violence (though there's some of that too but nowhere on the same scale) but a far more ethereal thing it's struggling against, plus it has no exact large scale blueprint of a post-modernist, post-parliamentary political system.

    Up until now in the West, any postmodern advances have come through reform of the modernist parliamentary system, more as an extension of modernity than a real total transformation of it I would say (e.g. women's rights, gay rights, minority rights, environmental rights, health care, etc.). But it seems #ows (and certainly The Multitude) is looking for something altogether distinct.

    And therefore serious questions are raised about how (say in the US context), how #ows would relate to the Constitution, how it sees its relationship to power and violence (this is a point on which Zizek has critiqued Hardt and Negri as well as Vatiimo).

    In the US system, the #ows could make inroads in terms of legislative reforms, if it chose to enter the field that way. Polls show over and over large majorities favoring a number of the arguments and some of the solutions coming out of all this. But not necessarily being on board with elements like the consensus practice, general assemblies, and the more anarchist derived practices the movement. So over the next year or more the movement is really going to have to think about what to do in regards to all that.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 22 November 2011 01:13 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Br. Chris, thanks for that rich reply. Before getting to that, here's the comment I was referring to:

    "Trev, These are some good points. Agamben is really the one who came up with the State of Exception. Agamben's analysis I find much more honest than Hardt or Negri. I think their notion of The Multitude is just about utter crap (a la Zizek)".

    To be fair to you, I think you were mainly working with the concept via Zizek's reading, and once I extrapolated on the concept later in the thread you were more sympathetic.

    Which is something that I've learned in this exchange, is that if I'm going to bandy about the concept of the Multitude as viable and important, I'm going to have to take the responsibility of fleshing out the concept so folks have a better sense of what it's talking about/pointing. Hardt and Negri have spent a trilogy of texts now fleshing it out over the course of a decade, so it's not a flimsy concept by any means.

    Having said that, I think you make some very poignant challenges in your points above. (Such as- "And therefore serious questions are raised about how (say in the US context), how #ows would relate to the Constitution, how it sees its relationship to power and violence (this is a point on which Zizek has critiqued Hardt and Negri as well as Vatiimo"). I love that, keep em coming. At least we've now established that you're not fully sold on the concept politically; I invite you to be a solid critic of it and keep pressing in on it. This will help me to have to work through it in honest ways, which is such a valuable service. I always respected the Continental philosophers for their ability to seriously critique/exchange with one another, but in such a civil fashion; they left it mainly in the realm of ideas. I'm sure they all evolved their thinking a lot through those encounters.

    Gotta run for now, but now that this topic is explicitly out on the (political-economy) surface, I look forward to working through it into the future.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Tuesday, 22 November 2011 06:23 posted by Chris Dierkes


    thanks for relaying the quote. I did saw 'just about utter crap' but still that's not the smartest thing to say. And I did give more nuance later.

    One thing re-reading that thread (which I have to admit I had largely forgotten about so thanks for bringing it back) is that I had in mind The Tea Party in a US context. In many ways the Tea Party is The Multitude (or perhaps was) and one of the major flaws I see in the theorization of The Multitude is the lack of discrimination between vertical stages (as I mentioned in this thread), i.e. The Tea Party was one manifestation of The Multitude and led (along with other factors) in the 2010 elections which have been very destructive to US politics and economics.

    When Zizek says The Multitude can be co-opted, I think in that version anyway, he was right.

    But for sure those are just some partialities I think might be there. There are definitely truths as well. I think Badiou offered some important critiques of Deleuze and (rightly) The Multitude is the first think through of Deleuzian politics, then those problems with Deleuze's thought will manifest themselves in The Multitude. Of course also the strengths of Deleuze (of which they are many) will show themselves in the work on The Multitude as well.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Tuesday, 22 November 2011 06:45 posted by Chris Dierkes

    to expand for a second on that point about Badiou vs. Deleuze--and probably talk out my arse for a bit....

    I understand Badiou to have said that there is still a faint trance of The One in Deleuze. That Deleuze's stated aim of a postmodern metaphysics was a major achievement (particularly in Badiou's eyes over what came before) but didn't reach it's fullest conclusion, and therefore fails in a sense.

    Now I'm not an atheist materialist by persuasion but if I was going to be one, then I think Badiou is fundamentally correct. Namely that philosophical materialism rightly leads to atheism and rightly leads to pure multiplicity. How Badiou makes his own arguments vis a vis Set Theory, Mathematics as Ontology, The One is Not, and everything is pretty far beyond me. But (I think anyway) I get his critique of Deleuze around still having a trace of The One in his (Deleuze's) philosophy. I think Badiou's position that there is still a Oneness in Deleuze is validated by John Caputo's Weak Theology which draws heavily on Derrida and Deleuze talking about an (impersonal) source (Being) and manifestation (Becoming).

    Now I've never heard Badiou speak specifically on Hardt and Negri's The Multitude (in a way that Zizek has). Badiou may have, but I couldn't find anything. But as a potential extrapolation from the above--again on the basis that The Multitude is Deleuze set to revolutionary politics--there's questions then about the trace or hangover of The One in The Multitude and whether that conflicts with the stated aims of the project.

    Just to throw something out there--which I could be totally wrong about--I see the trace of The One in The Multitude in the line about "We are the 99%". The slogan confuses economic data points about how the top 1% (and really the top tiers of the top 1%) have made exponential economic gains during the latest phase of globalization with legitimate questions about income inequality. But somebody in the top 20-25% of the United States is doing pretty damn well. They are not the 99%. The 99% isn't the 99%.

    As rhetoric I understand its place even though from a analytic view, it's simply inaccurate. But there's a kind of mythic Oneness about it.

    And say The Tea Party (as the right-wing Multitude), their Oneness shows up in all kinds of strange myths about the founding of the United States, trickle down ideology, anti-tax theology, and the rest.

    I personally don't have a problem with traces of The One in philosophy as I'm not a pure materialist. But again from within the purely materialist political position--i.e. Marxism--I think Badiou is right. Zizek in his true style jokes sometimes about wanting to write an materialist theology (an atheist one of course). Zizek also says interestingly that religion should be the 5th truth condition in Badiou's philosophy.

    Again these are just some questions I have around the limitations/partialities of The Multitude. I do think (particularly in terms of process/praxis) there's a lot that's very valuable in the work. But the context in which that is taken is really really important.

  • Comment Link Willa Geertsema Saturday, 26 November 2011 18:39 posted by Willa Geertsema

    Great article Chris, and interesting discussion about Warren Farrell, Vanessa and Chris.
    I agree that Farrell brings to the fore some great perspectives, however the whole victim-view really disturbs me, it is not helpful. Apart from the question who has suffered more (how do you compare that?) the fact is that men and women created patriarchy together, because it worked. It's been the human invention that enabled civilation to take off. The male and the female gaze, and the simplistic currencies of work vs body, were the result. That's nobody's fault. But if in this day and age, with the consciousness we are capable of, we keep feeling victimized about it we are not helping ourselves, but still hanging out at fundamentally the same level at which patriarchy takes place.
    It is incredibly interesting and liberating to open these things up, start to understand our own responses to life, and make space for how incredibly gender-conditioned we are. But then, and this is what you don't always hear in the gender dialogue and what sometimes gets replaced with blaming the other gender, we need the moral courage to struggle beyond those reponses for the sake of both genders - and because these patterns are so deep, that might take some effort!

  • Comment Link Vanessa D. Fisher Sunday, 27 November 2011 03:20 posted by Vanessa D. Fisher

    Hi Willa! Your comment sparked a lot for me.
    I'm stepping back for a while from the public debates on sex and gender just to regenerate and integrate all the great discussion that has been happening online before I enter back into the ring :) but your comment made me want to offer one distinction to consider. (and thanks for your beautiful comments on my other article as well, btw).

    First, I completely agree about not wanting to get into simple victim discussions in regards to gender dynamics (And I too share that concern with you in regards to Farrell's work, as I mentioned in my earlier comment).

    That said, I think the edge we are on here is also how to re-frame and re-understand oppression and power dynamics from an integral context. I think the oppression conversation has largely been had in a strictly postmodern context, which has had its insights and its obvious limitations. That said, my concern is that we too quickly dismiss those discussions and distinctions when we move to "integral" discourses, and in an attempt to move out of victimology, we too quickly dismiss oppression and power dynamics and how they impact development.

    I think these postmodern insights and distinctions about power and oppression dynamics are still very important to include, but they need a new upload, so to speak :) More nuance, more objectivity, more complexity...

    In many ways, I agree with many points you are making, but I also think saying that patriarchy is simply "what worked" is perhaps too simplistic, or leaning on the functionalist argument that I have concerns about.

    I'm going to step back from commenting further (it's hard cause I love these topics so much!! :) but I promise I will write an intelligent essay about all this at some point :)

    Thanks for jumping in...


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