Sex is a Weapon On my “Political Perspectives” page, i make two claims of relevence to the current war between Western imperialism and the Arab world:While acting like any recognition of women’s importance is either a matter of generosity or chivalrous good humour, institution after institution, economy after economy, state after state, would be swept away without women’s support, or at least acquiescence. andas capitalist imperialism tries to use gender to win support (or at least dampen opposition) throughout the world, fascistic ultrapatriarchal nationalisms spring up to oppose it. Recent news about the nature of the sexual abuse of detainees in Guantanamo Bay got me thinking about these points. Gender is considered by many of us as one of the “new” contradictions; not that patriarchy is new (we pull big numbers out of the hat whenever we decide to mull when that cancer started), but awareness of gender politics is supposed to be a recent affair. We also assume that gender is our weapon – that imperialism was built on this unstable patriarchal foundation, and as such once we rally the victims of patriarchy (pretty much everyone) to our side we’ll blow the whole structure away. It’s like stupid white men built their fortress on a foundation of dynamite, and we’re just looking to find the fuse. According to this reading, we expose sexism, the enemy covers it up. Gender is our issue.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite so clear cut. While today’s imperialist capitalism is indeed a social machine that was first fueled with the witch-hunt, and then – like a tumor metastacizing – sending out patriarchal colonies around the world, women were never reduced solely to the role of raw material. The witch-hunt was unlike the Holocaust in that there was never any intention of physically eliminating all biological women from the world – that would have been the end of the human species. A majority of women were to survive, though always under the threat posed by the Inquisition and the stake. Terrorism is different from genocide. Whether from the very beginning or not, one thing for sure is it has been a long time that women have been used as weapons by some men to bolster their position against others. Like i said above – “institution after institution, economy after economy, state after state, would be swept away without women’s support, or at least acquiescence.” This isn’t some accident, rather women’s support has been built into ruling class strategies.
Recent news reports tell us that the U.S. military was considering developing a non-lethal “sex bomb” that would make its victims gay. That Arab men have been forced to simulate gay sex, while their tormentors – boys and girls who grew up in your home-town, went to school with you, were maybe fag-bashers or maybe big fans of Ellen and Oprah – stood around and laughed. That female soldiers have interrogated prisoners while wearing mini-skirts and bras, have rubbed their breasts against them, have grabbed the mens’ genitals and have pretended to smear their faces with (fake) menstrual blood. This is “the Man” using gender as best he can. Both in the acts described above – many of which were certainly ordered by the appropriate authorities – and by the “revelations” of abuse – which generally come not from the “free press” and even less the “radical media”, but from such sources as the FBI or military officials. This is self-revelation, advertisement, public relations… During the Third Reich homosexuality amongst “Aryans” was viciously persecuted, with tens of thousands of gay men dying in concentration camps; at the same time, homosexuality and pornography were encouraged by the Nazis amongst subject populations, as this was thought to weaken enemy races. Modern imperialism, at least at the moment, is taking the opposite approach. Despite George Bush’s Christian superstitions about gender roles and the sanctity of the heterosexual nuclear family, when it comes to keeping on top of the global dungheap the U.S. uses science and sex – not prayer or chastity – as its weapons. What effect do you think the very public use of “loose women” and “sexual depravity” as weapons in imperialism’s arsenal have on the anti-imperialist ranks? Do you think it makes them less prone to patriarchal, fundamentalist, or even fascist arguments and ideologies? Do you think it’s good for queers or women in Baghdad or Gaza?
A purely anecdotal, and unscientific observation: for years i got stopped almost every time when crossing the border to go to the United States. I was never doing anything, i don’t do drugs and i wouldn’t be so stupid as to try and bring anything the least bit unamerican across the border, but nevertheless – whether it was as a teenager with a sex pistols t-shirt of as an adult with a bushy beard – although they ended up letting me through, i’d always get hassled. (more than once the bus or train left me at the border station the guards were so sure that i’d end up being sent back) At a certain point in the nineties, when i would be crossing with my boyfriend, we decided to start telling them that we were more than just friends when the order guards asked how we knew each other. The first couple of times we were prepared for the worst, but… …suddenly there was no problem. The only question we ever get is “how long have you been together”. As a white gay couple, neither of whom present as transgendered or anything weird like that, we’re normally waved right through. The same country which legally would have barred us thirty years ago now seems suddenly relieved to find out we’re queer. i guess no matter how Bush Senior pronounced his name, everyone knows Sodom Hussein wasn’t organizing sleeper-cells of faggots in the metropolis.
So today, all manner of apologists for Zionist terror can argue that Israeli oppression is not as reactionary as the Palestinian resistance, which we are assured is dominated by queer-hating ultra-sexist groups like Hamas. Hmmm… funny how it turned out that way, isn’t it?
Imperialism – at the moment – wants its opponents to be sexist and homphobic. The white guys in suits couldn’t have been happier with the Taliban’s murderous variety of fascism when they were trying to cut deals with them as business partners, and they were doubly pleased to have a opponent who was already drenched in Afghan blood when they had to switch gears and invade. One way or another, whether pretending to be friends of foes, the U.S. wants more male violence and more vicious patriarchal oppression in the neo-colonies. Having an ultrapatriarchal foil to its own “enlightened” despotism. For the key is the relationship between the societies deemed as directly a part of the metropolis and those in the “periphery”. A dynamic tension is created when a co-ed airforce is dropping bombs on a society with rigid patriarchal politics, or when a soldier in a mini-skirt pretends to smear menstrual blood on the face of an Islamic fundamentalist prisoner. The same kind of tension is created when U.S. “aid” opens or funds clinics in “friendly countries” where abortions are banned and homosexuality is illegal. And if the natives aren’t already predisposed to this kind of patriarchal healthcare, the global gag rule and Christian “charities” will fix that.
As a more scientific, less anecdotal, less trivial corrolary to my experiences at the border, i saw this film at the Montreal World film Festival last year about two gay men and a lesbian who had immigrated to the U.S. as refugees. What made their cases special is that they were not granted refugee status after hiding their homosexuality, nor even despite their homosexuality. They were accepted as a result of their homosexuality – in order to be allowed to become citizens of “the greatest democracy on earth” they had to proove their homosexuality, as the rationale for their refugee status was the vicious homophobic oppression in their countries-of-origin.
A more rabid patriarchy serves as both carrot and stick. Maybe not for some straight men, for whom its just a matter of background difference – like whether the natives eat curry or tacos. But for the majority of people living in the world, the degree of violence against queers and women, the way in which the family is structured, the way children are raised – all of these things are real material factors that can spell life or death just as surely as that gas leak at Bhopal. Carrot, because the as enlightened despot, as an Athenian democracy where all citizens have equal rights (and this time women are definitely citizens), the U.S. has better examples on offer than Horatio Alger. It offers a sanctuary from the rising tides of male fascism. Stick, because even though the U.S. tries to make sure its all patriarchal, it also tries to maintain a hierarchy of hell. So that whoever its on the “ins” with is less vicious (or at least presented as less vicious) than whoever its on the “outs” with. A game that is based more on smoke and mirrors than reality, as the alliances are always shifting (today’s anti-imperialist, tomorrow’s imperialist stooge, and then next week we can switch back again), but one that imperialism tries to maintain as best it can. In this way, the more vicious patriarchal violence is what you’re gonna get if your village gets over-run by Amerika’s current enemies. So who are you going to fight for? Who do you think the women next door will fight for? More to the point, if the fantasy Imperialism is fighting for – it would no longer matter who you would fight for. Ultrapatriarchal societies can have their place in the global order too. As long as they’re able to keep the workers disciplined – and in a world where women do most of the work, they certainly seem tailor made for this task – what’s the problem?