I’m extremely excited to be published in Blindfield journal, in response to their CfP on “housework”, & thrilled to have worked with such a great team of editors. My article on Moira Weigel’s new book, and dating as emotional labour, is now up!
By Sophie Lewis
What would the most thrilling and intimate moments in our collective social reproduction feel like in the cities of our dreams? It is far harder to answer this than to identify the lack in what we’ve currently got. Most people currently live for, in large part, the joy of flourishing in communion with their love-mates. Yet there is a dimension of burdensome labor to the process of tracking down those ‘other halves’ – as they are still called – just as there is work in the process of making a life with them, not least creating the home within which love can be tended. What one can think of, then, as the housework of finding and cultivating sweethearts is today more private and individualized than ever. At the same time, a certain forced collectivization of living has lately been imposed on more and more of us…
“whether the end-product of any given uterine activity is a cancer, a miscarriage, a termination or a live newborn infant, the very best of technological assistance should – clearly – be freely available to all.“
>MASSIVE CONTENT NOTE: WHAT FOLLOWS IS EXCLUSIVELY ABOUT RAPE, PRO RAPE ACTIVISM, RAPE APOLOGY, MEN’S RIGHTS ACTIVISTS, ROOSH V<<
UPDATE Thursday 4th February; Valizadeh has publicly called off all of the global Return of Kings meetings he organised for this Saturday. Some of them may, of course, still be going ahead at the re-scheduled secret locations of which only long-time supporter-members have been apprised (plus, of course, some possible infiltrators who found a way around the ‘protocol’ and managed to pass themselves off as veteran creeps). But who cares? Recruitment has definitely been blocked. This is great news. Note, the meetings were originally intended to be self-importantly club-like, not secret, but a global feminist response first forced them “underground” (lol) and then terrified an overwhelmed, panicking Roosh V (who could not guarantee his followers’ safety) to call the whole thing off. So this is a victory for antifascist counter-mobilisation. The cynical agency-denying hot-takes about this that have been published e.g. at Vice by Matt Broomfield (joke’s on us, he played us! Roosh was just in it for the money!) are simply wrong, and don’t understand how social movements work. Media attention might boost book sales but doesn’t strengthen movements. Victories do.
The proposed meet-up of pro-rape a.k.a. “mens’ rights” activists all over the world on February 6th February 2016 is an attempt by ‘pick-up artist’ Daryush Valizadeh, or Roosh V, to use his minor personality cult to boost a global right-libertarian antifeminist movement. Valizadeh’s call is for a ‘return of kings‘, but his platform is not even “just” for re-instating the formal attributes of historic white male absolute sovereignty over a sex-class whose members could be owned and controlled as chattel. He is for the Ayn Rand fantasy of capitalism, and he is for a kind of fascism: all real men are rapists, in his worldview, and should be empowered to be so; people on welfare should be dead; real men should ‘marry off’ their daughters very very young, so as (no irony detectable here) to protect them from other men’s violation. Etcetera etcetera.
A child could instinctively fill in the rest of the Roosh V agenda because – guess what – it’s not an iconoclastic or a subversive or even a particularly egregious take on gender. Rather, his brand aggressively repackages an everyday ressentiment-fueled hegemonic logic we encounter at every level of life in capitalist heteropatriarchies, from courts to cuts to blowback against campus consent classes. At the same time, his fascoid proposals resonate within Pegida, Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Donald Trump camp. So I think there’s a case to be made that Roosh V’s Return of Kings launch deserves a response of the same calibre received by the extremely bloody January fascist mobilisation in Dover, UK, thanks to the excellent counter-mobilisation efforts of (primarily) the Anti-Fascist Network (AFN). This involved a “barrage of bricks”.
Valizadeh is a person who thinks that he has been historically emasculated and oppressed by feminism and that one example of this is the social requirement that he wash his clothes and “wipe [his] ass thoroughly”. So it’s legitimate to ask: why bother with him? Well, Valizadeh’s stated rationale for legalizing rape is obscene, sociopathic, but it (sort of) expresses a core fantasy associated with private property under neoliberalism. That’s something about it I think might be worth people dwelling on for a second. I don’t want to link to it so I’m going to paraphrase: rape, he says, should be legalized on private property, so that (a) women, to avoid rape, will learn how to, er, never go into the private properties of men they don’t trust; and (b) women, if they’re ever being dragged towards the lair of a predator, will put up a massive fight while still within earshot of the public sphere, thus guaranteeing that someone (law enforcement) is guaranteed to intervene.
It’s a jolly old bad faith attempt to disguise the view that women should be raped as much as possible as a policy suggestion for minimizing rape. Such doublethink is in itself nothing out of the ordinary in a world full of wars for peace, jails for justice, and forced evictions for prosperity. While, obviously, everything fundamental about that position is wrong, he recognizes the truth (from the wrong side) that the state disempowers women; that it does not keep women safe from sexual violence. That Roosh’s modest proposal hinges entirely on the state-backed shibboleth of private property is merely one of the inherent banal contradictions in American libertarianism.
But it does something other than paradoxical piss-taking and gas-lighting, too: it re-casts the ‘private’ and domestic sphere in a very neoliberal way as a gender-neutral unit for the individual. In this imaginary, homes are isolating venues for a myth of rugged individual autonomy, rather than one of the key sites in which women generally cohabit with others as they reproduce the world with their care work. In reality, of course, women and children are by default, more than by consent, in close proximity to men within buildings because, for one thing, the latter two categories begin life inside the very entrails of theformer.
In Rooshworld, every man has his own man-pad. (Maybe women, whose ownership of private property isn’t envisioned, do live collectively – presumably all together in a moated sorority house. It’s unclear.) So, even though Roosh probably employs several cleaners, who are probably women of colour, he doesn’t try to re-affirm an elementary sub-component of the capitalist economy, the private home, as the precinct of a patriarch under whom a gendered subordinate’s (invisible) labour of social reproduction takes place (cleaning, cooking, raising kids, comforting/fucking the husband…). Instead, he implicitly re-genders or rather de-genders private space purely as a surface for consumption (of snacks, of “holes”…). The author of the Bang series envisions the domain of his most unfettered freedom from women to be his own (hopefully flammable) privately owned home address, because of his ability to erase women’s humanity completely within that domain. He models, for the men who follow him, a lonely, angry ‘neomasculinist’ king in his castle (which must be very good for the service economy).
But his suggestion that, if we want to avoid violence, we abstain completely from entering men’s private property, isn’t a bad utopian demand, at the end of the day. (I also support the related male separatists MGTOW – Men Going Their Own Way – for this reason.)
In many ways Return of Kings is mere backlash, a tantrum-like symptom of an old-school man’s world in terminal decline. In others, however, it operates as a neoliberal gamer’s innovation that combines feudal and fascist-futurist elements and poses a pretty credible threat to the already vulnerable and precarious victims of economically-enabled domestic violence (see Sisters Uncut). RoK believe themselves (of course) to be censored and persecuted; Valizadeh has issued a protocol for taking the 100+ meetings on Saturday underground. So: cis-het passing men, this is your opportunity to earn your cookies by transferring the labour of fighting male supremacy onto your own shoulders for a minute. Sign up and infiltrate the meetings. Organise for maximum impact. Consult and get directions from your local feminist group protesting the meeting, but do the difficult work yourselves. Go undercover. Smash, disrupt, expose the pro-rape movement.
Knowledge of Roosh V’s minions congregating in my city on Saturday successfully spurred me to want to add these points to the excellent deluge of analysis combating them in print: notably Katie Baker and Eleanor Robertson. I started this post thinking I would keep it shorter even than it’s become. So let me end here. I would like to know what Valizadeh thinks he consents to when he voluntarily enters a private room with his class enemy (me, for example). And, given his desire to legalize violence in ‘private’ space, would he waive the right to the kind of rights and state protections white people (especially) enjoy against murder? If not legal, is it wrong to murder Roosh V in a private room?
Late last year, Society & Space (affiliated with Antipode Journal) published an essay I wrote on Kalindi Vora’s bookLife Support: Biocapital and the New History of Outsourced Labor (University of Minnesota Press, 2015). It is archived here at Radical Antipode. (My thanks to the excellent editor Andy Kent.)
Kalindi Vora, Life Support: Biocapital and the New History of Outsourced Labor, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015. ISBN: 9780816693948 (cloth); ISBN: 9780816693962 (paper).
The last two paragraphs of my essay:
“How is a fetus produced?” (p.41)–and how should it be? Babies, insofar as they take the form of commodities, do not command the same political freight as isolated organs, or computer programming, or the affects of personal telephonic support. Yet the practice of transferring embryos and entire pregnancies to settings where “life” is cheap (the better to nurture the lives that are extracted there) forces us to reckon with a workplace politics of gestation which necessarily points beyond surrogacy as an “exception”, towards the work of so-called natural gestation (see Lewis 2015). Meanwhile, to come at denaturalizing the matter from a different angle: the development of methods of mitochondrial splicing now promises the possibility of increasing, beyond two, the number of a baby’s direct genetic parents. It is more pertinent than ever before, then, to further weaponize gene biologist’s Richard Lewontin’s already political claims that “DNA is not self-reproducing…it makes nothing…and organisms are not determined by it” (quoted on p.41).
Within this struggle for a liberatory mode of reproduction, it may not always be strategic to argue that care-based livelihoods are comprised of “labour” rather than something else (“vital energy”, “biology”) in order to win victories. In surrogacy, gestators may develop their challenges to “the assumption that the end product is a form of contract-protected property belonging to the originators of intention and DNA” (p.41) in different vocabularies. The Indian open-source programmers in Chapter 3 of Life Support had a collective notion of authorship at the same time as “the desire to keep the fruits of their labour ‘at home’” (p.101); as such, it would be interesting to inquire into possible analogous desires on the part of Indian gestational surrogates vis-à-vis the newborns they hand away; desires that may already have helped shape the 2015 ruling against private transnational “outsourcing” in their domain. What is “home”? How can we remake this world as a life-support for all its inhabitants? Might a demand to keep the strange fruits of hi-tech gestational labour “at home” articulate favourably with Haraway’s (2015) call to “make kin, not babies”?
Oh, and finally, weigh in – and watch this space. Conversations are happening on social media about the strengths and limits of ‘automationist’ anti-work. Out of the Woods will be posting a separate head’s-up and introduction to the two perspectives it helped produce on the type of analysis Srnicek and Williams offer.
Plan C Manchester has been compiling a tumblr of radical demands – most of them formulated by ‘guests’ or fellow-travellers – imagining a liveable future. With my Feminist Fightback hat on, I helped to contribute to Demand No. 21 – Reproductive Justice for All! – and also wrote another one by collaborating with @takkaria, namely, Demand No. 23 – Stop allocating social resources on the basis of marital status. The latter in particular is merely a sort of sketch of a call for experimenting with more conviction, as communists, in materially otherwise forms of social reproduction, by building nurturing alternatives to the couple-form somehow, some sort of anti-families. Whatever you may think (I’m ambivalent myself) about the meaning of formulating demands in the relative absence of a corresponding social struggle, you can check these respective (differently styled) texts out, here and here, along with the entirety of the excellent Demanding the Future project/experiment, which (incidentally) will be written up thoughtfully by my Manchester comrades in short order.
Demand #21: Reproductive Justice For All!
Guest demand by Feminist Fightback
Reproductive justice consists of the social conditions necessary for people to enjoy the freedom to “have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments” (SisterSong). As UK-based intersectional anticapitalist feminists in solidarity with the SisterSong Women of Colour Reproductive Justice collective in the USA, we in Feminist Fightback demand: reproductive justice for all.
There has recently been a significant increase in the number of anti-choice pickets occurring outside abortion clinics, with picketers becoming increasingly aggressive. Earlier this week, Lord Bates, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, suggested that immigration needed to be decreased, as migrant women were having ‘too many’ babies. In London, a group of single women with children, the Focus E15 Mothers, are defending their right to stay in social housing near their friends and support networks, as Newham council wants to ‘re-house’ some of them as far away as Sunderland.
While the phrase “reproductive justice” itself is relatively new, dating from the 1990s, in both theUS and UK, racialized women, low-income women, disabled women, and their allies have long supported the need to legalise abortion while also challenging the limitations of focusing exclusively on the ‘right to choose’. Reproductive justice places the ‘right to choose’ within the wider social context in which choices are being made. It asks us to think about the conditions necessary for genuine reproductive autonomy, and the intersecting systems of oppression that pervade our lives, preventing these conditions from being realised. It asks us to consider why some women have more options than others, and why some babies are seen as more ‘valuable’.
Conditions necessary for reproductive justice might include (but are not limited to):
● Free abortion on demand for anyone, without the need for doctors’ signatures, everywhere in the UK, including Northern Ireland.
● Access to contraception, abortion and ante-natal, peri-natal and post-natal care for ALL people, regardless of immigration status.
● A welfare state that provides adequate financial support for all parents and children, with extra support provided for children and parents with special needs.
● A fully public and well-funded NHS to ensure free, excellent, reproductive health care for all.
● An end to immigration detention, which is especially difficult and detrimental for children and pregnant women
● Adequate training for all medical personnel on the reproductive health needs of trans* people, intersex people, and any other non-binary people.
● An end to all ideologies and policies that paint some children and parents as ‘less valuable’ or less capable of making ‘good choices’ than others; obvious examples would be capitalism, sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, trans*phobia, and xenophobia.
These are by no means the only conditions. What would you add?
March 31, 2015.
Demand #23: Stop allocating social resources and privileges on the basis of marital status
This demand has been put forward, on the basis of a provocation by Laura Kipnis in the polemicAgainstLove, by members of Plan C Manchester andFeminist Fightback North: @takkaria and @lasophielle.
We demand that societies stop allocating social resources and privileges on the basis of marital status. By ‘marital status’ we are referring to whether people are publicly recognised as a couple, the couple form being, to quote Hannah Black, that “thing or experience or lifestyle or belief” that, despite the many and storied joys it brings, is nevertheless “the most reductive, exclusionary and precarious imaginable method of meeting the probably universal need to feel close to and recognized by others.”
Everywhere, the state promotes and gives recognition to various kinds of couples, the most infamous such measures being, perhaps, the provision of tax breaks and joint benefits to couples. Universal Credit also promises to glue poorer couples together financially in a gruesome recapitulation of 1960s middle-class life, making one benefit payment, once a month, to one person – despite the obvious potential for abuse this opens up. As such, the state also encourages society to treat people in couples as a unit, and their relationship as the basis of a household with special legitimacy. When you get a divorce in this country, still today, you are pleading with the Crown that your life “has become intolerable”. It is this state of affairs, to us, that is intolerable.
And while this unit (the basis for “family values”) undergirds what we call public, interactions between its constituent parts are private, creating an environment ripe for abuse – the brunt of which is borne by women. Those of us outside the unit are reluctant to intervene: what happens in the family is private and, after all, ‘we don’t really know what’s going on’. Legally, too, marriages have been the place where, rich or poor, one is least protected from the violence of rape by one particular person (incidentally, places where marital rape is still legal are largely using penal codes devised by ex-imperial powers, but that’s a story for another time). Despite this, gaining and maintaining marital status remains synonymous with good citizenship: we must do it because we must – ethically, economically – ‘think of the children’, whether or not they have been created yet.
We demand a less precarious system of social reproduction, and a far wider horizon for our legitimate desires, than the couple form. We are wondering, as Kipnis puts it: “What if luring people into conditions of emotional stagnation and deadened desires were actually functional for society? … Note that the conditions of marital stasis are remarkably convergent with those of a cowed workforce and a docile electorate.”
We acknowledge that marriage has historically been sought, in particular,by members of a socio-economically vulnerable sex class, to whom it offered certain protections, even though the institution originally managed their exchange as reproductive chattel. We acknowledge that a great many people flourish in marriage. But this is no basis for predicating the allocation of social resources on this institution. Nowadays, especially for the poor, marriage is supposedly a ‘soft’, aspiration-forming mode of social ordering, yet it often takes on a coercive and punitive function.
Individual parents (overwhelmingly women) who try to leave abusive situations with their kids find their benefits sanctioned; immigration rights are, barbarically, tied to marital status; and even sleeping over at your boyfriend’s dis-entitles you to certain single person’s benefits. As such,Mumsnet is full of stories detailing ways one can snitch on neighbours who might be faking their couple-form, or failing to declare lifestyles that ought to be legally and economically coupled, given our era’s prevailing logic of austerity. “Who needs a policeman on every corner,” asks Laura Kipnis, “when we’re all so willing to police ourselves and those we love, and call it upholding our vows?”
So let’s abolish the apparatus that makes marriage, both gay and straight, a quasi-imperative (as well as every girl’s ultimate dream). Let’s have uncivil partnerships instead. Let’s stop policing ourselves, confusing commitment with property logic. Let’s stop letting the state police our intimate domain. We can decide for ourselves what a family is, and what resources it needs.
The stark and ugly two-tier geography of surrogacy—boutique and mass, transparent and opaque, North and South, voluntaristic and desperate—can be mystified through the telling of new age spiritual stories, and the blogging of miracles, that pretend there is no difference. Infertility having become subject to wholesale pathologisation, a surrogate’s final pay-day (parturition) inevitably becomes the happiest day of a long-thwarted would-be procreator’s life. Women helping women: it’s beautiful – that’s the way the optimistic contingent of the pro-natalist liberal-feminist establishment would like to frame it. Curiously, there are few voices to be found from the garment factory slums of, for example, Bangalore – where surrogates are recruited – that chime with the breathless descriptions of unforgettable journeys, bonds, unlikely comings-together, and incredible reciprocal transformations, which the industry (and Oprah) likes to platform. As is doubtless palpable to those workers, in many ways the outsourcing of gestation is typical of post-Fordist labour trends. A growing suite of reproductive and intimate domestic ‘goods’ now enter the international market in services, marked by precarisation and casualisation and characterised notably by a rearrangement of risk (typical surrogacy contracts read like litanies of risk disclaimers). Indeed, to zoom in on this small subsection of twenty-first century work is not to argue that it is qualitatively unique.
Rather, the challenge for surrogates, the value of whose labour is literally embedded in their bodies as living things, is to generalise their struggle. The experience of bodily unity with a child destined for an ‘other’ family seems like a very good place from which to instigate a politics of reproductive freedom. It springs from the same subversive mediational subject-position occupied throughout history by wet nurses, governesses, ayahs, sex-workers and nannies. Surrogate struggle by no means demands a technophobic attitude against assisted reproductive technologies, which should surely rather be reimagined – made to realise collective needs and desires. Actually, those who work as surrogates are the technology profitably controlled by others; they embody not only the form-giving fire but the partially conscious primary components. And the woman who stood up to her boss, with whom this article began, points the way to a revolution that begins simply with naming the labour of surrogacy as labour; naming the not-fully-conscious, not-fully-human, body, in which the commissioned baby resides, as synonymous with the labourer herself. We might imagine this struggle as one aiming to overthrow all conditions of life that stratify and impede the flourishing and re-growing of already-existing humans. Starting, certainly, with global markets in reproductive tourism as they currently exist, intensifying patterns of neocolonial inequality. But doubtless also including the nuclear family, based, as it is, on genetic heredity, inheritance, and oppressive divisions of work that prop up the tangled relations of nation, gender and race. Surrogacy, in short, has the potential to make palpable to us how co-produced, worldly and interdependent our bodies are. In the years to come, a form of radical cyborg militancy is to be expected in the gestational workplaces of the world.