Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen and this is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Susan Cox. She is a feminist writer, activist, and educator in Philosophy. She is a regular contributor to Feminist Current and a member of the Women’s Liberation Front board of directors.
So first, I’d like to thank you for your work, and second, I’d like to thank you for being on the program.
SC: Thank you, Derrick. Thanks for having me.
DJ: Today I’d like to talk about queer theory. It feels like there has been something of a coup in academia, sort of silent coup and also in discourse in general. At this point, this thing called “queer theory” frankly seems to control all of academia these days, and a lot of public discourse. But I am sure that a lot of people haven’t heard of it. What is queer theory?
SC: Derrick, you are certainly right that there has been this massive coup in academia of queer theory. We see it pretty much everywhere, especially in feminism today.
Queer theory problematizes what is called “the binary opposition.” For example: Man versus woman. Queer theory argues that binary oppositions are inherently hierarchical, in that one term is privileged over the other as the primary, and the other term is merely its deviant, or derivative. For example: Man is primary and woman is merely the negation of man.
In psychoanalysis, women were theorized as being merely “the lack of the penis.” So queer theory argues that we need to deconstruct all of these social binary oppositions. For example, man versus woman, heterosexual versus homosexual, natural versus artificial, nature versus culture. And we do this through the strategy of queering. And queering is basically a strategy of conceptual and categorical border transgression, in which each category becomes essentially meaningless and not distinct from the other. For example, if we take “man” and redefine “man” as not being a male person, but whoever feels like man, then we have queered that category and it is no longer distinct from “woman.” And this is seen as a progressive movement in getting rid of social oppression, because queer theory sees oppression as springing not from one class of people subordinating another and exploiting them for labor and resources, for their material benefit; but instead oppression comes from this very act of labelling these groups in a binary fashion, which is seen as restrictive and oppressive and people cannot express their authentic selves in this binary opposition.
DJ: Wait – I want you to keep going with this, but I’m guessing that, just like my brain is exploding from the nonsense of what is being conveyed here, that a lot of listeners’ brains will be kind of exploding too. I just want to give us a second to let our brains explode, and now, can you go on? This all … is just striking me as crazy. But keep going.
SC: When oppression is seen not as arising from these material relations of power, these class relations, but instead from the labelling of these relations in a binary fashion, from putting people into these groups of categories, then it really drops power out of the equation.
For example, Judith Butler; in her seminal text Gender Trouble, which came out in 1990, at the beginning of the third wave of feminism and was hugely influential to the third wave; argues that patriarchy is a… she celebrates the fact that the term “patriarchy” has lost currency in recent feminist theory, and that we cannot identify males as a class, as the oppressors of females, because this is too totalizing a gesture and actually this is not how it works, but oppression springs from these discursive structures of binary oppositions, and, if we identify males as the oppressor class, that only works to strengthen the binary opposition.
DJ: So let me get this straight. Even though 25% of all women in this culture have been raped in their lifetime by males, and another 19% percent have had to fend off rape attempts, this is not – naming the fact that it is males who are raping females, does not actually help to at least begin to address this atrocity, but instead … please finish that sentence, because I can’t.
SC: But instead, when females unite together in feminism, this would only strengthen the gender binary, which is the source of all oppression. So it became really popular in feminist theory in the 80’s and 90’s to say that women are not oppressed by virtue of these material relations of power, but by the category of “woman” itself. They argued that feminism needed to proceed without reference to the category of “woman,” and that females could not be the subject of feminism as it was an exclusionary move, and that all of feminism’s actions had to be inclusive of all individuals.
DJ: So the abolition movement, the attempt to abolish chattel slavery in the United States, could, according to this idea, not reference the fact that it was white people enslaving African-Americans? And attempts to stop genocide against American Indians is then not supposed to acknowledge that? The problem is that there are the categories “settler” or “colonial power” and “indigenous persons,” the problem is that these categories exist, the problem is not that white people are stealing Indian land?
SC: Exactly. What happened with the rise of queer theory is that feminism became very symbolic, the idea being that the war that feminism needs to fight is merely on the symbolic level of erasing certain categories from language, through the process of queering. And when we drop power out of the equation we can see what happens, for example like you were saying about racist global colonization.
Take for example the surrogacy industry. Queer theory views surrogacy not as this racist, sexist system of exploitation, but as a positive movement. It does not view the exploitation of, for example, a woman in India as inherently…it basically… Say there are two gay white males in America who wish to have a baby. So they hire a surrogate in India to gestate their child; and they take the egg from another woman, through this painful and harmful extraction process, because the Indian woman’s eggs are of an undesirable race; and they implant it into her womb and this is not considered exploitation, but it’s rather a progressive movement of the queering of birth! Because it is seen as queering the binary in sexual reproduction of male and female, as well as queering the relationship between the natural and the artificial. It’s celebrated in what’s known as “cyborg feminism” as this utopian melding of man and machine, and as this blurring of these “oppressive boundaries.”
DJ: So I’m still finding that my brain is exploding. How did this ever get – this all seems like such nonsense. How did it ever take hold?
I want to read a quote from a queer theorist, and then I want to comment briefly on that, and then turn it over to you.
The comment from the queer theorist is that queer theory “seeks to answer a series of questions about what is normal, how normal comes to exist, and who was excluded or oppressed by these notions of norms.”
And that part, I think, is desperately important. We should ask ourselves, for example, how rape became normalized, how pornography became normalized. They call prostitution “the oldest profession,” which is certainly attempting to normalize this sexual exploitation of women. Likewise, how did it became normalized for this culture to have an economic system that destroys the planet? I think that that question is really important.
But it seems to me that that’s not all they do. There somehow is this pretense in there, because… Well, why don’t I just let you take over. Because that part I think is helpful. Separate out for me, if you can, where it went from a useful discussion like that – well, first off, do you agree that that’s a useful discussion, how things become normalized? And second, then how did this become so – how did they come to these really bizarre conclusions from that decent start, or that decent question?
SC: I agree with you, Derrick. It is an important discussion to interrogate how norms come to be norms, and what is this process? And feminist theorists certainly did this with the question of social construction, the social construction of gender. For example, Simone de Beauvoir is famous for saying “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” to try to interrogate this mechanism of social construction.
Queer theory is very much influenced by Michel Foucault, who is called the father of queer theory. He really popularized this method of what he calls “historical genealogy”. He originally got it from Nietzsche, but he popularized it in 20th century as a part of postmodernist thought. So he performs these historical genealogies, for example history of madness, history of sexuality; to show how homosexuality became seen as deviant.
And this is an important thing to do. But what queer theory does is it takes power out of the equation and says that these norms happen almost by chance, which is also from Foucault. Foucault argued that these norms kind of happen through contingency. And contingency is basically chance. They just sort of form that way, they just get momentum for some reason and keep going. No one knows quite why and they don’t really benefit any specific group of people.
Similarly, Judith Butler said that women are not oppressed for the benefit of males, but that these norms simply come to be and that they are very restrictive and oppress people in that fashion.
So take for example gender. The feminist theory of the social construction of gender is that it is coercively instated, so that female persons are organized into the subordinate class of women. And women are positioned as being illogical, frivolous, subservient, naturally caring, and sexually subordinate to males. And men are characterized as brave, active, intelligent, logical, leaders. So we can see how gender is basically the ideology that props up these two classes.
But in queer theory, they took the feminist theory of gender and made it into this all-pervasive plot to capture complex individuals into these restrictive binary boxes, and that itself is considered oppressive.
So queer theory idealizes individual performances of the self that exceed these binaries. For example Eve Sedgwick says that subversive binary performances of the self include BDSM practitioners. She says something like “radical fairies,” leather men, all of these sort of surprising performances of the self. And for queer theory, you can’t simply break out of the binary opposition, or refuse one pole of the binary opposition, because this only strengthens it. And the second wave of feminism identified heterosexuality, and more specifically compulsory heterosexuality, as a main regime of women’s oppression.
So queer theory took that and said that for example radical lesbianism, or political lesbianism, was not a productive feminist strategy at all. Because merely refusing heterosexuality strengthened the binary between heterosexual and homosexual, and what instead needed to happen was the queering of the binary entirely, thus blurring the distinction between heterosexual and homosexual.
Eve Sedgwick argues that lesbianism is not a subversive refusal of male power at all, but instead what is really subversive is for lesbians to have sex with men. And Judith Butler said pretty much the same thing. She said that lesbianism was not productive, but rather a man who is performing femininity, wearing feminine clothing, and that sexual relation is a much more complex production of power, and subversive.
DJ: Once again, my brain is continuing – it’s past exploding. It’s simply melting at this point. Part of what you’re saying is that – it seems like your perspective would be that a little girl should not be forced into “femininity” by being disallowed from working on a car engine, and instead being forced to play with dolls. You would say that that is forcing her into the structure of femininity, if she is not allowed – I mean, if she wants to play with dolls, that’s fine, but if she wants to work on a truck that’s fine too. Is this correct so far?
SC: Yes, that’s correct. That is the feminist theory, the feminist stance on the matter.
DJ: And so the queer theory perspective would be that the little girl who likes to play with trucks, or likes to work on trucks is…. is…. Finish the sentence, please.
SC: Is not a girl at all, basically.
So what queer theory argues; because you cannot refuse one end of the binary opposition, or strengthen the oppressed end of the binary opposition; is that we need to do away with the binary opposition entirely. So it argues that women are – you cannot merely be a woman, and say “I am a female, but I do not ascribe to femininity, I do not do femininity. I like things which are traditionally relegated to the realm of men.” This is no longer seen as something productive.
Instead, queer theory asserted the theory of performativity. So this is what Judith Butler is very famous for. She said that “woman” is not just a female person, but it is a performance. There is no such thing as real women, as “woman” is nothing but a parody without origin. So we are all just performing this idea of femininity and there is no such thing… there is no femaleness underneath femininity. So queer theory focuses on subverting the distinction between sex and gender. Originally feminist theory said there is sex, there are males and females, and then there is all this made up nonsense which is gender.
DJ: Obviously there are males and females or there wouldn’t be babies.
SC: Yes, but queer theory says no, males and females are just as fictitious as the gender categories of what’s feminine and masculine. And this has been really harmful for asserting any sort of positive feminist image of the woman who flouts femininity but is still a woman, nonetheless.
DJ: It seems to me – I’m going to throw out a philosopher here, too. There is what Whitehead called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, which is where you forget – in non-philosophical language, that’s confusing the map for the territory. And it seems to me – we’re all aware of that? If you have a map and if the map does not fit the real world, then you know there is a problem with the map. But it seems to me that – aren’t these queer theorists are saying that there is actually no real world and that there is only the map?
SC: Yes. The queer theorists are saying this, which is very much influenced from postmodernist philosophy, which basically says there is no “real world” onto which the illusions of society are cast, but instead it is nothing but a world of smoke and mirrors. So there is no such thing as a “real woman” or “real man,” aka males and females.
DJ: Or real nature.
SC: Or real nature.
That is also a motif of the cyborg feminism – there is no such thing as a natural person, we are all really cyborgs and there is nothing real and there are no boundaries that we can actually point to between the natural and the artificial, or the real and the apparent world.
DJ: This is not just in – If we expand this beyond queer theory, this is not just in sex. This is also in – there’s a huge movement – this is just one part of a larger movement There are the neo-environmentalists who say “There is no wild nature, there are only gardens. There is only what we make of it and we are going to run this.” They believe that what is – what we feel about the world is more important than the world itself. We see this in many different – we see this in the attempts to co-opt or eradicate indigenous nations and indigenous sovereignty. We see this all over and this is just fundamentally… I’ve seen a lot of mainstream articles about how people are suggesting, famous people are suggesting that the world is nothing but a giant computer simulation, like a computer game, as opposed to the real world. Basically this is like the triumph of what we think about what is real, over what actually is real. The triumph of solipsism, where the real world does not exist.
This was a joke we used to play with when I was in high school. I read in a science fiction story one time that oh, the world is nothing but my imagination. So I would say to my friend Ron: “You don’t really exist because I’m the only being in the world that exists and everything else is a figment of my imagination.” And since we were high school boys, he would punch me in the arm, you know?
My voice is getting thin not just because I have a cold, but because this is so crazy.
SC: It is crazy, and it’s a very harmful ideology, because when we cannot assert that there is something real, as for example, the natural world; when we cannot say that there is something real or there is truth, then we cannot fight for the truth and what is right.
And the real tragedy of queer theory and postmodernism in general, postmodernist thought, is that it actually comes from a good place in some ways. For example, postmodernism emerged as a critique to modern philosophy. And modern philosophy is characterized by asserting universal truths which are usually Eurocentric truths; objective reality and an appeal to nature. For example, women were excluded from much political theory because their nature was merely inferior and they could not have access to the levels of rationality required for participating in political life.
DJ: And the same is claimed to be true for Africans, American Indians and these so-called “lesser breeds,” that whites are – whites have conquered the world because they are naturally superior, not through their application of organized violence.
SC: Yes, exactly, because that is just “the nature of civilization” and the European civilizations are, well, you know; through such philosophers like Hegel, they viewed the Germans as the inheritors of the mantle of civilization from the Greeks. Also in Heidegger, he also espoused that, and he was a Nazi. We don’t talk much about that in philosophy. So postmodernist thought emerged as a critique to modern philosophy, which, for example, they said… It was basically an assertion of neutral objectivity. And so when all of these voices suddenly became more legitimate… There was, you know, in the 20th century, it had seen the end to a lot of injustice, the end to much colonialism and sexism, and the voices of women were actually becoming legitimate.
So these claims to universality from which women were excluded no longer held water. And when the modern philosophy would say “This is an expression of my neutral objectivity,” feminist philosophy looked at that and said, “Ahh, no, it’s not. It’s actually just an expression of your subject position as a white European male.”
So this was actually a very good critique. But then postmodernist thought took the turn to say, you know, not that this truth was incomplete or wrong, but to say that there is no such thing as objective truth, and there is no such thing as objective reality that can be observed. That everything is subjective, is a manifestation of one’s own cultural position. We see this also in postcolonial theory, which argued that instead of critiquing the Eurocentric universalism and saying “You were wrong” or “This is incomplete,” instead argued that there is no such thing as universal truth, that everything is merely culturally relativist.
When we cannot assert the truth, we cannot fight for the truth. It’s actually quite convenient to power when there is no such thing as objective truth, so people can’t say, “You are wrong.” They say “Well, everything is subjective, and a manifestation of your own personal reality.”
DJ: A couple things. One of them is that the best refutation of this that I saw early in my adult life was by Charlene Spretnak, who said that “For those who say there are no truths, I say there is this truth, which is that you need water to survive. So drinkable quantities of clean water are a good thing and we can build our truth from there.” The point being that we are animals and we require clean water to survive. We require air to breathe. I mean, if somebody were to start strangling you, or somebody were to start strangling a postmodernist, the postmodernist, one would hope, would quickly realize that there is a truth, which is that you need air to live, and you can build things from there.
SC: Mm-hmm. When we cannot assert the truth, you know, we cannot fight for the truth. It’s actually quite convenient to power when there is no such thing as objective truth, when people can’t say “You are wrong.” You can say “Well, everything is subjective, and a manifestation of your own personal reality.”
DJ: So I would then not be allowed to look at you and say “You are a female,” even if you are pregnant.
DJ: If you are pregnant, obviously you are a female, because males don’t get pregnant.
DJ: The point is that even on that level of truth, we’re not allowed to assert it. Correct?
SC: That is correct. This is also ideology that is very useful for power because when females do not actually exist, but when they’re just a performance, like we for example see this ideology in the sex trade industry, when women have to tell themselves, “Oh, I’m OK. I’m not selling myself. This is just a performance. I’m selling a service. I’m just pretending to be this thing and that’s what I’m selling.” The flesh and blood existence of women conveniently disappears into the commodity when they are nothing more than a performance. They’re nothing more than a text.
Judith Butler’s later theory, she argued that “women” is nothing more, gender is nothing more than an utterance, as a citation of certain norms.
And you know, I met a very smart feminist theorist at a philosophy conference and I said something critical of prostitution and she said, “Oh but, you know, sex work is not bad. I know one young woman and she’s more like an actress. She acts in a certain way that her clients like, and she has to change her personality and be an actress, depending on which client she’s with.” So it’s all very convenient when women don’t actually exist.
DJ: Let’s talk about pedophilia. It seems to me one of the arguments that’s made by queer theory; which you mentioned once, but you haven’t really hit, and you can hit it if you want; is the importance of transgressing social norms. And I think you and I would agree that there are certainly certain social norms that it is important to transgress. But it seems to me that queer theory, with denying that truth exists, is arguing that transgressing of social – that since some norms are… I’ve seen the argument made that because this culture has asserted that homosexuality is wrong, and that obviously is an unfair stricture, an unjust stricture, they then argue – I’ve seen a lot of queer theorists make this argument – that all restrictions against all forms of sexuality are restrictive and bad.
DJ: So can you talk about that and include in this a discussion of the role of pedophilia in the formation of queer theory?
SC: Yes. Queer theorists certainly do make exactly that argument you just made. Actually, I recently saw that argument be made in a legal brief by the ACLU. It was a legal brief petitioning the State of California to legalize prostitution and their argument was that since there were once laws against sodomy, restricting adults’ sexual expression, that they should abolish any restrictions on prostitution, which restrict adults’ sexual activities. And this is a real thing. I can’t believe that’s the argument they made. It is ridiculous, but this is our ridiculous world.
And queer theorists do make the argument that all social norms need to be transgressed and that is a progressive force of queering. For example, BDSM is seen as a “queer” identity. And queer theory argues that there is not material harm done by, for example, someone beating someone with a whip and getting sexual pleasure from it, but that the social harm comes from the marginalization of certain groups who are seen as deviant, such as BDSM practitioners or pedophiles.
For example, Michel Foucault, in a 1978 radio interview, was advocating for France to abolish the age of sexual consent –
DJ: As in down to infants, as in down to any age?
SC: As in down to infants, yes. Make it so there was no restriction on sexual consent.
DJ: He’s not unique. Pat Califia also said that any child old enough to be able to choose whether he or she wants to wear shoes is old enough to participate in sex, by which she doesn’t mean playing “doctor,” but instead Pat Califia has written child torture porn.
SC: Oh my god.
DJ: Anyway, so go ahead.
SC: So yeah, this is quite a common argument amongst queer theorists, and Foucault himself made the argument in a radio interview. He said that there is not actually harm done by adult males raping children, but rather that children are merely constructed, socially constructed as a vulnerable population through various psychological, medical and legislative discourses, and that the pedophile is merely socially constructed as a figure, as a phantom. They’re nothing more than a phantom, and that the creation of this phantom through the law on sexual consent would actually cause the social harm and be carried out on the bodies of men, and women and children throughout society.
So this is what queer theory does. There are no material relations of power or exploitation or harm. There are merely these phantoms of social norms that are causing the harm, these categorizations of people, the categorization of pedophile, or the BDSM or the sadist, even.
DJ: So to be clear – this is all pretty complex material – the problem, according to queer theory, is not what happens, the problem is not the actual rape of a child by an adult – or they would not say “rape,” they would say “consensual sexual activity between a 4 year old and a 37 year old” – but the problem is not the sex act itself, or what you and I would say the act of rape itself, but the problem is how society responds to that act? And the problem is our discourse surrounding it, which is that’s where the harm comes to the child? Is this the argument, essentially?
SC: Yes. The argument is that it’s how society responds to it and it’s also the naming of it. So what queer theory advocates for is basically to render language meaningless, so that this action of naming harm cannot actually occur. You know, when we cannot actually name the class of males as the oppressors of females –
DJ: Or adults as adult pedophiles raping children.
SC: Exactly. When we cannot even name them –
DJ: Or white people stealing from indigenous people
SC: Exactly. You know post-colonial theory idealizes this process of hybridization where it blurs the line between oppressor and oppressed, and we can no longer make a distinction between them, because everything is this sort of queer mush of hybridization. And that is seen as the way to progress and liberation.
This is actually a real problem, because as Mary Daly said, “We cannot fight against oppression when there are no namable oppressors.” So this is a real problem for feminism, and also for any sort of activism or revolution, political revolution, when we cannot establish class consciousness and identify the division of classes. Who are the exploiters, who are the exploited?
This is the real mistake in the social theory of “othering,” or this is the vulgar misreading of the theory of “othering.” The idea of the “other” is that this social group is seen as this coherent group and distinct from the dominating group. And postmodernist theory argues that we need to deconstruct the creation of the category of “other” and make it so that there is no distinction between groups, and everybody is recognized as infinitely unique individuals who are irreducible to any social category of description. But in reality you actually need to identify yourself as member of an exploited class and unite together in class interest to be able to fight any power that is oppressing you.
We see this throughout history, throughout any act of slavery, colonization, or oppression. The dominant group can’t subordinate another group merely through brute force. They also need to engage in this sophisticated process of dismantling the group as a group, and this is done through banning their language, their religion and destroying their way of life.
For example, in the history of the western civilization, western civilization, the Romans, were able to consolidate their hold on diverse cultural territories by instituting a hierarchical system of spiritual authority, Christianity. And they were able to suppress paganism by burning pagan temples and executing pagan practitioners, but it still wasn’t enough. They had to appropriate certain elements of paganism into Christianity, like Yule and Easter.
For example, Easter is the Christian holiday of celebrating the day that Jesus rose from the dead. But Easter, where does that come from? Where do the bunnies come from? Where do the eggs come from? And it’s actually an appropriation of the Goddess of the Dawn, whose name was Ēostre. And it’s really a fantastic example of queering, when this goddess’s name was rendered totally meaningless, emptied out of all meaning that was subversive to the powers.
DJ: Can you talk more about colonialism? We had a talk a couple of days ago, sort of preparing for the interview. Can you remember the stuff that you said about colonialism that I teased you that I really wanted you to put in?
DJ: Do you remember what I’m talking about?
SC: I think so.
DJ: It had to do with commodifying – go ahead.
SC: Back to the theory of the “other.” The “other” was originally theorized by Simone de Beauvoir, and she said that “man” is the subject and woman is the “other;” “man” is the absolute and “woman” is inessential. And so this was taken up to be that, you know, the whole fashionable trend of feminist theory that woman cannot be the subject of feminism, that feminism needs proceed without referencing women, and everything is exclusionary and everything needs to be inclusive of all individuals, etc. etc.
DJ: So when indigenous rights actually includes, has to include – environmentalism has to include industrial humans. And indigenous rights has to include white people’s right to take from indigenous people.
SC: Yes, because the “harm” is the identification of indigenous people as “other,” according to post-modernist thought and queer theory. So Simone de Beauvoir, when she theorized this, she meant it in a way that when woman is the “other,” she doesn’t exist at all. Like she is given no existence apart from men.
And this is also what happens in any strategy of oppression. The oppressed group is turned into nothing more than a parody of what they once were, and a commodity, like sacred cultural symbols are turned into this exotic pattern that the dominant group will tile their bathroom with. Or religious garb will just turn into this fun costume that the dominant group will use when they’re at a costume party and play. So it reduces the people, the oppressed group to nothing more than a performance, and a parody.
And this is what it’s being advocated for in queer theory, that a woman is nothing more than a performance, she is just a citation of a norm, and anyone can put on this costume. It’s basically the obliteration of the oppressed group.
DJ: So we have about five minutes left. There are a couple of areas – everything you’re saying is, I think, really really important, and we have a couple of areas left. One of them is can you talk for a moment about the McCarthyism that seems to be inherent in queer theory, because their arguments don’t make any sense. It seems to me that what’s happening in the academia is there’s a litmus test, that if you don’t agree with queer theory, you’ll be kicked out, you’ll be deplatformed, you’ll be not allowed to speak. It’s become clear to me that the only way that queer theory can win arguments is by silencing its opponents, because it doesn’t make any sense. So do you want to talk for a minute about how this notion that it’s all just narratives – it keeps reminding me, I can’t help but think about Animal Farm. All animals are created equal except the pigs are more equal. It’s like all narratives are created “equal,” except that queer theory is the only narrative you can have.
SC: Oh, that’s really a good parallel. I like that.
In academia, you know, or just the greater population; yes there is that whole – the McCarthyism of – and it’s definitely – a part of it is that because everything is just narrative and symbols and there is no material reality, words turn into violence. So if you say something that is dissenting, like a feminist critique of gender, of genderist ideology; that is seen as a literal act of physical violence. Because, you know; “words are reality,” “the world is a text,” etc.
But you know, in academia, really, there’s … or just in the world in general; like in feminism, I feel like there are a lot of women who are really open to critiques of this whole ideology. Because, you know, they are not actually – they don’t actually want to do bad things. They want to make the world a better place, actually. They have good intentions, a lot of people who are very invested in queer theory. I’ve met a lot of professors and academics who are very much into queer theory but it’s coming from a good place. They think that it is actually the path to fighting oppression in the world and it’s kind of sad.
I think that feminism, right now – we really do have a good opportunity to get our message out there, and to have it be well received, because I think women are just starving for some straightforward answers, because everything is to topsy-turvy. Like in gender studies departments, there are just so many reversals. If you pick up a Judith Butler book, which every gender studies department will have you read, it is just reversal after reversal. You can’t even read it. It’s just so bizarre and terrible. I feel like women are starving for something real.
They’re starving for real feminism.
I always think of, you know, to go to George Orwell; I always think of 1984, because it’s so descriptive of our current world. But I also think of a very particular character in 1984, whose name is Syme. And he works with Winston at the Ministry of Truth, and Winston likes to talk to Syme. Syme is very much, he’s taken all the ideology of Big Brother, hook line and sinker. But he’s very intelligent, and he’s fun to talk to. So Winston is having this conversation with Syme, and ironically Syme’s job at the Ministry of Truth is actually to “queer” language. And he’s talking about how the English language has so many different words for “good.” It has “splendid,” “fantastic,” “wonderful.” And obviously these words are totally useless when you could just use “good” or “ungood” or “doubleplusgood.”
So his job at the Ministry of Truth is to remove the specificity from language. And they’re at lunch break and Big Brother comes on to make an announcement, and Big Brother says things like “War is Peace,” “Peace is War,” and “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.” And of course last week they weren’t at war with Eastasia, but this is what the ideology is currently telling people to accept. And most of the people are just always so buffeted by all of these reversals that they kind of just accept whatever comes, but Syme is so intelligent that Winston looks at Syme when the announcements are saying “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia, and he sees him internalizing it in a more sophisticated way, to “doublethink.”
So it’s really sad. I think that a lot of the people who are very invested in queer theory are very intelligent, and it’s such doublethink. There are so many reversals. That’s Syme. He’s kind of the postmodernist academic I always think of.
DJ: We have like a minute left. Either a) could you say anything you wanted to say that I haven’t given you a chance to; or b) could you say how do you think we should go forward? How do we combat queer theory and try to bring back reality to our discourse, and to reality?
SC: We need the specificity of language. George Orwell, in his book 1984 was really good in talking about language, because whenever it loses its specificity it always serves power, because you can’t challenge power, you can’t even name it. And so we just need to reach out to women. Like I said, women are all starving for something real, for real feminism. And I think there’s a lot of hope right now, and that good things are possible.
DJ: So how do you see queer theory then getting deconstructed? How do you see moving beyond it? How do you see this hope manifesting?
SC: Queer theory, like you were saying before; when you actually say what it is, it’s just obviously so ridiculous. And talking about Judith Butler, about picking up a Judith Butler book; it’s just so abstruse. You can barely read it. You can’t understand it at all. You’re like “What is she saying?!?”
And it seems very intelligent because of that. It’s given this sort of aura of authority through this academic language. And that’s how a lot of queer theory is. But I think queer theory is very much vulnerable in that if you actually just outright say what it is, it’s like “Well that is really dumb.” So I think if we’re talking about it, and just describing it as what it is, and also identifying queer theory and postmodernist thought in our conversations, and in the political environment around us, that it’s very vulnerable to critique. So there is hope there.
DJ: Yeah, I think any philosophy that can be used so easily to promote pedophilia is obviously very vulnerable.
SC: Yeah. That is just so obviously unacceptable.
DJ: Well thank you so much for the interview. I would like to thank listeners for listening. My guest today has been Susan Cox. This is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.