The Shadow of Marcuse: from Phallogocentrism to Feminine Endings

In my feature for Salvo 20 about Herbert Marcuse, I pointed out that the discipline of “Critical Theory,” ended up deconstructing all of Western civilization. Intellectuals like Marcuse diagnosed Western culture and values as being inherently logo-centric, patriarchal, institutional, patriotic, and capitalist.

Marcuse is dead, but the shadow of Critical Theory and deconstructionism are alive and kicking.

Following in Marcuse’s wake, Jacques Derrida (pictured left) would add “Phallogocentrism” to the crimes of Western civilization, reducing the entire tradition of Western metaphysics to a byproduct of the male impulse for sexual dominance. A person just can’t be too careful, you see: to show an interest in the thought of Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, or Jonathan Edwards, doesn’t just make you a nerd, but a sex maniac, according to Phallogocentric theorists.

Deconstructionism eventually came to be stretched over the entire canopy of Western experience. In have already noted the way even the act of whistling fell under the deconstruction of thinkers like Adorno, who thought that whistling indicated “control over music” and was symptomatic of the insidious pleasure Westerners take “in possessing the melody.”

Building on this, there developed a large school of thought which sees the whole tradition of oil painting, from the development of its technique to its appearance inside golden frames, as being a manifestation of the desire of males to take possession of things, particularly females.  This was the view articulated by John Berger in Ways of Seeing.

This helped to open up whole new fields of art criticism, and by the 90s the Western tonal tradition would become the next casualty to this sexual deconstructionism. “The exercise of male power to the end of social and sexual control is directly reflected by the practice of writing tonal music” wrote Robert Samuels in a work about Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, summarizing the work of Susan McClary in Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality.  In particularly, the cadence (the most basic harmonic progression in tonal music), “is an analogue of this male desire for dominance” particularly in its “drive towards closure and climax . . .”

More about McClary’s musicology tomorrow.

Nudist Colonies Seek to Demystify the Body

“Many churches tell the congregation, ‘Come as you are’” we read in a News Report from last year. “For a chapel in Ivor, VA, that’s especially true. People come without even bothering to get dressed. It’s a church at a nudist colony. Members say it’s nice to worship in a place where there is total freedom and where everyone is equal.” (See also the ABC news report ‘Church welcomes nude parishioners’)

Reading about that got me thinking about nudist colonies in general.  We need to someday do a fake add for a nudist camp that is “guaranteed to desexualize the human body” after only two weeks. Because that is exactly what public nudity does, and when we look into it we find a very good pragmatic argument for being modest.

In 2003 the New York Times ran an article about one of the many youth nudist camps that are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. A 15-year old camper was quoted as saying, “It makes me a bit freaked out that people would think of nudity as a sexual thing.”

These words are significant since frequent exposure to nudity does tend to trivialize the human body, emptying it of its implicit eroticism and making public nakedness seem merely common and non-sexual.

At least, that is what I argued in an article I wrote earlier this year for the Colson Center, titled ‘Nudity and the Christian Worldview.’ I quoted from Vern and Bonnie Bullough book Sexual Attitudes, Myths and Realities, in which the authors testify to the desexualisation process that occurred among the early advocates of nudism. “Early advocates of nudism put high on their list of goals the demystifying of the human body and the reintegration of the sex organs with the rest of the body. The emphasis, however, lay not so much on sexuality as on desexualization. Nudists of the time never tired of pointing out that the complete and unabashed practice of nudism was not an erotic experience…”

In fact we do not need to travel to nudist colonies to see this process of demystification at work. All we need to do is to listen to some of the common defenses some women give for wearing skimpy swimwear or who go about in public only minimally covered. We often hear come-backs like, “It’s ok because they’re not trying to be provocative. There is nothing sexual in this. This is just what women wear these days, and so you shouldn’t import sexual connotations onto it.” Commenting on this line of argument in ‘Nudity and the Christian Worldview’, I wrote

Although I think this is often naive and wishful thinking, my response is to take the young people at their word and to assume, for the sake of argument, that there really is nothing sexual in the minds of those women who strip down to a bikini, or those men who defend the practice as “not having anything sexual about it.” I then point out that if the female body can be almost entirely revealed without the presence of erotic overtones than this only shows how desexualized we have become. Indeed, if a woman can strip down to a bikini in the presence of men without having any thought of the sexual overtones, then this only shows that she has let her body become demystified, that her God-given barriers have been lowered, and that her bare flesh has been evacuated of its inherent eroticism. And this is exactly what early advocates of nudism hoped would happen.

I suggest that we are drifting towards being neuter when the signals of our sexuality are treated as anything less. If we reach the point where attire which conceals less than underwear (e.g. contemporary beachwear) is anything short of utterly erotic, disarmingly sexual and totally provocative, then we have actually repressed an important part of our sexuality. Being in a condition of undress has been unnaturally disengaged from the sexual connotations that ought to accompany it. It follows that the line “there’s nothing sexual about this” is as much an indictment against immodesty as it is a defense of it.

Perhaps God never intended for the naked body to be demystified like this. Perhaps seeing someone of the opposite sex in a state of undress (whether on the beach or on television), was never meant to be disengaged from its sexual connotations and to become merely ‘ordinary’ so that we can say ‘Oh, that doesn’t affect me.’ Perhaps we were never meant to become so detached that seeing someone’s genitals becomes like looking at their elbow. Perhaps it is for this very reason that we are supposed to protect our eyes, to make responsible decisions about how we dress and what we watch on television.

If we reach the point where nothing fazes us, where we can enjoy a beach party with virtually unclad men and women, or think that we can watch various stages of nudity in movies without it affecting us, then we are the losers. What have we lost? We have lost the ability to be naturally sexual as God originally designed. We have in effect let ourselves become functionally neutered in one crucially important area.

Further Reading

Normalizing Sex

Nudity and the Christian Worldview

Too Feminine?

In his parenting manual, Emile, the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that men and women are made differently and therefore require different types of upbringing. He espoused what today many people call a ‘complimentarian’ view of gender, which refers to the idea that the differences between men and women compliment and enhance each other.

Rousseau’s representation of gender falls along the typical polarities, with man being active and woman being passive; man being strong, woman being weak; man being bold, woman being bashful and reserved, etc. While some of Rousseau’s distinctions are exaggerated and stereotypical, we must give him credit for understanding an important point: men and women are different. As he put it, “where sex is concerned man and woman are unlike; each is the complement of the other…”

Many female thinkers in the 18th and 19th century accepted this complimentarian framework, even while offering appropriate challenges to our picture of what constituted ‘feminine’ attributes. Female writers see themselves defending their sex precisely through maintaining gender distinctions. For example, the Victorian writer Elizabeth Wordsworth once noted that “In an ideal state of society we never lose sight of the womanliness of women…why should it be considered a compliment to any woman to be told she writes, paints, sings, talks, or even thinks, like a man?”

Enter 20th century feminism. Now feminist writers see themselves as defending women through attempting to do away with the gender divide. The womanliness of women is no longer a fit object for praise; but neither is it uplifting to explicitly praise women for being like men. Rather, under the feminist androgyny and egalitarianism of the 20th century, the greatest gift we can give to women is by questioning the very category of masculine and feminine.

Under the canopy of the new stereotype of gender neutrality, the greatest censure comes against women who are too womanly. Just look at all the nasty things that Third Wave feminists have said against actress and musician Zooey Deschanel for being too feminine.

Zooey is a bad example for young women, feminists argue, because she is too “girly”, thus solidifying the impression that women are more attractive to men when they embody girly characteristics. The icing on the cake was when Zooey announced in Twitter that she enjoys baking and board games. Ugg – how feminine!

Zooey Deschanel. Too Feminine?

One of the reasons Zooey is criticized so heavily is because she allegedly conforms to gender stereotypes. But the real problem is that she is unusual among contemporary actresses in that she does not conform to the new stereotype of gender neutrality.

This increasingly pervasive stereotype of gender neutrality often hinges on bogus science combined with fanciful anthropology, both of which asserts that there is not a necessary relation between our gender identity (i.e., being feminine or masculine, and everything that this might entail within a given cultural context) and the fixities of our biological sex. This idea is enshrined in countless sociology and women’s studies courses at colleges, in which students are taught that there is no necessary relation between one’s biological sex and one’s gender. Gender is simply a social construction. Given this, the argument goes that we can and should be de-gendered, as we break free from society’s mold. The problem is the new mold of gender neutrality is every bit as stifling, oppressive and stereotypical.

The French Revolution was bad…or was it?

In the blog post I wrote yesterday on the evolution of tolerance, I mentioned the terrible intolerance that occurred during the French Revolution’s reign of terror. I describe this in more detail in the chapter on Edmund Burke in my forthcoming book Saints and Scoundrels. Looking back I don’t think anyone can deny that the French Revolution was bad.

Or can they?

Common sense would seem to suggest that any movement that led to the criminalization of Christianity, sent tens of thousands of citizens to their death, consciously made the guillotine the de facto icon of their regime in order to scare potential dissenters, and instituted a regime of totalitarianism and thought control unseen throughout the annals of human history – common sense would seem to suggest that such a movement was, well, bad. Very bad. Very, very, bad. Very, very, very, very bad.

This is precisely why I was shocked earlier in the month to see David Pollock, president of the European Humanist Federation, praising the French Revolution as something good. In his talk, which can be accessed through the links here, Pollock spoke about the slow progress Europeans have been making towards human rights and individual liberty. “That slow progress”, he said, “marked by significant events such as the English civil war, the American declaration of independence and the French revolution, led by stages, via finally the collective determination to allow no repeat of Nazism, to the European Convention on Human Rights and religious freedom. But no state has fully followed through the implications of individual freedom of religion or belief.”

When I first read that, I thought that perhaps the “slow progress” he is after occurred as a result of Europeans trying to avoid the errors of the French Revolution. Alas, no, that is not what he meant if you read his words in context. In the article I wrote for Christian Voice interacting with Pollock and challenging him to a debate, I noted

Maybe Mr Pollock’s appeal to the French revolution wasn’t a mistake. Maybe that’s precisely the point. Perhaps Pollock would like to see some measure of de-Christianization policies occurring within contemporary Europe. Reading a bit further in his speech it seems that this is exactly what he wants. For example, he pointed out that a particular threat to European secularism was the fact that the Roman Catholic church enjoys a 88% hold in Croatia or the Eastern Orthodox church to which 76% of Bulgarians belong. The thrust of his argument was breathtakingly simple: secularism is good, but if churches are too strong then this represents a threat to secularism; therefore, it is bad for churches to be too strong.

To read more about this, visit article on the Christian Voice website, “EHF President Praises French Revolution.

Tolerance: An Evolving Notion

For our DECODE section in Salvo 10, we took our readers on a little tour of the notion of tolerance over the past few hundred years. Derived from the Latin tolerantia, we pointed out that “tolerance” originally meant “putting up with something that is undesirable.” We continued:

Consequently, inherent in its origins is the notion that the tolerant individual believes that his beliefs, practices, and behaviors are superior to those that he tolerates—that he has graciously refrained from deporting, imprisoning, executing, or otherwise humiliating those whose beliefs, practices, and behaviors are inferior to his own.

That was then. Enter relativism.

It’s not surprising, then, that with the emergence of moral relativism in the early 20th century—and, later, the American political radicalism of the 1960s—came an intolerance of tolerance as it was originally defined. In other words, the idea that some people were merely tolerating the beliefs and actions of others was unacceptable in light of the “fact” that all beliefs and actions were equally legitimate. To remedy this situation, tolerance itself was reconceived as a rejection of moral absolutes in favor of an ethical framework that respected all viewpoints, no matter how ludicrous. Of course, the one viewpoint excluded from this scheme was that which opposed its central premise.

The reason I’m dragging this up from our archives today is because not too long ago I had the chance to see this type of neo-tolerance (which is not tolerance at all) in action when I was writing an article about the challenges Christians are facing in France.

Prior to the revolution, late 18th century France had been the most tolerant society in all of Europe. Tolerance was understood as allowing or permitting another person’s viewpoint or values in spite of how one personally felt. Though this notion of tolerance, like any type of liberty, has obvious legal limits, it was based on the Biblical idea (not always perfectly followed by Christian societies) that we should refrain from deporting, imprisoning, executing or humiliating those whose beliefs, practices and behaviours are inferior to one’s own.

Tolerance in this sense did not suggest an acceptance of that which was being tolerated, but connoted the idea of allowing something in spite of how one actually felt about it, as embodied in the quotation falsely attributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

During the revolution’s reign of terror, all tolerance came to a sudden end. Revolutionary thought police began enforcing what we now call ‘political correctness.’ The guillotine was used to vigorously suppress any opinion or expression which contravened the anti-Christian values of the revolution.

Undergirded by the ideas of the Enlightenment, the French revolution represented a concerted and deliberate attempt to dechristianize the nation, including

  • The implementation of a new calendar to replace the Christian one. The calendar, which was adopted in 1793 and used for the next 12 years, employed a ten day week (in a 10 day week, no one could ever know which day was Sunday) and had 1792 (the year Louis XVI was taken into custody) as year 1. This was known as ‘the year of liberty.’
  • The dispossession, deportation and brutal martyrdom of thousands of clergy
  • Christians being denied freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of thought if it contravened the secular humanist ideology of the revolution.
  • The criminalization of all religious education
  • The elimination of all Christian symbols from the public sphere, including removing the word ‘saint’ from street names and destroying or defacing churches and religious monuments
  • The replacing of Christian holidays and symbols with civic and revolutionary cults like the ‘Cult of Reason’ and ‘Cult of the Supreme Being.’ A statue to the goddess Reason was even erected and worshiped in Notre Dame Cathedral on 10 November 1793.

No one would try to claim that these de-Christianization policies of revolutionary France were tolerant. That is because they still generally worked under the classical notion of tolerance. Thus, we find Robespierre and other members of the revolutionary ‘committee of public safety’ defending intolerance as a good thing.

Around the middle of the last century, France experienced the metamorphoses in the notion of tolerance that we described in our DECODE article. Tolerance gradually ceased to be understood in the original sense as permitting that which one did not personally accept. Instead, it began to mean actually accepting ideas, values and practices that differed from one’s own. Whereas under the old notion of tolerance a Frenchman had to disagree with someone in order to tolerate, allow or put up with the different viewpoint, the new meaning of tolerance does not allow for such disagreement; rather, it asserts that a person must actually accept all values and viewpoint as being equally legitimate (the obvious exception is that we are not supposed to tolerate the older notion of tolerance, since the older notion assumed what is now an allegedly intolerant antithesis.)

This paradigm shift in the notion of tolerance has had far reaching implications for Christians living in France. Since it is now an act of intolerance to call anything wrong or immoral, those who hold to traditional standards of morality are constantly finding themselves accused of intolerance. The result was described succinctly by Janey DeMeo, former missionary in France of 22 years and author of Heaven Help Me Raise These Children!: “They tolerate everything — except Christians. Unless you have actually lived in France, it is hard to understand just how challenging this can be.” (I give some specific example of this in my article, ‘Persecution of Christians in France.’)

Herbert Marcuse

But how did these new notions of tolerance come to America? Anyone who has read my recent article on Herbert Marcuse will know that this guru of the counter-culture had a lot to do with it. The place where Marcuse developed his theories about tolerance was in a 1965 essay titled ‘Repressive Tolerance’ which can be read online here. Under Marcuse, the word tolerant became an analogue for censorship and rigid restrictions on intellectual freedom, especially the freedom to express conservative or Christian ideas. Daniel Flynn summed it up the jest of it in his book Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas.

Tolerating what you like and censoring what you don’t like, of course, had a name before Marcuse came along. It was called intolerance. Intolerance had an unpopular ring to it, so Marcuse called it by its more popular antonym, tolerance. This word was often modified by liberating, discriminating, and true. Further corruption of language came via his criticism of practitioners of free speech as “intolerant.”

Gender Neutralizers Attack Pregnancy

Given the widespread assumption that being equal means being the same, and combining this with the premise that being equal is always a good thing, many in our society are now wanting to eradicate all gender distinctions.This was a point I made in my Salvo feature, ‘Gender Benders  Is My Sexual Identity an Accident Just Waiting to Happen?

But there remain some final barriers to ushering in the gender-free utopia. Perhaps the most pervasive barrier is the problem of pregnancy.

You see, pregnancy constantly reminds us of the one thing that the new social architects would like us to forget: that men and women are different, and have different lived experiences in the world.

You just have to read the newspapers to see that the gender-eradicators are not unaware of the problem that pregnancy poses to their project of a unisex utopia. In April 2009, the Telegraph ran an article titled, “Telling pregnant women not to drink is ‘sexist’.” The story cited medical legal expert, Dr Colin Gavaghan, who asked, “Is singling out one sex for particular monitoring and lecturing from healthcare professionals a legitimate cause for concern?” and called current the recommendations of abstinence that healthcare professionals offer to pregnant women “a straightforward sexist policy.”

Let’s face it: when it comes to having a responsible pregnancy, women are singled out from the human race. What Dr Gavaghan’s remarks failed to acknowledge is that there is a very good reason for singling women out. You see, although it may sound trivial, the fact remains that only women can become pregnant. However ‘equal’ our society strives to be, assistance for pregnancy will always necessarily be targeted towards the female sex.

Or will it?

In 2006 the British Department of Health published a new edition of their The Pregnancy Book. Just so men don’t feel left out, they have a chapter for them in which they say that men can experience nausea as a symptom of pregnancy too. Moreover, according to a 2010 report in The Daily Mail, men in the UK are being given government-funded breastfeeding lessons.

Among some of the more extreme gender neutralizers, the only way to truly solve the problem of “gender apartheid” is to do away with pregnancy completely. In January 2012, Lifesite news quoted from Dr. Anna Smajdor in an article she had recently written for the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics. In the article Dr. Smajdor argued that in order for men and women to be equal, all women would have to stop being pregnant and hand their reproductive potential over to science and technology. “Pregnancy is a condition that causes pain and suffering, and that affects only women” Dr Smajdor was quoted as saying. “…women are disadvantaged”.

In other words, commented Lifesite news journalist Peter Baklinski, “to be a woman, for Smajdor, simply means to become biologically more like a man. To do this, a woman’s innate and natural potential to procreate, nurture, and bear a new human life must be stripped away and handed over to science and technology. Only when all human beings do not bear children will a genuine equality be more closely approached, she proposes.”