Contents Disappointed Utopia Preface

Where feminism is not at home

In the second half of 2017, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of #MeToo harassment stories from academic women around me. I read a lot, wrote a little, and felt shaken and volatile. Worse things had happened to women in my graduate program than I’d known, and more often. Politically “radical” circles were cast in doubt, as numerous famous men of social and critical theory had their abusive masculinism held up for critical examination. On my own, I dug into the histories of famous male theorists. “No sooner did he encounter a woman than he began to flirt with her,” someone had written about Theodor Adorno. Erving Goffman, I learned, had looked back on his life and called himself an “male chauvinist pig,” and this only in the face of prolonged feminist criticism. I learned that prominent centers of Marxist theory, such as CUNY and UC Santa Cruz, had been hostile environments for women, and that a famous postcolonial theorist in my graduate school had made “repugnant” advances to students.[2] As discussions continued online, I saw a lot of women having partial moments of public solidarity or unguardedness, while a lot of men stayed silent.

It was not that I had never heard of sexual violence in academia before, never been exposed to feminist critiques of academia, or never grappled with my contradictory place in a patriarchal society. But #MeToo was a synthetic moment for me, as a series of masculinist incidents coalesced into a different sense of the world. It shifted my understanding of my place in the world, above all of the sexism that had been constitutive of my personal network in academia, a sexism which I had been in some cases complicit in. And it changed my sense of social analysis, moving gender issues to the center of my analytical attention. I taught a gender studies class; I wrote a bit of feminist anthropology; I rewrote much of this manuscript; I saw life differently. I had a pretty public gender transition around this time. And I realized that there can be a difference between distantly listening to feminism and actively thinking with it. I have found that for me, it has not only been essential to read feminist critiques of patriarchy, it has also been necessary to learn to be at home in their logic.

Finding a home may involve leaving another. This is a book about a place where feminism is not at home. It is a book about the tethers of what I have come to think of as left-wing patriarchy — a particularly frustrating subspecies of late capitalist patriarchy in general, one which emerges in milieux that ought be able to listen more clearly to feminism. Left patriarchy and its historical echoes have long organized the world of critical theory, and continue to do so.

  1. On Adorno, see Müller-Doohm (2005:60). On Goffman, see Deegan (2014:76). On my graduate school, see C. Christine Fair, “#HimToo: A Reckoning,”  ↩

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