Queer Theory: Law, Culture, Empire

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Edited by R.S. Sugirtharajah

Because same-sex marriage would leave intact a structure that disadvantages those who either cannot or choose not to marry regardless of their sexual orientation , a more ethical project, queer activists argue, would seek to detach material and social privileges from the institution of marriage altogether Ettelbrick ; Duggan Sometimes in conversation with activist efforts and sometimes not, queer theory emerged as an academic field during the late s and early s.

Moving away from the underlying assumptions of identity politics and its tendency to locate stable sexual subjects, queer theory has focused on the very process of sexual subject formation. If much of the early work in lesbian and gay studies tended to be organized around an opposition between homosexuality and heterosexuality, the primary axis of queer studies shifted toward the distinction between normative and nonnormative sexualities as they have been produced in a range of historical and cultural contexts.

Heteronormativity, it is important to stress, is not the same thing as heterosexuality though the two are not entirely separable ; indeed, various forms of heterosexuality adultery, polygamy, and interracial marriage, among others and heterosexual practices e. Cohen ; Burgett Rather, heteronormativity is a form of power that exerts its effects on both gay and straight individuals, often through unspoken practices and institutional structures.

Because queer critique has the potential to destabilize the ground on which any particular claim to identity can be made though, importantly, not destroying or abandoning identity categories altogether , a significant body of queer scholarship has warned against anchoring the field primarily or exclusively to questions of sexuality. The field of queer studies has challenged this tendency by using intersectional approaches that begin from the assumption that sexuality cannot be separated from other categories of identity and social status. Whereas some early queer theorists found it necessary to insist on understanding sexuality as a distinct category of analysis, one that could not be fully accounted for by feminist theories of gender, it is now clear that sexuality and gender can never be completely isolated from each other Rubin ; Sedgwick Stone ; Prosser ; Valentine ; Spade As a number of critics have shown, heteronormativity derives much of its power from the ways in which it often silently shores up as well as depends on naturalized categories of racial difference in contexts ranging from sexology and psychoanalysis to fiction and cinema Somerville ; Eng Cohen , What is done to our bodies affects us.

To survive the violent or assaultive use of our bodies we have to learn to dissociate to survive. This was the understanding that underlay the consciousness raising groups that enabled so many women to accept the shape of their bodies and to give up makeup and other disguises.

Queer Studies in Education - Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education

The problems that women and men may have with body shape, or genital configuration, are politically constructed out of a male supremacist society in which women, and some men, are sexually and physically violated by men, in which constructions of gender and the perfect body are used to enforce social control and the creation of male dominance and female subordination. Discontent with our bodies which arises from these political conditions is a political problem, and the mutilation of bodies is an attempt to cut up the bodies to fit them into an abusive political system instead of seeking to change the system to fit the bodies which people actually have.

A basic feminist value is the creation of a sexuality of equality in which we can stay in our bodies and celebrate them as they are. In conditions of oppression none of these things were easy. In the s there was a backlash against these fundamental understandings of feminism.

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The standpoint of liberal feminism which restricts it understanding of politics to the public world, has gained in status in the 80s and 90s. The point of view of liberal American feminists like Katie Roiphe and Naomi Wolf, and British journalist Natasha Walters, so beloved of publishers and the media, that women are quite empowered enough to deal with all the hassles of their private lives, sexual harassment, date rape, battering, having to do all the housework, actually turns out to be just like the liberalism that underpins queer and postmodern politics.

We are free to wear makeup but it is surprising surely that it is still women choosing this form of empowerment. Apparently there is a level playing field but men are not flocking to pluck their eyebrows, wear lipstick, crippling shoes and short tight skirts. Practices of violence are justified under the rubric of consent. Sadomasochism, prostitution and cosmetic surgery are not understood as practices of oppression created out of the unequal power relationships of male supremacy. The fetishising of choice and consent that Wolf and her set apply to date rape, is applied zealously by postmodern and queer theorists who promote sadomasochism and prostitution, transsexualism and body modification as the ultimate in self-fulfillment and empowerment.

These ideas have been adopted I suggest because some women and gay men wanted academic careers which are very hard to sustain if you maintain a radical feminist perspective.

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Only the ideas of men respected by other men will get you very far in the academy. So feminists and gay men cloaked themselves in the ideas of the sadomasochist Michel Foucault, for instance. He became more popular than Marx was in the s amongst trendies and progressives. In many departments such as cultural studies he was and is compulsory.

What did these ideas contribute to feminism and the understanding of violence? Moreover oppression does not exist because power just floats around with no direction just constantly recreating itself out of the interaction of well meaning people in communication. This is a theory spectacularly unsuited to analysing violence and thus, thankfully, not many postmodern feminists try.

They are mostly interested in media, representation and fantasy, not real behaviour or material circumstances.


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When they approach violence the results are bizarre. Sharon Marcus on rape tells us that rape happens because women have got the script wrong.

If only women were more assertive and were able to change the script then men would not rape them. This places the blame for rape back on women again, something which feminists had been trying to change. If it were the case that prostitution had no meaning in terms of power relations, then men would be lining the streets to picked up by women in motor cars who wanted to stick things in their bottoms.

It is really hard to entirely overlook the power relations of prostitution but postmodernists can do that. Postmodern feminists tell us that the body is a text.

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Not really real but a text that can be profitably reinscribed. Thus postmodern feminists are used to justify body modification. These young lesbians are just reinscribing we are told. Queer theory adapts the ideas of postmodernism to the interests of some gay men.

In fact, of course, prostituted women are having to dissociate to survive, not being sexually liberated. They are serving the sexual liberation of their colonisers, men.


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  • In fact the practices of violence that are celebrated in queer theory can all be seen as resulting from oppression. But queer theory being based in liberal individualism does not recognise politics as being concerned with the private realm. Thus gay men have appropriated large chunks of parks, waterfronts, streets as their own possession.

    Queer politics in the form of groups such as Sex Panic in US and Outrage in UK, stands for the rights of liberal gay male individuals to injure others in sadomasochism for their enjoyment, to use boys in prostitution and pornography, to acquire public space for their practices. A man has just been convicted of manslaughter in Melbourne for strangling another man in the sadomasochistic practice of asphyxiation.

    It is good that he got 5 years.

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