Susan Cox on Queer Theory

22 Mar

Excerpts from a January 2017 interview with Susan Cox and Derrick Jensen about queer theory. All quotes from Susan Cox except when noted otherwise.

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

Derrick Jensen: 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?

Susan Cox: 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.

“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.”

“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.

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.”

“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?”

“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.”

“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.”

Complete transcript here:



One Response to “Susan Cox on Queer Theory”

  1. The Arbourist 2018/03/25 at 3:13 pm #

    Reblogged this on Dead Wild Roses and commented:
    Queer theory, bad for women and bad for maintaining a reasonable grasp of reality.


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