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News :: Gender
Queer theory and violence against women
21 May 2004
I want to talk about how queer and ‘postmodern’ theory has affected the ability of feminists and lesbians to organise against, or even to recognise violence against women. In queer and postmodern theory, based on liberal individualism, important forms of violence are renamed ‘transgression’, ‘choice’ or ‘agency’. I shall concentrate on 3 forms of violence here, men’s prostitution abuse of women, the violence of transsexual operations, and the violence of the ‘body modification’ industry.
My starting point is that old but now little understood, feminist slogan, 'Our Bodies, Ourselves'. In relation to violence, I suggest, this has two important meanings:

1/ The objectification of women in which our bodies are treated as objects for others to use, irrespective of our will or personhood, as in rape, child rape, prostitution, are damaging to ourselves. 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. In relation to prostitution the understanding 'our bodies, ourselves' enables us to recognise the harm of the dissociation that prostituted women have to use in order to survive the violation of the self that is constituted by commercial sexual violence.

2/ The slogan 'Our Bodies, Ourselves' also means that our bodies are not the problem. 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. 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 1980s there was a backlash against these fundamental understandings of feminism. Feminist work on pornography, on sexual harassment, on makeup, high heeled shoes and other harmful beauty practices were labelled: political correctness; puritanism; anti-sex.

What the forces that fuelled this backlash?

Read full story : "Queer theory and violence against women"

The Sisyphe web site delivers cutting-edge analysis of current aspects of women's condition, including big issues such as wars, biotechnologies, violence, globalization, power relationships, the men's movement, etc. Sisyphe also offers sections dedicated to literature, poetry, education, history and a growing English section. No pop-ups, no advertising, no cookies. A great way to brush up on your French. Bookmark it now! Or hyper-link to it.

English articles on Sisyphe

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The Legalisation of Prostitution: A failed social experiment, by Sheila Jeffreys
Prostitution: Rights of Women or right to women ? by Elaine Audet

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Elisabeth Badinter distorts feminism the better to fight it, by Elaine Audet
A report from Status of Women Canada about the discursive denial of gender inequalities, by Micheline Carrier
The "Stolen Feminism" Hoax: Anti-Feminist Attack Based on Error-Filled Anecdotes, by Laura Flanders

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Children of divorce need our protection, by Michele Landsberg
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Problem isn't little boys, it's little minds, by Michele Landsberg

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Short cut for all english articles on Sisyphe
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