breaking news from the world of ideas

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 12
April 2021
Idea
14:26

What’s really behind America’s BDSM craze?

Over the weekend the NYT published an investigation into a fetish trend that, in our atomised and hyper-mediated era, seems profoundly apt: ‘findom’, or financial domination, in which people dress in fetish gear and insult their submissives, usually remotely, until they receive gifts of money.

It may come as a surprise that contemptuous online treatment combined with demands for money should be an erotic experience for some, rather than just an everyday experience of contacting customer services. What, then, could prompt those who engage in this to find it so thrilling?

A glance at popular search terms on a porn website (if you can bear it) suggests a strong relationship between shame and eroticisation: the more something is stigmatised, the more drawn to it some will be. In that context, it’s striking that growing numbers (especially of men) should eroticise what amounts in effect to selflessly sharing your resources with another. It suggests that in the age of ‘me, me, me’ the idea of supporting another person unconditionally has become so unthinkable as to acquire an erotic allure. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Thursday, 1
April 2021
Reaction
07:00

Foucault’s attitude to sex is alive and well in intersectional feminism

When revelations broke on Sunday about Michel Foucault sexually abusing young boys in Tunisia, the massed opponents of ‘woke’ were delighted at the opportunity to smear one of the intellectual colossi of the worldview they so loathe. But those currently demanding that the woke cancel Foucault for kiddy-fiddling or be outed as hypocrites are looking in the wrong direction.

Trying to cancel a thinker whose influence is as broad as Foucault’s mainly serves internet point-scoring. Meanwhile, the Foucauldian analysis of sexuality is alive and well in international policy-making, under the guise of ‘intersectional feminism’, and seeks to normalise exactly those interactions for which the anti-woke are demanding Foucault be cancelled. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 22
March 2021
Spotted
09:30

Conspiracy update: Joe Biden is not real

In case anyone is still labouring under the delusion that the departure of Trump from the White House might see American politics return to a more normal (that is: a more twentieth-century) relationship to reality, I have bad news for you.

Trump was notorious for the at best haphazard relation of his statements to reality. Over his presidency, the QAnon conspiracy flourished, rich in baroque beliefs and elaborate conspiracies. But with the inauguration of Joe Biden and the realisation that Q was a hoax all along, many hoped the Trumpian era of unreality would prove as brief a blip as the Orange Man himself. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 15
March 2021
Reaction
15:04

Woke or conservative, cancel culture will always exist

Netflix in India has been ordered to take down Bombay Begums, a series exploring the lives of five Indian women. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, an Indian statutory body, condemned the ‘inappropriate portrayal’ of minors in the series as engaging in casual sex and drug-taking, arguing that it could ‘pollute young minds’.

The takedown contrasts with the furore in Britain and America last year over Netflix’s marketing of the film Cuties, which depicts the sexualisation of young urban French girls in terms that prompted widespread debate. In the case of Cuties, the film stayed available but the marketing was toned down; in the case of Bombay Begums the series was taken down. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Tuesday, 9
March 2021
Behind the news
08:00

The trans lobby is finally meeting resistance

The Parliamentary Standards Committee has ordered Crispin Blunt MP to apologise for a breach of parliamentary rules. The announcement came after it was revealed that the APPG on Global LGBT+ Rights, which Blunt chairs, failed to be adequately transparent on its relationship to lobby groups on the subject of gender self-identification.

The Parliamentary Standards investigation focused on a position paper circulated to government and opposition leaders in July 2020 as “a satisfactory outcome” to the debate. The paper called for, among other things, the adoption of self-ID, the medical transitioning of children and compulsory school education in gender identity. Lord Collins of Highbury, a member of the APPG, on 25 September described the paper as “backed by the LGBT Groups of the main political parties”. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 1
March 2021
Debate
15:00

Blood on the virtual street at Clubhouse

Clubhouse, an iPhone app that allows users to create and join virtual ‘rooms’ for audio conversation, has caused considerable stir in the 11 months since its founding, attracting two million weekly active users and a $1 billion January valuation.

Under the social constraints of Covid, an app enabling relatively free-flowing and spontaneous social interaction has generated intense interest. Between the longing to connect and the sense of exclusivity fostered by its invite-only nature, Clubhouse’s user base is swelling, skewed heavily towards an internationalist, broadly libertarian, tech and investment outlook. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Friday, 26
February 2021
Reaction
08:30

Paying for housework is not a victory for feminism

A Chinese woman has been awarded $7,700 in payment for housework she performed over five years of marriage, as part of her settlement in a Beijing court case. The court ruled that housework creates ‘intangible property value’ and should be considered an asset.

The case prompted widespread debate. China has seen a rising feminist movement, that pushes back against traditional Chinese expectations for women, scorning the traditional, submissive role of wife and mother as a ‘married donkey’. Some might argue that for feminists, ascribing a pecuniary value to housework as an advance — after all, it acknowledges that housework is, in fact, work. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Tuesday, 23
February 2021
Debate
17:00

Biden’s Equality Act is not the unifying issue he thinks it is

President Joe Biden has announced that he will move ahead with a proposed Equality Act prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. A decision celebrated by Liberal America, it will be the first such legislation to be implemented at US federal level. Campaigners argue this is necessary in a nation where, in many states, it’s still legal to refuse housing or services to someone on the basis of being gay or trans. But the legislation comes with a sting in the tail for women, which may prove unexpectedly costly to the Democrats.

Unlike the UK’s 2010 Equality Act, which treats ‘sex’ and ‘gender reassignment’ as separate categories, the proposed American Equality Act effectively merges the two in ‘gender identity’. That is, it would sign into law provisions that require an individual to be treated in all ways as the sex he or she feels themselves to be on the inside. Sex would become, legally speaking, a matter of felt identity rather than observable reality. In practice, this change will be to the detriment of women in need of single-sex spaces, for example in prisons, domestic abuse shelters or school sports. ...  Continue reading

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