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Excerpts from Unleashing Feminism

“The issue named as,”what is your desire?” begs the question: what is the relation between our desires and the goals of women’s liberation? The fact that people desire something begs the question of what people ought to desire, while presupposing it at the same moment. Madison Ave. prescribes desires, legitimizing any and all products according to the same rule: people want them. Sound familiar? Sure we want them, but ought we to want all things Madison Ave. says that we want? Real women, for example, ought to want douches, diets, deodorants, etc. Women buy them don’t they?

In traditional ethics the claim that such and such a thing is desired, therefore the thing is desirable, is called the “ought-is fallacy,” the distortion of logic that leads people to claim that because such and such a thing is desired, desirable, therefore it is good. Saying what something is does not address what it ought to be, although saying what a desire is often masks a buried social “ought,” i.e. a dominant social norm. [It] doesn’t merely describe, it prescribes desire.”

— Kathy Miriam, p.36

“The Romance of Suffering

…sadomasochism tells us that punishment purifies, suffering is good for the soul. This is the ideology that “elevates” oppression to martyrdom, that claims the oppressed are better than the powerful because they have suffered. We have heard this story before, played out in countless chapters of history. It is the story of the noble Indian romanticized even as her land is taken, her people are sterilized into oblivion. It is the myth of the woman on the pedestal who really has no power. It is the tale of the handsome dyke drinking herself to death, the romance of alcoholism and co-alcoholism.

The problem with this romantic story is that it confines the oppressed to our suffering role. If you love me as a ravaged alcoholic I am afraid to stop drinking because then you might not love me any more. If you think I am heroic because I have nightmares about the Holocaust, you confine me to a world in which there must be a Holocaust. Helen Epstein talks about how people reacted to her mother’s tattooed number in Children of the Holocaust, “Her tattoo was a mysterious flag. It made some people blush, turn their eyes aside, mumble off, garbled things. Others acted as if my mother was some species of saint.”

We buy this insidious form of sadomasochism. We believe there is some kind of redemption in our suffering, that our suffering makes us beautiful. Judaism seems to have internalized this idea:

According to the Bible, God has always punished his chosen people more harshly, and just as often as their enemies. But they have gone on believing in him and loving him. They have always believed — and so do religious Jews to this day — that their own errors and sins were to blame for all their tribulations, that their God punished them most because he loved them best and wanted them to be perfect.

If we believe punishment is a demonstration of love we are buying the ideology of sadomasochism. If we believe we are “chosen to suffer” we are endorsing sadomasochism. If we accept the picture of the Jews lining up submissively for the ovens as a beautiful picture, or even a true picture, we are accepting sadomasochism, accepting the lies of sadomasochism.

We must be on guard against this form of sadomasochism which Joan Ringelheim calls the “valorization of oppression,” in her article on women and the Holocaust.

“Oppression does not make people better; oppression makes people oppressed. There’s no sense in fighting or even understand oppression if we maintain that the values and practices of the oppressed are not only better than those of the oppressor, but in some objective sense, are ‘a model for humanity in the new society.’ If sexism makes women better able to survive, why get rid of it? Does suffering make us better people?”

For lesbians to play masochist in bed is to endorse a world picture, a reality in which masochism is used to rationalize suffering. To play masochist in bed is to endorse a Nazi picture of reality in which there are sadistic torturers who believe their victims enjoy being punished and humiliated.”

— ps. 92-93


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