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Is Marxism a Male Safe Space?

Susanna Kleeman

June 1, 2022

A nice man on Twitter asked: is the relative lack of women philosophers, political theorists, and philosophy students to do with historic oppression, or is it that women aren’t—in his word—autistic enough to try to create a logical system of everything? We’re talking here about the realm of pure theory—or pure post-Enlightenment Western theory, rather than women-rich fields like cultural studies. Why are there so few women thinkers here—and why do the few that exist work mainly on gender or ‘feminist’ topics, rather than the wide-range general social and existential questions that Western males feel entitled to ponder?

I thought I’d let him know the score.

Haunting these questions is an old ghost, now taboo in public for correct-thinkers: that women’s differently-shaped brains aren’t always quite up to the cold logic, rigor, and depersonalized ambition of cerebrums traditionally housed in dick-sporting bodies. It’s also why we can’t do maths or chess, right? It’s chivalric of my follower to call such male-associated brains ‘autistic’ but we know what is meant really: are women born ditzy or do fuzzy neurons sprout as a result of social and cultural conditioning? To which I add: and is it oppression not to be well-represented in Western theory and philosophy as practiced today?

Here’s an answer: women aren’t always represented or interested because—consciously or unconsciously—they sense Western philosophy and political theory were set up as defense systems against them: a set of distractions and abstract wannabe weapons developed as the vanguard of a larger protection racket devised by men to try to control their often uncontrollable vulnerability to women’s allure in physical and emotional realms. Heterosexual attraction is asymmetric and men have felt the need for protection against it. Capitalism, feudalism, and their cities, technologies, and men’s clubs are other manifestations of this defense mechanism. From a certain angle, feudalism and capitalism are at root sex crimes: coercive swindles enforced by greater physical strength that permit—via faith-sanctioned birth-to-death stratification or, in capitalism’s case, money, the original simulation—unattractive men to have sex with attractive women.

Socialist projects are also products of this mindset, despite their equality rhetoric. When the stakes aren’t biologically equal in the first place, and it is men who drew nature’s short straw rather than women, nice-sounding aims of “improving women’s status” and “making women equal” will always ring topsy-turvey and hollow to women, especially when the thinkers and organizers behind the projects are often so overwhelming male. As Italo Calvino says: “even after the revolution men’s dreams still don’t change.”

In the end, this male defense is not against women but against nature, or at least against the biological drive to reproduce. But women can get conflated with nature, by men, and sometimes all by themselves.

The male defense is done by making the world abstract, translating it into maths. In other words: by making it virtual: theoretical and therefore controllable, a place of solace divorced from biological drives. Everything gets pinned down into one plane of logic and reason that—pure, shining, incorruptible—stands outside human mess. This plane is then applied to human mess: the attempted creation, via a logical system of everything, of rules to govern human existence. And these rules, according to the current mainstream philosophy and theory, have a stated end goal that is not fudge and compromise but actual universally-correct solutions for how we should all organize and live, create heaven on earth.

This plane is claimed as the only world, or at least the underpinning of all other modes that threaten male control. Alternative realms that weak-kneed men are therefore relegated: termed wishy-washy, petty, decadent, privileged, woolly-headed, corrupt, flighty, exploitative, fantastical, mercenary, evil or mystic. Or else it’s pretended that they don’t exist, or at least are underpinned, explained and surmounted by the unifying abstract logic. The only permitted other states are those induced by alcohol and other recreational drugs or psychedelics: marked and controlled ritual liminal experiences where other chemically-induced thoughts are permitted for set periods before the ‘real’-world hangover returns.

The interesting parallel here are the computer networks, termed neutral and also majority-developed by men, that pump the fodder we spend our days scrolling. Are these platforms and connections indeed neutral and impersonal, as we’re so often told, is it just the content they display that can have bias, be unscientific or tainted by capitalism or selfishness? To what degree do these networks themselves damage the world, their mesmeric content making it harder and harder for us to imagine life without them, dominating and sidelining other registers of experience, or colonizing them by making them virtual, pulling them into the network, where they can be arrayed alongside others, their difference defanged and controlled?

Talking of science: it is interesting that all our great logical investigations have ended up not with universal solutions but with a quantum physics that not only doesn’t square with one-world macro Newtonian theories but seems pretty flighty, unscientific and multiversed: waves and particles, for example, behaving differently when they are observed.

Talking of computer networks: this whole chat about philosophy and theory and men is kind of moot since, courtesy of the virtual digital worlds those networks purvey and we prefer, everything is cosplay these days, including philosophy and theory—and possibly even men and women. Things are talked about, categorized, and judged down to ever-more quantum detail on mass public platforms built for screen-shotting and receipt hoarding where past wrong-thought can invalidate whatever you are saying these days. But directing your energy towards virtual micro differentiation and chastisement produces semantics and inertia—as well as prestige, platforms, and income from within the system you are protesting. This is a philosophical and political discourse different from earlier radical thought which, though operating in more obviously oppressive systems, had world-change rather than entertainment as its point and marrow, even if that world change was mainly for men.

Do today’s radical thinkers, ensconced in more comfortable but more all-encompassing systems, want revolution? Or do they want to chat ever-more-perfectly about revolution, despite periodic performative disorganized real-world protests that ultimately best benefit co-opting commercial interests? As Jean Baudrillard says in Forget Foucault, his brilliant takedown of Michel Foucault’s analysis of power and repression in the History of Sexuality: “In fact, the revolution has already taken place. Neither the bourgeois revolution nor the communist revolution, just the revolution.”

By which he means the revolution of machines, initially programmed by humans but now, for greater efficiency, set free to cogitate and make better decisions on our behalf untethered from human intervention but guided at root by the male human insecurity and fear of their original, mostly male, creators. And the machines’ solution for our more efficient life seems to be to sate us with pictures and concepts, rather than real things. Text and images are cheaper and less dangerous after all, in the short term. But the long-term result of prioritizing how things look over how they are—the turning of everything into art, ads, or eye candy, the co-opting and politicizing of allure, the exploitation of the ultra-powerful template of male susceptibility to visual attraction—has very serious real-world consequences (not the least of which is the imposition of male desire as universal). This transaestheticism and transpornification of everything is a big issue, clouding and abetting every inequality and injustice, but who’s talking about it? Thinkers like Baudrillard get sidelined as edgelords, while yesterday’s rules for yesterday’s revolutions are endlessly rehashed.

Some people say left-wing thought has always been a simulacra: dissent manufactured by ruling elites to permit safe criticism and keep them in power. However, there is one theoretical strand that can’t be thus side-eyed. That would be Marxism, which isn’t just theoretical: look at Russia and China. One guy, sitting in the British Library, did his abstract cogitations well enough to change the world.

That’s a story to gladden the heart of the beardiest theory bro, not always just for political reasons. More could be cogitated about ego and socialist theory, how the personal motors of thought-production reflect or contradict their equality message, what level of brilliance must be attained for rules not to matter for you, how power over other men compensates or not for early lack of sex.

But those who consider themselves heirs to the Marxist tradition have lots to feel proud of. Even within a world of simulacra their forebears are the guys who actually did stuff, ended up on the T-shirts. Perhaps they still could, via a vocab of materialism, an eschewal of impractical emotion and fantasy, a mining of history to yoke themselves to inevitable forces others are too sentimental to fathom, a correct reading of texts, a desired association with the people who actually do things: the working class. In our virtual times this whiff of real action is even more attractive. At any point, if expressed well enough, this mode of thought could actually lead to something different happening, even if its most sophisticated practitioners understand their role as analysts revealing history to a populace better placed to seize control of it, thinkers rather than doers, but thinkers who blaze the path for action.

Nice work if you can get it. This is prime macho territory for those who want power but are better suited to talk instead of action. Its keyboard exponents, especially online, use language rife with cock-of-the-walk jingo instead of the subtleties of less action-orientated theorists. Current Marxist discourse can feel like the best of all worlds for some interests: theory that steps beyond the academy and actually matters, male to the teeth (yes there are some female exceptions), parlayed with focus on the no-nonsense factor by theorists dripping with encomia to the potency of their analysis, their diamond-hard focus, their depersonalized unemotional flaying of the past and present with as much self-importance and braggadocio as a nineties rapper but less play or wit.

Marx himself looms large over all of this, his texts the rulebooks and playgrounds for endless quibbles, his thought less a playbook for revolution and more the player’s handbook for an intellectual RPG game played competitively by men keen to prove to each other how they’ve read the most and best, how they are the least emotional, how they are the ones with the wide enough view to mine history for its impersonal lessons, how their brains are the more beautiful, divorced from the mess of their bodies and their embarrassing involuntary very personal reactions to other bodies. This is a pure monastic virtual citadel of ever-greater refined chat about action, a safe space to duel where nothing will ever really happen because the actual issues have moved on. You’ll forgive women who don’t want too much of that.

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