Sara Ahmed is a lesbian and a feminist, not necessarily in that order. There is always a chicken-and-the-egg question about such matters. Correlation is not causation, but this particular correlation is sufficiently common as to be a phenomenon deserving its own categorical label, as Professor Ahmed acknowledges.
“Last week,” Professor Ahmed wrote in late February, “I enjoyed attending the Lesbian Lives conference in Brighton (my fifth!). I gave a lecture drawn from material in my chapter on ‘Lesbian Feminism’ which is the final chapter of the book I am working on.”
Gosh, what a coincidence. Lesbian feminism is also a subject of my own book, Sex Trouble: Essays on Radical Feminism and the War Against Human Nature. As I explain in the introduction to this 120-page book now available through Amazon ($11.69 in paperback, $1.99 on Kindle), it is a work in progress. Later this year, I plan to publish a revised and expanded second edition, but after many months of research, I felt a need to publish something — even if it was something with typographical errors that make me grind my teeth in agony — as I had promised loyal readers who had repeatedly told me, “You should write a book.”
OK, so I did write a book, and I am in fact still writing the same book, which is to say that I continue compiling material for the second edition. Self-publishing through Amazon’s CreateSpace program affords me the opportunity to do this exactly the way I want, when I want, without the hassles of arguing with an editor or publisher. People who have never been through the non-fiction book publishing process can scarcely imagine what it’s like: You informally “pitch” a proposal to a publisher. He loves your idea. You crank out a few thousand words — an outline, a couple of draft chapters, etc. — and send that off, then wait to hear back on the approval. Alas, the publisher took it to his editorial board, and the board had some issues, so the publisher is going to need you to re-work your proposal, and so forth. There comes a point in this process where it dawns on you that (a) you are no longer talking about them publishingyour book, but rather are negotiating for a chance to write their book, and (b) if their book idea is so much better than your book idea, let them hire somebody else to write it. But I digress . . .
Professor Sarah Ahmed is director of the Centre for Feminist Research (CFR) at Goldsmiths College, University of London:
The Centre for Feminist Research (CFR) provides a coordinating hub for feminist work at Goldsmiths. In addition to organising seminars and conferences, the CFR offers a symbolic and intellectual home for the MA in Gender, Media and Culture, co-convened by the Departments of Media & Communications and Sociology. . . .
By ‘feminist research’ we include any work that is informed by an active engagement with feminist intellectual debates, and any research that investigates questions of power, inequality and difference including race, class, disability as well as gender and sexuality. . . .
We have identified four key and loose strands of feminist research activity at Goldsmiths:
- Intersectionality; gender and class; feminist of colour scholarship and activism; queer feminism; transfeminism.
- Feminist genealogies, new feminism, post-feminism.
- Feminist cultural theory (including feminist engagements with visual culture, new media, screen culture and technology)
- Feminist work on embodiment, affect and emotion
In other words, the Centre for Feminist Research is a major institutional cog in the wheel of the Feminist-Industrial Complex and the lesbian Professor Sarah Ahmed is its director. Correlation is not causation, but neither is this correlation entirely a coincidence. Professor Ahmed is author of several books, including Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (2006) which is described thus:
In this groundbreaking work, Sara Ahmed demonstrates how queer studies can put phenomenology to productive use. Focusing on the “orientation” aspect of “sexual orientation” and the “orient” in “orientalism,” Ahmed examines what it means for bodies to be situated in space and time. Bodies take shape as they move through the world directing themselves toward or away from objects and others. Being “orientated” means feeling at home, knowing where one stands, or having certain objects within reach. Orientations affect what is proximate to the body or what can be reached. A queer phenomenology, Ahmed contends, reveals how social relations are arranged spatially, how queerness disrupts and reorders these relations by not following the accepted paths, and how a politics of disorientation puts other objects within reach, those that might, at first glance, seem awry.
Ahmed proposes that a queer phenomenology might investigate not only how the concept of orientation is informed by phenomenology but also the orientation of phenomenology itself. Thus she reflects on the significance of the objects that appear—and those that do not—as signs of orientation in classic phenomenological texts such as Husserl’s Ideas. In developing a queer model of orientations, she combines readings of phenomenological texts — by Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Fanon — with insights drawn from queer studies, feminist theory, critical race theory, Marxism, and psychoanalysis. Queer Phenomenology points queer theory in bold new directions.
Published by Duke University Press Books, Queer Phenomenologycurrently ranks #4 among Amazon.com’s bestsellers for “Textbooks . . . Gay & Lesbian Studies,” which tells you that it is widely assigned for college students in this field. This is not trival information, but is important to understanding how the Feminist-Industrial Complex operates. Based in academia, especially in Women’s Studies programs, this system creates employment opportunities for Professional Feminists who get paid to indoctrinate young women. Higher education is subsidized by taxpayers, and thus the Women’s Studies programs amount to taxing citizens in order to pay Professional Feminists to promote their ideology. However, it’s not as if teaching one or two courses each semester requires a 40-hour work week. The tenured Ph.D. has plenty of spare time for “research” and, if they are industrious and ambitious, this spare time is spent writing journal articles and books or (as is entirely common) writing journal articles that are then compiled into books. So the Professional Feminist writes a 5,000-word essay one month and a 1,500-word book review the next month — getting paid for each of these articles, extra income on top of her university salary — and if she’s shrewd enough to keep her work focused around a general theme, she steadily produces the raw product of her next book.
Suppose she can crank out 4,000 words a month. This isn’t really that much. When I was on the presidential campaign trail in 2011-2012, I would regularly produce 1,500-2,000 words a day. For a tenured Ph.D. in Women’s Studies to write a thousand words a week would seem quite an easy workload, even in addition to her teaching and other faculty work, attending staff meetings and so forth. Supposing a production rate of roughly a thousand words per week, then, a Women’s Studies professor could produce a new 75,000-word book every 18 months. (Hint: Just checked my word-count on this blog post, and it’s about 1,100 words already.) Let us now examine Professor Ahmed’s authorial output:
- Differences that Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism, 232 pages, Cambridge University Press (1998)
- Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality, 224 pages, Routledge (2000)
- The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 224 pages, Edinburgh University Press (2004)
- Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others, 223 pages, Duke University Press (2006)
- The Promise of Happiness, 328 pages, Duke University Press (2010)
- On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life, 256 pages, Duke University Press (2012)
- Willful Subjects, 320 pages, Duke University Press (2014)
Put aside all questions about the quality of Professor Ahmed’s research and writing and instead focus only on the quantity of her authorial output. During a period of 16 years, she published seven books totaling 1,807 pages. That is to say, she published about 113 pages per year in books, on top of her other academic production. Professor Ahmed “has also edited or co-edited 7 books and journals, and has published over 60 journal articles and book chapters,” according to her Wikipedia page, which quotes one enthusiastic admirer: “Few academic writers working in the UK context today can match Sara Ahmed in her prolific output, and fewer still can maintain the consistently high level of her theoretical explorations.” Professor Ahmed is, then, a relentless dynamo of feminism whose efficient production of “high level . . . theoretical explorations” make her a marvel of postmodern academia. Yet despite her fame within the feminist universe, it is quite likely that you never heard of Professor Ahmed before, and that you have never encountered any of her several books. This is because the Feminist-Industrial Complex operates inside an academic bubble, insulated both from the commercial marketplace and the ordinary lives of ordinary people.
Except for her 2000 book Strange Encounters (published by Routledge, “the world’s leading academic publisher in the Humanities and Social Sciences”), all of Professor Ahmed’s books were published by university presses. While I don’t want to write a treatise on the economics of academic publishing, let’s just say it’s not about cranking out bestsellers. You’re not going to find a big display of Sara Ahmed books at your local Barnes & Noble store. No, the market “demand” for the output of university presses comes almost entirely from within academia itself. A moderately successful book will be purchased by several hundred university libraries, while the more successful book will be assigned as a text in university classes, thus generating several hundred more orders from university bookstores. If a book from a university press should become in any way popular outside this institutional marketplace, that’s a bonus. What this means for the Feminist-Industrial Complex is that, without the artificial marketplace created by taxpayer-subsidized college and university Women’s Studies programs, the economics of supply and demand would shrivel the career opportunities in this field to the merest fraction of what now exists. If what Professor Glenn Reynolds calls The Higher Education Bubble should ever burst, feminism as we know it would be devastated.
Consider, for example, the February conference at which Professor Ahmed presented her lecture which was, as she said, “drawn from material in . . . the final chapter of the book I am working on.” The 22nd Annual Lesbian Lives Conference was “hosted by University of Brighton LGBT and Queer Life Research Hub in conjunction with Women’s Studies Centre, University College Dublin.” So we have two universities producing this lesbian conference which featured lesbians from other universities talking about lesbianism. If you’re wondering what sort of topics were discussed at this two-day university-sponsored event in Brighton, you’re in luck. The program for the conference was posted online, and we can therefore list this small sample of the proceedings:
QUEER SPATIALITIES AND LESBIAN INTERSECTIONS
Chair: Kath Browne
Sheila Pardoe: Borders and betrothals: queer tourism and Toronto’s Grand Pride Wedding
Laine Zisman Newman: (Un)Happy haunted houses: Queering majoritarian space through protest and
Megan Chawansky: The next Abby Wambach: Lesbian sporting celebrity within Sport for Development and
Peace (SDP) projects
Ilana Eloit: Feminist trouble: The lesbian political subject and the archaeology of an anti-racist lesbian thought
in France (1970-1985)
SEX, LESBIAN FEMINISM AND ACADEMIC BED-DEATH: TOWARDS A LUBRICATION OF THE “ISMS”
Moderator: Jane Czyzselska (Diva Magazine and Middlesex University)
CampbellX :‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’: How to De-Colonize / Reclaim Lesbian Desire
Janet Jones: ‘Hey lesbian feminism! Don’t tell me how to have sex!’ Radical feminist silencing and what
disabled lesbians do in bed
Jane Traies: Invisible Intimacies: Sex and the Older Lesbian
LESBIAN LOOKS: REGARDING THE LESBIAN GAZE
Chair: Jane Hattrick
Suzanne van Rossenberg: At the intersection of feminist art, LGBTI activism and research
Karin Sellberg and Joanna Benecke: Femme is a Feminist Issue
Sneha Kar Chaudhuri: Closet Lesbian Love and the tradition of Sakhiyani: Representing queerness in Bollywood now
Gail Neill: ‘A different kind of girl’: Young women’s understanding and negotiation of sexual identities
The reader may well wonder how anyone ever managed to become a lesbian before there were academic conferences where they could learn how to “reclaim lesbian desire” or represent “queerness in Bollywood.” Yet perhaps a more interesting and relevant question is: Exactly who the hell are these people?
Randomly, I did a Google search on a couple of the panelists. Dr. Megan Chawansky is a senior lecturer at the University of Brighton’s School of Sport and Service Management:
Dr. Megan Chawansky was awarded her PhD in Sport and Exercise Humanities from Ohio State University (USA) in 2008. She was a postdoctoral research officer at The University of Bath from 2009-2011, and then worked as a lecturer at The University of Iowa. Megan received her master’s degree in women’s studies from Ohio State University and acquired her undergraduate degree in psychology and women’s studies from Northwestern University. While at Northwestern, Megan was a captain and all-league performer as a member of the women’s basketball team.
Megan’s research focuses on socio-cultural power struggles around gender, and the way in which these struggles shape the subjectivities, bodies, and lives of girls and women. Megan accesses various theoretical understandings of power, gender, and methodologies within her research. Early in her career, Megan’s research outputs focused primarily on US women’s sports. At present, Megan’s research focuses on the transnational sport for development and peace (SDP) movement, and her research outputs have been both theoretical and applied. Megan was a fellow of Women Win, a Programme Director for PeacePlayers International-Cyprus, and also served as a development intern at the Women’s Sports Foundation (US).
So, basically, she went to Northwestern on a basketball scholarship (a 5-foot-11 guard, she wore jersey No. 24 for the Wildcats) and never left academia — a prototypical feminist success story. Then there is Suzanne van Rossenberg, a student in the Art and Design doctoral program at Middlesex University, where her research is described thus:
The Business Case of Feminist or Queer Art
Creating the possibility to say no to the dominant hetero-normative economic and political structures of art. Or yes. But to least write a story about it that replaces an older one.
Feminist art and queer art have recently gained major visibility, but how does this create reliable positions for feminist and queer cultural practitioners to carry out their work? The historicisation of feminist art clashes with the political and economic position of artists, like myself, who have decided to operate within the space between art and feminist activism. My research raises the question whether the omission of the economic contextualisation and interpretation of art has hindered artists with minority backgrounds to have full and equal access to the multiple art worlds that characterise the global art scene; to money and recognition. It seeks to explore the relation between everyday feminisms, their economic structures and the function of feminist art practices by making deliberate intersections with LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) activism, emancipation and human rights advocacy. Repeatedly stepping in and out of artistic, activist and theoretical structures informs the (fragmented) creation of feminist or queer art spaces on either side; spaces that take the political and economic structures of art, art theory and feminisms into account, increase a network of audiences and improve the political and economic positions of feminist and queer cultural practitioners. Conclusively, my research aims to investigate whether transdisciplinary “methodologies” of queer or feminist art, art theory and institutional critique augment the “constituency” for feminist or queer art spaces.
If the transdisciplinary methodologies of your deliberate interesections aren’t queer, blame the dominant heteronormative economic and political structures, or something.
Whenever I quote this kind of feminist jargon to sane people who live in the real world, the reaction is a mixture of incredulity (“Do people really go to college to learn that crap?”) and dismissal (“What a bunch of fringe kooks!”). yet the fact is that such activism/research is taken very seriously within academia. Remember that every year, more than 90,000 students enroll in Women’s Studies courses, which are taught at 700 U.S. colleges and universities. Thousands of faculty members are employed to teach these classes, and what the faculty are paid to teach is what defines “feminism” in the minds of their students.
In answer to the most obvious question — “What use is any of this in the real world?” — the answer is, “None whatsoever.” However, the “real world” (i.e., the capitalist marketplace, where profit is generated from the sale of goods and services) produces enough excess revenue that many millions of dollars a year can be siphoned off to fund these academic swamps, as well as to pay for government agencies where a Women’s Studies graduate can be employed to do nothing except to meddle around in the lives of other people. Also, the “real world” of capitalism has over the past century heaped up untold billions of dollars at tax-exempt philanthropic foundations which, in turn, constantly hand over huge sums in grants to various non-profit groups that employ “activist” types to advocate for social change. The Feminist-Industrial Complex thus intersects both with the ever-expanding liberal Welfare State and with the non-profit sector which (surprise!) constantly advocates for even more government Welfare State programs.
So while (a) the jargon of radical feminism strikes most people as nonsensical gibberish, and (b) you might think that the graduates with their Women’s Studies degrees would be qualified to become nothing other than a barista at Starbucks, in fact (c) academic gibberish is enormously influential because (d) it drives the agenda of major institutions in society, including perhaps the school your children attend. As much as you may want to dismiss the Feminist-Industrial Complex as an irrelevant absurdity, just keep in mind that there were people who laughed off the 1960s New Left as a bunch of fringe kooks, but now one of their disciples is the President of the United States.
Now think about what “fundamental transformation” might be next. If I haven’t yet convinced you to take feminism seriously, just imagine what Hillary Clinton might accomplish if she gets elected in 2016.
While you contemplate that nightmare, let’s return to the lesbian conference in Brighton, England, where Professor Sara Ahmed gave her speech about “Living Lesbian Lives.” Many of Professor Ahmed’s sources will be familiar names to those who have followed the “Sex Trouble” series here: Shulamith Firestone, Rita Mae Brown, Marilyn Frye, Adrienne Rich, Julia Penelope, Audre Lorde and Judith Butler. Here is a 350-word slice of what Professor Ahmed told the Brighton lesbians:
Heterosexuality could be described as an elaborate support system. Support is how much you have to fall back on when you fall. To leave heterosexuality can be to leave those institutional forms of protecting, cherishing, holding. You have less to fall back on when you fall. When things break a whole life can unravel.
When family is not there to prop you up, when you disappear from family life, you had to find other ways of being supported. When you disappear from family life: does this happen to you? You go home, you go back home and it feels like you are watching yourself disappear: watching your own life unravel, thread by thread. No one has willed or intended your disappearance. Just slowly, just slowly, as talk of family, of heterosexuality as the future, of lives that you do not live, just slowly, just slowly, you disappear. They welcome you, they are kind, you are the lesbian aunties from London, say, but it is harder and harder to breath. And then when you leave you might go and find a lesbian bar or queer space; it can be such a relief. You feel like a toe, liberated from a cramped shoe. And we need to think about that: how the restriction of life when heterosexuality remains a presumption can be countered by creating spaces that are looser, freer not only because you are not surrounded by what you are not because you are reminding there are so many ways to be.
So much invention comes from the necessity of creating our own support systems. Note here the significance of fragility to this history: how we too can be shattered, how we need each other to put our lives back together again. And: if we are recognised as fragile, breakable, broken, we are often assumed to have caused our own damage. We after all have willingly left the apparently safer paths, the more brightly lit paths of heterosexuality. What did you expect, dear: what did you expect? . . .
You can read the whole thing, in which Professor Ahmed portrays lesbian feminists as engaged in a heroic struggle of “creating our own support systems” — except that they have really done nothing of the kind. What feminists like Professor Ahmed have done instead is to attach themselves parasitically to taxpayer-funded institutions, using political power (and legal threats of “discrimination” claims) to force the rest of us to subsidize their racket. Without the money the Feminist-Industrial Complex has extorted from society through their political shakedown scheme — “Bake us a lesbian wedding cake, or else!” — there would be no funding for their conferences, no tenured jobs for their leaders, no one willing to buy their books full of lunatic gibberish.
No one inside academia is permitted to say this, however. You might be sued for violating someone’s civil rights if you told the truth about feminism at any university in America today. The power of the Feminist-Industrial Complex is deployed to silence truth-tellers and to empower liars. Fortunately, they have no power over me.
Loyal readers have been funding my research, thanks to the Five Most Important Words in the English Language:
HIT THE FREAKING TIP JAR!
By the way, I’ll be on the Joe Prich BlogTalkRadio show tonight at 9 p.m. ET. Today Joe’s co-host Bree Mars called to remind me about the schedule and I went on about 45-minute rant.
Like I keep saying: People need to wake the hell up!