Sunday, December 12, 2010
Time to Castrate Testicular Metaphors And Bring Back Some Feminist Clarity
"If she gave him one of her cojones, they'd both have two." James Carville on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in 2008
“If Hillary gave up one of her balls and gave it to Obama, he’d have two,” James Carville in Nov. 2010
"[Arizona governor] Jan Brewer has the cojones that our president does not have." - Sarah Palin to FoxNews, August 2010
"Obama and the Democrats have no balls!" - a million commenters in the liberal blogosphere, December 2010
Okay, I am a gay man, and as an admirer of the male anatomy let me say I have a fond appreciation for a nice pair of low-hangers. A nice pair of high and tight ones ain't bad either. Whether mysteriously and tantalizingly bulging inside clothing, swinging wild and free, or squeezing out behind a misplaced strap or seam, the lovely and delicate male appendage known as testicles, balls, nuts, cojones, or junk is a monument of natural wonder and sensual pleasure. But what it is not is a useful political metaphor.
The vulgarity and stupidity of using the term "balls" for political leadership or courage should be immediately self-evident from the nature of the people who use it the most. Vampire-like underminer and enabler James Carville and quitter/ignoramus Sarah Palin are now pioneers among the political class "daring" to bring such a vulgarism into everyday political discussion, and FoxNews, the great moral arbiter of our time, thinks that's fine. It is positively insidious that a linguistic moron like Sarah Palin should be setting cultural discourse by planting her finger so firmly up the anus of American media culture. It was she, of course, who uttered the barbarically cynical line, "How's that hopey-changey thing working out for you now?" A quotable line which has started to work its way not only through low-information right-wing regurgitators, but through liberal ones now manipulated into feeling betrayed by Obama.
But this is bully talk. Talking about politicians showing "balls" is an attempt to avoid actual discussion of issues. It's an attempt to oversimplify issues with dark intent, to silence deeper questioning. To narrow issues of immigration, as Palin has done, down to a testicular level is not only to evoke fear, but to suggest that immigrants themselves are somehow sapping America's "manhood," that the correct response is defensive crotch grabbing, and that it's all a schoolyard contest to see whose swagger is the widest. And these bullies are counting on intimidating those who secretly worry about their own testicular inadequacy into shutting up and going along with loud, empty-headed braggarts.
This is utter stupidity. Which might be expected from the ilk of Palin and Carville. But it's even worse that the vulgar idiocy of right-wing morons is seeping leftward as progressives react to Obama's response to a new political reality.
This equation of political power, determination, ability, and leadership with testicles is profoundly sexist and misogynist. There's a word I try very hard to avoid: it's "hysteria." And why? Because "hysteria" is a linguistic migration from crackpot sexist psychology into popular usage: it describes women losing control, shrieking and flailing about because of uncontrolled natural urges provoked by their genitalia. "Hysterical" in its original sense means acting like a woman who has lost control of herself; she has allowed her womb to take over and turn her into an irrational, raving animal: the cure for hysteria is a good slap from a stern man, or failing that, being sent away for a while. Somehow "hysterical" has been confused with "hilarious" and people use "hysterical" for something so funny they lose control of themselves. I choose not to perpetuate the notion that it is some inner "female" defect that causes us to lose control. Well I feel the same way about "balls."
Even in the backhandedly complimentary way being applied to Hillary Clinton, courage and leadership should not be considered "male" properties. It's always struck me as deeply ironic that patriarchal male-dominated society insists female submissiveness is the natural order when history shows us both the repressive origins of male dominance and thousands of examples of female leadership.
People on the left should know better than to fall for this crap. It's really a shame that feminist theory and analysis has been so marginalized and discredited with accusations of "political correctness" (always a vile, slanderous, and right-wing dodge) that disgustingly sexist language -- and the intent behind it -- is creeping back through popular culture. For a disturbingly eye-opening experience read the comments about any (probably right-wing) woman on a gay blog and start counting the c-words and the b-words and worse. Using sexual stereotypes is such an easy thing to fall into; but it only requires a little effort and sense of respect and human decency to restrain oneself.
And questioning a male leader's "balls," as is being done about Obama, isn't it rather a lot like calling him a f*g? Perhaps no one is saying Obama is literally gay, but in demasculinizing him aren't they sissyfying him? It's the same thing they mean when they, these multimillionaire rightwingers, call him an "elitist." They mean a pansified, glasses-wearing, sissy who thinks he's too rarified to hang out with the boys, with the real men. Bully speech. Kick his ass!
And let's not even go into why these people think it's cute to call balls "cojones," especially when they're plotting against Hispanic immigrants.
But perhaps what irks me the most about questioning Barack Obama's, or the Democratic Party's, metaphorical balls is that I think it is a facile argument and an incorrect interpretation of what's happening in Washington.
People on the progressive left wanted very much to believe that Obama and the Democrats are on their side. But in truth the Democrats' consensus and Obama himself are much more middle-of-the-road than all the glorious hype of the 2008 elections. But if the Democrats and Obama are a first line of defense against the advancing right-wing resurgence, it does not mean they are actually themselves left-wing.
Let's look briefly at the issue of education reform. Most on the liberal left think it means defending schools against cutbacks, defending education against bizarre testing standards, restoring quality and priority to childhood education. But to the political center (and right) education reform also means busting teacher's unions. That is a crucial difference of position. And anyone can look into Obama's rhetoric to see that he is committed to both the humanistic value of improving education and the corporate value of busting unions. This will lead him to both good and bad policies. And so it is with the economic crisis and his solutions and compromises. What the left perceives as weakness is actually a difference of position, a divergence between what we really wanted a symbolically game-changing president to be and who Obama actually is.
Obama is not a leftist. And let me add, outside of a Bernie Sanders/Dennis Kucinich fluke here and there, leftists will not be elected to government anytime soon in the kind of numbers that will make an actual difference. That is just the way it is. Hopefully, I might add, not forever. But for now.
So when the left accuses Obama of not having "balls," that is, the leadership and courage to stand up to the Republicans on the economy, I think the left is missing several crucial points. And in missing these crucial points I think the left continues to disarm itself. There is a left-wing solution to the economic crisis. And you know what? Cancelling the Bush-era tax cuts for millionaires is an insignificant teeny-tiny-tip of that iceberg. It's symbolically hugely disappointing, sure. It was nice to think that a President might draw that kind of line in the sand. But in a world where the "defense" budget will not be surrendered to right the economy, where banks and corporations will continue to be encouraged to rape the population, what's more important? That symbol -- or the extension of unemployment benefits to millions of people and a modest second economic stimulus?
The left needs to find a way to articulate its vision, advance its agenda, and pragmatically react to the reality of the times. Why are Americans not out in the streets? Right now it's a very one-sided class struggle and our side is losing. Badly and without putting up much of a fight. And we're accusing Obama and the Democrats of being weak?
So fondle some testicles today. It's fun for everybody, except, well, Lesbians (sorry, Sapphic sisters!). But stop talking about them like they're more than a random body part. It doesn't make you sound tough, it makes you sound stupid. And worse, it makes you act stupid.
(Art of anonymous nuts snagged from the excellent nostalgic gay porn blog "BJ's gay porn-crazed ramblings." It's from his post on the dread "mooseknuckle" phenomenon.)