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Anarchism and Sexuality: An Existentialist Account | <a href="http://canbaskent.net">Can Başkent</a>

Can Başkent

logic and the rest...




Some forty years ago, young people in Paris revolted in Paris X Nanterre University. One of the first demands was to gain free access to girls dormitories. The famous, now a member of EU parliament, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and his followers initiated the revolutionary movement in Paris. The spark then spread out to Sorbonne and to the rest of Paris, and finally to Europe and New World. Public intellectuals like Foucault, Sartre, de Beavoir, Deleuze and Guattari supported the youth, and as a result the movement received a lot of public attention.

Whenever I read about those days or visit those places, I cannot help but feeling: "What happened to the idea of egelitarian sexuality?" I have two answers for this question. The first is the unpredictable and inevitable dominance of capitalism in the world. The second is that they never cared about equality apart from a weak demand for equal legal rights. Thus, the term “sexual justice” never occurred to them.

Equality! Now!

One of the most widespread feminst arguments keeps underlining the same point over and over again: "capitalism objectifies women!" This implicitly assumes that objectification creates inequality, which is quite right.

Now, I will eloborate further on that and provide an anarchist reading of feminism view with a strong emphasis on existentialist reading of equality and freedom. My first motto, then will be familiar: "We are condemned to be free."

My first focus is the idea of equality (egalite). Objectification violates the equality principle in a variety of ways. The capitalism objectifies the persons by its very definition. Capitalism has to sell "things". In order to be able to sell something, you should first have to create it. The capitalist hegamony on natural resources and ecological habitats are clear: no more word is needed. More or less, capitalist hegamony over human and non-human persons should also be clear - enough was said about it. Slavery and meat-eating are canonical examples. The key point of capitalist objectification is the fact that if something is objectified, then someone must possess it one way or the other. My second motto thus is as follows: "Every objectified person has to have an owner." Slaves had masters and pets had owners.

Following the same anology, objectified women have owners, too. I don't necessarily mean "husbands, boyfriends, fathers" or "male-kind". Often times owners are selected by the object itself or objects may feel comfortable by being objectified.

A recent literature on radical feminism focuses on the exact same point. Even if you feel comfortable with that, you might still be objectified.

Some lipstick feminist writers claim that dressing up and porn should be considered personal and therefore must be excluded from feminist critics (Natasha Walters); some maintain that feminists turned the tides and now use provocative outfits to build up their femininity (Karen Lehrman). In the same fashion, some think that looking pretty is a "basic instinct", and thus should be considered unavoidable for women (Liz Frost).

Thus, it is easy to observe the notion of beauty has become the mean for objectification. You have to beautiful or beautificated before being objectified. Analogy with the slavery is thus obvious: slaves has to be strong or should be in a shape that can further be strengthened. If you are sick or weak, no!

Anarchism criticizes the means which lead to inequality. Most of these means are accidental. If you are born athletic, your fitness might put you in an advantegous position and might create inequality towards the others. Similarly, if you are born smart and bright, there comes a similar inequality based on the aforementioned accidental qualities. The conclusion is simple: the beauty also creates a significant amount of inequality.

Yet, there is an important difference. The other accidental properties are "shareable". If you are smart, you should share your intellectual products. You should not let copyright and intellectual property legislations to stay between your intellectual products and people. Similarly, if you have a good voice, you should let others to share your mp3s. All these accidental properties are completely shareable. Capitalism tries to regulate the way people share these products to make profit.

The idea of beauty, as a source for inequality, behaves rather different. You can perhaps share the visual aspect of your beauty, you may perhaps let others get stimulated from your fragrance, etc. Yet, it is always more unusual and weird to share the beauty. Thus, beauty becomes a personal property regardless of whether you keep it to yourself or share it with people, or sell it or hire it in sex industry.

This is the crucial point. Whenever the property rights are involved, an anarchist shall remember Proudhon's famous saying: "property is theft". But what and from whom are you stealing if you happened to have a cute bottom?

Anarchist practice gives us variety of hints. If there is a property, anarchists try to socialize the property. This make sense - all property has to be shared. Squats, free markets, P2P sharing networks are cannonical examples.

Anarchist theory also suggest a fair division of the goods according to the need. This point becomes rather disturbing when the objectified notion of beauty is concerned.

Therefore, anarchist people are obliged to dispossess themselves from the notion of beauty. Either they should share it with the people who demand it, or they have to cease their property rights. This is entirely contrary to the major lipstick feminist claim of "our bodies are ours".

The following thought experiment is rather striking. I cook vegan food with Food Not Bombs every week to bring food justice to the city I live in, and serve it to everybody - poor or rich, flesh eater or vegan. Thus, we share our resources and ability to get organic food donated to us - yes, we receive a lot of emails from the farmers and retailers who want to support us. We share a commodity -food- with the people who demand it. This is moreover a moral duty. Thus, if we objectify our body, do we have the same obligation? There was a short-lived radical feminist experimental organization -whose name I cannot recall- formed by women who are willing to share their attractive bodies with the people who demands it. The only criteria for sharing your own body was the irreplacibility principle: "if I don't do it, nobody will do it!". This was a very short-lived organization due to some predictable reasons.

Nevertheless, one of the major pseudo-criticism towards my approach is the case of rape - an vulgar and violent (ab)use of bodily property without a prior permission. However, once the body was reconstructed as an object via the notion of beauty, the rape as a social reflex seems inevitable. The same argument is also used by ALF and ELF when they attacked oil-eater trucks.

My position is simply called dispossession of the beauty. Yes, I really mean it.

Daily Life Cases

Being a straight guy, most of my examples are about straight women. The book "Beauty and Misogyny" (Jeffreys) supports my claim directly. Her observation is clear: most beauty practices are not healty, and should be considered as harmful cultural practices agains women's health. However, the argument for smoking can easily be applied here. Even if it is tautologically unhealthy, some people still practice it.

Anarchist morality, even if most anarchist people pretend not to care about it, is rather straightforward. This gives me the third motto: "Thou shall not harm". Daily beauty practices directly creates inequality and lead to social injustice, and creates individual and social harm.

This is also a sick case of reductionism that I will not discuss here.


Most political analysis of equality was quantative. Hereby, I offered a qualitative analysis of equality with an anarchist reading a la Proudhon.

Thus, individual’s and society’s dispossession of beauty and a possible reconstruction of it are of utmost importance and urgency from an egalitarian anarchist perspective.