AN INTRODUCTION TO FEMINISM AND JEALOUSY
What worries me a lot about the relation between jealousy and radical feminism is how many feminists miss the critical point of that relation.
Let us start with a familiar thought-experiment in its most common form using the common language even if it can sound sexist. Let us assume that the straight guy C is jealous of the straight woman E. In order to be able to be more precise, let us assume that C is jealous of E’s, say, feminine apparel and her taking advantage of her sex. The immediate reaction of most feminists is as expected. C is blamed of oppression, E is praised just because she is a woman. But, there is definitely something tacky here.
The analysis of jealousy which I am subscribed to is based on the notions of justice and equality. What does this mean then? Jealousy between romantic and sexual partners explicitly underlines one important aspect of all forms of relations: possessiveness. Jealous partners are the ones who happily exercise their property rights over each other. In today’s capitalist societies, this is such a common pattern which is familiar to all of us.
I claim, all analysis of jealousy have to address this point with some suggestions for direct or indirect solutions. My focus will be based on one of most acclaimed analysis of “natural right” to property. Thus, my motto is “Property is theft” after Pierre Joseph Proudhon.
There are two aspects of property that we will consider along these lines. The first one is objectification, and the second one is ownership. By objectification, a thing is converted to a capitalist commodity. For this, one needs political power. On the other hand, ownership requires a well-defined decision procedure, and in order to able to arrive at a decision which can work, law is needed. Following the aforementioned thought-experiment, jealous C, for instance, wants to hold the ownership of E’s, say, physical body. This implies that first E’s body has to objectified, namely, it has to be understood of as something that can be owned. The second issue is to decide who the owner is. Clearly, it would be absurd of C if he claims any ownership of E’s body, as it is E who lives in that body. However, it is equally absurd of E if she claims the ownership of her own body, either. First of all, it is irrelevant as she is biologically the only person living in her own body already, and there is no point in restating such a trivial fact. Second, and the most important aspect, is that E’s defense for jealousy resorts to the inegalitarian notion of property rights as she uses the language of capitalism in a sense that she declares herself as the owner. In the same sense, an apple is not “ours”, water is not “ours”, even though capitalism can easily objectify them and sell as commodities. This is again, the familiar story.
From that moment on, an analysis of jealousy (Henceforth, by “jealousy” I will always mean romantic and/or sexual jealousy between partners) may vary between the two extremes of the spectrum. You can either consider C’s jealousy as an intuitive reaction towards the objectification of E’s body, or you can approach the matter from a superficial lipstick feminist point of view by maintaining that women do “own” their own bodies.
My opinion converges to the point that stands against the objectification of female body, thus it makes it irrelevant to discuss the ownership of the body as a commodity: it is neither C’s nor E’s, neither mine nor yours. It is not something the predicate “to own” cannot be ascribed to.
This is not the end of the story. “Daily beauty practices” can then be considered as an important part of the objectification process towards the reconstruction of female body as a property. What makes the discussion of such subjects relevant is not only their direct health and economical consequences, but also their long term political effects in society. Therefore, whenever a lipstick feminist suggest not to discuss such beauty practices claiming that they belong to the personal sphere, I cannot help but remember the same slogan: If property is theft, which it is, then the beauty is rape.
The most common beauty practices can then be thought of as the means of the aforementioned reconstruction of the female body. Make-up, hair styling and epilation/waxing/shaving have long been discussed in the literature. Lipstick feminists disagree with the point that such practices serve the sexist and oppressive capitalist system while radical feminists maintain that they should be avoided at all cost based on these reasons. Wearing bra, thong, skirt etc. to over-sexualize the female breast, bottom and legs, in the same fashion, objectifies female body parts. Furthermore, they directly imply the ownership of such body parts. “Hey, this sexy boobs and ass are mine and I can expose them however I like to whomever I want whenever I decide” is one of the first impression given by such practices. Property rights give rise to theft, such beauty practices give rise to sex crimes and rape directly of indirectly. “Property right” is not a freedom, and in the same sense, self-objectification is not a freedom even if the objectified person happily volunteered for that.
Proudhon’s famous dictum directly establishes the connection. What makes you rich makes others poor. Following the same analogy, I claim, what makes women sexy makes other women ugly and exploited. In this respect, beauty practices are not egalitarian and just.
Jealousy, in my opinion, is a pathology which is easy to cure. It is mostly caused by a naive weakness against the beautified and objectified female body from a macho male perspective. As feminism should not aim at alienate men or non-feminists but to gain and educate them; the immediate response to such behavior should be to make sure that the sexist and unjust beauty practices are not present.
In this piece, I did not even focus on the form of jealousy which is supposedly caused by paranoid or hormonal male behavior. Similarly, I did not seek for anthropological answers for this problem by referring to the phenomena that the number of sperms produced by males is billions times more that the eggs produced by women in any given period of time. Such biological facts can give answers for the underlying cause of jealous behavior but cannot offer any solution for them.
In conclusion, from my anarcho-feminist point of view, I suggested to eliminate all forms of oppressive beautification and objectification procedures by deconstructing them from a property rights based point of view, and I claimed that the common female outfits and apparel I described are forms of that oppression even if the persons voluntarily agreed.
Acknowledgement An earlier version of this paper was presented in Jaén, Spain in July, 2009. I am grateful for the feedback of the audience and I thank to the organizer for the opportunity.