By Stan Goff
Copyright 2018 (to be released by Wipf and Stock . . . soon)
The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not comprehend it. —John 1:5
‘Elatus’s daughter, Caenis, loveliest of the virgins of Thessaly, was famous for her beauty, a girl longed for in vain, the object of many suitors throughout the neighboring cities and your own (since she was one of your people, Achilles). Perhaps Peleus also would have tried to wed her, but he had already taken your mother in marriage, or she was promised to your father. Caenis would not agree to any marriage, but (so rumor has it) she was walking along a lonely beach, and the god took her by force. When Neptune had enjoyed his new love he said: “Make your wish, without fear of refusal. Ask for what you most want!”
‘“This injury evokes the great desire never to be able to suffer any such again. Grant I might not be a woman: you will have given me everything,” Caenis said. She spoke the last words in a deeper tone, that might have been the sound of a man’s voice. So it was: the god of the deep ocean had already accepted her wish, and had granted, over and above it, that as a man Caeneus would be protected from all wounds, and never fall to the sword. Caeneus, the Atracides, left, happy with his gifts, and spent his time in manly pastimes, roaming the Thessalian fields. —Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book VII
“A commitment to sexual equality with men is a commitment to becoming the rich instead of the poor, the rapist instead of the raped, the murderer instead of the murdered.” —Andrea Dworkin
Table of Contents
Perky princesses and lovable rogues: Princess Leia
“Here, kitty, kitty” and the toothy vagina: Ellen Ripley
Clarice has three daddies: Clarice Starling
Earning a penis to kill Arabs: Jordan O’Neil
Recapturing normal from the zombie apocalypse: Selena
Monstrous women and the idol of success: Karen Crowder
Bad rape, good rape: Lisbeth Salander
Reluctant war and the practice of virtue: Katniss Everdeen
Conquest of the frontier: Jane Hammond
Borderline was published in February 2015, a book in which I argued that war and masculinity are part of a self-reproducing reciprocal feedback loop. War produces violent masculinity, which in turn reproduces war. Wipf and Stock graciously published it, and the sheer size of the thing raised the cost of the book above fifty dollars. I had also overwhelmed all but the most intrepid of readers with the interdisciplinary scope of it—history, theology, psychanalysis, virtue ethics, gender theory, literary criticism, autobiographical anecdotes . . . Borderline has it all. I’m still happy with the book itself, and I’m not saying people ought not to read it. By all means, buy copies for everyone in your family as gifts. My little truck is twenty-seven years old and drives like a sloppy tractor. If friends and family won’t read it, it’s still big enough to make an attractive and interesting doorstop.
In February 2017, two years later, as I was working on Mammon’s Ecology, also for Wipf and Stock, my editor Charlie Collier emailed me with the suggestion that we take some of the sub-themes of Borderline and turn them into smaller, more accessible books, to reach beyond Borderline’s readers. This book is the first fruit of that very sound suggestion.
One of the commonest arguments in response to Borderline, and consistently in discussions I’ve observed over two decades now of immersion in controversies surrounding sex as practice and gender as power structure, is that my claims and the claims of several feminists are becoming outdated because women have made tremendous advancements over the years, especially with regard to filling roles that were formerly and nearly exclusively filled by men. Not so fast, I say. Because the subtext here often seems to be, let’s apply the brakes before this equality stuff goes too far.
When I use the term “gender” in this book, I am referring to a set of social structures that divide power unequally between men and women. There is another use for the word “gender,” which is a category that includes all the various forms of sexual difference, personal and cultural—a vaguely post-Neitzchean notion that incorporates “identity,” “representation,” and “performance.” So for this book, remember: gender means the difference in power, and it is expressed through the cultural association of men with “masculinity” and women with “femininity.” This book is, however, about several performances, in the actual theatric sense.
Sex-gender is complicated in the same way that discussions of race are complicated inasmuch as there is truth in this assertion that some forms of injustice have been overcome. Sexual harassment is now a crime, and interracial couples show up on television ads without white riots. But these facts can serve to mask the myriad ways in which gender and race—as unjust social structures that separate power—continue to operate beyond these obvious improvements. “It can look like a duck,” as my old pal Daisy Duckhunter used to say, “but it could be a decoy.”
The social movements that broke legal segregation in the United States were a Good Thing, as is the fact that law schools and medical schools now enroll many women. Rape, in its strictest definition, is now prosecutable within marriage, which didn’t used to be the case. People of any ethnicity can now intermarry without crosses being burned on their lawns. Lots of young people I know hang out effortlessly with “different” folks, when, during my own youth, we had to stretch pretty hard across those boundaries to establish friendships. Good stuff. Real stuff. Worthy of our affirmation . . . and vigilance.
At the same time, an African American President did not substantially improve the lot of most African Americans, a few female CEOs have not substantially improved the lot of most women, and the violent power structures that preceded the incorporation of female persons and persons of color into those same power structures has not changed the fundamentally violent and unjust character of these structures. In fact, these symbolic victories can actually stunt our ability to effectively recognize and criticize the violence, injustice, and historic “masculinity” of those structures.
“It can look like a duck, but it could be a decoy.”
A transnational corporation can pollute air, land, and water, acquire raw materials from the hellish landscapes of East Asian sweatshops or African mines, and still be publicly congratulated for its first black/woman/Latin@ CEO or its policy of supporting same-sex domestic partners in the United States. We have achieved progress, because women as well as men can remotely pilot unmanned aerial drones to blow up the heathens’ hospitals and weddings.
We learn the rules for to sex-gender earlier than any other aspect of our personhood. Sex-gender is policed more vigilantly and personally assimilated more deeply than other forms of identity-formation. Tell the average three-year-old boy he’s a girl, or girl she’s a boy, and prepare for a little blitzkrieg of tantrum and revolt. Sex-gender as a power structure is woven more tightly into the fabric of our lives, both public and private, than any other boundary. Sex-gender is more mystified by ideology, pop-psychology, and pseudoscientific malarkey, more the bone of contention of increasingly arcane and impenetrable academic and theological debates, and more consequential in its implications for all our other philosophical assumptions, than any other aspect of human sociality. That is why the twinned evils of patriarchy and woman-hatred (as well as their first cousin, homophobia) have proven to be the most difficult, persistent, and adaptable forms of social injustice to confront.
Two related notions in Borderline, in response to the arguments that women are now in the military and that women are now supporting war as public officials, are the “female decoy” and the “honorary male.”
[EXT]In a plural society like the United States, male social power does not assign women one monolithic “script.” Zillah Eisenstein has said that modern society restlessly “renegotiates” masculinity and femininity, often using what she calls “gender decoys”—individual women in power and individual women as spokespersons for enterprises that are still dominated by males and for males . . . We can easily see that the corporate boardroom lacks females except to take the minutes and serve the coffee; but we typically think of the corporation and its boardroom as the product of the history of male dominance. This blind spot is maintained by norm-alization and gender-neutral liberal speech. We are then seduced by the argument that something called “equality” can efface history by putting more women on the board (as “gender decoys”). Shuffling the board may lead to small changes in its practices, but the function of the board is imbricated within the larger context of society and law. A few women in the boardroom does nothing that improves the lot of women generally, nor will they force the institution to adapt standpoints shared mostly by women. On the contrary, women in power have consistently adapted to the existing masculinized culture, where they serve as honorary males. This is why we need to read between the lines of gender-neutral speech. (italics added)[/EXT]
The woman who becomes an “honorary male” is allowed to occupy a limited number of positions in the male world provided she behaves like the men before her. In doing so, she provides that ideological gender-cover without changing either the masculinized character of the surrounding society or institution, without disrupting masculinity constructed as violence and conquest, and without changing any of the power structures that continue to exist (like racism, class power, and imperial crimes like wars, economic pillaging, and coups) in spite of minor sex-gender disruptions.
True story. When I taught at the United States Military Academy at West Point in the 1980s, around ten percent of the Corps of Cadets were female. West Point: male institution that fought against female inclusion until they were nearly forced at gunpoint. Masculine institutional character. In the cadet lingo of the day, anyone who did anything very well was called a “stud.” He’s a football stud. He’s a chess stud. He’s a PT [physical training] stud. Interestingly, when minority female cadets did things well, they were also called studs. She’s a lacrosse stud. She’s an academic stud. The women who were disliked were still called cunts and whores and dykes and whatnot—pretty standard misogynistic Army talk—but if a young woman managed to gain the respect of some of the men, by not rocking the boat and taking the sexist shit of cadets and faculty without complaint, her sign of acceptance was to become Storm Cat, the uber-ejaculate sire of many flat-racing thoroughbreds. She became an Honorary Male. Stud.
Two bits of film criticism I’d included in Borderline to exemplify this idea were GI Jane and Man on Fire, a story about a woman who becomes an Honorary Man by becoming a gunfighter, and another story about a black guy who becomes an Honorary White Guy by becoming a gunfighter. Americans love gunfighters, and we love war. Our truest faith. When Charlie emailed me with his suggestion that we do more and smaller gendered-power books, Sherry and I had embarked on the long journey through five seasons of Game of Thrones—an often-pornographic, quasi-medieval, fantasy television series that could keep sex-gender analysis folks and sexual psychoanalysts busy for the next two centuries. It was this confluence of events, then, that gave me the idea of taking nine well-known films, released over a period of forty years, from Star Wars to Jane Got a Gun, in which there were well-recognized, strong female leads, and putting each of them under this particular gender microscope. Honorary Males and Gender Decoys.
It was bell hooks, introduced to me by my sister many years ago, who convinced me of the value of cultural criticism. Bell hooks has shown again and again how popular culture, especially television and film, reproduces power structures. But she has also shown how critical engagement with popular culture is a pedagogical method that can reach a lot of people, meet them on familiar ground, and lead them through a process of defamiliarization that allows them to look past the mystifications of power that are written into these stories.
I doubt I can get many people to read sociological surveys; but I’m pretty sure a lot of people have seen the films included in this book. Also, if you are really intrigued by the way gender analysis unpacks into a complex architecture of heterodox insights, you can save up fifty dollars and buy Borderline.
 We’re going to employ a clumsy, hyphenated phrase from here forward: sex-gender. It’s not pretty, but it is a reminder that the sex and gender distinction often underwrites a larger nature-culture distinction that exists only in our minds and never in reality.
 People’s actions interpreted as “performance” is an easy idea to share in our own epoch, and it is shared widely and uncritically even within the Academy. Performance calls to mind actions taken before an audience, self-consciously fabricating our every posture, gesture, and word to convey something to observers. We all know, for example, how the introduction of a camera alters our behavior, how it makes us self-conscious, taking our minds off the objectives of our actions and fixing our consciousness instead on how we appear. When film and, especially, television came on the scene, we began to see actors and other public figures—who were always performing when we saw them—as (and here is a telling theater term) “role” models. I argue that prior to the introduction of the every more ubiquitous camera, this was not part of a dominant episteme except for politicians and the like, public figures, and con artists, and so on, whose job was to manipulate the public. The only reason we can get away with notions like “gender performance” is because we have naturalized this lack of sincerity, this self-conscious acting, which is profoundly alienating, as a way of living, as our primary waking experience. Performance has been further naturalized by psychologists, influenced by Nietzsche, like Erving Goffman, who essentially deny that an authentic “self” exists, rewriting human beings as “subjectivities” without any actual subjects. That naturalization needs to be called into question, especially in a book about film performances and how they affect social life.
 An umbrella term to cover all forms of fear, disgust, and hatred directed at those who—in various ways—fail to conform to what Adrienne Rich calls “compulsory heterosexuality.” Compulsory heterosexuality does not mean someone is being forced into what we refer to as sexual orientation (a personal trait). Rich described sexuality as encompassing much more than the erotic, in particular she calls “lesbianism”—which she promotes—as women being women-identified, whether they have sexual relations with men or women or are sexually abstinent. In a system of compulsory heterosexuality, what are compulsory are the roles, where women see other women as competition for men, e.g., or where they favor their male children, or wherein men feel obliged to do all those “masculine” things that identify them as men. It goes to the division of men from women in support of sustaining men’s power over women—in which we participate, willingly or not, through our many accommodations.
 Not calling masculinity an essence of some kind, like a Great Penile Spirit that takes possession of people. Masculine means that constellation of characteristics that men-in-power are expected to exhibit, emulate, and-or hold in high esteem: aggression, lack of “emotionalism,” toughness, the desire to conquer. Men were associated with power, power associated with these characteristics, and those characteristic were then separated out by social norms as the province of men.