Psycho Feminism: from Hitchcock to Hollaback and Back Again

by Greg Scorzo –

Part 1: The New Bigotry

In the Autumn of 2014, Hollaback, a non-profit movement aiming to end street harrassment, released a 2 minute video that went viral. The video was designed to raise awareness about the phenomena of male on female cat calling on street corners. The Hollaback website defines street harrassment in the following way:

Street harassment is a form of sexual harassment that takes place in public spaces. At its core is a power dynamic that constantly reminds historically subordinated groups (women and LGBTQ folks, for example) of their vulnerability to assault in public spaces. Further, it reinforces the ubiquitous sexual objectification of these groups in everyday life.1

The video itself is a condensed, two minute depiction of a woman (Shoshana B. Roberts) walking through Times Square over a period of ten hours. Throughout the ten hours, many men who are strangers make attempts to verbally communicate with her. Most of the men seem motivated by the fact that they find her attractive. A few men seem like they are just attempting to be friendly without a specifically sexual aim. Some of the men subject her to intimidating and threatening behaviour (that includes stalking). However, the majority of the men in the video seem to be either greeting her or complimenting her appearance in a way that isn’t aggressive. It’s quite clear that many of the men are not attempting to upset, hurt, frighten or embarrass her. The majority of them seem to have benevolent intentions. Only a minority do not. All of the men in the video happen to be non-white, working class, or homeless.2

If this video had been released in 2007, it would be an interesting (if banal) illustration of how men with benevolent intentions can accidentally upset a woman if they approach her without reading her receptivity to said approaches. The lesson of the video would be that any man who wants to make a good impression on a woman should avoid approaching her in contexts where such approaches could make her feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the majority of the men watching such a video would have probably already known that. The men in the video approaching Roberts wouldn’t be the primary target audience of the Hollaback video. Thus, a productive conversation could start about the intersection between class and etiquette in dense urban environments. Elements of this conversation might include the fact that men who cat call women are not representative of men as a demographic group. Other elements might include the fact that men too are subjected to unwanted (and sometimes threatening) communication from pan handlers and homeless people. Still other elements of this conversation might include the fact that potentially unwanted communication is the price one pays for having a society in which it’s legal for strangers to talk to each other. Because the Hollaback video was released in 2014 as part of an internet Feminism campaign, this conversation was the last thing its creators were trying to facilitate.3

Instead, its creators were deliberately trying to amp up the public perception that men are dangerous to women, that men are collectively responsible for unique forms of mistreatment that only women face, and that society must encourage men to police each other so as to make this mistreatment socially unacceptable. Or rather, this was the perspective of the more moderate Hollaback supporters. The less moderate ones wanted to criminalise any instance of a man communicating with a woman on the street where the communication is unwanted.4 The idea motivating the less moderate position is contained within Hollaback’s understanding of street harrassment. By including seemingly friendly greetings like, “Have a nice evening” into the category of cat calling, “Have a nice evening” becomes conceptualised as a form of harrassment in a public space. It becomes a form of sexual harrassment in a public space simply because it is potentially unwanted male to female communication. “Have a nice evening,” and geniunely threatening behaviour get lumped together as a way that men remind women of their vulnerability, a reminder designed to intimidate and silence women.

What morally matters in this activism is that the communication is unwanted by women. The rules used for judging a man guilty of street harassment do not apply to women. Women themselves have to shout obscenities and pinch the asses of men before they will be seriously considered as street harassers. The Hollaback explanation of street harassment makes it plainly obvious why this is the case. Women are an historically subordinated group who are reminded of their vulnerability by unwanted verbal communication from men. Because unwanted verbal communication from women doesn’t function this way, women are allowed a freedom to give men unwanted communication in a public space that men themselves are not allowed.

Many people who don’t hold Hollaback’s view of cat calling are still sympathetic to this double standard because they see it as the outcome of sex differences. Men, on average, are bigger and stronger than women. This makes unwanted communication from men to women intrinsically threatening, on this second view. The fascinating thing about this second view is it allows unwanted communication to be threatening because the communicator has a greater potential to physically overpower the person they are communicating with. What’s even more fascinating is the people happy to endorse this second view are normally happy to reject it when they sense it faciliates bigotry towards another oppressed group.

Imagine a Hollaback video where an old heterosexual man films young muscle-bound gay men complimenting him as he walks through the streets of San Francisco. Those who accept the claim that any unwanted male-to-female communication in a public space is threatening to women would not be happy with a film like this. They would see the film as homophobic. They would especially see it as homophobic if the majority of the gay men depicted in the video did not seem to have malevolent intensions. Our older hetero man would not have a right to be outraged at affable gay men who whistle at him or make friendly comments like, “How are you doing?” “Have a nice evening,” or even “Hey gorgeous.

This is because there would be a moral distinction made between those gay men actually harrassing the older man and those gay men with good intentions who accidentally caused him to feel nervous. Regardless of the nervousness, the heterosexual man would not be sympathetic if he were simply offended by comments like “Hey gorgeous” coming from a younger gay men. The straight man’s offence, in this context, would be read as classic homophobia. This is because there are three important conditions of not engaging in bigotry. The first is that one must take into acccount a person’s intentions when judging any action they perform. The second condition is to judge the action by whether or not it happened in a behavioural context where one can discern any overall malevolence that the action expresses. The third condition is to allow people an individuality where their behaviour can be explained without making reference to how a demographic they belong to is supposed to collectively behave.

In order to avoid homophobia, the heterosexual has to consider the intentions of the gay man who says “Hey gorgeous” while walking past him. The older heterosexual can’t simply claim “Hey gorgeous” is a form of harassment without considering whether the gay man meant any harm in saying it. The heterosexual man also has to consider whether or not the comment was delivered in a manner that was repetitive, aggressive or insulting. Furthermore, the heterosexual man can’t explain the comment as a form of harassment because of any view he has about how gay people collectively behave. He can’t, for instance, conceptualise the comment as harassment because he believes gay men use unwanted verbal communication to try and coerce straight men into exploring their bi-curious side. He most definitely can’t explain the comment as harassment because he believes any gay man who can physically overtake him is a potential rapist. Even if there were statistics that showed that older heterosexual men on the street were most likely to be attacked by younger gay men, it would still be bigoted to consider any unwanted street communication from a gay man to be de facto harassment.

Such a view is an obvious example of homophobic bigotry because it clearly violates the three conditions stated above. How, then, has Hollaback been so successful at generating outrage that also violates these conditions? The answer is that contemporary Feminism has been largely successful at convincing the general public that heterosexual men are a public health threat to women.5 Because of this success, much of the public reluctantly tolerates attitudes about heterosexual men that would be seen as bigoted if directed towards any other demographic group. The public fails to notice that the feminist campaigns that have convinced the public of this rely on the very bigotry that the public condemns when it’s directed towards other demographic groups.

No amount of statistics showing that whites were more likely than blacks to be victims of black crime would ever justify political positions that explain blacks as collectively trying to silence and intimidate whites with violence. No amount of statistics showing that transgender men are most likely to be rapists of cisgender women would justify a suspicion amongst cisgendered women that every transgender man is a potential rapist. This is because western society is very sensitive to bigotry. However, this is only when it is expressed towards groups associated with marginalisation and oppression. This state of affairs is largely a product of the West’s shame and guilt over it’s history of mistreating women, blacks, and people with alternative sexualities. That shame and guilt has allowed much of society to be guilt tripped by activist movements into having different standards for judging instances of bigotry when the bigotry is directed towards groups that do not have a reputation for being historically oppressed.6

Western society allows for descriptions of men, whites, heterosexuals, and cisgendered people that would be seen as outrageously bigoted if applied to women, blacks, gays, or transgender people. Of all the groups that do not have a reputation for being oppressed, heterosexual men are perhaps the easiest to describe in ways that approximate outright vilification. It is common practice these days to tar all heterosexual men with a collective responsibility for (and complicity in) male on female sexual violence.7 Even whites don’t get that treatment in relation to sexual violence where whites are perpetrators and non-whites are victims. The upper classes certainly don’t get that treatment in relation to sexual violence where upper class people are the perpetrators and lower class people are the victims.

2: Gender Roles

The reason why contemporary Feminism has had such an easy time vilifying heterosexual men is because the vilification of heterosexual male desire predates Feminism. In fact, much of 20th century Feminism was a social force that opposed this vilification.

This is because the vilification of male heterosexual desire is a by-product of gender roles. Gender roles were one of the main targets of 20th century Feminism.8 21st century Feminism is distinct from it’s predecessor in that it almost uniformly relies on gender role based assumptions that are useful in painting a picture of heterosexual men as a public health threat to women. Such assumptions include the idea that any sexual desire expressed by men that isn’t at the behest of women violates women. They also include the assumption that insofar as any man celebrates, jokes about, or even describes his attraction to the purely physical features of a woman’s body, he is reducing her to that body. It is true that many of these assumptions have always been a huge part of feminist theory.9 However, in practice, the 20th century feminist movement changed society by provoking ordinary women and men to question these assumptions.

This is because of the role that Feminism played in the larger sexual liberation movement of the 1960s. That sexual liberation movement challenged the assumption that the only way a woman could not be violated by male heterosexual desire was for that desire to be expressed in romantic, post-marital sex. The sexual liberation movement understood that this assumption was an obstacle towards sexual freedom and equality for women. As a by product of this stance, sexual liberation wound up liberating male heterosexual desire as much as it did female heterosexual desire.

Sexual liberation (along with 60’s counter-culture) made it possible for men to openly have casual sex without being seen as sleazy sexual predators.10 It made it socially acceptable for men to seperate their love of women from their desire to fuck them. It made it possible for men to celebrate their desire to fuck women because women were attractive, because they were skillful flirts, or simply because women were brazen and courageous in expressing their own erotic desires.

This liberal acceptance of male heterosexual desire was contrary to the constraints placed on men by gender roles. The male gender role dictated that men be the breadwinners in a marriage. The female gender role dictated that women be keepers of the domestic sphere in that same marriage. Within these gender roles, men were expected to be brave, logical, and aggressive when necessary to protect women. It was the man’s job to compete in an often exploitative, physically exhausting labour market so as to shield women from these responsibilties, responsibilities the female body was seen as too fragile to take on. The expectation that women should be given the lighter responsibility of managing the home and the raising of children was initially an expression of chivalry on the part of men. In exchange for this chivalry, society gave men authority over their wives and families as an incentive for taking on the burdens and responsibilities that came with being a breadwinner. This, of course, was unjust. It resulted, among other things, in a society which tolerated husband on wife rape because this was an expression of the subservience expected of wives.11

"The Female Gender Role" by Prudence Lawrence. 2015.

“The Female Gender Role” by Prudence Lawrence. 2015.

However, women were also given an incentive for tolerating this subservience to a man after marrying him. The woman got to shape and mould (to a much greater extent than the man) the social and cultural norms regarding sexuality that the children would internalise. Because this shaping happened in a climate where women were expected to be both sexually and domestically subservient to men within a marriage, an (understandable) anger and resentment towards men built up in women. This anger expressed itself in the prohibitive social and cultural norms about sex that were taught to children by their mothers. These prohibitive social and cultural norms became as much a part of the female gender role as bread winning was a part of the male role. The female gender role promoted a conception of male sexuality as dirty and violating, a force that could only be tamed by love, monogamy, marriage, and familial obligations. Any expression of male sexual desire was seen as threatening to women insofar as that expression did not happen in the context of a loving and monogamous marriage.

Within the traditional female gender role, male sexuality not motivated by romance and familial obligation was a crass, vulgar, and offensive threat to the virginal purity of women. This is why the female gender role also disapproved of female sexuality that was not an expression of romance and familial obligation. Female sexuality that was not tied to being a loving wife and mother showed a lack of self-respect in women, a lack of self-respect that arose from the possibility of a woman being taken advantage of by a man. There was nothing worse than a woman’s virginal purity being corrupted by carnal and brutish male desire. Non-romantic male sexuality was seen as a threat to women that women could only satisfactorily face with the help of other men, men whose erotic desires had been tamed by women in the name of love, marriage, and responsibility.

The sexual liberation movement was largely an affront to this picture of male and female sexuality. 60s Feminism aligned itself with this movement by engaging in activism that attempted to replace these gender roles with an egalitarian picture of men and women. On this egalitarian picture, women had agency in how they expressed their sexuality. This meant one couldn’t simply reduce the choice of any woman to have carnal, lust driven sex with a man to her being taken advantage of by that man. One also couldn’t reduce any male desire to have carnal, lust driven sex with a woman to him violating her. In order to facilitate female sexual empowerment, the casual expression of heterosexual male desire became much more socially acceptable.

This egalitarian attitude towards male and female desire is an important gift that the sexual liberation movement gave to mainstream society and popular culture. It is a gift that so much 21st century Feminism actually undermines.11 One of the reasons 21st century Feminism has been effective in this regard is because it presents itself as a continuation of the feminist tradition of the 20th century. That makes it easy for society to overlook how this movement often threatens many of the important gains of it’s predecessor. If anything, 21st century Feminism promotes a view of male sexuality which is ironically pre-feminist. One notices this when one watches American Westerns and Crime films made before the mid 60s. Those films, like the Hollaback video, portray expressions of male desire as a threat to women insofar as those expressions don’t happen at the behest of women. Those films, like the Hollaback video, encourage men to protect women from other sleazy, lecherous men who display their moral depravity by making casual remarks that suggest they like to fuck women. In such films, any man who discusses his purely carnal desire to fuck women is normally a bad guy the male hero has to defeat.

This view of male heterosexuality disadvantaged both men and women. However, it was the norm of Western civilisation prior to the 1960s. Before the 1960s, most Hollywood films simply presupposed it. One of the first films to actively critique it was Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Psycho is remembered today as an important and innovative thriller that kills it’s protagonist midway through its running time and has an artfully crafted shower scene which was unprecedented in its graphic display of violence. It popularised both the idea of the psychotic killer and is currently seen as the grandfather of the “slasher film.” What often gets unnoticed is it is also a critique of the attitudes towards male sexuality that were part of the female gender role in post-war America.

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Original Psycho poster. Incoroporates artwork from Saul Bass. Copywright Shamley Productions, 1960. Copywright renewed in 1988 by Universal Studios.

Part 3: Psycho as Critique of the Female Gender Role

Psycho is initially the story of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a woman who steals a large sum of money to finance a marriage and house with her boyfriend Sam (John Gavin). Her motivation for stealing the money is that she and Sam have a long distance relationship she is ashamed of. He lives in California while she lives in Arizona. She can only meet him in hotels while he is on business trips and the two of them have sex. Marion finds this a reputation ruining way to have a relationship with a man. She believes it lacks respectability. On impulse, she steals forty thousand dollars that she has been entrusted to look after by her boss. After feigning a headache, Marion immediately drives to California to create a life with Sam. On her journey to California, she stops at a hotel run by a man called Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins).

Norman initially seems very polite and friendly towards Marion but senses that she is running away from something. Norman kindly asks Marion if she would like to have dinner with him after she puts away her belongings in her hotel room. She says “yes”, not noticing that Norman’s sweet invitation is motivated by his sexual attraction to her. While Marion is putting away her belongings, she overhears Norman having a conversation with his elderly mother in an adjacent house. His mother castigates Norman for trying to sexually take advantage of Marion by convincing her to have dinner with him. Marion herself sides with Norman, believing his mother is impugning bad intentions to Norman and doing so in a cruel and abusive manner.

Almost as a gesture of pity, Marion makes an effort to be pleasant company for Norman over a dinner of sandwiches he has made for her. During their conversation, Norman explains to Marion his hobby of stuffing birds and also recounts the difficulties involved in caring for his sick mother. He tells her how caring for his mother causes him to live a life of social isolation. Marion alludes to the fact that she is running away from something and wishes to atone for a mistake. She also insinuates that Norman should stand up to his mother because it seems to Marion that their relationship is abusive. Norman suddenly becomes defensive in a way that is slightly menacing. He accuses Marion of displaying insensitivity and cruelty towards an elderly victim of mental illness. Marion then excuses herself to bed while Norman becomes friendly again, promising to bring her breakfast the next morning before she leaves.

After Marion retires to bed, Norman looks at the signature that Marion has left at his guest registry. He notices a discrepancy between the surname she wrote (Samuels) and the surname she referred to herself with during their conversation (Crane). He also removes a picture from a wall in his parlour which conceals a tiny hole through which Norman can see into Marion’s room. He watches her undress and then gets a perturbed look on his face. He puts the picture back on the wall and returns to the house where his mother resides. The next morning, Marion takes a shower, feeling visibly relieved after having decided to return to Arizona and give back the money.

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Stills from the shower scene in Alfred Hithcock’s Psycho. 1960.

A shadowy figure resembling Norman’s mother opens the curtain and quickly stabs Marion to death in one of the most famous (and surprising) on screen murders of all time. Afterwards, we hear Norman (offscreen) screaming at his mother that she is covered in blood. Norman runs to the cabin and, like a dutiful son, cleans up the murder. He washes away all the blood, wraps Marion’s body in a plastic bag, and puts the body in her car which he then pushes into a swamp. The rest of the film involves an investigation into Marion’s murder involving Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles), Sam, and a detective called Arbogast (Martin Balsam). Arbogast is soon murdered at Norman’s house by what looks like Norman’s mother. In the final act of the film, Lila and Sam continue Arbogast’s investigation posing as a married couple that pay for a night at the Bates motel. Sam talks to Norman, distracting him while Lila attempts to sneak away and ask Norman’s mother about the whereabouts of Marion.

Norman and Sam get in an altercation where Norman temporarily knocks Sam unconscious with a paperweight. At roughly the same time, Lila discovers that Norman’s mother is in fact a corpse rotting away in Norman’s basement. Norman runs to the basement and attempts to murder Lila, dressed as his mother and carrying a huge knife. At this point, the audience discovers that the murders of Marion and Arbogast were committed by Norman all along. Before Norman can stab Lila, Sam runs in the room from behind and wrestles Norman to the ground.

In the film’s final sequence, we are given an explanation of Norman Bates by a criminal psychologist. We are told that Norman was the son of a cruel and demanding mother whom he killed when she fell in love with another man. Unable to cope with the reality of what he had done, Norman mentally suppressed the murder of his mother. In order to aid the suppression, he often dressed up like his mother. During these times, he acted out those things he thought his mother would do and say. He occasionally retained his identity as Norman to look after the few hotel guests that happened to check into the Bates motel. When Norman met Marion, he felt he had to kill her because she both aroused him and he imagined his mother would be jealous and angry over his sexual feelings. In the final scene, we see Norman Bates in a jail cell performing an inner monologue in the voice of his mother. During this monologue, his maternal voice says she intends to show the authorities that she is a vulnerable, peaceful woman and that it is her son who is “bad” and should have been put away years ago.

What’s interesting about the story of Psycho is it depicts two individuals who initiate disastrous consequences when they obey female gender role norms. Marion feels ashamed at having sexual liaisons in a hotel room with a man she isn’t married to and winds up stealing money and being the victim of a homicide. Norman is ashamed of the fact that he is a heterosexual male who has non-romantic sexual desires. Norman has to both engage in a form of dissociative identity disorder and commit murders in order to feel like his heterosexual desires can be punished and prohibited. We can hear Norman parroting the voice of female gender role norms when he speaks in the voice of his mother. This is particularly true in the scene where Marion overhears Norman speaking to himself about their impending dinner in Norman’s parlour.

Norman’s maternal voice screams, “No, I tell you! I won’t have you bringing strange young girls in for supper! By candlelight, I suppose, in the cheap erotic fashion of young men with cheap, erotic minds!”

Norman protests, “Mother please! “

Norman’s mother voice responds, “And then what? After supper music? Whispers?”

Norman responds in frustration, “She’s just a stranger. She’s hungry and it’s raining!”

Norman’s mother retorts, “As if men don’t desire strangers! I refuse to speak of such things because they disgust me! Do you understand, boy? Go on, go tell her that she’ll not be appeasing her ugly appetite with my food! Or my son! Or do I have to tell her, cause you don’t have the guts? Huh, boy? You have the guts, boy?”

Norman shouts in anger, “Shut up! Shut up!”

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Still of the mother of Norman Bates in Hitchock’s Psycho. 1960

From the perspective of Norman’s mother voice, any male sexual desire for women outside the context of marriage is a disgusting violation of women. Any young man will use any means available in order to make a woman feel comfortable and free with her sexuality so that he can persuade her to indulge his carnal desires. Thus, any attractive woman is simply an opportunity for a young man to gratify his most base urges through manipulation. For Norman’s mother voice, this is cheap and disgusting and a woman’s consent to such manipulation is equally disgusting.

The sexual liberation movement of the 60s would explain Norman’s desire in a very different way. Norman’s desire to fuck Marion, on this view, is a normal, natural, and benevolent urge which is not unique to men. Because Marion is Norman’s equal, her potential consent to Norman’s sexual advances can’t simply be explained as her being manipulated by Norman. Her autonomy means that she is the author of her actions. If she decides to sleep with Norman, this will be an expression of the mutual desires of the two of them. The fact that it happens outside the context of a romantic relationship is not itself evidence that it is harmful. There may be moral difficulties with the fact that such a sexual encounter involves cheating on Sam. However, the fact that a consensual sexual encounter happens outside the context of romance and marriage is thoroughly unproblematic.

The important upshot of this view is it demands some tolerance of desire that is neither requested or completely controlled by the person being desired. It doesn’t merely demand we be tolerant of Norman’s desire to have sex with Marion independently of whether the desire is motivated by romantic yearnings. It also demands that we be tolerant of Norman’s desire to have sex with Marion independently of whether the desire is even reciprocal. That means we be tolerant of the fact that Norman’s sexuality emerges as a result of seeing Marion, of looking at her in ways she might not wish to be looked at. Of course, this tolerance doesn’t extend to Norman peeping at Marion through a wall hole while she undresses. Nor does it extend to him threatening or harassing her. However, it does extend to Norman looking at Marion in a way which could make her feel uncomfortable. Marion could feel uncomfortable because while talking to Norman, she senses erotic desire in his eyes.

On this view, this erotic desire expressed in a man’s eyes could certainly pre-empt sexual harassment that should be condemned. However, non-harassing physical expressions of this desire (the look in his eyes, the verbal announcement of his sexual attraction) should not be conceptualised as de facto violations of women. This is because these behaviours are indicators of sexual interest that give women the potential freedom to accept or reject a sexual advance. If a woman rejects it, the man must respect her bodily autonomy and refrain from placing additional pressure on the woman to satisfy his desires. However, the woman can’t be offended merely if a man she is not interested in expresses some sexual interest in her. Such offence not only undermines the social freedom for women to accept or reject non-romantic sexual advances in a public space. It also belittles male desire in a way that would be unacceptable if the genders were reversed. A man would be seen (rightly) as a sexist if he were to take offence because a woman he didn’t fancy expressed some sexual desire for him that was not completely at his behest.

Part 4: Marion Crane vs The Appearance of Marion Crane

The impulse to punish the spontaneous eroticising of women by men is given a powerful deconstruction in Psycho. During the film’s first forty five minutes, Hitchcock tells us the story of Marion Crane by visualising this story in a way that mirrors the phenomenology of male heterosexual desire. More precisely, Hitchcock manipulates the audience to see Marion the way Norman Bates sees her. This isn’t as simple as Hitchcock filming Marion in ways that make the audience aroused by her. This would be pointless since the Psycho audience includes people who are not sexually attracted to Marion. Rather, Hitchcock visually realises Marion in a way that gets the audience to see her as interesting and worthy of rooting for primarily because of her sexuality and her deviousness. Marion is interesting to the audience because of the extreme things she is willing to do to have sex the way she wants. Marion the person is far less interesting than the attractive woman we see having pre-marital sex, lying, and stealing. The interest in Marion that Hitchcock cultivates is a prurient interest, an interest in watching an attractive and brave bad girl get away with something naughty.

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Sam (John Gavin) and Marion (Janet Leigh) in Psycho’s opening scene. 1960.

This interest creates a misplaced empathy where the audience accepts Marion as the protagonist of Psycho. This is a masterful sleight of hand. It’s a sleight of hand based on getting the prurient interest in watching Marion the bad girl stop the audience from noticing Marion the person. As a person, Marion Crane is a stubborn but bland conformist, a person willing to relentlessly go to unwise lengths in order to appear like she isn’t a slut. She’s a bad girl, but only because of the ridiculous extremes she is willing to go in order to not to be seen as one. In the first scene when she meets her boyfriend Sam in a hotel room to have sex, she tells him she doesn’t want to see him again under these conditions.

She says, “We can see each other again. We can even have dinner, but respectably, in my house with my mother’s picture on the mantel and my sister helping me broil a big steak for three.”

Sam responds, “And after the steak, do we send sister to the movies and turn Momma’s picture to the wall?”

Marion is not amused with Sam’s playful retort. This is a woman who we can imagine becoming the middle aged mother so many male hippies will rebel against with their long hair, Vietnam War protests, and casual swearing. We can imagine Marion becoming the sort of late twentieth century grandmother who views her grandchildren as picture frame symbols to adorn her well kept mantelpiece; not burgeoning individuals whose lives she has a loving interest in. When Marion decides to steal money from her boss in order to get married to Sam without having to fuck him in hotel rooms, the audience should (in theory) be rooting for the police to catch her and return the money. Yet Hitchcock manipulates the audience to have the opposite reaction.

Hitchcock achieves this manipulation in two ways. He visually depicts the male figures who are obstacles towards her (an obnoxious boss and a menacing police officer) in a way where she appears far more vulnerable than them. Secondly, the film-making has a voyeuristic style, as if the audience is spying on aspects of Marion’s life when it knows it shouldn’t. Marion is often seen in various states of undress that were more than slightly racy for a commercial feature film of 1960. More perspicuously, Marion is seen having a sexual affair she is hiding. As the film opens, she is in undergarments kissing an attractive man who is also bare chested. Hitchcock’s manipulations create a discrepancy between the moral reality of Marion Crane and the way the audience sees her. The moral reality is that Marion is nothing more than a prudish thief. Hitchcock, however, gets the audience to see her in a way that is eroticised. This is how the audience can accept her as the film’s protagonist and root for her.

The audience roots for Marion for reasons that are more mesmeric than rational; Marion is an attractive woman whose persona contains an erotic power. It’s a power that may or may not cause arousal. It is, however, a power that causes interest and fascination.13 The power stems from the fact that Marion’s story is visually depicted as the brave and dangerous quest of an attractive (but vulnerable) woman who has an intense erotic life, an intense erotic life she wouldn’t want the audience to see. Yet at every turn, Hitchcock goes against Marion’s wishes, teasing the audience with glimpses of that erotic life. This technique parallels the unruly nature of how men eroticise women. Men instinctively eroticise women without regard to whether the women they eroticise have a say in it. This is why Hitchcock, through the camera’s gaze, eroticises Marion without her permission.

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Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho.

Not only does he do this. He also constructs Marion as the sort of attractive woman of the post-cold war era who would be horrified by this very teasing. Marion’s entire quest is a quest to rid her erotic life of the very things that draw the audience to it; the fact that it is breaking established social conventions, the fact that she is willing to lie and steal in order to keep it secret. Hitchcock makes the audience want to see Marion get undressed, have pre-marital sex, and steal money precisely because that’s exactly what Marion doesn’t want anyone to see. The audience roots for her without realising it is rooting for her to cancel out the very reasons it roots for her. The audience, in a dizzying feat of cognitive dissonance, roots for Marion because the erotic power of her persona makes it want to see what it also is rooting for her to hide.

When Norman Bates meets Marion Crane, his perception of her is similar to that of the audience. On one level, he can sense that he is interacting with a deceitful criminal. On another level, he is fascinated by her because she is a sexually attractive woman hiding something potentially dangerous. She is for Norman and the audience, an attractive symbol of naughtiness and transgression. Unlike the Psycho audience, Norman can’t allow himself a prurient interest in Marion without horrific consequences. In other words, he can’t safely allow himself the erotic fascination with Marion that explains the audience’s identification of Marion as the protagonist of Psycho. Norman can only begin to experience a sexual fascination with Marion and politely act on this desire for a small window of time. Within a few hours, Norman is severely punished by the voice of his mother. Norman’s mother voice winds up horrifically punishing Norman and Marion alike.

When we first meet Norman Bates, he seems (in the first few minutes of his screen time) much friendlier than Sam and much more considerate. Because Norman is the most relatable, kind, put upon male in the film during the initial minutes of his screen time, he is the male figure who the audience initially sees as a potential romantic interest for Marion. When the audience hears Norman’s mother screaming at him, Hitchcock has (in a very subtle way) put the audience in Norman’s position. She is yelling at him, among other reasons, for looking at Marion in a way that’s similar to how the audience has been looking at Marion. The audience immediately dislike Normans’s mother, in part, because Hitchcock has manipulated the audience into having benevolent feelings towards Norman’s attraction to Marion. The audience wants Norman to be able to enjoy Marion’s erotic power, regardless of whether that enjoyment becomes literal or simply exists in Norman’s mind. After all, it is because of that erotic power that the audience has accepted Marion as the film’s protagonist.

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Norman Bates, played with disarming initial likeability by Anthony Perkins.

When Norman’s mother voice scolds him for using his position as hotel keeper as an excuse to have dinner with and seduce Marion, the audience feels as though it is also being scolded. Even Marion feels sympathy for Norman in this moment because Norman’s mother voice externalises the norms that are driving her to behave like a criminal. Norman’s mother voice is the voice of the female gender role, a voice that suddenly becomes morally repugnant to Marion when she hears it manifested in the abusive rantings of an old woman. This is the beginning of an emancipatory moment for Marion, a moment when Marion starts to see the neurosis and repressiveness of the sexual mores she has engaged in criminal behaviour to maintain.

When Norman reveals his menacing side during the dinner with Marion in his parlour, he stops having so much of the audience’s sympathy. Instead, he becomes an unnerving but pitiable figure. He becomes this because of how he protects and enables his abusive mother. The audience at this point, does not know that Norman’s mother is actually an elaborate performance by Norman. When Marion suggests that Norman put his mother in assisted care, Norman replies, “An Institution? A madhouse? People always call a madhouse someplace. Put her in someplace.”

Marion responds apologetically, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound uncaring.”

Norman angrily retorts, “What do you know about caring? Have you ever seen the inside of one of those places? The laughing and the tears and the cruel eyes studying you. My mother there? But she’s harmless! She’s as harmless as one of these stuffed birds!”

Marion tries to diffuse the tension by saying, “I’m sorry. I only felt…it just seems like she’s hurting you. I meant well.”

Norman angrily replies, “People always mean well. They cluck their thick tongues and shake their heads and suggest oh so very delicately!”

Then Norman suddenly becomes calm again, elaborating, “Of course, I’ve suggested it myself. But I’d hate to even think about it. She needs me. It isn’t as if she were a maniac or a raving thing. It’s just that she goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?”

From the perspective of Marion and the audience, Norman puts up with abuse from his elderly mother because he sees her physical frailty and mental illness as more important than the emotional and social consequences it has for him. He puts her before him to an extent where it seems his care of his mother is literally ruining his life. This tendency of men to see their own lives as disposable when in the service of protecting a vulnerable female is as much a requirement of the female gender role as Marion’s worry about respectability. Seeing how these norms have trapped Norman in an unfulfilling life where he is beholden to abuse strikes a chord in Marion. This triggers the completion of Marion’s emancipatory moment. She begins to intuitively understand how relentlessly upholding (at least some) female gender norms can be destructive. Talking to Norman helps her see that both she and him are beholden to a cruel and repressive maternal voice, a voice which demands respectability from her and martyrdom from him.

It is because of this emerging understanding that Marion decides to drive back to Phoenix and give back the money she has stolen. Norman, on the other hand, confirms the suspicions of his mother voice regarding his unruly sexuality. Not only does he gaze at Marion as an erotic object, he literally invades her privacy by sneaking a peak at Marion undressing moments after she returns to her room. Norman’s mother voice is so disapproving of Norman for this act that it makes him kill the object of his gaze the next morning as a punishment. Although Norman is actually the murderer, the shower scene is shot as though it’s Norman’s mother who is murdering Marion. This illustrates that the murder of Marion is not taking place because of any animosity Norman has towards Marion. It takes place because Norman’s mother voice is punishing him for liking and wanting her.

Image 29

Norman Bates spies on an undressing Marion Crane in the scene immediately preceeding Psycho’s infamous shower scene. 1960.

This shower scene is perhaps the most infamous murder scene in all of cinema history. Much has been written throughout the last fifty years about its unprecedented violence, discordant soundtrack, and innovative use of montage. From today’s perspective, the most fascinating aspect of this scene is how it forces the audience to confront just how much more it sees Marion’s erotic power than it sees Marion. As the scene begins, the audience follows Marion directly into the shower rather than look at her from behind a curtain. Before the murder even occurs, Hitchcock is goading the audience into overlooking Marion’s emotions and eroticising her. Marion’s emotions are expressed in the image of her feeling emotionally cleansed as she brushes water over her face with her hands.

Image 31

Marion Crane seconds before she is murdered in Psycho’s famous shower scene. 1960.

Regardless of how unerotic this moment is for Marion, the audience is in the position of watching a nude, attractive woman gasp in sensuous pleasure as she rubs water on her face and torso. Here, the audience is violating Marion’s privacy to an even greater extent than Norman did when he silently watched her undress the night before. This creates an interesting audience sympathy for Norman’s prior voyeurism. In that scene, the audience disapproved of Norman’s violation of Marion’s privacy when he spied on her undressing. Yet this disapproval is now juxtaposed with some empathy. This empathy is possible because the audience has actually gone a step further than Norman. Without her permission, the audience has literally followed Marion into the shower.

Much like Norman, there are consequences for the audience in choosing not to look away. The object of its unwanted gaze is unexpectedly and brutally murdered. As Marion is killed, she becomes nothing more than a beautiful body being punctured offscreen by a large butcher knife. As Marion is being murdered, the audience is actually watching the most explicit images of Marion’s body that it has yet seen throughout the entire film. Hitchcock shows the audience quick images of Marion’s legs and feet and her flat stomach. The audience sees more of Marion’s body than it sees the knife ripping it apart. Even after the murder is complete, the camera pans over Marion and the audience is exposed more to her legs and feet than any blood or wounds. The audience imagines the goriness of her murder, but mostly sees images of those parts of Marion’s attractive body which are unharmed.

In this way, Marion’s murder is visualised less as a tragic extinguishing of a person and more as a terrifying punishment, a punishment for having eroticised her body. On one level, this is the outcome of the film’s plot. Norman’s mother voice literally murders Marion to punish him for eroticising her. However, the crime Norman commits in eroticising Marion and invading her privacy without her permission has been committed more severely by the audience. Of course, Hitchcock isn’t literally punishing the audience because the audience is guilty here of nothing more than looking at the life and death of a fictional character.

However, the way it has looked at this fictional character is motivated by the same prurient interests as Norman Bates. This is why, when Norman is punished for his prurient interests, Norman’s punishment feels like a punishment of the audience. In a similar way, the audience’s fascination with Marion because of her sexuality is like a male sexual attraction to Marion that is motivated by lust rather than romance. It’s like lust driven male sexuality in that Marion becomes fascinating for reasons that transcend her individuality. She becomes fascinating more because of how she looks and behaves than because of who she is.

By mimicking both non-romantic male heterosexual desire and the horrible experience of being punished for it, Psycho powerfully critiques the female gender role. Yet this critique simultaneously takes seriously the difficulties of non-romantic male heterosexuality that the female gender role reacts to.

Psycho doesn’t simply defend non-romantic male heterosexuality. Hitchcock, after all, exposes to the audience the inherent shallowness of eroticising a person. Marion is embraced by the audience as the film’s protagonist because of it’s prurient interest in watching an attractive young woman get undressed, have pre-marital sex, lie and steal money in an attempt to hide her sex life. The depths of Marion are far less compelling than these surfaces. Her murder, rather than showcasing emotional tragedy or explicit gore, mostly involves the offscreen destruction of her attractive body. Even in her death, we see Marion’s surfaces to a far greater extent than we see anything else.

Image 32

Images of Marion Crane being murdered in Psycho’s infamous shower scene. 1960.

This illuminates how eroticising a person has the capacity to create moral illusions. Hitchcock has purposefully created a moral illusion whereby the Psycho audience thinks it’s reacting to Marion’s character when they are actually reacting to the salacious fascination caused by Marion’s appearance and behaviour. This Hitchcockian moral illusion is like that immediately positive reaction many people have towards an attractive and confident, stylishly dressed model walking down a cat walk. Or the immediately positive reaction other people have towards a charismatic and witty person arriving late at a socially awkward gathering and suddenly making everyone feel at ease. Those reactions happen regardless of whether the model and the party guest are horrible people.

This, in essence, is why eroticism is problematic. It has the potential to obscure the individuality of people. This, in turn, can have negative social and political consequences. Individuals can be praised or hired because of surface appearances that create illusions of merit or good will. On the other hand, individuals can be mistakenly perceived as everything from meddlesome to incompetent because they lack the surface appearances that create erotic interest in others. The eroticising of individuals has the potential to make sexual desire for a person the pre-eminent feature of how they are valued in society. Worse, such reactions can make that same person be treated as suddenly disposable once their appearance and behaviour stop generating widespread sexual desire when they walk into a room.

Part 5: Why the Problem of Eroticism is Less Problematic than Sexual Repression

It is understandable why Western civilisation has had such an ambivalent reaction to eroticism and the perceptions it creates. Such perceptions obviously have the potential to create unequal treatment between individuals who don’t deserve it. However, such perceptions are also inescapable components of healthy human sexuality. This isn’t to say that human sexuality can be reduced to the erotic perceptions of others that happen in virtue of how their surfaces appear. However, long term sexual relationships are only possible if these erotic perceptions are deliberately cultivated and sustained. Think of the elderly couple who have a healthy sexual relationship well into their 70s. This sexual relationship may have initially been caused by a combination of sexual attraction and romantic bonds formed when both parties were much younger. Yet what allows the sexual relationship to sustain into their seventies isn’t simply the fact that both parties love each other. It’s the fact that both parties make a deliberate effort to turn each other on.

Turning each other on isn’t simply a matter of displaying love or an abundance of character virtues. Turning each other on is about displaying behaviours that create a powerful, carnal reaction in the other. These behaviours can be anything from one party using unusually coarse language to the other party making sure they always have a certain hair style. Such behaviours can involve anything from elaborate foreplay rituals to the absence of a pair of socks one party finds distracting. The point is that while sexual relationships may begin over a combination of love and physical attraction, they are sustained through the deliberate practice of behaviours that generate arousal.

Make no mistake about it. These behaviours are performances, performances designed to make one partner look at the other as an erotic body. The individuality of each partner can certainly be expressed in these performances. However, what’s crucially important in these performances is not that individuality. It’s the erotic reaction created in the other. Erotic performances in a healthy sex life are a form of mutual communication, a communication expressed in the language of surfaces. This language may express moral virtue or the depth of one’s love. However, it is not directly about either of those things. It’s about saying or doing something that one partner can predict will eventually drive the other into a sexual frenzy. This ability to perform without hesitancy is what allows each partner to let go of their inhibitions and experience sexual pleasure through the other.

Sexual pleasure is not merely sensual pleasure. It is not like the pleasure one gets in either giving or receiving a satisfying massage. The giving and receiving of sexual pleasure is inherently mischievous. It is mischievous because it involves the display and enjoyment of erotic power (the very power Hitchcock gives Marion Crane). Erotic power is the power to use behaviour to manipulate another person into intense, overwhelming and visceral pleasure. It’s a mischievous power because it is infantile, grounded in the rambunctious joy of play and teasing, expressed more in the smirk and wink than in the sincere declaration of everlasting love. There is even something slightly uncivilised about it, as it contains elements that can be destructive to the world outside the bedroom. These elements include wilful manipulation, an exaggerated reaction to appearances, and the practice of cultivating erotic feelings in the other that are not entirely under one’s control. Those are the very things that, in the social realm, can create everything from extreme shallowness to discomfort, body shame, feelings of rejection, injustice, fear, and even violence.

Yet without these elements, sex becomes civilised in a way that dulls it’s power and eventually destroys it’s appeal. In the absence of sex, there is nothing to distinguish romance from deep friendship. The lesson here is perplexing but unavoidable: The most base and shallow human instincts are necessary for sustaining the deepest human bonds. The reactions we cause in our lovers with our surfaces are pre-requisites of love that goes the farthest beyond surfaces. The difficulty of carefully negotiating these tensions in a way that is benevolent is what keeps intimacy passionate and exciting. It’s a challenge to make our erotic instincts and our love of persons co-exist when human vices make it so easy for them to cancel each other out.

When our erotic instincts cancel out our love of persons, the world becomes cruel. When our love of persons cancels out our erotic instincts, the world becomes repressive in a way that leads to neurosis. This latter phenomenon is what Psycho warns against. The audience’s prurient interest in Marion, no matter how problematic, is still preferable to the attempts by Norman’s mother voice to prohibit and punish it. This is because there is room for kindness even when one looks at another person in a way that reflects prurient interests. This kindness is possible partly because people can eroticise each other while still respecting their autonomy. Moreover, this kindness is also a necessary condition of any healthy sexual relationship that happens in a deep romance. The healthy sex of a deep romance requires that couples eroticise each other in ways both parties can’t completely control. All that must be controlled is whether or not the parties express their erotic desires in ways that are threatening, aggressive, or show little consideration for the feelings of the other.

This leads us to the fundamental message of Psycho: The unruly nature of non-romantic heterosexual desire in men is nowhere near as damaging to society as the prohibitions of it that come from the female gender role. These prohibitions are damaging to society for a number of reasons. Punishing and repressing any non-romantic expression of male heterosexual desire not only deprives women of the chance to make sexual choices. It also contributes to neurosis, a neurosis that can express itself in emotional abuse or violence that can happen to and by either gender. When Norman (at the end of the film) is revealed to be a psychotic murderer who must kill to punish himself for having erotic desires, we see just how dangerous it is for anyone to hate their own sexuality. The female gender role is dangerous precisely because it encourages hatred of male heterosexual desire that isn’t motivated by romance. It also encourages hatred of benevolent male expressions of non-romantic heterosexual desire that aren’t completely under the control of women.

Because of the latter hatred, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho can help us to understand contemporary feminist attitudes towards male sexuality expressed in the Hollaback campaign. Both the Hollaback campaign and Norman Bates treat expressions of male sexuality that aren’t completely under the control of women as acts of violation. This is bad because there is an important moral distinction to be made between those expressions of male heterosexuality that are genuinely violating and those that don’t happen at the behest of women. Both the Hollaback campaign and Norman Bates fail to make this distinction without noticing that this failure is both sexist and repressive.

This failure is sexist towards men because it holds men and women accountable to different standards of etiquette. It demands of men that they see their own communication with female strangers as threatening by default. It does not demand of women that they see their own communication with male strangers in the same way. This failure is additionally repressive because it denies women the freedom to respond to non-harassing expressions of male desire in public spaces. How many loving relationships have started throughout history because a woman acted favourably to a male stranger who politely told her she was beautiful? If such an act becomes criminalised or universally condemned, Hitchcock’s Psycho will stop being a classic critique of the neurosis of a bygone era. It will be a film that sadly contains lessons we have forgotten.

To our credit, one lesson we haven’t collectively forgotten is the importance of women being able to express their sexuality without the social stigmas of the female gender role. This means, among other things, that women should be able express their sexuality in ways that are not entirely at the behest of female approval. It also means women should be able to express their sexuality in ways that are not completely controlled by their romantic partners. However, the lesson we have forgotten is that gender equality demands we extend this same freedom to men. Otherwise, we are simply promoting freedom for women in the instances where it makes feminist women feel comfortable.

When feminist women feel uncomfortable, we can’t simply revert back to the female gender role, justifying the reversion by describing it as though it is a weapon against misogyny. This tactic is, unfortunately, quite prevalent in contemporary discourse. One can see it when we observe how a female reality TV star taking nude, sexually provocative pictures of herself can be given a much less hostile reaction from feminists than a man on the verge of a groundbreaking scientific achievement choosing to wear sexually provocative pictures of women on a T-shirt. This feminist scolding resulted in him giving a public apology full of tears.14 The inegalitarian message we can glean from these two different feminist reactions is thus: Women should be able to express their sexuality however they please. The expression of male heterosexual desire is only permissible provided it makes no woman feel uncomfortable for any reason.

Because contemporary feminists make no distinction between expressions of male heterosexual desire not under female control and violations of women, they are adopting a view of male sexuality that isn’t consistent with either sexual liberation or gender equality. They are instead combining sexual freedom for women with a view of male sexuality which is pre-feminist. Such a view is not only sexist. It is also the very view that motivates the terrifying crimes and pathologies of Norman Bates.

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NOTES

1.See http://www.ihollaback.org

2.For online disussions of this element of the film, see http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/10/29/catcalling_video_hollaback_s_look_at_street_harassment_in_nyc_edited_out.html Also see http://www.bkmag.com/2014/10/29/hey-beautiful-on-the-racist-and-classist-implications-of-the-catcalling-video/ See also http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/11/01/360422087/hollaback-video-calls-out-catcallers-but-cuts-out-white-men See also http://hoopshighheels.com/2013/10/17/do-cat-calls-make-you-feel-uncomfortable-this-post-might-too/

3.This is because the views expressed on the Hollaback website make it clear that they don’t think class or race have any bearing on what cat-calling is. They describe cat-calling unequivocally as men on female oppression that functions to silence and intimidate women. This reflects the broader outlook of contemporary Feminism: It’s men, rather than specific subsets of men, who oppress women.

4.See http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/jonathan-zimmerman-treat-street-harassment-crime-article-1.2008633 Also see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jj-colagrande/street-harassment-crime_b_6165166.html Also see http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/10/31/do-we-need-a-law-against-catcalling/street-harassment-law-would-restrict-intimidating-behavior Also see the Hollaback website itself: http://www.ihollaback.org/why-donate/

5.This is an outcome of the way feminists frame issues. They don’t, for instance, frame issues like everyday sexism or sexual violence as instances where particular subsets of men oppress women. They frame such issues in a way where all men have a complicity in everyday sexism and sexual violence. They even go so far as to say being male is a privilege because men are not subjected to everyday sexism or sexual violence on the same scale as women. This view erroniously assumes that the bad things that are more likely to happen to women than men actually determine how privileged any man’s life is.

6.If you want to see how this works in practice, look up any Feminist article published in a reputable newspaper. Take the text and reverse the gender pronouns. The text, in most instances, will invariably sound mysogynist.

7.To see this, look at contemporary Feminist discussions on rape culture. See https://medium.com/human-parts/a-gentlemens-guide-to-rape-culture-7fc86c50dc4c Also see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ernest-owens/men-its-our-moral-respons_b_4990600.html Also see http://newint.org/blog/2013/08/27/responsibility-for-rape-is-a-male-issue/ Also see http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2014/11/students-especially-men-hold-power-change-rape-culture Also see http://mic.com/articles/99796/30-men-show-us-who-s-really-responsible-for-preventing-sexual-assault Also see http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/rape-culture-male-responsibility/ Also see http://www.aleteia.org/en/society/article/whos-responsible-for-the-rape-culture-on-campus-5780899757031424

8.Most of the classic texts of second wave Feminism have as their target the expectation of women to be stay at home wives and mothers. For the most infamous examples, see Millett, Kate. Sexual Politics. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970. Also see Greer, Germaine. The Female Eunuch. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971. Also see Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: W.W. Norton, 1963

9.The most infamous example of this line of thought within 20th century Feminism would be Dworkin, Andrea. Woman Hating. New York: Dutton, 1974. Also see MacKinnon, Catharine A. Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1987. Also see LeMoncheck, Linda. Dehumanizing Women: Treating Persons as Sex Objects. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Allanheld, 1985.

10.This was a result of the popularisation of the “Rockstar Lifestyle.” Figures like Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix made it socially acceptable for men to openly acknowledge their love of casual, non-romantically driven sex.

11.See http://www.hawaii.edu/hivandaids/Marital%20Rape.pdf Also see http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1484&context=californialawreview Also see http://www.crim.cam.ac.uk/people/academic_research/kate_painter/wiferape.pdf Also see http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/maritalrape2.php Also see http://www.rjerrard.co.uk/law/articles/rape.htm Also see http://www.lawteacher.net/family-law/essays/marital-rape.php Also see http://www.ukessays.co.uk/essays/law/rape-law-reform-in-england-and-wales.php Also see http://kerryg.hubpages.com/hub/Marital-Rape

12.This is because 21st century Feminism, to a much greater extent than it’s predecessor, is anti-universalist. Within contemporary Feminist thought and activism, different demographic groups of people are subject to different judgements for the same behaviours and desires on the basis of how priviliged they are. This is an outcome of the near-universal assimiliation of intersectionality and privilige theory within Feminism. For discussions about the problems of both intersectionality and privilige theory, see https://anaemiconabike.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/on-privilege-theory-and-intersectionality/ Also see http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/23/in-defence-of-intersectionality Also see http://unityandstruggle.org/2013/09/12/i-am-a-woman-and-a-human-a-marxist-feminist-critique-of-intersectionality-theory/ Also see http://internationalsocialistnetwork.org/index.php/ideas-and-arguments/analysis/449-marxism-feminism-and-privilege?showall=&limitstart= Also see http://www.isj.org.uk/?id=971 Also see https://andrea366.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/the-problem-with-privilege-by-andrea-smith/ Also see http://c4ss.org/content/28288 Also see http://thefederalist.com/2014/01/09/why-white-privilege-is-not-the-problem/ http://socialismartnature.tumblr.com/post/20572824712/once-more-on-oppression-and-privilege-theory

13.We can see this fascination when people display an interest in a celebrity sex tape even when they are not aroused by said celebrity.

14. See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/space/11234620/Dr-Matt-Taylors-shirt-made-me-cry-too-with-rage-at-his-abusers.html Also see http://metro.co.uk/2014/11/15/in-defense-of-rosetta-mission-scientist-dr-matt-taylor-and-his-controversial-shirt-4949004/ Also see http://www.nbxmain.com/matt-taylor-kim-kardashian-and-feminism-thats-a-conundrum.html Also see http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/ampp3d/boris-johnson-totally-wrong-wearing-4643924 Also see http://www.anorak.co.uk/410602/news/matt-taylors-shirt-lifts-off-feminists-have-us-in-stitches.html/

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  1. Deliberator

    I would say that there are assumptions on both sides here, or at least some stuff that needs to be clarified.
    When TMurray says, “I’d much prefer to get a well-paid job because of my penis, work in a boys atmosphere where we all agree we are the best gender, helping one another succeed, and then go “to work” every day where I get to do exciting jobs that allow me to express my creativity and use my brain,” what would she say to the fact that the vast majority of working class men didn’t do that either, or have the choice to chose to do domestic chores instead?
    If we are talking about the 19th century, (which I think the author was) their penis meant that were expected to be the breadwinners working down mines, fighting wars, working in tough factory jobs and high risk industries such as steelworks or large manufacturing industries, being dockers, farmers, fishermen, road builders in all weathers and the list goes on. There are not many women fighting for equality to do all the hard physical toll low wage insecure jobs.
    It is a fact that nowadays many working-class women who love domestic work, and want to raise their children can’t afford it, and both partners often have to get shit zero hour contract jobs. It’s complicated and may not be a gender issue as much as a class / economic issue. Thank goodness though that in the present day middle class people of both sexes have made great strides in both being able to do work that is exciting and stretches their creativity.
    My view is that ‘success’ in life however is too often equated with how much money you earn, as many ‘gender equality’ advocates measure it. Equality of opportunities does not equate to equality of outcomes, because with opportunities comes choice. However you slice a group into demographics one group will always be in the majority doing certain things. For example, having freedom to have career breaks to raise children which is very rewarding and satisfying and social to some, while your partner goes and earns money in a job they hate is a luxury too. Not as many men are afforded that luxury. But obviously not always. It’s certainly not straight forward. Freedom to fulfil your potential and do what you are passionate about seems to me to be the greatest measure of success and fulfilment, and all sorts of people are not afforded that luxury. Treating people as individuals rather than randomly by their genitalia, whilst acknowledging physical differences can sometimes limit aspects of your life as well as enhance them, seems to be the way forward in combatting the restrictions of gender roles.

  2. TMurray

    A very interesting read Greg. I don’t agree with everything though. I like that you explain how gender roles had confined men’s fucking to their gender role as husband, provider, breadwinner, etc but…… until you raise kids yourself you will SO not understand how erroneous this statement is: “The expectation that women should be given the lighter responsibility of managing the home and the raising of children…” Don’t forget that it was also her job to clean the home, wash, dry fold and iron the man’s and the entire family’s clothes, buy their food, prepare it and clean up after all meals, as well as keeping herself looking like a pretty trophy. I’d much prefer to get a well-paid job because of my penis, work in a boys atmosphere where we all agree we are the best gender, helping one another succeed, and then go “to work” every day where I get to do exciting jobs that allow me to express my creativity and use my brain.


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