Visiting the Female Eunuch 47 years on

Germaine Greer’s Female Eunuch is a second wave feminist classic.  A Post Freudian account which argues that the development of a ‘female libido’ is the key to social liberation.

What insights does this iconoclastic work have to shine on the present?

As the prologue lays it out, the earlier – suffragette – wave of feminists had fought hard for civil rights of participation equal to those of men, and, according to Germaine, had largely won them, opening to women a world of possibility (equal access to the ‘ulcer and coronary’).  And yet, this is still a ‘man’s world’ of hierarchical order and success or failure through competition and strain. She argues, therefore that fewer women than expected have chosen to enjoy such a ‘privilege’.

This is very different starting point to the contemporary focus on “patriarchy”, which it is said, either excludes or exploits women’s participation in society; but for Germaine, the reluctance of women to participate suggests a glimmer of hope for an alternative form of existence.  It was the ‘chief function’ of this book to suggest a way to the alternative.

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My first academic book review – Rhonda Shaw

My first academic paper was published last month (a book review).  It is the culmination of many hours spent reading, writing, revising (I refrain from disclosing how much for the sake of my dignity), as well as a four month period between first submission and publication.

Here is a quick re-review of the book (I do own the copyright to the published review but not the right to actually freely reproduce and distribute):

 

Rhonda Shaw's Ethics, moral life and the body

Ethics, Moral Life and the Body (2015) explores ethical issues involved in medical and health related practices involving the transfer of ‘body-matter’ between two or more people – practices not only between people but between the bodies of people, such as organ donation, surrogate pregnancy, and breast milk banks. Rhonda Shaw’s contention is that sociology has been left to the side of serious and consequential discussions; she characterises other fields, particularly philosophy, medical science, and the dictates of governmental policy as having assumed a sort of sovereignty over the domain.

How could (or should) sociology be more involved in debates about ethics, the body, and society? The author’s main modes of argument are participant interview and criticism through theory. By interviewing medical staff, donors, recipients amongst others, Shaw explores their accounts of on the ethical significance of these practices; emphasising the diversity of their views and how their experiences often run counter to hospital policy or public health narratives – for example one unintended effect of a public health campaign emphasising organ donation as a ‘gift’ (of life) is that it may lead recipients to feel an unrelenting sense of guilt for receiving so precious a ‘gift’ and yet being unable to reciprocate.

Another key way the book engages these issues is through an overview of various critical, and sometimes antagonistic academic theories. Shaw devotes particular attention to the idea that relation between bodies (intercorporeality) is an important but under-appreciated dimension of ethics. She also raises questions about the social consequences of organ donation practices which are intrinsically sociological in their ramifications (for example, the potential implications for our concept of ‘human’ (in theory and practice) if the for-profit sale of organs were allowed across the board).

By the end of the book the reader has been presented with many perspectives and a contention that there are critical flaws in current practices, but what next? How could we, as a society deal with these issues with a ‘better ethics’? This question is not answered explicitly, but a tacit undercurrent points toward a more democratic approach which might be characterised as ‘let everyone speak their concerns’, and ‘policy makers listen to all’, so ‘policy will be better’. But in this case the problem still remains of establishing the method to mediate between the concerns of the many in order to create policy that works for all.

What role might sociologists have to play in such deliberations?

Shaw M, Rhonda (2015). Ethics, Moral Life and the Body: Sociological Perspectives. United Kingdom, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. pp 239. ISBN: 9781137312587

For people with access, the link to the official book review is here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14461242.2016.1157446

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Producing this book review gave me the chance to reflect on the process of academic publication and the real or imagined constraints confronting aspiring academics – especially those, like myself, who lack genuine ‘academic affiliation’. I plan to write a more detailed post about this soon

The Natural Way of Things (Book Review) Charlotte Wood

natural-way-of-things

 

A confluence of factors has led ‘domestic violence’ and ‘violence against women’ to be placed high on the public and governmental agenda. The critique of “patriarchy” and the assertion of an almost metaphysical connection between deep culture and violence provides the theoretical backbone of this agenda. It is in this context that Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things received the Stella prize earlier this year (the title of the book refers to the media’s portrayal of violence against women).

This is a book of exquisite earthy prose which chronicles the experience of two women (Verla and Yolanda) amongst half a dozen or so other women, who, having been swindled and drugged, are plunged into a nightmarish boot-camp, a remote and expansive bowl of earth surrounded by a 6 metre high electrified fence. The reason for internment is that each has been involved in behaviours deemed inappropriate by the lights of ‘society’; sexual behaviours, ranging from affairs with politicians, to sleeping with a talent show host, a football team. Continue reading

Sex at the Margins (Book Review)

Agustin

Agustin’s now eight-year old book, Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry is perhaps better read as three different angles on the same subject rather than as a unified thesis. The first section is an attempt to critique popular conceptions of sex work as different from other forms of work, or migration as wholly distinct from tourism; the second section offers a genealogical argument of the ‘origins’ of the contemporary social (helper) sector through the enlightenment and industrial revolutionary periods. This leads into the final section: a criticism of the employees of contemporary NGOs that focus on prostitution and human trafficking.

In a rough attempt to unify these three themes, Agustin’s analysis is that contemporary conceptions and policies regarding prostitution serve the interests of state power as well as the individual egos of those who identify with the cause to ‘rescue’ sex workers. The former, which is little developed in the book, is about sovereignty and population ‘control’, the latter is about self-esteem and the exercise of agency of those who find their purpose in helping others. The irony, Agustin argues, is that these helpers achieve their goals but oppress those they (think) they are helping. Continue reading