Tuesday, April 12, 2016

I Had the Style, I Had the Ambition

Patrick West:

The language of gender politics openly employs that of consumer ‘choice’. In a nod to Heinz, Facebook now has 56 different varieties of gender category to choose from. Yet declaring oneself to be ‘genderfluid’, ‘androsexual’, ‘demisexual’, ‘third gender’ and so on is about as rebellious and countercultural as getting a tattoo; it is a substitute for genuine thinking and merely an ephemeral form of boasting one’s uniqueness. Assigning oneself a personalised gender has become as meaningful as deciding between café noisette and mocha breve.

This is true as far as it goes, which isn't very, by which I mean, of all the criticisms one could make of gendertrendiness, the fact that it's not "really" going to overthrow the system is hardly a flaw. Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter wrote an excellent book based on the idea that people like West, by mocking others' radicalism for not being authentic or threatening enough, are merely perpetuating the sort of status competition that markets are perfectly designed to serve. (A brief-yet-profound summary of their argument can be read here.) There is no "system" that will be brought down through genuine acts of radical nonconformity. Any such attempts will inevitably devolve into fashion. Instead of responding to these failures by redoubling your efforts to find a mythical, pure radicalism that will prove impervious to co-optation, perhaps you could simply grow up.