Pippa, compartmentalizing & the left
For me, this piece at Lib Con - What does the objectification of Pippa Middleton say about our culture? - says more about the state of the left than one might think. The author - a man - complains at women being regarded as a “composite of various body-parts.” One problem I have with this is that it seems to amount to no more than a complaint that people aren’t like the author. It’s a mere raging against the state of the world.Put it this way. When we complain about things like inequality, we have in mind some kind of institutional changes that would reduce it: tax changes, worker ownership etc. But what kind of institutional change would stop men admiring Pippa’s arse? I can’t think of any - and Matt suggests none. In the absence of a demonstration that things can be different, Matt’s complaint is a mere expression of taste, not a political statement. It’s on a par with my distaste for heavy rock. I might bemoan its fans, but I don’t pretend they’ll go away, nor pretend this is a political matter.This problem is exacerbated by another. Matt says:
Women’s body-parts are seen as ‘parts-for-male-use’ and women as possessors of these parts become nothing more than ‘objects-for-male-use’.
But this is a massive leap. Men can - and do - notice female features and at the same time acknowledge that women are equals*. We combine “low” pleasures with high thoughts. We can watch Mad Men both for high aesthetic reasons and to admire Christina Hendricks’ norks. We can note Pippa’s arse and support slutwalk.And herein lies the difference between people like Matt and people like me. I compartmentalize. Matt seems not to.What I mean is that I have various mental boxes: my politics; my sexuality; my work; my musical tastes and so on. Matt, though, seems not to recognize this.The difference here, though - which is the point of the post - is not merely between Matt and me. It’s between two different conceptions of the role of politics - conceptions which are correlated with old vs. new leftism. We old lefties see politics as one activity among others. We see no connection between Marxist politics and Marx’s, ahem, colourful sex life. And I, for one, have combined leftist politics with jobs in the City and non-political journalism. The newer left, though, is less compartmentalized - hence the slogan, “the personal is political” and the desire to politicize everyday life. On this point, though, I’m conflicted. On the one hand, I’m tempted to defend my conception of politics on the grounds that it is more liberal: seeing everything as political is the road to fanaticism and totalitarianism. But on the other hand, I have a sneaking regard for those non-compartmentalizers. The thing is, compartmentalization is another word - in some contexts - for alienation. And shouldn’t Marxists be resisting alienation?* I might be wrong. Maybe a culture in which women’s body parts are objectified does lead to a devaluation of women and to greater gender inequality and to more crime against women. But this is an empirical matter, and one where Matt presents no evidence.