Introduction: Bad Gender
Issue #38, May 1998
In this issue, we take the idea of gender and fuck with it. Unlike most leftist magazines, Bad Subjects has always considered the women's and gay rights movements as major historical influences on our political and cultural criticism. Rather than shunting such concerns to the side, devoting a column to them or assigning an occasional "feminist" or "queer" writer to these issues, we have taken for granted the centrality of gender and sexuality to our everyday lives.
Not surprisingly, then, a Bad Subjects issue devoted to gender can hardly toe the party line. Here you will find no weepy confessions about victimization; no calls for pseudo-nationalist sexual identity politics; and no strident denunciations of straight males for "not getting it." Even what constitutes gender itself is called into question. We chose to name this issue "men, women, and everyone else" to recognize that the old dichotomous categories of man/woman are hardly adequate to explain all the cultural and social permutations of our experiences with gender. Sexuality, race, class, and families -- those social formations that limit and define our lives -- are also inextricably linked to gender, and these essays reflect on the sometimes bewildering connections between material bodies and highly abstract ideologies.
Juliette Guilbert's research in China informs her article on the often condescending ways Western feminism looks at Chinese women. Combining personal observation with political polemic, Guilbert argues that Westerners project their own (often conservative) agenda onto Chinese female bodies -- an agenda which has little to do with the situation of actually existing Chinese women. In "Heterosexual Love," Annalee Newitz dissects several recent Hollywood films about heterosexuals who fall in love with homosexuals and form families with them. In these supposedly liberal films, she sees a dangerously reactionary trend in which homosexuals are given "family values" in exchange for political and sexual freedom. Brian Duff analyzes how the decline of religion in the twentieth century has led to a kind of sacrilization of sexuality. This development connects pornography and religion, bringing together two public discourses that rarely get equated.
Mike Mosher, in "Virtual Missing Children," looks at how missing children are portrayed in the media, and takes specific notice of how new technologies allow mourning families to "age" lost children's photographs artificially. The artist Matthew Barney is singled out for analysis by Mark Van Proyen, who considers Barney's images of mutated genitalia and hyberbolic masculinity to exist within a tradition of dandyism. Although Barney's work has been hailed as subversive, Van Proyen explains that it is little more than glorified narcissism. In two politicized autobiographical articles about their sexual experiences, Kim Nicolini and Joel Schalit explore how communities devoted to gender and sexuality are not adequately inclusive and are often rife with racism, classism, and narrow-mindedness generally. Jonathan Sterne concludes with a consideration of how public politics often devolve on highly personal issues, such as Clinton's alleged dalliance with Monica Lewinsky.
In a world where your genitals are often believed to guide your entire destiny, it's our moral and political imperative to explode and disrupt gender hierarchy. With this issue of Bad Subjects, we hope to inspire more explosions than ever.