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A Hegemonic Blowjob

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
A Hegemonic Blowjob

In the fall of 2008, I was among those bright eyed young people who strode full tilt into our first year as undergraduate students, confident that we would leave in four years time, a bit wiser, prepared to make a way for ourselves in a world full of prospects. The sun was shining, the birds were singing- it was a bull economy and possibilities were limitless.  About a month into our college careers Wall Street announced a financial crisis. A couple of economics professors held a conference to explain to us what was going on. In the months that followed we observed in amazement as the security of established older people, who’d followed similar paths to ours, crumbled away.  As students just beginning we didn’t have a lot to lose and the economy still had four years to pick itself up before it became our personal worry. Only now, 2 months into our degrees, we were in limbo. Graduate schools were becoming rapidly more competitive as students trying to avoid the bleak job market opted for more education and more debt. We were in no hurry finish. We huddled up in reading our books and around us things continued to unravel.  

We watched our twitter and facebook feeds, surfed blogs and online news sources seeing tens of thousands take to the streets of Wisconsin and London. We watched the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, the unrest throughout the Middle East, the riots- first in London and then throughout England. We look on now as employment rates continue to crash and politicians vow to cut social programs rather than create jobs. We see the people getting angrier.  

What I found most unsettling about watching the UK riots play out, was the massive disconnect and total lack of empathy from the privileged classes shown by the news commentary that followed. I heard reporters blaming the destruction on “opportunistic criminality.” Interviews like this one  illustrate the deep disconnect between the privileged and the oppressed, the wealthy and the poor. Former Conservative MP Edwina Curry says of the rioters, “The problem is not that they are disconnected from jobs, the problem is that they are disconnected from any sense of what’s right or wrong… They’re saying “Hey guys, we can have the trainers that my mom won’t buy me… all we have to do is go and take it.” I am most struck by the alarming inappropriateness of that word “won’t.” She seems to echo the infamous Queen of France, Marie Antoinette- only instead of cake she’s talking about stylish shoes and tablet computers.

Meanwhile I sit in my dorm room, lost in a sea of term papers, with my dog-eared copy of The Second Sex, watching London burn and thinking about blowjobs. Simone de Beauvoir writes that “to go for a walk with one’s eyes open is enough to demonstrate that humanity is divided into two classes of individuals.” She speaks of men and women- but the role of massive inequality of power and money in the unrest around the world is obvious and I wonder if there is anything we can learn about this from de Beauvoir.

Today, going for a walk with one’s eyes open is enough to observe massive and growing economic inequality. Late last year a British think tank estimated that half of black youth between 16 and 24 were unemployed compared with 20% of white youth.  “Black unemployment had risen 13% since March 2008, compared with 8% among white people and 6% among Asians.” The global youth unemployment rate is now 13 percent and rising. In the US that number is much higher at 19.1 percent and again, it is disproportionately high for African-Americans. Tuition keeps rising, student debt keeps rising, employment crashes, social programs are slashed, unions are stomped on and industry flounders. Workers are being laid off left right and centre and there is no end in sight.

De Beauvoir concludes her analysis of the status of women with a call for change appealing to women to take their freedom and to men to join the fight. At a time when women’s rights were very limited, De Beauvoir set out to convince men that they ought to share their power with women, arguing that women’s liberation was in their interest too. In the conclusion to The Second Sex, de Beauvoir lays this out very clearly and in much detail. Basically dudes, you want women to be emancipated because it means you’re gonna get laid, like, way more.

Damn de Beauvoir, that’s a pretty convincing argument. There are several comparisons to be made between women’s oppression and that of the proletariat- unlike other marginalized groups, neither women nor the proletariat has ever been a minority nor existed as a separate society. Both are bound to the oppressing classes by reciprocal need. But the comparison between the status of women and that of the working class can only be taken so far, of course. At this point, I find it difficult to continue. I believe that those who have power in the world have a lot to gain from the emancipation of the oppressed of the world. The question I ask myself is: is there as convincing an argument as de Beauvoir gave? Can we appeal to the powers that be that the emancipation of the oppressed is in their own interest at such a fundamentally human level as sex? What would it look like- multinational corporations and government bodies, the forces that are the rich and powerful- getting their proverbial dicks wet? Are these entities so far removed from being human that there is no parallel way to appeal to them? I hope someone will conceive of a way, as de Beauvoir did, that freedom could come out of love rather than violence. In the meantime, London is burning.


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