Trans activists versus radical feminists: abandonment of freedom for ‘ressentiment’

The following is a full recording of and written extracts from my book chapter, “On Identity Politics, Ressentiment, and the Evacuation of Human Emancipation”, in Nocella and Juergensmeyer (eds.) Fighting Academic Repression and Neoliberal Education (Peter Lang Publishing).

My chapter and its podcast examine a neoliberal wave of identity politics in the form of intersectionality and privilege theory. I argue that it is a repression of self by self, which precludes connection, bypasses freedom, and generates ressentiment. I explore a specific case study of the political deadlock between a current of radical feminists and a current of transgender and transsexual activists, which has played out on social media and across university campuses.

Freedom has become dangerously lost in the contradiction of identity politics. As Brown (1995: 65) observes:

“politicized identities generated out of liberal, disciplinary societies, insofar as they are premised on exclusion from a universal ideal, require that ideal, as well as their exclusion from it, for their own continuing existence as identities.”

Brown (1995: 66) develops Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment to explain how the desired impulse of politicized identity to “inscribe in the law and other political registers its historical and present pain” forecloses “an imagined future of power to make itself”. What one has instead of freedom then is the production of ressentiment:

Ressentiment in this context is a triple achievement: it produces an affect (rage, righteousness) that overwhelms the hurt; it produces a culprit responsible for the hurt; and it produces a site of revenge to displace the hurt (a place to inflict hurt as the sufferer has been hurt).” (Brown, 1995: 68)

We are left with an effort to anaesthetize and to externalize what is unendurable.

The radical feminist and trans activist deadlock is the privilege production of impasse, and a symptom of acute political distress in which freedom has been abandoned for ressentiment.

The chasm Marx identifies between human beings as, on the one hand, citizens of a universal political community and, on the other hand, private, alienated, egoistic individuals of a civil society, is reflected in the contradiction of a neoliberal wave of identity politics considered and critiqued in my chapter and its podcast.

Our journey back to the dream of freedom requires us making a case for supplanting a politics of “I am” – which closes down identity, and fixes it within a social and moral hierarchy – with a politics of “I want this for us” (Brown, 1995: 75 [my emphasis]). If we fail to help make this happen, we will remain locked in a history that has “weight but no trajectory, mass but no coherence, force but no direction,” thus stagnated in a “war without ends or end” (Brown, 1995: 71).

(See also my earlier blog post, The evacuation of human emancipation, identity politics, and ‘ressentiment’)

The evacuation of human emancipation, identity politics, and ‘ressentiment’

“The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” (Marx, 1852 [1977]: 300)

ressentiment

“the late modern liberal subject quite literally seethes with ressentiment.” (Brown, 1995: 69)

I. Where did freedom go?

In States of Injury political scientist Wendy Brown (1995) observes that in late modernity many progressives have chosen to pursue a form of freedom which is based on state-managed economic justice and private liberties, as the bleak reality of a contorted Marxism is framed against the sunshine of liberalism. Moreover:

“freedom” has shown itself to be easily appropriated in liberal regimes for the most cynical and unemancipatory political ends. […] the dream of democracy – that humans might govern themselves by governing together – is difficult to discern in the proliferation of […] claims of rights, protections, regulations, and entitlements. (Brown, 1995: 5)

Brown does not dispute the importance of rights, protections, regulations, and entitlements, but rather she asks, beyond this, what is our dream of freedom? She defends the explanatory power of Marxism in seeing the question of freedom vis-à-vis social relations, which are “implicitly declared “unpolitical” – that is, naturalized – in liberal discourse” (Brown, 1995: 14). In other words, genuine freedom cannot be found in state (re)distribution. Here one needs to understand the important distinction Karl Marx makes between political emancipation and human emancipation, which can be found in his essay On “The Jewish Question” (1843 [1977]) that was part of a debate with the left Hegelian Bruno Bauer. Marx’s discussion is not per se a consideration of the Jewish condition but a critique of political emancipation in order to expose the relationship of political emancipation to human emancipation.

Marx (1843: 47) acknowledges the “great […] real, practical” progress of political emancipation, however, on its limits, he argues that whilst the capitalist state abolishes in its own way the distinctions of class, birth, profession, and education, by declaring them “to be unpolitical differences”, it allows them “to have an effect in their own manner” (Marx, 1843: 45). As such, humankind leads a twofold existence: “a heavenly one and an earthy one”; the former as communal beings in political community and the latter as private, alienated, egoistic individuals in civil society (Marx, 1843: 46). What is inherent in political emancipation, Marx spells out, is a gap between human beings as, ideally, public members of a universal state or ‘citizens’, and, materially, private, egoistic members of civil society or ‘bourgeois’. Private rights are clarified as, for example, the right to property and the right to religion, which are innately ‘bourgeois’ and the basis of the separation of human beings from one another:

Man [sic] was […] not freed from religion; he received freedom of religion. He was not freed from property; he received freedom of property. He was not freed from the egoism of trade; he received freedom to trade. (Marx, 1843: 56)

Marx deplores the debasement of theory, art, history, nature, and human relations by religion, property, commodities, and commerce; he deplores the bartering of women, “[t]he species-relationship itself”, as “an object of commerce!” (Marx, 1843: 60). This is the exile of human beings’ communal essence. Marx foresees human liberation as the eradication of the aforementioned gap, with the freedom of human beings contingent not merely on political emancipation but on human emancipation, which necessitates the abolition of capitalist social relations.

Brown (1995: 18) contends that the Right’s ability to capture a discourse of freedom for its own ends, alongside the tendency of progressive politics to abandon the socialist project on the basis of its supposed failure, has led in academia to:

developments in philosophy and in feminist, postcolonial, and cultural theory [that] have eroded freedom’s ground. For many toiling in these domains, “freedom” has been swept onto the dust-heap of anachronistic, humanistic, androcentric, subject-centred, and “Western” shibboleths.”

While Marxism desires human emancipation thus liberation from capitalism, Brown (1995: 61) asks:

to what extent do identity politics require a standard internal to existing society against which to pitch their claims, a standard that not only preserves capitalism from critique, but sustains the invisibility and inarticulatedness of class – not accidentally, but endemically? Could we have stumbled upon one reason why class is invariably named but rarely theorized or developed in the multiculturalist mantra “race, class, gender, sexuality”?

Bringing forward Brown’s work to a contemporary moment of a resurgent wave of identity politics born within/out of neoliberalism, the present popularity of privilege theory and intersectionality on university campuses, amongst student activists and some academics, is worth considering. Privilege theory pioneer Peggy McIntosh (cited in Rothman, 2014) states:

what I believe is that everybody has a combination of unearned advantage and unearned disadvantage in life. […]. We’re all put ahead and behind by the circumstances of our birth. […] In order to understand the way privilege works, you have to be able to see patterns and systems in social life, but you also have to care about individual experiences. I think one’s own individual experience is sacred. Testifying to it is very important […].

The basic premise of privilege theory is that wherever there is an oppressive system – capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, heteronormativity, and so on – there is both an oppressed group of people and a privileged group of people (who, consciously or not, benefit from that system). Interlaced with privilege theory is the notion of intersectionality: that we are all privileged by some systems of oppression and burdened by other systems of oppression, thus our privileges and our oppressions intersect. By lacking full awareness of our privileges and their intersectionality, the argument goes, we are politically divided and weak, and while we cannot be held responsible for the systems of oppression that impart privilege upon us, we do have a choice in how we respond to our privileges (for instance, to our whiteness, our maleness, our straightness, our ableness, our cis-ness, etcetera).

Intersectionality applies a generalised cultural and economic understanding of capitalism and class, such that I question what might be lost in its implicit re-definition of class, qua classism, when thinking through the nature of oppression and exploitation, and the means of resistance; class, after all, is not primarily a structure of oppression but a relation of exploitation (see Bassi, 2010; Bassi, forthcoming). And as Marx (1843) makes plain in On “The Jewish Question”, the route to real freedom lies in social relations not rights alone. Brown’s astute point on the lack of theorising of class in the multiculturalist mantra resonates especially well in the present-day intersectionality mantra. Is it not time to name and call out once more what is, in actuality, the relinquishment of the dream of freedom as humans governing themselves by governing together? Given also that racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia, for example, are individually distinct forms of oppression with individually distinct relationships to capitalism, which include specific and universal features, the danger with intersectionality lies in it sliding into a conceptual collapse through its kaleidoscopic, intersecting structures of oppression, and in it nullifying universality whilst in pursuit of specificity. Emphasis on personal testimony cannot allow for universal truths. The net effect is ‘no way out’ vis-à-vis resistance.

Privilege discourse is based on an unchanging status, i.e., privilege married up with intersectionality, rather than a dynamic understanding of human consciousness through human history. As it operates in practice within student activist circles, my observation of privilege theory and intersectionality is that of a politics in which no one can speak for anyone else. Society is viewed as a seesaw: ‘you are up there because I am down here, and you are up there because you weigh me down’. It is a personalised dual camp distortion of social relations, ‘me versus you’ (with various intersectional combinations), that breeds resentment and is devoid of class politics.

Freedom has become lost in the contradiction of identity politics. As Brown (1995: 65) observes:

politicized identities generated out of liberal, disciplinary societies, insofar as they are premised on exclusion from a universal ideal, require that ideal, as well as their exclusion from it, for their own continuing existence as identities.

Brown (1995: 66) develops Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment in this context to explain how the desired impulse of politicised identity to “inscribe in the law and other political registers its historical and present pain” forecloses “an imagined future of power to make itself”. What one has instead of freedom then is the production of ressentiment:

Ressentiment in this context is a triple achievement: it produces an affect (rage, righteousness) that overwhelms the hurt; it produces a culprit responsible for the hurt; and it produces a site of revenge to displace the hurt (a place to inflict hurt as the sufferer has been hurt). (Brown, 1995: 68)

We are left with an effort to anaesthetise and to externalise what is unendurable.

 

II. Privilege production of impasse: the case of the deadlock between radical feminists and trans activists

In February 2015, a letter titled “We cannot allow censorship and silencing of individuals” published in The Observer, and signed by several academics and feminist activists, observes:

a worrying pattern of intimidation and silencing of individuals whose views are deemed “transphobic” or “whorephobic”. Most of the people so labelled are feminists or pro-feminist men, some have experience in the sex industry, some are transgender. […] “No platforming” used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists and Holocaust-deniers. But today it is being used to prevent the expression of feminist arguments critical of the sex industry and of some demands made by trans activists. The feminists who hold these views have never advocated or engaged in violence against any group of people. Yet it is argued that the mere presence of anyone said to hold these views is a threat to a protected minority group’s safety. You do not have to agree with the views that are being silenced to find these tactics illiberal and undemocratic. Universities have a particular responsibility to resist this kind of bullying.

As background to this letter, two high-profile examples are worth noting. In 2012, the National Union of Students LGBTQ Campaign passed a motion of no platform against the radical feminist Julie Bindel for her alleged transphobia. Bindel had made comments in relation to transsexual people in a 2004 piece for The Guardian, which she later apologised for as “misplaced and insensitive” (see Bindel, 2007). The NUS motion included the sentence: “this conference believes Julie Bindel is vile”. The history of NUS’s no platform policy relates specifically to fascism, and debate on no platform has tended to centre on the question: while fascists (given the direct physical threat they pose) must be no platformed, should one no platform racists? In this context, the no platforming of Julie Bindel was extraordinary, as she joined a list that includes: Al-Muhajiroun, the British National Party, the English Defence League, and Hizb-ut-Tahrir. In an article titled “Seeing red” in the New Statesman in 2013, journalist and feminist Suzanne Moore argues against austerity and for those who are hardest hit by austerity, women, to be angry and to resist. Moore (2013) writes:

It’s not just the double shift of work and domestic duties that women do. There is now a third shift – we must keep ourselves sexually attractive forever. […] The cliché is that female anger is always turned inwards rather than outwards into despair. We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual. We are angry that men do not do enough. We are angry at work where we are underpaid and overlooked. This anger can be neatly channelled and outsourced to make someone a fat profit. Are your hormones okay? Do you need a nice bath?

A significant reaction followed this publication against Moore’s alleged transphobic reference to “a Brazilian transsexual” (an implicit reference to the model Lea T). This was a vitriolic row, much of which was played out on social media, between, in the main, radical feminists and trans activists.

Cultural theorist Sara Ahmed (2015), in retort to the aforementioned letter published in The Observer, comments, in a blog post titled “You are oppressing us!”:

politics is rarely about one good and one bad side, nor about innocence on one side and guilt on the other. But politics is also messy because power is assymetrical. […] transphobia and anti-trans statements should not be treated as just another viewpoint that we should be free to express at a happy diversity table. There cannot be a dialogue when some at the table are in effect or intent arguing for the elimination of others at the table. […] The presentation of trans activists as a lobby and as bullies rather than as minorities who are constantly being called upon to defend their right to exist is a mechanism of power. Sadly this letter is evidence that the mechanism is working. […] Racists present themselves as injured/under attack/a minority fighting against a powerful anti-racist lobby that is “busy” suppressing their voices. We can hear resonance without assuming analogy.

How did we get to a moment in which lesbian feminists, radical feminists, sexual abuse survivors, transgender and transsexual people, and others, are locked in a war over who has the deeper wound and the bigger pain? Here, it seems, deliberating the power differentials between various oppressed groups has become more important than questioning the bourgeois ideal of capitalist social relations. In a battle over power asymmetry, power is thus let off the hook.

The radical feminist and trans activist deadlock is the privilege production of impasse. On the one hand, we have a camp of people insisting that those born into biologically male bodies carry privilege regardless of their identification as a women – privilege over women who have an entire lived experience of being women and of its related oppression. On the other hand, we have a camp of people arguing that there are those who are cisgendered (whose gender aligns with their sex at birth) and who carry cis power and privilege – privilege over those who have a lived experience of being transgendered (whose gender doesn’t align with their sex at birth) and of its related oppression.

Privilege theory activist Mia McKenzie (2014) prescribes four ways to push back against one’s privilege: one, relinquish power; two, don’t go (she uses as an example women-only events that exclude trans women); three, shut up; and four, be careful what identities you claim (“consider”, she says, “how your privilege […] gives you access to claim identities even when your lived experience does not support it”). There is an irony here that McKenzie advocates a ‘no turning up’ protest against the radical feminist exclusion of trans women from women-only spaces, while failing to notice that radical feminists are employing their own argument against claiming identities when lived experience (seemingly) does not correspond. But perhaps most importantly, McKenzie’s prescription encapsulates how a political project to allow a plethora of voices to be heard carries the potential for the opposite, that is, silencing: ‘I speak, you shut up’. The impasse between radical feminists and trans activists is just this, a silencing, either of trans activists or of radical feminists.

 

III. Finding our way back to freedom

Often, identity politics becomes far more of a problem outside than inside academia. In mainstream gay, lesbian, and trans communities in the United States, battles rage about what group occupies the more transgressive or aggrieved position, and only rarely are such debates framed in terms of larger discussions about capitalism, class, or economics. In this context then, “transgressive exceptionalism” refers to the practice of taking the moral high ground by claiming to be more oppressed and more extraordinary than others. The rehearsal of identity-bound debates outside the academy speaks not simply to a lack of sophistication in such debates, but suggests that academics have failed to take their ideas beyond the university and have not made necessary interventions in public intellectual venues. (Halberstam, 2005: 20-21)

In relation to the case discussed in section II, the key question, for me, is: how do we support the struggle for political emancipation by and for trans activist movements while demanding an open space to debate the construction of gender and forge an alliance for future human emancipation? In an effort to bring peace to the so-called ‘border wars’ between butch lesbians and female-to-male transsexuals, the queer theorist Judith Halberstam (1998: 148), also known as Jack Halberstam, notes that “many subjects, not only transsexual subjects, do not feel at home in their bodies”; moreover:

Because body flexibility has become both a commodity (in the case of cosmetic surgeries for example) and a form of commodification, it is not enough in this “age of flexibility” to celebrate gender flexibility as simply another sign of progress and liberation. (Halbertam, 2005: 18)

For Halberstam (2005: 19), transgressive exceptionalism is “a by-product of local translations of neo-liberalism” in urban queer communities. This notion of transgressive exceptionalism chimes with the work of Brown on wound culture as a contemporary form of Nietzschean ressentiment, in which, as Cadman (2006: 140) puts it, “current forms of ‘identity politics’ become ‘attached’ to destructive modes of their own subjection”. What meaningful role might academics of the Left play in shifting us forward? We should recognise that whilst “[s]ocial injury such as that conveyed through derogatory speech becomes that which is “unacceptable” and “individually culpable””, it actually “symptomizes deep political distress in a culture” (Brown, 1995: 27) which requires our urgent intervention. We also need to make a case for supplanting a politics of “I am” – “with its defensive closure on identity, its insistence on the fixity of position, its equation of social with moral positioning” – with a politics of “I want this for us” (Brown, 1995: 75). If this fails to happen we will remain locked in a history that has “weight but no trajectory, mass but no coherence, force but no direction”, thus stagnated in a “war without ends or end” (Brown, 1995: 71).

 

Acknowledgement:

I am incredibly grateful to Louisa Cadman for introducing me to Wendy Brown’s States of Injury.

References:

Ahmed, Sara (2015) “You are oppressing us!”, Feminist Killjoys, last accessed 18 October 2015. http://feministkilljoys.com/2015/02/15/you-are-oppressing-us/

Bassi, Camila (forthcoming) “What’s radical about reality TV? An unexpected tale from Shanghai of a Chinese lesbian antihero”, Gender, Place and Culture.

Bassi, Camila (2010) “‘It’s new but not that new’: On the continued use of old Marx”, Feminist Legal Studies 18, 69-76.

Bindel, Julie (2007) “My trans mission”. The Guardian, last accessed 18 October 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/aug/01/mytransmission

Brown, Wendy (1995) States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity (Princeton University Press, Princeton).

Cadman, Louisa (2006) A genealogy of biopolitical contestation during the reform of the Mental Health Act (1983) (DPhil, University of Sheffield).

Halberstam, Judith (2005) In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York University Press, New York).

Halberstam, Judith (1998) Female Masculinity (Duke University Press, Durham).

Letter (2015) “We cannot allow censorship and silencing of individuals”. The Observer, last accessed 18 October 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2015/feb/14/letters-censorship

Marx, Karl [1852] (1977) “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, in Karl Marx: Selected Writings (Ed) David McLellan (Oxford University Press, Oxford), 300-325.

Marx Karl [1843] (1977) “On ‘The Jewish Question’”, in Karl Marx: Selected Writings (Ed) David McLellan (Oxford University Press, Oxford), 39-62.

McKenzie, Mia (2014) “4 Ways to Push Back Against Your Privilege”, BGD, last accessed 18 October 2015. http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2014/02/4-ways-push-back-privilege/

Moore, Suzanne (2013) “Seeing red”. New Statesman, last accessed 18 October 2015. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/01/seeing-red-power-female-anger

Rothman, Joshua (2014) “The Origins of ‘Privilege’: an interview with Peggy McIntosh”, New Yorker, last accessed 18 October 2015. http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-origins-of-privilege

The inaugural Bolshy Cycle Ride

“On an antiquated, ridiculously heavy frankenstein’s monster of a bike, I rode up agonising hills and down wild descents. I was last home and felt it for days. And here’s the thing: my mind, my imagination, my sense of history and somehow my spirit of solidarity were all reinspired and reinvigorated, just as my craving to cycle was. Best Sunday out in ages.” Dan Higginbottom

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“The ride was well worth the travel up from the Midlands. I ride a lot but what marked this out for me was not only discovering new roads and stunning views but learning about the bike and its role in social history. The long route was challenging but we were rewarded by spectacular scenery and it was a real buzz to ride some roads that had been used for the Tour de France and seeing the names of the pros still grafittied onto the roads. I will definitely do another Bolshy Bike Ride.” Helen Russell, Former World and European Duathlon and Triathlon AG Champion, and Rider of Tour de France One Day Ahead 2015

“I didn’t know how I would do cycling for 20 miles across the Peak District, but it was a stimulating, exciting, and rewarding experience. The combination of the encouragement of my comrades, the inspiration of Camila’s talks and the glorious sunshine made the day incredibly memorable! The history of cycling and its emancipatory role in the lives of women and the working class, of socialist politics and of environmental movements was fascinating, and the day was a perfect balance of nourishment for the mind, body and (apologies to the materialists) the soul.” Max Munday

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“The less you eat, drink, buy books, go to the theatre, go dancing, go drinking, think, love, theorize, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save and the greater will become that treasure which neither moths nor maggots can consume – your capital. The less you are, the less you give expression to your life, the more you have, the greater is your alienated life and the more you store up of your estranged life.” Karl Marx

For details, see my blog page: The Bolshy Cycle Ride

Rethinking gender politics

It’s not just the double shift of work and domestic duties that women do. There is now a third shift – we must keep ourselves sexually attractive forever. […] The cliché is that female anger is always turned inwards rather than outwards into despair. We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual. We are angry that men do not do enough. We are angry at work where we are underpaid and overlooked. This anger can be neatly channelled and outsourced to make someone a fat profit. Are your hormones okay? Do you need a nice bath? Some sex tips and an internet date? What if, contrary to Sex and the City, new shoes do not fill the hole in your soul? What if you aspire to another model of womanhood than the mute but beautifully groomed Kate Middleton? What if your anguish is not illogical but actually bloody spot on?” (Suzanne Moore, Seeing red: the power of female anger)

This is a recording of the session I did at the Workers’ Liberty Summer Camp on August 22nd 2015, in which I explore the impasse on the gender question between transgender activists and radical feminists, the problem with privilege theory, and what socialist feminism might learn from the work of Foucault on sexuality… Enjoy!

All laid bare: cycling, commodity fetishism, and podium girls

Marx, the Wood Theft Law, and commodity fetishism

While editor of the newspaper Rheinische Zeitung, Karl Marx wrote a series of articles (in 1842) about a proposal in the Rhenish provincial assembly, on behalf of the forest owners, to stop the traditional practice of gathering (dead) wood by the peasants. Here, in debating the Wood Theft Law, an early Marx came to recognise the role of the State in protecting the interests of private property over and against general interests, the intersection of political, social and economic relations, and the fetishism of the commodity form:

“Can the forest owner present private demands where he has no private claims? Was the forest owner the state, prior to the theft of wood? He was not, but he becomes it after the theft. The wood possesses the remarkable property that as soon as it is stolen it bestows on its owner state qualities which previously he did not possess. […] The wood thief has robbed the forest owner of wood, but the forest owner has made use of the wood thief to purloin the state itself.”

“In direct contradiction to those writers of fantasy who profess to find in the representation of private interests ideal romanticism, immeasurable depths of feeling, and the most fruitful source of individual and specific forms of morality, such representation on the contrary abolishes all natural and spiritual distinctions by enthroning in their stead the immoral, irrational and soulless abstraction of a particular material object and a particular consciousness which is slavishly subordinated to this object.”

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

Marx goes on to state that the Cubans identified “gold as a fetish of the Spaniards. They [the Spaniards] celebrated a feast in its honour, sang in a circle around it and then threw it into the sea.” With such insight, he reasons, had the Cubans been present in the debate in the Rhenish provincial assembly, they would surely have seen wood as the Rhinelanders’ fetish?”

In later works, Marx develops his concept of ‘commodity fetishism’. In Capital (Volume One), he concludes:

“A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of [human] labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour.”

Cycling, commodity festishism, and podium girls

Commodities take various forms. In professional cycling, for example, there’s the bicycle, the attire, the paraphernalia, the rider, and the podium girls. In one sense, it’s all laid bare. This year’s Tour de France (2015) will show the bodies of cyclists littered with the advertising logos of Team Sky, Tinkoff-Saxo, Astana, Etixx-Quick Step, Giant-Alpecin, Movistar, FDJ, Ag2r La Mondiale, Orica-GreenEdge, Cannondale-Garmin, BMC, Trek Factory Racing, Lotto-Soudal, Katusha, MTN-Qhubeka, LottoNL-Jumbo, Europcar, Confidis, IAM, Lampre-Merida, Bora-Argon18, and Bretagne-Séché. Such logos will be an unavoidable, integral sight for those wishing to enjoy actual cycling and France’s spectacular landscape. The decision-making of teams and riders will be steered by the fused competition of sport and capital. An independent report to the UCI (in March 2015) noted:

“It is interesting that riders are […] aware of the general pressure to keep sponsors in the sport, not just their own team’s sponsor, but more widely. The Commission was told that sometimes riders would agree to lose stages to another rider whose sponsor might have been considering withdrawing from cycling. In this way, the sponsor would have a stage win and podium exposure, perhaps putting off the withdrawal decision. […] Since cycling’s earliest days, riders have agreed race or stage outcomes with other riders. It is often seen as part of team and individual tactics in the peloton. A good number of today’s top riders and former riders openly discussed these practices with the Commission. They were described as part of the cut and thrust of professional competitive cycling […] Bartering can take place not only between riders, but also at team level with team managers negotiating deals.”

Professional cycling seems almost desensitised to the dehumanising effects of commodity fetishism. The hiring of commodified labour-power, as seen below, makes for an absurd and an outrageous spectacle, and yet it is also a logical extension of an über-commodified world of male-dominated, professional cycling. Here sexism and capitalism blend: this is entertainment, which creams profit from its workers, whilst confounding them with the products of their labour. It’s demeaning to cyclists, and to all lovers of cycling – women and men.

A necessary struggle for gender equality in cycling should also entail a struggle to free cycling from its dope, capital. The representation of private interests, of capital, “abolishes all natural and spiritual distinctions by enthroning in their stead the immoral, irrational and soulless abstraction of a particular material object and a particular consciousness which is slavishly subordinated to this object.” Free the body from commercial-imperative so that we can dress and undress as we like, and so that we can cycle as we like; free us from social relations between things to social relations between human beings! Ride on.

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