#nodads, #nomen, #nomums

This is an aggregate of three of my Tumblr posts in November 2012 (i, ii, iii).

#Nodads probably requires a bit of context for a wider audience: essentially it’s a meme among left-intellectual Twitter (similar in some ways to #fullcommunism). People-who-are-dads, fret not (or at least less): it isn’t about you, it’s about The Father as a principle or archetype, with essentially Freudian roots

Key expositions include What is it to Philosophise Fatherlessly? and #NoDads Is Our Principal Of Solidarity by @BenLaden and No-dad S: A further attempt on #nodads by @IlllllllllllllI. In many ways it’s not a wholly serious idea, but that doesn’t stop it being good to think with. 

This is also a very quote-heavy post, which feels illustrative of this moment in time and where conversations like these are happening most. That is, Tumblr.

Part I: Responding to America Dads: Louis CK and Barack Obama
by Aaron Bady (@zunguzungu)

New Inquiry,

29 October 2012

For me, #nodads crystallizes that realization, that assertion that while one way to nurture can, in fact, be a good way, there are many other ways to choose from, and we should choose from among them. If I choose to be a parent to my imaginary child in the ways that my father was a parent to me, it should be because he helped me be a person in the world, in society, in life, and because that help was helpful, and because that kind of help will be helpful to the child who I happen to have fathered. It should not be because my dad was my dad. It should not be because that was the only kind of relationship I could imagine.

Perhaps it means other things, of course. But Malcolm Harris likes to say that #nodads means whatever it means, that whatever it is, it isn’t “dads.” And I like that because the anti-tautology maps nicely onto and precisely attacks the kind of thinking by which “dad” is a transcendental truth, only it does so without limiting itself to any particular content we might apply to the category. As a rejection of the category itself—and of the manner in which it comes to seem a higher order category than many others—it doesn’t necessarily have all that much to do with actual dads, but only by the sociological matrix that makes biology into destiny. It deprives us of the categorical rational, that dads, because dads.

I commented:

Interesting – at first I was thinking your #nodads was quite different to my #nodads – yours being about dads-as-parents, it seemed, whereas to me it orients around authority, knowledge-power, death of the author and so on.

But then you wrote “most of the time, the thing that people mean when they talk about dads is really male control of women and children” and that was the point of commonality found — that the latter current of #nodads is I would argue a bunch of young-ish people speaking ‘as children’ within the academy, or publishing, or institutions of knowledge.

Then again, Malcolm Harris, Ben Laden – most of the regulars on the hashtag bar Jesse Darling – they’re men. For them, I think, #nodads is also a confrontation with the always-already becoming-dads created by any staking out of an intellectual position.

But how does this work for me? As a woman could I ever become a dad? Am I even able to conceive (!) of the possibility? Can we have a feminist #nodads – is it feminist in its destruction of the patriarchal dad figure? Or is it fundamentally masculinist because its nexus is that always-already becoming-dad tension?

(A thought: the structure of this post is a bit dads, hmm. I let the authority speak first, then meekly offer my reaction. Why do I not offer my ideas straight off? Well, see above…)

Part II: Found: The #NoMen manifesto

My last post embryonically started to raise the question of #nodads in relation to feminism. Fortunately it turns out Jane Hu was already on it with her post on 31st October, #nonodads:

I’ve voiced my hesitations about #nodads here a few times now, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to convince those who use (and maybe even abuse, if possible?) the phrase online, but Pateman has helped me feel more firm in my conviction that #nodads is generally unproductive, and often a red herring.

To emphasize society as problematically paternal makes us forget that we’re more urgently caught up in society-as-patriarchal—it takes focus away from the dominance men have foremost over women (before they are ever dads), and places the weight on fathers and husbands. The focus on families doesn’t just play up the importance and necessity of motherhood, but downplays the always present female submission implied in conjugal relations.

Others have written that #nodads can really be whatever you want it to be (of course this is a directive given to us from some one—a man, a straight white man—but beside the point), but that sort of looseness (of which, again, I am suspicious) is still contained within the emblem of “nodads.” Why not “nomen”? I understand that most people behind #nodads don’t see it as a way toward apocalypse or nihilism — that they want the possibility of reproduction without the burden of daddies, but #nomen still seems more appropriate to me. Isn’t it possible to have a no-male (or at least no-man) society too? Is it because most of the people shooting the #nodads tags aren’t (yet) dads? Is it a just-enough-distanced point from which to speak in the name of feminism, of anti-patriarchy? Is the hashtag, then, explicitly anti-paternal enough, especially with said looseness?

As it happens, I am reading a radfem book on this exact topic in another tab – Refusing To Be A Man (by John Stoltenberg; link’s to the PDF full version)

This is where I lose half my audience who aren’t familiar with radical feminism and assume it’s attacking men-as-people rather than man-as-cultural-category. You know, the ones who like to criticise Andrea Dworkin for saying “all sex is rape” without ever having read Dworkin, or made any effort to understand the point she’s actually seeking to make. Anyway, I’ve basically only mentioned Dworkin to in-advance reverse-troll them – now I’ll get on with the point I was trying to make.

Which is basically to say Jane is making a great point, and that this book by John Stoltenberg is attempting to answer that exact question:

Contrary to opponents’ dissembling, radical feminism did not hurl an accusation at a biologically determined class named “men” but rather at a value system—an ethic of injustice to which eroticism, both male and female, had been conditioned. This book urges a solution to that injustice: a radical self-examination among people born with a penis, a radical inquiry into the ethics of our social identity as men.
[p. xvi]

Stoltenberg wrote the revised introduction in the late 1990s, and makes a lot of parallels in the introduction with the then-current New Abolitionist movement seeking to overturn “whiteness” as the dominant identity structure. (Their journal: the brilliantly named Race Traitor). His argument is best summed up in 3 paragraphs where he takes an “abolitionist” passage and re-writes it in brackets as a radical male feminist one:

The rules of the white club [the men’s club] do not
require that all members be strong advocates of white
supremacy [male supremacy], merely that they defer to
the prejudices of others. The need to maintain racial
solidarity [sex-class solidarity] imposes a stifling
conformity on whites [on males], on any subject
touching even remotely on race [on sex].

The way to abolish the white race [to refuse to be a
man, to end manhood] is to disrupt that conformity. If
enough people who look white [who look male] violate
the rules of whiteness [of manhood], their existence
cannot be ignored. If it becomes impossible for the
upholders of white rules [manhood rules] to speak in the
name of all who look white [look male], the white race
[the male sex class] will cease to exist….

How many will it take? No one can say for sure. It is a
bit like the problem of currency: how much counterfeit
money has to circulate in order to destroy the value of
the official currency? The answer is, nowhere near a
majority—just enough to undermine public confidence in
the official stuff.

Which might be, for our purposes, a #nomen manifesto.


Thoughts towards what this might mean:

From the personal level it’s about need, nurturing – as with this side of #nodads, it’s about the lack perceived by the child.

The desire for total responsiveness to our wishes.

Child as dictator, in fact.

As such the mum has no power.

So #Nomums cannot be about de-throning an authority, as it is with #nodads – she never had any authority, she was constructed as a pure facsimile of the need.

It’s got to be about us, about critiquing our reaction to women.

Call out #Nomums on occasion where a woman is being expected to give give give, to caretake as a natural given, to take care of everyone else’s needs and feelings and not being recognised as a person and agent of her own.

Occasions where women are dehumanised in this way, reduced to serf-class.

A call to grow up, or for a kind of decolonialism – because yes, this is about micro-fascisms and Empire – #NOMUMS.


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