How Contrapoints Misunderstands Gender
The theory of gender that emerges from Contrapoints’ videos offers us an eclectic mix of contradictory theories, and fails to give us a systemic theory of gender that can inform feminist strategy.
If you are at all invested in the baffling world of online trans discourse, you have almost certainly by now encountered controversy about one of the online left’s most prominent public trans intellectuals: Contrapoints. For those who are not familiar, Contrapoints is a popular trans Youtuber (285k followers at the time of this piece) whose art house-styled video essays explore topics related to gender, capitalism, queer theory, and pop culture. Contrapoints videos have quickly gained popularity as a result of their high quality editing, use of comedic personas and characters, and consistent ability to find hot button issues within the online left to provide insights on.
Contrapoints is created by Natalie Wynn, a fellow graduate school drop out with a background in academic philosophy. Although Natalie has insisted that her academic background is primarily in the work of Kant, her videos deal extensively with postmodern and poststructuralist theory. Natalie repeatedly cites Judith Butler when attempting to explain her view’s on gender, and generally employs ideas developed within queer theory to explain her perspectives on contemporary debates about gender.
Natalie has been careful to distinguish between herself as a creator and Contrapoints as a web personality. Furthermore, within the Contrapoints videos, Natalie plays multiple characters, often with diametrically opposed views, and usually in dialogue with each other. Natalie has consistently responded to criticism by pointing out that these characters do not necessarily speak for her, and that statements forwarded by her characters cannot be understood as reflective of her own sentiments. Despite her attempts to distance herself from the ideas expressed in her videos, I think it is important to recognize that Natalie herself is making decisions about what to put into these videos, and that those decisions are not beyond critique simply because they are veiled in satire and might not reflect her sincerely held beliefs.
While the Contrapoints channel has always received some level of criticism from the left, her recent video, titled The Aesthetic, has received particularly harsh response. Critics on both Youtube and twitter have argued that this video reduces gender to a matter of passing in front of cis audiences, and functionally argues that trans women who do not pass are not meaningfully women. Furthermore, dissenters have argued that this video allows cis people to set the terms for what counts as a meaningful or recognizable gender, and functionally argues for the impossibility of non binary genders.
I am not interested in rehashing these critiques in depth here. Rather, I hope to explore the underlying conception of gender that Natalie deploys and develops in her Contrapoints videos, in order to provide a materialist critique of this theory of gender. First, I will look to several of Natalie’s videos in order to try to explicitly outline her conception of gender. Second, I will offer a materialist criticism of this conception that highlights Natalie’s silence on the economic and political function of gender in a patriarchal and capitalist society. In doing so, I will try to explain why this misconception of gender results in the problems and conceptual errors that plague The Aesthetic.
I ask that you watch all the videos mentioned here for yourself to determine the veracity of this critique.
What does Natalie think gender is?
When trying to uncover Natalie’s conception of gender, it makes sense to start with one of her older videos: What Is Gender?
In this video, Natalie constructs an argument by analogy by asking the question “what counts as a chair?” She then attempts to provide a list of essential properties of a chair: man-made, has a backrest, and is sat upon. Of course, there are exceptions to each of these rules that we would still consider to be chairs. Thus, Natalie concludes, we cannot actually give an essential account of what a chair is based on a set of properties. Instead, we can look at properties that are in some way related to the concept of a chair, but which are individually neither “necessary or sufficient” for being a chair.
Likewise, Natalie argues that an attempt to define male or female could begin with a list of properties. She lists chromosomes, gonads, genitals, hormones, and secondary sex characteristics. Obviously for each you would have corresponding XY/XX chromosomes, Ovaries/Testes, Vagina/Penis, Estrogen/Testosterone, Breasts/Facial Hair depending on the sex you are attempting to define. As we might predict, Natalie argues that within the group of people we consider females, we might find an absence of some of these properties, while still considering someone a female. As such, these properties also fail to be individually necessary or sufficient for defining sex. As a result of this insufficiency, Natalie argues that a sexual binary is not actually reflective of the reality of sex, and is an attempt to oversimplify these phenomena.
Natalie goes on to argue that sex and gender are separate phenomena, and that gender is itself a social construct. She takes special caution to insist that calling gender a social construct is not to insist that “it is has no reality, that its just a figment of the imagination.” She argues that Money is itself a social construct, but it is not any less real because of this, and that it is a social construct that structures and shapes our lives. For Natalie, to say something is a social construct is to say that it is “contingent on certain human behaviors and beliefs.” Thus, gender is not derived or imposed directly from the natural reality of sex, but rather exists as a set of practices and behaviors which are historically and socially specific to a given context. There is no direct correlation between sex and gender in this view. Natalie insists that “chromosomes and genitals will not tell you which gender wears lipstick or raises the children…sometimes people with XY chromosomes have soft smooth skin…” As such, social practices of gender must be understood and investigated as social phenomena, not natural phenomena. So far, so good.
After taking a brief detour to investigate “half-woke” theories of gender, Natalie moves on to the final section of her video, titled Feminist Perspectives. Natalie acknowledges that feminist theorists need a theory of womanhood in order to seek the political emancipation of women. She briefly looks at a several feminist theories of gender. First the radical feminist theory, which she summarizes as “gender is the institutional sexual dominance of women by men,” a view which she attributes to Catherine MacKinnon. Second the queer theory which she summarizes as “Gender is a performance, a series of imitative behaviors,” which she attributes to Judith Butler. Finally, the trans theory, which she summarizes as “Gender is a psychological state: a feeling of belonging in a woman’s body or social role,” which she fails to attribute to any specific theorist.
Upon posing the question of which theory is correct, Natalie explains that each of them is correct in a way. In an oddly pragmatic move, she argues that the first view makes sense when arguing for abortion rights, that the second view makes sense when “when talking about the way women are treated in public spaces,” though she is silent about an instance in which the third view might be useful.
Natalie is smart enough to predict that her audience will find this answer lacking. After all, this hardly answers the question that the video title poses: What Is Gender? In response to this dissatisfaction, Natalie simply states that, “these are philosophical questions, and the defining feature of philosophical questions is that they have no final answer.”
I suspect that most viewers do not find this trite explanation of the final impossibility of philosophical inquiry to be satisfying. By offering a pragmatist and operational account of gender, Natalie suggests that there is not an underlying theory of gender which is needed in order to understand how we might achieve the feminist aims of women’s liberation. Rather, eclectic reflexivity, a refusal to settle on a unified theory, is offered as a radical alternative. I will critique this eclecticism in the next section of this piece, but I want to point it out, because I think it influences Natalie’s theory of gender in her later videos.
In her next video to spend significant amount of time discussing theories of gender, titled Terfs, Natalie begins to develop her theory in a slightly more coherent manner. The video features a character named Tiffany Tumbles, portrayed as a stereotyped trans youtuber with an odd emphasis on passing. Natalie puts Tiffany in dialogue with a character meant to represent a trans exclusionary radical feminist, with a third debate host character occasionally chiming in to ridicule Tiffany.
In this video, Tiffany argues that she is in fact a woman because her experiences within a patriarchal society are the experiences of women. She asserts that, “I am a woman, I live my life as a woman, I experience misogyny as a woman.” In this formulation, womanhood is determined primarily by how one is taken up in society. When Tiffany’s TERF interlocutor points out that this is untrue, as women are oppressed on the basis of male control of female reproduction, Tiffany replies, “What about infertile cis women, men don’t want to control their wombs but they still experience sexism?” In this reply we can see her continuing to make the argument that individual properties of womanhood are not necessary or sufficient for womanhood, and that one can be a woman while lacking certain properties (in this instance, a womb).
Having rejected an essential definition of womanhood, Tiffany once again asserts that her experiences of oppression can attest to her status as a woman. She insists, “I am not a man pretending to be a woman, when men catcall trans women, when they rape us, when they harass us, when they deny us employment they don’t care that we don’t have a womb they only care that we are women.” Tiffany is on to something interesting here. She begins to develop a notion of womanhood based on one’s relationship to male violence and oppression and the hands of men. This is the first moment where we see Natalie begin to play with the relationship between gender and power.
When the host of the debate suggests that Tiffany is forwarding a notion of womanhood based on “fulfilling the social role of a woman,” Tiffany responds by insisting that “you can reject the conventional social roles while still being a woman.” To explain this, she suggests that a psychological theory of gender is also needed. Such a theory would account for whether one is “ill-at-ease” with the experiences of either male or female embodiment. This theory is never expanded upon or reconciled with the experiential and social account of womanhood Tiffany offers a few minutes earlier. The debate moves back on the how society conceptualizes women, with an experiential emphasis.
While this video introduces a notion of power and social roles into Natalie’s theory of gender, it does not attempt to theorize how that power functions, what base produces it, or why those social roles emerge. Furthermore, Natalie continues to offer an eclectic emphasis on the need for multiple theories, without sufficient analysis of how those theories can possibly coexist. Natalie simultaneously makes appeals to womanhood on the basis of being taken up socially as a woman, while also insisting that psychological discomfort with male embodiment might make one a woman despite not being taken up socially as a woman. How exactly can these two views coexist? Natalie does not provide an answer, or a unifying theory to connect them.
As the video continues, the debate between Tiffany and her TERF opponent shifts to a debate about definitions. Tiffany insists that providing definitions of womanhood, and later definitions of gender identity, which function as universal and final definitions is impossible. She continues on to focus on the way in which any definition leaves exceptions. She asserts that, “every definition is perfect if you ignore everything that doesn’t fit the definition.” She further suggests that the definitional debate is an intentional misdirection by TERFs to justify the dismissal of trans women’s experiences.
This rejection of the necessity of, and the simultaneous embrace of the impossibility of, a universal definition of womanhood allows Natalie to once again assert an eclectic view wherein our definitions have to be contextually derived. While Natalie is correct to note that the TERF obsession with definitions serves as a justification for bigotry, she fails to adequately explain how we might account for gender in the absence of universal definitions. We are left only with an unsubstantiated assumption that we can strategically deploy contradictory definitions when necessary to achieve specific political goals. We might wonder how we can determine the correct political goals without a universal and non-contradictory theory of gender, but Natalie denies us an explanation.
Now that we have begun to explicate the theory of gender underlying Natalie’s work, we can see how this theory manifests and continues to develop in her controversial video The Aesthetic. This video once again adopts the pretense of a debate between two of Natalie's characters. The first character is named Tabby: a furry who wears an antifa pin and represents a caricature of radical leftist trans women. Tabby is uninterested in passing, uninterested in appealing to cis people’s sensibilities and expectations, and focused on political militancy. In stark contrast to Tabby is the second character in this video: Justine, a conventionally passing trans woman with an emphasis on passing and appealing to dominant notions of gender.
While Natalie has insisted that neither character speaks for her, it is worth noting that one is dressed as a cat and regularly grooms herself throughout the video, while the other is a conventionally attractive trans woman who more or less argues that cis people’s expectations ought to be taken seriously. Natalie can insist that Justine does not speak for her, but the framing of Tabby as a pathetic and patently absurd caricature of radicalism already frames her position as comical and naive. Meanwhile, Justine reflects the views that a cis audience would already bring to the table and is also coded as serious and rational. This frames her view in a favorable manner. Regardless of Natalie’s intentions, Justine is framed as a protagonist in this conversation. Moreover, the views that Justine puts forward fit in well with Natalie’s previous theory of gender and appears to reflect some of Natalie’s own views.
The main part of the video begins with Justine chastising Tabby for her “ridiculous” appearance in a previous debate with another character: Dr. Abigail Cockbane. In this previous debate Tabby responds to misgendering at the hands of Abigail by exclaiming “that’s a human rights violation” before lifting a baseball bat and threatening to “smash your fucking face.” While it is obvious that this is a satirical depiction of trans radicals, we might wonder why Natalie feels the need to use caricatures of angry trans women for laughs.
Justine insists that Tabby ought to wear a dress because, “if you want to get misgendered less, it helps to femme it up a little.” She continues to object to Tabby’s behavior in this previous debate, arguing that it constitutes a bad representation of trans women. When Tabby replies that, “it is not morally wrong to stand up to your oppressors,” Justine retorts that it is not “much worse than morally wrong, it was aesthetically wrong… it’s bad optics, it’s bad aesthetics.” Tabby, predictably responds that not everything is about optics and that she is a woman even though she is unfeminine and not socially perceived as a woman. She insists that her womanhood is a matter of reality. To this, Justine asserts the central claim in her argument: “Reality plays no role in politics; politics is aesthetics.”
To substantiate this thesis, Justine argues that politics is not driven by philosophy but is driven by aesthetics and pageantry. She concludes that politics needs to be undertaken by trans women through their own involvement in pageantry and aesthetic production. Justine points to the ascendancy of Trump as a evidence for the dominance of aesthetics and spectacle within the political sphere. The rise of a “reality show president” is understood as indicative of the fact that we live in an age of spectacle, not an age of reason. Justine points to a live stream debate that Natalie previously had with Blair White to prove her point. She argues that while Natalie had better arguments, this was irrelevant because Blair looked in charge and passed, while Natalie “looked like an awkward dude in an anime wig.” While this is an obviously cynical interpretation of events, it reflects Justine’s central thesis that politics is not about reason.
This leads Justine to assert another cynical claim: to be a trans woman with a sizable public following, you have to “look like a fucking woman.” Tabby responds by pointing out that this is meaningless because women can have a variety of visual appearance that can include beards or baldness. In response, Justine points out that society has a very low opinion of those women.
The video then devolves into a comic back and forth between Tabby and Justine before returning to the philosophical content of Justine’s argument. She suggests that Tabby ought to read up on Judith Butler (previously mentioned in What is Gender), who she interprets as saying that “gender is performance… womanhood is not what you are, it is what you do.” She argues that there is a sense in which trans women are pretending to be women, precisely because being a woman is to perform an ideal notion of womanhood. Furthermore, she explains that gender nonconforming cis women are punished by society precisely for their failure to perform correctly. For Justine, womanhood is defined experiential, but that experience is conceptualized primarily in terms of performativity. In this sense, Justine develops the experiential theory of gender previously deployed in both What Is Gender and Terfs.
Of course, Justine is not the only character presenting a theory of gender in this video. Throughout the video, Tabby asserts that identity has meaning beyond how one is socially taken up. In this sense, Tabby develops the identity and psychological theory of gender that Natalie has previously employed. She insists that “it is identity, not performance, that makes us women.” She further asserts that identifying as a woman is a “psychological reality.” Justine responds to this by saying that a private definition of woman derived from self identification is functionally meaningless if no one perceives you as a woman. She jokes that “you might as well identify as an attack helicopter.” It is here that we see Natalie finally begin to admit that the psychological theory of gender and the social experiential theory of gender are at odds with each other.
Towards the end of the video, Tabby is finally given a moment to offer a lengthy retort to Justine. She argues that Justine misunderstands aesthetics by demanding that Tabby by more feminine. Instead, she argues that “aesthetics is the expression of an inner truth” and insists that at least she is “willing to stand up to the people who oppress us.” In response to this, Justine begrudgingly concedes that Tabby should be herself but suggests that she should care more about femininity. Justine gives up and simply says “I guess we can’t win. Wanna chill out and watch Youtube videos?” We are left with their disagreement unresolved, mirroring Natalie’s conclusion in What Is Gender.
In response to this video, myself and others have focused on the extent to which Justine seems to reflect Natalie’s own views on gender. While I think this is true, I want to focus on something else. In a now deleted twitter thread, Natalie argued that she shares concerns with Justine, but that Justine is not a mouthpiece for her own views. She suggests that the video can be read as humanizing Tabby, and that she reads Justine as deeply concerned for the well being of Tabby. In this sense, Natalie elides some responsibility for Justine’s statement and suggests that Tabby is not totally incorrect. We are left with an understanding that both characters bring some true ideas to the table.
Although Natalie insists that Justine and Tabby both offer truths, their frameworks are inherently at odds, and Natalie gives us no way to reconcile them. In this sense, Natalie’s defense of the video has simply reasserted her theoretical eclecticism and belies her failure to think about gender systemically. The social experiential view forwarded by Justine cannot coexist with Tabby’s view. The video’s refusal to take a side represents a continuing pattern in Natalie’s videos.
So, what is the theory of gender that underlies Natalie’s Contrapoints videos? I argue that it is a pragmatic theory of gender that refuses the possibility of universal theories. Natalie continually refuses to reconcile contradictory views, because she believes that these views might have utility in certain contexts. As I have already hinted at, I find this view to be insufficient because it cannot provide strategic insight into what views are useful in which situations. Without a comprehensive theory of gender, we cannot possibly determine what social changes need to be enacted to lead to women’s liberation. An eclectic mix of incompatible feminist theories does not offer us anything if we don’t have an underlying unified theory to tell us which views to deploy in which instances.
Natalie seems to be most sympathetic to the social experiential view, but does not develop this view in a particularly concrete direction. She recognizes that woman is a social role, but does not explain the origins of that social role. If we understand Justine’s arguments to reflect Natalie’s own perspective, we might also claim that Natalie has no real critique of those social roles. In Natalie’s interpretation of the social experiential theory of gender, the point of political engagement seems to be assimilation into womanhood, rather than a systemic critique of the ways the social role of womanhood is built around oppression of women. Ultimately, the theory of gender that emerges from Natalie’s videos lacks a central coherent approach to understanding gendered social phenomena. As a result, it lacks a critique of gendered social phenomena, instead deploying contradictory theories to argue for some loose and undefined idea of liberation.
What is Wrong With Natalie’s Theory of Gender?
Now that I have spent far too much time doing a close reading of Natalie’s videos, I want to explain precisely what is wrong with her theory of gender, and offer an alternative.
First, I want to suggest that Natalie is correct in her video What Is Gender when she suggests that the question of gender and womanhood is crucial to feminist theory. If we cannot theorize these two phenomena, then we cannot develop a praxis for women’s liberation. The problem is that Natalie’s theory of gender fails to actually provide a useful answer to these questions. In fact, it seems that Natalie thinks the answer to these questions is “whatever theory is most useful for the point I am trying to make at the moment.” While I find this extremely frustrating, you might ask what is so wrong with this relativist approach.
In order to answer that question, I want to focus briefly on what is at stake. Gender creates a basis for a massive amount of suffering and oppression. Women’s subjugation to men has created a horrific reality in which, to varying degrees, women have been reduced to objects for possession by men. While progress has been made in combating the most extreme forms of social dispossession of women, contemporary feminists have outlined the way that even supposedly progressive democratic societies perpetuate cultures of rape and oppression of women at the hands of men. Furthermore, essentialist theories of gender provides a justification for horrific social violence against transgender and lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. Lesbian feminists in particular have highlighted the ways in which patriarchal society uses theories of gender to enforce heterosexuality and to social subservience of women.
There are real stakes to these debates. The consequences of our theories of gender are life and death, especially for poor women and women of color, for whom patriarchal violence is intensified. These stakes are not felt evenly by all women. Natalie’s eclectic refusal to settle on a unified theory is much easier to make as a petty-bourgeois white woman than it would be for women who’s very existence is contingent on resistance to gendered oppression.
As a result of her own class position and whiteness, Natalie seems to primarily be concerned with providing a definition of womanhood and gender that allows her to frame herself as a woman. The goal is not the abolition of gendered violence, but assimilation into the social role of womanhood. Obviously all trans women have a vested interest in this project inasmuch as such assimilation can provide marginal relief from transmisogynist violence, but for many of us there are more pressing questions regarding gender.
While Natalie muses about whether or not gender is a social experiential reality or is a psychological reality, others are forced to ask more fundamental questions. For example, if the social experiential view is true, and gender is a set of practices designed to reinforce social roles, we might ask why it is that these roles emerge and come to be so central to society. For women who suffer in intense ways precisely because they are forced into the social role of womanhood, the debate between psychological or performative reality is simply largely irrelevant. These more fundamental question’s never come up in Natalie’s work. In fact, Natalie is ill-equipped to ask them, because the idea that there are fundamental roots to gender pushes back against her own eclectic insistence of holding multiple contradictory views. If there is a material base at the roots of gender, if the social roles or psychological realities of gender are produced by some sort of underlying reality, then it is not possible to hold and voluntarily adopt contradictory positions.
I have worked elsewhere to provide an account of gender which seeks to contextualize it within the Marxist method of historical materialism. I have previously argued that gender has to be understood in material and economic terms, as an ideological justification for a specific class relationship within capitalist society. I do not wish to rehash the entirety of that work here, but I do want to point readers towards important feminist contributions that allow us to theorize gender in a materialist manner.
Marxist feminism provides us with the ability to give a unified theory of gender which can explain both the psychological reality of gender and the social experimental reality. Marxist feminists have focused on the ways in which gender functions to reinforce a capitalist base and social conditions. Social reproduction theorists have focused on the ways in which the development of capitalism necessitated the subjugation of women through domestic labor in order to force women to do the uncompensated work of maintaining the livelihood of and reproducing the workforce. Sylvia Federici in particular has focused on how the emergence of capitalism forced women into these domestic roles as part of the process of primitive accumulation and the urbanization of the work force. Federici explains the gendered violence of the witch hunts as a means of enforcing these new patriarchal social dynamics, in order to further establish the stability of new capitalist social arrangements.
This Marxist account provides us with a critical insight which Natalie’s own views can not provide. Marxist feminism allows us to understand how the development of capitalism underpins and produces gender as a social structure. It allows us to understand that the classification of people into male or female is not something which simply happens for no reason, but rather is a result of economic and material conditions. Natalie’s theory of gender never gets to this level because it only asks what makes someone count as a woman, not why the social class of woman exists in the first place. Natalie is correct to sympathize with a social and experiential theory of gender, but fails to understand ask why these social roles come into existence. We must also recognize that she is incapable of theorizing the emergence of these social roles, as the process of doing so would require her to posit universal conditions (capitalist development) for the emergence of gender that would contradict the psychological identity model as well as the radical feminist model. Natalie’s emphasis on being able to draw on whichever theory is most effective in a given instance precludes her from forwarding a deeper systemic critique of gender.
Natalie’s own eclecticism is generally symptomatic of her class position and her background in academia. The focus on a plurality of possible theories and rejection of unified theory is symptomatic of the work of poststructural theorists like Judith Butler. It is entirely unsurprising that this is the primary thinker that Natalie turns to in order to justify her understanding of the social experiential view. Butler provides an account of gender built around performances of social roles, but her own work fails to examine the material base that produces these performances as a part of its superstructure. This should be unsurprising as the function of academic philosophy is to neuter radical theory and produce eclectic and obscurantist theory to reinforce capitalist social relations.
Furthermore, while Natalie argues in What Is Gender that the gender binary is an artificial imposition which ignores the reality of sex, she fails to examine why the gender binary is so prominent in western gender systems. We can turn to the work of Maria Lugones to explain this. In Towards a Decolonial Feminism, Lugones argues that the colonization of the Americas required the destruction of indigenous gender systems. Central to this process was a reduction of indigenous peoples to mere biological sex, while Europeans transcended sex into the realm of binary gender. The colonizing mission of the European settlers became to either integrate indigenous people into the gendered roles of male and female, or to simply exterminate those who would not “transcend” mere sex. Lugones work allow us to understand how a gender and sex binary does not simply appear from nowhere, but actually emerges as a superstructural justification for the material base of settler society. As a white settler living in the US, it is not in Natalie’s own interests to begin to uncover this history and reveal the material base which leads to the imposition of a gender binary. Furthermore, in her most recent video Pronouns, Natalie briefly mentions indigenous gender systems while lumping them in with non-binary settlers. For an exceptional decolonial critique of this conflation, I highly recommend this piece.
Not only does the theory of gender that Natalie puts forth fail to account for the settler colonial function of gender ideology, it also fails to account for race whatsoever. While Natalie is extremely attentive to the variety of forms that womanhood can take, she never interrogates how one’s experience of womanhood is shaped by racialization. Furthermore, it is strange to see someone who is so interested in the contested status of womanhood fail to account for the way womanhood has been a contested category specifically for black women. Surely at some point in graduate school Natalie at least encountered Sojourner Truth’s famous speech that raised the issue explicitly. In The Aesthetic, Natalie correctly recognizes that even cis women who fail to uphold femininity are punished by a patriarchal society, but she is largely silent on the ways that western notions of femininity are racialized, and this failure is as much a failure to meet the demands of whiteness as it is a failure to perform femininity. Natalie’s failure to interrogate the relationship between race and gender is frustrating, but is not surprising, as doing so would require her to have a coherent and robust theory of gender, which her eclecticism prevents. This undermines the ability of her theoretical framework to produce truly liberatory results, as it sections off gender to its own particular phenomena separate from race, instead of understanding both as mutually entangled ideologies designed to support an imperialist and colonialist base.
Once again, Natalie fails to account for the material base of the phenomena she discusses. Instead we get a frustrating eclecticism which is insufficient for theorizing liberation from oppressive systems of gender. Without a unified theory of gender, we cannot theorize an appropriate or strategic response to patriarchal oppression. Historical materialism resolves this problem by allowing us to understand how the disparate and often contradictory social practices which constitute gendered behavior emerge from an economic base. That base will differ depending on time and location; patriarchal oppression on the basis of gender preceded capitalism and changed with the emergence of capitalism, but regardless of the particularities of a given system of gender, we can understand that it results from material conditions and class struggles. If we want to battle gendered violence we have to understand its relationship to capitalism and to settler colonialism, and we have to have a theory which can tell us how to overhaul the capitalist base.
I do not mean any of this as a personal attack on Natalie or to dismiss the entirety of the work done in her Contrapoints videos. These videos serve as an interesting introduction to academic theory, and Natalie is clearly a talented film maker. However, I want to recognize that Natalie’s own racial and class position informs her work, and suggest that the theory of gender that she forwards has nothing to offer for the masses of poor and racially marginalized women struggling for liberation. Natalie has no unified theory of gender which could tell us how to actually overcome the conditions of gendered violence. In order to achieve meaningful emancipation, we must have a coherent and internally consistent account of gender. This requires us to develop a historical materialist account of society which can theorize preciely how social practices of gender are shaped by and exist to reinforce a material base.
Unless we can account for the ways that capitalism and settler colonialism create gender as a principle of social organization, we will continue to produce theories which sound interesting when presented in well edited Youtube videos, but which fail to further human emancipation. We must demand better than the postmodern eclecticism which Natalie and the Contrapoints channel offer us.
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