The Best Defense

The best defense is a good offense. The last section of McClintock’s book kept reminding me of that phrase. In this section of her work, McClintock takes a look at the quotidian logic of nationalism. There are many historical and current contexts in which female-bodied people are highly pressured to fall into line and perform femininity and male-bodied people are pressured to perform masculinity. “Women” and “men” are then meant to marry, begin having children, and cohere as family units. By constantly trying to follow as closely as possible this sort of narrative, people do their duty as citizens, building the nation from the inside out, from the family up. I brought this up briefly in class on Tuesday, but this idea of nation-building from the family up reminds me of salt crystals. Here’s more (what Wikipedia has to say) on that: The family is a tiny model of the nation, and by producing it the right way, people are constantly staving off disaster.

I took a class that looked at gender and sexuality throughout United States history a couple of semesters ago, and for a large portion of the class, we discussed the way that this  phenomenon played out during the 1950s. Most people have a pretty good idea of how strictly prescribed gender roles were during this Leave It to Beaver era. Doing your gender duty and your familial duty was touted through various media from PSAs to advertisements and so on as the way to keep it together during the Cold War. The best defense is a good offense.

McClintock looks at manifestations of the gendered nature of nation-building in relationship to colonialism, but her analysis can be a lens to focus critical discussions on nation-building in many contexts. McClintock’s and Agamben’s arguments both can be applied to analyzing the uneven nature of the current construction of the family unit. Because, of course, in this model not everyone can be the breadwinner, to be or have “bios.” Some must be “zoe,” auxiliary, the producers whose labor is conveniently ignored. And as McClintock puts it, some must be “subsumed symbolically into the national body politic as its boundary and metaphoric limit.” It is our work to expose the logic behind this model, which is often purported as the natural order of things.

A clip from the 1950s on how to date, the height of artificial behavior.


Lynn Beavin


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