Schtupping in the Shadow of the Bomb:
Jewish Sex Radicalism in the New World Order

Marissa Pareles

In 1915, Russian-born Jewish anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman lectured throughout the United States on "Jealousy: Causes and a Possible Cure." "[M]onogamy," she told her rapt audiences, "came into being as a result of the domestication and ownership of women... And just as the Church and the State accepted sex monopoly as the only security to the marriage tie, so have both justified jealousy as the legitimate weapon of defense for the protection of the property right." In making explicit the connection between anti-capitalism and her own free love practices, she was among many other anarchist and socialist Jews in the United States and Europe for whom sexual liberation was part of the coming revolution.

Though we might now replace Goldman's twinned "Church and State" with the globalizing trinity of Corporation-State-Religious Right, relatively little has otherwise changed in 90 years: property is still sacred, and there's no shame in defending acquisitions. Yet whereas Goldman and others saw their sexual practices, if somewhat contestedly, as intimately connected to their political radicalism, these days sex radicalism-attending play parties, doing S&M, having multiple romantic relationships, teaching sex ed, writing porn, and so on-is often cast as trivial, bourgeois, or out of touch. Not that it was easy for Goldman, but today it's even harder to be an anti-war, anti-imperialist Jewish sex radical, pornographer, or sex writer. Against the economic and political backdrop of the war on Iraq, the recession caused in large part by tax cuts and other presidential policies, the militarization of our own and other nations, and the overall decline of civil liberties in the United States, what was once seen as part and parcel of radical critique is now seen as a hedonistic retreat from it, a consumerist and apolitical expression of privilege.

Yet the rights that sex radicalism advocates-health, freedom, and pleasure for the human body, freedom from the criminalization of desires, and an end to the sexual and punitive brutalization of bodies-are precisely those taking the hardest blows from the current conservative consensus and the new American holy war. I will develop three examples here: the link between marriage and capitalist restriction on basic rights, the right-wing war on women and queers, and the close connection between sexual violence and military violence. And then I will suggest that sex radicalism in general (and Jewish sex radicalism in particular) is an essential part of authentic political radicalism.

1.   Marriage is part of the problem

First, the connection between sex radicalism and economic leftism is nowhere more clear than in the case of marriage. As in 1915, marriage is still an integral part of the capitalist economy. In the United States, health insurance and good health care are reserved for the steadily employed and the married, and their children who are under 18 or full-time college students. This, of course, leaves a lot of people out. If you're a freelancer, an adjunct, a part-timer, a full-time parent, a graduating college or high school senior with no job lined up, an employee without benefits, unable to find or keep a job, or only now joining the millions of unemployed, then you'd better find an employee-with-benefits to love and live with you monogamously until you die -- right now, before your next cavity, broken bone, or collision with a drunk driver. And in most cities, states, and towns, and at most companies, that person who will never get fired or quit, become unpleasant or boring, or be attracted to another had better goddamn well be of the opposite sex. Already married to a subcontracted house cleaner, an adjunct professor, or an unemployed banker? Queer? Not monogamous? Too young? Get used to your old glasses, recurring infections, and untreated depression, and to clinic doctors who don't know your name.

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Image: Emma Goldman

May 2003

Zeek in Print
Spring 03 issue available here

Shtupping in the Shadow
of the Bomb

Marissa Pareles

The Mall Balloon-Man Moment of the Spirit
Dan Friedman

Beats, Rhymes & Nigguns
Matthue Roth & Juez

Fish Rain
Susan H. Case

Anti-fada Paratrooper
Michael Kuratin

Josh Gets his Checkup
Josh Ring

Plague Cookies
Mica Scalin

The Ritual of Family Photography
Amy Datsko

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