By Ali Meyer | Lisa Duggan's argument is flawed.
Queer politics have always been a divisive topic for liberals and conservatives alike. Lisa Duggan, a professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at NYU, recently came to speak at Tufts as part of the LGBT Center’s Queer Studies Scholar Series. Through this program, the LGBT center brings a scholar to speak about relevant issues once a year. Ms. Duggan’s lecture was entitled “Feeling Neoliberal: Queer Desires for and against Marriage, Markets and the Military,” and argued that neoliberalism breeds intolerance and stagnates the queer movement.
Ms. Duggan began by explaining that “cultural” and “economic” issues are actually interrelated, and should be treated as such. Advocacy organizations, which tend to focus on one group or the other, are politically and intellectually ineffective when they deny the ties between traditionally disparate issues.
She went on to enlighten the audience with her personal opinion about what neoliberalism (the support of free markets, free trade, and the decentralization of government) actually is. According to Ms. Duggan, neoliberalism is “usually very unpopular” among average people, and it is instated and maintained by an oligarchic elite who benefit from neoliberal policies. She did not elaborate on how democratic systems force people to continually subscribe to the very theories that they disagree with, which would have helped support her claim. Ms. Duggan also decried the economic philosophy of cutting taxes and spending, because she said it increases the gap between the rich and the poor. Complaining about anti-tax ideologies, she blamed them for money in the pockets of corporations, once again neglecting to describe the connection between thriving businesses and jobs.
Perhaps overly optimistically, Ms. Duggan explained how the neoliberal vocabulary is losing legitimacy, and its ideologies are proving to be a “colossal failure.” The juxtaposition of the reality of growing worldwide inequalities amid promises of increased freedom has finally lead people to see how free markets are actually not efficient. Privatization “no longer sounds like a good idea.” Neoliberalism, the major ideological stance in the world today is on the decline, she said, adding that because of the current financial situation “we are now facing the beginning of the end” of neoliberalism.
After complaining about neoliberalism and applauding its apparent decline, Ms. Duggan began to outline her argument: how queer politics have been recruited by neoliberalism, and used by them to glamorize otherwise failing institutions, namely marriage, markets, and the military. The LGBT community is currently split; one part, the “neoliberal apologist” group, favors the current method of advocacy, which involves seeking formal equality that can later be translated through court cases into actual equality. The other part, advocated by Ms. Duggan, favors an approach that would advocate immediate physical equality, which as she defined it includes universal health care and redistribution of wealth and resources.
Both groups currently advocate for equality in marriage, military, and the markets; Ms. Duggan argued that this advocacy is exploited by neoliberals by using the desires of the excluded group to idealize the institutions.
Her first example of this was marriage, an institution that has been criticized for years by both feminists and queer advocates, yet is still strong. She described how the marriage equality movement has idealized the institution, in order to stress its importance and therefore the right for queer people to marry. This neatly parallels the way that conservatives idealize marriage and the family as the stronghold of stability and culture, as a “symbolic institution that grounds the private home.” Ms. Duggan’s argument suggested that because gay people want to get married and can’t, they want it even more; this makes it desirable for everyone.
Unfortunately, this argument falls through on multiple levels. No straight person is going to get married in order to taunt his or her gay friends. The apparent glamour bestowed on the institution of marriage by the exclusion of gay people will not be persuasive enough to compel someone to participate in such a life-changing decision.
The same argument fails in the same way in the context of the military. Among irrelevant attacks on conservatives and thinly veiled references to the “governmental oligarchy,” Ms. Duggan argued that because of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, straight people want to join the military much more than they would if gay people were openly allowed, especially after being influenced by the neoliberal agenda. Ms. Duggan initially assumes that gay people actually want to join the military more because it is forbidden. And secondly, she makes the unfathomable leap of assuming that because queers want to join the military but can’t, straight people are somehow convinced to join, in order to spite their gay peers.
Ms. Duggan’s argument about the markets is much more convoluted; queers are clearly not forbidden from the marketplace, and it’s difficult to see just how their participation in the economy alters the way straight people participate. Ms. Duggan referenced the show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” to illustrate how gay men are caricatured as avatars of market culture itself. Her infuriated rant against the neoliberal system did show that she does not like the moderately free markets that allow such consumption, though. And she did not elaborate how the societal acceptance of queers in markets at all affects straight people.
Ms. Duggan’s argument for a new method of queer policy advocacy is weak at best; the idea that neoliberalism is failing seems to be simply an extrapolation of Ms. Duggan’s own political views, and the argument that if the LGBT community desires access to an institution it automatically becomes more appealing to straight people is just illogical.
Ms. Meyer is a sophomore who has not yet declared a major.