Patriarchal Women III

The woman in PW II would like me to be more “emotional.” This means, I have learned, that I am not feeling the same set of emotions my interlocutor would like me to feel. I am against the current emphasis on emotion in our culture because it is not about emotion, but about politics.

After 9/11, people who did not have the right political reaction were unfeeling. They were pardoned for this with the formula that they were not yet able to deal with their grief. Counseling was offered. Children in school were assigned personal essays about their “feelings” on the matter, and then tagged for counseling if they were not in line politically. “I feel angry and scared, and unsafe for the first time” was one of the requisite sentences in these “personal, original” essays.

I hear a great deal about being emotionally incorrect because I do not scare easily, or go in for drama. This is unnatural in women, I am told. People ask how I remain calm, or retain the ability to think logically under stress. They also ask how I am able to behave ethically without a religion in which I fear God. I must be denying feelings in order to do all these things, they say. This last fallacy they have learned from Al-Anon and its spinoffs, which, as you know, I consider to be Banes.

These people confuse deep feeling and histrionics. They also see political difference as psychological or religious error. If you find the high rate of incarceration among non-whites problematic, for instance, they find that you are inappropriately afraid of crime, and therefore “in denial” about what must have been a traumatic childhood. They are also operating, I discern, with a certain set of ideas about how European-descended women must be structured in order to retain whiteness (a very important endeavor). Finally, for some, the lack of obvious weakness in women makes us fast.

Adorno and Horkheimer have this to say on conventionalized feeling:

Today the culture industry has taken over the civilising inheritance of the entrepreneurial and frontier democracy – whose appreciation of intellectual deviations was never very finely attuned. All are free to dance and enjoy themselves, just as they have been free, since the historical neutralisation of religion, to join any of the innumerable sects. But freedom to choose an ideology – since ideology always reflects economic coercion – everywhere proves to be freedom to choose what is always the same. The way in which a girl accepts and keeps the obligatory date, the inflection on the telephone or in the most intimate situation, the choice of words in conversation, and the whole inner life as classified by the now somewhat devalued depth psychology, bear witness to man’s attempt to make himself a proficient apparatus, similar (even in emotions) to the model served up by the culture industry.

That is what this post has to do with patriarchal women – produced by mass culture and called “free.”


10 thoughts on “Patriarchal Women III

  1. Yes – AROOO said I was posting too fast to keep up so I tried to program things to come up slower. There are things which will come up automatically through July – ! – although not every day (yet). It is so that I can blog furiously some days, not at all on others, and still seem steady. 😉

  2. Great post! I share this impression of being ostracized because, at times, I am not feeling what I “should” be — as a woman, or a citizen — or so it seems. As a matter of fact, I’ve always felt incredibly insulted when told what I should be feeling! Your political analysis of it is dead on.
    By the way, I have a hard time keeping up too, but as long as you don’t mind me commenting on older posts, I am fine with it. 🙂

  3. Gracias SW – and don’t worry SW and Kitty, I’ll slow down soon, and I *love* comments on older posts.

    Being at the computer, torture, I can sure see it. I am afraid to read comments threads on most blogs how because the flame wars are too draining. !!!

  4. Two comments:

    1. Have you seen that the most recent research on “debriefing” and immediate therapy after trauma actually makes people feel worse in both the short term and the long term?

    2. The woman in your first paragraph needs to get a life. Sheesh!

  5. Needs to get life, sure, but is yet busier than I – this is the conundrum. But: as I am beginning to see (darkly, coming back to my roots in the high school women’s caucus which was – as I now realize – radically feminist in a 70s mode), to be a woman in service of patriarchy you have to construe or construct yourself as defective.

    Research on debriefing – I have heard of but not seen. However I agree heartily, I can already tell. It’s one thing to tell people to “just get over it” if they aren’t over it or need to talk. And quite another to tell people that they “should not be over it” if they in fact are … or should already be talking about it if they aren’t ready.

    Hmmm … one person I have been worried about since Katrina is my haircutter, who had post-Katrina therapy for trauma and grief after being stuck in the Superdome, losing his shop and his house, etc. One can see why he went to trauma and grief therapy but … I wonder if it made him worse?

  6. Very astute observations, as always Cero,

    I am often chastised for not having the correct responses to things . . . especially in the university system. I don’t understand why people just can’t critique what I write and think and not what I emote. I also think that people assume in the academy that the world works like the academe.


    Also, very interesting findings concerning therapy and post-traumatic stress. I am catching glimpses of this in my educational training that started last week. I guess not so much the subject of trauma, but the mass complex of ideas, theories and implementations that go through the pedagogical complex. No theory or set of research is without some bias by the implementer I believe . . . so mistaken practices just permeate until the next guy points out the undesirable outcome of a particular practice . . . fascinating, no? And we are all screwed up in the mist of this debate, as educators clash over phonetics versus whole language for example. Psychiatric practices and mis-steps, in hindsight, seem far more damaging.

    That is making me wonder more about the assumption that just because you a boy, you hold the innate traits that a patriarchal culture value. If men are not allowed into Women’s Study to discuss gender specific concepts outside the confines of physio/bio-political (I just came up with that word, isn’t it hot!) constructs I am afraid the missteps of those lackluster colleagues in Women’s Studies who you showcased on your blog will not be noticed for decades more.

  7. The one small illumination I have in a semi-coherent way right now: I think the problem with education programs and also social work and much of what passes for therapy – and literary theory too, by the way – is that people learn a set of sound bytes without enough context. I believe in knowing complete works plus context – that way you can deal directly with whatever biases there are, instead of head-bump blindly with them.

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