יום ראשון, 9 בספטמבר 2012

An Apology/Thanks to Feminism

Soon I will be 31, old, I have lived and loved, and I have just recently found out that I was mostly blind to world around me. It began with a broken heart, then there was a post I wrote about Jessica Benjamin's article, Recognition and Destruction, that made all my experiences in life so far collapse into perspective of intra-psychic experience, then there was a gender conflict group I instructed, then there were a few feminist blogs (1, 2 in Hebrew) I read recently that made AWFUL sense to me, and this post is just another attempt to regurgitate this idea in and out of my head... I will try to make it communicative, even if lengthy... 

Benjamin describes the psychological development of the capacity to recognize other people as subjects, and not as objects. She writes as a feminist, relational psychoanalyst, translating the legacy of patriarchal psychoanalysis and object-relations (how babies see moms) into critical inter-subjective terms (how people see each other). 

Now, I am sure there are intellectuals who do a better job of explaining intersubjectivity per se. Psychoanalysis is always a step behind philosophy, literature, and sociology too maybe, as it bothers with patients instead of introspection, and insists on rules instead of insights.

Also, this thing about the developmental metaphor, where psychoanalysts describe human relations as stemming from mom-kid relations is not always helpful. Yes, thinking of babies makes people less judgmental, and they can criticize social constructions this way. But this is just a rhetoric manipulation, and using the same metaphor all the time, claiming that it is the natural cause of how people grew up to be douches, is mere justification of things, or an anxious apology for thinking differently.

So, Bejamin has two very strong insights in this article, that rocked my world:

1) Objectification:
People can relate to each other as objects, or as subjects. To relate to a person as an object is to relate to a narrow aspect of that person, and deny other aspects. For example, when men treat women as sexual objects, not really caring other aspects, such as their intellectual traits. I think this is how the objectified side would experience objectification.

But Benjamin describes the psychology behind this act on the objectifying side, and helps shed light on other forms of objectification that are harder to notice. To do this, she refers to the psychoanalytic theory of object-relations. The basic idea is that people reduce reality into simple terms of good and bad. For example, when someone cuts you on the road and you curse his mother and wish him death, or when someone you like brings you coffee to bed and you wish it will always be like this and you are thinking for names for your prematurely fantasized kids. This is a dichotomous way to see the world as either completely persecuting or completely benevolent, and to see yourself as a 100% victim or 1000% wonderful.

This way, we see the world through a dichotomy of wishes and terrors. In order to see the person who cut you on the road as a persecutor, you must deny that you probably cut others all the time. In order to see that girl as the mother of your children, you really need to deny that you've been behaving like a lazy slug lately, and that she may want you to get out of bed and get a life.

So, objectification is not just the reduction of another person to a narrow aspect, such as a sexual fantasy. It is seeing another person as part of your internal reality. The reduction into a narrow aspect of that person is secondary, and happens because our internal reality is usually quite simplistic. But this allows us to examine two new forms of objectification: complex and non-sexual.

Complex objectification is something that may happen when a highly introspective person tries to fit reality into his (yes, mine..) internal schemes. After a few times of getting coffee to bed and not finding eternal love as a result, such an introspective person may learn that other people are not simple objects. A weaker mind may then be forced to give up this simplistic view of reality. But the introspective virtuoso, may create more complex objects, and try to force reality to fit them. For example, being equal and correct and making coffee too sometimes. But this is still just a way to maintain the other person as a 100% loving object. I now begin to think that there is something very controlling about making someone coffee.

It's more complex than forcing someone to make you coffee. But it's still a way to see someone as your fantasy, by compromising the fantasy a bit. It's also non-sexual. Feminists rightfully fight against sexual objectification as it relates closely to rape and harassment. But other forms of gender oppression, such as wishing someone would be your mom and bring you coffee to bed (now you get the fantasy?) work the same way. You still relate to a narrow aspect of another person.

1.5. Denying subjectivity
(Well this isn't something Benejamin said, it's more of a thought that helped me understand her.) Looking at the psychology of objectification on the objectifying side is very helpful. It helps distinguish objectification that a person performs willingly on him/her-self from objectification that serves someone else's wishes. When I say person I mean both subject and object. A person is an object as it has objective traits and functions, such as being tall or intelligent. A person is also a subject in the sense that a person can relate to its objective qualities, by judging itself, wishing to change, or just know itself. Here I really need to brush up on Kristeva's notion of subjectivity as a continuous process of relating to the formation of yourself as an object. But let's keep it simple, and say that a subject is a point of view, individual, a current reflective thought that is on the edge of your experience. For example, I am currently noticing that I am listening to the song Love is in the Air, and now I am noticing that it has something to do with my post, and now I am embarassed to think that my kitsch playlist has become public knowledge, and now I need to go the bathroom, and now I think of my previous post where I wrote about pee-anxiety, and so on and so forth. As you can see, I keep relating to myself and to the world, and this is my point of subjectivity.

To objectify a person is not only to reduce the person into one aspect, but also to deny the person's subjective point of view of him/herself. A few years ago I watched Israeli news after a bus bombing, and there was a recurring ritual of inviting an Arab Knesset Member for an interview and asking whether he denounces this act of terror or supports it. This time was like all others, only that I listened to what the Arab KM said. He said that the situation is unfortunate, that people are dying on both sides, that both sides are wishing for a change. The interviewer was discontent, insisting on a simple yes or no - do you denounce terror or not? In the national grief after a bombing, an Arab Knesset member friend or foe, and what how he relates to his being a foe, is irrelevant.

Recently I read a feminist post about consensual sex, listing the 10000 ways a woman can refuse, and 100 cases in which consent is invalid due to coercive dependency. I felt like this was a more politically correct way to insist on a simple yes or no, and denying the way a woman's subjectivity. Of course, there was a second post, for advanced readers, that discussed the dichotomy of the consent discourse, which recognized the need for a respectful dialogue, rather than an elaborate, nonetheless binary, yes/no algorithm.

But dichotomy is not all bad, or we would not agree to it, or do it to ourselves... I sometimes like it when I am perceived as an idealized,  all-good-object. It boosts my ego. To deny that people serve as sexual objects for each other would also be unrealistic. People have sexual desires, and people want to be desired sexually. People objectify themselves, when putting up a superficial persona trying to look cool, or when dressing up sexy.  This is a very crucial point for feminists then. I would have to guess that when a woman dresses up sexy, she does it for herself in a way. I mean, this is not an internalization of the male objectification of women as worth only as sex objects. It could be, but it could also be something more interesting.

It seems to me objectification got a bad reputation because of coercion. I would describe a neurotic person as superfluous with subjectivity, not willing to rest his point of view of himself, and just be as he is (yes, me). Letting go of this reflexive function of subjectivity is a goal in many religions, therapies etc.. Not to say that religions should be the benchmark of goodness, but that people do desire to stop desiring, to be still, content.  Self-objectification means enjoying the role I play for others.

2. Retaliatory VS mutual relationship
So we're back to Benjamin, and this is the real gold, so forgive me for not really having it down. She says that when we see someone else as exterior to our intra-psychic fantasies and terrors, we recognize his/her subjectivity. We listen to how that person sees him/her-self, and how he/she relates to him/her-self. Recognition is a key idea in relational psychoanalysis, so I will be very modest at trying to define it. I think it is giving validity to a person's relation to himself, to his subjectivity. For example, I could recognize that the person who cut me on the road did it because he is afraid to be late for work, or that 1000 other drivers cut him on the road, and he decided to do the same. But I would not really be recognizing anything when I am isolated in my own car. This would be similar to left-wing Israelis trying to figure out Palestinians without talking to them. You really need to roll down the window and talk. The girl who brought me coffee to bed, why did she do it? What did it mean to her?

Benjamin refers to Hegglian Master-Slave dialectics to explain this, and I really think you should read Heggel or Benjamin's explanation, but if you're lazy, I will give it a shot.  A person wishes to be recognized a point of subjectivity, that relates to the world. But the world as an object cannot give recognition. Only when you are met with another person's subjectivity you realize that you are a subject. When you see the depth and confusion, the way a person relates to itself, self-estranged, blind to itself, only then you understand that the mess you feel is what you are, and that you may also be blind to yourself.

Only a subject can recognize a subject. This leads to some sort of a loop: you use someone as a mirror, this is objectification, like asking for someone to tell you how great you are, But then, you realize that the mirror function doesn't work as a function, because in order to mirror a spontaneous source of reflexive desire, the other person must not obey predefined rules, like needing the compliment to come without you asking for it. So you have two subjects using each other, one on the expense of the other. This is a retaliatory relationship, where you make someone coffee so that they will make you coffee later, where you deny someone a compliment just so they will not take you for granted. This is similar to how Israelis drive, always one on the expense of the other. And the worst thing is to be taken advantage of. An eye for an eye, just not to have less eyes than the other guy.

Ben Kingsley's Gandhi movie was also influential for me, as I understood how Gandhi recognized what makes the British tick, that with all their violence they think they are civilized, and his non-violent resistence forced them to act in an uncivilized way and shoot innocents, which was a way to deny them recognition as good guys...

But then Benjamin describes a moment of mutual recognition tht happens just at the switch, when the user becomes the used, and vice versa. Like in WWF tag team matches, where one wrestler tags his buddy for a substitution, and for a minute they are in the ring together. Or like two drivers cutting each other and realizing that they know exactly why the other guy is behaving like a douche. That moment of mutual eye gouging when you see through another person's eyes. It's just a fading moment, that collapses very quickly into retaliatory relationship again. But this is the moment I have been searching for. It has to do with dialogue. Not being correct, or justified, or a nice guy, out of my own oedipal guilt or out of a narcissistic wish to be 1000% loved. It has to do with taking responsibility, owning my role to other people, being fair and recognizing my power, listening, putting my fears and wishes aside, thinking less, and the hardsest thing, as if those were not enough, is being here and now, in touch with how things really are and how they keep switching and nothing is definitive... I'd rather not be too definitive, as I won't be able to take responsibility for some sort of final take on things, so this maybe a verbose start of a dialogue I guess..

But I'm really hungry now, and I need to ask someone some questions about coffee and stuff....

I always think of intersubjectivity as mixing concentric Hora circles, here's something close...

Of course, there is something to gain from mutuality, other than moral peace of mind, which is kind of a retaliatory motivation... Instead of using the other to see yourself, you look at the other for him/her-self, and the more profound you look into the other, the more you can see yourself, in ways not limited by what you are afraid/wish to find out.

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