Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Feminist Look at the Bible

The Bible is perhaps the one single book that has most influenced the Western world over the last two thousand years. Entire cultures, nations, and individuals have used the Bible as a rationality, or explanation, of their behavior, ideas, beliefs, laws, and actions. Because the Old Testament is filled with stories of the supposed first few generations on Earth, it is where many people, past and present, look when searching for answers about morality, and human nature. The Bible has completely formed the way that society views the role of women, because the Old Testament is full of examples of women who lived what some consider righteous, and not so righteous lives. All these stories are meant to teach us, modern day women, lessens about our own place and behavior. However, many women may feel that the roles provided for women in the Old Testament as merely wives, mothers, or concubines, is outdated and therefore deserving of a fresh perspective from modern day feminists.

The very first woman encountered in the Old Testament is Eve, Adam's wife in the Garden of Eden.  Eve is created after Adam is created, because God has neglected to make a companion for Adam.  While he sleeps, God removes one of Adam's ribs and it is from this rib that Eve comes into existence, and just as Adam has given everything a name he says "'she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man'"(Genesis 1:23).  It is Adam that has formed Eve's personality, as she becomes the "other" to his subject.  This distinction regarding the creation of men, before women, is a patriarchal construct that allows for the subordination of women to men without question or causation. As the other, Eve is formed by the patriarchy around her as a model for the behavior that women should assume.  Eve becomes a domesticated woman, because God has given Adam dominion over her, the assumed weaker sex.  But, whether a woman is domesticated a not she is  "a woman. She only becomes a domestic, a wife, a chattel, a playboy bunny, a prostitute, or a human dictaphone in certain relations" (Rubin).  This certain relation seems to be decided by a man very early on, as Eve is taken to be the wife of Adam right at the moment of her inception.  Her creation, her mere existence, is predicated upon her ability to please another -- a man -- and has nothing what so ever to do with finding her own identity.  Her identity has been chosen.  

According to Genesis, and the account of the Fall of Man, it is Eve who is first tempted by the serpent in the Garden of Eden to eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and in this action she commits the sin of pride against God.  The serpent had told Eve that in eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, she and Adam would become "like God, knowing good and evil"(3:5) and it is in that desire, or arrogance, to be like God that she is responsible for the Fall.  Although it is Eve who first eats from the tree, Adam also eats and he has also broken his promise to God.  However, Modern Feminists would argue that "women.. are innately capable of offering a different ethics from men, one more attuned to preserving the Earth from destruction by weapons devised by men.  Men must abstract themselves from the material world as they separate from mothers in order to acquire a license to enter the patriarchate, and they consequently adopt a violent and aggressive posture toward the world left behind"(Rivkin).  Rivkin's argument would imply that for Eve to know good and evil would not be as harmful as for Adam to know these things, because women are not naturally violent and aggressive the way that men are.  Since men are responsible for all the wars, and rapes, around the world since the Fall then it would not be appropriate to blame the Fall entirely on Eve.  Also, if Eve is considered "flesh of [his] flesh", then perhaps she was only acting on an impulse that was also present within Adam.  

In this first act, Eve, and all women, are punished more severely.  God says to Eve, when he has learned that they have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that "'I will greatly multiple your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you"(3:16).  Adam is also cursed, and his curse is that he will have to toil the land in order to have sustenance.  God had established a "sex/gender system" which is "the set of arrangements by which a society transforms biological sexuality into products of human activity, and in which these transformed sexual needs are satisfied"(Rubin).  By instructing Adam to till the land while Eve bears his children, he is established a patriarchal sex-roles, especially since Eve is being told that Adam will rule over her as her husband.  This has been a huge influence of Western culture where men have primarily been seen as the head of the household, and all decisions regarding the family (finances, children, discipline, religion, politics) were left to the man of the house to decide.  This has also led to the belief in many cultures that the woman's "place is in the home", where she is domesticated to cook and clean and bear children.  Now, granted, a woman's biology seems to indicate that it would be her giving birth to children, and not her husband, but it is the intrinsic subordination that seems to be implied in Genesis that has forced women into specific roles based merely on their biological sex. Rubin believes that "sex as we know it -- gender, identity, esxual desire and fantasy, concepts of childgood -- it itself a social product", meaning that society has informed the way we view ourselves and others, and that societal influences such as religion, or the Bible, have helped to form these constructs. 

The next female figure we hear specific mention of in the book of Genesis is Sarai, Abram's wife.  Immediately we are told that "Now Sarai was barren; she had no children"(11:30).  This information seems at first to be somewhat irrelevant to the story, but then it makes sense when we recall the way Eve was regarded as Adam's wife, and told that she would bear children unto Adam as her duty as wife to him.  It would then be Sarai's duty to do the same for Abram because "there is, in an initial phase, perhaps only one "path," the one historically assigned to the feminine: that of mimicry.  One must assume the feminine role deliberately. Which means already to convert a form of subordination into an affirmation"(Irigaray).  The path that Sarai wishes she could follow, the "one" path that she must mimic is that of motherhood, following in the path of the first mother, Eve.  Being barren then in a sense steals Sarai of her role within her society, making her useless.  In essence, that is why we are told that Sarai is barren.  Whether she is loved as Abram's wife or not, we are to understand that she is not going to bring any wealth onto her husband through her womb.  Why would Abram have a wife if she was not going to be capable of bearing him children? Irigaray believes that "history, in which man begets man as his own likeness, wives, daughters, and sisters have value only in that they serve as the possibility of, and potential benefit in, relations among men".  In this view, Abram would see Sarai more as a tool, or a piece of personal wealth and less like a partner, which is the more modern take on the intermarriage relationship today. 

This is exactly what Abram does to Sarai.  He uses her as a tool in order to get what they want.  Upon entering the land of Egypt with his wife Sarai, Abram asks her to pretend that they are brother and sister.  He does not want to acknowledge the marriage between them because he says that "'I  know that you are a beautiful woman to behold; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say 'This is his wife'; then they will kill me, but they will let you live.  Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account'"(12:11-12:13).  This is exactly what Sarai does, and she is taken from Abram by the Pharoah of Egypt to go live at his house, and presumably be his concubine.  Abram is acting as a pimp to his wife, and using her beauty to save his own life by allowing the Pharoah to take her.  Perhaps the fact that she was barren and unable to bear children meant that Abram would not be worried about her conceiving a child from the Pharoah, but either way he is trafficking her.  It works because "the society we know, our own culture, is based upon the exchange of women.  Without the exchange of women, we are told, we would fall back into the anarchy of the natural world, the randomness of the animal kingdom.  The passage into the social order, into the symbolic order, into order as such, is assured by the fact that men, or groups of men, circulate women among themselves"(Irigaray).  Abram has circulated Sarai as a piece of property that has value to the Pharoah and to himself, and that is why he is married to her even though she is barren.  Regardless of her inability to bear children unto Abram, she is still a sexually accessible female, and a desirable one at that.  She has value, even if it is only manifest through sexual desire, and her desire is high because she is very attractive and because "the most desirable women must form a minority"(Irigaray) in order to have true value.  

After Sarai is returned, and she an Abram has settled "And Sarai said to Abram, 'Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my maid; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.' And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. So, After Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife.  And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived"(16:1-16:4).  How is it possible that Sarai can give Hagar to Abram? As a servant, she must have assumed a piece of property and her womb was therefore also property of Sarai and Abram.  This first representaton of polygamy in the Bible is justified by Sarai's own inability to conceive children, but it is also an indication of Abram's value.  Because women have value and are viewed as possessions to Abram, he wants to attain as many as possible.  One will not do, especially if that one is barren.  The exchange of Hagar, from going to housemaid to wife of Abram, shows that the Bible is ladden with patriarchal impositions regarding the wealth, place, and role of a woman.  Hagar is allowed to be Abram's wife, and gives birth to his son Ishmael, but she is driven off once God grants Sarai, or Sarah, the ability to bear children for Abram, or Abraham.  Sarai was being representative of the stereotypical submissive woman, who will allow her husband access to anything he desires merely because what she desires is to please him.  Sarai's "essential virtue, in other words, is that her virtue makes her man 'great'. In and of herself, she is neither great nor extraordinary"(Gilbert and Gubar).  Sarah is one of the first examples of women being taught to please men, even at the cost of perhaps their own happiness. Sarah was jealous when she saw that Hagar had given birth to a son for Abram, because she had wanted to give him a child.  She ignored her jealousy, and sacrificed her own happiness for that of her husbands.  

Sarah's behavior would be typical of that archetypical woman, the angel of the house.  Her whole word revolves around subordination to a man, and her whole identity is wrapped up inside the fact that she has a relationship to a man.  Throughout the Bible, women are constantly referred to by their name, and then a reference to who their husbands are.  But the same is not true of men.  Their identities stand alone, like their names.  Genesis does not refer to Abram as "Abram, Sarah's husband", because he is Abram.  He is the one in the possession of Sarah, he does not belong to her in the sense that she belongs to him.

This type of view of society, the patriarchal structure, has had a huge impact on the world in which we live, although modern people may not recognize it.  Our families, our histories, are traced through the lines of our families.  When a couple marries, the woman is absorbed into the family of the man and give his name.  Their children will be given his name, and any identity she had before that will be obliterated, as if all trace of her former self is no longer important.  Women are typically expected to be the stay-at-home parent, if one parent is going to be staying at home.  That is because women are forced to assume the role of mother and wife, just like Eve and Sarah before.  

Modern day feminists have combated these ideas of female subordination, and the idea that our roles inter-sexually are written in stone, just like Moses's commandments.  However, the Bible is such a strong influence on culture, and informs women about their roles before they even realize they are being informed of them, that it is doubtful that in the Western world we will ever escape the male-imposed roles, and the overshadowing of our lives by that of our husbands.  They say "behind every great man, there has to be a great woman", but why is she behind? One day, women will no longer be afraid to take the forefront.  This does not mean rejecting the roles of wife and mother, but it does mean rejecting the notion that these roles are what we must become and not what we can become if we so choose.  Women of the world today are granted the freedom of choice, unlike our female predecessors, who may not have had the same options.  

Work Cited

Bible (King James Version). London: Thomas Nelson

Gilbert, Sandra and Susan Gubar. “The Madwoman in the Attic.”Literary Theory: An
. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 812-

Irigaray, Luce. "The Power of Discourse and the Subordination of the Feminine." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 795-798.

Irigaray, Luce. "Women on the Market" Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 799-811.

Rubin, Gayle. "The Traffic in Women" Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 770-794.

Rivkin, Julie and Ryans, Michael.  "Introduction: Feminist Paradigm." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 765-769.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Monsters vs. Aliens in the Attic

Disney, the father of all animation, and now owner of nearly all animation production companies, has long been the producer of female-based stereotypes. They have assigned for generations the roles of sexual identity to girls, but as times shift and views towards women slowly become more progressive, these animated motion pictures have started producing new images of women. However, the newest version, Monsters Vs. Aliens, is still reliant on the dichotomy of "the images of "angel" and "monster" [that] have been so ubiquitous through literature"(812) in order to define female personality and identity.
In the opening scenes of the movie, we meet Susan. She is by all intensive purposes the ideal Angel of Gilbert and Gubar. Like Honoria before her, Susan debases herself in order to further her fiance. When she learns that their honeymoon will have to be postponed in order to help further her fiance's career as a weatherman, the disappointment in her doe eyes is expressive, but her words contradict her own desires. She makes sacrifices to her own happiness, because her "essential virtue, in other words, is that her virtue makes her man 'great'. In and of herself, she is neither great nor extraordinary...[she] has no story except a sort of antistory of selfless innocence based on the notion that 'Man must be pleased'"(814). Giving away her own happiness, Susan furthers the happiness of her fiance. She sacrifices her own life because as the image of the angel, she is taught to subordinate her own desires and her own life to that of others. Gilbert and Gubar write of the characteristics of the angel that "the arts of pleasing men, in other words, are not only angelic characteristics, in more worldly terms, they are the proper acts of a lady"(814) and we witness this through the expressive emotion in Susan's eyes. Her initial disappointment is suppressed by herself, as she decides to forgo her own emotions and focus on the role that society has assigned for her. Her fiance flatters her with talk of their relationship as team work, and although she fully buys the lies, it is clear that he is only concerned with himself and that "it is the surrender of herself - of her personal comfort, her personal desires, or both - that is the beautiful angel woman's key act, while it is precisely this sacrifice which dooms her"(815) to always be living in the shadow of her successful fiance.
However, before Susan is allowed to say her vows and give her life and freedom away to her man, she is struck by a radioactive meteor that causes her to grow to an enormous, monstrous size. This could not be a more clear interpretation and representation of what Gilbert and Gubar describe as the literal "monster", the antithesis to the angel. She is a literal monster now, and captured by the United States government to be kept hidden from society, and hidden from her fiance as well. While confined to a compound with the other monsters, she speaks mainly of her love for her fiance and how she wants to be reunited with him again. Once again, though she has taken on the monstrous form, she still retains the details of the angel in that she is only concerned with the man in her life.
When Susan, renamed Ginormica, begins to realize her new monster strength and use the strength to battle outerspace aliens she is finally enthused with confidence. It is her acts that have filled her with pride, no longer the acts of the man she stands behind. As her personality begins to grow and become more self-focused, her monstrous strength also begins to grow. She is growing into the role of the selfish monster woman, merely because she chooses to do something for herself and to make herself proud. When she wins her freedom and goes to see her fiance, she is rejected by him. It has become clear that her newfound success is something unappealing to him and that he does not want to live in the shadow of a woman. Because this disaster has caused her to abandon the role, and physical form, of the angel, and take on the form of the monster, she is heart broken. But this heartbreak slowly imbues her with new strength. She is now her own character, her own woman, and when the choice comes to return to her normal angel form and resume her life, or to forever choose to be the monster, she chooses the latter.
This twist, the decision for the woman to choose to the solitary, yet strong life, over the happy ending could be some sort of expression of feminism in society and the acceptability of women to achieve new roles and still be a role-model for young girls. But why must she choose between being gorgeous and loved, or hideous and alone? Are the two mutually exclusive?

Gilbert, Sandra and Susan Gubar. “The Madwoman in the Attic.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 812-825.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Foucaultian Analysis

What if you could insert your significant other into a situation full of sexual and emotional temptations and then watch how they behaved? What if you could do all this, and never have them know that you had a watchful eye on the whole scene? What if you could televise it? Modern man may have found ways to sail through the air, send messages across the globe in the blink or an eye, or send rovers to examine the terrain of far-off Mars, but we also invented the reality show, and it does not get any better than the X-Effect. The X-Effect is a show, created by MTV, in which exes who find themselves both enjoying new relationships, are thrown together for a steamy weekend. They are separated from their new boyfriends or girlfriends and forced to spend a whole weekend in a room together, talking about why their relationship failed. All the while their current loves are shipped off to another room in the hotel where they get to watch and listen to everything going on between the pair of exes.
At first glance this show does not seem to have much in common with bigger ideas behind Foucault's Discipline and Punish but in actuality there is a lot of subtext underneath that relates a silly reality show to larger concepts. Foucault discusses the idea of the Panopticon, or rather a prison that is self-disciplining. This means the prison is designed so that all the prisoners have the sense of being observed at all times, and theoretically this is going to cause the prisoners to modify their behavior to be appropriate. None of the prisoners can see each other, so there is no chance of them influencing one another. The only influence to be felt should be the effects of big brother, or rather big guarder, since the prisoners constantly feel that they are being watched. Whether they are or are not is insignificant, because the illusion is their to cause them to modify their behavior.
Foucault's argument that one's awareness of being watched will cause a modification in behavior, is not necessarily challenged with the X-Effect, but it is certainly thrown into conversation. The participants on the show are often caught by their current better-halves, and confronted with all that their lovers have seen them doing or saying to the ex-lovers. Once it has been established that everything they have done has been witnessed, we see the participants over-flooded with intense emotions of guilt and very apologetic for all they had done. Foucault would say that it is society as a whole that projects these feelings of guilt onto it's subjects and causes us to punish ourselves, so that we do not need to go through the disciplinary cycle. This is a post-modernist idea because it introduces moral relativism. Just because we discipline ourselves for doing something when we are caught, does not mean that we really regret the things we've done or that there is any sort of moral standard in a society for how we feel we should behave. We feel badly because we are told to feel badly. The participants on the X-Effect only suffer the first pangs of guilt when they are confronted with anger for the things they were witnessed doing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Marxist Group Participation

My group presentation was for March 17th, the Marxist group. I contributed greatly to the group. First of all, I was integral in planning to meet at a particular time, as well as with Andrew, and we spent a lot of time e-mailing back and forth over our various ideas that we wanted to portray through our presentation. It was Andrew's idea to simulate a real-life market, but I added to and supplemented his ideas with my own and strived to make the presentation representative of capitalism as a whole.
During the meeting time with the group members I was very vocal, as I often am during class, with my ideas for what we should do. I had numerous ideas, such as passing out quotes from Karl Marx to members of the groups and having them interpret them to earn extra marx-cash. I then thought that we should pass out quotes to every individual member of the class, and if they are running low on resources they would then have the option of explaining their quote aloud to the class in order to earn more resources from our group, the so-called "Government". It was also my idea that one group should be the Bourgeoise group and that the rest of the groups should be wage-laborers, or Proletariats.
As far as the division of labor within our group (no pun intended), I took it upon myself to get the fake money that we would distribute amongst the groups, and also to make cookies so I could plan my own small presentation of what a commodity is by showing the intrinsic value of a commodity (ie the cookie). This way the class could get cookies and at the same time learn about how the concept of Value is established according to Karl Marx.
Overall, our presentation was planned in order to let the class members demonstrate their own knowledge of Capitalism and make it fun and interactive, rather than lecturing them about the principles behind the concepts.

Monday, March 16, 2009

capital self-destruction

Will Capitalism still live on into the future? Is it possible that in thousands of years, human beings living on galaxy satellites will still be reliant upon a base of wage labor, and the ever-flowing trade of commodities? Karl Marx once wrote that "the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of product and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society"(5). Constant revolution is also another way of saying constant destruction -- the destruction of the social hierarchies that come before, and the destruction of the ruling class as a new revolution creates a new ruling class, and so on. However, once we've revolutionized so far, and become so advance there must be a point at which we top out. There must be a place where the machines are so state-of-the-art that they cannot be made more efficient, when production and input are equal. Once human beings have achieved this maximum amount of production we will still need to find new ways to encourage the market to grow, and for jobs and labor to be valuable.
A society in which human beings are totally reliant upon machinery and technology, and all work is produced through this fashion would be a society that lacked the labor-power of human beings. There would be no one to buy things, and thus the system would fail, since "the condition for capital is wage labor".
Here what Zorg proposes is in order to stimulate capitalism, and life, men must "become an appendage of the machine", by only being employed as laborers and engineers to create new machines. The destructive force that Zorg would promote would destroy all things created by man, and therefore require the machines to clean up the mess. The new machines would need to be created by someone, and this would supply human beings with jobs. This is quite an extreme measure in order to keep the market growing and capitalism stimulated. But this is nothing new, in fact Karl Marx himself wrote that "in these crises[of overproduction] a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed...society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilization, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce". To see it written so plainly by Karl Marx is to shed a new light on the character of Zorg. Yes, he is advocating for destruction and death, but capitalism is founded on the constant renewal of itself -- and there can be no renewal without destruction.
The fact that this argument takes place with a priest is very insightful. Is there a meaning behind this? The priest represents God, or mans communion with God directly. He is a symbol of religiosity -- and here he is, vehemently opposed to the ideas that Zorg is voicing about capitalism. But what does he do? Just as Zorg, who in all his awfulness represents the ugly side of Capitalism is about the choke, and perhaps snuff out the hideousness of Capitalism with him, the priest gives him a hearty slap on the back. The slap on the back is like the slap of a new born infant to start his breathing, and here the priest is literally resuscitating Zorg and all he stands for, thus insuring the continuance of Capitalism and with it, destruction.

Marx, Karl. “The Manifesto of the Communist Party.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. Chapter 5.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Werewolf. Therewolf.

Freud was the first to suggest that the human brain contained something he called the "unconscious" and that it was "a repository of repressed desires, feelings, memories, and instinctual drives, many of which...have to do with sexuality and violence"(389). This plethora of repressed feelings could be channeled through dreams and could manifest themselves in people by showing signs of neurosis. The unconscious was something we all created internally through our first repressed act, which would have been, according to Freud's Oedipus Complex, the realization that our sexual desire for one parent was impossible, and not an acceptable feeling. That first repression, as it was referred to, would be the metaphorical sewing pattern for a huge bag of emotion that we would all end up carrying around with ourselves, whether or not we realized it.
CoCoRosie's song "Werewolf" deals heavily with a girl who was abandoned by her father at a young age, and spends her adult life helplessly searching for him, or some aspect of him to own. The song begins with the line "In a dream I was a werewolf", automatically drawing up the possibility for Freudian analysis of an unresolved Freudian complex. The band interweaves a narrative of sexuality, abandonment, and dream-like qualities to the scene they paint. Lines like "broken sun down, fatherless show down, gun hip, swollen lip, bottle sip, yeah I suck dick" are shocking to hear. It draws on Freud's idea of the Oedipus complex, and one's early suppressed desire to be sexually involved with the parent of the opposite sex. It's uncommon, and seems wrong, or offends our sense of morality, to hear a song that mentions someone's father and oral sex in the same line. But obviously the subject, because her father left, was never able to resolve the issues of the Oedipus complex and has unresolved sexual feelings towards the father figure that abandoned her. She speaks about her "schizophrenic father" and how she is "searching for {her] father's power".
Throughout the song she makes reference to the fact that her childhood was affected by the absence of a father. Lines like "evil doer doing evil from a baby carriage" and that he was "the bastard that broke up the marriage". All of this is represented through the telling of a dream that the subject is having, a dream that has now been interpreted as a repression of the pain that her father inflicted upon her when he left.
In the last full stanza, the speaker seems to be addressing a lover and her father at the same time. She sings that "I don't mean to close the door but for the record my heart is sore/you blew through me like bullet holes/ left stains on my sheets and stains on my soul" and then later refers to a stranger she sees in her dream as having "your hands and my fathers face". This type of sexual relationship, where a person has specifically chosen someone because of their similarities or resemblance to a parent can be a manifestation of an Oedipal complex that was never resolved at all. And how could it have been, when she was left without a father? Now, as an adult, she is choosing lovers who remind her of her father and who "blow through her", or leave her, just as her father did to her mother.
Constantly throughout the song there are references to the dreams that the subject is having. This song could almost be dissected and put into a dialogue of a patient speaking to a therapist. It is full of Freudian symbolism -- the unresolved sexual feelings towards a father, the over-flood of emotions (sexual and violent) through the manifestation of bizarre dreams.

Work Cited
Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dissecting my Mother

My mother was born in 1950, the second daughter to a family of three. She is the typical middle child, being somewhat left to her devices while attention was lavished on the oldest, and youngest daughters. Not only was she the middle child, forced as Freud would say, to give up her mother to a stranger, a younger sibling, when she was only two years old, but she also missed out on any affection and bonding with her own mother. My grandmother was somewhat incapable of showing love, or nurturing, and in fact my mother was never told that she was loved when she was a child.
During the early forming stages of identity my mother must have searched for something to emulate, someone to identify and someone to long for as an object. Freud said that "it is clear that in their play children repeat everything that has made a great impression on them in real life, and that in doing so they abreact the strength of the impression and ... make themselves master of the situation"(433). My mother was lonely, so she created imaginary friends to play with alone in her room when she was little, taking the matter of her loneliness into her own hands. Her imaginary friends captivated her attention and alleviated her loneliness, and at that early age they seemed so real to her that even now it is hard for her to imagine they were merely a projection of what she wanted onto empty space.
Because my mother never received the type of identity-forming nurturing from her mother and father, two parents who really had no idea how to express emotions to their own children, she became stunted. This had a major effect on my mothers growth and development as she reached adulthood, because "anxiety about entry into an adult world perceived as threatening of a too fragile sense of self or anxiety that awakens either troubling memories or drive energies will propel some people to fixate at an early state of development. They will remain attached to early forms of emotional life and sexual activity.."(Rivkin 390). My mother has always suffered from a "too fragile sense of self", and this has resulted in numerous problems. (low self-esteem, drug addiction and alcoholism, inability to act selflessly, or be faithful, and problems relating to other human beings, including her own children, ect.)
So how has it affected me? Having seen my mother through eyes of a child and an adult now, I realize that I must have sensed that she was a fragile person. Whether because I chose to emulate my father, rather than my mother, or because I chose to emulate the opposite of my mother, I have tried to grow into a person that was almost too sure of self. It has always been important for me to at least believe that I am dependent and strong, but it is also possible that this sense of independence is some sort of counter I have invented to pacify myself. Maybe my mother was not the able-bodied nurturer either, because she lacked the example that she should have seen in her own mother. I am close with her, but because she never learned how to be a mother truly. she has instead always taken the place of a best-friend, someone I was very very close to but did not offer the unconditional emotional support. At times I've been angry with her because of this, but I realize her inability to truly relate to her children with unconditional love as their mother is not really her own fault, but the fault of her own family that never accepted her unconditionally.

"Part Five Psychoanalysis and Psychology." Literary Theory : An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin. By Michael Ryan. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Blackwell Limited, 2008.