Saturday, 13 September 2014

8. Women: Invisibility or blindness?

There is a topic that people are starting to talk about: women invisibility. In most cases, it refers to how the lack of sex appeal renders women invisible in everyday situations like waiting to be catered at a certain shop. This is reported as a phenomenon that starts when a woman turns 40 and most common in her 50s. But this invisibility is also reported in other less superfluous situations such as when a woman is sharing her opinion in a meeting, when she is overlooked for a promotion or when their achievements are badly recorded in history.

In art:

In science:
Here Prof. Michio Kaku tells the story of Vera Rubin (who first postulated the concept of dark matter back in the 60's but was largely ignored) and Jocelyn Bell (who discovered the Pulsar, work that gained a Nobel prize... for her male thesis adviser) from min 4. (see note 1).

In economic theory:

The moment we speak about this phenomenon as women's invisibility, of course, we are putting the blame on them. It is something that happens to them, it is "theirs" and therefore it is somehow their fault or their choice. Their problem, right?
Far from being a superpower or a liberating choice for some, the lack of visibility is linked to the lack of recognition of women and this is a problem for all.

So instead of speaking about invisibility, what if we talk about our blindness instead?

With this question, you now might be prepared to a "women versus men" argument, old-style feminism. However, I would argue that we are all -women and men- selectively blind towards women, and that we all have been sustaining a masculine dominated society: where men are on top, we are rational beings -particularly in economic terms-, emotion is bad, competition and free market is the mantra, the state is incapable of doing anything efficiently and our deity is a trinity with a remarkable absence (or should we say an invisible presence?).

The point is that we are only blind to things we don't want to face, things we don't want to see. Things we have relegated to our shadow. Why would we put women in the shadow then?


Motherhood and our relationship with our mothers is almost a taboo subject. 

When it comes to motherhood we tend to skitter above the surface or even shut down completely to talk about it.

We may feel we owe our mum everything, or a lot, or just the opposite: we may sustain the feeling that she should've given us everything for free and she didn't. We may have a recount of her sacrifice: the unbearable pain of labor, the hundreds of sleepless nights (at least, for some of them), what she gave up for us. We may even go to the length of saying that she did her best (at least, some of them). For many years of our life, we understand and label the world using the words and labels that our mothers have offered. This is a dog. This is a tree. This girl is a bad girl. This is dangerous. This is good. This is bad. This is your place. Boys don't cry. Girls wear dresses. You are intelligent. Pink is for stupid girls. Your father is stressed because he has a very difficult job. Or whatever it is. Her words map the foundation of our consciousness in the first years of our lives: we know what she names. In this construction of the vision of the world, however, she is frequently excluded from the narrative.  So much so that most of the fairy tales don't have a real mother in it, only fragmented representations of our feelings towards her: the perfect mother ie the matriarchal mother, who "has to die" otherwise we wouldn't be able to separate from her, and the shadow of the mother ie the patriarchal mother, witches and step-mothers (the bad mother). (Note 2)

In our lives she is the invisible-hand writing our story (the mother is the big Other for us), lending us words and descriptors, interpreting the world and our emotions for us; even if she writes a paternal narrative, she is the one transmitting and validating it. We struggle to separate the truth from her version of the story. So difficult this is, that most of Hollywood films tell the story of this separation again and again, using the monomyth, the Hero's journey. They show, mostly from a male perspective, the process of individuation after the separation from the feminine (the mother): most Disney princesses don't have a mother, the hobbits leaving the shire, etc.

On the other side, it's easier to see fathers probably because the narrative of the mother made them visible. In this BBC interview to Roger Waters, he is asked about his father whom he never knew (from min. 2 approx). 

He speaks about him vividly and at length. He tells the story of him full of emotion. He spends almost 3 minutes going through the figure of his father, finishing with "I admire him so... (much)", and then adds "and my mother". Barely half of a mention at the end when she was the person "present" in his life, the one that he could see with his own eyes. What he lived somehow was his father absence. I don't want to minimise the significance of the absent father, particularly for a man. However, it is clear that this detailed account is a story that he was told. Probably mostly by his mother, making the father more present, more visible than herself.
Collectively, we also receive narratives: the history that our nation (our motherland) taught us, what we get from the media, our culture, our religion, etc. 

The truth is that even if we received love and swear we had a happy childhood (that is not always the case), most of us have suffered -as children, some as adults too- because of our mothers. Lack of attention, lack of being looked at, or seen in the deepest sense, lack of hugs, lack of recognition, lack of love. Lack. At some degree we all have the mark the umbilical cord leaves. The scar. The hole. But for most of our lives we won't see this pain. We won't recognise it.

We are all humans, all scarred in the same place.

She is an imperfect human being (how dares she?) and that is a hard realisation against our infantile expectations. And this is the first trigger for blindness.

We are "programmed" to overlook women because we do not want to confront our own history with our mothers. We are supposed to idealise maternal love. We have to survive and she gives us our best chance. So we adapt and, without words to describe our feelings, we don't register pain or anger. We repeat or buy into her version of the story where our point of view is not well documented. But our experience left a mark and waits there to be named. In the meantime, these hidden feelings get projected onto the women we meet. In this context is not surprising that Margaret Thatcher and Julia Gillard were referred to as witches and Angela Merkel is called "mutti" (mummy) in Germany. Here, blindness is the most innocent consequence, in reality. If we store negative infantile emotions, and are not healed, it may derive in active forms of aggression against women, the ones we read every day in the newspapers (in many cases even here women are invisible and what prevails is the language of the perpetrator as we saw in the killing of Reeva Steenkamp).

We are "programmed" to overlook women because we do not want confront our own fears. Mothers are our first weapon against fear. When we hold on to this infantile view of the world, we keep expecting our mother to come and rescue us (here the maternal role could be transferred to any maternal figure: a friend, the company that employs us, the state as the rescuer). Acknowledging these feelings would force us to see our fears and the characters and masks we had created to survive and most importantly, assume responsibility.

We are "programmed" to overlook women because the surviving mask we chose to wear is blind. In fear of our own survival we created a character, a persona, a mask that we wear in front of the world with the help (or as a direct result) of the labels that our mothers gave us “you are a rebel without cause”, “good girls behave like this”, "he is so intelligent" "you are the strong one" etc. This mask hides our wounded self, the one that has been traumatically separated from the maternal, which we don't want anyone to see. It is, by definition, her handwriting. This mask has been useful to survive but it is also very restrictive. If we were labelled intelligent, we won't feel free to act silly or irrationally or maybe even express our emotions. If we are a rebel, well we have to be a rebel and see any rule as a monster. The ones labelled strong will struggle to admit vulnerability and to ask for help. And good girls... so many women live under this label. The good girl, the good pupil, who always do the work perfectly without challenging the authorities. Even if there is injustice. Being aware of the mask would lead to becoming aware of the fusion we sustain with our mothers' story. In other words, the attachment to the mask hides the unsatisfied need to be attached and feel secure with our mothers.

So how do we solve this conundrum?

New eyes and self awareness.

This is not about "burning the witches" or "killing the mother" (that collectively has taken the form of fascism). Ideally we should all have a mother that is self aware, that is able to feed herself without needing to feed attention from her children. The one that can see and recognise the individuality of her children, that is able to let the father do his work too in helping the children break away from her narrative. But history has not taught women how to feed themselves very well. So, let's not expect her to come to the rescue. It's about us. It's about "seeing" her and ourselves, separately. Not the official story of her, but seeing her as an imperfect human being, as a woman that lived through particular circumstances and went through the same or worse with her mother. And ever more: seeing how we built our relationship with her. How WE lived it. Our side. Our pain. Our wound. Our mask. Ourselves. Finding the adult narrative of our own story and re-position our mothers in it. Even more so if we are mothers ourselves. 

We may find out then that we can cut the umbilical cord without leaving a scar, that we can actively and consciously decide to become adults. In this process, we may discover our own individuality, we may start to own our fears, our choices, find our power within, start to see our mother, and even without realising... start to see other women on the way.

“With a truly tragic delusion,” Carl Jung noted, “these theologians fail to see that it is not a matter of proving the existence of the light, but of blind people who do not know that their eyes could see. It is high time we realized that it is pointless to praise the light and preach it if nobody can see it. It is much more needful to teach people the art of seeing.” 

― C.G. Jung


External links:

  • Un día, una arquitecta  (A day, a (female) architect): it is a blog done by two female architects rescuing other female architects out of invisibility.

1) I added the video because I thought the cases were very relevant. However, in my lens constantly analysing discourses I do not particularly like that in this story what is "named" is Jocelyn Bell's mistake. Even if it is told with a sense of irony, what is named is what's important. In contrast, her professor unethical behaviour or the Nobel prize commission lack of diligence to assert in the first place who was the rightful winner and then to correct the oversight are implied but not named. Therefore the lens in which this anecdote was seen was with the lens of "women are to blame".

2) a nice article about de-sanctification and de-demonisation of women in films. Exploration of a shadow in a more integrated, less polarised way (Frozen, Maleficent, etc)

Also, some of the latest films from Disney with princesses find their mothers (they are not dead! ey!), they start to rescue themselves (ey!) and start to explore the separation wound from the female perspective as in Brave, where the mother and the conflict with her is central to the story and the mother is visible (ey!).

If you liked this post, you may also like:

No comments:

Post a Comment