5/21/07

Essentialism, patriarchy and other riff raff - A rant

After sifting through a battered copy of the loathsome bulwark of essentialism, ‘Dr.’ Gray’s “Men are from Mars and women are from Venus” at my friend’s apartment, I couldn’t help but balk at the sheer idiocy of the people who bought the craptastic book and made it a gynormous bestseller in the first place. But on further internal soul searching however, I started pondering on why cheerleaders of equal rights and other good stuff still subscribed to the rigid gender roles laid down by the heterosexist patriarchy, like my friend, for instance. When I offhandedly criticized the book in front of him, he got unusually defensive and mumbled something about how I was ignorant about ‘biological superiority’ (his words) and how I wouldn’t understand because I was an exception to the norm, anyway.


Groan.


Here I was, faced with the dreadful prospect of dealing with my least favorite argument supporting the ‘natural superiority’ of males; and all I wanted to do was to crawl in a hole and lay there. Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t fear which made me want to crawl into a hole, it was my own capricious temper which I was worried about. I wanted to coldly refute his points without blowing my top or drowning his theories in a barrage of expletives, but I couldn’t trust my volatile anger. And I just sat there, incensed.


Since my blog has always been a handy tool for quelling my anger management issues, it only made sense for me to elaborate on my not-so-kind opinions on essentialism and its ugly siblings, like biological determinism (barf) over here.


Basically, the essentialist position on gender states that there are distinctively feminine and distinctively masculine traits that exist outside of social and cultural conditioning and because of such qualities being wired into our brains, we must irrevocably accept gender oppression simply as part of who we are as a species. This stance is outrageous, primarily because it offers little or no insight as to how women and men can work towards changing or improving the status quo or even human nature, come to think of it. This asinine line of reasoning has been used for thousands of years to perpetuate patriarchy as a universal system ‘rooted’ in human essence and it has also been used to corroborate sexism and discrimination against women be it financially, emotionally, politically, mentally or physically. It validates the notion that masculine and feminine traits are diametrically opposite but complementary to each other if and only if, men and women act according to conventional gender roles. It oversimplifies complex social patterns related to biology, psychology, genetics, history and what have you and boxes it into an extremely narrow worldview in general. For instance, if disparities between the genders are a part of our very being and patriarchal hegemony is indisputable, why is it necessary for humans to indulge in unspeakable amounts of brutality and oppression to maintain patriarchy? Or if aggression and gender oppression are so entrenched in the male psyche and passivity and dependence make up the feminine essentia, how does it explain the fact that women through the ages have been standing up for their rights and speaking up against male dominance and coercion?


Biological determinism (which is basically a form of essentialism) especially, has been used to dubiously ‘prove’ that men just happen to be smarter, stronger, rational, more aggressive etc * and thus more suited to rule rather than follow. This is utterly preposterous however, as biological determinism fails to account for the immense variations found amid men and amid women and it also fails to address that such variations far outnumber the disparities between individuals of opposite genders.


Paradoxically, the very same explanations which ‘prove’ that men are smarter, stronger, more rational et al also point to the fact that it is in man’s innate nature to dominate and to be violent, and his need to control translates into oppression. According to this line of thought, women are a ready made outlet for man’s need to coerce, as women are ‘naturally’ submissive. It perpetuates the dodgy, absolutist view that sex-linked inclinations are undeniably written into our DNA and our brains. But this kind of reasoning reeks of “boys will be boys” or “men are that way because that’s the way men are”, a circular dead end argument which essentialism basically pushes us into. More importantly, essentialism ignores the prominent role that fear plays in most men’s lives, it ignores the fact that the driving force behind the system of patriarchy is a compelling association between fear and control, specifically male control^.


Proponents of such scientific truths often forget that social and cultural postulations about ‘manliness’, ‘femininity’ and the relationship patterns between the genders, often bolster and shape these allegedly neutral theories.


Now I am in no way denying the obvious fact that differences do exist between the sexes. But using a pair of breasts or internally placed genetelia as subliminal justification or scientific attestation for the subjugation and disparagement of women is just ludicrous, and not to mention, completely unnecessary while discussing issues pertaining to sexual emancipation and equal rights.


* An ignorant, yet common offshoot of this line of thinking is that women just happen to be morally superior to men. This view is as asinine as ‘men are obviously better due to….’
Inverting the same convoluted logic will only push us smack dab into a wall of dead-end essentialism, yet again.

^ Future post alert.

Very important update: Please pepuls go and read this post by a man who is an expert in amongst other things, women with '7 to 10 ratio of hips' and how they are best suited for mating, how women cannot dream of sex without thinking of love and how a woman's 'unconcious mind' can decode the immune system of a man in 3 seconds flat. Please, go.read.it.pronto.

[Thank you crumbs, for the link!]

5/9/07

A letter to Dr.Phil

Dear Dr. Phil,

I almost never watch your show. Don’t take it personally, I want to hold on to what’s left of my sanity, you see. So when I had nothing to do between classes one afternoon, I decided to tune in to your show out of sheer boredom. I felt a little apprehensive as proponents of quackopsychology like you always manage to unsettle me, but I decided to throw away my trepidations and get a good laugh out of your wisdom filled discourses at the very least.

But I realized the hard way that I severely underestimated your ghastliness. You had a couple on the show where the husband was a deranged, psychotic and an obsessive maniac of a man who had mentally, financially, psychologically and physically pushed his wife to the brink of insanity by making her a prisoner of sorts in their own home. You knew that this man,

+ Was thirty when he got married to his wife who was nineteen then, and was already pregnant, and that she felt that she was pushed into the marriage and she really didn’t want to marry him.

+ Had severe jealousy and control issues from the very beginning. He put tape recorders on the phones to snoop in on her exchanges with whomever, and he also put tape recorders under her car seat to listen in on her conversations with her friends.

+ Had installed a GPS tracking system in her car secretly, hacked into her email, pretended to be a flower delivery man at her office so that he could look through her desk, sent teenage boys to follow her around and watch her every move, shuts off her alarm so that she doesn’t go to work, leaves threatening notes on her coworker’s cars warning them to ‘stay away from his wife’ or else, and hires people to spy on her with binoculars.

+ Was shrewd enough to talk to a magistrate and reassure himself that there were no stalking laws against the husband in the state he resided in.

+ Had quit four therapists before appearing on the ‘straight talk express’, in other words, your show; because they didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear. He even told you bluntly that “he’s done things to keep her where he’s comfortable”.

+ Has purposely blocked the sites she usually accesses on their home computer, so that she’s forced to access them on his laptop, giving him an easy chance to hack into her accounts and see what she’s been up to.

+ Had stopped working to devote all his time to stalking his wife and trapping her financially.

+ Had scared off all her friends and coworkers with visceral threats, thus breaking away her support system completely.

+ Had lied to his wife about a vasectomy he never had so that he could trick her into having sex with him and get her pregnant in the process.

I could go on and on but I can’t, because your idiotic reactions to the husband’s confessions made me seethe. Instead of telling this poor woman to run the fuck away and offer her your support, you sit the husband down instead and tamely wax eloquent about how it’s not his right to take away her ‘property’. Are you kidding me, doctor? How does that even come close to the severity of the situation?

I felt a little hopeful when you separated the couple to talk with the wife alone. Dare I say it that I actually thought that you weren’t half bad when you promised to help her in whichever way you can? I finally started to enjoy myself when I saw Mr. Obsessive-lunatic have a full blown panic attack because you dared to split them apart (for about 10 minutes). But alas, my joy was short lived.

Now I know that you particularly specialize in maintaining the order of the institution of marriagetopia at all costs. But, being the ultimate arm twisting supremo of the telepsychoanalysting world, I would expect you to brawn some fear into the husband and macho-ly hand him over to the authorities, at the very least. But no no no, you had to prove me right by gloriously exhibiting your crapulence after all and you predictably offered him one final chance to cure him of his ‘illness’ and repair his marriage; while the wife looked on helplessly from the other room with tears pouring down her face.

Ah, but you don’t care about the woman at all, do you doctor? You’re doing this for the poor kids, aren’t you? Because a maniacal psychopath for a father is obviously better than being raised by a mentally sound single mother, isn’t it? As we all know kids raised without a noble deity of a father figure (however dreadful he may be) will grow up to be cannibals! And, that would be mighty inconvenient according to your quackopsychology guide to parenting, wouldn’t it?

Please Dr.Phil, for the love of the god you so righteously believe in, stop. Just stop. You’ve made millions, peddling your repulsive brand of non-existent psychotherapy to the American public.

Please, just quit already.

Oh, and before I forget, will you fire that dipshit producer who comes up with the names for your episodes? I didn't think it was possible, but the rubbish name of this episode "obsessive love", managed to piss me off as much as the episode itself did.