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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hillary and Melanie and the Power of Sexism

I've been thinking a great deal about the debate at our Diocesan Convention concerning the resolution which called for the diocese to be 'sensitive' about inclusive language used during our corporate, diocesan worship and all diocesan events and communication.

I continue to be stunned by the ordained women and obvious liberal leaders who spoke against it. It's a fascinating phenomenon for this diocese, when it isn't flat-out disturbing.


Here's what I'm thinking. I suspect this is at least part of what I'm calling: "The Hillary Effect"

You know. Bill's "wife". Chelsea's "mother." The "former First Lady."

Yes, that Hillary. The Senator from New York. The candidate for President of the United States, who, by the grace of God and the consent of the majority of people (the Electoral College and Supreme Court not withstanding), will be the first woman to hold that office in this country.

She's got lots of people scared, hasn't she? Even some women - especially those who reap the benefits of all those feminists - men and women - who have struggled to work for equality but do not know (or, perhaps, even care) about the history of the Women's Movement.

As I've been trying to work my way through understanding this, I've found some solace in rereading "Envy and Gratitude," my very worn, dog-eared version of the book written by Melanie Klein

Personally, I think everyone in a position of church leadership - lay or ordained - should read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the wisdom of Klein's work. It's not an easy read, so go gently on yourself when you begin. Stay with it, though, and you will be richly rewarded for years to come.

Klein was a student of Freud, but found herself in disagreement with some of his teachings (Oh, my! What a surprise, right?). In her work with children, she began to apply her Freudian background with her own observations and laid the foundation for the development of a discipline of psychology known as "object relations theory."

This is not a place for scholarly discussions, so don't expect a 'magnum opus' on this topic. I'm just thinking out loud, as it were. Here's a bit of a snippet of her work which will give you a sense of her unique brilliance:

"...feelings of love and gratitude arise directly and spontaneously in the baby in response to the love and care of his mother. The power of love - which is the manifestation of the forces which tend to preserve life - is there in the baby as well as the destructive impulses, and finds its first fundamental expression in the baby's attachment to his mother's breast, which develops into love for her as a person. My psycho-analytic work has convinced me that when in the baby's mind the conflicts between love and hate arise, and the fears of losing the loved one become active, a very important step is made in development. These feelings of guilt and distress now enter as a new element into the emotion of love. They become an inherent part of love, and influence it profoundly both in quality and quantity." (from Love, Hate, and Reparation)


Basically, it builds on Freud's idea about libido and death - love and hate - and how these are made manifest in us as infants and young children at our mother's breast. As we grow older, we learn that we can love and hate the same object. Children, however, have a difficult time with the nuance of the interplay of these two drives or dynamics. Children view objects as either all-good or all-bad, thus only seeing a part of that object instead of the object's whole good/bad reality. Children are too young to understand that objects can be both good and bad; they only see one part of the spectrum.

Envy in adults is one of the immature manifestations of this dynamic between love and hate. What we can't have or feel frustrated or anxious about, we may envy. Envy is among the seven deadly sins and, says Klein, “it is unconsciously felt to be the greatest sin of all, because it spoils and harms the good object which is the source of life. . . . The feeling of having injured and destroyed the primal object impairs the individual’s trust in the sincerity of his later relationships and makes him doubt his capacity for love and goodness” (Klein 20).

I think (and, it has been argued that perhaps I think too much on these things) that what we are seeing in "The Hillary Effect" is the effect of envy. How DARE a woman seek to be elected to the highest political office in this country? How COULD she even think of becoming "The Leader of the Free World"? Clearly there must be something wrong with her. She can't possibly be a 'real woman'. She must be a 'real bitch'.

Next thing you know, we'll have to start changing the language we use. I mean, who ever heard of "Madam President"? Before you know it, that will mess up our images and understanding of God. Look what's happened since we elected a woman to be Presiding Bishop! There you go! See what I mean?

I think what we fear most- what animates our anxiety - is the loss of our 'traditional' cultural understanding about the role of women - especially mothers, in this country where "Apple Pie and Motherhood" reign supreme.

It's all about the primal forces of love and hate. This is nothing new. The Greeks have incorporated this into their earliest mythology in terms of the personifications of Eros and Thanatos. What we can't have or don't want, we seek to destroy. And, envy is a highly destructive force,

This is not to be confused with jealousy, which Klein says is between two individuals. Envy is bigger than that. Much bigger.

In these days of high anxiety, when we're deeply involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with no easy way out, when the 'r' word (recession) is hot on everyone's breath, when the genocide in Darfur continues unabated despite global howls of protest, when good, middle class families have to think carefully about whether or not to spend money on fuel or food and we begin to realize that we're all just two paychecks away from financial chaos, and when the political campaign on both sides of the political aisle bring these issues before us as our daily bread, is it any wonder, any wonder at all, that we're all anxious?

Guess what happens when we eat too much of the Bread of Anxiety? We all become little children again, losing our capacity for intelligence and reason, forgetting our history, inadvertently seeking to "spoil and harm the good object" which we learned to identify first at our mother's breast.

The antidote: Gratitude. I'll say more about this in a later post, but let me just say this. I am convinced that gratitude is deeply anchored in our spirituality. One of the real ironies of this new wave of Evangelical religion that is affecting and infecting our national politics at the moment is that everyone - even politicians - has suddenly got 'religion', but I don't think we have a developed sense of spirituality. That takes maturation. Depth. Intelligence. Reason.

And, the ability to let it all go in deep gratitude for the One who loved us first.

I must say: I've gotten some interesting insights from all of this about the dynamics of sexism. The bottom line is this: The "Hillary Effect" says far less about Hillary than it does about the state of our own souls. We can choose to be anxious and become envious children or we can become grateful adults. Neither one insures a victory for Hillary or inclusive language. It does, however, help us deal with the health of our own souls.

9 comments:

Frair John said...

What is also disturbing is the assumption taht the only reason to not vote for Sen Clinton is that she is a woman. I don't trust her for the same reasons why I distrust the rest of the "new left." Mouthing liberal and progressive ideals (when not denegrating the word "liberal" or using it as an ephethet) but voting to support the neo-con status quoe and being "on the team" that signed off on the Contract with America is aparently ballenced out by the fact that she is female.

We also all know the shining exampels of liberalism and progressive thought that were the Baroness Thatcher and Indera Gahndi.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Friar John - Obviously, I'm voting for Hillary (even though I think Obama is a good candidate, his inexperience makes me a bit nervous), but this is not about that. This is about the effect of Hillary's candidacy in a time of war and uncertainty.

Frair John said...

There is that.
I'm weirded out by the "I won't vote for a woman" thing. I just don't get it. I've never understood nonsense like it. It may be that my home town had a woman mayor when I was a kid, so I'm just used to women in authority. (It's kind of like I've never known a Church w/out Women clergy - an all male clergy is weird to me and unfathomable.)

Inclusive or expansive language issues are very thorny, and I'm not sure if it can be fully discussed in this forum. I'm trying to do your meditation justice, but falling short in my explanation.

Bill said...

My leaning toward voting for Hilary has nothing to do with her sex. I’d be deeply disturbed if I thought it did. For me, the issues concern placement on the political spectrum and experience. I don’t believe this country would fare well under another four or eight years of Republican leadership. The balance has swung too far to the right. We started the Bush era with a surplus and we end it with another deficit. He (Bush) has taken us too close to church involvement in secular matters. The separation between church and state has been muddied if not harmed. We’re stuck in another war that we had no business being in, in the first place. I’m still waiting to see some of those weapons of mass destruction we were promised. He has injured out status with foreign countries. Whatever political capital we had after 911 has been wasted.

Looking at Hilary vs. Obama, what I see is experience and lack of experience. Obama might be ok in eight years but not just yet. Hilary has a track record. We know where she stands. She is considered one of the hardest working Senators in Washington. The only thing I really know about Obama is that he’s young and good looking. I’m really tired of people getting elected simply because they look good in front of the cameras.

There is another issue and one that is not really spoken of in the press. We are still too close to 911. A man named Obama is not going to carry votes in Middle America. I hate to say it but that happens to be the way people think. If his name was Smith he would be a shoe-in. Everybody will jump up and down now and say how could you say such a thing. Wake up and smell the coffee. People are still fearful and this is how people think.

In years past, voters used to worry whether a woman could make the difficult choices. I don’t think that is still an issue. After leaders like Maggie Thatcher and others, that sort of thinking has been put to rest. Some men will always fear powerful women. Some women will always side with their fearful husbands. They’ve been indoctrinated since they were little girls to be respectful and subservient to men in a male dominated world led by a male dominated church. I really hope that this time around, sex is a non issue and people just vote the issues.

Jim said...

I shall be voting in the Republican primary Tuesday. Illinois is clearly going to Obama in the Democrat primary so I am free to vote the anyone-but-Hukabee side. So, in a real sense I don't have a stake in this fight.

But,,,, I think it is amazing what people will buy. Mrs. Clinton is a first term senator who never won an election before she became senator. Mr. Obama was an Illinois State Senator for two terms before he went to Washington. He is inexperienced? Talk about bi-costal arrogance. Hello, there is space between the Hudson and the Pacific!

FWIW
jimB

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Okay, I'll say it one more time. I appreciate the comments, but this isn't about electing Hillary. This is about the effect of Hillary's candidacy and the effect I feel it had on the discussion in my diocese about inclusive / expansive language.

I am no psychologizing anyone. I apologize to anyone so offended if that's how it sounded. Trying to understand the psychology behind the action is my natural 'default' position. I often run up to my head when my heart is breaking. It's behavior learned after years of experience being a woman and a 'lipstick lesbian' (oh, how I hate the labeling language of internalized homophobia) in the world, my church, and my family.

That said, carry on.

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

Right on.

(And may I just say, again, that I like the "look and feel" of the new site VERY MUCH!:)

Bill said...

Elizabeth, It's not fair. You can’t mention Hillary, “The Hillary Effect", and
then get upset when the focus shifts to politics. It is an election year and she is a candidate. It’s only natural for people to get up on their respective soap boxes and discuss the upcoming election.

So let’s try to shift back to how men view women and how women view men and all the little nuances therein. To say that it is about love and hate and primal forces and envy is to suggest that the playing field is equal. It is not equal. We have been taught from earliest childhood that it is not equal. We have been taught that women are not equal to men. We have been taught that women must be subservient to men and obey men. And just one guess as to wear this teaching comes from.

I’m going to borrow a page from Jack Spong and say it all goes back to Genesis. Man was created in God’s image and women were an afterthought. Man needed a help mate and God had exhausted all the possible four legged varieties to appease him. So God goes and makes him a helper. By definition , she is not equal. She is made up of borrowed parts (rib). She isn’t even named by God, she is named by Adam, just as he named all the other animals. So here we are four or five thousand years later wondering why some people still don’t think that women are equal to men. Every time you try to make an issue of it they point to the “word of God”. You can’t win that argument until everybody starts to rethink their basic theology. I don’t buy all the psychological mumbo jumbo. These views of men and women are learned by our children at very early ages. They are taught by adults who were in turn taught by the various churches. It’s a vicious cycle that will never be broken until we break it.

I don’t necessarily believe that the “envy” hypothesis is a male vs female issue. I think envy is a human vs human condition. Let’s go back to Cain and Able. This is yet again another myth story trying to instill in us some sense of morality. Cain was a guy and so was Able. Able had something that Cain coveted; namely the approval of God for his sacrifice. So Cain does what seems appropriate. Cain kills Able; enter CSI stage left. Most of the other morality stories from the Bible were also guy vs. guy. They just didn’t think women were worthy of much space on the written page. That in itself should tell us something. When they do talk about women it is something like Lot’s daughters getting him drunk and sleeping with him. Now there’s a great morality story and doesn’t it put women in a great light. No, this is all learned behavior and there is no getting around the lessons that women are sub-human and never to be trusted. We saw what happened to Samson when he trusted a woman.

There are cultures, however, where women are and were held in high esteem. The American Indian comes to mind. In ancient native American cultures the woman was often the property owner and sat on the tribal councils. The men were relegated to hunting and warfare. It was no big deal, the men liked going out and killing things. The women on the councils made the decisions. Even decisions on who the next chief would be. The women controlled the family, the property and they were highly respected.

That will never be the case where people still get their original concepts of men and women from a male dominated and dictated religious culture. Jack argues that we must admit that Genesis was not only myth but bad myth and bad theology.

amaya planer said...

just reading this made my IQ feel like it jumped 20 points! Thank you.