David Baird’s first feminist philosophy paper for Andrea Westlund
The Ontogeny of Love
Catharine MacKinnon is wrong when she says all of the following things—“Women’s acceptance of their condition does not contradict its fundamental unacceptability if women have little choice but to become persons who freely choose women’s roles. For this reason, the reality of women’s oppression is, finally, neither demonstrable nor refutable empirically.” (Meyers, 76) By “woman’s role”, she may mean as an object to be fucked by male subjects. “Man fucks woman; subject verb object.” (75) This “becoming” is gender socialization, “the process through which women come to identify themselves as sexual beings, as beings that exist for men. It is that process through which women internalize (make their own) a male image of their sexuality as their identity as women.”(71) And we can’t easily demonstrate women’s oppressed status if they “freely choose” to be oppressed.
But why would a subject freely choose to be someone’s “sex object”? This idea seems strange. So I will examine its elements—“Women’s acceptance of their condition”, “its fundamental unacceptability”, “have little choice but to become persons who freely choose”, “subject”, and “man’s sex object” do not mean obvious things. Her thinking about them is mistaken:
“Women’s acceptance of their condition” -- (an overgeneralization, because people like feminists exist).
“its fundamental unacceptability” -- (an overgeneralization, because many women have great existences).
“have little choice but to become persons who freely choose women’s roles” -- (untrue, because ‘freedom’ is a questionable idea).
her idea of a male subject -- (overgeneralized, because a whole spectrum of males exists).
her idea of “a man’s sex object” – (very limited, because we are all literally objects).
Unfortunately, we don’t choose our personalities, until perhaps we become writers. No one and no thing is ‘free’. If by ‘free’ we mean we can change our future. Just as there is only one past, there is only one future (per universe). Everything that happens is meant to happen. We look at the past, and may think, “It could have gone differently”. But actually, it didn’t go differently. We can say now, “The future may be X, or may be Y”. When really, the future will be X. This is shown by placing yourself Z years in the past, and then wondering how many futures--how many following Z years--there are. But we know now—Z years ago, there was only one future, the one that led to today. So today, there will also only be one future. We may feel free, we may think we’re free, we may act free. Appearances can be deceiving. But in a way, it doesn’t matter—if I consider myself free, why not call that freedom? If the option I’ll choose is pre-determined, at least I’ll get to ‘freely’ ‘choose’ it.
Females may have no choice about their “feminine roles”, because beings may have no choice about anything, if reality is designed by god (or designed by accident). A philosophy of design does not say ‘freely choosing’ feminine roles is ‘good’. Because of soul equivalence, if I were one of the females in question, I would choose what she chooses. All effects are caused. As Einstein said, “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.”
We can rarely directly see divine will, though—mostly we have to analyze the many causal factors available for perception. Females “become” “sex objects” for many reasons. There is the pre-programmed genetic nature of biological ontogeny, the growth of her organism. We have yet to learn how to manipulate this, or really even how or if it shapes personality. We do have control of the social “ontogeny of self”, though—the almost infinite totality of stimulation we give to a growing girl, including our responses to her resultant behavior.
With respect to the “freedoms” of her soul, those aspects not biologically determined, we can influence her by education, which some would call conditioning, which some would call brainwashing or programming. This mostly is up to parents, who have control of her during her most dynamically changing and vulnerable years. As Mike Smith theorizes, if both boys and girls have human brains, and not boy- or girl-brains, then half of our potential must be repressed to make us masculine or feminine, if that is our parents’ conscious or unconscious plan.
Following Arthur Janov, I think feelings are the most important things. If she is allowed to express, and given meanings to express, and this expression is then understood by her parents, and she is allowed the full spectrum of feelings/behaviors that are natural to her, a girl will become a very full human, who doesn’t want to be only a man’s sex object. Feeling equals intelligence.
Although, as Jerry Farber explains, if her parents give her to the system, to school, there are forces at work which attempt to repress this intelligence. She is told what’s true. She has to go through certain motions, physical and mental, that may be unnatural and robotic. She is encouraged to mimic the slogans supplied by the system. She is lied to about the world, and is in turn required to lie about her reality. But I think by the time she is given to the system at around five years old, her mind may be so powerful that it will not be warped by the impact of school’s crazy trip.
So, girls develop into women—but what is a woman? What is an object? A thing. What is a subject? A thing with a point of view. How do subjects view the world, and how do they treat the world? If I’m a man, and my lover is a woman, MacKinnon analyzes our relationship as one of sexual domination. But in my own view, sexual equality or mutuality is fairly normal. My lover is part of my world. I can only perceive aspects of my world as deeply as my perceptive ability allows, and understand the aspects as well as my intelligence can understand. The more colorful my vision, the more colorful my lover can be (to me). The more subjective I am, the more I will be able to see/sense/believe her subjectivity. She is modeled in my brain, due to the influence she has on my senses. She is not directly observable, for the senses are not mental windows, but electrochemical triggers. (I “see” my eyes). To me, “my lover” is actually me, because she is in my mind’s model of things. As Janov explains, if I’m not sensitive to my self, I can’t be sensitive to her self. So my treatment of my lover depends on my level of consciousness/feeling. This conclusion is different than MacKinnon’s blanket condemnation of male being.
And how do subjects, male or female, really want to be treated? A folk saying is that if I love you, I want to be “the object of your desire”. This may be more than a metaphor. I want to be “attractive” to you. I want to interface sexually with you, I assume, or we’d be friends instead. The more realistically you perceive me as a subject/object, the more intense is our resultant experience. You seek not me, for I will never be found. You seek connection with me. I want you to give me freedom to feel and express my real feelings, which depends on your ability to objectively analyze my subjectivity. (An “objective” mental act is one undistorted by irrationality. But Smith doesn’t believe objectivity is possible).
Treating lovers like “sex objects” can be very subtle and meaningful acts, if you also care about them as (sex) subjects. Our selves/subjects have to be connected through our bodies/objects. My metaphysical soul must relate to other souls through my physical body. This is why it’s better to have a highly functional brain, and to not have brain damage, so as to fully actualize the potential of the mind/body unity. I want my body/brain to be an ultimate object, with a perfect relationship to the desires of my mind. My desire is to turn my lover on, to give her peak experiences. My body is my only instrument to do this with. But my self, (like a drug to her), will only alter her mind with respect to her desire, so conventional beauty is irrelevant, (unless she desires it). I myself live not for pretty visuals, but for how visuals interlink with my mental being-in-time.
As we have seen, people with more intense subjectivity can see more insightfully past their lovers’ bodies/objects, into their subjects/souls. And people who are themselves mostly objects will only be able to see their lovers’ bodies. Some of us “accept” our conditions, while others struggle for higher levels of being, through cognitive enhancement techniques like writing, therapy, and school, and through simple searches for better lovers. But many people are on impoverished levels of being. If you want to change the world, you may, like MacKinnon, consider this “fundamentally unacceptable”, but she should realize “fundamental” means with respect to her point of view, and “unacceptable” depends on what acceptance means to her, and nature probably doesn’t care about it.
When MacKinnon says “The relations constituting gender are by definition, hierarchical”(Westlund), she is merely defining her own view. Some relationships are unequal, but to then say about the women in them that “individuals exploited by a particular social structure may fail to realize their own exploitation”(Westlund), is elitist. If you’re economically oppressed and hungry, don’t you know you’re hungry and that there is something wrong with the world? You may not know Marxist theory about why the world has to be this way. But I think people are highly sensitive to dehumanization. If I were a woman being sexually dominated in any meaningful way, I think I would know about it, or it wouldn’t be meaningful. I guess this goes against the idea of false consciousness, and Janov’s idea that almost everyone believes they are conscious and feeling. Only when they awaken to new aspects of themselves do they realize that their previous state was repressed. To awaken people, to turn them on, is perhaps the most important challenge we face. As Mike Smith says, “A true education is made of shocks and rude surprises.” Like the “shock” when a teacher poses a particularly difficult question.
Farber, Jerry, The Student as Nigger, Simon Schuster.~1974
Janov, Arthur, The Primal Scream, the Primal Center, 1970.
Meyers, Diana, Feminist Social Thought, Routledge, 1997.
Smith, Michael S., Virginia Tech English instructor, personal discourse.
Westlund, Andrea, 09-09-02 MacKinnon handout.