Obstacles to Female Friendship (Section 1)
From A Passion for Friends: Toward a Philosophy of Female Affection by Janice G. Raymond (Beacon Press, 1986)
To put it starkly and simply, the Second coming of the Witchcraze will employ different methods. This time, women are trained and legitimated to do it to each other. –Mary Daly, Pure Lust
Friendship does not abolish the distance between people, but it makes it vibrant. –Walter Benjamin, Understanding Brecht
If I am not for myself, then who is for me? If I am for myself alone, then who am I? –Rabbi Hillel, Sayings of the Jewish Fathers [sic]
There are many impediments to female friendship. A work on women’s friendships should not romanticize the subject by omitting these obstacles from serious consideration. Such obstacles are present among different kinds of women—those who are feminists and those who would not define themselves as feminists. In fact, among both groups of women, the obstacles have surprisingly similar patterns.
The most blatant obstacle to female friendship is the prevailing patriarchal adage that « women are each other’s worst enemies. » This theme has many variations, and a chorus of male voices through the centuries has echoed Jonathan Swift’s words: « I never knew a tolerable woman to be fond of her own sex. » It would be easy to dismiss this chorus by virtue of its sex or to emphasize the unintended clue given in Swift’s remark that the women whom men find « tolerable » are not fond of their own sex. So women disidentify with other women in order to make themselves « tolerable » to men.
However, women utter similar words. A study chronicling women’s attitudes toward female friendship revealed the following. From a secretary: « To attach too much importance to friendship with women is adolescent »; from a computer programmer: « It will be viewed as ‘latent’ lesbianism. »(1) It would be easy to ignore these voices by saying that women internalize men’s attitudes about them and about their relationships with other women. The problem is that, although this may account in one way for the cause of women’s antifeminist behavior, it does not assuage the awful reality of woman-hating-woman conduct when it happens in our own and other women’s lives. It is the reality of this behavior with which this chapter is concerned.
By blaring the hetero-relational message that « women are each other’s worst enemies, » men have ensured that many women will be each others’ worst enemies. The obstacles to female friendship get good press. The message functions as a constant noise pollution in women’s lives and is heard in many different places. Constant noise about women not loving women is supplemented by the historical silence about women always loving women. Women-hating-women take their sustenance from the silence that surrounds women-loving-women. It is this double message that strangles the growth of Gyn/affection. Women need to be aware of the contexts in which this double message arises as well as the mechanics of how it functions to stonewall the evolution of female friendship.
In the course of writing this book, I have asked students, friends, and various other women to list what they felt to be the primary barriers to Gyn/affection. The lists were lengthy, although women tended to characterize the obstacles in similar ways. What I came to realize, however, is that although the concrete obstacles could vary among different groups of women, the contexts from which they sprung are remarkably common to all women. And so if it is true that putting a subject in context illuminates it, then talking about the contexts in which the obstacles to Gyn/affection arise is an important step toward eradicating the obstacles themselves.
Friendship gives women a point of crystallization for living in the world.* It gives form, shape, and a concrete location to women who have no state or geographical homeland and, in fact, no territorial ghetto or diaspora from which to act. Friendship provides women with a common world that becomes a reference point for location in a larger world. The sharing of common views, attractions, and energies gives women a connection to the world so that they do not lose their bearing. Thus a sharing of personal life is at the same time a grounding for social and political existence. By the same token, anything that militates against women’s-being-in-the-world—against a female worldliness—undermines a strong female friendship that has political consequences, namely, Gyn/affection.
Unfortunately, the contexts in which many women live their lives enhance a worldlessness rather than the worldliness of which I speak. Neither female worldliness nor female friendship can grow or deepen within the contexts of dissociation from the world, assimilation to the world, or victimism in the world. Since these contexts prevail in the lives of many women, the obstacles to Gyn/affection also arise within them. Worldlessness produces friendlessness.
Dissociation from the World
Because women have been the eternal victims of male tyranny, because survival has been the key focus of female existence and feminist political thought, because women have almost everywhere lacked involvement in and control over the political world in which we have lived, and because the world is man-made, many women have developed a dissociation from the world. Hannah Arendt, more than most philosophers, has discussed the concept of worldlessness. Arendt’s notion of worldlessness, although originally developed and analyzed in the context of the history of the Jews and of Judaism, has much relevance for women and feminism today.(2)
Women in general have assumed a worldlessness almost by default, that is, by virtue of the passive and derivative positions into which they have been forced throughout history and in almost every culture. Other women, such as some feminist separatists, have made dissociation from the world a political ideal and reality. The difficulty in both cases is that when dissociation becomes a prominent mode of existence—as in the former example where women derive much of their meaning and reality from husbands, lovers, fathers, or male bosses, seldom experiencing the world directly, or as in the case of some separatists, who make dissociation the basis for affinity with other women—female existence becomes segregated from the rest of the world. Philosophically this can make women narrow in vision; politically it can make them very vulnerable. Even radical and voluntary dissociation from the world, originally undertaken as a necessary and daring feminist political stance, can produce a worm’s-eye view of the world that exposes women to attack. A major consequence of dissociation is that women can become ignorant of conditions in the « real » world, conditions that may militate against their very survival.
In a world that views women as superfluous, that is, as not needed, marginal, unimportant, and to be dispensed with, women can add to this superfluousness by dissociating themselves from the world. The more women dissociate, the more catastrophic the effect can be—the further women are removed from a definite share of what should be a common world, that is, a world held in common by all who inhabit it.
Let it be understood that I am not identifying dissociation with the necessity for women to live « on the boundary » of hetero-relational society. Women will always be « outsiders » to this culture, as Virginia Woolf and others knew. However, there is a worldless dissociation from patriarchy and a worldly dissociation. The dissociation that I criticize is not that of women coming together separately to then affect the « real » world. Rather it is a dissociation that proclaims a withdrawal from that world. It is a dissociation that is usually accompanied by a « downward mobility » of mind and of money. It often creates an apathy toward political, intellectual, and financial existence as well as an apathy towards one’s physical appearance which becomes a symbol of one’s disregard for the man-made world. It behaves as if money and status are things women already have (or could have if they wanted), can easily discard, and can easily replace. It calls upon « patriarchy as excuse » to rationalize the inactions of not getting a job, not going to school, not taking economic and professional strides that would locate a woman in the « real » world.
Dissociation excludes women from access to the world. It thus excludes women from power, money, and interaction with others, the most basic conditions of worldliness. Dissociation gives women the illusion that they can retreat into an undisturbed time and space where a semblance of freedom can be preserved. However, as Arendt has pointed out, such a stance leads to « the freedom and untouchability of outcasts. »(3) The politically dissociated feminist plays the revolutionary in a community of other like-minded women but does not really impinge on the dominant male ethos. She remains an outcast from the world, not a rebel « on the boundary » of it.
On the other hand, the dissociation from the world that is not chosen for consciously defined feminist reasons—an interpretation of the world that women largely derive from men—is reinforced by women’s lack of knowledge about women as a common people. In contrast to other oppressed groups, women do not possess the past of a cohesive and self-conscious community with its own political traditions, philosophical vitality, and history—or should I say that this past is one that most women know little about? The rootlessness of women in their own group identity as women contributes more than anything to the worldless, unrealistic, and nonpolitical perception that many women have of the world. This rootlessness is responsible also for the lack of female friendship, the friendship that is truly Gyn/affective as a political virtue.
Gyn/affection cannot be sustained where women have « the great privilege of being unburdened by care for the world »(4) because Gyn/affection is a political virtue with a political effect. Female living, especially feminist existence, cannot take place outside the polis.
Any strong and critical reality of female friendship, any mode of friendship that aims to restore power to the word and reality, cannot be created within a dissociated enclave of women who have little knowledge of or interest in the wider world. Women’s friendships cannot be reconstituted in a vacuum of dissociation from the wider world. Any women’s community that dissociates itself from a wider world cannot take the place of a wider world.
Dissociation from the world produces dissociation from women. It restricts Gyn/affection to a separate community created by withdrawing from the world. Thus it deprives Gyn/affection of its political power and makes of it a personal matter only. Women may acquire a strength that is sustained by radically chosen dissociation. However, as Hannah Arendt reminds us, strength is not political power.
…strength and power are not the same…power arises only where people act together, but not where people grow stronger as individuals. No strength is ever great enough to replace power; wherever strength is confronted by power, strength will always succumb.(5)
Radically chosen dissociation from the world is a temptation as women are constantly confronted with a world that men have fabricated. It is even more tempting to ignore the babel that sustains the man-made Babylon. Women do this, however, at our peril.
Women who dissociate from the world either by political choice or by involuntary derivative status must put something in place of that world. Many have resorted to therapism.
Therapism: The Tyranny of Feelings
Therapism is what elsewhere I have called « therapy as a way of life. »(6) The phenomenon of therapism, as it is manifested among women and in the women’s community, includes not only going into therapy and often staying there for years but making of one’s relationships with women in a therapeutic context. Therapism is an overvaluation of feeling. In a real sense, it is a tyranny of feelings where women have come to believe that what really counts in their life is their « psychology. » And since they don’t know what their psychology means, they submit to another who purports to know—a psychiatrist, counselor, or analyst. In this sense, we might say that therapism promotes a psychological hypochondria with women as the major seekers of emotional health.
There are, of course, instances in which women justifiably seek help in a therapeutic setting. I am not criticizing this genuine need. However, there seems to be little recognition given to the fact that therapy is becoming a way of life among women and that it is necessary to ask where the individual need for advice and counsel leaves off and the tyranny of feelings begins. It is remarkable that women who bemoan their lack of money for books, cultural events, and the like somehow obtain the money needed for weekly or biweekly therapy sessions. Feminist therapy is a booming business. Many feminist restaurants, bookstores, health centers, and credit unions have gone out of business completely or remain on the brink of financial survival. Yet feminist therapy thrives. At the very least, women should examine why this is the case.
One reason is the premium placed on the disclosure of self. The disclosure of self has become the territory of therapy. It is a particular kind of disclosure, however, that employs a mechanistic model of building, adjusting, and tinkering with the self as though it is some external object in need of repair. It is a brand of disclosure that confuses genuine self-revelation with the perpetual manifestation of intimate feelings. Refusal to tell all is regarded as repressiveness, as a denial of one’s inner self. And as a result, the women’s movement, like society at large, has fast become a therapeutic society where self-exposure ranks as one of the highest virtues. Women must show and tell all. Little about body or mind can be mysterious. Thus women engage in massive psychological strip-teases that fragment and exploit the inner life. It is increasingly more difficult to lose one’s job, health or lover without having to go into therapy about it.
Certainly people must be able to free themselves of torturous feelings, pent-up emotions, and troublesome trials. There may be times when women will seek out therapists for help. Just as there is a genuine need to share such feelings, there is also a need to protect and withhold. And the therapeutic context may not be the best place to share such feelings. Genuine self-revelation should not be confused with perpetual therapeutic manifestations.
Therapeutic manifestations have consequences far beyond the actual therapeutic setting. Michel Foucault has put it this way:
…we have…become a singularly confessing society. The confession…plays a part in justice, medicine, education, family relationships, and love relations, in the most ordinary affairs of everyday life, and in the most solemn rites; one confesses one’s crimes, one’s sins, one’s thoughts and desires, one’s illnesses and troubles; one goes about telling with the greatest precision, whatever is difficult to tell.(7)
These words make clear that psychology has created a new type of person—the human confessing animal. « The obligation to confess..is so deeply ingrained in us, that we no longer perceive it as the effect of a power that constrains us; on the contrary, it seems that truth, lodged in our most secret nature, ‘demands’ only to surface. »(8) Self-disclosure becomes equated with liberation. In this sense, therapy becomes a way of life that affects the way we speak, the way we think, and the way we relate to other people. As a way of life, expression of feelings becomes a kind of ritual, proclaiming that expression alone, independent of the consequences, produces change in the person. Expression alone exonerates, purifies, and redeems.
In this context, Sara Scott and Tracey Payne, writing in the British radical feminist magazine Trouble and Strife, call therapy a « mental laxative. » Emphasizing therapy’s preoccupation with the past, they maintain that therapy « leaves us reaching constantly backwards into our own past experience rather than outwards to the experience of other women to find explanations for our lives. Once women find and express these past ‘blocks,’ supposedly women will be ‘whole’ and ‘happy.’ »(9)
The irony of all this is that in an age that is obsessed with the revelation of self, true and deep subjectivity is hard to find. Hannah Arendt pointed out two reasons for this. First, psychological introspection annihilates the actually existing situation by dissolving it into mood. At the same time, it lends an aura of objectivity to everything that is subjective.(10) Thus an inner life is reduced to an exercise in therapeutics. Therapism reifies subjectivity, that is, it thingifies it, by externalizing and wrenching an inner life out of its depths. Too easily, the inner life becomes the outer life.
Second, in introspective self-disclosures, the boundaries between what is intimate and what is public become blurred. Intimacies are made public, and those who refuse to engage in the publicizing of intimacy are viewed as uptight and repressed, in need of a psychological purging. The importance of feeling one’s self feeling is the norm. Life acquires reality mainly in the course of confessing it and subjecting it to a constant psychological probe. Not the emotions themselves but the telling of emotions becomes definitive for reality.
What does all this have to do with female friendship? For many women, feminist therapy has become a substitute for female friendship. Others have noted what a Russian émigré has said about friendship in America: « Americans go to a psychologist because of the need for friends. »(11) There is a sense in which women in continuous therapy purchase friendship by the hour from those in the therapeutic role. Often these women do have friends with whom they discuss their intimate lives. However, they claim that there is something « different » about talking with a therapist.
For example, one woman related to me the story of a friend who had undergone the break-up of a ten-year relationship with her lover. The ending was extremely nasty and, for one month, my friend listened to every detail of the break-up, offering advice, comfort, and her own presence of friendship. One day, her friend told her that she was going to see a therapist. My friend questioned her about the need to do this. Her friend replied that she was going into therapy « to get some advice. » « But what could be different about the advice that a therapist will give you from that which I have offered? » my friend asked. Her friend pondered awhile and then answered: « But I pay her! » My friend concluded, « Well, pay me then! »
As Tracey Payne says of her own experience in therapy: « Looking back on it, I see very little that I could not have got from close friends or a CR group, but at the time therapy also offered ‘freedom.’ In particular freedom from my past. I felt that if I kept ‘shovelling shit’ fast enough I could catch up and be free of it…I also believed that ‘sorting myself out’ was a good thing in itself. »(12)
In a confessing society, friendship often becomes reduced to « sorting myself out » and/or to co-counseling—literally when two women set up this formal arrangement with each other, or figuratively when women make of their relationships with other women a context for constant self-disclosure. Feelings become facts. Feelings also become matters of probing and preoccupying interest. As Pat Hynes has phrased it, women become « overly specialized emotionally. »(13) Political matters are explored largely in the context of how one « relates » to them. Ultimately, friendships of this nature become a form of gossip—gossip about one’s self.
In therapism, what is missing is passionate exchange. The sharing of feelings predominates over the revelation of passionate truth. Mary Daly has made a crucial distinction between this kind of feeling and passion. She calls the former plastic or pseudo-passions.
In contrast to real passions, plastic passions are free-floating feelings resulting in more and more disconnectedness/fragmentation. Since they are characterized by the lack of specific and nameable causes, or « objects, » they must be « dealt with » endlessly in an acontextual way, or within a pseudocontext.(14)
As an example of a plastic passion contrasted to real passion, Daly compares fulfillment to joy. Fulfillment she sees as « the therapeutized perversion of the passion of joy. »(15) Fulfillment is almost like being stuffed or filled by an external source. Joy is a movement that comes from within a person. A fulfilled woman is « completed » or « finished » elsewhere. A joyful woman engages in consistent self-directed movement for more of her deepest Self and that of her friends.
Therapy as a way of life filters out the passion and lets the feeling through. It is almost as though the depth of a woman is sifted out and the diffused feeling retained. Therapist promotes low levels of intensity. In this sense, feeling is what one might call the banality of passion. The « therapeutizing » of friendship is based on a particular loss of Self, the loss of the passionate Self, and the loss of the original Self who was one’s original friend. Having lost this originality, women continue to relate to each other nonoriginally. The examination and exploration of feelings become a substitute for a more passionate intimacy and sharing. There is a loss of depth and a loss of the intensity of female friendship. Hetero-relational patterns flourish in the wake of the loss of original Gyn/affection.
In close friendships, there is a hunger for truth, beginning with the truth of each other. Therapism replaces truth with an overdose of navel-gazing self-disclosure and blurs the difference between the two so that profound truth is equated with perpetual self-manifestations. It takes self-revelation, an important part of any friendship, out of the context of the passionate revelation of a woman’s life as truly lived and pretends that such revelation can exist only within the context of the actual therapist-client relationship or within the informal therapeutic context of friends who act as sisterly co-counselors.
The breeding ground for therapism is the dissociative context in which many women live. When a woman becomes dissociated from the real world, even though that world is man-made and corrupt, events and people may more easily acquire a reality that is out of place. For example, a woman’s self—not her deepest Self but the self that feels itself feeling—takes on a proportion that is wrongly sized. When this happens, the expression of feelings may become equal to or greater than, for example, the expression of political action or ideas. To take Virginia Woolf’s famous words and use them in a different context, women then become « magnifying mirrors »(16) reflecting themselves back to themselves at a self-absorbed size.
The dissociative context of women in general, or that chosen by some feminist separatists, creates a dissociated « community » that can become a totalistic environment which subjects those who inhabit it to homogeneous norms and values. As analyzed by Robert J. Lifton, totalistic environments usually succeed in claiming « total ownership of each individual self within it. Private ownership of the mind and its products—of imagination and memory—becomes highly immoral. »(17) Dissociation, whether in the case of women in general or feminist separatists, creates a kind of totalistic environment that subtly functions as an apparatus for constraining truth and fostering « correct » behavior by making total exposure the rule. Women who do not engage in perpetual manifestations of their feelings, whether at the coffee klatches of shared housewifedom or within the women’s community, are judged wanting. Within such an environment, a woman is deprived of both external worldly information and internal reflection, both of which are necessary to maintain a sense of place in the real world and to preserve a Self separate from it. Within a dissociated context, life may acquire « reality » more easily by exposing one’s privacy in the almost mystical manifestations of shared feelings. Confession becomes a constant form of communication with other women. Therapism has replaced friendship.
While therapism exists in other than dissociative contexts of women, women in such situations have become singular victims of it because most women, by virtue of sex role segregation from the major political realities, are already affected by dissociation from the world. If one adds to this other layers of dissociation, for example for politically chosen feminist reasons, a more amenable context for exploitation of the inner life is created.
The women’s movement has not only helped create a new class of professional counselors known as feminist therapists but has also made the context of many women’s relationships with each other into a world without walls. This phenomenon of « show-and-tell » relationships is, I maintain, another form of Self and horizontal violence. It does violence to women’s strong and original Selves, and it does violence to women’s friendships by keeping women in a prone position vis-à-vis each other, the position of one who constantly chooses to feel herself feeling, thus diverting attention away from the active use of inner resources by dissipating energy in constant manifestations of self. Instead of becoming deep friends, women become « technicians of human relations. »
Relationism: The Tyranny of Relations
What I am dubbing « relationism » often accompanies therapism. Relationism is the reduction of friendship to relationships that get constantly « examined » and « dealt with » in much the same way that therapism examines and deals with all sorts of feelings.
Relationism also has its new class of professional experts. They are called « attraction theorists » and as they « oversee » the « field of friendship, » they can, among other things, technically explain the difference between « companionate love » and « passionate love. » Like the « attraction theorists, » women « in relationships » often make of them a technical enterprise by « dealing and dealing » with them until they can be « dealt with » no longer. Personal style, erotic interchange, gestures, facial expressions are all material to be used to draw out a meaning or significance beyond the gestures themselves. This kind of relationism objectifies women and their relationships in much the same way that women become objectified in a hetero-relational context. It defines women always « in reference to » someone else.
Relationism materializes the etymology of the word relate by making women into « relatable » creatures, that is, a class that « refers to » something or someone else—that which is ever being brought into relation with something external to the Self. The consistent focus on dealing with relationships in which many women are immersed reinforces dissociation from a wider world of meaning and significance. Such relationism prevents the development of deep Gyn/affection.
Relationism exists in several contexts. Within a hetero-relational context, where women derive their meaning from the men in their lives, relationism takes the form of women being constantly focused on men. The men in women’s lives often become the topic of discussion when women friends come together. This kind of relating fosters frivolous friendships that are chiefly characterized by women talking about men and swapping stories about « good men, » « real men, » « gentle men, » or the various other varieties of male consorts. Many lesbians, however, especially within the context of separatist dissociation from the world, fall into similar patterns of focusing on the women in their lives. Reticence to speak about one’s personal relationships is viewed as a leftover of a secretive patriarchal mentality and as a politically repressive barrier that inhibits social intercourse among women. Thus, dissociation of both varieties gives women a new profession, which is actually an old profession—the profession of « professional relating. »
As « professional relaters, » lesbians often channel the bulk of their energy into relationships in which they frequently move from one erotic relationship to another. Lesbians have been critical of the hetero-relational imperative that prompts women to see themselves always in relation to men. However, « living for women » in the reductive sense, where women’s lives are « bound up » with their relationships, can become the analogue of « living for men. » Lesbian relationism is not much different from hetero-relationism if women in such circumstances must always « be in a relationship. » In the grip of such relational « fever, » it seems that lesbians have, in one sense, replaced men with women as relational objects. The hetero-relationist adage « Thou as a woman must bond with a man » is modified to « Thou as a woman must bond with a woman. » Lack of an erotic relationship is often seen as lack of a significant self.
The relationship-centeredness of many women, heterosexual or lesbian, makes others the center f a woman’s life. It displaces a necessary Self-centeredness and often negates a work-centeredness since, when a relationship fails, all else fails. Women become depressed, paralyzed, and unable to continue other commitments, especially their work lives. Relationism, or the relationship-centeredness of women, is thus an obstacle to female friendship because it draws a woman’s energy away from her Self, her original friend, always to others. No genuine Gyn/affection can be created which does not come from a strong Self. Relationism promotes a surrender of Self and of a positive and necessary Self-centeredness.
Perversions of « The Personal Is Political »
The proliferation of relationism and therapism promotes the proliferation of women’s private lives. In the beginnings of this current wave of feminism, there was much emphasis on « the personal is political. » This was and still is a crucial feminist insight. It signaled that what had been relegated to the personal domain of a woman’s existence—areas such as the family and sexuality—were areas of political consequence. The saying « the personal is political » encapsulated the truth that such traditionally regarded personal areas of life, largely inhabited by women, could no longer be segregated out of the political arena. Indeed, areas such as the family and sexuality now came to be viewed as bastions of patriarchal power and as prime centers of sexual politics.
There have been many perversions of this original insight. « The personal is political » has undergone reduction and misinterpretation. For example, many women took « the personal is political » to mean « the personal is public knowledge. » In this view, anything that is intimate, private, or personal becomes a matter for the public domain. One of the latest versions of this is the movement called « lesbian sadomasochism » in which, as Kathleen Barry has noted, the ultimate perversion of « the personal is political » occurs.
Whatever your « feelings » or « desires » are, because you are a woman, a lesbian, a feminist, does not legitimize asserting them as a political right…It is this kind of thinking that extends the concept of oppression until it is utterly meaningless…If we are to connect our personal experience of oppression to political strategy, this strategy must be based in certain identified values of what promotes and enhances human life over what objectifies it.(18)
So-called lesbian sadomasochism has similarities to therapism in that it also arises in a context where expression of feelings is the norm, this time even the political norm. Denial of such feelings is seen as political repression. Thus liberation becomes equated not only with the freedom to follow one’s feelings but with the campaign to create a political movement out of publicizing those feelings.
There have been others who have criticized what they regard as perversions of « the personal is political. » Not all of these critiques have been as astute as Barry’s. Jean Bethke Elshtain’s work is one example of a « displaced critique »—a critique that is misfocused—in her use of what she has termed a « politics of displacement. » Elshtain argues: « Nothing personal is exempt, then, from definition, direction and manipulation—neither sexual intimacy, love, nor patenting…if politics is power and power is everywhere, politics is in fact nowhere. »(19)
The problem, in my opinion, is not the politicizing of personal life. It is the publicizing of personal life. Nothing personal can be private. Nothing personal can be hidden from public scrutiny. The distortion resides in the fact that everything that is personal becomes publicly exposed under the rhetoric that « the personal is political. » Thus, calling everything « political » generates a ruse for making everything personal, subject to the public and collective judgment of the women’s community.
Within the context of certain self-identified separatist groups whose politics is based on dissociation from the world, the « personal is political » phenomenon has taken root. What often happens, what often is rationalized as a necessity for shared collective existence, is the breaking down of all sorts of private limits. As one critic has put it, « first go the clothes; then the easy feelings, then the tough feelings, then the real secrets, and finally the entire inner self. Supposedly after this soul-baring orgy, we will then experience a new freedom, or equality, or openness, or something. »(20) Relationships in particular are a fertile area of discussion. One of my former students expressed her exasperation with the « personal is public » mentality in the following way: « …it is seemingly a categoric imperative for everyone and anyone to have an opinion about what everyone is doing. I HATE IT. »(21)
No genuine Gyn/affection can come from this. Even when women are not aware of misinterpreting « the personal is political, » because they sincerely believe in the sharing of private living, one must ask what is really being shared under such circumstances. Is it really a profound inner life? Is it the fruits of a thoughtful and creative existence?
Gyn/affection needs private space and time. This privacy is quite different from dissociation upon which therapism and relationism thrive, fostering the illusion of an undisturbed time and space separate from the world to which only « the relations » have access. Rather, privacy fosters involvement in the world because it adds a quality of reflection to life and to the selection of friends—what Alice Walker has called the « rigors of discernment. » Discernment helps us to regain perspective about our Selves and others. Without this habit of reflection, we lose the feel of our own Be-ing, the sense of integrity that makes us who we are.
*In the following chapter, I discuss the notions of « world, » « worldliness, » and « worldly integrity » much more fully as part of my vision of female friendship. For purposes of this chapter, where I stress the necessity for women to be in the world and where I use these forms of worldlessness as contexts in which many obstacles to female friendship arise, it is necessary to be clear about my use of the word world. I define world in the following ways:
1. The earthly state of human existence; this present life.
2. The pursuits or interests of this present life; temporal or mundane affairs.
3. The affairs and conditions of life; the state of human affairs; the state of things.
4. Most pertinent: The sphere within which one’s interests are bound up or one’s activities find scope; one’s sphere of action or thought; the « realm » within which one moves or lives.
I am fully aware that world is often used as synonymous with the cosmos and that much feminist literature has defined it in this way, wishing to establish certain connections between women and Nature. However, I use the term world to mean the public realm. Or, as Hannah Arendt phrased it, « The world lies between people. » (Hanna Arendt, « On Humanity, » in Men in Dark Times [New York: Harcourt, 1968], p. 4.) I am restricting the meaning of world to these parameters, for the time being, because my point in this chapter is to extract the ways in which women are dissociated from, assimilated to, or victims in the world.
1. Cited in Joel Block, Friendship (New York: Macmillan, 1980), p. 33.
2. I am enormously indebted to Hannah Arendt’s typologies of dissociation from and assimilation to the world which she develops in much of her work on the Jews and Judaism. See, for example The Jew as Pariah, ed. and intro. Ron H. Feldman (New York: Grove, 1978). I have drawn on many of her ideas in this chapter.
3. Arendt, Jew as Pariah, pp. 89-90.
4. Arendt, Jew as Pariah, p. 27.
5. Hanna Arendt, « On Humanity in Dark Times, » in Men in Dark Times (New York: Harcourt, 1968), p. 23.
6. Janice G. Raymond, The Transsexual Empire (Boston: Beacon, 1979); see especially chap. 4, « Therapy as a Way of Life. »
7. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality (New York: Pantheon, 1978) 1:59.
8. Foucault, History of Sexuality, p. 60.
9. Sara Scott and Tracey Payne, « Underneath We’re All Lovable: Therapy and Feminism, » Trouble and Strife 3 (Summer 1984): 22.
10. Hannah Arendt, Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewish Woman (New York: Harcourt, 1974), p. 16.
11. Interview, Boston Globe, 26 August 1984, p. A3.
12. Scott and Payne, « Underneath We’re All Lovable, » p. 24.
13. Conversation with Pat Hynes, Montague, Mass., July 1984.
14. Mary Daly, Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy (Boston: Beacon, 1984), pp. 200-201.
15. Daly, Pure Lust, p. 204.
16. Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1929), p. 35.
17. Robert Jay Lifton, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism (New York: Norton, 1961), p. 426.
18. Kathleen Barry, « ’Sadomasochism’: The New Backlash to Feminism, » Trivia: A Journal of Ideas 1 (Fall 1982): 86-87.
19. See Jean Bethke Elshtain, « Feminists Against the Family, » The Nation, 17 November 1979, p. 497. I cite Elshtain here because it is important to distinguish between well-placed and « displaced » critiques of « the personal is political. » In my opinion, Elshtain’s is an example of the latter. Her critique can be summed up in her own words:
Note that the claim is not that the personal and the political are interrelated in important and fascinating ways not yet fully explored and previously hidden to us by patriarchal ideology and practice; nor that the personal and the political may be fruitfully examined as analogous to one another along certain touchstones of power and privilege, but that the personal is political. (p. 497)
It is nothing other than bad faith to critique an abbreviated adage for failing to convey the complexities that Elshtain speaks about. Does Elshtain seriously believe that feminists who have used this insight in political theory and organizing are all simpleminded reductionists? Of course, many feminists realize the multidimensionality of « the personal is political. » For years, many of us have understood the complexity of « the personal is political. » It is because we understand its complexity that we do the particular kind of political analysis that we do.
The statement « the personal is political » can be compared to a metaphor that suggests an analogy but that cannot be reduced to it. It is meant to be taken seriously but not reductionistically. When someone says that she has been « in the dumps » all day, we do not presume that there is a literal reduction in these words. Rather we understand that one situation can be construed in terms of another. I am not saying that « the personal is political » is a metaphor. I do maintain that it is like a metaphor in that the analogy it presents allows for both similarity and difference and that it is wrong to collapse the two terms in a reductionistic way. As Anne Koedt wrote in her essay « Lesbianism and Feminism » in the classic anthology Radical Feminism:
The original genius of the phrase « the personal is political » was that it opened up the area of women’s private lives to political analysis. Before that, the isolation of women from each other had been accomplished by labeling a woman’s experience « personal. » Women had thus been kept from seeing their common oppression by men.
However, opening up women’s experience to political analysis has also resulted in a misuse of the phrase. While it is true that there are political implications in everything a woman qua woman experiences, it is not therefore true that a woman’s life is the political property of the women’s movement.
(Anne Koedt, « Lesbianism and Feminism, » in Radical Feminism ed. Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine, and Anita Rapone [New York: Quadrangle/New York Times Book Co., 1973, p. 255)
Koedt wrote these words in 1971, yet Elshtain shows no familiarity with her work. One would think that Elshtain invented the insight that « the personal is political » can be perverted.
20. Thomas J. Cottle, « Our Soul-Baring Orgy Destroys the Private Self, » Psychology Today (October 1975): 22.
21. Personal correspondence to Janice Raymond, 1978.