Saturday, June 7, 2014

Selves and Others and Language and More Love and Thanks

We are all both Selves and Others.

I am entitled to revel in love of this Self that is Mine, to care for it and defend it and to tell its truths.

All of the Others I encounter (or don't encounter) in this world are also Selves, entitled to the same.

Furthermore, because human beings are innately intensely social, we need Others to know our Selves; we define ourselves in relation.

How do we relate? In many ways. Some of those ways are shared by other animal species: touch and body language and pheromones and sharing of resources...

Uniquely human: the use of complex language.

I was recently struck by this line from Indre Viskontas and Chris Mooney's review of Jared Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee: "Diamond's hypothesis is that it was the development and perfection of spoken language that catapulted us forward, making possible teamwork, collaboration, planning, long-distance trade, and much more." 

This is true: words can be used as tools, to help us understand the world around us and to then communicate that understanding to Others, who can question and present new information and agree or disagree and even possibly compromise, iteratively over the course of lifetimes. 

But words can also be used as weapons, to establish dominance over rather than understanding with Others. 

As we see constantly on social media, when women aren't even allowed to define "woman," much less talk about their lives without constant misrepresentation and outright attacks meant to silence.

We are all both Selves and Others, but women are constantly viewed - by others and by themselves, via lifelong training, as Other only. This Othering, this refusal to see and respect an Other's Self, can also be seen with white people and people of color, rich people and poor people, healthy people and disabled people. But it is only the Otherness of the mother that is reproduced in just about every family in the world.

Adrienne Rich speaks comprehensively and convincingly of this phenomenon in her book, Of Woman Born, a thorough review of which I plan to write sometime this summer. For now I will ask, what better way to establish widespread, deeply held misogyny than to create this myth of motherhood - we are all born of women, after all, no matter how offensive Tumblr and Twitter find that fact, and so now we will expect that woman to live for us and only us, and when she inevitably fails, for she IS A SELF OF HER OWN, we will call her selfish and hate her for it, and when she succeeds we will also hate her for it, because you cannot respect the Self of someone who voluntarily surrenders it.

And so we are all set up in our formative years to hate women as part and parcel of needing them.

And so a brave feminist posts her essay, her essay which she spent hours composing, laboring over the words to express her meaning, laboring under her knowledge of exactly how Others will twist and/or dismiss those words so as to ignore that meaning. She has no delusions that what she is offering is a timeless, universal truth, but it is her truth, and a truth that will be useful to other women figuring out their own Selves in contexts both similar and disparate. Out of respect and love for her own Self and theirs, she hits publish.

And so it begins, the dismissals without reading, the misrepresentations, the attacks, the silencing. Because so many willfully, gleefully ignore her Self. Because it is a woman's Self, and should therefore only exist in glorified subjugation and abnegation.

Please pardon the unladylike language: FUCK. THAT. NOISE.

Perhaps our biggest mistake, women, is to give one single fuck about the morons who can't even start off from a point of recognizing our Selves. 

I love your Selves, women. In all their imperfect glory. Whether we agree on everything or not. And when I see you fiercely analyzing the world around you, defending your Selves, building connections with and nurturing other Selves without losing your own, I am inspired. I am strengthened. And my bruised and battered Self can walk another day in this woman-hating world, knowing that your presence in it makes it that much less hateful.

Thank you. 

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