Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"The Secretaries"

riffing off this last post on womens' anger.

is a play by the Five Lesbian Brothers of which I am particularly fond, although I do love all of their work, that I've seen/read, at least.

We are secretaries and we do things secretarial
And once a month we kill a guy and cut him up for burial.

--Shh! Shh! Shh!...

So, yeah, you get the premise right up front (in the actual play as well). As always, the fun is in getting there.

In the rustic town/suburb/something of Big Bone, new girl Patty joins the receptionist pool at the Cooney Lumber Mill, at the beginning of the month (this is important). It is the chance of a lifetime; a million girls would kill for the job.

--o, not literally! Ha, ha! You're so funny. (And I love your hair).

no, seriously! There's no competition here! The girls are so sweet, really:

PATTY (to audience): They all seemed to know each other so well. I thought I'd never fit in. And I wanted to. Almost more than anything. I worried constantly about what they thought of me.

(PEACHES re-enters)

PEACHES: Here you go, Ashley (she hands her a strawberry Slim-Fast)

PATTY: Is that stuff any good?

ASHLEY: You never tried it?

DAWN: Look at her. Her body's only perfect.

PEACHES: I envy you, Patty. I never see you eating.

PATTY: Oh, I eat plenty. I'm having a salad for lunch today...

And Susan, the boss, is, well, everyone just loves her. Well, not in that way; the girls aren't that way, (except for Dawn, the resident lesbo; watch out for her! Ha, ha!

PATTY: I had no idea! You're so pretty!

ASHLEY: She gives the Big Bone Organization for Women a bad name! The lumberjacks think we're ALL lezzies.
), yeah. Susan. Great boss. Great motivator. Great role model.

PATTY: (Entranced) Mmm. I really love you, Miss Curtis.

SUSAN: (Feigning embarassment) Oh, my.

PATTY: (Also embarassed) No, I mean. I really admire you. I admire you and your work and your--the way you are. I wish--I wish I was more like you.

SUSAN: Thank you, Patty. See? That's how easy it is to accept a compliment. Want to practice?

PATTY: (Laughs) Oh, well, I don't think--

SUSAN: Nonsense. Ready? Patty, you have wonderful taste in clothes.

PATTY: Really?

SUSAN: No, Patty. You say, "Thank you." Accept the compliment, don't question it, Patty. Patty, your typing skills are superb.

PATTY: Oh, I--thank you. Thank you very much.

SUSAN: Good. Patty, your breasts are better than any set of implants.

PATTY: Miss Curtis!

SUSAN: Just say, "Thank you."

PATTY: Thank you.

SUSAN: Better. But I can see I'm going to have to work on you...

Then the new girl and apparent new favorite of Susan (which doesn't bother anyone else, particularly Ashley, AT ALL) gets promoted from lowly receptionist to full-blown secretary. And now she is really part of the cul--team. Which includes regular meetings of the Big Bone Organization of Women (BOW). headed, of course, by Susan; and inextricably connected to the Cooney Lumber Mill and thus the job; as is the entire town.

SUSAN: Well, shall we begin?

(They all take hands and bow for the invocation)

We thank you for the opportunity to meet for shakes and fellowship. Please help us to word process without error, to follow the SlimFast Plan, and to make it through that time of the month together. (the invocation is over and they release hands). And speaking of that time of the month, since we're just completing our last cycle, no bloodstains anyone, I hope.

(All except Patty click and giggle [special "Secretary" language they all speak])

PATTY: Wait a minute, you mean you're all on the same cycle?

SUSAN: I'm sure you'll sync up soon, Patty. It's what happens when we women spend so much of our time together.

PATTY: I have heard that. I guess I never spent that much time with my women friends before.

PEACHES: (To Susan) I have a problem with bloodstains.

(There is a tense silence).

PATTY: Well, Peaches, just rinse them right away with a little cold water, and never, under any circumstances, never EVER rinse them with hot. That sets the stain...

Sound advice. Patty's clearly still not quite tweaking everything yet, though; not the giggle-click language, not why Susan collects everyone's used tampons, and not really this bit, either:

SUSAN: We just need your signature right here.

DAWN: It's a celibacy agreement, Patty.

PATTY: I don't understand.

SUSAN: One thing we all appreciate in BOW is healthy relationships. We all date, of course. But a girl needs to know how to say no and the rule just makes it easier.

ASHLEY: You want to keep your sweater, don't you, Patty?

DAWN: Here's a pen, Patty.

So she signs the agreement...but she's still surreptitiously having sex with Buzz, the sensitive lumberjack who rescued her from the cruder attentions of some of the other lumberjacks (Chip, Woody, Sandy...) Not that the others don't know. There are no secrets in Big Bone.

As the month wears on, the strain begins to manifest a bit more clearly.

PEACHES: Susan...said Mr. Kembunkscher isn't happy with my performance. She said he said I'm not the right size. Can you believe that, Patty? Fat, old, baldy-top Mr. Kembunckscher....Susan said he said none of the girls can be over a size twelve. Damn him. I bet that fat old hog hasn't ever tried to diet....I'd like to prick him with a needle.

PATTY: Peaches...I think you're fine the way you are. Mr. K...has no right to dictate what size his employees should be. Really. it's not legal.

PEACHES: Sure. Maybe in a court of law. But in Big Bone there's only Cooney law...Patty, I have to stop eating solids....Susan said you could help me...If you see me with a bear claw or a bag of mixed nuts in my hands, just give me a little slap on my face, OK?...

PATTY: Peaches, I'm not going to slap you...

But eventually, Peaches, in terror of losing her job, persuades Patty to help.

(Patty gives Peaches a tap on the cheek).

PEACHES: That's not hard enough and it won't work.

(Patty gives Peaches a stronger tap).


(Peaches slaps Patty hard. Patty slaps Peaches back even harder).

There. Yes. That was good. Thank you, Patty. Thank you.

Soon enough, Patty is slapping Peaches--hard--without a second thought.

Meanwhile, Ashley's got her own problems:

(It is late, and Ashley is working on a little statue of Susan made out of office supplies).

ASHLEY: (Talking to herself) Just a minute, Susan, don't leave yet. I'm almost finished. I need a head. It's easy for Patty to make things; she had a mother...I think we ought to give Patty an "A" for effort. An "F" for faker? You think you know someone and it turns out they aren't sweet and nice after all. Just rotten and bad like everyone else. Still, you shouldn't compare me and Patty like that. It's not fair. It's not fair. Patty doesn't know you like I do. I do. I know you. Don't forget how well I know you. I know all about you, Susan...

and Dawn finally works her predatory magic on Patty:

PATTY: Well, what about the celibacy rule?...

DAWN: It doesn't count if it's two women, Patty. I can't believe you don't know that.

Although Dawn has apparently given Patty her first orgasm at the fuck motel, Patty still "likes lumberjacks." Specifically, Buzz. Tensions arise, inevitably; but the pettier jealousies and backbiting also seem to be fuelled by...something else. Things get darker and stranger. Susan chastises Dawn for her a very intimate place...with her teeth. Patty goes on a surreal midnight ride with Susan, which culminates when they run over a wombat:

PATTY: I better take a look. (Gets out and looks under the car). It's still alive. You don't have a gun?

SUSAN: I detest guns. What are you going to do?

(Patty removes a tire iron and takes a swipe in the air)

Oh, I can't watch.

PATTY: (Coaxing the wombat out from under the car) Come here, little fella...

(Patty beats the wombat to death with the tire iron. Patty gets so into it that Susan has to stop her)

SUSAN: That's enough, Patty. It's dead.

PATTY: I just hate to see anything suffer.

...and so we roll around to the very last day of the cycle. 29 accident-free days. The longest the lumber mill ever goes without one. Back in the office, everyone's hard drives seem to have been erased, the uber-boss is shouting for his reports, and things are...well...

(Ashley re-enters. She's holding...a bottle of toner. She's got black marks around her mouth)

PATTY: Ashley, what's your password?

ASHLEY: It's a secret. If I tell you I'll have to kill you.

DAWN: Ashley, give me the toner.

ASHLEY: Sure, Dawn. (She eats the rest of the toner and tosses the bottle to Dawn). You'd better order more. We're almost out.

PATTY: What are you doing?

ASHLEY: You stay the fuck away from my job. I'm next in line, got it?...

DAWN: Leave her alone, Ashley.

ASHLEY: Aw, isn't love sweet.

MR K...: (Voice-over) Hello? Hello, is this thing on?...

PEACHES: I'm having my lunch, you fat pig. You know, lunch? What people eat to live? I'm eating my lunch, you dumb fuck. Leave me alone!

DAWN: Oh, shut up, Peaches!

PEACHES: Don't tell me to shut up! I starve myself and look at me, I'm fat. Patty eats whatever she wants whenever she wants to. She eats a dinner! She eats a dinner!

PATTY: I'm sorry.

PEACHES: Yeah, you're sorry and I'm fat.

ASHLEY: Stop saying that word!!!

PEACHES: FAT! FAT! FAT! How do you like that, you stupid anorexic?...

PATTY: The report!

DAWN: Oh, fuck Kembunkscher, Patty! You fuck everybody anyway!

ASHLEY: (To Peaches) If you don't shut your fat trap this minute, I'm going to come over there and shut it for you, you whore!

PEACHES: (Referring to Patty) I don't think I'm really the whore in this room, but you can call me that, if you like...

Susan returns at this juncture, which only escalates matters. Big hair-pulling catfights and so forth. Eventually, the crisis is dealt with...but there's still the evening meeting to contend with. And here it is. Patty finally confronts Susan with her worst fears:

PATTY: I'm not stupid. I notice things.

SUSAN: What things, Patty?

PATTY: Like every girl has a jacket. A lumberjack jacket.

SUSAN: They're nice jackets aren't they? Good and warm. Better made than a woman's coat. Have you ever noticed that, Patty? How men's clothes are better made than women's and usually half as expensive? It's a crime. A while ago, before you came on, we decided to rectify this crime. We decided we wanted good jackets, too. It gets cold in winter. Only the lumberjacks won't give us their jackets, so we take them.

(PATTY tries to bolt. ASHLEY and DAWN grab her...)

PATTY: You kill them, don't you! You kill the lumberjacks!

Which, well, duh. And the next bit of information is probably not a huge surprise to those who were following along: tonight's target is none other than Buzz.

PATTY: He loves me.

SUSAN: I love you. Peaches, Ashley, Dawn--we love you. Buzz doesn't love you. He loves an idea of you. I even love the killer in you. Now that's love...

PATTY: Why Buzz? Buzz never hurt anyone. Why not one of the others? Why not Hank or Sandy--the way he's always pawing at the girls...

SUSAN: We don't kill them because they're bad. We kill them because we're bad.

Further agonized requests for explanation don't help much:

PATTY: Peaches, how could you do this?

PEACHES: I don't know, Patty. It's fun. There's food. We can eat. There's pizza and ice cream and Kahlua and you can mix them together. And it's dark, Patty. And we yell. A sound comes out of my mouth, huge, like I never could have imagined...

And Susan, after a dramatic climax wherein Patty stabs her with a phone message spike ("Good girls don't stab people, Patty"), first elicits a confession:

PATTY: You made me do it.

SUSAN: You wanted to do it. You loved it, didn't you? Admit it, Patty...

PATTY: Yes!...

SUSAN: You never liked Peaches, did you? You just pretended to like her.

PATTY: Yes, yes.

SUSAN: Dawn was your toy, wasn't she?

PATTY: Yes, I used her.

SUSAN: And you wanted Ashley to die, didn't you?

PATTY: Yes, I loathe her. I despise her.

SUSAN: And Buzz is a lousy fuck, isn't he?

PATTY: Yes, yes, the bastard!

SUSAN: But most of all, you hate me. Isn't that right, Patty?

PATTY: Yes! Yes! I hate you. I hate you.

(PATTY collapses in SUSAN's lap, crying...she has crossed over)

and then offers her own, more or less:

PATTY: I see someone, behind the facade. Someone who hurts and needs. What happened to you, Susan?

SUSAN: Okay. My story goes like this. I was born and then I was fucked over and fucked over and fucked over so many times that I can't separate it out anymore...

and so it comes to pass that Kill Night rolls around. and after a moment of backpedalling wherein she tries to turn the ax on her "friends" instead of the hapless, drugged Buzz ("God, Patty, get a grip"), goes through with the deed, and earns her jacket.

PATTY: (To audience) My first Kill Night. It seems so long ago. Susan took it on the lamsoon after that. Now I'm office manager and I love it. I do things differently, but as we say in BOW, it's all in the execution.

ALL: ...We're at the end. We should provide a moral for this story
But this is not a moral tale or complex allegory...


But of course, it is a moral tale, and it is a complex allegory; a very complex one. As co-author Lisa Kron puts it in the intro to the published play,

LISA: The play examined the ways in which women are the enforcers of sexism. The rules that are enforced involve weight, food, sexuality. Proof that we were covering uncharted territory was in the disconnect between the responses of men (notably male reviewers) and women. Women recognized what we were doing because they had experienced it. Men did not because they had never seen it before, never had it described to them. Male viewers often focused on the cartoonish violence at the end of the play where poor Buzz is killed with his own chainsaw. The emotional violence between the women did not show up on their radar. They tended to see the play as a revenge fantasy, which it clearly is not. The only likable character in the play is Buzz, and before his bloody execution Susan Curtis makes clear that he does not deserve to die: "We don't kill them because they're bad. We kill them because we're bad."

But it's actually even more complicated than that, from this audience member's perspective. For one thing, it's not just internalized sexism but internalized homophobia, and the ways in which lesbophobia plays out among straight women, how it acts as an enforcer. Unlike the male homophobic equivalent, though, it's not the main dish in this toxic banquet; the token lesbian is "tolerated" (and hilariously, of course, also, the homoerotic undercurrents among the "straight" women are made blatantly overt; it wouldn't be a Five Lesbian Brothers play otherwise...).

No; what's really vital is that the women tamp down their anger, at least until such time as they are allowed a "safe" target for it. What this play is about, it seems to me, is the extremely poisonous results of stuffing back real, legitimate anger in the name of "getting along" and "being a good girl" and even "sisterhood"--the play skewers a wide variety of targets, from classic Cosmo-reading hetgirl culture to certain expressions of feminism. The common denominator is the incredibly warped idea of "friendship" and "love" that these women have. And part of the reason they act this way, it's pretty clear, is that they are not used to love, much less love among women (sexual or otherwise). "Chloe liked Olivia;" it's still a radical concept. And these women, like so many women, feminist and otherwise, are struggling to integrate this novel idea with the ancient messages of

"There's not enough to go around"


"Other women are your competition for those scarce goods."

Now throw in some other ancient messages:

"Good girls don't get angry. Particularly not at the people who love them and only want what's best for them"

"Good girls aren't selfish."

"Good girls aren't boastful or openly self-promoting or proud of themselves."

"Good girls control themselves, particularly physically. Don't eat too much. Don't fuck too much. Don't desire too much. Don't be greedy. Don't be fat. Don't be a whore. (You don't really need that, do you?)"

"A woman's work is never done."

"The Eternal Feminine beckons us upward. (Always be improving yourself! And if you're feminine: always be helping others to improve, also!)

"Idle hands are the devil's playground."

and, just for good measure,

"Now, girls, you're both pretty. (But you are special. Don't tell the others)

"Everyone can make it if they just work hard. (But there's only room for a few people at the top; you can only make it if you're really special). If you can't make it, it's your fault. (You didn't work hard enough. You aren't special enough. What's wrong with you?)


No wonder they're all fucking crazy.

No wonder we're...


Ironically, warped as Susan is, in a way she's onto something. Not with the monthly murders themselves; that ritual sacrifice is nothing more or less than a safety valve to maintain the fucked-up system that's firmly in place, no more or less so than the "Particutions" in "A Handmaid's Tale."

No; what's a little closer to genuine health is the naked, unapologetic claiming of her "badness." The thing is, it's not even necessarily "badness;" it's just...there. But seeing what's there, really seeing it, is the first halting step on the path out of the woods, perhaps.

And what's there, what the authors of this play have seen and put before us: that "we," we women, are, at the end of the day, only human, no more, no less. That while there is indeed a system of institutionalized sexism that affects us in particular ways, it does not say anything about our inherent nature, or even what we're each of us individually capable of right now.

We could be murderers.

We could be rapists.

We could be child molesters.

We could start wars.

We could be torturers, and thoroughly enjoy ourselves doing it.

We could commit matricide, parricide, infanticide.

Same as anybody else.

And sometimes--not nearly as often as men, statistically, perhaps, but sometimes--we do, we do do those things.

All of that and more.

And--and this is the hard part: we still don't really get that many points if we don't do those things; because, as Lisa Kron notes, there is also emotional violence. From women, and between women. Terrible, awful violence.

And often enough, not only does it not show up on mens' radars, it doesn't show up on ours, either.

And this, too, perhaps, is our cultural legacy:

"If you can't see it touch it quantify it, it doesn't exist. If you can't see the wounds, there was no real harm."


But you do see the results, is the thing, one way or another, eventually. The results are broken bonds, failed movements, irrevocably damaged relationships and psyches and souls...and those invisible damages lead their bearers to go on to commit more tangible harms.

Such is life.

"Those to whom harm is done, will do harm in turn..."

In the end, I think the moral is quite clear: it starts with owning your shit. No need to own the shit of others, mind; the system of institutionalized sexism is quite clearly laid out. That was not our creation; not our idea, no.

What we own, for good and for bad, is what we're capable of. Our power, used for good or ill, effectively or ineffectively. Our--yes--agency. Our shadow, too.

"We don't kill them because they're bad. We kill them because we're bad."

It's awful...and it's freeing. Yes. The rage is there. The hate is there. And the love, too, lying under all the crap like the last winged creature in Pandora's box.

It's not that there is no "out of here." It's that the way out, as in the Inferno, lies not up and away but down and through.

And that, that, is examination. That is the "work" that must be done.

At least: it's a start.



Anonymous said...

Wow. That's a lot to think about. And basically feeds into a big fight I've been having with myself on and off for at least a year, the short version of goes like this: Are you a stronger person if you fight, or if you simply walk forward and endure the inevitable crap that gets thrown at you? Are these both kinds of strength, or are one or both of them really weakness, or something else entirely? Which is better or does it even matter? Is this an either/or choice at all? And I don't know. I can (and have) argued both sides for a long time.

belledame222 said...

I think it's ultimately not a question of strength, but of practicality: where do you need/want to put your energy? How would you be best served? There's no one-size-fits-all answer, I don't think. Sometimes you realize that the bully isn't gonna leave you alone if you "just ignore," contrary to any wisdom you might have received, and you may well have to face your demons; it's more draining to tamp all that down, suck it up, kiss ass, shoulder the burden, etc., than it is to just wade in and slug it out directly.

Other times, it may just be that the fight is an endless circular feedback loop; you're in it not so much because it needs to be fought but because the adrenaline rush feels good, and it's keeping your mind off less pleasant, or at least more difficult, less -familiar- things that need to be done. In which case you may want to, as they say, "stop feeding the energy creature" and move on to some other approach.

Or, you might see that this particular fight is not one that you can win or even survive; it then becomes a question of, is doing it anyway worth it, or is it better to try to live to fight another day?

I guess the first thing is to try to see clearly; to push past the fear and try to be -objective.- Iow: you're gonna be afraid, that's normal; what you can't do is let the fear dictate what you do. -That- fight is probably always worth fighting, yes. But that's not an external battle, that bit.

belledame222 said...

I should amend: how not just "you" but "the thing which is ostensibly being fought for" would best be served.

Jennifer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jennifer said...

That's nice writing! Yeah, female emotional violence DOES NOT appear on the average male's radar. Indeed most males fail to grasp this fact of life at all, even when it is explained to them. The problem is that they do not actually see (cannot actually imagine?) that the way a person is positioned in society on the basis of their gender (just this external attribute) changes everything. The average male has mostly experiences of women as gentle, perhaps a bit vacuous, amenable, frivolous, and so on. So he cannot imagine how these qualities of her "nature" can ever cause anyone any harm. His failure of imagination leads him to believe that one must be EXTREMELY (and impossibly) sensitive to feel any female originating harm. In the same vein, the average male goes on to suppose that given that woman are, well, you know, vacuous, and frivolous and playful, no "normal" man would really have any motivation to harm them at all. So, if she does claim to have been harmed by a male, then it must have been the result of most unusual circumstances -- either the offending male was a "bad apple"; or in the more general way of judging, it must have been "all her fault" (that is, maybe she was really of bad character and not feminine at all.) In all cases, most males suffer from a failure of the imagination when it comes to the systematisation of psychological violence.

Anonymous said...

I see what you're saying. And what it comes down to for me is that previous to this, I pretty much had to endure, because when crap happens to you as a kid, and it comes from either people who have authority over you or because you're little and facing down people with possible poor impulse control is a bad idea (which I am, physically, and was even more so in K-12), there's not much else you can do about it. And I internalized that that's all I can do with it, and as I usually do, turned it into a virtue on its own. Which is silly, of course. And I am afraid of being angry, because most of the angry people I knew growing up hurt me, and it made me hyper-conscious and fearful of hurting people through being angry and out of control. (along with sundry cultural messages) And if you don't DO anything, no one gets hurt. But doesn't really work either. So I get stuck between not knowing how to deal and being afraid of it anyway and what I'm used to. That's one reason I like this place so much, because it tends to shove those things I need to change in my face so I can't ignore them or explain them away. (Also because I can leave long rambling comments like this which are only tangentially related to the topic and also boring.)

Renegade Evolution said...

excellent post BD. And so very true.

antiprincess said...

you blow my mind on a daily basis.

do the Five Lesbian Brothers still perform?

belledame222 said...

yeah; they had some sort of piss-take of a Greek play not too long ago. Lisa Kron and I think maybe others has had solo shows, too.

Anonymous said...


I believe it's "particicutions". If I remember correctly, Atwood wrote the Handmaid's Tale while the Canadian government was still running the "ParticipACTION" physical activity promotion programme that was finally killed in 2000. It featured these very surreal ads of preturnaturally cheery ordinary people admonishing us to get more exercise.

Here are the archives (oh the nostalgia):
Listen to the enforced cheeriness of the French version especially.

And here's IMDB on the subject:

Speaking of Greek plays, I had the opportunity to see a feminist presentation of The Trojan Women a couple of years ago. Very powerful, and very much in keeping with the spirit of this post. While the women are being divided up by their would-be rapists, Odysseus on down, they are tearing each other to pieces...

Captcha: loblurul. Very beautiful.

belledame222 said...

>And what it comes down to for me is that previous to this, I pretty much had to endure, because when crap happens to you as a kid, and it comes from either people who have authority over you or because you're little and facing down people with possible poor impulse control is a bad idea (which I am, physically, and was even more so in K-12), there's not much else you can do about it. And I internalized that that's all I can do with it, and as I usually do, turned it into a virtue on its own. Which is silly, of course. And I am afraid of being angry, because most of the angry people I knew growing up hurt me, and it made me hyper-conscious and fearful of hurting people through being angry and out of control. (along with sundry cultural messages) And if you don't DO anything, no one gets hurt. But doesn't really work either. So I get stuck between not knowing how to deal and being afraid of it anyway and what I'm used to.>

That makes a lot of sense, lilcollegegirl. and that was neither tangential nor boring. As for long and rambling, yesterday I left eleven comments in a row on feministe. until you beat that, you aren't long and rambling.

arielladrake said...

I'm going to agree with a lot of what lilcollegegirl said about anger and how it can get internalised when one grows up in abusive environments.

For me, it gets tied up with self-worth and loss, a lot, too. Anger is often about losing something, and for me it was always about losing something I deserved. Having grown up with very little concept of self-worth, there wasn't much I felt like I deserved, so I never felt like I was allowed to be angry.

belledame222 said...

*nod* I think that happens a lot, yes.

And i also think that this is something that needs to be taken much more seriously into account in political activism: peoples' personal experiences of anger. Particularly when it's been used as a weapon of abuse. Because, well, one, I think for a lot of people, activism is the first chance they ever get to vent some of that rage. And while some or maybe even arguably all of the abuse can be traced back to structural abuses, it's also deeply personal, a lot of the time.

And so you get some people getting angry and feeling good (the expression of which may end up becoming more important than the actual arguments or issues on the table, much less coalition-building); you also get other people getting triggered by that anger and basically not able to respond to the real arguments being made, because they're in a very old place, their brains go on lockdown, and the only responses are fight, flight, or flee; nothing more sophisticated is possible.

Sometimes that even happens when a structurally privileged person is being called out by a member of an oppressed class (relative to the privileged person); and while it is true that a lot of defensiveness about the sociopolitical business does often come up, in my observation, it's not the -only- reason people seem to get unreasonably defensive, sometimes, this "protecting of their privilege;" it's (also, maybe occasionally even instead of) that they're back in this old and very personal place that probably has nothing to do with the argument at hand.

But of course the person making the political argument has no way of knowing this. And sometimes, indeed, the anger this person is expressing is -not- over-the-top insane annihilating rage, although sometimes it might be, too; sometimes it's just genuine, deeply felt, honest, anger at this not being heard, this weight of abuses sie's been experiencing and the sheer frustration of being studiously ignored or dismissed or slapped down when trying to voice hir problem.

And it is of course also very true that people in power-any sort of power--are always the ones whose feelings get considered first. Which is why it's so deeply enraging when people who are representing/speaking out of a structural source of power complain about "hurt feelings" and "don't get so angry" and so on. So of course the "unreasonable, angry" people get even angrier; and in truth, it -also- happens that the people in power use the "don't be angry" as a weapon. Because of course -they- get to be angry; -they- get to hurt feelings with blithe impunity...

You see this in structural situations, as noted here, in comments:

"...within relations of domination, it is generally the subordinates who are effectively relegated the work of understanding how the social relations in question really work. Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant kitchen, for example, knows that if something goes terribly wrong and an angry boss appears to size things up, he is unlikely to carry out a detailed investigation, or even, to pay serious attention to the workers all scrambling to explain their version of what happened. He is much more likely to tell them all to shut up and arbitrarily impose a story that allows instant judgment: i.e., “you’re the new guy, you messed up—if you do it again, you’re fired.” It’s those who do not have the power to hire and fire who are left with the work of figuring out what actually did go wrong so as to make sure it doesn’t happen again..Whether one is dealing with masters and servants, men and women, employers and employees, rich and poor, structural inequality—what I’ve been calling structural violence—invariably creates highly lopsided structures of the imagination. Since I think Smith was right to observe that imagination tends to bring with it sympathy: the result is that victims of structural violence tend to care about its beneficiaries far more than those beneficiaries care about them. This might well be, after the violence itself, the single most powerful force preserving such relations."


...and that's also true, i think, at the micro level: in the family. What Alice Miller calls "poisonous pedagogy:" the backasswards tradition of putting the adults' feelings and needs first, of expecting the child to meet the needs of the parents (which in turn were not met when -they- were children, because they were too busy anxiously attending to -their- parents...)

belledame222 said...

I have an ambivalent attitude toward anger. I grew up with one very critical and explosive parent, and another who rarely if ever expresses any anger at all, and tends to curl up and disappear during fights. I'm an only child, so I got to play all the roles, I think. I never did feel terribly safe--and I felt less safe in school, I was the eternal outsider, or it felt that way, at least through highschool--but i guess i still felt safe enough at home to yell back. And to internalize some of mom's own shit as well as my responses to it. (For one thing, that getting out-of-control angry can feel -good-, at least in the moment. Shh! Shh!) Unravelling all that (in therapy and elsewhere) has been an interesting process.

As it happens, in my case the angry one is/was Mom, the more passive, gentle one is Dad. I expect this also has something to do with the difference between my perception of gender relations and those of some of the more traditional "patriarchy-blamers."

Anonymous said...

Hee, that last bit sounds almost exactly like what my last therapist told me. And then she said, "you have to learn to deal with anger."...And then I told her I wasn't angry, just sad that I hated my dad so much when I realized now that he does and did love me. *Sigh.* Talk about being an unhelpful patient.

Anonymous said...

Ooops. I meant the comment about "poisonous pedagogy."

belledame222 said...

anyway, i have often thought that for a lot of women and other marginalized folks in these-here sociopolitical communities, it might do some good to just set the damn theory aside for a little while and start some good old fashioned assertiveness training.

The therapy and particularly self-help movement that got really popular in the 70's and on is held in a lot of contempt, I know, and particularly among old-school (and born-again) political types: we had a Movement going, but we lost the plot! everyone forgot about the collective nature of politics and focused on their own belly buttons, ptui, ptui.

and while I am sympathetic to a lot of the critique--it's often rooted in a particular class and cultural mindset and blind to the problems specific to sociopolitical oppressions, to -structural- abuses, at its worst it can be appallingly smug and vapid and solipsistic--at the same time, I do firmly believe that everything happens for a reason. Yah, people turned inward partly because the political and economic climate encouraged it; but also, i think, because there really was a need to take a good hard look at some of the stuff that had gone neglected during all the rallying and protesting and blaming (not saying incorrectly) the Man, the War, the government, the structure...

you know. "We have met the enemy and they is us."

That -has- to be dealt with, or we're never going to get anywhere. Personally -or- politically (and in fact, one is the other, yes).

belledame222 said...

did she give you any specific suggestions as to -how- to "deal with anger?"

R. Mildred said...

Okay, the little theory I've been working on jumps off of the idea that "(presumably heterosexual) sex is work (in the marxist sense) women do for men" and develops it properly (I'm so incredibly behind on my feminist literature though, so do tell me if this has been said by someone better before - I haven't even read ariel levy yet).

Okay so sex is work right? So is htere "sexual capital", and if so how is it controlled by the patriarchialists (you know, men, maureen dowd, ann coulter et al)?

Well with regular capital marx put forht that it's dependent on the competition between the proletariat over wages, which leads to the Wage/Labor dynamic, through which the bourgious control capital.

The problem is that the traditional conception of sex as work lacks any sort of parrelel for the wages, what are the wages of patriarchal sex?

So I pissed around with ideas of affection being the wages, looking at things like the quid pro quo sex concept I criticised in a post ages ago, but then I remembered that my thinking had placed things like vomitorriffic blowjobs and highheels on a scale of patriarchy where the only difference between the two was one of degree not kind, so either highheels (think of them as a symbol, like pi, for any lowgrade patriarchal oppression rather than as actual footwear for a second) have to be explained by this theory of sexual capital, or I have to rethink how I think of highheels.

guess which one I picked? (obstinence is the mother of all invention)

The key was what I'd been calling affection scarcity i.e. (presumably het) women will put up with any amount of bad sex from men because women aren't really allowed to recieve affection by the patriarchy unless they put up with all this crap first, so you can't get eaten out unless you first suck cock etc... which made sense because women like sex too, a thing often overlooked by the "sex is work" crowd.

Once I replaced affection with validation it all made a bit more sense, and also explained my "choice" to starve myself - to feel valid, or "empowered" as it's sometimes called, in a patriarchal society, you have to jump through all these self-abusing hoops to feel validated, and one of those self abusing hoops is that women can feel instantly validated - if they first invalidate another woman somehow.

...all of which probably makes no sense but if I didn't say something about this fuckign theory before I finished polishing it I'd have exploded, because it seems to explain so much of what's going on and I'll shut up now, sorry.

arielladrake said...

"As it happens, in my case the angry one is/was Mom, the more passive, gentle one is Dad. I expect this also has something to do with the difference between my perception of gender relations and those of some of the more traditional "patriarchy-blamers."

Just ... yes. I was like this, too. Mum was physically violent a lot of the time, also (towards Dad more than me). So much internalised shit.

Anonymous said...

Well, she probably would have if I'd seemed at all open to the idea, which I wasn't, and also I started crying tears of several things, including sadness, frustration, all my stored-up feelings of helplessness, topped off with a helping of hate (for self and others), so then she had to both calm me down and try to figure out what was with that, in which I also wasn't particularly helpful, since I couldn't articulate all of it then anyway. So, no...but I wouldn't blame her.

belledame222 said...

I only read about three quarters of the Levy book, but am fairly certain she doesn't touch on Marxism at all. there's a lot she doesn't touch on, tbh; it's not exactly the deepest analysis i've ever read.

I think I see kind of where you're going with the theory. i guess for me the language of materialism/Marxism doesn't really translate so well when it comes to this shit. it's a bit, i dunno, mechanistic? i don't mean because it's supposed to be LUUURRRVE or anything like that, here; i mean in general, I'm not so sold on the idea of materialism as the be-all and end-all, worldview-wise (yes, i am using it in the broader sense, not the Material Girl yuppie sense). I really need to read up on my Marx and his many descendants myself, because i'm pretty much talking out of my ass, i realize, when it comes to specifics. but in general i think i tend to be put off by Marxist talk not so much because of the concepts wrt class and so forth as because the feels very, I dunno, right angles and metallic surfaces and grinding gears. i mean, i'm sure there have been ways to bring the Industrial Revolution/modernism-based stuff up to date with this our post-post-post-whatever woild, but, like i say, i'm not that hep.

That said, i do think the "scarcity mentality" makes a lot of sense wrt relationships. The thing is--well, one thing: women also like and need sex, -and- i think men are also affection-starved; and -everyone- is validation-starved.

You'd be better able to speak to this than I, perhaps, but wrt eating disorders (if that's one of the things you were referring to here with "starvation;" correct me if i'm wrong): my understanding was always that it had to do with control. That is: it could be an internalization of the social dictate that women (especially) be "under control;" but it's also a way to feel internally "in control" of -something;- hey, you can't control this that and the other external thing, but at least you have (this) power over your own body.

So in a way I could see it as a "choice," as with pretty much everything: the question(s) is, how consciously was the choice made; what were the other options being presented (and how aware were you of their existence); what were the circumstances that led you to it; and at what point does it become a behavior that no longer serves you (if it ever really completely did).

but i do think most everything is done with at least the intention (however unconscious and unarticulated) to address a real need, yeah. It doesn't necessarily mean "oh, okay, just go do your thing, then," but i tend to prefer it to a more pathologizing way of looking at, well, what are commonly called "addictive" behaviors, more and more these days.

iow: maybe it's not "why can't i stop doing this?" or even just "why am i doing this?" so much as, also, "what am i NOT doing instead of this? why is this preferable?"

anyway, back to the main points:

i think in general (a lot of) women aren't socialized to ask for much of -anything,- is the thing, and particularly not physical pleasure. Certainly not -directly.- Which makes for all kinds of fun, that last bit, o yes.

and men aren't actually supposed to need affection (certainly not from other men). which doesn't mean that they do not, of course. and actually they're not really socialized to -ask- either, are they; some things are simply one's due, and others, well, who needs it anyway? Besides, "asking" implies weakness (for the particularly unevolved, certainly, at least), and fuck knows we wouldn't want -that.-

so really the problem is that no one is actually telepathic.

oh, on a possibly related note, you might be interested in this post i did a while back. and yes, i did turn a not-very-sympathetic spotlight on some random poor slob; to be fair, i was only joining the party late, and, anyway, well, you'll see for yourself. not exactly the world's most sympathetic character. still, though. i actually did drop in anonymously later and wrote a few not-so-snarky comments. who knows if he ever actually processed any of it, assuming he's really, like, for real (i think he is, sadly). anyway:

belledame222 said...

lilcollegegirl: i'm trying to say this without coming off Helpy Helperton or prying wrt your therapy, (which i may already have done); but: it's all part of the process, that, you know. i mean, the whole point is that you're not able to articulate a lot of this stuff at first...

anyway i asked because actually i wonder myself, sometimes, what people mean when they say "you need to get in touch with" (whatever feeling it is). yes, nice trick if you can do it, but...

Anonymous said...

True. And I'm not with her anymore anyway. The main problem I generally have, I think, is not as much in the recognizing of problems (although I can be just as blind as the next person to my flaws, if I've a mind to), but not having a place to go after that. So often it's like, "okay, here we have a problem. Now what do I do about it?" And I don't know. Which, it has so far appeared, no one can help me with. So I muddle as best I can when I have the energy to ignore the fear.

R. Mildred said...

it feels very, I dunno, right angles and metallic surfaces and grinding gears.

Well it's basically a mish mash of sociology and economics so dryness is a given in the language, but I find the way it tends to focus on relationships between things useful, personally marx is a bit too bourgie really, so I tend to use him as a jumping off point for political algebra, if "proletariat" equals women/LGBTonauts, and "bourgois" equals normative society...

my understanding was always that it had to do with control.

Well it's a mental disorder, so broad "THIS is what THAT is about" formulas don't always work too well, there's an element of control issues in there, but there's also social identity issues, as well as plain old thanatos-esque neurosis, social-phobias and crys for help, and out of that mess of interconnecting issues each eating disorder sufferer is a unique and individual snowflake.

For me the whole "this is what I wnat ot look like" issue is dominant, but there are elements of plain old fat-phobia (after a while ana gets a bit self perpetuating, I'm afraid of being fat because I've ana, and I've got ana because I'm afraid of being fat) and other stuff in there too.

belledame222 said...

>Well it's a mental disorder, so broad "THIS is what THAT is about" formulas don't always work too well, there's an element of control issues in there, but there's also social identity issues, as well as plain old thanatos-esque neurosis, social-phobias and crys for help, and out of that mess of interconnecting issues each eating disorder sufferer is a unique and individual snowflake.

For me the whole "this is what I wnat ot look like" issue is dominant, but there are elements of plain old fat-phobia (after a while ana gets a bit self perpetuating, I'm afraid of being fat because I've ana, and I've got ana because I'm afraid of being fat) and other stuff in there too.>

Sure, that makes sense.

I've been meaning to write about fat-phobia for a while now; there's a lot wrapped up in that (collectively) as well, i think.

belledame222 said...

What do you mean by "thanatos-esque neurosis?" I mean, i know what "thanatos" is, i'm just wondering what this means for you in this context. you see this as an urge toward death?

Anonymous said...

Great post! Reminded me of something that really happened to me a couple of years ago. A straight woman I met through work, (around 50 - a health professional - no that's not my field..) on discovering I was a lesbian and that it was ok to mention it said this - I kid you not.

"How can you be a lesbian? Women are such bitches!"

belledame222 said...

"Can't live with yourself, can't live without yourself..."

piny said...

Well it's a mental disorder, so broad "THIS is what THAT is about" formulas don't always work too well, there's an element of control issues in there, but there's also social identity issues, as well as plain old thanatos-esque neurosis, social-phobias and crys for help, and out of that mess of interconnecting issues each eating disorder sufferer is a unique and individual snowflake.

Exactly. There's a double complexity: What underlying problems have you constructed this disordered behavior around? What are you solving or coping with? And then, Why did you choose this specific method? What does your body mean to you, that this makes sense?

It's another little quibble I have with some feminist strains of thought, actually: "This is what that's about" becomes, "ED is a response to patriarchy."

belledame222 said...

Well, yes, once they've (apparently) started using "patriarchy" to mean "the cause of everything Bad that's ever happened, ever."

and of course the only cure is to pick up a bullhorn and shout in the ED'd person's ear that YOU ARE A VICTIM OF THE PATRIARCHY, WISE UP!! YOU SAD PATHETIC BRAINWASHED FOOL!! YOU'RE HURTING YOURSELF, YOU STUPID FUCK, AND YOU'RE ALSO HURTING OTHER WOMEN! YOU'RE HURTING -ME!!- OW! (smack) OW! (smack) OW!! (smack). LOOK WHAT YOU'RE MAKING US DO!!"

...that is Feminism.

i mean, i don't believe that -yet;- but maybe if Some People "explain" it to me a few thousand more times it might finally start to make sense. or my eardrums will start to go, or i'll expire out of sheer exasperation and spite, and then at least i won't be resistant any more, which will mean it'll have worked. one way or the other, really.

piny said...

and of course the only cure is to pick up a bullhorn and shout in the ED'd person's ear that YOU ARE A VICTIM OF THE PATRIARCHY, WISE UP!! YOU SAD PATHETIC BRAINWASHED FOOL!! YOU'RE HURTING YOURSELF, YOU STUPID FUCK, AND YOU'RE ALSO HURTING OTHER WOMEN! YOU'RE HURTING -ME!!- OW! (smack) OW! (smack) OW!! (smack). LOOK WHAT YOU'RE MAKING US DO!!"

Right. Even when it's not so extreme, you get the sense that any attempt to talk about your disorder in terms other than, "This is what the patriarchy got me to do to myself," is ignored. It's an unpleasant feeling, and it's made me pretty allergic to feminist critiques of eating-disordered mentalities in general, even the on-target ones.

piny said...

Of course, I get the sense that the imaginal reception of eating disorders with which RMildred is acquainted is inverse. If anything, she has a difficult time getting anyone to acknowledge the patriarchal aspects of eating disorders.

belledame222 said...

On the whole, it's just totally awesome when someone else -tells- you they understand your experience better than you do...and won't take "no" for an answer. Even better when you never actually asked, and the person hasn't the wit of a sparrow and has a voice (aural or otherwise) like a drill.

belledame222 said...

RM, i just now read your "Anorexia is Patriarchal" post back at PAB.

i had a brief period when i was a kid, don't know if it could technically be called anorexia as it was before puberty and i stopped it eventually more or less on my own (a doctor told me i might -not- hit puberty at this rate, and from then on i started obsessing about that instead, and eating again).

but there are picture of me from then where you can see if not count my ribs through my t-shirt. this is very much an anomolous period in my life; i was heavy-end-of-average-to-mildly overweight for most of my childhood and adolescence; when i hit twenty-one i gained a good fifty pounds and i've been at least that much overweight ever since, or pretty much (give or take a few i guess; probably a net "give" over the past twelve years, i expect. i don't weigh myself at the doctor's if i can avoid it, and i -have- avoided it, for years now).

but i can still remember some of the feelings, certainly the reasons: like you, it had to do with media images and internalizing a lot of crap from nasty little classmates.

so mostly it was about image. and a certain sense of -goal-, of structure, something as narrow and mindless as dropping numbers (sort of like playing video games or--i expect--the stock market, only in reverse, perhaps. something). and a certain odd pleasure in self-denial, sometimes, and yeah, the physical exertion of lots of exercise; like chewing on tinfoil, kind of.

what i never lost was my taste for food, my sensual enjoyment (I'm pretty sure); i just ate a lot less of it, and did a -lot- more exercise. at that age it was enough.

my suspicion is that obsessive-compulsion (which probably runs in my family to some degree) has something to do with it, as i noticed that when i stopped with that bit i was immediately onto something else, as i've said. and i'm just a -tad- hyperfocused even now...

Anonymous said...

The thanatos thing might just be me, my seriously self destructive period coincided with my worst periods of anorexia. And of course my most self destructive period also coincided with my "It's not self harm, it's martial arts!" period, where the line between self hating flagellation and anorexia was infinitesimal. It might just be me, but there was that element of "bad(fat) person, bad(fat) person, starve yourself/exercise to make amends!" going on.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post, and sorry I missed it when it was first out. Much to chew on with all this.

You know what about 1/3 of my personal library consists of? Books about the sex industry (from Sheila Jeffreys to Wendy McElroy), and books that are variations on the theme of "the [sometimes real, sometimes so-called] evil that women do." Books on women in hate groups. Books on lesbian battering. Books on women who commit violence against children. And then books about women accused of evildoing who have simply expressed full personhood, which can, of course, include acts of violence.

Even as far back as 1992 (when I was at Kate Millett's) I had a bibliography on the latter set of subjects that went to 500+ citations.

So you have some idea of how the material of this play, and your writeup of same, resonates with me.

I'll be back when I've had some opportunity to further digest this. Warning though: as with everything concerning me and words, this could take years.

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