The Psychology of Sexism according to a Humbly Investigative Layperson, Part III

Brief Recap: In the previous sections, I joyously but pithily defined some basic psychoanalytic concepts and discussed how our early childhood experiences, in the context of our patriarchal culture, feed into and create sexism.

And so! In conclusion!

It appears to me that the only defense against distressing feelings is to face them. Facing them is not easy. But to live without EMPATHY is to deny other people the humanity you are also denying yourself. Unconsciously, all people displace and react against unpleasant feelings. Consciously, we are all taught to contend with some of these feelings in the same way that we take Advil, to treat the symptoms of distress (as in “Women make me nervous, this feeling makes me nauseous, hence all women are evil!”) instead of painfully but bravely confronting the source (“I hated my mother, underneath that hatred is intense unfulfilled love”). In a large sense, misogyny is a distorted way of unconsciously maintaining a secretly loving link to what one ostensibly hates. Just as indifference is the opposite of love, love and hatred both exist in heightened forms. Caring deeply about something is not so different from deeply superficially hating what really brings up a whole slew of contradictory, scary feelings.

Socially-approved methods of dealing with distressing feelings generally include shaming, blaming, and scapegoating its members who are most vulnerable: Women and anything considered “feminine,” which is to say: anything that reminds one of oneself.

I have a few solutions! And they all have to do with internal and external education. Externally, we must actively fight against unequal treatment and fight for acceptance and appreciation of difference. We are not all the same. We are neither worse nor better than others. We are people. Doing our darnedest. We must encourage all people who wish to procreate to do so with awareness of socially-encouraged inequalities so that, within a heterosexual union, for example, a child has examples of both male and female affection, security and honest mistakes, because then all people would be represented as people not just as “bad mothers.” If a child’s parent is a single parent, that parent should have the support of both genders and a social system that provides for the future of its children! (See my next paragraph where I throw down the gauntlet for some help on this one.) If a child is raised by same-sex parents or multiple parents or a loving pack of wolves, it doesn’t matter. It’s not blood relations that make a person, it’s acceptance and appreciation.

As long as there is more than ONE overburdened, unready, hurt person raising a child, the child would at least not be as burdened under the weight of memory, associating pain with a particular gender. Internally, we all want to have power. We all want to feel that we have worth. Our unconscious defense mechanisms are in place precisely to defend our sense of power and worth. But if we need defend ourselves at the expense of another or another group of persons, that becomes an issue. There ought to be realistic delegations of feelings and potentialities to ALL people. There must be an eradication of chivalry and harassment; impelled by greater credence given to equality and acceptance. There must be an eradication of rape culture; impelled by sex-positive education that will engender sexual literacy, equality, openness, and exploration, instead of sexually-limiting men as monsters and sexually-limiting women as sexless.

Of course these things can’t occur in a vacuum. In our unjust economic system, we penalize our most vulnerable members, limit people’s control over their own bodies, constantly instill unrealistic myths and limit people’s time, energy, resources, and emotional availability to new ideas, scary concepts and self-exploration. So, in the absence of a more egalitarian social model, and until the rest of my more Marxist-feminist colleagues come up with a system that allows for creativity, ethics, and openness, I would humbly say: Boasting and belittling is weak. Helping yourself and other people is truly brave. No good comes from putting all the onus on men or giving none of the options to women. We should all share the burdens and all share the joys. I have been led to believe that “no one is free until everyone is free.” I agree. I would then add: No one can be free unless you free yourself.


By Rebecca Katherine Hirsch

Born in the back of a cattle car in the Spring of ’32, Rebecca subsisted on mealworms and rutabagas until she was reborn in the Fall of '85. Since then, she has worked as an acclaimed art model, writer and psychoanalytic feminist. Feed her, for she hungers.

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