The Feminist Rant No One Asked For (especially not Freud)

Welcome back, good readers. It’s Sydney again, and I am going to start the conversation with an amazing show that I have enjoyed binge-watching very much. The first time I watched the show “Mad Men,” about 10 minutes into the show I had to stop and pause it. Within those first 10 minutes, I was hit with such open and aggressive expressions of misogyny that I was honestly taken aback. By pausing the show I felt that in some way, I was separating my world from that of the show, set in the early 1960s. “Mad Men” follows the lives of many office employees at a large Advertising Firm in Manhattan. The women are the secretaries and the men are the executives. Just within the first episode, I saw the main character, Don Draper, storm out of the office, because he wasn’t going to let a woman “speak to him like that.” The woman, the CEO of a major department store, simply disagreed with him. Every night the husbands went home with the expectation that a hot meal was waiting for them. The secretaries in the office were the butt of a bottomless spew of sexist and sexualizing jokes. So yes, after 10 minutes, I had to reinforce to myself the difference between my world and theirs; but after reading Freud, specifically within the frame of freedom and domination, I am beginning to wonder if this so called “difference” is something I can be comforted by. Within our final blog post, both Katie and I will use Freud to analyze different forms of media from the early 60s and today to see just how much progress we have really made.

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Like they were getting at in the show, advertising is not just advertising. It is social commentary, politics, and something just as proactive and progressive as reactive. By looking at an advertisement, we can learn a lot about the social norms and expectations of many consumers. The company is trying to fit their vision of a lifestyle into the social frames already in place. By analyzing both what the consumer wants and what they are fed, we can learn a lot about political and social issues, and in this case, the role of the woman in relation to the man.

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The advertisement shown above was circulated in the early 1960s. The main text, “show her it’s a man’s world” and the smaller text on the left are strategically used to reinforce the power of the man. On the right, the woman is on her knees serving the man breakfast. She has a smile on her face, depicting that she is happy to serve her husband. One specific line caught my eye: “power-packed patterns that tell her it’s a man’s world…and make her so happy it is.” The woman’s smile and the last portion of the quoted text suggests that women are happy with their limited social mobility and are happily dominated by their male counterparts.

This is an interesting contrast from the first Freudian case study that we read in which a patient, Elizabeth Von R, is suffering from physical pain brought on by the multiple levels of domination she is subjected to in her life. The theme of domination is first introduced as a form of conflict in Elizabeth Von R’s life, causing her to repress her feelings towards this conflict, manifesting in a physical pain. As we learn more about Elizabeth Von R, we learn that her father, the main male figure in her life, is sick, and the responsibility of his care has landed on Elizabeth’s shoulders. Not only does she act out of love, but tightly bound to these emotions, is a duty to her father. For this reason, she sacrifices all other endeavors outside of the home. It is the night that she leaves, and sees a man that she has had romantic feelings, yet can’t seem to act upon, that an internal conflict intensifies. She is not only dominated by her duty to her father, but society that forces the caretaker duty upon her. It is this internal conflict, this tether within her, that forces a physical manifestation of pain to arise. It is through Elizabeth Von R’s case study that Freud first addresses the theme of freedom of domination and opposes the popular 1960s ad.

Thanks, Sydney! Greetings, readers, it’s Katie, back and better than ever. Let’s discuss the themes Sydney presented, but with a modern day twist. We might think that women’s rights to freedom and expected role in society has come a long way since the 1960s, and we’d be right. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should stop pointing out when people continue to adhere to antiquated social standards, or just accept it when people tell us we should be “content with the progress that’s already been made.” Especially in recent politics, when women’s rights to healthcare has been discussed, mostly by men, and threatened, we wonder whether much so-called progress has been made at all.

Many modern outlooks mimic the kind of degrading standards one might have seen half a century ago. For example, there is a series of images available online that superimposes comments made by Donald Trump onto advertisements from many years ago, showing how many Americans believe that the sorts of attitudes of female domination that we look back at with outrage are somehow acceptable in a presidential candidate.

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Besides the way that modern society continues to view women, we have the enduring problem of how women are expected to behave. The classic housewife archetype is considered outdated, but we see similar trends in many American households today. For example, before Thanksgiving last year, I saw a post online about how a young woman had noticed in her family that the preparation, hosting, and cleanup was often left exclusively to her and her mother. I doubted that the same could be observed in my family. But when the holidays rolled around, I couldn’t help noticing that after the meal, my mother, aunt, and I all rose to clear the dishes while my father, uncle, and male cousin remained seated, chatting. These are the sorts of little things we might not notice because they seem natural to us, or not worth getting worked up about. But these trends still exist, remnants from a prior era that doesn’t seem so different in certain lights.

Another example of how modern day women remain dominated by societal expectations can be found in the current hot-topic of emotional labor. Not only do women continue to perform the majority of household duties and take care of children (dads who are forced to do the same sometimes complain about having to “babysit” their own kids: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jenny-witte/dads-watching-their-own-kids-are-not-babysitting_b_7504458.html), but women also are burdened with the duty of explaining things that should be obvious, or that a man could easily figure out himself if he put some simple effort into it. It is assumed that if a man asks a question, it is a women’s job to take the time to explain. It’s also assumed that if a woman doesn’t know something, or especially if she does know and/or doesn’t ask, it is the man’s duty to mansplain it to her.

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In the same way that Elizabeth von R felt a duty to her father, modern day women feel a duty to their husbands, brothers, sons, boyfriends, and male friends. Elizabeth was a brilliant woman who had a right to her own life. There is no reason she shouldn’t have been able to make her own decisions and spend time on herself while also taking care of her father – she shouldn’t have been the only one that burden fell to. Similarly, the woman who experienced the “love services” dream herself described “feeling simply that she was doing her duty” (169). Even her own unconscious sexual urges were somehow aligned with, or could only be expressed through, her subordinate relation to men.

Women continue to be dominated and oppressed by their role in society, and by the expectations that are placed on them for both physical and emotional labor. Certain freedoms have been fought for and won, but the more freedoms we win, the more instances of domination we notice. For example, not getting any help clearing the table or having someone mansplain salmon to me (this actually occurred) might not have seemed like a significant concern if I didn’t have the right to vote, but it sure bothers me now. Complete freedom cannot exist until domination has been eradicated. This clearly has not happened yet, and I wouldn’t even say we’re close. But I do think we’re on the right path. Or at least near it.

This is where we leave you, dear readers. Have a lovely day, free from misogyny!

Sydney & Katie

Other fun things that have been mansplained to us: the election, WWII, world peace, pianos, musicals, economics, German, fabrics, respect, and our personal favorite, feminism (specifically, how hard it is to be a male feminist).

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One thought on “The Feminist Rant No One Asked For (especially not Freud)

  1. I really appreciate your use of just the Elizabeth Von R case in juxtaposition to misogynistic advertising. I was curious if you viewed these examples as a part of educating the ego that acts to dominate her libidinal urges to force them into the unconscious, thereby causing her pain. Is it even possible for all domination to be eradicated and us to continue to have a stable society? Doesn’t that contradict the reality principle?

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