Patriarchal power has been normalized to date, and not critiqued by the important figures of Western intellectual culture.
One reason for this is suggested by writer, Samuel Slipp*, who holds that it was because Freud had abandonment issues with his mother, which prevented him from viewing his relationship with his mother in a logical, correct and consistent way. Due to his unstable connection with his mother, he was unable to make any inroads into “feminine psychology”. Perhaps “human psychology as it pertains to women” would have been a better term.
In any case, from a young age Freud’s psyche was split between seeing his mother in a wholly positive and wholly negative light. He would have had to understand his own psychology in relation to his mother to make sense of hers, but the “light” kept changing on him, due to early developmental issues.
As an important side note: It is my considered view that “feminine psychology” is a practical outcome of patriarchal power dynamics. In my view, an understanding of social dimensions and their changing nature is vital, or else one ends up with the metaphysical postulates one had started with. If women are necessarily “passive” — so be it. That is a fundamental truth of metaphysics. If one has accepts this, one will not be able to turn up any evidence to the contrary, no matter how widely one may look. It is of vital importance, therefore, to differentiate metaphysics (with its religious basis) from genuine science, which is always alert to measuring the changing world “out there”.
But, patriarchal approaches to psychology have ruled supreme, even up until today. What this means is that a certain degree of pathology — including Freud’s own, indicated by a lack of knowledge of “the psychology of the feminine” — has become normalized. Patriarchal dynamics, insofar as they exert a negative and pathological effect on those who come under them, have not at all been understood. Although feminists and sociologists are well aware of the negative outcomes of power as suppression, psychologists, in my experience, lag behind.
I have already written broadly about my father’s experiences with his mother. His father had been shot down in a plane over the ocean, during World War Two. I’m uncertain of the details, except that he was a radio-man in the back of the plane and was fighting on the British side of the war. My father grew up to hate his mother, due to similar abandonment issues to those Slipp describes with regard to Freud. Only, my father’s abandonment issues were more extreme. He also dealt with them differently from Freud. Rather than retaining an unconscious (that is, not intellectually integrated) ambivalence toward his mother, he developed contradictory principles to live by.
The first principle my father internalized was that one must, unconditionally, obey authorities to gain permission to thrive. This was a message from his mother, whose marriage of convenience had allowed my father to have a source of financial sustenance. She had obeyed the patriarchal principle of finding a male breadwinner, in order to support her child, my father. There was no social security system in Rhodesia Consequently, he had to also learn to obey this principle of necessity unconditionally. “Even though this new power over you is arbitrary and alien, you must obey it unconditionally.”
The second principle my father had internalized was that unconditional obedience leads to pain, abandonment and a life where one doesn’t get to decide the final meaning of anything. It’s inadvisable to follow this path. My father, in many unguarded moments, made it extremely clear to me that the path of unconditional obedience also leads to relentless, inescapable misery.
My father’s subconscious communication to me has always been in terms of two opposing principles: I command you to submit to all authorities without condition. I also caution you that this path leads to the most extreme form of unhappiness there is on Earth. If you do accept this formula for living, be aware that you will be extremely miserable. Nobody can help you here.”
So I learned a great deal from my father about how not to conform, under pain of risking my very sense of being.
My father’s principles were tricky, though. He’d placed a great deal of emphasis on the side of unconditional obedience. Indeed, he’d label any difficulties in life as being related to an inability to unconditionally trust.
Thus, when I faced some problems in my life, due to taking others at their word too much, which is related to my right-wing culturally conditioned naiveté, he would always label the problem in the exact opposite terms. “You’re not trusting enough! Your belief in authorities is too conditional.” I learned that this wasn’t so when my father tried to break down my sense of independence, to teach me to “trust”. Once again, it was a contradictory message: “If you give up your power to authorities, you will lose the pain that’s brought about by separateness.” The addendum was: “Only — from experience, I can tell you that this solution to your problems will induct you into desperate and suicidal misery!”
Of course, I decided not to trust my father on this. It was not only his logical consistencies, but his emotional urgency that persuaded me against developing too deep a trust.
Still, there were people who could not help but see things entirely his way. They were people who thought they were on his side, but were actually working against him, because they sided with unconditional trust of all authorities, no matter who they were. That is, they supported the idea that no matter what troubles it had already bought us, the patriarchal structure of paternal authority was correct. Thus they made the faith-based assumption that if I conformed to my father’s requirements, all would be well. But his own experience, as it had become semi-articulate, had warned me against this.
Clearly, I couldn’t side with unconditional trust. My father’s integrity had designated this a bad option. I also couldn’t side with unconditional acceptance. This was a demand that came from my father’s would-be allies. Their demands nearly undid me. I had to fight was so fiercely to keep my sense of self.
There are those who read my memoir and decided that my fight for independence from authoritarian control was all wrong. I’ve had those who, in opposition to my father’s semi-articulate plea not to trust the formula of all-acceptance, have demanded that unconditionally I accept a new way of life in Australia. There are also those who cannot understand why I will not conform to my father’s requirements to become his unconditionally accepting mother. I should be the punching bag against which his desperate emotions raged. It should be clear to them that any child is not equipped to be their father’s mother — to unconditionally accept them, so that they can move beyond the early childhood stage of confusion into adult maturity.
Those who would lay on me the heavy burden of being my father’s mother, correcting the past through controlling the present, have no idea what they are doing to me. A child cannot accept an adult’s burdens — and the story of my memoir is how I had accepted them for too long.
There are all sorts of situations that disturb me profoundly because they seem to be demanding of me, as a woman, that I give my trust and approval to them without nuance or critical distancing measure. I am to accept any authority without questioning or investigating whether it is good or bad. These situations paralyze me with a threat of annihilation. I can’t engage emotionally with such demands. I’m overwhelmed with numbness. I disengage.
For my whole life, there are those who have tried to force me to become the pre-Oedipal mother of my father, in the belief that “father knows best” and submitting to authority without question is the norm. In response, I’ve feared every situation that demanded I give my trust, without restriction. Not giving my trust in this way has been the only measure between me and my absolute destruction. I have often saved my life that way.
Others like to assume this disengagement is related to my ego. I must have such a gigantic ego that I can’t engage with people who demand my absolute acceptance.
The opposite is the case as I am preserving my ego when I disengage. I can’t deal with being anybody’s early childhood mother, or with giving them my wholehearted trust, regardless of their real behavior.
* Samuel Slipp’s book, The Freudian Mystique, usefully suggests why the psycho-dynamics of patriarchal family structures did not come under scrutiny via Freud.