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Supplemental Essay: Devaluation and Objectification

 

I want to take the opportunity of this supplemental essay to pursue a couple tangents. 

 

First, in the section entitled "Great Mother Versus Great Father at the S Level" I mentioned that Men's societies and the patriarchal world in general tend to devalue the feminine influence, and I discussed the issue at more length in the supplemental essay entitled "Men's Societies." So below I will add a few quotes on how Sexuality and its bivalent (the underworld) are similarly devalued in a patriarchal consciousness.

 

The second tangent concerns the way in which Sexuality versus Spirituality acts as a "gender dichotomy," that is, the way in which it affects gender roles, including how the two sexes are expected to relate to love and sex.

 

1) Sexuality and devaluation of the feminine

In the main essay I said, If the Great Mother is represented by Sexuality, then her "bivalent"--the Terrible Mother--becomes the soul-destroying side of the physical and sensual: The underworld.

 

Devaluation of the feminine originally derives from the way that S-level children see the world, which is subsequently mirrored in the make-up of early societies at the stage of patriarchal polytheism (although it can persist even up to modern times in traditionalist religious beliefs). The more that males envision themselves as creatures of spirit, the more the feminine influence seems threatening and hellish. Erich Neumann says that this is a consequence of the S level where masculinity is still emerging, sometimes unsteadily, from the orbit of the Great Mother.

In The Fear of the Feminine Eric Neumann says, "Devaluation of the Earth, hostility towards the Earth, fear of the Earth: these are all from the psychological point of view the expression of a weak patriarchal consciousness that knows no other way to help itself than to withdraw violently from the fascinating and overwhelming domain of the Earthly. For we know that the archetypal projection of the Masculine experiences, not without justice, the Earth as the unconscious-making, instinct-entangling, and therefore dangerous Feminine. [...] The Earth archetype [...] is fused together with the archaic image of the Mother Goddess."[1]

 

Neumann says, "[T]he archetype of the Masculine Heaven is connected positively with the conscious mind, and the collective powers that threaten and devour the conscious mind both from without and within, are regarded as Feminine. A negative evaluation of the Earth archetype is therefore necessary and inevitable for a masculine, patriarchal conscious mind that is still weak. [...] As a result of the one-sidedness of the conscious mind, the human personality becomes involved in an equally one-sided opposition to its own unconscious, so that actually a split occurs. [...B]oth worlds are still parts of the personality, and the repressing masculine spiritual world of Heaven and of the values of the conscious mind is continually undermined and threatened by the repressed but constantly attacking opposite side."[2]

 

Neumann says, "There is a psychological vicious circle here. The more such an insecure human consciousness is imbued with fear, the more man experiences the jeopardy of his position, and is brought to an ever-renewed confirmation of his 'fallen state.'"[3]

 

Elsewhere Neumann suggests that the conscious mind turns away from unconscious and the Great Mother associations residing there, resulting in repression and deep-rooted anxiety. Repressed fears are projected outward, and anxiety gets expressed as fear of demons and witches in medieval times, as well as fear of opposing political or religious systems in modern times.[4]

 

In her book Sexual Personae, Camille Paglia agrees with Neumann that men define themselves in terms of opposition to women. She describes the situation rather more dramatically, and at the same time is perhaps more cognizant of the benefits that masculinity bring to the world:

 

On the male need to differentiate himself from the mother, Paglia says, "Man, repelled by his debt to a physical mother, created an alternate reality, a heterocosm to give him the illusion of freedom. [...] He must transform himself into an independent being, that is, a being free of her. If he does not, he will simply fall back into her. Reunion with the mother is a siren call haunting our imagination. Once there was bliss, and now there is struggle."[5]

 

Paglia adds, "Masculinity must fight off effeminacy day by day. Woman and nature stand ever ready to reduce the male to boy and infant."[6]

 

And elsewhere: "Man's metaphors of concentration and projection are echoes of both body and mind. Without them, he would be helpless before woman's power. Without them, woman would long ago have absorbed all of creation into herself. There would be no culture, no system, no pyramiding of one hierarchy upon another. Earth-cult must lose to sky-cult, if mind is ever to break free from matter."[7]

 

Before I quote more Paglia, I should note that Camille Paglia is a political liberal, a lesbian, and a feminist. But she is one of the earlier generations of feminist (she has called herself a "first-wave feminist," an "Amazon feminist" and an "equity feminist" over the years), and she disagrees with the later waves of feminism. She believes in equal rights for men and women, but she has been pushing back against perceived excesses of the more recent waves of feminism, which she says are unreasonably anti-male. She says that modern popular feminism has moved away from demanding equality and turned in the direction of reciting infantilizing victimhood narratives. In her book Free Women, Free Men Paglia says, "A peevish, grudging rancor against men has been one of the most unpalatable and unjust features of second- and third-wave feminism. Men's faults, failings, and foibles have been seized on and magnified into gruesome bills of indictment."[8]

Again, Paglia takes a more benign view of masculinity than the later, more extreme waves of feminism. Paglia says that masculinity has taken a certain form over the millennia because it was needed for survival and for the building of civilization: Those things weren't going to come from women. In Sexual Personae, Paglia famously said, "If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts."[9]

 

Paglia says that males fight the idea of the Great Mother, fearing a return to the chthonian depths. Man has to fight nature in order to build culture, and he has to fight woman to stay free and active. "From the beginning of time, woman has seemed an uncanny being. Man honored but feared her. She was the black maw that had spat him forth and would devour him anew. Men, bonding together, invented culture as a defense against female nature."[10] Thus, science and math represent a safe haven for males, a "flight from emotion to number": "The realm of number, the crystalline mathematic of Apollonian purity, was invented early on by western man as a refuge from the soggy emotionalism and bristling disorder of woman and nature. [...] The chthonian superflux of emotion is a male problem. A man must do battle with that enormity, which resides in woman and nature. He can attain selfhood only by beating back the daemonic cloud that would swallow him up: mother-love, which we may just as well call mother-hate."[11]

 

When it comes to interactions between the two sexes, the daemonic is always lurking in the background. According to Paglia, the daemonic of love is war; and the daemonic of masculine versus feminine is attack and rape versus entrapment and infantilization. She says, "The sexes are eternally at war. There is an element of attack, of search-and-destroy in male sex, in which there will always be the potential for rape. There is an element of entrapment in female sex, a subliminal manipulation leading to physical and emotional infantilization of the male."[12]

 

And if relationships are a war, the sex act itself is a skirmish, a battle in that war: "For the male, every act of intercourse is a return to the mother and a capitulation to her. For men, sex is a struggle for identity. In sex, the male is consumed and released again by the toothed power that bore him, the female dragon of nature."[13]

 

2) Sexuality versus Spirituality as a gender dichotomy: Holistic versus compartmentalized

In the main essay I described Sexuality versus Spirituality as a gender dichotomy in the following manner:

  • In early societies women were enmeshed in the physical and sensual aspects of life by virtue of living in a collective environment that centered around the household, birthing, nurturing, feeding, and caretaking.

  • In the case of men, sexuality tended to be compartmentalized and to be indulged sporadically with focus and intensity, that is, with S-level differentiation and analysis.

 

This gender-based difference can lead to differences in the way the two sexes have traditionally or historically viewed sexuality and the sex act itself. 

  • Women have tended to see sexuality as holistic; love, sex, and romance are intermixed. Physicality, sensuality, and intimacy are facts of life, and they get woven into the fabric of daily interaction with the community around us;

  • Men have tended to see sexuality as something to be tamed, confined, and tightly controlled. There is a time for work and a time for play; but men believe there should be strong, high firewalls between the two.

 

In Sexual Personae, Camille Paglia compares the two sexes as follows: "Man is sexually compartmentalized. [...] Woman's eroticism is diffused throughout her body. Her desire for foreplay remains a notorious area of miscommunication between the sexes. [...] Male sexuality is inherently manic-depressive. Estrogen tranquilizes, but androgen agitates. Men are in a constant state of sexual anxiety, living on the pins and needles of their hormones. In sex as in life they are driven beyond--beyond the self, beyond the body. Even in the womb this rule applies. Every fetus becomes female unless it is steeped in male hormone, produced by a signal from the testes. Before birth, therefore, a male is already beyond the female. But to be beyond is to be exiled from the center of life. Men know they are sexual exiles. They wander the earth seeking satisfaction, craving and despising, never content. There is nothing in that anguished motion for women to envy."[14]

 

But then where is the meeting point in this dance of the sexes? What does "centroversion" look like? I would argue that it's the phenomenon of objectification: Both sexes objectify the other.

Objectification

In the realm of culture and art, objectification generally means freezing a thing or a person in one aspect or appearance for examination, usually as an objet d'art or for purposes of sex and pornography. Personhood and identity are downplayed in favor of the extraction of one- or two-dimensional aesthetic aspects or some other quality for appreciation and study. Objectification involves compartmentalization and the application of boundaries and frames to draw out those aesthetics that are attractive and exclude those that distract.

 

Camille Paglia provides some good observations on the nature of objectification. Paglia argues that objectification is the very process by which we perceive the world. Man conceptualizes by looking at rough nature and extracting its essence--the universal laws and principles that govern the world. Similarly, art is about identifying and focusing on the most important elements that make up beauty and extracting those for contemplation while excluding the rest of the mundane world.

 

The enjoyment of pornography is, perhaps, the "daemonic" aspect of this process. But if so, then it will always be present as part of our conceptualization function. Paglia says, "The western eye makes things, idols of Apollonian objectification. Pornography makes many well-meaning people uncomfortable because it isolates the voyeuristic element present in all art, and especially cinema. All the personae of art are sex objects. [...] Pornography and art are inseparable, because there is voyeurism and voracity in all our sensations as seeing, feeling beings."[15]

 

I think that the last point is important. Objectification isn't just about pornography; it is also about finding and refining that which is most beautiful in life. Objectification is what we make of it.

 

However, objectification isn't a one-way street. If objectification is centroversion, then both parties must be taking part in the process. Starting with the process of male objectification of females:

 

Men objectifying women

Paglia says that the cult of beauty is an artistic creation of man. Men attempt to focus only on certain parts of a woman's body, accentuating the positive while tuning out the mundane or ugly; objectification turns into sexualization, and men fixate on breasts, hips, and buttocks. "By focusing on the shapely, by making woman a sex-object, man has struggled to fix and stabilize nature's dreadful flux. Objectification is conceptualization, the highest human faculty. Turning people into sex objects is one of the specialities of our species. It will never disappear, since it is intertwined with the art-impulse and may be identical to it. A sex-object is ritual form imposed on nature. It is a totem of our perverse imagination."[16]

 

The more modern, extremist feminists call this kind of objectification "toxic": Men differentiate, boil down and compartmentalize sex to the point that men only see body parts. However, that argument oversimplifies things. As a type of centroversion (in my opinion), the process of objectification draws from both the holistic viewpoint and the compartmentalized viewpoint. Men start from the compartmentalized viewpoint and work up to a more holistic viewpoint: They notice sexual attractiveness first; but as the relationship develops men come to expect more of their partner: solace, support, encouragement, and eventually a good homemaker and nurturer for their children.

 

Women objectifying men

Modern feminists argue that females don't objectify males. They say that women see men more holistically--as provider, father, lover, protector, etc. But I would say that objectification of males does in fact occur; it just occurs in reverse. A woman's holistic view of men often narrows over time and increasingly focuses on her partner's role as provider and protector, thereby turning into compartmentalized expectations. 

 

Men can feel increasingly pigeonholed by the expectations that their partners and the community as a whole put on them to be a good provider. Boys are told to "man up" and assume responsibility; the goal of being a good provider means specializing in one narrow field of endeavor and grinding away at it for a lifetime. The "good provider" can turn into little more than an ATM or a workhorse providing an expected standard of living for a growing family, or as a human sacrifice for a community or country that expects protection and services from its men. And so the male one day wakes up and wonders about the myriad of opportunities missed in the process of meeting the expectations of others and becoming a "good provider." In short, a holistic view of men can narrow over time and turn into a straitjacket of objectification. The trope of the successful businessman in therapy for a midlife crisis is a familiar one.

 

Some would argue that this is a process that males inflict upon themselves, and that men enjoy the challenge of demonstrating competence under fire. When courting, men deliberately show off their ability to be a good provider, happily pigeonholing themselves as a faithful workhorse for a future family. But the same could be said of females highlighting their looks and fashion sense. In other words, young males traditionally enjoy the challenge of honing their work skills and testing themselves in the workplace; and young females traditionally enjoy the challenge of enhancing their attractiveness and putting their social skills to the test in the community around them. Both sexes play into gender stereotypes voluntarily. The problem arises when people of both sexes get stuck in their respective pigeonholes and gendered expectations past the point where it's no longer enjoyable. Either role can turn into a straitjacket or worse.

 

In other words, the two sexes start from a different set of expectations and viewpoints about each other but they may eventually end up in much the same place, that is, both end up evaluated narrowly in terms of what they provide for others rather than broadly in terms of who they are as individuals.

 

This isn't necessarily a bad process. It's normal for partners to take each other for granted over time and see each other playing certain predictable roles in the relationship. In earlier societies with a strong consensus about gender roles, a predictable division of labor along gender lines was probably a force for marital stability. 

 

Thus, traditional objectification of one's partner into predictable roles tends to favor stability in relationships. But when everyone is deemed to be unique and when objectification and predictability become the enemy, as happens in modern society, then marital stability may suffer: The relationship has to be renegotiated from the ground up whenever either partner begins to feel like they are being taken for granted.

 

Summary

To sum up: The term "objectification" has a larger meaning than just male degradation of women. Before feminism hijacked the term, objectification meant the process of expressing something abstract in a concrete form. In art, for example, objectification draws out those aesthetics that are attractive and excludes those that distract in order to create a polished "objet d'art."

 

Both sexes objectify the other in their own way, and at its worst the Sexuality-versus-Spirituality dichotomy turns into a battle between sexualization and commodification: Men sexualize women and see them as body parts, while women and the community treat men as commodities and see them as workhorses. Or, to put it symbolically: The Great Father sees femininity as distraction, temptation, and sin, while the Great Mother sees the Son-lover as little more than an interchangeable phallus to be used and then discarded in the practice of her fertility rites; she nurtures and then destroys according to her own needs and scheduling.

 

In this context, an appreciative, aesthetic mutual objectification could be defined as the middle ground, that is, an appreciation of what is best in one's partner much as art represents what is best in life. In relationships where men and women may have very different views on the subject of love and sex, society's acceptance of a bit of objectification and predictability may represent that comfortable middle ground where both sexes can enjoy each other's company without guilt or shame over the long-term.

Link: Return to Sensing (S)

~Posted April 4, 2024

References

[1] Erich Neumann, The Fear of the Feminine, and Other Essays on Feminine Psychology (Essays of Erich Neumann, Vol 4), trans. Matthews, Doughty, Rolfe, and Cullingworth, Bollingen Series LXI, 4, (Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 171.

[2] Ibid., pp. 172-173.

[3] Ibid., p. 176.

[4] Ibid., p. 172.

[5] Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae, Art and Decadence From Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (First Vintage Books Edition, 1991), pp. 9-10.

[6] Ibid., p. 27.

[7] Ibid., p. 21.

[8] Camille Paglia, Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism (Pantheon Books, 2017), p. 222.

[9] Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae, Art and Decadence From Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (First Vintage Books Edition, 1991), p. 38.

[10] Ibid., p. 9.

[11] Ibid., pp. 18-19.

[12] Ibid., p. 26.

[13] Ibid., p. 14.

[14] Ibid., p. 19.

[15] Ibid., p. 35.

[16] Ibid., p. 30.

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