Sunday, January 31, 2010

Naked Conversations

**Naked Conversations labels those posts addressed directly to the comments we receive on this blog. If we can manage a more effective way of responding to comments in the future we'll let you know. (Suggestions on format always welcome.)

rdemay raises an important question by asking what we want from our readers, and makes an important point by noting the lack of dialogue. We do want a back and forth conversation with our readers, and I haven’t been holding up my end of that bargain. So I want to speak to questions of kindness alongside questions of objectification under the broader umbrella of, as CB says, what it means to be a woman, as a way of opening that door.

The question of kindness seems to me very germane to the discussion of objectification, perhaps because it seems to me a counter to objectification. I’m reminded from a story by David Foster Wallace in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, where a young man recounts the story of an even younger woman who was raped and almost murdered, but was able to reach the psychopath who intended to kill her with a sort of boundless love. The man recounting the tale is one of the hideous sort, and he had planned to use the woman for sex and move on quickly, but he was dissuaded by her tale. He said he had fallen in love with her. What, I wonder, is the relationship between love as elaborated in this story and kindness as I’ve invoked it? Or, even more to the point, as SJ has invoked it: a kindness beyond the language of ownership and law of property. An ethical kindness. Isn’t ethical kindness at least coincident with, if not identical to, this kind of boundless love?

And what has all of this to do with objectification, you might ask? Well, I’m wondering if the only counter to the kind of objectification that hurts—and I’m not sure that all kinds hurt—is love, an ethical kindness, for from that position you remain a subject. This was, of course, not possible for the young woman I mentioned—she was in no position to situate herself as subject or otherwise. But it is, of course, possible for me as I ride the bus, go to coffee shops, go to work, spend time with friends. The real fear for me when it comes to objectification is that I might want it, might want to debase myself that way. I’m less afraid of being objectified by others than I am of objectifying myself. And the assumption of my role as an ethically kind subject is the best medicine I can find for what ails me.

Now, for being a woman. This tendency toward self-debasement seems to me a bit more common on the female side, though I could be wrong. (Am I wrong?) I’m more concerned about this tendency than I am about how femininity is perceived. This is what I think I’m angry about when I’m angry about being a woman. I’m not worried that the world won’t let me have a life of my own. I’m worried that I’ll never consider myself worthy of going after one. Yikes. Not something I like to have to say about myself, but there it is. My biggest concern as a feminist is how we women have taken into our bodies and ourselves the language of gender oppression, and what we can do to think outside that language. What we can do to be beyond the language of ownership and the law of property.

What we can do, I suppose, is to have these conversations as openly and honestly as they seem to be happening in the comments. We’ve agreed to be intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually naked, and that’s all we ask in return. I look forward to continuing the conversation.