Monday, November 11, 2013

φιλοσοφἰα, γυνἠ, part two

Continued from an earlier post, on October 18th.

I'm spending awhile explaining where I'm coming from (in case that wasn't obvious from the aforementioned post). All of this is a very long-winded way of announcing that I am planning on moving into more explicitly philosophical territory. Philosophical, as I define it. I'm explaining my interest on a more personal level, because on the surface the term "Philosophy" comes off as specialized and, frankly, elitist. But the term, and the action of the heart and mind are, I think, very different.

            Philosophy is a word for something I originally turned to out of alone-lonely.  But then I got distracted from it by sex, and found a new kind of lonely:  I call it "man-lonely."  Lots of women know this lonely.  It's not so much wanting men, as it is the discovery that you don't get to choose either to be with them, or to escape them.  It's men who refuse to leave you alone, and even being a bitch just gets you followed around and yelled at for being a bitch.  (Trust me; I experimented.)  Alas, in my desperation to make the alone-loneliness stop, I mostly failed to be a bitch and went for super-sugary-sweet-and-nice and I held onto those assholes, goddammit.

            Fast-forward several years, and several miserable relationships later.  I am in a bookstore.  There's a book with a lovely cover.  It's called Philosophy, and I think to myself, "I remember when I used to like philosophy.  Before I dated men who like philosophy.  I remember when I thought I was smart.  Before I dated men who corrected me."  And I buy the book.  Mostly because the cover is nice, the layout looks like it's meant for laypeople, and the editor's name is pretty:  David Papineau.  The number of books I've purchased for similar reasons, and then never read, is huge; so I figure this one will have friends.

            One week after said book purchase:  I got in an accident.  My beloved Vespa betrayed me, crushed my foot, and removed a noticeable portion of my epidermis.  I was unable to walk for three months.  Suddenly, I had a lot of free time on my hands.  I couldn't fill it with work or men or anything.  Mostly I alternated between crying over my broken heart (I had also just been through [what I sincerely hope will be] the breakup to end all time), and crying from the physical pain I was in.  So what was I going to do with all my time?  I mean, I'm a champ when it comes to sobbing, but even I was getting tired of it.  Hobbling around on crutches was excruciating for reasons I won't go into due to the ick factor, so I basically had a forced three-month-long reading break.
            So there was this book.  And it was pretty.
            And I felt sick.  Sick from trying to crawl away from myself — from my own intellect and creativity — in an effort to be less intimidating to the men I was sure wanted to make me happy.  After all, they kept saying so!  "All I want is to make you happy and take care of you."  I'm pretty sure I thought that if only I could crawl fast enough away from myself, some guy would finally be able to give me all the love and happiness they kept promising.
            Which leads me to the second Greek word in the title of this post.

            γυνἠ: gunē.
Because, finally, it is beginning to sink in: no human being can simply set aside their specificity in order to engage with the upper echelons of creative and intellectual achievement. I used to believe such non-specificity was possible. As a German-American who grew up surrounded by Jews, I was desperate for non-specificity. As a white girl who briefly lived in a part of California where I was one of the only white kids, I've been shocked to discover that most white Americans don't grow up with nearly the ethnic consciousness I always had. If you are one of those white Americans, I guess you're lucky. I guess that's what we mean when we talk about privilege.
When I was at university, and anti-feminists insisted that anyone was welcome to the philosophical tradition, that anyone could engage with the Western literary canon, everyone was welcome, it was an open book available to all, if only those women/blacks/Jews/gays/Latinos/whoever would stop whining about their differences for long enough to engage with the tradition, we could all realize how much we all had in common — I wanted to believe them so badly. I did believe them. I chimed right in.
But when I was finally angry enough at the way men had treated me, angry enough at the story of boy meets girl, boy loves girl, and they get married and he takes care of her for the rest of her life, when I was finally angry enough to have not only been lied to, but to have helped build the lie, when I was finally angry enough to push back, I can tell you specificity still mattered.

So here we are. For the past year or so, I've been reading Plato. Almost nothing but Plato. And, um, why is this blog here? Oh, yeah. It was supposed to be a space for me to think out loud about what I was reading. But honestly, I haven't been thinking out loud about a lot of what I'm reading, because I keep having all these thoughts that seem — *ahem* — specific. They are specific to being a woman, and specific to a post-colonial historical moment. They are specific to being a German-Scottish-French-American, and therefore both supposedly part of the tradition by ethnic descent, and awkwardly insecure about where our rebellious, anti-aristocracy, money-obsessed colony fits in with that tradition. And maybe more than anything else, my thoughts are specific to being an uncomfortable-yet-still-devout Christian, which is so incredibly out of fashion in philosophical circles as to silence all but the most confident (or naïve) thinker and writer.
Nothing I'm saying here is exactly new. Feminists and queer theorists, at the very least, have been saying it for at least a hundred years. But after all the miserable relationships, and confused and confusing teachers, all the Hollywood movies I believed without knowing I believed them, something even better than the bookstore happened: I suddenly found several men in my life who are probably better feminists than I am. They seemed to believe in the value of my thoughts and creativity, and also (to my surprise) were pretty sure I should be pissed off at having been silenced in so many ways, some subtle, some not so much. Like, spitting venomous, fire-breathing unicorns kind of pissed off. Maybe I should have been able to get there on my own. Maybe I should have been inspired by a feminist or two. (Okay. Maybe one. Or two.) But however it happened, it happened. I got lucky. I found out that the issue with men and women in this world isn't that men are mean and women are pure and innocent victims. It's much more complicated and difficult and interesting than that.
So while it's true that nothing I'm saying here is entirely new, I think I got tired of not saying it, in my own words.

1 comment:

  1. It's important to speak your truth, even if you think others have spoken it before with other words. If they have, it's just more likely to be a Big Truth.

    I'm still contemplating the details of this, but I always appreciate how you can never be completely tied to one ideology, no matter how noble. People should always weigh individual questions on their merits, with every context available, and resist pre-formed answers.

    Just another reason I like your brain.