Internalised repression

If gay Christians believe that their faith requires them to be celibate, I am quite clear on the matter. It is internalised homophobia. They intend to make a sacrifice which will do no-one any good: it will increase the confidence of straight oppressors, make it more likely that others will make the same wrong decision, and reduce their opportunities to flourish.

And if a woman chooses to sacrifice her career for her husband’s, and devote herself to bringing up children and keeping house, is that a decision which anyone could make freely, or is it always internalised patriarchal repression?

Men who do that are figures of fun, despised parasites on their working wives.

Yet here am I, “feminine”, with almost no ambition, as can be seen from my career. My femininity is not a result of internalising patriarchy, even if its mode of expression is: because I was brought up to Be a Man. My femininity is no sort of false consciousness, but truly me.

Feminism gives women choices, liberating us from the tyranny of patriarchal expectations, which live on in Complementarianism. That choice has to include being a stay-at-home Mum. When I hear that the choice to be a home-maker rather than a career person, or to be “dominated” by her husband, is necessarily internalised repression rather than a free choice,

my first argument is Me. How would I internalise such oppression?

My second is, that it values one way of being human- the rat racing through the maze, perhaps over the heads of other rats- over other ways which have, well, complementary value: the peacemaker, the carer. It thereby reduces choices and freedoms. Ambitious women are glorious; those of us who are not have value too.

After that I would be looking for cis female feminists, clearly feminist because of valuing all the rights of women, who validated the home-maker’s as a free, feminist choice. Then, I might find myself in arguments about whether such a person was a “real” feminist.

This matters because I met a fascinating woman who holds the contrary view. I would have seen that as negating me: asserting that my “femininity” is illusory, perverted, misogynist, precipitating me into crushing doubt and despair. I don’t, at this precise moment, feel the need to convince her otherwise, as if my opinion has no value without her validation: it is a settled conviction not a mere opinion. I know it from experience, and I can value my experience and responses. This feels as liberating as that misgendering story. Though I notice myself performing actions “looking after” her, and need to watch that: the only reward I can expect from that is the act itself.

Solitude, by Frederic Leighton

11 thoughts on “Internalised repression

  1. Interesting post.

    Just on the first paragraph about gay Christians. I’ve argued the opposite in the past, actually. I truly believe that people should live by their own convictions on such issues. I think if people believe that they are “called” to celibacy, then they should be free to do so. I think the problem comes when others FORCE someone else to remain celibate and leave them in the cold when they do (in the Church context, I’m mainly talking about alienating single adults).

    In terms of traditional gender roles, I think the key word, like you said, is choice. Women can choose to play, if you like, the traditional wife/ mother role. Actually, I find it sad that women feel guilty for staying home with children rather than working. Sometimes women are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

    In terms of the term “feminist”, unfortunately too often it’s equated to man – hating. Not all feminists are, but I think it’s why so many women of my generation (those between 25 – 35 roughly), are turned off by the word. And I think it’s a shame because we DO need to talk about gender equality in all it’s forms and continue ot fight for it. The unfortunate thing is that it’s been plagued by stereotypes, misandry, disunity among women, potential false accusations, especially against men, and other issues.

    The way to reverse oppression is to not suddenly become oppressors. It’s about respect from both sides. It’s about acknowledging that people have different views, and we need to learn how to speak about those views with respect, rather than resulting in bullying.

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    • The problem is false consciousness, the holding of false beliefs that are contrary to one’s social interest and which thereby contribute to the disadvantaged position of the self or the group. That article- you can read the whole thing for free, though by jumping through hoops- argues there is psychological evidence for it. Some women seem to side with the patriarchy. Some LGBT oppose LGBT flourishing. The asexual equivalent would be an asexual person who considered that it was necessary to marry and “have a proper relationship”. They have taken into themselves the norms of others, even though those norms do not fit them.

      On gay men, I think even this articulate gay man has false consciousness, and while I know that sexual people (word for non-asexual?) may feel a calling to celibacy, I hardly think it applies to such a large group, merely because they are gay. And you feel the social pressure that values couples and devalues singles. You have not, yourself, caved in to that social pressure.

      My feminist friend feels the same about the woman who likes to be spanked. She feels the desire comes from the way the culture treats women. I am unsure where masochism ends and self-harm begins. The feminist view is that the culture restricts men, too, so feminism need not be man-hating, but liberating for all.

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  2. Living that which does not truly bring inner comfort – happiness and content – is something I think one recognises fully at a “mature” age when comparing one to others ceases to be important, and then, some will act to realise their own self (convictions) and some still will not. As for sexuality – it is after all the most intimate aspect of ones life and, hence, celibacy may be the perfect sexuality for some who choose it – the trick is choosing it willingly and stop comparing one self with what one thinks might be a norm or might be going on in intimate lives of others.

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    • There are asexual people. Meet Sarah. A “normal” relationship might not be fulfilling for her. It is her choice.

      And you may be right about maturity. The housewife with “Empty Nest Syndrome” who gets a degree and a career might have suffered false consciousness before.

      Liked by 1 person

      • If there are asexual people, they are people too and therefore asexuality becomes sexuality especially if sexual pleasures are derived from other than “normal” sources. And do we really want to define ourselves by our sexuality? I would like to think not especially if one looks at sexuality as means to bodily pleasures rather than procreation

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      • I disagree about a mother who returns to the paid workforce. Caring for children is hard work. When the children are gone, however, a mother might want something new to do.

        There might also be mothers who like having a career, but also like caring for their children.

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        • I am unclear about where your disagreement lies. I did not say that every woman who, her children having left home, gets a degree and a new career necessarily would have had that career to start with, but for false consciousness, but that it is possible some might have. There are few choices which are absolutely clearly made from false consciousness; many choices might have a tincture of it. Or do you think “false consciousness” is never real?

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          • I’m afraid I read your comment as saying that she was suffering from false consciousness, not that she might be. I should have been more careful.

            I generally don’t like the suggestion of false consciousness. I think it undervalues other people’s explanation of their experiences.

            I think it is also more likely that moms return to the paid labor force because they either like both their career and being with their children or because being home without children isn’t enough for them. Those seem to me to be common and understandable feelings.

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  3. A gay Christian denying themselves a gay sex life sees their natural desire as sinful. If they’ve self identified as gay, they clearly have a sex drive and are sacrificing this for what they believe their religion teaches. The only case I could see being comparable would be the Christian housewife wishing to have a career but thinking that would be sinful and sacrificing her working aspirations to stay at home.

    However, I think you’re right that not all women want to work, not all women want careers, and some women are fulfilled in the role of homemaker. The problem as your rightly point out is that for many of these women it’s the patriarchal society that leads them to this rather limiting lifestyle. Also, I personally don’t think it’s wise to settle for such a narrow path because relationships change and fall apart, husbands get ill or die, people lose jobs, and it just makes sense for flexibility and personal security to be able to independently earn a living in this world.

    You have worked and presumably had career aspirations at some point. I’m assuming you’re just at a point in your life where you’re not interested. That could change again.

    Love the picture.

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    • I shall post on why I don’t work on Friday.

      I wanted to toughen myself up. I wanted to join the Territorial Army. It felt like my desire, not anything put upon me. Yet, now I identify it as transphobia- fear of trans stuff and transition- internalised, taken into myself so I thought it was me. Ideas of “sin” were part of it for me, but not all of it.

      Girls who are decisive or show leadership get called bitchy, bullying or bossy, or unfeminine. There are pressures on people to make particular decisions. Some people are completely clear about these things, like my friend, now 85, whose father “didn’t believe” in girls’ education, and some take it into themselves.

      So for one woman, motherhood and homemaking is the role which is the fulfilment of her whole self, leading to her flourishing, and for another it is a Procrustean box which crushes her, even if she imagines she chooses it. Though some people cannot imagine making that choice freely, and so are too quick to label every such choice “false consciousness”.

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