September 24, 2011 16 Comments
I was too old to play with barbies, but we hadn’t yet sold the white plastic bin they were housed in. They lay stacked lengthwise on top of each other like disheveled Lincoln logs. Plastic barbie hair poked through the thatched bin.
I was ashamed. At eleven, I knew that I was too old to play with barbies. Still, I snuck into the spare room one day and closed the door. The room had an old broken player piano in it that was missing the roll.
That space served as the jail cell for the barbies. My two ken dolls made them wear revealing clothing, and took them out one by one to force themselves onto each doll. Plastic hands roughed up nippleless breasts, and squishy heads forced kisses onto unwilling barbie lips. I imagined different scenarios of powerlessness, where barbies had no chance to escape. I reveled in female helplessness and male power.
I played this way several times, and each time I remember quitting in shame. Did someone know I was playing with barbies? Worse yet, did they know *what* I was playing? I’d rush to stack long dolls back in the bin before someone noticed.
I have always had these memories, and have wondered what they mean. Before I was introduced to radical feminism, I thought this story, as well as my continued interest in being dominated and feeling powerless, meant that I was kinky, and that these desires were natural, if a little unsettling. Now I recognize that even as an eleven year old I had internalized the cultural message that says females are submissive.
But more than that, I’ve been interpreting these events (as well as this one) through the lens of Societal Stockholm Syndrome (SSS). SSS would help us explain women’s seemingly masochistic behavior and desires with regards to men (such as female rape fantasies, my barbie game, etc).
For those who need a reminder, Stockholm Syndrome (SS) is a condition that affects some hostage victims. In a hostage situation, these victims develop positive emotions for their captors.
In _Loving to Survive_, Professor Dee Graham argues that all women experience some degree of Stockholm Syndrome toward men because of their cultural conditioning.
In order to develop SS, these four conditions must be met:
1. perceived threat to survival and the belief that one’s captor is willing to carry out that threat
2. perceived inability to escape
3. captive’s perception of some small kindness from the captor within a context of terror
4. isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor (Loving to Survive p 33)
Graham claims that if these four conditions are met in the case of women, then she can make the claim that women experience Societal Stockholm Syndrome. That is, “[Graham] ask[s] whether the four conditions conducive to Stockholm Syndrome exist at a societal level in male-female relations” (p 62)
Are these four conditions met in the case of women? Let’s see.
Condition one. Is there a perceived threat to survival? or Do men threaten women’s survival?
Graham looks at several instances where men do, including femicide (which is the killing of a woman by an intimate), wife abuse, rape, incest, sexual harassment, and poverty. Clearly, she argues, some men do threaten women’s survival.
But is every woman’s survival at risk? Graham highlights Liz Kelly’s research, which states that all women exist on a continuum of violence, with acts of street harassment on one end of the continuum, and rape and murder on the other end. All women fall on this continuum (p 83-87).
Furthermore, male violence against some women affects all women. As Graham quotes Andrea Dworkin, “Although one in three girls in this country will be incestuously abused before she’s 18, but [you are] not one of them– and if a woman is raped every three minutes, but [you are] not one of them; and one woman is beaten every 18 seconds, but [you are] not one of them,” no one can deny that we live in a hostile world that terrorizes women and girls, threatening our psychic and physical survival.
Yes, men threaten women’s survival.
Condition two: The captive has a perceived inability to escape, or Can women escape men?
As Graham shows, women have little recourse towards rapists (p 95), are often killed by their abusive spouses (95), and are prosecuted under a male dominated legal system (96). Women are financially trapped in marriages (98), and they are punished (through lack of employment, social stigma, being called “lesbian”, etc) if they do not conform to male-pleasing behaviors (100). Their history is erased by the male narrative (98), which makes it difficult to orient themselves around their own causes. Even if a woman finds herself with a man who treats her equally, she should be aware that this is his choice, and he is the one who has granted her this freedom. As Graham says, “Women who feel they are in egalitarian marriages may believe that they have escaped male domination. However, even men who ‘let’ their women have more freedom (e.g. go to work outside the home) or who ‘help’ their women with domestic chores retain control. They decide how much freedom a woman can have and how much they give.” (p 97-98).
Yes, women cannot escape men.
Condition three: The captive perceives small kindnesses from the captor in the context of terror or Do women perceive kindnesses from men
Here are some examples of kindness in men: men are chivalrous (101), are seen as protecting women from other violent men (106-107), men “court” women, and men “love” women.
Yes, women perceive kindnesses from men
Condition four: Isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor or A re women isolated from other women and from perspectives other than those of men?
Graham discusses two types of isolation that women experience: ideological isolation, and physical isolation.
Ideological isolation involves only being exposed to male-identified perspectives. A woman can be ideologically isolated if she interacts with women who only hold male-identified perspectives. As Graham says, “A group consisting of only women can get together (at teas, coffees, and the like), but its members will remain ideologically isolated if they speak to one another giving men’s perspectives, not their own. When ideologically isolated, we experience our problems, thoughts, and feelings as unique to us as individuals. As a result, we are prevented from recognizing the social/political basis of our situations and problems. ” (116) Additionally, we can see that women are ideologically isolated, since the majority of women eschew the feminist perspective. To quote Dworkin again, “Feminism is hated because women are hated. Antifeminism is the direct expression of misogyny; it is the political defense of woman hating. This is because feminism is the liberation movement of women” (116).
Physical isolation involves being physically isolated from other women. Not only do women (for the most part) live with a male and children, but they are dependent on men. Additionally, women with close female friends are often subjected to lesbian baiting. Thus, a woman must be careful not to align herself too closely with other women, for fear that she will lose the alliance of the one man she derives her power from (p 119).
Are women isolated from other women and from perspectives other than those of men? Yes they are.
Thus, women meet all four criteria for SSS.
Although it may be difficult to conclude from this blog post that Graham is correct, I hope this discussion motivates you to get her book, or at least think about female submissiveness and self-harm in another way. Women are not masochists; we are hostages. My barbie domination games as a child were an exercise in accepting my role as a woman in a terrorist situation. My accepting of physical assault by an intimate partner did not occur because I am sick. It occurred because my culture is sick, and because I was handling my terrifying situation as a hostage might.