Loving to Survive

**Thanks go to hecuba and KatieS for inspiring me to read and think about these issues.***

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.

About smash
Women's liberationist.

19 Responses to Loving to Survive

  1. Holly says:

    Thanks for this fascinating post…I’ll definitely be checking that book out.

  2. DaveSquirrel says:

    Yup, great post.

    This I think is the bit that twanz don’t get about FABs, because they never were FABs but MABs. It definitely affects you, shapes you, and the situation makes you behave in ways that you would not naturally otherwise.

    On the bright side, if you become a separatist (as much as possible) then it is almost a different reality. The danger is not completely gone – menz are still out there – but certainly the risk factor is much much lower than it would be otherwise.

  3. Great post. Never thought of it in these terms. Women all do have some Stockholm Syndrome going on — even those of us who don’t date/marry/have sex with men — just by virtue of living in this culture.

  4. Hecuba says:

    Dave is correct as I and other women discovered after reading Loving to Survive – ‘the danger is not completely gone ……but certainly the risk factor is much more lower than it would be otherwise.’

    In other words knowledge is power and that is why male supremacy/patriarchy works 24/7 convincing/coercing/cajoling women we are the faulty ones because male-centric claims are supposedly ‘truths’ not subtle justifications and claims as to why and how male domination and male control over women and our lives is supposedly natural and hence cannot be eliminated.

    I too struggled to understand why I as a child simultaneously resisted male power and male-centric claims but also accepted such lies as truths. Not until much later did I begin to understand how male supremacy/patriarchy operates. Untangling the web of lies men spin is very, very difficult but it can be done and we are not the first – innumerable feminist women have uncovered and made public ‘the Emperor has no clothes’ concept.

    Feminism is hated because men hate women it is that simple but oh what a storm such a statement creates because men don’t want us women to know the truth.

    Glad to hear Smash that KatieS’s endorsement and mine led you to reading Loving to Survive. It is a hard book to read solely because reading the truth is always hard given what men tell us about society is not true. The world does indeed turn upside down when we women begin to read and understand reality is not what men claim it is and why we women are not mad but made to believe we are because male mind control over women is a effective and subtle way of maintaining male domination over women.

    • DaveSquirrel says:

      I have not read the book.
      But getting to the separatism point has the added benefit of making you happier and more contented. Certainly not like the old days (when believing the patriarchy lies about everything) by tying yourself up into knots and somehow always failing. I am fairly chilled these days. And I look at men and see how generally pathetic most of them are. They put the capital-L in Losers!

  5. nuclearnight says:

    Thanks for sharing this story and then relating it to the book. I’m definitely going to get a copy. Females internalized masochism is a serious problem that I think we’ve all had to face head-on at some points. I find that it rears its head in me and although I understand what it is and how its this imposition, I want more tools to combat it.

  6. KatieS says:

    Smash, I appreciated your story. One thing I’ve been thinking about the desire to be “submissive” and survival. Women are exhausted by functioning in patriarchy, even those who aren’t in intimate relationships with men. It is exhausting to be in a hierarchal organization, even if one reports to a woman. Likely that woman has a male supervisor who puts pressure on her, so it’s transmitted downward. The whole economic system is run on male principles. This is part of the syndrome, too, since a woman is one step away from being homeless, her job is that step. Being homeless is a sure step to being badly abused.

    So, being exhausted, a woman just wants to let go and let someone else take over. If that someone else is a man, appearing to soothe with kindness. . . Well, kindness is part of the syndrome, isn’t it? A lot of overworked het women get trapped this way. (And what women are not overworked?) A close het friend of mine fits this description, and she has the most overworked schedule of anyone I know.

    Other women are so much more likely to be actually soothing, but certainly not always. It’s just that their soothing seems not as powerful as men’s since this is not so linked in to the Syndrome. I think that this explains a lot of why so many women are with men.

  7. KatieS says:

    Another thought–I’ve watched men who seemed magnetically attracted to women who are hurt overwhelmed and exhausted. They seem to sense this and move in. I watched a guy I knew slightly do this, it was so predictable. He’d be so “comforting” and at the same time there was a sense of him stealing the woman’s power. He tried to do this with me when I was in a bad place, but it didn’t work with me, I found it strange and sleazy. Still, it worked with others.

    I think a lot of liberal doods take over this role, the role of “kindness” rescuer savior of the woman who has been a hostage. This just clicked for me, how this is part of the whole package.

    • Holly says:

      hm, I know what you’re talking about. to mix metaphors, it’s kind of a Good Cop/Bad Cop routine, isn’t it? and on a cultural level, the romanticization of the tragically troubled (esp. self-destructive) woman not only plays into our ideas of fragility as beautiful (where beauty is code for “how women should be”) and encourages female masochism, it sets the stage for the heroic Good Cop male romancer.

  8. smash says:

    The “men are kind” feature of the syndrome fits exactly with your point about men who gravitate to hurt/overwhelmed/exhausted women. These women are primed to be sucked in by men like that.

    I’m seeing these things for what they are. It’s so amazing to notice these patterns, and name them. At the same time, it makes me so *furious* at the captors. I can’t fully put my anger into words, but I can feel it.

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  16. Joni says:

    It would be interesting to compare/contrast Loving to Survive with The Erotic Mind by Jack Morin. Has anyone read both?

  17. Almost three years ago I first read this post, and it made an immense impression on me.

    When I read it I was a woman free of intimate partnership with someone privileged by cultural misogyny, but the pressure was mounting. Those around me wanted me to appear to be participating fully in cultural misogyny – especially being linked inextricably and interdependently with someone privileged.

    I started with point four, and over the last two years I have completely changed my life so that every section of it is ruled by me or other women. I am surrounded entirely by female perspectives in my actions, the news I read, the culture I consume and the mentors who guide my life.

    This has made my life safe, supportive and inspiring.

    Then I ensured I was not entering into a relationship with people privileged by cultural misogyny that was not able to be dissolved immediately and with little cost. I found the relationships that gave me the freedom I needed, and I worked hard to cement my comfort and proficiency in them.

    This has made my life varied, exciting and creative.

    Creating a female-centered intellectual life and partnerships centered around my freedom allowed me the space to dismantle the Stockholm Syndrome bred into me.

    This made me free, confident and positive.

    Now point three does not apply to me except when my libido is involved, because the not-brain does have her own ideas sometimes. When misogyny enters my life my first reaction is not fear or defense, but inspiration and conversation. I can also spot misogyny from fifty paces, and I get no closer to it, not ONE. STEP. CLOSER.

    Two years later, and reading this again, I look at point one and I feel equipped to assess whether the individuals privileged by cultural misogyny in front of me will be partners in my freedom, safety, creativity and future, or not.

    Thank you so much for writing this, I have been able to get nothing but strength from your thoughts.

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