In the interesting film “Life in Black and White” (1998), by director Gary Ross, it is through the TV channel that a couple of young people regress from the 1990s to the 1950s, including themselves in the daily life of a peaceful city and in terms of the morality of the time. The director cleverly uses black and white and color as references to the existing social imaginary. The filming is initially in black and white and the elements are colored as eroticism becomes present; but what I want to emphasize is that bichromy serves fundamentally to show the places of men and women established and petrified by social regulation: the women of the house who wait for their husbands at home with a smile on their lips and dinner ready, while the men from the public space return at the end of the working day, certain that the scene will be repeated daily.

Not finding the woman at home one day, because she went to a “colorful space”, causes an imbalance in the organization of the home that extends to the city and that makes men get together in order to restore tranquility to the polis. Since one of the regulations that is reaffirmed is that the only colors allowed are black and white, this whole movement is done to avoid a fantasy that terrifies them: “imagine if the day comes when women come back at night work and find the men at home taking care of the children!”. In other words, imagine if gender places shift…

Psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche also made use of black-and-white/color references to address the concepts of “difference” and “diversity”. Difference implies a polarity and is always placed between two terms, while diversity can be between two terms but also between many. For example, the diversity of colors, which is infinite because you can always invent a new one. If there is a convention that reduces to a bichromy, as in the mentioned film, in this case what is not white is black. But if not, what is not white can be any other color.

Now, a color is an attribute that we attribute to a subject as “quality” or as “insignia”, that is, quality as the color that paints it – and in this case there are no opposites – or as a badge, for example when it comes to teams. sports, where to say “the green ones” or “the blue ones” is to create two fields, which are fields of value, opposite and contradictory. In this case, color does not designate the image of the thing, but “it is the insignia that creates what it symbolizes”, that is, it creates the political and social field. Someone is the bearer of green, or green and blue are not opposites, but as insignia they become so. We thus pass from the diversity of colors to the difference of fields: fields of opposites, oppositions and sometimes hatred. For a long time, the binary conception of sexuality, with attribution of chronic places, has been establishing relationships of value and disvalue, with inequalities and hierarchies.

The narratives that permeated the imagination of modernity, built on the myths of romantic love, the woman only mother and erotic passivity, created subjectivities of docile women

From the French Revolution and its slogans of equality, liberty and fraternity, women began to claim their rights, but it took a long time for significant changes to take place. A proof of this is that at the end of the XNUMXth century, the Victorian double standards prevailed, a consequence of the patriarchal organization that divided the place of women between “mothers” and “vulgars”, emptying the imagination of the former of eroticism and separating the public space as a place of knowledge. and power for men, leaving the deprived place of the home of affection and care for women.

The narratives that permeated the imagination of modernity, built on the myths of romantic love, the woman only mother and erotic passivity, created subjectivities of docile women, passive even when they were queens of the home, and of strong, violent men, heroes and actively dominators. Subjectivities that were not recognized as made from the instituted places, but taken as universal and immutable essences: in modernity, within the patriarchal organization, the feminine and masculine places were thought of as identity categories, linking sex, gender, choice of object and sexual practice.

It was at the end of the XNUMXth century that Freud treated the hysterics of his time and from this clinic he built the foundations of his theory: the concepts of drive, desire, unconscious, identification, but at the same time with them he could recognize the place of the feminine in the cultural malaise of the moment. Freud found in the suffocation of sexuality, a consequence of the repressive morality of the time, an important determinant of the emergence of neuroses. Repressive morality that created individuals more fearful for life and more anguished with death, but which hit women more strongly, since society demanded of them innocence and ignorance to keep them away from “temptation”, since sexuality only was allowed within the marriage.

Nowadays, we are witnessing important transformations in social imaginaries, in their practices, narratives, subjectivities and corporeities, as well as in the “collective logics about sexualities”. We hear a lot today about the logics of diversities, but we would not have reached this point without going through the entire process of denaturalization and desentimentalization that feminist movements and study groups on the place of women have instituted since the 1960s, with important reflections, controversies and praxis that questioned the supposedly “natural”. These groups and movements acted, in the conception of the Greek-French thinker Cornelius Castoriadis in the “instituted”, to open “instituting” gaps and unpublished narratives. Castoriadis' thought was an important source for those who, since the second half of the last century, have been working towards the denaturalization of subjectivities and sexualities.

Castoriadis, who was one of the greatest exponents of French philosophy of the XNUMXth century, offered us a very fertile concept to think about the creation of the social institution, as well as its changes, discontinuities and ruptures: the concept of “social imaginary”. In an attempt to limit the advance of overly structuralist or deterministic thoughts of his time, he thought of the reality of society as a creation, not because there are no determinations but because, as creations that they are, at each moment in history they can be replaced by new ones.

As the author states, it would not be right to think about philosophy or psychoanalysis without taking history into account, just as it would not be possible to think about a psychic existence that is not built within the process of insertion into culture.

The imaginary that the author deals with is not understood as specular, it is not an “image of”, but incessant creation, social and psychic, of figures, images, forms, it is a “magma” of imaginary meanings that determine the ways of feeling. , thinking and desiring of individuals. This makes the connection between individuals take place in this flow in ways that can, in turn, be transformed by individual and collective practices, creating a style of living, loving, suffering and dying, and which in turn build subjectivities.

The imaginary is incarnated in institutions, which through their discourses both enable and restrict the actions of subjects, thus having practical effects. The speeches and actions arising from individual and collective praxis constitute networks of meaning, being examples of social meanings the man, the woman, the child… as specified in a society. Institutions are fluid realities that cannot be understood by logic. ensemble-identity and that establish a permanent dynamic between the instituted and the instituting, allowing the alteration of the existing and the emergence of the unprecedented.

As the author states, it would not be right to think about philosophy or psychoanalysis without taking history into account, just as it would not be possible to think about a psychic existence that is not built within the process of insertion in culture, which brings his thinking closer to the founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud – who more than once stated that the individual cannot be dissociated from the social and that the psyche is built in a singular history, but inserted in a “cultural malaise” specific to the moment.

It will also be in the second half of the XNUMXth century that feminist movements will question the patriarchal oppression of women's sexuality, and that advances in contraceptive techniques will begin to decouple sexuality from procreation, with important effects on subjectivities. Women are occupying new spaces and are in charge of showing that the fixed places were not of the feminine essence, but of the values ​​of the time.

The female imaginary expands, which has consequences for the drive and identification paths in the history of a singular construction.

In the 1980s, the effects of patriarchy on the construction of masculinities began to be questioned and proposals emerged about the “new masculinities”, which include os men in practices and places that they did not occupy before and that include our men and their subjectivities aspects that were previously excluded and that enrich them: sensitivity, affection, the ability to care, etc.

From the reality of bodies and lives, new images and experiences emerge that are included in the flow of the social imaginary.

Scientific advances continue at an accelerated pace, the separation between sexuality and procreation, from contraceptives, is only accentuated with the techniques of artificial insemination and fertilization vitro. In the predictions of scholars, the possibility of procreation entirely outside a woman's body is on the horizon, despite the heavy criticism of ethics councils. Assisted Reproduction methods, surgeries to adapt the body to gender and other advances expand the “erogenic body”, requesting psychic work and monitoring of the unconscious effects produced.

From the reality of bodies and lives, new images and experiences emerge that are included in the flow of the social imaginary. The new realities question kinship ties, changes in gender places change family organizations; bodies change and request transformations of the symbolic. New myths reign: the perfect body, eternal youth, ephemeral love.

In recent years, it is understood that it is not enough to question inequality and the hierarchy between men and women, it is also necessary to think about the inequalities that have been established between sexualities that follow the heteronormative model and other sexualities that are pathologized, devalued.

Binary thinking about sexuality is challenged; more than that, it is the identity key that is being questioned. Is it necessary to think about sexualities in an identity key? What is in the order of being with, the choice of partner, or a sexual practice, has to be transformed into something in the order of being? Do we have to think about categories or can we think about complex and permanent identification processes that result in singular combinations?

Reality always questions us, but perhaps with greater force at times when in the social imaginary the instituting covers a very large space; in moments of great ethical, aesthetic and political transformation.

In a world in which many walls are built, some of bricks and others of prejudice, to avoid contact with those who are different, some are also being deconstructed; some bodies demand visibility they did not have, some subjectivities cross borders that were previously insurmountable, contemporary subjects incorporating some nomadism transit through different territories and researchers try to open the borders between knowledge, not to lose their specificity but so that complexity does not escape them. Between advances and setbacks, openings and closings, weakening of the patriarchal organization and its violent returns, we are walking…

* Psychoanalyst, Silvia Alonso is supervisor of the Psychoanalysis Course at Instituto Sedes Sapientiae and coordinator of the research group “The feminine and the contemporary cultural imaginary”. She is one of the columnists of the page B!.


Castoriadis, C. The imaginary institution of society. Buenos Aires: Tusquets, 2007.
Fernandes, A. The sexual logics: love, politics and violence. Buenos Aires: New Vision, 2012.
Laplanche, J. Problematics II: Castration – symbolizations. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1988.
Life in black and white. Direction and Production: Gary Ross, 1998, DVD (124 min).

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