When a speech is present in the historical moment in which we live and is included in our mentality, we think that it has always been that way. This is what happens to us with the discourse on the “difference of the sexes”: we are used to thinking that there are two different sexes, but it was only from the XNUMXth century onwards that the discourse on the existence of two different sexes imposed itself as a paradigm in society. western. It was only then that man and woman began to be conceived as two different “essences”, and this difference was conceived as strictly biological; from these “essences” that the functions and social places occupied by each of them unfolded.
Until then, throughout Antiquity, the theory of the “single sex” prevailed, the masculine, thought of as the perfect sex, while the feminine was not thought of as a different sex, but as an imperfection of the other. It was a model of superior/inferior, that is, of “ontological hierarchy” and not of difference. One of the expressions of this way of thinking was present in the drawings of anatomy books, which until the XNUMXth century were based on the male body – being the perfect body, it would allow the construction of perfect knowledge about the morphology of the body.
The question of difference began to make some noise in the XNUMXth century, but it only established itself as a model in the XNUMXth century. If, on the one hand, the anatomical discoveries of the Renaissance collaborated to leave the first model, it will be in the midst of the struggle for equal rights of the French Revolution that the possible space for the existence of the theory of the “single sex” will be definitively closed. The recognition of differences was imposed, although society did not grant at that time the equal rights for which women fought in the revolution.
In 1792, the “Claim for the Rights of Women” was published, considered the founding document of feminism, authored by Mary Wollstonecraft and in response to the French constitution of 1791, which did not include women in the category of citizens. The author was a great fighter both in the cause of women and in the anti-slavery struggle, denouncing the female enclosure in domestic life, proposing the equality of women's rights to education, voting, private property and inheritance. Mary's feminism was opposed to the slavery of Africans, indigenous people and the domestic slavery of women, since they were condemned to an eternal "minority", in marriage they became legal dependents of their husbands, unable to manage their property or work without their consent. In other words, they had no right to goods but were almost a good in the hands of their husbands.
In the centuries that followed, the achievements of women were great in rights and social space, in politics, in the arts and in science, however there are places in which the hierarchical weight remains strong, male dominance still exercises patriarchal violence. . There is significant violence against women's bodies supported in the sense of male ownership and domination.
In the current of violence – situations of harassment, abuse, rape and femicide –, the feminine as “other” is erased, blurred by the “colonialist” appropriation of women's bodies, and the masculine reaffirms itself as “hegemonic masculinity”. While the feminine takes the place of what can be owned, violated, violated, the masculine does not have to face “subjective autonomy”.
How to think about the domain and submission theme? From the path of psychic constitution? From the path of culture and power relations? At the intersection between the two?
The American psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin studied the ways in which oppressive social relations are structured in primitive bonds and in the constitution of the psyche, without therefore “naturalizing” male sexual oppression. On the contrary, she tried to understand how domination is based on the intertwining of love and power relations. Benjamin studied the way in which the patriarchal organization and the way in which the feminine and the masculine are thought within it infiltrate the very constitution of the first bonds.
The author understands the development of infants with a social interest from the beginning, and the subject develops in the relationship with other subjects and through them. That is why the axis of mutuality, of mutual recognition, is fundamental and needs to be taken into account in order to understand how to build a conexão that allows later meetings marked by reciprocity.
Benjamin returns to Hegel to think about the “paradox of recognition”, stating that in the process of building self-affirmation, in turn, the recognition of others is needed, creating a permanent and necessary tension between the affirmation of oneself and mutual recognition. This tension needs to be sustained to allow two subjects to find each other as similar and it is in their rupture that domination/submission is established. In the relationship between the subject and the other there is a permanent conflict between the attempt to recognize him as similar and to annul him, incorporating him as part of himself. Each of us wants to assert himself as a unique individuality, ignoring others as autonomous while at the same time needing them to be recognized.
In the first mother-baby relationship, the first signs of recognition are built, because the mother, while recognizing the child as such, has to recognize him as another. Recognition is exchanged between mother and baby, when he lets himself be calmed by the mother, she feels recognized and is gratified when he gradually recognizes her more than the others. The mother bonds with the baby for gratification. The child gradually has to recognize the mother as an independent subject, but for this it is necessary that the mother sees herself as an autonomous subject. For the author, “mutuality” is a central axis in the relationship between child and mother, without ignoring all the intrapsychic complexity and unconscious processes. To build mutuality it is necessary to maintain the conexão with the other as such and that the tension between self-recognition and the recognition of dependence on the other is maintained.
When the conflict between dependence/independence becomes very acute, this tension can be broken and the fantasy of omnipotence prevails; when someone wants to assert himself without the recognition of the other, the path of domination is followed. The other is subjected to extract recognition from him without recognizing him reciprocally. The author does not consider male domination inevitable, on the contrary, she thinks that it can be modified, hence the importance of understanding the constitution of places in mutual relationships and thinking about the way in which maternal and paternal places are exercised, as well as the dichotomies, dissociations and hierarchies of the social can influence this exercise.
In our culture, the masculine is built in the dissociation and projection of everything that is of the order of fragility, the infantile and the indefinite, which are on the side of the feminine. This has significant effects on the constitution of women's autonomous subjectivity and on the exercise of maternal and paternal roles, and therefore on the way in which the paths followed by boys and girls in the construction of bonds and independence are processed. The domain/submission axis is accompanied by the non-recognition of the “other as” a different subject, it is autonomous.
In Pedro Almodóvar's (Spanish director) film from 2011, The skin I live, these two processes are put together on the scene. A plastic surgeon, whose wife had an accident in which much of her skin was burned, produces very resistant skin in an attempt to save her, with which she covers her body. However, she, desperate to see her face reflected in the window glass, kills herself. The daughter who witnesses her mother's suicide is extremely upset and is admitted to a psychiatric clinic. On an outing during the recovery process, she goes to a party with her father and ends up being raped by a young man, which worsens her condition, leading her to suicide. The doctor kidnaps the young man who raped her and begins a transformation process with a sex reversal surgery, and from there he sculpts a female body with beautiful shapes and soft skin.
We could understand that this is her revenge on the young man of which her daughter was a victim, and it is also a victim, but certainly the film says much more than that, I understand that it says about the relations between men and women and the masculine domination movements. In the film there is a permanent escape from female bodies, whether through betrayal or death, before which he sculpts a female body, made by his own hands, his own creature with which he ends up falling in love. In other words, the female body made by his hands, in every bit of him and that remains trapped in his territory and in his desire. When it would seem to have made the perfect prison, a body which had its desire annulled, being imposed a gender that the boy did not want, a body with an owner, which should offer him jouissance, he kills him and runs away, not before having been raped by the doctor's half-brother, the same one who was with his wife at the time of the accident. In this production of a female trapped, in the hands of the sculptor, a female that has lost the character of “other”, in this non-desire and non-subject, the male domain lost when women escape it is affirmed, consolidated.
In the lines of flight, the women in the film also come across another man who appropriates their bodies and their desires. The film seems to be a good example of the struggle between the search for the autonomy of female bodies and the recurrences of colonizing movements on the female body that we come across so many times in the history of humanity and in the unique stories.
Among the many movements in defense of the freedom of female bodies, everyone remembers 1968, when a group of activists in the USA denounced the way in which beauty standards are imposed on women by burning objects in public squares – high heels, makeup, etc. – what became known as “the burning of bras”, an image that became a metaphor for feminist movements. But without needing to go far in time, just remember the controversy that circulated in the media last month about a newspaper article about vaginoplasty, to which several feminists reacted because they understood that the way in which it had been written left the bodies of women women in the hands of the parameters of men, who are responsible for saying what is good, this time dealing with the most intimate part of a woman's body.
However, I think that the field in which we find the greatest force of male dominance over women's bodies is that of violence against the female body in harassment, rapes and, at the most extreme, in femicides. These are repeated so often (!) and seem to re-emerge with greater force after any new movement for autonomy and the conquest of women. According to a survey carried out by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, in a survey carried out among cities with populations of more than 10 million inhabitants, São Paulo is among the first places in the potential risk of sexual violence for women. Rape crime has increased by 10% this year compared to 2016 and the number of femicide cases is immense.
Femicides are understood to be cases in which women are murdered by men for reasons of gender, that is, men kill acting not only with hatred and contempt for women, but fundamentally with the idea of ownership over them. Therefore, the reasons for these deaths have to be looked for in the unequal relationships between genders, a relationship between someone who thinks he is superior and with more rights over someone who is considered inferior and with less rights.
Thinking about the film, all the women that escape him, finding a line of flight or an open window, seem to produce in the protagonist an increasing need for the female body to be the creature sculpted by him.
In other words, they are about power relations and what is at the bottom is the sense of ownership over women's bodies and the “naturalization” that all this is made of in the patriarchal culture. Something that is present in the whole chain of violence against the female body, such as rape, forced sterilization, demand for unwanted motherhood, genital mutilation, sexual abuse and that reaches the limit in femicides.
Research has shown that the reasons why deaths happen more frequently are situations of infidelity, separations, sexual rejection, acts of disobedience, pregnancy, motherhood, that is, all situations in which the dominion over the female body is called into question. . In patriarchal culture, a woman's body is his, her property. All subjective autonomy of the feminine challenges masculine dominance and tends to be muffled with violence. But this is in the mindset of men, women who raise children and legislators who enact laws that maintain inequality.
* 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”. Silvia is one of the columnists of the page B!.
Benjamin, J. Loss of love, psychoanalysis, femenism and the problem of domination🇧🇷 Buenos Aires: Paidos, 1996.
Laqueur, T. La manufacture du sex... Paris: Gallimard, 1992.
Morin, T. Virtuous and dangerous. Women in the French Revolution. Sao Paulo: Alameda, 2013.