RESPONSE TO CRITICISM
Howard S. Schwartz
School of Business Administration
Rochester, Michigan 48309-4401
Office: (248) 370-2122
Home: (248) 684-5345
Response to criticism of "Masculinity and the meaning of work: A response to Manichean feminism." for Administration and Society.
Response to Criticism
When I was in college I had a history professor who used to maintain that if what you are saying isn't controversial, it probably isn't very important. To show you how weird I was, I not only believed that, I thought it was obvious. I still do, and so it is with a certain amount of gratification that I observe the obvious passion and seriousness in most of the responses to my essay.
Having said that, I now have to note that it would be easy for a reader to be carried along by that passion into thinking that what the commentators are revolting against was intended, consciously or unconsciously, as an assault against women. About my unconscious, I am perhaps not the best judge. But I can say that the paper was not consciously intended as an attack against women. It was, rather, a defense of men against an attack that comes in the name of women, whether or not in any particular case the actual source is female or male.
The paper is about male-bashing, a cultural practice that has become so commonplace that anyone unaware of its existence must be either (a) in a state of striking denial, (b) living under a rock, or (c) sufficiently taken up with the premise of male evil that the pervasive vituperation that goes on is just seen as the expression of obvious fact.
I will begin with Orion White, whose response may serve as an illustration of this last possibility. White maintains that the male way of approaching the world is fundamentally hostile, and that male science "has construed reality so that it accords with its own psychological profile". This serves the purposes of the male ego, which I presume means the need to appear heroic, as indicated by "an impressive body of literature." The result, he says, is that "nature has become ... increasingly threatening and hostile." He contrasts this with the Manichean feminists who offer us a way of approaching the world "in a trusting manner and in relationship to one another." He says that "They hold out the promise that things will turn out better if we live this way than if we objectify what is external to us ... as hostile and set out to attack and subdue it." And he says that "A great deal of evidence has accumulated on their side."
Now, White denies the existence of objective facts. In their absence, I don't know what "evidence" could mean, and I wonder what else this "impressive body of literature" can be except a kind of ritualized performance in which a group tries to convince itself of the "truth," whatever that might mean, of what it would have believed anyway. But I'll leave the epistemology for another occasion. I'll also leave for later the extraordinary implication that the proponents of a view that equates consensual sex with rape are approaching the world in a trusting manner.
The main point that needs to be denied is his identification of objectification with hostility. To begin with, there is nothing in what I have said that supports this view. I have maintained that male progress has arisen from treating the world as if it were indifferent, not hostile. Certainly most of science, the laws of genetics for example, can be said to represent hostility only through tendentiousness. But what if it were? What if men saw the existence of threats in the world and attempted, through objectification, to reduce those threats? Would this motivational dimension appear in the character of their objectifications? And would the world become more hostile as a result of this appearance?
White says that when he talks this way, his colleagues tend to "turn the discourse toward such things as ... the undeniable validity and usefulness of medical knowledge and the immediate reality of pain" and he recounts an incident in which a colleague, as an illustration, swung a book at his head, "narrowly missing it." Now I'm not a man of violence, but I can certainly feel a bit of sympathy with the frustration of his colleague. For the most unequivocal demonstration of the validity of objectification is certainly in medical knowledge, and anyone who wants to condemn objectification needs to do more than just dismiss it.
Treat certain viruses in a certain way and you can eliminate their ability to cause disease while maintaining their capacity to create antibodies to themselves. Introduce these treated viruses into the human body and you can create an immunity to their untreated cousins. This bit of knowledge is an objectification. Does it bring hostility with it? Well, it expresses a response to a condition of threat, and certainly it represents no love for viruses. But it remains true for all of that, and available for use by anyone of any ideological persuasion. Further, it would remain true even if nothing were ever done on the basis of it. More important, its consequences have been far from an increase of threat.
When I was a kid, my parents would not let me go to the beach during the summer because of the fear of polio. Now, I don't need to worry about my kids getting polio. And if I had been born ten years later than I was, I would never have known that this was ever an issue. Can it be, as I have suggested, that seeing the world as benign has been made possible by the fact that, among us, real threats like polio have been reduced and made no longer threats? As evidence of this, consider how, when the question turns to a disease that is salient to us, the discourse of hostility and threat becomes apparent. One does not have to look hard, for example, to find talk of "fighting" AIDS. Here, the face of benign reality is hard to find.
To be sure, there is an area of truth that borders what White is saying. The world can indeed become a more dangerous place as a result of our attempts to make it more hospitable. One need only look at the hole in the ozone layer to see that. But what are we to do in the face of that fact? Give up science and objectifying thought in favor of sentimentalization and fantasy? The truth is that the world can become dangerous as a result of the unforeseen consequences of novel actions. Shall we give up novel actions? More to the point, shall we say that objectifying thought, science, and novel actions in the past were a mistake?
For my money, the greatest threat that we face in the world is the threat of overpopulation. But the primary cause of overpopulation has been the decrease in infant mortality. And that has been occasioned, more than anything, by the spread of knowledge about hygiene. Where was the mistake? That we separated our toilet facilities from our drinking water? That we learned to wash our hands? We can always go back, you know. But what, when all is said and done, does one suppose would be more conducive to the experience of the world as a threatening place, the creation of the germ theory of disease or the death of one's children? And which of these would be more helpful to the development of relationships?
I turn now to Cynthia McSwain, who likes me. I like her, too. And I appreciate her sensitive and finely drawn criticism, with much of which I actually agree. My difference with her is not so much that I disagree with what she says, but that we are talking about different things. The fact is, as she points out, relational work is real work and the relationships it creates and maintains can certainly be called achievements. I was using the word in a far more limited sense, and what I have said applies only within that context. But there is something to be said for that context and God knows nobody else is saying it these days.
Where I really differ from McSwain is in the fact that she is talking about the psychodynamics of the positive possibilities of growth in relationships, and I am talking about the psychodynamics of patterned role relationships and social movements. What one needs to see there is the structure that defenses create, and so the issue turns upon the impediments to growth.
How much cause there is for optimism and how much for pessimism concerning relationships is a matter that is difficult to assess. But that there is at least some reason for pessimism, and that a proper assessment of Manichean feminism will support that pessimism, seems clear to me. Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon are no models of optimal development. And they are by no means marginal characters. What is more, the strikingly regressive character of their expressions, which bubble with rage and hatred, taken up by the major social force that feminism represents, seems to me a cause for concern that should verge on alarm.
McSwain accuses me of being a representative of American ego psychology. I deny it. Ego psychology, as the term is used in psychoanalysis, emphasizes the rational "conflict free" functioning of the ego, and downplays the more primitive forces to which traditional psychoanalytic thought gave priority. My attempt to show the primitive forces that underlie rational ego functioning is not within the ego psychological tradition.
Actually, my analysis leans heavily on the work of Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel who is quite European. She is French, and is a major figure in the International Psycho-Analytic Association. This is no incidental point, since despite what McSwain says, European psychoanalysis is typically far more pessimistic than its American counterpart. How could it not be, given European history?
My account of Manichean feminism coincides with Chasseguet-Smirgel's way of analyzing totalitarian manifestations such as Nazism, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and the Khmer Rouge. The similarity between Manichean feminism and totalitarianism is nothing to take lightly. The analogy between Manichean feminism and 19th Century Romanticism, with its denigration of bourgeois rationality and its celebration of feeling, is clear enough. And the influence that Romanticism had on the Volkish ideology that underlay Nazism has been well documented (e.g. Mosse, 1964). "You will not find Adolf Hitler with your head," Dr. Goebbels used to say, "but only with your heart." I have nothing against the heart. But when the heart comes to attack the head, as it did in Nazi ideology and as it does in Manichean feminism, I say there is good reason to be disturbed.
Now comes J.J. Hendricks, who charges me, for one thing, with misreading Gilligan. I don't think I have. My problem with Gilligan is not with her overt idea that men and women both need to develop the other-gendered side of themselves. On that point, I agree absolutely, as Hendricks observes. There's nothing Manichean in that.
Gilligan's Manicheanism comes out in more subtle ways, in the evocations of her writing, which it seems to me express a disdain and contempt for men. This disdain is evidently not simply a product of their one-sidedness, since in her account women are one sided as well and they are uniformly treated sympathetically. The big difference comes out in her treatment of aggression. The aggression that males use is on full display; the aggression females use, which is paradigmatically based on the emotional leverage that connection gives to the possibility of exclusion, is not. Out of this difference in treatment, Gilligan arrives at her distinction between two forms of morality, one built out of rules to contain aggression, the other as an expression of caring and connection. Her suggestion that these represent different but morally equivalent voices strikes me as being disingenuous.
Hendricks' main objection, though, is that I am an "essentialist," while, for her, the truth of the "constructionist" view of gender differences is beyond dispute. In fact, I am both. I believe that there are biological differences between males and females. But I also believe that how these differences work themselves out is heavily determined by culture. What I do not believe is that one can consciously change culture at will and have the consequences one intends. This is particularly visible when people try to consciously and intentionally create circumstances that have to be spontaneous if they are to exist in their desired form. What we have here is the root of a great deal of bad sex, to begin with, but also of the "Terror" that followed the French Revolution (Arendt, 1963), the "politically correct" university (Schwartz, 1995), and other such perversions. If my social constructionist friends bore this in mind, it might serve to temper their sometimes dangerous hubris.
Considerations of space have prevented me from dealing with the full range of objections that have been expressed. I have tried to choose those that I thought were most important and with which the most serious dialogue needed to be engaged. In the end, I agree with what some of my critics have implied, that there is no such thing as a single voice, but only conversation. As for Calás and Smircich, all I will say is that I am grateful for the opportunity their condescension gave me to use my limited space responding to serious criticism.
Finally, I would like to express my appreciation to Administration and Society for publishing the paper. In these times, that required rare guts.
Arendt, H. (1963) On revolution. New York: Penguin.
Mosse, G. (1964) The crisis of German ideology: Intellectual origins of the Third Reich. New York: The Universal Library.
Schwartz, H.S. (1995) Some psychodynamic aspects of "political correctness." Working paper. Rochester, Michigan: Oakland University.