MASCULINITY AND THE MEANING OF WORK:
A RESPONSE TO MANICHEAN FEMINISM
Howard S. Schwartz
School of Business Administration
Rochester, Michigan 48309-4401
Administration and Society (in press).
The final version of this paper was published by Administration and Society in August, 1995, Volume 27, No. 2: 249-274. For a copy of the final draft, please contact the author.
I have had the benefit of a great deal of helpful criticism on earlier drafts of the paper. I cannot mention the names of everyone who has helped me, but Ann Penner Winston, Robert Jackall, Mary Van Sell, Howell Baum, Michael Diamond, Joan Kofodimos, Barbara Czarniawska-Joerges, Yiannis Gabriel, and an anonymous reviewer for Administration and Society deserve special mention.
MASCULINITY AND THE MEANING OF WORK:
A RESPONSE TO MANICHEAN FEMINISM
If one takes seriously the idea that sexual differentiation is an important element in determining who we are, then one might suppose that male and female motivation would differ with regard to important areas of activity, such as work. To the extent that theory designed to reveal these differences remains descriptive, its pursuit should strike us as among the more interesting and felicitous tasks that our historical period has given us.
But such theorizing has often had an ideological edge, and has portrayed, sometimes with subtlety and sometimes without, the idea of sexual differentiation as a moral dichotomy. On the subtle side, for example, we have Gilligan (1982), who, identifying men with their dark side and women with their ideal side, sees male motivation as dominated by aggression and selfishness; women's motivation, by contrast, is seen as arising from a sense of connection, and is organized around caring, nurturance and the creation and maintenance of relationships.
Moving away from subtlety, we get this:
Men love death. In everything they make they hollow out a central place for death... in male culture slow murder is the heart of eros, fast murder is the heart of action, and systemized murder is the heart of history. (Dworkin, 1980: 139)
and, by contrast, this:
[Feminism's] project is to uncover and claim as valid the experience of women.... Its point of view is the standard for point-of-viewlessness, its particularity the meaning of universality. Its force is exercised as consent, its authority as participation, its supremacy as the paradigm of order, its control as the definition of legitimacy. (MacKinnon, 1989: 116-7).
What follows immediately is a psychology of work in which the male organization of work, typically called the patriarchy, is seen as oppression, whereas the female organization of work is seen as liberation.
The idea that the conflict between the sexes amounts to a world historic struggle between the forces of good and evil arises from a form of feminism that Christina Sommers (1989) calls "gender feminism." I prefer, because it is more descriptive, the term "Manichean feminism."
The tendency to idealize or demonize precludes an understanding of the subtlety of human psychology. Men are imperfect, to be sure, but these imperfections are tightly bound up with the sources of male achievement. This essay will in the first instance be an attempt to show the nature of this connection. It will attempt to reveal the meaning of work within the context of masculinity. Second, it will attempt to explore the psychological roots of the demonization of men that one finds among Manichean feminists. The devaluation of men and of the traditional male role has, in my view, distorted our understanding of many areas of social life. What I am attempting to do here is to enrich this discussion by coming to the defense of masculinity.
The theoretical core of my argument will be adapted from an analysis of Freud's psychology of development by the French psychoanalyst Janine ChasseguetSmirgel (1986). Accordingly, it will be necessary to begin with Freud's account.
Early in the course of development, for both the boy and the girl, the relationship with the mother is the mainstay of emotional life. As of yet, the child does not experience itself as being separate and distinct from the mother, experiencing the mother's power in the service of its needs as being a direct extension of itself. We may say that the child at this stage experiences itself as the center of a world that is lovingly structured around it. Freud's name for this fusion of infant and mother is "primary narcissism (Freud, 1914)."
Alas, primary narcissism cannot last for there is a real world that is not the infant's mother. Within the context of this real world the child is vulnerable, helpless, and defenseless. The child's helplessness make it more dependent on its mother for help against the world, and an image of the mother who will satisfy the child's need for defense against the world arises in the form of what Freudians call the "maternal imago," which Kleinians call the "good breast." Thus, the desire to return to the original narcissistic state, to fuse with the maternal imago, develops as a way of coping with the anxiety of being helpless in the world. Freud refers to the fantasy of this return as the "ego ideal (1914, 1921)." Note that, so far, the developmental pattern has been identical for boys and girls.
For Freud, the cause of male and female divergence is anatomical, resting in the fact that boys, but not girls, possess a penis (Freud, 1924, 1925). The recognition of this fact gains significance at the stage of the Oedipus complex, at around the age of six. At that point, the boy child, conceiving the father as a rival, engaging the fantasy of destroying the father, comes to understand that in a struggle with the father the little boy will come off badly. Specifically, the little boy is afraid that the father will castrate him and thus end the rivalry. It is to allay the fear of castration that the child learns to anticipate the punishment of the father by internalizing him and learning to punish himself for what the father would otherwise have punished. In this way the superego is created. At the same time, an implicit promise is made that, if the boy grows up and becomes like the father by following the injunctions of the superego, it will be able to regain the ego ideal by fusion again with someone like the mother. This, for Freud, was the genesis of the male role (1923).
The female role is conditioned by the lack of the penis. The little girl, taking her father as a rival, soon discovers that the competition is already over; she has already been castrated. The realization that she lacks a penis leads the girl to envy those who have this organ, whose desirability Freud never doubted. She turns toward the father, with the idea in mind that someday he will give her one. But over time, typically, and in disappointment, the little girl gives up the idea of having her own penis and comes to take a passive role toward the father, and toward men in general, with the hope that ultimately one of them will give her a boy child whose penis she may possess as her own (Freud, 1931, 1933).
A number of points stand out from this account as worthy of remark by anyone not previously inclined to believe it just because Freud said it. Among them are the denigration of female power that is involved and the claim that females are determined by their anatomy to be passive toward and dependent upon males objects rather than subjects. Material of this sort has been, of course, seized upon by countless feminists as evidence of a bias against women.
One can very easily understand their concerns and sympathize. On the other hand, as Mitchell (1975) has pointed out, the fact that women do not like such reasoning does not, in itself, make it false. A far more serious attack upon Freud has been developed by ChasseguetSmirgel (1986) an attack that is more serious since it takes place within the basic framework of the logic of psychoanalysis.
The central feature of ChasseguetSmirgel's analysis is her observation that the image of the female that arises in Freud's theory weak, passive, dependent is the exact opposite of the maternal imago that we all carry around with us in the unconscious and that establishes, for all of us, the definition of the female. The maternal imago is the omnipotent mother. It is based on the apparently limitless power of the mother as we first experience her in our infancy; and the image is buttressed by our need to depend on the mother to combat the helplessness of our separate existence. There is no weakness or passivity here and the dependence is obviously the reverse of what Freud asserted.
For psychoanalysis, an opposition of this sort cannot be a mere coincidence; rather it must be a dynamic opposition. The theoretical conception, obviously a secondary development, must have arisen because it is the opposite of the archaic image. This is the central logic of ChasseguetSmirgel's reasoning.
For her, the image of the female in Freud's theory must have arisen to deny the power of the female that Freud, and men generally, feel exerted over them by women. Along with this would go the images of weakness, passivity and dependency all following the logic of denying the opposite. But why should the maternal imago exert such power that the whole theory of women would arise to deny it?
The answer is contained in the ego ideal. As we have seen, the chief emotional constellation for the male, as well as for the female, consists in the wish to regain the state of fusion with the mother. The mother is the object of our desire, but as the object of our desire she also represents our helplessness before her. It is this helplessness that men need to defend against by denying the power of women. For the closer the fusion the man attains with the woman, the more defenseless he becomes in the face of her wishes and whims and the less capable he is of resisting being completely overwhelmed and abandoned. The more he approximates the infantile relationship with the mother, the weaker he becomes and the stronger she becomes.
This is the root of the man's desire: to be comforted and taken care of by the omnipotent mother. At the same time, though, it is the source of terror, for the mother is, after all, an other. Her love, on which the man counts for his emotional sustenance is, that is to say, her love, and the man has no control over it. He becomes completely dependent on another who is completely outside of his control, and the deeper his love, the deeper the dependence, and the more helpless he becomes. Now we can see the core of men's emotional orientation toward women. It is complete, profound, and overwhelming ambivalence.
The helplessness of the man before the maternal imago must be contrasted with the condition of the woman. For the woman, too, the central focus consists in the return to fusion with the mother. But for the female a natural alternative is open that is not open to the man. She can become a mother and recreate the fusion with her own child. By being the mother and identifying with the child, the woman can be both nurtured and nurturing, dependent and strong, cared for and care giving, yin and yang. The woman can project the attainment of the ego ideal in a form which does not lead to her total helplessness. She can directly identify with the maternal imago. Moreover, her route to the ego ideal is natural and organic. She can maintain the fantasy, which the male cannot, of attaining the ego ideal just by growing up.
As we shall see presently, it is the woman's capacity, her fullness, with regard to the fantasy of the ego ideal, that has led to the fact that concrete achievement has largely been the product of male activity; not as Freud thought, her lack. But first it will be necessary to further explain the psychology of achievement.
Masculinity and Culture
According to ChasseguetSmirgel, who assumes the same traditional family structure that Freud did, both the boy and the girl child, in order to defend themselves against their helplessness before the maternal imago, project her power onto the father. In this way, by identifying with the father and coming to be like him, they hope to be able to gain power over the mother. Of course, as we have seen, for the female who projects her role as a mother, this will be only a secondary solution. For the male child, however, it is the predominant way out of his feeling of helplessness and generates, as we shall see, the traditional male psychology of work.
In order to gain a proper understanding of the traditional male psychology of work, it is necessary to slightly revise ChasseguetSmirgel's account of the projection of paternal power. For it is easy to see that it can not be the power of the maternal imago that the child projects onto the father. That would only make the child feel helpless and dependent upon the father as well as the mother. It must be a different power.
This is the thesis I wish to assert. The child projects upon the father a power equal to the power of the maternal imago but different from it. In effect, the child projects upon the father a countervailing power with regard to the mother. It assumes that the father has standing with the mother that enables him to be with her without being dependent and helpless before her as the child is and without impinging on her power. It assumes, in other words, that the father is doing something that the mother admires; and that that is the reason she allows him to stay around.
But what could it be that the mother, conceived as the maternal imago, admires? What could be the basis of the father's power? Shortly I shall consider some answers to this question, but to begin with let us note that it is an open question. There is no answer that is naturally built into the family constellation in the way that the role of the mother arises naturally. This is where culture enters into the configuration.
Culture, and here I am obviously using the word in a highly selective way, may be thought of as the changing and developing practice of what men have to do in order to gain the admiration of women. It is, thus, a product not of nature but of human creation. It is developed in order to answer precisely the question we have raised. Men have to create and implement practices that will enable them to present themselves to the female as worthy of being kept around. And the first thing they need to do in this connection is give meaning to the concept of the valuable. They need, in other words, to transcend the mundane, to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, to invent practice that they can present as realizing the woman's ego ideal. By doing this, they seek to be able to claim for themselves, through the admiration of the woman, a place within the ego ideal they have created.
It is easy to see how work, conceived as economic activity, would fit into this psychology. If the man does work that creates improved material circumstances for the female and their children, he can push back the boundary of necessity and create room for the free play of fantasy and desire, he can expand the sphere of the ego ideal, to which he may then be admitted. But it is also easy to see that other solutions are possible. For example, the man may take the role of defending the group from other groups, who are seen as preventing the realization of the ego ideal. In either case what we see are attempts at heroism, as attempts at presenting oneself worthy of inclusion in the ego ideal.
For an understanding of male psychology, what needs to be seen is the way these solutions are subject to undermining. They are all based on the wish to be idealized by this ideal female. But what if the female refuses to grant admiration to the male? Then the male role vanishes into air. The male role only serves its purpose to the extent that it is valued by the female. It can be experienced as pointless by the female and fail. Indeed, nothing more is necessary for this to happen than that she see through his act -- to see him as just a man.
This puts male psychology into a terrible bind. The male's standing with the female is always tenuous, his role always subject to being rejected and repulsed. For the male to lose his place with the female nothing more is required than that she cease to buy into the fantasy he has attempted to realize. All she needs to do is say "I do not love you anymore." There is nothing he can do about that, because the premise of the woman's freedom to reject him is the psychological root of the whole process.
This is a point that is entirely missed by many feminists, who believe that male psychology is determined by the need to control the female. Men do not want to control women. They want to be secure in women's love. The attempt to gain admiration is the male way of maintaining for himself a position of importance in the woman's life without threatening her omnipotence. It is within the context of this omnipotence that the male role arises, and by that token the male role can only control the female by undermining itself and its own rationale. If the female is not omnipotent, and therefore capable of rejecting the male, she is not the object of male desire. This is why the status of the male with the female is always in question and is never a foregone conclusion. Ultimately, the power in the relationship of male and female rests with the female precisely because it is the omnipotent female that is the object of the male's love.
In this context we can see the origins of male violence against women. It marks an attempt to control women, to be sure, but is driven by the frustration of understanding the absurdity and hopelessness of this endeavor. It is mute precisely because it understands itself to be beyond language, reason, and rationale. Male violence against women is not an expression of the essence of masculinity, but of its breakdown.
In the next section, I wish to show how the work role may be understood as the way that this complex male psychology works its way out in our culture.
The Meaning of Male Work in Western Capitalist Culture
The first aspect of the psychology of work in our culture that may be illuminated by an understanding of the male dilemma is its emphasis on achievement. The aim of male work is to be loved and admired by the female. But the recognition of the strength of this need places the male in great fear of abandonment and destruction. It cannot be acknowledged consciously and therefore shows up as an autonomous, unexplained, unquestioned drive to achieve something, to create something, whose meaning can only be understood by reference to the unconscious.
This gives to male work its quality of indirection. The meaning of male work lies in a different direction from its apparent goal. One may easily see the advantage to economic development of the investment of meaning in activity which offers the possibility of creation without being intrinsically appealing in its own right.
Again, the psychological significance of work consists in the fact that one can use it to assert control over something in the face of the fact that what one really wants control over is denied and impossible. It has, therefore, the symptomatology of a compulsion, a reactionformation, which is invested with energy through the denial of a powerlessness that cannot be consciously accepted (Schwartz, 1982; Sullivan, 1953).
It is this compulsive character of male work, rather than the activity itself, that has resulted in the fact that cultural creation has been largely male activity. To the extent that female identity revolves around identification with the maternal imago, this compulsion is not present. Females whose identity is cast this way have no need to appeal to the maternal imago while at the same time denying their dependence on her. In their fantasy, they already are the maternal imago. But achievement, as McClelland (1961) has put it, arises from the need for achievement. It does not result, for the most part, from the desire to achieve. Without the need to achieve, the achievement in the form of a product is likely to be lacking.
Indeed, what holds true in the objective sphere of achievement may even hold true in the subjective sphere of the feelings of self-esteem that men derive from work. The needs for selfesteem, as Maslow noted (1970) arise from a deficiency. The male project consists in the overcoming of a deficiency. It is an interesting speculation on life's ironies that the feeling of strength arises from the need to overcome weakness (Adler, 1951). The feeling of respect for oneself that one experiences upon having overcome one's deficiencies is not available to those whose identity is cast in the mold of perfection.
Another aspect of male work that is revealed by this analysis is its orientation toward competition. The point here is that the object of the work cannot be acknowledged because of the dependence and helplessness that it invokes. But there must be some way of gaining a sense of success, or at least of progress in order that the whole project not seem futile. This is where competition comes in. Competition gives men a way of measuring "progress" by using comparative means. Men can measure their rate of progress against one another, and therefore avoid having to ask themselves the forbidden question of what the work is all about. Moreover, the notion of "winning" comes to make sense in this connection. Winning the contest provides them with a marker enabling them to pause in their drivenness. Men are racing headlong in a direction defined by the fact that what they want, but dread, is in the opposite heading. They cannot imagine pausing without some such artificial means.
This competitiveness may be offensive to some, but the economic world is competitive: firm against firm, country against country; and the continual improvement in standard of living that it gives rise to can be taken lightly only by those who are willing to give it up.
Another aspect of male work which may be mentioned here is the reliance on rules and impersonality that writers like Gilligan have referred to. Interaction in male work activity is ordered by rules, rather than by feelings. The reason for this is that men's feelings are elsewhere, with the female. They cannot associate themselves according to feelings simply because they do not have very much feeling for one another. Of course, one can easily lament this lack of feeling, but it is worthwhile to note that it is this unemotionality which makes possible the logic and rationality which are responsible for making the male association of work as effective and efficient as it has been.
This is a point that many feminists miss because they contrast rationality with feeling and they identify feeling with warmth and love. But rationality must be contrasted, not with feeling directly, but with irrationality. And feeling must be seen to encompass not only warmth and love, but coldness and hatred. Envy, jealousy, rage and resentment, after all, are also feelings. And it is when the complex play of our conflicting emotional forces is allowed to overcome reason that irrationality comes to dominate our affairs.
Finally, one may mention what has been called the organization ideal (Schwartz, 1990). This is an image of the organization serving as an ego ideal. One may say that it is a surrogate mother, who has the advantage over actual women in that, by gaining power within the organization, one can control her. Thus, the love that has its true aim in the relationship with the female is projected onto the organization where, according to the fantasy, one can gain control over it and avoid being vulnerable as a result of it. The modality for doing this is to become ever more fused with the organization, ever more what the organization is, by rising in the hierarchy.
Achievement-oriented, controlling, compulsive, displaced, competitive, rulebound, unemotional, logical, rational, hierarchical these are the characteristics of work done from male psychology. It is easy to see how at least some of these characteristics, when carried to an extreme, could result in the kind of domination of content by form that Weber (1946) called the "iron cage." Yet, on the whole, it seems difficult to evade the judgement that the work men do within this context would be generally salutary. What is produced is creative, in a very broad sense, and the overcoming of deficiency that it represents is worthy of respect. Moreover, and most important, since its orientation, even if partly unconscious, is toward the female and their children, it seems deeply expressive of love and affirmative toward life. Under the circumstances, it is difficult to see how the males who are defined through this work can have come to be seen as the oppressive creatures that Manichean feminists see them as being. In order to understand how this came about, it will be necessary to press our analysis into the investigation of the status of reality.
The Problem of Reality
The original nexus of child and mother is the stuff that fantasies are made of. Specifically, the ego ideal is a fantasy of a fusion with an apparently omnipotent mother who is at the same time experienced as an extension of the self. There is no room here for anything that is alien to the self. But this puts the ego ideal in conflict with reality. For reality is, first and foremost, the fact that the world does not lovingly revolve around us.
As Chasseguet-Smirgel has argued, following Freud, this is the aspect under which the father first appears. The father is the part of the parental complex that is not the mother. In order to preserve the maternal imago, the image of the mother's loving omnipotence, the indifferent and even harsh aspects of reality, including even the indifferent and harsh aspects of the mother, which Klein (1975) calls the "bad breast," are projected onto him (Benjamin, 1988).
Thus, against the backdrop of the perfect fusion with the omnipotent mother, the father appears as a blockage, a threat, and an invading presence. It seems to the child that if it could only get rid of the father, it could have complete and perfect bliss (Chasseguet-Smirgel, 1986). In this way, the father becomes the personification of pure evil. This, I submit, is the core of the idea of the oppressive male that Manichean feminist theory brings to us. The problem is that the objectionable aspects of this apparition do not issue from the father as such, but from the fact that he represents reality, by which I shall mean the indifferent aspects of reality, in the family nexus. Thus the repudiation of the father is rooted in the repudiation of reality itself.
Carrying on with the revised Freudian conception, we note that, within the traditional family, male and the female roles embody different orientations toward reality because of the sexes' different orientations toward the ego ideal. To the extent that she identifies with the maternal imago, the female orientation toward the ego ideal is formed from the fantasy of being both parties in the infant/mother matrix. To this extent, the female role engages indifferent reality as if it were an anomaly. Indifference begins and remains foreign to it.
The dissolution of boundaries that marks the traditional female role needs to be understood in terms of the logic of mothering, and specifically in terms of the immediacy and warmth that it brings to the child. Later on, as Freud noted, it also adds to the closeness of the relationship of male and female, but this is only insofar as the woman takes the man as himself an infant. Indeed, generalizing, we can see that what may be called the female style, being nice, placating, being warm and nurturant, is itself an outgrowth of the identification with the maternal imago and the attempt to deny the difference between the infant and the mother.
The original male orientation toward the father, as the agent of alien reality, is the same as that of the female. But the impossibility of the little boy becoming its own mother leads to a different relationship with the father. As we have seen, the child projects a power equal to the maternal imago's onto the father, making the assumption that the father is doing something that the mother values enough to keep him around. Fulfillment of that role then becomes, for the male, the conception of the route back to the mother in the attainment of the ego ideal.
It is clear enough that the active engagement of reality, the incorporation of uncertainty, the internalization of external demands to form internal obligations (Schwartz,1983), the act of bringing into the self what is not the self and transforming it to suit the purposes of one's loved ones -- in a word, the process of work, satisfies this demand rather nicely. But notice that this is not likely to be fun. On the contrary, bringing into oneself what is not oneself means the self-imposition of anxiety and the incorporation of that anxiety into the personality. What we are talking about here is the formation of the modern superego, the psychological underpinning of capitalism, and recall in this connection Freud's (1923) formulation for it: "You don't have to punish me father. I'll punish myself."
Taken together, what we see here is the traditional differentiation of sex roles. The female role involves identification with the maternal imago. Oriented toward herself as the ego ideal, she maintains the possibility of dissolution of boundaries and fusion, which the developing child needs. Maintaining this role, she needs the male to engage reality and to keep it, so to speak, at arms' length, so that her own immersion in fusion can be maintained without leading to catastrophe for herself and the children. To the extent that she values what the man does, and offers the promise of the ego ideal to him, she offers healing of the wound that his work entails. In this way, even given the fact that his desire for her is matched by his fear of her, the pain of the work that he does is given sense.
The male role consists in keeping reality at bay and denying anxiety. If he is successful, the female can maintain her own identification with the maternal imago. But if he is successful, he also shields from her the fact of his own pain and anxiety. From this arises the "macho" image that males try to project. What we can see from this is that the "macho" image arises from two sources. First is the necessity to shield the female from anxiety, which he could not do if he were to bring it in with him into the family constellation. Second, more profoundly, is the fact that his denial of pain and anxiety is an attempt to maintain his own image of heroism, which is the dramaturgical device through which he validates his presence in the ego ideal, and denies his dependence on her, as we have seen above.
The problem is that if the work of the male is sufficiently successful in subordinating reality to fantasy, the idea that reality is different from fantasy becomes lost. So to speak, reality loses its reality. But when this happens, the meaning of the male role becomes lost as well.
One consequence of this is that the female identification with the maternal imago can become total. If this happens, she is likely to internalize the sense of omnipotence which the figure of the maternal imago contains. Under this identification, she would imagine that she could make life perfect simply through her love and goodness, just by being herself. Her belief that the male has a function would disappear.
Again, if the man is sufficiently successful in denying his dependence on women, the fact that this is an act, and that all of this has been for the purpose of getting close to the woman, can become lost. When that happens, the idea that the male is in pain from the internalization of anxiety evaporates and the need of the man, limited as he is, can seem to become only a selfish imposition, imposed by force, and to be satisfied only because of the dependency that she experiences on him (e.g. MacKinnon, 1989). Indeed, it would follow that he must have made her dependent for his own purposes, since the omnipotence of the maternal imago would have been sufficient to create a perfect world if only women had been left to their own devices.
The traditional sexual division of labor rests on the female's understanding that, despite his act, the male role is hard, that men who undertake it rend themselves from themselves, that it is full of anxiety and that the only reason men do it is for love. This reveals to her that the dependency she feels upon the male is part of a mutual dependency. It is her belief that the wound he undergoes for love of her makes sense only if it is healed by love, that makes her love for him consistent with her own sense of power in this connection. As Jessica Benjamin has observed (1988), it is only the sense of power that makes possible the free giving of love. And the free giving of love is what the whole project is all about.
If, on the other hand, the female should come to the conclusion that coping with reality is not a cause of anxiety, she would have to conclude that what the male does is the realization of a fantasy in its own right. She would see what he does as itself an expression of the ego ideal. Then the basis for her positive valuation of him is lost and the whole process begins to unravel. It is this unravelling that we can see in Manichean feminism.
If the understanding of work as pain is lost, the entire conception of male activity changes and, with it, the meaning of the sexual division of labor. If the father is simply doing what he wants to do, if his activity is pleasure, then it is evidently something that females have been deprived of and excluded from. The traditional differentiation of sex roles becomes a structure of aggression, subordination, and oppression. This applies in all spheres of life, certainly including the family unit which is the prime locus of sexual interaction. Thus, the conception follows that the father has captured the mother and imposed his will upon her. Male sexuality, thus, is identified with rape.
At this point we can see how the altered conception of sexual relations merges with the archaic conception of the father. The father, as we saw, appears within the infant's world as an alien force who excludes the infant from the nexus of infant/mother that is the substance of fantasy. If the father, whom as we have seen represents reality, can be delegitimated, if his power over the mother can be seen as aggression and as serving only his own interest, liberation from the father may be seen as the route to the ego ideal. In other words, the repudiation of reality can become a righteous, legitimated, liberating act. This, it seems to me, is the real danger that Manichean feminism poses.
Calás and Smircich
A work that introduces Manichean feminism into organization theory, and reveals its danger, is a fascinating and infuriatingly brilliant paper by Calás and Smircich (1991). Written with a postmodernist disdain for referential language, it has to be understood through the feelings it evokes. I will try to convey these feelings here.
Calás and Smircich attempt to make a case for substituting female leadership for the male leadership which has been dominant in our organizations, as represented by organization theory. They begin by quoting a passage of Jean Baudrillard:
Everything is seduction and nothing but seduction.
They wanted us to believe that everything was production. The leitmotive of world transformation, the play of productive forces is to regulate the flow of things. Seduction is merely an immoral, frivolous, superficial, and superfluous process: one within the realm of signs and appearances; one that is devoted to pleasure and to the usufruct of useless bodies. What if everything, contrary to appearances -- in fact according to the secret rule of appearances -- operated by (the principle of) seduction? (567)
On this basis, Calás and Smircich maintain that leadership is nothing but seduction. Since seduction is sexual, obviously it can be gendered -- divided into male and female forms. They further maintain that, in the past, it has been male seduction and they illustrate that by various "readings" of the management literature which reveals this male orientation, countering these, in some cases, with attempts at providing a female form.
In brief, Calás and Smircich tell us that male sexuality is homosexual, with men interested in nothing but themselves. Their interest in women is only to use them to bolster their own grandiosity, their sexual interest toward them being only a cover for power and domination. Chester Barnard's leader, for example, turns out to be a homosexual "priest," who cannot acknowledge his homosexuality and covers his seductive activity with moralization about the organization's purposes. Douglas McGregor's foray into democratic and participative management is seen as a joke among upper-class homosexuals about bringing the lower classes into the ruling strata, with no real intention of doing so, the punch line consisting in the humiliation of the lower class who find themselves exactly where they started.
Next comes Henry Mintzberg, whose leader is a fickle narcissistic swine who seduces to show his power and creates organization as a demonstration of his potency. The violence of his seduction is thinly disguised and manifest upon resistance from the victim, at which point seduction essentially turns into rape. Of course, women can have narcissistic sexuality as well, but when they do it is "the response of women resigned to the inevitability of violence in sexualization." (588)
Finally, Peters and Waterman, while adopting the gender-neutral language of their own time, nonetheless maintain the narcissistic swinishness of Mintzberg's leader in their own concept. Calás and Smircich reveal this by setting it off against a feminine form in alternate rereadings of their text. A few examples follow:
Peters and Waterman with
a [Male] Subtext
Leadership is many things. It is patient, usually boring coalition building [or the game of courting your prey].
It's building a loyal team at the top that speaks more or less with one voice [so that she, at the bottom, can be kept silent in her pain]
It's being tough when necessary, and it's the occasional naked use of power [you pitiful thing, daring to oppose me, feel all the weight of my rage...]
Peters and Waterman with
a [Female] Subtext
Leadership is many things. It is patient, usually boring coalition building [or the careful sewing of a family quilt].
It's building a loyal team at the top that speaks more or less with one voice [full of cacophonies, and always sustained by cries and laughter].
It's being tough when necessary, and it's the occasional naked use of power [you won't snatch my children away from me. Don't even come close, I'll kill you first...] (590)
But, in the end, the essentially homosexual reference of Peters and Waterman's work is revealed to Calás and Smircich when Peters and Waterman turn to James McGregor Burns' concept of "transformational leadership," which likens the leader to the pedagogue:
And suddenly we remember Gallop's ... commentary on Luce Irigaray's readings of Freud, which remarks that there is a certain pederasty implicit in pedagogy ... because a greater man penetrates a lesser man with his knowledge. This (male) homosexuality in the structures of society includes everybody. It is the male standard of knowledge -- the apparently sexually indifferent logos, science, logic -- which measures all members of the structure along a predefined agreement over what knowledge is. And that is all the knowledge to be had about "leadership." (591)
Thus, there is nothing new here, but only an "old satyr" returning us "back, in a flash, through the parlors and gymnasiums permeated by sexual/homosexual jokes ... to make us repent and pray 'in-the-name-of-the-Father' kneeling in front (in whatever way) of 'Barnard-the-priest.'"(592)
Asking "is this homosocial, elitist, monologic leadership the desired seduction for the organized life of the present ... An organizational life of companies without offices... behind the screen of PCs and VTRs... ?" (593) they raise the question whether another seduction, a feminine seduction is possible.
Attempting to gain an image of female seduction that would be beyond the male form, with its "homosocial domination and servitude," (594) (emphasis in the original) Calás and Smircich realized that "our images of 'seduction' also emanated from a male dominated culture." Looking for a term that would be less "univocal," they turn to the notion of pleasure: "Pleasures beyond leadership-seduction may provide the bases for other types of social relations and newer forms of organizational knowledge." (594) They turn for their elaboration of the idea of pleasure as the basis for social relations to utopias written by female authors: Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1915/1979) and Marge Piercy (1976).
In these utopias, men are either not present at all, having killed themselves off in wars, or have become quasi-women, developing the capacity to breast-feed. It will suffice to say, although to be sure this point is brought out more fully in the novels themselves, that life in these worlds of women is perfect, as far as their inhabitants are concerned. Oppression and limitation have been eliminated along with men and their masculinity. Even here, however, Calás and Smircich demur, since the structure of these worlds is given by the negation, the opposition to, the traditional male form. But the opposition to the male is by that token defined by the male. And at any rate, opposition is, after all, a structure of (masculine) logic.
Turning to their own offering of pleasure, Calás and Smircich tell us that this is what they have been giving us all along. They have been playing with us and enjoying themselves in the process. And if they have not said anything substantial, that has also been by intent. Their idea of pleasure is the evocation of the ephemeral which they have accomplished through this writing exercise.
Rather than fixing ourselves in the text (the typical imagery of "universal-truth-knowledge" in modern metaphysics) we prefer the imagery of a transient subject, never to be captured, always on the move, as so many points of pleasure on a woman's body. And as we write these words we recognize that this is all that we ... have been doing so far. But, at the same time, this form of writing ourselves in the organizational text has provided us with the pleasure of resistance and activism ... while maintaining an awareness -- so often forgotten in the dominant order --of the limits of human agency. (598)
Contra Calás and Smircich
Calás and Smircich's paper, despite, or because of, its charm is exactly the kind of thing that men are afraid of, a realization of their worst fears. It is a rejection of the validity of their whole project, spoken in the name of the woman they love and fear the most, and to whom those projects were directed -- the maternal imago. Let us note the way their text expresses the points which have already been discussed.
To begin, the purpose of their invocation of Baudrillard's claim that everything is seduction and not production is to deny the meaning of man's works. It claims that men's work has had no valuable outcome and its being has been only process. The same goes with the assimilation of leadership, which has an aim outside of itself, something that gets accomplished, with seduction, which has no goal beyond itself.
The claim that working life is an expression of male homosexual desire is an interesting one. Given the dominant attitude in our society toward male homosexuality, an attitude of which they are surely aware, it must be seen as something that they know will be taken as offensive.
It will be found offensive because it plays upon a very deep anxiety. Freud (e.g. 1940) maintained that people are constitutionally (biologically) bisexual, and he wrote often of the repression of homosexual impulses. This suggests that the construction of a heterosexual identity involves the repression of one's own homosexual affect. He also said, in his paper "Analysis terminable and interminable" (1937) that among men, the capacity to get at one's desire to be passive toward men marks the distinction between terminable and interminable analysis, which is to say that the desire to be passive toward men is the deepest content of the unconscious.
Now, if one can assume that the desire to be passive toward men is at the heart of homosexual affect, it follows that, for heterosexual men, their own homosexual impulses are their deepest and darkest secrets. Now, as we have seen, competition among men is implicitly competition for the maternal imago. Accepting one's desire to be passive toward men would mean accepting one's loss in this competition and hence having to give up the fantasy of fusion with the mother. This would suggest why, for heterosexual men in our culture, homosexual impulses are the deepest and darkest secrets -- they pose the threat of castration, which is the permanent loss of fusion with the mother (Chasseguet-Smirgel, 1986).
In this sense, it seems to me that Calás and Smircich's "reading" is an act of aggression against men. Indeed it is an attempt at symbolic castration, which apparently seems to them to be a liberating and subversive act, an act which has given them "the pleasure of resistance and activism." This idea that the castration of men would be tantamount to liberation means that masculinity is oppression, which is the fundamental premise of Manichean feminism.
Further analysis of Calás and Smircich's "reading" reveals several related effects. First, and perhaps most obvious, is that it simply reiterates the point already made about male activity not creating a product. Second, it denies that women have any need to feel appreciated through male achievement, let alone appreciation for it. Third, it means that women can spurn men's sexuality without violating the natural order of things, which is helpful if one wants to see oneself as the expression of a benign nature and of life. Finally, the denial that men are heterosexual means that women do not have anything that men desire. But if they do not have anything that men desire, women have no power over them. In their transactions, then, women may be seen as pure victims, without any responsibility for their condition at all.
Taken together, these assertions amount to the claim that the so-called works of men have been only exercises in self-gratification. Certainly they were not for the female, who was only abused and oppressed by them. And far from involving the rending of the self, their only purpose was pleasure and self-glorification -- and indeed the glorification of a self which, since it created no product, simply expressed an essence of domination and violence. Women had no need for any of this as was shown by the idea that the absence of men would produce utopia, in which pleasure and natural female spontaneity would create whatever is necessary and desirable.
It is this idea, that pleasure is all that is necessary and that to follow the desires will lead only to more pleasure, that is the direct voice of the maternal imago and the root of the repudiation of reality. For it assumes that the world naturally responds positively to our spontaneous movements and that it is not an alien and independent entity that needs to be acknowledged and taken into account. It is as if, in Calás and Smircich's account, we are connected to the world through an umbilical cord. The world, in a word, really is our mother. It is only men, who contribute nothing, that stand between desire and its gratification.
It is this view of the world that lies underneath Calás and Smircich's repudiation of logic and definitive language. If the world is structured to give us pleasure, then any idea we have of it is good enough and equivalent. If the structure of things naturally comports itself to our most pleasurable fantasies about it, there is no need to watch one's step, to avoid making mistakes, to do one's best to understand the structure of things. Indeed, there is no need even to maintain a consistent vision of the world, which means that we can use language purely evocatively, as Calás and Smircich claim the right to do.
If this were the case, the life of men would indeed be contemptible. Unable to gain their pleasures simply by being themselves, they need to mold the world and bring it into their orbit. It clearly grows out of, and is an expression of, a profound weakness and, set against the assumption of female perfection, self-sufficiency, and strength in its absence, it is certainly a suitable object of disdain. Since all of their activity grows out of this contemptible base, there is nothing that they can do that would assert any legitimate claim on the affection of women, and nothing that women could find appealing. Their assertions of themselves with regard to women thus come to seem as impositions and aggressions. And the world that they have created and in which women live comes to seem a realm of oppression and a reversal of the natural order of things, in which the lesser rule and have power over the greater. Get rid of them and life will be perfect.
Under the circumstances, we have to see Calás and Smircich's claim to be "maintaining an awareness ... of the limits of human agency" as disingenuous. For taking male limitation as contemptible reflects only an awareness of male limitation. The fact is that there is no corresponding expression of female limitation to be found here. It seems rather that women never do anything that is less than perfect except when it is caused by men. Indeed, there is no sense that women have to do anything at all, other than just be. Omnipotent and all-loving, they can make things perfect simply by their presence. They are, after all, the maternal imago. It is only against the backdrop of this assumed female self-sufficiency and perfection that such contempt for male limitation makes sense.
Thus, the whole question turns on the nature of reality. If there is no self-subsistent reality with which we must cope, then Calás and Smircich are correct: all is fantasy and pleasure and the only question is whose fantasy and pleasure. Under these circumstances the idea of an indifferent reality comes to seem a male invention to justify their own innate oppressiveness. The male necessity to probe and penetrate, to create order, to organize, to accept the bounds of logic, to use words in a consistent way, turn out to be actions in expression of a warped and crippled nature. But if there is a world "out there," even if we cannot, with our limitations, fully grasp it, then the cultural achievements that men have created are all the more admirable because of their limitations.
Turning back to our original point, if there is no world "out there," then the father is an intruder into the nexus of mother and child, who holds the mother in subjection through violence. But if there is a world out there, then the idea that all we have to do to claim the mother, to make life perfect, is to get rid of the male, turns out to be a fantasy. Chasseguet-Smirgel describes this fantasy as follows. Compare it to Calás and Smircich's vision and with their attack on maleness:
In my view, this fantasy corresponds to the wish to rediscover a smooth universe without obstacles, roughness or difference, identified with a mother's insides to which one can have free access, the representation, at the thinking level, of a form of unfettered mental functioning with the free circulation of psychic energy. The father, his penis and reality itself must be destroyed in order for the paradise world of the pleasure principle to be regained. (30)
And this brings us to a point at which theorizing develops a practical edge. Calás and Smircich appear to hold the belief that fantasy and desire can serve to generate effective organization as well as realistic perception. Thus, as a guide for organizational theorizing, they offer this:
What other pleasures for the "organizational text" can our friends and colleagues inscribe...? What is your pleasure? (598)
But the fact is that organization does not emerge effortlessly and spontaneously from the soil of fantasy and desire. If it did, every child would be an entrepreneur. And even established organizations, when they eschew reality and turn their processes toward the generation of fantasy, can lose their viability and their capacity to survive (Schwartz, 1990).
If there were no real world, wishing, as the old song says, would make it so. The fact, of which we all have sufficient evidence, that wishing does not make it so is the reason why the reality principle emerged in the first place. For it is not the male that stands in between desire and its realization, it is reality itself. And if abandoning the reality principle for the pleasure principle is the course established by giving free reign to the maternal imago, one can easily understand why reasonable people would be afraid of it.
More concretely, if there is a world "out there" with which we need to cope, Calás and Smircich's vision will be less than helpful in suggesting ways for us to steer through it. Certainly their vision will not help us in organizing. For the writing exercise that Calás and Smircich have been engaged in, which they offer as their model of organizing, has been an attempt to remove univocality, to oppose consistency in meaning. But as Karl Weick (1969) has taught us, the process of organizing is just the opposite. It is the reduction of equivocality -- the creation of specificity. For it is univocality that makes coordination possible. And organization without coordination is not organization at all.
Abandoning the reality principle for the pleasure principle as a basis for organizing is not going to result in the free flow of creative energy and the pleasure of spontaneity. What one can expect instead is unemployment and a constantly deteriorating standard of living. Push it farther and it becomes poverty and social disintegration. Students of organization need to keep this in mind.
In saying that Manichean feminism poses a danger, I want to be clear that my discussion is limited; I am not referring to the female demand for equal rights. The expansion of people's capacity to choose freely is the very meaning of history (Hegel, 1956). Even if one were to grant the arguments here concerning the meaning of the traditional sexual division of labor, one would still be able to say that such gross differentiations are out of keeping with the much more finely differentiated social arrangements that progress has made possible.
Women have the right and the responsibility to choose among the options that make sense to them, and certainly nobody can make sense for them. What is more, I would agree that because of the limitations of men, and the fact that women often have strengths in just those areas where men are weak, women have a unique and important contribution to make. Thus, one would expect and should even welcome a period of renegotiation of roles. I have no problem with that. But changing the sexual division of work will not bring about the millennium. It will simply reshuffle the deck of troubles that is the human condition.
The critique of Manichean feminism reveals that women, as well as men, have problems with the maternal imago. For men, the fear of the maternal imago leads to a displaced and compulsive work activity which serves no conscious human function; but for women, identification with the maternal imago leads to a repudiation of reality itself.
The critique of men in our society that many women have asserted, that they are cold, overly logical, detached from their feelings, and so on, seems to me largely correct. But it grows out of a fear of the power of the maternal imago. Women can criticize men and be quite correct in their criticism, but they cannot criticize men's fears as groundless and maintain the image of the maternal imago for themselves.
The fact is that the capacity to identify, to let down boundaries, to experience feelings, is one that many men would do well to develop. But the capacity to see the world as an objective reality outside oneself, that must be dealt with on its own terms, and that can punish one if one makes a mistake, is a capacity that many women need to develop as well. If we may speak of these as the female and the male side of character, we may acknowledge, as non-Manichean feminists like Jessica Benjamin (1988) do, that a fully developed human being requires both. But in seeing that, we also need to see that casting the differences between them in moral terms, seeing one as good and the other as bad, puts us at war with ourselves and makes full development essentially impossible.
In the end, the questions raised in our conflict between the sexes are not political, or even moral; they are existential. And they present themselves in different forms for men and women. For men, the question is how to make sense of work and achievement, if the admiration of women is not to be gained through it. For women, the question is how to make sense of the pain and anxiety that are part of work, pain and anxiety that were not understood to be part of the bargain.
More deeply, the question for both sexes is what is it all for? For men, we understand, it used to be to earn connection with women; and in the unconscious, where fantasy operates, it will probably remain so. For women, who have not primarily defined themselves through this unconscious subtratum, the question presents itself in its full poignancy.
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1. The term "Manicheanism" refers to the Persian philospher Mani, who lived in the third century A.D. This is from the Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Edwards, 1967):
The chief characteristic of Mani's system is a constant dualism which rejects any possibility of tracing the origins of good and evil to one and the same source. Evil stands as a completely independent principle against Good.... The opposition of God and Matter is seen in the realm of nature as the conflict of Light and Darkness, Truth and Error. (Volume 5 and 6: 149)
2. Elsewhere (Schwartz, 1994) this has been called the "good mother."
3. Chasseguet-Smirgel's analysis is in many respects similar to the analyses of Chodorow (1978) and Dinnerstein (1976). These latter writers, it seems to me, do not sufficiently appreciate the complexity of the psychodynamics arising from male ambivalence.