Let me get this out there right now: I’m a nerd. I’m a big, fat, fucking geek, so much so that I write fanfiction for Star Wars, and then put so much effort into THAT that I do research into the fictional world AND into Earth history to find appropriate parallels to incorporate. And in my research, I looked up a great deal of quotes from the philosophy of Viktor Frankl, especially on Man’s Search for Meaning. One such quote was his philosophy about control:
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”
Being a cerebral type and a student of existential philosophy, control and the academics of feminism tend to be more to my interest, and, with a number of previous posts about the subject, already, this should come as a surprise to nobody.
Now, with the above quote, you might have guessed what my own feelings on the idea of control are: That you can control yourself, and within that control, nobody can stop you. Even the most disastrous of circumstances — which you cannot control — or the most despicable actions of others — which you also cannot control — do not control your behavior. That is always firmly within your control.
Of course, this has gotten me into fights with other people. With other women. With other FEMINIST women. Because, again, control is a double-edged knife and the other side of the blade is called ‘responsibility’ or ‘blame’. If you claim that you can have control over something, then that means, by default, that you’re to blame if anything bad happens. Along with this problem, I’ve also heard accusations from fellow liberals whom claim that, no, you can’t control everything. Sometimes, extreme circumstances can shape you beyond your control. With this argument, the inspiring quote I touted comes across as demeaning or insulting. That also might be related to the fact that I don’t have the cred of being a Holocaust survivor on my side when I make this argument, so… what do I know?
At the same time I started thinking about control, my philosophies, and how many shouting matches I’ve gotten into with other feminists about their validity, I also got stuck with watching the Olympics. In the Olympics, or any organized sport, for that matter, the whole reason we as a culture celebrate these few individuals is because they are capable of feats of strength and muscle far beyond what we, the ordinary viewer, are close to capable of. That’s why we have gold medals, why we care about them. Because they are different, capable of things that we are not.
Of course, some people would argue that everyone is capable of what Olympic athletes do. It’s our own damn fault we aren’t out, training, working our asses off, and making ourselves that way. That’s TOTALLY within our control. Right?
To which I will now make a rebuttal — yes and no. Barring disfigurements, mutilations, crippling injuries, and disabilities (and, given that in the men’s 400 meter sprint, one of the competitors had prosthetic legs below the knees, even that doesn’t hold much water) we are all born with the same basic capabilities at their basest of bases — the ability to move, the ability to reason, the ability to chose what we think. But, just like muscles, just being born with them doesn’t mean they will develop into powerful ones — you need to use them, work them, stress them, in order to build strength. Not only that, you need to feed them, provide the fuel and building blocks that make up the muscle.
The same is true of thoughts, I think. To bring up Viktor Frankl again, before his horrific experience that led him to becoming a key figure in existential therapy and inspiration to humanistic psychologists, he was a very well respected neurologist and psychiatrist. As such, he’d had a great education and was an incredibly intelligent man — so, I argue, he’d had the opportunity and resources to exercise his mind and feed it the proper diet to develop into a powerful force that not even the Nazis could oppress (there were even allegations that the guards at the death camps came to respect him, even though the lines of power and control could not have been more clearly drawn in that circumstance) And, clearly, that is missing in many, many ways in American society, and societies around the world.
So, this is my position — we are all capable of the same things, and all have the ability to control ourselves. However, if our circumstances cut us off from the resources and opportunities to master that control or to fully develop it, then the control we have over ourselves is useless. That, I will argue, is why we need such laws as regulation of economy, guaranteed equal rights for women and minorities, crime prevention, and health care — not to compensate for people not being unequal, but because we ARE equal. Imagine, for just a second, if every woman in America could be guaranteed an education up through college, and we had cultural standards that expected women to excel in school (actually, not too off the mark, given that women are outperforming men on every grade level, but I’m not talking about the comparison — I mean just on our own. Expect straight A’s for every woman in America) and that encouraged us to take at least one philosophy course before graduating high school. If every woman in America was held to that standard, of being able to think of things higher and more important than just the daily grind or practical matters, how different would it be? Would violence against women be neutralized — not because the offenders stopped, but because it was so pointless, because women just weren’t afraid of it, or could just shrug it off and say ‘And this was supposed to impress me?’ How would it affect relationships — would the impetus for relationships just evaporate, because any cultural messages about their importance or women’s roles in those relationships would never even get through our thick, educated heads?
I don’t know, but that is something to think about.
And, likewise, is one way to equal rights by forcing them, simply by flexing our muscles and developing to equal abilities? I’d like to think that, if every woman in America had the exact same mental ability — if we were all of at least above-average intelligence, all read more books and did more thinking than could possibly be healthy, and all used those smarts — that the systems of oppression working against feminists would end up disappearing, simply because none of us cared about them. And, honestly, more often than not that’s the only way any form of oppression actually works (The most obvious examples are beauty standards, the virgin/whore double standard, and gender roles, but I can think of ways this applies to such things as violence, workplace double-standards, and even the healthcare issue) Will we ever know? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean we can’t raise the bar and try to find out.