Do the current practices of sexting, tattooing and hooking up represent gains for women—that is, giving them ownership of their bodies? Doris Silverman, Ph.D. explores this question in her chapter in our book, A Womb of Her Own. (Routledge, 2017)
Four decades ago Cixous, (1976) a strong, well-regarded French feminist issued a call to arms for women. She maintained that women suffered under the restraints of a patriarchal society. They were reduced to a subsidiary role. She wanted females to demonstrate their unique voices, to write their experiences, to own and honor their bodies and their unique singularities. Yes, women were marginalized by the dominant andocentric culture. However, as Cixous argued, there were narrow passageways, disorienting marginalia, wherein women can alter and resist the center dominated by the male hierarchy.
A personal example of my recognition of phallocentricity and its consequences occurred during that period when I was a graduate student at The Research Center for Mental Health, part of the doctoral program at NYU. It was a hot-bed of empirical research. I slowly realized that all the experimental subjects conducted then had only male subjects. When I questioned this issue the information I was told that “females mess up the data” and so they were omitted from research. Marginalized! This led to my support of experimental research on females: my professional focus and published work dealt frequently with sex, gender, and developmental issues for females, and I maintained an affiliation with Division 35.
Feminists, including psychoanalysts, responded to Cixous’ call. Views about female sexuality were initially the only focus. The relevance of the concept of gender wasn’t entertained until the feminists in the 70’s began making distinctions between sex and gender. Women researchers began studying and writing about the female experience; their research reflected both domains of sex and gender. We seemed to be on a revolutionary road.
Now many decades have past. How have we fared?
There are major advances for women that are always being touted even though we continue to be fewer in number in many important positions. . Nonetheless, there are now more female executives, heads of universities, deans, department heads and professors even at Ivy League universities. More women are now in Congress. We have two serious Presidential contenders. Women function as anchors on TV and we maintain important voices on radio. Our own field has changed dramatically and it is filled with smart, competent females who are role models. We no longer are an almost exclusive female audience with males dominating the lectern at professional meetings. Recently I finished a 12 year terms as head of the Rapaport-Klein Study group. This was a group surrounding David Rapaport, a brilliant theoretician of psychoanalysis, who had enormous influence on his male students and colleagues. It was initially an all male power-house of intellectual brilliance, and it was maintained that way for a considerable period of time. A female broke the intellectual barrier.
Significant gains have definitely been made but if we look more closely at the various ways in which the culture reflects the prevailing views of women I believe a different picture emerges. I will first briefly explore advertising and the media as highly significant barometers of the societal views of women. I will then consider the new sexual mores exemplified in tattooing, sexting and hooking up that reflect contemporary societal views and more relevant feminist views.