On How Using Power Means Being Responsible.
In one of my departments I have an administrative role. Nobody understands how I accomplish so much with such little trouble. It is because I inform myself well, assert power in a useful way, look ahead, and keep up with things. I do this because I am working on behalf of others. I would not want to be irresponsible to them. Now I am learning once again to be responsible to myself, as I was much more before Reeducation – at work, but also in life.
Some Instances of Magical Thinking. On Misguided Control.
I was eating disordered in high school. I believed that if I could stay stably at size 5, never bubbling up into my natural 7, the family would be happy. I would feel free, my parents would stop drinking, and everything would be all right. And one my main disagreements with Reeducation was that it believed the same thing: if we could just be more perfect, everything would be all right.
If we succeeded, our associates would follow this path of health. This exertion of influence upon others was the permitted goal. To strike out on our own, to leave leaden shoes behind, would be an attempt to “control reality.” We should become the purest of roses and live in a hill of thorns. That is, of course, exactly wrong, and it is how, in Reeducation, I learned to abandon myself. I would have been wiser to keep control and ownership of my own life.
On Perfection. A Further Instance of Misguided Control.
On woman in patriarchal society as defective by definition, Lakshmi Chaudhry writes on Courtney Martin’s book:
“I feel girls are even more pressured than boys because we have to ‘make’ something of ourselves, whereas for boys it’s natural to become [something].” So no wonder middle school girls are just as worried about achievement (73 percent) as appearance (74 percent). These fears only get worse in high school, but the average elementary school kid is already well on the way to supergirl neuroses: 59 percent are worried about getting good grades; 54 percent are concerned about their appearance. In her book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, Courtney Martin writes, “Our mothers had the luxury of aspiring to be ‘good,’ but we have the ultimate goal of ‘effortless perfection.’ This was the term that young women at Duke University used to describe ‘the expectation that one would be smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful, and popular, and that all this would happen without visible effort.'”
Martin argues that young women from the ages of 9 to 29 have internalized the go-girl rhetoric of feminine achievement as a duty to excel. “[My mother] told me, ‘You can be anything you want to be.’ My translation: ‘I have to be everything.'” Or more accurately, be the very best at everything. Anything less is interpreted as failure: a failure to perform, and therefore a failure to please; ergo, a failure to be worthy. “We have called this insatiable hunger by many different names–ambition, drive, pride–but in truth it is a fundamental distrust that we deserve to be on this earth,” writes Martin.
Martin’s book is about eating disorders, but it appears that structure of eating disorders is also that of many other difficulties. And the message limit yourself and be perfect is, of course, a contradiction. Perfection is a large and tranquil thing, and anguish and repression cannot lead to it.
It is impossible to be perfectly obedient/conformist and at the same time perfectly independent/original, but Martin’s analysis suggests that this double attitude, or double way of being is precisely what is demanded of women today. We are to be perfect, in an impressive and yet non-challenging, conformist way, if we are to be here at all.
I note that a similarly double attitude is required of members of alcoholic families – achieve in such a way as to demonstrate that this situation is not in fact chaotic. A contradictory attitude seems also to be required of academics: be passive, quietist and conformist, but produce very original work.
And it appears one may exert power and control in the pursuit of perfection, and even of happiness, but not in pursuit of freedom. But it was always freedom which interested me. And freedom without power is alienation, I discern, and I am calling my powers back to me.