Difference and Dominance
I agree with those who say the most significant psychological difference between the thought tendencies of men and women is that men tend to emphasize and focus on gender difference more than women. That is, men seem to have a greater psychological investment in seeing and emphasizing gender difference than women do. My own work on fathers has long been concerned with this phenomenon. The difference as men see it is likely to be expressed in terms of hierarchy—strong-weak, dominant-submissive, independent-dependent, subject-object, penetrator-penetrated, and so forth. The tendency can easily lead men (and women) to define relational virtues, such as openness to the perspectives and needs of others, as "weakness."
Both Evelyn Fox Keller and Jessica Benjamin relate the male emphasis on preserving a rigid distinction between self and other to a need to objectify and control the other, in short, to dominate the other. Their accounts bear some resemblance to those I reviewed above, especially that of Dinnerstein, that attempt to explain the devaluation of women and male dominance as a system by the fact that women mother. Keller's and Benjamin's focus, however, is less on male attitudes toward women as a group than on general masculine ways of thinking, which have come to characterize Western science and Western eroticism. Keller and Benjamin are both essentially critics of capitalist culture, but in their criticism they link the "critical theory" of the Frankfurt School of Marxism, with its focus on domination, to masculinity by making domination a male propensity. In a sense they turn that school's "critique of domination" into a "critique of masculinity." As Hester Eisenstein points out, the critique of Western culture that connects it with men and their orientations became a basis for woman-centered analysis that sees "maleness and masculinity as a
deformation of the human, and a source of ultimate danger to the continuity of life." Keller's and Benjamin's analyses differ considerably from one another both in terms of the substantive problems they address and in terms of the implications for action that they suggest. Specifically, Keller is concerned with domination in Western science and Benjamin is primarily concerned with "erotic domination."
Both Benjamin and Keller rely on a complex account of the infantile roots of the more typically masculine impulse toward domination. Following the work of the object relations theorist D. W. Winnicott, they propose that in making the transition from "symbiotic union" with the mother to a recognition of the autonomy of self and others, the infant develops unconscious ideation to the effect that the subject (the self) has actually destroyed the object (the other person) in the process of becoming separate. To believe the other has been destroyed is highly anxiety-producing because if the object does not exist, how is the subject to maintain any relatedness? The child is thus not only afraid of having destroyed the other in becoming a self but also afraid of losing its own self if the other survives. The child then seeks to defend against both possibilities by seeking mastery over the other. At a later point, in the oedipal stage, this innocent mastery (in which presumably both genders partake) can become converted into mastery over and against the other. This latter mastery for various reasons (including the assumptions that males must not be females and must "disidentify" from the mother) becomes associated with masculinity at both the individual and the cultural level.
Also, in contrast to Dinnerstein and Chodorow, neither Benjamin nor Keller focuses on equal parenting as a primary solution to male dominance, probably because they see masculine ways of thinking as highly problematic. Benjamin, especially, is concerned about the oedipal, authoritarian father, whom both see as enforcing gender polarity and representing authority.
Science and Domination
Keller suggests that the cultural identification of science and objectivity with masculinity is connected to the developmental process
of separating self from mother. The boy, who must not only become a separate self but also a separate gender from the mother, is likely to defend himself both from "reengulfment" by the mother and from femaleness by assuming a more objective and distanced stance. The culture helps the process by associating both objectivity and masculinity with science, by making scientific thinking a model for all thinking, and by defining as "scientific" only that which is objective and distanced. Thus science itself has become genderized and has lost much in the process.
But Western science is not only objective and distanced; it also places great emphasis on power and control. Keller suggests that the impulse to dominate is a natural concomitant of "defensive separateness" (p. 596). The impulse feeds into and is fed by the cultural construct of masculinity in which, for example, nature is seen as the mother who must be conquered and subdued. Keller is concerned not with reiterating this familiar connection and its variants but with purveying an alternative view of science. According to Keller, science is not intrinsically dominating; but it may also involve "conversing with," rather than controlling, nature and becoming part of the system under consideration rather than viewing the system from above.
Keller illustrates this with Barbara McClintock's work on DNA, which long went unrecognized, in part because her vision was difficult to grasp if one used a control model of science. McClintock challenged the prevailing view that "the DNA encodes and transmits all instructions for the unfolding of a living cell" with "a view of the DNA in delicate interaction with the cellular environment" so that "the program encoded by the DNA is itself subject to change. No longer is a master control to be found in a single component of the cell; rather control resides in the complex interactions of the entire system" (p. 601). Keller does not claim that only women approach science in this manner. Rather, her argument is that this method of approach can and has been chosen and needs more emphasis. The value of consciousness is that we are able to make choices as individuals and as scientists. Both women and men seek competence, mastery, and rational understanding. Science is a human endeavor. The contribution feminism can make is to "refine that effort" and to show that domination and control are not necessarily intrinsic to science.
Love and Domination
Jessica Benjamin uses the sadomasochistic, master-slave relationship described in Pauline Reage's The Story of O as her prototype of erotic domination, or what she calls "rational violence." She contends that the fantasy involved flows underneath "all sexual imagery" and "normal" adult love relationships and sees this fantasy as being ultimately caused by what she calls "false differentiation." In such differentiation, the solution to the fear of aloneness brought about by separation becomes one of preserving the other individual not as a separate being (which would be true differentiation) but by controlling and dominating the other person and denying him or her autonomy. This domination contains the threat of violence against the other and thereby becomes associated with male identity. But the violence must be "rational" for the strategy to succeed. In rational violence the perpetrator controls the victim in such a way as to obtain "recognition" from the victim while at the same time negating the victim's autonomy. In The Story of O, the female, O, is constantly recognizing her torturer-lover by her statements of "consent," and he is constantly negating her and testing her boundaries with more and more humiliating requests to which she must consciously and explicitly acquiesce.
It is less clear from Benjamin's account what the masochistic victim, O, gets out of her humiliation. Presumably, she gets recognition and avoids being alone, because she is needed by her lover in the sense that he needs her submission and her need for him. Benjamin also suggests that O identifies with her lover's rational control and thus protects herself from her own loss of control, which is equated with loss of self. In the last analysis, the explanation for O goes back to the differing positions of males and females in the infantile situation. "The male posture, whether assumed by all men or not, prepares for the role of master. The male is disposed to objectify the other, to instrumentalize and calculate his relation to her in order to deny his dependency. The female posture disposes the woman to accept objectification and control in order to flee separation. He asserts individual selfhood while she relinquishes it."
In rational violence, the victim matters to the violator; in nonrational violence, the victim's responses do not matter to the viola-
tor. In both cases, the violator is very likely to be male. Benjamin's final statement argues against a politics that "tries to sanitize or rationalize the erotic, fantastic components of human life," because "it will not defeat domination but only play into it" (p. 171). Benjamin says that Andrea Dworkin mistakes The Story of O for an affirmation of female degradation (n.4, p. 171). It is hard not to take the novel this way, however. The acquiescence of the woman in the story and her appreciation of the males "rational control" fits nicely into the convenient male belief that women are in reality masochists and want to be dominated. As a book that sells this idea, I believe The Story of O is pornographic and as such should be resisted. This is not to say that domination will end if we ban its description, but certainly it seems useful to point out the sense in which it is degrading to women. I do not say this to counter Benjamin's general argument, but I wish that "cool culturalists" such as Benjamin could find a place in their analyses to condemn the uses to which fantasy may be put.
Benjamin goes on to argue that erotic domination is closely connected to male domination in the culture as a whole. Here she means not direct male dominance over females but rather the cultural hegemony of the male stance; thus our culture is an "instrumental culture" of rational calculation in which nurturance becomes privatized and the maternal world dwindles.
Keller and Benjamin as Culture Critics
Keller's and Benjamin's analyses are valuable in showing how dominant cultural trends are related to masculinity on a variety of levels; however, we must guard against overgeneralizing about the defects of modern culture. In this respect I found Keller's analysis exemplary and Benjamin's analysis problematic. Whereas Keller makes rationality a human propensity par excellence, Benjamin tends to see rationality, instrumentalism, and individualism as "bad." But the orientations she criticizes are the very ones that fueled the women's movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Women who had been restricted to the domains of wife and mother wanted to participate in the rational, instrumental world of work outside the home. In my view the feminist critique of modern culture needs to recognize the positive benefits that have accrued to women from the degree
of integration and assimilation we have achieved in the society that we are now in a position to criticize.
In facing the question of change, Keller drops her analysis of infantile dilemmas and says we can change because consciousness makes choice possible. Benjamin tries to stay within the limits set by the underlying assumptions of her analysis and becomes pessimistic. In terms of the particular psychoanalytic premises she uses, the alternative to the development she describes is remaining "merged" with the mother and therefore being a nonself, or all of the world, that is, undifferentiated. In her terms, rational individualism is "a defense against helplessness and the ambivalence of differentiation." If we give that up, we would have to resort to "more primitive defenses (pathological narcissism) or to considering the possibility of a more terrifying state than we have yet been able to endure." Fortunately, this terrible state of being a nonself may be more a male fantasy and fear in an individualistic world than an infantile state. At times Benjamin seems to understand that this fear of "merging" is more characteristic of males' ideation, but because of her use of a theory that assumes an initial total lack of differentiation, she seems to get caught up in it herself and become stymied by her own theory.
One cannot help suspecting that Keller's and Benjamin's speculations about infantile fantasies are adult projections onto infants of adult preoccupations with the typically Western cultural issues of freedom versus nurturance, autonomy versus belonging and (within the culture of the Frankfurt School) recognition versus negation. In my view Keller's and Benjamin's writings should be taken as insightful cultural analyses, but ones that remain at the cultural level. Even when Benjamin discusses fathers and the Oedipus complex, she is discussing the symbolic interpretation adults give to fathers, not necessarily the meaning that fathers have for children themselves at various stages of their development.
Infantile Ideation and Psychoanalysis
The issues discussed in this chapter, and perhaps especially Keller's and Benjamin's reliance on Winnicott's theories, are all relevant to a long-standing debate concerning the nature of infantile thought processes. Many psychoanalysts have been critical of a tendency
among some of their colleagues to project adult ideation onto children. Emanuel Peterfreund has called this tendency "the adulto-morphization of infancy" and suggests that those who study infants, especially those with a strong biological orientation, find little evidence to corroborate the speculations. To say that psychoanalytic approaches can provide a useful framework for thinking about development is not the same as giving equal weight to every psychoanalytic idea that comes along in this highly speculative field. It is one thing to believe that deeply held emotional reactions are formed early and quite another to buy into an elaborate theory concerning infantile ideation that would be virtually impossible to verify empirically.
While some psychoanalytic theorists, such as Margaret Mahler, posit an initial stage of autism, others, such as Winnicott and Robert Stoller, posit, albeit in different ways, a primary state of symbiosis or nondifferentiation between infant and mother. In this latter state, it is assumed that the infant is merged or fused with the mother and does not differentiate self from mother.
Daniel Stern, who is both a developmental psychologist and a psychoanalyst, contends that there is little reason to believe that a symbiotic state ever exists for the child. On the basis of detailed observations of infant-caretaker interactions as well as his analytic experience with adults, Stern maintains that there never is any confusion between self and other, no merger, no symbiosis in the mind of the infant. Stern suggests that fantasies about "merging" are possible only after the development of a capacity to symbolize. He does not reject psychoanalytic accounts, however, but implies that explanations such as Winnicott's could not apply until a later phase of development beyond infancy has been reached, that is, until after the acquisition of language (p. 11).
Stern also suggests that issues such as autonomy versus dependence (or perhaps interdependence, in my terms) should be thought of as occurring not at one developmental stage or another but rather in different forms at various stages. Freud and Erikson placed the emergence of autonomy at the anal phase and related it to toilet training. Spitz located it at around fifteen months, when children begin to say no. Mahler thought the critical period for autonomy was learning to walk. Stern suggests that the development of autonomy can be seen in very young infants as they learn
to control visual engagements with the caretaker. I believe Stern is correct to say that there is no decisive event; dilemmas related to autonomy occur and reoccur and are transformed at various stages in the development of the sense of self (p. 22).
Stern places the self as structure and process in the center of developmental theory, and thus new senses of the self become the organizing principles of developmental stages. Stern sees this as a four-stage process beginning with an emergent sense of self as a physical entity. The second stage is a sense of a "core" self, which includes a sense of self and other as not only separate physical entities but separate entities of action, affect, and continuity. In the third stage the infant begins to become aware of the intentions and affects that guide behavior. This stage represents a quantum leap from the previous stage because it opens up the possibility of intersubjectivity, that is, communication in which we can understand the subjective states of others and communicate our subjective states to them. In Parsons's terms this would be the stage in which the infant learns that physical acts of care "mean" that the mother "cares about" the infant. During this period there might well be a pervasive sense of well-being, of being-at-one with the other, but Stern would not call this a primary state of symbiosis, because the infant is always an active participant.
Finally there is a sense of verbal self on which the capacity to be self-reflective depends. This sense is what G. H. Mead described as "the reflexive self," the capacity to take oneself as an object, to represent the self and the other to the self. This capacity to symbolize to oneself that which one wants to communicate to the other is the key to the phenomenon of intersubjectivity.
Stern's ideas about developmental stages of the self fit well with other developmental and sociological perspectives that view the self as being formed in and through social interaction. The sense of self develops simultaneously with the sense of other. There is much we do not know about the specifics of the process at different levels of understanding and maturity. The points for now are that gender differentiation is involved with more general processes of self-definition and that parsimony is advisable in describing this process in terms of infant ideation. Both the fear and envy hypotheses and the tenuous masculine identity hypotheses can have validity without "adultomorphizing" infant ideation.
Although Stern does not mention gender differentiation in his description of the stages of self-awareness, one might argue that the sense of self, or conceptions about the self in relation to others, may vary as a consequence of the social definition of self as male or female. Does one see the self as separate from others and defending the boundaries of the self while still preserving contact by controlling others, or does one see the self and others as separate but interdependent and without the necessity for control?