How do we build a reliable relation to our emotions?

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In my previous post, I explained how I used to feel visceral repulsion towards the strategy behind social relations that is game theory. Yet I still need and must rely on myself to navigate this world: I need to develop a healthy relationship to my emotions so that I may know how to react to them. The same problem applies to each person.

The marketing mantra “Trust yourself” sounds promising, easy, and individualistic. It can’t work for women, unless we want people to settle in what they wear taught to do and how they were taught to react. On the other hand, each person has desires and feelings, and they are the ones who must make decisions for themselves in the community if they are autonomous.

The situation is ambiguous: we are taught harmful or ineffective ways, yet can only rely on our imperfect selves to move forward. I do not have definite answer, but if game theory and science have taught me something, it is that we need to be acutely aware of our limitations so that we may take them into account, and weigh our goals in their light. When changing a behavior, we will eventually relapse. When facing a challenge, we will likely procrastinate, sabotage ourselves or avoid the situation. If we renounce to that knowledge, placing absolute faith in ourselves and others, we are bound to build unrealistic models and to see women’s actions as bound to fail.

We need to find ways to balance self-care, the immediate actions to soothe our feelings, with long-term care that includes strategic decisions, organisation and collaboration. While I see that discussions among women center almost exclusively on immediate personal care, long-term efforts are kept silent. We encourage women to spend “me-time” with nail polish and chocolate, we celebrate the victory of a female athlete, the discovery of a scientist. But we keep silent the years of work, sacrifices, planning and efforts that went into achieving that gold medal or that Nature publication. And when it comes to unknown women, we can’t go beyond recognizing the merits of the women who raised us.

We limit ourselves to a handful of works women can publicly do and be recognized for: child bearing, music, acting, modeling, public celebrity. A few women achieve a special status based on their contribution to the world (Marie Curie or Simone de Beauvoir). But for the rest of us, our work is at best part of our private domestic life, at worse a way in which we actively harm the domestic space we should be nurturing.

 

Image. F. Scaramella

Our gut reaction of disgust is controlling and limiting us

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The first time I consciously questioned a personal occurence of moral disgust was after watching A Beautiful Mind with male science colleagues. The movie tells the story of John Nash, a brillant scientist who made fundamental contributions to game theory. In a scene, young Nash is at a bar with friends as they lust after a beautiful woman. Nash makes the argument that if they each try their luck for her, at most one of them will succeed. On the other hand, if they decide that no one goes for the most beautiful woman but each goes for one of her friends, several are likely to succeed, and the group outcome will be better. My colleagues loved the concept, while I felt that such a manipulation of social interactions was horrific: here they were, talking to women only in term of their chances of getting what they want (sex).

I today know that many men use outcome-based interactions with women, unceremoniously discarding the ones who won’t provide what they want. Yet, I had a strong disgust reaction to game theory, and thought that I would stay away from it, and remain in the domain of morally good ideas, where I would find plenty enough to do.

I believe I was wrong on three accounts. First, I refused to explore the full range of available possibilities before making an informed and strategic decision, thereby limiting myself. Second, I weakened myself by cutting myself off from a powerful tool that men and industries use. Three, however wrong game theory is, it describes parts of society and for that reason alone, shouldn’t be ignored: if I want to make an impact, I do not have enough spare power to afford my ignorance of such an important field of knowledge.

I no longer feel a gut reaction towards game theory. I can now see when someone uses it, and observe the power struggle taking place, as well as the eventual overpowering that someone with knowledge can have on someone without. For that reason, I think we should critically question our gut reactions: if they are indeed correct, we should find ethical arguments to support them, and a broad high-quality world of ideas discussing it, not only the words of supporters.

 

Image: P. Bibler (detail)

Trust or no trust

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Relying on someone is a tricky and imprecise science. Who can we trust, and when? What happen if we mistakenly trust someone?

In feminism, we are told to trust ourselves, to trust women, to trust people concerned by some topic. It is a “told”, a requirement, not an option, not something to knowingly work toward. Is the person we are talking to concerned about a topic and not us? Then we should trust what they say.

I used to find this behavior strange, especially since thoughts and ideas on trust are so developed, with people clearly aware that deception, lying, narcissism and assholes exist. We know that people can join groups with hurtful or disruptive projects, we know that people will manipulate others, we know that people will pray on fragilised individuals. We know that good will doesn’t protect from violence, and that when helping others, it is essential to protect oneself.

Yet in the realm of feminism, we should trust the anonymous ‘Sandra’ when she tells us how wrong we are, and provides us coercive rules to follow. We should trust ‘Jo’ who tells us a horrific story and draw conclusions. We should trust whoever comes saying “I need to do this, therefore you need to support me without limits”. It seems absurd, nonsensical.

Unless there are untold rules, moral values and behaviors that drive women to advocate and fight for this blind trust, and to try to stick to it at their own peril. I believe these untold rules exist, and I believe I have learnt them like other women. If so, consciousness-raising should help me and other put words on these phenomenons.

It should help us identify why we sometimes have a strong gut reaction against certain ideas, such as an uncompromising autonomy of women akin to men’s. Why we believe we trust women, yet fail to critically examine what we trust in women, and what we don’t, so that we end up building a botched concept on a sand pile.

 

Image: Budzlife (detail)

 

The zero waste movement

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The political idea of zero waste was popular a few years ago, with countries, industries and communities committing to going zero waste. The San Francisco initiative defines it as “sending nothing to landfill or incineration”. This should work by preventing the creation of more waste, and redirecting garbage to appropriate recycling circuits. Despite official good will, the initiatives largely failed to ever be implemented.

In the universe of liberal well-off consumers and workers, the concept of zero waste means not putting anything into the garbage, and limiting was goes to recycling. The French Messiah Bea Johnson, who lives in the USA,  affirms that her family of four produces less than 500ml of yearly waste, while the young Lauren Singer affirms achieving a similar goal.

The whole project sounds to good to be true: buy un-packaged only, refuse whatever is package, buy and sell on the second-hand market, compost and recycle… And you’ll achieve the glamorous life of a pinterest-y all-white appartment, where you use almost no plastic and live healthily ever after with a life full of experiences (Johnson’s teary conclusion).

If you like these alternative, eco-friendly trends, I recommend losing a bit of time on checking this project out. I’ll expand my thoughts on this topic in later posts. Coming from a place where I was raised to recycle every little thing, and where we no pay 2.50chf (about 2$50 !) for a 35l garbage bag, you will get why I already try to limit my waste production. I will also expand on the dissonance between the perfectly curated apartments of these gurus, the high-standing cars and the supposed absence of produced waste: where do all the crappy broken objects go? Where did the mismatched collection of jam jars go?

 

Image: H. P. Brinkmann (detail)

Anonymity

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I’ve gone back and forth about anonymity. I first justified my anonymity by concerns for my future, public image: I didn’t want foul words, written twenty years ago to come and haunt me.

I know realize this paranoia makes sense. In regard to feminism, women are prime targets. Not all of them, not all the time, but it is bound to happen to some of them. I watched with dismay on forum when a good-willed newcomer would get banned for not believing into some party line, or trusting her opinion with strength. I watched in astonishment at hundreds of women justifying an ongoing public take-down of a woman, because she didn’t apologize in the perfect way. I’ve read so many whispers: I don’t speak on that topic, because I am scared of what awaits me.

Now, as it happens, I’m not the only one who reached that conclusion! And while whoever spends time on the internet hears about people getting harassed and humiliated online, it happened before: women getting trashed inside their own feminist groups isn’t new.

I want to explore this issue: why do women join small groups to perform outstanding thinking and reasoning for working for women’s cause, only to destroy each other and viciously attack whoever stands out in just the wrong way. Ironically, it is the very space that allows women to grow that stifles them as soon as they reach some independence.

 

Image: Benjamin Gauthier (detail)