From the decline of the NHS to the election of Donald Trump, insights from analysis can help us understand our fragile political timesby Susie Orbach / January 8, 2018 / Leave a comment
Mary Beard, the renowned classicist, said as she lectured on Women and Power last year that on hearing a woman pilot’s voice through the airplane’s PA system, she did a double take. At first, she wondered why the cabin staff were making such an important announcement. She talked of thinking of Professors and Pilots as male, despite she herself being a professor. It reminded me of the 1970s riddle: a father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital with a brain injury. Just as he’s about to be operated on the neurosurgeon says, “I can’t operate—that boy is my son!” Who is the neurosurgeon?
In 2018 we might answer that the surgeon is the other Dad. Issues of sexual orientation and parenting are no longer confined to heterosexual tramlines. But enlightened as we like to think we are today, how fast would we would say, “his mother?” How deep is the internalisation of misogyny that many of our responses would echo Beard’s?
Beard’s point, of course, is that our thinking is shaped by all sorts of preconceptions that operate without us even being aware. That’s an important insight at any time, but especially when sexist assumptions are in the spotlight as never before. And especially, too, at time when countless known knowns in politics have become unknown unknowns, as the self-anointed authorities on “what people want” have been shown to mis-read them in contexts including Corbyn, Brexit and Trump.
The beliefs, values and desires of many people has turned out to be different from what was assumed. It is in the gaps between these beliefs and social practice that psychoanalysis can shed unparalled light. No other discipline addresses the human subject as conflicted, complex, contradictory. It is rarely trumpeted for the insights it can give into the direction a society is going in as opposed to the individual, and yet it is of enormous value here.
There is a dialectical relationship between what has been absorbed early in our individual history—the structuring of our psyche and internal world including our defences and the ideas—and experiences we encounter which sit uncomfortably with the more accustomed parts of ourselves. Misogyny, the internalisation of the hatred and degradation of women, is a primary affective experience which lives in the psyches…