I thought I’d start a new series of posts on here about my reading. I enjoy all sorts of books, but have been trying to make a conscious effort to keep my academic and non-fiction reading going and my brain engaged with current events. My particular interest is in feminist politics and culture, and so a large portion of my reading – across media and different genres – is based around this. While I keep a personal reading journal, I thought it might be interesting to share some of the materials and ideas I come across.
So here is “Readings in Feminism” #1.
Attaching and Abusing
I came across Nora Samaran’s essay “The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture” earlier this week, and my brain has been firing off tangential ideas around it ever since. Holding that “[v]iolence is nurturance turned backwards”, Samaran uses attachment theory to suggest that violence/rape culture is caused, at least in part, by our society’s conditioning of men and boys to undervalue, forego and denigrate nurturing forms of attachment. Across much of this globalised world, it remains women who undertake the majority of nurturing and caring labour, such as caring for children and the elderly (e.g. here (US), here (UK), and here (India)); even in places where women’s opportunities outside of the domestic sphere are greater, the association of nurturing with femininity persists (e.g. Francois Hollande’s recent creation of a ministry of ‘family, children and women’s rights‘). While the different attachment styles that Samaran cites exist across people of all genders, she is able to draw parallels between unhealthy attachment styles and behaviours that are prevalent under patriarchy – supposedly “masculine” behaviours, the opposite of “feminine” nurturing, which often manifest as forms of violence. One way to improve women’s experiences might, Samaran suggests, be to encourage men to form nurturing homosocial bonds so that their wider cultural and societal impact becomes a healing one.
A perfunctory Googling of attachment theory suggests that, beginning in the 1950s with the work of John Bowlby, attachment theory is still something that psychologists are using, modifying and reacting against to this day (e.g. here). There are certainly some critiques to be made of attachment theory as it has manifested itself over various points in its history. For one, Bowlby’s idea of ‘maternal deprivation’, i.e. that separation from or loss of the mother or other primary care figure in early childhood can negatively impact on one’s abilities to form healthy relationships thenceforth, seems deeply problematic; it essentially places the responsibility for nurturing and the failure to nurture, once again, on women, gendering this form of labour according to patriarchal constructs and concepts. I’m by no means the first to have these concerns: for example, Fiona Buchanan’s essay “A Critical Analysis of the use of Attachment Theory in Cases of Domestic Violence” (2013) and the sources she draws on are proving enlightening reading for me at present.
That said, Samaran’s essay raised some interesting questions for me:
- what would a world filled with nurturing masculinity look like?
- how should we encourage nurturing homosocial bonding between men, and how can we ensure that this doesn’t create further Boys Clubs? (e.g. the business suggestions here)
- how can we encourage nurturing homosocial bonds in ways that acknowledge and work through further divisions of race, class, ability, etc., and the nurturing activities already going on, albeit largely unrecognised, in these communities? (cf. this insightful piece from Dr. Ornette D. Clennon).
- how can/is it also necessary that nurturing femininity be adapted to improve women’s economic and social advancement?
- what role can paternity leave and the like play in creating a nurturing masculinity, and how exactly do facets of attachment theory (which facets?) come into this?
- how can we refine ideas of masculinity and femininity in attachment theory and when talking about nurturing to include LGBTQIA+ parenting? I.e., gendered division of labour – how does it work in LGBTQ communities? (some ideas here)
- more broadly – how does all this relate to childlessness, as a choice for women and as a queer choice? (cf. Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure).
These questions seemed to intersect with Kai Cheng Thom’s list of “7 ways social justice language can become abusive in intimate relationships” on the online-magazine-come-social-platform Everyday Feminism – which suggests some ways in which privilege theory may cited and manipulated to justify abuse – via some of my personal experiences and observations. Some of the examples Thom uses strike me as extreme manifestations of anxious attachment (at least, Samaran’s reading of anxious attachment; e.g., Thom’s point 5, ‘Making an Intimate Partner Feel Responsible for Life or Death’).
I don’t mean to suggest a direct link between attachment theory and the abuse that Thom describes (although attachment theory has been concerned with the causes and results of abuse), but these various ideas about what sorts of attachments exist, how abuse and attachment may or may not be linked, and how all this relates to feminist issues of maternity, childcare and domestic violence is certainly a triad that may warrant further exploration.
- Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out
- Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist
- Moten & Harney, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study
- Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto
- Ferreira Gullar, Dirty Poem
- Ali Smith, Public Library