Self-Loathing?

This is actually a comment response that ran so long I decided to post it as a new article. It’s in response to a comment from wakemenow on my Venus & Mars post yesterday.

I’ve heard many a tale about the competition among women. There have even been some articles published in work-related blogs about women in business being far harder on other women than on men. I’ve long assumed it was primarily based on competition for a resource (position, power, money) that was viewed as scarce, but I have come to wonder if there isn’t something else at work as well.

This is a fairly fresh line of thought, so bear with me if it seems poorly thought out (or just flat-out wrong).

I’m reminded of how some Jews in concentration camps became agents of the Germans against their own kind. I’m also reminded of stories I’ve heard about how some Black people treat other Blacks. Similar stories come from Latinos, Asians and almost any grouping of humanity you care to name. It seems like any group that has been socially forced into a secondary position has among it what might almost be called traitors to that group.

It may be that this simply reflects, in the small, humanity in the large. There have always been traitors to humanity; those out for their own gain regardless of its effects on others. In fact, it may be merely a matter of there always being the sociopaths and psychopaths among us. (Some studies show that 5% of CEOs are (non-violent) psychopaths. A certain lack of humanity is almost required to be a successful CEO in charge of thousands of careers and lives.)

But a germ of a thought I had (and need to explore further) is whether there is an element of self-hate involved. Being born into a genetic group with no hope of ever leaving that group could cause resentment if you perceive your own group as diminished in society’s eyes. A woman I knew once told me how much she hated the ‘being weaker’ aspect of being a woman.

As a white male, I am (at least in the USA) the “social default,” so I don’t really experience that. (I recall an account by, if I recall correctly, Chris Rock, who spoke of how amazing it was to visit Africa and be the social default there.)

But as someone who has sometimes had weight issues, I do know what it’s like to be immediately filed as “lesser” upon sight. And I do have some inkling of self-hatred in that regard. Society views over-eating and under-exercising as a personal problem (which to an extent, it is), so if one struggles with that (as so many do), one can grow to loath that part of ones self.

So my question, then, is whether that translates to hatred for the group. If one resents being born a woman, or Black, or gay, or whatever, can that turn outward in a kind of mental self-defense? Combine that with avarice and self-interest and social disconnection, and you have a monster.

This seems to explain the problem I’ve always had with the ‘scarce resource’ theory. Why is it that women in business are harsh with other women, but not with other men.

Is it a matter of only viewing other women as the competition? Or is it some part of it anger turned outwards? Or something else entirely?

For what it’s worth, I first started pondering the idea of self-hatred a few years ago after reading the front page of this blog by Ana Marie Cox. I had rather a fan-crush on her after seeing her on the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC. She was so highly intelligent and interesting to watch; one of the most expressive of Rachel’s guests.

In any event, on her blog she describes herself, “I am a Wonkette emerita, political junkie, self-hating journalist and occasional grown-up”

And I thought, how can someone with so much experience self-hatred? That started me pondering the matter, and I realized it can have all sorts of manifestations.

For instance, struggling unsuccessfully with a weight gain. Or, with regard to a journalist, perhaps in terms of ‘selling out’ to accommodate and facilitate a career (I have no idea what Ana Marie Cox meant; I’ve never seen it explained). It could be any place where your actions end up in conflict with your heart or your mind. We humans are, at least in part, driven by our desires and our perceived needs. Sometimes those conflict with our sense of what is “right” (which is an issue worth examining on its own; maybe you’re following what you’ve been told is right, what you’ve accepted as right, without really thinking it through).

Is the answer to buckle down and ignore ones desires? Perhaps in some cases, yes. In others, it might be more appropriate to examine your assumptions. I once was trying to console a very distraught friend, and the conversation went something like this (this was back in my college days, 35 years ago):

Her: “I’m exhausted and miserable from working two jobs. It’s just driving me down!”

Me: “That sucks. Why are you working two jobs?”

Her: “Because I’m trying to save up to buy a house.”

Me: “Okay… why are you so interested in owning a house?”

Her: “…Well, I guess because I’m supposed to. Isn’t that how life goes?”

Me: “[shrug] I donno. Do you really want a house?”

Her: “…No… I guess not really, it’s just what you’re supposed to do.”

Me: “But if it’s making you miserable, why do it?”

Her: “…”

She quit the second job and was a lot happier. And while it might seem like the exchange above was obvious, I think it shows that we can become so wrapped up in our goals that we lose sight of who we are. Especially now, with life moving so fast, it can be hard to stop and catch your breath.

That’s why I think it’s good to be sure to snag some “me” time for quiet reflection and self-examination. I like to smoke a good cigar once in a while, and that takes about an hour where all you can really do is just sit, puff-puff and think. Cigars might not be  your style, but find something that lets you listen to your inner voice.

It might well be trying to tell you something.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

15 responses to “Self-Loathing?

  • wakemenow

    Hmmm…well…I feel bad about critiquing your post on here, but I will if you don’t mind. Otherwise I’ll drag my thoughts back to my own cave where I can throw noodles at the wall to see which one sticks. Because I don’t believe “self-loathing” is the culprit behind women’s competitiveness. In fact, just the opposite.

    And while psychopaths due apparently rule Wall Street and dictate by shining example of how the upward mobility game can be and often is played, their influence affects us all, not only or primarily women. I’d go further to argue that cut-throat psychopathic tactics aren’t serving women nearly as well in the corporate world, but that’s a separate matter altogether.

    As for women’s complaints about belonging to the “weaker sex”…that speaks to the desire for a greater measure of control and power in their immediate vicinity and/or social group. That’s not so much reflected in competition with men as with other women, and that’s an important point for our purposes in this discussion. Again, look at the difference in how women treat other women versus how they treat men, particularly in the workplace. If their disgruntlement lies with feeling like a weaker sex, why then take that out on other women, especially subordinates who don’t stand in their way in the corporate ladder?

    No, I don’t feel it has to do much with that at all. We know we’re not weaker, and our political movements demonstrate women’s success in securing special rights and in some cases preferential treatment. And women are not a minority, not in numbers and not even in terms of our voices being heard in the public square. We are a majority (factioned as is obvious) and NOT remotely in the position Hispanic or black males find themselves. Even within Hispanic and black communities women are rising above the men socioeconomically and are being assimilated into the corporate culture at a much faster rate. “Weakness” doesn’t thwart us there. Nor does it when it comes to special protections provided under the law, as when it comes to domestic violence protection or in affirmative action legislation. The only space in our society where women aren’t afforded equal, special, or superior status is in the religious realm, but even there I’d say keep an eye on women’s activity and take notice of their role in this new-age evangelical movement, which WOMEN are flocking to in record numbers.

    Now, what do I think? I wonder if part of the problem doesn’t stem from overpopulation’s affect in women. We’re all crammed into tightly-packed societies where we can’t avoid one another, can’t keep from stepping on one another’s necks and feet. The stress from this situation affects everyone, but in women it poses a special threat because our professed authority must compete with that of every other woman nearby. Our sexual intrigue is in direct competition with the sexuality displayed by other women, worrying us endlessly with the possibility of our mates’ or crushes’ affections being lured elsewhere. When we stop and think about this from an evolutionary standpoint, there is real reason for concern, because women historically have aimed to secure male attention so as to provide for themselves and for their offspring, as was vital for the endurance of our species.

    You can take the woman out of the proverbial jungle, but you can’t so easily take the jungle out of the woman. We’ve evolved in ways that don’t necessarily suit our modern setup. Is it any wonder that aggression runs high when we’re packed together with nowhere to run and harnessed with drives that give us reason to lash out and let other women know where we’ve staked our claims? That claim doesn’t have to be on a particular man — it might be instead directed toward all men she claims as friends or part of her tribe. The claim may be staked within the business she works, giving rise to howling threats against other female competitors to back down and look elsewhere or face her wrath. The claim may be over her children and her attitudes about child-rearing, or in securing income for their care from the father or the government. Lots of stakes are placed. The point is that in our own special way we women are tyrannical.

    I have run out of time and must head to work for a few hours. To be continued…

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I don’t mind at all. Your input is always well-constructed, well thought out and welcome. You invariably give me much to consider!

      After posting the article above, I found myself a bit uncomfortable with it, since I’m not really sure I’m qualified to address the topic. On the other hand, there can be something gained by putting out a half-assed idea and letting people who know better school you! I’m not afraid to be full of it if it means I learn and grow.

      I look forward to your continuation!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      One quick item after a first-pass read through your comment. The “women weaker” element was a passing mention not related to the main thesis. It was a comment made to me by a lover once, and it really stuck with me as a point of view I had never considered, a voice from the other side, as it were. Her comment was strictly about physical weakness and the implications (physical fear) behind it. She had good reason; a mentally and physically abusive former boyfriend.

      The main thesis concerns the idea of resentment by any member of any group that is perceived as not primary or not in as much control as they might wish. One way to consider this might be to ask men and women whether, given the choice, would they choose to be reborn as the opposite sex. My belief is that more women would choose to be reborn as men than men would choose to be women. I agree women have made huge strides in this society, but the situation is less good worldwide, and even here I think there is progress to be made.

      • wakemenow

        Sure, I understand your points made here. Please let it be known that you are entitled to an opinion on women just as much as me or the next person. Though a male, you’ve spent several decades living with and among women, just as we all have, and your insight is nothing to shy away from. I’m just tossing out my own thoughts and ideas since the subject came up. 🙂

        Yes, physical weakness can definitely feel like a handicap, and in that regard I can understand your past lover’s comment. Probably all of us have come up against a man who made us feel physically weak by comparison and nervous in his presence, stifling our voice for fear of physical retaliation. That does suck, and it is real and legitimate. And that dynamic does help shape the gender/sex discourse for everyone and in a variety of ways.

        As you pointed to, we’re talking about Americans here, not the world. But let’s not assume women in Iraq or Saudi Arabia are getting along just fine with one another, even as they are severely subjugated by the male half of society (see Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book “Infidel” for her experiences growing up in a Muslim household in Africa and Saudi Arabia). And I think women there’s interpersonal aggression makes it easy for people here to jump to the conclusion that the subjugation is primarily to blame, leaning on the assumption that if men weren’t present or at least not powerful, we women would all be running around fat, peaceful and happy. I don’t tend to believe that, fuzzy and warm inside as the thought makes me.

        Moving on to “perceived as not primary or not in as much control as they might wish.” That hits it on the head pretty well. And I think that sums up a major part of this issue — the rivalry between and among men and women for power. The differences between the sexes tends to lie in the areas we focus our attention and compete for power. For us womenfolk, I do believe inside the home is a major focus, as is the less formal social arena (even where men claim technically rule the roost). Men and women form different types of hierarchies so far as I can tell, and it looks like women’s are less obvious to understand and typically informal.

        Notice, how often do women respect the authority of a woman in charge? There are polls out that show most American women now report they prefer to work for men, and plenty of us can share stories that tell why that is. The stereotype of the emotional bosslady hopped up on superiority and authority, taking out her bitchiness on other women (not only subordinates, and to a degree on men too), is popular because it holds a dose of truth. Some argue that women are adjusting to handling power after a lengthy absence (about 6,000 years) of not wielding it, and I used to subscribe to that logic. Sounds reasonable. But that excuse no longer jibes with me.

        Chalk it up to a difference between the sexes in terms of HOW we wield power, what kinds, and HOW we achieve our ends. Men and women differ in both our set objectives and the means we employ. I’d argue women’s natural way isn’t nearly as compatible within business environments, which makes sense considering the modern businessworld was originally devised by and for men.

        I feel like I’m getting so off-topic, but all of this scaffolding material seems necessary when launching into the question of why we womenfolk are 1.) discontent, 2.) frustrated, and 3.) making a serious and worsening habit of taking it out on one another and on general society. The resources needed today are different from anytime before in our history, and men and women are trying to make sense of and shape new realities, for better or worse.

        I’m going to drag the rest of my thoughts back to my own cave so as not to dominate your blog anymore this afternoon. 🙂

      • Wyrd Smythe

        And a fine scaffolding it is! I’ve got company coming over shortly, so I’m done for the night. You’ve given me some good things to think about, and I thank you for that. You’re always welcome in this cave! Until next time…

    • Wyrd Smythe

      After reading and thinking about your comments, I don’t have much to add. You’ve raised some excellent points worth adding to my mental mix, and I’ve always been interesting in what the “other” side has to say.

      One thing I look for is what conditions might be different between the sexes. I think we both suffer the over-crowding, and we both suffer our jungle origins, so I’m not sure I would ascribe much of women-specific behavior to those factors.

      I do think men have a richer contemporary history of “friendly competition” (i.e. sports; try to kill them during the game; drinking beer with them after). This seems to train us to understand how far we can escalate “war” without nuking the territory. I do find that, as a hugely general statement, women are more prone to nuking.

      It makes sense, if war is necessary, to play to win hands down (so you can understand the “fuck it; nuke it” mentality), but what war and competition teach is that there is always, eventually, an after. If you’ve nuked the territory, after is problematic.

      It may be that true equality is at hand (I like to say that we’re in a post-post-feminist world now), and women are still learning what all that entails.

      [Feminism was the militant era. Post-feminism is when the war was “won” and “equality” (or at least “advances”) were made. In the post-post- era, women are free to go back to being women again. (Actually, that wasn’t well stated, but the best I can do right now; typing is hard enough!)]

  • Dropping in to see what condition my condition is in :) « Wake Me Now

    […] do some online shopping but plan to pop back on here later to continue thoughts generated by Wyrd Smythe’s blog posts on women.  But if this order isn’t placed by midnight, I’ll miss out on the special […]

  • It's only P!

    I hate the new person that is emerging from my peri-menopausal self. I loathe her. She’s like a second personality and today, remembering a friend who read a book about sub-personalities with names, I named mine Lovely Rita. I don’t know why, it just popped up. I checked the lyrics, aren’t they ever dumb? Maybe that is what she is, dumb, this new chick. Stupefied by the hormonal jelly-brain.

    If I was not self-analytical, I’d never know why I hate myself, or part thereof. I’ll have to do away with Rita. Pronto.

    BTW, slavery in Africa would have been hardly possible if the black chiefs had not been in cahoots with the slave traders and sold off their own people.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’ve heard that menopause can be quite a wild ride. My mom was apparently too prim and proper to let out any craziness (although there was that one time she really surprised my sister and me by having a mini-tantrum and actually using the word “shit;” we were floored).

      Excellent point about Africa. An almost canonical case.

  • It's only P!

    Another BTW.

    Tried Toraño?

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I can’t recall ever smoking one of those. You recommend? I like cigars the way I like beer: strong and flavorful.

    My default usually is Hoyo de Monterrey, by Jose Gener, and I’ve had some very fine smokes by Cohiba. Actually, it’s been a while since I enjoyed a cigar (no decent cigar store near me); maybe I’ll looking for a Toraño!

    • It's only P!

      I did not smoke Toraño myself but sometimes got them in the US for a friend in Canada because he could not buy them there. In terms of strong and flavorful, it would be best to be advised by an expert. My friend always smoked Exodus 1959 Silver edition, which I think was not too strong.

      Here is a picture to tempt the senses! http://www.torano.com/cigarline

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Ah, the Casa Toraño Maduro would probably be my selection! I definitely lean towards Maduro cigars! And the Exodus looks worth trying. Heck, they all look worth trying. Exploring new cigars is like exploring new restaurants, new beers, new people (and, I would imagine, new wines, but I’m not much of a wine drinker; I like it, but just never got into it as I have with cigars, restaurants, beers and people).

        The store locator informs me that “Stogies On Grand” carries Toraño, so I’ll have to plan a shopping trip. It’s not like I’m having to go to work these days, so now’s the perfect time!

      • It's only P!

        Are you at home waiting for the verdict or have I missed something? Anyway, a good excuse to puff it up. Aren’t those some pictures of the cigars? I was thinking while walking through the forest with the dog – what a place to do so, as an anti-smoker! – that those cigars talk to sight, touch, smell, taste and smell (again). Something eh?
        Nah, once you’ve settled on a favourite Sauvignon Blanc there’s no need to explore more. 🙂 So do you like stout beer? I don’t like beer, I would go for cider. New restaurants, new people… I almost get restless!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        For many years my work has allowed me to work at home, so it’s a habit now. During this 45 day countdown I’m told my “only job is seeking another job.” I’ve got a bunch of submissions to open positions, and I am waiting (“and hoping and praying each day”) for a response. Only three have actually requested an interview, so, yeah, mostly I’m waiting.

        Oh, yes! A good cigar looks good, feels good (silky and slightly oily) and smells good before you even light it. Cigar smoking certainly isn’t for everyone, but I do enjoy it. You don’t inhale, of course, but you still get quite a nicotine buzz through the lining of your mouth. Since I don’t use tobacco otherwise, it can be a pretty big buzz! (I’ve never been a cigarette smoker, and the idea of chewing revolts me.)

        Yes on the stout. I usually like the brown ales. You can read my beer page if you like for details.

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