On this momentous International Women’s Day, with protests happening all over the world surrounding reproductive rights, the wage gap, and systemic misogyny, I wanted to post about something I have been thinking about off-and-on for a while now. There is a continuing debate that sounds incredibly grammatical, but is in fact credibly philosophical, and is the unstated topic of many arguments I hear in the media these days: are you the subject or the object of this discussion? In other words, should we always, and without exception, contextualize people and their experiences? Just reading that questions hurts my brain and makes me tired… A direct example is our use of language, e.g., she is a sexual object. When someone is an object, all context is stripped away — who they are, how they feel, their history — except that which is manipulated in the mind of the observer. A subject, however, is explicitly a matter of exploration, like a subject that you learn in school. The context IS the point.
For the grammar nerds in the room, here is another way to look at this.
The subject manipulates the object. What would happen is someone was a sexual subject? Consider how different that experience would be. Do you think it would be enriching? empowering? energizing? exhausting? enraging? If I had to consider the feelings, history, personality, and identity of every person I was ever attracted to? everything about them? every time?
I’m going to make a fairly stark statement, and then roll it back with some more detail.
We don’t live in a society where we care for each other.
“Whoa there, buddy. I care about lots of people, and lots of people care about me.”
Well, congratulations! I’m happy for you! Though I have to ask, are you all of society? Do you feel this care and concern for everyone? I am not saying that we do not live in a society where individual people care for other individual people. I am talking about the systems of power that reflect our quiet — though sometimes INCREDIBLY LOUD — biases. As a simple example, goods and services must be exchanged in order to get what we need; explicitly, we receive currency for goods and services that we then give to others for goods and services that we need or desire.
“G_d, you’re one of those commie leftie bastards, aren’t you?”
Not really. I’m not saying that an economy of currency for goods and services is inherently wrong. I’m simply pointing out that we are not operating from a perspective that everyone’s needs should be met as a matter of course. Notice I didn’t use the words “earn,” “deserve,” “work for,” or “require” in my statement. As a society, we believe that people are responsible for themselves. Our reliance on others is masked by transactions. How often do you think, “Thank deity for farmers. I’d starve otherwise!”? If you do it every day, I bow to you and your practice of gratitude. I don’t think about that daily… I forget CONSTANTLY… When there is so much distance between the person who picked my green beans and myself, I have trouble relating to them, if I relate to them at all. When the price of vegetables goes up, is my first response, “Wow, there must be many complex factors that went into this decision and I hope this change is directly serving those in need”? Yeah, probably not. I’m probably thinking, “Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. Why in the hell do I need to pay more for the same damn thing I bought last week?!”
You see, we have a culture of victimhood and self-importance — both the privileged and the underprivileged.
“I’m incapable of getting what I want because of you!”
“I don’t WANT to have to consider anyone else’s feelings or experiences!”
For most of us, I am the subject, and everyone else is an object. My experiences, feelings, history, and identity matter; everyone else’s are just fine so long as they don’t negatively impact me. You are a part of my context, assuming I want you there at all. This approach leads to an interesting power dynamic. The message repeating over and over again in the recesses of our minds is
“If I lose my position, I’m screwed!”
We must constantly jockey for what we need and want against the multitude of everyone else’s needs and wants. We must be the priority, both individually (me) and collectively (MY family, MY community, MY friends). I don’t want to bother considering you because it would be exhausting and counter to my own interests.
The truth is that if we care for the weakest, we’ll be cared for when we are weak. Funny, that. If we only care about bettering our position, and we lose it, we really are screwed. Of course, changing our position and carrying out actions in accordance with that new perspective requires a collective effort. If we don’t all agree to look out for each other, if someone explicitly disregards the needs of others in favor of their own wants or needs, it simply won’t work. Does this sound like anything that is happening in government or society right now? Uh, yeah.
The current method for bringing awareness is #resistance. “Why are they clogging the streets and holding up traffic? Don’t they know I need to get to work?!” Yeah, it sucks. I get irritated, too. Then I remember that I have no idea what it’s like to walk down the street and fear being sexually assaulted — or that if I am sexually assaulted and become pregnant, someone in a three-piece suit gets to legislate what happens to my body next — or that the person who assaults me might explicitly be someone who is supposedly sworn to protect me — or what it’s like to have a debilitating disease and no way to get it treated — or what it is like to fall asleep to the sound and tremors of bombs dropping — or… or… or… *slow inhale* *sigh*. These people have lives and concerns, too. They deserve the same care, respect, and consideration that I do, even if it inconveniences me and pisses me off… Oy.
The difference between “subject” and “object” is spirit. When I recognize the spirit in the person across from me, I am far more likely to relate to them and seek to understand them. When I recognize their spirit, they become a subject, no longer an object. Yeah, I know, if we did this with every moment of our lives, it would be nearly twice as exhausting as it already is… Or twice as enriching… I don’t know which. Maybe both?
So on this raucous, disrupted, turbulent, adventure-filled, crazy wack funky International Women’s Day
Love your neighbor,
and Treat Others as you would Want to be Treated.