September 9, 2007

Castration complex

This idea is a prominent one in this week's reading and something that I felt was worth a little discussion. What is probably the most interesting is how this idea is portrayed in a rather phallocentric society. Althusser's description of the little girl's transition on page 214 provides a great example of this when he states "when the little girl lives and assumes the tragic and beneficial situation of castration." This passage personally stuck me as it appears to create this horrible picture of the status of women. I understand that we live in a male dominated world, but I find it hard to believe that there exists a time in every kids life where they come to the understanding that their phallus (or lack there of) will dictate their societal roles. Especially by today's standards, even though the idea of separate spheres exists, I feel that they are not as clear cut as past generations. I guess, for the sake of created some discussion, how would Althusser feel about Hilary's run for the white house? Also, is the castration complex something that is a big problem in the US, especially when compared to other countries?


George said...

I think the status of women in today's society is much better than when Freud first theorized on the Oedipus complex and castration anxiety. Similarly, I think a large portion of our society has put aside most of Freud's understandings of human development, but has moved on to neurology-behaviorist psychological understandings to replace them (which of course, has its own problematics). As for other countries, I can't really speak to their current experience, but I do know that Freud brought over much of his theories from Europe, and that most of his understandings and terminology comes from Greek mythology (i.e. Oedipus, Narcissus).
I think Althusser does offer a small token of power to a little girl growing up in a phallocentric society. He writes, "but she thereby gains in return her own small right: the right of a little girl, and the promise of a large right, the full right of a woman when she grows up, if she will grow up accepting the Law of Human Order, i.e. submitting to it if need be to deflect it--by not minding her p's and q's 'properly.'" (p. 214, end of first paragraph).
It reminds me that there are, in this day and age, women who still rebel against that symbolic order.
The following video, "Stupid Girls" by Pink demonstrates both the possibility of resistance and the social costs of resisting the dominant symbolic order. Throughout the video, you see Pink mocking certain celebrities whom, it could be assumed, are negative role models for women and girls. Though she mocks celebrities like Paris Hilton, it is worth mentioning that many shots of the video show her losing the attention of the men in the video. Thus, it shows that to reject the position society makes for you has social costs, in this case, the lose of being seen by males, which makes it difficult and, in some respects, painful to reject these societal standards.

These are just small rejections of the symbolic order, a bucking of gender roles by a woman or a refusal to be called into (read:interpellated) into a certain subject role. Would the costs be different for a male who rejected masculine roles? Imagine, however, a much larger refusal of the symbolic order, such as a person who refuses to be interpellated into a gender (ie. remains unresponsive to either male or female callings).

Link to Stupid Girls Video

Meg said...

Women's status depends. Yes, in some ways its better, per se, but we are still exploited in many ways...after watching Beyonce's new fragrance ad, she uses her sexuality to her advantage...seducing who really holds the power here? Beyonce..or the man she is seducing? and isn't she degrading herself by using this as a means of persuasion or is she persuading herself all the way to the bank on man's expense? (Subject and the pay a price) Their is a fine line of what is acceptable..and of roles..what message is she sending? But then I think of the vulnerable women who are preyed on by police officers for example, in Philadlephia, who seem to have very little voice, and it is interesting to note that these cops, who are seen in roles of "power" go after the girls who are not the soccer moms, or the moms driving the mini vans with the car seats, but the ones who out at night, are drug addicts, strippers, intoxicated, etc. so who are the ones in power now?? Just some thoughts.

g-man said...

I think Pink's video does exactly what it says not to do. Yes, she is making fun of all these stereotypes, pretending like she doesn't care about them. But she trades on them at the same time - both in and out of the video. She exploits her body to do exactly what she criticizes Paris Hilton for doing.

What makes it worse is it is sort of dishonest about it.

Through A Retina Darkly said...


Hillary's public life has been marked by continuous assaults on her character, gender, sexuality, etc. People have said she, not Bill, wore the 'pants' in the presidency (and then joked that she was somehow the reason he couldn't keep his on). People have constantly called her status as woman into question. On the other hand, she has been described as a cold calculating and unfeeling politician. She can't win. She is either too feminine or not feminine enough.

That she is even in office seems to suggest some things have changed. That her political career has been dogged by such discourse suggests not much has, though.

Through A Retina Darkly said...

Hillary, redux

I'm working on a research project that has to do with memory, performance, and 9/11. I have come across a number of articles talking about Rudy Guliani's controversial appearance at the memorial ceremony this year.

What is really interesting to me is the way that the issue about whether RG did a good or bad job with 9/11 and whether he is a saint or just exploiting the tragedy comes back to Hillary Clinton's fitness or not to run the country.

It isn't in the articles themselves, it is in people's comments. In one, a man responds to criticisms of Guliani's handling of 9/11 thus:
"Gee Whiz — the New York Times — a.k.a. the Hillary Clinton newsletter seems to want to make this a national story?
How about the EIGHT YEARS that Hillary Clinton spent in the White House while the terror threat was building and building.
What did she do all that time?
Bake pies?
Did she read any books about terrorism? Make speeches? Or just bide her time and lay low?"

You can find it at:

And there is more like this here:

Talking about the bearer of the bleading wound, the image that reawakens the anxiety of the original scene of oedipal awareness...

Through A Retina Darkly said...

I shood reelly spell-check befour I poast.

Dan said...

That is interesting what you say about Hilary's femininity being called into question, especially when you consider the double standards placed on each of the sexes. I'm sure that most will agree that the societal standards depict strong women as bitches while strong men are considered powerful. Much the same, promiscuous women are considered sluts and men considered players. Obviously I am looking at a much bigger issue (though the Clinton's seem to fit into these labels quite well) but it is interesting how these labels align with the castration complex.