Sunday, 24 October 2010

Women as sociological ducks

If freedom is reduced to the freedom to shop ... then is it any wonder that so many women suffer from depression and feelings of meaninglessness or worthlessness?
From Women as Weapons of War.

Well, yeah, but also: get your pontificating theory the fuck out of my brain.

I mean, I am a history geek; sociology is my friend; I see a day in which I haven't analysed the wider social forces shaping our actions as a day wasted. But there's a difference between this, and reducing people to mere vessels for Social And Historical Factors. In The Dustbin of History, Greil Marcus warns of the risk of losing sight of individual genius when talking about the blues: yes, it was created in response to slavery and oppression, but centuries of slavery and oppression only produced one Bessie Smith. Seeing Strange Fruit as the inevitable product of the horrors of American history denies the incredible personal achievement of Billie Holiday. And painting female depression as simply a product of the patriarchy denies the personal experience of mental illness to every single sufferer.

I mean, The Pressures Of Modern Life don't exactly help. Having to get to work by eight and charm the heck out of customers all day and get spruced up to go out for dinner and organise Christmas presents for my boyfriend and stop by for a quick drink with friends and try to figure out whether sacrificing sleep to make tomorrow's lunch is better than spending three quid on a sandwich and getting up to do it all again tomorrow and look good the whole time and never let on for a second that I'm not feeling the strain is really fucking hard work, and really not conducive to cranial serenity. And yes, I'm aware that this is an incredibly privileged existence, even compared to other white western cis pass-for-straight relatively-financially-okay women: I don't have to care for children, or older or disabled family members; all I really have to do is try to look after myself while meeting the expectations of work and family and friends.

And a lot of that is informed by patriarchal demands: I have to spend a whole load more time getting pretty than gentlemen do, and get judged for any failures; maintaining a smiling, helpful disposition is deemed more crucial to my professionalism than it is for guys working in my department. And I think there's more of an onus on women to paper over the cracks, to deny the very existence of the cracks, to paddle madly under the surface to produce the illusion of effortless calm.

(I came up with that metaphor while feeding the ducks in Clissold Park.)

But I'm also me, and me happens to have a history of depression, for whatever chemical and psychological and personal reasons, and I resent being painted as nothing more than the inevitable outcome of Several Millennia's Oppression Of Women. My name is Hannah, I enjoy knitting and swimming and melted cheese, and I take medication to deal with an illness. I am more than just a symptom of social malaise.


  1. Interestingly, I haven't run across the notion that depression is a result of patriarchy. I can see it making people depressed, as in the emotion, but not depressed as in the illness-- and as someone else who has depression, and who takes medication for it, I know that it isn't a response to my honestly quite wonderful surroundings, but rather a response to chemical misfirings-- I can see it in my mother, and her mother, in my aunts and my uncle, and to a much lesser degree in my brother. And it isn't because of patriarchy-- which tends to piss me off more than sadden me.

    Good post!

  2. Thanks Amanda!

    No, it's a new one on me too; since writing this, though, I was thinking about how anorexia is often painted as solely a reaction to beauty standards ("Models in magazines are thin, ergo I must be thin") when, again, it's a bit more complicated than that.