By Madronna Holden
What I’d like for Mother’s Day is for our children to get what they want. But first they have to know what that is.
And that isn’t an easy determination for any of us in the modern age–and especially for women. According to the authors of the Mother-Daughter Revolution, girls in our society start out with an open eroticism toward the natural world, a sensual love of life. Their presence in their own bodies gives them a vital sense of who they are: so that they touch the world around them by being in touch with themselves.
Such girls are feisty, as full of joy and experimentation as they are full of themselves.
But if they follow our primary social narrative, they change all that connection to the natural world to desire for a single man—and if they please him, they may, in the sexual act, earn back their original eroticism. A mother accomplishes a “revolution” by siding with her daughter’s voice as she grows, honoring her real sense of desire—so that she does not get caught in the trap that causes white middle class girls’ self-esteem to plummet in half as they reach puberty today.
No wonder Freud declared women masochistic. We’d have to be to follow this script. But we’ve had lots of practice, beginning with ancient Greece, in which the philosopher Aristotle told women that they could become virtuous (which, according to this sage, made them happy) by hitching their star to a virtuous man. They couldn’t earn such happiness, he stressed, on their own.
As in this case, those in power in societies like our own have always manipulated the desire of those on the bottom to keep them there. Aristotle’s main focus in his Politics was to put down the irksome impulse of oppressed people to revolt in a “democracy” that excluded women, colonial subjects, and slaves.
And all of us today are to some extent victims of manipulated desire. Ads shout “more” to us—telling us how much we need more food, more convenience, more newness, more improvement. Such ads assure us that we can buy whatever it is we want—after they tell us what that is.
The first part of this media blitz is deficit or scarcity thinking, as traced in the history of advertising by Stuart Ewen, where we learn of corporate meetings back in the 1920s that concluded the fostering of psychological deficits was beneficial to selling more products. Juliet Schor’s shocking Born to Buy details the ways in which modern advertising indoctrinates children from the youngest age with the idea that they are what they own.
This dynamic also gives girls and women the idea that their self-esteem is coincident with their image. Peggy Orenstein spent time with young women in four different schools from varied social classes and ethnic backgrounds. Her findings indicate that these girls’ self-esteem plummeted when they reached puberty precisely because they were under so much pressure of appearances.
Educator Jean Kilbourne’s work details the deadly way ads manipulate desire for particular appearances—since they link sexuality with the objectification of and violence towards not only women but girls. Altogether, such manipulation of desire muddies the water considerably in terms of young men and women coming of age today, for whom modern media is as much an influence as their education or their families.
Like all other earth dwellers, we are all intentional creatures. In the 1900s Wild Bill, an elder of the Pit River people said this well: everything alive is for a purpose. As living creatures, we have a meaning, a sense of belonging, an orientation toward something. But if we don’t know what this is, we are susceptible to the infinite desire for more and more upon which capitalistic growth is based. “You can never get enough of what you didn’t want in the first place”, as the astute addiction counselor put it. So never getting what we really want fuels the engine of growth as we keep consuming more and more in the hopes we will finally be satisfied.
In this age of the gluttonous consumer, we don’t need less. We need less of those things that give us no real satisfaction, that destroy our self-esteem—and our environment.
But when we have a clear conversation with our own desires, we may find we want more. I know I do.
For Mother’s Day, I want lots more. I want clean water, fresh air, contact with a live natural world, a society that allows the unique gifts of each of us to come to fruition, a place of belonging for my daughter and the generations that follow.
In telling the story of a stalk of corn that mothered itself, persisting and reseeding without water in a dark cave for generations, Linda Hogan has these eloquent words to say about natural desire in Linda Hogan’s Dwellings (p.62): “The stalks of the corn want clean water… The leaves of the corn want good earth. The earth wants peace. The birds who eat the corn do not want poison. Nothing wants to suffer. The wind does not want to carry the stories of death.”
This stalk that continues in a dark cave by itself is like buried human desire waiting for the sun and the rain all this time—so that is can rejoin the community of earthly life again.
Filed under: Contrasting worldviews, Ecofeminism, environmental philosophy, Environmental psychology, Ethics, Our Earth and Ourselves | Tagged: advertising, consumerism, Ecofeminism, mothers and daughters, young women's life choices |