Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Law of Attraction: Would Bourdieu Approve?

51RswbgKulL__SY355_If you have never come across the Law of Attraction it is probably best described as a philosophy that mixes spirituality, psychology and quantum physics.  The mass appeal of the Law of Attraction over the last decade is understandable.  It offers us a cosmic Other and hope.  Packaged for a mass audience, an entire industry has been generated offering us a way out of the small space we have been allocated in life.  Graham Lineham hilariously lampooned it in an episode of the ‘IT Crowd’ and the idea of thoughts manifesting things is bound to attract derision.  The most interesting idea, for this discussion, lay at the heart of The Law of Attraction; our thoughts and actions are determined by paradigms – clusters of habits- that have been imprinted on our subconscious by external forces since birth.  Bourdieu, a French sociologist called this our ‘habitus’ and reading his work significantly raised my consciousness about my own working class paradigm and why I often feel uncomfortable in situations that fall outside this conditioning.  The lag between my class and gender habitus and arenas in which I wish to operate is known in Bourdieu’s framework as the hysteresis effect.  My habitus is a comfort zone that has propelled me on a particular trajectory and my beliefs and actions are geared towards this, subconsciously (and if I’m honest, sometimes consciously).  Bourdieu’s work is a way of viewing class and gender boundaries as a socially determined means of protecting distinction and privilege.  If I don’t like the trajectory my habitus has prepared me for, then I need to stretch that habitus.

If we ignore the metaphysics, the Law of Attraction has something in common with Bourdieu’s sociological framework; it recognises this gap between habitus and individual ambition, seeing the de-programming of our subconscious as a way out of a socially restrictive existence.  If we want to be wealthy, so goes the teaching, then we should ‘act as if’ we already are.  Dress, talk and act like a millionaire.  For Bourdieu, this is learning the rules (the doxa) of a new game in order for us to expand our habitus and equip ourselves to operate in a different sphere and at a different level, losing those feelings of discomfort.  Changing our attitudes, knowledge and behaviours is, in Bourdieusian language, accruing cultural capital.  The Law of Attraction sees this as alignment between our desires, emotions and actions – throw in some help from the Universe and it is a heady mix.  Where Bourdieu and the Law of Attraction diverge is in the balance between individual free will and structural power; Bourdieu sees this as a subtle interplay where individuals must negotiate structural boundaries that are externally constructed for the benefit of the dominant class (and we can see this very clearly in terms of gender).

Feminism’s goal is to encourage self-actualisation in women.  This could be seen as entirely compatible with the philosophy of the Law of Attraction.  It encourages a ‘know thyself’ consciousness-raising that might well be helpful to women who, in the same way that class throws a boundary around our identity, find their culturally-approved feminine identity suffocating.  Breaking free from oppressive paradigms means unlearning beliefs, attitudes and behaviours with which we have been inculcated – shifting from a patriarchal paradigm to one of emancipation.  The recognition that we have been conditioned by external forces to accept certain ideas is powerful.  If we can unlearn, for example, those masculine and feminine traits that appear ‘natural’ to us we have a much better chance of achieving an androgynous future (yes, this is a good thing!).  Of course, the Law of Attraction does not have an explicit feminist agenda and – let’s face it – most of us just want to get rich.

Blurring the rational/emotional dichotomy may be good for us.  The Law of Attraction challenges our acceptance of the mind/body split.  Certainly, women have often found themselves on the wrong side of these binaries ever since Apollo and Dionysus split our psyches into two.  A philosophy that allows individuals to step outside their habitus and challenge social order is a step in the right direction.  I am wondering aloud whether some of the techniques in the Law of Attraction can be sociologically applied to undo our gender and class conditioning.  Imagine if children could freely explore their potential free of class or gender conditioning.  Imagine if women could slough off limiting ideas of femininity and just be.  I’m not sure Bourdieu would have wholly approved of the selling of a dream to people, but I do think he would have been fascinated by the sociology of it.

Epilogue

Although I have long since parted company with religion, I do want to have an open mind about the metaphysics.  In some ways I can buy into the idea of dissatisfaction being the driver for achievement and who wouldn’t want a shortcut?  Quantum physics is weird and if electrons can be in two places at once, if Schrodinger’s cat can be alive and dead at the same time then maybe something at the Planck level can work for us.  Unfortunately, if I try and visualise a pile of cash I now only see Prof. Brian Cox rolling his eyes.  But if in one of the infinite realities out there I am uber successful, could it be this one?

 

 

 

Why All Feminists Should be Theologians

thContemporary Western feminism, it has been suggested, has allowed a divide to develop between secular and Christian feminists[1], and this has come as a bit of a shock to me having immersed myself in some gripping and theologically radical Second Wave writing.  Respected authors such as Mary Daly[2] and Rosemary Radford Reuther[3] had no problem with mingling feminist philosophy and theology during the 1970s in ways that powerfully served feminism’s goal of liberation from all manifestations of patriarchy (or however one would express this in post-modern parlance).  Some current commentators argue that Christian feminists are not articulating feminist theology with discussions in the wider feminist community – they are shy about bringing God into it.  Secular feminists are, in turn, a little cool (and sometimes downright hostile) towards those who attempt to maintain the two incompatible (as they see it) identities – feminist and Christian[4].  As well as general alignments to secularism, feminist critiques of Christianity have propelled many women to its margins or to abandon it altogether (who might be described as post-Christian[5]), so it is understandable there is some angst.

Though I write as a post-Christian feminist (a handy descriptor I picked up from the rather brilliant Daphne Hampson), I agree with authors who describe this divide as feminism’s ‘neglect’ of religion and its impact on women.  (I should point out I focus on Christianity here, though the principles might travel across other belief systems).  This lacuna – or missing piece – in current feminist discussions is doing us a disservice.  Whilst we no longer really talk about any grand causality of sexism, there is surely a need to retain some sense of aetiology – by that I mean asking where ideologies come from.  Why have women been, in many and varied ways, considered the second sex so ubiquitously and for so long?  Writers like Daly and Radford Ruether understood the enormous impact Christian symbols and myths, underwritten by patriarchal interests, have had on Western culture.  Until these symbols have been fully explored, and the underlying misogyny exposed and incapacitated, they still cause harm to women.  This has nothing to do with belief or iconoclasm.  You don’t need to believe in God to be subject to the effects of the cultural absorption of a religion’s myths and symbols.

I hope to participate in some bridge-building and push through this secular/spiritual divide, which I think is sometimes conflated with the rational/emotional dichotomy.  If secular and Christian feminists together explore the cultural manifestations of religious symbology, without any value judgements on spiritual belief, the common ground would become more obvious.  Genesis, the first book of the Bible, a Bronze Age Hebrew text, is perhaps one of the clearest examples of religious symbol passing into cultural consciousness.  From the myth of Adam and Eve complementarity of the sexes is developed (which Mary Daly describes as ‘evil’), a notion which is for some feminists a way of maintaining woman as ‘other’ and as secondary.  Masculinity and femininity are constructed as having different God-given traits (for example, nurturing and caring are feminine and leadership and authority are masculine).  Social conditioning gives this idea life.  This duality is so old that it appears ‘natural’, and if we wish to explore its genealogy we need to understand inherited Christian thought.  The ‘cosmic hoax’ (Daly) of Eve being the instigator of the Fall – and guilty for all the world’s ills – has had a malignant effect on how femininity has been constructed.  This divine ordering of masculinity and femininity set Western culture on a trajectory of sex differentiation and without understanding the theology of this we can’t fully explain the witchcraze of the 16th and 17th centuries, or fully understand why and how women have been separated into the domestic realm, or why they have been seen as auxiliary to men’s achievements, or even why we are currently disneyfying our girl children in a tedious ocean of pink.  Christianity transmitted to the Western world, through its symbols and myths, a set of beliefs about the nature of women that has determined their spiritual, psychological and material status for two millennia.  Rejection of religion, I argue, should not mean the rejection of the understanding of religion.  If we don’t understand what has been embedded into our collective psyche how can we hope to change it?  And we haven’t even begun to talk about the maleness of God yet…..

[1] Llewellyn and Trzesiastowska (2013) Secular and Religious Feminisms: A Future of Disconnection?  Feminist Theology 21(3), pp. 244-258

[2] Mary Daly (1973) Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation

[3] Rosemary Radford Ruether (1975) New Woman, New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and Human Liberation

[4] Zobair, J,  Messina-Dysert, G and Levin, A.  (2015). Why We Really Need to Stop Rejecting Religious Feminists from the Movement.  Everday Feminism [Online].  Available at  http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/11/rejecting-religious-feminists/

[5] For example, Daphne Hampson (1990)  Feminism and Theology

Becoming Unbecoming by Una – Book Review

This is a graphic book – a genre (I vaguely think of comic books) new to me.  It is beautiful to handle, with inky images you want to touch and narrative that falls into prose.  It is also a harrowing and politically sharp book that weaves a woman’s tale of adolescent awakening in the context of 70s/80s’ version of (the usual) sexual double standards – the hexing of women’s bodies – with a frosty account of the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper.  The anger is subtle and the images speak as loudly as the words.  Its subject may be in the past, but its feminist ire is entirely present – relevant now as it was then (ladybird Summer, Madness, vinyl, learning to be a nice girl).  It seems a travesty to call it ‘history’.

The Yorkshire Ripper is now history – it is my history that I share with Una, the author.  As a young teenager in West Yorkshire during the suffocating height of Sutcliffe’s (let’s give him his real, human name shall we?) incomprehensible brutality against women, I too lived for a decade with the normalising of female fear and the media, police and public constructions of ‘innocent’ and ‘not innocent’ women victims.

Una nails it.  The memories come flooding back.  Women were encouraged to maintain a curfew (and the feminists really blew their stacks), not men, amongst whom the perpetrator walked and worked.  Prostitutes were seen as obvious victims (dead women walking) and shock only rippled through the press when the ‘innocent’ were targeted – surely a mistake, they said.  He must feel some remorse now.   The positioning of women, whose sex was bought by men, as non-innocent victims mirrors Una’s personal experience of being used and abused by older men, being sexually labelled and forced into a special caste apart from respectable girls. Did anyone know just how devastating and misogynist the term ‘slut’ was?  Do we know it now?

This book is compelling, not simply for its haunting illustrations and narrative, but for its unflinching reflection of the world I grew up in.  Keep your hand on your ha’penny.  Don’t go out at night.  Don’t dress like a slag.  Be a good girl. Lower your gaze.

This is a timely read.  Peter Sutcliffe has been declared ‘sane’ and will move from Broadmoor to a mainstream prison.  Of what kind of madness has he been cured?

Sharon Jagger

 

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Becoming Unbecoming by Una