This blog is about the branch of feminism that focuses on fathers sharing child care responsibilities, unlike many of my previous blogs on feminism and sexual liberation (see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/04/links-to-blogs-on-feminism/).
I have been reading Louise DeSalvo’s Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sex Abuse on her Life and Work (Ballantine Books, 1989). The author is deeply influenced by the late Swiss psychoanalyst Alice Miller’s many recent books that relativize child-rearing practices, and also by Florence Rush, a feminist who, like Jeffrey Masson, chastised and rejected Freud as a traitor to his female patients when he substituted the seduction theory for the testimony of real sex abuse experienced by many of his female patients in Vienna. In other words, Freud was loyal to the fathers, uncles, brothers, and male friends who were guilty of everything from incest to less overt forms of harassment.
Although DeSalvo counts herself among the “race, class, and gender” contingent on the left, she writes about a bohemian family she classifies as upper-middle class (the Bloomsbury set), stating flat out that prior biographers of Woolf and her famous family, are guilty of a massive cover-up.
Frankly, though I like much of what Alice Miller has to say about the need for echoing and mirroring in early childhood (so as not to confuse the child by imputing socially acceptable feelings to the developing toddler, against justified feelings of rage at being over-controlled by the parents), I am not certain that Miller, a practicing psychoanalyst, would have gone so far as to throw out Freud entirely. Practicing psychoanalysts of my acquaintance try to dredge up past traumas to evaluate their lingering effects into the present. The better therapists do not tell their neurotic clients that “it’s all in your head”.
DeSalvo’s book is sensational, with detailed readings of hanky-panky in the Bloomsbury set, some derived from Woolf’s writings. It is also repetitious and too long, even unreadable. It reminds me of other feminist intellectuals, who, untrained in the appropriate fields, deem themselves authoritative on any historical events derived from the urgent task to “rewrite women’s history,” even if it entails dubious inferences.
Which brings me to her major claim that I do agree with: early childhood neglect and parental authoritarianism is a recipe for lifelong emotional problems—-problems that may not be talked about frankly within families. Such loss of memory and silences are devastating to mental health and surely are responsible for apathetic depressed lives, and even sadomasochism.
But what do these feminists expect from men? How will well-intentioned [would-be] “feminist” men overcome a life of socializing into their positions as masters of the universe, and I refer not only to wealthy males, but to working class males who look forward to mastery in the home, if not the workplace?
I can answer that. Parents and schools must start paying attention to the emotions and to the irrational components of our nature. So called “liberals” and conservatives will resist these calls for massive curricular change, for their most cherished senses of who they are in the world could be challenged. Hence, I must conclude, that Louise DeSalvo, a creative writing professor, is utopian in her aspirations, and she is not alone.
Would we, as highly evolved women, not all prefer sensitive males who are more like us? I’m not holding my breath. As it stands, “metrosexuals” are mocked in conservative media as sissies and ‘homos’, latent or practicing.
Meanwhile, happy father’s day to all my readers who dare to look inside themselves and who resist idealizing the nuclear, father-led family. It is a long, hard slog for both genders.