She’s Just Not That Into You: The Book That Should Have Been Written

Disclaimer: This article is about heterosexual relationships because it is written from my own experience, but I’m sure there are similarly interesting things to say about same-sex relationships, and I hope we can talk about them too.

Don’t want. Don’t act. Sit there and look pretty so that a man will make the first move. “You’ve got to get him to say hello.”

Field advances; don’t make them. Be the gatekeeper, not the one walking through the door.

Play “hard to get;” give him the thrill of the chase; be the prey to his predations.

Any woman who has grown up in this society is accustomed to these messages.

What if all this time, instead of preparing women for a lifelong waiting game while men take the reins, we taught men (and everyone else) about waiting for and giving the reins to women (or anyone else)?

Our society’s unwillingness to hear a woman say “yes” contributes to the lack of respect for a “no.” If men believe they are wired to want and women are wired to be wanted, there leaves no room to consider what women want – or don’t want.

In our current cultural climate, women’s desires are silenced to the point that men believe their only options are exerting pressure, manipulation, or worse.

These beliefs about our innate wiring are especially insidious because they get passed off as descriptive – merely stating a fact about diverging desires. Yet they quickly become prescriptive by suggesting that those unsatisfied with their roles are not in touch with their supposed instincts, and that rather than changing the status quo, “all they have to do is surrender to their nature.”

So here’s the advice that I wish everyone who has pursued me would read:

Give me the chance to pursue you. Don’t wait for me to say no. Give me the chance to say yes, or even better, to pose the question myself. I may not have been taught to pursue, but if I am “that into you,” I won’t let you slip away for this reason. And if I don’t take you up on it? That may be painful or uncomfortable, but not as much as sexual harassment or assault!

And in case this advice leaves any ambiguity, here’s a handy “She’s Just Not That Into You” guide.

If she doesn’t give you her number, she’s just not that into you.

If she ignores your texts, she’s just not that into you.

If she moves to the other side of the dance floor, she’s just not that into you.

She’s not playing “hard to get;” she’s just not that into you.

If she maintains a secure distance between you, she’s just not that into you.

If she sits there stiffly while you try to put your arm around her, she’s just not that into you.

If she doesn’t kiss you back, she’s just not that into you.

She’s not being coy; she’s just not that into you.

If she says no, she’s not into it.

If she tells you to stop, she’s not into it.

If she just lies there, she’s not into it.

If she’s not into it, that’s not being coy or playing hard to get; that’s sexual assault.

Instead of writing and reading books and articles about what men are or aren’t into or how men can pursue what they’re into, I envision a world where people took what women were into seriously.

Better yet, I envision a world where people take seriously what each individual is and isn’t into, without gender-based assumptions.

This world, where the absence of a “yes” is a “no,” is a world where everyone has the chance to say yes. It’s a world without a hunter-hunted, active-passive, or receiver-received duality.

In this future, there wouldn’t need to be a book called “He’s Just Not That Into You” or “She’s Just Not That Into You.” People would read something more along the lines of “Phe/Ze/They May Or May Not Be Into You Depending On What Signals You’re Receiving.”

I’ve seen glimpses of this future. It’s that moment when the bill comes and you’re not sure who is going to pay. It’s that moment when you’re not sure if your partner is in the mood (for whatever, really) and must get up the courage to ask.

It’s also that moment where you decide to treat someone who has paid for your first few dates. And that moment when you both lean in for the first kiss. It’s terribly awkward and terribly romantic.

And terribly exciting. After all, these moments are forging new territory – territory far preferable to a world where women wait for men to be “into them” and men must be taught to care what women are into.

Advertisements

Thing

Thing (noun):
1 an object that one need not, cannot, or does not wish to give a specific name to: look at that metal rail thing over there

How many people have felt like a thing without a name, or a thing with a name that is not theirs? It comes from a glance as you walk into a restaurant that lingers a bit too low, the mention of your name in the third person while you’re there, the constant speak of and for “women” and “people of color” and “queer people” and “them.” After a while, you see yourself as a thing, fixed by another’s glance. Your body loses sensation; your skin becomes an insensate screen on which others dump their projections. You perform these projections because they become you. “That outfit becomes you,” someone says, and the camera in your eyes zooms out until you can no longer see your insides.

2 an inanimate material object as distinct from a living sentient being: I’m not a thing, not a work of art to be cherished.

When I complain to my friend about the violence of objectification, she says, “But we are objects.” She could have meant that we are made of objects: molecules, quarks, possibly organs if those aren’t animate. But I think she means that we are detected via our perceptual properties: how we look, sound, feel (and smell or taste in intimate settings). I argued that even if we are reducible to quarks, we are not reducible to the parts of us people ordinarily sense. We are part object, part subject. Even so, why should our object selves be our lesser halves? If you’re wondering if I’m trying to start some objects’ rights movement or something, yes, that’s exactly where I’m going with this and where several philosophers have already gone with object-oriented ontology. Stop reducing things to what we know of them, they say, and recognize their power over us.

3 an action, activity, event, thought, or utterance: she said the first thing that came into her head

– the thing came into her head without invitation and lingered without permission. When she politely dropped hints that it had overstayed its welcome, it did not care. Don’t think about a pink elephant.

He Said, She Said: The Curious Comma in “This Sex which is Not One”

The margins of my first copy of Luce Irigaray’s “This Sex which is Not One” are covered in scathing rhetorical questions like “So your genitals determine how you think?” and “What do you mean, women are ‘incomprehensible’ and ‘capricious’?” It is easy for constructivist critics to dismiss Irigaray’s formulation of woman – “neither one nor two,” “other in herself,” “constantly touching herself,” etc. — as mere male fantasy (26-29). MaryAnn Doane calls the project of Irigaray and similar theorists “effectively political only in its hyperbole or excess, for what they delineate is not a desirable place.  In fact, it is a nonplace … allotted to the female ‘subject’ both by psychoanalytic scenarios and by the cinema” (“Desire to Desire” 12). The female subject that emerges in Irigaray’s writing, in Doane’s view, enjoys only a pseudo-subjectivity inherited from patriarchy. But this does not mean Irigaray is subscribing naively to the system that constitutes her as a quotation-mark-worthy “subject,” nor is she espousing an ideology that claims to empower while disempowering. She is working within the patriarchal symbolic order (which, after all, has no absolute outside) while emphasizing and, as Doane observes, hyperbolizing woman’s exclusion from the phallic order and its logic — a paradox made possible by woman’s contradictory signifying function as the outside within; as the signifier of the system’s nonexistent outside. Irigaray’s call for female subjectivity is not an exit strategy from patriarchy, but a digging deeper into it, an unearthing of the repressed feminine that underlies it.

It is not always easy to know when Irigaray is describing a current Western construction of woman and when she is referring to her own vision of the feminine, leading to critics’ frustration that the two can look similar. For instance, she claims that woman “is indefinitely other in herself … doubtless why she is said to be whimsical, incomprehensible, agitated, capricious,” a characterization not foreign to sexist stereotypes (“This Sex which is Not One” 28). This frustration, however, hinges on the belief that Irigaray is opposing the already existing notion of woman and her own. To be sure, she wants to change the fact that there is no female subject, but not by creating an entirely new language. Instead, she borrows from an old construction of woman as the figure considered outside language and close to the real, and develops a symbolism from the possibilities within this nonplace.

Though Irigaray’s insistence that “prior to any representation, we are two” (“When Our Lips Speak Together” 216) appears essentialist, it is simply taking the patriarchal construction of woman one step further, Doane says: “The logical consequence of the Lacanian alignment of the phallus with the symbolic order and the field of language is the exclusion of the woman or, at the very least, the assumption of her different or deficient relation to language and its assurance of subjectivity. The French feminists who are repeatedly accused of situating the woman in an impossible place, outside language, are simply elaborating on the implications of such a theory” (“Desire to Desire” 10). In other words, woman is placed outside language by language. Irigaray knows that being outside language is impossible; nevertheless, she insists woman is outside language because her position, her nonplace, in language is precisely one of impossibility: the impossibility of such closeness to her own body that it speaks to her before it is spoken.

This ostensible essentialism is the reason “This Sex which is Not One” initially made me lament the existence of difference feminism. But it is also the reason I reread the same essay one, two and three years later. It was then that I noticed the comma at the end of the second paragraph, a transitional comma, a connecting comma, in the sentence: “a masculine organ turned back upon itself, self-embracing.” The beginning of this sentence clearly describes female sexuality “on the basis of masculine parameters” (23). Yet the split second of silence that the comma creates invites multiple interpretations of what at first seems like an afterthought: “self-embracing.” Irigaray uses this break to transition to a different logic, making room for the feminine perspective that has for too long been an afterthought at best. This last phrase not only continues the description of female sexuality within masculine parameters, but also deflects it toward different ends. It not only takes the “masculine organ turned back upon itself” to its conclusion, but also catches unawares the viewer accustomed to a masculine viewpoint ending in a period, proclaiming its own truth and neutrality, closing the door to woman. It is with these feminine not only … but alsos that Irigaray introduces the woman that has been covered in heaps of nots, buried in a nonplace previously considered powerless in its concavity.

This uncanny exhumation makes woman difficult to locate inside or outside the patriarchal symbolic order. Irigaray uses this ambiguity to her advantage, evoking a vision of woman that is part of language yet outside it, for woman is a signifier of the outside. And this nonplace is teeming with possibilities; it contains everything that has been excluded. The beginning of “This Sex which is Not One” progresses so seamlessly, by means of a single comma, from a description of woman as defined by man’s language to a prescription of woman that transcends masculine classification, because the latter lies latent in the former. “That repressed entity, the female imaginary” was not born of Irigaray, nor is it dead permanently (28). It is undead, returning from the realm of the repressed where it was exiled.

The title “This Sex which is Not One” epitomizes the productivity that Irigaray finds in this haunting. Woman is the sex which is not; Lacan famously proclaimed that woman does not exist, and Irigaray agrees that woman’s “lot is that of ‘lack,’ ‘atrophy’ (of the sexual organ), and ‘penis envy,’ the penis being the only sexual organ of recognized value” (23). But the last comma here functions like the comma in the second paragraph, creating a moment where the previous statement loses its status as singular truth. The second clause reveals that the first is not neutral but biased in favor of the masculine, and offers another interpretation: that lack is woman’s lot only because we live in a society where the very notion of existence is masculine, where “being” is being as one, where “not” means not a man.

Irigaray is using already-existing descriptive accounts of a woman that does not exist to prescribe her own agenda, applying an inverted – one could say concave, or feminine – logic to them in order to uncover a repressed positive femininity that the patriarchal order explicitly excludes but implicitly refers to constantly. For example, Freud, she says, has taken the female genitals to be an absence of penis, to be nothing, because he had no way to interpret the innumerable nature of female sexuality: “She resists all adequate definition. Further, she has no ‘proper’ name. And her sexual organ, which is not one organ, is counted as none” (“This Sex Which Is Not One” 26). The lack of oneness that has so befuddled men is already quite present in their writings; Irigaray’s strategy is to utilize these descriptions of woman to create her own. She accepts that lack has been woman’s place, but sees this place in a way men have not: as a place of multiplicity, as more than a nonplace, affording woman positive space and meanings that are more than non-meanings.

The female subjectivity that Irigaray proposes is already partially formed, not only because it is a marginalized part of the symbolic system, but because the body itself is a symbolic system that language can disavow but not forget. Her goal is, she says in “When Our Lips Speak Together,” to both “invent a language” and “find our body’s language” (214). How can one invent something that is already out there to be found? In Irigaray’s texts, these goals not only are compatible but also go together necessarily. One is born a woman, she writes in “You Who Will Never Be Mine,” but that is not enough; she still must become one (11). To invent/find a feminine language is to create a symbolization that the female body already lends itself to. Anatomy does not ensure identity — language is needed for that — but language can be consistent with anatomy so that identity forms as more than a negation. The reason, then, that the patriarchal symbolic order has been able to repress woman but not expel her is that her body, the origin he constantly refers to without knowing, is an ontological entity. The feminine in Irigaray is an ancient concept, found in the symbolic language of the body and of previous cultures, that has been swallowed up in patriarchy and assigned the role of the not. Like the hieroglyphic, the feminine is “an indecipherable or at least enigmatic language … also and at the same time potentially the most universally understandable, comprehensible, appropriable of signs;” woman is too close to herself to be described by a masculine language that relies on distance (Doane, “Film and the Masquerade,” 229).

Film criticisms like Doane’s describe women’s unfortunate predicament but rarely prescribe a plan of action. I don’t intend to play peacemaker between Irigaray and her critics, but I believe their disagreement concerns strategy rather than truth. Though Irigaray treads on the dreaded territory of the natural, she offers an alternative to wobbly constructivist theories that threaten to topple at every suggestion of sexual difference. Far more radical than denying woman’s difference from man, she shows woman to be so much more than what a system defined by only masculine terms makes of her. This contribution is too valuable to forgo for the reason that it values a position allotted to women by patriarchal society, for there is no other position as of yet, and once examined more closely, this patriarchy has not done as good a job eluding the feminine as it would like to think.

 

‘Black Swan’ Choreographs Rebellion and Rivalry

I’m grateful I read a tabloid describing Black Swan as a “psychosexual thriller” before I saw it. For this film’s audiences, the Freudian lens functions as a pair of 3D goggles, giving the onscreen images depth, veracity and resonance.

The “thriller” classification is accurate, but no monsters or ghosts roam the screen; inner demons plague Darren Aronofsky’s latest creation. The blood that spurts from Nina’s (Natalie Portman) pores is not mere somatic injury, but the cascading escape of a violent and teeming unconscious.

Nina, a ballerina desperate for a lead role in her company’s upcoming production of Swan Lake, has never quite made the pivotal break from her creepily controlling mother (Barbara Hershey). Inability to detach the symbolic umbilical cord is always a problem for parents, but this scenario takes the psychoanalytical paradigm further: She’s a stage mom, attempting to recapture her unfulfilled dancer dreams by vicariously living through Nina.

Such support is tenuous, ambivalent at best, because of the rivalry Nina’s mother has established with her daughter. She fears that Nina will go further than she did and finally leave home in her 20s. In one scene, she asks Nina if the company’s director (Vincent Cassel), whom she’s been working with late nights, has “tried anything” with her. Behind her feigned concern for her daughter’s wellbeing is resentment of her youth and beauty.

In turn, Nina, the oldest member of the company, envies the freshness and spunk of its newest addition, Lily (Mila Kunis). A straightedge, neurotic Nice Girl, Nina dreads that her struggle to dance the part of the seductive, lustful Black Swan, a character Lily assumes with ease, will keep her away from the role.

But the White Swan, the protagonist with the aforementioned dark alter ego, is a piece of cake for Nina. The problem is, the lead dancer has to perform both. The parallel is clear: these are two sides of Nina. Paradoxically, she must tap into her inner Loose Girl in order to achieve a dream driven by her Nice Girl perfectionism.

Initially, Nina’s repressed passion punctures small pores through her rigid exterior, allowing breathing room. Her id seems under control, constricted to the stage.

Then the dam breaks.

Nina’s Black Swan persona spills with a violent vengeance into every area of her life, along with her unstoppable rage toward her mother, the one who gave birth to this repression.

The more immoral Nina’s actions, the more satisfaction one feels for her. This fury lies latent inside all our psyches.

Her former self, an echo of her ostensibly prudish mother’s scoldings, retaliates with piercing guilt (literally, hence, blood). The black and white swans haunt each other. These warring entities are too indoctrinated into the virgin/whore dichotomy to conjoin in one body. Nina cannot imagine a self that is at once wholesome and full of desire.

And once a former Nice Girl has released her sexual appetite and hunger for freedom, there is no returning to the former life she built her sense of self around.

Nina’s deepest jealousies and fears are projected onto her surroundings. She can find no refuge; her inner torture follows wherever she goes. It becomes unclear the violent sights she witnesses throughout the film are actual events mere hauntings of her psyche.

The force of Nina’s formerly unacknowledged yearnings — equally evident in the momentum of her twirls, several erotic encounters with the mentor who coaxed her dark side out, and the more classically gruesome images she ambiguously witnesses or hallucinates — is what makes the film terrifying.

It’s just about that time of year when heartwarming holiday movies have left us all overheated. Black Swan is spine chilling and mindboggling instead.