Tuesday, July 20, 2021
[M]ale violence against women....is a tool designed, as Jacqueline Rose writes in her new book, On Violence and On Violence Against Women, “to remind the girl or woman of what she is”—to gender her as female. For Rose ..., gender-based violence is not caused by sexual difference—neither attributes aggression to, for example, an excess of testosterone—rather it establishes the hierarchy of sexual difference.
Rose would ... add that ... violence is not the expression of a power they have, but of power they lack. ... As Rose would put it, he hits her to shore up his “fraudulent authority.”
Psychoanalysis has a word for this behavior, and it is “narcissism.” “Narcissism starts with the belief that the whole world is at your feet, there solely for you to manipulate,” explains Rose.
What is “fraudulent” about the authority of Stanleys everywhere is that it is rooted in denial. Women can and do commit acts of violence. But male violence interests Rose because it expresses the fundamental psychoanalytic mechanism of shame, projection, and denial. Boys and men are taught that masculinity means an absurd omnipotence, mastery, comfort, and prowess. They fail—how could they not?—to live up to that ideal. Many cannot tolerate their own vulnerability, which is coded as weakness, so they project vulnerability onto others, usually women; having disowned and disavowed it, they then try to destroy the woman who has come to represent (or embody) that vulnerability, through harassment, abuse, assault, rape, bullying, blows. The state colludes with this psychological and social project in policies that limit reproductive freedom, cruelly degrade asylum-seekers, and refuse trans people self-determination, to name only a few examples.
Harassment and sexual abuse are not, therefore, “the unadulterated expression of male power and authority”; quite the opposite. Violence against women has a frantic quality; it is something that one can only resort to; it protests too much. Which is not to say that it doesn’t hurt to be hit. Fraudulent authority is often deadly.
Those who have read Rose’s previous books will be somewhat familiar with the contours of this analysis. On Violence and On Violence Against Women takes up a subject she has not covered before—the dynamic that has lately been termed “toxic masculinity”—but it does so according to a conceptual approach she has been refining for decades.