“Knowing that she is to be subjected to the cold appraisal of the male connoisseur and that her life prospects may depend on how she is seen, a woman learns to appraise herself first.”
Today I talked with my mother for the first time without letting my own past hurt and personal narcissism get in the way, it became aware to me that my mother had given so much more of herself; physically, emotionally, and mentally while raising us. I also realized that she was stuck in a relationship that required her to expend so much more physical, emotional, and mental support than she in turn received from others. As mother, she was expected to be an emotional support warrior in an atmosphere that provided her little emotional support in return. As woman in this role, it was expected of her. As mother, it was demanded of her. My father did not have these expectations placed upon him. He was expected to be the provider and his demands revolved around bring home the bacon and delivering the goods. So in this role as bread winner, he did not convey the emotional support that is required for a successful marriage.
“…the norms of femininity suppress the body potential of women. We grow up learning that the feminine body is soft, not muscular, passive, incapable, vulnerable. Our parents, teachers and friends suppress our natural urges to run, jump, risk, by cries that we should not act so boldly and move so daringly. . . .Developing a sense of our bodies as beautiful objects to be gazed at and decorated requires suppressing a sense of our bodies as strong, active subjects moving out to meet the worlds’ risks and confront the resistance of matter and motion.” ~Iris Young
With anatomy as destiny, in this way following the dichotomy set by our genital make-up can become very difficult to balance. There is a balance that must be struck that involve both masculinities and femininities. If my father had emotionally supported my mother a little more than he did, my mother may have been much happier in the marriage and perhaps we as a family may have suffered less. The over use of one aspect of your ego, say your masculinity, could cause an unbalanced relationship. For there requires a balancing of the egos, a balancing of both the feminine and masculine aspects received and given in the early stages of the symbolic relationship.
Narcissism, for Freud, is our “primal psychic situation, the original disposition of libido. In the beginning, the
ego’s instincts are directed to itself and it is to some extent capable of deriving satisfaction for them on itself. This condition is known as narcissism and this potentiality for satisfaction is termed auto-erotic.”
Women, far more than men, are likely to remain in this “primal psychic situation,” not surprisingly, since in the Freudian scheme of things, the female psyche is more archaic than the male. The explanatory device Freud uses to account for the greater proneness of women to self-admiration and bodily display is, of course, penis envy. Lacking the penis, young girls regard themselves as physically inferior to boys; feminine preoccupation with the body is an effort to compensate for an unconscious sense of psychical deficiency. In “On Narcissism,” Freud takes note of the fact that feminine narcissism flowers in adolescence, but he makes an uncharacteristically crude effort to account for this:
“With the development of puberty the maturing of the female sexual organs, which up till then have been in a condition of latency, seem to bring about an intensification of the original narcissism.”
Helene Deutsch adds refinement to the favorite Freudian hypothesis. For her, feminine narcissism operate in the psyche as a counterweight to feminine masochism: The “feminine woman…..is characterized by her struggle for a harmonious accord between the narcissistic forces of self-love and the masochistic forces of dangerous and painful giving.” While Deutsch does not express herself in quite this way, her meaning is clear. Narcissistic eros in woman binds masochistic thanatos. Without the antidote of self-love, woman would be helpless before the misfortunes of an inherently masochistic nature that will surely bring upon itself – as if a psychic constitution composed in such large measure of masochism and narcissism were not misfortune enough.
“One of the many things men don’t understand about women is the extent to which our self-esteem depends on how we feel we look at any given moment- and how much we yearn for a compliment, at any age. If I had just won the Nobel Peace Prize but felt my hair looked awful, I would not be glowing with self-assurance when I entered the room.” ~Dinah Shore
Knowing that she is to be subjected to the cold appraisal of the male connoisseur and that her life prospects may depend on how she is seen, a woman learns to appraise herself first. The sexual objectification of women produces a duality in feminine consciousness. The gaze of the Other is internalized so that I myself become at once seer and seen, appraiser and the thing appraised. The adolescent girl, just beginning to grasps the role she is to assume
“Becoming an object and she sees herself as object; she discovers this new aspect of her being with surprise: it seems to her that she has been doubled; instead of coinciding exactly with herself, she now begins to exist outside.”
Narcissism, then, “consists in the setting up of the ego as a double, a stranger.” While the identity of this “stranger” has yet to be established. Beauvoir’s language seems hyperbolic: The stranger who inhabits my consciousness is not really a stranger at all, but myself.