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Unbinding Dependence Web Event #3

sschurtz's picture

The idea of feminism unbound can be a confusing one. I have struggled with the idea of feminism unbound and it took me a while to understand it. After each discussion of the term I question my understanding. I understand it now to be that after you get past the ideas of sex and gender it is what happens. I think that an example of feminism unbound is the idea of looking at people individually, not on lineage or relationships. Separating people from their associations and seeing people for their individual achievement.  Not assuming dependence. Looking at whom many people think of as successful and powerful women and seeing that many if not most seem to have a successful husband or father.  We need to separate the idea of dependence from sex and gender to unbind it.

            How do we unbind dependence? Is it a possible goal to move beyond sex and gender and look at how we relate to each other? It is similar to what Judith Butler wrote in “Violence, death and mourning” when she talked about relationships with other people becoming part of who we are. I agree with Butler. We are tied to others. I believe that we just shouldn’t look at relationships in the context of achievement and power. I think that we need to remove the idea that certain people are expected to be dependent on others. Unbinding dependence boils down to viewing others as people and not allowing gender and sex to dismiss what they have accomplished. Doing away with the assumption that some people are expected to be dependent on others.

            Is it possible to unbind dependence? To move past these gender roles and be seen individually. One way is to draw attention to the medias portrayal of powerful women as being dependent. They use examples of these women but then show them with powerful men. It is relational. Hilary Clinton is used as an example of a strong women but she is so often tied to her husband, even though she is now accomplished in her own right. She is an extreme example because her husband is so powerful but it showcases the expectation.  The women who are shown to me in the media to be powerful women, who are not connected to men of similar stature, do not have children. In order to step away from the patriarchal system we must make sacrifices. It makes it seem like a trade off. To be truly successful you need to have a succesful husband or make serious choices regarding family life. It seems if you don’t have a supportive partner than it is not possible to have it all per say. I don’t think that this is true for a lot of women but it’s the message I get whenever I look at the news or watch a TV show. There are exceptions of course but it is a worrisome message.

            Most Nobel Prize winners in Physiology and Medicine have won with their husbands or male colleagues. Only one woman, Barbara McClintock, has won an unshared Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine. In this case it is not the media that it is perpetuating the idea of dependence but it shows how women are expected to be dependent on men. It’s a depressing future if women are also to be judged based on their relationships to men. It takes away the hope that if you work hard enough that you can accomplish what you set out for. You can achieve it but by being dependent.  Moving forward we should try to separate individuals from their relationships so that we can appreciate and see what they have done as people and not as men, women or any gender.

            The media needs to stop the notion that they should showcase the men that help make powerful women powerful. They should showcase women who are powerful and not their partners who help them. I am not a fan of a society where competition runs rampant and everyone looks out only for their own success but I am a fan of not expecting that people got help when they have achieved something. We can judge people as people who accomplish things and gender and sexuality should not matter. If a woman won the Nobel Prize the focus should not be about the fact that she is a woman but about what she has accomplished. Take away the personal and gendered aspect to who she is.

             I was watching a documentary called “Three Stars” about three star Michelin restaurants and one of the focuses was about the fact that so few women run these kinds of restaurants. In the documentary out of the eleven chefs two of them were women. It should be a positive thing that they made sure to include women when there are so few chefs featured but instead they highlighted the dependence. For one of the chefs her husband ran the business side of the restaurant and the other woman runs the restaurant with her father. Both of these women are amazing in their own right but they are being shown differently than the other chefs in the documentary. Later on one of the male chefs states that in order to run a restaurant successfully it is important to have a wife that is supportive of you and is okay with you being absent for long periods of time. I got more and more annoyed as the movie went on because it seemed that they thought that they were being forward thinking by including women and that they were highlighting the issue of so few women being at the top in the field but instead it was showcasing the dependence. The issue was that in both women’s cases it highlighted the husbands or fathers important role while the male chefs were not shown working with their wives. They also portrayed the woman who was the head chef of her own restaurant as gentile and against the militaristic style of cooking that happened in the male run kitchens in the documentary. This movie obviously wanted to showcase female chefs because they showcased two female chefs and out of the 71 three star chefs only six are women.  The issue was that they showed the female chefs in relation to men. They highlighted the dependence. There is an equality if everyone is judged individually and not looked at according to their relation to other people. The media is perpetuating this idea of dependence and it is poor example. By showing these successful and powerful women as being dependent on men they lowered their positions as innovators compared to the other head chefs in the documentary.

            We are bound by our dependence.  We need people in our lives and they are important in our lives but they do not define us.  For successful women it seems at times that they must give up their biological functions or become dependent on men. That’s what the media perpetuates. It is a frustrating thought that has plagued me for some time. I have positive thoughts about where women are headed but when I look at people who I view as powerful women if they are cys-gendered and straight then they usually have a husband who is equally powerful and I just don’t see the same happening with men.  

            Even if in these cases where the women were helped by strong men the documentary did not have to portray the women in this way.  It wasn’t as if they focused on the partners of the men. It was as if they were assuming that women would be dependent so that is the way they should be portrayed. It would have been an example of unbinding in the documentary if they did not treat the women like a token few that could be explained away by their dependence. They could have showcased each chef individually by their own accomplishments and behaviors and not brought in their family life or spouses. There was no need to show gender expect to point out how few women there are. To view people independently is to view them without relationships and without gender and sexuality. To not look at their surroundings and take away the assumptions. The way to unbind dependence is to take away the expectation of it.

            I think everyone experiences power in some way. Whether you experience it by being beneath powerful people or if you have made it to the top of you field most people can understand it.  In our society it seems that successful women are expected to have equally powerful male partners and that is not the case with men. Men can marry beneath them in power but women need men who are as successful as them. I think that we need to reform the idea of women having to rely on men to be successful and judge people on the basis of their sole achievements and progress.

            It is not to say that dependence can’t be a good thing for some people or that only women are seen to depend on men but in the media that is the way it is being portrayed. Dependence is gendered. The way to unbind this is to take away dependence by changing the expectation of the way that people are looked at.  Look at the person and not at the group or their relationships. Look past gender and sex and see independence and power. Then we can be able to look at other parts of what composes us and not focus on the gender but go beyond that and become a society where we can all be judged individually. To take away our dependence on others. In that we can unbind dependence and move past the gendered notions.



sschurtz's picture

Reevaluating independence


Anne Dalke's picture

"no man is an island...."


so: I'm confused. Just recently, you did a posting celebrating Judith Butler's celebration of our interdependence--in fact, you were the only one posting on that round who seemed to "get"--and applaud--what she was arguing for in her essay on "mourning": the degree to which we are all created by our relationships, are indeed nothing without them. But here you seem to have reversed yourself (and your take on Butler), in order to argue that we need "to see people individually," to "remove the idea that certain people are expected to be dependent on others."

I think I understand your frustration--it's always women who are framed, in the media and in law, as the dependents--but I'm not sure I follow (or agree) with your claim that the answer to this problem is to declare our independence. Why not focus instead on the interdependence of us all (not just male and female, not just human, but all life forms, said the ecologist....)

Yes, "dependence is gendered." But the only way to "unbind" this presumption is not to valorize individualism, to view people as "without relationships" or "groups" or "surroundings." Another route would be to insist on what surrounds and upholds us all: a mesh of interrelationships without which none of us could function. (Even Heidi Hartmann, who answered your query last month by saying that women could "have it all," only thinks that's possible if we can build "An Economy That Puts Families First, Expanding the Social Contract to Include Family Care." )

Last month, you wrote about the need for BMC to alter is admission process and ensuring academic life to accomodate disability. How would such an argument fare in the world of "independence" you advocate for here?

I don't actually think there is such a thing as "sole achievements and progress." No man is an island....


sschurtz's picture

Reevaluating Independence

I believe that we are all dependent on each other, it's about changing the way we perceive dependence in our society. I just thought that by taking away the perception of dependence we become equal as people. That we accept that we are all dependent in some way and we use Butler's point from her essay on mourning and apply it. I don’t think I made that point very clearly in the essay though. I meant to use her idea of dependence as a complement and I see now that the way I phrased it made it sound like I was against her idea. I definitely struggled in this essay to make my points clearer as I did really enjoy and agree with Butler’s ideas. I really liked Heidi Hartman’s answer to the question because at the time in my personal life I was really struggling and thinking about the issues pertaining to woman “having it all” (even though I don’t love that term). I wasn’t sure how plausible putting the structures she wanted in place were but I really liked her answer. It was actually quite positive. She was one of my favorite speakers we had.

I think where my point got lost is that I meant this more in that way we view others, that we as a society have a preconceived notion that woman are the dependents to men but as people we are reliant on others and everyone is dependent on others essentially. I think that this sounded like a standoffish way of thinking that everyone needs to be independent and shouldn’t get help from others but that was not the point I was trying to make. It was more about taking away the stigma that woman are dependent by addressing the way I see women being presented. I think that at times in my essay it sounds as if I am saying we must look at people as if they have gotten to where they are by themselves but, and I should of made this point clearer, I believe that because women are viewed as dependent we shouldn’t judge them according to their relationships. It was not about closing off relationships, just changing the way we view others. I don’t want to change the interdependent relationships people have but change the way it is used to make women seem lesser. It is actually one of my strong beliefs that someone can’t be truly successful without the help of others and it is these interdependent relationships that are so important in our lives. Because we are all dependent on others we should be able to look at people as individuals.

The way that women are shown to be dependents has been a point of frustration for me and I may have gotten off track in terms of making my points clearer. I think perhaps if I had phrased my essay talking about how we are actually all dependent on each other so we should perceive all of us as dependent it would of been more successful than arguing that we must take away the expectation of dependence all together and view each other as independent people. I couldn’t quite figure out how to explain what I wanted to in my essay so I think it ended up slightly convulted and a little opposite of what I wanted to say.