[eng] Constanza Michelson - Women and Pills (The Longest Revolution)

    In the 60s, an all-encompassing, self-destructive type of malaise affecting women was nicked the problem that has no name. Insomnia, anxiety, alcoholism; it was the neurosis suffered by the desperate housewife of the post-war period. Based on her own state of mind, Betty Friedan wrote an article where she reclaimed, from what today would be the (insipid) mental health field, a diagnosis for the existential misery felt by the women of that time. She sought to depathologize the infantilized and medicated woman, interpreting the issue from a structural standpoint. Although the article was rejected, it inspired her book The Feminine Mystique. Whereas in 1939 the female hero was a doctor or a pilot, after the war these roles gave way to the devoted housewife. What happened that women came back home?

    Elfriede Jelinek’s intuition in her play What Happened after Nora Left Her Husband; or Pillars of Society gets to the heart of the matter: a woman cannot become emancipated if political and economic structures remain the same.  She speculates on what could have happened to Nora, the main character of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, after breaking free from her husband. Well, she would have had to come back, in repentance. In short: Nora loses her bourgeois privileges and takes a job at a factory, she attempts to push her fellow workers to a liberation that, for these working-class women, was synonymous with oppression. Why would it be better to switch the comforts of the home, being close to the kids, for a job at a factory where the boss was not only an exploiter, but a creep?

 The women’s revolution is the longest one, wrote Juliet Mitchell in 1966.  Because it is not solely about adding a series of rights to what already exists. Inevitably, feminism leads us to question all that exists. That is why it deals with so many things, whether cultural, economic, sexual or social. And on the wake of each wave, some issues still remain, but the tipping point tends to concern the economics of dividing labor: the hierarchy between productive and reproductive work. It is said that to know what happens with women at any given point in history, one must look no further than the economy.  

    The fact is that woman is not the pink or purple opposite to man. Man is universality, the measure of the world’s design (everything from designing airbags to creating refugee camps, according to Caroline Criado in Invisible Women), while woman is diversity, the interruption of that same truth. That is why her recognition goes hand in hand with that of so many other oppressed groups, including that of men who likewise do not identify with ‘’the Man’’. Such is the depth of feminism; that is why it has admitted liberations, inclusive practices, which is a lot, but not enough to make for the revolution’s ground zero, as Silvia Federici names it: a transformation of the production structure. 

    According to economist Mercedes D’Alessandro, there may be nothing particularly revolutionary in that liberal idea of a universal income for a post-work future (when machines will have replaced many jobs).  First, not only because it does not resolve the discussion on reproductive work, but because it keeps everything just as it is: an unemployed mass, receiving a monthly pay to live on, who may suffer the same fate that a housewife: get turned into invisible and de-classed subjects, left outside from public discussion. Because work is first and foremost a social relationship.  

    The women’s cause has suffered many setbacks. Precisely, whenever its achievements are absorbed by the current economic regime. Nancy Fraser noted that a part of sexual liberation, just like the market's notion of freedom, was reduced to a commodification of the body and a capitalization of sex. Although women were no longer sexually repressed, they continued to be domesticated under the macho eye. At times, it seems easier to end with the plastic in the world than with the plastic in women's bodies (arrangements that they themselves probably paid to male surgeons).  

    The double working day has been another liberation joke. The amount of business seminars we find on ‘’the glass ceiling’’! When what remains hidden is at ground level; duties that are dubbed domestic as with a neutered animal, in the words of Aicha Liviana Messina. Another generation emerged of women on the brink of collapse, overdiagnosed and Rivotril-riddled. Maybe it was a hangover from those nineties’ spirits, or maybe it had to with the 2008 crisis; anyhow, in those years another cul-de-sac came to the fore: what began as criticism towards obstetric violence ended up as an unfortunate interpretation of the attachment theory. Attachment became objectified, quantified and transformed into an unprecedented form of submission to an impossible motherly ideal.  

    What is left of the problem that has no name?  The use of psychoactive drugs by women doubles or triples the use by men. Maybe it is because women seek advice more readily, or because listening to female sadness is unbearable, since in many cases it holds the question about social organization. In her article ‘’Women and poverty: The sadness that lingers’’ [Mujeres y pobreza: La Pena que persiste], Mariane Krause poses that, according to research, women in poverty are most vulnerable to fall into depression. Their world is made precarious by their own position, one alienated from power, as well as by the frailty of social ties. Because, as Hannah Arendt notes, happiness takes place in a public space, it is in the social relationship where we can be at once free and responsible for our own existence. In any case, a public space is not the same as saying outside of home, the problem is when ‘’home’’ becomes synonymous with a depoliticized intimacy. Therefore, when receiving a psychiatric diagnosis - even if it is just for the sake of assistance – would not that be part of the same vicious cycle that makes those women superfluous, voiceless regarding their condition? 

    The pandemic once again brought these issues to the fore. There was talk about a setback in women's labor participation, however, kids getting back to school is a return to the same regime: schedules that are impossible and incompatible with work.  Institutional designs rely on the subsidy of invisible work that is generally made by women, who either quit their job, are always "in a rush", or else, depend on the domestic labors of other precarious women. And even if a man wanted to be a feminist, under those requirements, his job would not allow him to either. 

    Throughout this debate there is a recurrent criticism of individualism and of the destruction of community, yet that criticism turns impotent and cynical when it fails to see there is society in everything. In the end, there is always someone who, by any means, manages to get things going. Women do it all the time, from communal kitchens to parent chat groups (that tend to be mothers’ chat groups), even in the lines that from outside prisons they create a world. Should labors concerning care and life management be paid, or else, their power lies in making visible their political potential?  Maybe both. 

    As Rita Segato thinks, we must take domesticity out of a private and non-political place. There lies a politicization that has always existed, a management of life that has an impact on the collective. Another thing is to give more value to climbing a summit than to what happens at ground level. This detachment from the ground is what brings some strange dilemmas. As Sonia Montecino has said during the pandemic: there is a false dichotomy between life and economy, rather, the quandary has to do with how we think about life care alongside death and misery. 

* Constanza Michelson
Psychoanalyst and writer. She has collaborated in several media such as The Clinic, CTXT, La Tercera, New York Times. Author of “50 Sombras de Freud” [50 Shades of Freud] (Catalonia), “Neurotic@s” [Neurotics] (Planeta), “Hasta que valga la pena la pena la vivir: ensayos del deseo perdido y el capitalismo del yo” [Until life is worth living: essays on lost desire and the capitalism of the self] (Paidós), “Una falla en la lógica del universo” [A flaw in the logic of the universe] co-authored with Aïcha Liviana Messina (Metales Pesados). 

[1] Translated from the Spanish by Juan Carlos Sahli. 

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