Feelings come from the most basic part of our brain, the limbic system. This brain area contains many structures that not only faithfully maintain the internal processes that keep us alive, but are also key in the way how we make, process and remember emotion. Most well-known are probably the amygdalae, which are directly responsible for our emotional response, but other parts are just as important, among them the nucleus accumbens which is involved in everything that has to do with pleasure and reward (or their opposites), the piriform cortex which operates our sense of smell or the hippocampus we use to learn and remember things with.
These structures we share not only with other mammals, but also with reptiles. This is what people refer to when they mention their ‘lizard brain’. The phrase unjustly invokes something primitive, makes us think of cold-blooded, fur-less scaly things[i], ancient and dangerous like the dinosaurs, which fits well to how we perceive emotion: Emotions are deep, old, a force of nature.
Which is true, but only half the story. While all women feel the same things – love, fear, curiosity, calm, anger, satisfaction, grief and so on – it is very much determined by their culture and their personal situation when and how they feel them. A culture that considers snakes dangerous beasts will make many women go queasy when they only see a snake on TV; if another culture views snakes as a good omen, most women will be cautious not to disturb them, but not break in a panic if they happen to cross paths with one or even feed or pet them. A highly urbanised culture will see many people traumatised when an earthquake hits, while in a culture of nomads with only temporary shelters the quaking of the ground can be celebrated as the euphoric seizures of mother earth.
There are very few absolutes across cultures. People tend to be sad when loved ones die, but not even that is a given. Celebrating one’s joining the ancestors or going to heaven can be an utterly joyful occasion[ii]. The cultural forces exerted on women’s feelings and emotional lives are so strong that they even can drive women to act and re-act in a manner that undercuts their most basal drive, the will to live. Women who undergo plastic surgery despite the very real and not negligible risk to never wake up again from anaesthesia are willing to give up their lives in order to be “beautiful” and more socially acceptable, i. e. to feel better. Women who jump into a river to save their child are motivated by love to such a degree that they will die for it.
And this is exactly what patriarchy exploits.
For millennia, patriarchy framed women as the emotional sex. Reason, intellect and philosophy were all considered male stuff. Through the millennia, a few females did get a voice in these fields, but for that they needed to express hatred for their own femaleness and those of others. Femaleness meant sex-crazed, soppy, maternal, fickle, always dripping with tears, blood and milk, always ready to contradict themselves based on their irrational, hormone-driven mental and moral chaos. Indeed, the motif of male reason versus female disorder can be traced back at least to the Sumerians, and remains so pervasive that it is still possible to write bestsellers about it. The very success of Jordan Peterson’s drivel is testimony to that. He rehashes the most formulaic tropes of Western culture and his hapless followers lap it up like revelations directly from the messiah’s mouth. Which is very telling of the sad state of the edcuation system, but also proof that people feel utterly at home with this structure of thought: Men still are reason, and women still are feeling.
Unfortunately, there are also plenty of feminists who consciously or unconsciously follow this line of thought, only put on its head: Yes, men are reason and women are feeling, but feeling is better than reason, because emotions can guide us to a deeper, spiritual truth that reason will never be able to unlock. Feelings must never be invaliditated, ever, and it is a community’s duty to provide loving space for them, no matter what they are.
My argument is that it is men who are driven completely by their own pathetically rudimentary range of feelings, while women need to run their own, patriarchally distorted emotions through reason to uncover their intellectual power once more.
For millennia men had to wrangle reason and intellect away from women: By excluding us from education, by shackling most down with household duties, and by killing many off directly via child-birth related injury and disease. Martin Luther was one of the few to openly admit it:
“Der Tod im Kindbett ist nichts weiter als ein Sterben im edlen Werk und Gehorsam Gottes. Ob die Frauen sich aber auch müde und zuletzt tot tragen, das schadet nichts. Lass sie nur tot tragen, sie sind darum da.” “Death in childbed is nothing but dying for a noble cause and obedience to god. Women who carry children until they are exhausted or finally dead, it doesn’t matter. Let them carry themselves to death, it is what they are good for.”[iii]
Meanwhile, men started wars, killed, raped, pillaged and generally behaved like overgrown toddlers who somehow learned to use their cocks and weapons, and always over their fucking feelings. Between Achilles crying and whining to his sea-goddess mommy about how unjustly he was treated (you see, another man stole his sex slave, but clearly Achilles is the victim here), Alex Jones crying and howling to sell supplements and TiMs[iv] throwing petulant, emotionally manipulative crying tantrums to make everyone comply with their fetish, it is obvious that rage, histrionics and whining are males’ default state of mind.
Logically, male emotion has been and still is the main driving force for patriarchal politics and culture since at least the fourth millennium BCE when we get the first written sources that allow us insight in how people really lived[v].
It is, however, a specific phenomenon of the twentieth century carried over in the twenty-first that feelings have officially and explicitly trumped reason for many people across all ideological borders.
Fascist movements have always banked on emotionally manipulating their followers, but they only started to openly embrace this in the second half of the 20th century. The fascisms of the first half growing out of 19th century’s unquestioned faith in authority and patriarchal sciences presented themselves as utterly modern, rational, science-backed and intellectually forward.
It was “race science” that backed white supremacy in nazi Germany, Jim Crow US and everywhere else. It was “biologists” and “doctors” who tortured anyone who they considered considered Untermenschen[vi], and it was engineers and scientists that build everything from concentration camps to nuclear weapons. In 1941, the nazis even forbade the usage of the older German Fraktur typeface and Sütterlin and Kurrent handwriting systems that seemed so quintessentially German in favour of a clean, modern antiqua script; they did it to make the distribution of their propaganda and the interaction with the administration of occupied areas easier, but to their own people, they passed this move off as a form of modernisation. In their own minds, the nazis were futurists[vii].
When the old fascist regimes in Europe were defeated, people all over the world threw off the yoke of colonialism and women’s and civil rights movements drove white supremacism somewhat underground, new forms of right-wing insanity came up:
Driven by a fear of a communist take-over, the West experienced a conservative backlash which featured not only the funding of completely irrational military dictatorships and religious militants[viii] like Afghanistan’s Mujahideen who even got the honour to be the good guys in the third Rambo movie, but also a cultural offensive in the US and Europe.
It is the postmodern right that embraces sentimental hogwash like the “pro-life” lie[ix], crying pastors in megachurches, a masturbatory thrill over the impending endtimes that will give them back the Little-House-on-the-Prairie lifestyle with added automatic rifles, revisionist sentimental histories full of white male heroes, grateful slaves and the occasional alien invasion to explain away cultural achievements of brown people.
Not that progressive political movements are in any way less driven by male emotion. They were the ones who paved the way out of the ivory tower for postmodernism by aligning with capitalist-neoliberal patriarchy, the very postmodernism that gave the ruling elites perfect opportunity to re-establish their control over the people who for one brief period in the late sixties and seventies were doing their best to chuck said control for good.
Postmodernism, while on the surface reviled by them, was taken up by right-wingers, libertarians, liberals and even the so-called left (the actual left, not liberals with identity confusion) which has sold out on everything it ever stood for. Postmodernism turned anti-colonialism into cultural relativism, and it infected feminism, offering women a comfortable way back into the patriarchal fold without losing face.
Nowadays, women can do whatever they want, harm whoever they chose, up to and including themselves, and still get to call themselves feminists. All that matters now to determine what you are is how you feel. You can be a feminist and pimp, or a feminist and a sex cult leader. You can be a feminist – even one to claim oppression by Big ScienceTM – and make up your own version of history based on what “feels right” in which prehistory was a matriarchal goddess paradise, stone age hunter/gatherer people had advanced technology and spiritual traditions of indigenous people are always right and science always wrong. You can be a feminist and rip off other women with worthless new-age, dangerous pseudo-medicine. You can be a feminist, but fuck men or torture women for your orgasms in sadomasochistic scenes. You can be a feminist and run around in miniskirts, lip stick and high heels, that clown costume of capitalist patriarchy, and get all high and mighty when called out. You can be a feminist and make money off other women breeding and potentially dying. You can be a feminist therapist, and help other women to function properly in patriarchy, rather than help other women to tear patriarchy down.
This is patriarchy’s biggest success since the 1980s. It undermined feminism by re-selling to women the same, tired patriarchal cliché that reason, intellect and science are bad and unwomanly, while feelings and spirituality are good and authentic. If it feels good, it has to be right, even if the world around you is burning – and what feels good patriarchy will decide for you.
From the moment we are born as girls, patriarchy exerts its power over us. To feel secure and develop basic trust as well as a strong sense of self, a baby girl’s psychological and physiological needs have to be met reliably and consistently, but even at this very early stage no girl escapes the patriarchal denial of her needs. Mothers and other caregivers have spent their whole lives in patriarchal environments, and all they have to pass on is their own patriarchal values – even when they do their very best not to.
This is of course one of the most effective strategies for patriarchy to perpetuate itself: Baby girls who are not able to build basic trust will grow into women much easier controlled by patriarchy, always afraid of rejection, fear and loneliness, and always seeking approval and security. The experience of hunger, pain, social isolation, shame or fear is scary even for women who had the luck to have good, reliable caregivers in childhood – and patriarchy has an infinite tool set to inflict these bad feelings on us by threatening our very lives and livelihood.
On the other hand, patriarchy is always eager to provide us with good feelings when we obey and submit; an oppressive regime offering only the stick is much less stable than a regime that also offers the carrot. When women submit to patriarchy’s values, they are being rewarded with very real privileges: Submit to a rich man, and you’re set for life; submit to motherhood, and the state[x] will pay you to stay at home, give you all kinds of financial aid and tax incentives; submit to god, and you get to psychologically free yourself from the fear of death; submit to heterosexuality, and you get – at least occasionally – the euphoria of a sadomasochistic high; submit to patriarchy’s verdict that your value lies in your beauty, and you will get sense of self-worth from being fuckable. Between the avoidance of bad feelings and the hunger for good feelings, most women comply with patriarchy. It literally feels better to cooperate, and most women fall for the trap to consider these feelings authentic and real expressions of their very self, even if their rational mind tells them they are in danger or do the wrong thing.
Patriarchy is not content with merely instilling feelings, it also tampers with their very function, mostly by the means of trauma. Traumatised women can become hyper-vigilant, which in many cases leads not only to total psychological and physical exhaustion, but also to the inability to discern real danger from minor disturbances. Hypervigilance literally renders our best warning system worthless, by making us feel bad over neutral or even positive things, and in the end, it will burn us out.
Other women lose their sense of self-preservation and will start to seek out the same traumatic experience over and over again, feeding into their own re-traumatisation and drag down other females with them; this is for instance can be found in women who stay with abusive husbands and offer them their daughters to abuse as well or pimped women who lure others into prostitution.
Trauma interferes with the ability to read your own and other people’s emotional state and mental condition; it can open up women to emotional manipulation and way too often physical violence at the hands of males who promise them safety and empathy. Trauma can even inform the very ability to love: Women can find themselves disproportionally able to love males, no matter what they do to them. The trauma of giving birth is the method to force women into dysfunctional love: They literally destroy their healthy bodies and minds for the benefit of someone else.
There are feminists who deduce from this situation that traumatised women – and under patriarchy, all women are traumatised to some degree – are not to be held responsible for what harm they do to themselves and others[xi]. Such feminists once more fall into the trap to consider feelings almighty, the be all and end all of women’s state of being, leaving women mere puppets played by emotional forces beyond their control. Being traumatised does not absolve of responsibility; if anything, it is our duty in particular to not pass the trauma on others.
Women have it in their hands to develop strategies to chuck the control patriarchy exerts via trauma and negative feelings on the one side and positive feelings and political control on the other. Women have rational minds and intellectual power. We have to take these back, and value them as much as we do feelings right now.
Ask yourself if what you are feeling is actually good for you, or if someone benefits from you feeling this way.
Every time someone tells you something, make it a habit to ask yourself: Who said that, and why?
Question deeper. Question constantly.
Analyse your feelings, but not like in therapy with its focus on feeling good: Make yourself aware that patriarchy is a power structure. Whatever we do, or feel, or don’t do, or don’t feel, we are inside this power structure, and it has repercussions.
Don’t let yourself or others get away with arguments based entirely on feeling. If they can’t back their feelings up with reason, it is not an argument worthy of consideration, but an opinion. There is a difference between an opinion and a fact, and also a difference between a thing that is a matter of opinion (“I prefer broccoli over carrots”) and a thing that is a matter of a fact (“The earth is round-ish.”). Matters that belong to the realm of fact cannot be argued about with feeling.
Don’t be afraid to be contrary, grating, unpopular, abrasive, annoying or a ‘bad’ person. Don’t be afraid to make others feel like shit if all that they have to offer is shit themselves.
Don’t be nice. Don’t be so fucking nice all the time, save your empathy for those worthy of it. Be generous with your analytical mind, and stick tight to those women who appreciate it.
Question yourself. Question others. Question. Question. Question.
And for your own sake as much as for the sake all women, think.
[i] Note that this is Western civilisation’s perception of reptiles and has little to do with the actual animals who are incredibly successful from an evolutionary point of view, perfectly adapted to survive in all kinds of environments with sophisticated biologies, fascinating social behaviours and complex emotional lives.
[ii] Literally the only feeling I have never seen celebrated in any ancient or modern culture I’m familiar with is the trauma left by sexual violence. It is unwittingly described in many ancient sources, even if the culture itself has no concept of sexual violence or even frames it as a good thing in the context of marriage or prostitution. Today, crimes like forced or arranged marriage, prostitution, pornography or FGM leave women and children traumatised, even if their culture approves of the practice in question or even enforces it. Cultural relativists like the pro-prostitution lobby and claim that the embedding of sexual violence in a positive cultural framework will act as a protective factor, but in the end all they achieve is that women are not allowed to perceive and express these feelings.
[iii] Martin Luther, Werke, Weimarer Ausgabe vol. 10/2, Weimar 1907, p. 296. English translation mine.
[iv] Trans-identified males. Males who claim they are women.
[v] I suspect that patriarchy is much, much older. I don’t believe a woman-centered culture would wipe out their neanderthal cousins. The actual historical proof for a prehistory free of patriarchy in which females were honoured at the centre of communal and spiritual life, which so many feminists strongly believe in, is actually scant and mostly wishful thinking. In the end it could very well be that we inherited patriarchy from our non-hominid ancestors; our closest relatives today are great apes, and while it is fashionable to think of Bonobos as the hairy hippies of the animal kingdom, all great apes know rape, murder of females and infants, and, in some species, even organised warfare.
[vii] Obviously I’m very much aware of Heinrich Himmler’s fraction of occultist and esoteric romanticists who thought Atlantis was just as real the Welteislehre and conducted pseudo-pagan rituals at Wewelsburg, but they were viewed with suspicion even by their own kind; Göring and Hitler regularly made fun of Himmler’s loopier beliefs and endevours.
[viii] Other, anti-USA, anti-Western theocratic regimes like in Iran, (then) Saudi Arabia, and other Near Eastern countries are in fact part of the same paradigm shift of culture that praises emotion above everything else. All the crybabies who get up in literal arms because someone offended Islam (or Hinduism, in the case of Hindu nationalism, or any other religions), are the same type of person as any republican or European fascist: Male, emotional, irrational, patriarchal.
[ix] One of the strategies those who want women to give birth employ to achieve their goal is to emotionally manipulate women: It is not an embryo or a foetus, it is a “baby”. A woman is not pregnant against her will, she is a “mommy”. A non-sentient three month fetus lacking taste buds and the mental capacity to process their input if it had them does not reflexively swallow, it “drinks the sweet amniotic fluid with joy” (from a forced birth leaflet I was handed). An embryo being aborted isn’t non-sentient, non-viable human tissue that looks like any other mammal embryo, it can cry and beg (“Please mommy, don’t kill me!”). And so on. Personally, I don’t understand how the very saccharine sentimentality of forced birthers does not immediately unmask their vile, evil agenda to anyone with half a brain.
[x] I know it isn’t like this in the US, but Europe many countries actually pay mothers to stay at home to do nothing but child care, often over years. It is also European conservatives, religious fundmentalists and fascists who want to increase these programs, up to the demand for a ‘mother-housewife wage’ women get if they give up any ambition outside of the family. Thus it is very bewildering to me to see supermommies in the “radfem” community push for the same thing; bewildering and suspicious just how many of them are reactionary agents.
[xi] Just recently one of the most famous German anti-prostitution activists, Huschke Mau, defended violent pimp Schwesta Ewa who had forced underaged girls in prostitution, beat them up and made them addicted to drugs because she had a traumatic upbringing and there are no “innocent victims” in prostitution. The underlying assumption is that trauma inevitably and always makes it impossible for women to employ reason to overcome their programming. Emotions are powerful, but they are not omnipotent.