Psychoanalysis & law at the Women’s March in Washington

It was amazing and exhilarating to be part of such a massive collective experience. We left my neighborhood in Northwest Washington DC early, about 8am. At that hour on a Saturday morning, my neighborhood was already buzzing with people on their way to the march. On Friday, inauguration day, I had gone out to see what was afoot. What I discovered on Friday was a dead zone. On any normal day my neighborhood is very busy; Connecticut Ave near the Woodley Park metro is normally crowded with people going about their day. On inauguration day it was nearly empty. A lonely traffic cop stood at the intersection, idle, with no worries about directing any traffic. I walked down to Dupont Circle and saw lots of people going into the Office Depot and then emerging with rolled up poster board carried under arms. They were clearly getting ready for Saturday. Then I walked over to the Washington DC Friends Meeting House which was holding a training session on non-violent interventions to public assaults. We rolled played several different scenarios of public aggression and how to intervene effectively.

On Saturday this training came in handy. While walking from the Union Station metro over to meet our friends, we passed by a large bus emblazoned with Trump campaign slogans. Vendors in front of the bus were hawking Trump sweatshirts, teeshirts, and hats. These vendors were clearly out of place, because the street was teaming with women carrying signs and wearing their distinctive knitted caps. I stopped to look at the merchandise and then suggested to the man in charge that yesterday, during the inauguration, was their better time to make sales and that today, Saturday, belonged to the Women’s March participants.

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He was not happy to hear this and let me know in no uncertain terms, saying he was “sick and tired of all of you, all of you.” As a very brief backstory, let me tell you, I was born and grew up in Indiana, and I genuinely want to understand what drives Trump supporters, so I as genuinely as possible tried to ask him, what is it that you’re tired of? why are you so angry?
His face was red, his eyes drooped and bulged, as did his belly.
His answer came quick, “are you married? are you married? none of you women is responsible. No man would suffer you. Let me ask you, do you clean toilets? Do you clean toilets?”
I pondered this for a moment and returned the question, “why? do you clean toilets?” His answer, “No, no, I don’t clean toilets because I have a wife and that is her job. She cleans toilets and she is happy to do it.”

Here’s my take-away from this exchange — the choice of presidential candidates in 2016 parsed out on the level of genitals and unpaid domestic labor of the lowest sort (cleaning toilets).

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Vagina Dentata: Intersectionality Rules

That is, those with vaginas and clitorises are to clean toilets, not obtain high offices. Those with penises are supposed to enjoy the toilets cleaned by the vaginas, and are supposed to have the better, commanding jobs. This is an old battle, and the marchers threw back at the Pussy-Grabber-In-Chief the women’s claim — as women, as possessors of pussy (that is clitoris, vagina, vulva) — to voice and autonomy. The pussy-hats donned by so many marchers (some men included) claimed an end to illicit cooptation, and personal and female ownership of genital power.
I’m White. I grew up in Indiana in the midst of deeply patriachal Christian culture. I know and understand where this man-on-the-street (who thinks I should be home scrubbing my husband’s toilet) is coming from. This battle is personal for many, many women. Indeed, it is personal for women on both sides of the election campaign, as 53% of White women voted for Trump. Saturday evening after the march, I met a friend of mine, a professional woman and Ph.d. candidate who is African American and who grew up in DC. She berated me, saying African American women had done their part, they voted overwhelmingly for Hillary. “What is the problem with White Women?” she demanded of me, “Why did they vote for Trump?”

My best, most honest explanation, “they are oppressed, their minds are colonized. You think that preaching subordination stops with women of color? What religion has a color exemption? Religions that preach women’s subordination do not exempt White women. Men who seek sexual domination do not exempt White women. Indeed, there’s a strong desire to dominate White women, a strong desire to subjugate her, to humiliate her personally, sexually, and thereby to disempower her, to co-opt her power for his agenda. This is why we have the Free Melania meme. These married White women live with their masters. They are oppressed, their minds are colonized, they are not free.” This is the reality of normalized hetero-sexual subjugation.

Of course, there is significantly more we can add to this analysis of sexual domination and political power. Plenty of women live gilded lives because of this sexual alliance — that’s a good part of the 53% White woman vote for Trump. It was impossible to form a strong symbolic message that could serve as a basis for alliance with these women, who could see the hypocrisy, perhaps, on both sides. The Clinton campaign failed to convince  that 53%. And then add to that, the weight of the anti-abortion activists, which is a battle over control of the uterus. The panoply of conservative attachments and mentalities are deeply rooted, as we’ve already said, at the genital, psycho-analytic level and reflected and re-enforced via religious authority, and in more contested manner in judicial and legislative authority.

The present moment, however, continues to offer opportunities of challenging the Law of the Father rooted in sexual domination and espoused by Abrahamic religions. Women uniting across these male dominated organizations needs to happen. One specific challenge of the Trump Era (in which we include the EU ultra-right (or neo-ethnic nationalist right) — to produce a political revolution on the genital level. That is, to empower the clitoris vis-a-vis the phallus. This is not easily explicable in narrative theory but political cartoons demonstrate this very effectively. The images and scenarios work better that simple words. Indeed, the power sought here is not primarily verbal power (symbolic power) but sexual authority (pre-symbolic). One of the best cartoons I saw was at the end of the day carried by a young punkish person whom I took to be a young man, but I guess might have been a woman or trans. The sign was a big cartoonish pig cut-out, all pink and squealing with his tiny little penis exposed. But my favorite, that I did not photograph, was the common ovaries, fallopian and uterus motif, but with the ovaries having grown hands and actively encouraging a dismantling of the Trump administration. It is our present task to use powerful images to activate and energize a broad alliance, such as evident in the intersectionality at the world-wide Women’s March, January 21, 2017.

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