What about Darth Vader’s Mother? A Rumination on Hate and Gender
The rumination on hate began with modern myth and a spirit of mischief. My client and I discussed Halloween, the fun of costumes and trick or treat. He was Darth Vader, the ultimate man-machine and now a standard bearer of modern villains. Dark father, poet Robert Bly called the Star Wars icon, alluding to the play on words. “I don’t want to scare kids,” my client said, alluding to his costume, a reference to the menacing headwear, his dark cape and the breathy, deep voice he might later affect on a trick or treat hike. He was unconcerned with others’ costumes, those of his wife and two daughters. A witch, Wonder Woman, and Maleficent could all greet children and homeowners, presumably with less threat while he looked on from a safer distance.
Next, his reflection turned to a jocular, imagined conversation with his mother about Darth Vader costumes and the supposed protests that would have blocked such harmless (?) fun once upon a time. “She’d have approved the lightsaber prop—because it would make me visible to drivers in the dark. She’d be like ‘why not dress like the Stormtroopers’. They wear white—far more sensible, she’d think.” This playful dig at his mother’s once fussing habit was delivered with seemingly fond recollection. Mock sighing followed, suggesting a once impatient streak now well-tamed. His mother’s (s)mothering is often recalled with endearment, though given this same man’s less-than-endeared reactions to a similarly fussing wife, I wonder…
“A problem?” I asked, referring to the lightsaber bit. I refrained from explanation, for it was tacit what I meant: your mother was taking care, or something. Or something, indeed, said the flattened expression of my client. Was I imagining something? Perceiving something unsaid—barely thought of, even. The exchange seemed to die upon my clumsy didacticism, that imputation that fussing equals love. He didn’t take my invitation to think—too threatening, I think, to think and possibly disagree. Disagree with me, or with her, as in the specter of her? Before and since, his mom was fossilized as a lovable nag; his reaction to that relationship buried in shiny good humor, a plasticized smile that conceals a stubborn, lingering rebellion.
In the zeitgeist of 2018, there is a narrative or near factuality for society to observe: we have more to fear from men than we do from women. Men hate through their violence, their power-seeking, their Mad-Menish entitlement and objectifications; they hate through their ignorance, their bullish inattention to vulnerable women. At the same time, their envy and disregard of not-so-vulnerable women is equally offensive. Men shoot people wantonly. They rape, harass, marginalize and ignore. They ogle but they do not notice. At its worst, masculinity is toxic. Women, however, do not hate. They invest emotionally. They are caretakers, and in taking care they love and elicit dependency, which is ultimately wholesome and pro-social. Sadly, some do not interpret this taking care as love. Some interpret caretaking as control, as criticism, and therefore reject the tautological understanding of women’s love.
Women are not as dangerous, so within the study of female psychology there is no current analogue to the newfangled concept of toxic masculinity. Further, as feminist hegemony replaces patriarchy in mental health circles, a new Superego emerges, one that privileges emotional preoccupation and pathologizes detachment. It’s no longer appropriate to cast women as “hysterical” and men as “logical”. Now, rationality indicates intimacy disorder, Narcissism, whereas women are “emotionally invested”, “caregivers”, and “deeply engaged”—terms that lend sympathetic connotations. At worst, women annoy, suggests a 2018 study from UC Berkeley which employs this rhetoric. In the study, 1100 people rated 12,000 relationships, yielding a rough estimate that 15% of interpersonal relations are “difficult”, with a disproportionate percentage of such characterizations aimed at women.
So, don’t we also hear that women are mean, that their fury is…ya know, hellish? Yes, but there’s a protective clause within this oft-reported canard: the so-called meanness in women is either directed at oppressive males, and is therefore righteous in a generalized sense, or else women direct hate at themselves or other women (an extension of the self if one thinks in group identity terms) so the hate is essentially self-destructive, which is another tautology: a circular polemic. The word misandry is lesser known than its analogue, misogyny, which has little to do, in my opinion, with the hate within those words’ meanings, and even less to do with verbosity. Rather, the disparity in recognition has to do with perceived outcomes of hate, which is what society can reliably measure. If women raped and pillaged as much as men, for example, then their hate would be deemed meaningful and therefore subject to censure. Hate that is deemed righteous or benign is not called hate. It is called anger, possibly outrage, or traumatic response. It might even be called love.
This wasn’t the perspective of psychoanalytic thinking beginning nearly a hundred years ago. To read the likes of Freud (1920), Klein (1935), or Kernberg (1975) or Masterson (1981) is to absorb thought relating to the intrapsychic phenomena of libido and aggression, not just the externalized results that compel social response. Hate from this perspective is derived from instinct (death instinct), nurtured via dyadic interaction with caregivers, and activated in times of stress. The capacity for hate begins with frustration or fear, followed by an assignment of persecutory, envious or annihilating intent on the part of a caregiver. To protect the self, a child must learn the aggressive responses perceived in the other, learn to deny aggression in others so as to love, and yet defend oneself from perceived attacks. The confusing interplay of projections and introjections fosters not so much a linear sequence of development as a cycle between fearful and depressive positions. Klein (1946) taught that hate is a function of dependency, that humans are both drawn to and repelled by love and need: we paradoxically hate what we crave, so no feelings are pure. Analysts cite examples of parental aggression: perfectionism, for instance, stems from sadistic impulse, not loving urges to engender improvement. So-called clinging is deemed an expression of dominance. The perfectionistic or clinging parent sets up a standard that cannot be met, therefore to pressure unreasonably is to be cruel, or at best, conditionally loving.
Matter of opinion? Anyway, hate exists in fact and fantasy, blended in minds while it carries social currency and threat. For hatemongerers, it is an oft-denied emotion. Scapegoating alerts to external danger but also dissociates hate, acts upon it instead of giving it conscious attention. The mongerers of group identity politics, those advocates of the underprivileged, observe unconscious hate (“microaggressions”) and liken hate derivatives like bigotry to original sin such that hate might be recognized in all. However, this activist’s gaze is upon social systems, so despite attention to internal process, judgements are similarly reductive, directed against those who cross repression barriers, not those who hate per se. The headlines that grip us are of a singular kind, and they are frightening, but they are also wearyingly facile, which breeds a distant, disoriented feeling. Over time, don’t we get tired of the same hapless expressions: the “where is all this hate coming from?” platitudes? Something is missing from all the worthy dialogue—something that is vaguely known but censured.
It’s natural to be horrified by hate. But if you’re incredulous and don’t get this love-hate thing, then maybe you are an innocent. Or maybe you’ve matured, grown out of it. Or maybe you’ve simply forgotten and thus need your mother to remind you that you once bit her breast. And maybe you don’t love as fully as you think you do.
Freud, S. (1920). Beyond the pleasure principle. Standard Edition. 18: 7-64.
Kernberg, O. (1975) Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. New York: Aronson.
Klein, M. (1935). A contribution to the psychogenesis of manic-depressive states. In Contributions to psychoanalysis, 1921-1945. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964.
Klein, M. (1946). Notes on some Schizoid Mechanisms. In: M. Klein (Ed.) (1957) Envy and Gratitude: a study of unconscious forces. New York, New York. Basic Books.
Masterson, J.F. (1981) The Narcissitic and Borderline Disorders: An integrated developmental approach. New York: Brunner/Mazel.
Offer, S., and Fischer, C. “Difficult People: Who is Perceived to be Demanding in Personal Networks and Why Are They There” American Sociological Review (2017)