Saturday, 20 March 2010

Gender and repetition

Often we remember a book more vividly if we put it away before reaching the end. The reason is probably that we can’t put it away in our minds: we feel that we aren’t finished with it, and hence tend to repeat it in our minds. I’m pretty sure this effect is also the reason why Lacan’s psycho-analytic sessions didn’t have a fixed length of time: by not “finishing” it at a predictable time, he would make sure that the patient kept repeating it to himself or herself.

The power of repetition is tremendous: often it’s enough to recall a thing just once for it to become almost impossible to forget. This explains much. Take gender. People are often confounded by the fact that if gender distinctions are nothing but social constructions, then why are they so stubborn? But this tenacity has nothing to do with gender being rooted in nature. What matters is that gender classifications are repeated daily, numerous times every day – whenever we see or hear another person, whenever we talk, when we dress, when we plan our futures and so on. Each instance may be trivial, but taken together their strength is enormous. A construct is tenacious not because it is basic or central, but because it is often repeated. We are ruled, not by what we consider important, but by what we repeat.

Some implications of this concerning gender:
- Gender classifications are less a matter of explicit ideas and more a matter of how our daily lives are patterned.
- Breaking with these patterns requires great strength, for the pressures we face are daily, practically endless and all-pervasive.
- But this struggle will not be futile. New ways of life can and will take root as they are repeated in turn.

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