Friday, July 17, 2009

Empathy and Feminism

The way I see feminism is this: The feminine qualities are valuable and ennobling. It is not that women must compete with men as men, but rather that the natural feminine perspective should be given a place of honor rather than being denigrated as inferior. In other words, society itself should be restructured according to feminine values, which are, in the final analysis, the truly civilizing values.

A good example of the bias against the feminine is being illustrated in the troglodyte conservative take on Sonia Sotomayor, Obama's nominee to the US Supreme Court, which has centered on the idea of "empathy" as a negative. In the hearings, Sotomayor played the game by saying that a judge decides on the basis of "facts" on the one hand, and the "law" on the other.

But what is missing here is that the "facts" include an entire empathic dimension. Do the facts of a particular case not include the entire psychological situation of all the players? And does Justice, i.e., Fairness, itself not include an empathetic understanding of the individuals involved, in particular those who are victims?

Empathy was being used as a code word to delegitimize Sotomayor as a woman. But in fact, it is exactly the empathetic qualities of womanhood that are needed to soften the society that often legitimizes the most obscene aspects of masculinity--competition and war.


Anonymous said...

You are right that empathy is needed in a judge. And further, a judge that empathises from a feminine vantage point is even better. But "latina", that is where it crosses over to become racism.

Jagat said...

Although this is off topic for the blog, I would like to defend Ms. Sotomayor against this charge. She was not talking about race but about experience.

Rick Salutin in the Globe and Mail wrote about this today and said it rather well, I thought. People who go through tough experiences and fight their way up, who have gone through discrimination, poverty, etc., would have a better understanding of these things, which people born to privilege likely don't.

I think the word "Latina" was totally misunderstood. Do you really think she meant that Latinos are superior racially? Come on.

Anonymous said...

I think she did mean superior in that way that you are describing. Why did she say "Latina", why didn't she say simply "more experient due to my personal life circumstances"? The idea is that "I am though in a way that white men would not were they subject to the same duress I have been subjected to". There is a sense of being more resilient due to race. Not circumstances. "wise latina' she said. The wisdom she claims is the 'inate wisdom of that particular race'. So in that sense yes I think she meant superior racially. She later tries to make things politically correct for the obvious reasons. But what she meant is quite clear. She has the right, however, to express that opinion, in my opinion. She is the "wise latina" she refers to. She better than anyone knows what she is talking about. Who knows, maybe its true. Maybe Latinas are wiser than white men just by a sheer turn of nature. One thing is for sure, women in general are wiser than men, in general, when it comes to empathy. But race? Are some races more resistant than others under pressure? And so hence more qualified to be in the position of ruling? I think that she meant a very clear yes by her "wise latina" comment. The underlying feeling is there in the choice of words.

Jagat said...

Again, I don't think she was talking about Latinas, per se, but about people who are in the same experiential, i.e., discriminated minority status, situation.

She used the words "I would hope" and "wise" to indicate that she was NOT speaking about any divine right for the Latino people. Wise means someone whose mind and heart have been broadened by the experience of discrimination and poverty, etc., and has risen above it. "I would hope" is a recognition that it doesn't always happen.

The thing is that white guys in general are so comfortable with their "divine right" that they are incapable of either recognizing it or understanding what it is like to be in that kind of situation.

They are very empathetic where other rich white guys are concerned--bank bailouts, executive compensation, the military industrial complex, sexual peccadiloes, etc., are all pretty much OK in the country club set, but for everyone else it is "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time."

If you accuse her of self-promotion, well why shouldn't she? Doesn't everyone? Whatever, the charge of racism is a complete red herring. Her statement seems to me to be far fuller of self-awareness and humility than those who criticize her--racists like Pat Buchanan, who like most racists, have NO self-awareness or empathy where the so-called "other" is concerned.

Another thing that came out in all this was the accusation of affirmative action. The following article helped me recognize the worth of a person like Sotomayor. Princeton and Affirmative Action.

Jagat said...

I am not too keen to go off in this direction on this blog. Maybe I should start a political blog if I am going to get into this area. But I don't really have the energy. I have to worry about Ayan Ghosh. Watch for it, it is coming up shortly.

Satya devi dasi said...

From the text of the Judge Mario G. Olmos Memorial Lecture in 2001, delivered at the University of California, Berkeley, [go Bears!] School of Law, by appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor.

"Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

full text at

Anonymous said...

Should she not promote herself? She shouldn't promote herself at the expense of others, even white male jerks, no, she shouldn't. One should promote oneself on the merit of ones actual worth. Women who compete with men on men's standard of achievement are already defeated. You say so yourself. Minorities are discriminated on several basis, one of them being race. People who are discriminated are victims, and those who discriminate are technically criminals, at least in developed nations that is the standard. To say that certain groups become wiser because of discrimination is a way of legitimizing such criminal standard of "gaining wisdom", thats all I'm saying.

Anonymous said...

I just had this big realization today that the wise Latina claim can only be confirmed when governor Mark Sanford's mistress dumps him. Then my husband told me that the governor was the one who already dumped the mistress. Which seems to settle the matter at white men making better judges than Latino women.

Anonymous said...

Pranams ~

Some people in woman body are just plain mean and nasty. Not every XX [versus XY] embodied person is so nice.

In fact, jobs that have mostly women working there often have higher degree of "workplace bullying" than other job situations.

And recent article said that workplace bullying has more deleterious effect on people than even sexual harassment.

Workplace bullying is very big problem in UK, Canada, Oz, US esp in teaching professions. The female supervisor and her cronies gang up on other women and do various vicious backstabbing techniques.

Anyways perhaps you are idealizing women because you have never around them 24/7...and/or have never been around a whole bunch of really competitive backstabbing female embodied karmi persons.

Like all embodied souls, my guess is of all the living beings, some women are sattvic, rajasic, tamasic, and a few are way out there.

And probably way more of the tamasic and rajasic than the sattvic ["Out of many millions, few aspire for transcendence; out of many millions of seekers, hardly one knows Me in Truth"].

Jaya Sri Radhe!

Jagat said...

I am far from lacking a sense of what real life woman can be like. I am talking percentages here. I don't think that certain feminine qualities would have been idealized if not for the fact that they were observed in greater quantity in women.

I believe that there have been studies, etc., bearing this out, showing that in countries where there are a high percentage of women in the government, the governing ethos tends to change to reflect women's concerns, which tend to take into account the social good rather than individual competition, for example.

Part of the problem that you express may be the result of an environment structured to reflect male values. Women should not have to act like men in order to be successful. This is why reserving places, such as seats in government, is a good idea.

I am NOT saying that people of non-white background or women are superior to white men. Objectively, the reverse may even be true. I am saying that the perspective of women should necessarily play a part in decision making.

A husband who takes no account of his wife's desires and interests when making a major decision will live a hellish life. So why should society be run by men without direct input from women?

One of the big interests I have is the intersection of the ideal (such as found in myth) and the real (where everything is mixed). The biggest mistakes are made when we mistakenly apply the mythical to the real in the way that you describe--i.e., expecting men or women to live up to the heroic archetypes that lie firmly fixed in our unconscious.

These archetypes are about an unattainable ideal and a sort of general direction on the external side, but mostly about enriching the inner life on the other.