A few weeks ago I discussed Cixous’ “Laugh of the Medusa,” in which the writer explains that society defines woman by their lack of a phallus. Woman is defined in the negative, by what she’s doesn’t have. In reading the excerpt from the Chodorow piece, it became obvious to me that there is a pattern or a rule of negative that governs gender role learning. Although Cixous’ man has a phallus, Chodorow’s mother-reared boys define men by all of the feminine characteristics that the idealized man lacks. This negative conditioning of Chodorow’s boys is just a damaging as the negative definition of women, and not just because it is these boys that grow up to become men who are proponents of oppressive relationships with women.
Unlike girls, who learn feminine roles from a personal relationship with their mothers, “boys must attempt to develop a masculine gender identification and learn the masculine role in the absence of a continuous and ongoing relationship with their fathers.”(323) From early childhood, boys must forage for masculine models, and generally find them in cultural images. This separates the boys from familiar relations and to reject identification with mothers or feminine traits. This divide is further stimulated by society’s idealization and superiority of masculinity, which makes the male role even more desirable to developing boys.(324) Boys are willing to not only suppress their own femininity, but to reject their mothers who care for and raise them.It is certainly not a stretch to imagine that this early hostility of women in boys is a factor in the fear of woman that Cixous describes in “Laugh of the Medusa.”
To further look at the negative’s influence in social roles, I’d like to draw attention to Chodorow’s examination of Mothering, Masculinity, and Capitalism. Parson explains that there is a close oedipal relationship between mother and son, one which the mother has the most power and can manipulate. The son is naturally very dependent on the nurturing mother, who eventually withdraws her support in order to make her male child more independent. This negative relationship does indeed produce males that are independent of family, although it does leave an influential subconscious level of obedience and need to please. (326) Society values this in males who eventually need to strive to succeed in a capitalistic society, while obeying their superiors in a corporate structure.
This pattern of negativity should cancel out itself as double-negatives do in a sentence of standard English. If woman is woman because she lacks a male phallus but boys do not directly inherit their “maleness” from their fathers, then what exactly are gender roles based off of? It is obvious to me that both of these pieces thoroughly destroy the idea that we are inherently born into our gender. Society wounds us by trying to define who or what we are in the negative.