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This might be grossly simplistic, but my intuition is that if you identify as something that you & everyone else knows is materially incorrect, a lack of affirmation probably feels existential. If people insisted that I wasn't a middle-aged man it would annoy me, but it wouldn't feel existential because I *know* what I am.

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I printed out an article by Kathleen Stock from UnHerd to share with my local children's librarian. She is someone who I really like and share many interests with. However, she is systematically removing any titles that aren't checked out often and filling the children's and young adults' sections with books promoting gender ideology and/or anti-racism. (Couldn't even get Frankenstein or Pride and Prejudice!) Kathleen's excellent article was arguing that in the end, no matter which side of the politics a book is promoting, it's the children who lose because these kinds of books are boring and don't tell a story that reflects children's life experience. Kids know they are being preached to. So in the end it will only diminish whatever remaining interest kids have in books and reading, which no librarian wants. Anyhow, I gave her the article and said something about Kathleen Stock being an interesting voice in the gender discussion. It ended with the librarian turning red in the face as she hotly took a stand for "the existence of trans women". I was baffled by this total inability to discuss coming from someone I usually find reasonable, fair minded, and friendly. Should I print this out to share with her, too? Ha Ha.

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May 28, 2023Liked by Mary Harrington

This is really interesting. I wonder if the maternal gaze, being replaced not only by childcare workers etc but by versions of the 'screen' (tablet/ phone/ electronic toy etc), whether this - as one of the most consistent 'gazes' on a daily- compounds the issue.

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Maybe the erasing of women is not an irony or a coincidence, but a consequence. It is revenge.

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May 28, 2023Liked by Mary Harrington

Interesting... I just listened to a podcast interview with detransitioner Chloe Cole (on Rupa Supramanya’s podcast) and she also mentioned mothers’ inattention as a possible causal factor in ROGD girls.

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Another thing that has struck me visiting other countries: The elite American brand of misogyny, which I experienced in childhood in the 1950s and in college pre-feminism, belittled women and also caring work. (Unlike the working class.) As a result, mothers valued sons highly while they projected their (collective) self-contempt onto their daughters. The majority response of feminism was for women to live like men to prove we were worth as much as them, their intellectual, creative, ambitious, and spiritual equals. (Those highly valued aspects of life were also labeled "masculine," even in a woman, setting another trap.)

By contrast, women in Romania, for instance, ADORE their daughters. The bond is very powerful (interestingly, mothers and daughters call *each other* "Mami")—often with troublesome men as a common enemy—and as a result Romanian women, in my experience, grow up very confident, feeling entitled and able to do anything, and also lifelong close with their mothers, who often help them raise THEIR children.

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This will sound glib, but I mean it honestly and in good faith. I genuinely believe what I'm about to say. It's a conclusion I've come to through years of family and professional experience. It's the undergirding thesis of my weekly talk show.

What's going on here is, mainly (everyone, supply your own not alls, I know there are exceptions) are Cluster B personality disorders.

What's going on is the unstable and delusional identity of Borderline and/or Narcissistic personality disorders. The construction of what's call the "false self," or the "narcissistic mask."

You are correct that many of them truly believe their existence is threatened. This is because they don't have a stable core self, and they believe the mask of the false self *is* their real self.

I don't believe we can fully grapple with this without taking on Cluster B personality disorders explicitly. They have an internal logic and a predictable outcome. They are *different*, much different, from someone who is merely temporarily misled.

I believe most (not all, yes there are exceptions) of what we call "trans" is in actual fact not a thing unto itself. It is not a stand-alone "condition." It is not "co-morbid with," it is the very morbidity itself. I believe it is a currently socially available symptom of a Cluster B personality disorder, or someone with a heavy dose of those traits. All of this is usually related to past trauma.

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My oldest daughter is one of these people - trans-identified, living her life as a performance of a character she’s invented, desperate for other people’s validation, having no sense of self other than what she perceives others think of her. I have laid awake at night blaming myself for this in a thousand different ways, but this one doesn’t ring true. As an infant my daughter was exceptionally alert, didn’t sleep much, and demanded to be held constantly. I complied. She was my first child at age 32 and I threw myself into trying to be the most perfect mother I could be for her. She was the first grandchild on my side and was doted on by extended family. I did go back to work at 12 weeks but couldn’t bear the thought of putting this sensitive little one in daycare so I had a nanny to watch her one on one while I worked from home. (Eighteen years later the nanny is still a close friend and beloved by my now-teenagers as an extra grandma.) On other days my mom cared for her. I have done a million things wrong as a parent, but I can honestly say that lack of attention to my daughter as an infant was not one of them - if anything, the opposite. In contrast, my younger daughter, who I always felt guilty for not giving the same level of attention as her older sister (because it’s simply impossible when you also have a toddler), has a strong sense of herself and is emotionally healthy.

I think the seeds of this were sown in her innate personality, and the experiences and parental mistakes that unwittingly nurtured it came later in life - having another baby just at a time when she needed vast amounts of attention (and struggling to adjust to meeting the conflicting demands of two), validating her for being non-conforming, lack of religion or other spiritual focus, not enough scheduling, order, and chores to give a sense of predictability and responsibility, not enough validation of emotions, not forcing the kids to stay with an activity long enough to develop expertise that would have given them a sense of identity, choosing the wrong school, I could keep going all night listing things I wish I’d done differently. But I don’t think lack of attention as an infant was the cause of this.

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This makes me so sad because of the seeming necessity of mothers returning to the workforce just to make ends meet, pay mortgage,etc. When I look back on my own experience, we probably would have been able to do without a lot of “extras” for me to stay home. I do believe however that it isn’t just about the mother’s gaze but the importance of a committed father in the home.

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So if I insist against all available evodence that I am not a cat but in fact a Royal Bengal Tiger and demand that everyone else go along with the farce, are those who refuse to call me Sher Khan "debating my existence"?

Humans come up with the craziest things.

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This is persuasive, but open to the criticism of "blaming the mother" or the trope of the refrigerator mother which hindered the understanding of autism. I wonder what it is that is distracting the mother. I suggest hyperinvasive consumer-surveillance capitalism has a lot to gain from the gaze being averted from the child to the mesmerising screen. Where is the social-psychological research on that? Minds predominantly conditioned by the etiolated like/hate binary are losing the capacity for true as opposed to synthetic empathy, for weighing evidence, and indeed for having a robust sense of self-agency. Into the vacuum rushes an existential dread, and the cycle of impossible searching for validation begins.

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Hasn't Bowlby as well as Winnicott being saying this for ever -the vital mother love early on and who needs experts to say the obvious.

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Up to a pint, you may have a point. Surely though other societies, in past times or in other parts of the world have been less nurturing of their children, without similar effects. There are echoes here of Mary Eberstadt’s ‘Primal Screams’ of a generation abandoned by its mothers (mainly) to paid childcare and the screen, still stomping and shouting and wanting the adult to show some love. There are several issues though that have all come to the fore at the same time. In no particular order:

1. Technology and social networks, so children learn from their peers not from the adults, or from history

2. Child centered learning, telling our children that they can do what they want and be what they want

3. The feminization of teaching and child care with an emphasis on fairness and compassion, so all must have prizes

4. The retreat of adult authority (eg sacking teachers who misgender their pupils)

5. The loss of transcendence, where the emphasis is on something or someone else

6. Fewer children and smaller families - lack of siblings, cousins to muck around with safely

7. Older parents who want the best for their fewer children, who are expected to be perfect

8. Less active play - older safety-minded parents (especially mothers), fewer competitive sports, unsafe streets and the lure of technology

9. Medical and therapeutic intervention as a panacea for all the above problems

10. The sexualization of youth, the porn culture and all of the above

It is wonder any child survives as a functioning adult. It gets harder and harder when the adults in charge think all of the above is great and we just need more of this and all will be fine. I expect there is more that can be added to the list.

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May 28, 2023Liked by Mary Harrington

https://theopolisinstitute.com/the-mothers-smile-integrative-beauty/

You will like this article as well. Thank you for this reflection. I encourage you to check out Balthasar’s work on the mother/child gaze. See the article.

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In this video Tim Keller diagnoses pretty persuasively as a general matter how we got to a situation in which significant numbers of young people are angrily trapped in the paradox you describe: "the problem with insisting that you are the sole arbiter of yourself is that self-creation means nothing until someone else agrees with the truth of whatever you’ve created": https://qcpodcast.gospelinlife.com/e/identity/

Certainly a person is much more likely to go haywire if their early years were blighted by being denied a relationship with an attentive, affectionate, nurturing mother.

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Devaluing motherhood is the beginning of the end. Life begins there so it only makes sense.

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