Yesterday I read an op-ed about the psycho-physical problem in philosophy. As I was reading the article I was startled by the following paragraph (translated from Hebrew by me): “…Some stimuli are prioritized by the brain from the entanglement of environmental stimuli (e.g. pain, a beautiful women, a friend, a foe)”. I felt instantly transformed, from a thinking subject reading a philosophical text, to a mute chicken on a plate. What made me feel that way?
Refering to a beautiful woman as a “environmental stimulus” is common in texts written by men. It exposes something important about spoken and (especially) written language, higlighting several cultural assumptions, that are usually taken for granted:
a) The general, unspecified, default reader addressed by the text is a man.
b) That the general, unspecified, default reader addressed by the text is a heterosexual man.
c) It is culturally acceptable for men to mark the texts they write with the signs of their physical sexed bodies and desires.
d) Rational and intellectual modes of argument in our societies have been historically shaped by men.
These assumptions stem from a reality in which education, and writing, have traditionally been males’ territory. Today, when women express their opinions in writing, they are expected (and in fact have no choice) to inhabit this presumably “neutral” (but in fact sexed) subject position. When we write texts, we are expected to leave the marks of our physical and sexed body out of the text. And so, if I was writing a text for a respectable outlet, I would never have written: ” Some stimuli are prioritized by the brain from the entanglement of environmental stimuli (e.g. pain, the bare chest of a well-built man, a friend, a foe)”. (The demand that women leave their corporeal bodies out of the text is reminiscent of the demand that we avoid using our personal (supposedly biased) experiences as a source of authority. For a critique of this demand, see Sandra Harding’s “Strong objectivity”).
How would a language, a mode of argument and intellectual discourse shaped by women’s sexed bodies look like? Perhaps our daughters will teach us.
Update: this is an example of using a beautiful women as an environmental stimuli.