the holding pattern

by Andrea Elizabeth

(cont. from previous post) In chapter 4, The Problem of the Speaking Woman, The Spiral Staircase, the male gaze is seen as authoritarian and victimizing. I have heard that even animals view staring as aggressive. It is a way to claim someone. Ms. Lawrence also comments that the camera in this movie adopts the male point of view in making us the stalking murderer’s co-voyeur.

Silence, as the chapter shows, (and burkas) can be attention-drawing rebellions against male dominance whose goal is gratefulness, helplessness and availability. Additionally, speaking is seen as masculine:

“E. Ann Kaplan summarizes the feminist debate on the political implications of women’s silence. Using Lacanian concepts of language, “it follows that if language is by definition ‘male,’ women who speak it are alienated from themselves” (Kaplan 1983, p. 93). Silence, then, seems the only alternative. However, “a real contradiction faces women: as long as they remain silent . . . ‘they will be outside of the historical process'” (ibid., quoting Xaviere Gauthier). Because of this, “it is dangerous” to adopt silence as a response and so “accept women’s exclusion from the symbolic realm,” Kaplan observes. “Silence seems at best a temporary, and desperate, strategy, a defense against domination, a holding operation, rather than a politics that looks toward women’s finding a viable place for themselves in culture” (ibid., pp. 102, 103).

How women are to confront language, to speak in their own voices, is not addressed in the fundamentally conservative Spiral Staircase. The mother is left having negated her motherhood, so exhausted by the effort as to be on the verge of death. [Mute]Helen learns to scream, accedes to language, and is thus recuperated into her role as dependent, helpless, soon-to-be wife.”