“He’s such a narcissist” – a phrase you’ve most probably heard someone you know say. It is interesting to me how the narcissistic personality has come to symbolise what’s wrong with the modern world. The term has been thrown about a lot more since social media has taken over and it was possibly at its zenith just after Trump was elected. Hot on the lips of so many, but do we really know what it means and how it’s a problem?Read More
The other day I wrote a post asking the question “Does the desire to be great keep you up at night?”, which was inspired in part by my own thoughts and worries but also out of interest for whether anyone else felt the same or differently, and how such thoughts could be combated or overcome.
As it turns out, many people feel similarly but usually they have some pretty robust rationalizations that protect them from feeling despair. For example, on twitter, there was a discussion around finding meaning and value in what you do, whatever it is. The idea being that this angst I spoke of is not necessarily part of the package and can be reduced or abolished via acceptance.
A few people picked up on the fact that I used the word “fame” and felt that this meant that I was searching for some kind of public recognition when in actual fact I was just using it as an example of what society places importance in and therefore one of the signifiers of when someone has “made it” in their respective field.
But this week I came into contact with new material that made me re-think my whole question and this time conceptualize it through the lens of gender and feminism. Is it possible that these feelings are uniquely female and do they have something to do with the challenges and pressures women feel in our modern times?
One of my favourite authors and public figures, Elizabeth Gilbert, recently wrote this article on Huffington Post. She says:
“…all the women I know are stressing themselves sick over the pathological fear that they simply aren’t doing enough with their lives.”
“…there’s a good historical reason for all this overwhelming confusion. We don’t have centuries of educated, autonomous female role models to imitate here (there were no women quite like us until very recently), so nobody has given us a map.”
What I love about what she says, which really resonates with me, is the idea that women are feeling this way because historically we’ve only been allowed to have so many options and take on so many roles in the last century. A hundred years – that sounds like a lot, right? Well in actual fact it’s not.
My grandmother was born in the 30s and she was very much one of those classic 50s housewives who was never expected to have a career. Her entire worth was based on her success at baking cakes and wearing the latest fashions (think Betty from Mad Men). My mother, born in the 50s, a classic baby boomer, was a 60s flower child and was liberated from mainstream conventionalism to express herself in whichever way she chose, be it as a kept woman or an academic; yet she chose the conventional female profession of teaching, earning less than all the male teachers in her faculty but happy to be independent and autonomous nonetheless.
I am thus only the second generation of females in my family to have the freedom to decide on a career. I chose to work in the medical profession, a place that has traditionally been exclusively set aside for males. And what’s more is women have entered the workplace at a time in history when the notion of career and of finding oneself and finding one’s life purpose is conflated and used interchangeably. Imagine the 50s industrialist being asked whether his career had great meaning for him or imagine the great scientists of the previous century being judged on their public image, their dress sense or their ability to hold down a job while also taking care of their children and home?
And so perhaps this answer asks more questions but that is okay. Is it one’s gender that dictates that one should feel restless and unsettled in a career choice or in life in general? Does our sense of incompleteness, or uncertainty, of not having done enough or not being enough come about as a direct result of society’s expectations of women? Should we be looking at our male counterparts and asking them these questions and investigating if they have such angst as well? Is it a myth that women are running around without a map, or is all of humanity equally lost?
An anecdotal response to some of these questions comes from a discussion with a female friend I met the other night. She is a high powered marketing exec for a huge e-commerce site. When I asked her about this “desire to be great” phenomenon and its corresponding self doubt, she replied:
“Well I think there are some people, some very successful people who do not feel this way at all. Perhaps this is why they are leaders in their field, why they are seen to be head and shoulders above their competition? They don’t let any thoughts of doubt through and they don’t spend a second questioning their intentions or the consequences of their actions. They just do what they want to do when they want to do it and they don’t care about anything else. Come to think of it, all of the people that I know like this are male. I wonder if this has something to do with their gender?”
My response to her was, “Maybe what they all have in common is they’re all narcissists”.
Share your thoughts #onthecouchwithcarly
Can we please talk about this little fucking narcissistic, misogynistic twerp of a murderer who 100% REPRESENTS THE WORLD WE LIVE IN AND THE VALUES OF SOCIETY?????!!!!!!!
Right. So I just wanna make one thing patently clear. I used the word “little” in the title purposefully because I want to acknowledge that this guy was but a small, insignificant speck on the Earth’s surface and I do not want to validate or give energy to his efforts any more than is necessary. But I do think it is necessary that we talk about the awful, tragic event that took place because it is a terrifyingly accurate representation of some of the most common ills our society is facing. When I refer to ‘society’ here, I mean our global society – the one that hails Jay Z and Beyonce as King and Queen, the one that eats McDonalds, and drinks Coca Cola. If you think because you live in Africa and your dad isn’t a big Hollywood hotshot that this doesn’t apply to you, think again sweetheart.
So let’s get stuck in. I am gonna go straight for the jugular. We’ve all seen the video. The vacant, dead eyes. The whiney, spoilt-brat complaining. The entitlement. The destruction. I could most certainly right an essay on Narcissism using Elliot Rodger as a fitting case study. I could talk about how parents contribute to this dynamic, how the combination of neglect and indulgence goes a long way to spoiling a child. I do think this is relevant. It is the family’s job to bring up the child to feel loved, cared for, and accepted. It is also the family’s job to impart morals and values. But the family is only an agent of the greater society (especially in Hollywood, where billions of dollars are spent each year manufacturing reality). So yes, I think we can blame the family. And it is with a heavy heart that I imagine the kinds of neglect/loneliness and shame this boy felt during the crucial years (between 0 and 5) when self-development took place. Because narcissism is the direct consequences of a breakdown of that process. Psychopathy too.
There is most certainly a growing culture of narcissism – of children being brought up to value the outer appearance over anything else, of people making decisions based on social status, possessions, and other morays of consumerism. But today is not about narcissism. It’s about the other social ill. The big-fucking-sea-monster-of-societal-shame lurking beneath the surface yet inadvertently causing waves that crash over everything in our world. I’m talking about patriarchy, misogyny, gender politics, sexual objectification and all the other ‘fabulous’ social constructions we are all slaves to that privilege men’s rights and needs over women’s and have us all believing in this myth that women’s very existence can only be validated by being beautiful and attractive for men, to be objects of their desire and sexual fantasies.
If you think this doesn’t apply to you, Ostrich, take your head out of the sand. Each and every one of us is affected by this and whether we consciously try and counteract it or not, we have to admit that society is set up this way and continues to be set up this way despite a few ted talks about The Sexy Lie we tell ourselves.
If you still don’t believe me, let me give you a few examples.
Example A: I was having dinner with a group of truly fabulous, inspiring, creative and objectively successful female friends last week. During this incredibly insightful evening we started talking about body image issues and the greater sexist culture. Each and every one of us – despite being beautiful, intelligent and successful- had stories to tell about how we hated this or that part of our body, how we worried about whether a guy would like this or that about us or had judged or shamed ourselves for some element of our body or personality because it might have meant that we were less attractive to the opposite sex. We looked each other in the eyes and knew how totally screwed up this is but when you’re in the throws of a break-up or if that guy hasn’t called you back after your one and only date, these are the things that creep up on you and haunt your day-dreams, whether you consciously know they’re bullshit or not.
Example 2: I recently spoke to a young man who informed me that he doesn’t consider it cheating if he has sex with girls that aren’t his girlfriend. He says it’s only cheating if he would fall in love with said girls and that this won’t happen through sex because it’s just a physical act. When asked if his girlfriend can do the same thing, he said absolutely not. His reasons indicated that he felt men and women were fundamentally different because men need to be pleasured and women don’t, and anyway he doesn’t have relationships with these women they are just used for sex. He also went on to slutshame any woman who acts like a man in this way because a woman having multiple partners for the sake of physical pleasure is “not normal”.
I would like to give a few more examples (for there are plenty) but I have run out of time. Please feel free to share your own examples.
To sum up, I would like the denial to stop. If you are a woman and get dressed in the morning for the sake of looking attractive, this applies to you. If you are a man who has ever said, “Wow, that chick is hot!” or “She’s a bit heavy though”, this applies to you. If you get twitchy when someone refers to the “misogynistic culture” because it brings back memories of Charlize Theron calling out rapists in the 90s, then you my friend need a wake up call. This issue is as big as racism. We are not going to shut up until we have changed our daily social interactions. If this is too much for you, sorry.
So I urge you all, right now, today – take this sea monster on. Its biggest trick is that is that it remains submerged, beneath the surface of our consciousness and therefore our social discourse. So all that I urge you to do right now is TALK. Talk about this asshole and his murdering spree, but only if you also talk about gender and how it affects your world. Talk to your friends, your partners, your family members, your parents, your children. Right now, we just need to have this conversation.