DIFFICULTIES OF BEING WOMAN AND ARTIST
To further explore Anaïs Nin’s ideas, as expressed in her readings, we have a rap with Dr. Beatrice Harris, psychologist and teacher. The focus is on women, because the world at this time is witnessing the emergence of the independent woman, whose interior struggles and aspirations Anaïs has so well articulated. Also, most of the weekenders are women, a third actively involved in feminism, the others curious about the new “consciousness” of women. The men present are significantly softspoken, gentle, sensitive – and young. The group as a whole is concerned with the arts, many of whom have come to bask in Anaïs’ sympathetic nurturance of the creative spirit in all aspects of life.
Beatrice Harris looks like she is both strong and independent, soft and sensuous, yet she remains elusive. She is young, handsome, with thick black hair hanging loosely over her shoulders. She wears a long tailored skirt with black boots. She speaks in a husky voice, casually puffing an occasional cigarette.
Here are portions from our discussion with her.
BEATRICE HARRIS: I have heard you women ask, ” I feel so guilty … am I really free to create?” … The difficulties of being a woman and an artist lie in the struggle involved in taking the time needed to be an artist, especially for women who have children in our culture that has not yet involved men in child rearing.
Change has to occur in these areas. And the individual has to decide how she wants to take part in making change happen.
In our culture words like “feminine” connote dependency, passivity, emotional, irrational, love, roundness, softness; “Masculine” means intellect, power, aggressiveness, activity. Every human has these qualities but the difficulty is in integrating them because of the traditional connotations. Yes, there are differences between males and females but not to such extreme dimensions as has been thought. That is why people have difficulties when they try to develop an aspect of themselves, for example when women try to grow in a way traditionally associated with the masculine or men in a way associated with the feminine.
Ann Roche: Anaïs has written that when she first came to this country she felt that the women artists were imitating men, also that the European man was more accepting of the feminine side of his soul than the American.
ANAÏS Yes, I found America a more male-dominated culture than the European where the conflict between men and women wasn’t as great because the men accepted more feminine elements in themselves. We have to establish the right chemical proportions of these elements in ourselves. For instance, because women confused the word “activity” with being aggressive, they were afraid to be active. I hope that we can get rid of these extreme categories for men and women, which we have all had to live with until now.
BEATRICE: Because these attitudes are ingrained in our culture, we need to change practices outside ourselves, which means involving ourselves with the liberation of men as well. We have to learn how to collect the kind of money we need to have the freedom to create, how to raise children together and not be burdened with guilt. Guilt varies. In the upper class women hire help for their children, so they don’t have guilt; in the lower classes there is no guilt because it is understood that the woman must go out and work; it is only in the middle class where guilt is a large concern. We have to separate what we WANT to do from what we SHOULD do, which is a difficult, painful, yet ultimately a creative process.
Ann: Isn’t ‘nurturing’ a quality that does not just belong to the maternal?
BEATRICE: Traditionally it has been the woman who protected the child from either too much or too little stimulation; who fed and allowed the emerging ego to develop, but it doesn’t have to come from just one woman. In some cultures the man takes on the role of the nurturing figure. What the child needs is holding, warmth, being there, responsiveness. Nurturing means satisfying the child’s needs, not developing dependency.
But nurturing is an important value in psychotherapy for adults as well. We try to develop in a person the capacity to love oneself and to give loving to others. Nurturance exists in and of itself and is not womanly in man but HUMANLY.
Lex Crocker: Men have a harder time realizing their emotional selves because they do not discuss their feelings, as women do together.
Suzanne Benton: But our perverse culture punishes women for this. When in desperation a woman makes herself vulnerable by expressing her feelings, she is denied and devalued. Part of the invisibility of women is that feelings do not count in the outside culture.
Larry Sheehan: One way for me to understand the other sex is in having a daughter. My capacity for putting up with change and feminism has been enlarged by my perception of what my daughter is like and can grow into. It seems a constructive way to look at change because a lot of men have daughters.
BEATRICE: Part of masculine and feminine divisiveness is that we try to separate our body and minds, to not listen to what they tell us. We cannot dichotomize the psyche from the body, because human emotions express themselves physiologically. There must be integration.
Larry: Don’t you think there is an increase of people looking into their minds by writing down in journals and of organized programs for people to structure their own self development? These people seem to be trying more to get in touch with their feelings.
BEATRICE: It is a reaction against the mechanization of our culture.
Valerie: This desire to be in touch with our inner core, this interest in the labyrinth of the mind and works that spring from the unconscious are the same as found in the period of Surrealism in Europe.
Anna Balakian: … because of the Vietnam War. We never fell the World Wars the traumatic way Europe did, but this war has brought us face to face with our own ghosts and disintegrating standards. In psychological terms Europe expressed the war crisis through Surrealism, which is happening here today. The results are the same because the causes are the same.
Daisy Aldan: At a certain point in time consciousness began to develop in man with a greater awareness of self. We are moving more and more toward the goal of individual freedom. It reflects itself in the Surrealist movement with the “he suis” – who am I” – the question you see esoterically in the name of Jesus. Each of us in our diaries asks “who am l?” Then we move toward a growing consciousness, toward choice, and the capacity to change the environment. Anaïs always writes how change has to first come from the individual’s recognizing and fostering the “he suis” in the inner consciousness before one can move into the outside world.
BEATRICE: Not all people have the ability to reach heightened levels of consciousness, and it is the responsibility of those who do to teach the other people who are bogged down in currents of the daily world in order to produce the necessary changes.
I hear you say ” I am sick, obsessed”, as if your idealism and desire to create is no good, a negative experience. In the clinical sense OBSESSION means having no choice. Yes, there are difficulties in recognizing the choices we have, but we must learn to formulate new options for ourselves.
I hear so much diffuse anger. Justified, yes, but the kind a child uses to break free of home ties and assert his/her individuality. When the anger becomes focused it often is put onto the man without recognition that man has been trapped in the same perpetuation of roles as women have.
Now, if a woman doesn’t affirm herself, she is telling the man to respond to her in that way too. Women perpetuate this image to other women and to themselves as well. The important thing is to use anger to say, ‘Yes’ – Yes, I am going to change the system, because it doesn’t have to be this way. Yes, there can be child care clinics and I am not going to feel guilty just because Nixon doesn’t want them.
Remember that men are not free to entertain thoughts about whether to work or not. That is an option they cannot have. They are expected to be sexually masterful all the time, which is a form of oppression too.
Living involves us all in politics. But the ultimate goal of revolution is not to alienate men from women but the union of opposites. Ultimately how can woman create by herself, all alone? What can be created?
Georgiana Peacher: Man has always thought of himself as God, creating alone, yet women are taught to think of that as being destructive to themselves.
BEATRICE: We want human liberation. We want to emphasize our feelings and use our intellect to transform feelings into something. We know that men can be passive and dependent on women, that men can teach elementary school, that there are a variety of traits in either sex. We must ask if women are comfortable supporting men, and what kind of freedoms we can tolerate in each other. Sometimes when we haven’t faced an aspect in ourselves, we reject it in others.
Consciousness has to be applied in all directions; otherwise it is like the lopsidedness that occurs on the pottery wheel when the clay is not centered.
Consciousness means asking not just why men are oppressing me, but how I am doing it to myself and how am I doing it to my children, and to men as brothers, lovers, husbands.
Shirley McConahay: Language labels our oppressions. Love is most expressed in competitive, financial terms by males and it is the victim-female who recognizes the put-downs the quickest. Our problem is to find verbal definitions for the complexities of our interpersonal relationships so that we can understand each other better.
Caroline Emmet: Everyone here has been referring to people as MANkind and using male pronouns when the sex should not be specified We all are caught up in the oppressions of language
Adele: I am sure men would mind very much if they were a/ways referred to as ‘she’.
Joan Anacreon: Our conditioning comes out in the funniest ways. Last night Elaine was showing me her sheaf of work. In it she had drawn a cow, which she referred to as ‘he’! We need new words to express our humanity, communion, our oceanic feeling of togetherness.
Suzanne Benton: It is a matter of survival. Getting ‘Ms.’ accepted for women was a struggle and now even that is turned against you. The frustration for women is that we have to pay attention to those things, even when we know there are more important things to do.
BEATRICE: Yes, consciousness means recognizing the subtle abuses too. Recently I have resented the use of ‘Ms.’ I worked all my life to acquire my Ph. D. and now male colleagues call me ‘Ms.’, rather than ‘Doctor’. But the question is where does one direct one’s energy in order to be most effective in making changes occur?
Joan: Yet, we have the beautiful language that Anaïs Nin uses, which is so important. Each of us has to do what she can and not assume the whole burden rests on her shoulders.
Daisy Aldan: But with a sense of responsibility to humankind!
Trew writes in her journal: I have not needed sleep nor food here. I am existing on all these whirling energies. It is a very clean feeling!