Valérie Trierweiller and all the Président’s women : where does this rivalry between women come from ?

 

 


Interview with Jean-Pierre Winter, psychoanalyst and author of « Les hommes politiques sur le divan », “Politicians on the psychoanalyst’s couch”. [1]

Valérie Trierweiller and all the Président’s women : where does this rivalry between women come from ?

CM : It looks like that in term of rivalry, women are not totally, « men like the others »

JPW : There is of course a rivalry between men but men do not experience  rivalry the same way and its objects are different. Men compete for two different things : « the having », possessing on one hand and on the other one, possession and  performances, whatever they are, work, sports, sex...

 

CM : Not women ?

JPW : Of course women may find themselves in competition with other women in those fields, but their rivalry mainly concerns the appearance and the invisible.

 

CM :Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all ?  Is that it ?   

JPW : It is much more subtle than it sounds like. Appearance is a key parameter. Women have always been the object of the gaze. They have to respond to that gaze, which does not tell what it expects. This gaze can be extremely demanding, blind, ideological, and collective like that imposed by fashion. Even if those diktats are not only sociological, there are some constant features.

 

From the Renaissance until the XVIIIth century, women are voluptuous with plump proportions. If one thinks of the « Birth of Venus », or of Velasquez’ nudes, or Manet’s, (even if with the latter, women got thinner), they all breathe health. After World war II, as if the hardship of the war was for long inscribed in the collective uncounscious - a kind of guilt regarding death camps - the aesthetics of the thin becomes the fashion. And indeed, before 1945, most anorexic cases concern little boys.

All this of course if multi-factorial, but as a whole, one could say that uncounscioulsy one valorizes humane frailty. This gaze may be that of  those who can not cope with the fact that they survived.

 

CM :  There is of course the gaze of men on women ? 

JPW : Don’t we say that men eat women with their eyes ? In her book, « In the eye of men » the American writer Nancy Houston brings a new and subtle vision of that male gaze : feminists should stop thinking that for women being watched by men is  necessarily an alienation. And seduction is not a disgrace. She mentions her being flattered that in spite of her age, she is still the object of greed and desire in the eye of men.

But she does not answer the following question : why do men have this greedy look  that one can see in Tex Avery’s cartoon, where the eyes of the characters are bulging in a phallic way.

 

CM : Why ?

JPW : From a male perspective, the woman is defined as a mystery. In his imagination, she misses something. And men keep exploring the place where that something is missing. Even when the woman is naked, her sex remains hidden at least until the famous Courbet painting « The 0rigin of the World ». Thus the compulsion among adolescents to look under the girls skirts, to be on the lookout for the glimpse of a breast and for what can be undressed, and for whatever the woman is supposed to hide.

Usually after the teenage years, men no longer have these compulsive habits, or become more discreet…

This curiosity remains, but it either gets sublimated by plastic arts or photographs or deteriorates into the uninspired voyeurism of pornography.

 

CM : This questioning gaze, is not peculiar to men.

JPW : No Women watch women… If you are in the underground, or having a coffee on a terrace, you will notice that women rarely look at men unless they are in the grip of desire ( in rut) or if there is a breathtaking man standing by. Women mainly look at other women. Because for women, the enigma of being a woman is as acute as it is for a man. But with a big difference :  a woman never imagines that the mystery of being a woman is also an engima for the other one she is observing. It is indeed a fundamental issue. This woman looks at the other woman, crossing and uncrossing her legs, fluttering one's lashes, dressing elegantly and wonders how she deals so well with the issue of womanhood. She assumes, often wrongly, that the other woman solved that issue. Whereas of course, there are as many ways to be a woman than there are women.

 

CM : How does this translate into day-today life ?

JPW : Because women often think the other one has the answer to her questioning, this induces a kind of herd behaviour. When a woman wonders how she can be a « real woman » and her best friend just had a child, she is going to do all that she can to get pregnant with a kind of hysterical attitude ( even if hysteria is not peculiar to women as I wrote in « les Errants de la chair ». And to quote Jacques Lacan, « an hysterical person is someone who looks for a master, to dominate him(her) by not giving him(her) what he(she wants » 

Women envy this womanhood for they are conscious that it is really a power over men.

 

CM : Where does this envy come from ?

JPW : It starts with the relation between the mother and the daughter : the daughter asks her mother to give her the phallus. Her mother does not give it to her daughter. Not because she wants to deprive her daughter, nor because she is mean, but simply because she doesn't have it.  And instead of admitting to her daughter : « I cannot give it to you because I don’t have it »,  she makes  a mystery out of it, dangling under her nose this incredible and magic power, she could give her at some point.

Then when her daughter grows, the mother worries about her offspring’s assets and attire, fearing she may deprive her of her mysterious power. Here comes the classical story of Snow White or Cindarella. The mother accuses her daughter of stealing her power from her or of being responsible for her loss.

Thus this grudge against death between  mother and daughter, which can become very violent at certain times. It is an unexhaustible source of conflict, that survives generations and often reaches grand children. From the beginning the little girl engages in a rivalry with her mother trying to be more seducing to her father and to attract his attention better.

 

CM : This mother and daughter rivalry passes?

JPW : In clinical cases, I often noticed that this rivalry often transforms into something else or is displaced. The mother will show an interest for her daughter’s lovers, who become her new « objects of desire ». In a number of cases, the mother can become very intrusive : she wants to know the secrets of her daughter’s sexual pleasure. She wants all the details and she starts living by proxy.

 

CM : Is that this kind of rivalry one encounters between women ? 

JPW : When a woman becomes an adult, the women that she meets become mother substitutes and with them, just as with her mother, she is going to enter in a rivalry for power. Because behind all this - one should not bury one’s head in the sand - lurks the question of Power. This seduction is not an aim in itself. It is a fight for Power. 

The woman tries to conquer a power that is supposed to compensate what she perceives in  her imagination as a feeling of  inferiority of nature. A sense that a lot of men are prone to exploit.

 

CM : When such a rivalry happens in the ruling circles, like between Valerie Trieweiller and Ségolène Royal, I suppose the quest for power is sublimed?

 

JPW : The must is indeed to get the guy who holds the strongest potential of power in order to seize this power. I remember an interview with Carla Bruni saying that she found it very exciting that her husband Nicolas Sarkozy could press the red button. A priori she did not mean her clitoris but the nuclear button.

 

CM : What is power ?

JPW : Power is the power to kill ! (exerting physical force, legally or unlegally) which attracts women. All great autocrats are surrounded by women. For instance, if you think of Dominique Strauss Kahn, if Anne Sinclair had not pushed him to be candidate, he would never have launched into the presidential campaign. He would never had run for this public office. He acted out because he did not want to succeed. Of course the power to kill can be exerted without real murder. It can be as easy as firing a public servant. 

 

CM : Or to send a killing tweet…

JPW : It is exactly what  happened with Valérie Trierweiller who experienced the enjoyement of the chess player. The enjoyment of moving pieces at her own discretion. To be the master of the game. This kind of power attracts certain women not so much because it is a power to kill but because it is also a power to protect, which is reflected in Carla Bruni’s speech. The man  who has the power to kill arouses a desire necessarily associated with death and it makes me think of a quote of French writer Marguerite Duras in « Hiroshima, mon Amour » : « You kill me, you make me feel good »

And at last this power to kill is even stronger, when it means renouncing to kill…  and this time it makes me think of a hardly translatable quote by Albert Camus «  un homme ça s’empêche », « a man can (needs to) be stopped » The power to prevent one self to commit murder. I am convinced that if the caress is such a wonderful gesture, it is because it is indeed restrained slapping.

The most desirable man is the one who has the power and renounces it as in fairy tale when the Prince seduces th shepherdess when  he has renounced power… Let’s be realistic, for François Hollande, there is a long way to go.

 

CM : Ségolène does not look to be in rivalry with Valérie Trierweiller…

JPW : She is not,  because she realized her fantasy : « I seduce a guy to supplant him », when she managed to be the French Socialist Party (PS) candidate instead of François Hollande in 2007. After this extreme enjoyment she must have felt,  the price to pay for the back lash happened to be very high. It is probably for that reason that she failed when she was a candidate against Nicolas Sarlozy in 2007. Suddently when the most nervous of both candidates was obviousky Sarkozy she suddenly lost her temper, saying in a disruptive manner that all policewomen should be securely brought home by their male colleagues.

At this precise time, when she had done everyhting to win, certainly carried away by her name with the idea that she had a national destiny, she suddenly had the desire to lose. She committed political suicide. And indeed in 2008 for the Socialist Party presidency, which she won, when her victory was stolen by Martine Aubry with internal kickbacks, she could have been  much more attacking to get back what was hers.

CM : How can women, not only political women, get out of this rivalry that undermines their relationships ?

JPW :They need to invent new solutions and ways, different from men’s to enjoy power…

 

Jean-Pierre Winter

Jean-Pierre Winter is psychoanalyst. He studied philosophy and law, and majored in clinical psychology with famous  Jacques Lacan. He is the author of numerous books : « Les hommes politiques sur le divan », Calmann-Lévy, 1995 ; « Les errants de la chair ». « Etudes sur l'hystérie masculine », Calmann-Lévy, 1998 et Payot (poche) 2000 ; « Choisir la psychanalyse », Editions de la Martinière, 2001 ; « Les images, les mots, le corps. Entretien avec Françoise Dolto », Gallimard, 2002 ; « Stupeur dans la Civilisation », Pauvert, 2002.

[1]          1995, éditions Calmann Levy

 

 

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