comme il faut- (exp, fr.)- def. proper
Imagine what it would be like to never have seen the colour red? Would you know when you saw it? Would you feel different when you saw it? Would reading about the feeling “seeing red” be the same as feeling it yourself?
In philosophy of mind, Mary’s Room is a thought experiment meant to demonstrate the non-physical nature of mental states. It is an example meant to highlight the knowledge argument against physicalism. The example first appears in an article by Frank Jackson, entitled “Epiphenomenal Qualia”, which appears in Philosophical Quarterly 32:127 (1982).
The thought experiment is as follows: Mary lives her entire life in a room devoid of colour—she has never directly experienced colour in her entire life, though she is capable of it. Through black-and-white books and other media, she is educated on neuroscience to the point where she becomes an expert on the subject. Mary learns everything there is to know about the perception of colour in the brain, as well as the physical facts about how light works in order to create the different colour wavelengths. It can be said that Mary is aware of all physical facts about colour and colour perception.
After Mary’s studies on colour perception in the brain are complete, she exits the room and experiences, for the very first time, direct colour perception. She sees the colour red for the very first time, and learns something new about it — namely, what red looks like.
Jackson concluded that if physicalism is true, Mary ought to have gained total knowledge about colour perception by examining the physical world. But since there is something she learns when she leaves the room, then physicalism must be false. As Jackson explains:
It seems just obvious that she will learn something about the world and our visual experience of it. But then is it inescapable that her previous knowledge was incomplete. But she had all the physical information. Ergo there is more to have than that, and Physicalism is false. – (philosophy-index.com)
“I’m just saying you could do better. Tell me have you heard that lately?”
-Drake, Marvin’s Room, 2011 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwyjxsOYnys
Imagine what it would be like to never have seen danger in your life? Would you know it when you saw it? Would you feel different when you saw it? Would reading about the feeling of “danger” be the same as feeling it yourself?
Not unlike Mary’s predicament, it seems obvious that reading or hearing something, and experiencing the thing itself can be categorized as two very separate types of knowledge. One is not a substitute for another, if Frank’s argument stands. Nonetheless, to understand a feeling that we have never experienced, it can be helpful to educate ourselves on things we have not, and will not ever experience, in so doing to better empathize with those who do experience these feelings.
For example, the protagonist of Marvin’s Room does not know what it feels like to receive a call in the late hours of the night, telling you that you can do better, when you are already, in fact, doing better. To gain an understanding of her experience, he could turn to Twitter. Or speak to his female friends, if he has any. (If he doesn’t have any of those, he could begin by eliminating the word “bitches” from his vocabulary, and then go from there.)
Now, imagine that Mary has never seen red, has never studied colours, and will never see red, because she is colourblind. Imagine Mary also has a friend who has severe erythrophobia (fear of red). After years of telephone correspondence she decides to meet her friend for a lavish dinner. Unaware of her friend’s condition, Mary wears a fancy red dress to dinner. Her friend suffers a panic attack, runs away, and Mary doesn’t see her again. Mary is hurt by her friend’s departure and decides against telephoning her.
Who is more responsible? Mary for not knowing about her friend’s anxious condition, or her friend for not telling Mary not to wear red?
Answer: I don’t know either, but I reckon they’ve both got to pick up the phone (sober) and talk that shit out.
-stop victim blaming, shaming, & running away from the conversation
“who will marry you… when you won’t even wear jewelry?”
“you dress too simple… I’ve brought you some crop tops. You need to look both elegant and sexy to find a man.”
“you can’t sit like that. Sit taller.”
“what you’re wearing right now would be completely inappropriate.”
“you need to look a little more lively.”
“you look tired.”
“you have to smile more.”
“don’t smile too much at him”
“don’t you want to get married?”
“oh you look SMART! You should wear this more often”
“why don’t you wear makeup more though?”
“I think a full body wax will be better… cleaner I think.”
“do you want me to do your full face?”
“I went ahead and did your whole face. That’ll be 20”
“we dressed up… please get on our level”
“you’re attracting attention”
“don’t say anything.”
-excerpts of comments from women in my life, 2017-2018
–texts I wish I never had to send, so I didn’t
For International Women’s Day, I made a list of all of the female role models in my own life. The women who have shaped me over the past year(s), held me up, and helped me to be the person I’m becoming. I thought: wow, channeling the feelings I’ve experienced in each of these relationships into one piece about female unity will be excellent. It will be a perfect way to contribute to International Women’s Day, and it’ll be a perfect way to celebrate my personal female heroes (sheroes)!
Except for that, every time I sat down to write the piece, it completely slipped away from me. Despite being able to recall (well) so many beautiful moments of unity, I couldn’t pick apart the nuances of “female unity” in words. A nagging feeling of things that still bother me, that are still imperfect, grated on me while I tried to find an adequate, non-clichéd metaphor for female strength.
(I still have lots to say about my sheroes. In time.)
Though Women’s Day is a day for celebration, it’s also a day for reflection. Which means- every day, we can take a good look at the mirror and look at ourselves as women, our common experiences, how we treat other women, and how we are moving the needle (or not). This may come as no surprise to you- but for so many of us, we already do this, every damn day.
To be female is to be compelled, by your experiences and the experiences of those who share your gender, to a level of awareness a good 50% of the population doesn’t (and probably doesn’t need to) maintain. What am I wearing? Where am I going? Who is standing behind me? What time does the sun set? Do I live here? Do I speak to that person? Am I safe? Is she safe?
That fundamental question – Are we Safe? – drives everything we do, how we interact with the world, and how we treat other women. It’s in how we seemingly put each other into boxes, encourage each other to “act proper”. Push each other to maintain a “certain level of propriety”, because that’s the only way you can secure your spot in the world. Agree to swallow a certain degree of sexism so that you can get a stronger foothold. Sometimes, forcing “propriety” down each other’s throats, to the point where young women feel the imperative to reject what they perceive as backward patriarchal norms altogether, and do away with “propriety”. And so they should, in my (very liberal, western-educated) opinion. But how do we tell young girls, young women, that they are strong, equal as men, to always speak their minds, go wherever in the world they want- when the current set of rules we live within means she isn’t yet equal, and she won’t be safe everywhere she goes if she internalizes this completely? Physical safety aside, how do you tell young women that they can’t afford to be as socially uninhibited as their male peers- that loud voices, excessive sociability, even appearance, undermines credibility and lowers your own job security? How do you tell her that her financial and physical wellbeing is, in fact, more secure if she decides to play the game? And how do you say all of this, while still encouraging women to shoot for the moon and bend the rules, so we can eventually change the rules?
(Case in point: watch Malala Yousafzai’s David Letterman interview, their body language, and how Malala responds to Dave. Malala literally almost died for speaking up. Also, unpopular opinion: why is Dave Letterman still a thing?)
I had two separate male friends of mine send me this video from 2015, where men speak about gender equality and their views on women. Last year on International Women’s Day, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau got major backlash for suggesting we “celebrate the boys and men in our life who encourage us to be who we truly are,” for which people were enraged someone could suggest making the one day designated to be for women, all about men. While I agree her stance was a bit “tone-deaf”, there is something to the fundamental principle. I’m grateful to have kind-hearted, self-aware men in my life everyday. It’s an unfortunate rarity it seems- because while we’re socialized to be proper, they’re socialized to
think know that the world is their oyster. Nothing necessitates awareness per se, unless the experiences of someone close (a mother, daughter, sister, friend) concretizes what this means. The more men and boys are on board and able to be aware of their actions, their peers actions, and most importantly- aware of what doesn’t and won’t affect them but is always affecting the females in their lives- the less burden there is on women to educate their daughters, be scared for each other, and “play the game”.
This doesn’t just extend to men, women’s issues, and gender equality. I’ve caught myself unaware vis-à-vis my colleagues’ and friends life experiences, and how they navigate the world. I have no idea what it feels like to be in their shoes, nor do they know what it’s like to be in mine, but the only way I can even have an idea is to ask.
Though International Women’s Day is only one day of the year for celebration, I think every day is #forthegirls, and I think we can all do better. (In 2018, Drake is doing his part on this- and is much better as a feminist.) Everyday is a day we can talk about it, share our stories of pain, but also our stories of resilience and strength. And everyday is a day we can hopefully stop seeing red, be aware of what other’s are seeing in their daily, and build a better idea of where we’re going.
il – it (he)
faut – must be