chapter  6
16 Pages

Shame and Gender

Contemporary philosophers have largely abandoned an older philosophical psychology which distinguished sharply between reason and emotion and which regarded feeling as no more able than imagination or desire to determine the real nature of things. By contrast, the inextricability of cognition and emotion is now widely recognized. A number of Anglo-American philosophers have argued that our emotions presuppose beliefs and can therefore be evaluated for their rationality, 1 while in a similar vein, existential philosophers, have maintained that affective states have a cognitive dimension in that they may be disclosive of a subject's "Being-in-the-world." Heidegger, for example, has claimed that every human being (Dasein) has, a priori, necessary features of existence, among which are understanding (Verstehen) and state-of-mind (Befindlichkeit). The latter-literally, "the state in which one may be found" (from sich befinden, "to find oneself")-refers both to the finding that one is situated in a world and to the particular how of this situation; this "finding" can occur only insofar as Dasein has moods, feelings, or humours that constitute its openness or "attunement" (Gestimmtheit) to Being. "A mood makes manifest 'how one is and how one is faring' "; boredom, joy, and above all dread are ontologically disclosive in ways that a passionless pure beholding can never be.2 These and other states of mind constitute a primordial disclosure of self and world whereby "we can encounter something that matters to us": Indeed, insofar as emotional attunement is held to be an a priori, necessary feature of any possible human existence, it follows that pure acts of cognition are themselves impossible and that knowing will have its own affective taste. 3

Women are situated differently than men within the ensemble of social relations. For this reason, feminist philosophers have argued that women's ways of knowing are different than men's, that both the specific character of the

world's disclosure as well as the modes of this disclosure are in some, though not in all important ways gender-specific and that the abstract, purportedly genderless epistemic subject of traditional philosophy is really a male subject in disguise. 4 Now if knowing cannot be described in ways that are genderneutral, neither can feeling. Differences between men and women are most often described in the language of character traits or dispositions: It is often said of women, for example, that they are less assertive than men, more preoccupied with their appearance, etc. But what is not captured by the language of disposition is the affective taste of a low level of assertion or a sense of the larger emotional constellation in which a feminine preoccupation with appearance is situated.