Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Alpha Female

In his chapter on Confrontation Grant made a general statement that requires some consideration. When Lea returned from North Carolina and more openly showed her relationship with Visvaldis, it was made apparent to the men in Hypno I that "she had a consort and was very sexual.There was now an alpha male in their midst, a situation they had previously avoided. There was competitiveness, jealousy, hostility and criticism, as well as a desire to unseat and exclude Visvaldis, all of the typical power struggles, amounting to a classic Oedipal complex." (Pg 100)

Firstly, a consort is not necessarily an alpha male. Visvaldis did not at any time have or probably even want the position of an alpha male in Therafields. The alpha male, for example in a wolf pack, is the one who grabs an offender by the scruff of the neck and beats him into submission. There were never contests of this kind with Visvaldis. He simply did not take people on in an authoritative manner. He was purely and simply Lea's consort. Some people liked him and some didn't. Some enjoyed his capabilities and his personality but when others didn't like him it had more to do with Visvaldis himself and ways that he behaved that were found offensive. He made some good contibutions and had some good qualities. He could also be arrogant and sometimes was a predator of sexually vulnerable young women. Lea loved and protected Visvaldis. She gave him a forum in which to do some work. But by the same token she gave him an arena in which to act out. She wanted her consort to be happy and to be happy he needed work and he needed money. To get these things for him Lea had to subject aspects of the developing life of Therafields to those ends and to blind herself to the games that he was playing with some of its members.

In any wolf pack there is not just an alpha male; there is a corresponding alpha female. She is the only one allowed to have pups. She will fight and discipline the others, subduing them into subservience and into the roles of caring for her and her pups. This was a space that Lea herself began to take up as the changes in herself and in Therafields unfolded in 1967-9. It was obvious to Lea that she could no longer continue in the role as head therapist. The numbers were too great and the community had become too complex. She needed to carve out another role for herself, one that did not forego the the centrality of her former position. When she came back to Toronto Lea was no longer in a weakened state. She was stronger than she had been in years after several months of R&R, good food, long walks and yoga, as well as considerable weight loss. She used that strength to assert herself. She didn`t return to her practice but allowed those who had taken over for her to continue with her clients and groups even if for a time she remained as titular head of some of the standard and house groups. Lea gradually settled into the role of Teacher, a role that over time was delineated as both unique and unassailable. During the next several years she would reflect upon and speak of issues of concern to herself and push for them to be "worked with" communally through the learning groups and the seminar. The following is an example of the ways that Lea transformed herself from therapist to Teacher and Leader during that first year back from North Carolina.

Grant writes of the series of meetings that Lea had shortly after her return with a men's group that she formed from Hypno I but soon disbanded. She spoke openly in different settings about the group saying that it was unworkable due to its core of destructive, woman-hating material. In these meetings Grant reports that Lea demanded that the men "speak honestly about their resistance to the changes in her and their feelings about Visvaldis. She also pressed them about their feelings about women having contrl over their own bodies and sexuality and independence in their personal values and choices." (Pg 101)

Aware that there was discomfort among the members of her seminar about her relationship, Lea went aggressively on the offensive. Clearly each aspect that Grant sites as her pressure points relates to her own situation and struggle. Would she be able and allowed to control her own body and sexuality and independence of values and choices? This wasn't just about "women" in general, this was very much about herself. Having discussions of this kind would be excruciatingly difficult for that group of men as so many of the issues could not be spoken of honestly. Most had had awareness over the preceeding year not only of the relationship itself but of the way that it had come about. They knew that Visvaldis had been, and perhaps still was in some manner, Lea's client. They also knew that Visvaldis' wife, a member of Lea's group, and Harry, Lea's husband whom most knew quite well, had been put aside. These men owed much to Lea and in the main wanted very much to support her. But in this instance being loyal to her and true to their own values were in conflict.

As the meetings continued Lea confronted the men on their hatred of women and of the matrix, a theme to which she was to return often. Viewing the movie Zorba the Greek had crystallized for her a belief that the sources of discomfort she discerned in the seminar were similar to those that drove the men of that village to hound and murder a beautiful young widow for the crime of freely enjoyed sexuality. These sources Grant sites as: "male entitlement to control women, the hatred of a woman's freedom, the envy of her creative gifts, and primitive violence."

It is true that these elements have existed in all cultures for millenia. We all live and have grown up in a patriarchal society and so all have absorbed the language and attitudes of this culture. But of course there are widely different ways that these are displayed and acted out from one society to another. For certain this group of men had within themselves to varying degrees attitudes detrimental to women. Lea was touching on real elements of the patriarchy. But she was not going there primarily to promote an understanding of these issues. Rather it was done as a method of control. It was a finger pointed at the men. Lea herself, like all of us, had absorbed many of the same views and attitudes though she enacted them in different ways. In the meetings she challenged the men aggressively and individually about their feelings, especially as they related to Visvaldis and herself. She singled out each and "worked with" him searching for the way that his negative feelings manifested themselves. While this happened the others would be silent. This was their teacher and their therapist, the woman with whom they had still strong transferences. They were not about to collectively or individually stand up to her and say, "What the hell are you doing?" They had to listen and to acknowledge that there was some truth in what she said. But she humiliated them; she reduced them.

This is how the alpha figure will operate. I will show my power over you and you will be careful after that. The conversation might have been about the patriarchal discourse but that was only the content. As McLuhan would say, "The medium is the message." The message was,"I have the power to interpret events and feelings; I am the one who will tell you how things really are." This approach cannot be called therapeutic. No wonder the group was unworkable. As Grant recalls, it was a traumatic experience for some of the men. It stirred terrible feelings for these guys, very confusing feelings. They had repected her, in many cases loved her, and had worked their butts off for her while she was away. Now she was asserting power over them in the context of discussing her new relationship, a topic about which she was not entirely forthcoming or honest. Given their histories with Lea it was very difficult though to protest or to take any consistant stand against her. It wasn't in their natures or hearts to band together a counter group against the directions that she was taking.

I question Grant's assertion that after these meetings the men of Hypno I changed their attitudes and ways of dealing with women. In my experience most were pretty decent in their friendships with women colleagues and their relations with women clients. They were not exactly a bunch of red-necks and they certainly weren't Greek villagers. The real outcome of the meetings was a marking of Lea's position and a growing estrangement between her and men who had formerly been among her greatest supporters. I believe that men singled out and gone after in such a manner would experience it as a profound betrayal. I don't believe that the essence of the estrangement Grant refers to came from any Oedipal struggle. These men were not collectively four-year-olds to the adult parents Lea and Visvaldis. In relation to Lea they were, if anything, more like adolescents who had enjoyed close relations with an encouraging mother. They were growing into some confidence in their places as therapists like herself. While she was away they had had to shoulder much and were on the whole ready to continue doing so. After years with a "single" mom, she had taken a boyfriend under circumstances that they didn't entirely understand and weren't comfortable with. And they weren't necesarily crazy about him or about the ways she was bringing him into everything. None of this would be surprising. Because of her own insecurities Lea couldn't simply allow it to be as it was and let Visvaldis and the others gradually regularize their relationships. The meetings were comparable on a broader scale to a mother accusing her teenage boy of harbouring murderous feelings towards her and her new beau because the boy wasn't happy with the changes in the household. Confused? Distraught? Estranged? Definitely all of the above.

In my next blog I will explore other circumstances in which Lea asserted her control over individuals and groups and ways that Lea herself manifested the patriarchal values that she seemingly was challenging.

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