The Harmony of Difference
Your examples of asymmetries that don't compromise equal dignity
Before the main post, I wanted to share two causes that may be of particular interest to Other Feminisms readers.
The charity I support that I most often find friends haven’t heard of is the Minnesota Prison Doula Project. They offer support to imprisoned mothers before, during, and after birth. They sent out their “wins” for the year, and it was heartbreaking reading.
Provide all our doula clients with a baby blanket at their birth to use as a bonding tool. blanket stays with baby with so they could access mother's scent during separation.
Pick up and deliver breastmilk for several clients who were separated from their newborns
Provide a freezer to a jail for a client to store her milk
If you want to support their work, you can donate here.
I’m also grateful to readers who donated to support K and her son, who fled domestic abuse. K has been building a new life and has a major court hearing to preserve her and her son’s safety right before Christmas. I can vouch for her and the Order of Judith, which is collecting donations here.
Earlier this year, I yoked together an article on the Greek dual in Antigone and a piece on allowing same-sex pairs in figure skating, because both seemed to be saying something interesting about dyads, asymmetry, and how we expect to encounter the Other.
A major theme of my project Other Feminisms is that women are often told our equality with men depends on our being interchangeable with men. Asymmetry is suspect—where there’s a difference, there must be a loser.
I asked you about how you imagined connection could look across difference:
Is way to find solidarity across that asymmetry to find ways to blend more and more, to grow to resemble each other?
Or is it to lean into some elements of your unlikeness, the way choristers hold harmonies?
And I loved your answers and the range of arts they drew on!
Midge had some lovely thoughts symmetry and analogy:
Female-female duets are normal in synchronized swimming. A pair so matched it could be mistaken for identical twins seems especially prized in competition, but even then, gestures mirroring one another are opposites (an axis is flipped). Even symmetry needs difference, if only of axis, angle, or displacement, to manifest, revealing what's alike despite the difference. Interestingly, this Plough essay claims that polyphonic singing has an egalitarian symmetry that mere harmonizing typically lacks.
Analogy finds similarity across difference, and analogy's beauty comes from both the similarity and the difference. Writing verse about how my beloved's eyes are like eyes, nose like a nose, and so on, would thwart the purpose of analogy (to comic effect, I hope, if anyone tries it!).
(Her last line does put me in mind of Sonnet 130, “My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun…”)
One commenter, writing as “Dissent” saw dance as a way of putting difference in dialogue:
I am not particularly attached to dancing, but I think it's worth noting that even in ballets there are large-scale group dances, which are themselves like line dating or country dancing. I think if we look at group dances we will see this principle of dyad. Men on one side, women on the other. This reveals to me that dancing arises out of, or at least along side of, the belief that the world is split into two. You only participate in one side of it. The other side is a mystery, and it is only slightly revealed in the moments when the two sides meet: dance is but one example of this, and marriage is the more obvious one. This mirrors the basic division into heaven and earth, which meet only at exactly one point: The reception of Holy Communion.
Dances looked at philosophically or even phenomenologically really should be understood, in my opinion, as the celebration of distinction, the mystery of the other, and the true union with the other, if only for the duration of the dance. Dances end, and though the mystery remains throughout, it is reestablished. Eventually, your participation in the dance ends.
Notably, partner dance was part of the curriculum at the University of Kansas’s Integrated Humanities Program. I was grateful to do club ballroom in college, and it’s certainly a discipline of dependence—I could work on math p-sets alone, but dance required a partner to progress.
Finally, Sophie began with Aristotle and ended up at Austen:
I wonder if a general statement about dyads that work well might involve something similar, but along lines that are more general and secular (as in, based in the way people are, rather than based in a specific religion). In thinking about different kinds of lack, philosophers (going back at least to Aristotle) will distinguish between lacks that are more incidental and lacks that are attacks upon the nature of a thing. […]
Ideally in a spousal pair, then, it seems the relationship oftentimes works well when the spouses make up for each others' lacks, when those lacks are not moral in nature. It's OK and in many cases actually beneficial for one of the couple to do the small talk for the other, or fix the plumbing for the other--since lacking these skills is not a deficiency in human nature, but simply a matter of personality and habits. But in those areas that are real lacks, true deficiencies in what it is to be human, it would be absurd (and wrong) to say, "Hey, you can be the just spouse and I can be the merciful spouse" or "You get to be good at honesty and I will be good at prudence." You want to become more like your spouse in those areas where they are virtuous, and you want them to gain your specific virtues. And I think in happy relationships this does often happen.
Of course, vices can rub off too. I'm rereading "Emma" for another book club for the manieth time, and I'm struck again by how Austen shows healthy couples (e.g., Mr. Knightley and Emma) sanding down each other's rough edges, but also, more strikingly perhaps, how bad couples make each other worse (Mr. and Mrs. Elton in this novel, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet famously in P&P).
I think this is an excellent portrait of what it means to grow in a friendship or a marriage. I’ll let Ben Platt (and his dancers) play us out on that theme.