Splitting the atom unleashed a power that the world had never known. Taking a thing into halves that craves to be whole has consequences. Energy explodes outwards, leaving radioactivity in its wake, the leftovers of the whole split into parts. This energy could have been understood and harnessed, but there was a war, so it became a weapon.
Splitting is also a term used in psychology, essentially describing the tendency of young children, and immature adults, to split the nature of others into “good” and “bad”. Maturity is marked by the ability to understand that all people have the capacity for both great compassion and great aggression and harm towards others. Understanding that capacity in yourself and others deepens empathy for how others might experience their lives.
Early in my career, I thought that “splitting” in adults was rare, something for the mentally ill or underdeveloped. Those people all had official psychiatric diagnoses. Most people grew past that, I thought. People who couldn’t see others except as all good and all bad were living the lives of children. They got stuck in time because of abusive parents. That was probably it.
Now I think splitting is a fundamental feature of stunted growth in America.
In November, over forty percent of college educated women voted for a man who bragged about molesting women, grabbing them and leering toward them to assert his dominance over them. How possibly could his publicly admitted and even bragged about behavior be accepted by these women? If you are not female, perhaps his behavior could be ignored or minimized. As you point out, the experience of women can only be experienced in imagination by men. And frankly, I think most men would rather not think about it. But women? Some of whom, and perhaps many or most, have had to deal with unwanted sexual advances, even rape? They voted for him?
There must be some splitting going on here. One side says “strong dominant man with conservative values, who will fight for us and keep us safe”. The other side says “crass and crude, at the worst, a rapist”. These two extremes are not reconcilable. There is a split. You have to pick one, because that noble man cannot be a rapist.
Apparently, many women chose to see the “strong dominant man who will fight for us and keep us safe”.
I know a very kind and intelligent woman who works at the same company I do. Very little is publicly acknowledged, but most everyone understands that she keeps the clinic where she works operational..financially, technically, and organizationally. Like many women, she works hard, she is largely unnoticed, and she accepts this with a combination of resignation, humor, and a degree of martyrdom. Yet one day she told me, in a frank discussion about the election, that a man is better to lead. I was utterly bewildered. I said clearly to her that I believed that she was running the show in her current position, so how is it that men are better? She agreed she was doing the work, but she felt that she was just waiting for the right leader, a man, to show up. She even agreed that it was alright for me to lead, but it wasn’t for her.
She is waiting for that strong dominant male to fight for her and keep her safe, and perhaps, less grandly, simply relieve some of her workload.
I so much want to put my hand on her shoulder and tell her, “you know, my dear, he’s not coming”. And ..”you have everything you need already”. But instead this lovely women waits.
I cannot wait for that noble man, my friend, and I know that you can’t either. It hasn’t a thing to do with hating men; it has everything to do with what women can do if they accept their own intelligence, athleticism, artistic talent, and many other qualities, and create their own stories. When we don’t speak out against the splitting, when our need to be saved by the hero is so severe that we ignore the abhorrent and endorse the leadership of someone who looks half the part, then we are in trouble. We then cast ourselves as the weak princess in the castle, the little girl never grown. We tell our sons that the hypermasculine is the ideal, and that the women they love will never equal them, that men alone receive both the glories and the burdens of leadership.
We split the Eve as well as the Adam. We teach both that an equal partnership based on mutual love and the best development of both partners is impossible. Each is reduced to half of what could be.
As always, I want to say something about physics. Last weekend I saw the movie Hidden Figures, about the profound contributions of three African American women to the space program. I enjoyed the story very much, but what deeply distresses me is that I am now 53 years old, and I never knew about these three women-all deeply intelligent; one likely a mathematical genius. Without them, and especially Katherine Johnson, it’s unlikely John Glenn would have succeeded in his first orbital journey.
When I sat down to write about splitting, and thought about physics, and splitting the atom, a tiny bit of Wikipedia research revealed another gap in my knowledge. I did not know that a woman named Lise Meitner, a physicist of unbelievable stature, had a key role in developing nuclear fission. Her history includes a journey to escape Nazi Germany, because as a Jew, she couldn’t continue in her post as the head of the physics department at Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. Later, she refused to participate in the development of the bomb that devastated Japan, although she co authored the paper that explained the theoretical underpinnings of nuclear fission. The science was not meant for war, in her view.
Naturally, she was denied the Nobel Prize in chemistry. The prize went to her male coauthor, blah blah blah.
Not really a shocker.
But what if that perception of those women had been different? What if they had been treated as equals, not as just women, or just blacks, or just a Jew, what energy would have been released? What if Dr. Meitner had received the Nobel Prize, been recognized as a fully fledged scientist, and an advocate for peace… and what energy would have been released if Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson had been recognized for their contributions at NASA?
I think as a young woman interested in the space program, I would have felt that energy. The energy of a fused self, all aspects together. Fusion over fission.
I bet a lot of other people, men and women, would have felt it too.
Dr. Lise Meitner