The other day I sat in a room full of psychotherapists to discuss the topic of prejudice. You know, the idea of pre-judging someone before you have any real knowledge of them.
We all do it. We jump to conclusions based on narrow and often times false preconceptions.
To lead into the topic, we watched an excerpt from a film in which a group of American psychoanalysts, all people of colour, as one woman described herself, talked about how difficult it is when people prejudge them and others on the basis of race.
Race, they reckon is the great unspoken, especially in psychoanalytic circles. It’s far easier to talk about sex than race.
One New York psychoanalyst, a large, well dressed woman and black, seated in what looks to be her consulting room, described how a client arrived one day after making an appointment by phone.
Typically, the client was surprised to find her potential analyst was black, when, ‘On the telephone you sounded like a tall, thin, blond woman’.
I’ve been reading another psychoanalyst, Muriel Dimen, who died recently. She was only 73. It saddens me to think about some aspects of her life. In her book, Surviving Sexual Contradictions: a startling and different look at a day in the life of a contemporary professional woman, she makes it clear she’s ambivalent about having a baby. Part of her wants to fall pregnant at the age of 37, the age at which she writes the book, and another part fears it.
As far as I know Dimen remained childless throughout her life. She was a prolific writer within the psychoanalytic world and a terrific thinker. Would she have been able to keep up the pace had she taken time off to have babies?
Finally, I read a piece by the late great, Adele Horin. Her piece deals with her life as a female journalist. One quote stays with me: ‘It’s hard to imagine a woman with the craggy face of Insiders’ Barrie Cassidy fronting any major TV program, at least on the commercial networks.’
The media prefers its women young and fresh faced.
I spoke briefly to one such young woman at my gym yesterday about the fact that I’d been twice charged for membership fees and was immediately distracted by the slight moustache above her lip.
My eyes narrowed in on this moustache even as I tried not to notice.
I wondered whether she noticed me noticing or whether it was a trick of the light on her face that caused her upper lip to look so dark. I had not noticed this before when I talked to this young woman and then I kicked myself for being distracted by such an irrelevancy.
I thought of my own lips, how thin they have become, and the wrinkles above and below, those fast deepening laughter lines ever on the increase.
What do they signify beyond the obvious and do people notice them as they talk to me and think, my goodness how much she has aged?
We look at one another first and foremost as bodies, registering all these physical facts and filing them away as points of interest or concern.
We prejudge one another on the basis of appearance and forget there’s so much more to us than the way we look.