Saturday, 15 November 2008

"She made me do it" Pt.II

So there were two in the Garden, we are told, basking in the perfection of the loving approval of their creator. This loving approval, however, was not unconditional - for in the middle of the garden there was a tree of whose fruit they were forbidden to eat. And the serpent, the subtlest of all the creatures, wished to destabilise this near perfection and therefore sought to get them to break the tenancy agreement. But he could see that Adam was too upright, steadfast and - well - honourable and downright manly to be swayed by his silver forked tongue. luckily for this serpent, however, the creator had added to his original creation and this second creature was far more pliable. She listened to the seductive whispers in her ear and ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And the persuaded her man to do the same. And when the shit hit the fan and the divine question came, Adam pointed to Eve and whimpered, "The woman did give me and I did eat!".

Poor petal! How could he resist? After all, he implied "we both know what women are like". His erstwhile good buddy, Jahweh/Elohim, going along with the rules of this newly inaugurated male club, agreed and cursing the woman with the pains of childbirth and a monthly messiness, evicted his creatures into the harshness of the hitherto "good" world he had created.

And here we are all now. Saints and sinners, pornographers and hellfire preachers, arms manufacturers and starving children - all sitting waiting for this sinful world to explode into the final glory.

Of course, we are all educated heirs of the Enlightenment (except, of course, for all those rather comical but also sinister and dangerous fundamentalists) and have long left all this nonsense behind. Haven't we?

I would like to think so, but I have severe doubts. Because, no matter how it is glossed nowadays, we still know, deep in our collective psyche, that the cause of all our problems is sex. That fascinating alluring yet terrifying instinct over which we have little, if any control once it is unleashed. And women are the beings that embody sex. And therefore have to be controlled. Women are not rational beings for their wandering wombs (nowadays we say hormones, but the effect is the same) cause them to become hysterical. They are also voracious and in this voracity are naturally opposed to the good running of society- for to quote the author of the Malleus Maleficarum (The hammer of the witches) -
all witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.

Many have recently disputed the degree of authority with which this ludicrous but repulsive tract was invested but it is undeniable that this often quoted sentence reflected a widely held, if not universal,male view of women's sexuality. And this is particularly dangerous because of one inescapable fact. No man can be absolutely sure of paternity unless he takes very severe measures to ensure it. And entire societies have been built to try to control this danger.

Which, of course, manifests in controlling women. Much of what we term morality is, in fact, aimed at nothing other than ensuring that each woman makes their genitals available only to one person. She often has little say in this with that person being decided on by her male relatives - who, prior to her marriage, own her "honour" which is then passed onto the husband. Even today, in the west, the bride is still often "given away" at her wedding by her father. Who other than the legal owner of something is able to "give it away"?

We have moved, we think, a long way from the inability of a woman to own her own property. But, in fact, there are many ways in which she does not even own her own genitals. Leaving aside those cultures in which they are mutilated, we have societies in the more "advanced" world which still believe that they can dictate how she gives herself pleasure. Not so long ago, in Texas, a woman called Joanne Webb was arrested for selling a vibrator to two undercover narcotics police officers. What was particularly telling in the report was the fact that what made her action illegal was that she described how the vibrator was to be used- as a means of receiving genital pleasure. Were she to have told her customers to massage, for example, the neck, with it or simply keep on a shelf it as a "novelty item" then no crime would have been committed. The vibrator, incidentally, was invented about a century ago in order to assist doctors who specialised in relieving women of the "symptoms of hysteria" by inducing orgasm. The doctors, of course, were committing no crime and were, no doubt, profiting greatly. And before we revel in our cultural superiority concerning genital mutilation it is worth remembering that is not so long ago in the West that clitoridectomies were performed in order to prevent masturbation. I am not sure if they were performed by the same doctors who were using vibrators on other patients but I would not be surprised.

Both genital mutilation and this Texan case are about one thing - the control of women's pleasure. Because, as we all know, carnal lust is "in women, insatiable". The other side of this is, however, that men are somehow incapable of withstanding the effects of this lust. That the lust sort of leaks out of the woman and is transferred to those powerless being who possesses penises that react to this leakage and force their owners to partake of regrettably unpleasant and undignified acts. "She was asking for it!" may no longer be the absolute defence it was but is still a significant factor in acquitting men from acts of rape - which is why women's sexual histories become a factor here. A nun is far more likely to be believed than a prostitute - most women fall between these two extremes but their credibility will be largely determined by the place they occupy on this line.

For we still live in a world dominated by the virgin/whore duality. The two Marys, the madonna and the magdalen, remain the models by which women are judged.

The former, lest it be forgot, conceived without penetration and, equally importantly, without sexual pleasure. She also remained intact throughout the birth process and at no point in her life, we are assured, felt the pains of "carnal lust". The Magdalene on the other hand, had felt this pangs and had yielded to their insatiability. Her lot, therefore, was to be a perpetual penitent - gaining absolution through abasement. Peter Mullan's powerful film The Magdalene Sisters shows how this brutal logic was played out in women's lives in a late twentieth century Western democracy.

For the human male must be protected from the weakness of women who seek to indulge their unholy lust. This is the way, by not just a heritage of the Abrahamic faiths. The Buddhist Sutta Pitaka chapter 5, for example, reads
Ananda : How are we to conduct ourselves with regard to womankind?
Buddha: As not seeing them Ananda,
Ananda: But if we should see them, what are we to do?
Buddha: Not talking Ananda.
Ananda: But if they should speak to us Lord, what are we to do?
Buddha: Keep wide-awake Ananda!

The same logic is at play here. Men need ever to keep alert about the dangers of women's sexuality. For men are well nigh powerless to resist it and need structures of control to protect themselves from the overwhelming urge to penetrate. Human beings have constructed many ways to shield men from this - from the all-enveloping clothing of some societies to to strict segregation of the sexes in others. Women, in all societies that I am aware of, are the ones who are thus restricted in their freedom. When a predatory rapist or sex killer is on the streets, for example, it is unaccompanied women who are advised to keep off the streets. Surely, it would make more sense to ask all unaccompanied men to explain their presence on the streets, but this is never done.

At the root of all this is the belief that men are unable to resist the allure of women. That we are unable to take responsibility for our own desire and that women must be held to account for it.

"The woman did give me, and I did eat"


Aspasia said...

*claps* Bravo! I agree 100%.

Brian Charles said...

Thanks, Aspasia.