Saturday, June 04, 2011

Journey to the West - 12a

I have thought about writing this for a long time. It could just as easily be titled, “Sex Education Circa 1940.” While I am somewhat embarrassed to discuss this subject, it should have been mentioned earlier in my Journey, when I was still a teenager learning about things, including sex. Of course there was no such thing as formal sex education when I was growing up. My parents never mentioned the subject to me, there were no classes in High School, sex was for all intents and purposes a taboo topic…except informally, on the streets, in the pool hall, the bowling alley, and among males. Let me begin by offering this poem, the first poem I ever learned, I was setting pins in the bowling alley (there have not always been automatic pin-setters):

Suzanne was a lady
With plenty of class
Who knocked them all dead
When she wiggled her…

Eyes as the boys
As girls sometimes do
To make it quite plain
She was aching to…

Go for a boat ride
And stroll on the dock
With any young man with
A sizeable roll of big bills…

And a pretty good front
and maybe she’d let him
Take hold of her…
Lily white hands

With a moment so quick…
And then she’d reach over
And tickle his chin…

While she showed him
A trick learned in France…
Whatever she was
Suzanne was no bore.

This may not be precisely how it went but it is close enough. I do not recall making any particular effort to memorize this and I am embarrassed, and somewhat ashamed, to admit I somehow did, and even more embarrassed to admit that I still remember it after some 65 years! It was, however, part of my sex education, along with pornographic comic books, “Spicy Westerns, Spicy Detective Stories, Spicy Science Fiction, Spicy Adventure Stories,” and etc. These magazines were not as hard-core as many are nowadays, but they were certainly eye-openers to teenagers at that time. I did not seek these magazines but they were available to me, along with ubiquitous dirty jokes, through my elders, peers, and especially through the paper drives that were part of the war effort.

The older males we looked up to for advice were quick to give it. It took the form of “Stand ‘em on their head and they all look alike,” or “Drape a flag over ‘em and do it for Old Glory,” really useful advice that clearly advanced the equality and desirablility of women. “Old enough to bleed, old enough to butcher,” was another of these gems of male wisdom. Of course these advisors were all experts in the field, having usually been married and divorced at least once and often more than once. “Wham bam, thank you Ma’m,” seemed to be the preferred version of male/female encounters. We were told nothing of the potential joys of consensual sex, nothing about female sexuality, nothing about sex at all other than as a kind of dominance over females. Getting “screwed” was regarded as demeaning, just as by implication it still is. We were told that women should probably be avoided “when they had the rag on,” they basically enjoyed being dominated, could not go swimming during their periods, and other such pearls of male wisdom. I was told quite seriously that whereas a woman might well “turn her daughter out to do tricks,” a man would never do such a thing. Of course it was common knowledge that the best way to keep a wife was “In the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant,” and perhaps a gentle beating once in a while would be helpful. And there were those sophisticated world travelers that insisted Asian women were anatomically different than Caucasians. Similarly, we were told that if you masturbated hair would grow in your palms (this was kind of a joke to see if you would look at your palms), but might even make you go blind. Homosexuality was never discussed seriously. It was common knowledge that if you encountered a “queer” you would be exercising your rights if you beat him up (or “rolled” him). Lesbianism could, it was widely believed, be cured by a “good screwing.” There was more to this than I can remember and the attitudes it engendered were quite unmistakable, men were dominant, women submissive, men were superior, women inferior.

It is not clear to me how this incredibly dysfunctional, even crippling, enculturation was supposed to produce healthy relations between the sexes (of course it hasn’t in many cases). Curiously, as has often been noted, these beliefs about women did not extend to your mother or sisters. There was an unbridgeable gap somehow between the females of your own family and females in general, even, in a sense, between your mother and your wife. These attitudes toward women were incorporated into our legal system for a long time, women had to fight for the right to vote, are still fighting for equal pay and equal access to power, and so on. For a long time women were simply the wards of their husbands, were regarded as little more than children. I have known (and still do) men who basically believe even now in the superiority of the male gender, and change, although it has been coming in recent years, is still a bit slow. It used to be the case that if a woman was injured and could no longer engage in sex her husband could sue for “loss of consortium,” a right that was denied to wives. This tells you, I believe, a great deal about our attitudes to sex, especially female sexuality. I have come to believe that underlying virtually all practices that have to do with male/female relations is men’s fear of female sexuality, something that can come even between fathers and sons, brothers, and is potentially even disruptive of the social order. This is not a topic for discussion here and now but is perhaps exemplified clearly in Somerset Maugham’s marvelous short story, “Rain.”

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