Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sex and the Single-minded

It is true there have been some cultures where sex has been considered a more natural phenomenon than in others, aboriginal Hawaii, Tahiti, the Trobriand Islands and others, even contemporary France where sex, as someone said, “just is,” as opposed to the U.S. where it is regarded as “a problem.” What with all the controversy at the moment about contraception, women’s health, and the Republican “War on women,” I have been led to try to understand what this is all about.

I don’t believe sex, as such, is a problem in the U.S., aside from a few people like Rick Santorum and other Republicans. The fact that it has become a single-minded obsession for Americans is the problem. Sex here in the U.S. has become a commodity, it sells, it sells everything from automobiles to shampoo, to boats, trucks, cosmetics, fashion, underwear, especially lingerie,vacations, cooking utensils, and just about anything else you can name. On women’s magazines in particular it sells hair styles, smiles, skin tone, eyes, slacks, fingernails, thighs, tampons, contraceptives and even sexy armpits. More importantly, perhaps, it also sells sex tips on how to please your man, what to do to “turn him on,” how to behave in bed, what men really like, and so on and on and on. Sex in contemporary America may well be the most important commodity we have. It is literally everywhere, television, radio, books, movies, advertisements, almost always in view somewhere. While it can be argued that prostitution has been fairly common around the world, and sex has long been a commodity in that sense, nowhere has it become such an important commodity as it is here in the United States at the beginning of the 21st century.

The rules and regulations, beliefs and laws, that in other cultures, and in previous periods in American history, that controlled and monitored relations between the sexes have been mostly abandoned. Contraception has had much to do with this, of course, but the greater problem has to do with the control of female sexuality in general, and the apparently universal fear on the part of men that it can so easily get out of control and cause trouble. In most tribal or traditional societies, for example, there are well-known rules that attempt to solve this universal problem. Incest taboos often prescribe who legitimate sex partners may be, and proscribe often large groups of people with whom sex is prohibited. These rules are often rigidly enforced. Adultery is prohibited and the penalties can be severe indeed, from putting a hot rock in the woman’s vagina, to cutting off her nose, stoning her to death, and branding her as guilty with a scarlet letter, and so on. Women in some places are regarded as unclean and dangerous and should be avoided, even marital intercourse requires ceremonies to purge oneself of contamination. Initiation rites, sometimes very painful, reinforce the necessity to avoid sex with other men’s wives and men, as well as women, can be severly punished including banishment and even death. Women’s dress and behavior are often monitored carefully to insure sufficient modesty. They are made to wear veils, even head to toe burkas, or mother-hubbards, or even wear heavy rings around their necks, grotesquely stretch their lips, to make them undesirable to other males, and forego cosmetics, and so on. In some places they are not even allowed to go out in public unless with a brother or father, or uncle. They can be prohibited from even being in the same place with a man who is not a relative. And, of course, they did not work outside of the home and everywhere they were legally or traditionally subservient to men, especially when it involved politics or religion. Even in so-called matrilineal cultures it was the maternal uncle who was in charge.

In the United States until not so very long ago many rules pertained to women. They did not work outside the home, they were subservient to their husbands, they were supposed to dress appropriately (no slacks, for example, or full body bathing suits), and were basically wards of their husbands. They were not supposed to enjoy sex and, while it was legal for a man to sue for “loss of consortium,” such laws did not pertain to women. They were supposed to stay at home, cook the meals, bear and raise the children, and were not allowed to vote or even express themselves in public. Ladies wore gloves and hats, carried lace handkerchiefs, and even fainted at the mere mention of sex. When they say “we’ve come a long way, baby,” they certainly have. With working women came greater mobility, the right to vote, and, more importantly, contraception. Most if not all of the rules that constrained women have disappeared. They can now engage in sex whenever and with whom they wish, with no fear of pregnancy, and, in fact, little fear of punishment, even adultery means little or nothing nowadays. Divorce is commonplace, working women are not necessarily interested in marriage, single mothers are not uncommon, and as a result women and female sexuality have become potentially more dangerous than ever before. Women have power over men, much greater potential power than ever before, and they can come between fathers and sons, brothers, lovers, and thus be potentially socially disruptive. Curiously enough, I think, converting female sexuality into merely another commodity, helps to overcome this universal male fear, but it does so by essentially denigrating women by categorizing them automatically as sluts (except, of course, for sisters, mothers, and wives). It is not the act of sex itself that is so important, if, that is, it occurs only in the marital bed and begets children, but the fact that men can no longer control when and where and with whom sex might occur. Thus it is that people like Rush Limbaugh can characterize women who want birth control to be “sluts” or “prostitutes,” and suggest they should film their presumably shameful acts for all to see. It is specifically female sexuality that is the problem, how much have you heard lately about male sexuality, the scandal of the Church, the price of Viagra or Cialis? Women must be kept in their place either as disgusting sluts or mothers. It is not surprising that Santorum, an avid Catholic, would be promoting this as it has always been the position of the Church. To control women you must control their bodies, nothing else counts for very much, not their health care, not their right to privacy, not their legitimate desire to control their own lives, just their bodies to do only the work of the lord. The potentially dual nature of women has been with us for many years. They are good for sex and selling things or, conversely for motherhood. Sometimes it is said we should “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Here we seem to have embraced the sin, but hate the sinners. Hallelujah and Amen.

God gave women intuition and femininity. Used properly, the combination easily jumbles the brain of any man I've ever met.
Farrah Fawcett


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