I wrote about Eve Ensler, author and performer of “The Vagina Monologues,” and a talk of hers, “Finding Happiness in Body and Soul,” on TED in an earlier post. Another of her talks, “Security and Insecurity,” was recently made available, and it is equally riveting and filled with wisdom. She eloquently discusses the misguided attempts at security which lead to the creation of us-vs-them states of mind that, in fact, decrease security. If you’ve spent much time with me, you know that us-vs-them is a favorite topic of mine, talked about at length in Bare Brains Episodes Twelve and Thirteen.
Although she begins by saying she’s not going to talk about vaginas, her tales of vagina warriors near the end are highly relevant to her main topic: security/insecurity. Women must often risk their security within conventional and repressive social systems to increase their greater security in a new system that honors their rights.
Eve’s highly laudable efforts toward educating women in their possibilities and legal protections for them, are vital to such transformations, but while she mentions the role of us-versus-them situations in her discussion of security, it doesn’t come up in her talk of the V-Day efforts.
There is a built in us-vs-them situation in the sexual differences between women and men. These differences are magnified in societies that repress women, but are important factors, even in the most advanced. If we could understand the biological compulsions that are inherent in being a woman or man, we would have another tool in the arsenal against human suffering.
It amazes me that women volunteer their bodies for the process of pregnancy and childbirth. To imprison yourself in the demands and inconveniences of pregnancy for nine months is a mammoth undertaking, especially when you know that the outcome is a painful birth, followed by a recovery period that can, with complications, last for the rest of your life. Is it any wonder that women are compelled, both biologically, socially, and psychologically, to carefully choose their partner in this endeavor?
The compulsion to approach reproduction with caution is powerful, and one which, in my limited experience, many women themselves feel rebellious toward. This rebellion results in some women finding fantasies of rape sexually exciting, even though rape in reality is feared and avoided. With someone they trust, they may openly invite and apparently enjoy pretended rape: In being overwhelmed by force, they are temporarily freed from the constraints of caution. In extreme cases, this rebellion against compulsion may lead women to put themselves in risky situations where rape is a real possibility.
Men, on the other hand, have strong biological compulsions toward reproduction, but without the compulsion of caution. They feel compelled to disseminate their DNA as widely as possible, and let someone else worry about the aftermath. They are often restrained by social conventions, fortunately, but more problematically, they find themselves in a struggle with women, who control access to the object of male compulsion: sex. He says, “Yes,” she says, “No,” and while she often feels resentment and hostility toward his pressure, he feels resentment and hostility toward her reluctance. It is not a situation designed for harmony; it is exactly the kind of us-vs them situation that Eve so eloquently points to as the cause of much insecurity and hostility in general human affairs.
In my case, I was taught as a child that my penis was a disgusting thing, and later, that seminal fluids were the ultimate contaminant. In my early relations with women, their caution gave further proof that my body was disgusting. When I finally encountered women who wanted sex, I was faced with the odd fact of their desire for what had previously been reinforced as repulsive—confusing, to say the least. I have since learned to love this peculiar contraption that has brought me such pleasure and anxiety, but the re-orchestration of my attitudes was not easy or rapid. There were times when I felt outright hostility toward women for what I experienced as rejection and disdain. Rape fantasies and stories of rape were, indeed, sexually exciting; although, fortunately, my inhibitions were well established.
When I came to understand the biological causes of our sex-related compulsions, the knowledge gained became a new cause in determining my behavior, and my hostility evaporated. I could see that neither women nor men volunteered to be saddled with their respective compulsions, and that we all deserved compassion.
It may be impossible, for now, to disseminate this kind of naturalistic, evolutionary understanding of behavior very widely, but science and the internet march on, and there is hope.
News! Episode One of the Bare Brains podcast is now available as text, searchable and easily quotable. There’s a link in the sidebar, and right here.
Protection, Rejection, Isolation