“Feminine psychology is at times twisted: They have created in us the conviction that all the bad things in the world are lying in wait, trying to sneak in on us from between our legs.”
–Laura Restrepo, Colombian writer.
Lupita Domínguez sent me that quote this morning, so muchas gracias, hermana. She also asked what I think of it, and since I realized my reply would probably be too long for Facebook, here it is:
I have a hunch Laura Restrepo is being a bit sarcastic and mocking here, and she’s quite right. Not all the bad things in the world are trying to get into us ladies from between the legs. Some of them are trying to get into us via our eyes, ears, noses, mouths, hands, and hearts. Some are trying to get into us via our wallets. Some are trying to get into us via the media and the Internet. Some are trying to get into us via bad, simplistic books expounding all kinds of inane theories. There are a great many ways for trouble to find us, and sex is just one. So to reduce all female psychology to “what lies between the legs” is insulting and belittling, to say the least. We are more than just a vagina and a pair of breasts, and so is what’s on our minds.
Of course, there are guys out there who think we should be reduced in this fashion, and the more so, the better. They think our minds don’t matter, and that we should quit worrying about what we put into them, and turn them strictly to catering to Teh Menz. They’re calling themselves Men’s Rights Activists — oh, pardon me, Men’s Human Rights Activists, now. As though men have not been the only ones fully recognized as human throughout, oh, only all of human history. And their “human rights” activism seems to be take the form of things like this:
Yup, Man of the Year material right there.
I think what this guy’s really trying to say here is “You’re not supposed to like books, and you’re not supposed to write them, you’re just supposed to be a convenient hole for me to plug into. I’m the one who’s supposed to like books! I’m the one who’s supposed to write them! How dare you usurp my privileges!”
Reductio ad absurdum, anyone?
And then there’s Miley Cyrus’s performance from the other night. Those who say critics are only “slut-shaming” her are missing the point. What she did there was not so much expressing her own sexuality, but rather faithfully enacting a cartoonish exaggeration of what men assume women’s sexuality to be: a submissive pose, wiggling a tiny heinie, ever ready to be penetrated by all comers. Again, reductio ad absurdum. Plus a creepy Pedobear-ish costume, which at some point gets removed to reveal what is NOT real skin, but rubbery plastic with no nipples, no labia, no pubic hair — in short, nothing that actual women have. “Female Sexuality” à la Barbie. And this weirdly puerile sex show is supposed to be Miley’s signal that she’s a woman now? Whoopdefuckingdoo!
Of course, I might be missing some element of irony here. If she was actually sending up this whole cartoonish image of what female sexuality is supposed to be, according to men, media and porn, then I may have to rethink Miley altogether, and give her some credit for being a wry social commentator, and not just a performer making bank at a pretty damn douchey gig. That wagging tongue ought to have been planted firmly in cheek, rather than hanging out for all the world to gawp at like Gene Simmons’s ugly appendage. But I don’t think this was actually the case, more’s the pity. It could have been a great performance if there had only been some indication that this was a joke on rape culture, and that nobody is really like this, or should be. But there was no punchline. Instead, it was meant to be taken exactly for what it appeared to be: a young woman casting aside “girlhood” (symbolized by teddy bears) and embracing “womanhood” (symbolized by fake nudity, submissive pose, and grinding her ass on a fully-clothed, and very sleazy, Robin Thicke.)
It all reconfirms everything Laura Restrepo was saying: Everything seems to be waiting to crawl in on us through our vaginas. We are limited to the roles they compel us to play: virgin, mother, whore. Nothing else about us exists. Miley isn’t expressing her own sexuality (she still has a long way to go in discovering that, since she’s just 20); she’s expressing how our culture sees all female sexuality, and by extension, all females. And the fact that she combined twerking with teddy bears (very icky teddy bears) seems to suggest that we are nothing but sex toys, and that our sexual objectification starts very young. Especially black women, who seem to get appropriated along with everything else when it comes to “empowered” upper-class white women’s ostensibly de-Disnified “sexuality”.
The fact that sexual evils aren’t the only ones besetting us is conveniently swept aside by the sexualized narrative. Most women are dealing with economic disadvantages tailored to gender lines. Every day, that deck gets stacked against us a bit further. We’re still only paid, on average, 70 cents to a man’s dollar, our clothes cost more than men’s, and we’re supposed to buy more of them to keep up with the Joneses. There’s even talk of charging women higher health insurance premiums in the States, “because they have breasts”. We’re facing sanctions against abortion that are more restrictive than what prevailed in Victorian times. And student loan debts are leaving young people, women especially, financially crippled before their careers even begin.
And good luck trying to dig your way out of the financial hole without resorting to stripping or prostitution; those are the two most lucrative professions for women, and you can bet the pimps are taking note; in Germany they and the state have conspired between them to make sure the women get it coming and going. Brothels charge low flat rates for all the sexual servicing a client demands, no limits. And women who work there are expected to fork over not only a heavy percentage of their direct earnings (supposedly, to defray the cost of living in such a dump), but taxes to the state as well. And since a lot of them come from the poorest parts of Eastern Europe and are supporting families, well…you can do the math. Poverty prostitution actually has its own word in German: Armutsprostitution. Most prostitutes in Germany are not Germans; they are not free-spirited Happy Hookers doing it for love of sex, either, but impoverished immigrants who have run out of options — and in many cases, are trafficked as well. Their problems began long before they started working in the sex trade; money, not sex, is the way the ills of the world have crept up on them. Worst of all, many of them don’t make it out alive, and any dreams they had of better lives and meaningful work in non-sex professions have been yanked out from under them.
It seems to be only a matter of time before all of us find that our wallets are the main conduit between us and a similar fate. Lupita, who sent me that quote, knows it already, since need drove a lot of her friends from the Mexican nightclubs into stripping and prostitution. When I translated her book, one thing that leapt out at me was how many of them were forced into it by their own families. They are paying for their children’s food and clothing, their siblings’ educations, and their mothers’ houses. And they have to do so by taking money from strange men for acts that are often undignified.
And the worst indignity of all is that they have to deal with this double standard every day, every night, and pretend that it’s normal, and that they like it. The client gets to keep his suit on; the woman gets naked, or very nearly so. The power imbalance could not be more obvious. And neither is the twisting of psychology that says, on the one hand, that women’s bodies are “dirty”…but which, on the other hand, expects us to use them, and not our minds, to make the only living we are allowed to make, and to pretend that we are merely “exploring our sexuality”. We’re not supposed to be doctors, lawyers, astronauts, scientists or politicians, ever; when we grow up, we’re supposed to be either wives or whores. Y punto.
Reductio doesn’t get more ad absurdum than that, does it?