Friday, March 2, 2012

Controlling sexuality = controlling identity

It would be my contention that if we are ever going to really tackle patriarchy as expressed in the desire to control things like women's sexuality, we're going to have to understand the roots of where the desire to do so comes from - as well as the deep affects it has on us all.

Sometimes when we need to tackle big questions like that, the best place to start is with our own personal stories. They might not take us directly to all the answers, but they can help us at least begin the journey. It is in that spirit that I offer mine.

As I've said many times, I was raised in a right-wing fundamentalist christian family, church and community. As such, I got through most of adolescence by buying all I was taught and doing everything in my power to be a "good girl."

After finishing college at a private fundamentalist christian college and getting a master's degree from an evangelical seminary, I started to question my faith. I began to read books about women's spirituality. The three that had the most impact on me were The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler, The Great Cosmic Mother by Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor and When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone.

It was as I was finishing that last one that an awareness hit me: I could shed the burden of always being a "good girl" and that meant that I had the freedom to chose when I wanted to have sex and with whom. I can't explain the profound sense of freedom I felt at that is beyond description.

I'm not one that typically has visions, but that night I had perhaps the most powerful dream of my life. I saw myself as a skyscraper under construction with the metal beams still exposed. In the dream, the shape of the building was shifting and molding itself into an entirely new pattern.

When I woke up and remembered the dream, I knew - deep within myself - that I was becoming a new of my own choosing rather than someone else's mold.

THAT is what sexual freedom means and why it is so threatening to those would would try to control us.


  1. You're hitting a vein that's bringing out what strikes me as your best work yet. Really good stuff.

  2. One thing, though. I think patriarchy is posited, correctly, as an impulse to control among other things women's existence as sexual beings through sexual mores. What is rarely pointed out, though, is that patriarchy itself is a historical phenomenon, not an essentially human tool of organization. We did not always organize ourselves socially along patriarchal lines.

    The key is the development of agriculture. As old as that sounds, we're talking about something like 10,000 years ago, maybe 12,000. Let's call it 15. By all accounts our brains are in evolutionary terms 250,000-350,000 years old: homo sapiens sapiens. It's clear that while some forager societies were patriarchal and some not, that more or less all agrarian societies were. Social division of labor based on the work: women's reproductive duties etc.

    So, there is an economic dimension to the development of patriarchy as a norm, but it's such an old one--12,000 years--that people mistake it for our natural state. There is nothing natural about patriarchy (nor, it seems, matriarchy). Different societies developed different means of organization in different social circumstances, up until the development of agriculture. So, it's possible to do it differently.

    Related: have you seen Ousmane Sembene's Moolaade? I was in a tweet exchange recently about it. You MUST watch it so you can write about it. It's about female genital mutilation, but about African people solving it as an African problem, and about women leading. I guarantee you will cry, including tears of inspired joy.

    I guarantee it.

  3. Bill,

    What you're saying about patriarchy being a historical phenomenon rather than innately human is actually the main point of those three books I mentioned that had such an impact on me. The truth is - much of their content is rather dry anthropology. So some who have read them might find it hard to believe that they had such a powerfully emotional impact on me. While I can't make a rational linear connection between reading about that and my profound awareness, it speaks to the power of really KNOWING that patriarchy is not destiny that I was so moved by them.

    In other words, I couldn't agree more with you.

    And no, I haven't seen Moolaade. But I just put it in my Netflix cue - can't wait. Thanks!

  4. The reason that there was no linear connection with it is because there is no line. It's ontologically who we are. As people, we are people of the land, we are spiritual, and we are social. We are not patriarchal. We carry ancestral memory with us, no matter how disconnected from it we may seem as people. Clearly, that's what struck you.

    If you haven't seen a Sembene flick you're in for a treat. Moolaade was his last and of the one's I've seen my favorite.

  5. "Hitting a vein"... Hmmm, Bill...

    But, woman's sexual freedom is very threatening to men like Limbaugh and to women like Michele Bachmann and Dana Loesch whose power dervives from the PAtriarchy.

    1. You bring to mind the words of Audre Lorde from her book "Sister Outsider"

      As Paulo Freire shows so well in "The Pedagogy of the Oppressed," the true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us, and which knows only the oppressor's tactics, the oppressor's relationships.

      That's what I was describing in this article - how I dealt with the piece of the oppressor that was planted deep within me.

      Bachmann and Loesch have embraced it rather than rejected it.