I was around the age of twelve when I first became conscious of male sexual attention. That may sound scandalously young especially as I wasn’t particularly precocious or well developed, but in countries where taking a child bride is legal, it is also, prevalent. At the age of twelve I received more sexual attention from adult males than I did from my peers.
We are, in part, products of our biology and our biological drives. We must acknowledge this but also be prepared to legislate against any biological drives that undermine the human dignity or autonomy of others. To simply and unquestionably acquiesce to our innate biology is hedonistic and debases something more precious than our temporal bodies, it devalues our eternal souls, or as a Jungian psychologist might put it, “our true essence.” Just because a girl may be biologically mature enough to reproduce does not mean it is right for her to do so, indeed, it could be very damaging.
From a moralistic point, I knew the adult male attention I was receiving was wrong, nevertheless, it had a powerful effect on my psyche.
I often wonder why I wear make up, keep, my hair long and generally spend more time and money on my appearance than I’d like to.
As a twelve year old girl, I didn’t feel particularly female or male, I just felt human. I wore ripped jeans, I was in awe of Axl Rose, I dyed my hair red, because the colour seemed romantic, I loved climbing trees and running through the woods with my dogs, I liked to skateboard, loved ballet with a passion and filled notebook after notebook with beatnik inspired, stream of consciousness poetry. I also made a note of the fact that when I wore mascara, painted my nails and paid attention to my fashion sense, the boy who’d punched me in the arm almost every morning for almost a year, while we waited for the school bus immediately changed his approach. The transformation in my appearance was also positively reinforced by the boys in my class who began to act more cautiously around me than they had ever done in my flannel shirt and ripped jeans days. The change in the boys attitude and behaviour signalled to the girls and my status level with them increased too. A girls status among girls is often dependant upon their status with boys though such stature is inherently fragile, being, as it is, loaded with jealousy. A girl who is popular with boys is also consistently scrutinised for her most obscure and subtle flaws which when discovered are gleefully magnified for the purpose of bringing her down a peg or two. Girls are conditioned to compete with one another for male attention and protection and it’s something, we as women have to accept and own in ourselves if we are to confront it in any meaningful way. I have, throughout the years, been undermined, limited and humiliated by many more women than I have men and I don’t think my experience is unique.
Women who utilise their physical looks, may be given male protection and conditional societal acceptance but not everyone can conform to conventional definitions of beauty and even if they can, they will eventually grow old, wrinkles will set in, hair will grey and conforming will become more difficult. Looks may get you so far but they won’t take you all they way. The older women get the more invisible they become within society.
We need to acknowledge our innate biological drives such as women’s attraction to a man’s status and power and a man’s attraction to a woman’s youthful curves because denying truths, however uncomfortable, are a temporary balm to a permanent wound. We should, however, seek to integrate and dignify those base drives with higher levels of consciousness. Old fashioned Hollywood movies that explored romance in a subtle rather than explicit form are good examples of how culture and art can successfully channel our primal drives. Indeed, the aim of all great art is to channel those drives and in so doing ennoble them. Art should help us see beyond the foreshortened horizon of our conditioning. It should help us believe we can be more than we are and in so doing, become an initiator of progress on a material level and an initiation ceremony for our souls on a spiritual one. This is the great high function of story, myth, art and poetry. People often assume the arts don’t serve a practical purpose but great art has enormous practical application. The art in the slideshow above alludes to women’s role as gatekeepers of spiritual wisdom and the more transcendent ideals of man. The white stag is symbolic of the great, pure knowing of our deepest being. The woman, when living her highest calling, bestows dignity upon man, she knights him, raises him above his lower drives and releases both masculine and feminine from subjugation to their lower drives. She is gentle shepherdess, gatekeeper of beauty and honour and the warm hearth of our first home, the womb. These innately feminine aspects have been undermined by all sides; feminism, hyper sexualization, fundamentalist Christianity, pop culture and ultimately the market place which is founded on our preferences.
Our culture and art needs to better re-imagine womanhood through its stages and ages. It also needs to place greater value on feminine wisdom but before feminine wisdom can be valued it has to be respected. Instagram booty shots of every sad, washed up, sold out Venus de jour, displaying her wares to trade at ever cheaper rates while emphasising the one aspect of her totality that will depreciate rather than increase in value over time will not evoke respect. Indeed, when women behave in this way they are undermining the highest function of their own purpose which is too awaken the sacred in man, (Adam’s help-meet, the muse of the troubadour, the lady in the lake, spider grandmother). By appealing to man’s lower needs rather than elevating them to his higher ones the hyper sexualization of women-hood degrades us all. It is a cheap trade that leaves both parties less than they were. The disappointment everyone feels at this transaction is palpable in our culture.
Feminine wisdom grows from the root of the subconscious and emerges in the conscious world as the woman grows, whereas, male wisdom begins in the conscious world and dives into the depths of the subconscious. Both are equally necessary. Yet, what Graham Hancock calls, productive, utilitarian, left brain, male, governed consciousness predominates in our hyper conscious world to the point where right brain intuitions are mocked if not out right ignored.
A doctor friend of mine told me how performing surgery on dead bodies in her student days gave her night terrors and cold sweats. Her rational mind could reason for the importance of learning through this practice but something deeper her rationale was horrified by it. Subconscious (feminine wisdom) often acts as the canary in the coal mine, evoking deep, uncomfortable truths that our conscious rational mind can’t or won’t immediately unlock. Ruthless acts that involve committing an atrocity for the ultimate common good, such as was done in Hiroshima or nuclear testing on soldiers, or decisions based on the precept that the end always justifies the means are rooted in this left brain, rationalised reasoning. The conscious mind is convergent in it’s thinking. It dislikes anomalies, nuance and paradox. It filters, reduces and simplifies. No doubt, it does a really important job and we couldn’t function without it but it also undermines, represses and oppresses the complexity of our experience. If it gets away with this kind of behaviour for two long we shore up enough material for a mental breakdown or environmental disaster. We need balance, cooperation and integration to function at an optimal level both individually and communally.
When I follow my motives to their root, I see why the attention I receive when I ” make an effort” with my appearance makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. It’s because I know it’s a trade off. I am conforming to gender stereotypical norms in order to be treated more gently and respectfully by men. I’m also hoping that their positive signalling will give me approval among women. Being attractive also makes me visible and allows my voice to be heard even if that voice is further stifled through the filter of prejudice against the stereotypical, feminine woman, i.e. that she lacks intelligence and or authority or is deceptively using her looks to hoodwink men and control them.
The impossible position for women was well illustrated during a recent episode of Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls. One of the female participants was mocked for wearing goggles to protect her expensive set of false eyelash extensions. This woman had gained her celebrity status by means of her genetically inherited and synthetically enhanced appearance. She had gained power in the world by conforming to stereotypes of female beauty. She had been savvy enough to understand that she would be rewarded for enhancing the natural attributes that conformed to those ideals. Yet, she was at once idolised and mocked for gaining status that way. Perhaps this is because, unconsciously, we all feel that we undermine our higher purpose when we seek to define and value womanhood on such superficial metrics. As a result, we project this disappointment with ourselves onto the women in question who remind us that we are still often subject to our primal desires and fears.
I always question the motive when people, invariably women, say they are undergoing some kind of cosmetic surgery procedure “for themselves.” Would someone really subject themselves to painful, potentially life threatening surgery if they lived entirely alone on a desert island? In isolation, would they even bother to paint their nails? Yet, we are a social species and our external environment and culture informs and influences, to varying degrees, our identity and choices. So perhaps, when someone asserts that their painful surgical procedure is “for themselves”, perhaps it is, because what and who are we without external reference points to scaffold and in-form our identities. With all biological life forms, there is a constant interplay between both the internal and the external as both sides seek to modify the other. The internal and external worlds are semi permeable in that way.
There are other ways for women to navigate in the world. They can emulate masculine qualities which our valued in the market place, become financially independent and uncompromising. These kind of women take a lot of flack, are caricatured and insulted but ultimately they often find a platform and a position of empowerment.
Another way for women to navigate gender dynamics is to transcend them. Throughout my life, I have had a deep, pervading, desire to wear a hijab, or even a niqab. I am Christian and although it isn’t common, some christian women cover their heads. I did cover my head for some time and found immense peace in doing so. I eventually stopped wearing the covering, mainly because I found that it became a social barrier due to people’s perception of it as a restrictive, repressive political symbol. Ironically, the attention the head-covering garnered meant that it seemed more modest not to wear it in the end. I kind of miss it though. I still see the idea of covering as very liberating for both men and women. I understand the argument that women shouldn’t have to take responsibility for men’s sexual responses or biological wiring but I think that denying biological truth’s does everyone a disservice. Rather, we must learn to honestly acknowledge them and intelligently navigate and/or integrate them. Men will treat women that they are attracted to preferentially unless they are rejected by them. Women in the workplace often talk of wearing their “armour” for business meetings with their boss, ( armour being high heels and short skirts.) To eliminate the myriad consequences that derive from such interactions certainly simplifies things.
Women, have unconsciously and collectively contributed to the male design and its by-product, patriarchy by being limited to our biology. Being physically smaller and the bearers of children we evolved to need a protector and provider. Men evolved to serve that need because of their biological need to reproduce their own genetic line. When we evolve only according to our material needs we will be subject to them. We have taken these biological drives to their ends now and they have in turn shaped a world in which daily survival isn’t the primary concern for most people. (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). Most of us now enjoy the luxury of contemplating our existence beyond these bounds. Perhaps, we can now begin to shape systems based on higher levels of consciousness. As a result of this the roles and archetypes of nurturer, caretaker and keeper of spiritual wisdom (Sophia) that have traditionally been aligned with women may be given greater value.
The unconscious and collective are both symbolically ruled by the feminine. In evolutionary terms, the sexual need of the man is at the mercy of female preferences. Males need to impress females. Throughout the animal kingdom, males enact elaborate rituals in order to attract a mate. Their behaviour is modified to fit females need to have a strong, healthy offspring, a protector and a provider. As human society evolved from tribes, where women could meet their emotional needs through kinship with one another, to nuclear families where women had to have their emotional needs met by men, the definition of what makes an ideal male partner broadened. In recent years, the service/creative/academic/tech industries have increased as the manufacturing industries have decreased. This has necessitated a greater number of women to join the workforce. This has contributed to the broadening and diversifying of our understanding of what is required of our roles as men and women.
Whether gender stereotypes are primarily biological or social constructs, or most likely a mixture of the two, doesn’t lessen the effect they have on phenomenological, male and female experience. It is no secret that certain attributes are given a higher monetary value than others. Indeed, the 9% pay gap between men and women is not so much a differentiation between sex as it is qualities associated with specific genders. For example, the personality trait of agreeableness is linked to lower salaries, as is empathy, compassion and multidisciplinary skills compared with niche skills. Women are more likely to fall into the former categories and thus they are more likely to attain lower ranking positions and corresponding, salaries.
At the moment the masculine and feminine aspects of nature are being debased in all aspects of culture. In movies the male roles of Father, provider and protector are either caricatured as infantile and impotent or over exaggerated and one dimensional while women’s roles have been reduced to cynical and emasculated or sexualised meat.
In the wake of feminism, culture must make the transition from divided dialectics to an integration which doesn’t end in some convoluted androgynous ‘ideal’ but ever more conscious and sublime versions of the sacred masculine and feminine.