Leaving aside the
brainwashing fairy stories about finding a prince for a moment, and all the earnest activity of psychotherapists, sexologists, doctors, garden-variety pop psychologists, authors and columnists who are bent on telling women that intercourse is good, right, normal and natural, it strikes me that even if you got past all of that to a point where women accepted/realised they did not need a man economically, or for protection, or for sex, or love and affection, there is another problem important getting in the way of heterosexual women simply withdrawing energy from men, which is that they believe men are their greatest adventure.
Madame Bovary is a perfect example. I read it few years ago and loved it. Loved it. Here was a woman, driven batty by the dullness and restrictions of marriage, and who risked sanity and death in order to break free of its constraints. A wonderful heroine, breaking down the barriers of women’s sexuality, shattering the myths of the “good woman” by embarking on an elicit affair based on love, even at risk of punishment, such was the extent of her passion and her need to keep her integrity intact. Over the years how many women commit suicide because that is the only way of holding onto their integrity?
Compare her to the protagonist of Villette , reserved Lucy Snowe, who leads a life free of sensuality in the name work. A small humdrum life, to be pitied insofar as she is not going to be whisked off on an adventure. Nothing to write home about, and yet Charlotte Bronte conceived of a plot where a woman made it to France alone and managed to find herself a job despite all the odds, in a time where women’s spiritual or economic independence was seen as an aberrance.
Bronte succeeds in offering us an example of an alternative heroine, but I get the feeling most women would rather have lived and died like Madame Bovary.
Both books miss out the crucial ingredient of including other women in their heroine’s break for freedom. Women have been taught to believe that, compared to men, or even work, women are boring. Culture teaches us that women aren’t funny. We laugh at the wisecracks of male comedians, even if they’re at our expense. We forget that the only time we’ve laughed until our belly ached was with a group of women, never with men. This simple fact completely slips our mind. I guess these are the “mindbindings” Mary Daly tells us about. Our experiential instincts tell us women are much more interesting, but we can’t shake the feeling that they’re not quite as exciting as men.
This might be true in two ways. Men have economic power and women don’t, and they use this to woo women. If a man can take you to the best restaurant in town, and order champagne and hire limos, you can gain access to a certain type of “fun” that no woman can offer you. So it would be helpful if women understood that this is simple economics, not personality.
The other, more worrying problem, is that women who are wrapped up in the patriarchal mindbindings are, indeed, boring. Many women get through the day through cognitive dissonance, by talking about their baby’s first tooth, their latest lover, their new shoes or their problems at work. They’re not planning a revolution because they’re scared that if they stop smiling it will all fall apart.
“Craving adventure, women are often repelled by other women’s inability to take risks. Inherent in the hetero-relational argument that women are boring is that all women are the same, the same in timidity of living. “It is the acceptance of risk that wins him his power.” Although Elizabeth Janeway did not apply these words to women’s perceptions of other women as timid, they are important in this context. However, in hetero-relational “adventures”, women have often not distinguished between male risk and recklessness and the ways in which men turn risk into reckless behaviour, a behaviour that frequently masks necrophilic obsession.
Real risk, existential risk, is take by those women who challenge hetero-relations and who have the courage to claim their original Selves and their female friends. The refusal or the inability to take the risk of Gyn/affection is at the heart of the loss of female friendship. Not taking the risk of female friendship limits the possibilities of female life and living in every way imaginable. It shuts off womanist imagination. In assuming the risk of creating Gyn/affection, women change the terms of our existence in this world. Gyn/affection demolishes hetero-relations, primarily by withholding belief from men and male-defined existence for women.(Janice Raymond in A Passion for Friends“
But the final part of the jigsaw puzzle, is that despite the fact many women are interesting and funny, despite the odds stacked against them, all women are trained not to see it. When a woman touches us profoundly, we simply nod. Men are hugely rewarded by women for not doing very much, for making bad jokes, and for relying on economic power to make themselves appear interesting. Let’s dispell the myth that a man is a woman’s greatest adventure.