Baffled? Confused? Me too!… you, too?
Whether male or female, have recent media revelations freed you to fume aloud, debate and admit, or are you as cautious as ever about your own sexual behaviour? While we’re rightly concerned with the nuances of the current crop of confessions and denials, we mustn’t lose sight of why we depend so much on the transactions of our daily lives. Who wants what from whom?
Tempting as it is to add a personal “Me too” to the drip-feed of stories doing the rounds about the use of inappropriate sexual behaviour against both men and women, it’s the wider social context that’s even more significant. And, trust me, I could recount lots of “Me too” tales of my own – both in the America of my birth and here in the UK where I’ve lived since 1968.
My post-war childhood was defined by an almost visible switch from the customs, mores, and gender expectations of the Victorian era to a world of newly-minted teens, eager to dance to a different beat and gradually be able to publicly boast of sexual conquests. Both for men and women. Free love didn’t only mean it wasn’t paid for.
Men of the old guard, especially, must have been the most confused … uhm, you mean you’ll sleep with me and I don’t have to pay you, and I don’t have to marry you and I don’t have to go to confession? Sure…you’re cute! What’s your name again?
So, given the demographics of past eras, just what actually counts as inappropriate? Why was it acceptable for my great-grandma, born in 1863, and her pals, to marry at 14 and mother broods of ten or more? Why in the 1950s was rocker Jerry Lee Lewis greeted with little more than tut-tuts on revelations of his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin, but not more than a decade later when a wildly bereaved Roman Polanski had sex with a consenting 14-year-old who’d told him she was 18, has a federal pursuit of the director continued to this day?
For those who keep confusing individual body rights and choices with badly referenced religious dogma, tell us, crucially, who decides such rules, who legislates for social norms? See that photo up there? Taken in March 2017 it shows VPOTUS discussing the regulation of health care for American women… with not a single woman in the room! Yeah, keep ’em out of politics, preferably barefoot and pregnant?
More recently, some very brave women, and a few equally abused men have recognised the ongoing Weinstein disgrace as an opportunity to set records straight, to encourage both men and women to reveal past traumas of personal humiliation, harassment, and sexual assault.
As she confessed to the audience back in November 2015 in her powerful, dignified, witty speech as a recipient of one of the Women of the Year awards, Reese Witherspoon, too, had been assaulted by a media mogul when she was 16. Though she felt unable to name him before, now the revelations of others have allowed her to tag Weinstein as her
Particularly laudable here in Britain are the equally brave actresses Carol Drinkwater and Debbie Arnold, and I’d like to publicly thank them.
These two and others are experiencing first-hand the maxim that when it comes to politics, the personal is the political and the political is the personal. When Carol talks to a journo, when Debbie is invited to
speak to broadcast interviewers, it’s not a career move. It’s a fine example of direct action.
And that’s the most effective tool against injustice. Non-violent yet entirely potent. It’s so effective it scares the pants off the politicians who’d rather you look pretty, stay at home, and leave it all to them. Besides, it’s too perilously close to acknowledging the gender pay gap, so long denied by successive governments, as well as the overwhelming prevalence of appointing men over women in the workplace and on boards.
Not to denigrate nor diminish anyone’s courage in revealing their past, but unless we’re willing to dig up the tangled roots of why human beings feel justified in abusing others, we’re doomed to its perpetuation. Those twisted pathways lead uncomfortably far back, beyond living memory, and be warned, because back-tracking may just land you in
a swampy bog of challenging your own beliefs.
Perhaps you’ve assumed you’re not that interested in politics, and perhaps you’ve regarded political matters as a divisive confrontation between various state-recognised parties who parrot the mantra that your vote every four or five years is the definition of democracy. Perhaps, till now, that’s been enough for you – besides, who has time to bray at the gates of the Westminster Village, line up behind someone labelled “leader,” and trade insults like a kindergarten class.
Now consider another kind of class. As with so much of society’s more questionable activities, power over the vulnerable, especially sexual power, is the viable spawn of social class. Most of the historical record has been written by and circulated among men of the aspiring middle class. Apart from such articulate working class female voice as Emma Goldman’s, the clear links between personal and political tyranny have largely been ignored.
Look again – up there, at that photo – and within your community, on familiar city streets, in advertising and broadcast reports from capitals and conferences. Yes, there’s a slightly more equitable reflection of class, race, age and gender than there was even just a few years ago. But the majority of images we’re meant to identify with are still predominantly white middle-class men portrayed as more important than women.
The myths we’re fed from birth falsely reassure us that ’twas always thus. But anyone who truly values Real Truth over Fake News, discovers that human society has undergone a socio-cultural upheaval as potent as the first mass extinction of species. That unsettling time, you’ll recall, shifted the balance of planetary life from a dominant path of unchallenged lizards, to a much smaller group of proto-mammalian survivors who’ve adapted to whatever they’ve encountered ever since. Or should I say whatever we’ve encountered, because we’re talking about you and me.
The Importance of Being … Hugged
In the evolutionary story of ourselves, the most successful models were and still are based on small groups of folk known to each other and reliant upon them. The ones with prior experience explore the exciting possibilities of a repeat performance and passing on the culture to the next generation. When the land and throats are parched, the elders
recall that just over that hill in the distance is a vibrant lake and off they trek. Everyone follows, lo and behold! they find the water, and that’s how respect is earned.
Of course, if the lake has also dried up, then everyone dies of thirst, so that little group won’t be able to pass on genes or anything else. But the band of survivors will find ways to be joyful, and we’re quite a touchy-feely species, so joy will probably include some hugging. Lots of hugging. Hugging [just try it again to make sure], makes us feel
good. It’s an intimate sharing of being, in the most existential way. It’s not a priori sexual, though it might be. It’s not a voluble act, but is filled with expression.
In fact, many remote species of life crave touching, stroking, and grooming as placatory non-verbal communication. It’s even essential for development. You may have heard of a 1950s psych researcher called Harry Harlow, who devised one of the cruellest, most horrendous experiments, conducted on tiny Rhesus monkeys, taken from their birth mothers and
placed in isolation cages in the laboratory.
Before I describe the actual experiments, consider this: the funding came from several US policy units working with the military for one single reason. They were desperate to convince those women who’d been doing vital war work, to give up their jobs and new-found social freedoms and stay at home to breed, making room in the workplace for their hubbies, brothers, dads and other male relatives.
What more effective way to reach women than to trade on a perceived biological imperative. Now, lissen up, you women, the war is over. If you don’t get back home pronto and raise some kiddywinks, the entire population will collapse and die. And it will be your fault! Now, here are some recipes for you.
Here’s what Harlow devised. The newborn baby monkeys always had milk available – though it’s doubtful the formula substitution for monkey-mother milk was as complete as it might be. Each baby was confined to a small cage area along with a crudely devised wire sculpture with a monkey face, and then a cloth-covered “mother,” to which it could cling. It invariably chose the cloth mother, even when only the wire one offered milk, and even when the cloth mum blew
frightening jets of air at the infant, or left it a trembling wreck when “she” screamed into its face. Are you surprised to learn that these monkeys were called “weird,” and behaved like emotionally disturbed children deprived of love and affection, no matter how well fed they might be? Quite a propaganda tool to make human motherhood seem to be a
patriotic duty, let alone a biological destiny.
We humans enjoy profound genetic connections with our ape cousins, all of whom include hugs and embraces into their daily social interaction. The most extreme examples come from bonobos, sometimes called pygmy chimpanzees. They live in small groups of extended families and very rarely have fights or disagreements. When they do, quite
simply, their solution is to fuck. Yes, you read that right. Their emollient is a quickie, a wham-bam-thankyou-ma’am – also, in their case, thankyou-sir, since sexual calming works for all. Male to female, female to female, male to male, and in all positions. Bonobos are our only ape cousins who regularly copulate face to face [though a couple of gorillas
have also been similarly recorded].
What bonobos have – which appears so baffling for us humans – is a highly evolved ability to distinguish between sex as an expression of affection between their closest family, and a calming quickie among all group members to ease tension and subvert aggression. Significantly, as is true with many large-brained mammals which mate in public view, the
adults allow their curious young to witness the behaviour, but nor do they discourage little paws or toddler elephant trunks to touch the couple, and with equal curiosity touch the female’s genitalia when a resulting baby appears in the birth canal. That is part of their education, an effective teaching tool of the cultural heritage of the
We humans initially evolved along similar lines, and some of the few remaining far-flung tribes have been shown living such open and pragmatic life-styles. To justify years of hiding our politically controlled cultural confusion, we denigrate them as savages. So, despite our current outrage at much of today’s accusation/denial media frenzy, related factors are getting ignored. Let me repeat – none of this is in any way to excuse the abuse of their power by those in elevated
positions of social or employment control. None of it. No excuses. Full stop.
Somewhere inside us all is the same genetic blueprint that encourages the most vital actions of survival without the burden of any temporary or imposed sense of morality. We must know how to find water, food, protection from the weather, and follow the process from birth to death.
No dictats. Without guilt.
Whoa! You Can’t Do That!
I repeat, that though the Weinstein abuse allegations have been the catalyst for a much-needed spring-clean of our cultural cupboards, the examination of individual horror stories cannot be coupled with pronouncements of assumed morality or even religious truth. That’s patently not any kind of excuse for Weinstein, nor anyone, man or woman,
who has wielded physical power over another person. It’s simply two completely different things.
In his cogent and meticulously researched book of 2013 The Bonobo and the Atheist, distinguished primatologist Frans de Waal posits the genetic imperative of an evolved moral sense, as opposed to a social construct imposed on humans by a deity, of whatever ethnic creed. After so many decades of observation and analysis in what has clearly been a
research atmosphere of infinitely greater respect for animals than Harlow, de Waal argues that the biological yearning for peer-to-peer contact of any kind gives rise to a species-specific morality. Bonobos don’t need language to pass on such an important cultural legacy.
Nor do they need a class structure. Our so-called developed world is an economic construct, not a value judgement of the ways our species has traditionally solved the problems of existence. Traditionally over millennia and throughout various cultures which have elevated certain individuals, clans, dynasties, and their acolytes over others, the notion of class has become entrenched. Whether the class boundaries are measured by the acquisition of money tokens, or conspicuous consumption artefacts, or the right family name on the birth certificate, the perpetuation of the species is defined by the transaction of sex.
Once class came into the picture, at first, there were only the rich and the poor. The “lower classes” have produced far more children than are needed to replace a balance of society as older generations die. That was down to poor public health as well as a growing dependence on the kids to do their share at home, on the farm, or in business.
At this level, women’s role in the transaction may provide offspring to love and cuddle if they’re lucky, but only in the context of her being an on-hand baby machine. Given that her movements were severely restricted, often by rules unilaterally dictated by the husband and/or his family, the woman had more in common with a farrowing sow than those of her gender in the upper class.
Meanwhile the rich brokered family amalgamations, economic alliances – often betrayed – to keep control of the land and wealth of the nation. Women might be bartered to breed for men they had no feelings for. Lie back and think of England had resonance long before the Victorians. Marriage, quite simply, became codified as a transaction akin to the slave-trade, save that rich women had better food and posh dresses. Their men, however, could assert their power by inserting their erections willy-nilly, on wife or servant alike. It took such perceptive women as Jane Austen to contrive entertaining tales to sharpen the point.
Only in a few spheres, and those depended on wealth, might some women fly from their gilded cages. Some became explorers and adventurers; some inherited businesses and made them thrive; others succeeded as artists, though few could use their real names; and some disguised themselves as men to become soldiers and sailors.
Laudable, all, but the barriers of class prevented any real galvanizing female rebellion. Even the Athenian women in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, who in 411 BC pledged to deny their men any sexual favours to prevent further debilitating battle against Sparta, were of a class which had the freedom to choose.
It wasn’t until the inexorable rise of a middle class that equality between the sexes could take hold. That’s what we’re still in the midst of. Against the background of all that’s gone before, that’s what is so confusing both for men and women. As women we’re more and more trying to find our confident voices, to identify the clear and not-so-clear abuses we’re meant to shut up about. And, yes, some men are included, too.
This is our continuing legacy of the transactions that are shaping today’s society. It may be show biz and politics providing the backdrop for change, but that’s okay. So long as we don’t get mired in the tabloid headlines; so long as the personalities don’t become the story. For real change, we have to be braver still. Confront our own complicity, whatever our gender. And transcend it so men and women together can rediscover respect. That’s a trade worth more than
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This post was written by outRageous!