Friday, September 7, 2007

Love and death

Lou blogged today about an excellent article in the Guardian on legal prostitution in Nevada. Apparently, your average state-sanctioned brothel is not the happiest place on earth. What a shock. Go here to see Lou's post, which has a link to the full text at the Guardian's site.

Right after I read Lou's post, I clicked over to the BBC website and saw this article about two accused prostitutes who were kidnapped and beheaded in Pakistan.

You know, I spent a lot of my life thinking the world hated women, and now I just think the world hates sex. Outside of a very narrow range of acceptable sexuality, it seems that almost any sexual expression, anywhere, is regarded as repulsive or criminal, or both. Larry Craig isn't in any danger of being beheaded, but gay men are lynched on a fairly regular basis in this country. As the Guardian piece points out, even legal sex workers are treated like subhuman deviants by their employers, their customers and the state that licenses their trade.

Why are we like this? Why are we so cruel about regulating this appetite? Trust me, I've done my share of slogging through feminist theory, and I don't dismiss it, but neither do I feel satisfied with the explanations it offers. The older I get the more I have a sneaking suspicion that we are hardwired for sexual meanness, just as we are hardwired to be predators and to make war--which, if it's true, excuses none of our crimes against each other. It just means we have to think of them as something to manage rather than cure.

6 comments:

caribou said...

I agree that the world (with exceptions) seems to hate sex, maybe in proportion to how out of control of it they feel, and that womanhating springs from this fear/desire. Is this cruel streak hardwired, though? I don't think so - I think the fear/shame/hysteria about sex are taught, just as racism is.

BitterGrace said...

I'd like to believe that's true, because then it could be banished.

Most of the time I think both our cruelties and our kindnesses are hardwired, and it's when we are negotiating between the two that we are most fully human.

Lou said...

Some of our cultural behaviors aren't so universal as we are made to believe ('prostitution is the oldest profession'). Anything that is culture and time specific, probably isn't hardwired. Clearly, the range of behavior is within our possibilities; but it is just that, a possibility. Which choices we make is not solely determined individually, but just as much culturally. And these choices are also to a large extent dependent on gender, so indeed they are impossible to understand without feminist and political analysis.

BitterGrace said...

Well, Lou, I was trying to say--perhaps not very clearly--that I find it impossible to understand the issue with feminist and political analysis. Such analysis is useful when dealing with a particular social context, but my observation is that the tendency to vigorously police sexual expression does not seem to be culturally specific. It does take different forms in different cultures, but I don't know of any human society that has not punished sexual transgression, however that's defined, with great cruelty.

Lou said...

The Musuo may be a nice counter example. The way sexual behavior and expression is treated, is not only cultural specific, but also period specific. You'll find that documented in a host of books, as well as websites, like the suppressedhistoryarchives*.(the creation of patriarchy by Lerner, Sacred Pleasure by Eisler, etc.) And if you'd compare Scandinavian countries to Middle Eastern countries, not only are the differences truly humongous, it would be truly hyperbolic to speak of 'great cruelty' in terms of policies in these first mentioned countries.

Yet, it seems obvious to me, that sexual transgression is not a priori, per definition and under all circumstances innocuous, carefree play. I'm thinking of rape for instance, or incest. Up till recently does crimes went largely unpunished, as a matter of fact.

*http://www.suppressedhistories.net/

BitterGrace said...

Certainly there are huge differences between countries in the way the state regulates sexuality, but there's a great deal of repression and policing that happens extra-legally. And on that point, I'd say rape and sexual assault function as both sexual transgression and sexual repression. Wasn't it Brownmiller who called rapists the shock troops of the patriarchy? Rape and the threat of rape serve as excellent controls on women's free expression of their sexuality.

I'm not saying some cultures aren't more overtly repressive than others, and of course attitudes shift over time. But the fundamental distrust of the sexual impulse seems universal.