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Saturday, October 23, 2010

What do women want?

Sigmund Freud once wrote, "The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What do women want?'"

He posited that all women must want male genitalia, which was the female counterpart to his concept of castration anxiety.

Which, of course, is at the root of the "fundgelical" critique of feminism. You can always tell the very conservative men in the room whenever a competent, assertive woman walks in to take part in the conversation.

They would be the ones who fidget in their seats and either cross their legs or move their hands from the table or their side and fold them in front of their crotch.

Jerry Falwell 'splains it all for us: "I listen to feminists and all these radical gals - most of them are failures. They've blown it. Some of them have been married, but they married some Casper Milquetoast who asked permission to go to the bathroom. These women just need a man in the house. That's all they need. Most of the feminists need a man to tell them what time of day it is and to lead them home. And they blew it and they're mad at all men. Feminists hate men. They're sexist. They hate men - that's their problem."

Pat Robertson sings another verse of "The Castration Anxiety Song" "[Feminism is] a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

Ah, the old "nature vs. nurture" argument, brought to it's 'logical' conclusion.

Mel Gibson had his own response to Dr. Freud's question: "After about 20 years of marriage, I'm finally starting to scratch the surface of that one. And I think the answer lies somewhere between conversation and chocolate."

I suppose that could be called 'progress' - which he apparently lost with his second wife. Which was no better than Alec Baldwin's tape recorded violent message to his then 11 year old daughter.

Rebecca West, the nom de plume of British writer and literary critic Cicely Isabel Fairfield, gave the best definition of feminism: "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute."

I must say that I have been scratching my head and asking, What does this woman want?

I'm referring, of course, to the story of Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, and head of the conservative political group "Liberty Central", who left this phone message for Anita Hill:
"I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought. And certainly pray about this and hope that one day you will help us understand why you did what you did. OK, have a good day."
What Anita Hill "did", which Ginni Thomas thinks deserves an apology "across the airwaves and the years," was to testify, twenty years ago, at the Senate hearings for her husband, Clarence's appointment to the Supreme Court.

Justice Thomas was then head of the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Office) where Ms. Hill worked and claimed to have been repeatedly sexually harassed by Mr. Thomas, making comments about everything from a pubic hair in a Coke can to Long Dong Silver films.

Now, I understand why Anita Hill did what she did. It was a bold and brave thing to have done - especially twenty years ago - and she was simultaneously excoriated and exonerated in the press for her testimony. Indeed, my car was adorned with a bumper sticker for years that declared, "Anita Hill for Supreme Court."

But, why did Ginni Thomas do what she did?

The phone message was left at 7:30 on a Saturday morning on Ms. Hill's office phone at Brandeis University where she is a member of the faculty.

One supposes that, at that hour, Mrs. Thomas was not "in her cups" or in an otherwise "altered state of consciousness" - an 'Ambien Stupor,'perhaps - and participating in "drunk dialing" - which is not to be confused with "self-righteous dialing".

Was it some impulse aimed at the goal of Christian reconciliation? An attempt to find some healing for herself and her family after all these years? Those who have known Ginni Thomas for years say she is naive and kindhearted, and this behavior came as no surprise to them.

Was it innocence or stupidity? Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two, but certainly, a case can be made for a serious impairment or lapse in judgment.

In the end, Mrs. Thomas looks like a 'flake'.

Or, was she being a wolf in sheep's clothing? The morning Ginni “reached across the airwaves,” the Times ran an article about her growing public role at Liberty Central, where she works to oppose the leftist “tyranny” of Obama and leftist Democrats in congress. It raised issues about where “large, unidentified contributions” were coming from and pointed out that it could lead to recusal issues for her husband on the Supreme Court.

Was Thomas orchestrating a publicity campaign and using Hill as a ruse to galvanize her own base, some wondered. Moreover, if this was an “olive branch,” as she’d said, why was she asking for an apology from Hill; wasn’t that tantamount to calling Hill a liar?

And, what of Anita Hill? Why come forward with Ginni Thomas' taped message to her? What was she trying to prove? Why bring up all of that now? Certainly, her safety wasn't at stake. Or, was the call so bizarre as to make her think it was? Even so, after reporting it to the police and the FBI, why go public?

Here's my take: I think Ginni Thomas was trying to prove what we already knew - what Ms. Hill's public release of the tape demonstrates: that Anita Hill does not regret for a moment her testimony at the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings. That Ginni Thomas will never get the apology she believes she is owed by Anita Hill.

Does anyone besides the two of them know the full truth about what happened between Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill when he was a Reagan administration official and she was a young lawyer on his staff? Perhaps not. But, the overwhelming weight of the evidence - then and now - is on Hill's side.

Which, I think, begins to answer Dr. Freud's question, "What do women want?"

The answer is, "You're asking the wrong question."

It is a difficult enough question to ask, "What does THIS woman want?" - not all women being Ginni Thomas, or alas, Anita Hill.

Or, "What does THIS man want?" - not all men being Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Mel Gibson or Alec Baldwin.

To posit a question based on the arrangement of one's chromosomes or external genitalia is to ask a question that can not - indeed, perhaps should not - be answered except on the basis of what is known about the nature and character of that individual person.

It's tantamount to asking, "What do Caucasian people want?" or "What do People of Color want?"

Basically, we want the same things, despite the differences of our race or gender or sexual orientation. We all want our basic human needs addressed and cared for. No matter who we are, or where we live, we all want "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

The difference in how we live that life or enjoy that liberty and what path we travel that brings us happiness is not in our chromosomes but in our personalities and character.

For me, it's pretty much summed up in the picture at the top of this essay. I'd really like to see an end to the question, "What do women want?"

I mean, if you have to ask the question . . . . you'll probably get the answer being given by the woman lying naked in front of those men in the picture above. The look on her face and the wave of her hand says it all.

Why am I a feminist? Well, that's much easier to answer. Well, for this woman, anyway.

I think this response, which appeared in The Torch, 14 September 1987, says it all.
Because women's work is never done and is underpaid or unpaid or boring or repetitious and we're the first to get fired and what we look like is more important than what we do and if we get raped it's our fault and if we get beaten we must have provoked it and if we raise our voices we're nagging bitches and if we enjoy sex we're nymphos and if we don't we're frigid and if we love women it's because we can't get a "real" man and if we ask our doctor too many questions we're neurotic and/or pushy and if we expect childcare we're selfish and if we stand up for our rights we're aggressive and "unfeminine" and if we don't we're typical weak females and if we want to get married we're out to trap a man and if we don't we're unnatural and because we still can't get an adequate safe contraceptive but men can walk on the moon and if we can't cope or don't want a pregnancy we're made to feel guilty about abortion and...for lots of other reasons we are part of the women's liberation movement.


Muthah+ said...

Love Rebecca West quote!

I have given up on trying to deal with what men want or women want. All I can do is say what I want and listen to what others want.

It is hard enough to get people to even express what they want. And even then, I know I can't fix it by giving it to them.

The painting at the top of the post is the most revealing, Elizabeth. It was all of those Puritain leaders and the artist is saying--"this is what all of you guys want! But with all of your black and white, with all your starched ruffs and piety, you have missed the point of what those desires are for"

I just wish that rubeneque women were still in vogue today rather than the anorexic.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Amazing Rebecca West quotation! Many thanks.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yup - listening to people, that's what it's all about. Not generalizing by gender, class or race or any other marker. Although, I must say that this rant by Bill Maher makes me giggle wickedly

Is there any other woman besides rubenesque women?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for the visit, Bishop Alan. LOVED your post about the Turkey Turner as an image of the Anglican Covenant. Brilliant.

Tom Downs said...

Did you catch the report about Lillian McEwen on NPR yesterday? She was Clarance Thomas' long-time girl friend. After hearing about Mrs. Thomas' suggestion that Ms Hill apologize, "she talks about a Clarence Thomas that in some ways resembled the Clarence Thomas that Anita Hill talked about at the hearings." The interview also explained why she was not called as a witness by the senate.
Tom Downs

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I missed it, Tom, but read about it. . . somewhere.

I have no doubt that Clarence Thomas is guilty of everything Anita Hill says he is. I suspect that's also part of the reason Ginni Thomas asked her to apologize. She can't put it behind her because the truth is still nagging at her, all these many years later.

It's all so very sad.

JCF said...

It's all so very sad.


Did I not hear that Virginia Thomas is (or was) an Episcopal priest?! [Because I can't imagine her qualifying, intellectually OR emotionally.]

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Her husband is a Roman Catholic but both attend an Episcopal Church in VA.

walter said...

Mother Elizabeth,
I surely revisit what made America' history: Do not ask what America wants but do ask what you can do for America, which is the same thing as to ask what can you do for yourself. Thus do not ask what women want but do ask what can you do for the woman you percieve in your consciousness.

On anotehr level: resurrection without incarnation (e.g. the Daughter of Woman) would be pointless. I ask and anticipate forgiveness for all the polemics if any that I may stimulate.

Buffalo Shepherd

Lapinbizarre said...

At the time of the confirmation hearings, Thomas attended Truro Church, which was then (and still is, of course) Episcopalian, but apparently has not done so in years, having returned to the RCs. It would be churlish to draw any connection between his Episcopalian phase and John Danforth's being an Episcopal priest.

rick allen said...

I can understand your frustration with all those "feminists hate men" explanations. Of course it's not true.

But can you then understand how others might similarly not be taken with your explanation that their differences with you are necessarily rooted in misogyny? [see prevoius post] What's the difference between you and the late Rev. Falwell in this respect?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Rick - first of all, I do not reduce everything to misogyny. All though many are, all stupid people are not prejudiced but prejudice does destroy brain cells. "You have to be carefully taught" and all that.

As for your parallels between me and Rev. Falwell "in this respect" - well, if you have to ask the question . . .

walter said...

Mother Elizabeth,

As for confusing Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary in the context of the reference to the doctrine of the incarnation by the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton in 'Telling Secrets' I can only say that I am surely glad Mary Magdalene did not wait for the universal church to formulate and agree upon a doctrine of the Incarnation before saying 'yes' to God. Here is why: The rational elements of a religion, its "doctrine" - like the Indian doctrine of the karma, the Calvinistic faith in the predestination, the Lutheran justification through the faith, the Catholic doctrine of the sacraments - have, them also, their autonomy and rational pragmatism of salvation coming from a certain type of conception of God and of "image of the world" and have had in certain cases some consequences of broad depth for the practical organization of experiencing by the middle class.

So when we speak of Existential Inclusive Theology we want to stress that our point of reference is the culmination of the modern prophetic tradition in Max Weber that makes us to reflect in the comprehension that every structure of experiencing (by the way what are type of structure would there really be!)has been influenced by either one or a combination of the rational-doctrinal elements of Indian karma, Calvinistic predestination, Lutheran justification, Catholic sacraments. The transformation of the sacrament of the Eucharist in The Sacramental Moment asks and anticipates that it is no longer needed to wait for a Doctrine of the Incarnation because genuine Christian incarnation is not about Doctrine: Incarnation we cannot control. I pray and anticipate forgiveness for any polemics that this experience of mine may stimulate in the name of the One who keep us centered and focused and truthful, Jesus the Christ.

Buffalo Shepherd