Here there be monsters (socratic) wrote,
Here there be monsters
socratic

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Hooray for boobies, but not their bearers (another one NOT to read. Just don't. You've been warned.)

According to Edith Hamilton's book on mythology, the ancient Greeks believed that women were a curse sent by Zeus to punish men for the gift of fire they had recieved from Prometheus. (Prometheus himself got a slightly more humane treatment. He was chained to a mountain and had vultures feast on his liver every day, while it grew back every night.) For students of mythology this is probably old hat, but it's interesting to me. Of course I had heard of Pandora and her box (oh those punny punny Greeks) before, but the tale had never been presented as misogynstic, which it clearly is. The bleaching of racism and sexism from our intellectual history is one of the most dishonest and unreasonable aspects of the postmodern feminist approach to academics and learning. While it is certainly reasonable to disagree with those aspects of ancient writers that we find offensive, one should at least acknowledge them. Valid ideas can co-exist along with invalid ones, in the mind of the same author or even in the same work. This should be accepted and moved beyond. It is not.

The misogynstic nature of the Pandora myth, and others, brings up some interesting questions about the origins of misogyny. It's certainly not the only creation myth to cast a disparaging eye upon the fairer sex, the Judeo-Christian story of Eve springs to mind. The thing that interests me about the Greek myth is that the Greeks are often presented as being at least somewhat egalitarian when it came to sex. If you read Plato or Aristotle you will quickly become disabused of this notion, but it's there in descriptions of Sparta and the fact that so many of the important religious figures were female. (The sex of the various gods is another interesting topic. Zeus is male but he gives birth to Athena and some of her siblings by having them spring full grown from him, an immaculate conception by a male, while many of the female gods have no children at all. There's a whole lot of material to be mined there.) The misogynistic female creation myth undermines all of that.

So the next question is why. Why are there so many misogynistic visions of the female sprinkled throughout history? Some would argue that they exist purely for the sake of political domination. If you potray women as bad and evil then you justify denying them an equal say in society and equal rights. It's justification for keeping women in a subserviant position. That's certainly a reasonable explanation, but I don't think it explains some of the other similarities we see between the myths. For example, why are the women generally young and beautiful? Why is the theme of curiosity and incompetence so often the reason behind woman's fall, as opposed to actual malice on her part? Why is there always a level of predestination? (In the Jewish myth Eve is left in the garden of Eden for eternity with the dangerous apple left to her discretion and a snake there to tempt her. If god had built a decent fence the whole fall thing could have been avoided. Or if he'd had a couple anti-snake measures. Plus we don't know how long she resisted. And she didn't understand the consequences. It was a complete set-up!) What's up with the Virgin-whore dichotomy? (Eve is a nudist and presumably engaged in sexual congress with Adam because they had sons. Mary is not only a virgin but she's a married virgin, which means she is able to have sex without sinning but does not, at least not within the scriptures. Maybe God would have had siblings if they'd had Viagra back then, I don't know, but apparently something was up with Joseph's tool, and I'm not talking about his handsaw.)

I think the answers to that come from male perceptions of female beauty. (Straight) Men percieve beautiful women, and I mean truly beautiful women, like a mountain range or a waterfall. I've definitely been there myself (see countless cring-inducing sappy entries from the Spring if you need proof, but don't blame me if they leave you with rolling eyes) and it's an astounding experience to go through. Only women aren't like mountain ranges (titty jokes aside) they've got like feelings and thoughts and agency and stuff. That's a profound difference. See mountain ranges are just sitting around waiting for someone to explore them or gaze upon them. Even build houses up there. Waterfalls are much the same. When you encounter something that speaks to you like that, something that widens your eyes at the glory of existence and takes your breath away, you want to experience it to the fullest. Part of living in the world is exploring the breathtaking and beautiful aspects of it.

Except that when you're dealing with another person, and one who might be quite capricious and cruel. Beautiful women have the appearance of a phenomenon and the mind of a human being. They can be nasty just like ugly people can be, in fact they may even trend towards it because they can get away with so much more. How can someone with the face of an angel have a dark and twisted nature? It's like a perfect evening on a calm ocean, with a nasty riptide underneath. It's hard to reconcile the inviting break of the surf with the danger that lurks beneath.

Of course it's not just evil beautiful women who deliver a payload of pain to the hearts of men. There are plenty of other perfectly legitimate reasons for a woman not to get involved with, or even talk to, a guy. They range from previous involvement to lack of interest to time constraints. It still kills when it happens though. Especially when you throw in a nice dose of feminine dishonesty (call it social upbringing or different brain function or mis-directed concern about hurting others' feelings, but a lot of women spend a lot of time not saying what they actually mean). It hurts like hell. I have a friend right now who's suffering from gut-twisting head-turning chop-his-balls-off-and-mail-them-to-his-momma pain over a breakup with a girl he considers beautiful (standards of beauty are different for different people. I've seen pictures. She looks semi-retarded.) It's not entirely her fault (it may even qualify as one of those situations where nobody's to blame), but his pain is definitely real and it's raw and intense. The gates of El Dorado are closed to him and the future's so dark he wants a miner's helmet.

That's one of the things about truly beautiful girls. Once you've seen one up close you can't conceive of anyone else being as, or more, beautiful. Oh sure, intellectually you know it's true. I've seen maybe 5 women who reached down through my optic nerves to tweak my heart and leave me disoriented. (My standards are weird though. I like long hair, no make-up or piercings, and awkward (or rather unaffected) body language. Basically it can be boiled down to feminine and natural. I like women who aren't resistant to their gender even with all the difficult baggage it comes with, and who have better things to do with their time than put on makeup or worry about being graceful and proper. It's a rare mix of qualities, and, I suspect, a widely appreciated one.) Since I'm 22 years old and I only really started noticing girls when I was 10 or 11, I'd suspect that it's highly likely that I will encounter other women in the future who will have the same effect, but I can't for the life of me imagine what they'd look or be like. I can't conceive of them on anything beyond a verbal/intellectual level. It's like asking me to imagine a canyon more spectacular than the Grand. Maybe a great artist could, but I'd be left thinking dumbass things like "Well, I guess it should be bigger..." The human mind can't conceive of something as gorgeous and detailed as the Grand Canyon is. It can't fill in every shrub and spec of dust, ever crag and lonesome bird call. It can't conceive of the perfect female face ever. Can't fill in all the freckles, the way the eyelashes interlace when her eyes are closed, or the breadth of her nostrils as a ratio to the length of her lips.

So my friend does not see his future as full of even more attractive women and better relationships. His imagination can't conjur them up and he's left grasping at ghosts of the past. He's angry and hurt and self-destructive.

And this is why I think we have these myths. Because men experience transcendant radiance and rejection and have to deal with it somehow. They make up a story about women being a "gift" from the gods, sent to tempt and torment. They make up nasty tales of naughty girls who overstepped their bounds and unleashed EVERY SINGLE EVIL THERE IS into the world. That's a pretty heavy responsibility to put on the ovaried set. Can we really blame them for Yanni? Yet we do. He was lurking inside Pandora's box waiting for her to pop the top and unleash his music. One would presume he was trading audience irritation tips with Kenny G.

That could also explain why the women in these myths aren't all bad. Eve is the mother of all mankind, so she probably deserves a thank-you card for that. Pandora brought hope into the world along with sorrow and suffering. Hope springs eternal in the face of a pretty young maid. It makes sense when you think about it.

I've been accused of being insensative to women and homosexuals when I've drifted down this path in the past. Of not acknowledging their lusts and senses of beauty. It's true, I can't judge them. I don't know what it's like to stare at a man and go "Oh my." I don't know what it would be like to come from their place in the social order, a place where attraction is given a different template than it is for heterosexual men. We've basically got the chivalrous knight or the unrepentant horndog. I tend much more towards the former. Women have so many mixed-messages from so many angles I don't even know what their template's like anymore. Is it the "Sex in the City" horny with a side order of desperation? The Middle Aged courtly love "sex is dirty" view? I can't say. Gays are given two options. Either they're disgusting and depraved or they are supposed to embrace their sexuality and flaunt it like cheap costume jewelry, arrested in an adolescent stage of perpetual desire. I don't think anyone conforms perfectly to any of the templates, but they do influence, and I can't tell you what it'd be like to come from one of those perspectives any more than I could tell you what it'd be like to dance the tango on the rings of Saturn.

I would like to bring art into the equation though. I haven't seen any truly masterful art that shows attraction to men in the same way that attraction to women has been portrayed. Now I acknowledge all the tired arguments about the stiffling of female and homosexual expression in the pre-modern world (and some would argue, in a somewhat silly fashion, even to this day in the United States.) On the other hand, when you look at the gay or female masters that WERE out there I think there's a difference. Look at Caravaggio, perhaps the best openly (at least in terms of his art in retrospect) gay painter of the Renaissance. His feminized boys are pretty, sure, but their beauty is human and self-contained (admittedly part of that is because Caravaggio had a preference for more 'realistic' scenes and subject matter) in a way that images of Venus aren't. Venus is a goddess purely because of her beauty, and she radiates power through it. Beautiful males are often strong and powerful, and they project their sexuality and beauty out, like the homoerotic form of David standing erect and strong at the height of his youthful beauty. Beautiful females don't have to do that. They often project beauty and power through reticence and modesty. Once again this is culturally conditioned, I don't deny that, but I think it's not merely culturally conditioned. Male beauty is something that can be powerfully radiated by the right man, but female beauty is a force of nature and cannot be contained, short of enforcing the Chador on every female in the nation. Stopping a beautiful woman from being beautiful is a project as complicated and difficult as building the Hoover dam.

The same is true in music and poetry. Has anyone ever matched Shakespeare's ode to his mistress in a poem to a man (or at least explicitly to a man, a lot of people have positied that poetry directed towards females is actually directed at homosexual lovers) Or a song with the explicit honesty of the refrain "How could you want him when you know you could have me" (This is the essence of the frustrated male's lament.) I've read Greek descriptions of attraction towards boys and to me it does not read the same. It has intense sexual desire, even appreciation for the physicality, but not the transendence, not the majesty, not the sense of the divine.

I know that plenty of people will disagree with my interpretation and what I've said about human attraction, but I think a lot of that is misdirected and defensive. If female and male attraction are different does that justify objectifying women? Does it excuse men for horrible things like rape and sexual harassement? The obvious answer is no, but some want to avoid asking the question by denying difference. We do that a lot in our society, deny difference in the hopes of avoiding the difficult questions it summons forth. I think it's a big mistake and a dangerous game to play. We say that equality won't be established until every group earns the same amount of money, gets the same amount of social goods, and is entitled to enjoy the same activities. This requires that we deny the possibility, or even reality, that different groups have different priorities and capacities. Now individual members of different groups may have overlapping capacities (some Jews are taller than some Africans) and it's important to acknowledge this and give those individuals the opportunity to express their differences (don't bar Jews from playing basketball, unless they're 5'8" or under) but that doesn't mean we can expect equality. Equality only exists among identical people.

Personally, I think there is an area between myths of female responsibility for all the evils in the world and not acknowledging differences between the sexes. I think it's an area that can be found, and one that's worth finding.
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