Saturday, November 17, 2007

'Help! Help! I'm being repressed!'*

[Revised and expanded, 11/18/07, 11:56 a.m.]

Quelle horreur, mate! Melbourne Herald Sun columnist Andrea Burns is sagging under the weight of my expectations:

In the 21st century we are still suffering this Madonna-whore complex and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

In The Times recently, journalist Dawn Eden lamented her sexual rebellion of the 1960s
[which was really difficult, as I wasn't born 'til '68 — D.]. After heeding Germaine Greer's call to arms and Helen Gurley Brown's blessing to have sex "like a man" she ended up unfulfilled.

She writes: "Whatever Greer and her ilk might say, I've tried their philosophy that a woman can shag like a man and it doesn't work. We're not built like that. Women are built for bonding. We are vessels and we seek to be filled."

Perhaps we women wouldn't feel so conflicted about casual sex if women like Eden didn't put layer upon layer of expectations on the rest of us.

Sex is a simple act, but as long as women think monogamous sex equals love and multiple partners equals deviance, we will never find fulfilment.
Poor Ms. Burns. Here she is, is trying to sound all bold and brassy like her Aussie compatriots Greer and Helen "I am woman, hear me roar" Reddy — and coming off as positively Victorian.

I mean, you really have to hand it to a feminist writer who believes women are just such girlygirl whisper-soft gullible slips of things that their paper-thin feminine brains are so easily swayed like a milkweed blossom carried away like a light spring breeze by the writings of a chastity crusader opining in the Sunday Times of London.

As for the madonna-whore complex, I would believe such an animal existed were it not that it is usually propounded by women whose sympathies lie entirely with the whore. Their objections appear to be based upon the fact that, despite their best efforts to emulate whores, some men resolutely insist upon viewing them as potential madonnas.

Boo. Hoo. Hoo.**

I'm sorry to react so viscerally to Burns's column. It's hard not to do so when she holds me up as a repressive authority figure, but I shouldn't, because she is clearly hurting. Perhaps a reader with more distance could explain her discomfort with the burden of my "layer upon layer of expectations." I think it has something to do with the fact that I am touching upon something that provokes shame in her.

Such shame can be harmful, provoking a sense of worthlessness and helplessness that can lead to acting out sexually. I'm personally familiar with that brand of shame and am painfully reminded of it when I see certain images of who I was before I was chaste. It may be hard for some to grasp how shame can motivate people to be shameless, but I have no difficulty understanding why Britney Spears decided at the last minute to wear an all-too-revealing bra-and-underwear ensemble at the MTV Video Awards. It also makes sense to me both why Pamela Anderson says she cried the first time she posed for Playboy and why she says that, in subsequent shoots, her tears gave way to a feeling of empowerment.

Acting out sexually is a gut-level reaction to shame. It says, "Everybody knows I've been exposed — so I'll take power over the situation by being in control of my exposure." The greater the shame, the greater the attempt to magnify the sin. It's the story of Madonna's career.

But there is another kind of shame, which Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, writing in Love and Responsibility, called a "healthy shame":
"'[H]ealthy shame' functions to protect the very nature of personhood, which cannot be shared, unless the person permits this through the gift of self in love. It is because of this shame that we come to see the essential value of the whole person (sexuality included), whose ultimate longing is to love and be loved, shared and experienced in their totality."
It is this healthy shame that I seek to promote. The fact that Burns sees it as a threat to her chosen lifestyle suggests to me that she is suffering emotionally from the effects of the other brand of shame, the damaging kind. After all, if she were not suffering, she could simply shrug off my admonitions as the words of a prude and move on, rather than protest at the weight of my expectations of her.

Burns concludes:
To be a woman is a changing ideal, but the deportment school for good girls has not caught up yet.

We don't need to convince the blokes of this. I am guessing they will lose that mother complex quick smart if women had sex like men.
Be careful what you wish for, sister. Try "having sex like a man" and your sex partners will lose their mother complex, all right. They'll also lose any ability to see you as a potential mother. Of course, that may be what you really want. In any case, the idea of having sex like a man is, as I've said, a base canard.

I think that on some level Burns realizes this. Just two weeks ago, she lamented in her column that "the date is dead." As Unhooked author Laura Sessions Stepp described at last week's "Modest Proposals" seminar, the columnist's sense of loss echoes that of of many college students who wish dating would make a comeback.

Perhaps inside every "That Woman" is a fine woman struggling to get out.

RELATED: The Nation fails to get The Thrill.

UPDATE: Andrea Burns responds.

*A reference to "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"

**Deleted on second thought because the Madonna wouldn't say that.