Monday, June 2, 2014

Kinsey, History, and Patriarchy

Kinsey reflects that much of the ancient codes restricting human sexual behavior hinges on the property rights of the male to the female he is wedded to. This also manifests in the enduring belief that although promiscuous men are seen to be "accomplished" males, similarly promiscuous women are viewed poorly. It occurs to me that the whole idea of the male "owning" the sexual rights of the female is incredibly "patriarchal" and oppressive of women, in a straightforward way that none of the nebulous claims feminists make about modern institutions of our culture can be.

The fact that in Kinsey's findings, most women's sexual activity is guided by the greater interest of the male - both in her adolescent, pre-marital experiences, and in her frequencies of marital intercourse - suggest that, at least on the average, the view of women as the "gatekeepers" of sex and men as providing the demand is not wholly off. So the idea of men owning the "property" rights of the female, especially in the sexual realm, would seem to cater both to women's lesser interest in sex (punishing her for expressing an independent sexual agency), and to men's need for control of the vessel by which they can achieve sexual satisfaction.

Again, this is very oppressive and patriarchal, and even if it is true that, on average, women are less interested in sex than men, that is not justification for men owning and controlling (and shaming when they don't behave the way men want them to) women's sexual agency. However, I'm left wondering whether, in antiquity, this state of affairs arose because of men's actual greater interest in sex than women, and thus men enslaving women for the sake of satisfying their libido? Or was it simply a matter of men already having more power than women, and therefore being in a position to subdue women's natural sexuality in order to suit men?

It seems (to me) ironic that men would try to subdue women's sexuality in order to improve their sexual experiences - I think a sexually confident woman is a much better sexual partner - but I suppose from a less egalitarian mindset, the desire to control the object of one's affections, and dictate just when and how she performs her duties, may seem more desirable, especially considering the fact that a subdued woman will be less likely to go off and give her "gift" to other men, in effect stealing that experience from the woman's "owner". Crazy twists of logic, right?

In any case, what I'd love to be able to know, is how much of women's expressed sexuality is a product of biology, and how much is cultivated by longstanding social traditions that originate (or at least were propagated through) earlier times when women were more obviously subjugated to men than to whatever extent they are today. Another thing that Kinsey references on occasion is the different way that adolescent males and females are treated. The female's potential sexual adventures are more closely controlled by her parents and society, and she is more harshly admonished than males who engage in activities frequently encouraged by his peers and the reigning culture, which are more often overlooked even by adults and authority figures.

This seems to me a reflection of the age old tradition of controlling women's sexuality, and especially of valuing a woman's virginity upon marriage. Telling the adolescent girl not to experiment with her sexuality is, in essence, another way of saying that her sexual experience belongs to the man she will eventually marry, even if it's not clear who that will be for a number of years yet. And though virginity is an important quality for males, too, from the religiously-influenced, abstinence-positive position, males are not shamed for their sexual activity nearly as often, or as harshly, as females - even by other females.

I just wonder how our sexual politics would change if we could start fresh, from a blank slate, and just let men and women behave the way their bodies and minds are naturally inclined toward, free from centuries - millenia, even - of social conditioning. I guess it's too much to ask, but it frequently depresses me, all the negative ways I see evidence that a selfish, greedy, spiteful, vindictive culture has influenced the way we are as people. I want us to be better.

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