The Sedulous Abettors

Regarding one of her characters, Edith Wharton says, “most of the young men of his age….. (made) the abysmal distinction between the women one loved and respected and those one enjoyed – and pitied. In this view they were sedulously abetted by their mothers, aunts and other elderly female relatives…..” Now, that men used thus to distinguish between marriageable maidens and prostitutes is old news, but in the customary excoriation of men for their wholly peculiar and inherent wickedness, I miss a discussion of why exactly their mothers, aunts and other elderly female relatives should “sedulously abet” them in making this abysmal distinction.

It would obviously be important not to confuse the categories in the one direction, lest the enjoyed-and-pitied personage be loved and respected too, which would lead to her getting her hands on the family silver. Such things did happen, of course, abysmal distinctions or no. The record may be held by the venerable King Leopold II of Belgium, who married a teenaged French prostitute. I fancy, however, that we can detect in Wharton the other direction too – the implication that the senior women of the tribe are egging on the young men to sow their wild oats with the démi-mondaine in question.

If I am not imagining out of whole cloth this cheerleading, the question becomes how exactly the matriarchs profit. If the young man is so well supplied with ladies of negotiable affection that he need not seduce and “ruin” any women of his own class, this is obviously of benefit to the seniors, whose principal job it is to weave webs of lucrative family alliance.

But perhaps there is something else as well. We may have quite recently lost contact with how mothers, aunts and grandmothers, even in supposedly prudish ages, used to have a sympathetic attitude to young male horniness. I fancy I myself took a voyage in time when I had an African mistress who shared me around the clan and wanted to get me well laid everywhere. That in some metaphor of loyalty she called herself my mother, for all that she was less than half my age, may have been of relevance. Her own mother seemed to approve the strategy, and her cousin my housekeeper was also an enabler. To someone brought up in a culture in which all women had supposedly passed through the Sexual Revolution but were in fact fanatical minders of other people’s business and sexual manners, inclined to concede males their sexuality only on a long list of correct conditions, this cheerful abetting and procuring seemed simply bizarre. But what if it were, at least in its less extreme forms, to be actually the human baseline?

A genetic lineage – and its always-female real leaders – will fancy itself in credit when its young men impregnate all and sundry, and in debit if other tribes do the same in return. Thus the basis of old-school sexual morality. If this is the hardwired root of the enabling strategy, the big question must be why it went so sharply into reverse in the latter part of the twentieth century, so that it became the vocation of mothers, aunts and other female relatives both elderly and young, indeed of any female whatsoever, to restrict men to their official partners – and even then only after much jumping through doctrinal hoops. After so many thousands of years since Mount Sinai, the programme of imposed male chastity succeeds only now?

Posted on February 13, 2012 at 18:01 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE NAME OF THE GAME, Who Is Exploiting Whom?

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