The Ishtar Gate

According to Herodotus, in ancient Babylon every woman had, at some point in her life, to report to the temple and turn one trick. It was advantageous to get this over with when young and comely; those who left it too long, or the ill-favoured, might have to hang around in the temple for years and wait. As far as I know we have no sources explaining why this was done, other than “in honour of the god”, which probably means the income and entertainment of the priests. But consider: it is the powerful men, the judges and ministers, who go to prostitutes to get tied up, humiliated and even beaten, and apparently (the less numerous) powerful women share this taste for submission.

Consider too: in her anthropology of the far future, Always Coming Home, Ursula Le Guin draws us a portrait of a far-future matriarchy in which the women own the house and can eject a husband at any time, without possibility of appeal, merely by putting his bedroll on the porch. It sounds exactly like the sort of power-fantasy which, when indulged in by men, is greatly reprehended by all right-thinking persons; except that Le Guin was wise enough to construct a counterweight. This is the annual festival called “Dancing the Moon”, in which her matriarchs, once they choose to participate – for they can stay at home if they prefer – are obliged to give their bodies to any male participant who asks. She treats this as both a sop to the less powerful male sex (their one night of glory), as a check on abuse of power (the men can revenge themselves for cruel treatment during the year) and as a balance of the soul (in the same way as judges pay prostitutes to beat them).

Perhaps, then, the women of ancient Babylon were more powerful than we assume, and so needed such a corrective, a taking down a peg or two? And perhaps it would be a good thing if the most arrogant “rich bitches” were to be obliged, one day in the year, to service her social inferiors; provided that meanwhile her rich and powerful husband had to scrub the toilets of the poor with a toothbrush.

Posted on February 20, 2012 at 09:35 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE NAME OF THE GAME, Belles Du Jour

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