How To Make Female Action Invisible

In most mammalian species it is the females who possess the resource basis – the range, the grass and so forth – and the males who seek to control them. The nature of the ecology dictates the extent to which the females must congregate to exploit the resources: this in turn dictates the mating pattern, from monogamy to small harems to promiscuous, multi-male herds. It is the males who seek to muscle in and control the females and their resources; if they are gregarious, a single male can dominate a clutch of them, but if the females are solitary, then the males have little choice but to be monogamists.

Biologists thus talk about the female mammals distributing themselves rather than being the objects of male distribution. They even imply that the males are passive spectators of this distribution. If this seems to us a strange way of talking, it is because we have been so thoroughly trained to think of the male as the agent, and the female as the acted-upon, so much so that our whole culture has become blind to female action, female choice and female strategy. This may have begun with male conceit, the hood ornament fancying that he is driving the car; but it has continued with female gaming of the system.

Until quite recently, our language always had men as the agent of any transaction between the sexes: we said “he seduced her”, “he fucked her”, “he knocked her up” and so forth. We sometimes said that “she seduced him”, but not that “she knocked herself up on him”, and never that “she fucked him”. For in those days, the verb “to fuck” referred not to intercourse as such but merely to the use of the penis to penetrate and pound (whence the aggressive metaphorical usage) and so could not be used with a woman as subject. So the currently common “she fucked him” is linguistic progress, but we are still waiting for the coinage of a word to describe conception in female-agency language, as something that at least can be done by a woman rather than as something done to her. A similar denial of female agency is when a woman sleeps with her boss in order to climb the corporate ladder, and everyone says he has done something to her, which she passively endured as befitted a mere object.

The usual reaction to these facts is that this older, male-agency, language reflected “patriarchy”. I would present an alternative suggestion: that male-agency language was developed by women, because it enabled women to evade responsibility for sexual transactions. That is, the female strategy was to set out to do something, do it, if possible enjoy it, but then to pretend that it was done to them. Men get only the benefit of doing it, while women get both the benefit of doing it and also the benefit of posing as a helpless victim of the male agent afterwards, resulting in a clear conscience, the absence of social reproach and lots of third-party sympathy.

Posted on March 10, 2013 at 12:34 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

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