Do women use sex for barter? I hear a resounding "Well, Duh!" from my imaginary audience--males and females both. But for someone like me, who feels forever on the dark side of common knowledge, the possibility that the satisfaction of erotic longing is subject to market forces seems perverse. Even sacrilegious. Whenever people have tried to link eros and materialism (as in, "If you don't get a real job, Andy, your wife is going to leave you"), my tendency has been to reply, "But what does one thing have to do with the other? Women don't offer love in return for financial security. They're nobler creatures than that." I seem to have come very late in life to the realization that somewhere back in the forest primeval, Eve struck a deal with Adam. No cookie, no nookie. At least, that's what people tell me. Are they wrong?
RECENTLY, the NYT Magazine published an intriguing and provocative piece titled "What Women Want" after Freud's famous query. Now, generally, when men ask "what does a woman want?" (and the author was a man), they're often really asking "what will make a woman want ME the way I want HER?" It has occurred to me recently that the correct answer may be "nothing." The feminine flipside of "He's Just Not That Into You." Another way of saying this is that--with some exceptions, women don't seem to be gourmands of sex the way men are. I don't think this is about biology or the pleasure principle. (On that score, I think that women actually get more physically from sex than men do. Sometimes, I wish I were one of them). It's more that women see sex from a greater distance, as part of a whole package of things that includes a warm, dry cave and a haunch of mammoth for dinner. For men, sex is the sizzle. For women, maybe it's just another part of the steak. And maybe this is why they seem able to commoditize it. Why not? It's just another item in the market, right?
SOMETIMES I think that being a man trying to understand how women feel about sex is like being a Christian trying to figure out how a Jew feels about money. In both cases, it's not something "external" to human conduct, and therefore deserving of suspicion, fetishizing, or mystification. It's just something else we use to get what's essential.
SO HERE'S what some say is the "market" explanation of female sexual behavior. Once prehistoric females got wise to the fact that males wanted sex all the time, whereas they craved it it only when ovulating, that most ancient of human urges--the desire to get the better end of a deal--came into play. Market advantage. This deal has held for more than a hundred thousand years. It has survived the Roman Empire, Manifest Destiny, feminism, and post-structuralism. I'm wondering if it's time for a NEW DEAL, one based on taking feminism at its word and paying more than lip service to the notion of an equality of erotic desire. The old deal feels a little raw to me. Thoughts?
ALAN RIFKIN'S LATEST
There's a link on my home page to Alan Rifkin's on-line novel, ALT.COUNTRY. Rifkin is a California writer who's written incisively about what he calls the "fabulist fiction" of the Golden State, a style embodied in the works of writers from Joan Didion to Joy Nicholson, and a school in which I'm proud to be a fledgling. The characters in ALT.COUNTRY are instantly real, because Rifkin seems to have breathed them onto the page. Highly recommended.
EXCERPT (from NOWHERE~LAND, A Stephan Raszer Investigation):
The laptop’s screen came up with a file icon flashing against the Moorish desktop pattern. He opened it to a hypertext version of Revelation 14, with underlined passages linking him to pages of exegesis by scholars and theologians from the 5th century on. The passage Monica had highlighted in red was from Verses 1-4:
"AND I looked, and lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads."
"AND they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the Elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth."
"THESE are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins."
HE clicked on the hyperlinked word, virgins, and was taken to a display of related passages from Revelations, as well as a quote attributed to Jesus in Matthew 19:12:
HEARING his pronouncement against divorce, the Pharisees had protested to Jesus—in so many words—“if we’re not free to dump our wives, maybe it’s not such a great idea to get married in the first place,” to which Jesus replied in cryptic agreement:
“ALL MEN cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. There are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heavens’ sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”
RASZER read the passage repeatedly and with increasing speed, until its archaic syntax morphed into a kind of non-verbal vernacular, a direct feed from page to brain. It was a technique for reading sacred texts he’d been introduced to when first undertaking his study, and now he did it automatically. The fact was that unless you read the original Greek or Hebrew, Sanskrit or Arabic, everything was bastardized by the translator’s biases, and even in the maiden tongue, most scripture and sutra was secondhand news and at least twice-removed from meaning. The real meaning was esoteric. As Jesus had said time and again in the Gnostic Gospels: “He who has ears, let him hear.” If this was not the case in the matter of eunuchs, it was surely true of an even stranger quote Monica had pulled in from the Gospel of Saint Thomas:
“WHEN you make the male and the female be one and the same, so that the male might not be male nor the female be female—then you will enter the Kingdom.”
IN just two degrees, Raszer’s separate queries about the identity of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ “Little Flock” of 144,000 and the history of sacramental castration had been drawn together in a way that put a new spin on Aquino’s virgin sex ring theory. Suppose virginity—of one sort or another—was a factor, but suppose it wasn’t about the lust of middle-aged men for young girls. Suppose it was about devotion. Or control.
HE left the thought there, reminding himself only of what he’d already learned on so many previous cases: that given half a chance, the predators would always use the tools of religion to augment their power over the prey. It was the same story with every clique that deserved the pejorative of “cult,” whether it was Manson’s Family or Jim Jones’s Temple or L. Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology. There was always an agenda, and if it wasn’t about personal power it was about power on a broader scale.
THE castration material was more extensive and more eye-opening than he’d expected, and there would be a few nights’ work in digesting it. Several items, however, jumped out of Monica’s hastily assembled list of bullet points:
• The earliest evidence of ritual castration was found in Sumerian texts from the temple of goddess INANNA at Uruk in present-day Iraq. A sample quote from high priestess Enheduanna, dated to 2300 BC: “Inanna turns a man into a woman and a woman into a man.” • The priests of the cult of Phrygian mother goddess Cybele, instituted around the time of King Midas (725-675 BC) and fashionable in Rome of AD 295-390, were known as the Galli, and castrated themselves in imitation of her divine son/lover Attis, who had done so in penance for his betrayal. According to myth, the birthday of Attis was December 25. Unlike other pre-Christian Mother-Son cults, the cult of Cybele and Attis was a cult of abstinence. • Origen, the great scholar and theologian of the early Christian church, also “made a eunuch of himself” for the kingdom of heavens’ sake. • In the mid-18th century, an ecstatic Christian sect known as the Skoptzy or Skoptji arose in the Oryel region of Russia, with ritual self-castration as its badge of membership. The sect attracted military officers, merchants and the nobles of St. Petersburg, and by 1874, counted 5,444 members (incl. 1,465 women) and tens of thousands of sympathizers. The Skoptzy claimed that they were following Christ in Matthew 19:12, but that their mission would not be complete until their numbers had reached the 144,000 of Revelation 14:3-4. • Just as castratis had guarded the harems of the caliphate, the Holy Ka’aba of Islam and its black meteorite are to this day secured by an elite guard of eunuchs.
RASZER poured himself another glass of wine and lit a cigarette. The business about the gelded priests of Cybele he’d vaguely recalled, and it had been on his mind since seeing the morgue photo of a neutered Henry Lee laid beside the black “baitylos” rock on Aquino’s desk. But Raszer hadn’t been able to make the connection to Iraq until seeing that the Sumerian Inanna had also demanded the family jewels. And the gospel passages with their bizarre echo in the Russian sect seemed to suggest a trail of cognitive cookie crumbs that led right to the door of the Witnesses by way of their belief in the special status of the 144,000.
COULD a cult of sexual negation born at the dawn of history have survived, like a viral spore, into the twenty-first Century? Monica’s accompanying weblinks seemed to hint that it could have, because there were sites—many related to the transgender community—with names like alt.eunuchs.com and Men Without Balls. He who has ears, let him hear. Sex and gender had always been big issues in religion.
Causes A.W. Hill Supports