Free Woman by Heather Dean (1966)
I was waiting for the light to change at Bloor and St. George when I saw the first whore waiting across from me. She was slumped, smile drooping, foot-sore from cruising Fraternity Row peddling counterfeit sex to the sons of the bourgeoisie who know no better.
I felt a decent Pity. (Declension: I am pitying, you are condescending, she is insufferably arrogant.) It was easy to pity her – her legs were dumpy, her lipstick faded, her clothes too tight, and she was wearing her hair in one of those lacquered stacks that you expect to find little moths trapped in.
As we passed one another she met my eyes with the flat, frozen stare of a queen cat challenged In her alley. I accepted it serenely. Noblesse oblige,
And swung on down Bloor with The Walk, accentuated by 3 inch heels – a walk that flashed my shapely calves and kept my hair brushing gracefully against my shoulders. I was feeling very full of myself indeed.
Until I saw the second whore.
No world-wary slattern, this whore was the Eternal Eve – the tawny Skin of Orleans Quadroon Balls, heavy black curls, lids languorous under tangled lashes.
Truly he was beautiful.
And knew it. No more than 15 but knew it with the arrogance of the oft-pursued. No passers-by dismissed him in easy contempt; they stared at him with guilty fascination. And he met their look with imploring, violet-shadowed eyes. No quick professional assessments in the second whore’ a glance – rather, a limpid pleading – little boy lost, seeking not a mark but a protector.
He was dressed with studied self-awareness In a gold silk shirt open to the waist over his gold silk skin, a black suede sash, straw-colored jeans shrunk to cling to his long graceful thighs and taut buttocks, black sandals. The world ended three feet from his skin. His consciousness floated about him like a bubble, extending amoeba-like to engulf responses to himself.
As I came abreast of the little sybarite I was aware of his eyes sweeping over me in quick assessment. But I was confident. My face was on, my hair was clean and silky, and I knew that in my turquoise sarong I looked nicely leggy and bosomy, with large expanses of smooth tanned skin.
You’re wearing too much eye makeup for 5 o’ clock. He catted unexpectedly and giggled.
But it was a sulky, rear-guard action and my instinctive response was to smile faintly and fleetingly as I passed to signal that I recognized its weakness.
My next response was a mental doubletake whose force is still with me. Just what in the hell was the name of the game ? When was I dealt in? And how did I get out?
Caricature is not debatable.
What woman can watch a transvestite swing down a staircase, self-absorbed in his her bits of theatre, and ever make an entrance again? We cannot watch the queen’s burlesque of woman’s self-conscious dramatics and know not what we do.
Suddenly I was self-aware in a new way. I tried to iron the body-consciousness sway out of my walk. Then – too much – I saw the nun.
I went through a kaleidoscope of reactions
First amusement. What would she think when she saw the baby whore?
And the perennial wonder. ‘What happens to the tensions of that body, Sister? Do they spill over into dreams formless for lack of knowing the body of a man: the mouth, the hands, the smell and taste and weight of a man? Do you wander In a dreamland garden strewn with the sexual symbols your church abounds in? And do you cry ‘Sweet Jesus’ in your dreams?
But she was walking. She was walking graceful as a free animal in the sensible shoes that emerged with each unencumbered stride from the folds of her habit. Not mincing like a prancing queen but walking.
It has been my practice an I trot awkwardly along the sidewalk trying to keep up with a freestriding male to drop back five paces, fold my hands, bow my head, and tilt along In the pigeon-toed toddle of the bound-foot peasant woman of Old China. Very funny.
I struck the mocking quotation marks from that word sensible..
She saw the little whore. Behind her glasses her glance remained calm and rational as it rested on him. No psychic shock for her, as I had foolishly expected. She wasn’t in the game. She was liberated from the game.
So, doubt. To pay a nun’ s price for liberation? Surely too dear.
But can you choose the price, or avoid the price? When you have seen, it is too late to look away. Once the slave has said his private No! he can never turn back. The walls of his cabin become a trap, not a bulwark, and he will never go in gratitude to pay his blood-rent in hand-grown cotton.
To pay the nun’ s price for liberation? The black man risks it daily from the red-neck’s blade.
An extreme analogy? Only think… BLACK LIKE ME.
Once the slogan of the civil rights movement was FREEDOM NOW! And the movement was forced to add an analysts and programme to the mystic cry of freedom it was amended to JOBS AND FREEDOM NOW! For no poor man is free.
The black man knows in his school that one or two members of his over-flowing ranks will make it into the prestige college and the prestige jobs, while the upper 20% of the white class across town will make it. He finds himself the last hired and first fired. Even unions discriminate against him. He earns slower salary than a white man in the identical job. His function in the labour market is to depress wages; he provides a reserve pool of cheap labour to break strikes and to make it possible to lay off or fire workers without risking a labour shortage later on.
The black man works at the scut jobs of society – those with no security no challenge… and less pay. It is his biblical place to be a hewer of wood and a drawer of water. It is his natural place. It is his place in the scheme of evolution. Thus Darwin, God, and Nature concur in their opinion of his talents. And sometimes even he concurs.
The black man who concurs is genuinely rewarded. The liberal makes a cynical joke of the Some of my best friends… gambit, but he is wrong. The affection the Southerner feels for the ‘good nigra is quite as real as his fear and hatred of the rebel. Why doubt it? Have men not risked their lives to rescue faithful hounds that have fallen down the shafts of abandoned mines?
The Southerner believes his ideology. The black man is contented in a life of servitude, for his nature suits him for it. His intelligence is not the logic of the white man, but a shifting intuitiveness that makes him more sensitive to, for Instance, religion, than the white. But he lacks the purposive, disciplined intelligence required to command those social roles reserved for his betters.
Reformers who lack the Southerner’s sympathetic understanding of his impulsive, childlike mind can mislead the black man into seeking lifeways alien to his basic nature. They hurt rather thin help him. His high-pitched giggle, symbol to the Southerner of his joy, not his repressed despair, sounds no more.
Therefore, reluctantly but with love, they assume the burden of preserving him from the temptations of responsibility, and the trials of making his own political and economic choices.
Read woman for black man. Read real woman for good nigra. Read male chauvinist for Southerner. For the Southerner’s ideology, read Freud.
The black man grows up in a world where human history was made by whites. He goes to school and learns the names and faces of great generals, law-makers, conquerors, and kings, philosophers, poets, scientists and visionaries, revolutionaries, reformers, and saints. They are all white men.
Women do not exist in history, except as shadow figures standing behind every good man. Their reality is a function of their relationship to men as mistress or Mrs.
(Strophe: Eleanor Rigby died and was buried in the church with her name today.)
Those black men who succeed in the white man’ a world do it because they have white blood, or at the expense of their true nature.
Those women who succeed in the white man’s world are no true women: they are lesbians, go the rumours, or frigid – desexed and unlovely creatures more be pitied than emulated. Unless keep their femininity by playing Doris Day’s child-idiot.
The trap of the black American is identical economically, socially, and psychologically to ours, my sisters.
But I overplay the case, you may correctly protest. Not all whites and not all men are drunk on mastery. There are white liberals and liberal men.
There are white reformers and they have been dealt with elsewhere. And there are liberal men. There are men who want their wives to be intelligent – almost as intelligent as themselves. They want their wives to develop themselves as individuals – to read while the diapers are in the machine and baby in the playpen. There are men who feel only slightly the prickings of social pressure when they are considered less manly for democratically consulting their wives on decisions that will disrupt their lives. They want to send their girl children college – If they can afford it after boys have gone. They even help with dishes. They try.
But the seeds of arrogance are sown subtly and well within the fabric of consciousness, just as the seeds of racism exist in the consciousness of the white liberal. A woman knows this, as a black man knows this, because the liberal is taken off guard by anyone who plays the game and confirms his prejudices.
Ask any flirt. It works. All the little Teen Magazine, Readers’ Digest, Ladies Home Journal formulae for reducing the male to quivering jelly work. Ask him about himself, laugh at his jokes, ask his advice, defer to his opinions, lean on him, flatter him subtly with wide-eyed absorption, submerge yourself in him, NEED him and he will say There’s a REAL woman!
No, friend. There’s an unreal woman who will find a thousand subtle ways to avenge herself for the murder of her self.
They have a grievance, but they’re going too far!
Whenever the oppressed find their voice, whether in unions, in Black Power, or in the movement for female humanness, the liberal reaction wraps itself in this banner.
And behind this rationalization there lurks the fear of sexual attack. In Europe the Jew was traditionally the subject of the mythology of sexual insecurity which the black man and the Indian have become the North American inheritor – he had larger genitals, insatiable sexual appetites, no moral restraints. Similarly, North American women who are taking tentative and inadequate steps toward equality are accused, no less of destroying the manhood of the North American male.
The scenario runs something like this:
At seven in the morning man sallies forth from his humble castle to bring home the bacon. All day he contends with the forces of the Real World, which weary and batter him. He’s under the pressure of important, ulcer-making decisions. Or he sells his personality to clients. Or he smothers his resistance to the arrogance of his boss. All for her.
His ego is submerged. He is a cog in the corporate machine of technological society. He is one more sardine in the subway; one more ant on the freeway; one more rat in the race.
At five he staggers home, a beaten and belittled man. And there is Woman. She’s got 16 hours to get him on his feet again. To make him feel important, necessary, competent, and resourceful.
No matter how Your day went, sermons the Readers, Digest, greet him at the door with fresh lipstick, a cheery smile, and a ‘how did it go? Listen to his troubles fetch him a beer or martini; shoo the kids out so that he can relax.
Don’t encumber him with all the petty ‘irritations of running the house; he’s had enough of those at the office. But do ask his advice. Make him feel that he is still the Captain of his little ship.
Build him up.
-George, can you get the top off the peanut butter? I’ve been struggling with it all day!
Be smart enough so that he can be proud of you; stupid enough that he can feel smart by comparison. Make sure he knows you would be lost without him – confer on him the glow of paternalism, and on yourself the dwarf-life of eternal childhood. Convince yourself that propping up a collapsing male ego is a true vocation and, if he, a not too tired, Vaginal Orgasm shall be yours. (We have obviously moved beyond the Readers, Digest, and about time.)
It woman will not play this role of recreating man by being his recreation, Is It she who Is destroying him? Any man who is so readily castrated must have Us balls suspended by a very slender thread.
Most of this advice Is proffered not by men but by women. We too have our Uncle Toms. We also have our Whitney Youngs and Martin Luther Kings. (For those of you unfamiliar with the internal politics of the black man’s struggle, that’s a Bad Thing.)
The most prominent of this breed in recent years has been Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique. Like some Negro leaders, she muddles an honest analysis of the problem with weak solutions.
Friedan does a fairly good job of describing the frustration and helplessness of a woman caught between the conflicting demands of service and self-development, of being simultaneously a tower of strength and a clinging vine. She presents an exciting history of our freedom struggle. She details with sympathy the conflicts entailed for men in the self-denying female role. And she documents at least one sinister origin for the phenomenon. The New Woman who was developing in the early part of the century was, to be blunt, a lousy market. She was busy and involved outside of her home. Women’s magazines said explicitly to advertisers Give us your business and we will deliver to you, through our columns, our articles, and our fiction. a woman whose main function in life will be to buy your products for her home.
But when It comes to solutions, Friedan can only suggest that women get jobs.
It just won’t do.
Let us return to George, coming home after a hard day at the office, manhood shriveled. Stepping off the train he meets Martha, coming home after a hard day at her office. Do they stagger home to wrestle the top off the peanut butter jar together? Is all bliss?
The trouble is, the scenario is true. Corporate society does frustrate George; the mass media has killed his aesthetic sense, the schools have smothered his intellectual capacity. Let’s face it George is a mess!
It is a false and cruel solution to the stunting of his potential that his wife should commit psychological suicide to compensate for it. But it is no solution to suggest that his wife should trade this kind of suicide for a plunge into the lifestyle that is destroying him as a man.
Freud tended to interpret man’s nature as a series of antagonistic forces – intellect vs. instinct; sex vs. culture. Man is not intrinsically an explorer, a creator, a doer. He is these things only as a function of the social restraints on his instincts. Man satisfied either his erotic or his esoteric curiosity, was either an aesthete or a sensualist. He was a closed energy system and energy expended in one direction. Freud’s dualism is most marked in his understanding of masculinity and femininity. Man is in big essence a protuberance, woman an orifice, man is active, woman passive, man logical, woman intuitive, (echoes) man aggressive, woman submissive.
When a woman wants to undertake male’ activities such as voting (pushing a ballot through a slot) she is flying in the face of what God and Nature (echoes) had created for her. Why?
Well, at the age of 3 or 4, a little girl discovers the Difference. She deduces that she has been castrated. This can be particularly traumatic if her brothers are favoured, a common Victorian family pattern. In the normal course of her development, per Freud, she resolves the resulting turmoil by accepting her punishment, her mutilation, with total resignation, and adopts the passive feminine role as designated by male society.
But some little girls do not. They strive for physical and intellectual competence, but not because these are a good in themselves. They resent discrimination in education, the arts and employment and are frustrated rather than fulfilled by male domination but not for the reasons the black man in America reacts this way, not because of an essential human drive to activity and self-realization; rather, because she perceives these male activities as a symbolic substitution for the penis of which she was robbed in infancy. (You’d think they were hard to come by.)
It might seem more plausible to explain a neurotic desire for the freedom entailed in the male role than to explain a desire for male freedom as a symbolic repossession of a hypothetical lost penis. But it is observable in the sociology of knowledge that the ‘free and unbiased pursuit of scientific truth seems to lead inexorably in every era to a rationalization of the power relations of that era.
Let us honour Freud’s undisputable genius in some areas by dedicating the first solution to him. Any woman who, in her infancy, misinterpreted the differences between the sexes must say lovingly but firmly to the child that still exists in her mental accoulation, Little girls are like little boys turned inside out, so they can fit together.
But with that behind her, she is still far from ready to consider what it means, not to be a woman, but to be a free human being. A woman must climb out of the social and psychicological box of the role definitions which she has accepted without examination all her life. Until this conditioning is seen and understood consciously, we are not able to evaluate the female role and choose to accept or reject the dictates of its components. It must be intellectualized before we attempt the freedom to choose.
The columns of girls, and women’s magazines are relatively easy to counteract compared to those forms of indoctrination which infiltrate our personalities on a less conscious level – the animal instinct to imitate the mother, jokes, cartoons, movies, comics, fiction, and above all, advertising, where some of our culture’s better intellects are assigned the task of identifying certain patterns of behaviour involving profits for their clients with grace, beauty, sexual felicity, power and love.
Women should undergo this process of self-examination with each other, but away from men. American Negro organizers have decided that the development of black consciousness, liberation from white society’s definition of the Negro, can only be inhibited by the assistance of even the best white organizers. Only after the Negro his confirmed his own identity will he have the assurance to form equal alliances with those whites who share his struggle for political democracy and social justice.
Similarly, women must fortify themselves against the punishment of the male chauvinist and the paternalism of the male liberal.
Once women have shared the process of self-discovery and the experience of independent decision-making, they are ready for the real struggle.
This is not a struggle against men. The phrase Battle of the Sexes was not coined to describe the female liberation movement. It applies to the underhanded sometimes terrible revenge women exact from men for their frustrations. Jiggs and Dagwood are not victims of free women, but of women who are playing the game.
Listen to the jokes at a pre-nuptial stag; play Ritual Murder (contract bridge) with suburbanites; read statistics on divorce, frigidity, impotence, child-beating, psychosomatic illness and nervous breakdown; watch your parents’ friends. And be assured that men will not suffer from an initiative by women to change their relationship to men and society.
Frequent intellectual flirtations with lesbianism mark the writing of feminists who pursue very deeply the implications of their own thinking – e.g., The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir. The poverty of the solution mustn’t distract from the size of the problem.
Who does a free woman sleep with? Not George. it would bore her and unhinge him.
Women cannot be free until men are free. A less facetious look at George is no less discouraging. He still needs to feel resourceful, competent and useful in a world which denies him a social context for his work that will fulfill these needs. He needs work that is honorable, significant and challenging. He needs schools that do not smother his brain. He needs training and opportunity for his creative talents.
Or else he needs Martha; and we can be Marthas no more.
How are the young cared for in a society that offers no alternative to female indentureship? Where do women work in an economy with 5-10% unemployment and frequent recessions?
The problems of women are problems of the whole society; the solutions for women lie in solving far-ranging social problems. But this involves nothing short of a revolutionary restructuring of the most basic institutions in society – the tax structures that can give us parks and nursery schools, the economy that can give us jobs, the schools and the arts. The task is almost too great to be contemplated. One shrinks from it.
Except for this. There is freedom in the striving.
Source: San Francisco Express Times
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