Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Nothing New Under the Sons: Men Misrepresenting Women As If Needing to Be Dominated Sexually and So Forth

Yesterday I went to see a whore about noon and told her to get on top; she flew into a rage, pretending I wanted to restore the tyranny of Hippias.
  --Xanthias, a slave
   (in the play "The Wasps," line 500, by Aristophanes,
   in Greece, in 422 BCE,
   translated here by Eugene O'Neill)

"Aristotle and Phyllis," woodcut, 1510 CE, by Hans Baldung Grien

It shows the much venerated ancient philosopher, Aristotle, having succumbed to his lust for the beautiful Phyllis, usually said to be Alexander the Great's wife or mistress. According to a common version of the legend, Aristotle had earlier warned Alexander, his pupil, that the young man was paying too much attention to this woman. When the philosopher approached Phyllis with his own desires, she insisted, before she agreed to gratify them, that Aristotle put on a bridle and let her ride on his back around the garden. This he did, and Alexander and a companion is shown looking on. The basic moral of the story is quite clear: even so rational and learned a man as Aristotle can allow his desire for a woman to overcome his reason; he is thus reduced to behaving as beasts do.

(from H. Diane Russell, Eva/Ave: Women in Renaissance and Baroque Prints [Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1990], page 149)
"Though a woman's preference for physical sexual submission appears to be controlled by the unconscious, inaccessible subcortical part of her brain, this unconscious physical preference is complemented by an independent psychological preference for dominant men. [See footnote 1.]

Footnote 1: It's important to distinguish between sexual dominance and submission and social dominance and submission. In mammals, sexual dominance and submission refer to very specific physical actions (such as lordosis and intromission) controlled by circuits in the subcortex. In contrast, social dominance and submission refers to an individual's status in the social hierarchy. Social dominance is managed by a testosterone-mediated neurohormonal brain system that drives status-seeking behaviors in male mammals, including kangaroos, elk, coyotes, and stockbrokers. There are clear sexual benefits from being dominant: ...."
  --Mr. Ogi Ogas, Ph.D., 2011 CE
   who couldn't win at the gameshow Who Wants to be a Millionare
   with the help of his buddy Mr. Sai Gaddam;
   so he and Sai write a book together, called A Billion Wicked Thoughts;
   and he pretends, when getting some online space on the Psychology Today blog
   to promote his thoughts, that he's moved on to other fetishes:
   "He no longer watches any steamy porn,
   instead preferring the steamy vegetables on the Food Network."

While blatantly hocking his new book, Dr. Ogi Ogas (ah, yes, also famed game show contestant and Homeland Security consultant), offers a highly original and nuanced argument: feminism is ruining our love lives. We’ve never heard that before.

In any case, Ogi (I have to use his first name because it’s just too much fun), is arguing that women and men are both turned on by inequality based on the internet search data he has mined for insights into human sexuality, plus some neuroscience that–surprise, surprise–he interprets as directly correlating with his pre-cooked theory about how people get turned on.
  --Courtni Martin, "Feminism, once again, blamed for, well, everything,"
   (A review of Mr. Ogi Ogas's stale old gas
   "Why Feminism Is the Anti-Viagra:
   The neural circuitry of dominance and submission")


Kristen said...

Ironic. The picture shows a woman who clearly enjoys dominating Aristotle! Maybe she had actually gotten a little education and had read some of what he said about women, and this was her way of getting back? I wouldn't blame her one bit. (grin)

Theophrastus said...

Kristen -- A review of Baldung's work indicates that he enjoyed producing works that showed unconventional and disturbing erotic images; e.g., Der behexte Stallknecht, Stehende Hexe mit Ungeheuer, Amor mit Pfeil, or Der Tod und das Mädchen. Even his Selbstbildnis is disturbing, in a vaguely malevolent way.

Theophrastus said...

Indeed, I just checked my library to refresh my memory of the 2007 Baldung Grien show (the last major collected exhibition of his work that I am aware of). The title of the catalogue? Witches' Lust and the Fall of Man: The Strange Fantasies of Hans Baldung Grien.

I think it is safe to say that the woodprint that JK shows us indicates more about Baldung's sexuality than Aristotle's.

Kristen said...

Theophrastus, it really doesn't matter to me whether the work is historically accurate or not-- the blog post makes it clear that this is a depiction of a legend about Aristotle. My point was rather that I sympathized with the woman who would want to have the upper hand over him, even for a few minutes, because I think it would have been morally good for him to understand what being treated and controlled like an animal, felt like! Not to mention emotionally satisfying for her.

Morning Quickie said...

Kristen, I completely agree with your point. So often people confuse history and biology:

I think saying that women are one way and men are another is a bit like saying rabbits like carrots and dogs like steak. My dog like both!

Theophrastus said...

Well, the problem is that this is not a Greek legend at all -- rather the thematic story (a woman beguiling a wise man and persuading him to let her ride upon his back) is a story found in the Pañcatantra [पञ्चतन्त्र], a collection that dates back to the 3rd century BCE (and was also later included in the famous Buddhist collection the Jātakas [जातक].

It appears to have been applied to Aristotle quite late because there is no record of it in any of the Alexander Romances or in any of the medieval biographies of Aristotle.

The standard history of the story (George Sarton, "Aristotle and Phyllis", Isis, Vol. 14, No. 1, May 1930, pp. 8-19 ) states:

No wonder that the story, thus transformed into a Christian sermon against lay wisdom, was immensely popular in Christendom. Our witnesses of that popular success are not so much the writings, few in number, as the sculptures decorating the doorways of cathedrals, the capitals of columns and pilasters, the misericords of stalls, not to speak of movable objects, such as aquaemanalia, ivory caskets, etc. But I am going perhaps a little too fast, for there is no absolute proof that the popular motive -- the wise man beridden by a gay damsel -- referred always to Aristotle. It had its place in the church anyhow, as an exemplum showing the danger of woman, (this had become a regular obsession to the medieval clerks). In fact it was often treated as a companion piece to other stories of the same kind: Adam and Eve, Samson and Delilah, David and Bathsheba, Hercules and Omphale, Virgil hanging mid-air in a basket.

(If you are not familiar with the story of Virgin hanging mid-air in the basket, here it is: Virgil had been given an assignation by a Roman lady who lived at the top of a tower. He was to be lifted up to her room in a basket, but she left him dangling half-way throughout the night. Next day, the whole town came to watch the famous magician, who knew everything except the extent of feminine wiles. Note that the story is not in the standard medieval accounts of Virgil -- you can search Vincent of Beauvais and not find it.)

Let me quote the John Herold (d. 1418) (writing under the pseudonym "Discipulus", and ascribing it to James of Vitry) version of the story, which is our first Latin version applying the story to Aristotle, from Promptuarium Exemplorum:

Aristotiles, cum doceret Alexandrum ut se contineret ab accessu frequenti uxoris suae, quae erat pulchra valde, ne animum suum a communi providentia impediret, et Alexander ei acquiesceret, hoc advertens regina et dolens, coepit Aristotelem trahere ad amorem suum, quia multociens sola transibat cum pedibus nudis et dissoluto crine, ut eum alliceret. Tandem allectus coepit eam sollicitare carnaliter, quae ait, "Hoc omnino non faciam, nisi videio signa amoris, ne me tentes: ergo veni ad meam cameram, reptando manibus et pedibus, sicut equus me portando, tunc scio quod non illudes mihi." Cui conditioni cum consensisset, illa intimavit hoc Alexandro; qui expectans apprehendit eum reginam portantem. Quem cum vellet occidere, ait Aristoteles sic se excusando, "Si sic accidit seni sapieintissimo, ut a muliere deciperer, potes videre quod bene docueram te, quid accidere potest tibi juveni." Quod audiens rex, ei pepercit,
et in doctrina ejus profecit.

In both the case of Virgil and Aristotle, the characters were clearly selected because they were personifications of wisdom, yet pagan, thus showing the limits of non-Christian study. Thus, the story has nothing at all to do with Aristotle's characterization of women, and everything to do with Christian triumphalism.

J. K. Gayle said...

it really doesn't matter to me whether the work is historically accurate or not

saying that women are one way and men are another is a bit like saying rabbits like carrots and dogs like steak

as an exemplum showing the danger of woman

The fact is that ARistotle wrote things of purported fact, such as:

"For in some cases the female squats on the ground and the male mounts on top of her, as is the case with the cock and hen bustard, and the barn−door cock and hen; in other cases, the male mounts without the female squatting,"

"The male has more teeth than the female in mankind"

"For the male is naturally more qualified to lead than the female"

"Further, the female is, in my opinion, more mischievous than the male, and (though feebler) more reckless. Every on can see that this is so in women and in domesticated animals, and according to the unanimous evidence of herdsmen and..."

"This is why women call the right ear male and the left ear female. Is it because the parts on the left are moister"

"The spermatic vessels in women, consist of two veins and two arteries, which differ from those of men ... of woman, commonly called testicles, do not perform the same function as in men, for they are altogether different"

"... round in a drop, it is a girl she is with child of; for if it be'a boy it will spread and swim at the top"

Sometimes some man's pseudo-Aristotle would also write "real" science such as this.

But -

Aristophanes wrote fiction.

Hans Baldung Grien represented more fiction.

Ogi Ogas, likewise, has written some fiction, with Sai Gaddam at his side, all to suggest they know the nature of woman as inferior to the nature of man.

What does it matter whether it's fiction vs. fact or Greek vs. Indian or Christian vs. Buddhist or ancient vs. medieval or English vs. Latin? It's the gynophobe's supposed trouble with woman over man.

Theophrastus said...

What does it matter?

It is different.

Aristotle was a garden-variety ancient misogynist.

Baldung Grien was a sexual fetishist with a masochistic streak.

The Pañcatantra and the Jātakas and John Herold were eager to poke fun at non-believers, to show that their wisdom falls short, because without proper belief, they could even be duped by a woman (like Adam, David, Samson, Hercules, and Virgil).

And, the work I expected you to cite, but which you did not, Chaucer's Wife of Bath, is apparently of this form, but is actually about love versus lust.

These are very different. Misogyny, Fetish, Triumphalism, Love.

J. K. Gayle said...

Aristotle was a garden-variety ancient misogynist.

Yes, he was. And he was the inventor and perpetrator of a "science" he called "logic" that would seek to simplify and capitalize on what Nancy Mairs calls the "fundamental structure of the patriarchy": the binary. It is immensely important, essential, to the gynophobic misogynist to rationalize his superiority over females. It is imperative to him to identify difference, to flaunt what might seem be things that, by some Objective NOT subjective view, in Nature alone, "are very different."

I suppose one could, by analogy, make that case that Aristotle's anti-Barbarism and anti-Solecism and anti-Catamitism are very different from one another and from Hitler's anti-Semitism and homophobia and the KKK's racism.

Since you'd like to hear from Chaucer's Wife:

"Of Eva first, that for hir wikkednesse
Was al mankynde broght to wrecchednesse,
For which that Jhesu Crist hymself was slayn,
That boghte us with his herte blood agayn.
o, heere expres of womman may ye fynde
That womman was the los of al mankynde....

Tho redde he me how Sampson loste his heres:
Slepynge, his lemman kitte it with hir sheres;
Thurgh which treson loste he bothe his yen.
Tho redde he me, if that I shal nat lyen,
Of Hercules and of his Dianyre,
That caused hym to sette hymself afyre.

No thyng forgat he the care and the wo
That Socrates hadde with his wyves two,
How Xantippa caste pisse upon his heed.
This sely man sat stille as he were deed;....

Of Phasipha, that was the queene of Crete,
For shrewednesse, hym thoughte the tale swete;

Fy! Spek namoore -- it is a grisly thyng --
Of hire horrible lust and hir likyng.

Of Clitermystra, for hire lecherye,
That falsly made hire housbonde for to dye,
He redde it with ful good devocioun.

He tolde me eek for what occasioun
Amphiorax at Thebes loste his lyf.
Myn housbonde hadde a legende of his wyf,
Eriphilem, that for an ouche of gold
Hath prively unto the Grekes told
Wher that hir housbonde hidde hym in a place,
For which he hadde at Thebes sory grace."

Mankind, Jewish men, Greek men, all victims of Eve and other wives.

Theophrastus said...

Yes, I think it is safe to say that Aristotle is not comparable to Hitler.

But my point is that Aristotle's misogyny was not being punished by the story of Phyllis -- rather it is Aristotle's wisdom (not misogyny) that makes him such a perfect victim for Christian triumphalists. (Similarly with the story of Virgil.)

And although the "Prologue" is a excellent piece of writing, the actual text "Wife of Bath" has a subversive way of reversing the thesis of the "Prologue." Chaucer was far too great a poet to be a mere polemicist.

J. K. Gayle said...

I'm following your points, Theophrastus, and can't exactly disagree. Love this:

Chaucer was far too great a poet to be a mere polemicist.

Which makes me think of how little Aristotle's polemics on poetry (which he called something like Poet-iKe) employed poetry. Sure, Sir Phillip Sidney seemed to do the same if really defending poetry (and not co-opting it and containing it as Aristotle did), when he wrote his Defense of Posey. It was pure rhetoric of the prosaic style, I'd say. But then Sidney and then his sister even more made pure poetry of the poetic Hebrew psalms by their translation. Yes, we're getting off topic now, but what really is the point of trying to defend Aristotle?

Theophrastus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Theophrastus said...

Well, first, regarding Aristotle's sexual perversions: I want to say that we have no information to suggest that Aristotle was a masochist. On the other hand, it seems likely that Aristotle was a homosexual, but the evidence is not decisive.

But in fact, I think Aristotle was one of the most brilliant minds of classical Athens. He was very limited to being a man of his age (in contrast to the radicalism of Plato), but he was systematic . And he was not a poet -- true -- but in Poetics he could talk about Homer, who was a good poet. The best poets and the best critics only partially overlap. (And some of the best poets of our age -- I'm thinking of Ezra Pound -- are much scarier.)

So I won't criticize Aristotle in this thread. Instead, I reserve my criticism for those who (even unconsciously) accept his presuppositions without criticism.

Kristen said...

Theophrastus said:

"These are very different. Misogyny, Fetish, Triumphalism, Love."

And yet misogyny, the common thread, runs through and colors them all.

Theophastrus said:

"But my point is that Aristotle's misogyny was not being punished by the story of Phyllis -- rather it is Aristotle's wisdom (not misogyny) that makes him such a perfect victim for Christian triumphalists. (Similarly with the story of Virgil.)"

True enough-- from a man's point of view. That was the authorial intent, surely, for the authors were men. And yet I am a woman, and I think I can imagine what Phyllis herself might have meant by the action-- whether the story is factual or not doesn't matter-- and how a woman might have read the story and spoken of it in secret with her sisters and daughters, for a man's ears never to hear.

You might say they never did speak of it so, for they bought into their own subjegation and believed they were as wicked as their menfolk said they were. But how do we know, since the female voice was not allowed to be heard? Even the Wife of Bath spoke only through Chaucer's voice, not her own.

BTW, Theophrastus, I don't speak Latin, and I doubt very much that I'm the only reader here who doesn't. I would appreciate a translation into English.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thank you very much for your perspective and for sharing it. And I'm with you on hoping Theophrastus will share with us a translation of the Latin.