The Submissive Impulse in Women:
Healing the Passive Yin
1995. In a class full of women, we are discussing the healing of negative images. I ask the women to call out, without thinking, the completion of this sentence: “Men are…” What comes back, without a pause, are the words “selfish, ignorant., insensitive, angry, asleep.” When asked to complete the sentence, “Women are…” the answers come back just as quickly: ‘nurturing, warm, caring, loving, helpful.” For me, the room suddenly fills with a terrible clarity. The women are projecting their animus out into the world, allowing the men to carry all of the negative qualities of the human spirit. They are claiming for themselves only the positive qualities. Given some time to reflect on this, the women are clearly capable of responding in a more “fair” light. But that is not what is happening down in the dark. In the dark, there is a mighty split. For centuries, the qualities of the female (nurturing, caring, loving, helpful) have been denigrated. Now, as women begin our journey into balance, there is a tendency to overvalue and idealize what has been undervalued. And to stomp all over the negative qualities associated with oppression.
Nowhere is this split more obvious, the mirror more clear, than in the way many men and women still experience their sexual energy and sexual relationships. It has been in the forefront of my personal journey.
In our culture, sexuality seems to divide into two distinct polarities: men wanting it and women wanting to be wanted for it. On a psychological level, men desire and women want to be desired. The deeper image that permeates our culture might read: men do (sexually at least), women are done to.
Over the past several years, I have been teaching women’s sexuality workshops. It is within this private meeting space for women, dedicated to healing our most secret wounds, that I began to notice a pattern that interests me. I started with an assumption that our intellectual progress as women, towards self-actualization and an ability to articulate our needs and wants, was matched by our emotional and spiritual progress. As I sat, week after week, with women articulating their deepest fears and stumbling blocks, I began to realize that our basic understanding of ourselves as active participants in a world we help create is still substantially crippled by cultural training and unhealed images.
Over and over again, we speak of two distinct issues that seem to have a common root. The first issue is the fear of getting lost in relationship. As though we are helpless to hold our boundaries and sense of self around the opposite sex. As though there were no “I” strong enough to manage autonomy. The second issue stems from the relationships themselves. An enormous amount of anger seems directed towards “what men want (or don’t want) in bed.” The common perception seems to be that men are aliens in bed, attached to sexuality as something activated by women as objects, pornographic imagery, and a lack of sensitivity to the whole woman next to them in the bed. Equally interesting has been our collective inability to articulate or educate our partners in any meaningful way. Are the power structures around sexuality really so entrenched that women are afraid to ask and men unable to change?
Are the power structures in our culture in general still so painfully entrenched? What is the mirror that sexuality is holding up for me? What does it mean that my sexuality is played out in images of “doer” and “done to,” domination and submission? What might I learn by diving head-long into my fantasy lives, owning my negative pleasure? What responsibility do women carry in transforming and re balancing male and female energies within each individual?
In Jessica Benjamin’s remarkable book, The Bonds of Love, she talks about the difficulties inherent in any discussion of power relationships between men and women.
“A major tendency in feminism has constructed the problem of domination as a drama of female vulnerability victimized by male aggression. Even the more sophisticated feminist thinkers frequently shy away from the analysis of submission, for fear that in admitting women’s participation in the relationship of domination, the onus of responsibility will appear to shift from men to women, and the moral victory from women to men. More generally, this has been a weakness of radical politics: to idealize the oppressed, as if their politics and culture were untouched by the system of domination, as if people did not participate in their own submission…What is necessary is not to take sides but to remain focused on the dualistic structure itself.” (p.9)
So I begin this healing journey with some trepidation. My bias’ are many and strong. I have a strong feminist education and a healing practice mostly of women. My sexual and social history has been deeply torn, hung constantly and uncomfortably between my intellectual and artistic search for autonomy and a realization of Self, and my historically disempowered relationships with men. I do not want to “let men off the hook,” but need to stand with them, side by side, staring into this gaping chasm in front of all of us: Is mutuality and acceptance of difference a real possibility? What do I still need to understand and heal in order to come into genuinely equal relationship?
In the last ten years, several things have changed in my life that make it possible for me to explore this tender area. I have adult relationships with my three wonderful brothers, a strong intellectual friendship with my father, and two very close male friends. I am in a long-term partnership with a man that I consider very capable of standing with me to look at this crossroads in human history. But most important, I have come into right relationship with myself. I am a worthy person. I have a right to be here. I am important. With this inner directedness, it becomes possible to look more closely at the scars that occurred when I was solely outer directed. Here is what I need to know. How do I participate in my own submission? What is the history of this behavior? What do I need to unravel within myself in order to move on from the reactive state of the women in my group, where men are mostly useless and women almost always wonderful?
As Jessica Benjamin says, we need to “stay focused on the dualistic structure itself”, and yet in the scope of this one small paper, I will only be able to dive into a small portion of the healing work still to be done. I am choosing to concentrate on sexual development and the role of the “done to” participant, partly because it is such a wonderfully taboo area, which indicates a rich storehouse of un-liberated energy. Let me say, without apology, that I need men to continue vigorously unearthing their own shadows and projections as well — or it is going to be a very slow shift to the next millennium.
I am choosing to write about this because it is still scary and full of pain. Sometimes I hate the dark side of sex with a passion that makes me want to burn things and put my fist through a wall. I hate the way it makes me feel sometimes, inadequate and uninteresting. I hate the way it can turn me on, in spite of myself. I hate the fact that my belly has been emptied of its organs, one by one. I know I am caught up in some great female genocidal tendency, this passive yin, the masochist. Sometimes I can just about grasp what It All Means and then it slips away, like the entire novels I write in my dreams and can’t remember. I grieve the loss of my genuine earthy Gypsy, now replaced by a much more careful woman from the suburbs, who dresses so men will not notice.
Men Do, Women are Done To
In early childhood, the relationship between the mother and child reflects our first struggle – and victory or failure – to achieve autonomy and mutuality. According to developing psychoanalytic theory , there are two distinct ways to look at the development of the life philosophies that lead to domination and submission. When a child begins to differentiate from the mother, very often the role of the mother’s own inter-psychic life is ignored. In most of Western psychoanalytic tradition, the baby is said to discover his or her Individual identity in opposition to the mother. Until recently, the mother’s role was studied simply as an object for the baby to be “different than.”
What has not been as widely discussed is the inability of the mother to remain an object. Mothers, instead, exert an enormous influence on the child’s future ability to relate in relationship with others. By ignoring their own needs and wants and becoming a passive object , the mother creates a void – nothing to push up against, no way for the child to understand itself as other. For a boy baby, who must eventually push away from the mother’s gender as well, a terrible anxiety is created. The baby begins to push and push, hoping to find a wall, an Other. Here the seeds are planted for one kind of dominant male, who needs to push harder and harder until some sign of resistance reassures him that he has a separate identity. While girl babies also need to push away in the autonomy stage, they also need to come back to Mom for their gender identification. If it is a girl baby, the tendency is to begin to identify one’s ego self with the mother, as passive and without separate needs. The growing adult girl will be “without desire,” waiting to find her power and identity in the Other.
Another kind of mother cannot bear the baby to be out of her control, for her meaning in the world is derived through exerting some power over someone. The mother continues to invade and control the child, which creates a different kind of problem in separation. The baby pushes up against the mother, only to be told over and over again, “Your needs are not valid. You are who I tell you are.” The male child, unable to fight back successfully, pulls back everywhere but in fantasy. There, where no one can tell him not to, he begins to create a world where he can dominate this overbearing energy. The female child, invaded in the same way, often becomes the good girl, who, by having no separate desires, will not get hurt. If there is a fantasy life at all, it might tend towards continuing to be the one that is done to, in order to please and be recognized.
As the child reaches his and her autonomy stage, it is time for Dad to appear as a significant Other, helping the child negotiate in an increasingly larger universe. Unfortunately, for many children in Western culture, Dad is nowhere to be seen. The pattern of men working away from the home (as opposed to being present on the family farm or business), accelerating after World War II, certainly shaped the father-child relationship of my generation. Without a strong male presence, the young boys are stuck in the “hothouse” with Mom (who is trying to be everything to her children and invariably failing). The boys’ universe is overwhelmingly female. For girls, the absence of a male object who would exemplify the possibilities of a “life in the world” encourages girls to stay related to the mother, who appears to have no control over her autonomous adult inner life. Whether Mom tends towards submission or invasion, she makes up the entire adult landscape that her children must define themselves against (male) or align with (female).
I talk about this as if it isn’t about me. As if I am someone who has figured all of this out. But I haven’t made peace with it. Harriet Lerner, in her work on Mothers and Daughters, says that girls either identify with or push away from Mom. I split. Exactly half of me pushed away from, exactly half stayed deeply emeshed. We seemed to stay emeshed when something was going wrong with me – numerous surgeries, divorces and abortions, tragic love affairs. And while I know she is proud of me, I feel a strange ambivalence in her about my success. When I was on my way to Africa, she told me I was living the life she would have loved.. At the time, I didn’t really hear it. Now I do. Mother/career woman. I know that each of us were deeply affected by the times we grew up in, that our potential choices were radically different. Part of what is enabling me to face these dilemmas in me is a new kind of acceptance and love for the choices my mother made. She chose us children, after all. And she put all of her rather remarkable creative energy – light and shadow – into her years with us. Afterwards, my mother took off for Egypt, Israel, Africa, South America. She reconciled the split with another spurt of creativity.
It’s the same split I have in bed – good girl/bad girl. Sex Goddess or Plain White Underwear. She’s either Good mother or Bad mother. Career Woman or Mommy. And to avoid the pain of splitting any further, I opted for hysterectomy. Maybe that is what this is all about, these neat sentences and gently researched ideas. Maybe underneath is the void of my grief.
In Bonds of Love, Benjamin notes that 1994 had not brought much in the way of change. At a modern urban hospital, in the nursery, we get a clear look at how far we’d come in helping women see themselves as the active subject of their own unfoldment. On the blue bassinets, a sign reads “I’m a Boy!” On the pink bassinets, the sign reads “It’s a girl.” (p. 87)
Removing girls from the belief that they can be the active subject in life has deep repercussions. For many years, I worked with groups of chronic pain patients. We met weekly for long periods of time, sometimes for years. It usually took at least a year before we began to uncover the deeper painful conflicts that tied women to the chronic pain cycle. Many if not most of the women were in their middle-age, and alone. There was a common history of terrible divorces and even more terrible settlements. A majority of the women were not trained to re-enter at a professional (i.e. self-supporting) level in the job market. Those that had had high-paying jobs would never be able to return to them. After months of educating themselves about belief systems and how we contribute to the pain experience, they finally admitted that their deepest longing was to be taken care of (by someone else) and that was not going to happen. Independent and stout hearted, they were humiliated to realized that their earliest expectations were still operating unconsciously. And, in not being taken care of, some part of their hidden psyche felt they had failed.
Once again, I talk about these women as if they were not me, were never me. But I was a chronic pain patient for many years, demanding that someone take care of me. It turned out to be my parents. In therapy, I realized that I wanted them to pay me, to finally take care of me, to give me all the attention I felt I was missing. What brought me out of it, in many ways, was finally “getting enough,” and the deep desire to move on to the autonomy stage; wanting to discover who I was as an independent being. More importantly, it took a relationship with Spirit, with God. As long as I was focused on my parents as God, there was no way they could give me everything I needed. It was in shifting to a spiritual alignment that I began to genuinely feel full.
In the classes on Sexuality that I have been teaching for the last several years, the women often talk about their partners’ desire for the women to be “more sexy.” When pressed on what this means, it usually connects to the men’s need for the women to dress and behave more as an “object of desire,” as formulated by the popular culture. This creates a powerful ambivalence in many of the women. On one hand, they want to fit in with what seems universally considered sexy, and yet there is something dragging underneath, a small voice trying to get their attention. This voice, when given room to speak, usually expresses deep fear and resentment that “I can’t be loved for who I am.” Instead of feeling excited by an invitation to “play” with their partners, a deep depression often sets in. When we look at the media icons of successful women, they are almost always not only smart and ruthless, they are drop-dead sexy in this “sex object” way. The message seems to read “Be strong most of the time, but be ready to be an object of desire at any moment.”
Domination and Submission in Sexual Life
The call to passivity runs deep for many women in Western culture. It shows up over and over again in our sexual fantasies and expectations about who were are in bed (which can’t help but affect who we are in the rest of our relationships, and the world). Robert Stoller, in his book Sexual Excitement, outlines the origins of both passive and active fantasy material, tracing it back to the onset of sexual feelings in childhood. “To the extent that, in its earliest relationships to its parents, a child feels it is debased, it will, in creating its sexual excitement throughout life, reverse this process of debasement in fantasy so that the sexual objects are now – in disguised or open form -its victims.” (p.13)
In her book, Talk Dirty To Me: An Intimate Philosophy of Sex,” Sally Tisdale explores her desire to remain submissive in her sexual fantasies. She talks about how, as a good feminist, she was appalled by the content of her own sexual fantasies, filled as they were by “images of forced seduction, sexual surrender and overpowering…” She tries several solutions to make these fantasies go away. First, she tries to figure out what they mean, hoping that she will discover that she is fighting internalized oppression, and that understanding it will make it go away. The she decides that the fantasies are an extension of her need to be taken care of sometimes, in a world where strong women are ignored, and so, while uncomfortable, the fantasies might be acceptable. After much soul searching, she finally decides that the fantasies simply are, bound up with daily experience and the contradictory feelings she has about the cultural dance of being a woman. The result of this third “solution,” was a lessening of the intensity of the fantasies and a deeper acceptance of the whole range of her inner life. (pp. 216-220)
The problem of passivity, however, is rarely this openly talked about. After all, who wants to admit a craving for loss of power? Especially when power is already in short supply for many women. And how exactly does the submissive partner become powerful? It is easy to understand the lure of the dominant partner – control, revenge, playing out of unexpressed hostility. But how does the submissive partner get power?
We can return to the issues that arise simply from being born male or female. If the male child’s need is to assert his independence pushing away from the mother, the path to a dominant position is clear. However, girls are encouraged to identify with the mother, to underplay independence. Jessica Benjamin talks about mothers identifying more strongly with their daughters; “whereas they push their sons out of the nest, they have greater difficulty separating from daughters. Thus it is more likely that girls would fear separateness and tend to sustain the tie to mother through compliance and self-denial…The girl’s relationship to the mother, emphasizing merging and continuity at the expense of individuality and independence, provides fertile ground for submission.” (pp.78-79)
Benjamin goes on to talk about submission, or the masochist role, being motivated by fear of separation and abandonment. If the girl is identified with the self-sacrificing mother, there is no role model for the assertion of personal power. The deeper fear in the sado-Masochistic relationship, is not of the Master, but of the potential separation with the mother, that an assertion of independence might bring. The girl/subject/masochist also enjoys the vicarious nature of the sadist attack. He is able to do what she cannot – assert, take charge, be the Subject of the interaction.
There were many brilliant women in my early life who had to make choices that curtailed their power in the world. My mother, who loved medicine the way I love healing, gave it up to raise five children. The housekeeper she brought into our lives to help her survive, Gertie, was another strong woman whose life had been cut off at the knees. She had been a wealthy restaurant owner in pre-World War II Germany, who had lost everything during the war. Managing to come to the United States without any financial cushion, she began working as a housekeeper. As the youngest, and the most needy, child, I became “Gertie’s special girl.” I know she loved me passionately. And I know I felt, deep in my cells, another wounding of not being able to be enough. I could not replace the husband who left her for a younger woman, the restaurant that went up in flames above while she huddled in the basement. She tells me now that she often brought me into her bed to cuddle, and I can feel a deep roaring sound inside me, a childhood feeling of being smothered even while I was getting what I thought I wanted. I can feel the sense of tap-dancing to please that started when I was a baby, aching in me like tiny little hammer blows. I can feel the passive little “Do Me” voice as it was born.
Benjamin says that the final outcome of the dominant-submissive relationship is the annihilation of the submissive. When a woman submits this way in her partnership, she then brings the powerlessness to her own children and the cycle begins again.
What was curious for me was my own attraction to passive fantasies, especially when I had struggled so hard to know my “I,” to understand autonomy. In my work life, I was admirable in my vigor, my creativity and my success. At the same time, I attracted men who constantly crossed normal common sense “boundaries” for relationship, and yet I was unable to express an audible “No.” It took critical illness and an inability to have intercourse to help me notice that something was critically out of balance.
I remember in particular, a five year relationship with a man who said he loved me, and that he needed to sleep with other women, whenever he wanted to. Of course, he was charming and charismatic and smart in a limited way. And I could not figure out why this shouldn’t be all right – intimacy in all its forms was to be respected. Jealousy was just low self-esteem and I certainly had no reason to feel that. As he slept with more and more women, I got sicker and sicker, until I was critically ill in a hospital bed. Where he left me.
In crawling up out of that part of my personal nightmare, I discovered that I was missing the most important primary relationship – the one with God. I can still remember the healer I was working with asking me what was keeping me from belief. I answered, “my friends.” It was my first really clear message that my whole sense of self was outer directed, that I had developed very little inner esteem. She smiled and said, “Change your friends.” I did. I stopped having sex. And I went deeply, deeply into the Well. The silent home of female wisdom. I moved away from the area, went to study at the Menninger Foundation. I was celibate by choice. I learned to be company for myself. I danced around my flat in the dark, read poetry out loud, went to the movies alone. I learned to lift weights and to spend time with a fabulous older Aunt who was also on a journey to know herself after a divorce. It was a beginning.
And then I cycled around the spiral for another lesson – I married the man I thought my parents would like. The only problem was, he didn’t want to have sex with me. I stayed with that for seven years, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. It was during this time, with the help of my spiritual connection, that I began to study and understand the role of projection. My husband reflected back to me my own hatred of my body. And he did a very nice job for me.
When I search back into the origin of the passive role, I can feel all the women around me, growing up. Every one of them was uncomfortable with their body. When I gained weight in teenage, I know my mother was terribly embarassed. She didn’t have all the information – I had never told her about getting raped by one of my teachers, and that I needed the weight for protection. Nowhere were there role models for women who were vitally sexual AND safe. And I assumed that my sexual feelings meant there was something terribly wrong with me. My vital inner life was screaming for recognition. As a teenager, I acted out, rebelled, ran away, slept around. I got raped. I gained weight. It was so intolerable to me that I agreed to a breast reduction, which totally alienated me from what was left of my body-esteem.
It has taken twenty five years for me to begin coming in to my body. Years of constant struggle and questioning. Years of passivity and deadness. And now, in a place where I trust God’s plans for me, years of building deep compassion and a hunger for the truth that burns me forward. It has taken me twenty-five years of therapy and study to recognize the reality of my parents’ environment, and the basis for their fear. A girl who was unsuitable for a mate would have a hard time. There would be no one to take care of me.
The Body in Question
Most of the women that I work with have a deep personal knowledge of at least the edges of the issues discussed here. They know they have a tendency to feel like victims. These women are smart enough to know that something is amiss, but struggling to identify their part in the problem. As objects, it is easy to identify the problems of the Attacker, but the sight often gets murky when turned on one’s own posture of defenselessness. What ARE the common images that the women in my groups hold about men and men’s desires? And what is the female responsibility towards ownership of our wholeness, not just our innocent victim/object of desire?
1.. Men come at sex through the genitals not with the heart . How many times have I heard women talking about men grabbing for the genitals without enough warm-up? There is scorn and exhaustion in their voices. When I ask if the women are able to help educate their men about their needs, how often the answer comes back that the men respond with some fear and often hostility (“You’re trying to dominate me,” or “I’ll try” and nothing changes.)
In exploring this territory with women, I came to a fascinating realization. Most of the women in my groups hold on to a romantic view of love that discounts straight out lust and Horny Women. By not unearthing and revealing our own lusty natures, we leave the men to hold all of that dark, aggressive material. I think of my own story, and the dangers of Lust, the punishment that follows it: surgery, abortions, loss, grief. I am swimming towards the light on this one, feeling (little by little) the return of my passionate vitality. But it is swimming through a darkness so profound as to feel sometimes paralyzing.
I do know I have let the men in my life carry all the dark passions, as if they were holding them for me. I let them be attracted to other women and hunger for X-rated movies, while I stay huddled in my practically comatose state, waiting for the return of my own sexual impulse. I finally decided to try and develop a masturbatory life, so I could explore my sexual feelings without fear of failure. It has been very gratifying to discover an occasional rush of vital energy in the middle of the day, and consider it sexy and that I could just close the door and take care of it. However, my oral wound still feels lonely when I do it to myself.
2. Men are stimulated best by pornographic materials which are demeaning Pornography treats women as objects, less than men. This issue is at the heart of the Men Do, Women are Done to dilemma. The trouble with blaming this all on The Men is that most of the women I work with prefer the Woman as Object role in bed. After all, we’ve been trained for it since birth. I know that when my partner began to ask that I take a little more initiative (I was happy to be the Object most of the time), I felt utterly lost and without a compass. What was I supposed to DO? He wanted me to let myself be more of a sexual target. What did that mean? How was I supposed to act that was both in keeping with my own inner authority and Sexy Object behavior? If I didn’t have to act, then I didn’t have to face this dilemma. What makes up a female’s version of erotic material? Can we take ownership of that? What’s at stake if we genuinely begin to move towards mutuality in the realm of the erotic? If we take leadership in the love and relationship aspect of our partnership, will our men respond and find us stimulating and exciting? All I know is that I have to go here, whether it is towards the erotic or simply the vital – I want my energy back.
3. Men don’t know how to make love except by pounding women with their bodies. It wasn’t until I was in my late thirties that I discovered that there were men who knew how to make love with a variety of rhythms. Because I had always attracted men who (consciously or unconsciously) needed to hurt women. This reinforced my negative beliefs about myself. When I began feeling that there was a part of God in me, that only I could take care of, it became much more difficult to keep silent. I had something precious inside of me, and I didn’t want it hurt. I had to start telling the truth. “That hurts right now.” “I’m feeling scared and can’t make love right now.” Often, my partners have not like this. It definitely interrupts the sexual flow. It takes power back. It isn’t sexy.
Is it possible that this “pounding” quality to much male sexual activity can be traced back to trying to separate from Mother? From an unconscious loss of perspective about who exactly is being pounded? By the time I began to be conscious that I had some choices about what happened to me sexually, my body had become so tensed up in response to strong yang energy that I didn’t receive strong lusty intercourse with any ease at all. In fact, I had acute bladder injury and deep tearing of the walls of the vagina. In exploring these issues with other women, I’ve discovered I was not alone. Many women come to my healing room with their genitals pulled up behind their bellybuttons, hoping to escape the pounding, not having the mutual information to change the pattern. Chronic bladder and yeast infections often can be traced to this kind of tension. What shocked me about myself, and now about the women I work with, is how long we’ve allowed this kind of Masochistic injury to continue.
These are just a few of the potent images that emerge when working with women’s view on sexuality. Most of the first part of this paper has looked at the psychological ramifications of female submissive behavior. What healers will see most often are the symptoms, the physical ramifications of women’s beliefs about men’s sexual interests. Constant tensing of vaginal muscles creates a tension pattern that deeply affects the first and second chakras’ ability to receive energy. Pulling up in inner organs to escape also enervates the lower chakras. I see more tearing of vaginal tissue that I would like. A woman with the psychopathic defense might turn to emasculating behavior as her way of coping with the Subject/Object dilemma. And, the final escape seems to be a deep antipathy about sex, a gradual loss of interest and frigidity.
There are profound spiritual effects of women’s beliefs about themselves and men, about Power and Powerlessness. The most ever-present is an abiding distrust and separation, the subject of millions of self-help books devoured by women. Because of our deep identification with our role as the Object, many women still hold tightly to a blindness about our contribution to this impasse. If we are being done to, there is nothing we can do to change anything And, one step deeper than this, we need to be willing to explore the negative pleasure inherent in being passive, and help it transform.
THE WORK OF TRANSFORMATION:
Reclaiming the Inner Masculine, Honoring the Feminine
What happens when I allow myself to admit the attraction to submission that underpins a good portion of my unconscious lives? I know that there is a deep fear of uncovering this negative material. It is as if, by uncovering it, I will become it. The other choice, however, is that I don’t own it. And not owning it, I create deep projections onto others, like the women projecting their animus’ that we discussed at the beginning of this paper.
Thomas Moore addresses this fear in Dark Eros. “How do you present the evil of the heart without fostering its literalization? You don’t try to make the shadow assimiable. You don’t intellectualize the shadow away and cleanse it of its dark emotions. You don’t present an ideal of balance, integration, identification or absorption of the shadow. Instead, you might prepare for a lifetime of struggle with the dark passions. knowing the crucible of evil desires offers concoctions that have soul.” (p. 192)
The owning of both dark and light in the soul is a necessary step in the journey towards Wholeness. The Pathwork Guide, in The Undefended Self, explains it this way”
“Mutuality between you and yourself will be absent if you reject your own evil. By rejecting evil, you ignore and deny the vital original creative energy that is contained in all evil. This energy must be made available in order for you to become whole. The energy can only be transformed when you are aware of its distorted form.” (pg. 152)
In our discussion of sexuality, from the point of view of many women, the masculine energies are synonymous with negativity. What I am uncovering is a deep feminine wound created by the continuing subtle (and not so subtle) assumption that Men Do and Women are Done To. From a reference point of passivity, any action at all can be construed as negative, harmful and actively destructive. The passive partner, in denial of her own participation in the dance, cannot emerge unscathed.
Robert Johnson, in his book Owning Your Own Shadow, postulates that the denial of the dark side of our own nature will find expression, conscious or not, in dark moods, psychosomatic illness, or accidents. “We must be whole whether we like it or not; the only choice is whether we will incorporate the shadow consciously and with some dignity or do it through some neurotic behavior.” (pp.26-27) From this point of view, it does not surprise me that the majority of chronic pain patients in this culture are women.
So what is our job as healers, responding to this deep cultural and personal separation between active and passive, masculine and feminine, Do-er and Done-to? What will it take to help women find their own desire line and express it?
Jessica Benjamin theorizes that we need to reshape the original relationship between mother and child. When the mother remains an object, the whole growth of mutuality and relationship is skewed. She suggests we continue to move away from the philosophy that says the development of the individual (and in this culture, the masculine) is the primary focal point for successfully launching a child into this culture. Rather, we need to emphasize inter-relationship as a primary human need, and support and study how relationships are built and maintained. This emphasis on a formerly “feminine” value will deeply affect the psychic balance between what are now considered masculine and feminine values, bringing them closer together. (p.223)
It is not enough to simply explain the theoretical background of why we feel so impotent and then hope everything will simply unwind from there. Intellectual understanding is a great step forward, but it is, after all, only one level of the field. Hands-on healing can assist in clearing old images and charging the lower chakras, allowing more creative problem-solving and assertive energy to flow. It can support women’s self-esteem as we gingerly begin to notice and respond to our part in the passive role. Owning the creative energy locked up in negative pleasure releases a startling amount of transformed energy, now available for creatively constructing a new paradigm on every level of the field.
Personally, the experience of owning my lust, my neediness, and my dark fantasies, has been enormously liberating. When I began this work, consciously, with my partner, I was just coming out of many years of severe genital and pelvic pain. The process was slow and cumbersome, and needed to be interspersed with much Higher Self love and sexual contact. When I started really asking for my “negative contracts” to become conscious, I was amazed at the passion stored up in what had formerly been “taboo” material. As my first and second charkas came back into active participation in my energy system, my creative energy and my attitudes about work (and my ability to sustain work) began to change as well. For the first time in my life, I began to easily make a comfortable living. I put these two experiences – releasing sexually frozen material and creative work – together because of their deep connection in the second chakra and the reality that in my life, the timing of these two explorations in consciousness happened together. Also, the reclaiming of my Inner Masculine means the ability to Do, take action, take care of myself. The cycle of dependence and waiting to be taken care of must slowly be shifted to self-care and inter-dependence.
Reclaiming my Inner Masculine (pulling my animus projection back into myself) is only one part of the equation. I must also be an active participant in reclaiming the deepest values of the feminine. In The Handless Maiden, Robert Johnson portrays the Inner Feminine as the relationship of the Self with its Being-ness. In the fairy tale of a women who loses her hands due to the lust of the men in her life, she regains her power not by doing more but by returning to a state of inner quiet and waiting for answers that rise up in silence, being not doing. The answers that come from the stillness have to do with her relationships -to herself and to those she loves – not to her accomplishments in the world. Here the Inner Feminine begins to have a voice that balances the emphasis put on Doing as represented by the Inner Masculine.
What is being asked of women is not that we change our entire sexual orientation to that of strip tease and bondage in order to honor our shadow selves. Nor are we being asked to extol our Inner Masculine at the expense of our deep hard-earned feminine wisdom. The task at hand is embodying both Yin and Yang, honestly and with increasing clarity. As mothers, we are being asked to stay true to our inner needs, regardless of the cultural emphasis on self-sacrifice. As lovers, we are being asked to take up our share of the burden of active and passive, nasty and nice. And as human beings striving for wholeness, we are being asked for scrupulous honesty, a lot of messy trial and error, and enormous patience.
Benjamin, Jessica, The Bonds of Love. New York, Random House, 1988.
Goldberg, Jane, The Dark Side of Love. New York, G. P. Putnam’s, 1994.
Johnson, Robert, The Fisher King and The Handless Maiden. New York, Harper Collins, 1993.
Owning Your Own Shadow. New York, Harper Collins, 1994
Lerner, Harriet, Mothers and Daughters. Audio tape. Colorado, Sounds True Audio, 1995
Moore, Thomas, Dark Eros. Woodstock, CT., Spring Publications, 1994
Staler, Robert, Sexual Excitement. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1979.
Thesenga, Susan, The Undefended Self, second edition. Madison, VA, The Pathwork Press, 1994.
Tisdale, Sallie, Talk Dirty to Me. New York, Doubleday, 1994.