Chapter 9: The path to a woman’s heart passes through her vagina – Part 3

Furthermore, women are inclined to avoid the term “having sex”, which they consider as an unworthy, unmerited, and loveless deed. In lieu thereof, they prefer using the word “making love” to express the simultaneous merger of two bodies and minds. The truth is that women like to see love and sex as an event causing the unification of what is otherwise separated. For them, love creates an emotional bond between two people, while sex is the physical bridge to one another. Together, love and sex have the power to combine the best parts of two individuals and amalgamate them into a new, comprehensive whole, just like two rivers join to become at their confluence. Through love and sex, something original is cre­ated, some­thing that is much larger and more powerful than the two individuals taken sepa­rately.

Hence, for women, sex is a truly affective act and a manifestation of how they feel about their partner. Although it would be naïve from anyone to expect a man to return such fond­ness and share similar motives when sleeping with a woman (at least for the first time), one should be aware that females are very thin-skinned about any kind of sex practice, but in particular about those involving penetration. Such sensitiveness that is absolutely appre­hen­sible and legitimate in view of the position of submission they are in during copulation. Let’s picture it: Typically, they have to lie on their back, spreading their legs wide open, and let a long, hard, alien object into their body. Indeed, even if she likes the guy, the vision of his peter introducing her fanny can be quite appalling. Nevertheless, it is not so much the fear of somatic pain that scares a woman as the apprehension to be left distressed and un­happy by someone who views her as a casual shag or as an instrument for physical release. For females, not many things are more upsetting than the impression to have been used and the absence of meaningful tenderness by the man she just had in her.

Different details play a role when a woman selects a man to sleep with, respectively decides whether or not to make that step with a prospective mating partner. The most important one is certainly trust. Given the inequality in physical strength between the genders, it is critical for her to know that she can feel safe with him. It is only under these conditions of fami­liarity, closeness, and overall well-being that her brain can release the right combi­na­tion of hor­mones that will ultimately let her open up to a man. That being said, their desire will not only depend on their own affinity to the counterpart. What is even more crucial for her to establish that emotional link is the confidence that she really means something to him, that he really cares about her. Notice that, in this context, the word “caring” goes beyond the sig­ni­ficance of “liking” or “being fond of”; it also refers to the open exhibition of com­pas­sion for her or to the active display of attention.

One of the reasons women evolved with a lower sex drive than men is that they needed to take time out from procreating to care for their young. If they constantly had sex, they would be pregnant all the time, which would necessarily lead to the risk of disregarding and neglecting her current children. Such a modus vivendi would be damaging to their own health and that of their progeny. No serious mating partner or husband would want that. Furthermore, while males can spread their seed as widely as they want, the time window (in terms of age) within which human females are fertile is quite limited. In theory, men can father hundreds of heirs every year, whereas even the most prolific women can only bear a maxi­mum of about 40 children in their lives.[1]

Given that men themselves are naturally adverse to the idea of sharing their partner(s), it then becomes, from an evolutionary and survival perspective, one of the key challenges in a woman’s existence to identify the right mate. The goal is not only to find a strong man with good genes but also to retain him after sex so that he can provide and look after her and their offspring. It is, therefore, no wonder that, over time, females have developed very sophisticated selection mechanisms to make out (with) the right guy. They are programmed to single out and cream off the most eligible bachelor after numerous tests. During the pro­cess, she sets out on a mental quest for answers to questions such as “Does he love me?”, “Am I the only one?”, “Do we match?”, “What kind of relationship with me is he looking for?”, and so on. For inexperienced men, this may sound quite bothersome or challenging. But displaying involvement is not that difficult after all. Most women nowadays do not expect real commitment, let alone a diamond ring, to share deeply intimate moments with a man. Some of them do not even want a lasting relationship. What a woman needs to be tur­ned on sexually is some kind of fervour for her (and only for her) and the hope for at least some sensibility. The bare promise of physical comfort, multiple orgasms or other sen­sual delights, is just not enough to stir her up. All she seeks before sex is the prospect of bon­ding instead of bondage; the vision that her man will penetrate her with emotional meaning rather than with his penis; the foretaste of him planting a seed in her heart, not his seed onto her breasts, etc. Once she has sensed that affective connection from the man, she might well be into all the other stuff as well…

Related proverbs and citations:

此地无银三百两

cǐ dì wú yín sān bǎi liǎng

“No 300 taels of silver buried here”.

A guilty person gives himself away by conspicuously protesting his innocence.

A clumsy denial resulting in self-exposure.


Notes

[1]    Assuming 30 years of fertility (between the age of 15 and 45) and 40 weeks of pregnancy – not taking into consideration the time the female body needs to recover from giving birth, or the occurrence of twins, triplets, etc.

Chapter 9: The path to a woman’s heart passes through her vagina – Part 2

What makes female sexuality even more complex is that it is influenced by hormonal fluctu­ations in a much stronger fashion than it is for men. As elucidated in other chapters[1], the mens­trual cycle is regulated by the intricate interaction of hormones. This merry- (actually, not-so-merry-) go-round of physiological changes occurring in fertile women sends them onto an emotional roller-coaster affecting several aspects of their well-being, including their body temperature, stress levels, mood, but also their lust. While men have a rather constant level of testosterone in their blood, women sexual hormones ebb and flow throughout the cycle, modulating their sexual interest accordingly. Desire will steadily increase during the second week, culminating right before ovulation occurs, usually on the 14th day of the cycle. At the same time, the simultaneous rise of testosterone (the “sex hormone”) and oestrogen (which also has the property to make females more receptive to lovemaking and is essential for vaginal lubrication) will also contribute to the acceleration of her sex drive. In this regard, studies have shown that the phase of the menstrual cycle affected outfit decisions: For example, the closer a woman is to ovulation, the shorter the skirts and the tighter the blouse she (unconsciously) chooses to wear[2] As this time also corresponds to her peak of fecundity, it demonstrates that Mother Nature did a fine optimisation job when program­ming the connection between these two factors (fertility and libido) with the objective of mul­ti­­pli­cation and species-survival.

In the second half of the menstrual cycle, however, a woman’s hunger for sex then fades away as she approaches the infertile period of menstruation. This is mainly due to her ovaries’ production of progesterone during and after ovulation, which partially reverses the effect of testoste­rone in her system, thus curbing her desire. As the name reveals, this hormone’s role is to precede and to favour gestation by preparing the lining of the womb that will receive and sustain the egg if it becomes fertilised by a sperm (which would result in pregnancy). It is only after the body has detected that the egg is not fertilised that progesterone levels drop again and menstrual bleeding sets in. The emergence of progesterone, therefore, indicates to the female body that the fun is over and that it is now possibly time to take care of the embryo (or imbroglio – depending on how it happened).

As pointed out above, the primary purpose of sex since the origins of times has been to trade genes with someone else in order to create stronger chromosomes in the next generation of babies. Some readers will think that this has not so much to do with emotions either. Why, then, all the fuss about affection, caring, devotion, commitment, many men will ask. Given that men and women now have access to a variety of contraceptive methods, why can’t we stick to the cock and ass and tits and butthole pleasures? Shouldn’t sex be about this rusty trombone, dirty Sanchez, Cincinnati bowtie, and pussy-juice cocktail, and shit-stained balls after all? Do love and connection really have to be part of the sex equation in the 21st century? The answer here could not be clearer: As a general rule, women are still unable to separate emotion from conjugation. For them, love and sex are the two sides of the same coin, one is the consequence of the other, one actually equals the other – at least this is what a vast majority of females claim.
Seldom will a woman admit that an affair “was only about sex” or view intercourse “just as sex”. Instead, what one usually hears are classical formulas like “as an individual I feel I could not have sex except with someone I loved”, or “I have to be feeling very intensely, or in love, or overwhelmed by sexual feelings in order to enter a deep sexual encounter.”[3] These two declarations highlight one very important point: For women, a sexual relation­ship is not merely a physical activity (as it may be the case for many men), but rather a phy­sical or emotional exchange with a person with whom they have a connection. There­fore, they will always prefer to have a personally close relationship to a casual one. But even girls with a comparatively promiscuous lifestyle tend to insist on a minimum of feelings when fooling around. In a survey among students specifically picked out for their vivid sexual activity, no more than 32 percent of the female respondents disagreed to the state­ment, “I feel I should be emotionally involved with a woman/man before having sex with him/her”, compared to 72 percent of the men asked.[4]

 


Notes

[1]    See chapters 8 “A woman’s heart is as deep as the ocean” and 28 “Pluck flowers as they bloom; wait and you’ll have only the twigs”.

[2]    Buss (2003), p. 247

[3]    Cited in: Hite (1981), p. 479

[4]    Cited in: Buss (2000), p. 55

Chapter 9: The path to a woman’s heart passes through her vagina

到女人心里的路通过阴道
dào nǚ rén xīn lĭ de lù tōng guò yīn dào

Strictly speaking, the present expression has not reached the status of a true proverb yet. Although often cited and widely known among the younger generation in China, it is “only” a quote from Lust, Caution (色,戒 – Sè, Jiè), a novella by Eileen CHANG. The full quote reads as follows: “They also say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach; that a man will fall easy prey to a woman who can cook. Somewhere in the first decade or two of the twentieth century, a well-known Chinese scholar was supposed to have added that the way to a woman’s heart is through her vagina”. The name of the story it is extracted from sets the tone for this chapter. As was the case in the previous one, sex is going to be the main theme. This time, however, the female perspective shall be at the core of the discus­sion.

To come to the point immediately: Women also want sex. And more often than they care to admit. This should be good news for everyone. Yet, it does not mean that they express and enjoy their sexuality in the same way as men. On the contrary, females do have signifi­cantly different sexual needs and motivations, which need to be acknowledged, respected and carefully attended by the partner if the relation is to last. One cannot expect women to have the same magnitude of natural arousal as men. Some certainly do, but the individuals to whom this principle applies are commonly called nymphomaniacs and represent a minority. In order to reach the same final destination of pleasure, satisfaction, physical release, or warmth, the female sex drive will normally take a completely different direction from the male’s. While a man’s path is quite direct, a woman’s mind will wander from one inner state to another, taking rides through various forms and levels of physical, emotional and soul attraction.

This process lets women appear as if they were procrastinating or were reticent, while, in fact, they are just trying to protect themselves from their own impulses. Often, all a woman needs in order to make up her mind and to decide to sleep with someone (other than a minimum of mental che­mistry, of course), is time. Indeed, if you give her enough time, let’s say five years, to hang out with and to know a potential and desirable mate, there is a high proba­bility that she will consent to be intimate with him. When reducing that period to six months or one week, however, her eagerness will be much lower. This may sound rather obvious to many readers, but for men, five years of acquaintance, or six months, or a week – that did not matter to the male college students surveyed in a study about temporary and permanent mating. Some of them would even accept intercourse after one hour, something virtually impos­­sible for women. Simi­larly, more than half (55.2 percent) of men agree to the idea that it is all right for two people to have sex if they really like each other, even if they have known each other for only a very short time. Compared to that, only 31.7 percent of women strongly agreed or some­what agreed to the same statement when surveyed.[1] Finally, during another study, 73 percent of males, but only 27 percent of females admitted having had sex deliberately with­out emotional involvement.[2] For the rest, it has been established that the fact that women prefer sex with emotional bonding and commitment, applies to adults in all ages, i.e., through­out their thirties, forties, and fifties, and also to those individuals with high-powered careers – all of them apparently have the same need for affection and inti­macy in sexual rela­tion­ships.[3]

One will notice that the statistics mentioned above are related to somewhat casual relation­ships. As elaborated in the previous chapter, this aspect alone may explain the large discre­pancy in responses between the genders. With regard to more committed romances, the differences do not have to be that large anymore, not even when lechery is involved. So the common representation of women as chaste or as having little interest in sexuality can and should be discarded. Many men, frustrated ones, in particular, believe (or make them­selves believe) that sex plays a lesser role for women or that they are less keen on bed sports. The opposite is closer to reality: For thousands of years, and this remains true as of today, it has been a basic instinct for every woman to find the man with the best genes and to have sex with him. Only when the right conditions are met will a woman unleash the dragon (or tigress, volcano, tsunami, etc.) in her and unfold enormous amounts of sexual energy. It never fails to fascinate when discovering or experiencing how wild, unin­­hibited and stupendous female concupiscence can be. For unpracticed men, this can come as a terrible shock.


Notes

[1]    All studies cited in: Buss (2003), pp. 77-78

[2]    Cited in: Buss (2003), pp. 257

[3]    Cited in: Townsend (1998), p. 28

Chapter 8: A woman’s heart is as deep as the ocean – Part 3

These negative feelings towards women are reinforced by the ostensible volatility of their emo­tions. Their everyday experience is heavily influenced by their sensations, which they also use for decision making. Their current disposition dominates their actions to a far grea­ter extent than it does for men. Thus, a woman is and acts as she feels, and more often than not, she will also inform her fellow human beings about her state of mind and let them expe­rience how and what she feels – be it by laughing, crying, or with a nasty comment. In res­pect thereof, it appears only as normal that her deeds and interactions are characterised by ups and downs. In the 1993 guidebook Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, author John Gray likens a woman to a wave, describing the process of her feelings regularly rising and falling. For several weeks, she may feel very happy and loving. Then, suddenly, after her mood reaches its peak, she begins to have negative stimuli (accompanied by sentiments of emptiness, worry, unfulfilled needs, hopelessness, loneliness, etc.). While she sinks into darkness and a diffused mood, she partly loses her compassion for others as well as her ability to give love. Once she has hit rock bottom, her condition automatically shifts again and she feels good about herself again.[1]

Whether women like it or not, it is particularly easy for men to blame these mood swings on the strong hormonal fluctuations within the bodies and brains of the former. The ebb and flow take place according to a biologically predefined sequence of phases: The menstrual cycle. Each monthly[2] series can be divided into four distinct epi­sodes:

  • Episode I – A New Soak: This (or the) period (called the follicular phase), which by definition coincides with the beginning of the menstrual cycle, starts on the first day of the menstrual bleeding. It usually lasts 3 to 5 days, during which the vagina releases between 10 and 80 millilitres (i.e., 4 to 6 tablespoons) of menstrual fluid, a reddish-brown liquid containing blood, vaginal secretions, as well as other tissues.[3] As most women notice the breaking down and shedding of the uterine lining during menstruation, they have to live with a permanent sensation of wetness. This may provoke a certain feeling of unease and incon­venience around that time, although modern-day sanitary pads or tampons are already doing a good job at alleviating such malaise. With progesterone and oestrogen levels at their lowest, the female mood can be regarded as quite negative, but at least relatively stable.
  • Episode II – The Desire Strikes Back: The second part of the follicular phase kicks in as soon as the bleeding has stopped. It is also known as the “proli­fe­rative” phase, indicating the point when the lining of the uterus is growing and thickening (or proli­ferating) again, in preparation for a possible pregnancy. Follicles in the ovaries begin to ripen, oozing more and more oestrogens into the woman’s bloodstream. As this hor­mone is in charge of emotional receptiveness, these increasing doses of oestrogen contribute to the improvement of her well-being, mood and to the acceleration of her sex drive[4]. Not only is she more happy and positive; it is also around this time that she attains maximum fertility. She is more likely to dress provocatively, initiate sex, commit adultery, or have sexual fantasies than in any other stage of her menstrual cycle.[5]
  • Episode III – Attack of the Hormones: The proliferative phase ends with the sharp surge of luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) [6] The former causes the most mature follicle to burst open, relea­sing an egg into one of the fallopian tubes (ovulation). From there, the ovum tra­vels down to the uterus. For women with a 28-day cycle, this phase should take place on day 14, i.e., exactly at mid-cycle, and typically lasts 16 to 32 hours. Fer­ti­lisation of the egg may happen up to 12 hours after its release. Right after ovu­lation, basal body temperature rises and stays higher by about .2 to .3 degrees Cel­sius until a few days before the next menstruation.[7] Around the time of ovu­lation, some women may experience a dull pain in their lower abdomen, spe­ci­fi­cally on the same side as the ovary that just provided the egg. This sen­sation, medi­cally termed as “mittelschmerz” (literally: middle pain), may last for a few minutes to a few hours.[8] It can be accompanied by cramps, bloating or other forms of irritation. Yet, thanks to the soup of oestrogen the female hypothalamus is swimming in at that moment, women are generally quite cheerful and amiable, displaying jolliness and good temper.
  • Episode IV – The Random Menace: Ovulation marks the beginning of the last part of the menstrual cycle, the luteal phase. While LH and FSH levels decrease, the closing of the ruptured follicle induces the formation of a temporary structure, the corpus luteum that has the function to prepare the uterus should impregnation occur. The presence of the corpus luteum induces the production of progesterone (the gestation hormone), which combined with the high level of oestrogen causes the uterine lining to thicken even more, ballooning with fluids and other substan­ces to nourish a poten­tial foetus. In case the egg is fecundated, a new hormone (human chorionic gonado­tropin) is added to the cocktail, whose role it is to maintain the corpus luteum.[9] Or else, i.e., if fertilisation has not taken place, the corpus luteum degene­rates, no longer producing progesterone, and after another 14 days (normally), the new menstrual cycle can begin. While progesterone is still squirting from the ovaries, brains are functioning in a sedated mode, while women grow gradually more irritable and slow, losing part of their alertness and focus. However, “in the last few days of the men­strual cycle, when progesterone collapses, this calming effect is abruptly withdrawn, leaving the brain momen­tarily upset, stressed, and irritable. […] Many women say they cry more easily and often feel out of sorts, stressed, aggressive, negative, hos­tile, or even hopeless and depressed right before their periods begin.”[10] This collec­tion of physical and emotional symptoms are commonly summa­rised under the acro­nyms PMS (pre­menstrual syndrome) and PMT (premenstrual tension). In more se­vere cases, the brutal withdrawal of the female hormones progesterone and oestro­gen may lead to even more discomforting sensations or pains, including the follo­wing: Breast tenderness or swelling, heart palpitations, headaches, joint or muscle pain, swol­len face, chronic fatigue, apathy, insomnia, hypersomnia, difficulty con­centrating, sadness, despair, tension, anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings, bouts of uncon­trollable crying, increased intense sensitivity to rejection or criticism, increased need for emotional closeness, feelings of being out of control, binge eating, food cravings, etc.[11]

Although the idea of mood swings and the regular discharge of a bloody substance may inspire contempt and repulsion among many men, they should be aware of the inconvenience that females have to endure month after month. The menstrual cycle is no cakewalk. Having one’s period – that’s one small leak for women, one giant schlep for womankind.

Related proverbs and citations:

女心と秋の空 (Japanese proverb)

Onna-gokoro to aki no sora

A woman’s heart and the autumn sky.

A woman’s heart is as changeable as the weather in autumn.



Notes

[1]    Gray (1993), chapter 7

[2]    Though the length and regularity of a menstrual cycle may vary, the average duration of a complete menstrual cycle is 28 days. Healthy cycles usually run from 25 to 36 days.

[3]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menstruation

[4]    See chapters 1 “Men are like mud, women are like water” and 9 “The path to a woman’s heart passes through her vagina”.

[5]    Campbell (2002), p. 48

[6]    Many contraceptive pills work by preventing this LH upsurge, thus impeding the egg’s release.

[7]    Checking the increase in temperature is a common test to estimate whether or not ovulation has occurred.

[8] http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/womens_health_issues/biology_of_the_female_reproductive_system/ menstrual_cycle.html

[9]    By the way, the most modern pregnancy tests are designed to detect an increase in the human chorionic gonadotropin level.

[10]  Brizendine (2006), p. 45

[11]  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premenstrual_dysphoric_disorder

Chapter 8: A woman’s heart is as deep as the ocean – Part 2

The previous examples illustrate how complex, contradictory, impenetrable women sometimes appear to men. Then, women’s recurrent complaints about men in these and other respects add to the confusion and tend to further complicate matters. Unfortunately, this incom­pre­hension has also given rise to a certain male condescension towards femininity, implying that women are overly emotional, unstable, hard to please, never satisfied, needy (or “high main­­tenance”), clingy, whimsical, prone to over-dramatisation in order to gain attention from others in relationships, and so on:

A woman is always changeable and capricious.[1]

Virgil, Æneid

Woman is always fickle

Foolish is he who trusts her.[2]

Francis I of France (scratched with his ring on a window of Chambord Castle)

Frailty, thy name is woman!

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Woman’s at best a contradiction still.

Alexander Pope, Moral Essays

 

Whether or not these accusations are legitimate or fair shall not be the object of the follo­wing elaboration. Rather, the purpose is to build on such sexist fault-finding and to establish – just for the fun of it – a list of those typical reproaches men utter against their girlfriends, wives, colleagues, etc. and to explicate these female shortcomings with hormonal fluc­tu­ations. Tact and political correctness will be put aside and scientific explanations kept to a mini­mum, as each reader is invited to think for himself or herself how much truth (or, on the contrary, untruth or misrepresentation) lies in these assertions.

One common criticism men regularly utter about women concerns their indirect way of talking and expressing themselves. Many men, at least in many so-called low context cul­tu­res (such as, for example, in Germany, North America, Scandinavia) are confused by indi­rect communication. They have trouble recognising implicit meanings, picking up on nuan­ces in words, reading between the lines or deciphering body language. Accordingly, they blame women for conveying vague or ambiguous messages and for leaving their interlo­cutors to guess what they really want to say (e.g., “What do you think about this dress in the shop window” instead of “I want you to buy me this dress”; “The children’s school is quite far from our home” instead of “I would like to move closer to their school”; or “Go ahead, do whatever you want,” instead of “I don’t want you to, but if you do, I will make you regret it”). For them, women always beat around the bush, never getting to the point.

Then, men like to see themselves as rational and goal-oriented creatures, while women’s unrea­son and lack of logic would even make Mr. Spock’s hair stand on end. Wary of muddle hazard, they sneer at the females’ inclination to “indulge themselves in feelings and impres­sions” and to base their judgements on emotions rather than on (common) sense. Likewise, they sometimes say one thing and then finally do the opposite, or engage in two or more direc­­tions at once, so that “nothing ever gets done”[3]. Such irrationality and logical incon­sistency make women look wild, moody, chaotic, impulsive, irresponsible, and therefore untrust­­worthy from a masculine perspective.


Notes

[1]    Original: “Varium et mutabile semper, Femina.”

[2]    Original: “Toute femme varie / Bien fol est qui s’y fie.”

[3]    Fitzgerald (2012)

Chapter 8: A woman’s heart is as deep as the ocean

女人心海底针
nǚrén xīn hǎi dǐ zhēn

If one single proverb was to summarise or to excuse the problems men have understanding women, it would probably be this one. The seemingly elusive, impenetrable character of the female has preoccupied people for several centuries, frustrating some of history’s greatest thinkers, as the following quotes testify:

 O most delicate fiend!

Who is’t can read a woman?

William Shakespeare, Cymbeline

Everything in woman is a riddle[1]

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

 

Women are meant to be loved, not to be understood.

Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx Without a Secret

 

The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?’[2]

Sigmund Freud (in a letter to Marie Bonaparte)

Women. They are a complete mystery.

Stephen Hawking, in reply to the question:

“What do you think most about during the day?”[3]

They are not alone. Poets, novelists, and philosophers have always described the mystery of women and the challenge of understanding the female psyche. Bemused by women’s beha­viour, they find themselves at sea when it comes to figuring out what they want. For most men, a woman’s heart is, as the proverb implies, like a needle at the bottom of the ocean – a place infinitely vaster than a haystack and that is affected by all kinds of internal and external forces. Not only can it be a challenging task to pinpoint their exact physical or emo­tional state (“Is she really all right? Didn’t she exaggerate her pain this time?”). Some­times, their condition also depends heavily on their mood and sentiments at that very moment (“What happened today? She would not react like that usually”), which can be dif­ficult to apprehend. Such male perplexity occurs under circumstantial conditions (e.g., when quarrelling, or during discussions about where to spend the next summer holidays) as well as in situations where oppositions between the sexes are more fundamental and critical issues are at stake, such as courtship or mating strategies (“Does she prefer her husband to be a tough and successful business executive or a soft family man? Should he passionately ravish and masterfully dominate her or stick with the tender cuddling and remain caring and loving? Does she expect him to take the initiative or is she going to consider his move as too aggressive or even rude?”).


Notes

[1]    Original: “Alles am Weibe ist ein Rätsel.”

[2]    Original: “Die grosse Frage, die nie beantwortet worden ist und die ich trotz dreißig Jahre langem Forschen in der weiblichen Seele nie habe beantworten können, ist die: Was will das Weib?”

[3]    Hawking (2012)

Chapter 7: The most vicious is woman’s heart – Part 4

One of the more distressing aspects of such anxiety and wariness is that women hold extre­mely powerful impressions and long-term memories of their peer-inflicted wounds. The expe­rience of hurt, no matter its cause or justification, be it treachery, deceit, rejection, or just about anything else, mills around in their hearts and souls for many years, leaving behind deep emotional scars and powerful feelings of treason, shame, or incomprehension. Sometimes, one burn is enough to offend or injure a woman for her whole life and to pro­voke a trauma so profound that she will be unable to sense closeness with any other female and instead become uneasy or overcautious when approaching someone who has not yet pro­­ven her trustworthiness.

Even so, the latent anxiety does not only stem from passive or defensive postures, such as circumspection or misgiving. Where there is a victim, there is usually an oppressor. In light of the rivalrous nature of women, the culprit is usually easy to spot. Sisters, mothers and daughters, stepmothers, mothers in law, wives, ex-wives, lovers, concubines, mummies, co-workers, teammates, flatmates, school friends, girlfriends, best friends… They are all pitting against one another, somehow, somewhere, sometime, sooner or later. But unlike male bat­tles for dominance, which are fought loudly and in a visible manner (in the end, it has to be known by everyone who won the scuffle – that is the whole point), combats between women typically include back-stabbing and wear the stamp of underhandedness. Under nor­mal competitive conditions, words and other forms of language constitute the main ammu­nition. A frozen smile and a sneaky comment (“I like your new hairstyle, very… daring”) here, rumours (“What? She’s pregnant? I thought her husband was sterile”) and gossip (“I heard she had an affair with the friend of her son”) there, belittlement of peers (“She only got a baby 18 months ago, and she’s starting to work again, unbelievable!”), sub­ver­siveness (“She told me that she was getting a divorce, but don’t tell anyone you got that from me, ok?”), sabotage (“I’m so sorry I forgot to inform you about this morning’s dead­line”), withholding of information (“she failed her exam, but no one knows yet”), margina­lisation (“No no, you are not ugly, but we just prefer to hang out with other girls who have boy­friends”), and so forth. Such subtle tactics allow them to stay behind the scenes and cover their tracks (“I wasn’t trying to harm you, or anything”) thus reducing the risk of des­troying the bonds that are still intrinsically vital to women.

While the choice of weapons may appear objectionable to some, no one can blame females for their eagerness to surpass each other, as it is part of their human condition. They have always competed with one another because they have had to. Although they do not need to phy­sically protect their men, their offspring, their caves nowadays, the itch to measure them­selves against and to outdo others perpetually lingers. The obsession to be the prettiest, the best-dressed, the smartest, to have the cleanest house, the most successful spouse, the most achieving and well-behaved children, etc. is a deep-seated compulsion coming directly from their unconscious and signals nothing other than the readiness to fight for what they want. This is quite a normal thing, especially because they are vying for limited or highly-coveted resources, such as jobs, money, status, social approval, or partnerships.

Skirmishes over the latter, are generally the most fervid and the most violent ones. Once a man, or sex in general, enters the picture, the stakes are raised and the situation tilts. Oppo­nents start to roll out the heavy artillery, employing tools like manipulation (“Forget it, he’s too good for you”), ridicule (“With her bony legs, she looks like a giraffe on the Serengeti plains”), discrediting (“You want to go out with my sister? Don’t do that, she’s a bitch”), dero­gation (“Look at her new dress, it’s so last year, she doesn’t even how to dress up”), or occupation (“Hi, I am his girlfriend, and who are you?”) to undermine their rivals. But here again, such behaviour should not be judged too harshly, because women are just following an age-old instinct. Withdrawing from the mating contest has simply never been an option. A female who refuses to consider dating a man simply because she anticipates that other women find him attractive as well, would not be coping with this condition in a healthy way. On the contrary, it is their biological imperative to try for sexual attractiveness, an aspect that becomes very important in the process of natural selection.[1] And so, histo­rically speaking, the quest for and the retention of a partner has to bring out the worst in women, otherwise, they have no chance of survival.

That being said, this lenient type of argumentation only holds truth while the game is about a healthy campaign for scarce goods or a particular position. Major problems emerge when the contention shades into envy or jealousy, that is, the resentment about the achievements of another woman, respectively the desire to have something that is possessed by someone else. The focus of such grudge can be an object (e.g., a Gucci bag), a person (an eligible bache­lor), a position (a job), or a status (marriage, motherhood). Classic scenarios of the dete­rioration of the relationship between two females narrate situations when one part is cra­ving for something merely because the other already has it, for instance, when one of them is admitted to a prestigious university (although both had excluded even going there), when one is seen in presence of a male neither of them had expressed an explicit romantic interest in, or when one decides to retire from party life in order to have a baby. This is when the corrosive feeling of betrayal kicks in and the plain “I’ll have what she’s having” turns into a catty “I drink your milkshake”. By the time the green-eyed monster has entered the dispute, we all know that the shroud of the dark side has fallen and begun the Girl War has.

 

Related proverbs and citations:

唯女子与小人难养也

wéi nǚ zǐ yǔ xiǎo rén nán yǎng yě

Only women and petty men are hard to deal with.

 


Notes

[1]    See chapter 19 “If you plant melons, you get melons; if you plant beans, you get beans”.

Chapter 7: The most vicious is woman’s heart – Part 3

What is intriguing to observe, though, is how much demonic energy women can arouse when under competition among each other. Here again, history and arts abound with exam­ples and stories:

Two women plac’d together makes cold weather.

William Shakespeare, Henry VIII

There is nothing a woman enjoys so much as victory over another woman.

Christopher Hampton / Choderlos de Laclos, Dangerous Liaisons (film adaptation)

In this context, one woman that could be remembered as the mother of all hellcats is Agrip­pina the Younger. No less than 10 murders or executions can be charged to her account, including that of one rival for the Roman Emperor Claudius’ hand (before their marriage), one noblewoman (because Claudius had commented on her beauty), and the mother of her long-time enemy Valeria Messalina (quite a hellish personage herself)[1]. Memorable psychological feuds are also compellingly described, respectively interpreted in The Witches of Eastwick (by John Updike), Carrie (by Stephen King), ZHANG Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern (大红灯笼高高挂, Dà Hóng Dēnglóng Gāogāo Guà), Working Girl, or in the television series Dynasty. If readers look around or think about their own past, they might also find examples of cat-fights they have witnessed.

It does initially appear quite surprising or counter-intuitive that women would feel compe­titive, envious, even distrustful of each other. After all, females have been oppressed by men for thousands of years. So with the advent of feminism, becoming conscious of the dange­rous illusions of patriarchy, they should appreciate the necessity and the benefits of protec­ting each other. Given the traditional social pressures to be a “good girl”, and women’s innate gentleness and generosity, camaraderie and support should come without effort, one would think. But the opposite is often the case, even if many will not admit it openly. In spite of the romanticisation of values such as female solidarity, friendship, “Girl Power”, sis­terhood, etc. the apparent intimacy is nothing but a façade. Sentiments like bitterness, anger, or resent­ment towards female fellows remain more the rule than the exception, indicating a clear undercurrent of aggression, meanness, and negativity that is tormenting the entire gender. According to a survey carried out in the United States, 88 percent of the respondents felt some kind of darkness lurking beneath the surface of their friendships. Furthermore, 88 percent, respectively 85 percent of the same women claimed that they had experienced “palpable emotional wounding”, respectively suffered “serious, life-altering knocks” at the hands of their female friends or other women.[2] Another US study esta­blished that 90 per­cent of the 500 surveyed individuals acknowledged they were or had been envious of other women in their lives, while for 65 percent the indirect object of their bitter­ness had been their own sister or best friend. Adding insult to injury in quite a literal sense, 25 per­cent declared that they had stolen a friend’s husband, boyfriend, lover or job. Inver­sely, 80 percent, respec­tively 40 percent, of the interviewees reported having been the vic­tims of another female’s jealousy, respectively theft of partner or employment.[3]


Notes

[1]    Not to mention the poisoning of Claudius himself, and of another husband. Notice that Agrippina the Younger is none other than the mater of Emperor Nero, one of the most sanguinary figures in History.

[2]    Cited in: Valen (2010)

[3]    Cited in: Barash (2006)

Chapter 7: The most vicious is woman’s heart – Part 2

The Marquise de Merteuil in Choderlos de Laclos’ The Dangerous Liaisons personifies another breed of fiendish women. With her razor sharp, cool and calculating mind, she is quite different from the hot-tempered, sometimes hysterical, vixens or harpies commonly depicted in novels or films. The deep corruption of her soul comes to light through different immoral conducts fuelled by hatred, jealousy, and the thirst for vengeance. The list begins with a suggestion to her pen friend and ex-fancy man, the Vicomte de Valmont, to corrupt a young girl, freshly released from a convent, promised to Merteuil’s recent lover who pre­viously deserted her. She reiterates a similar proposal with another lady, underwritten with the offer to Valmont that she (Merteuil) will spend the night with him if he succeeds in sedu­cing and bedding that lady, the Présidente de Tourvel. Things turn sour when a green-eyed Marquise persuades him to discard Tourvel, meanwhile breaking her word and revo­king her lewd promise. A glamorous, sensualist and narcissistic seductress, she is constantly animated by a red-hot and ravenous passion that drives her to abandon herself to vice. All her actions are marked by the determination to dominate, ingratiate and humiliate everyone around her, men and women alike. The way she lives her debauchery is not a game like it is the case for Valmont. Instead, she sees it is a means to gain equivalence with men. Further­more, she despises anything related to love as it allows males to take control and exercise power over females – all expressions of her feminist streak. Nonetheless, her corres­pon­dence with Valmont is overrun with hedonism: The sensation of superiority, the delight to let others suffer, and last but not least, the consummation of her boundless aphrodisia.

More classical archetypes of shrew females can be found for example in literary works such as Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (nasty aunt, cousins, teacher, etc.), L’Enfant by Jules Valles (despicable mother), Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (tormenting housekeeper), or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (tyrannical nurse). Finally, notable films also recount stories where the main antagonist is a female, for example, All about Eve (dupli­ci­tous admirer), Fatal Attraction (maniac lover), or The Devil Wears Prada (perni­cious boss).

Yet whoever believes that viragos or other harridans only exist in fiction should be taught differently. History itself tells us how ruthless, monstrous or vicious women can be. How could one ever forget the atrocities associated with rulers such as Queen Mary I (who ordered the so-called Marian Persecutions against religious reformers, Protestants, and other dissenters, which cost her the epithet “Bloody Mary”), Queen Elizabeth I (who had count­less Catholics murdered in Ireland and England, instructed piracy, and involved her country into slave trading), Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar (who persecuted and tried to exter­minate the Christian population in her kingdom), Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后, Cíxǐ Tàihòu, a rigid and arrogant despot who is commonly made responsible for the fall of the Qing dynasty, which lasted from 1644 to 1912, and thus the end of Imperial China), Irma Grese (a particularly dedicated and cruel guard at Nazi concentration camps, accused of maltreating, arbitrarily shooting and selecting prisoners for the gas chamber), or Jiāng Qīng (江青, MAO Zedong’s fourth and last wife, who is regarded as the driving force that propelled the Cultural Revolution).

One could object that utilising queens and other sovereigns to illustrate the perversity of women is rather unfair. Such criticism is certainly not unjustified, considering the excep­tional character of the authority position (monarchy, totalitarianism, etc.) they possessed and of the environmental conditions (wars, revolutions, religious tensions, etc.) they had to rule under. Individuals with such influence and obligations cannot possibly be conceived as repre­sentative of an entire gender, nor could their function be compared with the traditional gender roles. Moreover, the past and the present prove that men are equally capable of perpetrating similar massacres, if not worse. The point here, however, is to show that mischief knows no sex. Given the circumstances, women may be just as prone to corruption (by power, greed, ideology, etc.) as men, in spite of their natural fostering, caring and loving dispositions.

Chapter 7: The most vicious is woman’s heart

最毒妇人心
zuì dú fù rén xīn

The previous two chapters already set a rather foul flavour on how men view and treat women. Alas, this section is not going to bring about any betterment. On the contrary, this locution[1] is in all likelihood one of the most misogynistic in the entire collection. It is regu­larly brought as a catch-all phrase for everything truly evil males see in the opposite sex, inclu­ding malice, malignancy, malevolence, maleficence, and so forth. An equivalent Chi­nese proverb casting a similar bad light on manhood specifically cannot be found, at least not any that carries such a degree of virulence. Some readers might be offended or at least will not agree with the idea verbalised here. Yet it has to be included in the develop­ment of the discourse, not only as a way to demonstrate how disdainful certain human beings, or even entire civilisations can be, but also because it contains a few valuable insights about the beha­viour and tactics used by women in the mating game.

Since the dawn of time, a lot of effort has been expended to make women look bad in one way or another.[2] In the Chinese language, for example, numerous words denoting sins and other forms of bad things, deeds or characteristics comprise the character for “female” or “woman” (女, nǚ) as radical. For instance, the adjectives “evil” or “bewitching” as well as their embodied forms “demon” or “goblin” are written as 妖 (yāo), an amalgamation of 女 and 夭 (ǎo). Similarly, “to flatter” (in both positive and negative senses), 媚 (mèi), is com­po­sed of 女 and 眉 (méi), while “to envy” or “to be jealous”, 嫉妒 (jí dù), combines 女 and 疾 (jí, which interestingly, means “disease” or “illness”) on one hand plus 女 and 户 (hù) on the other. The most extreme illustration is provided with the term for “wicked”, “trea­cherous”, “traitor” or “rape”, which in Traditional Chinese is graphically spelt like a “tri­ple female”, i.e., 姦 (jiān; 奸in Simplified Chinese).

In addition, countless quotes from philosophers and poets across epochs and cultures testify to a literary “woman-bashing” as it was popular among many scholars for several centuries. Here a few specimens:

What mighty woes

To thy imperial race from woman rose.

Homer, The Odyssey (Alexander Pope’s translation)

There is no worse evil than a bad woman; and nothing has ever been produced better than a good one.

Euripides, Melanippe

Let man fear woman when she hateth: for man in his innermost soul is merely evil; woman, however, is mean.[3]

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

Rudyard Kipling, The Female of the Species

Fairy tales, plays, or novels also make use of the stereotypical evil woman. One only needs to recall that many famous bedtime stories – those children get to listen to the most often – depict females (queens, witches, stepmothers, sisters, etc.) as the main villain.[4] Likewise, some of the fiercest and darkest characters in classical literature are women, as for example William Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. Not only does she incite her husband to commit regicide, but the methods she employs are particularly heinous and manipulative. Although she cannot be considered as the originator of the idea, she is the one to plot the crime, and then naggingly encourages Macbeth to execute the murder. However, it is not before she challenges his manhood (by instructing him that he will only be a man in her eyes if he kills King Duncan) that he finally does. Critics have argued that Lady Macbeth does nothing but suppress her own feminine traits and instincts (e.g., empathy, nurturance, and fragility) and trade them against masculine ones, such as ambition, mercilessness, and the resolute pursuit of power. Nevertheless, despite her repeated striving to adopt a male mentality, her uncons­cious, yet unmistakable, femininity bubbles to the surface at regular intervals.


Notes

[1] The expression itself is quoted from a tale in Líng Méngchū’s (凌濛初) collection of short stories Slapping the Table in Amazement, also known as Amazing Tales (Series II, Volume 10, in Chinese: 二刻拍案惊奇, èr kè pāi àn jīng qí, 卷十 赵五虎合计挑家衅 莫大郎立地散神奸, juàn shí, zhào wǔ hǔ hé jì tiǎo jiā xìn, mò dà láng lì dì sàn shén jiān). Written in vernacular Chinese and employing vivid, straightforward descriptions of characters, the plots typically revolve around women’s fate, their miserable existence, their daring pursuit of genuine love and happiness, or their implications in legal disputes. The phrase used here offers a testimony of what social relationships among women in a polygamous society may have looked like at that time.

[2]    Notice that this section does not mention any references from religious texts. This omission is deliberate.

[3]    Original: “Der Mann fürchte sich vor dem Weibe, wenn es hasst: denn der Mann ist im Grunde der Seele nur böse, das Weib aber ist dort schlecht.”

[4]    This is, for instance, the case in Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Hansel & Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, etc.