American Culture

Musings on the patriarchy, 3/28/15 – gendered bombs, mutual outerspace penetration, and astronaut fetuses, part II

This is part II in a series of III.  Part I, gendered bombs, here.

Mutual outerspace penetration

In July, 1975, the first international docking in space occurred involving the American Apollo and the Soviet Soyuz (meaning “union”). An official news release out of Houston, referring to the mating as “androgynous,” explained that the American ship played the “male / active role” on Thursday, July 17, by inserting its “nose” into the “nose” of the Russian ship. The press release further helpfully explained that the docking operation “was a purely male/female arrangement – a probe that fit snugly into a receptacle.” At the height of the militarism and mutually assured destruction that was the Cold War, however, neither country could be allowed to appear more “male” than the other. And so, the press release explained, on Friday, the Russian craft got to be the penetrator – ta-da, masculinity, understood as male-as-penetrator, preserved for both posturing nations.

While the press celebrated this outerspace mutual penetration, the realities of this experience were, for the astronauts, in some ways rather unglamorous. They were forced to crawl on hands and knees from ship to ship and then crawl again on the way back. Although they did this successfully, they were affected by the noxious yellow gas emitted by their crafts. In a chronic state of anxiety about possible loss of control over their excretory functions, they took Lomotil tablets, an anti-diarrhea medicine, “just as a prophylactic.” The space food, praised by Leonov for its “freshness,” was packaged in tubes, cans, and plastic bags anchored to the table with basic elastic bands.

It is also of interest to the feminist theorist that the American craft was named Apollo. In myth, the god Apollo (god of truth) cursed Cassandra to be evermore disbelieved when she told the truth. We know that throughout the Judeo-Christian world through the nineteenth century that, going back to Eve’s “original sin,” it was the special burden of woman to be disbelieved for, as the Garden of Eden cautionary tale illustrated, woman was especially vulnerable to the devil and her word was not to be trusted. In most places, under both civil and canon law (or basically one could just say canon law since the church so subsumed the state), women, relegated to the same legal category as “slaves, infants and idiots,” could not give testimony in court. In the few places where she could, it took the word of seven or sometimes ten women to match the weight of the testimony of one man. As Matilda Gage reported in “Woman, Church, and State” on the instructions given to priests, “The confessor is at first bound not to pay much heed to women complaining of their husbands because women are habitually inclined to lie.” According to Dr. Clemence S. Lozier, nominated for Vice-President under the Equal Rights Party in 1884, when it was first proposed in the United States that women be taught to read, the primary and most widespread argument against the idea was that if women could read and write, they would then forge the signatures of their husbands or fathers – in other words, they would use writing to lie and, even more specifically and unacceptably, to lie to subvert the will of their rightful and lawful masters. When Freud’s work with female patients led to frequent reporting of incest, Freud, unwilling to admit that incest was as common as it really was, instead proposed that the women must be lying and further that their incest tales were, in fact, elaborate sexual fantasies driven by their secret desires for incest to occur. Personal letters from Freud that he ordered destroyed but which were smuggled out of the country give indisputable evidence that he, in fact, did know how widespread incest truly was and that he did realize that his female patients were not lying – nonetheless, his theories about women and their “repressed” sexual desires have been quite influential, so his damage is still done, for even today we hear that when a woman refuses sex she actually really wants it (on Freud’s letters, see Florence Rush, “The Freudian Cover-up: the Sexual Abuse of Children,” Chrysalis: A Magazine of Women’s Culture, No. 1). As to women and lying, we know that even today when women report the crime of rape, they are often disbelieved, for “beware the wrath of a woman scorned” or her “morning after regrets” and so forth. A study of 598 Minnesota adults conducted by Martha R. Hurt of The Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., found that half of those surveyed believed that a whopping 50% or more of reported rapes are reported only because the woman was trying to get back at a man she was angry with or to cover up an out-of-wedlock pregnancy (Robin Warshaw, “I Never Called it Rape”). Finally, consider all these years later the sexual harassment testimony of Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas and how that was reported and treated by (male) members of the Senate or indeed anytime a woman has come forward with claims against a powerful man. I distinctly remember reading an article in a major publication about Gennifer Flowers’ tales of an affair with Bill Clinton in which the male author doubted Clinton’s having had intercourse with her since the author found her “only moderately attractive.” Thus, he believed Flowers to be lying because why would Clinton fuck her when the writer did not find her attractive enough to fuck. History has shown who the real liar always was, in light of Clinton’s admission of sexual intercourse with Flowers when he was legally sworn to tell the truth.

Of Apollo, Mary Daly, writing in “Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism,” says the following:

Apollo was the personification of anti-matriarchy, the opponent of Earth deities. His name is said by some to have been derived from appollunai, meaning “destroy.” Jane Harrison points out that he is the death-dealer, most deadly of all the gods. She also shows that he is a woman-hater. Moreover, Kerenyi points out that Apollo’s real enemy was a female creature, a dragoness named “Delphyne” – a name connected with the old word for womb. Apollo killed her immediately after his birth. With perverse appropriateness, his temple was built at a place named “Delphi,” functioning as his artificial womb. Significantly, upon this temple was engraved the maxim: “Keep woman under the rule.”

Although Apollo was fathered by Zeus and had a mother – Leto – he could well be described as “not of woman born.” Fittingly, he was born in a place of Not-Earth, a floating island in the sea named Delos. Fittingly, too, he encouraged matricide. Slater observes that “the myth of Apollo seems to express an infinite process of doing and undoing, of affirmation and negation of the maternal bond.”

(see Jane Ellen Harrison, “Mythology;” Harrison, “Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion;” C. Kerenyi, “The Gods of the Greeks;” Phillip E. Slater, “The Glory of Hera: Greek Mythology and the Greek Family”)

Part III tomorrow – astronaut fetuses.

2 replies »

  1. Sometimes I think if only we could see through the lenses of others eyes, feel the pain and suffering that we could never experience otherwise.Then perhaps empathy might replace fear and misunderstanding and we’d become better humans for it.

    Then I think, no, if every man and woman truly knew first hand what their brothers (and sisters) were doing to each other hidden and unreported we’d all go quite mad on the spot.

    Most of us don’t want to know the truth CeeJay, simply because we know subliminally that we couldn’t handle the burden if it was thrust upon us.

    As always, you’ve made me think, thank you.