Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Phenomenal Man: exploring basic bodily dyads and misogyny

Here is a rough draft of my paper. you might like it.

My research into the complexities surrounding the male experience has traversed the penis and its signification, hegemonic and oxymoronic masculinity, muscular Christianity, colonialism, and the various ways men and materials are entangled. I want to now look more deeply into men’s phenomenological experience of the world in order to gain a better understanding of misogyny.
            Using a phenomenological approach presented by interpreters of Merleau-Ponty’s important work (Tilley 2004, Abram 1996, Priest 1998), I intend to review how masculinity is found through the body’s engagement with our material world in order to see how this element of masculinity creatively exists alongside our imaginary male archetypes, ancient and contemporary. Archetypes and myths are an important element in men’s stories, and I have no doubt that if one lines up in the mind’s eye numerous ancient myths and material artifacts associated with men’s lives, a kind of pattern will emerge that will generate a more comprehensive view of male-female relations.
            Of course, this is all based on the assumption that, because male bodies are socialized differently than female bodies, masculinity is an intrinsic part of men’s lives (for another view, see Halberstam: 1998). Accepting this “categorical assumption of masculinity” I will find that basic male experiences, such as figure/ground, sky/earth, mouth/anus, dry/wet, and bird/snake, are always already gendered, and are elementary structures of a shared, male experience.
            We must be careful though. The exploration of how basic bodily dyads (Tilley: 29), aka “structural and substantive typological regularities” (Strang: 96) are experienced throughout history provides an interesting entry point into the study of gender and misogyny, however the idea that we can deploy our imaginations to recreate a sensory experience of sky/earth, hot/cold, or any other dyad is fictional because our capacity to imagine is heavily influenced by the values and context of the moment in time and place that we live (Smith: 124). Derrida (1988) concurs: ‘nothing exists outside context’ (152). I think we need not take that subjectivist view to the extreme because meaning is still grounded in the formal qualities of a material substance, as well as in the sensuous, embodied relation between people and the world, an invariant ontological ground and common basis for all feeling and all knowing taking place through persons with similar bodies (Tilley: 29, Strang: 97). In theory, the structures are universal (materially constructed) even if the content is culturally constructed. We shall therefore take a both/and approach here with Mealeau-Pontian phenomenology, because his approach transcends traditional distinctions between subject and object (Tilley: 3, Priest: pp. 56-57).

We begin with the first phenomenological experience all male bodies share, that of a figure on a background (Merleau-Ponty 1962: 4, Tilley: 13). The first figure to come into existence for a boy is not just a single image; it is a synesthetic experience involving his entire sensorium (Tilley: 14-16). In Gesture and Speech, the great prehistorian, Leroi-Gourhan, looks at the birth of figure perception (graphism, or what Thompson (1996) calls symbolization), and finds the hand/face duality (1993: 187). The lack of facial hair would have emphasized female faces, and according to some psychoanalysts, face and breast are fused together, and ‘the eyes are the nipples of the face’ (Hilton 1995). Associations occur not just from visual rhyming, but from all experience being synesthetic. Therefore, the early stages of object-relations (and therefore gender symbolization) is during the synesthetic experience of mother’s eyes/nipple in mouth/milk filling hungry stomach. Her gaze ignites your sense of self/other and being-in-the-world, the primal “fall” into the body. "During nursing the breast-fed baby stares unwaveringly at his mother's face" (Spitz: 52). Theology professor James Fowler says this primary relationship with our mother becomes the foundational structure for our relationship with God, the great Other (1995: 121). The phenomenology of breasts also played an important role in Nazi boy fantasies, according to Klaus Theweleit (1990). “Women had to be kept away from any work, including the work of raising children. Nursing infants was considered disgraceful…Breasts had a sexual value from which any other function might detract” (345).
            Figure/ground may not be the best words for these primary dual experiences because the “ground,” or larger context for any phenomenon, is experienced more as a sky, or unfocused atmosphere around an object.  Architect Juhani Pallasnaa, in Eyes of the Skin (2012), says that the unfocused atmosphere is actually more primary to the lived experience than the focused image (15). The two kinds of awareness, figure and ground, are also likened to the two overlaid experiences from the bilateral brain: the left sees objects, the right feels subjective presence. According to Pallasnaa, this dual perception results in two kinds of lived experiences: “Peripheral vision integrates us with space, while focused vision pushes us out of the space making us mere spectators” (ibid: 15). There is also medical evidence (i.e. hemianopia) that peripheral vision has a higher priority than focused forms in our perceptual systems (Ehrenzweig: 273), and this implies that atmospheric characteristics of bodily dyads, which lie outside our focused attention, are grasped before any conscious observation of details is made. Therefore, gender and body theorizing, already focused on the figure, can expand into a peripheral, synesthetic ground; not into a wider, larger, social, global, ecological view, which is categorically still a “figure” or object of awareness, but into the sky-like, peripheral, atmospheric quality of the awareness and surrounding sensory experience itself. We then have an astonishing capacity to perceive complex environmental entities that were previously unnoticed (Pallasnaa: 16). Coming from another direction, James Aho says “We think our [focused-figure] bodies with [unfocused-ground] society” (10).

The sky/earth distinction, marked by a horizon line, comes after the more basic figure/ground distinction, and is rooted in the upright postures of the body (Tilley: 5). The horizon line becomes the limits of our horizontal vision of the earth and also serves to metaphorically separate above from below, the visible and the invisible, the future and the past, the happy and the sad (Tilley: 6, Lacoff and Johnson: 16). Therefore, any attitude we have towards the future, for example, may be understood spatially within the peripheral architecture of sky and space, whereas the past may be connected to the focused, heavy earth below.
            Feeling into the subject from a different angle, sky and earth associate with the theme “expansion and containment,” which (as ‘trapping’ and ‘liberation’) may be the minimum content for all art and myth (Ehrenzweig: 173).[1] Up/down also has metaphorical significance in a drooping posture which typically goes along with sadness, sickness, and depression, and an erect posture, affiliated with health, and a positive emotional state (Lakoff and Johnson: 15). Similarly, consciousness tends to be equated with up and unconsciousness with down (ibid: 16-18). This basic, natural association will play a part in men’s interpretation of the female body.[2]
            The horizon line migrates onto our bodies as a belt-line, separating above from below. Mary Douglas (1966) and Pierre Bourdieu (2010) describe how above/below is further mirrored in a conceptual framework of public/private. For example, Bourdieu writes: “[the male body] has its public parts -face, forehead, eyes, moustache, mouth - noble organs of self presentation which concentrate social identity, the point of honor, nil, which requires a man to face up to others and look them in the eye; and its hidden or shameful private parts, which honor requires a man to conceal”  (2001: 17). “Mouths are noble…they move in the brain’s courts. We set our genitals mating down below like peasants…” (Updike, 435).
            Within contemporary body theory (Lock and Farquhar), this primordial orientation finds its way into “the vertical axis” of the modern, postcolonial body, emphasized in the education of the child. “As s/he grows up/is cleaned up, the lower bodily stratum is regulated or denied, as far as possible by the correct posture (“stand up straight,” “don’t squat,” “don’t kneel on all fours”-the postures of servants and savages), and by the censoring of lower “bodily” references along with bodily wastes. But while the low of the bourgeois body becomes unmentionable, we hear an ever increasing garrulity of the city’s low—the slum, the ragpicker, the prostitute, the sewer—the “dirt” which is ”down there.” In other words, the axis of the body is transcoded through the axis of the city, and while the bodily low is “forgotten,” the city’s low becomes a site of obsessive preoccupation, a preoccupation which is itself intimately conceptualized in terms of discourses of the body” (Lock and Farquhar: 281). Suppression becomes obsession.

The human body recapitulates the principle order of sky/earth not just as the general “above/below,” but also as the specific differentiation of head and anogenital, or simply, mouth and anus. According to this phenomenological line of thinking, a feedback loop is going on as qualities of the sky and earth are introjected into the mouth and anus while qualities of the mouth and anus are projected onto the sky and earth. As a basic structure of all living bodies, mouth/anus also connect us to the Pikaia worms all vertebrates evolved from (Alters: 563), and probably to the bacteria-like LUCA, our last universal common ancestor, from which all life began (Egel: 295).
            We can confess, despite all squeamishness, that the mouth and anus are literally connected, each being one end of a tube that runs through the body (Miller 96). These endpoints are crucial, according to Miller (1997), in the conceptualization of the disgusting (the vagina is also crucial to the extent that it gets assimilated to both mouth and anus (19)) and so let us look a bit deeper into their signification.[3]
            Both ends are highly vulnerable to contamination and are highly dangerous contaminators (Aho: 96). The mouth can be a source of disgust like the anus. Not just vomit, but chewed food, mushed and slimy, may be harder to look at and touch than feces because, in our minds, nothing is supposed to come out of the mouth (Miller: 96). Likewise, things are never supposed to go into the anus, and so the anus is a kind of temptation--it can be seen as the gateway to the most private, to the most personal space of all. “It opens deeply into the male body, and from it primal “possession” emerge (later, we learn to classify them as waste and dirt)” (Krondorfer: 63).
            Spectacularly, the anus signifies the removal of all barriers of otherness (Krondorfer: 63, Miller: 101). This is why Miller says that within the anus the foundations of personhood are shaken (101). Maybe we know, on a gut level, that we humans are "deuterostome," and begin life as a tiny anus, whereas our invertebrate cousins begin as a mouth (Alters 2000: 511). Perhaps this causes a sort of anus complex. Miller emphasizes that the significance of the anus is also in part due to the sexual acts associated with it. “The anus is the center, the eye, from which gender-bending possibility radiates. It is the foundation of manhood” (Miller: 101). It is the foundation of womanhood as well. Miller points out that if penetrating a man’s anus feminizes him, then penetrating a woman’s shows that she is penetrable as a man, ”for his anus is a figurative vagina, but her anus is an anus being used as if she were a he being used as a she” (101). I am reminded of the closeted gay cowboy turning his wife over during sex in the film Brokeback Mountain (2005).
            The horizon line that separates sky and earth also brings sky and earth together. Likewise, the mouth and anus, or more specifically, the oral and the genital connect within the neurophysiology of our bodies. Yale Medical School neuroscientist and leading brain scientist Paul D. Maclean elaborates: “In the organization of the lower mammalian brain, […] nature apparently found it necessary to bend the limbic lobe upon itself in order to afford the olfactory sense close participation in both oral and anogenital functions…. In other words, excitation in a region involved in oral mechanism readily spills over into others concerned with genital function. This close relationship helps in understanding the intimate interplay of behavior in the oral and sexual spheres” (Maclean, 1962: 295, 296). 
            They may be connected, but they are also completely separate, for the most shamed and shunned area of the male body is the anus (Krondorfer, 63), not the mouth. It also may be the most censored in the media (consider the outcry over Mapplethorpe’s 1978 Self Portrait, (Abelove, 363)), and the word ‘asshole’ carries with it a complex dynamical social context (Sutton, 2007). The human backside is also not sexually differentiated, so it can confuse important gender and social boundaries (Bourdieu: 17). Besides that, there is homophobic anxiety: the anus can be penetrated and subjected to sexual pleasure and violation. “In a heterosexual culture, nothing seems farther removed from spiritual significance than this part of the male anatomy” (Krondorfer 64). Maybe this is why Kundera says, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, that “Shit is a more onerous theological problem than is evil” (2004: 246). To contain these fears, men have construed their bodies as closed, dry, and clean. The excreting body is not theirs but belongs to women: open, dirty, and dangerous (Krondorer 63). Therefore, we can begin to understand how head, mouth, and spirit are associated with men, whereas the genitals, filth, and sexuality are associated with women.
            The mouth and anus are serious places in our world. The personal body, with its orifices, is a recapitulation of not only the cosmic body of earth and sky, but also the social body of us versus them. James Aho ably describes how individual orifices stand for a group’s weak spots. The more defensive and exclusionary a group is, the more pressure is placed on its members to police what goes into out of their bodies. This includes simply exposing orifices (including eyes and skin) in public space. (Aho 11). Aho argues, and I agree with him, that the proper institutional context for understanding orifice regulation (and in this case, the above/below, mouth/anus experience) is religion because orifices lie at the center of momentous religious disputes. In The Orifice as Sacrificial Site: Culture, Organization, and the Body, Aho shows that the “originary moments” of every major religion includes its characteristic “orifice signature” (11), already laden with the general above/below duality associated with sky/earth, air/water, dry/wet, male/female.
            Not just the mouth, but also the air it uses may be gendered, along with its resulting speech (Abram 227). Derrida’s metanarrative recognizes how sound, speech, language, God, and knowledge are all gendered male (1991: 31-33). Light, air, wind, and sky connote the sacred, and places such as sacred mountains associated with clean air always tend to be privileged culturally and emotionally while places situated down below tend to be associated with darkness, moisture, filth, and death (Abram: 227, Tilley 2004: 6, Bourdieu: 3, Lacoff and Johnson: 15).[4]  
            Earth is not always pejorative; dirt is not just disorder and death (Douglas 1966, 6). Many traditions cross-culturally hold that dirt is the material from which the first humans were made (Boivin 2004: 5, Solnit: 152). Chthon (earth) and epichthnios (human) are etymologically connected, as is humus (soil) and homo (man) in Latin. Adam comes from the Hebrew word clod, meaning a clump of dirt, and the microcosm of all dirt is linked to the whole globe within the word earth (Solnit 152). “Sex is dirty because dirt is sexy.”
            The mouth and the anus, like men and women, are filthy and sacred at the same time. Aho’s “phenomenology of the orifice,” recognizes genitals and their discharges as symbolic of chthonic forces, real and imagined[5]. Aho also reminds us that these symbolic associations were not necessarily created by men for men, but were also promoted by women to protect themselves. They also came “from” the material world and from the formal qualities of the substances themselves.
            Genital taboos are universal because the basic above/below experience is universal. The moist anus is affiliated with the symbolic “below,” and aversion to that moist quality is rooted in primal fear of death itself. Aho: “Out of terror of their own mortality, human beings devise legends about body openings and invent ceremonies to police their display and effusions….these tales and rites allow humans to pretend that they transcend perishable matter; that they are essentially immortal spiritual beings” (7).
“The air space above a piece of land forms a totality with it, and the air moves accordingly. In summer, air descends over the cool lakes and woods, and ascends over the warmer fields…” (Schwenk: 105).
            Sky and Earth logically relate to light and dark, as light and dark touch the experience of day and night, hot and cold, and dry and wet (Bourdieu 1990: pp 223-224). Therefore, from the basic division above/below we can move swiftly into men’s experience of dry/wet, or of air and water. One thing the pioneering water researcher, Theodor Schwenk, quickly points out is that air moves largely in accord with the water, not the other way around (102). This knowledge (conscious or peripheral) may have created anxiety in woman-fearing men. “Every system of rivers, every lake, every sea, is an organic totality with its own circulation, and to each of these belongs the air space above it, to a great height” (105).
            Another more obvious reality about water (and woman) is that it is essential to all life (Strang: 99). Water is also endlessly transmutable, moving readily from one shape to another: from ice to stream to rain. Strang continues, “it has an equally broad range of scales of existence: from droplet to ocean, trickle to flood, cup to lake. The steam condensing on a kitchen window after a kettle has been boiled performs the same cycle of movement and metamorphosis as the clouds forming rain above the ocean, then precipitating down the mountainsides of the nearest landmass. This process of transformation never ceases: water is always undergoing change, movement and progress” (98).
            Schwenk goes as far as to mark water as the mediator between earth and sky, and also a potent archetypal model for the flow of time itself (69). “There is such unlimited movement in this sheath of water encompassing the earth that on a global scale it can be regarded as an organ mediating between earth and cosmos, integrating the earth into the course of cosmic events and enabling it to take part in these events” (Schwenk: 68).
            From one perspective, because the female is associated with water, and because water is spherical, sacred and life-giving, (all the fluids of the human body—saliva, sweat, semen, and blood are sacred and mysterious substances (Thomson 19)) we may conclude that women were, and still are, sacred and mysterious. However, flowing fluids are also likened to male energy (See Robinson 2000: pp. 128-145). Water is also the substance that flows out of the genitals, and can highlight male dependency/vulnerability. We can see how the values associated with dry and wet can get confused within the context of mouth and anus as well, because the outsides of the mouth and anus must stay dry, whereas the insides must stay wet. “The external squamous membrane around both openings must stay dry or it erodes and the cells die, and the internal, mucous membrane must stay moist or the cells die. It's a very interesting situation.”[6]  
            Men need women like men need water, and too much water (as in a deluge), or not enough water (as in a drought), kills.  One of the most compelling sensory experiences of water is that of immersion, which can be fearful and/or highly pleasurable (Strang: 100). When submerged, water acts in opposition to the force of gravity, which always pulls downwards. Water holds the body, pushing on it from all direction, lifting it up, higher towards the sky (Schwenk: 71).
            That women are associated with water is a view supported by feminist anthropologist Elaine Morgan who argues the wavy shape of the female body reflects a very real, material relationship with water. Theweliet presents Morgan’s views in considerable detail because “the insights they offer are indispensible for anyone concerned with male-female relations and gender difference” (293). William Thompson (1996) also leans heavily on Morgan’s narrative because her “clever debunking of the macho school of anthropology is a welcome contribution to the sociology of knowledge” (74). According to Morgan, the hominids venture off into the savanna but are wiped out, and only the few who move to the seashore survive to become the ancestors of the human race. Morgan explains it was by becoming aquatic that humans lost their body hair, developed a layer of fat, long hair on their heads, and switched from dorsal to frontal intercourse, a revolution that required the lengthening of the male penis. Moreover, child rearing in water required voluptuous breast and enlarged buttocks. Her story shows the way sexual dimorphism has manifested itself in a process that was both natural and social from the very beginning, so it fits well within our both/and phenomenological narrative. “The ocean and the mother–child relationship produced the female body, just as the male body acquired its heavier musculature, strength, and speed through subsequent involvement in hunting and warfare” (Theweleit: 294). 
            The “waves” of the female body, then, come directly from the sea and from the mother-child relationship (Theweleit: 291).  Morgan also tries to distinguish the peaceable, life-affirming, playful traits that were acquired by humans (and can be seen in other aquatic mammals like otters and dolphins), ascribing them for the most part to female proto-humans. Men enter her story as the hunter, only temporarily dominating the scene, bringing with him meat, male bonding, and warfare. Morgan ends her story with these words: “All we need to do is hold our long arms out to him and say: ‘Come on in. The water’s lovely.” (Morgan 1973, quoted in Theweleit: 292).
            That women’s bodies reflect properties of water is not too hard to believe. Many unicellular water animals, for example, have incorporated the archetypal spiraling movement of water into their shapes (Schwenk: 21). Schwenk even suggests water is a kind of archetypal interface through which all life passes into form: “Every living creature, in the act of bringing forth its visible shape out of its archetypal idea, passes through a liquid phase” (20).
            Psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi also speculates on the connections between femaleness and water, but looks back even further than Morgan, albeit perhaps not quite as far as Schwenk, to the era in which life first evolved out of water. Ferenczi’s says that before there were any living organisms on land, there was no copulation involving penetration. Male-female penetrative sex later arose only after the drying up on oceans forced aquatic animals onto the land. “Before that there was no need for a womb to protect progeny since spawn could swim in water” explains Theweleit. “Water dwellers had only a single “exit” for everything, from excrement to sperm.” This narrative may be a performance of a kind of male misogynistic fantasy: females were forced to submit to being penetrated by penises and to being “turned into oceans.” “From then on, the female intercourse served as a substitute for the lost aquatic existence” (Theweleit: 292).[7]
            The experience of dry and wet touches the foundational perceptual scheme above/below because water travels downwards, and the driest places are always up high. So we can see how natural processes such as rivers, oceans, and floods, are associated with moisture and slime occurring in or upon the male body, especially the orifices (Thelewiet: 409). Theleweit describes how the swamp symbolizes the flowing, wet world associated with women; waters and swamps (real and imagined) can absorb objects without changing in the process: after an object sinks in, their surface becomes calm again. They are penetrable, “the impressionable medium par excellence” (Schwenk: 65), but can also trap and destroy.  “In other words, they [swamps/waters] are remarkably alive; they can move autonomously, fast or slow, however they wish” (Theweleit: 409). Their hybrid (i.e. impure) condition, and their capacity for killing made them very well suited as “displaced” designations for danger and the forbidden. This attribute of leaving no traces of their activity, of closing up again after every action, invites the presence of hidden things, things from secret realms, from the domain of the dead, and since swamps became peaceful again afterwards, you cannot tell how dangerous they are, so it is easy for them to be seen as embodiments of deceptiveness; “A veil of mist over the wet lowlands” (Theleweit: 409).
            The feminization of moisture and fluids is continually frustrating because men’s bodies are filled with fluids. Nevertheless, “[a]t some point, his bodily fluids must have been negativized to such an extent that they became the physical manifestations of all that was terrifying…the swamps of the vagina, with their slime and mire; the pap and slime of male semen; the film of sweat that settles on the stomach, thighs, and in the anal crevice, and that turns two pelvic regions into a subtropical landscape; the slimy stream of menstruation; the damp spot wherever bodies touch…the sticky wetness of hair soaked in sweat…the warm piss stream running down naked legs..” (Theweliet: 410-411). 
            So the image of the male body is closed anatomically (dry and clean) and this helps men become closed relationally (not dependent on others), detached like a bird. As a self-sufficient universe, the closed male body is not part of a network of relationships “but remains arrested in narcissistic awe” (Krondorfer 231), hence, it is not responsible to others. A body that is perceived as not wet and excreting cannot relate to other wet and excreting bodies. It is no accident that almost all tasks that have to do with bodily fluids the cleaning of bodies are done by women: changing diapers, nursing the wounds of the sick, wiping the anuses of the old, as well as working with fluids while cleaning toilets, dishes, and clothes (Theweleit 409-410, Krondorfer 231). However, a dry, closed body, warns Krondorfer, “isolates and imprisons man, and dries him up spiritually” (232).

I want to take what we know about above/below and dry/wet to interpret the popular iconography of bird and snake. We should include animals into our phenomenological and archetypal landscape informing gender identities because some of them, such as birds and snakes, would have been widely experienced. Animals were also the first images humans made, further evincing their significance. Seeing a subject from a different view can change its shape: the bird and the snake can open us to qualities of our own bodies that we missed before.
            We can trace their iconography back to the sixth millennium B.C in central Europe (Gimbutas 2007). The bird logically stands for the sky and is therefore male, and the snake is a symbol for the ground and is therefore female, but it can also stand for male resurrection (Bourdieu 1990: 275). Theweliet spots this sexual symbolism of bird and snake when it appears in post-industrial Europe as the falcon and the medusa. There are a few other phenomenological contexts here: movement and stillness, soft and hard, air and stone. “Yet everything points to the conclusion that it is man’s fear of reverting to something that might prevent him from soaring off toward a new form of male domination, on the high-flying “falcon” of his notion of the phallus. He is afraid of falling back into a state of intermingling with the opposite sex—a state in which his own power would dissipate. Falcons have an aversion to moist surroundings” (Theleweit, 321-322). Rudolf zur Lippe, in volume two of Mastery of Nature in Humans, shows how the opposition set up in the falcon/medusa turns up in 16th century French ballet. Lippe emphasizes that dance roles requiring virtuosity and grand movements were reserved for men, while the slow, ornamental parts were given to women.[8]
            Birds, who can leave the world of Flesh and wing their way through the invisible, are experienced by Aboriginal Australians as messengers of the unconscious, while the Rainbow Snake, “who arcs upward across the sky and then dives back into the earth” is felt to personify all the dangerous, and yet life-giving forces in the land (Abram: 227). Thus birds evoke air/breath/spirit/mind, and snakes evoke earth/water/matter/body. The famous birdman figure found in the caves at the edge of history indicate that the human mind may have been experienced then much like it is today: centered in the head and able to sore in an inward sky, like a bird. Maybe we have always had flying dreams; Christian angels are also depicted as bird-men. The bird-man iconography from prehistory reifies consciousness as metaphorically likened to wind, breath, spirit, and birds (See Thompson 1996: pp.110-113).
             This interaction of bird and snake plays and replays itself in other ancient themes: the chosen male hero battling the feminine antagonist: “In the history books of the Hebrew Bible, in Hesiod’s cosmogony, in the Rig Veda, in the Babylonian Enuma elish, and in the Aztec codices, this usurpation is mythically memorialized in the same way; namely, as the conquest of the Great Mother (and her serpent consort) by a male hero: Yahweh, Zues, Indra, Marduk, Huitzilopochtli. Theirs is the victory of culture over nature; and it is also signified by the pronouncements of a male lawgiver: Hammurabi, Moses, Manu. In the hands of this prophet, menstruation, birth, and sexuality are transformed into unclean things, poisonous, contagious, and deadly” (Aho: 6, see also Schlain 2002). Big, strong birds eat snakes, weak, little birds are eaten by snakes.
            Snakes are also impure in a Douglasian logic because they should be in the water but are on land instead. We can use Douglass’s dirt as “matter out of place” and Theweleit’s hybrid signifiers to better understand the phenomenological snake. “Even worse are snakes which propel themselves across the earth without any feet at all, and whose very touch therefore contaminates. The same goes for bats, who reside in the air like birds but have no feathers, and clams and crabs, who live in water but have neither fins nor scales” (Aho: 17). The appropriateness of form following function, as well as the higher vision of the bird is allocated to men, and the hybrid condition of snakes is reserved for women.

What began as a search for the mythic and material origins of misogyny led to theoretical outpourings of phenomenology, materiality, gender entanglement, art and evolution. I found that the body is one’s perspective on the world, and that the phenomenological sky/earth, above/below, mouth/anus, dry/wet, bird/snake dualities are everywhere, always already gendered, not just because of culture, but because the lived experience of them touches a fundamental relationship we have to our sexually differentiated bodies within a shared material world. 
            I found the narrative again and again of western culture’s persistent effort to position women (and feminine men) as the antithesis of the male body. Women are fluid; men are not. They are dirty; we are not. In reality, however, the male body, endowed with a mouth and anus, is almost as permeable and liquid as the woman’s body, (except for menstruation, lactation, the fluids of childbirth, and maybe the waves of their ancestral bodies).
            Theorists such as Tilley and Bourdieu argue that these basic, bodily experiences are, at least partially, material, objective, and therefore universal. What is universal may be called ‘transpersonal,’ or ‘archetypal,’ in the Jungian sense. Our basic experiences are lifted from the objective world, and because they become the substantive base from which all our thoughts and mythic narratives appear, we can conclude there is a material landscape from which the mythic male archetypes are lifted. Now, the reciprocity of archetypes and bodily dyads, imagination and materiality, minds and bodies, implies that the mythic narratives are not just poetic descriptions of a certain world, but material performances of one as well. Suddenly, we are the archetypes breathing and dripping and looking at themselves through the magic mirror of consciousness. We are the mythic forms from cultural evolution discovering themselves through our human neurophysiology. We are men and women, dry and wet, hard and soft, sky and earth mixing to make a world.  The above/below duality that all upright bodies experience correlates with male/female archetypes not just due to historically situated cultural constructions, or simply to patriarchal, intentional and conspiring motives, but also due to physiological, biological, social, and natural conditions. This realization does not reify modern sex-role dualities and gender differences. On the contrary, this phenomenological approach to gender helps us to better imagine how truly gendered everything everywhere is, and by keeping an eye on these subtle structures and associations coloring our lived, synesthetic experiences, we can transcend them, hopefully reducing their resulting role in misogyny.


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[1] In the Paleolithic caves, for example, the scattered wall paintings may have counteracted the claustrophobia of the closed-in caves and given a feeling of expansion. In psychoanalytical terms, the feeling of limitless expansion is associated with womb fantasies. The womb taken in itself is perhaps the most cogent symbol of claustrophobic containment, yet in the child’s fantasies the mother’s womb expands to contain the entire world (ibid: 173).
[2] If we follow Bourdieu and think of these structures of perception informing our gender roles as “cultural habits,” then we can understand how the older the structure, the more deeply it has become etched into the culture. Ken Wilber (2006) uses the analogy of the Grand Canyon: it is so old that it is cut many kilometers deep. That would be like the gender relations from 50,000 years ago, which entrain our perceptual system very easily. A postmodern view of gender plurality is probably only about a meter deep, and structures even “higher” than that are like people dragging sticks across the ground (2006: 246).  Cultural habits, or cultural memories are passed down through artifacts, stories, intersubjectivity, institutions, and our own physical relationship with the environment, and they exist independently of any particular human. This is why Bourdieu argues that our bodies are never directly given to perception, but pass through schemes that structure perception, so that the differences between the sex organs, for example, are never
purely biological (2001: 15).  A queer, post-structuralist understanding might emphasize the numerous forms of social oppression that are actually hiding out in these vast systems of shared structures. The damage has already happened before the phenomenon, be it “dry” or “wet” ever makes it to consciousness.  

[3] Menstrual blood, urine, and semen are not absent from this story: Miller argues that semen, interestingly, is perhaps the most powerfully contaminating emission because it has the capacity to feminize and humiliate that which it touches (19). It may be that the durability of misogyny owes much to male (gay and straight) disgust for semen.
[4] Fire and air are logically connected (every flame requires an atmosphere). Water and earth mix to make clay, and when male air-fire and female earth-clay sleep together for one night, we make stones, homes, pots, vessels, tools, and tiny female figurines explode. Were the exploding figurines found at Catalholyuk early magic, or early misogyny?

[5] Theweleit asks how many German men actually experienced a marsh, or a swamp, or if their comparisons were purely imaginary.
[6] Interview with my dad, Dr. Frank Titteringtion, December 1, 2012.
[7] That women are flowing rivers and oceans, and that a similar metaphor is used for flowing money tells us about the coded languages that further conceptual differentiations that legitimize misogyny. Theweleit points out that this archetype is smuggled into children’s cartoons, as captured by Donald Duck cartoonists, when they gave hypercapitalist Uncle Scrooge the ability to swim around in his reservoir of gold treasure as if it were water (271).

[8] Nowadays we also see the opposite of this on the American dance floor, with the male as the stone pole standing still while the woman bird dances around him.


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