They fear it. The misogynists and the patriarchists, at least most of them do. They are anti-woman and they fear the power of vagina because thoughts of it consume their brains, because they lack the personal fortitude of stronger, more open-minded people, to control their sexual thoughts and urges, they seek to own and control the vagina and, by extension, the women to whom said vaginas belong. This is not because they do not want to enjoy sex, they just want to be the ones to decide when and where to have it and to ensure that the vagina, like a plot of land to which they have laid claim, remains theirs and theirs alone.
They cannot have liberated women running around, popping birth-control pills, daring to choose their own sexual partners and the number thereof, and having the audacity to decide if/when they become wives and mothers. This would not only end the misogynists and the patriarchists long held domination of the world, they would also lose the power to own and control the vaginas of their choosing. A woman with personal autonomy and with access to birth control, education, and careers is a danger to those who are anti-woman because such women, in their eyes, rob them of what they see as their “God” given right to dominate both women and the world.
It’s no small coincidence that the majority of misogynists and patriarchists are extremely conservative and religiously zealous. In the (carefully selected) pages of their religious texts –namely the Torah, the Bible, and the Qu’ran– these “men” find the source of their power. Never mind that these texts were written by men, for men because (facts be damned) God totally wrote them, conflicting information and all. I say that these texts were written for men because the vast majority of the laws on marriage and sex within these texts and traditions were written to control female sexuality and limit it to the confines of marriage and motherhood.
In historical Judaism, for example, ritual purity laws (niddah) placed a greater burden on women than they did on men. The rabbinical laws of niddah, which were derived from the ritual purity laws found in the book of Leviticus, required a menstruating women to separate from her husband for a period of twelve days, to check her vagina with a cloth for bloody discharge at the beginning and end of her menstrual cycle, and that at the end of the twelve days the woman must take the mikveh. Moreover, the Jewish people placed a profound emphasis on marriage and family, which lead to efforts, that were often intense, to control female sexuality. For example, the laws pertaining to sex and marriage found in Deuteronomy 22:13-29 place expectations for virginity solely upon the woman. What this passage and others, like this one and this one, demonstrate is an attitude toward women that viewed them as little more than a commodity to bought, sold, and discarded as men saw fit.
While laws of ritual purity were abandoned by Christians, early Church fathers and later leaders nonetheless found new an inventive ways by which to control female sexuality. Since as early as the second century A.D. the image of Eve as the harbinger of death and the cause of man’s fall in paradise provided the church with justification for viewing women, the daughters of Eve, as being subordinate and secondary to men. Building upon the Pauline depiction of Christ Jesus as the “new Adam” and the redeemer of the sin which Adam brought upon man, early Christian theologians created a similar parallel between Jesus’ mother, Mary, and Eve. As the Eve/Mary parallel became part of official church doctrine, women’s salvation no longer depended upon their imitation of Jesus, but rather upon their imitation of his mother, the ever-virgin, Mary. By the medieval period, women were either condemned as wicked and sexual in the image of Eve or praised as obedient and sexless in the idealized image of Mary; as a result chastity became the only lifestyle by which women could disassociate themselves from the evil which Eve had come to symbolize. Sex outside of marriage, be it pre-marital or adulterous, was a punishable offense, particularly for women. If licentiousness could be proved then the offending woman would be punished, typically via public humiliation or expulsion from her home and from the church, depending upon the severity of the debauchery.
Similarly to Judeo-Christian traditions, Muslim tradition teaches about male domination and female obedience, blesses men with a measure of sexual freedom by either allowing them to have multiple wives and concubines or turning a blind eye to licentious acts of men, allowed men to divorce their wives with ease while restricting women’s rights to do so (although, they at least had the right, as limited as it might be), and strictly controlled the sexuality of women. As with both Judaism and Christianity, women were expected to guard their chastity and preserve themselves for marriage; women who dared to engage in sexual relations outside of marriage risked punishment, from forced marriages to stoning.
Not all ancient religious traditions treated female sexuality as a thing to fear and control. In a number of ancient religions the vagina, along with the penis, were symbols of power. It was the vagina that birthed new life into the world. It held within it the power of creation, renewal and life. The feminine was depicted as divine, and goddess worship took precedence over that of male gods. But the majority of human tradition has predominately been based on a patriarchal and misogynistic desire to own, control, and repress female sexuality.
Thus, in the grand scheme of Western history, the fervor over female reproduction that we are presently seeing within the GOP (Grand Old Patriarchs, for all intents and purposes), is nothing new. Men have vied for and maintained control over the vagina since time in memoriam. What is new, however, is the society in which such efforts are being employed. The world now is different from the world then. What is different between then and now, is that now men do not have all of the power. What is different between then and now is that strict religious observance and trust in organized religion is on the decline, as are rates of marriage and child-birth. Unlike nearly every point throughout human history, particularly Western history and much of Near Eastern history, women today have more power, and it is growing even globally. We can vote, own property, initiate divorce, control our own reproduction, have sex with whomever we choose, travel where we choose without a chaperon, go to college, cut our hair, and wear pants.
These are different times. The world is changing, and it’s changing fast. The religious zealotry, misogyny, and patriarchy that for so long repressed sexuality, especially female and same-sex sexuality, are on their collective deathbed. What we are witnessing within the GOP is not resurgence of the male-domination from which women have fought so hard to break free, rather we are witnessing the death throes of the Triad of Control.
However, this is not to say that we are safe. Like a wild animal sensing its own demise, the misogynists and patriarchists will not go down without a fight. The GOP’s 2012 platform should be seen as gnashing of teeth and a showing of claws; a desperate attempt to cling to life. In their death throes they are as dangerous and volatile as ever, if not more so. They see the vaginas breaking the bonds of servitude, they know that they are not long for this world, and they’re afraid. Thus it is essential that we not back down. We must push back, and keep pushing back until the Triad of Control has drawn its final breath. And I must say, no death will ever be a more welcomed, a more beautiful, or a more glorious sight to behold.
(Note: Throughout my undergrad studies I wrote several papers on the role of women in the both the Jewish and Christian religions, over the course of the next few days I shall reformat them and paste them under a new page, which I shall call “Research Papers,” for those interested in learning more about female sexuality and the Judeo-Christian traditions.)