Recently, I exchanged messages on Facebook with a young man from India. He’d recently lost his virginity and felt guilty, but mostly his anxiety came from not knowing how the girl felt about the experience. He didn’t love the young woman but had been carried away by his emotions. Worse, the sex had been unprotected. He had lots to worry about. Mostly, though, his thoughts were on the girl. How did she feel about him? Would she be angry when they next met? Or would she be happy?
I felt tenderness for my Facebook friend and his concern for his partner. One day, if not now, I thought he would make a good husband. He had enjoyed his sexual experience but was sensitive enough to pause and consider the feelings of the girl. What a pity, I thought as I read his message, that an emotion so natural to living creatures should be shrouded in guilt.
In his book The Myth of Male Power, Warren Farrell, a former darling of the feminist movement, reduces sex to a war and, in a dramatic turnaround, comes out raging against women, accusing them of using a Delilah-like power to ensnare men and render them helpless. (“Mad Men,” by Mariah Black, Mother Jones, Jan/Feb, 2015, pg.23.) His complaint is far from new and extends as far back as the Bible’s Lilith all the way to Jerry Seinfeld’s modern, comedic dialogue between his head and his penis. Even so, some men, some cultures, some religions take the war seriously, enabling men to project any feeling of impotency as anger upon women. Using women as scapegoats makes it possible for them to escape responsibility for their actions — unlike my young Facebook friend of whom I am proud.
Would that other men and other cultures were so enlightened. In Afghanistan, for example, Hamid Karazi signed the “Elimination of Violence Against Women Act in 2009. The law was hailed in the western world as a courageous step forward, but the response within the country was one of outcry. Religious leaders labeled the law as “un-Islamic.” (“Love Crimes,” by Jen Percy, Harper’s, January, 2015 pg. 53,) As a consequence, those struggling to lead women out of the wilderness of abuse have had to backpedal. “We need to accept our role as ambassadors rather than saviors,” they explain. In the meantime, shelters for battered women are reduced to fighting violence with posters, urging women not to ignite themselves in fire to escape abuse. (Ibid pg. 57.)
It’s hard to endure the slow and often ineffective diplomatic road to change under circumstances like those in Afghanistan. Less acceptable is the myth that women bring the beatings and rapes upon themselves. Sex is nature’s way of perpetuating a species. Sex is a human way to seek pleasure, to be accepted and to express love. Shame is a human invention that can pervert what is natural. Happily for my young Indian friend, his partner texted him the next day to say she thought he was a wonderful lover. In that moment, his world turned from night to day. He’d made someone feel wanted. Is that so terrible?