The Shameful Vagina
Several days ago, I heard Rachel E. Gross interviewed on the The Takeaway about her new book “Vagina Obscura: An Anatomical Voyage.” Melissa Harris-Perry, the host, introduces Rachel saying:
Rachel's new book looks at the historical dis, miss, and lack of information about the bodies of people with vaginas, which includes women, trans men, intersex people, and non-binary people. In the introduction to her book, Rachel describes conversations she had with multiple scientists who tried to explain why we understand so much less about female anatomy and vaginas compared to male anatomy and penises.
Interesting things Rachel says about vaginas:
"When pressed, he and others acknowledged that this discrepancy at its heart is due to sexism within science and who is actually doing the investigating. For most of history, women, especially women of color, trans women, and women who are sexual minorities have been excluded from the supposedly universal endeavor. As I reported this book, it became clear to me that the two problems were inseparable. The marginalization of women's bodies from science is largely due to the marginalization of women from science."
"A huge theme in this book is that you only see what you expect to see and you can't see what you aren't looking for. That mostly comes up when we're talking about these older, usually male anatomists who are looking at female bodies and expecting to see something. They expected the female body to be reproductive, to be mostly about the uterus. To not really have that big a capacity for pleasure or for active dynamic processes going on."
"What they illustrated was very passive, a hole or a cave. The word vagina actually means a sheath, which suggests that its main role is to house a penis, which it is not. There definitely is a reimagining going on by a lot of new scientists and you can see that in the art throughout the book. Every chapter opens with an illustration that really looks at these organs in a new way. Usually, one that is active, dynamic, and resilient."
"Unfortunately, the idea of shame has really impacted the way that science, medicine, and people with this anatomy have viewed the "female body." There's a really strong pattern going back to Hippocrates of anatomists really insisting on naming these body parts after shame, especially the clitoris and the vulva. Hippocrates called all the genitals the shame parts, essentially, but that continued. Every time a French anatomist would, ''discover" the clitoris, he would name it the shame part."
"Even today you have words like Scham Lippin in German, which means the shame lips and refers to the labia. You have pudendum, which is an anatomical term that's hopefully being phased out, but it means the parts for which you should be ashamed. Again, it refers to only the vulva. Shame has really attached itself to the female genitals in particular, and that has affected the way science is done. There is a hesitancy of looking directly at this part of the body. There is a tendency to associate it with danger, sexuality in a negative light, the threat of pregnancy and STDs and disease."
"It's really blocked us from looking at the incredibly unexpected and expansive things that this system is doing. The ovaries are producing hormones that support body-wide health from bone health to heart health, to brain health. The uterus is one of the most regenerative organs in the body, and when it's not pregnant, just going through monthly menstruation, it's ushering stem cells and immune cells to heal this wound painlessly, it's creating new blood vessels and it's doing this every month on cue, and it probably has a lot to teach us about regenerative medicine in general but having looked at these organs with themes like shame and only reproduction in mind has really narrowed the view."
The female body has long been shamed by modern civilizations and many religions for centuries. Rachel says it has been colonized with the same imperial brutality inflicted on native peoples and the land worldwide. I think this is shameful: Man’s capacity to inflict brutality upon his fellow human beings and all life.
The Shame of Being a Sexual Being
Around the same time, I heard The TakeAway, I also listened to a lecture by Alan Watts about Repressed Sex. I never know where Synchronistic Stories are going to lead me, but this one seemed important.
Alan Watts artfully captures our confusion and shame around sex. Above is the video with his lecture and below is a transcript of it if you prefer to read. I’ll let you make your own connections, if you’re interested.
Transcript from video with time markings:
0:08 min Because naturally when you love someone 0:10 very much indeed in the enthusiasm and 0:13 ardor of youth you say things that are 0:18 hardly logical or rational you stand up 0:24 before an altar and you say my darling 0:25 my sweetheart my perfect pet I adore you 0:28 so much that I will live with you 0:30 forever and ever until death do us part 0:32 and that’s the way you feel at the time 0:36 in rather similar mood ancient peoples 0:40 would hail their kings and say O king 0:42 live forever obviously this was not 0:45 literally meant they were just wishing 0:48 him a long life but to live forever no 0:50 sir no mortal does that so the trouble 0:56 was you see that when certain kinds of 0:59 extravagant poetic expressions got in 1:04 the hands of people like Agustin and 1:06 Tertullian who were rather influenced by 1:10 Roman literalness they wrote it into the 1:13 law books and so this amazing situation 1:19 came about but we still have not fully 1:22 explored the subtlety of it let us 1:27 consider certain periods when this 1:31 attitude of PrudeISM towards sexuality 1:34 was in us in an ascendancy nearest to 1:38 our times is the bourgeois revolution 1:42 you might call it in Victorian England 1:45 and the United States we all say 1:48 Victorian as an adjective to indicate 1:51 grundyISM extreme monogamy a definite 1:59 disgust for all things sexual and yet 2:04 when we really go into the history of 2:07 the Victorian period we find that it was 2:10 an extremely luscious 2:12 EPOC one has only to look at the 2:17 lushness the victorian furniture he 2:20 realized that chairs are disguised women 2:26 that the way even piano legs are shaped 2:30 when this kind of thing is throughout 2:33 Victorian art forms and the conduct of 2:37 the British aristocracy during that 2:39 period record description people like 2:45 Freud and Havelaar Kellis made certain 2:49 mistake yeah they said about the church 2:57 and about religion in general that it 2:59 was nothing but a form of sublimated sex 3:04 they said these people for curious 3:06 reasons suppressed sex and therefore it 3:09 becomes a very powerful force for them 3:14 you must remember of course that they 3:16 worked on a hydraulic analogy of human 3:18 psychology that they liken it all to a 3:21 river if you dammed it up that would 3:23 burst it down he doesn’t actually follow 3:26 that human psychology is hydraulic but 3:29 this is the metaphor they used now they 3:31 said the church has repressed sex but 3:34 actually if you look at its symbolism it 3:37 is nothing but an expression of sex 3:40 everything is reduced to libido as the 3:43 fundamental reality and the church 3:49 replied “It’s nothing of the kind we deny 3:52 this we think that this reduction of 3:55 everything for sex is just a way of 3:57 attacking holy things and on the 4:01 contrary we would say that people who 4:03 are fascinated with sex and make it 4:05 their God are replete are repressing 4:06 religion 4:11 now the problem in this debate everybody 4:13 missed the boat the church should have 4:18 been in a position to say to Freud well 4:20 of course 4:21 thank you very much ah yes indeed our 4:25 symbolism is sexual, the steeples on our 4:28 churches the vesicle shaped windows and 4:36 of suffer addict shields on which we put 4:39 images of the crucifix or the Virgin 4:42 Mother of God these are all quite 4:45 plainly sexual, but you see the sexual 4:49 biology in its term reveals the 4:53 mysteries of the universe; sex is not 4:56 mere sex sex is a holy thing and is one 5:04 of the most marvelous revelations of the 5:06 divine but imagine the church just 5:11 couldn’t say that if you look at Tibetan 5:16 Buddhist iconography they’re images or 5:20 you look in Hindu temples you will find 5:23 things that Europeans and Americans have 5:27 never been able to understand here are 5:30 images of Buddhas and of the gods 5:33 engaged in amazing diversions with their 5:37 female counterparts and everybody thinks 5:40 it needs a kind of dirty sculptures now 5:43 they are nothing of the kind they are 5:47 saying to the people who look at them 5:51 the play of man and woman is on that 5:57 level on the level of biology a 6:00 reflection of the fundamental play of 6:02 the cosmos the play of the positive and 6:06 negative principles of the light and the 6:08 dark of the mental and the material they 6:13 all play together and 6:17 the function of sexual play is not 6:22 merely the survival and utilitarian 6:24 function of reproducing the species as 6:27 it is among animals to a very large 6:29 extent what peculiarly distinguishes 6:33 human sexuality is that it brings the 6:38 partners closer and closer to each other 6:42 in an intense state of United feeling in 6:46 other words it is a sacrament the output 6:48 and visible sign of an inward and 6:50 spiritual grace bringing about love and 6:54 so if that is peculiar to human beings 6:58 it is perfect nonsense to degrade human 7:02 sexuality by saying it should only be 7:04 carried on in the way that the animals 7:06 do theirs because they have not yet as 7:11 it were evolved to the place where sex 7:13 is the sacramental expression of man and 7:19 woman’s love and this love in that sense 7:23 is a kind of enthusiasm which means a 7:27 being possessed by the Divine falling in 7:32 love although considered by practical 7:35 people to be a sort of madness is 7:38 actually the same sort of thing as the 7:40 mystical vision a grace and in its light 7:48 we see people in their divine aspect 7:54 when as the song says every little 7:57 breeze 7:58 whispers Louise there is a sort of 8:02 extraordinary state of mystical 8:05 intoxication in which the ideal woman 8:10 has become the goddess which is from one 8:17 point of view what every woman is if you 8:20 see her with the scales of your eyes and 8:24 likewise every man 8:28 seen with the scales of her eyes so what 8:38 happened then 8:38 as a result of this historical situation 8:40 was mutual name-calling between the 8:45 proponents of religion and the 8:47 proponents of scientific naturalism such 8:51 as Freud and Havelock Ellis and in our 8:57 own times Albert Ellis and people of 9:02 that kind they’ve never got together 9:06 because they’ve never understood 9:10 neither the church nor the opponents of 9:13 the church have clearly understood that 9:15 the secret or unconscious motivation of 9:18: sexual repression is to make it all the 9:20: more interesting and on the other side 9:26: it has not been clearly understood that 9:28: the sexual biology and all that goes 9:38: with it is a figuring forth on the level 9:47: of biology of what the whole universe is 9:50: about ecstatic clay so as a result there 10:04: has been a kind of compromise 10:07: today in ecclesiastical circles sex is 10:11: being damned with faint praise people 10:18: are saying after all yes sex was made by 10:20: God and we should remember the Jewish 10:22: point of view and it is perhaps for 10:27 something more than reproduction to 10:29 bring about the cementing of the 10:31 marriage ties between husband and wife 10:33 but 10:37 still in practice it remains the 10:42 frightening taboo on the other hand the 10:50 opposition to Christian prudery goes 10:54 overboard and always moves in the 11:00 direction of total license you see 11:04 what’s going on as a contest between the 11:06 people who want the skirts pulled down 11:08 to the floor the people want them pulled 11:10 up to the neck and you you know you’ve 11:14 got to draw the line somewhere but the 11:17 play between these forces is where are 11:19 we going to draw it well that’s very 11:21 exciting provide neither side wins 11:24 I mean imagine what it would be like if 11:28 the libertarians won and they took over 11:31 the church so that on Wednesday evenings 11:34 the young Presbyterian group would meet 11:37 for prayer through sex every child would 11:45 go to the school physician for a course 11:47 in hygienics and they would have 11:49 classes and that have plastic models and 11:51 all the children would do it in class 11:52 very clean hygienic circumstances all 11:56 sprayed with rubbing alcohol it’ll be 11:58 fun imagine how boring it would all 12:00 become so you see the people who say no 12:05 modesty is important have something 12:07 right about but they mustn’t be allowed 12:10 to get away with it but they mustn’t be 12:13 obliterated see life works that way 12:17 let’s take an entirely different analogy 12:19 let’s take a given biological group a 12:22 species we’ll call a it has a natural 12:26 enemy B now one day a gets furious at 12:31 the natural enemy B and says let’s 12:33 obliterate it and they gather their 12:35 forces and they knock out their natural 12:36 enemy well suddenly after a while they 12:41 begin to get weak they get over 12:43 populated there’s nobody around to eat 12:45 up their surplus creatures and they 12:47 don’t have to keep their muscles tensed 12:49 against 12:50 any enemy and they begin to fall apart 12:52 because they destroyed their enemy what 12:55 they should do is cultivate the enemy 12:57 that’s the real meaning of love your 12:58 enemy there is such a thing as a beloved 13:01 enemy and if you don’t have a beloved 13:07 enemy in other words if the Flies and 13:10 the spiders don’t go together you’re 13:12 going to be too many spiders or too many 13:13 flies and these balances are keep the 13:17 course of nature going well it’s exactly 13:19 the same thing as between the Libertarians 13:21 and the Prudes they need each other and 13:25 you should thank if you’ve got a prudish 13:28 father and mother you should be very 13:31 grateful to them for having made sex so 13:33 interesting 13:41 so don’t defy them completely don’t go 13:43 around campus with placards bearing 13:45 four-letter words because that’s going 13:50 to spoil the show that every generation 13:53 must react to the one before you see to 13:56 keep this tension going and it is by 14:00 this tension this play of the opposites 14:03 that we have the love that makes the 14:05 world go round.
The Shame of Being a Conscious Being
The third synchronistic thread I encountered is the Primal Split. This is the moment an infant becomes aware that he or she is a separate being from the mother. This is the beginning of a complicated cascade of emotions and conflicts that spark the awakening of ego-consciousness and symbolic thought, if the infant makes it to the other side of this split. If the infant navigates this crossing successfully, there is a moment of shame that must to be dealt with on the journey in becoming a fully conscious being.
I was doing research on the Primal Split for the book I am writing and realized its connection to Rachel E. Gross’ book and Alan Watts’ lecture. I also discovered this amazing performance art exhibit about the Primal Split created by Oya Damla.
Following is background on Melanie Klien and Oya Damla along with a fascinating theory of knowledge that is very much related to the Primal Split, shame, and how we come to know who and what we know as human beings. Again, I’ll let you make your own connections.
Melanie Klien & The Primal Split
Melanie Klein was an Austrian-British author and psychoanalyst known for her work in child analysis. She was the primary figure in the development of object relations theory. Klein suggested that pre-verbal existential anxiety in infancy catalyzed the formation of the unconscious, resulting in the unconscious splitting of the world into good and bad idealizations. In her theory, how the child resolves that split depends on the constitution of the child and the character of nurturing the child experiences; the quality of resolution can inform the presence, absence, and/or type of distresses a person experiences later in life. -- Wiki
While Freud's ideas concerning children mostly came from working with adult patients, Klein was innovative in working directly with children, often as young as two years old. Klein saw children's play as their primary mode of emotional communication. While observing children as they played with toys such as dolls, animals, plasticine or pencils and paper, Klein documented their activities and interactions. She then attempted to interpret the unconscious meaning behind their play. Following Freud, she emphasized the significant role that parental figures played in the child's fantasy life and concluded that the timing of Freud's Oedipus complex was incorrect. Contradicting Freud, she proposed that the superego was present from birth.
After exploring ultra-aggressive fantasies of hate, envy, and greed in very young and disturbed children, Melanie Klein proposed a model of the human psyche that linked significant oscillations of state, with the postulated Eros or Thanatos pulsations. She named the state of the mind in which the sustaining principle of life dominates the depressive position. A depressive position is the understanding that good and evil things are one. The fears and worries about the fate of the people destroyed in the child's fantasy are all in the latter. The child tries to repair his mother through phantasm and behavior therapy, overcoming his depression and anxiety. He employs phantasies representing love and restoration to restore the others he destroyed. Morality is based on the standpoint of depression. Klein named it the depressive position because the efforts to restore the integrity of the damaged object are accompanied by depression and despair. After all, the child doubts whether it can fix everything it hurts. Many consider this to be her most significant contribution to psychoanalytic philosophy. She later developed her ideas about an earlier developmental psychological state corresponding to the disintegrating tendency of life, which she called the paranoid-schizoid position. Klein coined the term "paranoid-schizoid defense" to emphasize how the child's worries manifest as persecution fantasies and how he defends himself against persecution by separating. The paranoid-schizoid position develops at birth is a common psychotic condition.
Klein's insistence on regarding aggression as an important force in its own right when analyzing children brought her into conflict with Freud's daughter Anna Freud, who was one of the other prominent child psychotherapists in continental Europe but who moved to London in 1938 where Klein had been working for several years. Many controversies arose from this conflict, and these are often referred to as the controversial discussions. Battles were played out between the two sides, each presenting scientific papers, working out their respective positions and where they differed, during war-time Britain. A compromise was eventually reached whereby three distinct training groups were formed within the British Psychoanalytical Society, with Anna Freud's influence remaining largely predominant in the US. -- Wiki
Oya Damla‘s Performance of the Primal Split
Check out Oya’s website for more about her beautiful interpretation of the moment of the Primal Split. The images of the Second Archetypal Animation come from photos she shares of this performance. She also shares original sound track for this performance. To hear this, you need to go to her site. It is well worth your time if this topic interests you.
Sex, Kids, and The Theory of O
With the birth of consciousness, humans enter a new realm of being. In this realm, knowledge and truth are incredibly important because they help us navigation through the world of symbols, which we use to navigate through our lives. Truth and knowledge especially matter in the corrosive vat of anti-truth and anti-knowledge. Our modern age is full of false prophets touting false truths and false knowledge, in short, they are full of shit and hocking lots of lies to enrich themselves or to exert control over other peoples minds.
I write about truth and knowledge in my story and encountered one of the most fascinating theories of how humans come to obtain knowledge or lose it. It is Bion’s Theory of O. Here is a bit of his theory. It is complicated. I’ll let you make your own connections if it interests you.
by James S. Grotstein
"Bion, who was to become the awesome explorer of the "deep and formless infinite" of the psyche, first immersed himself in the theories of Freud and Klein and then gradually developed a revolutionary metapsychological metatheory for psychoanalysis. Bion incurred the criticism of his colleagues by daring to investigate faith, spirituality, religion, mysticism, metaphysics, and fetal mental life. His concepts of transformations in L(ove), H(ate), and K(nowledge), as well as ofintuitionistic and subjective science[Transformations in "0" (Ultimate Truth, Absolute Reality)], constitute an objective and numinous psychoanalytic epistemology."
"Bion was preoccupied with the concept of ultimate reality and absolute truth and reoriented psychoanalytic metapsychology into a theory ofthinkingandmeta-thinking aboutemotions. He distinguished the "thoughts-without-a-thinker" from the mind that had to develop in order to think them. I believe that his concept of"intuitionistic thinking"also presumes the presence of a more profound aspect of that mind: Not only did a mind develop to harvest the "thoughts without a thinker," but another aspect of the mind had to originate these "unthought thoughts." I believe that Bion came to a realization that true "thinking" ("dream work alpha" along the dimensions of "L, H, and K") is an unconscious -- if notpreconscious -- act and that what we normally term "thinking" (application of the ordinate and abscissa of the "Grid") is really"after-thinking."
"By realigning psychoanalysis with metaphysics and ontology (existentialism), Bion perforated the mystique of ontic "objectivity" implicit to logical-positivistic, deterministic science and revealed its own unsuspected mythology--itsabsolute dependence on sense data. Applying his concept ofreversible perspective,he found myths, both collective and personal, to be themselves "scientific deductive systems" in their own right (Bion, 1992). Mostly, Bion founded a new mystical science of psychoanalysis, a numinous discipline based on theabandonment of memory, desire, and understanding. To Bion, mysticism is "seeing things as they truly are -- without disguise" (personal communication). He was preoccupied with the question of how we know what we know."
"In this contribution I emphasize my understanding of Bion as theintuitionistic epistemologist, the"emotional mathematician"(Bion, 1965), the "mystical scientist" (Bion, 1970), the intrepid voyager into the deep and formless infinite, "O." I suggest that a "Transcendent Position" is implied by Bion's conception of "O," the latter of which overarches"nameless dread," beta elements, the "thing-in-themselves," the noumenon, "absolute truth," "ultimate reality," and "reverence and awe." -- From BION'S "TRANSFORMATION IN 'O' by James S. Grotstein
On the other side of O is Q. That little mark on the right side of Q is the sign of the corruption of thought and descent into lies. It is the sign of anti-truth, propaganda, and infantile rage.
It is the sign that a person is stuck in the paranoid-schizoid position. These individuals have split the world into the Good Mother (all that is good) and the Bad Mother (all that is bad), and they have stepped into the good bubble and seek to destroy all that is bad failing to realize it is all one, everything is connected. The Good Mother and Bad Mother are the same Mother. The Good Reality and Bad Reality are the same Reality. Destroy one and you destroy All. This is indeed a shameful place humanity has allowed itself to fall into basically because we are afraid of who we really are.
See Juliette Kayyem‘s story in The Atlantic. Trump is an outsized purveyor of propaganda and lies. So is Putin. We will pay with our precious world if humanity continues to close its eyes to the danger these liars and the threat they pose to everyone and existence itself. For the human beings who buy their lies and false truths, they give up their individuality to become part of a psychological monster bent on destroying the Bad Mother…never understanding that the Good Mother and Bad Mother are One.
"For a man who believes in nothing, has no coherent ideology or value system except his own continuing relevance, obsesses over conspiracies, and subsists on grievance and anger, Donald Trump took a long time to fully embrace QAnon. For some time, the former president has been flirting with the cult—which believes, among other preposterous things, that Democrats are part of a global child-sex-trafficking ring that Trump will ultimately defeat. But lately, that courtship has turned into a consummated marriage, as Trump incorporated QAnon tropes into an Ohio rally and started spreading them on his social-media service. -- About the author: Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary for homeland security under President Barack Obama, is the faculty chair of the homeland-security program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She is the author of The Devil Never Sleeps: Learning to Live in an Age of Disasters." -- The Atlantic by Juliette Kayyem
Trump never found his mother. He never reconciled the Good Mother with the Bad Mother. He is permanently stuck in the paranoid-schizoid position. He is a permanent infant; a raging toddler, and so too is any one who paints the world in absolutes, in black and white , in this and only this is good: everyone else is bad. We will end the world if we remain hostages to such infantile men such as Trump and Putin. Any human being stuck in the authoritarian position is playing the Confidence Man game, which is a ruse for being a permanent paranoid infant. These are mad men leading us collectively straight to Hell.
Trump and his infantile, paranoid comrades are shameful.
The End of Shame
The final synchronistic thread that struck me is the death and burial of Queen Elizabeth II. Death is definitely the end of shame. It is the end of a journey through life. It is the end of that person’s story, of what that person came to understand, to know, to feel, to treasure or despise, to love, to cherish, to hate, and how they reconciled differences and conflicts. How we navigate our lives, everything we come to know and loves, comes to an inevitable end with death.
Alan Watts is absolutely right, the church is full of symbolism about sex. The steeples and naves of Christian churches are ripe with human sexuality, which is the most awesome act of creativity we are capable of as living beings. And so it is in death we end our journey through life and we are returned the womb, the tomb, from which we came.
This is what I wrote in reflecting about the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
For anyone who has lost a loved one, the ceremony of the burial of Queen Elizabeth II was poignant and full of rich symbolism and pageantry. There are many who mourn her passing, and there are many who say the time for royals is over. But, we as the people of Earth have never needed the symbolic role that Queen Elizabeth II played for more than 70 years more urgently.
We are crumbling under the weight of modern inconveniences, complexities, and confusion. We are losing our inner rudder, our collective moral compass. When we as the people of Earth can no longer unite under a common cause, let suppose this is the continuation of a habitual planet conducive for life, then we will simply rip apart the fabric of society necessary to met the challenges of this century.
Queen Elizabeth II played a role. She knew she was a symbol of stability, of hope, of continuity and the ability of her people to endure the tough times as well as enjoy the good times. Lacking such role models, symbols of strength, virtue, and compassion, it is easy to fall prey to our own thoughts of competition, revenge, vengeance, hate. No, she was not perfect, no human being is or ever will be and much was left undone in the wake of British imperialism. But, she showed a path, a better way, and we the Good People of Earth should take heed.
There are terrible problems ahead of us. Nuclear destruction has never been closer with the savage craze of Putin. This is such a man capable of pushing the button, so is Trump. And if nuclear war doesn't get us, then the global food crisis Putin has unleashed with his vengeful war will kill millions beyond the hundreds of thousands he has already killed with his insane war. And, he is creating the ultimate distraction preventing the world at the very moment it has a chance to mitigate the worst effects of Climate Change. There is only 8 years left. We are the people who will leave this great task left undone, so the future of life on Earth certainly hangs on the thinnest thread yet.
It is truly a time to take stock and act as we have never done collectively as a species before.
Feature Archetypal Animation:
Images for First Archetypal Animation:
Gross was asked to sketch out some basic ideas for each chapter for the illustrator, Armando Veve, who did opening chapter illustrations for each chapter. “The result was very fun, and developing the final illustrations was super collaborative,” Gross says. Rachel Gross — The Open Notebook
Image: Armando Veve via W. W. Norton & Company —
Image: Rachel Gross Portait by Monique Jacques — Open Notebook
Music for First Archetypal Animation:
Second Archetypal Animation
Images for Second Archetypal Animation
Be sure to visit Oya Damla‘s website and listen to her original music for this provoking art she has made about the Primal Split.
Music for Second Archetypal Animation: