Monday, July 04, 2016

Crossing the bridge to womanhood

I have just finished reading an impressive book. It was published in 1958 and written by a female psychiatrist, Marie Robinson (Nyswander).

Called The Power of Sexual Surrender it is a book that sets out to explain frigidity in women and in doing so discusses the specific ways that some women fail to arrive at a mature womanhood.

It is not the perfect book. It is overly "scientistic" at times; its Freudian framework is questionable; and a few of its claims now seem either dated or wrong.

Its great strength, though, is that it deals unflinchingly with the specific ways that psychological and emotional immaturity in women is expressed in relationships with men. It comes across as extraordinarily "red pill" for 1958. It is one of the most quotable books that I have ever read.

I don't think I'm going to be able to review the book adequately in a single post, so I'll set the scene with this post and leave the meatiest part of the book for next time.

I'll begin by quoting this:
women today have, beyond the shadow of any doubt, achieved complete equality with men.

In 1958 not only did Marie Robinson not feel oppressed, she felt that she was living in a society where she was completely equal with men. Not how 1958 is usually portrayed.

She then notes that the Victorian era view that women were asexual had been overcome, but that something like 40% of women were unable to benefit from this in terms of enjoying marital love because of some degree of frigidity.

Marie Robinson does not use the term frigidity as we usually do. For her, the frigid woman has "learned to fear physical love." She writes:
The reasons for her fear are hidden from her, are locked in her unconscious mind. Consciously she may wish, above all things, to achieve real closeness with her husband, to give and receive the greatest of all mutual joys between man and woman, sexual gratification. But she has not the capacity to receive this joy.

There is a lesson here for men. It is possible for a woman to consciously strive to be open to physical love, to read books about how to achieve it, to go and see someone like Marie Robinson to discuss her problem, whilst the real, underlying reasons for her problem don't come to the surface.

According to Marie Robinson, frigidity in a woman is the result of something going wrong in a girl's development, which then leaves her immature:
When all goes well in the development of the young girl, both her personality and her sexual passions will flower, she will achieve a beautiful and integrated maturity. But if, as so often happens, thwarting or blighting experiences take place, the development of her personality and her sexuality will be frozen at their sources, and maturity will remain a never-never land whose very existence she will come to doubt.

If she wishes to resume her growth she must...insist, deep within herself, on achieving that true and passional relatedness with her man for which there is neither simulacrum nor substitute in woman’s journey through life.

In chapter 3 of her book, Marie Robinson begins to challenge her readers. Even in 1958, she had female clients who had been raised to have a negative view of both men and womanhood. She tells the story of a successful female lawyer who came to see her:
Her father had died when she was an infant and her mother had been a militant leader of the movement for women’s “rights.” The whole emphasis in her early upbringing had been on achievement in the male world, and in the male sense of the word. She had been taught to be competitive with men, to look upon them as basically inimical to women. Women were portrayed as an exploited and badly put upon minority class. Marriage, childbearing, and love were traps that placed one in the hands of the enemy, man, whose chief desire was to enslave woman. Her mother had profoundly inculcated in her the belief that women were to work in the market place at all cost, to be aggressive, to take love (a la Russe) where they found it, and to be tied down by nothing, no one; no more, as her mother put it, than a man is. Such a definition of the normal had, of course, made her fearful of a real or deep or enduring relationship with a man. For years she sedulously avoided men entirely. Gradually, though her grown-up experiences, she learned of other values, but by the time the right man came along it was too late to have children.

Marie Robinson felt that she had to oppose the "defensive and self-destructive" feminist view with a portrait of what a more normally developed woman is like:
Deep inside herself she feels profoundly secure, safe, both with herself and with her husband. She is very, very glad to be a woman, with all the duties, responsibilities, and joys it entails. She can’t imagine what it would be like to be a man and has no interest in imagining it as a possible role for herself. She feels that the very existence of her husband makes the world safe for her. This sense of reality almost invariably leads her to select a husband who is good for her...Of course marrying a good husband adds to her sense of “at-homeness” in the world. Related to this feeling in her, to her sense of security, seeming almost to spring from it, indeed, is a profound delight in giving to those she loves. Psychiatrists, who consider this characteristic the hallmark, the sine qua non, of the truly feminine character, have a name for it: they call it “essential feminine altruism.” The finest flower of this altruism blossoms in her joy in giving the very best of herself to her husband and to her children. She never resents this need in herself to give; she never interprets its manifestations as a burden to her, an imposition on her. It pervades her nature as the color green pervades the countryside in the spring, and she is proud of it and delights in it. It is this altruism, this givingness, that motivates her to keep her equilibrum, to hold onto her joie de vivre despite whatever may befall. It stands her in marvelous stead for all the demands that life is going to make on her—and they will be considerable. When a woman does not have this instinctually based altruism available to her, or when she denies that it is a desirable trait, life's continuous small misfortunes leave her in a glowering rage, helpless and beside herself with self-pity.

I will only say of this that I have known women who had this quality of giving themselves to others who, just as Marie Robinson describes it, were also more secure in themselves than other women, more active and more resilient.

Marie Robinson's fully natured woman is also definitely a sexual person who enjoys the sexual relationship with her husband but who is not attracted to infidelity:
One woman put it this way to me: “I like other men; if they’re attractive,” she said. “Their attractiveness does honor to the sex my husband belongs to.”

She has a lot more to say about her ideal of womanhood, but I'll leave it there for now. The best parts of the book are yet to come. If you'd like to read it yourself, there is a free pdf here.

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