Eros Repression: Sexual Obsession

Eros repressed, Eros denied, Eros mishandled is self-hatred, rage, rape, anorexia. Suicide. A silver bullet, a bomb, a dagger, a derringer. Death. For a very long time, Eros has been repressed and Jack-the-Ripper has been winning. So it was when I grew up in the 1950s. In those days when the puritanical double standard reigned supreme, the sexual aspect of Eros was rigidly controlled. In the hands of male authorities, sex was a socially sanctioned weapon that men used to maintain their control and repress the feminine. The rules were strict and clear: Unmarried teen-age males had license to experiment or not as they chose (although few freely admitted to the latter). For females there were only two choices: "Bad" girls did and" good" girls didn't, and that was all there was to it.

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Eros Repression: Sexual Obsession


The Bridge to Wholeness:
A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth - 

Chapter 5

EROS, THE FEMININE PRINCIPLE of relationship, is the life preserving instinct, and sex is one of its major manifestations. It is Eros that gives us the energy to keep up the struggle for survival. The energy inherent in Eros is so potent that it can empower the human spirit to build glittering, diamond-studded bridges to the moon, to the stars, to the divine, to eternity. If thwarted, if prevented from finding a healthy outlet, Eros energy simmers in unconscious cauldrons. There in dark secrecy it concocts monstrous Mr. Hydes and Jack-the-Rippers who lurk behind walls and crouch in dark alleys, waiting for vulnerable victims upon whom to unleash their misdirected energy in the only way left open to them: destruction and death.

Eros acknowledged, Eros revered, Eros celebrated in joyous gratitude is chocolate, champagne, a Chopin nocturne, perfume. A soft warm bed - shared. A newborn kitten. Life.

Eros repressed, Eros denied, Eros mishandled is self-hatred, rage, rape, anorexia. Suicide. A silver bullet, a bomb, a dagger, a derringer. Death.

For a very long time, Eros has been repressed and Jack-the-Ripper has been winning. So it was when I grew up in the 1950s. In those days when the puritanical double standard reigned supreme, the sexual aspect of Eros was rigidly controlled. In the hands of male authorities, sex was a socially sanctioned weapon that men used to maintain their control and repress the feminine. The rules were strict and clear: Unmarried teen-age males had license to experiment or not as they chose (although few freely admitted to the latter). For females there were only two choices:

"Bad" girls did and" good" girls didn't, and that was all there was to it.

By the time I became a teen-ager, there was no doubt about which kind of girl I would be. My protected environment; the spoken and unspoken rules of my society; the tender care I had received from loving parents whom I deeply respected and had a strong desire to please; the quaint, old-fashioned books my mother gave me, in which none of the heroines was ever kissed until she became engaged; my own introverted nature; and my fear of a punitive masculine God - all these things made it easy for me to be an extremely innocent, eminently "good" girl. I believed it was important to conform to the unspoken rules, to keep my mind pure, my feelings and emotions repressed, and my hands clean.

So I pushed my natural Eros (an anagram for rose) nature way down deep within me and surrounded myself with a carefully constructed wall

built of all the things I thought would keep me safe: obedience, innocence, spirituality, passivity, purity. And even when I ventured out of the castle to wander in the dangerous wilderness of adolescence, I always carried the image of the lily with me, for the lily was my talisman, my ideal, and I believed that as long as I sought it, I would remain safe.

For the most part I did remain safe, but not completely, for there was one important reality that in my sheltered innocence I had failed to consider. It was the reality of prejudice, of humankind's abiding fear of and hostility toward the opposite and the unknown. Because I lived in an era when the masculine way was considered to be superior, the feminine was regarded as inferior. Thus, men had to severely repress their own feminine aspects, and women had to be kept under masculine control at all costs. Women who wished to be acceptable to the mainstream of society were limited to three roles: lily-white virgin, supportive wife, or devoted mother. Any other way of being feminine was forbidden.

This prejudice against the feminine meant that all women, even those who accepted these roles, were susceptible to being victimized by insecure men who feared the feminine. But the most susceptible were women who threatened, thwarted, or resisted the masculine (either the masculine principle or an insecure individual man) in any way. In those days it was still true that women (like people of color or other minorities) who challenged the status quo or dared to step too far out of the prescribed roles would be self-righteously punished by the outraged advocates of the prevailing patriarchy. These advocates could be either males or females, and the punishment could range anywhere from hostility, verbal abuse, or ostracism all the way to physical threats, violence, or even murder.

I had two experiences with this kind of prejudice during my teen-age years. Both involved the issue of sexuality, a particularly potent realm for an impressionable, developing teen-age girl, especially one who wanted so badly to be safe and acceptable. Both very effectively did exactly what they were meant to do: keep me submissive to the masculine principle.

The first occurred when I was twelve, several months after my father had died. One day I was home alone after school when the phone rang. When I answered it, a man's voice asked for my mother. When I said she wasn't there, he said, "You'll do." Then he proceeded to tell me, in vulgar, sexually explicit terms, exactly what he wanted to do to me. Having been trained to always be polite to adults, I listened. When he was finished, he said, "I'll be right over."

"Okay," I said, in a tiny, respectful voice, and as I hung up the phone, my hand trembled so violently I could scarcely replace it in the cradle. With my heart pounding in my throat, I raced out of the house and across the street to Inez's house.

Inez was my surrogate mother and the mother of Jimmy, my childhood sweetheart. I spent hours at her house every day, talking, watching the "Mickey Mouse Club" and "American Bandstand" on TV, helping Jimmy with his homework, ironing his clothes, and watching Inez cook and clean. It was from Inez that I learned what a housewife was. We were so close that I never even knocked on her door. And she was always there.

She was there this day when I flung myself breathlessly into her house and told her about the phone calL She went into action immediately. First she called my mother at work. Then she called the police. Then she called the next single woman listed in the telephone book after my mother's name to warn her that she might get an obscene call. I spent the rest of the afternoon at Inez's house, peering anxiously out the window from time to time and expecting to see a strange car pull up to my house.

For months after that day, I couldn't answer the phone if I was home alone. And if the doorbell rang, my mother or my brother would have to see who it was. I was simply too afraid it might be my obscene caller and that if I went to the door alone he would snatch me up and carry me away before my mother could save me.

This was my first glimpse into the dark and evil recesses of the human soul, and the impression it made on me was profound and lasting. My father's death had already made me fearfuL After that phone call, the masculine gender became the focus for my fear, and I became shy, suspicious, and withdrawn around boys and men.

My second experience of masculine prejudice against women involved another telephone call. One evening in the summer before I was to enter high school, a girlfriend was at my house when the phone rang. It was a boy who wanted to talk and flirt but who wouldn't tell me his name. The memory of the obscene call three years earlier was still very much with me and, holding my hand over the phone, I told my girlfriend I didn't want to talk to him. My friend, however, was a bold and sassy girl who had no fear of boys and was delighted by my phantom caller. Taking the phone away from me and speaking in a shy and quiet voice, she continued to talk to him as if she were me.

At first this game was fun, and she would put her hand over the phone and whisper what he was saying and we would giggle and then she'd talk some more. But soon her side of the conversation began to make me uneasy. Her voice was sounding more seductive and her laughter more sensuaL When I asked her to tell me what he was saying, she wouldn't say. I began to get frantic. I didn't trust my friend or this strange caller, and I begged her to hang up and I tried to grab the phone away. But she resisted me and kept her hand over the phone so he couldn't hear my voice in the background as she answered his questions with coy and sexy monosyllabic affirmations that kept her voice disguised. When she finally hung up, I asked her what he had said but she refused to tell me. After a while I gave up asking and decided to forget the whole uncomfortable incident.

That fall we entered the tenth grade, and soon I went to my first high school dance. It was marvelous. The shy little wallflower I had turned into during junior high school seemed to be blossoming again at last, for I was dancing with a boy, and he seemed to like me. And he was cute! During an intermission he took me by the hand and led me across the dance floor to a wall of boys standing on the other side.

Among them was a boy I'll call Ken. Ken and I had gone to the same elementary schooL One year we had been in the same class and, according to a friend, he had developed a crush on me. Every Wednesday we had folk dancing in our physical education class. Ken had asked me several times to be his partner, but I had refused because I always danced with Jimmy. I had no sense of how my rejection of Ken might have hurt him. I only knew I didn't feel comfortable dancing with anyone but Jimmy.

The years had passed and we had gone to the same junior high school. We no longer had any classes together, but every once in a while Ken would call me. By then I had become very shy with boys, even boys I was interested in. And I was still not particularly interested in Ken. He must have sensed this for eventually the calls stopped.

At the high school dance, my new friend said hello to Ken, then moved on to talk to someone else. Face to face with Ken, I smiled and said hello.

Ken looked at me with a cold and venomous stare before he very quietly and deliberately spat out a single accusing word.

"Pig!"

The smile froze on my face as I looked at him in shocked bewilderment. I had no idea why he'd said that, but the pain of his obvious and intense hatred was excruciating. As soon as I could, I excused myself and ran to the girls' room. I locked myself in a stall and remained there sobbing for the rest of the night, refusing to come out until the party was over and everyone had gone. Then I crept quietly out into the dark night and climbed into my mother's waiting car in the beautiful new white dress I had worn so proudly to the dance. I was never able to wear that dress again without feeling dirty and ashamed.

There is more to this story. Gradually this event receded from my mind as I moved through high school. I regained some of my earlier confidence and trust, and in the summer after my junior year, I spent two weeks with my cousin in Georgia, had my first summer romance with a wonderful young man, and received my first kiss. In the fall I dated a few nice boys and even let two of them kiss me good night after several dates. But there were no sparks between us, and it wasn't until the end of my senior year that I finally had a real boyfriend, a boy I'll call Steve. My relationship with Steve lasted throughout the summer and into the fall, when I went off to college and he went to the local junior college. We continued to write, and both of us looked forward to seeing each other again over the Christmas vacation.

One night during the holidays, Steve told me he had been invited to the house of a man to whom he was distantly related by marriage. This man, who had specifically asked Steve to bring me along, had occasionally felt the need to offer a little fatherly advice ever since Steve's stepfather had died a few years ago. Coincidentally, although Steve and Ken had never been friends, this man happened to be Ken's father.

I went reluctantly, fearing to see Ken, who had not spoken to me again after the tenth-grade dance. I was relieved to find he wasn't at home. Steve and I talked with Ken's father for a few minutes, then he asked to speak to Steve alone. When they came out, we left.

I asked Steve what Ken's father had said. At first Steve was reluctant to say, but finally he told me that Ken's father had said, "You don't want to get serious about a girl like that, do you?" With a sinking feeling I asked Steve what he had meant by "a girl like that," but deep in my heart I knew. Somehow Ken still thought of me as a tramp - a girl who had kissed exactly four boys in her life (unless you counted the time Jimmy had snatched a kiss from me during a neighborhood game when we were in the second grade) - and he had conveyed this belief to his father.

Ken's father's intervention worked. It sowed suspicion in both our hearts, and Steve and I broke up during the Christmas holidays. A few weeks later when I met a very attractive man, I was free to encourage him. He was my future husband. Isn't it odd the way fate works?

I pushed these painful memories deep into the recesses of my brain for many years. Then one night about ten years ago, I had a revelation so potent that I sat straight up in bed in amazement. Suddenly everything was clear. Ken had been the mysterious caller that my girlfriend had flirted with as she pretended to be me! He had whispered obscenities to her, playfully at first, and instead of being shocked and afraid as I would have been, my feisty friend had amused herself by encouraging him.

Ken was a well-intentioned young man of the 1950s who was brought up to believe in the sexual double standard. It was okay for boys to enjoy vulgar sexual repartee, but good girls just didn't do it. He had liked me as long as I fit the acceptable stereotype of an unobtainable, lily-white virgin goddess. But when this image was shattered by "my" behavior on the telephone, he became convinced I was a slut!

Both Ken and my earlier obscene caller believed the masculine principle was superior to the feminine - in other words, they were prejudiced. The underlying cause of prejudice is fear. What we fear, we hate and try to control, and we build strong walls to separate it from ourselves, in both our inner and outer worlds. When the walls get too thick and high -- in other words, when the side that seeks control is not mediated by knowledge, understanding, and acceptance of what it has banished to the other side --the dominant side becomes obsessive in its mistrust of the other side, and in its fascination with it.

Thus, when the masculine principle, which is normally aggressive anyway, is not mediated by the softening effects of the feminine principle, which it rejects, two things occur. First, violence against the hated "other" (any aspects of femininity that are not sanctioned by the patriarchy) becomes rampant and tolerated. This is why so much sexual abuse of all types is perpetrated against women, even innocent, well-meaning women who conform to, perhaps even defend, patriarchal rules.

The second result is a growing obsession with the thing we fear and wish to control- in this case, female sexuality. This is one of the reasons for the constant emphasis on "sex" in advertising, the media, popular music, and other aspects of our culture. And it helps explain why those who vehemently preach against pornography and prostitution often end up patronizing both.

No matter how well I conformed to the only acceptable role that was available to me as a teen-age girl, that of lily-white virgin, and no matter how much I repressed my fuller feminine nature by building a strong wall around it and seeking only the lily (patriarchy's interpretation of what a woman should be) -it was not enough to erase prejudice against the feminine. My castle walls could not protect me from an abusive telephone call from a sexually obsessed male, and my search for the lily in the adolescent wilderness could not keep me safe from the scornful, self-righteous judgments of a teen-age boy and his father.

But I was too young and insecure to question this injustice. I still needed to believe that castle walls and lilies could shield me from harm. So throughout my teen-age years and well beyond, I continued to conform to Logos-legislated laws and to judge myself by Logos-inspired standards. In the process I deprived myself of my birthright: my rosy-red Eros nature.

 

Dr. Jean Raffa is an author, speaker, and leader of workshops, dream groups, and study groups. She maintains a blog called "Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom." Her job history includes teacher, television producer, college professor, and instructor at the Disney Institute in Orlando and The Jung Center in Winter Park, FL. She is the author of three books, a workbook, a chapter in a college text, numerous articles in professional journals, and a series of meditations and short stories for Augsburg Fortress Publisher.

Her book The Bridge to Wholeness: A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth (LuraMedia, 1992) was nominated for the Benjamin Franklin Award for best psychology book of 1992.

Reviewed in several journals and featured on the reading lists of university courses, it was also picked by the Isabella catalogue as a must-read for seeking women. Dream Theatres of the Soul: Empowering the Feminine Through Jungian Dreamwork (Innisfree Press, Inc., 1994) has been used in dreamwork courses throughout the country and is included in Amazon.com’s list of the Top 100 Best Selling Dream Books, and TCM’s book list of Human Resources for Organizational Development.

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