Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Great Toilet Book : About Men Part 1

If you’re like me, you take your time in the bathroom doing your business because you read while relieving yourself. Aside from the paper, there are books that simply beg to be read while shitting. This one, written by a psychologist named Phyllis Chesler entitled About Men, I find altogether amusing but makes sense in a disturbing, sick way. It seems she overdosed on Freudian theorizing and peppers her writing with psychosexual gobbledygook (whatever that is). I bought this some months ago at a rummage sale in the UP Faculty Center for 10 pesos I think. Now don’t go asking me why I bought it, it’s none of your business. Anyway, while unearthing some papers buried in my own personal Smoky Mountain, I rediscovered the joys of this toilet-book yet again.

Fathers and Sons

What do sons feel and remember about their fathers? From the psychoanalytic point of view, a man’s first woman, his mother, is taken from him by his father; and his second woman, the mother of his first son, is taken away from him by his son. Not an uneasy rivalry to live with, and yet an uncanny silence surrounds this drama. Sometimes, the silence is broken by Oedipal claims of omnipotence and revenge—“I’ve really gotten even with my Father. He can’t control me at all.” Sometimes the silence is broken by emotionally wild expressions of anger and contempt for the mothers and wives involved. Much less often, if at all, do we hear sons pierce the silence with public, verbal accounts of their emotional relationships with their fathers.

It is women, in private settings, who most often share men’s memories of having been belittled, criticized, not taken seriously—patronized—by their fathers. Unless men have a reason to praise their fathers, they usually remain silent about them in (male) public.

Upon being questioned, men are mildly and surprisingly amnesiac about what occurred between themselves and their fathers. Men usually find it hard to tell me much about their fathers. They tell me what kind of work a father did. They tell me whether his life was “hard” or “easy.” They tell me what country he came from, and whether he’s still alive.

Upon being questioned about their fathers, many educated men immediately shift into “theoretical” discourse. “Marx believed,” “Freud said,” “Obviously Nixon thought,” “Research on apes has shown.” Anything, anything is safer, is preferable to talking about themselves in relation to their own fathers.

“Did your father ever beat you?” I’ll ask. And in response most men immediately discuss male violence in the abstract, male violence on some other continent, male violence as other men practice it on other men. Not as they practice it. Not as it was practiced on them.

Among men though, there are crucial and unique advantages to be gained in accepting or “resolving” the father-son relationship. If sons are adequately socialized into patriarchy, they can then “bond” with other men for economic gain. Also, they are prepared in rejecting identification with their mother, for a life of “male” work; they are also able to enslave women and other men with only moderate degrees of guilt. These advantages are not spiritual or emotional ones. Men are not taught how to be interpersonally sensitive to others—or to themselves. Despite male egotism and narcissism, most men tend to lack the emotionally introspective tools that would allow them to comfort others or comfort themselves.

There are “good” fathers and “good” mothers; but let us admit, even if the admission angers, frightens, or shames us, that while “good” people do exist, they are a rarity, a miracle, a blessed exception. Unfortunately, the Parents of the human race are not “good” people: not always, not all the time, and not often enough.

It was startling to hear men respond to a variety of questions about their fathers with “sexual” information about themselves. For example, at least two men responded to the question “Tell me about your relationship to your father,” by telling me, abruptly, aggressively, defensively—bizarrely—all about “sex.” They said: “I’m a highly sexual man,” or “I masturbate insatiably,” or “I’m pretty sadistic sexually to women—but it turns me on and they have no complaints,” or “I’m afraid I might be a homosexual,” or “I’m a happy homosexual, sexually speaking.” All this in response to a question about their fathers!

As if they wanted to warn me off this topic. As if the father-son relationship somehow demands a genitally sexual solution—a solution which civilization prohibits.

Afterwards the thought of this strange possibility made me wonder to what extent traditional male homosexuality is related to a desire to solve the psychopolitical war between father and sons. Or to a desire on the part of men, especially recently, to defuse the escalation of male-male rivalry by eliminating women as a basis for competition.

Patriarchal civilization is, from one point of view, a male homosexual civilization. Women are valued only for their reproductive capacities. In all other areas, men prefer to remain separate from women, and in close contact with other men. A culture that covets such separatist all-male control of religious, military, economic, and political institutions is, psychologically speaking, a homosexual culture.

More and more as I listened it seemed many men had the same father. All fathers began to merge into one man, one father-archetype: a shadow-stranger, part tyrant, part failed tyrant—pitied for the failure; an awkward man, uneasy or out of place at home; a tense man, not in control of his emotionsl; a man remembered for blinding suddenness of his violence, for the blinding sweetness of his unexpected tenderness; a man of childish pettiness and of extraordinary generosity.

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