In the Modern
Greek language erotic means devoted love. In German and in French
this definition does not quite fit. Erotic can be connected with
love but also has a physical component which is often associated
with sexual aspects. It also has an intellectual component: Eroticism
is something one has to be aware of, something for the literate,
for lovers – conscious sex, so to speak, that is more than
just the physical act of sex between two or more persons. In English
the word “sex” is also used to denote gender, and
this ambiguity of meaning has led to the use of the word erotic
to describe those aspects which in German could be described as
sexual or pornographic. In the English language therefore, the
word erotic always has an indecent component, whereas in German
and French it has more of an intellectual aspect.
expressed by the body. In Morocco, Kenya and the Brazilian rain
forests where their cultures do not know the word erotic, I translated
eroticism as a feeling one becomes aware of as one enters the
adult world. This feeling is dependent upon a stimulus. The stimulus
must be sufficient to trigger an erotic reaction: it must exceed
a certain level so that a reaction is perceivable, for example
an increased flow of energy and/or blood to certain parts of the
body. Increasingly in this age of television, computer, video
and cinema, the stimulus is very often visual e.g. a particularly
attractive person or a part of their body. Erotic reactions can
however also result from music, touch, smell, speech or memory.
The person who
reacts to the erotic stimulus is immediately confronted with the
question of how to deal with it: should it be accepted and experienced
or should it be suppressed? The decision has to do with the control
over one’s own body as well as the control exercised by
other people such as one’s partner or society. In history,
the control a woman had over her body was increasingly dominated
by the question of sexual abstinence, whereas the control a man
exercises over his body is manifold. Man in general embodies control
or power – not every man, but most men still more than most
women. Whether it is in sport, fighting, hunting, making or intellectual
exercise many men exert control and power over others and/or over
their bodies daily.
In a matriarchy,
the woman is highly valued as the source of fertility and life.
The family is centred around the mother. Only after private ownership
began to be differentiated from communal ownership and other people’s
property became desirable – i.e. as systematic livestock
herding became more widespread as it did relatively early in the
middle east – did the question of paternity of a child become
relevant due to the question of inheritance. One’s possessions
should be passed onto one’s own child, and property, as
far as livestock and land was concerned, was passed onto male
descendents. Just as nature became subordinated to private ownership,
i.e. livestock and grazing land, the same applies to the body,
to begin with the woman’s body. A man needed to ensure that
a woman only bore his own children.
Our body is
for ourselves the most personal primordial nature that we know
– the body is pure nature. If our relationship to our body
changes, then so does our relationship to nature. The moment that
woman, and with her her body, became subject to ownership, she
became an object. In man’s expanding control over nature,
the woman became as much an object as the earth, trees, mountains
and animals. With her, others became increasingly forced to carry
out unpleasant tasks. Slavery and serfdom became commonplace and
with it war.
When we think
of the expulsion from paradise as described in The Bible we remember
the Tree of Knowledge. Knowledge makes people equal to God and
God punished the people for this: Man should toil by the sweat
of his brow; Woman should bear children under pain. When the white
settlers in North America saw the women of the indigenous people
happily working in the field, it appeared so unbearable to them
that the only solution for them was to extinguish that culture.
from paradise is not only about the realisation, understanding
and knowledge that man gained and the more equal relationship
to God, but the expulsion from paradise also changed man’s
relationship to nature. Whereas in paradise harmony with nature
enabled the healing powers of nature to be harnessed, the process
of exploitation of nature transformed naturopathy to a science.
And science is power. Women and shamans were not part of this
science and, fearing competition, thousands of years of knowledge
were banned and burnt.
enforcement of majority rule over domination by a minority, put
an end to arbitrary exploitation. The process of democratisation
in the world is not yet complete and there are many forces unwilling
to submit their privileges without resistance. The democratic
rule of law established a system in which it is possible to live
in peace with one another, and this provides a better chance for
common sense to prevail over egotistical forces. Democracy offered
and still offers women an equal chance to take part in society.
the birth control pill and legal abortion first brought women
full liberation. A woman can direct her own life – she can
decide if, when and with whom she wants to have children. In this
respect it is not surprising that the US government exerts force
on development organisations working with their US-Aid development
agency, so that they promise not to actively propagate the birth
control pill or its distribution. Without signing this agreement
they do not receive monetary support. This government is still
unwilling to give up its power over women’s choice and their
bodies. Instead of respecting nature they seek to dominate nature
women respect. It helps provide them with statutory protection
against violence. She may earn her own upkeep and that of her
children and is therefore freed from dependency upon others. She
changes from object to subject, from dependency to active participation.
As more women
began to actively take part in working life, woman enters into
competition with man. She cannot expect to be welcomed with open
arms. After all she lays claim to privileges which for thousands
of years have been male privileges and have become part of their
nature. Woman does not yet exercise equal rights in all areas
of decision-making and influence, whether in committees, the media,
politics or instruments of the state. The gradually increasing
influence of women in a democracy can be supported by solidarity
between women and between those men who do not feel threatened
by the increased participation of women in society.
formed the basis upon which exploitation of nature became a principle.
Connected with this and in parallel stereotypes began to form:
what do we associate with a woman when we see or hear her? What
do we associate with a man? These are subconscious processes informed
by an age of tradition. When we allow stereotypes to direct our
behaviour we do not react to the actual person but to an idea
of them as given by a stereotype. Stereotypes dominate our perception.
With the increased participation of women in the male domain,
these stereotypes no longer fully apply and become a burden and
an obstacle. This can be grasped as a chance for everyone.
If we are able
to better respect reality, we can better respect nature. An increased
interest in all aspects of reality enables women to contribute
their knowledge of reality, to introduce their experiences, to
add their knowledge. A holistic approach can increasingly replace
exploitation, not just out of necessity but also because a majority
may come to believe in it. And what is particularly motivating
is the fact that every single one of us is able to make a contribution
in this process. Everyone is important.