In Greek Mythology, Eros is the god of love, known by the Romans under the name of Amor. Eros was the son of the goddess of beauty and love, Aphrodite, and Ares, the Greek god of war; thus bow and arrow were in his blood from the outset.
In the Modern Greek language, eroticism means devoted love. In German and in French, this definition does not quite fit. Eroticism 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 for connoisseurs, readers, lovers – knowledgeable 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.
Eroticism is expressed by the body. In Marocco, 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, computers, video, and cinema, the stimulus is very often visual, e.g., a particularly attractive person or a part of their body. However, erotic reactions can 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 one’s control over one’s own body as well as the control exercised by other people such as one’s partner or society. For thousands of years, 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. Men in general personify control or power – not every man, but every man much more than most women. Whether it be in sports, fighting, hunting, craftsmanship, or intellectual exercise, many men exert control 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 what is today the Middle East – did the question of paternity of a child become relevant due to the question of inheritance. One’s possessions were to be passed on to one’s own child, and property, as far as livestock and land was concerned, was passed on to male descendents. Just as livestock and land, as parts of nature, became subordinated to private ownership, the same applied to the body – to begin with, the woman’s body. A man needed to ensure that a woman conceived and bore only his own children.
Our body is for ourselves the most personal primordial nature that we know, for 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 them, war as well.
When we think of the expulsion from paradise as described in the Bible, we remember the Tree of Knowledge. Knowledge makes humans equal to God, which is punished by God. Man was to toil in the sweat of his brow; woman was to bear children in pain. When the white settlers in North America saw the women of the indigenous people happily working in the field, this fundamental difference appeared so unbearable to them that the only solution for them was to extinguish that culture. The expulsion from paradise has to do not only with the realization and knowledge that Man gained, it also has to do with Man’s relationship to nature. Whereas in paradise harmony with nature made it possible to use the powers of nature to heal and to solve problems, the process of exploitation of nature transformed naturopathy into a science – and science is power. Women and shamans were not admitted into science, and fearing their competition, they and their thousands of years of knowledge were banned and burnt.
Only democracy, the 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 still enormous forces unwilling to surrender their privileges without resistance. The democratic rule of law has 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 egoistic force. Democracy offered and still offers women an equal chance to take part in society.
However, only the birth control pill and legal abortion first brought women full liberation. Now a woman can direct her own life – she can decide at all times whether, 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, to make them 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, it seeks to dominate nature through exploitation.
Democracy offers women respect. It helps provide them with statutory protection against exploitation and violence. She may earn her own upkeep and that of her children and is therefore freed from undesired dependency upon others. She changes from object to subject, from dependency to active participation.
With increasing participation in economic life, woman enters into competition with man. She cannot expect to be welcomed with open arms. After all, she is laying claim to privileges which for thousands of years have been belonged to males 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 government bodies. The gradually increasing influence of women in a democracy can be supported by solidarity among women and between women and those men who [do not feel threatened by the increased participation of women in society] are openly in favor of increased influence on the part of women.
Private ownership 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 rooted in age-old tradition. When we allow stereotypes to direct our behaviour, we do not react to an individual person, but to an image of them determined by a stereotype that dominates our perception. With the increased participation of women in male domains, 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 also 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 because it is necessary and because majorities will be found for it. And what is particularly motivating is the fact that every single one of us is able to make a contribution to this process. Everyone is important.
[Text by Marion Schneider]