“Certain women have the capacity to identify completely with their men and are happy in their role as encouraging and contributing companions… They may be the most intelligent and lovely women, but they are unaggressive and not competitive… These women are not frigid, but only after long courting do they allow any intimacies. In contrast to the woman described, from whom emanates the extraordinary beauty of femininity, we find the woman with the masculinity complex, characterized by aggressive tendencies and envy of the male. This attitude frequently originates from frustrating experiences in her role as a woman. Even after marriage and the birth of several children, she must find satisfaction in a job or profession to overcome her unconscious feelings of inferiority towards the male sex… because of their rebellion towards what they interpret as superiority of the male, such women unconsciously and, in some instances, consciously resist a response to the lovemaking of the male. They are either frigid or they respond rarely.”
– Frigidity: Dynamics and treatment, Fritz Kant
Frigidity. An out-of-use pejorative term which penalizes women for not being passive helpmates, for not responding positively to bad sex, for rejecting sex in an oppressive environment, from an oppressive partner and for refusing to like and accept slavery.
Sounds a little like this onetime disorder: Drapetomania “was diagnosed by a single symptom: the uncontrollable urge to escape from slavery.” Slaves who suffered from this “disease” were castigated in just the way that “rebellious wives” were. “Unfeminine” women who were mysteriously unable to derive satisfaction solely from bearing, baking and tirelessly ego-boosting “their men” were pathologized as unfit women, mothers and people. As in drapetomania, “sanity for a slave was synonymous with submission.” Hence, if you refuse the advances of your husband in a system that oppresses you, you are “frigid” and if you rebel against a corrupt system, you are insane, a sufferer of drapetomania. Hence, with the pretext of a made-up disease, we are able to blame the person who is suffering instead of the institution or circumstances that CREATE that suffering. It is “the old attitude that transforms normal desires and deeds into pathology.”
As regards these “frigid” women, the goal of doctors in Victorian-holdover mid-century was to “warm these women up… but not so much that they were in danger of liking sex too much. Women were supposed to travel a narrow pathway between “frigidity” and “nymphomania.’” Fritz Kant’s “proper feminine women,” who yield “intimacies” only after long courtships” are expected to “magically and unfrigidly release their sexual passions with the one right man.” Well, doesn’t that sound convenient. A woman who receives NO sexual education, who is consistently browbeaten against feeling or expressing or at least admitting to any sexual feeling otherwise she’ll be relentlessly castigated as a slut, a whore or any other arbitrary female-directed slurs that shame women for their sexuality and then, magically! with “the right man” all that internalized shame and misogyny is supposed to just slough away and she’ll be the feminine ideal of a passive but accepting sexual plaything? Sexuality is so much more complex than any act or behavior. It can be taught, learned, explored, questioned but it isn’t a magic variable you can keep under wraps and then expect to unleash in its whole, fully capable form. It’s like a muscle–if it never existed, it can’t be brought into existence fully formed and if it isn’t exercised and practiced, it atrophies. The erotic investment that so many men have been taught to put into female passivity and ignorance is dangerous and cruel, allowing women ONLY the option of being “intelligent and lovely” when they are compliant and dead.
However! The flip side to the old-time-but-timeless misogynistic hatred of women accepting and embracing their humanity is no picnic either. The cool, glossed-over world of science as per Masters and Johnson’s Human Sexual Response was “at pains to strip their language of any semblance of judgmental tone or antifemale bias… not for them the nasty name-calling labels of “frigid” or “nymphmaniac.’”
However, both poles of viewing women are incomplete in their essentialist, absolute terms. On one hand, we have the Victorian ‘women are not and SHOULD NOT be sexual, agentive or faulted human beings and are lovely and magical ONLY if they are coy and resistant.’ On the other hand, I disbelieve the idea that ‘women are just as sexual in the exact same ways as men–who are the gold standards for normalcy and why don’t we ever compare men to women?– with perfectly analogous body functions and this is not taking into account any social or historical context.’ The first view is slimy, misogynistic and prejudiced but the other overcompensated for the legacy of treating women as sexless children with neutral, context-devoid dictates and is disinterested in the diversity and individuality of sexual experience.
“Both visions of sexuality—that men and women are fundamentally the same or that they are profoundly, unredeemably different share the assumption that there is a “real” essence to human sexual behavior” when who we are sexually is the result of a bevy of fluid, constantly changing factors: Our histories, our fantasies, our ideas about ourselves and our ideas about sex, our bodies, our circumstances, our ages, our experiences and those of our partner(s).
And that’s that.
These lovely, parroted opinions were brought to you courtesy of Carol Tavris’s “The Mismeasure of Woman” (wherefrom originate most of the above quotations) and Leonore Tiefer’s “Sex is Not a Natural Act.”