When Biological is Political
If we dare to believe that women have achieved equality even in the United States, we need only look at the photo of a large group of white males who gathered in the capitol recently to make pronouncements about women’s reproductive issues. Women will never be totally free until they control their own biology.
In our book as listed below I write the following:
Biology is a harsh task master for women. Menstruation, child-bearing, not child-bearing, child-rearing and menopause loom large in the middle forty years of women’s lives. A number of writers have suggested that parturition rather than coitus is the culmination of the sex act for women. Helen Block Lewis states that women’s attitude toward sex is embedded in the framework of maternity and thus organized around her impregnation which she may or may not desire. Anxiety about impregnation reduces her chances for orgasm. The focus on the vagina would then be only a part of female sexuality. Rather it would be a complex whole-body response, difficult to verbalize or even identify. The vagina itself, as Barnett has stated, possesses elements which lend themselves to its repression. She mentions that because the orifice lacks voluntary muscle control there is a continual threat to body integrity. A second factor is that, unlike the mouth or anus, it has no contents which could be viewed as a part of the self. Kestenberg has pointed out that feminine modalities such as nurturing and receptivity are far less noticeable than are male aggression and intrusion. Important aspects of the female sexual experience are internal. A full discussion of the biological factors as they permeate the cultural and intra-psychic experiences of women is well beyond the scope of this project. But I concur with Rosemary Balsam (2012) who states that “we cannot sustain any cogent theory of mind…without establishing the location of the body in our theories…and that the functional female body needs to be as central to any useful psychoanalytic theory [or any theory] as the male body traditionally has been….(p. 4)”
From a societal perspective woman has remained, as first described by Simone de Beauvoir (1949, 1952), “embedded within the species” and the decisions about her sexual and reproductive health have been in the service of a patriarchal civilization—a male possession. Far too often those decisions have resulted in violence and exploitation in many forms. As long as women are barred from decision-making bodies that legislate female sexuality, that will continue to be the case, no matter what their gains may be in other areas. Our task then as psychoanalysts is to look closely at the ways in which the culture has taught us that woman’s sexuality is not her own.
Historically, proscriptions about child-bearing have been determined by cultural norms prescribed by men. Decisions about reproduction are made by men with the fallacious assumption that they speak accurately for women. For example, women, of necessity, were the ones to produce a male heir, that all-important individual who would inherit the wealth, sit on the throne or carry on the name. A woman who didn’t produce a male heir was easily replaced or discarded by her husband or the ruling male. Patriarchal society has also dictated whether or not birth control will be available. Legislatures determine when or if a woman may terminate a pregnancy. Governments decree a one-child-per family law. Women are excluded from the decision-making process even when it is, quite literally, they who do the “heavy lifting.”
A Womb of Her Own: Women’s Struggle for Sexual and Reproductive Autonomy),
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Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.