Women’s bodies are undeniably miraculous. They create life within them. Their physiology is complex, still mysterious and still beyond the reach of science to replicate. Yet, oddly enough, they are not given a lot of credit for what those bodies can do. Their stories, from within their bodies, have not been fully explicated.
Just to be clear, I do not believe that women are the slaves of their biology, that is, reproductive cows whose fertility must be managed by wiser men. No. They. Are. Not. My point and the point of our book A Womb of Her Own: Women’s Struggle for Sexual and Reproductive Autonomy (Routledge, 2017) is that women must own and understand their remarkable capabilities from a psychological perspective. Human beings are, after all, the only earthly creatures who can comprehend their own physiology.
In the introduction to our book we state as follows:
Our purpose then in this volume is to address from a psychoanalytic perspective those “every day miracles” that disproportionately affect women as a function of their biology. If it appears that we are going backward it is because we believe that women’s stories from women’s bodies have not been fully elaborated. Unless and until they can claim these experiences as their own, their power and their agency will remain compromised…We are talking about women in a binary world, a patriarchal order ‘that sets up stringent binaries on the basis of anatomical sex differences and . . . does not allow for people to deviate from that binary without suffering grave consequences’ (Davisson, personal communication).
Our book is divided into four sections and we attempt to address both the cultural norms that continue to oppress women and the individual experiences, both good and bad, that are too often lived in secret. The first two sections of the book examine the rape culture and its long and painful history as well as constructive efforts to combat is effects on college campuses in particular.
The first section…explores the sexual subjugation of women as it exists in a rape culture, rape being a universal in all societies. It then examines as a case in point, that is, the current “war against women” in the United States in which the gains of the last 30 years are being challenged in backlash legislation against affirmative action, abortion rights and gay marriage. The section then addresses the so-called sexual freedom as it continues to exploit women and finally the LGBTQ movement as it has ironically drawn from the feminist movement and yet rejected the feminine as inferior. The question, hovering over all of these topics, asks what our discipline has to contribute to an understanding of the tenacity of a rape culture or the continuing view of women as inferior.
In the second section we focus on women’s experience of sexual trauma, as evidenced first in the problem of date rape and the intra-psychic development of women that predisposes them to become its victims. We address the often overlooked effects of secondary sexual trauma and the lived experiences of the women who are its previously silent witnesses. Finally, we consider the problem of campus sexual assault and the introduction of a bystander as a third party, similar in function to a psychoanalytic third, as a model of prevention.
We do not believe that women are fragile. Far from it! But their physiology and the current model of male domination has left them vulnerable to trauma. They and we must “take back the night” and the day!
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.