The Madonna, the whore & you

Mandate - - Chat - By Raoul Lobo

Sig­mund Freud said a lot of things, many of them creepy and disturbing, many of them oddly in­sight­ful. The fa­ther of psy­cho­anal­y­sis was the first to iden­tify a the­ory I find par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing called the Madon­naWhore com­plex, where the con­cerned man sees women as ei­ther Madonna (the vir­gin mother Mary) or a whore. I thought the the­ory seemed es­pe­cially suited to un­der­stand to­day’s In­dian man, caught be­tween his mod­ern ideas of sex­ual free­dom and a tra­di­tional up­bring­ing, and the dif­fer­ent ways he thinks of fe­male sex­u­al­ity, while in­te­grat­ing two con­trast­ing value sys­tems.

To un­der­stand the phe­nom­e­non, I spoke to Jimmy Mody, a psy­cho­an­a­lytic ther­a­pist. He ex­plained, “Freud dis­cov­ered some men fac­ing an in­abil­ity to main­tain sex­ual arousal in a loving re­la­tion­ship. He ob­served: ‘Where such men love they have no de­sire and where they de­sire they can­not love.’ Love, in fact, had been un­con­sciously split into two sep­a­rate el­e­ments, that of ‘ide­al­i­sa­tion’, and that of ‘de­sire’. The ideal qual­i­ties of pu­rity, vir­gin­ity, beauty, di­vin­ity and moth­er­hood, needed to be kept away and pro­tected from de­file­ment by one’s sex­ual de­sires.”

This com­plex rings a bell when you think of so many as­pects of our daily lives. One of the most common ways of swear­ing at some­one is to say some­thing sex­ual and thus, taint a fe­male close to them, for e.g. Teri ma ki ****. Un­til lately, Bol­ly­wood also played off this com­plex, with the hero­ine em­body­ing all things pure (in a typ­i­cally self- sac­ri­fi­cial sati sav­itri way), while it is the vamp who is ooz­ing sex­u­al­ity and out to cor­rupt the hero. Back in the day, the only way au­di­ences could be tit­il­lated by a good girl was if she was be­ing raped. For ex­am­ple, in In­saaf ka Tarazu (1980), when we watch Zeenat Aman bru­tally raped, and we see her bra straps dra­mat­i­cally re­moved, we are led to feel both aroused and dis­gusted. We hate the rapist, but we de­rive plea­sure from watch­ing his act while be­ing able to dis­tance our­selves from it and trans­fer all our guilt and shame about our sex­u­al­ity on to him.

The block­buster fam­ily dra­mas of the ’90s, like Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! and Dil­wale Dul­ha­nia Le Jayenge very strictly fol­lowed the archetype of the vir­ginal Madonna: self- sac­ri­fic­ing, def­er­en­tial and pure. Cock­tail, a re­cent film that did well at the box- of­fice, but was crit­cised for be­ing re­gres­sive, re­lied heav­ily on the Madonna-Whore dy­namic to make it work. In the film, the male pro­tag­o­nist ditches his fe­male coun­ter­part for hav­ing the same val­ues and habits as him (whore), and leaves her for her pi­ous, tra­di­tional and rather drab best friend (Madonna).

Films, how­ever, seem to be merely re­flect­ing long held ideas about pu­rity. Talk­ing about the ways our cul­ture places great im­por­tance on fe­male vir­gin­ity, Jimmy said, “In many ortho­dox Hindu wed­dings, giv­ing away the daugh­ter to the hus­band’s fam­ily is seen as the most pre­cious gift given by Vishnu. And, the

Do we, as a cul­ture still feel the need to cat­e­gorise women as ei­ther divine vir­gins or de­based whores, with noth­ing in be­tween? And, how does this af­fect the mod­ern In­dian man and the women in his life?

wife’s fam­ily sees the hus­band as Vishnu. This act of kanyadan en­sures pres­tige to both fam­i­lies and makes the bride­groom place great value on the po­si­tion of his vir­ginal bride. Another thing is, ev­ery year on the eighth and ninth day of Navra­tri, Kanya Puja is per­formed. Vir­gin girls, till the age of pu­berty and younger, are wor­shipped. In fact, in ev­ery ma­jor re­li­gion, the vir­gin is ei­ther wor­shipped or given a spe­cial po­si­tion.”

Au­thor Shob­haa De gave the is­sue a broader so­ci­o­log­i­cal per­spec­tive. “This is not unique to In­dia or re­stricted to In­dian so­ci­ety alone. Most of the world views women through a sim­i­lar prism. It has to do with pa­tri­ar­chal so­cial struc­tures that equate women with prop­erty. Fe­male sex­u­al­ity poses a great threat to so­ci­eties world­wide. A fe­male who takes own­er­ship of her body is a fe­male who re­fuses to be ‘con­trolled’—what could be worse for those who would pre­fer to keep a woman en­slaved—phys­i­cally, emotionally and psy­cho­log­i­cally?”

Aside from the po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness of it all, such think­ing can lead to many dif­fi­cul­ties for men. Jimmy ex­plained that a man suf­fer­ing from such a con­di­tion will never be com­pletely ful­filled by any re­la­tion­ship with a woman, see­ing her as in­ca­pable of sat­is­fy­ing ei­ther one of his dom­i­nant needs. His lack of in­te­gra­tion could af­fect all of his at­tempts to re­late with women. He may even de­velop phys­i­cally abu­sive and sadis­tic ten­den­cies to­wards women, and power could be­come one of the driv­ing forces be­hind his sex­ual fan­tasies.

Tak­ing about how a woman in such a re­la­tion­ship would be af­fected, Jimmy said, “The ideal wife in such a mar­riage would grow ex­tremely frus­trated and angry at be­ing de­nied a sex­ual life with her part­ner. Whereas, the sex­u­ally avail­able woman would feel a great need to get a com­mit­ment from him, and to feel loved by him. You need only to search the net for blog sites that show what some of th­ese women are say­ing, ‘Dump him!’, ‘En­joy him!’, ‘Feel free to go out­side for a mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ship.’ They feel stuck, trapped and unloved. Even the Madonna may be­come a whore.”

As times change, men may find them­selves com­pelled to adapt and de­velop a more in­te­grated view of women. Talk­ing about how one can over­come this, Jimmy said, “Heal­ing one­self in this sit­u­a­tion re­quires a lot of ini­tial self-aware­ness. But, this may not be enough. He may then have to head to a ther­a­pist who is com­pe­tent in deal­ing with this com­plex (not all are). Look for some­one who has ex­pe­ri­ence in do­ing ‘in­ner child work’. A psy­cho­an­a­lyst may help, but would take a lot of time.”

Shob­haa got to the crux in one sim­ple line when she said, “A man who is com­fort­able with his own sex­u­al­ity would au­to­mat­i­cally ex­tend the same stan­dards to a woman.” How­ever, the re­verse is also true, and our sham­ing of sex­u­al­ity is not ex­clu­sive to women. Men live in fear of their sex­ual fan­tasies be­ing known and be­ing ex­posed as per­verts. Re­cent in­ci­dents of rape have also gone a long way in giv­ing sex a bad name.

Jimmy ex­plained that men are of­ten trou­bled by thoughts like, ‘Women are con­stantly telling us men that men only think of sex all the time. I ex­pe­ri­ence pangs of guilt when they say this. I want to show them that I am dif­fer­ent...even though I do think of sex a lot!’

This shame and re­pres­sion may even re­sult in in­tense anger to­wards women. For ex­am­ple, a man may re­spond to his guilt by say­ing, ‘As if women don’t also think of sex and en­joy mas­tur­ba­tory fan­tasies! They just like to act as if they are holier than thou!’

The more we seek to con­tain and re­press our sex­u­al­ity, the more con­fus­ing and per­verted it seems to be­come. The more we re­sist, the more em­broiled we be­come, as if trapped in quick­sand. Per­haps, the best course of ac­tion is one of non judg­ment. Th­ese days, we hear a lot about re­spect­ing and ac­cept­ing women, but what we of­ten don’t hear is that the first step to do­ing that is ac­cept­ing our­selves.

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