Ever since I finished yesterday’s post, which is sort of a smorgasbord of weird medical news, I’ve been mulling over how those three news items are related on a deeper level than their oddness and/or inexplicability.
I do think they’ve got a real common denoninator. The American culture, birthplace of the “pro-life” movement, is indeed anti-life in a host of ways – though not for the reasons that the anti-abortion leadership adduces. I’m not referring to their overt hypocrisy – their support of war and the death penalty, just for example – though of course that’s part of it, and one that plenty of “pro-life” Catholics would condemn just as much as I do.
No, I think what’s at stake here in the anti-life position is bigger yet: a kind of gendered denial of our very embodied humanity, which grossly distorts our views on sexuality, pleasure, and generativity. While I’m sure this has its roots in the medieval Christian church’s condemnation of sexual pleasure, by now it has assumed distinctly modern forms. It’s a stubborn insistence – even in the midst of the richest, most consumption-oriented society the world has ever known – on hating and mortifying our own flesh. This hating-on is bigger than sex and sexuality; bigger than gender and genitals; but it routinely zeroes in on our human capacity for engendering pleasure and indeed life itself.
And so (to hark back to yesterday’s themes) too many women remain impervious to reassurances (from partners, the women’s health movement, or even doctors) that our bodies are okay just as they are. Powdering one’s otherwise healthy, moist ladyparts thus remains an imperative for some women even though it can make them sick. Even though it can kill them.
And so some men prize a rock-hard erection not primarily for the pleasure it can give two partners but because it stands as evidence of manliness, power, autonomy. Not because it lets them merge with another person but because it’s a badge of virile individualism and self-sufficiency. Not because it affirms life and joy but (as Susan Bordo suggested a decade ago in her article “Pills and Power Tools”) because it’s an inert symbol of a drill or missile. Drill baby drill, indeed.
And so the vulnerable bodies of babies aren’t worth the public dollars it would take to protect them, even though we creatively finance the Iraqi occupation and air raids on Afghan weddings.
Eros and thanatos may be forever at odds. At the moment, though, I’d say thanatos is winning.