acceptance

I’m often reading several books at once, and my current rotation includes Vagina: A New Biography, by Naomi Wolf, in which the author asserts that “understanding the brain-vagina connection…is not merely a key to more transformative sex for women – it is a key to female self-actualization, and thus to female power, creativity and confidence.” I’m not very far into it yet, but this passage from the book’s introduction particularly resonated with me:

As part of this investigation, I also wanted to hear what men had to say about their feelings about the vagina–apart from the two-dimensional story that our porn-saturated culture tells us. As I began to talk about what my subject was, scores of men of my acquaintance responded to my questions about their relationship to the vagina with hearteningly endearing answers. Often, though not always, a look of something like adoration or even love would appear in the expressions of men who were willing to describe their feelings about this part of a woman. The feelings these men described, though neither the men nor their words were random samples, were far from demeaning or pornographic.

To my surprise, many heterosexual men who were willing to talk to me about how they really felt expressed a kind of holistic (that is, not merely sexual) gratitude for the vagina, and they did not stress aspects of pleasure in isolation from what they often characterized as a sense of relief and joy at being so completely “accepted” and so fully “welcomed.” Indeed, acceptance and welcome were two words that came up again and again in heterosexual men’s discussions with me. Their responses made me think that women underestimate the importance to men of women’s acceptance of them.

I can find it amazing – and not a little unsettling – that women can be so unaware of a dynamic so central to the attraction they hold for men. But they are, by and large, and I think this is one reason women so often underestimate their importance and value in general. Men are acutely aware of various aspects of women’s power and significance of which women themselves often have very little idea. Men feel these things – both intuitively and in response to women’s actions, to the presence of women, to the sight of them, and at the thought of them – but our cultural conditioning discourages men from talking about it (or even thinking about it too much), and women from understanding it of their own accord. The conditioning is different for each sex, and yet the conditioning of each complements that of the other in such a way as to discourage the realization and acceptance, on the part of both sexes, of the innate power of women.

And it’s this feeling on the part of men, this undeniable (and, to those who accept and embrace it, ecstatic) awareness of women’s power over us – the power to accept us and to withhold acceptance; to love us and to withhold love; to forgive us and to withhold forgiveness; to have mercy on us, to grant us absolution – salvation – or to damn us to lonely, loveless solitude – that I think will ultimately bring about understanding, and a proper reverence, among men and women alike, for the true worth of women.

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