James Baldwin wrote a novel, Giovanni’s Room, ostensibly about the coming out of a gay man and how he disappoints the woman in his life. Baldwin said the book was really about “the crucial lack of sexual authority in the American male.” The character cannot line up his erotic nature and harness it to his identity and the tasks of his life. To encounter that implosion is profoundly frustrating for a woman. If, on the other hand, she finds herself wanting and able–in conscience and with trust–to support his sexual authority, this is a blessing, for a man.
At the same time, her acceptance of him is really an activity, not a passivity. So it has to come from a woman who lives from her own center of authority.
It’s walking a tightrope, or anyway a delicate business. If it comes down to a power struggle, men have advantages (aggression, freedom from childbirth and menstruation, physical strength) that allow them to seize the upper hand without appeal, if the culture permits. One saw this happen overnight in Iran, and there submission entailed a massive surrender of feminine authority. With the coercive demand to “cover,” with FGM (female genital mutilation), the feminine itself is erased. The woman enters The Land of Invisible Women (to quote the title of a book by Qanta A. Ahmed, a female doctor reporting from Saudi Arabia).
To submit to a male bully is useless and hopeless. But bullying comes in many guises and genders. For example, about party-line-femininst-ideologues, I have said to my students, “If I want to get pushed around, I can find a man to do it.”