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.”


About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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2 Responses to “Submission”

  1. Judy says:

    I find the anthropologist in me arising in response to the question of what it is to be a woman. It varies so much depending upon the culture one is in. And the time in which one lives, of course.
    The subject of submission brought forth an experience I had in New Guinea in around 1968…Continued in “Make It Fun”.

  2. Kate says:

    For me to fail as a woman means a few things–to degrade myself by submitting (true submission) to a man…

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