“Sex Appeal”

Reneé, with Nora, once upon a time in Princeton

Reneé, with Nora, once upon a time in Princeton

“Sex Appeal”

Is it a good thing? A subversive thing? A morally neutral thing?

Some years ago, I felt the need of fresh light on my situation. Since modern life’s more approved diagnostic tools and remedies seemed to me shopworn and of no earthly use, I consulted an astrologer instead. The man I called had been the subject of a glowing write-up in The New Yorker as the bearer of higher degrees in several fields, including philosophy. It was only after I telephoned to make the appointment that I read to the end of the article, where it mentioned his snake tattoos all the way up both arms.

It’s likely that the astrologer was more helpful to me than most therapists would have been at that juncture, but he did say one thing that upset me very much. My psyche included a certain quantum of sex appeal. (The moon in Scorpio? Whatever.)

I was horrified. To me this connoted unfairness, manipulativeness, subterfuge.

The kindly astrologer pointed out that one needed sex energy to accomplish things. Gandhi had had it. I forget who else had it. (Oh yes. Mata Hari.) Anyway, as Hegel would put it:

“Nothing great can be accomplished without passion.”

Or, as the rabbis more warily seemed to agree:

“Without the Evil Impulse, nothing can get done.”

In fact, the primary erotic influences in my childhood and girlhood were the three European women to whom I pay homage in the opening post of “Dear Abbie.” Although they would never have put it that way, or traded on it in any vulgar or surreptitious fashion, all three were loaded with sex appeal. To imagine any of them divested of this trait would be like picturing a marathon runner with bound feet, a painter without her brushes or a cowboy without his horse.

To put it another way: in our world — which is a world of desire — these three women were not ashamed of whatever their characters, preferences and background conditions had shaped them to desire. Nor, correspondingly, were they ashamed to be desired. It must have seemed to them rather that turnabout is fair play. To block, or try to deny, the charm they held for others would be to condemn the very reciprocities of life.

How you dealt with it in particular cases was another matter … and that took infinite wisdom.

On the autobus in Paris one day, my mother was an unaccompanied passenger. Across the aisle, a middle-aged Frenchman was seated. He looked directly at her and said,

 “Nice legs!”

She responded in French,

“After thirty years of marriage, that’s very pleasant to hear.”

In all earnestness, the Frenchman replied,

“O Madame – I’m an expert.”

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, soon to appear in a revised second edition. 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, 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. Her next book project will be Conversations with My Father. 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.
This entry was posted in Culture, Desire, Erotic Life, Femininity, Feminism, Philosophy, relationships, Sexuality, Social Conventions, Spirituality, The Problematic of Woman and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to “Sex Appeal”

  1. Pingback: “My Inner French Girl” | "Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column"

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