Orpheus, shame and that ‘other’ brain.
If I were Eurydice, I’d be mad as hell. I’m listening, obsessively, to Mélodie from Gluck’s Orfeo et Eurydice. (I love James Rhodes’ version from his album Five. Also this.) Orpheus is in Elysium, surrounded by beauty but longing to reach his wife. You know the story — it’s sad, tragic, heart-rending. Orpheus is granted the chance to bring Eurydice out of the underworld, and they almost make it, but he looks back, too early, and because she’s not fully out, she is lost. And of course, he’s heartbroken.
But as I listen again, I imagine things from her point of view. If only she knew how to leave the underworld on her own. If only she didn’t have to depend on him to bring her out. How would she feel if she knew it was completely up to her to make her own escape. That Orpheus was not in any way responsible and was not even able to watch her.
Then this passage becomes something different. The sadness in it I feel for Eurydice as she faces the truth. That she has become buried, that she doesn’t fully exist…until she finds her own strength to make it out on her own. Can she? And I feel her anger, if she realises that she’s trapped there.
For me, Orpheus is a bit like the patriarchy. He thinks he means well, but he fucks it up. End result: woman still buried. And here’s what it has to do with sex. Because it’s all to do with sex in the end.
In the same way as the female clitoris has only recently been discovered to be enormous, beautiful, sensitive and, largely hidden, with only the tiny end actually visible, I think that for the most part, we’ve been living in a world where female ‘success’ is defined by a tiny, superficial, external and misrepresented view. And what lies beneath has been largely ignored or mistreated. It goes right back to Darwin and Hobbes: repressed views of females as having a naturally low libido. Bullshit.
And so we carry a kind of shame in our wombs, in our vaginas, feeling that, because nobody’s told us otherwise, the brain that lies in there is somehow reprehensible, not to be trusted, dirty, a whore.
We paper over that part of our intuition and our desire and our longing, and we try to behave as the patriarchy would have us. We try to be logical, because when we’re emotional we’re condemned. Perhaps rightly so; emotion which is only allowed to come from the head and heart, and not from the pussy is unbalanced. It’s flaky. It’s annoying. But it goes without saying that men are allowed to think with their dicks. It’s a cliché.
I’ve always felt like not a proper woman. Perhaps because I was fairly androgynous as a teenager. I didn’t menstruate until very late. I had a reputation for being frigid with early boyfriends because, at 15 or 16, I wouldn’t fuck them. And let me be really honest: I recoiled from their touch often. I did feel echoes of how my father would come in drunk from the pub and wake us up to tickle us before I was 5 and he left. No, no abuse. No ‘touching’, just tickling arms and tummies, but it was my mother’s anger and helplessness, and my own intuitive understanding that I was a possession to be woken up and toyed with that seem to have stayed with me. Where was the intimacy after that? I never saw my mother sit with, trust, touch or embrace a man in that way. I had the animal tussles that every sister has with two brothers, and I fought like a cat. There’s a rage, an outrage, an inrage there that I’ve always suppressed.
I married and when I finally got pregnant, after not seeming to get that one right for many years either (I was sure that my body would just laugh at me and taunt me with the inability to be a mother), my fears were confirmed. Both my girls were breech. Both were elective caesareans, at 38 weeks, before any whiff of a contraction. Look! Look how much of a fake you are! We can’t even trust your cervix, your vagina, your uterus to do this properly! Your body has fucked things up, made your babies sit upside down for your own protection, so we’ll have to surgically remove them.
Which is why I enjoyed breastfeeding so much. Finally, something I could do. Not to mention the hormonal high of oxytocin. Of course, it’s the orgasm hormone. Another taboo.
I worked something out. That there has been, almost without exception, an elephant in the room in my personal and professional life for many, many years. I’ve worked in marketing for ages, and I work largely with women, whom I help ‘inside-out’ themselves in order to get them comfortable creating a brand which is true to their values.
Right. But to do this without paying homage to our sexual selves? It’s like floating a block of ice on the North Sea and expecting it to be an iceberg. What lies beneath is more important than the little tip on the surface. There’s no accident that this simile mirrors the very structure of the clitoris. It’s not just a tip on the surface: it wraps itself inextricably around the vagina, reaching tendrils into the hips and legs, shape-shifting when aroused. What if we built brands, made decisions, wrote letters and generally made our way in the world without ignoring this vast and complex ‘other brain’?
Then we’d be unstoppable, that’s what.
But we have to relax into it. We have to strip away the layers of internal and external censor. There can’t be shame.
I don’t think I have anything to be ashamed of, but I can see that after a lifetime of feeling like a facsimile of a real woman, I have some healing to do. Do you?