10 July, 2011

maintaining sexual equilibrium (part 1)

The book I'm reading explores male-female dynamics in excruciating depth. Two intellectuals fall in love in Africa, and the storyline details the trajectory of their relationship.

Interestingly enough, the narrator of the book is female, while the author himself is male. This is one of the things that drew me to the book; I wanted to see how the author handled the feminine perspective. I was, and am, ready to critique.

For the most part, the author has done quite well drawing his heroine as an intelligent and daring character - but all her intelligence has been directed in the acquisition of a man. All of her daring has been directed to this aim, as well (solo hike across the Kalahari, anyone?).

I can't help but despise some of the truths apparent; but at the same time, this incredibly detailed story borders on the cliche when you examine the skeleton of the text. Are women so wily, so lacking of their own direction, that they must embark on an elaborate scheme to meet their mate? And are the dynamics between men and women still so remarkably defined as below?

"I had to realize that the male idea of successful love is to get a woman into a state of secure dependency which the male can renew by a touch or pat or gesture now and then while he reserves his major attention for his work in the world or the contemplation of the various forms of surrogate combat men find so transfixing. I had to realize that female-style love is servile and petitionary and moves in the direction of greater and greater displays of servility whose object is to elicit from the male partner a surplus ... of face-to-face attention. So on the distaff side the object is to reduce the quantity of servile display needed to keep the pacified state between the mates in being. Equilibrium or perfect mating will come when the male is convinced he is giving less than he feels is really required to maintain dependency and the woman feels she is getting more from him than her servile displays should merit."
-Mating, Norman Rush

I find this passage problematic, but only because it's so unflattering. When I look at my own relationship, or look at other peoples' relationships, this sort of pattern is truly apparent. In essence, each party will feel satisfied when they're getting more than they're putting in. It makes sense to me. I don't think every relationship dynamic can be reduced as such, but it's not a nonexistent pattern. 

I asked my fiance's opinion; he found it somewhat ridiculous. Then I pointed out certain patterns in our relationship and, while he didn't concede defeat, he did stop arguing. He summed it up with a simple: "You read too much."

I'm only two-thirds of the way through the book, so I have yet to see how Rush's denouement ultimately classifies women in their role with men. So far, though, there has been plenty of food for thought. The book is extremely well-written and, if anything, is worth reading to explore what one man thinks a woman might do for love. 

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