Sex and patriarchy have been in the news a lot lately. As usual it involves men behaving badly. A lot of sacred cows are being slaughtered in the public eye. Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, Bill Oreilly, Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, President George H.W. Bush, Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, Donald Trump, Anthony Weiner, Charlie Sheen—the list just keeps growing. Sex is an equal opportunity myth buster when it comes to men getting into trouble. While women can certainly get into deep water with sex, the tendency for men to crash their lives over it vastly outweighs the female numbers. The multi-billion dollar porn industry would likely go bust if men stopped clicking on their favorite sites.
Sex can serve as a panacea for many things that ail men. It can cover up a feeling of being “not enough”, it can temporarily soothe anxiety, depression, loneliness, boredom, and fear (only to exacerbate them when the sex high wears off), it can be used to express anger (S&M, revenge sex, etc.), it can be used to self-validate, get high, feel powerful, be in control, or feel better than other men (yes, locker room bragging on the number of sex conquests is a real thing). The ways men use sex destructively is seemingly endless.
From an Imago theory standpoint the roots of sexual abuse can be understood by seeing how deep patriarchy runs. When one sex is dominated by another from the beginning of our country’s history, sexual abuse is an inherent outcome. Patriarchy is the systematic oppression of the female population by the male population in the areas of political leadership, social privilege, moral authority, and control of property. The psychology of patriarchy turns women into lesser human beings, even objects. The link from power to objectification is not a hard one to connect. Women are thought of as objects to serve men. They should go along with what the men believe, clean, cook, bare children, be ready for sex, tolerate lewd sexual comments, harassment, and settle for less across the game board of life.
Imago counseling helps to break out of patriarchal psychology and establish an egalitarian relationship wherein both people are seen, heard, mirrored, and understood as equals. When women are seen as equals the psychology of both changes. He no longer sees her as someone who can be used for his animal instincts (remember where our president said you can “grab” women?), and she no longer goes along with it. When a female staffer complained to a female producer about Charlie Rose’s sexual harassment, the producer shrugged and said, “That’s just Charlie being Charlie.”
When the idolized Hugh Hefner died and commentators across the airwaves mourned his loss, I heard a number of women proclaim, “I’m not interested in shedding tears for someone who was celebrated for making money by getting the culture to objectify women.” Gloria Steinem, the iconic warrior against patriarchy and the founder of Ms. Magazine, covertly got a job as a Playboy bunny to experience first hand the workplace of institutionalized sexual patriarchy. She says it was degrading on every level: financially, the costume she was required to buy and wear, emotionally, and physically.
In some cultures patriarchy is so lethal it is legal to beat, burn, and even kill their wives. We in the U.S. tend to rightly look on these practices in horror and blindly deny how rampant the lesser versions of the same problem are part of our collective national unconscious.
Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz states that every woman in patriarchy has a little demon on her shoulder that whispers, “You’ll never amount to anything. You know why, because you’re a woman.” Von Franz says that women can’t get rid of this demon; they have to educate it through therapy, direct communication, self-value, and coming together in groups.
Some of the men named in the current rash of sexual harassment cases are admitting and taking responsibilities for their bad behaviors (Al Franken), and some are running for the hills. The wounds are being exposed and the culture of patriarchal sexual objectification is in a free fall. This is often the necessary “dark night of the soul” that can lead to a collective transformation.
When sex is mutual, intimate, and an expression of connection it is regarded as psychologically healthy. When it is used as a form of objectification, is forced, is part of medicating emotional pain or trying to establish power, it is dangerously neurotic.
Further, men that participate in patriarchal sex are kept in a developmentally delayed, “boy psychology.” Women who go along are kept in a developmentally delayed “girl psychology.” Maybe it is really time. Maybe we are finally going to grow up and become adults around this thing called sex.
Click below to see Gloria Steinem talk about her experience as a "bunny" inside the walls of Playboy: