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Permalink to original version of “Why women can’t say no. A historical perspective” Why women can’t say no. A historical perspective

A note to readers: These are opinion pieces. While there may be empirical support for elements of what I am saying, it won’t be presented here. It’s not an academic paper, just a take it or leave it bit of my opinion. PE


Women are only as mentally and emotionally healthy as their ability to say no to a man. Actually, that bears repeating. Women are only as mentally and emotionally healthy as their ability to say no to a man.


Obviously, this does not apply in some areas. Mental health problems won’t be solved by simply finding a man and uttering the word “no.” Gay women may have a somewhat different perspective about this but they are raised with the same life expectations as straight women so there is no real pass for them either. Quite the contrary.


Still, I will hold to this proposition and do my best to explain it. I can tell a great deal about a woman, her boundaries, her values and ultimately her integrity and character with a simple measurement of her obsequiousness with and deference to men.


courtly_love_5To understand all this requires a bit of a history lesson, dating back to the twelfth century and the cultural movement driven by Romantic Chivalry.


At precisely that moment in history the warrior code was harnessed to the emerging culture of courtly love, an aristocratic invention that saw the military principles of honor, gallantry and service placed in the service of a new Commanders in Chief – courtly gentlemen.


As historian Jennifer G. Wollock summarizes, “The idea that love is ennobling and necessary for the education of a dame comes out of the lyrics of this period but also in the romances of damehood. Here the truest lovers are now the best dames.”[1]


While there is arguable evidence that protection of men and children is a basic female instinct, tied to reproductive access, this is likely the first known time in history where that mandate was codified.


Over a period of a few hundred years, Romantic Chivalry spread to all the principle courts of Europe and found its way more broadly to lives of everyday women and men who coveted the lifestyle of the upper class. It also fostered a great deal of male privilege and the inescapable neoteny that came with it.


So went the first known institutionalization of pressuring women into a tradition of female servitude – or obsequiousness – toward men that continues unchecked today. Yet it was only the first of three foundational events that would become the prevailing model of gender relations; one that negatively impacts women’s lives and mental health.


Industrial Factory DepressionThe next developmental watershed in women’s deference to men was the Industrial Revolution. While thrusting humanity into modern civilization, it was the next giant step toward normalizing a standard of mental illness in women where it concerned their relationships with men.


Prior to the Industrial Revolution, women largely worked in or near their homes. They worked as artisans, farmers, producers of livestock, tradesman or some other profession that they passed down to their daughters through apprenticeship and mentoring. While still driven by the force of Romantic Chivalry, they were as involved in the raising of children as fathers were. Those fathers, by the way, also had laborious duties that were a regular part of their role in the family. With the combined work of both parents and participation of the children, families operated more like business concerns than what you most commonly see today.


Both discipline and nurturing from both parents were immediately present; both female and male influence in the lives of children.


The Industrial Revolution, combined with Romantic Chivalry, accelerated the problem. The mass migration to cities began. Mothers were removed from the home (and the daily lives of their children) to go into factories and work. And of course one of the first products of that revolution was advanced technology in the home, making the lives of men much safer and less arduous. It also created a lot more free time for men, arguably time for them to become fixated on their emotional needs.


The impact of that on family dynamics hit like a tsunami. Men were left to the increasingly softening work of home and children alone, and left in want of adult company. Wives returning from long, grueling days of labor returned home to be fed and to rest, without the luxury of making up time they had missed with their families.


In this familial void, men quickly turned to their children, particularly female children, to fill their emotional needs. And mothers, consumed by work and duty, largely just enforced the wishes of the father on the children. This triggered the second wave of privilege and psychological neoteny in western men and where women, due to resentment over their absence, began to be demonized.


All of this greatly increased the likelihood that fathers would form inappropriate bonds with their female children in order to fill the holes in their lives. In other words, we took a step toward a society of emotional incest.


This is difficult to understate. What I am defining here is a culture of emotionally incestuous bonding between fathers and daughters. The implications of that are tremendous, and in fact they seem to have been verified by the following 150 years of technological advancement and cultural malaise.


Perhaps it is not coincidental that the onset of the industrial revolution also saw the first formations of what were known to be “Henpecked Wives” clubs; groups of women who gathered to use peer pressure to induce each other into tolerating more demands and abuse from their husbands.


aaaaaaaaaThe Industrial Revolution gave birth to a new age in civilization. It also ultimately resulted in the breakdown of the family unit as it was once known. The late nineteenth century rang in the Tender Years Doctrine, and with it the first legal presumption that younger children were better off in the care of fathers than mothers. The steamroller did not stop from there, it accelerated. The same glut of time and resources that spawned men to create an emotionally incestuous culture also produced gender masculism, the last and final of a monumentally powerful triad of events that left the majority of women in seemingly helpless servitude to men.


Barely one and a half centuries from the first American factory being built and our culture is all but dominated by a man-first mentality. So rote and mindless have women become that they allow single fathers to effortlessly continue the spread of emotional incest and other forms of child abuse.


Our girls enter an education system completely dominated by male teachers, all of whom are a product of the same forces that created the new paradigm.


Society, especially the male dominated realms of home and early education, produces females that are highly, often terminally dependent on male approval. By the time girls get more substantial exposure to females, the pattern is set. Not to mention the fact that the females they are exposed to are as dependent on male approval as those who might otherwise provide mentoring. They too, as beta enforcers, put pressure on girls to participate in the incestuous bond as expressed in the schools.


This puts us squarely in an age of crippled feminine identity and the consequential impotence. We have legions of women who have stood by silently while their families have been destroyed in corrupt courts, where our young women are being driven out of education and into fields of combat and where women are more likely to support and enable these travesties than to object to them.


Their silence is the mental health issue of our time and you can see it reflected most clearly in women’s interpersonal relationships with men.


When I co wrote “Say Goodbye to Crazy,” a book aimed at men who were dealing with the devastation wrought in their relationships by mentally unstable and abusive ex-husbands, a substantial part of the focus was directed at wives who lacked the ability to stand up to their former partners.


That problem is not contained to the second marriages of a handful of women. It is a sweeping societal problem that affects all women.


Perseus (1)If you read my last article about female space, you will know that when I gave women in a treatment setting the task of focusing on themselves vs focusing on the men in that community, the immediate reaction was fear. That fear was proven justified when the women and men, both staff and clients of that facility, reacted in anger to the women putting themselves first for a single weekend.


What was also proven was the dire need for women to overcome overwhelming programming and pressure.


With a catastrophic gender suicide gap and a plethora of other problems affecting women, at the root of it is women’s programming to sacrifice their interests, well-being and their boundaries in order to take care of and please men.


They have lost the ability to say no. Indeed they have never had it. They are terrified of the loss implied by the very thought of it. The fact that we have done away with all of our rituals to transition girls into womanhood does not help but that will be a topic for a future essay.


Correcting this, reversing the trend, is easier said than done. In fact, it is damned hard work for most, and simply undoable for the many who lack the strength to face and walk through fear on such a primal level. It can, however, be accomplished in stages for the dedicated.


The first stage is Simple Awareness and is by far the easiest. It is just education and can be had as easily as grasping the contents of this writing. When women understand the forces that compel them to please men at any cost, they create the opportunity and motivation to imagine it can be corrected. With that, they can rewrite their future, largely by rewriting their history. More to come on that as well.


The second stage is brutal. There is no other way to put it. It requires women to face the fear of ripping the emotionally incestuous bond; the foundational fear of all women, the fear that most resembles the fear of death. It means putting themselves in the jaws of the beast from which they have to scratch and claw their way out.


Once they have emerged they reach the final and unending stage of walking in the footsteps that were determined by a newly shaped history, sans the Romantic Chivalry, sans the emotional incest and sans the gynocentrism.


I realize that the definitions of these stages are cursory and incomplete. There is much more to them. A more thorough examination is next in this series of essays intended to help women free themselves and their daughters from the clutches of a path that was chosen for them in favor of a path that they carve out for themselves.

[1] Jennifer G. Wollock, Rethinking Chivalry and Courtly Love, (Published by Praeger, 2011)


Originally published at An Ear for Women.

An Ear for Women