Perceptions, Reality, and the Ever-Present Love
By John Nelson
The truth of the matter is that I am not exactly sure what to say on the selected
readings for this section of the class. The readings helped provide insight into the ancient
religious practices of Greece and Rome (more-so Rome) and provided examples of
female involvement in Religion. These readings also cemented the reality of two
different spheres for men and women in these societies. Indeed, on page 292 we find a
description of the “desecration” of the rights of Bona Dea by one Publius Clodius.
Clodius did nothing more than enter the home of women who were putting on the rites of
this goddess. He did not deface any sacred objects nor interfere with a certain ritual but
he desecrated the rites simply by being there when no male was supposed to be there.
This type of separation of the sexes reinforces the separation we already saw in
the first readings. In the first readings we find, for the most part, men discussing the
topic of women’s health – in particular their sexual health. These men are locked out of
the female circles when trying to research this topic and therefore have formed many
misconceptions on how the female body works. A few of these men even acknowledged
the fact that other women, especially midwives, kept information on the subject from
In these readings the two spheres in which men and women walk in are shown in
a religious context. We are given examples of female specific religious rites (such as the
rites of Bona Dea) and female specific roles within worship (such as the Vestal Virgins).
However, with the exception of Eunuchs and insults we find no indication of the two
spheres, male and female, working together in a sanctioned manner on the matter of
religious worship and rituals. A definite distinction between what males and females
must do in order to worship gods and goddesses is given.
This separation of males and females into different spheres has had an impact on
our culture up to this very era as well. In class we can see this separation play out during
the discussions in which, in general, the class divides into a male and female camp. The
questions themselves are directed towards the male and female perspective – if a male
response dominates the teacher tends to ask for a female perspective. (No, I am not
saying this is wrong, by the way. I am just pointing out the divisions.) While the public
distinctions between the male and female spheres are less defined in modern society the
remnants of these distinctions still hold sway.
One example of these beliefs that the female and male experiences are inalienably
different was one discussion concerning relationships that become abusive. The
discussion quickly turned towards the path of male and female perspectives. People
quickly assumed an abusive relationship – be it physical, mental or emotional – is a
different experience for each sex. In reality when people from either sex described
friends (or themselves) that had experienced or are experiencing an abusive relationship
the ways in which they described these tended to sound similar for either sex.
Another such area in which the ancient divisions in male and female spheres
showed up during class discussion was the ever popular discussion on the differences
between love for males and females. Females automatically fell into the stereotypical
male trap and began quoting each and every stereotype out there for both sexes. It was
eerily like they had been drilled at reciting these stereotypes. Women are more
emotional. Men are more visual. Men do not love as emotionally. Women do not love
as physically. All sweeping generalizations which ignore the main reason why these
stereotypes occur – perception.
Perception remains different for the different sexes. Many different factors play
into perception being different between the sexes including such all time favorites as
societal upbringing (socialization) to differences in hormone production. However, are
men and women really all that different? An ex-girlfriend of mine who had the tendency
to ask very poignant questions once asked me this: Are men and women really inherently
different? Besides the body, that is. Both of us know that a male and female body is
different, but if you stuck a male soul in a female body would it behave any different, and
vice versa? Are male and female souls inherently different? Would they think really all
that different? Or are these perceived differences simply a product of the vessel in which
their soul’s reside?
It is a question to ask, especially when faced with the question of whether male or
females truly do love in a different manner. Being the excellent debater she is my ex-
girlfriend convinced me of her belief: When it comes down to it male and females are
truly the same but the way they perceive the world is different through the natural
differences in their bodies. I would also go further to add that socialization adds even
more to these differences in perception as well.
However, the question remains. Do men and women love differently? Yes, some
men appear to be less emotional than their female counterparts. And women seem to
have less hang-ups over the visual aspect of a relationship. (For instance, earlier in the
semester the question “Does size matter?” was asked. Women, almost unanimously, said
that it mattered to a degree but what was more important was the way in which their
partner used it. The “Motion in the ocean” analogy, if you will.) Do these differences
truly mean different types of love, however?
Written from a purely male perspective (considering it is the only perspective I
have experienced in this life) I can vouch that men and women love with the same level
of emotions as each other. However, the ways in which these emotions are displayed are
simply different from one another. Therefore women perceive (there goes that word
again) that men are less emotional while men, being trained through their socialization as
they grew up, do not explain their feelings as “emotions.” So therefore the
misconception continues within our society.
I have many (far too many) female friends who I am on very good terms with.
These women tell me intimate details of their lives, love lives included, in which they
describe their emotions in detail in regards to certain experiences. In return I tell them
intimate details of my life in the same manner. Some of my older and better female
friends have ceased, after a time, treating me as an outsider who simply “can’t
understand.” Over time we have both come to understand that our emotions, our feelings
and thoughts, are the same as each other. The way in which a female feels after being
dumped is no different than a male under the same circumstances in reality (without
taking into account the myriad different individual circumstances, of course). As both of
us have discussed our feelings on various subjects we’ve come to realize sex has little to
do with it and perception and individual experiences has far more.
These divisions in society between the sexes are gradually being reduced,
however. Already the public division of roles for men and women have become more
blurred than perhaps any time in history. While vestiges of these ancient divisions
remain (home being where the female is meant to be, work for the male) both sexes have
made inroads into the traditional spheres of the other. In private life, however, less and
less inroads have been made. The divisions hold true more so in private life than in
public. Perhaps the main reason for this is the fear of losing sexual identity if we are to
truly break down the divisions. Afterall, if men and women truly are the same and only
their perceptions create differences then what is to distinguish between a man and a
woman if we remove misconceptions and societal constructions? If this is done, the
removal of artificial constructions as to what it means to be a man or a woman, then all
we have left are the physical differences between the sexes. Man and woman cease to
exist and we now only have male and female – or, as the Greeks would classify it, one
group with external genitalia and one with internal. Do men truly want this? Do women,
even hardcore feminists, truly want this? It is a tough question to answer.