The All-Over Woman

I want to know what femininity looks like. I want to know where it lives. Where it hides. As Carl Jung describes the overlapping of the conscious and unconscious at certain “points” in the personality, I want to view the coordinates of the feminine. I want a picture. A map. Something. I tend to be a visual thinker. And, while I spend a great deal of time here on The Used Life trying to describe femininity–through the use of adjectives, images, and metaphor, through attempts to dress it up, to adorn, or otherwise fashion it–I have yet to truly give it form. That’s because I can’t see it. A limitation of my imagination. Or, is it?

I ask myself if I am not, in fact, “seeing” the feminine within myself as accurately as possible (at this point in my development, anyway), in all of its elusiveness. Perhaps, I am simultaneously frustrated and mystified because it isn’t like anything I’ve attempted to imagine before. That mystery is a key to its seductiveness. Even for women. As far as I can tell, difficulties in pinpointing, articulating, and giving a clear pattern to femininity are rooted in its all-over effects. It’s diffuseness. It’s totalizing character. It’s obsession with style. I also believe it is the all-overness of the feminine experience that impels me to imagine it as a force akin to creativity. And, not by way of virtue. (I have developed a grave distaste for descriptions of femininity as a simple amalgam of virtues or a code of conduct. Or anything that has to do with “ornament.”) But, because of the way it feels. Because of the way it acts, in step with other sexual and creative drives, as a force. Of that, I only need to look within myself to be certain.

Here are some thoughts on what it means to experience–and relish in–the totalizing, or all-over effects of the feminine in creativity, in sex, and in other spheres of daily life.

Mirror, Mirror…

When I conceive of what are widely considered to be traditionally “masculine” personality traits, I think of emotions and drives to which I can put a facial expression, even a tone of voice. They’re pointed. I know what aggression looks like. I know what assertiveness, determination, even competitiveness, in some cases, looks like. My experience with the feminine is a bit more…muddled. I don’t know what passivity looks like–isn’t it more than a flat facial expression? Surely. Or, submission. Tenderness–that, I can see. Softness, too, in most cases. But, yielding, I generally cannot.

And, what about those more complex emotional experiences and drives, like feeling like a woman, needing to feel pretty, and wanting to be wanted? We all know intuitively the types of experiences these phrases signify–and have for a long time. (The song, “I Feel Pretty,” was originally released as part of the score for the 1957 musical, West Side Story.) But, it seems they always circumvent the main idea, don’t they? They always manage to evade direct description. Pointedness. (That also makes them increasingly susceptible to exploitation and abuse.) But, it would be incredibly foolish to consider such complex experiences–at once emotional, creative, and sexual–ornamental, supplemental, or superfluous. Secondary. Adornment. That’s ridiculous. Not when they influence so much of our behavior, our perspective, our being, on an everyday basis. In short, these feelings don’t lose value simply because we haven’t figured out how to talk about them.

Indeed, feeling like a woman might not have corresponding “look,” facial expression, fixed pattern of behavior, or readily discernible set of adjectives associated with it for every woman. It is, rather, embedded in our skin. It is reflected in our mannerisms. Our walk, our talk, our glances, and our touch. It is a style of presentation for each, individual personality. It is symbolic. And, it reaches from our head to our toes. It is driven by a need to make the outside match the inside. Some days, I need to feel softer, more playful. Other days, fiery, outwardly sexy, and luxuriant. The point, as I’ve noted previously, is that when I manage to harness the power of these states, it is because I’ve succeeded in making my outward appearance mirror an internal desire. I feel in sync. I feel right with myself. Confident. Dignified. Coordinated, or fashioned (like a well-designed wardrobe). Generous in my interactions with others. And radiant in my sexuality. That is, in my experience, the power of the feminine in everyday life. And, it all hinges on my own creation.

Mad Hatter

Indeed, I find within myself very little, if any distinction, between the ecstasy of creativity and the gratification of what I consider to be feminine desires. The lust for beauty–the need to either adorn myself or to surround myself with beauty for the sake of stimulation–is nearly identical. Everyday emotions, in many cases, are blended with the creative. Experienced as a kind of ecstasy, a lust, a totalizing sensation. As for me, I have an exceedingly difficult time differentiating between feminine drives, the desire for beauty, and the need to create. All feel like a generalized form of lust, a wanting, a soft yearning, bordering on the sexual, and when gratified, a harbinger of great joy.

Last month, I could find pleasure in falling in love with a hat, a rich purple velvet hat with a long feather, exactly 1860 epoch, cancan–and wearing it, causing a sensation everywhere. – Anaïs Nin

It seems to me, that the “magic” of these simple, frivolous, even seemingly child-like pleasures is in the way they impact us. Everywhere. And, it’s pretty wonderful. My favorite hat does the same for me.

Cherries and Wine

I initially had no intention of writing this section. But, as I crossed the Atlantic two nights ago, en route to Paris yet again, with Lana Del Rey crooning Cherry in my headphones, slowly and methodically making my way through Rollo May’s Love and Will–which, though I’ve cited as a resource in recent posts, I have yet to finish in its entirety–I decided that a discussion of female orgasms was a necessary, even inevitable, part of this post. Right. Let’s blame the wine, shall we?

A good orgasm is, in the truest sense, a dissolution. It is a rippling in time. A quake. The rolling of a tide. Gathering tension–the “buildup”–is akin to the motion of a wave, or a series of waves. (Didn’t D.H. Lawrence say something like that?) A slow burning ember that eventually consumes itself. It is the spasm of consciousness that we crave the most. The moment of all-over blindness. The shallow breathing. All of the passion contained in a singular moan. A scattering of the pieces. At once an intentional undoing and an act of courage. Like posing with open arms when the firing squad’s against you. A naked chill. All the while knowing that someone else can taste the quiver.

The female orgasm is not a direct expenditure, but a diffusion of energy. Indeed, there is something to be said for women’s capacity to regenerate, or revivify, so quickly following an orgasm. When a man generally wants to sleep. (And, I suspect it’s more than Mother Nature’s crooked sense of humor.) If, as May suggests, an orgasm is an attempt at rebirth and recreation, then women work through those processes very differently than men. Our ability to be consumed and reborn so quickly is, perhaps, a testament to the interconnections between femininity and creativity. A distinct kind of life force. Eros with a slightly different face.

It is also significant, in terms of this discussion, to remember that there is nothing incidental or inevitable about a female orgasm. It is, I believe, something of a rite of passage for a woman to realize that she can not only fully participate in achieving an orgasm, but that she can ultimately choose when and with whom she is going to allow herself the pleasure of the experience, if at all. In other words, it’s not something a man can just go in and take. Or make happen on his own (with, perhaps, infrequent exception). While some women may encounter physiological issues related to orgasm, most of us, I believe, climax, foremost, in our minds. That is, we must be present. Involved in the act. And aroused in a very totalistic sense. Because when we do orgasm, it is the epitome of all-over satisfaction. Of the kind of raw, diffuse pleasure that makes a profound imprint on our consciousness, yet consistently evades all attempts at quantification and description. And, I do hope, of all of the feminine experiences I discuss here, that this one remains predominantly shrouded in mystery.

8 thoughts on “The All-Over Woman

  1. It’s quite interesting this idea that an orgasm is a chance for rebirth, since Freud and others have linked sex to death. The French even call it “the little death” (la petite mort), which I’ve always found very disturbing. I was also amused to find out that in Hinduism sex and creativity are governed by the same chakra. And what is creativity – the act of creation – if not rebirth?

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    1. And, isn’t there also inherent in the creative act—an act of rebirth—the element of destruction?

      Didn’t Freud eventually come to view the primary aim of life as death? From dust to dust, so to speak. Though, according to May, in his later writings, he didn’t deny that Eros, or the life instinct, continued to battle the death instinct in terms of sex—even suggesting that Eros stepped in to ward off self-defeating sexual activity that’s prompted by the id and motivated solely by the pleasure principle. Cheap sex. Even to Freud, sex that was “too easy” proved to be bad for the psyche.

      I prefer to think of sex as both Rank and May seem to conceptualize the act—as human participation in the cosmic process. Rank also conceives of creativity that way. An important parallel? I think so. If only by way of imbuing sexual activity with a kind of dignity that’s sorely lacking today. That’s also the line of thinking that turns orgasms into acts of rebirth and recreation. Far more palatable than “la petite mort,” which I never quite understood, either. So gruesome. Even though I am incredibly endeared to the French…what were they thinking with that phrase? Or, perhaps, it’s indicative of a certain wisdom after all, channeling the kind of destruction that’s necessary to an act of rebirth. That “spasm of consciousness?” 🤔

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  2. I love the description of the female orgasm here as something energising, a release but not a depletion. And as something very uniquely ours (women’s). Freud is an example of how male attempts to understand, to ‘explain’ female orgasm have been pretty hopeless. Surely he was at least partly responsible for the ‘vaginal orgasms good, clitoral orgasms bad ‘ issue? Elizabeth Lloyd’s The Case of the Female Orgasm is refreshing, no evolutionary or reproductive purpose but happy ‘accident’. Happy indeed. That’s good enough for me…

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    1. Yep, that’s good enough for me, too! I am not familiar with Lloyd’s piece, but it sounds like something I should read. Female orgasms definitely require their own descriptions–outside of that paradigm of “death” and depletion. Thank you for the comment!

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  3. As always, your exploration of the feminine is interesting! I stumbled a bit over the description of traditionally masculine and feminine personality traits …. seems there’s some universality that cuts across both (society has had a hand in assigning roles). I’m glad you decided to write the Cherries and Wine section – lovely and profound.

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    1. Thank you! And, yes, I agree that that section, those traits, and really any listing of positive and negative virtues associated with the masculine and/or feminine (especially in human behavior) are muddy. It is precisely that sort of categorization for which I have disdain. I don’t think there’s a naturalness to it. It’s mostly socially imposed nonsense. I prefer to think of the feminine as a force. A fire that just burns differently. Thank you again for the thoughtful feedback!

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