Television advertisements for scented candles, aimed at women, are common. You find scented candles for sale in nearly every store in which women shop. There are shops specifically for scented candles. Unsolicited mail-order catalogs feature scented candles. I've not looked on-line for scented candles, but I have no doubt the Internet is a virtual cornucopia of scented candles. Candles are not even the only vehicles of scent. There are scent vaporizers to be plugged into electrical outlets, wick-dispenser bottles of scented water, and aerosol scent dispensers.
Why do women so desperately want scented candles in their homes? I assume, in their homes, because all the ads features home settings--living rooms, bath rooms, bed rooms.
I assumed that the scented candles are desired in order to cover up smells that women dislike or embarrass them. Personal body odors. Foul odors in their homes that imply they aren't good housekeepers.
My wife says no, the scented candles are not for cover-up; they are to fill up. The women are trying to create an atmosphere, to fill up empty homes. They are trying to create (or re-create) the atmosphere of aromas associated with active, lived-in homes. The smells of comfort foods (apple, cinnamon); the smell of outdoor air-dried laundry; the odor of air freshened by rain; the perfume of flowers freshly cut from the garden, placed in tall, slender cut glass vases set in the living room; the smells of grandmother's old-lady perfume, lilacs perhaps.
Since so few women are cooking in their homes, staying at home and making home life, doing their own laundry (and certainly not hanging clothes to dry outdoors), they do not generate the odors of authentic home life by their own efforts. Those aromas are the smells of their childhoods. Women love scented candles, because the candle scents re-create the homes they once loved, but have chosen, by their careers and lifestyles, not to create themselves. Scents are nostalgia.
My back blew out nearly two weeks ago. I went horse-back riding the previous day, a two-hour long trail ride. I hadn't ridden horses for twenty years. My back let me know it was not pleased with the experience. I spent four days in bed on my back, trying not to move. My Pilates teacher, concerned about my injury, arranged for me to have an appointment with an osteopathic physician, whom she brought regularly to her studio to work with several of her clients who needed medically knowledgeable attention. I have not had any osteopathic or chiropractic therapy since I was a young child, so I did not know what to expect and took the appointment only because I trusted the advice of my Pilates instructor, who was a professional dancer and is a brilliant teacher. Though I did not realize I needed medical attention--my back has gone out regularly since a major blow-out eighteen years ago--, she could tell, from my posture and Pilates workout, that I did.
The hour-long osteopathic therapy was a revelation to me. The physician, another brilliant woman who had been a professional dancer herself (The Joffrey Ballet), diagnosed my problems, which involved a weakened left side due to an inguinal hernia surgery last Winter, misaligned pubic symphysis, sheared sacrum, and twisted lower vertebrae. For an hour, she manipulated bones and muscles, realigning my lower body. Bones audibly popped into correct position. Muscles recovered extension and range of motion they hadn't had for days. The relief I felt was instantaneous, as was my gratitude. I had had no notion of the destructive contortion of my body or of the benefits of medical manipulation. At the conclusion of the session, the physician gave me a hug. She was pleased that I had been so obviously improved. I don't think she intended the embrace as part of the therapy, only as a gesture, but for me, with a history about which she did not know, it was.
I have always enjoyed, and more, longed, to be embraced. I have envied women's sociability, which involves frequent hugging. Women have a range of embrace, from the casual hug which involves one woman putting her hands on another's shoulders, leaning forward, without body contact, though perhaps a brief kiss, to the intimately supportive embrace, in which one woman holds another who has collapsed against her and is being held up. Such demonstration of emotion is largely denied to men.
There is a history to my need. I was epileptic when a child, a brain malady that I outgrew only in the mid teen years. I had both petit mal and grand mal seizures. I have written about this condition previously, but here I can mention the need it generated in me for embracing. Grand mal seizures are exhausting. While I didn't directly experience the seizures, because I was of course unconscious, I knew upon regaining consciousness that I had undergone a seizure. I would feel weak, confused, maybe (but not usually) frightened, and vulnerable. Sometimes the seizures were quite extended. I would wake for a few minutes and then fall back into seizure. When a seizure took place at school (the seventh grade), my mother, upon being called by the school, called her brother, who had an ambulance service, to retrieve me, while she summoned the family physician. I remember waking briefly from the seizure to realize my uncle was picking me up, and later, waking again, he was carrying me slung across his shoulder like a sack of corn. On other occasions, it was my mother's other brother who held me. In each occasion, being held was greatly comforting to me. What was distressing was to be separated, to be, for instance, confined to bed rest, away from people, and not embraced. My mother, being out of my room while I recovered, created anxiety in me.
As a consequence of these profound experiences, I grew up longing for the physical comfort and security of being held. I loved my uncles and their protective embrace was a deep part of my psychology. I transferred this emotion to my childrearing. I loved to embrace my daughter and son, hold them in my arms, rock them to sleep as infants or comfort them when they hurt from scrapes and illnesses as young children. As I grew up, I transferred my love for my mother and my need for my mother's comforting hug at these moments of personal crisis to the women I loved.
It was disconcerting and confusing to me, as an adult, knowing as I did my own needs for physical affection through embracing, that I married women who did not easily or often give such affection. A woman friend who knew my first wife described her as "one up-tight chick". My wife now is similarly unable to express her love for me through casual affection. Some grotesque episodes in her childhood injured her in such a way that prevents her from easily giving or receiving casual touching and embracing. Her capacity and enthusiasm for the emotions and mechanics of physical love were, happily for us both, undamped by her past; our love life has been gratifying and exciting.
I don't have psychoanalytical insight as to why or how I chose, or allowed myself to be chosen by, women who did not share my need or capacity for sharing physical comfort through hugging. Not simply my wife, but also women I dated had this quality. One girl friend, whom I dated between my marriages, said in despairing confidence, that her brain wanted to express this affection, but her body wouldn't let her.
The needs unsatisfied in me, because of the asymmetry of my emotional relationships with the major women in my life, have been reinforced by the prohibition in our society again casual embrace of men and women. Even men who are close friends should not hug one another. This rule is so notable, that exceptions, as when a Marine in Iraq loses a buddy in combat and is, in his grief, consoled in an embrace by another Marine, make the national television news.
The social rule is surely harmful. An illustrative episode was provided when we took in my nephew, who was an addict and delinquent at fifteen. The boy's behavior alienated his father against him, which greatly added to his problems. In our home, I tried to treat him as I would my own son. We genuinely cared for him. I tried to express affection to him, to embrace him, to let him know that his difficulties did not set him aside from us. This affection frightened him. I took him to psychological counseling weekly, sharing some of the session, with a gifted counselor, with him. In one session, he expressed his great discomfort with being hugged by me, because he thought I was making homosexual advances toward him. It took a lot of talk and reassurance from the counselor and me to get him to understand that I was not and that physical expression of affection between a father and son through embracing was a healthy part of a loving relationship, which this boy desperately needed. Part of the discussion involved my medical history of epilepsy and its consequences.
The rule against men and women embracing who are not married to each other is so inviolate, so rigid, as to make our society look like Orthodox Judaism or Islam, which prohibit contact between unmarried men and women. As a result of these taboos, I seldom get hugs of any kind. Sometimes in my life, I have felt isolated like a leper, shunned and outcast as undesirable.
The feeling of isolation can be so powerful as to induce paranoia. Is there something wrong with me? This sense probably originated with my childhood epilepsy. There actually was something wrong with me. In my home village, everybody knew my condition. Its expression was completely public. It's acknowledgment undoubtedly recognized in the privacy of kitchen and dining rooms. Many of my childhood acquaintances did shun me. In sports, no one wanted me on a team; it probably was not even safe for me to engage in most sports. When I was a teenager and tried to date, few girls would have anything to do with me. Epilepsy set up a psychological-social dynamic that reinforced itself and was not easily discarded as I entered adulthood and outgrew the epilepsy. No doubt, men who have suffered other diseases, such as severe psoriasis or congenital disfigurement, have experienced similar social estrangement and physical isolation.
Whatever the cause or reason, isolation as severe as leprosy in ancient times intensifies the need for contact. The longing for physical social contact, for comfort, for acceptance, never extinguishes. The prohibition against casual affection between men and women who are only acquaintances never seems less than rude and abrasive. When an embrace comes, spontaneously, as following my session with the osteopathic physician, it's value rises to grace.
A recent study reports, on the basis of survey, that fewer teens are having sex and fewer teens are giving birth than the mid-1990s. The articles reporting the study attribute the change to education and condoms; but what kind of education? No doubt liberal advocates of sex education in schools want to believe it is classroom instruction and access to birth control technology. But other forces are at work.
Since the 1990s there has been a national shift in general opinion away from liberal attitudes toward sex and illegitimate birth toward conservative values of self-restraint, conventional family formation, and personal responsibility. The change in the national welfare act in the mid-1990s was symbolic of, as well as instrumental in, that shift.
We may hope that further restraint of teen sex will occur. Other studies have shown that early sexual experience is almost always injurious to girls--also to boys for different reasons. Emotional growth, growth in personal self-confidence, and achievement of the social capability to support children occur years after teens have developed the biological capability and hormonal drive for sexual activity. From Victorian times, middle class American ethics wisely called for postponement of sexual initiation and parenthood. The middle class understood that postponement was crucial for healthy sexual activity in young adulthood, as well as for strong families and healthy children. This understanding was lost in the hormonal fury of the 1960s when personal liberation led to sexual promiscuity and political irresponsibility. The survey on teen sex is another indication that we are passing beyond the social chaos unleashed by that decade of mixed blessings.
The right blogosphere, in which I am located, has done a great deal of patronizing condemnation of Islam for the appearance of women and children among suicide bombers in the Middle East in the past several years. We are particularly incensed by the "Palestinian" videos of mothers and children, dressed in military costumes, singing praises of Allah and death by suicide in killing Jews; and by the appearance of women suicide bombers in Iraq killing Americans.
I don't have any doubt that this participation of women and children in Islam's war against the West should have been expected, because Islam is a totalitarian society engaged in a totalitarian war. In totalitarian wars, as in World War II, everyone participates. Civilians and women and children are not protected from combat and their deaths are glorified and mourned.
But I do have the nagging concern of conscience that we in the West have also largely erased the boundary between protected classes of our population--civilians, women, and children--and soldiers and combat. For over a generation, especially in the politics of feminism, in Hollywood movies, and in science fiction and fantasy fiction, we have glorified the female warrior. The participation of women soldiers along side men in combat, indeed exercising their roles as Messianic leaders and tragic heroines, has been a staple of the American imagination since the 1970s. Think "Star Wars". We have emancipated women; all feminists worthy of the badge have been happy to see women share equality in the military and in combat death.
We might have a small moment of regret that women soldiers who are mothers are away from their children on Mother's Day; but why is that, in an ideology of gender equality, any more to be regretted than men soldiers who are fathers being away from their children on Father's Day?
Perhaps what we need to do on Mother's Day, rather than bemoaning the savagery of Islamic societies that throw women into the furnaces of combat for their ideological cause, is to take a look at our own veneration of the woman warrior--a vigorous enthusiast of free love, a soldier of wise-cracking courage, a mother protecting with ferocity her kit, kith, and kin. Do we abhor the Islamic woman and child suicide bombers, because we see in their images a distorted, but not entirely unrepresentative, reflection of ourselves?
An article in the Los Angeles Times (Stephanie Simon, "States fund antiabortion advice", Sunday, February 11, 2007, A1) reviews the increasing efforts of some states to fund antiabortion counselling. Texas and Minnesota have recently begun to provide grants to groups for such counselling. Abortion rights supporters are alarmed, the reporter states, because they prefer that money be spent on family planning and birth control. (I suppose also that abortion rights groups would be also concerned that antiabortion counselling might weaken support for abortion as a right; but the article does not say this.) In view of the influence of boy friends, parents, and other persons on not-married women to have first-time abortions, it would seem necessary to provide antiabortion counselling for balance. Without balance, it would be difficult, especially for young women, to arrive at decisions that reflected their own interests, rather than the interests of others.
Me: She'll drive two-thirds of American men crazy. We'll run away. She wants to chat with America. It'll be discourse, dialogue, discussion, conversation, till our ears are red and sore. God help us.
She: She'll be a leader who listens to voters.
Me: A politician who does what the voters want is a follower, not a leader.
She: She'll bring new ideas to deal with problems. She'll be good. Bush is such a loser!
Me: All Democrats ever propose is to take our money from us, money we earn, and give it to other persons. All the chat, all the new vocabulary, all the listening to voters is nothing but cover for confiscation of our private property.
In her blog, Debbie Schlussel questions the usefulness of research showing that women who have breast implants are more likely to commit suicide than other women. It should be obvious, she argues, that women who have implants have low self-worth and therefore a greater likelihood to self-destruction. She does not say (whether the research took into consideration) what percentage of the women with implants obtained implants as reconstructive procedures, such as, after breast cancer surgery. Nor does she say whether the women who had implants obtained implants because they were severely disfigured in some way that the implants remedied. I think it is possible that medical issues, distinguishable from low self-esteem as such, that pushed women to obtain implants might also have been behind some suicides.
Some thirty years ago, a girl friend and I got her pregnant. She had an abortion within several months of the onset of pregnancy. We parted a month or so after that. When I wrote the six-article series on abortion (starting here) in this blog in 2005, I did not have her (or my) experience of her abortion especially in mind. I seldom thought about her abortion in the intervening years and drew no lessons or wisdom from it. As I have written elsewhere in this blog, after 9/11 my values have shifted (or completed their shift) from liberalism to conservatism. Abortion is one of the issues about which I have become conservative.
I was then between marriages. I did not date frequently. My six-year old daughter lived with me and I devoted every minute I could get away from work to looking after her. I wanted her to know and feel that she had not been rejected by her mother's and my separation (and later divorce). The only way I could think to do that was by demonstrating my love for her through attentive parenting. I dated a few times on weekends when she was staying with her mother.
I knew B_, where I worked. She held a temporary appointment at my institution. She had come to Southern California with her boy friend, who took a position at a university in Los Angeles. Shortly after their arrival, he dumped her. She was bright, intellectually quick, and outspoken. She was a passionate feminist. I called myself a feminist, too. I was committed to the advancement and equality of women. B_ became a well-known personality in a short time. We noticed each other at meetings that we both attended. I do not recall how we got together. I don't remember having actual dates, such as going out to dinner or to movies. She made the first move. She was attracted to me. I enjoyed the attention and was attracted to her. I brought her to my home one evening. We sat on the living room floor, in front of large sliding glass windows that looked over a large, fenced, back yard. We talked. She said she wanted to have sex. I was 34 (she was 31, if I recall correctly). I had not had sex in months. Her sexual candor and her desire aroused me.
We discussed birth control. I do not recall whether I offered to use condoms, or said that I did not have any. She said that she went off the pill the previous month, that she had been on it mainly for her ex-boy friend. He was gone, so that was that. She said she did not think she could get pregnant so soon. She wanted me, regardless. So we had sex. She became pregnant.
Certainly, I knew that pregnancy was a possibility. I had used condoms before my first marriage and occasionally during that marriage. I could have declined intercourse, but I did not. So we got her pregnant. After she became pregnant, we continued to have sex, now without worrying about protection. We became abandoned to our passion for each other. She was inventive in bed, I was fascinated by her. But we were not in love and we knew it. What should we do about the pregnancy?
I was not interested in marrying her. I thought there was a possibility that love might grow between us. If it did, then I could envision marrying her; but this eventuality was in a future disconnected from the fact of her pregnancy. She was involved and concerned about her pregnancy, but it was not obvious to me that she wanted to have the baby. She had many thoughts about the pregnancy, only a few, I am sure, that she shared with me. She said she was Catholic. She did not say she was raised Catholic or that she had left her Catholic faith behind her. I understood it to be an issue for her. She was also a feminist. She said she was in control of her body and what to do with the pregnancy was her decision.
My interest in deepening my relationship with B_ had outside considerations. I was a single parent. My daughter eventually met B_ and instantly disliked her. B_ was not particularly interested in my daughter, either. She did not ask after her and did not express a desire to know her. I knew that if I married B_, the relationship between my daughter and her would be an issue. This knowledge dampened my interest in proceeding with the affair.
Several months into the pregnancy, I told B_ that I thought love might develop for us, but the pregnancy was not going to help. I lied to her. By that time, I knew I would not fall in love with her and I doubted that she would with me. I wanted her to have an abortion, because it would free me of her. She was ambivalent, but eventually she decided to have the abortion. I told her I would go with her to the clinic. She said she did not want me to do that; she got herself into this mess, she would get herself out.
The abortion was not easy for her. She said that when she went to the clinic, provided by Big Industrial Health Care Provider, she was nearly in tears and so distressed that she could not talk to the receptionist. She had to write on a piece of paper that she wanted an abortion. She handed the paper to the clerk. Arrangements were made to see a physician and she had the abortion. The D&C did not go well. As the surgeon said, she was a "bleeder". One or several blood vessels would not stop bleeding. Several return trips to the clinic were required to stop the hemorrhaging. The abortion was traumatic for her.
Our relationship ended shortly thereafter. B_ told me--something to the effect--that, once I got a good look at her, I ran the away as fast as I could. She repeated this comment to a mutual friend, who then reported it to me. I interpreted her comment to mean that her agonizing over the abortion and indecisiveness about what she wanted of me alienated me, that our relationship ended because she appeared unattractive in this situation. I do not recall that was how it happened. I do remember that the ending of her pregnancy did not deepen my emotions for her.
In this entire proceeding, I did not have a second thought about the baby that was aborted. I was a committed liberal. I thought of abortion as a privilege our society extended to women to enable them to take control of their lives. B_'s pregnancy and the baby growing inside her were inconvenient for me; removing inconvenience was what the Second Wave of the Women's Movement was all about. I was aware that my girl friend was ambivalent about the abortion, perhaps even emotionally distressed about it. I was not, however, concerned enough for her to marry her and have the baby. It did not occur to me that she might have the child outside of marriage with me--that possibility was a stage in women's emancipation that the women's movement would reach in the next decade.
A few months after we parted, I met another woman, with whom I would fall in love, marry, and have a child. I did not look back upon my relationship with B_ with regret or misgivings. She shortly left the institution where I worked and returned to the Eastern US where she pursued her career. We had no contact with each other.
The episode reinforced my deep aversion to the life of the single man and dating. I did not like the risks and deceptions that came with being single and having casual sex. I knew that for me personally marriage is the context within which I wanted to have sex. I could feel good about sex within marriage, because it could be a relationship of trust. My wife and I could deal together with whatever consequences our sexual love brought. Being single, it seemed to me, inevitably places sex within a context of dishonesty and distrust. I did not come out of my affair with B_ thinking well of myself.
As I mentioned at the outset of this reminiscence, I have become conservative on the issue of abortion. My focus of attention has shifted to the baby and our obligations to the baby. This perspective changed my philosophical and political understanding of the issue (see here and here ).