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“Combat in the Erogenous Zone”

Ingrid Bengis was only 26 when she wrote this book, and 28 when it was published in 1972. Instantly it became one of the defining works of that era. The title alone is a work of art: pure genius. Thirty-one years later, the book is still compelling. Let’s let the book speak for itself:

“The truth is that I do like many men and have thought I loved two or three. But the other truth is that I hate men, both generally and specifically, and that hatred sometimes threatens to obliterate even the possibilities for love.”

“Man-hating is a defense, a refusal, and an affirmation. It is a defense against fear, against pain. It is a refusal to suppress the evidence of one’s experience. It is an affirmation of the cathartic effects of justifiable anger. What is primary is the possibility for release gained from acknowledging its existence, and the renewal that can sometimes accompany its expression. For if I say today, ‘I hate you,’ it is in order that tomorrow it might perhaps be easier to say, ‘I love you.’”

“Probably there were man-haters of all shapes and sizes and styles and symptoms floating around… a great many of them fast asleep in the arms of the men they love, a great many having dinner with men, going for walks with them, engaging in animated discussions with them. Probably you could scratch a flirt, a liberationist, a housewife, a career woman, a sex goddess, even a contented woman, whatever that is, and find, beneath their delicate skins, a great many squirmy little man-hating creatures making their way slowly but persistently through their bloodstreams.”

“Who knew? It might even turn out that deep down many, or perhaps even most, women had a man-hater crouched somewhere inside of them, waiting.”

“Problems occur every time a woman decides to do something alone, whether it is going for a walk or sitting in a bar or restaurant or taking a trip to the beach. Whereas there is nothing at all extraordinary about a man alone, a woman along is often thought of as somehow incomplete, so that seeking a secluded corner of a beach means that someone will follow you, and you will be safer sitting in the public section; sitting at a bar, even if you just want to watch what’s going on or do some thinking over a glass of something or other, means that you are waiting to be picked up, and if you walk down the street alone at night, your solitude implies to many men that you are sexually available.”

“For those of us who are loners by nature and conviction, such prohibitions can and do take on staggering proportions, severely limiting our freedom of movement as well as our psychic freedom to the point that one’s own character becomes an oppressive liability. For myself, not being inclined to passivity in such situations, I brave the consequences. And end up hating.”

“I suddenly remembered a line from the The Bell Jar: ‘What does a woman see in a woman that she can’t see in a man?’ And the answer: ‘Tenderness’ – which stayed with me long after the rest of the book faded. Often, I found myself thinking, ‘It’s true, it’s true,’ found myself wishing at the same time that it wasn’t, trying to think of men who were genuinely tender. Certainly there were a few, but more often than not the tenderness was accompanied by a kind of softness that indicated a lack of shape, and seemed to exist by default. Rarely was it a delicate vein in a strong constitution. That was what I wanted: the tenderness that was a counterpoint to virility.”

“When all the remedies and all the of the rhetorical armor have been dropped, the absence of love in our lives is what makes them seem raw and unfinished. Personal hatred and personal fear destroy our capacities for loving more thoroughly than any social system possibly could. What we do not say is that we are all, every last one of us, scared of love’s power to created and destroy.”

“I have never been able to get over the secret twinges of sympathy, pity and contempt (fear’s disguise) that mingled inside of me whenever I saw a woman sufferering over love… pity and contempt because she was so exposed, because she made me feel so painfully aware of my own susceptibility to the same kind of exposure… sympathy because of the shared knowledge derived from similar experience.”

“Men frequently tell a joke about the woman who said, ‘no, no, no,’ when he touched her, and then refused to let go of him. You never hear a joke about a man in the same position. The joke is about the use and abuse of power, and in the woman’s ‘no no yes yes,’ I see the core of a real dilemma.”

“One of the problems that feeds immobilization among women derives, I think, from the conflict between passivity and activity. Many of us (myself included) have been trained for the kind of passivity in relationships that makes us feel our own helplessness so much more acutely in situations that seem to require active behavior, and even when we do manage to overcome the passivity, we are often so uncertain about the ‘rightness’ of it that we either vacillate from one to the other, or else require triple reinforcement from men.”

“What was I to do with the fact that it had always been even harder for me to kiss someone I didn’t love than to have intercourse with them? I know many other women for whom this is also true. The reality for me is that I cannot, without feeling sudden pangs of revulsion, kiss someone to whom I am not deeply attached.”

“Despite my firm belief in the importance of living ‘in the moment,’ every time I begin a relationship, I have to overcome my considerable sense of dread about the likelihood of its ending – not exactly what one would call a ‘healthy attitude,’ but a real one, nonetheless.”

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