I was the sole female at a management workshop and in an introverted mood. I think my uncharacteristic quietness made it easy for my colleagues to occasionally forget my presence. During lunch they had a conversation which left me with an uneasy feeling I couldn’t articulate, that is, until some days later when I came across this quote by Jacqui Onassis; “There are two kinds of women; those who want power in the world, and those who want power in bed”.
That’s it, two, boardroom or bedroom, not both nor anything else other than these two; no dining room, playroom, or classroom. Women have two, mutually exclusive, routes to greatness. Are you going to be a Margaret Thatcher or a Mae West, a Khanyi Dhlomo or a Khanyi Mbau? This statement resonated with my discomfort from the lunch conversation, which left me feeling that this is how some of my male colleagues perceive their female counterparts.
I am sad that Jacqui Onassis made such a statement, but she was probably taking a swipe at Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn had an annoying habit of sleeping with Jackie’s husband President JFK. Have you seen that clip of Marilyn breathlessly singing “Happy Birthday, Mr President” with bedroom written all over her face, in front of an entire country? As if that wasn’t enough, after his assassination she started up with Jacqui’s brother-in-law Bobby Kennedy. So yes, Jacqui is forgiven for her anti-Marilyn outburst, but that statement and its sentiment deserve to be taken out and shot.
It echoes the myth of Lilith, largely unknown in predominantly Christian societies, as it is not part of the Christian Bible. According to early Hebraic creation myth Lilith was Adam’s first wife. Yes, that Adam. As the story goes, Lilith was created independently from and equal to Adam. God made both of them from the Earth. Like many partnerships of equals there were disagreements and power struggles between the two. However, their differences only became irreconcilable when the boys, God and Adam, ganged up on Lilith. God informed Lilith on Adam’s behalf that she was only permitted to lie beneath Adam during lovemaking. Imagine God coming to your house and telling you, you can only have sex in the missionary position! Not very surprisingly Lilith had a fit and dumped Adam. She stormed off to the desert, probably cursing the whole way. Adam informed God of Lilith’s abandonment, and complained about loneliness. God sent 3 angels to persuade Lilith to return to the Garden of Eden. Not only did they fail, when a woman’s fed up and all that, they ended up banishing her to the Outer Darkness (this is a long-story, I am paraphrasing it here). So Adam was given Eve. This time God made the woman out of Adam’s rib. Eve was not created as an equal from the Earth, but from Adam for Adam. She was made how Adam wanted a woman to be.
Even though Lilith was banished to the underworld she occasionally snuck back to the Garden of Eden. She appeared to Eve as a serpent and encouraged her to seek enlightenment by eating the forbidden fruit. It ended badly, you know the story; shame, anger, blame and finally banishment. Many people, okay mostly women, believe that this myth was designed as a cautionary tale to scare women off seeking power and independence. The message is clear; to maintain paradise you best behave like Eve. If you demand equality the boys won’t like you. If you seek knowledge and power you spoil it for everyone, God gets angry, we get banished and instead of a living in a pretty garden we are stuck with traffic, inflation and roadblocks.
Insecure patriarchy casts women as either Eve or Lilith. Eve: good, until she bites off more than she can chew. Lilith: bad because she, ahem, wanted to be on top. Most physical descriptions of Lilith are not very flattering, she is described as wild, hairy and unkempt. Another message: only women who are sexually unattractive should seek worldly power. There is a viral picture doing the rounds in cyberspace with the following caption; “SEXISM: Only Ugly Bitches Complain About it”. Women, in society and the workplace, are often trivialised through comments about our physicality, effectively reducing us to sexual objects. Another popular tactic is to label attractive women who prefer boardroom power to bedroom power as bitter, men hating lesbians.
Luckily these are the ways of fearful men who are intimidated by feminine power. They are only disempowering if we subscribe to them. We don’t have to play along. We can be sexy and powerful. We can have all the rooms, and if they aren’t careful the likes of Adam will be banished to the bathroom and even then only if they keep the toilet seat down!