Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Illusion of Control

have spent most of my life clinging rabidly to my supposed self-control. I've lived the ebb and flow of needing to feel in charge of every aspect of every event, person or location that invades my personal space to facing an overwhelming desire to give all control away. It is the conundrum I face a thousand times a day.

For years, my ego convinced me that my struggle was unique. Surely no other woman felt the constant conflict between mastering her own destiny and resigning herself to fate. Even with my closest friends, control isn't a topic that comes up in our conversations. We talk about important issues and trivial issues. We don’t talk about how much or how little control we exert over ourselves, our bodies, our domains. Regardless of how infrequently it is discussed, it is ever present.

Exercising self control is a universal struggle for women. It is not limited to women in developed countries where women have at least on paper, if not in fact, equal rights with men. While what I feel the desperate need to control in my own small plot of life is dramatically different than what a woman in Somalia fights to control, the fight is still there. It is the stakes that differ.

Interestingly, the realization that I am not struggling alone came through reading erotica. Primarily women-written erotica. Control is such a common theme in erotica it often becomes trivialized. The plots evolve around the continual barter for control of the central character’s emotions, her body, her life. Once I became attuned to the theme, I began to see it in everything I read -- contemporary fiction, historical mysteries, epic novels. If it was written by a woman with a woman protagonist, regardless of the plot or the genre, the issue of control is always there, right under the surface.

I don't believe this is such a defining issue for men. Perhaps they struggle more consistently with the issue of power. Closely related to control, but distinctly different in so many ways.

Some men probably struggle with self-control issues all the time and all men probably struggle with the issue at some point in their life. For men though, I don't believe self-control is a constant irritant, the splinter embedded in the palm of your hand you feel compelled to continually dig, never removing and always pushing deeper.

My one year of high school sociology obviously makes me totally qualified to spout out sociological theory so here goes: I assume that this distinction stems from the fact that since the dawn of humankind, men have had almost all of the control and women very little of it. While some women are fortunate to live in societies that grant them some level of control over themselves, most of the women on earth still exist in world where any control they have is limited, transitory, hard won and quickly lost.

And for the women who now hold some control over their own destiny, there is always that nagging thought in the back of our heads warning us that our hard won control can always be snatched back from us, with very little effort.

Back from the universal to the personal - my need for control is often the overwhelming fuel that feeds my fire. It can be exhausting. There are so many times I long to hand it over to someone else. Long to ask someone else to just take care of things (me) for awhile, so I can catch my breath.

That person in my life has always been a man. My father, my boyfriend, my spouse, a coworker. And there's the rub. That nagging fear that if I give in, give over control to the man in my life, the world could shift backwards and I would never regain what I have loaned. I realize the injustice in this thought. The men I speak of are enlightened and fair. They would never intentionally take permanent control over me, would be insulted if I even suggested this was a concern.

This brings me back to women’s erotica. A genre with an historically limited audience. While men could pick up Playboy, Hustler, et al at the nearest convenience store and gain fairly easy access to pornographic films, a woman did not have easy access to erotica.

As in so many other situations, the internet is the great equalizer. Erotica written for the female audience flourishes online. I know this because I find myself continually ferreting it out.

So much of that erotica focuses on dominant/submissive relationships with women generally, but not always, in the submissive role. Often times she struggles against this role and only reluctantly gives in. And I wonder how close to the bone these stories cut. Wonder if a self confident, successful in their own right woman, can truly give up the control she fought so hard to obtain. Cede it over to a man who will likely never be willing to give it back. If she understands that by this single act she may be considered less than she was by everyone, except perhaps, the person who accepted her gift. Is that enough? I don’t believe it ever could be for me. But maybe ...


Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Lulu,

This is really a thoughtful and well written blog post. My heroines always deal with control-and I write western historicals and romantic suspense. Very thought provoking-Thanks!!

Lulu said...

Thanks Nancy. I appreciate the comment. I start and stop posts about this subject at least once a week. Just writing about the issue is tumultuous to me. It has helped to realize it seems to be a universal issue, not just my private conflict.