Saturday, April 28, 2012


I have the first draft of the introduction to my newest play THE RIMSKY-KORSAKOV AFFAIR:

Catherine the Great did not have sex with horses. If you are shocked that I even thought it necessary to mention this, you are most likely in the minority. Many people, including me, were first introduced to Catherine the Great via the rumor that she died when a horse fell on her while being lowered on top of her. I heard it from, of all people, my high school history teacher. And I don’t remember the teacher actually denying it. She just told us the rumor and let it go at that.

The story is due to sexism, naturally. Catherine the Great availed herself of the privileges that come with being an absolute monarch, including sex with beautiful young subjects. But since she was a woman it was seen as unnatural. And since she was engaging in unnatural practices, who knows how far she would go? If she likes beautiful young stallions so much, why not an actual horse?

And three hundred later, it is still seen as a defiance of nature for a woman to take the same sexual liberties as a man, even though for the first time in recorded history, a larger than tiny fraction of women are taking those liberties. You can tell that there is still a double-standard because the term for women who enjoy sexual relations with younger men is “cougars” and the term for men who enjoy sexual relations with younger women is “men.”

Patriarchy has no intention of dying without a fight. And to that end the boosters of Patriarchy have developed a “scientific” theory to explain the divergent sexual behaviors of men and women under Patriarchy, “evolutionary adaptation.” Also known as “men are from Mars and women are from Venus.” The official umbrella term for this political movement (in spite of the claims that it is science) is “evolutionary psychology” and it is all the rage among big media opinion leaders. At least three of the name-brand columnists in the New York Times, John Tierney, David Brooks and Maureen Dowd have cited evolutionary psychology “studies” to justify their own belief that men and women have opposite, essential natures and anybody who denies this belief is simply anti-science.

Both cougars and Catherine the Great flout the basic tenets of evolutionary psychology which are that
a. women are innately more monogamous than men, and
b. women innately prefer older and wealthier men, whereas men prefer younger, beautiful women.
It should be mentioned that evolutionary psychologists have yet to figure out what to make of homosexuals. As far as they are concerned all modern sexual behaviors are the result of the procreational choices of our pre-historic ancestors. Since the sexual preferences of homosexuals don’t lead to procreation, they don’t fit into the iron-clad algorithm of strict adaptationism that evolutionary psychologists swear by.

What Catherine the Great and 21st-century “cougars” have in common is economic independence. Unlike women under the extreme patriarchy that has dominated the world since forever, Catherine and women in industrial/post-industrial societies can hold jobs that pay at least a living wage, and control the disbursement of those wages themselves, and are therefore not obliged to marry a man on the grounds that he has enough money to support her and their children, with the only other options being prostitution or living a life of economic and sexual impoverishment as an “old maid.”

However, the economic realities that shape human sexual behavior are never acknowledged by evolutionary psychologists, because that muddies the streamlined perfection of their belief system. So much so that the leading proponent of "evolved" gender essentialism, David Buss, went so far as to insist that a culture in which women were sold into polygynous marriage by their families  (the Turkmen of Persia) was an example of female sexual preference for older powerful men.

What I’ve done with this play, in part, is to suggest a possible scenario for how the rumors of Catherine’s alleged "unnatural" practices began - rumors spread by disgruntled men informed by the traditional sexual double-standard. The main difference between then and now is that the 18th-century justification was God’s will, whereas now it is the workings of “nature.”

In all cases the insistence that it is unnatural and unfeminine for a woman to choose younger sexual partners, or have more than one sexual partner at a time should be refuted and opposed by all who believe that women have a right to sexual self-determination without the interference of the bullies of the Patriarchy.