Sexuality and Safety are not Contradictions

photo by Patricia McBroom

By Patricia McBroom

Newsletter Issue #2

“When she leaned against the apple tree, her vulva was wondrous to behold….the young woman applauded herself.”

As my fingers typed these words, the tips of them began to burn and I heard a voice in my head. It was my long-deceased mother.

“WHAT did you say?” she demanded. My inner child began to squirm.

“I didn’t say it,” I replied quickly. “Inanna said it.”

“Always blaming someone else,” she said with disgust. “Who is Inanna anyway?”

“She’s the first Goddess in history, long before God was anywhere close and certainly before Christianity,” I said with happy abandon that I could educate my mother. “Those words about the vulva were written more than 5,000 years ago!”

“Don’t use that word,” she commanded.

“But… but why not?” I asked, remembering that she had never told me what it was and certainly never named the body part that my fingers wandered to once in a while.

“It’s dirty,” she said. “We don’t talk about it.”

Her voice began to fade back into my subconscious, as I cried out with grief and longing for a more loving attitude toward my own body.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered from a growing distance. “We never were allowed to ………” She was gone.

I can’t blame my poor mother. Born in 1907 and with the loss of her own mother when she was 10 years old, she suffered from an even more repressive attitude toward women’s sexuality than I did a generation later.

But in this month dedicated to women’s history, it behooves us to remember the long lost Goddess of Love, Inanna, perhaps the most dazzling, indomitable, captivating, dark, sexual, paradoxical female divinity ever conceived.

She once was described as saying about her lover, Dumuzi,

He laid his hands on my holy vulva He smoothed my black boat with cream He quickened my narrow boat with milk He caressed me on the bed Now I will caress my high priest on the bed I will caress the faithful shepherd Dumuzi I will caress his loins, the shepherdship of the land I will decree a sweet fate for him.

She also, in the context of a battle, “soaks her mace in blood and gore, smashes heads and butchers prey.”

Inanna was both lover and warrior, but above all, this Goddess was a powerful exponent of female sexuality — one who controlled her own body, even while she delighted in it. There was none of the victimization we deal with in modern life where women fall prey to male aggression and are raped or otherwise assaulted with impunity.

Inanna was raped once and her response was so powerful that one can only imagine that the men of Mesopotamia were forever warned against violating a woman. In the myth called “Inanna and Su-kale-tuda” a gardener violates the Goddess as she lies sleeping under a tree. When Inanna awakens and discovers what has been done to her, she goes on a rampage, turning the rivers red with her blood, threatening death to all unless residents give up the name of the man who raped her. When one of the Sumerian gods finally produces the man’s name, Inanna kills him.

This isn’t just a simple tale of female revenge, however. Everything about Innana was symbolic of the larger natural world. The tree under which she slept when the gardener found her was the “Tree of Life.” The cloth over her thighs that the rapist ripped aside wove together seven cosmic powers which meant that this act against the female was also an act against the basic laws of nature.

Scholar and poet Judy Grahn has named this story a “myth of ecofeminism,” which “tells us through the character of Inanna that when nature is not approached with love and respect, with mindfulness and with consciousness of self, the result is chaos for us, and not just death, but also disappearance and disconnection.”

What mythology could be more relevant today as we face global dissolution of human societies through a changing climate, driven by modern economies based on burning the carbon stored in the earth?

Imagine this: respect for women brings respect for the natural world.

Through the myth of Inanna, we can learn again that sexuality and safety are not contradictions, that women can delight in their bodies without fearing they will be abused. Of all the qualities that distinguish egalitarian societies of the past is this one: women were freely and voluptuously in control of their own bodies and reproduction. Men loved, but never raped, them.

And they were peaceful.

This is not a myth.

Find the evidence for such cultures in “Dance of the Deities: Searching for Our Once and Future Egalitarian Society.”

Originally published at https://www.getrevue.co on March 1, 2021.

Patricia McBroom is an anthropologist, science journalist and professor of women’s studies. She published two books; earned her degree at the U of Penn.

Patricia McBroom is an anthropologist, science journalist and professor of women’s studies. She published two books; earned her degree at the U of Penn.