The inner experience of being a woman
What it feels like to be something often seems like the most important question in the world. We assume that we can understand someone else because they have the same experiences as we do. And when we worry that other people don't understand us we assume it is because they don't know what it feels like to be us. So inner experience obviously seems like a hugely important issue when we worry about the ways women relate to men. And it can seem somehow less important when we worry about the way women relate to other women.
Think about Tiresias for a moment. Because of some complicated mythology that need not trouble us, Tiresias was changed from a man into a woman and several years later back again. And one day when Zeus and Hera are having a fight about who enjoys sex more: men or women. Zeus asks Tiresias for the authoritative answer.
Now whole story of Tiresias is just a wacky superstitious belief but it seems enormously important. The temptation is to think that if Tiresias really did exist then he/she would know. And the flip side of that is to think that because no one is like Tiresias then no man can really understand women.
But put yourself in Hera's sandals for a moment. Zeus keeps cheating on her. Suppose she begins to wonder if maybe there is something wrong with her. Maybe, she thinks, the problem is that I don't enjoy sex enough and Zeus goes to other women because they enjoy it more. Maybe Europa appeals to him because she is more responsive as a lover.
So here is the question: Is Hera any better off trying to under stand what sex feels like for another woman such as Europa than a man is wondering what sex feels like for women? And if the answer to that question is 'no!'—as it pretty much has to be—then we're really going to have to reconsider the whole inner experience issue.
Keys to understanding
Let's use an analogy. Suppose you've just bought a large mansion and the owner has left you with a box of unmarked keys. And just to make it clearer imagine that every lock in the house is identical so all the keys are of the same size and share certain general characteristics. The keys are, of course, different from one another but the only way to tell if this key opens this lock is to try it and see if it works.
And the problem we have is that we have to wander around this mansion trying all the keys on all the locks so we can figure out which keys go with which locks so we can label them for future use. To further complicate matters we have a child along with us who needs to be kept amused.
To keep the kid amused, I'm going to tell her that every lock knows which key fits it. I show the kid the bumps on the key and say that when the key is inside, the lock knows that this is the right key and agrees to open for it. And then I point at the lock and say, 'We can't see inside so we can't tell which key the lock will want. Everything that really matters is secret.'
And then I can show the child the keys themselves and say, 'See how complicated they are. They all have all these different bumps that we couldn't possibly memorize them.'
Now we have a game. It would even be a fun game. Once that is. Twice it would be boring.
And think of the consequences of it. In a sense I have made locks and keys seem like magical and mystical things but I solve the problem by putting pieces of tape on each lock and writing "front door", "garage", "3rd bedroom" and so forth.
You are not a lock
Do you, as a woman, really want to be on the end of this analogy? Because that is where inner experiences get you. Because you can't really see your inner experiences either.
Now you may be tempted to say, "I don't need to see them because I have them. These experiences are who I am." And nothing I can do or say can stop you from thinking that. But think of the consequences. If that is true, then you, as a woman, become very much like a lock. Nothing outside of you tells anyone the important thing but the right key, once inserted, will ... well, will what?
And do you know which keys work? Another way to ask the question would be, Have you ever been wrong about love? Or, have you ever thought you'd really like to try some new hobby or job and then found out you were wrong? Or, have you ever met someone and the sex was really great and then later it wasn't? If the inner experience of being you really is this special thing that you have a solid grasp on then none of those things should ever happen.
If you want to be a success as a woman (or a man) you need to pick outward models to emulate and then emulate them. And you need to keep updating the models as you move through life. The way to fail is to take your own testimony based on some supposed inner experience and say, "This is who I am."
But our own testimony is nonsense. A woman might say, "I can't be a manager, a scientist, more social, sexier ... because that's not really me," but she knows full well from looking around her that other women manage to be X just fine with exactly the same resources she has.
And that is really all you need to know: a woman can learn more about what it takes to be a woman by means of outer evidence—that is by learning what it is to be a woman by studying other women—whereas any appeal to inner experiences or truths is useless. As my cousin Kathleen once put it, the most useless question in the entire world is "What do you really want to be?"