“Anna Karenina” – The Looks – and the Great Divide

19th century drawing of Winter palace St. Petersburg
19th century drawing of the ballroom in the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg – License: public domain

Beauty, wealth, a comfortable life and an adorable son: Yet, Anna Karenina still is one of the most tragic figures in literature. In popular movies the unhappy love story is always very much stressed. The actual underlying wonderfully rendered idea of what society and its expectations can do to individuals that stand out, is one of Leo Tolstoy’s masterpieces.

If you never had the opportunity – or never felt much like reading, try one of these two ways:
Just try and read the actual book.
Look around for a fine reading of it as audiobook recording.

Leo Tolstoy makes it a ‘movie theatre in the mind’: Vivid images of the people involved, the locations they visit, the talks and exchanges make it come to life much more vibrant than any movie ever could.

Most important to me is Tolstoy’s realization of an almost cruel truth: The expectations of a patriarchal society that quickly condemns anyone who does not conform to the ideas of what a lady is supposed to be like.

And the bitter truth that holds true to this day: The wife to be nice and quiet and even a little limited, preferably. The other woman, fascinating by charms and esprit who is being desired, craved even but put at a distance that is remote adoration, at best.

Tolstoy with his usual cutting-edge powers of observation also diagnoses the underlying ‘disease’:
Men who expect a plaything, a toy and presume the position of power, even cruelly to do as they please – because the ‘guys’ never mind or even applaud.

In modern times where at least on the surface the equality of the sexes has been achieved in some parts of this world, one would expect this to be a behaviour of the past.

But some more conservative surroundings bring it up again: The ghost of women passed – and past – who suffered from male expectations – and delusions. Or the bitter payback of ‘frustration’.

‘Chastity’ Revisited: Passion’s Pain or Joy…?

image of monastery hall in watercolour
Monastery – Free license courtesy Ecosia search engine

The religious aspect of the church trying to control passionate contemporaries putting their urges into action, cannot be overestimated in Christian regions, over the past couple of thousands of years.

A Question of Politics

But it also is basically a question of politics: Apart from food and drink and the need to ‘relieve yourself’ (discreetly put), human bodily passion is the strongest urge and many call it by rights the second most pleasurable among them. So, controlling it by making people afraid, as the Christian church has done for such a long time, means power over their minds. Which means, power over them.

I couldn’t agree more. What I also think is: It happens still far too often that people are irresponsible or downright careless. They ‘play games’ with their own or other people’s hearts just because they can.

Why hearts? Isn’t this about ‘bodily love, passion, lust’?

I’ve posted about this before.

Somehow the subject seems to come up repeatedly and a certain careful approach can easily be misunderstood by the uninitiated.

Review The Evidence

It has been made clear in the past couple of centuries by social sciences as well as medicine that passion in humans (or other organisms) is not singularly a matter of the body – uncontrollable – or, as it was posed for quite some time after the 1960s sexual revolution, just a human need, like having food and drink.

Since, simply put: If you do not drink or eat for a certain amount of time at all, you will die. You do not die from not having sexual intercourse.

Which brings me to my argument here and anywhere else in this blog if you care to check:

Although it has been represented to be two separate things, namely lust and love – they are just two aspects of one and the same thing: Emotions, feelings are closely intertwined with our body and its reactions.

We start breathing hard when the object of our desire is close. Our heart starts beating. We may feel ‘butterflies in our chest’ or just a wonderful warmth all over.

There is ample proof that all this is not to be treated lightly.

That’s all I ever mean or advocate – in so many words, sometimes even less words used:

Take Good Care of the Fire

Take good care of your or other people’s hearts, be responsible. Because for all the time mankind anywhere on this world can remember, arts, music, poetry and literature as well as fairy tales have called human passion and love what it actually is:
A fire, it can be wonderful to have around, warming, fiery, full of light – but it can burn, like a firebrand, and destroy all before it.

So, treat it – and yourself – with kindness and respect – as you would a good friend. And do unto others as you would want them to do unto you…

Women Are Looked at – Men Look…Three-fold…?

Picture of two main character in a Hithcock movie, man and woman
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons – Free license (Scene from ‘To Catch a Thief’, 1955)

Alfred Hitchcock in movies is called the master of suspense. He is unique that way – in this comparatively young art, existing for a little over a hundred years and having started basically with slapstick and vaudeville comedy – he has made unforgettable classics, such as The Man Who Knew too Much, North by Northwest, Birds, To Catch a Thief or Rear Window.

In all of the above a recurring theme is the immaculate, enticing and tall, beautiful blonde, characterized by a definitive ‘come-hither’ look and graceful and stylish appearance, made up to swooning point, into that quality Hollywood always sells best:

The larger-than-life heroes and heroines.

A memorable exchange between the two main characters takes place in a few scattered scenes in North by Northwest:

After a brief, passionate encounter that these days would be called a ‘one-night-stand’, the two main characters are hurdled and chased through a story of mystery, spies, agents, government secrets and espionage at its most polished and at the same time elegant suspense including mysterious strangers and hidden ‘looks’.

Yet, the looks of men towards women are not that hidden, especially on camera…

I am driving at the underlying principle of patriarchal society where men are supposed to judge a woman and her attractiveness by looks, three-fold:

    • Look-at-her: Gaze, look, pay attention, by using the visual capabilities nature has provided – and, more importantly, culture has instilled…
    • Looks: Is she dressed nicely, to signal she is ready to attract attention – at least – and has an even and nicely shaped face, in turn considered to be bautiful?
    • Looking-back: Are the eyes expressive of preparedness, the ‘come-hither’ look?

This way, the term ‘looks’ gets an almost completely changed meaning, which encompasses all the aspects and often unconscious implications:

Women are looking a certain way, ‘at’ a guy – and ‘to’ a guy – and are judged – thus:

Either interesting in the role of fleeting and perhaps even exciting adventure – not to be taken seriously and easily passed over.
Or, on the other hand, rather plain, less ‘enticing’ looks and thus ready to be made into a (house)-wife…

I add an edit of the scenes in North by Northwest here.

I find them almost revolutionary on Alfred Hitchcock’s part, to whom one cannot help take off one’s hat, any time!

They make abundantly clear if you care to listen closely, how easily the above stereotypes cause misunderstanding, at least.
Hitchcock shows female lead characters who are almost completely out of tune in the mid-nineteen-fifties:
Self-dependent, courageous and ready to take a stand – underneath all that polish… But perhaps these qualities are still far too much overlooked in women, even these days…

Let’s ‘look’ past the image(s) that make up our idea of the world – or our idea of women.

But then of course, there are always those who do not know about or realize the above – and may stay in a comparatively adolescent approach, what I like to call ‘the giggle state’ regardless of their true age, on these subjects. Usually a smaller percentage of any population, I am happy to note.


Author’s note:
It might appear as if I was solely drawing on my own ideas or observations for this. But quite simply, the whole of social sciences (recently also: behavioral sciences) have been describing these patterns for centuries.
social science, any branch of academic study or science that deals with human behaviour in its social and cultural aspects.” (Britannica)
I love to find out about people, humans and the real causes and effects, looking past images and traditions or customs that hamper knowledge rather than help it along.

Super-models, Used Cars and TV-Shows – or: The Relativity of ‘Beauty’

image of line of models on catwalk walking away
Super-models are and have been hotly discussed as a concept for decades, at least.
Why? First and foremost, because, they sell:
They sell an idea, glamour, the unattainable, a dream…and the latest fashion. Last but not least, the idea of sublime love…

They seem to be the living image of all those childhood fairy tales, the princess of the piece; again the almost unattainable, the ‘lady in distress’ to be saved.
The prize a man would win and thus suddenly be shot to the top of society from wherever he came, originally.
The woman apparently being a ‘princess’ or ‘queen’ in her own right:
Adored, looked-up to – and earning money by the bucketload…

But the downside of this is also very true and thus this post: Too many people take these images still too seriously and especially young ladies and girls tend to try and follow that example – far too often and far too much.

We should remember this, as a well-known TV-personality put it one day, (translated from German):

He spends lots of times behind the scenes in the makeup artists’ domain and what they do to the models’ faces there would get any used-car dealer into prison…

Since the advent of digital image editing this is even more pronounced, try using a search engine online for terms such as ‘digital makeup’ or ‘digital face lifting’: Just one such search comes up with 5.3 million results.

In our modern digital age the spread of such images is fast and almost global: Far too many people every day doubt themselves and their looks and suspect they might not look fashionable, that is ‘beautiful’, enough.

A big mistake. Because, what happens to people who choose a partner simply for looks is a complete disillusionment as soon as the person becomes known to them in real life.

It is part of that fairy-tale ending we so often presume when not aware (yet) of the image as opposed to reality. I’ve posted about that too, elsewhere.

Love starts with ourselves. Not with ‘eternal, perfect’ beauty. But with the friendship we can develop inside for ourselves, a liking, the ‘love your neighbour as you love thyself‘ concept.

I implore anyone who is in doubt about their features:
Think again! Watch, learn, I am sure you will find I am right: ‘Winning’ someone’s love starts with liking / accepting ourselves for what we are.

In recent years some campaigns have been launched for ‘real beauty realization’.
But the reverse is there still: TV-Shows about model challenges and searches where young women and increasingly men are cruelly put down in front of audiences for ‘not fitting the bill’.

Erich Kästner, German, award-winning poet and writer of the 20th century, put it in a fine poem like this
(used DeepL for English translation in this case, edited manually, for speed):

The dream of face-swapping

When I dreamt what I am about to tell you,
thousands were rushing through that house.
And as if some one commanded it
and their own faces tormenting everyone,
they all took off their faces.

Like taking pictures off the walls for moving
we took our faces away.
And then we held them in our hands,
as masks are held at the end of festivities.
But it was not festive, the place.

Without mouth or eyes, bare as shadows,
each one reached for the other’s hand,
until they had faces again.
Quickly and silently the exchange was made.
Each took what he found in the other’s hand.

Men suddenly wore children’s features.
Women wore beards on their faces.
Old men smiled like concubines.
And then they all rushed, me along with them,
towards the mirror but I couldn’t see myself.

The crowd grew wilder and wilder.
One of them had discovered his face!
Shouting, he forced his way through the crowd.
And he cornered his face.
But he did not find it. It remained hidden.

Was I that child with long braids?
Was I that woman with red hair?
Was I one of the bald heads?
Among the mixed-up creatures
I saw none that was myself.

Then I woke up in shock. I felt cold.
Someone was pulling my hair.
Fingers tugged at my mouth and ear.
I realised, as the fear faded,
that the hands were my own.

Of course, I was not completely reassured.
Was I wearing features that did not concern me?
I jumped up hastily and turned on the light,
I ran to the mirror, looked at my face,
put out the light and went to sleep, reassured.

 

‘Suffering from a Lack of Emotion’ ? – ‘*Feeling* Alive’

image with a stone heart, blue flowers and a light
“What to take when you suffer from a lack of emotion.”

Erich Kästner, German poet and award-winning writer of the 20th century, published a small book of poems he called:
‘Dr. Erich Kästner’s lyrical medicine chest’ / Dr. Erich Kästners lyrische Hausapotheke.

He ordered the poems by ‘ailment’ in the sense of what to ‘take’ in which kind of life’s – sometimes hard – situations.

I love this book. Among others.

One category in there he called:
“What to take when you suffer from a lack of emotion.”

He was not the first to state the importance of emotions and feeling in human life. Another fine and well-crafted example is the poetic fairy tale Wilhelm Hauff wrote in the 19th century, “Das kalte Herz” / Heart of Stone.

Why do they write about it?

Why would Kästner call it a ‘suffering’, consider it something treatable?

Because in the Western world at least for generations business considerations made it necessary to appear ‘cool, calm and collected’ any time. I mentioned this elsewhere. Additionally, two world wars called for heroism and ‘toughness’ before, during and after.

Building destroyed cities from the ground up again, in many cases made it appear to be even more essential, to be ‘tough’, not be moved to tears by sadness – or similar kinds of emotions.

It seems that many consider it a ‘weakness’ to this day.
Men are even more challenged that way still: A man is to be always superior, know his way about, and will save women, children and the elderly first, risking his life, if needs be.

The Heart of Stone

The result of such ideas is the opposite of an emotional mindset: Stony, dry and unmoved people ‘move’ through life and wonder only now and again what might be missing.

For men, almost the only two spheres in life they are allowed to be moved by, still, are sports and passion.

Of course this is also culturally dependent. Some cultures ‘grant’ emotions to men, and in general in certain situations, that others do not.

In effect it means that such people feel ‘dead to the world’. Walking, talking, attending to business, yet nothing seems to interest them.

Emotions ‘at the Heart’

In modern medicine even, it’s become clear – after certain brain surgery cases – that without actual emotions at all, we are unable to decide on anything.

Emotions are crucial, underestimated, and actually there, even if we are not aware of that ourselves.

Sigmund Freud did the research and cleared up a lot of unknowns around the whole matter.

How to go about it if you hadn’t realized it already?

The first thing is awareness. That is what I try to do around here… for the general public, as it were, hoping to light a candle perhaps.
Or have one or the other of my readers realize that there is ‘more to it than meets the eye’.

Try, if you will, for starters, the book and the tale I mentioned:

All emotions are essential to human life. Dealing with them is what it needs.

Awareness can help a great deal – in business just as much as in private life.

The Princess, the Hero, the Dragon – Romance? – or: Romantic Love as a Life-long Project

drawing of book with 3D image of castle inside
Fairy stories have them all: The ‘romantic’ types of love that come with a sudden realization, or a ‘meet cute’ as they call it in Hollywood or on TV, or the hero slaying the dragon to save the ‘lady in distress’.

They are sweet, sometimes the rendering in stories is wonderfully done.
Yet, they end with the smile of two, or more, protagonists: Curtain.

Real life begins after that.

The idea of romance can have at least two types, it seems to me:
One is the image made up of ideas that recur at least since the middle-ages, including a couple of different archetypes as C.G. Jung identified them. It causes people to ‘run around’ with stars in their eyes.

The other is romance that combines the longing for true closeness and passion by knowing oneself and the other – and better over time.

At this point I’d like to reference a fine book here that ‘has it all’ for anyone who cares to read:

Steve and Shaaron Biddulph: The Making Of Love, 1999 and later, Doubleday Australia / Wie die Liebe bleibt (German)

Steve and Shaaron Biddulph, Australian couple of psychotherapist and social worker published their first edition of this truly funny, smart and warm-hearted look on love and how to keep it during the 1990s. It’s been revised a couple of times since then and is still one of my favourites on the subject.

Quote: “Love starts out as a blessing, even a fluke, but it continues as an achievement!”

What we tend to overlook in view of all those glittering pictures is the fact that we spend a lot of time and energy on the romance in the beginning – and then feel: ‘Ok, this is done. Let’s get back to business.’

Love is an achievement, knowing yourself, knowing the other – and it needs time and energy in order to work.

Know yourself and what you expect from a relationship – and then find and keep your partner in life.

The Conquest in Passion – Hearsay and Reality

photo of unpeeled pomegrantes

Almost as long as patriarchal society exists hearsay about the male conquest of women exists as well.
‘Get her’, ‘make her’, ‘have her’, and similar, some far ruder expressions are used by a certain type of male: The ones who believe in fairy stories, the adult kind – that are actually based in so much swaggering.
The numbers of conquests some men pretend to have made. And the ways and means they purportedly use to reach the ‘goal’…

I’ve posted about similar aspects before – yet this seems so present all around me, in marketing, online messages, some movies, ‘social networks’ – especially hearsay and hidden misunderstandings, I feel like putting it here again.

There are those who ‘prove’ their ‘masculinity’ by taking photos and showing them around. In former times they might have collected them in albums like stamps… These days it’s probably mostly the smartphone.

Some even install devices to watch their next-door neighbours with telescopes or even more sophisticated tools these digital days.

Another breach of privacy, crude and cruel in some cases, too.

The Breach of Privacy

The strange thing about this is that the watchers and ‘collectors’ ignore ‘magnanimously’ that is not only a breach of privacy but is a crime by the Human Rights Declaration. There exist countries who have laws that punish this kind of behaviour if it becomes known.

The Damage to Mind and Body

Even sadder are the long-term effects of such behaviour: It damages mind and soul. Of the ‘actors’. Simply put.

The mistake is in the premise:
Ever since Charles Darwin published his theories about the evolution it seemed to be clear that human beings are not far from animals themselves. The consequence seemed to present itself smoothly: They therefore would or even should behave the same way.

People who believe it in these simple terms tend to overlook that human beings are in possession of complex feelings, basic emotions and a mind.
Such people also tend to believe the stories and images and movies that have existed ever so long as well, from Zeus to Don Juan, over Casanova to the average ‘erotic’ story.
These stories are make-believe of a society that creates them to ultimately ‘market an image’.

It’s been proven by this time that the ‘mindless banging’ will end in depression and often even drug-addiction, alcohol or worse.

Why?

Because anyone practising this, men or increasingly women too, will have to consciously detach their mind from their ‘heart’, the outer sign of (passionate) emotions.

This amounts to schizophrenic behaviour in the true sense of the word and just as the actual condition is a sickness of the mind, so is the effect of such ‘banging’ over the course of time.

King Henry VIII.

A very famous example of many is king Henry VIII. of England: Shortly after the love of his life was abandoned for reasons of family lineage (male prince and successor), partly by the advice of his counsellors at court, he started doing just that: He not only seduced as many women as he could get hold of; he also drank and smoked without restraint or real joy…

During the past 10 years or so in historical research the diaries his doctors and his servants kept were revealed: All the ailments – and there were quite a number! – are easily attributed by modern doctors to his lifestyle.
A BBC documentary summarizes these findings nicely.

What Women Do (Not) Admire…

There are cases, alas, among men, who are or will be lost to this kind of realization.

Because they have been raised that way. Because they are too much afraid to not belong – ‘belong’ to the apparently large number of ‘real men’.

One thing is true, too: Smart women will not take this kind of behaviour seriously into account. Ask them, if you will…

The Clowns’ Principle: Laughter With a Bleeding Heart

woman in Venetian carnival costume against the wall

The flower ‘bleeding heart’ is called after the human situation many know well: Feeling sad or facing tragic or difficult situations, the real emotion is hidden inside. The idea being that you may spare others the sad face…

Men, depending on the respective society, often are forced to behave that way, no matter what, to show they are ‘up to it’.

And there’s the type of people who resemble clowns in the circus: Whatever they feel, they will make jokes, the clown will behave clumsy on purpose and appear like the proverbial yokel, in order to make people laugh, make them happy, thus lightening the sometimes almost unbearable situation.

It is once more the principle of the kaleidoscope to me, the ‘as well as’ of all colours, side by side. Not negating, but accepting the inevitable, finding a positive outlook of:

“Laughter helps to relax and strengthen – now what do we do?”

Mark Twain – Adam’s Diary – ‘The Garden without Eve?’ – An Extract….

roses sunny landscape dusk

Mark Twain, US-American literature’s founder he is called by many: Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are the most famous of his books, Huckleberry Finn indeed being considered the beginning of the ‘American voice’. He was a man of all trades for a long time, Mark Twain, his stage name and pseudonym, being taken from his, Samuel L. Clemens’, favourite trade he learned before turning to ‘newspapering’:

‘Ol Man River’ Mississippi’s ships’ pilots and their calls: The Mississippi is known for many shoals and sandbanks with very low water above them. A pilot on that river would traditionally know these places by heart, interpret every gleam and slight ripple of waves on its surface, and call water depths to the captain when lowering the sounding lead into the treacherous waters:
“Mark Twain” being the call for 2 fathoms (12 feet) of water below the ship’s keel and thus:
Safe going.

This is one of his wonderful quotes I’d like to put here, from Extracts from Adam’s Diary, for all men who doubt it, even at work… The Garden without Eve?

‘Tongue in cheek’ I post it here…

“TEN YEARS LATER.—They are boys; we found it out long ago. It was their coming in that small immature shape that puzzled us; we were not used to it. There are some girls now. Abel is a good boy, but if Cain had stayed a bear it would have improved him. After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her. At first I thought she talked too much; but now I should be sorry to have that voice fall silent and pass out of my life. Blessed be the chestnut that brought us near together and taught me to know the goodness of her heart and the sweetness of her spirit!”

Men, Women, Emancipation – Beyond the Image…

Greek god statues inside temple arcade

Women have been subdued in patriarchal society for generations, even thousands of years. It’s been discussed and now almost common knowledge, and high time too.
But what about the secret life of men?

Aren’t they being used too, in many situations?

Of course, one might argue, as the ‘reigning’ part, not to say sex, they have all the ‘fun’: they are considered superior, always prepared, always the last to leave a sinking ship, saving everybody else first…They make the rules and the laws, they vote (used to vote solely).

Women have fought for that privilege:
In the famous movie about Danish writer Karen Blixen’s life in Africa “Out of Africa”, a lieutenant when WW I is about to start, tells the main character that they, the soldiers have come to rescue women and children.
Her curt reply:
“Is that one category, Lieutenant, or two?”

It tells you something about the feeling a person has when constantly forced to a stature of obedience and inferiority. Many women also for generations believed actually that woman is inferior to man. Less smart, less capable of looking after business…less able to learn about science or technology.

In this day and age almost no one around here ‘dares’ to argue this anymore.
Yet, the sandbox and its castle of male ‘games’ are very much alive… To some extent, being superior and always cool, calm and collected has become part of men’s biological setup, so it seems: To feel as a man properly, certain situations and emotions are crucial. Some even have imbibed the spirit to the extent that they become furious in situations that question their stature.
It is a sad story, too, though.

Men are not allowed to feel sorrowful. They are supposed to provide for the family, protect everyone except themselves and be ‘successful’, which usually means some kind of wealth and the means to build a house, have a car – and pay for the children’s education.

They are not supposed to grumble about it. On the contrary, with cheerfulness – or at least something amounting to it, calm in dangerous situations – and smartness anytime and every time, they are expected to be wonderful, passionate lovers, gentle fathers, considerate brothers and sons.

They are allowed other kinds of emotions only in times when sports events become dramatic: Their favourite team in football, soccer or baseball losing – men suddenly are allowed to cry. But only then.
Not even the death of a dying relative is supposed to make them show a chink in the armour…

Armour seems to be the operative word: An armour created of steel and glamour and heroism – when in truth, men are just as vulnerable, proud and sad in their hearts – and sometimes would much better like to just ‘pack it in’ – and run….

I am a woman writing this, trying to understand. A little. My own life has been marked by this yearning: To understand. For real.
I have also been raised that way by a smart and kind mother and father, each in their own way: Do not believe the superficial. Don’t run with the crowd, just because it is large and loud…

I have read more books in the course of my life than I have met people. Italian, French, German, Austrian, Polish, Swedish, Norwegian, Swiss, older and newer poets and novelists, Russian, British, Spanish, Greek, Turkish, US, Chinese, Japanese, African, Australian, Indian, South-American, Canadian, Middle-Eastern, you name it.

Yet, I have met heaps of people too.

One of my passions is to know about people – and know the truth. However painful it may become, at times.

The above about me is meant to show how I as a woman come to write this. I’d like to encourage men and women alike to not settle for half a life, for fear of being different.