In Other Words – Ana Teixeira Pinto

In traditional societies, most saliently in the Mediterranean area, women are contested resources, subject to usurpation. In the absence of effective state bureaucracies, codes of honour and shame become central to the social order. Women are repositories of men’s honour but have no positive relation to it; the only impact a woman can have on honour is to destroy it. Any female misconduct upsets the social order. The investment in women’s virginity and chastity thus becomes the focus of common interest among the men of her family, and the centre around which male homosocial bonds are organized. As a result, men are socialized to commit violent acts to uphold it.
Socialized to bear part of this burden themselves, women see their own sexuality with suspicion. There is no contradiction between a virgin and a mother; they are just two sequential moments in the way honour organizes sexual and social life. But the figure of the whore mediates between the two: there is no other way for a virgin to become a mother. The pitfall of placing contradictory demands on women’s bodies is that the transition becomes slippery. If the invisible part of the triad becomes visible, the honour of the family is lost, and when honour is lost nothing can save you, not in this world. When honour is lost, the world breaks apart: hence the Etna eruptions, the thick ash clouds, the rivers of lava scorching everything in their wake. The end of social life is articulated in terms of a natural disaster, as the end of the world. Only a miracle can mend it.

Ana Teixeira Pinto

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