Collateral Damage: the Culture of Christianity

Written in October, 2010, first titled: “Duality and Sexuality: The Law of the Jungle”

(This text may have been written based on my experiences in Costa Rica and Quebec, but it pertains equally well to any cultural and religious context that has its foundation in the suppression of the Feminine)

Over the past 2 weeks, I have had the honour of touching so many people here in Costa Rica, their lives and stories filling my heart and belly with the history of this land that I love so much.

I am told that someone has decided on the basis of statistics that Latin Americans are the most sexually well-adjusted people on the planet. Oh dear…Perhaps this mess is a harbinger of “the only way out is up”, and Costa Rica – along with all the other places on earth where the Catholic Church has cut its wide swath – are at the forefront of a shift in the way we live and love. Let’s hope….

Catholic men and women have historically been taught that sexuality was a bestial necessity of the need to go forth and multiply, and The Church had the foresight to co-opt Motherhood as the guardian of Family morality, convincing women that God would still love them long after their husbands had left them to go out and do more multiplying. Trading therefore the pure love of God and the assurance of a cozy afterlife in His care for the temporal carnality of – ugh! – sex with their husbands, the righteous Founding Mothers of this country left a legacy of shame and repression that still resonates its complicated patterns in every cell of each indoctrinated body.

But this is not the whole story, it seems. While the Founding Fathers here in Costa Rica – the white men who “broke” the land- were out conquering the jungle with roads and railways and the indigenous people with guns, money and semen, it seems that a goodly number of the Founding Mothers, perhaps tired of being civilised and doing needlepoint and such – maybe it had something to do with the wildness of the Life busily replicating itself around them – decided to divert their creative energy elsewhere. I am told, in tones strangely hushed for these modern times, that familial traits often pop up in the darn’dest places – the nose and eyes of an old and respected family appearing, for example, under another name….Children here, in the social strata where properties and genetic material are carefully hybridised, grafted and cultivated, carry the family names of both parents.

Class differences are as marked in Costa Rica as elsewhere in Latin America, but at least here the poor feel they are equal citizens of the land. Here, Ticos unencumbered by material possessions will look you in the eye when they speak to you, call you “Mi Amor” or “Mi Reina” and dispatch God to accompany you with the confidence of those who are still on intimate terms with the Divine.

The first time I came to Costa Rica, not quite 20 years ago, I stayed with my young family in a beach house near Esterillos on the Pacific coast. On our first trip into town for food and sundries, I was surprised at the tight clothes, over-the-top makeup, stiletto heels and general come-hither looks of dozens of beautiful young women strolling the main street. When I commented on the high number of prostitutes for such a small place, our host, a transplanted Quebecois, informed me that these were actually the upstanding young ladies of the town, from good Catholic families, advertising their availability to potential marriage partners – strutting their stuff. For poor families the world over, a beautiful daughter can be a precious commodity, possibly attracting a man of better standing, or even a foreigner. Although marriage is the preferred outcome, the men with power and money here in Latin America are notoriously generous with their…attentions.

Once you have had children, in or out of wedlock, you do everything in your power to keep the father around. You ignore his peccadillos and the abuse of whatever sort might come your way and you make sure you “get your body back” as soon as possible. You get a nanny if you can afford it, and get back as soon as possible to the business of keeping your man. The thing is that within the mythical constellation of Catholicism, once you become a mother you are set up for the role of Madonna – you become unsulliable – the Mother to the man who is supposed to be your mate. The obvious solution for the male is to find another sexual partner: The Mistress – The Whore. We see this everywhere in the world, different cultures with differing degrees of acceptance of the arrangement. A logical way off this Mary-go-round would be to be gay – if the Holy Mother Church only had less hold on the privates of the people. The other option that leaves one perhaps in the best of all possible circumstances is to be a moneyed widow: power, freedom and the moral high road in one neat package.

“This is the way it works – this is just the way it is”….and yet….Men I have spoken to here seem to be divided into two camps as well. Some of them seem bound to the responsibilities and privileges of a monogamous family relationship, expressing mostly an incredulous “Who has the time and energy for anything else?”  These are fathers who are involved with their children, often not wanting them to have to experience the pain that they did at having absent fathers. The other men have simply replicated the time-worn stereotype of the Latin macho man, sometimes with a sense of a kind of addictive inevitability – of not being able to stop themselves though they might want to on some level. Others are just proudly/defensively certain that “men are made this way”.

Both wives and mistresses are often left to care alone for their children, but there is always the chance that he might pick YOU and not HER….Competition amongst women is furious and largely unacknowledged. I see women exhausting their energy, finances and morale attempting varying proportions of Madonna and Whore – the Virgin and the Magdalene. Plumpness in the wealthy class is a point of shame and ridicule; “fat” is an epithet, spat out with disgust and pity. About 50% of the women I have seen have breast implants….

An elderly women stopped on the beach once to admire my children, especially the blond curls and green eyes of the youngest. She took my hand and with a toothless smile of complicity, stared into me and said,” But you are a brown woman (una morena), like me”. She was acknowledging what seems a global fact of life: lighter skin is perceived as a sign of elegance, civilisation and respectability. Dark-skinned women are for pleasure, and hard work; women throughout the world have told me of being labelled as ugly (and therefore worthless) because of where they landed in this hierarchy of hue. The old woman on the beach was in her thirties – the same age as I – and had already had ten children. She put my hand to her belly to show me the beginning swell of the 11th with a familiar mixture of sadness and joy – I have seen this and felt this myself, so many times….

Beautiful, juicy women attract the most wealthy, powerful men. If you do not believe that you are beautiful, you need to be smart; here in Costa Rica, there are plenty of smart women. Lawyers, architects, doctors, business women, artists, psychologists, biologists…. The country is being run more and more by women fueled by their insecurity as women, who have either decided to make the changes they can in the traditional patriarchal hierarchies or have become one of the guys themselves.

Women still throw themselves into motherhood as an escape from the dangers of being sexual women. Sacrifice and devotion are the by-words here: “My mother was a Saint” usually means that she put up with all manner of activity on the part of her spouse. Women who pull their energies out of their sexuality – out of their bellies and into their morals  – make themselves less or not at all available to their men, and put their daughters at risk. Incest is as rampant here as in Quebec, but is socially still much more of a source of shame – a dirty family secret. Children who have experienced incest pull their own energies out of their sexuality, but learn that they have a secret and dangerous power that they can be easily tempted to employ. Young women who learn they can be sexy to survive and have potential access to money and power are subject to ever more exploitation and abuse.

Arriving in San Jose’s Juan Santamaría Airport, standing in line amongst the eco-tourists with their backpacks, the Business Class with smart-phones and briefcases and the pleasure-seekers of all manner and mien, an official notice – posted as the last thing you read before passing through Customs and entering the country – warns:  In Costa Rica, it is illegal to have sexual relations with a minor. Offenders will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I think I remember a prison term and a fine being mentioned. One is left to ponder the realities that precipitated this bluntness.

Women who choose to escape into maleness or motherhood teach their daughters either to never be dependent on anyone, especially not a man, or that they need to be smarter and sexier than their moms; they become men in women’s bodies in the first case or the classic seductive woman in the latter. Sons of deserted or dominated mothers learn not to be like their dads in order to be loved by their mothers; they learn how to keep mommy happy and acquire power by being “mama’s boys”, later morphing into seductive – or gay – men. Those who rebel become “just like your Father”.

Younger men who have witnessed and experienced consequences of their fathers’ transgressions often cut themselves off from their own fertility. Young women who have watched their mothers become slaves to their families do the same, and infertility plagues the land. Fertility clinics have had a rocky path to legitimacy in Costa Rica; couples who could afford to have until recently gone abroad to attempt to become parents, undergoing difficult clinical procedures that they don’t want to even think about afterward. All the humiliation and exertion can be mostly erased if the procedures are successful and they return with a pregnancy that holds to term. After all – someone has to inherit the wealth.

I have been bleeding for several days now – hot dark clumps of suffering flowing from my body, as I cry and cry and cry….


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