On the sexual politics behind the upright man and his counterpoint: the inclining woman.
Sexual and emotional inclination toward a person—for brevity’s sake, we’ll call it eros—stirs serious apprehension, above all among philosophers. They perceive it as a threat to the subject’s equilibrium—a deep quiver, a slippery slope. What they fear most of all are inclinations that are too impetuous and difficult to master. In the turbulent realm of eros, these include the inclination that turns to lust and other pleasures of the flesh—prominent among which is the alleged propensity of specifically female nature to lasciviousness.
In traditional ethics, this argument is often developed with particular passion, but it also appears in authors who would seem to be more open-minded. In the mid-nineteenth century, for example, the influential philosopher Pierre Proudhon, known for his innovative and revolutionary ideas, wrote some passages on this theme that are worthy of mention. In La pornacratie, ou les femmes dans les temps modernes he writes,
To speak of sexual relations, it is a law of nature in all animals that the female, incited by the instinct to have children, searches for a male in all manner of ways. Woman cannot escape this law. She is naturally more inclined to lasciviousness than man, first because her self is more fragile, such that liberty and intelligence struggle in her with less force against her animalistic inclinations, and secondly because love is the great, if not only, occupation of her life.
Despite his misogyny, or perhaps precisely because his prejudice does not spare even maternity, Proudhon’s words are ultimately thought-provoking. Following a widely accepted theory, Proudhon argues that love, with its pathologies and excesses, is essentially rooted in natural and animal phenomena related to sexual inclination, understood not as an orientation for a particular sex but as the instinct to have sex. He also suggests that, in women as in females of other species, this instinct is subordinated to the instinct for procreation. From this perspective, erotic and maternal inclinations spring from a core that is as imperious and indomitable as nature itself.