Scratch this

A thought arose of late when considering a recent Italian court decision that apparently makes it illegal for a man to scratch or adjust himself in public.

The Italian ruling clubs together all forms of “crotch-scratching”— prompted by discomfort or by superstition — as offensive. Certain actions are considered inappropriate for public viewing. They not only offend the “average man” — a useful alibi for legislators — but also taint the sanctity of the public sphere. The issues raised by the Italian ruling go beyond the obvious question of violating an individual’s right to touch himself. Suddenly, this behaviour becomes as suspect as a range of other ‘uncivil’ activities — spitting, peeing or bathing on the streets — which would be severely condemned in any Western society ….

…. There is nothing inherently dangerous about crotch-scratching. Unlike spitting or peeing publicly, it does not ‘pollute’ in any physical sense. It is rather like a moment of unconscious intimacy with oneself, like biting fingernails or tugging at one’s hair. The West remains unmoved by unabashed public display of sexual affection, but is perturbed by a superstitious habit.

The Italian legislation is the outcome of a history of sensibilities that is unmistakably Western. These sensibilities have been formed as much by increased awareness of civic norms as by a heightened self-consciousness (as in the flatulent woman on the plane). It is unlikely that India will ever have a law that forbids men to touch their privates in public (in which case, every second man would have to be fined by the minute.)

Trying to figure the situation in Italy is an exercise in futility. Italian courts have some interesting standards that might seem peculiar to American perspectives. After all, we impeached a president once for lying about marital infidelity, and that must have seemed strange to the Italians, who expect their women, at least, to perjure themselves about such things. From the other end of the spectrum, however, comes this strange prudishness, that a man should not scratch or adjust himself in public, and if you’re anything like me the first thing to mind is the word baseball.

And in that sense, Americans seem a bit closer to the Indians than the Italians. Our subcontinental neighbors are much less uptight, it seems, about penile or testicular discomfort, unbalanced manhood, or the occasional itch. I cannot account for the subcontinental outlook.

But the continental European view? Well, okay, let’s be specific: the Italian view? Pure misogyny.

This is a court that has previously ruled that women are permitted to lie under oath about having extramarital affairs because of the possible damage such truths could cause a person’s honor. Why women specifically?

This is a court that has previously ruled that a woman wearing jeans cannot be raped.

Is there really any question about misogyny?

When the perjury ruling came down last month, scholars and commentators were unclear on whether or not it applied to men, as well. And while common sense, to an American mind, might suggest there is no way it cannot, the very question itself is telling. Why would it not? Because there are certain differences perceived between women and men, and the expectations thereof? Are we really revisiting studs and sluts, the classic double standard of sexual promiscuity?

Well, why not? Certainly it fits thematically. If you have to put too much effort into forcing a woman to have sex, it’s not rape? A woman’s honor is more susceptible than a man’s to damage from talk of sexual promiscuity?

So where do women fit in with men scratching themselves?

See, that is the curious thing. Because, while Ghoshal notes for the Calcutta Telegraph that such behavior might “offend the ‘average man'” and “violate the sanctity of the public sphere”, let us at least be honest. The average man is hardly offended by a scratch or a shift, and it is a hard claim that such behavior is remotely akin to other violations of the public sphere such as pissing in an alley or fucking in the men’s room. “[E]very second man”, writes Ghoshal, “by the minute”. And what of our beloved American national pastime?

So it is not the “average man” who is offended by a scratch here and there.

The women, then? Could it be that Italian women are of such delicate sensibilities that a man scratching himself is a traumatic sight? Perhaps, since they are so ferociously defensive of their virtue that the only way to get an Italian woman out of a pair of jeans is with her cooperation, even if she is trying to claw your eyes out the whole time.

It seems a counterintuitive obsession with sexuality and decency. But whence comes such strangeness?

This is where a certain thought finally and suddenly lit up like an outsized cowboy in Vegas.

Religion. No, not that the misogyny comes from religion, that’s obvious. It’s more digressive or tangential than that.

According to at least one religion, or, as such, group of affiliated religions ….

At any rate, the relevant religion, so consider, please, a notion. When, according to the Bible (Genesis 2), God made Adam, all of the animals came before the first man and none of them were found to be suitable companions for this one peculiar creation. Indeed, folklore speaks of a failed marriage, a first wife of Adam named Lilith who, as Davidson notes, “bore Adam every day 100 children” until God created Eve. And Eve, the supposed mother of humanity, represents an aspect of the question here.

Because God made mankind in His own image. A least, that is how the story is taught. But, for some reason, the masculine God, in creating Eve, not only did so as an afterthought since nothing else was working, but for some reason did not create Adam to possess the power of creation according to the image after which he was fashioned. At no time was the independent power of creation invested in Adam. Even by legend, Adam required the participation of a demon to reproduce; his first children were crossbred, akin to nephilim.

Did God, then, intend that humans should reproduce at all? Or was that simply an afterthought?

Enter stage left all manner of strange notion, from Blanco’s divine plan that includes the fall of man to the pain of childbirth as punishment for that necessary sin at Eden, and one would not be mistaken to pause for a moment to consider the composite narrative perspective of the Biblical legend. We should certainly not be surprised that a cultural outlook so deeply invested in the Christian myth as Italian history suggests should likewise display the confused patchwork misogyny of a lore stitched together with less regard for implications than Frankenstein’s legendary usurpation.

By what twisted course could a court ruling indecent a man scratching at his groin represent a manifestation of misogyny? Indeed the course of history paved as such with the legends of a neurotic, discordant religious faith is not only sufficient, but nearly demonstrative in and of itself.

    Davidson, Gustav. A Dictionary of Angels. 1967. New York: Free Press, 1994. (p. 174)

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