The Language of Ownership


Pessoa is generally recognized as Portugal’s greatest poet since Camoens.  Upon a casual reading of this sentence from his Book of Disquiet one might overlook the deeply ingrained acceptance of the notion that a human being can own another human being.

“How it would be if she were mine.” If she belonged to me. If I owned her. If she were another of my possessions. As in, if she were off-limits to other people who might also wish to own her. Because then I would have sole rights over her and I would be justified to protect my private property from all who would also like to have it.

Certainly we’re all familiar with  the innocent idea that, for example, on Valentine’s Day children exchange little cards that say “Be mine,” meaning “Be my Valentine.”

But Pessoa’s message here is more insidious than something written on a Valentine’s card. The word “idly” carries an undertone of entitlement, like a vein that runs through our language and the attitude toward women. The image of a man sitting in a cafe, perhaps, sipping a coffee, watching people as they pass, utterly self-contained and confident in his station in life as a male who has been indoctrinated into the cult of objectification.

Would a woman, sitting in the same cafe watching people, say something like, “Whenever I see the figure of a young man in the street, I wonder, however, idly, how it would be if he were mine”? Do women hold the idea that they can “own” a man? Perhaps on some level, but I venture not on a level of flaunting some entitled belief in personal superiority that is passed down from father to son, teacher to student, media to consumer, writer to reader a hundred times a day, on every level of consciousness.

No wonder some men are now terrified by women who can vote, who can think for themselves, who demand control over their own lives and bodies, who do not see themselves as objects to be used and raped however a man pleases. Their entire foundation of belief is being undermined and they are being left behind as the world progresses unstoppably forward.


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