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D. H. Lawrence on Men & Women, Part 1
Part 1 of 6. For the whole series, click here.
1. Love and Strife
In a 1913 letter D. H. Lawrence writes that “it is the problem of to-day, the establishment of a new relation, or the readjustment of the old one, between men and women.” Lawrence’s views about relations between the sexes, and about sex differences are perhaps his most controversial – and they have frequently been misrepresented. But before we delve into those views, let us ask why it should be the case that establishing a new relation between men and women is “the problem of to-day.” The reason is fairly obvious. The species divides itself into male and female, reproduces itself thereby, and the overwhelming majority of human beings seek their fulfillment in a relationship to the opposite sex. If relations between the sexes have somehow been crippled—as Lawrence believes they have been—then this is a catastrophe. It is hard to imagine a greater, more pressing problem.
Lawrence came to relations with women bearing serious doubts about his own manhood, and with the conviction that his nature was fundamentally androgynous. Throughout his life, but especially as a boy, it was easier for him to relate to women and to form close bonds with them. Thus, when Lawrence discusses the nature of woman he draws not only upon his experiences with women, but also upon his understanding of his own nature. One of the questions we must examine is whether, in doing so, Lawrence was led astray. After all, Lawrence eventually came to repudiate the idea of any sort of fundamental androgyny and to claim that men and women are radically different. In Fantasia of the Unconscious he writes, “We are all wrong when we say there is no vital difference between the sexes.” Lawrence wrote this in 1921 intending it to be provocative, but it is surely much more controversial in today’s world, where it has become a dogma in some circles to insist that sex differences (now called “gender differences”) are “socially constructed.” Lawrence continues: “There is every difference. Every bit, every cell in a boy is male, every cell is female in a woman, and must remain so. Women can never feel or know as men do. And in the reverse, men can never feel and know, dynamically, as women do.”