“Women are meant to be loved, not understood.” Oscar Wilde
We have a problem with a woman. A particular one. And it is getting worse.
Ever since we started our medical practice almost forty years ago, she has been coming every day, rain, or shine, to share her multiple woes with us. She sits down on the opposite side of our desk, looks at us straight in the eye and says these words: “I am emotionally frustrated.” What is her name? Bovary. Emma Bovary.
When we had read Madame Bovary [i] as a student in the Alliance Française [ii] of Montevideo, we were mesmerized by the story of a beautiful and ardent wife of a country medical practitioner that could not find any solace in her grey existence. At the time we could not fathom how she could be so ungrateful to her partner. However, the ensuing studies and practice as a medical doctor gave us the necessary insight to grasp—if still not fully agree with—the cause of her angst. We discovered the multiple big and small, yet none the less painful, incidents of public and private humiliation that women must endure with stoicism during their lives.
We had left our copy of the novel in a box full of books in Montevideo but somehow, Emma sprung out of it to pursue us all the way to Miami to disturb us. Ever since her 1856 debut as a series in La Revue de Paris [iii], this mischievously meek petite bourgeoise has been deftly manipulating ingénue men like us.[iv]
Even in a hyper-connected age, she still cannot get her message through. The plethora of mixed messages in the social media platforms has increased her confusion as her connections seem to be more tone-deaf than ever to her plight. As the tragic trifecta of memory, love and the passage of time relentlessly gnaws at her soul, she has been stubbornly nagging us to record her thoughts verbatim [v]. The Spanish language differentiates between the noble role of escritor—an artist inspired by a mission—and the mundane one of escribiente—an obscure agent that copies other people’s writings or takes dictation.[vi] Haggling with the most miserly of muses and fighting the meanest of demons, we turned into Emma’s escribiente.
A strange phenomenon has occurred to us almost imperceptibly yet steadily: the causes of her Emotional Frustration have started to percolate into our mind. Moreover, the daily drill of listening attentively to women has developed in our brain one of the greatest gifts they have been endowed with: the mirror neurons.
Slowly yet surely, we have learned to read almost any rictus of her face without any exchange of words. We can discern how her mood is by just looking at the way she steps in. Prodded by the cultural constraints of a supposedly “modern society” still controlled by men, women have been more focused on association rather than action like men had. In order to find out efficiently what their loved ones need, they have recurred to this edge ever since our Dark Times in the caves. We can start to close the gap by following their advice: “Just listen to me.”
Sigmund Freud [vii] was perhaps the first man that tried to listen to women. In his medical cabinet, he sat down next to a lady that would freely associate to open her mind and heart to his clinical scrutiny. Thus, he had the courage to study what Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot [viii], his mentor, dismissively dubbed as la chose génitale [ix] when they saw hysterical patients in the Neurology ward of La Pitié-Salpêtrière [x]. The extraordinarily rich emotional armamentarium of a woman exposes her to many opportunities of frustration when her goals, or those persons she loves, are not reached for sexual, familiar, financial, professional, and social reasons. After his workday, Freud had the temerity to go back home to listen to his wife and, if some unconfirmed reports are true, his sister-in-law too— his secret lover. Brave.
We have noticed the rising importance of female bonding in Emma’s life. Women—historically oppressed by all the patriarchal institutions and biologically burdened by the travails of the family—usually find the needed emotional support and social connectedness within their circle of friends, both male and female. Moreover, as women live more of their adult lives without a steady partner or a traditional family, they share more purposes and experiences with their friends.
Based on his solid experience as a physician, Antón Chekov [xi] wrote about the paradoxical facets of our behavior. Humans are biologically hardwired for contradiction—the essence of the creative process—because we have two brains and two minds. The Left propositional Hemisphere is logical and analytical while the Right appositional hemisphere is perceptual and synthetic.[xii] As a result, all the sensory input to the Right Hemisphere (originating in the body’s left side) is stored without any hard analysis or judgement. Contradictions coexist in harmony there. Women have more neural connections via the Corpus Callosum, between the Right and Left hemispheres [xiii] —the basis of their better integration of emotional aspects. We have patiently designed and written in a medical and literary web page at https://drmolaplume.com/ ,which has been a big success with a select public. We grouped our writings in series, one of which was named Emotional Frustration. It constituted the necessary scaffolding to slowly start constructing this sailing boat, besides gauging the reaction of our readers, and pleading for a propitious hava [xiv].
We would like to thank our children for their unfaltering support all these years besides helping us in concrete ways. Noël Marie designed the beautiful cover and Gian Luca helped us edit the text ; both have commented many articles. As Life is a perpetual journey along the treacherous channels to Wisdom that our kindred navigated before us, we would like to thank our parents and grandparents; Yolanda, la Nonna, and Morizio, il Nonno, endowed us with the Italian heritage.
Dear readers, trying to discern what the big causes of Emotional Frustration in our modern women are might seem like an impossible task, especially for us, men. Parsimoniously retracing our steps to our days as a medical student in the clinical ward of the Policlínico General San Martín of the Medical School of La Plata, we remember how Dr. Bernardo Manzino, professor of Medicine, sat down facing the patient, asked what was wrong and then listened without interrupting. The theoretical and practical studies of Semiology—the compendium of clinical signs that are pathognomonic of sickness—gave us useful clues, not only about patients’ physical ailments, but also about their psychological disturbances. It was right there that we started to hone our intuition skills “to try to understand women.”
Whether we like it or not, we are living in an on-demand environment. The time lapse between awareness, desire and reward has been reduced to an instant. If the streaming platforms release all the episodes of a series in a single day, we must realize that entertainment has taken a new dimension, especially for women. If you take a lady for a romantic dinner, she will scrutinize you closely for any faux-pas and quietly expect the right moves—verbal and physical. Binge-watching-reacting. You must be able to sell your brand every time you interact romantically. Reality takes a backseat to the magic of entertainment. It is what she sees in you. To carry out this Houdinesque trick, you must combine the storytelling prowess of brand marketers with the action-driven stunts of performance marketers. Someone trying to market their brand has to leverage this new paradigm by learning the best practices advocated by psychologists, social researchers, philosophers, writers, etc.
The Emotional Frustration of women does not occur in a social vacuum but rather within the constrictive corset deftly set up by all the patriarchal institutions. As there is absolutely nothing natural or biological to justify the social, economic, and professional subordination of women in our societies, we will tackle this issue.
Being an admirer of Jerzi Grotowsky [xv]—who sought to recreate the drama of spiritual/ religious practices by encouraging spectators’ participation to exorcise our Collective Unconscious—we added a sub-section titled A nugget of Wisdom and some interspersed notes identified as the Sailing’s logbook; we recruited an adventurous group of men for a boat trip to circumnavigate the waterways of Emotional Frustration. After discussing a major topic, we insolently broke the so-called “fourth wall” [xvi] to proselytize directly to them and try to shake their perennial, paralyzing torpor off. They look like the college notes on literary but hard to read classics like Ulysses. [xvii]
We can still remember the utter puzzlement and sense of loss we had when we raided the great library of our dear father Mario [xviii] and pulled that book out. “What is this? Why all this messy lay-out? Where do I start? Will I reach the end?”
Do not despair. Ignorant men can learn. Frustrated women can get relief.
We can overcome together the devastating consequences of this pandemic.
Only the concerted, sustained effort of all genres will rebuild our societies.
Every memorable adventure, and its printed saga, begins with a single step.
Please give us your hand and let us make that most humble, powerful move.
As Mario Benedetti [xix]—a chronicler of the “little details of life”—said:
“Lo Imposible. Sólo cuesta un poco más.” [xx]
[i] Gustave Flaubert, “Madame Bovary”, Frères Michel Levy, Paris, 1857.
[ii] Name of the private institute based in Paris, France, that teaches the French language in many branches worldwide.
[iii] After five years of writing more than 4500 pages, Gustave Flaubert, aged 35 years, published the 500 pages of “Madame Bovary” in the magazine directed by Maxime Du Camp, his companion in the trip to the Far East. There were six parts appearing on the first and fifteenth day of the months of October, November and December 1856. He wrote to a friend that; ‘you will know that I am presently being printed, I lose my virginity of non-published man in eight days as of Thursday, October 1st…I will for three consecutive months fill most of the pages of La Revue de Paris.” Our translation.
Information was obtained from Yvan Leclerc, “Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, pré-originale dans la Revue de Paris «, Recueil des Commémorations Nationales 2006.
[iv] In the January 8, 2019, program “L’heure Bleu” of Radio France Inter, Laura Adler, the presenter, interviewed Vanessa Springora, author of the bestseller “Le Consentement”. The subject of Madame Bovary and her frustrations came up for discussion. I believe it was Vanessa that suggested that Emma Bovary “devrait avoir pris la plume pour écrire” (she should have picked up the feather to write) Well, false modesty apart, let us inform these ladies that it is never too late for Emma to at least voice her ideas, especially when she can recruit a submissive agent to take dictation like yours truly. Playing with the meaning of our last name, we dare to say: “je suis peut être Laplume qui manquait dans la vie de Madame Bovary” ( I am perhaps the Laplume that was missing in Madame Bovary’s life)
[v] Term in the Latin language that means: “in exactly the same words.”
[vi] Diccionario de la Lengua Española, Tomo 1, Real Academia Española, 2001, Espasa Calpe.
[ix] Can be translated as “the genital stuff.”
[x] Name of the Paris hospital where Prof. Charcot directed a clinical ward of Neurology.
[xii] David A. Scola, “The Hemispheric Specialization of the Human Brain and its Application to Psychoanalytic Principles”, Jefferson Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 2, Issue 1, January 1984. https://jdc.jefferson.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer/
[xiii] Babak A. Ardekani, Khadija Figarsky, John Sitdis, “Sexual Dimorphism in the Human Corpus Callosum: an MRI Study using the OASIS Brain database”, Cerebral Cortex, 2013 Oct:23(10): 2514-2520. https;//academic.coup.com/cercor/article/23/10/2514/29675/
[xiv] Word of the Hindi language that can be translated as “current of air.”
[xvi] In theatrical jargon the “fourth wall” refers to the space interposed between the actors and their spectators.
[xviii] Mario Laplume Salguero was our dearest father and we prepared an article in his honor in our web page.
[xx] Can be translated as “The Impossible. It only costs a little bit more.” Mario Benedetti is one of the greatest modern Uruguayan writers who specialized in short stories and penned some of the most memorable romantic lines. Like James Joyce, he was interested in the vicissitudes of urban life and the multiple characters that inhabit—and suffer—them. “Montevideanos”, his first major book published in 1959, has reminiscences of “Dubliners.”