‘Holders of power, great and small, have managed and controlled female sexuality… The need to nullify bodies with breasts, a vulva and a womb…and to act as if everything and anything sexual was [men’s] domain is remarkably widespread. It can be found in countless handed-down images, stories, symbols, rituals that concentrate on the body parts that distinguish women from men.’
The female body has been admired, used and abused throughout history. Despite the symbiotic relationship between the sexes, men have had more power than women, and the female anatomy seems to lie at the root of this inequality. Mineke Schipper’s riveting cultural world history examines how men everywhere have had mixed feelings about the female body. Delight has gone hand in hand with insecurity, and power with feelings of impotence. Mythology is permeated with threats and fear: vaginas with teeth, snakes in women’s abdomens, witches with multiple breasts. Male fear almost always turns into aggression, which is why violence against women—and the suppression of their own stories about themselves—is perennial.
Schipper travels all over the world and through antiquity, analysing stories about sexuality, pregnancy and birth—stories of immaculate conception, erotic lactation, virginal bleeding, contraception, chastity and instruments of torture designed for use on women. She explores male anxieties such as the dread of hymens and menstrual blood, and the fear of dependency on mothers and wives.
Drawing from ancient Mesopotamia and modern Turkey; medieval European art and contemporary fashion; Indian, Greek and Japanese myths; and tales from the Igbo of Nigeria, the Vikings, the Xhosa, and the Ming Dynasty, Hills of Paradise is an extraordinary work. This deeply researched, powerful and sometimes hilarious account offers not only clear insights into the past, but also into the way women and men still interact with each other today.