I was only kidding

There is one character type genuinely incapable of kidding. This practice of his American cousins appears to the British gentleman a matter of outright insult. As such it is unforgivable and cannot be accepted with hilarity. The gentleman has learned from early childhood on to chain his aggression with the help of faultless good manners, come what may. No outlet for underlying hostility is allowed in any form. A psychiatrist would diagnose this character type as belonging to the obsessive-compulsive personality. Such a man is balanced only when he freezes all emotions, especially his hostile reactions, with rigidly polite behavior. He moves like a medieval knight in heavy armor, not able to unbend.

In our time a woman is not supposed to be a kidder and rarely is. She will seldom enjoy kidding another woman. If she feels hostile, there are more feminine ways to express herself. For instance, she may be a tease, and she may tease a man for good reasons. The aroused man is the potent man. The kittenish woman is the charmingly hostile woman. If she feels undilutedly hostile, she has her own methods of disguise. She may needle her sisters, more or less gently, but draw blood nevertheless.

In general, women are not less hostile than men. But our contemporary culture brings pressure on them to use different forms of expressing or disguising their hostility. The women of our contemporary scene have to be careful, because any show of aggression, open or disguised, is taken by every man in our competitive culture as a challenge, as a matter of fact a sexual challenge, to which he has to rise. Actually, this reaction belongs to a biologic level of communication between the sexes. The female cat, when in heat, will scratch the tomcat, who immediately gets the point and reacts accordingly. The hen pecks the rooster for the same purpose. The human male of our time is supposed to resent this aggression as humiliating and unbecoming to his dignity.

Let me repeat that we are talking here only about the ways and means of expressing or inhibiting hostility, not about the strength of aggressive and hostile tendencies. These are probably as strong in the unconscious of women as they are in men; only the ways of showing and expressing them are different. There are times in the life of every woman, no matter how mature she feels and how little need she has to demonstrate her superiority to her male mate, when she insists on showing her power. The mature woman is secure in her superiority and will not even ask for equal rights, which would only rob her of her superior position.

But occasionally even the charming woman will show the man that something can happen to him which cannot happen to her. Thus she may use the threat of castration to illustrate the difference between male and female. With our Oedipus situation as it is, the man always has to fight his fears. The normal woman has overcome this fear and therefore has gained greater reserves for an inner security on which she may draw in times of need. The woman is always potent. If she is frigid, she may learn to hide this fact, or she may choose to make the man responsible for it. After all, he has clearly visible the instruments with which to satisfy her.

The man reacts to this challenge with a fantasy which is deeply engraved in his unconscious. It is a wish to be potent always, on all occasions. This is perfectly symbolized in the story of Samson. He is the ideal of men: all-powerful, always strong, never tired. Realistically, of course, Samson meets his downfall when he delivers himself into the hands of Delilah. She symbolizes the woman who knows his secret. In a manner of speaking, the woman has it in her power to bring the strength of Samson down, to bow his head, to make him collapse until she permits him to rise again. But by that time he will have enslaved himself.

Perhaps typical of the highly developed female art of gentle castration in symbolic form is the following story:

A couple, married for a number of years, celebrated their anniversary with a dignified and restful week end in the desert. Early Sunday morning, the husband was awakened by the rising sun; he could not resist the temptation to get up and take a walk before it became too hot. He left the house silently without waking his wife. He crossed a dry river bed, walked over a hill, and found himself in one of those little desert valleys which seem to have been there for millions of years and look even now as if they had never been entered by man. For a few days every year these valleys are covered with flowers as if for no other reason than to praise the Lord, and this was one of those days. Even the cactus was blooming, beautiful and without shame. The man was elated and overwhelmed by great admiration and love for all this beauty. He chose a flower and picked it. He took it home to show to his wife. In need of a vase, he put it in a cocktail glass. He filled the glass with fresh water and admired the flower in all its purposeless beauty and innocence.

When his wife opened her eyes, he showed it to her. "Look what I found and brought you."

Said she, with her ever-so-slight hangover, "Best use you ever made of that glass."

This is what a psychoanalyst as a rule would call a castrating remark. It left the man crestfallen. As always, the woman felt most innocent. How was she supposed to know what went on in him?

If the tables should ever turn against the kidder and somebody respond to him aggressively, a near-catastrophe may occur. The prescribed response to kidding is to kid back but for heaven's sake to do it in a jovial mood. If this precaution is not taken and harmless kidding is turned into insulting aggression, all the earlier anxiety will be quickly reactivated and an unpleasant situation will occur. As a rule, the habitual kidder is sensitive because his kidding shows approximately the point of his weakness. It would be most dangerous, for instance, to call the latent-homosexual kidder by his right name and to challenge him. He would not need to kid if he could embrace manifest homosexuality as a perversion. He will rear up like a wounded lion and repeat: "I was only kidding."

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