18 March 2011

“Almighty God created desire in 10 parts; then he gave 9 parts to women and one part to men."

~Ali ibn Abu Taleb

The battle of the sexes has been going back and forth so long that it has joined “turn on a dime” and “cat’s got your tongue” in a box of dead metaphors that we rarely take off the shelf and examine.

But the surprising salvo above was launched 500 years ago, and it came from an unexpected source. Ali ibn Abu Taleb, leader of Shia Islam, was also the husband of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatima, and was no stranger to singular women.

And while I wouldn’t presume to speak for all women, nor dream of saying that men don’t share these desires, the list below came out of some lovely, womanly conversations.

Part Number One: Sisterhood

One desire is for purdah, for the veil, for sisterhood. In sisterhood there is escape and release, a place where we can tangle limbs and purpose and commiserations and realize in some deep part of our souls that every woman’s victory is ours and every woman’s loss lessens and lessons us all.

Part Number Two: Brotherhood

There is no exact way to describe the importance of a brother to a woman, but I can tell you that the test lies somewhere around the shoulders and in the knowledge that whatever you side you are on, you have at least one other person there with you.

Part Number Three: Taste

Forget high school boys—the quickest way to get rid of food is to put it in an office where women work. There is a reason all dessert advertisements equate food with sex and sensuality and that reason is the same one why at three o’ clock in the morning you can ask your sister to sit up with you and have French Fries and lemon pie, and she will agree that it sounds like a heavenly idea.

Part Number Four: Sight

I desire the eye-relaxing release of tension in my eyes that comes when I see shadows beneath the snow as it falls or a very bright red jacket in an altogether green forest. I would paint sparkles on my nails and wear neon feather boas every day were I on a desert island, not because they help me be feminine but because to see them puts me in touch with magic.

Part Number Five: Dance, In One Form or Another

There is a point on every dance floor where small circles of women bob and weave in their futile attempts to not disintegrate completely into primitive expressions of the fact that surfing and music are the same damn thing.

Part Number Six: Being Right

That one is pretty big.

Part Number Seven: Puzzle Piece Moments

Where a smile and an eyetwinkle settle in together with a gentle thock, and the Capital-Y-You that all of the songs are about is sitting in your home and your glass is filled with music and wine. And as long as we’re talking about Capital-Y-You, yes, the Nine Parts of A Woman’s Desire also include

Part Number Eight

The sounds and scents and sensations of the one word everyone thinks of when you think of desire, all having something to do with the sweat that smells like last night’s lotion.

Part Number Nine: That Ineffable Something

Maybe it comes from the fact that we each contain a creation factory in the seat of our very own skin and bones, but somewhere, threading through lotion and snow and music and wine, is a desire for connection to Something that I’m afraid we are all far too postmodern to name.

But maybe we'll get there. In ten parts together.


  1. Love. This has got me thinking. Perhaps deeper commentary will follow, but for now I thank you for these words.

  2. Honestly, the hardest part was narrowing it down to nine! I must be a very desireful woman!