Originally posted on LJ on 2005-10-14 13:17:00
I tried to post this as a response to Jeremy’s reply to my message under “reflections on getting involved with a man,” but apparently it was too long! So I’m posting it here for the benefit of anyone who’s still with us.
> I think my learned and diabolical colleague and I were side-tracked by
> the suggestion that there are no inherent gender differences
I still stand by that, in that gender itself is a social construct. But I’ll grant that there are inherent differences in the biological sexes, due to hormone exposure more so than anatomy. Biological sex is not the same thing as gender.
I do wonder to what extent, even in primitive cultures, there may have been women who would’ve been better suited for hunting and men better suited for child rearing, given that we see even today examples of women who are stronger and faster and examples of men who are better nurturers. Yes, I know the strongest and fastest has always been a man, but exceptions say nothing of the norm.
It’s easy to look back at primitive cultures and romanticize them, by assuming that everyone was happy with his or her lot in life, when that may not have been the case at all. Perhaps the rituals that evolved to mark the passage into manhood or womanhood were earlier manifestations of the same kind of cultural oppression we still see going on today — a way to channel biological boys into maleness even if they didn’t particularly feel inclined to go there, and the same for girls.
> What counts as the dawn of our evil civilisation, in the sense of the
> root of mistreatment by gender?
I can’t speak to the root, but the cultures I’m most familiar with in terms of their attitudes towards women (and subsequent influence on us) are the ancient Greeks and Romans, who thought all kind of crazy things, like that women were merely the “oven” that cooked the “dough” deposited by the man.
They also thought that women were controlled by their uteruses and that a woman having emotional problems could potentially be cured by having various attractant or repellent scents applied either at her mouth or vagina, depending on which direction the “doctor” thought the uterus needed to move towards. We get our word “hysteria” from “hyster,” or womb, as this was thought to be a specifically female malady.
They also thought that what caused babies to be born female and not male was that they weren’t done “cooking,” or had been conceived under the wrong conditions. In their minds, a “normal” human baby would be male, with all the parts descended to the outside, where they should be, so a female baby was one that never finished developing, such that the parts remained inside and useless except as an incubator.
Aristotle even reasoned, by his mighty powers of deduction, that since women were inferior they must therefore have fewer teeth. Never mind that he never thought to actually count them.
I suppose it’s no wonder that someone had to come along and invent the mythology of the “sacred feminine,” as it must’ve been hard for these men to deal with their feelings of desire towards these beings they objectively viewed as weak and unworthy vessels. In their mythology women become associated with the mysteries of the universe, with what is dark, hidden, secret and unknowable, perhaps in part because of this internal conflict. Because they couldn’t make sense of feelings of desire towards beings they assumed weren’t even fully human. Women were the “mysterious other.” Alluring but frightening. And above all, in need of subduing.
But we only know one side of the story: the men’s. We don’t know, except for a few brief glimpses, how women felt about all this. Maybe they viewed men as being as equally mysterious? Maybe, on their own or with each other, they thought of themselves as being the rational ones, the ones more “fully human.”
> I don’t think the enormously widespread and long-term success of sexism
> is based on physical strength.
Perhaps not in actual practice, but this is how it is justified to the masses. And it’s what young people today still claim as the basis for male dominance.
> The things that make men oppress and women be oppressed are their mental
> traits. It happens because men really like being in charge a lot more
> than women do. Wanting to win is more significant than being strong.
Here’s my complaint: you speak as though all men like being in charge and no women do. But it seems more likely to me, for a variety of reasons, that what happened is that a few men were in a situation where circumstances convened to give them the edge and they took it. But the circumstances may have included other factors besides their being male.
I also take issue with the notion of who likes to be “in charge,” given the number of wives who basically run their husbands lives (and the number of women throughout history who have been “in charge” from behind the scenes). I think the desire to be in charge exists about equally in both sexes, but that how each goes about establishing and maintaining control differ, with men having the advantage of greater physical strength and a more war-like nature. (Although war-like-ness is arguably not an advantage in the greater scheme of things, as it does not lead to the advancement of society in any meaningful sense. Only to the greater accumulation of land and material goods, which is a fragile basis on which to claim power.)
> I don’t know about most men (one of the drawbacks of elitism), but anyone
> bright should be able to get this because it’s not specific to gender.
I agree that anyone bright should be able to get this on an intellectual level, but I know a fair number of bright people who nevertheless don’t get it on a personal level, in terms of what all of this might mean to a woman’s sense of self worth and value in the world. You are discussing ideas that are interesting to you intellectually but that have not impacted you deeply and personally the way they have me, and that makes the conversation sometimes a little difficult to bear.
In the grand scheme of things, it hardly matters if my theories and conjectures can be disproven through appeals to a much wider range of knowledge than I have, given that the fact remains that something about the history of Western attitudes towards gender and sexuality has wounded me deeply, and I’m not likely to snap out of it on the basis of being exposed to even more facts presented from the perspective of the winner.