Declarations of superiority
“Women have long hair and short intelligence.” (Traditional Chinese saying);
The position of women "is always and invariably relative to men." (The Torah, The Written and Oral Law);
"The head of every man is Christ; and the head of every woman is the man." (St Paul, I Corinthians, 11:3);
"Women and dogs and other impure animals are not permitted to enter." (A sign to be found in some mosques);
"Woman is by nature meant to obey." (Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher);
Man reaches “a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than woman can attain--whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands.” (Charles Darwin);
"Femininity is failed masculinity." (Sigmund Freud).
Well, that's just it. What better proof that men lack a wholesome self-assurance than their very need to hammer in that they're above women--more than, brighter than--and that they, not women, must be the decision-makers? If women are, naturally, a breed below men, what makes it necessary to shout it from the housetops?
Today when at least some of us begin to realize that bragging and bullying are ways to compensate for feeling ignored and devalued, we may pity--and also smile a little at--these self-appointed male authorities and their pompous proclamations. But if we want to understand them and all the men still reluctant to implement gender equality (even if they endorse it with their minds), we must confront something we've overlooked. While engrossed in women's plight for decades here in the West, we’ve let the paradox escape us that society’s view of men is just as unfair as its view of women--and perhaps even more peppered with stereotypes.
Whereas once admired feminine virtues like chastity, meekness, obedience are becoming laughable, we still glorify masculine ones dating back to the dawn of patriarchy (like aggressiveness, fearlessness, stoicism). We choose to ignore the clear vein of masochism that runs through male behavior based on these ideals (i.e., most male behavior), such as being willing to put honor above life (in duels, kamikaze, the ‘supreme sacrifice’), suffer physical pain without flinching (in sports, play, hazing practices) and obey orders (from officers, coaches, bosses and bossy wives). And, according to current statistics, it’s men, not women, who make up the majority of the homeless, the suicides and the fatalities in the work place.
In this context I also think we should take a look at the physically painful initiation rites that men in so many cultures have to go through but which are not required of women (except in the case of female genital mutilation). In his book Symbolic Wounds: Puberty Rites and the Envious Male, psychologist Bruno Bettelheim sees these rites as an outgrowth of a deep male envy of the female power inherent in motherhood.
The question to ask is why men not only endure but take pride in self-destruction. What makes them go on emulating some mythical hero’s struggles instead of asking if his sacrifices still serve (or ever have served) a meaningful social purpose? And if this martyrdom isn’t too high a price to pay for the semblance of male superiority?
To come closer to an answer we need to prod deeper into the sense of inferiority that men are hiding from. For a closer look at how women contribute to it, see next post.
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