A Thought Adventure

Monday, November 2, 2015

16. The Discovery of Paternity

To understand what made the matriarchs sound the death knell for their gentle reign--and the Age of Innocence--we must take into account an important discovery I suggest they make at this time of rising awareness. One that poses such a serious threat to female dominance, and is so decisive for the further development of society that I’m astounded nobody seems to have paid attention to it--namely the discovery of fatherhood. As far as I know, no one has undertaken to pinpoint when in the evolution of our species this startling revelation hits home nor tried to describe the impact it must have made. 

Ignorance about men's role in procreation
Scholars seem to agree that humankind is for eons blissfully ignorant about men‘s role in procreation. Women are believed to conceive through some extra-human, trans-personal power; animals can impregnate them (bird, serpent, bull, ram) or the wind, the moon, ancestral spirits, demons, gods. Some think women give birth spontaneously through their magical powers or else through something they ate: the Divine Mother in Japanese tradition becomes pregnant from eating cherries, the virgin goddesses and princesses of China by eating a lotus flower.

As clearly shown by the way the world’s creation stories have developed, it’s only step by step, and apparently against some odds, that men have been able to claim paternity. These stories go from describing a world born of a goddess alone to one born of a goddess impregnated by a consort. Then on to a world fashioned from the body of the goddess by a male warrior, for example from the body of Tiamat--the mother of gods and the originator of human life--by the Babylonian sun god Marduk. And finally over to a world created by a male god alone (as in the Old Testament where the god’s power is his word). And so creation, once the outcome of divine motherhood, ends up being capitalized by the father.

Lingam, Polonnaruwa, Sri Lnka
Many non-literate peoples still have a rather vague idea of men’s exact role in propagation. In general, sex is not necessarily looked upon as the cause of conception, though some think it’s related to it. Sex is believed to cause menstruation (because it starts around puberty?), and human beings are assumed to be formed from menstrual blood retained in the womb (a belief shared by Aristotle). According to French anthropologist Lucien Lévy-Brühl (an authority on the psychology of preliterate people), even peoples who do see a connection between sex and pregnancy, simply don’t pay any attention to it.

Freud (in Totem and Taboo), Otto Rank (in Beyond Psychology)  and Bronislaw Malinowski (in The Sexual Life of Savages) all note that the relationship between the sex act and pregnancy went unrecognized for long; they also think that this was active denial and not mere ignorance.

I suggest it’s once people have learned to domesticate plants that they realize, and also acknowledge, the role the male plays in procreation. Because when they understand that putting seeds in the ground makes a crop come up, it should be easy to make the connection between male seed entering the woman's body and a new human being issuing from it. I assume it is women who make this connection and that it turns their whole world upside down.

Impact on relations between the sexes
Two things make the discovery of paternity a truly mind-boggling event. First, just imagine how disappointing it must be for Eve to find she can’t bear a child without Adam, and how exhilarating for Adam to find he can create like a god! The birth of a child is the down-to-earth effect of his act of impregnation, and nothing capricious or supernatural. In a flash the very basis for female supremacy is snatched away from under the woman, and the man, emerging as co-creator of children, is catapulted to equal status with her.
Lucas Cranach, Adam and Eve

Second, fatherhood is the dynamic factor in what may be the most fundamental insight brought us by our new faculty of consciousness: that we’re irrevocably set apart from one another. The metaphor in Genesis makes Adam and Eve cover up their private parts with fig leaves. Only when we comprehend that it takes two people of opposite sex to produce a human being do we see ourselves as separate individuals. This new awareness produces a radical change in the way the sexes relate to each other--and to the sexual act itself. (I also suggest it’s at this juncture that humanity initiates what’ll become a universal taboo against incest, a practice that until now may have been the rule rather than the exception).

For how the village women meet the challenge of paternity, see next 

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you SO much for writing this. I independently came to the same realizations decades ago, and as a man. I believe the consequences for women were more dire than you suggest, namely that women went from goddess of life creation and profound human pleasure to ultimately becoming domesticated human copying machines, producing workers and warriors, slaves and cannon-fodder, for male supremacists and masculine supremacy, reduced mostly to their animal characteristics of breeding and child-rearing. Also, I think that animal husbandry (what a name!) contributed to men finally theorizing our own paternity, as part of the so-called "agricultural revolution", or as Daniel Quinn describes it, "totalitarian agriculture". From this perspective, it is men, not women, that drive overpopulation as part of demographic warfare against other male supremacist competitors. Anyhoo, great to see this spelled out better than I have myself elsewhere. I'm sharing it. Thanks!


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