A Thought Adventure

Thursday, January 7, 2016

33. Patriarchy II. Monogamy

Besides organized war the most crucial social change that patriarchal rule introduces is a reversal of the outlook on the sexes. This society’s ‘ordinary’ state of consciousness, or 'natural' way of looking at things, is shaped by an ideology of female inferiority so uncompromising that it makes the subjugation of women seem natural. In their relentless pursuit of male power, the leaders set up rigid gender roles. Men can play any roles, women only those that cater to male needs; they lack even the right to speak up for themselves.

In her book The Creation of Patriarchy historian Gerda Lerner points out that the reason women have been able to participate in the process of their subordination is that they are psychologically shaped to internalize their own inferiority. Among the devices securing their cooperation she mentions gender indoctrination (hammering in women’s secondary status); educational deprivation (including knowledge of women‘s history); restraints and outright coercion; discrimination in access to economic resources and political power; distinguishing between women as ‘respectable’ or ‘deviant’ according to their sexual activities; and awarding class privileges to conforming women.

The most effective tool in bringing women to their knees is the institution of monogamy. Because its express purpose is to produce children of undisputed paternity, monogamy is for the woman only, not for the man. To her marriage means being dominated by the husband and, like other pieces of property, confined to the home. In Asiatic towns eunuchs keep watch over her; in Athens she lives in a separate women’s apartment and only goes out in the company of a female slave.

"To imprint the notion that a woman is happiest when subservient to a husband takes years of stifling her healthiest impulses," psychiatrist Helen Deutsch writes in The Psychology of Women. She must renounce her own achievements, repress her initiative and give up her aspirations (some of which she may not even be conscious of)--all things she cannot do without anxiety.

In his book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Erich Fromm reflects on how it affects people to have to live severely restricted lives. “Life has an inner dynamism of its own; it tends to grow, to be expressed, to be lived,” and, “if this tendency is thwarted the energy directed toward life” turns toward destruction. “Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life.”

Rape of the Sabine Women

Engels believes women accept monogamy to get protection against rape, allegedly rampant at the time. Today, when living in a world where sexual violence is not only endemic but widely practiced with immunity, we know only too well that rape is as rampant as ever. Judith L. Herman and Lisa Hirschman (authors of Father-Daughter Incest) argue that this abnormality--rather than a deviance from an ethical family concept--is a logical outcome of the way the patriarchal family is organized. Because monogamy is an institution invented to maintain the superiority of men, the right to have “sexual relations with subordinate women becomes a jealously guarded male prerogative, guaranteed by the explicit and tacit consent of all men.”

Does rape begin when men learn that sex is connected to pregnancy, as some have suggested? Even if making this connection may awaken the idea of rape, I don’t think it’s practiced until the decline of matriarchy. British author Robert Graves suggests that Zeus’s many rapes illustrate the Hellenic conquest of the goddess shrines and the triumph of patriarchy over matriarchy. Considering how common mass rape is as a war tactic, it’s easy to link rape to warfare and to male retaliation against women. As Susan Brownmiller puts it in Against Our Will, Men, Women and Rape, rapists have served “in the longest sustained battle the world has ever known.”

Does monogamy have an adverse effect also on men? During matriarchal times, one thing a man can take unequivocal pride in is his capacity as lover. He’s the bearer of the phallus, the source of women’s sexual enjoyment and a prominent focus of joyous celebration at the religious sites. But once women can show lust only on command and are severely punished for any spontaneous display of it, the era of female eroticism comes to an end. Gone is not only the cult of the phallus that was so prominent in the goddess religion; but also the widely held conviction that sexuality free of any bonds is a state of psychic openness to the divine, capable of pacifying an angry god and averting illness or other misfortune.

What happened to love?
I suggest monogamy makes a mess also of the affective relationship between the sexes. Although we can’t really know what place such a relationship has in matriarchal times, I suppose the patriarchal husband stands to lose as much as his wife from the restrictions on female sexual desire. For if she is with him because she has to and not because she wants to, how likely is he to get any of the things that count most in close relationships? Like spontaneous affection, sincere appreciation, true respect--or even the really satisfying, mutual kind of physical pleasure? Not to speak of unconditional love?

Because sex is necessary for our survival, and plays into everything we are and do, patriarchy’s profanation of sexual intercourse amounts to a condemnation of human nature. That later the Christian religion embraced it with glee means that the shaming and defiling of an essential human instinct became entrenched in our everyday psychopathology. 

Or as German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche puts it in his Genealogy of Morals, “Christianity gave Eros poison to drink. Eros did not die of it, to be sure, but degenerated into Vice.”    

To try to understand some of the motives for these developments, let’s now look deeper into the Monumental Male Inferiority or Mother Complex, which I consider the impetus and prime mover of patriarchy. See next post.

I welcome feedback and would love for you to leave a comment. You can post a comment below this article or you can click on this article's headline.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome feedback, please leave a comment!