So why did I go on this lengthy journey through time, across continents and cultures, questioning, analyzing and speculating? I wanted to understand why we live in a sick society and in particular what prompts the universal practice of misogyny.
In Lewis Mumford's book The Condition of Man I read the following: “People whose course of life has reached a crisis must confront their collective past as fully as a neurotic patient must unbury his personal life: long-forgotten traumas in history may have a disastrous effect upon millions who remain unaware of them.”
That society has reached a crisis seemed to me beyond doubt, tottering as we are on the brink of self-annihilation, whether through nuclear, chemical and biological holocausts or through environmental catastrophes like the pollution of air, water, soil and climate.
Can it be, I asked myself, that society's destructive behavior patterns are the effect of long-forgotten traumas in our collective past? So that the reason we keep repeating these patterns is that we haven’t unburied their underlying traumas?
Backed by Freud’s idea of repetition-compulsion I then postulated that if a society never examines, and manages to exorcise, the mental shock dealt it by some frightful events early in its history, there is a risk that the morbid behavior it gave rise to recurs in generation after generation.
I embarked on my theory of a Malevolent Matriarchy because I became intrigued with the ritual of male sacrifice in the goddess cults of the early farming communities; not only because this weird phenomenon is depicted in mythologies all around the world but because the belief system that created it still keeps its grip on humanity. I see in this once widely practiced custom the long-forgotten trauma buried under sexism.
A brief summary of my Thought Adventure or theory of The Origin of Sexism
The reason we live in a misogynist society is that men suffer from an inferiority complex vis-à-vis women for which they compensate by oppressing women. This complex goes back to prehistoric times when the female ranked higher than the male; first because of a superstitious belief that she produced children by magic; later, because in the early farming villages males were sacrificed to a Great Mother Goddess, women ruled and men were oppressed.
I postulate that for most of our history as a species humanity lived under some form of matriarchy or mother-rule. By this I mean that, for sheer survival reasons, life in the human group centered around mother and offspring. At the dawn of consciousness when women's monopoly on parenthood was threatened by the discovery of men's role in procreation, the benevolent female reign turned into a dictatorship.
But as consciousness kept evolving and villages grew into cities that depended on large-scale work by males, men turned the tables on the matriarchs. The anger that their inferior status had amassed in men now exploded in various forms of exaggerated aggressiveness, or the overcompensation characteristic of the inferiority complex. They stripped women of power and introduced a patriarchal rule as oppressive of women as the matriarchal rule had been of men.
Question: Why is misogyny still around? If it was an inferiority complex incurred in a previous matriarchy that made men oppress women, why aren't men rid of it by now after reigning supreme for about six millenniums?
There are three main reasons:
1) Men don't know that they suffer from this complex. After seizing power they quickly buried it in their unconscious, rationalized their fear of woman as 'woman equals evil' and topped it with a doctrine of female inferiority authorizing them to put women down. But forgetting one's feelings doesn't erase them. Since men never examined theirs, they never got rid of their complex--nor of the incentive for devaluing women. And ever since, not realizing that they keep compensating for feeling inferior, men have believed their actions to be proofs of male superiority.
2) Women reinforce men's inferiority complex. To compensate for being deprived of a voice in society they built a shadow society of their own in the home, and created an enhanced mother role that gave them permission to put males down Of these acts of misandry the most detrimental to masculine wholeness is reducing fatherhood to at the most an auxiliary role in child-rearing. Because this parental inequality prevents them from having an impact equal to women's on the hearts and minds of their children, men are robbed of their full share in what may be the most consequential of powers--that of shaping the fabric of tomorrow's society.
Question: But how important is parental inequality? Do men care?
Though some fathers may not be aware of being discriminated against or are too timid to assert their paternal rights, more and more of them are today demanding equal parenting. But to accept such a concept will take time, because the sum and substance of it--that the paternal role is as indispensable as the maternal in the raising of children and therefore demands as much time--calls for a radical transformation of the entire social structure.
3) The third major thing that keeps the male inferiority complex alive is the bias against the male sex to be found in the universally accepted definitions of masculinity and femininity. Womanhood is everywhere seen as innate in a woman, but a man can only gain manhood through his own efforts. Men are denied the safety women have knowing that their value as human beings is intrinsic.
As to the origin of this bias I put my bet on the matriarchs. Who but they could have had the audacity to stamp the male as less favored by Nature or not as grounded to the earth as the female? That we haven't corrected this nonsense is just one example of how stuck we are in the quagmire of obsolete ideas. We remain glued to past thinking all the way down into prehistory.
Question: But aren't men blissfully ignorant of this bias against masculinity?
They may not be conscious of it but since it's the root cause of their inferiority complex, this unfair estimation of their sex is what impels men to overcompensate. In their race to prove a usefulness equivalent to women's innate value, patriarchy's men applied the power of their newly awakened conscious minds to show they could build civilization. At the same time they withheld that power from women and thus for eons denied society the potential contributions of half of its human population.
Ultimately, I track down the origin of sexism to our misreading of human nature at the time when we developed consciousness. Because we didn't grasp that mind and instinct (symbolized by the male and female principles) make up the two halves of our psyche, we fatally upset the balance between them. We never learned to construct our behavior in harmony with the laws of nature.
We cut off the conscious mind from its vital link to the instincts and allowed it to operate in a vacuum--much like a director who, convinced that he knows better than the playwright what the play is all about, compels both actors and audience to go along with his own far-fetched interpretation.
But since ignoring them did not make the instincts disappear, they got to work undermining society's conscious goals. An extreme example of such a split on a national scale was Nazi Germany. In her memoir The War, French author Marguerite Duras writes that despite being ”one of the grandest civilized nations in the world, the age-long capital of music,” Germany “systematically murdered eleven million human beings with the absolute efficiency of a national industry."
Contributing to our staying sexist (and to being prejudiced in general) is the misanthropic view of humanity that has held us hostage throughout history. Sin and guilt, expiable only by obedience to various authorities are still staple ingredients in the state of consciousness of peoples everywhere. The lot of humans is to live in constant fear of punishment for wrongdoings that our very nature was designed to make us commit.
I hold this offensive and totally arbitrary outlook on humanity responsible for the mess the world is in. I think that what has led us to take destructive and self-destructive behavior for granted is that we accept the insane idea that suffering, including sacrifice and violent death, is not only inevitable but our just deserts. We blame others to throw the burden of constitutional guilt off our shoulders and ease the chafing feeling that we are never right, never good or lovable enough. This is a defeatist view that also fosters self-righteousness and social hypocrisy. We can’t be honest, we dare not show who we are, not even to ourselves.
So it’s only against the backdrop of the pre-patriarchal matriarchy’s oppression of men--and the fear of womanhood it planted in the male psyche--that we can understand the phenomenon of misogyny. Likewise, it’s only against the backdrop of the subsequent patriarchy’s oppression of women--and the repressed anger it accumulated in women--that we can understand the phenomenon of misandry.
Today, gradually though not universally, it's becoming accepted that the sexes should enjoy equal rights (which would express the built-in balance of power between complementary forces of nature). Yet despite much brain wrestling almost no real, tangible gender equality manifested in actual living conditions has yet materialized, And why? Because we are still mired, women as well as men, in these two types of sexist behavior.
What then are we to do if we want to erase sexism in all its shapes and forms? For some reflections on this, see the next, and last, post.
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