The issue of gender and gender politics is for me a bit confusing. That is, there is no such thing as an issue of gender. Rather, in Western European societies there is plainly and simply the historical subordination of women by men and this is what is meant when one refers to the issue of gender. As I see it, I don’t want to talk about the issue of gender as if there were some choice for me to make. Rather, I want to talk about the historical subordination of women by men. The choices have already been made and the consequences of those choices continue to be suffered by women. For an American male that is truly committed to the notions of freedom and liberation, it does not serve my purpose to begin my discussion of gender only after having washed the blood of history off of my own hands with a linguistic cleansing.
I am a male, living in a male dominated society. I am a product of two cultures and in both cultures women have been dominated by men. As a person, however, I have never intended for one gender to be considered superior to the other. Yet, I cannot and will not deny my guilt nor refuse to accept my share of the responsibility for women having been kept in a subservient position due to my actions or my inactions.
While working on my Doctorate degree at the University of California, at Santa Cruz, I had the good fortune to work as a teaching assistant at U.C. Berkeley. I was also very pleased to join a scholarly group of Chicanos that operated under the name of the Chicano Political Economy Collective (ChPEC). I recall the first meeting I attended and the fact that I immediately noticed that there were no women in the group. I asked about this and I was told that the women had their own group called, Mujeres en Marcha. Wanting to show my support and solidarity for the women, I went to their office and volunteered to perform clerical work for their cause. One day, while I was working there, a young graduate student that had heard of me and my love of philosophy and knew me from U.C. Santa Cruz, came up to me and asked me a question about Paulo Freire. Specifically, she wanted my interpretation of what Paulo Freire meant by saying that only the oppressed could liberate their oppressor.
Although I had never really given it any thought, I heard myself saying that if the Chicano were truly interested in achieving liberation, he would begin by liberating the Chicana from the oppression under which he held her. In other words, the Chicano would learn more about true freedom through the act of liberating the Chicana than he could by arguing for his own liberation from the racial domination he has experienced in the United States under white Anglo-Saxon oppression. Indeed, her question did more for my understanding of liberation than any of the material I had been studying or teaching in my classes. As I carried the analogy to its logical extremes, I also realized that in a society governed by racial domination, Chicano males were actually being placed in the same position as that of women in their relation to white Anglo-Saxon males. Acknowledgement and acceptance of this fact was, to say the least, enlightening.
Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815 – 1887) via Friedrich Engels (1820 – 1895)
In 1861 Bachofen wrote a book entitled Mother Right: An Investigation of the Religious and Juridical Character of Matriarchy in the Ancient World. What fascinates me about this text, given that I have never read it, is what Friedrich Engels had to say about it in 1891. Given the fact that this is not a scientific work and that second hand information is just as good as first hand information when your only purpose is to give expression to a set of ideas that contribute to our understanding of how women have been relegated to second class status in modernist societies, let us consider what Engels had to say about this text:
(1) That originally man lived in a state of sexual promiscuity or what Bachofen mistakenly describes with the use of the term “hetaerism”;
(2) That such promiscuity excludes any certainty of paternity, and that descents could therefore be reckoned only in the female line, according to mother-right, and that this was originally the case amongst all the peoples of antiquity;
(3) That since women, as mothers, were the only parents of the younger generation that were known with certainty, they held a position of such high respect and honor that it became the foundation, in Bachofen’s conception, of a regular rule of women (gynaecocracy);
(4) That the transition to monogamy, where the woman belonged to one man exclusively, involved a violation of a primitive religious law (that is, actually a violation of the traditional right of the other men to this woman), and that in order to expiate this violation or to purchase indulgence for it the woman had to surrender herself for a limited period.”
The whole notion of gender difference forces me to think of things that reveal to me an inherent human contradiction between what I think may have been the case originally in the natural terms of my current existence and what I have matured to believe in my own lifetime. In this context, I think it would be a good idea if we sought to analyze the situation for ourselves rather than attempting to find answers among the interpreted and misinterpreted opinions of others.
Let us begin to make our arbitrary assessment of the relations between genders as I myself may have imagined them to be during the creation and evolution of social structures. During that period of time I kind of get the impression that men were naturally predisposed to oppressing women. Men seem to have a natural willingness to kill others to gain what they want in life. Women, while being physically capable of killing others, are apparently more predisposed to propagating life. Man did not simply kill woman because he did not sense a physical threat from women like he would have with other males. Since women were creatures that he could always use for sex, and he liked that, he evidently decided to keep her around as a possession. All of this may have been very natural occurrences at the beginning of social structures and would not have required justification in order to have occurred for all humans in the same way.
I believe that if I try to explain how things evolved from the scenario I just proposed to how things are today and how they should be, I would most assuredly get lost in my own efforts to remain consistent or rational. Therefore, I propose that we fast-forward to today and make some interesting observations. Consider the following points:
|· The inherent vocation of humanity has always been to force changes upon nature that are believed to bring gain to those that serve as the implementing and guiding force behind such changes.
· Because the vocation of humanity has been to force changes upon nature, any discussion about the “equality” of the sexes that seeks to base its conclusions on divine right or nature would be wrongheaded to begin with.
· Any contemporary argument designed to subordinate women would have to be based on either religion or a view of natural selection that ignores the changes humanity itself has made in this world.
· It is easy to imagine a time when brute force was the determining factor in combat and control of our surroundings.
· It is just as easy to accept that the changes that have occurred in life have changed the playing field and brute force is no longer the determining factor in combat and control.
· So, too, any discussion on the equality of the sexes must be based on existing conditions and antiquated notions of divine right or natural selection must give way to observable capacity and capability.
Sexual suppression first appeared when it was established by an authoritarian patriarchy at the very beginning of the division of social classes. It was at this stage that sexual interests begin to enter the service of a minority’s interest in material profit. Thus, through patriarchal marriage and the family unit this state of affairs assumed its initial organizational form. With the restriction and suppression of sexuality that was being imposed, people’s feeling also began to change and a sex-negating ideology came into being and gradually developed into what we now know as the church.
I have included this section on the issue of gender because it is clear that women have been oppressed by men apparently since the beginning of time and with the implementation of our modernist social structure, continues to be oppressed through the use of many of the same social mechanisms as other racial and ethnic minorities that have been relegated to an inferior status. However, we should not allow it to escape our attention that women have apparently been treated by men to be property. This seems to be true regardless of race or culture and even when she is exalted as in the “Mother Right” scenario mentioned above, she has not, until very recently, possessed a voice with which to decide for herself. Even within ethnic groups that have been oppressed by the dominant culture, she has been oppressed within her own subculture.
It is for this reason that I have sought to point out that throughout history the vocation of human beings living within the modernist ideology has been to force change upon nature for the betterment of mankind. It is because I possess a freedom of thought that is uncharacteristic in modernist ideology that I am perfectly capable of arriving at my own conclusions about women without appeal to nature, history, divine right or any other form of authority that may wish to present itself for consideration. For those whose thought processes remain enslaved by modernist sensibilities, it would be wise to remember that the changes that have been forced upon nature would suggest that an contemporary evaluation of women should no longer be based upon antiquated notion of their innate nature but, rather, upon observable capabilities.
Without invoking appeal to rational or scientific thought, I believe that the position of all of the social contract theorists we have considered is that entering into a social contract is necessary to ensure equal protection under the law. Given the changes that have been forced upon our natural environment over time, there is no acceptable reason to allow a view of women that is anything less than equal in any and every society. Whenever we encounter a society that relegates women to an inferior status by religious conviction, for example, appeal is inherently being made to divine law or accepted beliefs and these, to be sure, are not taking into consideration the actual capabilities of women but, rather, choosing to subjugate their own beliefs within an abstract mythology. In our story we need not continue to debate the relative merits of women, as they are just as capable in all regards as their male counterpart. In other words, mythologized gender differences should not be used by either men or women to evaluate the capabilities of the other.
Hetaerism or hetairism can mean:
A term employed by 19th-century anthropologists (such as Johann Jakob Bachofen) to indicate a theoretical early state of human society characterized by the absence of the institution of marriage in any form. Women were the common property of their tribe, and the children never knew their fathers. Sometimes known as “Primitive promiscuity”.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia