November 18, 2009
Last night on Twitter, Justin Kownacki said: “God’s rightful role for families is a patriarchy in which women submit to men? Thank god; I’m a shitty listener.” Now, I follow a number of people with whom I disagree, and I have said things that I’m sure are grating to them, so I tend to let things slide unless I have something greater to say. It was a short discussion, as the medium tends to promote, so now I’m blogging about it.
The concept of a patriarchy, as demonized in the States and other Western societies, is a boogeyman constructed by Radical Feminists (note the proper noun usage) to explain the sorrows of women in society. As a part of the second wave of Feminism, its aim is to “end” the patriarchy. It’s at this point where I have to elevate beyond the political and talk about gender politics from a more anthropological approach.
Men have always been mystified, enamored, attracted to and bewildered by women. Nothing frightens men more than the effect women have on them: for her, a man will deny his identity, isolate himself from friends and family and engage in self-destructive behavior. Hell, even her genitalia provoke a whole slew of irrational responses, as described in this article on vagina dentata (potentially NSFW). The reverse is also true: in her name, men are also capable of great good and nobility. It is this incitement to the irrational (whether for the good or evil) that strikes fear in the heart of men.
It is the woman’s capacity for bearing life, for organizing the household, for tending to the children while men hunt, for bearing a man’s children in the first place, that makes her valuable to men. The man’s strength, his ability to provide and protect are what makes men valuable to women. This has been true for thousands upon thousands of years. Combine the value of women with the fear that men feel towards her power over them, and what you have is the motivation for what feminists consider “control.” What Radical Feminists damn as control, is merely the societal compromise that the sexes have agreed upon to ensure survival. Modern living has challenged this to an extent, but so many revert to “traditional” gender roles sometime between the ages of thirty and fifty (a guesstimate, I admit).
When one gets involved in politics, sometimes we miss the forest for the trees. I’m well aware of Kownacki’s view that religion is used to enslave women. This is the same critique of religion vis-a-vis its role in race relations, foreign policy and colonialism. What so many fail to realize is that religion itself, anthropologically, is a social construct. While, I, having been raised Catholic believe in the existence of the Eternal And Divine (God), He is unknowable without people. Religious beliefs are a codification of the society’s mores and ethe at the time. As societies grow, religions evolve, too.
I told Justin: “It’s a chicken and egg question. Anthropologically, all religion is built around morals of the day not the other way around.” To which he responded: “But the morals of the day are always more varied than it seems. History just happens to be written by the loudest voices.” Variations in morals do not mean that every moral perspective is equally meritorious. Societies and the people who form them decide through cycles of conflict what is “generally accepted to be moral.” Even in a cultural practice as irrational as religion, there is a constant exchange of ideas and debate. The results of these little conflicts are what we live with today, and what our children will live with in the future.