Andrew E. Hall ruminates on the bond between women and men … Illustrations in praise of Fernando Boteru.
“Guys always think tears are a sign of weakness. They’re a sign of frustration. She’s only crying so she won’t cut your throat in your sleep. So make nice and be grateful.”
– Donna Barr (author)
Men are from Earth, women are from Earth. Deal with it.
– George Carlin (author, actor, comedian and philosopher)
WE, all of us, are the corporeal narrative of a subjective collective – an anthropomorphised story line that trends, like a Mandelbrot set, to infinity . . . or so we’d like to think.
As such, there are a few theories that purport to explain how we got here.
A fairly popular one involves an allegedly omnipotent and omniscient entity whom we will call – for purposes of expediency – Om. In a hugely successful book in which Om features prominently this, entity is invariably referred to as being of the male gender – a claim I am sceptical of given the manifest absence of any anatomical detail.
The first chapter in The Book of Om describes (in a pretty sketchy manner, it must be said) how Om – in a muse of creativity – decided to bring into existence the “heavens” and the Earth. What Om was doing before the creative muse kicked in isn’t really explained to the satisfaction of the discerning reader. Om spent a meagre six days whacking the whole shebang together and at the end of this period – presumably so Om could better visualise the handiwork – decided to add the finishing touch of “light”.
If only Albert Einstein had understood this he could have spent much less time (another of Om’s artistic concepts) at the blackboard doing maths and more time entertaining people with his violin.
The Book of Om implies that while the creation of the “heavens” was pretty cool, Om’s pet project was really the Earth, upon which Om made everything that flyeth, swimmeth, crawlleth, and a plethora of other “eths” that these days we would refer to as “the environment”.
But something was missing …
With a narcissistic flourish Om is said to have created the “first” man – in “his own image” according to The Book – from some topsoil in a botanical project Om was particularly fond of. This, perhaps, explains why some men are so shallow . . . and according to many men’s female partners, dirty.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
So there’s a fully formed “man” (no annoying childhood theatrics for Om) whom Om – with a spectacular lack of imagination given previous achievements – called Adam, sitting around by himself in a garden in a blissful state of ignorance (he might have looked down from time to time and wondered, “what’s that bit for?”) until Om decided to make him a playmate named Eve – a woman whose physiology was markedly different from that of Adam. And who actually showed considerable curiosity about her surroundings.
One question I have … well a couple really: whose image was Eve created in; and why couldn’t Om come up with some better names – like Dweezil and Moon Unit which the late, great, Frank Zappa (a mere mortal) came up with some time later?
As to the first question, however, from the “evidence” one might deduce that Om was/is neither male nor female but a subtle blending of both, and maybe something more.
Some heavy hitters with a theological bent place the creation of the first man and woman at around 4,120 years BCE (before the Christian era), which would mean about 6,134 years BMNB (before my next beer).
In which case the Australian Aborigines (and a bunch of other peoples) are a rather inconvenient anomaly.
Long story short, the whole garden thing went pear-shaped with knowledge-bearing apples and talking snakes (that Om could have easily left out of the equation) . . . and Adam finally discovered what “that bit” was there for. There was a whole lot of begetting and begatting and the Earth became populated (in a way that suggests quite a bit of incest).
… and then Om develops a massive inferiority complex; demanding that people prove their “love” for “Him” – He’s clearly allowed His masculine side to take over at this point and The Book of Om takes on a distinctly misogynist tone from here on in.
There was poor old Job (AKA Jobe) whose whole family (mainly females) and livelihood were wiped out as a test of his “faith” (a test he apparently passed with flying colours despite Om’s obnoxious behaviour). There was Lot, whose wife (unnamed in The Book of Om) was turned into a pillar of salt for the crime of taking a backward glance at the destruction of the city of Sodom.
This was probably the origin of the saying in later times: “that’s your lot mate”.
And it most likely behoves us not to bid for a “job-lot” at an auction.
So is the astoundingly sexist “law” (which might be more appropriately written as “lore”) in places like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to the present day.
Written by whom one might ask . . . and in what context? And to what end – if not to create a gender-biased power base whereby might equals right and subservience and obedience equals some kind of spurious pre-ordained structural arrangement that resonates and replicates Om’s inferiority complex.
The “natural selection” process of evolution as posited by Charles Darwin et al contains no such subjective judgements as exist in The Book of Om . . . but, nevertheless, can be just as brutal. It does, however, provide a plausible explanation for the existence of peoples – indeed “life” in general – whose heritage extends farther rearward than 6,134 years BMNB.
Of course there are other texts that form the basis of so-called “religions” that prescribe and proscribe the behaviours of men and women – largely in favour of men when it comes to issues like polygamy and who controls resources in their societal constructs, regardless of whether a patriarch or matriarch sits on the top tier in their places of worship and towers of power. I can’t think of one woman who has led a major “church” however, except, perhaps, the queen of England who is the titular head of the Anglican Church. But the day-to-day running of that organisation is in the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has always been a bloke.
As is the head of the Catholic Church – in the form of something called a Pope who cleverly inserted an “infallibility” caveat into his job description. It was Pope Gregory “the Great” who branded one of the very few female leads in The Book of Om 2.0, a harlot . . . after she had been roundly defamed by the all-male writing team of that book.
While 2.0 bangs on quite extensively about the nature and need for “love” – despite the obvious internecine jealousies and back-stabbing behaviours as set down in The Book – it took quite a long time before some prescient scribes (from William Shakespeare et al, to present-day screenwriters) unravelled the concept for us and presented it as a cultural imperative we could all understand . . .
But I digress again.
There have, however, been powerful women throughout history: Ancient Greece had the oracle in the temple of Apollo at Delphi whose visionary prognostications were sought by all manner of elite Grecians; and in ancient Rome the Vestal Virgins were trusted and called upon to put their imprimatur on the most important ceremonies of that society, and other duties and rights befitting those who were righteous and pure and held in esteem.
Cleopatra was a notable powerhouse in first century BCE Egypt. In addition to her penchant for forcibly annexing neighbouring countries (empire-building was a popular sport in those days), she was widely regarded for her patronage of what was then the most significant repository of knowledge in the known world, the Royal Library of Alexandria and the adjoining “Museaum” of Alexandria – the known world’s most prestigious research institute.
This institution was dedicated to the Muses – the nine goddesses of knowledge (which might be a throwback to the Eve story). It also had the world’s first steam-driven automatic door.
Down through the ages queens have reigned in numerous countries and over a smaller number of empires – not merit-based appointments but simply because they occupied (and still occupy) advantageous positions in a familial pecking order. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest they were more (or less) compassionate, wise, benevolent or malevolent than their male counterparts from times of yore.
Until the occurrence of “democracy” the top end of town could do pretty much whatever it wanted . . . and did, regardless of gender – leaving “lesser” mortals to the tender mercies of whatever narrative the ruling classes chose to explain themselves to themselves.
Democracy (which comes from two Greek words; dêmos “the people” and kratia “power, rule”) as we understand it during the 19th century and onwards, brought with it a wider conversation about the rights and roles of women and men in democratised societies.
Who was allowed to vote (and, by definition, who wasn’t, i.e. women) in national elections was a significant part of that conversation. In 1893, New Zealand, then a self-governing British colony, granted adult women the right to vote and the self-governing British colony of South Australia did the same in 1895, the latter also permitting women to stand for office. Australia federated in 1901, and women acquired the right to vote and stand in federal elections from 1902.
That made my maternal grandmother very happy because she trucked no nonsense from men who thought they were superior.
Other countries gradually followed the lead of the antipodes later in the 20th century.
At the present time – and this is quite interesting – the theocratic states of Saudi Arabia and the Vatican City are the only countries that allow men to vote but not women.
Throughout all this time the basic expectation of men – at least your “average” man – was to work hard, support a family . . . and fight in wars that other men started.
Women proved they could not only vote, but could do the heavy lifting in industrial complexes when “the boys” went off to war – and could write some pretty catchy tunes designed to bolster the morale of those about to die.
But when the wars were over and what remained of “the boys” came home, women once again found themselves in a kind of limbo. At the end of WWII when men once again took over as the worker ants, the majority of women were consigned to the home. No problem because some men had anticipated this would happen and had been constructing yet another narrative for women – the narrative of “the housewife” . . . that happy “little” person who loved to cook and clean and tend to unruly ankle-biters. And, of course, they needed all sorts of appliances and other stuff to help them achieve their housewifely goals.
Vast advertising and marketing firms sprang up and – using the narrative techniques that Joseph Goebbels had refined to turn the average, right-thinking German into a Nazi – turned the women of the 1950s and ’60s into “consumers”. Yes, women were the first “consumers” as we understand the term today – a dubious first for the fairer sex.
I remember an English TV ad when I was a teenager that depicted a happy housewife cooking some kind of pre-packaged meal and presenting it to her family at the dinner table . . . the tagline came when dad, brother and sister turned to camera and chorused: “isn’t she a wonderful mother”.
My family actually carried out this ritual for a while at meal times (although my mother would not have a bar of such “foods” as in the ad) until we decided it was a bit lame . . . and returned to the more normal conversational routine of why I was such crap at school.
During the 1960s a backlash to this depiction of women was brewing – assisted by a lengthy tradition of feminist literature, a fundamental shift in the reach and messages of popular music . . . and an astounding rise in the use of of psychotropic substances.
Dr Timothy Leary admonished young people to “turn on, tune in and drop out”.
And they did.
Yet another war – confected by a democratically elected president against a spectral “enemy” in a far off land – galvanised women and men into opposing such folly. And, for the first time in living memory, they stood side by side and hand in hand, whether they knew each other or not, in the name of humanity. They stood as equals.
“Equality” is a term that is bandied about a lot but there has never been, and never will be, true equality. To paraphrase George Orwell: “All people are created equal but some are more equal than others”. Power structures – whether they be political, theological, corporate or community-based – ensure that some people will be more powerful and most people less so.
What the movement that was born in the 1960s demanded, however, was an equivalence of “access” that was not based on gender.
Yes, there certainly had been similar demands made in the past; the Suffragette movement in the late 1800s and early 1900s, for instance.
But the gender revolution of the ’60s and ’70s demanded more than simply having the ability to vote in a government that would then create and implement policy according to its own socio-economic whimsy.
Merit-based, not gender-based, access to all aspects of societal structures became more and more “the norm”. One of my favourite female cousins became the first ever woman president and CEO of a multinational mining company – in a bastion of male chauvinism that is South America.
We have witnessed women elected as prime ministers of numerous nations – although Margaret Thatcher wasn’t exactly the beacon of a “new frontier” when it came to the poor and down-trodden of the United Kingdom, or to the Argentinians who died in a war that she concocted (abetted by an accompanying narrative from the right-wing press) to save her political bacon.
Vast swathes of the world have embraced (or are coming to embrace) that the people – all people – have a common investment in prosperity and happiness.
In the 1990s, however, a movement gained momentum – largely led by some women academics – that, once again, tried to drive a wedge between the sexes. The so-called “post-modernists” appropriated a narrative that attempted to “deconstruct” the modernist paradigm leading to the facile new-speak that was “political correctness”.
The less said, the better about that . . . and, thankfully, it has largely withered and waned.
Of course, there are some places in the world where men have clung to a narrative that consigns women to the status of chattel. At the time of writing the fundamentalist Islamist group, Boko Haram (which means “Western or non-Islamic education is a sin”) still holds more than 200 girls from a Nigerian boarding school hostage . . . and has stated that it intends “sell them off at the market price”.
This, and numerous other examples in more ignorant parts of the planet show that some men still have a long way to go in letting go of their bigoted assumptions.
The essential truth (which can be a tricky concept) is that human relationships are based on respect, honour and trust, not some turgid power struggle based on anatomical and psychosocial differences. You cannot have friendship without first accepting these elemental facts (also tricky). And without friendship there can be no love.
We are all part of the same whole.
I’m not from Mars (as far as I know), you’re not from Venus. We’re all (as George Carlin says) from right here.
Unless and until WE can learn to embrace our differences as well as our commonalities we will always be actors in the scripts that are written by others who have a particular agenda in mind while they write.
Write your own story …