“The War On Women” is the latest catch phrase about which pundits obsess. Indeed, it is an apt phrase when you consider all the events this year, (Komen to Limbaugh to government rape by vaginal probe) which many believe were salvos in turning women into second class citizens. Commentators profess astonishment at the breadth and viciousness of these attacks, as if they represent something abnormal, these arguments over questions supposedly long since settled. Some see the War On Women simply as a backlash to the counter-culture of the 1960’s, conservatives welcome it as a return to “traditional family values,” while those with a long view consider it a snap-back to the statistical median, ask why this is so, and wonder if we can ever really change a cultural misogyny which is in fact the historical norm. We are where we are, so let’s do some reverse engineering: is misogyny embedded in human nature (by God?), or is it a stage in human evolution, can it, should it be changed?
One can find no major society or culture today that does not value the male over the female, and is not generally patriarchal in organization, leadership, family style, and even in its myths and definitions of humanity and of heroism. Maleness is the default human, the benchmark. This does not negate the fact that these same cultures impose great demands on their men, mostly connected with testosterone, such as the exercise of physical strength, and how they define courage, honor, and leadership (“man up,” “grow a pair”), dominance, and risk-taking.
Since such lop-sided emphasis on the male is so pervasive, Republicans regard it as “natural,” and the Bible thumpers among them insist it is God’s will, beginning with the statement that man is made in God’s image (which seems to have meant originally that it was the male sex organs which were godly, probably because early humans noticed that the penis mysteriously becomes erect on its own and demands attention, so they concluded it must be the god acting through human, i.e., male, flesh). Moreover, there is the whole thing about Eve tempting Adam, which caused all the tribulations we have in this life, and the Greeks doubled down with Pandora’s opening that box and releasing a swarm of evils, making it plain that women are to blame for everything that has ever gone wrong. Obviously, females are second class people or even, perhaps, not fully human, being “the lesser vessel,” created as a helpmeet to god’s first creation, the man, with the sole purpose of nurturing his seed (early humans had no inkling about the equal contribution of the female egg to the creation of a zygote, a failure of the imagination which haunts us psychologically still today, with such ideas as a “barren woman,” and “his” children, and the adulation of fertility (“go forth and multiply,” “right to life”).
The non-Bible thumpers take a less theocratic view, pointing more toward the different functions of the female (child-bearing, live birth rather than eggs laid in the sand) and the male (fighting for access to females in order to procreate, protecting ‘his’ offspring to perpetuate ‘his’ genes)—- biology is non-negotiable destiny. From this, in their view, flows everything else: families, tribes, personal property, and the endless struggle to survive. Anything contrary to this basic system has to be “un-natural,” an anathema, which is why they are homophobic, regard women primarily as baby machines, and hate any rivals (like immigrants) that might dilute their gene pool. They point to their version of history, which they claim proves that only strong, father-led families create strong, successful societies; when families stray from the father-led model, societies invariably collapse. End of story, you sorry liberals.
Both versions are authoritarian and uber-patriarchal. Women and children were historically considered chattel, property of the pater familias, whose status above females and offspring was analogous to that of god above the pater familias. . It made for an orderly hierarchy, top to bottom, ordained by the deity and enforced by a potent combination of custom and religion, but what it really was, was Bullies Ruled, the biggest, strongest, meanest male was always top dog—- naturally.
What strikes me in this Republican narrative are two things: 1) It actually can be seen as a survival mechanism, a response to the precarious subsistence-level lives of early humanity in a hostile world when we were few in numbers, when women, encumbered by pregnancy and small children needed protection, not just from wild animals but from other men; and 2), as a system, it resonates with the level of emotional development of children and adolescents—- small wonder, when you remember that most human beings had a life-span of twenty years or less until quite recently.
Most of human history was lived by people we today would consider teenagers or young adults, and the macho, authoritarian life style of patriarchy reflects that. See Lord of the Flies for an example of how a group of boys thrown together on a desert island without adults created their own “natural” society, one which showed the basic elements of Republican nature theory, lacking only the female side and procreation; more mature versions would be narco gangs or the feudal/clan warlord-thugs of ancient, medieval, and (alas!) modern times. (In describing school bullies, Dean Donohoo, a director of school administration in Georgia, was quoted in Time magazine 2 April 2012, as saying “Boys will be boys. They’re just cruel at that age”—- which perfectly describes so much of human history).
It probably would not have turned out this way had not human males in the aggregate been physically bigger and stronger than the females, enabling them to impose their will on the more vulnerable women. In other words,the hidden underlying rationale of patriarchy is: Might makes Right. It is the adolescent stage in human evolution.
Most of us nowadays, except for Bible/Koran thumpers, no longer believe that disease, floods, plagues of locusts, or comets are caused by a wrathful god as warnings or punishments. Science has de-mystified many things that terrified our ancestors into propitiating angry supernatural beings; our economies, while imperfect, have managed to create enough material abundance to raise a surprisingly large portion of humanity above the subsistence level; and human beings are far more able to control their own destiny as a result. Humanity has spread into every nook and cranny of the globe, our total biomass threatens to destroy the very environment which enabled our march to the top of the food chain, and we are now our own worst enemy, replacing those wild animals.
Humanity has moved beyond its ignorant and fearful beginnings. The patriarchal culture has outlived its usefulness,and is an impediment to further improvement in the lives of all members of the species, and quite possibly to our survival as a species.
While women in America today are generally healthier and more secure than ever before, they continue to be more vulnerable (ask any single mother), but they also can survive without being subsumed totally into a man’s life as his chattel. This fact alone alarms and enrages traditionalists. They hunger for the chaos and disaster which characterized the lives of early human beings. They are convinced that some inevitable doom will re-establish the ancient fear of God, and drive us back into that old-time, comfortable patriarchal system of Lords Spiritual and Temporal, when prudent, vulnerable women cooperated in their own submission to both sets of lords. Since the system was based on Might makes Right, those lords have never hesitated to use overwhelming force, all the way from physical and psychological abuse through maiming and banishment to burning at the stake, against any imprudent woman (or man, for that matter) who did not cooperate eagerly. It was the righteous thing to do.
It still is, minus (so far) the burning at the stake, and it still relies on female cooperation, without which the system cannot function. Conservative women today, like women in the past, have internalized this message of submission and cooperation in exchange for protection and male approval—- hence, the dismaying sight of earnest, god-fearing women endorsing the entire traditional (patriarchal) agenda. They don’t hate those independent “sluts” (often called witches in the past, and burned at the stake) who think differently from themselves so much as they despise them and secretly fear them. Why? Well, if all women do not conform to the system, it calls into question their own submission, devalues it; it might require them to stand on their own two feet (“man up?”) and be responsible for their own lives and their own choices. That can be as scary as a sabre-tooth tiger or a cave bear.
In most cases they learned their place in the scheme of things at their Daddy’s knee, with Mama as a role model (and rival in the background. Like most little girls they wanted to please papa, and they learned their lesson well. They grew up to be patriarchal traditionalists because they were Daddy’s Good Little Girl (D.G.L.G.). They lived the dogma at home, they heard it in church, temple, or mosque every week, why would they not absorb it naturally? As a D.G.L.G. they fulfill their designated patriarchal role….If the patriarchy is Bullies Rule, then its enablers are those loyal little D.G.L.Gs.
I predict that the greatest, most tenacious opposition to changing the patriarchal social system will come from the D.G.L.Gs, because they have invested so much in their own submission and unwitting compromises, which they absolutely must justify (whether they realize it or not). They are bone-scared, deep down in their hind brains, at losing Daddy’s (male) approval and protection; not only will they not stray off their tight little reservation, they cannot allow any other woman to fail to cooperate in their submission as well.