The Women’s March arrives today with its smarting edge of anti-semitism. No one should be surprised that leaders of a humanitarian cause do not believe in universal humanitarianism. Xenophobia is inherently human, though efforts to resist racism, sexism, and all such derisive and divisive attitudes should prevail. Women are not exempt.
Yet, of course, women have the right to equalities yet to be granted, yet to be revealed. Every human starts out, in utero, with equal, undifferentiated gender potential. Here’s the schematic:
Until the sixth week of gestation, the human fetus cannot structurally be differentiated. The fetus can go either way. Its genetic programming, marshaled by the paired chromosomes, XX or XY, determines the biologic gender of the fetus growing toward birth. Some biological mistakes do occasionally occur, but the greater mystery lies in the cerebral interpretations of the self’s gender identity or sexual preference(s).
Paternalism has dominated most civilizations since the beginnings of recorded history. Probably its origins began before the moral, intellectual and spiritual differences between men and women had developed. Look back over the eons of the human hunting and gathering phase of existence.
Until the late nineteenth century, Western women were believed to have an imperfect brain.
Men had the strength to hunt, kill and grapple with the beasts that fed their families. Women, dealing with menses, pregnancies, births, and breastfeeding, were unlikely to be consistently available or strong enough to lead the hunt. No one lived much longer than their period of fertility, which meant that women were frequently in reproductive status throughout their adult lifetime.
It’s not clear when the lower status of women was fomented. It was evident at the time when the great shift into the sedentary phase of human existence occurred. The demands of differing economic functions—land tilling and planting and harvesting vs animal husbandry and butchery —created an ever-increasing need for role differentiation. Soon the human bent toward acquisition and even greed fueled further divisions in social status yielding monarchies, militias, and, across-every-board, a lower status for all women.
Until the late nineteenth century, Western women were believed to have an imperfect brain. The female mental apparatus was thought to be morally weak, subject to whims, fancies, emotional override, poor social judgment. The female brain was thought to be mentally dominated by the unconscious, the cerebral home of that moral weakness. By comparison, it was believed that the male brain was dominated by the conscious mental apparatus whereby logic, critical social judgment, and intellectual rectitude prevailed.
Women were also believed to be biologically incapable of sexual pleasure, or orgasm, and only enjoyed sex as a means to pleasure men. Hence the now hilarious period of the implementation of the vibrator as a treatment for “neurasthenic”—sexually unsatisfied and socially debilitated—women.
Psychology, the social science, was born in that same late nineteenth century period, soon dispelled the belief in the differences between the female and male brain, discovering that men, too, had an unconscious (as Freud famously articulated). All that gave way—but very very slowly—to allowing women into professions they had been denied because of that false belief in their inherent unsuitability.
As Freud famously asked, what do women want?
As a man, I can not justly say. Men are still in their ascendent status. The sexualization of Western society since Freud brought it forth has not freed women of all their social bonds.
What is the hold-up? Is it men’s unwillingness to let go, their fear that they will be feminized, unmanned, reduced in power and potency, homosexualized? Maybe there is an argument there.
Or is it partly that women cannot cease capitalizing on their socially, publically erotized image. Feminine allure has a marketplace and a powerful role in identity-formation. And men seek and respond to that allure, and even demand it of women. What do we do?