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Monday, May 14, 2007

MISOGYNY

THE BEGINNING

Rosemary Radford Ruether in her book entitled “New Woman New Earth” wrote that the root of the misogynist was firstly moulded in the early first millennium B.C. in Hebrew and Greek cultures. It was the starting point of men wanting to free themselves from dependency on nature, and to master nature, they tried subordinating it and linking their essential selves with a transcendent principle beyond nature which is pictured as intellectual and male. This image of transcendent, male, spiritual deity is a projection of the ego or consciousness of ruling-class males, who envision a reality, beyond the physical processes that gave them birth, as the true source of their being. Men locate their true origins and natures in this transcendent sphere, which thereby also gives them power over the lower sphere of “female” nature. (1995:13-14).

In genesis stories created out of this view, the world is no longer seen as evolving out of a primal matrix which contains within it both heaven and earth the organic and the spiritual. Creation is seen as initiated by a flat from above, from an immaterial principle beyond visible reality. Nature, which once encompassed all reality, is now subjugated and made the lower side of a new dualism. Anthropology and cosmology are split into a dualism between a transcendent spiritual principle and a lower material reality. A struggle ensues against the old nature and mother religions by prophets and philosophers who portray it as immoral or irrational. Consciousness is abstracted into a sphere beyond visible reality, including the visible heavens.

This higher realm is the world of divinity. The primal matrix of life no longer encompasses spiritual power, gods, and souls, but is debased as mere “matter” (a word which mans “mother”). Matter is created by an ego-flat from a transcendent spiritual power. Visible nature is posterior and created by transcendent “Mind”. Sky and earth, once complementary, become hierarchical. Maleness is identified with intellectuality and spirituality, femaleness is identified with the lower material nature. This also defines the female as ontologically dependent and morally inferior to maleness.

This view of women as inherently inferior, servile, and “carnal” beings creates a symbol system that is also applied to the relations of masters and slaves, ruling and subjugated classes and races. Aristotle systematically develops this view of women as the type of the naturally servile person vis-à-vis free Greek males. In his biological and political sciences, free Greek males represent the ruling “reason”, which must subjugate the “body people” represented by women, slaves, and barbarians. (Ruether, 1995:14)

A misogynism developed, both in Greek literature and in the later strata of Old Testament and talmudic Judaism. These texts expound the evilness of women and trace the origins of evil in the world to female figures, such as Eve and Pandora (who are probably debased mother-goddess figures).

In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, women are believed to have inherited from their mother, the Biblical Eve, the temptress, both her guilt and her guile. Consequently, they were all untrustworthy, morally inferior, and wicked. Menstruation, pregnancy, and childbearing were considered the just punishment for the eternal guilt of the cursed female sex. The Old Testament stated:

"I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare ... while I was still searching but not finding, I found one upright man among a thousand but not one upright woman among them all" (Ecclesiastes 7:26-28).

The Hebrew literature which is found in the Catholic Bible stated:

"No wickedness comes anywhere near the wickedness of a woman.....Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die" (Ecclesiasticus 25:19,24).

St. Paul in the New Testament mentioned:

"A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I don't permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner" (I Timothy 2:11-14).

Below is what significant people in history stated:

St. Tertullian was even more blunt than St. Paul, while he was talking to his 'best beloved sisters' in the faith, he said: 6

"Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil's gateway: You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the divine law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert even the Son of God had to die."

St. Augustine was faithful to the legacy of his predecessors, he wrote to a friend:

"What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman ... I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children."

Centuries later, St. Thomas Aquinas still considered women as defective:

"As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence."

In the anthropology of Philo and the Church Fathers, maleness and femaleness are treated as expressions of this body-soul split. Women are defined as analogous to body in relation to the ruling mind: either obediently subjugated body (the wife), or sensual bodiliness in revolt against the governance of reason (the harlot). Women are assimilated into the definition of sin. The bodily principle is seen as so intrinsically demonic that the high road to salvation demands the spurning of bodily life altogether for the ascetical virgin state. Sexuality and procreation correspond to the lower realm of corruption, of coming-to-be-and-passing-away. Redemption demands the flight from corruptibility, symbolized by virginity. In unitary spiritual selfhood, beyond sexuality or duality (“neither male nor female”), men and women might be spiritually equal. Christianity grants women as well as men the capacity to seek the higher life of virginity. For women, virginity frees them from the curse of Eve, which is to bear children in sorrow, and to be under the dominion of the husband (Genesis. 3:16).

Christianity typically produces a schizophrenic view of women. Women are split into sublimated spiritual femininity (the Virgin Mary) and actual fleshly women (fallen Eve). The ideals of virginity are exalted into an ethereal realm of “spiritual motherhood”, untainted by any contact with the flesh, while actual women are imaged along the lines of feared and repressed “carnality”. The cult of the virgin mother arises, not as a solution to, but as a corollary of, the denigration of fleshly maternity and sexuality. Actual sexuality is analyzed as “dirt”, while the repressed libidinal feelings are sublimated in mystical eroticism, expressed by the spiritual sacred marriage of the virgin soul with Christ. The love of the Virgin Mary does not correct but presupposes the hatred of real women.

ROMANTIC AND VICTORIAN PERIOD

Hostility to women reached a peak during sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with the outbreak of the witch hunts. The antagonisms nurtured by medieval Christianity seemed to culminate in the era from the Black Death through the religious wars. (Ruether, 1995: 18)

The romantic period following the French Revolution secularized and generalized the concept of spiritual femininity of the Virgin Mary. The nineteenth century image of women as naturally more delicate, moral, spiritual, less sexual than men was compounded of the fusion of Mariology and courtly love with the bourgeois Protestant idealization marriage and the home.

In the aftermath of the French Revolution when the very fabric of Western civilization seemed to be undermined, European thinkers went scrambling to recover bits and pieces of a threatened social order. The popularization of the mariological tradition of spiritual femininity was an integral part of this reaction. Romanticism sought, simultaneously, to renew human sensibilities through contact with the mystical depths of nature, from which rationalistic man had become alienated, and to compensate for the depersonalized world of industrialism and democracy that threatened the house of patriarchal society. The Victorian cult of True Womanhood was a compensatory ideology fashioned to serve these needs and negations.

The cult of True Womanhood appearing in the middle of the nineteenth century comprises: four cardinal virtues, namely, piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity. Religion or piety is believed to be the core of a woman’s virtue, the source of her strength. Religion belongs to woman by divine right, a gift of God and nature. The vestal flame of piety is lightened up by Heaven in the breast of woman. Therefore, “the Universe must be enlightened, improved, and harmonized by woman… bringing the world back from its revolt and sin” (http://www. pinzler.com/ushistory/cultwo.html).

Purity, the second characteristic of the Cult of True Womanhood, is as essential as piety to a young woman, its absence in a woman is unnatural and unfeminine. Inside patriarchy, where a woman has traditionally belonged to a man, passed ceremoniously on to her husband almost as a piece of property on her marriage, taking on her husband’s name, as she leaves her father’s behind, her purity is the prize (Ussher, 1993:27)

Women are supposed to be pure of heart, mind, and body, not engaging in sexual intercourse until marriage, and even then not enjoying it. Without purity, she is no woman at all, but a member of some lower order. A fallen woman is a fallen angel, unworthy of the celestial company of her sex. To contemplate such loss of purity would bring tears; to be guilty of such a crime would lead a woman to madness or death.

Submission is presumed to be the most feminine virtue expected of women. Men are supposed to be religious, although they rarely have time for it, and supposed to be pure, although it comes awfully hard to them, but men are the movers, the doers, the actors. Women are the passive, submissive responders. The order of dialogue is of course fixed in Heaven. Man is woman’s superior by God’s appointment. Therefore, she should submit to him for the sake of good order at least. A young wife should not feel and act for herself because when, next to God, her husband is not the tribunal to which her heart and intellect appeals—the golden bowl of affection is broken. Women are warned that if they tamper with this quality, they tamper with the order of the Universe.

WOMEN’S MOVEMENT

Industrial Revolution indeed sharpened the dichotomy of public and domestic sphere. With more and more industries developing, more and more people (especially men) decided that women were domestic creatures, forgetting that some time in the past, men and women worked hand in hand to survive, both in and outside home. This view was wrapped by religious teachings knowing that religions have always taken a great part of people’s lives.

The hostility toward women, strengthened by the dichotomy of public and domestic sphere during Victorian Period urged women’s movement to deconstruct their predecessors’ misogyny. The first women convention held in Seneca Falls on July 19, 1848 could be called as the first awakening women’s awareness to better their lives in the still male-dominated world.

Almost two centuries has passed since that convention. What have women reached with their struggle?
 More women go to college to get education.
 More women work in public spheres.
 More women hold governmental positions, such as ministry, president, etc.
 More women hold professional jobs, such as doctors, scientists, astronauts, etc.

Can we say that women have successfully terminated misogyny? Absolutely the answer is NOT YET. There are still many women that cannot enjoy their rights, such as joining public activities, getting education as high as they want, joining politics world, choosing any profession they want, and more important, to make a choice for their own life without interference from their parents or other family members.

In Indonesia itself, women’s struggle face hostility and threats both from men (who naively or foolishly think that women just try to forget their nature when wanting to be equal with men) and women who have been blindly indoctrinated that their imprisoning at home is for their own good. With more and more regions in Indonesia applying the so-called Islamic syariat as law, women are threatened to be back to their “old sphere”, at home. History has proven that religions (such as Jewish, Christian/Catholic, and Islam) have always been abused to legitimate men’s dominant power on women.

Misogyny has existed for many millions centuries, and women’s movement has been done only for two centuries. Women must not stop struggling. There are many things to do for betterment. Hopefully we do not need millions centuries to realize the equalitarian world for men and women.

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