These are times that try women's souls. We are well into the 2008 presidential sprint, in this the twenty-first century, with a historical opportunity to level the playing field. So far the most important issue of the campaign is man v. woman. It is a point looming large with Hillary Clinton eyeing male- ruled precincts of the White House West Wing. Endless chatter and numbing debates can't obscure the facts; the paramount proposition forwarded is man...woman, separate and unequal.
This piqued my feminist curiosity; going back in history, research reveals that little has changed since records declared men were, and are, the accepted
dominant force in most every organized society. Those sentiments were fully aired during the wide-open era we call the decadent sixties.
Eras are cyclical, progressive change following conservative stalemates as politcal processes create tensions that pull a society back to the center for its
own good. Then comes wise men and women who look beyond the obvious and proffer new ideas. Such a women is cultural historian, Riane Eisler, author of Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth and the Politics of the Body. She borrows from universal women's laments merging those issues with an original synthesis regard human sexuality and how it has impacted world history. Or as she explains it: "...humanity's 5000 year detour into endemic social violence, cruelty, and pain."
Thus, she frames the seeds of history's male sexism.
Eisler dismisses the theory that men are innately violent and women's servitude the norm. She also rejects a corollary thesis that gender differences naturally result in conflict. She views culturally-imposed evolution as the major determinant force molding social patterns. In early societies, sex--our most intimate interpersonal relationship--was practiced with great joy, minus any hint of sin or shame later associated with copulation.
At that time, the sex act induced a spiritual element organically tranmitted into community life. This nurtured the concept we call love. "Love is the highest expression of evolution on the planet," Riane Eisler instructs.
She believes that human love was fostered by rearing children. The human infant requires a lengthy period of maturation. The act of child care created great pleasure that transcended the physical, infusing an emotional component, spreading its own life force through the greater tribal society. Eisler cites sex therapists, Masters and Johnson, on their idea of the "pleasure bond." As an evolutionary process, the bond begins with human reproduction in the union of man and woman.
Further, Eisler states that the theory of a human "selfish gene" is only theory; she coined the phrase "the dominator model," to explain her thesis. Inherent
selfishness on the part of Man is propagated by many professionals in the field of social studies. They use that model to define all human relationships,
connecting it to the neo-Darwin school in which males are ranked above females, leading to a stiffling hierarchical social order. This, in turn, is tangential to an institutionalized sexist system, marked by sexual coercion.
Throughout the centuries, women have been victims of sexual machinations to enhance men's physical pleasure. In ancient Greece, women were considered demons, the highest expression of love being homosexual bonding. Ancient Romans reluctantly gave women incremental freedom but never fully released them from patriarchical power, though they did honor marriage and felt that heterosexual love was the highest form of affection.
The Chinese bound young girl's feet for centuries, seeing in the "three-inch Lotus foot," a bizarre ideal of beauty. Even when foot-binding was outlawed during subsequent regimes, women continued to suffer, breaking bones and binding their own feet--believing it improved chances at a more propitious marriage. Sex, as noted, does present us with some fairly pathological fettishes. In these societies, the dominator model was the standard. The modern trafficking in sex slavery proves our social advances do not keep apace with technological leaps.
Returning to Riane Eisler's hypotheses, she states that the concept of altruism is missing from the dominator model. And wonders why, the "kin" doctrine (humankind's only raison d'etre to protect its own gene pool) did not apply when Germans rescued Jewish familes during Hitler's purges at great peril to themselves, their kin, and friends. "What we're really talking about is empathy--empathic love," she affirms, debunking the popular view of Man-as-animal.
She sees echoes of the dominator system employed during military training and in child rearing in many modern societies. Such environments are engineered to routinely humiliate the charge, who, in order to be accepted, must obey and submit to a higher authority without question.
Eisler cites both Italian biologist, Humberto Maturana, and Charles Darwin, to emphasize her thesis; Maturana expanded on the Masters and Johnson pleasure bond idea. Eisler follows his lead: "The sexual bond produces neuropeptides that reward, us with enormous sensations of pleasure, as happens not only when we receive love but when we give love, caring and pleasure."
She paraphrases Darwin in his The Descent of Man: "...he very explicitly said that natural selection, the survival of the fittest, simply do not apply as the only factors, and certainly not as the primary factors, when it comes to human evolution. There is the very important factor that he called, 'the moral sense.'"
Is it time to return to our humble, primal beginnings as co-partners in a dangerous world? Gender separation lies in the perception, not the reality. Our human brain is flexible and can be reprogrammed to accept shared experience. Men and women are unique in physical differences rather than
in any profound emotional way.
(This discussion is based on a Q and A session, "Sex,
Spirituality, and Evolution: Are We Victims to the Beast
Within?" by Mark Harris for Conscious Choice February,
1999, and is available online.)