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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Women as meat puppets

In the news, the continuing allegations of sexual misconduct by so many ... TV personality Charlie Rose, Democratic Congressman John Conyers, NYT correspondent Glenn Thrush, Hollywood director Brett Ratner, etc.

If nothing else, this shows how widespread sexual misconduct by men against women is in society ... for every famous person named, we can be sure there are so many more instances of this among the general population. Perhaps new laws will come into effect because of this that will make it easier to speak up and to hold perpetrators accountable. But what troubles me is the cause of men treating women this way = the way men think about women. I don't know how easy that is going to be to change ... it's hundreds if not thousands of years in the making ... and if that doesn't change, the behavior will continue.

From The Atlantic: Al Franken, That Photo, and Trusting the Women

[...] Aristotle—he of the “women are mutilated men” conviction—believed enthusiastically that women’s inferior bodies accounted for women’s inferior minds, and that this led, in turn, to a capacity for deception. (“Wherefore women are more compassionate and more readily made to weep,” he declared, they are also “more jealous and querulous” than men. “The female,” he continued, “also is more subject to depression of spirits and despair than the male. She is also more shameless and false … than the male.”) The Greek physician-philosopher Galen of Pergamon refined that idea in his Complexion theory—complexion in this case having less to do with the skin and more to do with the balance of the “humors”: the hot, the cold, the dry, and the wet, as anatomical approximations of earth, wind, fire, and water. Women were colder and wetter than men; this anatomical reality made them more apt to manipulate and deceive. As one summary of the matter put it: “Aristotle and Hellenistic medicine attributed woman’s fickle attitudes, immorality, and insatiable sensory appetite to biology—excessive moisture. She’s too soggy.”

The ideas trickled down, as so many ancient assumptions did, through the centuries. (“I have heard of your paintings too, well enough,” Hamlet glowers to Ophelia, and really to all women. “God has given you one face and you make yourselves another.”) Eve tempted; Delilah betrayed; Jezebel deceived; Cassandra told truths that were assumed to be lies. Calypso beguiled Odysseus—himself a master manipulator—into her island cavern not with her home-decorating skills, but with that standby of gendered scapegoatery: feminine wiles. Men and women, the ancients assumed through their literature, are at odds with one another; women, generally lacking economic or political power, exert themselves through manipulations. Lysistrata is a comedy; it is also, in that sense, an insight.

On the one hand, of course, men lie too. Yet the expectation has been that they lie as an exception while women lie as a rule. Notions of honor and honesty—“Honest Abe,” Washington’s cherry tree—have been construed over time as specifically male aspirations. (The words testimony and testify, one theory goes, are rooted in the fact that the men of ancient Rome, as a gesture of trustworthiness and truth-telling, cupped their testicles.) Women, on the other hand, the mythologies have gone, use their body to manipulate and cajole and entrance: Calypso’s “cavern,” of course, is a metaphor. So is Eve’s apple. As the author Dallas G. Denery II put it in 2015’s The Devil Wins: A History of Lying From the Garden of Eden to the Enlightenment: “Over 1,200 years of endlessly repeated authority transmitted in the form of religious doctrine, natural philosophy, and stories, poems and plays, jokes and anecdotes” framed women as men’s natural adversaries. And women have done their fighting, the long-running story has insisted, though seductions of both body and psyche: “sweet words, fallacious arguments, tears, and exposed breasts.”

It’s an ancient idea that has extended to the modern-day United States (as, of course, to many other places). Notions of “hysteria.” Dismissals of women’s anger as at once irrational and manipulative. Fear of—and interest in—witches and their crafts: “And I’ve got no defense for it / The heat is too intense for it / What good would common sense for it do?” And it has lived on, in even more recent times, in the protestations of GamerGate, and the plot of Gone Girl, and the title of Pretty Little Liars, and the trope of the gold digger, and the notion of the femme fatale, and the paradigm of “the Madonna and the whore,” and the racist logic of the “welfare queen.” It’s in every lyric of “Blurred Lines”—and every “but look how she dresses” rebuttal, and every “if true” dismissal. As Soraya Chemaly, writing for HuffPost in 2014, put it: “If she expresses herself in a combative way in response to a hectoring lawyer or reporter, she is going to be disliked. If she is silent, she will be distrusted. If she talks too much, she is thought to be making stories up. If she is a woman of color, well, all of that on steroids plus some.”

And around it goes ......


Blogger Steve Hampton said...

Very well summed up. I do think it's symptomatic of the illness of these times. It is a torment inwardly and murderously destructive outwardly when any individual "I" cannot or will not sense or honor any other "I". People become things! - things in the way, or things for my pleasure. Hopefully we will survive to arrive at some kind of post-egoistic culture.

9:38 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Steve. Sometimes it does seem like we're getting better as people, more empathetic, but then something happens like Trump's election and I despair we'll ever change.

10:06 AM  

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