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Dr Geraldine Sharp
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Introduction to Woman The Failed Male
This book is about semen; semen is the missing link in theories of male superiority. We are about to embark on a journey that peels away centuries of beliefs and 'truths' about women and about men. In the modern world, we still see men dominate in all spheres of influence. This is despite the acceptance by many nations of basic human rights as outlined in the International Convention on Human Rights following World War 11; the advances in the education of women and girls; the gradual collapse of some of the traditional ideas about women's innate inferiority in some parts of the world. Yet, old ideas about women's characteristics and roles continue. Male dominated societies and organisations tend to refer to 'tradition' and/or culture when defending the male 'right' to control, discipline and assign roles to women. But, where did these traditions originate? Whose ideas were they? When did they begin? Why do they continue to persist? Do they stand up under scrutiny?
I had listened to the standard 'truths' for male superiority and found them wanting. For example, the claim that men are physically stronger than women - yes, men can have up to ten percent more muscle strength than women; yet the majority of hard labour in the world is done by women. Surely, some of those women have more muscle strength than some men. More male than female babies tend to have congenital defects at birth; boys tend to have more childhood illnesses than girls; women live longer than men. So, how can all men be 'stronger' than all women in every respect? Some men and some women have similar physical strength; and some do not succumb to childhood illness regardless of their sex; and some men live longer than women. The statement - men are stronger than women- cannot be applied to all men and all women, therefore it is not a 'truth'.
Neither is the presumption that men are more intelligent than women. Some men are more intelligent than some women, but some women are more intelligent than some men. The truth is that some people are more intelligent than other people. A man's presumed greater intelligence is not a 'truth'. Men are presumed to be the 'warriors'; they protect women and children. Not true, some men are warriors, but some women have also been warriors and continue to be so. Some children are also forced or encouraged to be warriors. Men are not the only warriors; and not all women need protecting. None of the 'truths' associated with male superiority explain why men believed, and continue to believe themselves to be superior, because they can so easily be disproved. They certainly did not explain the presumption that all men were superior to all women. So, where did these notions come from? Who said what and why? This is the purpose of our expedition, to discover how these 'truths' came about.
Where do we start in this quest for origins? We could begin with the age of the Great Mother, from as late as 7000 BC, which proceeded the age of the male God. Women historians have comprehensively outlined the evidence for the reverence, respect, and fear, in which women were held in many societies. It is not necessary to repeat this scholarship here. We shall begin our search for the origins of traditions, which have subordinated women, in the Mediterranean Basin around two thousand years ago. This is a good place to begin, not least, because the ideas and beliefs of Ancient Greece, Judaism, Christianity and Imperial Rome formed the basis of later European thought. So, what were the beliefs, attitudes and practices accepted as 'natural' and God-given in the Ancient World? Can we see traces of these ideas in contemporary society? Which traditional ideas about women and about men continue to exist? Which traditional beliefs, attitudes and practices, are still considered valid in the twenty-first century? Has anything changed?
We need a clear pathway with staging posts if we are to follow the ideas and beliefs of the Ancient World and religious thought. We shall follow the ideas of the Greek philosophers and physicians, the Hebrew creation story and the development of Christian sexual theology. It is not the only approach we could take, but it provides a lens on ideas in the Ancient World and religious thought that have provided legitimisation for the primary 'truth' for man's presumed superiority - the possession of semen.
The belief in man's superiority led to the subordination of women. Chapter one reminds us that at the root of the control of women and children is the institution of patriarchy; which often combines with a hatred of women. Patriarchy has been supported by tradition and legislation, which in turn was underpinned by religious beliefs and myths. Patriarchal hierarchies of power have been used to control lesser males, women and children. Patriarchs at the macro and micro levels of society have imposed their ideas and values on the rest of society. Patriarchy is an apparatus of power that defines men as superior to women.
Chapter two begins our trail of semen down through the ages with an outline of the beliefs and 'truths' held by Greek philosophers and physicians who expressed contemporary ideas about the properties of semen. Semen was uniquely male. It was what made men 'men'. Nature intended all foetuses to be male. In Greek discourse, woman was a mistake of nature, a 'failed male'. The possession of semen and resulting fantasies provided a 'biological basis' for all the positive characteristics assigned to men; and led to the legitimisation of man's domination of women, children and the natural world. This semen mythology provided the foundation of man's presumed superiority and the later Christian elevation of semen to the 'divine' and the presumed access to 'truth' by a celibate male hierarchy.
We then consider the development of the early Christian church, which originated in the Mediterranean basin influenced by Hebrew beliefs and practices, and 'common sense' notions about male superiority that arose from Greek ideas about the role and qualities of semen. In Greek philosophy, a mythology of semen supported and sustained a patriarchal ideology. The Hebrew story of creation, together with this mythology of semen, was fundamental to patriarchal beliefs and organisation, and to an emerging Christian sexual theology. The creation story ensured that woman was to blame for the entry of sin into the world and later provided justification for the Christian theologian Augustine's belief in an 'original sin'.
Sexual stereotypes are examined in chapter four. Semen mythology led to a discourse, which justified the assignment of all positive characteristics to men and consigned to woman the polar opposites. Men 'naturally' assigned to themselves all positions of power in society; women were in need of guidance and control due to their physical and mental weakness. Woman's main role was to service a man materially and sexually; bear a man's child and care for the sick. Man lived in fear of a descent into the undifferentiated state of a woman and was concerned to exclude all signs of 'softness', which might suggest a loss of manhood. There is evidence that for a man to be a man, a sufficient supply of semen was vital. He had to strive to remain virile; semen must therefore be protected. As we shall see in later chapters these Greek and Hebrew stereotypes of masculinity and femininity have stood the test of time.
The phallus became the symbol of male power. Through the possession of semen and its organ of transmission, man appropriated the primary role in reproduction; in so doing, he elevated himself almost to the divine. His sacred organ of generation, the phallus, was the source of all human life. Man adopted the status of 'co-creator' with God. Women's organs and emissions were an abomination. Fear of women and of the power of sexuality, prejudice, and notions of uncleanness associated with menstrual blood and childbirth all contributed to negative beliefs about women in the world from which the second Abrahamic religion - Christianity sprang. When in the third century, orthodox Christianity became the established religion of Imperial Rome, patriarchy as an apparatus of power supported both religion and politics. A monotheistic patriarchal religion swept across Europe together with the Roman Imperial armies; and the State gradually became the guarantor of patriarchal power. Biblical scholarship has shown that women played a full part in the development of both the Orthodox and Gnostic Churches. However, in the Orthodox Church women were gradually excluded from participation in worship or prophecy. By the end of the second century, women's participation in worship was explicitly condemned. All traces of women's participation in the life and work of the Orthodox Church were erased.
One of the most significant stages on our journey, which provided the foundations of Christian sexual theology, is what three theologians - Augustine (13 November 354 - 28 August 430), Albert (c.1200 - November 15, 1280) and Aquinas (1225 - 7 March 1274) said about women and sexuality. Augustine's doctrine of 'original sin' confirms woman as the site and cause of sin in the world. Albert exhibits a hatred of women in his slanderous writings. He also said that when a woman says 'No' to sexual activity she really means 'Yes'. In the Middle Ages, Aquinas, the pupil of Albert, elevates semen to the 'divine'; uses the recently re-discovered ancient Greek texts to 'prove' patriarchal beliefs about women and affirms women's role as the incubator for man's 'seed'. He could see no other possible use woman could be.
The institution of celibacy is significant because it elevated the male celibate almost to the 'divine'. Celibacy became a requirement for all who held power in the Christian Church, and a male, celibate hierarchy imposed its beliefs on the rest of the clergy and the people. We shall see that the requirement of continence (sexual renunciation), has not always been linked to priesthood; nor has continence and priesthood been a constant tradition in the Christian churches. Nevertheless, eventually the male continent body was afforded privileged access to 'truth'. It is the retention of semen, which supports the power of the clerical caste in the Orthodox Christian Church. The institution of celibacy is an apparatus of male power, which reinforces traditional ideas about men and women and is the backbone of the patriarchal, Orthodox Catholic Church.
The Scientific Revolution, the Renaissance and the Reformation, resulted in a new world view. In chapter nine we note the impact of the Reformation; not least, the notion of individual access to truth and to God, which emerged. This was the greatest challenge to the power of the priesthood. The Christian Church split into two main groups, the Orthodox and the Protestants. The Catholic Christian Church re-affirmed orthodox 'truths' as absolute; and reacted to the 'errors of modernism' by retrenchment. The Catholic Christian Church became a fortress. There was no Reformation for semen or for women.
The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) was heralded as the 'New Epiphany' for the Catholic Church; but there was no epiphany for semen or for women. In the encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), protection of semen continued as the imperative to forbid the use of the contraceptive pill. The ban led to the maturation of individual conscience amongst many Catholics, as they resisted the ban. The authority of the Pope and priests declined following the encyclical; and the power of the clergy to control the sexual lives of women and men was severely diminished. In the western world, confession went into decline and with it, one of the most powerful tools with which to control the laity disappeared.
Does patriarchy continue to exist in the 21st century? Do patriarchal ideas about women continue to exist and have meaning? Do traditional ideas continue to define women and their role? In modern-day patriarchy, some women have experienced some mitigation of the worst effects of patriarchy, particularly in the western world, but generally, women are still striving to achieve equality with men. The evidence is that progress towards equality in many parts of the world has stopped, even if it had ever begun. A new era of patriarchy has emerged in which violence has proliferated; self-hatred has flourished, violence against women, especially rape, is committed daily with impunity and sex trafficking thrives. The oppression of women will continue in many parts of the world as 'cultural and tradition', unless the foundation of a presumed superiority (semen) is recognised for the nonsense that it is. The World religions have a significant role to play if equality is to be achieved. Religion plays an important role in culture and tradition. Secular organisations such as the United Nations can only achieve so much if religious traditions continue to uphold the presumption of male superiority. Once the root of this presumption is exposed as nonsense, religious leaders have a moral duty to revise their doctrines.
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