Friday, June 11, 2010

Beyond the Mars and Venus Dilemma

'The Cockfight' (1846) is a painting of Jean-Léon Gérôme (May 11, 1824 – January 10, 1904), a French painter, kept in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.( Source: Wikipedia)

In my speech at Nandini Satpathhy’s 79th Birth Anniversary at Jaydev Bhavan, Bhubaneswar, India, on last 9th June, my claim that sexual rights for women are mandatory, raised the eye brows of our social gurus and some intellectuals. I think it is time for a new feminist perception without any misandrist ideas. If men and women would be aware that the other has a problem, then they should tend to treat the other in exactly the way they want to be treated (a.k.a. ‘do unto others’). And if this were done, I think we could solve a major sexual crisis without having to do any more lengthy and costly research studies. To me, the answer seems clear. We are all first and foremost human beings and are basically against any type of chauvinism, be it in the form of misandry or be it in the form of misogyny.

In my previous article, I have discussed about Prakruti and Purusha concept in Sankhya Darshan, a well-known Hindu philosophy which denoted co-eternal binary opposition. The concept of such dualism is not only seen in India.

The concept of Yin and Yang in Chinese philosophy was also originated in the Confucian school (most notably Dong Zhongshu) around the second century BCE. It is the most scientific Chinese description of how things work. Yin and yang are symbolised as two spots, one in black in the white space and another is white in the black space, and moving within a greater whole. Yin moves downward and Yang moves upward. They are both, though, opposite; Yin is usually characterized as dark, passive, and downward, cold, contracting, and weak while Yang, by contrast, is characterized as bright, active, upward, hot, expanding, and strong. They are associated with two forms of energies, negative and positive, and also as femininity and masculinity respectively. Though these two energies are opposite to each other, they are complimentary to each other as well.

Though Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961) was a trendsetter personality in human psychology, much of his life’s work was spent exploring other areas, including Eastern and Western philosophy. Jung claims that ‘anima’ and ‘animus’ are the two primary anthropomorphic archetypes of the unconscious mind, opposite but complimentary to each other. The animus is an archetype of the male personality whereas anima is the archetype for the female personality. According to Jung, all relations with the opposite sex, including parents, are strongly affected by the projection of anima or animus fantasies. The more astonishing postulate of Jung is that every man carries within him the anima, and a female bears an animus within her.

The eternal image of woman residing inside a man is not the image of any particular woman, but a definitive feminine image. This image is … all imprint or “archetype” of all the ancestral experiences of the female, a deposit, as it were, of all the impressions ever made by woman. Since this image is unconscious, it is always unconsciously projected upon the person of the beloved and is one of the chief reasons for passionate attraction or aversion. Jung believed that every woman has an analogous anima within her psyche, this being a set of unconscious masculine attributes and potentials.

How is the animus formed in a woman? How is the anima formed in a man? They are shaped by relating to and being in the presence of the parent of the opposite sex. The man’s anima takes form through relating with the mother. The woman’s animus takes form through influence by the father. But Jung focused more on the male’s anima and wrote less about the female’s animus. According to Jung, anima in man developed in four distinctive levels, Eve, Helen, Mary, and Sophia.

The first one is Eve, and deals with the emergence of a male’s object of desire. The second one is Helen, and is named after Helen of Troy in Greek mythology. In this phase, anima shows a strong schism in external talents (cultivated business and conventional skills) with lacking internal qualities (inability for virtue, lacking faith or imagination). The third phase is Mary, and is named for Jesus’ mother Virgin Mary, and in this stage, females can now seem to possess virtue by the perceiving male (even if it is in an esoteric and dogmatic way). And in the final phase, Sophia is named for the Greek word for wisdom and is where anima allows females to be seen and related to as particular individuals who possess both positive and negative qualities.

Later Jung had been criticised for his dichotomy of masculine and feminine concept which is considered as sexist theory similar to patriarchal milieu. Feminists, mostly the feminists of the second wave, criticised that Jung’s archetypes are actually socio?cultural constructions, not timeless psychological truths. But I think, Jungian theory at least tries to alter the conventional concept of masculinity, where images of masculinity are somehow outdated insofar as they placed tremendous emphasis upon the dominance of the male: the male as the breadwinner, the male as the unquestioned authority, and the male as the heterosexual. Jung tried to redefine that the male is no longer the primary breadwinner, is not necessarily heterosexual, is hardly the unquestioned authority and power-holder and is, within the context of Western societies, not necessarily dominant.

But the social scientists always claim that gender differences in behavior and personality characteristics are, at least in part, socially constructed, and therefore, the product of socialization experiences. Most of the feminists believe that gender role in our society often politicised and manipulated patriarchal society, which then resulted in the oppression of people. Social scientists always try to differentiate biological sex and gender, and though to some extent, they seem to be correct but their extremist outlook suggests an androgynous gender stereotype, which approaches cross-cultural sexual archetypes.

Masculinity and femininity culture thus painted with a gender bias outlook makes both the sexes opposite and rival to one another along with their original characteristics of being complimentary to one another as believed by ancient Greek, Indian and Chinese culture, or even modern Carl Jung’s perception.

Gerda Lerner, a historian and a Professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a visiting scholar at Duke University, wrote a book in 1986 entitled The Creation of Patriarchy. In that book, she claimed that “patriarchy” was something created by Judaism and Christianity. Patriarchy always tries to place masculinity at the centre, never at the margin; always dominant, never subordinated. But actually, if we would omit the patriarchal outlook for masculinity, we find each and every man does not possess hegemonic masculinity and a culturally idealized form of masculine character is totally different from that of hegemonic model of masculinity.

Here, I can’t resist my instinct to share a novela by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (1880-1932), one of the premier Islamic feminists on the Indian subcontinent who is very much discussed in Bangladesh while very little is discussed in West Bengal. And I don’t really know the reason for this! In her English novela Sultana’s Dream (1905), she depicts a fantasy, where a Muslim girl dreamt about a Ladyland, where women were roaming freely on the roads and she met more than hundred women, but not a single man. She felt herself more curious to know where the men had gone and she asked a lady. The lady replied they were in their right place where they ought to be; they were shut indoors. Sultana (the Muslim girl) then asked the lady how it could this be possible when men are mighter than women? To her query, the lady answered that a lion is stronger than a man but it cannot dominate the human race. So the masculine world is kept indoors in a place called ‘mardana,’ where they have to mind babies, cook, and to do all sorts of domestic work, while the outer world is controlled by the feminine masses.

Rokeya’s feminist utopia may be considered as a gender role reversal to highlight the absurdity of the position of women in society. But the main point of discussion here is that all our studies about male hegemony are from a patriarchal viewpoint and not from the individual man’s perspective. Whenever men are studied, they are generally studied from an essentialist perspective, as if their biology predetermined their behavior; as if all men were the same.

But there are men actively supporting female issues. In India, for example, the issue of women’s suffrage and other issues are always initiated and ignited by men. In India, I have discussed in my earlier essays, how the feminist movements are also begun by males [please see: Beyond Mysogyny]. In such cases, how is it practical and accurate to blame masculinity for male hegemony?

Rokeya ‘s novela was originally published in Madras-based The Indian Ladies’ Magazine in 1905. Rokeya also represented the Muslim female mass, who were opressed by the patriarchal religious and social gurus and she fought for their proper education and employment for the female masses within the Shariyat law. Though the condition of the Hindu female mass was not satisfactory, it was better than that of the Muslim mass.

A lot of important social and economic changes have been taking place in India since then as a result of modernization and industrialization. As demands of the times and altered situations, women entered the workforce into fields that previously had been male-dominated. Some examples of these fields are: politics, art, and industrial careers. In the middle classes, there have also been important changes in social norms, largely influenced by international tendencies. These changes affected most of all the identities of gender and the hierarchical relations in marriage and the family. Individualism was increasingly the norm among these social classes and new forms of experiencing gender relations came into the foreground with the questioning of patriarchy. Questions were raised on piety, purity, submissiveness, and the definition of true womanhood. This comes to the front in the discussions about free love, the end of marriage, and the feminization of men.