The End of Sexism?

As an interesting aside, from other readings I've had that were written by Gross, it appears she believes the end of sexism will occur once we get rid of gender roles. I cannot say I agree with this. From the various studies I've read, gender roles are present in both matrifocal as well as patriarchal cultures. Further, I know of exactly one culture which does not appear to have gender roles – the Lahu of Southwestern China, who are fascinatingly observed in ShanShan Du's book Chopsticks Only Work in Pairs. However, they have a culture which is set up to support such a paradigm. We do not, and simply eliminating one aspect of a culture will not make everything associated with it magically disappear as well. As a single example from The End of Men, working class women are making on average more than working class men – but that gender-role-transcending ability of the women to support themselves has not, for example, obliterated either sexism or marriage.

Thinking about this, I am reminded of a priestess at a conference I was at recently, who led a prayer which asked Goddess for the blessing and encouragement of women. One of the younger women present reminded me almost painfully of myself at that age: she was restless, and half-dismissive later as she airily announced she was a humanist, not a feminist! She believed we should make an effort to include men in our prayers. Another young women almost dreamily added that she thought we should be more gender neutral — instead of addressing a goddess, we should speak to the Deity.

Because we were short on time, the group was not able to discuss this further, though many wished to. It was not until later, when I was back in the hotel room I was sharing with a class sister, that we discussed it a bit – mostly with slightly rueful dismay at how much women must constantly reinvent the metaphorical wheel for each other. After all, nobody had made any effort to exclude men from the conference; no one had said anything bad about men. Yet somehow some of the women there felt guilty that they weren't more focused on men… during a conference that was specifically oriented to scholarly research on women and mythology? That made no sense at all.

[An unfortunately requisite apologist sidebar here: no, I do not think all men are assholes; yes, I believe men too can be feminists. However, if this posting makes you feel uncomfortable and/or defensive, may I strongly recommend the following blog, which I have found extremely helpful, since I too am still working on this? "Check my what?" On privilege and what we can do about it: Some tips on going from pro-equality in spirit to pro-equality in deed.]

So, to continue: as I noted to my companion, I'd be happy to always make an effort to include men in women's doings – just as soon as they made a similar effort! I'm (jokingly) sure all those men in their gym locker rooms and corporate board meetings and exclusive cigar clubs are all sitting around and worriedly asking each other: gosh, what can they do to make sure they're not accidentally excluding women — and are they doing everything they can to encourage more women in their men-only groups?

Yeah… I don't see that happening any time soon either. Further, as my companion noted, she'd been in the lesbian and gay community of her city for several decades now, and there had been a time where they tried the gender-neutral perspective on God. Over time, though, they'd realized that in the absence of a stated gender, people will add in the gender they're most used to! So yes, the deity those folks were addressing seemed the nicest and most compassionate and gentlest of men… but it was still male. Not gender-neutral; not female. Even when they were trying not to, these people conceived of a neuter deity as male.

So this raises another curious thought for me: if we did in fact get rid of gender-specific roles (without also changing the society so it would support such a different viewpoint) would we end up – again – with "male" as the conceptual default for "human"? From what's reported in The End of Men, that's pretty much what's happening: women are stepping into the roles which society originally considered "masculine" – regardless of how damaging this is for the people and the society they're in.

Tying this back to embodiment, I can't help but wonder if much of what constitutes social gender roles is an awareness — a sort of cultural estimation of value, so to speak — of the physical differences between women and men. Would getting rid of gender roles require us to even more emphatically refuse awareness of and presence in our bodies? I would consider that a shame; I like physical exercise and the sensuous pleasure of living in/being my body. Further, while the human sexual differences are relatively slight – at least as compared to, say, our close cousins the gorillas – there is one dramatic and relatively constant difference between women and men: women can give birth and men cannot. Is that really something we want to get rid of?

 

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