The Genesis of the Gender Wars

(generically speaking)

Long have i tried to appreciate the point of view of the opposite sex, in my case women. In fact, for a long time women seemed much more interesting to me than men, not merely as objects of lust but as whole human beings. And to a large extent they still are. What i have learned though, is just that they are fascinating to me, not that i want to be more like them.

Where once i was impressed with their superior ways in the area of communicating their feelings and other things really worthy of communication – as opposed to beer, tools and sports, say – i am left with just an appreciation of the difference. I am not a great sharer, and although it is possible that that is just my conditioning – and certainly males are generally conditioned in this way – i have come to appreciate, on the positive side, the value of keeping my own counsel. I also appreciate the sharers, including men, but while i can be encouraged to share, it does not come spontaneously very often.

But enough about me.

I came here to talk about the damage men have done to women, but not as a mea culpa or even male culpa, since guilt, individual or collective, is one of the most destructive things known to humanity – and besides, women have contributed too, by their acquiescence and by their retaliation. (You might well ask just what were their other options. The short answer is "plenty!" but we have to leave that for a future epic, and don't hold your breath.) I write as a way of exploring something so that i and we can move on to more balanced and complete, conscious lives. I will not catalog the evils; well-known and understood or obscure and contentious, they are still details and as such more concerned with inducing or promoting the aforementioned guilt, which corrodes self-esteem without redeeming value, whether sadistically imposed from outside by aggressive morality-mongers or masochistically from inside – usually an internalized bully-figure from one's past. Okay, okay, so what will i do already? Like, get to the point, eh?

The point, eh, is ontological insecurity.

Short and snappy enough for you?

It refers to the worst, in my opinion, and most central effect of the systematic suppression visited upon women in the name of the various patriarchal ideologies and theologies practiced around the world. Remarkably – or is it so remarkable? – these quite disparate ologies, seemingly ready to go to war for any number of trivial reasons, agree almost reflexively about where women belong, hierarchy-wise. I would answer my rhetorical question, no: it is not remarkable, and not because there is any great conspiracy. [ASIDE, FROM SARLO'S FREE-ASSOCIATION MEMORY BANK: I long ago stopped believing in or caring much about conspiracies, although i am sure they exist and control us in a great many ways. The cure was to read Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's hilarious sendup of all the conspiracy theories ever floated, their astonishing Illuminatus series]

The simpler, to my mind, and more natural reason it is not remarkable is our collective unconscious. This is neither metaphysical legerdemain, nor new age doo-doo, just garden variety psychobabble. Dig this: our conditioning is handed down not just by such quasi-modern arrivistes as religion, but all the way from the apes. It is both socially and genetically programmed. Jane Goodall's work with chimpanzees, culminating in her book Through a Window, makes it clear that all the behaviours we sporadically try to civilize in our great quest to "ennoble" ourselves – war, thuggery, sexual aggression, ambition, power games, rape, cannibalism, bullying, jealousy, you name it – are found in abundance in our close cousins, different from us in less than one percent of their DNA. And these are not humanized chimps who learned "aberrant" behaviours in the artificial environment of a zoo. They are the real thing in their natural habitat.

And what do we find? A constant theme is males beating up on females, to establish rank in the ever-fluctuating dominance hierarchy. Goodall herself gets attacked repeatedly by one male unclear on the concept. Dominance seems to be such an important issue that even tools are used for it, although mostly to impress other males, who are more difficult to beat up than females. Amazingly – or not amazingly – the use of tools in this pursuit seems to be more creative than for even food gathering or shelter. Perhaps there is good reason for this, as those with higher status do end up getting bigger shares of food and comfort-activities, such as grooming.

In any case, here we are. Though it would be easy to conclude that it's in our genes, and from there decide that it's impossible, or at least unnatural, to try to change anything – a point of view encouraged by the extremely trendy evolutionary psychology (see evolution) – we should be careful to avoid hasty conclusions. Such gene-based determinism, a microcosm of the ever-popular nature-vs-nurture debates, overlooks the hugely important part nurture does in fact play. And both sides of this debate overlook transcendence, that is, our ability – with our intelligence, love and other qualities of consciousness – to go beyond any of these limitations of form and conditioning. So there.

Ontological insecurity. This is what has been inflicted on women and it is at the centre of all that's wrong in the struggle to live with what Osho calls the intimate enemy. The need to dominate, psychologically obsolete like the appendix in the physical body, has created an appendicitis in all human relations. Through genital mutilation, denial of birth control, dowry and bride price systems, male gods and hierarchies, and civic and economic inequities too numerous blah blah, the message to women is you don't matter. In fact, you may not even have a soul. Your role, if not purpose, is as an appendage to men.

[SKIPPABLE PART FOR THOSE OF GNATTISH ATTENTION SPAN: Your patience please. Let me explore just one example of the many social inequities that, by their subtlety and pervasiveness undergird the relegation of women to a status somewhere between human and cunt-on-the-hoof: language. Okay. In the late twentieth century this issue has been explored a lot, sometimes tiresomely, so that the generalized "he, his," etc is losing its force, by having been outed. Subtler explorations, such as that of Gloria Steinem, in her book, Doing Sixty, still deserve some attention.

In it, she describes the neurotic vulnerabilities and obsessions of men with – dare i say hysterically – hilarious female-centric language that underlines, as satire does best, the ways in which our experience and intelligence is warped by unexamined biases inherent in language. For example, her term for the sex act, "envelopment." This indicates a protective, nurturing and above all active doing on the part of the woman to alleviate the insecurities of her passive and neurotic partner who is exposed and vulnerable without this beneficent act. With the simple device of new terminology, Steinem effortlessly transports us into a parallel universe where women are strong, men are weak and the very "upside-downness" of it jolts us into having a new look at the "normal" things we take for granted.]

Societies all over the world are riddled with this kind of stuff, and while western societies were the first to allow women to push for a bigger share of the ontological pie, it is by no means a fair deal even here. Feminists have addressed the sociopolitical inequities, but even these yield so stubbornly – what to say of the belief, instilled from birth, that your worth, perhaps your very existence, is dependent on a man? These things do not change overnight, even in individuals committed to raising consciousness.

This has affected the relationship between men and women in profound ways – duh! – beyond the already much-commented-on social power imbalance. Women can't help but resent this and get back at men in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, but there's far more. Women's psychic health and balance is crippled by these belief systems, reinforced by rapes and assaults, so much so that we have to ask whether men can possibly get enough benefit out of this to justify it in their own minds. My answer is decidedly NO.

What kind of pathetic male ego would require his woman to be so crippled? Wouldn't, shouldn't a man want a woman who was his equal, who could help him become more integrated, who could share her complementary strengths? And wouldn't, shouldn't he want her to be free, that he might be enriched by her freely given love, not pampered by her sycophancy? Can the ludicrous male ego really be propped up by the love of a slave anyway? Can he respect himself if he doesn't respect her? Beyond the retaliation of women, this is the cost to men, that they become mediocre in settling for a mediocre woman and expending so much energy keeping her that way.

[THROWAWAY GENERALIZATION: There has been a lot of material on changing gender roles since the women's movement started taking off in earnest in the seventies, focusing on men's insecurities in the face of the new assertive, strong women. Not only are many men uncomfortable with the shifting of the old dominance hierarchy, but they are also missing the old certainties which, however oppressive, made their decisions easier and clearer. Men are headed for a period of murkiness and uncertain identity.]

I have to end with an apology. Not for what men have done to women for millennia – this would be the way of guilt – but for possible mistaken impressions created by my effort here. It is not my intention to paint a picture of women as hopeless basket cases created by men, or of their psychic health as any worse than men's. This would be then just another piece of patronization. The fact that this impression may arise i attribute to my lack of insight, meaning that were i more insightful about my own unconsciouness and imbalance, and by extension other men's – and i'm sure male deficiencies exist in equal proportion to women's – i would write more about that.

My failure in this regard i accept as unfortunate, but as far as it goes, this piece does have merit. It is my hope that offering what i can will free up energies, in myself or others, that will lead to some healing. My intuition says that it may be up to women now, at least on the social level, to lead the way, although of course individual men and women are and have always been free to extricate themselves from this morass.

A possible area of women exploring and leading the way: one thing which distinguishes humans from animals is the lack of an estrus cycle in females. And those multiple orgasms! In the past, writing about sex has been confined to categories not very conducive to wisdom and transformation: pornography, erotica, sniggering innuendo, clinical/scientific, etc. Women have contributed in all these spheres but the pall of our collective conditioning still hangs over our experience. The few enlightened masters, especially Osho, who have elucidated the connection between sexual energy and spiritual transformation, have done their best, but they are all male. An enlightened woman who could explain this stupendous sexuality and its transformative power from her own experience could be a real boon to understanding in this area. How about it?