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Another Patriarchy: Feminist Men and Amazonian Women

Feminists are in self-denial. They don’t wish to be associated with a stereotype. Fair enough. Then, why can’t we add fresh perspective instead of completely negating the terminology? This has provided a foothold for men. Male feminism goes contrary to women’s empowerment – it is an external support system that grants women freedom. In effect, they become patrons. Rather than being women on our terms, this liberal male gaze seeks to envision an androgynous harem where men can be softened and women hardened. 

Every new International Woman’s Day brings a fresh spurt of men who believe in feminism and women who don’t want to be tied down to it. One may attribute it at the superficial level to product placement where men may use creams and women leather, which in turn is about men’s freedom from tough work and women’s to enter the stable, so to speak.

This is at best simulation and at worst a cunning caricaturisation. By entering feminist territory there is every possibility of men distorting it to suit a male pattern of thinking. This is not the equivalent of women entering male professions; it is hitting at the core of a movement. It might seem like feminist insecurity, but the idea behind feminism is not to get men to pat our backs or fluff the pillow beneath our heads. We are not looking for ‘pseudo women’.

Yet, despite the airbrushing in glossies, serious issues continue to hold on to set ideas. Women activists who intervene in domestic issues are termed cantankerous whereas men out to fight for similar causes become good Samaritans, even if they are the victimisers. 

Imagine a bunch of men discussing about how they can give dignity to women after having indulged in wife-battering. This has happened in the past and I was witness to the charade of a group such as Men against Violence and Abuse that reeked of self-pity and even superiority: “We are not targeting our crusade at cure, but at prevention of the cause. And the cause is a disease that afflicts men.”

What such groups are saying is that they are helpless before this awful virus that has deposited itself in their system which is debasing women. Such projects can be detrimental. Inviting former abusers to share their experiences could very well amount to vicarious satisfaction for the audience by this form of catharsis. The male order is so designed that it thrives on exhibitionism and rationalisation, and a weird sort of male bonding where an honest tormenter is not recognised as an oppressor but someone to be admired, however grudgingly.

The causes of domestic violence are pretty clear: Patriarchal stereotypes, male insecurity, male ego, male frustration, male fear over female sexuality. Marilyn French in a very perceptive study concluded that while all females are women not all males are men; the underlying note is always about how to learn to be a man. 

As the male perspective refuses to accept these subliminal realities it needs to find someone to blame and who better than women – whether it is jokes on the female anatomy, the patronage of prostitutes or the role of the wife as chattel or social hanger-on?

Blaming women often reaches absurd heights. It was said during Richard Nixon’s presidency that a member of his cabinet attributed the energy crisis to women because of their use of household appliances. Ronald Reagan blamed the high unemployment rate on working wives. And one criminal whose victim was a woman confessed to the murder and asked the jury to give him the death penalty for if he was let off he might do it again. His explanation was, “I am motivated by women.”

Violence against women is often explained in the same ‘inspirational’ tone. There will, therefore, be a tendency to expect women to tame the brutes just as they have been taming the shrews.

These organisations seem to have a clear directive. As one of them believes, “Domestic violence not only tortures women but emotionally scares children as well and at a larger level affects society as a whole.” This is a typical benign tyrannical response where women’s welfare is secondary – you spare the rod against the female to save the child and heir. 

It would be prudent to posit this against some of the norms prevalent among the Amazon women, the extremist feminist wing.

In the area of procreation:

The Amazon does not mime the male principle but denies it in order to unite the two fundamental forms of life in paradoxical harmony which has been divided by the great mother…In the mother clan, there was a constant progression of great mothers begetting more great mothers. Amazons, however, reproduced the daughter type, which practically skips a generation and is something altogether different. They were conquerors, horse tamers, and huntresses who gave birth to children but did not nurse or rear them.
For the contemporary feminist giving birth is seen as an act of control, not contrition, even if it means dipping into a sperm bank. This ‘maternalisation’ would be impossible if women were not ready to nurse and rear their daughters. However, is it desirable for women who want to promote the daughter culture to expect these daughters to perpetuate themselves? Would not forgoing the prerogative of contraception defeat the purpose?

Besides its symbolic validity, such selectivity would contort contemporary feminism and fall into the masculine biker-chick-available-for-a-vroom fantasy trap.

The mildest form of Amazon aversion to men caused them to engage in a quick assignation with their male neighbours, totally indiscriminate as a matter of principle, every spring. Female offspring were retained; the male was sent to their distant fathers. The more radical kind of administration did not send any babies away but crippled the newly-born boys and rendered them innocuous for life through the twisting of one hand and one hip of their sockets. Despised slave cripples were never touched erotically by the masons. They were used by them for the rearing of children, the spinning of wool, and domestic service. In the most extreme anti-male society, the male offspring was always killed and sometimes the fathers were too.
Today, women and female infants are killed. However, the idea is not to give it back, but to see the impossibility of such a scenario. Indiscriminate sex would only belittle a woman – she cannot finish off with the man and then rush to hunt or to war; she has to face the morally-tinged social consequences of her purgatorial promiscuity.

Is a female kibbutz the answer?

Amazons also owned their own land and lived on it together. This is very different from our only examples of women living together in jails, in ghettos, in Islamic purdah, or in schools while still ‘growing up’. Women live together only in states of shameful default or absolute necessity.
While a case may be made for women living together in harmony based on choice, it is highly unlikely. It might be difficult to even come across a commune of gay women (which would again be a form of ghettoisation). Lesbians would have been an Amazonian force except that their identity is sexual, whereas the male homosexuals are a political and social force as assertive as any heterosexual brotherhood.

How can a group of men sitting in a room discuss their oppressive behaviour and solve the problem of disparity in status? Are they comfortable with women’s economic and political rights and their realisation? Equality is a non sequiter. It is only when men are willing to understand feminine values will they be able to deal with the issues of violence and abuse as a disease. 

It is to the credit of today’s woman that despite having such strong precedents in the Amazon women she has chosen to adapt and change, even at great cost to herself, unlike the male who harks back to the caveman days with more than a degree of nostalgia. It is all about survival. Today when they have no choice but to accept its existence, they are willing to join the feminist bandwagon. Some analysts have gone to the extent of saying that it liberates men from the pink versus blue syndrome or from holding back their tears. Seriously, since they were the power centres, they could have swapped colours and colonised the lachrymose glands. A few attempts have been made to glorify men in nurturing and prettifying professions, though again the object remains women.

It’s a bit late in the day for the benefactors in the garb of diamond merchants and beauty product sellers to tell us about self-esteem. We found it when we became the glass ceiling. If feminism is indebted to anyone, then it is women.

 

(c) Farzana Versey

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An abridged version has been published in Khaleej Times, March 8.

Comments
18 Comment count
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Women as Adaptation

Farzanza,

Women live longer, I remind myself, when men annoy me, which I admit shouldn't be as often as it is. The fact that I lump 'men' into a stereotypical catch all, all but announces I've a little history with tyrannical, oppressive, abusive men.

I agree. Violent abusers do not rehabilitate by sitting in a support group with other abusers. They don't need to understand women, they need to understand and control themselves.

I believe women also contribute to our misogynistic treatment. Each time a woman poses nude for Penthouse, slathers on a ton of makeup, has a surgical procedure or does anything in her power to look younger so she can keep or get a man's attention, she helps move us backwards. As long as we do these things for these reasons, we're going to be treated as objects.

I was born in 1960. Many people disagree with me but I think in some ways, the women's movement, the burn your bra, sexual revolution had some negative, unseen side effects. The internet helped them along. The porn industry and human trafficking are bigger than ever. Girls lose respect for themselves at younger and younger ages, except, they don't think they're devaluing themselves by sexting or posting a partially nude video on utube at 15. This is freedom?

Have we really come come a long way, baby?

Jules

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Jules: Thanks for noticing

Jules:

Thanks for noticing the main issue of domestic abuse. Let me respond to your other points:

Women live longer, I remind myself, when men annoy me, which I admit shouldn't be as often as it is. The fact that I lump 'men' into a stereotypical catch all, all but announces I've a little history with tyrannical, oppressive, abusive men.

When we talk in a larger context, there will be ‘lumping’. This is about men as some things are about women. Gender by itself is not a stereotype. What we discuss does not necessarily have to do with our personal history. In fact, such an implication is a huge stereotype – of the woman scorned.

Violent abusers do not rehabilitate by sitting in a support group with other abusers. They don't need to understand women, they need to understand and control themselves.

Precisely. I know since I sat with that group of men.

I believe women also contribute to our misogynistic treatment. Each time a woman poses nude for Penthouse, slathers on a ton of makeup, has a surgical procedure or does anything in her power to look younger so she can keep or get a man's attention, she helps move us backwards. As long as we do these things for these reasons, we're going to be treated as objects.

How so? Are we not individualistic enough or have reasonable men around us who won't see us as Pam Anderson or Cher clones? And what about the cooking, cleaning version? Or the writer, singer, dancer one? Do we judge all men based on a Charlie Sheen or a Tiger Woods context?

Many people disagree with me but I think in some ways, the women's movement, the burn your bra, sexual revolution had some negative, unseen side effects. The internet helped them along. The porn industry and human trafficking are bigger than ever. Girls lose respect for themselves at younger and younger ages, except, they don't think they're devaluing themselves by sexting or posting a partially nude video on utube at 15. This is freedom?

I have had issues with a certain kind of feminism but one needs to understand that the burning bra symbolism was taken too literally later. The Internet has objectified people because of accessibility. The porn industry and human trafficking have been around for ages and like everything else the numbers have increased. The only major change is visibility. Today this industry is running from home and getting closer to us.

Have we really come come a long way, baby?

Depends on what standards are applied. In some respects, yes. In some, no. Because many women do not have a choice. This is why some of us ponder and many others try to make a difference.

~F

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Pondering

Farzana,

Thank you for your counterpoints, which give me an opportunity to ponder, contemplate and clarify .  You're correct, to talk about men and women in a broad context is not sterotyping. I wasn't specific enought.

I'm overly sensitive to not stereotyping men because I spent quite a bit of time in counseling dealing with an issue I call, men are evil. I was in the I-hate-men-club for many years.  I only saw their flaws.

Secondly, when I'm talk about women posing nude, I mean when they do so to perpetuate the male gratifying, dominating, abusive porn industry, not art nudes or other non-harmful situations.

I said, "...when women do these things for these reasons..." and I again, should have used more specific examples. If a woman gets breast implants to get her cheating husband's attention, and not for herself; if a woman puts on makeup and dies her hair blond, although she hates doing it, to please her new boyfriend, I feel it's detrimental and contributes to women being treated as objects.

Perhaps I'm a die hard feminist after all because I think, if men don't have to do these "things", why do we? Or perhaps, it's time to find some grey because I'm seeing in black and white.

Take care,

Jules

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Greys...

Jules, thanks again. I am aware of your work and that resonance was there, irrespective of your position. I hate stereotyping anyone, including feminists. However, it doe snot mean they are blameless, especially not those who make a mark in the field and then don't want to associate with it.

There are stories in RR itself about so many accomplished women who have had to struggle, so it would be absurd to reduce them in any manner or anyone outside, which is a huge world that some of us are exposed to. 

Cheers,

~F

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What a read f - very

What a read f - very impressive but ooh very heady for someone who has been out in college all day long cooking and reading and pondering Mediterranean cuisine just for the hell of it. Feminism - such a lofty term but what does it really mean? God for all that you wrote about I feel feminine and feminist. I have four men in my life who adore and help me and I do not feel the need to search around for the cause, sit in rooms discussing the cause nor spend precious hours trying to figure it out. I do it. I come home and the table is set and dinner is on the stove - all by men. The clothes are in from the clothes line and folded neatly in the laundry basket. I might have to light the candles. My feminist is something you cannot put into a thesis. It is all about celebrating the woman, loving the man, the man loving you, you loving the nature, loving the college and balance or whatever or staying at home and doing the housework if that is what makes you happy. I think the term Feminist is totally outdated, overworked and certainly there are far too many college courses that many women pay for devoted to the issue. Christ, how long has this issue been an issue - each to her own. Feminists make me sick. They are like tired politicians who have long gone past their retirement! I guess I feel so much better now...............Hail International Humanity and Love Day. m

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To Mary

Your Feminist is my kinda gal. 

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M, thank you, and I wish

M, thank you, and I wish this was a thesis. It is sunset and a polite man is taking my order for some yummy Punjabi food being cooked by a guy, delivered by a male. I am talking to a wonderful friend about some techno stuff he has bought and I don't think of his gender but he has a lovely baritone. Later I get a text message from an armyman wishing me on women’s day and I reply, “Good luck with us”. I have really nice men and women around me and some not so. Their opinion of me might also be a yoyo.

That's my day or days. And then I hear and read the dreadful stories. I meet such people. I still have the hot aloo parathas on my plate and the friend who needs something but this incident has happened. It isn't the only one. And not just in my city. Everywhere in the world. I am afraid I cannot desist from it registering or affecting me badly.

Feminist is totally outdated, overworked and certainly there are far too many college courses that many women pay for devoted to the issue. Christ, how long has this issue been an issue - each to her own. Feminists make me sick. They are like tired politicians who have long gone past their retirement! I guess I feel so much better now...............Hail International Humanity and Love Day.

Some say the same about internationalism, humanity and love, that they are outdated. And do you have standard definitions for these? People pay for learning to string together sentences and to sew and knit and how to manage accounts and study astronomy and several other fields. All these activities have been going on for pretty long and it is time to declare them outdated too.

Of course, it is each to their own.

I am glad you feel better now, but honestly unlike politicians who you elect you don't have that control over feminists, who incidentally are not a herd. And you'd be surprised that there is much critical evaluation within the feminist fold. And we aren't quite tired or about to retire because after the lovely men around us we look outside and find that there are women not as fortunate as us.

Wonder why anyone would want some women to retire when they have a pleasant enough life. Have the feminists come knocking on your door? Just chill. But then, that's what you already do.

Far-from-your-door,

~F

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To Faranza

To me, modern feminism is like the children's game I used to play: Simon says do this. And the feminists follow. But where is the Simone in this childhood game, where is the original-thinking Goddess willing to cast a new reflection?

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Cathy: You just agreed with

Cathy:

You just agreed with Mary's version, so it works as a Simone says this, does it not?

What is modern feminism as opposed to ancient? How did you identify with it?

What is your basis for assuming that all feminists are alike when even the prominent ones are so very different from one another? In what area are you expecting originality since feminism is not a profession and they do other things?

And how original thinking are non-feminists?  

~F

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When I say 'Simon says', I

When I say 'Simon says', I mean the peculiar tendency for some modern feminists to struggle for 'equality' by parroting men.

I admire Mary's version because of her lack of struggle ;)

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From my piece: "Rather than

From my piece:

"Rather than being women on our terms, this liberal male gaze seeks to envision an androgynous harem where men can be softened and women hardened."

Maya Angelou:

"Women should be tough, tender, laugh as much as possible, and live long lives. The struggle for equality continues unabated, and the woman warrior who is armed with wit and courage will be among the first to celebrate victory."

Margaret Drabble:

"When nothing is sure, everything is possible."

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Maya Angelou is great to

Maya Angelou is great to come up with these perfect lines about women warriors and victories and being armed with wit and courage - fortunately there are still some women who do not have to consciously come up with a strategy but find that they live it naturally and with conviction without anyone telling them what to do! We all know nothing is sure and that basically everything is possible....the premise of life. I wish I could go through my blogs and come up with the thousands of million dollars phrases that someone could quote me on - I might even make lots of money out of them! All in good cause of course and with all of the money earned going to good causes for impoverished women - which I am sure all these feminists are doing for years anyway. Right? best, m

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My apathy has been showing

Dear Farzana,

I've read the above comments and all and I think I might need to wander in and out of what you originally wrote and what came to bear in the responses that followed.

First I must say that I love and appreciate how comfortable some of our lives are. We are fortunate, living lives that offer us a true context for self-actualization. We know love, partnership and freedom. We know support and decision making. We drive, we birth babies (or not) and we hold jobs if we feel it fulfilling or necessary. That's a long way from where we were. However, it's not exactly an endpoint, is it?

Now, this may go on for a while but I think it's time I gave you the best reading and support that I see fit and so, with this I ask, for some patience. Firstly, for a woman to think that her personal freedoms are the only point to feminism underscores for me the placid, flaccid minds of most people, generally well educated, who prefer to be swept away in forgetfulness. This doesn't surprise me because, as is well documented, Americans in general don't like politics and critical thought hasn't been at the core of the American university system for quite some time. I could cite my former philosophy professor on this one, Bruce Wilshire, but let's face it, this is not a scholarly response. So, I'm just going to go for the jugular, work with emotion, intuition and some modicum of wisdom I've gotten from working, quite by happenstance, in the area of Women's Sexual Reproductive Rights and Health, as well as some of my experiences and travels.

See, I've sat in rooms where UN delegates applauded for causes such as MDGs. I've seen my former boss, Ann Starrs speak eloquently on Safe Motherhood and other seemingly benign topics, while the man next to me tapped his foot. I've felt the hot rush when women are brushed aside, only validated widely, so as not to offend sensibilities, as the bearers of offspring. Diplomats are busy and bless their hearts, they're often in these meetings and panels, so the tapping and impatience in some sense is normal, see there's a whole lifestyle built around making sure change advances in small increments. This applies across the board in issues of inequality whether they pertain to women, tribes, waterways, etc. Basically, anyone at the south end of the power structure gets a lot of lip service and a lot of bored foot tapping, all this while awards, such as the one Ann was receiving, on behalf of our organization, get doled out, to mark those who do what they can, full-knowing that much of their work is adrift in a sea of neglect and deeper political and power structure interests. I've also walked on my own two feet through distant villages where a friend advised me and the three other photographers I was with not to go near the hut to our left, it was the mutilation hut, the one where they bring girls as little as four years old, to have themselves cut and sewn. So, this is my disclaimer for those who would think I come at this only from my own experiences of childhood, school and work. I never set out to see or behold these things, they just happened while I was pursuing my passions and paying my own way.

The thing that struck me when I would go on tours with friends or colleagues, often men, is that they would stare at these places, on the edge of nowhere and they'd marvel at the beauty and simplicity of life and they'd imagine another reality where they'd settle here or there and take a nice wife and settle into an easy life. I, as a woman, didn't have the luxury of that fantasy. I couldn't indulge in that, because in reality, my body reflected and bound me to the lives of these women.

Now, I did study Women and the Law when I was at Rutgers. I also studied the Philosophy of Law and Law and Terrorism. Did that Women and the Law class make me a militant? Did I suddenly drop my other studies to become a women's history scholar? No, I did not. In retrospect I am thankful that those classes existed, for if they didn't I might not understand the breadth and depth of what was accomplished with the movements and histories of women. That would be as unfortunate as not understanding a thing about labor unions or the civil rights movement. Understanding the core of liberation politics isn't extremist and it doesn't require a militant lifestyle. It helps a young person develop is a sense of awareness, for suffering, for potential and for the engagement necessary to create better living for next generations. It reminds one that the self is a starting point, but never an end point. To really thrive in this world, we must look at the circles and webs of connection. To move into a post-feminist society means we can't abandon the project at all. We must encourage it to survive and evolve.

Now, I love to cook and I'm terribly feminine by some accounts. And yet, not a year goes by that I don't find deeper levels of what it means to be a woman, and how that is expressed both superficially and deeply in my own life is sometimes surprising. I once had a friend who asked me not to identify myself as a feminist, he said I should be first a loving, inclusive, humanist. So, I listened to him and I agreed. Peace, love and self-actualization for every being! But that doesn't mean I ever stop being a woman and so if someone asks me point blank, "Are you a feminist?" I feel that I must always say "Yes, I am." Why? To show my alliance with the women before me but also to keep the idea moving forward, so it can grow and shape into something new. Focus on the word and the mission and it can become a tunnel vision, focus on the idea that there is more work to be done, and the word pays homage to the women, the men, the very humans who worked very hard to be sure I could vote, work and otherwise participate in society at a fully esteemed level. It helps ensure I will apply this past the borders of my own body and its experience.

I once started a book, I must admit I felt too uneducated to take it forward, but I called it "The Urban Veal." It was about men and exactly this type of conundrum, the one of the psuedo-male, which I felt was a product of patriarchy married to technology. I also found a profound sense of empathy for men, who weren't necessarily portrayed as needing exploration within patriarchy, their sex and their power portrayed as a canon of experience. Again, I found this troubling, since it moved everything into the past and didn't allow us to see how systems changed and affected people now and into the future. It seems we've come to a terminal relationship with all of our hidden histories. That is how I should say, it seemed. The world has changed so much in ten years! Now, even cold, hard thinkers like me see that the world, its very consciousness is changing. Of course, it's the process of the -ing that makes mental apathy right now, so utterly appalling. Now, action isn't necessarily leaving the house and forming communes or using men only for procreation, no, action, is neither militant nor vacant. Action is awareness not just of some vague humanity but of your own humanity. Consciousness is using your own humanity as a starting point. So, what does that mean? Would I write the book now if I could? Maybe. Or maybe I'd write it now as simply a chapter in something much bigger.

Every philosophy, philosopher, etc. that underpinned the birth of the modern world was based on an era of forgetting. The ego of the human got very wrapped into itself and found a great vehicle, the male. The male was reason and rationale and reductive thinking in linear form. For better or for worse women were demonized, the goddesses tossed into bins of evil and suspicion and all intuitive arts and sciences were all tossed into that bin as time went on. The earth, along with the woman was also demonized (yes, I said it), so that it would be easy to tame her lands, mine her riches and term as savages her children who lived more closely to her breast. When Marija Gimbutas, an incredibly talented scholar made claims to an early Indo-European culture ruled by women suddenly all her years of work were put in one category and this premise was put in the category of her passion. No better way to discredit a woman than for her passion. Relate that to sex, religion, etc. it doesn't matter, a placid woman is the one society prefers. As for the passionate man, he finds more leeway, but again, these days, even he is often sanctioned for passion. These days we like rules and order so generally surface manifestations of this passion, this blood aspect of being human is suppressed. Did Egypt make people uncomfortable, how about Libya? People loved it, rulers did not. And I might add that if anyone couldn't see Egypt coming then I'll remind you that poverty levels had become so oppressive that young men could no longer afford to marry. I'll leave that thread there.

OK, now, I'm going to cut this short (really, yes, I could go on) and I'll wrap it up with another personal story. One where recently I sat in a movie line. I was restless and didn't want to waste time waiting on standby. But friendship and patience prevailed and I made my way into a screening of the new documentary, Women, War and Revolutin by Lynn Hershmann Leeson. In 84 minutes, distilled from over 12,000, her personal videos of the women who created the women's art revolution in America came to life. It was moving, funny and spiritually inclusive of men and women. Women, Art and Revolution reminded me that these projects, their terms and their secrets must continue to be explored so that new conversations, built upon the old, will continue. Feminism came and it should not, can not, in fact, go away. Simply turning a cold shoulder to its place in history not only denies the work of those women, but would deny the beautiful prospects we have for moving society forward. Now, would I prefer that we suspend all themes of war? yes, I'd prefer if the next movement moved humans not to war, but instead to evolution. I know that would probably resonate well, since Art, Women, Evolution would encourage us all to a deeper sense of AWE. Yes, awe...for the very experience of life and the balance of equal and opposite bodies, minds and talents, not those that relegate one to proscribed roles, but those that open all of us to a deeper sense of nature. Of course, I couldn't think of AWE without WAR coming first. This is why memory, not forgetting, is important.

As for the men who commit violence and then hide inside their claims of pain, they relegate themselves into the world of plaintive children. Take responsibility for your aggression. Understand its roots. You were violent. You caused suffering. You did it to a person and then secondarily you did it to her children and to yourself. She felt your blow. She heard your mumbled threats. She sat in her bed shaking, wondering, hoping your day had gone well, scared to death that her "protector" would turn on her. In a society where the male role is skewed the result is violence. Of course, dearest Farzana, I take my exception to all the world's major religions as they are practised now, after all, imperfect as they must be, since every dogma is imperfect; their development over time has exacerbated inequality and has made each religion destroy its basic message of compassion. There is no compassion for the weak, if that is what woman represents. Our vision of god these days is one of judge and vicious jury. That is what happens when the male principle goes unbalanced. The mystics are killed and suppressed. Whether they're male, as they often are, is not the issue. Ask the dervish, what role he plays in a nine to five world? Ask the wise medicine woman who is no longer living at the end of the lane, since, due to modern life she no longer lives there. She's in a home, speaking her wisdom to silence. Ask yourself, what an unchecked male principle has done to the earth? The rest starts to fall into line when you consider that Patriarchy doesn't mean men holding a little more power just as much as women getting some freedom to enslave themselves into the pant wearing masses isn't equality. Luckily, this too will change, my intuition tells me so. So do a lot of other things, but we'll save those for another time.

People think male and female principles are somehow about Penthouse or Pam Anderson. They see these indicators as actually being the problem. They see their own lives as self directed and their incremental experiences of improved earning power as examples of a liberation that I patently see as false. It's not that men and women aren't evolving. And no, I'm not saying that these symptoms should not be explored. It's just that equating such an important topic within the scheme of pop culture alone is the worst kind of self delusion one can imagine.

The point is to stay active in understanding and believing in the power of history as well as present culture, to inform the future. We must regain compassion to help us mine a deeper truth going forward. I stand with you in deep appreciation for those majority of women who are not so lucky and who, for the grace of some unknowable force bear indignities that I do not. I stand with those women and with each man and child. I also stand with each tree and each fish thrown into death because of the ego driven stupidities of a society that I did not create but to which I am born a part. I don't operate from the role of the feminist, but I do operate within the celebration of a feminine principle, the one my very body requires me to understand and to further. I depend on the bodies of men to explore and further the male principle into a new era, not the one we're in now where boxes and terms rule our understanding of one another but one where deep encounters create people able to behold and love without constant threats and impositions of violence. Intersubjectivity, the very alchemy of experience where I behold you and realize you are a mystery and you behold me and realize I am a mystery.

In closing Farzana, I'm going to say that I applaud your tenacity, and I'm going to thank you for forcing me out of own apathy,

Warmest Regards, Mariette

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My apathy has been showing

Dear Farzana,

I've read the above comments and all and I think I might need to wander in and out of what you originally wrote and what came to bear in the responses that followed.

First I must say that I love and appreciate how comfortable some of our lives are. We are fortunate, living lives that offer us a true context for self-actualization. We know love, partnership and freedom. We know support and decision making. We drive, we birth babies (or not) and we hold jobs if we feel it fulfilling or necessary. That's a long way from where we were. However, it's not exactly an endpoint, is it?

Now, this may go on for a while but I think it's time I gave you the best reading and support that I see fit and so, with this I ask, for some patience. Firstly, for a woman to think that her personal freedoms are the only point to feminism underscores for me the placid, flaccid minds of most people, generally well educated, who prefer to be swept away in forgetfulness. This doesn't surprise me because, as is well documented, Americans in general don't like politics and critical thought hasn't been at the core of the American university system for quite some time. I could cite my former philosophy professor on this one, Bruce Wilshire, but let's face it, this is not a scholarly response. So, I'm just going to go for the jugular, work with emotion, intuition and some modicum of wisdom I've gotten from working, quite by happenstance, in the area of Women's Sexual Reproductive Rights and Health, as well as some of my experiences and travels.

See, I've sat in rooms where UN delegates applauded for causes such as MDGs. I've seen my former boss, Ann Starrs speak eloquently on Safe Motherhood and other seemingly benign topics, while the man next to me tapped his foot. I've felt the hot rush when women are brushed aside, only validated widely, so as not to offend sensibilities, as the bearers of offspring. Diplomats are busy and bless their hearts, they're often in these meetings and panels, so the tapping and impatience in some sense is normal, see there's a whole lifestyle built around making sure change advances in small increments. This applies across the board in issues of inequality whether they pertain to women, tribes, waterways, etc. Basically, anyone at the south end of the power structure gets a lot of lip service and a lot of bored foot tapping, all this while awards, such as the one Ann was receiving, on behalf of our organization, get doled out, to mark those who do what they can, full-knowing that much of their work is adrift in a sea of neglect and deeper political and power structure interests. I've also walked on my own two feet through distant villages where a friend advised me and the three other photographers I was with not to go near the hut to our left, it was the mutilation hut, the one where they bring girls as little as four years old, to have themselves cut and sewn. So, this is my disclaimer for those who would think I come at this only from my own experiences of childhood, school and work. I never set out to see or behold these things, they just happened while I was pursuing my passions and paying my own way.

The thing that struck me when I would go on tours with friends or colleagues, often men, is that they would stare at these places, on the edge of nowhere and they'd marvel at the beauty and simplicity of life and they'd imagine another reality where they'd settle here or there and take a nice wife and settle into an easy life. I, as a woman, didn't have the luxury of that fantasy. I couldn't indulge in that, because in reality, my body reflected and bound me to the lives of these women.

Now, I did study Women and the Law when I was at Rutgers. I also studied the Philosophy of Law and Law and Terrorism. Did that Women and the Law class make me a militant? Did I suddenly drop my other studies to become a women's history scholar? No, I did not. In retrospect I am thankful that those classes existed, for if they didn't I might not understand the breadth and depth of what was accomplished with the movements and histories of women. That would be as unfortunate as not understanding a thing about labor unions or the civil rights movement. Understanding the core of liberation politics isn't extremist and it doesn't require a militant lifestyle. It helps a young person develop is a sense of awareness, for suffering, for potential and for the engagement necessary to create better living for next generations. It reminds one that the self is a starting point, but never an end point. To really thrive in this world, we must look at the circles and webs of connection. To move into a post-feminist society means we can't abandon the project at all. We must encourage it to survive and evolve.

Now, I love to cook and I'm terribly feminine by some accounts. And yet, not a year goes by that I don't find deeper levels of what it means to be a woman, and how that is expressed both superficially and deeply in my own life is sometimes surprising. I once had a friend who asked me not to identify myself as a feminist, he said I should be first a loving, inclusive, humanist. So, I listened to him and I agreed. Peace, love and self-actualization for every being! But that doesn't mean I ever stop being a woman and so if someone asks me point blank, "Are you a feminist?" I feel that I must always say "Yes, I am." Why? To show my alliance with the women before me but also to keep the idea moving forward, so it can grow and shape into something new. Focus on the word and the mission and it can become a tunnel vision, focus on the idea that there is more work to be done, and the word pays homage to the women, the men, the very humans who worked very hard to be sure I could vote, work and otherwise participate in society at a fully esteemed level. It helps ensure I will apply this past the borders of my own body and its experience.

I once started a book, I must admit I felt too uneducated to take it forward, but I called it "The Urban Veal." It was about men and exactly this type of conundrum, the one of the psuedo-male, which I felt was a product of patriarchy married to technology. I also found a profound sense of empathy for men, who weren't necessarily portrayed as needing exploration within patriarchy, their sex and their power portrayed as a canon of experience. Again, I found this troubling, since it moved everything into the past and didn't allow us to see how systems changed and affected people now and into the future. It seems we've come to a terminal relationship with all of our hidden histories. That is how I should say, it seemed. The world has changed so much in ten years! Now, even cold, hard thinkers like me see that the world, its very consciousness is changing. Of course, it's the process of the -ing that makes mental apathy right now, so utterly appalling. Now, action isn't necessarily leaving the house and forming communes or using men only for procreation, no, action, is neither militant nor vacant. Action is awareness not just of some vague humanity but of your own humanity. Consciousness is using your own humanity as a starting point. So, what does that mean? Would I write the book now if I could? Maybe. Or maybe I'd write it now as simply a chapter in something much bigger.

Every philosophy, philosopher, etc. that underpinned the birth of the modern world was based on an era of forgetting. The ego of the human got very wrapped into itself and found a great vehicle, the male. The male was reason and rationale and reductive thinking in linear form. For better or for worse women were demonized, the goddesses tossed into bins of evil and suspicion and all intuitive arts and sciences were all tossed into that bin as time went on. The earth, along with the woman was also demonized (yes, I said it), so that it would be easy to tame her lands, mine her riches and term as savages her children who lived more closely to her breast. When Marija Gimbutas, an incredibly talented scholar made claims to an early Indo-European culture ruled by women suddenly all her years of work were put in one category and this premise was put in the category of her passion. No better way to discredit a woman than for her passion. Relate that to sex, religion, etc. it doesn't matter, a placid woman is the one society prefers. As for the passionate man, he finds more leeway, but again, these days, even he is often sanctioned for passion. These days we like rules and order so generally surface manifestations of this passion, this blood aspect of being human is suppressed. Did Egypt make people uncomfortable, how about Libya? People loved it, rulers did not. And I might add that if anyone couldn't see Egypt coming then I'll remind you that poverty levels had become so oppressive that young men could no longer afford to marry. I'll leave that thread there.

OK, now, I'm going to cut this short (really, yes, I could go on) and I'll wrap it up with another personal story. One where recently I sat in a movie line. I was restless and didn't want to waste time waiting on standby. But friendship and patience prevailed and I made my way into a screening of the new documentary, Women, War and Revolutin by Lynn Hershman Leeson. In 84 minutes, distilled from over 12,000, her personal videos of the women who created the women's art revolution in America came to life. It was moving, funny and spiritually inclusive of men and women. Women, Art and Revolution reminded me that these projects, their terms and their secrets must continue to be explored so that new conversations, built upon the old, will continue. Feminism came and it should not, can not, in fact, go away. Simply turning a cold shoulder to its place in history not only denies the work of those women, but would deny the beautiful prospects we have for moving society forward. Now, would I prefer that we suspend all themes of war? yes, I'd prefer if the next movement moved humans not to war, but instead to evolution. I know that would probably resonate well, since Art, Women, Evolution would encourage us all to a deeper sense of AWE. Yes, awe...for the very experience of life and the balance of equal and opposite bodies, minds and talents, not those that relegate one to proscribed roles, but those that open all of us to a deeper sense of nature. Of course, I couldn't think of AWE without WAR coming first. This is why memory, not forgetting, is important.

As for the men who commit violence and then hide inside their claims of pain, they relegate themselves into the world of plaintive children. Take responsibility for your aggression. Understand its roots. You were violent. You caused suffering. You did it to a person and then secondarily you did it to her children and to yourself. She felt your blow. She heard your mumbled threats. She sat in her bed shaking, wondering, hoping your day had gone well, scared to death that her "protector" would turn on her. In a society where the male role is skewed the result is violence. Of course, dearest Farzana, I take my exception to all the world's major religions as they are practised now, after all, imperfect as they must be, since every dogma is imperfect; their development over time has exacerbated inequality and has made each religion destroy its basic message of compassion. There is no compassion for the weak, if that is what woman represents. Our vision of god these days is one of judge and vicious jury. That is what happens when the male principle goes unbalanced. The mystics are killed and suppressed. Whether they're male, as they often are, is not the issue. Ask the dervish, what role he plays in a nine to five world? Ask the wise medicine woman who is no longer living at the end of the lane, since, due to modern life she no longer lives there. She's in a home, speaking her wisdom to silence. Ask yourself, what an unchecked male principle has done to the earth? The rest starts to fall into line when you consider that Patriarchy doesn't mean men holding a little more power just as much as women getting some freedom to enslave themselves into the pant wearing masses isn't equality. Luckily, this too will change, my intuition tells me so. So do a lot of other things, but we'll save those for another time.

People think male and female principles are somehow about Penthouse or Pam Anderson. They see these indicators as actually being the problem. They see their own lives as self directed and their incremental experiences of improved earning power as examples of a liberation that I patently see as false. It's not that men and women aren't evolving. And no, I'm not saying that these symptoms should not be explored. It's just that equating such an important topic within the scheme of pop culture alone is the worst kind of self delusion one can imagine.

The point is to stay active in understanding and believing in the power of history as well as present culture, to inform the future. We must regain compassion to help us mine a deeper truth going forward. I stand with you in deep appreciation for those majority of women who are not so lucky and who, for the grace of some unknowable force bear indignities that I do not. I stand with those women and with each man and child. I also stand with each tree and each fish thrown into death because of the ego driven stupidities of a society that I did not create but to which I am born a part. I don't operate from the role of the feminist, but I do operate within the celebration of a feminine principle, the one my very body requires me to understand and to further. I depend on the bodies of men to explore and further the male principle into a new era, not the one we're in now where boxes and terms rule our understanding of one another but one where deep encounters create people able to behold and love without constant threats and impositions of violence. Intersubjectivity, the very alchemy of experience where I behold you and realize you are a mystery and you behold me and realize I am a mystery.

In closing Farzana, I'm going to say that I applaud your tenacity, and I'm going to thank you for forcing me out of own apathy,

Warmest Regards, Mariette

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Over and under

Dear Mariette:

I read this last night on the phone after I had signed out and I knew I would get to the computer only later next day, so I carried your thoughts along. I did not have a label when I did so – I came with a variety of identities including patient on a dentist’s chair, errand girl, errant woman, and I walked a lot today, after days, in the afternoon sun and my vanity was concerned about lack of a sun-block, but everyone was almost invisible. It does not happen always, not even often, because I watch. They became invisible because I wanted to be invisible as I sweated profusely. Was I seeking validation? No. I wanted to be what I was and this tired, skin-burnt woman is not. It isn’t about how others look at me but how I look at myself.

Then just as I was approaching my gate, a car screeched to a halt and an elderly hawker on a bicycle fell. I looked at his hurt form and then in the tinted glasses I saw an image, distorted. It was me. And I thought about who was inside, not because they might be looking at me but because of who they could be and why they did not roll down the glass to see who had fallen. This is how I see the ‘others’ of the world – it isn’t through a distorted self-image, but a genuine belief in their existence and how responsible they feel for others at least in spirit. They will exist whether I am concerned about it or not, but have we never sought a hand over our shoulder, a voice that resonates with ours?

This preamble was because of what I will now visit. Your lucid perspective:

Firstly, for a woman to think that her personal freedoms are the only point to feminism underscores for me the placid, flaccid minds of most people, generally well educated, who prefer to be swept away in forgetfulness.

I am sometimes amazed that women even talk about how they balance family and career. Men do that, too. Feminism does not say you cease to be women, which is why I brought up the androgynous model. Personal freedom can exist for different reasons, which is what is not often voiced – financial security, either through one’s own efforts or a well-off family; it can come because of one’s social visibility; it can come due to rebellion. Did my spouse and I divorce because I had read feminist literature or because I was a feminist? He knew that way before he even met me. I don’t even think divorce has anything to do with personal freedom. If ‘balance’ is the hallmark of living, then it is a choice and often a studied choice made keeping several interests I mind.

What you call forgetfulness is part of the larger scheme of the comfort zone. And it surprises me because from voting rights to birth control to attitudes at the workplace, women have had to struggle. The forgetfulness is not confined to America but to the elite everywhere, and elite is a wider term encompassing personal ghettos. I see them around me and I still recall when I went into a slum to find a girl who had been kidnapped, my ex-MIL said, “What was the need?” I honestly did not think of it as a need. I did not even know if I would write about it and most certainly not how much I would get paid. (I can get that writing ad jingles, and I do enjoy some.) It brought the subject to attention; the kidnappers were a religious cult’s members.

So, I am a feminist, but has the kidnapped adolescent been a boy I would have done the same.

I've also walked on my own two feet through distant villages where a friend advised me and the three other photographers I was with not to go near the hut to our left, it was the mutilation hut, the one where they bring girls as little as four years old, to have themselves cut and sewn. So, this is my disclaimer for those who would think I come at this only from my own experiences of childhood, school and work. I never set out to see or behold these things, they just happened while I was pursuing my passions and paying my own way.

Oh, how well this echoes my own experiences. It is not planned and one does not set out to change the world. That, in my opinion, would again be inflicting oneself. You could not change what those girls went through, but it has impacted on you and made you more sensitive to the larger world. There are other sensitivities, too, and this is not to undermine those. I respect those but do not think it shows any wisdom to rubbish the outer reaches of our conscience and consciousness.

The thing that struck me when I would go on tours with friends or colleagues, often men, is that they would stare at these places, on the edge of nowhere and they'd marvel at the beauty and simplicity of life and they'd imagine another reality where they'd settle here or there and take a nice wife and settle into an easy life. I, as a woman, didn't have the luxury of that fantasy. I couldn't indulge in that, because in reality, my body reflected and bound me to the lives of these women.

I did have one moment of such romantic thinking years ago. I was at what is the peak of both career and personal life and yet something was gnawing at me. So, when I visited this village I decided I wanted to move there and work among the tribals. A person who was part of an NGO, an Englishman in fact, talked me out of it. He said that what I felt could best be expressed through the medium I had chosen – writing. To be honest, I later felt I had got it all wrong, anyway. It wasn’t just my body, but my mind that was guilt-ridden. It was early days of exposure to other lives, and we meet them everyday in different forms.

To really thrive in this world, we must look at the circles and webs of connection. To move into a post-feminist society means we can't abandon the project at all. We must encourage it to survive and evolve.

As you prefix this statement with other movements, I can see that to get anywhere means at least taking time off intellectual and emotional lethargy for me. Feminism is not a static form, just as labour laws and civil rights keep changing with changing social mores. Besides, since I have reiterated here and elsewhere, putting feminists in a herd is making a thriving group of women into zombies in our imagination.

I once had a friend who asked me not to identify myself as a feminist, he said I should be first a loving, inclusive, humanist. So, I listened to him and I agreed. Peace, love and self-actualization for every being! But that doesn't mean I ever stop being a woman and so if someone asks me point blank, "Are you a feminist?" I feel that I must always say "Yes, I am." Why? To show my alliance with the women before me but also to keep the idea moving forward, so it can grow and shape into something new. Focus on the word and the mission and it can become a tunnel vision, focus on the idea that there is more work to be done…

Indeed. That is the reason I engage in debates on the subject. If I was really clever I might have sides-stepped or ignored it all. I admire what has been done and said by many sources of knowledge, and it does not mean that I don’t have my own vision. My work and thoughts and life convey that and even if they don’t there are only a few ways to slay lions and exorcise ghosts and only one or two ways to hold a spoon.

I agree with you entirely that all religions buffer the image of women as lesser in some way - whether it is as vehicle of sin or in need for succour. Even the goddess role is a convenient ploy to place her on the pedestal and forget about the real women. It happens in my part of the world all the time where a woman who gets married is referred to as a goddess of wealth. She is supposed to bring prosperity. No one refers to her as the goddess of learning. There are no real goddesses of war, and I am completely happy about it. That is the reason I posited my main theme with the Amazon women because of how we move along and ahead with history to reckon with and learn from. It is pertinent to note that in the real world while certain feminists are judged, most of us rarely judge how others express themselves.

I am all for nurturing because it is natural but there are women who have to strive hard to do the nurturing because it is expected of them irrespective of their other roles, other commitments. They nurture drunken bastards in villages in India and carry burdens on their head to make a few small bucks (women are paid less for the same work they do as men) because they are as much territory as the land that is tilled. I find this unnatural.

There was one phase in my life when I did simulate an unnatural state and my mother, who does not know much about feminism, asked me, “You talk about women’s rights. What about yours?” It jolted me as it came from one who has nurtured me as naturally as it came to her.

If there is any tenacity in me, Mariette, then it comes by keeping my eyes open to what is outside my safe realm as well as looking within. If this is viewed as a struggle, then all introspection and all feelings are. One sees around that quick sound bytes even on feminism are better digested. Being non-linear happens to be part of my persona, and it suits me.

Thank you for spending time over this with your thoughts and recollection of where those thoughts come from…you are far from apathy, and I’d like to read about ‘The urban veal’. Not because it may fit in with my views but because I am always seeking…

I know that had I not been exposed to or looked beyond my world, then my world would have been remarkably reduced.

Love,
~F

PS: I have edited the response posted a while ago for formatting your quotes in italics. No other change. 

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Women's looks

There are ways of looking at women getting botoxed and stuff. But sometimes, it can be heart-wrenching.

This is an old post. Thought I'd share it again:

After the After

~F

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How we look beyond

Farzana,

As I head to After the After I wanted you to know how touched I was by the depth of your listening and to the growth I feel from this exchange.

Your words, "I know that had I not been exposed to or looked beyond my world, then my world would have been remarkably reduced." is paramount to expansion of the self and what the self can perceive. Expanded consciousness isn't a slogan, it's an imperative, an action, a process.

This exchange has I hope been helpful for others who come here, not just for us few who engaged here, although that would be enough of something I suppose, wouldn't it?

Another day soon we pick up the examination of the goddess...

M

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And after

Mariette:

Thank you for engaging in such an indepth dialogue, time-consuming as it is. I think everyone here as well as not here who stopped by will have their own thoughts and in that the subject broadens. My hope, not only regarding what I write but what writing draws me, is that such breadth may not be about consensus, yet there can be better understanding.

One listens because there is always a little space left beyond the space we take up.

The goddess one day...yes!

~F