yesterday, after briefly introducing immanuel kant (MWF class 11am) i said that kant was a "phallocentric" philosopher.* i didn't mean that as an insult. had i been born in 1724, i would not have been that different, if not probably worse, than herr kant. then i said that "the history of the world is a history of phallocentrism" (also meant androcentrism and patriarchy).
i'm aware generalizations of this sort are problematic. but i stand behind them. mind you, i don't owe to this realization to self-discovery. i have learned these ideas from the courageous work of many feminist women. they finally made their plight known. all the while, men were -for the most part- silent. and when the time came to harken women's claims of servitude and exploitation, men felt, well, threatened. & they fought back. why? what was a stake was -men thought- too dear & significant to loose: political power.
to realize that patriarchy & phallocentrism characterize the history of the world just follow the smell. for centuries upon centuries, who enjoyed absolute political power?* men (east & west). who exercised it? men. who owned the sources of wealth, means of production, capital, etc? men. who were the prophets, scribes and priests? mostly men. who enjoyed the kingdoms and fiefdoms? men. who had best access to schools and universities? men. who are the great artists and poets of antiquity & the great scientists of the ages? men. until the 20th century women were non-political entities!
(what's the role of women in world politics today? roughly a 20%. what progress!
which brings us to philosophy & the importance to question our received assumptions. the mysterious alliance between history and phallocentrism becomes an imperative: why?
from the patriarchal & androcentric POV men enjoyed more opportunities by keeping women exploited. they were taken care of, made wives & had offspring because of women. kant can lend us a hand here. his second formulation counsels: treat people as ends and never as means to an end. the male philosopher makes a fabulous argument in favor of a symmetry that he didn't really practice. men enjoyed centuries of, how to put it? uncontested impunity.
men are smart enough to come up with all sorts of justifications for their historic mess: 1- it's the woman's biology! women bearing children and being less fit to take the early tough tasks of hunting and fighting for survival. 2- the sociological hypothesis of patriarchy claims that fathers (paterfamilias) assume an important "roles". some of these roles seem structural, as in the case of maurice godelier's hypothesis that paterfamilias as provider of financial support and making critical decisions, some of which must be obeyed without question by the rest of the family members. but following godelier's marxist argument, there must be economic conditions of production that perpetuate this sort of system. what's first, the chicken or the egg? 3- freudian psychoanalysis elaborataes the "penis envy" & "hysteria" hypotheses. did freud ever think that his sexual perceptions of what it is like to be a woman begged the question of his own gender? not that i know. yet in honor to freud, he was able to observe that, as feminist naomi goldenberg puts it, "God the Father was responsible for keeping huge portions of the human community stupid" (goldenberg, p. 27).
it's at this point that i sensed a resistance from young, smart, males in the class. jeremy objected: "what is the problem of god being male (or father)?" none whatsoever. but remember that a woman may equally retort, "why not a female god?"
ideas come from language and language comes from practice & habits. women feminists have thought us how phallocentric language works. words carry a memory. they express cultural conventions & habits: "all men are created equal," words like "actor," "firemen," "chairman", "freshman," "salesman," "man-made," and so on, (these words in fact show who were in charge of these professions) "mankind," "fatherland." in spanish "patria" sounds feminine but it's masculine as in french "la patrie", german "vaterland." is this use of language not androcentric?
at some point aslan interjected that the east had a different history than the west. he mentioned a few islamic scholars, philosophers, scribes, etc. well, the west has them too. that doesn't change history's history because these examples constitute a negligible minority. in fact, defending this negligible minority only corroborates my point of male resistance to phallocentrism's alliance with history.
of course, this discussion of whether god is male or female happens because we as humans need to anthropomorphize theology's huge abstractions (god is the best example that comes to mind). ok, let's agree that the god of monotheism doesn't have gender. if god has the attributes that theology endows (which gender you prefer now? him, her, IT?) with, god has to be genderless.
yet, phallocentic language stubbornly re-appears. in the bible: "Not that any man has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father." (john 6:46). in the Qur'an 112:3–4: "He begets not, nor is He begotten. And none is like Him [It]."
theologians (christian, islamic) retort that "he" really means "it", but the problem is that humans are gender-centric. Hu or Huwa are commonly translated as he. ** check out this video. an islamic scholar is presented with the same question: is allah a he or she? he tries really hard to explain that though referred to as he, allah is really genderless. but his explanation is totally circular. why? it begs the question on the use of language! which is precisely the feminist point: allah is genderless! yet, it's presented as he. why? oh, because of the conventions of the arabic language. and what are language conventions if not practices and habits translated into language?
the question persists, why?
feminist and scholar amina wadud in her excellent Quran and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman's Perspective explains:
(...) The established order within the Arabian peninsula at the time of the revelation was patriarchal: a 'culture built on a structure of domination and subordination ...' which 'demands hierarchy'. It was a culture with an androcentric bias, one where the male and the male experience are looked upon as the norm. (wadud, p. 79)let's give the male species the benefit of the doubt. when they handle & own theology, (philosophy, science, etc) they forget they become androcentric. this is what wadud calls "male authority":
wadud cites islamic scholar Al-Zamakhshari, who stated:Although the basis of Qur'anic discussion on society was particular to the existing system, it also gives general principles from which to derive solutions to social problems in other contexts. With regard to authority, the prevailing attitudes were patriarchal. As with other matters in society, the Qur'anic solutions to social problems reflect the prevailing attitudes in ancient Arabia. The general principle for leadership in the Qur'an is similar to the rule for fulfilling any task, that it should be filled by the one 'best suited'. That person is the one best suited on the basis of whatever qualifications or characteristics are necessary to fulfil that task: biology, psychology, education, finance, experience, etc. This principle works in a number of complex social arrangements: the family, society at large and leadership. (wadud, p. 88)
(...) that men are 'preferred' by Allah over women in terms of 'intelligence, physical constitution, determination and physical strength', although he cites no place in the text which states this. Such an assertion cannot be erased by saying that 'men have no right to overcome women by coercion, or display arrogant behaviour towards them'. Al-'Aqqad says that men deserve preference over women. (wadud, p. 35)a note: when i said to aslan "i am arab" (which frankly doesn't add anything to the argument), my intention was merely to show you that i also feel invested and not just being flippant about these important issues. this is a minor point.
* kant, listing all those unfit to vote because of their dependence and subordination, remarked that they (women) had "no civil personality and their existence is, so to speak, purely inherent." He included in this group "women in general" (anne phillips, p. 108). after the enlightenment, men's "sexual contract" was essentially an agreement among men on sexual hierarchy based on sexual difference. & this difference would be used to exclude women from citizenship and keep them subordinate within families. ** so, as it were, androcentrism enters through the back door of theology. i'd like to share with you some feminist views from the middle east:
the well-known declaration of women in islamic societies of 1997 (signed by a distinguished group of middle eastern scholars and muslim feminists, amongst them: mahnaz afkhami, seema kazi, mervat tallawy, etc).
egyptian author mona eltahawy on aljezeera.
repressive policies against women in iran.
fatema mernessi, a well-known arab feminist presents the problem as such:
in western culture, sexual inequality is based in the biological inferiority of the woman. in islam is the contrary, the system is based on the assumption that the woman is powerful and dangerous. all sexual institutions (polygamy, repudiation, sexual segregation) cab be perceived as a strategy for containing her power.it needs to be said that feminism in islam is a variegated phenomena. there is islamic feminism (with proponents like ziba mir-hosseini, mai yamani & nilufer gole, they deal with the issues of equality from within islam). for many of them the issue of discrimination and exploitation of women comes not from the teachings of the quran, but instead from prevalent androcentric attitudes of men's interpretations and fabrication of theological systems within islam. islamic feminists work within the traditions to preserve and change them. some are conciliatory, some are more radical. malika hamidi, french, of algerian origin, points to the needs of muslim women:
"victims of domestic violence, polygamy, those threatened with honor killings, circumcision, discrimination of all sorts, forced marriages, with little Turkish and Moroccan girls in Brussels just disappearing to be married. Muslim women are not involved enough in these debates, but we have to denounce that these are traditional and cultural practices - it has nothing to do with Islam."let's come back to our initial question. if none of this has to do with islam (christianity, judaism, hinduism, you name it), why does it happen?