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In Another Country

Patriarchal Attitudes

by Eva Figes
Stein & Day, 192 pp., $.95 (paper)

Every schoolboy has a pretty good idea of what the situation was down at Sodom but what went on in Gomorrah is as mysterious to us as the name Achilles took when he went among women. Or was. Thanks to Eva Figes, author of Patriarchal Attitudes, we now know what Gomorrheans are up to. Miss Figes quotes from an eighth-century Palestinian midrash which tries to explain the real reason for the Flood (one of the better jokes in the Old Testament). Apparently passage on the Ark was highly restricted. “Some authorities say that according to God’s orders, if the male lorded it over the female of his own kind, both were admitted but not otherwise.”

The Founding Father had strong views on the position of woman (under the man) and one of the few mistakes He ever admitted to was the creation of Lilith as a mate for Adam. Using the same dust as His earthly replica…but let us hear it in His own words, rabbinically divined in the fifth century.

Adam and Lilith never found peace together; for when he wished to lie with her, she took offense at the recumbent posture he demanded. “Why must I lie beneath you?” she asked. “I also was made from dust, and am therefore your equal.” Because Adam tried to compel her obedience by force, Lilith, in a rage, uttered the magic name of God, rose into the air and left him.

The outcast Lilith is still hanging about the Zeitgeist, we are told, causing babies to strangle in their sleep, men to have wet dreams, and Kate Millett, Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, and Eva Figes to write books.

The response to Sexual Politics, Feminine Mystique, et al. has been as interesting as anything that has happened in our time with the possible exception of Richard Nixon’s political career. The hatred these girls have inspired is to me convincing proof that their central argument is valid. Men do hate women (or as Germaine Greer puts it: “Women have very little idea of how much men hate them”) and dream of torture, murder, flight.

It is no accident that in the United States the phrase “sex and violence” is used as one word to describe acts of equal wickedness, equal fun, equal danger to that law and order our masters would impose upon us. Yet equating sex with violence does change the nature of each (words govern us more than anatomy), and it is quite plain that those who fear what they call permissiveness do so because they know that if sex is truly freed of taboo it will lead to torture and murder because that is what they dream of or, as Norman Mailer puts it, “Murder offers us the promise of vast relief. It is never unsexual.”

There has been from Henry Miller to Norman Mailer to Charles Manson a logical progression. The Miller-Mailer-Manson man (or M3 for short) has been conditioned to think of women as, at best, breeders of sons; at worst, objects to be poked, humiliated, killed. Needless to say, M3’s reaction to Women’s Liberation has been one of panic. He believes that if women are allowed parity with men they will treat men the way men have treated women and that, even M3 will agree, has not been very well or, as Cato the Censor observed, if woman be made man’s equal she will swiftly become his master.

M3 knows that women are dangerously different from men, and not as intelligent (though they have their competencies: needlework, child-care, detective stories). When a woman does show herself to be superior at, say, engineering, Freud finessed that anomaly by reminding us that since she is a bisexual, like everyone else, her engineering skill simply means that she’s got a bit too much of the tomboy in her, as W.C. Fields once remarked to Grady Sutton on a similar occasion.

Women are not going to make it until M3 is reformed and that is going to take a long time. Meanwhile the current phase of the battle is intense and illuminating. M3 is on the defensive, shouting names; he thinks that to scream dyke is enough to make the girls burst into tears, but so far they have played it cool. Some have even admitted to a bit of dyking now and then along with warm mature heterosexual relationships of the deeply meaningful fruitful kind that bring much needed children in the world (“Good fucks make good babies”—N. Mailer). I love you Marion and I love you too Marvin. The women are responding with a series of books and position papers that range from shrill to literature. In the last category one must place Eva Figes who, of the lot, is the only one whose work can be set beside John Stuart Mill’s celebrated review of the subject and not seem shoddy or self-serving.

In effect, the girls are all writing the same book. Each does a quick biological tour of the human body, takes on Moses and St. Paul, congratulates Mill, savages Freud (that mistake about vaginal orgasm has cost him glory), sighs over Marx, roughs up M3, and concludes with pleas for child-care centers, free abortions, equal pay, and—in most cases—an end to marriage. These things seem to be well worth accomplishing. And even M3 is now saying that of course women should be paid the same as men for the same work. On that point alone Women’s Lib has already won an important battle because, until recently, M3 was damned if a woman was going to be paid as much as he for the same job.

Figes begins her short, elegant work with an attempt to define masculine and feminine. Is there any real difference between male and female other than sexual gear? Figes admits to the systematic fluctuation of progesterone levels during the woman’s menstrual cycle and pregnancy, and these fluctuations make for “moods,” which stop with menopause. Yet Figes makes a most telling point when she observes that although there is little or no hormonal difference between girls and boys before puberty, by the age of four or five boys are acting in a very different manner from girls. Since there is no hormonal explanation for this, the answer is plainly one of indoctrination.

What Figes is saying and what anyone who has ever thought with any seriousness about the human estate knows is that we are, or try to be, what our society wants us to be. There is nothing innate in us that can be called masculine or feminine. We have certain common drives involving survival. Yet our drive toward procreation, oddly enough, is not as powerful as our present-day obsession with sex would lead us to believe.

Of all mammals, man is the only one who must be taught how to mate. In open societies this is accomplished through observation but in a veiled, minatory, Puritan society, sex is a dirty secret, the body shameful, and making love a guilty business, often made dreadful through plain ignorance of what to do. Yet the peripheral male and female roles are carefully taught us. A little girl is given a doll instead of a chemistry set. That she might not like dolls, might prefer a chemistry set, will be the start of a nice neurosis for her, a sense of guilt that she is not playing the part society wants her to play. This arbitrary and brutal shaping of men and women has filled the madhouses of the West, particularly today when the kind of society we still prepare children for (man outside at work, woman at home with children) is no longer the only possibility for a restless generation.

Figes quotes Lévi-Strauss. “Men do not act as members of a group, in accordance with what each feels as an individual; each man feels as a function of the way in which he is permitted or obliged to act. Customs are given as external norms before giving rise to internal sentiments, and these nonsentient norms determine the sentiments of individuals as well as the circumstances in which they may, or must, be displayed.” One sees this in our society’s emphasis on what Hemingway called “grace under pressure,” or that plain old-fashioned patriotism which so often means persuading a man to kill a man he does not know. To get him to do this the society must with its full weight pervert his normal instinct not to kill a stranger against whom he has no grudge or risk being killed himself.

This kind of conditioning is necessary for the maintenance of that acquisitive, warrior society to which we belong, a society which now appears to be cracking up in the United States (the dread Consciousness Three emerging?), to the despair of M3, not to mention those financial interests whose profits depend upon the exploitation and conquest of distant lands and markets. Concentrating on social pressures, Figes has written a book concerned with those external norms “which give rise to internal sentiments, with the organization of emotions into sentiments.”

For those who like to remind the girls that no woman wrote anything in the same class as Paradise Lost or painted anything like the Sistine Chapel or composed Don Carlos (in the novel the girls hold their own), Figes observes that women were not expected to do that sort of thing and so did not. It is easy for a talented boy to be a sculptor because there are other males whom he can identify with and learn from. But society does everything to discourage a girl from making the attempt; instead she stifles as best she can whatever secret yearnings she might have to shape stone and gets on with the dishes.

In recent years, however, women have begun to invade (M3’s verb) fields traditionally assigned to men. Eventually, M3 will have to face the fact that the arts and sciences are not masculine or feminine activities, but simply human ones. Incidentally, all the girls have a go at one Otto Weininger, a nineteenth-century philosophe who at twenty-three wrote a book to prove that women were incapable of genius, then killed himself. The girls tend unkindly to cackle over that.

Figes does the obligatory chapters on Moses and St. Paul, those proud misogynists whose words have caused so much misery down the millennia. The hatred of women that courses through both Old and New Testaments is either lunatic or a mask for something else. What were the Patriarchs so afraid of? Is Robert Graves right after all? Was there really a Great Mother cult the Patriarchs destroyed? Were the attacks on woman political in origin? To discredit the Great Mother and her priestesses? We shall never know.

Perhaps it is simply guilt. People don’t like their slaves very much. Women were—and in some cases still are—slaves to men, and attempts to free slaves must be put down. Also, as Figes puts it, “Human beings have always been particularly slow to accept ideas that diminish their own absolute supremacy and importance.” For men, “like all people who are privileged by birth and long tradition, the idea of sharing could only mean giving up.”

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