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The Sex eZine - Feminism

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By A. Feminist - August 29th 2007.

Good news! Though 11,000 years is stretching "better late than never" to its limits, a long-delayed stage in our evolution appears to be at hand, and with a little (OK, a LOT.....) more work, the 21st Century can be humanity's best, rather than its last.

With all the repression and violence in an increasingly nuclear-armed world, why rejoice instead of write a eulogy for our species ? Because after 159 years - just a blink of an eye in terms of hominid history - feminists have finally succeeded in beginning to break the stranglehold of patriarchy just as that institution began to make the transition from "catastrophic" to "unsurvivable," and its imminent downfall will have massive benefits in every area of life, sexuality being just the most pleasant.

Society is now in the position of a very old company with a dilemma on its hands. Many of the founding members of the firm have failed to evolve with the times and their instincts and behaviors are not just unproductive, but threaten to drive the firm into bankruptcy. What's the right, logical, and most importantly, feminist thing to do ? For any old dogs who either can't or won't learn new tricks, the only real solution is for the stockholders to insist that they be given a retirement banquet in appreciation of early efforts, then gently, but very deliberately, be separated from positions of influence and replaced by those whose basic instincts are in tune with what makes a company healthy and profitable today.

This transition should have begun for "Humanity, Inc." the day we began to settle down in the small, but permanent, agricultural communities that would later become our first city-states. The kinds of aggressive, violent behaviors that were of occasional value in our natural habitat in regard to protecting our little bands of primates from some vicious predators, as well as supplementing our diet with uncooperative sources of meat were no longer needed. Even small communities provided sufficient population densities to discourage the kinds of attacks that hungry predators would routinely make on individuals and small bands, and the domestication of even a few species for food ended the need for hunting, if it ever existed. (We're biologically the same as our prehistoric ancestors, so the vegetarian diet that's healthy for us would arguably have been just as beneficial for them, when they could obtain sufficient amounts of fruits, veggies and wild grains.)

We had a golden opportunity to break with our past by rewarding, and thus over the generations, enhance the best of our primate instincts, such as cooperation and altruism, while discouraging and minimizing the worst of them, such as aggression and greed.

But that's not exactly how things worked out. Our earliest documents talk of masters and slaves, wars and conquerors, and absolute monarchs, not elected heads of state in free societies. Why weren't we either logically drawn to the better half of our genetic heritage, or pushed toward it much earlier by Nature via natural selection ? Two reasons. (1) No group of elite has ever given up its special status voluntarily, and (2) If individuals rarely reform spontaneously, and pursue self-destructive lifestyles until all alternatives are exhausted and they're finally compelled to change, why should we expect societies to be any different ?

Though the view of prehistory as a world of aggressive hunter/protector males and passive females who cooked the food the men brought home, while gathering veggies and raising their children is on the same level of credibility as an episode of "The Flintstones," there is no doubt that we were, in fact, subject to attacks by predators (both of the human and non-human variety) and any local museum can provide ample evidence that organized groups did hunt large game. But how often individuals were needed to fend off predators, how much meat-on-the-hoof actually contributed to our diet, and whether protectors and hunters were uniformly male is all highly speculative.

Still, those who did those essential jobs - however often or rarely they performed them - would certainly tend to gain higher status as a result. And when we began to move into settled, specialized communities, they would not want to let go of that elite status. But the problem with being in the "hunter/protector" class is that if it takes no great bravery to prepare a domesticated animal as a meal, and there are no predators to fight off, your skills are useless and the justification for elite status nonexistent. But some of our ever-innovative ancestors came up with a "solution" to that problem. What if humans became their own worst predators?

Then along with all the positive specializations that were created in the first cities, the no-longer-needed "hunters" and "protectors" could begin to transform themselves into a full-time "warrior" and "ruler" class. They pulled off this unique accomplishment of establishing themselves as dominant just as their usefulness should have ended by employing what would become a familiar theme : "In exchange for the trifling price of absolute, unquestioned authority, we'll protect society from the barbarians next door who are surely plotting to kill us in our sleep if we aren't constantly vigilant (or don't strike first), and from the chaos that would result if our orderly society were challenged internally by those who doubt the divine design behind our customs and traditions."

At the dawn of civilization, what we should have done was celebrate our collective survival against some pretty heavy odds (perhaps with history's first - and last - victory parade !), saluted those who bore the brunt of the battle, and then helped channel aggressive energies into constructive pursuits while figuring out how to peacefully and non-exploitively co-exist with our fellow species. Had we done so, the chronicle of human history would show an unblemished record that we could point to with pride, and one which would be a source of unbounded optimism that our future would be as glorious as our past. But instead, we had the luxury of still being such inefficient self-predators that we could indulge our worst behaviors and yet be at no risk of extinction.

True, history is replete with examples of bloody, senseless wars, totalitarian states, and genocides, but like the alcoholic or drug addict who still hasn't managed to do something clearly fatalistic, "intervention time" hadn't occurred yet, because even the worst of tyrants and the most toxic of ideologies were still incapable of putting the survival of our species at risk, and survival of a species is Nature's only concern. (This concern doesn't always assure success, as numerous dinosaur remains can attest, but it does impel toward maximum fitness for survival.)

But with the development of weapons of mass destruction, and their control by men who glorify and practice "warrior" values, survival is very much threatened, and like the self-destructive individual who finally sees their own imminent demise in the near future, it appears that our species is finally - in the nick of time - beginning to respond to its inborn instinct for survival in the only possible way : the "feminization" of society.

Of course, if all we manage to do is use the failures and risks of rule by males to cause a shift from authoritarian, aggressive, violent men in power to authoritarian, aggressive, violent women in power, then the new matriarchy will be just "patriarchy in drag" and of no survival value whatever. But that doesn't seem to be where we're headed. Instead, we seem to be moving toward more of a "feminarchy" compatible with the principles of feminism, in which no one is guaranteed a position of privilege or power based on a chance characteristic of birth such as gender, where assertiveness is valued and aggressiveness condemned, and a desire for equal opportunity replaces the "traditional value" of regimentation based on stereotyping.

Are we moments away from achieving a utopia in which all social institutions in all nations are based on feminist principles ? Certainly not. But in evolutionary terms, we are moving toward that day at lightning speed. Like an iceberg, once the first small cracks begin to appear in an institution, its total destruction is not far off, and the meltdown of patriarchy is proceeding much faster than its former companions. Two institutions that long predated written history and survived intact until relatively modern times - monarchy and slavery - collapsed in just a few generations once the end began. And that same principle of equality which disempowered the most entrenched of monarchs and transformed slavery from a "tradition" in which those who ruled took pride and felt no guilt, into a crime that is hidden and condemned, went on to finally attack the biggest and most widespread institution of all : patriarchy.

In politics, the change has been so swift in the U.S. that in less than a single lifetime, we've gone from a Congress and Supreme Court which had never had a female member to a time when gender is no longer even a consideration in regard to membership. And though female heads of state are still few, the fact that they've held office in places as diverse as Liberia and Iceland, or Great Britain and the Philippines is proof that feminization is becoming a worldwide phenomenon.

Literature and popular American culture, which now permeate into even the smallest and most isolated corners of the world thanks to technology, now offers uncountable examples of strong, free women, from school textbooks to novels to the most popular movies.

Colleges, which train tomorrow's leaders, have been transformed from institutions which excluded or highly restricted women's admissions and courses of study, into places where a level playing field has made men a significant, but minority presence on campus, a trend which may be a preview of what the corridors of power may look like a generation from now.

Another source of optimism comes from a surprising source. Though a slow but steady displacement of women in religion from the all-powerful fertility goddesses of prehistory to natural, polytheistic religions (in which some goddesses still at least rivaled some male gods in both respect and raw power) to patriarchal monotheism appeared to be a blow from which women might never recover, there is evidence this long-term trend may be in reversal. In addition to the explosion of women into the clergy in just the past few decades, the religious views of average Americans are changing in the right direction as well.

Though the vast majority of Americans identify themselvesas monotheists, and there's no indication that Gaea, Minerva, or Athena are regaining their former status, for the first time a survey actually asked what type of deity Americans believed in, rather than presuming all monotheistic gods to be the same one. What they found was encouraging. Only 31% of those polled still believed in the old, original concept of a monotheistic deity with authoritarian, "alpha-male-primate" characteristics, and which served as the foundation for all the patriarchal myths that "justified" power and privilege being automatically given to its fellow men by divine right. The rest of the deists either believed in a compassionate, often ungendered being, or a distant and non-interactive one, beliefs that are not compatible with the use of religion to destroy, conquer or oppress.

When we grimace at reports of women who live in virtual slavery in societies where men rule with the same iron fists, and pursue the same authoritarian, violent goals as they did centuries ago, it sometimes may seem to us as it seems to the victims of patriarchy's worst excesses : this will never end. But it will, because the house of cards that supports male domination is collapsing. We are no longer a collection of totally isolated societies which need not pay attention to the outside world. We are becoming more and more interdependent and more familiar with each other, not less. And that means a change anywhere in the world is felt everywhere in the world in a kind of chain reaction.

Suffragists knew this, and figured out that the easiest campaigns were ones to win over a state next to one in which women already voted. So the feminization of power may have begun in the most industrialized, secular and progressive countries, but it eventually will spread to all nations, as those who still defend male power and privilege find themselves facing something even more intimidating than military force : isolation and disapproval by neighbors and potential trading partners, plus a female underclass that sees how much things can be changed elsewhere and learns that repression is neither universal nor inevitable.

Clearly the most important benefit of the coming feminization of power is the lowering of the proportion of decisions made by some who may be "under the influence" of testosterone intoxication, thereby de-escalating the world's deadliest conflicts in the same way that simply adding more female police officers tends to markedly decrease the proportion of arrests that escalate into violent confrontations. (Female leaders will certainly be quite capable of waging defensive war, however, though conservatives desperately try to fend off feminization of power by implying that all women are devout pacifists who would be no match for "warrior male" enemies, an ironic strategy considering how many of these "macho males" managed to avoid combat themselves when given the opportunity to experience it in their youth....).

But feminarchy's most pleasant benefit will certainly be a flowering of sexual expression. It's obvious that the sexual repression of women is essential to patriarchy and that patriarchy is essential to women's sexual repression. To fight one is to fight the other. Misogynists and male supremacists know that if women's sexuality is not tightly controlled for the benefit of men, that it could be used for empowerment and self-esteem, as it has been for males. But if sexuality could somehow be used as the model of how to teach women to "control" themselves, to be less than they can be, to suppress, not trust, their instincts, then maintaining male control of women in all areas becomes much easier since every woman in effect becomes her own oppressor - and under the kind of 24-hour surveillance that even the most ambitious totalitarian could never achieve.

So as one by one the age-old, traditional restrictions on women were forcibly removed by decades of dedicated feminist action, no one should be surprised that the final battle would be the most intense, because last-ditch battles for survival always are. If patriarchy is not to join its siblings, monarchy and slavery, in the ranks of extinct and baseless ideologies,sexual liberation must be resisted to the utmost degree, and antifeminists are busily working on all fronts to that end.They begin with "abstinence only" antisexual indoctrination courses which teach girls that true female empowerment and self-esteem comes from resisting all forms of sexual expression until it's time to restrict it to just one, male, lifelong partner in a union sanctioned by a male deity, through a male-dominated church, and licensed by a male-dominated heterosexist state.

It continues through opposition to any measure that would expand birth control options through research, or to increase access by anyone to methods which already exist, and a feverish determination to resurrect the specter of the illegal, back-alley abortion mill as a final humiliation and punishment for those who would use sex for any but its "divinely mandated purpose" of reproduction. And, it extends to monitoring television shows, where legions of self-appointed "morality police" fire barrages of protest letters to any network or sponsor whose program suggests that it might be possible to enjoy an active sex life outside of "traditional marriage" without suffering the worst imaginable consequences before the closing credits begin to run.

But they're losing, and that means we're winning the battle for survival. Just as some busy extraterrestrial editing the "Encyclopedia Galactica" is preparing to write the final lines in the entry for "Humans" ("Cause of extinction : a lethal mix of weaponry, patriarchy and religious extremism"), it's time to put our entry on "hold" for a while to see if we can eliminate the second cause and moderate the third, thus making the first no longer so threatening. Mother Nature is doing her part, but evolution is a very long process, and though it's clearly underway, we can't passively wait for her to finish the job of turning us from the most destructive of primates into the least destructive.

We still have to battle as hard as we can for the end of the patriarchal values and institutions that have always pushed us toward the edge of the abyss, but which until recently never had the power to push us over the edge. Everything that fights against patriarchy is something that fights for human existence. So, when each of us decides where to put our priorities in a world already beset with many real and severe problems, keep in mind that sexual liberation isn't just about sex, and women's liberation isn't just about gender, or even justice. It's about survival.

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