Why are we more willing to pay a farmer to grow food (which, in itself is an act of nurturing) that we then purchase and eat to nourish ourselves but we’re not willing to pay women to birth and nurture humans who may turn into farmers who continue the act of seeding, nurturing and harvesting? Or to create humans who may become any one of a variety of individuals who create beautiful works of art, astounding advances in technology, life-savings discoveries in science? The crops that a farmer grows and then provides to other living creatures are not more or less valuable than other creations…although I would argue that without food, we would not live long enough, as a species, to be able to do the many wonderful things that we do (or the many horrific things as well). However, all things, all creatures have equal value on this planet, each of them playing a unique role in the web of life. The higher value placed on the actions and work of men underscores the double-standard and all pervasive and globally sanctioned devaluing of the ‘work of women’, or at least the work that women have been limited to doing, much of which is the miraculous birthing and nurturing of other human beings.
The double-standard is more deeply entrenched by the insistence of the importance of a woman’s choices during her pregnancy and as she mother’s her children and the contradictory and alarming lack of state-funded support for women during pregnancy and especially post-natally. I have been guilty of believing and stating that much of an individual’s psychological issues stem from how they were or were not nurtured by their mother. While it is unequivocally true that this initial relationship is critical to the well-being of a child, women are challenged to ‘be their best’ without adequate support systems and with the continued perpetration of the messages that females are less than males. This is because the male-dominated cultures that exist in the world today have a vested interest in preserving the hierarchical structure whose foundation is comprised of non-white individuals and women of all races. But a foundation based on the denigration of others lacks integrity and in time reveals its own degradation.
Whether the metaphor is that of a degraded foundation or a diseased root system, the effects are the same. In her essay “Far From the Opposite Shore”, Gloria describes the root of the disease in male-supremacist cultures as “the sexual caste system…whether or not it developed as the chronologically first dominance model in prehistory, it is clear…that women’s freedom is most restricted in societies that are also devoted to keeping some race or class groups ‘pure’ by birth in order to perpetuate their power". As such, she continues “all effective actions taken against [the sexual caste system] will contribute to society’s radical transformation.”
Focusing on the symptoms and ignoring the root causes has never healed anything. Yes, symptoms tell us that something is amiss, and the state of the environmental, economic and cultural demise we are experiencing globally are symptoms...of the suppression and devaluing of the feminine and anything defined as 'natural'. What if our dominant culture actually taught us to value the birthing of life, rather than the glorified taking of life that we see demonstrated to us in all types of media, in the unrestrained pillaging of the planet and in the industry of war? What if we insisted that any propaganda that denigrates or demonizes women were given the same attention and restrictions that any hate literature against homosexuality, against other races and cultures is treated with today? It could only lead to a respect for all living creatures and the planet Herself.
As a species, we devalue and try to control anything we perceive as ‘less than’ (whether that is a human, a thing or an activity). In this day and age of 2015 there are still thousands, if not millions of people on the planet who believe that males have innate ownership over the members of their families (wife, children, and pets) and of the things that are accumulated within the context of the family (car, house, bank accounts, food, etc). In fact many men treat their own vehicles with more care, attention and respect than they do the humans that share space in their households.
The premise that anyone can own another human being’s body, soul, mind is an ancient premise that is required to maintain power. Gloria states it well (as she always does) in her essay “If Hitler Were Alive” that in the authoritarian preachings of right-wing fundamentalists ‘individuals are men…the family is their basic unit of security” and women are not considered an individual with the right to basic human rights. “It’s as if a basic right of men is to dominate women” and by extension the families that are created by women. She continues that the basic levels of authority “might argue about what level and kind of power will be considered supreme, whether it’s national, international, secular or religious…but they all agree that the patriarchal family is the basis and training ground for any authoritarianism”.
Now I am very happy to be able to say that my husband is more aware of power imbalances in relationships and between women and men than most of the men I dated in the years leading up to my marriage at the age of 48. However, I was surprised one day at his strong reaction to my sharing of a portion of Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet” in which the ‘prophet’ tells the villagers “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you…” Although I personally contest the idea that children do not come ‘from you’ (any woman that has felt a child grow within her womb would argue that they most certainly do come from us), I agree with Gibran’s sentiments regarding the illusion of ownership of another human being – children, women and men alike. However, my husband insisted that he did indeed own his children since he helped to create them and they are dependent on him. Although my husband almost always agrees with my feminist views on world issues and he most certainly is not the typical alpha male that insists on being the one in control in his ‘house’ so his reaction not only surprised me but was concerning as well, given it's a slippery slope to suppression of another. However, what his reaction underscored was how deeply embedded in our psyches is the belief that humans should control Nature (or risk being controlled by Her) and, by extension, men should control women and children (or risk being controlled by them). This brainwashing shows up in so many power structures and in many families around the planet.
Another example of this brain-washing showed up recently when my 13-year old stepson (who I would describe as a very aware young male who often asks intelligent questions) asked us why the food services people in schools are always women. I commended him on his great question and proceeded to explain that for hundreds of years (and especially since the industrial revolution), access to jobs that either pay well or are valued has been limited primarily to men and women, and non-whites in general, have been restricted to subservient roles…the most underpaid roles in our culture and, in the case of women who manage their households, not paid at all.
I continued to describe the irony inherent in this: the very undervalued roles that nurture others are the ones that allow men to thrive so that they can go on to live empowered (and ‘power over’) lives. In the midst of my explanation, my husband made a joke about the topic (he often uses humour when he perceives potential conflict or feels uncomfortable about a subject matter) and I explained that it was not okay for him to ridicule the subject matter because it is important. What I didn’t say, but wish that I had, was that ridiculing the status of women and the issue of power imbalances is another patriarchal tactic that is so deeply ingrained in our psyches that it shows up even in people who are more aware than most. Ridiculing as an attempt to disempower another group (almost always because that group is feared) is common behaviour…but that doesn’t make it okay. Just as it would not be okay for me to ridicule him or minimize an issue he felt strongly about, for example, the slow death of the Arts in our public schools in Canada while funding for Athletics, Math and Sciences continues to grow.
The controlling of women as the sacred portals through which the human species are birthed into this world is necessary for the sustaining of the dominant culture and is alarmingly increasing in North America. This is a cultural backlash by the purveyors of the patriarchy who are only now taking the successes of the 2nd wave of feminism seriously. The hierarchy of order and authority can only be maintained by controlling the masses and the best way to create the foundation for such a paradigm is to start with the most intimate realm of the family. If women are not allowed to decide whether to have children or not, then the state and the industries of war can continue to have access to cannon fodder that ensures the maintenance of civil unrest and war around the planet…the consequence of which lines the pockets of the 1% of the population that holds 99% of the wealth.
From the reversing of laws that previously allowed for abortion or severely limiting the conditions in which a woman is allowed to abort; from the reduction or discontinuation of medical funding for contraception (in the face of increased funding for prescriptions such as Viagra; from the lack of federal government will-power to enact legislation that limits the damaging, polluting and pillaging of the planet (primarily because they are lobbied, non-stop, by self-interest groups and corporations whose primary focus is on accumulating wealth and power at the expense of the many), we are faced with many obstacles to turning this giant ship around.
And so, when someone rolls their eyes at me that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill when I point out the power imbalances that still exist on this planet, when they tell me that women have equality (even though females are being murdered around the planet for trying to access education), when they tell me that aggression in men and submissiveness in women are inherent traits, I remind myself why I feel compelled to do the work I do and to point at the elephant in the middle of the room. At the end of the day, it’s about saving the one and only planet that we have to live on and increasing the quality of life for all creatures that are sustained by it.