My ideas of early human society and gender roles were shaped by that popular documentary known as The Flintstones, in which men went to work, taming and operating dinosaurs like cranes on stone-age building sites while the Wilmas and Bettys shopped and gossiped on horn-shaped phones. So I believed, as the patriarchy (and the Hollywood storytellers) would have it, twas ever thus.
Incidentally, the word ‘gossip’ used to refer to older women who, in the absence of twitter, reliably disseminated important information within their communities. God’s sibs (or gossips) were respected, trusted and obviously well networked. Gossiping is still regarded as the province of females, but trivial and usually breaching trust. Devolution.
Lately, as I observe the patriarchy crumbling around our ears and the patriarchs scrambling to retain their privilege with the most overt kind of bullying, I wonder how it came to be. Even our Greens politicians here in Victoria, who we feel ought to know better, have been exposed as verbally abusive and bullying, calling female workers ‘hairy legged feminists’ and ‘power pussies’ which, I hasten to add, I find hilarious because raindrops on roses, whiskers on pussies, hairy legs and feminists are a few of my favourite things, to misquote another iconic role model of mine, Sister Maria. If they called me a hairy legged feminist I’d say, ‘Thanks.’
Talking of power pussies, did you know that the uterine muscle is arguably the most powerful muscle in the human body? It’s three layers contract in multiple directions and, I can assure you, it’s a crazy, strong feeling to have muscles like that when pushing out a baby. When my uterus did it’s thing I felt like I was superwoman and if I could do that, I could do anything (after a smoked salmon sandwich and a nap, of course.)
Anyway, back to the patriarchy. These apoplectic buffoons clinging to their power would be hilarious if they didn’t actually have so much power. But things are changing. The #MeToo movement has drawn attention to who has been controlling the Hollywood stories. Women are leaving the Liberal party and exposing the awfully aggressive culture. Many people are suggesting that patriarchal values are destroying the planet and I’ve been feeling the need to imagine what life was like before the buffoons took over. I hope this might help to unravel this pickle the patriarchy has got us into. Oi, such a pickle. A planetary pickle. An emotional pickle. A gender role pickle. A political pickle. But I’m being unkind to pickles. It’s a tragic mess.
It seems to me that the actions that sustain communities are undervalued while the actions that sustain individual material growth are given an unbalanced, damaging amount of credibility and status. Divide and conquer. What I know is that, for a start, hunting isn’t what sustained the tribe. Gathering did (not to mention birthing and nurturing human life). That’s right. Killing a bison once every financial quarter was a treat and a reason to party, while the seeds and berries, although duller to the palate and obviously less celebrated, kept everyone going.
I’m not one hundred percent sure that gender roles were, in fact, divided into male hunters and female gatherers because I’m starting to doubt everything I’ve been taught in this patriarchal language with this patriarchal view of history. But I am sure that females were once worshipped. (And some deities were gender-fluid). Women were scholars, they led armies and they ruled.
I don’t believe women would have just handed over their power or that they were too busy wiping baby bottoms with pre-historic bio-degradable baby wipes to notice while the men decided to make laws to exclude them.
I read somewhere on a toilet wall that, “War is menstruation envy.” This could be true. What could be more powerful and enviable than giving life?
So maybe the Neanderthal guys needed some attention, I don’t know. Killing the bison felt good and everyone was appreciative and they got plenty of positive reinforcement for their triumph standing around the BBQ that they fired up once fire was invented. They received appropriate accolades protecting everyone from the sabre-toothed tiger but the appreciation wasn’t enough.
I figure the only way they gained control in the first place was by force, doing what they did best; the same brute force that killed the bison and the sabre-toothed tiger and probably left them in a post-traumatic state of hypervigilence so they continued to consider everything a threat, including women. And they’ve been doing it ever since. Yes, yes, not all men. I know lots of fabulous men who are big advocates of dismantling the patriarchy. It’s not so much about gender as about privilege, so of course not all men but how about all patriarchs? Regardless, like all oppressive regimes, it began and is perpetuated by threat and force.
There was a time when collectivism was probably more the go, but the one-God religions, like Christianity, managed to convince everyone to try the hierarchical model. (I’m being very generous when I use the word ‘convince’.) Somewhere in the process of creating a hierarchy in which men were at the top, they turned activities that women did, such as cooking everything except the BBQ and healing, into professions that became the provinces of men with new rules to keep women out. (They’re still doing that, too.) They also re-wrote the mythological stories, disempowering goddesses like Medusa so the power in her snakey hair was cut off, while developing new legends that connected men spiritually with weapons. Pointy, swordy weapons that were, of course, a little bit phallic. Excalibur and all that.
I heard a female political commentator suggest that the Australian Liberal party were in a constant state of trauma and their behaviour could be viewed as post-traumatic. What about all politicians? Well, have you listened to Bob Katter? Every time someone suggests he has a Lebanese heritage he says something like, “My mother would have slapped me if I was so rude as to ask where she was from.” This, to me, sounds like denial and trauma, and the need for more mental health care funding rather than an intelligent contribution to the immigration debate.
And I’ve read a bit recently about inter-generational trauma and the way stress can modify our genes. There was one cool study that exposed male mice to a particular aroma while doing something ouchy to them. The descendants of those male mice, two generations on, still reacted with fear when exposed to the same aroma (even without the ouchy aspect.) I got to thinking that maybe the whole patriarchy is based on trauma. Maybe, in this hypervigilant state of PTSD, they have to make up rules in a panic, to keep perceived threats at bay, crazy rules, like ‘women aren’t allowed to do stuff’ and then a couple of thousand years later the rules are that ‘women simply can’t do stuff because they’re not capable’. ‘We patriarchal chaps are better at killing sabre-toothed tigers than our womenfolk. They’re a trifle fuzzy headed, too, after all that shopping, gossiping, embroidery, spinet-playing, child rearing and whatever the little ladies do when we’re out doing important things like building our meritocracy.’
Oh boy, the meritocracy. They’re really struggling to hang on to that old chestnut in the Liberal party. It’s utterly ridiculous to suggest that women can’t do it, or that they’d be better placed in the home or that they don’t have the strength, resilience or ego to withstand the robust debate (which is code for ‘private schoolboy bullying’). It’s also ridiculous to suggest that anyone who isn’t a rule maker can get into the system just as easily as anyone who is a rule maker – because the rule makers decide what is meritorious. So, der, quotas are going to be the only way. It must be quite unnerving for the (apoplectic, buffoon) patriarchs to imagine that there might be a different kind of meritoriousness. A different way to communicate in parliament? Preposterous.
Of course women can rule. It’s not like they haven’t done it before. Look at Jacinda Ardern with a baby in one arm, running the country with her free hand. Six weeks after she had the baby she even went to address a teacher’s strike rally unscheduled (possibly in her slippers) – and the country is still going.
Meanwhile, those guys in the Australian Liberal Party were so busy power-mongering that they clean forgot to represent their constituencies. While they were playing not so nicely, “I’m the king of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal,” they even closed down parliament early. Just for a few moments we had no prime-minister, no government and no parliament. Since then the women have been leaving them in droves, exposing the remaining conservatives-evolved-from-traumatised-bison-killing patriarchs as bullies. So who do they imagine they are now representing? Not even the blue ribbon electorates are populated only by wealthy, white men.
Twas not ever thus. Twas different. Things need to change. Things are changing. Men and women are realising that we are all in the same pickle. Not just men and women, but the people who identify as non-binary who are audacious enough to suggest changing the language of the patriarchy, they’re in this pickle, too.
To change the language is unsettling and uncomfortable to our core; our way of understanding. Can we even understand without the words to articulate? Remember how we all resisted the word ‘chairperson’? I mentioned power pussies before. I hate the word pussy, even coming from Mrs Slocombe in ‘Are You Being Served’. But did you know that the word ‘vagina’ is Latin for ‘scabbard’? Uhuh. Somewhere to rest your sword. In the language of the padre, of course. I don’t know about you but my vagina has better things to do than fulfil it’s nominal function as a hilt. Squeezing out a baby to perpetuate the human race, for example. How dare they.