Posts tagged: misogyny
“According to Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, street harassment “limits [women’s] freedom to participate in education, work, recreation, and in political and economic life — or to simply enjoy their neighbourhoods.” Additionally, it forces women to live in constant fear for their safety, a fear not unfounded considering the global statistics on sexual assault, and causes many to routinely evaluate the cost-benefit of merely leaving the house on any given day.”
I plan to release some album notes for the upcoming Lone Sum / Hermit Age, which will discuss the elements which unify this project. One of the most prominent features of the album is the allusion to and inspiration drawn from various female figures in mythology.
The past year of my life has been difficult in many respects, one of these being recurring insomnia. During my sleepless nights, I spend a lot (I mean, a lot) of time reading myths and histories regarding all kinds of women. I find myself very interested in mythology in general, because in some respects underlying remnants of ancient folklore and legend and historical accounts influence current cultural beliefs. To my horror, but not surprise, much of what I encountered dealt with either rape, or marriage. The portrayal of women seems to always be a cautionary tale- our inherent strengths are acknowledged, but in the end it is our beauty and domesticity which are celebrated. A lot of female mythological creatures end up “getting what’s coming to them”, and must begrudgingly accept their fate.
When I finally started writing music again, I found that some of the stories I had frantically devoured were at the forefront of my mind. Here is the beginning of collection (by no means is it comprehensive) of notes for your perusal. I’ve tried to edit down to bare essentials, and I’ll be the first to admit that using Wikipedia as a reference is lame. My primary concern is to get this silly album finished as soon as possible, not to write a book about mythology. But I’m hoping you can get a sense of these stories in my music, and wanted to gather various information which is personally relevant to me into one place. This blog entry pertains to one of LS/HA songs in particular, Luna.
Luna, or Selene - goddess of the moon, goddess of “lunacy”
We all know about delicious Luna bars. But how much do you know about the moon goddess herself, Selene? Selene (or Luna) is the sister of Helios, the sun god. By day, she washes herself in “the earth’s waters”, then dons a golden crown. This crown, and her radiant, immortal head, illuminate the earth during her nightly journey across the sky.
This much you might be familiar with. However, the reason that Selene feels so inclined to make such a long journey might be a surprise. It is, of course, because of love.
“Apollonius of Rhodes…refers to Selene, “daughter of Titan”, who “madly” loved a mortal, the handsome hunter or shepherd—or, in the version Pausanias knew, a king— of Elis, named Endymion, from Asia Minor. In other Greek references to the myth, he was so handsome that Selene asked Zeus to grant him eternal sleep so that he would stay forever young and thus would never leave her…Endymion made the decision to live forever in sleep. Every night, Selene slipped down behind Mount Latmus near Miletus to visit him.”
Oh, women. Always afraid that their sexy man is going to leave them (If I could speak these words aloud, you’d hear a voice drenched in thick sarcasm). In this case, Luna’s love for Endymion is replaced by fear. The fact that he is mortal, and will inevitably die and thus be lost, is not so stressed. What is important to me is that Selene is terrified of being alone. Another thing about this myth which interests me is the fact that Selene is content to have her man be sleeping all the time. She goes to visit him, but then what? Stares at him longingly while he sonorously snores? It is better, apparently, to have this kind of unfulfilled relationship than to be alone and single. It is even a relationship worth dolling herself up for every evening.
I guess I’m not the only one who finds this a little bit…looney (did you know that the very word “looney” probable originated from the name Luna?). By the 5th century AD, Greek epics portrayed Selene as the goddess of lunacy:
“… the frenzied reckless fury of distracting Selene joining in displayed many a phantom shape to maddened Pentheus [who became lunatic or Moon-struck], and made the dread son of Ekhion forget his earlier intent, while she deafened his confused ears with the bray of her divine avenging trumpet, and she terrified the man.”
(women in love are so terrifying, aren’t they, when they get all needy)
I became infatuated with the idea of Selene after wanting to scream at the moon for quite some time. During my worst nights, I would find myself (a little more than) compulsively waiting until sunlight, when it would be “safe” to sleep (nutso, I know, but that’s PTSD for ya). The opening phrase for Luna (the song) popped into my head one evening while I was staring at her artless and brazen majesty.
In contrast to the legend of Luna, I also became enraptured by the Goddess of Fortune. I saw Luna’s tale as a myth about “feminine” fear and weakness, and Fortuna (who favors the brave) as a myth about the necessary hatred of women who are strong personalities.
Tyche, or Fortuna - goddess of luck or fortune
Fortuna Muliebria was traditionally attributed to the well-being and luck of women, “especially married women”. Paradoxically, she was invoked by mortal women in a very vocal and commanding way, as described in various sources.
“According to the legend, worship of Fortuna Muliebris was instituted at a time when Rome was under attack in the 5th century BCE by Cnaeus Marcius Coriolanus, a descendant of Ancus Marcius, an early King. Once a hero of Rome, he later led an army of Volscians against the city, and refused all the pleadings of the senators and the priests to stop the attack. Until, that is, the matrons (married women) of Rome, along with his mother, Veturia, and his wife and their two young children came to plead with him. They managed to convince him to call it off, and on the spot where Veturia talked him out of it, he dedicated a temple to Fortuna Muliebris in honor of the women.”
How interesting. I love that this goddess actually inspired women of ancient times to band together and work towards achieving peace. But again, the implications of the female myth seemed a bit scary to men, and Fortune became described as “fickle” and “flighty”. In modern times, we probably associate her with men rushing off into battle, mustering up their courage, and asking she who favors the brave to grant them luck. Or we curse the wheel of fortune for bringing us our bad times.
“O Fortune, who dost bestow the throne’s high boon with mocking hand, in dangerous and doubtful state thou settest the too exalted. Never have sceptres obtained calm peace or certain tenure; care on care weighs them down, and ever do fresh storms vex their souls. …great kingdoms sink of their own weight, and Fortune gives way ‘neath the burden of herself. Sails swollen with favouring breezes fear blasts too strongly theirs; the tower which rears its head to the very clouds is beaten by rainy Auster…. Whatever Fortune has raised on high, she lifts but to bring low. Modest estate has longer life; then happy he whoe’er, content with the common lot, with safe breeze hugs the shore, and, fearing to trust his skiff to the wider sea, with unambitious oar keeps close to land.”
“goddess who admits by her unsteady wheel her own fickleness; she always has its apex beneath her swaying foot.”
As Christianity rose in popularity, the first beloved Platonist Christian and body-hater, St. Augustine (see my book review of Misogyny by Jack Holland (http://tmblr.co/ZJSksvI4oPDv)), used Fortune as a metaphor for the undiscerning passions of the physical world:
“How, therefore, is she good, who without discernment comes to both the good and to the bad? …It profits one nothing to worship her if she is truly fortune… let the bad worship her…this supposed deity”.
Once again, female legends are morphed into tales about the crazy actions of women. Fortune, by showing strength and granting her favors wherever she wants, independently, is vilified.
The stories of Luna and Fortuna seem linked to me, and I wanted to discuss how both of their mythologies depict females or femininity as aspects of insanity (negative). I decided to align myself with Fortune, even though she had delivered unto me such bad luck. Musically, the track Luna is structured to reflect the 8 phases of the moon cycle. There are four main sections of music, and four transitional phases, mirroring a waxing and waning effect.
You can hear a preview version of Luna here:
This is a wonderful article in which one successful writer, who confesses she used to be “annoyed by feminists”, describes becoming gradually aware of the pressing need for dialogue and change. Also, she ponders a more unified approach to activism - women working towards the same goal and yet being incredibly diverse in their lifestyle (and wardrobe) choices.
Please allow me to confess that in all of my independent women’s studies reading, I had yet to willfully pick up and digest written work by someone who wasn’t, well, a woman. Most of the “big time” feminist authors and philosophers are women, or at least, the names of those individuals who make femme Must-Read lists are mainly ones like Gloria, Jessica, Simone, Betty or Margaret. So it was to my surprise and delight when, during an impromptu bookstore jaunt, I encountered a book in the women’s studies shelving section written by a dude.
“Wow, a man cares about misogyny enough to write about it?” I thought, and picked up Misogyny: the World’s Oldest Prejudice for an initial look-see. Not that there is a complete lack of male feminist writers, but I would characterize the encounters I have with male feminists in any creative sphere as dismally few in number, or at best, strangely reluctant. There was the ex-boyfriend who would wholeheartedly discuss and lament women’s issues with me, but who refused to describe himself as a “feminist” because he was a man. He said it was something akin to a white person being a member of the black panthers. The potential flaws of that argument aside, this highly intelligent man was afraid that he had no right to take part in the women’s movement because he was not a woman.
In another case, there is the music of the brilliant Charlie Looker, who has told me in person that he intends to write an opera “about misogyny”, and whose 2010 Extra Life album Made Flesh deals with the rape and suffering of one of his ex-girlfriends/sex buddies (You can hear the album here: http://africantapegroup.bandcamp.com/album/made-flesh). Though this album at times is a musically phenomenal work with flashes of bright feminist-like writing (as in the sarcastic lyrics “I know I’m lucky to be held like this whenever you want me, sweetie I’m your property, one of your whores”), in the end it seems that Looker is more apologetic for his own misogynistic tendencies than concerned with making a true feminist statement or engaging in rhetoric. Indeed, he often refers to women as “child” and describes a (strange if not unnerving) inclination to protect and nurture them as a father would. I’m sure he is aware of this component of his work (I have yet to receive comment from him), and though the self-aware album and its follow up EP, Ripped Heart, make strong statements about rape culture and misogyny in general, they seem to be more concerned with his own dealings and the effect of misogyny on men, not women.
So I was admittedly skeptical that a female studies book written by a male person would do the trick for me. But after reading Holland’s description of the Greek god Zeus (whom I had, until reading this book, pictured as some sort of wild thunderbolt throwing grumpy grandpa character) as a “serial rapist”, I was hooked. The book was so informative and so well written, even in the first 20 pages I felt I had learned more about the history of misogyny and its implications than I had in the past few months. As far as being male and writing such a feminist-leaning book, Holland has more than enough to say.
“When I told people I was writing a history of misogyny I got two distinct responses and they were divided along gender lines. From women, came an expression of eager curiosity about what I had found. But from those men who knew what the word ‘misogyny’ meant, there came a nod and a wink in an unspoken assumption that I was engaged in justifying it. (Holland, 268)”
Nothing could be further from the truth. In the book, Holland points out the flaws and subtle misogynistic traits underlying everything from mythology, ancient history, biology, religion, and politics. He isn’t afraid to talk about how horrible the suffering and contempt of women has been throughout most of mankind’s history. And he isn’t afraid to call out his fellow men for their sometimes subconscious sexist thinking. But what strikes me about this book, besides the excellent and clear prose, is the breath and depth of Holland’s research. Not only was I reading a history of misogyny, I was getting a refresher on ancient history and a summary of the most exalted Western philosophers throughout humankind, and a refresher that included mention of many important historical women, who are woefully left out of most historical accounts.
Let’s take, for example, ancient Rome. Though sadly my memory of studying ancient history in high school had faded into only slight knowledge of the biggest personalities (Mark Antony, Nero, Claudius), I know without a doubt I had never been exposed to the fascinating number of Roman women who wielded great power and influence. I even have two Roman namesakes, Julias who, in some ways, functioned as some of the first documented female activists. The emperor Augustus drafted some backward-stepping misogynistic laws, the Lex Julia, which made adultery a public offense only for women, imposed penalties on people who did not marry by a certain age (!), and revived an ancient law allowing fathers/husbands to kill their daughters/wives.
“Julia, the thirty-seven-year-old daughter of [Augustus], made an incredible mockery of his laws [the Lex Julia] and shook the foundations of the new moral order he had attempted to impose. Had there been a tabloid newspaper, its front page would doubtless have screamed: ‘Julia in Orgy Shock: Sex Romp on Rostrum’…Julia’s behavior was more than just a wild fling. The orgy on the rostrum was timed for maximum effect…Her promiscuity was the revenge of a daughter who rebelled in the only way that was open to her- to seek her own personal gratification…she was playing sexual politics, forced to do so because her body had become a political commodity. Paradoxically, by giving it away she was reclaiming it as her own (Holland, 55)”
This type of outlandish outburst seemed a huge parallel to me of the current feminist movements somewhat pro-sex or sex-positive stance (which I’m not sure I agree with, but more on that later). In fact, Holland also goes on to draw a comparison to the sexual liberation of the 60’s stemming as direct response to conservative values of the 40s and 50s. The example of Julia and other outspoken Roman women was fascinating to me, as I consider myself reasonably well educated and had never been introduced to them before.
Another fascinating element of Misogyny is the discussion of philosophy and philosophical history. My sister and I often lament the seemingly irrefutable man-worship of the great Greek and Christian thinkers in institutions of higher education. In fact, the libraries at Columbia University are graced with portraits and etchings of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and the like. Holland does not go so far as to dismiss the mental workings of these esteemed thinkers, but points out the inevitable misogyny in their writings, and demonstrates how this misogyny, through the reverence bestowed upon and the unending study to this day of their philosophies, continues to influence us. Plato’s theory of forms, a very basic Intro to Philosophy 101 topic, has, at its roots, some very sexist thinking.
“Plato’s Theory of Forms is the philosophical basis for the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, in which the very act of conception is viewed as a falling away from the perfection of God into the abysmal world of appearances…This dualistic vision of reality denigrated the world of the senses, placing it in an eternal struggle with …the knowledge of God [and] influenced thinkers in their view of women, who literally, as well as figuratively, embodied what is scorned as transient, mutable, and contemptible (Holland, 31)”
From Plato and Aristotle (whom Holland names one of the greatest misogynists of all time), the book moves onward to describe the rise of Christianity and its undoubtable influence in the suppression and subjugation of women. There is much discussion of the gospels themselves, which do not provide much misogynist material, and the life of Jesus. I was surprised to read that the majority of Jesus’s initial followers were women - he did not see their adultery as any worse than that of their male counterparts, and even allowed them to preach his word. For these reasons, they were some of his biggest pluggers in the initial century after his death. According to Holland, all of that changed when the first “christian philosopher”, St. Augustine, discovered Plato and declared war on the body, which in turn became war on women and their lust-inducing physiques.
“To the Fall of Man, Augustine adds another, even more terrible dimension: the Platonic fall. This is a fall from the Pure Form, to Christians, the timeless perfection of union with God, into the mutable world of life, lust, suffering and death…the instrument of this fall from grace is woman: both in the sense that it was Eve’s disobedience that led to our expulsion from paradise, and in the Platonic sense - she represents the willfulness of the flesh to reproduce itself. (Holland, 93).
If any of that goes a bit over your head, it is most likely my own fault for attempting to paraphrase hundreds of pages of a dense-yet-readable book. But I found it fascinating to see the relationship between intellectual study and tradition and misogyny and religion. After Augustine’s work, the Catholic church stopped letting women preach. It placed the blame for all of man’s sins on women as the progeny of Eve, that first evil sinner who listened so readily to the devil’s tempting words. The next few chapters in the book are all about the Inquisition and Witch Hunts of the 13th-15th centuries. These are things that we are exposed to in popular culture and that we now see as ridiculous, the notion of Satan coming to earth to copulate with lustful, insatiable women and women, like Jews, being blamed for death, miscarriage, and famine. I was shocked by horrific details about inquisition and execution methods, including the “witch’s bridle”, a grizzly metal hood that women were forced to wear while they were being burned alive so that they could not protest and so that their screams of anguish would be silenced. It contained metal spikes which were inserted into a woman’s mouth and which would cut her tongue if she moved it. It reminds me of the modern day S&M ball-gag.
What I love about this book, besides the huge amount of information contained (it is not limited to Western history and culture, as Hinduism and Islam are discussed as well as African/Eastern cultural practices), is the fact that Holland is not afraid to make judgements and take a stance. It would be easy for him to provide all of this history without saying much about its modern day implications or aligning himself with currents in contemporary feminist debate.
One timely viewpoint that Holland discusses in detail is the work of Mary Wollstonecraft and her 1792 book The Vindication of the Rights of Women. Not more than two days ago, a flurry of feminist brouhaha was ignited by an article posted by Naomi Wolf, encouraging women to look to Wollstonecraft as a role model that young feminists can return to.
“We need to look outward to non-western feminisms – as well as back to a hidden wellspring of our own true inheritance. I would say the “truest” intellectual heritage of western feminism – though one often buried or misunderstood – is the Enlightenment. The same impetus that led Mary Wollstonecraft to write Vindication of the Rights of Women is the same wellspring that led Tom Paine to write Common Sense, and Jefferson to phrase the declaration of independence in terms of natural rights bestowed by God, making all men (sic) equal. This antecedent places feminism as a natural position on the spectrum of rights in the global struggle for freedom and democracy. (Wolf, guardian.co.uk)”
Jessica Valenti seems personally offended (by Wolf’s allegations that young feminists are at war with each other and too concerned with the trivial aspects of feminine debate (I.e., should we wear makeup, should we have children, etc) (jessicavalenti.tumblr.com)). But Holland posits that Wollstonecraft’s call for women to abandon their “trivial” pursuits in the realm of beauty and self-adornment is NOT the only way for men to take them seriously. I would not agree with Valenti that Wolf is “bashing” young feminists, indeed we have been divided over issues of sexualization and pornography for decades now. However, I had just read Holland’s description of Wollstonecraft’s subtle alleged misogyny days before the controversy started.
“[Wollstonecraft’s] contempt for what she saw as female frivolousness, especially women’s devotion to beautification, is as thoroughgoing as anything ever written by a male misogynist. ‘Pleasure,’ she writes, ‘is the business of women’s life, according to the present modification of society; and while it continues to be, little can be expected from such weak beings.’…Wollstonecraft, in fact, accepts the dualistic notion that devotion to the body is a sign of mental and moral inferiority. (Holland, 180)”
I myself am sometimes guilty of this type of thinking, which is also described in Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs (another great book). But Holland goes on to support his statements. If women are, indeed, biologically different from men and more prone to enjoy beautification, then this should be celebrated and supported. It is only our labeling of these “feminine” traits as negative that make them so. The “Blank Slate” theory, that gender roles are only impressed upon us by society, if proven incorrect, does not mean that feminists need to cower in fear from their womanly tendencies.
“The Solution is not to reject beauty, but to reject misogyny.”
I thought again of Charlie Looker (who will flit back and forth from engaging in discussion with me to outright ignoring me completely, which leads me to question whether or not he can take me (or women who are not acting like children) seriously) while reading Holland’s conclusion.
“…it is not surprising that mothers loom large in the minds of many misogynists. They have problems relating to women at any other level. Typically, of course, they disguise their opposition to women’s sexual display patronizingly, in terms of ‘protecting them’ against exploitation by wicked chauvinists. (Holland, 285)”
“Mama’s little mixed up man” might benefit from reading Holland’s work, if not enjoy its rich religious and philosophical discussion. That is, if he hasn’t read it already.
Holland, Jack. Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice. Carroll & Graf, August 18, 2006. ISBN-10: 0786718234 ISBN-13: 978-0786718238