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Monday, December 21, 2009

Role of Women

I am afraid this post will (if ever) only be read by women readers. And this is a pity. In fact, I wonder why for so many centuries men could have wished to have a wife at their side which was hardly more than their slave, instead of choosing a friend with whom they could have shared thoughts, experiences, feelings, thus enhancing the meaning of life.
I guess that, in spite of many passages in various religious texts which hardly support such a negative role of women, one just thought of women as lower beings and hence thought that one 'needed' them in order to satisfy practical needs (such as reproduction), but that only men were fit as companions in one's spiritual and intellectual development. That's a pity, since one missed the chance to take advantage of the many women one had around oneself (mother, sisters, wife, daughters…).
Similarly, it is a pity that reflections on the role of women are mostly been undertaken by women alone and read by women alone, so that "gender studies" has become almost a "private club" for women intellectuals. I can't understand why men generally do not feel the challenge of re-thinking their relationships towards women.
(in the photo: the rape of the Sabine women, Florence.)


Sophist said...

Perhaps there is an answer in studying behavior of different primates.

Anyway, "gender studies" is not a fancy subject today, nor is it likely to be when its pupils behave so, hrm, amazonian. It becomes a political subject, i.e. the "the gender-struggle is a part of the class-struggle!" rhetoric. As a political subject it is far more likely to draw women than men, just as Icelandic philology is far more likely to draw Icelanders than foreigners.

Perhaps the university-programs see far more women enroll. That does not mean that "male intellectuals" do not contemplate the relationship between men and women, but in a descriptive and a prescriptive way.

P.S. One male reader.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks sophist for immediately invalidating my prejudice-biased view on male readers.
As for the behaviour of primates, I think it may be at best a precondition and does not fully explain (nor justify) ours. After all, we wear pijamas while sleeping and do many weird things primates would never dream about.
As for Icelandic philology, that's exactly the point: I would study Iceland-related subjects if I were in love with an Icelander (or had an Icelander as son/father/brother).

adiere said...

One more...

sujanasi said...

And what about Yajnavalkya speaking with Maitreyi and Gargi Vacaknavi?

elisa freschi said...

Thanks Adrian! And thank you, Sujanasi (without you I would have thought that only men had read the post). I am not an expert on Upaniṣads (hence I invite you to add your views, please). The dialogues you hint at seem, anyway, quite interesting. The relationship is not on the same level (the wives *question* Yājñavalkya, who is the only one who knows the truth). Moreover, one wonders whether dialogue was at that point thought as essential for a genuine philosophical undertaking (as I argued in a recent post, or not. If the former, than Y's wives are genuinely part of his search. If on the other hand, wisdom is acquired through lonely meditation on the brahman, then they are less relevant. Whatever the case, Y is willing to speak overtly to them, thus showing that he considers them as worthy companions (even if at the present point on a lower level of spiritual development).

sujanasi said...

Gargi Vacaknavi was not Y's wife. She was a wise woman, speaking to Y along with other wise men. But it was not a dialog in socratic sence. Y was shurely the wisest and for him a contest was just a means to express the own wisdom, probably acquired due to internalised (mental) rituals.
This shows however that some women in Ancient India were acknowledged to have enough intellect))

VS said...

Elisa, I have a slightly different view. For one, I wouldn't have expected such a generalization from you. People (men and women included) always look for a friend in their partner (at least this is what I feel).

The dominant person in human society always has a tendency to subjugate the weaker ones. This would include not only women but other weaker men. You would see where women become powerful because of their intellectual power, they tend to dominate over other women and men. I think it reflects more on our general social relationships than gender equations.

Unless we start treating other human beings as equals, we cannot expect gender equations to be fair.

elisa freschi said...

Dear VS,
1. you are right, I have been over-generalising. I appreciate the fact that you look for a friend in your partner and agree with that, but I would not say that this is the general rule. I would even dare to say that the opposite has been the rule for centuries (which does not mean that there have not been important exceptions).
2. yes, unequal relationships can also occur when a woman dominates over a man/a woman. The only difference lies in the fact that this latter case rarely entails a physical subjugation.
3. more in general, I agree with what seems to be your conclusion, that is, that a more equal society demands that we see other human beings as human beings. One could argue, however, that differences have to be taken into account. Which role does gender play?

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