Friday, March 31, 2017
How did such servitude ever begin? Why were men so bound and determined to keep women tied to Kinder, Küche, Kirche?
Every man knew that his wife was his equal and then some; and if he couldn’t see for himself, all he had to do was to read about the doings of Lady Macbeth, Volumnia, Tamora, Margaret, Goneril, Regan, and Dionyza who ran circles around the men in their lives, defied the traditions of society and culture with ease, and did what it took to achieve their ambitious ends. Wives could be sent out into the world of business and commerce and lighten a man's load, make for easier sailing as well as a comfortable port.
Ah, yes, sexual infidelity. That was what kept men rowing in the trireme, dying in endless, meaningless battles, suffering at the hands of their courtly betters or slumping over into a ditch after years of toil at the hands of their feudal overlords. Women could not be trusted. A child would always be indisputably theirs, but who could say about the father? And what man would work for another’s offspring?
Whatever prompted men to look at life so narrowly and ignorantly is still a mystery. A boy raised from birth in a man’s family is his son regardless of paternity – just as good in the fields, on the pitch, or even in princely courts.
More than likely this congenital weakness was caused by jealousy, another hardwired attribute of human nature to keep families intact and society running smoothly. Men had to be jealous of their wives to keep them from straying.
Male jealousy, however, takes a far more insidious and dangerous form than simple social control. The whole idea of some stranger being inside a man’s wife was simply unthinkable. All measures had to be taken to prevent this violation of, well, purity – hers and his.
Men could have easily gotten over that indelicacy if they had stopped to think. They saw nothing untoward about their being inside a strange woman, even and especially another man’s wife, so why the fol-de-rol about illicit intercourse? Get over the thing about paternity, sexual jealousy, and vain assumptions about male superiority, and the road to male liberation would be clear.
Most men simply could not get over it; and were not only willing to die in their traces after years of plowing rocky, infertile soil, but to put up with wives who, deprived of natural outlets of expression, turned mean and took it out on them. Women over years of servitude and without the will and determination of Elizabethan queens and princesses, had become particularly adept at taking their pound of flesh for any male indiscretion or dereliction – or simply because their husbands offended.
So keeping women in their place was double indemnity. Men were both consigned to rowing the slave ship and during their few hours above-decks, bloodied by the thousand cuts of resentful wives.
Things had to change, and by the Sixties in America, women began to have their day. The Pill allowed them a guiltless, reproduction-free sexual liberation they never before enjoyed; the economy welcomed a wave of new, motivated, intelligent workers; and young men enjoyed the perks of female sensuality.
Yet here we are in the still early years of the 21st century and women are still struggling for equality. They may have achieved a certain professional success – there are more women enrolled in medical and law school than men; and they are taking their places in increasing numbers at the highest levels of academia, Wall Street, industry, and commerce – but they still suffer from residual patriarchy. Men still haven’t learned how to treat women with respect, women say, to listen to their needs, and to bear with them while they balance marriage, work, and family.
To complicate matters further, millennial women are not that far removed from the influence of Daddy. Even D.H.Lawrence’s incredibly strong and independent Ursula and Gudrun (Women in Love) struggle with issues of dependency begun in childhood. Ursula, as Lawrence explains in The Rainbow, the story of the women’s early years, was desperately attached to her father, put up with his abuse and indifference, but dependent on his quixotic but passionate love for her, could only achieve distance and autonomy with a struggle.
Both women feel they need men, but are unsatisfied with any of them. The entire story of these women is not one of love, but love sought – a love which could only be the result of the exhausting struggle of wills between them and their partners.
There most certainly will come a time when families are no longer nuclear, heterosexual, or patriarchal. The bindings of a traditional society will be finally loosened and discarded as it evolves into a virtual one. Men and women will find each other in virtual space, will be confined by no tradition, mores, ethics, or morality, and sexual intercourse will never be more free.
Until that time, however, sexual dynamics will continue to be rattling and noisy. Men and women are still struggling for some kind of purchase in a changing sexual landscape. Women feel empowered, aggressive, and determined; and men are all the more resentful and hostile. It is not a happy period.
Savvy men, on the other hand, know how to game the system, play the odds, and use women’s own ambitions to their advantage. A woman working ten hours a day seven days a week is a woman out of a man’s hair. The opportunities for infidelity are innumerable. He no longer has to invent excuses about ‘staying late at the office’ because his wife actually is. He can enjoy his cinq-a-septs with impunity and take advantage of his spouse’s professional conferences to be on his own.
He has to be increasingly patient, of course, and listen particularly attentively to the stories he has heard a million times in his male-dominated offices – the abusive, retentive, Senior Vice President; the ambitious subordinate who is spreading rumor and innuendo; the ignorant but stubborn client.
With two high-income earners in the family, they can afford a nanny which provides additional cover for the savvy husband. His duties with his children can be as desultory or engaged as he wants. He need not shop, cook, or change diapers.
In such marriages there is little time for vacations; and so much the better for the savvy man who has little need for them. He no longer works for a competitive K Street law firm, but for the federal government. Less pay, but far easier hours and much lower expectations. His ambitious wife more than compensates for his new accommodations.
There are, of course, millions of marriages locked in and stuck in place. When both husband and wife work two jobs, when their parents alternate caring for the children, sexual independence is a pipe dream. Feminism in the rural South or Midwest means only that a woman can work, work hard, and work long.
For those in the higher echelons, feminism has given women the opportunity for more productive, remunerative, and satisfying work; and given men the freedom to let up on the accelerator, enjoy their independence, and do pretty much as they please. Nothing could be more mutually agreeable.
Young women activists still march, demonstrate, and protest for more equality, rights, and privilege; but they are pretty well set, all things considered. Men are not the hormone-addled predators they make them out to be, nor are they total dunces when it comes to a woman’s needs; but it feels right and just to push back until all victories have been won.
As savvy male college students know, female sexual behavior remains unchanged, hardwired attribute of human nature as it is. After all these millennia of evolution, women still want the same things from a sexual relationship as ever. They might be more demanding and insistent, but they haven’t changed much. Their desires are now mediated in a more understanding and tolerant environment, but sex, sexual desire, sexual attraction, and sexual satisfaction go on as they always have.
Savvy male students get the gist of this new social context quickly and easily and act accordingly. They know precisely when and how to approach women, what to say, and how to act. They overlay the new socio-sexual template over sexual desire and take it from there.
It seems, then, that except for the still irritated and exercised few, women are happy with their new lot in life. It is more they could have ever expected. They are losing the last vestiges of patriarchy and happily independent from male domination. In exchange they look the other way at male indiscretion. They were never high on men in the first place, knowing them for the wandering tomcats they have always been; but are confident that with their new status and privilege, they can easily manage them.
Savvy men are just as happy. After a rough beginning – the early days of feminism in the Sixties were a bit unsettling– things have settled out nicely. The war between the sexes has lessened to a series of minor skirmishes, but they are easily avoided thanks to bi-spousal independence.
The rest of the population – men who are still clueless and women still struggling to figure out the new rules of the sexual marketplace – is having a bit of a slog; but this too will change. Social sexual evolution takes time.
Depression is an illness, an affliction, and a serious public health concern; and fortunately there is now a pharmacopeia of drugs to treat it.
Yet there are those who find the world itself depressing. How can it be otherwise when it is entirely predictable, repetitious, and groaningly similar from one year to the next? Isn’t this reaction the most intelligently conceived and the most spiritually promising?
Traditional Hindus have always believed that the world is no more than illusion (maya), a deceptively alluring place but one which offers nothing but disappointment and perpetual rebirth.
The Devil speaks in The Brothers Karamazov (The Devil – Ivan’s Nightmare) about his indispensability. The world is already a far too serious a place and would be intolerable without him.
We understand that comedy; I, for instance, simply ask for annihilation. No, live, I am told, for there'd be nothing without you. If everything in the universe were sensible, nothing would happen. There would be no events without you, and there must be events. So against the grain I serve to produce events and do what's irrational because I am commanded to. For all their indisputable intelligence, men take this farce as something serious, and that is their tragedy.The devil is the vaudevillian who adds spice and hot pepper, who gets into mischief, who upsets the applecart, and who makes life worth living. Without him, life would be worse than solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. It would be tedious, dull, and depressing.
Nietzsche wrote in Thus Spake Zarathustra:
No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.
The man who understands the tedium of the herd and its directionless, purposeless trampling can only go mad.
Tolstoy’s Konstantin Levin (Anna Karenina) found it utterly depressing that God had created man with intelligence, creativity, insight, compassion, energy, and wit; allowed him to live for a few short decades; and then consigned him for eternity in the cold, hard ground of the steppes.
Existentialists have tried to give some hope to such nihilists. The world may be meaningless, Sartre said, but that is no reason to acquiesce. Acting, and acting responsibly can give at least some moral momentum to an otherwise depressing life.
Psychologists have also understood the fundamentally depressing nature of a world created with no particular purpose, leading nowhere in particular, and with no special rewards. Freud’s id, ego, and superego constructs were important attempts to give coherence to the individual. While he might not have directly confronted existential angst, his theories of individual dynamism – the continual struggle among the primitive, the practical, and the moral – validated personal existence.
Carl Jung and his theory of Archetypal Images added a new dimension to the question of individual worth and meaning. We are all products of the past, he said; or better, the past and the present are one. Archetypal Images, recurring predictably over time, unify humanity and give it a moral reality that supersedes that of any particular generation.
We are not lost, said Jung, but an essential part of something.
Priests and pastors have understood that the combination of existential hopelessness and the incessancy of brutish everyday life can be depressing; and have offered the hope of salvation and eternity to their congregations.
The trend today is to medicalize normal but disturbing responses to environmental pressures. Children are diagnosed with ADHD but the underlying causes of their hyperactivity may well be parental indiscipline, emotional confusion in a complex world, poorly-explained; and a society which is less concerned with moral order than it is with self-image.
Drug and alcohol addiction are more a result of chemical imbalances, genetic predisposition, and some neurological wiring. While much of this may be true, such clinical explanations deny the role of will, discipline, rectitude, and upbringing. Perhaps as importantly, they may ignore individuals’ logical response to the world itself. Hard to take at times if not most of the time.
How many of the 322 million people worldwide suffering from depression are not simply chemically disturbed but overly responsive to the concerns of Konstantin Levin, Ivan Karamazov, Freud, Jung, and Sartre?
Nietzsche’s comment about madness in response to a meaningless world may understate the problem. King Lear on the heath says to Edgar:
Why, thou wert better in thy grave than to answer with thy uncovered body this extremity of the skies. Is man no more than this? Consider him well. Thou owest the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume. Ha! here’s three on ’s are sophisticated; thou art the thing itself; unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art. Off, off, you lendings! Come; unbutton here.
There are many things that are not supposed to happen in one’s life. No one should be bullied or question one’s self-worth. No one should be marginalized on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity; and most of all, no one should be depressed. Thanks to psychoactive drugs, no one needs to be.
Yet isn’t ‘logical’ depression important for understanding? Isn’t it an emotional response to an intellectual problem? It is not enough to conclude on the basis of philosophical reasoning that the world is purposeless and without meaning. One must feel the angst of this realization.
Yet why suffer anything? Why is existential pain any different from any other? Drugs can relieve the pain.
Peter Kramer wrote in Listening to Prozac (1993) that he wondered whether the drug freed the real person or created a new one. Most depressed patients did not care as long as they felt better; but Kramer raised an important related issue. Were we drugging our way out of facing existential dilemmas?
What’s the point of facing such dilemmas many say? If life is as meaningless as supposed, than a happy, feel-good life, however ignorant, is certainly better than one obsessed with meaning.
On the contrary, there are few people who do not reflect on their mortality, immortality, worth, and legacy before they die. Understanding is certainly a function of preparing for death. “Too soon old, too late schmart” may be an overused punch line, but it is hard to ignore.
Anyone seriously considering life’s prospects and the imminence of death cannot help but be depressed; and bouts of logical depression throughout one’s lifetime are not only common, but necessary. The combination of emotional and intellectual responses to existential questions is essential.
Posted by Ron Parlato at 6:08 AM