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There's nothing fair in love and war

G'day. Roslyn Ross has recently come on board as a regular Webdiarist with a penchant for the difficult social ethical issues. It was only a matter of time before Roslyn would present her views on male-female relations in the World, I daresay the mother of all social issues. Her last contribution was There's meaning in why we are "meaner". Hamish Alcorn.

by Roslyn Ross

It is thirty years since the United Nations designated March 8 as International Women’s Day and it may well be 30,000 years, if ever, since women have lived free of the weight of patriarchy.

The ‘war’ of the sexes remains a reality in most of the world and there’s nothing ‘fair’ about it.

Increasingly, International Women’s Day, which was celebrated last month, has become an occasion to reflect on progress made, a time to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played extraordinary roles in the history of women’s rights.

I would say that applies to every woman born into the age of patriarchy for it is only women who have been called to ‘fight’ in the most dreadful ‘war’ of all; a war waged not against some unknown invader or tyrant, but against an ‘enemy’ known intimately and loved deeply... Father, brother, lover, husband and son.

No man has ever faced such an ‘enemy’ or been called to question his own right to survival in the face of such deep needs and such desperate love.

There’s no denying we have come a long way but there is also no denying that even in the developed world we have a long way yet to go and in the rest of the world, things have barely begun in terms of equal rights for women.

From the brutal to the ‘banal’ it is still women who are the losers in today’s version of a man’s world. It is women who are on the receiving end of most of the violence committed in the world if only because this world is still a patriarchal one across varying degrees of a spectrum, with most of it, the developing world, still solidly mired in sexist if not misogynistic beliefs.

That’s why most of the world’s women are still ‘kept in line’ through physical violence which ranges from regular beatings to acid thrown in the face and why the most appalling human rights abuses still abound. A world where women are considered to be not just inferior, but often ‘evil’, is a world where you will find rape, female genital mutilation, sex trafficking, forced prostitution, forced marriage, bride burning, bride-selling and female foeticide. One could argue it is also why, in an act of pure barbarism, women prisoners in the United States who go into labour are forced to remain with their legs shackled until the actual moment of birth. An ex-convict challenges shackling women in labor.

Cruelty and injustices against women abound even today and one of the worst of these is female genital mutilation, which goes under the euphemism of female circumcision. It stands as one of the worst injustices because it is inflicted on children and even babies, and therefore rates an expanded ‘mention,’ in honour of the women, at least those who live, who will celebrate International Women’s Day in the future.

Some 135 million of the world’s girls and women have undergone this cruel and primitive practice and two million girls a year are at risk of mutiliation... About 6,000 per day. This ‘amputation’ of the feminine is practised extensively in Africa and is common in some Middle Eastern countries. It is common elsewhere in the world in immigrant communities and it has been reported in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Holland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

While some of these mutilations are carried out in countries like Australia by doctors who ‘operate’ illegally, in most cases traditional practitioners are brought into the country or girls are sent abroad, to the ‘land’ of rusty knives and thorn needles to have their ‘womanhood’ removed to they can become cleansed females, acceptable to the community. Not surprisingly, studies show that the shock and suffering involved for little girls, those that do not die anyway, and the ongoing agony and trauma they experience, tends to make them more ‘docile’ and ‘obedient’ in the way that women are ‘meant to be’ in patriarchal societies.

By the way, February 6 was Female Genital Mutilation Zero Tolerance Day, not that many people would have noticed other than those involved in groups like Global Women Intact which aims to end female ‘circumcision’. The group, which believes that education not condemnation is the key to stopping this practice, was set up by the Liberian comedian, Sia Amma, who was circumcised at the age of nine. www.celebrateclitoris.com

Amma has survived through humour and gives performances around the world to raise greater awareness of the issue. She arrives onstage with a basket in one hand and a straw brush in the other saying: “Excuse me, I’m looking for my clitoris. Do any of you have it? Have you seen it over there?

In this ‘joke’ there is more than a grain of truth because she believes she has literally lost what she calls ‘the seat of power for women.’ She says she did not fully understand what had happened to her until years later and living in America, she tuned in to Oprah one day and saw a man waving his hand over a diagram of a vagina.

That’s when she realised her ‘hygienic’ circumcision, that which was meant to make her ‘clean’, had in fact been mutilation and that she had lost more than she had ever known or would ever be able to know. That’s when she understood that the bomoe (tribal circumcision) had been based on a lie and that her clitoris, if it had survived, would not have ‘grown so long she would have been unable to walk.’

She makes the point that when African women are educated from birth to believe the clitoris is dirty, they cannot be expected to stop performing clitoridectomies overnight. That’s why she works to educate and inform, not just the women who will suffer, or who have suffered in this way, but anyone and everyone who might join her campaign against the practice by improving education rates for women around the world.

At this point in time two-thirds of the world’s 799 million illiterate adults aged fifteen and over are women. There are some 67 countries which have school attendance and enrolment rates for girls at less than 85 percent. Illiteracy limits them for a lifetime, with negative impact on their children and their society.

But even in a world which seems ‘banal’ by comparison it is still women who make up the biggest numbers of the oppressed, suppressed and exploited. The worst of it is of course in the developing world but the rest of it, which can hardly be classified as ‘best’ can be found in the developed world and that includes right here in ‘fair go’ Australia.

Working women earn as little as 30 percent of male earnings in developing countries but even in Europe women only earn 73 percent of what men earn. It’s even less in Australia where women on average earn only 67 percent of what men do.

Women also make up most of the world’s poor and are the hardest hid by the erosion of public services through globalisation. Women are over-represented in low-paid, part-time, casual, temporary and informal work.

Despite how far we may have think we have come for the majority of women in the world it is a different story. More than 20 percent of the world’s women live on less than $1US a day; women aged over 65 are half as likely as men to receive income from pensions; they mostly occupy positions in paid work with little or no authority; they do most of the unpaid domestic and caring work in the world economy and despite the fact that more than half of working age women are in the paid labour force, barriers to equality remain

Even in America, the nation that likes to see itself as a ‘leader’ in all things, the most recent figures (2005) show that women who worked full-time had median earnings of $588 per week, or 80.4 percent of the wage earned by men. Age also makes a difference with this disparity increasing as women age, reaching up to 20 percent less for women between 55-64.

The glass ceiling it seems is still pretty tight around the world and that includes Australia where women occupy only 3.2 percent of senior executive positions.

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, women here hold over half the casual jobs and over 70 percent of part-time jobs in Australia. Two thirds of working women in this country are also denied any paid maternity leave. Women are twice as likely to be low-paid in this country as men are with 45 percent of them, compared to 22 percent of men, earning less than $500 a week.

Even in those industries which are female dominated women lose out. In retail women earn 85 percent of what their male counterparts get; in finance and insurance they get 56 percent of what the fellas do; in education, often seen as female dominated, the ‘girls’ still lose out to the ‘boys’ earning just 81 percent and in health and community services it is even less at 76 percent of what a man will earn. So much for equality!

Such disparity clearly ‘says’ that the work of a woman is inferior to that of a man despite the fact that they have had the same standard of education and presumably are gaining the same sort of experience in the field.

It smacks of the Moslem belief that the ‘testimony’ of two women is equal to that of one man. We know the sort of beliefs inherent in that religion which bring this about but WHY is it, in this day and age, in the developed world that we also have such inequality and, more to the point, why do we ALLOW it?

Feminism has become something of a dirty word, in the same way that unions has and yet each of these forces for change have improved our lives immeasurably, despite being hijacked by extremists in some instances. They remain valuable defenders of rights won, and future fighters for rights still to be secured and those which we do not even know we will need.

Gender bias diminishes women’s rights in other areas. Practices such as early marriage or poor health services, result in high rates of maternal mortality. Last year some 529,000 women died giving birth; 99 percent of them in developing countries. For each birth-related death there were another thirty women who were injured or disabled. Without a mother, or with a disabled one, a child’s chances of survival and ongoing health are greatly diminished. The wheel continues to turn in an unforgiving cycle.

Opening the 50th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, UN Deputy-Secretary General, Louise Frechette, said that the international community was finally comprehending that empowering women and girls around the globe was the most effective tool for a country’s development.

Studies have repeatedly shown, she said, that by giving women equal education and work opportunities and access to a society’s decision-making processes, a country can boost its economic productivity, reduce infant and maternal mortality rates and improve the general populations’s nutrition and health.

I would add that no society, no matter how developed it may be, cannot be fully functional until women have equal wage rights. Because until they do the society is based upon a belief that work done by men is superior to work done by women, and by extension, that women are inferior to men. The wage disparity is clear proof we have not put paid to the patriarchal lie that women are less capable than men.

Nor can a society be psychologically and emotionally healthy until it recognizes that raising children and educating children are the most important jobs of all. The very fact of being female limits women in the workforce only because society values money more than mothering. Our children are our future and yet we penalise women for having them and pay those who teach them what amounts to ‘peanuts’ by comparison with salaries in other fields.

As the joke goes, women get their one Day of the year because every day is Men’s Day in a patriarchal world. Which in some ways it is, but not in another, because sexism and its changeling, misogyny, ensure that men lose far more than they might think they gain in a world where they are a dominant power.

We already know that the greater freedom and equality a woman has then the better the society functions. Education is often the first benefit that women receive when they are recognised as equals and that translates into fewer babies, better health, improved diet and increased incomes for families. Everyone wins in a world where females get the same opportunities and benefits as males.

Nobody wins in this ‘war of the sexes’ that has been handed down through millennia and while battles have been won in recent centuries, the war is far from won even here in the developed world.

Even as we continue to fight for true equality in our privileged society we should spare a thought for those women who can only dream of what we have.

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Excuse me?

Paul, you provide quotes from the Bible that expect a wife to ‘submit’ to her husband, but claim these quotes are not about domination.

Excuse me? I disagree – these quotes are ALL about domination. They are also preaching a double standard – are only husbands obliged to ‘love’ and ‘respect’ their wives (which is exercising freedom of choice), while wives must ‘submit’ to their husbands (giving wives no freedom of choice).

Relationships based on domination do not preclude affection. It’s more than possible to love those you dominate – whether the relationship is that of master/slave, husband/wife, parent/child, owner/beast of burden.

I suggest you reread this quote from Roslyn’s essay:

... it is only women who have been called to ‘fight’ in the most dreadful ‘war’ of all; a war waged not against some unknown invader or tyrant, but against an ‘enemy’ known intimately and loved deeply... Father, brother, lover, husband and son. No man has ever faced such an ‘enemy’ or been called to question his own right to survival in the face of such deep needs and such desperate love.

I have known many, many men who love their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters – sincerely and deeply – but still do not consider women their social equal. Perhaps the saddest legacy of patriarchal systems is that it breeds this terrible contradiction.


As regards 'the Moslem belief that the "testimony" of two women is equal to that of one man', which Ms Ross characterises as 'the sort of beliefs inherent in that religion which bring this about':

This evidentiary prescription can indeed be found in the Qur'an. It was aimed at better administration of justice rather than subjugation of women. Women at the time were not educated.

Prior to Islam's inception, women in that region (and other societies too..) were just chattels. Although with the benefit of hindsight we can say that the Qur'an, literally interpreted, leaves much to be desired in terms of women's rights, its original role in this respect was a reforming one. Unfortunately, limited rights is an improvement on no rights and degradation.

Sexual inequality is no more 'inherent' to Islam than it is to Christianity. Inherent to both of these, like all religions, is love.

Just wanted to address this as Ms Ross raises many other important issues. FGM is an abomination - but to attribute it to a religion is a mistake.

The prophet's wife

Clare, while not denying that the age of patriarchy was well entrenched by the time of the Prophet, women were clearly not the chattels that you perceive for for which Islam was a benefit, because the Prophet's first wife was not only an independent woman, she was a successful businesswoman and quite some years older than him. Islam as it has developed through patriachal and misogynistic attitudes has brought about limited freedom for women, not an increase.

Much of the Qu'ran was written as reflective of the times and its founder's role as head of a tribal community.

Love may well be inherent to Islam, like all other religions, but, like all other religions it is well buried beneath a cruel and power-hungry weight of patriarchy and hatred of the feminine.

Cultural underclass

Fiona: Should we also discount studies on women’s worldwide poverty for being ‘unoriginal’? Or reports on rape and domestic violence? Each of these issues has been around ‘for a while’ too.

Of course feminist academics have been writing about the Hollywood and beauty myths 'for some time now'. Most forms of modern feminist writing are part of a literary tradition going back at least to Mary Wollstencraft. Even Paglia and Wolfe’s treatment of the fashion and beauty myths are hardly original, having been presented by, among others, Simone de Beauvoir in the 1940s and by nineteenth century feminists who tried to raise public awareness of the need for women’s clothing reform.

The trouble is that, except for the occasional book review, these cultural feminist writings rarely enter or remain in mainstream discourse, possibly because they are less 'worthy' issues than gender violence and women's poverty. Instead, they end up being cloistered away in university gender studies courses and the shelves of feminist bookshops (that is, the few that are left), and out of the reach of ordinary women.

In terms of any feminist analysis of Hollywood and worldwide cinema, the issue is given almost no mainstream discussion at all, unless you count the occasional silly article about the latest kickboxing film heroine being 'proof' that women are now the cinema equals of men. Considering the ubiquitous influence of cinema on world culture, both feminist academics and journalists (with the notable exception of Susan Faludi) have failed to provide any decent analysis of how the industry’s inner politics continues to entrench women filmmakers as a minority of less than 5 per cent, and women in general as a cultural underclass.

not all backwards

Roslyn, do you really think things could go backwards?

When I was in primary school (and high school) we had to wear these cutesy dresses no matter what the weather or impracticality and the same went for many non-school things too.

That was just an example but when you talk about things maybe going backwards – will things like girls and women having to do this ever return? I hope it and the other old ways stay gone.

Not taking anything for granted

Ashley, I guess I just do not believe in taking anything for granted. I do not think it is likely that things will go backward but I do think it is possible. More to the point, there is more work to be done.

What we wear or do not wear is not so much the issue as what women are paid compared to men and how well represented they are at the levels of power.

Women and inequality

Hi Roslyn, I followed all this with considerable interest and agree with you that the situation faced by many women in the world is abysmal to say the least, particularly in the developing world. The road to change will be a long one in those countries as many are struggling to simply feed themselves as well as battle the aids epidemic and survive the ethnic wars.  I despair for Africa but there is hope for Indian women I think as that nation develops. Education is the key, but education on an empty stomach is meaningless.

We do see many many evils in the world affecting women, such as trading in young girls for prostitution. But we also see very young boys enslaved as well, some at least in prostitution also. Witness the kids (boys and girls) cracking rocks for 12 hours a day to build roads, paid a pittance; and the tiny boys sold or abducted to be camel jockeys. Child slavery in any form is abhorrent but it is by no means confined to little girls. This is a global social issue.

I am curious as to the statistics you give regarding  the discrepancies of pay for women in Australia and you mention health, insurance, finance, education. Can you give me some examples as I thought female teachers, nurses, insurance agents and so on got equal pay with their male counterparts. And what about in the lower paid jobs? Do you know if male check out staff get more than female check out staff in the supermarkets?

I do not think it matters necessarily, or is significant, if women are seen to occupy many of the low paid jobs. It is whether they have a choice that matters, and whether their rights are protected, which they are often not and the new laws will make that worse. But many women I am sure are suited to jobs say in the textile industry and there they predominate and which are low paid.  Young men are more often seen lugging the heavy boxes to refill the supermarket shelves, which women would not want to do if they wanted to avoid certain physical risks, and I am sure they are low paid as well. Some tasks women are just naturally skilled at for whatever reason, as men are too in various others. It should be just a case of fair pay for a fair day's work. and not all work has equal value in terms of what is required of the worker, and that is important. Generalisations are risky as there are so many variables. 

I think in many cases women have more choices. There is nothing really that stops a woman becoming a slaughterwoman, a backhoe operator, a road worker, but I know of few who have chosen that work, as so it falls to the men to do it.  We women do I think prefer men to do a lot of the dirty, unpleasant and heavy work that has to be done if society is to function.  While women demonstrated during the war, and still demonstrate particularly in the rural industries, that they can do the jobs men do, most I know would prefer not to.have to. This is not to say that I do not agree with you that in many trades and professions women are actively excluded in subtle ways. They are but I do not think it is quite as bad as you suggest.

I see in our western society injustices not only to women, who I agree suffer the most, but to men also. I think particularly of the matter of mens' rights in regard to children when relationships break down. How strongly women argue in the courts, and usually win, that they are better equipped to raise their children, relying on no more than their traditional role in society. They then go on to limit the father's access as much as they can, or worse predicate it on the cheque book. I've seen a lot of that and I've seen many children suffer terribly as a result.   A fair society should be fair to all. We should right the balance sheet in all areas of discrimination. But witness how women opposed the new family laws that would give men greater access rights. We cannot have it both ways.

Physical violence is terrrible, whether inflicted on man, woman, child or animal and can never be justified. But we cannot talk of physical violence without also looking at emotional and mental violence. The former leaves a battered body, and the latter, much harder to prove, leaves a battered mind. I have seen a lot of mental violence inflicted by my sex on men and I believe a lot of women actively engage in it knowing it cannot be easily proven. Cruelty does not need a fist to back it up.

There was some mention of religion in the comments, in the negative sense. I am a rather laid back Christian, but the code for life it gave me has allowed me to go through life knowing right from wrong, and given me the tools to empathise with my fellow human beings in their suffering and to do what I can to make their lives better. Recently I was able with my sister to get one homeless person out from under a bridge where she had lived for years into affordable accommodation. She was mentally unwell, a victim of our society's inability to treat the mentally ill humanely. I believe the essential principles of Christianity properly and wisely practised, and I mean properly and wisely practised, can lead to a better society for both women and men. It should lead to justice for all.

These are just some thoughts, but on most of what you say I totally agree.  Cheers.

stick with God and stay away from religion

Jenny, I agree with you that a full stomach is important but the reality is that India does not have starving millions any more and has not had for a decade. What it does have is illiteracy. This is partly because it is not a priority. India spends billions on its military and a space programme of all things, but illiteracy rates remain abysmal.

The southern State of Kerala, where literacy is high and particularly high amongst women shows how much life improves for everyone when women are educated.

I also agree with you in regard to child slavery but this article was written about women in the particular.

The statistics I used came from trade union sites. I have been offline and busy and have not had a chance to look them up but can do so. It is probably just as fast for you to do a search yourself.

I also agree with your comments in regards to men's rights as parents but this is part of my point made about patriarchal attitudes, that it is destructive for men as well as women.

And ditto in terms of violence in a relationship. I believe any woman who remains in a violent relationship is a part of that violence and must take responsibility for what happens. I believe in true equality. Nothing happens in a vacuum. I remember watching one set of friends where violence became a minor issue and thinking that I would have been hard put not to respond to violence myself if I had been in his place. I have also met women who believe that it is okay for a woman to hit a man but not for a man to hit a woman. I grew up with two brothers and learned at a very young age that if you hit someone they hit you back. Or at least they might hit you back.

You said: "I believe the essential principles of Christianity properly and wisely practised, and I mean properly and wisely practised, can lead to a better society for both women and men. It should lead to justice for all."

Well, some of the least Christian people I have met are Christians and some of the most 'Christian' are atheists. I think these values are about compassion and respect and while they may be a part of Christianity, or any religion, they are not religious values per se: They are the values of enlightened humanity.

I will say though, having explored Christianity and numerous other religions in my youth, and then finding myself living in India for four years I found that the advice when faced with suffering: Ask yourself what Jesus would do, was next to useless.

Jesus had 'contacts' which we mere mortals do not. In India we walked past, and sometimes over, the emaciated bodies of people; around starving dogs and brutalised children. The suffering there was so immense that one could do little if nothing.

In one instance we saw a naked body lying under hessian, beneath an overpass, for three days in a row... and finally called various medical agencies to ask for help for him, saying we would pay. We got an embarrassed response and no doctor would go out.

We thought about picking him up and taking him home but our driver would have no part of it. He simply refused to touch him or have him in the car. Finally the 'body' disappeared. That was one of a number.

I came away knowing that often we are helpless.

These days I stick with God and stay away from religion.

These are just some thoughts, but on most of what you say I totally agree. Cheers.

The Total Failure Of Christianity

Jenny, I am making no judgement on your personal experience. It has obviously stood you in good stead.

However, I have to take issue on your optimistic comment "I believe the essential principles of Christianity properly and wisely practised, and I mean properly and wisely practised, can lead to a better society for both women and men. It should lead to justice for all". It is demonstrably not so.

You make the disclaimer, "properly and wisely practised" and immediately questions spring to mind. Are you in possession of unique  knowledge as to how Christianity should be practised? Are all the Christian churches wrong in how they have been encouraging and leading such practice? Why after 2000 years of Christian practice is the world still as dangerous and brutal a place as it was before?  Surely all the applied Christianity has had plenty of time to prove its efficacy and improve the lot of women (and all other disadvantaged and brutalised segments of society).

How do you reconcile your sentiments with what is plainly around you, everywhere?

Is Christianity really a total failure?

Roger: Sorry, my reply has gone to cyberspace it seems and now I  have some more pressing matters on my mind so I really can't do this justice right now.

But no, I do not have any unique knowledge on anything really but I don't think we have to look far to see how Christianity should not have been, and should not be practised. And applying a bit of wisdom (as defined in the OED) in that practice is something all the churches/clergy would do well to think about in this day and age. If they did they might see that excluding women from the priesthood and homosexuals from the congregation contradicts everything Christ was about. Frankly I have little time for church bureaucracy, or for debate over dogma and theology for that matter. The essential teachings of Christ as set out in the New Testament are quite simple. One does not need a degree in theology to understand them. In any case I see them just as a guide as to how to lead a good Christian life.

While it cerainly has its shortcomings, I cannot agree Roger that Christianity has failed totally. It has survived for 2000 years and there are millions of people around the world living by its basic tenets in their daily lives, with countless numbers putting their beliefs into action to help others to have a better life. For example the Christian Blind Mission giving sight back to children in the third world.

That is not to say non Christians do not do this sort of work also, of course they do, but many are doing it because they are Christians.

You asked me how do I reconcile my sentiments with what I see all around me? Well I do not think the violence we see around us in whatever form is evidence of the failure of Christianity. It is a failure of men and women, some of them indeed claiming themselves to be Christians, which fact does not bear scrutiny.

But surely Roger, all the Christians out there doing so much to better the lives of others does mean something. 

Do you think the world would be a more peaceful, less violent place if Christianity had been long consigned to the history books and was no longer practised in any form in the world today? 

Maybe we can pursue this another time, I really need to sign off WD for a while. Cheers anyway.

Ouch !!!!

I’m not going to comment on this female mutilation thing except agree that this practice is dangerous and completely unnecessary. Of course being a male I can identify with genital mutilation; having on my arrival to this planet met a wonderful young man who assisted my mum in giving birth to yours truly. This wonderful and respected young man wore a lovely clean white coat; however a couple of days later I met “white coat” again, and the bastard cut the end of my dick off!

We lads and lassies do share a lot of common ground; maybe we have to learn to share a little bit better. Just talking about it is a good place to start, so thanks Roslyn for your contribution.

Learning to share

Phil, I agree with you that learning to share is good.

I also commiserate with you on your loss. Circumcision is barbaric and rightly seen as such in this day and age. When my son was born 34 years ago I refused to have it done, particularly after my doctor told me he would be less sensitive, and certainly not for the reasons many gave for getting it done, that 'he would not be like his father.' He has survived that 'trauma' remarkably well.

Interestingly, what I found at the time and over the years was that women were often the ones who insisted on it. Unconscious revenge perhaps. Who knows I am merely glad that it has come to be seen for the cruelty that it is.

It is now most commonly done in the name of religion. As if any God worth having would want a baby to suffer in this way, or wish for men to be less than they might be.  

FGM mysogyny whoever the perpetrator

Stuart: "If FGM is perpetrated  by women on women yes, it is still a form of misogyny."

Misogyny is a strong hatred of or prejudice against women and, in the way that hostages quickly 'identify' with their 'captors' so women become a part of the system, and have done so for a few thousand years, learning to hate the feminine (albeit unconsciously perhaps) and themselves by extension.

FGM - Who are the Perpetrators?

Roslyn, if FGM is perpetrated and perpetuated by women on women, is this still a form of misogyny?

What happens when women are in control?

And I don’t mean Margaret Thatcher. I agree with Malcolm that all of us exist somewhere on an unbroken continuum, but I don’t think I’m telling anyone something they don’t know when I say that little boys are way more likely to resolve conflict with violence than little girls. Little Maggie, I’m sure, would have been swinging away with the fellas.

There are very few known examples of civilisations or societies where females have had the upper hand. The Minangkabau women in Indonesia at least had some of the odds stacked in their favour.

According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minangkabau the Minangs:

"... are the world's largest matrilineal society, in which properties such as land and houses are inherited through female lineage."

The men still control politics, but the inherent advantages that property confers evens up the score.

And what are the consequences?

"Due to their culture that stresses the importance of learning, Minang people are over-represented in the all walks of live in Indonesia, with many ministers from Minang and the first female minister was a Minang scholar."

And in case anyone thought that the “feminisation” of the Minang would make them vulnerable to attack from the rest of the world.

"Being fervent Muslims, many of them embraced the idea of incorporating Islamic ideals into modern society. Furthermore, the presence of these intellectuals made the Minangkabau homeland (the province of West Sumatra) one of the powerhouses in the Indonesian struggle for independence."

Of course one example doesn’t make an argument, but if anyone is interested in finding out how matriarchy can make life much more pleasant for all have a look at what we can learn from the Bonobos (our closest living relative).

Andrew: Little boys may

Andrew, little boys may be more likely to resolve conflict with violence than little girls but is that because of their inherent nature or their social conditioning?

It is not as if boys are always violent and girls are not.

You cite societies which have a matriarchal leaning but what is important is a society which is gender equal. None, at this point exists although quite a few are heading in that direction.

Matriarchy is as bad as patriarchy. Any dominant sex will create destructive beliefs for both sides.

I can't see the point in striving for the opposite side of the coin when what we need is a relationship of equals based on respect and understanding.

Well done, Roslyn

Well done, Roslyn. Inventories like this need to be taken every so often to take stock of where women stand, where to go from here, and where the next backlash is likely to come from.

I can’t dispute anything of what you say. One feminist issue that I’d like to add, however, one that particularly interests me, is the percentage of women filmmakers worldwide. I haven’t found a definite figure on this – maybe because no one seems to care, or because there are so many more pressing women’s issues. However, having scoured retrospective and contemporary cinema encyclopedias and film guides, I estimate that roughly 95-98 per cent of both current films and films made over the last 100 years worldwide have been/are made by men. 

It wasn’t always this way. According to some accounts, the number of US female filmmakers during the silent era, for example, was as high as 26 per cent, then went down to virtually none at all in Hollywood’s golden decades from 1930 to 1960 (most of the celebrated ‘women’s pictures’ of the 30s and 40s were made by gay men), and has more recently risen to about 6 per cent.

This means that the most culturally influential art form of the twentieth century, one that supposedly records our ‘human condition’ is effectively only recording the ‘man’s condition’. Women in cinema are mostly seen only through the eyes of men – making them one step removed from women’s own reality. It also means that, as a culture, we see films that mainly reflect male fantasy genres – war, crime, espionage, politics, sci-fi, sport, the seduction of women, men’s coming of age – thus repeatedly validating the ‘male’ condition of using violence to solve problems, and sexual conquest to define relationships.  

As for that other major cultural influence of the twentieth century - television - it’s pretty much ditto, possibly worse.


Distorted views

Jane, a very interesting point. I think the impact of the 'male view' on society has not been explored.

Interestingly, in the same vein, and I have not explored this so it really is just an observation which might not stand up to research, but I have wondered if the 'pressure to be thin' or androgynous, which is sourced in the fashion world, and which, is in essence so anti-female and so ultimately destructive in the impact it has on young girls, can be traced to the large numbers of homosexual fashion designers, who, unconsciously, may be designing for a 'male' version of the feminine and therefore require models who have been de-feminised as much as possible.

As you point out, perspective must have an impact. It would be interesting to compare the clothes designs and models used by female designers to see if there is in fact a distortion imposed by the 'masculine' view.

I also think, and as I said, equality, or a semblance of equality, is very new, even in the modern world, and this means that while some things have changed much has not and women who seek to compete with men have to do so on their terms in the main. In the doing, they become, by necessity 'masculinised' and just like converts in all fields, perhaps even more 'masculine' than the men because they are trying to be something they are not, trying to act out a role in order to be accepted into what is still a boy's club.

I also feel that unconsciously, even the most reasonable and enlightened of men, want to hold on to their power in some way and that women are often sabotaged, particularly those who enter the public arena, in a way that men are not.

Film, fashion, and androgyny

Roslyn and Jane, your hypotheses regarding both the depiction of women by Hollywood and the sway, so to speak, of the androgynous coathanger female figure in the fashion world are interesting but not, I fear, entirely original. They have both been the subject of academic attention for quite some time. In particular, I refer you to Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae and Vamps and Tramps, and to Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth. These works date from the early 1990s, when I too was exploring such matters. Doubtless there are some more recent investigations.

While in the general territory of FGM, loathing, and other delights, I will take this opportunity to flag my own speculations regarding a possible connexion between vegetarianism and fear of the female. When I have more leisure, I shall set out my thesis in greater detail.

Fiona: I do not recall

Fiona, I do not recall implying that the comments were original and neither did Jane. Very little is original in fact but that is beside the point. I am aware of Paglia's and Wolf's work but have not explored them in depth. The fact that, as you point out, they came to similar conclusions is not surprising given that common sense leads most of us to the same place.

I think the link you suggest between vegetarianism and fear of the feminine is a good one and an extension of the drive to androgyny emanating from the fashion industry.

It would be interesting to hear your thoughts and I doubt that a thesis is required. We are all of us here merely putting forward thoughts, views and debating our positions.

It's Hard-Wired

Roslyn, put a group of average guys together and throw in the impetus, alcohol etc, and very soon out pops the disdainful, derogatory creature hiding inside most men. No matter how much of a cultural veneer you slap on him, the one-step-removed-from-beast lurks around in us all. Which is why the blame for all the shitty things that happen to mankind can be laid at the feet of the male of the species.

It exists in all cultures and all society strata. This propensity to subjugate and dominate must have had some useful function originally. Civilisation has tried to channel it into useful expenditures of energy with little success according to the picture that you paint.

That then raises the question "Can women be safe while men remain men?" It is not meant to be a cop-out but if that question cannot be meaningfully answered then nothing will change. It is the essential nature of the male to be aggressive and often brutal. What do we change? It would be seemingly impossible to teach three billion males in each generation, new behaviours.

For men's sake as well

Roger, I think equality is vital for men's sake as well as women's. I don't think men are hardwired to subjugate and dominate and have been lucky enough to know quite a few who are not that way at all.

But I do think that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely and as long as our societies are male dominated then there will be a tendency for males to act in a dominant manner.

Few people give up power willingly and although male and female roles have seen great change in the developed world over the past forty years we still have a long way to go.

You ask if women can be safe while men remain men? I don't think that dominance is particularly male. I think women have the same capacity to dominate but because men still hold the power women use their capacity to dominate in other ways.

What we call 'male' and what we call 'female' attributes exist in all of us regardless of sex. We encourage boys to develop those attributes that have been designated as 'male' by patriarchy and for females to develop those which are called 'female', but the reality is that no response is gender specific.

Men may have a tendency to think, act, exhibit in a certain way but how much of it is physiological and how much of it is conditioning is debateable.

From what I can see there are only two distinct differences between males and females: females create life and give birth and  generally men tend to be taller and physically stronger in terms of muscle capacity (not endurance however where women are stronger.)

Beyond that the capacities for strength, weakness, rational, intuitive, visceral, cerebral and all of the gamut of human attributes can be found in everyone regardless of sex.

In the best of worlds both sexes are able to express themselves in all ways, to varying degrees, regardless of sex. The fact that they cannot is just as destructive for males as it is for females.

Yet another rare apology

I decided not to contribute to this thread until Roger Fedyk got into it.

I thought it was just another dubious piece of ball-tearing. Now, I am as I am, but I have friends and acquaintances on all three sides of the fence (and I'll take the piss anywhere given suitably sterile conditions). The point is that we are all people and we are not equal. I treat equals equally, and I hope I do the best I can with the rest.

Ultimately, do you and I, Roslyn Ross, differ?

Was Not Aware

Malcolm B., I just assumed that you were being you. Personally, I took no offence. My preference is for robust discussion.

In this particular forum, I think that something crucial is being discussed. I claim no expertise but I have laboured the point that violence, particularly as a form of dominance, is genetically entrenched behaviour. It exists throughout the whole animal kingdom. We are not exempt.

We have the ability to rise above the basal part of our nature but it requires constant effort and feedback. Reversion to the cruel streak within us is always just one step away. In my last reply to Roslyn I have made mention of the incidence of domestic violence in my own city. Australian society does not encourage violence, it is not part of our culture but it is very much there. That suggests that conditioning or culture has very little to do with these violent events.

Do we differ

Malcolm, you ask do we differ?

I am not sure what you are asking. Do we differ in our position? Maybe, but I cannot see that you have stated yours.

Do we differ as men and women? Of course, to varying degrees but we share our humanity.

Do we differ as individuals? No doubt. We all do. 

violence and masculinity

Roslyn, I am a little confused. You seem to be arguing against the point of your own article. Violence is not perpetrated on women by a few odd men who are confused or want to cling to some esoteric power base that can be handed around. They got the real power base in the first place by being willing and able to do harm to those that opposed them.

Question! If you have "been lucky enough to know quite a few who are not that way at all" is that a relevant statistical sample? What relevance does your personal experience have in determining  that men are just not "hard-wired"? Would a visit to Iraq, for example, bring a different view?

Another example, you start by paraphrasing Acton, which is good and then you go on to a generalisation that totally ignores reality, "But I do think that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely and as long as our societies are male dominated then there will be a tendency for males to act in a dominant manner."

Males have a tendency to punch you in the nose, invade your country, screw you over in business to the point of bankrupting you if they don't get what they want. The litany can go on and on. Removing male domination is not an option that is seriously under consideration in any part of the world. Except for a few sterling examples of strong women, men rule any endeavour that has a competitive element.

"Men may have a tendency to think, act, exhibit in a certain way but how much of it is physiological and how much of it is conditioning is debateable." Hardly debatable at all. Yes, it is possible to suppress the basic testosterone-fuelled urges. Your friends are a good example. But they are a miniscule minority. Mild-mannered chicken farmers can be loving husbands and fathers and monsters at the same time, as Himmler attests. What is missing is opportunity.

We are gender-equally flawed

Roger, the point I was making was that even in the First World we have not come as far as we need to in terms of gender equality and in the developing world they have barely begun. I was blaming patriarchy more than men, if you like, the system rather than the individuals. I see patriarchy as being as destructive for men as for women in the long-term and do not believe that violence is necessarily a male attribute.

There are many things which contribute to aggression, or the expression of aggression and I don't believe it is because men are 'hard-wired' to be aggressive. Patriarchy developed for a variety of reasons and became the system which drives the behaviour in both men and women.

I was also making the point that women have had a difficult time fighting patriarchy because the 'enemy' is in essence, someone they love.  Women's ability to 'fight' has also been hampered by the demands of child-bearing and child-rearing. But, I do feel that women must also take responsibility for the patriachal system.

In less developed societies, which remain tribalistic and seriously patriarchal, it is often the women who inculcate aggression in their sons ... as much as anything because they only gain power through their sons ... and who instigate violence toward their daughters-in-law. It is all a power play between individuals who are not truly free. In a patriarchal world it might be easier to see the 'prison' in which women live but the men are also imprisoned.

You said, "If you have 'been lucky enough to know quite a few who are not that way at all' is that a relevant statistical sample?"

No, it is not a relevant statistic. It merely represents my experience and offers 'explanation' for my view that men are not necessarily 'hard-wired' to be violent.

I am not sure why you cite Iraq as an example to substantiate your view that men are hard-wired to be aggressive. Iraqis are fighting a war of occupation and like the Chechens, Palestinians and countless others, I suspect you would find women play a part. Women certainly played an active part in the French Resistance just as women played an active part in Nazi atrocities.

You said: "Another example, you start by paraphrasing Acton, which is good and then you go on to a generalisation that totally ignores reality, 'But I do think that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely and as long as our societies are male dominated then there will be a tendency for males to act in a dominant manner'."

Why does this ignore reality? Perhaps I should have elaborated and said that if societies were female dominated then there would be a tendency for women to act in a dominant manner. I believe in gender equality, not dominance of either sex because I believe both men and women have an innate capacity for violence and cruelty.

This capacity was clearly revealed in a study done in the 1960's by a Yale psychologist, Stanley Milgram, which found that most human beings (and women were no different to men) ordered to inflict pain on a stranger will do so as long as the order comes from someone who seems to be in authority.

You said: "Males have a tendency to punch you in the nose, invade your country, screw you over in business to the point of bankrupting you if they don't get what they want."

Elizabeth 1 of England and Catherine the Great of Russia, to name just two, were quite happy to encourage rape, pillage and invasion. They may well have punched people in the nose too and certainly had lackeys to do it for them.

You said: "Removing male domination is not an option that is seriously under consideration in any part of the world."

It has received serious consideration in Scandinavian countries which have greater representation of women at the political level. It has received consideration in all developing nations and has been instrumental in improving the lot of women and creating greater opportunity for gender equality. We just need to keep working at it.

You said: "Mild-mannered chicken farmers can be loving husbands and fathers and monsters at the same time, as Himmler attests. What is missing is opportunity."

I would say the same applies to women. The most healthy society is one with gender equality. Patriarchy or matriarchy must, by its nature, create a dominant force which diminishes and sometimes destroys aspects of human expression both for the dominator and the dominated.

Some women are physically stronger than some men; some men make better child-carers than some women; some men are revolted by violence; some women are excited by violence and all of us have within us all of those qualities which we divide into categories of masculine and feminine. A truly developed and fulfilled human being is able to draw on all of those qualities not merely those ascribed to his or her sex.

Roslyn, I can't help but

Roslyn, I can't help but think that you are relying on ideas that have little chance of success. Firstly, let me say that I unreservedly support all initiatives that remove violence from the lives of women. In saying that, I also think that making changes of this magnitude will only work if we understand fully what it is that we are faced with.

General concepts such as patriarchy or matriarchy are not amenable to change because they are only descriptions of actualities. There is no problem that emanates from societies that nominally fit those descriptions that is not caused by individuals. Violence is perpetrated by individuals who use violence, as a matter of habit or personality or assumed right, to resolve any issue.

The Scandinavian experience is interesting because all aspects of their society have been liberated to a greater degree than our own, especially sexual mores. However, they are not a road map that other countries are seriously using.

Australia is an advanced society in world terms yet the incidence of violence on women is so high as to require the Federal Government's intervention via its media campaign. Australia is neither a patriarchal nor a matriarchal society so the problem with violence is anchored in other forces. One could say that it is an issue that is contributed to by poor economic circumstances but the problem of domestic violence against women transcends class and economic boundaries.

One final comment on Iraq. The problems of violence in that society are not just manifestations of the invasion of their country. If you read the History of the Arab Peoples or White Gold (a very graphic account of the 17th century traffic in 2 million white European slaves), you will see very clearly the entrenched violence in Muslim society. Once again, this has very little to do with patriarchal society and every thing to do with the physical, spiritual and mental obeisance granted to all 'strong men'. It is a hard-wired thing.

Roger: You say I am

Roger, you say I am relying on ideas which have little chance of success but you do not specify what they are. If I rely on anything it is the justice of a gender equal world, which, given the slow but steady progress made toward that end, is a reasonable position to take.

You say that you support all inititatives that remove violence from the lives of women.

I would say that I support all inititiatives that remove violence full stop and not just from the lives of women.

I agree that change can only come about, or at least more easily be brought about, through understanding.

You said: "General concepts such as patriarchy or matriarchy are not amenable to change because they are only descriptions of actualities."

It is not the concept I would seek to change but the system which has been set in place and which arises from the concept or the belief. Whether or not there was a matriarchal age before the patriarchal age is irrelevant. What matters is that the age of the future is neither male nor female dominated.

You said: "There is no problem that emanates from societies that nominally fit those descriptions that is not caused by individuals."

But surely those individuals have both been created by and are motivated by the 'system' and the beliefs and values inherent in that system. The individual is therefore a product of the system and when the system changes so does the individual.

Just look at what has happened in education in terms of the performance of boys as opposed to girls as the old patriarchal rules have been put aside. Clearly, out of the positives that it brought girls it also brought negatives for boys and those must be addressed. Look at the changes in attitudes toward homosexuality and the greater 'acceptance' society now has toward children born out of wedlock, divorce and mental illness.

In all of those circumstances change has been brought about in the 'system' and that in turn has brought about change in individuals. I posit that violence is no different because much of the violence against women is sourced in beliefs of female inferiority if not evil. It is also sourced in a belief that men must be strong and the simplest way to be seen as strong, or to feel strong, is to demonstrate strength over something or someone. If males were not raised to believe that such demonstrations of 'strength' were crucial to their identity then they would be less common. Yes, there would always be aggressive individuals but without the support of the system, far fewer of them. And they would not be exclusively male.

You said:  "Australia is neither a patriarchal nor a matriarchal society so the problem with violence is anchored in other forces."

Australia, like all developed nations to varying degrees, is still a patriarchal nation for the simple reason that true gender equality does not exist. We may have thrown off much of the trappings of patriarchy but we have not removed all of it.

You said: "One could say that it is an issue that is contributed to by poor economic circumstances but the problem of domestic violence against women transcends class and economic boundaries."

One could say that and yes it does transcend boundaries but that is because it is entrenched in the system and has been for some three or four thousand years. To that degree it is genetically encoded and operates at an unconscious level in all of us. Awareness of this 'perception' which men have toward women and women have toward men is crucial to changing the system and creating a truly equal society.

As I have said before I believe patriarchal attitudes and values are just as destructive of men, if not more in some circumstances, than of women. Women at least can recognise what is wrong and it is easier to deal with something known. Men, in the main, would not see that anything is wrong, particularly with themselves, and so have less ability to deal with who they are and how the world works. Particularly when that world is changing, which it is, and faster than it has ever done before.

The increased domestic violence may well have as much to do with this rapid pace of change as anything else. Both men and women have been called to change dramatically in the past forty years and while these changes have brought greater freedom and opportunity for women, who always knew they were missing these things, they have brought for men a requirement to cede control, to share power and to accept that they are not superior, not necessarily strong, not necessarily wise and certainly not always right as previously they had been allowed to believe.

You said:  "The problems of violence in that society are not just manifestations of the invasion of their country."

I never said that they were but the level of violence now at work in Iraq can certainly be attributed to the invasion and occupation.

You said: "If you read the History of the Arab Peoples or White Gold (a very graphic account of the 17th century traffic in 2 million white European slaves), you will see very clearly the entrenched violence in Muslim society."

I have read a great deal of Middle Easter history and have no doubt that violence is entrenched in Muslim society, but have also read a great deal of Indian history and lived there for a number of years, and a great deal of African history and lived there in various countries for more than a decade and violence is also clearly entrenched in those societies as well. All of them are tribalistic and patriarchal in nature and all of them have high levels of domestic violence and general violence.

I do not think violence is an Muslim speciality. It may well be intensified by the high level of misogyny in Islam but Hinduism is also intensely misogynistic and the violence perpetrated against women in India, on a daily basis is truly horrifying. Far worse in fact than anything I have read about Muslim countries.

As a final comment on domestic violence I would suggest that it has always existed it is just that it was never talked about. In places like India it is still not talked about. Perhaps the rate of domestic violence in Australia has not so much increased as been recognised.


Roslyn, I found your response interesting but let me make a personal comment first. I don't find pedantry a particularly useful tool and your comments such as "You say that you support all initiatives that remove violence from the lives of women. I would say that I support all inititiatives that remove violence full stop and not just from the lives of women," are not really helpful in promoting discussion.

Of course, I do not limit myself to a particular agenda to the exclusion of others. We are discussing violence against women and if we want to broaden the discussion then I also have no sympathy for any form of violence. I have been a long-time advocate for gender and sexual identity equality and abhor violence of any kind. That should not have to be clarified. Similarly I was not making any point about violence being some exclusive prerogative of Muslim society. My position is quite clear. Anywhere in the world where males are (which is everywhere) there you will find entrenched violence with women being the main victims.

At this stage, I am not making any suggestions as to what may be done, or at least done better, to change "the system". My sole aim at this stage is to clarify some terms of reference for a broader ranging discussion. There is little point, to my mind, in talking about changing "the system" when that system will need to be changed one individual at a time.

There are some very clear indicators as to how difficult any undertakings to effect change will be. Taking aside places like India where a female baby has no value and can be discarded like garbage, we can look closer to home. Female infanticide is possibly the most perverted form of violence against women that can be contemplated.

I live in the City of Casey, in Melbourne's moderately affluent to very affluent South East. Recently, a local newspaper reported that nearly 700 cases of domestic violence were reported to the police, within Casey, in 2005. It is therefore acceptable to assume that quite possibly over 2000 or more actual episodes of domestic violence took place seeing that most such episodes are never reported. Now, Australian male society does not generally agree with domestic violence as being either acceptable or manly. The "system" should mitigate against this violence and yet there it is. What further changes to "the system" need to be introduced?

Some musings on the patriarchal nature of Australian society. Personally I do not see it. I see male domination everywhere but I would not equate that with patriarchalism. However there is at least one segment of Australian where the role of patriarch is expected and unapologetically so. Within Christianity, the role of the male as head of the family is clearly laid out in the Bible. It is a point of honour amongst those who like to order their lives by the words of the good book. I would expect that other religions have similar reinforcement for male domination. Of course, to be mischievous, I would point out that no woman wrote any of the books of the Bible or any other sacred literature. Men dominating again.

individuals are created by systems

Roger, I am not sure my comment amounts to pedantry but I do apologise if it appeared glib. I was being more literal than learned and probably typing too fast and not thinking carefully enough. Mea culpa.

You said: There is little point, to my mind, in talking about changing "the system" when that system will need to be changed one individual at a time.

But individuals are created by 'systems.' It was when the system changed that slavery was abolished, that universal suffrage came into being; that capital punishment ended.

I agree that Christianity is patriarchal but then most religions are because they have been 'created' in the patriarchal age and Christianity, in some instances, aside, have not been reformed.

How do you know women did not write the Bible?

Roger, you made the comment, "I would point out that no woman wrote any of the books of the Bible or any other sacred literature."

I would ask, how do you know? Given that the Bible is a compilation of oral 'stories' handed down for millenia before being written down, how do you, or anyone else know their source? They may well have been written by women.

Interestingly, in recent years advances in translating Egyptian hieroglyphs, shows that things like the Ten Commandments and many of the 'sayings of Jesus' have been taken, almost word for word, from the ancient Egyptian religion. Both the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible have clear 'borrowings' from this source.

The ancient Egyptians worshipped God as a feminine creative force as well as masculine. Isis and Osiris and their son Horus made up the Egyptian holy family. Imagery of Isis depicts the Great Goddess with her son, Horus, in the same way that Mary later came to be depicted with Jesus.

Who wrote the religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians? We don't know. It might have been men but it might have been women given that indications are that the Egyptians in turn drew on even more ancient religious and spiritual sources ... from the time no doubt, when God was depicted as a 'feminine' creative force and not a masculine one.

The first religion, if you like, was that 'God' (as the feminine does) brought forth life and this source of life in all of its aspects, dark and light, the triple-faced goddess, was the beginning and the end of all things: the creator, the nurturer and the destroyer.

In more primitive societies it is often women who are the story-tellers and poets. All religious texts were originally oral because all stories and poetry were oral.

The 'imagery' of this Great Goddess was stolen and then (rather foolishly) applied to a masculine God to give us the silly notion of a Father, Son and 'Holy Ghost", the hidden, denied, invisible feminine.

But the subject is long and complex. I would merely repeat that you, and I for that matter, have no way of knowing who 'wrote' the Bible or any other religious text. These books are a mix of fact, fiction, fantasy, prejudice, propaganda and pontificating, myth, magic and mendacity and the teachings and writings and fables have been taken literally in the patriarchal age in a way that I believe they were never meant to be. Another subject for another day.

No End To The Explanations?

Roslyn, it seems that we must continually revisit points of little relevance to the the main thread of your own article.

There is no accepted tradition that ascribes female authorship to the works of the Judeo-Christian Bible. I can't vouchsafe for the other major religions but I am reasonably certain that women are not acknowledged as authors in those spheres either.

Now this does not speak definitively as to whether women wrote any part of the great ancient religious works only that it is not accepted today and has not been accepted for the past two thousand years. Personally, I think that the "how do you know" challenge is pointless and disingenuous. However should it transpire that we find archeological proof, I would be more than happy to see it and to acclaim the author.

On the balance of probabilities, it would seem unlikely that a woman wrote anything to contribute to the J-C books as the art of writing would require learning and training that was exclusively reserved for males. Women could have easily added to the oral tradition but the bastions of male domination that are the Christian, Jewish and Muslim hierarchies and institutions place no store on that idea and brandish the "book", written by men, as the exemplar of a life lived well, and in the case of women, subserviently.

A final comment on your closing paragraph. Most of it I have sympathy for but would disagree with you statement "were never meant to be". On the contrary, those works, irrespective of the status of their 'truth', are meant exactly to be a justification for the behaviour and philosophy of a priestly class of male shamans.

You raised it in the first place

Roger, you say that we are continually revisiting points of little relevance to the main thread of my article and yet you raised the issue of 'authorship' of the Bible yourself. If it had no relevance why did you raise it?

I personally have no problem with digressions, nor with a debate going off at tangents at times but I think it is unfair on your part to complain about things the irrelevance of issues when you introduced them to the debate.

And I never said there was any accepted tradition which ascribes female authorship to the Bible, I merely said that noone, including yourself, can categorically state this as an absolute fact.

We do not know the origin of much of the material which has been drawn from oral tradition and written down to form the Bible, whether Christian or Jewish.

The 'irrelevant' comment you introduced to the debate was that women had no part in this and I merely responded with the question, 'How do you know?'

You don't. It is assumption on your part and an acceptance of the validity of His-story as opposed to Her-story. Victors write the histories and plagiarism is part and parcel of that. As I pointed out, the origins of the Bible are now being found in the ancient Egyptian religion, a religion which was less patriarchal than those which came later.

You are correct in saying that women are not acknowledged authors in the major texts of other major religions but the word acknowledged is not one you used when you first made your comment and is a qualification. They may well have been authors and not acknowledged. That is because men have been writing history for a few thousand years.

Again, you qualify, when you say that 'it is not accepted today and has not been accepted for the past two thousand years' that women wrote any part of the major religious texts, but that is not the point ... your comment did not make this qualification and I responded to your original comment.

I don't mind the qualification by the way. I think on these forums we make statements and they often require qualification or explanation and that is a part of the debate. That is why, 'How do you know?' is neither ingenuous or pointless. You made a specific comment and I asked what you based that opinion on.

Even without archeological proof no-one can categorically state that the content of the world's major religious texts were written only by men. We can say indications at this stage are they may have been, but that is all.

Given the archeological evidence for a goddess based religion, before we got a god based religion, and given that there is now evidence that the Ten Commandments and many of the sayings of Jesus can be traced back before Jesus and before the Hebrews, logic suggests that those 'writings' may well have had their origin in the Goddess religions. I am not saying this is so, merely that it is a clear possibility.

You said: "On the balance of probabilities, it would seem unlikely that a woman wrote anything to contribute to the J-C books as the art of writing would require learning and training that was exclusively reserved for males."

Once again, I can only say that our historical knowledge is 'short' and that while there may be evidence that 'writing' is a recent development in human history, there is not absolute evidence that only men had this skill in the very earliest times, and it fails to deal with the fact that much which came to be 'written down' was drawn from oral history. Were the creators of that oral history, the poets, as they were, men, or were they women?

There's a good chance that they were both and a very good chance that women, who spent long periods together, caring for children and communicating with and entertaining each other, created these stories. Women have often been the poets and story-tellers in primitive societies as I said before.

But we are talking about two different things. You are talking about the patriarchal view of the religious texts and I am talking about the origin of those texts and the possibility of female contribution to their creation.

As to disagreeing with my comment that the Bible was never meant to be taken literally, this is of course a personal opinion and not necessarily a common one and the comment was made in regard to the spiritual aspects of the writings rather than the preaching aspects.

Of course some  of the writings are meant as justication and were created as such but many of the stories make far more sense if interpreted metaphorically. The spirituality of the Bible, is lost, I feel, in the literality of it and that applies to the best of it more so than the worst of it which amounts to nothing more than patriarchal propaganda.

I Agree, Sort Of

Roslyn, I accept the points you make.

For myself, I am both an admirer, in every sense, and a supporter of women as equals. I have, in my library, the biographies of many exceptional women as well as works by Alice Walker, Maya Angelou and many others. I am a great fan of Doris Kearns Goodwin. One of my current reading projects is Mozart's Women.

I am anti-religion and in spite of the well-meaning Christian apologists, who I accept as people of misguided integrity, I regard all religion as demeaning to women. The concept of hand-maiden or virgin or any other subservient position that the Bible promotes is, I believe, of far greater harm to the aspirations of women than being physically assaulted.

The second may pass in its fury but the first remains relentlessly in place forever. I find it unbelievably sad that women accept this yoke and even pass it along to their daughters, all in the name of a male god. Of course, I would be just as appalled if they passed it along in the name of a female god as well.

We have common ground

Roger: We do have common ground. I am also anti-religion and as I said, stick with God and stay away from religion which is nothing more than man's (in the masculine in the main) interpretation of God rather than anything which could  reasonably be attributed to any God.

Spirituality is however another thing and needs no religion to prop it up or give it form. Religion, all of them, make God smaller and more constricted than any such 'entity' could ever be.

The spirituality which one can find hidden in all religions is the true gift and one which requires no religious construct to have purpose and meaning.

Headship vs Domination

Roger, I cannot agree with you on your comment regarding Christian headship of the male in the family.  This is never about domination, and if this happens, then the perpetrator has corrupted the instructions from scripture. To quote (New International Version translation of the Bible):

Ephesians Chapter 5, v 23 - 30:

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, people have never hated their own bodies, but they feed and care for them, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body.

This is not about domination, but about Christ's example of sacrifice and service. Christ died for all people and loved all people. Christ cares for his church, he does not dominate it.  We are called to do the same.

Colossians Ch 3, v12 - 19

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Instructions for Christian Households

Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

Again this is not talking about domination but about service, sacrifice and love.

1 Peter Ch 3, v 7 - 9

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

Suffering for Doing Good

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

The instruction to treat with respect hardly qualifies as domination either. Neither does the instruction to act in love, compassion and humility.

Before you ask, I am Christian, married, with two children. I do not regard my role in the family as "the dominator", but the spiritual example setter, and to always do things that show Christ's love for me and my family. Of course, easily said than done, but the instruction is there.

Scripture as I read it and practice it is not reinforcement for male domination.

Hello Paul, let me preface

Hello Paul, let me preface my remarks by saying that I form my opinions on this matter without malice and from a position of knowledge.

Regarding the lengthy quotations from and commentary on the New Testament references, I understand what they say as I am well-versed in scripture and theological studies.

In earlier years, I also had some considerable interaction with members of covenant communities and extensive experience in the Pentecostal movement.

I will state quite forcefully that I have yet to meet a man from those circumstances who did not see his position as dominant and the female position as subservient. The quotations themselves are fine enough in their sentiments but there is no disputing that they are paternalistic and rely totally on the good graces, temperament and understanding of the man so favoured.

They are also anachronistic, totally unsuited to the circumstances of the day. Of course, I realise that these arguments have no force with those would believe but no matter.

As you say "easily said than done". Here is a challenge for you. For the next year, allow your wife to be the decision-maker and the head of your house. If you cannot do it, you are well-entrenched into male domination philosophy, irrespective of your fine sentiments. And you can thank your God that He gave you a penis.

Relationships based on love

Roger and Jane, the heart of the matter for me is my attitude.

Jane, every Christian is called to submit to Chist. Is Christ dominating me then? There is also the exhortation for believers to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. So every Christian dominates everyone else? Domination is not a Christian attitude.

Roger, being the head of the house is certainly no walk in the park - if you are to do it along Christian ideals. In fact, I personally find living my life as the serving example of Christ's love much more of an attitude and behaviour challenge than just being an ordinary self serving guy.

With respect to decision making there are a thousand and one decisions that my wife makes every week without needing my approval, blessing or whatever it is that you think is required under the words "dominant" and "subservient". I have absolutely no problem with this, and I know we work well together as a team.

Regarding your coment on relying on the good grace of the man so favoured I completely agree. In exactly the same way I and every Christian rely on God's good grace which he demonstrated by dying for me.It's a hard example to follow there is no doubt.

Fair Enough

Paul W-H, I don't want to respond to your comments about the Christian ethos or your own personal interpretation of what your relationship with your wife is. On the second, it is none of my business. On the first, we recently had two lengthy forums discussing a number of issues regarding religion and Roslyn's topic deserves to be addressed fully.

I made an earlier comment that Christianity has had 2000 years to prove that it can make a practical difference. The sort of action that is needed to resolve many of the issues surrounding violence against women requires more than fine sentiments or platitudes. I would be interested to hear what other input you may have on some of the specific problems that women face in Australia and in other places where their status is far more fragile than it is here.

Backward thinking

Paul, I can respect the fact that your Christian beliefs are important to you but at the same time recognise that they do not make sense, nor do they have a place in a modern world where men and women are equal.

The very concept that one party, male or female, should be dominant, represents backward thinking from a less enlightened age.

As if any God could honestly be so petty as to want one partner in a relationship to dominate the other in any way. Love, true love, is not only without conditions it is by its very nature without dominance.

So much of religion, and Christianity is no exception, is made up of a small spiritual source which has been surrounded by millenia of belief, prejudice, social attitude, patriarchal fear-mongering, and propaganda.

The Bible, like all religious texts, has been re-written, re-worked and re-constructed throughout the ages to 'fit' with the values and beliefs of the time. Much of it is simply out of place in an enlightened world.

My experience of relationship, and it has been very successful for 36 years, is one where all decisions of any import are made by both parties through discussion, debate, difference and finally through to resolution where accommodation is reached which suits both sides.

There is simply no need for anyone to dominate, and neither is it healthy, in a relationship between two mature adults.

Following in the Lord's footsteps

Do you spend a lot of time hanging around with prostitutes, Paul Wynn-Hatton?

Human Beings actually

I tire of this sort of nonsense, Roger Fedyk.   People are just people.

Certainly there are differences between individuals and there are some differences between males and females but we all exist in a continuum.   

Women are equally capable of violence, terror and beastliness as men.  Take Livia as a classic example or the Mothers of some of our late-unlamented rapists in Sydney whose attitude, including their attitude to other women particularly the rape victims themseves, is nothing short of barbaric.   I had one woman describe the girl her son had had it away with as a slut for sleeping with him.  Apparently she thought it was OK for the lad because "Boys will be boys."

There is nothing inherently bad (or good) in being human: it's just the way we all are, notwithstanding that some of us are abyssal either to the left or the right of the curve.

Ignoring the reality

Malcolm, I agree with you that women are also capable of violence but I think you are ignoring the reality of the discrimination which women have faced for thousands of years and which most women in the world still face today.

The woman who calls a girl a 'slut' for having sex and yet dismisses the same act in males as 'boys will be boys' is merely reflecting the values of a patriarchal society.

In a society where both are equal this distinction would not be made. The society that you cite is not only patriarchal it is misogynistic... sadly they seem to go hand in hand because patriarchy is, in many ways, based not on superiority of the male, but on fear and hatred of the female. This fear and hatred can be found in all of the major religions.

I actually think that men lose more than women in a patriarchal world because they are denied fullness of expression of Self, not merely in public, but in private too. Women are denied fullness of expression of Self but have found ways to express themselves privately with each other, if not with the dominant males in their household.


So, we do differ most markedly. If you analyse the sort of society I was referring to, my assertion is that it is matriarchal not patriarchal at all. It may well be misogynistic in that it devalues women who have no power (the sluts). It is the reason that the expression "motherfucker" is both so often used as a pejorative and is of such effect. That is not a Madonna effect. These women have absolute power over their (often feckless) husbands. You may see the religious background as patriarchal but the social background is actually tribal and the women have the greatest influence in my experience. It may be the males who perpetrate the violence but it seems to be with the active encouragement (in revenge killings for example) or the tacit acquiescence of the matriarch in the family – the "boys will be boys" syndrome. Indeed, it appears that the preservation of virginal status until marriage confers control after it.

That sort of society is by no means universal and there are many patriarchal societies to which one could point but I think, in this instance, you are quite wrong.

Oh Really or O'Reilly

Malcom B, when you deign to move beyond generalisations there may be something of value in what you say.

"People are just people" does not address any of the horrors that Roslyn clearly lays out. While not denying that women can also be violent, it is not women who contribute to the overarching violence in the world. It is a male initiative almost entirely, as your already know, so you are being disingenuous.

Your references to "the Mothers", in your third paragraph, is irrelevant. They were not the instigators or perpetrators of those violent events. I'm not sure what point you are trying to make that addresses Roslyn's concerns.

The Irish Fedyks perhaps?

Human beings act in violent ways irrespective of sex. The mothers were the instigators in the way that all adults who do not, or cannot inculcate a veneer of civilisation, of self control, whatever you will call it, do.

Clans do not exist just of men.Are there Irish Fedyks.How's your great-aunt?


Hey Roslyn, you've documented the issue as you see it and as the stats you have found indicate. I don't agree with some of what you say but I wonder what you wrote this for. I guess to educate.

Do you have any solutions, suggestions etc? I see you've mentioned education and that is of course necessary but the reality is that won't happen or change much, at least not in the foreseeable future. 

I can assure you that many men feel the same about their place in society, without the physical fears you mention of course. Those same grey men that dominate women do the same to all really. If you want to join them they allow it provided you show total subservience but who can stomach that? Not I, not you, not many.

Many of the countries that specialise in these obscenities are still very primitive and ruled by fear (gosh that actually sounds like Australia doesn't it?). Change is unlikely in those countries. Australia too has the problem but clearly not as badly as many of the underdeveloped countries although any affected indivdual will still suffer. Religion is a large part of the problem and is used to control both men and women.

What can I, as a male, do to change this? My children (three female) have been raised to expect to be an equal on any ground they care to mention. I do what I can but my real focus is on all people who suffer, not one sex or the other. I worked in the various Public Services for much of my working career and as such all were supposedly treated equally from about the mid 70's. That is at least progress.

I found that I preferred female supervisors as they allowed me to do my job(s) and were generally supportive rather than the traditional male attitude of only giving feedback when it's bad news.

There are of course men in those Agencies that hate the fact that women may be equal or better than them at any given function and they protect their little arenas while they can. In general terms though I would say that there is basic equality up to certain levels above which the glass ceiling is still very much in place. The influx of other cultures to Australia though I do worry about as they bring that "men rule" agenda with them.

The thing I mainly disagree with you about is your interpretation of the wage equality, in Australia. There are many reasons why female wages come out as averagely lower (you've identified some of those) and the glass ceiling is certainly still there, and it get's lower all the time as males feel threatened. A good example of this is our Federal government. They always pick a grey, generally useless male over a female simply because... they are afraid. Amanda V got through the barrier but she is a very strong person unlike most of us.

Basically though I acknowledge all you have written and find myself asking the question of "WHY?" in relation to the male need to dominate. I don't understand it and withdrew many years ago from "boys activities etc" as I saw little point to such behaviour.

In honour of the day

Ross, I guess in essence I wrote it in honour of International Women's Day and as a reminder of how far we have not come. I think living in Australia it is too easy to think that everything is now fine and women have equality when they clearly do not.

Also, having lived for more than a decade in various Third World countries I am very aware of how little time has passed, perhaps 40 years, since women were treated as second class citizens in the First World as well.

I have learned to take nothing for granted.

A bit shocked I guess

Hey Roslyn, thanks for your response. My initial reaction to reading your item was to defend males and what that stance brings with it. Mainly because I find it so repugnant that women are treated as they are in many parts of the world, to varying degrees.

I agree with your comments on other responses in that power is the corruption for all of us, power and ego.

Sometimes it's necessary for someone to state facts to bring them to notice and it can be hard accepting that even though it is known.

Somewhere below a comment was made that a group of males with alcohol added can be extremely dangerous. Of course that's true but the alcohol isn't actually needed for that group to become dangerous. It's mob thinking that is the problem, the need to be a part of that group or oppose that group that is the main question.

Again, politics is a prime example of mob thinking and the danger that such groups pose to all of us.

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