What “Womanstuff” Really Means


I am glad that Frida Ghitlis covered this, glad as always that other women in other countries fight against arbitrary and repressive regimes.

Of course a woman should be allowed to show her face, that great bastion of personal identity.

I cannot claim to be surprised that Fox News, that lovely stronghold of all that is conservative, trivialized it into a headline about it being impossible to tell women “what to wear.”

The best thing about this story is that this is presented by the author as a global problem.  She goes to a considerable length to show that this is not necessarily a Muslim problem, by linking to a fascinating list of countries that treat women rotten, showing they do not have to be Muslim; they don’t.

Seeing women’s problems as geographically generalized is certainly one dimension of the problem.  Another dimension is seeing them over time.

My husband, who is no intellectual slouch and obviously secure enough to deal with intellectual women or else he would not have turned up a type like moi, suggested that the role of women in the ancient world was more valued when men were off to war and women were the stability of society.  I can see this model, really, and it has been repeated like the swinging of a pendulum from neolithic societies through, for example, Rosie the Riveter.

The real question, for me, is why the pendulum seems to keep swinging and why it seems to stay put.

There are certainly women in the muslim world who might, for example, get higher degrees at a university and maybe teach others while wearing the traditional Muslim headcloth.

Sixteen year old Malala of Pakistan has become an international heroine for standing up against the Taliban for women’s rights to education.

I saw her on the Daily Show and was floored, as was most of the rest of the world, by her simplicity and directness.

The Daily Show (along with its sister production, The Colbert Report) (Yes, I decided all video productions are feminine) (If you want to hit me with a label, please try “humorist” before you settle on “liberal…”) is the best way to get news.  Malala’s story is one reason why.

The way to answer my question, why does this keep happening, has got to have something to do with the study of history.

Merlin Stone is, in my estimation, the “mother” of the current “Goddess” movement.  She first published “When God Was a Woman” in the states in 1976.  Her compulsive attention to detailed references leaves little doubt that she has the soul of an academic, although her field was art.

The matriarchical underpinnings of spiritual history certainly are both universal, appearing in numerous cultures, and somehow disappeared or suppressed.  Somehow, the use of the Bible in modern religion without questioning has served to perpetuate a kind of repressive male dominance, that women seem to consistently, and repeatedly, break out of when they can.

I recently told a close friend and associate that since her mother was Jewish, according to the traditional laws of the Jews, she, and her children, were all Jewish, whether or not this heritage and tradition amused her.  She was visibly surprised.

Merlin Stone surely built upon the work of people (male) who had studied this sort of thing before, but as she noticed immediately, they all tended to trivialize, to push under the rug, or even to criminalize these female dominant cults.

So now, I must refer to the life and work of Malcom Muggeridge

If he had done nothing other than say “Only dead fish swim with stream” or something to that effect, he would be my hero still.  I quoted the line once to my parents (who had no idea who Malcolm Muggeridge, the brilliant British author and sociologist and all kinds of a wonderful intellectual, was) as my apologia for being a “maker of waves” — something they thought was a sin worse than death.

My father of blessed memory often recounted how antisemitism “reared its ugly head” and had ruined many lives.

A wildly respected French preceptor, my first in psychiatry, once told me in his backyard and in confidence without witnesses, that Jews had played a role in creating antisemitism, with their “chosen people” schtick.  He suggested saying we were just like everyone else, and to tell that to anyone else, that we had the same problems and worries that they did, would make us closer to other folks.

I had made only the most oblique reference to this way of thinking with my parents before giving up almost immediately.

Muggeridge endeared himself to me further by suggesting that prejudice was born of jealousy and fear.

When you feel someone is taking your turf, make them seem evil.  They could disappear.  This may be the cheapest and most effective way to make them disappear.

He traced in detail what he saw as the roots of antisemitism, the belief, as it has been quoted to me, that the Jews killed Christ.  My usual response to this has been that I wasn’t born yet and never killed anybody, but he talked in compulsive Biblical detail about how while some Jews may have had something to do with this death, the event was no Jewish plot.  Many people have cited the disproportionate amount of Jews in positions of intellectual accomplishment or power.  Believe you me, we never plotted anything.  Anyone who has tried to get two Jews to agree knows this.  Getting an orthodox type to agree with a reformed type is not evident.  There is even an old Jewish joke.  Ten is the minimum number of men (or people? — nobody even agrees on that anymore) to constitute a unit of worship.  In the days when there was no doubt we were talking about men, the joke was “What do you have when you have twenty Jews?” and the answer was “Two Synagogues.”

Back to women; in Muslim countries or anywhere, driving and uncovering their faces, risking flogging; what on earth is going on?

Try this one.

Even with the momentous restrictions placed upon women, they seem to have accomplished lots, and are definitely on the fast track to accomplish more.  Needs for showing your face, having an identity, self-fulfillment, are more basic, more essential than the most ancient of cultural needs that may contradict these.

Maybe we ought not to embrace any conflict with Muslims as reliving the crusades.  maybe history has taught us a little.

Repressive regimes seem to me to be destined to death, the way Hitler’s regime was.  Maybe, just maybe, the Muslim traditions are in the throes of death.  We ought to pull away and let it happen, let onerous and irrationally repressive traditions collapse under the weight of humanistic opposition from within.

Not one, but all of the Muslims I have known personally have been great people — quiet achievers, and, perhaps not coincidentally, have been women.  No terrorists, not even anger, an occasional complaint about getting harassed by “Americans” on the way to the Mosque.

How hard it must be for a religion to call for survival.  It is much easier to call for “death to the infidel.”  Easier to awaken an over-emotional extremism that will never be strong enough to destroy.

So many times I have wanted to raise my hands to heaven and shout “Why can’t we all get along?”

Despite histories of Amazons and the like, I believe women have traditionally been the peacemakers, the guardians of hearth and home.

For the first time, I want to shout:

“Women — we can all get along.”


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