The definition of masculinity appears to have been taken over by the sociologists, the feminists and the activists. Words like hegemonic masculinity, complicit masculinity, marginalized masculinity, the “man box” have all risen out of the academic vocabulary as many scholars attempt to address the emergent issues of relations between the genders. Specifically, male violence, dominance, abuse and the roots of the attitudes, perceptions and beliefs that engender malignant and even criminal actions against women have become a focus in many women’s studies departments, with considerable justification.
In these various studies there have also been attempts to explain how men are themselves “trapped” into a pattern of dysfunction and even self-sabotage, without in any way patronizing or condescending to the male gender.
And while the study of gender, both masculine and feminine, is appropriate and warranted by the disciplines of sociology and psychology and certainly education, there is another approach that warrants serious consideration and examination by people engaged in the study of history. Traditionally, history, and historiography have operated within specific perspectives: economic history, philosophic history, political history, military, legal history, institutional history, ideological history and even biographical history. Anthropology and the study of culture, emerging in a complex, multi-disciplinary incubator, especially the history of culture, seem to be useful in the desire to open up to the theoretical notion that men, and everything that comes with men, their/our psychology, their/our biology, their/our religion, their our mythology (ies), their/our cosmology (ies), their/our governance, their/our philosophies have sat atop the totem pole of western (and perhaps eastern) culture from the beginning.
Some of the assumptions that have attached themselves onto a plethora of cultures from the earliest evidence of human communities, originating from men, individually and/or collectively have shaped their respective initial communities and many ensuing cultures, and, like old slippers, have been taken for granted as normal, conventional, reasonable and the converse of each of these, abnormal, unconventional, unreasonable and worse, unacceptable. Whether designed as complicit forces gestating ideas about the nature of human beings and the universe we inhabit, or inadvertent collisions of persons, ideas, activities, curiosities and beliefs about the human place in the universe, we can and need to trace our cultural roots back to the dominance of masculinity.
Physical stature and strength as the determining factor in the community decision about whether men or women would wield the plow to prepare the field for seeding. Physical perceptions, sensate perceptions, themselves, have continued to hold sway over a measure of “reality” and the segregation of that reality from another more mystical, mysterious and speculative reality. Cave paintings, the earliest scribblings on animal skins and later parchment have, to our best knowledge, been inscribed originally by men and then recorded for future generations, also by men. A similar propensity for physical strength accompanies the design of implements for foraging for food, and for warding off enemies, themselves apparently mostly other males from other tribes. Inside the earliest caves and huts, where food was prepared, children nursed, nurtured and disciplined, principal agents were naturally women.
In the attitudes, perceptions, values and aspirations of these two role differentiations, there were distinct differences ascribing importance to physical, sensate, extrinsic aspects of human life, as compared with the more intuitive, imaginative, intrinsic, emotive, and aspirational aspects of human life. Of course, neither “role” brought either implied or asserted attitudes; however, segregated perceptions about the differences between men and women naturally occupied developing vocabularies, defining the very parameters of what individuals, families and communities not only tolerated, but considered aspirational. Implicit in these differences were highly subtle and sophisticated notions of how things work, who the people were, what needs needed to be paid attention, starting with survival.
Survival itself evoked different perceptions, depending on the views of the dominant males in the cultures. For example, in ancient Greece, the two communities of Athens and Sparta adopted very different educational systems based on very different goals: for Athens, to produce good citizens, for Sparta, to produce a powerful army. Both systems, undoubtedly, were designed by men, and in Sparta, for example, girls were excluded from the educational system.
Yet, without debating the specific differences between the two systems, we can likely agree that men were the primary gender in their design and execution. Similarly, the military was designed and managed by men as was the system of governance. Long before the Ancient Greeks, early Babylonian cultures had imagined and worshipped various gods, in an attempt to seek and to understand how to “be” and to survive in their universe. It was, according to whatever parchment, clay or cave markings, primarily men who recorded their thoughts, images beliefs and rituals for their communities. Whether a choir of deities, each with a specific “role” in the panoply of human mysteries, or a single deity, these basic notions of something supernatural were the marks of masculine consciousness. And our inheritance, for better and worse, has male DNA all over it.
The “Garden,” the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” the “tablets,” the “parting of the sea,” “the wandering Jew,” the “chosen people,” the “decalogue,” the “song of Solomon,” the “David v Goliath” story, the various reigns of various monarchs, and even the “Manger” the “Wise men,” the “Death and Resurrection,” the “Empty Tomb,” the “Transfiguration,” the “apocalypse” and the “end of time,”….these concepts all originate in the mind, heart imagination and spirit of men, in the strictest male sense of that word. Similarly, the “Sermon on the Mount,” and the “Lord’s Prayer,” as well as the various gospel and letters to various emerging church communities are all the legacy of men. Not only the original texts, but also the midrash, the hermeneutics, the exegeses and the dissemination and interpretations of the various “sacred” texts of the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims all originated from the men in those communities. So too, the various “Gods” as conceived by the various faith communities, were themselves masculine.
Women, in their supportive, supplicant and even “sacred” roles, as testified in the various texts, nevertheless, were segregated from the ‘higher’ significance of the men. And this disparity served as both a model worthy of emulation, and also as an expectation that helped to determine loyalty, obedience, compliance, authority and the bases of judgement for all. Legal systems, too, owe their origin to men like Ur-Nammu and ancient Sumerian ruler in the 22nd century B.C., and King Hammurabi around 1760 B.C. Casuistry is a process of reasoning that seeks to resolve moral problems by extracting or extending theoretical rules form a particular case, and reapplying those rules to new instances, in applied ethics and jurisprudence.
“The Sophists of fifth century Greece maintained that since no universal truths could be affirmed in moral matters, right and wrong depended entirely on the circumstances: ethics consisted in the rhetorical ability to persuade persons about “opportune” action. Plato devoted his Republic to a vigorous refutation of this thesis, placing moral certitude only in universal moral truths: ethics consisted in transcending particularities and grasping permanent ideals from which right choice could be deduced. Aristotle proposed that in ethical deliberations, which dealt with contingent matters, formal demonstration was not possible. Rather, plausible argument would support probable conclusions. Ethics belonged, he maintained, not in the real of scientific knowledge but in the domain of practical wisdom (phronesis). Phronesis is a knowledge of particular facts and is the “object of perception rather than science. Criticism, interpretation and amplification of these theses constituters much of this history of moral philosophy. The Aristotelian viewpoint, which places moral certitude in the domain of practical judgements about what ought to be done in the actual circumstances of a situation, is the remote philosophical ancestor of the casuistry that developed in Western culture.” (Britannica encyclopaedia)
Certainly, the debate between particular circumstances versus ideals, can be traced from the deepest and earliest thoughts of western thinkers (men) up to and including contemporary debates, discussions and even new academic theses, now permitting the participation of women. Scientific “knowledge,” empirical knowledge, the pursuit of its findings, the arrangement of its findings, and the conclusions drawn (or not) from the null hypotheses on which the research is based, comprise not only the pathway to moral judgements, but also the rigours of academic excellence.
Process underpinning the assembling of information, keeping the objectivity and the detachment of the scholar engaged in the research, has become the accepted methodology of the dominant academic disciplines, and consequently of the hall graduates of the various disciplines operating under those “guidelines.” And they were originated by generations of male thinkers, writers, scholars and power-driven men.
Governance derives from the Greek verb kubernaein (kubernao) meaning to steer, the metaphorical sense first being attested in Plato. Regardless of which institution “governs” in which domain, the concept of governance comprises “the conscious management of regime structures with a view to enhancing the public realm.” (grdc.org/u-gov/governance) The thinking process, the capacity to define, to articulate, and to execute originating with men, to be sure men of avowed capacity, intellect and public respect, comes to us through the male brain, the male imagination and the male perception of the universe.
Our scientific heroes, too, come primarily from the masculine gender, women having been almost excluded from the laboratories, the lecture halls, the libraries and the bars and pubs where the men debated their respective “findings” with other men, often using women as their “subject” specimens. Early humans did not consider disease to be an integral part of nature; consequently they regarded their invasion as supernatural, displeasing to the gods. Their use of herbs and plants as curatives, while likely originating from the imaginative interventions of the women in the family and community, were documented by men.
“In the Louvre Museum, a stone pillar with the inscribed Code of Hammurabi, a code which includes laws relating to the practice of medicine, with severe penalties for failure. E.g. ‘If the doctor in opening an abscess, shall kill the patient, his hands shall be cut off;’ if however, the patient was a slave, the doctor was simply obliged to supply another slave. Greek Historian Herodotus stated that every Babylonian was an amateur physician, since it was the custom to lay the sick in the street so that anyone passing by might offer advice. Divination from the inspection of the liver of a sacrificed animal, was widely practiced to foretell the course of a disease….In Egypt, Imhotep, chief minister to King Djoser in the 3rd millennium BCE, who designed one of the earliest pyramids…and who was later regarded as the Egyptian god of medicine and identified with the Greek god Asclepius. Super knowledge comes form the study of Egyptian papyri, especially the Ebers papyrus and Edwin Smith papyrus discovered in the 19th century. The former is a list of remedies, with appropriate spells or incantations, while the latter is a surgical treatise on the treatment of wounds and other injuries….and while the practice of embalming the dead body did not stimulate the study of human anatomy, the preservation of mummies has, however, revealed some of the diseases suffered at that time including arthritis, tuberculosis of the bone, gout, tooth decay, bladder stones, and gallstones; there is evidence too of parasitic disease schistosomiasis, which remains a scourge still. There seems to have been no syphilis or rickets.” (Britannica encyclopaedia)
Right wrong, heaven hell, highly sophisticated definitions of reality within circumscribed parameters, processes and implications, even the nature of God and the relationship of God to humans…all of these emanated from the mind, imagination, pen and tools, including armaments of men….and their implications and definitions of importance, power, significance and relative value to young minds all these twenty centuries later continue to cast their spell on our lives.
Some of the assumptions that we have inherited from the masculine “reign” include:
· Physical size is highly significant
· Emotions are ephemeral and fickle
· Children and their education is less important in the public square than the military and the system of governance and the production of laws
· The economy measures the value of the society, not the health of its citizens
· Status and power, measured in extrinsic terms trump intrinsic identities
· The pursuit of power and status represents the highest achievement of humans
· The poor and the indigent are and remain voiceless and out-of-sight-out-of-mind
· People different from us are more to be feared than embraced
· Wars and conflicts continue to erupt to demonstrate dominance, colonization, subordination…under the guise of “maintaining order and control
· Caste systems of “have’s” and “have-not’s” have solidified into the cultural norms on all continents
· The earth, as a life-giving and life-sustaining resource continues to be regarded as a renewable resource, unless and until it dies, much as men regard their human body
· Intuition is suspect as is mysticism, spirituality, religion, faith and all things intrinsic
· Men remain trapped in a highly charged and limiting “encasement” of expectations including oppressors, abusers, tyrants, deviants and criminals
· The judicial system begins with the premise that only through hard and severe punishments will miscreant behaviour be changed
· The rise of feminism, while empowering many women legitimately, also does not incorporate into its intellectual underpinnings, the depth and breadth of history of male dominance as historically normative, and not as “abuse” of the feminine.