MQ-7: Sugar And Spice (‘Mythquake’ series)

Another chapter from the Mythquake book-project.

In the previous chapter, ‘MQ-6: The meaning of life‘, we explored major mythquakes that arise from collisions between ways of thinking – particularly science and religion, as ‘social constructions of reality’ that provide definitions of ‘the meaning of life’. Here we go deeper again, to mythquakes that arise from a rather more personal part of the meaning of life – the social construction of gender. Unlike politics or science or religion, whose mythquakes tend to focus around particular rallying-points, the assumptions here are anchored in people’s physical being, and hence distributed much more evenly throughout the social milieu. The result is that when a major mythquake does occur in this domain, its impacts are both locally intense and broadly distributed – creating potential for even higher damage, yet also much harder to identify and to resolve.

The current content of this chapter focusses perhaps too much on Western views of gender, without much link to other cultures – in part a reflection of my professional experience in the work I did in Australia on domestic-violence, and the huge dishonesties around that field and Australian feminism in general, which I also see in perhaps less extreme form in most other Western countries at present. As a result, the chapter-structure probably needs somewhat of a re-think – perhaps an extra intro-section to deal with gender in general, and the complex trade-offs between societal expectations or needs and the biological and anatomical facts that underpin them. I also haven’t done anything here about sexual-orientation (not ‘sexual-preference‘, because in most cases it isn’t a choice as such at all); and the chapter probably also needs to address the biological fact that there more than a mere two sexes – current genetic-research indicates that perhaps as many as 1% of the population would need a ‘none of the above’ box for the ‘Which sex?’ question on most personal-information forms…

This chapter contains the following sections [all notes-only]:

  • …and all things nice?
  • Snips and snails?
  • Patriarchy and paediarchy

Book-development notes are shown in italics inside square-brackets, [like this]. Further commentary on the development-notes is in ordinary type inside curly-braces, {like this}.

MQ-7: Sugar and spice

Richter 7: Major earthquake. Can cause serious damage over larger areas. Equivalent to around thirty megatons of TNT (largest nuclear bombs). Around one every twenty days on average.

Mercalli IX: General panic; damage to foundations; ground cracks, sand and mud bubble up from ground; considerable damage to well-constructed buildings; reservoirs and underground pipes damaged.

…and all things nice?

[Extends gender-themes in wider scope: some examples of (especially) women’s stories built on self-congratulatory wishful-thinking – e.g. “sugar and spice” – and the huge social pressures to hold the stories together when there’s little or no foundation to them.]

{My starting-point here was that nasty little childhood doggerel that seems to be common throughout English-speaking cultures: “What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and all things nice! What are little boys made of? Snips and snails and puppy-dogs tails!” – assertions that seem in turn to be just about the only background beneath many feminists’ pretence that women are somehow ‘inherently better’ than men. More on that in moment, when we look at domestic-violence and the like in the next section.

The point here is that each culture has its own way of describing and acting on the real differences between males and females – one of which is well-described in Margaret Mead’s acerbic remark that “motherhood is a biological fact, fatherhood is a social fiction”. We also frequently see three pairs of assertions, each of which has some limited basis in biological fact: “men do, women are”, “men think, women feel” (often described more in the negative, “women don’t think, men don’t feel”), and “men are hunters, women are gatherers”. In the past few decades enormous efforts in Western cultureshave been placed on the women’s side of each of those pairs, so that no-one would doubt that women think, or women do; yet the stereotypes on the men’s side have, if anything, been worsened, such that there is even less respect of the reality that men too are ‘human beings’ rather than solely ‘human doings’, or that men too also definitely have feelings which are somehow assigned very low social priority – increasing the social tensions in those cultures, and hence the potential for explosive mythquakes.

Western feminists have also been notorious for making arbitrary assumptions about purported ‘women’s oppression’ in other cultures, without reviewing any of the culture-specific facts, or even asking the opinions of women in those cultures themselves. Many assertions seem to be based on an arrogant, self-centric pseudo-sympathy – “what I would feel if I were to experience that, from my background and culture” – rather than genuine empathy – “what she feels, from her own background, culture and experience”. There has been a great deal of research on this strange form of ‘cultural imperialism’, very little of which has actually been respected in real feminist practice: instead, histrionic ‘awfulising’ about practices in other cultures has been used either to ‘justify’ or to conceal increasingly-extreme anti-male sexism in the West. Some cultures do indeed oppress women, from our perspective; yet the blunt fact is that most Western cultures actively oppress men far more. Self-centred stories about ‘sugar and spice’ are part of the societal processes used to maintain that oppression: the resultant potential for gender-based mythquakes is huge, yet largely unacknowledged, and largely unaddressed.}

Snips and snails?

[Dangers of self-confirming prophecies about assigning all unpleasant characteristics to men.]

{The flipside of the ‘sugar and spice’ myth is ‘snips and snails’, defining all unpleasant human characteristics to men alone. Part of my research some years back was on the disparity between the ‘official line’ on domestic-violence – which purported that women alone were the victims, and at a very high rate [e.g. “one in three women” etc] – versus the physical reality from hard-data such as hospital-records – which clearly indicated that the overall risk was much lower than claimed [one in ten lifetime risk], was roughly the same for both sexes, that by a small margin men were more often victims than women, and that, by a large margin, the most violent class of relationship was lesbian. (I’d actually started that research after two of my lesbian friends had ended their relationship with a knife – fortunately without puncturing each other – but had been aggressively refused any help by the so-called ‘Women’s Help Service’ on the grounds that they had not blamed any man for the assault.) In Australia at least, the disparity is not only huge, but is backed by an enormous amount of social pressure to keep the disparity from becoming known. The potential for destructive mythquakes is, again, huge.

Another characteristic in Anglo cultures has been the systematic denigration of men, coupled with a similarly systematic exclusion of men and most forms of ‘masculine nurturing’ from parenting and child-rearing. Since masculine-nurturing is primarily about teaching safe management of risk, the result has been several of generations of children who have little or no grasp or even awareness of real-world risk and how to minimise and manage it. The resultant mythquakes tend to be localised, but only in the sense that relatively few people are harmed or killed in each individual incident – but the sheer numbers of incidents and their impacts ripple outward throughout the entire societal milieu, often feeding into an unfounded culture of ‘fear of the Other’ or unfocussed ‘fear of the unknown’.}

Patriarchy and paediarchy

[Evasions of responsibility on the part of both sexes; ‘patriarchy’ vs paediarchy – ‘rule by, for and on behalf of the childish’.]

{Overall, much of the ‘gender wars’ appears to be based on evasions of self-responsibility, following the delusion that power is the ability to avoid work. In some cultures men demand that women should cover themselves up so that those men do not have to face the fact of their own sexuality; in other cultures, women demand the ‘right’ “to dress as we please” or whatever, and then complain when others respond to what is, in any biological sense, blatant sexual-advertising. In short, it’s messy, and often magnificently dishonest.

The feminist literature that typified my own adolescence and beyond would frequently rail against the purported evils of ‘the patriarchy’, which in Jungian terms appears to be little more than a lebl for the ‘shadow’ side of those women themselves. One extreme example was a book in which a former colleague used the word ‘patriarchy’ or ‘patriarchal’ literally more than a thousand times as a kind of generalised all-purpose synonym for ‘bad’. It seems to me that the real purpose here is ‘Other-blame’: not so much ‘patriarchy’ as a demand for the ‘rights’ of  ‘paediarchy’, “rule by, for and on behalf of the childish” – inherent self-dishonesty, regardless of sex or gender. Since any form of self-dishonesty leads inevitably to mythquakes, there’s plenty of potential for serious problems here – all of which is blamed on that blurry, ill-defined Other, creating an ever-increasing spiral of stress and strain. It’s important to note, though, that although the respective mythquakes are generated from this specific context, they tend to actually surface in other domains – simply because this is usually too close to people’s own self-definition for it to be faced with any real honesty.}

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