History Lessons

atrotlTo recap: As she searched, Flinders (author of At The Root Of This Longing) found four ‘critical stress points’ or ‘polarities’. In a way, the first three are variations on the same theme, a difference between feminism and meditation to which one can seek to walk a middle path, but the fourth, ‘the enclosure of women,’ she concludes, ‘is a custom feminists have had no choice but to challenge.’ (82) She finds no middle path here.

1. silence (61)
2. self-naughting (65)
3. redirecting desires (70)
4. enclosure (77)

However, uniting them all and uniting feminism with meditation is her understanding of history, which, she writes, ‘would turn out to be pivotal in resolving the tensions I felt between feminism and spirituality.’ The rule of men is neither natural nor long, ‘compared with the far more woman-friendly cultures it has all but displaced…. It took me a while for me to grasp how perilously imbalanced our culture is,’ Flinders writes, ‘but once I grasped that imbalance, I saw how fundamentally incompatible it is with anything I would recognize as authentic spirituality. How could anyone harbour contempt for women or for “the feminine” in oneself or others and pretend to aspire to unitive consciousness or universal love?’ (96)

Flinders quotes Steinem, who reminds us that ‘for about ninety-five percent of the time human beings have lived on earth, every continent had cultures in which girls were a valuable as boys.’ During the remaining five percent, ‘women were not brought into line easily or swiftly at all.’ (102) image of steinem in 1972 from wikipedia.

She notes that history is constructed ‘stone by stone’, and so it can be deconstructed, but that doesn’t happen by itself. To think otherwise is ‘sheer folly’. We need a word to describe the oppression of women by men through the ages in diverse cultures. Better than patriarchy (which Wikipedia defines as ‘a social system in which the male is the primary authority figure central to social organization and the central roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property, and where fathers hold authority over women and children’), a more inclusive (and less inflammatory) word is androcentrism (which Wikipedia defines as ‘the practice, conscious or otherwise, of placing male human beings or the masculine point of view at the center of one’s view of the world and its culture and history. The related adjective is androcentric.’) (102-104) But whatever the word, patriarchy or androcentrism, Flinders outlines three stages in its historical development:

  1. commodifying women’s sexuality [emotional separation] (104-110)
  2. women are divided and ruled [physical separation] (110-116)
  3. the final adjustments [spiritual separation] (116-119)
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