Men Are Natural Leaders, You Say?

On a way-too-constant basis, you hear someone say something that sounds a bit like this, “I am not sexist, I just believe that men, naturally, have the traits needed to *insert masculine-identified role here*” Sometimes a person might be talking about a certain job or us this to justify why they feel women should stay at home while men go out and work.

These individuals tend overuse their own idea of sexual selection. Their theory starts with the idea that a long, long time ago, when humans were in their most primate-like state, women realized that they put much more time into the care of their offspring while men were, often, off reproducing with many other females. Because of this (so it is said) women became much more “choosy” in who they reproduced with. Evolutionary psychologists, and their followers, believe that it was this fastidiousness that led men to compete with each other; the winner getting the opportunity to mate with the deciding female. Through the years, these “victorious” men passed on stereotypically-masculine traits like aggression, competitiveness and courage, allegedly leading all men to be inborn leaders.

So, here are the issues with all of the above:

Most of the “science” behind this idea has taken place in America.

If  leadership is innately-male, this would be the same for all cultures (with insignificant variances dependent on the culture, of course) but this is simply not the case. Anthropological evidence suggests that 1/3 of small-scale societies treat men and women as equals, even if their responsibilities are slightly dissimilar. Examples of this can be seen in Koraput, Vinatinai, and in several villages in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. The  absence of patriarchy in primitive communities raises red flags in regards to the validity of this “men are hard-wired to be leaders” theory.

Reproductive success and survival of BOTH sexes would have depended on both mates acting as “providers,” not just the male.

The time frame that evolutionary psychologists use to base their theory off of was a time when hunting and gathering were the only sources of food. Traditionally, women would gather and men would hunt. We know that hunting was quite the difficult task, involving finding the animal, killing it (which was often unsuccessful), skinning/cleaning it- the list goes on. Because of this, it was much more realistic for these primitive communities to live mostly off of gathered food. This means that it was usually women who “brought home the bacon” (or should we say “brought home the berries!”) This goes against every idea that men must be natural providers, as it was the women who were depended on.

So why is it, then, that men are seen as intrinsically dominant? As more complicated economies developed, so did more complex roles- a lot of them taking place outside of the home. Because men were not responsible for gestation and nursing of children, it was obvious that they would leave the home to fill these new roles and with the physical size and upper body strength of many men, they had advantages in taking labor-type roles, giving them control over many resources, and social power in general. Once this new gender hierarchy began, it snowballed from there. Free from childbearing and care-taking, men continued to occupy roles that gave them wealth and power, while women were pushed further into confined domestic roles.

Supporting the idea that the psychological differences between the sexes are not natural at all,  social psychologists Wendy Wood and Alice Eagly, propose that these differences are actually a product of the roles that men and women are expected to fill in society. With these expectations, each gender develops behaviors that are appropriate for their given roles. If we were to assume that this theory is correct, it would make more sense to see that women do not often display overtly leader-like traits because society simply doesn’t expect them to. (An infuriating thought to say the least.)

It took 10,000-12,000 years for this overwhelmingly sexist theory to develop. Patriarchy is not the product of human nature, it is a product of economic advancements and social constructs. Period.

 

 

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Intersectionality

Intersectionality is a term that Kimberle Crenshaw brought about in 1989, while writing her prolific essay, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.“Although the existence of intersectionality, itself, has been around since humans developed the absurd ability to discriminate against other humans, Crenshaw originally coined this term to capture the congruity of black feminism to anti-discrimination laws. She used the following analogy to help individuals gain a better understanding of the term:

Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in an intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination. . . . But it is not always easy to reconstruct an accident: Sometimes the skid marks and the injuries simply indicate that they occurred simultaneously, frustrating efforts to determine which driver caused the harm.

Intersectionality is, now, used to describe the interaction of various power structures (homophobia, classism, ageism, etc.) in the lives of minorities, in addition to Crenshaw’s concentrated definition that honed in on sexism and racism.

A prime example of intersectionality is Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s nonsensical and purely ridiculous Matriarch Stereotype. In 1965, Moynihan conducted a “study”to show that the decline of the nuclear family, within the African American community, would continue to disrupt their progress toward equality, both socially and economically. He felt that because so many African American women were having children out of wedlock (therefor raising children in female-headed households) these women were undermining black men and allowing them to relinquish their responsibilities as husbands and fathers. This was the cause, Moynihan believed, of the overwhelming rates of poverty in the African American community at the time.

Moynihan’s Matriarch theory illustrates the importance of the term, intersectionality, because not only did these women have sexism and racism working against them, but also their classism. With intersectionality in mind, we see that the aforementioned elements of oppression (sexism, racism, classism) were actually the culprits behind their struggle to shift out of their low-income situations while Moynihan’s theory simply rationalizes the oppression of these women.

To get less specific, though, let’s think about trans women of color, a gay individuals with disabilities, single mothers who struggle, financially- whatever the case may be. Does it make sense to ask any of these individuals to choose which part of their identity deserves to be liberated?

Every issue that we see- sexism, the wage gap, or the alarming rate of trans women of color being killed- they can all be related back to the presence of intersectionality. These injustices will not dissipate if we, as advocates, as feminists, as allies, are only fighting against bits and pieces of the puzzle. By refusing this theory, we are leaving out a substantial amount of individuals suffering. In order to truly understand, and attempt to successfully dismantle systematic oppression, we must fight for all or we are fighting for none. This theory must be included in our rhetoric, so that we may truly make a difference.

 

 

Is Radical Self Love a Dangerous Concept?

Shocking concept, I know, but stick with me here.

Here’s the thing, I am all for women feeling empowered and loving their bodies. However, the issue with this boomin’ “self love movement” is that it seems to imply that we have control over this sort of thing. It’s not so black and white. A person’s insecurities flow and change, depending on millions of factors, most of them out of their control. If it was as simple as deciding to radically love yourself, I am sure that most of us would have made that decision by now.

Life is very short. Insecurities are a waste of time.” This is an actual quote, written by Diane von Fürstenberg, an American Fashion designer. And while I am quite sure that good ol’ Diane meant no harm in this- because, yea, life is short and yeah, I’m sure we could find better things to do with our time than to spend it being hard on ourselves- to proclaim this in such a simplistic way can lead one to ponder why they can not, simply, shake these ingrained feelings of self-criticism and insecurity. Those of us who find it more difficult to join this movement, start asking ourselves “why can’t I just feel comfortable within my own body?” ” Why can’t I just stop wasting time on these insecurities?” Which, ironically, leads to more insecurities and feeling that there is something inherently wrong with us.

Another pattern within this movement seems to be the overwhelming amount of white, middle class, hetero, cis women who push this way of thinking. The idea that loving yourself is something you can just choose to do, without the realization that many people face more barriers than you, is just selfish and calls for a serious check of privilege. People of color, queer and trans people, poor people, disabled individuals and individuals with mental illness. These people face more oppression and external discrimination, making it even more difficult to “just learn” to radically-self-love.

This movement has many sweet intentions and I am all about being kind to yourself, but we must step back and look at the bigger picture. Let’s talk about racism, ableism, sexism, transphobia, socioeconomic inequality, oppression. Let’s understand that these attitudes and prejudices hold a large part of responsibility. Let’s work together to dismantle these factors before we promote the idea you must make the decision to love yourself.

 

Women in the Renaissance

Up until the Renaissance, a individual’s life was entirely devoted to the church. In comparison, during the Renaissance, people broke free and began to focus on themselves and the good of humanity. It was a time of self-discovery, education, travel, music and art and with this came a substantial desire for education and expression. During these times, women were also affected in their own way, by the changes in education, ideal beauty marriage and gender roles.

In the beginning, only wealthy women were known to be educated. If you were not wealthy, you had to enter a convent or become a courtesan to learn. If you were a wife or a mother, your education was for the purpose of being a better mother and wife, and only for that reason was it okay for you to be educated. Throughout the renaissance, the priority always remained their domestic role but education became more accepted and, in some cases, encouraged. One example of this was Henry VIII’s oldest daughter who was educated in Greek, Latin, logic, Philosophy, theology, astronomy and math. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some men labeled educated women as “unmarriable” and compared them to female warriors and amazon women. Despite this, women continued to gain knowledge. They were learning how to speak different languages, make art and dance and they also learned how to play instruments. In regards to who taught them all of these subjects; often times it was their husband, father, brother or private male tutor who taught them, as it was still unacceptable for women to teach.

Although there was much change in education for women, marriage remained archaic. Women spent the early part of their lives under their families’, or should I say fathers’, rules and were then passed on to a husband around the age of sixteen. Renaissance girls had no say in who they were to marry and they were passed off at such a young age to ensure that there would be enough time to have as many heirs as they could. When they were married, the husband received a dowry, or payment, for marrying the wife. In this time, marriage was not about love, it was about a gain in wealth and social or political standing. Marriage also meant that the body of the wife was then property of her husband. Once married, if the husband found the wife to be “rebellious” or “disobedient,” abuse of the wife was completely permitted. In the case that her husband died, her age determined where she would be “placed.” If she was young, she would be sent back to her family’s home and if she was older, she was advised to stay with the family of her husband. Regardless of the age, though, a woman never lived alone.

Throughout each time period, the standards of beauty, in regards to women, continued to change and it was no different in the renaissance. During this time, a painter named Botticelli created a piece called Venus and Mars. In this painting, there is a woman (Venus) lying elegantly across from her lover, Mars. Many people thought that Venus was modeled after a woman Botticelli had met, but in reality he painted Venus based on what he envisioned as a beautiful woman. Botticelli’s preference reflected what was ideally beautiful in the renaissance; curves, yellow hair, supple breasts, high forehead, ruby lips and alabaster skin. Dark red lips were achieved with vermilion, hairlines were plucked, hair was lightened with Saffron and onion dyes, mixed with alum and soda and alabaster skin could be made with a mixture of white lead and vinegar. This time period held more realistic expectations, but women would go to more dangerous lengths if her body was not a complete match to the current idea of beauty.

Feminism. There were a handful of women who were already radically pushing the boundaries of womanhood and what was considered “normal” for women in that time period. Lucrezia Marinella wrote a piece of work called “The Nobility and Excellence of Women and the Defects and Vices of Men.” This piece was written in response to a piece that Giusepe Passi created, stating the alleged defects of women. Marinella’s piece consisted of the reasoning behind her thought that women were actually superior to men in many ways, including morally and intellectually.

Isabella d’Este was the wife of Francesco II Gonzaga, the Marquess of Mantua. In Francesco’s absence, and later death, Isabella took his place. Isabella was not only an important political figure but she was a patron of the arts, played the lute and was a very large part in the development of a musical style called frottola. Another example of this is a woman names Laura Cereta. Laura put feminist issues and her friendships with other women in the forefront of her writings. She wrote from a feminist perspective, about women’s education, war and marriage and her pieces were not only intended for women, but for everyone, as to further spread her ideals.

The renaissance was a time for change and exploration and that was absolutely reflected through many women and their perceived roles. Presently, it seems like it was a dreadful time to be a woman, and it’s true. However, it was a nudge in the right direction. It was a time for women to experience education, make music and to create art. It was a time for them to write stories and poems, to speak, rule and start the shift towards being a separate entity to their partners. In some cases, it was even about smashing gender roles completely and fighting for women’s rights.