After sifting through a battered copy of the loathsome bulwark of essentialism, ‘Dr.’ Gray’s “Men are from Mars and women are from Venus” at my friend’s apartment, I couldn’t help but balk at the sheer idiocy of the people who bought the craptastic book and made it a gynormous bestseller in the first place. But on further internal soul searching however, I started pondering on why cheerleaders of equal rights and other good stuff still subscribed to the rigid gender roles laid down by the heterosexist patriarchy, like my friend, for instance. When I offhandedly criticized the book in front of him, he got unusually defensive and mumbled something about how I was ignorant about ‘biological superiority’ (his words) and how I wouldn’t understand because I was an exception to the norm, anyway.
Here I was, faced with the dreadful prospect of dealing with my least favorite argument supporting the ‘natural superiority’ of males; and all I wanted to do was to crawl in a hole and lay there. Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t fear which made me want to crawl into a hole, it was my own capricious temper which I was worried about. I wanted to coldly refute his points without blowing my top or drowning his theories in a barrage of expletives, but I couldn’t trust my volatile anger. And I just sat there, incensed.
Since my blog has always been a handy tool for quelling my anger management issues, it only made sense for me to elaborate on my not-so-kind opinions on essentialism and its ugly siblings, like biological determinism (barf) over here.
Basically, the essentialist position on gender states that there are distinctively feminine and distinctively masculine traits that exist outside of social and cultural conditioning and because of such qualities being wired into our brains, we must irrevocably accept gender oppression simply as part of who we are as a species. This stance is outrageous, primarily because it offers little or no insight as to how women and men can work towards changing or improving the status quo or even human nature, come to think of it. This asinine line of reasoning has been used for thousands of years to perpetuate patriarchy as a universal system ‘rooted’ in human essence and it has also been used to corroborate sexism and discrimination against women be it financially, emotionally, politically, mentally or physically. It validates the notion that masculine and feminine traits are diametrically opposite but complementary to each other if and only if, men and women act according to conventional gender roles. It oversimplifies complex social patterns related to biology, psychology, genetics, history and what have you and boxes it into an extremely narrow worldview in general. For instance, if disparities between the genders are a part of our very being and patriarchal hegemony is indisputable, why is it necessary for humans to indulge in unspeakable amounts of brutality and oppression to maintain patriarchy? Or if aggression and gender oppression are so entrenched in the male psyche and passivity and dependence make up the feminine essentia, how does it explain the fact that women through the ages have been standing up for their rights and speaking up against male dominance and coercion?
Biological determinism (which is basically a form of essentialism) especially, has been used to dubiously ‘prove’ that men just happen to be smarter, stronger, rational, more aggressive etc * and thus more suited to rule rather than follow. This is utterly preposterous however, as biological determinism fails to account for the immense variations found amid men and amid women and it also fails to address that such variations far outnumber the disparities between individuals of opposite genders.
Paradoxically, the very same explanations which ‘prove’ that men are smarter, stronger, more rational et al also point to the fact that it is in man’s innate nature to dominate and to be violent, and his need to control translates into oppression. According to this line of thought, women are a ready made outlet for man’s need to coerce, as women are ‘naturally’ submissive. It perpetuates the dodgy, absolutist view that sex-linked inclinations are undeniably written into our DNA and our brains. But this kind of reasoning reeks of “boys will be boys” or “men are that way because that’s the way men are”, a circular dead end argument which essentialism basically pushes us into. More importantly, essentialism ignores the prominent role that fear plays in most men’s lives, it ignores the fact that the driving force behind the system of patriarchy is a compelling association between fear and control, specifically male control^.
Proponents of such scientific truths often forget that social and cultural postulations about ‘manliness’, ‘femininity’ and the relationship patterns between the genders, often bolster and shape these allegedly neutral theories.
Now I am in no way denying the obvious fact that differences do exist between the sexes. But using a pair of breasts or internally placed genetelia as subliminal justification or scientific attestation for the subjugation and disparagement of women is just ludicrous, and not to mention, completely unnecessary while discussing issues pertaining to sexual emancipation and equal rights.
* An ignorant, yet common offshoot of this line of thinking is that women just happen to be morally superior to men. This view is as asinine as ‘men are obviously better due to….’
Inverting the same convoluted logic will only push us smack dab into a wall of dead-end essentialism, yet again.
^ Future post alert.
Very important update: Please pepuls go and read this post by a man who is an expert in amongst other things, women with '7 to 10 ratio of hips' and how they are best suited for mating, how women cannot dream of sex without thinking of love and how a woman's 'unconcious mind' can decode the immune system of a man in 3 seconds flat. Please, go.read.it.pronto.
[Thank you crumbs, for the link!]