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Virtues of Womanhood in Patriarchal Societies

By Roya Monajem, Tehran

I got scared when the idea crossed my mind. Am I going mad? Am I getting old? Am I getting reactionary? Will I be understood?

I am going to take the risk anyway. And to start this daring journey, let us first look at a poem sent to me after the posting of my article "Intellectualism" at this corner.

From the eyes
Of your rivals
It was you
Covered me

Top to toe. * In the ocean Of my passion I was naked Like a fish; Sand and wind Cold and heat Passed on me Caressed me. In your desert - You knew - I'll die. I 'm covered Top to toe You 're spread On my top Are you happy On my dead?... Mali Mostoufi NY-September 2004 * From Verse 59. Chapter 33.

And Verse 59, (or 58 according to other copies) of chapter 33 reads: "You, the prophet, tell your women and girls and women of the faithful to cover themselves with chador as this will prove their chastity and will keep them immune against the harms of capricious- or voluptuous-ness."

If we leave chastity alone, then isn't the second part, every girl's and woman's wish? To be immune against the harms of capriciousness, aggression, rape? Added to the fact that in the part of the world where the above and all other major prophets have come from - i.e. the Middle East - this cover (chador) is in reality a small tent for a mother (and a grown up girl) to protect herself and probably her small children (or brother(s) and sister(s)) from the hot sun or sandstorms.

So, the problem is not that much with the 'advice' as such, but with how it is communicated and the time and era of its application. To a modern financially independent woman, this can only be suggested, not enforced by force and authority of laws, traditions and conditioning.

This is what is wrong with all traditions; they all possess the same tone of 'thou shalt,' 'you must,' and not 'think about it and decide for yourself.' Using Nietzsche's expression, they all used to cultivate the 'herd' morality.

Yet, I like to know whether the 'feminine intellectual way of appearance in public' - that is usually without make-up, wearing mostly trousers, almost devoid of 'conventional' or 'historically known as feminine body language,' (meaning appearing as asexual as possible) is not something like wearing a chador? A woman in chador appears like our modern Superman or Batman, doesn't she? She wears a mask like Superman and covers her body curves with a long cape, mantle, cloak, aba. So, it is almost impossible to guess how sexy she is by her superficial appearance. Thus the probability of sexual arousal by sight automatically decreases. Strangers are of lesser threat! She is 'safer.' No wonder that the size and appearance of women's ankles (almost the sole visible part of her body), the color, pattern and texture of their chadors, and even "the folds they produce as women walk" - using the words of an Afghan poet - have come to mean and convey a sexual language in Islamic cultures! Women with relatively large ankles, for example, are considered sexy. Why do you think, chains and other ornaments around ankles, now in fashion were created here?

And what is the fundamental message in the modern feminine intellectual way of appearance (which is basically appearing like men)?

"I am not a masculine vestige; a rib. I am not a sex object. I have an identity of my own. I am not merely the wife or the mother of some men."

The message conveyed by both is a 'sexual' message, with one major difference. The former (wearing chador) is compulsory in traditional religious countries and unpractical for the modern way of life and the second is 'voluntary' and well suited for the contemporary mode of living.

Thus, from one perspective, they follow essentially the same goal, but in different 'ideological' languages. Both are capable of creating 'safety and security' against sexual abuse. And even the question of 'practicality' would depend on the part of the world where one is living. In traditional Islamic countries where men usually do not come across women much at work and outside, it is quite 'natural' that the mere sight of a woman's bare ankles, or strands of her hair sticking out of the scarf can provoke sexual arousal! In case of 'feminine intellectual way of appearance,' in addition to the above message and the question of practicality, time and energy also play a role. When a woman works full-time outside and at home, she no longer has the leisure time of a full-time housewife to care about her appearance. And this brings us to the first virtue of womanhood in a patriarchal, particularly traditional society. In these societies, women are not obliged to work outside. It is not what the society expects from them. And if they are from a relatively well-off and wealthy family then they do not even do that much housework and do not spend that much time on taking care of their children, which is the case of rich women throughout the world. They have servants and helpers and baby sitters and drivers. And even if they keep a full time job, they do it to entertain themselves, to feel they are somebody and they usually keep their income for themselves. It is solely the duty of men to support the family financially. And, as long as they put up with their husbands' little flirtations here and there, they can be 70-75% sure that their husbands will never leave them. Why should they? The social cultural norms backed up by our long masculine history give them enough freedom to breathe, if the air of their homes becomes suffocating because of their failing marital relationship. Yet, the same social, cultural norms expect them to love and respect their mothers and thus the mother-figure. So, in cases of unsuccessful and unsatisfactory marital relationships, they seldom ask for divorce because they can look at their wives as the mother of their children and ignore her as a wife, mainly a woman as they can have their 'woman' outside.[1] Judging from the Hollywood movies, (one of the ways that we can learn about the West, at least American West), the number of Western men asking for separation and divorce appears to be less than that of women too. But why? Other than the above social cultural reason, what may be the root of this difference? Why does the number of women asking for divorce usually far exceed that of men all over the world?

It appears that the answer lies in the bio-mentality of human beings. Biologically, it is due to the relatively longer dependency of human infants on both parents (particularly mothers) for their survival! As the result, the woman needs to know who the father of her child is. Who should take this shared responsibility? If we were like higher animals and had no Mind, 'instinct' was enough to force males to carry out their share of the responsibility. They could not escape it. But humans have a mind which can over-rule instincts to a certain degree. And this mind together with the morality it creates has so far been largely a masculine creation. And men know their lot better. They knew that they could make women pregnant and then deny their role in it. And here lies the root of religious and subsequently cultural social legal codes of sexual conduct and moralities.

In patriarchal societies, morality is naturally based on masculine evaluations and codes of conduct. Historically, humans are conditioned to see only the 'dark' side of things. For example, we notice that in Islam women are regarded 'half-men.' Very humiliating indeed! But we forget the time-space of the emergence of the Koran. We find the idea of 'the right to have four orricial wives and as many temporary wives as a man can wish and afford' disgusting; I mean women will largely find this disgusting and not the overwhelming majority of men! What is disgusting in it for a man really? It is an honor and prestige and something to boast about. After all what is wrong with temporary marriage (siqeh) in these backward societies, at least, as long as there are no powerful organizations or laws supporting women? It can spare the job of DNA examination! It appeared to replace the 'instinct' that used to force men to take their share of responsibility if the woman became pregnant. Men can be quite mad about this rule too. Can't they? They are just sexually aroused and need to extinguish this burning flame. Temporary marriage in Islam is like legalized prostitution in the West. It is a way of protecting women. Men are humans too. And as law-makers, they know their lot better! How beautifully Isabel Allendeh depicts the life of some of these 'poor' girls in her Love Stories. Indeed it is one of the most depressing things that can happen to a young girl or woman; being left alone with a child on her hands. And in an Islamic country, only God can help such a woman and her child! The woman would most probably end up in a whore-house (sorry, I mean the 'Chastity-house,' according to the post-Islamic revolution terminology) and the child, a bastard according to social cultural norms, would never have a birth certificate and thus deprived of all his human rights! They just hanged Atefeh Rajabi, a 16 year old girl on the charge of committing adultery in the province of Mazandaran and Jilla Azadi, a 13 year old girl has recently been sentenced to 'stoning to death' by a judge in the city of Marivan. A few months ago a woman was 'stoned to death' in I think Tanzania for the same 'sin.' And she was pregnant (damn the old age! I don't even remember her name and I am not even that sure about the country. I just remembered signing an unsuccessful petition against the charge.)

Sorry, I intended to write about virtues of womanhood and not its vices! Fortunately, the number of such cases is not that high in societies. After all, men are not that 'beast!' The majority of them act quite humanly in these cases. They 'instinctively' do not leave the woman alone, whether their official temporary wife or not. For this reason, we can leave these 'exceptional' cases alone and see what are other virtues of womanhood in patriarchal traditional societies?

As a member of at least the third generation of 'educated, somehow intellectual women,' as daughters of real 'feminists,' brought up with feminists ideas, we have this privilege to sit back and look at the fate of 'emancipated' women and that of humanity in a more objective, less biased way.

The first virtue mentioned above was that in these societies working outside is a choice and not a compulsion, as it is now in the West. A good number of women are not even allowed to work outside. So they only have two major tasks to attend - womanhood and motherhood. They are exempted from playing the third role of a bread-earner or an active member of the society.

First of all let me emphasize on one important point and that in this discussion we are taking certain things for granted. Summarized in one word, we will the dissolution and disappearance of all sectarian, separatist sexual evaluations and laws throughout the world. In fact, the life of intellectual women of the past two centuries is the price paid for the accomplishment of this goal. It has been an extremely high price both for them and for humanity. We all have benefited and suffered gravely from it. The good part is that for the first time in human history, we can put an end to Nietzsche's definition of love, "eternal war between the sexes," as the result of legal, financial and social security that women now enjoy. The root of this war - as mentioned in previous articles - lies in our biological make up, i.e. male physical superiority and female survival superiority. Modern way of life is helping the process of their extinction. Like our wisdom teeth, we no longer need them for our survival. Technology is replacing male physical superiority and nutrition, medicine and social services are replacing survival superiority of women. The number of males choosing female way of living is increasing; so is the number of fathers taking care of their children. The less men put themselves in life-threatening situation, as was the case in the past, the less strenuous physical work they do, as was the case in the past, the more the 'stress and anxiety' creating role of 'bread-earner and financial decision maker' is shared between the sexes, the higher will be the rate of their survival. The more social protection women attain, the more they become free of their bio-historical insecurity.

From this point of view the best part of women emancipation is that it has led to human emancipation. The idea is now materialized. As much as the idea of socialism, democracy and many other ideals of our ancestors are materialized. The next world, if our present rulers do not drive and lead it to extinction, will be the world ruled by intelligent people; intelligent in the sense of 'willingness and determination to create a beautiful, inhabitable, respectable world, in deed and not in thought and speech.'

In traditional patriarchal societies, where the majority of women are busy carrying out the heavy task of womanhood-motherhood, human ties are still strong and this helps them to maintain a healthier 'emotional-mental and thus physical' state of being. When I compare working and non-working mothers, I found the majority of the latter 'better off.' It is a very logical and foreseeable fact. A working woman is in reality carrying out three full-time jobs. And because she is abusing herself energy-wise, she can not play any of her roles properly and as good as she should. So she seldom attains satisfaction. Thus she is usually depressed and 'feeling blue,' particularly if she is of the 'intellectual' perfectionist type. The natural consequence is she can not be a good wife, let alone a good lover, nor a good mother, nor a good 'professional.' And here starts a destructive negative vicious circle. Science of psychology and psychiatry could never develop so much by men if there were not so many 'women' in need of their service! Let us not forget that although women emancipation affected the whole world, but it was the feminine race that suffered more radically. The masculine race suffered only indirectly and just needed an adaptation. It is the woman doing three full-time jobs and thus abuses herself physically as well as psychologically, mentally, emotionally, in one word, existentially.

And what have we as the third generation of this species of women have attained except a life-time of hard-work, inside and outside the house, spending the best years of our lives proving that we 'women are not the second sex' or 'half-men,' (in Islamic countries). And we open our eyes and we see 'we are alone,' with an old-age pension and a room to live and if lucky financial-wise, we can join a tour to travel to some foreign land to take some photos with our Nikon and Polaroid cameras to show to our neighbors and relatives that we might see only rarely, perhaps during the New Year holidays or so and carry them to our graves. Yet on a larger scale, we have set an example. We have paved the way for our children to live in a more 'emancipated' world, emancipated from bigotry, and outdated thinking. But thanks to our Western sisters the idea is now deeply rooted and materialized and the Islamic Republic showed us one thing for sure. The river of history can not flow backward!

It took at least three generations of human life for our science to reach the truth of what was already known 'unscientifically.' Healthy human beings can be brought up only in healthy families, by healthy parents, particularly mothers. Now we know what an indispensable role breast-feeding plays in both physical and emotional health of a child. We know how crucial is to be brought up by a loving mother. But a loving mother needs to be in-love in order to be loving.

This is the main dilemma of the majority of educated intellectual women throughout the world. We know all this! We know how important it is to spend time with our children, to love and accept them unconditionally. We have all suffered because our 'poor' mothers did not have the time and energy for that. But we are also professional and we are familiar with the increasing speed of advancement and progress in all fields of knowledge and what consequences it will have for us when we stop working because of the task of motherhood, because we love our children and we do not wish them to repeat our lives. How can we solve the above dilemma then?

Womanhood-motherhood is the most demanding full-time job. To hold a third job can only aggravate the situation. 'Unconditional love and acceptance' is an active conscious act. It needs tremendous amount of 'energy.' Let's take just the sexual part. When physically tired, we might still be capable of 'having sex,' but not 'love-making.' What educated professional intellectual women neglect that leads to the emergence of the above dilemma is the fact that they think if they do not work outside, they have, therefore, wasted their time and life on education. They forget that without it, they could never realize what a crucial role love plays in the future life of their children. That is the first point. The second point is that we need to be educated to be able to effectively lead our modern way of life. Technology is now an integral part of everyday life. We need to be educated in order to live an honorable respectable life. The third point is that we need that education to be able to communicate with our children and our husbands if we wish to maintain their love and attention which we need in order to maintain the flame of love in our hearts; the flame that turns us to real human being. So it is not 'for the sake' of others, but ourselves that we need that education.

As intellectual women we need to dive into depth and cores of things. Spiritualism is a way of life. It is not important how we attain it, (Long Live Machiavelli's genius), whether in a temple led by some male guru, or at home with our children. What is important is to go through the mystical 'seven cities of love,' to see the human life from a much wider and higher perspective. To go beyond our small selfish self; to learn 'forgiveness' and in one word to develop our capacity for love and joy. Doesn't a mother automatically go through all this when she dedicates her life to her children in the same way that a man dedicates his life to his Spiritual guru and temple and ideal? If we look at the essentials, then we can find all the seven Indian schools of Yoga in what is called housework and motherhood.[2] We need not to go to a temple for it. And the last, but not the least is the question of artistic creation, another vital characteristic of human-ness. All constitutive parts of housework are classified as 'art.' Cooking, sewing, knitting, house decoration, setting tables, you name it, and you would see for yourself that it is an art field and the proof of it is that for sure a man artist has recorded it as an art project in a museum. Where did the inspiration for all those paintings called 'still life' come from? A table set by a mother or wife that attracted attention.

I can hear a sigh of relief from all 'educated-intellectual' full-time mothers who are not irreversibly brainwashed by old-fashioned feminist thinking reading these words. Why can't we be happy and satisfied with bringing up 'healthy, joyous' children and attain 'immorality' in this way? Rather than the hard masculine way of maddening attempt to leave a 'name' in the world outside?

Women in the traditional patriarchal society are starting the path that Western women started a couple of centuries ago. They still can be happy with their role as mother-wife if we invite them to see things from this perspective too. They do not feel satisfaction because of the dominance of 'traditional masculine evaluations, definitions and outlook,' that looks down on the tasks of womanhood-motherhood.

Human society and our beautiful earth are facing real danger. Healthy, joyful human beings are becoming extinct because of the 'un-loving warring' environment in and outside of our homes.

The decision that modern women have the privilege to make now is not "To work or not to work,' but "To become a mother or not." Enough is enough. Enough of allowing 'masculine evaluations' to tell us what 'human evaluations' are.

If we have something to say to this large army of house-wives and mothers in the traditional countries is to enjoy their life as they are the anonymous artists and spiritualists of this world. Let us not pollute them with the agony of 'masculine conception of earthly existence and immorality.' Let us leave them as whole and pure as they can be when untouched by 'the complexity and necessities of working outside.' It is awful to unconsciously regard our children as 'obstacles' to our self-development and self-realization. And let us not forget the fact that there is a feminine and masculine way of self-development and self-realization which thanks to our emancipated world is a choice that no longer needs to be made on the basis of our sex.

1. I am almost sure that there is a woman behind the scene in case of those 25-30% of men who file for divorce. She is forcing his lover or temporary husband to divorce his first wife, i.e. the mother of his children.

2. For details, see my poem "I love housework" in one of Payvand's issues.

... Payvand News - 11/1/04 ... --

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