Illustration by TrinidadAndTobagoNews.com and not the author
By Corey Gilkes
April 15, 2010 – trinicenter.com
Over the last few months one of the main stories in the news was an incident involving golfing legend Tiger Woods, his wife and another woman with whom Woods had a secret relationship (well, secret until the mark buss, as we say in Trinidadian parlance). As more and more of the story unfolded, it was revealed that Woods had been engaging in sexual dalliances with not only that woman, but quite a number of other women, some apparently romantic, others were simply sexual. This latest “scandal” comes on the heels of a long line of cases involving high profile men including other sporting personalities, politicians, presidential candidates like John Edwards, former presidents (who today can forget Clinton/Lewinsky?) going back to John F Kennedy, his brother Robert, Dwight D Eisenhower, Franklin D Roosevelt and even their predecessors.
Now as man ah really wasn’t going and say nothing eh; I have enough enemies who done find I always attacking dey bible or whatever book they consider holy and this is one topic that gets a lot of people riled up real quick. Given the narrow-minded, anti-intellectual, emotive way issues relating to human sexuality are discussed in Trinbago (first influenced by middle-class European Christian, Arab Islamic and Hindu values and ideas, now influenced by all that AND Euro-American Christian cultural values), discussions of modern – or even ancient – sexual behaviour not in keeping with the accepted scripts often quickly descend into simplistic religiously influenced tirades that go nowhere, hardly leaving anyone better informed. So ah was really not going to say nothing but when Tiger Woods indicated that he intended to return to golfing and some self-righteous personalities on some local and foreign radio and TV programmes stirred the furore up again, I decided I may as well pelt the jep nest and done.
Now before going any further into my rant, I’m assuming everyone at least understands, if not accepts, what in the West is the approved model for social and sexual interaction between men and women. It is essentially something like this: serious dating (going steady) and marriages are all exclusive, monogamous, closed arrangements. Once entered into there can be no intimate/sexual relations or emotional feelings (love) with anyone else. To do so is betraying, cheating, being unfaithful, failure to commit, etc. Everybody “knows” that you can be in love with or harbour deep emotional attachments for one person and one person only; no one can or is supposed to harbour those kinds of feelings for more than one person at a time. It takes away from your significant other, “the One,” your soul mate, the one who fulfils your entire intellectual, spiritual, security and especially sexual needs. You marry, settle down, raise children, pass on those values to them and the cycle is maintained. This is pretty much what we were conditioned to believe since we were children. All the romantic comedies and dramas, fairy tales, romance novels and priestly sermons reflected that or revolved around that theme. Monogamy, fidelity, sexual/emotional exclusivity are articles of faith insofar as marriage and relationships go.
In many circles, discussions about human intimacy outside of marital boundaries – or in addition to said boundaries – remain taboo, a source of either discomfort or heated verbal exchanges. Here is one area where many prefer to stay in the comfort zones that have been created and maintain the assumption everyone “knows” is true, right and moral. In fact, so deeply entrenched is this ideal that even among many of the early feminists and radical thinkers there wasn’t a whole lot of discussion regarding this issue. There is an almost complete unconscious acceptance of this model as an established, unshakeable fact; monogamy is proper, natural, moral and needed no discussion or examination and why should there be? In the West this is basically the model for all intimate/sexual interactions; this is the way it is supposed to be in civilised societies such as ours; this is the building block of stable societies and is a wonderful, simple, practical model.
Except for one thing; it is an unrealistic and insufficient ideal as the only approved social/sexual model.
When we were being taught these values as children, certain things – such as the motivating factors behind their original creation and developments – were not taught. And being children we did not question too much. Our parents were indoctrinated into accepting the monogamous model and likewise we were indoctrinated into accepting it too. They were indoctrinated into equating morality with sex and being sexually exclusive and we were indoctrinated into equating it too. What few questions were asked such as when someone from one’s own family or from our parent’s circle of friends was found to have somebody else “on the side” were easily explained away as sinfulness, weakness, cheating, disrespect for others (especially women) and so on. Over the last 100 years alone a great many things about humanity have been discovered; old assumptions examined, challenged and re-defined. Yet human sexuality, even in 2010, remains largely untouched, unexplored; remaining under the influence of enduring myths and misconceptions.
Well by now it must be evident that I am not going to jump on the bandwagon and condemn Tiger Woods. But lest the reader feel that I am some advocate for wanton promiscuity (brushing down de place), think again. I am an advocate for serious mature discussions about human sexuality given that there is a lot about it that remains under a cloud of dated, biased, distorted and de-contextualised information. I am an advocate for the expansion of what we consider appropriate sexual boundaries so as to dispense with misplaced notions of guilt surrounding certain sexual interactions. I am an advocate for the examination and discussion in an informed and rational way the re-defined and redrawn boundaries of sexual relations in our respective societies. I say redefined and redrawn because in any case, despite certain legal sanctions and the notions of guilt championed by the still-pervasive influence of the many religious institutions, many people are defining for themselves – have defined for themselves – how they intend to live and interact sexually with their fellow human beings with or without the permission of the state or religion.
Again, while I personally do not subscribe to the idea of exclusive monogamy, that in no way means that I am going to demean it or argue for the dispensing with (as if such a thing was even possible) the institution of marriage – as imprisoning and suffocating as many are finding it and in spite of its “mortality rate” being over 50%. I can understand the view that if you made certain vows at your wedding: to “love, honour and cherish” your spouse, and it is explicitly stated that “honouring” and being “faithful” means remaining sexually exclusive to him/her, then that’s what you should be. It is an agreement after all, a contract and one should honour the terms of that contract. Some also argue that what is so reprehensible about (or more than) an affair is the lies and deception. All this I can empathise with…to a point. For me the main issue is not so much Tiger Woods or the many men AND women who for whatever reason get involved in intimate extramarital or extra-relationship situations, the root of the problem is much deeper. There is an important point that most who take that “moralistic” stance overlook. The problem lies in that very social/sexual script outlined above, which implicitly and explicitly posits that monogamy is how everyone must live and sexually interact; that one person can fulfil all one’s diverse needs. The problem lies in that script that places highly unrealistic expectations upon many people, many of whom do initially try to conform to those expectations only to either engage in secret liaisons or maintain the value and end up bitterly unhappy, stressed and in some cases engaging in very destructive behaviours. Arguments along the lines that those who do not follow the social script are weak, “full ah vice,” sinful or “animalistic” simply cannot suffice anymore, if such arguments were ever satisfactory to begin with (as far as I’m concerned they’re not).
As indicated the sexual benchmark for interactions between men and women remains the closed, exclusive, monogamous relationship, preferably within the boundaries of marriage. This is especially the case in the United States where the ideas of sexual interaction between men and women are profoundly influenced by the individualist nature of mainstream US cultural values which can be traced to Dutch Protestant ideas of the world and which in turn can be traced further back in time. It is that ideology that we should use as our point of departure.
A well-written but little known book is Lynn Atwater’s 1982 study The Extramarital Connection; a study she conducted of hundreds of women who had had extramarital affairs and the varied reasons for their doing so. One of her main arguments is that contrary to what we were conditioned into believing, the closed, exclusive monogamous union is by no means as natural and “moral” as it is made out to be. It is unrealistic to truly expect that any one person can necessarily fulfil all of our physical, psychological, spiritual, intellectual, security and sexual needs, she argued. With specific reference this idea of sexual exclusivity, she points out that “we have inherited a repressive set of legal, moral and religious codes that we still use to guide our attitudes, yet these codes were never designed to meet the problems of modern intimacy that confront us today.” I myself take some issue with her argument, but she is basically correct in the view that such ideas and beliefs regarding sex and intimacy were not developed to deal with the realities of modern human social and sexual interaction. We try rigidly to keep to the “traditional” script with almost no understanding of the complexities of the human species, no factoring in of the possibility that people evolve physiologically, intellectually and sometimes sexually as they grow. No acknowledgement that some people have different sexual drives and stimuli than others.
One of the many things we do not want to discuss is the fact that the moral codes we are upholding are by no means timeless; some of us can’t even see, for instance, that those codes themselves have changed from what was permissible in, say 1901 to what was permissible in 1968, 1978 or 2010. In fact, many Christian moralists today who ardently state that sex should only take place within marriage are either unaware or leave out the fact that according to strict Christian ideology sexual intercourse is strictly for procreation – of a male child; is never to be done on Sundays, during the Sabbath, Lent, Easter; with feelings of sensual pleasure (for then it becomes lust) and in any position other than the missionary, i.e. the man on top. One assumes the priests and pastors either simply forgot to remind their devotees about that part or they chose to operate on the principle that it is easier to catch flies with honey.
Neither are these moral codes universal; in other words, just because a model or institution was developed by and for one group does not in any way mean that that model/institution can be suitable for another group. Customs, economic and political institutions often are shaped according to immediate realities in demographics, climate, economies, crises and human experiences. Likewise they are often adjusted in response to shifts in these things, and this includes moral values, particularly the way men and women interact with each other sexually. The morality we have been made to accept as universal has been appropriately called masculine morality by Marilyn French in her book “Beyond Power: On Women, Men and Morals” because it was developed by men, so many hundreds of years ago, for their benefit. The irony here is that today some of the most ardent upholders of these moral sexual codes are women. In fact, as I sourced material for this essay and for a book project I am working on I realised that overwhelmingly the value systems staunchly defended today by women in the media, on talk shows, sitcoms, dramas, etc were developed by men specifically to keep women subordinated.
Returning to Atwater, my own critique of her argument merely has to do with her interpretation of history. Her arguments that the old strictures against pre-and extramarital sex are unsuitable for modern human interactions assume that those ancient strictures were appropriate even then. In fact, almost all of the ideas of sexual morality were never developed to allow for shifts in human consciousness, societal changes or differences among people. Rather, a lot of our moral ideas on sexual exclusivity, pre- and extra-marital sex and intimacy, etc., were developed because patriarchal ideas felt that such changes and fluidity should and could be curtailed. They were developed in keeping with specific cultural ideas revolving around order and rigid structure. Additionally, contrary to the dressed up image we have been given of monogamy/marital exclusivity, it was not developed out of any respect for women’s “virtue” or to preserve the “sanctity” of the family. And no, it had nothing to do with any god either. Let’s get this clear, our ideas of sexual fidelity, monogamy and so on were based above all else on economic considerations – the need for men to secure ownership of certain assets – which was also linked to the equating of status with possessions. The feelings of hurt and betrayal that are often triggered by revelations of an affair are to a huge extent based on nothing that was logical or rational or even necessarily valid. Those emotions, rather, are learnt or indoctrinated behaviours built around an ancient exploitation of male insecurities in a culture that was beginning to value material possessions as a sign of high status. The “godly” aspect was created merely to provide justification for the shift in consciousness, cultural values and societal interests. As Dr Yosef ben-Jochannan has often said “god is the deification of a culture.”
This is not going to find favour among many who are wrapped up in the patricentric idea of one true love, soulmates, fidelity, biblical strictures, imposed one-dimensional ideas of commitment and so on, but the evidence is there and whether the reader chooses to adhere to exclusive monogamy or not, it is very important that s/he is clear on that very important point. Volumes have already been written about this from widely differing sources (not that most Trinis read). Atwater herself is but one scholar who drew this conclusion based on the overwhelming historical evidence. We must also factor in a strange irrational fear these ancient patriarchists had of women’s sexuality and the mysteries of menstruation and childbirth. In this first essay, however, I would like to briefly expand on the economic motivation behind the development of our moral code regarding sexual interactions. The origins stretch back into the dim mists of time and a hostile environment many of us cannot begin to fathom. It is somewhat problematic to cite dates because the shift to rigid patriarchy occurred at different times in different locations and often due to different circumstances. Further, to show the complex, some regions retained many aspects of women’s social, economic and sexual independence even though the laws and legends had long since placed them in a subordinate position under men. For brevity and because the cultural and moral values we hold in the Caribbean for the most part come from cultural ideas Europeans developed for their middle and upper classes, I shall focus on the rise of the patriarchy in ancient pre-Christian Eurasia.
As indicated the cultural ideas of Christian Europe and the United States were profoundly influenced by older European cultural ideas which in turn can be traced back to ancient Eurasian worldviews. Interestingly, while Europe did become a bedrock of patricentric ideas, ideas that revolved around authoritarianism, individualism, possessiveness, aggressive militaristic pursuits and fatalism, considerable evidence from its early social history indicates that many communities in what we now call Europe observed matricentric customs and ideas – not too surprising when one considers that the first inhabitants of Europe were African or Africoid as well as Asiatic and maintained cultural links with the tropical south. Artefacts unearthed in places like Crete, Monaco, France, the Aegean, etc., plus studies of ancient folklore point towards women and the principles of the Sacred Feminine occupying very high social positions in those regions. Women were priestesses, poets, healers, magistrates and entrepreneurs often operating independently of their male counterparts. Socially and economically women enjoyed as much autonomy as their counterparts in the tropical regions did. Archaeological and anthropological evidence shows that women owned land – it appears that they were also the first to cultivate it for farming – their wealth and power came partly from their development of the land and the food grown on it. Thus, although even then, so many thousands of years ago, a woman’s place was in the home, the home was a very important centre of production and was valued as such.
The evidence also shows that the property and other assets they owned were passed down to their offspring or to the children of their brothers/sisters. Prior to the rise of patriarchy lineages were traced through the female line: children took their names from mothers, not fathers. Although there is still some debate as to when exactly mankind understood the concept of fatherhood, for thousands of years, women, independently of men, were able to bequeath inheritances to their offspring. We find this custom among the Picts and the Celts of England; even in the later Roman Empire, husbands initially did not have legal claim to her assets if she spent three successive nights away from home. Greece, Marriages were essentially business arrangements; a way of cementing economic and political alliances. They were in most cases arranged by the parents and/or the elders of the community. Given the mental depth of these ancient community shapers, it is very likely that the arrangements were not made arbitrarily but may have factored in the personalities of the prospective persons so as to ensure some degree of compatibility. Dr John Henrik Clarke and Ifi Amadiume, in their respective works taught us that African (and by extension, matricentric) societies functioned through a strong sense of honour, obligation and reciprocity so it’s safe to infer that there was very little abuse. Indeed, there were legal contracts and unwritten customs that ensured that in the event of spousal abuse the husband would be effectively dealt with. In any event women could, and in many instances did, initiate divorce. Be all that as it may, the idea of marrying for love or romantic feelings, as lovely as it is made out to be, is only a very recent phenomenon and is partly linked to medieval literature that themselves were based somewhat on the objectifying of the desired women.
The shift to patricentric consciousness in Eurasia and its effects
There is a school of thought that advances that in Europe dramatic changes in ecological conditions around the end of the last Ice Age was what accounted for the shift to patriarchy. Some scholars believe that the tribes and communities that settled in the lands of Eurasia were not able to move back to the warmer regions due to the presence of massive ice barriers. The ravages of the very harsh winters made barren much of the land and food sources were very scarce. Roving tribes were forced to fight each other in order to secure access to scarce food stocks along with constant battles with the elements and predatory animals. Cheikh Anta Diop argued in the “Cultural Unity of Black Africa” and “Civilisation or Barbarism” that this precarious way of living gave rise to a peculiar kind of fatalistic mindset. It also gave rise to a thought process that posited that everything in the natural world had to be subdued and controlled if people were to survive. Anything in the natural world that could not be easily rationalised – and thus controlled – was looked upon with suspicion and considered hostile – which in some instances was indeed the case.
In this very hostile and uncertain environment certain behavioural traits characterised by aggression and competitiveness took prominence over older more stable, communalistic, passive attitudes. War and violence became valuated pursuits in these cultures. Anderson and Zinsser in their book “A History of Their Own” point out that most of the earliest Eurasian artefacts and figurines uncovered by archaeologists were weapons and images of warriors. Warrior traditions extolling violence and war – specifically masculine applications of violence – profoundly influence the Homeric epics, Roman, Jewish writings and Christian traditions that shaped the ideas of what is considered Western civilisation. With this shift towards the warrior ethic the older collectivist mindset and lifestyle gradually gave way to more individualistic behaviours. Engels points to this phase as the beginnings of the concept of private possession. Also, leadership was now being redefined in very singular and authoritarian terms. Power and authority of course had always been determined by how one could secure food for oneself and the clan. Under the emerging patriarchy, however, physical strength, one’s fighting ability and the ability to withstand the harshness of one’s daily existence became the qualities that determined fitness to lead. Superior power was now being determined by a warrior/hunter’s ability to terminate life, subdue the “hostile” natural world and by that warrior’s ability to command others to do likewise.
All this profoundly affected the status and idealising of women. Insofar as changes in myths and folklore usually correspond with or are recordings of sociological changes, around the second millennium BCE, changes in the folklore and sacred myths of Sumer (one of the better known and documented examples of the shift from matricentric to patriarchal principles) reflected older maternal goddesses being subordinated to younger more aggressive male deities. The displacement of women’s economic and social autonomy did not happen at once of course but was a gradual decline and varied according to region and time period. In Greece, for instance –where much of the misogynist and sexist views we hold today was codified – women still owned parcels of land, although later laws restricted that land to only what was found around the temple: a change from the period in which all household hearths were identified with Goddesses temples and as such were controlled by women.
It is also very possible that in some regions the power and authority women enjoyed were voluntarily given up by them in order for the survival of the wider community. It is ironic that one of the principal factors behind women’s high status seemed to also have been the cause of their displacement. Women’s pregnancy and childbearing was a source of amazement and wonder among many cultures; much of women’s authority had to do with these functions as well as their mastery of domestic areas of production. But, once warfare defined the daily existence of the society, women, particularly those pregnant and caring for children, became in effect, excess baggage; their positions would have placed the whole clan in a vulnerable or compromised position. However, insofar as they were also the bearers of the future warriors and hunters, they needed to be protected by their male counterparts. Early Lombard, Celtic, Germanic, Hebrew, Roman and Greek writings and marriage customs all reflect this paternalistic, protective outlook in the way women were idealised. The price women paid for such protection has often been their subordination and their conforming to masculine interests and values. There are very few fragments of women’s writings from the ancient world but much of what has come down to us do show a certain degree of acquiescence to the patriarchs’ ideas of how society should be structured.
And so as the balance tilted more and more toward patricentric attitudes, interests and values shifted towards productive activities considered the prerogative of men. While in earlier times some women did seem to participate in hunting and warring expeditions – as suggested by certain rock drawings and by very ancient goddesses identified with hunting – these activities were increasingly being redefined as exclusively masculine pursuits. Celtic and Germanic cultures eventually excluded women from warfare which they viewed as their most valued cultural activities, Hebrew laws and the Christian-influenced that followed them dealt very severe punishments to women who committed acts of violence towards men.
As the shift gained momentum and men became more and more essential to the survival of communities, so did their activities and interests. Hence, there developed a tendency to equate or grade high status on the basis of the amount of material possessions one had – which in turn gave better leverage in trading arrangements. There is some debate as to whether it was men or women who first domesticated cattle; symbolically, the cow has been identified with the Divine Female principle. However, at some point cattle-rearing became the domain of menfolk and eventually became the principal means of production in some regions. When linked with the emerging idea of equating the amount of assets one owned with high status and the fact that fertile land was in short supply, the way was all but made for male-centred paradigms to take over older female-centred ideas of society. With this in mind it is only logical to see that with the new dispensation, women who independently owned property which they could bequeath to persons of their choosing posed subtle and perhaps open challenges to patriarchists and their claims to superior power. Patriarchists set about developing and re-defining institutions that ensured they held onto the reins of power and legitimised any transferring of wealth from men to successors of their choosing. Paternity and marriage were two such institutions.
Women’s childbearing ability, in addition to being reconsidered as a hindrance, was also a source of anxiety and evoked feelings of inadequacy in patricentric ideologies: men had no equivalent birthing capability. Generally speaking, the transition from a girl to womanhood was and is easier defined than the transition from boyhood to manhood. Girls found it easier to identify with their mothers and the women of the community because of the menstruation and childbearing aspects. To compensate for their “inadequacies” men either developed or refashioned folkloric myths, customs and rituals in order to arrogate unto themselves women’s maternal and nurturing functions. We can look at certain birthing rituals in this context. Even in matricentric societies it was customary for boys to be taken from their mothers and the other women of the community and placed in all-male age-graded groups for initiatory training. These initiatory rituals were often dangerous and painful acts that symbolically equated with childbirth and menstruation: acts that involved scarification and bloodletting. At the end of this process, the initiate was said to have been “born again.” What is important to note here is that while in matricentric cultures there were all-male initiatory rituals and groups, the major difference was that in the patricentric context the initiate, was conditioned to see the second “birthing,” the one where he was conditioned to sever physical and emotional ties with the women who initially raised him, as the superior one. He was “re-born” in the image of the patriarchal man, a man who transcended the realities of his surroundings, was idealised as a super being in his own right independent of nature, emotions and women. The rationale behind patricentrically-oriented birthing rituals was to change in the consciousness of both males and females the ties boys had to women and align them to the men. This may have become even more pronounced when it was understood that men had an integral role in the bringing forth of new life in the community; patriarchists saw an opportunity by which more power could be ceded to them.
Even one of our most ancient taboos – incest – appears to have been originally based on breaking the bond between mother and son for economic reasons. Scholars like Marilyn French, Barbara Walker and Evelyn Reed vehemently argued that the taboo of incest originally had nothing to do with prohibiting sexual relations between mothers, aunts and their sons/nephews. Reed points out in “Women’s Evolution” that there has been no evidence of any such relationship existing anywhere in the ancient world. There were, however, institutions like “incestuous” marriages – i.e. between brother and sister such as what occurred from time to time in Egypt – but this was only for the purposes of keeping bloodlines intact and to keep inheritances within certain families or communities. There was no co-habitation. Strong emotional bonds existed in such unions as well as among mother, aunts and the boys. French and Walker argue that the development of the incest taboo had more to do with cementing bonds between patriarchs and the young boys they took away to be initiated: bonds that could not have existed otherwise. As always, the intent was to maintain the movements of inheritances from man to boy.
The possibility exists that at this stage the protective feelings nurtured by their guardians morphed into disdain and then outright contempt. As women’s maternal functions began to diminish in value; women and girls themselves were viewed with less importance than boys and men. To this day in Orthodox Jewry there is a daily prayer recited by men that thanks “god who has not made me a woman.” The term “woman” was an insult in the Iliad, the Odyssey and in the Old Testament. More boys meant potentially more hunters and warriors in a clan. In most Eurasian families – and this carried through down through the Roman and Greek civilisations – when more than one girl was born to a family, the baby was often left to die by exposure to the elements or to predators or she could be sold off into prostitution.
In short, men instituted such taboos and ideas of paternity because they had no other way of fully knowing which child was sired by whom. By the time the Roman Empire straddled the Mediterranean only boys were being given individual names whereas girls carried the family name and were usually distinguished from each other by nicknames. Paterfamilias – the father of the family – was a very important title and legal concept in Rome. Materfamilias was merely an honorary title given to the father’s wife; it was by no means equivalent with paterfamilias and carried no power or legal weight. The fourth of the Twelve Tables of ancient Rome was called Paternal Power and gave the father sole and absolute authority over the children in his household. The fifth table posited that due to “their levity of mind” all women (apart from the Vestal Virgins) shall be under men’s guardianship. Similarly, Celtic Irish law codes ranked women as “senseless,” like slaves and drunks.
Marriage customs of course existed in one form or another since the dawn of humanity. However, evidence indicates that in matricentric societies the marital unions were neither closed nor even permanent. There is little, if any, evidence of the existence of sexual jealousy or the equating of sexual relations between men and women with ideas of ownership of either party. The roles separating men and women were contrasting yet at the same time complementary. On the other hand, one of the main things noticeable about patriarchy – specifically Eurasian patriarchy – is that it is built on conflict, on defining the one in opposition to the other and then using those differences to show which is better. Women were and are primarily defined on the basis of their physical body: their minds, uterus, menstrual cycle, ability to give birth have all been turned around to show women were not suitable for governing, leadership and owning property. This has its origins in the warrior cultures outlined above. More and more women’s menstrual period became grounds for their being excluded from religious functions – which was at one time another seat of women’s great economic and social autonomy. With regards to marriage these biological functions were used to show that they must remain under the perpetual guardianship of men: first their fathers and male relatives and then upon marriage, their husbands.
Evidence also suggests that it was around this time that the authoritarian aspect in marriages was first perfected upon female captives as part of the process of creating compliant slaves. Gerda Lerner, citing historical evidence and the research conducted by Orlando Patterson, shows in her book “The Creation of Patriarchy”, that the majority of the first chattel slaves were women. She points out that the techniques used to create a compliant and subservient wife were first developed and perfected upon captured females. This included natal alienation in which the subject was forcibly removed from their ancestral home and community which was then destroyed along with the killing or castrating of male family members. This was to emphasise upon the captive the futility of revolting or expecting any rescue from family or clan members. Likewise in patrilocal marriage customs adopted by patriarchists women were for the most part moved from their home and/or community – where they had the company of and alliances with other women – and were settled in that of their husband’s. There she may meet a sympathetic co-wife but in many cases she was sequestered in the husband’s home. The schizophrenic fear patriarchists possessed of women unifying and challenging their pretensions to superiority, and the possibility of losing their women to another man was most evident in the marriage customs. Even if she was allowed to walk the streets she was guarded and escorted by male relatives of the husband or by an appointed eunuch. It is very instructive that word “family” comes from the Latin famulus and familia: slaves in a household. This is the way Eurasian patricians felt the relationship between men and women had to be. All this seems to support the view that females were seen less and less as humans and more as objects to be controlled.
In patriarchal Eurasia the aim has always been to break whatever autonomy women had or were felt to have had and shift the symbols and institutions of power to the men. What we fail to understand about the Euro’s psyche is that the question has never truly been about the “morality” of a sexual act or about polygamy, polygyny, polyamoury or monogamy – that was irrelevant. It was about power and who possessed it. Whether it was monogamy or polygamy power always had to reside in the hands of the patriarch and whichever institution that best facilitated that was what was moral. Marriage became primarily about possessing women for the purpose of securing material assets. It is no coincidence that the word “adultery” comes from a Latin term ad alterum se conferre (to confer property upon another). Likewise, “matrimony” was a term first used to describe inherited property along the maternal line and was the female equivalent of patrimony. It became a term linked to marriage only when marriage became the means by which men could gain control over property owned by women, including their bodies. Women became essentially vessels for breeding offspring – preferably sons – to foment business and political alliances that could increase the patrician’s status in the society. Under the emerging patriarchal dispensation the relationships between men and women were redefined according to power and stratification as determined by warrior ethics. Women were now being idealised as wards rather than companions or persons in their own right. Apart from keeping the household – which in militaristic societies would have lost the high position it held in agrarian societies as a centre of production – girls were raised primarily to be married off to another clan.
Therefore, insofar as the value of females were idealised, the presence of girls in a household served mainly to give the Eurasian patriarch yet another item with which he could bargain for greater wealth: his daughter. In the civilisations along the Tigris-Euphrates, formal written laws began to appear recognising the authority of men over women and their offspring, first through fatherhood and then through marriage when she was passed onto her husband. Their children, fathered by the man of the house of course, belonged to him and so any assets she possessed also belonged to him. Under the new legal systems that gathered momentum in Sumer and picked up speed in Greece and Rome and among the Hebrews, women were no longer being permitted to independently bequeath property which included their very bodies.
All this was to ensure that properties and other assets remain among male-centred clans so as to ensure their survival and prosperity. If one examines the strictures against adultery and premarital sex in the Hammurabic, Hittite, Jewish and Assyrian law codes, it becomes apparent that the reasons behind such harsh penalties had more to do with a sense of loss or diminishment of men’s properties than anything to do with human rights. Underneath the hurt, the feelings of betrayal, disrespect and dishonour, people today have been conditioned to feel if one’s spouse or partner is found out to be having sex on the side is a deeply ingrained idea that with an affair one “loses” one’s spouse/partner who has been idealised as one’s material possession. Your spouse becomes involved with someone else so therefore you are going to lose him/her, your possession, the person that “belonged” to you. This outlook diffused to the Hebrews, particularly those conforming to Levite Judaism and to wider Europe during the Christian era. In Part Two of this essay I shall attempt to show the way in which sexual relations became power relations and means by which men – and later women – maintained the ideal that sex was based on possessiveness.
- Civilisation or Barbarism: an authentic anthropology – Cheikh Anta Diop
- The Cultural Unity of Black Africa: Domains of Matriarchy and Patriarchy in classical Antiquity – Cheikh Anta Diop
- Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society – Ifi Amaduime
- Re-Inventing Africa: Matriarchy, Religion and Culture – Ifi Amadiume
- Echoes of the Old Darkland: Themes from an African Eden – Charles Finch MD
- A History of Their Own Women in Europe from Prehistory to the Present (2 vols) – Bonnie Anderson and Judith Zinsser
- The Creation of Patriarchy (Women & History) – Gerda Lerner
- When God Was a Woman – Merlin Stone
- Beyond Power: On Women, Men and Morals – Marilyn French
- Heavenly Sex: Sexuality in the Jewish Tradition – Dr Ruth Westheimer and Jonathan Mark
- Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity – Sarah Pomeroy
- Yurugu: An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior – Marimba Ani
- The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets – Barbara G Walker
- The Black Women in Antiquity – Ivan Van Sertima (ed)
- African Presence in Early Europe – Ivan Van Sertima (ed)
- The Great Goddess: Reverence of the Divine Feminine from the Paleolithic to the Present – Jean Markhale