Woman as Race?

“From her comes all the race of womankind, the deadly female race and tribe of wives who live with mortal men and bring them harm.” Upon reading this last sentence of Zaidman’s article, in which she references the description of Zeus’s “lovely curse”, the hair on the back on my neck stood up; I felt I had read the epitomical description of evil.

Of course, it was just the ancient rendition of women, but still, it got me thinking.

I have never actually heard the term “race” in referring to women before this reference in this article. At first, it made me angry. The more I thought about it, however, the more intrigued I became. Can we define women as a race? Divide the genders once and for all and settle all further disputes as simply outside the opposite gender’s jurisdiction?

The term “race” has several definitions in and of itself, and is defined on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as follows:

  1. a: a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock

b: a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics

  1. a: an actually or potentially interbreeding group within a species; also: a taxonomic category (as a subspecies) representing such a group

b: breed

c: a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits

And one more from dictionary.reference.com: “A human population partially isolated reproductively from other populations, whose members share a greater degree of physical and genetic similarity with one another than with other humans.”

Obviously, women cannot mate with one another and produce viable offspring, which is a key biological definition of a “species”. However, I am not arguing that women be labeled their own species. Thus aside from the “interbreeding” part in the Merriam-Webster definition, a race is described as a “taxonomic category” such as a “subspecies”, and women are indeed a vital half of the species Homo sapiens-sapiens.

Once the interbreeding part is cast out, the definition of race seems more concerned with crucial physical/genetic characteristics and habits, such as Merriam-Webster 2) b: a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits or characteristics; and 2) c: a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits. Finally, I included the dictionary.com definition because it gets slightly more descriptive: “A human population partially isolated reproductively from other populations, whose members share a greater degree of physical and genetic similarity with one another than with other humans.”

The term race is obviously hard to pin down, and some would even argue it is out-dated for its connotation as stripping some populations of their dignity and rights. I am not saying that women and men be defined by their own “races”, but I do think it is an intriguing issue to think about. Women and men are not only vastly physically and genetically different, but emotionally and psychologically as well. In fact, there is not much really in common between the two genders at all, besides the basic fundamentals that make us part of our own species as humans. Different “races” of humankind have always defined themselves with or against an “other”, as women and men often do. The bickering Greeks united to defend their many states against their “other”, being the Persians. Thus in the quote mentioned in the beginning of this essay, the author condemns woman as the “deadly female race and tribe of wives” that was put on this earth to make men miserable. Men strive to make themselves the better in this comparison of “us vs. them”, but women are obviously not innocent either, for the feminist movement inevitably turned on men to blame them for the woman’s plight! So if blaming doesn’t work, and “separate but equal” surely doesn’t work, what will?

Another point to offer up in this debate of woman as race is that these similar interests/habits/characteristics defining race as seen above is that races such things could be defined as culture. I think that women definitely have their own culture. Whether or not this designates woman as a race will be up for debate. But the fact remains that the two genders are vastly different, and it is time both genders start not only recognizing that, but embracing it as well.

Women: Polytheism vs. Monotheism?

Upon reading Vivante’s “Women in ancient Greece”, I couldn’t help but think how the monotheistic religions royally screwed up whatever momentum women had gathered for themselves in the more polytheistic antiquity. Not only were there women-a-plenty in the pantheons and heavens, but some of them were responsible for what could be argued as the most “manly” of things; for example: Artemis, the hunter goddess; Athena, goddess of war and wisdom; and Aphrodite, goddess of sexuality. Granted, women didn’t have it perfect back then either; as Vivante reminds us that the women of Athens were arguably the most restricted women of antiquity, but I would argue they had it much better than those women under monotheistic religions of later years did.

Women may have been considered property in Athens, for example, but under Christianity, women are no better than slaves. But even slaves in the Bible are not divinely declared to be punished, they are simply those that need salvation from the Lord, and are destined to work for that under a master. Women, on the other hand, are divinely stigmatized through Eve. Eve got Adam tossed out of the Garden of Eden by being successfully tempted by Satan. Thus women are forever after considered deserving of the punishment of excruciating childbirth, and become a danger to men because of woman’s closeness to sexuality and temptation, considered a slippery slope to Satan. Indeed, in the Book of Job (which I had to study extensively in a religion course last year), one of the most famously told and disputed texts of the Old Testament, Job’s wife is argued to have told Job to “curse God” for all the horrible things God had been doing to Job to test his faith. The fact that she had apparently told Job to give up on God, and the fact that Job didn’t listen to her, clearly echoes the sentiment on women of the time; that they are easily tempted and strayed from God, and can corrupt their men if the men are not careful!

Now, I was raised a Catholic, and it was through learning readings such as these, that I realized how silly the whole ideology was; the fear of women and their sexuality through out the whole Bible is so thick it is almost laughable.

God, as the Almighty Male One and Only, and His stuffy qualms about women and equality of the sexes, pervades our present culture to such a degree that it is easy to forget that it wasn’t always like this. There were once other ideologies and theologies that considered women not a temptation into evil, but truly divine, as Vivante described in her article. I wish that we could celebrate the fertility and wisdom and sexuality of women today, to the extent that our ancestors of antiquity did. It has thus always puzzled me as to why humans feel the need to clutch so tightly to the black and white precedence of the past, even when it threatens our own well being as a society of the present, and future.

Liberal Feminist?

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(Portrait of a Pompeiian Woman, Pompeii)

I remember as a child thinking quite often how thankful I was that I was born a girl. The periodic fights that broke out at lunchtime, the unnecessary roughness boys feel necessary to exude tirelessly on each other, the constant battle to gain reputation as the toughest/strongest/fastest, and of course, the everlasting competition of sports – none of it appealed to me in the slightest. I remember thinking that, with these thoughts, if I had come out as a boy, I would never have made it through middle school alive (or at least, I wouldn’t have had many friends)!

I would like to think that this is in my nature as an introvert, rather than the fact that my upbringing has “cultured” me into thinking or acting “like a girl.” I’m sure there were boys who thought like I did, that wanted no part in all the scrimidges and physical competitions. But if they were, they were the ones being picked on. Conversely, if I had been a “tomboy” (interestingly enough, we have a word for a girl who behaves more like a boy…but a boy who behaves like a girl is automatically considered gay?) I may have had a harder time making friends with girls.

Does accepting the norms I was cultured into then, as a woman, make me less of a feminist? Or, because I am a woman, am I less of a woman for being less of a feminist? I believe that Simone de Beauvoir, author of Woman as Other would argue as much.

Her writing erked me just as much as mine would probably give her cause to roll over in her grave. I feel that the word “feminist”, because of writings like hers, have gained a negative connotation in the masculine mindset. Indeed her rhetoric sounds like a jealous rant. She negates her argument that men think themselves superior to women by scorning how men are so horrible for doing so. She continues the “quarrel”, as she calls the feminist conversation between men and women, by raving how men have this demi-god complex over women. Though I agree with her on most of her arguments, I believe she gets it across completely wrong. She has made herself just as arrogant as the man she belittles for being just as subjective. Again, it is because of rants like hers that we get men who connote the term “feminist” to “man-hater”.

I am a feminist, but I do not hate men. I have met better and worse versions of the gender, but so too have I for the female. The advocation for gender equality should be a conversation. Neither gender should feel attacked or belittled, or we’ll never get anywhere. I agree that the situation is largely unfair, but I feel both sides exploit our genders nowadays to get what we want.

I believe the feminist plight has turned into a feminine paradox in the 21st century. For example, all the girls who have ever been to Vegas know the HUGE advantage one has there if you are a girl. We have no problem exploiting our youthful figures for no cover charge and free drinks all night! Women want to be equal, but at the end of the day we still want or gladly exploit the perks of being different. Someone has to hold us accountable for that, and it might as well be another woman.

What do you think? Am I completely off-base here?