Tuesday 17 October 2017

The Maker Of “Men” – Masculinity and its Origins

The God Above: It is in the indistinct depths of prehistory that the first and most profound revolution in human affairs; the overthrow of the servants of the Earth Mother, by the worshippers of the Sky Father; took place. At the heart of this masculinist revolt lay a deep-seated fear and resentment of all things female – and a burning desire to master them.

WHO MAKES “MEN”? With the behaviour of movie magnate, Harvey Weinstein, dominating the headlines, the nature and origins of masculinity have become a hot topic. At issue is whether all expressions of masculinity are to a greater-or-lesser extent “toxic” – or only some? And, whether the ultimate liberation of womankind is contingent upon the unequivocal elimination of the culturally constructed beings we call “men”?

In many ways the battle for control over the construction and meaning of gender is the greatest revolutionary struggle of them all. Indeed, it is possible to argue that until this critical issue has been resolved, all of those historical upheavals to which the term “revolution” has been applied have been mischaracterised.

The key question to ask in relation to these historic transitions is whether or not, after the power relationship between master and slave, lord and serf, capitalist and proletarian shifted, the relationship between men and women; between the masculine realm and the feminine realm; was similarly changed? Or, was it still very much a matter of, in Leonard Cohen’s words, “that homicidal bitchin’ that goes down in every kitchen to determine who will serve and who will eat.”? After the “revolution”, did masculinity (like “whiteness”) continue to confer a huge societal advantage upon all who fell within its definitional boundaries – regardless of their personal beliefs and/or inclinations?

But perhaps “revolution” is the wrong word to describe the longed-for dethronement of masculinity? Perhaps the near universal institution of patriarchy (rule by the fathers) is actually the product of the first great social revolution in human history. Perhaps what feminist women are seeking to achieve isn’t a revolution – but a restoration?

And here we must step out of the hard-copy world of recorded history and enter into the much less solid realm of pre-history and mythology. Because it is here, in the indistinct depths of time, that the first and most profound transition in human affairs; the overthrow of the servants of the Earth Mother, by the worshippers of the Sky Father; took place. At the heart of this masculinist revolt lay a deep-seated fear and resentment of all things female – and a burning desire to master them.

Rule by the mothers – Matriarchy – drew its justification from the self-evident need for all living things to submit to the implacable statutes of Mother Earth. Hers was the endless cycle of birth, death and re-birth from which no living creature escaped. And the vessels within which all living things are nurtured, and out of which all new life emerges into the world, are female. Such was the deep magic of generation and fruition which flowed from the timeless creator of all things: The Goddess.

But the sons of the Goddess were lesser beings than their sisters. Helpmeets and protectors, certainly; seed carriers also; but from the deep magic of the mothers they were perforce excluded. Men were the takers of life: the killers of beasts and other men – their brothers. This, too, was a dark and powerful magic, but dangerous and destructive of the settled order. It was a force which the Mothers were careful to keep in check.

It is easy to guess where this story is going.

Men looked skyward, away from the Earth. They observed the gathering darkness in the heavens and heard the deep rumble of the sky’s anger. They witnessed the brilliant spears of light that stabbed the Earth, their mother. In awe they watched her burn, powerless beneath the thrusts of a deity who owed nothing to the slow cycles of growth and decay. Here was a magic to surpass the impenetrable secrets of femininity. Here, in light and fire, they found the power of beginnings: the shock and disruption of all that was new. Not the circles of the Earth Mother, but the straight lines of the Sky Father – the Maker of “Men”.

Masculinity is the world’s disease, and civilisation is its symptom. Patriarchy is the product of the first, and the only true, revolution in human history – and endures as its most malignant legacy.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 16 October 2017.


A O said...

The greatest struggle of them all has never been between the genders in my view, but then I did grow up in a household where I couldn't tell which parent was more in charge of us, only that 'they' were in charge. People like Harvey Weinstein are a product of their position (they've abused their power)and not of their gender, something that will become crystal clear as more and more women assume positions of power. This is already clear for those that pay attention, mind you.

I enjoy my so-called macho sports Rugby, League, NFL but when it comes to the topic of 'masculinity' that somehow seems like a foreign word to me. Can't say I give it much thought, perhaps that's part of the problem. Still, our environment shaped us and continues to refine us thus some form of understanding,perhaps, can be found in the first few environments humans lived under.

sumsuch said...

Agree the lack of equality between the sexes not attended to in the various recent revolutions is an issue. The interactions between the sexes are where most people viscerally confront the advantages and disadvantages of power. Where NZ's informal motto, 'egalitarianism', for ordinary people, is faced up to.

'Overthrow of the Earth-Mother'. This is the central theme of Robert Graves's 'King Jesus' and 'spiritual' feminists. Doesn't have anything to offer. 'Wicca' etc.

I remember the predominant separatism in my mother's 'Broadsheet'.

Just heard about some sexually violating behaviour on the part of male relatives, which I have to put on hold to digest. Maybe the central takeaway is I envy more their (equally family) victims as people, and not in any way them. Their hurt was greater than their victims overall.

A reliable read for me back in the day was a 1940s Penguin Book of Quotations. The sayings cancelled one another out generally. The only thing the 80-90 % male quoters could agree on was disdain for women.

peteswriteplace said...

Perhaps Harvey Weinstein grew up in and is a product of an ultra- matriarchal upbringing? Does affect some men, but others grow up with a balanced attitude to the genders and life..

greywarbler said...

I read recently about an author who was so troubled by his obsession with masturbation, that he had his penis operated on. I can't remember now who it was. But the sexuality that is deep within us takes a powerful lot of putting down.

The attraction between the sexes leads to all sorts of power play and complications - in the 1970s a woman on her own in a pub was unwelcome, and in Australia she might be asked to leave. One high standard hotel considered that women on their own were hoping to proposition men. As they explained it they had their agencies to supply that requirement and any free-lancers were not welcome.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The strong will always exploit the week in various ways both major and minor. That's why we require laws and regulations. But Weinstein's attitude approaches sociopathy. I've worked with people like this, and while they are superficially charming often, they are really not nice to know. And the US has a president in a similar mold. Charming.

David S said...

Gender politics is a good example of how the left acquires the adjective "loonie".
The truth is that each human being has characteristics we call masculine and feminine, and the task is bring them into balance.
What has happened in our world is that the balance has been lost.
Those at the forefront of "battle for control over the construction and meaning of gender" are no more capable of expressing the gentle and powerful feminine than the Harvey Weinsteins of this world.

greywarbler said...

Gender politics is an attempt to describe and overcome the rigidity of different attitudes favouring one gender over the other and change the automatic downgrading of the dismissed 'other' when the elites or most prejudiced of each gender view the other.

But you might say the differences and the learned and innate responses are ineffable, and often one is not able to do any better than say 'f' off and charge in at the door of the first ale house.

Victor said...


When I read up a tiny bit on the subject of Earth Mothers and Sky Fathers, a few years back, the scholarly consensus seemed to be that, whatever gods or goddesses they worshiped, early human societies were nevertheless patriarchal.

I also understood that Patriarchy is evident in some of our remaining hunter-gatherer communities, most of which, as I understand it,worship the archetypes of the animals they hunt, rather than human-like emanations of either gender.

Cave paintings suggest that these were also the worship-objects of our earliest human ancestors (and possibly of their proto-human forbears), with the Earth Mother cult taking over during the Neolithic Revolution, along with settled villages, social stratification and much more food but markedly less well-balanced or healthy diets.

But I'm far from being an expert on such issues and may well be mistaken. Certainly, the notion that Patriarchy was preceded by an allegedly more benign Matriarchy has been pervasive for well over a century. Perhaps its continued currency reflects an inextinguishable yearning for the protective hug of a loving mother.

I'd be grateful for any contributions on these themes that are better informed than my own.

Meanwhile, let's ponder the words of one of the bravest and most able of the Old Bolshevicks, Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin, viz. "The history of humanity has three stages; Matriarchy, Patriarchy and Secretariat".

Nick J said...

By far the best commentary on this squalid event came from Kunstler this week http://www.kunstler.com

The whole thing has a long history in Hollywood, in fact in any scenario where women have the opportunity for oversized reward, the men doling out the goodies have an oversized opportunity to be bad. We are not the simple innocent parties that the moral crusaders portray humans as.

And that is an observation, not a justification. And any moral stance here is as Kunstler alludes on a very slippery slope.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Victor. I was doing some research for a paper a while ago, and there was a very old centre of population that was supposed to have a society where women were considered equal. It was called Çatalhöyük. There was an article I think in a Scientific American or New scientist which you might be able to find online. Though they did spell it with a K rather than a C. Not sure how you can archaeologically tell if the sexes are equal or not but apparently so.

Victor said...

Thanks GS.

I'll take a look. But statuettes with large breasts are no more evidence for Matriarchy than are the frontal obsessions of Rupert Murdoch's photo-editors.