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Is It Worthwhile Working In A Mixed Group?

In this paper I want to discuss whether it is worth working against patriarchy in a mixed group. This is my strongest conflict at the moment and I believe it is of interest to others.

The question is, should I as a woman concentrate all my energy in a single-sex group - working with and towards my sisters; is it a waste of time and a diversion of energy to battle away in the struggle with men? To sort out this problem I need first of all to try and describe what I believe are patriarchy's source and characteristics.

Source of Patriarchy

1. As part of the Matriarchy Study Group, which was responsible for the production of the Goddess Shrew, I have become familiar with the concept of a prepatriarchal era. Taking place from the beginnings of human history, throughout the populated world women were responsible for power in society and the chief deity was a mother goddess.

While modern anthropologists differ from their 19th century predecessors in postulating a matriarchal society as such there is no contradiction of the idea of the female deity, and indeed countless objects and symbols have been discovered and recorded. The burden of the Bible and in particular the Old Testament is the fight of the patriarchal prophets and kings against the "abominations" of the old religions based on the female. Sources can be found in the book list attached.

Matriarchy precedent

However, from about 5,000 BC in the Middle East through to the end of the Neolithic Age in Modern Europe and beyond (2,000 BC to 100 AD), this veneration of the female was superseded by the omnipotence of the male. A cult of physical strength emerged (e.g. Hercules taming the female principles, fathering countless children, etc), Apollo the Sun god conquering the Earth python - female version of earth divinity - and becoming himself the masculine version of the Sun Goddess Artemis - although it is of interest that right down into patriarchal times of the Heroic Greek Ages his words had to be interpreted by a woman, The Oracle of Delphi.

The take-over

However, this changeover in the sky reflected exactly the changeover on earth. As the patriarchal Hebrews conquered the women-led Canaanites they put down their worship and customs with force. In the same way the patriarchal Myceneans from the mainland of Greece organised by warrior chieftains of whom the best known is Minos, conquered the women-led and goddess-worshipping island of Crete scattering her population.

Later (400 BC to 400 AD) the Romans imposed their entirely masculine-led society upon the Celtic people of Britain and Northwest Europe. Among the last in the "civilised world" to continue a religion based on the female and to accept women into an entirely equal and occasionally superior social structure were the Bretons tucked away on the western side of Europe.

These sources, Hebrew and Greek-Roman, led to Christianity which took the institution of patriarchy to its ultimate and which has been responsible for the conditioning of women and men into their "inferior and superior" roles.

At the same time in other parts of the world similar changeovers took place. In Islam the most holy place is Mecca and the most holy stone, pilgrimage focus for the male pious, is in fact the Black Stone of the Mother Goddess. In Hinduism and the other Indo-European religions the take-over from the female worship was effective in a similar way.

Discussion about reasons for and methods of the change-over from female to male led society are out of place here although it is safe to say that common to all are economic motives based on the desire of the male to pass accumulation of goods to his undisputed male offspring and to acquire further goods and territory which historically had to be usurped from the female or acquired through her enslavement within marriage.

Characteristics of Patriarchy

2.i. Cult of Physical Strength and presence and possessions leading to use of force which in turn leads to development of and methods of using superior force (better guns, etc).

ii. Following this, acceptance and possible enthusiasm for conflict with other males in order to add to consequence strength, force, power, possessions, etc. Consequently, need for aggressive and competitive traits to be emphasised (initiation ceremonies to reinforce these).

iii. Again following from (i) acceptance of "superiority" in terms of physical, emotional and psychic needs and the need continually to stress importance of such superiority in order to retain possessions and power leading to:

a sub-structure of class in which some males dominate other males, some races dominate other races and all males dominate females

It is worthwhile to state here that class thus is a result of patriarchy rather than a cause.

iv. Cult of force and plunder to obtain possessions includes (potentially) imperialism and exploitation of the Third World, the depletion of the Earth's resources, consumer ethic and waste. The Earth and the World's resources are here analogous to the female, they are there to serve male needs and can be plundered at will and are thought to be either replaceable at will or eternally self-renewing.

To sum up these patriarchal points, men have been conditioned to retain power and the benefits of oppression. One of the major traits must be their continuous assertion of strength and superiority and continuous downgrading of the "inferior" section of society.

Seen from the female point of view, patriarchy means: -

Continuous downgrading of personality, desires and expectations.

Continuous service in a male orientated world, subordination of psychic and other needs to those of the male, including a service of solicitude, patience; etc.

Acceptance of unequal burdens in child rearing and domestic economy. Acceptance of drudgery with massive guilt feelings at all failure to achieve male imposed standards of perfection in these areas.

Relegation of own intuitive non-linear feelings and concepts to inferior status.

Invalidation of female symbols passed on in history and female future aspirations as irrelevant.

On the class issue, the female in any economic class is the more oppressed since she carries both the weight of the class oppressor and that of male society. It has to be explained strongly that so called socialist and left-wing groupings and societies while paying lip service to feminine goals, act out in fact patriarchal attitudes in everyday life and at work.

Women's patriarchal values

Another aspect of patriarchy is its impact on women's own conditioning. There is an internalisation of the roles laid down by male power:

women believe in the concept that caring is their job, that in particular child and man service done especially well is what is required of them; that somehow men's concerns are more important than women's.

This leads to the consideration that up-market male values are "better" - e.g. that traditional academic systems and disciplines, methods of discussion with typical judgement and values associated with them are a "superior" method of looking at life; where women are able to take their place in academic life, they too, too often, adopt and reproduce patriarchal values, denying their own resources. This does not mean that the rational disciplines are to be despised but rather that they should be used within wider values and given their places as useful tools within a bigger context.

Again, we find "patriarchal women" in politics, imitating male roles abjectly, but sometimes on the Left, and in the Women's Movement itself, where aping men is certainly not unknown. Especially do patriarchal attitudes show themselves in women's defence of the nuclear family, and in their guilt about allowing others to care for their family (including the men). Once this is broken through, there is a revolutionary situation.

There is enough here to keep any woman busy in an all-female group and indeed the most rewarding and supported times are those spent getting together with women.

Working in a Mixed Group

Some advanced feminists consider that working in a mixed group is tantamount to becoming "agents" of the enemy or that at the very least a woman in a mixed group is motivated a-politically; that whether she understands herself or not she is actually there for some kind of ego or sexual reasons.

In any mixed sex situation, some of the following is true:

MEN

are believed to be stronger ... but bear less

are believed to be supporters (of females)... but are physically and emotionally supported throughout life

are believed to "look after their families" ... but are looked after

are believed to be less emotional... but their emotional needs are given stronger weighting

WOMEN

are believed to be more emotional... but are called hysterical, and their emotions considered less important with a "wait till it's over" element.

are believed to be weaker ... but work a 24 hour day at double or treble jobs many of them demanding physical as well as intellectual and emotional long-term strength.

WOMEN'S

attempts to exercise equal power... becomes 'scold', 'nagging', 'possessive', 'dragon'.

attempts to gain equal economic opportunity ... downgraded into 'career girl', guilt created over childcare, lack of childcare facilities, philosophical pressure to accept unequal place through child and man-care duties.

WOMEN

attempt to gain sexual equality ... but becomes sexually exploited, there is a non-care for emotions distinct from physical feelings.

If women accept financial dependence on the male... they become a 'burden', lose their 'attractiveness', are less 'interesting' than 'free' females as sex objects and pay for their financial support in lifelong service of their total personalities without recognition.

It will be seen that patriarchy has caused women to be judged in terms of men's concepts. In a group it works like this:

WOMEN are sensitive to put-down and do not push their ideas, often say less, and speak in lower voices

nurture the men

provide more of the group's resources for less return (in everything from cooking to concept)

care for each other and support people also support the group as a whole in a positive direction more than the men, have a history of pain and put-down, not acceptable to 'normal' group discussion, and consequently usually avoided; are expected to take part in an intellectual rather than feeling manner;

are expected to accept male values of 'useful' 'positive' directions and procedures.

MEN gain from contact with feminists: new dimensions of political thought and study, new sexual opportunities (in 'equal' setting) exercise emotional shiftlessness in appearing to 'care' for women's oppression, but side-step responsibility; judge women by patriarchal standards.

There is another dimension which breaks out in an advanced mixed group, aware of and on its guard against sexism.

Women speak out and challenge sexist assumptions or ideas,

promote activity, appear to move into leadership positions

treat men as equals, expect solidarity and understanding

take sexual initiative.

Men feel oppressed, guilty about sexism, do not speak out, do not take any lead, do not wish to "offend" or appear "patriarchal",

do not defend themselves if wrongly accused

swallow their feelings

tend to ape females; openly envy the female processes of birth and breast-feeding, tend to devalue the female who is doing these things

go into childcare and community work but often try to work on female lines, denying a male role

do not offer common and equal solidarity and understanding to women. Distance themselves emotionally although usually ready to exploit sexual invitations.

On class and racist issues

Women's oppression is often collated with class and race forgetting that black working-class women carry the multi-oppression; of colour and class, and total sex oppression; thus, solving the first two is not going to solve the third. Solving the third is more likely to solve the other two, since all are derived from male take-over and retention of power, and exploitation of nature. To solve the third: the sex oppression brings me back to the original theme of the article: is it worth working in a mixed group; is a mixed group the way, or one of the ways, that patriarchy can be overcome?

Reasons for:

any woman (in the world) is likely to have sons, and thus be part of the male society

she is likely to have lovers/husbands

This is where most women are: those who are lesbian, bi-sexual and/or separatist are on a world scale, in small numbers so far: they are possibly the most advanced liberation fighters, (in male terms, a commando) but in political terms, still far out from everyday women.

Since patriarchal attitudes have been achieved through severe continuous environmental conditioning, (rather than being 'inborn'), it is possible to argue that counter-conditioning has to be developed: dialogue by committed people of both sexes who are fully aware and accept this need is one of the ways of achieving this. If such counter-conditioning becomes at all successful, it will have explosive spin-off politically.

* * * * * * * *

Practice in the mixed group

I suggest that caring exercises should be developed: while initiation ceremonies and 'ordeals' of the past were trials of strength and physical endurance, in masculine terms, I believe we now need to develop trials of men's emotional fortitude, on the lines of those that women have to bear as part of everyday life.

I believe that women have to be aware of their needs and strengths, and need more support than they can get from a mixed group. I believe that men have to take the counter-conditioning seriously, not just as an exercise at meetings but throughout life; consequently they need other support and to work out matters that come up in a mixed group. So single sex consciousness-raising and support groups are essential.

A mixed group needs to take seriously the female/male power relationships and the imperceptible slackening into patriarchal attitudes if there is not continuous vigilance.

My personal feelings are these: I do not want to believe that I can have nothing to do with my fellow persons of the other sex, and in this I am like many of my sisters. I want to believe that men are, or at least could be, people like us (me and my sisters). I have seen some men who try and who appear to understand that there is a problem, others who are actually trying to work on it.

It has been suggested recently that there should be a Dictatorship of Women and that in time patriarchal attitudes would wither away or would be eliminated by force. I do not believe in these concepts.

I want to work towards androgyny, which I prefer to call gynandry.

Since these terms are not exact, I will say what I mean by them. They signify male and female characteristics in one organism and take on the further meaning of such two-sex characteristics being of equal importance.

Movement forward

I want to move towards gynandry (androgyny): we will get there when we have moved through our patriarchal conditioning. We do not have to ape the other sex. We can be what we are and be happy in whatever turn out to be the specific characteristics (if any) of our gender. We can find out indeed whether there are any such real differences, which are not due to conditioning. We can share skills and strengths, which may be different and give equal dignity to each other, however different. If women's bodies are able to achieve strengths in areas other than men's, if some people in vulnerable situations need extra care, this need no longer be a put down. If it is found that those in need of care (infants, children, the sick, etc.) can call equally on both sexes and above all, if each person can get in touch with her/his true personality including the total of their emotions due to gender, conditioning, the lot, we will no longer have the oppressions we are now fighting.

Conclusion

I believe that it is only by working in a mixed group, supported by a single-sex group, that we can ever move towards this situation. Mixed groups are painful and it is my personal opinion that they are much more difficult and painful than people realise (and indeed are an excellent test of emotional fortitude in themselves).

It is necessary to re-emphasises that the problem is not female v. male, but both against patriarchal conditioning. Although people who have not tried hard tend to downgrade it as just another aspect of the general struggle, those who do tackle it seriously find otherwise. There is resistance to it because of its personal and political revolutionary implications and its extreme painfulness. But on a long-term basis, I believe it is the only hope for both women and men.

* We define a mixed group as people of both sexes meeting and working together with specific common aims. The mixed group is an alternative to both sexes only working separately in an attempt to achieve these aims.

© Asphodel P. Long (Is It Worthwhile Working in a Mixed Group, 1977)

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