Sunday, 13 January 2008

Chapter Seven

Marriage In The Matercentric Era

The changeover to a matercentric society will be important to the institution of marriage, in ways we cannot envisage. Although we can look back at previous matercentric societies for guidance, we know that human evolution does not go back on itself in a full circle, but is more like a spiral. So we may not reproduce the patterns of those times. Marriage at present has a patriarchal emphasis, which we have commented on in earlier chapters. It ensures that a man can pass on his property to his biological heirs, by restricting women to sex with only one man, (and theoretically the man to only one woman.) In order to do this, it has to convince women that their sexuality should be restrained, by emphasising religious codes, or persuading them that sex itself is highly dangerous, and/or solely for the pleasure of men and the reproduction of the species. Patriarchal society designates the roles of the sexes in a specific way, assigning child-care, the running of the home, and emotional support of the family unit to the woman. Work which is at a distance from the home, including going to war, is given to the male.
This is an over-simplistic picture of course, and does not apply to many cultures outside Western society. Nor do we adhere to it except in theory any more. Many mothers are both raising children and working outside the home, albeit often in menial jobs. Almost as many women have affairs outside marriage as men do. Nor do we all have one partner for life, because of the high incidence of divorce. Often, we co-habit with someone, rather than marry them.
There have already been changes. Women's sexuality is now seen as having some validity, rather than being seen as non-existent or sinful and dangerous. Men occasionally change nappies and cook dinner in many families, though, as many women complain, there is a long way to go before men take as much responsibility for the running of the home as women do.
These changes are as yet superficial. If we look back at some matercentric societies of the past, we find that women were not sexually possessed by any man. They were free to choose at all times. Nor was pregnancy dictated by the constant sexual availability of females for the benefit of males. The cycles of menstruation, pregnancy, birth and death were venerated, not avoided, technologised or hated and feared, as they are today. There was no insistence that women follow the cycles of men. No woman who responds emotionally or physically to her menstrual period, can succeed in a workplace situation, which is geared entirely to the male. Nor is she allowed to both care for her children, and pursue an occupation which interests her. Although some women in the Western world have skills which are in demand, and can avoid the loss of promotion which comes with motherhood/ time out from climbing the career ladder, for most women, there is only an either/or; motherhood or a satisfying career. Those who attempt to do both, often referred to as Superwomen, find that they are plagued by guilt, exhaustion, and a nagging sense of emptiness. They have been asked to behave like a substitute male, and succeed on male ground, on male terms, in a society defined by male values and structures. The cost is very great at a psychic level, because they are inevitably still strongly in tune with the god, and not the Goddess; with competitiveness, striving and achieving patriarchal goals.
All of this has been said many times by feminists. They see the 'equal' marriage as a solution, a relationship in which both men and women share child care, housework and work outside the home. So far, this hasn't come about. Until children arrive, many couples can have a stab at trying the 'equal marriage' route. Although the man is likely to have a better paid job, and more chances of promotion, at least the work in the home can be shared. So it goes in theory, but in practice, most men avoid the sharing of household chores, and merely 'help,' which forces responsibility onto the woman. As soon as children are born, the situation frequently deteriorates for the woman. Either she leaves her job, in which case she is economically dependent on her husband, or she returns to work, part-time or full-time. If she is working part-time, she will find that she is not taken seriously any more, and moreover, seems to have lost all of her employment rights and career prospects in one fell swoop. If she returns to work full time, she will find that it is still her responsibility to rear her children while pursuing a demanding job. She is usually the one who has to find child care, stay off work when the kids are sick, and ferry them about to and from school. Her husband, as with housework, 'helps,' which may range from token things like taking the kids to the park while the woman catches up with the ironing, to genuine participation. The latter is rare, since many men undergo an astonishing transformation when their wives have children. They revert to age-old attitudes and ways of behaving which betray their confusion. A childless wife may be a partner, but a woman with children is a mother, and completely different. He may become sexually uninterested in her, stubbornly undo all the strides he has made in terms of their equal marriage, and begin to have affairs. The change has been well-documented by bewildered and angry women, who thought they knew the man they married extremely well. It has been explained by many commentators as a result of the extra work and responsibilities of parenthood, the lack of sexual desire in mothers, the Catholic madonna/whore split, the jealousy of the man when faced with competition from his children for his wife's attention, and so on. Behind all these explanations, which may well have validity at one level, is the root change. The woman is now in a new world, one he can't enter, because he cannot give birth. He can love and look after his children, or out of fear, he can revert to selfish patriarchal attitudes. But at bottom, the change in him is caused by his reaction to the inescapable fact that women create life, and men do not. His god allows him to forget this, as does the patriarchal world he has constructed, which shunts childbirth into a corner. So it is all the more shocking to him when his wife turns out to be 'the other,' instead of more or less like him, give or take a few anatomical details. If he is changing paths, he will be awed and responsive to this new change in her. If he is still on the path of the god, he is likely to react by reinforcing his patriarchal attitudes, which have lurked below the surface of his relatively 'enlightened' behaviour.
The 'equal' marriage is an impossibility in a patriarchal world. It attempts to ignore the fundamental loading of the dice against women in our society, and creates an illusion of parity. At any moment, the power of the man can be reasserted, backed up by all the force of patriarchal law and custom. It is as if the king is pretending to be a slave, to humour a favourite concubine, but if he tires of the game, or the concubine displeases him, he reverts instantly to his former status. A man can count on the fact that if he fails to keep up his side of the bargain, women will still ensure that children are cared for, and the home maintained, partly because they have been conditioned into seeing this as their responsibility, and partly because they genuinely love their husbands and children, and wish to care for them. Safe in that knowledge, a man can play at equality for a while, then abandon it if he sees fit, leaving the woman impotent to do anything about it. We have only to look at the behaviour of divorced fathers to see how little we have achieved. Many men, after divorce, neither maintain their children financially, nor take much interest in them. It is assumed by both men and women that the mother will take over the role of both parents after a divorce, while being disadvantaged by that choice in almost every way.
Pamela: Speaking as a divorced mother myself I have found that despite the poverty and lack of personal space, bringing up children alone has developed my strength immensely, in an entirely positive way. So maybe it is one of the many routes which women have chosen to break free of some patriarchal values, even if it is a relatively tough one.
What then is the answer to this failure of the 'equal' marriage? Many women writers, scrutinising the customs of the previous matercentric era, see communal living as the answer. Looking at the nuclear marriage, of wife, husband and 2.2 children, they see a recipe for the isolation and repression of women, within a world which has abandoned 'communities' of human beings, and replaced them with a soulless economic unit of three or four people. The modern house defines the limits of a woman's life, especially if she is at home with small children, and renders her likely to suffer depression from such an unnatural lifestyle. If she were to live in a way which allowed her easier access to other people, particularly other women, this would not happen. She could share her children, thus reducing the relentless task of full-time mothering, which might not be at all what she wants to do. In addition, these writers point out, there would be no need to reproduce identical machinery in every house. There could be communal washing machines, vacuum cleaners and perhaps cars, thus using the earth's resources more efficiently. Some women, those who chose to, would look after children, all children, while others might work outside the community or on other tasks within it. Nor would that have to be at all inflexible. There would be enough people involved for changes to happen, either long or short-term, in what an individual woman actually did with her time. The emotional support from others would be invaluable, especially in a situation which had no or few rules.
The drawback of communal systems in a patriarchal world is that pressure is placed on individuals to conform to group norms. In fact, many people have seen communal living as so stifling of the individual that they can see no attraction in it. This would not be the case within a matercentric society, which allows and encourages individual desires to be expressed. As we have said before, only fear forces us to force others. When we know that all action is prompted by love, then there can be no need to fear that 'different' is harmful to us. We can allow others to be as 'individual' as they choose to be, yet not feel that the community is threatened. At present, any community which exists does so by having written or unwritten rules, in order to ensure 'fairness' or to keep the limits of behaviour clear. We will not need to do this when love is the root of all action, since no-one could harm or subjugate another human being. This can only happen in a woman-centred world, which allows us to be both a unique individual yet totally connected to everyone else. In a patriarchal world, there seems to be a choice; either you can fulfil your individual desires, or you can compromise them to ensure the stability of the community. What this adds up to, usually, is that dominant men within a community make sure they get what they want, and apply regulations and laws to everyone else to ensure that this continues without interruption. There is little love in a society built on such foundations.
Although both men and women could live communally, each contributing according to particular desires and talents, most writers agree that this is a difficult proposition at the moment. Men still think in dominance/ submission patterns, and have little idea how to co-operate instead of compete. Since we still live in a patriarchal world, they would have the advantage of still feeling superior to women, who struggle to achieve even a small measure of self-confidence. It would be very easy for them to subtly dominate any community in which they were involved, and indeed there is a great deal of evidence from studies of communes, that this happens even when the men make strenuous efforts to avoid it. Perhaps, some people say, we may have a situation in which all-female communities are necessary for particular women, until they are more in touch with the Great Mother. After that, it will simply be a matter of choice as to who they live with, rather than an action dictated by their need for self-development.
If we begin to live communally in future, sharing and co- operating more, it is likely that another change within modern marriage will be accelerated. Fatherhood as a potent patriarchal force is in decline, and it is inevitable that it will become totally changed in meaning within a matercentric society. In a totally male-dominated world, with a father god, the father of a family naturally has all the power. His behaviour, and the perceived behaviour of the god, are identical, since the deity was created to reflect male, separatist values in isolation from female, connecting ones. The father god is stern, judgemental but just, punitive, lacking in all human emotions save anger if disobeyed, contemptuous of females, sex, and bodies (because he is male and spirit only), a law-giver, and most importantly, separate from us rather than interdependent with us. The last fact is important because it is so fundamentally tied in with the path of the god. If you are developing a sense of being separate from other people, then of course your deity will be separate from you, and outside you, as you are from him and from all other human beings. What a lonely position to be in, for both the god and the man!
Since many people within society are changing to the path of the Goddess, matercentric values are 'contaminating' this picture of both fathers and the father god. As men become more loving, and less authoritarian, so their god becomes a little more loving and less intent on sending us to hell for our sins against his authority. In fact, Christianity is now beginning to make a few attempts to incorporate some teachings of Christ into its behaviour and attitudes, though the Catholics still firmly draw the line at acknowledging that women exist to do anything other than bear children and serve men. Fathers today, in Western society, are less frightening figures than they were even a generation ago, and this trend will continue. Men will begin to care more for their children, instead of seeing them as economic resources, nuisances, or heirs, if they are male. Where we see difficulties arising from this is when a more patriarchal culture is imported into our own. Girls from Asian families, for example, whose mothers accept the total control of husbands over the whole family, often rebel against the traditional arranged marriage. It is not that one person is right and another is wrong in this situation, merely that you have instant change when swapping countries, instead of a more gradual one. The result is that the two generations have a chasm between them which spans centuries of change instead of decades.
Since a woman's relationship with her father fundamentally affects her attitude to men within a patriarchal society, we will see changes accelerating in the next generation of females, who have not all been fathered by dictatorial and distant males. In the future, when the nuclear family begins to give way to much more experimental ways of living together, the influence of the biological father will be less intense. We can already see this in the aftermath of the explosion in divorces. Many men are fathering children who are not 'theirs' in a biological sense, and many children have several 'fathers,' by which we mean men who take an interest in their welfare and development. Again, change produces its difficulties. We have already mentioned the phenomenon of the father who loses interest in his children after divorce. He may find it is too painful to be reminded of the mother when he sees them, so he stops, or he may never have cared for his children at all. They were something 'everyone' had, and he provided for them financially perhaps, but otherwise ignored them. After divorce, he can leave them behind with the ease of total lack of love. Still other men simply do not know how to relate to children, however much they might love them. They are used to a woman being around to look after the children, and without her, they panic. They avoid seeing their children out of an inability to parent them, rather than a lack of affection, yet do not love them enough to try to overcome this.
Another problem arises when a patriarchal man is involved in caring for a child who is biologically not his 'own.' He is likely to be deeply outraged at an unconscious level, because the child does not carry his genes, and attempt to rid himself of the responsibility. With very little provocation, he may use violence against the child, to the point of brutal murder. Many men throughout the patriarchal era have physically and sexually abused their children, as well as their wives. This is nothing new. But a man who places a premium on a child being 'his' is still firmly on the path of the god, whereas on the path of the Goddess, we are all connected, so in a wider sense, all children are 'ours.' When such a man is fathering another man's child, he is far more likely to be mentally, physically and emotionally cruel than if he is the biological father. We can see this phenomenon in some other species; a male taking over a female or group of females, will kill the existing young, because they do not carry his genes.
Another problem linked with both step-parenting and the growing love of men for children, is sexual abuse. This is not the sexual exploitation indulged in by men who see all other people as objects for their use. Such men are still on the path of the god. As we have said before, a particular action cannot be judged by its form alone. The consciousness which has produced the behaviour is all that is real. So a man may have a sexual relationship with a child, not to harm the child, but because he knows no other way of expressing love. He may also be changing paths, and therefore at odds with himself. One part of him loves the child, and wishes to show this, while the patriarchal part is still interested in its own selfish gratification. So the energy is twisted into a form which is unacceptable in our society, and can cause severe trauma all round. Because our codes of behaviour prohibit sexual contact between children and adults, especially within a family, the whole issue is clouded by secrecy, guilt, horror and condemnation. It is judged, for example, that a child who has been in some sort of sexual contact with an adult will be irreparably damaged by this, as it is also said that women who have been raped will 'never get over it.' Discussing this subject is like walking into a minefield. Sexual abuse of children is perhaps the one crime which arouses universal outrage in our society. Even men who say that a woman who is raped was 'asking for it,' draw the line at implying that the child might be doing the same.
Part of our problem is that in a patriarchal society, children are at the bottom of a hypothetical pecking order, headed by dominant males. The abuse of that power, to force sexual contact on a child, contravenes freewill, just as it does when a woman is raped. If we wish to eliminate child sex abuse, we must not indulge in punishment of abusers, without addressing the real problem; a society which allows a man to think that he is free to coerce, cajole or trick a child into participating in sexual activity. We give this message to the child as well as the adult, even if we then throw up our hands in horror when it happens. We still tell men that their sexual desires are so strong that sometimes force is unavoidable, and correct. We still tell females of all ages that to fulfil men's sexual needs is their duty, and that anyway, they are to blame because they stimulate men's desires. We say that if they do not, loss of love will follow, and until very recently, that meant loss of everything for a woman or child, because they could not exist without the economic support of a male. A child is in a no-win position. The adult is loved, and/or in a position of power . All of our conditioning tells the child to succumb. The fact that there seems to be complicity between the child and adult in some cases should not cloud the issue, which is the inherent selfishness of men, given assent to by all of the structures and morals of our society.
In a matercentric society, without power ranking, and with men able to both love and respect others, this problem will not occur. No-one will consent to anything they do not wish to do because of fear or guilt. There will be no rape anymore, whether it's rape of children, women, or the planet. Those who live together will do so because of love, and this means that there will be diversity. To begin with, as we change paths, there will be many experiments, some attempting to combine patriarchal ideas with matercentric ones. Undoubtedly, we will be told that one particular form of marriage or relationship is now the 'right' one, and all the others are wrong, because people will still believe that what is truth for them is truth for all. There may be those who wish to continue living in traditional marriages for quite some time. Others may decide that a series of exclusive 'marriages' is what they like. 'Open' marriage, in which the two people have sexual relationships outside the primary one, is currently fashionable, and right for those who wish to do it, though it does seem a contradiction in terms. We see many homosexual relationships in which the partners are learning about themselves in ways which they feel could not happen within a heterosexual relationship. People will still use relationships either to grow or to hide from growth, as they have always done. They may cling to others who harm them because of need and fear that there are no alternatives, but in the last analysis, no-one can resist change.
It is impossible to predict what form communities will take, simply because we are all unique individuals. This knowledge has been denied by patriarchal society, and we have been forced into a paralysingly narrow range of ways in which we are allowed to interact with other human beings. Marriage in particular, has been a source of immense restriction, especially for women, and it seems unlikely that it can survive for long in its present form. We will change slowly, and make mistakes along the way; but eventually, we will find that our trust in the Great Mother will allow us to relinquish relationships which are not based on total and unconditional love, and find joy.