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APPLYING SEMIOTICS IN ORDER TO REFUTE FEMINIST CLAIMS

A brief note before we proceed further. You will notice in the left-hand column, the opening of a new porthole under the sub-heading "Consciousness". Enter into the labyrinth should you wish to attain further knowing - for as a great man that walks among us once said.... "Knowledge is power".

INTRODUCTION

On the 30th of November 2001, a post appeared on the Evolutionary Psychology list, under the heading "'See the Patriarchy Tumblin' Down!: Using Sociobiology to Bolster Feminist Claims". It pointed to the website put up by Lydia Parnell, to which I was compelled to respond. I apply a theoretical framework based in semiotics in order to confidently refute feminist claims.


THE THEORY - APPLYING THE LAW OF ASSOCIATION OF HABITS

What better demonstration of a theory's relevance than a practical application of it? I apply Peirce's law of association of habits, in conjunction with a more general interpretation of Heidegger's Dasein.

Charles Sanders Peirce regarded habit and association as fundamental aspects of consciousness. Thus, he proclaimed his "law of association of ideas":

"There is a law in this association of ideas. We may roughly say it is the law of habit. It is the great "Law of association of ideas" - the one law of all psychical action".

I want to be more specific with the relationship between association and habit, and that is why I would prefer to call it the "Law of association of habits".

In summary, I apply the law of association of habits to infer three crucial points about gender roles:

  1. Gender roles are habits. Thus, we can infer that:
  2. Gender roles are chosen. And from a more general interpretation of Heidegger's Dasein (I call it the desire to be) we know that:
  3. Men and women "like" the roles to which they have been assigned.

These crucial points demonstrate how men and women are complicit in their respective oppressions. Moreover, we are now better placed to understand why women, as the filters of variety, are predisposed to sustaining the cultural known - while men, as the producers of variety, are predisposed to exploring the cultural unknown.

In accordance with gender roles, men and women exercise their own logically distinct manners of oppression. Thus, the gender whose responsibility is to sustain the known will have, as its primary mode of oppression, the enforcement of standards of "proper behavior", while the gender whose responsibility is at the interface with the unknown will have, as its primary mode of oppression, competition and assertion of ideas and beliefs. In this way we have a cultural, semiotic expression of the Darwinian paradigm - cultures evolve with men as the producers of variety and women as the filters of variety.

From the law of association of habits, we know that the gender that is provided for will habituate logics that make it difficult to compete within the logical realm of the gender that provides. In one sense, it is because women have it so easy that they have it so hard. And it is for this "reason" that the principles of phenomenology and Pragmatism (the philosophy) confer upon Womankind a different set of responsibilities and predispositions.

Thus, the choice prioritized by women, to be provided for, becomes the habit that confines them, and this has nothing to do with any conspiracy by men to hold women back. Indeed, much of the success of feminism might be better understood from the perspective of the desire of men to have women as equals, as comrades. After all, would not many men dream of marriage to a comrade, an equal with whom one can share in life's adventures? Is it not true that a typically wifely women is most likely to put a damper on such enthusiasm, to become a ball-and-chain whereby the lives of her partner and children are proscribed in terms of her shoulds and should-nots? It is men, as the explorers of the unknown, who are more predisposed to liberating women than are women. That is why women often turn to men to be saved by them. Women are their own worst enemy. For the truth is that women oppress women. Women as mothers, women as girl-friends and women as role-models create the norms against which women compare themselves and each other, judge each other, and exclude those women that dare to be different.

We are now in a position to understand the ways in which women oppress women


THE OPPRESSION OF WOMEN BY WOMEN

Amnesty International recognizes that FGM is, in the majority of cases, women doing it to women. On their website, they suggest that "usually only women are allowed to be present". Perhaps this understates a rather harsher truth. A little further research finds that it is, for all intents and purposes, always women doing it to women, in the course of sacred women's rituals and sacred rites of passage. And so irrespective of whatever ghostly influence men and "The Patriarchy" are purported to have, it appears that, from all the cases that I have encountered on the internet, it is adult women taking young girls to the sacred sites. It is adult women holding them down, to prevent them from moving, and adult women holding their legs apart to allow the knife to cut. And it is always a woman wielding the cutting implement. Refer to the website excerpt of Chapter 6, of Jomo Kenyatta's book, "Facing Mount Kenya", for an example.

Similarly, the history of the persecution of witches provides a further example of women oppressing women. Inasmuch as men most often provide the visible face of the persecution of "witches", the truth is rather more complex. Let us, for example, briefly look at the Salem witch trials. Witches were primarily identified and tried on the basis of testimonies provided by people who were "afflicted" (dreams, premonitions). Without going into the interesting details concerning the role of gossip (a primarily female activity), let us briefly take a look at some of the statistics. The Salem Witch Trials website provides some numbers. All up, 37 of the afflicted were female, and 5 were male. 5 of the afflicted were from 1 to 10 years old, and 27 of them were from 11 to 20 years old. 34 were single, 7 were married. By a process of elimination, we might begin to see a typical profile emerge (i.e., how does single female between 11 and 20 years old, sound?). As many of the afflicted were children, we might expect the primary nurturer to have had some measure of input.

Now let's look at the Salem trials from a slightly different perspective. 14 women and 5 men were executed. A sixth man was "pressed" (crushed by stone weights) for refusing to admit innocence or guilt. 200 people were awaiting trial before the process was declared unlawful, and they were subsequently released. What was the role of gossip, a primarily female activity, in identifying the other 200? The majority of the witnesses, as the afflicted, were girls and young women. In this light, 14 women and 6 men murdered cannot constitute a statistically significant proof that the Salem community practiced single-minded oppression against women perpetrated solely by men.

The hijab (veil) is another cultural tradition actively insisted upon by women. Muslim women want to wear the veil and any denial of this simple fact trivializes them and their choices. Thus it is that the chauvanistic, western, feminist crusade - always quick to condemn the Christian crusades of the white patriarchy - insults and interferes with cultures of which it knows nothing and to which it does not belong. For insights to how Muslim women actively support their Islamic faith, take a visit to the About Islam and Muslims website. Then go to "Current Issues" in the header. And then cursor down towards the bottom, to explore the several articles on women in Islam, including at least one on the hijab.

Other examples of women oppressing women:

  1. The European witch-hunts were collaborative efforts between men and women. "Gendercide Watch, with references to Deborah Willis' book, Malevolent Nurture and to Robin Gibbs' book, Witches & Neighbours discusses the European witchhunts noting that:

    In fact, the stigmatizing, victimizing, and murdering of accused "witches" is more accurately seen as a collaborative enterprise between men and women at the local level. "The historical record suggests that both men and women found it easiest to fix these fantasies (of witchcraft), and turn them into horrible reality, when they were attached to women. It is really crucial to understand that misogyny in this sense was not reserved to men alone, but could be just as intense among women." Most of the accusations originated in "conflicts (that) normally opposed one woman to another, with men liable to become involved only at a later stage as ancillaries to the original dispute." Briggs adds that "most informal accusations were made by women against other women, ... (and only) leaked slowly across to the men who controlled the political structures of local society."

  2. Sati (bride-burning in India). There have been examples in the Indian media where women have revolted against attempts to deny them this sacred women's rite. Sati and bride murder are also blamed, in large part, on economic "necessity" (the dowry system of India) and the problems associated with providing for women without husbands. And as such, newspaper reports implicating women (eg., mothers-in-law) as often as men should come as no surprise.

  3. "Killing of female children. The role of mothers is never mentioned, yet, if we acknowledge the fact that the killing of female children is based in economic "necessity", as girls will never grow up to become good providers, we might expect mothers to be at least equally implicated." I originally wrote this in 2001. Since then, I have found much supporting evidence. Gendercide Watch notes that "Infanticide is a crime overwhelmingly committed by women, both in the Third and First Worlds." Furthermore, Gendercide Watch quotes from The Dying Rooms Trust:

    culture dictates that when a girl marries she leaves her family and becomes part of her husband's family. For this reason Chinese peasants have for many centuries wanted a son to ensure there is someone to look after them in their old age -- having a boy child is the best pension a Chinese peasant can get. Baby girls are even called "maggots in the rice".

    Now Gender Watch doesn't quite seem to get the full picture. Predictably, they blame "The Patriarchy" (whatever that means). Yet the reality is that this is women doing it to infants. So let us, for a bit of variety, divert from the predictable blaming of "The Patriarchy", to cast a slightly different light on infanticide. As women are more likely to prioritize security, they commit infanticide willfully and for selfish reasons. Nurturing, loving mothers know that they can't shunt their daughters out to work in the paddy-fields. Their interest in boys is nothing more than cold, pragmatic survival. Boy as rice-paddy labourer grows to be man as provider. Arguably, this is more a matriarchal than a patriarchal phenomenon, because it is the mother that decides who shall live and who shall die. It is the mother that giveth life and it is the mother that taketh away. Is this Matriarchy at work? Or is it Patriarchy?

[Note that I am expressing these "oppressions" without judgement. It is not my intention to be critical of these cultures but rather, to show the connection between complicity, desire and cultural norms. To accept and live by any culture's norms is to oppress those who do not subscribe to them.]

Women are capable of feeling deeply threatened by other women. The logics upon which sustaining the known are based must also be consistent with the vulnerability of the known, and the forces that might threaten it. Thus, psychological traits such as envy, manipulation and reserve are logically consistent with this mode of being. And from what we know of the priority that women place on being provided for, we even might expect women to be the primary instigators of many of these kinds of crimes, as it is women who are most likely to feel vulnerable to any potential threats to their security. We might even imagine that because men are more likely to feel secure in their role as provider, they will be less inclined to perpetrate any such preemptive strike. And of course even if a man perpetrates such a crime, there is always the very serious question of the role of the women in his life manipulating him, putting pressure on him, behind the scenes. One is reminded of Mira Milosevic, though her role was certainly not quite so much behind the scenes.

Of course, these genuine hunches of mine should not provide the basis for any claim on my part. But they do place the onus on feminists to do better than to assert that just because it is females who are being killed, that the culprit must be exclusively men and "The Patriarchy".


THE OPPRESSION OF MEN BY WOMEN

Then there are the ways in which women oppress men, manipulating them and shaming them into doing what women would otherwise do if men refused to subscribe to their chivalrist obligations. Some examples follow.

Provided-for women who were never conscripted to fight wars, nonetheless thought nothing of pinning white feathers on the "cowardly" men who refused to fight.

What was the source of the power of women that compelled men to give up their seats on the lifeboats of the Titanic? How has this come to pass, that the gender that has never designed or built boats, ships, buildings, aircraft, houses or toilet seats, the gender that has never had to fight wars or to provide for families, should be the gender with first priority to the life-boats, the gender that determines what the correct position of the toilet seat should be?

What is the source of the power of women that has men doing their dirty-work? For the truth is that men do the dirty-work also of women, who are too comfortable in the security provided by men to be bothered to do it themselves.

Women as the sustainers of the known, the filters of variety, choose the types of men that they would like their sons to be - the types of men most likely to do their dirty-work. When a woman, in her priority to be provided for, acquiesces to make her pact with the devil, she is an accomplice and a partner in crime, for she has cast her vote in favour of what she thinks all men should be.

Why does the media barely rate it a mention, that large numbers of Hazara men and boys have been slaughtered by the Taliban in preemptive raids, in order to cull the numbers of a potential enemy, or that large numbers of men and boys have fled Afghanistan in order to avoid forced conscription by the Taliban? Why do we hear so much more about widows and so little about the men and boys that have lost their lives? Is the sight of a crying woman supposed to be more heart-wrenching than a battle-ground littered with rotting corpses?

On Australian Sixty Minutes (subject Human Bombs 19 August 2001), a Palestinian woman declared, raising her voice, trying to convince the ignorant westerner, who just didn't seem to "get it", that she wants her son to die, to become a hero for the Arab cause - as the camera panned across to the innocent face of a little boy not even into his teens. While I missed this program, I caught the shorts that ran the preceding week, and there is a transcript available from the Australian Sixty Minutes website.

Thus is the power of mother over son. The sustainer of the known provides the framework to which a boy will refer in his transition into manhood. The sustainer of the known will provide the goals and standards that boys and men will feel obligated to uphold and carry out. Motherhood, femininity, provides the basis for the cultural known around which the explorers of the unknown will gravitate and test the limits. The power of the hand that rocks the cradle is formidable, and just because political correctness renders this simple truth unfashionable, does not mean that it is false.


INTERFERENCE BY WESTERN CULTURE

The West should be mindful of what it defines as oppression, as it interferes in the affairs of cultures that it knows nothing about. Time magazine (3 December 2001) is perplexed by the apparent acceptance by many Afghan women of the burka, and then tries to explain it away in terms of the presence of men. Richard Lacayo writes:

"Many rural women, especially, claim to wear it willingly, at least when they speak in the presence of their husbands. There is even high fashion in burka wear. In Kabul, women allow a bit of lace trimming to show at the edge. The best burkas, from the Afghan city of Herat, have exquisite pleating that imparts a shimmering, watery feel but takes hours to iron. But nearly any educated woman loathes the burka. So do many less educated ones - if you can question them where men cannot hear."

If we could see beyond the low opinion that Richard and westerners have of Muslim women, we might see the burka as a sign of power and control, along the lines of the hijab. For example, when questioned by westerners, wearers typically claim that it is to control harassment, which is a culturo-logical phenomenon in which women, the sustainers of the known, also have their part to play. In a culture where wealthy men-as-providers are allowed more than one wife, many men must do without, and this will manifest itself accordingly.


SUMMARY

In summary, Peircean semiotics, in conjunction with a generalized interpretation of Heidegger's Dasein, provides compelling insights into gender roles. More specifically, it enables us to infer the cognitive realms of the opposite sex and to refute with confidence and clarity, any bogus claims concerning the single, one-way oppression of one gender by another.


APPENDIX

Here are further tidbits that I have distilled, posted to the Evolutionary Psychology discussion list, that are based in my implicit understanding of semiotics as the basis for all psychical action. They can be found on the following threads:



Last updated January 2005
Stephen Springette