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.