A Woman in a Man’s World

Extract from Hijatus: Under the Sign of Sickness, in the Name of Health
by Nermina Kurspahic, Sarajevo: Zid, 1994

Essay translated for The Society for the Furtherance of the Critical Philosophy by Celia Hawkesworth (School of Slavonic and East European Studies. London University)
December 1999.

Photo of Nermina Kurspahic

Nermina Kurspahic

Ah these woman

Futurologists believe that an ‘era of women’ will soon arrive. In their view, this should bring peace to the planet Earth, exhausted by millennia of destruction and devastation according to male scenario.

Of course, prophecies about a change in the state of the planet, but in a female way, are based on assumptions that the ‘psychology of woman’ is different from that of men, and therefore a world ordered according to her principles ought to be different. Jung’s scientifically based distinction between the existence of two archetypes in mankind, the (male) animus, and the (female) anima, set up a chain reaction in a whole series of disciplines. And although this category of Jung’s originated in human, male, wholeness, it did significantly point the way to investigating (more thoroughly) the particularities of female individuality and the removal of many clichés about it.

‘The female way of being has been manifested in human history in various archetypal forms, that is in repeated clusters of assumptions and models of behaviour which are connected with specific dominant types of the female. These dominant types (such as Mother, Hetaera, Amazon, Woman) determine all, or almost all the commonest assumptions about women and thus dictate their position and function in society .

One of the commonest, virtually universal, clichés, is that emphasis on female qualities entails sacrificing the intellect. At the same time, the concept of ‘femininity’ acquires pejorative connotations, which automatically degrade those who bear them, and favour the intellect as a male principle and property per se. History records negations of such beliefs, but they are rarely accepted by the human consciousness. One witty commentary, but not a tendentious one, was Aristophanes’ Lysistrata.

And, while art concerns itself with women, sporadically, sometimes in a malicious and tendentious way, the fact is that women themselves concern themselves with art, and very successfully at that. Not as just an appendage, but as its integral part. And from such a position, they then articulate their artistic discourse.

Many believe that a ‘woman’s era’ will come and that it will lead to qualitatively different relations in the world.

Perhaps. It is hard to tell. But it is certain that everything, good and bad, past times (both matriarchal and patriarchal and more contemporary variants of existence ), all have to be incorporated into a potential new world. If not, if one world view, however female, were to become dominant, and inimical to everything else, chaos would ensue again. (But everything began with chaos. Some would say, must it be so again?)

Elisabeth Badinter is far more precise (and optimistic ). In her book Man/Woman. The One is the Other, she concludes, at the outset: ‘Their respective attributes -for so long defined by the “nature” of each sex -are becoming more and more difficult to distinguish. Their relations no longer have the same bases, and are following different paths from those laid down by their forefathers. The criteria are disintegrating as they multiply, and we are beginning to lose our bearings. ..

Woman and War – in a pattern of archetypes?

Many serious theoreticians (such as Nicole Loraux, Elisabeth Badinter, Pauline Schmitt-Pantel) believe that the mere fact of giving birth is one form of ‘war’ -the struggle for life. And although biology allotted the female physical discomfort, especially in the act of creation of a new life -and all monotheistic religions later adopted this into their dogma -it can nevertheless be affirmed quite categorically that war is incompatible with the female psyche. While there is some speculation about the historical existence of gynocratic communities, J. J. Bachofen maintains that they did indeed exist and had no experience of violence.

Moreover, the matriarchy which this author calls the ‘poetry of humanity’ was founded on the values of ‘love, communality, respect for the integrity of living creatures’ (human and animal).

On the basis of incidental data (Plutarch}, but also according to myth and the findings of contemporary anthropologists (C. Levi-Strauss, M. Eliade}, it can be said that the only form of violence known in societies organised on ‘female principles’, was that provoked by groups of armed women known as Amazons or Sabines. However, all that is known about them are legends, and such legends are often the projections of a quite un-objective (patriarchal} outlook on life.

While people may have different views of individual aspects of female existence, almost all those concerned with such topics consider war (and hunting) to be pre-eminently male activities. More precisely, they are seen as the most extreme expression of the patriarchal consciousness. There is no doubt that contemporary Western civilization, like those of earlier times, is essentially patriarchal. Of course, different degrees of emancipation in individual social communities mean that the attributes of patriarchalism are not equally ‘distributed’ in them. Many contemporary societies are currently overcoming elements of the manifestation of patriarchy, while some are still living in the deep shadow of recent trends.

One of the most striking examples of isolation from emancipatory developments is the territory of the central Balkans, which lives in deep shade in comparison to the ‘sunny’ processes of liberation elsewhere in the world.

Patriarchy, which some serious modern scholars consider to be not only the oldest but in fact the only form of organisation of homo sapiens (matriarchy is excluded from this scheme, or else its appearances are given ephemeral, subsidiary significance and status), has dictated all aspects of the behaviour of living beings (human and animal). In the patriarchal structure the male is at the top of the ladder, with all the attributes of lord of the planet Earth. The domination of the male was accomplished over the centuries by many different means, including aggression, and above all war. In all areas of human thought war has been recognised and identified as a male category .And in keeping, presumably, with the accepted cliché that the male outlook implies systematic, logical thought, reason, intellect, all forms of its expression are permitted, indeed encouraged, to possess their own logic, their own set of values. And as one of these beliefs, war is presented as a sensible, useful and logical activity.
In the patriarchal system of values, war is usually seen as an act approved by God.

According to Elisabeth Badinter, the dictatorships in European countries between the two world wars (Germany, Italy, Spain. USSR) ‘were so many deliberate attempts to reinforce patriarchy’.

One way to achieve that (reinforcement of the influence and domination of male principles) is through war. War is perhaps the simplest, and to the patriarchal consciousness the archetypal means of self- affirmation, realisation of hegemony. To put it simply, war is based on force, power, categories through which man has proved his superiority, as a biological and social being, in relation to all others and particularly women. That is why war represents more than a game, and the rules which were respected especially in chivalric times (some persistent patriarchs endeavour to extend these into the present day), are not necessary, nor do they oblige the actors in war to respect them. In its ‘realisation’, war is anarchy, chaos, against which, paradoxically, the patriarchally ordered world struggles. That world has defined anarchy and chaos as female characteristics, and consequently endeavoured to overcome them in its organisation.

And, in that sense, war is offered as a means of overcoming the conditions which are perceived as female (disorder, lack of discipline).

By contrast, war, with all its tragedy and the instrument of that most male and most patriarchal institution -the army -is conceived as a set of strict rules (a euphemism) which are to replace those that existed up to then. And they are usually projected as a direct threat to male values.
The antagonism between male and female beings and their principles has existed for millennia and has only sometimes been subdued, or apparently ended. The relationship between the male and female world is often referred to as the ‘war of the sexes’, but it has in fact been based, at least up to now, on an endeavour to extend and deepen the domination of the male over the female. Consequently civilization to date records the periodic attack of the male worldview against all that is not subordinate to it. Everything that deviates from the scheme of the patriarchal is exposed to such attack and although patriarchy does not include either the essence or all visible manifestations of the male, it has nevertheless imposed itself as the only representative and interpreter of (all) its (male) characteristics.

Patriarchy has not manifested animosity only towards women who do not conform to its dictates, but also to those men who do not satisfy the criteria of male supremacy. Hans Mayer has called those anathemized by patriarchalism ‘outsiders’, and identifies them as above all women, then Jews and homosexuals.

The ideal of the patriarchal consciousness is the tribal community: strictly hierarchical, at the head of which is a healthy male (white, if possible) capable of fulfilling all his biological and social functions. All those weaker than him (physically above all) are subordinated to him and serve the promotion and maintenance of his principles. Every disturbance of the desired structure is condemned. and one means of doing this is through war.

War occurs when patriarchy is threatened, or feels sufficiently strong to endeavour by expansion to extend the spheres of its influence, or when one social community, strengthened in its ‘most elite forms of expression’ -the nation and the army – seeks through them to subjugate, to subordinate to themselves and their values all others, including women, or particularly women from, what is to them, the enemy camp. Then the most brutal methods are used (torture, rape, humiliation) in order to achieve those ends.

Examples of the behaviour of Serbian, and Croatian soldiers towards women, for the most part Bosniaks, Muslims, in the war of the nineteen-nineties in Bosnia Herzegovina were drastic. Rape, which has been recorded in all wars up to now as an incidental phenomenon, appeared for the first time here as an organised, programmed and deliberate part of the plan of genocide, the annihilation of a people.

It was possible, in the minds of the geniuses of evil, to carry out that annihilation by the physical annihilation of a people and their culture, and through the systematic rape of women, some of whom were in fact forced to conceive and to bear children, whose fathers were part of the aggressors’ genocidal machinery. In the demonic conception of these rapes, all those who participated certainly had in mind also the fact of the cultural. ethical, aesthetic status of women in Bosnian and Herzegovinian society and the family. For that reason. the insistence of those who attacked Bosnia and Herzegovina that their soldiers should engage in mass rape fits the programme of the destruction of a people which must be, according to them, not only physical, but mental and spiritual.

Of course, theoreticians of war have systematised it into various aspects, forms, but in fact no one can negate its patriarchal background. War may be promoted as a series of rules, but once it has been set in motion it displays all its bestiality and allows its participants to free themselves from all the inhibitions of civilization and abandon themselves to atavism and all the inner currents of the unconscious. That is why in all relevant and humane accounts war is recognised as an inhuman, bestial assault. (These last sentences arranged in a logical syllogism produce the conclusion: patriarchy imposes and permits animalism, even if it is not itself bestial.) The world of women, which has not expressed its attributes only in gynocratic communities, exists in opposition to the patriarchate and its values. But today there is no ‘world of women’ as a unified category .On the contrary, women are sometimes a firm part of the value system of patriarchal societies. What is more, they are sometimes instrumentalized.

Again, the most drastic example in this sense is the behaviour of the majority of Serbian women (in both Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina), who supported the war and murder, and sent their sons and husbands joyfully to destroy others, and to prevent them from receiving food and water. For that reason it is inappropriate to claim that the attributes of women are universally valid and that they represent an unimpeachable standard of behaviour.
Historically, it has not been proved that female attributes have manifested themselves in the form in which Bachofen, for example, presents them. Nevertheless, many scholarly disciplines have established that difference in the female outlook, to which war and violence are completely alien and unacceptable. But, in war, as a typical product of paternalism, women are; a very crucial factor – whether they are called up to fight, or ‘treated’ in a special way because they ‘provide’ descendants, future potential recruits. In the first case the century-Iong (erotic) male dream of the armed woman is realised.

To get the full text of this article contact us to order Hijatus by Nermina Kurspahic

Comments are closed.