Tuesday, December 9, 2008

God's Penis...

I recently wrote a paper that I became very invested in, and it's opened my eyes to a lot of interesting things that go on in the world around us that most of us never notice.

My paper was on masculinity in the Bible. My thesis, essentially, was that the Israelites created a notion of a hyper-masculine God (I'm remaining agnostic about whether or not they did this consciously, though I suspect it was a subconscious move), which means they were essentially worshiping masculinity. This was is natural move for a patriarchal society. If they don't perpetuate their system of power actively, it dissipates and those who are in power due to this system lose their authority. Thus, they created a masculine God so their masculinity could be justified by divine command.

The complication is that by putting masculinity on a pedestal like they did, Ancient Israelites condoned many acts we would find disturbing today including violence towards women, discrimination against those who’s masculinity competes with their own, and also the exclusion of men within the nation of Israel itself who did not properly display the “divine masculinity.” They worshiped a God who showed lots of signs of righteous anger (think Sodom and Gomorrah). It gets worse when one reads the prophetic writings (Ezekiel, Hosea, Jeremiah, etc) because here we see a metaphor of God as husband and Israel as wife. This marital relationship looks more like spousal abuse than love to our modern interpretations, but that's what you get when your God is hyper-masculine.

All this hyper-masculinity gave Ancient Israelite men permission to impersonate this God and act in horrible ways, as I stated before. We see this throughout the Old Testament (and to a great degree in the New Testament, though Jesus throws a giant wrench in the system, which is probably why he was killed). Lots of stories like that of Judges 19 (read it. I triple dog dare you) occur as examples of brutality towards women. It doesn't stop at women though. Because hyper-masculine patriarchy requires all males to be in constant competition, even the males lose in this game (though they do receive material dividends). Guys like Reuben and Joseph end up getting into lots of trouble due to masculine competition, though Joseph is eventually exonerated.

I could write about this situation forever. Rest assured, it's really quite interesting and I'm very passionate about it for some reason. My question is this: How does this affect us today? Where is hyper-masculinity lurking in our everyday lives in the 21st century? I've really started to see it in my life due to my intense research lately.

For example, our curse words reinforce our patriarchal system. They all bring to our attention something we find shameful or embarrassing about ourselves. Shit, piss, asshole, dick, they're all accounted for. The worst two, I believe, are "fuck" and "suck." When I say things like, "Fuck you!" or "This sucks," I'm really equating being penetrated in some fashion with being bad. Thus, the female body and homosexual men are subordinated. My power and authority as a man are perpetuated.

What else is out there? How else am I tacitly subordinating women and reinforcing my own unjustified authority? It's there to be found, we just have to look.


PeterAtLarge said...

Nice title, Mark. I used it myself once, a while ago, in a different context. And your argument is an interesting and persuasive one. Thanks for putting out these thoughts.

Mozart said...

It's not just males that use sexist language, of course. Heck, in an ironic twist, I recall using the phrase "be a bitch" in a reference to something unpleasant and stressful in our conversation last night. At the time, however, I was acutely aware of what I was saying--but it's become an idiomatic expression, and therefore "acceptable." Now, given the topic of this post, I'm a bit embarassed to have been caught....

I think my inner feminist is slowly being awakened. I'm taking a Women and Gender Studies course next semester, so I'm interested in what the instructor will have to say.


Mark said...

Peter -
Thanks for the thoughts! It's always nice to hear from you.

Mozart -
The whole language thing is tricky. Patriarchy requires that not just the men buy into it, you know? So it makes sense that women use the words, too. It's a role thing. The male's role in a patriarchal society is to be the starting quarterback, the most powerful, and so he accrues honor by accumulating power. Women, however, accrue honor by being the best woman they can be. In a lot of scenarios, this means being the most submissive, the most compassionate, the most "feminine." Though I think this is really changing in Western society right now, it's still there and women still buy into the system as much as men do even though they don't benefit.
Also, hooray for your inner-feminist! Those who fight the status quo are often shamed though, so beware! :)
I mean, just look at Jesus, right?