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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Inhumanity -- As in Female?

Man Was Made To Mourn: A Dirge

Many and sharp the num'rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav'n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, -
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!
           --Robert Burns

"Man's inhumanity to man" -- this phrase, which is now used with a sense of regret, was coined by Robert Burns and used in his poem Man Was Made To Mourn: A Dirge, 1785. A dirge is a sombre song expressing mourning or grief, such as would be appropriate for performance at a funeral. Considering the times, was Burns speaking to all variety of gender when he penned his poem? Did he direct his theme at mankind, in general, with no real regard to the fairer sex?  Or, most importantly, how are Burns' words interpreted today?

Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated, “Man's inhumanity to man is not only perpetrated by the vitriolic (bitter) actions of those who are bad. It is also perpetrated by the vitiating inaction of those who are good.” With free will, human beings make their own individual will and choices. Men and women often have very different strategies for overcoming problems within their own genders. The lines of "good" and "bad" behavior are not clearly delineated, but this post may help expose some means of coping.

After extensive interviews, psychologist and leading exponent of women's rights Phyllis Chesler writes in her book Woman's Inhumanity To Woman (2002): "Bias comes in two genders. Girls and women are as biased and sexist as girls and men. We could, if we choose, refuse to judge the next woman by how thin or blonde she is, or how perfectly symmetrical her surgically altered features are. Women actually care more about what other women think and want women's approval just as much as we want to be chosen by the prince to live in the castle." The book is based on Chesler's 20 years of research (anthropological, workplace studies, sociological data, original interviews, memoir). 
Chesler explains that like men, women unconsciously buy into negative images that can trigger abuse and mistreatment of other women. But like other social victims, many do not realize stereotyping affects members within the victimized group as well as those outside the group. They do not realize their behavior reflects society's biases. Feminists generally have depicted women as empathetic and caring creatures, victims of male aggression and dominance.Chesler believes women are pretty good at "dishing out" to those of the same gender.

Chesler believes several of the following important points:

* Women envy and compete against other women, not against men—and tend to deny this, even to themselves. Like men, many women also hold sexist beliefs; often, they are unaware of it.

* They (woman) still expect women to behave in “feminine” or maternal ways; this includes choosing a man as a protector, not as an opponent to publicly defeat in a very aggressive, “male” way.

* Women and girls are more comfortable with expressing their aggression indirectly in less visible ways, through gossip, slander, and ostracism.

* Despite exceptions, women do not necessarily like, respect, or trust other women. Even more important, woman do not like another woman getting more attention than they themselves get; cheerleaders, beauty queens, gorgeous actresses are envied and ostracized more often than befriended by other girls and women.

* Women are less interested in status than men are, and are more interested in equality and connection. So a woman who's pretty, who may have her pick of male beaus, signals to a less attractive woman that she won't linger and engage in the rituals of emotional grooming. It's not merely jealousy and envy, it's a worry that the attractive one won't be available.

While acknowledging that women's greatest suffering through time has been due to "manmade tragedies," Chesler aims to shed light on a "quieter war" and to encourage women to be more realistic in their expectations and more humane in their treatment of other women.

Chesler traces much of the energy in women's relationships to a complex, fragile, and "mainly unconscious" mother-daughter relationship. Women have unrealistic expectations of selfless generosity from other women, whom they cast in the idealized mother role, and may react with irrational rage when it is not forthcoming.

Still, despite huge gains in public visibility, female promotion and advancement have been hampered by a rarely acknowledged reality: women often betray, hurt, and humiliate one another. Mothers stymie daughters, biological sisters compete, girlfriends gossip maliciously, and women bosses exert arbitrary and capricious authority. Chesler believes that women must acknowledge their own sexism and gender double-standards before they can practice sisterhood, resist sexism, treat other women ethically, and forge realistic and compassionate personal and political coalitions. (Phyllis Chesler, Woman's Inhumanity To Woman, 2002)

"At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman." 
--Albert Camus
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