Thank you, Judy, for going to New Guinea and bringing back this amazing story, for us to reflect on.
A propos: I once asked my mother why she thought men used to live so much longer and now they were all (as it seemed to me) dying of heart attacks in middle life. She answered without hesitation, “because the women used to FLATTER them.” Since her relations with my father were not dishonest or obsequious, I took it she meant something else. The women knew how to make it fun to be men.
Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories.
Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin .
She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
We get used to the word bitch. People are intimidated by strong women.
I find the anthropologist in me arising in response to the question of what it is to be a woman. It varies so much depending upon the culture one is in. And the time in which one lives, of course.
The subject of submission brought forth an experience I had in New Guinea in around 1968, living with people who still used stone tools (as well as some steel axes they got through trade.). I was the first white woman they had ever seen.
Women were in some ways considered to be beings in between people and pigs (a very important part of the culture.). And “bride prices” usually included pigs as well as fancy shells, tobacco and feathers. About 20 people lived in one communal house in the hamlet. Closest hamlet a day’s walk away through rain forested mountains. There was a woman’s section and a man’s section. Babies and girls stayed with the women, little boys could be in both sections.
One day I went into the house, and all the men were gone. To my surprise (and delight), the several women inside were spread all over the house, talking, eating, and acting completely relaxed. As soon as a young boy entered, the women who were in the men’s section drifted back into the women’s section. It was all very casual…no big deal. No sense that the women were rebelling when the men were gone. But there was a shift in my perception: submission to male dominance might not be as heavy as it seemed. More like a cultural form, even a bit of a joke perhaps. There was a sense of freedom in it, perhaps because there was no tension, which might expect from breaking a strict cultural norm.
One thought: why is male dominance such a pervasive cultural phenomenon. I’m sure many others have postulated as I do that it is only the woman whom knows who the baby’s father is. And therefore……..gotta keep her under strict control.