Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Post-race-and-gender Politics Question

(Let's not use f-words today.) Let's ask (instead), How long have the politics of the USA been post-racial and post-gender (and post-Aristotle)?

"Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating or something, or just before she’s going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then."
--G. Gordon Liddy
(HT Allison Gaudet Yarrow of The Sisterhood)

--President Richard M. Nixon with his Chief of Staff H. R. "Bob" Haldeman
(HT Karen Tumulty of Time Magazine)

Aristotle was one of the earliest to tackle the problem: he saw menstruation as a sign of female inferiority, related to the passive part he felt women played in reproduction.
(--from Janice Delaney's, Mary Jane Lupton's, and Emily Toth's
The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation

But menstruation is not just any cyclical occurrence. It involves the shedding of blood, which is itself a dire event, with or without group synchrony and astral coincidences, and at least intuitively associated with acts of deliberate bloodshed. Aristotle observed in the Historia Animalium that menstrual blood runs "like that of an animal that has just been stabbed" in sacrifice and Hippocratic medical texts used the same analogy.
(--from Barbara Ehrenreich's
Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passion of War)

For the Hippocratics the weakness of a woman's body (her porous flesh) caused menstruation; for Aristotle menstruation caused her physical weakness.
Sarah B. Pomeroy's
Women's History and Ancient History

Aristotle tells us that the highpitched voice of the female is one evidence of her evil disposition, for creatures who are brave or just (like lions, bulls, roosters and the human male) have large deep voices. If you hear a man talking in a gentle or high-pitched voice you know he is a kinaidos (“catamite”). The poet Aristophanes put a comic turn on this cliché in his Ekklesiazousai: as the women of Athens are about to infiltrate the Athenian assembly and take over political process, the f****ist leader Praxagora reassures her fellow f*male activists that they have precisely the right kind of voices for this task. Because, as she says, “You know that among the young men the ones who turn out to be terrific talkers are the ones who get f***ed a lot.” This joke depends on a collapsing together of two different aspects of sound production, quality of voice and use of voice. We will find the ancients continually at pains to associate these two aspects under a general rubric of gender. High vocal pitch goes together with talkativeness to characterize a person who is deviant from or deficient in the masculine ideal of self-control. Women, catamites, eunuchs and androgynes fall into this category. Their sounds are bad to hear and make men uncomfortable. Just how uncomfortable may be measured by the lengths to which Aristotle is willing to go in accounting for the gender of sound physiognomically; he ends up ascribing the lower pitch of the male voice to the tension placed on a man’s vocal chords by his testicles functioning as loom weights.
(--from Anne Carson's
Glass, Irony, and God

- the unoffending *s have been added for our comfort.)

Females blurt out a direct translation of what should be formulated indirectly [as by a syllogism of logic] . . . . [S]ince woman does not bound herself, she must be bounded. The celebrated Greek virtue of self-control (sophrosyne) has to be defined differently for men and for women, Aristotle maintains. Masculine sophrosyne is rational self-control and resistance to excess, but for the woman [according to Aristotle] sophrosyne means obedience and consists in submitting herself to the control of others.
(--from Anne Carson's
Men in the Off Hours


Katherine said...

Blech. It is no fun to see a word that describes you being astericked out, some uncouth expression, a profanity, an expletive, a dirty word, "don't say that!". Who am I? I'm a ******.

J. K. Gayle said...

No f** at all, Katherine. But our fr**nds f*nding these words off*nding don't always think about who you are, who I am, or therefore who that makes them, do they? Blech.