Thursday, December 15, 2005

Virtus and Gynotheosis

The highest virtue among the Romans was virtus. In fact, we get our word virtue from virtus, or more acurately from the latin word vir. Vir means a man. Virtus, by extension, means courage, respect, fairness, humility, dignity, clemency, and piety. Or, in short, manliness. The Romans associated all these qualities with what makes a man a man. They held up this idea of manliness which also meant conforming to the mos maiorum, the customs and ways of the ancestors. Since they figured descent patrilineally, it is in essence men being manly by upholding the ways of men who went before.

The church similarly has well defined gender roles and traits which it ascribes.

Men are told to be strong priesthood holders and to be righteous and upright in all things. They are told that the onus of providing for a family is upon them by divine right. They are told that they are to "preside" over their families. But we are also constantly told that we are unworthy. Discussions about pornography, in my ward atleast, imply that all men are unable to prevent themselves from seeking out internet porn. Discussions abound regarding how computers ought to be out in the open so that we are not tempted. We are told that we ought to have our wives put passwords on the computer, so that we can only use it when they allow us. This discourse isn't even aimed at those with porn addictions, but all men. So why the negativity? We hear the counsel to stay away from porn pretty often, so I guess it must be a widespread problem. But the way the discourse is being held there isnt any distinguishing between the porn looking men, and the non porn looking men. We all need artificial restraint.

While that is unfair and casts men in a light that is unfavorable, the real problem is with how the church treats women. We are told constantly about how amazing women are. They are lauded in conference and elsewhere. We are told somewhat jokingly that a bishop is chosen by picking the most righteous member of the ward and then calling her husband. There is no doubt that for the most part the women of this church are righteous and upright, but so are the men. So why the rhetoric? If women were equal, then why do we need to talk about how great they are? It seems clear the roles of men and women aren't equal in this church. Whether that's bad or not I suppose is a different question. So the problem comes with pacification. Whether it is intended or not, the constant reinforcement of female superiority keeps most of them from ever asking for equality. It is similar to native americans being depicted as the noble savage. As long as they are held up as better in some way then they won't ask for more. Alternatively, those with the power to change their position for the better will see no need.

So what can be done? Or, does something need to be done at all?


Blogger Mike said...

Promissed comment:

I do agree that in many ways the Gynotheosis seems clearly there to keep women from asking for more.

But really- I think a lot of it is trying to drum into Men's heads to respect women. That doctrinally there are differences between men and women- but supposedly there is also a doctrinal belief that men and women are of equal import. I think culturally we don't really believe this enough- and to some extent I think that this rhetoric is meant to address the social and doctrinal gap.

but then again- it may indicate that there isn't really a Gap. Women being revered- even if it were doctrinal that women are better- is done in a way that assumes that women need protection not only from men- but by men.
And maybe this is just physiologically true. Men are bigger. If in the world power is maintained by the assumed threat of violence- then it seems pretty clear that Men would come out on top in most ocnfrontations and thus have the power.
But... does saying that men need to protect women from men indicate a belief that there isn't equality?

Which form of condescension is more oppresive?

10:54 PM  
Blogger D-Train said...

Interesting debate. I think the real tension is between our insistence that people are naturally good and naturally fallen. Our views of men as porn mongers that can't be trusted with a woman or an ethernet connection are a manifestation of "none good, no not one". Our line about how the only thing a woman can do wrong is see a man as a spiritual equal is a representation of our general optimism and desire to proclaim our people as spiritual giants.

The problem is that if it is the purpose to make men respect women by selling this line, it ain't working. At least not on me. I have less respect for the stereotypical Mormon woman than for perhaps any other general group. Given the social constraints of the Church, I see women that "buy in" as generally unambitious, unthinking, coopted entities that seek a marriage to a man that only rejects those traits to the extent that the social milieu forces him to do so. I honestly do think the Church is true and serves lots of valuable purposes, but I just don't respect the products of the reasoning that we throw out there.

I've found that, generally speaking, the Mormons I like best are the ones that recognize the social structure as BS. The women in the Church that I've met and think highly of largely reject traditional LDS understandings of their role. Others, whom I should respect a whole lot, accept it so much that I'm forced to ask "why ARE you getting a law degree? Does that come with a lifetime supply of Pampers?"

Of course, our debate is more or less pointless. Those that are willing to question this rhetoric are probably willing to reject the social roles already, while those that aren't willing simply accept them. And, what's worse, it doesn't strike me as a problem that more communication can solve.

3:32 AM  
Blogger D-Train said...

I think a better metaphor than the noble savage is the last kid picked in touch football that gets to be "all-time defense" or "all-time center". Except, in this case, you get to be an "all-time mom". Dad also gets to be a parent, he just gets a career, the priesthood, respect, and some degree of choice about what he wants to be.

But hey, the center's the most important man on the field! NOTHING starts until he says so! You can't win without a good offensive line!

But the quarterbacks still get the chicks.

9:07 PM  
Blogger Lager Jager said...

All other things being equal, if women have to be protected then they have less utility. I don't think that that makes them any spiritually worse, and I don't think all the other things are necessarily equal in the utility sense. Reverence doesnt equate to protection though, I'm pretty sure we are all onboard the physically protect women train. I don't see why we need to revere a group because they need to be protected. That may be the intent of the reverence we get preached. Condescension by telling the oppressed that they arent is the worst I think. I like D-Train's all time center analogy. I saw the noble savage argument on some other nacle blog, but I dont remember where, but I like it in any case.

8:43 PM  

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