30 Years of Italo-Disco

28 08 2014

Michelle Pfeiffer Grease II Cool RiderIsn’t it funny how musical styles come and go? I remember 1950s rock ‘n’ roll being popular when I was growing up in the early ’80s, mainly because of Grease and Grease II. Michelle Pfeiffer straddling a ladder was one of my most cherished memories (and her electrocuting Christopher Walken to death in Batman Returns was perhaps my favourite scene in cinematic history). Everything ’50s was cool then, from the turned-up cuffs to the white socks. One of the first songs I learned to sing was ‘Rock Around The Clock’, but that was in 1982, long after the original song had been played on the radio, let alone penned. I was flooded with images of Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Boy George. The same era had a peculiar dance beat which nobody had ever heard before—a 4-4 dance beat–with synthesiser arrangements.

In the early ’80s a new sound flooded the dance clubs of Europe and trickled down to America (as usual—new sounds happen in Europe first). It was a style of dance music with a rich, heavy, persistent bassline and simple yet elegant melody. It originated in Italy, with musicians like Giorgio Moroder, who produced music not only for Donna Summer, but also for films like Midnight Express and iconic ’80s fantasy films like The Never Ending Story. It clearly derived from 1970s disco, but reinvented itself with modern synthesisers. It became known as Italo-disco.

Probably my favourite italo-disco tune is ‘Hypnotic Tango’, by My Mine:

Isn’t it absolutely gorgeous?

One of my other favourite italo-disco tunes is ‘Orient Express’, by Wish Key:

Isn’t that the most seductive dance tune you’ve ever heard?

Glass Candy basically aced the whole italo-disco revival with the following tune:

How beautiful is that? Ida No, the singer of Glass Candy, is totally awesome.

New italo-disco style music is being created by Sally Shapiro:

Absolutely sublime.

Italo-disco is a gorgeous dance style. You just have to love dance, melody, and rhythm.





Toronto and Ontario Trip (Part 2)

29 09 2013

In my last post on my August trip to Toronto and Ontario, Canada, I focussed on the urban aspect: my stay in Toronto, which is an incredibly diverse, vibrant, growing city, like almost nothing you have ever seen. It has turned out to be one of my favourite cities.

I thought in this post I would share with you the highlights of my trip to the city’s Royal Ontario Museum, where artefacts from Mesopotamia were on display. (Unfortunately that exhibition was photography-free.) Anyway, I’ve included a smattering of Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Indigenous, and modern-day Canadian art. Quite an impressive array, I think.

Here is the outside of the museum, on Bloor Street West. It has a strikingly modern addition built on to an older structure:

Toronto - Museum I

Here is a sample of their substantial East Asian collection. I photographed the piece I thought most flamboyantly gay:

Toronto - Museum II

Check out this jewellery from Etruria, Byzantium, and Ancient Rome! The craftsmanship is absolutely exquisite. I would die for a pair of those earrings:

Toronto - Museum III

Toronto - Museum IV

Toronto - Museum VIII

And look at these rings. So delicate and elegant:

Toronto - Museum XVII

And look at these armlets. They display the same elegance:

Toronto - Museum VI

Toronto - Museum VII

And behold this radiant Ancient British (pre-Anglo-Saxon) necklace at the top of the below image. A torc worthy enough to grace the neck of a proud British queen like Cartimandua herself!:

Toronto - Museum IX

And the beauty of the human form in the eyes of the Ancient Romans. Below, a woman and man’s buttocks. I think the first one is the woman’s, though I’m not sure:

Toronto - Museum XII

Toronto - Museum XIII

Ancient Roman Busts:

Toronto - Museum XXIX

Toronto - Museum XXX

The museum has a delightfully compact little slice of Ancient Greek art, too. Notice the glory that is the miniature model of the Temple of Athena. All hail Athena!:

Toronto - Museum XIV

Toronto - Museum XXXI

Toronto - Museum XI

This is perhaps my favourite exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum: the Egyptian lady and her makeup regimen. Actually, both male and female Egyptians wore makeup. Doesn’t it make you want to paint your face up? Oh, and then there is the mummy:

Toronto - Museum XVIII

Toronto - Museum XIX

Toronto - Museum XX

Toronto - Museum XXI

There were a couple of fantastic and beautiful photographs of the people of Oceania I could not help but photograph. Yes, I photographed photographs, and you can see my reflection on the surface of the glass, but the images are gorgeous nonetheless, don’t you think?

Toronto - Museum XXV

Toronto - Museum XXVI

And then there were the modern Canadian works of art. A lot of it was furniture, which is nice, but here are a couple of the best paintings I saw:

Toronto - Museum XXXII

Toronto - Museum XXXIII

And that is Part Two of my series of my trip to Toronto and Ontario, Canada. I know I didn’t include any indigenous Canadian populations–they are the basis of Canadian civilisation, after all–but I was new to the museum and late to it too. I think I may have missed a floor. Besides, I wasn’t allowed to photograph all of the delicious cuneiform tablets of the Mesopotamia exhibition tucked away in the basement. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed what I shared with you, and I hope it showed you that ancient cultures have a fabulous sense of fashion. A lot of it is cruelty-free!





The Divine Feminine: an Iron Age Stepford Wife?

22 03 2012

Maybe you are one of them–women, and even some men, who have secreted away from the church pew to summon the goddess in the sacred grove. The trend is growing, it seems. More people are searching for spiritual fulfillment by exploring the “feminine” side of spirituality which is central to so many pagan and New Age traditions, including Wicca, and generally absent from the supposedly more patriarchal male-god religions. But is this “divine feminine“, which forms one half of a duotheistic theology, really such a fair-minded and forward-thinking alternative to male-dominated mainstream religion? As we will see, it might actually reinforce the very patriarchy it seeks to dismantle, and the implications are ominous for women and men alike.

To show how the “divine feminine” movement backfires in its attempt to overturn patriarchy, we must first establish what the concept means. Generally speaking, the “divine feminine” embodies a triad of female archetypes: the Maid, the Mother, and the Crone. Each archetype correlates with a different stage in a woman’s life. The Maid represents the pure and innocent virgin, the mother, the nurturing life-giver and care-taker, and the crone, the wise old teacher–or, potentially, the wicked witch. She is every important aspect of womanhood, or so it would seem, and people pursue the pagan priesthood specifically to pay her homage. She functions as the polar opposite to the male god in a binary which consists of an aggressive, rational, dominant “male energy” and a passive, emotional, submissive “female energy”.We worship her because she complements a strong, disciplinarian masculinity with a weak, nurturing femininity that males supposedly lack.

But, in the stereotypical binary of the weak goddess and strong god, we already see the failure of the divine feminine to dismantle patriarchy. An example of this binary in Chinese philosophy would be the yin and yang, in which a negative, dark, feminine principle complements a positive, bright, masculine one. The divine feminine movement attempts to reclaim female authority from obscurity by extolling the meek, nurturing, yielding nature of the goddess and ignoring her strong, confident, assertive nature—but this is oxymoronic, because it suggests that women’s power lies in their powerlessness. How can women gain power and influence equal to that of men if they are essentially less powerful and influential than men? It just doesn’t make sense. So, with its schizophrenically passive-aggressive, powerful yet powerless goddess, the divine feminine simply gives patriarchy room to flourish.

Now, critics of this view will argue that the binary isn’t really that black and white. “Each man has a feminine side, and each woman, a masculine side”, they will assure you, glowing with pride in their observation. They will point out, for example, that in the yin and yang model, each side has a little bit of the other within it. This is true, but it is also true that the yin is still overwhelmingly dominant and “masculine”, and the yang, overwhelmingly passive and “feminine”, so it doesn’t achieve much to say “there’s a little bit of the other in each”. Besides, it’s a circular argument. Arguing that there is no pure masculinity or femininity, and that each man is a little feminine, and each woman, a little masculine, is a homunculus fallacy, because it still relies on the use of the discrete terms “masculine” and “feminine” to explain gender. Once again, we see how the divine feminine fails to completely liberate male and female from oppressive sex roles.

In addition to the yin and yang model, the fact that the goddess exists almost entirely in relation to males and childbearing presents a problem for the “divine feminine”. The most important role of the goddess is that of the fecund, life-giving, heterosexual mother. She is constantly associated with the earth, fertility, menstruation, pregnancy, and child-bearing. After all, only women can give birth, right? Yes, male fertility is also celebrated in the form of gods like Priapus and phallic cults, but this fertility forms only one aspect of the male god, who is also warrior, judge, poet, and leader, among many other things. The goddess, though, is overwhelmingly associated with nurturing, life-giving fertility, and her sexual relation with the god, as in the sovereignty goddess, an earth divinity whose purpose is to bequeath the land’s power to a man through sexual relations. She is the pure Maid who is sexually desirable to males, as in the Teutonic fertility goddess Ēostre (related to “Easter” and “oestrus”), the Mother who bears her husband’s children, as in Gaia, and the Crone who is useful for nothing more than giving advice and recalling how many miles she had to walk in the snow, and who sometimes represents death, sinister magic, and even cannibalism, as in the child-eating Slavic witch Baba Yaga or the Greek serpent-daemon Lamia. When the woman explores life beyond the hearth and nursery, her unbridled energy necessarily becomes an evil, a transgression against her husband, children, and community. But this isn’t exactly fair. What about girls, sterile women, post-menopausal women, hysterectomized women, lesbians, and women who simply choose not to have children, or even to marry? Most of us would still call these people female, and the vast majority of them are not evil child-eaters, so obviously the “divine feminine”, with its inordinate emphasis on female fertility, fails to represent the many different aspects of female virtue beyond that of childbirth and nursing. It is hard, then, to see a feminist ideal in this Triple Goddess.

The divine feminine is a well-meaning attempt to correct the historical repression of females in mainstream Western religion and spirituality, and in some ways it may have made inroads, but it still falls short of the goal: it presents an oxymoron in the powerlessly powerful goddess, it creates a contradiction by using the terms “masculine” and “feminine” to assure us that there is no pure masculine or feminine, and it describes a goddess whose identity exists almost wholly in relation to men and reproduction. This divinely powerful goddess begins to look like nothing more than an Iron Age Stepford wife. Of course there is nothing wrong with women being compassionate and nurturing, but there is something wrong with women being more compassionate and nurturing than men, especially if all of us are supposed to meet the same, ultimate standard of enlightenment. To reclaim female authority in religion and spirituality, then, we should be exploring the many other aspects of the divine feminine: the warrior, the judge, the poet, the leader, and the good witch. In fact, we should be expanding this to the scientist, the doctor, the politician, and the professor. After all, we no longer live in the Iron Age, and these roles meet the practical demands of the modern day. Simultaneously, we should be exploring the more yielding and nurturing side of the god. By performing this kind of self-scrutiny, we learn from each other and become truly whole human beings.





How I Outsmarted a Sexist Psychology Professor

14 12 2011

If there’s one thing I’ve learned getting to know university professors, it’s that pride is alive and well in academia, despite many claims to the contrary. I always expected such persons to be paragons of fairness and objectivity, but it turns out that they, too, harbour secret prejudices of their own—and sexism is no exception to this rule. I did, however, have the opportunity to turn the tables on one such individual, who thought he knew what he was talking about, but didn’t. Knowing at the outset that his facts were wrong, I graciously burdened myself with the task of correcting him on his assumptions on a topic which often goes unexamined—sexism in language.

(By the way, I must apologise to Nobel Prize-winning economist Leonid Hurwicz for using a photograph of him at the beginning of this article. I’m sure he isn’t a sexist old fogey; it’s just that he really looks like one! But he’s dead now anyway.)

Now, my friend is no dolt—he’s a professor of psychology at an eminent Canadian university—but he’s also an eccentric. He hails from Romania, loves opera and English literature, and pines for the days of the old British Empire, which, in relative terms, imposed a much gentler form of imperialism on its colonial subjects, or so he would say. “The British had an ideal behind their imperial mission–-to teach and to elevate benighted peoples”, is something he would say, “and they carried out this mission much more humanely than the Dutch, French, Spanish, or other European colonial powers.” Anyway, he sounds rather like Dracula and smokes like a chimney. And he’s gay. So he’s like a gay, chain-smoking Dracula. He comes across as sophisticated and quaintly nostalgic, but he has some rather ugly opinions—for they are certainly not facts—about feminists.

One of these opinions is that feminists don’t know what they’re talking about. You see, my friend once encountered a group of women in his milieu who complained that the word manhole was sexist because it contained the word man, but not woman. But, he argued, feminists shouldn’t be complaining that the word manhole is sexist, because man derives from the Latin word manus, which means hand”, not “adult male human being”. So the feminists are just being angry, stupid women, he suggested.

Well, that’s just plain bullshit, as I soon showed him. It is what in diachronic linguistics (historical linguistics) we call “folk etymology”: derivation of a word from a false, popular, made-up origin. Anyway, what follows is the general sequence of exchanges we made, in which I disprove his argument and prove its irrational, sexist underpinnings. It is not to be taken verbatim; the quotations are actually paraphrases, not direct discourse, but they accurately reflect the logic behind the points made. And to make a distinction between speakers, I will refer to my friend as simply “Dracula”. Now be patient and closely follow the line of argument to see how I arrive at my conclusion.

“These feminists shouldn’t be complaining that the word manhole is sexist”, said Dracula. “It is not, because the man in manhole comes from the Latin word manus, which means ‘hand’, not ‘adult male human being’. It refers to people who labour with the hands.”

“But the feminists aren’t incorrect to call manhole sexist”, said I, “because the man in manhole doesn’t come from manus; it comes from the Old English word man, which does mean ‘adult male human being’ in our present-day usage. So, yes, the feminists do have reason to complain that words like manhole are sexist.”

“Brandon”, cooed Dracula in a thick yet articulate Romanian accent, “if you want to show that the word man doesn’t mean manus, you have to show that the English didn’t borrow man from Latin.”

“They didn’t.”

“But the Romans conquered the Anglo-Saxons, and conquered peoples borrow words from their conquerors. Hence, the Anglo-Saxons must have borrowed the word man from manus, the Latin word for ‘hand’.”

“That is incorrect. The Romans didn’t conquer the Anglo-Saxons; the Anglo-Saxons settled Britain after Rome left. The Roman conquest of Britain began in 43 under Claudius. The people they conquered were Celtic, not Germanic. After a series of Anglo-Saxon and Irish raids, the Romans abandoned Britain in 410 to concentrate their legions on Rome in response to a massive siege there by the Visigoths, who attacked the city under the leadership of Alaric. It was only then that the Germanics had free rein to settle Britain en masse, and even then they only did so several decades later, beginning in 449, under Hengest and Horsa of the Jutes. This means that the Anglo-Saxons [the Germanic tribes in Britain] couldn’t have borrowed man from a ruling Roman elite. The Romans had left before the Anglo-Saxons could borrow anything from them. So, no, the feminists aren’t wrong about the etymology of man.”

“But, Brandon”, purred Dracula affectionately, “The Celts and the Germanics are the same people with the same language group, so when you say that the Romans conquered the Celts, you say that the Romans conquered the Germanics, too. Thus there was still a Germanic people borrowing the word man from the conquering Romans.”

“That’s just plain wrong”, said I, patiently. “The Celts and Germanics are two totally different peoples with two totally different language groups. Look at any Proto-Indo-European Language Family tree. Italic (from which Latin is derived), Germanic (from which Old English is derived), and Celtic (from which Welsh and Irish are derived) are linguistic sisters. Germanic is no more closely related to Celtic than it is to Latin itself, the language you incorrectly purported as the donor language to the Germanics. They’re all equally distinct. The Celts spoke Celtic languages when the Romans arrived, and the Anglo-Saxons spoke Germanic languages after the Romans left. So, no, there was not a Germanic people borrowing the word man from the conquering Romans, and, yes, the feminists are correct in analyzing man as meaning a type of ‘person’, and not ‘hand’.”

To be honest, I was thinking to myself, “Girl, you’ve got your chronology backwards.”

“Besides”, I continued, “words aren’t borrowed just because they come from a conquering culture; they’re borrowed because they represent something special, hence prestigious, about the conquering culture. The English didn’t borrow the word ‘chicken’ or ‘goose’ from the invading French, because chickens and geese were common to the English; poor English people ate fowl, too. But they did borrow the words for pork, beef, and venison from the French [cf. French porc, boeuf, venaison], because these words respresented something special, hence prestigious, about the invading culture. Only the invading French could afford to eat these choice meats. However, ‘man’ was a concept common to both the invading French and the English, just like ‘finger’ or ‘hair’, so the English didn’t bother borrowing this word from the French. So, again, no, man wasn’t borrowed from an invading culture, and the feminists are right about its etymology.”

Here Dracula sat for a moment, truly puzzled, then drew a copy of Roget’s Dictionary [Please, really? At least obtain a fresh copy of the Oxford English Dictionary] from his mammoth, heaving bookshelf, breaking it open on his dining table next to a glass of rosé and a thick stack of fresh cigarettes. Scanning the pages intently between puffs of smoke, he told me he would find out once and for all the etymological root of man, and how it proved that the feminists didn’t know what they were talking about. Ultimately, though, all he found was a derivation which stated that the origin of man was OE, or Old English. Not Latin.

“Drat!” he seemed to be thinking behind his cigarette, his brow furrowed in deep cogitation. Even then he was wrong, and the feminists were right. And so he slowly slouched back in his chair and puffed on his cigarette, still staring at the page in the dictionary, whilst I politely summarized my argument against him. We eventually drifted off into other topics of conversation, but I think we both left with an understanding that his analysis of the feminists he encountered, and perhaps women in general, was wrong. If this one person can be so deliberately remiss about sexism in language, just tally up all the other culprits. I think that what we’re seeing here is a form of academic hubris which seeks comfort inside its own stubborn, old-fashioned shell, but which hurts girls and boys in the real world of today by promulgating snobbish, stupid myths about women.





Gender, Language, and Manholes

3 06 2011

I want to tell you a story about a debate I had with my friend Seth’s friend Alex over the use of the word manhole. Alex is a moustachioed, chain-smoking Romanian psychology professor at the University of British Columbia who has a love of opera and fine wine, a melodramatic, highly inflected accent, strong opinions on almost everything (including things he knows next to nothing about, like historical linguistics), and slight pathological hints of misogyny and imperialism. I just call him Dracula. I know, in analyses of Dracula, it is usually the title character who is viewed as the victim of imperialism, but, hey, vampires can be ungodly supercilious bitches too. Seth, Alex, and I would have these lovely wine-washed, opera-graced soirees at Alex’s apartment in Vancouver’s West End and discuss everything under the sun from music to art to philosophy to politics. (Usually it started with us talking about opera, since Seth loves that shit too, and ending with Seth falling asleep and Alex and me debating the more recondite topics.) Basically, Alex has a classical, reductionist, Western worldview, whereas I have a more Eastern, indigenous, holistic, pagan one.

Anyway, he mentioned (in a tone dripping with disdain from what could have been his fangs) that a group of feminists at UBC were complaining about the use of the word manhole because it was sexist, given that it includes man but excludes woman. The feminists, he assumed, had no understanding of the etymology of the word man, whereas he did.

“These feminists don’t know what they’re talking about!” he said with huge eyes and a magisterial wave of his cigarette. “The English word man comes from the Latin word manus, which means ‘hand’! It was a reference to physical labour using the hands. It has nothing to do with gender, thus they have no reason to complain that it is sexist. Psh.”

“Actually, Alex”, I said politely, “the word man does not come from the Latin word manus. It comes from a Proto-Germanic word meaning ‘person’.”

“But in order to prove that the word man does not come from manus“, he responded, “you must show that the word was not borrowed from the Roman conquerors. Words from the language of the conquering culture are often borrowed because they carry greater prestige.”

“I can show that”, I said. “The Romans didn’t invade Britain after it was settled by the Anglo-Saxons who spoke Old English—they invaded beforehand. The Romans invaded Britain in 43 C.E., when it was populated by native Britons (whom we now call the Welsh, a group of Brythonic Celts), and withdrew from Britain in 410 C.E. to respond to the sack of Rome by the Visigoths, leaving the Romanized Britons (think King Arthur) to their own devices. The Anglo-Saxons didn’t settle the island until an alliance of Jutes invaded in 449 C.E. In other words, the whole, entire Roman rule of Britain came before the very first Anglo-Saxon invasion—by a comfortable thirty-nine years. The Anglo-Saxons could not have borrowed the word manus from a conquering Roman army, since the Romans were already gone when the Anglo-Saxons arrived.”

“In addition”, said I, “the native population does not borrow words from conquerors arbitrarily; it borrows words from them for good reason. Language interaction does not work like osmosis, like some free-flowing exchange or interaction of forces; there are certain parameters that loanwords have to meet. Loanwords must have a certain cachet or exoticism, otherwise they are not worth borrowing. For example, Anglo-Saxon peasants did not borrow the words chicken or goose from the invading French forces, because these were already such common meats. They did, however, borrow the words porc and boef from them (hence pork and beef, and not pig and cow) because the upper-class Norman invaders had the luxury of consuming the flesh of pigs and cows. So a word such as manus,  meaning hand, is not likely to be borrowed by a poor indigenous culture, since it is so normal and every-day already. In fact, it is the last word they would borrow from the privileged invaders, since it is associated with physical labour, and the privileged are ‘above’ physical labour.”

“Hm. Maybe I have my history wrong”, he said. “I learned that the Germanics and Celts belonged to the same linguistic group”.

“No”, I said. “Proto-Celtic is no more closely related to Proto-Germanic than it is to Italic (the group to which Latin belongs). In fact, Proto-Celtic is much more like Italic given some cognates. For example, the Irish word (king) resembles Latin rex, Spanish rey, and French roi (hence royal and Tyrannus Rex) much more closely than the Germanic cyning, könig, or king. Here, we see no similarity between Celts and Germanics, but we do see a relation between the conquered Celts and the conquering Romans. So, no, comparing Celtic with Germanic, but not with Italic, is like saying Melissa and Jennifer, but not Heather, are sisters. Each of the three is a product of the same mother. Therefore you cannot treat Celtic and Germanic as one lump, and Italic as another.”

“Well, let’s look at the etymology of the word man“, said Alex, modestly pulling a volume of Roget’s Dictionary from his bookshelf. There was no copy of the OED in sight. “Let’s see. I may be wrong, but let’s see. Hmm. The origin of the word man looks to be OE. That means Old English. Let’s go back further. Hm. We can’t.”

“You’ve just proven my point, Alex”, said I. “The word is traceable back to OE (a dialect of Proto-Germanic), not the Latin word manus. Hence it is not a loanword from Latin, hence it does not come from the Latin word manus, meaning ‘hand’, hence it does not refer to using hands for physical labour—it refers to a Germanic word which used to mean ‘person’ and which now means ‘male adult’—and hence the feminists are right. It is a sexist use of language.”

So, actually, Dracula was wrong, and the feminists were right. Man meant “person” in Proto-Germanic, not “hand” in Latin; there was no England to be invaded by Rome; and a word denoting hand is too perfunctory to be borrowed from a prestigious invading culture. In addition, we know that man nowadays commonly means “male adult”, as opposed to female adults. Ironically, then, the feminists are correct in declaring the word manhole sexist. This makes me wonder why somebody so perceptive and accomplished as Alex should harbour such a rich conspiracy against the feminists’ complaint. I think it is fear. There is something about admitting the possibility of a paradigm shift that utterly shatters the ice-cold ego of the traditionalist.





The “Divine Feminine” and New Age Sexism

11 12 2010

Greek Minoan Snake GoddessDespite my spiritual predilections and fascination with the occult and all things arcane, there is one current of thought within the New Age movement which I find irritatingly sexist. It is one of the reasons I can’t pick up a deck of Tarot cards. It is the concept of the “divine feminine”. In popular New Age thought, we find a strong tendency to revive the goddess, but this goddess is yielding, nurturing, life-giving, and emotional, in contrast with a god which is aggressive, disciplinary, life-taking, and rational. Not much different from the Iron Age. The concept of the “divine feminine” reflects a philosophy which simply recycles the old paradigm of male dominance over a female who is glorified for her self-sacrificing, self-effacing submissiveness.

The problem is that we attribute virtues such as emotion with one sex, and virtues such as logic with the other sex. All of these, however, are universal human virtues which one would think we would want to exploit as much as possible in either sex whenever the situation demands. If this is so, then the “divine feminine”, with its ostensible equalization of the sexes, actually inhibits this equalization and the realization of these universal virtues. In occult thought, the goddess is traditionally associated with various esoteric symbols, such as water (emotion) and earth (nurturance and fecundity); the god, on the other hand, is associated with symbols such as air and sky (logic) and fire (manipulation and authority). The result is a binary of characteristics consisting of these “feminine” and “masculine” attributes.

Already, many young modern people will view this binary as romantically archaic and saccharine, which is ironic since New\ Age thought is supposed to be more radical than that. At any rate, the New Age movement has attempted to balance out the sexual pre-eminence embodied in the monotheistic male-god religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) by reintroducing a female divinity. This I resonate with, for I was raised Christian, and all I imagined was a god with a penis and long, white beard telling me that sex was wrong. (It really is a literal image one has when God is constantly associated with all that is considered male.) And I was told the first human was male, and this male was created in the image of God, who was male (somehow). It left me feeling empty, and always questioning, wondering why this “other sex”–the other half of humanity–should exist at the periphery. If our prototype for humanity was the male, what, then, was this “female”? Where did she come from–other than a rib? And I believe a lot of New Age thinkers have asked the same questions, but I think that in doing so, they are accidentally reviving the mainstream paradigm.

Freja Norse Nordic VikingThis brings us to the crux of the problem of New Age sexism. New Age thinkers often claim that in each male there is a feminine aspect, and in each female, a masculine aspect. The problem is that the statement “in each male is a feminine aspect, and in each female, a masculine one” consists of a circular argument. By using the terms masculine and feminine to neutralize the sex binary, New Age thinkers inadvertently reinforce that binary, because the terms masculine and feminine themselves constitute a sex binary of male versus female. In other words, one cannot describe males as part male and part female, and females as part female and part male, without presupposing a male and female to begin with. (It should be noted that in typical New Age parlance, feminine is associated with actually being a female human being, and masculine, with actually being a male human being–whether this association is right or wrong.)

So what should we do? First, we should get rid of misleading terminology such as the “divine feminine” and the “divine masculine”, because a lot of people associate feminine with “being female” and masculine with “being male”, and yet a lot of women aren’t feminine, and a lot of men aren’t masculine. And if men are indeed more aggressive than women because of testosterone (which is questionable), so the fuck what? Maybe they shouldn’t be. (I thought y’all believed in spontaneous evolution, anyway.) To assume that they should be would constitute multiple logical fallacies: the is/ought fallacy and the appeal to nature fallacy. That a thing is true doesn’t mean it should be, and that a thing is natural does not mean it should be, either. Even if you proved that men are more aggressive than women, it doesn’t constitute a moral imperative.

To illustrate, we do not say that black people should be more susceptible to heart-attacks because they have higher cholesterol levels, or that Native Americans should be more susceptible to liver disease simply because they are more susceptible to alcoholism, or that East Asian people are well-organised. It is a very socially-influenced phenomenon–not a principle to be lived by. So why not prescribe estradiol supplements to males who are overly aggressive? We wouldn’t excuse rape or murder on the basis of testosterone. Their behaviour is maladaptive and needs to be fixed, although I believe the ultimate solution is allowing boys to be feminine.

What we should do is attend to the demands of the modern-day environment, not the ancestral one. This may require more men to take care of children, and more women to work outside the home. (Women are working outside the home anyway, but men aren’t picking up the pace when it comes to domestic chores.) Concomitant to this, more people demand a female presence in their religion. But Western religion lacks the multitude of female figures available in the typical pagan pantheon. What is our recourse? In the Christian West, it is the Virgin Mary. Initially, it would seem as though Mary is a new goddess. But Mary is non-sexual, and a mother. She performs her duty as a mother by conceiving the Christ-avatar, but she does so without having intercourse. She is defined contrarily by her maternality and her virginity. Mary does serve as a crucial figure of feminine authority and divine intercession in the Western world, but most women need or want to have sex (for every male who wants to fuck because of testosterone, there has to be a consenting female–and hopefully an excited one), and many also undergo childbirth as a direct consequence, so Mary is an impossible archetype to live up to. If we want to identify the “divine feminine”, we must seek further. We must discover the woman who is equally sexual, maternal, aggressive, and strategic. . This brings us to the sovereignty goddess of pagan lore. The sovereignty goddess was basically a goddess of the earth who granted fertility by bestowing kinghood on the man who drank from a well occupied by her, or from her chalice of menstrual blood. Something which constituted fertility, or a male union with the feminine land. The idea was that the aspiring king (male) would unite with the earth (female) to render the land fertile, hospitable, and long-lasting.  The most famous sovereignty goddess of all is probably Medb (pronounced literally as MATHV [Medhbh] in Old Irish, or as MAV in Modern Irish) of Iron Age Ireland. Medb might be either a humanized goddess or a euhemerized (deified) heroine. In the great epic Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), pronounced as Toyn Bo Cool-nya, Medb, Queen of Connacht (a region in the west of modern-day Ireland), seeks to outdo her husband, Aillil, in terms of number of cattle. In anticipation of her triumph, she consults with Fedelm, a fili (a learned poet) and powerful druidess, a mistress of law and decision-making as well as divinatory lore, who, ironically, prognosticates her own mistress’s defeat. This might seem feminist except that, during this long, drawn-out battle in the Irish countryside, Medb basically pimps her own daughter, Finnabair, out to various enemy suitors–including the most ferocious of them all, the infamous Cú Chulainn, of Ulster–in order to win a battle over a bull which would make her property equal to that of her husband, Aillil. (In actuality, neither side won [the bulls on either side killed each other], highlighting the futility of avarice, in my opininon.) Finding out how she is being used, Finnabair dies of  shame. Showing her sovereignty goddess potential, weirdly enough, at the end of Táin, Medb is desribed as fighting in battle and having all of a sudden to take an exit because her bladder is full. Cú Chulainn finds her urinating behind a bush, but doesn’t slay her since she is a woman, and the scribe describes her motioning him off as she actually creates furrows in the ground with her urine. According to traditional scholarly lore, this was either a very humorous, or very mistaken, interpretation of her menstrual potential as an earth-goddess. You can see how ideas get distorted when one plays telephone, as oralists did in the olden days. (Personally, I find the story of Scathach more interesting. Scathach is a master warrior queen of northern Britain [Pictland] who is assigned the task of training Cú Chulainn in the arts of war on the condition that he help her defeat a rival queen. But that is another story which falls outside the scope of this article and its theme of sexism. Indeed, this particular story challenges traditional sex roles and attracts my attention for the same reason.) Medb has been described as a virago, based partly on the Latin vir, or man (hence virile) First, why is it manly to be strategic? Second, how loyal is she to her own sex if she pimps out her own daughter to get a cow? BIG ego. So, Medb may be a trailblazing goddess of fertility and war, but she is basically an avaricious egoist who prostitutes her own daughter to get what she wants. She is ambiguous at best. But still I want to imagine what this goddess might be. It may not be complete in its mythology, nor is it necessarily the foremost example (there may be others, like Athena), but I think of the Norse goddess Freja (after whom the English day Friday is named). Freja was neither just a fertility goddess, nor just a war goddess. Rather, she was the realization of both. She was fertile and war-like, capable of nurturance and of destruction when required. And she didn’t pimp her own daughter for a cow. This, to me, is redolent of sexual possibility, which I believe is most important. Usually, the revival of the goddess has consisted of a revival of traditional sex binaries–the logical, barefaced, aggressive male and the emotional, invisible, clever female. I do not agree with this duality. It assigns some virtues to one sex, and other virtues to the other sex, when all virtues should be present in every person. Why shouldn’t men be more sensitive when they can be? Again, it is environmental stimuli which should mould our behaviour, and not genetic ancestral precedence. What do you think about the “divine feminine”? Do you think it hearkens back to an age when a sun-based god fertilized an earth-based female, or do you think it reflects a potentially multi-faceted, and truly new-age, archetype of womanhood?





Well, Hello

18 11 2010

Well, hello.

And welcome.

To my blog.

I thought long and hard (oooh yeah, baby) about what subject matter to base my blog on, because I knew I had so much to say about so many things. At one point I pondered the viability of creating a blog which followed trends in lipstick lesbian hairstyles:

Oh. That’s a picture of Justin Bieber. Well, you get my point. I pondered the idea for a while, but I decided that the subject matter wasn’t substantive enough, so I then decided that I would create a blog about sex, music, and politics. Yes–all three melded into one salacious, seething mass of pithy commentary dripping at times with venom, and other times, the sweetest nectar. I could not separate one from the other–they were like Siamese twin kittens lying in the snug crevasse of my lap, mewing at me with alternating kitten croaks like a fluffy little hydra. But what unites these three seemingly disparate topics, you might ask? In fact, they are not so disparate as they may seem. You see, music and youth culture, sex and gender theory, and politics all reflect opinions about what is right, good, and fair. Music represents aesthetic ideals, politics, views on a justly governed society, and sex, well, sex is perhaps the chief preoccupation of morality–the prime source of all our fears and pleasures.

In this blog, I wish to explore the culture wars and the ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, concomitant to them, to make sense of these ideas inside my own head, and to regurgitate the finished product on top of you, the reader, to sort out for yourself. I cannot promise I will not sneer at your cherished values and flush them down the toilet, but you will certainly make me think harder. That is probably the most important thing of all, even for somebody who is already an inveterate and compulsive thinker.

 

Dante and Virgil in Hell (or, Nasty Studs at the Folsom Street Fair), by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1850)