I was particularly taken with the phrase Culture of Belligerence – that was coined by a American blogger that I linked in my last post. I think Robert Platt Bell fingers some significant cultural shift that has been occurring for some time. He mentions that people don’t seem to recognise that there has been a fundamental attitudinal change from one generation to the next. The culture has been breaking in new ways of being bad. He likens us to that frog in slowly boiling water, who won’t jump out because he doesn’t realise he’s being cooked.
Well I’m a she-frog and perceive with maddening regularity, just how much has changed over the last 30 years. I wish I could jump out of the pot, but it’s my culture too and I’d rather rail and rant. I’ll croak till I croak.
The changes are enormous. The rat race has ramped up under an unregulated free market ethos; the ‘politics of attack’ dish up insider dirt to discredit any opposition; the media feeds us a voyeuristic diet of sensation instead of balanced and holistic news; violence, murder and misogyny have become normalised on the huge array of screens that interface this brave new world; bullying in schools is commonplace; a culture of binge-drinking amongst young women and men accompanied by a rape culture is horribly real.
I suggest many of these cultural changes are due to the Empire of global corporate capitalism striking back against the enormous inroads made by the Movements of Feminism, Environmentalism and Indigenous peoples’ during the 1960’s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Peoples’ Power really did shift the collective global consciousness and the power elites did not like it.
I was in the vanguard of the second wave of Feminism that hit the western world during those earlier times. We were armed with an idealism that believed we could make a difference. However, entrenched and institutionalised sexism is hard to budge and has bitten back like a Hydra - with two heads erupting from any one head that’s been chopped off.
The cultural backlash we have been experiencing since Women’s Liberation started smashing the Hydra’s heads of patriarchy has spread its poisonous vapours far and wide, terrorising our societal landscapes. Despair, inertia and disempowerment overcome both young and old.
In the ‘70s we did a good job of hacking off the head of the age-old idea that men by biological right should dominate women. Nowadays, the dehumanisation of women by objectifying and sexualising the female form in popular culture seems to have increased, not decreased.
Gender roles which value submission in women, and power in men seem to be constantly in one’s face – billboards, TV, movies, video games etc etc. We watch television shows that have the hero chain-sawing up the innocent young woman, and we’re encouraged to root for the guy behind the saw.
The 1950’s was tough for women, but back then such casual violence and vicious misogyny, was not accessible in any mainstream visual form. Now we wean children on this kind of image. Not to mention the daily, weekly, monthly doses we are force-fed of domestic violence. We set up Women’s Refuges and Rape Crisis shelters in the 1970’s – today the need just grows and grows as their public funding dwindles. The assault we commit against our children in the form of child poverty and all its many guises is shameful.
The following statistics come courtesy of The Auckland Women’s Centre:-
1 in 5 NZ women are sexually assaulted by a man in their lifetime. Young Maori women are almost twice as likely to experience sexual violence.
1 in 3 women will experience psychological or physical abuse from their partners during their lifetime.
1 in 4 girls (compared to 1 in 10 boys) experience sexual abuse during their childhood.
Our courts have moved away from the analysis underpinning the Domestic Violence Act 1995, which recognised the dynamics of male power and control in domestically violent situations.
For every 1000 incidents of sexual violence only 100 are reported and only 8 perpetrators are convicted.
In the 1970’s we demanded Equal Pay for equal work.
In 2014, NZ women are paid on the average 13% less than men.
On average women in NZ spend twice as long per day on unpaid work than men.
Of the top 100 companies in NZ only 11% have female directors.
44% of women earn less than a Living Wage of $18.40.
Where is anything like Pay Equity – or even talk of it any political party - which we also demanded so long ago?!
Sex-role stereotyping was on our agenda then.
Today, pink for girls and blue for boys not to mention that dead duck of Women are from Venus and Men from Mars underlines many a ‘serious’ parental discussion in playgroups and schools. Seriously?!
Both upbringing (culture) and innate biological difference matter in social behaviours, but when we really examine gender-role differences, research has continually shown that nurture wins hands down over nature. For example it has been revealed that gendered attitudes to competition emerge at a young age. But research also shows that the stereotype of girls being averse to competition can be broken by something as simple as single-sex schooling. Examining extremely different societies, the research is pretty compelling. Amongst the patriarchal Maasai who ‘treat their women like donkeys’ men were more likely to be competitive. But in the matrilineal Khasi society women were more competitive than both Khasi AND Maasai men.
If you put girls in pink and treat ’em different, they will grow up different than the blue boys. It all depends on what the larger society values, how women – and men - will turn out.
The culture of belligerence, has warped our collective reason. We have created an ultra-machismo, dumbed-down kind of world, where male heroes are measured by the size of their muscles, and not their brains, by the size of their guns and how many people they can kill, or stuff they can blow-up.
Being tough, mean, intimidating is the new cool. We are raising our children, boys and girls, in the art of bullying and intimidation. We are carefully nurturing them to be competitive and misogynist. Yikes, it would be funny if it weren’t tragic.
Competition is continually glorified.
Through a steady stream of propaganda from all media outlets, the male sports section of our communities is given pride of place. Testosterone-ridden games we are told, define our sense of nationhood.
Corporate workplaces reward aggressive behaviours rather than positive teaching behaviours. Workplace culture fosters “hardening up” and preaches that you are weak, if you don’t want to work ridiculously long hours.
If we go on telling ourselves the collective myth that to survive we need to be profit-driven, aggressive, hostile, only out for ourselves – we get what we’ve got. If we were more co-operative, tolerant of cultural difference and welcomed women’s voices and experience to be part of the public commons, then we would all change.
Herakles and the Hydra
So I call this fiercely competitive macho culture we live in, the Hydra - the patriarchy that feminists described and fought so many years ago. If we don’t sever, sear and stopper its multiplying monstrous heads we will all die from its poisonous venom. In the original Greek story the nine-headed Hydra was a female serpent who lived in a swamp and was a guardian of the Underworld. It seems to me we are already living in a hell of sorts, if we allow video games that award points to children for shooting prostitutes in real 3-D. Where punters, like mesmerised mice before the glare of the snake about to eat them, consume stuff like the TV series Breaking Bad.
|The Wizards Tarot|
I am switching sexes in my metaphor. Women have to become the wily Herakles in their battle against the machismo Hydra. One of the beast’s heads was immortal, so can we ever win? Herakles did - with the help of his young nephew. Generations can unite and only with whanau can we ever achieve a peaceful, just and cooperative society.
Let’s rally and surf the wave of History into Herstory.