Monday, June 27, 2016

Male/Female Pt.2

This is the second part of an article on developing an understanding of the notion of male and female and the relationship between them in our culture throughout the millennia. It almost goes without saying that in order for any group or nation of people to flourish, the circumstances out of which those people are produced must be favorable. We produce (or reproduce) ourselves. One could stop and say nature produces us, but aren't we an active integral part of nature? We produce the social environment, the biology, and the attitudes out of which our children and our families arise. A healthy, strong, loving, balanced environment tends to produce children and people with those very same qualities.

Centuries ago, our culture was taken from us,  and in the last few decades, many have been trying to re-establish  what they believe was our natural or traditional family and social unit before slavery and colonization. Many have settled on the idea of the Matriarchy which is believed to have been a characteristic trait of Black Africa as a whole. But this view has stirred up a considerable amount of controversy and confusion, partly because, even though we have all suffered under the structure of of what could be called a rigid, often harsh, hierarchical Western Patriarchy, many among us embrace the significance of having a strong, black male as provider and protector at the head of the household.

Is a Matriarchy the natural social structure of our African ancestors? Is it going to get us to the balanced environment we want to enjoy?
We can begin by acknowledging that the word 'Patriarchy' is a Western word meaning a system or society governed by 'fathers' or elder males of a community.  From pater "father" + arkhein "to rule", see archon (to begin, rule, command). 'Matriarchy' is abstracted from the notion of 'Patriarchy' and means a system of society or government ruled by women.
The concept of matriarchy is tied to the larger concept of 'Matriarchate, which was a hypothetical stage in the evolution of a society in which authority is held by women. In 19th century Western scholarship, this idea was popularized by Swiss legal historian Johann Jacob Bachofen. He theorized (imagined) that all human societies passed through stages of barbarism and sexual promiscuity, matriarchy, and then patriarchy. Patriarchy was considered the most civilized state, while he viewed matriarchy, identified with African society, as less civilized.
Then, it turns out, after much research into ancient and precolonial societies around the world, there were no Matriarchies.  See, (The Myth of pre-Matriarchal Prehistory, Why An Invented Past Won't Give Women a Future, Cynthia Eller, 2000;;  ("There Were No Matriarchies in Pre-Colonial Africa", Afropolitan Magazine, Mina Salami; and "the Myth of Matriarchy, Joan Bamberger;

Now, although there were no clear or pure examples of societies with female rule (matriarchy), there were, in fact, many societies that traced their descent through the maternal line (matrilineal societies).
Cheikh Anta Diop spoke of the Matriarchy as a central cultural theme throughout Africa in his great effort, "The Cultural Unity of Black Africa: The Domains of Matriarchy and Patriarchy in Classical Antiquity", (1963, 1989). However, Diop defined Matriarchy as not an absolute, cynical triumph over man, but as a "harmonious dualism, an association accepted by both sexes, the better to build a sedentary society where each and everyone could fully develop by following the activity best suited to his physiological nature." Diop also defined matriarchy as anything other than a patriarchy. This included societies that were matrilineal as well as those, described as 'matrifocal' (focused or centered on the mother; a family structure where mothers head the families and the fathers are less involved in the home) . 

Currently, many have taken the definition used by Cheikh Diop and referenced any matrilineal African society as matriarchal or have asserted that the matrilineal aspect of society is a vestige of an earlier era when women ruled society. However, what has been lost in the praise of matrilineal societies as  models for the respect and honor of black women, has been the purpose for using the maternal line for inheritance and descent. One central reason was to ensure the reliability of the bloodline. This was because, as an African proverb states, 'you can never be sure who the father of the child is; but of the mother, you can always be sure.' This saying underpinned the rationale many African societies used in their establishment of what we call 'matrilineal society'.

There is also an assumption that this arrangement conferred superior power to the woman over property, but upon closer examination that is not the case. As noted by social anthropologist, Liza Debevec, "The term ‘matrilineal’ is commonly mistaken for the similar-sounding term ‘matriarchy’. By definition, ‘matriarchy’ is a form of social organization where the power lies in the hands of women; this is rarely, if ever, the case. Whereas, matrilineal descent is an anthropological term that refers to a specific form of inheritance (quite often found in Africa) in which property is transmitted through female lineage. The key is acknowledging exactly which female lineage; property is not transferred from one woman to another but rather through a woman’s male kin. For example, ownership can be transferred from the mother’s brother to the nephew but by no means to women themselves." Further, Africa is extremely diverse especially during the pre-colonial era.1

What Diop and many observers of African culture saw was a structure where women were at the center of the community (or the family). These societies have been termed 'Matrifocal' meaning women, or mothers, were at the center of the societies' worldview or existence and the men were at the periphery. 

The term 'Matrifocal' originated with anthropologist Raymond T. Smith to describe social and family structures in Afro-Caribbean societies. And here lies the fundamental problem; these are all labels introduced by Western Academics who have no understanding of the natural balance and harmony natural societies maintain in their organic functions. For the Western mind there is always a duality of male vs. female or a hierarchy of one gender over another. When in healthy societies those hard line categories simply don't exist in any real form. Eventually many of our own people have begun thinking  in terms of these imagined hierarchies and false dichotomies. They assert that the woman comes first and that Matriarchy is appropriate because, the term “matriarchy” is a word composed of the Latin word mater (mother) and the Greek term arché meaning beginning, origin; (as everything begins with mothers) They claim social structures of matriarchies derive from women. Aren't women the first teachers? But nature doesn't function in terms of these absolute, linear dualities. Nature works in terms of interconnected complexity and wholeness. Life appears in reciprocal cycles and it's almost impossible to determine the causal beginning of so many of these systems. 

Maybe instead of pitting one gender above or against another we should see these societies as natural, or as an expression of a natural harmony. 
It can be said that, men and women are both macrocosms of the sperm and ovum. A woman’s role as the chief provider of sustenance in African societies is based on physiological factors that helped to define her sociological/cultural role. Her ovum’s yolk and her breast milk relate to her cultural role as provider of food and nourishment, most often controlling the marketplace.  'In West Arica women were the masters of the marketplace', as noted by John Henrik Clarke. This holds true in both agricultural and farming societies.
The man’s role is also determined by biology and physiology. The action of his sperm and his greater physical strength and intrepidity, led to his role as head of the society. In the sperm-ovum dynamics, the sperm exerts a great effort swimming to a waiting ovum, then penetrating through its protective coating. 

The masculine function of initiating the reproductive process and initiating fetal development forms the basis of male governance. Reciprocally, the feminine function of housing and nourishing life is the basis of female influence in the production of food. In general, reciprocity further reveals itself in men’s influence in the social and political arenas, which is balanced by women’s power in the home, economic and spiritual arenas. Men “head” the village (political), and compound (social), while women are the “heart” of the marketplace (economic) and play a prominent role cultural custodians and first teachers (spirituality). The brain (male) directs the central nervous system administering, regulating, and coordinating bodily functions, while the heart (female) via the blood provides sustenance and sustainability. Though the brain provides the heart with the impulses to beat, the brain would be unable to do so if not fed by the heart.
In essence, men are the heads of the family (and society), while women are its heart. However, in all these roles balance governs the relationships and each gender still has a reciprocal voice in each arena. Each African society tends to adapt and calibrate its male and female roles based on the natural environment and the cultural circumstances under which it lives.

Rather than categorizing one particular gender above the other, it would be more apt to call African society, a 'Natriarchy' or 'Neteriarchy' where the society is structured by Nature, or the natural forces/energies of life (the Neteru) rather than one single gender.
This is what we have been seeing in African societies for thousands of years, since Ancient Egypt. This is why anthropologists saw women at the center of society, free, respected and beloved, yet men most often governed as pharaohs, chiefs and kings. They called it a mixed matriarchy/patriarchy which doesn't make sense and exposes the absurdity of these false categories in terms of describing Africa.
Some observers have tried to remove the role of gender completely from this scheme. For example, Psychiatrist Carl Jung asserted that an integrated individual should be a unique and balanced expression of both masculine and feminine traits. 
 However, nature has given us distinct male and female qualities and it's best to function as a whole society by expressing our distinct natural gifts. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore history and ignore the fact that there has been a decidedly cynical mindset or patriarchy (if you want to call it that) that has worked to suppress feminine power. So, in the interests of balance, it would suit us to recognize the Sacred Feminine whenever and wherever possible. (Of course this is not to ignore the balance provided by acknowledging the Sacred Masculine - characterized by confidence without arrogance; rational thinking without a need to control, and strength without tyranny or abuse. In fact, developing a conscious, aware, Sacred Masculinity among our male population is a proper element in the move to bring an end to any patriarchy in existence.)

'The Sacred Feminine means various things as it is expressed along several dimensions of life:
In the spiritual dimension, it means including and valuing the feminine as an equally fundamental dynamic of the creative life force and the Divine, along with the masculine. The yang cannot exist without the yin. And nothing can exist without *Ma’at. (* Ma’at is balance because Ma’at is life itself. The act of living well is balance. Ma’at is the Yin and the Yang. It is anything that furthers Creation.)  The Sacred Feminine means remembering our interconnection and oneness: we are not separate from each other and creation.

In the dimension of the planet, it means seeing Mother Earth as our Mother, respecting and healing her, cultivating ‘right-relationship’with her as our ground of survival.

The Sacred Feminine means reclaiming the feminine qualities as important inner qualities of wholeness and balance within each individual, male and female.
It means valuing women as whole people–body, mind and spirit.
It means valuing the contributions of women at home as caregivers, as well as in the work place and community.

In the political dimension, it means using the authority of power to serve the greater good, to protect and serve life, not for domination, greed and self-interest. It means protecting the  common wealth of planetary resources–such as water, food, air, soil, energy—and sharing for the greatest good of all, rather than hoarding, exploiting and commoditizing them.

It means being slow to judge, and open to compassion. It means being grounded in the heart, and using the head in the service of the greater good. It means including intuition in perceiving and decision making. It means being connected to the goodness, aliveness, sensuality and wisdom of the body. It means using personal power to serve and to create, not to dominate and exploit."

Whatever society we live in, especially now when we have adversaries trying to weaken and divide us along gender lines, its best to be adaptable yet use nature as a guide and maintain a firm enduring sense of harmony, balance, and respect between our male and female energies.

"The best and shortest path towards knowledge of truth [is] Nature." 
                          ~ From the Outer Temple at Luxor, Kemet
1 Forms of descent in Africa:

Patrilineality – e.g., Nuer, Hausa, Zulu,This means tracing your genealogy through males. Matrilineality – e.g., Ashanti, Yao. Tracing your genealogy through females. The “matrilineal band” goes across west to central Africa.. Double descent (very rare) – e.g., Yako. Tracing both sides, but keeping them separate. Bilateral – e.g., Khoisan, Kanuri. Tracing through both sides.