Mr. Chairman! Honored Colleagues!
It was with great pleasure that I accepted the invitation to address this
meeting and to comment on the desirability of women's equality in modern society.
Divergent views related to this question extend to both sides of the so-called
sexual divide, and women's issues will be for the first time central in the
upcoming elections as a prominent political concern.
The question whether sex equality is indeed desirable is threefold: first
and foremost it is a personal question in need of a personal answer; secondly
it is culture-specific and as such inseparable from a given group's developmental
attainments; thirdly it is universal by virtue of being a theoretical possibility
of species-wide scope, and as such it is tied to teleological formulations and
beliefs about human life in process.
The liberal arguments in favor of sex equality are mostly advanced in the
names of justice, of Human Freedom (autonomy), and the Loss of Human Potential
under the present dispensation. The term 'equality' is usually invoked as a
fundamental value not to be contested. The semantic tilt of 'equality' points
away from 'uniformity' (the Nietzschean bete noire of 'leveling') toward
'equity', understood as the ethical quality of 'equal' or 'fair'. (*1) In brief,
'equality' is a code word which decodes into something like: individuals, regardless
of sex (race), must be seen and come to see themselves as equally deserving
and, with minor variations, equally capable of moral, social, economic, political,
intellectual (aesthetic, scientific, technological) development and must be
able to make their individual contributions to the community of the present
and future according to their deliberate choice. It is further affirmed that
conditions of equality lead to improved human relationships in family and society.
Conservative arguments against sex equality tend to justify the status quo
ante by appeals to tradition, biological determinism and fundamentalist interpretations
of canonical texts. In these appeals the unquestioned authority of tradition,
of "nature", and of scripture substitutes for proof. The poignancy of such appeals
is enhanced by warnings that if the authority of tradition, etc. is not heeded
the entire social order is threatened by 'chaos', whatever that may be. (*2)
Thus it is up to the allegedly most endangered institution of them all, the
family, in particular its male 'head', to do everything to avert such disaster.
(*3) People who do not find themselves in happy agreement with this view, especially
women, are treated as enemies against whom verbal abuse is to be directed.
Thus the question whether sex equality is indeed desirable does not appear
answerable from the current level of ideology - whether inspired by hope or
fear - and its degrees of bias. Each side has invested itself with the claim
of absolute goodness, leaving for the opponent(s) the old medley of the forces
of evil.- Incidentally, Jacques Derrida in "Spurs" adds to his paraphrase of
Nietzsche's dictum that "man can learn nothing about women" that such stupidity,
if found to be the case, imperils the future.
This brings me closer to philosophic tasks:
If in keeping with Western process oriented thought one believes and underwrites
the view that development aims at individual freedom in a setting of universal
co-equal responsibility and responsiveness, sex equality emerges as conditio
sine qua non. The original question of my remarks thus shifts to how philosophers
can come to increase responsible participation in development and bring professional
competence to bear on the choices which affect the full range of policies that
underpin and guide this process.
Development, personal as well as cultural (historic), proceeds from intelligence
and recedes through bias. To formulate viewpoints that go beyond bias - in other
words, a transcendent critique of culture - is a specific philosophic task,
countervailing regressive and repressive tendencies. New knowledge, new insights
into relationships - especially linguistic ones - are needed for more complexly
integrated, more adequate and inclusive viewpoints to e formulated and established
in successful sequence. Uncritical assent to orthodoxies, waning curiosity,
cognitive blindness, fears that a homeostasis may be upset by new insights are
attitudes that rationalist philosophy and science time and again surmounted.
Today, with fundamentalism rampant, it is to the point to recall Lonergan's
exhortation that "the refusal of insight is a fact that accounts for individual
and group egoism, for the psycho-neuroses, and for the ruin of nations and civilizations."
Thus, I ask you to inspect two random instances of bias related to sex equality
of signal philosophic as well as practical import: the first drawn from communication
research in psycho-therapy; the second from economic development theory and
Gregory Bateson, best noted for his work on communication among dolphins,
traces the origin of schizophrenia to maternal language patterns that put the
child(ren) into a "double bind." These pathogenic patterns vary from simple
disjunction of message tone and content - e.g. endearments in an irritated and/or
threatening pitch, to complicated chains of self-serving arguments that deny,
at least by implications, validity to the child's perceptions, feelings, wishes,
thoughts and memories. Not to agree with the mother entails the threat of losing
her affection and being rejected, perhaps abandoned, while to agree with her
precipitates self-doubt, self-disavowal and self-denial. These measures, instilled
in early childhood, prompt in the child free-floating guilt, a reservoir the
mother can and does play upon to the child's mental detriment for the long run.
Maternal messages become very highly charged missives of emotional blackmail
aimed at making the child dependable, while only succeeding in institutionalizing
its perpetual dependency. The child's strategy, wavering between overt compliance
with the mother and fear- and guilt-charged covert rebellions surrounded by
ambivalence and confusion, ends by withdrawal in self-defense. What surfaces
are the clusters of symptomatic behavior, including linguistic behavior (at
its extreme 'autism') known under the label "schizophrenic."
Bateson's scenario is beautifully simple: the mother the criminal, the child
the victim. No question is asked whether the child's fear of the mother turns
through the increased dependency into matricidal hate, a question to be pursued
if one is to arrive at a more adequate etiology of the child's guilt. And no
question is raised why the mother engages in the destructive linguistic behavior
described at length. Nor is there an attempt to investigate the medium of the
intrafamilial communications under study: language.
A look at language, at least at any of the "natural languages" (*4) conceivably
relevant here, provides clues worth pursuing in the interest of an improved
understanding how language and mental development may be found to interact.
In brief: the Indo-European family of tongues provides a linguistic environment
so replete with grammatical and logical conventions biased in favor of the masculine
gender that women who are confined to and defined by it may find themselves
enmeshed in 'double binds.' Two examples will suffice since both exhibit the
alternating pattern of inclusion/exclusion (Bateson's affection/rejection) that
triggers pathology in children and to which no human consciousness can be immune.
"All geese" includes the ganders, since a gander is defined as a "male goose."
Are women ('wif-man' in Old English) then defined as "female men". God forbid!
They are defined as adult females of precarious logical and existential status.
"All men" includes all women when it is synonymous with "all flesh", as in the
celebrated premise "All men are mortal." But is inclusion the case in Cicero's
definition of justice "Justice consists in doing injury to no men." Must women
here rely on male benevolence for inclusion, or are they included/excluded as
a matter of course, or included/excluded by social custom, or the author's presumed
intent? This pervasive lack of clarity may prevent women to see themselves as
included when such inclusion is probably intended, as in Blake's phrase "Men
are not admitted into heaven because they have denied their passions, but because
they have cultivated their understanding."
Whereas the range of the phrase "all men" reaches from "all flesh" to "all
males" and requires more careful specification in usage as to who is to be understood
as included, the species term 'man' and some of its uses may prove more intractable.
Aristotle's definition of what constitutes a species - though sometimes challenged
- is still in force. It maintains that the individual members of a species are
of identical substance, or of the same essential nature, and differ by attribution,
or predication. Thus, difference of gender is one of attributes, not of substance.
Under such clear provisions, how is one to account for the erratic pattern of
inclusion/exclusion the species designation "man" exhibits? Is it possible that
usage, even today, simply corresponds to the conditionality of women's
inclusion in the household - the human unit - for survival? This is not a rhetorical
question since it is often difficult to distinguish in any given statement whether
inclusion obtains, when it is a possibility, or when it is simply precluded.
1.) "The household exists to satisfy man's daily needs."
Women and children are quite probably included here, without much ado about
'how', but ambiguity persists and male-biased interpretations still pervade
democratized living arrangements.
2.) "The aims of the state are two: to satisfy man's social instinct and to fit him for the good life."
By the authority of custom, this has been an entirely exclusionary use of
3.) "The naturalness of the state is proven by the naturalness of speech in man."
Common sense suggests inclusion, given that speech depends on the mother tongue;
political theory and practice relied on exclusionary interpretation.
4.) "Through his intelligence man develops and through his biases he declines."
'Man' here, I suggest, refers contextually to segments of humanity, and by
implication to mankind. Women and children are thus included, but neither for
intelligence, nor bias. (*5)
The first instance of linguistic bias was taken from psychotherapy to indicate
how precarious the interface is between sex-biased language, research, and mental
development. (*6) Ambiguity concerning inclusion and exclusion
often makes language the transmitter of pathogenic tendencies. In the second
instance drawn from economics and development theory, we find instead of oscillating
ambiguity exclusion by definition. The impact of this exclusion can only
be hinted at in the present context.
"Economic man" (homo faber) is neatly - and wrongly - divided into male producers
and female consumers. Productivity is measured in 'man-hours', the GNP is the
value of output by the labor force predominantly defined as male. In fact, the
standard assumptions and terminology of economics prevent accurate perception
of women's actual and potential roles as producers. For the last three decades,
Western development policies have drawn third world male populations into the
modern sector of mechanized agriculture and mostly urban based industry. Women,
by 'oversight', have been confined to subsistence enclaves (from where they
subsidize through goods and services the 'central economy' in the most extreme
form of 'unequal exchange'), economically marginalized into destitution and
socially into servitude or prostitution. Over 400 million third world rural
women have been pushed to or below margins of survival by this exclusion from
development, according to official figures of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization
in 1979.- Women's displacement from their traditional, albeit unofficial, roles
as food producers - in many African countries women produced up to 80% of domestic
food supply for home, storage, and market -- makes developing nations dependent
on food imports, increases their foreign debts and makes them highly susceptible
to food emergencies (famines).- Declining nutritional standards increase the
rate of birth defects among newborns, in particular brain damage.
Some ameliorative innovations are slowly being introduced, e.g. household
capability studies and less biased models for statistical data collection. Yet
the conceptual gap is not about to close: Women are still far away from equitable
inclusion in economic development, in theory and daily practice.
From what has been said, it seems, follow three insights or conclusions:
Women's equality is desirable as a social good.
Women's equality is based on a legitimate claim.
Women's equality is indispensable for human development
on the individual and collective levels.
The philosophic agenda to be arrived at from these insights will hopefully
attract for its formulation and execution a good number of first-rate intellects.
A disinterested rather than self-interested pursuit of inquiry is needed.- Now
that theologians have come to stress the inappropriateness of thinking of the
supreme being along gender based lines, philosophers may wish to affirm the
inappropriateness of gender distinctions in reference to human consciousness.
Such a development in our profession would carry on the Socratic mandate and
help furnish the necessary conceptual tools to overcome archaic and destructive
1) For another use of "fair" see John Donne, Elegy 15:
"Must she of needs be false, because she's fair?"
2) "Chaos", if used as a metaphysical term, refers to an order whose orderliness is not yet sufficiently recognized; as a psychological term (for ideological use) "chaos" expresses and evokes collective apprehensions of the unfamiliar (new).
Prof. Justus Buchler, personal communication.
3) Conservative-fundamentalist assertions about the permanency of women's
subordinate status are often backed up by Paulinian quotes taken from passages
the Apostle takes care to qualify, e.g. "But I speak this of permission, And
not of commandment." I Cor. 7, 6
4) "Natural languages" is put in quotes as a reminder that they are not natural,
as is the course of the heavenly bodies, but are human products made for, adaptable
to and improvable by conscious use.
5) The first three quotes are from Aristotle's Politics, the last quote
from Lonergan's Insight.
6) Research is needed into how linguistic gender bias affects mental development
in females from early childhood on. Which internal ego processes are prevented
from becoming conscious for lack of adequate symbolizations, which undergo permanent
repression and find 'outerance' in distorted ways are questions which in the
light of Freud's, Kubie's, Riceour's work look promising.
What Jungian depth psychology, presuming on credulity, is saying on the structure
of the female section of human consciousness should be scrutinized rather than
rejected as superstitious nonsense, or find wholesale adoption by overly impressionable