Early Societal Development of Patriarchy & Sexual Repression

In Greenburg, Patriarchy, Repression, Social theory, Socioeconomics on 15 July, 2010 at 07:06

Modern thinking on human sexuality is itself an end-product of the biological evolution and cultural elaboration of sexual attraction in humans and, thus, stands in a reflexive relationship to its own subject matter.

The categories through which people think about the world are derived from the structure of the society in which they live…[there is] a correspondence between a society’s social structure and the way those who live in that society experience their bodies.

Various forms of sexual control – most notably rigid regulation of sexual expression, asceticism, and female marginality – were developed in early mass societies that laid the groundwork for their continued expression in modern Western civilizations. I argue that these social control mechanisms proved their value initially through the mechanisms implicit in the development of agriculturalist societies, and following that centralized government and Kyriocentrism brought about through stratified, hierarchical socio-political systems.

Throughout this analysis, a specific set of sociological and anthropological terminology is used to describe specific phenomena and social patterns. Kyriocentrism specifies an expanded definition of androcentrism which specifies elite men at the center of a society and highlights their difference from both elite women as well as men, women, children, slaves and servants of all lower social classes. It intentionally divides a society into elite men vs. all others, and is therefore more appropriate in usage in certain contexts than patriarchy or androcentrism.

Sexual Repression & Agriculturalist Society

The emergence of farming communities in the Holocene was tied up with a predominating reproductive agenda and, therefore, with the institutionalization of social control, the emergence of more permanent gender roles, and an inferred increased in homonegativity as “unproductive” sexual behavior.

Early agricultural societies focused on a need for reproduction and rapid population growth to increase the number of child-workers available for agricultural assistance, as well as patrilineal inheritance to determine to whom the new accumulation of property and wealth would go to. These needs led to a number of interesting cultural developments such as codes restricting sexual behavior and reproduction, such as those delineated in the Old Testament and others documented later by Tacitus, as well as socio-environmental developments for monitoring the expression and adherence to laws surrounding (women’s) sexual behavior.

These early societies attempted to maximize reproduction and suppress non-reproductive behavior by a variety of methods. This was the period in which the emergence of homonegativity began as a response to the desire to prevent non-reproductive sex and “deviant” sexual behaviors counter to its own goals. This homonegativity led to the suppression of varied sexualities, where, as Taylor states: “Within an ongoing community, normative behavior is taken to be self- evidently healthy for the body politic and is defended as the only proper form of behavior, despite (or even perhaps because of) blatant non-conformity to those particular norms.

Methods of monitoring the population’s sexual behavior to prevent unacceptable forms of sexuality from occurring took form in the limiting of sex to the indoors for better surveillance. This contextual allowance of sexual behavior allows all forms of social networks – parents and children, neighbors and government bodies – to apply direct observation, oral reports and social pressure to allow only those desired forms of sexuality.

As physical property began to be amassed, concern over inheritance lines for the accumulation of wealth became a greater concern, and with it control of female sexuality, and hence the institution of rigid gender roles. A socio-cultural shift occurred, with the expression of women as primarily sexual/reproductive objects and only people secondarily. Attached to this is the concept of women as penetrated and therefore inferior and subordinate. As Taylor [100] clarifies:

The global rise of social complexity, underpinned by gender systems and the values attached to giving and receiving [penetrating or being penetrated], meant that the multiplex social relationships typical of early prehistoric communities gave way to more monoplex, function-specific, relationships. People’s social roles became more specialized, and the scope of personae was thereby constrained.

This Mid- & Upper-Paleolithic recognition of sex & gender set the stage for later social control. The Venus statuettes of this period, evidenced by lack of face being depicted, emphasis on breasts, lower abdomen, and hairless and clear representation of labia and clitoris, this idea of women as sexual and reproductive beings, not as individuals in their own right. This concept expands further with later development of societies placing even greater sexual limitations on the population – especially with women – such as in Classic Greek society.

Female Marginality & Kyriocentrism

The presexual or asexual female in Greek thought is part of the wilderness, an untamed animal who, given a choice, prefers the wild life of Artemis, roaming the woods undomesticated and unloving of men. The sexually initiated woman, on the other hand, soon proceeds through her licentiousness to bestialization, for to let oneself go in eros is a bestializing experience…[this is] part of a conceptual complex aimed at validating and perpetuating the civil institution of monogamous marriage and family life.

Classical Greek culture saw women as unfit for full participation in society in a multitude of ways, emotionally, psychologically, as well as sexually. They were seen in particular as psychologically weaker – they allowed themselves to be consumed by impulses, sexual and otherwise. As anthropologist Anne Carson states: “In the Greek historians, whenever mention is made of a society or state of affairs managed by women, it is assumed that such situations would feature total female promiscuity.” And: “A certain tendency to regard women as irresponsible and ever ready to yield to sexual temptation relieved a cuckolded husband of a sense of shame and inadequacy.” This ties in with the belief that women had a greater capacity for sexuality, which frequently lead to draining manly strength from their partners. As female self-control considered to be no more than chastity and obedience and a woman cannot control herself, then men around her must do so.

This lack of womens’ ability to control themselves sexually is circularly reflected in the idea of women as wild & earthy and in need of domestication. This then requires the intervention of culture to mitigate them and make them useful & productive: “Marriage is a means, in the Greek view, whereby man can control the wild eros of women and so impose civilized order on the chaos of nature.” Marriage and reproduction were utilized as the means to make women productive & useful, which is seen in Greek views of reproductive sex as work (salvation for a wild woman) and non-reproductive sex as erotic play (polluting to women but not necessarily men) and as non-bestial behaviour with a humanizing effect on women. Therefore, marriage and reproduction is seen as the only fulfillment allowed a woman:

Somewhat at odds with the notion that virginity is the prime of female life, however, is the socially indispensable image of marriage as that function which can secure for a woman, against the ravages of time and putrefaction, some measure of fulfillment, personal and sexual. Ancient Greek society succeeded in recommending the institution of civil marriage by means of a complex machinery of cultural propaganda…

This ideal of women as wild culture-less creatures in need of society’s intervention into producing useful strictly-controlled reproductive machinery is only a step away from sexual asceticism ideals affecting whole regions of all sexes of the Greco-Roman population in time of war and poverty.

Sexual Asceticism & Centralized Government

The…broader acceptance of human sexuality as a positive good…came to an end in late antiquity with the spread of an asceticism that was hostile to all forms of sexual pleasure.

The development of Greco-Roman increased urbanization & centralized government (civic monotheism) led to reduced emphasis on polytheistic religions, and therefore fertility rites. This was encouraged by the dualist religious philosophies of the time, including Zoroastrianism, Hebrews, and early Christianity. In addition to religious binary classifications are the socioeconomic effects leading to mass class antagonism. Fueled by issues such as the poverty of the masses leading to criticism of upper class hedonism, increased taxation, and the reduced appeal of sacrifices (agricultural, animal) to a multitude of polytheistic gods encouraged monotheism. Hence, asceticism developed as a coping mechanism for multivariate hardships.

Changing community structure, the removal of political power from the Roman people, and uncertainty, insecurity & instability during recurrent wars all led to mass reactions of psychological withdrawal, apathy & detachment from society. Withdrawal from the world into contemplation was exemplified most strikingly by the Stoic philosophical school:

The Stoic school…preached indifference to all events outside one’s own control, and therefore acceptance of one’s lot in life. Irrational impulses [including sexual excitement] and excessive emotions were to be eliminated. Inability to affect the course of events through political institutions generated a malaise among the Roman upper classes, paving the way for Greek philosophy, and Stoic neo-Platonist doctrines spread among the educated.

Early Christianity developed Stoic ideals for their own means, developing a form of asceticism for the masses wherein marriage was allowed, but still undesirable, as it was seen as diverting attention away from God:

He [Paul] advocated celibacy on the grounds that someone who is married is more concerned with pleasing his spouse than with pleasing God…He saw sex as lust, therefore as something that was best suppressed or, if that was impossible, permitted only the most restricted outlet [marriage]. This is asceticism accommodating itself to the masses by conceding as little as possible.

Sexual control mechanisms such as rigid regulation of sexual expression, asceticism, and female marginality developed in early mass societies. These social control mechanisms became very useful in agriculturalist societies, and following that, continued use through centralized governments, and in modern civilizations prove their social control utility, though their original applications may no longer be needed.

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