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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Blood Relations, Part I

One of the problems we encounter in debates is vocabulary. There are many words, especially those used in Humanities studies, that had common meanings and usages, but that were made to evolve. Often, they were recruited by academic theorists to cover other, more complex phenomena. This is especially true in the highly partisan and political realm of social theory and sociology.
   For example, the word “gender” never related to human females until modern feminism wanted it to. Gender is an abstract concept of linguistics that explains why certain words use different “forms” to express similar functions. The French, for example, don’t have “a table” they have ‘a [female form] table.” The French are obsessed with the gender of their nouns; they upbraid any member of their community who cannot navigate noun genders; children who stick the masculine article, un, before a feminine noun are reprimanded.
    So navigating the gender of French nouns is rich in meaning and socially validated for the French, even though it’s meaningless to the point of vexation for English-speakers.
      It would be difficult and highly suspect to posit that this sort of gender has anything to do with politics; however, much of modern politics is obsessed precisely with notions of “gender.” That’s because, as everyone knows, the word “gender” has been assigned new meanings by feminist writers and academics.
     The word gender defines today’s feminism and marks its evolution. Many years ago, feminism made no reference to “gender,” and was all about “equality between men and women.” Not any more. Today, feminists acknowledge that they themselves argue two kinds of feminism: “equity feminism,” which is about civic equality, and “gender feminism,” which is a separate movement.
    Some believe that “gender feminism” is about how women are different from men, full-stop. Not quite. Gender feminism goes far beyond that observation, which, in any event, is, and always has been patently obvious. So no, this gender focus is not about difference; it is about the polar opposite to “equality”: superiority.
     Far from suggesting that women struggle for some sort of equal sharing of the world, gender feminists militate in favor of supremacy. Their theories argue the inherent, historical superiority of women over men. One of the ways they do so is by re-interpreting what they see as the history of the way women have lived among men.

To provide a flavor of this, I have copied short passages from the Internet-based description of a book by Chris Knight. The book is considered a foundational text of gender feminism.
   The book’s title is Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture (1991).
    It’s all in the words – difficult though they may be to decipher. Here’s an excerpt from the product description ( that may illustrate:

The emergence of human culture is generally traced to the development of a social order in which males hunted large game animals and females had access to the meat. This book presents a new theory of how this culture originated. Integrating perspectives of evolutionary biology and social anthropology within a Marxist framework, Christopher Knight rejects the common assumption that human culture was a gradual extension of primate behaviour and argues instead that it was the product of an immense social, sexual, and political revolution spearheaded by women. Culture became established, says Knight, when women realized that men armed with hunting weapons could not be trusted to share the spoils of the hunt with women and offspring. They began to assert conscious control over their own sexuality, refusing sex to all males except those who came to them with provisions. Women usually timed their ban on sexual relations with their periods of infertility while they were menstruating, and to the extent that their solidarity drew women together, these periods tended to occur in synchrony. Thus every month with the onset of menstruation, sexual relations were ruptured as the prelude to each successful hunting expedition; it was the means through which women motivated men not only to hunt but also to concentrate their energies on bringing back the meat. Knight shows how his hypothesis sheds light on the roots of such cultural traditions as totemic rituals, incest and menstrual taboos, blood-sacrifices, and hunters' atonement rites. Providing detailed ethnographic documentation of his theories, he also explains how myths and fairy tales . . . seem to be the derivations of the same cultural symbolic rituals.

Here is how one enthusiastic academic reviews the book:
[P]erhaps most important of all, [a thesis] has to excite me. There may be things my mind will not be specifically educated enough, multi-lingual enough or quick enough to pick up, but you cannot fool my heart. All these three are BLOOD RELATIONS' great achievement and great contribution.
    Chris Knight . . . does this all . . . with such remarkable clarity and erudition, [that] in fact, attempts to disagree with his findings becomes [sic] pointless. His unified field-theory of the prehistoric African woman's role in the formation of human culture is so incredibly well done, and so profoundly earth shattering in its implications, that I read the book twice to fully soak in all the sacred pre-verbal intuitions I have had that it reveals to be historical fact and obvious science.
   . . . Chris Knight . . . shows unquestionably that women, via sex and the rhythm of menstruation, nurtured the primal creative impulse of civilization and they essentially created human culture. And he shows it to be made up of communal solidarity against oppressors and oppressive situations (be it prehistoric animals or alpha males), symbol-driven creativity, and achieving a certain oneness with the rhythms of nature. This primal social movement that is the womb of human culture, told in every ancient culture's foundational myths, could naturally just as easily explain the birth of democracy and/or capitalism in the historical ages of feudalism as it does the advent of Marxism in the age of capitalism...and what is next for human kind.

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