Gnomicon 271

If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  271
Thursday 7 February 2013
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The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.
Gloria Steinem (25 Mar 1934 –  )

This celebrated culturista, forever – and rightly so — to remain associated with the Women’s Liberation Movement, here gets at a valid point, and not only in connection with how men view(ed) and treat(ed) women but also, I would argue, how women treat(ed) and view(ed) men.  The charges are familiar to anyone alive today who can read or can watch television – except perhaps the most resolute troglodyte.  And while not all – men and women – were or are happy with “women’s lib”, the movement has in fact sensitized America to aspects of inequitable treatment of the genders.  Most immediately this has led to more evenhanded treatment of all citizens without reference to gender, very recently and saliently apparent in the lifting by the military authorities of the ban on women serving in combat positions on the front lines.  Again, I am sure not all are on board with this development, but there it is, for better or worse.

I am personally of two minds on the matter, as I am on the issue of legal drinking age: it seems intuitively obvious to me that if an 18-year old is mature enough to get himself maimed or killed in the defense of the country, then that same 18-year old is surely mature enough to get himself — and, now, herself – a drink at a local bar or buy a fifth in the grocery store.  By the same token, I am not incapable of appreciating that alcohol and youth do not make for the best friendships – and, yes, one can readily same the same for alcohol and age.  I admit:  I don’t know what the appropriate course here is in terms of equity and safety.

Ditto, women in combat.  For equity’s sake, yes, the new policy is warranted.  But … maybe it is some kind of ingrained ‘sexism’ that makes it somehow not sit entirely right with my personal views.  And that, I believe, is what Steinem was getting at in her comment that we all need “to unlearn” certain things.

The woman warrior in combat is after all nothing new – one thinks of the ancient Amazons.  Such renowned exemplars as Homeric Penthesilea killed by Achilles, and Vergil’s Camilla killed by Arruns certainly more than vouch for the recognition — even in those notoriously misogynistic cultures of ancient Greece and Rome – of the ability of  women to participate in fighting, fighting which back in the day was infinitely more up-close and mano-a-mano than is the case on today’s digital battlefields.

Perhaps in the interim between antiquity and today it is the intervention of the vast body of medieval romances and chivalric literatures along with their epigones over the subsequent centuries that has ‘learned’ us about the ‘weaker sex’ in ways that we now need “to unlearn”.  Of course, when we ‘unlearn’ the old we ‘learn’ the new.

To be sure, Women’s Lib has broader applicability than to military matters alone, but the major shift just now taking place in that major institution that is America’s military does make Steinem’s observation highly topical.  I imagine it will be of great interest to most of us to see in the coming months and years just how the actual implementation of this new policy will work out.

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