From Womb-envy to the Artificial Uterus.
(fantasy or utopia?)
Socrates: I am the son of a midwife…my art of midwifery is in most respects like theirs; but differs, in that I attend men and not women; and look after their souls when they are in labour, and not after their bodies.(Plato:Theaetetus)
Specific phenomena characterize the human condition within the animal kingdom, such as prolonged immaturity (cf. theories from Bolk to Adler), the prohibition of incest (Lévy-Strauss), the self-consciousness of mortality, and the capacity to distinguish between good and evil. However, an additional formative characteristic also prevailed at the dawn of culture (or civilization), namely pervasive feelings of inferiority on the part of the male moiety of the human race. These inferiority feelings incited a relentless self-perfecting compensatory quest, (a phenomenon that Adler named “Streben nach Volkommenheit – the drive for perfection.”). This sentiment of male inferiority stems directly from the biologic asymmetry between the sexes that disfavors men. This is what I have designated as the “injustice of maleness” or as “man’s Lack” (“man” here synonymous with the masculine sex).
In primordial procreation, sexual roles were perfectly symmetrical. In his article, “The masculine, forgotten gender” the geneticist Albert Jacquard notably asserts, “Initially, gametes…whether they issued from a male or a female were propagated externally, and encountered each other independent of their producers. This arrangement worked very well for marine animals since their environment, a liquid medium, is both protective and stable.” Then came the event that Sándor Ferenczi (in Thalassa) considered the decisive moment in the evolution of our species: living creatures left the ocean. “But, outside the sea…in the aerobic milieu, spermatozoa rapidly die….In the course of evolution, the cell resulting from the fusion of egg and sperm remained within the organism who produced it – ,by definition the organism called female.” A gestational period intervened during which the products of conception developed within a nourishing and protective milieu. Nursing further accentuated this asymmetry, mammals needing the secretions of their mother’s body in order to survive. Male mammals were relegated to the abridged role of gene carriers. In a species that benefits from prolonged childhood dependency and caretaking, the young essentially become the products of a single progenitor, their mother.
Man’s injustice is therefore his incapacity to procreate.
Contrary to Freud’s assertion of woman’s incompleteness, namely her lack of a penis, biological incompleteness is actually the burden of being male: it reflects man’s inability to give birth to his own progeny; otherwise said, his lack of a womb. This “organ inferiority” is the origin of Uterus-envy.
As for the male, as Jacquard says, “the quasi-exclusivity that nature accords to women in the production of children has provoked a reaction of refusal: it has spawned behaviors that have transposed natural power relationships.”
I. Mythological aspects
A. Prehistoric Creation Goddesses
In most ancient theogonies, the forces of primordial creation are typically feminine, and carry diverse names such as Earth Goddess, Grandmother, Mother of the Gods, Lady of the Beasts, and Mother of Living Nature. The feminine figure known as Venus first appears as early as Paleolithic cave art, (cf. for example the Venus of the Chauvet caves dating from 28,000 BC). We know of numerous magnificent female statuettes dating from Western prehistory, found across an extensive expanse of Europe, from the Atlantic coast to the valley of the Don; in contrast, male figures of this epoch are much scarcer. These artistic representations of femininity go back to the earliest periods (the most ancient, the Venus of Galgenberg dates from 30,000 BC). There are longstanding controversies regarding their meaning and nature. “Anthropologists and archeologists, doctors and psychoanalysts, linguists and art historians, philosophers and amateurs have indulged in speculation, thereby demonstrating the imaginative power of these images.” states Colette Cohen, the renowned French paleontologist, whose lavishly illustrated book carefully holds back from taking a definite position. With respect to Venus, researchers agree that these prehistoric images have little relation to the Goddess of Love. With their enormous hips and bellies, their hypertrophied breasts, their chiseled pubes and vulvae, they insistently depict maternal attributes. Very rarely do they have faces: only the parts of the body specially related to fertility are depicted, and these in exaggeration. Since the 4th millennium, such figures have often depicted pregnant women, nursing mothers, and sometimes even women in the throes of childbirth.
“In Asian culture, the primitive Grandmother (Astarté-Cibele) enjoyed a divine cult of worship,” says Anne Clancier. The oldest cults date from the Paleolithic period, beginning from the 30th millennium BC, and persist through the Neolithic period into the Bronze Age, and well beyond.”Since time immemorial our ancestors have left sacred images of the female form. From the caves of Lascaux to the Balkans, the art of the Paleolithic and Neolithic Ages, which represent the earliest human myth-making impulses, indicate a deep reverence for life and the Great Mother. They honor her as the giver and maintainer of life; out of her belly the great mystery issues forth, and all return unto her. Whether or not it was the Great Mother Goddess who guided our ancestors,…the creation myths from countless cultures bear witness…to the role that the feminine principle has played in shaping the world we inhabit.”
The Goddess has always been recognized in a variety of forms. She is the Mother of the World, Giver of Life, the great nurturer, sustainer and healer… she is the embodiment of what we know as life, her story is as old as life itself, for she is life itself.. She has ten thousand names and has been called Queen of Heaven, Mistress of Darkness, Lady of Wild Things. Throughout the art of the world we find her as the all-powerful creative energy of the Life Force” (Adele Getty, 1990 p. 5).
Regarding the Hindu Mother-Goddess, Charles Malamoud states, “Aditi, as fertile and nourishing as the earth, the all-primordial (and feminine), the immeasurable mother, the inexhaustible nourisher…. is subsequently assimilated into the symbol of the Sacred Cow.” According to the research of Volkert Haas, the Hittites worshiped an archaic and primordial goddess. Hannahanna, who resided in a woody thicket, and had a honeybee-messenger to awaken the springtime. According to the Akkadian transformation myth Enuma Elish (which describes the triumph of the God Mardouk over the feminine divinity), the fragmented body of the arcaic goddess Tiamat (an ancient and multiply occurring Goddess, creator of gods and terrible monsters), formed the sky and the earth, the mountains and the rivers.
Marija Gimbutas, director of Eastern European Neolithic excavations (1967-80) and a professor at UCLA, has devoted a monumental volume to European prehistory. In her Archeomythology, she describes the Neolithic period as dominated by the “Religion of the Goddess.” “Innumerable images dating from the long prehistoric period on the Eurasian continent testify that it was the mystery and the fertility of woman as source of life which spawned the earliest religious traditions. The “Great Mother Goddess” who brought forth all life from the shadows of her belly eventually became the metaphor of nature herself, the giver and taker of life, always capable of self renewal in an eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth.(Gimbutas, 1996 p.221)The persistent evocation of ancient feminine divinities also permeates the literature of historical times. In ancient Greece, their images occur in Homeric hymns as well as the works of Hesiod, and in Homer himself (cf the image of Circe in the Odyssey). However, as the renowned specialist in ancient mythology, Charles Kerényi points out, such descriptions have undergone modification in keeping with the civilizing spirit and no longer reflect the complex nature of the original goddesses. As for the Theogony of Hesiod, it speaks clearly about Gaia, the Earth, who parthenogenetically engenders her future husband, Uranus, the starry sky (v.126-127).
These ancient goddesses even intrude belatedly into the literature of the 19th Century. For example, consider Wagner. In the Rheingold, at a critical moment, Wagner makes a feminine divinity surge forth from the depths of the earth, unrecognized even by Wotan, the principal God. The supreme danger menacing Wotan requires the return of Erda, the omniscient ancient divinity who understands the past, and the future:
Erda: What ever was, I know;what is, as well-what ages shall work-all I showThe endless world’sAll-wise one,ErdaShe warns him of the Gods’ decline:Hear me! hear me! hear me!All that exists, endeth!A dreary Day,
The twilight of the Gods
In the Germanic myth, Edda and its Wagnerian interpretation in the “Ring of the Niebelungen”, the Gods, even their chief God Odin/Wotan, are doomed to perish, whereas by contrast the archaic Goddess, Erda, remains eternal.
B. Primary Compensation: male Gods who appropriate childbirth
In the beginning, the Goddesses were endowed with parthenogenetic capability. However, even in the most ancient formulations, one already finds hints of the later tendency toward masculine appropriation of the procreative process. In Egyptian creation myths, for the first time there appeared a parthenogenetic male God: Re-Atum-Khepri gave birth to the first divine couple in a most unusual fashion—-he fertilized himself either by means of masturbation or with his own saliva. Here is a textual version from the third millennium:
Yes, it is I, Réwho grabbed my penisto extract its fertile waterand impregnated myself by my own fist,I rolled myself around my shadowcopulated with my shadow.refreshed myself in its clouds,I made a terrible water fall,made the dust that penetrated my mouthspurt from the earth.Thus was conceived Shou, the green manand thus did the daughter of rain, Tefnout first see the light. . ( Pyramid Texts No 1248)
The progenitor-phallus is thus an age-old dream dating back at least 5000 years. By means of parthenogenesis, Ré engenders Shou, the God of air, and his twin sister Tefnout, the goddess of mist, the first couple of the Heliopolis pantheon.
B.1. Kumarbi’s delivery, the birth of the God Teshub.
This particular myth was first written down in 1300 BC in the Hittite language and partly in Hourrite. Kumurwe-Kumarbi (source of the name of Kronos), replaced the God Anu with whom he had fought and whose penis he had bitten off and swallowed. However, Anu’s sperm made Kumarbi pregnant with three terrible Gods. The partially damaged tablets reveals that he successfully regurgitated two of them, but held onto the third, his future successor, Teshub. Kumarbi, fulfilling the masculine wish of several millennia, took on the task (although he could have regurgitated him along with the others) of bearing Teshub and delivering him into the world. Some commentators call Kumarbi the mother of Teshub, because even though his insemination occurred orally, he bore and gave birth to his successor. These fragments, according to experts including Volkert Haas, do not permit us to discern by what means he was able to accomplish this delivery. Zeus in turn had similar difficulties: by what orifice can one give birth from a masculine body? He was probably unaware of the Hittite solution, because if he were, it is unlikely he would have chosen as painful a method as skull trepanation. One finds an allusion in the text of the Argile tablet: “He gave birth like a woman.” Absent vagina and uterus, this hardly serves to specify a male method of childbirth! As for Kumarbi’s solution to this male birth conundrum, the well-known American mythologist, G.S. Kirk hit upon a most imaginative solution. In his book: Myth: its meaning and function (1970), despite some obvious biologic confusion, he declares: “Kumarbi had to accomplish a task contrary to nature, that of the woman in childbirth,” but our sage discovered the solution: “The Lord of Tempest was born through the phallus of the paternal mutilator, Kumarbi.” The origin of the God was thus doubly phallic: the phallus of the “Grandfather Anu” accomplished his insemination, while his birth occurred by means of his father, Kumarbi’s phallus. Penis replaces uterus. The sheer anatomic confusion of these images is maddening. It would be hard to invent a more explicitly fantastic image of man’s desire to give birth.
B.2. Greek Theogony: Zeus twice in childbed.
Zeus: “Go rest, my Dithyrambus, there within thy father’s womb
Euripides: The Bacchae v. 526-527
Dionysius is perhaps the most complex and controversial Olympic deity. We will focus here on only one aspect of his innumerable attributes and histories, specifically his “second birth”. In the earliest texts, before Dionysius appears as Zeus’s one and only son, authors did not remark upon his transplantation into Zeus’s virile womb. Dionysius is simply the son of Semele, cf Hesiod’s Theogony v. 940 “The daughter of Cadmus, Semele, gave him a glorious son.”, the XIV Song of the Iliad also ascribes a normal birth to Dionysius, having Zeus declare, “Semele gave birth to my valiant son, joy of mortals, Dionysius.” (v. 324-325). In the 6th Homeric Hymn, Dionysius proclaims himself “the son of Semele, daughter of Cadmus, who had lain with Zeus.”
The best-known version, however, remains the one that tells how Hera, to avenge Zeus’s betrayal, suggested to Semele to ask her unknown lover, none other than Zeus, to show himself in his full and dangerous splendor. Zeus then appears, striking Semele with his thunderbolt, thereby annihilating her. However, Zeus rescues their son, Dionysius, from her womb, and stitches him (or attaches him with a safety pin) into his own thigh to complete his gestation. Some time later, by tearing open his thigh, Zeus gives birth to Dionysius. Along with the birth of Athena, this episode figures as irrefutable proof that men can indeed bear children into the world. Alternatively, in the succinct formulation of Maria Daraki, professor of ancient History at the Paris VIII and author of two volumes devoted to Dionysius, “The patrilineal law of Zeus’s thunderbolt pulverized motherhood.” (Daraki 1985, p. 218)
B. 2.2 Athena
Originally, Athena was depicted as the more or less parthenogenetic daughter of Metis, titan of the fourth day. Zeus, pursuing his supremacy among the gods by sleeping successively with each local Goddess, began with Metis. According to Hesiod’s Theogony,
“And Zeus, king of Gods, took Metis as his first wife; wiser than all gods and human mortals.”
However, unlike his other wives, the future king of the Gods was not content to take Metis as his wife; he needed to physically incorporate this Goddess of Wisdom into his being. According to the Theogony:
“But at the moment that she was to give to him his child, the clear eyed Goddess Athena, at this very moment, he swallowed her securely into his bowels, so that the Goddess might help him learn the art of discerning good from evil.” (v. 888-890 and 900)
Through Metis, Zeus appropriated the wisdom heretofore reserved exclusively to the Goddesses; furthermore, he swallowed her in a state of advanced pregnancy, nearly ready to give birth. Yet in Aeschylus’ Eumenides, Athena affirms: “For me no mother bore within her womb.” (Aeschylus, Eumenides Translated by E. D. A. Morshead) According to the well-known myth, Zeus gives birth to Athena from his head with the help of Hephaestus who cuts open his skull, allowing Athena to surge forth in full armor. This set the stage for Apollo to decisively claim:
Athena, daughter of Olympian Zeus,Never within the darkness of the womb
Fostered nor fashioned” (Eumenides v. 663-664 IBID)
The myth of Athena’s birth from Zeus’s head is “a desperate theological ruse”, as JE Harrison describes it, to prove man’s capability to bear children.
B.3 The Birth of Eve
Of the two extant versions of the book of Genesis, the more frequently quoted is the one, full of consequences (St Paul refers to it to illustrate why a woman may not “teach or… have authority over a man, but to be in silece”)(First epistle of Paul to Timothy, 2,12-13) in which Eve is created from Adam’s rib. (Genesis 2.15, 2/18, 2.21-24) Upon awakening from this operation, Adam exclaimed, just as a woman might have said after giving birth to her child, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.”(Genesis 2.23)
An inverted act: it is not woman who gives birth, but man. This Biblical moment has inspired numerous paintings, such as The Story of Creation (Bible d’Este, folio6r attributed to Luchino Belbello dating from 1434) about which thecommentator Denis-Armand Canal says, “In this depiction, the Creator performs like a midwife, and little Eve appears like the ‘child’ of Adam”.
The transition from an ancient matriarchy to an emerging patriarchy forms a major theme of Greek tragedy in the VI-Vth century BC. The central problematic is the intense conflict between two grand and incompatible types of sensibility, descent, and power. Each of the two forces that confront each other represents its particular truth, whether historical, moral or personal. To illustrate this conflict we have chosen three dramas that epitomize the moment of confrontation, The Eumenides of Aeschylus, Sophocles’ Antigone, and Euripides’ Medea.The Eumenides:
The story: Orestes has just taken vengeance upon his mother Clytemnestra for having murdered her husband, Orestes’ father, Agamemnon. The issue is one of guilt: the Furies wish to punish Orestes while according to the new law, it is Clytemnestra who is culpable for murdering her husband,. It is a confrontation between the old divinities and the new Gods. The Furies, described as horrible ancient Goddesses, reawakened by bloodshed, shriek, “Seize, seize, seize, seize-mark, yonder!” They invoke Hades and the Night, referring to the ancient law that linked them to Fate and reclaim their lost privileges. They defend the blood law and demand that Orestes, murderer of his mother, be punished and accuse the new Gods and Apollo saying,
Woe upon thee, Apollo! uncontrolled,Unbidden, hast thou, prophet-god, imbruedThe pure prophetic shrine with wrongful blood!For thou too heinous a respect didst holdOf man, too little heed of powers divine!
(Eumenides transl EDA Morehead)
Apollo, a young splendid God, allies himself with an entirely different moral code. He denies the blood law and goes so far as to reject all reference to maternity:This too I answer; mark a soothfast wordNot the true parent is the woman’s wombThat bears the child; she doth but nurse the seedNew-sown: the male is parent; she for him,As stranger for a stranger, hoards the germ
Of life,. (Eumenides, v.658-664, transl EDA Morehead)
Even beyond the role of the Goddesses, the question posed in the Eumenides is the affirmation of male supremacy, an overcompensation whose principal argument is the appropriation of procreative capacity, the assertion of male exclusivity in the creation of the child.
Another play that has often been quoted, translated and reworked, Antigone is a rich literary lode treated in a scholarly manner in Georg Steiner’s book. Thirty operas are devoted to Antigone, and among her modern admirers one can cite Shelley, Schlegel, and Schelling. Hegel speaks of Antigone as “the noblest figure who ever lived on earth.”One, if not the principal reason for the greatness of the play is that it captures contrasting conceptions of life and the world on a human scale, a contrast that transcends the particularities of political or historical conflict. Antigone is Oedipus’ daughter and the sister of two brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, who have murdered each other. Creon, king of Thebes, forbids the burial of Polyneices who had waged a war upon the city of their birth, where he had been king. Antigone defies Creon’s interdiction. The burial of the dead is an ancient custom dating back to Paleolithic times. Ancient Greece barred entry to Hades for the unburied. Antigone is ready to sacrifice her own life to accomplish the ritual that will guarantee peace to her brother. In the dialogue where she confronts the King, in response to the question of how she has dared to defy the King’s command, she answers:Yes; for it was not Zeus that had published me that edict; not such are the laws set among men by the justice who dwells with the gods below; nor deemed I that thy decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven. Teir life refer to the life or the statute(laws) is not of today or yesterday, but from all time, and no man knows when they were first put forth.(V.451-459)She adds that she could not possibly have “suffered my mother’s son to lie in death an unburied corpse, that would have grieved me.” / v.467)
Antigone evokes brotherhood, and the ancient and eternal laws of the underworld, while Creon enforces the emergent patriarchal law of the City. In contrast to the Eumenides, in Antigone it is not Creon, (to whom Antigone assigns responsibility for establishing tyranny), who emerges victorious but rather Antigone, the personification of love who sacrifices her own life for her dead brother surviving in her mythical Thebes and even after two millennia in the hearts of her contemporary admirers.
The structure of Euripides’ play is especially subtle, since on the one hand this is a psychological drama that plays out in Medea’s heart, caught between the Corinthian woman oppressed by her husband that she had become after ten years spent at Jason’s side, and the ancient, powerful and murderous sorceress and caster of spells that she originally had been. At the same time, Medea represents two rival conceptions of life, two competing orders of morality, that of a “civilized” city and that of an archaic world, called barbaric, represented by Medea, daughter of the Sun. She embodies the reappearance of a formerly omniscient and omnipotent ancient force. She comes from the race of the goddesses. All-powerful, able to destroy the dragon guardian of the Golden Fleece, and the monster Talos who watched over Crete, equally capable of dismembering her own brother, she also holds the power of life and death over her own children. How wrenching are the scenes where contradictory feelings clash within her heart. She caresses them, cherishes them, but finally kills them to avenge herself upon Jason. In her final scene, confronted by a dispossessed and supplicating Jason, she dramatically regains her divine proportions. In a chariot drawn by dragons, her dead children at her heels, Medea takes flight above the heads of the mortals; she truly becomes the deus ex machina.
In Aeschylus’ play, the law of blood confronts the law of the city, in the Eumenides, the law of the ancient goddesses challenges the new gods, while in Euripides the all-powerful archaic feminine law irrupts into a so-called “civilized” universe.
III. Secondary Compensation: Men engender Civilization
A The arrival of the Indo-Europeans: a value system overturned
According to Marija Gimbutas, “the transition from a matrilineal and matricentric society to a patrilineal and patriarchal society” (Gimbutas 1996 p. 401) took place over a long period between 4500 and 2500 BC. The society of Old Europe that she calls “The Civilization of the Goddess”was “essentially peaceful, sedentary, matrifocal and matrilineal,” and did notpractice sexual discrimination. She calls its transformation “Indo-Europeanization.” “Archeological excavations as well as mythological and linguistic research bear witness to a collision of two ideologies, two economic and social systems.” (Gimbutas, 1991 p. 352) This reflected a “… transition from a matrilineal social order based upon Theacratic wisdom to a militant patriarchy, from a society based upon sexual equality to hierarchical male dominance, from a religion of goddesses rooted in the earth to an Indo-European Pantheon of gods battling in the heavens.” (Ibid. p. 401)
Maria Daraki, who studies an entirely different epoch, that of classical Greece, defines the contrast between these two belief systems in a similar manner: “there is a veritable chasm between the human universe governed by Zeus and his “cabinet” of specialized gods and the one governed by Gaia and her train of collective, anonymous and polyvalent divinities: the Furies, the Horae, the Graces…(O)n the one side are contractual, later political values, on the other side vitalistic values and the double finality that orients the entire system: reproduction and the nourishment of all that is alive.” (Daraki 1994, pp. 163-4). Whether in the Mediterranean basin, in North Africa, in the near East, in Egypt or in ancient Greece, male gods became supreme, in bloody battles like in Babylonia or in more subtle fashion, taking primacy from local goddesses, as we have already seen regarding Zeus. They now occupied the position of principal God within the divine pantheon. The most radical change took place in the Judeo-Christian and Islamic pantheon, which, declaring itself monotheist, chased off all the goddesses (who only remain as allusions in the Bible) and shattered as idolatrous any trace of adherence to another divinity. Adonai, El (Elohim) or Jehovah (whose name it is forbidden to pronounce) became the sole Creator of the universe, the dispenser of all that is good – the fruits of the earth, livestock, childbirth, the sole guarantor of a rich heritage.
“Indo-European religion officially took the upper hand, but the Religion of the Goddess which impregnated Old Europe has been preserved up to our own times,” says Gimbutas (p401). Maria Daraki along with Charles Kereny have rediscovered this same survival of female divinities 2000 years later in Greece, within Olympian religion, in the form of diverse cults, such as the mysteries of Eleusis or the Thesmophoria. (Daraki 1994, Kerényi 1941, p. 456). Nevertheless, even if we still can detect traces of the ancient divinities in modern Greece, every patriarchal society established a differentiation of the sexes that disadvantaged women. They devalued feminine attributes and went so far as to dispute women’s right to maternity.
During the succeeding millennia, the Indo-European invaders established their hierarchical systems of patriarchal society, proclaimed the superiority of men over women and waged power struggles with the outside world as well as the domestic world of the city (nobles, plebeians, slaves). Their legislature went so far as to exclude women from all political life, from inheritance, from art, from public speech and from culture. This exclusion proceeded to such extremes as to forbid women from participating in theatrical productions either as actors or as spectators. Nevertheless, we are accustomed to refer to the blossoming of this new exclusively masculine culture, to its innovative jurisprudence, architecture and philosophy, its letters and creative arts as the “Greek miracle”.
B. The patriarchal inversion
Woman’s disenfranchisement and the appropriation of procreation by man.
Beyond the examples of the Gods giving birth and the myths evoked in Greek tragedy, this appropriation recurs in diverse rituals in primitive societies and in their theoretical justification by certain philosophers.
B.1. Initiation rites
The original title of a series of lectures by Eliade at the University of Chicago in 1956 was Patterns of Initiation; the English edition bore the tile Birth and Rebirth while in French it appeared under the title Les naissances mystiques (Mystical Births) (Eliade, 1959 ed. Gallimard). This last title alludes to birth and rebirth. The young man (for girls this takes place differently) is separated from his mother. The ritual proceeds according to a complex scenario representing death and rebirth. In Papuan culture, the adolescent boy is placed inside the body of an animal, constructed by his father. But most commonly the entire group of initiant boys is placed collectively inside the body of an animal, or the hut where they are lodged is constructed in the form of a crocodile or a serpent, with the goal of dying and being reborn there. “The hut represents the monster who devours, chews up and digests the novitiate, but also the life-giving womb where he awaits rebirth.” (Eliade, ibid. p 73). While these rituals take multiple forms, they contain a common theme: the annulment of a first birth. This second childbirth initiated by men demonstrates that men are not less capable than women; quite the contrary they have the culturally determinant role. In this sense, mystical rebirth proves the superiority of men.
For Margaret Mead initiation rites performed by men upon adolescent boys, symbolic imitations of birth and of nursing, constitute “a means to compensate for a fundamental inferiority.” (Mead 1975, p99) According to Bettleheim, symbolic wounds are those where men sacrifice a part of their body, make secret incisions upon themselves that feminize them (auto castration, circumcision) or mimic the feminine sex and its function (subincision). “Of all the wounds, it is subincision that serves to make the man similar to a woman.” (Bettleheim 1954 p. 121)
Subincision consists of opening the urethra, a wound that makes the man bleed. They call this opening “penis-uterus” or “vulva”. “They construct an artificial vagina, says Roheim, to compensate for the lack of a real vagina, they call the blood woman or milk.” (Roheim 1949) However, the functional difference between men and women is not reducible to the difference between phallus and vulva-as if the particularity of the female body that proved male superiority were that she, alas, lacked a penis. The symbolic wounds of initiation are not simply about the reproduction of a vagina but also about the desire to acquire the specific symbols of feminine mystery. The visible opening, or the secret one (like the woman’s) of the subincision, the creation of male menses, and especially the ritual of the couvade, represent something greater than mere competition regarding external genitalia.
B.3. The couvade
The couvade (a French term generally used in other languages) is the equivalent of a man experiencing labor, or a man giving birth. Ritualized behavior: the man lies on his bed for several days and imitates pregnancy and the pains of labor. “This ritual, says the anthropologist Doris F Jonas, “has been observed in Africa, among numerous Melanesian tribes, in the West-Indian archipelago, the Philippine islands, among Japanese aboriginals, on the Caribbean Islands, and among Indian tribes in South America where this rite is partially preserved to this day.” Doris Jonas interprets this ritual as “the tendency for men to appropriate the indispensable role of the woman.” (Op cit p 177).
Regarding the Corsicans, Diodor of Sicily (Diodorus Siculus lived during the 1st century BC) had described: “The strangest custom in their land is one they practice at the time their children are born. In effect, when a woman is in labor, nobody cares for her. Instead, it is the man who takes to his bed for a certain number of days, as if he was suffering in his body.” (cited by Badinter, 1986, p. 129). Aucassin and Nicolette, a troubadour song of the 13th century, tells the story of Aucassin’s shipwreck. On the North African coast, he found the king in bed on his pillows, while the queen was with the troops. He told the king: “Get up you fool, what are you doing there?” The king answered: “I am pregnant with a boy baby. A month from now I will once again lead my troops against the enemy.” According to Bettleheim: “Man needs the couvade to fill the affective void created by his inability to bear children.” (Blessures symboliques. p 135)
B.4. Aristotle or the bio-philosophical aspect
For the purposes of this presentation, to illustrate the philosophical theorizing that supports man’s privileged participation in the creation of the child, or women’s consequent inferiority, we will not refer to the Middle Ages nor to subsequent centuries but will focus our attention on Aristotle:
“In the case of what is to possess sense, the first transition is due to the action of the male parent…” claims Aristotle (De Anima II, 1, 412a). “It is the male that has the power of making sensitive soul” (Book II, 5, Glv). This sentence takes on a metaphysical meaning, supported by a consideration of natural history, according to which the woman only provides a passive and amorphous material, while form comes from the man. He alone transmits the soul that makes the living being human. “The female always provides the material, the male that which fashions it /…/ While the body is from the female, it is the soul that is from the male (The history of animals Book II , F6r,). And further on:”The female is, as it were, a mutilated male”(Book II,3,F4r)
IV. How to compensate and undo compensation?
Across the centuries since earliest antiquity, proud of having created a civilization that in sharp contrast to barbarianism, represented moral, cultural and legal values, other philosophers, writers, and artists discovered a different kind of compensation: creativity.
Or, as Plato expresses it through the words of Socrates in Theatetus
Socrates: I am the son of a midwife…my art of midwifery is in most respects like theirs; but differs, in that I attend men and not women; and look after their souls when they are in labour, and not after their bodies: and the triumph of my art is in thoroughly examining whether the thought which the mind of the young man brings forth is a false idol or a noble and true birth. And like the mid-wives, I am barren, and the reproach which is often made against me, that I ask questions of others and have not the wit to answer them myself, is very just-the reason is, that the god compels-me to be a midwife, but does not allow me to bring forth Theaetetus (transl. Benjamin Jowett)
In this text, Socrates invokes his own sterility as motivation for the midwifery of souls, his personal art of inspiring creators (in Theatetus he is addressing a mathematician) or philosophers giving birth to their creations. We can reformulate the Socratic solution in Adlerian terms: it is in order to compensate for his anatomic inferiority that man became a creator, a creator of culture.
Of course, during the last century, in addition to their anatomic superiority, women have reclaimed other creative privileges, heretofore reserved for centuries to men. Men have been left to find their new compensation in mothering their children.
A.The new fatherhood
In modern feminist literature, some writers underline similarities between men and women, like Elisabeth Badinter in the The One is the Other, while others emphasize difference, like Francoise Héritier in Masculine/Feminine, Thinking difference. However it is generally agreed that in the post-60’s generation, men have undergone a significant transformation. At least in discourse, they declare themselves participants in raising children. In Western society, we are witnessing what is called the new fatherhood. Fathers share the role of women; if they can’t bear children, they at least attend childbirth. “With the new fatherhood, they affirm their nurturing self.” (Badinter 1983 p 257.)
Fathers’ new sensibility is taken sufficiently to heart that contemporary psychosocial jargon has begun to obscure the role of the mother: “mother”, in the new terminology has become “caregiver” states a young researcher. In another context, critics are wary of emphasizing the importance of the primary dual relationship between mother and infant, replacing the concept with “the environment.”
Even philosophers otherwise considered modern throw their theoretical support to this erasure of the difference between the father and the mother. It will suffice to quote from Jacques Derrida’s short volume, Who is the mother? In an argument almost as specious as that of Aristotle, Derrida takes on “the ontological negation of the mother” making reference to certain recent expansions of gynecological technology such as artificial insemination and especially “the surrogate mother who removes motherhood from its natural status. We no longer know who is the mother.” P 41. “If we call the one who conceived the child mother, she is as hypothetical and logically constructed as the father.” Here in this deconstruction, (thanks to a few unique instances as opposed to the billions of actual mothers present and past), motherhood is annulled, and the mother becomes as hypothetical as the father.
“The division of the sexes is thus relegated to a second tier, as opposed to a deeper identity which leads, in the end, to an interchangeability of roles.” states the well-known French philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut. (1984 p. 57-8). And in fact legislation has come a long way toward establishing the equality of women’s rights (the right to vote, equalization of parental rights, a tendency towards parity in the higher reaches of economic as well as political success and in the West, the forces of the Left are no longer alone in advocating for women deputies and women ministers.
In this presentation, we have above all emphasized the genetic (Xy) and biological (no uterus) frustrations that the male gender has sought, for millennia, to ignore, to scotomatize, to compensate for and even to overcompensate for. As our previously cited geneticist has stated,”Relegated by biological mechanisms to an insignificant role, male humans arranged themselves to appear more important, uniquely important. They occupied front and center stage by exhibiting their power, by hunting, by making wars, and by speaking very loudly.” (Jacquart, op. cit. p 100)
In Adlerian terms we could say that they exhibited a superiority complex.
With respect to warfare, men still hold some privileges, notwithstanding the fact that men, especially if they are not entirely persuaded by their newfound maternity, are in a crisis of self-definition. Finkielkraut summarizes the question that remains: “What is masculinity? Here is a question for which western societies no longer have an answer”(p 579.
V. The ultimate compensation: Neither the One nor the Other
Does the artificial uterus belong to the realm of science fiction, to fantasy or to a scientific project of the technocratic society ?
Through the ages, the dream of transcending sexual roles in procreation took on the form of the fantasy of male childbirth. Now, at the dawn of the 21st century, this fantasy has taken on a new, biotechnological dimension that can be characterized as: neither the man nor the woman bears the child.
In his book The artificial Uterus, the French biologist, Henry Atlan. promulgates this solution, which was also debated scientifically at the November 2004 World Congress of Bioethics in Sidney. What was proposed is known as ectogenesis -gestation outside the female womb. Of course,
children born from this gestational machine would still have normal genitalia, but no navel. Nobody has yet assessed the biological or psychological consequences for an infant gestated without a mother. However, this is the final plan, a means that the inherent inferiority of men would find its ultimate compensation. Man’s relentless striving for compensation finally culminate in the manufacture of the artificial human, thereby demonstrating the incalculable danger of creating a truly post-human being.
How do we redress men’s excessive compensation? Could the equality between men and women that Adler envisaged long ago actually come to pass, not merely in a framework of gender rivalry but rather in the form of a true acceptance of real difference and the joint participation of men and women in the creation of a common culture? Is equality yet possible?