Phallocentric/Phallicist thinking in Romania
Instead of foreword
“Phallicist” as attributed to thinking in Romania may sound outrageous to many people belonging to either sex, most probably due to its plain sexual connotation—sexuality and everything else connected to or implied by it being one of the things that we haven’t yet learnt to talk about naturally. Should we call it “androcentric” and explain what we mean by it, i.e. allowing men social and political visibility, appointing men as our (“people’s”) representatives in various contexts and especially on the highest decision-making levels, giving men the privilege of holding power whether in the public or private sphere, having men imposing their values, attitudes, ways of thinking as objective human ones our language being one of the many that naively identify “man” and “human being”, well, than we may have(though one couldn’t bet on it) an increasing number of people, women at first, agreeing with that.
“Phallicism” is obviously too strong a concept, too direct, too bold, which is a very good reason to actually use it instead of the softer one for it’s time we spoke in exact the same manner about things that we all experience or rather endure. Another reason would be the underlying sexual principle in most power relationships between men and women, or rather the perpetuation of the pattern involved in the traditional sexual act in other spheres of relationships.And when saying “sexual principle” one should read “male/penetrating/subduing principle”. Sexuality is the preferred means for subduing and humiliating women actually or metaphorically. No more (overt, sexual) exploitation of women but the survival of the idea legitimising it and the exploitation going on under different names such as intelligence, power, reason, strength or even equality as the case may be. That when it bothers to change its name. Most of the time it does not. At least not with us.
No such thing as “gynocentric” thinking though. Many, slightly amused at the nonsense would recall matriarchy as a distant, far-off period in history of mankind. Quite a few will think of it as compared to what we’ve been experiencing for a far longer period now, which is patriarchy. About these two ways of organisation found within human societies many of us know just a little more than their ethimology. What even fewer tell us is that patriarchy still has its characteristics deeply rooted in our mentality and social practices. The phallicism as a way of expressing patriarchy has not disappeared, it just took on more subtle, modern forms. But this is not something we talk about, nor question, nor think of. It’s just something we put up with.
I Looking at women
Every girl’s dream is to meet Prince Charming. Therefore she actively waits for him to appear in her life by working mainly on her physical appearance. We’ve got plenty of western models of femininity to draw upon, lots of magazines for young women that treat only subjects such as “keeping yourself fit”, “how to attract attention” (a man’s, of course!), “the ABC of a heterosexual relationship”, ”the perfect make-up”,” all you need to know for a perfect date”, and many other imported receipts for success that are quite incompatible with ordinary Romanian girls and women. No thing that cannot be fixed though. The only problems with these magazines is that they encourage an essentially narcissistic attitude to the self detached from any emphasis on the women’s engagement in constructing and changing any aspect of the world they inhabit—least of all their personal lives.1 The urge to be beautiful, the eleventh command in an imaginary decalogue, actually contributes to strengthening the stereotype of fragile and delicate woman that needs protection. The good part of it which is having women focusing on themselves seems to fade away in this extreme.
There is an untold competition for the best man on the market. He needs to be charmed, conquered and kept within the relationship. Poor men. All the favours in the world upon them. The only problem would be that they don’t even perceive these efforts as favours but as duties on the part of women whether they are grandmothers, sisters, girlfriends or daughters. Any refusal to comply might attract rhetoric questions like: “why do you think I married /made/took care of you? ”
A young woman to her fiancé:
“Honey, I do want to marry you but you know I can’t cook!”
“That’s no problem. We’ll eat at the restaurant”, he quickly replies.
The illusion of “sharing everything” usually disappears the second day after marriage for, hey! there’s no money to replace individual effort by buying the services a household needs. So the couple starts building their home with what they have, i.e. their hands. An eternal postponement of sharing duties would be another name for a long-term relationship. Most men have no idea what it’s like to do the laundry or cannot cook except fried eggs because the women around never stimulate them to learn. The young girlfriend/wife only takes on the mother’s burden regarding the helpless (only in this regard, though), clumsy and innocent young man. Mother, wife and lover this is what she gets to be while keeping her husband in an infantile state. Regardless of the framework, the relationship women and men tend to have resembles the one the sunflower has with the sun.
The changes that affected the relationships between the two sexes in the west starting from thirty years ago passed us by. The most archaic prejudices and stereotypes are omnipresent. A woman’s professional is recognised though she is paid less; contraception and abortion have been legalised after having mutilated physically and psychologically most of the women living under communism1 but we still have large numbers of people that oppose it because it’s against God and woman’s nature; sexuality has been freed by morality, in men’s case we must add for women are still expected to play Penelope and while men can enjoy their sexual life without constraints, they being the ”princes”, women who do the same are obviously “whores”; women have gained the right to be independent and live outside marriage which, translated to the language everybody understands, only means that such specimen are sexually frustrated and repressed. Sexuality is the ultimate reference point when filtering her deeds. “If she only had a man!” Women can make love without being terrified of getting pregnant but there’s no one there to share this fear or relief with for contraception, pregnancy and everything else connected to these are a girl’s/woman’s responsibility. Men only get rid of negative tension. Sometime you’d just wonder why don’t they get satisfied with a hollow.
“A woman was killed today in car accident while she was crossing the street”.
“She asked for it”, a reply came, ”who had her going out of the kitchen?”
Women’s entering the labour force was a big step forward for society as a whole not just for the family whose income and therefore standard of living increased. Men “welcomed” women by their side not because they believed in their liberation but because reasons higher than individual were at stake.
Traditional conceptions of women persisted though. The symmetrical pair of the man with the hammer and the woman with the sickle from Vera Mukhina’s sculpture became the symbol of gender equality under communism. The Romanian State, following closely the Russian model, aimed at showing the world the important role that the woman played in the communist society. The slogans had but little to do with the reality of those years though for there were no structures meant to support this equality. This need has artificially been met after ’89 but the necessary structures, laws and mechanisms are not functional yet. Very little information goes beyond academic circles and most ordinary women have no idea that there is a legislation that protects them against different forms of abuse.
The division between masculine and feminine professions as well as the low status associated with the feminised labour sector persists. Although women represent 53% of the people graduating from university their access in and participation to the socio-economic and political life are negligible.1 Doubts regarding their intellectual capacities are a common place just as the suspicions regarding the only means they are granted in order to climb the hierarchy: their body. And there seems to be a widespread belief that in the cases when they are tolerated to work as the equals or superiors of men they have the sacred duty of being modest, quiet and inconspicuous. Strong women active on the public scene are as exceptional as men are in the kitchen.
Should we take a look at the real possibilities of women, we can reconsider another interpretation of the communist symbol of gender equality that identifies the woman with the countryside and implicitly with backwardness, submissiveness and nurturing activities while the man represents the city, the industry and the power.2 “Equal pay for equal work”. We know there is no equal pay, not even in richer and more advanced on the way to gender equality countries. The problem must then be in (d)evaluating the work. Who dares complaining about us not wearing gender lenses? We do. It’s just that we haven’t got the proper instructions for use.
Few women can afford to stay at home and just do the housework, which actually implies more than an eight-hour job for men only cannot provide anymore for their families in the modern era that brought along a whole range of new needs. Surprisingly, many women would if they had the chance for the myth of the handsome, clever and rich man capable of holding his household on the palm is still with us—especially among young women who would rather dream of Prince Charming than open the eyes to the frogs around them.
A man walks down a street when at one moment he finds a lamp. He takes it in its hands and starts to rub it vigorously when suddenly a genie appears.
“I can make your most ardent wish come true for setting me free”. At first the man doesn’t know what to ask for, he thinks for a while and finally he says:
“I want a spectacular job, a job hat no man has ever had before, nor has ever succeeded at or attempted to do ”.
“Done”, said the genie, “you’re a housewife”.
Nothing wrong with being a housewife mother and taking good care of one’s husband and children until we realise that while women keep the house it is the man that holds the bread and the knife. Of course women are free to do whatever they decide it is best for the family as long as small things are at stake. The big decisions are father’s land. 78% of Romanians think a woman should obey her man compared to 6% that think she should not and 83% believe the man to be the head of the family. 1 The low status associated with simply being female may have something to do with it. Lack of education regarding private life and domestic management makes the picture complete.
Women at home may be graduate scholars as well but although they have a job outside the house the work within the domestic perimeter remains their privilege; they have grown to it as being a woman’s job and besides, their husbands just don’t find the time or the proper mood. Numerous studies have shown that even both spouses are employed, the women spend 3 to 4 hours every day for taking care of the children and the house while the men do the same for only about 7 minutes
It is important indeed to correlate the spiritual emancipation of women with the economic one. Women cannot save some time for themselves (read: escape their situation of servitude) if the family cannot afford to buy for instance a washing machine. But guess who continues to do all the washing up after this achievement is made? The old division of labour persists no matter how much make-up modern technology applies to it. Men sharing the housework, enjoying cooking, taking care of the children are notable exceptions. Quite a few women seem to be aware that this the way things should be, a state of facts that proves our being entrapped in our heritage of misconceptions. Patriarchal traditions have fuelled the ideal of the submissive woman with no personal preoccupations besides the family, who “sacrifices” herself, giving up her professional fulfilment for the sake of the children, of the family, of the whole society.2 “Shut up and endure!” is a message that has been transmitted to women for centuries in order to “help” them to put up with violent and brutal husbands, a pattern that still is largely perpetuated today. The submission that women have experienced for centuries is largely present. Sex stereotypes have unsuccessfully been assimilated to the past that is inevitably gone and erased by the new progressive times. In fact the opposite is true3: being so powerful these stereotypes have only taken on new, softer shapes, the are less rigid, less obvious or restrictive. But they are here and they certainly hold of the power.
II. Prospects for … dare say change?
Changing mentalities as an essential step to be made towards social prosperity it has been on everybody’s lips for about ten years now. Most of us try to predict the huge number of years it will take for us to fill the gap there is between us and the “civilised” world. Still, none of those who keep complaining about the framework seem to realise that unless we do something now the one hundred years considered necessary for proper change that is generously put forward to anyone who tries lifting one pebble today may turn into 5 or 8 hundred. Moreover, nothing guarantees we’ll ever get “there” if we don’t work for that now.
Making people aware of the gender perspective and of all the unequal treatment that women are subject to with all the consequences deriving from this is just as difficult as it is to handle any other aspect of social life. A small inconvenient would be that women themselves are not open to any changes addressing their liberation because these challenge the social patterns they grew up to.
Three women meet at an international seminar on Women’s Rights, one from France, the second from Germany and the third from Romania. They all make resolutions to go back home and implement the idea of equal right and responsibilities within the family. Half a year later they meet again and tell one another how did their attempt of educating their husbands go. The German woman remembers, ” well, the first day I didn’t see a thing, but on the second my Franz took the children to school and cooked lunch”. The French one starts “The first day I didn’t see a thing, the second day I didn’t see a thing, the third mon Pierre actually washed the dishes and his own clothes”. The Romanian’s turn goes and she says: “As for me, the first week I didn’t see a thing, the second week I didn’t see a thing, the third week I started to see a little with my left eye”.
A quite common form of dealing with any disobedience on the part of women—as popular folklore simply puts it—is violence. 65% of the women having secondary education are insulted, intimidated or humiliated by their husbands while 32% are being systematically battered.1 There are also irony and humour that can be just as freezing as a powerful struck. Ridicule has been widely used to intimidate women since the beginnings of any emancipatory actions and it certainly kept its leading place.2 We need only dye women’s hair in the well-known and enjoyed by everybody jokes where the blond represents the prototype of stupidity to obtain a strong reason for what otherwise we fail to understand: misogyny. We—women—may not understand it, but we certainly fuel it.
Raising women’s issues attract almost protests immediately even on the part of –one wouldn’t believe it—the partisans of “equal rights”. There’ no need for special treatment since we proclaimed gender equality. Forms having no content represent one thing that we’re quite familiar with. The wisdom in “the woman is not human, the feminist is not woman”1 will be further assumed by people who cannot escape predefined frameworks of thought. (Is it obvious why I’d call these frameworks “phallicist”?) Any attempt to capsize a pre-established order, that is necessarily good just because it exists and there is no perceived as urgent or vital need to rethink it, will continue to be perceived as a threat attracting therefore appropriate answers to it.
But we still have the choice of sleeping. Maybe some little monsters will get out of it and then shall we prove our boldness.
Artificially maintaining women in a condition of subordination means in our present context depriving ourselves of their contribution to surpassing the hard times we live and is of no benefit to society as a whole.
III. The Triumph of Hope Over Experience
Women’s lack of confidence in themselves was labelled as “the essence of inequality” about 30 years when its mechanisms were discovered. Yet these mechanisms are as functional as they were 100 years ago. Moreover, there is no need for men to prevent women from achieving their full potential anymore for women themselves are doing a pretty good job about that. Should men forget their condition of masters there are always the slaves to remind them of that. Until the slaves are in a too bad a condition or they are realistically provided with the means of building another, preferable, state of things. On grounds of commodity let us choose the second possibility.
If all men are born free, why is it that all women are born slaves?
No one ever said it was going to be easy to the ancient woman philosopher that was torn apart in a public square in Alexandria because she dared thinking, or to those women that were imprisoned and persecuted because they were asking for the right to vote, i.e. for the right of entering the category of citizens. No one says it’s easy to contemporary single mothers that have no man to “support” them or to independent women that refuse to enter a marriage. But we need to start.
An observation that everyone can make is that women as a group lack any sense of solidarity and hence any sense of common interest and of awareness that they can mobilise together in order to attain it. Men have discovered that a long time ago –their sense of belonging to the group is more important than the relationships they might engage in with women whether they pee all standing in a line or hide their affairs from their wives.
This lack of female solidarity is, I believe and I hope, a question of education and exercise. The most important battles have been fought but we still have to face the traditional, superannuated, sexist and stereotyped conceptions that failed to change in the same fast rhythm that characterised women’s access in the public sphere.
“If we want to see how we as women can choose to change our lives we must jettison all our notions of predetermining forces which seal our fate: whether written in the stars or stemming from the fixed values of men”.
Lynne Segal, “The Future Is Female”, 1987
Two important sides that must be covered in order to be able to speak of women’s liberation in Romania include i) the institutional frameworks and ii) the educational system.
(i) Laws being not functional would be a concise description of Romanian legislation. Not only we have imported and artificial laws that do not have people’s needs as a main source but we only have a selection out of these necessary laws that sustain equal partnership. No distinctions are being made regarding violent behaviour so as to include domestic violence. It only speaks of violence in general. Moreover, there is a persisting public tolerance of men’s sexual violence towards women. More severe punishments could be a good incentive to help men understand that they do not own their wives or that violence is not an expression of power but a manifestation of weakness. Resorting to it only proves their incapacity of handling different situations other than by trying to dominate it through force.
Setting up shelters for women and children victims of violence while making these shelters easy accesible could offer them a great deal of support and help them gain their self-confidence, the essential ingredient for a successful living. Other supportive actions can be conceived in order to give women real alternatives to leave an abusive relationship(bigger salaries for single mothers, houses for divorced women). Positive discrimination can be considered until actual equality is achieved.
As to the politics, gendered discourses are just as inexistent in Romania for, apparently, no distinction needs to be made between men and women. They are all people. Fullstop. All born free and equal. Still, women do not seem to keep this freedom within themselves later on. This preference for speaking of abstract people is only another way of ignoring women’s problems or special needs.1 But that should be no inconvenient for there are no women to revolt against that, no women to claim their rights, or let’s put it this way, there are no women to think of themselves. They seem to be busy with and preoccupied by other things. So far. Such issues are usually easily dismissed for bigger ones are always at stake. When it comes to their rights women are crushed either under the neutral individual or the collective people2. They only become female when it comes to face the hidden enemy that is embodied in prejudice. A message that needs to get to them is that in building a different and better society women will have to engage themselves in the mainstream of political power: in different associations, local councils or in the country’s highest leading structures.
A man speaking to a friend :
“My wife and I reached an agreement. I take all the important decisions as to our position regarding national security, sending troops to Bosnia, the balances among world powers and others while she gets to decide when and how do the children go to school, where we spend the holidays, what assets we buy, how we spend our salaries, etc.
(ii) The education that shapes tomorrow’s grown ups is definitely gender blind when, of course, it does not focus explicitly on men. The history of relationships between men and women is not even mentioned. Our children learn about men shaping the course of events, interacting chemical elements or math theories among many absolutely useless things. Even when studying the reproductive system no links are being made to reality. A practical approach is what most subjects and teachers lack. Practical education, i.e. education for life, is quite rare. Female experiences are ignored or treated as insignificant; men represent the norm for humanity and the criteria for performance; girls are not being told about their right to freedom and self-assertion; they are not encouraged to pursue their goals as much as boys and they lack models of female success. 1
Obviously we need to do the opposite of what is presently being done. Making girls and women aware of their history, rights and liberties is what we have to do first. Including a gender perspective in some of the subjects studied in school can be a simple action with far-reaching consequences. “Simple, but not with us”, some may say. “Easy as we make it to be”, we can add. I wonder for instance how many of us who can exercise the right to vote know—and I have in mind an active knowledge that would send us further—how hard has this freedom been achieved by women who yes! wanted to change the world. Other liberties that we think of as if they had always been with us like have been conquered in a quite difficult manner. See the right to education, to publish, to inherit one’s father, to enter different professions, to live alone, even to wear trousers or to smoke. The right we shouldn’t have is that of relegating all these into the past before internalising them.
Should the formal education sytem be too rigid, which it is, there are alternatives to it that can be used successfully. Associations of women or organizations concerned with the education of young people can make a change provided they work for it. Workshops, meetings, seminars, camps, films are just a few of the means that should be taken into consideration when willing to get women aware of their condition.
If the institutional frameworks can be changed relatively easy through high level decisions they are helpless in making a difference in the down-to-earth reality that we live every day without our support. Laws though essential cannot replace individual efforts on the part of women who need to counter-balance existing stereotypes through everything they do in their personal lives.
Empowerment should be a strategic objective of any individual or association concerned with women’s condition alongside with attempt to replace the “male” meaning of power as a means to control and dominate the others with a “neutral” meaning that implies the freedom and space to express one’s potential.2 If the mothers lost the train, their daughters should better get on it.
We all have duties but two important ones are often overlooked: the duty to keep our dignity of women and the one to our fellow sisters. Most of the things we do have important consequences outside our personal perimeter. From this perspective, another aim should be to develop the power to give replies, defy, make jokes or be ironical. Such a “pedagogy of feminine self-defence”1 must be considered, with women cultivating their capacity of facing men directly and solve themselves the conflicts that they are engaged in with the “stronger sex”. We’ve had enough of their vocation of victims.
One day in the Garden of Eden, Eve calls out to God…
„Lord, I have a problem!”
„What’s the problem, Eve?”
“Lord, I know you’ve created me and have provided this beautiful garden
and all of these wonderful animals, and that hilarious comedic snake, but I’m just not happy.”
„Why is that, Eve?” came the reply from above.
„Lord, I am lonely. And I’m sick to death of apples.”
„Well, Eve, in that case, I have a solution. I shall create a man for
„What’s a ‘man,’ Lord?”
„This man will be a flawed creature, with many bad traits. He’ll lie,
cheat, and be vainglorious; all in all, he’ll give you a hard time. But
he’ll be bigger, faster, and will like to hunt and kill things. He’ll be
witless and will revel in childish things like fighting and kicking a ball
about. He won’t be too smart , so he’ll also need your advice to think
properly. He will look silly aroused, but since you’ve been complaining,
I’ll create him in such a way that he will satisfy your ah, physical needs
„Sounds great,” says Eve, with an ironically raised eyebrow. „What’s the
„Yeah, well…. you can have him on one condition.”
„What’s that, Lord?”
and the Lord replied
„As I said, he’ll be proud, arrogant, and self-admiring…So you’ll have
to let him believe that I made him first. So, just remember… it’s our
Being equal implies behaving/becoming as brutal, rude, violent, vulgar men are—as some who fail surpassing the border of sexist stereotypes would put it. Suddenly we get to see men’s shadowy parts and the force of the positive stereotype regarding women’s special nature comes to the fore. These sex-stereotypes are particularly resistant to change because of their nonconscious nature. Still the advantage of the nonconscious as opposed to the unconscious is that it can easily pass the threshold towards consciousness. What we need to do in this regard is to change the scripts society has in store for us though we may be attacked as masculine, selfish, crazy, Lesbian, bitchy or in any case negatively deviant.1 But since these attacks are usually whispered rather than
spoken we can afford to pay no attention to them.
Good girls go in heaven ,
Brave girls go wherever they want to.
(Universal Popular Culture )
In order to change things we must dare to call them by their name and make a commitment to work for achieving new state of facts. If it is “natural” for women to bear and nurture children, take care of the family, do the housework, have low-esteem or stay out of politics we would better make it just as natural for them to oppose and struggle against a system that depreciate and therefore wastes their talent, sensitivity, intelligence and skill.
Men have held the floor long enough.
1 Lynne Segal, Is the Future Female?, Virago Press Ltd, 1987
1 In the years following the adoption of the law forbidding any kind of contraception(1966) Romania reached the highest rate of maternal mortality in Europe.
1 women represented only 3% in the Parliament and none held a minister seat during 1996-2000
2 C.E.U. History Department –Women in History, Central and Eastern European Perspectives
11 The Gender Barometer, 2000
2. M. Miroiu, Breaking the Spell, in Gender and Society, 1997
3.Gilles Lipovetsky, The Third Woman, p.192
1 Mona Musca; National 1024/2000
2 also see the potential threat in “so, you’re some kind of feminist?!”
1 Mircea Cărtărescu “Femeia nu e om , feminista nu e femeie”
1 M.Miroiu, Breaking the spell, in Gender and Society, 1997
2 idem 1
1 M.Miroiu, Dimensiunea de gen a educatiei, Revista „22”, 8/1998
2 Lynne Segal, Is the Future Female?, Virago Press Ltd, 1987
1 G.Lipovetsky, The Third Woman, p.67
1 M.E.Lockhead, K.P.Hall, Sex as a Status Characteristic, Journal of Personality&Social Issues,3/1976