‘The Gods Reside Where the Women Are Respected’

Gender equality taken to extremes ends up erasing the female

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Politics Virtue

During a recent academic conference, one of the speakers dazzled the audience—or me, at least—by suddenly switching from perfect English to what sounded like perfect Sanskrit. Without missing a beat, he then interpreted the short Sanskrit phrase he had uttered: “The gods reside where the women are respected.”

It appears that this is a reprisal of one of the ancient Laws of Manu (Manusmṛiti), which set forth the ideals for social interaction and behavior in India. “The divine are extremely happy where women are respected,” runs another translation I found.

The speaker of this beautiful line mentioned it during our academic conference in the context of a larger discussion on gender equality. He was being neither dogmatic nor political. His words were offered in the spirit of generosity, perhaps gently to suggest—at least, I think one could have taken it this way—that the West does not have a monopoly on regard for females.

It may have been the sudden flowering forth of spoken Sanskrit, the written version of which I waded into for one year during my long tour of duty through grad school, which stopped me in my tracks at that moment. How I envied the man who spoke that godlike tongue! After a year of study I was just beginning to glimpse the jewels and sunbursts in the long strings of compound phrases in the Devanāgarī script, but then my laziness overtook my zeal and before I knew it I was almost right back where I started — namely, ignorant of Sanskrit. For the speaker, however, the world of Sanskrit seemed to lie open, a treasure house to be explored at will. That was what cocked my neck up and put a smile on my face, at first.

But then I thought more and more about the meaning of the words, not just the beauty of the sounds they made on the lips and in the ear. “The gods reside where the women are respected.” This scans a bit like gender equality at first blush. The speaker’s reference to a Sanskrit phrase from millennia past was certainly appropriate in the discussion about women’s roles in society.

In fact, I now think, it is the opposite. “The gods reside where the women are respected”: There is nothing at all in here about equality. It is infinitely better than that. For gender equality, truth be told, is an unnatural thing, something I would never wish on any woman—that she be reduced to the level of a mere man. Gender equality does not do justice, not nearly, to the beauty of the female. Let women never, ever be my equal. Let them always be high above me, and if I respect them then may the gods see fit to dwell among the home my wife and I have made. This seems the spirit of the Laws of Manu as I go back and read through them anew. The woman is held up as someone to be treated with great respect.

Here a note of sadness creeps in, though. Are women respected in the West today? Would the gods reside in our societies?

The topic of women and equality has certainly been in the news lately. Take, for example, the furor surrounding men competing as women in college swimming events. These men are outracing the women by lengths and lengths, even whole laps or more. In one event in December of last year, a swimmer from an Ivy League school, competing with all the advantages of masculine physique but in an otherwise all-female race, bested his nearest opponent by nearly forty seconds. If this is gender equality, then I think a lot of people are going to take a few steps back and rethink that agenda. What I see in Ivy League pools is not respect for women at all, but mockery of them.

At this point, the transgender movement would seem to have lost credibility. When a man pretending to be a woman beats real women in a swim meet by an unheard-of margin, it becomes obvious that it was all a transparent form of make-believe. No, the man in the women’s bathing suit is not a woman. He is a man. His lap times prove it. His shoulders announce it. His brawn and chin line and leg shape and voice all reveal what no undeluded person could ever doubt: that he was born and remains a male, a member of the masculine sex. All the pretending in the world can never fill the gap between him and the ladies. This spells big trouble for transgenderism. People have seen that it is not what it claims to be.

But doesn’t the swimming brouhaha spell trouble for gender equality, too? Isn’t transgenderism, and the resulting woes it brings to women, the natural consequence of that ideology? Doesn’t it produce in our societies something worse than what we have long professed to disdain? I certainly cannot see, in the Ivy League swimming fiasco, much respect for women. Gender equality, sure. But respect, no. The women in the swim meets have no chance. They know it. Think how that must make them feel. They are humiliated just by being women. It is very difficult to see how this adds up to respect.

This latest rupture in the culture wars calls to mind other gender-themed uproars of the past. I think, for example, of the debates in France and elsewhere over hijabs, burqas, and other religiously advocated body coverings for females. The secularists declare this anathema, a Stone Age atavism undoing millennia of advances in women’s rights. The religious traditionalists say it is none of the secularists’ business.

I think the secularists are right, in a way. I would never grant any man the right to tell a woman how to dress. Religion cannot be an apologist for enslavement. It is one thing if a woman wants to wear a hijab. If someone chooses to dress modestly of her own accord, then I don’t see why I should arrogate to myself the right to try to dissuade her. But if a woman is being coerced into wearing something she doesn’t want to wear, then decency—and gender equality, perhaps—tells us that something isn’t right. Here, gender equality and respect for women seem to coincide. I am a French secularist in that sense.

But then we find that many in that same secularist camp take the ideology of equality to such extremes that it begins to bend back around to become the very thing it originally purported to overthrow. Equality starts to cut into respect and then, eventually, to overturn it. Equality becomes disrespect in the end.

Liberty! Equality! Freedom! But before we know it, we have arrived at a new kind of burqa, a new kind of full-body covering. Only this time, it is the male who assumes the form of the female, the man who wears the woman’s body in almost the same way that the Muslim woman wears, or is forced to wear, the scarf or shawl which hides her away from the world. Gender equality taken to extremes ends up erasing the female. Is that respect? Is that even equality? Is that what the secularists were trying to achieve?

Beneath the dark exterior covering of an imposed burqa is a living, breathing woman. And beneath the women’s clothing and breast implants and hair extensions, in the case of the male who claims to be transgender, is a living, breathing man. In both cases, the human is occulted. In both cases, I would argue, the female is despised. Women are not men. Men who pretend to be women not only gain advantages, they take advantage, too.

If secularists are against the burqa because it insults the beauty and freedom of the female, then on what logical grounds could the same secularists be in favor of transgenderism, which turns female beauty and freedom into props for men to wear, playthings for dress-up, incidental attributes in a performative mockery of what it means to be a human being?

Worse, of course, is when males pretend to be women in order to enter women’s private spaces and sexually assault them — a grotesque twist on “equality.” These cases are far from rare. Although it is now taboo to speak out, I think most women feel deeply uneasy when biological men are in their restrooms and locker rooms, in their dressing rooms and sorority halls. Women know better than anyone that men are not women. And yet, in the name of ideology, of equality, women are forced to be silent. It is like a fundamentalist Muslim society after all, where women are not allowed to speak for themselves.

If equality has led us to disrespect women and even endanger them by leaving them vulnerable to sexual predators, then I declare myself not for equality anymore. I prefer to see things as I did from the beginning—women as above men, and to be honored and protected, rather than seen as mere equals.

This is not just about what happens in the pool. I am no fan of swimming. I don’t watch sports much at all anymore, to tell you the truth. I don’t really care who wins which matches or which players get which awards. What I do care about is people, women more than men, to be honest. I wonder if the women are respected in my country, if the gods would see fit to dwell among us. Or if we have dishonored women, insulted them, covered them in shame by agreeing among ourselves that they are puppet parts for men who claim to be women to mix and match at will.

If that is the case, then what god would reside with us? If the women are not respected, what supernatural being will make its home among us but the devils, the ones who hate the human form and have spent sleepless eons searching for ways to destroy woman?

 

Jason Morgan is associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.

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