Participation or Contribution
For countless thousands of years, men have subjugated, tortured,
humiliated women. If one understood Joan Lunden correctly, women
did not even receive medical attention until ABC -TV instituted
Women's Health Week. The Congressional Women's Caucus will now oversee
what Representatives Patricia Schroeder and Susan Molinari described
as "breaking down the culture of the military." About
time. The resentment that women feel toward this society grows every
day and, should anyone's attention wander, network television provides
a weekly diet of women wronged. How did we get here?
It's simple, I hear you say. One day women woke up, demanded the
vote and Women's Lib was born. Maybe. Or could it have been even
simpler, like soap and water?
About 150 years ago, Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweiss became
obsessed with the infection that caused women to die in large numbers
soon after giving birth. Eventually, he came up with one of the
humblest means by which to usher in a global revolution: he required
his colleagues to wash their hands with soap before examining women
When we disregard the past, we get all worked up about 'injustices'
that did not really occur. We poison our current relationships and
draw incorrect conclusions. We waste time and energy trying to reinvent
the wheel. We impose our - pitifully recent - outlook upon thousands
of years, as if all previous generations should have anticipated
our present circumstances.
While we worry about over-population, from time immemorial our
ancestors' concern was survival of the species. More than half of
all children died before or soon after birth, and all too often
the mothers died as well. Thus, amidst all the din about the "unfairness
of a male-dominated society," the fact remains that women alone
can bear children. Functions needed to be divided accordingly, and
women were to be sheltered from extreme danger (which used to be
much more common-place in many a daily activity) including the ravages
of war. Moreover, it was recognized that families needed a center,
and mother provided just that.
Let us remember those who began to dream of, and work for, the
expansion of the woman's role in Western society, but not forget
the shoulders upon which they stood. Lord Lister of Britain, father
of modern surgery, held that the greatest debt was owed to the aforementioned
Semmelweiss because without discovering the source of infections
and finding a way to forestall them, surgery could not have advanced.
The French Pasteur and the German Koch were other pioneers whose
work reduced mortality to the point where Western society could
accommodate a growing number of women doing what relatively few
of them had done hitherto.
America - of all countries - had always portrayed the woman as
a tower of strength and a fountain of inventiveness. Certainly,
reading a great deal of American literature while growing up in
Hungary, I would never have suspected that American women felt unappreciated.
Hollywood, too, favored the strong and capable woman, Bette Davis,
Katherine Hepburn and Greer Garson being cases in point. Given that
more than half of the artistic product (painting, sculpture, plays,
opera, novels) of our civilization has been about women, can anyone
seriously suggest that women have been ignored?
And, before we further indict (and dismantle) Western society,
it may be appropriate to consider its unique capacity to benefit,
by example, women in other types of societies.
Knowledge of history would lessen resentment, bitterness and rampant
reverse sexism in other areas as well. Take the past absence of
women in many a profession. The professions themselves, along with
their associated theoretical and practical skills, had been developed
by men. This applies to a virtually endless range of activity, from
inducing anaesthesia and building airplanes to mapping the Zambezi
river and constructing zoological gardens. Is it not reasonable
that, in the first instance, those who had come up with the activity
were best qualified to work it?
History also reveals that hardcore man-haters are merely dressing
in contemporary political language the age-old contention whereby
sex is but a man's pleasure. Would that we heard from that great
majority of women who are first to get up every day, do their never-ending
work, run the engine of society, and tuck in the rest of us at night.
Alas, they tend not to organize marches on Washington.
Cataloguing the contribution of women through the ages is not the
purpose here. Men never questioned its enormity. It is women who
are dissatisfied with its scope. Yet their 'gender war' seems to
be all about participation, as opposed to making contributions.
For the latter, the path has been open for some time.