Some Thoughts About Gender and the Environment

May 10, 2018

I learned a new word the other day: androcracy (pronounced an-DROK-ruh-see).  It means a system ruled by men.

Androcracy indeed; we’re all familiar with that.  “Andro” is the Greek root for “male” or “maleness”; the Latin root is “vir”, as in “virile”.  I’m under the impression that the Greeks also used “vir”, however, so I’m a bit confused on this point: Socrates’ wife Xantippe was famously a sharp-tongued scold and nag, and she was referred to as a “virago”.

Well, I suspect she had reason to be.  Her hubby seems to have been gone all the time, talking philosophy all day long with other men, and in general building up his resumé as a great thinker.  But not being a hubby. From everything I’ve ever read, he ignored his wife; he basically fled from her. He didn’t work as far as I know, and I don’t know what he could have brought home money-wise to make his wife happy (my guess is that he owned land and lived off his rents).  As far as I know there’s never been any mention of whether he had children, although he probably did. Somehow, I doubt that Xantippe started out as a virago.  Well, to the best of my knowledge domesticity was not a priority of any sort in Greek society; what was a priority was the polis, or community.  At least, it was so among the citizens.

Well, certainly the male citizens; slaves and foreigners (called “exenos” in Greek, from which we get the word “xenophobia”) didn’t count.  On top of that, in those days, women weren’t only not part of the social or political picture, but once they married they weren’t part of any picture at all — except maybe in mythology.  They became invisible. At least, that’s what historians have concluded from the remaining writings, folklore, statuary, stories, etc. about Greek daily culture. Greek daily culture, as far as any extant literature or records show, was very male-centered.  As a matter of fact men loved and adored each other in ways that would be viewed as very suspicious by some moderns.

There may have been heterosexual domestic life aplenty, but that’s the kind of thing that is so ordinary that no one ever puts any of it down on paper.  At some future time archaeologists may be trying to decipher the American sense of normal domesticity by referring to surviving historical documents like our Tabloids’ reports on Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s marriage, novels by the likes of Ayn Rand and Norman Mailer, media fare such as Divorce Court and Judge Judy, and things that Donald Trump and Woody Allen said.

Virility” is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as: “the period in life during which a person of the male sex is in his prime; mature or fully developed manhood or male vigor; power of procreation; male sexual potency; strength and vigor of action or thought”.  Hmmmmm. I guess women must not have any of those attributes, urges, or capacities. Not if the Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t say so, and it doesn’t mention women at all as far as this kind of thing goes. So I guess there’s no doubt about it: virility is entirely a guy thing.  Interestingly, I haven’t run across any female version of this word. There’s “chastity”, which is a behavior solely attached to women who aren’t fully developed in their womanhood nor frisky in the procreative department. Its male counterpart is “celibacy”, which is sort of an anti-virility stance.  But there’s no female counterpart to “virility” that doesn’t border on sluttiness, at least that I know of. Women aren’t supposed to want to fuck.  Surely Stormy Daniels is an aberration.  Of course, perhaps she doesn’t want to be a sex object but merely does it because it pays the bills.  You know, like most people’s jobs.

I’m sure that the word “virgin” — which of course means a woman who has not yet had sexual relations — connects in some way to the “vir = maleness” trope.  I mean, they seem to have the same root. The Latin root for “virgin” is supposedly “virgo” or “virge”, but Virgo is also the name of a constellation; and that word is really not all that different from the Latin root for “male”.   Hmmmm. “Virgo/vir” might be something like the similarity between the words “male”/“(fe)male”?

Even Spanish has this odd similarity: “hombre” and “hembra”.  

How come they couldn’t come up with different words for genders that everybody since the beginning of time has agreed are not the same thing at all and perhaps not even from the same planet?

Maybe “virgin” was originally something like “vir + gen“, or “vir + gyne”, indicating that the male essence, when added to the primordial female essence, would start a process to bring some other essence into life and being.  “Gen” is, after all, the root word for beginnings, growth, creating things, procreation, starting things, giving life, and of course generating things.  

On another level (in medicine) we have mutagens, things that start mutations. Androgens are chemicals that stimulate maleness.  Organisms in which gender is not easily identified as being either male or female are androgynous (i.e., male/female).  And, more recently, there is the genome . . . the blueprint that everything starts from or begins with.

Virtue” doesn’t exactly mean “manliness”, but it does mean something like it.  VIRTue, VIRTual, VIRTuous and other words in which there is a “T” after the “VIR” come from a different root: virtus, meaning excellence, position, or link.  The Oxford English Dictionary devotes almost an entire column to the many meanings and attributes of “virtue”, so it can mean lots of things.  Two of them, however, are “chastity or purity on the part of a woman” and “the display of manly qualities”. So I think we’re still in the same polarized male/female ballpark here.

Getting back to plain old vir: “triumvirate” means ” the rule by/of three men”.  Ergo, virology must be the study of men and maleness, no?  

Well, actually, no.  That word, and also virus and virulent, seem to descend from the root “virulentus”, which means “poison” or “poisonous”.  It’s very suspicious to me that the roots of “man” and “poison” are so similar. Once again, couldn’t they find some other word that actually sounded different???   

We’ve never had a triumgynate.  We’ve never even had a gynate of any sort.  We’ve only had gynecologists . . . who have virtually (there’s that pesky “T” again) all been men.  Go figure.  It does help to explain why the Greek Myths don’t mention the story of Gynocles and the Lion, or Androcles and the Lioness.  Still, everything comes from Mothers, so my mind wants to play with the word origin (origyn makes more sense to me than origen).

Well, mothers indeed: everything does come from them and out of them.  The root word for “mother” is mater . . . as in maternal, maternity, alma mater, matricide, matrimony, matrilineal, matrix, etc.  I don’t think the word “mattress” comes from that root, though. “Mater” gives us the word material.  “Material” is that out of which everything comes.  Everything is made out of, or comes out of, material.  Everything does really come out of the mother.  Likewise, the matrix also has mother-like characteristics.  It is that which holds and contains everything, and within which everything exists, and out from which things come.

Getting back to vir, I wonder if, somehow, the environment secretly refers to . . . all the men around us?  Or all the maleness around us?  How arrogant is that? Yet, there must be something to it.  In ancient Greece once a woman was married the world hardly ever saw her again.  Men did see prostitutes (the Greek word for which was “porne” by the way, from which we get pornography) out in the open – although certainly not in public places where The Men congregated to see and be seen, to be men of affairs, to discuss the matters of the world, do business, participate in the affairs of the community, vote, hang out and network, gossip and socialize, talk of poetry and war, hear the latest news, etc.  I’m pretty sure that the agora (the open public space in the community) was an all-male environment – as was, as I mentioned, most of the remaining literature and whatever historical record that has survived from those times and that culture.  (I suspect that Greek women were agoraphobic in the contemporary feminist meaning of the word.)

I mentioned that the focus of Greek socio-political thought was the polis, the community.  It was the adult Greek male’s responsibility to participate in community events (for a fuller account of this, read some Edith Hamilton or H.D.F. Kitto).  Polis gives us the words “political”, “policy”, and “metropolis”, and maybe even “polite” and “police”.  Those citizens who kept to themselves and did not participate in the affairs of the community were called idiots.  That’s where the word comes from.  Idiot comes from the root idio, which means by itself or from itself.  An idiot was someone who kept to themselves and didn’t participate in the community’s social, political, military, and economic affairs and culture.  It’s the same root as in the words idiopathic and idiosyncratic – which describe a condition or phenomenon that is its own, that arises out of itself, and is not connected to a prior cause.  Idiom, too; an idiom is some figure of speech or phrase that came about by itself by way of grammatical accident or convenience, but without being beholden or connected to, or deriving from, other words, roots, or common speech.  “Idiotic”, likewise, bespeaks of: “man, you’re on your own on that one; no one else is on board with it or is even going anywhere near it.  That’s all yours”.  

Finally, does it not seem to you that, in a way, matrix is just as apt a word as environment is?  They both refer to the . . . uh . . . vessel, membrane, or context that contains and holds everything — both literally and metaphorically.  Except that it is a female/feminine counterpart to “environment”.  The fact is that we exist in the Matrix of the world just as much as we exist in an Environment. Well, I think there must be some very good reason why the word patrix does not exist.  Anybody out there agree with me?  Do I see any raised hands? Hello?  Anybody there?

More later.