We all have them – blindspots, that is. I’m not arguing that point in this post.
And the pastor in me does try to have some compassion for others’ blindspots, because I know I’ve got them as well. (The log versus the speck and all that.)
But when I see a blind spot in the world of academia, in the social sciences, in popular history books like “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” in the one chapter that directly addresses the pervasiveness of patriarchy – AUGH! My heart is already beating harder as I write. (And that’s because anytime I’m reminded that sexism is alive and well, my amygdala feels threatened.)
The guilty party? Yuval Noah Harari, history professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and author of the newly popular New York Times best-seller “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.” (Don’t let the accuracy of “humankind” vs “mankind” fool you.”
It’s not that I didn’t like the book – And no, it’s not about patriarchy or feminism or equality between the sexes.
BUT. He does point out how cultures have used the biological differences (aka wombs) as the foundation for cultural reasons why men should be in charge. Then he goes on to perpetuate that same stereotype and hierarchy in the language he uses to refer to people.
Yes, in some places does he use the more precise and clear “humanity” and “humankind,” but in other places he reverts to “mankind,” or even, ugh, “men of science.” At the very least, where was his editor? And how can he possibly miss how his language is perpetuating the problem? BLINDSPOT.
He sees the vicious circle clearly when addressing how men – yes, I mean men – of color were excluded from white collar jobs and therefore since no men of color held white collar jobs, clearly they weren’t capable of white collar jobs. But he’s blind to how he does the exact same thing when it comes to women.
And at the ending chapter of the Part 2: The Agricultural Revolution, titled, “There Is No Justice in History,” he says:
“If the patriarchal system is based on unfounded myths versus biological facts, then what accounts for its universality and the stability of the system?” Good question. And he inadvertently answers it two pages later:
Part 3: The Unification of Humankind, opens with this sentence: “Unlike the laws of physics, every MAN-MADE (in case you couldn’t guess, emphasis all mine) order is packed with internal contradictions, and cultures are constantly trying to reconcile these contradictions.” Hmmmm. Women aren’t part of culture?
And then “….(The modern political order) … guarantee(s) that every individual (is) free to do as HE wishes, (which) inevitably shortchanges equality….” Ah, yes, women are not “free to do as (they) wish….”
And he continues to use the inexact and prejudiced male referent throughout the rest of the book to the very end, where he says, “And it’s not just pious monotheists who object that MAN should not usurp God’s role” (Heaven forbid women should try.)
I guess what irks me so much is that he is addressing the very problem he is blind to. And yes, I know I am tilting at windmills. But “MAN” means just that: “males.” Which are NOT the normative. People are normative, even to quote Harara himself:
“(The words) “man” and “woman” name social constructs, not biological categories…..” “because biology is willing to tolerate a wide spectrum of possiblities.” To get all Jesus-y, “In Christ there is neither male nor female.”