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Women.... and Other.... Beasts or "Why Can't a Woman Be More like a Man" Review by: R. J. Z. Werblowsky Numen, Vol.

29, Fasc. 1 (Jul., 1982), pp. 123-131 Published by: BRILL Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3269935 . Accessed: 21/01/2014 03:44
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Vol.XXIX,Fasc.1 Numen,

OR "WHY CAN'T A WOMAN BE MORE LIKE A MAN"

WOMEN....

AND OTHER....

BEASTS

(professorHiggins in My Fair Lady)

(Reviewarticle)

R. J. Z. WERBLOWSKY
The studyof religionshas been blighted,perhaps more than any otherbranch of the historicaland social sciences, by the appearance and mushroomingof fads of which one can only hope that theywill disappear much as they have come. Black Religion, Women in in Divinity Religion and the like seem to be flourishing particularly Schools and Faculties of Theology-a phenomenon forwhich there is a very simple and obvious explanation; but since this reviewarticle is not an essay on the sociologyof academic fads the subject shall not be further pursued here. But to mitigatethe impressionof male chauvinism conveyed by the preceding lines it reactionary to re-state certaincommonplaces thatwere be may useful,however, obvious to everybodylong before Women's Liberation, Women's Studies and Women-in-Religion were ever heard of. The writer craves the reader's indulgence for repeating here some old, obvious, hackneyed and tritecommonplaces. In the firstplace it has always been taken for granted by most students(pace Bachofen and his small band of latter-daydevotees) that practically all historical cultures, including the so-called primitive ones, are male cultures i.e., cultures characterised by male dominance. The reasons forthis lop-sided state of affairsare not our present concern. The corollary of this basic fact is that social and cultural, including religious, institutionsreflectmale dominance, male attitudes, male interestsand (the psychoanalyst would add) male fears,repressions,complexes, overcompensations etc. Consequently symbols of the feminine (whether the ewig the virgin, the whore, the destructiveand cannibalistic weibliche, demoness, the good fairy,the mother-including Mother Earth,

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Mother Goddess, Magna Mater or what-have-you-are malesymbols and should not be mistaken for self-expressions of women. Even ifby a strokeof good fortune an archaeologistin Rome should dig up the secretdiary of one of the Vestal Virgins, it would be the diary of a woman whose personalityand role had been formed(or de-formed)by a male-dominated culture. Thirdly, and lastly, it is obviously going to take a lot more time until our culture will have to enable women to be reallythemselvesand to changed sufficiently create a genuinelyand authenticallyfeminineview and symbolisation of reality. The late Fokke Sierksma, professorof the phenomenology of religion in the Universityof Leiden, was very much pre-occupied by the problems which this situation generates. In 1962 he published (in Dutch) The Rape oftheWomen 's Mysteries. Unfortunately Sierksma was also a great writer,and his excessive sensitivityto styleand language as vehicles of expressionpreventedhim fromusing, with a few exceptions, other languages than the one of which he was past master. (I drew attentionto thisregrettable impoverishment of international scholarship due to Sierksma's linguistic fastidiousness in my review of his Dutch book on messianic movements; see Historyof ReligionsV, 1966, p. 304). In the aforementioned work Sierksma examined the various and widespread myths of the aboriginal power of women which they held thanksto theirpossession of certain mysteries, but which they to men. His of lost the these subsequently analysis mythsenabled Sierksma to look withnew eyes at the phenomenon of male "secret societies" as well as female secretsocieties(the latterbeing, according to him, a "secondary" response to male dominance). Without being a dogmatic Freudian, Sierksma also had an intuitiveinsight into the relations between sexuality and aggression. Among many other things,sexualityis also somethingwhich males never learned to master. It is not only a source of desires, lusts and satisfactions, but also of frustrations and fearswhich, when projected on the apsource and/or or displace agobject, call forth, propriate intensify, gression. Sierksma dealt with this aspect of the matterin his work on religious iconography (The GodsAs We Shape Them, 1960) and Deities(unfortunately out of print especially in his Tibet's Terrifying both in the original and in the reprintedition). Afterall, nobody

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can contemplate Tibetan yab-yum bronzes or other images without of sexualityand agthe combination struck extraordinary being by the even venture One might generalisationthat the more gression. a male culture is (consciously or subconsciously) obsessed by its dubiously controlledsexual desires, the more it is also obsessed a) with the notion of the irredeemablylibidinous nature of woman, and/orb) withthe need to guard the virginalpurityof theirwomenfolk. One does not have to be a psychoanalytic expert in the mechanisms of projection in order to guess that the naturallypure men are the obvious and appropriate guardians of female purity. The way thisworksout in Indian cultureon the level of storiesand illustratedin the instructive and enjoyable folk-talesis delightfully of A and similar Amore Shinn.' story-book message is transmitted the on in the new RIG VEDA anthology "Women" chapter by edited by W. D. O'Flaherty and which, formany readers, will undoubtedly replace earlier translationsof this Indian classic.2 And what a comfort it must be to certain non-western pre-modern culturesto have mythologicalor theologicalassurance, and valiantly to proclaim, that sexual freedom (= licentiousness and profligacy) is essentially a corrupt and wicked importationfrom the corrupt and wicked West. Altogether we owe a great debt to Sierksma's student,Mr K. D. Jenner, forhaving investedso much labour in producing,on the basis of Sierksma's subsequent work as well as his unpublished papers, an enlarged and revised version of this controversial but highly stimulating and important study-alas, again in Dutch- under the title"Religion, Sexuality and Aggression". Equally controversial,highlystimulatingand importantis Prof. Wendy D. O'Flaherty's recent book dealing with related problems.' The author is writingas one of the leading specialistsin Indian studies, but-errafortiter! of all neo-Lutheran the battle-cry is not afraid to tackle tricky comparative religionists-she happily matters of substance as well as method. She deals courageously with subjects that are, strictly fieldof speaking, outside the official her professionalexpertise (e.g., Celtic mythologyand the role of horses and mares therein) and she unabashedly confronts(three cheers for Wendy!) the puritanical purists who still use the word "eclecticism" as a termof opprobrium. The whole of chapter 1 is a

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methodologicalintroduction."If it is about castration,tryFreud; if it is about heresy try theology". She advocates a "tool-box approach", expectingthe researcherto carrya verywide and catholic assortmentof tools in his box. Needless to say that her toolbox apwithLeviproach has nothingin common, except verbal similarity, Strauss' bricolage. It is a great book, and a very rich book. Indeed so rich that no review can possibly do justice to it. Experts in Indian mythology will probably have most of the fun, though they may demur here and there. Experts in Celtic or Greek mythologymay raise their eyebrows at the cavalier treatmentof some themes (e.g., horses, mares and other equine beings). Students of comparative religion deduce frommythology may wonder how much we can legitimately alone. Thus it is one thingto talk about mythsor even iconography of Ardhanarishvara,and quite another to enquire ifhe ever formed the object of a (sectarian?) cult. Surely the subject deserves fuller treatmentthan accorded to it in ch. 10 of Pranabananda Jash's History of Saivism (Calcutta, 1974). But even where O'Flaherty's supportiveevidence is inadequate, the reader remains grateful:instead of brushing aside her arguments he will preferto hopefully wait (to use an Americanism) for furtherevidence to strengthen e.g., the slender psychoanalyticbase of Carstair's or Kakar's sugAltogetherthe gestionsconcerningIndian culture-and-psychology. and probook is fullof brilliantand provocativeinsights, brilliantly is of The reviewer afraid vocatively expressed. present quoting samples because his enthusiasm mightrun away with him and he mightend up quoting the whole of this most quotable book. The two readers who must have enjoyed thebook most, probably were, if one may venture a guess, ProfessorsDumezil and LeviStrauss. The formerbecause the net, thrownfroman archimedic point in India, also tries to catch Greek, Welsh and Irish mythological material. The latter because O'Flaherty proves herselfa dazzling (and very oftenconvincing)jongleur, masterfully playing with the whole gamut of possible symbolic combinations and permutations. Students of Indian material have always been would go: fascinated by the extremes to which Hindu mythology their and their the seed bindu to super-asceteskeeping point thatthe them the makes celestial tapas generated by gods uncomfortable,

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and on other occasions spilling their carefullyhoarded semen all over the place at the mere sight of a lovely maiden or apsaras. As is O'Flaherty put it in one of her earlier works: Hindu mythology not like Aristotelianethics; instead of going in forthe golden mean it prefersthe two golden extremes. There is no end (except, of course, the limits set by algebra) to the possible combinations and permutations: the nourishing and the killing female/mother; the and as mother(i.e., the "erotic" versus woman as lover/consort non-eroticfemale). The female that withholdsher fluid (especially milk, although thereare cases of poisonous and deadly milk too) is And so evil; the male thatwithholds(his semen) increases life-force. has started: male/female, husband/goddessthe merry-go-round consort, son/mother,eros/incest,frustration/aggression, chastity/ libido, human/divine(including the different types and levels of good fluid/badfluid "hierogamies"), equilibrium/disequilibrium, sweat and more), and blood-menstrual tears, otherwise-, (milk, control uninhibited release versus (both e.g., symbiosis/mutuality, in dance)-they all are deftlyexhibited before our eyes until the reader reels with dizziness. O'Flaherty probably intentionallyignored the Chinese material (which she could easily have quoted from van Gulik) showing how sexuality can be conceived as the male art of drawing the principle of life fromthe female partner withoutlosing his own to her. Needless to say that where completeness/incompleteness (and their concomitant mechanisms of fear-compensation-aggression) and/or the pair inequality/balancecome into play, there also the mythof the androgyneis bound to turnup. O'Flaherty undoubtedof the subject broughtdown on him ly knew thatEliade's treatment some of the harshest (and rudest) criticism, but she does not hesitateto acknowledge her debt to the great mastereven where her verysophisticatedtreatmentgoes beyond him. But the mythof the androgyne is only one of Prof. O'Flaherty's many themes and hence it would be unfairto complain about the omission of certain referencesin the bibliography(e.g. for Greek mythologythe very short but excellent book by Marie Delcourt, Hermaphrodite, Paris, in of Social as the Anne-Marie 1958; perspective Psychology e.g. Rochebhave-Spenl6, Les Rdles Masculins et Feminins,Paris, 1964; and especially the great survey which also deals with Indian

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material by H. Baumann, Das DoppelteGeschlecht.: StuEthnologische in Ritus und Mythos,1955). There is male andien zur Bisexualitdt drogyneityversusfemale androgyneity. The author could have bolstered her case by extendingthe lessons to be learned fromthe androgynous (I apologise forthe tautology)Shiva Ardhanarishvara to the ubiquitous Shiva Nataraja who is practicallyalways (I am using a qualifying phrase since I do not feel competent to say "always" toutcourt)"androgynised" by providing him with one male (elongated) and one female (short, but adorned with a feminine jewel viz. ornament) ear. Bi-sexuality? Yes, but-as Freud would have noted with a satisfiedsmile-through "displacement upwards". (My colleague Dr D. Shulman tells me that this iconographic subtletyis canonical: it is not accidental but in accordance with the specificprescriptionsin the shastras). Compared to the vibrantebullience of Sierksma and O'Flaherty, Diana Paul5 is almost humdrumlysolid. Almost but not quite, for although Prof. Paul ostensiblywants to provide an anthologyof anfromthe Sannotated texts(most of them translatedby her directly as well as the skritand Chinese originals), her general introduction introductions to the several chapters, combined with the texts themselves, add up to a major thesis. The "mysogyny" of early Buddhism has oftenbeen commented upon and discussed. If the Buddha responded to Ananda's request at the and permittedthe establishingof an orderof nuns, predicting same time that as a result of this decision the sangha would suffer and its life-spanbe diminished,we must assume that he did so not in a moment of weakness but in full knowledge of what he was doing viz. about to do. It is hardly necessary to add that this story (apocryphal? authentic? reflectingthe attitudes of whom and of what period?) is a gifthorse-or rathera giftmare-to all students of "women-in-religion". Over fifty years ago, in 1930, the late Miss I. B. Horner (see obituarynoticein NUMENXXVIII (1981), under Primitive Buddhism. There is pp. 274-5) published her Women historicalsignificanceand possibly also karma in the factthatMiss Horner stilllived to writethe Foreword to Diana Paul's study.Prof. Paul is concerned with the question how Buddhist egalitarianism and she came to termswith its even stronger heritageof mysogyny, examines the problem fromthe point of view of Mahayana texts

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(wisely leaving aside Tantrism). Choosing her sutras with much various types: the Temptress and the circumspection,she identifies Mother ("traditional views ofwomen"); Paths forWomen Leading to Salvation (the nun and the good daughter, among others); and-the Bodhisattvas with and without sexual transformations most intriguing and questionable ofall-''Images ofthe Feminine" including, of course, Kuan-Yin as well as the "female Buddha" with a question-mark!), referring to "Queen Shrimala (fortunately Who Had the Lion's Roar". Among the sutras adduced and translatedare the relevantchaptersfromthe Vimalakirti-nirdesha, the greater Prajnaparamita in Eight Thousand Verses, the Lotus Sutra and many lesser-knowntexts. Diana Paul's sense of humour enables her to bring out the wry humour implicit in many Mahayana sutras e.g., chapter 7 of the Vimalakirti-nirdesha, where Sariputra, afterenquiring of the celestial maiden why she had not transformedherselfinto a male, suddenly finds himself into a female and the maiden into a male. transformed temporarily The moral of the Mahayana storyis clear: in true enlightenment the duality male/female is transcended and has become meaningless. The chapter on Kuan-Yin invites further study, and one hopes that Prof. Paul will elaborate more fullyon the subject in her future work. The femininecharacter of Kuan-Yin is a dubious affair,to to the texts,does not deal withthe put it mildly.Prof. Paul, sticking in iconographic evidence. Nobody Japan would consider Kannonsama as essentiallyfeminine,althoughmentionshould be made of a curious incident in the visionary biography of Shinran Shonin. Once Kannon appeared to him in a dream to assure him thatifbad karma should ever cause him-horribile dictu-to rape a woman, he (Kannon) would be thatwoman! In India he is male. The transformation of Avalokiteshvara is, as Prof. Paul correctlyobserves, a Chinese phenomenon. But the iconography(Kuan-Yin's visible i.e., uncovered, broad feet as well as his/herhalf-bare (male) breast) runs counter to Chinese notions of femininity, let alone of Confucian propriety.Mme. de Mallman's standard monograph, referred to by Prof. Paul, deals with the iconography of the Indian Avalokiteshvara and not with the Chinese Kuan-Yin. There are Chinese texts in which the compassionate Kuan-Yin comes

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perilouslyclose to being a whore. In the sutra translatedand quoted by Diana Paul (p. 267 ff.) there is no evidence at all that the Bodhisattva is female; her n. 17 on p. 280 says the truthnot only about that particularline but about the whole text. Is the Chinese female semi-transformation due to specifically Chinese elements?Is it because what was male to Indian eyes looking at Indian iconography is "effeminate" and ultimately feminine to the Chinese beholder? This "explanation", however, though perhaps not irrelevant, is hardly sufficient.If the iconography of Indian male faces seemed "effeminate" to the Chinese, then why was There are, Kuan-Yin the chosen victim of sexual transformation? in fact,plentyof extremelymasculine Chinese Kuan-Yins. On the otherhand quite a number of Chinese porcelain figuresof e.g., the Bodhisattva Manjusri are as feminineas any Kuan-Yin in "her" capacity of Goddess of Mercy could ever possibly be. One would on thisparticularquestion, have liked to hear Judge Dee hold forth and one wishes that Diana Paul would place us even more in her debt by taking up this subject in a futuremonographic study. Speaking of ambiguities and mythologicalbeasts, briefmention should also be made of the monkey-heroof Wu Ch'engen's wellknown novel. Arthur Waley's inadequate and very abbreviated translationof one of the many versions is now superseded by Prof. Anthony C. Yu's masterfuland sensitive version of which vol. 36 has recentlycome offthe press. Prof. Yu is less interestedin legensees as reflecting dary monkeysthan in the novel whichhe correctly the Taoist-Confucian-Buddhist syncretismof Ming (but not only Ming) China-the same religious realitythat found its theoretical expression in the discussions and controversiesregardingsan chiao. to the Prof. Diana Paul could have spiced her book witha reference hilarious episode in the novel (ch. 53) were our unruly monkey's master, the saintlymonk "Tripitaka" (the proper Chinese name of this 7the cent. worthywas Hsfian-tsang) and his companions suddenly find themselvespregnant! The ambiguities revealed, or ratherpre-supposed, by the works reviewed seem to be ubiquitous. The Gospel according to Thomas, one of the best known textsfromthe Gnostic libraryfound at Nag Hammadi, makes Jesus say "When you see the one who was not born of woman, prostrateyourselfon your faces and worship him

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forHe is your Father". The gnostic,unlike the orthodoxChristian, could not bear the idea of the Perfect Redeemer's birth from a mother.Non-gnosticChristianity not only opted fora birthwithout an earthlyfather but froma Virgin Mother; it even had thismother survive her divine son! Buddhism, on the other hand, could not bear the idea of a mother of flesh and blood co-existingwith the Buddha. Hence Queen Maya had to die seven days after giving birth,and Prince Siddharta was broughtup by his less compromising aunt, Queen Shuddhodana. Transcending dualities? The same gnosticGospel has Jesus say: "when you make the two one and the inside like the outside.... and you make the man and the woman a single one, in order that the man is not the man and the woman is not the woman .... thenyou will enter[thekingdom]". This sounds and almost like a mottoforMircea Eliade's The Two very edifying, and The One. But the truthwill out, and the gnosticGospel, though to any Bodhisattvas, has Simon Peter say "Let Mary not referring from us, for women are not worthyof life", and Jesus go away he had not read the Mahayana sutras translated because (perhaps by Diana Paul) replies "Lo, I will draw her so thatI will make her a man so that she too may become a living spiritwhich is like you man; foreverywoman who makes herselfa man will enterinto the kingdomof heaven". It is withreliefthatone turnsfromthe gnostic Gospel to the Vimalakirti-nirdesha, chapter 7.

RJZW
MaidensandAscetic and Roy C. Amore & Larry D. Shinn, Lustful Kings.:Buddhist Hindu Stories ofLife (Oxford Univ. Press, New York-Oxford-Toronto), 1981. pp. 198.
2

notated by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth), 1981,

TheRig Veda: one hundred and eight translated and anselected, hymns,

pp. 343.?2.25.
3

a Preface Th. P. vanBaaren anda postscript 1979, pp. viii + 341,with byProf. (pp. 293-341) byK. D. Jenner. ofChicago Press, 1980, University Chicago), pp. xviii+ 382. + 333.
6 4

en Agressie Fokke Sierksma, Religie,Sexualiteit (Uitg. Konstapel, Groningen),

Beasts(The and Other Androgynes Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Women, Mythical

5 Diana Y. Paul, Women in Buddhism. Forewordby I. B. Horner. (Asian Humanities Press, Lancaster-Miller Publishers, Berkeley, Calif.), 1979, pp. xxii

1980, Press, pp. 453. Chicago),

to theWest,vol. 3 (University of Chicago AnthonyC. Yu (transl.), TheJourney

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