Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Alphabet vs. The Goddess

How early do people pick up on gender differences? Why?

Earlier this year in one of my classes we read something that addressed one facet of the answer to this question in a small portion of a book called Alphabet vs. The Goddess. It explores the reason for why it is that worship of goddesses in world religions has declined so much over time and, more importantly, the author connects this to a change in the perception of women (and subsequent rises in misogyny, male dominance, and patriarchy) over time.

The author connects to these changes to the time when language transitioned from being spoken word to written word. He proposes that learning alphabetic literacy "rewired the human brain," and consequently, "reinforced the brain's linear, abstract, predominantly masculine left hemisphere at the expense of the holistic, iconic feminine right one" with its sequential ordering, structure, and symbolic characters. There's some further explanation/applications given at this site (trends during pagan polytheism vs. the rise of Christianity vs. the Dark ages).

What's interesting about this is that it was not the change from right brain to left brain dominance/use causing people to be more misogynistic. Given the fact that females on average have a tendency to use their left brain more dominantly than men, there is actually nothing biological that makes the left hemisphere of the brain particularly 'masculine,' nor did the switch itself shape peoples' outlooks to be more misogynistic.

However, through analyzing the mythology of different cultures worldwide (mythologies earlier than the invention of writing), researchers have found that male characters have long and consistently been distinguished by having strongly left-brained traits, while female characters are associated with right brain traits, contrary to our biology.

In essence, as society began to shift towards being centered on the written word, which reinforced use of the left brain, the sex that was associated in mythology with having left brain traits was favored and seen as dominant. Today, this imbalance between the use of left and right brain is considered to be lessened because of the invention photography and television and increased importance of visuals in other parts of our lives.

Regarding how early one buys in to gender roles or how, mythology is really interesting because it is made up of the 'stories' that societies base their culture and values on (in the media, in books, in what we consume). These stories take a significant role in influencing the way we see things. And although scientific reality is often contradicted, these myths ultimately can shape how women and men are perceived in society, and can start affecting members of any society at a very early age in very subtle ways.

What are your thoughts? What similarities/differences are there in today's world to the past? What connections do you see to anything?

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