Unmasking Rape Culture

Our Daily Verticality: Mother Earth

Despite our love of nature, environmental destruction still moves forward. Despite our love of women, rape culture still moves forward. This essay explores why we apparently do not love the earth or women, and how unconscious influences shape our response, or lack thereof, to rape culture and environmental destruction.

Mother Earth is Sexist

It wouldn’t be an issue if male bodies/male gods/male gender roles weren’t conversely associated with the sky and the “higher” minds. But they are. Father Sky is always above and around, and Mother Earth is always below and within, and these positions along an imagined vertical axis become placeholders for attitudes towards maleness and femaleness. Then, on top of that, attitudes towards Father Sky and Mother Earth influence our attitudes towards psycho-social places along our vertical spines — our mouths, bellies, and anuses.

Mouth-Anus

Mouth and anus are the endpoints of a tube that runs through the body. It’s a tube that runs the body. Mouth and Anus are the most important and ancient openings in the history of our kind. They give life, and they influence our conceptualization of the sacred and profane, the divine and the disgusting, the clean and the dirty, men and women, and of our gods, Father Sky and Mother Earth. They play a leading role, but they are rarely acknowledged as actors.

Despite the fact that humans begin as assholes, and our lips are made of the same material that surrounds the anus, divine Mouth lives Above and is relatively Clean — we kiss it, look at it, touch it — while its twin, the Anus, is the epitome of the Dirty, gross, and disgusting. Anus is below Mouth, physically and symbolically, and this verticality is transcoded onto the city, where clean waters (tears, rains) and dry stones live up Above, basking in the disinfecting sunlight with the castles and shrines, while foul smells and sick bodies come from the damp darkness Below — the slums and sewage wastelands.

Mouth is valued over Anus because let’s face it, food is better than feces. It just is. Studies into the causes and ramifications of disgust (an “aversion emotion” related to hatred and fear) lead to other concepts like filth, evil, purity, waste, privacy, death, and decay. The head above contains noble organs of self-presentation and social identity, the point of honor, whereas the genitals below contain its hidden or shameful private parts, which honor requires us to conceal.

We’re essentially glorified worms.

Above-Below logically relates to other basic bodily dyads such as Day-Night, Warm-Cold, Alive-Dead, and unfortunately, with male-female, especially when we say things like “Mother Earth.”

Verticality

Literally and metaphorically children look up to their parents, to adults, and to cultural heroes — sports players, celebrities, movie stars, religious figures, teachers, transmitters of knowledge — and this sets the world up into vertical stages and hierarchies of knowing and being. Cultural historian Peter Sloterdijk (2009: 113) calls this “a psychosemantic system of co-ordinates with a pronounced vertical dimension.”

The early human psyche is set up with imagined vertical stages where ‘higher’ means ‘better.’ Please consider this review of orientational metaphors related toUp”. Essentially, Happy is Up; Sad is Down. Conscious is Up; Unconscious is Down. Health and Life are Up; Sickness and Death are Down. Having Control is UP; Having No Control is Down(“I am on top of the situation”). More is Up; Less is Down (“The number of books printed each year keeps going up”). Good is Up; Bad is Down. Virtue is Up, Depravity is Down (high standards, upstanding citizens, “When they go low, we go high.”), Rational is Up; Irrational/emotional is Down (“He couldn’t rise above his emotions.”) Lakoff: “In our culture people view themselves as being in control over animals, plants, and their physical environment, and it is their unique ability to reason that places human beings above other animals and gives them this control.”

Finally, vertical metaphors aren’t just used in our abuse of women and the environment, but also in our class warfare. Journalist David Wong on why we hate poor people: “I heard far, far more complaints — and church sermons — about how society was being dragged down by the lazy drug addicts than I ever heard about greedy bankers and CEOs. America, they said, was rotting from the bottom.” (my italics)

Sexing the Planets

Ladders

Superman, the Ubermensh, and the Great Chain of Being links the weak and sad world below with the strength and glory above. This notion that the Earth (and by extension, the mother/Mother), and all direct experiences gathered by our senses bring men down from what is most important up high is a central theme of our culture. Not only in religion, but the denigration of the flesh is essential to science, where a body is considered nothing but a machine and where direct experience is considered mere anecdotal evidence — a voice to be ignored while we search for the real signal (see Derrick Jenson’s A Language Older than Words).

Catholic Sexism

Depth psychology

Are they, Ken? Are they wonderful, considering their subconscious linking of women with the unconscious below? ‘Spheres of being’ isn't any better than chains or ladders of being; ‘intraphysical’ isn’t better than ‘metaphysical’ if it reinforces a directionality away from the ground and toward the larger bubble of horizons.

Depth psychology may explain humans one-sidedly ‘downwards’, underestimating or entirely neglecting their involvement in what Sloterdijk calls “a register of metabiological realities, the sphere of intellectual and spiritual values.” Height psychology equally relies on vertical metaphors: Max Scheler in Ressentiment: “All ancient philosophers, poets, and moralists agree that love is a striving, an aspiration of the “lower” toward the “higher,” the “unformed” toward the “formed,” … “appearance” towards “essence,” “ignorance” towards “knowledge,” a “mean between fullness and privation,” as Plato says in the Symposium. … The universe is a great chain of dynamic spiritual entities, of forms of being ranging from the “prima materia” up to man — a chain in which the lower always strives for and is attracted by the higher, which never turns back but aspires upward in its turn. This process continues up to the deity…” (emphasis mine)

The cross-cultural “Great Chain of Being” is usually given as something like matter, body, mind, soul, and spirit, with the material world existing at the bottom, or farthest away from pure Spirit or Godhead. St. Augustine got right to the point: “I know nothing which brings the manly mind down from the heights more than a woman’s caresses.”

Gendered and sexed sky-gods are associated with sky-senses, like seeing and hearing, detached and expansive, while feminine senses like smell, taste, and touch, are gathered down below with the dirty peasants and savages. These ‘lower’ senses must take hold of the world and ingest it to figure it out, whereas the eyes and ears get to take in the world from a distance.

Mirror Images, Compliments, Opposites

Cult leaders in America like to call their teenage wives their “compliment.” Masculinity is seen as the complement and opposite of whatever femininity is. This reifies the otherness of the feminine and the animality of the female body. Because sky is categorically not earth, and heat is not cold, and day is not night, men are not women. Women and men are as different as Night and Day, Venus and Mars, Earth and Sky. Dorothy Sayers, in Human-Not-Quite-Human (1947) describes this perplexing habit of positioning women as “opposite” men. “The first thing that strikes the careless observer is that women are unlike men. They are ‘the opposite sex’ — though why ‘opposite’ I do not know; what is the ‘neighboring sex’? But the fundamental thing is that women are more like men than anything else in the world.”

If the sexes aren’t opposites but are ‘neighbors,’ then men live in the apartment above women.

Conclusion

“Realization and liberation are simultaneous.” For more on this story, please see my essay Gender-Landscape Reciprocity.

Painter and Art Instructor at Haskell Indian Nations University

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