Friday, April 1, 2011

About "Eve"

Here's a guest post, from the southern hemisphere, which I should have posted yesterday, on the last day of March (and Women's History Month):

Let's do tell all about Eve 
by Anna Tambour

"Have we been so conditioned that we are no longer responsive to obviously flawed arguments?"
Deb Moyle, "The mother of all fiction", Sydney Morning Herald, March 28, 2011

Since Australian public schools teach the basics so well that children remember their history ("Eve ate the apple") and science, in all its physics, action and reaction (that apple-eating of Eve is "the reason that women have pain in childbirth"), I hope our schools are also carrying these lessons through about natural history, for elephant mothers also have pain in childbirth – and not only that, but they love fruit and live in (probably sinful) matriarchies. Deb Moyle's revelations about what children are learning were published three days ago in the Herald's "Heckler", an orphan of a column – not supported by a "Herald investigation" or an editorial, even in this, Women's History Month. Instead, "Why aren't women getting angry?" Moyle asked in this 450-word commentless rantspace allocated to people's whinges, however trivial.

I've fomented for years about state-sponsored religion-pushing, only to see proselytising that if it weren't hiding behind "God" would be deemed dangerous ignorant regressive bigotry, multiply as the cane toad.

So if we can't beat them, and if we taxpayers are paying to have these myths told to our kids as fact, we might as well be consistent and tell the whole story. Teach all about Eve, and Adam. While Adam was sitting on his bum, Eve ventured forth. Without Eve, "man" would never have progressed. She should be celebrated as the first human with the curiosity of a scientist, the first explorer into "what if?" instead of "just obey".  If Eve is a historical figure who changed history, like Napoleon, then teach her as she was: an early model for Mary Kingsley, a woman who, like Eve, came from a sheltered existence, and like Eve, made up her own mind (for that talk about the snake influencing is just hearsay. You tell me when you hear a snake talk and I'll tell you when I find a man with one less rib.)

Although Mary Kingsley had the abused life of the born-to-be-an-unpaid-servant, caring for a pinchbeck but highly self-prized and demanding father and brother--her escape, when it came, was spectacular. Always dressed like a perfect lady, she explored and treasure-hunted artefacts and stories for museums and her own delight, travelling rough in places where Western men dropped like poisoned flies and missionaries were, in her estimation, a constant pestilence. She boated, canoed and trekked with native guides but was herself, the leader of all her expeditions. Her accounts of her travels in West Africa show a cannibal-friendly woman who has not only great stamina, but courage, unconventionality, and a sense of humour that hints of a great love of life and untapped potential in this Victorian virgin by choice.

But back to the basics. I'd like to push for every child learning about Eve, to be taught who Eve was: the first human interested in knowledge--if we have to have the creation story taught as if it had been camcorded. I'd prefer kids finding out about the Venus of Willendorf, who was probably Eve's great-great-great-great gran--and Ms VoW's  ancestors, those many still to be recognised as pivotal to our history, living in the first garden of all, the primordial sludge that came before humans were a twinkle in the universe's history.

And by all means, let's have every child learn about religion, and by that I mean the history of all the goddesses (Ishtar and all the little Ishtaresses, yes!!!) and the gods, myths and prejudices associated with them and the power-structures they provided reason for, as well as the inevitable genocides and wars spawned on their behalf.

See also:
The glory of unintelligibility


Anonymous said...

The first news column you linked to, totally lost me when the author said that if it was up to women there would be no bridge across the harbor. Smashing an ancient insult (the biblical story) only to stick in a modern one is no damn help.
And who is so sure that elephants have pain when calving? Did someone ask them? It's quite an assumption.

Josh said...

The paragraph containing "They are made to fit together like yin and yang" is disturbing too, and kind of in the same way: it limits people by promoting an essentialist myth.

anna tambour said...

1) I linked to that column to properly attribute the information in it, which I'll quote here:A friend's 11-year-old daughter got home from school recently and asked: ''Mum, do you know the reason that women have pain in childbirth is because Eve ate the apple?'' The daughter attends a public state school.
2) Frankly, I didn't care for or about the writer's personal philosophy and recommendations, but I didn't think they mattered in this context, as something to get hung up on. I actually thought I made it clear that I have a very different philosophy to the writer of that column, but that didn't mean that I thought the problem about education she brought up, worth throwing out with the bathwater of her opinions.
3) As for elephants, I recommend studying elephant parturition, as it is not only a big subject, but a topic about which many controversies rage (for instance, the added problems elephants in zoos face.
See also, for instance, Dystocia in Elephants" (dystocia means difficult birth) and Obstetrics in Elephants. As with women, elephant labour can be quick or last for days. It's good to see that someone is objecting to assumptions made, so I invite you to learn and decide for yourself. As for someone asking elephants if they feel pain, even veterinarians have sometimes just assumed, though elephants are too stupid to have told them in English, Tamil, or even Twitter.
It is interesting that you bring up the asssumption of pain, for religion has done a good job of making people poo-poo this capacity, and the stigma of animals other than our exalted selves being soulless things put on earth for our sustenance still pervades too much of the public space. Why Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy is a good introduction to what happens when humans actually pay attention.

Josh said...

Anna, I wunna assure you that I wasn't holding you responsible for the columnist's views; I just felt, along with Anonymous, that they were worth whingeing about.

That's good to learn that the denial of feelings in animals owes something to religion. I've always been suspicious when it all gets blamed on a vague concept labeled "Enlightenment thought."

Darwin's book on animal feelings is good too, IMO.

anna tambour said...

Josh, thanks very much for both your posts here. I should have said that I agree totally with your first post, as I do with the horror over 'if it was up to women there would be no bridge across the harbor.' You certainly helped me stop my hand-wringing over the thought that I agreed with this stuff. Your second post adds more to the pot in mentioning 'Enlightenment thought'. It is something that should be explored more. I think that the 'scientific approach' has been polluted by religion to an extent that has not been acknowledged. You would be a perfect explorer to delve into this.