By George Theodoridis
It seems to me that we have a pronounced, a phosphorescently obvious reluctance to employ women; and by “we” I don’t just mean we, the men, though I must admit we, the men, are by far the greater culprits of this reluctance but women also, some of whom surprise me with the vehemence of their reluctance; and it isn’t simply a reluctance, it is, when one looks a little closer, an utter refusal, actually. These women, I notice, are not mere agnostics to the view that women are just as capable, just as likely to be as excellent at their work as are their male counterparts, or even just as ordinary, just as harsh and hard-hearted and just as banal and indistinguished as men; or to the view that women should be represented in at least equal numbers and – Oh, Zeus forfend! – with equal recognition and equal pay! Nor are they merely agnostic as to the view that women have the inalienable right to be given equal opportunity during the selection process. No, these women are in fact, anti-gender equality and anti-gender balance.
And if you don’t hear their assertion that “men can do it better!” in these very words, you will certainly hear it and feel it in the tone and sentiment behind their own phraseology: “I’m not interested in gender, I’m not interested in quotas, I am only interested in merit!” What they do not utter but you can hear the words bouncing off the walls of your brain is, “but men have balls!”
They insist that when they go about selecting the people who will sit at their board or at the various offices in their organisation, they look not at the gender of the applicants but at their merit as it relates to that position. That’s what they’re adamant about. Nor do they look at – these women will assert – anything else, like race, colour, religion, and other distinguishing marks about the body of the applicant.
And then, when one has a quick look at the phalanx of the men who surround them – all looking like they’ve been pushed out of the same factory and from the same mould and sees that this “merit” thing which their selectors said they so lovingly hunted for is glaringly absent, one is very tempted to ask them what wooing tactic or tactics they employed that has caused this ear-smashing bellowing consequence of “men, not merit?” and the screeching refrain, “we want balls, not vaginas and certainly not brains nor hearts!”
What method did they use?
That of the peacock, perhaps, spreading his colourful feathers across and doing a mating dance. In other words, was this selection process a case of hormonal needs.
Perhaps they’ve used Orwell’s anti-dictionary where ‘merit’ is defined as ‘wickedness’.
Or perhaps it was the old IQ compatibility test: S/he is smarter than me so I won’t choose him/her.
Or, were they inspired by the wooing tactic of some crass, barbarous, bullying, shock jock.
Or by Trump’s “angry clown method” of “I had one beer!”
The whole of Plato’s Republic is a search on an accurate definition of merit, of justice, of wisdom. The oracle of Delphi had pronounced him the wisest, the most meritorious man in the whole of Athens and, at his trial, his accusers turned that word to mean smartarse. “You’re a smartarse,” they shouted at him. “A conceited smartarse, going about our streets addling the minds of our youth!”
Socrates objected: “I was wondering why the oracle declared me the wisest man in Athens so I went around asking all those whom we call wise and discovered that though they, themselves said they were wise, they were, in fact, dumb. Then I thought about it,” he continued in his apology, “and discovered that the reason the oracle said I’m the wisest man in this city is because I was wise enough to know that I know nothing; wise enough to know that I am not wise!”
He was sentenced to death for being such a smartarse.
Merit, true merit, is often mistaken for smartarsedness.
This reluctance to employ the female of our species stands of course in stark contrast to the gusto and the alacrity with which we – we, men, in particular – abandon the splendid benefits of peace – serenity, laughter, love, the cooing and gargling of babies, the sound of birds, the armfuls of our harvest, the warm bed in winter, the cool gentle waters of a creek and rush off to the brutal killing fields of war.
Oddly enough we are loathe to create a board room in a corporation or a cabinet of a political party, or in the Presbytery of a religious body based on equal numbers of sex but that reluctance turns into untamed gusto and alacrity when it comes to deciding on our marching off to war; or to incarcerating children and their parents under the most brutal, inhumane conditions, or to removing those children from their parents, stealing whole generations of them and having them live lives of orphanage for the entirety of their existence. The same disposition of reluctance rules us when it comes to our treatment of the most vulnerable in our society, people who are often put into that state of vulnerability because of this disposition of reluctance on our part.
The first known and quite arguably the best ever satirist, Aristophanes, saw all this “reluctance v alacrity” game being played out in his 5th century BC society of Athens – Athens, the womb of civilization and the beating (though, at times a little too tentatively) heart of Democracy – and he, Aristophanes, didn’t like it. So he wrote a couple of plays to express this quite profound disgust of his. The one is called “Women of Parliament” and the other “Lysistrata,” both hilarious, both scathingly poignant, both are excoriating accounts of the character of the men who made the stupid laws of his country and who loved sending the youth off to endless and mindless war. Their reluctance of having any women interfere with matters of importance relating to the running of the city and the alacrity with which they placed the city on a war footing.
It was a melancholy sight for anyone with a heart, which like that of Aristophanes, was endowed with the sentiment to feel melancholy.
Reluctance and its antonym, alacrity fought each other ruthlessly before the satirist’s very eyes so he put it up on his stage for all to see. This was a contest which was as glaringly obvious and as shamefully destructive then as it is now, some two and a half thousand years later because it seems that we did not heed Aristophanes’ warnings and the warnings of many others around him, before him and after him – and here we are now, still shouting the catch-cry, “men do it better!”
Lysistrata came first. In 411BC, at the most gruesome peak of what was called The Peloponnesian War, a war that was indubitably a “man’s war” because it was the men who declared it and the women who hated it he wrote a play that has women take over the treasury (then held in the Parthenon) and keeping the males away from it until they signed a peace treaty of their own words.
It is a play by which Aristophanes shows his men where he thinks they keep their brains. They are kept, he suggested, in their testicles and consequently, they think by them and consequently that is why they go to war with such gusto and alacrity. Men think with their balls!
Not so the women, Aristophanes says. The women think with their brains. I admit that am certainly and shamelessly oversimplifying the play and the author’s intent but that is its essence: Men are mindless, and women are mindful. One lot thinks with their balls, the other with their brains.
Lysistrata, a middle-class intelligent woman gathers all the women she can get together from all over Greece, including Sparta with whom Athens is at war and convinces them all to deprive the men of sex until the men from all sides of the war sign a peace treaty. Peace came in no time.
Thirteen years later, in 391, when the war was well and truly over with the devastation of Athens and the final exit of the Spartan dictators from the Athenian parliament, the Athenian men began to behave in the same “balls-brains” way.
This time Aristophanes writes his Women in Parliament in which he has the women dressing up as men and flooding the Parliament – a place sanctified by and for men – and there legislate laws that make living fair for all. “Men wanting to visit whores must, henceforth, first visit the ugly ones and then the pretty ones,” is one of the new laws enacted by these women. Fair enough!
It’s a stern warning to men by the satirist of the day: If you love sex so much, don’t go to war!
A glorious line is uttered by Judith Dench, playing M, in Tomorrow Never Dies, some two and a half thousand years later:
Admiral Roebuck: “With all due respect, M, sometimes I don’t think you have the balls for this job.”
M: “Perhaps. The advantage is that I don’t have to think with them all the time.”
Wooing is a tactic used for mating. How we woo, how we try to convince people – men or women – to join us in our firm, or in our political party, or in our church, our boardroom or our bedroom determines what sort of person we end up with.
Men or women, when they are in too great a majority, they can and often do constitute a power which they can use against the minority. Lord Acton put it well: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” words that have become a well-worn aphorism, one which Orwell dramatised so brilliantly with his Napoleon in Animal Farm.
… Or did they woo the way the three witches in McBeth did? So as to hand a “hollow crown” to someone, a sinecure?