Friday, October 05, 2007

Religion in Cerebus - Mothers and Daughters - Part Six

There's not as much directly about religion in Women as one would suspect. Oh, certainly, there are the facing pages from extracts of the writings of Cirin and Astoria, and one would assume they are there to exhibit some of the fundamental principles of Cirinism and Kevillism, respectively. And of course they are, in a way. But they are not spiritually oriented, really. There's little talk about The Goddess here, really. There is certainly discussion of morality, in the sense of a set of rules for living one's life (making sure girls tell their mothers all about their dreams, for instance). And there is discussion of the broader legalistic aspects of morality, more properly political than religious, such as the Alcohol Sanction. But we learned more about what Astoria believed in, what she thought about her Goddess, during the brief conversation between her and Cerebus in her jail cell in Church & State than is revealed in any of the writings here.

From the opening salvo, where Astoria asserts that "The penis is an organ without scruple" and advises women to take advantage of that fact, giving herself as a demonstration of how this can be done, and Cirin on the opposite page advises tolerance with daughters and assurance that they will "grow up" when they become mothers themselves, to the final debate on the nature of The Eye in the Pyramid, there is little here that provides insight into Cirnism or Kevillism as religions, although we learn much about their general attitudes toward life.

Nonetheless, I'll be dealing with these pieces as well as the few overtly religious moments in the narrative parts of "Women," because religious or not they do provide our deepest and best insight into Dave's ideas of what Cirinism and Kevillism are.

As I say, the first item is a call for women to be ruthless and unscrupulous in their use of sex to control men, on the justification that men are controlled by the penises anyway, and that organ has no scruples. It is at once boastful and celebratory, and Astoria seems totally unaware that the avenue she has chosen to travel is not available to all women. Like many women who are both attractive and intelligent, she completely discounts her appearance as contributing in any way to her success, congratulating herself that it entirely due to her intelligence, even while describing a path that could hardly have been taken by a homely woman. Cirin's counter is to call for tolerance of bad behavior by daughters, because they will eventually grow out of such excesses once motherhood overtakes them. While the percentage of fertile women is much higher than the percentage of attractive ones, Cirin is herself ignoring the fact that extremely homely women unlikely to attract a mate and those attractive enough to do so but infertile -- a substantial chunk of women, put together -- will never experience childbirth, in any case. She refers to it as a universal condition, but it is not so. They both, in other words, universalize from their own personal experience (gee, who does that sound like?).

This is not to deny a certain amount of truth in both positions. A young, attractive woman who is willing to use sex the way Astoria describes will indeed be able to get almost anything she wants from most men. And it's true also that childbirth does something to most men and women that alters and matures them, and that this effect is more pronounced in women than it is in men.

Their next debate is about power -- Astoria, as a daughter, chafes under the control of a matriarchy, arguing that mothers are by nature conservative and overly cautious, creating a static and stagnant political system. Cirin, points out that the expendability of males causes them to love disorder and chaos, seeking to make their mark on the world, and cautions that daughters with an "irrational fear of childbirth" may engage in the same behavior.

The next debate contains what is, for me, the first false note in the proceedings. Remember that long ago Dave said that modern-day feminists were Kevillists, and of course on the central political issue of modern feminism, abortion, the Cirinists are obviously firmly on the side of the anti-feminists.

So it seems odd to find Astoria charging that the Cirinists are hypocrites when it comes to children and family:

. . . at the upper levels of Cirin's government (and, in fact, at most levels of her bureaucracy) the children of her officials are cared for by nannies and governesses until the age of five when they are unceremoniously shipped off to government-run boarding schools. Cirin's own son, Gerrkick told me that he did not spend a full day in his mother's company until he was nearly sixteen; and then it was merely to observe her working day so that he might have a fuller appreciation of the complexities of governing Upper Felda.

Leaving aside the question of why Cirin's son, who as a male could not ever hope to hold any position in a Cirinist government, would be taught the complexities of governing, there is a very real problem here, in my opinion. There is an obvious solution to the problem of governing by mothers if motherhood is itself all important -- the delaying of career until after the children are grown, or at least until they are of a certain age. It's something many women have done through the years, something Cirin almost hints at in her rejoinder here. It seems obvious to me that if Cirinism were real that would be the standard and preferred way of doing things (though there certainly might be exceptions, especially among the upper echelons). It seems to me that Dave, eager to attack feminist motherhood and unable to do so through the Kevillists, whom he has artificially determined will all be childless daughters, has twisted Cirinism into something totally false and inherently hypocritical, something he will develop further later in the book but which seems to me to grow out of Dave's desire to paint women in the worst light possible rather than truly out of the inherent nature of the philosophies he claims to be representing here.

Cirin basically says that women should wait until childbirth to start a career, that before childbirth they are too immature, but that one shouldn't worry too much about a young woman who insists on putting career first -- for most of them, they will soon abandon it when a suitable mate comes along. She finishes:

In those situations where the cart is before the horse; where career comes before childbirth; it is interesting to note that few daughters ever return to that career. In those situations where the career comes after childbirth, career is kept in its proper place as an ancillary interest to the fuller and more important task of child-rearing.

There are a couple of things of note here. First, note the word "return," clearly and unmistakable implying that women who give birth in the Cirinist system do, in fact, wait at least some time before they begin a career, or return to one they have already started. How long? Six months? A year? Could it in fact be that the ideal is six years or twelve and that Astoria has distorted the situation, focusing on a few exceptions to the rule (such as Cirin herself) among the highest of the high? On the other hand, unless we discount Astoria's description of Gerrick's relationship with his mother as completely fabricated slander, there's an irony and an undeniable hypocrisy in Cirin insisting that a woman's career should be ancillary to the "fuller and more important task of child-rearing."

Before moving on to the next pair of quoted texts, I'd like to speak about Cerebus' meeting with the mysterious woman whom we much later discover to be the real Cirin. She tells him that women literally read men's minds -- something Dave has stated that he actually believes.

It's a little more complicated than that. "Women's intuition" is a nice way of putting it. "Women are more sensitive" is another. A not-so-nice way of putting it is that women rape men's minds the way men rape women's bodies. It's not an exact analogy, of course, because rape is invasion and invasion is the man's way, not the woman's way; absorption and consumption are the woman's way; what they're built for. Consider the two genders, one that invades and violates and the other that absorbs and consumes. The nice way of putting it is that they're complementary. The not-so-nice way of putting it is that they deserve each other; serve each other right.

I'm quite aware that these are the words of a character -- and a female character at that, and can't be taken at face value as Dave's opinion. Still, it's quite insightful that at this point in the story we're talking about a balance, about women being just as bad as men, but in a different way. There's no hint yet of the equivalent of "two legs bad, four legs good" kind of "anti-feminism" that discounts the value of half the human race Dave will develop later. "One that invades and violates and the other that absorbs and consumes." That strikes me as about right. The notion that men are all Goodness and Light and Reason and women are just absorbers and consumers of that Light strikes me as false.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Next: more of Women.