WHERE WOMEN ARE FREE
by Ekaterina Prokina
Within the Western mythology that defines our lives, woman is often perceived as passive and weak. Although many things have been accomplished in the last 100 years and we can feel grateful for the efforts of women who have worked to change discriminatory attitudes, we still have a long way to go. Abrahamic religions the world over make woman a target for the projections of male fears, like Eve who was created from Adam’s rib, later seduced him to eat the apple from the Forbidden Tree and was therefore to blame for their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. A society tends to reflect its myths and so the women in our society often feel hurt by the discriminatory approaches towards the feminine. A lot has been written by way of analysis and deconstruction about this, and by way of suggesting improvements. But what about taking a step back and asking ourselves “can this be different?” In other words, can we conceive of a civilization in which this is not the case?
Few people know of a variation of the biblical story of Exodus in Jewish folklore in which it is claimed that that Eve was Adam’s second wife while his first wife was Lilith. “The couple fought all the time. They didn’t see eye-to-eye on matters of sex because Adam always wanted to be on top while Lilith also wanted a turn in the dominant sexual position. When they could not agree, Lilith decided to leave Adam. She uttered God’s name and flew into the air, leaving Adam alone in the Garden of Eden. God sent three angels after her and commanded them to bring her back to her husband by force if she would not come willingly. But when the angels found her by the Red Sea they were unable to convince her to return and could not force her to obey them.” This legend describes an assertive woman who stood up for her rights and desires and who rebelled against her husband and God. She is an equal partner rather than a representative of a weaker sex. What would our world look like if Lilith were a prototype for us, women?
Luckily, we have an opportunity to find out – thanks to the existence of indigenous societies on Earth and photographers who travel and visit them to share the pictures of a life astonishingly different from ours. We published a story on the Khasi people in India by Karolin Klüppel. Her project “Mädchenland” is now exhibited in Geneva, Switzerland (until November, 6). So if you have a chance, go see it for yourself!
Another photographer Pierre de Vallombreuse is famous for photographing indigenous people. He has recently published a project “Souveraines. The people where women are liberated.” This is a collection of photographs of 4 peoples in South-East Asia: the Khasi again, the Palawan, a tribe from the Philippines, the South-East Chinese Moso and the Badjao of Malaysia. The Palawan people are a non-hierarchical community in the Philippines where men and women are equal.
The Khasis are a matrilineal and matrilocal society where children receive their mother’s name at birth and the youngest girl inherits the family’s land and wealth.
The Badjao people, also known as the “gypsies of the sea” don’t have any hierarchy and treat men and women equally.
The Moso people of South-East China are a matriarchal society where women rule. They are heads of the household and make its business decisions. Inheritance is matrilineal as well. However, “the political power tends to be in the hands of the male.”
As a look at these societies suggests, there is nothing either natural or obvious about patriarchy – or about any distribution of power in a society for that matter. It simply arises–and remains in place–thanks to a number of forces, historical choices, and the tacit agreement of the populace. It might therefore be concluded that it is up to each and every one of us, men and women alike, to take small steps towards creating the kind of society that we can be proud to call our own.
All photos: www.pierredevallombreuse.com