Close-up photograph of white cracked paint on wooden surface.

Plato and feminism

Western thought enjoys dividing. To a great extent he habit comes from Plato, who started the tendency with his theory of the ideas. According to Plato, there were two worlds, the world of ideas, or ‘ideal’, and the world of matter, a defective copy of the world of ideas. This theory must have something going for it, because, more than two thousand years later, we still use it to try to understand the world.

To begin with, it influenced the creation of monotheistic religion, with the idea of a perfect and immaterial god who creates imperfect material copies. It also continues influencing the way we see ourselves, as we have decided that human beings are composed of a soul: superior, immaterial and immortal; and body: inferior, material and mortal. We have also divided our activities and desires in the same way. The greatest loves are abstract, god, humanity, goodness. Then loves starts shrinking and we love our family, partner, pets and plants. Sexual love, even if we seem obsessed by it, has the lowest position in the ranking, being of the body. The same happens with knowledge. It can be about ideas and be theoretical and superior, or about things, and be practical and inferior. With the advance of the new religion, science, humanities got relegated. 

Thus, it is not difficult to understand that, historically, the powerful have always attributed to themselves the characteristics that they considered superior, those related to the ideas, and have left the inferior ones for the ones that didn’t have power. If we observe the world with this in mind, we see that this is as true for class, as it is for race and gender.

Let’s start with class. The higher the status the lesser contact with matter. Symbolic occupations, the use of euphemisms in language, an absent and ethereal air, restrictive body language (particularly the pelvis), and little or no physical contact are associated with a high social status. And vice versa: the lower the social class, the more instinctive, bodily and sexual behaviour will be, with a more active body language (especially the pelvis) and a more direct way of talking.

When it comes to race, the ones that consider themselves superior see the ones that they consider inferior as animals or objects, and themselves as ideals of perfection.

The same is true of sex. Men, who have historically had the power, and have attributed to themselves the characteristics of the world of ideas and left for women the world of matter. Even woman herself is seen by some as an imperfect copy of man, as shown in the myth of the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib, or in Freud’s psychoanalytical theory, in which women are incomplete men. Thus, man is associated with the divine, ideas, theory, knowledge, abstract love, science, strength and technology. And woman with the earth, the instinctual, the sexual, intuition, sexual and maternal love, art and humanities, adaptability and nature. Because we consider what we call male values superior, both women and men have promoted them for centuries.

But if we observe the main opposites of our thinking carefully, we see that one concept is not only never superior to its supposed opposite, but that they are not even separated; they are more like two aspects of the same thing. And that dividing everything in two parts, one superior to the other, is to create an unnecessary imbalance. It is like deciding that one leg is superior to the other, promote its growth in detriment of the other and then be surprised that we can only walk in circles.

London, 2010