I’m sitting on the veranda and drinking Padre Kino red and trying to figure out purdah. There is nothing like really awful red wine to inflame the wellsprings of cosmic insight, or engender criminally mixed metaphors. The dogs lie about, looking at me strangely. Why? I’m almost pathologically normal, I tell them.
Anyway, purdah is what useless rich Indians, rajahs and sultans and majarogers did with women, which was to keep them locked up in a forbidden part of the palace where they couldn’t ever do anything but play poker and maybe smoke dope and pray to Hindu gods, of whom there are about seven hundred. Purdah was a really dumb-ass idea. I mean, what was the point of having women around if you couldn’t go swing-dancing with them, or talk politics pointlessly because governments only get worse but at least it’s interesting, or lie on remote Mexican beaches and supervise the sunset? But I guess it was hard to get to Michoacan from Hyderabad.
It wasn’t just the Indians. Sultans in Istanbul and satraps or rattraps or whatever they were in Persia did the same thing, stuffing women into harems. What the hell was that for? And you see sort of the same thing today in places like Morocco. Mostly you don’t see women on the street, and when you do they are wrapped up in chadors or burgers or things about like sleeping bags and you can’t really be sure there’s anyone inside. There’s an eye slit at the top, like a World War Two pillbox, but that’s the only sign of life. I reckon Moslems haven’t figured out that the Thirteenth Century ran out a while back. These things can slip by if you aren’t alert.
Padre Kino, the Great Purple Father, may be the worst red wine in Christendom. Instead of grapes they probably ferment old boot soles. If it weren’t for its philosophic properties, I’d use it to poison roaches.
Anyway, the purdah thing was pretty much everywhere. The ancient Greeks did it, which may be why the men were gay as Easter bonnets. The Russians of Peter the Great’s time did it. (Spellcheck doesn’t like that. Maybe it should be Peter’s the Great.) Anyway the American Indians, solid Stone Age nomads, did it too, so it has long roots.
I don’t get it. What was the advantage? As a guy, I wouldn’t want to spend all my time with a ratpack of hairy warriors waving swords like underbrained five-year-olds and poking each other with pointed sticks.
What leaves my mind in a state of beboggled puzzlation is the idea of women that men had in those days. Today great uproar exists over whether men are better at mathematics. This is little stuff. In former times women were regarded, at least among the rich and powerful, as delicate, immoderately feebleminded, incapable of caring for themselves, and prone to swooning. (I have never seen a woman swoon. Maybe they have lost their touch.) This was not just the view of illiterate pig-ignorant brigands, which is to say men in general until a few centuries back, and especially knights. Men like Schopenhauer were as bad. I can’t imagine what he did on Saturday night. Maybe he dated camels.
Then, more or less suddenly in the grand sweep of things, it was discovered that all of this was wrong. Women didn’t swoon. You can’t be a tech at a shock-trauma intake or an urban paramedic if you are forever collapsing histrionically onto the nearest couch and gasping for air. Women could scuba-dive and be unprincipled lawyers and crooked pols just like men and run big countries and I don’t know what all. Who would have thought it? Today it sounds patronizing to say this, but a couple of centuries back it would have been regarded as astounding.
The interesting thing is that men now seem to prefer the comparatively new order. Dyspeptic feminists in Women’s Studies departments gabble and quack stupidly about how men want to oppress women, but men don’t. I don’t know a single man who wants his girlfriend to wear a black bag or ride side-saddle on motorcycles. Certainly the men I know look for smart, preferably educated, athletic, and adventurous women, though good legs don’t hurt. Why guys figured this out only recently is mysterious.
Which brings us, panting, to Mexico. Until recently, Mexico was heavily machista, machismo carrying with it a sort of implied purdah: women belonged in the kitchen, the bedroom, and the church, and that was it. Machismo actually is a twisted condition afflicting certain species of mental dwarves, and springs from el complejo del gallo enano, a serious short man’s complex. But it’s going away here too. The rate of change in Messico is something to see. Suddenly women in real jobs are common as potatoes—doctors, dentists, neurologists, lawyers and such, and nobody seems to care. Girls abound in the universities.
Mexico is not all hamhocks and home fries: The lower classes act like, well, lower classes. Still, entry to universities for girls, or boys for that matter, is not reserved for the rich. My stepdaughter Natalia, hardly rich, got into the Marista University on test scores, grades, and interviews, with a very substantial scholarship. It’s kind of like, you know, on merit. Perhaps the US could try this.
I just ran out of Padre Kino. This may call for desperate measures. I’ll write fast.
Anyway, the female students here do not seem to regard themselves as sexual soldiers fighting the hated enemy, men. They apparently figure that they are just students—read books, study things. They are agreeable. If that’s oppression, I’m for it.
Bernard Shaw said that America was the first country to pass from barbarism to decadence without passing through civilization. It seems to me that Mexico is passing from barbarism to civilization without passing through feminism. On the radio station of the University of Guadalajara you hear a few academic dykes, probably with politically significant hairy armpits, trying to launch departments of Resentment Studies. You know, about Lesbian, Gay, Bifurcated, and Transphylum oppression and imaginary victimization. So far, the kids don’t seem interested. Just nice young women. What a concept. Maybe there’s hope.
I’m going to the corner store for resupply. I have a nightmare that Padre Kino will one day be called Patriarchal Kino, or Gay and Bisexual Kino. I’ll have to start drinking dry-cleaning fluid.