A Right of Man and a Demand of Nature

Having recently watched two movies, Oranges and Sunshine by Jim Loach and Your Sister’s Sister by Lynn Shelton, I was reminded of the movement for equality between genders and the emancipation efforts of the second half of the 20th century.

Briefly, Oranges and Sunshine deals with the deportation of around 130000  British children (especially in the 1940s and 1950s) – taken from their mothers by government officials and church representatives and sent on ships to other Commonwealth countries to end up in children’s homes and put to work as cheap labour – believing their mothers had abandoned them or were dead, while in fact most had been considered “unfit” by the standards of the day, because they were either poor or unmarried.

Your Sister’s Sister involves a complex relationship between two sisters and one man and deals with the choice and expectation today’s people have to engage in sex with protection against pregnancy and the natural instincts that underlie motherhood.

Both movies are excellent in every sense and more than worth watching.

As with every social change, the pendulum tends to swing too far into the other direction before settling down somewhere in the middle. With regard women’s rights that has become painfully obvious in the last decades. Despite the suffragettes fighting for the right to be employed and to vote in the early nineteen hundreds, women were still expected to marry and be housewives throughout the forties and fifties and not only were children ripped from their mothers – even if most would have been adopted into ‘good’ families – if women did not conform, but the mothers may have been sent to reform homes run by the churches or outcast by their families because of the “shame”.

Although pregnancy prevention is as old as humanity, the tools to achieve it were always subject to strict moral and legal regulations for most of history and if promoted it was done in an effort  to reduce birth rates among the poor or to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. In the sixties and seventies contraception became easier accessible, so that a general atmosphere of free sexual relations emerged and with that the demands for equal rights for women. Women wanted equal pay for working outside the home and they wanted to be allowed to engage in sexual relations without being married – sex for pleasure instead of for making babies.

Less religious power and more contraceptive power was therefore celebrated by women and with the changing laws more and more women were able to return to work after having children. Slowly lifestyles changed, families became smaller, better childcare facilities sprang up and women contributed to the family income.

Today, double income families are more common than ever and the old cliché of the “macho” man who prohibits his wife from working has made place for men sharing the provision of financial security with their wives or even role reversals with men staying home while the women bring in the money. An obsession with sex in the public media has resulted in the expectation that couples have sex three or more times a week, regardless of the time of the month, because there is protection against getting pregnant.

But what is becoming more and clear to many women is that this expectation of double income and sexual emancipation may have created a loss of female power that was not recognized as such at the time – being in charge of the household and raising the family for which he had to hand over his pay check. More and more women are beginning to realize that it wasn’t women who were liberated – at least not all of them – but men, who can now demand sex as their natural right in a relationship, while women can no longer claim their right to have children.

China may have legally and openly oppressed and hurt millions of women by forbidding them to follow their natural instinct into motherhood, but the silent suffering over not having (more than one or two) children and to stay home with them is responsible for a large amount of today’s stress, anxiety, resentment and anger among western women, which in turn may be responsible for problems such as cancer, high blood pressure and depression.

Women wanting to stay home with their children and not go to work are being frowned upon – the belief that women who stay home watch television all day, implying laziness, and that children who don’t spend most of their time in the care of schools don’t learn to socialize – aware that her husband stresses about having to bear the financial responsibility alone and that the family cannot afford the luxuries, big homes and expensive schools the neighbours all have. Very few women are willing to openly express their desire of being at-home mothers.

Don’t misunderstand me: Emancipation was a good idea, because it stopped all women from being forced into a mother role regardless of whether their personality type was suited to that.  But today the pendulum has swung the other way and, like always, the new idea has become dogma. Where previously those women who wanted to do be employed in a well-paying job and who enjoyed regular sex for the pleasure of it and did not desire permanent relationships were discriminated against, today equally as many are suffering because their natural desire for being mothers and their preference for verbal over physical intercourse is not considered acceptable; they are expected to participate in sex without getting the reward.

Emotional and social problems, like abuse, are a result of people not feeling accepted for their inner nature. There are different types of people with different needs and these needs are less dominated by gender differences than by inborn personality tendencies that result from the way people deal with information. The only way to solve the problems our culture is dealing with today is to acknowledge these natural differences and to allow people the choice; to let the pendulum settle.

A Perspective of Life and Death

In the movie Twin Sisters – originally De Tweeling after a book by Tessa de Loo – quarrelling relatives separate two very young twin girls after their parents’ death, which results in both girls leading a completely different life. Ignoring the effects of the war on both of them for this discussion, one grows up with loving parents in relative wealth and with a cultural education; the other suffers all the hardships: poverty, abuse, hard work. Thus, the arbitrary choice made by the relatives influences the objective value of life for each of the girls.

Obviously, the same is true for the circumstances any other child grows up with. If life itself hangs by a threat every single day in a war-torn country or in a place where hunger and disease are prominent; if it is an everyday struggle, the contemplation of life itself may not even occur to people – too preoccupied with survival or too malnourished to think that deeply about it. In a situation  where death is a daily occurrence due to war or street violence, children may become desensitized to death and misery – and the same may apply to children raised with violent movies.

Constant fear (for one’s life), a hopeless situation and constant physical pain can cause death to appear more attractive than life and unforseen circumstances can generate a sudden change in attitude . I am thinking of the movie Frida (portraying the life of the painter Frida Kahlo) where a bus accident changes a carefree existence into one of daily physical pain to the point where Frida says that she cannot wait to get out of this life.

Of course it depends on what belief system a person has. Those growing up with religious beliefs that dictate life as the greatest good and frown upon death by choice (suicide, abortion, euthanasia) may find themselves in a moral dilemma if they experience depression or a crippling disease – as do those who grow up in a social setting where life is treated as if sacred on humane grounds, like those opposing the death penalty.  And whether a person believes in a life after death and what exactly that ‘life’ looks like will also play a role.

Nevertheless, those are all objective influences on the value of life and death. But have you ever wondered why two people growing up in the exact same circumstances can have completely different responses? Why do some people become so depressed in our affluent society that they are willing take their own life while others may live in physical or social misery, yet remain optimistic or fight to their last breath? Why do some defy the wrath of their deity by choosing suicide, while others choose imprisonment to avoid war? Why are these objective circumstances and strong moral, cultural or social beliefs not the determining factors in the perceived value of life for individual people and how they view death and disease?

I believe that different people have a different inborn subjective value that causes a completely different perspective of both life and death.

There are those who take life itself with a pinch of salt. They consider it a game or a lucky coincidence and accept that it is not forever. This is the source of slogans such as  “Don’t take life too seriously; you’ll never get out alive” that appear on postcards and stickers. People who live with this attitude tend to make jokes about life and death equally and some of them may even seek dangerous pursuits to ‘challenge’ death; they are generally optimistic, consider a life of caution not worth living and may choose high risk jobs. And as they see their own life as passing or a game, so they may treat that of others thus and they may laugh at disease or at fear.

There are others who take life as a matter of fact. It is something to make the most of and maybe even leave one’s legacy behind. People who live life with this attitude will not seek dangerous pursuits, because that is not a sensible thing to do and death is to be avoided (not challenged), because it would come in the way of all the things they still want to achieve. They may consider life something that deserves respect but may also believe that taking a life can be justified (either their own or that of others in the name of humane treatment, in the name of war or justice). They tend to accept disease as possibly unavoidable and take what is given them.

Then there are those that find life a struggle – possibly due to circumstances – and have a tendency to pessimism. They may say things like “if the apocalypse comes I’d rather be the first to go”. They may fear death or disease, but they may also fear a life of disease or pain. They may or may not actively choose death, but they see it as a relief of hardship, something to look forward to and may favour the idea of mercy killing.

And finally, there are those (like me) who consider life to be sacred. We each get only one and it is serious business that is not to be trifled with. To take somebody else’s life or to even make it miserable is to disrespect life itself. Death (and disease up to a degree) is the ultimate humiliation and to be avoided at all costs. Jokes made about life or death are usually considered to be of bad taste. Nobody should have the right to decide over somebody else’s life – including soldiers, governments or judges – and those that ruin the life of another purposely should pay with their own, since there is no price high enough.

None of the above is right or wrong and none is better than the others. They are simply different perspectives that result from the relationship one has with life itself. What we need to realize, however, is that we do not all have the same perspective and that each perspective deserves respect.

This concludes my little contemplation of life and death. There may be people who have other views. My own belief is that these inner values are closely related to a person’s psychological type and I would be interested to hear what your view is and (if you know it) what your Jungian or MB typename is.