I think I will be less vain and ignore my bad English skills. I will post my diary unedited. Otherwise, the project of documenting the process of inquiry will be too time consuming.
In the last third of her book, La Fontaine directs attention towards maturity rituals. La Fontaine explains that these rituals has to do with adult sexuality because the category man/woman is the organizing principle of society. In order to maintain social order, adult status is determined through an articulation of gender (p.114). It is the purpose of ritual, so to say, to articulate gender and thereby establish boundaries between men/men’s tasks and women/women’s tasks, that which makes up society. This kind of boundary construction work is performed at “the right time”, where “right” satisfies social circumstances more than it meets with the biological development of the child.
In the following, I will write rather speculative about modern culture. This is my attempt to in a noncommittal and playful way to relate the structure of ritual as described by La Fontaine, with the structure of present western culture. My references are suggested promemoria to assist me when I return to the subject later on, in order to reflect further upon this.
La Fontaine writes that adult status in most cultures is understood as the ability to procreate and that it stands in close connection with responsibilities of parenthood.
I think that the reasoning of the cultures explored by La Fontaine is no longer familiar to us. We do not understand adult status as that of being a man or a woman. To be an adult is to be a human (not a sex, gender neutral) and to be a human is connected to reason, to progress and to work. These are all signs of maturity. Our concept of maturity is linked to the idea of the citizen and the concept of citizenship is linked to an idea of productivity (activity; Boltanski) in a non-biological sense. Questions pertaining to gender is set apart from the ordering of society, privatized. Instead, the vehicle for social order is the work of a body, of anybody in favour of the abstract entity money and the worship of economic growth.
In our culture attempts are made to displace gender to privacy. It has no place at the workplace nor in school. Being a man or a woman do not contribute to prosperity of any enterprise or public institution. It is no prerequisite for reason or workability, ideally speaking.This if off cause not true. In real life, men are in general more productive due to the fact that they are not paused by a period of pregnancy and that they spend fewer days at home taking care of their offspring. The fact that “home-work” such as childcare does not qualify as (real) work of crucial cultural and social importance (furthering economic growth) is displayed in the circumstance that there is little legislation regulating the domestic work of parenting, no unions to articulate the rights or protect the needs of the housewife/man.
It would perhaps be more correct to say that modern society is regulated by the idea that it should not matter if you are a man or a woman. When it does matter, a lot of energy is invested in sorting of the differences between the two genders. Advocates for gender equality advise men to take more leave, woman to take less leave, to change from breastfeeding to bottle, childcare centres to extend their opening hours and so on. Taking care of offspring pose an economic problem and due to the economic ordering of society (vaguely referred to as capitalism), it constitutes a social problem, instead of being considered a prerequisite for the society to exist in the first place.
What is central to western social order does not seem to be every person’s personal contribution to the birth and raising of children or the gathering and preparation of food. These affairs are to a wide extend impersonalized, automatized and delegated to workers employed by the state or by private actors (childcare centres, school, food manufactorers, supermarkets, fast food chains etc.). It seems important to release the productive potential of “men and woman” from the burdens of such activities, often related to gender, invest them in profitable work and base the access to this work on knowledge (baring on education, certificates and a well-functioning bureaucracy) which is considered unrelated to gender. This is partly done by dissolving the difference between genders on a cultural level.
The relation of specific tasks with a specific gender is gradually becoming history. Tasks are removed from, or distributed between, men and women. In return, the two categories are gradually reduced to a matter of biology (the difference between the two is supported by neuroscience and medicine) with no connection what so ever to culture. The work to deliberately construct and protect the categories “man” and “woman” is no longer a public performance (articulated in ritual, as in the case with the cultures La Fontaine describes. The ritual infuse gender with particular powers connected to specific tasks important in order for the community to sustain itself. It is a division of labor based on gender. Knowledge is related to gender, divided into female and male knowledge, and it bares upon practices more akin to apprenticeship than to bureaucracy). One example, of removing production-limiting tasks from adults, is the delegation of child fostering to institutions of “the state”. This way even childcare can be transformed into productive- enforcing activity.
When it comes to work, we are made generally “employable” (no one know what they will be doing in the future after school) through participating in the obligatory ritual of our educational system, which is for all. In school, children are transformed into pupils. They learn to abstract from concrete instances of reality by way of withholding reality from their experience and instead introducing them to simulations of reality and to the vocabulary of modern culture. So children spend a lot of time in a marginal phase (second phase of Van Gennep’s tripartite of the ritual) away from life and integrating the model (could the substitution of experinced life with a model of life, be seen as the outcome of neo-kantian metaphysics?) of modern life i.e a conception of life as it should (ideally) and could be, if it was truly democratic.
[A side remark. One perhaps can say that we moderns live in a society organized by the dichotomy child/adult that denotes the difference between non-productive/productive (in the economic sense of the word, not the biological). Cannot the liturgy (meaning; “work of the people” (Rappaport, 1999)) of modern society be characterized by the effort to move from the concrete to the abstract i.e. from subjectivity to objectivity from the particular to the general? We operate with abstract entities, concepts and tools of interpretation such as money, citizens, market, knowledge, education, growth, science, numbers (Porter writes about the meaning of numbers and mechanical objectivity in his book Trust in numbers) etc. It is not clear to us what these concepts specifically refer to (Poerksen provides a nice critique of this problem in his book Plastic words).]
I think that La Fontaine’s emphasis on how foreign cultures conceives maturity is exactly the reason why western culture escapes the eye of the anthropologist. When not a matter of re-production and gender related affairs, we tend to think that our own culture is somewhat different from those baring on gender. However, modern western culture is also organized according to ideas about maturity and adulthood. They differ from the ones described by La Fontaine, first and formost with respect to the mythology and practices that “pertains to maturity”. For example, it is reason and the ability to judge that marks human maturity and sets it apart from human immaturity, recognizable as using the distinct feature of human, the free will, to make poor decisions (just think about the enlightenment!). This might have been linked with manhood for a long time (reason as a feature of men), but a lot of effort has been invested in blurring the line between genders in what seems to be in favour of a capitalistic notion of order (read Ivan Illich for a critical contribution to an understanding of this cultural development) where everyone is supposed to contribute to economic growth that sustains a capitalistic (world) society.