There is an oft-spoken expression about knowledge: we don’t know what we don’t know. The inherent anxiety of this expression regards the potential danger in not knowing and further, the concern of whether we can ever access what we don’t know. This agony of not knowing is exacerbated by the realization that knowledge is kept, guarded, protected, and made exclusive, leaving those “not in the know” outside the gates of access.
Barbara Cuthbertson’s recent book, Conversations with EVE, responds precisely to the anxieties around not knowing how women have been systemically and historically excluded from knowledge and access. Sexism has long been a topic of discussion in formal and informal settings; Cuthbertson’s text offers a unique engagement with this daunting topic.
Conversations takes to task these dense questions by illustrating that gendered hierarchy was not always the case, contrary to what many are led to believe. Cuthbertson offers evidence of how early cultures did not subscribe to what we currently experience as gendered discrimination. She describes how women in early cultures were considered equal, were attributed power, and were valued as critical contributors to family, culture, and nation.
Conversations walks the reader through The Myth – the social constructions around gender that create and perpetuate a hierarchy. Cuthbertson demonstrates how belief systems in religion, family, and politics began to adopt a masculine paradigm of domination, competition and control. The Myth manifested over time, and over space; it was perpetuated over generations such that it became the rule and the ruler. Cuthbertson rightfully names the ideological shift “The Myth” to emphasize its artifice and sustainability – proliferated by those who precisely benefit from its sustenance. She makes clear the deliberateness with which The Myth is propagated; men stand to gain power and status if they change how traditional ideologies have been told. Furthermore, in “The Manplan,” Cuthbertson evinces the insidiousness of The Myth in terms of the control it exerts over women, their bodies, their sense of self, and their well-being. That this process is indeed a plan stresses the pre-meditated character of this ideological shift. Moreover, Cuthbertson describes the global manifestation of The Myth and The Manplan. She explores how countries in the West, the Middle East and Asia for example have institutionalized a gendered hierarchy.
This conversation that illuminates and explains how sexism developed begs the question of redress. Cuthbertson does not leave us without a plan of action; she offers a practical manifesto for the “(R)evolution.” She reminds us of the power of self-awareness and self-assessment; adopting a conscious mindset about the history of gendered oppression and how it manifests and perpetuates is the redress to knowing what we don’t know. Cuthbertson explains that we can change the current system of hierarchized difference by starting locally and extending globally; she asks us to re-consider how we invest our words, out time, and our money. She inspires readers to instill values of compassion, sharing, and care in all domains. Cuthbertson poignantly articulates EVE’s Declaration of Independence that affirms and validates that “EVE are free individuals first and everything else second.”
Barbara Cuthbertson inspires readers to re-think how we have operated with a flawed sense of history and culture – one that prioritizes one gender over the other. And, she asks us to revise our understandings of the past and re-imagine a present and future existing as a more peaceful system. Notably, her re-vision of “EVE” – from a biblical name that has conjured contention to a moniker that unifies and empowers – symbolizes one productive beginning to charter this new vision.
Orathai Northern, Ph.d
Professor of English
Polk State College