Demystifying Dave Cappelle Scandal:
In Our Cultural War Of Words, Meaning Matters.
Aristophanes Taught Him Well
Aristophanes Taught Him Well:
The satyr is a drunken rapacious woodland god who offends our sensibilities by ridiculing all that civilization represents. With the head of a horse or a goat and the tail of a goat or a horse, and a telltale erection, the satyr is irreverent and foul for the sake of foul irreverence. He insults audiences to remind audiences that none of us escape our nature, in the tradition of Aristophanes who lampooned his fellow Athenians to desecrate the sanctimonious. Irreverence offers a healthy antidote to our toxic era when we take our cultural identities too seriously.
When Dave Chappelle infamously said, “Every human being in this room… had to pass through the legs of a woman,” he used his neo-Lysistrata rant to rank us by our oppressions. He pitted cishetwomen against transwomen, winking at patriarchy’s easy appropriation of feminism by adding, “The white dude I was arguing with suddenly says I’m a girl now,” then marveling that Caitlin Jenner won ‘Woman of the Year’ on her first year being a woman. He denigrated lesbian, White, Black, Asian, assault survivor women and reduced them to body parts. But his most criticized line from “The Closer” was, “Gender is a fact.” There he hit us at the knot throbbing at the core of patriarchy: our procreative difference. That knot is our patriarchal dowry, seeded in our language which we inherited from repressive bygone eras.
Our nature predates culture. Nature has not programmed us to treat girls and boys as we have. Nature programmed our procreative functions, not their binarized, hierarchized meanings. We are all non-procreative until we birth. Following the scientific developments in artificial insemination, birth control, and updates in family and reproductive law, we have outgrown notions of “opposite genders.” Gender has become fluid because there is no reason not to: Science separated sex from procreation. Our sexual orientations no longer affect our reproductive jobs.
If our language makes it sound odd that the same person is a woman and a father, let our ears get used to the novelty. Our newborns accept us for whom we are. Isn’t this the goal of nonconformity: to be a mother who’s a man and a father who’s a woman?
Motherhood and fatherhood are not antithetical. The contradiction was implanted in our patritrained minds by old patriarchy whose job was to guarantee man’s knowledge of paternity. A cheap paternity test is why motherhood no longer needs to be jailed in the norms and confinements of “womanhood.”
Sexual anatomy is not procreative anatomy. If we don’t separate gender from procreation culturally, as we have done legally and medically, we risk marginalizing the most marginalized people of all: mothers.
Liberated briefly, and conditionally, since their labor remains unpaid, mothers defy culture on behalf of nature. Mothers incubate, carry, birth, breastfeed, nurture. Mothers propagate and become two or three or four in one. With each birth, mothers restart our sequences, our algorithms and our cultural assumptions. Mothers regenerate us.
A mother takes weeks to conceive, spends ten months growing life off her, splits her body open to bring forth new people in agony and risk, nourishes her offspring from her body, safeguards and prepares her young to adulthood. And the more culture we create to cram into our brains, the longer it takes for our prefrontal lobe to mature and catch up with the maturation of our procreative organs.
We perpetuate the dynamics of patriarchy — of nonbreeders controlling breeders — when we fall for binary cultural dualities that have no equivalence in natural work. Patriarchy was born out of man’s reproductive dependency, generational insecurity, and lack of procreative knowledge. Man built its vast construct to make up for his procreative disadvantage. Patriarchy reversed the natural order of procreative labor.
Our procreative work is unaffected by our gender. We still conflate gender with procreative function, out of habit of signifier, but we can’t devolve. We can’t pretend that we haven’t separated sex from procreation via genetic sequencing, thus demolishing the raison d’ etre of patriarchy. Patriarchy is dead.
So I propose we leave Nature out of our culture wars. Being a woman, I feel myself as a gender refugee in an alien masculinized culture where my gaze and my logos are phallic penetrators. Yet I would feel it natural to be a father if that were what my body was programmed by nature to do. We acquire our procreative function before we are out of the womb, before consciousness and sense of self. It’s essential, not culturally enforced. We should respect it as we respect nature — as we respect our sister sequoias and our brother animals, many of whom are near extinction because of our cultural choices — by updating our language to liberate motherhood from womanhood, and fatherhood from manhood.
Mr. Chappelle called attention to the facts of nature when he referred to the trans comedian Daphne Dorman as a woman and a father. Calling Daphne a father didn’t reduce her to her body parts and didn’t dehumanize her. Our procreative jobs humanize us more than anything else we are. Ms. Jenner is a woman and a father whose privileged past, memorialized on TV, is unerased by her transition. The continuum of our lives, from first breath to present breath, makes us who we are. We are all parts of one DNA chain, all in need of healing. Mr. Chappelle reminded us this: transition isn’t amnesia.
In the war of culture against nature, bet on nature. She’s no fool.