It’s International Women’s Day and I’m thinking about cows. We now know that Hindus used to eat beef. Cows weren’t always sacred to them. And eating them wasn’t always prohibited. Historians of Ancient India believe that the prohibition against eating beef spread slowly at first, over the course of decades, maybe even centuries; but after reaching some sort of tipping point, this quirky regional taboo became a rigid subcontinental norm. And it did so with remarkable speed: one year your neighbors are gossiping about you because you eat beef, giving you dirty looks; next year they’re burning your house to the ground for doing so, driving you out of town.
The India that emerged out of this massive cultural shift was, in essence, a safe space for cows. Unattended cows can walk down streets and alleyways lined with the hungry in India, and they can do so fearlessly, nonchalantly, without a care in the world. They can do so because the taboo boundaries against harming them are well-established, well-guarded, and rigidly enforced.
Are we living through a cultural shift of a similar stamp? It certainly looks like it. After decades of disappointment, we appear to have reached some sort of a feminist tipping point in the civilized West. Sexist behavior that was merely considered uncouth a generation ago is now deemed thoroughly disgusting and decidedly uncool; men who were merely seen as pigs back in the day have been redefined, seemingly overnight, as criminals and degenerates.
The society that emerges from this messy cultural shift has yet to take shape. Will it be a safer space for women and children? Perhaps. Will it be safer because the taboo boundaries against harming them will be well-established, well-guarded, and rigidly enforced? Perhaps. Who knows, we may soon find ourselves living in a brave new world, a radically transformed moral landscape, wherein women and children can walk down streets and alleyways fearlessly, nonchalantly, without a care in the world.
Isaiah dreamed of a peaceful world without predation: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat . . . and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” John Lennon dreamed of a peaceful world without religion, nation states, and private property: “Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people / Sharing all the world.” We dream dreams of a similar stamp.
—John Faithful Hamer