18 November 2008

The Descent of Woman

"According to the Book of Genesis, God first created man. Woman was not only an afterthought, but an amenity. For close on two thousand years this holy scripture was believed to justify her subordination and explain her inferiority; for even as a copy she was not a very good copy. There were differences. She was not one of His best efforts.

There is a line in an old folk song that runs: 'I called my donkey a horse gone wonky.' Throughout most of the literature dealing with the differences between the sexes there runs a subtle underlying assumption that woman is a man gone wonky; that woman is a distorted version of the original blueprint; that they are the norm and we are the diviation.

It might have been expected that when Darwin came along and wrote an entirely different account of the Descent of Man, this assumption would have been eradicated, for Darwin didn't believe she was an afterthought: he believed her origin was at least contemporaneous with man's. It should have led to some kind of breakthrough in the relationship between the sexes. But it didn't.

Almost at once men set about the congenial and fascinating task of working out an entirely new set of reasons why woman was manifestly inferior and irreversibly subordinate, and they have been happily engaged on this ever since. Instead of theology they use biology, and ethology, and primatology, but they use it to reach the same conclusions.

They are now prepared to debate the most complex problems of economic reform not in terms of the will of God, but in terms of the sexual behaviour patterns of the cichlid fish; so that if a woman claims equal pay or the right to promotion there is usually an authoratative male thinker around to deliver a brief homily on hormones, and point out that what she secretly intends by this, and what will inevitably result, is the 'psychological castration' of the men in her life."

-Elaine Morgan, [The Descent of Woman]: The Classic Study of Evolution. From Chapter One.

No comments: