You may recall my earlier discussions of the basic paradigm of Western/European culture that placed White Caucasian males at the very apex of a “great chain of being” where “civilization” had evolved through savagery and barbarism to what constituted Western/European culture in the 19th and 20th centuries. This paradigm had, of course, Black people as lower on the scale of civilization than others, with Asians and others somewhat higher, but inevitably all overshadowed by Whites. It also equated “savages” with children and vice-versa when it came to thought, art, and reason, and so on. What I did not mention previously was the position of women in this paradigm.
Women, in fact, were considered similar to children and savages, partly but not exclusively on the basis of brain size. Consider, for example, some of the major ideas on this subject:
Cesare Lombroso, perhaps the most important criminologist of the nineteenth century, not only linked women to savages and children but also to criminals: “We also saw that women have many traits in common with children; that their moral sense is deficient; that they are revengeful, jealous, inclined to vengeances of a refined cruelty. In ordinary cases these defects are neutralized by piety, maternity, want of passion, sexual coldness, by weakness and an undeveloped intelligence. But when a morbid activity of the psychical centres intensified the bad qualities of women, and induces them to seek relief in evil deeds; when piety and maternal sentiments are wanting, and in their place are strong passions and intensely erotic tendencies, much muscular strength and a superior intelligence for the conception and execution of evil, it is clear that the innocuous semi-criminal present in the normal woman must be transformed into a born criminal more terrible than any man. What terrific criminals would children be if they had strong passions, muscular strength, and sufficient intelligence; and if, moreover, their evil tendencies were exasperated by a morbid psychical activity! And women are big children; their evil tendencies are more numerous and more varied than men’s, but generally remain latent.”
Lombroso’s views on women were shared by others. Paul Broca, for example, whose” craniometry movement “preceded IQ testing, believed that women’s brains were smaller than men’s and therefore inferior. He did not, however, believe this was simply due to the relative size of men and women. He knew a priori that women were less intelligent than men! Topinard, one of his disciples, offered an evolutionary explanation for this: “The man who fights for two or more in the struggle for existence, who has all the responsibility and the cares of tomorrow, who is constantly active in combating the environment and human rivals, needs more brain than the woman whom he must protect and nourish, the sedentary woman, lacking any interior occupation, whose role is to raise children, love, and be passive.”
Gustave LeBon, in one of the best anthropological journals of the time: “In the most intelligent races, as among the Parisians, there are a large number of women whose brains are closer in size to those of gorillas than to the most developed male brains. This inferiority is so obvious that no one can contest it for a moment; only its degree is worth discussion. All psychologists who have studied the intelligence of women, as well as poets and novelists, recognize today that they represent the most inferior forms of human evolution and that they are closer to children and savages than to an adult, civilized man. They excel in fickleness, inconstancy, absence of thought and logic, and incapacity to reason…”
Even Darwin himself linked women to a past stage of civilization: “It is generally admitted that with women the power of intuition, of rapid perception, and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man; but some, at least, of these faculties are characteristic of the lower races and therefore of a past and lower state of civilization.” (If you wish to know where these quotes come from see my book, The Study of Culture, 2005).
Just as the racism that is implied in this ubiquitous early, and still stubbornly persistent paradigm, so, too, does the sexism, as is obvious in the Republicans “War on Women” currently raging across so many states. I need not remind you that the right to vote came late to women (along with the right to wear pants), until quite recently women were regarded as subservient to men, could not have their own bank accounts or be involved with legal matters independently of their husbands, were not accorded “loss of consortium,” and continued to be considered less intelligent and responsible than men. Thus is it any wonder that men think they should be in charge of women’s bodies with respect to childbearing, rape, health care, and etc., that they know best, that in the words of Zorba, “they are such poor weak creatures, how can we not love them?” In fact women are now becoming as “uppity” as Blacks, much to the dismay of (especially Republican) men. The standard paradigm that served us for so many years is now being exposed as the colonial fraud it was, both in the White House and in Texas. Good riddance!
The attitudes toward women enshrined in this evolutionary paradigm might even be considered somewhat mild when compared to what various church fathers thought of women. See the article on AlterNet by Valerie Tarico, “20 Vile Quotes Against Women by Religious Leaders from St. Augustine to Pat Robertson.” My favorites: “Wife: Be content to be insignificant. What loss would it be to God or man had you never been born.” –John Wesley, founder of Methodist movement (1703-1791), and, “No gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise. – Martin Luther, Reformer, and finally: The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians. -- Pat Robertson, Southern Baptist leader.
“The problem with women is that they have small, smooth brains.”
An African elder being interviewed by an anthropologist.