Thomas Fleming's article, "Old Adam, New Eve" (Perspective, June 1986) failed to mention the women in the line of fire between feminists and traditionalists.
Sure, we all decry militant feminists who want to turn science, the sexes, art and, indeed, all society into a progressive's hodgepodge of leftist doctrine and Marxist utopia.
But what about us hybrids? As a single professional woman, I peer over stacks of unfinished paperwork and see mothers pushing their strollers along shady streets outside my office window. But I don't envy them during the day any more than I do at night when I'm dancing downtown or quietly writing, and they're chasing screaming kids as their husbands nod off during Dallas.
We hybrids believe that exchanging ideas, discussing goals and frustrations, and working together for a common purpose—whether it be organizing a magazine, introducing a new product, building a church, or helping someone through the ravages of an illness—reveal much more about a person's qualities than what his or her sex happens to be.
As for women in the work force, we hybrids work because: (A) We don't believe in welfare for the able-bodied; (B) We believe the desire for financial support from another human being should not be the criterion for tying up that other person's life and entangling him in our problems; and (C) Concepts of capitalism, free markets, and investment appeal to us on a personal, as well as philosophic, level.
Feminists take a machete to any suggestion that men and women are different. Fleming takes a machete to the feminist idea that there are no biological or psychological differences between men and women.
As proof of the inherent difference between men and women, Fleming claims that women desire feminine birthday gifts, such as perfume and flowers, while men prefer fishing rods, cigars, or golf clubs. Please, Mr. Fleming, don't encourage anyone to get me any more perfume. I already have several stale bottles. My brother (an Army officer) wants the same birthday gifts that I do: VCR tapes, new tires for the car, and, please God, fewer commercials during Star Trek reruns.
Feminists who, in Fleming's words, "desire to discredit sexist biology and psychology" and "debunk the old sexist stereotypes" are the ones who actually seek to accentuate the differences between the sexes. Those advocating government—run day-care centers, comparable worth, affirmative action for women, abortion on demand, and unilateral disarmament do so on the basis that because women are different from men, they need special privileges and have special insight into the world's problems.
One of the reasons feminists have been able to "drag an entire society against the grain of human nature" and proceed with "vandalizing a civilization" is because both men and women have passively let them do so.
Each new court-ordered tearing down of traditional morals is met with a few solitary groans, and then it's business as usual. Most people would prefer to watch weakly as their civilization collapses under coercive social engineering schemes than to fight back.
North Hollywood, CA
I truly had thought that the days when blacks and women were supposed to "know their place" were over. Apparently, more education is required.
As for "plans to drag an entire society against the grain of human nature," feminists realize, and anthropology and archaeology now document, that instead it is patriarchal culture which is in fact against the grain of human nature. The original matriarchal cultures, such as the neolithic site of Catal Huyuk in Turkey, demonstrate that the woman-centered way of life was extraordinarily abundant and extremely peaceful, unlike the poverty prone and disharmonious man centered cultures of today.
In those times more in harmony with nature, woman's ability to give birth, to bring forth life, was perceived as Divine. As such, women consequently were regarded as the authorities when it came to religious rites and political functions. And the former explanation of "fertility goddesses" for all the female statuettes that have been unearthed all over the world has had to expand to further define fertility as "inventive" and "creative," since evidence indicates it was women who developed the arts of civilization such as agriculture, domestication of animals, ceramics, and weaving.
In these matriarchal cultures, as in current Navajo tradition, name and property come down through the mother. And chiefs and warriors were selected by the Council of Women to defend the clan if necessary, so that women could be free to I tend to the critical functions of civilization: food, medicine, shelter, clothing, etc. A remnant of woman's absolute authority, the power of Morn to say "no," was still going on in the Iroquois tribe less than a century ago. If the Council of Women felt that the male warriors were pursuing an unjust war, the women withheld the moccasins and trail food essential for the quest. When women shut down their industry, men had no choice but to stay home and behave.
I should also mention here women's record-keeping of moon-cycles and growing seasons scratched on bone, which led to the solstitial, equinoctial, and cross-quarter-day festivals at which women priests traditionally pre sided. As the record-keepers of their own cycles, and then of the larger cycles of nature, it was considered appropriate for women to be the priests, the interpreters and conveyors of life-knowledge. Likewise, as birth givers, pottery-makers, and weavers, as creators, women were regarded as the true reflections of the ultimate Creator. Even the Bible refers to "the Great Goddess, whom all the world worships" (Acts 19:27). (In that region, She was known as Diana, but the Goddess had various names in various places, like the Jehovah, Allah, and Brahma of today.)
In a world then when Deity was feminine, man's principle status derived from his relationship to woman, as dutiful son or privileged paramour, but not as husband or father. Marriage, or ownership of a woman, was instituted by savage tribes such as the Hebrews who sought to ensure access to all the female civilizing comforts that the males could not provide for themselves.
By contrast, in the matriarchal cultures, males were but temporary lovers. And since fathers came and went, true parenthood was held ever to reside in the mother. Thus, the original social unit, and the most natural one, is solely mother and child, a reality which is documented by the countless mother and son statues at shrines throughout the ancient world.
Perhaps I am dead or dying, but my favorite gift is a book. Women sometimes need to escape from the "civilized" world, too. (Perhaps more so!)
Perfume is often made from animal products, and I am a vegetarian and do not believe in killing animals. That is beside the point, however. My dislike of frilly nightgowns (I sleep nude) and smelly perfume doesn't detract from my femininity.
Realizing my potential as a woman (I am 24) has allowed me to free myself from female stereotypes. I demand nothing from men, nor from women. The earth and humanity provide me with all I need.
You could benefit from stepping out of your narrow views of men and women. Our biological differences are self-evident; our human similarities are exciting.
The Editor Replies:
These three letters illustrate the range of responses to our issue on sex—from the thoughtful (Caroline Miranda) to the ideological (Constance Robertson) to the absurd (Carol Ziese).
There are, indeed, women caught in the middle. In a world where all value is determined by money, the women's role has been shrunk to the dimensions Miss Miranda complains of. But trying to pretend there is a middle ground between feminism and traditional society does not help matters. The main task of a healthy society is to reproduce itself, which means that intelligent women like Miss Miranda should be having more than two children and taking care of them in the critical years. If working women care about the future of our civilization, then they are, by their own choice, outside it. Remember the fate of the bat.
Constance Robertson has been reading up on Mutterrecht, it seems, instead of studying the vast output of feminist anthropology. There is not space here to do more than list her errors and direct her reading: There is no evidence that women have ever been politically dominant in a society. Matrilineal societies (which trace property and descent through the female line) are no less male-dominated than patrilineal cultures. Alice Schlegel (a feminist) has shown clearly that matriliny can be put on a gradient from brother-domination to husband domination. In the middle, where the two sets of male relatives compete, women have the most authority, although they are still subordinate.
The example of the Iroquois is instructive. Like the ancient Spartans, the Iroquois were great militarists who spent much of their time on the war path. This meant that women were left with all domestic management, food production, and much of the task of social regulation. As food-producers, they exercised a de facto and de jure veto power over expeditions. However, since the Iroquois were particularly harsh and abusive to their women (this puzzled the first "matriarchalist," L.H. Morgan), the veto was scarcely a common occurrence. Until recently, women may have never had it so bad.
There have been, of course, female deities in almost any culture that knew where babies come from; but alongside of mother goddesses there are, typically, male deities. Besides, the progress of civilization has, oddly enough, coincided with the rejection or demotion of goddesses, but if Ms. Robertson wants to bring back the good old days of Nineveh and Tyre, I would be the last one to stand in her way. The new Assyrians would nuke the Russians as soon as they had beaten American women into submission.
While the original social unit for mammals is the mother and child, most primates have more complex systems involving either a multimale group or a male-female bonding. In the most recent attempt to synthesize a theory of hominid origins, Quiatt and Kelso emphasize the sexual bond in promoting social cooperation. For as long as man has been man, we have lived in families that practiced a division of labor by sex. "Nature," as Shaw put it, "is what you call immoral."
Finally, I would like to reassure Carol Ziese. She is free to use most perfumes while she sleeps in the nude: natural civet, musk, and ambergris are generally too rare to be used in any thing but the most expensive products. By the way, the only males I know who are "excited by similarities" do not, for obvious reasons, go out with women.