George Walford: Editorial Notes (32)

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SEX
We have received some comments, on the question of a less loaded replacement for homo sapiens, not intended for publication. The writers tend to take it for granted that to end masculine domination of women would be to achieve a warmer and softer society. This seems doubtful.

Women, in the West at least, play a larger part in social and political life now than they did before, say, 1940, but this has produced no great change in major social attitudes. The range of weaponry is more horrifying now than when women were less active. Under a woman prime minister, and with her enthusiastic approval, Britain has a government more committed to devil-take-the-hindmost than any this century. The tricoteuses were women, Lenin was shot by a woman, women join the armed forces and the police. Women in government take full part with male rulers in prosecuting wars, and the majority of women voters support parties willing to use military force. Those who instil dominating tendencies into boys, and submissive ones into girls, are largely mothers and women teachers. Gary Ruchwarger, writing about Nicaraguan women fighting alongside the men, is said by the reviewer to add that many of them are ’embittered by the Sandinista failure to move more of them to positions of power.’ (TLS 1-7 Jan 1987). It is a complaint echoed by feminists in many fields.

There is a distinction, though not a sharp-edged one, between people inclined towards domination (and sometimes militarism) on the one hand, and those tending to favour egalitarianism (and sometimes pacifism) on the other, but the different attitudes are not sex-linked. Most women, and most men too, accept or support traditional practices; a minority of women, and a minority of men too, support more humane methods. It may well be true that in relations between the sexes most women tend towards submissiveness, most men towards domination, but this does not show that women are opposed to domination. On the contrary; submission and domination are two sides of the same coin, and whoever exhibits one supports the other. We can see no good reason for expecting a matriarchy to be any more pacifistic or egalitarian than the present mainly patriarchal system.

One may even suspect that to present women as inherently – because they are women – softer and more caring than men is a subtler form of denigration. When joined with the claim that it is for men, more than women, to change their attitudes, it looks uncomfortably like a refinement of the common view, patronising and offensive, that women, more than men, are biological creatures governed by the dictates of their physiology.

The evidence suggests that women are capable of as wide a range of behaviour as men. Those who set themselves against institutionalised domination are not the matriarchists but the anarchists.

THE LIBERALS and the SDP together have brightened the gaiety of nations and enlarged the public stock of harmless pleasure. It began during the 1987 election, when the two Davids used to come on TV as a double act, carefully not pushing each other off their chairs at a table always too small for them. That was almost enough to justify the existence of party politics, and with the “Merger” turn the fun has speeded up. At the time of writing (17 Jan 88) we have one David prancing round the edge of the ring while Steel and McLennan pour buckets of water down inside each other’s trousers. But are they themselves enjoying it as they should? In today’s newspaper photographs Mr. Steel has lost his boyish freshness, showing instead the wrinkles of a grim maturity.

from Ideological Commentary 32, March 1988.