… The Different Humanities of the Two Sexes:
(c) 2015, Davd
It was a classic put-down, from her point of view: He had been talking of his work, his sports, his accomplishments. She retorted,
“I’m a human being, not a human doing.” Which was not exactly, but close to, saying she was she and not he. The difference is relative, not absolute, but it is actions that more describe the man, and the visible self, that more describes the woman.
The epigram, “Anatomy is destiny” may annoy many Feminists. It is overstated, as are most absolute claims. But there is considerable truth behind it, when applied to women. (Applied to men, it’s a relative misfit.)
So how is anatomy, destiny? Reproduction, for the first part. The reason women lack the muscular strength and coordination for hunting and many kinds of important manual work, is that their anatomy is formed for pregnancy and lactation first, and all other things, second or much farther back in priority.
Such is the life of a young mother-to-be, that doing counts for less than being at rest, at peace and quiet, safe from danger and turmoil; while the uterus does its slow, vital, unconscious work of supporting foetal growth.
Birth itself involves vigorous muscular action—of the uterus, which for most of a woman’s life, is at rest. The action, however, is involuntary.
“Looks” matter far more to women. The beauty contests will always capture more public attention than their male counterparts. Women are much more likely to be described by physical form and measurements—apart from height, perhaps—than are men; who are described in terms of what we do, much more than what we look like.
Women also tend to be assessed on looks, much more than are men; and the huge volumes of cosmetics advertised and sold confirm that many, likely most modern women willingly go along with that. This makes good sense if anatomy is indeed destiny: Show off what you be, not what you do.
Elaine Morgan [1972: 269] wrote, “it takes two to make a woman into a sex object: at the time of going to press most women are highly flattered to be so regarded, and would be insulted if their efforts to look sexy weren’t rewarded by precisely this ‘tribute’.”
Most men would at least as soon be known as men of achievement.
To do is human; we have been called Homo faber. The anthropologists of the 19th and 20th Centuries had a slogan, “by their tools you shall know them.” Indications of tool using, were taken as indications of human and not ape caves. Morgan [187-9] concludes from fingerprint evidence as well as who did what work, that women invented pottery, while men invented hunting weapons.
Gathering—the defining subsistence work of ‘primitive’ women—is much less active than hunting. Things that one gathers, do not flee. Beasts that one hunts, can and often do. They can also injure the hunters, and Wade (2006) reports on research suggesting that it was because Neanderthal women and children hunted, that the Neanderthals died out and modern humans prevailed.
So a hunter, by the nature of hunting, is a human doing. Men’s nature was formed substantially by hunting; it makes good sense that we should describe ourselves in terms of what we do. A pregnant woman, comparatively, is a human doing quite little, that her body can give its strength to her foetus and that her activities will not cause her any harm, nor the foetus. For her, what she is matters more than what she volitionally does; the doings of pregnancy are performed by her body—and that of the foetus—without her having to direct them.
A mother nursing a wee baby, also sits quietly and lets her body, and the infant’s, do what comes naturally. Both enjoy the process [cf. Morgan, p. 124].
A gatherer, whose quarry need be located but not caught, much of whose harvest can be predicted by past experience, has a far more routine rhythm of work, than a hunter who must find, catch, and then kill. Her work is safer, less adventurous, and involves more taking-what-comes, less making-it-happen. If a hunter does, hunting, you could to a considerable degree, say a gatherer is gathering. The difference is of degree, not absolute; but it is there, and it is important.
“I’m a human being, not a human doing,” turns out to be a female thing to say. Her retort was actually a compliment to him, and one reason i wrote this short blog, was to encourage all us men to take it as such.
Morgan, Elaine, 1972. The Descent of Woman: London[UK]: Souvenir Press.
Wade, Nicholas, 2006. “Neanderthal Women Joined Men in the Hunt”. New York Times, December 5.