Essay Review of Morgan, Elaine, 1972. The Descent of Woman:
(London: Souvenir Press)
c) 2015, Davd
(from the dust jacket) Elaine Morgan was born in the South Wales Mining Valley; she was awarded an exhibition to Oxford where she took a degree in English. After a successful entry in a Television Play competition, she became a professional script writer of plays, series and documentaries. This is her first book.
The subject of human evolution has gone quiet recently, and that’s unfortunate. It ought to be one of several perspectives from which we can view the human predicament. Most complex problems are better understood from several different perspectives; so that among them all, we can see the whole fairly well. (“The Blind Men and the Elephant” is a simple, wry folk story about this point.)
Part of the human predicament (I did not say all of it), is the “battle of the sexes”, which has become much more acrimonious, much more like warfare than it was when this book was published and i was young.
The “intellectual position” Ms. Morgan takes combines Darwinian evolution and gynocentrism—the placement of women at the centre of things. She complains of androcentrism, which she defines as “(male-centred[ness])” [p. 9]—in other words, the mirror image of gynocentrism. In the first five pages of the book [7-11] she criticizes androcentrism but doesn’t really say straight out that she is being gynocentric. She says it clearly, though, at the end of the first chapter: “It is time to approach the whole thing again right from the beginning: this time from the distaff side, and along a totally different route.”
The “totally different route” she takes in picturing human evolution, is to the seashore, where she postulates, following Sir Alistair Hardy (1960), that pre-human apes spent the dry, hot twelve million years of the Pliocene. Her gynocentric perspective on that possible littoral interval in human history includes some aspects of infant nurture especially, which gynocentrism makes it easier to notice: So let the reader please observe: I am not rejecting gynocentrism per se; rather, i see some merit in its use, especially when balanced with androcentrism.
For context, i should mention another important part of the human predicament—ecological scarcity—that is quite distinct from the “battle of the sexes”; and was much less publicly prominent when The Descent of Woman was published, than it is now. The abundance-with-growth expectation, the expectation that each generation will be more affluent than their parents, that were hallmarks of the Industrial Revolution, went false sometime in the second half of the last century. Remember ecological scarcity when you listen to financial or political forecasts and promises: If they are based on any kind of assumption that young or even middle-aged people today can expect to live better than their parents’ generation—they are falsehoods at best; and if the forecasters “know or ought to have known” that affluence is not a trend any longer, then it becomes reasonable to call them lies.
I was more sympathetic to The Descent of Woman the first time i read it, in the 1970s, and ecological scarcity may be one ground for my sympathy being less today. The uses that Feminists have made of gynocentrism—and of misplaced chivalry—since then, are more important, for two reasons. First, some things Morgan advocated are now in practice, and the way they are practised is not humane to my sex. Second, i notice on this second reading, the onerous meaning of demands she made, that i might have treated as rhetoric deserving tolerance, on the first.
Forty-three years after publication, Morgan herself still reads like a strongly gynocentric writer, but not like a man-hater. The description of the book, on that dust jacket, is excessively laudatory and Feminist-triumphalist, and too keen for conflict; but Elaine Morgan herself seems less so; she evidently likes men. However, it would be misleading to say this book seeks equality. Women’s advancement, yes; removal of inequalities that favour men, yes; but equal social and political power for the two sexes—not from my reading, in today’s context, and especially of how the book concludes.
Morgan writes well—as does Ardrey, who also worked as a playwright before publishing a book on human origins1. She employs “scenaria” (my choice of term, not hers) whose style apparently derives from her playwright experience. For example, on pp. 22-25, she describes the efforts of an adult female pre-human to survive on the Pliocene African savannah, emphasizing the greater vulnerability of females to predation. In this scenario and several others, gynocentrism is working well for her, and for understanding human origins. Her point that a direct early Pliocene transformation from arboreal fuit eater to terrestrial carnivore (or even omnivore) was impossible in the time available, is quite credible… not proven, but believable … and thus supports her adoption and extension of the Hardy littoral theory as a more plausible alternative.
In another scenario [34-39], she argues that pendulous breasts and long hair well serve the needs of infants… in an aquatic environment. In still another, she describes how the glare of an aquatic environment might induce a primate species to learn to frown [47-49], emphasizing the infant’s need to locate its mother. So the scenaria, likely a playwright’s technique adapted to theorizing about human origins, can work well—but they are speculative (as are theories generally, before testing), and they are not guaranteed to be valid.
The book states its main theme several times, perhaps most explicitly on p. 153: “The theme of this book has been to suggest that a surprisingly large number of the differences between ourselves and our nearest zoological relatives may be explained by postulating that after initially evolving as a land-dwelling mammal, we returned to the sea and became aquatic.” (I write “littoral2” so as to group our ancestors ecologically with the beavers and otters rather than the dolphins, whales, or even seals. Whales and dolphins never come ashore. Seals come ashore to whelp. These species cannot walk. Otters and beavers rear their young on ground situated to as to combine land and water to protect themselves; they can walk. Pre-humans were far indeed, on Morgan’s and fossil evidence, from being able to bear and nurse their infants in the open sea.)
Its second theme is gynocentrism, the placement of women at the centre of things, which in Morgan’s use is more than a means to understanding. Morgan has ill to say of the mirror-image concept of androcentrism, the placement of men at the centre; but neither of the two is evil nor wrong in itself. Imposing androcentrism on women, who are naturally gynocentric, is at least “a wrong of sorts” and in some circumstances can be a serious wrong. Conversely, imposing gynocentrism on men, who are naturally androcentric, is at least “a wrong of sorts” and in some circumstances can be a serious wrong.3 When i first read this book in the 1970s, androcentrism was still more prevalent in “serious writing” than gynocentrism (though mainly because of its prevalence in works published in the first two-thirds of the 20th Century and secondarily because of its prevalence in works published in previous centuries.)
The themes are combined early, on p. 10: “One of these days an evolutionist is going to strike a palm against his large-domed head and cry: ‘Of course! We assumed the first human being was a man!’” Which utterance is not all-wrong; so much as it is far too individualistic. The first human being never was: Populations evolve, not individuals. Adam and Eve, if our species evolved as Morgan accepts, are both legendary metaphors. The first presence of humanity was a human group, not an individual. More than one sociologist taught me in the 1960s, the decade before The Descent of Woman was published, that it is impossible to be human in isolation: Humanity is a social condition.
Elaine Morgan, however, is not writing sociology. Her main contribution is to emphasize and develop the littoral theory; her valuable and productive use of gynocentrism, is to look at the implications of pregnancy and infant nurture for evolution. If “obvious” means much, it is “obvious” that a look at the implications of pregnancy and infant nurture for evolution is by nature gynocentric. Plausibly, it is more natural for a woman than for a man to take that look. It is also, we should not forget, infantocentric: The merit of gynocentrism in her work derives mainly from women’s reproductive biology and functioning.
Like Elaine Morgan, i took special notice of the “littoral theory of the Pliocene” in human evolution when i first met it. I spent more happy hours of my boyhood in the inter-tidal and shallow sub-tidal waters of the Pacific Ocean and its many bays, than anywhere else4. (Second and third most were with my grandfather, and gardening. .. which categories did overlap.) When i read Morgan’s littoral explanation for where pre-humanity spent the Pliocene, in the 1970s and again this year, i did so with sympathy formed long before she published.
Gynocentrism is not required for a good examination of the littoral theory—indeed, Hardy was male—but it directs attention to the practical problems of infant care in waist-deep water; “it has something to add.” Having added that important focus on infancy and reproduction, Morgan goes on to address violence, sexuality and eros, with lesser results.
Her “rape scenario” for the transition to front copulation [78-86] is entangled with her assumptions that  pre-humans had well developed appeasement gestures to which response was automatic, and  pre-humans did not copulate in the water. Neither of these is as well established on other evidence, as the littoral theory she adapted from Hardy (1960). Front copulation could quite plausibly have evolved from “funning around” rather than by force—even if there were appeasement gestures available and they copulated on land. Funning around in the water, and-or lack of appeasement gestures, could make it downright likely.
Given the playfulness of aquatic mammals  it might more likely be that those pre-humans, especially the females, found playful ways to enjoy their bodies pleasure responses; which modern humans call sexual but an oestrous species might not… and that those came to include front copulation as well as “breast play”, fancy kissing, earlobe kissing and fondling, …. I write, especially the females, because today it is the females of our species who spend much more time and money “looking sexy” with parts of their bodies that have nothing to with oestrus and take no part in copulation.
I doubt her claim that no other mammal females are ever “mated against their will” but do not have a handy exception to name. Suppose it were true, which it might possibly be if all other mammal females experience [o]estrus. Among most primates, as Morgan points out, copulation is brief and little fuss is made over it. Its trigger is [o]estrus, the female “presents” and during [o]estrus, “against her will” is nonsense… by the definition of [o]estrus. If there is no other mammal that lacks [o]estrus, that may be why other mammal females were mated only when they wish to be—because [o]estrus causes both the female wish and the male participation. A female in heat decides not whether to copulate but with whom—if even that.
A female without [o]estrus, must decide whether, and like male bonding (see below). the decision to copulate is not all-or-none, rather quantitative. Women and even men have sometimes copulated with great eagerness, but other times with the attitude “well, OK, if you want to that much…”. Feminism has taken Morgan’s “rape scenario” and other writers’ antipathy to heterosexual men, and extended the definition of rape beyond forcible copulation with violence, to include even intoxication and “morning after regret.” In another essay, i have criticized the use of all-or-none categorization on the gradated phenomenon of sexual consent.
I didn’t read much in this book, about the human female spending far more time and money on looking sexy, than the male spends5—much of the game is at her initiative; and in modern form, that initiative is less clear, less efficient than [o]estrus.
I don’t know how the ancestors of the cetaceans—the whales and dolphins—managed the transition; nor the ancestors of the sirenians; but Morgan reports, as do others, that they have done so, and copulate front-to front with mutual desire… which furnishes a handy transition to the related subject of orgasm.
We cannot be sure, until they are subjected to operational study such as Masters and Johnson performed on humans, that either sex of these big-brained sea mammals actually enjoys the pleasures of orgasm… and likewise for other mammals. Morgan, reasonably, supposed that most female mammals enjoy orgasm; more recent studies indicate that some seldom do. Abraham (2002) quotes Frances Burton, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, as reporting that female monkeys rarely experience orgasm when copulating “because the males did not engage them for long enough periods.”
Orgasm in most species [perhaps including birds as well as mammals] might be a rather ordinary pleasure when it occurs. Inviting and performing copulation, in most mammal species, is the routine consequence of [o]estrus; and as Morgan notes, a typical non-human primate copulation is brief  and ‘lower’ mammals “make far less fuss about everything than we do.” Ergo, the absence of showy emotion implies neither the absence nor the presence of orgasm. But perhaps both sexes of [o]estral mammals enjoy orgasm less than “modern civilized” humans have been telling one another we ought to do … routine activity, routine reward.
Morgan’s ‘take on the human male’, overall, is sympathetic and basically friendly, but also subtly condescending. He is a worker, helping to keep society going; he is often helpful personally but also often confused, and stigmatized by her rape scenario for front copulation… and then, Ms. Morgan mistakenly states that male bonding depends on violence [227-32], a claim that will get some helpful androcentric attention in the Discussion.
At the end of the book, Ms. Morgan advocates three objectives for the women’s movement: “First, as for any other ex-subject population, greater self-respect.6 …
“Second, economic independence, because until every woman feels confident that she can at need support herself we will never eradicate the male suspicion that when we say ‘I want love. I want a permanent relationship,’ we really mean ‘I want a meal ticket. I want you to work and support me for the rest of my life.’ It needn’t mean, for everybody, the end of the division of labour family. 
“Third, the certainty of having no more children than she wants, and none at all if she doesn’t want any.”  Morgan makes plain that this entails “free abortion on demand” , and thus claims for women the power to deem any foetus they find inconvenient as non-human. That is an ancient temptation, which all three great Abrahamic faiths condemn; it will reappear in the discussion.
In 1972, when The Descent of Woman was published, Canada’s largest province in population, in which i then lived and worked, still held to the legal condemnation of adultery; so that for instance, an adulterous woman could not claim financial support if her husband divorced her. (The idea that a man might claim financial support if his wife divorced him, was “weird” in those years, and the man would likely be stereotyped as a “gigolo”; but conversely, a man who divorced a faithful wife or gave her cause for divorce—and in those years cause meant serious wrongdoing, such as adultery, violent assault, or grievous cruelty, not mere failure to keep her haaaapppy all the time—was normally ordered to continue supporting her financially.) The sex-role balance worked to her advantage in some ways, to his in others; and until some time in the latter 20th Century, the balance was considered to be fair and beneficial to both sexes. We have not yet found another mutually accepted balance.
It is well worth while remembering that Ms. Morgan’s main point is about a 10-12 million year Pliocene littoral phase in human evolution. She marshals evidence—quotations, citations, references—of enough quality and quantity, that i could regard her representation of pre-human Pliocene evolution as ‘default': Whoever argues for a different Pliocene scenario has at least a prima facie burden of proof to bear, and more likely, a burden of proof on the preponderance of the evidence. Early in 2015, this book seems to present a convincing preponderance of the evidence which i have not seen outdone in the intervening 43 years… for a littoral explanation of the Pliocene disappearance of pre-humans from the fossil record.
In “making that case”, Morgan makes good use of gynocentrism—and infantocentrism. She reports that tiny babies can indeed learn to swim safely on their own [34-5, quoting Anthony Storr], and using her scenaria, that pendulous rather than hemispherical breasts and women’s long hair provide infants with better handholds [38-9]. (Men, she argues, can go bald with relatively little ill effect because when infants need those handholds, they also need mother’s milk.)
Morgan is eloquent in depicting the predicaments of pre-human apes male and female; and fair-minded in depicting those of the males—if her scenaria be valid. She is not so eloquent in presenting the gradual nature of evolution; often, she doesn’t bother, or is it, doesn’t try? but instead writes evocative scenaria (no great surprise from a playwright.) There are alternative scenaria, such as the development of frontal copulation from mutually consenting erotic playfulness rather than by force. There are scientific difficulties with some of her scenaria, of which the gradual and the group rather than individual nature of evolution are arguably most important, to be resolved.
Having made Hardy’s point about a littoral transformation, and enriched it by attention to motherhood and infancy, she addresses human sexuality (seeing it as strained), and then propounds a Feminist agenda which is less onerous than some described by Nathanson and Young (2001, 2006), but goes beyond the equality of the sexes and well on toward female dominance.
Sex first, then politics: I infer from what i read this decade that women’s “Liberation” to be promiscuous has failed to increase women’s total sexual satisfaction. Perhaps, to quote a popular aphorism of the latter 20th Century, “Less is More”: Monogamy and modesty may well turn out to be more pleasurable norms!
If sexual behaviour today, is indeed an area of human life where conflict and distress are far more likely than not, to result; then Morgan has made a strong case for the general principle behind the old Roman Catholic doctrines which prevailed under Pope Pius XII, when i was a boy7: Sex is licit within marriage and for procreation; promiscuity is wrong, as is divorce. I doubt that was her objective, especially doubt that it was her major objective—but if she is telling us that sex-for-fun is very likely to produce distress instead, i suggest to her and those who hold today’s Feminist double standard, that sex-for-procreation will both serve procreation and, because expectations are not overly high as to the fun, might please both partners more because of its relative pleasance.
Eros by “hook up” is a source of much pleasure for many people despite its flaws—but so is alcoholic drink, which all Islam and a significant part of Christianity forbid, and so are many ‘recreational drugs’ more dangerous than ethyl alcohol, which drugs most legal systems somehow criminalize. Perhaps the liberation even of women should not include total erotic freedom. Perhaps cosmetics and sexy clothing of all kinds, should be taxed as alcoholic drink is taxed—and not at American, British, Canadian, or French but at Finnish rates. Finnish tax policy, when i spent a sabbatical year there, was intended to discourage consumption and also to fund all medical and other State costs which could be attributed to drinking. Cigarettes were similarly taxed. Methinks there be merit in similarly taxing cosmetics and sexy clothing, and using the proceeds to help prevent national budget deficits and even pay down the public debt.
I will not go on toward St. Jerome’s condemnation of non-procreative sex within marriage, as many in the Roman church did in the 1950s. St. Paul’s directions to married couples seem more sensible and few even among Christians would call Paul a libertine. I support the conservative Christian position held by many churches, that divorce should not be easy, rather a dire remedy for grievous wrongdoing (e.g. C.S. Lewis, 1952); that abortion and adultery are always sinful and often evil, that virginity at marriage is better than “being experienced”, and that both spouses should seek to please the other as well as themselves.
Morgan’s criticisms of “male bonding” as a part of human nature show an important failing of gynocentrism used by itself. She, as a proudly female human being, has never experienced male bonding. I as a man who was a boy, have: There be much i could report, beyond what Morgan has discerned and inferred from what she has read and what she has seen on screens.
The point with which to begin, i believe, is that male bonding is more a “quantitative variable” than it is a yea-or-nay condition like virginity and even more, pregnancy; like being or not being Jewish, Muslim or Sikh8. I was very strongly bonded with my “Granps”, rather strongly with my childhood pals Billy, Jeff, and Johnny, moderately so with my science-brat friends in Grades 10-12. But as an example of bonding sans violence, involving larger numbers, and widely known as a type, i could name the Boy Scout troop i went hiking and camping with, in between age 6-10 with Billy, Jeff, and Johnny, and the science nerd group at ages 15-17.
I recall waking up to snowfall in a tent some 35 miles south of my parents’ home, one December morning when i could quite as easily have waked up in bed in a heated room. We were not going out to fight anyone—we were there to refine our outdoor skills. Our Scoutmaster was a young man studying to be a schoolteacher, and he liked the outdoor part of “Scouting” much more than the parade-ground-like “meetings”. That troop, and Johnny and Scoutmaster Lynn Roper, have much to do with my comfort in moving from the city to the countryside—something that seems far more difficult than moving from rural life into the city.
We went camping in all weather, we built bridges of logs thinned from the woods on his or a kinsman’s acreage, we learned teamwork and confidence, and we never went to war—we didn’t even go hunting. From that troop, as from my fellow science nerds and from Granps and the old Finlanders near Thunder Bay and in Finland proper, i learned that men bond by sharing hard co-operative work and a little adversity. Violence is not a requisite.
What Morgan wrote, then, is mistaken at best:
“Homo sapiens … living the moderate and mainly co-operative life to be expected of cousins of the hedonic apes. Almost all men spend most of their lives in this way. Most men spend all of their lives in this way.
“But because all our governance is based on male bonding, and male bonding on at best a low-powered rumbling of aggression, accompanied by the hallucinatory visions which keep that vision alive9, we are constantly in danger …” 
There is no need for aggression: My Scouting experience shows it false in that co-operative effort, combined with a little challenge and maybe even adversity, can bond boys and men without aggression. So also says much pioneer history.
The conduct of Lincoln and Grant in the American Civil War, show us more about that falsehood:
Abraham Lincoln was a wartime President if ever there was one. When his side won the war, he said, as President, With malice toward none, with charity to all, let us bind up the wounds of this nation … Lincoln’s successor as President and his best general during the war, Ulysses Grant, in accepting the Confederate surrender, said, “Tell your men to keep their horses. They will need them for spring plowing.” Real Men fight, when we must, to win and not to destroy.
It seems Morgan was telling us that politics selects for the worst in men, rather than the best. Lincoln’s and Grant’s examples tell us otherwise. (It might be worth mentioning at this point, that it was Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who ordered troops to storm the Sikh Golden Temple, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who chose military action rather than appeal to the UN, over the Falklands.) My Scouting experience tells us that male bonding is not about aggression inherently—though it can make a group of men more effective if aggression be required.
The New England town meeting, the pow-wow, voyageur teamwork, the circles of direct democracy in general, are not based on aggression, and it rarely occurs there. Indeed, while it rarely occurs in direct democracy, very large states these days have huge numbers of police whatever the sex of their leaders. Over-centralization would seem on the facts, to be a far more dangerous cause of violence in social control, than testosterone.
And the reason i can identify these errors of Morgan’s, these merits of men and of local direct democracy, is—androcentrism. As Morgan’s gynocentric perspective helped her examine the merits of littoral evolution and especially the infantocentric aspects, and her being a woman very likely made it much easier for her to do than for a man; so conversely, as a man, i could take a better formed androcentric perspective and recall, and observe in history10, the human goodness and fellowship of male bonding as well as its independence from aggression.
It might also be that Morgan, despite her later publication of a book praising rural life (Morgan, 1977), was somewhat too bureaucratic in this one. On p. 252, she writes a picture of a specialized child rearing space analogous to an office, concluding that a mother who had such a work site (as compared to an office worker husband)
“might then begin to feel her job was as important as his—which God knows it is—and needs at least as much special equipment, and benefits at least as much from regular contact with others employed on the same task. If she had a mind free to concentrate on it, she might even rediscover that this job is far more rewarding and creative than most, and that young children are even more fascinating to watch than otters, and that a juvenile cluster is less clinging than an isolated tot, and that when her attention isn’t on a thousand other things [the child] doesn’t have to kick up hell to get a piece of it.”
The points Morgan asserts about children and their nurture appear more valid than any inference that an office-analogue is the way to apply them to child rearing. Methinks it is worth while examining that analogy and its implications for job work as well as for childrearing. In an office, there are efficiency criteria; and the number of workers hired, and their skills, is set so that they are nearly always busy at something useful. One or two children is not an ideal number for their development, as Morgan’s reference to “a juvenile cluster” acknowledges. Neither will one or two children keep one mother busy in the way that a well designed and staffed office will keep its workers busy. There ought to be a more efficient and satisfying way to rear children, than a suburban nuclear family house.
But children are not office work: Paperwork never needs to be fed, doesn’t fight each other nor spill crayons all over the floor, and can be set aside for a long time without getting sick or stinking up its pants.
The optimum setting for childrearing is neither an office-analogue nor a nuclear family house. The traditional “stem family” living on a farm is much closer, for more reasons than just time efficiency:
The rural environment is safer and healthier for the children.
The parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and other kin are much better informed about the children, their playmates, and their activities, than in a city or suburb.
There are 3-10 adults instead of one or two, to do the work; and once the child is weaned [s]he can potentially choose which of those adults will teach her or him what skills. There are few skills that some family member or neighbour cannot transmit, until the child’s age is up into the double digits.
The adults can usually combine childrearing with other work, which gives the children a better picture of adult work life and makes more effective use of adult time.
The mother—and father—can take time away from childrearing without abandoning the children to strangers.
- The children can begin to do useful, valued work at an early age, in small amounts, and develop the healthy attitudes toward work that come from seeing it appreciated when well done.
“It takes a village to raise a child”, goes an oft-quoted African maxim. A large rural family is far closer to the merits of that village than is either a pseudo-office “child care facility” or a nuclear-“family” house or apartment. Put a few other large rural families within walking distance, and arguably, you have the ideal child rearing environment. Shouldn’t children have the best we can give them?
Children should not be born in the shadow of easy abortion.
Morgan demands that every woman enjoy “… the certainty of having no more children than she wants, and none at all if she doesn’t want any.”  and specifies “free abortion on demand”  as part of this certainty. But such certainty, from business to health to weather, is more than humanity has in life generally—to demand it is to demand super-human power or privilege. The three great Abrahamic faiths condemn such hubris as extreme evil: It was the Evil One11, lying, who said “… in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5, which Islam honours, as well as Christianity and Judaism.). Instead of becoming as gods, the legendary story continues, Adam and Eve became ashamed. In early 2015, few Feminists have got so far as to know how much shame they are due.
As worded, Morgan’s demand could logically encompass infanticide, could logically encompass a mother selling her children into slavery if she ceased to want them after they were born… and as worded, even without the father’s consent. In 1972, there was more harmony and less conflict between the sexes, divorce and adultery were still shameful, and these implications did not so readily suggest themselves.
Your right to wave your arms about ends short of striking my face, if we are even close to equals; and so also the ‘right’ of women to control reproduction ends short of taking men out of reproduction decisions, if the equality of the sexes is any better than a vicious lie. A woman whose pregnancy begins in a drunken episode with a sailor whose nationality, even, she does not know; and who is far off on she knows not what sea when she finds out she is pregnant; may be forgiven, excused, even condoned, for deciding how to proceed without contacting the man… so long as she does not seek to make him pay her money.12. (The drunken episode definitely does her some discredit, though; and the foetus is still a distinct human body from her own. Morgan’s demand for easy abortion has been widely echoed since; but deeming a foetus not to be human, or not distinct from its mother, does not make that “deem” factually so—any more than deeming dark skinned slaves not to be human in the 18th Century, made them a different species.)
A woman whose pregnancy begins in marriage, whose husband is indeed the sire, if and as she disregards his concerns and wishes, claims a qualitative superiority over him which exceeds any superiority Western men claimed over women in this century or the last. She also claims the whip hand.
Men are not dimwits nor monsters, as Morgan agrees apart from her errors about “male bonding.” Indeed, we refer to monstrous conduct by a small minority of men as “inhuman.” We tend to love children by our nature—philios, not eros—and to suffer when they die or are kidnapped away. To guarantee a woman shall have no more children than she wants, given that wants can change with time, is to give her powers far beyond “human
rights”—and to deny human rights to children and men.
If ecological limits were not yet much noticed in 1972, perhaps also, the limited sum of “human rights” was not much noticed. A mother’s rights to her children, especially in case of divorce, are limited by what rights father and indeed the children themselves have. Today mothers have nearly all the legal rights (Nathanson and Young, 2006: ch 6); while fathers, sires, and children have few.
A pregnant woman’s right to abortion is limited by the foetus’s right to survive, as well as by the sire’s rights where he has any. Canadian law deems the foetus not to be a human being; which is biologically false. Feminists call that “a woman’s control over her own body.” Christian doctrine calls it evil, and as best i recall, so do Judaism and Islam.
A father’s right to his children, children’s rights to fatherly nurture and wisdom, conflict with a mother’s “right” to divorce and take the children with her13. Easy divorce has brought about increased conflict and left children worse-off. We would have been better off keeping with the Christian principle that marriage is for life and divorce, a remedy only for the grievously wronged… and yes, that means that neither women nor men “can have it all.” (The old Christian marriage ceremonies often included the words, “forsaking all others.” It is one of many paradoxes, that on average, those who did forsake all others and seek to make the best of the promises they made, turned out happier on average than those who pursued cheap thrills.)
Feminism claimed, in the latter decades of the 20th Century, that women could and should “have it all.” Few admit, even today, that “rights” can conflict; and that giving anyone all the rights to which she might have some plausible claim, that supporting the fullest development of women’s potentials, entails giving much less to men and even to children, entails even homicide in the light of the biological facts that a foetus is human and an individual. The very notion that women can or should “have it all,” once we realize that men and children cannot have it all also, nor anything close; goes beyond mere gynocentrism to gynarchy, and selfish gynarchy at that.
This “Feminist classic” did not read as misandric in the 1970s when i first read it. Today, some of its claims and demands clearly are being read and used in support of misandry and the subtle abuse of children, especially via removing fathers from their lives. It is still possible to believe Elaine Morgan meant well, that she liked men as long as they let women have the last word on the things that mattered to women. It is no longer reasonable to believe that if she meant well, things have turned out as she meant. They have turned out misandric, as an earlier book review (and even more, the Nathanson-Young book it summarized) detailed. Her final line, “Come on in—the water’s lovely” reads very false if as an assurance that men, even children, would benefit from or enjoy the Feminist agenda.
Abraham, Carolyn 2002. “Mommy’s Little Secret.” Toronto: The Globe and Mail, December 14. Print Edition, Page F1
Hardy, Sir Alistair C. 1960 “Was Man More Aquatic In The Past?” New Scientist 7: 642-645
Lewis, C.S. 1952. Mere Christianity. NYC: MacMillan paperback.
Morgan, Elaine 1977. Falling Apart: The Rise and Decline of Urban Civilization. NYC: Stein and Day; London, UK: Sphere Books
Nathanson, Paul, and Katherine K. Young, 2001. Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press
Nathanson, Paul, and Katherine K. Young, 2006. Legalizing Misandry: From Public Shame to Systemic Discrimination against Men Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Thatcher, Virginia S. and Alexander McQueen, eds. 1971. The Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language. Chicago: Consolidated Book Publishers.
Wells, H. G. 1961: The Outline of History Book Club edition, vol, 2. Garden City, NY
1. Robert Ardrey was also a playwright, but his major [at the University of Chicago] was in the natural sciences.
2. The ‘littoral zone’ is the intertidal zone (Thatcher and McQueen, 497)
3. In logic, a converse is not necessarily valid. Politically, if a converse is invalid, then the two types or conditions are inherently, rightly, and properly unequal, and significantly so. Requiring men to be or even act gynocentric, amounts to oppression and-or to a declaration that men are a second sex that is vastly inferior to the first.
4. ..and yes, that’s a criticism of the way publicly funded schooling treated bright boys (and bright girls, but they could take it better) in the mid-20th Century. I did not enjoy school—yet if the school system had been biased in favour of boys, i ought to have enjoyed school! .. and if i had, school would have much out-counted tidelands first and second class, in numbers of happy hours—the hours i spent in school far exceeded those i was allowed to spend in the salt waters of the Pacific. I would also have been bilingual, trilingual, and-or very familiar with the calculus and other “advanced math” when i left Grade 12.
5. It seems safe to infer that women spend far more on “looking sexy,” from the fact that far more is spent on “looking sexy” advertising directed to women, than on such advertising directed to men. Advertising is published with the hope of profit, and where profits are less, so is advertising. On p. 269, Morgan does say, “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’.”
6. 43 years later, “Beta” men are the subject population, as the Marotta case recently illustrated. How to increase our self-respect?
7. My parents were not Roman Catholic. Many of my neighbours were, and so i learned much Roman Catholic doctrine “as a fellow Christian of another church.” I agreed with monogamy and lifelong fidelity but did not condemn contraception as Rome did at that time. (As i write this, i have been entirely abstinent from erotic pleasuring for over ten years… without such strong legal incentives. I am simply following Christian doctrines to which i have assented.)
8. Christianity is not so yea-or-nay, all-or-none, as these faiths—though it is easy enough to read the words of Jesus in the Gospels to say that it ought to be. Most Christian ‘churches’ accept members who merely attend once a month as well as those who strive to live the Faith ahead of all other concerns and especially ahead of Worldly success. I should also note, that i have a few “Jewish” friends and correspondents who are not actively following the faith commonly called Judaism; and Wells (1961: 497) writes “of an Omayyad Caliph, Walid II (743-744), who mocked at the Koran, ate pork, drank wine, and did not pray.” (The brevity of his reign may indicate that many seriously devout Muslims still lived.)
9. Morgan seems biased toward perceiving men as preferring destruction—and if i take a default perspective of “gender-equality”, i might say ‘women do as well, but are destructive in different patterns’. Kali, the Hindu goddess portrayed as a personification of vengeance, is female.
10. The “Christmas Truce” on the first December 24-25 of World War I, is another important example.
11. “The Evil One” is too often portrayed as male. Spirits have no gender, no sex. We can quite plausibly envision the Evil One’s guise as that of a sly older woman giving crone’s advice to innocent ignorant Eve….
12. Barbara Kay has pointed out in a newspaper column on the Marotta case, as others have said in other contexts, that “… the state has no problem with lesbians having children via a syringe. What it does have a problem with is paying for that child to be raised if she can’t or won’t. The state will exploit any angle to ensure that somebody else – almost invariably the father if they can get hold of him – pays the child support. The state does not care if the man never intended to be a father, as in this case, or if he was tricked into being a father …” and in the Marotta case and some others, “father” is less accurate than “sire”. (Perhaps men who do not wish to be fathers, should start charging Stud Fees?)
13. Easy divorce with presumptive mother custody of children, did not get into my notes on this book, and since those notes were made in 2014, the obvious inference is that Morgan did not address the subject specifically, that it would have been noticed and noted if she had. Divorce with presumptive mother custody of children, has been used as a whip by many women in more recent years; but in 1972, divorce was shameful and so was adultery; today, neither is in secular Canada. Morgan’s generally positive attitude toward men, plus the persistence to that time of a cultural negative attitude toward divorce and “unwed motherhood”, may well have left the subject outside her concerns when she wrote this book.