Tuesday, August 28, 2012

(Book Review) "Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud" and How "Don't Say I Do!" Relationships Are Different


While the differentiation between the bodies of men and women rare greater than ever, Thomas Laqueur's seminal work Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud seeks to provide an understanding of where this trend began. A well written and argued book, Thomas Laqueur in Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud makes the argument that there was a paradigm change in the field of sexual anatomy in the 1800s and 1900s – from a "one sex" to a "two sex" model theory of human anatomy.
According to Lacquer, the "one sex" model theory was embraced by intellectual greats such as anatomist Galen and Greek philosopher Aristotle which saw the similarities between the bodies of men and women rather than the differences prevalent in modern culture. They saw women as variants of men,and the genitalia of women as the inversion of a man’s sex organs.However, such similarities were related to the body only and did not reflect any similar position of power between the genders, or equal social standing for women, for in such realms men have gained an upper hand.
At the turn of the 18th century views and attitudes towards the one sex model of human anatomy began to change. Between the optimism towards the Enlightenment in the latter part 1800’s to the outright critical appraisal of it in the 1900’s, attitudes towards "one sex" began to change, as intellectuals of the time sought to determine what was of nature and society,which often led to making links between the two.
From fields as diverse as politics, law, mathematics, science and economics, thinkers were positing new theories which have changed forever how we see the world. The way we were to see our own bodies was to be no different, for study of nature and society was applied to the structure of the bodies of men and women, their bodily functions, as well as their social roles.
In this context, the paradigm change between the "one sex" to "two sex"model of human anatomy took off, as philosophers began posting views towards women and their roles, where differences of women bodily structures and functions in comparison to men's were stressed, and the corresponding inferior social standing of the woman's model was evident.
Such views further strengthened the "two sex" model, as their studies suggested a woman role in society should be closer to their biological traits, emphasizing anatomical inferiority of women to men. This also led to intellectuals (always men) proscribing ways in which a woman should act or behave in public or private. Needless to say, in both models, the "one sex" and "two sex," the bodily and social inferiority of women was part of the agenda. For in the "one sex" model, the woman appeared as a reversed version of the male, where as in the "two sex" model, the women came as an inferior parallel model. 
Mary Wollstonecraft in her seminal work on the Vindication of the Rights of Women spoke to the prevailing double-standard when she cited “many ingenious arguments have been brought forward to prove, that the two sexes, in the acquirement of virtue, ought to aim at attaining a very different character: or, to speak explicitly, women are not allowed to have sufficient strength of mind to acquire what really deserves the name of virtue”.
Simply put, Wollstonecraft made the point that the acquisition of virtue has very little to do with men or society’s expectations of a woman’s behaviour in public or private and even less to do with gender altogether.Laqueur is quick to portray the "two sex" model theory of the human anatomy as a paradigm change that has helped keep women at a disadvantage; however it can also be argued better than the former, that the "two sex" model theory has been the most helpful intellectual trend in women’s opposition to patriarchy.
Without the "two sex" model theory, women wouldn’t have been forced to find their own voice and identity in the face of arguments made by men amenable to male anatomical and thus societal superiority. The works of intellectual giants such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Simone De Beauvoir and many others would not be necessary if there hadn't been such a clear demarcation between anatomical differences between the sexes.
Evidently, the modern world has been shaped by the "two sex" model to the point where women now have more choice than ever before to decide about their body functions and actions. Women are no longer hamstrung by anatomical or societal implications of inferiority,for women can now choose their partners, form of relationships, family settings and motherhood, as well as when to adjust such structures to their needs.
Furthermore, women are more educated nowadays and in higher paying jobs than ever before. Orna Gadish’s outstanding book Don’t Say I Do! Why Women Should Stay Single details the growth in the freedom of choice for women, all based on women having to define themselves in the modern world where marriage is no longer a rite of passage – taking into consideration the harsh history of discrimination where women were portrayed as peculiar creatures, long before the "two sex," or even the ancient "one sex" model.
In sum, for the last 150 years women have fought successfully against the political, social and psychological side effects of the "one sex" and "two sex" models theories of human anatomy, and the world at large has been better for it. The new choices for single women, unmarried woman and divorced women of today, as well as the new relationship options and family structures discussed in Orna Gadish's Don't Say I Do! are the living proof for women's ability to change the picture for the better, notwithstanding long-lasting discrimination and biased patterns of thought.

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