Thursday, April 23, 2009


From a book review of 'From Eve to Dawn', a history of women in 1700 pages by Marilyn French.

In Aristotle's thought, women were "deformed" men. In feudal Japan they were barred from climbing Mount Fuji because they would pollute it, and "unhappily married women were expected to commit suicide." A Buddhist text describes woman as the "emissary of hell." Her oppression is universal, her story cyclical; construed less as a human being than as an animal or force of nature, her place is outside history. Even when records begin, most women have no names. At best they are just "wife of" or "daughter of" some illustrious man. In the nineteenth century, women's skulls were measured and their brains were weighed, and found wanting. For the criminologists Lombroso and Ferrero, women were big, vicious children. Through much of recorded history they have been slaves, though in some eras "rhetoric granted them the status of angels." Arguing for women's moral superiority can be a way of keeping them in their place—a way of removing them from the civil space, where power corrupts, to the supposed purity of the private sphere. 
... Feminism has "changed the discourse" and yet "even intellectual men write about history and literature as if feminism had never occurred." She ends with a chapter on the future of feminism, in which she stresses its radical nature: that it is "a living entity," not a dogma, and one that offers an alternative model to top-down social organization. Feminism is often misunderstood; people think it is about putting women where men are now, but "the ultimate goal of feminism is to change society." The design is to create a cooperative world, a task that will not be achieved in a few generations; to do it we will have to free ourselves from the grip of history, from the assumptions of the societies in which we have grown up. The task is to convince the world that "sexism brings men...emotional and biological loss." She says, "feminism brings joy to people's heart—it is truly a gospel, a good news."
Some lines from the book is pure truism... "Control over a woman is the only form of dominance most men possess, for most men are merely subjects of more powerful men" - Marilyn French.

'Mistress and Maid', Johannes Vermeer (1632 - 1675). From the permanent collection of Frick

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