Every schoolboy has a pretty good idea of what the situation was down at Sodom but what went on in Gomorrah is as mysterious to us as the name Achilles took when he went among women. Or was. Thanks to Eva Figes, author of Patriarchal Attitudes, we now know what Gomorrheans are up to. Miss Figes quotes from an eighth-century Palestinian midrash which tries to explain the real reason for the Flood (one of the better jokes in the Old Testament). Apparently passage on the Ark was highly restricted. “Some authorities say that according to God’s orders, if the male lorded it over the female of his own kind, both were admitted but not otherwise.”

The Founding Father had strong views on the position of woman (under the man) and one of the few mistakes He ever admitted to was the creation of Lilith as a mate for Adam. Using the same dust as His earthly replica…but let us hear it in His own words, rabbinically divined in the fifth century.

Adam and Lilith never found peace together; for when he wished to lie with her, she took offense at the recumbent posture he demanded. “Why must I lie beneath you?” she asked. “I also was made from dust, and am therefore your equal.” Because Adam tried to compel her obedience by force, Lilith, in a rage, uttered the magic name of God, rose into the air and left him.

The outcast Lilith is still hanging about the Zeitgeist, we are told, causing babies to strangle in their sleep, men to have wet dreams, and Kate Millett, Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, and Eva Figes to write books.

The response to Sexual Politics, Feminine Mystique, et al. has been as interesting as anything that has happened in our time with the possible exception of Richard Nixon’s political career. The hatred these girls have inspired is to me convincing proof that their central argument is valid. Men do hate women (or as Germaine Greer puts it: “Women have very little idea of how much men hate them”) and dream of torture, murder, flight.

It is no accident that in the United States the phrase “sex and violence” is used as one word to describe acts of equal wickedness, equal fun, equal danger to that law and order our masters would impose upon us. Yet equating sex with violence does change the nature of each (words govern us more than anatomy), and it is quite plain that those who fear what they call permissiveness do so because they know that if sex is truly freed of taboo it will lead to torture and murder because that is what they dream of or, as Norman Mailer puts it, “Murder offers us the promise of vast relief. It is never unsexual.”

There has been from Henry Miller to Norman Mailer to Charles Manson a logical progression. The Miller-Mailer-Manson man (or M3 for short) has been conditioned to think of women as, at best, breeders of sons; at worst, objects to be poked, humiliated, killed. Needless to say, M3’s reaction to Women’s Liberation has been one of panic. He believes that if women are allowed parity with men they will treat men the way men have treated women and that, even M3 will agree, has not been very well or, as Cato the Censor observed, if woman be made man’s equal she will swiftly become his master.

M3 knows that women are dangerously different from men, and not as intelligent (though they have their competencies: needlework, child-care, detective stories). When a woman does show herself to be superior at, say, engineering, Freud finessed that anomaly by reminding us that since she is a bisexual, like everyone else, her engineering skill simply means that she’s got a bit too much of the tomboy in her, as W.C. Fields once remarked to Grady Sutton on a similar occasion.

Women are not going to make it until M3 is reformed and that is going to take a long time. Meanwhile the current phase of the battle is intense and illuminating. M3 is on the defensive, shouting names; he thinks that to scream dyke is enough to make the girls burst into tears, but so far they have played it cool. Some have even admitted to a bit of dyking now and then along with warm mature heterosexual relationships of the deeply meaningful fruitful kind that bring much needed children in the world (“Good fucks make good babies”—N. Mailer). I love you Marion and I love you too Marvin. The women are responding with a series of books and position papers that range from shrill to literature. In the last category one must place Eva Figes who, of the lot, is the only one whose work can be set beside John Stuart Mill’s celebrated review of the subject and not seem shoddy or self-serving.

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In effect, the girls are all writing the same book. Each does a quick biological tour of the human body, takes on Moses and St. Paul, congratulates Mill, savages Freud (that mistake about vaginal orgasm has cost him glory), sighs over Marx, roughs up M3, and concludes with pleas for child-care centers, free abortions, equal pay, and—in most cases—an end to marriage. These things seem to be well worth accomplishing. And even M3 is now saying that of course women should be paid the same as men for the same work. On that point alone Women’s Lib has already won an important battle because, until recently, M3 was damned if a woman was going to be paid as much as he for the same job.

Figes begins her short, elegant work with an attempt to define masculine and feminine. Is there any real difference between male and female other than sexual gear? Figes admits to the systematic fluctuation of progesterone levels during the woman’s menstrual cycle and pregnancy, and these fluctuations make for “moods,” which stop with menopause. Yet Figes makes a most telling point when she observes that although there is little or no hormonal difference between girls and boys before puberty, by the age of four or five boys are acting in a very different manner from girls. Since there is no hormonal explanation for this, the answer is plainly one of indoctrination.

What Figes is saying and what anyone who has ever thought with any seriousness about the human estate knows is that we are, or try to be, what our society wants us to be. There is nothing innate in us that can be called masculine or feminine. We have certain common drives involving survival. Yet our drive toward procreation, oddly enough, is not as powerful as our present-day obsession with sex would lead us to believe.

Of all mammals, man is the only one who must be taught how to mate. In open societies this is accomplished through observation but in a veiled, minatory, Puritan society, sex is a dirty secret, the body shameful, and making love a guilty business, often made dreadful through plain ignorance of what to do. Yet the peripheral male and female roles are carefully taught us. A little girl is given a doll instead of a chemistry set. That she might not like dolls, might prefer a chemistry set, will be the start of a nice neurosis for her, a sense of guilt that she is not playing the part society wants her to play. This arbitrary and brutal shaping of men and women has filled the madhouses of the West, particularly today when the kind of society we still prepare children for (man outside at work, woman at home with children) is no longer the only possibility for a restless generation.

Figes quotes Lévi-Strauss. “Men do not act as members of a group, in accordance with what each feels as an individual; each man feels as a function of the way in which he is permitted or obliged to act. Customs are given as external norms before giving rise to internal sentiments, and these nonsentient norms determine the sentiments of individuals as well as the circumstances in which they may, or must, be displayed.” One sees this in our society’s emphasis on what Hemingway called “grace under pressure,” or that plain old-fashioned patriotism which so often means persuading a man to kill a man he does not know. To get him to do this the society must with its full weight pervert his normal instinct not to kill a stranger against whom he has no grudge or risk being killed himself.

This kind of conditioning is necessary for the maintenance of that acquisitive, warrior society to which we belong, a society which now appears to be cracking up in the United States (the dread Consciousness Three emerging?), to the despair of M3, not to mention those financial interests whose profits depend upon the exploitation and conquest of distant lands and markets. Concentrating on social pressures, Figes has written a book concerned with those external norms “which give rise to internal sentiments, with the organization of emotions into sentiments.”

For those who like to remind the girls that no woman wrote anything in the same class as Paradise Lost or painted anything like the Sistine Chapel or composed Don Carlos (in the novel the girls hold their own), Figes observes that women were not expected to do that sort of thing and so did not. It is easy for a talented boy to be a sculptor because there are other males whom he can identify with and learn from. But society does everything to discourage a girl from making the attempt; instead she stifles as best she can whatever secret yearnings she might have to shape stone and gets on with the dishes.

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In recent years, however, women have begun to invade (M3’s verb) fields traditionally assigned to men. Eventually, M3 will have to face the fact that the arts and sciences are not masculine or feminine activities, but simply human ones. Incidentally, all the girls have a go at one Otto Weininger, a nineteenth-century philosophe who at twenty-three wrote a book to prove that women were incapable of genius, then killed himself. The girls tend unkindly to cackle over that.

Figes does the obligatory chapters on Moses and St. Paul, those proud misogynists whose words have caused so much misery down the millennia. The hatred of women that courses through both Old and New Testaments is either lunatic or a mask for something else. What were the Patriarchs so afraid of? Is Robert Graves right after all? Was there really a Great Mother cult the Patriarchs destroyed? Were the attacks on woman political in origin? To discredit the Great Mother and her priestesses? We shall never know.

Perhaps it is simply guilt. People don’t like their slaves very much. Women were—and in some cases still are—slaves to men, and attempts to free slaves must be put down. Also, as Figes puts it, “Human beings have always been particularly slow to accept ideas that diminish their own absolute supremacy and importance.” For men, “like all people who are privileged by birth and long tradition, the idea of sharing could only mean giving up.”

According to Figes, “The rise of capitalism is the root cause of the modern social and economic discrimination against women, which came to a peak in the last century.” She remarks upon the degree of equality women enjoyed in Tudor times. From Portia to Rosalind, women existed as people in their own right. But with the simultaneous rise of Puritanism and industry, woman was more and more confined to the home—when she was not exploited in the factories as a cheap source of labor. Also, the Puritan tide (only now beginning to ebb) served to remind man that woman was unclean, sinful, less than he, and the cause of his fall. It was in those years that M3 was born, emigrated to America, killed Indians, killed blacks, conned women with sonorous good manners to get them into the wilderness, then tried to dominate them but never quite succeeded: a woman in a covered wagon with a rifle on her lap is going to be a formidable opponent, as the American woman has proved to be from Daisy Miller to Kate Millett (a name James would have savored).

What does the American woman want? asks M3 plaintively. Doesn’t she kill off her husbands with mantisabandon, inherit the money, become a Mom to Attis-like sons, dominate primary education (most American men are “feminized” in what they would regard as the worst sense of that word by being brought up almost entirely by women and made to conform to American female values which are every bit as twisted as American male values)?

Yet the American woman who seems to have so much is still very much a victim of patriarchal attitudes—after all, she is made to believe that marriage is the most important thing in life, a sentiment peculiarly necessary to a capitalist society in which marriage is still the employer’s best means of controlling the employee. The young man with a child and a pregnant wife is going to do as he is told. The young man or woman on his own might not be so tractable. Now that organized religion is of little social significance, the great corporations through advertising (remember “Togetherness”?) and hiring policies favor the married, while looking with great suspicion on the bachelor who might be a Commie Weirdo Fag or a pro-Crypto dyke. As long as marriage (and Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique) are central to our capitalism (and to its depressing Soviet counterpart) neither man nor woman can be regarded as free to be human.

“In a society where men have an overriding interest in the acquisition of wealth, and where women themselves have become a form of property, the link between sexuality and money becomes inextricable.” This is grim truth. Most men buy their wives, though neither party would admit to the nature of the transaction, preferring such euphemisms as Marvin is a good provider and Marion is built. Then Marion divorces Marvin and takes him to the cleaners, and he buys with whatever is left a younger model. It is money, not sex, that Puritans want. After all, the English word for “coming” used to be “spending”: you spend your seed in the woman’s bank, and, if the moon is right, nine months later you will get an eight pound dividend.

Needless to say, if you buy a woman you don’t want anyone else using her. To assure your rights, you must uphold all the taboos against any form of sex outside marriage. Figes draws an interesting parallel between our own society and the Mainus, as reported by Margaret Mead.

There was such a close tie between women and property that adultery was always a threat to the economic system. These people devalued sex, were prudish, and tended to equate the sex act with the excretory functions and, perhaps most significant of all, had commercial prostitution which is rare in primitive societies.

Rousseau is briskly dealt with by the girls: his rights of man were just that, for men. He believed women “should reign in the home as a minister reigns in the state, by contriving to be ordered to do what she wants.” Darwin? According to Figes, “Darwin was typically a creature of his age in seeing the class and economic struggles as a continuation of the evolutionary one.” In this struggle woman was hors de combat. “The chief distinctions in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shown by man attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than woman can attain, etc.” Schopenhauer found woman “in every respect backward, lacking in reason and true morality…a kind of middle step between the child and the man, who is the true human being.”

Figes finds a link between anti-feminism and anti-Semitism. It is called Nietzsche. “Man should be trained for war and woman for the recreation of the warrior; all else is folly.” Like the effeminate Jews, women subvert the warrior ideal, demanding sympathy for the poor and the weak. Hitler’s reaction to this rousing philosophy has not gone unnoticed.

Like her fellow polemicists, Figes is at her most glittering with Freud…one almost wrote “poor Freud,” as Millett calls him. Apparently Freud’s gravest limitation was an inability to question the status quo of the society into which he was born. Politically, he felt that “it is just as impossible to do without control of the mass by a minority as it is to dispense with coercion in the work of civilization. For the masses are lazy and unintelligent.”

To Freud, civilization meant a Spartan denial of pleasure in the present in order to enjoy solvency and power in middle age. Unhappily, the main line of Freudian psychoanalysis has served well the status quo by insisting that if one is not happy with one’s lot, a better adjustment to society must be made because society is an unalterable fact, not to be trifled with or changed. Now, of course, every assumption about the rights of society as opposed to those of the individual is in question, and Freud’s complacency seems almost as odd to us as his wild notion that clitoral excitement was a wicked (immature) thing in a grown woman, and the longer she resisted making the transfer from the tiny pseudo-penis to the heavenly inner space of the vagina (Erik Erikson is not in the girls’ good books either) the sicker she would become.

One would like to have been a fly on the wall of that Vienna study as one woman after another tearfully admitted to an itch that would not go away, in spite of the kindly patriarch’s attempts to get to the root of the problem. It is a nice irony that the man who said that anatomy is destiny took no trouble to learn woman’s anatomy. He did know that the penis was the essential symbol and fact of power and primacy, otherwise (and his reasoning was circular) why would girls envy boys’ having penises? Why would little boys suffer from fears of castration if they did not instinctively know that the penis is a priceless sign of God the Father, which an envious teeth-lined cunt might want to snap off? Figes’s response to Freud’s circle is reasonable.

In a society not sexually repressive little boys would be unlikely to develop castration fears; in a society where all the material rewards did not go to those endowed with penises there would be no natural envy of that regalia.

M3’s counterattack is only now gathering momentum. So far Figes appears to be unknown to United Statesmen but Millet has been attacked hereabouts with a ferocity usually reserved for major novelists. She should feel important. The two principal spokesmen for M3 to weigh-in so far are Norman Mailer and Irving Howe. Mailer’s answer to Millett (“The Prisoner of Sex”1 in Harper’s) gave the impression of being rather longer than her book Sexual Politics. Part of this is due to a style which now resembles H.P. Lovecraft rather more than the interesting, modest Mailer of better days. Or as Emma Cockburn (excellent name for a Women’s Libber) pointed out, Mailer’s thoughts on sex read like three days of menstrual flow.

Mailer begins by reminding the reader who he is. This is cunning and necessary in a country with no past. We learn of marriages, children, prizes (the Nobel is almost at hand), the great novel he will one day write, the rejection of Time’s offer to put him on the cover which Millett then gets for, among other things, attacking him. His credits given, he counterattacks, says she writes like a tough faggot, a literary Mafiosa, calls her comrade and commissar. He then makes some excellent points on her disingenuous use of quotations from Miller and Lawrence (she has a tendency to replace those qualifying phrases which make M3 seem human with three dots).

But Mailer’s essential argument boils down to the following points. Masturbation is bad and so is contraception because the whole point to sex between man and woman is conception. Well, that’s what the Bible says, too. He links homosexuality with evil. The man who gives in to his homosexual drives is consorting with the enemy. Worse, not only does he betray moral weakness by not fighting those drives but he is a coward for not daring to enter into competition with other alpha males for toothsome females. This is dizzy but at least a new thought. One of the many compliments Mailer has tendered M3 over the years is never having succumbed to whatever homosexual urges M3 might have had. Now, to M2’s shock, instead of getting at least a Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism, he sees slowly descending upon his brow an unmistakable duncecap. All that hanging about boxers, to no good end!

Finally, Mailer’s attitude toward woman is pretty much that of any VFW commander in heartland America. He can never understand that a woman is not simply a creature to be used for breeding (his “awe” at the thought of her procreative function is blarney), that she is as human as he is, and that he is dangerous to her since one of his most American dreams was of a man who murdered his wife and then buggered another woman against her will as celebration of the glorious deed.

Miller-Mailer-Manson. Woman, beware. Righteous murder stalks the land, for did not the Lord thy God say, “In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children. And thy desire shall be thy husband. And he shall rule over thee.” Which brings us to Figes’s remark. “We cannot be iconoclasts, we cannot relinquish the old gods because so much has been sacrificed to them.”

Irving Howe’s tone is apoplectic. He knows what the relations between men and women ought to be and no Millett is going to change his mind or pervert other women if he can do anything about it—which is to write a great deal on the subject in a magazine piece called “The Middle Class Mind of Kate Millett.”2 Astonishingly enough, the phrase “middle class” is used in a pejorative sense, not the most tactful thing to do in a middle-class country, particularly when one is not only middle class oneself but possessed of a brow that is just this side of high.

Anyway, Howe was aroused enough to address to her a series of ad hominem (ad hysteram?) insults that are startling even by the vicious and mindless standards of New York book-chat writing. Millett is “squalid,” “feckless,” “morally shameful,” a failed scholar, a female impersonator, and so on. But Howe is never able to take on the essential argument of the girls: men have enslaved women, made them second-rate citizens, made them hate themselves (this to me is the worst of all…I’m a man’s woman, says the beauty complacently, I don’t like other women; meaning, I don’t like myself), and now that woman is beginning to come alive, to see herself as the equal of man, Rabbi Howe is going to strike her down for impertinence, just as the good Christian knows that “it is shameful for women to speak in church.”

Howe has always had an agreeable gift for literary demolition and his mind, though hardly of the first quality, is certainly good by American academic standards. But now watch him tie himself in a knot. Millett makes the point as Figes does that the Nazis were anti-woman and pro-family. Woman was breeder, man was warrior. Now Irving doesn’t want the Nazis to be so “sensible,” so much like himself. He writes:

The comedy of all this is that Miss Millett prints, at one point, a footnote quoting from a book by Joseph Folsom. “The Nazis have always wanted to strengthen the family as an instrument of the state. State interest is always paramount. Germany does not hesitate to turn a husband against a wife or children against parents when political loyalty is involved.” (Emphasis added.) Miss Millett prints this footnote but clearly does not understand it: otherwise she would recognize how completely it undermines her claim that in the totalitarian countries the “sexual counterrevolution” consisted in the reinforcement of the family.

This passage would make a good test question for a class in logic. Find where Howe misses or distorts the point to the Folsom footnote. Point one: the Nazis strengthened the family yet put the state first. All agreed? What does this mean? It means that, on occasion, Nazis would try to turn members of a family against one another “when political loyalty is involved.” (Emphasis added.) O.K.? Well, class, how many people are politically subversive in any country at any time? Not many, alas; therefore Millett’s point still stands that the Nazis celebrated old-time family virtues except in cases of suspected subversion.

Howe’s piece is full of this sort of thing and I can only assume that his usually logical mind has been unhinged by all these unnatural girls. Howe ends with a celebration of the values of his immigrant parents in the Depression years. Apparently his mother was no more a drudge than his father (but why in a good society should either be a drudge?), and they were happy in the old-time Mosaic, St. Pauline, Freudian way, and…well, this hymn to tribal values was rather better sung by the judge in the movie version of Little Murders.

Those who are treated cruelly will treat others cruelly. This seems to be a fact of our condition. M3 has every reason to be fearful of woman’s revenge should she achieve equality. He is also faced with the nightmare (for him) of being used as a sexual object or, worse, being ignored (the menacing cloud in the middle distance is presently no larger than a vibrator). He is fighting back on every front.

Take pornography. Though female nudes have been usually acceptable in our Puritan culture, until recently the male nude was unacceptable to the Patriarchs. After all, the male—any male—is a stand-in for God, and God wears a suit at all times or at least jockey shorts. Now, thanks to randy Lilith, the male can be shown entirely nude but, say the American censors, never with an erection. The holy of holies, the totem of our race, the symbol of the Patriarchs’ victory over the Great Mother must be respected. Also, as psychologists point out, though women are not as prone to stimulus through looking at pictures as men (is this innate or the result of conditioning?), they are more excited by pictures of the male erection than of the male at ease. And excitement of course is bad for them, gives them ideas, makes them insatiable; even the ancient Greeks, though freer in sexual matters than we, took marriage seriously. As a result, only unmarried girls could watch naked young men play games because young girls ought to be able to look over a field which married women had better not know about.

Today we are witnessing the breakup of patterns thousands of years old. M3’s response is predictable: if man on top of woman has been the pattern for all our known history, it must be right. This of course was the same argument he made when the institution of slavery was challenged. After all, slavery was quite as old an institution as marriage. With the rejection of the idea of ownership of one person by another at the time of our Civil War, Women’s Lib truly began. If you could not own a black man, you could not own a woman either. So the war began. Needless to say, the forces of reaction are very much in the saddle (in every sense), and women must fight for their equality in a system which wants to keep them in manageable family groups, buying consumer goods, raising future consumers, until the end of time—or the world’s raw resources, which is rather closer at hand.

Curiously enough, not even Figes senses what is behind this new restiveness, this new desire to exist not as male or female but as human. It is very simple: we are breeding ourselves into extinction. We cannot feed the people now alive. In thirty-seven years the world’s population will double unless we have the “good luck” to experience on the grandest scale famine, plague, war. To survive we must stop making babies at the current rate, and this can only be accomplished by breaking the ancient stereotypes of man the warrior, woman the breeder. M3’s roar is that of our tribal past, quite unsuitable, as the old Stalinists used to say, to new necessities.

Figes feels that a change in the economic system will free women (and men) from unwanted roles. I have another idea. Free the sexes first and the system will have to change. There will be no housewife to be conned into buying things she does not need. But all this is in the future. The present is the battleground, and the next voice you hear will be that of a patriarch, defending his attitudes—on a stack of Bibles.

This Issue

July 22, 1971

  1. 1

    Published by Little, Brown, 240 aa., $5.95. 

  2. 2

    Harper’s Magazine, December, 1970.