Misogyny and Sexism, by Dr. Steven Nur Ahmed

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Chapter 4.1

Though the thesis of this book is limited in scope to that of the origin of modern racism in ancient mythology and classical philosophy, it is necessary to examine a line of reasoning that runs parallel to that of racism and is also rooted in the Torah creation mythology as well as it being rooted in Aristotle’s theory of gender differences. To examine those sources is important.  It is important for the same reasons we stated concerning institutionalized racism; that is because it, too, continues to have deep and widespread influence on the status and roles of women and the behavioral responses to women in both the western and middle-eastern worlds.  It is misogyny (hatred of women).

We have spent some time examining the ‘Genesis’ creation problem.  First it is a myth or a fictitious account of the origin of Homo-Sapiens, but though the subjects are false it is argued logically by some persons even though they have no evidence to support it as fact.  Furthermore, the creation myth presented in the Torah is inconsistent because there are two accounts of the creation of the first man and the first women.[1]  According to Friedman, those accounts were written by different persons at different times.  In chapter one, the male and female were created simultaneously: “…male and female created he them.”[2]  In chapter two of the same book, there is yet another account of the creation man and women.  This time the writer states that the first man and first women were created serially (one after the other).[3]  The fact that the two accounts are mythological does not prevent us from scrutinizing them from a sociological perspective because what we want to know is whether or not such myths are determinative in the formation of socio-economic inequality between men and women in our society today.

The woman, Eve, is made to be culpable for the fall from grace.  Her culpability is central to our analysis of the institutionalization of misogyny (hatred of women) in modern society.  Without doing a detailed analysis, let us summarize the Genesis narration. First, the woman was approached by ‘the serpent’; secondly, she took the fruit and ate it; thirdly, she was blamed by the man for having mislead him; fourthly; God blamed her for having committed an unlawful act; fifthly, the woman’s sorrows are multiplied by God including her conception and pregnancy; God further makes her subordinate to her man stating that: “…he shall rule over thee.”[4] The status and roles of women in Jewish culture conformed more or less to the expressed and implied definition of the first woman, Eve, in the creation myth.  From there and through cultural diffusion, that myth began its slow but steady progression in Europe and the middle-east through Christianity.

One very influential conduit of the myth of the divinely ordained subordination of women was written in 1486 by two Dominican Monks named Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger.[5]  The thesis of their book is that Satan exist and that through human agency good person are seduced to evil.  The book defines the procedures for carrying out torture upon suspected witches.  We will not survey the entire work. For our purposes there are several sections which parallel the Genesis curse upon women and has become institutionalized in the Western world.

Let us first cite some quotations from the book and then analyze them. First in part 1 question 6 it states: “For learned men propound this reason; that there are three things in nature, the tongue, an ecclesiastic, and a woman which know no moderation in goodness or vice…”; “What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an un-escapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with fair colors.” And, “When a woman thinks alone she thinks evil.”;“…women are naturally more impressionable, and more ready to receive the influence of a disembodied spirit;…”; “Women are intellectually children.”; “She is more carnal than a man as is clear from her many carnal abominations.”; “And, it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first women, since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in a contrary direction to a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives.”[6]  These quotes, if believed, can compel the inference that women are defective, intellectually stunted, and distrustful.  Over time, such premises grow misogyny or hatred of women in both men and women.

The book concludes that torture is the only means by which such women can be cured of their predisposition to evil.  Here the point being made is that beating ‘evil’ women is for their own good and the good of the community.  Little wonder that well into the colonial period of American history wife beating was sanctioned at common law as a method of correction. This is evidenced by a statement by William Blackstone that it was an ancient custom which was generally accepted which permitted men to moderately chastise their wives as they would their servants or children.[7]

The Catholic Church was a major player in the establishment of the modern European western nations. Its cannon law influenced the development of secular legal institutions.  It laid the cultural foundation which gives to those nations a common identity and if not a contemporary identity then at least a historical one.  The moral values it established between the 4th and 16th centuries became institutionalized and thus came to be accepted as truth without question for many year into the 20th century.  It developed the themes set forth in the book of Genesis that women necessarily occupy a lower status and subservient roles to men and that the line differentiating the two genders must be maintained by force if necessary. Yet, there is another argument for female inferiority which originates in systematic philosophy.  To understand that argument we must turn to Greek philosophy in the 4th century B.C.

A non-Judeo-Christian element which buttressed and reinforced the creation myth in the Torah was present in Greek philosophy.  If we accept Friedman’s theory, then both the origin of Torah mythology and Platonic/Aristotelian gender views were contemporaneous in time. In the Greek philosophies, we find the first attempt to systematically present a theory supported more or less by objective evidence that women are inferior to men.  Of course, the evidence is ‘physical’ and we need only look to Aristotle to find the first inkling of what would in time be morphed into a full blown scientifically determined argument for the inferiority of women.

Now, let’s identify some of Aristotle’s theses regarding the natural and social status of women and the premises in support of those theses:  “…for the male is by nature better fitted to command than the female…”[8]; “…the one is the courage of command, and the other that of subordination…”[9]; and, lastly, “For the free rules the slave, the male the female…”[10] Here is a simple sketch of gender hierarchy. Note that it parallels the Torah myth of the curse put open women: “…and thy [your] desire shall be to thy [your] husband, and he shall rule over thee [you].”[11]  What differs between Aristotle’s argument for the inferiority of women and the Genesis myth is that Aristotle ‘supports’ his theses with physical evidence.  However, they both come together in the same conclusion that a woman’s status and her roles in society are inferior to that of man by law of nature or necessity.  It can never be changed.

The physical evidence which Aristotle posits is laid out in his book: ‘History of Animals’.  Therein he lays out a biological function which relegates women to the lower tier of gender relations.  He regards menstruation as an ‘ailment’ in women. He calls it ‘catamenia’. The Greek word ‘cata’ means ‘thrown’ and ‘menia’ means menses or moon.  Aristotle’s argument for female inferiority is more cogent because he correlates a physical condition to the phases of the moon.  It is a simple model implying basic assumptions about women which will be used by modern naturalists and anthropologists to rationalize women’s less esteemed status and roles in modern society.

One modern scientist who makes a claim for female inferiority is Charles Darwin.  He states that women are analogous to lower races in that they are more emotional than intellectual. The superiority is the product of a higher intellect in man with corresponding less emotional orientation than what is in woman.  Thus, for Darwin there is a physical basis for the qualitative difference between men and women.  In fact, he says regarding woman’s intuition, imitation, and rapid perception that “…these faculties are characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilization.”[12]  Darwin goes one step farther in his argument for a physical basis underlying woman’s inferiority to man.  Rather than resting his theory on ‘menses’ alone he joins with it specific neurological functions that are supportive of intellectual abstraction but in and of themselves are less than the intellectual power of abstraction.  He may now deduce as though following of necessity the claim: “Thus, man has ultimately become superior to women.”[13]  The political, scientific, and religious foundation for institutionalized sexism was thus established upon the basis of myth, political injustice, and pseudo science.








[1] Richard Elliot Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible, San Francisco, Harper, 1987

[2] Genesis, 1:27

[3] Genesis, 2:7; 2:18-23

[4] Genesis, Chapter 3:16

[5] Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, Malleus Maleficarum, Malleus Maleficarum; The Witches Hammer, translated by Rev. Montague Summers, 1486

[6] Ibid, part 1, question 6

[7] Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, 1765

[8] Aristotle, Politics  [BookI. 1259a1-2]]

[9] Ibid, [BookI. 1260a8]]

[10] Ibid, [BookI. v.5-8]

[11] Genesis 3:16

[12] Ibid

[13] Charles Darwin, Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection and the Descent of Man and Selection in relation to Sex,  Chapter 19,  pp. 566-567, Published by William Benton, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., Great Books, 1952

© Copyright 2013 Dr. Steven Nur Ahmed, All rights Reserved. Written For: Earth Colony

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