As I read the through the required readings for the week, the number of illogical arguments regarding women’s bodies and abilities, often from some of the most educated people in society, was astonishing. For example, Charles Darwin, the scientist whose evolutionary theory changed the way we understood the origin of our species, argued that women “remain subject to their emotions and passions…with little sense of either justice or morality.” Evidence, please? According to Aristotle, one of the most prominent figures in Greek philosophy, a woman was less than fully formed, and, as such, a “misbegotten man” and a “monstrosity” [1]. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes Aristotle as the “father of the field of logic” and states that his “emphasis on good reasoning combined with his belief in the scientific method forms the backdrop for most of his work” [2]. How can the very person who developed the system of logical reasoning make a statement that completely disregards logic and science altogether? Likewise, Galen, a highly influential Greek doctor, declared that female embryos lacked the heat needed for their organs to develop fully. According to Weitz, this view was commonplace among doctors well into the 18th century. In 1905, F.W. Van Dyke, the president of the Oregon State Medical Society, stated that “educated women…could not bear children with ease because study arrested the development of the pelvis at the same time it increased the size of the child’s brain, and therefore its head” [1]. This one doesn’t even merit a response.

Of course, science is full of theories that were later proven wrong and seem completely illogical to us now. The claims of Aristotle and Galen could very well be merely examples of these theories. However, they undoubtedly helped to shape society’s view of women and women’s bodies, and it is difficult to argue that society’s view of women during their time did not have an influence on their claims.

What seems to be an absence of logic in the arguments of society’s most educated people definitely makes you think twice. Are they just cases of theories that required more advanced scientific research, or is there a hidden motive behind their claims? F.W. Van Dyke’s statement is an obvious example of the latter, as it is clearly a means to discourage women from pursuing higher education and a pathetic justification for keeping women uneducated and unemployed.

The double standard applied to wealthy versus poor women is also an example of the great lengths taken to restrict women to their gender role. While middle-class women were made “frail by their affluence,” poorer women were strong and robust, and enjoyed “for the most part good health.” This argument clearly makes no sense, and was only a false reality created to force middle-class women into their domestic role, and slaves and working-class women into the cotton fields and textile mills [2].

The article, “If Men Could Menstruate,” by Gloria Steinem, highlights this same idea. She considers a world in which men could menstruate but women could not, and explains how periods would become synonymous with masculine power and dominance. The piece shows that regardless of the circumstances, people will go to any means necessary to justify their power [3]. The absurdity and illogicality of the arguments becomes insignificant.

The same is true in fairy tales. The “feminine beauty ideal” that Baker-Sperry and Grauerholz discuss seems to be another means of putting women in a box. Teaching young girls through fairy tales to focus on looking beautiful and to wait for their prince to find them encourages dependency on a male figure and defines beauty only as a way to impress someone else, not as something to own for yourself. This “feminine beauty ideal” discourages the idea that you are in control of yourself and are free to think and act however you choose [4].

[1] Weitz, Rose. The Politics of Women’s Bodies – Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior. Oxford University Press, 2010.

[2] “Aristotle.” The Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/aristotl/

[3] Steinem, Gloria. If Men Could Menstruate. Ms. Magazine, 1978.

[4] Baker-Sperry, Lori. Grauerholz, Lis. The Pervasivness and Persistance of the Feminine Beauty Ideal in Children’s Fairy Tales. Sage Publications, 2003.

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