THE Superiority of MODERN WOMAN (Nov, 1956)

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THE Superiority of MODERN WOMAN

More and more women have invaded fields from which their supposed physical, mental or psychological limitations once barred them. With increasing opportunities and a formidable record of success in competition with men, women are now laying claim not only to equality but even to superiority. By recognizing the fields of their superiority, women can attain their proper place in society and perform vital functions for the benefit of mankind in this no-longer-a-man’s world.

by Ashley Montagu

Woman superior to man? This is a new idea. There have been people who have cogently, but apparently not convincingly, argued that women were as good as men, but I do not recall anyone who has publicly provided the evidence or even argued that women were better than or superior to men.

How indeed could one argue such a case in the face of all the evidence to the contrary? Is it not a fact that by far the largest number of geniuses, great painters, poets, philosophers, scientists, etc., etc. have been men and that women have made by comparison a very poor showing? Clearly isn’t the superiority with men? Where are the Leonardos, the Michelangelos, the Shakespeares, the Donnes, the Galileos, the Whiteheads, the Kants, the Bachs, et al. of the feminine sex?

In fields in which women have excelled, in poetry and the novel, how many poets and novelists of the really first rank have there been? Haven’t well-bred young women been educated for centuries in music? And how many among them have been great composers or instrumentalists? Composers—none of the first rank. Instrumentalists—well, in the recent period there have been such accomplished artists as Myra Hess and Wanda Landowska.

The Royal Society of London has at last opened its doors and admitted women to the highest honor which it is in the power of the English scientific world to bestow—the Fellowship of the Royal Society. I well remember that when I was a youth—less than a quarter-century ago—it was considered inconceivable that any woman would ever have brains enough to attain great distinction in science. Madame Curie was an exception. But the half dozen women Fellows of the Royal Society in England are not. Nor is Lise Meitner. And Madame Curie no longer remains the only woman to share in the Nobel Prize award for science. There is Marie Curie’s daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, and there is Gerty Cory (1947) for physiology and medicine.

Nobel prizes in literature have gone to Selma Lagerlof, Grazia Deledda, Sigrid Undset, Pearl Buck, and Gabriela Mistral. As an artist Mary Cassatt (1845-1926) was every bit as good as her great French friends Degas and Manet considered her to be, but it has taken the rest of the world another 50 years grudgingly to admit it. Among contemporaries Georgia O’Keeffe can hold her own with the best.

It is not however going to be any part of this article to show that women are about to emerge as superior scientists, musicians, painters or the like. I believe that in these fields they may emerge as equally good, though possibly not in as large numbers as men, largely because the motivations and aspirations of most women will continue to be directed elsewhere. But what must be pointed out is that women are, in fact, just beginning to emerge from the period of subjection when they were treated in a manner not unlike that still meted out to the Negro in the Western world.

The biggest dent in this series of myths was made by World War I when women were for the first time called upon to replace men in occupations which were formerly the exclusive preserve of men. They became bus drivers, conductors, factory workers, farm workers, laborers, supervisors, executive officers and did a great many other jobs at which many had believed they could never work. At first it was said that they didn’t do as well as men, then it was grudgingly admitted that they weren’t so bad, and by the time the war was over many employers were reluctant to exchange their women employees for men!

But the truth was out—women could do as well as men in most of the fields which had been considered forever closed to them because of their alleged natural incapacities, and in many fields, particularly where delicate precision work was involved, they had proved themselves superior to men. From 1918 to 1939 the period for women was one essentially of consolidation of gains so that by the time that World War II broke out there was no hesitation on the part of anyone in calling upon women to serve in the civilian roles of men and in many cases also in the armed services.

But women have a long way to go before they reach full emancipation—emancipation from the myths from which they themselves suffer. It is of course untrue that women have smaller brains than men. The fact is that in proportion to body weight they have larger brains than men; but this fact is in itself of no importance because within the limits of normal variation of brain size and weight there exists no relation between these factors and intelligence.

Women have been conditioned to believe that they are inferior to men, and they have assumed that what everyone believes is a fact of nature, and as men occupy the superior positions in almost all societies this superiority is taken to be a natural one. “Woman’s place is in the home” and man’s place is in the counting house and on the board of directors. “Women should not meddle in men’s affairs!’ And yet the world does move. Some women have become Members of Parliament and even attained Cabinet rank. In the United States they have even got as far as the Senate. They have participated in peace conferences, but it is still inconceivable to most persons that there should ever be a woman Prime Minister or President. Yet that day too will come.

Woman has successfully passed through the abolition period, the abolition of her thraldom to man; she has now to pass successfully through the period of emancipation, the freeing of herself from the myth of inferiority and the realization of her potentialities to the fullest.

It is because women have had to be so unselfish and forbearing and self-sacrificing and maternal that they possess a deeper understanding than men of what it is to be human. What is so frequently termed feminine indecision, the inability of women to make up their minds is in fact an inverse reflection of the trigger-thinking of men. Every salesgirl prefers the male customer because women take time to think about what they are buying, and the male usually “hasn’t sense enough to do so.”

Women don’t think in terms of “Yes” or “No!’ Life isn’t as simple as all that—except to males. Men tend to think in terms of the all-or-none principle, in terms of black and white. Women are more ready to make adjustments, to consider the alternative possibilities and see the other colors and gradations in the range between black and white.

By comparison with the deep involvement of women in living, men appear to be only superficially so. Compare the love of a male for a female with love of the female for the male. It is sometimes the difference between a rivulet and a great deep ocean. Men often act as if they haven’t been adequately loved, as if they had been frustrated and rendered hostile; becoming aggressive they say that aggressiveness is natural and women are inferior in this respect because they tend to be gentle and unaggressive!

But it is precisely in this capacity to love, this unaggressiveness that the superiority of women to men is demonstrated, for whether it be natural to be loving and cooperative or not, so far as the human species is concerned its evolutionary destiny, its very survival is more closely tied to this capacity for love and cooperation than with any other.

This is of course where women can realize their power for good in the world and make their greatest gains. It is the function of women to teach men how to be human. Women must not permit themselves to be deviated from this function by those who tell them that their place is in the home in subservient relation to man. It is indeed in the home that the foundations of the kind of world in which we live are laid, and in this sense it will always remain true that the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world. It is in this sense that women must assume the job of making men who will know how to make a world fit for human beings to live in. The greatest single step forward in this direction will be made when women consciously assume this task—the task of teaching their children to be like themselves, loving and cooperative.

As for geniuses I think that almost everyone will agree that there have been more geniuses for being human among women than there have among men. This after all is the true genius of women, and it is because we have not valued the qualities for being human anywhere near as high as we have valued those for accomplishment in the arts and sciences that we have almost forgotten them.

Surely the most valuable quality in any human being is his capacity for being loving and cooperative. We have been placing our emphases on the wrong values—it is time we recognized what every man and every woman at the very least subconsiously knows—the value of being loving and the value of those who can teach this better than anyone else.

Physically and psychically women are by far the superiors of men. The old chestnut about women being more emotional than men has been forever destroyed by the facts of two great wars. Women under blockade, heavy bombardment, concentration camp confinement and similar rigors withstand them vastly more successfully than men. The psychiatric casualties of civilian populations under such conditions are mostly masculine, and there are more men in our mental hospitals than there are women. The steady hand at the helm is the hand that has had the practice at rocking the cradle.

Because of their greater size and weight men are physically more powerful than women—which is not the same thing as saying that they are stronger. A man of the same size and weight as a woman of comparable background and occupational status would probably not be any more powerful than a woman. As far as constitutional strength is concerned women are stronger than men. Though women are more frequently ill than men, they recover from illness more easily and more frequently.

Women, in short, are fundamentally more resistant than men. With the exception of the organ systems subserving the functions of reproduction, women suffer much less frequently than men from the serious disorders which affect mankind. With the exception of India, women everywhere live longer than men.

The myth of masculine superiority once played such havoc with the facts that in the 19th century it was frequently denied by psychiatrists that the superior male could ever suffer from hysteria. Today it is fairly well known that males suffer from hysteria and hysteriform conditions with a preponderance over the female of seven to one! Epilepsy is much more frequent in males, and stuttering has an incidence of eight to one.

To the unbiased student of the facts there can no longer remain any doubt of the constitutional superiority of the female. I hope that I have removed any remaining doubts about her psychological superiority where psychological superiority most counts, namely to believe. But there appears to be a conspiracy of silence on this subject. Perhaps women feel that men ought to be maintained in the illusion of their superiority because it might not be good for them or the world to learn the truth.

In this sense this article perhaps should have been entitled “What Every Woman Knows!’ But I’m not sure that every woman knows it. What I am sure of is that many women don’t appear to know it and that there are even many women who are horrified at the thought that anyone can entertain the idea that women are anything but inferior to men. This sort of childishness does no one any good.

The world is in a mess. Men without any assistance from women have created it, and they have created it not because they have been failed by women but because men have never really given women a chance to serve them as they are best equipped to do—by teaching men how to love their fellow men.

Men have had a long run for their money in running the affairs of the world. It is time that women realized that men will continue to run the world for some time yet and that they can best assist men to run it more humanely by teaching them when young what humanity means. Men will thus not feel that they are being demoted but rather that their potentialities for good are so much more increased. What is more important, instead of feeling hostile towards women they will for the first time learn to appreciate them at their proper worth.

There is an old Spanish proverb which has it that a good wife is the workmanship of a good husband. Maybe. But of one thing we can be certain: a good husband is the workmanship of a good mother.

The best of all ways in which men can help themselves is to help women realize themselves. This way both sexes will come for the first time fully into their own, and the world of mankind may then look forward to a happier history than it has thus far enjoyed. ?

  1. Don F says: August 11, 201112:03 pm

    Sadly, women have a ways to go yet . . . .…

  2. Tom says: August 11, 201112:32 pm

    Interesting article especially considering when it was written, but there is still an need for progress and understanding for both men and women.

  3. Bobbie says: August 11, 20117:10 pm

    “but it is still inconceivable to most persons that there should ever be a woman Prime Minister or President. Yet that day too will come.”

    They missed Indira Gandhi by 10 years and Maggie Thacher by 23.

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