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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 22. 1973

A Different View of the History of Women — The First Sex: by Elizabeth Gould Davis. Penguin 1972, 382 p. $1.70

A Different View of the History of Women

The First Sex: by Elizabeth Gould Davis. Penguin 1972, 382 p. $1.70.

"Women are the race itself...... the strong primary sex, and man the biological afterthought."

This is just one of the hundreds of provocative statements contained in Elizabeth Gould Davis's controversial book, "The First Sex".

Davis's book is based on a double thesis: first that thousands of years ago, before the earliest recorded civilisation there existed a great civilisation which had a matriarchal social structure.

This is not mere speculation, but the result of extremely well-documented research. Concentrating mainly on the second part of her stated thesis — that matriarchy is the primary form of human society, and women have been the major civilising force since the dawn of humanity — Davis backs up her assertions with evidence from archaeology, anthropology, mythology, literature, philology, and history. She uncovers a mass of facts that will fill most female readers with a mixture of exhilaration and rage: exhilaration at finding out that the depressing versions of history and biology we learnt at school were full of lies about women, and our inferior status is not ordained by nature; and rage that the truth about our heritage has been hidden and discredited for so long.

Popular belief, nourished by biblical myth, holds that men are the human norm form from which women were modified, whether by God or evolution, to perform a reproductive function. Davis however, tells us that, on the contrary, "man is but an imperfect female". The Y chromosome that produces males is a deformed and broken X (female) chromosome.

"The first males were mutants, freaks produced by some damage to the genes caused perhaps by disease or a radiation bombardment from the sun." That the Y chromosome has a negative effect is borne out by the fact that females are freer from birth defects and congenital diseases, free from colour-blindness and haemophilia, and generally physiologically tougher than males.

Another pillar of the patriarchy that Davis destroys is the familiar image of the hairy caveman leading civilisation out of apehood and on to civilisation by inventing the wheel, discovering fire, pottery, agriculture, animal domestication, tanning and all the other crafts that first set human beings apart from the animals. In fact, it was woman who was responsible for all these vital discoveries, while man was occupied with the relatively unimportant task of hunting.

Davis cites evidence of the high status of woman in classsical Greece and Rome, and vindicates many great women who masculine historians have either consigned to oblivion or turned into laughable curiosities. One such woman was Boadicea, the warrior queen of first century Britain who by contemporary accounts was highly revered by her people and feared by her enemies, but who lives in history only as an "unnatural virago".

The masculinity of God is accepted almost without question in our present society, but the first deities of humankind were invariably female. The well-known "words of God", "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth", were in fact adapted, like much of Genesis, by Jewish priests in the sixth century BC from an ancient Babylonian scripture that began, "In the beginning Tiamat brought forth the heaven and the earth... Tiamat, the mother of the Gods, creator of all." Davis also cites many instances where the Jewish patriarchs' attempted to rewrite the ancient scriptures, so as to disguise the original matriarchal nature of their culture, and where this lead to inconsistencies. The Song of Deborah in the Book of Judges has remained relatively intact, despite Deborah's high status, only because it is a prized Jewish literary gem.

The early Christian church, which in its fanatical patriarchalism had set out to annihalate the goddess-worship still widespread in Europe, found itself forced by popular demand, and in order to ensure its own survival, to recognise Mary as divine. It was not to Jehovah or Jesus that the classical gods fell, but to Mary, and the rapid spread of Christianity from that point is attributable to her.

A large section of the book is devoted to detailing the abominable way in which women were treated by the early Christian church in its ruthless efforts to win the masses over to its patriarchal ideology. Davis offers this as the sole reason for women's present subjection, without even attempting a political analysis of sexism. As her analysis is never political and this is obviously not her field, Davis is perhaps wise to keep to what she knows rather than weaken the credibility of the whole book by drawing false conclusions. However, neglecting to mention any other factors contributing to the downfall of women, Davis places a rather disproportionate emphasis on the role of Christianity in this process.

Another criticism of the book that should be made is that Davis's excellent documentary tapers out around the nineteenth century. The courageous struggle of the early feminists in winning the vote and other reforms is not even mentioned, and although the book was first published in 1971, no mention is made of the current feminist movement either. After such a mind-boggling parade of facts in support of women, it is a little disappointing and something of an anti-climax that the only cause for optimism Davis can offer her readers is that:
1)We are presently entering an astrological age of Aquarius,
2)and since the ancient matriarchies existed in the Age of Aquarius, matriarchy is bound to come into its own again in the coming age. Without entering into a debate on the validity of astrology, I feel that the detailed research Elizabeth Gould Davis has put into this book must surely have revealed some more concrete indications of the future than this rather tenuous parallel.

I was lucky enough to pick up a preview of "The First Sex", but haven't seen any copies around the local bookshops since then. Keep asking for it, place orders for it, make the bookshops and libraries get it, because in spite of my minor reservations, I feel this is one of the most important feminist books to emerge for some time. For anyone who thinks there's nothing new to say in support of women, for anyone who wonders why we need women's studies courses, and certainly for everyone with any interest in feminism at all, "The First Sex" is compulsory reading.