I understand patriarchy. It was logical, but it was based on ignorance regarding the facts of life. Today we know parentage is equal: 23 chromosomes from both sperm and ovum make the 46 we start life from. Obviously, in the olden days, they didn’t know these details but you might think they had some vague notion about life developing from seed material from both the mother and father. Wrong. Until the turn of the 20th-century people thought there was only one seed of human life, and it came from the father … the patriarch.
If you think of the many elements of patriarchy as bricks in an oppressive tower, the mortar holding them all tightly in place was the idea that life came entirely from the male. That mortar is now crumbling because the sole male-seed theory of life was wrong.
Historically, nobody was looking for two seeds and fusion because seeds are singular: one seed produces an entire plant, laden with the seeds of future generations. When the agricultural revolution started around 10,000 BCE they thought the seeds were in women (which they are: ova are in females from birth) and men watered them, making seeds germinate and grow. That’s why the early Neolithic is characterised by innumerable earth goddesses, and rain or irrigation gods. But around 3,000 BCE ideas began to change, and people started thinking in terms of the male being the source of the single seed.
When a woman becomes pregnant her menstruation stops and people thought that blood provided the “matter” to make the body of the child. In 350 BCE the Greek scholar Aristotle said “male semen cooks and shapes menstrual blood into a new human being.” Within semen, he said, was the “form”, the “sentient soul”—the thinking, creative part, and the “principle of the movement.” In other words, men gave life to blood that was dead matter.
There are billions of people in the world today who still believe this. In some places their ideas are mixed up with those of Galen who around 180 CE said ovaries produce a lubricant that assists intercourse, or provides nourishment for the foetus. Although he called it “seed,” he too was certain it “contributes nothing to the generation of offspring.”
In the male-seed paradigm a man has to have sons otherwise his ancestral seed-line comes to a grinding halt; girls are an evolutionary dead-end. In China today there are 40 million extra men in the population because by the time the one-child policy came to an end in 2015, countless millions of girls had gone
‘missing’ – a euphemism for dead.
In Arabic culture, a person’s name incorporates that of their father and grandfather with the words “ibn” and “bint.” Generation is expressed along the male line. In Luke 3:23-38, the genealogy of Jesus lists seventy-four male forefathers between Jesus and Adam.
British women had absolutely no legal rights over the children who emerged from their bodies until 1878. From then, small adjustments were made over the years until women gained equal parental rights in the Guardianship Act of 1973. But many people in the world still think children are the grown seeds of fathers and their traditions and laws reflect that understanding.
If you get married in the UK tomorrow your wedding certificate will detail the name of your father, but not your mother. Fathers ‘give away’ brides, whose names change from their fathers’ to their husbands’. This is the legacy of property changing hands.
Female chastity was supremely important when (and today, where) men thought a child was either 100% theirs or 100% some other man’s. As women didn’t reproduce themselves, they had no sexual rights, and the child was 0% theirs. On top of this, men felt an acute need to control women because, while a woman knows a baby is hers a man does not. These thoughts led directly to men controlling female sexuality in physical ways, such as FGM, controlling women emotionally and physically at home with domestic violence, and controlling all women with the threat of rape. Women could never explore the world because their place was in the home – away from other men.
A sharp gender polarity seemed evident. As the God-chosen carrier of human creation, men were creative and spiritual, while women were not. This led to spiritual apartheid and the idea that women can’t create high-grade art, music or literature. For her to do so went against ‘nature,’ and because nature is God’s design, women being creative or spiritual challenged God.
In the US and England before 1869 a married woman came under the legal doctrine called ‘couverture’ which meant that she was not legally a person. The husband and wife were considered in law one person and that person was the husband. A wife couldn’t own property, take out a mortgage, enter into legal contracts, inherit money or land, or go into higher education. She could work, but the wages belonged to her husband. Marriage was a prison.
Charles Darwin had no idea where babies come from. In January 1882 he wrote “there seems to me to be a great difficulty from the laws of inheritance (if I understand these laws rightly) in [women] becoming the intellectual equals of men.” He was arguing against education for women on the basis of “the laws of inheritance” – the facts of life.
Embryologists eventually unlocked the truth by 1900, but their experiments had been carried out on frogs, sea urchins, parasitic worms, etc., and many people at the time refused to believe humans are essentially the same as slimy pond life. Today that scientific revolution is practically unknown, as are the names of its heroes, so we’re left to assume people have always known the facts of life.
It’s important to know about the male-seed misconception of life for three reasons. First, it made patriarchy inevitable and justified the notion that women are inferior to men – not different and equal, but actually inferior. It also gave men licence to control women because although the seed was in men, the means of production was in a different person and to ensure their reproduction men had to control that other human being.
Secondly, the patriarchal paradigm has been projected back in time so there’s an idea that men have always been thugs and bullies, dragging women around by the hair since caveman times. But the male-seed theory of life lasted a maximum of 5,000 years, and before then there were two completely different, non-patriarchal, theories. Indeed, there are places today where people don’t think men have anything to do with reproduction and women are completely free.
Thirdly, we need to understand our neighbours in the global village. Some of them are still ignorant about the role of the ovum and live the old male-seed paradigm, while others have a confused mash-up of old and new. We can’t complain about the way they treat their women without recognizing that we too made that same mistake not so long ago. They will catch up.
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