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the less noble sex

November 27, 2015

A while back, a friend of mine gave me a copy of Nancy Tuana’s The Less Noble Sex and I’ve finally gotten around to reading it. It’s one of the best/most interesting books I’ve read in a long time and I highly recommend it, especially for anyone interested in the history of sexism in the West (or anyone who doubts its existence/influence, for that matter). In particular, it details how patriarchal biases about women’s innate inferiority (along with a healthy dose of Eurocentrism) have permeated philosophy, religion, and science for centuries, conditioning everything from how we interpret myths to how we view and treat women (as well as non-whites) today. For all the positive contributions of great minds like Aristotle and Darwin, there’s a lot of negative social conditioning that must be understood and ultimately undone.

I’ve long thought, for example, that most of social and legal barriers to the use of contraception, as well as a woman’s right to choose, stems from patriarchal ideology. And The Less Noble Sex has further solidified that opinion. In particular, the book details the extent which patriarchal biases on the part of philosophers, religious leaders, and scientists (the majority of which have statistically been male) have influenced their ideas and empirical observations, both shaping and reinforcing the image of man as intellectually and rationally superior to woman, limiting women to their “natural” role as mothers and caregivers, leaving the sphere of public life to the care of men.

For centuries, the dominant ideology has been that a woman’s place is the home, and anything that gives women the ability to share equally in public life and pursue things like education and careers is anathema to that. It’s no surprise, then, that the majority of those who are against these things are the ones who have the most to lose, men. Ultimately, it’s about power. Allowing women (and men) to use contraception and decide whether they want to have a child if pregnant, not to mention having those things be safe, easily accessible, and covered by insurance, takes what little power patriarchal institutions still have over women, which is why I fully support women’s reproductive rights, as well as anything that gives women an equal share in the sphere of public life.

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