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The Social Perception of Male Superiority

The Social Perception of Male Superiority

Social “Myth”

1. When certain values have been accepted by a society, they tend to be strengthened in the course of time by the development of a “myth” through which these values are justified. The acceptance of male dominance as the pattern of social organization was reinforced by many cultural myths. The myths of male superiority enshrine much that needs to be discarded: downright prejudice and an outdated view of reality no longer acceptable in our present-day society.

2. As soon as children are old enough to learn, society begins to mould their minds into its own pattern of thought. Through what they say and do, parents impose their ideas on the position of man or woman in society. Masculinity and femininity are two of the earliest categories assimilated by a child.

L. KOHLBERG, A Cognitive-Developmental Analysis of Children’s Sex Role Concepts and Attitudes, in The Development of Sex Differences, ed E. E. MACCOBY. Tavistock London 1967.

A study based on 110 present-day societies shows that from the fourth year of age children are pressurised into their future adult role in society. In most societies (85%) achievement and self-reliance are virtues exclusively held out to boys. Girls are educated towards nurturance (82%) and responsibility (61%). The values thus inculcated by society become part of the myth by which man and woman judge their own characteristics and task in society.

H. BARRY, M.K. BACON and 1. I. CHILD, A cross-cultural survey of some sex differences in socialization, Journal of abnormal Social Psychology 55 (1967) 837-853.

3. One way in which a social myth fossilizes values is language. English, e.g., employs the same term “man” to denote the male person and a human being as such. By this the male person is made the norm for human nature. Woman’s nature is seen as something special, as different. It is measured against the criterion of humanity found in the male. The same “myth” that identifies the male and being human isfound in Sanskrit, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, etc. What some western philosophers (Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas) have stated explicitly: “Woman is an incomplete man’’,21 is somehow the unspoken but fundamental conviction in many cultures.

"Woman is an incomplete man" (Latin: “femina est mas occasionatus”) means that the female is the result of a defect in propagation; ARISTOTLE, De Genaratione Animalium II 3; THOMAS, Summa Theol. 1 a 92. art 11; ibid. a. 99, art 2. ad.1.

Whereas in fact woman is biologically the preserver of life and a more complete expression of human nature, she remains considered as ”the second sex, the other" (Simone de Beavoir).

4. Social myth in England has linked the categories of masculinity and femininity to various professions. Whereas mathematicians, physicists and engineers are considered to have “manly” professions (rough, hard, valuable, intelligent, dependable), novelists, poets and artists are characterised as “feminine” (sexy, soft, imaginative, warm, exciting). This is undoubtedly the reason why so few women enter some professions; only one in every 55 physicists, one in every 300 chemists, one in every 500 electrical engineers is a woman. What is even more interesting: although many boys and girls have personal talents that lie in an opposite direction, they are themselves psychologically convinced they won’t fit into this or that pattern because it does not agree with the social myth.

L. HUDSON. Frames of Mind. Ability, Perception and Self-perception in the Arts and Sciences; Pelican 1970, esp. pgs, 32-33; 46-47; 86-90. The figures of women in various employments has changed since this study precisely because social role perceptions are changing.

5. Research on sexual practices in Italy disclosed unbelievable prejudices among man. In some cities 50% of adult men commit adultery or have dealings with prostitutes. While excusing this as a weakness, 75% of the same men will strongly condemn sexual relations of women before marriage and adultery performed by women. The cause of the confusion lies in a self-contradictory social myth. According to this there are two kinds of women: sexless women (who should be respected) and depraved women (who may be sexually loved). An average Italian expects his wife to have no interest in sex (to be “chaste” as Our Lady) and seeks sexual fulfilment with other women (whom he considers depraved like Eve). For women too the situation gives rise to severe psychological tensions. She cannot feel herself a true woman without having a guilt complex at the same time.

G. PARCA, Le Italiane se confessano, Florence 1959. F. SULTANI. Mentalita e comportimento del maschio italiano, Milan 1965.

6. It is now generally agreed that Christian theology of sex, chastity, marriage and celibacy has been tainted by different cultural and social perceptions, cultural myths, in the course of the centuries. For many writers in the patristic period anything exclusively belonging to the body (and therefore irrational in Stoic terms) was evil. Gregory the Great maintained that intercourse always contained an element of sin and that this element of sin consisted in the pleasure experienced.

J.T. NOONAN, Jr. Contraception: A History of its Treatment by the Catholic Theologions and Canonists, Harvard Univ. Press, 1965, pgs. 46-49; 76-81; 150-151.

Thomas Aquinas and the scholastics based much of their theology on a cultural myth as if the only contribution of woman to the offspring were providing a kind of human “farm” in which the male seed (the complete future human being) could be planted.

R. NOWELL, Sex and Marriage, in “On Human Life” ed. PHARRIS, London, Burns and Oates, 1968, pgs. 45-71.

It is clear that the attitude towards women’s participation in the ministry has been affected by such cultural myths.

John Wijngaards



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