This is a fascinating cross-cultural survey of male attitudes toward women through the ages. Bullough, who teaches history...

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THE SUBORDINATE SEX: A History of Attitudes Toward Women

This is a fascinating cross-cultural survey of male attitudes toward women through the ages. Bullough, who teaches history at California State University, and has authored several books including History of Prostitution (1964), looks at Sumeria and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, India and China as well as modern Europe; scrutinizing legal codes, property laws, folklore, and literature he finds misogyny and fear of the woman as temptress universal, though at times the distaff side fared better, at times worse. As taught by Jesus, Christianity put women on a par spiritually with men -- yet as the Church consolidated its powers in the Roman Empire, women were downgraded. In the medieval period with the rise of romantic love and chivalry the position of women became more complex and ambivalent. Nonetheless she was still thought of as property -- hence the need to protect her and keep her assets untarnished. Veils, chastity belts and quaint customs such as the jus prima noctis were the instruments of her bondage, a way of easing the fear that once unbridled sexually she would threaten the entire masculine order. In his introduction Bullough argues for worldwide validity of his findings and notes that few anthropologists today believe that matriarchy preceded patriarchy in primitive societies (a debatable contention) -- apparently women have been subordinate since we were all swinging from the trees. As for the ones who actually exercised power -- Theodora, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Cleopatra, Lucrezia Borgia -- they are remembered more for their irregular sex lives than their politics. Given the vast distances he covers Bullough (his wife, a professor of nursing, contributed the last chapter or the ""final word"") is sometimes perforce superficial -- but methodologically he's tapped a historical gold mine and you can bet there'll be more books on the submerged second sex.

Pub Date: July 1, 1973

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Univ. of Illinois Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1973