Friday Feminist – Elaine Morgan (2)

Cross posted

The longer I went on reading his own books about himself, the more I longed to find a volume that would begin: ‘When the first ancestor of the human race descended from the trees, she had not yet developed the mighty brain that was to distinguish her so sharply from all other species…’

Of course, she was no more the first ancestor than he was — but she was no less the first ancestor, either. She was there all along, contributing half the genes to each succeeding generation. Most of the books forget about her for most of the time. They drag her onstage rather suddenly for the obligatory chapter on Sex and Reproduction, and then say: ‘All right, love, you can go now,’ while they get on with the real meaty stuff about the Mighty Hunter with his lovely new weapons and his lovely new straight legs racing across the Pleistocene plains. Any modifications in her morphology are taken to be imitations of the Hunter’s evolution, or else designed solely for his delectation.

Elaine Morgan, The Descent of Woman, 1972


3 responses to “Friday Feminist – Elaine Morgan (2)

  1. I love this quote. I’ve had a couple of copies of this book over the years – I’ve lent them to people and never get them back. I still have one that belonged to my late partner, and you’ve inspired me to dig it out and have a browse. I remember being blown away by her musings on why the breasts developed (apes have nipples on their chests) – hint: nothing to do with sex, rather with survival of offspring. Thanks.

  2. I recall reading it years and years and years ago, probably in my late teens. I know that many of he conclusions are perhaps overstretched, and that many anthropologists don’t think all that highly of her. But I just love the way that she shakes the whole nonsense of might man the hunter around, and demands that we think about women, not just men.

    Another quote from the same chapter of her book:

    The trouble with specialists is that they tend to think in grooves. From time to time something happens to shake them out of that groove. Robert Ardrey tells how such enlightenment came to Dr Kenneth Oakley when the first Australopithecus remains had been unearthed in Africa: ‘The answer flashed without warning in his own large-domed brain. “Of course we believed that the big brain came first! We assumed that the first man was an Englishman!” ‘ Neither he, nor Ardrey in relating the incident, noticed that he was still making an equally unconscious,, equally unwarrantable assumption. One of these days an evolutionist is going to strike a palm against his large-domed head and cry: ‘Of course! We assumed the first human being was a man!’

  3. I know that many of he conclusions are perhaps overstretched,

    Well, not having read the Descent of Woman (and of course having read this thread I’m intending to), in her defence I’d say I’d bet any overstretched conclusions are not nearly as stretchy as the ones of the current crop of EvPsych devotees. Example (Trigger warning for r*pe discussion as well as extreme douchebaggery – definitely the worst thing you’ll read all week.)