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THE UNOPPOSITE SEX <i> by Elisabeth Badinter translated by Barbara Wright (Harper & Row: $22.50; 304 pp.) </i>

In this book covering the history of all humanity, Elisabeth Badinter draws upon anthropology, paleontology, primate studies, history, classics and literature to weave a narrative describing how the sexes are by nature complementary. For 4,000 years, she argues, this complementarity has been skewed by masculine domination, but this situation is now shifting and coming into balance.

Badinter begins by asserting that among hunters and gatherers women were by no means inferior. Men of the Paleolithic were well aware of the complementarity of the sexes, she claims--after all, it was women who invented agriculture--but the complementarity became obscured by a subsequent ideological revolution.

One of Badinter’s underlying theses is that we are all bisexual. She writes that Adam’s rib is the equivalent of the maternal womb. Therefore, if God is Eve’s creator, Adam is her mother, or a kind of mother/father. To support this view, she draws on a series of Harvard studies of infants, which demonstrate the similarity of male and female fantasies about giving birth. The author does not neglect the realm of psychoanalysis, citing those analysts who depart from Freud in focusing on the problems in the acquisition of masculine (rather than feminine) identity; they see the male as forever beset by fears of maternal omnipotence. Badinter is convinced that we are now in the throes of a profound revolution ushering in what she calls “bisexual humanity.” “The equality which is now coming about,” she writes in this book which was long on the French bestseller list, “engenders a resemblance (between the sexes) which puts an end to this war. Now that the protagonists like to think of themselves as the ‘whole’ of humanity, each side is in a better position to understand the Other . . . . We may perhaps lose something of our passion and desire thereby, but we shall gain the sort of tenderness and cooperation that can unite the members of a single family.” To marshal such vast quantities of information in a human panorama of such scope is something of a feat; even when the style goes flat, the facts keep coming. Not that the facts are uninteresting. But because of the alacrity with which various topics are treated, one is reminded of the remark of a medieval monk: With a pen one can write anything one pleases.


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