Figes phrases her arguments in universal terms, speaking categorically of “A Man’s World” and “A Man’s God,” but it is important for the careful reader to note that she examines only Western culture, Judeo-Christian religion, and literature that was written in or translated into English. Thus, while she makes no note of the cultural biases of her study, some generalizations may not apply to cultures that are based in different texts and traditions.
Figes begins her examination of the question, “What makes a woman a woman?” by acknowledging the basic biological differences between the sexes. Most women can bear children; men categorically cannot. Women tend to live longer than men, their blood carries a different mixture of hormones, and generally their muscles are less well developed. The first two differences appear to be unalterable; the last depends very much upon the activity in which the individual engages, as Figes proves by quoting anthropologists who have studied many cultures. If musculature is alterable by usage and custom, what other supposedly innate characteristics can be similarly affected? Boys and girls enjoy largely the same hormone balance prior to puberty, yet behavioral differences emerge far earlier in their lives. Education is responsible for these differences, Figes demonstrates; in fact, it is responsible for virtually all human responses—physical, emotional, and intellectual—to the world of stimuli.
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