Eva Figes Kathy Mulherin - Essay

Kathy Mulherin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Patriarchal Attitudes] is an enlightening, entertaining and sensible historical survey of male supremacy. Eva Figes discusses both the real conditions of women through the ages, and also the ideologies (e.g. Judaism, Christianity, Romanticism, Puritanism, Freudianism) that justified those conditions. It is a convincing description of how all kinds of widely differing economic and social systems have been carefully organized by men to preserve their power over women.

The book is full of very interesting observations. She shows, for example, how taboos and social customs have largely replaced physical force in controlling women….

Miss Figes shows also that men, recognizing sex as the main area in which they are vulnerable to women (that is, sex is the main leverage a woman has with a man) have created all sorts of rules designed to protect themselves…. She argues that the whole notion of sex in our culture as something unclean or base is an effort on the part of men to lessen the power of women in an area where men really need them.

My main criticism of the book is that the end does not live up to the rest. She ends up talking about the bad "habits" that the institution of marriage supports, but throughout she has always accepted that the relations between men and women are determined by the power of men and the powerlessness of women. She'd have done better to conclude by admitting that she didn't have any good ideas about how to change power relations. As it is the last chapter is muddled and empty. All the same it really is a good book. (p. 91)

Kathy Mulherin, "A Five-Foot Shelf for Women's Lib," in Commonweal, Vol. XCIV, No. 4, April 2, 1971, pp. 90-2.∗