Form and Content
An emotionally charged work intended to enrage the reader, The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and Human Malaise analyzes the way in which female-dominated child-rearing arrangements lie at the roots of masculinity and femininity. Dorothy Dinnerstein argues that the “human malaise,” the deeply pathological and fundamentally life-threatening attitude that the species has toward itself and nature, arises from the same sexual arrangements that are intended to alleviate the pain of that malaise. The division of labor into male and female spheres, responsibilities, and privileges, in other words, is both the symptom and the cause of the sickness of humanity. More frightening, perhaps, is the idea that men and women accept this division. Explaining why they do so is Dinnerstein’s primary goal. From the outset, then, her book is profoundly feminist: It begins with the assumption that current gender arrangements must be changed and that without such a change the human species will succeed in committing collective suicide.
The book’s title captures these primary assumptions. The mermaid symbolizes a treacherous femininity, the lure of a deadly, underwater darkness. The masculine minotaur represents unnatural lust in all of its mindless, greedy power. Together, the two images evoke the ambiguous position of humanity as a species in the animal kingdom, while signifying Dinnerstein’s more specific focus on the cancer of gender. She claims that “until we grow strong enough to renounce the pernicious prevailing forms of collaboration between the sexes, both man and...
(The entire section is 654 words.)