Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Eva Figes’s 1970 publication Patriarchal Attitudes was one of a group of three books that came out that year explicating the history and root causes of women’s oppression by men. It was a banner year for women; as Figes’s book hit the stores, along with Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics and Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch the next year, the women’s liberation movement was born into a world already at a fever-pitch of political excitement over the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement. Women who had learned how to organize working for other issues were ready to challenge the basic tenets that ruled their own lives and enforced their oppression.

Figes offered the analysis women needed in their quest for equality. Taking up the age-old question “What makes a woman a woman?” she reviewed centuries of teaching, economics, and social science. Figes concludes that the way in which people are nurtured, not their innate nature, determines their values and actions. People become what culture teaches them to be, and the mainstream cultural works that Figes had just reviewed were extraordinarily hostile to women.

Figes uses the words of some of Western civilization’s most renowned speakers to show the widespread fear of women that permeates Western society. She quotes Moses, Giovanni Boccaccio, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Sigmund Freud, and others, marching through the canon of written works that contain Western...

(The entire section is 429 words.)