Review of Sex and Society

Robert C. Brooks

Sex and Society. Ву WILLIAM I. ТHOMAS. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1907.— pp. 325.   

 In collecting a number of scattered essays into a single volume under the title Sex and Society, Professor Thomas has performed a distinct service both to sociology and to psychology. The fundamental thesis running through the book is, " that the differences in bodily habit between men and women, particularly the greater strength, restlessness, and motor aptitude of man, and the more stationary condition of woman, have had an important influence on social forms and activities, and on the character and mind of the two sexes " (p. v). This is worked out in considerable detail with reference to primitive social control, social feeling, primitive industry, and primitive morality. Four interesting chapters on the psychology

( 656) of exogamy, the psychology of modesty and clothing, the adventitious character of woman, and the mind of woman and the lower races conclude the volume.

With regard to the fundamental organic differences in the sexes, there would seem to be little opportunity to take issue with the conclusions reached by Professor Thomas and supported by an imposing array of materials in his first paper. Since many of the topics discussed in the succeeding essays, however, deal with the social effects of sex under primitive conditions, it is to be regretted that so little is said regarding the organic differences between the males and females of primitive races. Measurements of Yale men and Vassar women throw little light upon conditions in African jungles and Australian deserts. In general, however, there would seem to be little doubt regarding the fundamental accuracy of the physical postulates from which the author sets out. The chapter on primitive social control furnishes many, evidences of the importance of sex in early social conditions, its conclusion being that "the earliest groupings of population were about the females rather than the males" (p. 55). This is attributed not to motherhood alone, but rather to the more stationary character of woman. Incidentally Professor Thomas points out the curious tendency of many sociological writers to minimize everything held to indicate an early state of promiscuity. In thus " defending the honor of the race," even the importance of maternal descent has been attacked, although there is no necessary connection between the latter and promiscuity.

In sharp contrast with Ward, Professor Thomas refuses to be drawn into any maudlin expression of sympathy for the supposed terrible oppression practiced upon primitive woman. Many other conclusions reached in the chapter on primitive industry are novel and important. The author's coolness of judgment is also much in evidence in the discussion of sex and primitive morality. Writers on this theme seem prone to let their subject run away with them and to find in the sexual principle an explanation for everything. Professor Thomas, on the other hand, places himself at once on firm ground by the frank acceptance of the position that, " in a moral code, . . . whether in an animal or human society, the bulk of morality turns upon food rather than sex relations " (p. 150). Limitations of space preclude the citation of any of the numerous evidences of fine psychological insight shown in the four concluding essays of the present volume. A careful reading of them fails absolutely to develop any basis for the inferences drawn by certain 'newspaper scientists  with regard to Professor Thomas's alleged opinion that " the mind of woman is of low grade and essentially unimprovable." Directly the contrary conviction is apparent in the essays particularly complained of, viz., "The Mind of Woman and the Lower Races," and " The Adventitious Character of Woman." Nevertheless the misinterpretation was so widespread and so persistent as to draw from the publishers a brief but explicit disclaimer, which is now being sent out with the book. In scientific circles the essays will be accepted as presenting

( 567) many novel and weighty conclusions on society as seen from a single, but extremely important, view point.



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