Review of Sex and Society[1] by W. I. Thomas

Graham Taylor

The distinctive value of this volume is the masterful way in which Professor Thomas tests and interprets inferences drawn from anthropological data regarding inherent differences in the sexes; by the adaptation which both women and men have made to their respective social functions. The assumption that woman is inherently inferior to man is shown to ignore not only the characteristics which she has acquired in fulfilling her own function in the family and society, but also the superior qualities involved in adapting herself to her distinct and specialized modes of functioning.

Social control exercised by women in primitive society is explained by the more central and essential relationship of motherhood in the primitive groups. This continued as long as the group depended upon the stationary; conserving function and habit of the female. When, with higher organization, the group became dependent upon the more rapid movement and physical prowess of the male, then social control passed from women to men: The social feeling out of which morality and altruism spring Professor Thomas considers to have been evolved from the sensitiveness developed by courtship, the consideration for physical weakness developed through love of offspring, and the comradeship in the united effort required to protect and promote common family interests. Yet this very chivalric, protective attitude of men toward women proves to have enthralled the sex by customs and limitations of sphere which have excluded the female from community of interests and equality with the male ever since masculine ascendancy was attained in primitive times.

Particularly interesting and significant is the recital of the process by which man superseded woman in industry. His primitive subordination to her when she was comparatively stationary while he roved  when she acquired the arts and' property upon which he depended for sustenance and comfort was reversed when: the hunting, fishing and nomadic life no longer yielded' him adequate reward or satisfaction. 'Then he brought the strength, agility, enterprise, and versatility acquired in the chase into the industries of civilized life. Thereafter for generations she became relatively restricted and inferior in social status. The author therefore regards as phenοmenal the progress which woman is now making wherever she is admitted to an equality of opportunity with man in developing and applying her inherent capabilities and in acquiring new aptitudes.

The summaries which the volume furnishes of the facts and conclusions of anthropological research make it invaluable for readers who desire to know the sources and results of this science rather than its processes. Professor Thomas's own social interpretation of the facts, and his reasoning in reaching them, are not more a distinct contribution to scientific literature than they are the most satisfactory presentation of the subject to those without technical' knowledge of the science and literature underlying these studies.

A very distinct point of view is established by the thesis of the volume which 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 forces of activity, and on the character and mind of the two sexes." Whoever views or reviews history or contemporary , life, industrial status or social, progress, customs or morals, with the insight thus given of the differentiation of the sexes in function, in acquired characteristics. and in inherent potentialities, cannot fail to be more accurately considerate in judgment or better grounded in hope for the future. The reader's conclusion is likely to be that of the author "Certain it is that no civilization can remain the highest, if another civilization adds to the intelligence of its men, the intelligence of its women."


  1. Sex and Society; Studies in the Social Psychology of Sex by William I. Thomas, Associate professor of sociology in the University of Chicago. Pp. 825. The University of Chicago Press. Price, postpaid, $1.65. This hook can be obtained at publisher's price through the offices of CHARITY AND THE COMMONS.

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