Ancient scandal against women
dragging clowns who were too unenlightened to recognise their own hideous misogyny for what it was. American historian Barbara J. Fields put it well in Ken Burns’s excellent documentary, The Civil War, when she said: ‘‘ I lose patience with the argument that, because of someone’s time, his limitations are therefore excusable, or even praiseworthy . . . It is not true that it was impossible in that time and place to look any higher.’’
It’s a damning idea when applied to the history exposed in Sex & Punishment, in which men — always men — made the laws that cast women as possessions, forfeitures and whores. It is also inexcusable to exalt tradition for its own sake, and the radiation of the sick thinking of ancient man is still glowing in the marital rituals of today: in the sniggers of the assembled when the unvirginal bride wears white, in the taking of the husband’s name, in the size of the ring he straps on her finger.
That we accept such seemingly innocuous moments in our romantic lives as being steeped in quaint but unknowable tradition is an error: the root of the tradition can be consulted, and it’s not a charming read.
Woman easily enraged or saddened should approach this book with caution, but every man should read it. Those of us who are married would do worse than to divorce our wives pronto. Not because we don’t adore them but because we respect them too much to involve them in such a vile and pathetic institution as the one we invented for our own grimy purposes long ago.
An illustration of a witch burning from the cover of