An­cient scan­dal against women

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Jack Marx

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.

Sex & Pu­n­ish­ment

An il­lus­tra­tion of a witch burn­ing from the cover of

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