Adam and Eve, Akan, Asantahene, Ashanti, Black Volta, Cortauld Institute, Dahomey, Elizabeth Taylor, Family, Feminism, Giorgione, Golden Stool, J.H. Plumb, Jan Morris, Kate Millett, Kenneth Clark, La Tempesta, Landscape into Art, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Nebraska, Richard Burton, Robin Morgan, Roy McMullen, Sexism, Sexual Politics, Sisterhood is Powerful, Toda, Walter Karp, West Africa, Women's Liberation, X-ray
This issue’s cover features Lucas Cranach the Elder’s painting of Adam and Eve in the Cortauld Institute, London. It illustrates a section on ‘Liberated Women’, beginning with ‘The Feminine Utopia’ by Contributing Editor Walter Karp:
The family…is not a natural or a biological institution. It…is a human contrivance and it invites the question, which the women’s movement asks, why has the family division of roles been drawn up the way it has? That women bear the children is a biological fact; that those who bear children must carry the chief burden of tending them is not a biological necessity. It is certainly ‘convenient’…but convenience is not necessity. There is even less reason for women to maintain the household simply because they are female. Among the Todas of southern India, where women may have more than one spouse, the men, interestingly enough, consider housekeeping too sacred for women.
…many spokesmen [sic] for the women’s movement conclude that males have deliberately confined females to the domestic sphere in a concerted effort to maintain their dominance. Employing an analogy with racism, many today speak of the present system of human life as ‘sexism’– ‘the definition of and discrimination against half of the human species by the other half’, according to Robin Morgan, editor of a recent collection of women’s movement essays called The Sisterhood is Powerful. The most rigorous exponent of this view is Kate Millett, who has coined the term ‘sexual politics’ (in a well-known book of that title) to designate the ways in which males contrive to keep females subordinate under what she calls ‘patriarchal government.’
Also in this issue:
In ‘Odd Couples’, part of his ‘In the Light of the Past’ series, J.H. Plumb considers how the family has evolved:
Basically, the family has fulfilled three social functions – it has provided a labor force, transmitted property and educated and trained children, not only in accepted social patterns, but also in the work skills upon which their future depended…The unitary family was particularly good at coping with the small peasant holdings that covered most of the world’s fertile regions from China to Peru. In the primitive peasant world a child of five or six could begin to earn his keep in the fields, as he still can in India and Africa.
After the revolution in agriculture, property and its transmission lay at the very heart of social relations and possessed an actuality that we find hard to grasp…
The family as the basic social group first began to fail, except in its property relations, among the aristocracy. The majority of the affluent of western Europe have always created for themselves a double standard, particularly as far as sex in concerned…The family as a unit of social organization was remarkably appropriate for a less complex world of agriculture and craftsmanship, but ever since industry and highly urbanized societies began to replace that world, the social functions of the family have steadily weakened. It is a process not likely to be halted.
…It was during the seventeenth century that the Ashanti entered history. They immediately began to display a talent for organization, both civic and military, altogether exceptional among West African peoples. Gradually they constructed a federation of Akan tribes whose separate customs were respected and whose ruling chiefs preserved their own stools, or thrones, but who were subject to the suzerainty of the king of Ashanti – the Asantahene.
The Ashanti empire was never static or absolute, varying rather in its degree of central control and shading away from the pure Ashanti districts in the center to the less indoctrinated tribal areas on the perimeter. Nevertheless, the Asantahene became the most formidable indigenous ruler of West Africa, whose writ ran in one degree or another from the Black Volta to the sea.
The revelation of the Golden Stool consolidated this power by providing a supernatural focus for loyalty. Through its agency the Ashanti came nearer than any other West African people, except perhaps the people of Dahomey, to a concept of nationalism in the Western sense.
In ‘The Tempesta Puzzle’, Roy McMullen considers the many theories about Giorgione’s mysterious painting:
…And then in 1939, modern science added a fresh note to the discord: beneath the figure of the dreaming young man an X-ray examination revealed a seated woman with her legs in the water. Had she once had a role in the narrative? Was it possible that Giorgione had never had a narrative in mind and had just improvised an inhabited landscape? Or did the hidden bather prove only that he had thriftily made use of an old canvas?
In 1949 Kenneth Clark, meditating on the X ray and reflecting an opinion already widespread in Britain and America, decided that heavyweight Tempestry had demonstrated its futility. ‘The Tempesta,’ he wrote in his Landscape into Art, ‘is one of those works of art before which the scholar had best remain silent. No one knows what it represents…and I think there is little doubt that it is a free fantasy, a sort of Kublai Khan, which grew as Giorgione painted it…’ He added that if we cannot say what it means, still less can we say ‘how it achieves its magical power over our minds.’