Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Sweet's Primer and the art of English misogyny

I have been ruminating over an article which appeared in last weekend's newspaper about what women want in men.  Heartlessness coming from extreme feminism was clearly evident. I was astonished by how much the writer seemed determined to upset her male readers. Her starter statement was "Most British men hate women".

Some male readers were clearly "spitting ink" online. After some calmed down, one admitted that "Many English men do not really see women as people" (see link to "Aristotle's view on women" below) but as "creatures from another planet".  They also see them as "inferior" to men.  The two statements need to be taken together.

I do not believe either sex is "superior" but split parts of the same human race made in the image of God but fallen. However, I am not someone who does not recognise the engineering (and other technical and focused intellectual skills) that we recognise as predominantly "male".   For example, I do not believe that, collectively, women would ever have thought of, or had the will, to put in place the rail network, enabling me to work in London and live in a Kent garden.

However, this myth that "Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus" is entirely Anglo Saxon. No Italian man would ever think that women are hard to understand.  They would say "What is difficult to understand about women?"  We all had mothers and sisters. Women are quite simple and straighforward.

I wonder where this "impression" about "incomprehensible women" - within the Anglo Saxon culture - comes from?  Answers on a postcard please. I know that Aristotle had an influence and that the myth may be very ancient - e.g. Athenian.

I thought about Dickens' innocent "child-women" - and then about Professor Higgins in Shaw's "Pygmalion".  We all know the song in "My Fair Lady" which staged Pygmalion called "Why can't a woman be more like a man?". Higgins' misogyny certainly reflects the myth that "Men are reasonable and women are unreasonable".

There is all that literary nonsense about women being rather changeable (unreliable?) like the moon.  God designed the prime nurturer of helpless babies to be utterly reliable. Indeed, mothers' trustworthiness and utter reliability is why we are so shocked when a mother is not reliable.
A sense of female unreliability is slightly apparent in Shakespeare's imagery but he balances it with feminine, eloquent, steady and even heroic characters in his plays. For him, true sight and instinct (which is "eternal") always trumped social conditioning (which is "time limited").

To my astonishment, I find that Bernard Shaw's source for "Professor Higgins" is well-known to students of Anglo Saxon.  Man-admiring Higgins is based on Henry Sweet of "Sweet's Anglo Saxon Primer", a phonetic  masterpiece - which we used to cherish, at university. Meet Henry Sweet

See Henry Sweet's "Interests" which changed over a lifetime and ended up with flying (in old age) as listed in Who's Who 1911. All of them seem rather solitary, eccentric and introspective - worthy of "Prof Higgins". Under Myers Briggs personality testing, Henry Sweet seems to have been an "ISTJ" : introspective, fact-focused, thinking and structured. This is not a "people-centred" personality type. Shakespeare probably was "INFP" - introspective, intuitive, feeling/people-centred and unstructured.  There are, of course, "fact-predominant women"....

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