Fossil Fuels to the Rescue

Some time ago it occurred to me that my ernest attempts to correct misogynistic notions are the result of a misunderstanding. When it comes to the battle of the sexes, the facts are not all that important. In fact, the facts are not even the point. However, I will always have sympathy for those who try to correct them. In Rebecca Solnit’s article, Shooting Down Man the Hunter, she says:

“Sooner or later in conversations about who we are, who we have been, and who we can be, someone will tell a story about Man the Hunter. It’s a story not just about Man but about Woman and Child too. There are countless variants, but all of them go something like this: In primordial times men went out and hunted and brought home meat to feed women and children, who sat around being dependent on them. In most versions, the story is set in nuclear units, such that men provide only for their own family, and women have no community to help with the kids. In every version, women are baggage that breeds.

“Though it makes claims about human societies as they existed 200,000 or 5 million years ago, the story itself isn’t so old. Whatever its origins, it seems to have reached a peak of popularity only in the middle of last century…”

Because this version of human history traces the dominant socioeconomic arrangements of the late Fifties and early Sixties back to the origins of our species, Solnit calls it the story of the 5-million-year-old suburb. ((Shooting Down Man the Hunter By Rebecca Solnit. Harpers Magazine, June 2015. Available:

You may be interested to learn that the story of the 5-million-year-old suburb was also familiar in pre-war France.

“Intersecting with [the] social tensions based on class was another set based on gender. The late nineteenth century had seen some moves towards the social and economic, if not political, emancipation of French women, especially those of the middle class…The response, by men of all classes and political persuasions, was primarily to reiterate not only a family-centered vision of gender relations in which women’s subordinate role was biologically determined, but also an insistence on the domestic character of women’s work for which la femme au foyer became the ubiquitous slogan. In the same period, growing anxieties over the decline of the French birth rate, which was more marked than those of other countries (the population of France rose by 8% in the forty years from 1871, while that of Germany rose by 42% and that of England and Wales by 59%) underpinned this response and led both to proposals for fiscal reform to reward motherhood and sharper condemnation of the femme nouvelle who sought other kinds of fulfillment…”

In the past I would have thought all I had to do was explain that the birthrate was not the cause of France’s poor performance—there was a larger percentage of people on the land in France than Britain, Germany or the U.S. Part of the problem was that France imported up to a third of its coal. The country also lacked other raw materials which caused manufacturing costs to rise. In addition, there was attachment to small businesses as a form of economic individualism. In 1900, ninety percent of French firms employed less than 5 people, and the prevailing liberal focus was on keeping the state out of the affairs of business.

But I know better now. I have learned that while human evolution may not have progressed the way the sociobiologists say it did, everything they say is true. What’s more, it has always been true and it always will be true. Finally, it affects people’s lives just as much as any indisputable event in history.

The Nation Magazine recently published an article about Sonia Terk.((Barry Schwabsky, An Experimental Life. The Nation Magazine, June 2, 2015. Available: I knew her from Albert Gleizes’s biography as Sonia Delaunay. I hadn’t realized she was Jewish, but according to David Cottington, just being female would have been enough of a handicap among the French avant-garde. One of the changes that took place in the French art business was the appearance in the mid-1890s of sufficient numbers of buyers to make speculation in, and collection of, contemporary art feasible. At first, interest was limited to established artists but the entrance of American collectors like Morgan, Rockefeller and Whitney led to a rise in the cost of impressionist paintings and eventually to increased interest in post-impressionist work. This gave legitimacy to neoimpressionists and nabis. Prices for these works were too high for many collectors, but they encouraged a speculative interest at the lower end of the contemporary market, in the work of young, unorthodox or unknown – but invariably male – artists.

In response to the growing number of women studying and practicing art around 1900, (Terk studied at the Palette) a new critical category was added: femmes peintres. Their work was perceived to carry ‘feminine’ aesthetic sensibilities and interests. As one critic helpfully put into words, the works of females threatened to become a plague, a fearful confusion, and a terrifying stream of mediocrity’. This attitude was a direct result of the construction of artistic identity in terms of masculinity. The idea of individualism, the belief in the autonomy of genius, mastery over the city and its urban spaces, were all seen as male prerogatives. The fantasy was the earthy but poetic male whose life is organized around his instinctual needs. ((Cottingham, David, Cubism in the Shadow of War: The avant-garde and Politics in Paris, 1905-1914. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1998))

On a less depressing note I’d like to share an article by Ian Morris on I appreciated this article, “The Retreat of Patriarchy”, for its humorous and savvy use of sociobiology in the service of geopolitics.

Morris begins the relevant section literally at the beginning: “Reproduction through the mingling of two organisms’ DNA creates much more genetic variation than does cloning. Thus sexual species adapt and evolve much more quickly than asexual ones, as evidenced by our own evolution from chimpanzee-like ancestors to Stratfor employees and subscribers in a mere 7.5 million years.”

This was obviously intended to be funny, which it is, but it’s also instructive. He goes on to discusses male and female chromosomes and the economies of reproduction, followed by the standard sociobiological explanation for human sexual arrangements. However this version might surprise you. The subjugation of females was not a result of their inferiority; it was a natural result of ‘fundamental economic shifts in history’. We read:

“Patriarchy has been in retreat since A.D. 1800, but not because men have become saints and women have found their voices, but because shallow gender hierarchies work best for industrial societies, and farmers simply cannot compete with fossil fuel users’ populations, wealth and military power.”((Morris, Ian, The Retreat of Patriarchy,, June 17, 2015.Available:

Sociobiology in the service of fossil fuels! I rest my case.

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