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The family, Millett says, is patriarchy's chief institution and cell for sexist brainwashing. It not only "encourages its own members to adjust and conform, but acts as a unit [in the] patriarchal state which rules its citizens through its family heads." Male power is enforced by the man's position as head of the household: other members of the family must rely upon his economic and social status. Within the family, gender roles are ideologically reinforced. Girls, for instance, are taught to cook and sew passively, in imitation of their mothers; boys are encouraged to be aggressive in imitation of their fathers. Biologically, she argues, there is little real difference between the sexes, beyond the specific genital characteristics. The heavier musculature of the male, she admits, is biological in origin but culturally encouraged through breeding, diet and exercise. In any case, she says, physical strength is not a factor in political relations, because "civilization has always been able to substitute other methods (technic, weaponry, knowledge) for those of physical strength."
Freud and Freudian theory are a major target. Freud, she says, was unable to separate female biology from female status, and his concept of penis envy, of woman as a damaged or castrated man, became a powerful supporter of patriarchial notions.
Even the concepts of courtly behavior and romantic love come in for attack. Chivalry represents, Millett says, simply "a sporting kind of reparation," and romance is a "means of emotional manipulation," which helps men to exploit women. (She does concede that romantic love is "convenient to both parties," particularly since it allows the female to overcome "the far more powerful conditioning she has received toward sexual inhibition.") The great myths of mankind, as interpreted by anthropologists, reinforce the themes of feminine subordination. Millett cites the legend of Pandora's box and the biblical tale of Adam's Fall, and says that both "these concepts of feminine evil have passed through a final literary phase to become highly influential ethical justifications of things as they are." Part of that literary phase, she says, is the male chauvinism that runs through the writings of authors like Norman Mailer, D. H. Lawrence and Henry Miller, each of whom in varying degrees writes of heroes who define their manhood through the subjugation of women.
There is no questioning the impact of her argument. But it is precisely the broad sweep of that argument that renders it vulnerable. Millett is no scientist, and scientists, notably Social Anthropologist Lionel Tiger (see box), are quick to point out imperfections. "She's not looking for the truth, but making a case," says Rutgers Anthropologist Robin Fox. He says he is no misogynist, but, he charges, she's "inventing a new mythology to replace the old one . . . She's playing ducks and drakes with the truth, and in the process doing herself and her cause a disservice." Specifically, Fox says, Millett's theory that gender identity is imposed by society rather than genes is "a typical half-truth."