Ernest B. Bax responds to Lester Ward’s ‘Gynocentric Theory’

The following article titled ‘A Different Interpretation‘ was penned by Ernest Belfort Bax and published in Justice, 18th September 1909, p.10. (letter)

* * *

DEAR COMRADE, – With reference to Professor Lester Ward’s book reviewed in last week’s “Justice,” and the statements made in it which are apparently regarded by the author as arguments in favour of the Feminist theory from the biological side, I would like to point out that even granting the accuracy of Ward’s Biology (which some might possibly be disposed to question), the results he arrives at by no means necessarily point in the direction he wishes to make out they do.

Professor Ward identifies the undivided sex of beings low in the organic scale with the female sex, itself perhaps a doubtful proceeding, but which we will let pass. He then points out that when the division takes place the male, the “fertilising” sex, was relatively unimportant, while the female represented the species. In the course of time the male grew in bodily strength and complexity of development, till, finally, in the human race the wicked male Frankenstein overthrew the domination of the female by his strength of brain and muscle, “although that strength,” pathetically remarks our Feminist advocate “had been conferred by her” (?).

Now this sounds like a pretty fairy tale with a Feminist moral does it not? But has it never struck the professor that his own biological statements (be they right or wrong) are susceptible of quite another interpretation to the one he would impress upon them? As thus: In all low organisms nutrition and reproduction are the two most important functions of life. The main working part of the processes of reproduction rested with the female sex after the primitive differentiation of sex, and has done so ever since.

The male sex, on the contrary, relieved by the course of natural development of the greater part of the labour of mere reproduction, gradually acquired functions, physical and psychical, tending to the higher evolution of the species. In the higher mammalian, but notably, of course, in the human race, this concentration in the male sex of the functions concerned in the higher life of the species has gone on apace.

Hence in human society it is man that represents humanity, as such, and not woman, who still retains as her special department those main working processes of reproduction which gave the female sex that paramount position that Lester Ward claims for it in earlier forms of life; processes which are common to the whole animal kingdom, but which in the human world, at least, have ceased to hold that supreme importance per se they possessed in those earlier forms, when higher functions and possibilities had not appeared above the horizon, and when mere reproduction was (after nutrition) the supreme end of every individual of a species, This is at least as plausible a reading of his own biological theories as the Feminist one he champions,

E. Belfort Bax

P.S. – Since writing the above I have seen D.B.M.’s contribution this week on the same subject. Therein I find the following: “Why the statement of these theories is of such immense importance to Socialists is that the gynaecocentric theory [that of Lester Ward] is a striking corroboration of the correctness of the Marxian interpretation that the economic independence of women will be one at the most important phases of the social revolution.”

Now I must most strongly protest against this dragging in of Marx “by the hair of his head” so to say, as a stalking-horse for this latest attempt to set up a biological basis for Feminism. The theory in question, I do not hesitate to affirm, is not a corroboration, whether “striking” or otherwise, of anything Marx ever taught. It has nothing whatever to do with the special doctrines of Marx, and it is only too obvious that the name of the author of “Das Kapital” is only introduced in the hope of ensuring for the theory in question a more favourable reception than might be accorded to it otherwise in the ranks of the Social-Democracy.

The economic independence of women has been preached by many writers in this country before and since Marx became known, not all of them Socialists by any means, and may be accepted or not as a consequence of the Social Revolution, quite independently of the theories of Ward as to gynaecocentricity with which it has no necessary connection at all. — E.B.B