Ernest B. Bax: Examining Lester Ward’s ‘Gynœcocentric Theory’ Fallacy (1913)

The following is an excerpt from E. Belfort Bax’ The Fraud of Feminism, Chapter VI: Some Feminist Lies and Fallacies, where he examines Lester Ward’s ‘Gynœcocentric Theory’ which Bax refers to as “a fallacy of some importance.” – PW

* * *

We must now deal at some length with a fallacy of some importance, owing to the apparatus of learning with which it has been set forth, to be found in Mr Lester F. Ward’s book, entitled Pure Sociology, notwithstanding that its fallacious nature is plain enough when analysed. Mr Ward terms his speculation the “Gynœcocentric Theory,” by which he understands apparently the Feminist dogma of the supreme importance of the female in the scheme of humanity and nature generally.

His arguments are largely drawn from general biology, especially that of inferior organisms. He traces the various processes of reproduction in the lower departments of organic nature, subdivision, germination, budding, etc., up to the earlier forms of bi-sexuality, culminating in conjugation or true sexual union. His standpoint he thus states in the terms of biological origins:

“Although reproduction and sex are two distinct things, and although a creature that reproduces without sex cannot properly be called either male or female, still so completely have these conceptions become blended in the popular mind that a creature which actually brings forth offspring out of its own body, is instinctively classed as female. The female is the fertile sex, and whatever is fertile is looked upon as female. Assuredly it would be absurd to look upon an organism propagating sexually as male. Biologists have proceeded from this popular standpoint and regularly speak of ‘mother cells,’ and ‘daughter cells.’ It, therefore, does no violence to language or to science to say that life begins with the female organism and is carried on a long distance by means of females alone. In all the different forms of a-sexual reproduction, from fission to parthenogenesis, the female may in this sense be said to exist alone and perform all the functions of life, including reproduction. In a word, life begins as female.”

In the above remarks it will be seen that Mr Ward, so to say, jumps the claim of a-sexual organisms to be considered as female. This, in itself a somewhat questionable proceeding, serves him as a starting-point for his theory. The a-sexual female (?), he observes, is not only primarily the original sex, but continues throughout, the main trunk, though afterwards the male element is added “for the purposes of fertilisation.” “Among millions of humble creatures,” says Mr Ward, “the male is simply and solely a fertiliser.”

The writer goes on in his efforts to belittle the male sex in the sphere of biology. “The gigantic female spider and the tiny male fertiliser, the Mantis insect with its similarly large and ferocious female, bees, and mosquitoes,” all are pressed into the service. Even the vegetable kingdom, in so far as it shows signs of sex differentiation, is brought into the lists in favour of his theory of female supremacy, or “gynæcocentricism,” as he terms it.

This theory may be briefly stated as follows: – In the earliest organisms displaying sex differentiation, it is the female which represents the organism proper, the rudimentary male existing solely for the purpose of the fertilisation of the female. This applies to most of the lower forms of life in which the differentiation of sex obtains, and in many insects, the Mantis being one of the cases specially insisted upon by our author. The process of the development of the male sex is by means of the sexual selection of the female. From being a mere fertilising agent, gradually, as evolution proceeds, it assumes the form and characteristics of an independent organism like the original female trunk organism. But the latter continues to maintain its supremacy in the life of the species, by means chiefly of sexual selection, until the human period, i.e. more or less(!), for Mr Ward is bound to admit signs of male superiority in the higher vertebrates – viz. birds and mammals. This superiority manifests itself in size, strength, ornamentation, alertness, etc.

But it is with man, with the advent of the reasoning faculty, and, as a consequence, of human supremacy, that it becomes first unmistakably manifest. This superiority, Mr Ward contends, has been developed under the ægis of the sexual selection of the female, and enabled cruel and wicked man to subject and enslave down- trodden and oppressed woman, who has thus been crushed by a Frankenstein of her own creation. Although in various earlier phases of human organisation woman still maintains her social supremacy, this state of affairs soon changes. Androcracy establishes itself, and woman is reduced to the role of breeding the race and of being the servant of man. Thus she has remained throughout the periods of the higher barbarism and of civilisation. Our author regards the lowest point of what he terms the degradation of woman to have been reached in the past, and the last two centuries as having witnessed a movement in the opposite direction – namely, towards the emancipation of woman and equality between the sexes. (Cf. Pure Sociology, chap.xiv., and especially pp. 290-377.)

The above is a brief, but, I think, not unfair skeleton statement of the theory which Mr Lester Ward has elaborated in the work above referred to, in great detail and with immense wealth of illustration. But now I ask, granting the correctness of Mr Ward’s biological premises and the accuracy of his exposition, and I am not specialist enough to be capable of criticising these in detail: What does it all amount to? The “business end” (as the Americans would say) of the whole theory, it is quite evident, is to afford a plausible and scientific basis for the Modern Feminist Movement, and thus to further its practical pretensions.

What Mr Ward terms the androcentric theory, at least as regards man and the higher vertebrates, which is on the face of it supported by the facts of human experience and has been accepted well- nigh unanimously up to quite recent times, is, according to him, all wrong. The male element in the universe of living things is not the element of primary importance, and the female element the secondary, but the converse is the case.

For this contention Mr Ward, as already pointed out, has, by dint of his biological learning, succeeded at least in making out a case in so far as lower forms of life are concerned. He has, however, to admit – a fatal admission surely – that evolution has tended progressively to break down the superiority of the female (by means, as he contends, of her own sexual selection) and to transfer sex supremacy to the male, according to Mr Ward, hitherto a secondary being, and that this tendency becomes very obvious in most species of birds and mammals.

With the rise of man, however, out of the pithecanthropos, the homosynosis, or by whatever other designation we may call the intermediate organism between the purely animal and the purely human, and the consequent supersession of instinct as the dominant form of intelligence by reason, the question of superiority, as Mr Ward candidly admits, is no longer doubtful, and upon the unquestionable superiority of the male, in due course of time, follows the unquestioned supremacy.

It is clear then that, granting the biological premises of our author that the lowest sexual organisms are virtually female and that in the hermaphrodites the female element predominates; that in the earliest forms of bi-sexuality the fertilising or male element was merely an offshoot of the female trunk and that this offshoot develops, mainly by means of sexual selection on the part of the female, into an organism similar to the latter; that not until we reach the higher vertebrates, the birds and the mammals, do we find any traces of male superiority; and that this superiority only becomes definite and obvious, leading to male domination, in the human species – granting all this, I say, what argument can be founded upon it in support of the equal value physically, intellectually and morally of the female sex in human society, or the desirability of its possessing equal political power with men in such society? On the contrary, Mr Ward’s whole exposition, with his biological facts of illustration, would seem to point rather in the opposite direction.

We seem surely to have here, if Mr Ward’s premises be accepted as to the primitive insignificance of the male element – at first overshadowed and dominated by the female stem, but gradually evolving in importance, character and fruition, till we arrive at man the highest product of evolution up to date – a powerful argument for anti-Feminism.

On Mr Ward’s own showing, we find that incontestible superiority, both in size and power of body and brain, has manifested itself in Androcracy, when the female is relegated, in the natural course of things, to the function of child-bearing.

This, it can hardly be denied, is simply one more instance of the general process of evolution, whereby the higher being is evolved from the lower, at first weak and dependent upon its parent, the latter remaining dominant until the new being reaches maturity, when in its turn it becomes supreme, while that out of which it developed, and of which it was first the mere offshoot, falls into the background and becomes in its turn subordinate to its own product.