The Evolution of Sex According to Lester F. Ward (1909)

Source: Justice, September 4, 1909, p. 5
Section: “Our Women’s Circle”
Topic: Lester Ward’s Gynæcocentric Theory

The Evolution of Sex

One or two comrades have written me asking for more detailed information about Professor Lester Ward’s writings, and more especially about that theory of the evolution of the sexes, which he sets forth in the fourteenth chapter of “Pure Sociology.”

It is somewhat difficult to summarise within the space of an article this “Gynæcocentric Theory,” which Professor Ward takes over 150 pages to unfold; but as I do not wish to disappoint the inquiring comrades I will do my best; only adding that I hope later on, in pamphlet form, to do greater justice to and help to popularise what is such an important addition to our sociological knowledge.

Professor Lester Ward opens the subject with some introductory statements about the reproductive forces such as:

“No fact in biology is better established than that reproduction represents a specialised mode of nutrition, through the renewal of the organism …. If we recognise only two forms of nutrition, natural selection determines which form shall be employed. Individual nutrition will be continued so long as there is no danger of the individual being cut off. Ultra-individual nutrition will begin as soon as there arises a chance of the individual being cut off, and it will be emphasised by any direct threat to the life of the individual. Hence reproduction is not possible in animals to the young that are growing rapidly, not to plants that are over nourished …. Reproduction is not only ultra-nutrition, in going beyond the individual, but it is altro-nutrition, in carrying the process to and into another. It is as we shall see the beginning of altruism.”

In a later part of the chapter we read:

“The introduction of fertilisation in connection with reproduction was gradual, and was not at first at all necessary to it. It came in at the outset as an occasional resort for infusing new elements after a long series of generations through normal reproduction. This occasional fertilisation is called the alternation of generation …. So great was the advantage of fertilisation that in the animal kingdom it first came to accompany each separate act of reproduction itself. From the fact that such is the case in all the higher animals, which are the ones best known to all, the error arose that fertilisation is an essential part of reproduction, and that sex is necessary to reproduction, an error difficult to dislodge.”

These postulates granted, Professor Ward goes out to prove that the female sex in evolution has always been the important sex, because it is the female sex only that reproduces, and carries on the species or race.

“The fertilising organ or miniature sperm sac was the primitive form of what subsequently developed into the male sex, the female sex being the organism proper, which remained practically unchanged …. The selection by females of the best specimens among males and rejection of the inferior ones caused the male to rise in the scale and resemble more and more the primary organism or female. But other qualities were also selected than those that the female possessed. This was due to the early development of the aesthetic faculty in the female, and these qualities were in the nature of embellishments.

The male, therefore, while approaching the form and stature of the female, began to differ from her in these aesthetic qualities …. When the human race finally appeared, through gradual emergence from the great Simian stock, this difference in the sexes existed, and sexual selection was still going on …. Neither sex had any more idea of the connection between fertilisation and reproduction than have animals, and therefore the mother alone claimed and cared for the offspring, as is done throughout the animal kingdom below man. So long as this state of things endured the race remained in the stage called gynococracy, or female rule. That this was a very long stage is attested by a great number of facts …. As it was brain development alone which made man out of an animal by enabling him to break over faunal barriers and overspread the globe, so it was brain development that finally suggested the casual nexus between fertilisation and reproduction, and led to the recognition by man of his paternity and joint proprietorship with woman in the offspring of their loins. This produced a profound social revolution, overthrew the authority of woman, destroyed her power of selection, and finally reduced her to the condition of a mere slave of the stronger sex, although that strength had been conferred by her. The stage of gynaecocracy was succeeded by the stage of androcracy, and the subjection of woman was rendered complete.”

As will be readily seen by these quotations, Professor Lester Ward has linked up the many threads of knowledge obtained from biological and ethnological studies, and has woven therefrom an important sociological theory that “life begins as female,” and that the male was evolved much later “for the sole purpose of securing, a crossing of ancestral strains, and the consequent variation and higher development; that the male sex began as a simple fertiliser, assuming a variety of forms; that for reasons hereafter to be considered, the male in most organisms gradually assumed more importance, and ultimately came to approach the size and general nature of the female; but that throughout nearly or quite the whole of the invertebrates, and to a considerable extent among the vertebrates, the male has remained an inferior creature, and has continued to devote its existence to the one function for which it was created.”

It is almost needless to point out now why the story of Eve being made from Adam’s rib was invented, why woman was taught that her function of reproduction was something unclean, and she could only be cleansed after childbirth by religious ceremonial, why female infanticide was universally practised, and why, more especially, any form of learning was denied to the mass of subject women.

It had taken many generations and untold suffering to reduce woman to the necessary state of subjection, where she ceased to exercise selection, but was now fought for and forced to the uses of men. Every form of pressure, therefore, from tradition, from religious belief, from fear, from public opinion, and from convention, must be brought to bear on sex relations, family life, and what is known to the elect as “woman’s sphere,” in order to ensure that subjection, and keep the balance of power in life outside and inside the home on the side of the man.