1947 – Dorothy Sayers, “The Human-Not-Quite-Human”:

Several people (including my mother) have noted that (kindly) there was nothing new in my piece on CNN. Feminists have known these things for a long time. And sure, the neuroscience is more specific now, but what I was doing was illustrating a specific, recent, form of a long-recognized problem.

I absolutely agree. What’s startling is how pernicious and powerful these gender stereotypes are. There’s a whole deal about “lady writers” in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, an organization to which several friends belong. It’s inside baseball and if you care about it (I do), you’re already reading about it. Here’s a great list of links.

Except it’s not inside baseball. It’s reflective of everything that drove me to write my essay.  And it’s nothing new. Taken from Seanan McGuire’s livejournal in a comment by Livejournal User Jenk (who I do not know, but I like to give credit), I present some Dorothy Sayers:

From the 1947 Dorothy L. Sayers essay “The Human-Not-Quite-Human”:

Probably no man has ever troubled to imagine how strange his life would
appear to himself if it were unrelentingly assessed in terms of his
maleness; if everything he wore, said, or did had to be justified by
reference to female approval; if he were compelled to regard himself,
day in day out, not as a member of society, but merely (salva
reverentia) as a virile member of society. If the centre of his
dress-consciousness were his cod-piece, his education directed to making
him a spirited lover and meek paterfamilias; his interests held to be
natural only in so far as they were sexual. If from school and
lecture-room, Press and pulpit, he heard the persistent outpouring of a
shrill and scolding voice, bidding him remember his biological function.
If he were vexed by continual advice how to add a rough male touch to
his typing, how to be learned without losing his masculine appeal, how
to combine chemical research with seduction, how to play bridge without
incurring the suspicion of impotence. If, instead of allowing with a
smile that “women prefer cavemen,” he felt the unrelenting pressure of a whole social structure forcing him to order all his goings in
conformity with that pronouncement.

He would hear (and would he
like hearing?) the female counterpart of Dr. P*** informing him: “I am
no supporter of the Horseback Hall doctrine of ‘gun-tail, plough-tail
and stud’ as the only spheres for masculine action; but we do need a
more definite conception of the nature and scope of man’s life.” In any
book on sociology he would find, after the main portion dealing with
human needs and rights, a supplementary chapter devoted to “The Position
of the Male in the Perfect State.” His newspaper would assist him with a
“Men’s Corner,” telling him how, by the expenditure of a good deal of
money and a couple of hours a day, he could attract the girls and retain
his wife’s affection; and when he had succeeded in capturing a mate,
his name would be taken from him, and society would present him with a
special title to proclaim his achievement. People would write books
called, “History of the Male,” or “Males of the Bible,” or “The
Psychology of the Male,” and he would be regaled daily with headlines,
such as “Gentleman-Doctor’s Discovery,” “Male-Secretary Wins Calcutta
Sweep,” “Men-Artists at the Academy.” If he gave an interview to a
reporter, or performed any unusual exploit, he would find it recorded in
such terms as these: “Professor Bract, although a distinguished
botanist, is not in any way an unmanly man. He has, in fact, a wife and
seven children. Tall and burly, the hands with which he handles his
delicate specimens are as gnarled and powerful as those of a Canadian
lumberjack, and when I swilled beer with him in his laboratory, he
bawled his conclusions at me in a strong, gruff voice that implemented
the promise of his swaggering moustache.” […]

He would be
edified by solemn discussions about “Should Men Serve in Drapery
Establishments?” and acrimonious ones about “Tea-Drinking Men”; by
cross-shots of public affairs “from the masculine angle,” and by
irritable correspondence about men who expose their anatomy on beaches
(so masculine of them), conceal it in dressing-gowns (too feminine of
them), think about nothing but women, pretend an unnatural indifference
to women, exploit their sex to get jobs, lower the tone of the office by
their sexless appearance, and generally fail to please a public opinion
which demands the incompatible. And at dinner-parties he would hear the
wheedling, unctuous, predatory female voice demand: “And why should you
trouble your handsome little head about politics?”

If, after a
few centuries of this kind of treatment, the male was a little
self-conscious, a little on the defensive, and a little bewildered about
what was required of him, I should not blame him. If he presented the
world with a major social problem, I should scarcely be surprised. It
would be more surprising if he retained any rag of sanity and

So there’s that.

Also, Seanan writes, with her usual incisciveness:

As for the appearance thing…yeah, people often like to be told when
they look good. But women in our modern world are frequently valued
according to appearance to such a degree that it eclipses all else.
“Jane was a hell of a science fiction writer…but more importantly, she
was gorgeous according to a very narrow and largely male-defined
standard of conventional beauty.” All Jane’s accomplishments,
everything she ever did as a person, matter less than the fact that she
got good genes.

Which is basically the grown-up version of my daughter winning a “best dressed” award.


2 Replies to “1947 – Dorothy Sayers, “The Human-Not-Quite-Human”:”

  1. Anonymous says:

    User "jenk" introduced a typo in his comment, and it took me forever to figure out exactly what the error was from web searches alone (for some reason the correct word didn't occur to me as a proofreader; not sure why . . .). I like the articulateness of your post, however, and would like to re-share it. Could you note that the correct Sayer phrase is "he felt the unrelenting pressure of a whole social structure . . .", not "he felt the unrelenting pressure of a while social structure"? Thanks.

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