Book review: The guns which shoot life

The Human Sexes: A Natural History of Man and Woman by Desmond Morris, Network pounds 17.99

The differences between men and women and how their roles have changed over time is a fascinating topic. This book is based on a television series and one can assume that accounts for some of the topics receiving a rather superficial treatment. Nevertheless there is much of great interest.

Males and female differ in their physical and psychological make-up, as everyone knows. But more unexpected is that the leg cross in which the crossed-over foot is tucked round and behind the other is almost entirely female. There is a puzzle as to why men have their reproductive organs - the testicles - dangling on the outside. Theories for this range from the requirement for a low temperature to the type of running and leaping men use. Men grow beards as a gender display and to show that they are ready to reproduce and the firm breasts of young women serve the same function. But why do men shave? Morris's answer is that it makes them look younger, cleaner, makes facial expressions more visible, and generally makes them more attractive to women, who feel less threatened.

Morris is not afraid to express strong views. For example with respect to that most potent of all male sexual signals, the erect penis, Morris says that while it shoots life it is completely forbidden on public screens, while guns which shoot death are common place and that it is, he thinks, by this distinction that the 20th century will be remembered. Again when discussing the Karma Sutra's presentation of sexual positions he refers to the prudery imposed by "mentally warped priests" and how religion has imposed guilt and shame on sexual pleasure. Morris will also not allow fashionable taboos to stop him discussing differences in mental abilities between males and females; even when infant males are more percussive and females more dextrous, and boys a little later are better at visual and spatial tasks while girls are superior in verbal skills. Stuttering is much less common in girls. As regards high intellectual attainment, the greater number of men is put down to the greater range of abilities - both lower and higher - in a population of males compared to that of females. Unlike men, women are capable of recognising their babies by their smell alone.

Studies in different cultures have found great diversity in what is regarded as sexually attractive, yet one common factor seems to be a small waist compared to wide hips, the ideal preferred ratio is 0.7. In Western society it is claimed that everyone wants to look around 21, both old and young alike, the age at which women are thought to be most sexy. Most of the hundred or so coloured illustrations in the book are trivial and irrelevant (left), but the photographs of the result of a "face lift" on an older woman is almost unbelievable.

In general women are disadvantaged with respect to males. Societies in which men have more than one wife are common but those in which wives have more than one husband are very rare. In one of these, in Southern India, when a woman marries she takes on her husband's brothers. In many societies however women are treated as possessions. The Islamic custom of requiring women to wear veils apparently comes not from the Koran but from early scholars' view that women are pudenda, nothing more than a sexual organ, and so must be covered. But much more serious is the fact that there are over a hundred million women alive today who have had all or part of their external genitals cut away when they were young girls.

Morris has a somewhat romantic view of a distant past in which he claims that there was equality between the sexes, but that in modern civilisation, urbanisation has favoured males. The evidence for a past paradise is not convincing. Can we really assume that there was no domestic violence - which is today the biggest single cause of injury to women? Unfortunately Morris completely leaves out the biology of sex differences that are the product of hormonal action in the foetus. The Y chromosome that causes these hormonal secretions is what makes males male, and undoubtedly predisposes them to violence. Nevertheless he believes that now that women have joined with men in the workplace it is possible for a new equality to develop based on talent rather than gender. The effect of working mothers on their children is controversial and only touched upon.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness