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
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
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.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss