Just like a man
You are in: surefish
> books >
The Descent of Men
Date: November 2002
Little, Brown. Click
the book cover above to order your copy. Each book you order by clicking here
raises money for Christian Aid projects.
are having to think about their identity in a new way, and Y can help us do that.
The descent of men
Little, Brown, 260pp
Being a man in the 21st century is like being a member
of the modern royal family. We still live a life of privilege, generally doing
less work for more money, and still dont do our share of the housework,
but something has changed.
In both cases the rest of the population
has had a quiet revolution, cutting themselves a fairer slice of lifes big
pie, and so our power and prestige are not what they once were.
have to be mad, bad and a Daily Mail columnist to want to turn the clock back,
but still we are left wondering for the first time in history what our role in
life is now. Steve Jones, mass-market biologist from the stable of Richard Dawkins
and Stephen Jay Gould, is here to help the men. The Queen can find her own biologist.
Y: The Descent of Men is an exploration of maleness. It is a book by a scientist
rather than a science book. There is plenty of fascinating stuff about chromosomes
and chemicals in it, but leavened by all manner of history, anthropology, religion,
sociology and stories, for those of us who wouldnt know which end of a test
tube is up.
Jones steers us through beards and sperm-eating bacteria,
circumcision and castration, naked athletics in ancient Greece and the elusive
gay gene. He explores penile implants, papal birth control, the hormonal treatment
of paedophiles, why Chinese surgeons inject superglue and how Viagra turns the
Its racy and pacy too much so in fact. Joness
scattergun delivery of countless facts and stories about all aspects of manhood
can leave you dazed, trying to work out what they have to do with each other and
what his point is. And though he is a scientific expert, his comments on religious
issues were misinformed enough to make me suspicious of all the other non-biological
info the book is crammed with.
Despite this though, its a useful book.
The unparalleled success of the womens movement means that men are having
to think about their identity in a new way, and Y can help us do that as intelligently
as our genes permit.
For example, one of Joness main points is
that woman is the first sex. Single sex species are basically female, producing
eggs that simply grow into clones. The original girl power. Its only later
when things get more complicated that a sperm guy is needed to come and mix the
genes in the egg up a bit.
This fact may seem a little remote and academic,
but it makes you realise how unjust it is that humanity is so often considered
basically male. All this rubbish about mankind, the ascent of
man, each to his own as if the default setting of humanity
were male, and the female an optional extra. The opposite is true; millennia of
male myth-making have been rumbled, but the tables have not yet been turned enough.
This biological fact has still to be faced up to by some churches. It seems
scandalous to me that various influential parts of the church still hold out against
women ministers. There are two excuses. One is that priests represent all the
people before God, and that only a man can do this - the humanity is basically
The other is to appeal to St Paul: I do not
permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For
Adam was formed first, then Eve. Doubtless, this was an appropriate line
to take in first-century Ephesus, but we know that Pauls natural history
was wrong: if it matters, woman came first. It is shocking that such a comment
is still quoted 2000 years later to oppose the restoration of women.
Of course, in the questions of the roles of the sexes science does not have all
the answers as Jones would be the first to say but it has information
we cannot ignore.
out more about Steve Jones