Feminist Issues

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 63–71 | Cite as

Biological paternity, social maternity

  • Nicole-Claude Mathieu


Feminist Issue Social Subject Social Father International Sociological Association Pregnant Married Woman 
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  1. 1.
    This might be said to be after all only normal! However, an analysis of scientific writing in the sixties shows that the elements of the “sex” variable have generally been excluded from consciousness. Either only men in fact are spoken of (while pretending to speak in general/of the generality) or the category of women alone is singled out and made into an annex to the central account and attributed “specific” problems. See Nicole-Claude Mathieu, “Notes towards a Sociological Definition of Sex Categories”, inIgnored by Some, Denied by Others (London: Women’s Research and Resources Centre, 1977); previously published inThe Human Context 6, no. 2 (1974), and inInternational Journal of Sociology 5, no. 4 (Winter 1975-76); original publication in French inEpistémologie sociologique, no. 11 (1971).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Cf. Nicole-Claude Mathieu, “Man-culture and woman-nature?”,Women’s Studies International Quarterly 1, no. 1 (1978); original publication in French inL’Homme 13, no. 3 (1973).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Francis Martens, “A propos de l’oncle maternel, ou modeste proposition pour repenser le mariage des cousins croisés,”L’Homme 15, no. 3–4 (1975).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ibid., p. 162.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ibid., p. 170.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Jean-Claude Muller, “Ritual Marriage, Symbolic Fatherhood and Initiation Among the Rukuba, Plateau-Benue State, Nigeria,”Man 7, no. 2 (1972).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Martens, “A propos de l’oncle maternel,” p. 163.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See Geoffrey Hawthorn,The Sociology of Fertility (London: Collier-MacMillan, 1970).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    The definition of infanticide may be related to the child itself, e.g., to its sex, its position among the siblings, etc.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Margaret Mead,Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, 3rd ed. (New York: William Morrow, 1963), Chapter XI, p. 193.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    See Suzanne Lallemand, “Génitrices et éducatrices mossi,”L’Homme 16, no. 1 (1976).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Of course, the rituals surrounding labor and birth are described at length; but it is still necessarythat there be a birth and, after the birth, that there be recognition, by the society, ofsocial maternity.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    For example, among the Arapesh (according to Mead,Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, Chapter ?, p. 31): The child is not the product of a moment’s passion, but is made by both father and mother, carefully, over time. The Arapesh distinguish two kinds of sex-activity, play, which is all sex-activity that is not known to have induced the growth of a child, and work, purposive sex-activity directed towards making a particular child, towards feeding it and shaping it during the first weeks in the mother’s womb. Here the father’s task is equal with the mother’s; the child is the product of father’s semen and mother’s blood, combined in equal amounts at the start, to form a new human being. It is more than likely in fact that there are no peoples who do not perceive some relationship between ejaculation and women’s fertility. Bruno Bettelheim, inSymbolic Wounds, Puberty Rites and the Envious Male (Glencoe: The Free Press, 1954, p. 240), suggests that “knowledge of the connection between the semen and fertility ... is not possessed by the most primitive peoples.” But this is conceiving of semen and fertility in our scientific sense. The question is rather the relation, which cannot be other than conscious, between the masculine sexual act (from which ejaculation cannot be excluded), sexual intercourse, and women’s fertility. According to Hawthorn (The Sociology of Fertility),coitus interruptus is attested for many “primitive” populations before the arrival of Western civilization.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Pierre Clastres,Chronique des Indiens Guayaki, Ce que savent les Aché, chasseurs nomades du Paraguay (Paris: Plon, 1972), p. 29–30.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Anne Retel-Laurentin,Infécondité en Afrique noire, Maladies et conséquences sociales (Paris: Masson, 1974).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Clastres,Chronique des Indiens Guayaki, p. 32.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    André Green, talking about subincision among the Australians analyzed by Géza Roheim, in “De la bisexualité au gynocentrisme”, postface to the French edition of Bruno Bettelheim,Les blessures symboliques (Paris: Gallimard, 1971), p. 222. Note in passing that it is at least curious, on the part of Green, to accuse this book of gynocentrism when only 10 percent of its pages are devoted to girls’ initiation rites, and when it is, in fact, centered on the meaningfor men of women’s procreative powers.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Edgar Morin,Le paradigme perdu: la nature humaine (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1973).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Ibid., p. 77.Google Scholar

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© Springer 1984

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  • Nicole-Claude Mathieu

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